Saturday, June 30, 2012

KNOCKING DOWN APPEARANCES



Rose B. Thorny Copyright 2012

I have a confession. I was a sucker for a three-piece suit.

It was a long time ago and I was young and na├»ve and I bought into what I’d been spoon-fed from the cradle – that clothes make the man.

Not just the man, of course. The woman, too… and the child. Appearances were everything.

Even “play clothes” were to be kept as clean as possible. Grass stains on knees were a reason to call out the militia and were guaranteed to end the playtime outdoors. Grass and mud stains meant more work that needed to be attended to immediately, and were, therefore, a huge imposition on an already overworked housewife. In retrospect, though, I realized that the important part, to my mother, was getting the stain out to return the offending garment to its previously pristine condition. It must look fresh and new. Nothing must ever look as if it was actually old, or worse, *used.* Old and used meant poor, and poor was anathema to her.

It was always like that, to the point where, without realizing it until much later in my life, there was constant, underlying stress about getting any clothes soiled, or worse, damaged by a rip, or a tear, or a pulled thread. It was difficult for me to really cut loose and have unbridled fun, when there was always the danger of getting my clothes dirty and damaging them, possibly irreparably. Walking on eggshells is the perfect metaphor. Bruises fade and cuts and scrapes heal, but stains last forever and everyone can see them if you can’t get them out. That was what I learned young.

It was like that as far as other people were judged, too. They were sized up on how they dressed. Were they neat and tidy? Were their clothes spotless? Were the suits obviously expensive? Were the creases in the trousers pressed to a knife edge?

Men in suits and ties, wearing starched white shirts, were admired. They were successful and, thus, respected.

I wasn’t alone in being raised this way, of course. Other kids, the “Boomers” who grew up in the 50s and 60s, were fed this almost religious doctrine of appearance, though possibly for different reasons. In high school, the “tech” guys – the boys, who took shop as an option, and worked on cars and other mechanical equipment, or on cabinetry and woodworking – were called “greasers,” and the nice girls, the good girls, wouldn’t have much to do with them. At the time, it seemed that many of the boys in the arts and science courses looked down on the ST&T (science, trade and technology) guys. Those guys would become “the workies,” labourers. They’d be the mechanics, who only fix cars for a living, or work on construction sites. They’d pursue trades and be plumbers and electricians and house builders and they’d get their hands, as well as their clothes, dirty.

My father was a chef in a fine restaurant. He wore his whites and they’d get stained and smudged and splattered during the course of his work day. (He was a real chef, by the way, not one of those arrogant, spoiled, angry, bellowing blowhards on the egregiously misnamed “reality” cooking shows.)

My mother loved him dearly, and I do believe that she was sincerely proud of him and his accomplishments. It wasn’t easy being an immigrant in a new country, but he worked hard. He was the breadwinner and that counted for a lot, and he was crazy about her. She always made sure that when he went to work, on the buses and the subway, that he was dressed in a suit and starched white shirt. At work, he’d change into his work uniform. I didn’t see anything wrong with this, and I still don’t, but it became an obsession with her, this appearance of monetary wealth, when that type of wealth wasn’t part of the equation.

What I remember most clearly, though, was how, in later years, after he retired and joined an opera chorus, she would positively beam with pride, when, for concert appearances, he would dress up in his best suit, polished black shoes, bow tie with a matching handkerchief just showing in the breast pocket, and a carnation in his lapel. This was her ideal of how a man *should* look. This was the appearance of the romantic hero, the one to which she ascribed, and the one she taught her daughters to seek.

After my father died, and even before, the photo my mother kept of him, in an honoured, place, reminiscent of a shrine, even while he was alive, was of him posed and dressed to the nines, before a concert. It was a lovely gold-framed photo, and we fulfilled her request that it be buried with her. I have a print of it, somewhere, but it isn’t the photo of my Dad that I keep handy.

My favourite photo of my Dad is a candid one. I had my camera with me, poised and ready to shoot, when I visited one day, and surprised him working in their backyard. The photo captures him wearing a canvas fishing hat, a favourite, long-sleeved T-shirt, casual work pants, and he’s holding a rake. I called to him and he looked up and smiled, waving at me. I snapped the photo that best reflects the relationship he and I had – casual, laid back, without pretense.

