By Madison Pollack | 11 November 2019
Seven books, a wind chime, assorted ticket stubs left over from trains and shows, movies and museums. A piece of paper he used to scribble an example of the difficult concept he was trying to simplify for me. A stuffed red panda that betrayed a gross misunderstanding of my taste and personality. The pair of white socks I borrowed and kept by accident. A coaster. A plastic pitcher we stole from a bar. More coasters.
Lydia Davis’ initially cold calculation of how much a love affair costs (in dollars but, then, in more than dollars) in her story “Break It Down” ends with the following sentence: “So I’m just thinking about it, how you can go in with $600, more like $1000, and how you can come out with an old shirt.” (Davis, p.30) The money was spent on travel, on a room, on food. The breakdown of costs levels to one hundred dollars per day spent on a ten-day trip, and if they made love once a day then each session cost that one hundred dollars. But of course there was the waking up next to her and the way her skin felt plus her asking if she was fat and his answering wrong. The precise cost analysis unravels into recollections of what it was like for her to roll up against him in bed and speak into his ear, of what it was like when he said he loved her and she answered too fast.
When he had to leave she thrust a shirt in his arms. And his net gain, after about a thousand dollars spent, was just that, a shirt.
In Eros The Bittersweet, Anne Carson dissects the concept of love using the philosophy and literature of the Greeks. She discusses the change and therefore, according to the Greeks, the loss of self experienced by a person falling in love. (Carson, 156) In addition to money, it seems that there is control over one’s body and behavior to be lost. There are, however, wings to be gained. To Sappho, Anakreaon and Alkaios, such wings are an invasion (Sappho’s phrase is “eptoaisen,” or, roughly “it puts the heart in my chest on wings,” while Alkaios writes, “[Eros] made Helen’s heart fly like a wing in her chest.”) Eros’ wings take flight up and through the body and send the mind out the window through the ear. However, in her examination of Plato, she finds that instead of acting as an outside force, Eros’ wings have roots in each person’s soul, leftover from humanity’s immortal origins, and that they have the potential to sprout when a person falls in love. Love, with all its accompanying painful pleasure, has the power to take one back to what it was like for man to be truly alive, as the Greek gods are—it reminds the soul of this.
The plastic pitcher reminds me of the time we ordered a giant blue alcoholic concoction and couldn’t finish it and so hid it under my coat until we got outside. You drank from it as soon as we got home. I refused as I was convinced I would projectile vomit with one more sip. We stayed awake until three as we always did, and the pitcher and its blue poison took up residence in my fridge for more than a day. I emptied and washed it and stuffed it with little gifts for you. You took the gifts and returned the pitcher, certain that I’d use it.
I thought maybe it wouldn’t end. It ended. I still have the pitcher. I haven’t used it. It’s on my shelf – decorative.
In Daisy the Great’s music video to “Dips,” the actor Brigette Lundy-Paine dances with the coat hanging on their closet door. As the lyrics to the song depict an idyllic, if transient, romance, Brigette threads their arm through the coat and wraps it around them. One nearly forgets that there is no invisible person dancing with them, there is no set of eyes gazing back at Brigette with a longing to match theirs, that the hand extending around Brigette’s is their own.
Brigette’s dance with the coat in conjunction with the present-tense lyrics of the song suggests an act of recall; whether someone used to wear that coat, or whether they wore any coat, is not the point. What’s lost is clear—the absent love for which the coat is a symbolic substitute. What’s gained, what is contained in the coat, is the shadow of a world that once existed, a world unperceivable to anyone but the two people who were in it. One can almost see it, almost be in it again. And what’s the point of that?
In the poem “Meditations in an Emergency,” Frank O’Hara writes, “Each time my heart is broken it makes me feel more adventurous.” (O’Hara, 38) The adventure is a costly one, financially and otherwise. The heart gets mauled, the mind sees the world through the filter of does it or does it not remind me of them so that eventually everything does. Your bank account remembers the meals at the Indian restaurant and the Airbnb. You’re not quite the person you used to be – the person with the priorities and the control over the words you spew. But now you’ve got this stuff, this extra stuff, a shirt or a pitcher or a coat and it doesn’t feel worth it, having put so much into it. Lydia Davis writes, “…it isn’t that you can say afterwards the pleasure was greater than the pain and that’s why you would do it again. (…) So the question really is, Why doesn’t that pain make you say, I won’t do it again?” (Davis, 30) What you get isn’t really a shirt or a pitcher or a coat. These things prove the existence of a whole world, they remind you of your courage and your foolishness and your sprouting wings.
Madison Pollack is a New York-based playwright and is a University of Edinburgh alum. She is interested in the grounding of theory and art in the personal, and in putting “high” and “low” culture in conversation with each other.
Carson, Anne. Eros The Bittersweet. Princeton University Press, 1998.
Davis, Lydia. Break It Down, “Break It Down.” Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1986, pp.
Dugan, Kelley; Glynn, Danielle; Markland, Gracie; Walker, Mina. “Dips.” Youtube,
performed by Kelley Dugan and Mina Walker, 17 January 2019.
O’Hara, Frank. Meditations in an Emergency, “Meditations in an Emergency.” Grove
Press, 1967, pp. 38-39.