Tuesday, December 30, 2003

Thanks for your comments, amigos mios. I dunno about trading, Tonio, but I wish I'd been there to split the bottle with you.

You know what's kept me marginally sane? Drawing on napkins at Tosi's. With black ball-point pens. Surprising the range of shade you can get out of ball-points on paper designed to be absorbent.

Sometimes I come in the next day and they've put my napkin in the candy-case, by the cash-register. So I see it when I go to pay.

I can't really draw, not like I imagine CB can. But I can dash off a bold cartoon and then crosshatch it to death, till it looks like an old woodcut. Day before yesterday I drew a stylized sun and moon tangled in the branches of a tree, with huge drops of water coiling around them. Beside it I lettered "THE SUN. AND THE MOON. AND ALL THIRSTY THINGS. LOOK TO THE TREE. AND THE TREE LOOKS TO YOU. O MY FRIEND. I liked it so much that I was tempted to take it home rather than leave it on the table. I have no idea what I meant by the words.

Coming back from the bathroom I saw that j had come in with her mother and her daughter. She introduced her mother, and we chatted a little. I said "Just a second: I've got a napkin for you." Trotted over and got my tree and gave it to j. "I knew I was drawing this for someone: it must have been you."

J's daughter is an enchanting ten-year-old half-Nepali, with great intense dark eyes, and she was examining the drawing very seriously as I left. A twinge of conscience. I don't know what the message means that I delivered to them.

Tomorrow we go down to Eugene to do the last of our three Christmases. So I really must get some sleep. 3:15 in the morning. All's quiet but the whine of the computer fan and the occasional faint rasp of the disk drive.

Good night. Il buon tempo verra.

Monday, December 29, 2003

Waking from a nightmare. That's what it's like. I've always hated vacations, for many reasons. For one thing, I'm a reclusive creature of habit, and cafes close, traffic patterns alter, crowds surge in places I like to be alone in. I feel exposed, unsafe. And then I have to go to alien houses where I feel thoroughly unapproved of, or -- worse -- approved of for reasons that have nothing whatsoever to do with me. Approved of because of the university I went to, because of the company I work for.

Terrified by my own lovelessness. Why don't I love these people? All I desire, devoutly, is to escape them. Yet these are the people who nurtured me, fed me, cleaned me, taught me. Or who did the same to Martha. But I find no trace of gratitude in myself. Only the panicky desperation of one plunging for the lifeboats, or trampling people underfoot in my rush to the firedoors.

I lounge in chairs, smile amiably, eat cheese-squares and cashews. I'm silent. I wait. I open packages, presents to me and mine, a feast of unwanted objects that my house will slowly and uncomfortably digest over the coming weeks.

I think the worst thing about vacations, though, is that I'm supposed to enjoy them, and they're supposedly for me. They're not for me. They're the time when the parasites close in to eat my flesh.

And yet the vacations are for me, and that's part of what makes me so unhappy. I focus on myself. What can I do today that will make me happy? What can I do today to avoid unhappiness? That's all I think about. No wonder I'm miserable.

There are people for whom "living for others" is itself a trap, a snare of ego. But for me it's a wildly liberating notion. To think, "I don't have to pour my efforts into making myself feel good. I don't have to endlessly plan and orchestrate my next pleasure." For among the ironies of the season is that there is almost no relationship between the effort I put into procuring my happiness and what happiness I obtain; and such relationship as there is is largely inverse. What finally makes all this focus on my own well-being so absurd is that it doesn't even work.

So I painfully climb out of this hole. Moria gave me a lovely book by Richard Holmes, a sort of autobiography of a biographer -- Footsteps, I think it's called. He's the man who wrote that extraordinary biography of Shelley, The Pursuit. For better and worse, Shelley's life is the vivid illustration and exageration of my own. Except that I have lived too long. Shelley was fifteen years drowned by the time he was my age.

Monday, December 22, 2003

Paula, you asked, "what is right speech?"

Sigh. I don't know. What the hell is right speech? "Chatter like a parrot, cry like an ape"...

