Finding focus Understanding motivation Religion & faith Sexuality Families Front page

What Life is about
– a review of ‘The List

Links to The List by Nurse Jones may be found at the end of this review. In 2005 Nurse Jones has offered an interesting response to this review

Preface

Of all the pages on this site, this has been the most difficult to write – by a wide margin. It is written out of a deep compulsion which I find difficult to rationalise. It has been edited and revised many times, and in spite of each of these successive efforts I have struggled to understand why it was a necessary part of my thoughts on ‘Living in the Light’ – but it is.

It is relevant that reading The List has made a great impact on me personally, and it is impossible for me to write about it without owning some of that emotion. The alternative is to leave it off the site altogether – which wouldn't hurt me at all, but would be to resign myself to saying much less than I feel is necessary and appropriate.

Accordingly I ask your forgiveness and indulgence if this appears to be something of a personal catharsis. I hope your understanding of that perhaps will make it easier for you the reader to see why it is important to me. Seeing – that's what light is for after all.

The List

I have had the joy of coming across Nurse Jones’ narrative The List, first posted to the newsgroup alt.sex.bondage (ASB) in October 1991.

Nurse Jones is a pseudonym adopted by the person posting this story in order to preserve her anonymity. She identifies herself only as “M” and her lover/husband as “J”. The story has no connection of any sort with nursing but is the story of a very special experience in the lives of the couple involved. After two years of living together then six months of separation, they were reunited.

The reunion however took place under the terms of an agreement they made together. The agreement was based on a model of dominance and submission which had as its objective an indulgence in sexual experimentation. The narrative describes the working out of this agreement in graphic detail, and if that were all it was then it would be simply erotic (which it definitely is). I believe however that Nurse Jones offers us some profound insights into a number of deeper issues which are more commonly denied, even in newsgroups such as ASB.

Why?

Nurse Jones does not provide more than a minimal explanation of her motives or expectations on embarking on her agreement with J. The agreement is in the form of a list of permitted actions or events which one may perform on or require of the other. The intent was that one partner is dominant and gets to choose items from the list, then the roles are to be reversed and the other partner is permitted to choose. We do not get a full copy of the list but it becomes clear from the narrative that she had little idea initially of the scope of his interpretation of the terms of their agreement.

She does not discuss it directly, but it is an open question why anyone might enter such an agreement. The answers to this are not easily understood by those who have never climbed a difficult mountain, or jumped out of an aeroplane, or searched to know the darkest reaches of their own mind. It has to do with discovering things about ourselves which we might otherwise never be able to find out. It has to do with the tangible experience of trust and of faith, and the physical expression of commitment. It is putting our whole safety where our mouth is – to trust our lover with as much as s/he chooses to take and to put at risk. It takes courage. It has to do with ‘Living in the Light’.

Many people might feel that they are happy to remain in ignorance of those aspects of themselves, and they are entitled to their position. Those who choose to confront the issue, however, never wish to go back. For them there is discovery of the proper place of self and an experience of trust which is simply without comparison. For lovers in a sexual relationship it is also a great deal of fun, but in the final analysis I believe the value of that consideration is secondary.

The narrative is written by Nurse Jones during the first month of the working out of their agreement. In this month she is the submissive partner and her ignorance of the plans her lover has for her enable her to write with truly palpable tension. Her partner has also however required that the experience is described in detail for posting to ASB – he knew she wrote very well and he made this requirement one of the items on the list. His influence on the narrative is also apparent in the lubricious detail of their sexual activities, and this prurient coercion is an important part of forcing issues and feelings to the surface which she might otherwise not have admitted. At the same time her literary skill avoids the monotony of most of the fiction written in this genre and the writing retains a vitality and freshness which makes the excitement breathtaking.

Nurse Jones poses some very important questions quite directly. It is appropriate to consider these, as they reflect some important issues:

Habituation

She asks: “Will it become mundane and familiar after a while?"

Learning and growing never habituates. We will never become omniscient and there will always be new things to learn and new ways in which we can grow. Of course if they were to simply repeat the events of that month again and again then it would quickly become pedestrian, but simple repetition is not what the experience was about. There are always experiences, ideas and challenges we have not yet addressed.

At the same time only a fool would believe that life could be lived for very long at the levels of intensity she describes. Life is about more than forced growing; self knowledge is only valuable if we have other experiences in which to apply it. Continually extending our mental limits is not a worthwhile end in itself and becomes pointless except in the context of a fuller experience of life.

