10 June 09

Your vulva is gorgeous

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Blue Vulva. Photo of Neisha for Book of Blue by Eric Francis.

I think vulvas are gorgeous—and I do mean some of the most beautiful creations of nature. Yes, I am chick happy. But this is a special passion for me; and the vulva is no ordinary physical or biological object. It is, for most of us, the gateway to life. It has many other roles, but we owe the vulva its due as the portal into human existence, as designed by nature. And for that reason alone, it’s worthy of the highest praise. Of course, I’m aware quite a few people are not particularly thrilled that they exist at all; that is, that they are alive – but that is another conversation (and it is related to sex).

A female friend was visiting my studio Saturday evening and asked me to take this series in the direction of reminding women how beautiful their pussies are. But then she clarified her point: specifically, the labia minora, that is, the inner lips.

“Yes, I know about this one,” I said. “And I know about the surgery.”

That is: Labia minora trimming, at the hands of a skilled businessman. Apparently, many women don’t like how the inner lips of their vulva extend out a little bit. While a few go and get them trimmed (and presumably go on to lead perfect lives), the inner lips are often a source of female angst when, really, they could be just as much a source of pleasure and celebration.

We all know that women are conditioned to think they are supposed to look a certain way. On Saturday, I also vowed to write an essay called “Why I’m So Fucking Sick of Women Telling Me How Ugly They Are.” It’s not exactly the fault of women that they are, somehow, hypnotized to believe, or choose to believe, that they are supposed to look like women in ads, and moreover, feel like they think the women who look that way feel. (I photograph some of those women, they talk to me, and I hear about the business. Most of them puke, a lot, which is not generally a sign of happiness.) The women who make a constant litany of everything they need to improve about themselves suffer for it; and only that. The way to improve is not to bash yourself till you get around to it.

Speaking as a guy, when I see a beautiful, idealized young male model, athlete or guy on the street, I don’t feel the least bit envious. I have no clue why not. Am I supposed to? And honestly I don’t personally know any guys who do.

However, from time to time I fall asleep during South Park reruns and get caught watching commercials for ExtenZe, for which the Comedy Channel pimps itself out nightly. I gather, peering into this alternate cosmos of pill-induced hard-on parties at the Hefner mansion, that there must be a lot of guys who are concerned that their penises are too small; or at least Big Brother tries to convince us of that with spam and infomercials.

Of course, most guys are so homophobic there’s little chance most [hetero guys] have direct knowledge of how long other men’s cocks are, what their girth is, what girth even means or how long they can fuck. Women anxious about the length of their inner labia would be the female equivalent of guys who think they have little dicks.

Ladies, how many pussies have you had a good, close look at? But more to the point, have you figured out how good it feels to have a cunt? I mean, rent a Betty Dodson video if you haven’t.

I will skip, for now, too much discussion of how this is all a form of genital anxiety; that is, of anxiety projected onto the genitals. But it’s worth another mention: that was the topic of the whole shame discussion of the past week.

For various reasons, to varying degrees, humans tend to project identity onto our private parts. Sometimes this works for us (owning and loving them is a good way to hold space for yourself in the world), and sometimes it works against us. When we’re scared about sex, or have been hurt by sex (which to some extent includes everyone), we tend to over-focus on things like the shape of our genitals, how bad they must smell, how other people won’t like them, and so on.

But I assure you there is only so much anxiety you can fit inside a thong. Why keep any in there at all?

I have seen many pussies. While each is utterly unique unto itself, they come in several distinct styles. One of those styles is the outie – that is, the kind with inner lips that dangle a little, or a lot. They are beautiful and they are incredible fun to play with, make out with, look at and touch. Women who feel that, in particular, this is the ‘worst’ part of them might want to tune into how many people (as in men, and women who love pussies) this is true for.

If you happen to have an innie (another common model of vulva), you or your partner needs to dive in about half an inch to find the same basic wonders of the universe. There is infinite potential to explore for pleasure and beauty and love.

I know from hearing the stories of women just how difficult it can be to feel that beauty and love. I had a friend (with a gorgeous pussy that she knew I adored) who said her pussy looked like a monster was going to come crawling out. (I suggested we buy a little rubber monster toy and set up the photo, so she could visualize the image and resolve it. We never got around to it.)

One day for medical reasons she found herself in the position of needing to spend a lot of time in a mirror – every single day, day after day, for about six months. She looked in hand mirrors, and magnifying makeup mirrors. She squatted over big mirrors with a flashlight, alone in her studio. Not because she wanted to; because she had to.

She looked and touched and felt and explored and then one day it dawned on her: she loved her cunt. Her pussy was beautiful. Just like everyone who got to experience told her it was. She called me up and said it out loud. I have to tell you, I was really, truly proud of her.

8 June 09

Liberation Central

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Neisha, in a photo for Book of Blue by Eric Francis.

Before I move onto a series about the cosmic wonders of the vulva, I’m here to lay another cornerstone in the foundation of the universe. That is: masturbation is the core of sexual reality. As such, it often becomes the place where nearly all shame, guilt, embarrassment and humiliation around sexuality come home to roost. While this is not consciously true for everyone, it is so pervasive that it’s worth checking for in everyone.

Cheers from the roof if you’ve made masturbation an authentic delve into selflove; you who have contacted and grown the inner relationship aspect. Who have made friends with yourself and your needs; anyone who takes refuge there, relationshipless, but actually not lonely.

Hello to everyone less confident. Masturbation is (by the generic rules of our society) literally shadow sex. It is the sex we tend to hide; to not want to openly do or talk about. This is no great shock; there is a ban on the topic.

Strange, though, in a society that is also defined as uniquely narcissistic. Given how much we’re allegedly into ourselves, it’s amazing anyone at all possesses misgivings, and amazing that we do so much seeking of the other. But we are conditioned – read up and you’ll see. Part of the suspected danger of masturbation to society, the reason for the clampdown, is the anarchistic nature of fantasy, which knows no social taboos and doesn’t care about the gay marriage debate. I believe it’s fantasy that’s taboo more than the actual jack or jill-off. Cus’ as you know, you never know who could come up. Plenty of early anti-masturbation literature raises this point. Morals and the imagination do not mix.

The funny thing is that in theory, masturbation and sharing masturbation deserve to be 100% Christian Certified – because the core idea is not having sex. It would be the logical expression of ‘abstinence only’, with a little room to vent. So I call upon all church business meetings across the land to take this up as a sponsored adult activity in the parish.

We have come a long way since Betty Dodson of Wichita arrived on the scene in the early 1970s with the one of the first-ever positive messages about masturbation as a valid experience in its own right.

My experience is that this is the core from which we need to explore in order to liberate ourselves. It is the sex we need to bring out of the shadows and out of the closet. Masturbation needs a new place in the world, somewhere not only socially acceptable, but actually social. I am proposing that we make masturbation a relational experience; that we include it in our relationships, and experiment with it as a sexual space halfway between lovers and not lovers.

The core message here is that as we become our own lovers, we build confidence in ourselves. This is directly about learning to love yourself in the presence of another person. It’s about learning to create space in our own lives for others to truly love themselves, and love themselves first.

As we open up, explore and let go of our shadow emotions, we can enter interpersonal relationships conscious of that material at worst, or with it transformed, at best.

Masturbation is the sex we all have in common. Though it has a different place and a different meaning for everyone, whatever your gender, sex, age, marital status or sexual orientation, it’s the uniting factor that can transcend all sexual differences.

The liberation power is incredible and quite literally begging to be tapped. It is one of the ideal spaces in which to show your secret face, or indeed, to see it for the first time.

I suggest we design it specifically into a community enterprise, with experiences shared one-to-one among confidants, friends and lovers; in small groups; and discussed with unfettered openness.

I know about the Sunday afternoon outdoor naked yoga class that becomes a selflove-in for those who want to stay late. I’m envious; it’s women-only. I know how many people, particularly in those last few minutes or moments before self-inflicted orgasm, crave human presence like there’s no tomorrow. Not for sex, but as a witness.

Getting off together can hot up a stalled-out monogamous sex life like few things can. Free and lewd and naked after all these years. This is by the way 420 friendly activity. A big mirror and dim light will create one of the most erotically daring experiences you may have ever had.

Everyone knows that as a society and as individuals we are boxed into some strange sexual corner right now. We’re aware of the contradictions we face but how to get out of them is not as easy to discern. I am proposing that this is the side door to freedom.

7 June 09

Our secret face

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Dixie, the mirror and the Sybian; photo by Eric Francis.

