Friday, August 26, 2016

One Nine Zero: Pasts

A lovely friend who lives in New Zealand hinted for years that she had a dark secret that she'd been keeping. I'd make guesses, of course. Most of my guesses were very dark, which says more about me than about her. When she was maybe twenty-eight (she turns thirty-one in December), she did share this, about the older lover who's haunted her life:

I can't stop fantasising about my uncle (for clarification--- he's my mothers cousin, but I shall refer to his as my uncle for convenience). He must be...62-ish now. He's tall and tan and solid. He owns a pub in the outback in Australia. I first met him when I was in my mid teens, he taught me how to blow smoke rings, we drank sambuca and we fucked. Now I can't stop thinking about the last time I saw must have been 2008? Or 2009? It was at a family funeral. When I saw him after the funeral I went up to him and hugged him. Brushing my hands around his waist, I felt something like an electric shock. 'Hey there, beautiful' he whispered in my ear, then kissed my cheek. An hour or so later I noticed him watching me, and nodding his head towards the bathroom. I swallowed the rest of my gin & tonic and walked ahead of him. I was wearing black heels and a black skirt. After he shut the door, he ran his fingers up my thigh, lifted my skirt and kissed my bare cunt. 

I need him again.

She expanded on that a few nights later:

it has been years. but there will never be anyone else. i met him when i was 17. not so young, i suppose. but give me a girl at an impressionable age and she is mine for life. cards on the table, right from the beginning. first cousin once removed is the technical term. and thirty years between us. our first night together i was drunk. sambuca flowed through my veins. but it was electric. i knew at the time it was different to anything i'd ever felt before. i didn't know that i'd never feel anything like it since. it was a cheap motel room. we fucked countless times that night, then the next day he flew back to australia. a month later he flew me to his pub in the outback. we had a whole month together. to date, that was the longest time we ever spent together. i started to understand that it was love. we'd pour drinks at his bar all night, then take a bottle upstairs with us. we would drink and talk until dawn. the sex was amazing. he went down on me for hours.  i'd had men before...but not like this. i felt so powerful, so needed, and so loved. 

we've been together all over the place. vancouver, tokyo, auckland, sydney, the outback, fiji, wellington. we steal long weekends. we fly each other wherever, whenever we have the chance. for a long time i wouldn't let him cum in my cunt. my mouth was fine, preferred. i got over that though. its been ten years now. and nobody touches me like he does. nobody looks at me like he does. he is the only man i want, and i can never have him. 

“The only obsession everyone wants: ‘love.’ People think that in falling in love they make themselves whole? The Platonic union of souls? I think otherwise. I think you’re whole before you begin. And the love fractures you. You’re whole, and then you’re cracked open.” 

and i have tried to not let it consume me. i slept with men his age. boys my own age. girls. there is only him. i've had long-term boyfriends, who thought nothing when i flew to fiji for a 'girls weekend' and spent four blissful days with his tongue in my cunt and his arms around my waist. when i flew to vancouver with friends he arranged to be there for a weekend too...i told them i was catching up with my uncle, and had his hand in my cunt in the lift up to his hotel room. another time we were together for four nights in auckland. we stayed at a house in devonport, and it was like this 'what we could have been' experience. we cooked for each other, and read aloud to each other. we played cards, and mixed each other drinks. we walked around naked. we bathed together. we came together all week. it was agony to catch the plane home after that. 

he is my addiction. we're a chemical reaction. 

“The only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it.” 

some nights i stay up late, drinking straight bourbon and smoking. habits i learnt from him, of course. they aren't my only bad habits. on those same nights i might cut and purge. i didn't pick up those habits from him, but i'd say he inspired them. it would kill him to hear me say that. what we have together chokes me. it annihilates me. it is everything, yet it can never be anything. how did it end up like this? i was young and drunk, our first night together should have been just that, a drunken regret. not the start of an affair which would come to both doom and define me. 

and a few weeks ago i got a text. i will see him soon. 

this is my secret. 

