“…anything that feels this good, comes with a price.”
— from ‘The Genie’ by Don Henley
It’s been a very nice and productive week here in Lake World-be-gone, my new home. …Yes, you heard me right. Nothing went wrong this week. I know! Freaks me out too!
I have TWO completely functional computers now. My custom built, emergency computer, R2D2, grew into a larger case with a little more RAM, and his maker was kind enough to sell him to me as my new primary work machine. Fabulously functional computer! No more giant corporate brand names for me, thank you! A few days later, my treacherous Lenovo ‘Think Pad’ returned from Atlanta, Georgia with a brand new, working, hard drive, which I’ve set up yet again now—as a backup and travel computer. Other than a few burned out light bulbs, this week has been techno-tastrophe free!
The TWICE project has been going smoothly. The second new episode went out right on time and without a hitch—as far as I know to date. If any subscriber out there didn’t get this week’s link-email, or has had any problems with the episode or the site, please DO let me know! We’re eager to fix such things! I have added a link to the bottom of all episode pages now to “notes on this week’s illustrations.” You can follow that to learn more about why I chose that image and how it’s supposed to tie into the episode. We are also going to increase the size of episode text a bit, to make it easier to read them on your phones. Already well along on the next episode’s illustration. :]
My first week on Twitter has been exciting. Three days after I signed up, I discovered where tweets back to me are kept! There were half a dozen of them from my six or seven new followers that wanted answering—so I did so. The next morning, I checked in again to find that I had 127 followers—with a new one appearing about every three minutes. The hair stood up on the back of my arms, as I went to the notifications section and discovered that they weren’t just ‘following’ me, they were sending me comments! A LOT of them—all very kind and deserving of response! I spent hours replying—as new followers and new comments continued pouring in to fill the gap. What if this continued? How would I even see what had been sent me, much less manage to respond? I’d be buried! YIKES!!! I made urgent calls to Twitter-savvy friends, for advice about Twitter clients, and cyber-coaches, and social media therapists to help with stress management. Happily, I’ve topped out at about 350 followers now, and the influx has dribbled to a virtual halt. So, I think I’m going to be okay. I can handle 350. :]
My Patreon page? …Not so much. I have one very generous patron there to date; my wife’s parents. (Thanks again, Bob and Barbara! Your backer rewards are on their way…any…uh…week now… In the meantime, your daughter really appreciates the assist with her deadbeat husband! And so does he! :D)
I’ll get the hang of all this as things move forward. But I do want to express my very real and heartfelt appreciation to everyone who’s been kind enough to take an interest in this new project—and help me figure out how to navigate its many moving parts! It’s true what they say, it takes a village to raise an artist. :]
Tomorrow, Shannon and I head back to America for yet another spate of medical tourism. I’ll be taking that newly repaired laptop onto the ferry—again—to work on next week’s blog post while we’re off island. ‘Third time’s the charm,’ they say. …Wish me luck!
And now, I believe it is finally time to resume that tour of Cirque du High School so rudely interrupted three weeks ago by onslaughts of treacherous technology, interstate family travel, invasive medical imperatives and, of course, the struggle to get TWICE ready for its happily successful launch!
Shall we go back to the woods then?
Since you’ve probably completely forgotten where we were after all this time please allow me to review:
The post was called, “In the absence of language,” and we were waiting in line for the Cirque’s most notorious carnie ride: the Tunnel of Love. As we shuffled toward the ride’s entrance, I made ‘small talk’ about the meaning of ‘love’ and the absence of language for—or any real awareness of—‘delight’ in my family. We reached the ride’s entrance at last as I was discussing my arrival at adolescence with a head virtually unplugged from my body, all but oblivious to pleasures of any but cerebral or emotional kinds—beyond the pleasure of food, of course. If memory serves me, I ended that post with the words, “until I started getting erections.” And there the unplanned world intruded and left us hanging.
