love. week one.
city. new york city
I invented a game today. It’s called Make Love to the City. Here are the rules:
Smoke a bit of weed. Just a bit, not too much.
Play some music on your phone. (I chose the Summer of Love playlist on Apple Music.)
Let the city guide you. When you get to a corner, go whichever direction is free. If a something catches your eye, go check it out. The key here is to yield to the city’s energy.
Every once in a while, push back against the city. Instead of passively yielding, assert some sort of response. Wait for a light, make a sudden U-turn, stop for a conversation. Don’t think too hard; let it flow naturally. The key here is to enter into dialogue with the city.
I played all afternoon and arrived home with two books, some fruit, and a recommendation to read Audrey Lorde’s essay, “Uses of the Erotic.”
The rest of the afternoon and evening were spent researching the Free Love movement of the 60s.
So far, the way that I see it, there are three main protagonists of love: Religions (notably Christianity and Buddhism), Arts & Culture (from Shakespeare to Cat Stevens), and Philosophy/Psychology (Plato even has a relationship named after him).
I think that the Free Love movement, and the surrounding counter-culture more broadly, provides a fun intersection where all three of these influences converge, if only for a decade or two. I ended up watching the entire film, Easy Rider (1969), which follows two hippies through the US on what turns out to be a search for the soul of America, from dusty communes to picket-fenced towns. They never find it. “We blew it,” grumbles the protagonist, Wyatt, in a hidden reference to the American Experiment itself. Half the country is plagued by bureaucratic capitalism, violent imperialism, and lingering racism. The other is wondering aimlessly, armed only with the vague (if powerful) notion that pure love and freedom are the answer to everything.
The next day, Wyatt and his friend are shot and killed by strangers along the side of a highway as the credits roll down the screen. The end.
Fast forward 50 years to today, on the eve of the 2020 election, it seems equally clear that it will not be any external threat that brings this great experiment to a close. If America is indeed facing a century of decline (akin to that which the British faced in the last century), it is only from an internal divide which breeds mistrust, fear, and an inability to care about one another.
For my part, I am stuck between my liberal friends and my conservative family. I will try my best during the coming weeks to treat both (no matter how much I may disagree with their views) with the same trust, love, and care that I’d like from them in return.
I’ve been meditating regularly (with Sam Harris’s Waking Up app) for about a year now. This morning, sitting cross-legged on my bed, I closed my eyes for my regular 20-minute session during which I simply, if sporadically, attempt to pay attention. That’s really all it is. An attempt to do nothing except pay attention.
But this session was a bit different than usual. About 5 minutes or so in, I was overcome by the following sensation, sending a stream of tears down my face:
I had the sensation that every moment is a gift. I don’t know why or how it came to be that I have this moment; this very moment, right now. But somehow I do. It’s a precious gift.
Every moment is delicate. Time is the most delicate thing in the world. It can be spent in any which way I choose. Completely at my will, I can turn it into a moment of suffering or fill it with blissful pleasure. Like an innocent child, each moment waits patiently for me to decide what its fate will be. It has no other choice.
Every moment deserves to be met with tenderness. This final thought was actually what appeared first in my mind, as though I had suddenly established a relationship with time, which I then deconstructed into the above stages. I HAVE A RELATIONSHIP WITH TIME. I can care for it, I can nurture it, I can love it. Or I can grumble about, despise, or just generally ignore it. In either case, time and I are intertwined in a lifelong embrace.
My power over time is so total, and time’s own passivity and acceptance of that power is so complete, that it is only appropriate for each moment to be handled with extreme care, lest I shatter it with my absence.
When I was a little boy, my mother would occasionally climb into bed with me at night and tell me how lucky she felt to be handed the greatest gift a mother can ever receive, a son. She explained that I was given to her without any instructions, and that she immediately understood that my precarious existence would require an infinite amount of care and devotion. She said that being gifted this responsibility made her the luckiest person alive.
I have been gifted the responsibility to take care of each moment of my life. I feel like the luckiest person alive.
And so today I realized that love is tender.
It’s impossible to talk or write or even think about love without becoming one giant cliché. Oh well.
I noticed two things today.
After spending the better part of 24 hours researching, browsing, ordering, canceling, and reordering blinds for my room, I had finally settled on these really drab white plasticky shades from Lowes that roll up and down. I didn’t really want them, but decided that ‘shades don’t really matter’ and after all, these were just $15 a piece. In other words, I had (once again) decided on the cheapest option that wasn’t actually repulsive.
Anyways, at some point this afternoon I realized that the shades weren’t just for me. They were for my room. The whole process of selecting shades had become so aggravating because I had to consider how easy the shades were for me to lift up / pull down, how they’d look, how’d they make me feel, how much they’d cost me, how difficult would they be for me to put up… me, me, me. I needed the shades to work for me.
