Join me in Love

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Published by hartmans on 2017-04-23
Boundaries and consent featured prominently in my 2016, and I'm still unpacking those lessons. In future posts, I'll be talking about cases where there’s no clear answer, where tradeoffs are complex, and where my greatest hope is for compassion and empathy. Sometimes, though, things are clear. I want to share a profound experience about standing firm against abuse in one of those situations.
For a long time, I've believed that we have systemic problems that lead to sexism, sexual abuse, sexual violence and rape. We aren’t going to solve things just by treating each incident separately without also looking at the patterns and making systemic changes. However, I resisted the term rape culture.
One day last fall, A friend wrote to me and told me how she had stopped a rape from happening. My immediate reaction as I began to read her account was disappointment: why was she being so sensationalist? Why did she need to jump to the assumption that rape or abuse was likely? A little alarm bell went off in my head: we have similar views on consent. Why, without even reading the details, had I decided my friend was sensationalist? How would I feel if she were a victim of abuse. Interesting…if she was the victim, i would not doubt. I’ve been there trying to support friends enough times that it is easy to focus on being there for them as they tell the part of their story that they wish to share. It didn’t make sense to doubt in one circumstance and not another. I decided I did not trust my feelings and began to read the mail, trying to work past my prejudice.
The alarm klaxons in my head sounded for an entirely different reasons as an incredible story unfolded before me. I felt my anger rise as the victim was threatened and her boundaries violated. I did not doubt the story. Even so, I found my emotions swinging wildly between rage that someone would show so little respect and returning disappointment that my friend was using such harsh language in condemning the abuser. I couldn’t understand my reaction. One moment, I was furious. The next moment, as my friend was expressing exactly the same kind of feelings I had just been feeling, I felt she was over reacting. I knew my emotions made no sense. It would take a while to untangle them. I also knew I was proud of my friend for taking a stand and helping someone. Her intervention limited the damage in what could have been a really bad situation.
As the email drew to a close, the doubts began to resurface. “This all could have been a misunderstanding. How would you feel if you misunderstood someone’s willingness and you were labeled a rapist?” I stopped for a moment. “Could I have made this mistake? Was it really that easy that it could be a misunderstanding?”
I thought back over my recent past to see if there was anything similar and to think about how I’d acted. It turned out that I needed only look back one day to compare and contrast my actions. I was at a sex event, standing around a camp fire, making out with someone I had met. It was clear we had some chemistry. Unlike the abuser in my friend’s story, I cared about consent. Rather than using alcohol to help loosen up someone for conquest, I grew concerned that perhaps my make-out partner might have had enough to drink that I’d rather not proceed. I asked her. It turned out she hadn’t had very much. Even so, my question, or something around then broke the mood. Our cuddling adjusted to a friendly, but less intimate approach. It never crossed my mind to consider being less aware of consent and boundaries.
No, the situation my friend described was not a simple mistake. I was not going to make the mistake of ignoring how alcohol or other altered states affect consent. I might make a bad call in some corner case, but I sure wasn’t going to encourage someone to drink more or to go out of my way to approach someone when drunk. As I thought about the other details of the situation, I realized that it was preposterous to view that as a mistake I could have made. There’s no way I’d work to stop someone from leaving, interfering with their ability to call for a ride, after they had asked to leave.
I felt shame that I kept trying to explain away the abuse, to find a way to turn aside from what my friend offered to expose, to doubt her story. For the first time, rape culture really felt like it fit. Some deep cultural indoctrination was strongly shaping my reactions to doubt the idea that a situation could lead to rape. It had to be something really strong to keep diverting me away from accepting my friend’s story multiple times. I’m sure there had been countless times before when I didn’t notice what I was doing. This time, trust for my friend and our communication was strong enough to allow me to pay attention to my feelings and to realize that they no longer met my needs. I want to help respect people’s boundaries. I want to fight the shame we face when talking about abuse. I want to help promote a world where we encourage each other in our efforts to defend boundaries.
I’m used to being in tune with my feelings. It was unnerving to find that I trusted my emotional reaction so little. I felt betrayed. I was sad because I realized that this had made it harder for me to be there for people. I was already working to think more about boundaries and consent. Since then, that process has continued. It’s long and involved. Discarding outdated assumptions is hard; so is figuring out what I will replace them with.

