Archive for Sex+ Art
And there it is, really—one of the most salient considerations about sexuality I have observed in the aura of our culture. It has often seemed to me that sex is viewed not only as a “separate” part of life, disconnected from the rest of it, but that also this “separate” part is not nearly as important as “real” life considerations and may easily and reasonably be one of the first things to be dismissed or dropped by the wayside on the quest of, as they say, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. How absurd. As befits its title, lust could be a motivator, even an overwhelming one, in the pages of Women in Lust. But this book was not simply filled with indulgent, un-contextualized references to this intriguingly powerful urge. There were additonal emotions, contexts, and considerations amidst any sense of lust—even if lust ended up overpowering them. Sometimes, though, it did not—and there was nothing less hot about those times. On the contrary, these were complex characters, so the story was often not just about unconsidered obedience to a sexual drive—Women in Lust included discerning, aware choosing where lust was concerned. To me this was epitomized in Brandy Fox’s “Unbidden.” I was fascinated by the considerable journey that unfolded in “Bite Me” and the engaging turn(s) of events in “Ode to a Masturbator” (Lucy Hughes and Aimee Herman, respectively). And the book closed with “Comfort Food” (Donna George Storey), one of my favorite stories by one of my favorite writers—I’ll be honest and say I looked forward the whole book to reading it! As with a luscious dessert, the anticipation was justly rewarded. :) I myself experienced a kind of climactic trifecta toward the end of reading this anthology. It began with “Orchid” (Jacqueline Applebee), which I found not only scorchingly hot and quite delightful but also hilarious, which was of course a treat. (Truly, I laughed out loud more than once while reading it.) “Orchid” was followed by “Cherry Blossom” (Kayar Silkenvoice), which continued the extraordinary momentum I was experiencing with its gorgeous imagery and intricate depictions of the narrator and her lust interest. After “Rain,” by Olivia Archer, which was next, I took a break. I’ve been known to do that while reading a collection of stories after I’ve found a story so beautiful, so striking and affecting in a breathtaking mosaic of ways that I don’t want to continue yet (even if the next story is by one of my favorite authors, Justine Elyot!) because what I just read has possessed my consciousness such that I know it needs time to process, to settle, to land—to have that space to occupy unencumbered the notice it has just seamlessly commanded. I was still remembering “Rain” hours after I put the book down. I was reminded while reading Women in Lust that for me, erotica really isn’t just about fantasy, and the truth is, how I feel about it is not even determined by whether it turns me on or not. I find sex such a compelling subject that I simply don’t require arousal to appreciate it artistically—sometimes very deeply. I realize I may be in the minority about that, and of course that is fine—I’m not suggesting everyone’s perspective should mirror mine! It simply occurred to me as I was reading that erotica, to me, is not necessarily writing that turns me on. Rather I see erotica as writing that approaches sex/sexuality not with gaze averted and posture defensive or salacious but rather with the same curiosity and truth with which it approaches any other aspect of humanity/experience/life. It lets sex do what it does, whatever feelings, acts, contexts may be involved. If it does that with ease, curiosity, and not with any professed—implicitly or explicitly—”literary,” “moral,” or other formulated standard that intrudes upon the place sexuality takes in life, it seems, to me, erotic writing.* Often, this does turn me on not by virtue of what specific sex acts are described or included but from the core of the connection, the desire, that emerges from the words on the page. I have historically felt no sexual desire for women, for example, but the imagery and pull I experienced reading “Cherry Blossom” altered my breathing and indeed aroused me in a way different from the way I seek when I’m simply looking to get off—arousing my being, my senses, my awareness, not just my genitals and a base urge I have historically easily reached orgasm via the stimulation of. It’s not that one is better than the other. I just find them different. And erotica is usually something I seek to (and have) appreciate(d) beyond simple sexual stimulation (for the pursuit of which I have usually used video porn). Historically I have not postulated an inherent difference between “pornography” and “erotica.” I still don’t. This has mainly been because the concept has almost always seemed to contain judgment—arbitrary and unhelpful judgment, as far as I’m concerned—with the “pornography” label frequently postulated to be at least inferior and at most inherently unfavorable. (I’ll add that it’s seemed to me that most of the time, if it has occurred to someone to ask, this is likely the case.) I subscribe to no such perspective, so I have not found making a distinction between the two words a compelling endeavor. If, for me, there personally is one, this is it—pornography is what I use (and love) solely to get off on; while erotica is the unabashed exploration of sex I find fascinating and affecting. It doesn’t mean the sex itself has to be or is unabashed—it is the exploration of it, the sharing the author is offering, that I wish to be unencumbered by virtue of its subject. The subject being sex, sexuality, and its incumbent, myriad, contexts. Sometimes, of course, it happens that there is overlap: I find a story simulating on numerous levels and discover the pleasant effect that it has turned me on as well. When I returned to Women in Lust, it happened that I experienced this with a vengeance. Following “Rain” in the table of contents is Justine Elyot’s “The Hard Way.” I’ve loved Justine’s work, so I wasn’t surprised that I loved her story, but I will say I think this was one of my favorites of hers that I’ve read. And right after “The Hard Way” was K D Grace’s mind-blowingly hot “Strapped,” which really almost took my breath away. It was clever, beautiful, and held the considerable appeal for me of depicting a scenario I wouldn’t have predicted would turn me on or perhaps even interest me—and unequivocally doing both. I am sincerely glad I took the time to read Women in Lust, which contained stories I found delightful, intriguing, compelling, and breathtaking. In places, in fact, this anthology included some of the most impressive work I have experienced in the erotica genre. It has been my pleasure to share this ode to what I loved about it. On that note, once again the schedule and attendant links for the rest of the blog tour may be found here, and the book is of course for sale on Amazon as well as at this list of retailers found on the book’s website. Thanks so much for joining me at my stop on the Women in Lust virtual book tour! Love,
“Either way, their lust is a valued part of their lives, not a pesky afterthought or a to-do list item on ‘date night.’”
*If it describes actual act(s) of harm that happen to involve sexual contact, that to me is not an act of sex but something different, encapsulating other aspects of experience that do not to me seem focused on sexuality; thus, such for me would not fall into the category I described.
“I wonder if you feel the same way I do, I can see it in your eyes, I entice you…”
-Toya “I Do”
Fellow erotica author Shanna Germain posted on her blog yesterday a response to a recent article in the New York Times magazine. The article was about the author Nicholson Baker, who has penned, among other things, fiction of an erotic nature. Shanna, for her part, has called on those who also write erotic fiction to post a picture, if we so desire, that flouts the author’s opening description:
“Nicholson Baker does not look like a dirty-book writer. His color is good. His gaze is direct, with none of the sidelong furtiveness of the compulsive masturbator.”
Overall I found the exposition on Mr. Baker rather interesting. However, there were things I interpreted about the tone and implications from the article’s author (Charles McGrath) that I did not appreciate. Shanna quotes the above opening lines. In addition, I took exception to the following:
“What kind of person dreams up this stuff? It’s as funny as it is filthy and breathes new life into the tired, fossilized conventions of pornography in a way that suggests a deep, almost scholarly familiarity with the ancient tropes.”
Hmmm. Does it seem so hard to imagine someone who appreciates contemplation devoting his/her/their attention to the arcane subject of sexuality? As though, oh, the subject held some kind of significance or interest to the species or something?…
“As Rosenthal pointed out, Baker is no ordinary, adult-bookstore pornographer. In addition to what might be called his sex trilogy, he is the author of six other novels, none of them racy in the least.”
This might not be meant this way, but the way I read that is as though it should elicit surprise or astonishment that someone who devotes attention at times to the subject of sex could also then feel drawn to and expound on other subjects in other ways with other tones. This, of course, would presumably apply to almost all adults outside an artistic context.
