Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Twenty-One: Domme

I was exchanging messages with someone who's worked as a professional dominatrix in both Manhattan and Sydney when it struck me that the two of us approached s/m with very different views. We weren't talking about s/m as such. We were actually talking about the latest issue of Artforum and about a film she'd seen at BAM not long ago. So I have no idea where the thought came from. But there it was. Now she'd told me tales of some of her clients and experiences before, so it's possible the thought was simply lying fallow. She likes s/m; it's not just something she's done as a job. I like it, too, but for different reasons.

I've always said that I like s/m for the ritual and for the aesthetics. I've always liked the class markers behind high-end s/m, and I like the idea of it as highly intellectualised, abstract sex. My dominatrix friend likes s/m for the physical release, for the chance to see how far she can go. She likes the physical activity of wielding a whip; her own release depends on what she can push a submissive's body to feel. There's a divide there: "cold" v. "hot" sex. I'm happier with "cold".

Now she's worked as a professional domme. The male clients who came to her expected to be punished, to be humiliated. They're paying to be humiliated. That's not a word I've ever worked into games or scenes. She's come to associate s/m play with scripted humiliation and punishment, and those routines leak over into her own, off-the-clock games with both the boys and girls in her life. Those aren't things I've ever been interested in making part of s/m.

It might be that I feel a certain sense of wariness when I'm part of an s/m scene. I'm male, and of a certain age. My partner will be a young companion, someone female and much younger. It's all too easy for s/m games to take on political overtones or to seem too reminiscent of actual violence. That might be part of it.

The major part, I think, is that I'm not interested in "punishing" a young companion. I'm certainly not interested in being addressed as "Master". I'd rather have a girl address me by my name or as "darling" during scenes. Silk and masks and blindfolds and candle wax and riding whips are all things I like, but it's the ritual of them I like more than the physical effect. I like it that a young companion is willing to push past her limits, or willing to place her trust in me. Those are gifts, and they shouldn't be about humiliation. I'd feel silly telling a girl she was being whipped for being "bad", and the thought of actually saying the things male dominants say in s/m novels and videos say really does make me dissolve into laughter. I'm more used to silence and kisses during games. What I like about what's being played out is the sense of being in something formal and yet dreamlike. Formal, yes. I wouldn't play out Spanking The French Maid or Spanking The Naughty Schoolgirl. Masks and silk scarves, yes. Candle wax and riding crops, yes. But not spanking. That's not a marker for the world I'd want the scene to create.

My dominatrix friend tells me that it's now hard for her not to go into domme-speak when she's with someone male, hard not to try to break them down. She can, she says, turn a hipster boy into "a simpering bitch" in a few minutes. I don't doubt that she can. And the stories she comes away with are often wonderfully funny. But it's just not my take on s/m. The proper thing to say to a lovely girl with drops of candle wax on her nipples, or who's just been whipped, is always and ever, "Thank you, darling." And it  needs to be said softly and with complete sincerity. You've been given a gift by a lovely companion: be aware of that.

It's not likely that my dominatrix friend and I will ever be together for a scene. I'm not looking for a domme, and I'm not interested in being humiliated.  I like her, now. She's smart and funny and quite lovely. But our views of how s/m should be played diverge. In the end, I expect sex (and s/m is a key kind of sex) to be stylish and based on an odd intersection of romance and cool abstraction. Domme-sex is too physical, and too much about breaking down self-image. I'm interested in formal poses and enhancing images, creating new images.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Twenty: Elegy

This is Theodore Roethke's poem "To Jane: My Student Thrown by a Horse”: something sad and lovely. A student of his had been killed in a riding accident, a student whom he loved--- from a distance, without touching, as someone with whom he shared a love of literature. The last lines of the poem are heartbreaking in an unexpected way. They're about the anguish of not having the standing to express grief, of not being in a role where one is allowed to express grief where someone the poet has loved has died. English has words for love in its varied forms, but we use them so awkwardly, so uncertainly. And here in the new century, we're so afraid and so suspicious of love. We place far too many limits on who can speak of love or loss, on who we're allowed to love. As open as we are about so many things, we use the words for love with less and less assurance and--- increasingly ---with a hint of shame and suspicion...

I remember the neckcurls, limp and damp as tendrils;
And her quick look, a sidelong pickerel smile;
And how, once startled into talk, the light syllables leaped for her,
And she balanced in the delight of her thought,
A wren, happy, tail into the wind,
Her song trembling the twigs and small branches.
The shade sang with her;
The leaves, their whispers turned to kissing,
And the mould sang in the bleached valleys under the rose.
O, when she was sad, she cast herself down into such a pure depth,
Even a father could not find her:
Scraping her cheek against straw,
Stirring the clearest water.
My sparrow, you are not here,
Waiting like a fern, making a spiney shadow.
The sides of wet stones cannot console me,
Nor the moss, wound with the last light.
If only I could nudge you from this sleep,
My maimed darling, my skittery pigeon.
Over this damp grave I speak the words of my love:
I, with no rights in this matter,
Neither father nor lover.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Nineteen: A Walk In The Morning Light

There's a small kerfluffle around the web today about an ad from an "upmarket" chain called Harvey Nichols. The ad is simple enough. It shows various girls coming home in last night's party dresses on what's now known as the Walk of Shame. The point of the ad is that in a Harvey Nichols dress, you'll look both fashionable enough to be out at night but still elegant and professional enough to pass as in daytime attire--- thus avoiding the Walk of Shame look. It's a reasonably cute ad, but it has drawn fire both for what's now called "slut shaming" and for "class privilege". The second claim does perplex me, and I'm not sure how its proponents justify it, or just what privilege it is to shop at Harvey Nichols.

There is a difference between the dawn walk home for males and females. That much is true. I've walked home from young companions' apartments in the morning in last night's clothes, but I've never thought of it as a Walk of Shame. I'm more likely to think of it as a kind of victory march, and I'm likely to recite Housman to myself: Soldier from the wars returning, spoiler of the taken town.... I will add here that the victory isn't over the young girl I've left sleeping in her bed. The victory is over time and fate and entropy. Walking home with a jacket over my shoulder and a tie stuffed into a pocket, I do feel like I've won something, or proven something. But never at my young companion's expense. The goodbye kiss as I left her bedroom for city streets was heartfelt and had no small amount of thank-you to it. Walking home, what I feel is elation. If the world and all the passers-by can tell that I'm returning from a lovely girl's bed, all the better. I've defied time and age and social expectations, and I've been given a whole nested set of gifts: pleasure, certainly, and a sense of renewed life and potential.

I'm usually at coffeehouses early on Saturday and Sunday mornings, and there's always a steady inflow of Walk of Shame girls at the ones near the university--- hungover, tired, often carrying last night's stiletto heels. I can understand why they're walking. It's a close neighbourhood, bars and clubs and undergraduate apartments all together. (I've never understood girls having to do the Walk of Shame in places like London or New York; you'd think last night's partner would have the grace to offer cab fare.) I'm often amused by the girls--- who avoids her friends' eyes, who sits with other returning girls to share stories or commiserate, who's too hungover to do more than try not to go face down on the table. Amused, but never contemptuous. That's a distinction worth making. I enjoy watching them and inferring stories, but I don't feel contempt. I do feel envy, of course, the standard male wish that one girl or another had been in my bed last night. And there's always the fact that last night's party dress may be delightfully revealing in morning light. I can't deny that, and I'd never think of denying it. I will always turn the Male Gaze onto youth and beauty. But there's never contempt or derision. Why would there be?

