Friday, March 6, 2015

Inertia

Spencer Dryden

I never was very good at Physics. My undergrad advisor told me 'physics is something you should have had to have known.'  Newton told us that a body at rest tends to remain at rest. Newton didn't have to observe the motion of the planets to discover the principal. All he had to do was become an author. Wait, he was, and in fact he sold pretty well. Okay, a fiction author in the 21st century.
Is there anything out there with  that requires overcoming more inertia than trying to move a book? Newton provides us with an answer.  Newton's formula reduced to algebra is P= M x V, where P is momentum, M is mass of the object and V, its velocity. Once again, employing Spencer's wacky science if we solve for M where V (rate of sales) is nearly zero the equation is M=P/V. Mass approaches infinity when there are no sales (V). The book therefore is too heavy to move. The key is raising sales velocity (V) but we all know that. (And you're wondering why I didn't do to well in Physics?)
I have been in several careers where overcoming inertia is a big struggle. I was miscast as a salesman for many years. In my last sales job I went from zero to over $100,000 in annualized commissions in slightly more than a year's time-during a time when commercial insurance rates were falling and commissions were being cut. (Sound familiar?)
Then there was my foray personal services.  I became a handyman for hire. I started with widowed friends of my mother-in-law. I never advertised. All my business came by referral. I have more work now than I want. I am trying to ease my way down to a few hours per week so I'll have more time for writing. It's been a great gig. People don't know how to fix things anymore. As long as I can fix toilets I'll never starve.
Then there was my long time interest in TV/video. I started making little  'how to' videos of fixes I encountered on the job. I used  a little video camera and a PC compatible consumer version of a commercial editing  suite. Frankly my videos were terrible next to the slick productions done by manufacturers and other HGTV wannabees. The difference was that I showed things as they actually looked in real life because it was real life repairs. With only few tags I put my videos out in the ocean of alternatives. Not much happened at first but several of my videos have crossed the magic 100,000 view threshold. People had to be looking hard to find my stuff. Many have raved in the comments about how helpful my video was to their quest.  I even have a motto for DIYers, "If you do it yourself, the tools are free." There was no way to 'monetize' my efforts so I quit producing videos a few years ago.
Thankfully I don't need the revenue from writing. It's an inexpensive, entertaining and engaging past time to take into retirement. I never imagined it would be as difficult to get  traction as it has proved to be. I have spent the last year flapping my arms as hard as I can trying to get this thing to lift off. My fifth book will be released later year. Aside from purchases by few friends I have barely registered any sales. Yet I have put far more marketing effort into the venture than anything I have done in my life. There's always another angle that someone is pitching—mostly things that worked ten years ago— but frankly most of our efforts only fall into the field of vision of other writers. And for me, it reduces the creative energy I need to write.
I realize time was a factor in my other 'successes' and in time my efforts may prove successful. On the other hand, guys my age have this nasty habit of waking up in the morning feeling fine and by five o'clock they're on a slab at the funeral home or in a wheel chair with a drool cup at the nursing home. I only have today and I cherish it.
I like the flip side of Newton's observation much better, that bodies in motion tend to stay in motion. Sir Isaac, can you give a bro a little push here?

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Lexi Wood is taking over my life

by Giselle Renarde

A candid portrait of Lexi Wood... on the can.

Have I mentioned Lexi Wood? She's the sock puppet that came to life one night by the magic of porn and Chinese food.

Lexi knows what she wants. She wants:
  • to live, rent-free, in my apartment
  • to take over my computer even when I'm using it
  • to write the filthiest smut I've ever seen
  • to persuade me to spend my valuable time creating cover art for her stories
  • to access all my publisher accounts in order to upload taboo erotica
In case that wasn't annoying enough, she's recently started taking over my computer so often I almost never get to use it myself. She's always sitting there, bashing her sparkly little face against the keyboard.

She writes this... filth! There's no other word for it. All these stories are about coy virgins and brats getting fucked by their stepfathers. Yeah, okay, they want it (usually... or, eventually...), but my GOD. This shit's gonna get me in serious trouble.

And the more she writes, the more she wants to write.  I can't get her to stop. No idea is ever dirty enough. She pushes the limits of propriety in one story, and crosses the line in the next... and pees in that general direction in the one after that! She picks up speed with every story, writing more frantically each day, putting in more words and dirtier words and never letting me check my email until 10 at night when she passes out on my couch.

