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What Is This Thing Called Love?

I travel to escape confining self-definitions. But wherever I go, there I am. What we see inside when we see new things outside gets us where we're going.

Nobody said the journey would be easy.

Chicago was dressed up in love like a starlet in a red velvet Christmas dress. Mistletoe not necessary; cold weather and warm hearts made for hand-holding and smooching everywhere I turned.

I'd been living in a blissful self-completing bubble of autosexual benessere that had recently met its unexpected expiration date. When the bubble popped I didn't know what to do, so I left town, but travel just threw the new world order into chiaroscuro.

Hot buttered rum, pine wreaths, a fire in the fireplace, poorly paid union crews clearly outside cranking the snow machine like nobody's business. She told me about her progress with the new book. Both of us much too marvellous for words...and yet a little perplexed and a little sad around the edges, feeling a little empty but not sure that what we wanted even existed in this universe.

Not sure we even knew what we wanted.

It was so much easier to point to what we knew from experience we didn't want and never wanted to bother with again.

Mr. and Mrs. Healthy Couple gave me their best buenas ondas while I was there and I hope to emulate them.  After reflecting on their securely-attached bond, I realized afresh that being in a long-term monogamous cohabiting relationship requires one specific subgenre of love. Love doesn't care whether or not the person you love is well-suited to living in your nest with you or not. Romance is not the same as setting up house with a helpmeet who shoulders the burden of daily living. Romance is rainbow sparkles, and cohabiting is yoked oxen.

But there should be both in an enduring relationship.

I have no idea how that could happen.

The Left Fielders, in town for a layover, the day together, chewing the fat over hot chocolate and pissing off museum guards. 97% of me thinks that I prefer my freedom to the humble kindness of having someone to hold my bags while I go to the loo. But 3% of me, that turns out to weigh more than 3%, was touched by their soft, human, trusting body language.

That would be nice.

Joffrey lobby. An usher grabbed another usher's ass. Usher #2 reminded Usher #1, “that belongs to someone!” I was thinking, “yeah! It belongs to you!” until she continued, “my man is at home right now waiting for me. This is all his.” My opinion of her sank like a soggy soufflé. I kicked myself for disliking her wording. Who the hell was I have to such an allergy to the idea that people could belong to people? Why did I believe this was impossible?

Because they can't.

But understanding one's place in a group identity makes people feel safe and secure in a threatening and uncertain world.

Passionate Rodin sculpture, a hot young couple making out, bronze forged in the fires of the human soul. Every fibre of their beings exploding with blazing action, a split second captured forever in an artist's imagination. Eternal Springtime.

"No such thing," I thought sadly. Spring is a passionate kiss between young lovers, fleeting, ephemeral, uncapturable. It lasts for a moment and then is gone forever.

But oh how we wish there were such a thing.

The only thing that lasts is captured artistic vision.

Every person who walked through the gallery stopped and stared wistfully at the sculpture. What we all wanted. Not one one of us was getting it. Rodin knew how to make people feel bad long before Facebook. He showed us other people, more beautiful than we, getting showered with the vital nutrients we all must have and of which most of us don't get nearly enough.

But he made us feel bad eloquently. So he's forgiven.

And then I suddenly realized that love strikes randomly, like lightning, and has no bearing at all on what you've been doing with yourself up to that point.

I realized I had been fed a load of crap my entire adult life, and had helped feed myself this crap.

The bromide of loving one's self first and then love comes along when you're not expecting it simply is not true. Love yourself because it is essential, love yourself because you are a beautiful jewel in the Shinto jewelled net of the universe, love yourself because this is what life means. But do not love yourself because you think it will have any bearing at all on how much others love you, because it won't. And telling yourself that "if I do this, then this other thing will happen" just makes you feel guilty and ashamed if you bust your ass at Task 1 and then Result 2 does not transpire. When really, there is no connection.

It's like noticing that one time, somewhere, a woman put a pie out on a doorstep to cool and then lightning hit her farmhouse, and from that point on, telling women that if they want lightning to hit their farmhouse, they have to put pies on their doorstep.


So chill out. You're not personally responsible for something you have no control over, so stop blaming yourself if something's missing. Enjoy what isn't missing. Because you might not be able to have it if the missing thing weren't missing!

About a thousand soul-burning years ticked by, sitting in that gallery, drawing, watching people stare longingly at that sculpture. I was in a Mexican standoff with my heart and, God damn it, I refused to lose.

Finally I realized I was just focussing on the wrong thing! I was looking at the art. What silly me.

Instead I looked at the artists.

The standoff was over, I had won, and I would never be alone again in my life!

The room was jam-packed with friends on my wavelength, vibrant and alive and seeing. These leftover tokens from their processes were talismans. By being around them I could be around my friends, scattered throughout time and space but very much alive.

I couldn't believe I had never thought to do this at a museum before! But sometimes ingrained habits are hard to break, and if one grows up with people telling you to look at the art instead of listening to the person making it, it can take a while to notice that that's just about the least interesting thing you can do at a museum.

I looked into my friend Vincent, through one of his self-portraits. We had a lot more in common than I cared to admit...but on the other hand, why distance one's self from a kindred spirit just because everyone knew he was a little crazy? Why not celebrate finally being among one's own?

I laughed at these humans with their desire to pick up shed artist-shells and put them on walls in gold frames. What must life be like for these "humans" of which you speak. On the other hand, it's cute of them to appreciate, even though they cannot understand.

They'll never understand. But finally, I have friends who do, because they're the same as I.

No one can control if or when love will ever come for them. No one can control whom they fall for, although we often wish we could. No one will ever understand that fleeting fire that happens between two people. No one will ever capture it one moment longer than it cares to stay. But with art we can see that ephemeral flame and tell other people about it, and then we can all bask in its reveried glory.

That sounds like something I am willing to call love.

What Is This Thing Called Love?

Ella Fitzgerald. Cole Porter.