This is our truth, tell us yours
One of the features of the relationship between Carter and myself is the sharing of books. Or rather he shares books with me, whenever I suggest or offer a book he turns out to have already read it. We talk books, the airport brain bubble gum and the life changing read a page, mull, digest, read the page again books. This conversation around books works largely because we are not book snobs. Like sex reading can be many different things, fulfill many different needs. It’s also the case that both reading and sex are activities that can be solo or not, neither needs another person, however when you chose to involve one the activity changes.
I was what they used to call a bookish child. Books were my escape from a world I did not understand, and which did not understand me. I was however quite indiscriminate in what I read. The classics sat alongside Enid Blyton, I devoured pilgrims progress at 11 whilst at the same age developing my life long aversion to Dickens. I was,frankly, a book slut. If it had words I would read it. In this way I ended up in strange places.Discovering, as so many do, the top shelf novels of my parents Drum and Anais Nin were sneaked into my bedroom as my first mastabatory aids. I can honestly say I was not looking for porn. I simply had read everything else.
The parallels between my bookish and sexual behaviour are astonishingly clear to me as I write. I was undiscerning in both, looking for an escape, and an ineffable something that I could not name. Books transported me to other worlds, showed me other ways of being, but the real world always remains, must be returned to. So with sex, no matter how good a pick up in a bar might be the next day the insecurities and fears which were allayed for a moment come rushing back in. You cannot escape yourself.
It occurs to me that there is as much chance of calculating how many books I have read as there is how many people I have had sex with. I probably remember the same amount. Those rarities who did more than fill a moment, provide an escape route or pass the time on a dull sunday afternoon.
Currently I am reading one of those pause, mull, let it percolate through you books. It seems only right that Carter leant it to me. It is Erich Fromm To Have or To Be? The basis of the book is that we have become so obsessed with having that we have lost sight of what it is to simply be. Even our solutions are built around the processes of possession and ownership, the acquisition of things, people, knowledge in order to fill the void called living. I must confess to being as caught up in the having mode as anyone. I pay for magazines I colour so I can supposedly have a few moments of simply being. Society approved, costed, and acceptable being of course.
It strikes me that even in sex we spend our time having not being. Even the language, we have sex. Sex is something which indicates our attractiveness, our worth to others, our ability to produce new workers who in term will consume, will become havers of things. It’s no coincidence that women who did not supply future workers and consumers were described as barren. They could not simply be, their value was in what they had, children, and what they produced. (Incidentally Fromm has a brilliant 3 page summary of how capitalist patriarchy developed as poorer men tried to emulate their kings by possessing the only thing available to them, women and children).
The alternative, in life, books or sex, is to be unafraid to be. This is harder than it might appear in a world which tells us constantly the only value is in having. Indeed it is a world where being is constantly under attack. Recently the Tories announced that they would relax the sunday trading laws. I was saddened but not surprised to see some on the left supporting them. A day where we can consume more, have more, fill the void with trips to B&Q and Tesco is apparently vital. Far more important that setting aside a day where we can be, without consumption lying at the center of all that we do.
When it comes to sex stepping beyond sex as an acquisitive act which adds to the sum of our having transforms the experience. Sex at its most sublime is pure moments of being. Once we leave behind the idea of sex as another way to have something, be it love, respect, children, or a boost to our ego then sex can become a time when the being mode is fully entered into. Recently I was bent and receiving a caning. I can still remember so vividly each sensation, the world reduced to my hands gripping the bed spread and the cane searing my flesh. The memory is so vivid I believe because for a few hours I was able to be.
As we fill our lives with more things, determined that having is the solution the fear of being, those moments become not an escape but as vital as the air that I breathe. When we learn to be we are nurturing our souls, and allowing ourselves to become more than simply a list of things that we have. We are becoming human beings.