I read those two e-mails and sat back with a drink and tried to decide how to react to her story. I don't find the travel implausible. She's from a posh family, and she grew up taking travel for granted. I know her family's place in Wellington society; I know the firm where she works. I know her tastes in older men--- I'm one, after all. I had no way of knowing how true it all was, but it was all quite plausible. Accept it as true--- I decided that she wasn't making it all up after a few bourbons. What I felt was...well, jealousy of course. Obviously jealousy. She's haunted my thoughts for years, and I can only wish that I could evoke that kind of romantic obsession in her. I wish I could mean that much, for good or bad. So of course I felt jealous.

It says a great deal about me that I read "Sambuca" and let my mind go to the last time I'd had Sambuca. Years and years ago, in an Italian seafood restaurant in Vienna of all places. I thought about her description of Sambuca flowing like electricity through her veins. I tried to recall the girl I was with in Vienna and what the sex had been like for us that nightWhat.  It says a great deal, too, that I was a bit disappointed about her clarification of who her older lover had been. "Uncle" is simply far hotter in this context than "first cousin once removed"--- a status I couldn't begin to define or diagram. If she had to be with him, he should've been her mother's biological brother. The vision of an incestuous affair is hotter than simply a years-long affair with a much older man--- even if the older man happened to be, well, me.

What I felt was a mix of jealousy, envy, and depression--- a toxic enough cocktail. Jealousy that I wasn't the older lover she could obsess over. Envy that she got to fly to distant cities and carry on an affair in elegant hotels and exotic settings. Depression that I wasn't likely to have that kind of amazingly literary obsessive romance in my life ever again. Jealousy, envy, depression--- I used to note that mixture as JED in my paper journals, and note that it never ended well, that it was always associated with self-destructive time in my life.

It's certain that the thing that makes her stories most painful for me to read is that I don't have stories of my own right now to match hers. Her past is full of stories, and this season I can't imagine that any of my own are as good as hers, or ever will be again.

I've spent my lifetime living through stories, living inside stories, aspiring to be part of stories. JED is the dangerous and corrosive feeling I get when it strikes me that my days of having worthwhile stories to tell may be over. I always see sex and romance as being about the stories one gets to inhabit, the stories one gets to trade with lovers, the stories that one uses in seductions.

I love the stories my NZ friend tells. But I do sit alone and recognise that I'm not likely ever to have stories worth telling a lover again.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

One Eight Nine: Holmes

Downtown on a Saturday morning, watching sleepy-eyed co-eds and young twenty-somethings drift into the coffeeshop by the river. Bright and surprisingly hot so early--- a morning for iced coffee rather than anything hot. The girls I'm watching are on their way home, threading their way through older, empty streets and construction zones back to their own rented rooms or to the new condos in reno'd buildings along the river streets. I can sit at a corner table with my own iced coffee and a stack of books from the tiny downtown library branch and try to read faces. I suppose it would be a novelist's feast, watching the faces of Saturday morning Walk o' Shame girls--- so many stories in those expressions.

Twenty-odd years ago, there was a Zalman King "version"--- a very, very free "version" ---of "Delta of Venus". It actually wasn't so bad on its own terms, and it's worth watching. It just wasn't Anais Nin in any way--- take that judgment however you wish. There was a fun scene where the two leads walk through Paris streets in that odd Phony War autumn of 1939 and try to construct stories for passers-by. They sit in cafes and do the same--- watch the other tables and construct whole lives for the couples who flirt or bicker or sit silently. Well, I liked the girl who played the lead in the film; I'll admit that. I did like the idea of sitting with a lover and constructing stories. That's one of the things I've loved, and one that I wonder if ever I'll do again.

Walk o' Shame stories for sleepy-eyed co-eds--- always a lovely chance to see what you can do with imagination and deduction. I won't refer here to all those moments in Sherlock Holmes stories where Holmes deduces a whole life from details. I hated those moments, really. Far too arrogant, and I was never a Holmes fan. I'll always admit to using imagination more than deduction. I'm turning the girls at the coffeeshop tables into characters in a story, not assessing them as potential clients or criminal suspects.

