Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Eighty-Eight: Nightcalls

Halloween is coming in a few days. It'll be a Thursday this year, which is an awkward day for a holiday. Whatever anyone does on Thursday night, there's still Friday (work, classes) to get through.  Thursday night parties lead to Friday hangovers with no chance to sleep late, and a Friday morning post-Halloween Walk o' Shame is awkward indeed. Sitting hungover at a coffee shop in last night's Halloween costume on a Saturday or Sunday morning at least guarantees you'll be in good company. Coming home in last night's costume through crowds of office-bound day-dwellers is just a bit embarrassing.

Still and all, I like Halloween. I like it because it's an autumn holiday, one with lots of memories of childhood autumns. I like it because it opens the holiday season that takes us to year's end. And I like it because it's one of the trio of holidays that are about sex and delights.

Halloween as a holiday for children is one thing--- that's ghost stories and candy corn and candles inside jack o' lanterns. But Halloween for university girls and twentysomethings is about throwing off inhibitions. It's about slutty costumes, and well it should be. Halloween is a chance to give yourself to the night and to physical desire.

New Year's Eve and Valentine's are about sex, too, but in very different ways. Valentine's is about structured romance and the rituals of romance, and it's about romance as social display. New Year's Eve is about a kind of elegant, melancholy abandon. Kissing a beautiful stranger at the tick of midnight on New Year's Eve is about saying goodbye to another vanished year and about hoping the kiss will be a kind of magic for the new year. Halloween is something much more immediate, something much more basic. Halloween is about physical desire. It's about lust, and we need holidays that celebrate lust.

We've forgotten about lust, and about how powerful and exhilarating it can be. Or maybe not forgotten--- maybe we've become afraid of it. Lust and desire aren't about a cost-accounting view of life. They aren't about rational planning, or about understanding the "deeper context"  and "genealogy" of things. Lust and desire are immediate. They're about immediate pleasure and immediate need. We're afraid of that now. We're afraid of the irrational in pleasure, afraid of risking our carefully-constructed social selves for pure adventure and physical delight.

We do need more of that, though. We need a holiday that is about slutty costumes and adventures and losing oneself in the night. We need holidays that proclaim that just for the night, the rules are suspended and that you're free to just seek out pure physical delight.

It will be a bit awkward this year. Friday may be a bit awkward--- hungover, yes, and an odd kind of speed bump before the weekend. But I think that Halloween needs to be valued as one night when you can dress up as someone seeking immediate pleasure, one night where you can shed a daytime identity and take up new masks...or throw away the mask you wear all day.

There are three days in any year where we celebrate the different aspects of sex and romance. Halloween isn't about chocolates and champagne, or about sympathetic magic under the ticking clock. It's about something much about pure id, pure adventure. Value that--- value that and go explore. You can stay home later and watch "Arsenic and Old Lace" or "The Trouble With Harry". Take Halloween night and go explore physical delights and all the things you can be or create.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Eighty-Seven: Compliments

I note that the actor Russell Brand is drawing fire from the usual quarters this weekend for having told an interviewer that he'd written a very political article because an attractive girl had asked him to do it. Needless to say, all I could do was sigh. Doing something because a lovely girl asks you seems to me to be the perfect reason for doing pretty much anything. It's certainly been the reason why I've done a great many things in life, and very, very few things are as persuasive as a beautiful girl.

I do wonder these days, though, about telling a girl she's beautiful. There seems to be a view out there in the gender warriors' world that says that beauty itself is a deeply suspect category and that telling someone she's beautiful is an aggressive act that erases all her "deeper" or more "fully human" or "important" qualities. Well, I'm not disposed to get into all that right now. At least I'm not disposed to get into the politics of it all. Though I do wonder what the current rules are for offering up compliments to beauty.

Oh, yes, rules. I believe in them. I believe in social rules. Rules and procedures are one of the great inventions of human society. They do make it easier to get through life, to know where you stand and what's expected of you.  They smooth the edges of social interaction and keep you from having to constantly re-invent the wheel.  And they keep you from over-thinking and over-analyzing--- and that's something whose importance you can't ever overstate.

