June 19th, 2009

A Portrait of Age and Sexuality

Since this blog deals with sexuality, and since I have considered myself a supporter and advocate of open, sincere acknowledgment and exploration of sexuality, it feels remiss to me to not post this.

From the June 10 edition of an online newsletter to which I have subscribed for a few years (this is the first time I recall seeing him overtly reference human sexuality):

Dear Heron Dancers,

Over the years, positive emails and letters from subscribers to Heron Dance and A Pause for Beauty have outnumbered negative responses about ninety-nine to one. Of course, that excludes the time a few years ago when I quoted Doug Peacock, aka Hayduke, who said in a Heron Dance interview, “Beware of homicidal lesbian motorcycle gangs in the Dakotas!” (Issue 21). That time the ratio dropped to about ninety: ten. A couple of weeks ago the responses became more like eight to one, and the reactions on both sides have been much more intense than usual.

Although I wish they didn’t, the negatives preoccupy me more than the positives, no matter what the ratio. But Heron Dance now has a creative energy and excitement it hasn’t had since the early years. It all still revolves around the connection with a spiritual core, a spiritual center of…of what? Of a human life? Of life in general? Of the universe? I don’t know, but I do know that, regardless, there are times of flow and harmony and times of disharmony, distraction and setback. I want to write about those ups and downs from a different perspective than I have in the past.

The protagonist of my story is a certain wild artist, partly fictional, partly me. He’s a deeply spiritual man and his spirituality revolves around wild nature and the sense of peace he finds there. He’s put a lot of thought into how he lives his life and lives more or less on his own terms. He has a wild and free creative energy. He loves literature and music. Security means less to him than sucking, as Thoreau said, the marrow out of life. He experiences a lot of ups and downs, triumphs and defeats. He tries to walk his path with as much dignity and equanimity as he can find within himself. Sometimes it is a lot; at other times it isn’t much at all.

As with most of us, eroticism and sexuality play a major role in his life. That, of course, is the controversial part of this work. Sex is such a powerful part of life that we fear it, even try to hide it. Perhaps we should; uncontrolled, it can cause a life to unravel and, at times, it causes our protagonist’s life to unravel. I’m putting the erotic part of his journey in the story because, without it, the story lacks authenticity. They all feed each other: his creative energy, his love of wild places, his sexuality.

He’s known a lot of love in his life. Profound love. He goes through long periods — in two instances more than seven years — in committed relationships. In between, he seems to go through multi-month periods as a free agent. He didn’t used to. When he was younger, it was one live-in girlfriend after another. As our story opens, he is in one of his wandering phases. He dreams of a committed monogamous relationship, but he also loves solitude and quiet. His struggle in this area, as in the other important areas, is to keep the faith, keep touch with that spiritual core. Sometimes he loses touch and I really want to explore that.

I’m painting a lot of nudes these days. I’m working with three different models, but one in particular has captured my imagination. She’s a very beautiful art student; a young woman who sometimes camps alone in the forest. When she’s standing there with her back to me, her right hip thrust out, I want to just go up and bite her gently on the nape of her neck. Then she’d moan and I’d cup her breasts in my hands. Of course, she might turn around and slug me. That wouldn’t be good. Or she might start crying. I’d very definitely go into a tailspin. I might start crying too. If I started crying, she might not pose for me again.

This is all ridiculous. This beautiful young woman, with her dreams of far off places and of new experiences, does not fit well into my scenario, nor I hers. We’d take rather than contribute energy to each other’s lives, and we both know it. Reality and fantasy are different sometimes. And difficult. Maddening, actually.

So we talk about past loves, about wild horses and wild rivers, about art and our families. We talk about sexual experiences from our pasts. I try to be on my best behavior, but sometimes my conversation is out of balance and crosses that vague but important boundary. I’ve got this fold-down couch and I ask her to lie down and pretend like she’s pretending she’s asleep and trying to nonchalantly interest her boyfriend in sex….She does. I paint her. My painting is off balance.

I think I need a break for awhile. Maybe I need to find a different model. There is so much highly charged energy flowing around the room. Unsettled energy. I lose my bearings. My vision for this work — sexual, erotic art but with a flow, a calm and peace about it — is unlikely to evolve out of this scenario. Maybe I need to just paint women with whom I have an emotional bond, women with whom I share a sense of peace.

That which does not have cannot give. And that, dear Heron Dancers, is all I have to say for today. That’s probably more than enough.

In celebration of the Great Dance of Life,

Roderick W. MacIver

And one of the responses he received via email (original may be read by scrolling down here):

Ah yes, Rod,

I can thoroughly relate to your protagonists adventures with the model. I, however, am a eighty year old female….in an asexual relationship…..hmmmm let me just call this my protagonist…too personal to tell you it’s me.

She was divorced after a twenty year marriage when she was about forty. Did it all. Over the next twenty years. There were married men, there were monogamous several year relationships, there were one night stands, and there have been three live-in relationships.

There were road trips across the country, and a spirit-led three year trip to a majestic tropical setting, far away from her usual life. Life was so simple that she owned no keys . Her body and the wild beaches and ocean were joined, and her bed was in a retreat center just off the beach.

And always the theme of liking to live life on her terms, liking solitude, and wanting to be lovers with nature at its wildest. Dancing naked in thunderstorms, swimming naked in the salty waves, camping peacefully beside a waterfall, walking the beaches, and crying at the majesty of sunsets. Alone thank you, unless in the throes of infatuation with another man.