Today, I’d like to resume that postponed conversation, as we head—at last—into the Tunnel of Love to talk about ‘sex.’ Or, more accurately, about the disastrous impact its arrival had on—well, everything in my life. Allow me to assure you—again—that there is nothing graphic waiting for you here. It’s not that kind of blog. I’m not that kind of blogger. But I do hope you’ve been doing those eye-rolling exercises I recommended three weeks ago, because this post, and the next few after it, will provide more than ample absurdity to navigate.
So, let’s buckle in now, stow any baggage we may be carrying firmly under the seat, and remember to keep all extremities safely inside our little boat as it bobs gently from the loading platform out into the gathering darkness. And, please, no flash photography for the duration of this ride.
The arrival of sexual sensations was neither sudden nor ‘mysterious’ for me. One evening way back in grammar school, we sixth-graders and our parents had all been gathered into the school auditorium to view a movie together. A Disney movie, which, as I recall, laid out everything about sexual awakening, physical development, and reproductive function with the same somehow innocuous yet insidious charm and good humor with which Disney’s Pocahontas laid out the history of Native American/European relations in North America. Everything was there—by some value of ‘there’—with hardly a whiff of unsightly discomfort. There was even a Q&A session afterward, in case something hadn’t been made clear enough.
So, when I discovered a short while later that getting into bed at night felt better without pajamas—and that one ‘better feeling’ led to others accompanied by odd, if temporary, structural changes and rather fascinating…er… ‘ambitions,’ I was not entirely in the dark—well, yes, I guess I usually was—but not about what was happening, or where it was all supposed to lead me—someday. I was clueless, but not entirely ignorant or surprised.
Nor did this awakening wait for my freshman year of high school—as its sudden appearance at this point in my series of posts must seem to suggest. Sexual awakening had actually found me early in the seventh grade, just as I arrived at Eden Jail. I just chose not to bring it up when I was writing about those years because its real significance in my story wouldn’t occur until so much later—in high school. And I wanted a lot of contextual things laid in place here before that part of the puzzle was raised. (No. Neither ‘laid’ nor ‘raised’ were intended as puns—consciously or otherwise. Sit down, Freud.)
Nor, you may be surprised to learn, was there even any conscious shame attached to this awakening for me. Privacy, yes; I had long ago learned—for better and for worse—that nothing between my neck and ankles was anyone’s business but my own. But not shame or guilt. I was just delighted! For a boy grown up with virtually no awareness of, or concern about, even mundane sensual pleasures—as I explained three weeks ago—this was not just another step up some ongoing ladder of carnality. This was zero to sixty in one unprecedented leap. My body suddenly had my full and very happy attention.
But how did such a religious kid sidestep all those prominent religious taboos? Well, believe it or not, they’d still never even occurred to me. Just as I had somehow managed to miss the whole ‘religion shaped by fear of Hell’ thing, I had also somehow never been conscious at all of the idea that sex itself was inherently sinful. For clarity, I don’t mean the idea had never been presented in my presence. I just mean it never registered—at all. Maybe this was because—again—the whole topic of overt attention to bodies or sensual pleasure in general—much less ‘sex’—had always been so strangely absent within my home and family life. Or because of the unusual degree to which I’d been kept separated from unstructured exposure to the rest of the world and its strange ideas—including those about sexual shame. Or maybe it was because ‘God’ had become my wizardly mentor, best friend, and utterly trusted ‘alternative parent’ so early on that I just wasn’t scanning for trouble in that quadrant like others were by the time ‘sex’ entered any of the discussions around me. Whatever the reasons, while I certainly found this whole arena of new physical skills and pleasures as intensely engaging as I imagine most other kids do, it really just never occurred to me that this engagement might be ‘wrong’ somehow—until the spring of my heady freshman year at Cirque du High School, when all the themes I’ve been trying to illuminate here for months suddenly came diabolically together to send me plunging off that high wire I’d been dancing on, to fall just wide of the net.
Got those eye-rolling muscles all limbered up? Here’s how it started.
