I haven’t had sex in a few months. I have not masturbated in a week – longer actually. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not swearing a vow of celibacy or anything. Actually, the last week has felt rather erotic. What first was a dry spell, a slow season of circumstance, has now become an experiment. An intentional fast, I’ve adapted something of an active posture of waiting. I’m sitting on my knees in
Chicago is a deeply sexy city. As soon as I landed back home I felt a charge in the air. I exchanged a few stares with some burly men bursting out of their clothes, buff dudes stretching out their sleeves to the breaking point. Shirts cling tightly to fat bellies and shorts around thick muscular thighs. It’s gray sweatpants season and everyone at the airport seems to be half aroused. Seemingly every woman at this airport is the most gorgeous woman I’ve ever seen, all of them idly lounging at their gates in cotton clothes that hug their hips and I am simultaneously envious of their beauty and attempting to keep carnivorous thoughts at bay. I waited for my luggage to slide around on the conveyor belt, I do my best not to stare too hard at this androgynous punk, a neon blue mohawk and square platform boot, whose bare arms are so shredded they look like they tear cops in half for a living.
I’m spending a week couch surfing with friends until I can move into my new apartment, but I can’t help but open Grindr – just to check. Water the plants. You know. A few vulgar and over eager messages trickle in, but they bore me. Don’t get me wrong, I like looking at genitals probably more than the next person, but I can just google a picture of a dick or an ass if I wanted. A long haired man in the neighborhood sends something polite – how are you? – and subtly slides us into a sexty conversation about what I would do to distract him from his zoom call.
Okay, so like, nice to know I still got it. I haven’t completely sexually atrophied in the last two months away.
One of the earliest lessons we got in art class was about positive and negative space. Our teacher, a four-foot-ten Jewish woman with long black hair down to her knees and impeccable comedic timing, projected slides of black and white charcoal drawings onto the wall. We were learning how to compose an image, what makes something interesting to look at - is this an image of two women about to kiss or is it a vase? When it came time to draw, our teacher would gently reprimand anyone who drew the entire still life she had set up, all six styrofoam shapes and drapery, the entire folding table. It wasn’t interesting! Where’s the vision! I did my best to sketch something interesting - a styrofoam orb rendered up close so that it took up almost the entire page, but I was still a total noob. I knew what I decided to render was just as important as what I didn’t, but it felt like a fucked up mind trick. If I actively think about the negative space, is it still something I didn’t draw?
You can draw something, let’s say a beetle, and bring it to life. The graphite produces legs, antenna, shell – bug. The carbon takes up space on the page. Graphite is enough to convince but with paint, it really comes to life. Phthalo blue, cadmium green, squeezed onto a clear palette and cut together with a knife, folded into a prismatic emulsion. This is the carapace, shining and hard. You can even put it into a little pink bikini – why not! You’re in charge. Follow the instructions and you have produced an image of a beetle. The subject, the positive space.
But do you have a painting?
Maybe the beetle is small, rendered true to life against a wide expanse of space. It sits, small yes, but glimmering and full of verve in the corner. The other parts of the canvas, completely untouched, raw. The beetle is a beacon of life – it pulls you towards it. But it’s the rest of the canvas, the empty space, that makes any of this interesting. What’s all this space for? This tiny painted insect – how did it get here, exactly? The negative space intrigues. It invites you to fill the rest of it. Perhaps the beetle flew in from another painting, a world full of other shining beetles just like this. Maybe it’s on an adventure. Perhaps the painting is simply unfinished; it’s meant to be a forest teeming with creatures and little curling plants. Perhaps it’s going to be a men’s locker room, wet and salty and the slutty little beetle is looking to cruise. Perhaps it will be a pantry stuffed with food, where the beetle becomes a thief.
I recently discovered the work of Bernard Tschumi’s advertisements for architecture. He realized so many people experienced architecture through images and wanted to create desire.
This one struck me in the way that all good poetry and advertising does: it confuses me. I don’t understand what it’s saying at first, but I feel compelled by it. What does it mean to reveal the traces of reason and the sensual experience of space? I think about the times that I’ve walked into a place and felt an erotic tingle in my skin. Hotels, inherently, make me horny. A good hotel room is meant to make you feel comfortable – push the aspects of a home into fantasy. Impractical fluffy white comforters and giant pillows on the bed, a giant window staring directly at sunrise. Unlike the multi-functional bedrooms I’ve lived in that have served as office, vanity, dining room – a hotel room is not for anything except sleeping and fucking, and you feel it in your molecules.
For the second time in my life, I signed a lease in Chicago sight unseen from about 2,000 miles away. But the previous tenant moved into this apartment to heal from the end of her seven-year-long relationship (just like me!) and I can’t help but jump if things feel like fate. I see the apartment for the first time the day before I moved in: the first place I’ve ever had all to myself. The previous tenant gives me a tour, then hands over the keys. The building is a hundred years old, charming and slightly decrepit in the ways that I love. It’s also: huge. The apartment spreads out from the doorway like a fan, three gigantic rectangular rooms. It feels like a three-winged mansion. My friends, two incredibly fit jock-goths who I love dearly, move my small van’s worth of worldly possessions up to the third floor in an hour, flat. The apartment is mostly empty space, my clothes and books barely filling up a corner in each room.
One of my mentors told me recently about her pregnancy cravings. She tells me that her hormones are not randomly generating weird and wild cravings like they do for women on TV. It was more that she had this heightened sensitivity to desire and the subsequent gratification of acquiring whatever it was she wanted to eat. The milkshake becomes euphoric.
If there is a way to not have sex in a hedonistic way, I think I’m doing it. Everything feels erotically charged. My finger strokes the edge of my PS4 as I unpack, and I realize how yonic it is. When I cover myself in lotion after a shower, I’m keenly aware of the hydrating sensation plumping up my skin, the sleek glide of my hands across my thighs. I write emails for work and get struck over the head with a vision of a past fuck, a naked torso, black curly hair against brown skin, a cycling unitard slipping down around his waist, the sudden pressure in my ass. While washing a mason jar at the sink, a memory resurfaces in which I’m stroking my friend’s wet dick, slick with his own cum.
This last week without masturbating, it feels like foreplay. The negative space expanding, bigger and more vacuous and the potential for what could happen grows exponentially. I wait on my new old squishy leather couch, bequeathed to me by the previous bisexual who used to live here, and wait for something carnal that I know will come.