Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Pretty Lady Draws the Line

Icky-poo. Pretty Lady just attended one of her signature literary readings, on a spur-of-the-moment invitation, and now she feels like she has been slimed.

Pretty Lady sometimes feels as though she has spent her entire adult life defending against charges of being a Victorian Prude. At times, she has even pre-empted this label, by humorously applying it to herself. In many circles, Pretty Lady has been known as, more or less, the token naïf; her freshman-year college friends, for example, ceremoniously presented her with a portrait of Alice in Wonderland, as her signature totem.

As she grew older, naturally her store of experience and sophistication expanded itself. At the same time, her inherent qualities of Mercy, Understanding and Unwillingness to Judge flowered like lilies in the sun. In her time, Pretty Lady has been the close confidante of strippers, sex-workers, wannabe sex-workers, frisky homosexuals, bisexuals, transsexuals, sex addicts, polyamorous swingers, professional dominatrixes and highly unprofessional bondage freaks. She has welcomed all of these wild and wonderful persons with an open heart and an earnest desire to understand, if not necessarily share, their points of view.

Furthermore, Pretty Lady considers that prostitution is not an inherently dishonorable profession. It serves an undeniable need, and it is certainly not an easy living. Many persons, moreover, find themselve in economic circumstances which exigently force the issue. Pretty Lady cannot find it in her heart to judge or condemn these individuals in any way.

HOWEVER. Let it be known henceforth:

• When a person is a member of the middle-class, with a good education, living in a first world country:

• When a person has talent, brains, humor and creativity:

• When a person has an editor who suggests that performing twisted sexual acts with random strangers, then writing about the experience afterward, might be a good way to raise one's literary profile:

• When a person takes one's editor up on this proposition, for the sole purposes of acquiring extra income and literary notoriety:

Then, that person is truly cheap. Cheap and trashy.

Thus spake the Lady.

21 comments:

Bobert said...

Anxiously awaiting page two...

prettylady said...

There is no page two. This post was clipped and terse for a reason. Pretty Lady is off to take a shower, now.

Chris Rywalt said...

I rather liked Grant Stoddard's column on Nerve.com. It was entertaining. His replacement, Reverend Jen, is almost as good.

Oriane said...

He was entertaining at the reading in a light sort of way, but he's a funny guy and I think he would still be entertaining if he wrote on something more worthwhile. I agree with PL that shock value is not enough anymore. Debasing oneself and writing about it for the cheap thrills of readers is still debasing oneself.

Anonymous said...

Prude? Naif?

I am of the opinion that the greatest despair in life is when one has tasted all the excesses of pleasure and still found them wanting.

When I look back at my life thus far, I have come to realize that the most important lessons came from the most difficult experiences, and frequently were the most painful events. However, once through those gauntlets I look back and would not change anything since the knowledge gained was worth far more than the pain endured to learn it.

People who wallow in their own selfish pleasure tend to be vapid, dull creatures lacking any real insight beyond their next orgasm. Perhaps it is the Stoic in me that believes the practice of spannungsbogen - which is the self-imposed delay between when one begins to desire something and when one attempts to achieve or acquire it - is one of the hallmarks of the disciplined mind.

Los Angeles police sergeant Joseph Friday reminds us that the primary attributes that separate us from lower primates is a. our use of cutlery and b. the ability to control our sexual urges. Sadly, many people while embracing the former seem to forget the latter, and this produces the type of book you have linked here.

It is sad that the intellectual sophisticates of today are incapable of distinguishing between prudery and thoughtful discretion.

Crom

Chris Rywalt said...

One of the things that made Grant Stoddard's columns interesting was that he was not pursuing pleasure. In fact he didn't seem especially excited by any of it, and came out of most of the experiences thinking something along the lines of, "Huh. Okay. Not what I expected."

Was he debasing himself? I guess, maybe. I felt it was more like an anthropological expedition. I mean, not many men have made a mold of their own erect penis, created a latex version from it, and then been penetrated by the resulting faux member. That's silly as all hell, but also a bit brave, and certainly interesting. "What does it like to have my penis inserted in you?" Not for long have we been able to answer this question.

