Thursday, May 29, 2008

we are ugly but we have the music

Ever since Andrea expressed her change of heart about privacy, and Mad commented that her daughter may be more mortified by what she says about herself than what she says about her daughter, I've been thinking about some of my old flashback fridays. On the one hand, there probably aren't (m)any appropriate occasions for discussing one's sexual history with one's children - certainly not the details - but I do remember asking my mom, and feeling a little let down that she was a virgin when she married my dad. My friend's mom was much cooler: not only did she smoke (and let us smoke around her) but she had had love affairs before she married my friend's dad.

Officially, I was a late bloomer. I didn't have my first date and first kiss (on different days) until I was 17 and almost all of my friends had already lost their virginity. I didn't actually lose my virginity until I was 19, an old hag by any standards, as far as I was concerned. But still my mom made moralizing noises about anything she caught wind of, and I didn't much care for that disapproval.

When I was in high school, right around that time of my first love (the first date, first kiss guy), we listened to a lot of Leonard Cohen. I've probably written this before but my friend and her boyfriend had built a cabin in the woods, complete with dugout beer cellar, hammock, and battery-operated stereo. It was great, and we spent a lot of time drinking, talking, and listening to Leonard Cohen, among others, there. I had his Best Of tape, with So Long Maryanne (it so happened that one of our friends was named Maryanne and the night before she moved out west we sang it loudly, badly, and repeatedly), Suzanne, Sisters of Mercy (which I found faintly shocking at the time), Famous Blue Raincoat, and Chelsea Hotel No. 2, which everyone said was about Janis Joplin, so I always picture Janis and Leonard on an unmade bed high above the city some short time before she died when I hear it. We all fancied ourselves poets, and Leonard had the perfect mix of poetry, melancholy, and blatant sex for us.

In my early twenties, I became a one-woman political movement. I wanted to prove that the teen magazine view of female sexuality was all wrong, that women could have sex without love, could do it without wounds. I may have had a wound I was trying to heal, but if anything I blame the magazines for that wound.

Through high school I pored over teen magazines. Apart from my friends' boyfriends, they were my only way to learn about boys so I sopped up the advice columns and the quizzes and the feature articles about how to please your guy. I read all about how if a guy really loves you he won't pressure you for sex, that any guy who pushes for sex is an asshole, that all guys want sex with anyone, any time, anywhere, and all girls need time to be comfortable and firmly in love before sex is an option. I really hate that stereotype, that guys only want sex and women only want love. So I set out to prove it wrong, at least to myself.

Now that I'm on the other side of that experiment, I feel like my silence is a weapon. Like all us married women whisper behind our hands or comment on my blog that yes we had casual sex too but shhh... we don't want to admit anything other than this staid, settled, married front. And I really don't think that's helpful to our daughters. Sometimes I catch myself feeling like that experiment was a mistake, another misguided hiccup of youth, like the time I got into a car driven by a drunk driver who pulled from the 26-er of whiskey riding down the highway in the middle of the blizzard. But was it really? Or did I learn important things about myself?

At the bloggy weekend, the same one Bon left early to see Mr. Cohen himself, I asked around the room, how will you discuss your sexual history with your kids. I think that's the one thing I want to do differently from my mom. In some ways I'm proud of my brazenness, proud of not letting my Amazon-ness prevent me from discovering my sexuality, proud of the work I've done to enjoy and accept my body. Mad wondered if in fact I'd had any good experiences, because my Flashback Fridays are mostly ... shit I can't remember the word she used but it was quite apt... something along the lines of damaging or troubled. This tells me I still have stories to tell, even if I find it difficult or embarrassing. I have the good stories to tell still, and yes there were some.

At this point, I think I have to send you over to Bon and Sage for their discussion of Leonard Cohen's songs and his portrayal of female sexuality, if you haven't read them already. They're that good, and much more articulate than I could ever be.