It’s possible to analyze shame and get some understanding of it, but at a certain point we must move from the concealed stage into the exposed stage, where healing can occur. Shame is easier to understand if we remember that it’s about hiding, and that means mainly hiding one’s own existence. Along with that, we tend to hide the source of the shame, the stories about the injuries, and the pain that they cause us. Revealing all of this, to ourselves and to select others, is part of healing the damage.

Everyone has their own secrets and their own secret face of shame, but the truth is we all share the same face.

By revealing that face that we open up the way to healing. Witnessing others and learning to hold space for their process is an essential part of this; whether we are the ones revealing ourselves, or witnessing, the process is similar, but I think that we must explore both sides of the equation. Both involve taking a risk. Both take us through different facets of the experiences of shame, embarrassment, humiliation and guilt. There is a risk, in this vulnerable space, that new injuries can occur – that is often the case in a healing process, and care must be taken to avoid this.

I would note that we have left the territory of what is [most likely] possible to accomplish in any conventional form of therapy, mainly because therapy is restricted from entering certain emotional and erotic bandwidths that are necessary to do this kind of process directly. Therapy almost always approaches them indirectly, and at a distance. More direct approaches are the purview of art, of ritual, of Tantric practice, and the realm of lovers whose primary mission is to be devoted to self-healing and one another’s healing.

My own approach is now to use a combination of ritual and photography. There are often preparatory stages, which can include conversations where concepts are discussed, mutual realities mapped out and boundaries set. Then the experience of revealing and witnessing unfolds. The process takes place with both parties on equal terms, but with different roles: holding space for another is a special skill. Some are born with it; some manage to learn. The astrological archetype involved is Vesta.

One of the places that this kind of work differs from therapy involves a pleasure aspect. One can talk about this in therapy, but not actually go there. Still you can get a lot done, if there is knowledge in the room.

It was my own therapist/mentor Joe, who is well versed in Tantric practice, who first pointed out that embarrassment throws a veil over the deeper sexual pleasures.

If we go toward the embarrassment we go toward the pleasure, if we can life the veil. I think everyone has had this experience at least once but maybe hadn’t given it a name.

This proved to be dependable, as a source of pleasure, of working out hangups rather than getting snagged in them, and of discovering the deeper realms of my erotic potential. This can truly be called ‘sexual healing’, something we don’t necessarily understand but which I think many of us crave.

I have discovered that the same quality works for guilt and shame: if we move toward it, we can reveal many hidden layers of existence, feeling and being. Not all of these are pleasant; it’s better to experience without judging, to the extent possible, and to simply feel and explore the experience.

Note that many people take special pleasure from the things that cause them guilt and shame, whether in fantasy or reality; then these shadow emotions are the ‘price’ we pay (for example, for having an affair or five of them, or the guilt many people connect with masturbation). The deeper reality is that receiving the pleasure and letting go of the guilt/shame are part of the same metabolic process, when it’s working.

The idea here is to go past this little game of hiding from oneself, and confront the subject matter and its emotions – particularly pleasure, which, as we make contact with grief and repulsion, tends to arise in an incredible abundance. It’s as if you allow a little of the shame to the surface, the response is often an unusual potential for pleasure.

Often the attachment to shame and guilt that makes it so difficult to work out. That attachment may involve covertly seeking pleasure through shame and guilt, a subject that I have covered before – and which I learned about from the Pathwork. Eventually, given no other potential than pain, we will use it as a source of pleasure; this is often what happens with guilt and shame. The results can be very toxic and debilitating. It is helpful to bring this whole experience right out into the room.

One way to do this is to work with photos that reveal primarily the face of the person who is on the journey, though photos are not necessary. This can be as simple as images of mirror gazing; being photographed seeing yourself, fully clothed, in a fairly ‘normal’ state of mind.

The presence of the camera affirms that the face will be seen not only by the immediate witness, but most likely, at some point, by other people as well. The camera is the symbol that ‘other people will see’, and this is a powerful statement to make to oneself.

Some of the most basic are facial portraits of women looking at their own nude bodies in a mirror. We hold incredible amounts of shame in body image, and it’s possible to heal this literally through the use of images.

Other subjects are photographed looking at their vulvas in a mirror. In others, I portray the faces of women who are masturbating. I don’t have an answer to why I work in this way primarily with women; I will only say that is the calling I feel, and they are the ones who show up. It may be that women are more available for this process and tend to be easier to work with than most men are, probably because they are more conscious of their shame and the pain that it causes them. Women in particular suffer many overt sexual humiliations that prevent them from enjoying and expressing their own sexuality consciously.

In any event, all of us need to heal both our male side, our female side and the place where they meet internally.

The photo above is of Dixie exploring on a device called the Sybian. This is a kind of heavy-duty ride-on penetrating vibrator, here set up in front of a very large mirror so that the person can have a full view of the experience. I have ideas for how to photograph through the mirror, using two-way glass, but this particular image is a side view, which emphasizes the experience of the mirror and the fact that the person is witnessing herself.

She has allowed herself to be ‘caught’ in a deeply private moment. Here is what she has to say about it.

Hi E –
Can’t thank you enough for posting that photo of me on BoB. It and your essays are taking me deep into the shame issue. When I look at that photo, I’m overcome with shame for being fat. And I think of my mother, who shames me for being fat. I believe she is the major reason I’ve become so fat. And I resent her for that. And I hate myself for not being able to get over this.

Whenever I think about shame, I think of my mother. Partly because of the many times I heard her say “shame on you,” partly because of the way she suppressed so much of who I was/am. Especially my sexuality. It wasn’t until after I was living on my own that I had my first orgasm. I don’t think I even knew what an orgasm was until my early 20s. And it never occurred to me that I could give one to myself. That was supposed to be the benefit of finding my prince charming – he would give me orgasms (no one ever said orgasm. Rather, pleasure was the word.) What a crock of bullshit I was fed, by my mother and the church!

I imagine this is why orgasms are so elusive to me. My first ones, and most since, were accomplished with a vibrator. I’ve cum without one two, maybe three times in my life. And a man has never taken me there. Ever. I sometimes think if I just relax into it and let go, it will happen. But it never has.

I wish I could be a child again, and learn to love my body and explore its beauty and mystery. I’m trying to do this now, but relearning sure is difficult.

I’m both glad and grateful to have your friendship as I work through this. You rock it!

xo
Dix

6 June 09

Hang Loose

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Dixie, photo for Book of Blue by Eric Francis.

Shame is a hangup. There are a lot of ways it happens; Alice Miller and others talk about the pain of humiliation that our society causes nearly all children, and the extent to which this shapes psyches in twisted ways. But it does get worse, and it’s interesting, I never quite guessed I would be unraveling the potential of my own sexual abuse. I have been aware of the issue in my family most of my life (but not as something that happened to me personally). I made some amazing progress working it out homeopathically around in the early 2000s (remedy was thuja).

I’ve long recognized that life in our society is inherently sexually abusive, with its many compulsions: the whole Christian drama around sex as the alleged antichrist, among other things. We are constantly pounded with this, even in the secular world, which gets most of its rules from religion. In any free society that took itself seriously, the only issues around sex would concern something that actually hurts someone; and responsibility for what happens to kids who are born (and the two are related).

The irony is that we drag around shame, for the most part, because were were hurt – not because we did something to someone else.

My friend Chris, a therapist, writes:

Sexual abuse is an experience that most often taps, creates, and fosters this multidimensional shame experience – and as I think you’ve pointed out, most of us have not been untouched by some form of sexual abuse, even if not in the form of specific physical boundary violations. I didn’t know you were questioning your own potential sexual abuse history. I was just thinking of the nature of memory, specifically in relationship to our life stories/narratives…

I’m off to visit my youngest sis, who is feeling ashamed of getting divorced, to give her some encouragement while she tends bar.

Whatever the source of shame, it’s result is hiding in fear. Often that fear surrounds something odd – the presumed consequences of pleasure. That’s the supposed purpose of erotic activity, most of the time, to have fun and feel good. How many times does someone say, “Okay, now we’re gonna have sex to create a child”?

So all this fuss is, in theory, a controversy about pleasure; about feeling good. We are taught to feel bad for feeling good. (I originally typed ‘god’ which indeed is the root of the word good.) Okay so, what’s the issue here, really? How DID sex EVER become a moral issue? Well, someone thought to put it in the Ten Commandments, but the one about ‘not coveting thy neighbor’s wife’ is a pretty easy thing to follow. There are lots of unmarried people to play with.

Problems arise when sex is conflated with power. This can range from any form of scandal (the ultimate mix of sex and power) to invading the psychic or physical space of kids whose defenses are not fully formed. How many of us has this happened to? What’s the way out?