Some (many?) of the questions of life have no answers. The future is not infinite for any individual. We live imperfect lives in a world of which we have very imperfect understanding. Self knowledge in this context appears to be an endless pursuit with no goal. It is an open question whether we are not just as happy in our initial ignorance, ‘though the only advocates of this appear to be those who have never looked further.

Similarly the pursuit of sensation for its own sake will ultimately be unsatisfying. A thrill is just a thrill unless it is made more significant by the context in which it occurs. Our greatest joys are found in our dealings with other people; not in mere knowledge, nor in self-centred hedonism.

The bottom line to the question of whether it will become mundane is found in why you do it.

Displacement activities

She asks: are ASB people really more into displacement activities? (technicians, advice-givers, story tellers, and activists).

People who play with the sensations of BDSM (which includes a huge range of possibilities) do not need ASB or any other club or grouping: most play privately. Many couples take great delight in the use of blindfolds and gentle restraints while they tease and excite each other. Most of these people never even knew of ASB, much less read or posted.

To a very large extent many ASB lurkers and posters were wannabees (people who fantasise about what they would like) not players. In due course most will marry and BDSM will not be a part of their married lives – to find the reason for this read Nancy Friday.(1) At the same time there is a great variety of ideas and suggestions which appears on these newsgroups. Many of them are unrealistic and useless, but others can inspire us constructively. There is little doubt that J's access to ASB was significantly helpful on the way to the experiences which Nurse Jones describes in The List.

The technology of BDSM can be a distraction – it is a means not an end. Those who think of it as an end in itself are cutting themselves short on life. If we are interested only in the technology we pursue a perversion: BDSM is a means to a better understanding of ourselves and of life, which is hopefully much more than techniques. It is the same trap as faced by the musician soloist who may approach technical perfection but lose the emotion or the enjoyment of the music along the way. Feelings and enjoyment matter more than technique in the long run.

Displacement activities maintain our association with the group and are not as challenging as real practice. Thus it is quite ‘safe’ to discuss the relative merits of some technical issue, I don't risk being forced to learn something I didn't realise I didn't know. The same is seen in the churches – they are full of managers and musicians, archbishops and acolytes; but not too many of the humble students or unpretentious and faithful servants though. The Bible may be a best seller, but very few of the buyers read it to discover what it says, or live their lives by it. This substitution of purpose by technique is the same error as made by the religious who substitute status and ceremony in place of personal humility. Healthy BDSM has much in common with faith, while the newsgroups are like organised religion.

Correct Humiliation?

Nurse Jones asks: "Did we do it right?" but she misses the point.

What makes it right or wrong has nothing at all to do with what they did, but only the purpose and the effects that had. It is right when it enables us to learn and grow. It is wrong when it destroys or reduces without putting something better in place.

And what is something better? A self image which is more robust, that withstands the vicissitudes of life without failing: a self image which is accurate and functional: mental models (which we use to predict how things will turn out) which do not contain delusions or denials: and a better understanding of what is real and what is merely imagined (this is a much more complex issue than it appears to be).

In this context a scene does not have to be at all sophisticated nor even a success to be right; and a brilliant scene may fail for want of adequate consideration of others involved.

BDSM is about trust, and experiences in which we may be challenged to accept something which previously we may not have admitted (or perhaps never thought of). It is important that whatever we are confronted with is indeed acceptable (I think for many of the stories appearing on erotically oriented Usenet newsgroups that may be in doubt).

Some people seem to consider humiliation as a justified end in itself, and indeed some of the events of The List seem to come close to this (‘though it is reasonable to speculate that J may have felt that Nurse Jones’s concern about her appearance was unhealthy and, if so, his actions may have been quite purposeful). Humiliation too is a complex phenomenon. There is much to gain from becoming humble, and the process of humiliation is precisely this whether we undertake it voluntarily or we have it imposed on us by someone else.

Humiliation and becoming humble, however, may be easily mistaken with personal degradation. Humiliation as a means toward acceptance of some uncomfortable truth may be a very good thing; but humiliation is an evil if the victim is degraded by the experience – ultimately we must be trying to make ourselves and each other stronger not weaker nor more dependent. We need to be loved, not destroyed.

