I’m thinking about this because I’m steadily publishing my fiction in serial form on Substack, week by week, about 10 pages by 10 pages, and it’s a challenge.
Something in me wants to avoid revealing my own creativity. My writing takes me to some dark, and some people would say inappropriate, places. Every week (I just posted for the 8th week), I push myself through whatever the content of my post happens to be. More than that, I deliberately take it on in an accompanying essay.
I’m an expert in self-sabotage. I’ve been doing it my whole life, largely through simple avoidance. At the same time, it appears my previously intermittent and now increasing tendency to call a spade a spade and be honest about my experience is one of the characteristics others struggle with most when they deal with me.
It’s a strange paradox, and it creates ongoing internal tension.
The avoidance part of me is childish and disempowered. The direct, take-the-bull-by-the-horns part of me is powerful and hangs out with Baba Yaga.
I love the direct part of myself, but I don’t think anyone else can. I think others want the avoidant woman, because she’s so damn “nice.”
When I first began writing creatively, I thought it would all be sweetness and light, love and romance, happily ever after.
Photo by Peter Forster on Unsplash
As the years passed, and I expanded out of (mostly bad) poetry, played with writing oral stories, and then started seriously writing fiction, my output took a darker turn. The sweetness and light included bitter and dark. The love and romance became raw sensuality and included detailed sexual content. I took old fairy tales, cleansed by the brothers Grimm and others, and excavated the darker, dirtier, more violent roots. My characters graphically tore out eyes and watched them change into marbles. They killed people. They ate people. Shapeshifters had sex. Towers fell. People went to war and practiced genocide.
My writing wasn’t dark on every page, but it wasn’t sweetness and light on every page, either. It made me cry. It made me cringe. It made me uncomfortable because of its emotional power. I wondered at myself. Yet never have I been so captured, so challenged, so confident, so happy as I am when writing.
After all, in those days almost nobody read it! I wrote for myself, and held nothing back.
Now I’ve deliberately changed that. Now anyone can read it. And some people are.
For a while I considered cutting the parts I judged as being too … what? Too honest? Too sexy? Too potentially offensive? Too violent? Too real?
Yes. All those things.
My impulse was to avoid revealing myself. Stay safely hidden. Stay small. Refrain from making myself or anyone else uncomfortable.
Even as I considered that, I knew I wouldn’t. I knew I couldn’t betray myself that way. If I’m to be judged as not good enough, I want the judgement based on the deepest, most complex, most powerful and honest work I’m capable of.
Because that’s the only way my writing is good enough for me.
My Substack post last week included explicit sexual content. There will be more, but that was the first. I wrote an essay to go with it titled “Creating the Webbd Wheel: Sex.” I’ve been worrying about that post for weeks. In the end, I kept it simple and direct. I was writing about sexual content. The title was clear. Why prevaricate?
Substack provides writers with statistics 24 hours after they post, and I was informed my essay got the most reads of anything I’ve posted so far.
I’ve been giggling ever since. So far, nobody’s given me a bad time about my sexual content, but even if they do, I know I was right in what I wrote in that essay. Nobody wants to talk about sex, and we all have a lot of judgement and fear around it, but that doesn’t mean it occupies none of our private attention. We can’t amputate ourselves from our sexual nature, no matter how much we wish we could or others tell us we should.
I will probably unconsciously default to avoidance for the rest of my life. It’s a deeply-rooted pattern. I’m socially rewarded for being “nice.” On the other hand, I personally value authenticity and honesty far more than I do niceness. I want to grow up to be direct and clear. Not mean, but not avoidant or arguing with what is, either. It’s a fine line, one I don’t walk steadily or gracefully.
Last evening, I was part of a remarkable conversation about hugs.
I’ve written before about my hunger for touch and the shame that goes with it. A longing for touch is always with me to some degree, ebbing and flowing with my social context, but I hide it and rarely speak of my need. Keeping it secret is, of course, self-protective. I’m ashamed of my need and what others will think of it, but we also live in a culture that distorts much of our rightful and healthy sexuality and sensual expression. A woman who craves physical affection and reassurance is exceedingly vulnerable and very likely to be misunderstood.
I’m also respectful of the boundaries of others; unfortunately, many people are badly wounded around unwanted and/or inappropriate touch. I myself am confused about the interaction of abuse, touch and sex, and I know many others are as well.
Yet I maintain touch is one of the core needs we all have, and I know touch deprivation is a condition that has been extensively studied. As human beings, we don’t develop normally if we’re touch deprived or otherwise dislocated from our neurobiological need for skin-to-skin contact.
