Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Disgraceful conduct by a Colombia University Professor

Yesterday I watched the live broadcast of a speech that the Iranian President had been invited to give at Colombia University.

At least that's what I tuned in to watch.

What I got was a long verbal assault on the President by a Colombia professor who was supposed to be doing an introduction.

He was rude, inaccurate, cowardly, and did a great disservice to his university and to the good name of American hospitality.

If you think a man is vile, you have every right to say so, but if you invite him as your guest then you should treat him (and the rest of us) with respect. If you can’t do that, then you should be honorable enough not to accept the task of introducing your guest.

For the most part, this professor's actions backfired.

The Iranian President (a man I approached with deep suspicion) came across as reasonable and honorable by comparison to the Professor, who sounded like one of those communist apparatchiks that used to disparage democracy and defend communism.

Can you imagine President Bush trying to cope with similar treatment if he had been invited to address the students at Oxford or perhaps Tehran?

The professor's introduction also colored my response to the questions asked to the President. It is fair enough to ask questions that put a President on the spot but it seemed to me that these questions showed a lack of self-awareness by the (American) students asking them. The questions were valid enough but the implied context was “How can you do this? Why aren’t you like us?” when perhaps the problem is that there are too many similarities between America and Iran.

The President was asked about why he is developing nuclear power, as if such a thing was outrageous, yet America is the only nation ever to have used nuclear weapons and leads the world in their development.

He was asked why he supports terrorists, yet America has long fought proxy wars by sponsoring terrorists including terrorists who have attacked Iran. Without the American people the terrorists in Northern Ireland would have been much less well funded.

He was asked why women are not accorded equal rights with men, yet America has an astonishingly high rate of violence against women and has consistently refused to amend the constitution to grant women equal rights.

He was asked why homosexuals are victimized in Iran. He replied that there are no homosexuals in Iran. This is an answer the Christian Right in America hold dear in their hearts. An answer like that could make be enough to get a man elected to the Senate.

The most interesting question was - why did he want to go to the site of the WTC. He explained that he wanted to pay his respects and looked puzzled that this needed any explanation.

But then the whole event showed that, at least in Columbia University, respect is a concept that is not understood.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Writing beyond what you know – telling old truths in new ways

In art classes, students are often asked to draw the naked human form. The fact that the body is naked makes it a greater challenge than if it were clothed. Clothes are easier to draw and they set the body in a social context: social status, period, personal taste. Clothes would have allowed the students short-hand ways of sending a message via their painting.

The naked body is difficult to draw. We are programmed quickly to spot oddities in the human shape so the artist has take care to get the proportions of the body right or we will be distracted or unconvinced. The artist also needs to decide on what they are doing with this naked body: making a photo-accurate copy? Trying to capture the spirit of the sitter? Drawing attention to particular attributes of the body itself? Making the body into a more abstract statement, a thing of shadow and light that starts from the human form but reaches outwards towards something more spiritual?

I think that, for those of us who are trying to learn to write, the equivalent challenge to drawing the human nude is to write beyond what we know. By doing this, we remove the props that produce easy prose – local colour, stereotypical characters, well established conventions for interaction that we can present without having to analyse.

For those of us who are trying to learn to write erotica, this challenge becomes the challenge to write beyond our own erotic experience. This might be done by writing from a different gender or by writing about a sexual orientation other than your own or by writing about a fetish or kink that you have no experience of.

I’m going to focus on writing about the relationship between dominants and submissives but what I’m about to say could equally apply to any sexual demographic: gay, lesbian, bi, old, age-gap, plushy, necrophile, dog-lover etc.

The first step in this exercise is to put superficial realism to one-side. No one lives life the way it is in books. Books describe only those things in a life that are of use to the story, yet most of us stagger through our days besieged by details and much of the time we only understand what the storyline was after the event. That's why books are so much better than life. It's also why reading (and writing) is ultimately less important than living.

So your task as a writer is to pull out those things in the Dom/sub relationship that make it what it is, to help your readers to identify with that world, to make your characters unique and human and credible, and yet keep the focus on the act(s) of dominance and submission that are the launch-pad for the story.

How do you do this when you have no personal experience of the Dom/sub scene?

Some writers might do this via research. But this is like dressing the nude before you write about it – it doesn’t really help you to get closer to the inner truth of the story.

I suggest that you start with questions that will help you apply your imagination to understanding and conveying what you see when you look at the nude in front of you. Try the following:

Why do Doms behave the way they do in the Dom/sub relationship?

How much control do they have?

How much does being a Dom define who they are?

How successful (or unsuccessful) are they in integrating this into the rest of their lives?

What was their first time like?

What is sex like now?

What is it in this behaviour set that is absolutely essential to satisfying the motivation that drives them to the behaviour?

How has that changed over time and why?

What do they look for in a partner and why?

How do they find it?

What makes them ashamed or afraid?

What would they decline to do?

What makes them proud?

What makes them feel more complete?

Are sex and love cohabitants in this person's life or do they have different addresses?

As you play with these questions and the answers they produce, reach into yourself. Make the story about you even if it is not about your actual experience.

Start of by telling a story about your first time in a Dom/sub relationship. Given that you personally have not spent much time tying someone up and hitting, flogging, pinching, biting, twisting, and waxing them until they cry with pleasure and relief starting at the beginning makes our task easier.

