In the gaze of the other

"My mistress' eyes are nothing…"


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The Good, the Ugly and the Human: a Tuesday Musing

 

Credit: http://m1.i.pbase.com

 


To be a good human being is to have a kind of openness to the world, an ability to trust uncertain things beyond your own control, that can lead you to be shattered in very extreme circumstances for which you were not to blame. That says something very important about the human condition of the ethical life: that it is based on a trust in the uncertain and on a willingness to be exposed; it’s based on being more like a plant than like a jewel, something rather fragile, but whose very particular beauty is inseparable from its fragility.
Martha Nussbaum, philosopher

Ruminating about abandoned love lately, I wonder how humans, a number of them anyhow, can open and shut their hearts with such certainty in such an uncertain world. How does one end a relationship, long and loving hard, and thereafter eviscerate the heart-memory of the once cherished object of his or her love, the light in his heart, the heat in her loins, never to speak or think of the other? Where, precisely, sleeps the graveyard of deep emotional attachment?

No one can control another to the degree necessary to keep and savor that other, to anticipate fear and resentment, illness and death–no way to squeeze answers to the riddles of human behavior.

To be exposed is to be vulnerable, open to danger, criticism, injury or death, whether physical or emotional. Who does not fear the ending of a relationship that houses everything, one that contains all of the self thrown into it?

Dedication to the notion that love means giving all to another bears some responsibility for the resulting grief and betrayal after the end. A piece, some important part must be held back, some core or foundation must be withheld in order to keep the self and the other intact. To invest all is to have everything to lose in life’s uncertainty: love’s cessation, life’s leaking despair, disability and death. 

The burden of possessing every morsel of another being trumps pleasure, smothers desire. 

Many believe the heart cannot survive loss, a conviction that obstructs the happiness that inclines a good human. To withdraw from others, from a lover or society that disappoints, having been badly burned, merely reduces risk of exposure; it does not prevent calamity or inevitability and so a doomed attempt to control a world in hopes of preventing further hurt and loss. 

Humans cannot surrender their frailty without losing their humanity–or their beauty, according to Nussbaum. The good and happy human is unafraid. The tremulous unhappy merely encircle the tenderness and delicate skin of being with armored excuses and persistent tasks that disengage and anesthetize the will to enter the fray of the raw and unknowable–the human circus of flight, fancy and faith–forever locking doors behind them.


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The Second Time 

  

Credit: http://www.autostraddle.com

The second time she came was with a boy-man she had attracted while perusing selections in a shoe store. He was a salesman and she was in the market for some comfortable shoes that evoked her style: earth shoes. 

“Do you have these in a size 9?” she asked huskily, then choking slightly, clearing her throat as she held up the shelf model to his smiling eyes. 

It was late 1978. She had already met Sean but he was spending the summer with his girlfriend while she was working and making her way through college as a young, vibrant, jeans-and-flannel 18 year old seeking love and fun in between classes. 

She was thrilled that she caught his attention, he with the thick, sandy brown, wavy, shoulder length hair, the same texture as his full wide bandito mustache of old Spaghetti westerns, that covered his full mouth and detracted from his cobalt blue eyes, the same color as Sean’s. He was clearly flirting, touching her foot in lingering courtesy, as he helped her try on the ugly dirt brown leather earth shoe with its flat rubber sole the color of bottled rubber cement, and hobbit-foot curved toe box. 

“How do these fit?” he asked, grinning too widely for the contextual inquiry.

It was the first of many encounters with Jim, whom she loved to kiss for hours. He may still go down as one of the best kissers ever, someone who could savor a mouth, a tongue, the fullness of a brushing lower lip along another’s thinner, grasping top lip in utter tender breathlessness of passionate study. He clearly understood that a kiss was a conversation. 

He was a natural fit and they had sex often but after a time, made love, high on cheap wine and pot, in synced undulation that moved her body–shoulders to thighs–slithery-slowly in sweaty sensual waves inside the steamy, airless room of a slightly seedy, shared apartment behind the liquor store of the town’s busy main drag. A shoe salesman’s commissions afforded little luxury.

On one occasion, she found herself lying underneath him, hands softly cupping his bare shoulders, fingers rounded relaxed so that her nails lightly tingled the skin of his back as he slowly moved in and out of her, rhythmic but slow-savor of flesh on flesh, every stroke of it on the way in and out, even-calm gliding sweetness that all of the sudden burst tears from her eyes in a full-blown opening that was yet a closeness to his being; it moved her body and heart–an unknown sensation to her prior to that moment and a mystery still as she bathed in the warm tears on her face and the outpour from her brain down to the depths of her, some place she only abstractly identified as the darkness of her womb. 