A Glimpse into Conditioning

I suspect there’s no one element that creates this aspect of rape culture. I suspect over years we see those who talk about abuse (especially potential abuse or abuse that could have happened) ridiculed, and grow to internalize it. However as I was writing this post, I did get a glimpse into one experience from my childhood that helped shape my response.
My kindergarten teacher was abusing a number of kids in the class. I was not often a victim, although it did happen. I talked to my parents, and they talked to some of the other parents. I was lucky in one sense: they were ready to believe me. However, I found the entire experience more frightening than the abuse. They talked to me about how complaints of abuse could destroy my teacher’s career. They would support me, but they wanted me to carefully consider the consequences of my actions. I was frightened and scared. I was fairly sure I was being accurate in my descriptions, but I didn’t want to make a mistake that hurt someone. I didn’t want my teacher to stop teaching; I just wanted him to follow the rules. I found the process of reporting the abuse far more traumatic than anything that happened to me at least.
As a result, I walked away thinking that abuse was quite uncommon, and that it was a really big deal. I walked away believing that it was something you might be wrong about and that you should be careful and restrained in how you reported abuse. And I guess somewhere along the way, I learned to distrust people who didn’t fit that pattern.
And of course, like the most insidious traps, there are some grains of truth mixed in there. I still don’t have the answers, but at least I am thinking.

Published by hartmans on 2017-04-09
Last year I took a look back on my work as a Sacred Lover and talked about how I felt some things were missing. Later I talked about how I was almost ready to explore what my priorities are in my spiritual work. I hoped to discuss that with people who were close in my life before sharing. That proved painfully impossible and so I'm just now getting back to that exploration.

Living a Life of Love

First and foremost, when I walk Venus's path it is about living a life of love. I work to cultivate the love in my life. I work to help those close to me grow. I explore how to love better, teaching and learning alongside those who are close to me.
I am amazed at how successful this work has been. I recently reviewed my blog and personal notes going forward from the beginning of 2016. I'm proud of how much I've grown and how much people close to me have grown. My whole face lights up and my spirit fills with joy when I think about what we've accomplished and how I helped bring that about.

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Published by hartmans on 2017-04-02
A while ago, I was discussing my spiritual work with a friend. During a long, winding discussion, I came up with a deeper understanding of what I’m trying to accomplish. I’d like to explore that here.

Essential to my personal spiritual approach is the idea that values are relative. I don’t claim one set of values is good and another bad. As I’ve studied philosophy, I’ve found the attempts to come up with some absolute moral justification contorted and hollow. When I look at cultures different than my own, their values diverge significantly. For that matter, my values diverge significantly from many approximations of “mainstream” American culture.

One of the beauties of this work is that I get to see how different people are. I can see how what works for one person would not work at all for another. For me, one of the strongest arguments against some set of absolute values is that diversity. I don’t want to be the person who is deemed to be too far outside—the person who doesn’t get to strive for what they want. I don’t want to be the person deciding someone else is wrong for striving for what they believe in.