This is an issue I deal largely with inside my own head, although I have mentioned it in writing. I haven’t discussed it among friends. If we reveal how ugly and pathetic we are, we won’t have friends, right?
Sigh. No. Not right. We all have secrets like this, and true friends don’t turn away from our warts and scars. Also, I get bored by my own fear and the tension between being real and being accepted. To hell with it.
Last night, I found myself standing outside in the early winter evening with two others talking about, of all things, hugs. The harsh light at the apex of the barn roof fell on us, making strange, stark shadows on our faces,
I was stunned (first) and amused (later) to discover a hug meant something entirely different to each of us. I’m constantly poking at the different meanings we have for words and concepts, and I’m acutely aware of the confusion and conflation of things like respect and agreement. Why should the experience and interpretation of either giving or receiving a hug be any different?
I suppose it’s such a deep, painful and private issue I’ve simply never given it enough airtime to realize touch, too, has many different meanings. The only meaning I’ve been able to see is my own, and I realize now my meaning is very unsophisticated and black and white:
Touch means love. If there is no touch, there is no love. If my touch is rejected, my love is rejected, which I take personally and make into a rejection of me, naturally!
So there we stood in the icy driveway, having just disembarked from the car. I said (and realized as I said it how true it is, though I never expressed it this way before) a hug is the best “I love you,” I can express. I’ve always been able to say (and hear!) far more physically than I can with words.
My friend (another woman) said she learned to think of hugs as a sign of weakness.
Another friend (a man) said to him a hug, or most other kinds of physical contact, are a threat of pain, violence or abuse.
Wow. The three of us stood there, looking at each other. I was reminded of how little we know or guess about what goes on below the surface of others, even others we know and care about. I was humbled by their honesty, touched by their vulnerability, grateful for the reminder we all carry around pain and confusion over something in our heads and hearts. I wanted (of course!) to take them both in my arms, but refrained (also of course).
It’s amazing to understand the best, most compassionate and loving gift I can give another might feel to the recipient like a threat, or endanger their sense of strength and independence. My intention may be completely lost in translation.
When I think about the times I’ve felt rejected or rebuffed as I interact with people who aren’t comfortable with touch, I suddenly realize their discomfort is likely not about me at all. I no longer get to be the star in my soap opera (nobody loves me, I’m old, I’m ugly, I’m untouchable). Maybe, in fact, others don’t want to make me feel weak, or threatened, or who knows what else!
I can’t help but giggle about this.
I can’t say more about my personal thoughts and feelings right now. It was one of those brief but amazing conversations I can’t stop thinking about. It didn’t lead me to a grand and glorious conclusion, it just revealed aspects of touch I hadn’t been aware of before.
Social touch is extremely complicated and essential to healthy human functioning. I discover, as I research, the discipline of psychotherapy is beginning to look at the importance of touch as a tool for connection and emotional healing. We know touch can play a role in physiological healing. Touch is an essential part of nonverbal communication. Different cultures have different social rules about touch. A couple of generations of American parents were taught to avoid holding or cuddling infants and children (don’t spoil your child); thankfully, we are changing our beliefs about that now, but that doesn’t help the generations of disbonded and attachment-disordered children who are now adults and struggling. Skin hunger and touch deprivation are a huge problem for elderly populations.
We also live in a #MeToo atmosphere in which the previously hidden pain of thousands of victims of inappropriate touch is becoming visible. As healing and validating as our recognition and outrage over this kind of abuse is, it leaves many people nervous about giving or receiving any kind of touch from anyone unless it’s sexual (as in consensual between two adults), making us ever more isolated, ashamed, and skin hungry.
I wish I had answers for myself and others, but I don’t. Somehow, we have to find a way forward with healthy boundaries, consent, communication and respect as we honor our deep physical, emotional and neurological need for nonsexual touch.
