Conversations May 24, 2010

Monday, May 24, 2010

6 AM. All right, Papa, here we go again. Should I ask one of my friends’ questions, or do you have a preferred topic?

You are pretty tired to be doing this.

Yes, I know, but I don’t want to leave the momentum of it.

That’s good. The habits of work will bring you farther than any other single thing in your life. But you could give yourself a day off, if you remember what I was saying.

Skipped Wednesday. I think I’m good to carry on, at least for a while.

Then let’s talk about men and women, as your friend asked. You want to put his question in here, as it is the specific nudge, the loosening of the rock to start this particular landslide, if that’s what it turns out to be.

Michael said: “Can you ask him what are some major emotional and spiritual differences he noticed between women and men now that he has passed, compared to his worldly view.” That’s the first part of it.

He is asking, how much of what I thought in life has turned out to be just wrong, now that I have a larger perspective.

That’s the sense of it I got, yes. I’m sure it has you smiling.

Those are pretty broad brushes. Major emotional and spiritual differences. I don’t think the question can be answered in the form he has asked it. What makes him (or anybody) think there is only one kind of woman or one kind of man? And what would make anyone think that broad generalities could be applied to either one, as such?

I mean, when you cross over you realize those things that were part of you while you were in the body that didn’t manifest directly. You are half your father’s genetic makeup and half your mother’s — but each of them was half and half too, after all. The main differences between men and women are physical and social, not so much emotional and spiritual. So really, as far as I can see, it’s a question of how much anybody’s society teaches him — or her — about the rules he or she should play.

Let me try to narrow that down.

On the spiritual side, do you think there are two strands of spiritual inheritance, male and female? And if there were, do you think anyone could inherit only the one parent’s inheritance and not the other’s? And if the “you” that comes into the world, and takes up a body and an identity, has previously had lives in which the opposite sex was experienced, do you suppose that that experience goes into abeyance until the life is over? No, if there is a gender-based reason for differences in spirituality, it is beyond me how it could be expressed, or what its function would be.

And, since we just said that everybody inherits from father and mother, each of whom inherited from father and mother, and on back forever, how likely is it that there would be emotional differences based in sex? Except, of course, there are — but let’s take a look at the situation before we jump to conclusions.

A woman’s life is affected by the hormonal changes that dictate the body’s rhythms. Estrogen and testosterone produced different environments for the two sexes to live in. But everybody who has lived in the world knows effeminate men and masculine women. In other words, proportions very. It ought to be obvious, once said. And besides — what of boys and girls? Even when they are children with none of the chemicals of adolescence running through them, they behave differently, think differently, are interested in different things, and act (usually) pretty predictably as representatives of one sex rather than the other. So it isn’t just a matter of chemicals.

I don’t even think it is a matter of society’s expectations, particularly. Yes, any society will channel the differences into what it considers gender-appropriate roles, to the extent that it can, and the more rigid the roles, the more you’ll have people like Gertrude Stein, exaggerating their non-compliance. But the fact that it has to channel the difference shows that there is something to channel! Your society has been loosening the rules and changing the expectations to such an extent, in such a short time (as a society goes) that you now have several countries with different unspoken rules. Has that, or any of it, eliminated the difference between men and women? Do you think it is likely to?

I think if you will look at my writing — or Michael will — you will find that I didn’t write so much about how women were as about how men lived or tried to live with women, and that isn’t quite the same thing. To show how hard a man can find it to live with a woman — how disruptive to his own idea of his life she can be — is not the same thing as saying that it is the woman’s fault. Of course the man is going to experience it that way. Women experience living with men as just as exasperating.

Men and women also experience each other as divinity in bodies, and not just for the sex act but in the very same interactions that drive them crazy. You have to remember that, when you try to do some thinking on the subject. That phenomenal attraction, that periodic repulsion, it all goes on regardless of anybody’s conscious intent. Then you add conscious personalities to it! Of course it’s going to be difficult.

