Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Books: A Sport and A Pastime by James Salter 3

"As for Anne-Marie, she lives in Troyes now, or did. She is married, I suppose there are children. They walk together on Sundays, the sunlight falling upon them. They visit friends, talk, go home in the evenings, deep in the life we all agree is so greatly to be desired."

Yes. This is it. Not how it is done, the positions, the fact that she is taken from behind, the anal sex, the descriptions of fucking. None of that matters when it is all eclipsed by the final line. Her marriage is a kind of defeat when placed here like a quickly scrawled shopping list. All that has gone before is now lost and we feel the regret of its passing.

Holly, my holly has this in her future if we are to believe the stories of great loves. Cinderella, Romeo and Juliet, Mr Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet. All destined for some compromise that involves day after day of what is called love. How can I be so cynical? Sometimes it is ok. Sometimes it is the best of things. I lie every night in the same bed on the same side and, in that moment before sleep, I stretch my hand out and touch skin that it is so familiar that it might be my own. In that nightly touch I hold all my fears of loss, memories of night terrors, memories of sex and sensuality and love. So much in just one stroke of a finger, but most times it is enough. I do agree that this life is desired. I don't take it for granted. Still I struggle to find the flight across france, the night after night of new adventures, the love that drowns us both. That is a more short term proposition, that kind of relentless passion. It is another side of my life, a challenge that I can rise to if I am cut loose. In that nightly caress I carry my regret as well as my gratefulness. I carry all of the Salter, the middle and the ending. I am at the end I suppose. Which is why, perhaps, I am always so sad.

Friday, February 17, 2012


Words on the page are resisting my advances. I only want to look at her, describe her. Let me do it here, while you are watching. Perhaps that will make it easier.

She raises herself up in front of the mirror. The pillows are arranged as Salter has described, a mountain of them piled one on top of the other, white, unblemished. Perhaps the oils from her skin will ruin them when she settles her stomach on top of the unseemly pile. They smell of her cheek already. They smell of her hair, the faint sweetness of shampoo, the mushroomy smell of sleep. In this position she can see the globes of her rump, fruit, perfectly pale and round. The surface of the skin is unbroken, but when she parts her legs a little there is a little glimpse of the core. One cunt of course, not two. Her dreams are still with her, making her lift her arse a little, pull the thighs a little wider apart. There is hair there, dark curls of it and in the little thicket a fissure, the comparative size and shape of a peach pit. It almost looks edible. She strains her neck to look. Her head is pointing downward, the blood rushing to her eyes making her a bit dizzy. She reaches back to touch it, this seed, this core and finds of course that it is nothing but an illusion. Not a seed at all, but the space where a seed might go, an almond of space, warm, but not yet damp.

She traces the lips, full circle. If she were a man she would be able to step up to the foot of the bed and press her cock against it. She would need to aim it with her hands, but surely it would just slip in as cocks do in Anais Nin, and yes, eventually, after great descriptions of a train journey, a country stroll, a party, as Salter's cock slips in or, perhaps the cock of the narrater's friend. Now there is some life. Now a little glisten. She dips her finger into the almond hole and finds the moisture, draws the circle around the lips, painting them with it as one might paint gloss on a mouth. Above the lips is the cleft, and in this cleft - she glances at the locked door - another seed, a tiny seed like the embryo of an apple, something so small and yet a repetition of that larger space. A little tight shut hole. She touches this too with her finger. Still damp. She bounces it against the tightest resistance.

Holly rolls off the mountain of pillow and watches the shy curl of her body, the breasts protected by the prick of elbows, no nipples visible for the greedy gaze of the mirror. The girls of the Delta of Venus would touch themselves. They would rub their fingers against their flesh. Heat spreads like a fire. Resolutions burn like cloth.

Not yet. She will not touch. Not yet, at least. She presses her fist against her heart and feels that it is quickly beating.

Downstairs the sound of a door. The sound of voices. Her parents home at last. She pulls the sheet up over her flesh and a mummy fresh from a sarcophagus stares back at her in the mirror with large, startled eyes.

