Saturday, November 22, 2008

What Is Love?

There are many splendid arrangements driven by love.

But where human mating habits are concerned, there are really only two motives anyone has for choosing to "love" anyone else.

1) Conquest
2) Companionship

You can think of them as stages that comprise a continuum.

You can think of them as competing desires.

You can think of both.

The Conquest Motive has, at its core, the urge to discover.

For some, discovery is an end in and of itself. They love in order to learn about themselves. To learn about other people. To learn about processes. This application of discovery would seem to contradict the word "conquest." But if you channel Derrida for a moment, you can zoom in on descriptors like "acquire" or "gain mastery of" and the idea of a conquest meant to nurture starts to sound pretty feasible.

For others, discovery is the means that leads to some sort of triumph. The literal application of "conquest." I don't know if people still make notches in their bedposts every time they've finished a new lover, but that's kinda how this one works. Maybe you know the concept as a "Cooch Count" or a "Peter Meter." Whatever the case, this application of discovery is all about victory and volume.

Meanwhile, the Companionship Motive is self-evident.

Most people don't like to be alone. Most people prefer familiar company to share...well...pretty much everything. It can start with a laugh and build up to an entire life. Some of it may be compelled by customs. Like, you're just supposed to get married and have kids. Much more of it is inspired by an innate need for simple human contact that is most efficiently fulfilled by choosing a partner who will promise to provide you that point of contact. Maybe it's a permanent arrangement. Maybe it grows out of whatever is most practical at that moment. Bottom line: people need people.

Of course, there are the unlucky ones. The people who genuinely wish to be alone. Those people don't really have a place in this theory. They are evil and heartless. Sub-human, even. And they are known by their scientific name: the San Antonio Spurs.

Now that we understand each of these motives, how exactly do they work?

If we consider them as stages, at some point every person's hormones will scream at them to go out and discover what that thing is that is making the spine tingle, the belly flutter or the heart pound. Which means that Conquest usually comes first. After a person has discovered enough things, their emotional architecture can transform to house a yearning for shared intimacy. That shift signals the kicking in of the Companionship Motive. Basically, Conquest colors adolescence and Companionship is the driver during adulthood.

However, the motives are not exclusive to those two life stages. Which, in short, is why love is messy. But not for everyone.

Some people do all their discovering. Then they get boo'd up. And they're good.

For a lot more people than that, the motives wage something of a civil war. They want to conquer, but they also need a partner. Or maybe the partner doesn't provide the right degree of human contact. So the urge to discover overpowers that unsatisfied desire for fellowship. Or maybe a person realizes there was more to conquer than they had conquered before they opted to jump the broom. Or maybe they picked the wrong partner, the pairing ended and now they're left to go back to the discovering stage whether they really want to or not. The scenarios for this kind of conflict really are endless.

So...that's love. In a nutshell. It's a whole lot easier to type than it is to do. But it's not nearly as perplexing as it might seem.

It's just a matter of understanding why you're doing whatever it is that you're doing.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

First Writing Since

If you don't know who Suheir Hammad is, shame on you. If you've never heard the poem below, give up the next 7 minutes of your life to change that.

Now that we've got that out the way, this entry has nothing to with Ms. Hammad. (Except for the homage being paid by its title.) Or Sept. 11. It might have to do with anti-Islamism. But only in a very tangential way.

Two weeks have passed since the United States of America elected Barack Obama as its President.

And it still feels weird to type that. Or say it. Or know it to be true.

The pinch-me-ness of the good guys finally winning something big has yet to dissipate.

The piece-by-piece assembling of President-Elect Obama's cabinet tends to bring it into focus and make it feel more real.

I liked the Rahm Emanuel choice. But am feeling underwhelmed by everyone who has come after. Or everyone who has been rumored after.

While I don't doubt that Barack remains the smartest guy in the room, I am beginning to wonder how many concessions he had to make in order to collect the full support of the established Left.

I believe that change happened.

And I hope change will continue to come.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Congratulations to America

There is a non-descript government building that opposes a McDonald's on the corner of 14th and U in NW Washington, DC. Outside this building, a row of flags--an American flag and a couple of other anonymous banners--sprouts from the sidewalk. On any normal day, or night, it is an ordinary site that plays host to little other than a cool breeze and some passing pedestrians.

Last night--as 50 Stars and 13 Stripes whipped jubilantly overhead--I danced in a drum circle while hundreds of citizens of the District of Columbia chanted "USA! USA! USA!" and a warm, Autumn rain washed all of us.

It was a fine American mess. The finest I've ever seen. Or expect to see in my lifetime.

Many better-informed, better-paid, more eloquent people than I will seek to capture for you what the election of Barack Obama means. They--along with many others who hack away like I do--will probably describe their version of the moment. The moment Barack Obama was elected President of the United States of America. Every version of the moment will contain its own magic. And every description will rise with ambition to approximate the power that surged within all of us last night.

I can list for you the details of my moment. A cubby hole with a liquor license and a kitchen full of delicious. Stone's throw from Howard University. Old friends. Happy strangers. Tears. Hugs. Applause. Smiles wide like it was a wedding day. Sam Cooke's "Change Gonna Come." More tears. More hugs. More applause. A toast. A pledge. More hugs. Smiles still wide, unremoved and beaming.

