What is love? A topic I revisit more often than I would like, and interestingly (or logically?) most often when my mind is free of the binds of romantic interest. San Francisco has consumed my energy, my conscious, my unconscious, my time, my thought. But from time to time—on a bus, aboard over-filled tourist cruises around the Bay, between calm calculations of what, exactly, I would do were an earthquake to arrive at just this moment—I accidentally escape overwhelmingly alluring, charming off-putting-ness of an old city that will always, I think, be new to me for long enough to think beyond the following minutes, hours, days, beyond time, even.

The rapid-fire randomness of my thoughts has been oft-noted by those closest to me, the ones who spend enough time with me to realize that my mind doesn’t quite operate properly. Today a woman passing the window of the restaurant in which I sat with my now-departed Belgian friends. Something about her, her jeans perhaps, set off a series of thoughts which eventually drew me to love.

What is love? Our server in the restaurant last night was attractive and nice. I’m sure we’d get along well. We did get along well, in fact. But could I love him?

The thoughts which carried me from the passerby to love included many conversations I’ve had with friends about love, dating, sex—the things people our age talk about. But what are we really talking about?

Love defies explanation. Love is being eternally dedicated to someone(s?), love is putting others before yourself. Then what Is friendship? I love my friends. Of course. But I “love” my friends differently that I “love” romantically. Or so I’m told.

Can I love someone in secret? I’m inclined to think that most of the people with whom I’ve discussed love would argue that I cannot. Love is something that must be expressed—first and foremost to it’s recipient, but perhaps more importantly to others. Others—friends, family, strangers. A major complaint among LGBTQ couples is the overwhelming fear that prevents many from public displays of affection. But why publicly display affection?

I’ve maintained for some time that I can separate love and sex with some level of ease—I have. I’ve at times wondered whether this is because I don’t understand what love is. But perhaps it’s because I’ve understood love too well.

Love is a public display of affection. Sex is a private display of affection. Love is acknowledged, encouraged, enshrined in legal contracts. And social contracts.

Love is social. Of course social in the sense that it is between individuals, but also in that it demands interaction with others—friends, family, strangers. In my brief whirlwind of thoughts, I was struck by the fact that, while friends often confide in me about their queeriosities and experimentation, their “love” affairs are always publicly presentable and almost always respectable—and when they are not, they are deliberately contrary.

Social theorists often preach of the family as a microcosm of society, and they are undoubtedly correct in this assertion. Social influences permeate every aspect of our lives. These forces hatch generally develop out of nowhere before becoming norms (think of something you and everyone you know hate doing, but do anyway, because you “must”). Why must we love?

When I "fall in love," always with someone that I would like to display as my attachment. Other than bragging rights, love has got nothing to do with.


it must have been love

Most facist states have nationalist propaganda. Americans—we have fairy tales.

My mind has been polluted with fairy-tale propaganda. I just watched my mother’s favorite movie, Pretty Woman, with her. As much as I loathe fairy tales, as a feminist, as a cultural critic, as an aspiring iconoclast, I still got that warm, fuzzy feeling when Richard Gere—typically, I can’t quite remember the name of the man I’ve fallen in love with—returns to sweep Julia Roberts away to a new life.

Romantic images dominate our lives, regardless of what role we see ourselves in, including those outside of the fairy tales. Even those of us who’d like to see the “system” torn to pieces and discarded cling to the promise of a new beginning. We’d all like to be “pretty women,” in one way or another. We may scoff at, or even scorn, those so consumed by an uncritical search for their knights in shining armor or their charming princes. But in the end, what we hope for is really just a different kind of savior—one willing to recognize the errors of their past and embark on a new trajectory with us sharing the helm.

So where does that leave us?


on celebrity

I flipped through last Sunday's comics today. It was interesting to see different artists graphical commentaries for Memorial Day and the political bents they betrayed. Some of the particularly political ones struck me, however, because of how fully they embodied the state of American (Western? Post post-modern?) intellectualism: these cartoonist are expected to produce their genius on a daily basis, regardless of inspiration or, one can extrapolate, quality.

Market-dominated capitalism has led us into an existence where value is measured by sheer production, and quality and relevance, even, are secondary, if even factors. Unfortunately, it's increasingly clear that this decay is extending (further?) into the academic world.

Academics are driven by a force known by many as "publish or perish" -- academics are expected to publish on a regular basis, or they risk not only irrelevancy within their fields, but losing their teaching and research positions altogether. A professor needs to have published two significant works before even being seriously considered for tenure (a.k.a. stability) in most cases.

Beyond the academic world, we see the media becoming ever-more entertainment instead of information. An alarming number of people are turning to Fox News, the Daily Show and tabloid-esque papers -- the NY Daily News being a prominent example -- for infotainment. Celebrity pundits are becoming our nations great minds, not because of journalistic integrity or experience, even, but rather because of their appealing faces and appealing (or in the case of Fox News, abrasively ignorant but amusing) personalities. Newspapers are trying to stem the drain by putting forth celebrity columnists, which, like cartoonist, are expected to put forth gems of genius on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis.