When I was a mere 18, I was fooled by the suited look. I met a man – an older man of 22 – who was talented and brilliant, and handsome to boot. If you wanted to cast Christian Grey of “Fifty Shades of Grey,” fame, and had a time machine, you could abduct this guy in 1969 and not look any further for your – *ahem* – “romantic hero.” He was a classically-trained musician on his way to becoming “somebody” and, as I recall, he didn’t have calluses on his hands. Always impeccably dressed, most often in well-tailored three-piece suits, with nary a stain in sight, I was completely taken by him. I fell head over heels, and my mother thought he was the cat’s ass. He was a take-charge kind of man and demanded much of those who sought to curry his favour. So commanding, but in a way that seemed so damned admirable. I saw everything on the surface there was to see. He was sophisticated and articulate, vibrant and breathtaking. I heard the charming, lovely words and the grand talk of a romantic affair and I was seduced. I use the word “seduced,” because that is the word of romantic, erotic liaisons. It’s the word used by romance writers.

The word I really mean is suckered. I was sucked in by the *appearance* of beauty and the sound of the words I’d always heard in romance movies, the movies I’d grown up watching and believing, though, admittedly, I never got into reading romance novels. (There just wasn’t enough hot sex in them, for my tastes, when I was of that impressionable age to read them.)

And that is when I learned the lesson of being fooled by appearances. That is when I realized just how big a lie the romance movies were. Oh, they’re pretty enough to look at. After all, that’s the whole point of them. Make it all look as pretty as possible. Grow that fantasy. Make the man handsome, and preferable rich, and the woman beautiful. Make him a doctor, or a lawyer, or a leader of industry, a man of business, or a wealthy magnate. Even a struggling writer will do, as long as it’s a sure bet he’ll inherit from an estranged father at some point in the story, but he must have clean hands and clean clothes. No auto mechanics or plumbers or electricians or short-order cooks need apply.

I have to admit that I did a bit of knee-jerk thing after that ersatz romance fiasco. Upon being dumped, like so much trash, after giving up what I’d foolishly always believed I would be saving till my wedding night (also for the sake of certain appearances that had been drummed into me), and following the initial entertainment of fantasies involving myriad methods of revenge, bloody and otherwise, I assimilated the data and drew the preliminary conclusion: Don’t trust a suit. I saved the in-depth analysis for much later – ascertain *which* suits you can trust and which ones you should avoid like the plague they are – but in the nonce, I simply went with “Never trust a suit again.”

Despite the extreme response at the time, it was a still a good lesson learned. For all the angst and devastated ego, humiliation and self-loathing, rage at him for being such a shithead and at myself for being so incredibly stupid, I weathered the emotional shit-storm that was the fallout of that ill-fated liaison. I have, ever since, resisted the lure of the three-piece suit, and other superficial clothing, both real and metaphorical.

It isn’t always easy. I see an elegantly-dressed man, neatly coiffed and looking all sophisticated and there’s that momentary feeling of, “My, isn’t he something,” and just that thought itself is enough to remember that it can all so easily be a total lie.

If someone seems just a little too smooth, a little too seductive, a little too charmingly arrogant, a little too magnetic with acolytes fluttering around him (I’m talking about men here, because I never really trusted women anyway even when I was young and *knew* how phony they can be) like besotted moths, fawning and praising, my brain superimposes that little, yellow toxic materials warning symbol on him.

My mother always adored my boyfriends best when they were all dressed up and looking suave and immaculate. When the man, who would become my husband (we’ve been together almost 39 years now and married for almost 38) showed up at our door for our first real date (we’d met at the drop zone when I took up parachuting), he was wearing blue jeans, a black T-shirt, and Adidas, his long copper-red curls cascading to his shoulders and complementing his mustache and beard. He was looking just a little dusty, even after washing up and blowing off the accumulated crud of a hard day’s work in the bodyshop. (He worked nearby, but lived a good distance away, so he didn’t have time to go home first.) I didn’t have to be Sherlock Holmes or Miss Marple to ascertain that my mother was not exactly overwhelmed by his appearance, but I really didn’t care. I *knew* what I was seeing. I was looking at a good man, hard-working, honest and true, reliable and loyal, with a droll sense of humour and a taste for adventure. On top of that, it didn’t take me long to find out he was brilliant and talented as well; well-read, self-educated way beyond the grade 10 level at which he was forced to drop out of school, and loved classical music. Not bad for a guy who didn’t *appear* to be son-in-law material as far as my mother was concerned. Some part of me *knew,* even in those first few encounters that this was a man who would not be fooled by appearances. I was right. And I was lucky. And I’ve never seen him in a suit. He doesn’t even own one.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Be Fierce, You Special Snowflake

by Kristina Wright

You don't get to be 45 years old without having learned a few things about life. So sit back, dear readers, and benefit from my wisdom.

