People study many things like economics or the histories of wars or their family’s genealogy or the assassination of JFK. People think about many things too, like the incomprehensibility of the complexity of the relationships between all the biological and environmental variables that might trigger a dog to shed. But there’s a difference between studying and obsessively thinking about a subject. Studying implies focus and direction and discipline. Mere thinking, though it may be rational, may or may not lead anywhere or to anything.
Charlotte spends all her her days and nights thinking about masturbation- all of the techniques and tools and toys, the arguments for and against it based on morality and biology and psychology, the statistics surrounding it and the history behind its cultural/social acceptance and vilification. It’s a glorious subject with scholarly papers and philosophical arguments and poems and songs all written about it. She’s evolved into an amateur academic of the auto-erotic act, just without the credentials or authorship to back any of it up since the actions necessary for accreditation require physical effort and disciple. It’s become her life – her essence, you might say – even though she never masturbates, nor wants to – holding to the old adage that “you can know that a shit sandwich is foul without having to taste it.” Comparing masturbation to a shit sandwich might imply some antagonism toward the act, which isn’t the case. The point is you can sometimes know about something without actually doing it. In fact, Charlotte hates neither sex nor masturbation. She hasn’t even had real, consensual sex and hasn’t masturbated for nearly a decade. To be honest, she’s no longer even that interested in real sex. Her obsession over the idea or subject (as opposed to the physical act) of masturbation has displaced that now. Not that she wouldn’t like to experience it, it’s just that she’s resigned herself to never attaining it. She’s more or less given up on the dream. She’s sort of like a 5’8″ basketballer with mediocre defense and who shoots 50/50 at the free throw line resigning himself to never making it in the NBA. And even though he’ll never attain his dreams, if he has a true love of the game he can still play down at the YMCA. Or he can stay at home and analyze it on TV and think about the training and techniques for what it would take to an NBA player while knowing he’ll never be one. But , whether it’s shooting hoops at the park with regular Joe’s or actual masturbation – either of those would be movements away for the constraint of just thinking about it. The former are actions taking place in the physical realm as opposed to the realm of the purely mental. which can be a comfortable hideaway from the YMCA where it’s shown your free throw skills are still no better than 50/50.
Charlotte is neither dumb nor ugly. She’s smart and analytically objective enough to know that a women of her looks – by her own measure about a 6 on a 10 point scale – should be able to get a man if she wanted one. Her intelligence tells her that her self-assessment is probably right. And both her heart and intelligence tell her it’s a man, not a woman, that she would want.
It’s this same intelligence that keeps her stuck in the mental rut of obsessing over auto-eroticism. She’s thought a lot about a relationship and sex and why neither have come easily for her. She’s seen how others have gone down the road of blame – making the bad luck of their bad looks the culprit or assigning villainy to a vapid and beauty obsessed culture or the shitiness inherent in the opposite sex that’s not attracted to them for whatever reason. She’s seen these follies of thought and analysis that contradict every stroll she’s taken in any mall where there’s no shortage of average looking people coupled up. As an intelligent woman, she doesn’t want to fall for those traps so she accepts herself for what she is: moderately attractive which, in and of itself, isn’t an obstacle to finding a mate. So intelligence tells her there must be more to it than mere looks. In a way, her obstacle’s not stupidity for she possesses the rationale to understand that the faults aren’t necessarily and entirely outside her so some must be within. That means it’s her. It must be her personality or priorities. And she’s intelligent enough to know that much of herself that turns other people off are things that pass through her like radio waves that she neither feels nor hears – things she’s oblivious to like one’s own body odor or bad breath. We just get used to those things, like a stain on the ceiling, a cobweb in the corner, the ring around the bath tub or toilet bowl or the stinging smell of cat piss in the carpet. It’s something that offends others but something so familiar to us that we can’t see or feel or taste or touch it. Had she a close friend, she might make Charlotte aware of her faux pas. But it’s too many faux pas that keep Charlotte from having a close friend. She’s aware of this (minus the details), which is why she’s retreated into the mental world of masturbation – all the facts and figures and biology and morality of the subject. It even goes beyond spirituality and mere figures into the world of arts, with Mark Twain and Phillip Roth having adding their two cents to the topic. Charlotte’s gone so far as to elevate Dr. Ruth to the status of MLK in terms of their relative contribution to sexual and social justice, respectively. She’s studied the theory behind orgasmic meditation (the power of mindfulness to bring about climax), a stark contrast to lowlife methods of the rub-one-out’ers who creep around PornHub. Charlotte tells herself that were she ever to try to bring herself to climax, it would certainly be through the former method of the mind. But it’s that nagging, goddamned lack of awareness that keeps from understanding that she never will, even if she could.