Eventually, we learn to hang loose. That is to say, to stop blaming ourselves; or taking it out on ourselves. And then with the help of intimacy and awareness, to reveal our secret face.

5 June 09

Testing a theory

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Heather Fae, photographed for Book of Blue by Eric Francis.

One thing I am fascinated by, but not amused by, is the sexual repulsion between the generations. I am specifically speaking in the true sense of the word ‘generation’, which is a distinct extension of within a family. To wit, parents and children.

Most – not all – adolescents at the fiery dawn of erotic consciousness want their parents to have neither hide nor hair awareness of their sexuality. If parents are cool, they keep their distance after making sure that basic precautions are being followed.

Sometimes there is psychic awareness, which might be sensory or empathic; it might exist in fantasy only. Once a father ceases to be angry that his 17-year-old daughter is having sex, he might figure out that the concept is pretty hot. But our society ingrains an astonishing depth of fear about going there, even in thought.

I have read a good few stories of the emotions involved in bridging the gap upward to our parents. I’ve read others about parents celebrating the budding sexuality of their children without a trace of negativity. My parents were both open about the fact that I was sexual; whether it be sex ed conversations or (at my dad’s house) an abundance of Playboy magazines an access to any cable channel. (In Manhattan at that time, at the dawn of cable, the one to watch was Channel N.)

I’ve explored the theme of mutual sexual awareness with my own parents, as far as it’s possible to go within the bounds of Western culture. I don’t believe I was ever molested; but in a recent session with Neisha, she proposed that I look for the specific source of my feelings of inadequacy, which includes such a possibility.

That’s what’s freaking us out right now – the whole incest trip in society. The laws are all in place, the taboos, the safeguards; but the reality is we walk each day in an ocean swimming with survivors of molestation; which is a form of rape; and in that there’s another whole tribe, and too many belong to both.

I am sitting here typing getting the feeling that some of the shame is collective shame associated with various culture-wide scandals. Start talking to your friends about this and see what you notice: potentially inappropriate sexual contact, within families.

I am not sure the conversation happens among many friends, actually – I think the shame conceals in a way similar to fraud, and that may be its purpose.

What this whole scenario denies is that there is a sexual bond between parents and children; the most sexual of all, conception. It also denies the abundant sexual awareness that the generations actually do have for one another; and how similar our trajectory. You know, a bi girl knows intuitively that her mother is also bi.

I was fully aware of my parents’ sexual escapades as a kid, though I will say this: I was more aware of my mother’s masturbation than I was of her fucking. Which follows that I might associate female masturbation with prime eros, the core fire.

Flip the coin and it can land on the dark side.

How many women does their own masturbation freak out? How many were guilted and shamed repeatedly or even just once as children and could never shake it?

How many have a kind of self-attack? I mean guilt, I mean shame, I mean the least fear of any shade. I don’t know about you, but I’ve had to flush guilt out of my system over a period of decades. I am consciously aware that I have ancestral guilt running through my maternal grandfather’s line of the family, and it is possible that he is my presumed sexual attacker.

I am testing a theory.

3 June 09

Why is shame necessary?

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Sherry from Book of Blue. Photo by Eric Francis.

In my last entry a week or so ago, I began with the idea that shame is the necessary element; and by that I mean the full embrace of shame as a factor that conditions our lives, our sense of identity, our relationships; in short, our very existence.

A few years ago I began a discussion, never quite finished, with my mentor Joe Trusso about the nature of shame versus guilt. At that point I had done a good bit of mapping out the nature of guilt with Joe, and some time around 2000, we co-wrote this paragraph from my essay How To Be Your Own Lover.

Fritz and Laura Perls, early pioneers of Gestalt Therapy, taught that guilt is resentment turned against itself. Generally speaking, children, being the powerful yet powerless little critters they are, take upon themselves the notion of “fault and blame.” They cannot imagine adults (who are personifications of the gods and goddesses) making an error. If they do, it’s still the “fault” of the child. “If only I would’ve done this or that, daddy wouldn’t hit me.” “If I was more quiet, mommy wouldn’t drink.” And so on. Since they are at “fault,” they are “guilty,” and since they cannot rage against the adults very successfully or have a real impact on the direction of events, they turn the resentment at being pruned, modified, corrected, disciplined, strongly directed, or dictated to, back at themselves.

When you look up guilt in Wikipedia or other conventional psychological models, you get another theme: the feeling of having violated a moral standard. Based on the analysis above, I think that’s superficial. And it does not account for a sense of generalized guilt, that is, the guilt of being wrong about everything, even if you’ve done nothing wrong.

Shame is close along the spectrum to guilt and the two emotions share plenty of the same DNA. But I think that shame goes deeper into an existential feeling; that one’s entire existence is wrong (this is more like generalized guilt). The root of the wordis complex, but it’s believed to come from the word root skem, which involves covering oneself up. This impulse to cover is one of the most common manifestations of being ashamed.

Shame points to what we are covering. Ask yourself: what do you hide about yourself, and why do you hide it? What would you say, or do, or reveal, were you not ashamed of that being known? I would propose that much if not most of this probably involves your sexuality, which becomes one of the biggest, deepest closets in our psyche; and where we hide much else besides our sexuality. And this is the door that it’s necessary to open, so that we can heal, be free and enjoy our lives.

Just how insidious an emotion shame is deserves some reflection. One of those forms is, “What would my father/mother think if they saw me like this?” Or, “What would my husband/wife think if they knew I had this feeling or concept?” These internalized expectations of others, which lead us to make choices to prevent us from allegedly being shamed by others, are basically a means to hide things about ourselves from ourselves; to not explore ourselves; and to exist in an incomplete state of existence, nearly all the time.

Shame has a parallel concept, which is dignity. I know that dignity is one of those things that everyone extols as a virtue (along with pride), but I would like to open the topic that most dignity, or the impulse to preserve dignity, is a pretense for covering up what we are ashamed of, leaving the real material below the surface, hidden and thus unaddressed. If dignity becomes an excuse for not exploring what we feel ashamed of, it’s false dignity. This is about the “appearance of being good” and adjusting how we present ourselves to the expectations of others. This becomes yet another burden – one of the biggest we carry in both Eastern and Western civilizations.

So I would ask you: what would you say, do or reveal about yourself, if you were not ashamed, or if you were not interested in preserving your dignity? What would you share with others, if you felt that you could do so free from the burden of shame or loss of dignity? I would propose that the most meaningful facets of who we are, can be accessed by going directly into what we feel would shame us. The more we put excuses onto others – the boss, the job, the husband, the parents, the kids – the more we are hiding from ourselves, and the more of a frenzy we get into needing to reveal who we are.

In this respect, you could say that our whole culture is based on shame; it’s based on hiding our inner truth, our desires and our needs – many of these things being sexual or emotional in nature. It’s one reason why, to put it simply, scandals are so popular. Somebody else gets to take the hits. We preserve our dignity at the expense of someone else who must be publicly shamed, and then we feel better about all the secrets we’re withholding. It may be an entertaining sport, but the truth is that as long as we play these games, we deny ourselves the deeper growth, our deeper desires, and the light that would help us heal the dark spaces within.

27 May 09

The necessary element

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Look What You’ve Done. Photo by Eric Francis.

I’ve been trying to wrap my head, heart and soul around shame, the concept and my experience of it, for a long time. As I woke up this morning grappling with putting this into words, I realized that’s part of the problem: it defies easy expression, it’s generally kept hidden away from language and visualization, and it’s so much a part of life that we don’t usually see (or feel) the experience for what it is.

Shame is so painful and so prevalent that it’s usually necessary to deny it, unless you’re sitting in a therapist’s office, that is, a therapist who really gets it.

It’s also one of the most contradictory emotions going. Why for example would someone who has just been raped feel ashamed of that fact? Why do so many survivors of molestation experience shame about what happened? It seems to be associated with blaming oneself for something that someone did to them.

Shame does not always involve sex, but so much sexual experience is bound up in shame that for many people it’s indistinguishable. So much of our sexual identity is wrapped up in being wrong; in things that were not supposed to happen; in doubt; and in taking actions for which we are not accountable that this should hardly be surprising.

Shame also masquerades as guilt and embarrassment. These three emotions share a lot of the same DNA, and they all have one thing in common – what other people are not supposed to know about us.

Embarrassment is probably the most pleasant or playful form. There is a sense of freedom connected to it, such as an erotic fantasy of someone walking in on you while you’re masturbating; and you’re masturbating thinking about it and you know that you’re so turned on you don’t care who might swing open the door and get a good look at you, your face and whatever else.