1. You can't always get what you want. Yes, the Rolling Stones sang it first, but I'm going to sing it again, a little off-key. You can't always get what you want. You can complain about it, whine about it, cry about it, blame other people for it, sue other people for your mental anguish over it, but at the end of the day you still won't always get what you want. Suck it up, bail the water out of your boat, readjust your sails for a different (and perhaps better) course and carry on. Rejection and disappointment make you stronger and more resilient. It turns you into a human cockroach-- nothing can destroy you.

2. But you can get what you need.  I know, you think this is a cop out. I'm just quoting song lyrics and pretending these are life lessons. But again, just because they're lyrics to a song doesn't make it less true. You can't always get what you want, but in the end you absolutely can get what you need. It's a matter of figuring out what the hell you really need in the first place. Stop comparing your needs to other people's needs, stop whining about life being unfair. Turn off the noise in your brain and really think about what you need to be happy and fulfilled. It's probably a lot less than you realize. I need more sleep and more hours in the day to work and, per the above, I don't always get it. In fact, I am always short on sleep and time. But I can get a hefty dose of caffeine and a few stolen hours to work that would normally be spent cleaning the house (::cough:: reading a book ::cough).

3. Time is on your side. No, really, it is. We live in this society of hurry, hurry, rush, rush, get your fast food in under 3 minutes, use the microwave instead of the stove, drink your dinner out of a can, multitask on your laptop and iPhone at the same time, graduate early so you can get in the work force sooner, fast track the career, have children before you're 30 and your eggs dry up, jockey for the best parking space at the mall on 6 AM the day after Thanksgiving so you can buy the hottest new doll for your kid for Christmas, retire early, start a second career, retire from that one, get that retirement time share before the prices go up, pre-pay your funeral arrangements, hurry, hurry! Whew! Just stop it, okay? People are living longer, healthier lives and there is no need to rush so much. Slow down. Breathe. Enjoy the ride, because it's all about the ride, you know? And don't buy into the hype that if you don't do something NOW you will never do it. If you don't do it now, you probably don't really want to do it anyway.

4. Dance with the devil in the pale moonlight. Okay, I'm a Batman fan, whatever. But if the Joker ever asks you if you've danced with the devil, you should be able to say yes. What do I mean? Just this: stop being so damned careful about everything you do. Stop worrying that the bad guys are lurking outside your window, that the cough you woke up with means you have emphysema, that everyone is out to get you, that the world is going to end in December or that you're going to get your heart broken by that new guy. Take a chance. Take a dozen chances. Dance with the devil and whirl that bad boy around on the dance floor until he's too dizzy to mess with you. Tempt fate. Yeah, you might fail-- and you might fail big, but it'll be good while it lasts. The devil is quite the dancer. Don't miss out.

5. Be fierce. Be the lion, not the lamb. Passivity doesn't make for a happy life, it makes for a life of vague, unnamed regrets. Don't let your own life just happen to you. There is a time for "let go and let god" and "be still" and all that other religious, Zen and/or yoga-inspired advice. I even believe in most of it in the right circumstances. But don't live your whole life that way. Be fierce, use your voice, make your presence known. It's a loud, busy, madcap world. Stand up and be noticed. People laugh at the crazy dude on the street corner preaching about alien invasions or god or whatever, but at least he knows what the hell he believes in and is living it loudly. What do you believe in? What gets your blood pumping and gives you a reason to live? I can't hear you. Stop whispering. Shout it out loud. Take a stand. Everyone should know what you believe in-- but first, you have to know yourself.

6. Drive your own car. This thing you call your life? It's not about your boyfriend, girlfriend, husband, wife, parents, children, boss, fans, stalker, best friend, worst enemy or some deity, so don't hand the keys over to any of them, okay? It's about you. It's your name on the driver's license, after all. It's okay to let God be your co-pilot, if that's your particular bent, but you shouldn't be riding shotgun in your own life and you sure as hell shouldn't be taking a nap in the back seat. Climb behind the wheel, adjust the mirrors and drive that sucker yourself like you own it-- 'cause you do-- and don't be afraid of voiding the warranty. Even if you end up going over a cliff, at least it will be your choice to hit the gas instead of the break and not something that just happened to you because someone else thought it was a good idea.

