Leo Does It in “The Wolf of Wall Street”


Leonardo DiCaprio gave what I have always thought of as the performance of his career in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape.  Since then he’s always been a little studied–you can see him thinking.  Not this time!  Get this–not only does he absolutely nail the charisma, the magnetism, the shallowness, the lust and debauchery, but he does one of the best physical comedy sequences I’ve ever seen.  I was howling laughing in this movie, and definitely in the delayed reaction qualude scene.  He should win an Oscar.  Christian Bale has more layering and depth in American Hustle, and I absolutely don’t care (since these are the things I care most about, that’s saying something).  There are people who should be movie stars for the sheer force of their performance power, and The Wolf of Wall Street proves that Leonardo DiCaprio is one of those people.

Then, there’s Scorcese.  The use of camera angles, voice over, monologue to camera, quick cuts, infomercials–he is a brilliant director and brilliant in how he uses the camera.

BUT.  And there is a but.  This movie shows the greed at the heart of capitalism, the drunk-with-power Wall Street success stories, and it disturbingly made me want part of that story.  No problem so far.  But the sex–all the beautiful and very nude women, the graphic nature of the sex, the overpowering lust, and the abundance of those scenes, made me feel sick.  It was like watching pornography.  And on one hand, that’s kind of the point of the lives these men lead, and how incapable they are of any love, and women are just holes to them, and even sex is a way to bond with and compete with other men, who are the only people that matter.  But on the other hand, the women looked like they were enjoying it, and so did the men.  Contrasted with Oliver Stone’s film, Wall Street, in which the emptiness and betrayal of self, the lack of morality, tells on people and their relationships, Scorcese’s film made it all look kind of fun.  Unless, of course, you’d lived any part of it (my grandfather was rich and my uncles were a bit like these men) and then you might bring a little more information to the party and just want to puke.

The film is so well made, and DiCaprio and Jonah Hill are unbelievably brilliant, but I’m not sure the message is that greed is bad.  At the end, we’re offered a colorless and miserable contrast of normal people compared to the wild animalism of what we’ve seen so far…and it makes the animalism look appealing.  And though the film offers nothing of depth about women, and makes abject objectification titillating, its sexism is countered by its self-aware portrayal of sexism…you see my dilemma and intense ambivalence.  I’m watching pornography that knows it’s pornography and degrading, and wants to say that, but it’s also made to be appealing and funny.  Basically, pukeville for women.

However, if Scorcese is intending to reach us and change us, I can say two things:  1) if that’s what sex was really like, I’d never have sex again (I thank whatever/whoever it doesn’t have to be) and 2) I’m seriously thinking of selling all my stocks and moving into a Buddhist monastery to get as far away from capitalism as possible.  I might not be able to resist the temptation of the get-rich-quick fantasy otherwise.

Disturbing.  But worth seeing.  If you don’t mind wanting to puke at knowing that some women really live these lives.

You Can’t Get There from Here: Chapter Four


You Can’t Get There from Here

by Lyralen Kaye

Chapter Four

            The next night, after listening to Janet talk about Thomas and his negotiations with the priests—he’d agreed to pay a generous monthly stipend, but wanted to see Beth every other weekend—Erin called her friend Patti from the kitchen phone, and made plans to go to Collette’s Bar that Friday.

“I’m going nuts,” Erin said, wrapping the phone cord around her wrist and slinging one leg up over the low partition. “My Mom is either bitching or telling me about all the ways I can help her. Beth asked if I was gay. I’m thinking of heading to Mexico. Like, yesterday.”

Patti laughed, but her voice was serious when she offered to let Erin stay at her apartment. Erin declined. She just wanted to go out. She wanted, she told Patti, to get laid.

“Better watch it,” Patti said. “You’ve got a bit of rep around here.”

“Come on!”

“You always pick someone up.” Patti’s voice was dry. “Rachel hears about it.”

“I thought we’d been through this.” Erin tucked the phone between her shoulder and head, looked around to see if Janet were nearby.  “About Rachel, I thought I told you–”

“They call you a heartbreaker.”

Erin’s leg dropped to the floor. “What do you call me, Patti?”

Patti didn’t answer. The silence stretched between them until Erin started moving, her foot tapping the floor in regular beats, like a metronome.

“Patti? You’re my best friend. What do you call me?”

“I think you’re the queen of all exits,” Patti said. “But I didn’t mean to get you upset. Let’s just go and have fun, eh? Tell your mom you’re staying over if you want.”

Erin agreed. She hung up, pale eyebrows drawn together.

