Breaking My Erotic Silence

September 16, 2012 § Leave a comment

After watching the excellent film The Private Lives of Pippa Lee, I had no choice but to pick up Dalma Heyn’s book, The Erotic Silence of the American Wife.

In the film, Pippa marries a wealthy man thirty years her senior when she is a young runaway living on the edge.  She mutates from being an expressive human being with problems into the stilted and empty role of being the Perfect Wife.  But underneath all of her prim lines, you sense the real Pippa lurking underneath.  She begins sleepwalking, ending up at the min-mart where she buys cigarettes.  And then, out to lunch with her neurotic friend, Pippa begins to combust:

“You could be married to anybody, if that’s what you’re worried about.  Marriage is an act of will.  I mean, I adore Herb, but our marriage functions because we will it to.  If you leave love to hold everything together, you can forget it.  Love comes and goes with the breeze, minute by minute.”

When Dalma Heyn set out to write her book comprised of years worth of interviews with wives who committed adultery, she began with an armload of clichés, stereotypes, and societal views that had nothing to do with the feelings of actual women, their marriages, and their experiences.  The problem that all of these women shared, was that they bought into the ideal of the Perfect Wife – she is selfless, giving, able to predict the needs of everyone else, without ever meeting her own needs.  When these women don’t measure up to this idea of goodness (and no one ever does or should), they constantly feel bad – they are a failure, there is something wrong with them.  In the process, they disconnect completely from themselves and go numb.  They can no longer experience a fulfilling sex life either.  They’ve become what they thought was their husband’s fantasy, but it has nothing to do with them.  They are looking at themselves from the outside in.

“They spoke of a profound awareness that they were somehow no longer themselves, that they weren’t in a relationship but playing a role in one (Heyn, 103)…”

They wonder what became of the sexual outlaw they were before marriage.  Some of the women had not even had premarital sex.  Regardless, women from their twenties to their seventies, and all walks of life, experience adultery as a rebirth of self.  They don’t experience shame or guilt – they experience life, total joy and an uninhibited place to reclaim their authenticity.  They seek out men that have none of the prerequisites that they look for in a husband or even a boyfriend.  They might not even be in love with these men, it doesn’t matter; the experience of total freedom is the same.

The women often have no desire to leave their husbands.  But through the experience of adultery, they understand that they need to change the shape of their marriages, so that at last, their needs can factor into the relationship.  There is no going back to the Perfect Wife.  Some of the women never tell their husbands and fare well, while a large percentage of the women who do tell end up in divorce.  But every marriage is different with different outcomes.

I never thought that I would get married because I loved being single so much.  My sexuality was the ultimate adventure for me.  So sometimes, I wonder, how did I end up married to a man whose sexuality is so vanilla.  He’s turning fifty this year, and though he thinks of having sex all the time, it’s often the last priority.  When it doesn’t feel like a routine, when he isn’t being too sensitive and careful, sex between us is wonderful, but rarely ever dark, or seductive, or unbridled.  Can these things exist in a marriage?  I always thought they could.

When we were dating he struggled to keep up with me.  He stayed up late with me till the early morning hours and we had sex everyday.  He was working three jobs and started to feel the pressure.

Around the same time, I decided to give him a fashion show.  I went into my closet and put on all my old fetish gear – vinyl, thigh-high fishnets, towering platforms.  When I paraded out, he was not aroused by it at all.  He said I was playing the part of someone else.  Maybe it was who I was before he met me, maybe I never was that role to begin with.  It just wasn’t for him.  He wanted me to put on a sleek and elegant dress instead.  I’d never encountered a man who didn’t go crazy over artifice.  For a week after that, he struggled sexually, and then unbeknownst to me, Viagra saved the day.

For him, the two events were unrelated, but after that week, I stopped taking risks.  I started feeling nervous about making him uncomfortable.  I left my kinks behind.  He loves my strength in all facets of our life together.  But he has a puritan side, a clumsy embarrassment over anything out of the ordinary.

The other issue is that he’s not the string bean-types that I used to date.  He’s like one of those massive warriors that you see in movies like 300.  Built like a rock, solid, stocky, with huge hands that don’t know their own strength.  When I told him that I like to be choked, he gave it a try and almost broke my neck.  When he sleeps with his arm across my chest, my ribs begin to feel like they’re crushing under the pressure and I panic, trying desperately to wake myself.  I’m still learning how to live with our differences.

But life is also easier, happier, more content with him.  We can’t get enough of being together – we work together, go out all the time, talk openly about everything, and share our passions.  It’s always fun, even when we’re fighting.  We don’t buy into the term “settling down” like many couples do.  I play the role of the Perfect Wife more for my parents than my husband.  When they show up, everything is clean and dinner is delicious.  When they’re not here, our lives are chaotic and slightly out of control.

I don’t idealize our relationship.  I didn’t marry a man for his status or money.  I married a fellow outlaw, who lives by his own rules, and makes me laugh.  I’m well aware that the future is uncertain.  I’ll be surprised if our marriage survives for the rest of our lives, and I very much hope that it does.  And does that only mean the rest of his life, since I’m so much younger?  I make jokes about being a wealthy old widow, living like a gypsy and on the prowl.  But really, it’s just to make myself feel better about the unknown.

I went through some confusing changes in the process of our growing closer.  Like a rubber band snapping back and forth.  I was caught up in the whirlwind, in the romance in the beginning.  Then after our engagement I rebelled and fought and wanted to leave.  I couldn’t figure out what I was doing.  But on our wedding day, it all made sense.

For a short while, I turned into an old lady, had no real friends, started to compensate for my husband’s reckless, accident-prone nature by being extremely anxious, nervous, overly careful.  At times, the pressure of being a wife overwhelms me.  I’ve often wanted to run back to when my life was more straightforward and simple – when I could just work, do my art, and have sex with random people every now and then.

Sex was self-discovery, mutual-discovery, empathic-discovery.  Married sex is something completely different that I don’t quite understand.  It’s like we need to learn to speak each other’s languages, and haven’t quite gotten there yet.