Well, I still don't understand the "class privilege" attack on the Harvey Nichols ad. The remnants of the class system in Britain are as mysterious as ever the older system was. Is it only that the dresses sold there are expensive? I'll leave that for readers' comments. I will just say that I like seeing Walk of Shame girls--- though I certainly have no interest in shaming them. And while I think of my own dawnlight returns as a small Roman triumph, there's no reason at all why a lovely girl shouldn't stride home with her own sense of victory.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Eighteen: Sleeping Beauties

I read Kawabata's "House of Sleeping Beauties" years ago, and I have seen the German film version done a few years back. There's a new version out this season--- "Sleeping Beauty", with Emily Browning. The reviewer at New Yorker was very much taken with Ms. Browning--- certainly understandable ---but less than taken with the premise of the film.

The reviewer despised the clients in the film--- the older men who pay their money for the chance to lie there next to a beautiful girl who's been given a sleeping draught. "Foul and foolish" he calls them.  Kawabata's novella and the German film both had more sympathy for the elderly clients. Foolish, yes, in those versions. But also deserving of sympathy. Kawabata wrote the novella in late middle age, and he understood that age not only takes away one's own beauty and power, it disqualifies one from being around youth and beauty. I identified with his hero, just as I identified with the main character in the German film. A film made for Australian and American audiences here in the new century can't show any sympathy for the older men who purchase nights next to Emily Browning' s character. The politics of the day don't allow for sympathy for older men who'd buy time with a sleeping girl.

The reviewer at New Yorker disdained the whole idea of ritualised sex as well. He dismissed high-end, high-fashion s/m costumes as looking "like Victoria's Secret had been bought out by the Freemasons". He also found something distasteful in all efforts of males (meaning especially older males) to make sex seem "grand and sinister", efforts that he claimed only and ever emphasised how ridiculous ritual sex is and how pathetically ridiculous the men are.

We're back to Andrew Holleran's claim that "intelligence leads directly to s/m", I think. That's a phrase I've agreed with all these years. Well, more specifically, being literary and bookish leads to s/m, or at least to ritualised sex. I came to sex through books, and expected that all the actions and settings for sex would be like those in books I'd read. My young companions over the years have all shared that. The lovely girl sitting across a table and kicking off a ballet flat under the table to graze an ankle or a bare foot along her lover's leg learned that from somewhere--- a book, a film ---and is re-enacting a scene. And the seduction, the conversation, going on across the table is its own re-enactment of scenes read or viewed.

I have to have sympathy for the older clients in "Sleeping Beauty". After all, who am I but one of them? Though it is hard to imagine what I'd do with a girl--- however naked and lovely ---who'd been given a sleeping draught. Sex for me has always been based on conversation, on building up stories and exchanges as my young companion and I create scenes and try particular things. I can imagine kissing a sleeping girl--- lips and eyelids and all the places I've loved ---and I can imagine brushing fingertips over her. But penetration at all wouldn't appeal to me without conversation, without stories being exchanged. Paying for the services of a lovely girl is beyond my resources, but I have no moral or political problems with the idea. What I'd pay for, though, is the stories as much as the flesh or her skills with mouth and hands and hips.

I've always sought young companions who can tell stories with me, who can create worlds with me. A sleeping girl is a beautiful nullity. She's not even the girl in fashion/erotica photos. Talking to a sleeping girl isn't sex. It's only emptiness. I need voices to catalyse beauty, to bring beauty to life, to metamorphose beauty into stories and rituals.

Do I expect sex to be "grand and sinister"? That's not a bad idea, though I expect things less "grand" than simply crafted and literary. I can't imagine sex that isn't at least those two things. As far as I can tell, even sex that's nominally purely carnal and wordless and only about physical urges and acts is all mediated through what we've seen in films or read in novels about raw, overwhelming passion. I haven't been able to imagine sex that isn't about the artificial and ritualised and mediated since I was...in my teens? None of that dispenses with love or affection, mind you. But it does mean that we have a repertoire of acts and costumes and poses and words in our memories and imaginations that's based on books and films and photographs, a set of tools and references that we use to build up the worlds we need for love and lovemaking.

I want to see Emily Browning in "Sleeping Beauty". She's a lovely actress. But I'd want her fully awake across a futon from me, fully awake and going through a set of shared rituals. Costumes like "Victoria's Secret bought out by the Freemasons"? Well, why not? We'd both be aware of having constructed a world for intricate games. And I'd want her to respond to my touch and kisses with stories and carefully choreographed shared moves.

My age may make me ridiculous, though there are young companions who've found it an asset. I do have stories and a sense of craft to offer. I have a sense of safety in the dance to offer a young, literary companion. All sex may be foolish, though sex and love are always examples of where a bit of foolishness or even madness is welcome. But there's nothing "foul" here. I won't give the reviewer at New Yorker that.


Sunday, November 27, 2011

Seventeen: Season's Ghosts

The holiday season has begun, and I had a birthday just as Thanksgiving week began. Every birthday brings its own ghosts. I have enough of my own, I know. There are memories of other cities and other times, of lovely young companions from the past. Memory is a dangerous thing, after all. It's too easy to live inside memories, too easy to be trapped by them. Joan Didion has made a career out of pointing out that memory is always a trap, and that only selective amnesia enables one to go on with life.

A friend wrote once of a Christmas Eve where she was aboard a train from Chicago to Syracuse, listening to her iPod and sobbing helplessly in the upper bunk of her sleeping car. She was traveling away from one lost affair to a city where there was still the remembered pain of another. Another friend told me once that she'd spent empty nights wandering through Montreal, looking at her reflection in shop windows and wondering who this ghostgirl was, asking herself what--- in a short story, in a film ---this girl had lost.

Year's-end is a season for ghosts. Kisses on New Year's Eve, hotel suite weekends in a city lit up with Christmas lights, the ritual of parties and gifts... All those things are ways of dealing with ghosts, with the memories accumulated during a year. Year's-end offers a set of rituals for romance, but there's always a hint of desperation. That kiss on Christmas Eve, the stroke-of-midnight kiss as the crowds cheer in Times Square, the coatroom kiss at the party--- they're done to exorcise the bad memories of a given year, to drive away the ghosts of loss and solitude.

There are lovely girls there reflected in shop windows, lovely girls in long coats moving through the winter night, beautiful girls across a table in a restaurant--- and there are kisses implicit in their presence. As there should be, of course. But each one of them is a ghost for another year, just as you'll be a ghost in their memories.  We haunt one another, and we haunt ourselves.

That's one of the things to remember as the year gutters out.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Sixteen: The Reverse Of The Medal

A phone call inbound tonight from a young friend at Savannah. She called to ask me for literary advice, though there was something of the interview in it as well. Imagine, she said, that you were out on a date with someone my age. What drink would you order for them? That's not hard to answer. Jameson's on ice on a first date. But if the girl was someone I found truly compelling, then a good single-malt Scotch. There was bright laughter on the other end of the phone. Thought you'd say that, she said. That's always a thing older lovers do, isn't it: teach girls like me about Scotch. I had to laugh at that, though it is true. It is something I do. Something gentlemen of a certain age do.

I need to know that, she said. I'm writing about someone like you. I need to know what goes into being an older lover. I could imagine her sitting cross-legged on her bed with her new MacBook Air and her iPhone, glasses pushed up onto her forehead. It's complicated, isn't it, being an older lover?

She's probably right about that. That's something that does bear thinking about. There across a table, I'm the one who's the target of the gaze. I'm the one who's performing, the one with the established role. The young companion is the one reading me, determining what I am. I know what I'm looking for when I see a lovely girl. But there's always the mystery of what my young companion sees there on a first night.

That's a question I'll have to pose to young companions. It has to be separated from vanity; I think that's a clear thing to be wary of. But the gaze runs both ways. I want to read my lovely interlocutor's story when she's done with it. And I'd like very much to know how she reads the character of the older lover she's put into her story. I will be thinking about that, and probably writing about it here: what do I look like, what are my codes and semiotics from the other side of the table...?