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00U8389IE?tag=lexiwood-20
Lexi's got a thing for brats, these days. All I hear from her is "brat this, brat that." Her three most recent titles are: Owning the Brat, Watching the Brat, and The Brat Runs Home. The "Watching" one's about this college grad's stepfather hiding in her closet to watch her masturbate. Why, Lexi, Why?  She doesn't even know he's there (so it's kind of weird that she screams his name when she comes, but whatever)! That ain't right!

I really have to keep an eye on Lexi Wood, because if I were to let her press "publish" on some of these titles, Amazon would probably close my account. Okay, here's one title I jotted down so I wouldn't forget: "Seducing My Sexy Stepdaddy in his Sleep." I convinced her to hide that one in an anthology to lessen the chances I'd be struck off for it.

LEXI! You're killing me, here. Your stories are wrong on so many levels--according to Amazon, at least--but you won't let up. Every day it's a new short. Every day it's another barely-legal teen getting deflowered by her (step)Daddy. ("step"--yeah, whatever you say, Lex.)

You're one sick puppet, Lexi Wood. Every story's smuttier than the last.

And the worst part?

Her work sells waaaay better than mine...

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

"Kuschelbaer": An Inert Story

He reached under the warm feathered rump of the hen and lifted.  She dipped her head, opening her beak bluffing to bite but he was gentle and all the birds knew him as the bringer of the morning feed.  He lifted the smooth white egg from the nest of feathers and straw and put it in the basket on the ground.  He gentled the bird back into place, smoothed its feathers apologetically and moved along the row.

As he turned to leave the coop several hens hopped down, milling around his legs to follow him out.  He opened the coop door, moving the eager birds aside with his foot and stepped out.  The misty smell of the fresh verbena cleared his senses of the ammoniac air of the coop.  He latched the coop door.

Outside the fence there were bloodied white feathers scattered which he hadn’t noticed in the dawn light when he had gone in a half hour ago.  Some animal, a fox or a dog was making raids once or twice a week on the coop at night.  He took a moment to search himself, to see if he had changed.  He wanted to change.  He tried to imagine the lost bird and its last instant on earth.  These fat little descendent's of the Tyrannosaur would have smelled the mammal coming, set up a fuss, looked to the rooster for protection.  The last instant of the chase, the fatal defeat, the teeth and clenching, invincible jaws and then being carried off and torn to pieces.  How would it feel?

Fear?  There was no fear.  Anger?  There was no anger.  Grief?  There should be grief, some pity, there was none.

My heart is dead, he thought.  Still as cold stone.  I can’t make it move.  I can’t awaken it to feel a thing.

He had the memory of feelings and he wanted them back.  He was not depressed, would have been grateful to experience himself as a human being capable of depression.  But there was not even that movement.  Not even the experience of loss. He walked across the yard to the house, went through the back into the kitchen and put the basket of half a dozen eggs on the table.  He made coffee, poured himself a cup and sat at the table looking at the eggs.

The coffee was well crafted and of a good quality but he felt no pleasure in it or peace at the mornings routine.  There was the day stretching ahead of him, not bleakly or even lonely but gray.

I have lost too many people, he thought.  But that’s not it.  Others have lost people and have the joy of grieving.  Their hearts are awake and weeping.  My mother has died now.  My father has died.  My wife has died.  My son is somewhere but I never hear from him.  Where are my tears?  Why have I never grieved over them?  I didn’t even attend their funerals.  They sent me my mother’s ashes and they’re on a shelf in the attic.  My father died and I attended his grave alone even after his funeral was long gone, attended by two hundred mourners and not his son.  What was I thinking? I was not.  I was just not interested.

There must be some way to think about these things.  To feel again.

He left his coffee on table  and went outside again to the chicken coop, looking up at the sky, eying the weather clouds of the day.  When he had been a hedge fund manager on Wall St, considering a job offer from K street in Washington, he had never looked up at the sky.  Manhattan made you feel as though the whole world was made out of concrete.  There was hardly any sky to see past the stone canyons of buildings.  Now he was surrounded by open space, distant from any other person and he wanted it that way.  It seemed to his suiting.