She spent the day going through her backpack and doing laundry. Late in the afternoon, she borrowed Janet’s car, drove over the bridge into Portsmouth, staring at the ice floes, the strong currents eddying dark in the gray light of winter. She parked in town, stopped to talk to a travel agent about Mexico. Then she went to the bank where she kept the money she’d earned during her two years in Japan—the most money she’d ever made in her life, and she’d managed to save nearly all of it. Once, she thought she saw a gold car snaking through traffic behind her, but she couldn’t be certain. When she’d left the house, Janet had been on the phone with Thomas’ lawyer, arranging visitation with Beth. Thomas would see her for the first time in over a month on Saturday, and had asked if Erin might come along.

“No way,” Erin said to Janet. “What does he think this is, old home week?”

Janet frowned. “Think of me,” she said. “And of your sister—”

“Forget it, Mom,” Erin said. Then she’d grabbed the car keys and headed for the door.

Now, she looked back over her shoulder. No gold car. But Thomas wanted her back, and Erin knew how he was. Apologies and gifts would follow her like a virus, as they had when she’d been studying in Paris. She had known then to send them back, to build a fortress of refusals. But this time she could feel the jacket he’d bought for her settling over her shoulders like a belief in love. She kept seeing his broken skin, the slack flesh around his jaw. She tried to steel her body back into strength, tried to tell herself she didn’t feel sorry enough for him to do what he wanted.

Before she drove home, Erin stopped at the Portsmouth mall, where, counting out the bills like days she was giving up in Mexican cities, she bought more Christmas presents for her mother and sister, the conservative sweaters and skirts Janet liked, new leather sneakers and an IPod for Beth along with a gift certificate for ITunes. Then, she bought a stereo for Patti’s truck.

Janet was in the kitchen when Erin came in. Her head was bent over a laptop, her blonde hair gathered back from her face with a scarf, a navy turtleneck hugging her chin. She looked up and smiled at Erin with just a small turn at the edge of her lips. Erin noticed the plea in her mother’s eyes just before Janet began to speak.

“I’m looking for a job,” Janet said. “I’m afraid it’s rather hopeless. I don’t even know what to do. Your father never wanted me to work.”

Erin stopped, raised a blonde eyebrow. “You want to get a job?”

Janet nodded. She looked back down at the laptop’s screen. “Beth’s in school,” she said. “And we’ll need money. There’s a job here, just temporary, at city hall. It’s on a computer, typing in records. They say they’ll train.”

“Email them,” Erin said.

Janet turned all the way around in her chair so she faced Erin, her arms upturned at her sides, her face open in appeal. “I don’t know how.  To write a resume.  Or what to say to them.” She looked at Erin from under her lashes. “Would you ever do it for me?”

Erin started to shake her head.

“Just this once? To find out what I should do?” Janet looked up into Erin’s face. “It’s so easy for you, Erin.”

Erin head tucked down toward her chest. She started to blow up her bangs, then stopped herself. She looked at her mother.

“Please?” Janet said. “It’s really hard for me.”

Erin looked at her mother for a long moment, her stomach tight with pity. She pulled up a chair, opened Word, and typed in her mother’s name, address and phone number.  “Tell me what you’ve done at the church in the last five years,” Erin said.  “That’s your job experience.”

Janet ticked off duties—household budgets, shopping, taking messages, scheduling home and hospital visits.

“And you do all this for free?” Erin asked, typing quickly.

“I’m happy to do what I can,” Janet told her.

Erin opened Gmail, created an account, taught her mother how to hit send.  She wrote an email and attached the resume.

“Thank you, Erin, really,” her mother answered. “I never could have done that.”

“You can do it now,” Erin said.

“I don’t know.”

Erin began to pick a thread out of the fraying cuff of her leather jacket. “I may not be here next time.”

“You could be,” Janet said.

“I’m heading to Mexico after–”

“And you’re a good daughter to help your mother,” Janet told her. “Thank you.”

Erin frowned. “I’m not a good anything,” she answered.

Janet stared, her cameo face stripped of artifice, vulnerable. Her hands clasped and unclasped on the table top, so Erin sighed, then explained how to save the resume into a file folder, how to attach it, how to make changes if the job had a different focus, the words like gates trying hard to stay closed. Janet’s green eyes grew wide as Erin handed her a pen, made her take notes. For a moment, Erin wanted to touch her mother’s hair, hold her as she would a child, say it would be alright. She clenched her fists. She couldn’t afford to love her mother, couldn’t afford to remember that once, after days of grounding and hitting Erin, Janet had gone to a parenting class at church and had come home with an assignment to tell Erin what she loved most about her. Voice thin with effort, she’d told Erin she loved her protectiveness, the way Erin always noticed when something was wrong. Erin had been sure, when Janet reported back to the parenting class, that her mother would get an A, but what Erin remembered was the strain, as if saying anything good about her daughter cost effort, as if it were work. Another time, when Erin was a teenager, Janet had come up behind her in the bathroom, touched the long strands of Erin’s hair, let the pale red-gold silk drift through her fingers, and said the word pretty. Both times, Erin fell inward, collapsing into the detonating force of her mother’s approval, the desire to hold it, to find an way to inhabit that brief moment forever. But almost immediately she felt the moorings of her life begin to disappear. Without the familiar structure of anger and distance, Erin thought she might fade away completely.