The Books: in general

When I was a child I learned to copy. The great artists first, Magritte, da Vinci, Turner. Each brush stroke, a sense of symmetry. There was none of myself in it and yet, in the end, the things I chose to copy were all me. Things crawling out of darkness. Light from a single source, a vague expression as if the subject were momentarily distracted, caught out at a transition between one state and the next. This repositioning of the great erotic texts reminds me of that room, smelling of oil pain and turps, my board spread with crimson, my brushes face down, clotted with paint. It is a thing that must be done carefully. The choice must reflect me in some way. Kawabata, Batailles and Salter are the best of it because, like the paintings they all climb gently into the light from some place darker than the real world.

Reading is a part of this writing process. I read, distracted, sad, furious. If it weren't for this book I would sink into the oblivion of happiness dispensed day by day until I am content. I dream of bridges. I speak of them at breakfast and the others stop, warily, watching me like an unexploded bomb from a different time.

I will walk to the bridge again. I will take my book, the Salter. I am afraid of what I will have to read next. The Cleland may make me take the plummet. The Gemmel will send me out under a bus.

I am too tired of it. I want the shock of obliteration which might wake me from the darkness, a sudden single source of light. My nose is full of linseed oil. I open my mouth to the acid sting of turps. My mouth is full of ulcers. My gums receed. I can't stop till Irene's Cunt but I am tired now. And there is nothing to be done about it.

The Books: A Sport and A Pastime by James Salter 2

"Some things, as I say, I saw, some discovered, and some dreamed, and I can no longer differentiate between them. But my dreams are as important as anything I acquired by stealth. More important, because they are the intuitive in its purest state. Without them, facts are no more than a kind of debris, unstrung, like beads. The dreams are as true and manifest as the iron fences of France flashing black in the rain. More true perhaps. They are the skeleton of all reality."

James Salter.You describe that place between our life, the world, our literature. Somewhere there is the sweet spot where something experienced meets dream and a fuller truth is born because of it. I wrote a story once about a sister. Somehow it speaks more of the truth of that relationship than any memoir. It is the dream mixed with the facts that flush me out, the real me, the me that you might train a gun on and kill more easily than flesh and blood. Perhaps this is what is missing from my story, that heady mix.

I stop the bus. She exits. I walk with her up towards the bridge. She tugs my arm and I stop beside her. My story isn't done. She tells me and I nod. You are nothing. You are smoke. You are pretty glints on the river that disappear as soon as you take a step and change the refraction of the light. I could be you. She says this. I could be part of you, your skeleton.

I turn back towards the bus stop. I feel the sights, all those French country guns trained on us. The curvature of my spine, the pain in my hip, the crack in my back. She steps me surely away from the surety of death and into the line of fire. She slips my hand into Salter's and together we smell the sweet hint of gas.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Books: A Sport and A Pastime by James Salter

Ah Mr Salter. We have you to remind us of foreplay. I sink into the first chapter and you are whispering in my ear. Now you slip your tongue in and I flinch but it is gone again as quickly. Your words make my eyelids heavy. Your light scattered like confetti after a parade is a knee in between mine, slowly parting my legs sentence by sentence. We are barely at page fifty and the women are all gorgeous in their plainness, little socks, aging skin, thin with agitation of big and generous. I ease into the beauty of normalcy in your hands. Nothing is extraordinary and yet under your touch it becomes so.