This afternoon, I decided to listen to him again, for old time's sake, and I picked Chelsea Hotel No. 2 first. As I listened to it, and then commented at Sage's place, I realized he had influenced my own sexuality. I think I was trying to become the woman at the Chelsea Hotel No. 2, from the "I never once heard you say, I need you, I don't need you, I need you, I don't need you And all of that jiving around" to the "clenching your fist for the ones like us, Who are oppressed by the figures of beauty, You fixed yourself, you said, "well never mind, We are ugly but we have the music" to the "I don't mean to suggest that i loved you the best, I can't keep track of each fallen robin. I remember you well in the chelsea hotel, That's all, i don't even think of you that often."


Beck said...

I'm going to be really blunt about what I think, okay?

Your kids will - in all liklihood - never want to hear about your sex life.

I think part of growing into our own sexuality involves feeling like we are the first sexually active generation ever, and there's something wildly emotionally innapropriate in me saddling my kids with my wild pre-marital sexual escapades. Also: ew. Who wants to think about their middle-aged mom doing it with some stranger? That would be nasty. My 9 year old finds the idea of me having had a boyfriend in the past upsetting and distasteful: I really don't think she ever would want to have the mental image of me having sex with other people, either.

Which is not to say that you can't share what you've LEARNED with your kids: of course not. Being able to talk openly about sex with your kids will be a huge gift. But as your kids will get older, you'll learn that they don't WANT to be open with you about everything and that what might have seemed cool as a teenager (an adult who let you smoke around her) becomes wrong once your own kids are the teens themselves (woe betide any adult who would let my kids smoke around them.).

cinnamon gurl said...

Beck, I knew I could depend on you! Yes, I'm certainly not suggesting conversations that are not appropriate for kids' ages... more just honesty and more realistic expectations?

cinnamon gurl said...

Oh - and I should also clarify that my goal isn't to be a cool parent, not at all, but a parent my kids can talk to and feel like I have some kind of clue?

Mad said...

No, your kids likely won't want to hear about your sex life and the more forthright you are, the more prudish they are likely to be. Still, I think it necessary that you work through your stance on these issues as they affected you and as you intend to process and share whatever lessons/freedoms your experiences taught you. If your blog is where you do that, then power to the people and hip, hip, hoorah.

I know that you have wrestled with whether or not to take down some of those old FF stories. I guess my point is, this is your narrative here. If your kids discover it some day, they will need to decide for themselves which parts to read and which ones they would rather not have knowledge of. At some point in the future you could relegate certain posts to draft, printing them out so that you can either keep them from your kids or give them to them when they are old enough and with caveats so that they can opt not to read them.

I do think it a good idea for you to write out the good stories along with the bad. Balance in all things, right?

When I said that our kids would likely be embarrassed that we wrote about ourselves, I meant it in the broadest possible way. No matter what we do, we will, as mothers, embarrass and shame our kids. My dear friend has an 11-year-old who does not want her mom to come to any school functions because her mom is (gasp) TALL and (alas) WEARS A TURQUOISE COAT. Really, my masturbation post is somewhere on planet Mars compared with this level of shame.

I will likely, I dunno yet, stop blogging and dismantle my blog when Miss M gets older. I will print it out to save for her, but I think she would be best not having the cross of my public voice to bear between, say, the ages of 10 and 20. This is also a reason I keep the blog anonymous so that there will be less of a trace of it there to dog her.

Does that mean I plan to shut up and allow my identity to be effaced during that awkward time in her life? Hell no. I'll just find ways to keep my voice in a way that honours her as well.

Or who the hell knows? I may change my mind on all of this. 'Cause this is new territory for all of us.

Andrea said...

Yeah. Adolescence. It's a tricky one.

Poor Frances, she has a mother who is planning on writing for money pretty well forever, thus guaranteeing a level of shame not experienced by most children.

I had a similar sex-without-love phase, and I found most of those experiences positive, actually (with one glaring exception). And they were good learning experiences, too. (Especially the glaring exception.) These are our stories, and we are entitled to them and to their expression; how to balance that with our children's desire not to know anything about it or be reminded of it in any way is a good question.

We've already had so many anatomy discussions that I htink my own difficulty around discussing these issues has already been whacked out of me, and Frances is at this stage at least very comfortable with asking questions. It's very different than the house I was brought up in.

