love and slush puddles

everything turns gross pretty quickly

It’s very early in the morning and the snow isn’t ruined yet. 

It will be by the end of the day. The dug-out streets will crumble and grey at the edges, staining black from the city’s untraceable filth. The parts that don’t melt into slush will start to freeze into ice boulders, and the beauty will turn over into inconvenience and disgust. The thing that made the landscape beautiful will ruin it; the thing that stopped my heart will get in my way. It’s coming; the point of snow is that it turns to shit. But for now it’s very early and still beautiful, making the whole place look like a painting. In the park, dogs are up early, jumping into high snowdrifts that blanket uneven rocks into the false shape of smooth, rolling hills. 

There’s nothing to love about snow if you’re smart and practical; objectively, snow is bad. But the desire to love that for which we cannot explain our love might be the whole point of loving things. We don’t love things because we should, and certainly not just because they deserve it. This may be the whole thing we’re seeking from it, a singular relief from the bank-account value lines that link deservingness and reaction, in which results are always predictable, and everything is always earned. There is no form of love that is not unearned. It feels like a miracle because it makes no sense, and when it feels like a tragedy, that tragedy also proceeds from the inability to control love or make it make sense. I cannot stack up evidence and make someone love me, no more than I can add up a list of qualities and achievements and from it persuade myself to love another person. Love is nonsense; it’s a snow day, waking up overjoyed about a stupid weather system that will make it difficult to walk anywhere. We carry so much, successes and failures and dim memories and unrealized hopes and bright bizarre images, into our encounters with one another that the way these influences cause us to light up for one person and pass another by is so illegible and convoluted as to be indistinguishable from magic. 

January is supposed to be a time of year about accomplishments, starting over, making plans, proving something. It passed in a headline-shocked blur this year. Maybe other people accomplished something. I had trouble going outside, trouble pulling myself up into the day, trouble continuing on into a future without goalposts or a marked road, continuing on into the next year of the thing we all called 2020 that was absolutely not 2020 at all. It is always excruciating to have to live in the future once the future arrives; it is so much better to be waiting for something than to arrive at it and have to walk forward from there. 

That ruthless January desire to be useful, to mean something by virtue of having produced something, to prove oneself worthy, selected into the group of the chosen, rises up in me even when there is no room nor use for it, even within in the ongoing crisis that makes these impulses so obviously cruel. We live in a world that wants to cheat us and have us blame ourselves. If people can be ordered in value by the weight of their accomplishments, then by the next logical step, some people can be excluded from deserving anything at all. If only you’d worked harder; if only you’d done more. 

Snow, like love, is useless. Working harder and doing more get nowhere with love. The joy it offers, if it offers you joy, does not last and does not result in any achievements. It does nothing, and then it disappears. “Joy is stupid,” I overheard my neighbor saying on the phone a few weeks ago, her voice full of the thick and giddy curdle of it. She was celebrating, raising a glass to stupidity. Snow is as stupid as joy, pointless, fleeting, turning into annoyance within a day. Maybe that’s why it raises up such big emotions in those of us who love it, something to celebrate that has no value or deservingness at all, a beauty that erases the self who engages with it. I am nobody to the snow; the grace of it in the dark uprisen morning, coming down silent on a sleeping city and turning the whole place bright, reflecting the streetlights to a soft purple, is nothing I can put into a list of successes. There is no action to it. It has nothing to do with the individual; snow is a collective experience, against work, against accomplishment, against a singular ordering of more and less, better and worse, success and failure. 

February begins its trudge toward spring this week, and with all the other injustices and exhaustions of this wretched, slush-puddle month, we are meant to believe it is about love, a holiday pinned into the calendar, forcing the topic. Larger cultural celebrations of love under capitalism are eager and desperate to make love into an accomplishment, to equate finding a partner or staying in a relationship with buying a house or getting a new job.

The dominant culture that wants to make these equivalences is also eager to pare love down into the smallest possible unit, into its narrowest and least generous definition. The postcard version of love, the one that wants it to act like currency, excludes the myriad relationships that do not look like a marketed idea of romance but are a no less profound experience of love: the loosely accumulated communities, the casual ties, the person you can text at 4am, the long weird friendships, the assemblages of three and four and twelve people that have pulled together over years or maybe over days, the things that feel important without any language to explain why they are, the romances that have no interest in the body, the friendships that are more romantic than marriages, the people we’ve never met, the people we’ve only imagined, the people we’ve known forever, the people we have no interest in kissing but would protect with our lives, the people with whom we have no interest in anything other than kissing. Love becomes a vast map when it is set free from achievement. 

Snow is failure, failure in all its glory, and in all its sinking, stupid joy. Love at its best is also failure, a refusal to walk forward into usefulness, shutting the windows and pulling the blinds, saturating in our sugar-sweet nonsense reactions. It melts and turns disgusting, it gets everywhere, it inconveniences us, it does not last, it reveals how shallowly and easily we get swept up in meaningless beauty. Both are fleeting, both turn hideous and inconvenient more quickly than they should, both are a flagrant example of the stupidity of joy. I love snow, and many people in many different weird ways, and all kinds of other stupid things, for bad reasons and no reason at all. This type of love sets me briefly outside the anxious scammy ticking of the room in my heart that wants to prove I am more worthy than the person next to me. What a relief to love something for a bad reason, to love something that does not improve me, that impacts my life not at all. Nobody deserves snow and nobody deserves love either. It offers nothing but itself, and inconvenience, going grey and disgusting and difficult as I clutch a private, stupid, untranslatable joy to my heart, useless, and unsharable, and precious because of it. 

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