Jessica Hagy has a crazy/great gift for simplification that often looks to me like wisdom.
Something tells me she's right. But how could such a theory be tested?
Jessica Hagy has a crazy/great gift for simplification that often looks to me like wisdom.
Something tells me she's right. But how could such a theory be tested?
From Science Friday, perhaps the most purely enjoyable science story of the year to date, about the Dance of the Peacock Spider.
Seems we've been seeing many examples of species showing traits we think of as human lately. Using tools, like crows, or mourning the dead, like elephants, or having local dialects in languages, like songbirds. But this is the best example of a species shaking it on the dance floor I've ever seen.
Tho' arachnid sex doesn't always have a happy ending -- at least for the male.
From Late Thoughts, a chapter towards the end of Jung's classic memoir Memories, Dreams, Reflections.
I falter before the task of finding the language that might adequately express the incalculable paradoxes of love. Eros is a kosmogonos, a creator and father-mother of all higher paradoxes of all higher consciousness. I sometimes feel that Paul's words -- "Though I speak with the tongues of men and angels, and have not love" -- might well be the first condition of all cognition and the quintessence of divinity itself. Whatever the learned interpretation may be of the sentence "God is love," the words affirm the complexio oppositorum of the Godhead.
In my medical experience as well as in my own life I have again and again been faced with the mystery of love, and have never been able to explain what it is. Like Job, I have had to "lay my hand on my mouth. I have spoken once, and I will not answer."
You have to like the genuine humility, the not knowing, though I do wonder how in that state he couild help his love-stricken patients find their way through the mystery and the bewilderment of love.
[image from the irreplaceable David Levine of the 1965 NYRB: available here]
Reminds me of an apparently very famous quote from the 20th century philosopher Wittgenstein, of the same era and similar background, who described his first great book about knowing and the metaphysical by saying in conversation, as described in a recent NYTimes review:
What can be said at all can be said clearly, and what we cannot talk about, we must pass over in silence.
"Thus the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein summarized his first, notoriously difficult book,’Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus.” Wittgenstein’s declaration is usually taken to mean that talk about anything metaphysical — God or gods, supernatural phenomena, mystical experience — collapses into nonsense under scrutiny."
For Jung, it's easier to talk about God and the unconscious than love and sex. For Wittgenstein, it's easier to talk about talking about God than either God or the unconscious or love and sex.
Jung has no difficulty admitting he cannot talk about love -- for reasons professional and personal. Is this admirable, or a bit of an evasion I wonder?
The best book review of the year, hands down, by Hannah Gold in The Baffler, begins this way:
"I have just sat down to dinner with my female friend and her two male friends she brought along, neither of whom I’ve met before. They are both programmers, and when my friend goes to the bathroom pretty much immediately upon arrival, they begin grilling me on my knowledge of scatter graphs. This is a raw deal for me. I tell them I’m “not a math person.” And so, of course, they explain.
After maybe five minutes of being told to imagine an X-axis and a Y-axis and an algorithm based on breakfast preferences, they ask me what I do. “I’m a journalist,” I say. “Oh nice,” one shoots back. “Have you written anything?”
My two simultaneous impulses are to run away and to punch “something” in the face. Then I remember that I have in my possession a secret weapon—an advertisement for myself. I reach inside my purse and, in deathly silence, remove from it a slim blue volume with the title emblazoned across the front in white: “Men Explain Things to Me.” I lay it on the table, face up, like a winning poker hand. They stare and they blink and they don’t say anything at all."
I still don't know why Sallie and I bothered to go to that party in the forest slope above Aspen. The people were all older than us and dull in a distinguished way, old enough that we, at forty-ish, passed as the occasion's young ladies. The house was great -- if you like Ralph Lauren-style chalets -- a rugged luxury cabin at 9,000 feet complete with elk antlers, lots of kilims, and a wood-burning stove. We were preparing to leave, when our host said, "No, stay a little longer so I can talk to you." He was an imposing man who'd made a lot of money.
He kept us waiting while the other guests drifted out into the summer night, and then sat us down at his authentically grainy wood table and said to me, "So? I hear you've written a couple of books."
I replied, "Several, actually."
