25 May, 2008

Risk Everything All the Time, Part 2

Partners very reasonably expect that I have at least a modicum of skill in the dance I would lead, and while I have never dropped anyone in the (literally) hundreds of suspensions I’ve rigged (nor in dancing, come to think of it), I have crushed nerves, left unintentional marks, had to cut rope and generally made acquaintance with the many crises common to bondage play. Still, I’ve no interest in mitigating any of the risks to which I expose myself or my partner.

By risk I don’t mean of incompetence or negligence (I, after all, derive a significant measure of my satisfaction in tying by successfully getting and keeping my partner in the form or pose I fancy), but rather of surprise interludes or endings within the scene. Those sometimes include quick arrests of erotic energy and emotion (which, once they’re flowing, understandably want to remain so), but that they too are at risk of unforeseeable detours adds immeasurably to the charm and intimacy of BDSM.

I would risk saying that in BDSM the only risk worthy of the common conception of the word is that of incompetence, and even then two people may consent to venture into experiences with which neither is familiar - both are incompetent, ipso facto, until they’re not. Yes, we should be aware of the risks of tying and being tied, of wine enemas, of an involuntary twitch with a knife in hand, of the local laws, of hot, of cold, full, empty, up, down, open, closed, in, out, right, wrong, rough, soft, loud, silent, on, off, loaded, slack, tight, loose, happy, sad… we should be aware of all of it… and therefore none of it.

Stepping full into possibility is what, in the end, will have given life its sweetness. In this sense being a pervert is a gift par excellence. What gets me off is not binary possibility, but quantum possibility – vagueness, indeterminacy, gray areas, the interdigitation of one and zero. I’m more a student of Buddhism than a practitioner (because I believe the teaching has gotten the matter of suffering wrong), but I am totally on board with the idea of unknowing. Knowledge is static (a common starting point in any epistemology) – it does not flow. It’s on or off. Not knowing is flowing… and risky.

Embracing risk takes a certain amount of being out of one’s head, and by that I mean absenting oneself to thought and calculation and analysis (and knowing), and admitting full feeling and presence. I am continually delighted by what ensues from the simple fact of my having been fully present and aware. Were I feeling really bombastic I’d suggest that nothing ever goes wrong when I’m present, but what does go wrong turns quickly right when I’m aware and full in feeling. Going wrong is in the flow to right. When I’m in my head I miss things, mostly the flow.

I’ve taken thousands of trips on New York’s subways and never felt in danger of loosing my life, but obviously that does not mean that risk is not present. Doubtless many of you reading this will have driven somewhere today, which is a far riskier venture than gliding under rivers in giant aluminum sarcophagi. Still, risk is what gives living in New York its complex flavors and frisson, and we all share in it, on subways and elsewhere. It’s why the world tilts constantly in our direction. Shared risk is more prosperous and more fun. It’s why money and art are here in such profusion. It’s one of the more obvious yields of kink.

I don’t believe I’ve mentioned it, but my bread-and-butter is risk analysis and mitigation. People hire me to ride herd on their investments and they pay me only when I do better than the markets. Their risk is my risk. That said, I trade very aggressively and take only those clients who can stomach volatility (for which I am the poster child). My competence is in limiting the downside, a discipline for which I have to show up daily. I control what I can, which is a very small percentage of the whole. The making of the money, the main event, is something I just get out of the way of and let happen. I get out of my head. In effect, everything is at risk because it’s in play and working – if it’s not in the ring it’s safe, but no good comes of it.

With rope what I control is ultimately a very small part of a whole scene. My best gambit is to get out of the way and let the main event happen, what ever that might end up being. I’m a firm believer in non-zero sum outcomes - win-wins are possible and even probable if everyone is willing to put something on the table. There can be no winners when everyone is safe.

21 May, 2008

Il a commencé par la Fin

On this date 25 years ago, I fell in love with a German woman in Venice at the end of a blind alley. 20 years ago on this date Fin and I were wed, and today we celebrate. In that couple of decades and some we’ve toiled and rejoiced in the way that people who grow truly intimate inevitably do, and instead of children (not entirely out of the picture quite yet) we’ve birthed art, hers and mine (she knew from age five what she was put on earth to do - it took me years to own up to bondage being art, and I still don’t know why I resisted). A quarter century of common and diverging-in-common aspirations has been no less colorful than that crystalline moment when everything changed, and there is nothing today that each of us does not endorse in the other. Nothing. The world only opens wider with each yes.

It has been a quiet epiphany to learn that all revelation pales before expansive love - recklessly admitted, honestly expressed and gratefully received. Run to it with glad abandon and give yourself to its tender ravages, for in the loss of your self there is the universe to be gained.

