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pursuing the possibilities: love jones as love and erotica in film

pursuing the possibilities: love jones as love and erotica in film

They meet in the Sanctuary where music and words flow as poetic lovers. Meeting Nina here spontaneously inspires Darius to name one of his poems after her, “A Blues for Nina.” But this isn’t his first response to her presence. Initially he seems nervous, exhibiting clumsiness when he knocks over her glass, spilling her newly ordered glass of white wine. After Nina accepts his replacement glass of wine, she returns to the table with her BFF, Josie, and Darius takes the stage for his next response – “A Blues for Nina:”

“[C]an I be your slave? . . . I’m digging you like a grave. . . . Is your name Yemaya? Oh, hell no. It’s got to be Oshun. . . . Talk that talk, honey. Walk that walk, money. High on legs that’ll spite Jehovah. . . . Who am I? . . . I’m the blues in your left thigh, trying to become the funk in your right. . . . I’ll be whoever you say. But right now I’m the sight-raped hunter . . . blindly pursuing you as my prey. And I just want to give you injections . . . of sublime erections and get you to dance to my rhythms. . . . I’d rather dance and romance your sweet ass in a wet dream. . . . Is that all right?”

At least he asks permission in the end.

Who is Darius? Prior to meeting Nina, he shares with his friends a short speech about romance being the essence of possibility.

“Romance is about the possibility of the thing. You see, it’s about the time between when you first meet the woman, and when you first make love to her; when you first ask a woman to marry you, and when she says I do. When people who been together a long time say that the romance is gone, what they’re really saying is they’ve exhausted the possibility.” ~Darius

So from this appreciation of romance to the nervous klutz to the erotically charged poet we have a man smitten by a love jones for a woman he just met. UrbanDictionary.com defines love jones as “a strong overwhelming desire for someone.” Our blog post yesterday explores a reconfigured definition of love. With these two descriptions, we can label Darius’ feelings as love – though that is not my first reaction when re-viewing love jones after 15 years.

This time around, initially I think that he is being way too familiar with Nina. Later in the film, his friend Stephanie expresses this observation, warning him, “You move too fast.” And his pursuit of Nina isn’t ringing true with me as an overwhelming desire for her. It’s more like he’s walking some predetermined steps toward her, outlined by someone else.

Of course, this is not how I responded to love jones when it first premiered. At the time, I am totally connecting with all the characters and the story, loving for the first time in my memory the engagement of intelligent dialogue laced with appropriately placed slang and profanity – a perfect depiction of young urban professionals of color. Funny how some things can look differently after a decade or so.

Today, as I listen to Darius’ poem, dedicated to his beloved, I wonder about:

  • the implications of S&M and rape imagery as a means of seducing her,
  • his eagerness for her orgasm only serving to satisfy him and to indicate that he made it into her intimate place, and
  • the female audience being completely enamored by his poetic style.

Is it a sub-culture to which I’m not connecting anymore? Or is it that “A Blues for Nina” really seems to be more about delivery and arousing words rather than overall substance? Is Darius truly a hopeless romantic who, in his sudden affected state after meeting Nina, chooses to be in a less vulnerable place with his poetic presentation?

Is this love? According to the definitions we’ve established, yes it is. Is my reaction today one that indicates that this kind of love repels me? Fifteen years later, I suppose so. I suppose I’m simply in a different place. Perhaps love jones is good for what it’s good for in a certain space and time.

What about Nina?

Of the two leading characters, we meet her first. She’s in transition represented by a physical move to a new home after a marriage engagement that doesn’t work out. Nina vows to Josie that she’ll never make the mistake of falling in love again: “That shit is played out like an 8-track.” Josie welcomes her to the world of feminine cynicism. And then Josie watches Nina’s response to “her” poem. Josie knows recognizes this response and calls Nina on the fact that she’s already reneging on her self-avowed loveless goals. Is it love, as well, for Nina? Upon leaving the Sanctuary, Nina assures Darius that if she recites a poem it will be about more than sex; it will be about love. Nina is referring to the high-standard kind of love to which we normally refer when we characterize emotions this way. Yet her actions tell a different story.

