Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Raw Moment

In an essay called “Big Red Son” , David Foster Wallace interviewed some very devoted fans of hard core pornography. “Mooks”, as porn stars call them. Many of them it turns out found porno movies boring. Formulaic. Seen one seen ‘em all. So why watch? Because the sex in front of the cameras is genuine, one explained, what you’re really watching for are “the faces”. Specifically a very special and rarefied moment which you won’t even find in a legit Hollywood feature film. Porn stars, females especially, can fake just about anything with varying skill, but during the moment of orgasm, that most neural of facial expressions tears down the nasty girl veneer and if you look hard you can catch it as it passes by- the naked quivering soul of a unguarded human being revealed for just an instant with a heartfelt gasp and a grimace before the mask comes back on. For most of human history you had to accept marriage to see that raw moment pass over a human face. For that one instant – you see inside.

That moment of discovery is something I want to capture as a reader and a writer of stories. I think that is what suffering does for a character and for a writer, and it has to come from the writer first. We want to see the naked soul beneath the strutting and confidence. King Lear howling as he carries the dead body of his favorite daughter Cordelia. Humbert-Humbert as he makes one last rejected confession of love for Lolita even after he has destroyed her life. My own beloved Nixie, half insane and shattered, weeping blood tears at the end of “The Lady and the Unicorn”.

Happy characters can’t give us that raw, pornographic moment. Good erotica is well positioned to, though it usually fails to cross that line unless given a hard shove from behind.

I think that I have not suffered as much as others, in as much as most – not all - of my suffering, was in the abstract observance and disappointment with the world as I found it and the absence of God in the presence of human suffering. A person doesn’t lose faith in God suddenly. It’s a gradual, disease like process, like a garden being overcome with weeds of indifference. My faith went through a series of breakdowns and collapses over a period of many years. Each time I thought I had reached the bottom. Each time I found there’s always a bottom left you haven’t reached. Until you do. And then the next reveals itself. My most recent breakdown was a very public one when I was blogging on this very list, a post called “The Mook in Me” which you can read here.

A kind of epilogue exists now to that “Mook in Me” post. By some mysterious grace, its been given to me to come in contact with the object of my mook, with the very woman herself I wrote of. In “The Mook in Me” I imagined this woman living a life of personal authenticity and fulfillment, pursuing a career she was passionate about, in a solid marriage with a man who rightly adored her, cherished and helped her bloom like a wild flower sheltered by the strength of his love. My envy for her was humiliating, and in the glow of her life I felt my awful rage towards God blaze into divine hate.

I’m here to tell you, oh Friends of the Inner Sanctum – I could not have been more wrong.

No names. Respect for privacy. However, I’ll say this. Not only was she not living an ideal and authentic life, but she has endured a level of suffering and loss that was staggering to discover as she revealed only a little of it to me. Not only was she not living a life of marital bliss and creative fulfillment and prestige, but she and her four children have been homeless several times, impoverished, even living out of a tent on a campground, and twice in a homeless shelter.

And that’s not even the amazing part.

All this she endured with God and without bitterness. The bitterness certainly came to her, and she simply overcame it by force of will and faith. And she loves God with a passion I myself had never attained to. The mountain I fell off of, she scaled to the very crest and beyond. To me, that’s amazing. And out there in the wicked world, it goes on all the time.

I don’t share her faith, but I have tremendous admiration for it and the beauty of it. Not her beliefs or her god, but her faith alone is sacred and untouchable to me. How can one person, so sincerely devoted to God as myself, fall so far, just short of atheism? How can another, who suffered much more, arguably at the hands of her god if you knew her story, feel such gratitude and faith in God? How can she, unlike myself, keep her God’s hands so free of her blood?

It’s sometimes said that those whom God loves most, he makes suffer most. I don’t know if its true of God’s creations, but its true of mine. I’m fascinated by the mystery of human suffering and how happiness comes to some and not others, equally or better endowed with fortune. The characters I love most are the ones I torment most. I want to sound the bottom of their depths. I want to see the dark corners of them. I want to know them at their most intimate, that raw moment of humanity.

