17 March, 2011

Doing Without: Some Thoughts on Ten Years of Celibacy

It strikes me as odd. I couldn't hazard a guess as to what was the last meal to cross my lips, the topic of conversation with the last friend I saw, or the last piece of music to grace the soundtrack of my life as a free man, yet it requires no effort to vividly recall my last sexual contact with another human being. It was ten years ago, that final intimacy — ten years ago this month.

We were engaged and sharing an apartment — one bedroom, one bath, two stories, two cats. She was twenty, I was twenty-two. Lovemaking was an everyday affair. Not in the sense that it was in any way boring, but that it was a constant. Because of regularity's tendency to benumb, there really oughtn't be any reason for our last time among so many to stand out in my mind as it does. But it does: her lifting the glass of Pinot Noir from my hand and whiskey-kissing me after dinner, the light smell of her short dark hair, our slender fingers interweaving as though they'd been meticulously crafted to lock just so....

Writing more about that night would be crass, but thinking about it is edifying, like regarding the stony ruins of a bygone civilization that strike dumb with their crumbled beauty. She and I lost touch four years ago, tumbled apart at last, our past too overgrown with vines to clearly see anymore. Still, I carry my memory of that final melding together as I would a totem, held tight, a perfect moment in the life I once called mine.

Everyone deserves their allotment of sentimental dreaminess. This is a taste of my own. And that's all it is — sentimentality. Some call me "the Monk" for my spartan material needs, not for any aspiration to piety or chastity; however I hardly obsess over the matters of the flesh. Over and over come people's questions about how I cope with this unnatural, enforced celibacy. Over and over I indulge the curious (as if it were any of their business) with answers. No, desperation hasn't found purchase. No, I've never been tempted by anyone around me here. At present, I have grander desires on which to focus. Carnality resides relatively low on my list of priorities.

It's there, though. Oh, it's there. Despite certain recurring allegations to the contrary, I am human, with all the accompanying physiological issues. And that damned sentimentality. More often than I'd prefer, I get stuck on the thought of how it would be, today, to clutch a certain someone close, share that intimate weight of bodies, sync two heartbeats, speak sharp-breathed solemnities, lift the scent from each other and slip with it into satiated dreams, to wake in the night, reach out, and be comforted by the warmth of a physical presence, by love. Then to rise in the morning and do it all again while the light slinks its way back toward the eastward windows. And to smile in the later day, happy for the lovely knowledge of another's naked secrets.

Of course, all this talk amounts to mere rambling by a man whose refuge now lies more within imagination than memory. After a decade, certitude means almost nothing; touch, so much more than I'll admit to even myself.

11 March, 2011

Cinema Purgatorio: It's (Not) Movie Time!

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring was fresh to video in the summer of 2002, and I was fresh to prison. It surprised me to learn that rented movies played twenty-four hours a day on a closed-circuit channel here, and it pleased me to have a cellmate generous enough to let me watch Peter Jackson's three-hour epic depiction of Middle Earth on his TV. I'd rather have seen all that lush scenery on a screen larger than the window of a microwave oven, but it was better than missing out completely.

Back then, there were eleven movies shown each week — new ones, classics, indie releases, blockbusters, and everything in between. Inmates could even make requests by dropping notes off at the recreation office. Being the film snob I am, my requests didn't often jibe with what the convict population craved. Where most wanted blood and guts, or at least explosions and flames, of the Michael Bay variety, I wanted something more offbeat — Wes Anderson's quaint quirkiness or David Lynch's disquieting phantasmagorias. It gave me a secret in-the-know pleasure to overhear an inmate complain about films I chose. The time I requested Donnie Darko — that really screwed with people's heads: "Man, that was some serious bullshit!"

Quality and frequency of movies plummeted in 2005, when the then-governor issued an inexplicable executive order banning from Missouri prisons all video games and R-rated movies. News media reports on the decision quoted him as saying that without such influences prison conditions would improve. I smacked my forehead. Of course it was the movies that made inmates rape each other and do violence. How foolish everyone had been to ever think otherwise!

The only noticeable changes since then have been inmates' options in cinematic entertainment. It's money made from price markups at the commissary that funds the prison's nonessentials: gym equipment, library books, games for the visiting room, DVD rental. That commissary profit is what paid for an expensive "commercial grade" five-disc changer to rotate the month's entertainment on a preset schedule. It sounds far cooler than it is. We average four movies per month now — strictly non-animated G, PG, and PG-13 releases from major studios (except Fox). No more fascinating foreigns, no more intelligent indies, no more deep-delving documentaries. The company awarded the prison's rental contract for the last five years running, Swank Motion Pictures, sounds to my ears like a pornography studio, and I suppose that a name like that should tell me not to expect much in the way of artfully nuanced product, but hope springs eternal.

It's been a year since I watched anything on the movie channel worth my time. On its surface, under the circumstances, movies seem a petty matter to carp about. When so much else is ripped away, leaving vast, vacant fend-for-myself intervals to fill, the tiniest luxury is what I have to get by on. In this instance, that luxury is the escapism of a good film. Now even that's been taken. At least I still have words. They'll have to take those away before dreck like (current selection) The Last Exorcism appears to be an acceptable investment of an hour and a half.