Join me in Love

Gift of Humanity

hartmans Sunday June 18, 2017
Last December, I wrote a story for a Christmas contest based very loosly on the adventures of two people I know who defied custom to help people as they emerge from prison. Unlike a lot of my fiction, I was able to produce a version without explicitly sexual content. I feel comfortable sharing that version with professional contacts who ask about my writing. I just got around to posting that version on my website and so I wanted to share it here. I didn't place in the contest, but I'm proud when I compare my work to the other entries.
It has been really wonderful to share this with coworkers and my parents and be able to say, “See, that’s what I’m about when I’m asking people to think more about love.” The story actually started great conversations with my parents. My father has been volunteering helping mentor prisoners, and the discussion created an opening for us to talk about the challenge of integrating people back into society.

Personal Impact

I may not have won the writing contest, but I won the contest of life with this story. Talking about it helped my fiancée and I grow closer. Then later, she borrowed from the main character in the story when it was time for her to let me know how serious the relationship had become.

The Expurgation Process

I knew when I finished the story that I could trim out a couple of scenes and make it something I would feel comfortable sharing more widely than some of my more explicit fiction. Actually performing that trimming was hard: I was worried that I would find the sex scenes I trimmed didn't affect the overall story. I don't see anything wrong with writing sex scenes to appeal to the prurient interest of the reader. However, I hoped I was doing something more. This was the first real test of whether that was the case.
As it turned out, my fears were groundless. I actually had to reshape the characters somewhat in order for the story to make sense with the sex scenes trimmed. The female lead needed to be less assertive and her boyfriend needed to be more confident in the relationship. I needed to appeal more to the reader's stereotypes of how relationships work for the story to flow.
The change is small but significant.
I hope you enjoy and would value any feedback you have.

When No Requires Strength we Lack

hartmans Friday June 9, 2017
For me, one of the defining characteristics of the Fires of Venus environment was that it was permissive. We trusted people to know their own desires and to know what they were ready for. We didn't second guess people, or judge what training they needed before taking a particular risk. We created a space that helped people find a yes within themselves when approaching things they wanted to experience. I speak of this in the original Sacred Lover post as one of the things I most value in the community. For me, a space in which I was encouraged to embrace risk and to challenge myself to open to opportunities changed my life.

Last year, I faced the potential harm of this sort of permissive environment. Intellectually, I've long been aware that people can feel pressured into saying yes when they would rather not. I understand that abuse can create or amplify that. Last year, though, I slammed hard into the emotional reality.

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Rape Culture

hartmans Sunday April 23, 2017
Boundaries and consent featured prominently in my 2016, and I'm still unpacking those lessons. In future posts, I'll be talking about cases where there’s no clear answer, where tradeoffs are complex, and where my greatest hope is for compassion and empathy. Sometimes, though, things are clear. I want to share a profound experience about standing firm against abuse in one of those situations.
For a long time, I've believed that we have systemic problems that lead to sexism, sexual abuse, sexual violence and rape. We aren’t going to solve things just by treating each incident separately without also looking at the patterns and making systemic changes. However, I resisted the term rape culture.
One day last fall, A friend wrote to me and told me how she had stopped a rape from happening. My immediate reaction as I began to read her account was disappointment: why was she being so sensationalist? Why did she need to jump to the assumption that rape or abuse was likely? A little alarm bell went off in my head: we have similar views on consent. Why, without even reading the details, had I decided my friend was sensationalist? How would I feel if she were a victim of abuse. Interesting…if she was the victim, i would not doubt. I’ve been there trying to support friends enough times that it is easy to focus on being there for them as they tell the part of their story that they wish to share. It didn’t make sense to doubt in one circumstance and not another. I decided I did not trust my feelings and began to read the mail, trying to work past my prejudice.
The alarm klaxons in my head sounded for an entirely different reasons as an incredible story unfolded before me. I felt my anger rise as the victim was threatened and her boundaries violated. I did not doubt the story. Even so, I found my emotions swinging wildly between rage that someone would show so little respect and returning disappointment that my friend was using such harsh language in condemning the abuser. I couldn’t understand my reaction. One moment, I was furious. The next moment, as my friend was expressing exactly the same kind of feelings I had just been feeling, I felt she was over reacting. I knew my emotions made no sense. It would take a while to untangle them. I also knew I was proud of my friend for taking a stand and helping someone. Her intervention limited the damage in what could have been a really bad situation.
As the email drew to a close, the doubts began to resurface. “This all could have been a misunderstanding. How would you feel if you misunderstood someone’s willingness and you were labeled a rapist?” I stopped for a moment. “Could I have made this mistake? Was it really that easy that it could be a misunderstanding?”
I thought back over my recent past to see if there was anything similar and to think about how I’d acted. It turned out that I needed only look back one day to compare and contrast my actions. I was at a sex event, standing around a camp fire, making out with someone I had met. It was clear we had some chemistry. Unlike the abuser in my friend’s story, I cared about consent. Rather than using alcohol to help loosen up someone for conquest, I grew concerned that perhaps my make-out partner might have had enough to drink that I’d rather not proceed. I asked her. It turned out she hadn’t had very much. Even so, my question, or something around then broke the mood. Our cuddling adjusted to a friendly, but less intimate approach. It never crossed my mind to consider being less aware of consent and boundaries.
No, the situation my friend described was not a simple mistake. I was not going to make the mistake of ignoring how alcohol or other altered states affect consent. I might make a bad call in some corner case, but I sure wasn’t going to encourage someone to drink more or to go out of my way to approach someone when drunk. As I thought about the other details of the situation, I realized that it was preposterous to view that as a mistake I could have made. There’s no way I’d work to stop someone from leaving, interfering with their ability to call for a ride, after they had asked to leave.
I felt shame that I kept trying to explain away the abuse, to find a way to turn aside from what my friend offered to expose, to doubt her story. For the first time, rape culture really felt like it fit. Some deep cultural indoctrination was strongly shaping my reactions to doubt the idea that a situation could lead to rape. It had to be something really strong to keep diverting me away from accepting my friend’s story multiple times. I’m sure there had been countless times before when I didn’t notice what I was doing. This time, trust for my friend and our communication was strong enough to allow me to pay attention to my feelings and to realize that they no longer met my needs. I want to help respect people’s boundaries. I want to fight the shame we face when talking about abuse. I want to help promote a world where we encourage each other in our efforts to defend boundaries.
I’m used to being in tune with my feelings. It was unnerving to find that I trusted my emotional reaction so little. I felt betrayed. I was sad because I realized that this had made it harder for me to be there for people. I was already working to think more about boundaries and consent. Since then, that process has continued. It’s long and involved. Discarding outdated assumptions is hard; so is figuring out what I will replace them with.