There is a strange role-reversal where in our relationship I am supposed to be more like the man and he is more like the woman.  He wants to cuddle and be close, and I just want to get laid.  He wants to work up to it for long periods of time, while I get bored waiting.  He wants me to initiate, while I just want to feel wanted.  And yet, he is enormously giving, patient, and selfless – which makes me feel like an impatient, selfish, taker.

No couple is perfect, and somehow our differences balance things out.  My husband is the first man I was ever in a committed relationship with.  I guess I got bored with everything else.  Before we met, I had become an evil heartbreaker.  The ego trip felt nice, but it didn’t feel right to hurt people and feel nothing.  My husband didn’t buy all that crap.  He saw right through it (though he admits to being scared of me at first).  It was good to be seen at last.  Really seen.  It still is.

When I think of other men sexually, I wonder what would be the point, when there’s only one man who lets me be who I really am.  Maybe not the dominatrix side, but every other side.  Everyone else pales in comparison.  Everyone else seems like they’re missing something.  With everyone I dated before, I was never really myself, and was never accepted to begin with.

I am the subject of my husband’s life.  He says that I give his life meaning.  He even took my last name.

Yesterday was our 2nd Anniversary.  I hemmed my wedding dress and surprised him by wearing it on our dinner date, along with my birdcage veil, and my grandmother’s jade necklace.  We talked about our plans for building our future together.  We talked openly and honestly about how we really feel about all of it.  We raved over Sea Urchin, Veal Sweetbreads, Cavatelli with Morels, Chocolate Truffle Cake with Black Cherries.  We even talked about this post, and how our memories are different, and yet the same.

This is the first openly honest thing I’ve ever written about my husband, stripped of all the idealistic tripe.  I’m breaking my erotic silence.

It’s Not Your Genes, It’s The Way They Raised You

July 16, 2012 § Leave a comment

It’s hard to remember the first six years of your life, but according to Oliver James in They F*** You Up – How To Survive Family Life, those first years and how our parents relate to us, define us more than genes.

Parents are often limited in their ability to connect with us in all stages, such as the competitive adult who lacks understanding for the fantasy life of a four year old, but strongly relates to the adolescent.  Other parents are short on empathy due to problems with depression or lack of proper care in their own upbringing.

If our parents lacked empathy, were abusive or absent, there’s a very large chance that we will end up struggling with depression, narcissism, or personality disorder.  If those issues aren’t dealt with, we’re at risk for repeating the exact same cycles in our own children.

What our parents value in us and encourage determines to a large extent who we become as people.  From infancy on, we are treated a certain way on the basis of a complex weave within the mind of the parent.  What do we remind them of, do we bring back memories of negative experiences in their own childhood, do we remind them of their own failings.  The cycle repeats itself when we become parents ourselves.

“Each parent treats each child so differently that they might as well have been raised in completely different families (James, 8).”

Though obviously, I can’t remember how I was treated as an infant, the one thing I do know is that my mother does not like babies at all.  She has difficulty relating to them, and is bored until they get to the toddler stage of being able to talk.  She was also unable to breastfeed.  Our Old English Sheep dog, Big Boy, guarded my crib religiously and growled at any unfamiliar person who dared to enter my room.  All through my childhood, I was often much closer to animals than to people.

When I was older I lived at the pool with the girl from next door.  My skin was a dark chocolate, my hair a golden mushroom.  I don’t remember if there was an adult with us.  It was normal back then for small kids to run rampant through the neighborhood without supervision.  My mother hated parks, possibly because it meant she had to talk to the neighbors.

My parents didn’t really interact with me in playtime, and my sister was too old for most of my games.  What I remember is that my mother seemed like an ever-present figure in front of the kitchen sink.  Always washing dishes.  I would look up at her from my spot on the floor, next to the record player, chewing small square ice cubes and listening to children’s albums from the 1950’s.

She always loved us, was always caring, if not strict due to a desire to ingrain us with her beliefs.  But she was a distant, foreign presence until my teens.  My father didn’t really know how to deal with being a dad.  In fact, he is still figuring it out.  As a parent, do you ever stop figuring that out?  Especially since your children are constantly growing, changing, evolving – hopefully.  Once stern and emotionally unavailable, he is now more loving and affectionate than I ever thought possible.

I remember having a fear of using the toilet.  I was afraid that a giant snake would come up the pipes and bite me in the ass.  I washed my hands before flushing, then pressed the lever down and went running, flailing my arms down the hall, certain the snake would get me.  There was also an angry tiger that lived in a massive empty oil tank in the basement.  I could hear him groan within the metal.  I pictured him pacing, muscles flexing beneath his orange and black striped fur.

My sister told me they opened a McDonald’s in Africa, but since they didn’t have cows there, they just used six-foot long worms that they sliced into patties.  She said the patties were kind of rubbery and grey.  I actually believed her, and then held a grudge for years when I realized she’d made it up to prove my gullibility.

I find it lame that some people think children are not sexual creatures, and that you wake up at twelve suddenly aware.  All children are sexual, and their levels of inhibition all depend upon how adults handle their sexual expression.  There was enormous embarrassment around my constant desire to stimulate my genitals.  It was a humiliation for my mother.  I found ways to hide it – hands hidden in pockets, the edge of a chair.

When I was four or five, I was at someone’s house, and a boy pulled me into a bedroom for the classic, “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours.”  With our pants pulled down around our ankles he pointed at my crotch and said, “I can almost see it.  Don’t worry, you’ll grow one soon.”  Suddenly, I felt incomplete.  I was missing something.  But that something looked kind of funny and I didn’t get why it was so important to have one.

I didn’t have a crush on a boy until the first grade.  Below age six, my crushes were on beautiful women, particularly, my preschool teacher.  She carried a Gucci purse, and always wore purple with lots of make-up.  I craved her attention, wanted to be close to her, wanted to be like her.

At four, I was so shy that when people asked me my name all I could say was “Hi”.  For a while, that is what they called me.  “Hi.”  I stuttered and could only speak after literally spitting it out.  From the very beginning, I was behind in school.  Maybe my sister struggled too, but she was an over-achiever.  My parents always treated her with respect, like an adult, while I was always, and still am, the entertaining fuck-up.

