Category Archives: Lyric Essays

Shapes: An Essay in 15 Parts (8-15)

flyer03A4_291x400The second part of a lyric essay started on Saturday, 10/11

8.

Franklin P. Adams said, “I find that a great part of the information I have was acquired by looking up something and finding something else on the way.”

9.

Where anything might have a form (the noun) and anything might, naturally or unnaturally form (the verb), a heavier shadow stretches from the adjective “formal.”

Its connotations seem revealing. Whether you enjoy gowns and jackets with tails or not, whether you respond to a slight with a demand for a written apology or not, you have to recognize the effort in being formal. It holds an elevated status, occupies a plane higher than necessity. It’s neater, more definitive, pure.

But there’s another form, the sort you fill-out for Human Resources or in a doctor’s waiting room. All those blanks direct you through specific requests, and, when you finish, you fulfill what that page (or pages) meant to do. Its emptiness and completion are equally neat and equally formal.

9.

I have a friend who loathes the sort of essay you’re reading now. She finds these “lyric essays” loose, too easy because they favor association over logic and glorify evasiveness. To her, their hints only seem functional; really they’re an excuse not to focus your thinking or to lead anyone anywhere good.

She may be right, and she’s certainly identified what I enjoy about them.

10.

“It is a very sad thing,” Oscar Wilde wrote, “nowadays there’s so little useless information.”

11.

I have a crazy rereading of “The Emperor’s New Clothes” to offer, one that likely has nothing to do with the story’s actual purpose. Everyone knows the hero is the child who points out the naked Emperor. The innocent is saner and wiser than those seduced by pretense, those duped into denial because they fear standing alone. We know what it’s about.

But what if we revise it? The special state of believing a fiction may be just as impressive—maybe more?—than acknowledging plain truth. And what’s so terrible about nudity? Couldn’t clothing be more ridiculous than being our raw selves? What if the Emperor’s bare bottom is only an issue because it’s identified as bare? Is our adherence to the child’s view just as conformist as our going along with the royal tailor?

The mystery and messiness of the situation reaches a clear resolution when the child points and laughs, but the author could easily choose to leave that moment out. Then the fiction might speak to our daily uncertainty about what we’re supposed to know and do. The tale might be more interesting for eluding its obvious and commonplace function.

12.

I attended a lecture where Robert Creeley said Louis Sullivan’s “Form ever follows function” might be exactly wrong. Every poem chooses its own form—you know what you can and can’t do—and, in living with and/or strategically violating those rules, you determine what your work will and won’t be. Selection, he suggested, focuses a poem’s effect.

His theory echoed one of the most popular metaphors in my MFA classes, the poem as a machine, one with cooperative parts producing a collective effect. Discussing machine-poems sometimes confused me, however. I was unsure if I should gather fan belts and pulleys and wheels and cogs and carburetors and wings to fashion an engine or if a blueprint sent me searching for those parts. Neither process seemed particularly accurate, as my poems often felt equal parts destination and deviation. Some poems seemed to have one wing. Others were a slice of obsidian.

13.

Last night’s dream:

A regular and prolonged drone makes conversation almost impossible with my eighth grade gym coach, but that doesn’t matter too much because we are only trying to identify the sound which, come to think of it, seems evident only in our discussion and not something I’m experiencing firsthand. “He’s always like this,” I think, without examining what “like this” or “always” might mean, and, in any case, he says he has to go, and my next appointment will be arriving shortly. If it’s arriving. I may be the one traveling to meet someone for an appointment elsewhere. Coach is no help. The helicopter is driving him crazy, and he has to get out of there. No time for an answer.

Shall I interpret? Have I interpreted?

14.

“Inspiration may be a form of super-consciousness, or perhaps sub-consciousness,” Aaron Copeland said, “I wouldn’t know. But I’m sure it is the antithesis of self-consciousness.”

15.

I do believe a thesis is the backbone of every essay, even this one. I’m just not sure how much that means.

