An ice planet with a nuclear core of sizzling synaptic energy

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​I’ve loved the opening paragraph of Collette’s “Bella Vista” for years 💖 So often being single is regarded as a period of inactivity between volcanic diversion, but my most captivating memories and experiences happen regardless of what page in on. And no page of my life has ever been empty. 


The Secret-Keepers

The night Leonard Cohen died, I surprised myself by not feeling sad at all. I just put on the album I’ve been listening to since I was a kid, The Future. There was no threat of tears or melancholy; no emotion. I just let the nihilistic sensuality seduce me under and out of sight the way I did as far back as 2nd grade.

That night I thought of how artists like Leonard Cohen and H.R. Giger… men with such intense, unapologetic libidos and harrowing visions of the world… FASCINATED me as a child. The Future was the only Cohen album my parents had when I was a kid, and it went missing all the time… into my room.

Under my headphones, alone in the dark, I loved the delicious feeling that his overpoweringly masculine voice was corrupting me, telling me secrets I wasn’t supposed to know yet. I didn’t understand what the searing desire in his voice was for; I didn’t know what had made him so contemptuously hopeless, but it excited me like a glint of light down an obscured tunnel. I loved the feeling of being lured away from the walled gardens of my childhood into tall hedges filled with mysteries.

He would reference things like women hanging upside down, Stalin, apocalypses, repentance… hopeless sex on the edge of destruction. My 8-year-old brain didn’t know WHAT he was talking about but Leonard Cohen was the only adult who seemed likely to let me in on the secrets adults hide haphazardly from children. In the same way I would interrogate my uncomfortable French teacher about what blowjobs were, I would listen obsessively to Leonard Cohen’s music for clues that could fill out the dark edges of the shrouded adult world.

There’s even a line in “Closing Time” where he says “I lick my glass to the awful truth / Which you can’t reveal to the ears of youth / Except to say it isn’t worth a dime.” And I would think “That’s ME you can’t reveal it to! But goddamit I’m going to figure it out from this album whether you like it or not, Leonard!”

As a child I believed, but couldn’t confirm, that the secrets he was close to sharing were hidden somewhere in the music. And listening to these same songs as an adult, I realize that they ABSOLUTELY were. But I had to grow up and go through my own adult shit before I could decipher his meanings.

I would listen to “Waiting for the Miracle”, just as stirred by the too-intimate rumble of desire in his voice as with his thrilling, despairing lyrics. My skin still tingles like it did in fourth grade when he begins with that hungry “Baby, I’ve been waiting…”. I knew though, even in my innocence, that I was listening to something illicit and secret. My parents would play the album openly after dinner, probably thinking I was too young to understand anyways. But it was exactly my inability to understand him that would make me sneak the album into my room to listen to privately.

I discovered H.R. Giger a few years later when I was thirteen… a small book we had of his work disappeared just as quickly into my room. He was another artist who wore his boner on his sleeve, entirely unashamed of his nightmarish mind and perverted obsessions. I think both he and Leonard realized as young men that their internal landscapes were much too intense to repress, disguise, or water down.

Sex and arousal seemed like such a shameful secret to me as a child, and Cohen and Giger made me feel okay about it. They fully embraced their inner depravity, but not in the way that now alienates me from men who come on WAY too strong. Both of them had a deep, sexy appreciation for women’s beauty whether or not they were fucking her. Instead of feeling objectified and threatened, their vision of women seemed to reveal the exultant power I felt inside. Instead of leering at me, I felt like they were looking right through me to the magnificence their work sparked in my blood. I felt beautiful, seductive, powerful, and important through the way they focused on women.

It can be a fine line between objectification and celebration, one I still struggle to define. But I grew up with a father who looked contemptuously upon women who were in control of themselves, who slept with who they wanted and lived without shame. He would sneer the word “slut” with pure venom and looked down on single mothers as trash. Once we were watching a German film where a woman started masturbating while bored at home, and he spat “She’s selfish“. He told me when my grades were slipping in high school that “an uneducated woman was just a baby-making machine.”

In contrast to my fathers’ disgust for women’s sexual freedom and power, Giger and Cohen seemed to say “Go for it, baby. This is your show. You’re hottest when you’re doing what you want.” I would feel the spark of something like divinity when I connected to my internal self. Sometimes it was sexual, sometimes it musical, poetic, or just imaginative, but always a blinding, superhuman intoxication. Where I felt devastatingly beautiful, lethal, playful, ravenous, irreverent… when Cohen or Giger gazed at me,  they were seeing that demon-goddess I felt like while the song lasted.

I had my own well of horror to contend with from a young age. Seeing how they let theirs flow freely into their work made me less afraid of being consumed by mine. Sexuality is only one of the secrets adulthood keeps, and not even the most interesting half the time. I had labyrinths opening up in me as I got older, down which I delighted to stray. During my high school years, I didn’t know anyone who could follow me to those places, but Leonard Cohen and H.R. Giger were foremost amongst the artists who could go there with me.

When Giger died suddenly from an injury two years ago, I felt ripped open down the front of my body. It was like he’d been torn out of those secret passages we’d travelled together as spelunkers through my arteries and synapses. Male desire in my teens had seemed so funny to me; teen boys with their frantic erections had failed to rouse my desire even once during high school. Their transparent, panting need was right there on the surface; no lure, no mystery, no seduction. I’d had vibrantly adult men as immaculate lovers since I was a child in the form of Cohen and Giger, and teenage boys didn’t stand a chance.