Monday, October 31, 2011

Fifteen: Exchanges

A friend in London tells me that she'd dined late with an older admirer at someplace discreet and semi-private and, on the way to her admirer's car, some drunken lager lout staggering by pointed at them and called out, "So how much is he paying you, then?" They ignored him and walked on, but he kept calling after them, demanding to know how much she was being paid and adding the usual epithets. She wrote me about it this morning in a dark mood--- hungover a bit, but also depressed and unable to get the drunken chav's voice out of her head. I told her to remember that the fact was that, there the morning after, she was still fiercely bright and lovely and well-educated and someone who's done academia and the gallery world both, and the guy on the street was still a drunken yobbo.

My friend responded that she was depressed about her life. The man she'd been with had been older and moneyed, and she was angry both about being harangued on the street and about the fact that the insult was dual-pronged--- she'd been called a whore, and her admirer had been mocked as someone who could only attract her because he had cash. She was, she said, more angered by the insult to him and to the relationship  than by being called a whore.

I've never called a girl a "whore" as an insult. That's not something I've ever thought to use as an insult. I've never looked down on girls who are escorts or courtesans or who supplement a deficient income by accepting occasional clients. That never struck me as anything to look down on. But I do very much dislike yobbos (or anyone else) who'll use "whore" as an attack on a girl beacuse of her sex life, her attire, or her partner. There may be self-interest there, true. I'm always the older partner, and while I'm certainly not as moneyed as my friend's admirer, I'm nonetheless vulnerable to the assumptions behind the insult.

I've had friends who did the demi-rep or part-time escort or domme thing while doing university or postgraduate degrees. I've never had any moral objections to any girl who works as "professional companion". I liked the girls before ever they told me what they were doing, and all I've said is that I wanted to hear their stories and that I hoped the money was useful. I can't speak about girls who work the street or who work in brothels; I've never known any. It may be that I'm only supportive of the girls I've known because they shared educational and class and aesthetic backgrounds with me. Or it may be that to some degree I feed off their stories. I recognise that I'm vulnerable to criticisms like that.  All I can say is that the girls I've known who exchanged favours for money were (and are) friends, to be supported as friends.

Someone I knew once upon a time came to me and made a simple enough offer--- she needed money for rent and she was willing to either sell me one of her paintings or spend the night. I wrote her a check and pointed to the bedroom. The next morning at coffee she took the check out of the pocket of one of my shirts and looked at it and asked if we were still friends. Of course, I said. She started to laugh and told me that the one thing that bothered her was the thought that I'd chosen sex instead of the painting because I thought her art was bad. I had to re-assure her--- very honestly ---that I liked her paintings a lot, and that my choice was strictly based on my predatory tastes in much younger girls. We stayed friends, and over the next couple of years I did buy a painting or two. Did I pay for her favours again? A couple of times, yes. Did she ever buy me drinks or dinner? Yes, she did. I've always wondered how initially serious she'd been, and whether she'd only made the offer because she thought I'd never choose sex. Why did she go through with it? And why come by again? I suspect that a fair amount of that was being nineteen and proving to herself that she could do it, about striking a pose. I'd like to think that she found me to be a useful character in the stories she was telling herself. We neither of us ever asked if the sex would've happened if I hadn't written the check. I've always thought that the idea of taking the money was what made the sex work for her.  I never presumed--- I'll note that. I never assumed that the exchange meant that she and I were involved, or that I could count on sex outside of an exchange. We did hang out sometimes, and there was some drunken making out at bars, but we only had sex again the few times when I wrote a check. I don't know if she'd have been interested, or if that would've ruined the story she was creating, or if it would've ruined the friendship we had.

It's Halloween night, and a night for ghost stories. There are ghosts in my past who've been part-time escorts, or been in keeping, or turned the occasional trick to pay rent or pay for airline tickets--- in one case, to pay for a signed first edition. Well, I do want my friend in London to know that she has my support and belief. I have no idea whether her older admirer is paying her rent or offering up envelopes of cash or gifts that can be readily converted to cash. If he is, then...well, fine. I do want her to remember, though, that she has nothing to apologise for, and that whatever she has or hasn't done, she's still far superior to any drunken yobbo.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Fourteen: Mornings

The girl at the next table this morning had a copy of Wings of the Dove, a Penguin edition with a yellow USED sticker on the spine. This was downtown, in a small coffee shop adjacent to two of the new boutique hotels. Very early, and only a handful of people on the street. She was dressed as one might expect (or hope) for a Sunday morning, in a mix of last night's clothes and a few things obviously pulled from the backpack by her chair. I sat over my own cappuccino and tried to read her semiotics.

Some things are easy. Alone at a coffee shop near trendy hotels so early on a Sunday morning is an easy call. Not with a regular boyfriend, or they'd have come  down together.  Not with friends who'd come into the city--- same reason. The book is an identifer: the yellow sticker comes from the university bookstore. That it's a later Henry James novel says something about her major and how far along she is at university. What says more is that she had it in the backpack. The backpack itself is another undergraduate marker, as well as place for a change of clothes. She was planning on staying the night, and the novel reinforces that. Walking alone through the hotel lobby at seven in the morning in last night's cashmere pullover and a pair of wrinkled olive-drab chino shorts, shouldering the backpack, she was striking a pose. Sitting over coffee with Wings of the Dove, she was elaborating on that: the literary girl on a morning-after, a girl who'd brought a serious novel to read after leaving her gentleman companion sleeping back in the hotel room.

Harder to get a read on whomever she was with. He could simply be an out-of-town boyfriend, but then, why wasn't he staying at her rooms rather than hotel? If they'd rented a room as a romantic gesture, why wasn't he with her? She wouldn't bring the backpack if she planned to go back up to a hotel room.  For my own very obvious reasons, I'd like to believe the sleeping companion back in the room was significantly older. Someone she'd met and spent the night with before. Someone she was keeping as a secret-- after all, she isn't letting him walk her home, or even to a taxi . Out-of-town, obviously. Moneyed enough to afford the room. Married...not necessarily. Would there be money involved? Again, not necessarily, though I remain attracted to the idea of the envelope left for her on a table (hotel stationery, I'd think) with the bills inside. She might not be doing it to help with tuition. It might simply be her way of proving to herself that she could do what girls in novels and films do.

Of course, there are now two strands of stories being told here. The girl at the next table reading Henry James is telling her own story. The backpack, the book, the choice of Sunday morning-after clothes are all parts of the story she's telling the city around her, and telling herself as well. I'm telling a story for her, too, even though I know that I'm re-fashioning her  tale. My instant hope is that the man sleeping back in the room is at least twice her age, and probably more. I have to hope that, if I'm ever to imagine her leaving my own rooms on a Sunday morning. I think about the envelope with cash because I like the idea of a lovely undergraduate girl who'd do that as a kind of performance art piece, or as a tale she could embellish and tell to half-shocked friends in later years.

We tell stories about the people we see; we invent lives for the ghosts who pass us by. That's actually a small trope in Zalman King films, in Wild Orchid and Delta of Venus. The main characters sit in a restaurant or walk through early-morning Parisian streets and build up imagined love lives for strangers. 

Tell me, then--- how do you read strangers? What stories do you tell about strangers on the street, about the couple or the solitary lovely girl at the next table?  What are the stories you want to live inside yourselves?