He opened the gate to the coop, closed it and went up the ramp.  He opened the door of the coop wide and the dozen and half or so of hens and one watchful rooster quickly milled out into the sunshine and open air.  They moved past his legs as though he were a standing rock in a stream of feathers and aggravation.  The birds quickly headed for the back gate of the coop area which opened into the fenced off rows of the large vegetable garden and vineyard.  The chickens would spend the day there, happily picking bugs and caterpillars off the leaves of everything in sight. 

He watched them dashing, pecking, chattering, watched them without joy or wonder.  He left the gate open so they could return freely to the coop after exercising and grooming his plants.

He went back into the house, back into the kitchen, picked up his coffee, now cold and drank it cold.

His mother had died alone.  There were people, but she had died alone in her mind.

She had always been mentally ill, had been mentally ill when he was a child although he had never noticed it then.  When he was a young adult she became restless and took off on strange fugues, off the to the Greyhound bus station, arriving penniless and scared in strange places where he would have to send her money for a ticket or maybe stop his own life long enough to go find her and scoop her up like a dog catcher.  Then she simply vanished.  She dropped off the face of the earth for five years.  One night he had gotten a call from an obscure relative whose phone number had been found in her purse when she had been picked up in a snow storm by the Chicago police.  She was in a nursing home, delirious, brainless with Alzheimers.  He noted the address and put it in a drawer and left it there.  After a year, the nursing home called to say she had died.

He thought of her.  The very last time he saw her in this world was in Newark, heading down the sidewalk where he had dropped her off with her suitcase, almost skipping to the bus station.  And that was that.

He poured himself some more coffee, thought of his father.  His father had died a relatively good death.  A death he might wish for himself.  He had died with knowledge of his coming doom, sentenced by his oncologist.  He had taken up cigars and scotch again.  This doomed yoga student and vegetarian said “fuck it” and took up smoking again gleefully along with hot dogs with the works and thick steaks.  He did not have a Bucket List, so much as a Fuckit List.  There may have been prostitutes, elephants and acrobats in his scene for all he knew.

Somehow that was when he said “Fuckit” too.  He’d moved out here with his savings and sank without a bubble.

He sipped his coffee thinking.  Stories.  Life was about stories, not facts.  Five thousand people in some woe begone dump of a nation die of Ebola, is a fact, is a third world body count, not much different from a stock exchange Standard and Poors figure.  A mother wailing over her dead baby, holding its little deadly disease bomb of a corpse in her arms because she no longer fears death, that’s a story.

Where’s my story?

He poured more coffee.  Then he heard the commotion outside.  He went to the window and something red was running through the rows and the hens scattered screaming from it.  Another flash of red, that would be the rooster.  It was there in the rows.

He went to the hall closet, fumbled behind the ironing board and took the narrow gauge Henry rifle there.  He checked the breech, took off the safety and went outside.

A flash of red leaping the fence, poised in air like a splash of blood.

He raised the gun, sighted and fired.  The red thing spun and dropped behind the fence.  There was a high shriek and then only the sound of the hens.

His heart was pounding.  Was it pleasure?  Yes.  Should it be?  Was that right?  But oh - by god, something.  Even blood lust was better than that painless silence.

He cocked the rifle, the casing flew and he ran for the garden fence.  He circled expecting to see the animal on the ground but there was nothing.  He went up to the spot, examined it and it was there - a pool of hot blood.  And then another, and then another.  A small tuft of red fur.  A fox, probably gut shot, running into the trees on silk feet.

He glanced over the fence.  The rooster, mortally wounded defending his hens, was thrashing on the ground.  He ran towards the line of trees, glancing down to pick but the direction of the blood.  He stopped and realized - His heart was pounding.  He felt joy.  He had hurt this animal that was hurting his own and his heart was awakening. 

He followed the blood over the sand and pine needles of the tree and saw the thick red tail standing out carelessly from behind a bush.  It was a beautiful red fox, the size of a medium dog.  The fur of the cheeks and whiskers was fluffed like a cats with teh muzzle of a dog.  The eyes were half closed and the animals flanks were wet with blood behind the shoulder where the bullet had hit. 

