Tied up in mental knots [do not skip disclaimer!]

[I wrote this a few weeks ago, as Passover was beginning, and then I chickened out and published something silly instead. It doesn’t make sense, entirely, in the chronology of where this blog has made it in my personal journey story; I need to finish writing about North & South, and there’s a meta-post on the role of beauty in North & South, too. Those are all about 2/3 finished, and have been difficult to write. Weird that I’ve gotten to a place where it’s easier to write about my emotions than to do something analytical. Servetus has really come a long way, baby. The point of publishing it now is that it makes in terms of what’s been happening in my real life recently. Also I’m given courage by this, which just appeared and made me think I’ll find a way of talking about this more concretely with others who are experiencing this attraction in a creative way as opposed to harvesting opprobrium. This post does not involve descriptions of sex, but it definitely involves reflections about the metaphorical meaning of sex fantasy for me. Earlier, I’d just have pushed this out there, but now that I’m aware of how incredibly uncomfortable this sort of thing makes some people feel, I’m a bit tense. So be aware. If you don’t want to read my musings on what role sex fantasy might play in my emotional and creative life, do not read this post. Thanks.]

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Good Friday: Things swirl around in my brain and I should be doing something but I don’t have any appointments and my favorite place to be is lying in bed with you in my fantasies.

This gives me feelings of unease: That at the end of the day I look forward to going home: to turning off the lights, stripping, crawling into bed, nuzzling my face into the pillows — and fantasizing about you and your dramatic brethren. It makes me nervous, that at the end of the semester I rely on morning fantasies to talk myself into taking up the burden of my days. That I think about ways to find more time to fantasize about all of you and then write about it afterwards.

For a long time it was fantasies that involved characters you’ve played, and these were mostly about comfort and safety. Mr. Thornton for work stuff. Porter for support, for instance. Lucas North for encountering trauma but not being able to speak about it. For a long time I didn’t fantasize about you as yourself at all. It seemed forbidden. You only yelled at me in my dreams; my therapist at the time said that this image reflected an inner conflict I felt about blogging and about writing in general. Then I started fantasizing about you as yourself, but didn’t admit it to anyone. Then I started writing down the fantasies about you. And then I admitted it.

When you’re you in the fantasy, it’s different. Not like when it’s one of your characters. Actors are supposed to help people achieve catharsis, according to the Greeks; but actors in their guises as characters. Not actors as people. Right? But somehow you’re a character. Except when you’re not. When you’re you, I don’t call you Richard, although I’m convinced that that’s who you are. I don’t call you anything in my fantasies. You look like Richard Armitage, you have his eyes, and his body, and what I imagine to be his soul, but I’m still trying to figure out who fantasy Richard Armitage is.

Why do I want the fantasies to take over? What if the fantasies took over?

You, in the media in which I experience you, affect me like no picture I’ve ever seen, like no person I’ve ever met, on every level. I have no explanation for this effect; I don’t fall for actors; I have never spent hours looking at anyone’s face, real man or image of celebrity, or maybe only the person whose life I research; but the rush that comes from watching you is incomparable, it’s been unparalleled for over two years, and it gets more and more intense as the weeks past. With you, I experience registers of emotion, of physical sensation, I never knew existed, that no one who has touched me physically has ever provoked, or which I had only read about in novels or psychology books. You give me a capacity to feel I never would have credited myself with. You don’t just let me unload emotions; you teach me how to experience them.

The visceral arousal I feel in response to you I can’t describe in words or images. I’ve always had a rampant libido; I have the “wrong” balance of hormones for a woman. So I’m not unaccustomed to being preoccupied with sex or aroused in situations where I can — and want rationally — to do nothing about it. I’ve had to put my desire under conscious rational control since the summer after I turned sixteen, so you certainly didn’t wake me up from any pristine, virginal sleep. But I’ve never had this experience of being all desire, all eyes, all mouth, all senses, all — body, that I have when watching you. I’ve understood, dimly since I left home, and concretely since my mid-twenties, that the demands of libido could make me do something I would never do under any other circumstances. I know all to well how the will to come can make me forget all my morals. But I’ve never seen the possibility that my life could be one long persistent orgasm, that sexual attraction could be the basis of a flow that would persist without interruption. Indeed, I would have called this a delusion, a notion created by the people who commodify human desire.