Remember my earlier discussion of the Catholic Charismatic Movement that my mother and I had become involved with while I was in junior high school? Well, among the many groups, clubs, and new circles of association I became involved with during that first year at Cirque du High School, was a small group of creatively intelligent, cheerfully earnest, strikingly sincere Christian students who got together once a week for ‘bible study’ ensconced in lots of engaging conversation, uproarious laughter, and rather good food as often as not. We met at school sometimes, or in the evenings at one of our homes. These kids became very special friends to me. They were comfortable with degrees of introspection and self-examination that virtually none of my other acquaintances at school would have imagined, much less risked. They were kinder and less combative than most other kids as well. I could talk with them—more and more freely—about Gandalf as God and vice versa, about the sense of quest in my experience of faith. They not only seemed to understand what I meant, but to find such ideas interesting—even exciting. I was the only Catholic kid in this otherwise Protestant group, but, my earlier experience of ‘Charismatic’ worship services had left me completely comfortable with both ‘bible study’ and with Protestant terminology and practice, and we were first and foremost kids—and friends—anyway. I was not only made to feel at home among them, but viewed as a tad exotic—in a positive way. These unusual and enjoyable people were a very comfortable fit for me.
If I were trying to tell you ‘the whole truth about everything’ here, I would need to go on for pages about all the things I learned and gained—at so many levels—by hanging out with this group of remarkable friends, whom even my parents approved of. They were one of the most enriching and nourishing parts of my life then, and impacted my future trajectory in profoundly positive ways. But, as we have previously established, I have utterly given up hope of trying to tell ‘the whole truth about everything’ here or anywhere else. Can’t be done. I see that now. So, all I’m trying for is ‘my story’—that narrow little slice of events that seems to best illuminate the meaning of moments which, in hindsight, mattered to me. Therefore, I’m going to do those old and important friends the tremendous injustice of skipping right over every wonderful and constructive thing about our ‘fellowship’—and focus instead on the one thing there that inadvertently poisoned me.
Being so much more comfortable with earnest introspection and candid self-revelation than other high school freshmen were, it was not long before one of the guys in our group—a tall, well-built, good-looking guitar player of gentle, sensitive, and somewhat spiritually tormented nature—dared one afternoon to confide his struggles with sexual temptation. It was, as usual, a lively and earnest conversation. Several of the others were clearly relieved to learn that they weren’t the only ones suddenly struggling with such issues, and delighted by this permission to discuss the subject with peers who might understand their plight as your average high school jock would certainly not have.
…Which is how it first dawned on me that my own sensual experiments at home might be sinful.
Once introduced, the idea hit me like a crashing plane. Of course! So obvious!How could I have missed this? Had the devil not tempted Jesus in the desert one day with an offer of mere bread to ease his hunger after fasting? And had Jesus not refused even that smallest temptation—knowing a slippery slope when he saw one? And if accepting a mere slice of bread would have compromised his faith—how could I ever have imagined that pleasures like those I’d been indulging would just be peachy keen with God?! What had I been thinking? What had I done? (Yes, if you’ve read The Book of Joby, you’ll find all this familiar. Though I cannot find the quote now, I believe it was Gene Wolfe who once observed that, ‘An author’s job is to loot his own life to the walls’—and I have not shirked my responsibilities in that category—at all!)
Having been trained since childhood to face trouble without flinching or hesitation, I went straight home, screwed up my courage, and asked my dad point blank if masturbation was a sin. I remember his expression of unhappy frustration, his lips pressed thin with the desire to find any way at all around the straight answer to my question. He so did not want to say what he eventually found no way to avoid saying—being a Catholic man who could not abide knowing and intentional dishonesty.
“Yes, son. It is,” he said at last, with quiet resignation.
My legs went immediately watery, my whole body, numb. I asked nothing more, just turned and went to my room. Almost too shaky to stand, I fell back onto my bed in a state of distress you would not likely believe even if I could adequately describe it to you. I had been betraying God—for years. And worse, I knew, deep down, that I might not be strong enough to stop.