The List is a beautiful illustration of the use of erotic threat in real life. While Nurse Jones and J play with humiliation, it is always with a safety net of tangible love. Most of their activities are in fact very low risk. Their intensity derives not from the physical danger but from J's understanding of her and the emotional threats he is able to conjure up. Of course there is the risk that sometimes it may go wrong but a caring dominant will ensure that no avoidable injury is suffered. The dominant doesn't have to actually do anything terrible – s/he is just permitted to (and just possibly might) in order to push an emotional boundary.

Priorities

Nurse Jones asks “Who was Saltgirl? I liked her, but she seems to have stopped posting.” So has Nurse Jones.

So indeed have virtually all those who posted in 1991. We cannot live our whole lives at the edge of the precipice – there are other important things to do. We have children, we confront moral and political issues in our communities, and we struggle with what we believe, with what we should teach and what we should expect of others. We address a great range and variety of problems to which BDSM has no apparent connection

It seems very likely to me that Nurse Jones is now the mother of a couple of children – by now (1999) perhaps starting primary school. Nurse Jones however is benefited by being able to approach those wider issues of life strengthened in two ways: she has a much better understanding of who she is, why she chooses as she does and what is important to her; and she has a much stronger relationship with her lover than before the experiences of The List.

In asking about Saltgirl Nurse Jones reveals her confusion about the role of BDSM in her own life and its relevance to her setting of her own priorities. In fairness it must be remembered that The List was largely written during the turbulent month of the events it describes. It may require several years to put these properly into perspective. It would be wonderful to be able to talk with Nurse Jones again now with 8 years of hindsight to see what she drew of most value from the experience. As it is we can only wonder.

The events of The List are not just a couple having a hot time together. It was a very intense period for both of them and it is instructive to note that when she left him to visit her sister at the end of the month there was some doubt in both their minds whether she would be back. The events of The List were exciting, but they were also exhausting and finally Nurse Jones felt she needed time to unscramble her brain. Life lived under such emotional pressure cannot be sustained indefinitely with such a narrow focus at that intensity; in the long run there must be more to living.

Why again

Nurse Jones struggles with the philosophical question of the direction and purpose of her life. It is idle to look back on your life and ask as she appears to ‘is this what it was all leading toward?’ It is equally idle to focus on some nirvana or other vision of pie-in-the-sky in the imponderable future. Life is a journey not a destination, and the journey is today, now.

Rather than aspire to know where it is going, we should be asking ourselves ‘what did I do with the last hour?’ We get each hour once and in strict order. Use them or lose them. Just alphabetising the papers in front of you to avoid the issue is to waste an hour.

Inheritance

At the end of the main part of her narrative Nurse Jones says:

I'm still a devout Midwesterner,
Somewhere down deep where J just hasn't quite hit bottom yet ;-).

Nurse Jones will discover that her Midwestern roots are much deeper than she ever thought when in her children she sees the values and prejudices of her mother. Culture is an amazingly complex thing. We must learn what we can for ourselves but it seems we can pass on little of that new learning. We cannot give our children our experience and we cannot change our own social origins, or theirs. We serve them well only if we enable them to think and learn for themselves.

Nurse Jones appears critical of her origins because in some respects they are so bound in guilt, fear and denial. Perhaps she is right to be critical, but she was enabled to discover something of herself. She was not left trapped in the guilt, fear and denial so endemic in the culture – things could easily have been a lot worse.

For some of this perhaps she should thank her mother (and her grandmother). For what specifically? A sense of adventure and the joy of life; encouragement to try, to have a go; the strength to have an opinion and to be prepared to express it; and a fine sense of the fleeting nature of life and opportunity.

Nancy Friday's wonderful book My Mother My Self(1) explores the way fear and ignorance are transferred from one generation to another, and shows the depressing inevitability of this process. Having seen the light it may be possible for us to step out of the self perpetuating circle of fear – but we should be slow to criticise those who are simply unable to see. These issues are very similar to those of ‘The Trap’ described by Reich and discussed below.

If Nurse Jones has the joy of developing her own children, she may find that it is much easier to describe in theory how they should be prepared for their sexual denouement than it is to deliver such an outcome. Embarrassment of the adolescent can make the subject quite inaccessible through precisely that period when it should be opened.