Now, she dug her fingernails into her palms. She finished the job instructions, picked up the bags of presents, and walked up the stairs to her room, thinking of Patti’s moon face, her stubborn chin. Erin couldn’t wait for the evening to come. For the first time in days, she might be around people who possessed some form of sanity.

*                        *                        *

Erin left the house at nine, telling her mother and sister she was going out and wouldn’t be home until the next day. Identical frowns creased both their faces. When her father had lived there, and Erin came to visit, no one had ever spoken about when Erin came and went, where she slept. But now four tiny lasers circled Erin all the time, trying to hold her in place. She walked down the gravel driveway in darkness, thinking of the maps tucked into her backpack like tickets—to the beaches of Cancun, the ruins and waterfalls in the jungles of the Yucatan.

Patti’s truck was parked at the end of the road. Opening the door, Erin slid into the cab next to Patti’s new lover, a woman she hadn’t really met, only seen asleep the first night she’d arrived. Older, gray haired, the woman had a face so young it shone. Patti’s lovers were always at least ten years her senior; they always left Patti at the first sign of trouble. Now, Erin looked over the woman’s shoulder at Patti and grinned mischief, her nose crinkling. Patti started to protest, shaking her head.

“You’re a lot younger than Patti’s last girlfriend,” Erin said to the woman.

Patti’s lover turned. “Really? Tell me about her. Patti won’t.”

“Shut up, Erin,” Patti said. “Older women are great.”

“That’s why I like you.” The woman leaned over and kissed Patti on the cheek before turning back to Erin. “You don’t agree?”

“Erin’s an equal opportunity lover,” Patti said. “Over-twenty females is her only criterion.”

“We’re not talking about me,” Erin said. “We’re talking about your ex.” Erin turned to look at the gray-haired woman. “She was a jerk, that’s why Patti doesn’t like to talk about her. She left, what, two days after your grandmother’s funeral?” Patti glared, but Erin continued. “And Patti’s grandmother was the only one who still talked to her then.” Erin lifted an eyebrow, kept her eyes on the woman’s face. “We’d hate to see something like that happen again. I mean, Patti’s got the most generous heart of anyone I’ve ever known.”

The woman stared at Erin.

“Ignore her,” Patti said. “She gets really obnoxious after she sees her family. Plus, she thinks she’s my mother. Make sure you get her permission if you every want to ask for my hand in marriage.”

“I think it’s terrible that anyone did that to you,” the woman said, laying a hand on Patti’s arm. “You should have told me.”

“That’s what we want to hear,” Erin said, relaxing against the seat.

“Yeah,” Patti said. “Right. Can we talk about something else, please?” She frowned at Erin, muttering her heart wasn’t so generous she wouldn’t consider a well-placed kick to shut a certain person up, but then Erin smiled and her pale eyes held Patti’s affectionately until her friend’s face softened.

“Okay,” Patti said, turning her eyes to the road. “I’m a fucking saint. Now what else is new? Really.”

The rest of the ride was punctuated with loud laughs from Patti and her partner as Erin told the story of her mother asking Erin to help her get a job.

“Maybe I should go to the interview in disguise,” Erin said. “In drag, most likely. Pretending I’m her.”

Patti hunched over the steering wheel, laughing, but when they parked in downtown Portsmouth and got out of the truck, Patti touched Erin’s arm. “You alright?”

“My father gets to see Beth tomorrow morning,” Erin whispered.

“Shit,” Patti said, shoving a clump of thick hair behind her ear. “You better not be there. Want to have breakfast at my house? If you can keep your mouth shut, that is.”

“I’ll be good,” Erin said. “I just do it because I love you, you know.”

“Yeah, yeah. Family sucks and lovers leave.” Erin held up her hand; Patti high-fived her. An awkward silence filled the truck.  “It’s just something we say,” Patti told her girlfriend.

“After her last girlfriend, you can see why,” Erin explained.

The woman looked from one of them to the other. “Okay,” she finally said. “Whatever.”

They pulled into the parking lot and got out of the truck.

“How to win friends and influence people,” Erin whispered to Patti.

“Fuck you,” Patti whispered back.

“In your dreams,” Erin said. “Now go make up with your girl.”