A thesis can be as rigorous as an argument with your lifelong friend or as diffuse and nonspecific as the persistent whisper three tables away. It can insist, and it can flash and fade like sunlight in a partly cloudy sky.

Someone might want me to say more, and, usually, I do too.

The compulsion to express yourself neatly, however, is hard to read. You may be getting yourself out of trouble or into it. Sometimes only the slanted truth presents itself and straightening it out feels like a violation. Other times you want that jacket with tails, the spats, top hat, and cane. The form may already exist… or it may be invented altogether.

Other people know which. I’m trying to be content not knowing.

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Shapes: An Essay in 15 Parts (1-7)

Louis+Sullivan+CarsonThe other parts will appear here on Tuesday, 10/14…

“Remember that the most beautiful things in the world are the most useless,” John Steinbeck

1.

Near here, at the back of a liquor superstore, is the section where the fussy drinkers shop, and amid the calibrated jiggers, cherry swords, and seasonal bottle stoppers, are molds for making exciting ice cubes. The forms they create—spheres, giant and perfect cubes, bars, lips, dollar signs, and zeroes—are really only frozen water, as all ice is, but these vessels sculpt what flows from the tap into something more special than industrial cubes from my freezer.

They make ice notable again, give the commonplace shape, render it visible.

2.

A certain kind of artist distrusts form. If you mean to write from a true place, they argue, you cannot impose or superimpose on expression. You cannot restrict or constrict. Once you do, you court artifice, and anything that arises from artifice will be false. Worse still is working to fill a frame or template, which is absolute chicanery.

I won’t reenter this debate because I’ve said enough already, but I think about a still life. Even the most photorealistic communicates choice. You arranged the objects as you did. You lit them as you did. You placed the edges of the painting, the proportion of its focus, your angle of attention, determined how you will represent texture, color, and shade.

Whether these decisions were conscious or not, what is art without them? When do these choices shift from representation to imposition? When is form absent? How can it be right or wrong if it is inevitable?

3.

The quotation, “Form follows function” derives from Louis Sullivan, the Chicago architect. In 1896, in An Autobiography of an Idea, he said:

It is the pervading law of all things organic and inorganic, of all things physical and metaphysical, of all things human and all things superhuman, of all true manifestations of the head, of the heart, of the soul, that the life is recognizable in its expression, that form ever follows function. This is the law.

The quotation has always bothered me for philosophical reasons. It assumes utility is the highest standard, that each function suggests one proper form that only needs to be discovered, that only the essential belongs in any design, that surplus is never an option. I could go on.

As a Chicagoan, I’ve seen a lot of Sullivan’s work and certainly understand the statement as it applies to skyscrapers and the steel beams that simplified their form and permitted their skyward stretch. Yet the statement makes less sense when you consider Sullivan’s ironwork, especially the elaborately tangled, storms of shapes I see as I walk in the city. They seem to have no function other than ornamentation, and it’s their excess—albeit geometric, neatly symmetrical and controlled excess—that makes them impressive.

Were I channeling Sullivan, I might say arresting a viewer’s attention is their function, and something simple might not achieve it as well. Perhaps these baroque, proliferating, woven, fever-dream effusions of dramatic contours are a type of utilitarianism too, but I’d rather they weren’t. I’d rather they were born of their own necessity, reflective of Sullivan’s mind unwound, taking a form that brings his soul to light.

4.

As is often the case with creation myths, the Mayan story of the first humans is a complicated affair. It involves twins seeking to rescue their father’s severed head from the underworld and, after their success, their ascension to the heavens to become the sun and moon. Only then can men be properly formed.

What’s intriguing to me, though, are all the failures in the account. Once the gods decided they needed someone to worship them and be “keepers of the days,” they tried to shape humans from mud. These mud creatures, however, wouldn’t hold souls, and soon the gods sent a great flood to wash them away. Then the gods tried wood, which didn’t work either, though these wooden beings became monkeys.

Finally, in defeating the gods in an underworld ball game, liberating their father’s noggin, and rising to illuminate everything, the miraculous twins permitted humans’ true form. Men were made of white and yellow corn.