On a personal note, as a rebuttal against the "life lessons from pain": Maybe I'm just shallow and have avoided all the really worthwhile pains of life, but the most difficult experiences I've been through have taught me nothing I wanted or needed to know. And if I could, I would change them. Granted that my life has been pretty uneventful so far.

Anonymous said...

Chris,

From your comment I can definitively say that we have vastly differing definitions for the words "bravery" and "interesting."

William Blake wrote in the The Marriage of Heaven and Hell that "The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom;". Let us remember that this was one of the Proverbs of Hell, and most who have taken that road of excess are now dead, not wise. We listen to people who have accomplished much in their lifetime work for wisdom, we do not expect brilliant knowledge from those who have accomplished an excess of partying as sages. From what you say of Stoddard's disappointment in all of his carnal adventures that he may be realizing my earlier contention, that the greatest despair is in having pursued the greatest of pleasures and having achieved them, find them lacking.

When you finish one of your paintings, or complete some other artistic work do you not feel satisfied on some visceral level with your accomplishment? Is that feeling of accomplishment more satisfying than knowing you parked yourself on the couch all day and watched television? Is the victory of not only finishing a task but finishing it well not sweeter than knowing you did a half-assed job and produced a mediocre piece of shit?

I cannot answer these questions for you, all I can say is that I find challenges more rewarding when they are not easily met. I do not know your painful experiences nor do I require to know them to understand that there is something to be learned from them, even if it is simply the knowledge that you survived them, and could do so again if they reappear.

Crom

prettylady said...

Crom, although I agree completely with the principles you have laid out, and live my life by them, I would like to point out that in this circumstance, 'pleasure' is not even the point. The fellow was obviously not getting much pleasure out of the disgusting events he related at the reading; neither, I believe, do most prostitutes find much pleasure in their work, whatever their clients might prefer to believe.

No, the 'pleasure' he is pursuing is the pleasure of easy notoriety, a large readership, a paycheck, and a book deal, in exchange for performing some sordid, passionless acts with some screwed-up people, which he didn't enjoy at all, because he wasn't doing them for any other reason. He traded his integrity for fame, in other words. That's cheap and trashy. As I said.

Chris, I find your statement that you have learned nothing from the most painful experiences in your life to be curious, to say the least. Why is that? Why haven't you learned anything? How can you AVOID learning from experience? Have you learned the wrong things? Have you learned to tell lies to yourself? Have you learned things that you'd rather not know?

I really don't understand. A lot of times, when I've been through something painful, I've told myself a lie about it, in order to help cope with the pain. Then I've had to undergo an even MORE painful experience to alert me to the lie, and teach me the real lesson. But I don't think I've EVER undergone any experience, painful or not, and learned NOTHING from it. What's up?

Chris Rywalt said...

PL sez:
...in exchange for performing some sordid, passionless acts with some screwed-up people...He traded his integrity for fame, in other words. That's cheap and trashy.

The impression I got from reading his column (and I think I read them all, actually, now that I think about it) was that he didn't trade anything for anything. He got a paying gig which allowed him to explore lifestyles and activities he wouldn't have ordinarily and write about them. Aside from his sense of humor, this is what anthropologists do. Not that I'm saying he's at the level of a doctoral student or anything.

I mean, he went out to understand -- in a shallow, humorous, droll sort of way -- what some people do for fun. Those people weren't necessarily screwed up. They were just people. For example, I personally get no pleasure whatsoever from having things stuck in my butt. Some people do. I get no pleasure from having oral sex with men (or haven't lately, anyway). Some people do. They're not wrong, just different.

I wouldn't do the things he did myself. But then there are some people who wouldn't even take money to, say, eat raw sea urchin. I have paid a fair bit of money to do so. Did I sell my integrity to hang out with the weird raw fish people? I'm adventurous in the area of food. If you paid me to eat weird things other people eat -- bugs, rocks, intestines, snakes -- and write about it, I'd take that assignment.

At bottom -- in the end, you might say -- he was writing a goofy humor column for a dopey online sex magazine, and then he got a book deal. Not something to get all worked up about.

Chris Rywalt said...

PL asks:
Why haven't you learned anything? How can you AVOID learning from experience? Have you learned the wrong things? Have you learned to tell lies to yourself? Have you learned things that you'd rather not know?