Maybe her mother did simply deny some important matters, and without justifying the denial, but in spite of those failures, we should be pleased if our own children prove to be as well prepared for life as was Nurse Jones. Our children grow up in circumstances different from ours. It is a mistake to think that we can show them how they should respond to those situations, or to criticise our parents for their failure to understand the situations into which we have grown.

The Invisible J

The List is written by Nurse Jones and tells us a great deal about her thinking and feelings in the experience of that month. It however tells us remarkably little about her future husband J. This is understandable to some extent as an important aspect of their dominant/submissive relationship was his inaccessibility to her, so that she could not have explored his thoughts and feelings without stepping out of their agreement. Nevertheless this reviewer thinks it appropriate that before The List was posted it would have been very desirable for him to add something of his thoughts and feelings.

J appears to show remarkable intelligence and astonishing insight into the effects of some of his actions. It appears necessary to believe that he is either extraordinarily skilled or very lucky. We should be very cautious about assuming that similar actions by others in other circumstances will be equally successful. Indeed there are some discontinuities in the narrative and it is possible that some unsuccessful adventures were perhaps omitted. Whatever the details it would be wonderful if J were to write a review which filled in some of the gaps. I'm sure Nurse Jones would be pleased to help him.

At this writing all that is mere speculation. It is necessary however to acknowledge that The List could never have been written without J's contribution of skills, imagination and effort. Again I can only admire the results. Even though we only ever seen him through Nurse Jones’ rose coloured glasses, and allowing for that, his performance is clearly quite brilliant. Bravo!

Faith

The List is much more than merely a burning hot story of unbridled sex. It is that of course, but it is also a real struggle of real people in an experience of profound faith. It was an experience of commitment which most people never even conceive, much less live. It is a tale of an experience of passionate intensity, not just of thrill for its own sake but of discovering oneself and the values that one holds really dear. To come to terms with having her hair cut off and to realise that her relationship to him meant more than her appearance (for one who was very particular about her appearance) is a step that few could manage to take. It has been suggested that Nurse Jones was very brave in posting the story – she was, but her courage and conviction displayed in the acts described are much greater.

Her ability to recognise the values which she held most dear in spite of her circumstances is a great strength. To keep on going after the wheels have fallen off – or had been ripped off – to just keep driving on the hubs – shows a commitment to life and the values underpinning her faith (look elsewhere on this site for the meaning of that word) which is truly inspirational.

Safewords

Nurse Jones briefly discusses the similarity of the list to a safeword. Both serve to preserve limits and put some things out of bounds. But bounds are precisely the psychological hurdle which BDSM knocks over – so the use of a list or safeword is a restriction on the power of the experience. If you don't know and trust your dominant you'd better have that restriction – or better still, don't play. If your dominant is using the play imaginatively and is sensitive to the needs and feelings of the submissive there should be no need for any limits at all. That is of course the position which in the end Nurse Jones sought for herself. This is total submission.

It is interesting to consider the difficulties she might have had in negotiating a new list at the end of the month – it would of course be impossible in the way it was initially done (trading off concessions against each other) as there would be nothing she wished to deny from the scope nor anything which she wished to have in exchange for her sacrifice except his love, and she already had that. She could not negotiate as she would have nothing to negotiate with. That of course would not prevent her coming to agreement about a scene, but any concession she sought would fix a lesser submission than she had already made.

The list also served Nurse Jones and J a different function. It included many scary items which were not just remote possibilities but were individually agreed to. The list thus served not only to notionally exclude some unacceptable challenges, but to specifically permit others. The existence of all these scary and specifically permitted items served to induce a level of erotic tension which otherwise may not have been nearly so strong.

Gift and sacrifice

In passing through the items of The List, Nurse Jones moves her faith and confidence in J from a nervous fellow-player who grants qualified access to her body in a negotiated deal, to a fully committed, willing slave who finally largely sacrifices her self to her lover. This is a spiritual transformation which most people in our society never even come near. Members of the ‘throw away’ culture which reduces the commitments of marriage to a contract of convenience can have little understanding of the depth and intensity of this.

The distinction of a sacrifice from a gift turns on the motive of the giver. A gift made in the expectation that it will be applied in some way which we approve is a qualified allocation of resources – and is fundamentally different from a sacrifice. When we sacrifice something we yield it without regard for the way it will be used; what matters is the yielding and not what the recipient does with it.