Imagine you've found a woman who you know wants you to be dominant when you have sex. What is the Dom’s reaction?

If he has to stretch his to figure out what is required of him then he’s not going to be a convincing Dom. He is trying to be something he’s not in order to please his lover. This is almost certainly doomed to failure – like most passions, this one is hard to fake. So the challenge of the story will be the gap between will and performance, desire and intent, and the extent to which the participants in the relationship will acknowledge that it and they are failing.

If, on the other hand, the woman’s desire to submit awakens a hidden or suppresses desire or one that has been surfacing for some time but remained unnamed and un-acted upon then how the does the would-be Dom feel? He might feel gleeful and afraid at the same time. It doesn’t matter that fear isn't part of the porno paint-by-numbers BDSM story play book. What matters is whether his anxiety resonates with you and your readers and whether it helps to move the story forward.

So how does our novice Dom get started?

She's waiting. He ties her up because he knows she wants that and because it is expected but he immediately understands that this is a preliminary not the act itself. What urge surfaces in his mind then? What is the thing that he is going to do that he wouldn’t normally let himself do? Hit her? Fist her? Force something into her? Slap her with his cock?

And how does it feel FINALLY to let yourself do that?

What have you learned about yourself?

What have you learned about her?

And what if she liked it and you didn't? Or you did and she didn't?

And so on and so on

The purpose of these questions is to explore the emotional reality of a sexual act.

Graphic, hard-core sexual images are used in erotica for quick warmth, to light the fuse of the story. Emotional realism is what gets beneath the skin of the reader and stays in the mind after the initial heat has subsided.

II recommend the BDSM section of the Treasure Chest of the Erotic Readers and Writers Association as a source for Dom/sub stories that have this kind of emotional realism.

Check it out and see which stories resonate and then ask yourself:

Why do they resonate? Because they sound real? Because you'd like them to be real? Because the confluence of restraint and release, desire and fear, dominance and submission, pain and pleasure captures the existential defiance inherent in a sexual act that, for a while at least, stems the entropic tide of universal decay? Or because it gets you from hard to soft in the shortest possible time?

What are the writers paying attention to? The mechanics of this toy and that knot? The gynecological detail? The taboos being broken? The slap of leather on Willow (or whatever her name is)? The nature of the relationship between D and s?

In one way or another, most of these writers are trying to get beyond threadbare formulas and pantomime characters to an emotional reality that drives the behaviour of the people in their stories.

And therein lies the challenge of writing beyond what you know: the opportunity to tell old truths in new ways.

Writing beyond what you know lets you step out of your skin and into someone-else’s.

If you can do that successfully, then there is a strong likelihood that your readers can follow your footsteps.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Gog, Magog and President Bush – how Europe sees American fundamentalism

This picture of President Bush (extended to show the hands of the President and the solider behind him folded in prayer) appeared today in “Le Matin Dimanche” (A French language Swiss Sunday paper)

To understand the impact of the picture, you have to bear in mind that Europe is a much more secular place than the US. To give an example, it is illegal in France to wear anything at school that indicates religious affiliation, be it a Christian cross or a Muslim headscarf.

You would never see a European President praying with the troops (although you will see them with heads bowed on 11th November, the day that commemorates the end of World War I). The Europeans do not have Christian armies. They do not assume that God is one their side.

So this picture of the Commander in Chief of the US Armed Forces and Head of State, at prayer with Christian troops on the soil of a largely Muslim (though under Saddam a secular) State, was chosen for its shock value. It is meant to portray Bush as leading the US in a Holy War against Islam

I was ready to write that off to French xenophobia and move on when the title of the article caught my eye: “When President George W. bush saw the prophesies of the Bible coming to pass” is a rough translation from the French. The full article is available in French here.

The article arises from Professor Thomas Römer of Lausanne University. In 2003 he received a call from the staff of Jacque Chirac, then the French President, asking for information on Biblical prophecies associated with Gog and Magog. It seems that, when President Bush called President Chirac to ask for his support in invading Iraq, he positioned this initiative in the context of being on the right side in the long-prophesied war between Gog and Magog.

Those of you who have not read Ezekiel 38 and 39 recently may need reminding, as Chirac clearly did, that the war between Gog and Magog will take place in Israel. God, of course, will be on the side of the Israelis. The (probably Muslim) enemies of Israel will be lead by the anti-Christ.

It seems President Bush sincerely felt that he could persuade President Chirac to be on the right side by portraying the events then unfolding in Iraq as the start of the Gog Magog war.

In this context, it is hardly surprising that Chircac felt that having America as an ally in a holy war, lead by a President who took his foreign policy from Biblical prophets wasn’t the right course for France, where only about 30% of people claim any sort of religious affiliation and many of those are Muslim.

If this situation were not so frightening, it would be funny. Can you imaging the Chief of Staff meeting where the General and Admirals, and Commanders are asking “So tell me again, are we Gog or Magog and which one has the weapons of mass destruction?”

The pop charts in Switzerland are based on air-play time. The number 2 song in the charts is Pink’s “Dear Mr. President”. If you’re not familiar with the lyrics go here.

It worries me that American politicians, including those now standing for election, have no understanding of how they are characterised in Europe, which increasingly finds itself in the middle between two sets of heavily armed religious fundamentalists, the Muslims and the Jews to the East and the American Christians in the West.