They walked into the half-light of the bar. From upstairs the sound of guitars and women’s voices floated down like smoke, but the ground floor fanned noise forward from pool tables in the back toward an empty dance floor up front. Erin breathed deeply, slid through the women at the bar and bought three beers and a shot of tequila. She tossed the shot back as soon as the bartender put it in front of her, took a breath that ignited the burn in her throat, then carried the beers to Patti and her lover, whose heads bent toward each other, talking intently. Erin handed them their beers, then backed away.

She went to the pool table, signed up to compete. Erin racked up, knocked three stripes in, dominated the first game. And she kept winning, so long after Patti and her lover had made up and gone to talk to friends, Erin still bent over the table, the cue’s narrow tip staining her fingers chalk blue. She’d been drinking all along, lining up her beer bottles on a wall shelf to keep track. By the fourth game, she’d had seven.

In between games, she’d move out of the light and lean on her pool cue, one hip jutting out, her T-shirt pulled tight over her breasts. A ball of heat grew in her belly as she watched the women. Sometimes, when one walked by, she’d make eye contact, a smile breaking surface on her face. One woman stared at her, frowning; Erin swore at her softly, turned back to the pool table, but underneath the breath of cold, she could feel warmth. She played another game and won, then asked for a break. She walked to the bar, conscious of her movements. She surveyed the room quickly. A woman was watching, her eyes dark in a face that shone copper and brown. Spain, Erin thought, Latina. The woman started walking toward Erin, her movements slow as summer.

Erin leaned back against the wooden lip of the bar, stretched out her legs. When she took the woman’s hand into hers, gave the woman her name, breath eased out of her mouth in one long slow sigh.

“I’m playing pool,” Erin said. “I’ll be done soon. Then we can dance.”

“Don’t you forget.” The woman cocked her head to one side. One hand touched the end of Erin’s braid.

Erin tipped her head to the side. “No worries,” she said.

Back at the pool table, her first shot sent three balls into corner pockets. She won easily. Occasionally, she looked up into the line cast by the other woman’s gaze, let it reel her a step forward.  Then, near the end of the game, she spun around and saw Rachel at the bar, dark curls falling over a thin face with its pointed chin and delicate bones—a face that looked only slightly different than Erin remembered, a little older, less innocent, but still open, Erin thought, still carrying that odd mixture of intelligence and bewilderment, as if the world Rachel longed for was just out of reach.

Erin didn’t know what to do. She hadn’t seen Rachel since they’d both graduated college, hadn’t really talked to her since they’d broken up in their sophomore year. Rachel lifted a bottle of mineral water, drank. Her face, with its sharp and asymmetrical bones, was too oddly shaped for prettiness, but her deep set-eyes were beautiful. She watched Erin without smiling and lifted a hand.

Erin signaled she’d come over and talk, then went back to the pool game. She’d been leading by four balls, but she lost badly, missing every shot. She stood staring at the floor, memorizing its cigarette burns and beer stains, turning the cue around and around in her hand. When the game was over, she high-fived the woman who’d beaten her, a wry twist to her lips. Then she walked across the room to Rachel, smiling first at the woman who waited for her near the dance floor.

“Still the same?” Rachel asked, her head tilted toward the woman.

“Rach,” Erin said, softly. “Does it matter?”

Rachel looked up, and their eyes met. Erin felt heat rising in her face. She started rubbing her own pale arm with blue-stained fingers, leaving behind streaks and dust.

“I’m sorry,” Erin said suddenly. “You know I am.”

“Let’s not do this,” Rachel told her. Then she sighed and tried to smile. “What country you in from anyhow?”

“Spain.”

“So tell me about it. How come they got gay marriage if they’re so Catholic?”

Erin started explaining the country, the women she’d known. Rachel wanted to know about Judaism in Spain, about the history of the Inquisition and the effects of the Holocaust, how the European Union had changed the culture. Erin answered her questions, feeling the slide into familiarity, something she couldn’t afford: warmth, the light of ideas in Rachel’s eyes, the remembered feel of small hands on her face, the way Rachel’s fingers had whispered over the bruises that stained the oblong plates of Erin’s quadriceps, thighs, shoulders, back. Rachel had hidden Erin in her bedroom late at night, after Thomas had thrown Erin from his house, made love to Erin as if her skin might break if Rachel didn’t touch her so gently. At the end of high school, Erin had lived with Rachel’s family until she could move to Provincetown for the summer.

“I wish you could see these places,” Erin said.

Rachel looked away. “Sometime,” she answered.

“My mother kicked my father out of the house,” Erin said. “That’s why I’m here.”

Rachel turned to face her. “Oh Erin,” she said.

“He wants to see me.”

“Why? He in the mood to break someone’s arm?”

Erin’s shoulders curved forward.

Rachel reached out a hand, put it over Erin’s longer and paler fingers. “I’m sorry, but I saw what you looked like after he hit you, remember?”