By the end of the month of The List Nurse Jones’ attitude to their relationship has changed profoundly. No longer is she interested in her side of the bargain, she does not want her turn but she grants J unrestricted rights without qualification – a sacrifice – of her self. The significance of this change is quite profound. She reports that he does not respond to her offer and it appears he may not have appreciated the extent of this change, which is sad if it is true.

Fairness

Nurse Jones rails against the unfairness of being a woman.

Her complaint is justified for women in casual relationships – there is no doubt that in casual relationships women are disadvantaged. However the situation changes where the relationship is permanent and jointly committed. Up to the time of writing The List, Nurse Jones had not experienced a committed relationship. The experiences of The List involved learning much about commitment in a short space of time, but even that can greatly deepen with years of experience. It is unreasonable to expect her to reflect experience she does not have.

Her complaint however does J an injustice. In her story J displays great skills as a loving dominant. This comes with considerable effort and risk and he accepts great responsibility – if he messes up he wears the consequences which, in our society, can be very severe. At the very beginning his eschewing the temptation of sex during their evening of negotiation shows remarkable restraint, and contributed to his skilful establishment of a significantly heightened tension when they were reunited. His subsequent use of personal remoteness and surprise to maintain the sense of danger (without hazarding her safety) is what makes the The List so exciting. These are great skills.

Of course his effort and skill is rewarded, but she is mistaken to undervalue the investment he must make or the extent of the risks he takes. Most of all he risks her rejection; and it is no doubt a very hollow and bitter moment for him when she then leaves him after the end of the month – she does not seem to understand this at the time. Life certainly does not treat us all equally, but a walk in someone else's shoes is rarely what we think before we start out.

Commitment

Up to the time she writes Nurse Jones appears to have little experience of commitment. Being a parent or even just a mature adult involves the management of contingencies and crises which life dumps on us. We manage these differently according to our personal strengths and weaknesses, and men generally manage differently from women. The strength of a committed relationship is that it enables us to abandon some of our cares to a spouse, confident that our interests will be well cared for (perhaps even better than we could do ourselves). This enables us to deal with the issues we retain and provides a sense of security and strength which cannot be adequately described; it can only be experienced. Our mutual commitments thus make us much stronger.

Nurse Jones will ultimately realise that being a woman is not unfair – just different. Certainly some men (and some women) are just selfish, but many men make great compromises to fit family and career satisfactorily – the promotions not taken, the opportunities declined, the hopes and dreams quietly forgotten – that is the bottom line of commitment. In the traditional wedding ceremony just before she promises to obey, he promises to keep – neither of these is a light undertaking.

Reciprocity

Subsequent to writing The List, Nurse Jones describes trying (and failing) to top J. She clearly describes the essential conflict in her own feelings that make it so hard for her to treat him at all harshly. She wants to care for him not to control him. It will be necessary for her to better understand the distinction between sex and love before she can succeed at this.

We like a person or not at a relatively superficial level, and we experience liking as a somatic or visceral response – it is not something we choose to do, it just happens or it does not. We may choose to love a person, and to do this it is not necessary that we like them. A mother may love a difficult child without liking it much (and the converse), and there are plenty of people we meet whom we like but do not love. Loving is something we choose to do – it is a cerebral response, a choice which we make. Whether we have sex with them or not is something separate again. This is also something which we choose to do, and again does not depend on either liking or loving. Nobody would suggest that a prostitute really loves her client, but they have sex – perhaps even wild and satisfying sex.

In order to effectively dominate J, Nurse Jones must learn to do things with and to him which generate a strong adrenalin response in him. Some of the most effective things she can do in fact will appear unloving to a casual observer. It is only when she is able to mentally separate her love for him from her desire to arouse sexual responses in him that she will be able to do this effectively. This is difficult to understand for most of us.

When she can see her sexual games as something which she is doing in a sexual context only and for sexual ends only, she may then be able to include actions which in other circumstances she would refuse, but in the particular circumstances these actions are manifestations of love with special profundity. This profundity derives from the fact that the dominant must initiate and take responsibility for both the effectiveness and the consequences of the action. These are real risks (particularly the risk of rejection), but there is no other way to win large stakes.

It is also interesting to contemplate the likely outcomes of her experience had she won the coin toss and been the dominant first. It seems unlikely to me that the experience she had would have ever been so exciting or challenging and may have failed totally as her distinction of sex and love were inadequate. On the other hand perhaps these outcomes depend more on the quality of the people involved than the circumstances.