With thanks to Barbara Nitke

19 May, 2008

Risk Everything All the Time, Part 1

So, it's late on Monday evening and I’m shuffling through Jersey City to the Grove Street PATH station. Following a bit of work I’ve stopped for dinner and vigorous dialogue with a long-absent and dear friend with whom I can unself-consciously bring up kink and Kafka in the same breath. By this hour my constitution is propped up with a surfeit of bizarre boutique-y Malbec and rangy thoughts. It’s a clear night, a good one for surprise visits, which, despite my slight impairment, I still have in mind once I’m back across the river.

Descending into the station I note that the cops minding the station that night are all of the body type good for short bursts of activity on flat ground. One pauses coming up the stair to catch her breath, the other feigns impatience and shifts a plastic bag she has slung over her shoulder from one side to the other. I wonder if the perps they’d likely encounter in the subway are the kind who thoughtfully use elevators while fleeing. The crackle of the panting cop’s radio reminds me that they’re more like smart-cams with a reporting function – they don’t generally chase anyone down, they dial up an insertion team for that.

The hair of the very few Manhattan-bound passengers waiting on the platform begins to rustle as the inbound train pushes air out of the opposite tunnel. The train rumbles into the station shrouded in a thin fog which lifts and dissipates as the train slows, a phenomenon I happen to be facing and find strangely beautiful. The last several cars are dark, which is not that uncommon for NYC transit rolling stock, but this is a milky darkness. In the time it takes for the word “odd” to register in my thoughts, the doors open and people spill out onto the platform gasping and spitting, and gray smoke unfurls toward the vaulted ceiling.

New Yorkers (and their Jersey counterparts) don’t pay any attention to things that happen all the time; obvious attention-giving is how we tell tourists from locals. No one else on the platform was watching the inbound train arrive, and the station was well-filled with smoke and disgorged passengers stampeding toward the stairs by the time heads were turning. In either my Malbec-conditioned momentum or local-centric obliviousness I kept walking toward the evolving mayhem, which I thought later of myself exceptionally dull-witted. It wasn’t until the acrid smoke obscured my feet that it even occurred to me to change my direction and use my handkerchief to cover my mouth. There were a couple of passengers on their knees on the platform whom I gave a moment’s pause to consider helping before they were scooped up by one of their standing number to be merged into the panic that was heading my way. I stepped aside and made for the further (and less choked) exits. Coming my way were several New Jersey Transit workers carrying fire extinguishers, one yelling somewhat needlessly “Please evacuate the station!” I looked back to see their progress halted by dozens of bodies crowded at the bottom of the stairs. As I was not looking where I was going I bounced off a very soft chest; it was the stopped cop I’d seen on the stairs. As I turned I was met by kind eyes and a big bluesy voice asking me if I was all right - did I need help getting up the stairs? I nodded, and then shook my head and she somehow got my meaning, switching promptly to a more brusque “Then keep moving upstairs.” As I climbed the stairs now coughing a bit I thought I’d certainly caviled her.

On the concourse level the air was only slightly tainted by the fire. Passengers milled about looking progressively less traumatized, rallying to the point of laughing in many cases, beginning to shrug it all off. In the midst there were obvious signs of chaos – a couple of discarded coats on the floor, some vomit, a makeup compact, a pair of high heels left neatly on a utility box on the wall, everyone trying to get a cell signal. The transit workers who had made for the distressed end of the platform had wisely abandoned their mission and were bringing up the rear of the passenger herd coming up the staircase, calling out for everyone to evacuate the station, and largely ignored.

I waited at the exit stairs to see if anyone needed assistance or to await the inevitable stroller mom, but when a younger man asked me if I’d like help getting out I realized my presence was not only superfluous but maybe even a little fatuous.

When I came above ground the first bits of a glittering flotilla of fire equipment was assembling loudly on the square while others screamed in from every direction. Manhole covers were opened and plumes of smoke wafted up, fouling the air with the stink I’d just escaped. Hoses were extruded from trucks like fresh pasta. As colorful as it all was, I started back whence I’d come to see if my dear friend might not be completely exhausted of friendliness. There would be no going to Manhattan tonight.

One of the shibboleths of kinkdom is the idea that risk can be controlled. This is soft-peddled in the two maxims “Safe, sane and consensual,” and “Risk Aware Consensual Kink.” No thoughtful person who has practiced BDSM for anymore than a few minutes defends the notion that it’s safe – that one would even care to be safe en scene is itself counterintuitive, for it’s precisely where the certainty of outcomes departs that things get interesting. Safe is the precisely the opposite of exciting.