Shame and guilt are more violent. They both involve harsh power dynamics. From what I can gather, guilt is more associated with specific events and shame is existential. Put enough guilt into a person and it can manifest as the shame of existence. The odd thing about shame is that it can seem to predate our existence. I’ve observed that shame, so closely related to sexual feelings, is passed on from generation to generation through the sexual experience that creates life, and how we feel about it.

If you want to witness this in action, try imagining your parents having sex, and try to imagine them watching you having sex. In theory, it should be the most natural thing in the world; it’s pure biology, as part of a genetic lineage. It should be amazing to us that we bear so much pent up negativity about existence and how it happens to us.

Exploring shame during my self-sexual phase, I began to associate it with the female part of my psyche. I might be incorrect about this; I might be speaking about the feminine side and I might be talking about my submissive side, though I do mean that when I go deep enough into this feeling I’m in a dialog with my inner female side; and when I go there with a woman as a guide, she will generally confirm the experience as something that she has encountered, as a function of being female.

I don’t necessarily mean biologically female, though – I may mean culturally female. For a while I worked with a model named Sherry, who loved to talk with derision about how degraded she was a woman; how disgusted she was by semen; how guys wanted to cum onto and into women specifically as a gesture of degrading them. She had been sexually abused and the only time she admitted the connection between the two events – the abuse and being degraded by semen – was when she was sitting at my desk, pretty drunk one night.

I knew she was speaking for a lot of women, and while she was at it, how plenty of men feel about their own semen. In hetero experiences, it’s generally the thing left for women to deal with, no matter now they might feel about it. If you listen, you’ll hear a very wide diversity of feelings expressed.

Some of those feelings, a good few, include doing something that disgusts her but which she does in service. This feeling of doing something personally disgusting, in service, is so pervasive for so many women that I’ve begun to identify it with an attribute of female identity itself. Again, not biologically female, but culturally so, which often happens to correspond with having a female body.

It’s impossible to divide this from how many men feel about their semen and how they pass the physical substance and the emotion (often covertly) onto their female partner. The role that women are expected to play is what I call Vestal: ‘selfless’ sexual service, no matter how it feels; and this in its toxic form is often associated with shame associated with these actions.

This shame is “the hidden part, which you don’t talk about,” as my astrology client put it this afternoon, describing the discovery of her daughter’s sexual abuse. “The shame was…I just wanted to throw up for days.” That hidden part ‘does not exist’; it’s a facet of self that is denied the right to exist, whatever it might be. I think the act of hiding is what creates or fuels the shame in first place.

Shame is what you do that you don’t want anyone to see, or to know about, or to know that you feel. It’s the feeling of, “Look at her, look what she’s done. That’s what I was hiding from.”

The photo above depicts what I call the return to the primal scene. Heterosexual sex does something that no other sex can do, which is create human life. Witnessing it happen is to come face to face with the experience that created our existence.

Visually what you can see is a couple in spoon position, with the woman closer to the camera. She’s holding a beauty mirror and the mirror is streaked with fresh semen; a penis is visible toward the lower left.

How the scene became the way is: I’ve just watched them fuck, prolonged and profoundly, and after a couple of days of sex he finally let himself orgasm and ejaculate into her, as she lay back with her knees pulled back, and received all that emotion and energy; as I watched them at close distance. When they settled down a little while later, she held the mirror for me, as he clung to her. I brought myself to orgasm as she watched (he did not) and when I was done she held the mirror as I cleaned up, finally raising my wet face to her.

At that point, I am not really sure how, I had the composure to create this image.

The couple represents my parents. I play the role of myself, as sexual neophyte. The image draws its intensity, I think, from the fact that we are generally repulsed by the thought of our parents having sex, even though that is what created us, and we are generally repulsed or ashamed of the notion that our parents might see or even know about our masturbation.

That the woman in the image was consciously choosing to be aware of my experience but the man was not, reflects accurately my personal history.

26 May 09

Wet

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Rose, in a photo for Book of Blue by Eric Francis.

I emerged from six months of conscious celibacy with one thing mainly, which is confidence. I recognize it because it’s confidence that I’ve never felt before; in Hakomi therapy I learned to identify a missing experience when I was having one, and this counts.

Six months is not long; it was an experiment, but for the prior couple of years, most of that time in a long-distance monogamous relationship, I had been grooming my erotic life in that direction. Along that journey I explored many of the same modalities that I chose to work with exclusively between Sahwen and Beltane. These were nearly all experiments in relationship and how I perceive it; in relationship and how sexuality integrates with it.

The deepest of these were two in nature: confronting female sexual power, and learning sexual self-reliance. By confronting female sexual power, I specifically mean two things: one is the prerogative of women to make sexual choices; and confronting my usual state of feeling inferior to women, and subjected to their power based exclusively on their sexuality. There are few better ways to level the field than by figuring out how to not need something that someone else has. Sexual power is based on perceived need. Rampant abuse of that need-based power turns sex into something that it is not, and if you were to parse out many problems that we face in our relationships, I believe that would be at the core of most of them.

I knew for a while that I was working out a confidence issue, but I could not see it for what it was while I was in those particular woods.

Confidence issues are always tricky; that is an understatement. While they are supposed to be 100% internally mediated, and ultimately we make most of the decisions involved in getting where we go, self-confidence exists in a complex dynamic. That dynamic includes ourselves, other people, and society; society at large, and the society of our particular friends and family; our dependencies on them; and the ‘games people play’, to borrow a term from Dr. Berne.

I studied these relationships within myself, though under a microscope; and in photographs, and in a mirror; with a friend or two consciously holding the mirror up to me. The models I photograph, and the perspective they provide, were and have been deeply part of this process, even before I had words for it. There is something in photographing women that for me is about embracing my prerogative to be male, and to enjoy women as a man.

Then I imposed a kind of a boundary. I could love and want and work out and be frustrated, and express myself all I wanted; but I was not going to ‘have’ in the conventional way. Fucking is not as important for me as having the sweet forest of cunt in my face, and I did without even the scent. I replaced her water with my own.

It was like opposite day in grade school.

Using inner journeying, role play, art and psychological process, I cycled several times through every possible erotic orientation that I was capable of. These included feeling and exploring both my heterosexual nature and my homosexual nature; questioning the nature of male desire and my male desire; looking at rape dynamics; and studying how women and men respond to me, both ‘positively’ and ‘negatively’.

On Thanksgiving, my father came up to visit from Long Island. He and I had an incredible dinner at my favorite restaurant in the world, The Bear Cafe in Woodstock. Then he came back to my studio, and we sat there in the winter evening and blue light and I told him about my life the past few years. From looking at his face and hearing his feedback, I felt him recognize me like never before. At one point – I was standing up – I recognized that he perceived my existence and success as late-breaking news, but he got it: I had used logic, there was no other possibility at this point.

Then came Next World Stories, which taught me the annual edition project of Planet Waves has to be easier. However, I managed to sell more than $50,000 worth of that product, financing Planet Waves for several months.

A series of events, including a family disaster, during the month of February put me into a position where I could see and actually feel that I was living the right life; that I was living righteously, and a lot of doubts went up in flame with that.

Through this time, I worked with a friend, Neisha Hirsch, someone I met once when she was a toddler and then did not connect with until 20 years later, not knowing who she was, held The Feminine (Sagittarius-styled) as a clear archetype, and I dialoged with her – about everything. Several female friends also shared their erotic adventures with me, conscious that I was suspended with myself in the midst of them all.

I had backed myself down a one-way street where there was just one exit: self-acceptance.

Then one day when the trees were blooming, I discovered that the world had spread her legs for me, and opened her heart to me.

24 May 09

West

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Looking west from the ridge over the unofficial hamlet of Binnewater, NY. Photo by Eric Francis

Stepping into realtime, my experience at the moment is transcendent in the literal sense – of going beyond something. That something is something I knew I was in but could not see a way out of. The transition phase was my Beltane road trip, the woven thread of which led me to an introspective place with Amanda.

My intuition is guiding me away from telling the rest of the story of this visit, to hold the Vestal space around the encounter.

I’m looking beyond many other things I thought I would see no end to, engaging myself in a visioning process; though I think the deeper process is to give myself permission to imagine; the creative part is easy and the guilt piece is more difficult.

Looking at this photo, I’m reminded of some spiritual work I did in the very spot I created this photograph. In the mid-1990s, having spent an entire lifetime in New York, I let myself envision and imagine being called from this ridge. I visualized the vast landscape between me and the Pacific Ocean and summoned the spirits of the West.

