Assumption is a huge part of reading. It’s impossible for any writer to communicate his or her whole life to you. And anyway you wouldn’t want to hear about their painful bowel movement following last night’s Indian dinner or the new toothbrush they just bought at the 99 cent store. Or maybe you would if the writing was really superb. But even if they told you that, they’d be leaving out a whole lot of other stuff.
When you read someone’s writing you fill in what the writer leaves out either with your own personality or with your imagined version of that writer’s personality. Reading the comments section of my other blog gives me a sense of the imagined version of me that’s coalescing around the things I write. It’s kind of fascinating because it’s so vastly unlike the kind of person I am. Seeing this has caused me to drop my own tendency to imagine what the writers I like to read are really like. I just don’t know. Dropping that imagined voice of the writer has actually allowed me to enjoy a wide range of writing in a much more satisfying way.
Taking the last piece I put up on that page as an example, all I really gave you was a photo and a very brief description of the events surrounding when it was taken. From that little snippet, several people invented fascinating worlds of debauchery, insecurity, infidelity and all kinds of other juicy stuff. None of it was real. Yet our own thought inventions are very compelling to all of us and we often get completely lost in them.
When you see someone taking action that you cannot understand it may be best not to assume too much. It’s a big waste of time, effort and energy to do so anyway.
I decided today to try and explain publicly a very small degree of what’s been going on in my life lately that has led to me doing some things I’ve been writing about. Once you finish reading this, you won’t really know much more than you did before and you will fill in what you don’t know with various assumptions of your own. That’s OK. I only ask you to be aware of the fact.
When I write about going to a strip club or to a party for the Suicide Girls, a lot of people fill in their own details about why I went there. They assume I was there to get my rocks off, to party hardy, to indulge in debauchery and filth. I won’t try to convince you that’s not the case because, I’m really sorry, but I just don’t care what you think. It’s not worth my time, effort and energy. You’ll probably even think that I’m writing this piece because I want to convince you of something. You’ll make a whole lot of assumptions and you’ll believe them absolutely. There’s no point in my trying to change that.
But I would like to start talking about something that’s become very important to me and the little tirades I’ve been seeing in the comments section there allow me a convenient “in” to bringing this stuff up.
My work with Suicide Girls over the past year and a half or so has opened my eyes to a lot of aspects of our culture that I hadn’t been aware of before. One of those things is the prevalence of childhood sexual abuse and its impact. In the past year I’ve heard some truly heartbreaking stories from remarkable women. Not all of them have been SG’s. But the fact that I write for Suicide Girls has made some of these people far more comfortable with telling me their stories.
In fact, the theme of sexual abuse survivors has recurred a number of times in my Zen practice. One of the members of the first sangha I was part of was a sex abuse survivor. But I was too young and full of myself to be of any help to her. In retrospect, thinking about some of the things some of the women I dated in the past told me I tend to assume now they were trying to confess some of these same things but that I was too thick and stupid to pick up on the clues.
I’m starting to think a lot lately about the many issues involving zazen practice as a means of confronting the issues sex abuse survivors have. Of course, zazen is good from pretty much whatever ails you. But there are some specific aspects of the practice that sex abuse survivors might want to be aware of should they get involved in zazen.
One of the interesting issues from my own standpoint as a Zen teacher is how incredibly hard it is for someone with these kinds of issues to talk to a meditation teacher. Meditation teachers are generally very straight-laced, sexually repressed people. Even when a specific meditation teacher is not that kind of person, the aura of holiness that surrounds them can be very off-putting for people who need to talk about unusual aspects of their sex lives. Many sex abuse survivors have rather non-standard sex lives, not just because they've suffered abuse, but that the abuse they've suffered has made it difficult to interact sexually the way so-called "normal" people do. As a result a lot of people who could use a bit of what meditation has to offer will never approach it because of the mistaken impression that they are somehow too “dirty” to be involved in such lofty things. This is sad.
Of course, this doesn’t just apply to sex abuse survivors. I, myself, would have found Zen utterly unapproachable if I hadn’t come across someone like my own first Zen teacher who was not afraid to curse and fart and offend nice people. Though I’m not an abuse survivor myself, I too had assumed I was far too “dirty” for the kind of purity required to do what I saw as pure and holy activities like meditation. I will be forever grateful to Tim McCarthy and all his vile jokes.
I’m going to try to start writing about these issues in the form of a blog in the hope that it will generate material that I’ll eventually be able to digest and put into the form of a book. Because I’m taking this approach, the blog will be pretty experimental and I expect I’ll find myself taking some wrong steps and following a few blind alleys. But I believe this is necessary.
Since this stuff is a little different from what I established the Hardcore Zen blog to do, I’ve started this blog to address these topics. Who knows if I’ll be able to keep two blogs going at once. We shall see…