He said, in the way you encourage your friend's seven-year-old to describe flute practice, "And what are they about?"
They were actually about quite a few different things, the six or seven out by then, but I began to speak only of the most recent on that summer day in 2003,River of Shadows: Eadweard Muybridge and the Technological Wild West, my book on the annihilation of time and space and the industrialization of everyday life.
He cut me off soon after I mentioned Muybridge. "And have you heard about the very important Muybridge book that came out this year?"
So caught up was I in my assigned role as ingénue that I was perfectly willing to entertain the possibility that another book on the same subject had come out simultaneously and I'd somehow missed it. He was already telling me about the very important book -- with that smug look I know so well in a man holding forth, eyes fixed on the fuzzy far horizon of his own authority.
The resemblance is almost uncanny. The original essay went viral and generated a new word -- mansplaining -- that Solnit (charmingly) disavows. The review, really more of a battle cry, deserves to go to viral. Here's hoping.
On the front page of the Los Angeles Times, Melissa Healy tells a story of a huge study in Scandanavia that shows that the active ingredient in Tylenol and Excedrine and many other over-the-counter medicines is an endocrine disruptor plausibly linked to hyperactivity and other developmental disorders.
Healy makes a strong case simply by quoting the findings:
In analyzing data on more than 64,000 Danish women and their children, researchers found that kids whose mothers took the painkiller at any point during pregnancy were 29% more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than were kids whose mothers took none. The risk increased the most — by 63% — when acetaminophen was taken during the second and third trimesters, and by 28% when used in the third trimester alone.
Could this explain the upsurge in developmental and behaviorial issues linked to mental disorders in recent decades? Healy doesn't speculate.
Nor does she explain why a known endocrine disruptor, acetaminophen, was allowed to be sold freely without warnings, even when it -- like many other products -- was suspected capable of harm.
She does quote plenty of experts who point out that this is just one study, first of all, and that many doctors -- even those aware of the linkage and risk -- may continue to prescribe acetominophen to reduce fever and pain.
But she closes on an ominous note:
The international team that conducted the study will next investigate their data for evidence of the neuropsychiatric and other mental health effects of a variety of medications taken during pregnancy. Among the outcomes they will be looking for is autism.
In Chicago, Valya Vupescu sounds enthralled by a reading and award show by the Naked Girls:
"The ladies on the stage disrobed at the start of each of the three reading sessions of the night. They did it gracefully, naturally, comfortably, at home in their skin and on the stage. Then they breathed the stories into life, charging each one with emotion, weaving the web of words around them. The crowd was rapt. One word kept coming to mind: communion: a sense of intimate fellowship or rapport.
The word “communion” has an interesting etymology, a little different than its more modern and ecclesiastical definition. It comes from the late 14th century Old French comunion, meaning “community, communion” (12c.), and from the Latin communionem (nom. communio) “fellowship, mutual participation, a sharing.”
The act of reading someone a story, or having a story read to you, is intimate."
Today is International Read Naked Day. It's not too late...
"I used to be a hopeless romantic. I am still a hopeless romantic. I used to believe that love was the highest value. I still believe that love is the highest value. I don’t expect to be happy. I don’t imagine that I will find love, whatever that means, or that if I do find it, it will make me happy. I don’t think of love as the answer or the solution. I think of love as a force of nature - as strong as the sun, as necessary, as impersonal, as gigantic, as impossible, as scorching as it is warming, as drought-making as it is live-giving. And when it burns out, the planet dies. My little orbit of life circles love. I dare not get any closer. I’m not a mystic seeking final communion. I don’t go out without SPF 15. I protect myself. But today, when the sun is everywhere, and everything solid is nothing but its own shadow, I know that the real things in life, the things I remember, the things I turn over in my hands, are not houses, bank accounts, prizes or promotions. What I remember is love - all love - love of this dirt road, this sunrise, a day by the river, the stranger I met in a café. Myself, even, which is the hardest thing of all to love, because love and selfishness are not the same thing. It is easy to be selfish. It is hard to love who I am. No wonder I am surprised if you do." -Jeanette Winterson, Lighthousekeeping
In Nature's Altars, Susan Schrepfer looks at how much it meant to women of the turn of (the 20th) century to go to the mountains. She writes:
"High altitudes...released [women], they said, from the requirement of being a consumer, from "clothes and vanities," from the corsseted, perfumed, and coiffured dictates of polite society. Of a trip into the Sierra's Kern Canyon in l908, Harriet Monroe confided:"
"We learned...to wear our short skirts and high hob-nailed boots...as though we had been born to the joy of them...to be a barbarian and a communist, a homeless and roofless vagabond, liited to one gown or one suit of clothes, to lose one's last hat-pin...to make one's toilet on a slippery bnak, after a brave plunge into an icy river -- all these breaches of convention became commonplaces...part of the adventure, a whispering in the ear of nature's secrets. We knew literally the emancipation of having "one one dress" to put on."
