Thursday, March 19, 2009

"It compels me to speak as though I were Two." (or: A Chat with Cate)

"...I delude myself as to my solitude and lie my way back to multiplicity and love, for my heart shies away from believing that love is dead. It cannot bear the icy shivers of loneliest solitude. It compels me to speak as though I were Two." (Nietzsche, PTG, 18)

Today I spoke with Cate after too long a silence. I was at the Red Dragon after teaching, nursing my third gin and tonic--the boy Miko makes them doubles, which is quite nice (though he saw me watching his pour and sheepishly looked up and asked if it was too much and whether or not he should pour some out... I disabused him of the concern that there is ever such a thing as a drink "too strong").

It was her first day as an "Intelligence Analyst" for the NSA at Fort Meade. Before you begin to panic and fear I am a narc, please take a moment to note the hippie chick holding up her arm to show off the ridiculous sleeves that adorned our equally ridiculous gowns. Though, Cate's mom insisted I iron mine before going to the ceremony, and I heeded her advice and I am sure this made my own mother happy, because she would have been distraught over wrinkles in my gown.

There is, it turns out, a rather thorough vetting process for potential NSA Intelligence Analysts, and I one day in the Fall of '08 got a call from a man with the Dept. of Defense asking to set up an interview so he could ask me about Cate. I did my best not to compromise her integrity, and I succeeded, obviously, but there were a series of 25 or so questions at the end--"simply pro forma"--one of which was "Do you consider Cate to a patriotic American?" I didn't quite know how to answer, so I said something to the effect of, This is her home, and where her family and friends are, I don't think she would ever do anything to harm us. And then I asked if my interviewer could feel the chill of McCarthy's ghost run up his spine, too. He smiled and said "simply pro forma".

You can't see her nose rings in this picture because it's too small (the picture, that is), but apparently she doesn't have to take them out, and she gets to wear blue-jeans and skirts to work. Cate has "Classified: Top Secret" clearance and so when I asked her how her first day went and what she did, she replied, "I actually can't tell you." I then cursed the fact that blinking once for yes and two for no is useless over the phone.

I told her about the limbo status of my applications and she said that if I'm not accepted into a program this year she will have lost faith in the Academy, and will want nothing to do with it. She said I am bold, and daring, and imaginative, and brilliant--and she never uses that word. She said my work carries my voice, and is ambitious, and I am not afraid to take risks, like writing a paragraph-long historically accurate series of homoerotic sexual puns based on Thucydides as the lead-in for my statement of purpose, for instance.

This is the third time someone has recently said something to me along these lines. It's rather difficult, however, to feel any sense of confidence while awaiting a verdict on my ability to actually _do_ what may simply be the one thing I am quite good at, and love.

Yet, I lamented, it's very lonely. I fear I intimidate or worse, bore people, that I need to learn to stop always speaking in the voice of a perpetually awed student. And she scolded me at this, But that's who you are, it's how you see the world, and you want to share it with people, to have others see what you see.

(This is true of Cate, too: she would regularly interrupt me if something I'd said reminded her of a word she'd just learned in Arabic or Persian, and would go off about how in varied contexts it means x, y, or z, but in another context it means k or l, and sometimes m.)
Of course, she's right. And apart from feeling muzzled, I'd feel like I was depriving someone of just the coolest thing ever.

And I brought up "X" and admitted that brief affair might have been the most stimulating, satisfying relationship I've known. And she said it made perfect sense and then laughed and said, "Yes, brain sex!" In fact, he warned me when I was still so terribly hung-up and seeping life over Rachel that "We academic, intellectual types, need that--and it's very hard to find."

It's not only that I'm one of these academic, intellectual types, but everyone who has ever thought seriously about love insists that it must remain dynamic, in motion, responsive if it is to sustain the erotic tension that first gives it life. This, too, is how I understand the life of the mind--it must remain fluid, ever-curious, and eager to engage--itself and others. And isn't this just Freud's (purported) understanding of psychic health: to work and love (anangke and eros)? Freud apparently wrote a letter to his wife, Martha, expressing a desire I share (though, not for Martha, but for (a) "You"): "Couldn't I for once have you and the work at the same time?" (21 Oct. 1885)

I suppose I mention this, perhaps again(?!), because I fear I won't find someone I with whom I can have both work and love until I am in the throws of graduate studies, and that seems a long way off--and, again(?!), remains a future not yet guaranteed. There are of course interests, but having never done this before I'm quite terrible at the art of suave pursuit. I imagine I appear, well... like a student: too eager, too conscientious, too effusive. There is very little I can do about this: feigning disinterestedness reeks of Kant ("That is beautiful which gives us pleasure without interest"--but I say with Nietzsche, "Compare with this definition one framed by a genuine 'spectator' and artist--Stendhal, who once called the beautiful _une promesse de bonheur_.... that the beautiful _arouses the will_ ['interestedness']"
) and I like it when my "will" is aroused.

Anyway, it was wonderful to talk to Cate again. It was a terrible loss last June--not only the play of school work, but my friend, with whom I could spend hours talking, after one of us knocked on the other's door, as we did every day. I actually met one of my neighbors this weekend, and she, too, is a film-buff and lent me a box-set of Beckett's plays on film boasting top-notch actors and stellar directors. (Movie night anyone?) I actually have yet to leave a thank-you note on her door, and should probably do that today...

It is very exciting to think about Cate working for the NSA. I could imagine no one else I'd trust more with vital security information than her. And the mental image is delightful, too: Cate at a big, official-looking desk, I can't believe her feet manage to reach the floor, on a military base, with her nose-rings and long flowing skirt, looking over intercepted wire-taps.

Indeed, sometimes life is quite grand!


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