“From the moment we gather on Christmas Eve or the day itself, our parents and siblings demand that we enact our appointed role.  Never mind that we may have long since ceased to be the clever one or the fatty, the attention-seeker or the moaner, our family treats us just as they always did and within minutes of walking through the door we are back in the nursery.  The achievements and independence of adulthood are swept away and we find ourselves performing a role that we thought was long obsolete (James, 35).”

Going back a generation, it seems that everyone in my mother’s five child family needs therapy.  “Offspring of families with five or more children are significantly more likely to be delinquent and to suffer mental illness (James, 4).”  My grandmother had depression.  She was not really suited to having so many children, and would have been happier with a career.  She loved fashion, and later in life, liked to write.  But to her children, she lacked empathy and was prone to negative outbursts.  My grandpa was emotionally distant and had trouble expressing affection.  He was reserved and stern – does that sound familiar?

Growing up, my father had very little emotional support.  His mother died when he was three, his grandmother who helped raise him after, died when he was eleven.  His sister ran away from home at fifteen, and his brother died in a car accident at eighteen.  To cope, my grandfather was an alcoholic, and he married a woman who never accepted my father as a son.  So for a long time, my father struggled to emotionally connect with people for fear that he would lose them.  He’s had moments of irrational fear and outbursts, particularly, when I learned how to drive.

Something about the whole environment of repressed feelings has turned me into a fighter for speaking my mind.  When I came to adulthood, I was the first in the family to speak directly and honestly and openly.  It was an enormous shock, I think, for everyone.  When they attempted to close up, or retreat backwards, I kept marching forwards with my banner raised.  Now when an issue lurks beneath the surface, it is always bound to come out at some point, and we are all happier for it, even if my mother blanks out the things that she doesn’t want to remember.

At this stage of my life I have a very healthy, strong relationship with my parents.  I work through the way things were in the past through my writing, and I find understanding and forgiveness for the course we were all on that we really had no control over.  The mind is made up of maps and patterns that can only be broken through vigorous insight and awareness.  My mother can afford a therapist.  I can afford a pen and a pad of paper.

As I think about having a baby, I have become even more aware of breaking negative patterns.  In some ways, I feel prepared because I have already done a lot of work within myself.  I’m looking forward to the possibility of the challenge.  And despite a few hiccups, I’m extremely lucky that, growing up, I had a strong and loving family life, and still do.

Oliver James refers to many studies that have proven genes play much less of a role in us than we have been led to believe.  I appreciate this stance, and have witnessed to a great extent, that we do have the ability to change our reality completely, even working through the deficiencies in our early development that are inevitable no matter how wonderful our parents.

I’ll always be the entertaining fuck-up to my family, and that’s okay with me. But as a result, there is always the feeling that I have to prove someone wrong.  I know within that I am a winner, and I’ll just keep doing what I do regardless of what the rest of the world thinks.  The main thing is – I’m okay with myself.  Once you achieve that, others are okay with you too.

 

Traveling Sisterhood

June 23, 2012 § Leave a comment

Esther Freud’s novel, Hideous Kinky, is a semi-autobiographical novel of two sisters traveling with their hippy mother through 1960’s Morocco. Freud is the daughter of the famous figurative painter, Lucian Freud, and the granddaughter of Sigmund Freud – a fascinating family rife with details we would all like to know more about, but privacy runs in the family.

The narrator of Hideous Kinky is a four-year-old English girl. Her narration is deceptively simple, leaving the reader to comprehend the complex layers of the story on their own. Mysteries are left untold, such as what they left behind in England, who her father is, and who sends the money. Through the little girl, we are unable to decipher the details of her mother’s love life (though we can surmise), and never know where they are traveling next, or how long they will stay. We feel the confusion and the uncertainty. Time slips away without the basic information needed to succeed back home in England, such as even, how to count.

My emotions over the mother ran the gamut. At times I felt exhilarated that she could live so far off the edge with two little girls in tow. At other times, I felt angry when the girl’s were not receiving education, medical care, food; at one point even spending a day as beggars. Upon their return to England life would seem so regimented in comparison. How would they adjust? But those events take place after the last page.

I’d seen the film before I read the book – and they both have much to offer. One did not ruin the other, as is often the case, though the details of the story differ.

My two nieces are missionary kids. They have been going back and forth between a jungle village in Papua New Guinea, a mission base, and the states all of their lives. Life for them is a constant readjustment. They are flexible and easygoing, because they have to be.

The oldest is very social, relates better to boys than girls, and likes to write fantasy stories (mainly, because she lives one). The youngest is exactly the same as I was at her age – always up in her head, living in imagination, weaving thick plots to escape the boredom of the present, yet a social underdog. However, that was two years ago, and every time I see them, they are different and yet the same.

Now that they are thirteen and ten, childhood is quickly disappearing. They are on the border, where glimpses of the women they will become disarm you completely – vivacious and strong, with lively blue eyes that are full of curiosity.

The oldest is at the stage where her parents and those in her environment are forming strong opinions in her. When they were younger it wasn’t that big of a deal that we have different beliefs. But they are being taught to look down on those who do not believe what they do.

They have always looked up to me. And now, at this stage, I’m afraid of being looked down on. Maybe it’s all in my head. But it isn’t, because I was taught exactly the same thing, and at that age, I looked down on, and judged everything that was “of the world” and “fallen”. I didn’t yet understand life as it really was.

There are cracks in the veneer every now and then. The oldest is now on facebook and she once posted a comment that read something like, “Sometimes it’s hard to believe that there could be another life out there.” I went searching to find it again, but she has since erased it. Don’t we all feel trapped within our parent’s existence until we are free to go?

But for now, my nieces live below the equator, a day ahead of us. When it is summer here, it is winter there. In my neighborhood, it is loud with the noise of people and cars. In the jungle, it is loud with insects, birds, and animals. They navigate difficult terrain over-run with foliage. I navigate cracks in the pavement and annoying people asking for money.