Of course one always learns from experience. But what I've learned, mostly, is that I shouldn't have done X. Since the time for X is past, however, this knowledge does me no good. If my life were a series of identical (or even similar) episodes, I guess I'd learn something useful from pain.

Let's break this up into multiple sets of experiences. Crom was talking about painful experiences. I've learned much more from listening to my father and mother, or reading Wikipedia, or (to take an example from tonight) taking apart a doorknob and lock from 1930 to see how to disable the locking mechanism. I've learned many things from simply watching. Paying attention is a wonderful thing.

My most painful experiences, however, have taught me nothing I wanted to know. Mostly I've learned that I cannot be trusted, not with serious responsibilities, not with anything important, and certainly not with promises. Some people wonder if, were they to have grown up in Germany and come of age in the late 1930s, if they would've willingly become concentration camp guards. I no longer wonder about myself: I'm pretty sure I would have.

I mean, think of it this way. If, when you were ten, your father picked you up by your neck and flung you across the room, that would hurt. It would hurt physically and emotionally. It would very painful. And what would it teach you?

mitzibel said...

Chris, you raise an interesting point. I think that most of us still have a Dickensian definition of "suffering"; ie, we think of it as bad things happening to innocent and hapless people. A vast amount of the universe's bad experiences result from bad judgement, selfishness, and stupidity. Are lessons learned anyway? Sure they are, but the lesson is to not be such a dumbass next time, something a staggering percentage of the human race seems to be able to manage quite well without the benefit of "experience". Of course, this is coming from a life experience opposite your own professed one, but isn't it interesting that we arrived at the same conclusion anyway?
However, when you take it into the (forgive me) maudlin realm of "I can't be trusted, not with. . .", that sounds more like wallowing. You've learned either a) that you have not laid a moral foundation for yourself which guilts/motivates/inspires you to be trustworthy and keep promises, and you need to do so if you would like a future which includes trust and people who believe what you say, or b) that it's really easy to blame inherent personal defects for a missing sense of accountability and not do any work to improve them. Please forgive me if that sounded bitchy, but my life was saved by a bitch who refused to keep her mouth shut when she saw me slipping into intellectual asshattery, and she asked that I pay that forward, so there you go. If what you've "learned" from your experiences is "I am not a trustworthy person", instead of "I have issues with keeping promises and need to do X and Y in order to correct that", then indeed, those experiences are wasted. Unless, of course, you don't give a shit about being that kind of guy, in which case you should at least wear a nametag informing the general public ;)

Chris Rywalt said...

I would certainly like to think that, next time, I will be more trustworthy. Unfortunately, before the last time I blew it, I liked to think I was going to be more trustworthy the next time. One of the things I learned is that what I like to think about myself ain't necessarily so.

The trouble I have with this sort of Objectivist "you got what you asked for" philosophy is that, actually, in my experience -- which includes reading the news -- the absolute, enormous mass of suffering falls on the shoulders of people who don't deserve it. Very very few people really bring down the kind of pain they deserve. Hanging may not be a great way to go, but Saddam Hussein caused a lot more suffering than he got.

Really, when it comes down to it, this quasi-Calvinist philosophy most Americans espouse confuses and scares me. So many people really like to think they're in total control of themselves and the conditions of their lives. You know what? It seems to me those people are always the lucky ones.

prettylady said...

It seems to me those people are always the lucky ones.

So what? They're NOT YOU. YOU are the only person YOU'RE concerned with, here.

For me, a useful question to ask myself, and anyone else who makes a questionably maudlin statement such as 'I just can't be trusted,' is, 'what's that about?'

No, what's that about? What's THAT about? REALLY, what's that ABOUT?

Do you make promises, hoping that making the promise will force you to do something you don't want to do? Do you make promises that are at cross purposes to your biological chemistry? Do you try to do infinitely more than you're capable of doing, and fail?

The answers to these questions are not judgments. They're just answers.

Let's just drop this notion of deserved/undeserved suffering. I believe in karma. I believe that what goes around, comes around; I believe that there's a reason for what comes around, no matter whether or not you can perceive it. I believe that reasons are not the same as judgments.

So what's the truth? The truth is never anything like "I'm just a bad person, I guess," or "I'm fickle and spacy and messed up and that's just the way I am." The truth is always more complicated, and it requires some facing if we're ever going to really learn anything.