Erin wanted to lean into Rachel, give over all the tiredness that hovered just under her skin. A mistake, she thought. I keep making the same mistake. Then she felt a hand on her elbow. She followed its pressure, looked into the dark eyes of the woman she’d picked for the night. Her body went cold.

“Go ahead,” Rachel said.

Erin looked at her.

“It’s okay.” Rachel let her fingers brush so lightly over Erin’s that Erin wasn’t sure if they’d actually touched her or not. “Just be careful at home, all right? Take care of yourself.” Then she turned away.

Erin’s pale eyes followed her, stunned. But when the other woman took her hand, Erin walked out onto the dance floor. She glanced back to where Rachel was standing. Some woman had come to join her. Their heads bent close; they kissed.  Erin lifted her head and felt each small mirror of the strobe light bounce off her skin. She began to dance. When the woman reached for her, held her waist with both hands, Erin let herself slide forward. Rachel had someone, didn’t she? It didn’t matter what Erin did now.

*                        *                        *

They kissed in the bar, then outside, in the shadows of a Portsmouth alley, their hands inside each other’s coats, searching for skin. Their breath steamed into each other’s mouths. Erin thought, Now, here, I don’t care about anything. But the woman was already pulling away, laughing, leading Erin to her car, a Honda with Massachusetts plates. They began to make love on the leather seats, their clothing opening under each other’s fingers. Erin tried to push Rachel’s face from her mind—the tangle of dark curls, the stubborn off-center chin, but it hovered even as Erin moved her mouth over the other woman’s breasts, as she shut her eyes, leaned back, let herself move into forgetfulness.

When it was over, Erin hungered for more, for the woman’s skin, rich and textured, for a deeper erasure of Rachel’s touch, of her parents’ voices. They went to Patti’s, where the door was open, a note left for Erin to be quiet. They spoke only in whispers, going to the kitchen for hot drinks, but as the woman backed Erin up against a counter their breathing grew deep, exhales coming with force, like wind, like tides. Erin’s mug crashed onto the tiled floor; she heard Patti’s voice in the bedroom. The woman asked if she should stop, but Erin waited only a moment, and when Patti didn’t appear, pulled the woman’s body against her own.

Finally, toward morning, they fell asleep. Erin woke to the woman kissing her good-bye. She watched the long slow movements of the woman’s body as she dressed, as she walked to the door. They didn’t ask for each other’s number. Erin lay back down, tossed her braid out from under her shoulder, and went back to sleep.

Ayurvedic Cleanse, Day 2: Getting Honest about Gender and Sexuality


Yesterday my partner threw up.  It was right after couples therapy, so an appropriate response, in my opinion.  However, she liked the couples therapist, so it might have been the cleanse, or the IFS talking to the headache exercise.  I don’t suppose we’ll ever know.

Before the couples therapy, in the early evening, my stomach inflated with gas like a beach ball and I also felt nauseated (partly from listening outside the bathroom at the therapist’s as my partner blew kitchari chunks over and over).

Lesson learned:  don’t say that day 1 of the cleanse is great until the day is over.

I’m still nauseated today and to distract myself I set aside the reading about Buddhism and read Self-Made Man by Norah Vincent. I devoured the book, last night and then this morning.  The book is about a lesbian who lives as a man for 18 months in order to learn about maleness.  She is full of preconceptions, and most of them get pounded into dust, where preconceptions belong (believe me, I know about this).

But, more importantly, at least for me, the book made my deep love for men and maleness resurface at a time when it was on the way up anyhow, because the devised theatre piece I’m working on at Endicott College this fall is about exactly that–maleness, gender, how men feel about women and each other.  It’s a very light comedy, which in some ways makes me sad because I have felt so deeply moved by the men in my life, and what they’ve shared with me about their struggles to be men and to feel connected to other men, that I want to put it into words, into story.  Norah Vincent put on a disguise to enter the world of men, but I have always entered as myself, as a woman who has similar emotional patterns to men (as in, a certain allergy to feeling and showing emotional vulnerability and a need to seem strong at all costs).  I have been accepted, loved, criticized, feared and admired.  But most of all, I have been trusted; and there is nothing in the world like that, like being let in to someone else’s sacred space because you are you, and that’s enough.

Anyhow, to get to the beginning of the story.  Which is my own gender, or gender preference, both of which are relatively complicated.  Gender, at least in its obvious form, is simple.  I am a woman.  In some ways I embody the feminine principle–artistic, creative, attracted to all that is liminal and emphemeral, sensitive, dreamy, spiritual.  But I am the oldest daughter, and oldest children are often identified with their fathers–I certainly was.  I learned about a man’s world from my father–when he took me to ball games, on sales calls, to dinners, company parties, to theatre, bars, you name it. I was his little girl tomboy, and I imitated the men–I swore like they did, I cheered like they did.  I learned about being tough and one of the guys; much better than being the bullied girl I was at school, utterly vulnerable.  I mean, I am a woman who understands men and I grew up that way–comfortable with men and their world–not boys, men.