When my oldest niece was a baby she crawled like the natives in the village – with her left knee on the ground, and her right foot walking. She had ringworm from sitting naked on the dirt. I worried over her – but she was completely resilient. It’s the babies that are born there that are really at risk. Many of them don’t even survive birth.

In four weeks, my sister’s family is coming home on furlough and will be in the States until April. When they are gone, I turn off all thoughts of them with the press of an imaginary button. But now, the button is off and I think about their return constantly.

The night before my sister’s wedding, I couldn’t stop crying. As her bridesmaids flitted about, she came into my bedroom to comfort me. It didn’t matter what she said, I knew that I was losing her. She’d found her husband and now all they needed was a distant place to be sent to. A year later they were gone.

They said it was a twenty-year mission, and it’s been sixteen years. As their responsibilities grow, I keep wondering if they’ll ever come back. And how will they cope with life here, without financial supporters, without constant movement, with some sort of steady job that is the same day in and day out?

When we were kids we used to pack our suitcases, hoist everything up on the swing-set, and pretend it was a train that would take us all over the world. It was her favorite game, her escape from boring suburbia.

We have both traveled, escaped conformity, and found an obsession with words – she as a linguist, and me as a writer. But I don’t really know who she is anymore. She never talks. We have only been alone together once in the past sixteen years. We took a walk, and she told me that there are things about my life that she envies, because as a missionary, you have to keep up the façade of minimalism. I told her that I envy her nomadic existence.

When I was a teenager, I idolized her, and thought that I would never measure up. She seemed like a saint, and I felt like a failure. I was her project, something that needed to be fixed.

My nieces represent something that was lost between my sister and I. They are the next generation of traveling sisters. They talk in secret sister code. Life will be a shock for them when they leave the fold. In some ways, they are even more sheltered than we were. I wonder where their lives will take them. I wonder if they will ever consider Seattle home.

Write To Live

June 13, 2012 § Leave a comment

I am feeling vulnerable.  The pitch for my memoir is about to be sent out to editors, and I have spent the last ten years pouring everything I have into this book.  It has evolved and grown with time, and thanks to rejections of past versions, it has become more refined, more complete, more honest.

Though I try my best to not take rejections personally (having worked in publishing has helped me a lot with this), it is still always a hard blow to the ego, with days spent feeling like a failure.  I know my book has enormous potential, now I just need people in the publishing industry to see that too.

In vulnerable writer moments, the best author to turn to is Erica Jong.  “Only if you have no other choice should you be a writer (Jong, 6).”

I have just finished reading her book, Seducing the Demon – Writing For My Life.  The stories from her life are all hilarious, and told in nonlinear fashion.  Most memorable would be how she broke up Martha Stewart’s marriage when it was already falling apart (picture Stewart’s husband as an emasculated chore boy).

Humorous stories aside, it seemed that Jong was speaking directly to me and everything that I am dealing with right now – death and the struggle of trying to capture life in words.

“Life is a dream, but the dream disintegrates unless you write it down (my father) reminds me (Jong, 253).”

I first began writing because I wanted to end my life.  It was a common theme throughout my adolescence, but escalated when I was twenty-one.  I always knew that I was not the person my family wanted me to be.  Within my core, I was not a Christian, but I was told by everyone around me that if I did not follow I would lose their acceptance.  I would be fallen, lost, going to hell.  I did everything to make God real to me.  But instead, I began to see that everything I’d been told was false.

In the process of all this, I was prone to deep depression and would fall into trance-like states where I left my body and began to ponder how I could destroy it.  Looking back, it was symbolic, since the Christianity I was raised with denies the body.

Eventually, when that mode became an everyday issue, I had to enter therapy.  The therapist didn’t sort my issues since I was still stuck within my Christian university and didn’t feel free to speak what I was really feeling.  What really changed my life was writing.

“Writing is tough, but it’s a lot less tough than depression.  Which basically leads to suicide.  Unless you make a joke (Jong, 232).”

At first the writing was not good.  It was melodramatic, sickeningly romantic, full of unnecessary flourishes and old-fashioned language.  Through hundreds of poems, I attempted to express what I was feeling.

I experienced a real breakthrough while reading Allen Ginsberg’s poetry.  Here was a man who bravely and beautifully wrote about gay sex in the 1950’s.  If he could do that then, than I could celebrate sensuality in my poetry, turn it in, and risk getting marked down or reprimanded.  Surprisingly, my teacher raved over the poem I wrote.

We normally looked at each other’s work anonymously.  But at the end of analyzing my poem the professor said, “And the girl who wrote this…” (Everyone looked around since there was only one other girl in the class) “Ope!  Sorry Lauren!”

The room full of boys twittered in embarrassment.  But then my professor continued, “This is the first poem I’ve seen all semester that is ready to be published.”  I sat there red in the cheeks, but brimming with pride that this professor who was such a tough nut to crack, who was known for yelling at people for using the word “deep” because it didn’t express anything, was now telling me I had potential.

“For the poet, the lover becomes the world.  The exploration of love becomes an exploration of life (Jong, 66).”

Before poetry, I painted portraits, then realized I had more to tell.  Poetry was vague enough to feel safe writing what I had to say.  But then I wanted to tell the whole truth and share the whole picture.

To write I have sacrificed money, jobs, relationships, and security.  But I have no choice, and wouldn’t be happy any other way.  My book sits there like the holy grail, full of promises that might not be met.  When I first tried to publish it, I was cocky, with no doubt that the first agent would snap it up and put it on auction, scoring a great book deal which would lead to it becoming a bestseller with a movie deal in the works.  I literally did not doubt this one iota.

In it’s earliest version (not nearly as fleshed out as it is now) it was rejected by over a hundred agents and editors.  Back then it was just a novel about a girl who parties too much.  Now it’s a memoir about a girl trying to forget an oppressive upbringing through an underground subculture that turns dark quickly.

“People who most crave ecstasy are probably least capable of moderation (Jong, 134).”

