Saturday, May 21, 2011

What do crushes mean? by Barbara Linney

A way to find out what you want to do next is to pay attention to the people and things you fall in love with. I have had crushes on people who could do what I wanted to do. In my twenties I fantasized about running off with some of them, but thank goodness I had sense enough not to mention it. I’ve also had a crush on a house and a quilt. My definition of a crush is a sudden, not totally understood, ignited passion or longing. Here is a short summary of some of my many past crushes, details about a current one, and examples of how crushes began life-enriching changes for me.

Love of People
My mother was a great teacher. She taught English and Business classes in the high school I attended, a fact which had its own complications. I was scheduled to be in her advanced eighth grade English class. I knew she was a hard teacher—a strict disciplinarian with high academic standards. I didn’t want to put up with the rolling eyes and mean comments about her that I would get from my friends. So I was allowed to choose to not be in her class, but I was forever behind in poetry because of it. She drilled iambic pentameter and all that went with it into her class. I saw and heard her when I was occasionally walking in the halls. She had a great voice, told interesting stories, could command a room, and was fearless. I wanted to be as good as she was. I got two degrees, almost a third, and listened to her advice to help me get to her level. I think I’m having a love affair with poetry now because of what I missed out on by not being in her class.

Crushes started for me early—a minor one on my step-cousin at six but a major one at age seven. In Port Royal, Virginia, at the crossroads of US 17 and 301, Agnes Verberg would invite my family over to swim in her new heart-shaped pool at Brown’s Motor Court. My daddy used to take me over in the evenings after he closed his grocery store. The army base, Fort A. P. Hill, was close by, and occasionally, officers would come to the pool to swim. Daddy struck up a conversation with Captain Robbins, who had been a lifeguard when he was younger.

As they talked Captain Robbins took an interest in my swimming and wanted me to dive off the board. He was tall, tan, blond, and Robert Redford beautiful. He waited patiently for me to dive off the low board the first time. He would dog paddle below in the water saying encouraging words, “You can do it. Bend at the waist and just let yourself fall in. Keep your chin on your chest, and you are guaranteed not to belly flop.” I had learned to hate belly flops because I had been diving in from the side of the pool. After five or six days spread out over several weeks of standing at the end of the board and then walking off, I finally dove in. He didn’t come every evening to the pool as we did, and I was only willing to consider diving off the board when he was there.

My mother invited him to a family dinner as a thank you for all his attention. I could not say a word the whole dinner, a trend that would continue throughout my life when I was enchanted with someone, but it was new to me then and surprised me. I had thoughts but mercifully I knew it was not appropriate to say them—I love you. Will you stay forever?

I had your normal boy crushes on and off through my teenage years and thoroughly enjoyed the rush and tolerated the agony that went with each one, but in my late twenties I started having crushes that would also teach me something I was longing for and didn’t even know it, something essential.

Four men taught me things that I put together and formed the skill set I use in my job today. First, a minister of education at my church taught me design skills and how to facilitate small group work. Second, I loved the senior minister’s strong, baritone, risk-taking speaking voice, and I wanted my female version of that. Third, my boss for 18 years performed his four-hour lecture to me one-on-one. I recorded, transcribed, and mostly memorized it, but I could always sneak a peek at PowerPoint out of the corner of my eye when I was delivering the program. I have taught it all over the country for 20 years. Fourth, my writing professor at UNCC taught me about free writing and set me on a journal writing path that has lasted over 30 years.

At first I felt that crush, the sudden longing for these men and the things they knew how to do. Then I learned life lessons from them. Only recently did I understand this as a pattern that enriched my life. I began to realize I better be on the lookout for crushes and willing to embrace them. Something powerful almost always happens next.

Love of a particular author moved me from journal writing to wanting to write a book. I fell for John Parker after I read his book, Once a Runner. I am not an athlete, but I loved his description of a runner, the humorous banter between jocks, and how he put words together. Exercise was not valued by my parents when I was growing up. If you had time to exercise, you weren’t working hard enough. After my 2nd child was born, I was so tired I didn’t want to walk to the refrigerator to get the first one a glass of juice. I thought—there must be a better way to live. My husband was training for a marathon. I decided to run down and back one block before he left for work. I was winded. After reading Parker’s book, I worked up to a 10 K race and had a respectable time of a little over eight minutes a mile.

The most important crush of my life was for my husband when I met him on a blind date at a six-person dinner party of a close friend. I felt that initial longing and inability to speak but the other five people carried the conversation. On our second date the next day, I could talk after 45 minutes of listening to him. That crush was reciprocated, and we quickly moved to the rewarding and realistic ups and downs of marriage and children that has lasted almost 40 years. I still love listening to him and knowing I can say what I mean whenever I need to and that he is eager to hear my thoughts on just about any topic. But I also enjoy that he does most of the talking in our relationship and brings in the news of the community so I know what is going on but don’t have to research it myself. He has come to appreciate silence and gives it to me generously and even seems to enjoy it a bit himself. It’s the way these kinds of things unfold that make the journey of marriage so interesting.

