Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Garden




By Lisabet Sarai


We are indeed fortunate here in the Garden.

Twilight deepens. The sky above us shifts from teal to indigo and the first shy stars wink at us as we relax on our veranda. My shoulders and thighs ache a bit from the day's labor in our fields, just enough to make me appreciate the present moment of rest. It looks like our yield may be even more bountiful than usual this year. I smile a secret smile, anticipating the wild revels of the harvest festival to come.

My husband Josiah strums his lute, picking out an ancient melody. Latesha, my wife, stirs from her seat. She stands behind me, with her arms crossed over my chest and her fingers dancing across my shirt, teasing my nipples into eager peaks. “Shall I get my recorder, Allie, and play along?”

I grab her hands, using them to cup my own breasts, and lean backward for a kiss. She's tangy with vinegar and herbs from our supper. “No, stay here with us - please. This part of the evening is too lovely to miss.”

Josiah interrupts his song to send us one of his crooked grins. “Don't I get a kiss too, Teesh?”

She favors me with one last, quick squeeze then struts over to settle her ample bottom on Josiah's lap. “Of course!” He sweeps her into a fierce embrace. His slender musician's fingers skim over her body. He plucks at her breasts until she squirms and moans into his mouth. My pussy dampens as their caresses become more heated. I know exactly what she's experiencing, and I participate vicariously. Of course, I could join them if I wished, but right now it's thrilling enough just to watch.

“Hey! Wouldn't your bedroom be more comfortable!” Our neighbor Hal strolls up our path, laughing so hard he can barely talk. His partner Michael follows close behind, toting a glass jug full of ruby liquid.

“There's time for that later,” Josiah answers, planting a final kiss on Teesh's brown nose and tumbling her off his lap. “The wine's ready then?”

Hal nods. “Or at least, we're not willing to wait any longer!”

Latesha greets each of the men with a hug. “Have you tried it yet?”

“After the help you gave us, we figured it was only right that you should share the first taste.” I remember the August afternoon we spent over at Hal's and Michael's place, up to our ankles in sticky grape pulp. My feet remained purple for three days, despite my scrubbing. Had it really been almost a year ago?

Here in the Garden, time flows with barely a ripple.

Our planet has circled the sun twelve times since I bonded with Josiah, and almost as long since Latesha entered our household. Looking back, it seems like one long season of pleasure. Of course we've worked hard – the Garden is generous, but only to those who give of their energy and care. Life without work would be shallow and empty in any case. And our future stretches ahead, our future together (unless we tire of one another), brimming with laughter, sensual delight and deep tranquility – until the day when we decide to release our hold on life and make way for someone new to be born.

How could it be otherwise?

Josiah has gone to fetch the hand blown goblets he fashioned last winter. Teesh has selected what she knows is Michael's favorite opera. The dramatic strains of the overture waft from speakers hidden in the trees.

Oh, yes, we have technology here in the Garden. We use our science and engineering, our robots and our manufactured environments, when it seems necessary or appropriate. Latesha, in fact, had been a geneticist before moving to our district to farm. Her research focused on perfecting the population balancing mechanisms that allow us to flourish on this planet without depleting its resources.

Much of the time, though, we choose the older, more effortful ways of doing things – mostly because we want the experience of living in our bodies and the satisfaction of personal accomplishment. Like this wine.

It's delicious, sweet, sharp and surprisingly complex for last year's vintage. Hal makes the rounds, filling our cups a second and then a third time. When he stops to drink from his lover's mouth, none of us is shocked – or surprised. We're all loose and hazy, fuzzily aroused but too comfortable and lazy to do anything concrete about our state. Time enough for that later. Here in the Garden, no one needs to hurry.

The sky is black velvet now, studded with a million jewels. The opera has drawn to a close. A night bird calls to its mate and the late summer crickets chatter among themselves. We sit together, lovers, neighbors, enveloped in peace.

In the Garden, all is well.

But...

*****

When I thought about utopia, I had fairly clear ideas about what it would mean to me. A decentralized agragrian society supported by advanced technology where necessary. A world of sensuality and tolerance, where individuals were free to love whom they chose, regardless of gender – or number. A realm of cooperation, peace, and productivity. There would be no war, because the population would be controlled (voluntarily) so that resources were abundant. And I suppose that tendencies toward aggression or violence would gradually be bred out of the gene pool (or perhaps even artificially removed) because those characteristics would be anti-adaptive in an environment where mutual assistance provided the most enduring benefits.

I could try to write a tale set in this utopia, my Garden. But...

