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Posts Tagged ‘Aphrodite’

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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Beauty…is a visitor who leaves behind the gift of grief, the souvenir of pain.  –  Christopher Morley

“It’s fine for work, I guess, but you actually live here, too?” She asked, with badly-disguised disdain.

“Yes.  I’m sorry, I thought You knew that,” I replied, trying not to sound too defensive.

“Well, yes, I did, but…it’s so small.”

“Rent is high around here; this is all I can afford right now.  If You want me to have something bigger, You could send me more work.”  Was that too daring, even though I did say it with a smile?

“Yes.  Quite.”pink cocktail

Well, Her response could’ve been much worse; still, I figured it would be best to change the subject.  “Would You like something to drink?”

“What a charming idea!  Do you have any champagne chilled?”

“Um, no.  Not chilled, and not at room temperature either.  I’m afraid I’m a bit short on champagne at the moment.”

“Pity.  What’s the closest thing to it you do have on hand?”

“Well, that depends.  I have some wine, some whiskey and some vodka if You want liquor, but if it’s the fizz You’re looking for I have these fruit-flavored carbonated water drinks.”  In response to Her rather skeptical look, I added, “They’re sugar free even.”  The skepticism increased.  “It helps me keep my figure.”  Yes, I know it was dumb; I didn’t know what else to say.  It’s not every day that the Boss Lady drops by in person.

She sighed so deeply it sounded like something drawn from the bottom of the sea.  “Well, I suppose you could make me a fizzy cocktail.  Not that I need to watch my figure or anything.”

Yikes!  “Oh, goodness, I didn’t mean to imply…”

She waved off my concerns with an airy gesture; I got to work on the cocktail.  When I handed it to Her, She sniffed it as though trying to be sure it wasn’t spoiled, then took a dainty but substantial sip.  “This is terrible.”

“I’m so sorry!  If You like, I could…”

“Not necessary,” She interrupted.

I finally broke the uncomfortable pause with, “I just learned to do that pretty recently, make drinks I mean, and I’m afraid I’m not very good at it yet.”

“No, you’re not.  Luckily, neither your income nor your reputation depends on your skill at bartending.”

“Yes.  I mean no.”  I’m not easily tongue-tied, but there was more than ample cause.  I would’ve been heartened by the fact that She had taken another sip, had it not been accompanied by a half-grimace.  Time for another change of topic.  “To what do I owe the great honor of this visit?”

Her smile lit up the room and instantly soothed the sting of Her previous comments.  “Oh, I just happened to be in the neighborhood, and…”  Now it was my turn to look incredulous, and She responded with a laugh so beautiful it literally took my breath away.  “No, I guess you won’t believe that, will you?”

“Well, no, not really.”

The smile became even lovelier.  “I’m really very fond of you, you know.”  I was totally speechless.  “Oh, come now darling, surely you already knew that after all this time!”

“I…well…um…” Why was I crying?  Damn, so much for looking cool.

“I know that, since taking the job…how many years ago was it?”

“Twenty.”  It came out sounding something like a croak.

“Twenty years!  How time flies!  Since taking the job twenty years ago, you’ve performed admirably and I really have noticed; it’s just that I’m so very busy and, well, time gets away from one.  Sometimes I think of you and realize, ‘Goodness, it’s been years since I looked in on her!’ and yet there you are, still faithfully toiling away at your mission as though I were breathing down your neck the whole time!”

“Thank you, My Lady; You know I always keep my promises.”

“And so you have, dear girl.  I know I’ve been awful about keeping up with you; it’s just this mood I’ve been in for the past 15 years or so.  And the reason I dropped by is to let you know that I’m going to try to do better.”

I don’t have a word to describe the complex mixture of emotions that boiled up in response, and I wouldn’t have dared to vocalize it even if I had.  So I just sat there and sobbed like a schoolgirl, and She glided across the room to sit beside me and draw me into Her arms.  “There, there,” She said, “It really will be all right.  I promise, by the Styx.”  And then She kissed me, and if I live to be a hundred no kiss of mortal woman could ever hope to match that brief brush of Her lips against mine.

rose bloodI awoke with Her scent still all around me, and my face wet with tears.  I had never had such an intensely real-seeming vision before, and it had thrown me off-balance; I felt like I needed to get up, collect my thoughts, get my jumbled emotions back in control and re-orient myself to consensual reality.  I stumbled into the outer room, and my attention was immediately drawn to the vase of roses atop my desk; they seemed fresher than they had been, and of a deeper color and sweeter perfume than before.  I gently, almost reverently stroked the petals of one, softer than a woman’s skin, and then reached down to draw it from the vase so that I might examine it under better light.  But in my fascination at the apparent revival of my flowers, I neglected to use caution in grasping the stem; the blood which welled forth from my finger was as red as the rose.

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Every thing teaches transition, transference, metamorphosis:  therein is human power, in transference, not in creation; & therein is human destiny, not in longevity but in removal.  We dive & reappear in new places.
–  Ralph Waldo Emerson

So here we are again, for the fifth time; I daresay this is becoming a habit.  That’s really not surprising; ever since I retired from sex work in 2006, my life has been bound by habits and schedules, like a cocoon I wove to give myself structure and meaning at a time when the framework that had defined my life for nine years had suddenly been taken away.  That self-imposed bondage was comfortable and safe; it allowed me time to think and to explore, to figure out who I was now and to decide what was important to me and where I wanted my life to go.  And as I slowly, haltingly learned about the power of the internet, I also became aware of a great restlessness and dissatisfaction in myself; I found myself talking about sex work and sex worker rights on message boards that had absolutely nothing to do with the subject, and began to resent prissy moderators who could delete anything I wrote on a whim.  By the time I had been retired for four years, I could stand it no more; I had to stake out a place in this new digital world where I could share the truth about my life, my sisters and the only work I ever loved.  At first, I was extremely anonymous; in May of 2012 I even turned down an offer to host a TV show on the History Channel because I was just not ready for that kind of exposure.  I had not yet broken out of my cocoon, but merely reshaped it for purposes of my activism.

But in the summer of 2012, that all began to change when I accepted an invitation to appear at the Southern Harm Reduction Conference; a few weeks later I agreed to speak at Albany Law School’s symposium the next February.  The cocoon had become too small and much too restrictive, and I was breaking out of it; people began to hear my voice in interviews and see my face at events, and when I decided to go on my tour last summer I shook the last tatters of silk from my newfound wings and proudly revealed my face (and the rest of me) for the world to see.  There’s no turning back now; the die, as the man said in Latin, is cast.  In the past few months I’ve been recognized twice in the small town I live nearest, and that’s just fine with me; I wouldn’t turn down a TV hosting gig now as easily as I turned down the reality show offer I got last spring.  Flitting under my own power from coast to coast last summer was the scariest, craziest, least-scripted thing I’ve ever done, and also one of the most rewarding; this year I plan to explore even more widely.  Sometimes I miss the coziness of that cocoon, but the warmth of the sun and the smell of the flowers and the feel of the breeze under my wings are far better, and the work Aphrodite wants me to do can’t be done while tied up in the dark.

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