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Altars

Daylight Saved
Daylight Saved
To spite the dark
In spite of the darkness
There I’ll crave
There I’ll crave
To get to the heart
In spite of the darkness

—Tears for Fears, Sketches of Pain

“To remove such powerful obstacles to truth, we require the instrument that is the subtlest, most powerful, most appropriate for grasping the truth. This instrument is given to us in suffering.”

—Martha Nussbaum

I framed life. I defined the laws of reality through circumstance, choice, and consequence. From this a faith was born.

We each build a prison of Unified Theory. A comforting veneer for the unfathomable complexity. A fireside chair and blanket.

When did you frame the world, reconcile and fence your view with gilded barbwire? What happens when the fire grows cold or roars uncontrolled, when moths or fire’s tongue have eaten the blanket? When the body screams from sitting so long? When the chair betrays, cracks, sends you tumbling?

The Universe isn’t a mystery. It presents itself openly, its unending depth and breadth naked, its truth here, now. We choose not to see it. We choose to kill our wonder. We choose the comfort of limits.

Fear of a frameless view is the fear of possibility. One could lose grip. One could see that they’ve been mistaken about a great many things. One might find lies in precious truths, realize that they’ve invested in myths. One might be misunderstood, judged. One might have to be alone. One might change.

Who chooses to leave their belief unprotected? Who invites uncertainty to dinner, surrenders their flesh and soul on a plate?

This is the hard way, the vulnerable passage. This is the fertile ground.

I’ve spent many years chipping away at my altar of belief, my prison. I acknowledge, forget, catch myself piecing it back together. I measure. Compare. I fall asleep, choose a familiar road. I wake, the defeat heavy.

It’s hard to surrender. But only then can there be flow.

Though my persistence may flounder, it remains. But consistency is predictable, mechanic, imagination’s bane. Creation is not industrious or formulaic, it is chaotic. Wild. It withers in cogs and springs. It dies in chains.

Possibility is what I fight. Potential is what I fight.

I went to Portland and fought some demons.

I’m not sure if it was just shitty timing or synchronicity, but either way conditions were perfect for some emotional surfing. I’ve never visited, so I was popping a geographic cherry. Funny thing is, my fractured origin story forks from here. They were the Devenpecks, from the maternal branch. The details are sparse but apparently they were well-to-do, at least until the siblings blew their inheritance wads and the Roaring Twenties tanked.

The roads in Portland weaved their inspiration from a pile of barfed spaghetti and a bridge fetish. Dampness rules, the ever-wet city simultaneously in a state of decay and birth. Direct sunlight is fickle, allowing shades of grey to infect the hues. Coffee shops, bars, and strip clubs offer a temporary reprieve from every corner. Diversapaloosa walks hand-in-hand with monochromanticism. Tolerance lives as a hug, or at the very least, raised hands with shrugged shoulders.

Maybe it’s dying, maybe it’s thriving. The flux is palpable and somehow it works. It wakes up daily and does what needs to be done. Occasionally it casts some magic. It’s contradictions stand naked, serving punches to the brain. I am in love. It feels like home.

Even before I arrived I could feel a wave’s dark trough coming.

The night before, I dreamed I was in a bar talking to Chuck Palahniuk and he started rubbing my ass. What the fuck was that about? There wasn’t going to be time but I wanted to spend a day at Powell’s. I wanted to shoot the shit with Chuck. I wanted to stalk Strayed and Yuknavitch. I wanted to commune with Issac Brock and sing his doomed lyrics.

Instead, I came to race my bike. And by “race,” I mean an event that is more a masochistic party than serious competition. There shouldn’t be any fun in racing what is essentially a road bike with only one gear on a off-road course comprised entirely of sloppy-wet earth of varying consistency and depth in the cold of December. And yet fun it is. It’s a glorious sufferfest featuring a repeating course of impossible obstacles, acts of debauchery, obscene ridicule, an open bar, and costumes—a perfect metaphor for the inside of my skull.

Pleasure. Pain. Struggle. Repeat.

After, a fellow racer and gracious local offered to be the city’s ambassador for my group. She also happens to be a dominatrix. But I could be entirely mistaken. I felt it would have been rude, possibly threatening, to clarify. Her husband had to work early and was not accompanying our entirely male-lopsided foray.

