Friday, November 21, 2014

Craving Escape

by Jean Roberta

Cravings, by definition, are generally assumed to be intense but momentary and not completely rational. A desire for fame and wealth is not usually thought of as a “craving,” compared with a sudden appetite for dill pickles, heroin, or the feeling of a warm mouth on one’s most ticklish parts.

At the moment, my most pressing physical craving is even more basic than a desire for sex. In the early depths of a Canadian winter in a dry climate, I crave warmth and an absence of itchiness on my skin. I could enjoy being an olive in a delicatessen, soaking in oil.

Despite slathering myself with moisturizer after every shower, I need to slather more goop on myself before going to bed; otherwise, the feeling of army ants biting every inch of my body prevents me from falling asleep. You might assume all the slathering would make me greasy enough to slide right off the sheets, but no. In the morning, my skin is dry again.

My physical craving to be somewhere else, where sunshine and moisture in the air would enable me to feel comfortable, feels like a metaphor for my fear of being useless.

University instructors, especially those of us who teach mandatory first-year English classes, have to motivate ourselves to keep going. Responses from students tend to be inconsistent at best.

Yesterday I met a class that has thirty students registered. There were about fifteen in the room, and most had 1) not done the reading assignment, and 2) not brought their textbooks. I only had one copy of this book to lend out while I gave the class twenty minutes to read the damn short story and jot down answers to my questions about it. Two students on one side of the room had no books, so they occupied themselves sending text messages on their cell phones. I didn’t interrupt them, since I wasn’t sure what I could tell them to do instead: stare into space? I could have told them to leave, but I was afraid this would trigger a general exodus.

Meanwhile, I have several piles of student essays to finish marking. Grammatical correctness seems to be a thing unknown.

Dry skin, dry and ineffective writing.

I fantasize about having the power to intimidate students into paying attention and doing the work, regardless of whether they care about their grade point averages. Thus was born my alter ego, Dr. Athena Chalkdust, a small but scary academic domme.* In a fantasy world, she breaks all the rules and gets away with it because many students secretly crave being forced to do things that will benefit them in the long run.

I doubt whether this is true in real life. I remember being a nineteen-year-old first-year university student, and realizing that I needed to motivate myself to do whatever I thought needed to be done. How little has changed.

In my first year of university, I was raped by a man (not a student) who haunted the campus. This was predictable, and so was the aftermath: I was told to think long and hard about how I had brought this on myself, and how to avoid attracting such negative attention in the future.

In the wake of recent celebrity sexual-assault scandals (Jian Ghomeshi, formerly popular program host with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, comedian Bill Cosby), I am reminded of how little has changed in the culture of North America (or of the world) in the many years since I was young. Some of the allegations against celebrities are from a previous era because the alleged victims were afraid of the consequences of becoming publicly known at the time. They still have cause to worry.

By now, I seem to be too old to be a rape magnet. I probably seem useless to predators. Does this mean I’ve reached a safe state of invisibility? This could be a good thing in some contexts, but there are no guarantees.

My female spouse is usually a great source of comfort and validation, for lack of a clearer word (we assure each other that we are both worthwhile members of the human race), but lately, she has been going through worse upheavals in her job than I have in mine. My situation is nothing new, so I really have no right to make my usual complaints to someone who might as well be living in a court of the Italian Renaissance. (Plots, cabals, scapegoats, smear campaigns and poisonings seem to be part of the culture.)

And before long, I will be expected to summon up some holiday cheer. That’s hard to do when one feels like an itchy Grinch.

I would like to be a hibernating bear in a warm, cozy cave. That’s what I crave now. I might not be meeting anyone else’s needs that way, but I could afford not to care.


*My published stories by/about Dr. Athena can be found in these anthologies:
- She Who Must Be Obeyed, edited by D.L. King (Lethe Press, 2014)
- Slave to Love, edited by Alison Tyler (Cleis Press, 2006)
- Best Lesbian Erotica 2009 (Cleis)
- Best of the Best Lesbian Erotica 2 (2005, reprinted from Best Lesbian Erotica 2001) (Cleis)
- Best Lesbian Erotica 2005 (Cleis).


  1. I would argue your definition of cravings being a short-term thing. After all, keeping a comfy body temperature isn't short-term.

    Sorry about your skin. I'm plagued with dry skin too. Gets worse as I get older. Doesn't everything? Do you eat plenty of olive oil and nuts?

    Not surprised about Cosby. I'm suspicious of adults who like to have kids around them all the time. Christ- kids scare me. I'm about on a par with W.C.Fields when it comes to kids. I don't trust 'em. Talk about a Grinch, eh?