Doom said...

Ouch. But, here it goes. I understand Chris's statement regarding trusting one's self. I am working with that to see why I have said it and what it means. I am trying to find out WHAT that is ABOUT. I think you have something in that it has come from making promises with hope if not with feeling. Or making promises based on what I think should be and not what is. As someone who fails physically to function sporadically in a debilitating manner, who was also raised with a strong moral and work ethic, promises are broken by the disparate natures of those personal aspects. So, yes mitzibel it is my problem. (not being cynical or mean, just accepting your truth for my case anyway)

As I get further into Dostoyevsky's "Notes From The Underground", I get the feeling I am not alone, even if that was published in 1864. I cannot say that was a literary self-portrait, though my feelings say it was. One of the things I find interesting so far is that he sees us as sometimes truly enjoying our woes and pains. Our moral or logical nature says we should care for what ails us and not whimper but our natural side seeks attention, self sympathy, and perhaps some form of penance (albeit a lower more public form of it) for our sins. I have to laugh, that is until I cry about it. But I see it so plainly that I believe it.

Still, I really think I'm a monkey playing with a computer that is my mind, body, and world sometimes. I really don't understand no matter how much I learn. As a fact, the more I learn the more I KNOW I don't know. *sigh* Being truly ignorant does seem like bliss at times. (now that is whining! whoot! hehe)

Chris Rywalt said...

PL sez:
No, what's that about? What's THAT about? REALLY, what's that ABOUT?

I mentioned this discussion to my wife. She said that I say these things -- "I'm not trustworthy" -- because, by admitting that I'm a bad person, that makes me feel superior to all the people who won't admit it. I think this makes me better than people who still have hope.

She may be right. I'm not sure.

Let's just drop this notion of deserved/undeserved suffering. I believe in karma. I believe that what goes around, comes around; I believe that there's a reason for what comes around, no matter whether or not you can perceive it.

I think karma exists also. But the version of karma I work with -- which from my understanding is closer to the Hindu concept -- is that what goes around comes around, but not necessarily -- in fact, not usually -- to the person who instigated it. Karma is not personal. My bad acts don't come back to haunt me. My bad acts create more bad acts in others.

So what's the truth?

I think the truth is there is no truth.

Look, I've had times in my life I'd reached the point where if you asked me how I was feeling I couldn't answer because I couldn't find an "I" anywhere to reply. I've been taken apart -- and I don't think I've ever really been put back together -- by forces far beyond anyone's control. When could find an approximate "I" again it was never the same; I realized there is no truth at my center, there's no core of Who I Am, some indestructible little 21-gram soul which could be said to be me. I'm a fiction. I'm a fiction without the power to write myself.

This is the kind of thing my pain has taught me, and it's the kind of thing I was better off not knowing.

Anonymous said...

Chris says: "I realized there is no truth at my center, there's no core of Who I Am, some indestructible little 21-gram soul which could be said to be me. I'm a fiction. I'm a fiction without the power to write myself."

I am not being glib when I ask, then who wrote that sentence? Who felt all that pain? I am beginning to understand your nihilism and atheism, since if you feel that you do not exist then it is pointless for anything beyond your nonexistence to manifest itself. Most atheists I know find it easier to simply choose not to believe than to be furious with God for the terrible things that have happened to them.

Instead, ask yourself what needs are you serving by being this way? The old Italian is cui bono? Who benefits? What are you gaining or protecting by choosing to believe in nothing? When you find the answer to that, much of your confusion and tension will disappear.

Crom

Anonymous said...

Chris, I know you've written on your blog about depression. Your last post above really reflects a depressed person's point of view. I don't think people who haven't had major depression understand what it's like. So the other people posting here may just not get it. those of us who are/have been depressed don't function the same way that these other people do. It's like we have diabetes and need insulin to survive, and these other people just say, be strong, you don't need that, it's a crutch, because they can't conceive of needing it. Our brains work differently. But you're not alone. Maybe try to network with other depressed people (there must be a blog/chat room, something). Try not to compare yourself to other people. they are not you.

Chris Rywalt said...

Crom sez:
I am not being glib when I ask, then who wrote that sentence? Who felt all that pain?

