Touch and taste are the most intimate senses. When someone touches us, we have let them into our personal space. They can be outside of it and we can still hear them, see them, or smell them. For the moment, I’ll pass on examining taste, and simply say that it too, is requires intimate contact.
Our language reflects this intimacy and its resulting importance to us. When someone tells us something that we respond to strongly, we say, “she touches me.” We are touched by emotional events. We touch others for comfort and to comfort them, to startle, to tease, to heal, to defend and to entice. Although there are many approaches to arousing someone sexually, touching is the most explicit.
I was getting a massage the other day and thinking about how it is a service of touching. This was a gentle Khmer massage. Many of the massage places, especially those that employ the blind (in much of Asia, it is common for the blind to get training in this field) they practice a Japanese shiatsu massage, which is quite different. It is a difference similar to that between watercolours and pointillist oil painting.
Massage does good things for the circulation for relaxation. And it cannot help but be intimate. Yet a massage professional is impersonal, and there is an interesting contradiction. Perhaps that is why massage parlours have such a seedy reputation. Both professional sex and massage have that intimate while impersonal quality. And, of course, a massage does provide an opportunity to arouse the client and let the one lead to the other.
To me that situation simply illustrates the power, the magic of touch. Any powerful thing can (and usually will) be exploited. Perhaps that is a problem, but I don’t know that I am even against exploitation per se. It would depend on the circumstances. A desire to be touched is so much a snapshot definition of being human. We want human contact, aka touching. And when we feel a bit less than human, or feel that others are acting inhumanely we use that terrible phrase, “don’t touch me.” But if that goes on too long, we might be considered a little touched in the head.
This is important to me as a writer. It is also a problem. The problem arises because it is incredibly difficult to describe a touch, the feeling of being touched. Often writers resort to describing the character’s reaction to being touched, but that isn’t the same as the touch itself. Relying on descriptive terms leaves you with a poor palette consisting of words such as “sticky” or “hot” or “rough.” Gross approximations of sensation. Touch is so immediate, that a realist wants the reader to feel the sensation instantly.
‘Tis a goal to be striven for.
Meanwhile, remember to touch those you love. Repeatedly. Lovingly.