On On Love Etc. Etc.

Reading Alain de Botton’s On Love while listening to Yo La Tengo’s I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One and drinking Concha y Toro’s Cabernet Sauvigon & Merlot blend mixed with Diet Minute Maid orange soda

Saturday evening, Feb. 3, 2001










I feel bad that I was not able to attain the precious Fanta orange as J had instructed would be the perfect mixer, but I derive some consolation from two facts: she has told me that the specific De Botton and Yo La Tengo I have chosen are a promising pairing, and Minute Maid is made by the same company as makes Fanta (alas, Coca-Cola).

First Glass

I mix it about half and half. The wine is warm and the soda is cold, and the resultant mixture is (surprise!) somewhere in between. I actually like the taste of it very much, but plan to add ice for my second glass. The three events—reading, listening, drinking — take place simultaneously, and the first and the third predominate: De Botton’s writing is excellent (funny, insightful, in that deceptively loose and easy style which is so hard to bring about in practice); and the soda/wine (tastes great). I think I hear a train chugging in the first short piece on the Yo La Tengo, but afterwards the music becomes background, which is perhaps the point.

I laugh, not quite out loud (that happens very seldom, as it should), but laugh heartily at some of De Botton’s words. E.g.: “If God did not play dice, He or She certainly did not run a dating service.” Other words of his are deep and casual at the same time: “All too often forced to share our bed with those who cannot fathom our soul, can we not be forgiven if we believe ourselves fated to stumble one day upon the man or woman of our dreams?”

I can’t help thinking of the chance meeting of the narrator and Chloe (one chance in 5840.82) and my chance meeting with J. I had hardly known her before suggesting through a friend that she come to lunch with us. I had a memory of having met J once before, and I knew she had a boyfriend, and mainly I wanted her to be there so that there would be a third person.

She turned out to be a singular third person.

About a Quarter of the Way through the Second Glass

The ice was an excellent idea, if I do have to say so myself. Two cubes, of course, which seems right for the book and the CD and the project generally. Two. I wonder if J is a purist who will disdain me now for mucking up a perfectly good trio of decadences. Somehow, I don’t think so.

De Botton continues to overwhelm, and in the (for me) numerologically significant 9 and 15 sections. In 9: “What is so frightening is the extent to which one may idealize another, when one has so much trouble even tolerating oneself.” And in 15: “The initial movement is necessarily founded on ignorance” (his italics). I like the numbering of the sections in the novel, and it reminds me (self-centered brute that I am) of the story I published in Shift magazine oh so many years ago, about my breakup with my wife. Title: “Wrestling,” and also in numbered sections.

I did consciously look for cheap bad wine. I know nothing about wine, really, so I just sought out the cheapest bottle I could find, thinking that would be in accord with J’s instruction that the stuff be pretty basic. It cost $5.69. Five, sixty-nine. All good numbers still.

Nearly Finished the Second Glass

I have to say that I really don’t like the Yo La Tengo when (for two songs at least now) it starts off with this really hard and gravelly guitar riff. I’ve used my remote to turn it down. Part of that is that since I am so inexperienced in music, I need to listen to it by itself, while I read along with the lyrics like a child learning his ABCs, or someone trying to learn French by cassette.

Can’t agree with Chloe more when she says, as they are in the gallery together: “But actually, I sort of like looking at things and not knowing quite what they mean.” If I didn’t like J so much, I think I would be in love with Chloe.

Seriously, though, it reminds me of the experience of art. You look/read/listen/whatever, and you sense something, you feel something, and you are able to articulate part of that, especially if you are a person with some experience and facility in eloquence. But, of course, you can’t express the whole thing, no matter how good a, for example, literary critic you are, not even if you are Northrop Frye. Art cannot be contained in the enclosure of explanatory words.

De Botton is (words fail me, so I just have to say …) excellent. I am envious.

