Alms of Ambivalence: The Art of Mixed Emotions

Severian loves Thecla. Forever. And not even death will part them. After her suicide – she was a prisoner, he a torturer, and he smuggled her a knife so she could both end her suffering and choose her own fate – he ‘ingested’ a piece of her body so she would become a part of him.

In that world – a reality imagined and written by Gene Wolfe in his four volume novel, The Book of the New Sun – that act allowed a person’s memories and shades of their personality to live on in another body. It is a grotesque, gorgeous act of desperate grief, love, respect. Commitment. To the bone. Of the bone.


When I sent a note to 537 (yes, my list is that small) of my fiercest friends and allies announcing that I’m currently incubating another human, I did not do it in this tone:

Awesome! Amazeballs! A unicorn just slid down a rainbow and gave me a cupcake! Wheeee!

Instead, I detailed my unconventional, sometimes wrenching and now wonderful love affair with my baby’s daddy.

Because I wanted to tell the truth. Yes, we’re in love. Yes, we’re committed. Yes, we’re having a baby and setting up house. But it wasn’t always a charmed road.

What relationship – friendship, parental, romantic – is uncomplicated by mixed feelings, profound acts of tenderness and betrayal? Is there anyone you love whom you have not failed in some minute or monumental way?

Yet our stories of courtship are often told in one key: happy. Crinoline and garters and place settings, oh my!


Of course I’m happy. And of course I’m sad. When you say yes to one thing, you’re saying no to so many more.


Oh, I want him. Then, now, always. And I wanted a baby. In a year or two. Maybe.


There’s a reason I’m telling you this and it isn’t catharsis or confession. It’s life.

Life is a composition, a song written old and new, every day. An alm of ambivalence.

We seek coaches. We seek clarity. We seek to be the hedgehog and not the fox and see only one thing.

But choosing your One Thing doesn’t mean you will feel only one thing. Clarity is accompanied by exhultation and grief. Clarity is ruthless, mercenary, affirming choice. One thing over many. 

This thing. Your thing.


This – my lover, the wounds we’ve inflicted on each other, the tender poultices we’ve applied, our baby – isn’t a path I’d trade. I wouldn’t want to walk another with anyone else. In the last year, I grew. I grew into nomaddawhat. I ground up commitment, mixed it in my life cocktail, and drank deeply.


And it’s not just life. It’s art. Your art.

Someone – it is variously attributed to Gene Fowler, Douglas Adams and Ernest Hemingway – once wrote,

Writing is easy: All you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.

Similarly, someone else – probably Hemingway – said,

Writing is easy: open a vein and bleed on paper.

Or: live and drink deeply. Eat your love and your loves. Wind them into your DNA and then write them. Write your alms of ambivalence.

PS This piece was inspired by last night’s class in my Artful, Heart-full Blogging Course.

PPS If you want to live and write (and blog!) with more art, heart and soul, please join me in the Summer or Fall Session of Artful, Heart-full Blogging. They’re my last two offerings of the year and for a good long while after that. (As of November, I’m surrendering to babydom for the indefinite future.)

PPPS “Alms of Ambivalence” is a phrase I lifted  from Ronna Detrick’s Beauty that Aches. Ronna is in the current Artful, Heart-full Blogging cohort and wrote “Beauty That Aches” (as well as “It Could Be Worse” which is equally stunning, you must read it) using some techniques I teach in my class. I read that phrase and was smitten, instantly. This feels like success – for both of us. Thank you, Ronna.

About the author

Kelly Diels I'm Kelly Diels. I'm a writer. I've written for Salon, Jezebel, XO Jane, Problogger, Write to Done and more. I'm currently working on a book about The Female Lifestyle Empowerment Brand. Interested? Please subscribe to my newsletter and I'll share more thoughts and chapters with you as I write them. You can also find me on Facebook and yes please, please do.