So I felt as though my first lover had died. Though we’d never met, Giger had been one of the only men I’d ever allowed past my defences. His luscious, nightmarish desire had thrilled me in ways no fumbling boy had ever been able to. He’d given me, and all his fans, unlimited access to his every dark fantasy and vision, and so I felt as though he had access to mine. Even though it was one-sided, I was crushed by his death.

I’ve been wondering this last week why Leonard Cohen’s death didn’t crush me the same way. Perhaps because he was frail and aging even when I went to a concert almost ten years ago. I’m pretty sure I was the only 17-year-old in that whole building, lusting for him from my balcony seat. I asked the middle-aged couple in front of me if they minded me clinging to the railing next to them, and they replied “Whatever you like, dear.” It’s only now that I can decipher their bewildered side-looks as I gasped, trilled, and moaned during his husky songs! At the time I just thought “Why isn’t everyone this turned on?”

I think… here’s my first thought as to why Leonard Cohen’s death didn’t hurt like Giger’s did. Two years ago, I was in a very insecure but innocent place. I was so uncomfortable with my desires, so hungry for intimacy and intellectual companionship, and I was looking for that in the wrong people. I wasn’t a fraction as emotionally/sexually comfortable as I am now. I was fragile then with little self-sufficiency. So when Giger died, I felt abandoned on an alien planet with no resources or intimacy. But two years later, I’ve spent so much time developing my inner strength and ability to validate/celebrate myself from within. This time when one of those first lovers died, I don’t feel incomplete and vulnerable without him.

This time, my immediate response to learning of his death was to turn off all the lights except for my glowing pink ones, put on a négligée, and revel in the voice that had felt like a worshipping paramour for the last twenty years. This time his spirt had already been interred within me for so long that he felt alive in my every nerve and breath. It was as if his death had only reminded me how vibrantly present he would always be in my body and mind whenever I listened to his music. Years of seducing his way past my defences, getting in before they were even formed, meant that a part of Leonard Cohen was always going to be alive as long as I was.

I think he’d like that: the idea that a weird teenage girl was unashamedly getting off to him in a theatre balcony. I think he’d like knowing that a little girl rebelled from her father’s contempt for women by listening to his albums, that she got her first flushes of personal power from his lyrics. I think he’d like knowing that my response to his passing was to put on something sexy and indulge in his voice like a warm bath.

My models for what constitute an attractive man are based on Leonard Cohen and Jean-Luc Picard. Intelligent men who appreciated women’s beauty without trying to control it, who saw the divinity in women without erasing their humanity. I’m turned off instantly by men who just want to project their pre-exsiting fantasy onto me. I’m drawn instead to men who want to see me at my freest, whatever that may be. Unfortunately, I’ve never found one my age or single! It would be amazing to meet a man who’s curious about who a woman is, rather than trying to make her be what he wants.

I didn’t know Cohen or Giger personally, or whether they indeed fit this description. Rather, their depiction of women in their art instilled a feeling of power and beauty in me from a young age. I think that helped me grow into a woman with zero tolerance for being controlled/defined/expected to be anything but who she is naturally. And the feeling of intimacy I had with these artists made me crave the kind of man who wanted to get to know me instead of telling me who I am (something FAR too many men rush to do when they meet me).

Now as an adult beginning to write and create from a place of unashamed openness about all the things I felt ashamed of as a child, I can see exactly why their frank perversity appealed so strongly to me. Both so in touch and luxuriant in their sense of horror, in their strange lusts and apocalyptic visions… I spent years trying to water those things down in myself, fearing I’d come off as too intense or disturbed. I can see now that my sense of horror is such as lush and exciting as my sense of optimistic wonder; neither are disturbed or unhealthy. They are siblings of the same root structure.

Sometimes I miss the feeling of intense curiosity these secret-keepers aroused in me. That was real innocence: sensing there was SOMETHING Cohen and Giger could confide in me but not knowing what. Knowing that it was against the rules for them to share it with me. Loving the feeling that they were trespassing in my mind like a boy who’d climbed through my window; it was a secret, against the rules, I had the power to permit.They were the first ones I shared my secret self with, the first to be AS twisted, perverse, and transgressive as my excitements felt inside.

Now that they’re both gone, I feel them under my skin like internal tattoos, secret friends who got in early and stayed with me until I could function independently. They’re there with David Bowie, Jean-Luc Picard, Seven of Nine, Lestat… every artist or character I adored when I was young and bored by the real people around me who had no secrets I was curious to learn. Some taught me nobility, strength, independence, but Cohen and Giger were the two lovers who brought me tales of the dark, exciting, erotic world outside my tower, a world I’d get to explore for myself someday.

Thank you to my two inaugural lovers. Because of you, I know the intricacies of my own erotic imagination and have confidence in my self-knowledge, enough that I’ll be able to curate men intelligently into my adult life when I want them. Your work was the literal definition of “empowering”: I have so much personal power now because of how you trusted me with glimpses of secrets when the big world was so shrouded in frustrating mystery. In some form, you’ll live as long as I do.

 

 

The Grand Asymmetry: Misogyny In the 2016 Election

I was born with feminist software preinstalled in my brain. No one taught it to me, no one instilled it, no feminist agenda corrupted my vulnerable female brain. I opened my eyes in this world a fully activated ball-busting feminist and got the word for it later.

My mom tells me how I was practically a Terminator when it came to spotting inequalities, zero’ing in and demanding they be explained or corrected. My Disney picture books are full of pencil markings, editing in “or she” and “or her” to amend every use of the universal “he” or “his”.

