In French, you don’t really say “I am in love”. To describe the state of loving someone, you can use an adjective, amoureux/se. You can fall into this state, same as in English (tomber amoureux). And you can be in the state of loving someone, être amoureux de quelqu’un.
But an equally valid way of expressing this, which you tend to find in old plays, is to use an intransitive verb. That means you don’t even need to say “I love so-and-so” – if you are some sort of tragic heroine in heavy stage make-up, you will probably announce at some stage, “j’aime!”, “I am in love with someone!”. It’s the same sort of phrase as “I know”, “I see”, “I dance”, or “I breathe”.
I like this facet of the language, because it makes love into an activity. The way British and American people tend to think about love is very restrictive, in my opinion – it usually has to be a mutual and considered emotion, which you can only express after a given amount of time. If you’ve been in a relationship for over six months or so, it is acceptable to say you are in love with someone. Any less, and you are looked on as, at best, a bit naive, at worst, criminally mad. Although Shakespeare was English, there’s a reason it’s Romeo and Juliet rather than Rodney and Julie. Love goes hand in hand with a clear union with another person – there must always be a subject and an object to it, and you can then be safely classified as being in that state.
But states are never fixed. You can fall in love, and fall out of love. J’aime, je n’aime pas. Sometimes, you just have an flash of love for someone. It might be someone you’re involved with romantically, it might be a stranger on the street, it might be someone you have known for years. It hits you for a moment, or you choose to indulge it for a few hours, then it passes.
I think this is a better way to think about love, today especially, as something unbridled, transient, fierce or gentle, but which certainly needs no flowers or cards or chocolate hearts. Love is one of many possible, finite actions, and you don’t need to attach an object to it. You can just feel it, enjoy it. Le week-end dernier, je suis allée au cinéma. Ce week-end, j’aime. Le week-end prochain, je jouerai au tennis avec mes amis. It’s not some terrifying, grasping, suffocating thing which upturns your whole essence, or binds you to someone else for as long as they’ll have you. I just completely love you, this morning. You be you, I’ll be I.
Another year, another chilly January day spent complaining about Oscar nominations. Yes, the Oscars are so white – but even more so, broadly speaking, this year’s choices are restrained, safe, and kind of boring.
What I’m wondering is why we’re even bothering to be angry. You’re wasting all that good outrage. Get back online and find a useful outlet for it. Because it is just not worth getting angry about the Academy any more.
We all know what an Oscar-winning English-language film looks like. We know the performances that get nominated, the common themes, the style of cinematography. We know the politics of it. It’s an annual tradition, a game to see who can guess all of the winners, and who will wear the best dress, and how terrible the host(s) will be.
This is because it has been going for eighty-eight years. Can you imagine it? It’s older than my grandmother. It predates the Second World War, and plenty of other wars besides it. It has honoured many incredible artists and films that are still as beloved today.
But the film industry has changed completely since my granny’s day. Filmmaking used to be so expensive that it was the preserve of the big studios, and all that pomp and ceremony would reflect that. Lush, well-funded films would win, as they do today, because they would have been the most professionally made.
Now, the industry is far more democratic. Cheaper and more readily accessible equipment, advice and support have allowed more and more people to capture a video that ever before – just think about how many videos you’ve taken on your phone, and the different platforms you have to share them. Online streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime have allowed lesser-known filmmakers to exhibit their work, with ever-growing audiences for independent films. Beasts of No Nation, one of my favourite films of 2015, was the first feature film produced by a streaming service. Sean Baker’s excellent Tangerine was not even captured on a camera – it was shot entirely on two iPhone 5Ss. In short, our idea of what even constitutes a “film” isn’t even the same as it was five or ten years ago, let alone the business behind it.
It’s bizarre that the Oscars haven’t adapted to these changes, and instead consistently adhere to the same patterns year on year. Yes, non-white actors may get nominations, or even awards – provided they are nobly tolerating something dreadful (e.g. slavery – thanks for helping me work through white liberal guilt, guys!), rather than driving a film forward. Last year’s Best Picture nominations were all about white men shouting, this year, they’re fighting against injustice/financial collapse/bears.
Both of the films mentioned above have received strong support for Oscar nominations, and there has been considerable grumbling that they were “snubbed”, as everyone insists on saying about great films not nominated for an Academy Award. In my opinion, this would be the least appropriate way to recognise the achievements of the cast and crew behind these two films. Raw, exciting, experimental filmmaking doesn’t get an Oscar, nor do marginalised voices or controversial storylines. If you want to see these films win prizes, go to Berlinale, or Sundance, or any of the independent film festivals.
We should stop believing in the silly, outdated idea that Oscars go to the best films of the year. They go to big, expensive films with well-known casts and certain established conventions. So don’t expect to see your favourite, queer indie number on that list, nor expect Idris Elba or Kitana Kiki Rodriquez’s names to get read out at that podium – but they’re all the better for it. Ed: my granny, for the record, has always loved Alfred Hitchcock and thoroughly enjoyed Pulp Fiction. Just so you know. She’s great.