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Published by hartmans on 2017-03-19
I was at a party yesterday. Kids were rampaging through the house in an epic game of Hide and Seek.
A new guest arrived. She said, "I wish I could have that much fun playing Hide and Seek."
i thought about the ages of the kids involved. Enough of them were old enough that an adult probably wouldn't hide more effectively than they could find. "I think they are old enough that it wouldn't mess up the game; you could go join them."
"No, but I don't think I'd actually have that much fun; I just wish I would," she said.
"If you want to, you could decide to have fun."
"You can decide stuff like that?" she asked.
I was sad. I hope never to grow up enough that I see fun before me, desire it, could join, and yet cannot choose to live in the world where that fun is real. I at least can choose to make that fun real. I was sad i could not offer that to her.
Published by hartmans on 2016-11-27
A number of topics have been running around my head, all of which will presumably turn into blog entries at some point or another:
  • A friend of mine called on those who can stand up against the abuse that is rampaging through our country to do so. As a white male, I can speak more safely than a lot of people. I need to figure out what her message means for me.
  • I wrote about how I was gaining an understanding of what I lacked in my spiritual work, and soon I'd be exploring how to manifest what I seek. It's been more like back in July I was beginning to understand what I lack, and now I'm approaching being able to talk about that lack.
  • Last week, a friend asked me what sort of community I was looking for; he tried to understand how my writing fits into that. I gave an answer, only to realize that while it was what I thought I was doing, it was wrong. I think I begin to understand what the right answer is.
  • The same friend and I had an interesting conversation about nihilism and spirituality a few months ago. I have notes, and I learned a lot about what I'm trying to do. I'd like to turn that into something others might understand.
  • Several of my friends have written some really important things. This probably won't directly result in blog posts here, but it is taking up a lot of processing.
And then, some fiction is trying to get out. It's a story about boundaries--both about how we get to take risks, no matter how crazy they seem to others, but also about how we get to assert strong boundaries when we need them.
Finally, today, I was running at the gym. I listened to part of the playlist from my 40th birthday party. I was sad: my world has shattered along with many others since then. I no longer have a community capable of that kind of party. And yet, I realized in retrospect how powerful that moment was. It was beautiful and I'm glad to have had it. It also represents something I deeply want--something I'm still willing to strive for even though I'm starting further down the mountain and some of the easy passes seem to have collapsed.
Published by hartmans on 2016-11-14
A group of us planned a ritual focused on healing and achieving catharsis after the US presidential election. When we scheduled the ritual, we did not know who would win the election. As things transpired, the ritual ended up being more important for us than we could have imagined.
The gods were with us. As I began, speaking of the difficulty we've had choosing our leadership, a bald eagle flew above us.
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Published by hartmans on 2016-11-09
I've taken a vow to practice and teach love. I cannot imagine a time when compassion and empathy are more important. There's a lot of disagreement in the US; for the most part, my sides lost last night. I will approach people with empathy and compassion, striving to be understood and heard, even when they disagree with me. I think that is the most important thing I can do to build the world in which I'd choose to live. I reject othering. I don't need to deny anyone's humanity; I don't need to paint them as stupid or less because they disagree with me. I reject judgment.
And et we've elected a president who would destroy everything I care about. I'm not Christian; I'm not welcome in Trump's America. He condones the idea that the lives of people I care about matter less. He perverts the sexual freedom I fight for. As a consequence of his actions and beliefs, a culture of rape and shame is promulgated. Instead of love, he paints boundaries; instead of listening, he blusters.
And yet I understand the feeling of powerlessness when you look at your country and find you cannot trust it. When your belief that you can participate in the process and be heard is no more. I understand reaching out at that point and voting for change, screaming throughout your being to make it different.
I understand because that's where I am now. I do not feel safe. Today, I don't really fear for my physical safety. I do fear for those I care about. Even now, I fear for my emotional safety. I can easily picture being dragged naked out of my house or sacred space, shamed and humiliated because of my religion--because I seek love. Following Venus's path today means bracing for that and preparing to cloak myself in inner dignity when that happens. It's hard to embrace openness and vulnerability.
I fear for my daughter. I fear that her burning fire of joy and inner strength will be quenched and replaced with fear.
Compassion is not weakness. Compassion is not submitting to compromise when the compromise is wrong. I will fight for my safety, for those I care about, for my religious freedom and for my family.
And yet I will love my enemy, even as I fight to the last drop of my strength.