It was a good shot.  A fine shot for a city kid living in the country.  Fucking animal had attacked his hens - his hens!  Maybe killed the rooster he wasn't sure.  He raised the rifle to his shoulder for a head shot, hesitated.  It was a beautiful creature, languid with pain, fading fast.  Maybe a taxidermist could have it stuffed.  He could look at it always and remember. 

The fox jumped, curled, cramped its legs in gripping at the air, showed its its sharp killing teeth once in a grin of defiance and sagged into stillness. 

He kneeled down.  It was still and vacant, this beautiful thing he had killed.  And he realized it was beautiful, it was even in death a pleasure to look at.  And he felt pleasure, the discovery of pleasure and an odd feeling of gratitude to the animal. 

 And then there was a movement, soft and small in the saddle of thick white belly fur below.  He put his hand on the belly touching the hot blood and felt the gentle movement within, here, then here, then here.  Pups.  Fox pups, doomed, tiny silk feet running in a world of warmth in motion, now violently stilled and cooling around their tiny blind bodies, the steady heartbeat falling into silence as their nourishing world died around them without their knowing.  They would not be born.  They would die soon within the universe of their mother. 

He put the gun down and was unable to lift his hand from the animals side and blood dampened his fingers.  He felt the pups, felt their bewilderment through the cooling skin and fur. Their world now snatched from them without a chance.

Wall street.  K Street.  His father’s disappointment.  He had exiled himself here - the middle of nowhere and nothing.  He understood their fate because it was his own.   Until now.

His heart swelled, blossomed, and he began to weep with dark and unearthly joy.



Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Inertia by J.P. Bowie

Inertia, it seems, is what I have been suffering from for the past few weeks. I have 3 - count 'em - 3 manuscripts waiting to be tackled in some form or other - by that I mean added to or just deleted - on my pc at the moment. This happens to me every now and then, and it freakin' pisses me off!

I know I have to write something - that's what I do for heaven's sake. I write. And yet, for some strange reason recently, the words just don't seem to come together. I sit and stare at the screen, my fingers hover over the keys waiting for something, anything, to pop into my addled brain. Nothing. Well, that's not exactly true. Something stirs, and I immediately grab it and throw it out there - and end up hating it. There is nothing worse than boring writing. I know, I've read it, I've written it, and it tears at me when it happens.

I suppose we writers all get these moments when nothing seems to work. You think you have a plot, interesting characters - characters that actually have something to say and do to move the story along - and suddenly, zip! They are not saying or doing anything interesting. These poor people that I have created are suffering from the same malady - inertia. But how can that be? All I have to do is give them fabulous lines to say, derring do to do and voila! - I have a story that will sell some copies, or maybe more than some. But where the hell are these fabulous lines and action sequences? Where in the dank recesses of my inertia-ed mind are they hiding?

Well, I don't have the answer to that I'm afraid, because absolutely nothing is forthcoming, at least not at the present. So, I will soldier on, sit at my computer day in and day out in the hope that words will suddenly appear on the screen that make me sit up and take notice, that will be interesting and will free me from this dire disease... I N E R T I A.

Watch this space.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Set in Stone

By Lisabet Sarai

Treatises for authors often recommend against editing as you write. Get the story down first, they advise, no matter how rough it might be. You can go back and refine it later. Write quickly, from instinct, without introspection. Analyze and revise after you’ve captured the flush of inspiration.

I recognize the wisdom of this proposal for some authors, but usually it doesn’t work for me. I have to make plot decisions, finalize my characterization and massage my prose while I’m creating my first draft. Over the years I’ve discovered that my writing has incredible inertia. Once I’ve finished a story, it’s set in stone, or something close.

Over the years, I’ve had many editors comment on how few modifications they needed to make to my manuscripts. That’s one external consequence of my writing method. I’m very grateful that most of my submissions have sailed through the editing process with only minor revisions. Because making larger changes turns out to be ridiculously difficult for me.

This fact became painfully clear last year, after I submitted my erotic romance novel The Ingredients of Bliss to Totally Bound. The book was part of a multi-author series that had some specific requirements. The first manuscript I turned in apparently did not meet those requirements. I realize now that, influenced by my erotica roots, the book veered too far from the canons of romance. Not only did my heroine Emily have two lovers (Harry and Etienne), but she was sexually attracted to the villain Jean as well. There were good reasons – Jean was almost the perfect double of Etienne, right down to the way he smelled, and she was trying to seduce him in order to rescue Harry and Etienne after they’d been kidnapped. Nevertheless, this sort of dalliance is verboten in romance, as it smacks of infidelity. Then there were strong hints of Emily’s attraction to the kick-ass lady cop who joins her in the quest to free Harry and Etienne. F/F eroticism in a straight erotic romance is the kiss of death from a marketing perspective. Finally, the tone of the book was far darker than the publisher really wanted.