Crystal Casket by Rowan Wilding
Innocent, yet somehow run afoul of a jealous queen A sly drop of poison introduced A taint that can never be erased. So polluted, then, they built me a crystal casket, Protecting the world from my touch. I rise and clothe my outcast body, day by day Concealing shameful curse But at night I return naked to my crystal casket. The moon bathes me in her cool silver milk Ebbing and flowing like a slow heartbeat in the ravishing night. I lie with my hands folded on my chest (Their small warm weight comforts my empty heart) And watch the sky storm with stars Galaxies in my eyes. Neither shroud of rain nor quilt of snow can touch me, shut away But I love them from within my crystal casket. No faithful guardian watches over me, a lighted lantern at his feet. No prince arrives, seeking a poisoned kiss. I was never black as ebony, red as blood and white as snow. Now I’m spiderwebbed with age and moon-milk Cool inside my crystal casket while midnight passions wheel around me Dark flowers and fruits, musk and nectar, texture and taste and scent
A few weeks ago I wrote about romance and in that post I confessed that at this point in my life I’m not sure what love actually is. A strange admission from a reasonably intelligent, well-educated, middle-aged broad with two marriages and two children in her history.
Writing that post enabled me to clearly separate romance from love; though I suppose love might include a little romance from time to time. I’m convinced romance is not synonymous with love, however. I began to make a mental list of what love is not, as I often approach things from the back door first. Love is not a synonym for:
All right. So what is love? My Randall House Collegiate Dictionary says it’s “a profoundly tender, passionate affection for a person” or “a feeling of warm personal attachment or deep affection.” This definition doesn’t satisfy me at all. My rewrite is that love is a feeling of warm, tender connection and deep affection. I don’t think love is always passionate and I don’t like the word attachment. If anything, love implies to me an attitude of nonattachment.
But what about unrequited love? What about failed love or withdrawn love or love as a weapon or a tool? What about the inability to accept love, or feeling unloved though being told we are? What about those who make us feel our love is ugly, twisted, shameful or inadequate?
I’m always playing with words in my head. This week it’s “What is love?” and “What is a crone? and “What are the differences between compassion, empathy and sympathy?” I lie down with those inquiries and wake up with them. I turn them over while I shower, cook bacon, wash dishes, take my morning walk, practice Tai Chi and drive to town. I’m constantly scribbling notes.
I gave a neighbor a lift this morning and asked him to talk to me about compassion, sympathy and empathy. Poor man. He didn’t know what to make of me.
Yesterday, during my frosty morning walk, I dove into a stand of staghorn sumac below the barn and went to visit the spring. This is a daylight spring seeping out of the hill on which the barn and house stand. A long time ago, someone dug a well there, and at one time a pump and tank were installed, along with a system of black plastic outdoor lines to carry water to and from the barn, the garden, and down through the woods to, presumably, crops in the fields below. All the equipment is many decades old now, fallen over and covered with leaves and moss. The well is protected by a round cement cap, much too heavy for me to lift alone (drat!).
This spot is hidden in a thick tangle of vine, briar and trees. We rarely go in there, though it’s in close proximity to the barn.
It’s fall and it’s been dry, but the drainage where the spring emerges is clearly marked by rocks and moss. The ground underfoot felt soft, and when I brushed away the leaves I found moist earth. A yard or two below that is mud, and then a trickle of water and then, at the bottom of the hill, a quiet film of water, barely moving, reflecting the tree-laced sky. Right now It’s full of apples dropped from an apple tree that grows alongside it.
As I slipped and slid, tripping over vines and getting scratched by hawthorn and raspberry bushes, feeling the velvety moss coating the rocks and stepping cautiously on rotting wood, it occurred to me that love is like this spring.
I’ve always thought of love as an action verb, something I do to another in exchange for receiving the same. I thought I knew what I meant when I used the word, though I was never challenged to define it exactly. For me it’s been a catch-all term, synonymous with dozens of other, more specific actions: Want, need, desire, honor, trust, respect, care about, listen to, defend, make excuses for, enable, protect, support, believe in, etc., etc.
But what if love is just being? What if it has no object, but just is?
This little spring is absolutely true to itself. Water drains off the hillside above us and carves a path through the earth and rock until it emerges and runs down the surface at the foot of the hill. We pay no attention to it whatsoever. It’s reliable, predictable and faithful, but not because anyone is looking. Its unobtrusive, quiet presence has created a lush pocket of life, a complex system of plants, fungi, animals and insects, but ten yards away on the open hillside it’s invisible.
What if I make a choice to allow my feeling of love to run through my life in the same way the spring runs through and over the ground? What if I carry within me a wellspring, a hidden cleft, moist, fertile, filled with life, rich in sensuality, simply because it’s an expression of self? If others find their way to it, sit a while, bathe, drink, and allow it to nourish and refresh them, they’re welcome. If others can’t see it, or don’t value it, or dislike the perfume of rotting wood and leaves or the feel of plush moss under their bare foot, it’s nothing to do with me. Not everyone chooses to make their way through raspberry and hawthorn bushes, after all.
