22 Feb 2010

Learning curves

February 22, 2010 506, assignments Comments Off

I was 18 the first time I wanted someone, and I mean really wanted someone, felt-like-I’d-been-drugged wanted someone, why-are-my-hands-shaking wanted someone, sorry-I-missed-that-what-are-we-talking-about-again wanted someone.

What a struggle it was to try to pay attention to whatever it was I was supposed to pay attention to in that meeting. He walked in and my ability to focus left.

Ten years later, I can still tell it’s him when he walks up behind me in a restaurant by the way my brain suddenly checks out.

There are two big metaphors in American culture: sports and food. Those are really stand-ins for the two great metaphors in human existence. Sports is violence. Food is  sex.

(A short aside here about food and sex: we use one to stand in for the other because they’re both really about sensual, physical pleasure. As such, they are both really about fears of excess and containment. We celebrate those people that subjugate their desire for food, and call them desirable sexually. And we punish those who obviously like food by calling them undesirable, because they cannot control their appetites. Desire is appetite, “pleasure belongs to gluttony and lust.”)

I think we really miss something when we use those metaphors.

We understand ourselves in relation to other people, and part of that is a question of exploration and experience. How do you know what you want? Experience is about figuring out what you want, figuring out what you like, figuring out what you want to do again. You have to act to figure out what you like. And once you figure out what you like, you want to act.

Virginity is part of an essential insecurity about sex, and men don’t have a monopoly on this. If you fear not being good, you’re going to look for someone who doesn’t know the difference. And then you’re young and laying back, staring at the ceiling counting dots in the acoustic tile to distract yourself from wondering “can this really be it?” and “Thank God I didn’t wait to get married before figuring that out.”

When you sleep with people, consciously and reflectively, you understand and explore yourself. “Lovers reveal to each other what they don’t dare say elsewhere, sometimes not even to themselves.” (120)

You start to understand that there isn’t always a surefire connection between love and desire.

We were going through old pictures at my grandparents’ house when I found one of a bunch of World War II GIs hanging out. There was one man in the group that was obviously the informal leader, the one with the most charisma, the one at the center of the group.

So I asked my grandmother which one was my grandfather. I shouldn’t have been so surprised.

“Grandma,” I said. “He was hot!”

“Why do you think I married him?” she said before leaving the table smiling, as if she was conflicted about sharing such a delicious tidbit.

The real joke is that now they avoid being in the same room as each other.

Love, like civilization, is often about subjugating your own desires, in a very limited context: I will confine myself to one person because that is what benefits me, my partner, my family, my society. But none of those things exist without an understanding of the self, and then they all crumble.

“I have a love for the poet who walks inside of my dreams, for his pain and the flame in him, but not for the man. I cannot be physically bound to him.” (234)

It’s possible to desire people you don’t love. It’s possible to love people you don’t desire.  It’s excellent when both happen. It’s not the end of the world when they’re not.

Sometimes, it’s downright fantastic.

We’ve moved away from culturally, in many ways because sexuality — particularly women’s sexuality — is wrapped up in notions of agency and control. As women gained more agency in their work and home lives, they lost agency in their sexual lives. And it’s not hard to give that up, because owning your actions is hard. It’s hard to choose for yourself. It’s easy to allow yourself to be an object.

It releases you from the responsibility of thinking. (xii)

It’s also easy to accept objectivity from a partner, because it makes defining yourself in relation to the other person easier. An object won’t express something that conflicts with your notion of who you are.

That’s why we turned Fear of Flying into Girls Gone Wild. Why Anais Nin and Henry Miller (2:15) are no longer among our cultural landmarks. Why we have Bella instead of Buffy.

This is why Facebook has 300 million users (and turned a profit) — because it’s about how we understand ourselves in relation to others. It’s right there in the name: social networking.

(Another aside: fantasy sports, too, are compelling because if our actions are what define us, it allows us to explore who we would be were we in charge: successful, ideally, more so than the others in the fantasy league. That’s identity as tied up in violence. Since violence is less taboo than sex, especially violence-as-sport, we tend to substitute violence for sex (1:36), which is its own problem. )

Social networks are also important because they allow us to choose what we want to reveal, to be either more or less circumspect than we are in everyday life. My behavior is mine, not for Google to Buzz about. We want to choose our own labels to live out: straight, gay, Patriots fan, Twilighter, “it’s complicated.”

We edit these things everyday, selecting what we want known about who we are. Me included.

Ten years later, I sit and share a civilized meal and casual conversation with a now-old friend. I choose not to share I toss back vodka to kill the remembered taste of sweat that lingers in the back of my mouth.

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