Scott Cawelti

About Scott Cawelti -

Scott Cawelti was born and raised in Cedar Falls, Iowa. He taught writing, film, and literature at the University of Northern Iowa (UNI) from 1968-2008, and has written regular opinion columns and reviews for the Waterloo / Cedar Falls Courier since the late 1970s.  He played for years in a folk duo with Robert James Waller and still regularly performs as a singer/guitarist/songwriter. Scott continues to teach as an adjunct instructor at UNI.

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  • What IS Real Love—A Valentine’s Day Question

    • Posted on Feb 10, 2012 by Scott Cawelti

    2-10-02 

     Everyone loves love, few actually love.  There’s a thought for Valentine's Day. 

     So what do we mean by "love"?  Ambrose Bierce, bless his caustic heart, defined it two ways in his "Devil's Dictionary." 

     LOVE, n.  "The folly of thinking much of another before one knows anything of oneself."   And "Love is a temporary insanity curable by marriage or by removal of the patient from the influences under which he incurred the disorder." 

     Selfish, insane disorder.  That's Bierce's darkly cynical view of love. Truth be told, he has a point.  People who love the idea of love often fall victim to its ravages. People who truly love don't.  

     Romantic love, that love we celebrate this Thursday, causes as much pain as pleasure.  Maybe even more, since it's about "falling in love," meaning near-instant biological attraction.  That attraction brings floods of feel-good brain chemicals, but chemicals fade like summer dew.  

     Love grows old, waxes cold.  That's not real love.  It’s illusory, a projection of one's needs, a contract of sorts.  That's what most romantic love becomes after the chemicals wear off:  A contract to do something for someone as long as they do something in return. You scratch my back, honey, I’ll scratch yours.  

     No wonder a thousand country songs tell of lost love.   “If you can't be true, I'm gonna fall outa love with you.”  And “my love for you has died away like grass upon lawn, and tonight I wed another, Dear John.”   Hit the road, Jack.

     Therapists, counselors, mystics agree: real love requires discipline, sacrifice, and forgiveness.  It's not just romance, it's not giving in order to get, it's not full of fantasies and illusions.  And it's a huge challenge. 

     Now I’m not talking about spiritual love. I’m talking about a real connection between two humans who love each other. That’s what comes after the chemistry fades.  I know a few such lucky couples.  Not many.  

     Let me illustrate. Couple A fall in love, get married, and in five years feel nothing but contempt for one another.  He thinks she led him into marriage with false promises, she thinks he’s an insensitive jerk.  Convinced that marriage is vastly overrated, they divorce, and start a search for truer love.  

    Couple B fall in love, get married, and five years into the marriage spend most of their time trying to revive the romance they once felt. Sometimes they succeed, sometimes not.  They both wonder if marriage isn’t too much work, and love is something you feel for your hobby rather than your partner.  They’re not considering divorce, but marriage feels more like Labor Day than the Fourth of July.  

     Couple C fall in love, get married, and in five years recognize that they’re different people in many ways than they were when they married.  He has taken up golf, she has to travel more than before.  They disagree now over politics, they like different TV shows, they don’t enjoy the same music, she goes to church, he doesn’t.  

    Yet they love each other far more than they did when they married. Why?  Because they didn’t take romance too seriously.  They didn’t feel the need to share everything, agree on everything, or provide universal, unconditional support.  

    They developed into two fully independent adults who choose to spend time together because they still find each other surprising and fascinating.  And they learn from each other, and aren’t afraid to give and take criticism when it’s genuinely needed.  

    They enjoy and respect their differences.  That’s the hard part.  That’s the love many find so difficult because the need for romantic chemistry leads people into become half-people, each completed by the other.  It’s a foolish and dangerous illusion fostered by romantic novels and TV shows.   

     Before their divorce, when Couple A fought they never resolved anything, and ended up not speaking for hours, even days.  

    When Couple B fight, they make up without resolving much.  

    When Couple C fight, they get it over with as quickly as possible, remembering that nothing will change their partnership.   No threats, no put-downs or dismissals. Only good-natured disagreements.  Good friends arguing.  

