Love At First Smite
The Personal Weblog of Edward W. Farrell   
Love At First Smite Sunday, September 11, 2022
Life is trouble. Only death is not. To be alive is to undo your belt and look for trouble.
-- Nikos Kazantzakis, Zorba the Greek

"Love at first sight" is trouble no doubt, but what else is it? A mystic soul connection? Demonic possession? A message from God? A hormone overload, a pheromone assault? I say it's a real experience but we don't have a rational concept that encompasses it, hence these wild scattershot definitions. In our stolid trudge towards demystifying the world it's usually scorned as a cliche and passed off as a whiskey jug of hormones and pheromones tricked out as Prince Charming's kiss. But safety is the holy grail of the 21st century, not love, and this popped-bubble assessment is for safety's sake. Because if love at first sight whacks you, it turns things upside-down whether you follow it through or not. That's not safe. Nevertheless there's a persistent romance to this notion that goes way, way back and it's not likely to end with a couple generations of pissants.

It was an episode surrounding my own aborted "love at first sight" experience that cemented the friendship between me and my friend Conreux (a little more about him here). In 1978 I accompanied Conreux in his stripped down Ford truck and camper on a drive from Bellingham, Washington to California. He was in a dreadful emotional state at the time and I had business of my own in California so it seemed right that we share the ride. On the way we traded many stories and compared our lives and stumbling blocks. One such story was a recent event in my life that I'd mentally filed in the trash bin: a case of "love at first sight" that I'd dubbed "love at first smite." It wouldn't stay quiet in the trash bin. Here's the story:

I did some freelance reporting in 1977 and one of the stories I worked involved suicide crisis centers and hotlines. As part of this I travelled to Tacoma to attend a conference of crisis centers to learn more about their practices. I sat down at one of the conference tables and got ready to take notes when three people from the Centralia crisis center sat down across from me. The person directly across from me was a woman with light brown hair and a sky-blue cashmere or alpaca sweater. She fiddled with her notes for a moment and looked up just as I looked up. We can only have looked equally slack-jawed and mesmerized. The most awkward turmoil commenced. At first I thought I couldn't take my eyes off her but the reality was that I wouldn't and if someone had tried to make me there'd have been a fight. She looked at me with the same possesive belligerence, though of course I can't know if she couldn't or wouldn't avert her gaze. The important thing was that she didn't. A remarkable blush spread up from the base of her neck and slowly bloomed into her face, and I'll be damned if I couldn't feel the same thing happening to me. Total paralysis ensued. It's one thing to see an attractive person and try to charm your way past their guards and into their good graces. It's quite another to be thrust unprepared into the belly of a dragon. The instinct is to flee, and if you can't flee then to ignore it as best you can, which is what we did for the next couple of hours, with downcast eyes and quick, nervous glances. Eventually a brief recess was called and the Centralia team all got up to go. Other committments made me determined not to go further down this fiendishly seductive rabbit hole but in spite of myself I also got up to try to catch her. Yet something in me hesitated and said, no, she'll be back soon anyway. But she didn't come back. The Centralia delegation left early for some reason and never returned. I never even knew her name, though to this day I remember her face as if it were my own.

As we drove through southwestern Washington I told this story to Conreux and idly wondered what it could mean, if anything. But Conreux wasn't in the least bit interested in what it could mean because he already knew what it did mean. Thus it was no coincidence to him that we were approaching Centralia just as I'd finshed the story, and without hesitation he took the first off-ramp into town. "What are you doing?" I asked. He frowned, clearly in a manner of saying that this was the stupidest question in the world. "You don't let something like that pass," he said. "You have to find her. This is where she lives." He was dead serious. It may seem odd to say but this was a great relief to me, as it answered something that had never been put to rest.  I nodded firmly in agreement. Of course I had to look for her; I was stupid to let her go in the first place. But what can you do to track down a nameless person in an unknown city? A lot, as it turns out. But for better or worse I never found her.

This is something of an aside, but Conreux was probably as close to a genius as I've ever encountered. This pertained mostly to his music, which hopefully I'll get into later. But it poked out in other ways as well. One such way is what I'll call focus. When Conreux focused on something, nothing else seemed to exist and he temporarily vacated the world. This was not merely a feature of mind because it might quickly manifest itself in action, action that might be the most unexpected thing in the world. This may be as good a description of genius as anything, though it's genius of the Zorba the Greek variety: Seeing the things no one else sees and arriving at conclusions that may seem to contradict common wisdom but actually reveal things well beyond it. But how does one manage to do this in the typical social environment that demands conformity, even when it trumpets non-conformity? Clearly by living in that super-human world in which "conformity" is an unknown concept.

I think what mostly characterizes this sort of "genius" is that an essential part of it is never socialized and this is what allows the universe to remain its oyster. Adulthood is the state in which you finally become what you're taught. And mainly, you're taught to straighten up and fly right. And "flying right" above all means not doing things that threaten to turn your social world upside down. But outside this carefully guarded social world there are no limits and things are constantly turning upside down in sometimes terrible but always remarkable ways. This is the place without boundaries where Conreux applied his focus. This is where you undo your belt and start looking for trouble. Since that long drive to California many years ago I tried to live by this as much as possible, and it's undoubtedly brought me more grief than glory. But as Zorba said, life is trouble anyway. If you don't have it just means you're dead.

Conreux at the piano, circa 1976. Photo courtesy of Judy Prisoc.

All site contents copyright 2022 Edward W. Farrell This page last updated on 2022-09-13