7. Love the one you're with. No, I'm not talking about other people. I'm talking about you. That body you live in, that mind you use, that heart that loves and breaks and beats. Love yourself. Stop saying you'll be happy when you get the degree, lose the extra weight, find your soulmate or the perfect career. Love who you are, today, right now. Not to be morbid, but you could be dead tomorrow. Don't spend today hating yourself for having a cupcake for breakfast and taking a nap instead of reading the latest Supreme Court ruling. Love yourself and all of your flaws and quirks. You are (as someone I know is fond of saying) a special snowflake. So act like it, damn it, and stop being your own worst enemy.

8. Be Sarah Connor. Remember the Terminator? Remember Linda Hamilton as the soft, feather-haired Sarah Connor and how she turned into a badass mama when it all hit the fan? It's fine and good to love yourself, but don't just sit there on your own self-indulgent cloud thinking that you've got life by the tail because you had a cupcake for breakfast and took a two hour nap. Tomorrow is coming and it's bringing a storm. Toughen up, sister (or brother). Remember that cockroach analogy? Tomorrow might bring Armageddon and the Terminator. Or maybe it'll bring more cupcakes and another nap. The point is, we don't know! Whatever tomorrow brings, learn, adapt, survive and thrive. Say to life, "Bring it!" and be willing to take whatever it throws your way.


I will conclude with this caveat: Don't be an asshole. My life lessons on kindness, gentleness, humility, compassion, generosity of spirit and loving thy neighbor even if thy neighbor is batshit crazy will have to wait for another day. Today, I'm feeling badass. Just like Sarah Connor. The storm is coming and I'm ready. Are you?

life-class is in session

 by Jean Roberta

Lessons. There are so many in life.

Lesson #1: Posting the day after Chris Garcia every week is probably not a wise plan.  :)

Lesson #2: It is not possible for an (ahem) older woman to spend hours on-line searching for evidence against student plagiarists, grade the assignments of the innocent (relatively speaking), continue trying to create order out of chaos in a house that has been majorly renovated, meet with distraught students, take care of sick pets (first a dog with an eye infection, then a cat with an irritated bladder), make the guest room ready for a guest, AND write this week's post.

Am I inspired? Am I creating memorable words? Ha.

Lesson #3: The grass is always greener on the other side.

There was a time when I lurched from one temporary paid job to the next, while raising a child and doing lots of unpaid organizational work. I envied folks like my current self: older, well-established in a respectable job (maybe even a career) with power over others, a home-owner with upper-middle-class worries (renovations & yardwork rather than the constant threat of homelessness). But the path is not smooth wherever you go.

Instead of helping aspiring student writers discover their individual voices, I have the grim duty of failing quite a few because their knowledge of English just isn't adequate for a literature-and-composition course. As far as I can see, no one benefits from this exercise. At such times, I'm ripe for conversion to the vaguely French-flavoured belief that ennui is the common condition because life has no meaning. The glass is not only half-empty, the stuff in it is an illusion. And the most profound words in one language just seem like noise to everyone outside the culture that produced the language.

I have a nasty-looking rash on one arm for no obvious reason. It wouldn't surprise me if I am allergic to something I can't avoid.

Lesson #4: the most beautiful summer weather looks like a sign of cosmic irony to one who has too much to do indoors.

I'm sure there are more lessons waiting to be learned, but they only show up clearly in retrospect. Or as a wise person once said, we always learn to avoid the mistakes we've already made.

*****************

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Palace of Revenge: A Story of Lessons
























  "It’s absolutely vexing the way men make us wait for them," said Lady Senju-no-mae, "As if we are their riding horses and have nothing else to do."

"You've been a hobby horse well enough, for that penniless scholar Otai," said Lady Sotsu -no-suke.  "And all the time that rich son of Daimyo Nobunaga keeps swooning around here, sniffing for you like a hound."

"A man of education is more interesting," said Lady Senju.

 "If only they made men who were interesting and rich both," said Lady Dainagon-no-suke, as she mixed ink from an ink stone in a green dish.

"Or two inches taller," said Lady Sotsu.  "The Lady Senju’s scholar is too short.”

Lady Dainagon looked up from her ink stone.  "If I could add two inches to a man, it wouldn’t be to his height!'