Until I saw you. You not only move me beyond rationality — that’s happened to me before — but you lead me to desire non-rationality actively. Watching you leads me to conclude that it’s the only thing. And to think that only my fears stand in the way.

That alone is disturbing enough, that you could teach me somehow to desire beyond certain boundaries, but let me also concede that the possibility that you could help me abandon my fears is just as tantalizing, just as all-encompassing. So let me concede ultimately that the intense fantasy of sex allows me the fantasy of anger as well.  Desire was at least something I was allowed to feel and allowed to talk about. But anger –anger was something so forbidden for explicit discussion or expression for most of my life that I almost never felt it physically until I saw you. I would have said until relatively recently that I never get very angry, because I simply didn’t acknowledge much in myself the thing I saw in others and read about in books, the reaction that’s called anger. About a decade ago someone explained to me that the absolute absence of feeling, the fuse that shuts off everything temporarily until I feel a desire to smooth things over, this nothingness that I sense in certain situations is anger, and if not dealt with, it can become rage, which is much more dangerous than anger. I know I am angry when I feel nothing. So anger as a feeling is also a fantasy for me, a much more forbidden fantasy than sex has ever been. I could always admit to myself that I desired, even when I couldn’t show or pursue it. Anger, in contrast, has been so forbidden that I couldn’t even acknowledge it.

Rationality break. In my real life, I note that emotions are culturally conditioned and not absolute. “Research shows” (I put that in scare quotes because I am trying to be ironic on purpose) that historically, different cultures develop different metaphors for discussing emotions. In the century I study, for instance, the apocalyptic metaphor played a role equivalent to the role that sexual metaphor plays today — creating a particular relationship between the subject and object that constitutes the boundaries of the emotional world people live in. In our world, the dominant metaphor is sex. In it, sex becomes a way of constituting different kinds of conversations. Sex grants legitimacy for a speaker and determines falsity or incredibility; it conditions our notions of virtue and creates shame; it is a thing without which we cannot get, so much so that even people who do not experience sexual desire are subordinated in a discourse that insists that their reactions are a disease or a dysfunction — that their “asexual” reactions are a “not,” a negation, of the thing, sexuality, that is seen to create the world for most of us. In our world, sex gives us the power to draw lines and make judgments. Sex is thus irretrievably conflated with power.

So I fantasize about you and get aroused. I want to come and come and come. I can’t feel there’s anything in my brain outside of that. That is sexual. But it is also an attitude toward emotion and the location of personal and cultural power, one that gets expressed via this particular metaphor because my historical circumstances give me the particular language that I have.

Which means, for me, that I also fantasize about you sexually and I get so angry about everything. Angry about why I am the awful way I am, about why my life has come to this sticky place, about all the destructive wishes I have that I can never, ever express, about all the thoughts that are not legitimate and can never be legitimate, that are so bad they cannot even be thought, let alone spoken. About the curse of a detailed memory, about never being able to forget things that have happened and the way that the corresponding emotions have etched themselves poisonously into my brain. About all the little remnants of rage that filter into my days from every piece of my life that I can’t forget, and drop like bombs onto positive feelings whenever the latter appear, and make me shut off. (Khandy, if you’re reading this, now you know another reason why The Gruinard Project appeals to me so much.) As much as fantasy about you lets me feel desire, it also lets me witness my own anger and the rage it’s fermented into, over the years. The intensity of a sexual fantasy of the like I’ve never experienced has finally opened a door to experience my own negative emotions. And they are frightening, so frightening that even in sexual fantasy they only come out tentatively, metaphor hidden behind metaphor; even I, who know what these fantasies might be about, struggle to discern, struggle to acknowledge.

Why do you let me get so aroused, Richard? Why do you let me get so angry, fantasy Armitage?

Fantasy about you legitimates extremes of feeling that I can’t acknowledge rationally. It puts them in a safe place — in fantasy, or lately, on my blog. Making them real by writing them down is a reminder to myself that I can have the full emotions, the existence of which you’ve demonstrated for me. And when those emotions are there — sexual arousal, but also other emotions, you make me believe, on some level, that I could experience certain feelings, that I could even live without the creatively paralyzing fears that bedevil me.

