Much thanks to Auxiliary Magazine, who asked me to write an editorial on seduction for them for their Oct/Nov issue! I like their style a lot and it was an honor to write for them. Here's the link to the issue; my article is on page 5:
(To check out the Pin-Up of the Month interview I did with them in the spring, go here and flip through to the middle: Auxiliary Magazine Apr/May 2010)
For easier online reading (and so that I can get your comments, my readers), I'm going to post the text of my editorial here... but you should totally check out the issues anyway for all the hot photos and other good content.
The Duality of Desire
“Each day I choose the truth by which I try to live. I try to be practical, efficient, professional. But I would like to be able always to choose desire as my companion. Not out of obligation, not to lessen my loneliness, but because it is good. Yes, very good.” -- Paulo Coelho, Eleven Minutes.
When I was eighteen years old, I moved to New York City to attend NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts and pursue my dreams of being an actor. On my first day of classes at the Atlantic Theater Company Acting School, where I was sent for my conservatory training, I was handed a stapled packet of a text called The Enchiridion, or The Handbook of Epictetus, to read during my first week of studies. In the text, the Greek scholar dictates his fifty-two principles for a life well-lived – and by well-lived, he clearly means a life lived in moderation, without disappointment, and without pain. Which is to say, a life without desire.
Remember that following desire promises the attainment of that of which you are desirous; and aversion promises the avoiding that to which you are averse. However, he who fails to obtain the object of his desire is disappointed, and he who incurs the object of his aversion wretched. …For the present, totally suppress desire: for, if you desire any of the things which are not in your own control, you must necessarily be disappointed; and of those which are, and which it would be laudable to desire, nothing is yet in your possession. Use only the appropriate actions of pursuit and avoidance; and even these lightly, and with gentleness and reservation.
The trouble with this was that I was an eighteen-year-old girl moving to New York City to pursue her dreams of becoming an actress, and I was nothing but desire. I wanted things that I was willing to fight, starve, and die for. I would cheerfully speak of the next several years of my future as “Oh, you know, that period when I’m going to have to live off of Campbell’s soup and peanut butter for my art,” and no amount of philosophy, no matter how ancient or lauded, could stop me from a relentless pursuit of the things I had my heart set on.
The idea that all suffering is brought about through desire is a nearly universal one, and not limited to the Greeks. Eastern philosophy holds the idea as one of its most basic precepts: Buddhism states that all human suffering will end when passion is able to die out. Christianity adheres to the thought that most anything desired too much will clearly lead to sin; in fact, of Christianity’s seven deadly sins, four are characterized by an excess of desire (Greed, Lust, Envy, Gluttony), and of the remaining three, one is characterized by what may happen when the object of a desire is achieved (Pride), and one by what may happen when the object of a desire is not achieved (Wrath). Contemporary philosophers such as Eckhart Tolle have translated the concept of desirelessness into language that is more relatable to modern-day readers, proving that it is still pervasive throughout our society. And though I’m no longer pursuing dreams of becoming an actress, I am still passionately rejecting the idea that I must want nothing in order to be happy. Because I want things. I want things a lot.
It is this innate, unstoppable, barely controllable passion that, through a twisted and circuitous series of events and professions, led me to do what I do today: I am a seduction coach and author; I teach women a proactive approach to getting the kind of love they want from the kind of men they want. And unlike most dating and relationship tomes that deal with the possibility of romantic and/or sexual rejection by insouciantly filling their pages with the exclamation “Next!”, I make a point in my writing to take into consideration the idea that desire, especially an amorous desire for one specific person, is something too powerful to be shaken off by a simplistic, one-word mantra. The prize in seduction, the light at the end of the tunnel, is too great a lure. We don’t want to be told not to want. We want to be told how to get what we want.
This is difficult. Especially for me, now that I am beginning to achieve some degree of materialistic and mediacentric success surrounding my work, since I am supposed to be the woman who can tell you how to get anyone you want. More importantly, I am supposed to be the woman who is able to get anyone she wants herself. That’s a lot of pressure. Because it’s nearly impossible to start upon a path toward any kind of pursuit if you’re not allowed to fail.