She was surprised at the tears and the tender feeling of surrender and body deep warmth leaking from her pores and especially her legs, between her thighs. She would many years later identify that sensation in the throes of an intentionally induced orgasm in the bed of the technician, whose fingers worked effortlessly to make her body arch in that final tautness before the release–as an orgasm. 

It was an aha! moment 12 years later while reflecting in the night spent with that technician, “Hotel Jones,” lying awake in glorious incongruous aftermath of body-spent stillness and sleeplessness for the sheer bubbling liquid excitement that stirred inside her: the newness of an unknown man, experience, and sex never before recognized, come to light of her mind, where she knew everything, filtered by ponderous thought and book-learned emotion, how she understood the world and herself.


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If I Could Savor…

  

If I could savor all the bits and pieces of love I have shared

–with or without someone else–
and store them in a capacious safe place 
such as a warehouse, 
a bank vault 
and my heart, 
all in one, 
to draw upon on days like these after a night of angst and tremor, 
there would never be a moment of worry, 
of terror or dread, 
no steam of regret or anger, 
for all would be washed away in the oceanic amour reservoir. 
I have loved so much so often, 
it is a wonder there is any room for other invaders to besiege my mood, 
disrupt my sleep or daytime dreaming, 
none to spare for jealousy and greed, 
envy and hate. 
Love has filled all the cracks, 
poured off in excess to inundate the floor of my soul, 
completely submerged in pooled good will and heart offerings that bind. 
Or so it would seem on sheer mathematical principles alone. 
So many loves, so many times.

Is there any fiercer love in so fragile a bundle than the adoring eyes of an infant 
following and studying her mother’s face? 
No matter the need, 
there is brimming love un poisoned by desire 
and machinations of how to get that in my pocket, 
in my bedroom, 
or in my bank account.
No matter the illusion, 
the source is there in wide open hazy eyes 
studying the mystery of the powerful impulse 
to forego sustenance in order to drive nearer the object of an overwrought mind 
and wretched will to be in the presence of the beloved. 
The road is endless until a fluid destiny culminates. 

I asked a friend, 
and me, 
on occasion: 
How could there ever be a lonely-cold day of wondering where she’s gone, 
who she loves now, 
when she gave up so much of her herself, 
her ambition and freedom, 
the dream job and impassioned call to the city’s illuminating sights, 
to be with you those many years? 
Did you not collect those trillions of minutes and safe-keep them in your house, 
hidden in the darkest corner of your room, 
the moments of her bottom lip brushing yours in tender, 
have-spilled surrender to the night, 
your heat enveloping her breath, 
deepening her sleep to the pallor of death’s neighborhood? 
Where did you send those beats’ resounding 
if not through that mighty pump thrusting it off 
to venture through the veins of your mind’s nettings? 
Draw them now; 
paint the joy of that brush of your mother’s thin fingers through your hair, 
your grandfather’s whistling from the smokey yard, 
giant barbecue tongs in hand, 
your toddler’s honey sticky fat thumbs on your cheeks, 
your lover’s call in the late night longing, 
your sister’s tearful embrace, 
the memories of moving childhood laughter pinched in her arm’s muscular grip, 
and the first step in the door of the home and hearth 
you have craved for trillions of minutes endured away.  

Love is strong. 
I have heard of her lifting a car to save her baby 
and her loss heavier than the bloated body at the bottom of the lake. 
It does not dissipate for the air cannot carry such weight. 
The heart cannot contain it all, 
and the mind cannot grasp it. 
Love must reside in the thick rubbery green of the rubber plant 
hanging above my porch, 
or in the orange of the sky at dusk, 
or in the olive and pink sheen of my daughter’s freshly showered skin, 
or the ancient brown of the spots on my mother’s cheeks 
or the muffled sound of my father’s cough from the other room, 
or the musk of the classroom still lingering even after long summer months  
or the squeeze of my hand just before I approach the podium for my closing argument, 
or the earth of an emerging bordeaux on my tongue, 
and the thought of growing old with the world.


