Sunday, January 27, 2013

Thinking About Forever

This is in no particular order. My ex girlfriend is a distinguished professor at one of the world’s most respected universities. My ex girlfriend shacked up with some rich dude from eastern Washington then went to South Korea to teach English. My ex girlfriend is an aesthetician and the last time I saw her she worked at a fancy salon. My ex girlfriend has two cute kids, is a radical bike rider and a substitute teacher. My ex girlfriend is a lawyer that works on same-sex legal issues. My ex girlfriend married an Army guy and moved to Texas. My ex girlfriend is a psychologist and has her practice in the same neighborhood in east Portland where she grew up. My ex girlfriend is an intern at a crummy magazine. My ex girlfriend used to do commercials and I looked up an old ad of hers on Youtube. My ex girlfriend is a professional farrier. My ex girlfriend stayed in Los Angeles and raised a family. My ex girlfriend married a real estate agent and lives in the suburbs. My ex girlfriend models, sells fancy underwear, and we have started hanging out again because, apparently, we are not done making each other act crazy.

Frank Ocean sings, “I’ve been thinking about you/Do you think about me still/Do ya, do ya?” (also, this video is fucked up). We always wonder, don’t we? And sometimes the past feels safe and sometimes it feels raw, and sometimes I wish that there was only one past, one memory of lost love to hold on to.  Instead there is this diffuse network of affection, spread over twenty some odd years for me. I see their faces as we sit to dinner, hear them sleeping next to me while I read, smell them in my apartment after they have left for the day or for good. Trying hard to make a good impression with the family, buying presents out of joy or out of duty, jealousy over nothing, laughing hard with tears in your eyes, a head nuzzling into your side, the stupid argument that is the excuse for finally breaking up. I’ve been thinking about you. Do you think about me still?

“Or do you not think so far ahead?/’Cause I’ve been thinking about forever.” The forbidden thought. This is not a world of casual connections, otherwise the images wouldn’t last. But nonetheless it feels like a world of impermanent things. Perhaps this is the effect of the transitory quality of modernity. “All that is solid melts into air,” said Marx and Engels long ago. And for sure the bourgeois age is defined by the intensification and the quickened pace of temporal cycles. Whatever the historico-philosophical explanation for the sense of impermanence, it is the feeling of our moment. “Happy are those ages in which the starry sky is the map of all possible paths,” wrote Luk√°cs in the greatest sentence in all of theory. Our age is very different. The past is a tangle of roads that converge very briefly on the present, then everything arrays before you, leading to nowhere in particular.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

A Ballad for James

We run romantic toward these broken hearts, James. How long have I known you? It’s been almost 20 years since Jimmy introduced me to Joe, who introduced me to Don, who introduced me to you. You were all hair and glasses and an arrogant chin. You carried yourself like a person who knew things and made things. The first time I went to your place I was surprised by the perfect columns of books and fancy magazines. The floor of your studio apartment was crowded with stacks and stacks and stacks. It was like found architecture, if there is such a thing. It was like the ruins of the already read. It was like the profane world turned sacred since it was hard to imagine defiling one of those perfectly erected edifices by pulling out something from the bottom. I have never managed to give such objective shape to the things I care for. A cigarette always hung in your mouth, bouncing to the rhythm of your words. And how you talked! You are a few years older than me and in those days that made all the difference. I wanted to know as much as you did, be as clever and dapper. I’ve never managed your grace, James, though I did manage to find a living that made me happy. You seem to have never found that and I’m not sure I’ll get to keep it. Back then we would spend night after night drinking cans of Hamm’s, the cheapest beer in the bar—which explains my unending dislike for people who go on about enjoying “good” beer—and chasing them with bourbons that were sprinkled lightly with Coke in a bad-faith approximation of a cocktail.  I would lean back in my chair and admire your gestures; your drunken animation nimbused us with happiness. The shadows of the bar were your theater, and we were all pleased to be able to listen to you go on about anything. Then you would disappear for days, sometimes months. And I admired that also because I have never cared enough about happiness or desperation to commit to either for long stretches of time. After a while you would come back and pick up where you left off. All of that restless energy, James. Mine took a different form but it is essentially the same in meaning. But look at where it has gotten us. We fall in love knowing full well that we are not good at it. We look for those perfect disasters without ever really realizing that is exactly what we are looking for. All the sunsets fail to convince us that the blue sky won’t last.  I love a girl that has left and all that remains of her are my memories of her brown eyes, memories that I no longer want.

The Weeknd’s “Wicked Games” is the best song I have heard on the radio in a very long time. It begins deceptively with bravado then becomes a raw account of love, anguish, aimlessness, loss, desire, renunciation, hopelessness, desperation, and vulnerability. And the amazingly original quality of The Weeknd’s phrasing reminds you of the invention necessary to help cross the gulf between feeling and expression.  Maybe you and I will never create this kind of art, James, but at least we know the heartbreaks that make it possible.