Is writing sex?

In that classic book, “Mister God This Is Anna”, there is a memorable piece towards the end of Chapter 4 when Anna (aged maybe 7) asks “Fynn, is church sex?” and later “I think lessons is sex too.” Why does Anna think that about church? “It puts seeds in your heart and makes new things come.” And, “Lessons put things in your head and some new things come.” In a conversation this morning, the question suddenly arose for me, “Is writing sex?” Not in exactly the same way, but maybe it can be approached from that angle, as a useful metaphor?

The web's “Urban Dictionary” defines intellectual masturbation as “speaking for the sole pleasure of listening to yourself and showing off your supposed intellectual and linguistic capacities.” And yes, perhaps not a few of us are guilty of speaking, if not writing, like that sometimes. And maybe we feel something similar when reading some people's writings? Like, how about taking care to share the exciting intellectual experience with the reader, rather than just doing it first and foremost for your own satisfaction? I'm sure journal writing can fall into that trap if one is not careful. After all, many people write journals just for their own consumption. But even there, there is perhaps something to pay attention to. If we write in a way that doesn't engage anyone else, can it stand the test of time, and be worth re-reading even for ourselves at a later date, when we have already matured into being someone else, someone different from the writer? When I was a schoolboy I had a “five-year diary”. What that emotionally challenged child thought to write about was trivia, like what there was to eat that day at school. Re-reading, I cringe. How could I possibly have thought that was of any lasting interest? Seriously, I had no clue.

So what is writing's intellectual equivalent of sublime intercourse? As I later wrote to my interlocutor, “Maybe it starts with being gentle with your lover / reader, gently building up their interest and excitement, not too quickly, not rushed. That you only start to go in deep when they are fully ready for it, excited, wanting it. When they have started to feel and anticipate the pleasure it can bring. Obviously, as a writer, your reader isn't actually there, but I think we as writers would do well to imagine them there – what might feel too hard, too sudden, too quick?” Obviously I am thinking through the metaphor from a masculine point of view – what would the feminine one be? That was another thing – the feminine – that was sorely lacking at a boys boarding school.

I wonder if what has been suggested to me might be worth passing on? Treat life as an intimate encounter. As I imagine it, listen particularly to the non-verbal communication of whoever you are with. Don't push your ideas on people. And you can move from the personal to the collective: not only, keep your senses attuned to the encouraging responses of particular people, but also, listen with what have been called ‘subtle senses’ to what the opportunity is asking of you. Sorry, words are hard to find here. The ‘opportunity’ could be called ‘the moment’, ‘what is unfolding’, ‘the spirit’, ‘the future’; and ‘subtle senses’ isn't referring to some mystical ‘sixth sense’ but is still referring to the senses we have. But with those sensing faculties, the opportunities are somehow broader, deeper, and more intuitive than just what passes for ‘listening’ or ‘watching’ in the everyday sense. Maybe we can find a way to apply that to writing, too.

Just as in human relationships, it is still easy to get the wrong end of the stick. It's complex stuff, and we have no need to be surprised by that. And for me, it feels most reassuring to have company on that journey. Writing as relationship.

Topics: Journal writing; Complex psychology

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