Friday, May 21, 2010

Love's Old-Fashioned Labour's

           Take Highway 33 west from Baraboo. Go over Wildcat Mountain, across the Kickapoo River and about a mile outside of Ontario, Wisconsin you’re going to see a tire swing and a horse with a little star on his forehead. Turn right. That’s where my brother lives. At the Buddhist retreat center.

            His neighbors are cows, Amish people and all the wild animals of western Wisconsin. Mostly coyotes, wild turkeys and deer, but in the past few years they’ve had some new neighbors: Cougars. Cougars haven’t lived in Wisconsin since 1910. In general they don’t share the same turf as wolves since the two large predators have the same diet. So it’s been important for residents and visitors of the wilderness to brush up on their wildcat safety.

            If you come across one, stand your ground. Cougars see the world in a pretty simple way. If something runs away from you, it is food. If it doesn't, it’s not food. The thing you want, makes you chase it.

            I had a friend who really liked going to rock shows. He was dating this girl, and she really liked going to rock shows. And they broke up. “It was too easy,” he said. 

            Easy only works for so long in love. There needs to be a pursuit. There has to be a labour, the more Herculean, the better.

            Love’s Labour’s Lost is about the King of Navarre, who decides that he and his three buddies are going to retire from the pleasures of the world and dedicate themselves to academic study for three years in order to achieve immortality. 

           This, of course, means they’re going to fast from romantic conquests as well. This pursuit lasts for about five minutes until the Princess of France and her three ladies in waiting show up and the gents all fall in love with the ladies and concoct a ridiculous plan to woo them, by sending them gifts and then pretending to be Russian visitors. The ladies are not fooled. They trick each of the boys into declaring their love to the wrong girl. The boys are embarrassed, but the ladies find their folly amusing and just when it looks like things might turn out all right, news comes that the king of France, the Princess’s father, has passed away. The sobering news forces the Princess’s hand:


We have received your letters full of love;

And in our maiden council rated them

At courtship, pleasant jest, and courtesy,

As bombast and as lining to the time. (5:2)


            Bombast! The Princess calls their love a merriment, insubstantial. She and her ladies will retire to France to mourn for a year, and they leave the boys with tasks to demonstrate their love is genuine. They must live in hermitage, and remain devoted to the women for a year, except for Berowne, who asks Rosaline for an assignment.


Mistress, look on me.

Behold the window of my heart, mine eye,

What humble suit attends thy answer there.

Impose some service on me for they love. (5:2)


            Rosaline imposes this:


You shall this twelvemonth term from day to day

Visit the speechless sick, and still converse

With groaning wretches; and your task shall be,

With all the fierce endeavor of your wit,

To enforce the pained impotent to smile. (5:2)


            Rosaline tells him to be like Patch Adams and bring joy and laughter to sick and dying people. If he can do it, she will know he’s worth loving. And if not, then she’s not interested.

            I like this about Rosaline – not the Patch Adams bit specifically – but that she challenges him to be compassionate, to experience life, and to think about her as his motivation for being good. Maybe it’s old-fashioned, but I think a woman should expect her man to be better than he thought he could be.

            Ever since I was in kindergarten and I kissed Cori Jenkins in the tee pee during nap time, I’ve been pursuing girls. Like one of those lions, who acquires a taste for human flesh, I saw girls and was utterly fascinated. I wanted them to want me. Of course I was too terrified to do anything about it for decades, but all their feminine attributes were mysterious magnets to my imagination. Soft skin and pig tails, crystalline eyes and ever-moist lips. Their voices and the secret society they keep with each other, impenetrable and so much more mature than the desert island of boys in which I meander.

            I really loved that Kevin Costner Robin Hood Prince of Thieves movie that was out in 1991. (Wow. Seriously? 19 years ago that movie came out? Yikes.) I was in middle school, and occasionally given to watching MTV that summer, and I am unashamed to admit that the Oscar-winning Bryan Adam’s song “(Everything I Do) I Do it For You,” is still one of my favorite movie songs ever.

            Love doesn’t need to have specific labours or assignments imposed, but the general idea -- that a man should do everything better and always improve for women -- is a solid one. The cougar analogy is not good, because the prey/hunted thing is demeaning, and because the word cougar has a modern definition which negates all of the old-fashioned ideas I argued for today. But what do you want? I learned about cougars this week.

            I look around me and I see that girls are better than boys, and I want to be better to win their affection. This is why I never became a Buddhist. My older siblings are both Buddhists, and I used to think about practicing because the Buddhists were always happy and they throw great parties. Also, it's a terrific way to travel across Eastern Europe, going from Buddhist Center to Buddhist Center. But when I asked Ian and Katie about it, they said one of the things you need to do is let go of your ego.

           "Hmm." I thought, "No thanks." 

          I was gonna need that ego to impress the ladies.

Ian and I at the Buddhist Retreat Center in western Wisconsin.
We just finished chopping down some trees for firewood.
(The trees were already dead).

My little sister Cassie soaks up the many enlightening splendors of America's Dairyland

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