Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Got Out of My Dreams, Got into My Car

            When I was in college I was an idiot with almost no understanding of relationships or how to interact with the opposite sex. And I thought I was in love with a girl I knew from high school. For four years I shot myself in the foot every time a quirky, cute and wonderful person expressed interest in me (they found my childishness endearing when in fact it was stupidity). I was rude or awkward, curt and ridiculous. Ah, the good old days.

            Then one night I had a dream about the girl I thought I was in love with. A glorious dream filled with golden light. The kind you wake up from feeling invigorated, confident and reckless. I got into my car and drove 1200 miles to New Orleans. To a southern university where the testosterone flowed like water. I saw her across a field littered with plastic cups and other dander shed the night before when there had been a G-Love and the Special Sauce concert held there. I ran to her, and she threw her bony arms around me. My God she had a smile that could start a car.

            She was happy to see me because we had been friends, but I had no skills. And abandoning shyness for boldness made me feel like a stalker. My impromptu road trip must have appeared calculated. She had a "guy she was into" at the time. He seemed like a douche. I spent most of my time there reading Alex Garland's novel The Beach, and feeling like a tool.

            That was the last time I acted on something I learned from a dream. If I would have read sonnet 61, I would have known that all that sunshine and gold I dreamed of was the result of my unfounded adoration and had nothing to do with a psychic reciprocation of affection. 



Is it thy will thy image should keep open

My heavy eyelids to the weary night?

Dost thou desire my slumbers should be broken

While shadows like to thee do mock my sight?

Is it thy spirit that thou send’st from thee

So far from home into my deeds to pry,

To find out shames and idle hours in me,

The scope and tenor of thy jealousy?

O no, thy love, though much, is not so great;

It is my love that keeps mine eye awake,

Mine own true love that doth my rest defeat,

To play the watchman ever for thy sake.

     For thee watch I, whilst thou dost wake elsewhere,

    From me far off, with others all too near.


            There is much speculation and debate about who the fair young man was to whom Shakespeare addressed his sonnets. One popular theory is that it was Henry Wriothesley, The Earl of Southhampton. Henry’s relatives wanted to pressure him into getting married to a specific young woman, and they may have commissioned Shakespeare to write these sonnets to him specifically because he was already a fan of Shakespeare’s poetry. Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece were both dedicated to Southhampton. This is why the first series of 17 sonnets (and several others throughout) recommend that the young man ensure that his beauty persist in the world by having a child.

            In this era it was expected that men would be sexually attracted to young men, and expressing that attraction was no more taboo than expressing a sexual attraction to a woman. Sodomy was certainly viewed as a sin, but so was adultery. It can probably be assumed that both were popular pastimes of Shakespeare's contemporaries.

            The sonnets are fascinating as an autobiographical puzzle. One outstanding characteristic of the sonnet was that it was meant to be vague, so that it would not stand as evidence of adultery or impropriety in an era when such trespasses could be prosecuted criminally. This leaves us with a maze of metaphors and loose allusions to navigate. Could Shakespeare have been in love with this effeminate young man who was reluctant to get married? Yes. It’s also possible he concocted this poetry out of his imagination in the interest of supporting himself and his estranged wife and children during the time when the playhouses were closed due to the outbreak of the plague.

            Before I left New Orleans and that girl I thought I was in love with, I gave her a copy of the 30-page short story I’d written for her. It was about a quixotic high school kid in a cape named Tobin Grasshopper and his friend Gordon Godoy who are both in love with a girl named Neriya. They decide to start writing her love poems and leaving them in her locker. She's weirded out and it gets messy when Tobin goes crazy and shoots Gordon in the middle of the school.

Please take a moment to roll your eyes.

Part Cyrano, part Wes Anderson, part utter piece of crap. It was one of the best things I’d written up to that point in my life. Not for any of the actions or pacing or plotting. Not for the characters, but for the few small lyrical snippets I’d come up with to describe the character of Neriya. That was the one emotion I really understood while I was typing away in the computer lab in the basement of the Dewitt-Wallace Library at Macalester: the admiration of beauty.

I would quote something of the story here, but the floppy disk it was recorded on has long since found its way to the bottom of a benevolent trash bin.

My point was that genuine emotions are necessary to create poetry, but they do not have to be specific to the present details. Even a crappy story I wrote at the lovelorn age of 21 demonstrates that real emotions can be applied to fiction. Surely Shakespeare, the greatest writer of all time, was capable of deceiving a young patron of the arts in order to support himself for a quick minute when the going got tough.

            But I don’t think this was the case. I think Shakespeare really was in love with the young man. I think William was gay. He clearly didn’t mind living away from his wife for most of his adult life. On the other hand he also had plenty of sex with prostitutes, so feel free to disagree.

            There’s no way for us to ever discover the truth until we develop safe time-traveling technology. But I’d rather think he was gay and was writing some of this amazing poetry from a place of actual passion and desire so that I wouldn’t feel like such an ineffectual hack when I write love letters that should be honest and beautiful, but mostly suck balls.

            Also, I know people have heterosexualized his poetry over the years by changing pronouns, and those people should be maligned for their homophobia. Unfortunately, I think I just lumped myself into this category since I totally took his poem and applied it to the affections I had for a member of the opposite sex. 

Sorry, William... unless of course you weren't gay at all. Then shame on you, you big faker. 

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