I remember an intense need to see the world as a mathematically symmetrical place. As a Canadian child I’d been handed the idea that all people are entitled to equal rights, and long before it was a moral impulse, it was an obsessive-compulsive need to ensure the world reflected that ideal. I was not some angelic child who even empathized with others very deeply; the world felt unsteady if it was socially unbalanced.

Jagged inequalities in language or social structures rattled around in my brain and it felt difficult to even process them as real. The first time I heard about misogyny, I remember not being able to fully process it as a real fact. On an episode of Star Trek: The Original Series, women were being murdured and one character said it was due to “hatred of women”.

“Hatred of women?” I thought to myself. “That makes no sense. How could you hate someone because they’re a woman? How could you hate all women? I thought men liked women… they’re always trying to go on dates with them in movies. How can you hate someone you like?”

My brain has struggled to process senseless things before, like the arbitrary cruelties of someone with Narcissistic Personality Disorder or parental abuse driven by a hatred I couldn’t understand. I’ve had insomnia for years and the primary cause is that I lie awake at night trying to make senseless things fit into an analytical model that reflects the natural symmetry I still believed the world must have.

Until last night, watching the red numbers stack up on top of themselves like ladybugs piling up in drifts on the beach, I’m not sure I ever fully believed deep down that misogyny was a true part of reality. Even having experienced it personally in a systemic pattern, living in fear of it, letting it chip away at me over the years, reading countless stories of it, the automaton child inside me was still alive, blinking in disbelief that such a grand asymmetry could really exist. The hatred in my father’s eyes as he waved a knife at me for saying I wanted to do my own homework without his help. The violence in a man’s voice when I told him to get his hands off me in a bar. The murderous rage as men follow me down a subway platform… it’s like the software in my brain kept rejecting it as a deviation from the natural SENSE that must indeed govern this world.

I think I must have regarded misogyny as an act of insanity… random aberrations in the natural justice that must drive the evolved human brain. I’m looking at that naĂŻvetĂ© now as I would a bird that cracked its neck hitting a window: something innocent that died through no natural flaw, but as a result of a human artifice. I’m holding this bird in my hand dazzled by the simple grace that stood no chance of survival in a habitat spotted with unnatural constructions.

Misogyny is not natural. It is a series of beliefs, entitlements, resentful desires, illogical rationalizations, comfortable conclusions, ragged hungers, and terrified insecurity that thrive off of a constructed “other”. It does not fit anywhere into a structure of sense and order. It’s a craggy growth that’s coated centuries of civilization because of the intoxicating relief it offers fearful, fragile minds that bond with one another through contempt. And what else do you expect of little boys but to be that fearful and fragile in cultures that shame them for feeling anything deemed too ‘feminine’?

A small boy who’s called a ‘girl’ or a ‘cocksucker’ for struggling at sports, or having an allergy, or thinking a cat is cute, is NOT mentally independent enough to resist this unnatural relief. It’s like giving him a drug that explains to him why he’s only allowed to participate in less than half of a full human experience. And then when he sees girls allowed to get away with the ‘weaknesses’ he’s punished for, he’ll resent them, himself, and even other boys who struggle to perform this unnatural idea of what maleness entails. This pressure has remove anything “male” from masculinity and turned it into an anxiety disorder.

When he’s a teenager seeing girls being pulled out of class for their collarbones showing, he’ll assume girls deserve to be punished for their bodies. He’ll hear rape discussed as if it’s a natural disaster that girls need to be virtuous enough to avoid. He’ll learn that women’s bodies are defined by their sexuality and do not belong to them, that they exist to be seen and enjoyed men and therefore can be policed. He’ll think it’s okay to shame women for having a sexuality because his teachers, principals, and parents have already done that.

And when he’s grown, maybe he’ll see women as “beautiful creatures” to be protected or used according to how their bodies make him feel. Or maybe he’ll see them as “stupid sluts” who should be dispensing sexual contact since their bodies only exist for men anyways. He’ll see their free agency and free choice as hubristic selfishness, not only because he’s been taught to see them as objects but also because he’s been under unnatural pressure to perform masculinity since he was old enough for Little League.

And when an overqualified woman who’s dedicated her life to public service with years of political experience runs for President of the United States against a grossly unqualified buffoon who ran just to gratify a pathological need to win contests… he will be so brainwashed by these asymmetrical, senseless attitudes that he won’t even register his resentment of Hillary Clinton as “misogyny”. He’ll say it’s because Donald Trump seemed more honest, and he’ll believe that because the attitudes have wrapped around his brain like black mould since he was too young to question their illogical premises.

This grand asymmetry takes different forms in many communities, spreading like a virus that adapts to unique surroundings. Homophobia, internalized homophobia, internalized misogyny, femme-shaming, bottom-shaming, sissy-shaming… it’s all the “same old thing in brand new drag,” as David Bowie put it.

Last night I sat quietly while I watched the numbers pile up. And that bird died slowly, finally, as I saw the attitude I’d regarded as insanity sweep across America like a red plague. It was more than just misogyny; it was every unexamined attitude towards the other, racism in particular. Donald Trump rationalized the mob mentality these fearful people already had, exciting their basest, most illogical instincts.

People said Hillary didn’t excite people. You ought to be fucking SUSPICIOUS if someone is exciting you so easily; that’s manipulation. She was an Apollonian candidate that appealed to our senses of logic, justice, calm-minded fairness and respect. Those things don’t inflame the senses like hatred, fear, and paranoia. Dictators coast into power on these fevers, using ignorance to enflame simmering primitive passions into enraged wildfires.

