love. week fourteen.
city. new york city
So many things happened to me (for me? with me? within me?) over the past few days. My roommate was out of town Saturday so I finally had some (physical and mental) space to myself.
The first thing I did was to finally finish an opera I’d started watching weeks ago (Tristan by Wagner) and although its topic is love, I found it incredibly boring. Four and a half long hours of boredom (although there was this one interesting part where Tristan refers to his love for Isolde as the darkness that shatters all of the world’s light into specks of mere dust. People usually speak about darkness in a negative way, so I was intrigued by this inversion. And it kind of makes sense. Love is consummated at night, it collapses the ego into nothingness, and it beckons with a sort of passionate tyranny of its own. In the best of ways.)
Anyways, once I finished Tristan, I read some of Barthes’ Lovers Discourse (more on that in another post), and then put on Harold and Maude, a film from the 70s that has turned into something of a cult classic. (For those reading this, I cannot recommend it more highly. Spoiler: Like Tristan, it treats love as an antidote to, but also friend of, death.) The soundtrack was composed by Cat Stevens, and in some ways this is even more seductive than the film itself. Here are some of the lyrics to his song, “If you want to sing out”:
Well if you want to sing out, sing out
And if you want to be free, be free
'Cause there's a million things to be
You know that there are
And if you want to live high, live high
And if you want to live low, live low
'Cause there's a million ways to go
You know that there are
You can do what you want
The opportunity's on
And if you find a new way
Well you can do it today
Well you can make it all true
And you can make it undo
You see, ah ah ah, it's easy ah ah ah
You only need to know
Well if you want to say yes, say, "Yes"
And if you want to say no, say, "No"
'Cause there's a million ways to go
You know that there are
And if you want to be me, be me
And if you want to be you, be you
'Cause there's a million things to do
You know that there are
As someone who’s trying to learn how to love, I’m constantly being reminded that love has no rules. Just like with happiness, it’s something that each person has to discover for themself. And so, in happiness and in love, there’s always going to be a certain degree of improvisation. The only way that you can go wrong, is by holding onto some idea you have about love, rather than beginning from within yourself and discovering your own unique connections with yourself, those around you, and the world itself.
While I was using dating apps, I kept asking myself, “Is this love? Is this the thing that everyone is pointing towards?” But, what I was really doing when I was asking that, was introducing and then giving in to a sense of distrust of my own self. I was holding my own experience up against some model of love in order to decide whether or not it was good or bad. But how can I even know what X means when she says that she loves Y? And does it even matter? What actually matters is what’s been in front of me all along. What actually matters is the one thing that I’ve been almost-intentionally ignoring from the start. What actually matters is what I mean when I say that I love Y. What actually matters are the uncountably numerous personal, strange, and funny ways in which I thirst for connections across the impenetrable divide that separates each person, each moment, each glance.
I want to know what love is. Here it is. Well if you want to sing out, sing out; And if you want to be free, be free; 'Cause there's a million things to be. Love is the name we give to that moment of letting go, the moment in which we choose to stop holding ourselves back out of fear, out of rules, out of expectations, and instead hold our life up as a mirror that directly reflects our pure selves right back into the world which is constantly creating and recreating us. In the words of Kanye West, "I like people who are the maximum version of themself." (Yup, I just unironically quoted Kanye.)
One of the best things about my apartment is that I have a direct view of sunrise from my bed. When I sleep on my left side, it’s the first thing I see when I open my eyes. On Sunday morning, I awoke to the most magical red glow just radiating warmth against the frigid streets of lower Manhattan. I think it was about 5:30, but I jumped out of bed, made a coffee, threw on some layers and went out onto the fire escape to watch the city awaken.
Two minutes later, with my butt literally frozen to the metal stairs, I realized this wasn’t turning out the way I imagined it, so I went back inside with my now-chilly coffee and realized that, lucky me, I had a few hours that I now needed to fill.
With not much else to do, I got cozy on the couch, wrapped myself in a blanket, and turned on a guided meditation. Now, I don’t know if the acid I took a couple months ago is still in my system lol but my meditations have been INSANE lately. During this one in particular, I was able to (or at least imagine myself able to) experience myself (which, for me, is more like the totality of my present experience, rather than just my body or mind or whatever) as a bundle of what I interpreted as life, or rather, existence. I mean, the same way that my computer is really nothing else but a rather elaborate and carefully directed flow of electricity (I’m sure this isn’t actually true, but let’s go with it for now), the particular experience that I am having at this precise moment is simply a wonderful show that ‘existence’ (or life, or whatever) is putting on for an audience of one. I actually felt myself and everything around me brimming with life/existence.