The women giggled and fell pensive over their afternoon tea, thinking.  The Lady Senju had been looking in a hand mirror, adjusting her hair. "Shinobu chan.”

Hai.”said Lady Dainagon.

 “Tell us the story I ask of you."

Lady Dainagon put down her ink stone.  "A story challenge?"

"Three things!" said Lady Senju.  “It must have three things.  First a clever demon."

"Oh! Oh!,” cried Lady Sotsu, "and a pair of unfortunate lovers!"

Lady Dainagon’s eyes became far away.  "And what is the third thing?"

"And then this, a mirror.”  Lady Senju held up her hand mirror.  “There must be mirrors somehow."

"What is there about a mirror, that makes the room less cozy," said Lady Dainagon, drawing out the moment for effect, but already the story was formed in her imagination.  She closed her eyes.  She held up her right forefinger for silence.

"Mukashi . . . ima wa mukashi . . . "

Once upon a time.


Once upon a time the Emperor Go-Shirakawa and the Empress gave birth to a daughter named Hime Miko.  They knew the moment she came into this hard world that this beautiful child was destined to be loved by everyone who met her, and handsome young men most of all.  At almost the same time Hime Miko arrived, the Daimyo Matsunaga’s mistress produced a noble birth and named her son Tanzo.  Tanzo was a handsome baby with a thick head of shining black hair and a smile and a laugh that charmed everyone.  As the Daimyo lived on the imperial grounds of the Toba Mansion, and was a cousin of the emperor, the two children grew up together in innocence but growing intimacy and the proud parents could barely wait for the day when their children would come of age and be wed to each other.  As Tanzo journeyed towards manhood he only became more handsome and kind and wise.  As Hime Miko grew her beauty increased and the sweetness of her disposition deepened to perfection like the ripening of a peach.  They were children who knew no guile or evil and the mother of Tanzo was sure her son had a great destiny.

On Tanzo’s 12th birthday, as homing geese winged high in the gray sky crying sadly, his mother took him to see a famous and fearsome Mudang, whose prophecies of the future were never wrong.  "Great Lady," said the Mudang, "I cannot tell you what catastrophes lay ahead for this boy, but his happiness is darkened by the wing of a great karma which will not be driven away.  But I will make a charm for him that his goodness may yet be the goddess Kwannon’s gift to the world." and so she made a small silver dagger.  "You must keep this by you always,” said the Mudang to Tanzo, “Each day and night for all your life and no devil or harm may approach you.  So long as you have this dagger you will be protected from the evils your past karma has in store for you."

Tanzo’s mother returned quickly and told only the Empress of the meaning of the silver dagger.  Tanzo told Hime Miko of the Mudang's prophecy but she was much more upset about Tanzo’s absence from her for so many days which she found unbearable and had left her burning with longing for him. 

One day Tanzo was hunting with a long bow in the imperial forest.  He sighted a red fox and was about to draw his weapon for a shot when the animal spoke to him in a woman's voice.  "Don't kill me, great Prince.  I am already dying of love for you." In a burst of fire the fox changed into a young woman, a beautiful Kitsune Tsuki demon in black silk robes that sparkled in the sun with gold.  "Come with me and be my husband and I'll make your days long and filled with the pleasure of woman.  I have watched you grow into manhood since you were born.  I am powerful and can give you all the world for your kingdom."

"If you knew me as well as you say," said Tanzo, "you would know that I only can love Hime Miko."

The beautiful Kitsune Tsuki scowled with fury and wept and sighed.  After a while she became calm again.  She waved her hand and the field was filled with flowers.  "Your faithful love defeats me,” said the Kitsune Tsuki.  “Bring these flowers to Hime Miko with all my blessings.  Be sure to take many plum blossoms for good fortune." and she vanished.  Tanzo laid aside his bow and drew his silver dagger to cut flowers for his love.  Soon he had so many he could hardly carry them.  A plum tree blossomed suddenly before his eyes.  But as he tried to cut a small branch his silver dagger stuck in the wood and with all his strength he could not pull it free.

"I must get someone to help me," he thought, but the instant he turned away the flowers in his arms transformed into a chariot drawn by two fierce dragons.  A great wind blew him into the chariot and off he flew into the heavens leaving his dagger behind.

Hime Miko was in a panic when her Tanzo  did not return that night and in her frenzy of desire for him ran into the woods alone.  The dragon drawn chariot rolled down from the sky and scooped her up and flew away to the demoness' kingdom. 

