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Posts Tagged ‘Aphrodite’

It’s been three years since I stopped publishing “fictional interludes” on a monthly basis, and more than six years since I stopped doing “My Favorite __________” columns.  And yet last week I started deeply missing that feature, and wishing that I could produce them as often as I used to.  That mood inspired me to pull out my own copies of Ladies of the Night and The Forms of Things Unknown, browse through them, and reread a few of them, and that in turn inspired me to make a list of my own favorites from both collections (and a couple which will be included in my next collection, Lost Angels, which I’ll probably compile in another year or so).  So without further ado (except to encourage you to support my work by buying them if you don’t already own them, and reviewing them if you like them), I hereby present my own personal top 10, in order of publication, with a short comment on each.

1) Pearls Before Swine

Perceptive readers have certainly noticed my love of mythology in general and Greek mythology in particular; a number of my stories have themes, titles, settings or characters borrowed from it.  This one has only the last, and yet its title is scriptural and its themes eternal.  And its Southern Gothic setting is, in many ways, one that fits the character almost as well as the one she’s usually associated with.

2) Bad News

While it’s not uncommon for my stories to feature dry humor, I have difficulty performing this one at book readings without giggling.  Even if I were restricted to five selections, I think this one would still make the cut.

3) Visions of Sugarplums

As befits a Christmas story, this is certainly the lightest, most sentimental, and most optimistic tale on this list.  And the protagonist is one of my favorite characters I’ve ever (literally) dreamed up, partly because rather than being a goddess, witch, villainess or femme fatale, she’s just an escort of rather nervous temperament who finds herself in well over her head.

4) Rose

This isn’t my only story which treats seriously a topic I usually make fun of in my non-fiction, nor my only story based on a poem, nor the only one featuring very dark humor.  And did I ever tell you that the unreliable narrator is one of my favorite literary devices?  Because it is.  Read this one and maybe you’ll understand why.

5) Millennium

A tale of First Contact seen through an extremely cynical lens.  You’ve probably never seen aliens portrayed quite like this before, and the fact that you probably haven’t may tell you just how cynical.

6) The Sum of Its Parts

I’m not really very good with pastiche; the only author whose style I can reasonably approximate is Maggie McNeill.  And that’s probably why I like this one so much; it reads very much like a pulp tale from the 1930s, and the characters and dialogue are, in my own admittedly-biased opinion, some of the best I ever wrote.

7) Knock, Knock, Knock

I’ve written scarier things than this, and more personal things than this, but none both scarier and more personal.  And I still don’t like thinking about it when I’m alone late at night.

8) Lost Angel

This is not a tale of horror, at least not the usual kind of horror; it is, in fact, pretty squarely in the genre generally known as “science fiction”.  Nobody dies violently or suffers some other awful fate…so why do I always experience a pronounced frisson when thinking about the ending?

9) Trust Exercise

Many of the stories in The Forms of Things Unknown are, in a way, autobiographical, but none more so than this one.  It’s about love, trust and other scary things, but it can’t possibly scare you as much as it scares me because I know what it all means.  I still think you’ll enjoy it.

10) Wheels

While “Trust Exercise” is a scary story about love, it’s not the love that’s scary; that is definitely not true in “Wheels”, the distillation of some themes that have haunted me for almost four decades and finally demanded I explore them in a more traditional narrative form.

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When Jae and I started dating four years ago, she wrote a poem for me that I dearly loved.  Actually, I should say she composed it for me, because she never actually wrote it down.  I asked her to do it a few times, but after her accident she couldn’t clearly remember it all; she’d occasionally come out with snippets of it, but the whole seemed to elude her.  I had given up hope of ever hearing it all again, but last year she started regaining large chunks of lost memory, and after I published “Bird of Prey” (which was inspired by her) she promised she would work on bringing the poem back up into consciousness and writing it down for me.  Then on Christmas day, she handed me a little scroll…and there it was, very close to the way I remembered it.  Naturally, I asked if I could share it, so here it is; I hope you like it as much as I do even though it isn’t about you.

