While I was away, compiling, re-translating, and rewriting my novel No Degrees of Separation (yes, all of those, in interchangeable order), a powerful media mogul was accused by a few of his subordinates of sexually harassing them, and has stepped down as a result. He is 76-years-old. There were also a few other episodes live on TV concerning rape, especially as a widely disseminated practice in our college campuses.
What do you think is going on?
On the first week of my self-imposed break, still under the impact of not writing my weekly chronicles, I started a brief draft entitled “My Personal Experience with Rape,” or something like that.
Rape is a crime. Period. I was never raped.
Yet, I surely had a few unpleasant experiences with sex, ranging from waking up with a stranger in my bed after a night out wasted, to going home with a stranger for feeling lonely on Christmas Eve (I’m Jewish, and we never celebrated Christmas at home), to trying to reap some pleasure having sex with the brother of a guy I was romantically (and unsuccessfully) interested in.
My worse experience ever was with a man I was working with, when I was in my thirties, and single (after my first divorce). He was a sub-celebrity, like they say these days (they actually call it “Z-list,” I just read it in The New York Times), a theater and media personality of sorts; and I was creating the graphic design project for a play he was producing and directing. I made a point of forgetting his name; at any rate, he was much older than me, and chances are that by now he is dead and buried. This man came to my apartment one day to discuss a few details of his project, and when I told him I was feeling tired, he offered me a relaxing massage. I accepted. The next thing I felt was his adventurous, inconvenient finger, unsolicitedly entering my vagina and rubbing my clitoris. Disgusting! I told him to stop and leave immediately. I felt dirty for a week. I refused to work for him ever again.
In 53 years of free love, sex and rock’n’roll, I had never had an orgasm with a man. Which is not news to those of you who had read me a couple of times.
I wonder what is wrong with our society, and with our young women, after all these years of a sexual revolution and a fierce fight for women’s rights.
If I were prompted to give advice, I would tell these girls: “Guys, don’t drink and party on the same night; or, at least, don’t drink yourselves to the point you will lose self-control and don’t know what you’re doing.”
But to my readership’s chagrin, I would go further: Don’t mistake unsolicited sex or sexual advances for rape, since these are fundamentally different acts.
We hear and read and watch such a plethora of sexual messages nowadays that we have lost a proper notion of what sex actually is, and how important it is. So let me repeat it: Sex is the source of life. Nothing more. Nothing less.
And so I spent the last five weeks (that started shortly after the Democratic National Convention) away from the political scene in the United States (and in Brazil as well, for that matter, where, after a long and painful democratic process, Dilma Roussef was finally ousted from office), dealing with a more profound and much more exciting subject: sex and love in the technological era; and also my personal journey from “never coming” to “coming whenever I was prompted to do it,” from “never being loved as I wanted” to “being loved in return as much as I wanted.”
It was a big deal, and it left me wondering about what is important in life.
I have the answer: it is love.
Before I could summon the necessary energy to deal with my 10-year dream of publishing my novel in English, the language in which the original material was written, by the way, I was deeply involved in the “political machinations in the US,” as a friend has described it. To transform this text into literature, I must add, I was forced to initially write the novel in my native Portuguese, facing my shyness and difficulties with written sex, and also to improve my writing skills in English. But I always suspected that, although politics are important, the reason why I was so involved in it, and so worried about it, was because, well, in these first two years in American soil I was actually living a temporary, improvised life, not to mention I was quite frustrated and unhappy with a couple of aspects over which I did not seem to have enough control.
It comes as a delightful coincidence that, as I’m completing my novel’s journey, Alan and I have also been able to deal with the (abundant) initial hardships of building a house on Paris Mountain — “taming the mountain,” as I call it — and are about to pour concrete into our foundations, believe it or not. Sometimes I do. But sometimes I don’t. It all feels like a weird kind of dream in which I watch myself living a life that does not seem to be my own, and yet it is. Which makes me face it with a certain degree of indifference that might as well be protective, and somewhat positive, preventing my anxiety from going over the top. I am presently inclined to stop resisting the old and despised temptation of seeing in everything a sign of something else — a Shamanic tic — and this is the typical case with the realization that love and sex are the pillars and concrete foundations of human life on earth.
Curiously, my personal memoir of written love and sex comes as a testimony of first-time online dating adventures, when a capacity of expressing yourself in writing was crucial to developing deep ties with someone else living on the other side of the planet, a practice which incredibly widened our chances of finding love. Yet, sex turned explicit, plus the meagerness of 140 characters and the ubiquity of cell phones, capable of filming and photographing everything and everybody everywhere, doing anything, transformed this elating erotic exercise into a lamentable sexting, pure poverty of spirit. Culminating, this week, in the final demise of a sub-celebrity made ex-congressman and about to be an ex-husband because of his vulgarity on the cell phone keyboard.
Here is what I have learned: Whatever comes up in our lives and in the lives of those who surround us, we must never lose sight of what truly matters in life. These are things that last, and enlighten us, and make us feel like the precious animals we are, superior, yes, for we are endowed with a brain that thinks (and learns from experience) and an astounding body, capable of incredible feats.
Believe me, we should never ever accept any less than all that.