Wednesday, March 31, 2021

How de Beauvoir saved my sex life

Having read the Second Sex with the simple intention of developing my female characters a little more comprehensively, I, instead, exposed a wealth of bias I'd been harboring towards the female of our species for my entire life. The myth of an earthly maternal protector was very much ingrained in my psyche. Her role in my stories thus far had been to try and talk my male hero down and keep him from his transcendence. This would be unconsciously brought on by her fear and lack of understanding of the outside world. Had I continued to use this model when developing my characters I'm sure I would find my scope of storytelling would diminish greatly. What's worse is, I was projecting this archetype onto my partner and I think, ironically, keeping her from her own transcendence.

It's very easy to dismiss these ideas as a man because they don't emerge in our every day discussions but if we look at our history of literature, our mythology and subsequently our religions, they are very much centered around the male experience. The truth is we carry an abundance of historically biased baggage that we obliviously succumb to. Like for instance, I never even thought about the effect of the ritual where the father gives away the bride to her new man as if she were an asset that's being handed over from one family to the next. Little things like this that could possibly diminish a woman's sense of autonomy are in fact the things that I never thought about.

De Beauvoir posits that a man can be incredibly clumsy during the first sexual encounter with a long term partner and this can have an effect on the woman potentially causing some deep seated resentment.  Upon first reading, I have to admit that, I gave this statement a very surface assessment; taking the word 'clumsy' as something akin to poor aim, but, as the text went on I realized that it was a lot more psychological than that. This was when the feelings of guilt started to set in. My partner is five years younger than I am which was enough for me to adopt the position of teacher in our sexual relationship even though I, myself, was a novice. Without knowing it I was creating a scenario analogous to a child who is otherwise an ace footballer but can't seem to score when his dad is watching him. I introduced an unnecessary unhelpful pressure into our relationship and at the same time I formulated an exchange where I was unlikely to learn from her. 

I'm a big believer in the idea that our bodies harbor attributes that our conscious minds simply can't fathom. For me it's psoriasis. If I'm unhappy about something, and I'm not actively trying to work through it, my skin cells start to multiply and I'm left with scales. I think that my partner's body now holds a resentment that she has long given up trying to comprehend. Upon some research I discovered a condition called vaginismus. It is an involuntary contracting of the required muscles and it is usually caused by a previous trauma, which made my partner disagree with my opinion that it was relevant. I'm aware that there's a serious case to be made against male doctors ignoring female's subjective reporting in our culture but my hypothesis relies on the condition being unconscious. 

Whenever I imagine myself playing with my partner I usually have my index finger extended and it's trying to poke her, usually in her most precious regions. With this, and the odd pinch of a nipple or bottom, you can see why we don't make time for play that much anymore. The unfortunate truth is that my male instincts in both play and sex are to penetrate. This is something I need to work on (avoiding pornography is a good start!). De Beauvoir hypothesizes that the simple difference in the make up of our sexual organs can have a profound effect on our psychology; where a boy's organ points out into the world, giving him permission to explore, a girl's is hidden away and shrouded in shame. This is potentially the source of the "Mystery" in woman that we are accustomed to in literature. 

This is a very difficult blunder to try and atone for, especially when the victim herself, doesn't agree with the theory in the first place. All I could think as how to make a start was to relieve the pressure somehow. So after a discussion we concluded that going forward, I don't expect penetration out of our sexual encounters anymore. This did, I think, make her feel less objectified and for a while we only did oral when making love. I then encouraged masturbation to try and help her acclimate the area somewhat and I on the other hand would decrease my private pleasure sessions in order to make my climaxes more memorable for both of us!

