This is my sixtieth year, and I am compelled to admit that I have been at least somewhat perturbed by Valentine's Day for somewhere between forty and fifty of them. I didn't actually get around to writing a rant about it, however, until 1999, when I recounted one of the stories about the history of the event:

The original Saint Valentine, says the legend, was a healer in Rome, and like all Christians, subject to persecution by the Empire. One of the local jailers had sought him out, seeking a cure for his daughter, blind from birth. Valentine took her on as a patient, eventually as a student as well, and while she made no progress on the vision front, she learned the ways of the new religion. Early in 270, Valentine was arrested and condemned, and the jailer, helpless in the face of the orders of the Emperor, agreed to carry one last message back to the girl, urging her to hold fast to her faith. When she opened the envelope, she discovered a slip of paper saying "From your Valentine," and a yellow crocus — and, most miraculous, she was able to see them both.

How much of this is true and how much of it is simple counterprogramming will never be known for certain. The Romans had their own mid-February festival, called Lupercalia, notable for its element of random sexuality: the names of available women were put into a hat, or something very much like a hat, and men would perforce draw them out. In keeping with standard Christian practice, the feast of St Valentine's Day, proclaimed by Pope Gelasius I in 496, was timed to draw as many people as possible away from that horrid pagan business. As usual, it didn't work that well; people incorporated the new practices into the old festival, and went on as before.

Caution: even my own version of the history is at least somewhat open to dispute, and it's not like I can easily look up a blog from that era. (Movable Type, or movable type anyway, took another millennium to develop.)

Now Shakespeare, you'll remember, opened Julius Caesar at the time of Lupercalia, and early on Caesar counsels Mark Antony: "The barren touched in this holy chase / Shake off their sterile curse." Then again, Caesar was not suggesting that Mark seek out a girlfriend, but that Mark should administer the ceremonial strike — I'm assuming actual whips were no longer in fashion by then — to Caesar's wife Calpurnia, in the hope that she might finally become pregnant, so there's no direct connection between this event and, say, Charlie Brown's forlorn sojourn beside the empty mailbox.

Mind you, I know from forlorn. By now, maybe five or sixlorn. I wrote this in 2008:

Being fifty-four instead of fourteen has conferred upon me no additional insight into the matter: I still suffer the occasional crush, the vague longing, and I still wish there was some method to turn it off altogether — some method that doesn't involve Dr. Kevorkian, anyway. I rationalize things better today, of course: there's no shame, after all, in being single, and just think how much money I'm saving by not actually dating.

I need hardly point out that these perfectly sensible rationalizations did absolutely nothing to make me feel any better.

Inevitably, I suppose, this lingering disaffection, or whatever it is, would find its way into fiction:

The mist coming in from over Horseshoe Bay always seems much more prominent around Hearts and Hooves Day. Nopony knows for sure why this should be: the archivist at the Baltimare Library, who's studied the records for half a century, says it's purely a figment of everypony's imagination, that the winds and the humidity levels are typical for late winter in this part of Equestria, and besides, twenty years ago the local Weather Patrol officially denied that they had anything to do with the phenomenon.

By the sheerest of coincidences, the protagonist of this story, now in his fifties, is still at least somewhat obsessed with an event forty years in his past. I have no idea where I'd come up with a notion like that.

So, yes: I'm working through my own delusional romanticism by translating it into a fictional universe. In the long run, it's probably safer that way: while I don't get to live happily ever after or anything like that, at least I can put that particular neurosis to work, and I don't run the risk of losing a friend by trying to push her into being something more than that.

Still, a yellow crocus would be nice right about now.

The Vent

#808
  9 February 2013

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