I did end up in the Pacific Northwest, where I dropped what I can only describe as a light anchor. Then while living on an island on Puget Sound, a dream I woke up with one morning, of eastward exploration across the North Sea, pointed to a new destination of The Netherlands or Belgium; where I stayed for a while. The dream involved travel purely by water; a true enough metaphor for the emotional nature of that trip.

I was eventually called home to this valley, by the land itself.

22 May 09

Into the clear blue water

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Amanda. Photo by Eric Francis.

Dinner was a little like a first date. Well, it was a first date, of sorts. I think you put people who don’t know one another well together in a restaurant, and suddenly it’s like a TV program, but there’s not a script so there are moments of not knowing what to say. I barely remember what we talked about, but Amanda laughs easily and I think just about everything has a humorous angle and so we had fun sitting alone in this vast dining room that must be quite exciting in peak season.

Now, I’ve said I didn’t have a sexual agenda with Amanda, but actually I did – which was to go slowly, whatever we did. We both knew that Beltane was Tuesday morning, and that was two nights and one day away. The way I envisioned things, we would have time for our bodies and our feelings to find one another and gradually open up, if that was actually right for both of us.

Physically, emotionally and on this sometimes elusive level called soul, her presence was inviting and her body language was saying yes: this, I could feel in her softness and her receptivity to my touch. Her eyes felt warm and inviting. She was not exactly assertive but I felt her curiosity and was enjoying the subtle experience of being experienced, of being felt out and gently explored.

One of the nice things about growing older is that I’ve cultivated sexual patience. I am more aware of sex and sexuality than ever. I desire it more deeply than ever, and I notice erotic beauty in a profound way, almost everywhere I look. I feel like my emotional and sensory spectrum now has 20 colors instead of the three or four that I had when I was younger. That makes it easier to move gently, in a natural way, and to explore what my partner is ready for.

I’ve learned to draw erotic nourishment from my environment many ways. From six months of consciously explored celibacy I discovered that I have the ability to nourish myself, and to confront at least the possibility, clearly spoken and deeply felt, that I’ve experienced partnersex for the last time. I’ve also been gathering experience from being around quite a few beautiful young women who I would probably never ‘have sex’ with but with whom I had a distinctly sexual exchange, through the intimacy of art.

At the moment, there was no need for symbols. Our bodies and feelings were speaking their own language. We wanted to know one another. The more time I was with her the more beautiful she was becoming. Soon enough we slipped into that big bed and held and felt and sniffed one another and gradually walked away from the shore into the clear blue water.

21 May 09

Two days on Earth

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Amanda, photographed by Eric Francis.

I figured it would be easy to upgrade my room on a Sunday night in the off-season, and what I was going for was a big tub. I also wanted a late checkout on Wednesday the 5th; it was all easily arranged, and a moment later I found myself in a suite at the far end of this famous old combination hotel-resort-motor lodge where just about every presidential candidate you can name stayed because New Hampshire has such a vital place in American politics.

The room was a rich, earthy brown decor that actually worked. In the evening light everything looked copper colored…and the tub was enormous. The wifi connection sprung to life and I checked in with Anatoly in the Ukraine to let him know I was safe in my next location.

I figured Amanda would arrive in an hour or so, and I observed my mix of nervousness and excitement as I settled into our room and scrubbed off my travels of the past few days. No sooner was I washed, shaved, dressed and meditating in one of the club chairs did I hear a tap on the door; and then I was looking into the Artemis-like face of a tall, elven woman who wrapped me in her arms, and I her.

I think we both felt how natural and how strange this was and in such moments I often glance at the experience as being the kind of thing that you really can do on Earth, if you’re trusting enough. Holding her, I felt my soul relax into existence.

We sat and talked for a few minutes in the waning light. I recognized her voice and her face, and was letting the two assemble into a new experience of her, in person. Her presence was so gentle; the expressions of her eyes placid and healing and so loving. I studied her delicately, her long limbs and swaying brown hair and a face that morphed between that of a child and a mature woman.

It was close to the time the dining room closed and we were both fairly well starved after a day of travel. To get to the dining room we had to walk past about 100 empty hotel rooms down an endless corridor, taking a break halfway for another long hug, soaking one another with gratitude for showing up to this truly beautiful two days on Earth.

19 May 09

amanda

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Amanda in a shirt previously owned by my friend Jeff. Photo by Eric.

As we got to know one another, it was on a comperson basis; that is, what’s hot for you is hot for me. And what about jealousy? In our particular politics of love, the conversation happened while I wasn’t going to fuck anyone, which she said was easier for her than if I was. She was on the prowl for someone, in her elegant way, and we both knew that if she had the chance she was going to fuck him.

I also got a glimpse inside female hesitancy, and those little ripples of questioning one’s desirability when the desired one isn’t quite responding. But I was privy to some stuff from their email exchanges and it was vivid. In my own fantasies, I was sketching my hottest possible scenes of them and sometimes the same images would appear.

I found this daring and positively warm territory, given that I was growing to like her and had something to lose if she got magnetized his way. Compersion is hotter for me the more I love someone. I can feel it for someone I’m not emotionally bonded with but it doesn’t have the same ring.

Amanda and I played with erotic scenarios, such as how good it would feel for her to spread her legs for him, and then one day she wrote to me and said that she showed up at his place the other night in an outfit that rendered her message unequivocally clear. But she couldn’t find the right doorbell on his apartment building. But she knew herself well and had the guts to show up.

And I thought: this is a cool girl. Or rather, you can show up here in your skirt any time you like. Or rather, oh my god she almost fucked him; she was ready, she took action and that is hot. In this way we played with compersion, and I shared the stories of my blue light rituals and details about some of the women who participated, women who were giving me deep gifts.

I noticed that she did not have jealous recoils when I would photograph a new model and express my enthusiasm about how gorgeous she was.

We played like this for a while and then it turned out to be more fun talking about one another, diving into one another’s company without the involvement of anyone else, emotionally or erotically. I have to say that has a touch of the exotic.

A day or so before I arrived at our encounter point in the valley next to Mount Washington, she sent me a letter detailing her sexual history, so that she knew I was confident of who I might be with and to make sure I was comfortable with her. I was so grateful for this gesture of both adult responsibility and assertiveness, that is when I knew that I loved her soul.

18 May 09

Backstage pass to Eros

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Abandoned backstage entrance of an old Vaudeville house. Photo by Eric Francis.

Whether to have sex may have been a bigger question for me than it was for Amanda, but let’s call it equal: she’s a thoughtful person and does not usually jump into things without a bit of pondering. For my part, I was wondering whether I had abstained from sex for long enough. This phase was like a condensed review course of everything I’ve studied, explored and learned about erotic reality my whole life, and I’ve been paying attention for a while.

To review for a moment, I had made a series of choices leading me to take contact sex, that is, intercourse and oral sex, out of my life for a while, and I was taking this in 45 day experiences that went from a cross-quarter day (starting at Sahwen or Halloween) to the winter solstice to Imbolc to the equinox and so on. This had gone on for about six months, and I was now at a point of continuing or making a change.

Beltane was a compelling juncture because the essence of my particular form of Goddess worship involves celebrating sexuality at this particular time of year. Since I started doing this, I’ve been blessed with the right woman or women just at the right time, and it is very much about fulfilling a mutual purpose: to praise the Goddess of love and abundance. Being with the right partner implies awareness of why it’s meaningful as a ritual and celebration of existence and not ‘just sex’.

So, on the way to this encounter, notably an encounter with someone I was curious about, love talking with and found beautiful, I contemplated what my prior six months of experience was about. As I’ve mentioned, I was doing what I call masturbation celibacy – having sex only with myself, or in the presence of someone else (and if the opportunity arose, and it didn’t, more than one person). On a number of occasions, that person happened to be a woman named Neisha, who is the subject of a number of these diaries.

As part of this project, my consciously stated objective was to get as close to as many women who were sexually active as possible, and understand something about their experience of both relationship and sexuality. I was exploring the theme of ‘unavailability’, as well as embracing their pleasure with an approach called compersion – loving the pleasure and passion of others, with no sense of obligation or need coming from me.

Depending on who this involved, I could be more or less open about it, but I got to be pretty open with a good few women. As part of this arrangement, if I desired or was turned on by them I did not have to conceal that fact, but the lack of ‘pressure’ created a safe environment to explore this space.