You come as close of any us. Closer. But maybe we should all just shut up. "The droning of a bee in an empty cell."

I've just been having a long difficult exchange with someone who doesn't seem able to hear me at all. I guess I don't fit any of her categories. I quote Paul and she takes me for a conservative Christian; I suggest that happily married life may not be significantly happier than unmarried life and she takes me for someone who doesn't believe that love, faith, or devotion exist ever, anywhere. (At more or less the same time -- that would be a pathological person indeed! Of course, there are psychopaths wandering about the web. Maybe I'm one of them.)

The frightening thing, of course, is that I wonder: is all conversation like this? Is the only difference here that the fit is wrong, so that we're not reassuring each other with responses that jive nicely with what we expect? Does anyone ever hear anyone? Does anyone ever say anything?

Perhaps I'm just finally entering the old Christmas-time depression. (It's late this year, after all.) Martha cut out a cartoon to put on the fridge: a scene of Christmas preparations -- wrapping paper, Christmas lights, and so on. A man opening a card that reads "Season's Greetings!" and has the face of "The Scream" on it. The man's remarking to his wife, "I think the Hendersons are starting to crack." I think maybe Dale's starting to crack.

Christmas and the 4th of July are the times of alienation, for me. Time to withdraw and brood, capitulate to everything compulsive, and wait, with what hope I can muster, for life to begin again. Tall whispering invisible figures stalk the streets, gloating and muttering; all the strength goes out of my hands; pools of insects are endlessly hatching at the periphery of my sight. I am feeble, swollen, and old.

And self-dramatizing. Enough. I'm tired, hungry, and lonely, that's all.

"Muddah faddah kindly disregard this leddah."

Love to you all, dear ones. I'm off to the Greek diner -- bright lights, loud waitresses, greasy food, the rattle and clink of dishes, the shouts of Tosi and his son Jimmy.

"Did you order those sausages? The sausages. Did you order them? We were almost out yesterday. You got to order them, sausages. We're almost out!" -- "the sausages?" -- "Yes, the sausages! We're almost out!" -- "No, I didn't order the sausages. We're almost out? You sure?" -- "Yeah, take a look, we're almost out, that's what I'm saying!"

That'll cure what ails me.

Friday, December 19, 2003

More Blogging about Blogging

Alex writes about the perils of blogging: "I started to keep track of how often I was thinking about blogging. It was a little worrisome. I would think about things before I did them, in the context of writing about them. I was scripting my life as the Alex Show."

And I feel a bit like old Rostov, when Natasha implored him to dump all his Moscow furniture and fill his wagons with wounded soldiers instead. Yes, these are in fact the values we've been trying to instill in the young, but... we don't want them coming back at us quite so directly as all that. As St Augustine said, "Lord, take away my sins... but not yet!"

But I think on this one I'll take the tantric route (make the tantric excuse? You pays your money and you takes your choice) -- instead of going around the swamp, wading right into it and kissing the leeches. I've been learning an awful lot by this round of exposure. For one thing I've identified what I'm now thinking of as my single basic obscuration, which seems to roll through my life in cycles: a building of loneliness, and then a lunge toward intimacy involving some exposure; following that a period of anxious observation to see how that exposure's received. There follows a short quiet period of withdrawal... and then I'm back at the begining of the cycle again.

But, as I wrote to Alex, what I can't afford to do, is let blogging -- or anything else -- consume the time and energy I need to devote to meditation. I need to hoard that jealously, and defend it like the wrathful Vajrapani, wrapped in fire, three eyes bulging, vajra in hand.

Thursday, December 18, 2003

Blogging about blogging

Now, the coolest thing about the Site Meter report (if you're too cheap to get the premium version, anyway) is its time zone graph. It delights me that I have a (proportionally) sizeable Japanese and Dutch readership. (I'm perplexed tho about how it evaluates its data. It generally shows a little bar for the time zone that runs through Iceland, for example, but I've never seen an Icelandic time zone in any of the detail reports. Not that I've gone through them systematically. But do I really have an Icelandic reader? If so, welcome!) And every once in awhile the time zone graph registers someone in Western China or Tibet, which also delights me. Of course it might well be a Chinese censor-bot or something, drawn by my Tibetan references. But even so, the graphic representation of my words floating around the world gives me a little frisson of egotistic delight, every time, especially when I think of all those people writing stuff that further people all over the globe read, and so on.

