Today I got two new signs on the street outside the MOMA:
COFFEE: YOU CAN SLEEP WHEN YOU’RE DEAD
DRINK COFFEE: DO STUPID THINGS FASTER WITH MORE ENERGY.
They are meant to get me excited for work tomorrow.
In general, they suggest a certain need to endure, or at least to stay awake.
I also got some wasabi popcorn, because just plain popcorn isn’t enough.
And I thought… somehow this is all related to the column in today’s New York Times that says good marriages are the ones where people keep discovering things about themselves, that actually, you don’t need to have too much overlap with the other person, what you need to have are continual discoveries about the self.
Well, that’s all very well and good for people who want to stay awake all the time, and people who need wasabi with their popcorn. But what about those of us who thought marriage was an opportunity to sleep as much as you want, and to eat plain old popcorn, and to define life by these traditional parameters? What about us?
When you are tired, you go to bed. There, you sleep. When you get up, you drink coffee. The poet Frank O’Hara (today is a MOMA theme—he was a curator there and would be thrilled to see the Abstract Expressionist exhibit at the museum today) wrote, in his poem “Steps”:
“oh god it’s wonderful to get out of bed and drink too much coffee and smoke too many cigarettes …”
Because that’s the wonderful thing about coffee. It is not meant to substitute for sleep. Here’s the thing: old school people sleep and then drink too much coffee. These other people who got married so they can know themselves better, they drink coffee instead of sleeping and they can’t even appreciate it. The coffee, the sleep, anything.
I’m not saying it’s not wonderful to be awake. Frank O’Hara also said:
“when I die, don’t come, I wouldn’t want a leaf to turn away from the sun…”
Because it is so great to be alive. And it is. But if you can’t just eat the popcorn, if you need the wasabi on the popcorn, then you really can’t just be married, either, because you will always be waiting for the wasabi.
I really cannot understand what the New York Times is talking about.
When you first fall in love, it says in today’s paper, there is this rush of excitement because you have found out something new about you, because you now have more information about you! Well, I guess this could be true, but not for everyone. When I want more information about myself, I read something. Then, as I am reading, I think thoughts. Then, I learn something about myself, because I am thinking thoughts.
I thought you were supposed to lose yourself when you fell in love, that you were now, like in a good essay, achieving some sort of synthesis that was greater than the sum of its parts.
Also, like my camp friend Russell always said, “Don’t think, just feel.” If I were learning something new about myself and following Russell’s advice at the same time, I would not be feeling, I would be thinking, and then I would not be having the “blood knowledge” that D.H. Lawrence, and Russell, were talking about.
If I wanted to sit around learning about myself, I could travel, I suppose, or throw myself into a project, but ultimately I would probably just be better off reading. Certainly not getting married, because that is for another purpose.
When you get married, you devote yourself to a large, mysterious, whirlwind adventure, where you lose all sense of propriety or proportion. Life becomes enormous, lived doubly, and sometimes lived four- or five-fold, depending how many children you are lucky enough to have.
And I’m not kidding when I say lucky. Imagine the miracle through which more people, people who are partly made up of your genetic material, will live longer than you have lived. This is exceptional. It means that you will never really die, and that if you have had a ton of coffee, and if you have eaten so much wasabi popcorn that your heart just stopped of boredom, then through your little ones you would still have a presence on Earth.
This is heaven, then: to be lucky enough either to live and be loved so that you may live as a part of that person, or to live and be loved and, holy cannoli, actually make lives with that person so that you can live over there, in that body, in that house, on that street, in that town. But oh Sunday Times, not to live in your own little self just a little more. That’s not why. It’s not. It can’t be. It’s too small and tiny. I can’t even see it.
You can sleep when you’re dead… or married. Can’t you?