Friday, February 10, 2012

Free Form Friday

I would like to welcome you to a new feature here at Strange Horizons.  I call it "Free Form Friday."

What can you expect here?  Well, anything.  My own metaphysical musings on whatever is either philosophical or tropical or anything else in between.  For the inaugural post, I thought I would take on a subject topical to the days ahead.  Love.

My thoughts on this emotion have been almost everywhere you can conceive.  It's just a reaction of biochemicals and I don't need it.  It's amazing, it makes everything worthwhile.  It carelessly cuts you and laughs while you're bleeding.

I can't help but think of Leo Tolstoy on this subject.  He and his masterpiece, Anna Karenina.  The novel is not only held up by many scholars as the highest accomplishment in literature, it is also gut-wrenching in its exploration of love.  How love can make you miserable without it.  The agony of sheer longing.  Yet there is also the cruel irony of how having can be nowhere near as pleasurable as longing...and the socially unacceptable, no-win scenario of being in love with two or more people for different yet equally valid reasons.  Take it, Leo:

"He knew she was there by the joy and fear that overwhelmed his heart."

"Vronsky, meanwhile, in spite of the complete realization of what he had so long desired, was not perfectly happy. He soon felt that the realization of his desires gave him no more than a grain of sand out of the mountain of happiness he had expected. It showed him the mistake men make in picturing to themselves happiness as the realization of their desires. For a time after joining his life to hers, and putting on civilian dress, he had felt all the delight of freedom in general, of which he had known nothing before, and of freedom in his love — and he was content, but not for long. He was soon aware that there was springing up in his heart a desire for desires — longing. Without conscious intention he began to clutch at every passing caprice, taking it for a desire and an object."

That's how Tolstoy called it.  Social workers sometimes call it "co-dependence."  Bono calls it "With Or Without You."

William Shakespeare...or the any number of people who might or might not have been responsible for his work...was certainly no stranger to love's agonies and ecstasies.  Romeo and Juliet is all about that.

"Benvolio: What sadness lengthens Romeo's hours?
Romeo: Not having that, which, having, makes them short.
Benvolio: In love?
Romeo: Out-
Benvolio: Of love?
Romeo: Out of her favour, where I am in love."

Juliet: "My only love sprung from my only hate!
Too early seen unknown, and known too late!"

So many books, stories, movies, and plays...all of them trying to explain this thing called love.  A lot of it is sickly sappy, other views are terse and pitch black.  As with any set of extremes, neither viewpoint gets it completely right.  The truth is in the middle.  Yet it's a muddy, murky, and confusing middle.  So in light of all of this, why the hell do we do it?

Like other aspects of nature, it just seems to happen.  Even the lonest wolfs among us find things ultimately go easier with someone else to share the load.  For love need not mean romance or sex.  It can mean solid ground to walk on and bright light to steer by.  It can mean deep sacrifice and utter altruism.  It's that magic moment when you find someone who knows you better than you even know yourself, someone who will quarter no pretending as to do so would be pointless.  Someone who sees the ghost in you.

That's when love, in my opinion, is at its best.  Then it gets ugly.  There's that insidious tendency in us to want to change the other person.  To tweak them to our precise liking no matter who perfect they might be for us.  There is a sense of ownership in that.  Might sound sick, but we actually stop treating the object of our love as a person at that point.  When ownership enters the picture, they become a possession.  I'm no angel.  I've been both victim and offender in this regard.  I am fortunate to have someone who has gone through those times with me, those ugliest of moments where the darkness of love can make you say the worst of words, yet has chosen to remain with me.

Regardless of the reason, I don't think it's an accident that Valentine's Day falls smackdab in the middle of February.  This is a winter month in many parts of the world.  It is gray, it is dreary, it is at times snow-covered.  I love winter but even I can grow weary of Norwegian-styled skies.  Valentine's Day paints a wide splash of red across the entire month.  Bright.  Fiery.  Passionate.  Like the glow from inside a house in a Thomas Kincade painting, loathe as I am to use him as an example.  But it's that light within.  Who we love, for better or for worse, helps define who we are.

I was asked just recently to name my top three favorite love songs.  I honestly don't know if I could come up with a ranking.  But for sheer lyrical quality, it's hard to top this line: "If God has a master plan that only He understands, I hope it's your eyes he's seeing through."  Can be taken any number of ways.  Can be interpreted in many views.  Each of them valid.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

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