I realized that while utopian fantasies might be pleasant, utopia might be the enemy of fiction. Fiction requires conflict, a discrepancy between reality and what is needed or desired. By definition, though, there are no such discrepancies in a utopia – not if it's genuine rather than merely wishful thinking. So in order to have an interesting story, I'd have to attack the utopian ideal – from within or from outside.

An alien invasion. A cataclysmic disaster. The rise of a leader simultaneously so charismatic and so evil that he (or she) could demolish the peaceful accomplishments of generations.

Sexual jealousy, in a world where this was previously unknown. Greed. The lust for power. (But what kind of power could exist in the Garden, a place with no real government where everyone already has what she needs?)

To write a story about the Garden, I'd need to introduce a snake. And then, of course, I'd no longer have a utopia.

What about reality, though? If my Garden could exist, would it be self-sustaining?

I sometimes think that human beings are not made for long term contentment. I recently read a study that found tolerance for boredom is inversely proportional to intelligence. Could we have a utopia that wasn't static, where things changed, where new challenges arose on a regular basis – and still retain the defining qualities of a utopian society? Does every utopia in fact contain its own seeds of destruction – a worm curled at the heart of the apple?

I'm looking forward to reading what my fellow Grippers have to say about these questions.

Meanwhile, I'll imagine myself back in my lovely Garden, with my lovers and friends – for a little while, at least.



7 comments:

  1. Utopian novels of the 1800's relied on plots wherein an outside visitor arrived, learned about the society, and then returned to tell the 'rest of us' about the utopia. There wasn't much tension or drama involved unless it was a distopia.

    I think one could have a non-boring utopia if the entertainment options were sufficiently complex but it'd still make a weak novel because the stakes would be too low.

    So the only way I can think of to have decent fiction set in a utopia and not 'attack it' would be to have the protagonist be unaware that they're in a utopia.

    In the end, I can't help thinking of The Matrix: "You like it this way." (referring to all the conflict in the world). We do seem to need serious challenges to be happy...

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  2. Lisabet, you've summed up my objection to a lakeside fantasy written by a sister-member of a lesbian writing group. She seemed to think that removing men from a fictional world would remove conflict. Hardly, I said. There are real communities in which everyone is female or male or some shade of brown or queer or young or old or polyamorous or Jewish, Christian, Muslim, agrarian-socialist or whatever. And there is conflict there. True enough, it seems we can't live without it -- or create plots without it. Your Garden looks appealing, though. :)

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  3. To me, this opening scenario shows up the problem I have with the Christian notion of Heaven. I agree, when I was reading your opening scenes I felt a little as if I should go brush my teeth. It was so sweet and I kept thinking yeah but - yeah but - and then you said what I was thinking which is that Paradise is deadly dull. If human beings went to Heaven they'd tear it up. Hell, I've lived in Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico is what Heaven would be if it were run by incompetent people.

    I don't know anybody who has never looked on this world as other than a veil of trials and challenges. Even those who become very successful are often eaten up by it. So what else is there to write about but the conflict in teh human heart? There is just some darkness in our evolution we don't know how to replace without losing ourselves.

    Garce

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  4. Hi, Ed,

    "I think one could have a non-boring utopia if the entertainment options were sufficiently complex but it'd still make a weak novel because the stakes would be too low."

    I'm not sure it would have to be boring to LIVE in a utopia. However, without some kind of internal or external challenge, utopias don't support involving fiction.

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  5. Hello, Jean,

    I think a single-gender society would make for an interesting literary premise, exactly because it would engender new kinds of conflicts.

    And yeah, my Garden *does" sound appealing, doesn't it? It's funny, because I live in a big city and love urban life. Yet when I think about utopia, there's no doubt that I imagine a (benign) rural setting.

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  6. Hi, Garce,

    "There is just some darkness in our evolution we don't know how to replace without losing ourselves."

    I'm not sure that the challenge has to be from the darkness within. I'm willing to believe that small communities of individuals CAN live in cooperation and peace, for long periods. I recently read a study that suggested the human need/tendency to cooperate seems to be responsible for some of our cognitive growth.

    Utopia would perish, I think, because of stasis as much as from some kind of internal rot due to the darkness buried in our souls. The universe is about change. So the question is, is it possible to have change and still have perfection?

    Of course, one could argue that utopia doesn't really have to be 100% perfect. One could have a relative utopia, a kind of Golden Age.

    Anyway, I had a feeling that you'd react this way to my garden. And I'm looking forward to your take on this topic.

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  7. If you're thinking about single gender utopias, you might check out one of the originals: Herland. It was written in 1915.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herland_%28novel%29

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