Written: November 30th, 2007, 8:31 (UTC) By: omer
Note: this post is part of an ongoing novel. You should probably start at the beginning here.
The novel continues here.
Love minus art became an overnight success and an overnight failure almost on the same night. For the first ever meeting (the following Tuesday at dinner), Toff and Orr grouped three big, round tables together near the center of the dining hall. They also surrounded the tables with a few other tables in case, as Toff put it, "Some people want to remain anonymous listeners." And, in fact, though only five people other than Toff and Orr sat at the cluster of tables (so that other, larger groups soon asked for two of the three tables), many of the other tables were filled as before, with many of the same people, whose bodies would react to the speaking at the main table, but who would never look up from their food.
But, having seven speakers instead of one proved beneficial for the fledgling group. After Toff introduced the group as "a chance to think about love systematically," she launched into an opening monologue in her now standard dramatic style. She expounded on what it means to be blinded by love, and why it is not only unnecessary but also quite hazardous to any fledgling love. When she had finished, a muscled arm punched into the air, to request for its owner a chance to speak. Its owner was a bulky man, with the pudgy face of a twelve-year-old and a gray t-shirt (despite the cold outside) labeling him as "Camp Waterrunner Staff," who started to speak as soon as Toff nodded to him.
He said, "Hi, my name is Dan Copod. I'm in philosophy, like our fearless leader here, and I'm from Sunrise, Florida." He paused. Orr had begun disliking him. "So, I guess that this is only tangentially related to love, but I think that we should be careful in this group. Love is a pretty hard topic to talk about because people treat it as such a personal, individual experience. So, I guess, if we're going to try to get anywhere talking about it, I think that, though long speeches about the nature of love are a good starting point, they're based on a lot of assumptions about how love and our society work, and if we're really going to be systematic in our thinking, we should," he flinched, glancing for an infinitesimal point in time at Toff, "take our statements and research them in the sciences or social sciences, and philosophize about what we learn, not what we believe off-hand." He glanced at Toff again and made a goofy apologetic face, making his eyes and closed-lipped mouth as big as possible, then breaking it into a smile.
Toff suppressed a giggle that only Orr heard because, at that moment, a woman's voice broke in, saying, "Wait, so you're saying that, because love is so individual, we should study it scientifically? That doesn't make any sense."
She wasn't the only person to have this opinion. Several students nodded and murmured positively, and another student, an older looking one sporting a short beard said, "Yeah. Love is exactly the topic that can't be talked about with complete systematicity because in systematizing it, you make it no longer love!"
And, another student, on the heels of the previous speaker, added, "For my part, even if researching or systematizing or whatever would teach us the most, I don't have that kind of time. I'm already in school! I just want to eat dinner and hear what people have to say."
Several students said, "Yeah." Orr smiled to himself. Toff's got so many supporters! He hoped that Dan would be scared away from the group, as it was clear he had attempted to usurp control before Toff had fully attained it. If he wants the club to work a certain way, he should have had the idea first.
After the "yeah"s had died down, and it was obvious that nobody was prepared to follow this statement up, Toff said, "Err... Good. So, let's here some more thoughts on love!"
And, Dan raised his hand again. The other students, presumably curious what a defeated person might sound like, hoping perhaps that he would provide a spectacle, all turned to him and waited. After looking around, Toff nodded at him.
Dan said, "Great. So, to me love is a lot like how Toff has painted it in her speeches. It's individual, based on how a single person feels, but it's also social. And, it's social on two levels: public and private. Publicly, we see lots of people in relationships. We can tell the difference between people who are in a 'lovey' relationship and people who are not, maybe not perfectly, but to an extent. Privately, love is a relationship between a small number of people. That all makes sense, that love is complex because it has so many aspects, even at its most general. But, what I find fascinating is less what love is, and more why people think the way they do about love. We have so many examples of what our society thinks about love, and instead of studying them, we," again he glanced infinitesimally at Toff," discard them, as if the question of love is merely the question of what we want to be like when we're in love."
Toff was bright red, and a flurry of hands and voices protested these unsavory claims. Toff, however, remained quiet and red for much the rest of the group.