The people I write about in my book will be both horrified and gratified to see themselves frozen in time.  But the only reaction that really concerns me is that of my parents.  I hope they can forgive the fact that I need to lay them bare to understand my life.  Like many parents, it’s painful for them to allow their child to be their own person.  They will never fully accept who I am because it doesn’t fit into their worldview.  I am the reality that they find hard to face.

“If you want to be a nice person, don’t write.  There’s no way to do it without grinding up your loved ones and making them into raw hamburger (Jong, 239).”

Now when I actually see the living people who embody the other characters in the book, I hardly know how to look at them, without only seeing our past.  To me, they have become caricatures of themselves, mythology.

“Time and again I have found that once I have frozen a person in a book I can hardly remember what the real person was like (Jong, 268).”

At a memorial, I saw them all two days ago.  I realized, that they feel the same way about me.  They are completely unable to understand who I am now, unable to listen, and can only speak in jokes or insensitive diatribes.  They have frozen me in time.  I didn’t want to be there, but in coming together over the death of our beautiful friend, I came to the ending of my story.

“You are not doing it all alone.  You are standing on the shoulders of the dead.  You are writing love letters to the grave.  The word is a link in a human chain (Jong, 61).”

I’m in those last years where you can be considered young.  But I don’t feel young at all.  I feel like time is too short and I have too many stories to share to fit into that shortness of life.  Ideas keep popping into my head.  I want to write them all, to share this thing I cannot stop.  To live, I must write.

Life Is Never What You Expect

June 4, 2012 § Leave a comment

I once had a professor who said, “You live one life, but you have many lives within it.”  The same can be said for a book of short stories.  They are all unique, but each story is connected, and wouldn’t be complete without the others.

Aryn Kyle’s collection “Boys And Girls Like You And Me” is honest and full of humor over the sad circumstances of life.  Her characters all want to really live, but life is never what they expected it would be.

“That was the real bitch about time: Everything true would become false, if only you waited long enough (Kyle, 123).”

I am hard at work, putting the finishing touches on my memoir.  In the last week, three people who are a part of those stories have died.  Two of them were shot and killed in the Seattle shootings.  Drew Keriakedes and Joe ‘Vito’ Albanese.  I first saw them when the show, Circus Contraption, started about eleven years ago.  As the bandleader, Drew wrote all the whimsical music.  The show went on to New York City (where I was so homesick I went to see them three times in a row) and performed internationally as well.  When Contraption came to an end, the two were in a band called God’s Favorite Beefcake, and performed once at a friend’s wedding.  The day of the wedding I wanted to tell them how much they meant to me.  But I didn’t.  I got shy, even though I had spoken to them before in New York.  Their music was genius in that vaudevillian sense.  There was no one else like them.

The last thing I ever thought would happen was this.  The last thing that should ever happen to beautiful artists who spread joy and laughter and music throughout the world is violence.  And all because some mentally unstable guy got out of the house with a gun and decided to go on a shooting spree before he shot himself.

All moments and all people pass away, but art gives us the remnants of what once was.  I realize more than ever, the importance of capturing these moments in my history, and all the beautiful people I have known.  My generation has such a limited experience of death.  Death is a reminder that my introversion is a waste of love I could have given.

Life is short, life is intense, life is funny and sad and unpredictable.  We’ll only make it through if we hold each other up.  It just takes being vulnerable again, to learn how to try.

In memory of Arthur, who also passed away last week, I would like to share this poem I wrote about him ten years ago.  He was a beautiful man. 

Arthur’s Kiss

Smooth into me

like butter, you ooze

flicker glisten skin

glide cross fingers

no angles pointed joints

just round solid

foundations formed

through anticipations

refused content.

The Man Trap

March 14, 2012 § 1 Comment

            In Alix Kates Shulman’s 1972 novel, Memoirs of an Ex-Prom Queen, Sasha fights against the traps of being a woman.  As a child, the boy’s are pure enemies.  She is attacked, held down and pantsed so the boys can stare at her vagina with a ‘seen one, seen them all’ look on their faces.  As an adolescent she is lured into a ride home by a group of boys, only to be driven to a remote location where they can force her to touch a boy’s penis.

Her first boyfriend cares less about her than about getting laid, though she knows that if anyone finds out she’ll be expelled from her sorority and shunned by her classmates.  Her first job backfires when the cook threatens her to try and get her to sleep with him.  In college her dream of pre-law is put aside when she falls in love with Philosophy and the Philosophy professor.  By the time she’s playing with the big boys, attempting a PhD at Columbia – she is treated with so much disdain for being a woman in the program that she stops speaking in class and flocks to the safety of the wives in the kitchen.  She begins to panic that she’s getting too old and too educated.  So she marries the first guy who treats her well.

As soon as they’re married, of course, he stops talking to her.  He can’t hide his contempt.  His life has a grand purpose, while she supports him at menial jobs.  Her mind is no longer stimulating to him or to herself.  All he wants is his dinner.

“Why was everything nice he did for me a bribe or a favor, while my kindnesses to him were my duty (Shulman, 5)?”

She embarks on a series of affairs, but every time she leaves her husband she falls into the same man traps wherever she goes.  A lover in Spain, in Italy, and then eventually a second husband and two kids.  Completely dependent on a man who secretly hungers for carefree youth, she is constantly afraid he will leave her.

Interesting too, are Sasha’s musings over her physical self.  At fifteen she is crowned Queen of the Bunny Hop.  By twenty-four she fears that she is old, and that people would find it laughable to think she was once considered beautiful.  There is always that disconnect between how others see her, and how she feels she looks.

“Could it be that the prettier I grew the worse I would be treated?  Much likelier, I thought, I wasn’t really pretty (Shulman, 49).”

You have to wonder, though there were many disadvantages to being a woman at that time, did Sasha’s beauty add to her disempowerment?  Beautiful women are rarely ever noticed for their minds.  Sasha hates a come-on as much as she loves it.  On one hand it proves she’s still beautiful, on the other it reminds her she is vulnerable, even to possible attack.  Being valued for her looks is also emotionally damaging as age removes her worth.