Which says something about corn’s importance in Mayan culture but also begs the question “Why corn?” If the Mayan gods sought a race to be “keepers of the days,” maybe organisms that germinated, grew, and died marked time in ways gods could not. Maybe the gods sought something that would rely on light, moisture, and soil to echo humans’ dependence on them. Maybe corn is more sturdy than mud and more pliable than wood.

5.

“We need poetry because names die,” John Vernon says, “because objects resist their names, because the world overflows and escapes its names.”

6.

My daughter told me a version of the Mayan creation myth as interesting as the original. The way she remembered the story, the gods first tried water (which wouldn’t hold together), then stone (which could not move), and then turned to corn.

I still wonder, “Why corn?” but more important is the linearity of her description. In offering a cleaner plot, her revision presents each stage as an important step toward the ultimate ideal, as if the earlier forms weren’t properly “mistakes” at all because they led the Mayan gods to the answer. Each had utility.

That’s very different from the narrative I’ve learned since, which bends into odd, dream-like curlicues and rises in smoke. I like my daughter’s story. I like the Mayans’ more.

7.

My son took me to a bar that served cocktails containing exotic ice. His drink arrived with a single cube so large it barely found room to move in the glass, and mine included an equally large sphere that, every time I tried to imbibe, avalanched onto my nose.

We laughed about how challenging the experience was, speculated that the bartender was playing some whimsical trick on us. But the jester bartender didn’t stop us from drinking. Or ordering another.

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Another Tempest 8-15

prospero-and-arielThe second part of a long lyric essay on Prospero of The Tempest. The first part appeared last Tuesday.

8.

The epilogue to The Tempest shifts strangely from triumph to resignation, even to self-abnegation. In possession of his dukedom again and pardoning everyone, Prospero asks for mercy from the audience. “Release me from my bands,” he begs, “With the help of your good hands.” The footnote tells readers “hands” means applause, but it doesn’t have to—Prospero could as easily be seeking succor, intimacy someone of his power and intimidation may be denied.

In the epilogue he says his mission has been “to please,” which is not revenge, not justice, and not his new-old job in Milan. Having given up everything to stand where he does, he says his end will be “Despair, / Unless I be relieved by prayer.” Early on, Prospero aimed for vindication but finishes with a petition for mercy that “frees all faults.” Rather than crowing over his successful tricks and traps, he asks, “As you from your crimes would pardon’d be, / Let your indulgence set me free.”

His supplication sounds nothing like victory.

9.

Who sets us free from our own feelings? Who convinces us that we’re in the right spot now, that this new balance of gains and losses is better and that we’re ourselves at last?

 10.

Writers like Jean Anouilh link tragedy and discovery, suggesting tragic figures reach self-knowledge only the hopeless can. When escape and delusion become meaningless, when alternatives whittle to one, tragic figures see themselves more honestly than other mortals might. There’s no squirming, no final evasions, subterfuge, or denial.

But Prospero is no tragic hero—he achieves his desires and undergoes no downfall. Does he share a tragic hero’s awareness?

Attaining his previous position shatters his understanding of himself and his place. His return to Duke of Milan may be the proper resolution of events, but he lost the job originally because it bored him. And his successful retribution, instead of filling him with confidence and power, illuminates his misunderstanding of himself, a new desperation, and an awareness—albeit a dim one—of his own crimes and need for mercy. He sees his own flaws in trying to make others pay for wronging him.

But he isn’t dead yet, and, I wonder—as his every third thought of death arrives—if he still has a tragic hero’s desire for relief.

11.

It’s cliché to say Shakespeare changes as you age, but I identified with Caliban the first time I read The Tempest. Caliban is acted upon, unappreciated, and distressed. As Prospero’s plaything, he relies on the fuel of resentment. He is in every way compelled, denied choices and given no proper spot on the island or anywhere else. He isn’t pretty or nice, but he burns in ways Prospero doesn’t. In comparison, Prospero’s battles seem willful, fitful, and arbitrary.

Prospero is the master and what right does he have to be unhappy?

12.

