Category Archives: Sexual Abuse

Happy Birthday, Anais Nin!

aSpy

No matter how much distance grows between our paths, I’ll always truly love your writing.


Loose Girl

When my boyfriend gave me a copy of Loose Girl a couple of years ago, I was mortified and delighted. My initial reaction was something like, “Um?”

“I just thought you  might like it,” he said. “You seem to be interested in that sort of thing.

He was right.  I was interested.

This book isn’t my story, but it was profoundly interesting subject matter: a young girl that gives of her body rather promiscuously (almost indiscriminately).

From the site:

A Memoir of Promiscuity loosegirl

For everyone who was that girl. For everyone who knew that girl. For everyone who wondered who that girl was. Kerry Cohen is eleven years old when she recognizes the power of her body in the leer of a grown man. Her parents are recently divorced and it doesn’t take long before their lassitude and Kerry’s desire to stand out—to be memorable in some way—combine to lead her down a path she knows she shouldn’t take. Kerry wanted attention. She wanted love. But not really understanding what love was, not really knowing how to get it, she reached for sex instead.

Loose Girl is Kerry Cohen’s captivating memoir about her descent into promiscuity and how she gradually found her way toward real intimacy. The story of addiction—not just to sex, but to male attention—Loose Girl is also the story of a young girl who came to believe that boys and men could give her life meaning. It didn’t matter who he was. It was their movement that mattered, their being together. And for a while, that was enough.

From the early rush of exploration to the day she learned to quiet the desperation and allow herself to love and be loved, Kerry’s story is never less than riveting. In rich and immediate detail, Loose Girl re-creates what it feels like to be in that desperate moment, when a girl tries to control a boy by handing over her body, when the touch of that boy seems to offer proof of something, but ultimately delivers little more than emptiness.

Kerry Cohen’s journey from that hopeless place to her current confident and fulfilled existence is a cautionary tale and a revelation for girls young and old. The unforgettable memoir of one young woman who desperately wanted to matter, Loose Girl will speak to countless others with its compassion, understanding, and love.

Kerry Cohen tells her own story in a slightly disapproving tone. It has a Happily Ever After, with a grateful ‘I don’t deserve it’ twist; I believe she is trying to save others from following her path. I gave it to another friend (Rhiannon) to read after me. “What did you think of it?” I asked her.

“I mean, it was interesting, but I didn’t really get anything out of it.”

We both agree that the book had a moralizing tone that is a bit off-putting. I suppose looking back on one’s own life has a tendency to lead to “should-haves” and “if-onlys”. If I wrote my autobiography, I’m sure it would have something of a cautionary tone to it as well. Contrasted with The Sexual Life of Catherine M., I  much prefer the redemptive story. Not everyone does, I suppose.

I published this blog, and within a couple of hours, a friend texted me to say, “sorry you relate to that.” I guess I don’t, entirely: but it sure is interesting.

You can get your copy of  Loose Girl here.

NOTE: I purchased all of these books for my own personal gratification, and am not being paid to endorse any of them. However, if you’d like to earn me some money, feel free to shop in my Amazon store.


Anais Nin: The Last Days

kraftSometimes I think I’ve made a clean break with Anais except for purposes of nostalgia, but when I saw Barbara Kraft’s memoir of the end of Anais Nin’s life I knew I had to read this book. Several years ago, I began a quest to understand the path that Anais took, and discern whether or not it brought her to a place of happiness.  Perhaps, I thought, if it had, I could follow her lead.

If you’ve been reading my previous blogs (or know anything about Anais), you know that the path she took ultimately led her to maintain open (and even bigamous) marriages and other relationships and run in a fascinating circle of  writers, artists, and other interesting people. Personally, I believe that Anais was one of the most talented female writers to have ever lived, but I got lost in the web of her writing and never got the clear, concise answers that I wanted.

Reading this memoir  took me a couple of evenings. Part journal, part biography, Barbara Kraft includes a lot of her own feelings about her personal relationship with Nin, acknowledging that she wasn’t particularly a fan of Nin’s work before she began being mentored by her. They established what seems to have been a close relationship, and Nin (by this time an icon of the feminist movement) encouraged Kraft to leave her unhappy marriage and publish her own journal, among other things.