I feel less incensed now than when I first read the piece, but I do feel the article is loaded with what seem to me shallow assumptions about the artistic exploration of sexuality, especially coupled with other artistic exploration (as though those who write or express artistically about sex would not dream of or have the capacity to express similarly about other subjects). Truly, are we not past this kind of ignorance, pubescence, prejudice, or whatever may account for these kinds of seemingly un-nuanced or, as Shanna said, uninformed perceptions?
Here’s a gaze for you, Mr. McGrath:
Emerald “In libraries and railway stations, in books and banks, in the pages of history…I recognize myself in every stranger’s eyes…”
-Roger Waters “5:06 AM (Every Stranger’s Eyes)”
Of late, I have been experiencing anxiety to a higher degree than in much of the last decade. I trust this is due to something I have mentioned before, namely that anxiety may be an indicator of things being shaken up and reaching the surface of the unconscious. Given the last couple breathwork sessions I have had, I do feel this is likely. Much has been moving, it has seemed, and shifts have occurred, and the ego/superego in me as such may feel alarm and resistance and have shifted into “Oh shit!” mode.
Even as I’ve felt mostly aware of this, it does not mean I have not still experienced the effects of anxiety, most notably (to be discussed here anyway) in practical ways. The world continues functioning even if I feel genuine anxiety for what seem to me noble reasons of personal growth. I have especially felt challenged being in contact with people, emailing them back when they have emailed me, and the more I have not done that (despite how much I may desperately want to), the more I have felt concern and anxiety about it, which has tended to result in a cycle of avoidance. I have felt it prominently the past few weeks.
I’ve not been writing as much as I’d like. But I realize and admit that hasn’t seemed only recent. I have noticed especially lately that there are so many writers I adore and admire who seem so busy, day jobs, kids, (pregnancy!), numerous commitments besides writing who manage to write anyway (sometimes with an output that seems astonishingly prolific to me!), dedicating their time and attention to it around the numerous other things they do.
I have almost none of that. Yes, there are things that I do, but I don’t have kids, I don’t have a 9 to 5 job that demands I attend to it during certain set hours—what I have is ample time and opportunity to write. Especially when I see so many of my colleagues who don’t have that luxury but write anyway, I have been known to feel a scathing resentment directed toward myself for not taking advantage of the precious gift I have of a largely unmediated time and opportunity to write.
During a recent breathwork appointment, I saw very clearly something around this. I became aware that it is not that I need to discipline myself more, effort further, try harder to get my ass in gear and write. (Really, it’s seemed to me the superego in me has had the market close to cornered on those kinds of demands.) It is that I need to relax—what is in me is there, waiting and wanting to come out, and there is something in me blocking that flow (perhaps ironically related to said superego). I don’t need to work harder to write what I want to say. What is called for is to let go of the block and allow the writing forth.
I wasn’t particularly shocked by this, though I hadn’t received the understanding with such clarity before. However, despite this awareness, after leaving that breathwork session I have still felt frustration with myself for not, then, unblocking the block! It seems funny how something (superego) ranting at me to relax just doesn’t seem to elicit such….
Last night I was feeling this familiar frustration, and I sat with it. Rather than engaging in the loop in my head of hearing the internal accusation and tensing against it and feeling mad at myself, which intensifies both as they cycle around and around with each other, I allowed myself to simply feel the anxiety resulting from the self-accusation. I didn’t tense against it or start engaging it in my head but just let it be and sat with how it felt.
Almost immediately the frustration relaxed. And instead of tenseness and irritation and accusation, I felt something else.
Beyond the tension, after it relaxed, I felt the pain of not writing. While intellectually I guess I am/was not surprised by this, I’m not sure I had ever felt the raw pain beyond the self-accusatory talk of this before. That seems amazing to me, but it’s true. I felt, physically in the heart space, the pain of not writing/expressing. The direct and unmediated hurt of what wants to come out not doing so, of not taking (or getting, depending on how one looks at it) the chance to say what is in me ready/wanting to be said.