I have not yet got to the sex. So far it is all about the build up. Page fifty and no sex yet. What if I were to make my sex book in your image? Would my readers shrug and put it down and walk quickly away? You make it difficult for us, clutching at but never quite knowing where we are. Your country slips easily into a city street, your isolation becomes a sudden party. I must have my wits about you to come with you on this journey. I grab for a pen, underline. It is there in each combination of words. I am penetrated by the ideas, the language. Teach me. Salter. Take my hand. Teach me.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Kawabata and self loathing

I am on a roll reading Kawabata. House of the Sleeping Beauties, Beauty and Sadness. I am now simultaneously devouring Snow Country and Thousand Cranes (due only to a handbag/book issue) and each new book is similarly exquisite and I become more and more hideous in my reading of them. In Thousand Cranes - and I am just beginning on this slim but potent journey - a woman has a birthmark that blemishes one breast. The birthmark is the blemish that makes her both monstrous and perhaps more desirable. The single flaw in such a beauty creates a kind of mystique. All other women are exquisite. This is what I have found in Kawabata. The women are so fragile and perfect to view. Perhaps they are misguided, or wicked or even violent, but their physicality is always enough to stop breath.

I have cut my hair. I have cut it short as a boy. It teeters between cute and frumpy, this new cut. It makes me see my mother in the mirror, my mother who kept a wig on her dressing table. The wig was exactly the same cut as her own hair. I never understood why she had that wig. A different style perhaps, a different colour, but when she slipped it on there was no discernible difference. I am afraid that I have had my hair cut in the very same style, the style of my mother when she was my age, the style of that perplexing wig. My hair is not long and lustrous like the women in the Kawabata novels. My skin is not pale porcelain. Men do not leap off cliffs for me. No one takes a second look when I pass through the room.

I have sprained my neck and I hold my head up with difficulty, tilted imperceptibly to the side. I fall into a sudden email driven fight with a really influential author. I try to read something I have written out aloud and burst into tears, unable to continue to the end.

I am addicted to the Kawabata. nothing I read outside of his work can touch me at the moment but I am afraid that I am plunging into him in order to justify how bad I feel about myself. His perfection is the perfect companion to this pit of self loathing I am drowning in. This is how I sometimes am in love, desperate for someone's bad opinion of me to match my own. Someone maybe should wrestle these books out of my hands. I have picked up Vox again, and I love Nicholson Baker and I see the cleverness but cannot respond. I think I need this moment of self derision at this stage. If I am still reading Kawabata in a month, come find me. Rescue me.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

The Books: Beauty and Sadness by Yasunari Kawabata

I tried to move on to something with more sex. I am supposed to be ploughing through the classic sex books after all. I did download Nabakov's Ada and Ador onto my iPhone, an audio version because reading the print copy was doing my head in. The reader was a little better at the Russian words than I had been , but even an hour in to the reading I still had no idea which character was which.

So, despite the pile of books mounting on my table, I reached for another Kawabata. I am certain that House of the Sleeping Beauties will be the book I turn to in the end, but just to be sure I picked up Beauty and Sadness.

Now, then I feel sad. Very sad. And not particularly beautiful. In fact I am more aware now of my failings. My breasts, my trump card, are not such a picture card after all. I sat with a pretty girl over lunch. Sweet, young, fresh-faced. She is thin. So thin that her breasts sit out on her chest amazingly well defined. In the mirror, at home I look at my own ample chest and here, in the shadow of Kawabata and his idealised Otoko, the young girl of sixteen, I realise that the bulk of my breasts are fat deposits. They sit on my barrel chest in a rather matronly manner.

The blurb on the back of the book says that this book has a 'heart-breaking sensitivity to those things lost forever'. I have now lost my youth. I wrestle with this but I know it is true now. I could say that I have lost my beauty but in truth I never was a great beauty at all. The women in Kawabata's books are all so beautiful to look at. They all have porcelain skin and pretty faces and fragile beauty. I sat beside the young girl at lunch and she was not what I would call a true beauty but she was pretty enough, and thin and young and it seems these things are still important enough to make me sink into a sadness so deep that I cannot struggle out of it to see the world clearly.

Beauty then, and sadness.

I should put this book down now and settle into some bawdy romp. I feel most at home in the glare of unbridled sexuality. But I just can't shake it, the sadness that spills over from my relationship to beauty is overwhelming.

This is seeping into my book. I know I said I would write something uplifting, empowering, sexy, fun. But this is the true thing, the theme of my middle-aged years. This loss of any chance I might have had to rectify my lack of beauty.