Forty years since this book was published, the ultimate value of a woman is still judged on the basis of physical beauty.  A woman in the public eye who is not attractive is torn to shreds (for example, Hilary Clinton), while a beautiful woman is adored by everyone (Angelina Jolie).  Success and accomplishment are no protection from the scrutiny.  But will we remember Angelina Jolie for her excellent screenwriting skills, or will we remember her more for how hot she looked baring her leg at the Oscars?  Being beautiful, unfortunately, is a distraction from the accomplishments you weren’t born with.

I can vouch that when I was in my physical prime (early twenties), no one was really interested in hearing my poetry.  They just wanted me to wear hot pants to a party, and I was more than willing to flaunt it.  I never felt valued for who I was on the inside.  But I enjoyed all the attention otherwise.  And eventually I learned to lead with my personality rather than my appearance.

Beneath this was an insatiable need for affirmation.  Growing up in school I had been completely invisible.  I was always quiet and up in my head.  I was a dork – ugly, awkward, insecure, with bad grades and braces.  My quietness made the other kids uncomfortable.  Boys never talked to me unless it was to mock me or scare the shit out of me with sexual threats.  Maybe it was that total and complete lack of control that turned me into a control freak.  All I knew was, someday I wanted to be in charge.

If I had remained in the church, men and the life in general would have most certainly been a trap.  But outside of the church and those old fashioned values, men were my freedom.  In fact, the men I fell for brought my dreams to life.  For a long time I lived in a fantasy.  All of my relationships were open with no responsibilities involved.

Marriage and monogamy, however, are so based in reality, I have to admit, I’m still struggling to get used to it.  It’s hard to keep marriage exciting – especially when you are living with your best friend.  Sex is not the first thought, it’s the after-thought.  And it is sometimes difficult to not equate marriage as an institution akin to the church.  When I left religion, I celebrated all of my freedoms from repression.  But then when you get married, there are parts of yourself that inevitably become repressed to protect your relationship.  It’s like a catch-22, because you’ve never been happier than with your partner, but in order for that to survive, you can’t just do and say whatever you want.  You can no longer be selfish as you begin to think through this other person and their feelings.

But for the first time, I am finally loved for who I really am, and my husband embraces the free spirit in me.  He brings warmth and brightness to my life, whereas before, life was dark, edgy and unpredictable.

In Memoirs of an Ex-Prom Queen Sasha bemoans the traps of womanhood, laughing it off as all her fears come to pass.  There is always the clock ticking, the beauty slipping, the value falling down.  She runs from her own brilliance into the arms of man, where frets and responsibilities distract her from dreams that became insurmountable.

Memoirs was written from the standpoint of a very different time – but every time has its pitfalls and struggles for the sake of biology.  The balance between men and women is precarious and difficult.  Alix Kates Shulman based much of Memoirs of an Ex-Prom Queen off of her own life.  Though her life story is such a great success (even helping to lead the famous protest at the Miss America Pageant), Sasha’s story ends in defeat.  I prefer to look beyond the book’s ending into Shulman’s inspiring example, trailblazing for women, allowing nothing to hold her back.

The Supporting Role

February 27, 2012 § Leave a comment

I once had a friend who was a famous child star.  I will protect her identity out of respect and call her Amy.  We both worked at a restaurant, and every now and then, super fans would appear to gush and beg her to sign an old lunch box or record.

Amy had retained the cheeriness of a child star though she was now in her mid-thirties.  She had a haircut that was more fit for a ten year old in the 1980’s.  I kept trying to help her brush up her image, and wanted her physical looks to match her dynamic personality.

Being Catholic she wanted to save herself for marriage, but it stunted her sexual maturity to a great extent.  She avoided it by only being physical with her gay costars from Broadway shows, and had a hopeless crush on a married actor.

I realized to a great extent, Amy retained age ten because she peaked at age ten.  She could never let go of the hope that she would eventually find success as an adult, but the problem was, she just wasn’t believable as an adult.

Sometimes she’d score a part in a show and be out of town for a month or two.  But more often than not, there were endless auditions, and the self-sabotage of drinking too much the night before and losing her voice.  She had a condo she could barely afford because she’d purchased it in a more successful moment.  The life of a creative person is extremely difficult with constant ups and downs, drama and rejections.

For a long time Amy was my closest friend.  We had all sorts of adventures and got into plenty of mischief.  But then I introduced her to straight men – a bunch of raucous musicians to be exact.  Amy wanted to make a husband out of the first one that slept with her.  I tried to protect her from the obsession, and warned her that he was seeing other people and wouldn’t change.  But Amy told me I was a horrible friend for saying so, and that she picked the wrong guy (as in, she should have picked the guy I hooked up with every now and then).

I was hanging out with her love obsession one day at the bar, waiting for her to show up from another dive with my every now and then guy.  Love obsession turned to me and said, “I have this feeling that right now the two of them are stabbing us both in the back.”

He was right.  I couldn’t believe it.  Amy and I never talked again.  Well, except for one night when I was too drunk and left her a nasty message at 3am.  For months I felt an immense pain in my gut.  I’d expected that sort of thing from the guy, but not from her.  I still regret that we never got over it.  Who doesn’t go crazy for a minute when they lose their virginity at 34?  But if we really want to dig into what was going on – I think she couldn’t handle that she wasn’t the star of the show.

When we first met I couldn’t get a word in edgewise.  And then somehow I passed her up along the way.  She was so charismatic, and chipper and extremely social.  But in certain circles, I took the lead and she accepted the supporting role.  Competition destroyed our friendship.  And on an astrological side-note, being an Aries, I have noticed my friendships with Cancers always follow the same pattern – intense and combustible.

This week I read Fame Junkies – The Hidden Truths Behind America’s Favorite Addiction by Jake Halpern.  In three sections he covers aspiring child celebrities, celebrity entourage, and celebrity worship.

Increasingly, children want to become famous for fame itself.  They don’t see the importance of having a talent or something to give through fame.  They feel that fame will fix everything that is wrong in their lives.

“In fact, one could argue that the desire to be famous is simply the desire to alleviate pain – the pain of being bullied, the pain of feeling like a nobody, the pain of not getting the dates you want, and the misery of being below the people who inflicted the pain on you (Halpern, 34).”

