I believe one writes because one has to create a world in which one can live. I could not live in any of the worlds offered to me—the world of my parents, the world of war, the world of politics. I had to create a world of my own, like a climate, like a country, an atmosphere in which I could breathe, reign, and recreate myself when destroyed by living. That, I believe, is the reason for every work of art. – Anaïs Nin
I often wonder if projects like The Used Life represent little more, for me, than a struggle to stay alive. To stay active, present, focused, passionate, and playful in a climate which is more conducive to allowing oneself to be destroyed by living. Otto Rank might agree with that conclusion. An exercise of the will to live. Rollo May, whose work I’ve been reading rather voraciously lately, would perhaps, view it similarly, though he would probably speak in terms of self-awareness, creative consciousness, values, and being. (For those of you who haven’t read my previous post, I’ve been delving into some readings in existential psychology. May’s Man’s Search for Himself spoke rather profoundly to my soul. In a flurry of excitement, I recently ordered a whole pile of his writings from Amazon. I’m still waiting for some of them to arrive. Consider May’s ideas, as I work to improve my understanding of them, a mainstay from this point forward.) Is The Used Life, then, an endeavor in self-preservation, or perpetuation, the re-creation of values, even an act, in some respects, of standing against a culture? Are not all of the artistic projects that make us feel most alive?
To be sure, I am at my most vibrant when I am creating. Creation is pleasure. It is the imbuing of work with life. Those periods of simultaneous forgetting (of the passage of time, of external events, even of one’s own hunger and thirst) and enhanced awareness. The moment has depth, magnitude. It’s no different from what poet Octavio Paz refers to as “presence.” When one turns the present moment into “presence,” one is fully engaged with the rhythms of space and time. Sensually, imaginatively, intellectually, interpersonally. Those of us who feel compelled to, as Rank says, “totalize every act of life” know the pleasure, even ecstasy, of being so alive.
Indeed, I was musing over these ideas yesterday afternoon, while (of all things) getting a pedicure, when I was struck with an observation: This kind of living has a wonderfully erotic quality. (I was also thinking I haven’t written anything sexy in awhile, and I really should get back to that.) It is less the strictly sexual kind and more of a dense, sensual, desirous type. The kind that lusts. The kind that kindles an appetite for experience. A hunger for the totality of being alive. An intense amorousness. This observation was immediately followed by another thought: It wouldn’t be possible to encounter the dimensions of one’s erotic self, one’s sexual self (for women, in particular), without first knowing this kind of aliveness.
Hedonism won’t do it. Pure physicality, absent the desire to imagine and create. It wouldn’t be possible to experience the depth and breadth of erotic pleasure of which one is capable without first being able to experience the fullness of the moment. And it wouldn’t be possible to explore the dimensions of one’s erotic self-awareness (like feeling like a woman, wanting to be wanted, wanting to be submissive, or however you might term those corresponding dimensions within yourself) without first knowing one’s sensuality and creativity in a more fundamental sense. Without being able to smolder.
Write a poem. Go for a walk. Draw something. Discuss ideas that excite you with someone who excites you. Cook a meal from scratch. Listen to music. Dance. Take a bubble bath. Make something with your hands. Immerse yourself in the moments of your life.
It occurs to me that I have been working very diligently and very actively toward this end for a long time, without, perhaps, realizing the significance of what I was doing. Slowly awakening myself over a period of years. Sloughing off routines and bad habits. But, it wasn’t until recently that I felt the need to explore, articulate, and even mold my sexuality and the feminine aspects of my personality, specifically, into a source of strength and values. I’m not sure why that is. I expect it is a reaction to culture. I also expect this activity—this exercise in developing an erotic self-awareness—represents a vocational calling.
Could this be a helpful practice for many women, then? This purposeful development of an erotic self-awareness? I think so. How we understand the components of desire and what stoking those desires means for us physically and emotionally. How we understand the role of pleasure in our lives. The kinds of pleasure that ignite us in different ways. Cultivating the ability to transform the everyday into the lush, the vibrant, and the ecstatic. Understanding the power of possibility and the vastness of the unseen aspects of ourselves. Not only tapping into, but creating, our own hidden luxuries. (The last thing any of us should do is give responsibility for that over to someone else.) When approached with the intention of celebrating oneself, of adding color, dimension, richness, and dignity to one’s life, introspection and self-creation can become a great deal more satisfying and a whole lot sexier.