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An Old Favorite Mistress Song

When once we lived the juicy life
the summer baked
the autumn fades
you pirate you
to steal away with me
I remember well
you’re drunk again
sweet heart you’ll say
careful there, wipe off your sleeve
don’t go searching very hard
for your other half in me
I recall your first kisses

hiding in the closet from your mrs.
the stern old sage and sensible
is what you see by day
the darkness made you cautious too
but I stopped by anyway
now you’re getting hazy
falling far into a film
I guess I’d better move along

leave you to your private realm

I recall your first kisses
predawn imagination

is all that this is

 

http://youtu.be/WEAfH85LgBw


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Mistress, a Powerful Word to Waste

  

Credit: http://art247.com.au/


Margaret Sullivan of the New York Times would like to see the word “mistress” retired as a term past its prime, outdated and sexist (Is ‘Mistress” a Word That Has Seen Its Best Days?). Cued by her readers’ comments, she specifically takes issue with using the term in news stories about women having extra marital affairs, i.e., the Patreus affair. 


She complains the term denotes a woman’s long-term sexual affair with a married man, and, as some readers pointed out, which also suggests financial keeping or maintenance. Sullivan believes the term should be replaced with something less gender exclusive particularly since there is no male equivalent to the term. She also notes her male editor’s response is something akin to “Yeah, it’s outdated and sexist but oh well, what else can we come up with?”

I, however, hesitate to retire a word with such a rich history and multi-faceted application.  

The Oxford English Dictionary has this to settle for the word:

HOMEUS ENGLISH MISTRESS

mistress
Syllabification: mis·tress
Pronunciation: /ˈmistris/ 
Definition of mistress in English:
noun

1A woman in a position of authority or control:
she is always mistress of the situation, coolly self-possessed
figurative work is an unforgiving, implacable mistress
MORE EXAMPLE SENTENCES
1.1A woman who is skilled in a particular subject or activity:
a mistress of the sound bite, she is famed for the acidity of her tongue
MORE EXAMPLE SENTENCES
1.2The female owner of a dog, cat, or other domesticated animal.
EXAMPLE SENTENCES
1.3 [WITH MODIFIER] chiefly British A female schoolteacher who teaches a particular subject:
a Geography mistress
MORE EXAMPLE SENTENCES
1.4 archaic A female head of a household:
he asked for the mistress of the house
MORE EXAMPLE SENTENCES
1.5(Especially formerly) a female employer of domestic staff.
EXAMPLE SENTENCES
2A woman having an extramarital sexual relationship, especially with a married man:
Elsie knew her husband had a mistress tucked away somewhere
MORE EXAMPLE SENTENCES
SYNONYMS
2.1 archaic or literary A woman loved and courted by a man.
3 (Mistress) archaic or dialect Used as a title prefixed to the name of a married woman; Mrs.
EXAMPLE SENTENCES
Origin

Middle English: from Old French maistresse, from maistre ‘master’.

So what could be wrong with a term whose first definition from a much-cited, respectable source is “a woman in authority or control”? Sullivan rebukes the term as old fashioned; a term with implied mercenary kept status should not be attributed to a modern day woman who chooses her own lifestyle and sexuality. However, the word’s true essence conflicts with what she derides, and it is her error in the term’s misconstruction. 


A mistress is self-possessed–going against the grain with her choice of sexual partner. She defies social norms, and in doing so, she carries that culturally instilled burden of shame and conscience subverted for love, power and/or sex. She is all about tough choices that expose her to herself and others, an exposure that continually challenges her control.

In addition, the wellspring of control and ownership from which the term emerges, its earliest significance being head of household, empowers the word. As queen of her castle, the mistress does have a counterpart, the master. In this equivalence, the terms both suggest not only ownership but mastery, the knowledge and competence to operate and own all of the details of a home, including the administration of her staff in running it. 

The predecessor of the modern corporate CEO, the mistress was the operations manager of the home, which may have included serving and cleaning staff in addition to family members. And for anyone running a household, even without staff, that is no menial task. 

As one who has historically taken on the role of mistress of the house, I can assuage any fears of sexism or demeaning intent in that term. Running a household of teenagers, ailing parents with caretakers, dogs and cats, is no mean feat. To keep everything running without a hitch–flawlessly–from paying bills; coordinating transportation to sports, school and other activities; financing the upkeep of the house and the people and pets in it, all while juggling work–paid or volunteer–outside and inside the home, takes the talents of an organized multi-tasker extraordinaire. It takes control.

I used to be better at it, the juggling, when my mind was sharper and my energy level higher, but even then I had to rely on spreadsheets to track everyone’s movements and whereabouts. Running a household draws on a variety of skills inborn or acquired. Though not a long-term planner, my mind is wired to work from three steps ahead backward–necessary to captain the ship. 