Some readers may say the epilogue of The Tempest completes Propero’s arc from anger to humility. He hasn’t enjoyed winning as much as he thought and seeks universal amnesty and calm instead.

If that’s so, he will make a lousy duke to Milan. His brother the usurper has greater initiative and confidence. His brother wants the job and looks to no one for relief.

 13.

You can grow tired of wanting, particularly when you’re unsure why you want, whether an ambition you distrust can be real, which uncertain alternative can bring joy.

14.

If, as many believe, Prospero is a surrogate for the retiring Shakespeare, the play’s grace note feels like an exhausted surrender. Prospero appears to want nothing more than to drop his instrument and walk from the orchestra unnoticed.

He is not the same person we met. The vehicle of his transformation is not killing others or harming others as a tragic hero’s might be, but he does kill—willingly—a part of himself. Maybe, in casting off his slaves, his magic, his daughter, his autonomy, and his desire for revenge, he hopes to see his raw self, the self he will be when he slips into that last powerless sleep.

I wonder if he does.

15.

Compared to Prospero, many more thoughts intervene between my thoughts of death. But I understand more now. When ambition achieved, unachieved, formed, or abandoned fails to satisfy, when ambition seems itself positively punishing, it’s natural to desire rest.

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Another Tempest 1-7

prosperoThe first part of a long lyric essay on Prospero of The Tempest. The second part will appear Saturday.

 1.

In the last act of The Tempest, Prospero describes his impending escape from his island exile and his eventual return home. He will first sail to Naples to see his daughter Miranda marry into a handy alliance and then travel to Milan where he will be restored as Duke.

It seems a joyous outcome—and one Prospero labors four acts to effect—but, thinking of his future sitting on his restored throne, Prospero reports, “Every third thought shall be my grave.”

How does success make him so unhappy?

 2.

The Rolling Stones tell us we can’t always get what we want, which is true, but we also know we should be careful what we wish for in the first place. Sometimes what we wanted isn’t what it pretended. Aspiration looks good from afar, but capture can be less fulfilling than pursuit.

I sometimes tell my students they shouldn’t take my criticism so hard because an essay without flaws might be more curse than boon. Write the perfect essay and what would you do tomorrow?

Fruition invites redefinition. Having done something means something more to do… someone else to be.

3.

Among Prospero’s final deeds is shedding his books, staff, and magic. Nothing makes that step necessary—being naked of magic isn’t a condition of his return—but he decides that, once he’s redressed all the wrongs against him, he won’t need his powers. He frees one beloved slave and another not-so-beloved one with the words, “This thing of darkness I acknowledge mine.” He forgives deceivers who wronged him and ends twelve years of isolation.

Yet he seems melancholy. He never quite says so but swings between satisfaction or surrender. As the action of the play ends, he invites the usurpers and schemers into his cell to hear how he has lived, how he survived and thrived in the harsh island’s conditions, his glee with where he’s been more vivid than his anticipated return to civilization.

4.

Sometimes we want things because we think we ought. Envy makes us desire what others have attained because, after all, we feel just as able, or think we are. “What about me?” the greedy heart cries and incites clumsy effort to find its proper place. Getting there may promise little pleasure—quite the contrary, you may feel you cut cross-grain against deeper, more immediate and comfortable desires—but it’s not always easy to distinguish between should and ought. Should sounds gentler. Ought suggests some grander, more dubious, aim.

5.

Ariel, the slave Prospero likes best, brings dispatches—the status of the villains Prospero tests and torments. Some of them suffer. They’re ignorant of Prospero’s plan and its happy conclusion and know only their grief and torment.

“Your charm so strongly works ’em,” Ariel tells Prospero, “that if you now beheld them, your affections / would become tender,” and Prospero bristles. He replies, “shall not myself, / One of their kind, that relish all as sharply, /Passion as they, be kindlier moved than thou art?”

Prospero is often so defensive. Part of him wonders if his unjust usurpation arose from an accurate cause. Part of him knows his plans aren’t harmless, yet he didn’t consider how others might feel. Worse, he hasn’t examined his own feelings, whether his longing is so important he can abide becoming a stranger to himself.