Sleepy-eyed, I always say. If they've been with lovers, they should be sleepy--- they should've been having sex 'til not long before dawn. Hungover a bit, too. What's sex without vodka shots or bourbon on the rocks? Pensive, sometimes--- you can see the girls thinking about whether last night was a mistake or a disappointment, thinking as well about whether last night was a one-off or whether there's an affair beginning. Sometimes you can see them wondering about how to explain to roommates that they slept in a new bed last night. Once in a while you do see smiles--- they liked the guy, liked what they did, enjoyed the sex. Sometimes you see them looking at cars parked on the street, or at couples, and wondering why they're walking home alone, without their new young gentleman escorting them. That expression leads to all kinds of interesting speculations about social rules here in the new age, right?

It's all different if you're male, I suppose. The walk home is less thoughtful, less a contemplative time. More triumph, less analysis---- unless that's an image that we've decided to reject here in the new age of equality and diversity.  My own experience has been that the walk home is a victory march--- proof of my own value, proof that for one night I've won a battle against time and decay and my own body and past.

But it's still a fact, I think. Male stories on mornings-after are much, much less interesting, and they're so much less complex.

Well, a morning that's all summer sunlight. You can sit and sip vanilla iced coffee and watch girls with stories in their eyes and try to imagine what their lives are like. Surely there was a third Holmes brother who was a novelist---- surely.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

One Eight Eight: Smile-Mask

When I was young, I read a lot of Marxist theory. I was good at it for a while, and I knew all the arcane definitions and analytical techniques that Marxism had developed on its own or absorbed from critical theory. I knew the terms of art--- interpellation, ideology, alienation, comprador capitalism. I'm having problems these days with something more personal: the idea of "emotional labour".

 I do understand that there's a difference between "emotion work" and "emotional labour". One is, I think, more about presentation of the self at work, and other is more domestic. I don't know the dividing lines. What I do know is that the underlying concept--- when it's applied to domestic, personal concerns ---leaves me even more depressed and exhausted than the labour-market application.

My understanding--- based on reading any number of the more political sex blogs ---is that "emotional labour" is used to mean male demands on women for emotional support in a relationship. It's a male demand, of course. The male half of the relationship demands that the female half provide emotional support and help him through emotional downswings. This is regarded as evil, since it's a male demand. I suppose I'd always thought one of the desirable things about a romantic relationship was that you had someone there who would offer you emotional support, who wanted to raise your spirits and help steer you through depressing moments. Oh, of course you did the same for them. That goes without saying--- loyalty and support in return, always. Always. But the hope-- for both parties ---would always be that in a romantic relationship you'd have someone who would see it as worthwhile, or as part of the relationship itself, to be there for you, to say the small romantic things you need, to offer solace and congratulations and care.

Reading the blogs about the evils of "emotional labour" in a relationship, all I can think is that there's no longer any room for such things. Once again, it's better--- best ---to remain silent. Never ask a lover for anything, not support, not solace, not kind words. Never ask, never expect. Never hope. The new rules call for silence and distance. No one--- and especially the male half of the relationship ---should ever display any emotional needs or ask for any emotional support. Never ask for anything that could be spun as a demand. Never offer anything that could be spun as condescending or smothering. Simply enough, never ask for anything.

There was a time when I believed that lying back in a lover's arms would be safe, that I'd feel safe and supported and loved. A relationship could be a haven in a heartless world--- a phrase Marx supposedly used about the bourgeois family. Haven in a heartless world---- a kind of blanket fort against the outside, a place where someone believes in you and supports you, where someone sees it as part of their role to make you feel better, to make you feel desired and loved. For the record, and to stave off ranters, I'll be clear: you do all that for your partner, too. Ride or die--- you give that to them just as they give it to you. Those days are over. The new rules make it impossible to look at a romantic relationship as a haven, or to think you might get--- or seek ---any support.

There are things I'd hope for in a Young Companion, and things I'd like to tell a lover I'd need. There are things I'd like to ask for.  I can't, of course. I can't even begin to say anything. I can't even hint. All you can do in these latter days is stay silent. Never ask, never hope, never expect.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

One Eight Seven: Tour

Let's go back to something this August. Let's go back to talking about sex toys. A young companion and I have been discussing the issue, and I suspect that the whole issue is making me increasingly unhappy.