Now I know this sounds like she didn't have any input on the resolution of our problem but she certainly did. You see the hardest thing I've had to comprehend about female sexuality is that it's like the erosion of a coastline; very, very gradual. I could make a small misstep at the beginning of an evening that'll throw the whole thing off track. She thinks that I'm too negative. This conception is usually spurred by my complaints about banal TV shows or advertising tropes, the same ones that hook her by the heart strings. This is something I need to work on but it's hard, there's a lot of shit out there! The inner critic can be a dangerous companion but sometimes he's just fucking right! But it seems to be a turn off  so I know to limit it, at least on the days where we have made time to get intimate. Etiquette is another one of my "negative" traits. I have a tendency to be quite surly in my daily interactions with people. It's, perhaps, a deeper reflection of my personality type; I take a very long time to trust people, so theatrical use of manners offend me. I find them to be disingenuous. But ultimately these are just excuses and if a random stranger is short with me I get offended just like everybody else. So I'm watching more crap TV and being over friendly to strangers and do you know what? I think it suits me!

The one area where myself and De Beauvoir differ is when she claims that; "to ask two spouses bound by practical, social and moral ties to satisfy each other for their whole lives is pure absurdity" and that "Marriage is a perverted institution oppressing both men and women". I just think it takes a phenomenal amount of effort from both parties to try and be the best and most understanding person that they can be. I couldn't think of anyone I'd prefer spend the rest of my life with other than my partner. She is the most attractive woman I know and when we make love it's bliss.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Patience, attention and participation (This one's a bit woo)

I have a recurring dream where I am standing over a large blue barrel of stagnant water, one exactly like my father used have in our summer house in Wicklow. I am trying to submerge an old beach ball that's floating on the surface but every time I take my hands off it, it bobs back up. When I was young I was terrified of becoming sick. That nauseous feeling just before you vomit was unbearable for me, worse even, than the vomiting itself. Sometimes when I'd be feeling fine and I'd experience a hint of nausea I'd desperately try to avert my attention and keep it away from that underlying feeling, just like that beach ball. I think I've been doing this surface bobbing for most of my life, afraid to face what's lurking deep down inside of me.

It sometimes happens that I'll be in a specific place and a memory of another unrelated place will bubble up into my mind. This phenomenon sometimes repeats itself at a specific place and no matter how much analysis I give it, no matter how much I try to find some kind of link between them, I can't for the life of me figure out why it's happening. If I was to guess why it happens, I'd say it's some kind of unconscious emotional resonance; some way I felt at that first particular place is recurring in the new place and the associated visual experience is accompanying it. Now obviously an actor might not hold any weight when arguing in the frontier of neuroscientific debate, but this sole experience solidifies my opinion that we are barely conscious most of the time.

I recently said to somebody that I was working on expanding my consciousness and was stopped and loftily asked to explain the statement. When I began I was interrupted and the subject was quickly changed. The truth is that it was far too woo for lunchtime discussion, but, If I had been able to unpack it, I would've given an example of when you enter a room and feel like something is wrong. You don't know what it is but every part of you is telling you to leave. It's only afterwards, upon reflection, that you start to put together what was wrong about the situation or event that you skillfully avoided. These were your instincts, basically unconscious recognition, saving your ass from something unfavorable. As a vital part of evolution we can sometimes have signals enter our eyes and bypass our visual cortex going straight to the amygdala so we know to get the fuck out of there immediately! The fact that our visual perception of something would slow us down and maybe even get us killed is so fascinating to me. What other aspects of our lives are limited by our eyes?

When you sit with anything for long enough it begins to change. Whether it is the repetition of a word, a slight pain somewhere in your body, or a fowl smell, like, say, your gym socks; if you pay close attention to it, for long enough, it will take on new characteristics. If you meet somebody who you initially think is ugly, you can be guaranteed that after a few months of knowing them, you'll find their appearance more favorable. The very nature of time itself will change if you pay attention to it; a minute where all the seconds are counted, will seem a great deal longer than one that's not. I've come to believe that the very fundamental objective of our existence is where we focus our attention. Subjectivity is the only area of our reality that science has not been able to touch. It's yours and yours alone. There must be a reason for it, like maybe, you'll need to fill out a report for somebody some day somewhere. Maybe that's your job. Are you doing a good job? Or are you spending most of your fucking time on Instagram?