After her adventures in the mountains, Monroe went on to launch Poetry, which is still this nation's best journal for lyrical thought.
Fascinating to see how women saw mountain life as freedom, whereas so often men saw it as a competition -- between man and mountain, man and rival man, man and beast.
In the High Trips, for about thirty years at the start of the 20th century, the Sierra Club as a mountaineering club peaked, surely. On those brilliantly organized journeys, as many as 200 people at time went into the High Sierras, having committed to a walk of a minimum of two hundred miles, over several weeks of hiking. Though the club's founder John Muir was too old and too busy battling the Hetch-Hetch Dam to go, he greatly encouraged these trips, and they were led by the likes of Norman Clyde and David Brower, with great campfire talks and performances as well as great mountains.
This was a highly evolved society, divided (roughly) into "mountaineers." of the likes of Muir and Brower and Clyde, and "meadoweers" who didn't care for the heights. (Likely I would have been one of the latter number, had I been so fortunate to have been present on the trip.)
When I talked to Brower on this and other topics, a few years ago, he bemoaned the fact that the National Park Service will no longer approve long trips for Sierra Club backpacking groups. The limit (in the Sierra, at least) today is about eight days.
In his gentle but insistent way, Brower argued that the transformative power of the wilderness is lost if it is restricted to a handful of days.
True, and perhaps the time has come to remember those extraordinary trips, before everyone alive who remembers them has passed away...for one, the camp photographers included Cedric Wright and Ansel Adams! Here's my fav pic from their 1929 efforts, by Wright, showing a High Trips expedition summiting at Mount Resplendent:
[Sorry about the angle: comes directly from the hand set Bulletin (pdf).]
These High Trips were for the elite of the Sierra Club, and set out to attract intrepid women, and succeeded (although the trips were predominantly male, the women who did go were as adventurous as any man).
In her gender study of women in the wilderness, "Nature's Altars," Susan Schrepfer finds some interesting examples of women who were drawn to the wilderness because it gave both them and their mates a chance to shed their gender roles. That was part of the idea of the High Trips, that women weren't the domestic slaves. Wasn't easy on these trips, but after a day of mountaineering, a woman didn't have to do the dishes too.
The club secretary, William Colby, made this clear in a letter to applicants to the High Trips:
The irksome duties of cooking, dishwashing, and provisioning will be turned over entirely to a commissary department. All transportation of outfits, etc., will be attended to by a committee, such relieving the party of all drudgery and leaving their time entirely free for the enjoyment of scenery and mountain life. The trip will be particularly attractive for women, and every effort made to secure comfort usually lacking in excursions to the high mountains.
Isn't that a dream? "To relieve the party of all drudgery."
Only in California...
From my cover story in this week's Ventura County Reporter:
Since the genetic basis of our species, Homo Sapiens, stabilized approximately 100,000 years ago, the reproductive nature of the human body has not substantially changed. But in the last few years, human sexual experience has substantially changed, especially among the adventurous.
For Valentine’s Day, and especially for “vanilla” people interested in benefiting from the experience of those on the edges of the spectrum, here’s a report from the front lines of sex in Ventura County.
At California Lutheran University (CLU), sociologist Adina Nack, who teaches courses on sexuality, confirms the widespread reports that young people today no longer date in the conventional sense — they “hook up.” But she adds a twist.