I’d already committed to provide this book to the publisher. Indeed, it was a sequel to a short piece (Her Secret Ingredient) that I’d written for the same series. Hence, I was strongly motivated to address the editor’s concerns. I didn’t fully understand the discomfort I was about to endure.

Over the course of the next three months, I revised the entire book four times. I rewrote the scene in which Jean is coming on to Emily to make her disgusted and frightened rather than aroused. I cut all references to F/F attraction. I softened the language in the attempted rape scene. I completely excised Emily’s dramatic, bloody nightmare, in an effort to lighten things up.

At one point, deeply frustrated, I considered pulling the book and publishing it elsewhere. Unfortunately, for that to make sense, I’d have to reclaim the rights for the short piece as well. That would have been awkward and expensive. So I tried to twist the story into the form the publisher wanted.

The book resisted me, every step of the way.

The final result satisfied the publisher. However, after all that effort, sales have been miserable. Is this because The Ingredients of Bliss still doesn’t match the expectations of erotic romance readers? Or is it because readers can sense that the story isn’t wholly mine, that I compromised my vision to bring it into print? Or perhaps the edits did violence to the narrative integrity of the story. Maybe there’s a problem with continuity, or with consistency of my characters.

I’ll never know. All I know is that I don’t want to go through that again.

Although this is the most egregious example of inertia in my writing, it’s by no means the only one. A number of years ago I decided to rework a 5K short story, “Detente”, into a 15K erotic romance novella (Truce of Trust). The publisher wanted third rather than first person narrative. In addition, they suggested I remove the M/m interaction at the conclusion of the short story, making the book a straight M/F/M ménage.

I had a lot of trouble at first. I kept slipping back into first person, because that was the way I’d heard the original story in my head. Gradually I realized that I had to think of Truce of Trust as a different story entirely. Once I’d made that decision, the process became easier. I changed the names of the characters and moved the action from the west to the east coast. I added new scenes and modified some of the ones from “Detente” to fit my new vision. The final result shares some text with the source, but not much.

One sort of change that doesn’t give me too much trouble is simple expansion. I have several books that began as short stories and then grew. My erotic thriller Exposure began as a theme story (erotic noir) written for the Erotica Readers & Writers Association Storytime list. That story, “Private Dance”, became the first chapter of the novel. I hardly changed it at all. In fact, I had to work out the plot so that the later chapters fit with the first chapter, because when I wrote the story, I had no idea about the cause or motivation for the events that occur. I never really considered revising that first chapter, though.

In response to a request from a special reader, I also expanded Bangkok Noir, turning it from an 8K short to a 30K novella. Once again, I didn’t alter the original, aside from a word here and there. Instead, I shaped the latter events to fit the former.

I view the inertia of my writing as a weakness. A real professional should be more flexible. After all, words are infinitely malleable. Aside from being willing to try revising, though, I’m not sure what I can do.

In any case, it’s often hard to summon that fundamental willingness. By this time, I know better than to try to radically work something I view as finished. It’s rarely worth the pain.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Confessions of a Sociable Hermit

by Jean Roberta

Writing this post has been a challenge. Maybe it’s because I always post after Annabeth, whose posts tend to express startling but authentic emotions in carefully-chosen words. How to follow that?

Connecting with other people has also been a challenge for me, although some of them (including my spouse, Mirtha, who has known me intimately for over 25 years) tell me I have a knack for it, especially at social gatherings. Small talk: I do that.

Maybe it’s because, according to some schools of astrology, I have a “cuspal” personality: born early in the sign of Virgo and therefore an introvert, I show traces of Leo, the performer of the zodiac. I do like performing, and therefore my long teaching career hasn’t felt like torture, as one of my fellow graduate students described it to me some time in the early 1980s.