When I suddenly stopped to consider my room in all this – my one and only home on this topsy-turvy planet – and how the shades would affect, not me, but my room, the anxiety melted away, and I (once again) canceled my order. Tomorrow, I’ll order some lovely shades. My home deserves at least that much from me. And I feel happy to be able to provide them.
Later in the afternoon, I went for a walk. I put on some jazz and headed towards Tompkins Square Park. The funny thing about jazz is that it keeps changing. It’s essentially improvisational, so the musicians are just making it up as they go along. As each member introduces a new flow or sound, the other musicians reorganize their own performance in order to incorporate it into the song. In this way, musical notes are picked up and put down, while the song is in the process of being discovered. Nothing is foreign to the song, but nothing is essential either.
Is there a better description of love than that?
As I entered Tompkins Square Park, I was greeted by a man on a stage who was (what I can only describe as) wailing into a microphone. His song didn’t have lyrics. It just had, well, wails. I think the name of his band was The Shadow. But as I turned my attention to him, I noticed that he was now a part of my life. He was not foreign to me, he was (and will now always be) woven into my narrative. After all, he even appears here, in my writing.
Particularly in a city, strings of life come and go. And in the midst of all the traffic, I can begin to lose track of life itself. Perhaps one of the lessons of jazz (and why jazz will forever be the genre of NYC) is precisely that the dance of life is best performed by continuously weaving and re-weaving whatever it is that we take ourselves to be. Love, like jazz and the city, is infinitely welcoming. And through welcoming, it is expanded.
Love is soft as a fog, seamlessly altering its shape in response to everything it encounters on its journey through the city, until it permeates every inch of life.
I love my home by relating to it as an ‘other’. I love my city by relating to it as my ‘self’.
I love my home by respecting its individuality. I love my city by respecting its universality.
To love is to pay attention.
While I was taking a shower this morning, I had some thoughts that I wanted to write down. But when I went to open my computer, my friend Dovi started texting me, and we ended up having a conversation about mental health and the pros/cons of medication.
For the first half of the conversation, half of my mind was on Dovi but the other half was on all of the things that I wanted to write down. Needless to say, I felt distracted and a bit anxious. But, at one point in the conversation, I decided to put my thoughts on hold and just pay attention to Dovi. To really care about what he was saying, and to respond like there was nothing else that I would rather be doing. Come to think of it, that’s actually the truth.
My mood immediately improved, and I felt gratitude that I am able to have friends like Dovi in my life. But aside from making me feel better, Dovi deserves my attention.
Giving him my undivided attention is an expression of my love for him. By giving him my attention, I introduce love into our relationship and into each of our lives.
Communicating is not about speaking, it’s about listening.
What else can I pay attention to (and love)? How about this laptop? These words? This moment?
But okay, here were my thoughts. After just a week or so working on this love project, there are a few things I’ve noticed:
There are many flavors of love. This is not surprising, but I’m interested to see whether they share some commonality (like intimacy or self-expansion) or if they are unique.
I was expecting it to take weeks or months to notice any change in my capacity to love. But I’m pleasantly surprised to see that loving, like skiing, is a lot easier than it looks.
People like to say that there are two kinds of love: conditional and unconditional. The truth is that all love is unconditional. Now, that doesn’t mean that you can’t choose which person/object/etc to love. For example, I might choose to only love people who also love me. But the act of love itself needs to be unconditional; it can’t come with a return policy or pend until my beloved performs something in return. Love must be given freely, or it cannot be given at all.
This is the first time that I’ve kept a journal with the intention of making it public. It’s making me self-conscious and throwing me off a bit, but let’s see how it goes.
It’s inescapable. I have a fear of attachment. I have spent the last ten years of my life severing ties. Ties to geography, language, community, religion, occupation, possessions, beliefs, activities, friends. It’s telling that, until today, I’ve never decorated my room. I have emerged as an individual, but an individual without attachments. In a literal sense, I have nothing other than the thoughts in my mind and a few friends sprinkled across the globe. It’s not the lack of attachment which worries me. No, it’s the fear of attachment. Insofar as fear and love are incompatible, I must come to accept my actual existence rather than constantly fleeing into an unfettered world of pure potential.
I’ve mastered the art of keeping my options open. Now it’s time to find my place in the world.
For the last ten years I’ve experienced the joys and sorrows of being a stranger. Now, I’d like to finally respond to Mister Roger’s timeless question: “Won’t you be my neighbor?”
I’ll start by putting up some window shades.
“Love is at the root of everything.
All learning, all parenting, all relationships.
Love, or the lack of it.” – Mr. Rogers