Clits Up!

November 25, 2012 § Leave a comment

A year ago I went to Susie Bright’s reading for her memoir, Big Sex Little Death.  She signed my copy “Lauren, Clits up!  Susie Bright.”  She told some interesting stories about traveling through the country on her book tour while I sat wondering what the Puritans would think about her book title – if you have big sex, there’s bound to be a little death, or maybe even a lot.

“One brother killing his other half, his soul mate, was sensational enough – but add “hardcore” to it, and it was as if everyone in the sexual counterculture were on trial.

Reporters called me: “Did you see it coming?  Were you pressured?  Were you afraid?  Did you get high with them, take it up the ass before the guns came out? Their questions were crazy because they all assumed that sex had led to violence.  Not despair, not religion, not the empty bottle of abandonment (Bright, 303).”

Artie had been on a violent binge, and Jim shot him – the Mitchell brothers behind the famous O’Farrell theater strip club in San Francisco where Susie’s friends worked.

In life, there is death.  The religious right would have us believe that death equals sin.  But all of life is merely a cycle that our egos strain against.

In the same way, movements are born and then die.  Manifestos have flaws, so we build off the old to create the new, hopefully improved, trains of thought.

Susie Bright has been at the forefront of movements in our history – grabbing life by the balls since she was a teenager running rampant in the Communist party.  She was attacked, dodged bullets, and sacrificed her individuality for the cause.  But amidst a shift, she was accused of betrayal and kicked out, most likely for not being a drone.

Several years later, she was influential in forming the lesbian erotic magazine, On Our Backs, with a group of strippers.  For years they struggled to stay afloat amidst political battles of the Andrea Dworkin/Catherine MacKinnon variety.  At that point, many feminists were joining with the religious right in the fight for anti-pornography laws, and the magazine found more support from gay culture.

“We were too obscene to glue together.  All of us, the women in erotica and in sex education, ended up paying what amounted to enormous bribes to be printed at all.  And the printer’s risk?  Zero.  The U.S. attorney general’s office, to this very day, has the same attitude toward women’s sexual potential as that held by the Victorians: They really don’t believe lesbians have sex (Bright, 259).”

Blatant, in your face, unapologetic women who don’t need the male gaze to feel beautiful or sexual is apparently, a frightening thing.  The women at the magazine received death threats and accusations of every variety.  Eventually, the pressure to stay afloat amidst so much opposition and lack of funding literally broke the magazine’s back.  Susie’s life reached another movement, that of motherhood, teaching, writing, and sunshine in Santa Cruz.

“I had to Protect the Baby, but I ended up Protecting Me…  Malingerers, fakers, and self-destructive impulses were red-tagged and booted (Bright, 287).”

I am not a mother, but I relate to this feeling from my experience of being a wife.  Through my husband’s love for me, I came to love myself in a new light, and suddenly had no patience for the crazies, the neurotics, or the people who take me down a notch for no reason.  As I became aware of someone else’s needs, I became more aware of my own.  Love transformed, turning the past into stories, rather than painful emotional ties.

Like Susie, I have that desire to capture my personal history and encapsulate it – not only because it tells of my life, but also because it celebrates the people I have known, the cities I lived in that have changed since then, the zeitgeist that is no longer.  We have all evolved, and it’s one of the reasons why we need to write it all down, or paint it, or film it, or photograph it – so we can remember how far we’ve come, and see more clearly, where we are going.

 

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.

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.

What Kind of Girl Are You?

February 15, 2012 § Leave a comment

Growing up, I never really talked to any boys until I slept with one.  And by that time, they were no longer really boys – especially since I was twenty-one and I gravitated to older men.

In my senior year of college, there was a speaker at chapel who seemed more suited to Junior High students.  He neatly categorized the different stages of a relationship through a ladder analogy.  The bottom rung was eye contact.  The second rung was conversation.  The third rung was holding hands.  The further up the rungs you climbed, the more dangerous it became.  He told us it was best not to go past the third rung before marriage.

I turned to the girl next to me and said, “I started at the top rung and worked my way down.”  She gave a nervous laugh.  But I knew plenty of people who followed the ladder rule – my sister for example.  She and my brother in-law never kissed until a month before their wedding.  She was disappointed that they didn’t quite make their goal of waiting.  Their friends however, did.

At my college the divorce rate among the alumnus was huge.  Years after, I heard women complain that they didn’t enjoy sex with their husbands.  From birth onwards – girls and boys were taught that sex is dangerous, taboo, disgusting, perverted, depraved, sinful, dirty.  And then one day you find ‘the one.’  You get married and then all of a sudden – sex is beautiful.  But actually, often it isn’t.  Because how do you shake all of those old perceptions that are ingrained not only in your mindset, but in your body.

Growing up in Christian schools, education on sex was extremely limited, and friends offered silly stories that had no bearing in actual life:

“If you don’t have the gene for curling your tongue, then you can’t French kiss properly.”