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Thirteen: Ghosts

I do wonder about the past sometimes. I wonder what became of the young companions from the past--- the girls I danced with, the girls I flirted with, the girls I kissed on late-night streets. I've always had a good memory, at least for scenes and moments. It's easy enough to think back across all the years and  remember  faces and names and locales. I do wonder what became of those girls--- the ones known en passant as well as the ones who were friends-and-lovers.  I do have to ask myself, of course, whether I'm wondering about them because of who they were or because I'm wondering what became of characters in a novel after that final page. I may only be wondering because I want to re-live those years and those nights. What I can say is that it's all-too-easy to recall faces and the taste of kisses and the music that was playing, and I do wonder what happened to those girls beyond the moments I can recall. Assign any reason you'd like, but I still wonder.

If you live in a city, no matter its size, you will cross paths with ghostgirls from the past. City life is always a series of small neighbourhoods and entwined networks. Six degrees of separation may be a global median, but it's always much smaller in city life. Class, professions, favoured bars and bookstores and bistros, neighbourhoods...so few degrees of separation in our lives. You will see faces you once loved...or at least awakened next to...and you have the issues of etiquette and social settings to consider. I believe that current gender politics has very little to offer in terms of situational advice beyond the assumption that ever speaking to an ex or thinking about one is somehow a gender-crime and tantamount to denying subjectivity or obsessional stalking.

I won't deny that it would be easier if all ex-lovers were translated to separate or parallel universes and never existed in one another's world again. The issues of politeness and social interaction are difficult enough. Memory and regret, unrequited longing, anger, possessiveness, jealousy, familiarity--- all those issues are there. Familiarity is always a dangerous issue. It's dangerously easy to respond to a voice you've once known, or a laugh, as if time had never passed, as if the person was still who and what she was years ago.  Yet being guarded and coolly polite, making the sort of distant conversation one makes with strangers, seems wrong and perhaps insulting.

We live amid our ghosts. That's only a given. Those of us who live in and through books and films are especially prone to seeing the ghosts that swirl around us.  A gentleman of a certain age  has more than a few ghosts of his own to see. I suppose I should ask you what you think of your own ghosts, of how one deals with faces out of the past. Any thoughts or memories of your own?

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Twelve: Preferences

Desire enters at the eye, but it passes through so many levels and pathways before it's ever confirmed. Everyone has preferences, though I'm catching hints out there in the world of gender politics that preferences are regarded now as suspect. Preferences are regarded as exclusionary and as just a bit tainted. No preference, I've seen it asserted is ever "innocent". That's an unsettling choice of words. The clear implication there is that any preference is guilty, that anyone having a "type" that he prefers (and it's always a "he" under attack here) is accepting all the evil things about the culture. To have a type, the gender moralisers tell us, is to accept stereotypes and devalue the subjectivity of...well, you can fill in the ranting speeches.

I suppose I have to ask myself whether I have a type. My preferences aren't hard to determine. I like my companions much younger. There's no question about that. Tall is better than short. Slender and sharp-angled is always preferred. I've always been attracted to that look, and I can recall being twelve or thirteen and always looking at photos of actresses and models and choosing in my head the ones who were tall and greyhound-lean. I'm old enough to remember Twiggy, and how shocking her cohort was--- Twiggy and Jane Birkin and the young Marisa Berenson. Models were never very curvy, let alone zaftig--- curves distort the lines of the clothes being displayed ---but long, lean, coltish lines ("boyish", magazines like Playboy sniffed, with just a hint of panic) were still new when I was coming into puberty.   Still, that's a look I always preferred. I can remember taking silly multiple-choice quizzes in magazines that promised to tell you what your taste in female body types told you about your own personality and being informed that I couldn't be a "real man" since I didn't like "real women" with hourglass figures and D-cups. Well, my own tastes were formed by age twelve or so. I like to think that the culture changed to meet me rather the other way round.

If I were designing the perfect young companion, what would she look like? Tall, obviously. Long legs are a clear favourite. I'd prefer blonde to anything else. Yet preferences are just that, they aren't requirements. The tallest girl with whom I've been involved was just over six-one; the shortest was just five-one. The two I've loved most over the years were five-nine and five-eleven. Blonde would be the choice, everything else being equal, but again not a requirement. The two girls I did love most had raven-black and light chestnut hair. I grew up in an era where hair colour was endlessly variable, after all. Girls who were ash-blonde on Monday might be goth blue-black on Friday and add a few scarlet tips or streaks for Saturday night. I liked that. I liked the idea that looks could be changed and re-visioned; I liked the idea of colours that weren't "natural".

If I do have requirements--- stronger than preferences ---well, age might be one. Take that as a given. The others have to do with what's back of the eyes. Literate and literary, ironic, open to new ideas and a bit in love with crossing boundaries. A sense of play. A sense that one should live one's life as if inside a novel or a film. Those things I have to insist on.

And your own preferences, darlings? What do you prefer and require?

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Eleven: Voix et Livres

I do have a certain fascination with classic erotica. Books, of course. There's the whole bibliophile attraction of collecting classic erotica--- things from that demi-monde of privately published editions in lavish bindings. Of course, the problem is that you're collecting the idea of a book; the text itself isn't all that important. Which may well be all to the good. The list of erotica, of erotic novels and memoirs, that can actually bear reading (let alone re-reading) is very, very small.

There was a time in my life when young companions asked me to read aloud to them. It's certainly a romantic enough idea, reading aloud to a girl curled up against you on a couch or in bed. I've read things by favourite poets--- Rilke, Cavafy, Wallace Stevens, Eliot, Pound ---aloud to lovers. I've read poetry aloud, but it's hard to imagine reading erotica aloud.

I suppose a more contemporary thing might be to watch DVDs of erotica with a companion, but the same set of problems applies. There are films that one can imagine watching with a young companion, but it's a short list: "The Lover", "Henry and June", certain Zalman King films, the French version of "Story of O" from the early 1970s, possibly "The Dreamers" or the 1997 "Lolita". There aren't too many more. The idea of the shared experience with the films would be to set a mood, to seduce and entice. But so far as I can tell, there are far too few films that actually set a mood, that don't just become trite or repetitive or silly.

Technology has made it actually more difficult to set a mood via music. When I was young, every young gentleman had a stereo system and could discuss the components and specifications. One played vinyl for a visiting young lady. One set the mood with jazz or classical or blues; one defined one's tastes with suitably hip and obscure tracks. Even when vinyl turned to CDs, the idea was the same: the girl curled up on the couch with a wineglass, her gentleman admirer playing music for her. That's not done so much these days. Music is on iPods and laptops; fewer people have stereo systems. I suppose I'll put that as a question: how does one set the mood now? Whatever are the guidelines for playing music as part of a seduction?  Do girls in their late teens or early twenties expect to have admirers play music for them as part of a seduction?

I'll pose this as a question. What counts as music for seductions these days? Does anyone even remember Juliet Greco or Miles Davis? Any girls reading this are invited to comment, too, on what they'd imagine having read to them by a lover. I think I'd be quite interested in that.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Ten: Prie-Dieu

I saw a photo the other day at Tumblr: a lovely girl, obviously naked, bending from the waist in front of a shadowy male figure. The caption read, "Good Girls bend the knee, Bad Girls bend at the waist". Clever line, though I'll admit that it took me a moment to catch the prie-dieu reference, that "Good Girls bend the knee" was about kneeling to pray. That may reflect on my own experiences with lovely girls who kneel (yes, some of them in schoolgirl uniform) or simply be about how long it's been since I've been in a church.   And males all through the Western world (and Japan) are programmed to think of lovely young girls in plaid-kilted uniforms kneeling for purposes that don't involve prayer--- that's just a given.

A friend--- a social-media maven and a fairly well-known sex blogger in her own right ---sent me an e-mail to say that "Kneeling should not be ignored as an essential component of sex. No position is more submissive, none more idolatrous." I can't disagree with her, though I think some distinctions have to be drawn. She grew up in a Peruvian patrician family, and her own teen experiences did involve both kilted uniforms and Catholic churches. And s/m has clear links to Catholic culture--- thus the author of "Story of O" consciously drew on "Letters of a Portuguese Nun" and on the idea of submission to a higher power, of yielding up the self. (So...is there an equivalent Zen colouring to s/m in Japan, or am I expecting too much of the idea?) Yet distinctions have to be drawn.