Sometimes I long to be horribly scarred, so damaged that it is hard for anyone to look at me. Then with their eyes averted I will be free from this terrible relationship I have with my own skin. Oh Kawabata how did you manage to shake me into this terrible beautyless melancholy and when will I stop, suddenly, erratically bursting into tears?

Friday, February 3, 2012

The Books: The House of the Sleeping Beauties

I am getting older. Even when you are in your twenties every day marches you closer to the grave, but now I am at that actual point when you are aware of your mortality more physically. I have thickened. My skin is less elastic. My metabolism has slowed to a standstill. My hair is limp. My eyes do not shine any more. I worry about my ability to enjoy sex, not that it is waning at the moment, but that the idea that it may one day lesson is troubling to me more and more. I am overlooked. I feel judged. I was asked once if my friend who is a handful of years younger than I am was my daughter. My image of myself does not match up to the body I am living in.

All this is with me every day. So then I read the novella by Yusinari Kawabata and I feel it like a slim plain dagger sliding straight into my heart.

I am not yet 67 as his protagonist is. I am not desiring the body of a teenager to hold and touch in my bed, but I do desire men and women in their twenties. I do still feel the sheer physical pleasure of touching an arm that is soft and buttery with youth.

This book has touched me more than most. I have always felt a sympathy for Roth and Marquez as they wrestle with masculine aging and its effects on desire. Where are the stories of women at the same moment in our lives? Our invisibility? Our inability to find desire in the gaze of others, even our own partners turn away from us at some point, showing us with their limp penises and their regretful gaze that they no longer feel a stirring when they touch our tired and inelastic flesh.

I put this book aside, refusing to re-shelve it. I will come back to Kawabata. I have other sex books to pursue but I will come back to you. You still hold a dagger in my heart and I am bleeding.

The Books: Delta of Venus

Firstly I must thank you Ms Nin. You gave my my first hands-free orgasm. It was on a bus to school. The book was borrowed, a secret and guilty pleasure. I know the section that sent me over. It involved Leila and Bijoux and a huge rubber dildo. Then the Basque entered the scene and the image of his erect cock battling agains the rubber one was the moment of my undoing. I speak to other people about it and I find that I am not alone. A friend snuck a copy of this book into his grandfather's study. Even now, years later he remembers the man who played with the little girls, putting his finger up under the sheet and watching them giggle and grab for it. He replaced his finger with his penis with inevitable results.

Yes. You Ms Nin, are sometimes the touchstone for our reading about sex. You were also one of the first women to write it so explicity in the English language. Whatever I read of yours is coloured by this fact. You were the first in so many ways and I have a certain nostalgia for you. I cannot pick up The Delta of Venus without bringing my own relationship to you into the book. In the cold light of a new reading you are perhaps a little repetitive, perhaps too romantic in your approach to sex. Your views on lesbian sex are odd. You do not seem to think that this is the real thing, actual sex, but just a game that mimics sex, and yet your lesbians in bed together are extremely sexy.

Your gender roles are too clearly defined for my more mature tastes, and yet I still long for your pure kind of femininity. I still like to dress up, to paint my face, to feel like I am being adored and cared for. Perhaps I got this trait from you in the beginning, on the bus. That first completely spontaneous erruption. Your words touched me like hands and, mixed with the rumble of the bus, the scent of teenagers sweaty and ripe, the whole illicit juiciness of the moment sent me over. I have tried to repeat that ever since and have managed it only a few times.

I finish your book again and I must admit I did not touch myself once for the duration. I also did not come whilst reading your book this time. Perhaps you are no longer to my taste, but I still admire you. I play a video of you speaking about your diaries. You are old but gorgeous and so careful with your words. I would like to have had sex with you, yes, even as an old lady I would have touched your face and kissed you gently between your parted thighs letting my spit wet you as the juices wet the open cunts of your protagonists. Yes, Ms Nin. I still like you very much.