Eventually, many of us took to the streets after a symphony of car horns beckoned us. Someone handed me a pile of Obama'08 signs to pass out. I kept one for myself and wandered west on U Street trying to pierce the sky with it like any good son of Norma Rae would be expected to do. A young, midnight-complected woman hanging out the passenger side window of an Explorer waved me over, squeezed me as if she was trying to pull me into her skin and screamed "OBAMA!!!" for the entire ether to hear.

That drizzle that fell on our nation's capital late last night fell a little bit harder with each passing minute. Sometime after midnight--after Obama delivered the last word of his acceptance speech--the skies dried up. The rain had come. And the rain had gone away.

The rhythm from the drums grew louder. Police sirens wailed halfheartedly. The rhythm grew even louder. Car horns helped keep the beat. Sub-woofers from stoodstill cars blared whatever song the iPod shuffled up next. Someone started an Electric Slide. Everyone else seemed to join in. It was a celebration worthy of Rick James himself.

To some degree, we witnessed an affirmation of American-ness last night. If we have learned anything about this Grand Experiment of ours, though, there lies a mess beneath the make-believe monolith that is these United States of America. Our one nation, some might argue, is structured in a fundamentally divisible way. You can draw up whatever teams you want. Based on whatever terms suit you. In every case, tax-payers will be pitted against each other. There will be an "Us." And there will be a "Them."

On this day, after last night, "Us" can be defined much more broadly than it ever has been. You didn't need to ask anyone on U Street to know that. Their eyes, their smiles and the hugs they gave declared as much. It was as if a good many of us had finally arrived at 1776.

Much later in the dry darkness of this morning, I sat in my bed in Northern Virginia. Inhaling a Quarter Pounder with Cheese and some McDonald's fries. Bar-b-que sauce dripping on my t-shirt. A good friend called from Texas--interrupting the feast--to celebrate and discuss what had happened and what could happen next. There remains, we agreed, a massive amount of work to be done.

For there is a fine American mess that a very different, brand new "Us" can claim, in part, as our own.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Prepping for Election Night in the US

I've heard, read and witnessed a wide variety of emotions being expressed today across the United States as decent and not-so-decent Americans alike have made their choices in the quadrennial clash between good and evil.

This evening, predictably, TV sets will flicker late into the early part of tomorrow. Revealing the ultimate deceit for some and confirming the joys of an impossible reality for others.

Regardless of whom you drew your sword for today, we can be certain of one thing:

Celebration and consolation will taste very much alike. They'll both taste like whiskey.

And the first Wednesday in this November will be a pretty shade of ugly. Or an ugly shade of pretty.

Or, perhaps, it will deliver another fine American mess.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Early Season NBA Thoughts

LeBron James will win an NBA championship before his current contract expires.

I trust Mike D'Antoni. Knicks fans should, too.

D Rose is already the best Chicago Bull.

For as much as people will focus on the importance of New Orleans signing Posey, Mike James and Julian Wright will be the role players who tilt the Hornets' fortunes.

As long as he stays healthy, which he should, D Wade will take Miami to the play-offs.

I love watching Kevin Durant play basketball, but I can't stomach the idea of watching the Oklahoma City whatevers. It just feels wrong.

If I was any player who was nearing the end my third contract and my team was more than 15 games under .500 in Feb, I'd ask for a buyout so I could go play with Kevin Garnett for the veteran minimum.

I'm lukewarm on the Sixers.

I still don't believe in the Rockets.

I do believe in OJ Mayo. And I can't wait 'til he escapes Memphis.

I also believe in the Hawks. Joe Johnson and Horfy are the truth. Acie Law IV is gonna be a ice-cold killer of a third wheel for them. Eventually.

The real Greg Oden won't arrive until sometime in 2010. He'll dominate when does show up, though.

I like the Clipper roster. In a best case scenario, they're this year's Sixers. In a worst case scenario...they're the Clippers.

If the world will simply let Dirk, Kidd and Josh Howard play basketball...I think they'll be pretty good at it.

Tim Duncan looks very fit, very rested, very aggressive and very focused to start the season. He'll probably win the MVP award after the Spurs clinch their division. Unless LeBron or D Wade averages a quintuple double.

Socialism has arrived in America and it wears a Laker uniform. Only two guys (Odom and Ariza) are playing for contracts and neither of them plays a game that requires them to get big numbers to prove their worth. The roster is two (three?) deep at every position. They can play any style they want to play and may invent four new styles this season just for the hell of it. The only thing standing between Showtime 3.0 and the employment of a no-star approach to spreading the stats around is...Kobe. Does Kobe still need the numbers at this point in his career or does he really only care about the ring? Could the effective Europeanization of his team be the intended destination of Phil Jackson's coaching career? I don't know, but it might be the most interesting subplot of this season. And, thankfully, there's reason to believe Mayor Villaraigosa may host a parade down Figueroa in June. Maybe. If Chick Hearn's ghost smiles on the Laker Nation and helps everything break right.