Nina is more like Darius than she admits, at least initially. Josie knows her friend. Nina follows stereotypical female behavior of cloaking sexual attraction in romantic notions of love. She is quite affected by Darius’ very familiar, sexually charged approach. She looks back at the record store upon leaving, though she turns down his invitation to go out on a date. She lets him into her new home despite his stalker-like behavior. Finally, she accepts his invitation to join him at a friend’s dinner party. Later, she asserts that they shouldn’t have sex on the first date, but that’s exactly what they do. Nina moves fast too.

“I see you in me.”

When this recognition happens, it prompts us to explore the possibilities of connecting with another person – romantic or sexual. It’s all love.

love jones – R, released in 1997. (March 2012 marked its 15th anniversary.) Stars Larenz Tate and Nia Long. Written & directed by Theodore Witcher. Distributed by New Line Cinema. Production budget – $10M. Lifetime box office – $12.5M. (source – boxofficemojo.com) Note of interest: Box office performance was sluggish until the soundtrack blew up with cuts from Lauryn Hill (“The Sweetest Thing”) and Maxwell (“Sumthin’ Sumthin’”).

love jones is a peer film for Desire’s Kiss because its authentic portrayal of the pursuit of the possibilities of ordinary love, if any love is ordinary.

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Desire's Kiss

About this blog series: The “love & erotica” blog series supports the development of the fundraising campaign for Desire’s Kiss – The Short Film. Desire’s Kiss celebrates feminine sexuality and spirituality, based on candi’s book, Who Told You That You Were Naked? Black Women Reclaiming Sexual and Spiritual Goodness and the Judeo-Christian sacred text, Song of Songs. Desire is a nontraditional Christian woman who asserts her independence from conservative views on sex and G~d. The 10 films we will explore over the next five weeks or so come to mind as we produce Desire’s Kiss. We will highlight the love themes (including erotica) in each film.

To learn more about Desire’s Kiss

To purchase your copy of the book, Who Told You That You Were Naked?

To learn more about candi and her work

© 2012 candi dugas, llc

dating: the six-letter word for a single christian

dating: the six-letter word for a single christian

Dating after recommitting my life to Christ terrified me – ‘cause I didn’t know how I was gonna handle the sex question.

I was newly divorced and while I was not rushing to date again, I knew that I would eventually. I also knew that I had always had a healthy libido. What would I do now as I was just as excited about my fervent commitment to living out my faith with all of my decisions and actions? Well, I did what most of us do when we’re conflicted inside to the point of paralysis, I delayed a decision. I denied that I even had to make one. I pretended there was no issue . . .

. . . until one evening in Bible study when a classmate shared her testimony with us along with beautifully vivid color copies of a Celibacy Covenant. “G~d, you’re kidding, right?” The timing couldn’t have been more . . . providential. Thankfully, neither she nor our facilitators led us into any kind of public declaration of abstinence. As I tucked my copy into the inner pocket of my vinyl binder I hoped that my distress wasn’t showing on my face. Again, I attempted to dodge the entire issue . . .

dating. . . until I realized that I had x-ray vision. No, really. Each time I looked at the binder I could see the covenant clearly through the opaque vinyl cover. Everything inside me compelled me to sign it. But I desperately did not want to sign it and then break faith with G~d. My newly recommitted faith walk was soooo precious to me. I feared that I would destroy it by making a promise I’d never been able to keep in 12 years or so of sexual activity.

I became paranoid each week in class, thinking that everyone else was looking at me, wondering if I had signed my covenant or not. LOL. Eventually and willingly I signed it. Then I broke it, repented, and tried again. From that point I maintained a commitment of celibacy for a number of years, like 12. (After so long, I do not know if the actual number matters.)

My season of celibacy was challenging and rewarding, but a year or so before it ended I learned that it was indeed a season – and not one that would necessarily only end once I married again. I realized that celibacy is not the only ethically acceptable sexual choice available to single Christians who are passionate about remaining faithful to G~d. Furthermore, choosing sex in singleness while being saved is not a matter of being tired of waiting or settling or giving up – or even breaking faith. The availability of more choices is all about agency, autonomy, and authority. These issues are directly connected to issues of freedom and justice and this perspective propels us into realms of greater importance than doctrine, dogma, ritual, and rhetoric.