Retrospective

Looking back, now some eight years later, there will be some pressure on Nurse Jones to view the events of The List as a bizarre interlude. When she asked the newsgroup for feedback they said almost nothing. She must have asked herself ‘Was it that weird?’ Well it was certainly unusual, but perhaps more because it is so tenderly conceived and executed (take a bow J); and intimately, comprehensively and beautifully documented, than for any of their particular activities. It was ultimately a story not about heroes nor freaks, but of ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances, people like you or I – with the courage to try and then to write intelligently about it.

(In this context it is relevant to note that in 1991 the Internet was barely 5 years old and the ASB community was confined to those with access – mostly a select intellectual elite – not the public of today. Had he foreseen the future development of the Internet, perhaps J may have not suggested posting of The List – but we would have been much the poorer.)

There were some very special circumstances. They had a sexual relationship that was several years old so that some of the novelty of vanilla sex had worn off. They moved to a new place where there were no neighbours, colleagues or friends with expectations of their cooperation or participation in local activities. They had no children requiring food, clothing, schooling, etc., etc., etc. and no parents dying or other relatives depending on them. Most importantly Nurse Jones had no job and nothing to demand her time or energy except writing or preparing for the next sexual adventure.

Very few of us ever experience the luxury of these conditions simultaneously, but these conditions were all necessary to enable the concentration of emotion and physical energy that made The List the intense experience it was. Our emotional and physical resources are ordinarily divided and what is available for sex is usually quite limited. Few of us would ever be able to totally commit a whole month exclusively to sexual adventure, except at the very beginning of our relationship. The honeymoon is too early for most couples to be experimenting with departures from vanilla sex, and in a more mature relationship our lives are mostly too socially complex.

If you like, it was kinky, but not unhealthy.(2) It does not surprise me that the ASB community generally did not relate to it. Noisy talk is a far cry from walking the walk. CHDW (clueless heterosexual dom wannabe – the typical adolescent male internet user) does not equal loving dominant, just as ‘hyperbaptist’ (a term Nurse Jones uses to describe Bible bashers) does not equal follower of Jesus.

Nurse Jones will feel great pressure to mentally hide (deny) the events of The List and to raise her children much as she was raised. That is not necessarily a bad thing – they must learn to live in the community and that community, largely, does not understand The List. She must tread a very fine line here to be truthful to herself. Hopefully she will be able to impart to them enough independence of thought that they will not become ‘hyperbaptists’ or prudes; and perhaps will be enabled to explore exotic sensations with their lovers and discover that life lived to the full can be a very intense and satisfying experience. They may even think their mother to be a little prudish.

Freedom from guilt, fear and denial is the greatest asset we can have – all the rest is just so much trash. When our relationships are able to help secure this situation they serve us very well. At the bottom line is both parties’ commitment to that relationship. If the commitment is there the results can be wonderful. Nurse Jones shows us something of that with great insight, wit, enthusiasm and frankness.

Having read The List I am overwhelmed by the need to say thanks to Nurse Jones and J – it is a truly wonderful document. It is well written and uncompromisingly honest, with a lively spirit, delicious anticipation, clear explanation and an understanding of the feelings she had and the difficulties arising from her origins which is nothing short of stunning. Nurse Jones has great courage and intelligence. She writes with imagination and style and expresses important ideas which many of us can barely recognise, much less clearly articulate.

Thank you Nurse Jones.

Epilogue

The Trap

Nurse Jones made many postings subsequent to The List. In one entitled “a posted nonpost” she explores an idea she draws from the fascinating book “The Murder of Christ” by psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich:

"Wherever we turn we find man running around in circles as if trapped and searching for the exit in vain and in desperation .... It IS possible to get out of a trap....The Trap is man's emotional structure, his character structure .... the only thing to do in order to get out of the trap is to know the trap and to find the exit."

She sees the experiences of BDSM as seeking the door to the trap (which Reich contends is open anyway) and considers that this is better than simply being determined to be content to be trapped. To a large extent that is what ‘Living in the Light’ is about, however I would like to extend the image a little.

The trap is the circumscribing boundary of conventional wisdom and behaviour. Within this boundary we are able to operate with an average degree of certainty and confidence. For many of the fearful people of the world the assurance offered by this is as much as they ever hope for. To them the idea of you deliberately exploring beyond those boundaries is threatening, as your knowledge may enable you to secure a competitive advantage over them. Their lack of courage does not enable them to explore for themselves, so they seek to keep the competition even with strategies to punish those who would explore.