Snake Mama

She’s got the click-clack of high heels hitting blacktop.
She’s got sarcasm dripping from the edge of her tongue.
She’s got the body of a Venus, and a mind tougher than shoe leather.
She’s got naked pictures of herself floating about the city;
She’s got no problem with that. She curves like the beauty of the open road.
She’s got that edge…you know, that edge?  That leather cuffs in the back of
The top drawer of her dresser, unspoken yet well-used kind of edge.

She’s a certain kind of woman, like a Goddess in a Teacup, and
She was born with a flask of rebellion-and-kindness cocktail
Strapped high on her right hip-bone.
She’s armed with words that can wound, and words that may hurt, and
She wields them like band-aids on a battlefield.
She oozes courage when she does that…
She’s a red-lit woman ready to be seen, and
She’s got precious elements of your anatomy tied up and quivering in her fist.
And it’s unlikely you will even try to get them back.

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When [the universe is] over it will fade away, leaving nothing behind except the fact that it existed, and that it was savagely beautiful.  –  “Whistling Past the Graveyard

Every year on this day, the Day of the Dead, I publish a thanatopsis, a meditation on death.  This is not to say that I myself only think about it at this time of year; as regular readers already know, Death and I are old friends, and “when he at last come to collect me it will be a rendezvous rather than a capture.”  Accordingly, he’s never very far from my thoughts, and I generally think and speak about him with the nonchalance most people think and speak about minor medical problems; at a recent checkup, my doctor questioned my disinterest in undergoing an expensive and extremely unpleasant cancer-screening test which is apparently considered routine for people above 50, to which my response was a shrug and “I’ve got to die of something.”  Some people think this odd, but I remind them that I am a courtesan, and sex and death are but two sides of the same coin:  the former is the door through which we enter the world, and the latter the door through which we leave it.  For the first few millennia of human civilization, sex-goddesses were usually also associated with war and death; the Sumerian Inanna was the twin sister of Ereshkigal, ruler of the dead, and once tried to usurp her sister’s throne (a misadventure which resulted in the death of Inanna’s husband, the vegetation-god Damuzi, and therefore the origin of the seasons).  And Mexican sex workers are among the most devoted worshipers of Santa Muerte, the personification of death.  My belief in the goodness of death is not merely a result of my pagan philosophy, though; it is also based in the practical understanding of the inevitability of death and its role as the redistributor of resources from the moribund to the young, and also in an unsentimental recognition that gerontocracy is the enemy of human progress:

…if you like working your arse off to support the decades-long retirements of a bunch of old dinosaurs whose cognitive norms formed a generation before you were born, just imagine how much you’d love it right now if 90% of the population were born before the Second World War, and a sizeable fraction of the people voting on stuff like sexual rights came of age in an era when it was still considered OK for humans to actually, legally own other humans.  The current rulers of our world were mostly born in the 40s-60s, and their ideas provide ample proof of that; imagine how it would be if most of them had been born in the 19th century…

Humans may be the smartest monkeys, but we’re still monkeys, fragile creatures controlled by poorly-developed minds dominated by primitive fears and foolish ideas.  So perhaps it’s fitting that Western culture’s impending demise is being driven by tyrants whose destruction of freedom and justice is enabled by the masses willing to give them any power in exchange for their impossible promises to delay death, both personal and cultural, just a little longer.

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I have an incurable, fatal disease: my doctors advise me to expect to live another 30-70 months.  I’m not afraid of dying and in examining my life the only thing that really bothers me is the state of my spiritual life.  While I was born and raised Catholic, I left organized religion as my mind matured and my path to access spirituality became intimate times with my lovers.  I haven’t experienced that connection with something greater than ourselves since my wife left me on the mountaintop 10 years ago.  Regular, long sessions with professionals have immeasurably improved and enriched my life but don’t reach that level.  Tantra specialists offer a kind of enhanced FBSM but none seem to seek that connection to the infinite.  Meditation, yoga, chanting, all are relaxing and enjoyable, but just don’t get me to that higher plane.  Small doses of some recreational drugs have been useful in the past, but only in the context of the intimacy that comes with great sex.  It’s my one and only spiritual life and it’s not what it ought to be.   I’m not sure how to fix it, and don’t want to find myself on my deathbed with this deficit.

