Wednesday, February 17, 2016

One Seven Two: Story Arcs

I've been thinking about stories I'd like to see told.

You know a few of the ideas I've had in my head about erotica. The web and e-publishing have offered up new opportunities for erotica, though I'm not at all sure that the stories out there have touched on tales I'd like to read.

There's the classic s/m tale, of course--- the one where the lovely and innocent young girl discovers the submissive in herself and offers her body up to experience and pleasure through submission and erotic pain. That's "Story of O", of course, and a tale I've loved since my early teens. I've read it in all sorts of permutations, read variations suffused with all the different levels of consent and ecstasy-through-suffering. "Story of O" remains the classic, mind you.  More than half a century on,  nothing else comes close.

Still...whatever became of the reverse tale? Where is the tale--- one no less dreamy and romantic ---about the young man who becomes a dominant? In s/m novels, the male dominant (at least in hetero-erotica) always appears full-fledged, handsome and implacable, cruel and sexually adept. Usually moneyed as well--- after all, dungeons and accoutrements are expensive. But where's the tale of the young man--- intelligent, literate, educated ---who learns to be the one tightening the blindfold and wielding the whip? Where are the long talks he has with the girls who draw him onward? Where are the interior monologues where he tries to reconcile sexual pleasure with fear of being a cliche or a deeper fear of actually becoming abusive? Where are the comic moments of dealing with recalcitrant knots or trying to buy riding whips while the equestrian-shop clerks look on, smirking? Where's the moment when he has to take a deep breath and risk telling the lovely girl across the table on a first date what his tastes are? Where's that scene--- the boy terrified of terrifying the girl, the girl intrigued and amazed and a bit afraid, the two of them trying to use expensive liberal arts educations to talk it all through? (Yes, it does need Whit Stillman's touch and Greta Gerwig's voice)

Alec Waugh--- Evelyn's brother ---did a forgotten tale back in the late 1960s called "A Spy in the Family". It was a very clever little s/m comedy--- thirty-ish wife of a very grey British civil servant discovers herself as a bisexual dominatrix and becomes both domme and a successful agent of Her Majesty's Secret Service. You might find it in a library somewhere, and it is worth tracking down. It's a story I enjoyed, and one I need to read again. It has some of the conversations I'd want to hear--- the what-does-this-all-mean-about-me discussions, though done in a marvelously elliptical British upper-middle way. I do wonder, though, what those same conversations would be like between two reasonably hip people in America now.

There's a tale I do want to try myself, if only as an exercise. There's a website that archives hundreds--- quite possibly a few thousand ---erotica stories submitted across the last twenty years. The stories are organized by genre and topic, which usually means activities and kinds of partners. There's one genre called "celeb-parody" that gets a fair number of stories--- the author's stand-in gets to have sex with the actress/model/singer who obsesses him, or things happen to degrade/punish the female celebrity for not being with the author.  You get the picture. I've only seen one or two where there's been some attention to background, to the central figure herself. I do think there are possibilities here, though. I don't have any taste for revenge tales,  mind you. I can't see writing one of those.

Yet I would like to try a story where a lovely model ends up briefly with someone utterly alien to her world. There's no plausible way to make it anything more than a one-night or one weekend thing, of course. It's even hard to find ways for someone in her job and career niche to have a night away from her entourage and assistants, to find ways to give her a free night. The challenge is to find some plausible way to bring the characters together and watch them talk themselves into a one-night stand. His motivations aren't difficult, though he'd have to be terrified of getting it wrong, of ending up vilified  and mocked on social media or of having her lawyers calling. She couldn't be presented as vapid or slutty or just drunk or on drugs. It couldn't be like that. She'd have to be someone intelligent and self-aware, someone who'd be able to understand why she's doing this--- and make the reader believe it. I'd want to show the two of them talking, to show the two of them deciding that this was worth doing, and that they could live with themselves.

He'd be older, of course. Yes, he'd be me, or a close approximation. Did you ever think it wouldn't be? The next morning, he'd smile ruefully and tell her how Letters to Penthouse it all was (she's in her early twenties--- she probably wouldn't remember Letters to Penthouse) and she'd shrug and tell him it was only weird because of her job, that in any big city  out there there'd been dozens and dozens of random hook-ups between totally incongruous people the night before. Oh, I know who I want the central figure to be (you're free to guess), and a little research at YouTube makes me think she has the intelligence and the voice to be the figure I'd imagine. I may do the story just as an exercise. The erotica itself is likely to be secondary to the two characters talking themselves into bed. I may well have to try this. Let's see if I can still tell stories somewhere outside of my head.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

One Seven One: Hearts

Today is Valentine's. It's  a celebration that I wish I could like more than I do. I'm well aware that it's currently regarded as a slightly silly faux-holiday, and I'm very well aware that it's regarded as problematic by the gender warriors. Ms. Flox, who's one of the few sex bloggers I find worth reading, has dismissed Valentine's--- and Steak & BJ Day, its semi-serious March equivalent for males ---as both ridiculous and somehow oppressive. Nonetheless, Valentine's has the power to make me melancholy.

I enjoy rituals and formality, of course. I like the clear guidelines for social rituals, and I like it that social rituals are goal-oriented. There's a clear goal to social rituals, an everything is about checking the boxes on the way to the goal. A graduation ceremony, a Mass, a wedding service, a funeral, a formal dinner party: clear goals, and clear steps to reach the goal. Once you begin the ritual, you say the right words and make the correct gestures and the protocols carry you through to the end. I have to like that.