Tonio's come up with what looks like a very clever way of making comments optional. Which brings me to comments. Are they a good idea? Yes and no. It's intriguing to see what will elicit comment (sex is the big front-runner. We're shocked, shocked). And it's wonderful to hear from people. But certainly I start angling for comments, which is either a curse or a very mixed blessing. And then the discovery that qB was reading paralyzed me for a day, since I discovered in myself an intense desire to win her approval. Someone who writes such lovely prose, and who also wears the apotheosis of pointy boots, and is English -- cf. Colin in Milwaukee -- I was utterly abashed. Likewise Paula, who writes extraordinary poetry and appears to be conducting several demanding lifetimes (doctor, poet, naturalist, linguist) simultaneously and effortlessly. Instant writer's block.

Why do some people intimidate me, and others not? I guess the academics don't intimidate me -- I've been one of those. And then there are people who are my daughter's age -- they don't intimidate me either. But then by rights Tonio, who's an extraordinary poet, should intimidate me, and he doesn't

So -- I tend to start paragraphs with "so" when I'm dimly aware that in fact there is NO connection with the preceding paragraph (you will also notice the parenthetical impulse increasing as Christmas nears)-- this leads me to the protocol of answering comments. I have had an absurd delicacy about this, which I've just recently thrown off. The comments, I thought, belonged to my reader, not to me, and I shouldn't be bustling around in them, like one of those officious hosts who won't let private conversations start up at a party. But then I realized that what I want of all things, when I comment on someone else's blog, is for them to comment back. "Do as you'd be done by," right?

So, to continue with my present discontinuity, let me note that Common Beauty, challenged on the bridge over a chasm, almost got through with an explication of the tyranny of metaphor. It links to me and I thought linking back might secure the other end of the bridge. Not much use if you forget your favorite color; but we're taking all the continuities we can get, today.

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Here's the post about free will. It's not actually about free will at all, not in the Boethian sense -- that is, it's not about whether human volition is ultimately illusory. It's just about the practical relationship between resolutions and actions.

Free Will

For those, like me, who often find themselves doing things they have resolved not to do, the question of "free will" is not an abstract one, but a practical question of pressing importance. A commenter on Ailina's site wrote "I believe we have control over our actions." With all respect -- I think that's silly. Either tautological or false. To say that we do what we decided to do, at the moment we decide it, is simply to say that we do what we do -- perfectly true, and perfectly unhelpful. To say that we do tomorrow what we resolve to do today is manifestly false. I can resolve on Sunday, with all my heart, to forgo ice cream, and find myself curled up with a bowl of it on Monday. This is not a rare occurrence: it's a typical one. My inability to control my future actions by present resolutions is a well-established fact.

Four possible responses to this fact:

1. Deny it. Assume that the problem is that I didn't resolve fiercely enough, and try to clench my mind on the resolution, so as not to lose it. This is probably still my most common response, and my stupidest. The ferocity of my resolve has little to do with keeping it. The main effect it has is to tinge my subsequent failure with self-contempt, which generally exacts a further bowl of ice cream in tribute (penance?) A variation on the response of denial is to conclude that while it's true that normal people can control their future actions, I cannot, because my will is abnormally corrupt. This is a useless conclusion. For how would one repair an abnormally corrupt will? By an act of will? (Nor do I have any objective reason to believe that my will works any better or any worse than anyone else's.)

2. Control the circumstances. This is useful, in a limited way. I can't control my future decisions but I can, to some extent, change the circumstances in which they will be made. If there's no ice cream in the freezer, I'm less likely to eat some. If there is ice cream, and nothing else to eat ready to hand, I'm almost certain to decide to eat some.