Orr's (and just about everyone else's) dislike for Dan increased at the next meeting, when he came prepared with some online research he'd done, throwing around words like oxytocin and vasopressin as if they were common knowledge, and throwing out a quote by "Hendrick and Hendrick" about the different ways that everybody experiences love. The discussion progressed much as the previous discussion had: Toff would try to create order, after which Dan would raise his hand politely, and say something unnecessarily convoluted and controversial, at which point the remainder of the group would become agitated and run around in circles agreeing with each other in their disagreement with him. They would cite their own experiences, experiences of friends, and common sense. And, Dan would nod and nod and then, when he could, he would say something else convoluted and controversial with all the more name and term dropping. If Orr had not been worried about the effects of this chaos on his only friend, he would have likely found such an event wildly entertaining. (Indeed, though only a small fraction of the group talked, the talk was so heated that everyone uninvolved would gasp, giggle, nod, and mutter, in turn, almost constantly.) But, Orr was worried about Toff. During the first meeting she had only spoken the two times, and during this second meeting, she only spoke once.
The third meeting started out almost identically. In fact, the only difference was that Toff didn't get a chance to speak before the bearded student said, "I was thinking about something Dan, said, and it just still doesn't make sense to me..." and from there, pandemonium. But, unlike the previous two meetings, this time, Toff didn't look glum at the chaos. She waited for it to subside, which it, at length did, and before Dan could say anything, Toff began her longest monologue to date, completely devoid of her usual tonal flourishes. She spent the whole of it staring into the middle of the cluster of four tables that now barely fit the Love Minus Arters.
She said, "I don't know much about love. I'm sorry if I gave anyone the impression that I do. I've had just one experience, and though it was an... educational... one, that hardly makes me an expert. That said, I want to take you through my experience, since I think that it can help us make some headway in this debate." (Someone sitting next to Orr, whom he did not recognize, leaned in and whispered, "Finally!") Toff's whole face was pink. "I really fell in love when I was in high school, with someone who would later become one of my best friends, and then my only best friend. Basically, I just wanted to be exactly like him, or to be the person who complemented him perfectly. And, I wanted this before I even knew him that well. It was actually all based on one day, before I knew anybody at this high school, my future best friend spotted me trying to navigate the crowd while staring at a page with the school's floorplan. And, he came up to me and said, 'hey, can I help you find anything?' And, his smile was so curious and friendly. I started liking him at just about that instant. But, the thing is, in retrospect, that's kind of a strange reason to like somebody. It was really the surprise that did it, I think. The last four years of my life have been determined by my reaction to being surprised." She paused, and looked up, first at Orr, who felt a rush of heat travel up his esophagus, into his mouth, and up to his cheeks; she then looked around at the rest of the group and smiled. She continued, even as her head turned to see her group, "And, until this conversation, I thought that I had committed a blasphemy against my brain, had completely failed my capacity for reason, by letting mere fortuity affect so many of my decisions and so many of my beliefs. But, that's a ridiculous position. The fact is, we're never going to erase the part of our brain in charge of making poor, irrational decisions. And..." she paused again, and looked around at everyone, ending up on Dan, "... Dan's right." The group groaned in unison. Orr discovered that his mouth was open. "What matters, if we're going to be smarter about how love works in our lives, we should be talking about how love works in general rather than how it has worked for each of us in the past. And, though our experiences definitely play into how love works, there's no getting around the fact that, if scientists are finding the same chemicals going around in everybody's brains when they're in love, those chemicals are going around in your brain when you're in love, so figuring out what those chemicals do, to your perception of reality, to your judgment, and to everything else, knowing that can help you avoid those irrational decisions that will only get you hurt in the end."
Needless to say, this statement was taken as an accusation that personal experience cannot teach lessons, and the statements "Dan said," and "you're saying" were replaced by "Dan and Toff said," and "you and Dan are saying." The ease with which this transition took place surprised Orr, but not as much as what he took to be Toff's betrayal of her own group.
After the meeting, as the rest of the students dispersed out of the dining hall, Dan came up to Orr and Toff and asked Toff to stay for a moment. He said, "Listen, thanks for the support. That crowd's a hard sell."
Toff beamed and said, "Yeah."
Dan, looked over at Orr, eyebrows raised, as if not sure what to make of his continued presence, then coughed and said, "Yeah, so... I thought it might be fun to just chat the two of us, without all of the jeering of the group, maybe over tea or dinner or something."
Toff's beam grew exponentially, and she said, "Sure! Let me get your number into my snazzy new cell phone!" She grinned at Orr as she pulled it out, and he tried to smile back. After some fiddling, she said, "Good! What's your number?"
Dan said, "It's 754-631-8200, but watch out. It's a cell phone I share with my brother, so you might get him instead of me."
Toff said, "You share a cell phone with your brother?"
Dan said, "Yeah... my parents figured that if we shared a phone we would keep tabs on each other... which is ridiculous, since we do that anyway."
Toff said, "You're close, then?"
Dan said, "Oh, yeah. Like love and oxytocin, you could say. He defines me."