Sunday, July 15, 2012

The Joy of the Loveless

"I decided that if the
shaking of her breasts could be stopped, some of
the fragments of the afternoon might be collected,
and I concentrated my attention with careful
subtlety to this end." -- T. S. Eliot, "Hysteria," 1920
Your life, like most lives, is a tale of inappropriate loves that swerved one way or the other in the chaos of time by the impact of mismatched forces. Appropriate love, all the sober gray heads would agree, is of a living object better and bettering than the self; this definition may be behind our stumbles, but, like the naked mole rats we resemble, we feel our way by warmth on our pelts, blindly going "Warmer, warmer... colder, colder," falling this side or that of apathy's zero state.

And you thought Art History wasn't a good major!

 I was at the circus yesterday -- Mal-Wart, I mean -- and my absurd remnant of desire had me looking at women, girls, crones, and mothers, and then each would go from retina to a filter that may not be the same as other men's. I did not go to sexual attraction, but fitness of soul. A carriage, a posture of head, a relaxed face, would say that she was angry or worried or innocent, serious or vain. After that coarse speculation came nothing, really, but a reflected impulse, whereby I thought on time or life. Some women, more girls, did not inhabit their bodies, and others did not master them. Some were younger than their years, but more were older or matched.

I saw several who were in the last of their teens, but their world was older. They had become mothers or already learned to fear a ringing phone, and so their minds were not where their flesh was. Another was about twenty-five, but her eyes never held anything they touched, and her feet never reached the ground when she walked, and I realized, "She thinks seventeen." (There is not a word missing in that sentence.)

There may be more stages, more fixed points than the ones I know about, but it seems to me that there are ages we actually are. The "want to grow old" age is a mind that cannot have a number on it, because it is an age that, by its primary desire, tells itself that it is dependent, controlled, and inexperienced. Then, though, there is seventeen. Some thirteen year olds -- tough kid boys with older brothers who initiate them into beer and drugs early, girls who 'blossom' early and are stunned by the shockwave -- think seventeen, but it's usually the thinking of the triumph over puberty. It is having won against one's own body, feeling its contours as reliable and being relieved, at long last, of daily name calling, back stabbing, and fighting with same sex peers.

Some people are mistakenly under the impression that thinking seventeen is happiness. Ask someone who is seventeen, though. The next year is twenty-three. The graduating college person, the full of information person, the self-confident competent person who announces independence for the first time and competency for the first time and isn't awed by it -- this is the person who has the beer party, who goes to that strange restaurant with her friends, who organizes a potluck on her own. This is the person who writes the famously dense novel filled with every idea he or she ever had. (The genre of the novel of twenty-three could fill two graduate seminars.)

Then there's thinking thirty. Most of us past thirty think thirty. The thrills are gone. It's not neat to get mail in the mailbox. Parties are boring. Dating is dreaded. More money thought than creative thought goes on, and there is worry. One is at full power, but only to find that the world really has only a very, very small spot on the dance floor for each of us to move in.

I have just discovered that there is thinking fifty, too. This is the regretful and the "Oh, no" thinking, as well as the thinking of diminishment. It remains until the last thought -- being the person who is weak, and that, like the first, has no number associated with it. The first mind is one we flee as quickly as we are able, and the last is one we adopt only after we have no other choice.

The women I looked at fell into ages -- ages of mind. I also looked at their kindness, because to me that may be most needed. When I came back to the house, after that trip to the circus, I saw a man my age moving some heavy thing in a ditch. His wife was standing behind him with her arms crossed under her bra, her cropped hair a blond contrast to her red face. He placed the thing somewhere and looked eagerly under his arm behind him, and then bent back down. This is all I saw, but I was going 20 mph, so I saw that much. I also saw that she was a woman of a stunning figure at twenty, a heart of frustration lurking beneath it, and a mind of ways things must be done. (I have no praise for the man, but her stance was a cliche.)

Als das kind kind war
We think and are, at first, in love. Some people mistake this for joy. They are allowed to do so, because it can seem that way later, but it is, instead, trust. When one has no trust left, the thinking "when I grow up" seems idyllic, because it was a time of loving parents and teachers and police and aunts and uncles and the family dog. Even as it meant no self control, no power, it meant love. It was a false love, because it was a temporary one. All those things could be stronger, smarter, and wiser than the child, but not better -- as gummy eyed poets have said, and as Jesus made clear (it does occur to me, now, that, although Jesus in other places says that we must become children again and that the prophecy is fulfilled that the wise are made simple, the simple wise, the particular circumstance of this saying was of sick children and children suffering and having faith). After the completely thoughtless phases of grabbing whatever is wanted are gone, the aspiring young who think about their future are fine.