When the kids were pre-schoolers, I knew at the outset of any day trip that one of my daughters was going to need a series of five, three and one minute warnings of departure as she was not good with transitions. And just the mathematics involved in planning for the outing, the gear required to anticipate any probable need ordinary or extraordinary (accidents), plus the time factor to shove kids in and out of carseats in time to meet the next appointed destination on the agenda, kept my mind in continual twists and turns of addition and subtraction:  add a few minutes for Jordyn’s resistance or chase before we leave plus a few more minutes for changing Remie’s diaper, which will inevitably be an emergency by the time I round up Jordyn and get her in the car–an exercise in figuring out the smallest movements needed to achieve the greatest effect, something like understanding quantum mechanics. 

The abilities to run, round up–kids and numbers–calculate, estimate, zoom, balance, gather, recoup, resist, stay alert, maintain composure and sanity, all while wondering where pride and sleep went is spectacularly challenging and a tremendous show of competency when done without tearing hair out, my own or anyone else’s. Not a very sexy proposition but one declaring mastery of intellectual, emotional and physical strength beyond compare–power.

Power. Mastery. Sex. To Sullivan’s point about sex, sexism and subservience, I must agree with her editors that the definition nowhere includes financial maintenance, and so the term is not as sexist as she protests. In fact, the illumination cast upon the term from its etymology, derived from the French word maitresse, master, and its name for a teacher, one of the oldest, most widely recognized longstanding, respectable working roles for women (not to be confused with the oldest profession), is the domain of mastering knowledge and communication. What could be more empowering than forming the minds of a population? 

Women are distinct, singular each, work in different ways from each other and from men. Words that carry history as performances past that umbrella performances present should not be discarded lightly, especially in the case of a word that I believe furthers the cause of empowering women–for the informed and language sensitive, that is. I take issue with divorcing ourselves from our past. It is a mistake. We need the reminder, nuanced influence and acknowledgement of who we are, where we come from and where we are heading. 

Keep the mistress as master-ess of her domain.


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OMG, nooooooooooo!!!

  


Yes, it’s tragic. I can tell by the frequent wailing and gnashing of teeth around here. Zayn is leaving.  My daughters are heartbroken.

When all the eye rolling is done, I have to ask myself if this phenomenon, the three, four, has it been nearly five (?) year love affair my children have had with this boy band (now man band), is something to deride. Perhaps the resistant nod to the importance of this group on my part comes from the force feeding I have endured over the years, trapped in a car with screaming teens and pre-teens, windows rolled down as they shouted along with the blaring music,”You don’t know you’re beautiful!!”, at passersby, laughing, arm-waving and car-seat dancing. 

While I have maintained the appropriate role of music critic, one of many as a mother, explaining to my daughters with aplomb that cuteness is not one of the criteria for musicianship, I must confess to knowing most of the lyrics to at least two of the albums and have been caught singing a 1-D song while cooking dinner in the kitchen a time or two…or five. The truth is, I like the band, and my daughters have been warning me that this day was coming, the breakup of the band. 

They would know as they follow every word ever uttered by mouth or in print on Twitter, Snapchat, Vine, text or telephone from fellow fans befriended while waiting in line for tickets, movies, and concerts, or at fan sightings and school about these adored entertainers. My 16 year old has told me during more than one car ride to school or a friend’s house with grave admonition and dread that their five-year contract, made when the band members were her age, is almost up and it is doubtful they will re-up given their rigorous touring schedule lo these many years. She suspected burnout all along.

And now it is slowly unfolding, the story of Zayn’s quitting–or was he fired? My 19 year old gave me the lowdown this morning about how it may actually be a firing from the slave master, corporate, money-grubbing, greedy-bastard managers (her characterization, my words), when he dared to walk off a tour after publicity of Zayn’s cheating on his fiancee, or so it was made to appear by the evil media. She explained that Zayn was the more sensitive one and just got sick of the twisting of his life with all the fan-dom gossip and media lies. 

So says she, who somehow coaxed me on more than one occasion several years ago to drive all over Los Angeles chasing these boys for a possible sighting. One time, I flipped out on her and her friends after a six-hour chase that made me question my sanity–truly. There is a limit to a parent’s indulgence of teenage fantasy addiction, and I had exceeded that limit by legions.

The truth is, I will miss these boy-men should this signal the beginning of the end. All those car rides–and there have been many–with four or five girls screaming in my car every word to every song, windows down, wind whipping through us, and even my steering wheel banging car seat dance in full swing, have been fun and meaningful, girls having fun in music fantasy, me witnessing. My younger still insists only half ironically that she will marry Harry, so there is no need for any other boys in her life.