6.

When I came to Chicago almost ten years ago, it was as the chair of the English department. My old school had become predictable. My place there was—and appeared would always be—a younger brother, a role I know well. I’m used to being George, not Paul or John, nor even Ringo, who has the good sense to choose humor over earnestness and anarchy over hierarchy.

It took six months to recognize the person the job required and how different he was from me. I was competent in the skills and vision required but incompetent in desire. The job wasn’t beyond me, just beyond my perseverance. I played the role for a while because I refused to surrender, to give up an exalted sense of capabilities I didn’t care that much about proving.

And when I stepped down after two years, I felt no better. Whether I called it quitting or others did mattered little. For another year, I thought I should be chair and, since I should be, I ought to be too. Yet I’d sacrificed my spot and couldn’t go back.

7.

Each decision is sacrifice, one alternative dying for another. You may find a means to return but will have to confront the choice that necessitated doubling back. You won’t know whether you were right all along or right now, and, in that case, both are wrong.

 

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What Your Face May Mean

267586954_13899784671.

Recently, sitting across from a student who’d received bad news in the form of a lower-than-expected essay grade, I said, “Are you angry with me?”

At the bottom of the last page I’d written some variety of the “See me” message.

“No,” she said, “That’s just my regular face.”

“Really? Because, if you’re upset, that’s okay. I know I’ve been mad at teachers who didn’t value my work the way I did. I’ve been right where you are, and it was frustrating. Sometimes I wanted to scream… but I want a chance to explain my reaction, if you can listen.”

“No,” she said, “I understand what you said.” She paused, “people tell me I look angry all the time.”

I described my criticisms anyway. She nodded as I pointed out each misstep. She gave every appearance of attention, attention I never quite trusted.

2.

I ran into an online quiz recently that tested my ability to read expressions. Two Asians, one very white blond guy, and one African-American contorted faces in various exaggerated ways—a tilted head, corners of the mouth pulled up or down, forehead rippled or pinched, eyes sliding left, cast down, or opened wide—and I guessed among the four emotions offered for each.

But I missed a few, and my results were disappointing. The website said:

Your score means you’re slightly better than the average at reading expressions. And research suggests that people can improve their emotion recognition skills with practice. So keep an eye out for our forthcoming empathy-training tool, designed to boost your emotional intelligence. Sign up for our e-newsletter for updates on it.

 3.

Growing up in a fairly silent household, I believed I could read faces. Someone was miffed, disappointed, hurt, triumphant, blissful, full of themselves, or disgusted, and I thought I knew it.

4.

Your semi-smile, semi-frown tells me you’re unhappy with what I just said. I can tell you’re sure it’s wrong. You’re just not saying. You’ll put up with me because I’m a decent person… sometimes… but—right now, in regards to what I just said—I’m full of shit.

5.

Scientists say certain looks are universal. Every culture averts it eyes when another person approaches from a distance, and every culture raises its eyes as that person comes close. At the last moment, all of us look away.

We want to look. We yearn to communicate, yearn to believe in contact without words.

6.

I believe in currents beneath surfaces—the dimple of motion in an otherwise calm patch is the least sign of deep upheaval. That gentle whorl is a tidal cataclysm brewing. The moon and sun make war in an achingly slow withdrawal. Lapping waves are really seething, restraining themselves but ready to amass, to pounce.

7.

Like anyone who’s seen the Mona Lisa, I’ve stared at her, trying to answer if she’s smiling or not. I know all the art history stuff, how the perspectives of the landscapes on either side of her head don’t quite match and pull us out of kilter, how even the symmetry of her face is somehow—purposely, perhaps—off.

I try to forget what I’ve heard and look, really look, into her eyes. What’s in there, I want to know, what thought of hers might I match to my own, what sympathy will fuse us finally in absolute sympathy, perhaps love?

She always becomes a portrait again.

8.