This person was one of those with whom I didn’t really connect. I could sense her anguish at feeling pressured to perform for an audience of students when she only wanted to be a lifelong scholar doing research, and writing articles on literature. I wished I could have found a way for her to do that exclusively and get paid for it, but alas, I was not in charge of the Ivory Tower or any other corner of the world.

I understand that most people have a wound of some sort, whether hidden or openly displayed, and that I usually can’t help anyone else beyond acknowledging what they have shown me. In several cases, I’ve been aghast when the person I’ve been trying to console decides that their pain is my fault, or the fault of a whole demographic to which I belong (women, old women, mothers/parents, white folks, Americans by any definition, queers, feminists, leftists, the smart-ass, phony, intellectual class).

In too many cases, I have tried to move the earth while standing on it. An angry person in my life (my late ex-husband, each of my blood relatives, to various degrees) has demanded acknowledgement, an apology or some help from me. They have demanded that I make amends by confessing to something I didn’t do, as far as I know (which means that if I did it, I must be really delusional). They have pointed out how selfish, dishonest and unreasonable I am. To keep the peace, I have vaguely admitted that I have been self-centred, like all other people I have ever met. I have apologized for giving the wrong impression. This confession is never enough.

I suspect that after I have left this world, some of the people who thought they knew me will feel cheated: I have escaped without paying for my crimes, once again. They will still be in pain, and they will still believe I am the perpetrator. How could I get my work published, so many times, when they haven’t? How could I be relatively healthy when they aren’t? How did I hang onto a job that pays a living wage when so many others are chronically unemployed? Why am I not being roasted over a slow fire in Hell? (I assume that a fundamentalist Christian version of the afterlife for sinners is not real. I could get a rude awakening in my eternal sleep.)

In a recent guest appearance on OWN (the Oprah Winfrey television channel), Susan Sarandon tactfully discussed several of her failed past relationships by saying that some people, including herself, try in their innocent youth to overlook huge differences between themselves and their Significant Others, but such deal-breakers always destroy the relationship, sooner or later.

I had some great sex with men when I was younger, and I remember the thrilling discovery that this is one service that most men are happy to provide for women – and most of the men I knew were more generous and considerate in bed than anywhere else. Unfortunately, every live person has to get out of bed some time, and that was when the double-binds began closing in. If I didn’t keep a clean-enough apartment (or I wasn’t willing to clean the digs of the guy who had invited me in), I was considered a slob. If I immediately began cooking and cleaning, I was apparently trying to manipulate him into a suffocating domestic arrangement. If I was attending university, I was pretentious. And in any case, I was a girl, so in the eyes of a male observer, my plumbing gave me a kind of biological stupidity which I could never overcome.

If I had just had mind-blowing sex with my current partner, I was a pathological slut. And when the criticism began driving me away, I was told that I was fickle, unstable, prudish, frigid. And an ugly dog on whom the guy should never have wasted his time.

Like Susan Sarandon, I think I have developed some common sense re other people since I was young and unreasonably hopeful. I no longer expect to get along well with people who have nothing in common with me, and especially with those who express a grudge against my “type,” however they define it, and expect me to agree with them.

In the past few years, I have been overwhelmed by the compliments I get from anonymous students on the evaluation forms that are always handed out at the end of a semester. I am overwhelmed because – no matter how many compliments I’ve had from students before – I always find them irrational to some degree. Most of the courses I teach are mandatory for most students, and many of them have learned (are learning) English as adults. Many students dread the class, and with reason. I teach grammar and poetry, both of which are unpopular with undergraduates in general. Yet I have been told, over and over, that I am hugely popular with students. At the same time, I never feel a cool breeze from any of my colleagues, who sometimes invite me to lunch and ask for my advice. It seems I was born to be a star in a small corner of the sky.
-----------------------

Thursday, February 26, 2015

(Dis)Connection: Vignettes

by Annabeth Leong

"I want to lock you in the closet at my job and just keep you in there," he said as I fucked him.

It was our last time together, and we both knew it. The story doesn't need much detail to be clear. He wanted me in the way that makes a person willing to make grand romantic gestures. I wanted to return that feeling, but didn't. We fucked well, so we were doing that before I left for the airport.

This is the last time I'm going to ride this fantastic cock, I remember thinking. I tried to memorize every good place it touched inside me.

