(Copyright © 2009)

 

My posts frequently begin as a shimmering in my consciousness, a kind of beckoning glow or maybe low hum from one direction or another. I can’t call it a thought—more a proto- or incipient presence that might, if I stick with it, evolve into a thought. Language usually isn’t involved from the beginning, but emerges sooner or later. I feel a kind of yearning to pursue something. Yes, to be engaged in an activity leading I don’t know where but fascinating from the start. You see, I can barely express how ideas come to me. Something latent within me wants to get out. I am not the agent, merely the channel.

 

I don’t know how ideas originate any more than where words come from. It just happens in some indeterminate way. I don’t make it happen, it happens to me. First I am drawn or excited by something, I know not what. I get a sense of its latency, then get out of the way so it can emerge on its own.

 

OK, so what started this off? A foggy sense that the function of territory (or its monetary derivative) is to promote sexual activity, sending sperm cells rushing toward egg cells, sparking embryogenesis, the mixing of genes, birth, and the onrush of life. Reproduction, like consciousness, is always situated in a specific set of circumstances. In this case, within a given territory shared by a wide variety of life forms all using it to the same end—to glean enough calories derived from solar energy to perform the creation dance and so kindle a new generation.

 

I keep coming back to this same shimmering kernel of awareness. I can gaze at the woods, contemplate the stars, indulge in sexual yearning, or track my own consciousness—and I end up at the same intersection in my mind where all life comes together. As if all thoughts were one thought, all consciousness one consciousness, all actions one act. Attraction and procreation are integral to everything we do, connecting us to ourselves, one another, our place on Earth.

 

I see that life keeps creating the same situations over and over. There is method in its diversity because its end is always the one end. Boy-meets-girl is ever the same story: Let’s match gametes and see what comes of it. What happens is life. With us, the object is to give the smallest human cell (sperm) access to the largest human cell (egg) at an appropriate time in a supportive environment rich in the necessities of life—food, drink, shelter, and a big enough sample of the social order to stack the odds in life’s favor.

 

I remember my friend Jan coming to Boston from Hungary in the early 1950s and taking up with an Irish girl from what some considered the wrong side of town. “Wrong” in that by prevailing custom their gametes weren’t supposed to get within range of each other. But Jan did it, as Thomas Jefferson, Edna St. Vincent Millay, and just about every other person you can name did it in his or her time. If gametes that are not supposed to meet didn’t meet, what would humanity do for recreation in a world without soap operas, novels, movies, or gossip? Where would advertisers place their ads? Clearly, the economy would collapse if boys and girls always behaved as they were supposed to. At some level we are aware there’s little future in just saying “no.” I’m not advocating teen sex so much as taking precautions against conception and sexually transmitted diseases. As a thought experiment, picture your day with the sexy parts (real, imagined, sublimated) left out. In a very real sense, sex is life.

 

Earlier, I approached this topic through my winter appreciation of cleavage (Reflection 50, posted January 16, 2009), asking myself: Now where does that come from? There I wrote:

 

Cleavage is a way station to babies. I don’t have a lust to go that far, but I do enjoy the way station. A little bell goes off in my head when there’s cleavage in the neighborhood. I don’t see it so much as just know it’s there. By a kind of sixth sense. Which is reassuring. Beyond admiration, nothing is expected of me, much less required. I go about my business, the cleavage bearers about theirs. It’s a great arrangement with no strings attached.

 

Sex is right up there with the urge to eat, drink, breathe, be active, and sleep—all necessary to life. Consciousness is ever on the lookout, our autonomic nervous systems do the rest. Judging by our reproductive success, the system really works. But, strangely, it is often hard to appreciate our individual involvement in the life system because of the almost subliminal level at which we become aware of it. If it came at us in bold words, colors, shapes—like stop, caution, or yield signs—it would be easier for us to take responsibility for the results—and maybe even manage ourselves better than we do.

 

It all starts with that little inside shimmer or shiver. Nothing is spelled out, we just know something’s on. So we make our play to see if we can’t facilitate things a bit. Since it takes two to tango, we have to make sure that the other is keeping with us by stirring his/her desire to our level—or that we’re rising to theirs. We each help create a situation that encourages the other to complement our actions through mutual fulfillment. Done right, it’s a great game. As Richard Grossinger writes in Embryogenesis: Species, Gender, and Identity (North Atlantic Books, 2000): “In searching together for their individual identities, [male and female] collaborate across their gap of tissues in fathomless, transpersonal acts” (page 516). Well before chromosomes are merged in the fertilized egg, minds are merged as if that union of souls were the real thing. Evolution grants us the illusion that we know what we’re doing, when very often we have only the faintest of clues.