The lovely young girl kneeling to a lover is deliciously submissive, and I've certainly had girls (yes, sometimes in uniform) kneel in front of me. But I've never thought of it as a girl submitting to me. A young companion can kneel and still toss her hair or raise an eyebrow in a way that lets you know that she's submitting to the game, to the experiences that come with the game, and not giving up anything essential. And even in Catholic imagery, submission can be as purely instrumental as it is for sex games. Submitting to the older lover, submitting to God--- they're both instrumental: pleasure and salvation are both supposed to be waiting on the other side of surrender. I've had various girls over the years tell me--- sometimes with a shrug, sometimes breathlessly ---that they were "very submissive". I've always known that was about a role, not about me. Submissiveness was a tool to acquire experiences and, down the line, pleasure for themselves. Which is only fair, after all. I wouldn't think of not going through with my part of the exchange. Kneeling to a lover is never about giving up anything essential. But it is a powerful role and symbol--- a Good Girl proving to herself that she can be Bad.

The second half of the line--- "Bad Girls bend at the waist" ---is always a wonderful thought. A lovely girl bending at the waist and grabbing her ankles in one supple motion while she waits to be taken is something that I do love, an image that makes me catch my breath. So many things are encoded in that: transgression, submission, physical grace, a hint of risk. It's a pose I always hope young companions will strike for me.

The photo at the Tumblr site was lovely--- or at least the girl in it was attractive ---but it did lack the grace and power that a girl bending to grab her ankles should have. Still--- a caption that I did like, and one that brings back memories and offers up a Grail for the future.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Nine: Transmissions

There's always the question of what the more romantic way of communicating with a lover might be. I'm certainly fond of the telephone. Voices late at night, whispers and sighs, the exchange of stories and memories, the ability to flirt and seduce... I do love the telephone for those things. So much of what I am to lovely young companions is based on the things I can say, on the stories I can tell. I love long conversations late at night, and I love a girl's voice out there in the dark. I'm told that telephone conversations are fading from fashion, though. That's a generational thing, I think. There's less and less incentive to go beyond 160 characters on a screen, and I do find that sad. I remember nights on the phone for hours--- though I'm also old enough when "long-distance" was expensive and talking to a lover in another city was a sign of serious interest.

Telephone conversations have always meant a great deal to me, though I suppose in so many ways I miss actual love letters. I miss sitting late at night with a pen and stationery and crafting love letters. I miss the permanence of a love letter. Love letters, if they're done right, end up treasured and saved. They end up bound in ribbon and stored away to be read on bittersweet nights a decade later. Looking over a girl's handwriting from another decade, another city, brings back memories in a way that a phone conversation can't. The old word "quiddity" is involved here. A love letter is concrete, something to touch, a talisman for summoning up memories. And of course any love letter is a manuscript, a story, a set of images and hopes that can spin out for pages. I always like that. I like the idea that a letter is always a kind of novel, something that can be re-read and amended and added to. No one writes letters any longer, and more's the pity. I do miss that--- writing late at night to a lover while music plays in my rooms. I even miss the girls who wanted to exchange letters in character, to create personae and situations for us to write one another about.

I don't really enjoy text messages at all. Too brief, too awkward. And too many people fall into the trap of txt msg speak and abbreviations. I really don't sext at all. Not because it's vulgar, but because it's just awkward. I'm not a skilled typist, and I'd be embarrassed to send sexts that could be criticised for grammar and spelling as much as content. I have to say, too, that none of the ideas and images I'd deploy in a seduction are easily reducible to 160 characters. Sex for me is always about complicated images and baroque encounters: not something one can easily reduce to a text message. A message that reads I want you now should by all rights be followed within moments by one that reads Come over now! or At your door, buzz me in.  The rest of the night would proceed without smartphones at all.

Someone wrote me to say that she thought a text message reading Admiring office intern, imagining her in your stilettos. Be wearing nothing but those when I return home would be a delight to receive. Someone else commented that the message was cliched and trite. Well, I can enjoy the inferred backstory to the text, and I can smile about how it's all very Zalman King a vision. Myself, though, I'd bring the intern home. Stilettos have their place, and I love what they can do for a girl's legs in a short black dress. But the naked-in-spike heels look has never been a major image in my fantasies or in what I ask girls to wear.

I haven't received a sext, or even a deeply romantic text message, in a while. Sexting is just a skill I've never much thought to acquire. It's phone calls and letters that I prefer. But should a young companion ever text me something seductive,  I think a good way to begin might be something like This is a sext from my Past. Seventeen, school uniform, panty-free at Upper East Side cafe--- wish I'd known you then. Kisses from 2005. That I think would be a very good way to begin.

So what indeed would you send me, and what would you hope to receive in return? Any thoughts?

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Eight: Events

A young companion was discussing the difference between 'porn' and 'erotica' with me. I'd written about that, and she and I were talking about my ideas  on the difference. She told me that while she appreciates some classic erotica-- yes, "Story of O"  ---as literature, in the end she preferred porn. In porn, she said, at least something happened.  Well, I think she was talking more about film or video than about books, since in "O." lots of things happen. But she does have a point. There are films that get categorised as "erotica" that are lovely to look at and filled with beautiful people in elegant settings.  Let's say "The Lover" or Zalman King's version of "Delta of Venus". And, yes, the characters have sex. But there's no clear checklist of events, and the focus isn't on the mechanics of what the characters are doing.  My companion laughed about some of the films in the "erotica" category. Very pretty, yes--- but she wanted, she said, things she could use.

I do understand that. I came of age in an era when porn was in print, not on video or on the web. I'd read accounts in porn novels about what exactly the characters were doing and how exactly they were doing it. When I first saw video erotica and video porn, I already had lists of activities to explore and some idea how the mechanics of those things were done.  What video gave me, or to be precise, what "erotica" on video gave me, was a set of aesthetic and class markers. Places, fashions, locations, styles mattered to me in an aspirational way. A Zalman King film came with lovely soundtrack music and with catwalk-slinky high-fashion girls  in exotic and expensive settings.  The world of the film was more important to me than the sex itself.

My young companion had grown up on Vogue and its overseas progeny. She already knew about fashion and decor long before she ended up in my bed. What she wanted  was a guide to particular positions and activities. She knew what things should look like; she'd grown up in a social setting where fashion was taken for granted. She needed to know how things were done and what kinds of sexual activities were possible.  We both needed lists, just of different things.

I did show my companion some of the feminist criticism of porn that attacked the genre precisely for providing those checklists and for somehow making girls think that porn-sex was "authentic" sex. The critics' argument was that girls watching porn would feel compelled to do things that were somehow wrong in some politcal or therapy-culture way. My young friend was baffled and irritated. She told me that she the reason she was watching porn was quite openly to discover new things to try, and she tapped a finger on my chest and said that it was bloody well partof my job as her older lover to introduce her to new things. Well, yes, that's true. My role is to offer up possibilities. She knew very well even in her  plaid-kilted school-uniform years how to dress and move and pose and choose designers and boutique hotels. She'd grown up being taught those things. What she wanted in her life was events; she wanted to have things happen.  As much as I needed the world where things like Zalman King films are set, she needed to work through checklists of things to do.

We all collect things in our lives, we all aspire to things.  You want to look back and know that you've been certain places, done certain things, played certain roles. It's no more inauthentic to try a certain set of positions because you've seen them in porn than it is to want to go to Japan or Paris because you've read about them in travel memoirs or seen films set there.  Life is about things happening, about experiences that we can have and then turn into stories.  That's worth remembering. Life is about things that happen, and anything that offers how-to advice is valuable.  