I am totally aware that such assertions completely conflict with the Church’s traditional teachings about sex and sexuality – and I am excited about that! After listening to the cries of women who trusted me with some of their most intimate struggles with love and dating, I cherish the opportunity to help provide meaningful information and tools so that they may make their own decisions in this area – not just settle for outdated and out-of-context guidance that has been passed down over generations. Dating no longer has to be a Christian’s six-letter word!

who told you that you were naked front cover

Who Told You That You Were Naked? by dr. candi dugas

Who Told You That You Were Naked? Black Women Reclaiming Sexual & Spiritual Goodness, recently released, provides this information and these tools. I write with women in mind because we have a particularly difficult time reconciling our sexuality and spirituality. Now, we can get off that incessant merry-go-round of desire, guilt and shame. We can live fully into our whole selves and enjoy life more completely.

And me? Loving G~d just gets sweeter and more potent each and every day! Yeah, it can be a bit scary at first, to be so consciously naked before G~d, but there is no greater freedom. I am fully me and fully free, the highest form of reverence and worship, huh?

Who Told You That You Were Naked? is available on Kindle (only $9.99) and paperback (only $14.99). Get your copy TODAY!

© 2012 candi dugas, llc

we can’t handle the truth: chasing away who we are

we can’t handle the truth: chasing away who we are

Passion, desire, the erotic – supposedly emotions and feelings that ought to be avoided or at least strictly controlled by any person of faith who deems herself holy. Let’s (re)consider (from a Christian perspective):

Asceticism – the denial of desire and pleasure as an act of religious devotion – is not really a pronounced biblical theme. . . . [It] really develops after the biblical period in the third century C.E., mostly with the desert hermits, who renounced worldly affairs for a desert of silence and hardship in service to God, and then with monastic orders beginning in the fourth century.”

Too often, too much Christians forget and/or deny our roots:

Desire [in the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament] is not something to be suppressed, discarded, or channeled strictly into religious devotion, but is presented as simply a facet of human life. . . . Desire itself is nowhere prohibited, just redirected or schooled.”

Let’s not even mention the erotic! Fear displaces erotica to a hidden and banned place in our lives when ought to be honored and utilized toward a fullness, a robust sense of being and doing.

Audre Lorde describes the erotic as somewhere between our ‘sense of self and the chaos of our strongest feelings.’ That edge is both potentially disruptive and the source of our vital energies. This is why, for Lorde, it is worth the time to explore and celebrate sexuality. It is the resource for our truest selves and our creativity.”

How aware are we that chasing such a foundational and critical part of ourselves does more harm than good – for the self and for the communities in which we live?

[L]onging tells us about ourselves: who we are is our desire, what our soul loves. It need not be ignored, downplayed, or even displaced. And even if we opt to ignore our desire, Freud’s caution is that it haunts and scripts our life nevertheless in muted (or not so muted) screams of need, neuroses, and desolation. What is truest about our inner selves, our souls, is certainly worth knowing.”

Let’s put on our big-girl panties, allowing ourselves to (re)discover, accept, embrace, and share exactly who we are with all of our desires fueling truth, awareness, and knowledge!

Walsh citations – Carey Ellen Walsh, Exquisite Desire: Religion, the Erotic, and the Song of Songs – part of the second chapter, “Erotics in the Bible”

(c) 2012 candi dugas, llc

a definition of abuse: perpetual desire – always wanting & never getting

a definition of abuse: perpetual desire – always wanting & never getting

Too often when we talk about sexual desire, especially in the context of faith, the conversation is skewed toward control and it’s laced with fear of innumerable dangers. Too often we neglect or lose altogether the vibrancy that makes desire engaging, pleasurable, and . . . well, desirable. This kind of energy fuels everything that we do. Ultimately we do whatever we do because we want to, right? You may disagree because there are some actions we take because we must. True. I submit that we commit required deeds rather than their alternatives because our desire to do so outweighs other options. We want to do what we must. We don’t want to leave necessary matters unattended. We wanted to.