I’ve been numb today because my brain has been restructuring itself. In the last few years I’ve started learning how to let go of senseless acts of cruelty and abuse. There’s only so much that analysis can wring out of them, which we document in books. Beyond that, the inhumane treatment of fellow human beings is driven by an echoing madness.

Every time I’ve thought of it today, thought of this maniac actually being President, I’ve burst out laughing. The well of horror has overflowed and my brain can only process it as absurdity. I think this must be why women would go “hysterical” in the past. The senseless world defies logic or justice, and then one day you just can’t stop laughing. I feel like if I don’t laugh, I’ll scream.

All my life I’ve heard that women are illogical, untrustworthy, materialistic and too emotional. And it has always baffled me given how often I’ve seen men’s faces twisted with rage and hatred, spewing crazy nonsense to rationalize their internal narrative. We can all be illogical and untrustworthy; those are gender-neutral qualities.

But last night I saw a woman with Apollonian composure lose to a man driven by Dionysian fevers. We just saw how important logic and reason ACTUALLY are to people who would rather not examine their misogyny and racism.

I sat next to a friend I’ve known for over ten years last night. A cis, white man. The female MC at the bar said into the microphone that clearly people still hated a woman more than they hate a racist. He dismissed her with disgust, saying “Shut up.” A woman near me was near a breakdown, singing “It’s the end of the world as we know it” as she cried. He also sneered her off as a drunk. I held my hand out to her, expressionless. She looked at my hand warily, maybe confused because of how unemotional I looked. Her face was red with crying and I was blank as stone. It took her a few seconds of inspecting me before she took my hand and we hugged each other.

I realized I was making myself numb so that this friend wouldn’t turn his contempt on me. I think he was anxious about the result and maybe was processing it by acting like he didn’t care. But he said “I’m excited” and “I’m not going to let this break me” as if it wasn’t about the lives, safety, and dignity of millions of people just south of our border. And I thought to myself “How relaxing, to be a white man. You can just be float on the surface of other’s anxiety without it applying personally to yourself.”

He poked me and said “You’re not going to cry are you? Whatever happens, be classy.”

I replied “Don’t ever say that word to me again.”

Even my blankness was offensive to him. It reminded of when I was a teenager and my father would come into my room to rage at me. After a while, I started going emotionless as a predator-prey response. I would go as still and quiet as a squirrel does to avoid detection. I would stare at him blankly while he insulted and intimidated me and think how even if he beat me, I wouldn’t react. It doesn’t work for humans, though. He would get even angrier when he couldn’t frighten me into crying or cowering.

Maybe my friend thought he was trying to cheer me up. I could tell he was dealing with his own anxiety by trying to control / dictate how everyone else ought to feel about it. But I spent over half my life under the power of someone who tried to control my emotions or make me responsible for his. I’m bulletproof to such things at this point, and I soon got up to leave.

I lay in bed later, unable to make myself cry. I’d seen women crying in the bar, holding one another. I wished I’d had someone I could cry with, instead of a man demanding my emotions conform to his. Someone who had spent her life living this insult day-to-day. Who then had to watch it confirmed publicly through numbers that we are truly seen as inferior because of our sex. The nightmare that we’ve only just begun sharing with each other through Reddit and social media reared up as tall as a tidal wave for everyone to see.

I sat alone in my apartment an hour later, still numb from the bar. I watched the CNN livestream and wondered if this was just the most lucid nightmare I’d ever had. I have nightmares all the time about my father finding the home I’ve made for myself and kicking in the door to finally kill me; those felt about as real as this did. I pulled a blanket over my head and spoke to my drag self in the dark.

“Heresy,” I said, “How do I bear it? It’s too senseless. It’s too absurd. How is this real?”

She took my hand in the dark. Heresy has watched monstrous spectacles, seen kings beheaded, felt the heat from innocent women burned as witches. She is a diver in my well of horror and nothing shocks her. Not even this. And squeezing my hand, I let her speak with my mouth so I could listen.

“History is a not a path that progresses sequentially stone to stone. It’s a wheel. The weight of the high point draws up the low. We saw it with Weimar Berlin; the joy, freedom, and communion was counterbalanced by the resulting backlash of fear and hate. The cruelty of the wheel is that we think we’re safest when we’re highest, only to have our very joy provoke the hatred that will pull us down again.

“So remember the joy. Remember the communion and clarity that has been fought for in the last few decades. Remember its apex, not its fall. The untarnished memory of our greatest freedom, our greatest reason, will help us find our way back up around this wheel.”

The problem with having preinstalled feminist software is that my brain feels confounded and scrambled by inequality and injustice. That’s why I need Heresy’s voice to get me through times like this where I feel like I could break from trying to fit reality into a framework that makes sense. Heresy doesn’t need to make sense of senseless things. She watches them like a bird of prey, outside their power. And with her help, I’m going to find a way to live in a senseless reality without going mad.

 

Eroticism’s Missing Link

When I saw these erotic postcards from the 20s, I was surprised by the shivery delight they created. Beyond being just sexy, they made me happy, a feeling I couldn’t account for until I analyzed what was special about them. Do we really live in the healthiest era for sexuality that’s ever existed?

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Mashable shared these back in May, making them relatable to millennials by calling them “PG-13 Selfies” and condescendingly cooing over their antiquated charm. Isn’t is endearing, say they, what people found titillating back them? Oh, how quaint, when a bit of stocking was risquĂ©! But I found these sexier than any Redtube porn that’s produced with the same robotic precision as are predictable money shots. I found them more arousing and engaging than 90% of the sex scenes I see on HBO (and God knows they try so desperately).