Published by hartmans on 2016-10-30
As I left work Wednesday, my boss stopped to compliment me on starting posting Lover's Shadow. I panicked.
Bosses just aren't supposed to know about the erotica you write. My initial reaction was "How did he find out?" That's probably one of the stupidest things I've thought in a long time. I posted to Facebook and another social networking site. Because of a tangled confluence of events, I even pointed him at a couple of entries on my blog. My SOL author profile is easy to link back to my real identity. I'm trying to create a social media presence; people are supposed to be able to find out.
I have talked about the fear and embarrassment of my love work coming up in professional contexts. My boss's comment triggered that reaction. But as I examined my reaction, I realized that didn't make sense. We were alone in the building. He was careful to mention he was shifting into a personal context; I consider him a friend. I've talked about my love work before with him. As I dug deeper, I realized that I was reacting in fear to how open I had become. If my boss can find my work, so can anyone else. Others might not be as careful of my need for acceptance, respect, and to choose boundaries around how one part of my life impacts my professional work.
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Published by hartmans on 2016-10-30
It’s been more than a year since I took up the mantle of sacred lover. I’m not sure which of the underlying ideas is more incredible. Love can be learned and taught. Or that you can approach someone as a lover and in a short time (a few hours) build enough of a connection to help them grow and to find a story worth sharing.
Incredible or not, this is my calling. I’m good at it, and I have successes to share. At times over the last year I’ve been filled with the joy of serving Venus, building her temple as I imagined when I first started walking on this path.

Teaching Love

There have been a number of times when I’ve had the opportunity to truly teach love. Take last night. A friend is approaching someone new in her life. They want to explore kink together. My friend has worked mostly as a bottom, but she wants to be prepared to top in this relationship.
Topping is hard, doubly so when you’re approaching someone you value who you are just getting to know. Confidence is key. You need enough confidence to try things and to move on when some of them inevitably fail.
We hoped to work on confidence and skill. However we were at an event where we knew no one. Play was permitted but not particularly encouraged. My friend was nervous.
If I’m teaching topping and only two people are involved, I find I spend most of my time being the bottom. Someone gets more out of me guiding them through how to play with me and my body than they do from me playing with them. However, I started by topping. I could use BDSM and ritual elements to build connection and confidence. I took her to a place of safety and strength where the nervousness had faded away. Interestingly, blindfolding her brought a feeling of safety: she could focus on me rather than the unknown.
I used my time as top to demonstrate some things and then let her restrain me. It was wonderful. There was a lot of teaching and suggesting on my part, but we maintained the connection of the scene. Even while giving pointers on safety, checking in, things to try, and general encouragement, she brought me deep into sub space. Definitely one of the better scenes of the year.
After, I was overflowing with happiness and accomplishment . I had helped someone gain the confidence they needed to be the lover they wished to be. I had helped her open doors. Venus filled me; I gave thanks for an opportunity to serve her.
Earlier this year I helped out someone close to me. We had an opportunity to attend a ritual of transition. I thought the ritual might be really helpful for her, but she arrived only hours before the ritual, unsure how vulnerable she could be. I worked to create safety and to encourage openness. We succeeded. It is wonderful to hold someone you love, supporting them so they can do the work that is before them.

Connecting Quickly

Those examples were people I already knew—already had a connection with. I’ve had at least two cases where I’ve quickly built the connection to do love work. I told one story in Singing of the Chalice and Lash . Someone new joined our community. I helped her feel welcome; she helped guide me through healing I needed.
Another case is more personal. I reached out to someone I met and built a strong connection with them. It was rewarding to be reminded that I’m good at at connection.

Passing in the Night

The previous examples all involved a lasting connection being built.
This summer, I found myself playing a strange mashup of Cards Against Humanity with Truth or Dare. I won or lost a round and and god a dare: “The winner of the round will have sex with the loser for seven minutes.” So, I found myself challenged to have sex with a man I’d never met before. I could say no (consent matters) but as I thought about it, I’d like to be the kind of person who can choose to have sex with someone they met across a card table for seven minutes. That isn’t inherently Sacred Lover work. However being someone who can open up quickly and be comfortable quickly serves me well on my path.
So, I found myself facing a man I’d hardly talked to before, masturbating each other as we introduced ourselves. Neither of us were cheapened by the experience. Just as I can be strong in declining advances, I can take the same strength with me in sharing my body widely as the slut I’d like to be. I know that intellectually, but choosing to share myself like that is new enough that living that strength has great power. We connected in not being cheapened and in being able to decide that it was great to just reach out and play with each other.
Apparently we helped break the ice. When we returned our focus to the group, the game had broken down because after our lead, several others had elected dares from the more adventurous collection. Opening the door for others to feel comfortable being vulnerable certainly is Sacred Lover work.
He asked me to take him to the fire as a date. I did. We were cuddled on my blanket. Again we played with each other. He sucked me; he hadn’t done that often. However, after a while we realized we needed each other, not the sex. I needed validation that I could connect and follow this path. He needed reassurance of his beauty and desirability regardless of how his gender transition progresses. He enjoyed the pleasure his body brought, but like all of us, he wanted to be more than that. In the sacred circle, beneath the night sky, we gave each other what we needed.
I can do this. I can open to people and help them as lovers whether the connection is long or short. Love can be learned, taught and practiced.