  2. I've never been a teacher, but from what I've heard about teaching from others, I have the idea that maybe you connect with or help one student per year or per semester, and that is success, a lasting success that stays with that one student long-term. Like you have to spend all semester with the whole group because that's the way it's structured, but what it's really about is reaching that one student who's ready to be reached. Sort of like stocking a used book shop with hundreds of volumes so that the one customer will find that one special book?

  3. I do so empathize, Jean - with your comments about the students and about the dry skin. It's so frustrating to see students wasting the opportunities their parents have paid so much for them to have. Jeremy's right, though. All you can hope for is to have some positive influence on one or two per year.

    And living in the tropics has done wonders for my skin. Whenever I return to North America, though - regardless of the season - I seem to turn into a pineapple.

  4. Jean:
    But I really did crave fame and fortune with an unrelenting hunger. Anyway as far as being intimidating, my first home room teacher in high school was one of the most fearsome men I had ever met. He was short, only 5' 6" but had a body like Arnold Schwarzenegger (speaking of rapists) and a constant scowl. He taught history. If you dozed in his class he knocked you into next Tuesday (teachers could do that then). He was the cross-country and asst track coast. He was one of the first adults who really got me to reach beyond my self imposed limits. We are still friends fifty years later, although I still call him Mr. McGinnis or Sir. Like Jeremy I hope you can find some satisfaction in being that kind of inspiration for just one student each semester. I couldn't do your job. What Daddy says-more fat in you diet.

  5. Thanks for commenting, all. I hadn't thought of oil or olives as an antidote for dry skin -- will have to try them. And you're right about cravings not necessarily being short-term, Daddy X. Everything I complained about in my post is long-term. Actually, I do have some students who seem engaged in the learning process, and some who have come back to tell me what an inspiration I was to them, which is heart-warming. Some days, however . . .
    I'll probably get some of the things I crave (warmth, rest, cheerful companionship, time to write) during the holidays.

  6. I think being comfortable is one of the things we crave when we're uncomfortable--itchy, sore, too hot, too cold, joints and /or muscles aching--and then take for granted when we're reasonably comfortable and can proceed to crave higher levels of pleasure. We shouldn't shortchange the pleasures of sitting down at last after hours on our feet, or kicking off tight shoes, or even having uncomfortably cold feet and then slipping into bed beside someone who has warm (and willing) feet. (I wonder why I seem to be fixated on feet just now? Maybe I need to kick off my shoes, and make sure my feet (currently hot) are cold enough to make getting into bed fun when the time comes.)

  7. I've never had such dry, itchy skin as I've got right now. I guess this, too, is one of the vagaries of getting older. About the ONLY benefit I've noticed is that I don't have to shave my legs so often since the hair isn't as thick...or my armpits. But all of the other discomforts add up, and so the whole getting older thing is definitely not all "beer and skittles". I've been slathering on lotion like it's going out of style, and it only helps for the short term. It's embarrassing to have to scratch this much in public, while at work. Ignoring it is even worse! Is it too soon to start longing for summer again??

    I sub at local high schools. The students are mostly monumentally uninvolved with the educational opportunities being presented to them. My son who will be graduating in December with his BS in Geology, is grateful that his assistant-ship that just got approved for him to work on his masters, is a research assistant-ship, so he doesn't have to be a TA for a 100-level lab class. Even in his labs as a student, he gets frustrated with the students around him who don't listen to instructions, mess around with their phones, then complain that they didn't have time to finish, or didn't understand the lab.. He'd make a terrible TA, since he'd be the one to call them on their lack of attention and their attitude of, "Is this going to be on the test? Will this affect my grade?" Instead of, "What can I learn from this, to justify all of the money being spent to keep me here, and all of the time the educational staff is spending to present me opportunities that I'm free to ignore?:"

  8. Thanks for commenting, Sacchi and Fiona.

    Fiona, I didn't know that you sub in high schools -- that must be a thankless job. I'm glad your son got funding for graduate work without having to teach. I assumed that teaching was a kind of indentured servitude for grad students. It's nice to know there are other options.

    Sometimes I remind myself that the bratty students who avoid & ignore whatever is happening in the classroom tend to be noticeable, but there are other students too. In a large class, it's easy to focus only on the worst. In first-year classes, I get the brilliant, the hopeless, and every shade in between.

    I'm glad I have such an indulgent audience when I post a whiny rant. :)

  9. As far as the dry skin, may I recommend argan oil? I live in New England and was really suffering as the weather changed, and sick of applying lotion seven times a day. Argan oil seems to have cleared that up, and I like the smell of it, too.

    As far as the teaching, I can totally imagine how it can be demoralizing. I also have lots of trouble dealing with situations where I'm upset about my usual stuff while my partner or those close to me seem to be going through something more dramatic. Good luck with that!


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