     And how do I know this?  Because I see all three such marriages around me in colleagues and friends, and have directly experienced them myself, though not quite as described. (Privacy rights can be as important as property rights.)  

     The challenge, this Valentine’s Day, is to go beyond loving the idea of love and actually love a real, fully adult person.  


      



     





    What is Real Love—A Valentine’s Day Question

    2-10-02

    759 wds

                Everyone loves love, few actually love.  There’s a thought for Valentine's Day.

                So what do we mean by "love"?  Ambrose Bierce, bless his caustic heart, defined it two ways in his "Devil's Dictionary."

                LOVE, n.  "The folly of thinking much of another before one knows anything of oneself."   And "Love is a temporary insanity curable by marriage or by removal of the patient from the influences under which he incurred the disorder."

                Selfish, insane disorder.  That's Bierce's darkly cynical view of love. Truth be told, he has a point.  People who love the idea of love often fall victim to its ravages. People who truly love don't. 

                Romantic love, that love we celebrate this Thursday, causes as much pain as pleasure.  Maybe even more pain, since it's more about "falling in love," meaning near-instant biological attraction.  That attraction brings floods of feel-good brain chemicals, but chemicals fade like summer dew. 

                Love grows old, waxes cold.  That's not real love.  It’s illusory, a projection of one's needs, a contract of sorts.  That's what most romantic love becomes after the chemicals wear off:  A contract to do something for someone as long as they do something in return. You scratch my back, honey, I’ll scratch yours. 

                No wonder a thousand country songs tell of lost love.   “If you can't be true, I'm gonna fall outa love with you.”  And “my love for you has died away like grass upon lawn, and tonight I wed another, Dear John.”   Hit the road, Jack.

                Therapists, counselors, mystics agree: real love requires discipline, sacrifice, and forgiveness.  It's not just romance, it's not giving in order to get, it's not full of fantasies and illusions.  And it's a huge challenge.

                Now I’m not talking about spiritual love. I’m talking about a real connection between two humans who love each other. That’s what comes after the chemistry fades.  I know a few such lucky couples.  Not many. 

                Let me illustrate. Couple A fall in love, get married, and in five years feel nothing but contempt for one another.  He thinks she led him into marriage with false promises, she thinks he’s an insensitive jerk.  Convinced that marriage is vastly overrated, they divorce, and start a search for truer love. 

    Couple B fall in love, get married, and five years into the marriage spend most of their time trying to revive the romance they once felt. Sometimes they succeed, sometimes not.  They both wonder if marriage isn’t too much work, and love is something you feel for your hobby rather than your partner.  They’re not considering divorce, but marriage feels more like Labor Day than the Fourth of July. 

                Couple C fall in love, get married, and in five years recognize that they’re different people in many ways than they were when they married.  He has taken up golf, she has to travel more than before.  They disagree now over politics, they like different TV shows, they don’t enjoy the same music, she goes to church, he doesn’t. 

                Yet they love each other far more than they did when they married. Why?  Because they didn’t take romance too seriously.  They didn’t feel the need to share everything, agree on everything, or provide universal, unconditional support. 

    They developed into two fully independent adults who choose to spend time together because they still find each other surprising and fascinating.  And they learn from each other, and aren’t afraid to give and take criticism when it’s genuinely needed. 

                They enjoy and respect their differences.  That’s the hard part.  That’s the love many find so difficult because the need for romantic chemistry leads people into become half-people, each completed by the other.  It’s a foolish and dangerous illusion fostered by romantic novels and TV shows.  

                Before their divorce, when Couple A fought they never resolved anything, and ended up not speaking for hours, even days.  When Couple B fight, they make up without resolving much.   When Couple C fight, they get it over with as quickly as possible, remembering that nothing will change their partnership.   No threats, no put-downs or dismissals. Only good-natured disagreements.  Good friends arguing. 