I’ve been mulling over how to best answer your question, and I don’t mind telling you that I’m not sure I can give you a good answer.  The problem is that spirituality is so damned hard to pin down and define; religions have been trying for at least 5000 years and probably longer, and yet they all disagree on what exactly it is.  Even the words we use to describe the spiritual dimension are maddeningly vague; we speak of “the ineffable”, “the supernatural”, “the unknown”, “the beyond” and the like.  Since you were raised Catholic you may remember what the religious phenomena associated with the life of Jesus are called (in the context of praying the rosary): mysteries.  And that term predates Catholicism; the “mystery religions” were a group of cults that flourished in the time roughly between the Golden Age of Greece and the fall of Rome, a time when the old functions of religion (social control and explanation of natural phenomena) were being replaced by newer institutions (non-religious legal codes and science).  Classical civilization produced societies far more stable than any which had gone before, and the privileged classes were secure enough in their physical existence that they began to have the luxury of asking questions like, “Is this all there is?” and “What is the meaning of life?”

The mystery religions, more mystical outgrowths of traditional pagan religions, promised to answer these questions.  Hinduism grew out of the old Vedic religion and Buddhism grew from Hinduism; in the West, cults arose around the Egyptian Isis, the Anatolian Cybele, the Persian Mithra and many others.  All of these religions had various circles of initiation which the devout had to work to rise through; Christianity’s innovation (which caused it to rapidly supplant all others in Europe) was that there was only one circle, and every convert had access to all the mysteries right away.  We all know them; transsubstantiation, the Trinity, the virgin birth, etc, logical impossibilities that could not be explained rationally and were supposed to be meditated upon in order to obtain salvation.  The fall of Rome plunged Europe back into a precarious state again, and religion once again assumed its old roles until the Age of Reason gave the privileged classes back the freedom of not having to worry about where their next meal was coming from.  The modern industrial age took that a step further, giving virtually everyone in developed nations that freedom to wonder, “What else is there?”, and of course the result has been the return of old mystery religions (such as evangelical Christianity) and the creation of new ones (such as Mormonism and Scientology), each with its mysteries, circles of initiation, transcendent experiences (such as speaking in tongues), etc.  They all promise to answer The Question, and of course none of them do; oh, they provide the devout with explanations sufficient for many of their adherents, but if any of them could really provide a better answer to the ultimate question than “forty-two”, everyone in the world would’ve converted to that religion long ago and the Millennium would’ve arrived.

By now you may be beginning to get the idea that I don’t actually have an answer to your question, and on one level you’d be right; the truth, however, is that no priest, yogi, guru, prophet or adept in the world does either.  And the reason they don’t is that there is no one answer; the point of The Great Question is not to be answered, but to be asked in the first place.  In other words, the seeking of truth is the point in itself; it’s a limit approaching infinity, but as you and I both know any point along that journey is equally far from its infinitely-distant end.  The observable universe is an infinitesimal particle of all that there is; it’s elephants all the way down and all the way up, and all the way in every direction you can conceive of and an infinity of directions that you can’t, except for “elephants” read “math”.  It is, by definition, utterly incomprehensible to finite beings such as ourselves; the only meaning in existence is the meaning we as conscious beings give it.  So, while sex, drugs, religion, music and other temporal lobe phenomena may give one a sense or feeling of connection to the Divine, the truth is that we’re always connected; we’re just not always aware of it, because if we were we’d be unable to carry out the functions of mundane existence, and would instead merely lie physically inert while contemplating higher dimensions.