I almost never see modern depictions of sexuality so playful, affectionate, fun, or MUTUAL. In each postcard, both people are comfortable, excited, and focused on each other… I feel short-changed that something so basic is depressingly rare in sexual media I see today. I felt cheated once I realized what made them so wonderful. It should not be rare and magical to find erotic art that depicts consensual, joyful, attentive erotic play.

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I sometimes hear all of history dismissed as a one-note regressive slog of prudery and shame that’s only recently shifted, but that’s simply not accurate. We may be saturated with sexual images and discussion now, but the absence of repression does not necessarily indicate that the fish tank is healthy – the pH could easily be out of balance in the other direction. Orwell depicted a world in Nineteen Eighty Four where sex was rigidly controlled and regarded as an unpleasant duty, and this is the extreme that’s usually presented when describing unhealthy sexual perceptions. But Aldous Huxley showed the other end of that spectrum in Brave New World, where sex was as mundane and meaningless as after-school chores. Inundation is no healthier than repression, not when sex loses all its context, value, intimacy… everything that makes it transcendent and joyful.

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A friend of mine contributed that it was the “natural and joyous” attitude the models had that made the postcards so involving. She said it was wonderful how unposed they were, how they were more involved with each other than in showing their best side-boob angle to the camera.

They offer context and focus. I hear women and men say often that one of the most erotic experiences is to be desired and focused on. To hold a partner’s undivided, ardent attention, to know that the sight, smell, and feel of your body is pleasurable to them. Why then, in a well-lit, stylized internet porn, are both partners barely touching while the camera hones in on a medical image that has become meaningless without any other form of intimacy colouring it? Who really has sex like that, pushed away from each other as much as possible so that the man can be cropped out of the shot?

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In a Tedx talk from 2013, Ran Gavrieli discussed “Why I Stopped Watching Porn”. At the time I was wary and critical because I still believed all depictions of sexuality must be inherently progressive and laudable. But he discussed how the aggressive, goal-oriented porn he found online made him irritable and impatient in his day-to-day life. He missed fantasizing about why he and the woman found themselves alone. He’d trained himself to want instant gratification and could no longer indulge in anything but the mechanics of the act.

From that I learned not all depictions of sexuality are created equal. And apparently, the majority of what I’ve been exposed to has been so lacking in connection or context that it feels dazzling to see a man kiss his sweetheart’s forehead instead of immediately interacting with her exposed panties. Their joy in each other and their excitement at being alone are more erotic than all the pitchy, artificial moans in the world.

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Though it’s the women whose lush thighs and shaded nether regions are being framed in these postcards, they offer no less eroticism for women than they would for men. Look at how he whispers in her ear; how he cradles her head; how she’s the one thing he’s interested in. Whether you’re the pursuer or the pursued, there’s a magic to how the world vanishes when you lose yourself in a partner’s desire. Noisy bars sound submerged and far away when he touches the nape of your neck. Eye-contact can be disarmingly electrifying in and of itself. A locked door feels like an obliging fortress preventing anyone from disturbing your stolen leisure.
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I am not being sentimental when I ask for context and intimacy – intimacy can be a dark, challenging thing as easily as it can be mushy. Intimacy is paying attention for the subtle signs that a partner has been triggered by a past trauma. Intimacy can be a dominant who knows a sub can only stay in certain positions for under ten minutes. Intimacy is a girlfriend who puts her hand inside her boyfriend’s coat while they’re on the subway, because she’s allowed. It’s focus and surrender co-existing in one pulse. As Joseph Gordon Levitt pointed out in his brilliant Don Jon, it’s “getting lost in another person”.

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Television studios could learn something from these postcards, not just in terms of how to present eroticism, but also in how they present everything that surrounds and informs our attitudes towards sexuality (I’m talking to YOU, Game of Thrones). Netflix is on the forefront of this, having given free reign to Melissa Rosenberg, the writer and show-runner of the massively successful “Jessica Jones”. Skip past the naught bicycle accident to bypass possible spoilers.

In contrast to how HBO depicts sexual violence against both women and men so exploitively and gratuitously that it ceases to examining rape culture at all, Melissa Rosenberg never had to show it on screen to tell a stronger story.

“If I never see an actual rape on a screen again it’ll be too soon,” she said in a recent interview with the Hollywood Reporter, to whooping agreement from me in my pyjamas. “It’s becoming ubiquitous, it’s become lazy storytelling and it’s always about the impact it has on the men around them.”
I am sick of turning my head and muting yet another brutal rape scene that has been dropped in just to shock and not to create empathy. Seeing yet another woman salaciously violated and knowing the predominantly male writers will defend it as “being real” or “confronting the issue” makes me want to punch a hole clean through my laptop screen. Rosenberg aims for richer territory with Jessica Jones, in which “the events have already happened and this is really about the impact of rape on a person and about healing, survival, trauma and facing demons.”
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Maybe studio execs feel like scenes had to be as short and brutal as a Redtube clip to hold a viewer’s attention, and maybe they have just cause to feel that way. If so, then I dread a ratchet-effect on the presentation of sexuality on TV: will sex be presented as more and more shocking to keep everyone live-tweeting and hashtagging a show to trending status? If I am so deprived of intimate, consensual images that I reach for these postcards like a parched castaway finding a spring, then I fear a tightening of the trend as viewers become harder to hold.
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Does sex loses its power and luxury when Tinder, Grindr, or OKC/POF allows you to hook up with a new person 2-3 times a week? Apps like that have struck me as gratingly goal-oriented, and it’s part of why I’ve lot nearly all interest in them. A brush of the hand, prolonged eye-contact, a whisper that only I hear… all of this unfolded for its own pleasure, its own immediate reward. I am strange in many things, but I believe this may be the one red-blooded thing about me. Sexuality without eroticism may as well be dental surgery with local anaesthetic: I’d just be accommodating politely and wondering how long before I can eat again.