Panpsychism is definitely a cagey subject around most. The idea that all matter has some level of consciousness leads to snorting in even the most polite of people, but, as we simply have no idea what consciousness is, or, where it occurs in the brain, then I think we should be a little more open to the idea that there may be levels to it, and, that we may not hold the title of most endowed. We like to parade around as the top echelon of sentience, but when I'm out walking my inferior K9 specimen and he keeps trying to drag me back to the house, it's only when it's starts to rain a good five minutes later, that I realize that his consciousness of atmospheric pressure must be far superior to mine!

Over the last couple of years I've started suffering from postural hypertension. When I get up too quickly enough blood doesn't make it to my head and I start to loose control of my senses. I feel a tingling sensation come over me, my vision, hearing and my balance go and I'll usually have to grab something or I'll fall over. The funny thing about this scenario is that even though all my external senses are failing I still feel one hundred percent conscious. I feel like i'm going somewhere else, like I've stepped into another room for a bit. I've had my doubts about mind body dualism over the recent years. I was brought up catholic and conditioned into thinking that my soul will go somewhere after my body fails, but as that dogma couldn't withstand intellectual scrutiny, I began to search Philosophy and Neuroscience for answers eventually settling on monism; the idea that your consciousness is generated somehow by your brain and will end when it stops functioning. These bouts of hypertension leave me unsure again.

When I was a child I paid great attention to the things around me, but as I matured, and thus accumulated more responsibilities, I began a process of evaluation that consumed more and more of my mental energy, narrowing my attention to a sort of tunnel vision, a beam with some plan at the end of it. Now, hopefully somewhere around the midpoint of my life, I'm trying to shed this self evaluation and smell the roses because otherwise I'm left needlessly carrying around a self inflicted anxiety. Mindfulness, you say, and yes, that's exactly it, but, 80% of the time I spend meditating consists of me trying to justify why it is that I meditate. And these thoughts don't go anywhere unless I write them down, and, there's not really much point in writing something down unless somebody else is going to read it, so, thank you.

Sunday, June 30, 2019

This post won't make me any friends...

I'm finding it harder and harder to think of a good retort for people when they ask me why I don't drink anymore. Telling them that I've left Plato's cave of debauchery doesn't do me any favors. Recently I've started simply saying that it's for of the same reason I gave up the smokes; I just don't need it anymore. I can have just as much fun on a night out without booze. The only difference is that I understand when the crescendo has been reached. It's usually about 11:30 to 12pm or four or five drinks in when the substance of discussion starts to fade rapidly and those with the responsibility of relieving a baby sitter, or, with work in the morning will leave, but those who associate fun and alcohol will stay."Keep her lit", they'll say, desperately clinging on but never realizing that it only goes down from there.

The fact that I don't drink was never an issue in America, but, as the old stereotypes will tell you, it has been one in Ireland. My true feelings are that alcohol is a social tool for the average Irish person. We're known across the world for being uber-friendly but I think it's a surface reality only. Growing up, if I had a problem that I needed to discuss with somebody, it would be done over pints. We can't really open up and feel comfortable until we've a few on board, and this is dangerous because we ultimately associate the two. I think the high level of alcoholism in Ireland is because we can't really feel like ourselves unless we've pacified that reproachful monster in our brains.

If I'm organizing a social gathering with some new friends and I ask them out for pints, somewhere along the way I'll tell them that I don't drink. That's when the awkwardness sets in. They wonder what I'm going to do for two or three hours sitting in front of a sparkling water as if the alcohol was the company and not them. And I think that it runs deeper than that. I think that really, they are worried that they'll be letting their guard down and I'll have mine up and I they may be exposed. Alcohol depresses the central nervous system making people feel more at ease with themselves but when you take alcohol out of the equation you learn to get over that wall all by yourself. I remember feeling not quite relaxed at certain social gatherings until I'd had two or three drinks now that feeling lasts only seconds.