“The norm has shifted from dating and relationships to the hook-up culture,” Nack said. “But one of the things [my students] say they like about that phrase is the ambiguity of it. As a sociologist, this is something I have to work to wrap my head around. I am not of that millennial generation, and to me it’s strange for friends to prefer it to be vague. ‘Hooking up’ can mean anything from kissing to going all the way.”
Nack adds that, although both sexes will report their hook-ups on social media, she’s not sure this represents a step forward. Her students still describe a sexual double standard, in which women are judged more harshly for having sex than men.
The lessons to be learned from the BDSM community
One of the most popular of guest speakers in Nack’s sex ed class is a positive sex advocate, Emily Prior, a doctoral student researching sexual experience in the BDSM (Bondage/Discipline Sado/Masochism) community. Nack said that her students were enthralled with Prior, even though in class they laughed nervously at her presentation.
For Prior, who has always believed in openness in sex, the necessity for safety in sex in the BDSM community has, over time, brought a new and admirable sexual etiquette into being.
“Imagine that you are a single woman and you are going out with a man or a group of men, knowing that no one is allowed to touch you without your permission,” she said. “It seems like that should be the norm, but it really isn’t. In local [ BDSM] dungeons, no one is allowed to touch anyone without permission, not even to give a hug or hold a person’s hand. It’s a much safer space for a woman than dating.”
At CLU, Nack points out that because of the wide range of sexual possibilities in the BDSM community, communication and negotiation between parties is expected and understood, where it’s often difficult for heterosexual couples. Prior puts it more bluntly.
“The question in the BDSM community is typically: What do you do? Which means: Do you like to be tied up? Do you like spanking? Are you a top or a bottom? You know immediately whether or not you can be compatible sexually,” she said. “Instead of waiting days or months or years or decades to find out, for example, that your partner won’t actually give you head, you talk about it up front.”
Prior also argues that the BDSM community has a lower rate of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) than the heterosexual population, although she admitted that hasn’t been proved.
“We only have anecdotal evidence for a lower rate of STD transmission, but it makes sense,” she said. “Most people use protection even if they know their partners, and people are very diligent about disclosure as well as protection. It’s definitely a point of pride in the culture.”
It’s not just the negotiation and communication that is underestimated, according to Roylin Downs, the owner/operator of the Kama Sutra Closet lingerie and sex shop in downtown Ventura. It’s the nature of sexual pleasure itself.
Downs points to 50 Shades of Grey, the book by E.L. James about a kinky relationship between an elegant older billionaire and a beautiful young woman, as an example. Despite being reviled by critics for its prose, 50 Shades became the fastest-selling paperback of all time, with 65 million copies in print. It’s still second on the national best-seller list, two years after being published.
“Our society is suppressive about sexuality,” she said. “My customer is a more vanilla woman, usually, and 70 percent of American women don’t have orgasms during love-making. What 50 Shades of Grey does is show you a woman in her 20s who has an orgasm every time she makes love. Everybody assumes this book is fantasy. But a lot of women are looking at it and thinking: ‘Wait a minute, if she can write about how this woman has this experience in every encounter, why isn’t it possible for me?’ It creates an opening, an opportunity for conversation.”
Downs explained that her most popular single item is the “Kegel balls,” or silver balls that were the first item used by the young woman character in James’ book. They’re used in a playful way by the couple in the book, but have been sold to women in Asia for generations as “ben wa” balls.
“In terms of health benefits, after 40, or after childbirth, women often need to tighten their pelvic floor,” Downs said. “Instead of being told by the gynecologist to do exercises, such as sitting forward in your car and tightening, tightening, tightening, which 98 percent of women don’t do because it’s too challenging, you insert these metals balls, and the weight naturally pulls them down, and the muscles naturally tighten. So the Kegel balls have a health benefit, but they also tighten the vagina, so you can have more control during love-making.”
Downs stresses that her upstairs shop, which is open mostly by appointment, is designed to be the sort of shop where a shy woman such as herself or her mother could go without embarrassment, and that she herself doesn’t want anything to do with heavy bondage gear or vulgar sex toys.
“You always start at wherever the most uncomfortable person in the relationship is,” she said. “It’s about creating intimacy. A vibrator might not be the right tool. Maybe it’s about a tickler, or a book, or a massage oil. It’s about creating that sense of touch.”
