You say you'll give me
A highway with no one on it
Treasure just to look upon it
All the riches in the night
You say you'll give me
Eyes in a moon of blindness
A river in a time of dryness
A harbor in the tempest
But all the promises we make
From the cradle to the grave
When all I want is you
To a Dark Moses
by Lucille Clifton
you are the one
i am lit for.
Come with your rod
and is a serpent.
i am the bush.
i am burning
i am not consumed.
The only sea I saw was the See Saw Sea with you riding on it.
Lie down, lie easy. Let me shipwreck in your thighs.
Heaven’s lips! I dreamed
Recently I was in a city where all of the public art had themes of failed romance, yet with overtones of hope. One depiction after another of lost dreams and gutted, broken love with a live undercurrent of promise and the optimism of next time—like a bright green tendril curling through a blackened, burned-out building.
I think of this art when I read Fear of Flying—a book of so many questions.
Erica Jong's heroine, Isadora, spends a lot of time talking about men and the conflict of being an artist and a woman. She asks the very real questions:
"Who do women look to for guidance? Who are our mentors? Who are our heroines?"
She lists the beacons of literary greatness such as Sylvia Plath "sticking her head into an oven of myth" and Lillian Hellman obsessed with Dashiell Hammet so "he'll love her as he loves himself," as well as Georgia O'Keefe "alone in the desert" and Simone de Beauvoir who "never makes a move without wondering what would Sartre think?"
She calls this group of female artists "shy, shrinking, and schizoid," and notes that they are almost all suicides or spinsters so "Was that where it all led?"
Do these great ladies reflect history or do they shape history? Are they simply a mirror in which we see ourselves or are they a window?
Mythology is a strange beast. I think of it like tattooing. When people get tattoos, does the art take life from being endlessly visible? From being talked about and explained and thus acquiring its own story of a time and place and mood? Or is the story an expression of something already inside the person that has simply taken shape in visible ink?
In that same way, are these strange, severe, suicidal heroines of literary mythology our future as female artists? Are they showing us what we are? Or are we female artists shaping ourselves around their example? Do we use them as wayposts, following them into the swamp where great art only comes from a shit life because there's a limited amount of energy accessible to us and if we spend it all on art, there isn't any left over for life.
I struggle with that balance as a writer. I find that if I'm living a story-worthy life, I have less energy to document it, and if I'm not documenting it, is it really happening?
Conversely, the times that I've spent the largest percentage of time in my daily life just writing, I'm the most cloistered and solitary and miserable. I'm not sure how to pour my lust and love and energy and passion into art without sacrificing the actual art of living.
Isadora asks, "Where was the female Chaucer? One lusty lady who had juice and joy and love and talent too?"
Where are those women who are creating great art and living great lives? Do they exist?
Juice, joy, love and talent. Isn't that a glorious description?
I want to be that. A green tendril of hope in the shit swamp because we all deserve better options than suicide or spinsterhood, especially in the service of art.
Juicy and joyful. Let it be so, world without end. Amen.
Not the we're-in-a-long-term-relationship kind of sex but the we-just-met-and-we're fucking kind of sex. The spontaneous kind. The risky kind. The kind that no one who lost their virginity after the year 1980 is ever allowed to have because it's UNSAFE and "Safety First" is supposed to be the slogan of our generation.
I just got an IUD placed and when a friend asked me how I was doing with it I flippantly said, "Well I've had sex without condoms and I'm not pregnant so I guess it's working." This friend loves me and knows my lifestyle and reads my writing and she still couldn't help herself from asking what my Ob/Gyn thought about that. She didn't know the context of the sex but she heard "sex without condoms" and assumed I was being UNSAFE and a doctor should take me to task.
The story is that I met a guy in Europe a few weeks ago and less than 12 hours later I fucked him without a condom. And also without any kind of conversation about it. We had both gone thru an exhausting exhilarating kind of day. He was jet lagged and we were drunk. We dragged each other thru public spaces, making out, feeling each other up, I sucked his cock in an alley way, we fucked in doorway. People probably saw us. I didn't care. I felt naughty, guilty, exhilarated, concerned, like I shouldn't be doing it and oh it's too late. Doing it.
The morning after I thought it was a good story. I hoped I didn't "catch anything," and quite truthfully I was much more concerned that I'd had a tampon in while we had sex and I couldn't find the tampon afterwards.... I eventually found the tampon with much effort but that was a harrowing adventure. Perhaps it overshadowed my emotions about the condom-less sex?
I saw him again a few nights later. This time we were sober. We found a (less) public place that was (probably) not quite as visible.
He unzipped his pants and pulled out his cock.
Him: I should have asked if you were on birth control.
Me: I am
He positions his cock.
Him: Of course I'm clean, I hope you are too
Me: I am
It's all so very 21st century, isn't it? First night hysterical euphoria, second night calculated risk taking and the token "are you clean?" conversation because all our training, all our education, everything we hear and see says sex without condoms is wrong. It's UNSAFE. And we should be SAFE. Always.
It's why we have toddler car seats and bike helmets and temperature warnings on McDonald's coffee cups. For our Protection. For our Safety. 21st century rules of American life say that without Protection and Safety there's only Injury. Blood. Disease. Lawsuits. Anarchy. Death.
But despite the rules and the lawsuits, here we all are, taking chances and figuring things out, making spur of the moment decisions and catching up later. So where are we all if we're not protected and safe? What does that space look like?
My space looks like this: I'll continue to mostly use condoms. I'll also continue to sometimes not use them. I expect I'll have a few mornings of "oh shit, that wasn't smart" and God willing I'll mostly be smart. Because I'd rather be healthy. But I also want to say yes to things that are fun or that scare me and see what happens.
I should now go get tested but that's just a consequence of actions. It's not a conclusion. I don't have an easy conclusion because society says that I should feel bad about condom-less sex but I don't. And writing publicly means that I might have to defend my actions. Call them CHOICES—the biggest defense of any action in the 21st century. Maybe excuse myself or rationalize.
But the reason that I'm writing this is because it happened. And I'm still thinking about it.
"Even without fascism I was dishonest. Even without fascism, I censored myself. I refused to let myself write about Germany, the unhappiness in my marriage, my sexual fantasies, my childhood, my negative feelings about my parents. Even without fascism, honesty was damned hard to come by...I decided then that I was not going to be self-righteous with Horst until I had learned to be honest with myself... Unless I could produce some proof of my own honesty in writing, what right had I to rage at his dishonesty?"