The next mind we inhabit is the one of self-aware division, where we fall victim to love's mating and lust's warfare, and we know it. I doubt there is a person who has gone through the mind and not been aware of some falseness to the driver. As for falling in love, I could point you at Shakespeare or other Elizabethans who have such precise words for it. ("This senior-junior, giant-dwarf, Dan Cupid; /Regent of love-rhymes,  lord of folded arms,/ The anointed sovereign of sighs and groans,/ Liege of all loiterers and malcontents." Marriage, the goal of earthly love, "’T is just like a summer bird-cage in a garden,—the birds that are without despair to get in, and the birds that are within despair and are in a consumption for fear they shall never get out.") Most of the Restoration wits saw love as a disease and lust as its fever, and they had elaborate metaphors for it -- what else but a disease could make a person behave in such a way, and what else but a fever could animate a person to such a degree?

Passing, or not passing, that, we join, or we join around the mind of twenty-three. I now advise teenagers to marry, and to do it quickly, because the false love of seventeen is negated by the false love of twenty-three. At seventeen's mind, it is union. The other person is better than you and has all the parts you lack, and two-in-one will solve the failure of isolation's deficits. Palm to palm and chest to chest, face to face, we have union -- a wonder enough to keep us forever and yet transient enough, mutable enough, to make us aware that it may be a shadow. She isn't better, and he isn't. She makes you a better person . . . somewhat, and he makes you stronger. . . when he isn't ruining everything. Union is so rarely complete, synchronized, and without tugging on the rope that we have a valid love, a good love, but still a misdirection.
Marry, children! Marry soon, or don't, because when you begin to live in the mind of twenty-three, you will fall in love with someone else. Around the age of nineteen, you will meet the most fascinating, compliant, coy, and agreeably cryptic and great person, ever: You.

From nineteen until thirty, you are the most interesting person you know. Why are you like ___? Why don't people like you more? Why aren't you wealthier? Why do you procrastinate? All these questions and more will come to you in time, and you'll answer them and others -- several times over. This is not a quality of the affluent only, either. The first flush of reflection, which occurs the moment the hormones take their claws off the gas pedal, leads to more.

The thirty mind can hit at twenty. It's just when you no longer think of yourself as a glorious subject, and instead think of yourself as a persecuted subject. The thirty year old mind is responsible, dutiful, over-stretched, under-appreciated, and busy. No one knows the beauty and sophistication of the great Self that the twenty-three year old was, and no one will see how wrong he is. Instead, whatever answers to the Big Mysteries of Me the person came up with, those stick, because now we are busy.

Imagine a man who marries at twenty-three -- a normal enough time. He might go into the wonder of self for a short time. That wonder lust wanderlust takes a person to blame first, then persecution, and then understanding, followed by repetition on a more accurate level. First up for most people is "Mom and Dad made me this way." That's the usual answer, but it doesn't usually last. However, if that man has his first child and is running his business the next year, he goes right from seventeen/nineteen to thirty, frozen at the introspective point until the next grand turn.

The love of the self's intricacies, its labyrinth of history and the pachinko game of the future, can better the self or worsen the self and probably does. However, it is not love of an object. The unexamined life is not worth living, Socrates said, but the examined life is not lived at all. The love affair of nineteen to twenty-three is necessary refining, but it's a false love. It precedes another false love: the battering of the body and will against other men and women and against capital to secure against time some light -- a profit, a trust, land, a home, generations, traditions. I don't think I need to argue with anyone very hard that this effort is rarely successful on its own terms and never a proper love. Love of children is great, but it isn't the spur.

Being fifty in mind means a panic, sure. It means knowing that the clock is running down, really. It's not the knowing, though: it's the inescapable, daily pain. Unlike an injury, age picks surprising joints and muscles to fire. So, we look back. We look ahead. We evaluate. The thirty age mind gets disgraced, often when the children are old enough to not need a custodial parent. The seventeen year old mind gets shouted at, often when the marriage mate is doing the same. The nineteen year old seems more attractive than even the seventeen year old: it's time to once again discover the self, to find out where things went wrong, to tap into potential, to talk to people of the opposite sex who are engaged in those quests.

Most of us are sane. We just wish, think, and grunt. We don't go nuts. Furthermore, that foolishness washes off, eventually, but we're left with the self, and then memory as its grist.

As for love affairs, I have no advice. I was rejected by eHarmony. But that love? Well, the soul is big enough to fold and open, and I can't see any love but one as sovereign.

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