Tanzo awoke in a room in a palace made of precious jewels and sea shells.  As soon as he sat up and rubbed his eyes twelve tiny nymphs riding honey bees flew into his room and circled around.  Suddenly the nymphs turned into twelve beautiful women who fell to their knees and surrounded him.  "We are your slaves,” they said with one plaintive voice.  "Please use us in any way for your pleasure or even beat us as you wish."

But Tanzo waved them away.  "All I want is to be returned to my beloved Hime Miko. Bring me to her, That is my order for you."

“We cannot" the women wailed.  Tanzo was chaste and not tempted.  Though they were beautiful he would not touch them. 

Meanwhile Hime Miko had been dropped into a dark forest where she wandered for days eating wild fruit and calling her lover’s name.  She sat on a log and wept and wished there were someone to hear her story when the cherry tree next to her sighed and shook its branches.  "We are as unhappy as you, little Princess." said the tree.  Suddenly all the trees in the grove sighed where there was no wind and shook their branches.  "We were all princes at one time.  The Kitsune Tsuki had eyes only for Prince Watanabe who you see next to me.  She arranged an archery tournament so that he could show his prowess and fall in love with her beauty.  But I was stupid and unfortunate to enough have won the contest and Prince Watanabe did not have eyes for her, for the demoness is cruel.  To bring him into her power, she made a hall full of mirrors and any of us who saw her reflection the mirrors forgot our beloveds and fell madly and slavishly in love with her.  When the great prince saw the enchantment she forced on us he was enraged and smashed the mirrors because they had made us forget our true loves. And so the demoness changed us all into trees and abandoned us.  Now where ever a mirror is broken anywhere, it means someone has been unfaithful to their lover.

As the cherry tree finished its story, suddenly a beautiful man, naked but for a small loincloth, clean of skin and rippling with noble muscle appeared before Hime Miko.  He said "Your lover is well and calling for you and in a few days you will be brought together."

The Princess fell to her knees and kissed the man’s feet with happiness at the good news.

But above in the clouds Tanzo and the Kitsune Tsuki waited in the dragon chariot where Tanzo could see the princess but not hear.  He only saw the princess crawl on her face and the kiss the beautiful man's feet shamelessly.  "So you see, best beloved," said the demoness "His love making prowess has utterly subdued her.  She is a slave of her lust for him and him alone.  She has forgotten you."

But Tanzo said "All that matters is her happiness.  Let it be so, if he treats her well.  But I will never marry, nor ever love another.  I will always belong to Hime Miko."

The demoness was deeply moved.  She knew she was at last defeated, but she would have her revenge.  "Let all of your wishes be fulfilled as you desire," she said coldly.

The demoness built a palace of purest crystal by the sea, filled with food and luxury, but not another soul and placed Tanzo and the princess there.  They had all they could wish for, and each other most of all, but the palace was their enchanted prison as well, for around the palace grounds and gardens there was a great wall of stone rising to the clouds and they could never leave each other’s company for an instant.  Soon they grew jaded and tired of looking at each other and their love faded away.  And so the Kitsune Tsuki was avenged.


The two women looked at her aghast. 

"What a terrible story!" said Lady Sotsu.

"And is that justice?" said Lady Senju.  "What a good man he was.  I want a man like that!  Why shouldn’t they be happy?"

"That is not the natural world we are born into,” said Lady Dainagon.  “Without suffering we would never know pleasure.  Or love without the sting of loneliness which, more than love, has the power to make our hearts deep.  We must miss our lovers or even lose them sometimes to appreciate how fleeting and precious like the cherry blossoms that wither and fall our love is"

"Pooh!" said Lady Senju. 

At that moment a servant girl pushed aside the paper door frame.  "There is a gentleman caller for the Lady Senju, the son of Daimyo Nobunaga."  As Lady Senju rose from her knees, her foot stepped on the hand mirror and shattered it.  The women looked at her as she put her hand to her mouth and stared down at the shattered glass under her small foot.

"And who are you being unfaithful to, Lady Senju?" said Lady Sotsu, rapping the woman’s knee smartly with her folding fan.




Lady Dainagon No Suke first appeared in the erotic horror novella "The Color of the Moon" available on Amazon:

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Drilling

Let's see...lessons... How about lessons I've learned while doing publishings of things?