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Eroticism is not nearly as intimidating to achieve as it sounds. I think that it could be taught as a classical field of study the way Ethics and Aesthetics are. It has many structures to be investigated like a natural science, yet the mystery of an art form in that it will never entirely make sense why we are drawn to what we want. The one thing I know for sure about eroticism is its foundation always lies in an emotional, intellectual, spiritual, or psychological context that compels us further into the labyrinth. Power, vulnerability, exposure, adoration, exhibition, protection, risk, and understanding all colour sexuality with their attendant gradients.
The postcards do more than flush my cheeks; they remind me that excitement and enjoyment are the very least I should be able to expect, not just from erotic media, but in my own experience.

This Creature Fair

I’ve been waiting four days to feel even slightly more centred or stable since David Bowie died, but it’s not coming naturally. My sense of disorientation, of having a core DNA base missing, only increases as I examine the feeling further.

I’ve been trying to push myself through to the stage where I accept it. I see the beauty in how he lived long enough to watch the seeds of gender-freedom and celebration of strangeness finally bloom in the mainstream. I say corny things to myself like “His spaceship knows which way to go.” I know he planned his last album release and was surrounded by loved ones. But it doesn’t alleviate this ragged, gasping sense of wrongness that his absence has left.

I still feel like my heart is eating itself when I listen to his music; like there’s a vacuum in the centre of the zeitgeist that could swallow and crush us. Our culture wouldn’t look anything like it does without him, and so it feels like we lost a primordial creator: one we’re completely lopsided without.

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Maybe people who’ve known their grandparents are more acquainted with the feeling of losing a beloved, integral presence you’ve never been without. But this is my first time grieving and I’m doing it all wrong. I snap into controlled spells of numbness, choosing to feel nothing for a few hours before letting myself go back to grief. And when I can’t sustain the numbness anymore, I’m pulled by my sternum towards the black hole that was created when he left. I keep thinking “How are we going to do this without you? There is simply no other off-worlder here to carry out your duties.”

 

The first time I saw the liner notes for Ziggy Stardust, it was like the alien messiah I’d been waiting for since first grade, the one I’d daydreamed about then, had finally appeared.”You’re not alone; give me your hands.” My teenage self needed him and I don’t know what I would have done without him. So now I feel lopsided because I haven’t yet become enough of what I want to be to carry on without him.

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To this effect, something very strange happened on Monday. I think when that black hole appeared, in spite of the enveloping pain, a self-preservation instinct must have taken over my mind. It’s the only thing that explains how David Bowie’s death transformed my life in under four days.

 

I first saw the news on my phone in my black, cold room at 7am when I got up for work, and didn’t turn on the heat or light for an hour while I cried. I realized almost immediately that there was no way I was going into my stupid job today, no way I could pretend I wasn’t a fucking disaster, not for a job where I was irrelevant and disrespected. I couldn’t properly mourn the death of this person without making a sudden, decisive change to my life. So I texted my boss that my first boyfriend from high school had died and couldn’t come in. I also resigned.

 

Here’s the strange thing: if I had not stayed home that day grieving, I wouldn’t have seen, during my first numb spell, that a friend was looking for someone to take over her amazing job as a Production Assistant at a gorgeous theatrical costume house. I had a trial shift today and I’m not sure if they’ll keep me. It’s okay if they don’t because I know now how a workplace can feed the soul, and I’ll pursue that with slavering energy until I find it again. I became light-headed and short of breath with the beauty and splendour of “the cage”, where over 50,000 sumptuous costumes live two stories high. I almost passed out seeing coat trains of fur hanging ten feet long from the ceiling, at the velvet, lacing, and luxurious folds of brocade pressing in on either side.

 

Whether they hire me or not, I wouldn’t have been there trying out for this amazing position if David Bowie’s death hadn’t prompted me to immediately quit my soul-sucking uncreative job. It disturbs me that the death of such a beloved, important person was what it took to get me to snap out of a state of numb inertia. Whatever happens, I never want to waste my time and energy in a place that drains me the way that restaurant did; the coldness, meaninglessness, the sexist attitudes, seriously inappropriate touching and comments, the utter lack of interest I have towards food I can’t eat — never again. Life’s too short for us Earthlings; there’s too much opulence and bizarre beauty to drown in. I want my lungs to fill up with imagination and creation. How did I forget that this is the only way that living feels like being alive?

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Anyways, I didn’t want anyone else’s grief to touch me this week. I didn’t want to see any RIP posts and feel like it had become just another hashtag. I couldn’t see “David Bowie trending” when I had to scream into my pillow to cope with an unprecedented sense of loss and emptiness. I knew there had to be lots of other people just as ripped apart by this, but I didn’t know who they were.