Richard Armitage: you make me think I could learn to live without fear. You teach me that I could dare to feel in the same depth with which I have always dared to know.

It’s not easy. If you’re an elusive piece of myself with whom I’m fighting out decisive identity issues around emotion and creativity, they’re not easy, either. If only I could love you without policing you, without constantly having to judge myself for loving you. As a fantasy you allow me the vision of losing control, but in the end I am still, always, always, always in control. It’s hard work, to have to be in control all of the time. I’m so tired, fantasy Richard, of doing all of the work. If I could only know that you loved me. If I could only know that you would stay.

I conclude you are safer than a therapist. Even if you don’t always say anything, still you hold all my secrets. If I keep watching the fantasies with you, maybe you will tell them to me in words or images I can bear. And I am not letting you go until you speak. I can make you stay here, even if I know you don’t really love me, I can police you into staying.

~ by Servetus on April 28, 2012.

20 Responses to “Tied up in mental knots [do not skip disclaimer!]”

  1. This is quite the ‘mother of all posts’ you’ve published here, Servetus.

    I’m sure I haven’t processed through most of it yet, but the one thing that does strike me is how you have managed to divorce youself from your capacity to feel, acknowledge, and discharge your anger.

    No part of us can be cut off from ourselves forever (it will simply pursue, and demand re-integration). It will go into the nice box of our ‘shadow’ where it happily earns interest, compounding over time as unpaid interest on our loans do.

    Perhaps I had a very unusual upbringing. I grew up in a household where my mother, on a daily basis, expressed her anger and frustration and rage. I saw it taken out on my older siblings and my father (who was quite a saint). As the youngest, I could only watch and wonder at what could have been the cause and catalyst for such violent emotions. It’s taken awhile now, but I think that was quite a gift to have witnessed such uncensored anger and frustration and rage, particularly from a woman – and as her daughter, it was even more important to me that I learn to understand.

    It is likely what has caused me to be so sensitive to my own anger and rage and to learn to process and store or expel it as it comes. This is a topic that has no ‘charge’ for me as it is simply a way of life, like breathing or sleeping. However, I can see that my upbringing may be a bit unusual.

    I am sorry that you have been cut off from your capacity to feel such frustration, indignation, and rage towards the injustices that have been inflicted upon you. I cannot speak for everyone else here. But I can tell you that for all the violence and unexpressed anger and rage – YOU ARE STILL LOVED. You don’t have to BE a certain way to be loved. You just have to be you.

    Argh. I’m getting kicked out of this hotel now. xoxo.

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    • Thanks for the supportive comment — I was a bit worried about the extent of my openness here.

      I was raised in a tradition that explicitly taught that some feelings could and should be eliminated by force of (the tainted human) will. So while I can accept intellectually that that’s wrong, decades of training in particular kinds of behavior accompany and condition my reactions to certain things.

      I do think having witnessed anger is a gift, at least from my perspective; on the other hand, uncontrolled anger is frightening …

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  2. Good girls do not get angry. It is so unbecoming! Well, speaking for myself, I have worked hard to move away from that belief system that for me has been more stifling than anything else. I have now accumulated anger experiences that have been liberating. Initially, it might have gone to the extreme, now with time and practice, my anger has become less intimidating and more matter of fact. I have even surprised myself and NOT felt anger at situations that I thought I would have. I am more of a feely-sappy-touchy person anyway. Feelings are non negotiable. It is what you do with them that helps define you. And it is that journey to self definition that we sometimes stumble on. Personally, I say let fantasy RA help you sort them through, let him love you through it and let us support you on your journey.

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    • Thanks for the comment. I think fantasy RA can take it — he’s not real. The question is whether I can.

      It was really upsetting to have lost the second part of that fantasy the first time I published it — I realized it was because I had to relive something I was really uncomfortable with in the first place. So it’s definitely going to take practice — I’m glad to know that practice is worth it, that people get somewhere.