Valentine's, I always believed, was about the formal presentation of romance. That matters to me. The romance itself is important, yes, but I like the formal, ritual presentation of romance.  Just as New Year's Eve is a night for champagne and stylized kisses at midnight, just as where you kiss someone on New Year's Eve matters at least as least much as who you kiss, Valentine's is about dinner and drinks as a couple, about stylized gifts, and about sex infused with the power of ritual. You can have champagne and chocolate truffles any night of the year, but 14. February has the special power of ritual. Ritual has that power, you know. A gift given on 24. December or on a lover's birthday has an aura that makes it very different from one given on a random night, no matter how heartfelt the gift may be.

Presentation matters. Restaurants and museums know that, and it's no less true for romance.

I suppose that Valentine's is a FOMO thing. Being alone on Valentine's means missing out on socially-assigned rituals of romance. It means missing out on the aura of high romance. It mean missing out on one night where romantic gestures are encouraged, and where all the accoutrements of romance are on display. You're encouraged rather than just allowed to make stylized gestures. Whatever happens physically, in bed, isn't just sex or lovemaking on 14. February.  It's regarded as somehow qualitatively better, as occurring on a higher level of style and passion. And of course having a lovely girl agree to be your Valentine's date is a way of affirming your own social value. You've been judged by a beautiful girl and found ritual-worthy. What could be better?

I'm sitting here on a Valentine's night typing on my laptop rather than holding hands across a table while champagne is poured for the two of us. I'm sitting here all-too-aware that no one in this city found me worth being with tonight, that I didn't fit anyone's idea of a romantic partner for the evening. No champagne in my glass, no chocolates shared. No warm, silken, taut, tanned, bare flesh to caress--- no lovely young companion's bare thigh under my hand in the taxi or under the table.  Well...I am all-too-aware of my failures. I'm missing out on the actual physical experience of romance, I know. But missing out on all the social proofs of romance--- the ritual of chocolates and champagne, of dinner and passion in stylish locales ---may be worse.  Missing out says too many things about your social value, about whether you're worth the time and effort for a ritual of romance. That makes14. February more melancholy than any birthday or New Year's Eve spent solo.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

One Seven Zero: Landline

I own two phones. I have an iPhone in my briefcase, and there's a small cordless landline on a table in my flat. I'll confess at the beginning that the iPhone is rarely turned on. I don't encourage calls to my mobile number. I use it for very occasionally calling out and for its web connection. I don't use the camera, and I dislike texts and texting. Texts have always seemed intrusive to me. They demand an immediate response, and I dislike that kind of demand. A text is limited to some fairly small number of characters; it's not a way to have the kinds of conversations I enjoy. Texts are for a handful of basic exchanges---- meet me at ________, call me at __________, what's the address/phone number? I don't send photos via text, and I almost never receive a photo.  I like conversations and telling stories, and texting isn't a way for me to do either.

That leaves the little landline. No one has landlines at home any more; that's just taken as a given in Millennial circles. I can't imagine not having one, though. I'm a gentleman of a certain age, and in my youth not having a phone at home was very socially suspect. Respectable people had telephones in their houses or apartments. That attitude is still with me. The mobile in my briefcase is something I'll always see as an accessory, as something just a bit secondary, something that's a bit frivolous or trivial. My real phone is there on the desk, and there should be a listing in an actual paper telephone directory.

A few years ago I read an on line article that said that landlines were making a bit of a comeback in places like Brooklyn. They were retro, yes--- having a 1950s-style desk phone or a 1960s-style Princess phone was hip. And hipster girls (and aren't attractive young girls always the arbiters of what's socially acceptable?) were starting to see a certain value in landlines. The article said that landlines were taken as a marker for stability, for saying that a boyfriend or potential boyfriend wouldn't just vanish. I like that attitude, of course. I can't escape the idea that having a landline is a social marker.

The landline will always seem like more of a connection than the mobile. It's far more an instrument for telling stories.  It's far better for flirtations and seductions as well.  I've never quite grasped the idea of sexting. I'm a painfully slow typist, and sexting doesn't allow for the things that would make the exchange work for me--- descriptions of place and time and costume, long complex accounts of what's happening or should happen. If there's going to be flirtation and seduction, it has to be structured like a novel. It can't be just blunt, direct questions in text-speak. If there's anything that kills the mood for me, it's poor grammar and text abbreviations.

I've no idea what the social status of phonesex or flirtation and seduction by phone is these days. I've noted before that any male participation in the Solitary Vice these days is regarded as pathetic or creepy, and in the age of the gender wars asking a girl to participate in phonesex is almost certainly regarded as a violation and an act of oppression. My suspicion is that even if the girl initiates the call,  the gender warriors would see it as "problematic". After all, a male is participating, and by definition he'd be pathetic and regarded as a loser. And revealing one's fantasies to a girl would be regarded as an act of aggression.

A 20th-c. poet (Muriel Rukeyser, I think) said that our lives are made up of stories, not atoms. Stories matter far more than flesh. Flesh can be turned into stories, but it's the stories themselves that last all down the years.  I can't imagine flirtation and seduction that doesn't grow out of stories told late at night over landlines. It's always a image I treasure--- voices crossing back and forth over landlines, stories told by phone in the post-midnight dark of a city bedroom, stories and exchanges that last until the dark turns dawn-blue.

I have to wonder, though, what the social valences are these days for long flirtations by phone. Does anyone stay on a mobile for hours? Are long telephone conversations still something that can be regarded as erotic? Tell me what you think--- here in the new century, is phonesex--- not sexting ---still an acceptable thing? What are its semiotics?