When Downs opened her business four years ago, she set out to distinguish her store from other stores offering adult products, partly by stressing the female-friendly aspects of the store, with no products that looked like body parts, and partly by bringing in experts. Her first speaker was Joan Price, from Northern California, who became an expert in “senior sex,” more or less by accident.
After publishing an exercise manual in 2003, the mature Price had a chance to publicize the book with an appearance on a television talk show in New York. Her agent asked her for a hook — something to make her sound interesting. Price offered that some of her exercises were good for sex, and mentioned, by the way, that she was having “the best sex of her life.” The agent passed this on. Price was booked on to the show.
“I discovered that no one cared about my exercise book,” she wrote about the appearance. “The major question of the evening was: So, Joan, is it true that you’re having the best sex of your life at age 59?”
She explained that, yes, she was, in part because she was in a new relationship with an older man, whom she later married, though he passed away in 2008. And the sex was good. Price argues that, in fact, senior sex can be better than youthful sex for everyone.
“At our age, we’re not so goal-driven,” she said. “The men have slowed down and like the extra touching, and the women have slowed down, too. If you have a good connection, the sex can be better than ever, because we can bring a wealth of wisdom and experience to it. We can communicate in a way we never could before.”
As a young woman, she said, she was never taught anything about the nature of a woman’s sexual pleasure, and she thinks that’s still all too true.
“Too often, young women are still sort of left to the mercy of their partner,” she said. “Sex is whatever the boy thinks it should be.” The good news, she said, is that good information is more available than ever, in forums such as scarletteen.com, and that solutions to most sexual issues are readily available. Her first sex book — Better Than I Ever Expected: Straight Talk About Sex After Sixty — featured her own story, but had many chapters, written by a wide variety of experts, on psychological and sexual topics.
“I was in an extremely satisfying and exhilarating relationship when I wrote that book,” she said. “I was 61 and my lover was 68. People were telling me that it’s great that you’re having great sex, but they were asking me questions about their own issues. Is vaginal pain normal? No, it’s not. Is there anything that can be done about erectile dysfunction? Yes, there is — e.d. is not a diagnosis, it’s a symptom of something else that’s going on. The problem so often, with my generation, is that we don’t know where to go for good information.”
Price adds that just because she found satisfaction in a committed relationship doesn’t mean that’s best for all older people. In her new book, Naked at Our Age: Talking Out Loud About Senior Sex, she said many reviewers were startled to read about the range of unconventional relationships she found among older people, including polyamorous couples, as well as older women who liked phone sex, casual sex and/or rough sex.
“We see a friendly gray-haired smiling grandmother and we think we know all about her,” she said. “Actually, we have no idea what she’s doing in bed.”
For John Wilner, the chairman of Ventura County’s [LGBT] Pride committee, Valentine’s Day is less about sex and more about love and acceptance. Although currently single, he longs for the day when he can celebrate Valentine’s Day like any other couple.
“At the end of the day, love is love and a couple is a couple,” he said. “Whether it’s two men, two women, or a man and a woman. There’s even a joke in Portlandia, about a couple made of a transgendered man and a transgendered woman. Whatever the case, the celebration is the same. I’m really heartened when I’m able to see that I can be open and honest with my affection. If you can hold your wife’s hand in public, why can’t I hold my boyfriend’s hand?”
In recent years, the Pride coalition has staged a Valentine’s Day protest at the county government center, with same-sex couples filing petitions to marry, even though they knew that would be rejected. This year — with the issue hanging in the balance at the Supreme Court — Wilner said they called it off.
“I think people are realizing that marriage is about love and family,” he said. “Times are changing and younger voters are coming on line. I’m really hopeful that this session, we’ll see a court decision restoring our right to marry, and so this year we decided to give the clerk at the government center a break and not put her through all that.”
Kit Stolz has been reporting on culture and climate in Ventura County for over a decade — for more, see www.achangeinthewind.com.
Joan Price (senior sex author/expert)
Scarletteen (sex ed for the real world)
Pegging Paradise (Ruby Ryder)
VC Pride (John Wilner)
Kama Sutra Closet (Roylin Downs)