I have spent the day in a flurry of getting practical things done: cutting illustrations out of a book on metadata; incorporating into my novel, Will’s Dead Wife, some comments from a couple of other readers; preparing my tax information for a CA in Toronto (who was so great and enthusiastic and knowledgeable on the phone with me on Friday that I could have shouted with glee); clearing out some paper; sending tapes to Oscar and to J, and T-shirts to my mother. But then, also: starting my French story for J (may I say that I love the title, which is: “Je la tiens”?).

Into My Third Glass

Finally, the Yo La Tengo is great, too. Track 10, “Green Arrow.” And I just received an email from J about 10 minutes ago. Ah, life is good on this quiet Saturday evening, having the trio experience, getting email from her, writing this, and, multi-taskingly, doing my 300 words in Novel3, too.

It’s one of those things one sometimes forgets is necessary for someone to be a good writer, but he/she has to know words. Writers have to have language in them, and be able to spew it out of them like <insert appropriate artisan metaphor here>. I was struck by these sentences from De Botton: “Tentatively, we plotted our orientations and definitions. We did so in the most tortuous ways. We asked each other ‘What does one look for in love?’ — this one embodying a subtle linguistic abdication of involvement.” That last phrase (“this one embodying a subtle linguistic abdication of involvement”) is something from a writer who knows words and knows how to string them together into sentences which are smart and articulate.

I have never understood quite what flirtation is, so this is interesting to me: ” … the first rule of flirtation, where what is said is never what is meant.” Because I don’t quite understand flirtation, and consequently don’t “do” it well, I have sometimes either come on too strong to women, or have seemed (to them) as though I am flirting with them when in fact I am just acting on my natural curiosity about people generally. Same thing on the receiving end: there have likely been women in my past who have flirted with me shamelessly, but whose subtle cues I did not pick up on at all. With J, I now feel: she is interested. I have made it clear that I am interested. Flirting and communicating are just co-extensive now.

Further into Third

Breaking one-third of the rules, this portion has been a reading with soda/wine, and sans music. But, holy shit, it is worth it for these things from Chloe. On her father: “All his problems started when his parents called him Barry.”

I think this combo of basic red wine and orange soda should be marketed as a product if it is not done so already. A cooler or something, because my experience over this hour or two has been that it is best chilled (reminds me of the slogan on one of the Indian beers I have had: “Most Thrilling Chilled”. Really!).

Finished the Third

I did so just as Chloe has seduced him. He’s in her apartment, and has just emerged from the bathroom, and is about to leave, when “she placed her lips on mine and there began the longest and most beautiful kiss mankind has ever known.”

It’s been a long while since I have had such a great novel recommended to me. It is either that my tastes in fiction do not coincide with those of most of the people I run into, or that I just don’t like the stuff that most people happen to be reading, or that most fiction is so godawful anyway that it is unlikely that anyone’s recommendation is going to turn out to be fruitful. Like movies (perhaps all art forms) that way: a very high percentage is just outright junk, and a very low percentage is the stuff that makes you shiver with aesthetic longing.

I’ve really not had much wine. With my second glass I started mixing more soda than wine, so that I feel only the slightest tincture of intoxication. Thass wyy Ime not shlurrrring my wordz or ennythhing like thettt.

I’ve decided that I will let the end of the Yo La Tengo CD decide when this (what?) report is over. I am now at page 45 of De Botton (“Mind and Body”) and I think the CD is on track 14 of 16. So, I am off to pour my fourth and likely last glass of the elixir for the night.


The Yo La Tengo ends at precisely 1.09 a.m., according to the clock on my VCR. I am on page 56 of On Love, where he and Chloe are having their first morning-after breakfast together, and I have only just started my fourth glass. I’ll switch modes now, and boost the J I have been referring to up from third to second person:

Thank you for suggesting these activities to me, J. Here’s a detail which harkens back to the beginning of the novel when De Botton was talking about fate and destiny and all that: I have the three things here in my bedroom with me now, the jewel case of the CD, the novel, and the drink, and the colors all match. They are in unity. They are beating, and being, as one.