3. Train my mind. This is useful, but slow. Through meditation I can train myself to widen the space between the arising of an impulse and my response to it. I can learn something about how to let thoughts go, rather than clutch them. But this solution -- though finally the most important and effective, I think -- is a long-term one. The changes wrought by the first couple weeks of meditation were (for me) astonishing, but the rate of change dropped, after that: another year now will probably yield less fundamental change than those first couple weeks did.

4. Watch what happens. This is the most useful in the short-term, I think. When there's a well-established pattern of failed resolution, there is always some failure of perception or understanding. Why do I make different ice cream decisions on Sunday and Monday? Because I'm aware of a different set of facts. There's a tendency to assume that Sunday's awareness is superior to Monday's, and it may be, but I have more often found that the reverse is true. On Sunday I may be aware of plaque accumulating in my arteries, and fat around my abdomen, and of my associated self-contempt. But on Monday I may be aware that death is coming inevitably to even the cleanest arterial wall, and that the relationship between a flat stomach and happiness is problematic in the extreme; further, I may be aware that if I don't kick my blood-sugar up rapidly I'm likely to lose my temper with my kids, and that my self-contempt would thrive in a lean body just as happily as in a fat one. So a more useful thing to resolve might be, not to forgo ice cream, but to observe, as closely as I can, what goes through my mind the next time I eat it. Only a Sunday resolution made with a full awareness of Monday's facts is likely to stand on Monday.
Building Vajradhara's Mausoleum

Joseph Campbell makes the point -- drawing it I think from Jung -- that religious symbol and ritual, which originate as a way of invoking the numinous, can solidify rapidly into a way of warding it off. (In much the same way, funeral rites generally function not only to celebrate the dead, but also to make quite sure that they stay dead.)

He's speaking in terms of cultural history, but the point is well-taken in personal history as well. In some ways I think when I began blogging about Ngondro part of my enterprise was to tame it, circumscribe it, disarm it.

Monday, December 15, 2003

I have a long solemn post in progress about free will & so forth, but I do not feel at all solemn today, so -- screw it. My first day in my new office. We've been moved from downtown Portland, which I dearly love, to the suburb "city" of Beaverton, which has no downtown -- which is one of those "cities," which, when dug up by alien archeologists, will prove conclusively that automobiles were the dominant species of the planet, since everything here was clearly built for their convenience, and human beings only scuttle through their spaces as timid parasites or grovelling domestic servants.

I went out (driving, of course) to find a restaurant for lunch and promptly got lost, driving down "boulevards" that all looked identical to me, which swerved around in obedience not to any topographical influence, but to some designer's feeble idea that a boring street could be made interesting by waving it gratuitously to and fro. So, since I tend to navigate by the sun or by the mountain (Hood, in this case), and to expect some kind of a grid, I experienced serious disorientations. The setting sun would loom up in the east: Mt Hood would appear, ghostly and white, evidently about where the seashore should have been. Going north on Murray Boulevard I eventually found it dead-ending -- we're talking five lanes here -- in the parking lot of a small carwash, well to the south of where I began.

Upon consulting a map, I discovered that, sure enough, I was actually going south on good old Murray Boulevard, which at least explained how I ended up on the southern side of Beaverton (though it did little to explain why a five lane thoroughfare would suddenly vanish into a carwash. ) I was seriously cowed by now, so I went meekly to a McDonalds, trying to blend in with the natives. There I read the newspaper about the capture of Saddam Hussein, whose end is apparently closely to resemble that of Murray Boulevard, and I tried to generate political feelings or opinions of some sort, but failed. A man in a hole.

And so back to work, where one of my computers threw in the towel, after having tried valiantly all day to make its ethernet connections. This is my good and deserving computer, the UNIX one, the one I named "Lyra" and think of as fondly as I've ever thought of a computer. I'm left with "Fritz," a malign and temperamental Windows machine. All in all this has not been a very inspiring day.

Good night, compadres! Dream sweet dreams.