Gender preference is another story.  I became openly bi-sexual when I had my first relationship with a woman at 19.  Then I dated men, then I dated women, then I had another relationship with a woman, then I dated men, and then I got with my now partner, gender queer, somewhere in between male and female, which I am grateful for and have been for the 25 years we’ve been together, since she ended my struggle to choose.  Because I am not a 50/50 bi-sexual.  I am bi-sexual in that I fall for the person, not the gender.  BUT, my need for men is different than my need for women–I don’t experience my relationships to gender as equal and the same…more like equal and different.

For example, up through age 27, as I dated men and women and had longer relationships with women (3 years and 2 years respectively, prior to this 25 year marriage), feelings started to surface.  Sexual feelings for both men and women.  But I felt off with my long-term girlfriends, both of whom were femme and extremely pretty (I still get a little male surge of pride at this, like, hey, I can get the really good-looking ones–my brother was jealous).  I didn’t fit with them, gender-wise or even sexually.  I felt the same way with the more masculine men I dated.  It was very confusing.

Now some women resolve this conflict by saying that they are lesbians because they fall in love with women (I’ve never been deeply and lastingly in love with a man, for example, except for my partner, who is a woman, but male).  I couldn’t say that.  I didn’t want to, for one thing, though I received so much pressure in the late 80’s from the lesbians in my life to declare, once and for all, that I was gay, lesbian, into women, swearing off men (I knew some separatists), that I just hung out with straight women to get some space from the judgment.

Of course, I hadn’t had the experiences that I would later have, of being allowed into the sanctuary of male vulnerability, particularly straight male vulnerability, so though I loved my male friends, many of whom were gay, I hadn’t ever been as close, as intimate, as I would later become.

And, face it, I am not a woman who wants to close off the exits, the opportunities, sign on for a single choice in any area of life.  I’m bi-sexual because I’m open to possibility and because I live a bi-sexual life style…meaning, a life with both gay and straight people, with intimate friendships with straight men (more these days than with gay men, which is surprising).  I walk in more than one world.  This is almost common now, but I lived this way, well, always.

But, it should be said that my German mother is also a closeted lesbian, and watching her life made me ambivalent about so many things–not wanting to be like her (lesbian, uptight, secretive, closed), not wanting to be closeted, afraid of the shame lesbians could face (I saw her duck it…which is about being consumed by it).  So.  Life is complicated, and so am I, and so, obviously, was she.

So, Self-Made Man.  I have had the rather unusual experience of being the only woman in support groups for men, the most unusual of the unusual being me and 60 men.  Some of this was during the men’s movement, when I offered a creative writing class for men (encouraged by many of the men’s wives, who were my students in all-women classes).  But it continued, as if fate drew me back again and again into the world of maleness.  I entered with comfort…not something anyone understood at the time, even me.  And with curiosity, interest, attention…the characteristics of love, really, wanting to just know.  No other agenda.  In the largest group, there were men who didn’t want me there, who consciously or unconsciously did and said things to make me uncomfortable, but there was a much larger contingent of men who circled round to protect me, who were made uncomfortable by any word or gesture of hostility toward me.  I was their sister, their mascot, the accepting female heart, hand, eye.  I didn’t flinch when they told me what they felt ashamed of.  And, because I was female, when I did get vulnerable I sometimes led the way into new territory, and they needed that…to be opened, to be given permission.

I was in love with all of them.

So now, working at Endicott, I have this deep longing to say that love, and to say what it’s like to work with men again, to be the woman in the room, to hear the stories, to ask for them, to listen, to see how some of these men truly love each other, and to understand that need that men have, to love each other openly, and how rarely they can.

I am in love, again, with maleness, with the struggle men have in this culture, to define goodness within the role they are handed, that asks them to shed deeply human parts of themselves, both their sometimes fierce sexuality, and their need to not be strong, not always.

I’m on a cleanse.  What I say is reflective of that, perhaps, and what I write here is so that I can let the play at Endicott be light, funny, as it wants to be.  I can love, love, love the men I have known–Steve and Jon and John and Pete and Joel and Chris and Todd–as well as the ones I know now.  I can be glad that the ways that I am off-limits gives me access.  Purely straight women envy this–at least my friends do.  I would say this–enter any world without judgment, seeking only to know and be known, and watch what happens.  That is so rare between straight men and women.  And the men know that, keenly.

Of course, earlier in my life, when men opened the door to being known, I entered with fear, but I let the fear go, and the men watched me do it, because I was honest, and that changed everything.