Who isn’t more driven towards fame than the lonely child who wants to prove to everyone that they are worthy of the love they never received.  This child is more apt to watch five hours of TV a day and become absorbed in the celebrities that appear to be receiving the adoration they so long for.  Here Halpern sums up the research of psychologist, David Elkind:

“… teenagers are prone to believe they are destined to live exceptional, celebrity-like lives…  by their very nature, adolescents are unable to grasp what other people are thinking or feeling, so they exist in a sort of egocentric daze, assuming that everyone else is as obsessed with their lives as they are (Halpern, 16).”

If this is true, then celebritydom is the ultimate extension of the adolescent mind.  Promising an entourage and fans that buzz around you like peons, non-entities that meet your every whim and serve up admiration on a platter.  Halpern reflects on Dennis Hoppers Personal Assistant at the time:

“And yet even when she emulated a friend or a family member, it wasn’t exactly a realistic scenario because on principle, she was refusing to talk about herself or even to recognize her own emotions.  The result was a pseudo-friendship, in which one person did all the talking and feeling, while the other deftly maneuvered to stay out of the way (Halpern, 95).”

As taxing as the job is, and though she and other personal assistants are unable to have personal lives due to the constant beck and call of the job, she loved being within the inner reaches of the famous.  If she could be a part of their lives, she didn’t need to have her own.  But many assistants eventually wake up to the fact that their lives have passed them by with nothing to show for it.

“Some research psychologists have come to believe that the need to belong is every bit as urgent as the need for food and shelter (Halpern, 112).”

It’s an ancient survival tactic to emulate the alpha to gain success in the group.  In return the alpha can teach skills to the protégé and gain power through numbers.  But what are the returns for celebrity worship, especially when people become famous for nothing.  It’s a large-scale machine, completely distant and remote from real life.

“Celebrities are probably of less interest to people who live exciting, fulfilling lives – people who are involved with their family and community.  But how many people do you know who live exciting, fulfilling lives (Halpern, 144)?”

Every year, thousands of children join scam agencies, where parents fork out thousands of dollars for the miniscule chance that their kid will be discovered.  They often put more stock in a chance at fame than in a college education.

Before my prefrontal cortex had fully developed logic, I myself was gullible enough to go into credit card debt for classes and a modeling portfolio at a fake agency.  I thought I could make some extra fast cash.  But the owner and her assistant took all the real jobs and tried to get us to work for free.

Amy said that she wasn’t sure she would have been an actor if her strong willed mother hadn’t pushed her into it.  It struck me as insane.  Most people don’t come to conclusions about what they will do for a living until they are in college, or even sometime after.  But here she had been told that she was an actress before she had even fully become a self.

 

 

 

 

The Illusions of Love

February 8, 2012 § 2 Comments

           In Gustave Flaubert’s Sentimental Education, set in 19th Century France, Frederic is obsessed with Madame Arnoux, the wife of his friend.  It takes him years to gain her confidence and she eventually grows to love him too, but refuses to give herself to him out of propriety.  He takes on her husband’s Courtesan for distraction and attains the closest he ever comes to marriage with Rosanette.  But he can’t worship a woman who isn’t respectable, and her habits eventually annoy him.  His mother tries to arrange for him to marry a neighbor girl from the country for money and property, but he is too distracted by Madame Arnoux.

“For some men, the stronger their desire, the more difficult it is for them to act.  They are hampered by mistrust of themselves, daunted by the fear of causing offence; besides, deep feelings of affection are like respectable women; they are afraid of being found out and go through life with downcast eyes (Flaubert, 174).”

The enormity of their love grows through Madame Arnoux’s refusal to consummate it.  Only through consummation can love take its natural course and eventually balance out or dissipate.  But instead, their desire builds over the span of many years until the woman that she was is gone, her white hair shocking him beneath her bonnet.  His ideal of her cannot hold up in reality.

“Frederic suspected that Madame Arnoux had come to offer herself to him; and once again he was filled with desire, a frenzied, rabid lust such as he had never known before.  Yet he also had another indefinable feeling, a repugnance akin to a dread of committing incest.  Another fear restrained him – the fear of being disgusted later…  partly out of prudence and partly to avoid degrading his ideal, he turned on his heel and started rolling a cigarette (Flaubert, 415).”

By this point, Frederic’s confused desires have bungled his chance for a marriage into high society.  He squanders his money away on women and gives loans to friends that are never repaid.  All of his opportunities go flat, his life consumed by the illusions of love, money and power.

In old age he recalls his fondest memory as a naïve young man, running from a brothel in embarrassment when the girls laughed at his bewildered stares.  Our lives are filled with failed aspirations, but our finest memories are spontaneous and wild; we fall into them carefree, and then realize we have no grasp, carried away beyond ourselves.

Years ago, I was talented at upholding and building the illusion of love. The best way to do this is to have a long distance relationship.  I became obsessed with a guy that moved to LA two days after I met him.  He was an older artist with a chiseled face and a body like a whippet.  He lied to me that he was only going to LA on business.  But everyone else knew that he moved.  He was afraid of losing me, and his lies only got worse.

We had intense chemistry.  I felt connected to him not only physically and spiritually, but psychically.  I had mystical, symbolic dreams about him, and he would call right after I’d had them.  When he visited things never matched the dream of what I thought it could be.  But even so, we cried to be in each other’s arms and clung to each other with an intense fear of loss.  Years went by like this.  I told him that I slept with other people, and kept hoping that someone would make me forget him.  But all the parties and wild nights couldn’t dislodge him from my brain.

Eventually I had the opportunity to fly out to Venice Beach for a week. I thought that maybe if it went well, I would move there.  But he called me two days before my flight to tell me he had a girlfriend.  Apparently it was okay to see me across the country, but not in his neighborhood.  When I got there we had breakfast and I did my best to charm him away from the other woman. Later on, I blew up at him over the phone and had to pull my rented Mustang over to the curb, crying for half an hour.  Towards the end of the week we had another much more stunted breakfast where he showed me his ideas for a cartoon show.