So rather than futilely suppress or flee from desire, let’s embrace and direct it.

“Do you love life;
do you relish the chance
to enjoy good things?” ~Psalm 34:12 (CEB)

This rhetorical question is within a passage that instructs its readers to honor G~d and to avoid evil. If the reader accepts this instruction, she must then seek what it means to honor G~d. She must then indeed identify actual evil in order to avoid it. Where we contemporary humans trip up is ascribing for ourselves others’ ways of honor and ancient notions of evil. Even a cursory recollection of history reminds us that we don’t approach decisions or behavior the way humanity did thousands of years ago – nor do we view evil the same way. We ladies joke about it today, but we truly don’t believe that our monthly menstrual flow is a curse of any kind. As I told a bible study group, “It may be icky, but it’s not evil.”

When considering the dangers of desire today we must realize we live in a time when “our pleasures have become commodities.” (Walsh) Any good salesperson wants to know what motivates us, what we desire, so that she can appeal to that to encourage and influence our purchases. We have to be savvy consumers and distinguish the marketplace’s strategies from the goodness of our inherent, embodied desires. In this case we do well to mimic the life-approach of ancient humanity. They didn’t separate their passion for the Divine from that for each other or their work. Worship, sex, and labor were all fueled by the same energy. In all cases we do well to objectively view and understand our life-dynamics and seek balance in our perspectives, beliefs, decisions, and actions.

Desire is not the same for all of us.

“Desire is about wanting more than it is about getting. It is the hunger that highlights the food; the patience that highlights the faith; the arousal that anticipates the sex. It commands a shift in perspective. The salt of a lover’s lips or the sweet juice of grapes is not just pleasurable anymore; with desire, they become exquisite. Desire is the discipline to live on that edge between wanting and satisfaction. It is not for the timid or the fickle. . . .

A desire . . . is feasible in historical time, but missing in the here and now of life. . . . Desire has content, and therefore pain to it, in the acute knowledge of just what is missing. . . .

Yearning itself may even come to be experienced as a pleasure. The Song [of Songs] is concerned with the provocative question of whether the exquisite sensation of wanting another could surpass in any realistic sense the pleasure of sexual consummation. The surprising claim that it can does seem to be the premise of the Song, which stays focused on the experience of yearning, not its relief.” (Walsh)

For oppressed and/or marginalized people, Dr. Walsh’s insight into desire is problematic because the very essence of such life is about always wanting and never getting. Unfulfilled desire becomes oppressive; it is abusive. And so we never experience anything exquisite when love is not consummated. Rather we experience neglect.

I do understand her point. I do. It’s like being sure to enjoy the journey for that is where the true value of traveling lives. We miss just about everything when we fixate solely on the destination. Yet if we never arrive, we’re always missing this unidentifiable thing that we can’t quite put our fingers on. It forever remains just on the tips of our tongues. We all know how frustrating that is.

Desire and yearning are pleasurable. It is not all about gratification. But I cannot smell good food cooking all the time without ever eating. And I’m not meant to. The fullness of pleasure lives in desire and consummation.

It seems, then, in our world today that full pleasure is attached to privilege. So, I suppose when I yearn for my marginalized sisters to live and love with an inextricable sense of goodness about their bodies and embodied expression, what I really want for us is utter freedom. Only in complete liberation can we even approach Dr. Walsh’s sense of the value of desire, an ultimate, exquisite pleasure derived from yearning rather than its relief.

NOTE: Besides I believe the lovers in the Song do consummate their desire. Their highly sensual descriptions of each other can only come from a place of intimate, actual knowing of the other. It’s more than imagination, dreams, and conjuring.

Walsh citations – Carey Ellen Walsh, Exquisite Desire: Religion, the Erotic, and the Song of Songs – the Preface and first chapter, “A Question of Desire: Is There Some Accounting for Biblical Taste?”

(c) 2012 candi dugas, llc

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