What I know for sure is this.

When your soul hits bottom and there’s no place to go and you’re inhabiting the dark, if you suffer creatively a certain thing is revealed to you, like a porn star’s unprofessional monkey grin of pleasure. What happens is, you’ll see other people, really see them. It’s what Buddhists call “Boddhi chita” – Noble Heart. When you realize there is no babysitter, no security, nothing to grab onto, and that everybody else is having a tough battle and we’re all in it, people will look different to you. You’ll begin to see the unspoken courage, and faith and sheer beauty in the people all around you and their sheer stubborn determination to love someone. No matter what. Then, by god, you’ll have something to write about.

C. Sanchez-Garcia


  1. I appreciate your post. There certainly is a lot of ground covered, but what came to me so fresh pertains, I think, to both good porn and good writing, perhaps to all good works of art. Ginsberg talks about it in Howl, perhaps did in his life (i would assume) however I have not studied him. He says, at least through his character in the movie Howl, "Concentrate on what you want to say to yourself and your friends. Follow your inner moonlight; don't hide the madness. You say what you want to say when you don't care who's listening." and "Since art is merely and ultimately self-expressive, we conclude that the fullest art, the most individual, uninfluenced, unrepressed, uninhibited expression of art is true expression and the true art." It is in the act of being human bravely, allowing the world to know of our bruise and of our passion, that art is created. In this way through authenticity art is hot, regardless of the avenue.


  2. Erin;

    Wow, I think I just found my next email signature. I haven;t read "Howl" for a long time, now I think i should read it again. I also wssn't aware there was a movie about Howl. I'm going to take a look on Netflix.

    I think erotica writers have been given the most transgressive sand box on the playground to play in, but we don't always take full advantage of it.

    Thanks Erin!


  3. Hi Garce,

    you refer to yourself as falling "so far, just short of atheism?"

    It took me a while to arrive at atheism. I didn't experience it as a fall.

    Atheism is an act of faith, a declaration of belief, an assertion that humanity stands or falls in the universe based purely on its own actions, beliefs and values.

    I wonder if perhaps you are not seeing the value of the path you are traveling on. To my eyes you have abandoned a comforting illusion to seek a place in an uncomfortable truth.

    I remain unconvinced of the value of suffering. Pain is a fact of life. It must be endured. It can be learned from. I doubt that we should seek it out.

    Sometimes beauty comes from suffering. My favorite example is Hopkins

    O the mind, mind has mountains; cliffs of fall
    Frightful, sheer, no-man-fathomed. Hold them cheap
    May who ne’er hung there. Nor does long our small
    Durance deal with that steep or deep. Here! creep,
    Wretch, under a comfort serves in a whirlwind: all
    Life death does end and each day dies with sleep.

    Still, I wonder, how much more beauty might Hopkins have produced if he had come out from the shadow of his faith and stood in the sunlight of a woman's love?

  4. Mike

    I think the reason I'm not an atheist is that it requires an act of faith which in way defeats the purpose of not having faith. It ends the question, and I'm keeping the question open.

    Keeping the questions open is the path I'm trying to inhabit. Along the way I've decided that happiness is nice work if you can get it, but its not where the most interesting stuff is. I want to walk where the demons are hiding.

    Hopkins might have produced a different kind of beauty if he had been loved well by a woman. And then another kind if he had loved well, and then lost that woman.

    I hope the stuff I write here doesn;t give people the impression I'm a gloomy guy who goes around with a little rain cloud over his head. I am like that sometimes, but usually in the real world, I'm a quiet cheerful person. These days I have a sense of loving my world and my world loving me back, for how ever long these things last.


  5. Hey Garce,

    I'm really not sure that agree "happy characters can't give us that raw, pornographic moment" - unless you're restricting your definition of "happy" to the kind of lazy, materialistic contentment that satisfies some people.

    I'll quote from one of _my_ favorite poems, Barter by Sara Teasdale:

    Spend all you have for loveliness,
    Buy it and never count the cost.
    For one white singing hour of peace
    Count many a year of strife well-lost
    And for a breath of ecstasy
    Give all you have been, or could be.



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