I stayed in a depressing hostel.  The bright sun bothered me and I kept the curtains closed.  There was no mirror or even a picture on the walls, just a bed in a box-like room.  It felt like a prison.  I heard people talking distantly down the halls.  But I felt stuck on the mattress with springs poking into my back.  I cried for a full day.  Then roamed in solitude.  A creepy guy tried to seduce me with a massage on the beach.  I watched dolphins on the hazy horizon.

A trio of film people ate brunch at the same place and time everyday. Three days in a row I watched them draw attention in whatever way they could.  I saw the Dali’ exhibit at LACMA and found it was easier to walk away from LA Man than to walk away from The Metamorphosis of Narcissus.  I was drawn into the storm of color in a surreal existence.  My life felt surreal, and I felt guilty of being like Narcissus, in love with a man who I’d made into my own reflection.  I didn’t really know him at all.

Image

I met a handsome guy at a bar who rambled about his job as a set designer on some show I’d never heard of.  He complained about how flaky everyone is in LA.  A friend of his turned up and he ignored me for a half an hour, showing off.  When I gathered my things to leave he acted shocked that I wasn’t going home with him.  I couldn’t wait to leave that city with all the people it had ruined through too many illusions of grandeur.  Proximity to fame blew up their egos making them blind to the people all around them.  And when dreams become a reality they are never really what we think they will be. Fame and wealth can be extremely isolating.

“In every parting there comes a moment when the beloved is already no longer with us (Flaubert, 415).”

When LA Man turned on his heel and walked away, I knew I was better off without him.  But the sadness overwhelmed me.  Three years later he called to say that he’s not really with his girlfriend anymore and they’re seeing other people.  Then he added, “Whatever happened with that guy you were living with?”

“We got married last September.”

Stunned silence.  He had thought that my life could fall to the wayside to make way for him, that all of his lies would be forgotten.  He had his own illusions.

The Little Death

January 27, 2012 § 1 Comment

The first thing I noticed when I picked up my used copy of Platform by Michel Houellebecq, were the bits of jizz on the edges, making the pages stick together.  Not surprising, given the amount of orgy scenes.

Houellebecq’s exploration of our contemporary malaise is only relieved through the constant pursuit of sexual adventure.  The protagonist, Michel, is a depressing character with really no personality to speak of.  He drifts through life bored and alone.  “Anything can happen in life, especially nothing (Houellebecq, 148).”  He is unable to find a suitable partner, or even really, connect with anyone at all.  But then he meets Valerie on a group tour in Thailand, where he goes to enjoy the benefits of Thai prostitutes.  In Valerie he discovers a sexually giving nature with the benefit of having someone to love, talk to, and enjoy life.

She works in the tourism industry, dealing with the problem of customers who are bored by their vacation experiences.  Michel suggests a line of hotels that specialize in sex tourism.  At first it’s a huge success – until Muslim terrorists step in.

“The problem with Muslims, he told me, was that the paradise promised by the Prophet already existed here on earth.  There were places on earth where young, available, lascivious girls danced for the pleasure of men, where one could become drunk on nectar and listen to celestial music; there were about twenty of them within five hundred meters of our hotel (Houellebecq, 250).”

Michel listens quietly to his companion, but he is more concerned with the sexual problems of westerners.  “Something is definitely happening that’s making westerners stop sleeping with each other.  Maybe it’s something to do with narcissism, or individualism, the cult of success, it doesn’t matter.  The fact is that from about the age of twenty-five or thirty, people find it very difficult to meet new sexual partners…  so they end up spending the next thirty years, almost the entirety of their adult lives, suffering permanent withdrawal (Houellebecq, 172).”

In my early twenties I attracted more men and even women than I ever have since.  And since then I have been analyzing exactly why this is so.  I had that youthful glow and was always smiling and laughing, whether it was nervous laughter or not.  I was much more friendly and open to all experiences – not yet scarred by all that was thrown at me later.  I was naïve, which older men found highly amusing for a while.  In fact, I was everything they were looking for to make them feel young again.  I was the answer to their existential crisis – youth.

My 22 year old self

For a number of these men – sex in its basic form wasn’t cutting it anymore.  They were resorting to cocktails of Ecstasy and Viagra, group sex, role-playing, bondage, domination, whips, hooks, orgy-parties.  And yet, they were still always bored.  “Organized S&M with its rules could only exist among overcultured, cerebral people for whom sex has lost all attraction.  For everyone else, there’s only one possible solution: pornography featuring professionals; and if you want to have real sex, third world countries (Houellebecq, 175).”

When I did date normal, mainstream guys, I was bored out of my mind.  They were so vanilla, with nothing to talk about and a limited capacity for pleasure that was stunted and one-sided.  They were also not as honest.

Since then I have gained much more than lost.  But if I have lost anything, I would like to bring back that openness I had to people all around me.  I want to love fully without fear, with more effort on my part in the awareness that we are all as one.  Houellebecq, of course, puts it more bluntly, “It is in our relations with other people that we gain a sense of ourselves; it’s that, pretty much, that makes relations with other people unbearable (Houellebecq, 63).”

Houellebecq has a dire view of the world, and though he writes of the dangers of isolationism, he also gravitates to it.  I see it as laziness. How can you feel connected to others, if you are not first willing to give? The character of Michel expects women to sexually fall all over him when he has not given them anything to fall over.  He is a walking dead man. There is nothing lovable about him.  And when he meets Valerie, it is hard to understand why she is attracted to him.

Behind Houellebecq’s fictional sexual forays is the mind of a Puritan. His characters are always punished for finding sexual satisfaction.  They begin and end in their fear of intimacy.  The sterile, noncommittal experience of a prostitute becomes the safer approach.

I watched Houellebecq’s interviews, and got the sense that he is already dead.  He appears to fall asleep, and takes an inordinate amount of time to answer questions.  His hands and mouth constantly grab for the stimulus of a cigarette.  In an interview for The Paris Review, he was asked how he has the nerve to write some of the things he does.  He answered, “Oh, it’s easy. I just pretend that I’m already dead.”

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