 

So what is sex all about? Reproduction, certainly, with as much gratification as possible strewn along the way. I view gay and lesbian sex as ancillary to reproduction in freeing same-sex couples from responsibility for the follow-through of sex so they can see to other vital matters for which active reproducers have little time or energy. Reproduction entails caring not only for the zygote, but its potential for developing into a blastula, a gastrula, an embryo, a baby, a child, a youth, an adult, who will go on to play the next round of the game her own way. All starting with a shimmer in someone’s awareness. Some dim little spark of pre-consciousness with the potential for carrying genes and life forward.  

 

Where does that spark come from, that glint of desire? Evolution tends it as carefully as the Chinese did the Olympic Flame in 2008. Everyone knows it matters. Richard Grossinger says this:

 

We must finally accept, in light of the harsh reality of being born and dying, that what we are is a continuation of what the universe is, so all our wishes and fears could not be irrelevant to cosmic process; else how could they have occurred? Our wild hopes for rebirth, our dread of hell and extinction are part of the universe too.

          The journey is unknown; the path is unknown; what will happen is unknown; what it all means is unknown. This is our only solace in a fathomless, cryptic universe.

          The inevitability of death is the same as the inevitability of birth. The forces that brought us here, that acknowledge and cling to life, are the forces that will take us from here. If we shun and vilify our certain deaths, then we must in some way deny the fact of our life.

          We are in the hands of the gods anyway and, if they are not able captains, we were in trouble long before dying; we were in fact in trouble before being born (page 724).

 

Which guarantees full employment for our left-brain interpreters. As mere motes in the universe, we are incapable of knowing how the material universe translates into sexual desire. Are genes or chromosomes alive? No, they are mere molecules. Is DNA alive? No, a long strung-out molecule, but matter nonetheless. Are proteins alive, the products of DNA? Well, they contribute to living bodies, but in themselves do not reproduce, so, no, they are not alive.

 

But somewhere along there in cells equipped with mitochondria, ribosomes and nuclei, DNA enables reproduction, protein replacement and repair, intake of food, and removal of waste. According to an arcane formula, matter is brought to life. And the potential for consciousness and sexual reproduction come along with it.

 

Picture sperm cells racing toward egg cells as if fully conscious of what they were doing (all but one rushing to their deaths; the one that hits the mark getting its genes past Go onto the board for another round). Picture the one egg cell consciously hoping for Mr. Right to make it on time. What are we but gametes up on two legs, walking around looking to get laid? “Our” consciousness is gamete consciousness. Ultimately, territory provides the energy and opportunity for sperms and eggs to meet up, for fertility, nurturance, growth, consciousness, life. All right here on our home planet. Which start to finish, sponsors the whole project.

 

Our consciousness is Earth consciousness. The shimmer and hum that first grab our attention are sights and sounds of ancient seas inviting the first beings to make the leap from an assemblage of molecules to animate life. It makes no sense to think ourselves off the Earth; we are its creatures, born and bred to this place. The spark has been passed for over three billion years. We are Earthlings in every intimate detail. Beyond that, we can’t know enough to ask how we got here. We have no choice but to take care of the territory that takes care of us. Anything else is unthinkable.

 

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Reflection 50: Cleavage

January 16, 2009

(Copyright © 2009)

 

I am walking up Holland Avenue in the middle of the road because the sidewalks have not been plowed since the last storm. A strong northwest wind is bringing arctic air down from Canada. I watch my footing because the road is so icy. Looking up briefly, I see a man’s back as he scrapes the side of the house at the end of the street, moving side to side, pressing his body against whatever tool he holds in both hands. I’ve done that when sanding. Cold day for that kind of work. Looking down, I pick my way between patches of ice. Fifty feet farther on, I look up again. The man is gone, replaced by a man-sized cedar tree blowing back and forth in the wind. It even has shoulders where its spire spreads out into branches.

 

From November through April, I love Bar Harbor. Just another small village on the edge of the bay. No cars to speak of, hardly any walkers. Schools and banks are open, the library, post office, and two movie theaters, but most stores and restaurants are closed. A few fly the snowflake flag declaring themselves open for business, but there are even fewer tourists to take them up on the offer. It’s just us locals, happy to have our town to ourselves for the duration.

