Today is Valentine’s Day, a day we don’t celebrate in our household because my partner Cairn and I try to make every day worthy of love. We don’t go out on this day, nor do we buy things for each other. Like Christmas or birthdays, it is just another commercially-motivated day to spend money, uselessly. We went out last night, however, like we do once a week, and had phenomenal Italian food instead, followed by Fernet Branca and expensive bourbon on the couch. Nonetheless, inspired by our recent viewing of the movie Marjorie Prime in which holograms of dead loved ones come back to assuage the living who miss them, I did end up penning an email to Cairn this morning from my perch at the coffee shop in the rain. I pretended like he was dead and told him all the things I would say to his holograph so that he might get to know who he’d been while alive and be able to most accurately depict him. Then I sent a crying Avatar of myself to my closest family members via text with the words, “I Love You” as if our bonds were drenched in sadness — a Freudian slip because our roots definitely are.
After writing for hours about Japanese Uyiko-e art and smoking an endless array of half cigarettes (two or three puffs so I can pretend I am not a smoker, I am quitting tomorrow, I promise), I became enthralled again at the way the Japanese have always viewed sex and pleasure. In the Edo period, under the rule of the Tokugawa shogunate’s military regime, a group of “pleasure centers” cropped up around Japan where entertaining the senses was encouraged and a peaceful life of leisure prescribed for those in the upper hierarchies including the warriors. Kabuki theater, sumo wrestling, and poetic, subservient geishas, and teahouse mistresses reigned to tantalize every sensual yen. Courtesans in licensed bordellos were also abundant. The art of uyiko-e prints started largely to document this time and these activities and fell under numerous genres of “floating ink pictures on screens and scrolls” such as those that portrayed sex, those that portrayed beautiful people, those that portrayed animals, landscape, and nature, and others. The sex ones intrigued me, because of their gracefulness, their de-eroticization of the natural body, and their seeming admittance that sex was something to be respected as separate from the normal course of one’s existence, not tangled up into love and relationship in the impossible ways of a humanity constantly seeking integration. The primal and the practical may co-exist but they will never marry. All these years later, I still find this respect for the separateness of sex in Japanese culture. Most recently while viewing the film Love Hotel which centers upon one of many such hotels in Osaka where people seeking titillation and private time away from their lives can escape. Monogamous couples and pairs who have been married for years go to act naughty for an evening, watching erotic films or role-playing in toy-equipped rooms. Others, those seeking trysts, or just the opportunity to act out a fantasy for an evening, discover that chance. The fact that these buildings exist for exactly this purpose is wonderful, it provides a pocket of permission, and the recognition, again, that sex is something that should be viewed as separate, almost like a hobby we enjoy or a place we love to visit. I am also reminded of an episode of Girls, in which Shoshanna moves to Tokyo and in one outing with a group of men, one of which she is particularly attracted to, they attend a sex club where the boys are willingly spanked for fun. This is all done together, as another regular event not unlike a rave, house party, or dinner on the town with friends. Then, while watching a show about the hostess industry in Japan, I see the evolution from the old tea house geishas to a contemporary version where men go to let off steam and listen to the coo of a nice woman’s voice who expects nothing of him. I learn that there are also places cropping up like this for women.
Since I am currently writing a novel about desire, all of this intrigues me. I have no doubt that there are bad underlinings to some of these outlets, and that abuse, harassment, and violence is just as apparent in the industries as is apparent in any industry revolving around the peddling of fantasy and flesh. What I am in thrall of is they way the Japanese culture has unapologetically placed an understanding of their sensuality front and center, so as to be less daunted by it like we Americans are — so puritanically detached from the real, primal, truths of desire that we criminalize prostitution, besmirch porn, decry any honest dialogue between men and women about the equally rife eroticism every human being inherently holds, in lieu of pretending that we are striving to find progressive, alternative ways in which one man and one woman can become an enlightened New Age package of an integrated triangle of which sex, love, and authentic partnership have found the perfect way to communicate, and cooperate, and become one living full circle that superiorly goes beyond any lesser specimens of humanity. I don’t think we are meant to be that package, quite honestly, and have far more admiration for those who see human beings for the things that they are. After living with Pollyanna glasses for nearly 40 years, and being ultimately confused in the process of believing in this heightened sense of higher being that I might possibly obtain with bucket loads of hard work, endless conversations, and laborious analyses, I am currently refrained to settling for the fact that sex and love are not bosom buddies–they can play in the same playbox together but they are entirely different animals. To take a step over to China for a moment: the Buddhists have it going on when they say that anything that feeds the pleasure of the ego is an example of human suffering and that anything motivated by the desire to serve from a pure heart is the antithesis of human suffering. That is sex versus love in its most distilled essence.
Speaking of sex, I am reading Erica Jong again. I first read Fear of Flying in my late teens while married to a very abusive man. Her tales of a Zipless Fuck thrilled me and kept me writing. Inside I was the same person as she was. Outside I was trapped in this thing I couldn’t escape. Reading writers like her, and staying true to my own voice within, was one of the prods of eventual escape for me. You can burn my body, but nobody can burn my writing down. I will fight to the death for my right to write. This time Erica and I are much older, she more than me with a wide-mouthed, white-toothed grin on the back cover of her Seducing the Demon: Writing for My Life, and as usual her honesty impresses me. On the front is her youthful self, ready for that Zipless Fuck, reminding us that at one time we wanted her, so don’t go red in the face when you realize she still wants the same sense of freedom in fucking, even if now tampered by wisdom and age. I also revisited her in my early thirties, read Fear of Fifty, which I remember nothing of and should’ve saved till now when at 44, I probably would have appreciated it more.
In any case, on this day of wine of roses for most people, I will stick with my love of the literary and end with Jong’s “Twenty-One Rules for Writers”:
1. Have faith–not cynicism.
2. Dare to dream.
3. Take your mind off publication.
4. Write for joy.
5. Get the reader to turn the page.
6. Forget politics (let your real politics shine through).
7. Forget intellect.
8. Forget ego.
9. Be a beginner.
10. Accept challenge.
11. Don’t think your mind needs altering.
12. Don’t expect approval for telling the truth.
13. Use everything.
14. Remember that writing is dangerous if it’s any good.
15. Let sex (the body, the physical world) in!
16. Forget critics.
17. Tell your truth, not the world’s.
18. Remember to be earthbound.
19. Remember to be wild!
20. Write for the child (in yourself and others).
21. There are no rules.
As I write this now, Cairn is outside, placing a fat brined turkey onto the grill. Toddlers play in the neighbor’s backyard. Jazz infuses the second story floor of our home. These are my contemporary motifs of love.