Wednesday, March 7, 2012

a very dark dark: a night of love, loss, death, and dancing

I've been considering going to church. I am completely agnostic, but something about the way others search for existential meaning intrigues me. And I recognize that a sense of belonging or connection is, for most of us, an essential part of staying alive. I haven't made it to church yet. Something always seems to come up, usually on Saturday night. Usually in search of existential redemption.

This Saturday I was working on some paintings and listening to this podcast from the BBC, over and over. These existential, theological, and cultural concerns regarding death, the tyranny of time, and loss are the concerns of my daily life. If you have any interest in understanding some of my place in the world, give it a listen . For a number of reasons I experience this existential drama in almost every moment of my life. I think it is likely the result of some combination of place, history, culture, and personal  rupture or trauma (in the sense that events can sometimes force you outside of the narratives of your culture). And as I worked late into the evening on a new painting about an estranged lover with whom I have had a contentious and troubled relationship for the last few months, something occurred to me.

If we are all lost in this world, if we are all fallen, if all desire is tragic, or if  (as a one of the speakers in the podcast said)  all desire seeks the end of desire, if the telos of all desire is death, and if it has no other satisfaction, then what the fuck are we supposed to do? Is any answer as good as any other? I guess that these days I think so. And that if there is one thing or event or person which makes life truly meaningful in glimpses, then there is no reason not to pursue it. The only caveat I can think of comes from Camus' position that a harm to another is also a harm to yourself.  Which was why I was insisting on not seeing my lover. She demonstrated that in moments our relationship made her incredibly unhappy. So I resisted and resisted.

I had late plans to meet a troubled friend for a drink that night at a gypsy-rock-jazz show, the Dirty Bourbon River Show. They were great. I went down hoping to run into my lover. I had decided that all of the things that kept us apart were less important than the way knowing her made much of my life so meaningful, nuanced, inspired, ecstatic, and yes, also tragic. I had decided that I could make small compromises to mitigate her sense of insecurity in our relationship. I felt the conflict of our desire had an answer. But she wasn't there. I danced to the band for a bit and had a couple of beers with my friend.

I find dancing with strangers to the artistic output of others to be usually very meaningful. Feeling another body's weight in your hands or against you, moving with you to the art and product of an other's longing, desire, frustration, practice, tedium, and joy is a deeply meaningful connection. But only if your bodies move together. And for some reason I couldn't find a decent dance partner most of the night, even though I must have asked a dozen people to dance. It made me long for my estranged lover all the more, whose smile and laughter and body always seemed to move in time with mine. When the band finished playing, I went to every other place she might be. I honestly felt she would be happy to see me. The night before she had sent me a late night, 3 am, text saying that she still wanted to see me. And probably because of the huge existential reality I had been considering, I had to see her. I felt the weight of all of life in that desire. I tried to contradict it, convince myself otherwise, have my friends convince me otherwise, pretend like I was over it. I looked for distraction. But to no avail. And for some reason I was happy and hopeful and willing to forgive our past mistakes. Had I been in a more anguished state, I would not have risked contacting her.

So I went to her house, very late at night. My intention was to declare my love, crawl into bed with her, watch her smile as I told her sleepy eyes what I had decided. I knocked on her window a few times to wake her up. When she came to the door I knew something was wrong. She was angry. All she said was that I had to leave. I was confused. She had always said it was okay. She had always encouraged me to stop by. I sincerely thought she would be happy. The night before she had said she wanted to be with me. Then it occurred to me. She was in bed with someone else.

Many serious tragedies and melodramas start like this. In fact the previous owner of my house shot his wife, her lover, and himself on the corner of the street I live on. But in my case nothing really happened.

There is no way to explain how it felt. I wasn't jealous. I was instead looking into an abyss where I once saw love. For those few moments that night, it felt worse than looking into my dieing father's eyes. It was all of the sadness and grief of a death (in this case a symbolic loss of a future we would never have), mixed in with guilt (for being there), and shame (for wanting to feel loved and connected, for hoping to mitigate existential anxiety through the eyes of another, for desiring someone who wasn't right for me, for being stupid (or self-destructive) enough to trust someone so troubled and lost in their own desires)... There's more. But it's hard to describe. Mostly it was an all encompassing despair for the ways that all of life seems to always find this moment.

All I did was go home. And send her a message. Sadly, in my grief, I told her what I thought of what she had done and how she acted towards me, of what it meant to invite her estranged lover into her arms one night and be with another body the next. Sadly, I expressed that she didn't deserve my love.

There is no right or wrong to this situation. There is no real harm here. And there is no victim or perpetrator. Our desire for one another was complicated and driven by the depth of our individual struggles. I wonder if it could have ended any other way? In just about every respect this little tragedy was the only potential outcome.  Perhaps that's why I still desire her so much.

She found, in the body of that man, an answer to the difficulties and conflicts of her desire for me. I certainly don't fault her for that. I was seeking the same answer in her body.  And, God knows, I have sought solace in the body of another, many times before. I likely would have done the same thing had my life been just a little different that night. And she probably saved us both from continuing something that would likely have persisted in the way it had always persisted. The basic problem of our contentious and conflicted desire would likely have continued despite my intention to do things differently.

I didn't really sleep that night. I couldn't eat. Couldn't think of anything else. I remembered how it felt last year when I didn't sleep for months, when I struggled not to pull the trigger of the shotgun in my mouth. And I remembered, too, that even then there was a kind of pleasure in all of it. I see why now. The end of desire is to see that all desire ends.

There is an academic argument, maybe not so current, about whether not dramatic tragedy (as in on the stage) is actually cathartic, as Aristotle suggested. I think instead of catharsis, that the real pleasure in telling or watching a tragedy is in the fact of its narrative structure. The form of the play makes it pleasurable, just as the form of these words make light of what was a very dark, dark night.

[Of course: since I wrote this a couple of days ago, we have gotten together again. Our funny conflicted  story continues.  The "why of it" strikes me as a very compelling truth. Next time maybe.]

No comments:

Post a Comment