It is possible that I felt more like a “writer” that moment than I have at many other times.
Then I thought about people who experience repression, blockage, and/or anxiety around sexuality. I faced these things in myself very pointedly years ago—which is certainly not to say I have that area all figured out. Self-awareness is literally unending. There is always more to know, and we are always new. I don’t feel for a second that I have discerned and attended to all there is to know about sexuality in me and issues in me around it. What’s important to me is that I recognize that though and keep examining, exploring, facing what is there. I know, somehow, there is much to learn.
But the reason this occurred to me, I suspect, is because as I struggle with particular anxiety around blockage in me and writing and wanting to allow out what wants to come out, I’ve remembered people dealing with sexual repression and wondered how such things are/have affected them. How would it feel if they sat with it; if they didn’t engage with the historical tension cycle and faced what was there with kindness and love?
How deeply repression can hurt, and how much more to us there is than the unconscious patterns with which we often automatically engage without realizing that—that there is more. That that’s not all we are. That that’s not all we can be. That it could take just sitting, just seeing it, just allowing whatever we have tended to tense against (perhaps without even knowing it) to get to a deeper level, something new, something that may indeed be uncomfortable—but that may put us more in touch with ourselves…the real Self, that is not made up of unconscious patterns.
It may hurt. But it may also be that unconsciousness is far more painful in the long run.
This blog post, of course, is a release, a coming out of something in me that wants to be said.
Words feel (ironically) inadequate to express the exquisite gratitude within me.
“I thought maybe I was this, I found out that I am That…I can’t promise I won’t fall, and I can’t say I’m never scared…let go, give in, give up, surrender…”
-Ben Lee “Surrender”
This is hard for me to post, but it reflects some current circumstances as I understand them, so there seems little way around it.
I had a conversation today with Rod MacIver, founder of Heron Dance and publisher of The Other Dance (see my previous post), and it seems he discerned over the weekend that he wants to take Heron Dance in a new direction…that doesn’t include The Other Dance or exploration of the erotic. It appears that The Other Dance is no longer planned for future publication—and thus, of course, that I will not be serving as its editor. I interpreted Rod as pointing out that artistic endeavors do tend to fluctuate, and especially amidst considerations of one’s livelihood (Rod’s, as the sole proprietor of Heron Dance), sometimes sacrifices or seemingly dramatic measures may be placed at the forefront.
Indeed…. That withstanding, I will admit I felt shocked by this news. As may have seemed evident from my post announcing the launch of The Other Dance, I had the impression this endeavor was solidly planned and supported by its publisher.
As I said in the opening of this post, this feels a hard announcement for me to make here. While I understand the reasons I interpreted Rod as relating for the shift eliminating The Other Dance from consideration as a part of Heron Dance, I dislike very much that I indicated here that something was planned to be a certain way and now have to say that it is not. I have tended to experience consistency and credibility as deeply important, so the degree to which this instance feels contrary to them feels very uncomfortable to me.
Of course, I meant everything I said personally in that post, and as far as Heron Dance and The Other Dance, I did understand it all to be true at the time. I apologize deeply to all readers of it and especially to authors who had taken the time to submit (incidentally, all who did will hear back from me individually with this information) or begin to consider doing so. Most especially I apologize to Robin, our first (and only, as it turns out) published author with me at the helm as editor of The Other Dance—I thank her for her beautiful piece (which I love), “Strands of Imagination,” which I experienced Rod as very enthusiastic about publishing, as was I, and I appreciate her letting us publish her work.
In addition—I thank indescribably everyone who expressed support to me about this endeavor here. I don’t know how to express how much I appreciate your commenting and the way I experienced all of you as seeming to feel I would effectively undertake this endeavor and seeming willing to support me in doing so. My appreciation of it seems all the more poignant to me in light of my having to, in effect, retract the entire announcement of the publication of (and my involvement with) The Other Dance. Again, I apologize.