This made me burst out laughing. And crying.
I’m not sure whether I think any of this actually makes sense, but the sensation itself (a sensation of pulsating existence filling every inch of my body, my room, my universe) was enough to make me want to explore! You can do what you want; The opportunity's on; And if you find a new way; Well you can do it today. Fuck yeah I can. But this time I’d better put on a few more layers.
By the time I got out into the street, I realized that it didn’t really matter which direction I went in, so I played a little game I invented, Making Love To The City, and just let the city guide me. On the way, I passed by what must be the bravest woman in NY sitting outside of a café with a coffee, cigarette, and book, pretending that the temperatures were not entirely arctic. Then another man with a muzzled pitbull, who grabbed a dog head costume out of the trash and proudly showed it off to me as if it were some buried treasure. I told him it’s probably teeming with covid, but wished him much luck this coming Halloween.
Eventually I ended up at the East River, but a section of the river that I’d never seen before. Here, you could go out onto the pier, sit in a big old swing, and look out over the Brooklyn Bridge and the Financial District. I sat here for a while, feeling myself being rocked back and forth by the clinging grasp of gravity, and waved at little old men on their morning strolls. Oh, one day I’ll be just like them, shuffling around a dark shiny city that’s been ignoring me for decades, hoping to stumble upon my past.
I love to gaze out at the choppy waves. This time I even spit a little into it, happy to lend my own feeble fluid to its titanic depths.
At one point, I ended up back on Grand Street, and as I was passing an old church, the priest saw me checking them out and made some small talk. I mean, the scene was just perfect. The Lower East Side is one of the dirtiest places in the country, so to see this angelic figure (wrapped only in what could very well have been Jesus’s own robes passed through the generations) out amongst the filth and noise of the city was too seductive for me to pass up. He asked me which denomination I am. I told him I’m Jewish. I asked him what time services were. He told me there would be a Latin Mass complete with string quartet at noon. He was trying to act nonchalant, but I could tell he was really excited. I told him I’d be there.
Okay, this Mass itself could be its own post. That shit was wild. I’m talking incense. I’m talking gospel. I’m talking prophecies, blessings, intonations, kneeling, standing, demons, long robes, and a homily laden with Super Bowl references. This was clearly the real deal.
Here’s what I’ll say though. First of all, it’s wonderful that people can have a spiritual community. A place they can come and not be treated like a citizen, employee, parent, or what have you. A place where they can put down their burden, together, if only for a couple hours on a Sunday afternoon, and treat each other with care, love, and devotion. God (if you’re listening), I’d love to have something like that.
Secondly, I loved the theatrics of it. It all felt super solemn and sacred. It provided me with a literal space (and context) to meditate on the heaviness of life. And the music was great too. To be honest, I could have done with some extra incense, so maybe next time I’ll smoke some weed before I go.
Lastly, there was a whole lot of nonsense being thrown around about hell and demons and Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Kind of a shame. Someone read from the book of Corinthians where Jesus tells a bunch of Jews that “I come as an authority, not as a scribe.” I fucking love that. Let’s stop rearranging other people’s ideas, and just sink into our own thoughts, our own experiences, our own loves. Jesus did it, why can’t we? Let’s all go out and start religions! I’m kind of shy, but I’d personally rather be a prophet than a scribe any day of the week.
After services, I told the priest about my love project and asked if we could talk about it from a Christian perspective. He mentioned Virgil’s description of Hell as the place that’s built from love. Yeesh. Okay, I'm not really being fair, but at this point I’m just having fun.
I guess it's time to call it a day?
P.S. The priest introduced me to this other (ex-)jewish guy at the church who seems to be really nice (Hi Jason! If you’re reading this.) Hopefully, I’ll have some love-discussions with him and follow up on this.
You know love is better than a song
Love is where all of us belong
So don't be shy, just let your feelings roll on by
Don't wear fear or nobody will know you're there
That you're there, you're there, you're there, you're there, you're there
You're there, you're there, you're there, you're there.
- Don't Be Shy by Cat Stevens