Hangovers are something I'll never miss. Not just the physical effects but the psychological ones two. The fear and anxiety caused by a dip in neurochemicals the next day might be outweighed by the benefit of a super fun night, but, when you find yourself shouting at your phone three or four days later that's when you see the real downside of alcohol. We tend to think the effects are confined to the proceeding day but the reality is they run far into the next week. This short tempered impatience and general mind fog are detrimental to a persons happiness especially if they're not too fond of their job and would find it difficult to get through a week with pure equanimity. And unfortunately this turns into a cycle of self destruction because, as we all know, the only way to get over a hard week is to spend the weekend drinking!

My family, I suppose, are like any big family; full of deep seated resentments and conflicts with each other and when we get together and sail through the pleasantry's and first few drinks that's when the true feelings start to surface. These Ill feelings which should've been addressed directly long before over coffee have a habit of popping up with great surprise and seemingly out of the blue. This then causes the accused the become defensive immediately and a row almost always ensues. It's not like it's directly responsible for my family's wounds but rubbing alcohol into them certainly doesn't help.

Another reason I might be terrified at the thought of jumping off the wagon is that I may then loose interest in meditating. The shift in my state of mind when meditating is far less than that of a few drinks but the long term benefits between the two practices are not even comparable. And really who's going to sit down for ten minutes with the intention of listening to their body when they're doing their best to ignore their complaining liver?

I made a promise to myself that I wouldn't become one of those 'holier than thou' assheads who preach about how life is better without alcohol,but, when I consistently see my closest friends promise themselves, whilst hungover, that they'll never touch the drink again and then the quick glimpse of shame when I see them a day or two later, drink in hand, I know that I've made the right decision. The thing about the cave analogy is that when the remainers hear what the leaver has supposedly learned, they think he's nuts, so I guess I'll just have to grin and bear the bewildered faces each time I'm asked "What''ll ya have?"

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

My Psoriasis Crisis

Ever heard the expression; "He was thick-skinned"? It makes me think of someone who's body has developed a defense mechanism of producing so many skin cells that he has a suit of scaly armor to protect him. Wouldn't that be a nice way to explain psoriasis?

Sometimes I can look at a patch somewhere on my body, and almost by sheer will, I can make it worse. It's as if my skin is trying to communicate with me. Psoriasis is a physical manifestation of a psychological problem. It took me a long time to realize that and I got no help from the medical system.

Upon my last and final visit to the dermatologist, having tried dietary restrictions, topical steroid creams, and, UV light therapy, all of which were unsuccessful, I asked my doctor what was next, and he told me about a new medication from the USA that would slow down my skin cell reproductive system, but, it would put my at high risk of getting lymphatic cancer. I asked why the hell I'd sign up for something like that and he replied; "It depends on how long you want to live". So basically, do i live a short life, comfortably free to take my shirt off ? Or, do I live a long life looking like I just got into a naked motorcycle accident? There's no cure for psoriasis. I left that clinic wondering how it's possible that we can replace a persons heart but we can't cure a miserable skin rash.

When I was in the third year of my electrical apprenticeship, I was working in a pharmaceutical factory. This was a point in my life where my psoriasis was at it's worst, and coincidentally it would seem, when I was pretty fuckin' miserable with my own existence. For you see, I wanted to be an actor, but a 'Plan B' seemed like a good idea at the time. My skin got so bad that I had to become an in-patient at a hospital for two weeks of treatment. It cleared up in this time but returned shortly after I went back to work. I managed to get myself fired from that job and my skin's never been as bad since.

It always lowered my confidence. Throughout my late teens and early twenties I was terrified at the thought of getting naked with a girl. As I got older, and began to realize that most women aren't so superficial and are more impressed by a guy's vitality, it then became more about awkward conversation starters, and how no matter what predetermined response I spewed out, they'd still look embarrassed for bringing it up. After a while I then began to view it as exactly that; their embarrassment, not mine. I was starting to accept this part of me. I would be the guy with the patchy skin. So I started trying to get people to notice it, by flaunting it, but then a funny thing happened, it began to get better. This was the moment when I decided that the first step is acceptance. This is a hard concept to swallow. It's like somebody saying; "Don't worry about it", but, that's not what I'm saying. My body tells me when I'm unhappy about something. That's what I'm accepting. We have an abundance of shit going on in our lives, and, our conscious minds struggle to scrutinize it all. I believe that our bodies will try to tell us when some of that shit is toxic.