Onyx, a model I grew close to, was one of them. My studio assistant Sarah, who spends a good amount of time in my personal space and in my artistic life, was another. As for Amanda, who I got to know during this time, her part in the journey was openly expressing her sexual interest in another man, so I got to take a compersion journey with her as well; and through this I gradually discovered that we were attracted to one another. Still, as part of that attraction, embracing her freedom without a sense or rejection on my part was a certain kind of key.

And on this particular Beltane journey across New England, Fabienne blossomed into someone in this role, a woman with a lover she loved to embrace, and I was able to go some unusual, beautiful places embracing her and revealing myself to her.

Compersion is usually described as ‘the opposite of jealousy’. But that’s about as descriptive as calling the color blue something other than orange, green, yellow or black. Compersion is about a full embrace of the pleasure, existence and life-choices of another person. It is a form of amorous/erotic Buddhism. Compersion distinguishes love and attachment like few emotions available.

This embrace can be while they are in the room having their pussy licked, it can be over thousands of miles with no verbal sharing, or it can be in the course of a long relationship where this is one particular theme. I will share some stories about my dear, incredible friend Kimberly in a future diary – during these six months we were drawn closer than ever to one another in our 15 year affair.

The process helped me turn a state of deficiency into abundance. As I moved from experience to experience, I was drawn closer to many, many women, and by closer I mean a space of empathy, respect and appreciation of their beauty. Where there were energetic struggles or where the topic was off-limits, they seemed to drift further away.

Over these six months, I grew more confident in myself. I began to notice who noticed me when I walked into a room. The games I was noticing that many women play, such as with cloaking their desire or interest, became transparent. In what no longer seems like an odd paradox, taking sex out of the equation began to relax my encounters with women. I became deeply self-sufficient, and by that I mean that I learned to give myself very, very good sex and emotional affirmation, which set me free of depending on others as a source of that.

And now it was May, and my body was yearning for penetration and I had met a woman who was coming across vividly on the full spectrum of life and of existence. I felt ready to embrace her, pending getting a good sniff of her, and I was willing to find out if she was ready to embrace me. And so I ambled northeast along U.S. Route 2 through some of the sweetest country I’ve ever known, feeling not like a visit but as one who was at home. I was happy to be traveling agai after so long. I had chosen her as my Beltane partner if she wanted to be that woman, and I also knew I was choosing as friend and companion; as journeying partner; potentially, as lover.

Yet besides by acting on what I felt (i.e., speaking up), felt called to do, and being aware of what I was experiencing, I also knew that was very nearly out of my hands. What was its own reward was that in this experience I was confident of two things at least: that I was appreciated, and that I was welcome to express my affection and appreciation for her. And I felt confident that she would have me be nobody other than who I truly was.

That alone was a profound healing gift, and something I’m not sure I’ve ever quite felt before.

15 May 09

Eastbound

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New England map shows route two heading easterly out of Montpellier toward the New Hampshire border.

Except for the Mass Pike, there are no east-west interstate highways across New England. Several interstates run north and south, but to go in any other direction except headed straight into Boston, you have to drive the same roads you take when you’re bicycling.

From Burlington, you can take 89 southwest for a short distance to Montpellier, the state capital. From there, a two-lane federal highway called Route 2 heads across Vermont, New Hampshire and into Maine. On the Sunday afternoon that I made the trip, I saw few other cars, and I was reminded why this was such an appealing place to cycle. I think that Vermont is the best kept secret in the United States. Many who live there prefer that it stays that way.

I was sad to be leaving Burlington behind, but I had made some discoveries there, including the existence of a mellow, thriving little city that felt more like Canada than the United States. By that I mean that on the whole, people are friendly and trusting, and the women don’t seem paranoid. I have several ways to evaluate a place, and the extent to which women seem to feel safe and happy counts for about half of the final grade.

But I was motivated to move on, admittedly with a touch of disbelief that the woman I was meeting was actually choosing to get together with me. Like a lot of people, I often feel too out there, high-energy and this dumb thing called scary for people to dare connecting with. Among the many things I was growing to love about Amanda was a bold streak of courage running through this woman’s heart.

She had a meeting for a theatrical production that afternoon, after which she could make the two hour drive from Portland to our meeting point, a famous old motor lodge along the eastern end of New Hampshire. She reached me in my car while I was driving along to say she was heading out. I also consciously adored her gentility.

But what really got my attention was how at home she was in her body. I knew this from conversations rather than physical experiences. For example, in our first conversation about me photographing her, she expressed an interest in posing for my long-awaited picture of a woman finger painting on her belly with her menstrual blood.

We had no plan of that particular session for this weekend, but when I proposed that we meet up for Beltane, it was with the hint of a lusty, friendly springtime celebration of goddess energy. I was not ‘expecting to have sex’ but I was certain we would sniff one another out and do what felt right. That is all you can ever really do. I was clear, though, that I had chosen her to be my Queen of the May.

14 May 09

Photographing into the future

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Photographing into the future, Burlington, Vermont. Photo by Eric Francis.

I recognized that my meeting with Fabienne was extraordinary at the time, and that the journey I was on was equally unworldly. It’s not supposed to be possible in our society to relate to people directly, with such trust, on a level so close to the core of our human experience.

Early Sunday afternoon I returned to my room, gathered up my things and rested for a while. I had my room for Sunday night but I planned to leave fairly early in the day, not knowing how long the trip to the eastern side of New Hampshire would take: a journey with one destination, to meet a woman named Amanda.

I felt the depth of this next encounter long before it happened; it had been developing over the past couple of months, and I proposed getting together at Beltane time while our passion was blossoming and before it crystallized as a digital exchange. In many ways I inhabit cyberspace but it is not a substitute for a biological, sensory experience of life or love.

When I embarked on this leg of the journey, which once again would take me past many old familiar places, I did so with the feeling of being acknowledged. My exchange with Fabienne that night left me with the deep sense that my life was beautiful and that it had become a miraculous creation of my own intentions. One of those intentions is to associate freely with the women I choose to, in harmony with the other women in my life.

It’s true – we had not ‘had sex’ in the traditional meaning of that phrase. Fabienne was not ‘my lover’ in any ordinary sense; in fact she was lovers with someone else, an experience I was not only not jealous about, but also vividly in harmony with; turned on by; curious about. Nor was my exchange with Fabi ‘nonsexual’. It was, in fact, profoundly sexual. In the Bible the word know is used as a substitute for the idea of having sex with someone; the phrase ‘to know in the biblical sense’ is a kind of kitsch joke.

Indeed, we knew one another. Our encounter was about acknowledging one another’s beauty and freedom and choice to actually be alive; to live like we are alive – because we are.

12 May 09

Transience

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Tibetan Book of the Dead, in our Burlington, VT room.

We had reached a truly beautiful space, and for now our brief time together was nearly up.

I am learning that Buddhism deals mainly with transience. I was fortunate to work with a therapist who understood this and started to get me into the groove of a more or less peaceful relationship with that quality of existence.

I was welcoming today’s particular form of movement, which began with Fabienne saying she wanted to catch a bus at around noon, so she could get home early, ostensibly to get some work done – but I also knew the only time she got to see her boyfriend was on weekends.

So we got ready to go pretty quickly and found a groovy grocery store and cafe to have breakfast right on our side of town; and we spoke quietly together on the grass of the Greyhound depot. Her bus was running late so we had an extra half-hour in the warm spring sunshine. I was aware that I was about to let go of her and surrender her to the universe. We agreed that we wanted to get together again, and she said she would ask her boyfriend about whether he wanted to meet me; she was open to that and so was I.

I was consciously at peace knowing I might never see her again; her plans had her going to western Canada for much of the summer and then to Spain for graduate work. I tend to have long relationships, I stay in touch with people and I have a knack for getting around. It seemed plausible that we would be able to meet up again, but life on our planet is not exactly predictable right now and so I resolved in my heart to let her go. That felt safe, and gentle: we had come together and exchanged so much. We had taken the chance and had met and had been real and understood one another.

I also had one additional stop planned for this journey, in eastern New Hampshire: I was meeting Amanda for the first time. This was loosely sketched out as a Beltane celebration; this was someone I had been corresponding with for a while and the energy and curiosity were growing between us; and so I proposed that we get together while I would be in New England.

She would be driving from Portland, Maine that evening. So at the moment Fabienne and I went in our respective directions, we were both consciously going in the direction of love. The beautiful part was that we both welcomed this for one another. It was hardly that we were not jealous. More accurately I was welcoming the very best possibilities for Fabienne and for her lover and whoever else she might embrace, and I knew the feeling was mutual.

11 May 09

Kid A

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Simone in the Eastern Gate, Fabienne’s favorite image from my portfolio. Photo by Eric Francis.