A Glimpse into Conditioning

I suspect there’s no one element that creates this aspect of rape culture. I suspect over years we see those who talk about abuse (especially potential abuse or abuse that could have happened) ridiculed, and grow to internalize it. However as I was writing this post, I did get a glimpse into one experience from my childhood that helped shape my response.
My kindergarten teacher was abusing a number of kids in the class. I was not often a victim, although it did happen. I talked to my parents, and they talked to some of the other parents. I was lucky in one sense: they were ready to believe me. However, I found the entire experience more frightening than the abuse. They talked to me about how complaints of abuse could destroy my teacher’s career. They would support me, but they wanted me to carefully consider the consequences of my actions. I was frightened and scared. I was fairly sure I was being accurate in my descriptions, but I didn’t want to make a mistake that hurt someone. I didn’t want my teacher to stop teaching; I just wanted him to follow the rules. I found the process of reporting the abuse far more traumatic than anything that happened to me at least.
As a result, I walked away thinking that abuse was quite uncommon, and that it was a really big deal. I walked away believing that it was something you might be wrong about and that you should be careful and restrained in how you reported abuse. And I guess somewhere along the way, I learned to distrust people who didn’t fit that pattern.
And of course, like the most insidious traps, there are some grains of truth mixed in there. I still don’t have the answers, but at least I am thinking.

Desires and Priorities

hartmans Sunday April 9, 2017
Last year I took a look back on my work as a Sacred Lover and talked about how I felt some things were missing. Later I talked about how I was almost ready to explore what my priorities are in my spiritual work. I hoped to discuss that with people who were close in my life before sharing. That proved painfully impossible and so I'm just now getting back to that exploration.

Living a Life of Love

First and foremost, when I walk Venus's path it is about living a life of love. I work to cultivate the love in my life. I work to help those close to me grow. I explore how to love better, teaching and learning alongside those who are close to me.
I am amazed at how successful this work has been. I recently reviewed my blog and personal notes going forward from the beginning of 2016. I'm proud of how much I've grown and how much people close to me have grown. My whole face lights up and my spirit fills with joy when I think about what we've accomplished and how I helped bring that about.

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Antinihilism and Spirituality

hartmans Sunday April 2, 2017
A while ago, I was discussing my spiritual work with a friend. During a long, winding discussion, I came up with a deeper understanding of what I’m trying to accomplish. I’d like to explore that here.

Essential to my personal spiritual approach is the idea that values are relative. I don’t claim one set of values is good and another bad. As I’ve studied philosophy, I’ve found the attempts to come up with some absolute moral justification contorted and hollow. When I look at cultures different than my own, their values diverge significantly. For that matter, my values diverge significantly from many approximations of “mainstream” American culture.

One of the beauties of this work is that I get to see how different people are. I can see how what works for one person would not work at all for another. For me, one of the strongest arguments against some set of absolute values is that diversity. I don’t want to be the person who is deemed to be too far outside—the person who doesn’t get to strive for what they want. I don’t want to be the person deciding someone else is wrong for striving for what they believe in.

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I hope Never to Grow Up That Much

hartmans Sunday March 19, 2017
I was at a party yesterday. Kids were rampaging through the house in an epic game of Hide and Seek.
A new guest arrived. She said, "I wish I could have that much fun playing Hide and Seek."
i thought about the ages of the kids involved. Enough of them were old enough that an adult probably wouldn't hide more effectively than they could find. "I think they are old enough that it wouldn't mess up the game; you could go join them."
"No, but I don't think I'd actually have that much fun; I just wish I would," she said.
"If you want to, you could decide to have fun."
"You can decide stuff like that?" she asked.
I was sad. I hope never to grow up enough that I see fun before me, desire it, could join, and yet cannot choose to live in the world where that fun is real. I at least can choose to make that fun real. I was sad i could not offer that to her.