The author of this book met Anais and her second husband Rupert Pole, and then independently met Henry and then  Hugo.
If you remember the story, Anais was married to the banker Hugo Guiler, with whom she had an open marriage. She met Henry Miller while living in Paris in the 1930s, and they established a clandestine relationship that lasted for years.  Other lovers and friends came and went throughout the course of the journals – all interesting, many famous – but the erotic parts were all intially edited out of her 7-volume published journals, preserving the people in her life from knowing the realities of her dalliances, glossing over truths. In the final stages of life, there is no more varnish.
Barbara Kraft met Anais during a time when the public perception of her was of a “pure” woman: one that was virtually untarnished by the influence of men. A woman that was true to herself and lived her own way. Women looked to her as a sort of guru, a guide – perhaps that way that I initially did.
When Barbara met Anais, she was living a seemingly normal California life with Rupert, in a small hous. He scrimped and saved his meager income from his U. S. Forestry Service career to build her a house  designed by Eric Lloyd Wright– a place he hoped to anchor her. Anais was young for her years, and in the height of her literary celebrity (despite being taken less seriously by more traditionally styled authors).
While battling cancer, Anais confessionally talked to Barbara in more detail the closer they grew. What is revealed in this book, in a very concise form, is much the same as a condensed version of the unexpurgated journals that Rupert edited and released for her. What is revealed in this book is the simple truth that Anais was a victim of childhood incest and spent her life struggling with poverty, dependent on men. The picture painted in this simple ‘memoir’ is of the “steel butterfly” – an elegant woman that was unable to stand alone, and so spread her dependence out in manageable doses.  Is it really that black-and-white? Obviously not, because she often depended on men to help other men in her life – for instance, doing  radical things like supporting Henry Miller  with her husband Hugo’s money and even financing the publication of Tropic of Cancer with money from one of her other lovers (Otto Rank).
Was Henry the “love of her life?”
Henry would send me twenty, thirty, and forty page letters. Often I received two in a week. They were rather intimidating… I could never respond on that level. Henry didn’t save them [her letters] for the most part. I was really the muse to Henry. I was never dependent on him. We were able to maintain the passion because there was no responsibility involved. I could leave Henry and go home to my husband, who took care of me.” She spoke in this book of how he was too unreliable to count on for anything, but so much fun. Anais needed reliability, security – and found her fun elsewhere, until her last several years. In the long run, though, she left Henry.
 
Henry always missed Anais, but married three times, divorced them all, disgusted that no real woman could meet his ideal.  Anais said

Kraft and Miller

Kraft and Miller

He said the most startling thing to me, Barbara. He asked me, ‘What has it all been about? What are all those words? Why all that writing? For what?’ “ According to Kraft, he told her that if he was reincarnated, he said that he wanted to come back as a gardener because writing is “a curse. Yes, it’s a flame. It owns you. It has possession over you. You are not master of yourself. You are consumed by this thing. And the books you write. They’re not you. They’re not me sitting here, this Henry Miller. They belong to someone else. It’s terrible. You can never rest. … I hate inspiration. It takes you over completely. I could never wait until it had passed and I got rid of it.” Regret at the way he’d spent his life.

Hugo was frail and old, by this time, and Anais still had a room in his place. He’d lost the money she depended on for years “gambling in the stock market,” and her diaries were supporting him. He kept her toothbrush and makeup where she left it, showing it off like an art exhibit, playing film reels of her to guests, saying in awed tones “This is the authentic voice of Anais Nin.” He didn’t even have her other home address, her other phone number; he knew she traveled, and her friends – their friends –  were in on the scheme of keeping her other life a secret. She wished she’d divorced him, made a clean break, but the marriage had been too long, she’d needed him too much, and she owed it to him to spend the end of her time repaying him for his years by taking care of him the way that he’d taken care of her.
Did any of that maker her happy?
When Anais lay fighting death, Barbara asked her the question of happiness:And the next day or the day after, sitting in my usual chair next to your bed, your hand hot and dry in mine, I asked you if you had known much happiness in life. “Hardly any,” you whispered, turning your head to look at out the window at the dank sky…
I never knew much about Rupert before now, but Anais seemed to believe that after years of men after men after men, that he was both solid and passionate. She  told Barbara “In Rupert I found the wedding of marriage and passion. Never deny passion, Barbara. You  never know where it will lead. Passion can lead to love.”
I believe that Rupert Pole was the love of Anais’ life. She was able to settle down with him to a life that appears smaller than many of the other lives open to her. In the end of her days, she was even willing to help him meet his physical needs elsewhere when she was no longer able.  And he devoted his entire life to her words, establishing a literary foundation in her honor, editing and publishing four “unexpurgated” versions of her journals, which included erotic content about her other lovers. He continued to support Anais’ legal husband, Hugh Guiler, even after her death. The woman he spent the rest of his days with as his companion was someone that translated Anais’ works into Japanese.
So- all of the long, convoluted journeying aside, she seems to have ended her days in a relatively normal, contented life, with a man that loved her very much, and whom she appeared to love as well. I suppose that’s about as happy as any ending can ever get.
The one unfortunate part of the book is that it seems that Barbara Kraft, as so many other women,  seemed to forget that Anais was human, and our choices are our own. No results are guaranteed from anyone else’s formula. There’s a twinge of bitterness and blame in this book for the consequences that publicly sharing her own journeys caused Barbara Kraft, and I can relate to that – which is sad, because our choices were really all our own.
Get your copy here.