“A woman is a rose.  To each man she sleeps with, or gives a part of herself, she gives away one of her petals.  If she sleeps with too many men, soon she’ll have no petals left.”

This conveniently excludes the fact that a rose is a perennial and comes back every year.  There is no direct experience in these ideas.  Admitting direct experience is taboo.  Denial even sometimes remains after a girl appears to have swallowed a watermelon.  And of course, denial is also the reason for the failure to buy condoms or birth control in the first place.

The dangers of repression became glaringly obvious one day when a group of girls decided to streak through campus.  Every year it was the tradition for guys to do this, and it was always at a very public event.  The first year it was while we were all on the lawn watching ‘The Creature From the Black Lagoon’ in 3-D.  All of a sudden naked guys were streaking past the screen – odd because at first it seemed like part of the movie.  The next year they rode their bikes through a festival.  And the third year, some girls from the Basketball team wanted to join the tradition.

They went streaking through the canyon by the dorms – and strangely enough, guys started chasing them down, driven by mad lust.  Something comical and bonding and freeing turned into something horrific.  Most of the girls darted down a gravel path, trying to get away.  They dove into the bushes to hide, getting scraped by stones and branches.  Only one saintly fellow came and offered clothes to get them back to safety.

This all reaffirmed for me my distrust and lack of interest in the guys at my school.  I had a long list of issues.  For every six girls there were only four guys.  Overall, they were unattractive, lacking in life experience, introverted with women, hypocritical.  Basically, they were a direct reflection of myself, and I did not want to be who I was.  Up to that point, I had always been at the hands of environment and religion – ingrained to think the way I thought.

Among many girls at my college there was a celebration of the infantile.  My friends sported the same haircuts they’d had since the third grade.  They liked to wear t-shirts and sweatshirts with cartoon characters emblazoned on them – most popular being Winnie the Pooh and Mickey Mouse.  My roommate insisted on putting up hideous posters by Ann Geddes of babies in flowerpots and dressed as pea pods.  They favored the pastel colors of a baby nursery – pink, lavender, lime green, baby blue.  Bedspreads ranged from candy-colored stripes to polka dots.  Their binders had pictures of puppies and kittens in the front.  And yet – they were adults between the ages of eighteen to twenty-two.

These women preferred to remain in an infantile state because it was easy. One year I asked all the girls on my floor if they would rather marry for passion and adventure or for comfort and security.  Every girl chose comfort and security except for my roommate and I.  They went to college to get their M.R.S. degree and I listened to them complain if they didn’t get that ‘ring by spring.’  Marriage was protection from the dangers of being out in the world.  A husband would take care of them, protect them, control their lives and make the decisions.  They would spend their time scrapbooking sentimental memories, making banana bread, volunteering at church.  They would mistrust any environment not labeled ‘Christian.’  They would attempt to repeat the entire system by ingraining their children with the same unrealistic worldview.  They would secretly acknowledge that their husband was not a prince.  They would feel trapped, but the world without a husband is the great unknown.  They’d never been in it, and never wanted to be.

I just finished reading Carlene Bauer’s memoir, Not That Kind of Girl.  Maybe I was too excited to read a book that seemed comparable to my own developing memoir.  But she failed to draw me in.  I spent the entirety rolling my eyes, just wanting her to get over herself.  Was it because I relate in all the parts of myself that I don’t like, or because I saw so many of the girls that I grew up with?  Probably, a little of both.

Bauer grew up in the Protestant church, attended a small Catholic college, and then moved to New York to become an editor, still clinging to her virginity.  She eventually leaves religion behind, but not prudery.  She excuses it by saying that she is a perfectionist.

“Used improperly, said church, sex could addle you beyond repair.  If someone who didn’t love you saw you naked, you would become Natalie Wood in Splendor in the Grass, eyes gone wild and trembling, wanting to drown yourself in the bathtub because your awakened appetite could not be satisfied (Bauer, 176).”

God wasn’t really the reason Carlene Bauer didn’t get out there and throw herself into the depths of life like she really wanted too.  It was only herself holding her back – her fears, her introversion, her lack of confidence.

“Maybe my body was what was weighing me down, not God, and if I could just learn to forget about my body, my mind could finally, finally be free (Bauer, 62).”

The title of her book is ironic.  Not That Kind of Girl.  For the entire memoir, it is strikingly obvious that she has always longed to be that kind of girl – the kind of girl that lives a wild life, with passions and loves, throws caution to the wind, a real bohemian.  She relates to Sylvia Plath and looks up to Edna St. Vincent Millay, and chides herself for not being nearly as interesting.  Though I am happy that she is a success as a writer and has found her way outside of the beliefs that held her back, I wanted her to become what she always dreamed of being.  I saw more potential for her, and I hope she finds it for herself.

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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