The only person in the world I knew for sure would be just as fucked up as me was Sharon Needles (aka Aaron Coady). What David Bowie did for me in my teens, Sharon Needles did for me in my twenties. Both have other-wordly stage personas that dazzle but do not obscure the tender hearts inside. Angie told David that “the messiah thing” worked for him and encouraged him to scream “give me your hands” in Rock n’ Roll Suicide. Sharon’s the last person to identify with a messiah figure, but she’s functioned as one nonetheless for a lot of isolated weird kids out there. Both performers wield strangeness and otherness to make outsiders feel like they’re not alone. Sharon has performed Bowie songs with a radiating, vibrant energy that shows how much respect and affection she has for the man himself. Perhaps because it’s my first time grieving, I could only share the experience with someone who’s already proven their sincerity and depth of feeling many times over to the world.

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Aaron shared a picture of himself without make-up, without a pose, without even a bandage on his cut browbone– his normally handsome face twisted in the same mutilated sense of horror that I was feeling. I only let his grief touch me for the first 48 hours; no one else came into my apartment and my mourning but Sharon Needles. I normally regard Sharon as a kind of pagan goddess: beautiful, fearless, razor-smart… but for the first two days I didn’t talk to anyone or leave the house, he felt more like a sister. I realized we were probably both teenagers at one point who got swallowed up in David Bowie’s music, film, or performances. We probably both fantasized about his unearthly androgynous beauty. And we probably both needed him at vulnerable times in our lives. I’d never dare compare myself to anyone so talented and fearless except in this one case: I felt closer to “Sharon”, to Aaron the artist, in our shared grief than I had in four years of reverently adoring his work.

Remember that clip of David Bowie performing “Starman” on Top of the Pops, strange, sexy, totally comfortable having chemistry with Mick Ronson in front of the entire world? The first time I saw that, I was at the AGO exhibit and ended up sobbing in public, trying to pretend I was just having a nose bleed. It sounds crazy, but I was crying because I was grateful that I hadn’t been young in the 70s, and that I was born now after this part of his career was long over. I thankfully didn’t have to be alive when he first appeared in our culture: languid, alien, caring, a force of youth and acceptance. I was grateful I never had a chance to fall in love with him then, because I would have spent my life broken-hearted. I counted my blessings that he was already a legend, a distant god woven into the stars by the time I was an emotionally vulnerable teenager. It doesn’t make his death any easier, but at least I didn’t have the pain of being young when he was young. I can’t imagine that level of attachment and loss.

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That clip from Top of the Pops kept coming back to me, not just from the memory of crying helplessly in front of strangers, trying to hiccup to my mom that I was “just so happy he’s old now.” I kept thinking of how no one had ever gone on a national broadcast and been this weird, this homoerotic, never been front and centre while challenging so many norms of beauty and behaviour. It makes me beam to think of how he must have made so many straight guys adjust themselves uncomfortably while they watched TV with their wives/girlfriends! And this on top of being a devoted husband, loving father, outspoken advocate for social justice and endless fount of creativity. I listen to “Kooks” and wonder what it must have been like to be that adored and accepted by your parents. That’s the type of parent I would want to be: “We believe in you.”

 

I loved to buy into his ‘alien’ thing. I still do. I feel like an alien all the time, and it’s fun to imagine that maybe David Bowie and I are from neighbouring planets in the same star system. But the part of me that’s showing no signs of healing yet is grieving for the marvellous human being who deserved twenty more years on this planet, his planet. I’m not mourning the god, the alien, the messiah, because those will live on as powerfully as they always did. The truth is, I’ve only known about ten men in my whole life that I would say are good men. Probably less, considering I didn’t know David Bowie. It frightens me that one of the only truly gentle souls I ever knew of, visionary or not, is gone. That’s why I think, “What are we going to do without you?” I know that grief can’t help but be the mourning of the self, and it’s probably closer to “What am I going to do without you?” Who will be as gentle, smart, creative, and inspiring? I only know a few who come close.

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The first song I heard in my head while I was still in my dark room that morning wasn’t the one I expected. I was in pain from sobbing so violently, and I couldn’t begin to imagine actually listening with my ears to any music yet. But I heard “Lady Stardust” over and over in my head while I cried. I remember being 15 and enchanted by the male pronouns coupled with the feminine title. I especially lingered over the line “Femme fatales emerged from shadows to watch this creature fair.”

 

Not that I’m a femme fatale or anything, but I frequently feel like some night-crawler that lives in darkness until a glowing personage makes me want to poke my head out of my cool, dry hiding places. And it’s the phrasing “a creature fair” that made my heart keep breaking. I’ve known those fair creatures before; even as a murky ink smudge on the shaded edges of their orbit, I know what fair creatures are like. Delicate, watchful, sometimes quiet and absorbent before springing suddenly into song, blazing, warm, and with a finite existence. They have the presence of a sylph, magnetic and elusive at the same time. I’ve been lucky enough to be kissed by some, adored in return; I’ve had their warm hands hold my face. They make intense, joyful eye contact without a shadow of a doubt that I’m as worthy of love and friendship as they are.

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The idea of one of these fair creatures being infected by cancer, knowing he was going to die, and ending his life with the prescient grace of a falling flower that knows it will forever scatter
 it still feels like a blunt set of talons rake my face every time I think of him being attacked by a cancer virus until it killed him. I thought I might actually be sick when I finally made myself look up how he died. I wish I could have held him until all that sickness absorbed into my body. I irrationally hate myself for not being able to do anything to give back to someone whose music and myth were so important to getting through high school. He guided me through a lot of frightening epochs and I never gave anything back. I never will.