 

The other half of the year is a different story. That’s when cars and buses and RVs and cruise ships flock to town. Everyone wears shorts, even people who shouldn’t even dream of wearing shorts. Varicose veins on parade. Pink, hammy thighs, Venus-of-Willendorf bottoms stretching the limits of modesty. And, too, breasts of all sizes, belly buttons, and cleavage come to town. Not only do they spill onto the streets, but they are displayed for maximum visibility. Guys tend to all look the same, cut from the same brownish-gray fabric, outfitted with sneakers, baseball cap, shades, ill-fitting T-shirt. Their function is to carry the money. The gals’ job is to make themselves attractive while they spend it.

 

But back to cleavage. What is it about cleavage that so sticks in my mind for a couple of seconds until the next candidate comes into view? My personal consciousness has special sections for wildlife, books on the brain, and cleavage. My mother had her cleavage, my partner has hers, as, to one degree or another, does every female of the species once her hormones start flowing. You’d think by now I’d have gotten used to it so my brain cells could move on to philosophy, say, or aesthetics. Which is the study of beauty, and that brings me right back to cleavage. There’s no getting away from it.

 

Cleavage is an outward and visible sign of vaginas, ovaries, and eggs—in a word, fertility. Cleavage, I learned in school, is a secondary sex characteristic. Seen that way, it is just another physical attribute, subject to a wide range of variation. But an attribute with a difference. Men don’t have cleavage, unless you count the gap between well-developed pectoral muscles. Men do have nipples of a sort, useless ones, proving they are a variation on the female body plan rather than vice versa. But men don’t have cleavage per se, up front and personal.

 

What men have is—no, not cleavage envy—but a lust for cleavage. Let me rephrase that: I can’t speak for anyone but myself. I have a deep appreciation for cleavage. Cleavage is a way station to babies. I don’t have a lust to go that far, but I do enjoy the way station. A little bell goes off in my head when there’s cleavage in the neighborhood. I don’t see it so much as just know it’s there. By a kind of sixth sense. Which is reassuring. Beyond admiration, nothing is expected of me, much less required. I go about my business, the cleavage bearers about theirs. It’s a great arrangement with no strings attached.

 

Sexist writing is politically incorrect these days, but I’m here to declare there are fundamental differences between men and women that need to be talked about since we have to live with them every day. Cleavage, cleavage, cleavage. There, I’ve said it. Long may it wave! Long may breasts wave, vaginas, ovaries, and eggs. Without them there’s be no babies because word would get out how much work, time, and money it takes to raise them to adulthood. As long as there is cleavage, however, there will be reproductive sex, and babies will be born. That’s one of consciousness’ main jobs. If it wasn’t, none of us would be here today.

 

In some cultures, women are hidden under wraps so their cleavage may be inferred but is never explicitly on view. Until it’s too late, that is—until the bearer is undressed and sex is precisely the issue. That creates a different form of consciousness, consciousness that must make the most of very few clues—such as an exposed toe or ankle, or a burqa pressed by the wind against the lithe body within. And leads to customs such as allowing temporary marriages for dalliances and on-the-job training.

 

Regarding sex, consciousness handles the aesthetics while unconsciousness tends to arousal and the details of execution. Just as, in the case of nourishment, consciousness enjoys colors and flavors while unconsciousness makes sure that food gets properly digested. Consciousness makes both food and sex appealing, setting the stage for unconsciousness to see to the biology of making babies and maintaining metabolisms. Centerfolds and cookbook photography appeal directly to the conscious mind: Doesn’t that look tempting! But it takes the unconscious mind to get bodily processes past mere enticement to the reproductive payoff that vertebrate genes have achieved so successfully for over 300 million years.

 

Consciousness is just the surface of a pond whose depths remain hidden and mysterious. Once allurement leads us to take the plunge, consciousness gives way to unconscious processes that accomplish deeds far beyond what we may have in mind. Which suggests that we belong to consciousness more than it belongs to us. The art of living is largely a matter of deciding how readily to do the mind’s bidding. Beyond that, connoisseurship (enjoying the view for its own sake with a certain detachment) requires learning how to stop short of taking that fateful plunge into the depths of the unconscious.

 

I’ve never heard it said, but any time of year, Bar Harbor is a great place for the human mind to witness its own consciousness in action. But so is every other town. Look at what Sherwood Anderson found in Winesburg, Ohio. There goes Doc, writing great thoughts on pieces of paper, stuffing them into his pockets, where he rolls them between his fingers into little balls as he makes his rounds, only to dispense them onto the side of the road like so many paper pills. Life is the story consciousness tells us as we make our rounds. It’s worth paying attention to else we might think we have to get somewhere special while the entire spectacle is within us the whole time right where we are.

 

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