The door is open as Reich suggests – indeed there are not even any bars. Reich's use of the word ‘exit’ is unfortunate – there is no physical single exit as there are no physical barriers. The cage to which Nurse Jones refers is her own idea, but it doesn't exist. The boundary of the trap is not physical, not even notional, it is simply our own fear of the consequences of not conforming to the expectations of others. It is an effective trap because those others include many who have a well founded fear that what you discover may benefit you, to their relative disadvantage.

Our learning not to fear the unknown but to discover more of ourselves strengthens us in many ways. It is a form of faith – if you understand this it does not need explanation; if you do not understand no explanation can suffice. When I am freed from fear I am less vulnerable to the competitive strategies of others, I am more likely to succeed at what I attempt, to be content and satisfied in my undertakings and thus to enjoy my life.

Those who live in fear also detest (fear) my freedom because of the advantages it gives me. They will attack me by reinforcing the boundaries of the trap in whatever ways they can, and by seeking to ostracise and punish those who would explore beyond. If I allow myself to be bullied I deny the truth and reinforce the lie, I thus strengthen Reich's trap reserving those outer places (which include some vitally important parts of myself) to the Powers of Darkness.

Anonymity

Nurse Jones has posted The List and her subsequent posts anonymously. This is quite understandable given the very explicit nature of the material and the circumstances in which she must live. At the same time, her choice of anonymity denies a fundamental tenet of ‘Living in the Light’: as she denies her own authorship.

Denial sometimes helps us to deal with a crisis in the short term, but in the long term we must be able to grow past it, and to own the truth we have formerly denied. To fail to do so is at least to stunt ourselves in some way and to be significantly less than we can be, and potentially to stunt others too.

At some time many years after writing The List, Nurse Jones may be approached by her own teenage daughter who asks with an incredulous expression (perhaps recognising the description of a childhood home, or of the dining table) – “Mum, was that you?”

How will she answer? To deny it is to embrace all that she so rightly condemns in her own writing; to own it, however, may take some courage. Surely she will not leave that hypothetical daughter to fall victim to the same fear and ignorance from which she had been delivered.

It's a tough call. Life however is full of these, the too-small space between a rock and a hard place catches us all from time to time. One thing is for certain, we are better able to make the hard calls if we have not denied them in the past. Once denied, it is a slippery slope and a difficult climb back up to reclaim the truth.

This is not a challenge to Nurse Jones (although she may see it that way) so much as to all readers of this, to examine ourselves to be conscious of those parts of our lives that we might prefer to hide or deny. To do so is again to strengthen Reich's trap and concede more of our lives to the Power of Darkness.

Erotica

There has been a significant strengthening in the last decades of the 20th century of a desire to redeem our sexuality from the repression of the Puritans. It is to be hoped that the trend will continue but there is no guarantee of that – the reactionaries of the religious right have much to fear, and may be expected to fight dirty.

As a genre, erotica suffers from a bad reputation, and perhaps that is justified. Regrettably most of it is ill-written, tawdry, and selfish. The List stands as a remarkable exception in this regard; clearly owning values of sensitivity and care, love and beauty (your writing is beautiful M). It is most necessary that erotica with these qualities is recognised for what it is and set apart to be properly admired.

Our willingness to identify, distinguish and encourage skilled writers of erotica will help us to raise the standards of this genre, to deflect the hysterical fear of the ‘hyperbaptists’ and to encourage others to look beyond the limits of their immediate experience to discover something more than the absolute minimum of life.

Fantasy and reality

The distinction between fantasy and reality is a great deal less clear than we usually like to believe. Exploring our fantasies can be very helpful in revealing features of our own perception of reality, and may lead us to discover that much more is imagined than real. Discerning what is real from what is merely imagined enables us to understand our own feelings better and to respond more appropriately.

The List is not merely a fantasy, but in common with fantasies it is sometimes difficult to see the connections to our own domestic reality. For many that is not necessary, their fantasy is an escape from reality, but it is our great loss if they never intersect.

Readers might protest that their domestic reality is nothing like The List. Probably true, but the longer term domestic reality for M and J is nothing like The List either. For all of us life presents a series of challenges and M and J will have had theirs; just as surely as you or I.

