Learn­ing to love Deb­o­rah Hill Cone

Em­brace all your flaws and shed the self-loathing

The New Zealand Herald - - FRONT PAGE - Deb­o­rah Hill Cone

Dings glass with fork. Ahem. I just of­fer this up po­litely, def­er­en­tially, in case it may be of in­ter­est to just one or two peo­ple out there, even though I recog­nise the lost­tam­pon kind of per­sonal es­say is con­sid­ered deeply undig­ni­fied and passe these days.

Mea culpa. If it’s not for you, honey, flip the page, go back to read­ing about pol­i­tics. There’s cer­tainly plenty of that. (Not an aus­pi­cious open­ing, but.) The thing is, I think I’ve worked some­thing out.

First of all I thought the trick was to love your­self. Who can ar­gue with that? I read all those self-helpy gu­rus il­lus­trated with pic­tures of women laugh­ing alone with salad: be your own best friend, sis­ter! Light a freak­ing scented can­dle! And for a minute it seemed like I had got it. Ex­cept it was im­pos­si­ble to love my­self be­cause, well, rea­sons. I have messy kitchen draw­ers and thighs that rub to­gether at the top.

Then I re­alised that you need to love your­self de­spite hav­ing thighs that rub to­gether at the top. (I’ve cleaned my draw­ers, tem­po­rary re­prieve.) Eureka!

So I wrote the word “re­gard­less” in my jour­nal sur­rounded by sparkly cat stick­ers. Love your­self re­gard­less of your flaws. This worked for a lit­tle bit, then this good feel­ing started slip­ping away too. Be­cause some­times I was an ac­tual asshat, and I let my house­plants die and drank too much and the parking ticket thing, and well all my many and var­ied fail­ings as a mother, un­til there re­ally weren’t any un­con­tam­i­nated bits left to love. There was no salad and no can­dles. And then I got an­gry at my­self for fail­ing yet again.

Yeah well, now I think a bit dif­fer­ently.

I watched this TV show, called Top of the Lake: China Girl, Jane Cam­pion’s lat­est work. There is a char­ac­ter in it, a 17-year-old girl called Mary who has my kind of thighs. She hates her mother, hits her­self in the face and falls calami­tously in love with a seedy Pete Do­herty-style repro­bate called Puss. I love ev­ery­thing about her, even though pretty sim­i­lar char­ac­ter­is­tics in my­self made me hate my­self. She was like me at that age, ex­cept I can feel com­pas­sion for her, and I never could for my­self. Like her, I was not at ease in straight so­ci­ety. If I could love Mary for her flaws, why couldn’t I do the same for my­self? Turns out the trick is learn­ing to love your­self, not re­gard­less of the thighs and the asshat­ness and the drink­ing, but to love your­self for pre­cisely those things. Lov­ing your­self means lov­ing even the fact you find it hard to love your­self. Lov­ing all the things that are hard­est to love. (Some­times chil­dren can help us see this, be­cause we can love them fiercely for all the things they can’t love in them­selves.) Love your rage and re­sis­tance to be­ing loved. Love your cel­lulite. Love your win­dow fixed with duct tape. Love your fa­cial hair. Love your in­ap­pro­pri­ate sex­ual fan­tasies. Love the rea­sons why you think you don’t de­serve love. Love that you can never fin­ish In­fi­nite Jest or even start Proust. Love your flat feet. And that you’ll never be a bal­le­rina or have some su­per­power tal­ent. (A few days ago our son an­nounced he copes pretty well with his dis­abil­ity. I said, “What dis­abil­ity?” He said, “Not be­ing able to do the splits.”) Love that you are bro­ken. Love that you’re never go­ing to do the splits.

Love that you feel fear about writ­ing this col­umn, yet again. Love that you love the thing that you can’t love. (It’s Love-cep­tion!) Love that you need to learn the same thing over and over. Love be­ing too much, too slutty, too loud; your sur­feit of con­scious­ness that is some­times too big to find a con­tainer strong enough to hold it. Love your per­se­cu­tory voice, your com­pul­sions, your fail­ures. Love your wound.

The wound is the deep­est, hu­man part of you that most needs love. It is part of you that has been cut off from you and wants to come home. The way to heal your wound is not to try to avoid it, ex­cuse it or numb it with what­ever. It’s to love it. It is where your good­ness lies.

If you’ve hung out with me all the way through this col­umn to here — de­spite the ick­i­ness of talk­ing about this stuff (love that!), do feel free to go back to the pol­i­tics now. Per­son­ally, I wish that what­ever party forms our next gov­ern­ment will help us love our most wounded when they can’t love them­selves.

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