I read a quote a few days ago from one of the players on my favorite baseball team, the Yankees. Nick Swisher (Rick Write‘s favorite player) said his father used to say to him, “Sailors never perfected their craft sailing smooth water.” Recalling that makes me smile wryly right now, as while it seems not a new sentiment, its current relevance seems well placed. Despite the dismay I feel in publicly acknowledging this situation, I’ve noticed there are things I experienced from/in/about myself throughout this endeavor that seem significant, even luminous, to me…perhaps even more than I recognize right now.
One of them includes my accepting of the position Rod offered me. I felt nervousness about agreeing to undertake the editorship of The Other Dance. I felt very flattered being approached, but I still felt the historically familiar concern that I wouldn’t perform it well (which has tended to mean “perfectly” to a part of me that runs via outdated habits and patterns). The fact is, acquiescence to fear—consciously or unconsciously—has often kept me from doing things. It has resulted in avoidance, refusal, reticence, and the basic passing up or missing of opportunities. In times when I have felt any fear that I won’t or won’t know how to perform something effectively or perfectly—which has seemed to be almost always—fear has often been the final arbiter of action (or inaction) from me.
It wasn’t this time. I felt nervousness about my potential performance, but I agreed to do it anyway. However this opportunity has turned out, I did not let fear keep me from accepting it. I accepted it anyway.
It is undeniable that I feel humiliation in having posted something here that turned out to be not nearly as solid and reliable as I thought it was. I truly apologize for that. I was excited about The Other Dance and my involvement with it, and I feel sadness that the opportunity has been relinquished, not only (or even mostly) because of my own position, but because of the loss of, as Donna so graciously put it in a comment on my post, the “opportunity to bring quality erotic work to a wider audience.”
Regardless of how short-lived this venture has turned out to be, all of my actions related to it were sincere, and I do see value in the indications of growth in me that manifested in its midst. The more awake I am, the more I may serve in the way(s) I aim to. Perhaps that is what I will focus on in this.
Thank you to all who read my The Other Dance announcement (and who are reading this), and thank you especially for all the beautiful comments that were offered there. Even (perhaps especially) amidst this humble apology, I profoundly—indescribably, really—appreciate the support you all offered me.
-Sugarland “Stand Back Up”
In 2006 my mother introduced me to a small literary arts-and-nature-focused journal called Heron Dance. I experienced her as saying she suspected it would resonate with me, and she was correct. I have been a subscriber and follower of Heron Dance, which has traversed numerous transitions of format, focus, and personnel at the helm, ever since.
The (both original and current) founder and painter of Heron Dance is Rod MacIver, whom I have mentioned or quoted a few times here at The Green Light District. A year and a half ago I even posted an announcement that he was beginning a new venture, an erotic newsletter to correspond with the nude and erotic paintings he had been doing. Shortly after that announcement, a number of transitions, including with staff, occurred at Heron Dance (a very small company and press), and my understanding was The Other Dance was put on indefinite hold in the face of more pressing business concerns that unexpectedly inhibited the practical embarkment on a new project at the time.
At this time Heron Dance has recently undergone a few transitions again, most notably in ceasing the print publication of its journal and instating an online membership fee (of $2 a month) for daily receipt of written content by Rod (entitled “Reflections of a Wild Artist”—this may still be received once a week for free by signing up here), discounts on the purchase of paintings, and access to certain areas of the website only accessible by members.
One of which will house The Other Dance, the erotic online newsletter Heron Dance is now ready to create and develop as an integral part of its professional offerings. The Other Dance will publish a new edition each Tuesday, featuring one of Rod’s nude or erotic paintings alongisde a piece of erotic fiction.
I am introducing and speaking about this so much because, I am thrilled and honored (and a little stunned!) to say, I have been hired to be the editor of The Other Dance.