I started meditating in my mid thirties. This is when I saw the most improvement in my skin. Meditation slows down cognitive noise for me, stuff I'm carrying round in my head all day, and sometimes reveals deep seated thoughts. The kind of thoughts that are so subtle that you might've been using your neck muscles rather than your brain to house them. It certainly put me further in touch with my body, and I believe this let my body know it doesn't need to shout for my attention anymore.

Even though we are in the midst of a scientific revolution, we still can't shake off preconceived 'age of enlightenment era notions' like mind body dualism and our medical practitioners like to see empirical evidence before they'll get behind an idea that a skin disorder begins with one's mind. But, if you're dealing with it, maybe go see a psychologist, or try some meditation, or get more sleep or just stop and ask yourself; "What am I not dealing with?" Either that or get those drugs and maybe lymphatic cancer!

Friday, March 8, 2019

The Goldilocks complex

Having just reached a little over a year since my return to Ireland I’m starting to feel like the string that’s tied between a balloon and a rock weighing it down. In LA, where I’d been living, it seemed that the sky is the limit, and, in Ireland, it's best to stay grounded and don't be gettin' yourself notions! I’ve often wondered if a people's aspirations is directly proportional to the size of the land mass they’re living on.

The false optimism in LA was annoying, that fake it until you make it shit, but the attitude of compliance over here, the stoic assent that life is shit and you have to just live for the weekend, is depressing. Nobody seems to want to talk about their problems when you ask, it's all just; "ah sure, it's grand." as they gulp down their glass of wine. That's a stark contrast to the dynamic of becoming the regular customers' psychotherapist when serving them coffee in Hollywood. A good symbol for the contrast between our cultures is those German brothers' concept of how we like to shop. In their European store, Aldi, it's all florescent lighting, dressed down decor and copies of popular brands right down to the logo. Whereas in the American Trader Joe's, they've gone for a quaint little neighborhood grocery store, where the labels look like they were drawn by the staff that morning, just before they stocked the shelves.

I was once told that when you move away from home and live abroad, if you return, you'll never have a home again, and that's becoming more true with each day that passes. I want to live in a country where if you need something trivial, say batteries or a light bulb, at night, they're available. I want to live in a country where if you decide to buy wine in the morning as a gift for somebody you're not prevented by a mollycoddling government that thinks you're an alcoholic! I want to live in a country where the averts on TV don't condescendingly pit you against your neighbor to compete for the best car or lawn. I want to live in a country where I've done more drugs than the chicken I'm eating has! I'll stop before I turn into a blueberry.

Maybe I'll never feel at home again. Maybe I'll just have to knuckle down and get myself some denim leggings. Maybe this is all an illusion resulting from my fear of giving up my dreams, and conforming to the babies/mortgage status quo. Maybe I'll have to keep tonguing the far recesses of my mouth in search for that illustrious taste of freedom I thought I once had. Maybe the porridge will never be just right. 

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Why I like to joke about shit...

Why do some people find farts hilarious and others are revolted by them? I’m certainly the former. So is my wife. Not sure if that's a good thing or not yet, but, as a once revered comedian said on the subject; “I’ve never heard a fart that I didn’t laugh at”. Unfortunately for him, his career disappeared like a fart so he’s probably not the best person to help sell my case. Somebody who may though, is the psychoanalyst, Julia Kristeva, and her theory of abjection.