Some years ago now, a colleague pulled me aside to ask what was wrong. “You look at me with such disgust,” she said, “I couldn’t ignore it anymore. Are you mad at me?” I wanted to answer “No” and “nothing is wrong” but sensed it was too late.

Can others see something in your expression you don’t? Maybe I felt resentment more visible to her than to me. Or maybe, as I wanted to believe, my face settled on an uneven spot, a fault at odds with circumstance, something that felt put out not by her but by everything.

I didn’t know what to do but to assure her she was wrong.

She didn’t say so, but I’m certain she didn’t believe me. She trusted my face and not words.

In her place, would I have agreed?

9.

“You can’t really know,” a friend said, “exactly what people are thinking.”

“That,” I thought, “is precisely what I’d expect you to say.”

10.

Maybe there’s no alternative to belief.

If I think something I don’t feel, the tail whips around to lash the head. Foolishness is denial and denial foolishness—do I dare distrust what seems, in the moment, so momentous? Do I dare, with the weight of conviction falling on me, say I’m above hunches, brains knowing more than hearts or hands can?

The creeping dawn starts in fog and ends in sunlight, morning more confused than the balance of the day, which settles on a hard stare of blue sky and heat.

If you’d asked me earlier, I might have said something different than now.

11.

When I met my wife, her eyes hit me first—so blue, but also so transparent, as if her blue were the color of truth.

12.

I took a second test, on the NY Times site , and discovered my score of 30/36 meant:

The average score for this test is in the range of 22 to 30 correct responses. If you scored above 30, you may be quite good at understanding someone’s mental state based on facial cues.

Hardly decisive.

13.

Telepathy is a favorite superpower, and my students also often choose it over invisibility, super speed, flight, and telekinesis. Someone, however, always mentions the potential noise of reading minds, the many voices you’d hear all the time, every day.

“Wouldn’t you learn to block it out,” someone asks, “the way you listen to just the person you’re talking to in a crowded place?”

“Yuck,” someone else will say, “I don’t want to know what people are thinking. Too much information.”

14.

Most of the time, I’m not really looking at people. Though we’ve locked eyes, I’m not aware of it, and, should I become conscious, I’m quickly self-conscious, outside whatever we’re discussing.

A strange intimacy arises when I recognize how engaged I am by someone’s eyes. I’m suddenly looking at my desperation full on. Something stirs.

“Here,” I could say to myself, “is lust, the purest sort, the kind that doesn’t want touch so much as tenderness and fixed understanding.”

15.

“So,” I said to the student at last, “do you get it?”

“Sure,” she said, “I can fix it… I guess I just wasn’t sure what you were looking for. I had the wrong idea of what you wanted.”

I tried, with my eyes, to tell her I wasn’t disappointed, that what I wanted was the best she might manage. I meant to say I believed her best was exceptional, that I had faith in her.

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20 Sentences on Order (Out of Order)

constellations (1)Today’s post is really an exercise or experiment. I wrote 20 sentences and then rearranged them using a random sequence generator. I did it three times but decided on this progression because it seemed least sensible. If you want to read the sentences in the order they were first written, they’re labelled with their original numbers.

2. Stars won’t care.

4. The romance people assign is secondary.

10. Somewhere, amid the lines and dead ends, among parts and their whole, between truth and almost that, lies space.

7. So much of what we think known isn’t.

18. It might speak its own scheme but would take me to interpret it.

9. Blocks of words stretch each of the cardinal directions and their combinations, spreading like spills.

13. We make the image by reshaping our mouths into rooms.

17. I might take a photograph.

15. But we live in our own rooms, our own libraries.

5. Place comes first, and, though we like supremacy, reading chaos as sense isn’t our best trait.

1. You can say what you wish.

11. Maybe wisdom lurks in gaps.

3. Stars wheel through the night as they always have, indifferent and mathematical.

16. Today snow crosses in the air, making instantaneous constellations impossible to read.

12. I see a child standing before a painting, forming her mouth to the shapes of words.

8. Every library contains volumes of madness, shelves of proud misapprehension.

20. What if we embraced the illusion we see?

14. These rooms aren’t anywhere anyone else might live.

6. Stars have order apart from the reason we give them.

19. And that’s after it passes.

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12 Thoughts on the Tranportation of Affection

touching-11.