My friend has an extensive collection of toys and accessories, and she tells me that she acquired her first vibrator at not quite sixteen. She's proud of her collection, and proud of the research she's done about brands and performance.  I sat the other evening and listened to her enthuse about her new glass butt plug and how brilliant it is to chill it in a bowl of ice water before use. I'm quite good at a fixed smile, mind you. I just smiled and nodded and filed away the details in my mental archives...and felt increasingly depressed.

She sees it as a kind of mission to convince me that toys are for everyone, that everyone needs a set of toys. She's completely uncomprehending about my own fears. Don't you want to try things that'll give you pleasure? Why are you afraid to try things? She does ask me that. Sometimes she laughs and makes jokes about it being a generational thing--- I thought your generation was all about free love. Mostly, though, she's baffled about why I'd be afraid or ashamed of trying things that would enhance my own pleasure and let me know more about what my body needs. My Lelo, she says, taught me so much! 

One evening not so very long ago, she went to a sex toy shop--- someplace expensive, someplace that branded itself as being all about "sensual exploration" and "adventures in intimacy" ---and phoned me from there.  She told me to get on FaceTime, that she and I were going shopping together. I had to laugh, really. This was my own private documentary about sex shops, with a lovely blonde girl in her later twenties showing me everything. Now I'll admit that I felt very twenty-first century about the tour. Using FaceTime is a novelty for me. Nonetheless, that was the only device I felt comfortable with that night.

She did show me things she liked, and she did a whole infomercial tour of items she though I'd like or that we could use together. Again, I had my fixed smile on while I tried to puzzle out what I was feeling. The things to be used together didn't bother me. I have no problem with that.  But the things she showed me that she thought I'd like on my own--- those things left me depressed.

That I might be jealous of the toys she liked for herself, that as a male I might feel a sense of rivalry with her collection of dildos and vibrators--- that at least makes sense to me. That I might raise an eyebrow and grin at her inevitable choice of colours for her (inevitably very large) dildos---- black (a posh blonde white girl must-have) or a kind of rich caramel (her Polynesian fetish, her dreams of Maori and Tongan boys) ---makes sense, too. A tour that was only for her own pleasure would've been amusing. The things she told me I needed for myself, the things she did threaten to buy for me---  those things left me sad and miserable.

Part of the shame I felt was doubtless at my own  reaction. Is part of what I'm feeling just homophobia, just fear of being thought gay if I use the toys? That's a disturbing and shameful thought.

Is it shame at using because I'm male--- when the Arbitrary Social Rules define sex toys as something "empowering" when used by attractive young girls but shameful and a mark of failure when used by males? Worse--- much worse ---is it shame at the idea of using them when I'm neither young nor physically buff? I suppose I'm imagining the invisible audience watching and being disgusted and brutally mocking me for being an aged perv doing disgusting things while looking even more disgusting. In some meta-sense, of course, is it more of a sign of failure that I allow the fear of an invisible set of judges to destroy so many things I do or might try doing?

Maybe it's that I'm uncomfortable with the idea of pleasure. I've never been very good at unmediated physical pleasure. I take very little pleasure in things or sensations themselves. I'm only truly attracted or thrilled by the stories behind what's happening, by the settings and backstories. Something that feels good on its own means very little to me. Being part of a story, being a well-crafted character in a good story--- that's where I derive pleasure.  Using sex toys alone wouldn't be part of a story where I'm a character good enough to be having sex with a beautiful young companion.

My friend spent a few hundred dollars on toys that night. Ah, posh blonde girls whose Christmas bonuses at work equal my annual salary!  She was gentle and pleasant and fun and upbeat with me over FaceTime. She was going to enjoy herself a lot with her new toys, she said, and she'd bought things she and I could try together. She was even upbeat about the things she'd shown me that I could use myself.  I want you to have pleasure, she said. I want to you try things and find your pleasure.

I kept smiling and nodding, which was all that I could do. I'm even ashamed to tell her about all the depth of my fears.

There's rather a chance that I'm not suited at all for pleasure--- something you'd think I'd have learned after all these years.