Self discipline

by tamarjacobson

Appetite by Renoir

This is an image of bounty, a view of female physicality in which a woman’s hungers are both celebrated and undifferentiated, as though all her appetites are of a piece, the physical and the emotional entwined and given equal weight. Food is love on this landscape, and love is sex, and sex is connection, and connection is food; appetites exist in a full circle, or in a sonata where eating and touching and making love and feeling close are all distinct chords that nonetheless meld with and complement one another … Renoir once said that were it not for the female body, he never could have become a painter. This is clear: there is love for women in each detail of the canvas, and love for self, and there is joy, and there is a degree of sensual integration that makes you want to weep, so beautiful it seems, and so elusive.

Appetite in the World of No

In Renoir’s world, a woman’s appetites are imagined as rich and lusty and powerful, the core of the female being celebrated as sensual, deeply attuned to pleasure. In my world – a place that unquestionably still exists, that’s inhabited with varying degrees of intensity by all too many women – appetites had a nearly opposite meaning, the body experienced as dangerous and disturbing and wrong, its hungers split off from each other, each one assigned multiple and contradictory meanings, each one loaded and fraught.

From: Caroline Knapp: Appetites, Why Women Want, Prologue and Introduction

A noble concept: self discipline. To have the will to hold back, do without, resist temptations. The on line Merriam-Webster defines it as: correction or regulation of oneself for the sake of improvement. I wonder, what do we improve on when we resist temptations? Is it greed? or hunger? Hunger of the soul perhaps? And do we need to improve this? I wonder.

I have always admired people with the ability to correct or regulate (especially regulate) themselves for the sake of improvement. There are times when I am also very good at it. When I was in my twenties I was amazing at it. For a few years I would fast every week from Sunday evening right through until Tuesday morning (36 hours) allowing myself only sips of water with lemon juice. A weekly purification. I would rise at 5:00 in the morning and do yoga postures, breathing exercises and meditation for two hours.

I used to do very well at dieting, as you can imagine with such a purification record. I could lose tens of pounds within a few months. At the same time, participating in strenuous work-out regimes that kept me strong, lithe, in-line. In line for what, I wonder?

At some point it becomes exhausting. And, lately, it feels meaningless. No, more than that, it feels like self-punishment. Ah, if only I were ever to find a balance between self-torture, deprivation, purification, and pleasure. Is that maturity or just more self-discipline? Or is it that I enjoy feeling like a kind of saint, superior to others when I succeed in holding back so much while I watch them indulge without resistance? And when I crash and give up my resistance, why do I feel like such a slob, sloth, hog? Ah the names I get to call myself then as I sink into the hollow abyss of self-loathing.

I have always been intrigued by desire. And my will (or lack of) to resist it.

I stop writing as I say that and turn to books on my shelf, books being read by me right this moment and read over and over again my favorite lines about women and desire. About food, sex, shopping, whatever. About pleasure. There is so much I want to say about all of this. I feel the words rising inside me as I write and know I will have to put it off. There is simply too much, bubbling, formulating, whirling.

It’s not too late to embrace temptations, rights to pleasure, or explore my desires, is it?

In the meantime I return to self-discipline as I ruminate, sense, and experience yet another awakening, new awakening, rude awakening … and think about …

Useless Desires:

A year ago at Tamarika: Mercury Morning