She now lives with a man that she has lived with for over ten years. She has seen him through having his prostate removed, only to find that the cancer was not gone. And he has seen her through some mysterious process which allows her only to walk in a crippled way. NO more running through the forest, or on the beaches. All that is left is the freedom of being in water, or on a bicycle, and even then, not too far into wilderness. They always carry a cell phone now in case….bones are frailer at these ages. This life, even though only fifteen years ago , she was up on the roof of the house, nailing back shingles that had come off in a windstorm, and watching a controlled burn of the prairie, with the wind from the flames whipping past her face, And she thought nothing of being 65 and being on that roof. Now, she could maybe not even get up there.

As I said, her relationship is asexual. She is not. It is a terrible quandary at times, when she sees the young boys on the beach with the silhouettes of their front side beckoning her both forward , and back in time. Or when she meets an occasional vital older man, who recognizes her inner self.

When she was younger, the dilemma was her sexuality versus commitment to a relationship. Now it is the same, but the relationship has become more important than the sexuality.

That does not mean it does not still hurt. Or tug at the fibers of her heart and her well used and well loved other body parts. She wishes she could have it all….wild natural interaction, wild personal interaction, and a peaceful and loving commitment.

She remembers well that unbalanced feeling of an unfulfilled sexual attraction. That which would not leave her alone, until she was driven to another man, another sexual adventure, another crashing onto the beach of the wave of eroticism that had come over her. There was no fantasy, dream, or writing that would take the place of the “action”. She often wondered how the nuns lived, and concluded that they were better at suppression than she, or more committed to their marriage with Jesus, than their marriage to their body. She was not. Her body, her sexual nature was so very important and so very strong, that it nearly ruled her entire life at times. It would not let her feel balanced until fulfilled.

Age has dulled the lack of balance, and though she often walks in peace, she feels the loss of not having it all. Of giving up that which has been so vital and important. Her ability to walk for miles down the deserted beach, her chances to tangle her body with another, in the highest forms of ecstasy that she ever experienced, AND a committed partner beside her.

She supposes she should thank aging and circumstances for making the choices she could not have made for herself. She is very, very grateful for all that life has brought her.

And she is even grateful for today’s life….as out of balance as it may sound….it has its own sense of balance.

A subscriber

I have nothing to add.


“When our time is up, when our lives are done, will we say we’ve had our fun?…all the love I’ve met, I have no regrets, if it all ends now I’m set…”
-Lostprophets “Rooftops (A Liberation Broadcast)”

6 Responses “A Portrait of Age and Sexuality”

  1. I find myself in awe of of both the poignancy and the content of the initial post, and the response.

    There’s little I can say to convey the sense of understanding I felt, or the pang of longing both of these writers stirred.

    Thank you for posting this, Em.

  2. Emerald says:

    Hey Scarlett — I felt similarly (hence the last sentence — I really did feel like I had nothing to add). I think what I might have found most moving about her response is that she is 80 years old. I think so often we have this perception that sexuality may not be “relevant” or considered or experienced anymore at such an age. She so demonstrates the falsity (at least in her case) of that.

    And as far as the original, since I have been reading that newsletter for two or maybe three years and had never seen him talk about (human) sexuality, I found the sincere, straightforward foray as such into that subject territory courageous, authentic, and poignant as well. It seemed to be exactly the kind of acknowledgment of the subject I appreciate.

    Thank you for reading and commenting, Scarlett.

  3. Emerald, it’s so interesting, my sister-in-law is also a subscriber and sent me the artist’s letter. Her focus was on the fact that his frank discussion of eroticism brought such a high percentage of negative response. (It wasn’t that high, really, was it, but still). But the combination of his letter and the older woman’s letter is especially powerful, both so eloquent and honest and brave. I expect we will hear much more about eroticism for older people as the Baby Boomers age, but for the current 80-year-old generation, this voice is truly amazing. Thank you so much for posting this.

  4. Cora Zane says:

    Very powerful stuff. The woman’s letter made tears come to my eyes. No one looks at sensuality from the eyes of a senior, and I can appreciate hearing her take on things. People certainly don’t cease existence as sexual beings just because they live a good, long life.

    As for the first segment… the negative sticks with you a lot longer than the positive. I think that’s with anything out there: reviews, experiences, memories. Sometimes I wonder if we’re simply hardwired that way – like it’s a survival skill of some kind.

    The good thing with the is that there are no new ideas. Not really. If you think something is new and wonderful and worth sharing, without a doubt, there is someone out there that feels the same as you do. That’s the good thing about online communities. You can find others out there who may not be exactly like you, but who are like-minded souls. Sometimes it’s helpful just to step back and say, “I’m trying to reach others like myself” rather than everyone. You can’t please everyone, and it’s not worth the fear and headache to try it.

    I hope the author can keep that in mind. The majority of people who read the newsletter are like-minded souls, and that is what is important. Turning one’s focus to sharing with a core group, rather that people in general makes the journey much easier, and the negative easier to swallow. I know this first hand. On top of that, when you do meet new friends along the way – people that genuinely share in your interests, it makes the connection much more meaningful.

    Thanks bunches for sharing these moving stories, Emerald. Happy weekend!

  5. Emerald says:

    Really Donna? Wow, how funny. Indeed, one of the things that struck me was that he was taking a considerable risk, and I really appreciated that he was straightforward and honored the inherent existence and influence of sexuality by talking about it openly.

    And yes, I found her response strikingly poignant and remarkable.

    Thank you for coming by and for your comment.

  6. Emerald says:

    Cora, thank you for coming by and reading and for commenting, and I’m so glad you appreciated them.

    “People certainly don’t cease existence as sexual beings just because they live a good, long life.”

    Beautifully stated.

    What an interesting perspective about the focus on a core group of “like-minded souls.” Thank you for sharing!

    Thank you again for coming by, and lovely weekend (and always) to you too.

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