It’s the same lack of self-awareness that allowed Charlotte to criticize a 35-year-old acquaintance who she thought she was on friendly enough terms to criticize her fashion sense by saying it’s silly for a woman her age to still be wearing Chuck Taylors.
“Those shoes are for kids,” Charlotte said.
Her acquaintance, then coerced into explaining herself, offered the defense, “It’s not a big deal. I just like being silly. What am I supposed to be wearing anyway, Sketchers or New Balance? Would those be bland enough?”
But Charlotte didn’t want to back down because her intelligence told her she’s right. It is silly for a woman at the tail end of her youth to be wearing shoes fashionable for teenagers and it’s silly to pretend otherwise.
“I just think it’s…..quirky.” Charlotte lingered between those words to add emphasis so her acquaintance knew she really meant something stronger like dumb or stupid. Charlotte figures the social grace of only hinting at the more caustic description was enough to assuage its bite.
The rest of her acquaintance’s Asian Sesame Salad goes down harder than it needed too but she keeps tight lipped about Charlotte’s fashion sense, one that couldn’t be more bland or drab or dull or unconsidered, so that she might still salvage some pleasure from her overpriced lunch. She keeps quiet because that’s just what people trying to be cordial (i.e. not assholes) do. And she could try to school Charlotte on manners but she’s not sure it’s worth it. Charlotte’s almost middle-aged too and by then, for the most part, you are who you are. So rather than bicker with Charlotte over their fashion senses, she tries putting the criticism aside by diverting the subject. She tells Charlotte a group of her friends like to bowl once a month and Charlotte could come along if she likes but Charlotte says she thinks bowling is stupid.
She asks Charlotte if she’s ever been bowling and Charlotte says, “No. It just looks stupid. And what’s even more stupid is adult dodgeball.”
While Charlotte files away that bowling might becoming some kind of stupid, new Millennial-retro-hipster thing like kiddie cereal and board game cafes, her acquaintance thinks it’s odd that Charlotte’s never bowled, not even in high school with friends just fucking around for laughs because there’s nothing else to do on a Friday or Saturday night when you’re too young to drive or buy alcohol. And she wants to say as much, a touché to Charlotte for calling their activity stupid but she doesn’t. Instead, she stifles the thought of suggesting Charlotte come along just for drinks if she doesn’t want to bowl.
And with this she’ll decline future lunches with Charlotte to enjoy them by herself or with some else – minus any scrutiny of fashion or culinary or recreational choices. As such, their flirtation at friendship dwindles to nothing, displaced, for Charlotte, by her blossoming obsession with ideas and techniques and the art of auto-eroticism. It’s expanded her cultural breadth, opened her up to works as diverse and hip and cool as Elvis Costello’s Pump it Up all the way down to the pop-schmaltz of Touch of My Hand by Brittney Spears – all of it supplying Charlotte with more and more succulent ammunition for her ironic and cynical social analyses which has already revealed to her the idiocy of adult dodgeball and imbecility of anyone over 25 wearing kiddie sneakers.
The blessing of all that open space that an absence of attachment to the outside world affords is that it gives Charlotte free range to think about the various techniques of masturbation from pillow humping to vibrators to clitoral squeezing/pinching to G and U Spot stimulation. It’s nice for Charlotte because none of these thoughts stimulate her physically. None of it arouses her genitals, only her mind to think more and more and more about it but to never act on it. In that sense, it’s not even masochistic. It’s an intellectualization of the erotic. It’s the pleasure of the mind usurping the potential pleasure of the carnal. Her mind is the thief of the pleasure of the erotic, spoiling and perverting it into something sterile and physically undesirable. For that’s what you do when something is deemed beyond reach – you marginalize or vilify it – like the poor hating the rich and dismissing their accessories and activities and pursuits as merely vain.