So, did you do those exercises I advised, or have you already pulled an eye muscle?
If forced to guess, I’d bet you’re shaking your head right now, open-mouthed, perhaps, with disbelief. This? …THIS—is the ‘big deal’ that brought you down?You dragged us through all that set-up for THIS?!!
If I’d been a real boy—or even just a normal unreal boy—I’d have experienced a moment or two of resentful anxiety about discovery or punishment of some kind—then just found a way to…twist things around in my head and excuse myself on some technicality so I could keep right on going where I knew, deep inside, I needed—and wanted—to go. Right? My wife lived with a Catholic boyfriend in college for a while, who insisted she use birth control—because it was a sin for him to do so. If she was on the pill, he wasn’t sinning. (The sin of ‘fornication’ itself had evidently escaped his attention altogether.) That’s the sort of mental and moral gymnastic that normal church kids employ, isn’t it? Which is why there are still any normal church kids at all—much less so many of them! Right? What was my big f-ing problem? Religious guilt about jacking off as a teenager isn’t worth a single blog post, much less a series of them! For crying out loud, all the wasted time! I am shutting this stupid blog and never coming back! What a DWEEB!
In a much earlier post, I evoked the image of a train wreck without any visible wreckage, remember? And this is where I start trying to show you how that works. Because all this wasn’t—and isn’t—remotely about mere religious guilt, or jacking off as a teenager. Those were just the proverbial ‘millionth snowflake,’ and I haven’t even started describing the ensuing avalanche. You don’t begin to guess yet how absurd—or destructive—this actually gets.
But before I go further, please also remember that, for me, religion and God had never just been about how to sneak around the threat of hell. As I lay there on my bed in mental and emotional agony, ‘hell’ never once crossed my mind. Nor did ‘punishment’—of any usual kind, at least. God was Gandalf to my Frodo, the ‘alternative parent’ who believed in me and my potential, and had far greater ambitions for me down the road than any of my actual parents or superiors seemed to. It was Him I’d failed. His faith in me that I’d betrayed. And remember also that my whole innermost identity—from Eden Jail forward, if not earlier—had revolved around belief in myself as the Hobbit-ish anti-hero who could shrug off all sorts of indignities and disappointments on his way to both being and achieving something greater, failing all the usual tests in order to pass some more important and unusual one. And I’d just failed all of that as well.
I hadn’t been caught doing something naughty at church here. I wasn’t worried about getting spanked for it—here or in hell. In my rather bent young mind, I’d just learned that I’d been failing—for years—at my own most sacred quest. What I feared losing—feared already lost, in fact, before I’d even had a chance to recognize the threat—was nothing less than my mentor’s favor, my true parent’s love, his faith in me and my potential, and any possible future as the ‘hobbit’ who’d spent everything to ‘reach Mordor and save Middle Earth.’
Just a tad grandiose? I’ll say it again: ‘adolescence.’ Early adolescence—served up on the long and pretty twisted bed of developmental nails I’ve been describing here for months.
For me, that afternoon was not about getting caught ‘choking the monkey.’ It was the moment where Frodo wakes up in a brothel to find Gollum and the ring both gone, for good, together—while he’d been sleeping—and himself lost on a path headed dead away from Mordor, apparently for years already. It was the sudden invalidation of all the invisible framing that truly held my house together.
And, don’t worry. None of this is the fall from that high wire I referred to earlier. This is not ‘what it’s all about.’ This is just the moment where my balance first faltered. There’s still a great deal of wobbling, arm-waving, wire-bouncing desperation to recover ahead of us before the real plunge occurred. If you wanna see just how knotted up a conscientious kid’s thinking can actually get—and how much damage he can manufacture—out of virtually nothing—because of it, I’m afraid you’ll just have to keep doing those eye-exercises, and risk coming back next week for even better reasons to roll them around more vigorously than before.
Until then, Cyber-pals, have a lovely week. :] I’m off to work on this week’s illustration for TWICE.