I know you're not being glib, there, Descartes. All I can say is, how about a well-developed verbal center? Maybe you haven't experienced this, but I happen to have a very well developed verbal center, and I've watched it carry on entire conversations without once accessing any other brain functions. Seriously. I can put together coherent sentences, make arguments, and spout opinions, entirely without actually connecting any of it to anything outside of a tiny part of my brain.

Now you're going to ask, who was watching the verbal center? Other brain modules, of course.

I am beginning to understand your nihilism and atheism...

I am not an atheist. I don't believe in anything in particular, but atheists actively do not believe in something, and that's beyond me, too. I just admit I have no idea if there's a god or gods or not, and I admit I have no idea, if there is, what religion they might be.

...to be furious with God for the terrible things that have happened to them.

In all honesty, if there is a god of some kind, I wouldn't be furious for the things that have happened to me. I've been pretty lucky. I'd be furious about a lot of other stuff, though.

What are you gaining or protecting by choosing to believe in nothing? When you find the answer to that, much of your confusion and tension will disappear.

Certainly an interesting question. Of course I don't generally think about these things in terms of who benefits. I just think about what seems to make sense at the moment. I don't believe, as Objectivists do, that humans only do things out of selfishness.

Chris Rywalt said...

From the Book of Anonymous, Chapter 8, Verse 02:
Chris, I know you've written on your blog about depression. Your last post above really reflects a depressed person's point of view. I don't think people who haven't had major depression understand what it's like. So the other people posting here may just not get it.

I do agree that a) my viewpoint is strongly informed by having been depressed (and still depressed, although not so much at this exact moment) and b) that other people who have not been depressed are unlikely to understand.

This conversation started, really, because Crom, I think it was, said that he'd learned valuable things from his painful experiences. My most painful experience so far has been being clinically depressed, and what I learned from that is the chemistry of my brain can go haywire and cause there to be no "me." Depression takes you apart and leaves you with nothing. Now I'm feeling somewhat better, but I'm still pretty sure I'm just emergent phenomena.

How can that be? If I'm just emergent phenomena, why this skull and not that one? Why do I think I'm me and not someone else?

I really don't know. I don't have answers, only questions and vague hypotheses.

those of us who are/have been depressed don't function the same way that these other people do. It's like we have diabetes and need insulin to survive, and these other people just say, be strong, you don't need that, it's a crutch, because they can't conceive of needing it. Our brains work differently. But you're not alone. Maybe try to network with other depressed people (there must be a blog/chat room, something). Try not to compare yourself to other people. they are not you.

I know they're not me. I don't really compare myself with others. When I say that other people are "lucky," I don't mean "luckier than me." I feel pretty lucky myself, depression and all. Things could be much worse. I'd never want to set my pain up next to someone else's -- pain isn't relative, anyway, but also, my suffering has been minimal, considering. What I mean when I call people "lucky" is many of the people I've met who espouse this "pull yourself up by your bootstraps, bucko" and "what comes around goes around" and "you reap what you sow" have been lucky enough not to have been completely crushed by something over which they have no control. Lucky enough to have had some of the bumps of their lives smoothed out by others. Lucky enough not to discover what a fragile thing their lives really are.

But there are those who maintain their optimism by force of will. I respect those people. I've given it my best shot, and sometimes I manage to be optimistic, but other times I fail.

mitzibel said...

Chris--smooches. Thanks for not taking that the wrong way, as it certainly wasn't intended to be hurtful. You may be a Gloomy Gus, but at least you're not an asshat;)

It sounds like your wife has a fine head on her shoulders, btw---never underestimate the blessing of a kick-ass spouse.

And chemical depression is absolute hell, not to mention the most terrifying thing I've ever experienced--you get to be in a blue-haired Jew's prayers now, don't you feel special?

Chris Rywalt said...

Mitzibel sez:
You may be a Gloomy Gus, but at least you're not an asshat;)

Oh, I don't know, I think I'm an asshat a lot of the time.

It sounds like your wife has a fine head on her shoulders, btw---never underestimate the blessing of a kick-ass spouse.

Eh, she's okay.

you get to be in a blue-haired Jew's prayers now, don't you feel special?

It couldn't hurt. Thanks.