Friday, December 12, 2003

I've been on vacation this week, and my home net connection has been down.

Amusing how just a few days disconnected from the net distresses me these days. I went into work at four in the morning to read blogs and post my last, on Tuesday -- Now it's Friday and I'm connected again, and I've been reading up, but I'm not even halfway caught up.

You all are amazing, you know.

Tuesday, December 09, 2003

Where to start? Bart points out the need to define "desire." Carelessness about this terminology leads to a lot of misunderstanding of the Dharma -- and here I am being careless with it. So here's a shot at being more careful.

The "desire" that the Buddha instructed us to abandon is attachment. It arises from the first, disastrous mistake of taking ourselves seriously -- taking ourselves at face-value. I mistake "Dale" for an essential, unique, permanent essence: there is some mystical "Daleness" that makes me Dale. When, having made this mistake, I desire something, I want to make it mine, incorporate it into the the territory of Daleness. The anxiety to annex this something is intense. If I'm successful in incorporating it, then my Daleness is reinforced and validated; if I'm unsuccessful it's threatened, and its domain is shrunk. Hence the apalling surges of emotion involved in "falling in love." What's at stake, as it seems to someone who has fallen in love, is nothing less than existence itself.

So if we take away the mistake -- if we take away the ego -- is desire still possible? And if so, what does it look like? (Back when I was a graduate student I remember this being a hot issue in Feminist theory: is there such a thing as a desire that is not founded in lack? I haven't kept up, so I have no idea where the theorists have gone with this one.)

I don't think all Buddhists would give the same answers to this. My answer is a hesitant, "yes, but..."

Yes, enlightened desire is possible, but it would look so different, it would scarcely be recognizeable. It would be a desire that didn't narrow down and fixate: a desire that didn't want to absorb or appropriate its object. I think I've had glimpses of this sort of desire -- I've had luminous moments of it, moments of intense love that wasn't exclusionary or proprietary, and which overflowed all ordinary borders and distinctions. And I conclude from those moments: yes. Enlightened desire is real. In fact it might not be going too far to say that enlightened desire is reality.

Okay. But dropping down to the sphere of daily life -- what's to do? What do I do with these daily impulses? Alan Wallace, in Boundless Heart gives the advice that's been most useful for me, about dealing with sensual pleasures: to wit, that if giving them up makes you feel seriously deprived, then you're probably pushing it too hard. If you're not in a cloistered setting, no attempt to simply drop pleasures altogether is likely to do anything but generate turbulence and resistance, and it's more likely to derail your spiritual practice than to support it.

Of course, Wallace is talking about pleasures such as eating ice cream, pleasures that don't harm anyone. Consuming porn and frequenting strip clubs does harm people, I think. That's a controversial issue, and there's been silly extravagance on both sides of it, and a tendency to ignore the input of the only people who really know -- to wit, the sex workers themselves, the models and dancers. I've talked with a lot of dancers about this, and I think the amount of harm varies wildly, depending on the circumstances and on the worker. Most of the dancers I know could find other work easily, and for them it's worth it to escape the nine-to-five work world (which is not exactly free of degradation and harm itself.) The common lurid picture of exploited women drowning in self-contempt and destroying themselves with drugs bears little relation to the reality as I've seen it. It's not clear to me that I'm exploiting these people more, or in a worse way, than I'm exploiting the people who harvested the romaine for my salad, or the people who made my tennis shoes.

But I'd rather be done with it. And I suspect that with this, as with the binge drinking that I used to do, as I get the better of the compulsiveness and leave the activities behind, I'll find that they were more destructive to me personally than I understood at the time. More expense of spirit than I had reckoned; more wear and tear on my relationships.

Once again, the mysterious relation between doing Ngondro and being able to refrain from compulsive activities of all sorts. Is it cause and effect? Or just that when I'm in a "good phase" all things are easier, both refraining from compulsive stuff and maintaining my practice? I wish I could think of an experiment that would give me a good answer to that.