Friday, August 26, 2011

Seven: Handbooks

A friend told me last night that she was always amazed at how people react to her fantasies and fetishes. So few, she tells me, are really shocked even with her more extreme interests. There will be some initial hesitation and then a headlong dive into things that her lovers end up doing with her over and over.  I could only tell her that it doesn't seem such an odd pattern to me. Isn't that how people come to like single-malts or Stilton or sashimi?

She has had hostile comments about the things she likes, though not from her partners, potential or actual. Moralisers and a certain kind of feminist have attacked the things she likes (no, not s/m, or not exclusively). She was told that the sex she likes isn't "authentic", and she's been told that it's all the fault of porn. That's apparently an idea that has some currency these days.  There's a writer called Gail Dines who's made a career by arguing that something called "porn culture" is lurking out there to corrupt "true" sex and replace it with the "inauthentic". My friend was told that she only likes what she likes because "porn culture" told her it was sexy and acceptable. The charge seems to be that my friend was enslaved by the evils of "porn culture" and degrading sex through her MacBook screen.

I used to laugh at the the Victorian idea of a girl being "corrupted" by books.  Though I suppose that in some sense I was corrupted by books. "Story of O" gave me a picture of a kind of world filled with style and elegance and decadence and the forbidden. And a host of other novels gave me a picture of how one should live and dress and act, of worlds I might aspire to one day inhabit.  I had my own list of fantasies and fetishes long before there was porn on the web--- long before there was a web.  I still give my young companions books that I hope will intrigue them and give them descriptions of things that delight and arouse and amuse. That's my job as Evil Older Predator, of course: to tempt and seduce.

Well, the Victorian idea is still laughable, of course. No one has ever been ruined by a book. Not even Emma Bovary. Books open up worlds and suggest that this world, this place, these acts and morals--- none of it is the only way things can be. Books offer possibilities.  If nothing else, they make the half-formed things in your imagination concrete.

Octavio Paz once looked at all the how-to sex guides in a Los Angeles bookstore and laughed that "only a gringo thinks he can learn to fuck from a book". Good line, but not true. I learned about sex and the styles that go with it from books. Books let me know that there were worlds and experiences worth pursuing, and they gave me a sense of what was possible.

Porn on video or the web gave my friend something of the same experience. When she was in her early teens and first exploring what she liked, porn on the screen wasn't something that told her that this was the way things had to be. Porn showed her that people actually could do  some of the things that she half-imagined. Porn gave her things to try, both to accept and to discard.  It allowed her to know that there were possibilities out there to explore.  I can't see how it ever made her tastes "inauthentic".  I hate the idea that some kinds of sex aren't "authentic". I first tried single-malts because of characters in novels, and now they're my signature drink. I'd never have found something I really enjoy without those characters--- spies and exiles and Oxbridge dons ---showing me something worth exploring. The same is true of sex, both for my friend and for me.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Six: Optics

Desire enters at the eye. That's an old, old truth. We desire first what we can see. Dr. Lecter makes that point to Clarice, and I'm tempted to repeat the dialogue in his voice. First principles, Clarice... Beauty enters at the eye, and desire enters with it. We covet first that which we see.

This takes us to the presumed evil of the male gaze. I know the background of the term--- Laura Mulvey applying Lacan's idea of the Gaze to feminist film theory. I know too that Mulvey herself has written that she never quite intended the term to become an indictment. But there is a hostility abroad in the world of feminist theory to the idea of looking. To be looked at is to be objectified, to look is to assert power. Well, to look is to begin to desire; that's inescapable.

There are writers who take the idea further. I've read books where exploration and travel and science are all treated as suspect because the idea that the world is there to be understood is regarded as an assertion of power, control, and "entitlement".  Who are you, they ask, to want to know the world and what's in it? I cannot begin to tell you how ridiculous I find such writers to be.

Desire enters at the eye. I know that it does, and I know that I look at the world and find things worth desiring. I will look at the lovely girl entering the room, and I hope that she recognises it, and that she feels something like tribute offered to her beauty. I may well never know her name, never speak to her, but I want her to know that her beauty is valued.

There's one set of objections to the male gaze that dislikes valorising beauty. To admire physical beauty, the argument runs, is to value only "appearance", and not essence. Well, desire is based on what we see. We don't desire what we can't see. My gaze lights on the young and lithe and elegant and long-legged. Those qualities are what I desire. Beauty is about striking a pose, about knowing how to strike a pose.

Every morning as I walk through city streets to office, I look out at the world and re-arrange it in my mind's eye. I use the bits and pieces for stories in my head. The world is all there in my gaze. And I'm glad that there are beautiful things. I'm glad that lovely girls move through my field of view. I desire beauty, and beautiful young companions. And even for those girls that I'll never speak to and never have, I'm simply glad that they're there. I do desire them, and that won't change. But even if my desires remain unrequited, they add beauty to my world.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Five: Hooks

My friend tells me that when she hears the term "NSA sex", she always thinks "National Security Agency sex". So do I--- needless to say. When she wrote me about that, we immediately began to develop the concepts of cryptographic sexting and cryptanalytical sex. She has long legs and this perfect deadpan expression and martini-dry wit--- all reasons why I fell in love with her in her plaid-kilt schoolgirl days, and all reasons why we're still friends and why I trust her to always know my thoughts.

She did ask me to write about the "hook-up culture"--- she'd just read Tom Wolfe's novel about a co-ed whose virtue is imperiled by contemporary undergraduate life. She missed the "hook-up culture", she tells me. True enough, since at eighteen or nineteen she was with me. That put her into a very different kind of novel. Wolfe's "I Am Charlotte Simmons" is full of New Victorian moralising; our novel was about delights and depravity. She was never an ingenue, and she didn't allow me to be the villain I was expected to be.

Some years ago I found a book at a local library called "The Hook-Up Handbook".  I wasn't quite sure what to make of it. Was it supposed to be funny? Sexy? Censorious? I never could quite decide what pose it was trying to strike. I take for granted that parties and clubs are all about trying to find sexual partners. And I take for granted that undergraduates and twentysomethings do go out looking for sex. However not? Youth, being away from home, the full flood of energy, the craving for excitement and new experiences---- all those things are just built in to the undergraduate experience.

The New Victorians and the moralisers seem to forget that sex is a powerful physical thing, and that sex can be an adventure, a pure physical rush. Why is it that it's acceptable to feel edgy or restless or bored on a Friday night and decide to go run five miles or swim laps, but that going out to find an attractive partner and have sex 'til dawn is a Major Social Problem? Sex that's about a release of energy or a way to relieve boredom or stress, sex that's done purely for excitement or to have a new experience challenges the rules that more than a few groups want to impose.

As a gentleman of a certain age, I'm probably not as driven to seek out partners as I was at eighteen, but the drives are still there. Lust doesn't evaporate when one leaves one's twenties. It's harder to seek out new experiences--- I've worked my way through most of the kinds of experience I was hoping for at eighteen. Still, every new partner is a new world, and I'm someone's new experience every time a young companion has an adventure with me. There are still nights when I'm restless or on edge or melancholy and need the rush of physicality.

Aging roués are usually cast as the villain, though often with a hint of the sadly comic about them. These days, too, roué-hood carries a weight of disapproving DSM-IV and gender-studies terms. One has an obligation to one's young companions, the same obligation one had as an undergraduate. Be someone's adventure. Offer someone excitement and as much delight as you can. That's worth remembering. Names aren't always important, phone numbers aren't always exchanged. What matters on hook-up nights, what matters in seductions in hotel suites, is that there is a sense of adventure and a rush of delight. Physical release or a sense of playing out a script or a rather intricate game--- sex can get you there, and it's perfectly acceptable to want to go to just those places.

