Day 132: sexpectation

This morning I invented a new word, inspired by Dr. Lake, who described my life over the past 72 hours or so as a “sex expectation rollercoaster.”

Note (and this is important) that she did not say a “sex rollercoaster.” She said a “sex expectation rollercoaster.” Now, I don’t know exactly what a “sex rollercoaster” would entail, precisely, but presumably it would involve actual sex. Presumably, it would be some kind of wild sex ride. The sex expectation rollercoaster, by contrast, involves no sex whatsoever. None.

The portmanteau sexpectation refers (duh), to the expectation that one is to have sex.

Now, one could take the Freudian approach and argue that sexpectation is the ur form of expectation. In this account, all expectation is simply a sublimated form of sexpectation. Sexpectation would be to expectation as sexual desire is to narrative desire; it is the presumption that the reader’s avid page-turning operates on the same erotic principle as sexual longing that underlies literary theories such as Peter Brooks’s in Reading for the Plot.

But if sexpectation and desire are parallel concepts, they are not, I maintain, synonymous. Sexpectation is not a drive. It is not so much about longing but rather an epistemological orientation, more about anticipation, which might be either pleasurable or not.

Is expectation is a sublimated form of sexpectation or is sexpectation a sexualized version of expectation? Who knows? What I’m interested in is the extent to which some people, namely, me, experience both erotic and non-erotic forms of expectation with a painfully visceral intensity.

Let’s take non-erotic examples first.

  • Despite smugly considering itself to be something of a critical thinker, the duck-rabbit is extraordinarily gullible. If you say something outlandish to it while maintaining a completely deadpan expression, its likely response will not be to roll its eyes knowingly but rather to gasp, clap its paw-wing over its mouth and then exclaim, “Really????!!!!” The duck-rabbit moves very quickly from hearing someone propose an idea to anticipating its actualization. This, I’ve been told, is what makes the duck-rabbit so fun to tease.
  • The duck-rabbit is so ticklish that it cannot bear even the remotest suggestion that someone might tickle it. It breaks down in helpless hysterical laughter and curls up into a self-protective ball if someone so much as makes a plausible tickling gesture with their hand, especially if it is directed at its downy neck, from across the room. (And, yes, the duck-rabbit’s children know this about it and exploit this vulnerability mercilessly.) As in the gullibility scenario, the duck-rabbit anticipatorily reacts to the actualization of the proposed action before it has even happened.
  • When the duck-rabbit discovers a song that makes it want to dance, it listens to it over and over, either dancing to it or, more pathetically, fantasizing about dancing to it, including, yes, choreographing particular sequences in its mind. Recently it’s been “Come Get it Bae,” (and on the word “bae,” see here), which is earwormingly catchy. But the duck-rabbit’s enjoyment of it has nothing to do with the melody, and certainly not the lyrics (which involve a hackneyed come-ride-my-motorcycle-baby ifyouknowwhatImean-conceit). No, the appeal of the song is its dancability, which is something the song’s producers clearly understand, because the video, which the duck-rabbit must have watched a half dozen times in the last week, is of a group of gorgeous women having a grand old time dancing to it. Pharrell Williams, who is surely one of the most uncharismatic popstars in the history of pop, is utterly redundant in the video; you just wish he would get out the way. Even more redundant is Miley Cyrus, who pops up in a manner oddly evocative of Dawn French in one of the French & Saunders music video parodies halfway through. Anyway. I’m digressing. The point is that when the duck-rabbit hears this song, all it can do is dance in its head.

Do you see the pattern? You tell the outrageous story – I’m already aghast. You wiggle your fingers – I’m already hysterical; you play the music – I’m already dancing. All of this doubtless has something to do with the embodied simulation hypothesis. But let’s not go down that duck-rabbit hole.

Now, I expect that everyone experiences some degree of sexpectation, but I also suspect that some people experience it more viscerally than others, just like some people anticipate being tickled more viscerally. Although the two are closely linked, by sexpectation I don’t mean arousal; or, at least, I mean the element of arousal that is the vertiginous feeling of falling before you kiss someone. That can be an exciting feeling if there is someone there to kiss you back, but if there isn’t, and you’re in this vertiginous state for a sustained period of time, it’s more akin to motion-sickness, hence the aptness of the roller-coaster metaphor.