I was surprised when crushes continued after marriage. In my younger days I didn’t know much about what to intentionally do with them. I just felt the longing and the usual speechlessness that went along with being around that person. When I began to feel passionate about things as well as people, it helped me figure out what was going on. I fell in love with a house and a quilt.

Love of Things
I loved my present house when I first saw it, but I walked away from it and said it was too big for our stage of life—empty nest. After looking at 14 houses in two days my husband said, “I want you to go back to that house and open up your mind.” I did. My love for this house, my sanctuary, has only increased over the years.

It is my home, my office, my husband’s office, my gym, and my craft studio. For a while I decorated it in ways I had never decorated my three previous houses. I loved it the best of all the houses, and I had just discovered the HGTV home decorating channel. I would go to bed and wake up thinking about the color of a rug or a picture to hang. Finally, I realized the behavior was becoming addictive and too expensive, so I stopped. I made a decision that I would never progress to granite counter tops.

I turned to sewing to meet my color and craft needs, but before I stopped, I spiffed up my basement by making my first quilt and a matching sofa slipcover with the help of a great new sewing teacher. I hung the red, blue, and green quilt on one wall, added quilted red pillows to the royal blue sofa on the opposite wall and hung a picture over it that I painted of spring flowers blooming on a mountain in Breckenridge, Colorado, where my son spent several good years in his early twenties. The blue of the mountains exactly matches the blue of the sofa. Those three things made the basement a beautiful sanctuary I can retreat to when I need alone time to restore my energy. (The story of making the quilt made my July 17, 2010 blog below.)

basement sofa slipcover and quilt

Current Crush

Now I know to look for what the silent longing has to teach me. For the last ten years I’ve had a crush on the poet and corporate consultant, David Whyte. I know I am not in love with David Whyte. I am in love with what he can do. I am going to give you details of how I have explored what this crush means for my life and what I am doing about it so that you can think about your own plan for mining the lessons in your crushes.

I have attended five of his events--three talks and two retreats—the most recent one in Charleston in February. Since my flame for him is newly fanned, I’ll tell you what effect it is having on me right now. I have heard he has memorized at least 300 poems. With his lilting English accent he tells stories, recites a few poems, and asks enough questions to find out the general mood of the audience. Although sometimes it seems he immediately picks up on the feelings of the room through mental osmosis. Then he chooses poems out of his memorized collection that exactly fit the moment. The connection between him and the audience is palpable.

I’ve been envying that skill but couldn’t quite seem to do it. My 95-year-old mother has taken a deeper turn into dementia in the last six months so memory has been on my mind. My husband began doing crosswords puzzles and Sudoku when his mother’s mind starting slipping. I don’t like either one of those. I thought maybe I could memorize poems to enrich my life now and do the recommended brain exercises to hopefully chase the dementia demons later.

I coincidentally read a review of Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer. Its premise is that anyone can learn to memorize better. I get excited when there seems to be synchronicity in my life and helpful information starts to fall into my path—see David Whyte, want to memorize, stumble onto a review of a book about how to memorize.

I grabbed a little advice from the review and used it my way. He said--if you go in a house, you don’t forget what it looks like because you have pictures of it in your mind. The ancient Greeks used these techniques to memorize their Senate speeches. Based on his suggestions, I decided to draw pictures to help me memorize.

Before reading the review I had memorized “The Swan” by Rilke and could call it back up fairly easily or at least I could after reading it through a few times. I was working on “Wild Geese” by Mary Oliver. I could recite most of the parts pretty well but would get them out of order. I drew pictures for each section, and suddenly I had it and was willing to risk trying to say it in front of the next group I spoke to—the Business Women’s Round Table of the Charlottesville Chamber of Commerce during the week of the Virginia Festival of the Book. It went well, and I enjoyed the connection I made with these women as I took a risk and trusted them to hear me.

Then I wanted to memorize “The Journey” by Mary Oliver. I started right off with drawing stick figures and other symbols that had meaning for me. I learned it quickly.

Foer said people used to memorize everything because there was no other way to pass on their stories. Then the printing press was invented, and we generally stopped memorizing as a culture. The computer is at least as big a life-changing invention as the printing press. I don’t know what 200 work emails waiting for me most of the time, with 30 coming in over a lunch break, will eventually do to my brain and nervous system, but I am thrilled to have found a technique that helps me do what I want to do next—memorize poems. The crush on David Whyte, the sudden, not-understood-at-first longing, awakened that desire. I now know to trust and explore the meaning of the desire.

What do you desire? What are your crushes trying to tell you?

For more on how to be heard and get what you want, go to

1 comment:

  1. What a great read! I have never quite looked at what I have often thought of as "fleeting passions" as crushes, but they certainly fit the description. I suppose currently have a crush on my 9 year old son, who has an immense capacity for focus and a joyfully abundant capacity for the memorization of random yet interesting facts. These are two things I was once very passionate about myself but have tapered as life has gotten busier or more distracting. He is absolutely my favorite "geek" (and I mean that in the kindest and most adoring way). I have a crush on my husband, who is currently so comfortable in his own skin and what he does for a living. I suppose, if I look for a pattern, I crush over those who find passion for anything, because I am currently searching for that very same thing.