Tabs Open #13: Bursting Is Different Than Breaking

There’s something about doing reckless things that makes you consider all you’d stand to lose if it went wrong somehow.

Which isn’t to say it’s unhealthy to do—I’d argue it’s just the opposite, as long as it’s done in whatever passes for moderation in such a framework. I got the chance to engage in a little bit of that last week, on my way up to and down from the summit of South Brother, a mountain out on the Olympic Peninsula. A snow bridge went out from under my right leg when I kicked up onto it (the rest of me still mostly planted on a wet wall of rock, thankfully) and the ensuing cavalcade of f-words probably would’ve made a sailor blush. Later we walked up a snowfield tilted at 60°, just kicked our boots and crampons in to make steps right up the damn thing. I’m a coward; it was harrowing.

So I spent a lot of time last Tuesday thinking about what I’d miss if things had gone a little worse. I’m married now and so mostly that’s just “my wife.” I don’t mean that in a flip way, truly: we used to spend a lot of time apart, she and I, pursuing our own adventures; the cake-taker here is the calendar year we spent in places as far from each other on earth as it’s possible to get, pretty much. (Grab a globe and put one finger on Paris and one on the Marshall Islands, if you can find them, and see how right I am. I did this a lot from 2012-2013.)

It’s through such a lens that I spent this week mulling over the absolutely desperate kind of love, the kind worth having and thinking about. There are some good ways to explain it that will probably reach deeper than my clumsy attempts. I’ve collected them over the years and I’d like to share some with you now.

This is from Peter Heller’s The Dog Stars, for my money one of the best American novels ever penned. It occurs to me now (as I had to hunt back through all my dog-eared pages to find it) that this passage is probably where I got the idea that love could be desperate at all.

Here’s another quick hit from the same book. Certain times when I watch my wife doing things or when I smell the breeze coming over a forest lake I feel this way. It’s a hell of a way to feel.

Speaking of feeling a hell of a way, Tyler Childers just released a new song off of the album he’ll drop in June. It’s called “All Your’n” and in keeping with our theme it’s an ode to being rendered pleasantly and acutely helpless by the depth of your love for someone.

So I’ll love you til my lungs give out
I ain’t lyin’
I’m all your’n, and you’re all mine
There ain’t two ways around it
There ain’t no tryin’ ‘bout it
I’m all your’n, and you’re all mine


Another way of describing this all—which, fittingly, I read & jotted down during that year of separation in the Marshall Islands—comes from Dennis Lehane’s Shutter Island, which you might remember as the Leo DiCaprio movie with the terrifying old lady in the trailer.

Lehane uses “breaking” for what Heller means by “bursting” but I hope you’ll forgive the inconsistency.

It’s important to contextualize this kind of love, I think, because interrogating where any kind of feeling comes from is part of becoming a worthier person. Luckily for me there are more emotionally intelligent people than myself out there who’ve already thought this through: namely, fierce and fought-for love can only exist because of our mortality. There’s an end point to all of this, an expiration date we can’t see coming, and as a result we’re allowed to feel such desperate need for other people. Pretty cool if you think about it, despite what it costs. (But you have to pay that cost regardless, so you may as well get your money’s worth, imo.)

Someone who I think does a pretty good job explaining all this is Jason Isbell, who I was fortunate enough to see in concert a few weeks back. Here’s “If We Were Vampires”:

It's knowing that this can't go on forever
Likely one of us will have to spend some days alone
Maybe we'll get forty years together
But one day I'll be gone
Or one day you'll be gone

It might seem difficult to sweeten up a sentiment like that, but Mr. Isbell rises to the occasion. Funnily enough, for all that song stirs in me, it also makes me think about this Josh Mecouch (aka @pants, who we’ve also covered in this newsletter before) drawing. There’s some humor wrapped up in all of this love and death stuff as well, it turns out.

That’s all from me this week—thanks for sticking around. If you liked what you read, feel free to subscribe so you can get this newsletter each week without working too hard to find it.

Take care of yourselves, and each other,