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  3. I know I bring up my father quite often, but hey that’s probably where a lot of stuff flows from…our fathers or our lack of fathers. Anyway, I will admit even if no one wants to hear it…one of the reasons I miss my father so much is because he was there to support me and help take care of me when I needed it. He was there for me emotionally, monetarily, spiritually. He was my safety net. Everyone in my immediate family felt the same way…as long as he was there everything would be ok. And I say that despite the fact that I am a very independent person and come from a long line of independent women on both sides. I have taken care of myself as well as my children for many years now and continue to do so today. But even so, it’s always nice to know there is that rock that will protect us if needed. After my dad passed away I felt adrift. Like somebody pulled up the anchor and I had drifted out to sea away from the safe harbor never knowing when a violent storm might set in. It’s scary and it’s something I haven’t learned to deal with completely. As you said in another comment, fans use their idols to fill different voids. So my fantasy Richard Armitage is kind, caring, gentle and giving. He’s also strong and capable of fixing anything that needs fixing …much like the characters he portrays, i.e. John Porter, John Thornton, etc. And he’s all these things because he’s gone through stuff in his life that lead him to this place. My reaction to the beginning of your post was that you’re in love because that’s exactly what it sounds like. But then you described the rage within and that sounds like you have lived through some terrible stuff that you’ve never been allowed to acknowledge much less purge. People talk all the time about expressing rage, getting rid of it before it does irreparable harm…but what you don’t hear is how to express that rage, how to purge it. It seems you have found a safe way to express your rage even if some consider it taboo. Whatever your demons may be, hopefully RA can help you deal with them. And I believe he can because his healing affect has always been the underlying draw for me.

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    • When I’ve been in love, it hasn’t been like this. Or rather, things are involved that are not involved here. I don’t feel a strong intellectual attraction to fantasy Richard Armitage, for instance, which is an essential component of romantic love for me.

      I share with you this appreciation for the man who can “fix” everything (whatever everything is) — a sort of distorted image of my father or at least how he sees himself. It’s really wonderful that you ahd that in your father. That it reappears in Richard Armitage I also find affirming and healing. Here’s to more fantasizing on the path to wholeness!

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  4. As UKExpat said, this is “the mother of all posts” and I applaud you for being courageous enough to post it. It clarifies the “why” behind everything you’ve blogged about since I started reading you, and answers your critics about why you had to pull the cloak off your fantasies, although sadly rage/anger seems to be just as touchy a subject for many who don’t like to acknowledge negative emotions. I’m not quite sure what to say here, except to add my own experience and hope it’s helpful.

    I had half your problem when I was growing up; I was allowed to express anger – except at the very people who most enraged me, then it became unsafe. So I learned to shut down, put up a blank wall, and repress the anger which fermented into rage that definitely compounded interest over time. If it were money, I’d be stinking rich. I was not taught to acknowledge my anger, much less how express or disperse it. I had to learn how to do this, and understand that the blank feeling was anger. Then I was concerned what the rage would look like it came out. Well, it wasn’t the cataclysmic berserko monster I probably imagined because my personality is too controlled, but like a slow bloodletting, acknowledging and feeling the anger for as long as it took/takes to get it out. It’s still something I continue to deal with on an ongoing basis.

    For a long time I had two reactions to a bad situation: the false one and the real one. The false response acknowledged no anger and eagerly tried to smooth over the situation, even if it wasn’t my fault. A few days later, the real response of delayed anger would lash out, after everything was supposedly okay, which I’m sure confused people. I learned to resist the impulse to immediately placate to give myself time feel whatever I felt.

    I’m glad you found a doorway to reclaiming the side you’ve repressed. If it’s fantasy RA, then so be it. And I’m glad you’ve finally said what you’ve been dying to say.

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    • I don’t think I could have articulated this so clearly two years ago — I wouldn’t have let myself — but there’s always the question of whether people will understand what I tried to say. Part of the problem in the discussion you refer to was the insistence that writing about sex cannot involve or should not involve metaphor (admittedly from a strict literalist among others), or that all writing about sex is smut. As a “both / and” girl, I want to stress that I’m not saying nothing about these fantasy writings is sexual — that would be preposterous on the face of the claim. Rather I am trying to say that sex fantasies for me are about a lot of different emotions — it’s the arousal that legitimates the expression of troubling things.

      Right now the most troubling thing is anger, for all the reasons that you express above. It may not always be that way. I think most people are not as internally angry as I am.

      So yeah. First step. More of what I’ve been dying to say coming up, as I get up my energy and courage.