Things Dancing through my Head

hartmans Sunday November 27, 2016
A number of topics have been running around my head, all of which will presumably turn into blog entries at some point or another:
  • A friend of mine called on those who can stand up against the abuse that is rampaging through our country to do so. As a white male, I can speak more safely than a lot of people. I need to figure out what her message means for me.
  • I wrote about how I was gaining an understanding of what I lacked in my spiritual work, and soon I'd be exploring how to manifest what I seek. It's been more like back in July I was beginning to understand what I lack, and now I'm approaching being able to talk about that lack.
  • Last week, a friend asked me what sort of community I was looking for; he tried to understand how my writing fits into that. I gave an answer, only to realize that while it was what I thought I was doing, it was wrong. I think I begin to understand what the right answer is.
  • The same friend and I had an interesting conversation about nihilism and spirituality a few months ago. I have notes, and I learned a lot about what I'm trying to do. I'd like to turn that into something others might understand.
  • Several of my friends have written some really important things. This probably won't directly result in blog posts here, but it is taking up a lot of processing.
And then, some fiction is trying to get out. It's a story about boundaries--both about how we get to take risks, no matter how crazy they seem to others, but also about how we get to assert strong boundaries when we need them.
Finally, today, I was running at the gym. I listened to part of the playlist from my 40th birthday party. I was sad: my world has shattered along with many others since then. I no longer have a community capable of that kind of party. And yet, I realized in retrospect how powerful that moment was. It was beautiful and I'm glad to have had it. It also represents something I deeply want--something I'm still willing to strive for even though I'm starting further down the mountain and some of the easy passes seem to have collapsed.

Alchemical Post-Election Circle

hartmans Monday November 14, 2016
A group of us planned a ritual focused on healing and achieving catharsis after the US presidential election. When we scheduled the ritual, we did not know who would win the election. As things transpired, the ritual ended up being more important for us than we could have imagined.
The gods were with us. As I began, speaking of the difficulty we've had choosing our leadership, a bald eagle flew above us.
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Election Reactions

hartmans Wednesday November 9, 2016
I've taken a vow to practice and teach love. I cannot imagine a time when compassion and empathy are more important. There's a lot of disagreement in the US; for the most part, my sides lost last night. I will approach people with empathy and compassion, striving to be understood and heard, even when they disagree with me. I think that is the most important thing I can do to build the world in which I'd choose to live. I reject othering. I don't need to deny anyone's humanity; I don't need to paint them as stupid or less because they disagree with me. I reject judgment.
And et we've elected a president who would destroy everything I care about. I'm not Christian; I'm not welcome in Trump's America. He condones the idea that the lives of people I care about matter less. He perverts the sexual freedom I fight for. As a consequence of his actions and beliefs, a culture of rape and shame is promulgated. Instead of love, he paints boundaries; instead of listening, he blusters.
And yet I understand the feeling of powerlessness when you look at your country and find you cannot trust it. When your belief that you can participate in the process and be heard is no more. I understand reaching out at that point and voting for change, screaming throughout your being to make it different.
I understand because that's where I am now. I do not feel safe. Today, I don't really fear for my physical safety. I do fear for those I care about. Even now, I fear for my emotional safety. I can easily picture being dragged naked out of my house or sacred space, shamed and humiliated because of my religion--because I seek love. Following Venus's path today means bracing for that and preparing to cloak myself in inner dignity when that happens. It's hard to embrace openness and vulnerability.
I fear for my daughter. I fear that her burning fire of joy and inner strength will be quenched and replaced with fear.
Compassion is not weakness. Compassion is not submitting to compromise when the compromise is wrong. I will fight for my safety, for those I care about, for my religious freedom and for my family.
And yet I will love my enemy, even as I fight to the last drop of my strength.

My Boss Compliments my Erotica

hartmans Sunday October 30, 2016
As I left work Wednesday, my boss stopped to compliment me on starting posting Lover's Shadow. I panicked.
Bosses just aren't supposed to know about the erotica you write. My initial reaction was "How did he find out?" That's probably one of the stupidest things I've thought in a long time. I posted to Facebook and another social networking site. Because of a tangled confluence of events, I even pointed him at a couple of entries on my blog. My SOL author profile is easy to link back to my real identity. I'm trying to create a social media presence; people are supposed to be able to find out.
I have talked about the fear and embarrassment of my love work coming up in professional contexts. My boss's comment triggered that reaction. But as I examined my reaction, I realized that didn't make sense. We were alone in the building. He was careful to mention he was shifting into a personal context; I consider him a friend. I've talked about my love work before with him. As I dug deeper, I realized that I was reacting in fear to how open I had become. If my boss can find my work, so can anyone else. Others might not be as careful of my need for acceptance, respect, and to choose boundaries around how one part of my life impacts my professional work.
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