May I enter every moment of this day without judgment, wanting only to know. May we all learn that, how to just be, listening with our souls to the individual life, and how it beats its own rhythm, different from all others.

Eating My Words and Then Some….or, Sex, AGAIN


So, after saying that I had found no writing on sex from a Buddhist perspective, I continued on in After the Ecstasy, the Laundry, to find a chapter entitled, THIS VERY BODY.

I have been looking for this chapter.  That’s why I was sounding off.  I wanted to have some teachings to test against my experience.

The chapter is fantastic.  In it Jack Kornfield quotes Jung:

The erotic instinct is something questionable and will always be so whatever laws have to say on the matter.  It belongs, on the one hand, to the original nature of man, which will exist as long as man has an animal body.  On the other hand, it is connected with the highest forms of the spirit.  But it blooms only when spirit and instinct are in true harmony.  If one or the other aspect is missing, then an injury occurs, there is a one-sided lack of balance which easily slips into the pathological.  Too much of the animal disfigures the civilized human being, too much culture makes for a sick animal.

That’s it.  I officially forgive Carl Jung for being part of the psychotherapeutic world.  His theory of the collective unconscious is kind of Buddhist anyhow, plus the whole archetypal thing…I mean, I will even go so far as to admit I’ve always loved his work and don’t find it as anti-artistic as say, Freud.

The animal body.  The spirit.  Jack Kornfield also quotes Galway Kinnell, my favorite poet.  …Sometimes it is necessary to reteach a thing its loveliness, to put a hand on the brow of the flower and retell it in words and in touch it is lovely….

My own body carries a lot of pain.  My back hurts–twinges, stabs, aches.  I am taking my back as my teacher right now, and I am experimenting not only with the alignment of Iyengar yoga, but with the full relaxation of restorative yoga (also developed by Iyengar).  I lie with my legs on a chair, or up a wall, and I breathe.  I feel the tension run out of my muscles like water, and I feel the animal that is my body fall into the earth, knowing the earth is what it wanted (that’s sort of a half bastardized quote by Mary Oliver).  It is terrifying to find how much tension exists in my muscles on a day that isn’t particularly stressful (well, except for the existence of couples therapy in my life).  I am giving my body what it wants, I am listening not only for the liminal, but for the right here, right now, life of the body.  My body.  This one.  Aging and beautiful and full of stories I don’t seem to have heard yet.

I have found that when I do yoga, breathe, sing, dance–which I do whenever I have a lead in a play–that I feel sensual all the time.  I feel like a cat.  Movement, breathing, the sinuous play of muscle and bone and flesh…it’s not anything like being “hot” or “sexy.”  It’s life, spilling out and over everything.

In Kornfield’s book, there’s a quote from one of Thomas Merton’s students, saying he was the sexiest man the student had ever known.  I had a friend in grad school who said the same of Judy Dench.  Basically, that Judy Dench was so alive, she was sexy at 60, 70, however old she was.

And I’ve seen it.  At the topless beach in Nice, when I was twenty-four, I saw these French women wearing tiny bikini bottoms and nothing else.  They had to be at least 60.  They had round tanned bellies, big tanned breasts, cellulite; they laughed, throwing their heads back.  The ease, the comfort, with which they walked the beach impressed me.  American in ways I never wanted to admit, I was turned off by the extra flesh, all the while admiring their complete embodiment.  When I walked across the beach, my complete self-consciousness made my posture sway-backed.  I was tense, though I didn’t want to be.

I worry about the anti-body teachings of Catholicism, the church of my childhood.  I wonder about walking across a beach with that comfort, and if it is something I can ever know.  I worry about my tendency to be idealistic, and how saying that sex is spiritual can deny that it is also animal.

In this country, too animal.  And, paradoxically, full of shame and objectification.

I have this moment, in which I am doing restorative yoga, in which I am breathing, in which I will meditate.  I don’t have to answer the questions right now.  I can just wait for the answers to come, not from these words, but from my bones falling out of the cage of tension into something else that I don’t yet know, but might be water, might be earth, might be air or fire or everything.

I am in love with Jack Kornfield.  He’s doing a workshop at Kripalu in the winter, and I might just have to go.  I mean, anyone who quotes Galway Kinnell (he also quoted Mary Oliver), can’t be all bad.

I will not go wanting him to re-teach me my own loveliness.  I am doing that, right here, right now.  It is painful, wonderful, difficult, amazing.  It is the secret unveiled, the silent loving heart, the wish to hold everyone who has ever been hurt, the dream of flight.

Let me be teachable, in this one thing if in no other.

Sex


So far, in, I don’t know, 7-10 books on Buddhism, the only time sex is mentioned is in the precepts.  As in, don’t use your sexuality to hurt people.

Do Buddhists have sex?