And Yet

And yet, I don’t have a community. I don’t have a good mechanism to find people to help. I don’t have others who follow this path to draw strength from or to share the effort of trying to create something self-sustaining. My success at sharing stories is limited.
I do not complain; I ponder. How much of the original vision is valuable yet unrealized? How much needs to change?
I celebrate that the core is something that is possible and that I’m good at.

Published by hartmans on 2016-10-19
My first novel is now posting. Lover's Shadow returns to the universe of my previous novellas, a world in which openness, love and passion are necessary to survive the terrors of the night. I return to Lady Ashley six years after we last saw her. She has put her joy and insatiable sexuality to work guiding the surrounding communities to find the passion and connection they need to survive.
Watching the characters unfold on the page brings me joy. Everyone needs to be able to let down their guard and be as open and vulnerable as they can be. Few could do that all the time. So, I've spent a lot of time exploring how people find safety and a little bit of space between the openness. Late in the process, the nobles truly fell into place, balancing the formality and distance that allow them to make hard decisions of life and death against the moments of deep connection necessary to survive and teach. Finding that balance and the tricks of language and emotion to express it allowed me to grow as a writer.
The Light of Passion universe lets me write sex with confidence. At first the sex scenes might appear unrealistic. There's very little fumbling around trying to figure out what people want, and much less wondering about the results after. For a lot of people that would be unrealistic, but I'm writing about people who care about love and sex and who spend time learning to be good at it. These people exist in the real world: I meet plenty others at events focused on love and sexuality. My sex, and the sex I listen to or talk about at these events feels a lot like what happens in Lovers Shadow. People approach sex as a way to learn and teach as part of their connection. The sex may not work, but it is an opportunity to figure out what to do better next time. It's silly and messy and comfortable.
Sharing that is one of my biggest motivations for writing. I hope you'll walk away with a greater sense of how much power you have as a lover. You and those you join can decide how you'll approach the experience and what you'll take away. You can decide what's gross or what's fun. Together, You can decide whether doing something will grind you down or give you strength.
We spend a lot of effort today focused on the idea that you are never obligated to have sex. Consent matters. I believe that with all my heart. However, I also believe that if you want to, you can say yes. Lovers Shadow is a reminder that no matter how many times you say yes, no matter how often and with whom, your value is not reduced. There can be strength in saying no, but there need not be weakness in saying yes. It is your choice.
The world building has been fun. The population is low; resources like land and raw materials are abundant if you have the means to exploit them. Technology that lets the low population go further is highly valued. How does that affect things? How does war and conflict work in a world where at least within a community, connection and love are essential?

Writing Process

I had no idea how much work would be involved. The first draft came together fairly quickly. Since then, there has been a huge process of improvement and revision. Back in July, I thought I was ready for beta readers. However, one of the first comments I got from an experienced writer was that my characters were all flat. I was horrified, because most of the point of the story is to explore how the characters change. It turned out that the section he was reviewing was particularly bad, but there were situations where feelings were not adequately explored throughout the work. I ended up restructuring the story, starting at a different point. I think it is much improved.
The detailed revision process has also been interesting. I learned a lot more about grammar and style. I spent a lot of time working to tighten the language and improve wording. That's particularly true of the introduction.
I'm releasing the story serially. Even now, I'm making one last fine tuning pass over the parts not yet released.

Response So Far

So far people seem to like it. A lot of readers who start go on past the first chapter. I've seen a lot of interest in earlier stories in the series, even though Lovers Shadow stands on its own. I'd love to hear what people think.
As always, pointers to my stories are here.
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