What if I don’t need anything in return because I’m giving nothing away? Perhaps the act of love can be a simple state of being, not a totality, not a hurricane of passion and lust, not a romantic fairytale, not a prison and torture chamber, but a spring, a waterway, a shining thread I can share without depletion. Can I allow it to seep quietly up through the roots of my experience, even if no one else ever finds it, wants it, returns it or deems it acceptable?
Our spring is part of a landscape of field and forest, river, pond and stream, rocky hillside and bog. The landscape contains many forms and embraces many systems of life. Birth and death happen on this land. Disease, erosion and flood happen on this land. Prey and predators carry out their sacred dance of balance here. Blood, bone, fur, feather, antler, musk, urine and feces are all here.
I, too, am a complex system of history, memory, belief, thought and feeling. I do not feel love for everyone and everything. My experience of love is that it’s a wild thing; it seeps up where it will and trickles away without warning, taking no account of rules and expectations. I can’t command it and I don’t choose to hold it back. My love doesn’t need anyone’s reception, appreciation, validation or praise.
Love is. I reserve the right to love as I will. I am the keeper of my own wellspring.
Power lies beneath the layers at the center, the heart, the core. All avenues of thought, all paths of inquiry lead back to power. What is it? Who controls it? How do we manage and maintain it? Power is the fuel of life. Every relationship is rooted in power. Managing our power is the key to managing our lives at every level, physical, emotional, creative, sexual, spiritual and intellectual.
Narcissists stalk emotional power. They seek it, they lust for it, their voracious hunger and need drive them to control it. They are a yawning abyss that can never be filled because they lack the ability to generate their own emotional power. They will never cease hunting for prey.
Photo by Rain Wu on Unsplash
The prey of the narcissist is carefully addicted and programmed with romance, charisma, and sex into becoming emotional power machines, set and calibrated to take full advantage of finely-gauged specifications of the prey’s need and vulnerability, so as to provide an unending stream of high-quality emotional power on which the narcissist gorges at will: The fine wine of our love, the exotic spices of our passion, the honey of our confusion, the refreshing tang of our jealousy, the nectar of our anguish and the bitter dark chocolate of our despair. Eagerly, we spread our longings, hopes, fears and fantasies before the icy coruscating mirror concealing the narcissist’s true nature. Narcissists manufacture networks of emotional power machines and pit us against one another in order to obtain ever more abundant, complex and complicated fuel. We are not released until we malfunction, and then we’re contemptuously eliminated (but not freed) to make room for a shiny new machine, and we languish until called for again.
Photo by Gary Bendig on Unsplash
The only hope of escape and healing lies in power, the center, the heart, the core beneath the layers. We must cease to hoard, deny, silence, or give away our emotional power. We must claim it, excavate it, call it by name, learn the flavor and scent of it. We must weep with it, rage with it, release it in righteous orgasm, create with it, fight with it. We must look through its unclouded eyes and follow it, wherever it takes us. We must pray with it, surrender to it and adore it. We must soar within its rapturous fiery wings and plunge into its healing green water. We must build a cosmos out of our emotional power and fill it with galaxies, adorn it with jeweled planets and sow it with shooting stars.
We must defend our emotional power with our lives, for without it we cannot live. We must seduce and enchant ourselves with the rapture of our own emotional power so we cannot be captivated by the scintillating mirrored eyes of the narcissist, for if we’re captured by those mirrors we’ll find nothing but our enslavement and performance as emotional power machines reflected back to us, and the stench of the charnel house will invade our souls.
Photo by Aimee Vogelsang on Unsplash
We must look in those glittering mirror eyes, look deeply, look well, and say, “Ah, here is my own reflection, my ravishing emotional self, entirely naked and unashamed.” We must say, “No, I will not be your emotional power machine, no, you can give me nothing that wasn’t already mine, no, I name you Narcissist and I know your terrible secret: You are powerless without your prey,” and turn away, dance away with our bountiful bared breasts and strong hips, pressing our lips to our own shoulders with love because we have everything we need, everything we want, as we embrace our own emotional power beneath the layers in our center, in our heart, in our core.
For more information on recognizing, understanding and managing narcissists and their behaviors, explore narcsite dot com, created and written by a narcissist. If you suspect you have had or now have a narcissist in your life, read ‘The Prime Aims’ on that site for clarification. If you are now or have been entangled with a narcissist, seek help and support immediately if you have not already done so. Your life is at risk.