There is, of course, a harmonious balance to be found between the celebration of the individual and of the idea, but contemporary American (Western.... and increasingly global?) culture is clearly shifted towards worshiping the individual. Perhaps this stems from cultures deeply rooted in monotheistic religions; perhaps it's rooted in capitalism which can only operate with a class system implemented through cultural myths elevating, inexplicably, certain groups above others; or perhaps the latter is simply the product of the former.

In any case, what happened to ideas? I think we've reached a point when most Americans wouldn't even entertain the thought of having a system of proportional representation. The masses, i'm convinced, are much more concerned with voting for individuals with ideas, not ideas themselves. But with the professionalization of political representation (i.e. career politicians becoming the norm), I think the American focus on the individual is getting out of hand. Of course people often evolve in their beliefs, sometimes suddenly, but when sudden changes come with each opinion poll, there's something dangerous in lauding the follower as a true leader. It makes sense for people to appreciate an administrator who tries to give them what they desire, but why not aknowledge it as that? Leaders should lead -- emerge from the woodwork to share ideas with others and help them be implemented -- and people should appreciate them for their ideas. Leaders should not be appreciated for the simple act of being, and administrators should certainly not be appreciated for representing (i.e. serving as mediator) the masses. I use the word "leader" loosely, of course.

The professionalization of the production of ideas has ostensibly removed a certain amount of power from the average person, much like the professionalization of the medical field deliberately stripped midwives of their legitimacy and masked the contributions of women to various fields, such as that which we now know as Chemistry. But while oral tradition -- again, a term I use loosely to refer to the culturally crafted "histories" imagined to create, reproduce and/or enforce cultural norms -- is often overlooked as a legitimate source of information, it's power is more obvious than ever as the world becomes increasingly globalized, and cultural artifacts literally spread throughout the world in seconds. Cultural Studies as an academic field (I'll overlook the irony) has only begun to demonstrate the innumerable ways forces previously un- or under-acknowledged shape human conscious and interaction. Perhaps most importantly, it has highlighted the complicated conversation between past and future that gives rise to the imagination of the "present" and between the idea and individual which births "genius."

Perhaps a newfound appreciation for the idea -- and just the idea -- and a return to actual leadership can save humanity.


long drives

Life's most striking revelations come with movement, whether large or small. As we move between places -- across town, across the state, across the country, around the world -- we learn things about ourselves and those around us. Thursday night (actually early Friday morning), driving home from a night of dining and dancing with my friends Cathy and Alex, I had an extended moment of euphoric peace.

Making my way home from a night out is, at times, a melancholic experience, but more often, it's a peaceful time of reflection. This is also true of other transitions, between places within cities, between cities, between states and between countries.

Some of my favorite times in Paris were making my way home at anywhere from three to eight in the morning after a night of hard partying and hot, sweaty sex (unfortunately the former much more often than that latter). Like my drive home, although usually much longer and more physically demanding than the ride down I-275, my walks in the parisian twilight allowed me to digest and make sense of the events of the preceding hours and preceding days, weeks and months as my time there went on.

The clips above and below are from an after-concert "thing"(I've been watching too much Sex and the City) that followed the Hidden Cameras show I went to last October (Bonus points if you can find me in the first one. A kick in the face if you don't notice any of my many appearances in the second.) I ended up meeting the band afterwards, thanks in large part to the creepy Swedish friend of Salim, the guy I met while dancing next to an illuminated fountain on the "nuit blanche" and ran into at the concert. I later ended up dancing in ponytail extensions at the three-bedroom apartment of Valentin, Laurent, Marianne and their unidentified friend with one of the band members.

I honestly can't remember what I thought about walking home from the overcrowded home/french electro-pop studio/dancehall, but I'm sure I had sufficient time to reflect on my entire experience in France, if not my summer in San Francisco as well. I walked North (instead of South) for at least a half hour before correcting my mistake. I do remember walking around the famous cemetery, Père-Lachaise, which I unfortunately never ventured inside, and wandering through what would have been quaint alleys and staircases in the daytime, but were fucking deserted and creepy at six in the morning.

But I digress.

In less than a week I will again be boarding a plane to San Francisco for a summer of exploration and escape (if you've ever spent an extended amount of time in Tampa, FL, you'll understand). I'm fully expecting to spend many a night wandering the streets of San Francisco and boarding buses heading in the wrong direction after the sun has set (note to self: invest in compass).

One can hardly expect to wander through life without getting lost on a fairly regular basis (literally as much as metaphorically), but it often seems to me that I spend more time lost than heading towards any particular destination. And it's always worked out for the best -- although I say that knowing that I have no way of knowing that. My decisions, small and large (from what book to buy with my Barnes & Noble gift certificate to what college to attend) often seem to be largely the product of chance, and I often wonder whether my life is dictated by luck or whether my subconscious is just particularly adept at obscuring my true intentions from me.

As I avoid preparing for "the next big step," grad school -- not marriage, as I've just learned that you can't obtain Belgian citizenship through marriage -- I wonder if chance will be as kind to me?