Say, before I write a book here, maybe I should write a post on my own space? There's a thought.

Janet said...

I have had the generic sex talk with my eldest, who is almost nine. It was mostly about the mechanics of how babies are actually made. But in that conversation the subject of timing came up. He wanted to know if people have to be married to have sex. Boy, I wasn't expecting that one.

I don't imagine that my kids will ever want to know the specific details of my sex life. I was an exceptionally late bloomer, so I have a rather pious tale to tell. Still, I would prefer to keep the details private. But my overall value system regarding sexuality? I now know that we need to have those ducks in a row before we embark on conversations with our still-young children.

Defiantmuse said...

I've been thinking about these sort of things myself. Especially because my partner and I come from such different places where sexuality is concerned. He's had about 3 partners in his life, all women he loved and was committed to whereas I've lost count, somewhere in the double digits at least.

Having a daughter I wonder what we will teach her about sex, etc.

I don't plan to tell Monkey about my past until she's older, a teenager or young adult. I would never go into explicit detail but an overall gist would be good.

Kyla said...

The thought of my mom or dad having sex in any sort of combination of themselves or others still skeeves me out. I'm pretty sure my kids will not want my details. I do want to be open with them insofar as they want me to be open. I want them to be able to talk to me without fear of judgment or freak outs.

zoom said...

My mother went - practically overnight - from being a total prude who turned bright red whenever we asked her anything about sex, to an uninhibited verbal exhibitionist who insisted on sharing every graphic detail of her sex life with us. It was hugely disconcerting, and still is.

Personally, I think there's a happy medium in there somewhere. Maybe you can talk to your kids about the lessons learned along the way, but leave out anything that might make them conjure up a mental image of you naked and in the throes.

Bon said...

oh, oh! i missed this yesterday. :)

first of all, i LOVE Chelsea Hotel...and he didn't play it at the concert and i was a wee bit crushed. to me, it's always been the perfect not-quite-love-song...because the fact that he wrote the song, and tenderly, belies the apparent dismissal of "i don't think of you that often."

for me, your question brought a lot up...i don't expect that my kids will have any direct personal interest in my stories, but i do think that having them utterly hidden is not a route i'm willing to take. what i'd like - and what i'm not sure is possible - is for my kids to grow up with some understanding that all of us are sexual people, them and their parents included, and that their parents have pasts and there were some great learning experiences in those moments and some damage. more a Euro model of sexuality than the typical North American skeeviness of "oh my god that's disgusting!", which obviously has implications on how the kid sees not just the parents' sexuality but sexuality in general, and thus reflects on their own.

perhaps if i just play them lots of Leonard.

Lisa b said...

I love your amazon-ness.
The blogging of all of this figuring out who we are puts us in an unusual position of having to face the issue of what our children will think if they find out from reading what we have written. Writers have always been criticised for this but it is new to have to consider what we have published in this space that is public yet different from text.

I agree with beck that our kids will not want to know and the best we can hope is they learn our lessons. Which they probably won't. They'll have to learn their own, just as we did.

I agree with everyone else and, as always, I just wish I could express it the way bon has.

Julie Pippert said...

There should come a point, I think, when kids become people and are interested in discovering a bit about their parents as people.

I've absolutely HAD to think of my mom as a person.

It's not fair to say there are any consequences if one doesn't do that, but I watch my husband miss a relationship with his parents because he hasn't quite, err, hmm, arrived at that spot.

Kids are not at that age, but I think a 40 year old man could, but then again...there is a privacy wall.

I don't think there are hard and fast rules---it depends on the people.

But I guess I'll be a minority here and say I think it's good that one's children (at an appropriate age) find the humanity in their parents.

That might not be through sex stories, but you never know they might.

I say go with what YOU think, you know?

sewfunky said...

ooo i totally get what you wrote on leonard cohen,, huge influence on that part of my life as well. I am so lucky to have gone to his concert last night and i too missed that he didnt play chelsea hotel.
I have a 15 year old so i can totally relate to this conversation, i'll tell you about it in real life one day..haha