Because I know I’m highly susceptible to this affliction, if I’m in a state of heightened sexpectation, I try very hard to distract myself. This weekend, alone, I threw a dinner party; I went to dance class three days in a row; I cycled everywhere as fast as I possibly could; I went to the farmers market, twice; I even cleaned my bloody apartment; I did three loads of laundry; I took a lot of showers. I ended up very well exercised, very clean, and very tired, but very much still unravished.

My sexpectations thus remained pitifully unfulfilled this week; on the upside, my dancing fantasies were gloriously, spectacularly fulfilled. Mere hours after I’d been watching “Come Get it Bae” for the fifth or sixth time, I went to dance class and, for the first time since I’ve been dancing at this studio, they played the song. And we all danced to it with big silly grins on our faces. It wasn’t remotely anticlimactic. On the contrary, it was everything I could have wished for. Sometimes dreams really do come true.


Day 130: shake it up

Some mornings, you wake up early, you drink your coffee, you banter with your children, you take your flipping meds, you read the younger child The BF blooming G, which is surely the silliest book you can possibly read, you get out in the sodding sunshine, you listen to Pharrell bloody Williams, which is surely the fizziest pop music you can possibly listen to, and you STILL end up sobbing in the parking lot, to the clear discomfort of the woman unlucky enough to be parked in the car facing yours.

What a spectacle, a great Anatid-leporid like you, crying in such undignified fashion! [1]

Fighting pain with sweetness and light was clearly highly ineffective. By this afternoon, I had a plan B: fighting pain with more pain.

What happened in the interim to inspire this strategy? I went to listen to two undergraduates talk about their theses at our annual honors thesis showcase, in which seniors who have written a thesis present their research to their peers and faculty.

One of these students had visited my undergraduate seminar last week, after I sent out a last-minute plea for former thesis-writers to come share their wisdom and experiences with my students, who are all in the beginning stages of researching their theses.

She walked into the room during our mid-seminar break, quietly introduced herself to me, and slipped into the seat next to me. She was quite strikingly dressed: most noticeable, at first glance, was her pale pink hijab, which was made of a very fine linen, and was elegantly arrayed. She also wore a quite lovely blue wool blazer, which I immediately coveted, black skinny jeans, and leather ankle boots. When she spoke, she immediately commanded the room’s attention. Her thesis was about capitalism, violence, and temporality in a recent and critically acclaimed television series. It became clear to me, and I think, to the room, pretty quickly, that this was not your average thesis. Her argument was complex and profound, and her learning was deep. She talked about the challenges of writing the thesis—both intellectual: struggling to get to grips with Fredric Jameson—and practical: struggling to find the motivation to keep writing when she felt stuck.

“How did you make it through?” one of my students asked her. Love the pain, she answered, laughing but also serious. She got up at 5am to write, she explained. And she wrote while listening to music, the bleaker the better (she recommended Radiohead specifically for this purpose).

When she stopped talking the room was silent for a couple of seconds, still spellbound. Then one student broke the silence: “by any chance are you this year’s commencement speaker?” she asked, in a star struck tone. “Because you could be.”

Seeing this same extraordinarily self-possessed student speak again this morning reminded me of her mantra, love the pain. When I got home, still unable to stop crying, I went out to run. Not for fun. Please! No, I ran for the pain. I ran hard, at a pace I knew full well I could not sustain, until my heart thumped painfully in my chest, until I was going fast enough that I was flying across the cracks in the sidewalk like the BFG leaping across hedgerows, until my breathing was loud and ragged, until I felt nauseous. I stopped and caught my breath. And then I ran again. I was probably only outside for 15 minutes – the elder was coming home from school and I needed to get back. When I unlocked the door, panting, and stretched in my living room, sweat stung my eyes as it poured down my face.

So: did it work? Yes, it did. It feels like I took myself and quite sternly and severely gave myself a good shake. And afterwards, everything, all the cells and feelings and gunk, to use the technical term, had been sort of re-distributed. I didn’t shake anything off; rather, I shook everything up, in the manner of a snow globe, or, I suppose, a well-mixed vesper.

Like a vesper, it’s only a temporary fix; but it’ll do for now.



[1] N.B. Wikipedia tells me that anatids are generally “monogamous breeders” whereas leporids are “typically polygynandrous.” IS THIS THE KEY TO ALL THAT AILS ME???