Look at it in layers. At the most basic is the physical conditioning for male or female mammals. You don’t have anything to say about that. What you draw is what you get, as I used to say.

On top of that is your specific physical inheritance. Your ancestors, living in you.

On top of that, the rules and clues your family lays down, the ideas you absorb about who you are and how the world works.

Then society itself, with what you might call the petrified expectations of millions of people. It all has weight, and even if you move somewhere else, you were shaped by what shaped you. The rest is your attempt at re-shaping.

Not much room, after all this, to talk about major emotional and spiritual differences between men and women! You have to add so many qualifiers and “yes, but” statements that you wind up not saying very much.

The same with his second question, which is really about his own situation specifically. If he will expand his view to several women he has been closely connected to, he’ll see easily enough that generalizations about differences between the way men work and women work are likely to fall down as soon as you get more than one example of each!

Now, what we could talk about more profitably is men and women trying to live with and without each other. That, I wrote about a lot. And I certainly experienced it.

Of course, first there’s the sex drive, and it does drive! It drives through everything. And the funny thing is, I don’t think anybody really knows what it’s about. I mean, when you think about it, don’t think in generalities, which will be pretty useless, and not in stories about other people, which will be second-hand invitations to generalization. Think in terms of your own experiences, and not in terms of what he or she did, sit, etc., but in terms of how you felt. Who was the “you” who was so head-over-heels in love, and where did that person go when you weren’t any more?

What was the basis for that obsession to have sex with somebody, and where did it go? Yes, of course there’s the physical explanation, but — what is it? Elk experience the same thing. Dogs, cats, you name it. They may be monogamous or not, domestic in nature or not, herd animals or solitaries, it doesn’t matter — they all have that instinct. Why? Or rather, how? We know what it’s there for. It preserves life in bodies. But isn’t it strange when you actually look at it?

And I am not talking about the sex act itself, either. You know that Dr. Johnson said “the expense is damnable, the pleasure fleeting, the position ridiculous” — but the fact didn’t slow him down any. It couldn’t. Those were just intellectual judgments; they didn’t weigh anything against that drive.

Think of how sex drives you, and how strange it is when you come to look at it. Sure it’s pleasure, but there are so many pleasures in the world! Sure, it leads to children and families and the continuation of the world — but once somebody has done his duty by the race, he doesn’t just lose interest.

Don’t you think it’s something a little bit stranger than just physical attraction? (And what’s physical attraction’s basis, for that matter? Why does one set of characteristics attract and another set leave you cold when for somebody else it would be the other way around? It isn’t like there’s some absolute scale of beauty or attractiveness — except individually, one by one. Each person brings his own set of scales.)

I have said for years that sex is a matter of energy more than a physical bodies alone. I feel the attraction not to a body part but to some emanation of energy that I can’t describe. It isn’t as simple as Rub A Against Slot B, or whatever.

Maybe not in your experience. It certainly can be. And there, in the question of sex without acquaintance, is another whole subject.

Maybe another time.

Oh, I wasn’t going to talk about that now. For one thing, we’re running out of time before you will have to stop for a while. And there’s something else I want to say anyway. The whole point of talking about sex as sex is merely to demonstrate that it isn’t there that the problems between men and women arise.

Bad pun.

Thank you. Sex between a man and a woman can be good or bad or in between, and of course it’s going to fluctuate as they fluctuate day by day. It isn’t the thing that causes trouble; it’s the thing that shows trouble.

It’s a barometer.

Pretty damn good one, too. If the sex is no good, there’s something wrong with the relationship. If the sex is great — and the relationship isn’t just about sex, because of course some are — then things are probably pretty good elsewhere.

But

Papa, I’m sorry, but I’m pretty worn out. It’s 7:30 and we’ve been going an hour and a half. I hope you can hold that thought till we come back.

Sure, why not? Tell your friend he started a good topic here, one we could explore for quite a while and never get to the end of — and never get much agreement about, either.

Okay. Thanks for all this.

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