I’m lost at sea,
Don’t bother me
I’ve lost my way,
I’ve lost my way

You’re living in a fantasy world,
You’re living in a fantasy world,
You’re living in a fantasy world…
The most beautiful women in the world

Lundy, Fastnet, Irish Sea
I got a message I can’t read
Another message I can’t read

In Limbo, from Kid A, by Radiohead

Writing last night’s post I noticed two things: one was the erotic context in the backdrop of the encounter, as I was describing it. Every word seemed to dance around some tension that was not fully acknowledged. The second is that I could only focus the writing after I admitted that I was turned on by Fabienne. That was the essential truth at the core of my journey. Why I might evade that is an interesting question.

As for the erotic context, when a man and a woman get together in a remote city, have dinner and go to a motel, that presumes (by the reference points of our society, which we all carry around like so many USB ports) that they are going to do something other than stay up late and talk about art.

But that is basically what we did. In the background was a theme that Fabienne brought up, which was her frustration with not being able to express herself; to really dive in and bring out her deeper creative energy. She thought that this might be connected to her sexual energy, which by her descriptions she seemed to express just fine; but there seemed to be something she could not make contact with. Plenty of tension in there, for sure.

This is always the question, when we finally get down to it: how to express ourselves. I am always grateful to be having this conversation with someone young, though I’ve had it many more times with people 40 to 60 years old, who have carried the question around all their lives; carried it like a rock that got only heavier until they finally decide to just put it down. Some few crack it open.

When someone has energy, flexibility and some guts, part of what we can do is to work with the question and explore life until it obviates itself. Or until on some level we give ourselves permission to express what we are feeling and experiencing internally. This takes guts and we rarely get it ‘right’ the first time; it can seem like an easier task to attend conservatory for six years.

In these conversations, and I have had thousands of them as an astrologer because this is one of the things my input is sought out for more than nearly any other: the nexus of art and sex. I view my role as to recognize someone’s talent and potential, to actually feel and recognize their beauty viscerally, and to offer them some notion of the confidence to dare. I am aware that my life is a bigger statement than my words, yet that’s why the conversation is happening with me and not with someone else. But words count, as does the feeling behind them, and sometimes all we need to hear is an emphatic yes you can from someone we might believe.

There are a lot of reasons that someone would put down or discourage the talent of a younger person or of anyone and the first one is jealousy. It is difficult to feel inadequate and be bitter and still encourage someone to live the potential they feel inside. This may be made worse if you actually feel some sense of that same potential in yourself. That potential is often intimately woven into one’s ability to experience erotic energy and not get lost in anxiety or guilt as a result.

As she described what she wanted to do but felt she could not do, I felt her frustration. I felt not only the beauty that I was perceiving about her, but also this peculiar sense of being blocked, and her yearning to draw herself out of that space. The sensation was sublime, and urgent, and there was a feeling of inevitability about it.

Suddenly I understood the context of the sense that no sexual energy was building between us. I was drawn toward her physically but I was getting no sign whatsoever that she wanted any physical or even emotional contact. Everything was on the mental level. At first there seemed to be something going on with her agreed boundaries with herself, or her commitment to her boyfriend. Then I put together that it was this frustration she was talking about.

I consciously noticed for the first time that I was not attracted to her in a hormonal way, but the more I conversed with her and learned about her and experienced her point of view, the more I wanted to feel her; the more erotic my feelings were becoming. I told her this. She said that her current boyfriend had said the same thing to her: that he was not initially strongly attracted to her but the more he got to know her the more he wanted to get into her.

She said she was angry about this initially, but then figured out how rich the experience was. At 23 you’re just supposed to be able to blow men away with your raw sexual power, of which she lacked none; but to many young women this would hardly seem flattering or credible if someone says they’re attracted to your mind and they want to have sex with you for that reason. But man it was true. I would look into her eyes and tune into her complex, fiery personality and my desire would reach into her entire being, and it was getting deeper as time went on. Even if she had no interest in me it was extremely enjoyable to tune into her.

With that out of the way the energy melted a little. Somehow we got to talking about Radiohead. Personally I love this band approximately as much as my next five favorite bands combined. I mentioned the album Kid A, their fourth. She knew and loved this album well, and also knew its creative context and its recording history, such as its close association with Amnesiac, which is much better known.

Finally I asked if she wanted to look through my portfolios and she came back with a sincere yes. I dug out the big one – a splashy 13” x 17” book with many unpublished and deeply personal images. This included three from a nine-piece series of me giving a blowjob to a friend in Belgium; some exquisitely personal self-penetration images taken in my studio, including close-ups of my face; and many others of models (particularly Simone Housen) using etched mirrors in the style of what I call the Eastern Gate.

She looked with deep interest and care, drawn deeply into the work. I stood a few feet back and watched her, observed her turning the pages, and took in the beauty of the scene. Here was the piece she handed me: affirmation. She loves my work and was expressive about that; and I understood that feeling was both personal and deeply informed. It was a profound acknowledgment, and I took it in like water.

Finally we went to bed, not only platonically but making no physical contact at all. I don’t think our bodies touched at all for the next six hours, and it barely seemed like she was there at all. It was strange, but we had agreed: she was in charge of any and all such boundaries. I lay there in bed, feeling my own senses, and then sensing into her, my mind drifted to the intense beauty of her going home and making love to her boyfriend, and how soon that would happen. How absolutely certainly it would happen soon after she returned. I could feel his pleasure letting himself relax into the passionate, sentient atmosphere of this woman; and with my knowledge of who she was, I felt the incredible feeling of her receiving him fully. I fell asleep in a space of utter safety.

A moment later we were laying in a light and unfamiliar room. I knew where I was and who I was with.

She said, “I dreamed you penetrated me. I think that’s pretty meaningful.”

I agreed with her – it was clear that she had made contact with some energy inside her, and/or allowed some of my fertilizing yang energy into her consciousness.

Then turned toward her and I watched her face, with the odd sense that experience is moving in slow motion, as she spoke the words: “I can see things going that way.”

10 May 09

Rendez-vous with Fabienne

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Burlington street scene. Photo by Eric Francis.

I have no photos of Fabienne. I think I was too intimidated to ask her if I could take any pictures, and I didn’t feel the need to. Before we met I’d found one picture of her online, which she said she had no idea was even posted. I had only a few bits of information about her biography.

This was a bit less than she knew about me. She’s a studious, fast reader and writer, and in some emails she revealed that she’s read most of what I’ve written in this space. Her feedback via email at times was specific and revealed a depth of understanding that assured me that I was safe with her; that no idea or experience I had would offend her.

In our one call, during a long layover at O’Hare earlier that week, we set the basic boundaries: I put it right out there that she was in charge. I meant this specifically pertaining to any potential sexual activities. I told her I had dependable but flexible boundaries. She said outright that she trusted me in that regard.

She did not at any time state her interest or desire, only that she had a boyfriend, which I’ve learned can mean anything, but generally is a signal that a woman plans to be monogamous (to her partner). However, given my expanded spectrum of erotic experience and the fact that she understood it well, I really had no idea what to expect or not expect.

I knew she was going to turn me on with her whole being. I could already feel it. I loved her quick, even-handed mind (Libra energy, which I drink in), her voice was beautiful and from that one photo I loved her face. After talking to her for a while I asked her how old she was and I was pretty stunned to find out she was 23.

I had no idea why, specifically, she wanted to meet me: it just seemed like something she had to do, and I was happy to let things unfold with no specific agenda of my own, and see who I was with and why. I had all of my portfolios in my suitcase (with many unpublished photos), in case the conversation got around to my photography.

I met her late Saturday afternoon at Burlington’s Greyhound depot, where she was coming in from Montreal. We recognized one another right away, drove downtown and roamed the city looking for someplace that could handle gluten-free. Her French was magnificent – her native language, and I followed some of what she said to her boyfriend, whom she called to let know she had arrived safely and felt confident of where she was. She spoke to him in French, her native language, which I could understand, and which was beautiful to hear.

The best food option turned out to be a Japanese restaurant. As we talked, I tuned into her calm, articulate presence, and how she vibrates with energy and focus. She told the story of her relationship with art and writing about art; and her theory of art criticism, which I loved – that any critique it should be a new, original work that brings depth and relevance to an artist’s efforts rather than something that takes it apart or criticizes it.

I got an overview of her family and her relationship to her parents. And I heard her ideas about why women from Quebec were the most sexually free and autonomous in the world. She said she noticed this before she started to travel, and then when she went other places, she realized even more so that it was a valid observation.