I've never understood what's now called "slut-shaming", and I've never taken sex to be something deeply "spiritual" or sacralised.  I am fine with what's called "hook-up culture", and I'm fine with the idea of sex as something one can do just for the rush, the same way someone might do a 5-K run or hang glide. Just...make it an adventure. Make it a novel or a film. Look for delights and construct games and scenarios that offer up excitement and a sense of the new and thrilling.

There will be nights when you need that rush, or when you just need to desire and feel desired, or when your body just needs release. Accept that. Look inside yourself for how you want those things to be structured. Sex against a wall behind a club with an attractive stranger? Going up to the rooms of someone scandalously older? There's a time for both. And both can be adventures, can be part of the stories you'll keep in your head.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Four: Strings

An old and very dear friend--- the younger companion who, all these years later, remains the gold standard against whom I measure any girl in my life ---raised an issue in a recent e-mail. Is there such a thing as NSA sex? she asked. Is there really? That's a complicated question.

There was never the chance of NSA sex with her, of course. She was very much someone I loved from the beginning and wanted to be with. And even when she was still in a plaid prep-school kilt, she and I were on the phone every night, talking 'til dawn.

I've had experiences at parties or clubs that didn't involve names or deep soul-baring conversations. I've made out with girls or had sex with them when it really was like the Ke$ha line: you know I don't care what your middle name is. Party games, dance clubs, lots of vodka and designer drugs. Which is perfectly fine. That was all about physical release or relieving the boredom or feeling daring. What I will say is that I've never dismissed anyone the morning after a seduction.

I'm a creature of habit. I like my experiences repeatable. If I like eating at a certain restaurant or seeing a certain film or hearing a particular song or reading a particular book, I want to be able to repeat the experience. I am a creature of habit, and of favourites. Once I like something, I want it there in my life. The same is true of people. I can be fiercely loyal to friends and lovers, and I like having them there in my life and knowing that someone I've cared for will be there for new moments.

Seductions are adventures and treasured rituals and engaging games all on their own. But if a girl has played out a seduction with me, if she has spent time with me and talked across a table or across the night aether with me,  I'd like to have her stay around. That's not a need for monogamy or deep passionate romance, and I can't deny that convenience may be involved. But it does mean that I respond to anyone who can share conversations and games with me. I love the new-ness and adventure of a seduction, but I like knowing, too, that I can have value enough to be someone's repeatable experience. I hope to be valued enough for a young companion to appear at my door and tell me that she's not quite sure why she isn't appalled at herself, but that she isn't afraid and really does want to try that Argentine malbec  or Czech absinthe again.

There are strings there, even with casual FWB girls. However gossamer they may be, there are strings and I weave them myself. However not?

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Three: Sous-Vêtements

My friend at USC tells me that I should devote an entry to what she calls "the underwear issue".  Well, there's no issue at all here. I prefer my young companions never to wear any.

That goes back to "Story of O.", a long time ago. I'm sure you know the scene. It's right there in the opening pages, before O. is taken to Roissy. She's with her lover in the back of a limo. He tells her to take off her underwear, raise the back of her skirt, and sit directly on the seat. Later, when she's been "trained", she's told that she will never wear underwear again. I read that at fourteen or fifteen and was amazed. I'd never imagined that people--- girls ---might do that. But I knew I found it incredibly sexy, and I knew that was what I'd want from girls always.

The no-underwear rule has become a signature thing for me. It's something I've asked girls to do since ever I first had lovers, and it's very much something I've come to insist on with young companions.

It is about ease of access, though it's not just about that. Girls who've been out with me in potentially revealing outfits--- short skirts, low-cut jeans, slit skirts ---have told me that there's a thrill of risk there, and there's a feeling of awareness, of being constantly aware of themselves, of how they sit or stand or bend. Feelings, too, of both vulnerability and the exaltation of having a secret. I've known girls who didn't wear underwear simply because they found it more comfortable, but even there, they told me that there was a difference in just pulling on jeans with no underwear on an ordinary day and in doing the same to go to a party or a club or on  a date. Sitting in class like that could be just about comfort or not having done laundry. Going out like that--- "going out" in the social sense ---was about having a secret, something that potential admirers or partners didn't know about, something that had the potential to be revealed, to surprise.

My friend at USC tells me she hasn't worn underwear since high school. She's forgotten how, she says. She does give me credit for encouraging her, and I'm glad I offered her support. She believes in the delights of having a secret, and she loves the idea of being in seminar discussing Russian lit and culture and knowing that her outfits are always worn next to the skin. How can I not be thrilled?

I will encourage my young companions to give up underwear, at least when they're with me. It's a signature thing for me. No one has ever been appalled or repulsed or horrified by the request, and I am pleased with that. There is a rush in sharing a young companion's secret while we're out for drinks or dinner and in seeing a mix of challenge and pride and delight in her eyes when she wears dangerously short skirts out with me.

Two: Silk

A lovely friend who's at USC right now asked me to write about silk scarves--- a taste she and I both share.

I've always been fond of scarves--- keffiyehs, too. I like six or seven-foot university scarves worn in winter. I've always liked the Oxbridge-undergraduate look, the blazer worn with the long scarf in college or club colours.

White silk scarves, though... White silk scarves are a high-utility item. They go well with black bomber jackets or car coats. Yes, it's the fighter ace look. Or the chevaux-leger look--- the beau sabreur. Something dashing, anyway. Works for girls, too.

White silk scarves, my friend at USC says, are an accessory every wicked girl should have. I do agree with her, even if she is quoting Sharon Stone's character in "Basic Instinct". Every lovely girl with a taste for games needs a few white silk scarves on hand. And I always keep one or two in my rooms for when young companions come to visit.

Blindfolds and bindings--- the white silk scarf works perfectly for both. Purpose-designed blindfolds have something too much of the sleep mask about them. And handcuffs lack grace. A friend in London tells me that her own Gentlemen Admirers bind her with climbing ropes, but I'm not athletic enough to own rock-climbing gear and I've never mastered knot-tying. Silk scarves eliminate any problems with knot-tying. It really doesn't matter if they're knotted at all. Just looped and lightly tied works best. Tying a lovely young companion is about ritual and symbol, not about the actual restraint. Silk makes that point, and silk leaves no marks on wrists or ankles. A mark should be something negotiated and something that requires its own rituals. It shouldn't just be an accident of friction. I might also add that with silk scarves, there's no danger of losing the key.

Silk always carries connotations of elegance and grace. Think, now: a long-legged young companion in tailored, narrow-leg black trousers and a white silk shirt worn open to the waist, French cuffs undone. Worn next to the skin, of course, just as the trousers should be. The semiotics of the outfit are about elegance and the way something fluid as silk is nevertheless austere. Add a man-tailored black jacket and a white silk scarf.

Silk is a caress, and yet in Ottoman days princes and viziers were executed with silk scarves. Silk implies  open cars at speed, or aeroplanes from the 1920s. (The fate of Isadora Duncan has to be borne in mind, of course) Silk is grace, and yet silk is fantastically strong. And white silk against dark-tanned skin is a clear signal of allure.

I've never liked my young companions in lingerie; that's one kind of silk that's not part of scenes in my rooms. A man's shirt worn alone--- white or blue Oxford cloth; a young companion wears that n my rooms and then sleeps naked. But scarves, now. Always scarves. Those are accessories that every lovely girl should collect on her own, and accessories that every older admirer such as myself should keep on hand. Anyone can keep riding whips; I certainly do. But handcuffs and ropes will never have the aesthetics of silk scarves, and they'll never match the multiple uses of white silk.  My friend in Los Angeles and I certainly share that view.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

One: Distinctions

I'd asked friends what topics I should address here, and an old and dear friend in Jax asked me to talk about the differences between erotica and porn. Well, that's not a bad beginning topic. After all, I am a bibliophile, and I do live surrounded by books. So let's just begin there. Whatever is the difference between erotica and porn?