1. Don't respond to reviews. Don't try to clarify. Don't even say on Twitter or Facebook or anywhere how you feel about bad reviews. If you do say, keep it very general, so you're not inciting any of your readers to attack the  bad review - I've seen this happen too, and it's just as bad as you criticising the reviewer yourself. I've never done any of these things, but I've learnt the lessons from those people who have. And I've also learnt to just generally stay away from reviews full stop - it's the reader's space. Even saying thank you can be intrusive, so I don't do that anymore, either.

2.  Don't fake five star review your own work. Do not do this. The temptation may be great. But it's a horrendous mistake on so many levels. I've seen people get found out, and it's mortifying. But even if you don't get found out, it doesn't help you and it simply creates a huge false impression of your work. You can't look at those fifty fake five star reviews and feel proud. You didn't earn them. One truly earnt five star review from a stranger is worth every single one of those fake ones. And soon, strangers will start buying your book and woe betide you if it really isn't a five star read. Readers will be pissed at being conned, and they won't be kind in their reviews.

3. Don't fake one star review other people's work. As passionately as I feel about the opposite end of the spectrum, I feel even more strongly about this. Never, ever do this. You might want to. You might convince yourself that this person's work truly is terrible, and deserves it. Maybe you tell yourself that you're providing balance, because they have so many five star reviews, and the book really isn't that good. But if you feel the need to strap on a pseudonym and create an Amazon account or a Goodreads account just for this one person...if you've got any doubt in your mind as to why you're doing it...don't do it. Again, it won't help you. It won't boost your sales. It won't make you feel any better about your own work, or your place in the industry. And most importantly of all: it's cruel. It's unkind. And if I've learnt anything through these past four years, it's that kindness is the most sacred and important thing to hold onto. This industry will make you bitter. It will try to make you jealous and hateful. Don't let it. If you get the urge to be cruel, do the opposite. Trust me, you will feel much better than that one star review will ever make you feel.

4. Stay cool. This is a more personal one for me, because it's a lesson I've never been able to fully learn. I'm neurotic. I'm a hot head. If people do something, I'll just say something about it. If I think someone's being snide, I'll come right out and ask if that's what they meant. If I think you're being cruel, I'll wonder why - out loud. It's just the way I am, but it's cost me more dearly than I can ever say - mainly in my real life, but in this writing life too. I've never been able to master the ability of keeping quiet and staying cool. I've never been able to not care. But I wish I could learn that lesson every day of my life, and if you're reading this...always try to learn it better than I have. Be cool on Facebook, on Twitter, in forums and on blogs. If someone bugs you, just walk away. If someone says summat shit, ignore it. Don't put yourself through the bollocks I put myself through constantly.

5. Keep writing. Obvious, right? But I stopped for a long time because I felt so stuck. So rubbish and unworthy of every opportunity I had. I rewrote every paragraph, I cut every scene and started again. Nothing I did seemed right. Everything was hard. And then gradually, I re-learnt how to write. I stopped worrying. I switched to other stories when this one wouldn't work. I wrote longhand, without thinking of doubled words and clumsy phrasing. I learnt not to care so much, when banging out the first draft. And sometimes that hurts. Occasionally I go back and read the first draft and hate it so much I cry. But at least I have the words. There's the lesson: having the words is more important than deliberating over every single fooking one.

And that's it. Those are the lessons I've drilled into myself. Some I've managed to learn completely, some not. Some I will never learn. But the important thing is: I keep trying, every day. I won't ever stop trying.

Monday, June 25, 2012

And What Did We Learn?

I'm on vacation this week. At the moment I'm writing this, I'm in Newport, Rhode Island, watching the sun set.

In a way, there's no such things as a vacation anymore. Every day, even on the weekends, work emails pour into my phone and there are text messages, both of which I'm expected to read and respond to even though the people who sent them know damn well I'm on vacation. (this doesn't apply to friends, BTW. I'm glad to talk to you any time).

Normally, I know down to the hour what I have to do, where I have to go, alternate routes, extra copies of info, etc.

This time, I ignored all that. I packed and had faith that I'd get to the airport in plenty of time.  I didn't make any hard plans, which turned out fairly well because everything changed after we got to New York. But I refused to get too worried about it. Just roll with it.

Most of the time, when I get back from a vacation, I regret not doing something. This time, if I wanted to look, I looked. If I didn't want to do something, I just plainly said so. No drama, just truth. If I wanted to linger, I didn't allow myself to be rushed. And I went ahead and ate those oysters.

