1. Last September on the Camino de Santiago pilgrim trail, I found myself about-facing, hobbling back to the cathedral city of Leon. Along with my shin splint – I didn’t know what that was either – I was leper-like, covered in fresh, red welts and old scabs from scratching where the chinches, in the various albergues I’d been sleeping the last four hundred kilometres and three weeks, had left their tiny teeth marks.
Finally, when I arrived in Leon, I found a cheap room. I found a farmacia. Then, when the cool came, I walked again – limped, actually – excruciating step after step, with a black garbage bag full of all my possessions to where I was told there was a laundromat. There, I tossed everything into the industrial turbo dryer for ninety minutes, as I’d been instructed by the chemist to do, to try to kill every last bed bug and every bed bug egg.
Not penitent – but that was never my point – in a lost-and-found box singlet, sores exposed, braless with swinging breasts, grey roots, gloriously ungroomed and grotesque – the stink of me! – I then loped out onto the street and stood on the corner, and bummed and smoked a cigarette. Though still in pain, I was thoroughly enjoying the spectacle of my anonymous ugly self – look at me! look at this body! – as the meek-faced passersby, the elderly, young families, good Spanish citizens out for an early evening stroll tried not to meet my wild eye.
2. Back in my room, I continued with the extracurricular project I’d begun back in August – so much times on my hands, literally, at the writers’ residency just outside of Barcelona. My task: late bloomer, to research the various genres and sub-genres of porn that I did not yet know about, or did but wanted to familiarise myself more with.
It was that night, I think, that I found (or maybe I’d come across it before) the kink site produced by a company based in San Francisco – renowned, in fact, with an actual street address, in an actual historic building, an armoury, no less (though since sold on). I clicked on the site’s fine print links at the bottom of the page and went down the rabbit hole with interest. Interest not just in the company’s merchant bank problems articulated on a feed – there are certain things you cannot buy or sell with a Master-card or American Express. Who knew? And not just the country by country catalogue of most popular fetishes, downloads, views – Great Britain, sub/dom scenes, Germany, anything scatological. But also interest in the company’s mission statement: to demystify BDSM culture and disassociate it from rape and abuse. Their code of ethics: consent, safety, respect, communication prior to, negotiation, authenticity, again, consent (all of which, it turns out, wasn’t always adhered to, as a few ex-workers blogged).
Still, up until that point, I’d always half-believed that what turns a person on in porn says something about who that person exactly is, or who that person exactly isn’t, what hasn’t yet been fully expressed or acknowledged – ‘Say hello, say hello. There you go, be friendly.’
Now all that seems quaintly reductionist and pathological – ‘How’s she doing?’
But if that belief were true, that a person is defined by their porn, then what did it say about me? The one video I kept returning to that night and the many that followed – ‘Show them your pussy. I know that’s what you want to do.’ The new year’s eve party where a very brash, very American bleach blonde leads another older but grateful – ‘O thank you, thank you, thank you’ – initially gag-balled woman around on a collar and leash introducing her to guests – ‘She’s not very good at it’. Humiliating her consistently – ‘Oh, finally, finally, you’re starting to entertain us.’
A better question might be – no shame, absolutely no judgement whatsoever, but ‘…you are fucking filthy’: what do my tastes say about the place where my desire and the culture that it has been shaped by and subject to in a nervy plexus meet? What are our conjoined imaginary limits? What lies beyond? What lies? Does it matter?
‘I was just enjoying myself. I mean, who could ask for more?’ – the post-performance performance out-take.
3. A week later, after a partial recovery of tender skin and tendons, I decided not to rejoin the peregrinos on their holy trail. In fact, I winced whenever I saw their grim faces or heard the tap of their masochistic metal sticks on concrete. I fashioned instead, my own pilgrimage (by train) to see, to gorge on The Old Masters’ art in the museums of Madrid, a maybe once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
At the Thyssen-Bornemisza, it was the Impressionists that impressed upon me most – their wet pastel dabs of colour, Monet, Manet, Renoir. At the Reina Sofia, Picasso’s Guernica. What can I say? Incredible. Then at the Prado, I was more than awed – I didn’t expect to be – by the gargantuan and grandiose canvases of kings and queens, their still lifes and palace freaks. And Goya – oh my god! – his Black Paintings ripped off the walls of his house, as if off his own ageing, failing body.
On the other hand, if I had to see one more pretty triptych idealising the rape of another young, naked mythological woman – being hunted down, chased by dogs, condemned to hell for rejecting a self-important man. How were we all just standing around nodding our heads, saying, Oh well, this is Art? No-one was getting turned on. I wasn’t. I mean, these was no depictions of role play fantasy but an allegory for the way society has managed itself for thousands of years.
Sorolla. His work was the cool balm. On the day before I had to begin my journey back to Australia, I went to see his studio in the family home where he once worked. To take pleasure in his lovely light and aqua-filled beachside paintings, the repose of his daughters as children and then growing up, his majestic wife, their transparent domestic interiors, the easy intimacy of familial life.
Afterwards, quenched, I spent the rest of the afternoon myself resting in the house’s orderly, manicured garden by a fountain in the shade. I reflected on myself as the fledgling artist I was (and am) and steeled my will for everything I wanted to say, to write next and next and next. Even though I knew – I know it still – that will and resolve are not enough.
Though most of it, what makes art-making possible is no great mystery – time, space, a little money to pay the bills, a community of some kind, peers, a mentor (if you’re lucky), a sense of a lineage, a set of achievable goals and compatible skills and, of course, another separate life that will hold you if and when you don’t succeed in the way you hoped. But there is even more required.
It’s not further doing or acting, commanding or controlling, but a laying down, a sort of surrender, a giving in, a porous receptivity, an opening up and an expansive letting be. And in that nexus, paradoxically or not, that is where things will probably get really exciting, really interesting. I will let you know.
Feature Image is La Siesta by Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida
Tamara Lazaroff is a Brisbane-based writer and zine-maker. Her work has been published in Meanjin, Southerly, Girls Will Be Girls, Headland (NZ), The Wrong Quarterly (UK) and other places. Recently, she completed her first short story collection/ms, ‘In My Father’s Village & Other Stories’ and with it she’ll be participating in the HARDCOPY fiction program 2018. Of course, she is a feminist.