The post reminded me of a conversation I had with an old friend some years ago. She said her favorite part of relationship was the first weeks, when everything is romantic anticipation and excitement. I remember how violently I disagreed with that view, though I didn’t say so to my friend at the time.
I never trust romance, because I don’t equate it with love. Even as a child, I was suspicious of princes on white horses. As an adult, I want a relationship that survives the flu, a broken toilet, a week-long power outage, job loss, poverty, a car accident, a road trip, moving house and painting a room together. Anyone can dress up, buy flowers and make a reservation, given adequate time, money and motivation. Anyone can make love with words. Many can show up for a great night between the sheets. Most of life, however, consists of day-to-day challenges, tasks and unexpected stuff that no one can prepare for, and that’s when we find out what we’re made of, as well as what those around us are made of.
Photo by Jan Phoenix on Unsplash
In spite of all that, I hunger for romance in my life. I always have.
I realized this week I couldn’t come up with a succinct definition of romance. I could write lists of what I find romantic, sensual or sexy, but how do those categories overlap into a central core of what romance actually is? As I sat down to begin this post, I grabbed my Random House College Dictionary and was absolutely shocked at what I found.
Romance: A baseless, fanciful story; a love affair.
Wait, what? What about palpitating bosoms and muscled, shirtless heroes and wine and roses and diamonds? What about bikini waxes and lingerie, high heels, flowers, poetry, songs, movies and messages of love via social media? What about sex?
Is the whole world searching desperately for something that’s not even defined as real? I always thought it was real and attainable. I’ve thought of it as a rare phenomenon, a kind of shining miracle that can’t be bought or captured, coming only to certain remarkable, young, beautiful and deserving people.
I’m ashamed to want romance. It’s not for someone like me, someone flawed, broken, aging, unbeautiful and in many ways unlovable (another of my stories). To dream of romance, to yearn for it, is pitiable and pathetic, and I keep such dreams well hidden, releasing them only in my writing.
I notice all of these thoughts and feelings about romance, all the shame, futility and bitterness associated with one word that means a baseless, fanciful story. Wow.
I paused in writing this post and thought about Random House’s definition for a day. I decided the thing I find most disturbing about this definition is it’s purely subjective. Do we each have a unique baseless, fanciful ideal we’re searching for or trying to create? I’ve written about stories before. If my idea of romance is nothing but a baseless, fanciful story inside my head, it’s not about anybody else. It’s only about me. It’s not something I’ll ever discover out in the real world.
No wonder I haven’t been able to find it!
If romance is just another of my stories, then it’s pointless to carry shame around because nobody will participate in my ideal. I’m the only one who can be responsible for my story. Nobody else even knows it, unless I tell it, and this is a private story I’m unwilling to reveal. My story of romance is part of who I am, a piece of vivid and passionate authenticity. It’s what I dance with and write with. I need it. It’s an aspect of myself to be nurtured and cherished, not ignored and denied.
Romance is not about them at all. It never has been. It’s about me.
Photo by Ryan Moreno on Unsplash
This is a place I’ve been before, although this time I’ve followed a different road to get here. When I lived alone in my own home in my old life, I became romantically self-reliant, as it were. I was lonely, but I realize now I was probably the most satisfied romantically I’ve ever been. I burned candles and incense. I bought flowers for myself. I took myself to the movies, to breakfast, out for pizza. I took long, luxurious baths with music and essential oils. I bought my favorite sexy underwear and wore it for my own enjoyment. I gave myself weekends away and night walks to watch the moonrise. I danced naked. I bought art cards I loved and mailed them to myself to mark special anniversaries and days.
Then I came to Maine and began life with my partner, and because I had a man in my life again, I gave up romancing myself. I realized my new relationship is deeper and stronger than romance. I no longer feel lonely. Many of my needs are being met now that have never been met before. Life in central Maine in a 100+-year-old falling-down and leaky farmhouse with very little money is not romantic, however, and my partner is a pragmatic Yankee. He’s about as romantic as a rock. He loves me. I don’t want him to be different, and I recognize he is not equipped to satisfy my hunger for romance.
Well, no. But given the above definition, is anyone? Has my search for romance been in vain because what I long for isn’t out there at all, it’s in here? Was it my responsibility all along?
I say again: Huh!
If I decide to be the best romantic partner I’ve ever had, is that hilarious or creepy?
One thing’s for sure. I won’t have to work very hard to be the best romantic partner I’ve ever had!
Wait, I already am the best romantic partner I ever had, I just took some time off. And now I miss me.