The quick and cynical answer is the difference involves money and class markers.

Erotica is...expensive porn. Erotica is porn that's expensively produced and marketed. Or porn that's set among the rich and beautiful. Or porn that's accessed in ways that emphasise class markers--- expensive editions, expensive techniques of production. But there's something else, too: the idea of abstraction and self-consciousness.

When I was fourteen or fifteen, I acquired a copy of Pauline Reage's "Story of O". Yes, that was the white-covered Grove Press edition, the one that's still in print, the one that was sold in hip bookstores in university neighbourhoods. I'd heard of the book. It was a title I'd seen mentioned in discussions of Grove Press, which was itself a class marker. Grove in those days was the American press that specialised in translations of the Parisian literary underground. They did editions of Beckett, they did editions of surrealist works, they backed the Evergreen Review, which was the hip art review of the late 1950s and early 1960s. That's a whole set of class markers on its own. I knew that "Story of O" was "an erotic classic" and that it was French. I took a copy home from a tiny bookstore filled with exactly what you might expect--- Beat novelists and poets, French and South American existentialists, utopian Marxist and anarchist books. I read it and was just...stunned and amazed.

"Story of O" is of course the s/m classic. Sitting in my room that first day, I had no idea what it would actually be about; I'm not sure that I quite knew what s/m was. Of course the book was a major sexual awakening for me. It opened up avenues of sexuality that I hadn't quite imagined. I knew porn existed, of course. Now this was long before the internet, and long before video. There were porn novels, of course. Pulp tales in cheap editions, usually with solid-colour covers. I knew those were on spinner racks in bus stations and convenience stores in bad parts of town. I knew those things existed, even if I hadn't read them...or read more than one or two (and we won't discuss the possibility of shoplifting here). "Story of O" was...amazing and different.

The s/m scenes in "O." are classics of their kind, of course. And it's almost a cliche--- the number of girls who claim that reading "O." in high school changed their lives. "Corrupted" is the word the Victorians would've used. But there's more to it than the sex, hot as those scenes are. For me, "Story of O." opened up a second set of fantasies, something past the sex. You know the idea. O. is taken into a secret world of hidden chateaux and private parties and elegant townhouses and converted abbeys in the old-money parts of Paris and environs. And O. herself is a fashion photographer by trade. Even before she's taken into a world of wealthy men who own her, she moves among the beautiful and stylish. "O." wasn't just about girls being whipped and chained and violated, it was about secret worlds. The novel deployed class markers just as much as it deployed images of subjugation. "O." was aspirational--- it was about a whole parallel, moneyed world with intricate rituals.

There's the literary aspect, too. And not just the style and the grace of the writing, though those things are class markers, too. "O." made clear reference to things like "Letters From A Portuguese Nun", to French high lit. The story came with a pedigree, and one its readers were expected to know. It came with theory built into it, and that was part of its power.

Porn is instrumental. It's written to get the reader off. Erotica is designed to make the reader think about the idea of getting off. There's a level of abstraction there that bus-station porn didn't have and didn't bother with. There's a distinction there worth exploring, and one that was something to do with the definition of art. Porn is about producing an immediate effect. Erotica, like self-conscious art, is about making you think about the idea of an effect. Erotica wants the reader to be aware of what's being done to create an effect. There's something of that in high-art painting, where the viewer is supposed to be aware that what he's seeing is a painting, that the painting has a history and that the artist is aware that the viewer is aware of what's being done to create an effect. There's a self-consciousness in erotica that isn't there in porn. And there's a presumption that the reader has the time to consider that self-consciousness, that the reader has time to apply knowledge about lit and art to the work.

So many of the usual list of erotic classics are about s/m, and s/m is always the intellectuals' fetish, isn't it? It's about abstractions, about theory and scenarios. Even the costumes and equipment are designed to abstract participants from the mere physical sex and into ideas. And s/m is an expensive sexual taste when done the way it's done in lit. That's no accident, I think. Which makes me think of another class marker, too. Erotica, whether s/m or not (though s/m offers a clear example), also has time built in to its stories. Beautiful locations, beautiful costumes, elaborate scenarios and games--- those things don't just take money to access, they require time. Time to prepare, time to play out. And here in the new century, having time is even a more of a class marker than money.

So...porn v. erotica. Do you have an instinctive grasp of which is which? Do you know it when you see it? I'd be interested in your thoughts and views. I've talked a lot about s/m here, but I think some of this applies to other things as well. David Hamilton's photos from the early and mid-1970s are beautiful and dream-like and breathtakingly erotic. But it's not just that they're lovely young girls naked with one another in the Provencal countryside, and it's not just that soft-focus is some kind of criterion for saying "not porn". It's that Hamilton's photos are supposed to make the viewer instantly think of their pedigree, of paintings and poetry that deal with the same kinds of image...and that Hamilton expects the viewer to know about, say, Pierre Louys. Erotica is about sex, but it's less immediate than porn. It adds that extra step of self-consciousness.

There are other images that occur to me. High-fashion erotica, of course--- e.g., Helmut Newton or the work Jeff Dunas and Rebecca Blake did in the 1970s. Again, there's the idea of self-consciousness. Money, too, yes: expensive hotels, distant cities, elegant houses. But always that intermediate step between the image and physical arousal, that small disconnect.

Tell me what you think. What defines each for you?

Ein Vorspiel: By Way of Introduction

These entries are the notes of an aging roué: dry thoughts in a dry season.

I am a gentleman of a certain age. I live in an urban downtown, on the edge of a park with a lake.

I was born in one of the older cities of this country. I was educated at good universities, though I did not attend Trinity Hall, Cambridge, nor the College of Charleston. I have traveled, though I have never lived in Knightsbridge nor the 7e or 16e Arrondissements of Paris. I have never served in combat nor hunted big game. Politically, I am rather on the Left, though not invariably so.

I am not and never have been a religious believer, though I appreciate religious ritual and art. Seneca's description of religion ("wisdom by the commons, false by the wise, useful by the State") seems both perfectly apt and good policy.

I am a roué. There are other, less pleasant words for that now, but that's something we'll discuss later. I have been known to describe myself as "libertine, but never libertarian".

I prefer my Scotch single-malt and my companions younger. We'll discuss that later, too.

I play chess, though I prefer backgammon. I do not play bridge or poker.

I have never been married; I have no children. I live in what my counterparts in mid-Georgian London might think of as genteel poverty. I do live amidst books.

My attitudes are (I hope) more eighteenth-century than Victorian. My beliefs are shaped by postmodernism and post-structuralism.

I intend to write about a number of issues, though sex and its social and cultural aspects will be key to these entries. This is not however a sex blog. It is not a place to brag about conquests. That is unseemly for anyone male (e.g., various dude-bro/frat-boy blogs), though memoirs of adventures and encounters by lovely young women are quite engaging. As a gentleman of a certain age, my entries will be fairly abstract. I am often fascinated more by the ideas of things than by the things themselves. I will be writing here as an observer, and if I sometimes play the raconteur, I hope never to play the braggart.

I appreciate civil conversations and exchanges. I stress the word "civil", and discretion is both expected and given. If you'd like to read along, or to engage in discussions about my entries, you are invited. Here in the early days of this blog, suggestions about topics are welcome from lovely readers.

Every writer has an imaginary reader in mind. It shouldn't be hard to guess the attributes of the readers I hope are out there, though wit and intelligence are chief amongst the things I'm hoping for.

Please--- read along.