Of course Charlotte would love to be caressed and fucked and spooned but she’s pretty sure she can’t. She can’t – not because of her looks or her intelligence – but because of who she is and because she can’t (or is unwilling) to comprehend more of who and what she is. She accepts that even if she knew, she’s too lazy to change. That’s just who she is. That’s what her intelligence tells her. It tells her that “a rose by any other name is still a rose” which has something to with Shakespeare. She allows herself to interpret that as meaning she cannot change since we are what we are. But the keen intelligence that tells her it’s not only Shakespeare but specifically Romeo and Juliet, is the same lazy intelligence that never prompts her to actually read and try to understand Shakespeare or interpret that quote within its rightful context. Instead, it will tell her and anyone who’ll listen how Shakespeare and those who read it are mostly just pretentious, without giving much consideration to whether Romeo and Juliet is a better mental engagement than the endless regurgitation and re-digestion of facts, figures and the moral arguments gleaned from Thomas W. Laqueur’s Solitary Sex: A Cultural History of Masturbation and David Tisott’s Diseases Caused by Masturbation.
Anyway, Charlotte would love to be fucked and cuddled by she believes she can’t so she thinks about masturbation instead, since the masturbatory act is at least one way of mildly simulating the real sex. But she prefers only to think about physical self-gratification, not perform it or make any movement in that direction, even with all her knowledge about it – all the accumulated knowledge of the intellectuals and moralists and scientists and artists who allow her endlessly ponder, among other things, what constitutes “real” sex anyway. Maybe it’s because she fears the act that she’s spent the last few years obsessing over would be far less gratifying than the time she’s put in to trying to understand it. But the deepest layer of her intellect, the one she tries to ignore the most with all the facts and figures and diagrams and moral arguments and songs, tells her faintly that it’s because she doesn’t want to move beyond her inner life of haphazardly pontificating to herself about all that stuff. Her intellect takes joy in the mental masturbation of monopolizing her attention with masturbation. It rejoices in her confusion and bewilderment at it’s entropy – the only thread of order being the overarching subject. Her intellect takes pride in this effort of protecting Charlotte from the awareness of what she really is. The act of masturbation itself would take Charlotte outside her mind into the world of the physical – the realm of her labial folds and clitoris and vulva. She might learn something about her body. She might learn something about herself. She might learn what stimulates her physically. But her mind – that intellect – prohibits such action. It wants Charlotte all to itself so it tells her the act itself is low and vulgar while the intellectual exercise of analyzing and understanding it is sublime. And, though low and vulgar, it’s not to be despised. Instead, it’s to be understood. This intellect is smart enough to keep Charlotte stupid enough to not understand the quirks that keep her from becoming what she wants to be. It’s a double-whammy of intellectual stupidity that keeps her ignorant of the many of the causes of not achieving as well as ignorant of what it is she truly wants to achieve.
In this way, her mind acts like a toy store to a toddler. There’s stimulation and titillation and preoccupation that, so long as the mind keeps her occupied with all that endlessly tumbles around inside it, she’ll remain mostly ignorant of and to the nuances of the reality that exists outside it, even when she should have long outgrown her obsessions with Barbie and My Little Pony.
I have sympathy for Charlotte and hope that some day she gets fucked to climax by someone she cares about, maybe even loves. I hope he gives her an orgasm so intense it makes her eyes and butthole pucker as if they’ve been rubbed with raw lemons or onions. I hope that fucking makes her ears ring, exorcising the bellowing banshees to make room for lusts and real appetites for life. And from there, maybe she’ll ease up on bowling or dodgeball or Chuck Taylors because, truly, they’re not big deals, which an honest and sincere intelligence would have shown her already. And maybe it’ll equate that a little bit of sunlight and fresh air or a tepid but genuine conversation about the weather or The Superbowl or The Bachelorette – a conversation devoid of the irony and cynicism and biting critique that, for Charlotte, at least gives it more weight, aren’t such big deals either – that they’re not toxically banal but maybe just banal. And that a banal conversation, with its inherent and necessary reciprocation with another living being, may at least be better than hours and days and weeks and months just masturbating with ghosts. But the mind can be a powerful thing, as powerful as booze or dope or the numbers, and it doesn’t look like it’s giving up on Charlotte anytime soon.