 

I wish I could wrap all this up to a poignantly fulfilling conclusion, but the truth is that I am, for now, incomplete. My queen has died in battle and I don’t know if I’m supposed to keep fighting or just wander away. Frankly, death doesn’t actually seem that natural to me. It doesn’t seem like a part of life. It seems like DEATH, uncontrollable, menacing, occasionally glorious, but not worth the attention it gets.

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I can only think of one way to eventually feel okay about this, and that’s to design a full life and future the way that a very young David Jones did. He told Nina Simone that he didn’t think he had a great voice, but he knew what he wanted his life to be. To this day, he’s the only person I’ve heard say that, because who the hell else would even notice? I think the only way to fill this void is to focus on what I can control, and nurture as much creativity and curiosity as I possibly can in myself. There are things that are probably never going to come naturally to me, including being so accepting of strangers and so understanding of human frailty as he was. I don’t care if it never comes naturally to me; it’s still something I want to be even if it’s a struggle my whole life to lower that guard.

 

I’ve plastered over this void so that I can interact normally with people, but now I’m challenged to make my spirit full and rich enough that his absence doesn’t become an abscess. I’ve got this handful of stardust I’m gripping so tight it hurts, because it slips through mortal fingers just that easily. I’m going to have to swallow it all at once to keep it.

In its Original Russian: Translating Kudelka’s Nutcracker

Interpreting the iconic is James Kudelka’s specialty: from Johnny Cash to Tchaikovsky, he can personalize stories and music that audience members think they already know by heart. When even people who’ve never seen a ballet can hum along with the orchestra, how does a choreographer catch us off-guard? His disarmingly heartfelt production of The Nutcracker, celebrating its twentieth anniversary this year, explores the mystery of what’s found in translation, from a massive cultural scale down to how children interpret their surroundings.

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The performance opens with young siblings Marie and Misha helping their servants catch a rat in the stable. Before the gauzy scrim even rises, we’re dazzled by the luscious set and costumes designed by Santo Loquasto to recall both the intoxicating splendour and ethnic identity that existed side-by-side in Imperial Russia. The Romanov aristocracy was famous for imitating Europe to distance themselves from their Slavic roots, perceived then as too savage for polite society. And so in Act I of Kudelka’s Nutcracker, there’s a significant contrast between the children’s fashionably European parents and the serving class who remain traditionally Slavic in fashion and custom. But mothers in the audience will quickly note who is actually raising the children in this world.

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Danced by rising stars from Canada’s National Ballet School, Misha and Marie are corralled, comforted and corrected exclusively by their governess, Baba, and the stable boy, Peter. While they participate in a coldly formal dance with their stylish parents, they also disrupt it, and show far more engagement in the passionate community spirit between servants and townsfolk. They are also entranced by the dancing bears and horse conjured by Uncle Nicolai, who practices a yet untamed ethnic magic and chooses who enters the enchanted world of Act II.

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When Marie and Misha are spirited away to the Palace of the Sugar Plum Fairy, the contrasting elements between their two worlds flow together harmoniously into a breathtaking spectacle that celebrates nobility of spirit over nobility of birth. Are they dreaming? Is it a subconscious blending of their two cultural realities? Or do the children earn their passage into the enchanted world by proving themselves in a battle with the Tsar of the Mice?

Roles are reversed in this battle as Marie and Misha protect an incapacitated Nutcracker. Kudelka takes special care with Peter’s characterization in Act I to show why he is ennobled as the Nutcracker in Act II. Danced on opening night with glorying vitality by principle dancer McGee Maddox, everyone in the barn is enchanted by Peter as surely as the animals are enchanted by Uncle Nicolai. Serving girls and Baba line up to dance with him; the children obey him in everything; even their prim mother flirts with him before she is whisked away by a stern husband. Despite his low position in the Imperial hierarchy, a joyful Peter exudes nobility in how he treats others. There is a reason that Peter is chosen to share in the magic along with the children: he is more a prince at heart than the aristocrats who employ him.

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The court of the Sugar Plum Fairy honours the travellers when they arrive in Act II. Danced with astonishing grace by an angelic Heather Ogden, she retreats into her gold Faberge egg after a delicate solo. But it is Peter’s respectful touch that opens the egg again, and she re-emerges for a softly, sincerely romantic pas-de-deux with him. There are moments adults in the audience will notice more than their children, such as when Peter leads the fairy in a turn balanced on his arm, and then significantly turns his palm upwards for her to hold before repeating the same step with new meaning.

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Unlike their restrained and controlling parents, Marie and Misha witness a deeper connection blossoming between two characters based on mutual respect and affection. And unlike other traditional balletic heroes, Peter does not win the Sugar Plum Fairy’s heart with stereotypical masculinity; he can’t even win a battle against mice. Not a soldier, Peter is valued for being caring and trustworthy. Kudelka creates a world where characters are rewarded for playing against type: courageous children protect the adults and men become heroes through gentleness.

This version of Tchaikovsky’s Christmas tale integrates a historical texture into the story that asks if the children are envisioning an idealized version of their world, where beauty doesn’t come at such a high price. The Romanov era ended with the violent deaths of royalty as young as Marie and Misha 
 but in their dream, the contrast between classes does not result in horror. Rather, the magical realm elegantly merges the two worlds the children live in, bringing harmony to separation.

Twenty winters on stage, Kudelka’s Nutcracker still makes an icy breeze feel like a thrilling, redemptive brush with a gentler world.

 

The Nutcracker runs December 12 through January 3 at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts. For ticketing information, visit national.ballet.ca