                And how do I know this?  Because I see all three such marriages around me in colleagues and friends, and have directly experienced them myself, though not quite as described. (Privacy rights can be as important as property rights.) 

                The challenge, this Valentine’s Day, is to go beyond loving the idea of love and actually love a real, fully adult person. 

               

     

               

               

               

     

                

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  • "Brokeback Mountain" A Must See for Those Who Won’t See It

    • Posted on Jan 29, 2006 by Scott Cawelti
    1-29-06

    Occasionally a movie comes along that breaks ground, like “The Graduate” in 1967 or “Easy Rider,” in 1969, or “Apocalypse Now” in 1979, or “Crash” in 2004. 

     These landmark films changed viewers’ minds about growing up, outsiders, the Vietnam war, and racism, respectively. 

     Comes now a new film from director Ang Lee, “Brokeback Mountain,” and men falling in love (with men) will never seem the same.  Many viewers won’t bother with the film because it shows the growth of a genuine love attachment between men, and that just seems wrong to some people.  

    et they’ll be missing a haunting love story that rings true in every detail, without condemnation or wrath-of-god judgments.  

     It’s been called a “gay cowboy” film, but it’s neither.  Not gay because homosexuality seems only incidental to the characters’ feelings, and not cowboy because these guys scrabble out a living in the 1960s at whatever they can, sheepherding, rodeoing, you name it.  

    They’re down and outers for whom the American dream remains just that—a dream.  Regular working dudes, in other words. 

    My notion of cowboys as heroes or gunslingers or slayers of villains and outlaws gets put to rest in the first ten minutes as these two dirt-poor ranch hands show up for a low-level job tending sheep on (fictional) Brokeback Mountain in Wyoming. Strangers before they work together, they become friends, then lovers, then soulmates who are happy only when they’re together.  

     Nobody is more surprised about their feelings than these macho guys.  One of them seems more attracted to men than the other, but both deny that they’re “queer” from the beginning. They’re also painfully aware that their own feelings are strictly taboo, literally punishable by death.  

     This happens in 1963, when gays were not only bashed, they were killed, so gays preferred to deny and avoid.  Those who “came out” faced the worst kind of intolerance.

    Of course they still do in places--Matthew Shepherd was murdered for being gay in Wyoming--but at least far more people now believe the strong that sexual orientation isn’t a sin, or a character flaw, or an immoral personal choice. 

     Because they refuse to admit their love, Jack and Ennis find women, get married, have children, and see each other occasionally during “fishing trips.”  These trips are the only time they’re truly happy and truly themselves.  

     So “Brokeback Mountain” is about forbidden love, as was “Bridges of Madison County,” another sad story of love found and lost.  Whether gay or straight seems beside the point.  

     Unfortunately, romantic love attachments have a short shelf life when lovers begin living together.  After that a relationship morphs into friendship, occasional romantic interludes, and long-term intimate sharing.

    It’s rewarding, infuriating, challenging, and probably forces many of us to finally grow up.  You can’t remain a lovestruck kid when you’re sharing bathrooms and bedrooms.   

     After I read and saw “Bridges of Madison County,” I wondered how the wife/lover Francesca would get along with her lost lover Kincaid after a couple of years of dishes and laundry, Christmas with the relatives, struggles with the checkbook and cooking.

     Poet and songwriter Leonard Cohen calls it “the homicidal bitchin’ that goes down in every kitchen to determine who will serve and who will eat.”  Romance can survive these struggles, but not without being transformed.    

     Love has to become daily intimacy before it’s more than half fantasy, and that’s what lovers miss if they actually get together and live through that that initial (or occasional) romance.  When lovers remain apart, their romantic fantasies actually become even more intense until they live only on memories and hopes.  

    It’s fatal to one’s happiness unless they find a new love, or get into long-term therapy, both unlikely for most folks.    

     So what a shame that all people, gay or straight, don’t have an equal chance to find and live with their soulmates.  

    Gay people still face an uphill battle, at least in rural America, to find and live with their deepest loves, and “Brokeback Mountain” shows this in heartbreaking detail.  
     



     




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