After some food, she took us to Union Jacks, one of Portland’s oldest strip clubs. I don’t go to strip clubs. It’s uncomfortable. None of it is real. It’s business for the girls, objectification for the guys. Disconnection fills the room. Strip clubs just make me feel more lonely. Too many reflections.

This time I tried to use it as an escape.

Where the mind and heart fail, the body prevails.

A survey of my bare body confesses that I process corporally. It’s written in scars, my phantom suffering anchored in flesh to give it connection, a reason for being. I stopped channeling this pain through my body long ago but the ghost-ache never left. It wants to manifest. It wants to be heard, to speak truth.

Once I asked a woman to tie me up. She was knowledgable about these things, and I wanted to know. She knew a guy who had a dungeon and she went there sometimes. Sometimes the dom, sometimes the sub. She tied my hands together and then to the headboard. She added some prop handcuffs for effect. Each of my legs were tied to a bedpost.

I told her to hit me. She slapped my face and then I said harder. Harder. She bit and scratched. Then I had the urge to resist and pulled at the bindings. She sat on my chest to hold me down but her frame was petite. The bindings gave way and I broke the cheap handcuffs.

So, she hogtied me.

That’s when I started to cry. Not from pain or humiliation, but powerlessness. As open as my writing may be, I still live in a fortress, still cling to myth to protect myself. I had to surrender. She held me and I sobbed. It felt good and I slept deep that night. She said she would bring rope and real handcuffs next time. There was never a next time.

Our ambassador, who by this time I have become silently enamored with, talked about lap dances after we moved away from the chairs at the edge of the stage to a couch. I said I hadn’t had one. This surprised her. “No?” She asked. She said she didn’t ask for lap dances unless there was a particular connection with a dancer. This only made me want her more.

Curiosity of BDSM as an unconventional portal to healing combined with my invisible suffering is a potent mix. I’m aware enough to know that during my bouts of emotional ebbing I’m particularly vulnerable to attachment. When my moon is new, it’s needy. But it’s a lonely ache for that which does not exist. What is unattainable, unrequited, unavailable, unsaid, this is what’s attractive.

I have a denial fetish. I deny possibility, potential. My demon’s name is Denial. It’s all very Freudian.

The dancers pulled some guy on stage for his bachelor party “gift”. There’s nothing about a man being on stage at a strip club that is about his glorification. They made him get on all fours, spanked him, rode him like a pony. Through their smiles I wondered if the dancers found this cathartic. Or was it just more entertainment? Both? Our ambassador made a joke about pegging the bachelor. I said I thought the dancers would have pegged the guy, given the chance.

The dancer I found most attractive stopped and squatted at my feet, unbidden, as I sat on a couch. The way she had worked the tall pole on stage confessed her athletic ability. She wore black rimmed glasses and matching lingerie. Her top hung from each shoulder with a pair of thin straps that crisscrossed her back in a double “x.” She was lean, strong, but not stick-like. Her small waist gave way to wider hips.

“Do you want a personal dance?” She asked. I hesitated. Is this just business, or is she attracted to me too? Would I be a small pleasure, a break from the less desirable facets of her profession? I thought. I wanted to believe that. I wanted to be wanted.

I said yes, curious. You can’t intimately know a thing until you do a thing.

In the private booth she offered some small talk and informed me of the rules. The song started and I sought shelter in the fantasy. Then the song was over. Then she made change for payment.

I was denied my truer needs. Fetish fulfilled.

The next night I sought shelter with an old friend who now lives in Portland. It was a far better choice. She took me to a couple of bars and we caught up. I didn’t say that I was hurting, even though I know she wouldn’t have judged or become uncomfortable. It’s a natural reflex to hide the dark inside even though she is a safe place. It was enough to talk, to connect. To laugh. She said I should move to Portland. Maybe someday.

By the time I returned home, the dark was in full bloom. I had a hard time getting out of bed the next few days. I stayed home, hid. I told myself to surf the wave, that it will pass. It always passes.

A friend died. Christmas came, passed. I wrote letters to people I don’t know, just to get words on a page. The new year brought a sense of beginnings, even though I refuse such cultural constructs.

It’s the Year of the Rooster again. My fourth turning. Perhaps I can perch on that and crow.

Knowledge is only a rumor until it lives in the muscle.
—The Asaro tribe of Indonesia and Papua New Guinea

Photo Credit: Public Domain
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