“Crush” seems an odd word for infatuation. Even if you don’t carry it to its full violence—imagine Giles Corey being accused of witchcraft in Salem and dying after two days of being “pressed” by heavy stones—a “crush” speaks to an inescapable position, some burden demanding extrication, impossible somehow to bear.

Which isn’t the way we use the word. We deploy it to describe our most innocent affections, and we verbize the word—to crush. We blunt it with prepositions so we “crush on” someone and elude anything like love… or lust.

We try to flee.

2.

My high school girlfriend was a twin. She and her sister were cheerleaders, and when they dressed identically on game days and no one could tell them apart, my friends asked if they had ever tried to “switch on me.”

My girlfriend and her sister never considered it, I’d bet.

When you know someone, the faintest gesture communicates. Their eyes don’t point as they might, or a hand rests on a table wrongly, or that smile isn’t quite complete. When you know something, it’s continually defining itself.

3.

I wonder if any age or condition makes you immune to crushes. But wondering, I suppose, is admitting I’m not immune—despite being happily married and probably too old.

In my defense, we over-define the word. A light touch or glance may initiate an infatuation. An economy of expression, the mellifluence of words, a simple sideways move to catch a falling object, a half laugh—all might start a crush.

4.

Before Netflix began distinguishing different family members on an account, my viewing habits built a very strange profile. My children howled over recommendations we received for romantic comedies or Bollywood.

“What are you watching?!” they’d ask.

Sheepish evasion followed. How do you admit such an addiction to sentiment when you’re supposed to be educated and beyond such twaddle? Saying I liked to see him or her won was tantamount to confessing girlishness, the worst sort, the sort that screams at the Beatles or tacks Teen Beat photographs to a wall.

5.

I’m unambiguously straight, but some of my worst crushes involve other males.

My daughter rolls her eyes and says, “You’re having a bro-mance” when I say I admire a colleague or wish I were closer to some man I know.

“The way you talk about him,” she says, “it’s so effusive.”

I’d deny her claim if I weren’t aware of it myself, a thrill at making a connection, a sense of some link forged in mystery long before actually meeting.

I’d object if I didn’t enjoy being somehow swept away… by anything.

6.

In the end, I don’t think having a crush and lust are at all the same thing.

7.

I’ve been watching the series “Chuck” and find I’m quite uninterested in most of the comedy and most of the spy stuff. I skip forward to see how close Chuck and Sarah Walker get to kissing.

My certainty they ought to be together expresses a broader wish everyone so baffled by indefinable connections might find their way to their desired, and perhaps denied, destination.

It’s better to think of the world as moving toward joy. I like to think it is.

8.

No one would call me “romantic” in either a literary or colloquial sense. My wife might say I’m sporadically attentive, and the planning and vision that goes into Valentines Day or anniversaries largely escape me or at least challenge me.

My genuine moments of sentimentality and affection feel like water spilling from overfull cups. They can’t be stopped, and who really wants to?

9.

What would life be without ambush, the surprise of a face to meet your own?

10.

I fell in love for the first time in fifth grade when I saw a classmate performing a baton routine to “Jingle Bell Rock.” I didn’t understand how anything else could be so perfect.

11.

Have you ever felt yourself instantly attached? She or he turns to a light or sound, and the change somehow captures you. “This,” you think, “is it… a grand awakening, a dimension entirely invisible before now.”

You want to believe, that’s key. You are looking for some touch that isn’t physical, some attachment impossible, made of implausible affection.

 12.

The odd contacts sting. You mean to reach for something commonly desired—a tool or object—and find one another instead.

It won’t last and may not be real, but it feels so.

What in us lusts after these ends? Why do we want surprise so much?

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Filed under Aging, Desire, Essays, Experiments, Identity, Laments, life, Love, Lyric Essays, Meditations, Memory, Nostalgia, Solitude, Thoughts, Valentine's Day, Voice