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  5. Once again, another challenging post (i’ve learned new english words too 🙂 ) As you’ve told me, it’s a coping mecanism. Should we judge you for needing your fantasies to help you through your day ? I don’t think so. Do you find satisfaction in it so far? Because the risk is to be trapped by your fantasies, to be controled by them, instead of controlling them. I think they are cathartic for you, and if they help you to express your feelings and to unblock things buried in you, it’s even better.

    This catched my attention :
    “You give me a capacity to feel I never would have credited myself with. You don’t just let me unload emotions; you teach me how to experience them.”
    I wouldn’t have said better what I feel towards him. He makes me feel alive.

    I find extremely interesting the idea that each fantasized character is different and meet different needs. As in the comments above, I also find that post puts into perspective your whole blog. I’m delighted that you’ve finally been able to write and publish what you feel, because it’s a good thing to put into words what you feel. Confessing your fantasies is in no way degrading for you or offensive to the object of your fantasy, especially when it’s done with respect.

    And because of you, I’ve postponed publishing the 2nd part of my article because I’ve had other ideas while reading this that I have to dig 🙂

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    • I don’t think I’m trapped in the fantasies, or if I am, there’s enough outside the fantasy still that I can still see very clearly the line between fantasy and reality. Of course, that line is different for everyone, so what seems okay to me can potentially be troublesome for others. I don’t think this stuff is disrespectful in content — there is the question of whether the act of confessing it is in itself disrespectful.

      Thanks for your post with your fantasy — it was so cathartic for me to read it, too!

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  6. […] the excellent article by Servetus, I have slightly delayed the publication of this one because I felt the need to develop […]

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  7. I have a few comments swirling around in my head. First, love or hate what I write but please have a reaction. I’d rather freak people out and cause a stir than have someone say,”that’s nice.”

    I can’t help but feeling that the response to your fic was less about you and more about the readers. Actually, I secretly loved that everyone’s knickers flew into a majog twist. I was like “right on sev!” I read the comments, BEFORE I read the fic, once I read the fic I was like “Really?” That’s what people got all hot and bothered about. I think you did a good thing by challending the fandom “norm.” If it helped others to define what they are comfortable with and what they are not comfortable with… in the end that is a good thing.

    As for the fans that are worried about Mr. Armitage. I get a kick out of that. Because honestly, ladies (and gents) I don’t really think he really cares all that much. I can honestly say, we prob spend waaay more time thinking about him than he does about us. That is just the nature of being a fan, it is a one sided relationship.

    As for fantasy, I am a married woman and yes Mr Thornton, John Porter, and gasp, Richard Armitage have figured into my sex life. Gasp! I am a bad wife because I fanatise about an actor. So be it, after 12 years being together some times you need a little something I think it is interesting that the American fans were way more freaked out than the European fans.

    I know this comment doesn’t directly relate but I missed the boat and wanted to respond. Ditto on all the anger stuff too.

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    • I think that we’re not going to see a lot of dissent over this issue here anymore: it was a combination of me handling it poorly and the dissenters using the most extreme possible arguments to make their cases that made it feel like an unwelcome atmosphere here for discussion of this issue. I regret that. I suspect that most of the people who really objected didn’t actually read the text they were objecting to. They objected to it on ethical grounds relating to its genre, so it really didn’t matter what I said.

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  8. …don’t get mad…don’t be sad(OMG!don’t cry, honey!) ..you are laughing too loud, darling!
    I know what you are talking about, I know it only too well,Servetus.

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  9. Today there is time to re-read this post and I in short want to let you know that your writing is so deeply touching, it even made me cry. My own diggings for insights and explanations are not as far preceded as yours are, being all the same still occupied with endless ruminations and a flood of feelings on this particular subject. I enjoy and devour every line you write as you often hit the nail right on my head. Thank you for your courage and your frankness. This is incredible relieving and at the same time indescribably overwhelming. Danke. Danke.

    PS. I like the expression UK Expat used: „the mother of all posts“ very much!

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    • Many thanks for the kind words; as this sort of stuff is hard to write and harder to publish, they are appreciated!

      Like

  10. just now seeing this. interesting especially with what you posted today.

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    • yeah, it’s kind of surprising how much like a bottle of compressed air I am feeling lately …

      Like

  11. […] [in case you need an idea of how long I can be angry and not be able to articulate it] […]

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