But how do you pay compliments these days? I'm not talking about cat-calling here--- not at all. I'm talking about flirtation, yes, and also about just paying tribute to beauty.

I can remember being something like fifteen and seeing a very attractive girl (certainly older than I was, probably in her early twenties) walking across a parking lot in a very short dress one summer day and agonizing over how much I wanted to just say, "You have beautiful legs!" I was far too shy to do that, and I've regretted that all these years. I did want so desperately to say that. If I had said it, I didn't expect her to instantly offer me sex. I didn't want to say it to demean her or make her feel powerless. I wanted to say that because I was just so...aware...of how she looked.  Being fifteen or so is an age when suddenly the world is full of beauty, of reminders of beauty and sex. I wanted to be able to say something, to acknowledge how amazing it was that the world had girls who looked like her in it.

Did I want her to notice me back? Well, I was younger and shy, and I certainly had no faith in my own looks. I knew that she wasn't going to throw herself at me because I'd complimented her legs. If I'd said it--- if I hadn't been afraid of her being offended or mocking me ---and she'd smiled and nodded as she walked by, I'd have been exhilarated all day. But I didn't expect even that. The point would've been to say it for its own sake.

What did I want her to feel? Complimented, I'd hope. I'm not used to ever receiving physical compliments,  and I don't have experience at accepting compliments. But I would've wanted her to feel good about herself,  to feel good about her presence in the world. I had no idea what her day had been like or what she was thinking about behind her sunglasses. Maybe being told you have great legs on a day when your job is awful or depressing things are happening means nothing at all. Or maybe it does. Maybe it does make a glum kind of day some tiny bit better. Maybe it reinforces feeling good on a good day. Sometimes I think that a compliment from a passing random stranger would be the best kind of compliment--- after all, it's not given out of social obligation or out of any hope of advantage. (Again, not cat-calling--- simply a compliment)

"You have beautiful legs!"  That doesn't imply that you're not smart or thoughtful or skilled at your job. It doesn't say that those long, slender, sleek legs are your only assets. It just says that you do have beautiful legs. It's a small compliment. And of course it can apply to other things--- lovely hair, lovely eyes, even great wardrobe. I would've said it because I was walking across a parking lot and saw something that held my attention. Here was a lovely image on a summer's day--- someone I'd never know, someone whose life was intersecting with mine for twenty seconds as we passed ---and I wanted to say that the image was beautiful.

I was too shy that day at fifteen to say anything. I've certainly told other girls down the years that they had great legs or great eyes. Beauty matters--- I believe that, and I believe that beauty should be complimented. That doesn't mean other things shouldn't be complimented--- professional skills, intellect, knowledge. But there should be a way to say that you find someone attractive, that you find them visually appealing or aesthetically pleasing that isn't taken as somehow reductive or demeaning...or at least hasn't been re-defined as those things.

It's important to salvage the ability to offer up compliments. Courtesy is part of that; politeness always matters. Let's take that part of things as a given. But we do need to salvage the ability to compliment beauty, to salvage the ability to value beauty. Those things are important, and we need to guard those abilities and set out clear procedures. Any ideas on what they should be?

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Eighty-Six: Specifications

There's a lovely girl not far outside London with whom I correspond. We've exchanged letters and e-mails for almost three years now, and she's been quite kind and charming and supportive. I've had a birthday call or two from her, and she does send me mp3s of songs she thinks I'd like (yes, very good tastes). When she writes, she calls me "beautiful boy". That always makes me grin. It's a lovely thing to hear, and it's so delightfully absurd. After all, she knows my age quite exactly, and it's been a lifetime--- almost her lifetime, anyway ---since I could be called a boy.  I'm certainly not complaining though. She's made surprise calls where I've picked up and heard her voice with that lovely Received Pronunciation accent saying, "Hullo, beautiful boy..." All I can do is feel amused and very, very pleased.

It's a silly thing, I know. A lovely posh girl a few thousand miles away calling someone of my age "beautiful boy"? Of course it's silly, but it means a lot. I'm not someone who gets compliments that have any connection to beauty, so of course it means a lot.