Friday, December 05, 2003

Porn and Betrayal, continued

For many years I held what you might call the sex-positive view of this. The compulsiveness and the hurt were both side-effects of shame. Take away the shame and, voila! No more compulsiveness, no more hurt, lots of sex, everyone happy.

But I wondered. Porn proliferated, and it became much more acceptable, but it remained obdurately nasty. It didn't feel liberated or liberating, no matter what anybody said. It felt, as it still feels now to me, constricted and obsessive and unhappy. The compulsiveness didn't go away. My relation to it seemed much more like an alcoholic's relation to drink than a healthy person's relation to healthy pleasures. Something was clearly wrong. Maybe it was just me: my own addictive personality. I had, after all, the same response to some foods, some of them disgusting ones ("barbeque" potato chips, for example, which I clearly perceive to be grotesque-tasting, not to mention nutritionally toxic, and which I also binge on occasionally to this day, eating them till my mouth is raw.)

When I stumbled into the Dharma, I obtained a wholly new vocabulary thinking about desire. What if -- I could now wonder -- what was wrong was neither me, nor the porn, nor the potato chips? What if there was something wrong in the desire itself, something woven all through my consciousness, which just revealed itself clearly in these habits, because they happened to be the ones which weren't approved of by my culture?

Lots of things began to make sense. And suddenly I could dismiss the sex-positive solution, without denying the ecstasy and the deep perception of beauty which is also part of these obsessions. (Yes, even of potato chips.) And I could rewire the whole network of my thoughts about this. The problem wasn't that I was too open to beauty and desire. The problem was that I wasn't open enough. I know, I've said this before. Shall I say it again? I'll say it again. The problem was not that I was too open to beauty and desire. The problem was that I wasn't open enough.

I'm sure you can get to this same place by the path of renunciation. But renouncing pleasures, as I'm sure is clear by now, is not my strong suit, and since my culture is not exactly famous for supporting renunciation, it's a hard path for anyone in it to follow, even those who are less greedy and libidinous than I. (Which includes, I hope, most people.)

More anon.

Thursday, December 04, 2003

First Parenthesis (tired of earnestness at the moment)

I just saw an ad for a toy DNA sequencer in Wired magazine. (This maybe isn't news. I'm pretty seriously unplugged, and I'm always discovering cool "new" things that everyone else has been tired of for six months.)

Second Parenthesis (needing to boast, because I was so nervous about it)

I just got done chanting Beowulf in Old English, and talking about gold, dragons, and linguistic change to a class at my kids' highschool. There's always a couple of kids you can see getting the bug. ("wyrm is worm and it's the same word except it sounds really cool, and it's a thousand years old, and back then it meant serpent!" and "so that's why knight is spelled so weird!") About half of them were eager for me to come teach an Old English class next quarter. It was so damn much fun to read Old English again and they're such wonderful kids that maybe I'll do it, even if I don't have time for it.

Okay. Back soon to our regularly scheduled programming.
A comment from Michelle raised an apalling possibility: that it might be thought I'm trying to "tell Ailina what to do." Good God.

Wednesday, December 03, 2003

porn, betrayal, continued --

Of course, what anything means in a relationship is largely what the parties have agreed that it will mean. Ailina and her husband have agreed that this is betrayal, so it is betrayal. Simple as that, in a way.

I've never kept my strip club or pornography habits secret (tho I've certainly downplayed their extent), and Martha and I are agreed that it's not a betrayal, so it's not a betrayal. This is, you might say, our official line.

But I really don't think either situation is a simple as that. For one thing, we don't have complete control over what things mean. I remember a philosopher friend of mine quoting some Frenchman saying that if he decided that spitting on someone was an act of love, then it was an act of love. I don't think that's true, and if someone spit on me and told me it was affection, I wouldn't believe him. I might believe that he believed it -- and that would mitigate my annoyance -- but I wouldn't believe that the spitting was pure affection. We get to bend our societies' rules, but we don't really get to rewrite them wholesale.