Sexual Abuse

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copyright: Literatelibran

As nearly as I can tell, survivors of sexual abuse generally go to one extreme or another: either they become incredibly “adventurous” (read: promiscuous), or they become frigid. I’ve known many, many women who’ve whispered, sobbed, or shouted their stories of shame, and as a rule I’ve seen those two variable outcomes.  A decade after the event, one friend got mad and a little too intoxicated and stood on a street corner and shouted “I’ve been raped!” Many, many more victims of sexual abuse have never told anyone. As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t wear a lifetime victim hat for the abuse that I’ve been through, but sometimes it’s difficult to know when my scars are showing. I’ve walked the tired tightrope between emotional promiscuity and being emotionally unavailable. I don’t think that I’ve been terribly physically  promiscuous – I can still count my lifetime’s sexual partners on my fingers with room to spare (and if I had a do-over I’d skip all but one of them)  – but I can say that letting someone be emotionally close to me has been tough because it’s become very difficult for me to trust people. Unfortunately, that lack of trust has been further reinforced by a particularly volatile relationship that has spanned most of my adult life. Once you’re really, truly, habitually betrayed by some of the people closest to you, that cycle of emotion tends to bleed over into other relationships.

Today I read a (really poorly written) article with this blurb:

Mark, 35, a copywriter in Oakland, California and his wife Ellen, 31, an accountant, says: “When Ellen and I first got together she told me she’d been molested by her brother all through her affecting our relationship. All I knew was that every time we started feeling close to each other, Ellen would freak out: she’d accuse me of cheating on her; she’d say she knew I was planning to dump her; she’d start threatening to leave me before I could hurt her. Then she’d go into a deep depression,” Mark sighs. “Meanwhile, I was getting hurt, because no matter how I tried, I couldn’t convince her that I loved her. Finally, Ellen started seeing a therapist. Then she figured out that she was afraid to trust me; she thought I’d betray her the way her brother had.”

When I read that, I thought, I know this girl. Heck, I might be this girl. Except that my name isn’t Ellen, and  I don’t have a husband named Mark. Or any husband at all.

Over the past several years, I’ve done the therapy to deal with my past and present, and made an accidental study of reading works by sexually abused women (it turns out that if you read sexual literature – not to be confused with smut – odds are fairly good that you’re reading the intellectual product of someone that’s been sexually abused).

  • Anais Nin was a very prolific descriptive writer that maintained a number of polyamorous relationships after being sexually abused by her father during her childhood. She renewed her relationship with him during her adulthood, and journaled about sleeping with him as an adult in Incest. Her journals, which she considered her true masterpiece, spanned over 60 years, and she published widely received erotica, as well as a study of D. H. Lawrence.
    Anaisnin
  • Virginia Woolf  became a very astute chronicler of interpersonal relationships after being sexually abused by her half-brothers as a small child. She struggled with depression and “insanity” all her life, but nonetheless produced 9 novels, several volumes of short stories, three biographies, and a score of nonfiction works.   “Nothing has really happened,” she wrote, “until it has been described. So you must write many letters to your family and friends, and keep a diary.” VirginiaWoolf
  • Catherine Millet admits in her book The Sexual Life of Catherine M. to having been molested as a child by a friend’s uncle, although it doesn’t focus on the incident as abuse, but rather as one in a series of blunt, clinically described casual sexual encounters, including orgies and other incidents. (I didn’t find this book nearly as titillating as the cover led me to believe I would).the sexual life of catherine m

I want what most normal women want: a healthy partnership with the person that I consider my best friend.  That hasn’t panned out for me just yet, primarily because when I finally found a relationship that fit the description, I wasn’t ready for it. Maybe this time around I will be.  I guess the thing is, there’s no quick fix for emotional habits; you have to break them by making a thousand tiny choices, over and over again, so that you create new habits. Epiphanies won’t help you if you don’t put them into action over and over again. Implementing the things you learn is much more difficult than the act of learning itself. One valuable thing that I have learned is that once you do truly love someone, the risk is worth it – and none of those “other” relationships matter anymore.

If you or someone you know has been sexually abused or assaulted, call the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) co-founded by Tori Amos (the lovely woman singing above) for help. 1.800.656.HOPE (4673).

copyright: Literatelibran

copyright: Literatelibran

NOTE: I purchased all of these books for my own personal gratification, and am not being paid to endorse any of them. However, if you’d like to earn me some money, feel free to shop in my Amazon store.