I said at the beginning of the previous paragraph that the point of the question is the process of answering it, and that’s not just inscrutable bullshit intended to cover the fact that I have no idea what I’m talking about; I meant it exactly as stated.  Imagine yourself a passenger in a vehicle, travelling a road or railway around a majestic mountain; as the vehicle moves, you need to change your position within it to keep looking at the mountain.  And life is like that, too.  In your youth, sex provided the proper angle to see the mountain, but now it no longer does; you’re still looking out of the same window, and though you’ve tried others none of them have yet given you that which you seek.  Perhaps the answer is larger doses of recreational drugs, or trying others you haven’t yet tried; perhaps you should try doing so in a ritualized setting, like a peyote or ayahuasca journey.  I myself have achieved remarkable results with edible cannabis, listening to instrumental music.  Perhaps you might try visiting sacred places, or exploring your own psychosexual landscape through kink, painting or writing.  And here’s the good news:  you can’t get this wrong.  You needn’t worry about a deficit; I can’t promise you won’t feel a sense of disappointment or regret on your deathbed, because we all leave this world in the same way we enter it: in blood and pain, wholly ignorant of what comes next.  But I can assure you that on a spiritual level, no one seeking as earnestly as you are can be considered to have any kind of spiritual deficit.  The point of the question is to be asked, and you’re certainly asking.  The point of the journey is the journey itself.  And when the end of your biological life comes, and you move on to a different plane of existence, you will be able to do so knowing that you succeeded with flying colors in your mission on this one: to never cease asking questions and searching diligently for an ultimate answer neither you nor I nor any other sentient being can ever find.

(Have a question of your own?  Please consult this page to see if I’ve answered it in a previous column, and if not just click here to ask me via email.)

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Feeling Small

I am, as Paul Simon wrote, weary and feeling small.  When I look at this vast edifice of a website I’ve created, stone by stone, day by day, over the past seven years, it sometimes overwhelms me; I almost ask myself, “How the Hell did I do all that?”  And then I remember: it was through countless hours spent at the keyboard, typing literally millions of words (almost 2600 posts x an average of 1000 words each = 2,600,000 words).  And that doesn’t even count all the tweets, articles, and other content.  For the past five years, and especially the last two, I’ve been slowly decreasing the amount of work I have to do to maintain it; I’ve relaxed my length requirements, instituted features (like diaries, links columns and back issues) which take less work, brought in more guests, eliminated some time-and-labor intensive regular features, split the weekly news column into two parts and otherwise stretched my labor while lessening the amount of it required to give myself more free time.  And now I need to do that again.  When I first started The Honest Courtesan, I was releasing a decade of pent-up self-expression and trying to distract myself from a disintegrating marriage by burying myself in work (which is pretty much what I always did back before I realized what a tremendously stupid idea absolute sobriety was); now I’m older, wiser, sadder and wearier, and I just can’t maintain the pace I could then (which, to be honest, wasn’t really healthy back then either).  I’m worn thin and threadbare, and I need to devote more time and energy to paying work and to self-care (which includes spending quality time with people who love me).  So I’m making another small adjustment to my procedures:  since Friday is the day sacred to Aphrodite, I’m going to start taking some Fridays off.  That doesn’t mean you won’t get content on Fridays; I’m absolutely committed to providing my readers with new material every day as long as it’s physically possible for me to do so.  What it means is that a lot of Friday columns are going to be light and very low-effort, like the collection of pictures from Ireland I gave you two weeks ago.  That will reduce my stress levels, decrease my energy output by almost one-seventh (fitting, since I’ve been doing this now for almost a seventh of my life), and make more time for travel (both for business and pleasure). And since a lot of you have been urging me to do something like this for years, I’m sure most of you are glad to hear it.

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The Divine Whore

Every year on her feast day, I honor St. Mary Magdalene; even though the Church does not officially recognize her as the patron of whores, she certainly is in the public imagination.  And that recognition of sacred whoredom is far more important than any official designation by any organization.

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Diary #283

PanelDiscussionAfter a few months of devotion to personal issues, the balance of my effort is once again shifting to work and activism.  I don’t think I really need to tell y’all what my work involves, though I will say I’ve met some lovely gentlemen and done a few fun duos lately.  Of course I’m going to remind y’all about my Toys for Tots promotion; it’s running until the 18th, so if you live in the Seattle area and wish to take advantage, drop me a line to ask for details!  On the activism front, SWOP Seattle has a number of events related to the December 17th observance; one of them is a panel discussion on stigma, to be held on Saturday the 19th.  That’s all I have to report for right now, and frankly I’m rather glad of that; Aphrodite has made it very clear to me that I’ve been working much too hard for too many years, and She wants me to learn to relax.  And since I have a number of friends who share Her opinion on the subject, that’s exactly what I’m starting to do.  It’s not easy for me, but it’s necessary, and you know what?  I’m even starting to get the hang of it.

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