Life is often very ordinary. It is easy to neglect our relationships with those close to us and the frequency of marriage breakup reflects this. Issues arise from boredom and infidelity, failure to conceive desired children; disability accident illness or death; parental or sibling dependence; our own failure to mature in our relationship; the list is endless.

Life throws all of us some of these difficulties, and the pain is not relieved by different circumstances. Nobody gets a free pass; we all equally receive full quotas of deep shit and misery (‘though wealth may better hide it). Those challenges spring from our confusion and misunderstanding of ourselves, of the world, of our relationships and how we deal with the ordinariness of life.

Strength to honestly confront the issues in our relationships requires knowledge of and trust in each other. Our ability to manage ourselves in the face of these difficulties is largely dependent on our self-understanding. In the long run we must find within ourselves the resources we need. For M and J the experiences of The List will contribute significantly to the development and accessibility of those resources. It is open to all of us to allow ourselves to be equally developed.

Sentiment

The List is not just a great story with a lot to tell us about ourselves and life. It stands alone among all such stories and will for a long time to come, for it is clearly true – perhaps too true. The Internet has changed dramatically since 1991, and perhaps with hindsight Nurse Jones may now wish that The List was not quite so explicit and detailed.

One thing is surely for certain – nobody with comparable insight and intelligence is likely to write such an intimate, detailed and personal account and post it for our benefit again. There is any amount of fiction (mostly terrible) – anyone with imagination can create that, and we can learn from it too – but it never stands equal to real life. The List is proof that erotic experiences of great intensity may be realised and enjoyed, that they need not be confined to dreams and fantasies.

So how do I feel about it, now that I have written all that?   — Envious.

I am envious of J for his consummate sensitivity and skills. Perhaps the image is not perfectly real, but even if it were only half true it is a high achievement.

I am envious of their exquisite adventures together, of the discoveries they made of themselves and of each other. I am envious of the piercing intensity of their experiences, of the heart-stopping tensions and the ecstatic relief.

And I am envious of M for her wit and delightful style, her insights and her willingness to be open about these. So rarely does one find a writer willing to express a view without also expecting to be put on some sort of a pedestal and awarded honours on account of it. Her thoughts and views stand her very proudly, no need for any other pedestal here.

I desire for myself all of their skills and experiences, plus of course those I have had myself as well – but that is idle. Perhaps that is the point of finding so much to enjoy in The List; what I cannot have, I may still enjoy in others.

Thank you Nurse Jones.

Peter Hoban


Postscript:
I have recently (2004) been contacted by Nurse Jones. As expected, she is a complex person and the process of her personal development in the 12 years since writing has found her conflicted about The List, what it meant to her and what it has meant to others.

In retrospect she found the experience "tremendously liberating" but as for recommending it to somebody else, she was rather circumspect. In response to whether she would like to see a child of hers do something similar she was clearly undecided. I would like to imagine she would be terrified, if she knew, but secretly pleased.

Pain is the path by which we grow to self knowledge and deeper joys. Kahlil Gibran wrote: "The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain." What caring mother would discourage such growth?

Thanks Maggie.

Peter

Subsequently Maggie has provided an extensive response discussing her feelings about some of the issues raised in this review. It is the view of a mature person, full of experience and growing in self-acceptance. Her musings need no further introduction and may be found here


No doubt some readers are speculating whether they are (or I am) kinky – consider this.

The Nurse Jones files     The Nurse Jones Archive includes The List plus 85 other postings by Nurse Jones of which many are challenging and very intesting. Some of these, including The List, are quite confronting and leave little to the imagination – if you are likely to be offended by explicit sex do not read it.
This collection is offered as a single zip file which may be downloaded from here Nurse_Jones.zip.
Open ‘index.htm’ to see the directory in date order (as close as I can get it).


(1) Read ‘My Mother – My Self’ by Nancy Friday to understand how we acquire inhibition. Her other books are very interesting too.

(2) Read ‘The Road Less Travelled’ by M Scott Peck for an excellent differentiation between unusual and unhealthy. His later books are not as good in my opinion.


Original: July 1999
Modified: Many times, most recently on November 2005

This page is part of ‘Living in the Light’
found at: http://www.tassie.net.au/~phoban/

Finding focus Understanding motivation Religion & faith Sexuality Families Front page