“Hiyaa! Just wanted to see if you were free for a chat? I know you’re busy, so don’t worry if not, but I just really think we need to have a think about how you’re doing?”
I was really busy at the time – I was working more shifts at the cinema, about four or five times a week, and I had people to catch up with outside of that. I said I’d call it back.
A couple of weeks later, it rang again.
“Hey gurrrrrl, how ya doing? Free for that chat yet?”
Oh my GOD. No, no I wasn’t free! I was up to my eyeballs in a film project which meant I was getting four hours’ sleep a night and having a daily freak out about what had inevitably been forgotten or hadn’t been done, and all I could do was keep myself standing with a potent combination of instant coffee and Ritz biscuits.
“Okay ladyfriend, I get it, I understand. Just, uh… just let me know when you’re about. Look after yourself.”
I found a missed call from it a couple of weeks later, but no message. The film project was done, so I was back at work, and volunteering in an art gallery, and catching up with everyone I’d had to ignore during filming – so I was going out every night I wasn’t working past 9pm, whether with close friends or vague acquaintances. Yeah, I was tired, but I’d take it slowly next weekend, or stay in with my parents, or something.
And one day, when I had had yet another night with four hours’ sleep, after getting drunk with my family, I took the bizarre and extreme decision to begin my day with 100 squats before getting into a cold shower. That’s when my body really lost it.
“Holy f*cking sh*te!!! What are you trying to do to me?! What did I do to deserve this, you sadistic freak?! What in the hell is wrong with you?!”
Turns out, you can only put off these things for so long, and I had the novel experience of a seizure that morning.
We’re in the habit now of ignoring our bodies. They’re fleshy and embarrassing. They’re cumbersome. They’re pretty much the opposite of all Apple products. But we’re depriving ourselves of sleep, we’re depriving ourselves of food, and we’re working ourselves into the ground. When we can be up for work and for play 24/7 thanks to the almighty Internet, and the fact that no one is allowed to actually turn their phones off anymore (when did this happen?), it means sleep is kind of a weekly treat. This is especially the case for twenty- and thirty-somethings, who are now expected to balance early career efforts, with looking for partners, with going out, with exercise, with working on Project Self.
In all of this, the body becomes a hindrance. It’s already too fat or thin or weirdly-shaped, so it’s normally either problem or a suffix to the word “bikini”. But then it makes these boring demands of you to feed it plants and protein and carbs (you can’t actually go without those). It wants to be left alone, to do nothing, for 33.33% of your life. Think of all the TV you could watch in that time!
After my seizure, I chilled out for two weeks, got a bitch of a cold, and then more or less went back to normal, going to follow up brain scans and appointments around shifts at work, often in my uniform. But clearly, I still am not quite okay, because last week I was told by my neurologist in no uncertain terms that unless I make a real effort to get the amount of sleep and consume the amount of drinks that a normal human should, or I will get another visit from the Seizure Fairy. In short – I have to listen to my body.
Because really, even if you can ignore it for however long, it does know best. It tells you when you’re hungry and thirsty and hurt and horny. Your body knows, and tells you in your own language, not your friend’s body, or your mum’s body, or the freaky digital body on WebMD.
It’s not like your phone – it has to be switched off at nighttime. But you do have to listen to it when it rings.
David Bowie has died, as I’m sure you well know by now, and it is very sad. The usual things have happened following the death of a person of renown: the family comment, the tweets of support, the Prime Minister blathering about himself as a teenager. And as I write this, I am listening to the Diamond Dogs album (my favourite) and I am able to play and replay, as I do so often, the howls of a man I have never met. I can hear him take gasps of breath. I can hear the sibilance of his teeth. It’s very intimate, the relationships we have with singers we listen to frequently, and it makes us feel close to them in a rare and unusual way.
When I spoke to my 21-year-old brother about the news, he said, “it’s the most shocking celebrity death I’ve experienced.” Although I agreed with him, in that I’ve not felt this way about the death of someone famous before, the phrase rankled me a bit, as “most shocking celebrity death” sounds like a shady sidebar ad, or something from a magazine cover. “Celebrity” is somehow a seedy word, it smacks of tacky endorsed perfume. It seems too broad, too cheap, too universal – there are A lists and B lists and Z lists with celebrities, and David Bowie, although he is known and beloved all over the world, isn’t broad, cheap or universal.
David Bowie was – is – an icon; I don’t believe the word really applies to anyone else in quite the same way. As anyone fortunate enough to see the V&A exhibition David Bowie Is a few years ago, he far exceeds the category of “musician”. He interweaves music, film and fashion, of genders, of art, which make him belong to the public and to 20th Century culture in a way other artists have not. We get more than the sounds of his voice on the radio, we got his image, reinvented over again. He exceeds the regimented passing of time – because he was never passé, he was never outdated, he always had something new, exciting and experimental, as we can well hear in his very last and latest album Blackstar.
