"I've been talking to Greg about sex" Ollie told me.
We were warming up to go running the other day--now that the sun comes up early and the ice is off the shoulders of the roads, it seems time to get back into running with him again.
"Greg? Why Greg?" I asked. "And why not Greg?" I added, because of Ollie's tone of voice. He half smirked at me.
"Well, can you imagine Greg with a partner?"
"No," I acknowledged. "I'm not actually sure he's ever had one. He seems so...monastic."
"Yeah, that's it. It's like the blind leading the blind, or..." Ollie frowned. He's so careful with the way he thinks and speaks, and I think he was concerned about accidentally disrespecting blind people. "Like people without flashlights leading other people without flashlights. In the dark." He seemed confused for a moment. I thought of Charlie, last year at Litha, coaching me down out of that tree, though neither of us could see anything, him as confident and trustworthy as ever. I didn't say anything about that.
"So, why don't you talk to someone more experienced? Like, um, Allen?" I asked instead. Allen has three kids, so he must know something about sex, I reasoned.
"I'm not looking for advice on technique," Ollie protested, and blushed. "Anyway, I don't know if Allen can help me. I want to know how to think carefully about sex, how to get beyond either satisfying an urge or refraining from satisfying an urge. Allen's married, so he might not have to think about it. It's easy for him."
"Not if he doesn't want it to be. I can't imagine Allen taking anything for granted. He's a psychologist. And, he wouldn't treat Lo like a, a vending machine."
"No, I suppose not. But are you going to asked Allen about his sex-life?"
"No," I admitted.
"Greg says that the Buddha referred to lust as an 'unskillful state.' That's a very different concept from sin. Sin means simply, without, as in without God. Sin is the state of non-awareness of God. But I don't know what to do with that, other than to not sin, of course. It seems binary to me, with or without, good or bad. But skillfulness...what is this skill? Is it possible for abstinence to become a non-skillful state? Is it possible to skillfully approach physical love? Greg's the Buddhist, and he's always...thinking about things, so I asked him."
"So, things are going well with Willa?" I asked intending to bait Ollie a bit. He blushed right on cue.
"Not like that," he protested. "But yeah, things are going really well."
As you might remember, Willa is Ollie's girlfriend, and presumably the occasion of his wanting to think so carefully about sex. She's a self-described trantrika, meaning that exploring sexuality is a big part of her spiritual practice. Since Ollie thinks that pre-marital sex is sinful, I wasn't sure their relationship was going to work, but they're crazy about each other and almost a year later, they're still together.
I talked to her later and asked her how things were going with Ollie. I didn't tell her about my conversation with Ollie, though of course she knows that he and I do talk and occasionally we talk about her. She told me things were going well. I asked if she was still exploring chastity, but I didn't mean to ask pruriently. Willa is one of several people on campus who talk about sex openly. I might as well have been asking a painter if she was still exploring the color red.
"Yes," she said, slowly. "Though I'm starting to think I might be missing something." She meant missing as in not noticing, not missing having sex. Ollie would have blushed if he said something like that, and I would have giggled, but Willa didn't seem to notice or care that her words might have a second meaning. She's more mature than we are, I think.
"Oh?" I prompted.
"Yeah, well, I think I've been paying attention to having sex--or to not having sex--and not paying attention to Ollie. I thought at first that dating a celibate man would be this great opportunity to explore...a kind of negative space, you know? But I'm starting to think that looking to Ollie to provide an experience of abstinence is as bad as looking to him to provide a positive sexual experience. Like, maybe I've been using him."
"Like a vending machine," I said.
"Yes," she said, looking at me oddly. "Maybe it's time that I do something else with him. But I don't know what that next thing could be yet. I love him, but I don't know what that means."
On a completely different note, Aidan said his first words in my presence this morning. I mean that, according to Kayla, he's been talking for about five months now, if you count "ma" for "Mommy" and "goo" or "juice" and things like that, but I've never heard any of it,until today.
He was with us while we were working in the front beds, weeding and cleaning and so fourth. Kayla wasn't around--she was in class, I think, and Aidan's too big now to sit quietly while his mother studies. He needs a lot of attention, and he needs to be up and exploring whenever he is not asleep. So now people are taking turns babysitting him and he's everywhere lately, tagging along as this person or that takes him to work. Today, Charlie had him.
Charlie's really good with small children. He doesn't seem like he should be, because of how he growls at people and because so many of his interests are so intellectual. This is the man who reads Winnie the Pooh in Latin, after all. But he does read Winnie the Pooh, and anyway, I suppose little kids must seem very much like self-mobile plants to him. He gives them the same kind of gentle, delighted respect. It looks kind of funny to see Charlie carrying around a diaper bag, but Aidan adores him.
We'd all gone out to the front beds and Charlie was starting to explain what we were supposed to be doing, when Aidan toddled over to him, raised his small arms, and clearly said "up!" Charlie bent to pick him up and went on explaining gardening with Aidan sitting in the crook of one arm. He happened to be holding a trowel in the other hand, and as he talked he gestured with it. Aidan followed the moving trowel intently with his eyes. Finally, the boy made a grab for the trowel, nearly flinging himself out of Charlie's grasp in the process. Charlie caught him and let him have the trowel and kept talking as though nothing had happened while Aidan shook clods of dirt from the trowel into the old man's hair.
Finally, Charlie asked us if everything he'd said had made sense to us and at that very moment, Aidan squealed with joy and whacked Charlie upside the head with the trowel, hard.
"OW!" Charlie said, and I could see blood start to well through his short, grey hair. He took the trowel away and Aidan looked at him with such wounded, uncertain concern that I thought the boy was going to cry. "Yes, you hurt me," explained Charlie, ever the teacher. "Trowels are hard and sharp, see?" He held the tool so Aidan could touch the blade. "Don't hit people with hard, sharp things. It hurts them." A first lesson in physics, no doubt.
Charlie set Aidan down and told us to get to work. "And please make sure Aidan doesn't drown in the fountain or step on the rake, ok?" he added. And so Aidan toddled around among us and we made a sort of living fence so he could move more or less freely throughout the crowd of grown-ups. The fountain did, indeed, capture his attention, so I moved over to him, to kind of keep an eye on him and be ready to rescue him in case he fell in.
We don't chlorinate the fountains or anything like that, so they are healthy for animals to use as water features. This one has some algae and water plants growing in the basin at the bottom and a frog had staked out the place as a breeding territory. He'd already scored a couple of times, since the water plants sheltered multiple batches of speckled jelly. The frog had been trilling hopefully along as we worked, but as Aidan approached he fell silent and finally leaped from the fountain rim into the safety of the water with a big splash.
"Frog jump!" Aidan declared, looking right at me.
"An excellent observation! Beautifully reported," proclaimed Charlie from one of the perennial beds. "We'll make a scientist of you yet."
[Next Post: Monday, April 28: Interlude]