I read an on-line piece today asserting that males in contemporary America have very little ability to accept physical compliments, or to imagine that they might be physically desired. Men, the article says, are used to being judged on how useful they are, and they have no real idea of how they might be sexy or sexually desirable. They're certainly not used to being given compliments, the author claimed. In his lifetime, he wrote, he'd had a woman compliment his physical appearance twice--- once every twelve years of his adult life. He couldn't imagine a woman wanting to see him naked.

Whatever problems I have with the article, I did have to think about the idea of compliments and desire.  I pay lovely girls compliments; I always have. It's part of flirtation, part of roué-hood, part of the social graces expected of a gentleman born in the region and city where I'm from. I'm all-too-aware of beauty and desire on any city street here in early autumn. Thinking back, though...I have to agree with at least part of the article. It's hard to recall girls complimenting me on anything physical, and it is very hard to imagine ever being desired for anything physical.

Lovers and young companions who've complimented me have always focused on the things I know. Girls who've been attracted to me have been attracted by the things I know. That's the classic exchange, always: youth and beauty exchanged for knowledge and experience. Even when I was young, though, girls who liked me told me that I was smart, not that I was handsome, let alone hot.  A couple may have told me that they liked my eyes, but that's as far as that went. A girl in my undergraduate days told me one night in her dorm bed that I had wonderful hands, but I knew she was talking about being touched and caressed and not about anything to do with physical beauty. Once, not so very long ago, a young companion in a hotel bed in another city looked at me and offered me a particular physical compliment--- something that should've been a line in some "erotic romance" ---and I did kiss her and thank her, though my memory was good enough to know where she'd acquired that phrase: I'd once told my young companion that a girl in some sex blog I'd read had written about her latest lover's...attributes...and she'd used those exact words. Well, I did appreciate the thought. Not a compliment that I could believe, then or ever--- or maybe just not one that I'd be willing to believe. Nonetheless, I did kiss her and thank her. She may have just been offering up a quoted compliment she thought I wanted or needed to hear, but it mattered that she'd made the effort.

I can agree that I know what it's like to feel useful, but I have no idea what it's like to be desired, or at least desired as a body. I know how to be seductive; I have no idea what it's like to be desired. Part of the limitation there may be that I'm straight. I've read enough early Andrew Holleran to know that there may have been swoony physical desire in the gay world of the 1970s, but that's outside my range of experience. Desire itself I know--- the noonday demon, after all ---and I know what it feels like to have my eye light on a lovely, long-legged undergraduate girl at a coffee shop or walking down city streets. I know that breathtaking is a word that can have a very literal meaning. I know about what it's like to reach across a bed and caress and name all the elements of a beautiful girl's body: those long, slender legs, those hipbones, that long bare back, the arch of those cheekbones.  I have no idea what it's like to have a girl look across a bed and find any physical part of me alluring. At this late stage, it's unlikely to happen.  I do wonder, though--- what is it like to feel desired, or to believe that one is worth being desired?

I once told another London friend that if ever I had an on-line dating profile, I'd insist that the profile picture be a solid black square. The text would emphasize things I know, or at least emphasize intellectual interests. I'd have no idea at all how to present anything physical. I'd certainly have no idea how to respond to physical compliments, and I can't imagine receiving any.

Beauty matters. Beauty is worth tribute. I believe those things, and I do sigh over beauty. Yet I can't imagine beauty that isn't female. I certainly can't imagine that I could ever be sighed over, or that I might be taken as desirable for anything I am in the flesh rather than for things I know. I have no idea what it is to be desired as a body. I can write about desire, and I can certainly experience it. I can look at beauty as it whispers by and feel physical desire. Being male, though, or being male and being who and what I am, I can't be desirable or desired as a body. I have my virtues and uses, but I won't meet any criteria for being looked at and desired. My very lovely young friend in the Home Counties calls me her "beautiful boy", and I do smile, though I fear the smile is more about the absurdity of it all than about accepting admiration.