David Bowie did weird things. Weird, amazing things, which captured the imagination of the public, and evolved with each decade. He wrote songs about outer space, before the Moon landing. He wrote songs about sexual ambiguity. He wrote songs about dystopic futures. He practically invented his own language, finding inspiration from the juxtaposition of nouns across newspaper columns.* But for all their weirdness, his songs were hits. He made misfits mainstream. This skinny young bloke from Brixton made himself into an alien, a being that defied all existing conventions, paving the way for so many artists, rebels, scary monsters, and pretty things after him.
I am sex all the time. I’m sex by day and I’m sex by night. I’m sex 24/7. I’m sex at home, at work, in the shower (oop!). When people see me, they see sex, and when they speak to me, they just know that they’re speaking to sex.
You’re probably thinking, gee, sex! Didn’tcha get the memo? But sex is pretty stupid, so you’ll forgive me for being a little bit slow on the uptake. All things come with time (and I should know.)
The first thing I’ll tell you about me is that sex is lots of fun! People love fun! And boy, do people love me. I go down well with everyone, be they colleagues, creative collaborators, or other forms of red-blooded human beings. People like to talk to me, they like to buy me drinks, they like to gaze at me wistfully, they like to tell me all of their thoughts and feelings and ideas, they like to try to touch my genitals. Some people like me so much, they will yell at me in the street how much they like me! That way, the whole world knows that I am sex (and I get a saucy little reminder myself).
Sex, like I said, is a bit silly when you think about it. It’s kind of brainless, and clumsy, and sweaty. Really, would you trust it to correctly do a Grown Up Job? Would you trust its dumb, sexy judgement? Wouldn’t you see that really it was just the naked, quivering act of coitus, and try to help it as best as you could? Even if it had been flopping about its work station or research with some success for some years, you’re clever enough to see through its Octodad-style disguise and rescue it from harm.
You may have heard, but another form of sex is angry sex. People talk about it, but it doesn’t happen all that often, because people are kind of scared of it and sex is supposed to be silly, and fun! (See above, in case you forgot!) Chill out, sex! What’s got your edible knickers in a twist?
Well, I guess what is troubling me in my newfound identity is that sex is supposed to be cooperative. The beast with two backs, folks! But what I’m realising is that it doesn’t really work that way, as some beasts are more equal than others. As a good 51% of us already knew, in this game, you end up getting fucked over.
I will try to excuse myself, since sex isn’t exactly the culprit, it’s kind of the cause – like how it’s your own fault if someone attacks you because you ran out of black tights so you had to wear see through ones and then a guy mistakes your dowdy school uniform for super duper sex gear.
Sex is something that men may pretend is just a form of intercourse that women control and allow to happen to them. “She let me come back to hers,” they may say; “she let me sleep with her. She let me put it in her butt! Awesome!”
But it is how women end up getting controlled, since, like me, we’re all just sex, or potential sex, and it’s all about whether or not people are going to want you. Although you may be or do or work your sexy little guts out to achieve all kinds of terrible or amazing things, ultimately people are wondering how far and to what extent they can put it in you. They can’t help it. (Well…) It is how society is run.
It’s no wonder, then, that everything is about looks and that we have to wait for other people – specifically and significantly the opposite sex – to praise us for them. Because your friends don’t know. Guys know. And naturally you’ll be ridiculed for ugliness, lewdness, prudishness, and all these things which make you laughably f*ckable, or not enough*. Then for the most part, in my experience, if you do sleep with people, they get an eternal right to pull you aside for a drunken conversation in which they apologise for hurting you (even and especially if they didn’t) and/or to send you messages in the middle of the night just saying “heeeyyyyyyy ;)”. If you don’t, men get to have bruised egos and never contact you again.
I have tried to do lots of things this year, interesting and different things, I have met interesting and different people. I tried to make art, and friends, and to fall in love at one point, but all that anybody wanted was sex. People who have known me for years, people who don’t know me at all, and people who really should know better, have just seen, and would have preferred, sex. And somehow, this is supposed to make me feel all warm and fuzzy, and flattered, and desired.
I am sex, and to be perfectly honest, this is unlikely to change. My curiously masculine body has since my fruitless puberty been branded with “SEX” in big fiery letters. But I can shout back at cat calls, I can be someone who wants and desires, rather than who is just wanted and desired, and with a bit of foundation and some eyeliner I can cover up those SEX letters in place of SUPER EXCELLENT PROFESSIONAL IN THE WORKPLACE AND OUTSIDE OF IT.
And, if nothing else, I can choose not to give a f*ck. So there.
*See the TinyLetter On the tyranny of fuckability by Chelsea G. Summers