We seem to be the only mammals that experience disgust. Why is that? Some suggest that it must be closely related to self consciousness, an attribute that separates us from animals. And what constitutes the self? The old subject/object debacle. According to Kristeva, and her psychoanalyst forefathers, we start to develop self consciousness as a baby when we realize we are no longer an extension of our mother. This is evident when we start to spit out breast milk. We are beginning to display independence. Rejecting the mother as object and beginning to recognize our own subjectivity. And If you think about feces it falls into a category somewhere between subject and object. It was once you but now no longer is. It came from your body just as once you came from the maternal body. Part of you has been discarded. You reject this part of you with disgust and revulsion. But ultimately, your identity is formed in blood, urine, and fecal matter at birth. You come out screaming your little head off. It must be a horrifying experience which, to my mind, it’s imperative that it must be repressed to avoid psychological scaring.

Now we all know that there are different ways of masking discomfort. Some people use humor to cover over their darkest anxieties. We need only look at the many famous comedians who had mental breakdowns or ultimately killed themselves to see that their comedy was just a front. A way of dealing with the complexities of life. I certainly see myself as the type of person who tries desperately to extract the humor in a situation lest I have to take it seriously. Maybe that behavior is an attempt to reconcile with the absolute horror of being born a bloody shitty horrible mess. 

Could it be that this disgust some show whenever they hear about shit, piss, puke, farts and jizz, is ultimately because those things are just dead matter, and, in the end, we will also just be dead matter. I think this dilemma lies in the unconscious mind and resurfaces through art or fetishes. Most don't think about it too deeply. Most don't think about it at all. They reject it with abject horror. Some of us just make jokes about it, trying to allude to the elephant sized shit in the room! 

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Being present...

When people used to say to me that a certain actor has great presence, I never really knew what it meant. I guess I just looked at it objectively; that they just had a certain magnetism that made them fascinating to watch. It's only recently though, and through meditation, that I've begun to understand what it means subjectively - an actor who has presence is not thinking about anything except what's going on in that very moment in the scene. This is what makes them fascinating to watch.

When I find myself in a situation where I'm nervous, and it's affecting whatever I'm supposed to be doing, I try to use my meditation experience to bring myself back and be present. I've come to understand that when this happens, I'm caught in the evaluation part of my brain; thinking about how and what everything happening right now means to me, and, if I take a second to focus my awareness on the body it will shift my state of mind into a place where I feel more alive and in touch with everything and everybody around me. I become present, and the job becomes easier.

Have you ever been at a social gathering and introduced yourself to somebody and three or four minutes later you've no idea what their name is? You weren't present. This happens to me all the time. I meet them, ask them their name, and I see their lips moving, but all I'm thinking is; "Have I met this person before?", "Am I coming across too friendly or not friendly enough?", "Am I standing like a little tea pot, short and stout?" and so on. The conversation usually doesn't last that long because I never made a true connection. The person I was talking to probably thinks I didn't care enough to listen to them not knowing that I was really just caught in an anxious autobiographical ruminating loop. 

Or have you ever been reading a book, that you're sure you like, but in that moment you realize you stopped paying attention three pages ago? And you've been sitting there reading like a zombie? Again, I am constantly doing this. I try to be present to the text but there's some word, some trigger, and I'm off to the races, trying to come first in my own narrative. So I have to go back three pages and read again. Time wasted on irrelevant rumination. 

So then it comes to acting myself, and this shit is multiplied by a thousand, especially in an audition setting. Now all I can think about is whether I am right for the role, or if they can see that I am a good actor, or whether I slated my name properly or whether this casting director looks like she's interested in my performance or.... uh oh... Why's she looking at me like that? Damn, I've done it again. I wasn't present. I've probably ruined my chances. All this nonsense swirling around in my brain when all I should've be thinking about was whether Cop #2 is going to make it home safely to his wife or not!  

So to conclude; there is no conclusion. I was so present while writing this that I didn't anticipate an ending for it. I guess presence doesn't work in every situation then.


How de Beauvoir saved my sex life

Having read the Second Sex with the simple intention of developing my female characters a little more comprehensively, I, instead, exposed a...