In this case, however, there isn't just one set of rules. There's the "official rules" -- probably stronger down toward the Mississippi delta than up here in Portland Oregon -- which say that being attracted to anyone but your spouse -- or indulging in it, anyway -- is betrayal. Then there's the "meat market" rules of porn and strip clubs, which say that men's desire is always (at least visually) promiscuous and the manipulation of it by sex workers is inevitable. Most men are bilingual, so to speak, shifting between these sets of rules fairly easily, following one set of rules at home and another at the club. It would be way over-simplistic to say that these men are just dishonest in their alliegance to the "official rules." For most, I think, the strain of hewing to the official line is just too much sometimes, and they suddenly plunge down into the meat market with a gasp of relief. But they certainly wouldn't want to live there.

Shame is crucial to the maintenance of this system. Shame makes the men and the sex workers keep it secret and segregated, so that the extent of this meat market world is incredibly underplayed, and it can come as a shock to a woman as intelligent and perceptive as Ailina that a man close to her lives part of his life there. Almost all men live there part-time. Do the numbers. Look at the clubs, which in this city anyway are nearly as plentiful as fast food restaurants; look at the extraordinary bandwidth of porn sites. This is not the domain of a few perverts. Lots of men live here, and most of them visit. But very few of them, I think, are entirely comfortable with it.

Tuesday, December 02, 2003

A painful post from Ailina over on Paper Bent about discovering her husband using some form of (unspecified) sexual stimulation, presumably porn of some sort.

Is a woman expected to accept her husband spending a few saucy hours watching a naked girl he doesn't know wrap herself around a pole and screw his imagination, and then is the same woman expected to willingly participate in sex knowing full well why her husband is so randy?

No, in this particular situation, strip club entertainment is not the adversary, but the analogy is appropriate.

I hesitated about bringing my response over here -- it amounts to a sort of confession, though no surprise I imagine to my more careful readers. But the whole issue gets so clouded with ideology and shame and hurt that I thought it best to follow Ailina's example and hang the dirty linen out of the window, so to speak. I commented:

Oh, I'm sorry, Ailina. I know, it leaves a very nasty taste. But -- speaking as sometimes the strip-club-customer kind of husband myself, I can say pretty confidently that it doesn't mean to him what it would mean to you, and "choosing to be dishonest" is probably as ill-suited to the reality here as "choosing to be depressed" would be to yours.

It does have to do with stress, and losing a job, and (I think) some hardwiring in the male brain. What it has *nothing* to do with is you, your attractiveness, or your specialness to him.

This elicited a sharp counter comment from Rae (who has a very cool blog, by the way) to the effect that she didn't think there was anything hardwired about it, and that stress was a pretty lame excuse. I answered with this:

Rae, certainly no need to apologize: this is a controversial topic and the fact of the matter, I think, is that no one knows what's hardwired and what isn't. I certainly don't.

I do know that my compulsion toward "visual stimuli" is stronger than my compulsion to eat, and stronger than my compulsion to drink was back when I was a binge alcoholic. I've struggled to rid myself of it or even moderate it for years, without much success (until lately, anyway -- we'll see). It's stronger when my libido is low, actually, than when my libido is high, and stress exacerbates it. I'm not trying to justify it. I'm trying to explain it, since I think a more accurate understanding of it would render it less hurtful to Ailina.

The metaphor of addiction is somewhat inaccurate, but it comes closer to explaining the subjective experience of this compulsion than any other I can think of. Of course, since it's usually kept secret and thought of as degrading to all parties, man who's "caught" will ordinarily stammer out that it was the idle caprice of a moment, never to be repeated, which just makes him sound like more of an uncaring lout, mindlessly trampling delicate things just for the hell of it. The truth of the matter (since Ailina's man is clearly anything but an uncaring lout) is probably that it's more like an alcoholic giving in to the obsessive craving for a drink.

This is a topic I've thought a lot about, for obvious reasons, and I've veered between a number of wildly different understandings of it, none of which have been terribly satisfying to my intellect or very useful in modifying my conduct. But -- more anon.