What I continue to learn more and more each day as I relentlessly pursue both love interests and career interests, the two of which forever seem to cross paths and intermingle inextricably with each other like so many briars in a fairytale forest, is that in order to pursue an object of desire wholeheartedly and without trepidation, it is necessary to first embrace the harsh reality of the possibility of failure.
In other words, there is no reward that is without risk. No pleasure without the possibility of pain. This is the necessary duality of desire.
A popular adage goes, “The greater the love, the greater the risk,” and so it is that the more desire we have toward an object of our pursuit, the more suffering we risk should we fail in attaining it. It is as though we are placing ourselves on an algebraic number line where the value of our desired positive outcome will always mirror the value of the potential negative one, and those who purport desirelessness as the means of achieving happiness in life would have us stay forever at zero, the midpoint, where we desire nothing other than what already is.
Perhaps it’s that my understanding of these philosophies is rudimentary at best, since their very precepts as I’ve come to understand them are so repugnant to me that I’ve barely taken the time to explore them terribly deeply, but that state of wanting nothing has always seemed incredibly boring to me. I have sometimes thought that I would rather experience periods of extreme pain than constant monotony; at least there would be something interesting or valuable to learn from them, or at least they’d leave me with a good story to tell. Living a life that is essentially an exercise in avoiding pain (even if that means avoiding the avoidance of pain, ironically enough) has very little appeal to me, and seems to come not nearly as much out of nobility as it does out of cowardice. Pain happens often as a result of the pursuit of pleasure, and pleasure is too great a lure for me to sacrifice, so I embrace the possibility of pain as part of the overall package, despite the fact that it takes more courage to do so.
For me, this is what seduction is all about. Far too many would-be seduction pupils, whether male or female in their respective gender-divided institutions, join the fold because they think it will reduce or eliminate entirely the possibility of experiencing pain in their sexual and romantic lives. They think of seduction as learning a cheat code to a video game, a set of buttons to push that will enable them to get anything from anyone at any time. Were this the case, seduction would require no courage whatsoever; it would be merely a rote memorization of a skill set. Seduction then would be the ultimate act of cowardice – learning an impersonalized set of actions to achieve one’s goal with another human being without the courage necessary to embrace the possibility of failure.
It is the fact that we risk that pain and the courage necessary to do so that make seduction so… well, seductive. We are drawn to people who show confidence and bravery in the face of danger. We are not swayed by those who are cowed by it. This is part of what makes seduction an essentially generous action: that there is risk inherent in pursuing the object of our desires. When we seduce someone, we are telling him that our desire for him is greater than our fear, that the pleasures we believe we might experience with him are worth the risk of the pain we might incur in their pursuit. If there were a clear path to another person’s heart, it wouldn’t be an act of bravery. And without bravery, there can be no seduction.
I have to remind myself of this pretty often lately, especially now that there is so much pressure on me to perform. If something goes awry in my personal life, it is up to me to either hide it from the public that expects me to be the woman who can get whomever she wants, or to spin it my way so that it’s viewed in my favor. All of this makes it somewhat tempting to embrace desirelessness – if I want nothing, I will fail at nothing.
But as I have often written, the equivalent of happiness is not the avoidance of anything that may potentially cause pain. I don’t know what happiness is exactly, but it’s not that.
At this point in my life, I embrace pain, because I know that it means that I’m choosing to live in desire. And I know that if I welcome it with wide open arms, that if I scream from the rooftops for it to do its worst, that if I am able to revel in the sheer extremity of it, then it really has no power to hurt me. In that moment when I wholeheartedly embrace the very worst that can happen – and moreover, when I love it for being the worst that can happen, when I relish it for allowing me to find elation in the worst of all possible outcomes, when pain itself becomes pleasure – that’s when I’ve become free. That’s when I can pursue whatever I wish without fear.
And if I can allow myself to feel that way about the very worst that can happen, just imagine the joy I’ll be able to find in the pleasure of the very best that can happen. That’s why desire is worth its cost.
photo by Jeffrey Clark