These singer-musician cuties have played an important role in our lives, in theirs particularly, and not only as an obsession or a place holder until something bigger and better and realer comes along. Their devotion, waiting for hours to glimpse them, purchase tickets, see them in concert, find the latest about their lives, has been not only the commitment of love-sick, crazy teens with no reality that can compete with the fantasy of them, but of the true commitment of fans, caring fans who love something bigger than themselves, something to hang their hopes on for a future relationship with someone truly special, someone with greatness, ambition, good looks, talent and caring for an adoring heart.

For me, these guys have given me opportunity a’plenty to not only serve as taxi driver, crazy mom, and sage adviser about everything from music to love to addiction, but also as friend and adoring fan to these girls, all beautiful in their youth, purity and zealous affection and enthusiasm in their devotion to a lovely even if sometimes embattled over the rights to the story world, something that could be a lot worse than wholesome 1-D. If they have to be addicted, I am okay with it being a handful of benign cutie patooties. 

And quite honestly, it has been interesting to watch these boys grow, musically and personally, amazingly in sync with my daughters’ growth in the same fashion. The music is less bubble gum, evolved, adding a layer or two of musical and lyrical depth and diversity. Similarly, both girls have developed diverse musical tastes over the years that I deem mature and sophisticated, even as I question the talent of some of their selections. 

My car rides are now infected with a wild array of cynical, political songwriter-singers, not so fresh and innocent as 1-D, more so overly whiny, sardonic and anti everything socially accepted, like the Front bottoms–their rebellion phase, kind of like their mom’s Dylan, Doors and Led Zeppelin phase decades ago. But despite their clear evolving musical tastes way beyond the pop pablum of groups like 1-D, or their predecessor Justin Bieber oh so many moons ago (comparably “my” David Cassidy in the 70s), they hold Harry and the boys near and dear, laughing at themselves while seriously loving them too.

But we all move on, even 1-D dudes. Zayn is right to quit. Why not end at the top? Why not try to regain the semblance of a sane life at the ripe young age of 22? It will take another five or more years to get over the post-traumatic effects of rising and sinking so far and wide as unknown to super-star to used-to-be. Although, I somehow doubt the residue, the fractured band, as Brad Nelson of the Guardian dubbed them, “four goofy white guys shouting“, will make it and not only due to the dent in the multi-textured sound that Zayn contributed to creating. 

The fans may not be so forgiving of the Simon Legree (or is that Simon Cowell?) managers they may see responsible for the breakup or may not be able to let go of what was–the perfect quintet of dreaminess. A beloved will always be missing.

In any event, there will be the press stories and the fan stories, the truths of which may not coincide. The best part of the band for most fans is not even the music but the constant back story and just the story making itself, constantly winding in and around the social lives of imaginative teens and pre-teens flexing their minds and hearts into the vast landscape of love, music and social media. What else is there, after all?

 


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Sentimental Morning

Yesterday I read in the Huffington Post the story of A.J.’s 25 year affair with a married man, her divorce lawyer, on whom she had grown dependent for love, money and herself. Her story is familiar. She filled a space that was her, missing most probably due to the abandonment she felt in childhood, with him, but came to realize after two and a half decades that only she could fill that gaping hole.
 
The hole in my heart couldn’t be filled by anyone but me. I had to love myself more than I loved anyone else. Even him. Finally, I understood.

 

We walked out of the hotel onto Park Avenue, and without another word to him, I turned and walked away.
 
This morning I awoke from a dream the last vision of which was the face of my husband of nearly 35 years, smiling, his head leaning on someone else’s shoulders, completely content. 
 
No one has made me weep more in my dreams than he has.
 
Though we are no longer intimate, we share a connection deeper and more profound than the silence we keep about what went wrong and what is right.
 
Love is more than dependency, but its shape and character are dependent upon lovers. There is no doubt that we fall in love with love and all we imagine it to be, including that leaning, literally and figuratively, on another. Our hearts resound solitarily in our chests, but the primal urge to sync our rhythms to the beats of those hearts walking beside us is unimaginably fierce. We don’t want to be–alone.


Graham Nash — A Simple Man


I am a simple man
So I sing a simple song
Never been so much in love
And never hurt so bad at the same time.
I am a simple man
And I play a simple tune
I wish that I could see you once again
Across the room like the first time.
I just want to hold you I don’t want to hold you down
I hear what you’re saying and you’re spinning my head around
And I can’t make it alone.
The ending of the tale
Is the singing of the song
Make me proud to be your man only you can make me strong
Like the last time.
I just want to hold you I don’t want to hold you down
I hear what you’re saying and you’re spinning my head around
And I can’t make it alone.