He kept talking, fantasizing out loud about what it would be like to prevent me from leaving him. I get off on that sort of fantasy sometimes, so everything began to feel amazing. We were in perfect accord, connected by a mutual vision of me, helpless, forced to live a life I couldn't make myself want on my own. I came hard.

Then I got up and the disconnection set in. For me, it was just a hot fantasy. It was a thing I could walk away from. For him, it was a sincerely felt wish.

***

I decided to make her my friend, and then I single-mindedly pursued her. "It's like romance," I told my male partner confidently, unperturbed, because at that time in my life I was in denial about the fact that the way I felt about certain women wasn't like romance—it was romance.

One night, I convinced her to come out with me. We walked to the playground in the dark and kicked off our shoes and climbed onto a structure made of metal rope. We clung to it beside each other, our bodies vibrating as the metal hummed in response to the breeze. I was so hungry to know every little thing she was willing to tell me about herself. I could feel myself taking her sentences in deep, pouring love all over them, and reflecting them back to her. We stayed out for hours before I finally drove her home.

Before she left town a few weeks later, she called me over to her apartment and gave me her shoe collection and a bottle of good vanilla. I bought books I thought she would like and mailed them to her new address. I sobbed inconsolably. I still wear her shoes, though they are just slightly too small for me and hurt my feet.

***

There is a sort of love that defeats the constant concern I feel for how others see me. The only thing that matters when I love that way is what that one loved person thinks. And so sometimes I feel safe from almost everything, exhilarated by the freedom.

He talked slowly and hated to be interrupted. I learned to accept five-minute pauses in conversation as he pondered. I didn't know how much of myself I normally hold back until I found myself loving him without reserve. He didn't like smoking, and one day I thought about how if I really loved him, the feeling ought to make me better. I took the cigarette out of my mouth and haven't smoked one since.

One day we were at dinner in the college cafeteria, and we were playing a silly game we had just dredged from the depths of our childhood memories. We made a pact not to break each other's gaze. The goal was to try to trick the other person into making a noise. With an absolutely straight face, he picked up his bowl of hot soup and slowly poured it straight into his lap, and I laughed harder than I ever had in my life.

When he told me eventually that we didn't share Christ in common and couldn't be friends anymore, I stared at him blankly, with a child's innocent lack of comprehension. The world could not be that wrong. It could not.

***

I didn't like her; I liked her best friend. Her best friend was a singer with a big voice who never fixed the pronouns when she sang covers of old blues songs. But this singer kept throwing me at her friend, telling me to ride with that other girl to the party, enticing me to go to that other girl's house, promising that she'd show up there eventually, leaving me waiting for hours.

But I would get bored sometimes and kiss the girl I didn't like. She asked me to pour candle wax on her back, then blow it cool. Ever accommodating, I said I would, and then I got curious and asked her to do it to me, too. One night, we did that together with a guy we knew from a local bar, stripped to our bras, burning each other and kissing and giggling. Later, we walked out into the night. I was so warm inside and outside that I barely felt the need to get dressed to go out to the street. The three of us held hands.

He showed up another day at the bar with roses for each of us, thinking we were great friends, or that we were together, and I ducked my head because I was there waiting for the singer, as usual.

***

I wooed him by writing a poem, but then he went away for the weekend and I fucked someone else, probably because at the time I didn't really know how to say no. So we broke up, and he wrote me a poem, and when I read it I felt shamed and humbled, because I had to admit that his poem was better.

***

When I miss her with the sharpest sting, I am thinking of the moment when we were saying goodbye after the first time we had lunch together. We were standing on the street next to her car, and all I wanted right then was to spend as much time with her as possible. I was afraid of humiliating myself, but I needed her to know, so I asked if we could do this again. Like, soon. Like, tomorrow.

That was stupid
, I thought. I was supposed to play it cool—pull out my smartphone and schedule something three weeks in advance. But the truth was, I would have canceled just about anything for another chance to be near her. And I wasn't busy tomorrow.

Her face wide open, she nodded at me with the sort of enthusiasm that adults rarely allow. I knew from her expression that she was with me all the way. We felt exactly the same about the lunch we'd had together.

I'll always hold that moment close, that experience of wanting in profound accord with someone else. Of being told yes in a way that wasn't just about lunch but also meant yes you are perfection and yes I think I maybe love you.

"Yeah," she said. "Let's do it."