10 May, 2008

A Parable of Taste and Patience

Are the very rarest and most precious things really so hard to obtain, or do they merely seem so?

For the last week and some I have been visiting relations in the Pacific Northwest. A key point of the trip was to spend time with my young nephews, my youngest brother and his wife, and to give myself a mental picture of their still relatively new circumstances, having moved from the northern reaches of Vermont a little over a year ago to a charming 100 year old bungalow in Portland. My sister-in-law is a native of the city and in part their relocation was prompted by a desire to be near her clan at least while the boys are little. There is much to be said of the culinary culture in the region triangulated by Portland, Hood River and Bend, and my brother, a chef, was more easily persuaded by this fact than proximity to in-law sitting services.

The soils and waters of the Columbia, Willamette, Deschutes and Sandy valleys are veritable Xanadus for foragers such as my brother and myself. At this time of year the salmon are running, the sturgeon are gearing up and the fungus is coming in. It is the latter that occupied my time and thoughts disproportionately over the course of several wet days.

But first, a bit on stalking the former.

A sturgeon is caught using a drop line outfitted with bait or a lure. One waits sipping Full Sail Ale for the gentle creak of the gunwale telling of activity below. The sturgeon have to be induced to make one’s acquaintance, and once having done so they are anything but acquiescent to my playing my proper role in our sudden relationship. There is an adversarial feel about fishing of any sort, and I inevitably respect the ones that get away – it’s a sobering experience to be bested in a contest of wits and patience by one’s dinner. That sobering is mitigated by ever more generous administration of Full Sail, so a day on the Columbia is never wasted - though by the end of it I may be.

My guess would be that a sturgeon has better things to do than accept my invitation to dinner, as evinced by their forceful resistance to my entreaties. I have to take some pains to convince my intended guest to come to the table, an act of persuasion that crosses over very readily into coercion. Still, once having gotten the upper hand I’m grateful to the fish for finally giving itself over to me, but triumphalism of any sort is usually just code for having worked, or having idled while others did.

The mystique surrounding the wild morel is rather more developed than that of most fish (maybe excepting sturgeon of the Caspian sort). If one has a well developed fancy for edible fungus, then gustatory congress with the morel would the sine qua non of your condition. Certainly adding to their mystique (and their expense in markets) is the shortness of their season and the difficulty of finding them. That they are acknowledged as so elusive I’m sure adds to their saveur.

One must be prepared to suffer a bit to come to the morel, for they grow in messy circumstances – windfall, bramble, nettle, muskeg – not a natural place for a featherless biped such as myself. Regardless of the success of any morel expedition, the seeker will come away with bootloads of muck and myriad small violations of integument (mercifully it’s too early for mosquitoes right now). Attention to this aspect of the quest merely confounds recognition of the mushroom’s greeting, which is what it does when you let it see you.

A morel is a charming and unlikely denizen of the forest bottom it inhabits – one would not expect the best of anything to emerge from so unlikely and inhospitable a biome. Yet, as soon as one gives up the search and simply lets all creation as it has arranged itself be what and how it actually is, without wishing it, the mushroom, or oneself (sulfurous goo, thistle burns, battered shins and all) were any different, the morel reveals itself, and it is like a revelation, often in profusion, indeed tilting toward you in deference. Its combed ribbing, brinded gray confirmations and conical cap practically conspire in salutation, as though you were the one they had come topside to meet and offer themselves to. They know that their lot is to be treasured, to be used reverently and with respect and skill. Less perspicacious creatures avoid them. They’re waiting for the one who trusts and who is willing to be displaced, persistent, patient and perhaps a bit discomforted. The morel appreciates your suffering and rewards you with the full, happy and unresisting offering of everything it is, and will be in the violence you have yet to visit upon it.

Gently courted from its redoubt it maintains its beauty, dignity and composure as you suffocate, cut, compress and burn it, emerging on the far side of your depredations ever more desirable, seeping and fulsome, and now completely vulnerable. Every morel, like every mushroom, wants to be your last, wants to give itself ahead of others, wants to taste like nothing ever has nor will again.

It is a blessing worth thinking about that the little delicacy and I are enzymatically compatible, that for a tiny quirk of chemistry my precious and I can meet and have a loving relationship whereas it might so easily have been lethal otherwise. She wants me to find her, and as much as says so when we appear to each other, but she has no intention of making it either easy or hard on me. All she asks is that I stray a bit from where I know I can get around easily, stay awake to where I am, be willing to suffer a bit and, most importantly, not to bother looking for her.

That’s when your heart’s desire shows up, and it sure beats shopping.

07 May, 2008

Write Minded

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