We talked about her chart, which I finally saw later that evening; her descriptions of placements were a sufficient basis for the conversation of her astrology, but of course seeing it hours later, when it became a burning question, brought that particular scene vividly to life.

I asked a few questions and pieced together other parts of her story – her plans for the next phase of her life, which seemed to be arriving fast; I learned a lot about her family; and got a sense of her relationship to her boyfriend and what it was like arranging for this space to get together. She said he trusted her and was willing to go through the jealousy involved in having her come visit.

Driving home, she explained her theory of jealousy. Her recognition of jealousy as an emotion that, if unaddressed, undermined all human relationships was the most impressive idea that came out of her, and which confirmed for me an unusual degree of not just maturity but wisdom and insight into herself.

I felt honored to be in the presence of this young powerhouse, to be known and trusted by her, and to be the beneficiary of a long evening ahead, whatsoever it may have held in store.

9 May 09

A sort of homecoming

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Essex ferry across Lake Champlain to Burlington, Vermont, May 2009. Photo by Eric Francis.

I began the life I am living in 1983, when I left a summer job that August at age 19. I got in my car in Silver Bay, NY on Lake George, ready for the long drive to Buffalo. Without knowing quite how, I had resolved to take over student politics and publishing. This was perhaps a bit ambitious given that it’s the largest public university in New York State, but I felt a calling. That was at the beginning of my junior year, a very good year when I lived in Goodyear Hall.

My girlfriend that summer was Mary Liz Austin, who was also an ‘emp’ at Silver Bay Association, an old Christian conference center. As I got in my car to drive off, she said, “I hope you find God soon.”

I never put this together until last week, but the landscape of the Lake George region and Vermont were places that I knew only before shifting my emphasis from experience to creative achievement. Over several summers, I had crisscrossed that little part of the world on my bicycle, with friends and solo, cultivating a relationship to the Earth, to my own sense of autonomy and to rural communities entirely unlike where I had grown up in New York City.

On Friday morning, May 1, I finished Planet Waves, packed my car and headed in that direction, up the New York Thruway to the Adirondack Northway, toward an encounter the next evening in Burlington, Vermont. When I returned to that land I felt the vague presence of the self I had been, seemingly in another lifetime. This presence is still with me – that person is starting to wake up.

As for who I was en route to meet that day: starting around September 2008, I had been corresponding with a reader named Fabienne, who lived in Montreal. I loved her energy and her writing, and without knowing anything more about her, I proposed that we meet somewhere between our two locales the first weekend in May. Burlington was close to her and someplace I was curious about.

When we spoke for the first time a few days before meeting, Fabienne related a dream she’d had recently which basically involved a remote viewing experience of my studio and neighborhood, down to certain precise details that I’ve never photographed. It is difficult to relate another person’s dream, and my understanding was that a kind of initiation or transformational process was involved. This, she said, indicated to her an opening to get together. Mainly it was the feeling of the dream, which she implied is the most trustworthy aspect.

In that conversation I also learned that she was 23, that she was heading for graduate work in art criticism, that she had a boyfriend, and that she felt it was meaningful enough to make the trip to seek his cooperation and support.

I think it’s fair to say that we both felt we held a piece of the puzzle for one another. I assumed from the fact that she was in a relationship that we would not be lovers. Yet her energy was wide open and she seemed to have read dozens of articles in Book of Blue, and from her feedback both on the writing and the experiences they conveyed, I was confident she understood something about my journey. She said out loud that she trusted my sexual boundaries – a deeply gratifying thing to hear from an intelligent, beautiful young woman whom I had never met.

That she had a lover placed her in the role of my chosen teachers – women who were sexually active with another man, and also fully aware of my erotic journey. The core idea here was about not necessarily being lovers in the physical sense, and not shutting down creative awareness, either. Intuitively I knew we would find the space we needed to find.

Covering the landscape on the way to Burlington opened up many pockets of memory that had long hidden quietly, veiled by numerous intense experiences in the succeeding decades. Realizing it was 2009 and I had last been there in 1983, I felt the passage of time, indeed more than half of my lifetime so far.

Then a new hologram of emotion and memory opened up when I visited a town called Bolton Landing, on Lake George and had lunch. I got back on the road and an hour later I was at the Essex Ferry, which leads across Lake Champlain to Burlington.

9 May 09

Paracosm with Neisha

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Photo space in Blue Studio, with a Sybian and the suitcase in which it arrived from Wisconsin; and one of the first pregnant mannequins, dating to the 1970s and sculpted by the late British artist Ara Soner. Photo by Eric Francis.

Our ritual my last night in New York was another reach into abject self-surrender. I have gradually learned the emotional and psychic moves to be entirely submissive to myself. A witness or ritual partner is there to facilitate this and help hold open a space where we know which way the ground is; to provide a seemingly external source of love; and to provide feedback that the experience is valid in a moment where doubt could do actual harm.

Much of what we experienced there is too personal to for me to describe. I can say a few things, though. I moved through a sequence of scenes wherein I saw Neisha as cosmic witness, as empath/healer, as my lover, as my lover under very specific conditions, as her own lover, as the mother of my children, as the lover of someone else she wanted (and whom she described vividly), and as one never to be a lover.

This conscious exploration of any potential resembled a tantric puja wherein each person encounters every aspect of the opposite gender: for example, the women would experience men in a sequence of father, lover, brother, son and so on.

This is a way of exploring the truth that we are in one relationship, between self and other. The experience of self is teased out through the multiplicity of relationships. Whoever self is is gradually discovered to be an evolving, flexible illusion with a core self gradually being deduced at the center.

I won’t say too much about Neisha’s experience, but my sense is that her confrontation toward me of her own potential was and is an expression of freedom. In other words, even in being ‘passive’ I was co-creating a space where she could express and explore her potential and her freedom. Most of the time in each relationship we exist to the other as one entity, and to express a ‘different self’ or the freedom to be someone different, we have to be with someone different – which is part of what makes our relationships feel disposable. We’re not really free to change in them; we have to move on.

And so I watched the archetypes she was expressing – or that I was dreaming up – go by. As I did this, her beauty filled my perception and took its own presence in the room; part of her, but larger than her. One of the most powerful facets for me again turned up as the woman I cannot have.

As I’ve said a few times, part of my process has been claiming and embracing my encounter not only with unavailability but also with the power of female prerogative. And so she pushed this one a little harder than the others, and I think we both thrived on it, describing in detail what she would do with someone she wanted as her lover, if she had him; putting me into contact with my powerless about that; and melting into the pleasure of encountering her as a free being.

Turning that sense of not having, which is an abandonment wound, from alienation and an excuse to be alien from myself, into a direct encounter with myself, has become one of the most valuable gifts of this journey. I recognize that through long experience of feeling invisible or unacceptable I had decided I was unacceptable to myself, and in truth invisible to myself. This is what I had set about to reverse, and what I was seeing clues might be disentangling.

In the months that we had been journeying together, I noticed two things that I described to her. I was beginning to see a true expression of love in my own eyes when I witnessed at myself; and I was beginning to feel the influence of my presence when I walked into a room. In other words, the illusion of being or feeling invisible was melting. I could sense glimmers of my own existence and therefore I was able to notice others having a corresponding experience. I described these things to her.

There were two points of shadow that surfaced. One is that she detected a whole dimension of feeling that I was not able, unwilling or not quite ready to enter. It was orange in color and I was only at the edge of awareness of it. I did my best to guide myself there as she described the virtue of not choosing feelings or judging them but rather feeling them all as part of the same journey.

The second was she proposed that I was hedging my homoerotic side, and accurately described my need to go there. Again I was judging it as different or other rather than as a valid aspect of myself, equal to any other. I admitted that I wanted to go there and resolved to create those experiences.

I remember from the couple of hours afterward, going out for snacks in the middle of the night, the space that we had created closed quickly and revealed itself to be a paracosm; a parallel reality. We both noticed the shift, how what we had just said and done stood apart from any familiar version of reality. One thing that I remember distinctly is that as that particular ritual space closed, we both noticed that we were free to do absolutely anything we wanted; to be anyone we wanted to be. And at that particular moment, we stepped out into the cool night air and raided Quick Check.

Aah, there was one last thing. Tracking me, Neisha ‘read’ that my self-esteem wound or struggle relates to a single event; or a specific sequence of events. I had assumed it was something environmental, something in the background, or embedded in relationships. Her take is that it is much more focused than that, and suppressed from my awareness. She estimated somewhat generally that it occurred between the ages of two and seven; in the same moment I got between two and eight. I have some ideas what it might be but I am still searching inwardly for something that makes contact. This note added May 9 at 9:15 pm EDT

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