Sex and the Art of Celibacy in 1957.

Artists are, by nature, curious. We are drawn to experience, because we seek beauty. That’s all we care about. If we can be in the beauty, and then perhaps make more beauty, we are where we need to be.

This is different from hedonism. Art isn’t always about pleasure for its own sake. Rather, art can often be about pain. But, we seek the beauty even when there is pain, and that is the difference.

And, so it was that this artist was born, in 1957, of two people who came together in a moment of transcendent desire. They had returned to each other, in fact, against all odds. Dogma had separated them, and ten years had kept them apart. Only when they returned to each other was I born, and at the following price.

Childhood for me, as best I can recollect, was about imagination. There was always something happening just outside of my reach. Perhaps it was the playpen, or my position as the middle child; nevertheless, I found comfort inside the realm of my own head.

And so, there were always stories. There was always wonder. The players were those in the surroundings, like trees in the woods, never the ones with whom I was permitted society. In my world, there were always declarations, instructions, corrections, reprimands. Boundaries set. Rules meant to be followed. Words not to be said, books not to be opened, actions not to be taken, places never to go.

But every experience that drew me with its beauty, or even the potential for it, was where I went. And, for every place I was forbidden to go, I would make a space inside my head. Thus began the un-ending trek through fantasy. Like a book will take a person out of reality for the time spent reading it, my inner world carried me from the beginning to the end of each and every day.

Needless to say, any essay with the word “dogma” in it is self-revelatory; there was, it seemed, one place that I was never to go which truly loomed above all else. Naturally, therefore, the haven for that which unfolded in my head was enormous. It was vast.

It was intricate, It was spectacular. It was beautiful. And, it was all-consuming.

Now, I don’t know about the other girls. They seemed to prefer huddling in little groups. But, boys. Boys had something in their pants that I didn’t. He stood with his arms folded in the orchestra’s percussion section, his name was, appropriately, Don, and that presence could electrify my whole room. The evening of this epiphany, I remember telling my mother from under the covers, as she stood at the barely-open bedroom door.

“ Well…now you know…” was her only reply.

Suddenly, there was forbidden beauty, everywhere I looked.

Concentrating on anything in school was nigh impossible. Were it not for a natural gift for rote memorization (the crux of public education), and the occasional opportunity to make art using words, pictures, or sounds, I would have walked away without a diploma, never to be heard from again. Everything that everybody did when they weren’t sitting at a desk seemed irresistible to me, yet not to be touched.

Finally, just when I was set to spontaneously combust, the pivotal moment arrived.

Life class, in the college art department. His eyes were green, his hair was a thick, wavy chestnut brown, his muscular frame was perfectly proportioned, his name was Michael, and he was naked.

In less than a second, all the blood completely emptied from my head and fell to my feet with a thud. Then, creeping back against gravity, all the way to my face, there to maintain a resident, smoldering flush at least through the second pose and beyond.

I looked around not at all, and just kept on drawing. The human penis, fully revealed, had become merely a part of the magnificent image in front of me, its lines now described across newsprint by the velvet black of a piece of Conte that I held between my thumb and two fingers. Perhaps God was there. He certainly seemed to be, embodied in such breathtaking splendor. Either that, or it was the devil incarnate; at that hour, I was helplessly and utterly unable to know the difference.

I did now know, however, that the human body was beautiful. And, being a woman, I considered a man’s body to be wondrous. But, in order for me to have one of these for my very own to explore, I would have to do the impossible: get a husband.

This would be the task of a lifetime.

First of all, this was still college. And, the boys and girls were on top of each other in every nook and cranny the eye could behold. Yes; the trees in my woods were taking on innumerable and strange couplings. In the freshman dormitory, it was mostly the girls; later, in the “quads”, as they were called, boys lived in one hall and girls down the other. Boys walked around with towels wrapped around their waists, sitting in the lounge with their Physics books open on the desks in front of them. All their beauty, dulled, dimmed, tainted by the mundane. The idea that any one of them would, out of absolutely nowhere, choose me alone for the exclusive purpose of exploring the ineffable seemed beyond absurd. By this point, I had no clue where God was, but I’d been told He wasn’t smiling down on this scenario.

You may be wondering why, in thirteen paragraphs, there has been no mention made of love. That is because this is an essay about art, and beauty. And, sex. Get the joke?

“But, I digress.” Back of hand to the forehead.

I’d found a boy to kiss, however. He stood right next to me, at the laundry sink in the basement of my house back home, as we cleaned a silkscreen together. I remember thinking that there was nobody else around, nobody to create a boundary, nobody to protest, nobody to remove him from the premises of my reality. The Grace Livingston Hill novel, with the love scene in the apple cellar, rang in; at that instant, his mouth was mine for the experience, and I so gratefully partook.

In college, there was another boy, raven hair, full round lips that were always a little dry. He was a charter member of the church of Scientology, reading aloud to me from the paperback handbook on the twin bed under the single lightbulb mounted overhead.

He let me kiss him too, even though he preferred the beauty of another man and I would not know it for years thereafter. He smelled musty, like my dad, in his corduroy jacket.

The small group of the faithful who met on the campus were led by a boy named Paul. He was a completely beautiful being. But, Mary, who was convinced that he was to be her husband, had expressed this belief so continuously and oppressively that he, wracked by guilt at his lack of desire for her, left college and quietly lost his mind.

The boy that would have married me expressed his devotion by driving four hours in a car with no heat in the dead of winter to spend two days at a time in my company. He was lovely, but somebody carrying her own litany of offenses had accused him of a crime and, while this was never proved, he submitted to the discipline of a brand of dogma that tore us apart and he never came back.

Did you think this essay would be a salacious romp through the escapades of an oddly rejectable woman? Perhaps now would be the time to wrap it up.

There was one husband. He married me by default in a stage play written, directed, and produced by our well-meaning mutual friend, who genuinely believed she had the hand of God in all this. Between my mother and me, a lot of sewing and fitting and fighting and thousands of American dollars spent, and one grand day called a wedding, and it was over. Over, to drag its final cadence for two and half long, bewildering years thereafter.

I remember comparatively little about that marriage that was ever beautiful. My expectations, however, were dazzling. They always had been. Anticipation of fulfilled expectation is the stuff of living breath. It’s where heaven comes from. What I can imagine is still more colored, more textured, more palpable, more flavored, more titillating than the purest of disappointments. This has driven my every movement, each choice, all experience. If you see weakness in this, I marvel at you. The traits an artist ascribes to you, within the realm of imagination, glorify the beauty in you beyond your remotest dreams. Perhaps someday we will all realize them. In spite of what we’ve been  told, perhaps God is in the beauty, after all, and would be well-pleased, indeed.




© Ruth Ann Scanzillo


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