Since The Other Dance area is only accessible to members, I will take the liberty to quote here from Rod’s paragraph introducing the venture from its page on the Heron Dance site:
”A common denominator in all of the diverse perspectives Heron Dance has explored over the sixteen years since it was founded is a probing of the boundaries of the human experience. The edges — the edges between wilderness and civilization, the edges in terms of the human search for meaning and in terms of what it means to live a highly-creative life. Delving into human sensuality and sexuality is a natural evolution of that exploration.”
As those familiar with me or my work will know, it has long been an aim of mine to open dialogue around sexuality, ease the collective discomfort our society seems to feel around it, relax the repression of the innate and exquisite phenomenon of the human sexual impulse, and ultimately support the cherishing and respect for this facet of life. Ingredients I see as integral to these aims include self-awareness, contemplation, openness, and love. Since I first heard of it, I have experienced Heron Dance as embodying a respect for and focus on the importance of these qualities as well, and my aim continues as the editor of The Other Dance to be to support the manifestation of these aspects in the context of sexuality.
Before I move into the business side of things, I want to mention that at this time, the publisher is only seeking to publish work by female (or female-identified) authors—and I personally and truly apologize to the numerous beautiful male authors I know and whose work I adore that I won’t (for the time being) get to seek to work with them in this endeavor.
With that said, The Other Dance technically launched May 3, when Rod published a piece he had received last year to officially solidify the creation of The Other Dance. After he got in touch with me a couple weeks ago regarding this endeavor, he wanted to publish an edited version of “Rain Check,” my story from Rachel Kramer Bussel‘s anthology Tasting Her (as I understand it, Rod’s introduction to my work was clicking on the video of my reading said story at In The Flesh in 2008 when he visited my website), and it went live last Tuesday, May 10.
Two days ago, on Tuesday, May 17, the first piece officially published with me as the editor went live: “Strands of Imagination,” by Robin “Erobintica” Sampson! It has been an honor and delight to work with Robin as I take my first steps into this venture, and I offer her my thanks and congratulations. Robin wrote “Strands of Imagination” for one of Alison Tyler‘s flash fiction contests some time ago, and when I presented it to Rod, I experienced him as very in favor of publishing it.
For any female erotica authors reading this, I would likely love to work with you in such a capacity too! :) The Other Dance submissions guidelines may found on the Heron Dance website here, and I plan to submit them to the Erotica Readers and Writers Association call for submissions page as well.
There is a page on the Heron Dance site where reader feedback is posted—and it is not confined to the complimentary. I have had the impression over the years that Rod has received feedback encompassing varying perspectives and levels of appreciation for his offerings throughout the 17-year duration of Heron Dance. As I recall his stating at the time, never did this seem so active as when he first introduced the subject of sexuality to the work he offered to the public and his followers. When I was perusing the feedback page a few days ago, this comment caught my eye:
“Please cancel sending me Heron Dance, after a number of years! I am a published author and enjoyed your readings and paintings, etc., until you got all hepped up about sex. You had a nice, decent, above board periodical, now you have trash just like the next guy.”
While I honor this commenter’s experience and perspective, I feel sadness that the inclusion of discussion about or the mere mention of sexuality would relegate a literary/artistic endeavor to seeming like “trash.” I was a subscriber to Heron Dance when Rod’s transition to sharing and speaking about sexuality occurred, and whether or not one desired to see or be exposed to the subject, I never felt like anything I read seemed like “trash” at all. Granted, I have tended to feel quite receptive of open dialogue about sexuality, but I also truly found what Rod expressed on the subject quite in line with the way I had experienced his sharing in general about art and nature—probing, thoughtful, curious, raw, and sincere.
At the time, I certainly never imagined I would be offered the opportunity to become the first editor of the project into which that orientation would develop: a weekly electronic newsletter created to feature Rod’s erotic/nude paintings alongside written content of an erotic nature.
It is my honor to accept it.
-LIVE “Dance With You”