Oops, have to take back that first paragraph.  Jack Kornfield talks about Krishnamurti’s womanizing in After the Ecstasy, the Laundry.  He talks about how charismatic leaders can lose their shit and start abusing their power.  In Buddhism as everywhere else.

Did the Buddha have sex after he awakened?

Christ, apparently, had some 6 or 7 children.  According to the Unitarians.  So he definitely had sex.  And the Buddha had a wife who joined the monastic life after he awakened.  So we know about the pre-awakening.  Definitely sex.

As for the current pop psychology wisdom, in the book Intimacy and Desire by David Schnarch, sex is best in mid life when you’ve figured out how to both hold onto who you are and take the risk of telling your partner who you are–including who you are sexually, what you like, what you feel, what you long for, what you don’t like, all of which is so close to our deepest shame that the risk is paramount to…well, let’s say running with the bulls.  (Because I am linking my blog together and because I’m still playing with unlike things that may not be that unlike.)

Now I must confess that after so many people read my last blog with the word therapy in the title, I just had to try putting the word sex in the title to see what would happen. Only now I feel obligated to talk about it.  OMG!

Well, here goes.  I’m queer.  And therefore there’s this extra burden to be sexually enlightened, along with the necessity of paying attention to what my experiences with homophobia have done to me…do I bring the prejudice I’ve experienced into the bedroom?  I think all gay people need to ask themselves about that…about the internalization of shame.

Then, I’m a woman.  And along with homophobia, there’s objectification, and how looks can work for you, and how you use them without even thinking about it.  There’s also exploitation and violence against women.

In other words, it’s never just sex.

In my plays, I write about sexuality as a sacrament.  When my characters become sexual, they are always reaching to God, reaching for meaning.  But often the reason sexuality has become so meaningful is because they’ve been hurt, because letting another person so close is not just intrinsically meaningful, it’s intrinsically terrifying.  The potential for being hurt is so great.

For seven years I worked with a man who was writing a memoir about his four marriages.  His first wife rejected him sexually, and this cut through him, really destroyed him in some fundamental way.  He wrote about it in terms of the myth of Inanna, who is skinned alive in the underworld, then put back together.  His third wife was a cancer survivor…sexually adventurous, sexually accepting, sexually challenging.  In his writing and in the conversations we had about it, it was clear that in some way she healed him before she died.

I learned so much from mentoring that man…probably 30-40 years my senior.  I learn how much we can both give and take away from each other when we become intimate.

I’m a woman, and I was raised Catholic, so I don’t particularly want to talk about my own sexual history.  I can say this–I came of age in the late 70’s, and I believed I could be sexual the way men were, that free sexuality and adventurousness were open to women as part of women’s liberation.  Which was, of course, followed by the advent of AIDS and watching nearly every gay man I knew die of it.  Not to mention getting tested myself.

I am a woman.  So sex and intimacy are irrevocably tied for me.  Think of that absolutely beautiful scene on Glee when Curt’s father tells him to treat himself as valuable, not to give his body unless he’s given his heart.

But I am experienced, and I know these things–if you have sex too early in a relationship, you create unbelievable drama, because your emotional system can’t handle it.  If you avoid talking about sexual problems, the space between you and your partner will become charged with tension and anger.  If you have sexual pain, your partner will feel it one way or another.  If you use sexuality to numb yourself, to avoid knowing who you are, or to unconsciously express shame, you are committing spiritual suicide.  And you are harming anyone you touch.

I learned from David Schnarch that sexual problems in long term relationships are common.  That there is always a high desire partner and low desire partner and that their feelings and dynamics are predictable.  That variety comes from intimacy, honesty and risk, not from tantra or kink.  That monogamy creates a crucible in which who we are is always known–that when we hurt our partner we know exactly what we’re doing, that when our partner isn’t satisfied or happy, we know it, just as we know exactly how to please our partner because inevitably SHE HAS TOLD US.  Often without words, but we have been notified nonetheless.

Father Paul Bresnahan and I had a conversation about homophobia and sexuality, in which we congratulated ourselves on agreeing that sexuality and spirituality are tied together, are in fact one thing, and that to strike at a person’s sexuality or sexual preference is to strike at his or her soul.

I will say this personal thing.  I come to sexuality with such a deep hope of acceptance, of being seen as precious and worthy and beautiful.  Those needs are so tender, they make me so vulnerable, that I don’t want just anyone to see them.  And to reveal oneself so deeply is spiritual.  To witness such revelation is spiritual.  It requires strength, and love, and honesty and care…the best of who we are.  So often there are hidden resentments and conflicts of needs.  We forget.

I would like to remember.  Sex is not meditation.  But it requires metta and the deep connection with metta for your partner.

Because face it, our partners drive us crazy, and most of the time that includes the bedroom.