So even though I'm answering stupid emails from work, I'm rather relaxed this time. Even rushing around Manhattan on the hottest day of the year didn't faze me. I just let the unimportant stuff roll past me and speak up about the things that do and not regretting a single second. Probably the best vacation I've ever had. Lesson learned. 

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Harder Than It Looks



By Lisabet Sarai

To G. 

Again. He doesn't even bother to verbalize the command, merely gestures, palm up, signaling me to repeat the move, for what must surely be the fiftieth time.

My fatigued quadriceps scream in protest as I roll from a kneel back onto the balls of my feet, then rise to stand before him. My calves quiver, threatening to cramp. I inhale and release the air in a long, slow stream, willing the tension away as I've been taught. The pain ebbs a bit.

There's a puddle of sweat at the small of my back, where I hold my hands clasped, pretending I'm bound. Skin adheres to sticky skin, under my arms, under my breasts. My hair is a limp mess, plastered to my forehead.

I keep my eyes down, focused on my bare feet, looking, I hope, respectful and demure. His eyes rake over my naked body, noting every defect in my posture and demeanor. I straighten my spine and elevate my rib cage, to present my eager breasts.

“Better,” he says, in that deep, rich voice that feels so much like a caress. “Except for that wobble near the end. Keep your abdominals tucked, to help you balance. Imagine that you're about to be suspended, that the rope is pulling you up, up, irresistible. You don't need to do anything at all. Let go and let the energy draw you upwards.”

I cast a sidelong glance at Sylvie and Gloria, comfortably shackled on the sofa to my left. How I envy their effortless grace! But the simple, lovely ease in their movements is all illusion – the product of long hours of training. Those of us who crave discipline love to fantasize about being natural submissives – just waiting for our fated master to recognize us and make our perverse imaginings real. In truth, there's nothing natural about being a slave. Every gesture and pose must be learned.

Still, I suppose some of us may have more aptitude than others. At this point, exhausted and frustrated, I feel like the class dunce.

“Down,” he orders. I think of water – fluid, yielding – as I lower myself once more to my knees. Every muscle hurts. This time I manage to avoid stumbling. Back arched, taut nipples offered to tempt his fingers, I let out the breath I've been holding. The scent of my pussy wafts out from between my spread thighs. I'm amazed to realize that I find even this agonizing repetition arousing, when he's the one controlling it.

He circles my kneeling form. I bow my head, awaiting his verdict. How I crave even the smallest nugget of his praise! He's close enough to touch, but of course I resist that temptation. Instead, I watch the way he taps his riding crop against his leg. Is he pleased? Annoyed? I know he won't strike me with the crop, no matter how much I might want that fiery kiss. No, he understands the perversity that motivates a sub like me; I might perform less well, simply to invite his punishment.

“Again,” he says. “You're trying too hard, Lisa. Let the movement flow from the inside out. Imagine the slave you'd like to be. See yourself yielding to me, and let your body follow that image.”

I drag myself back to my feet, then, at his nod, sink to the floor once more. I'm almost too tired to care. My limbs tremble. I can hardly command them to move. He's so perceptive; can't he see that I'm close to the breaking point?

“Again.”

We repeat the exercise another half dozen times. I am desperate simply to get through this trial, more difficult to bear in its way than the tightest shibari, the hardest caning. Why doesn't he stop? I'm getting worse, not better.

“Again.” The same instruction, but I think, this time, that I detect a hint of sympathy in his tone. He sees what this costs, what he's asking from me – but he doesn't hold back. “Up now. Again.”

Suddenly the truth breaks through my fog of fatigue, like afternoon sun slicing through thunderheads. This isn't about the way I move, kneel, hold myself. He's not just training my body so that I won't disgrace him when he takes his slaves out to play in public.

No, this is itself as much a surrender as opening my mouth to his cock, my ass to his fist, my mind to the products of his obscene imagination. Stand, kneel, stand, kneel – I've honored him with my devotion, promised my obedience, and now he's showing me what that means. I must trust him in all things, comply with all orders, no matter how banal or unerotic they may seem.

He's testing me. He doesn't care how clumsy I am. As long as I honestly try to obey, I'm passing the test.

New energy ripples through my weary body. It crackles up my spine, raising me to my feet in one swift, fluid motion. I feel as though it would take very little for me to rise further, soaring and wheeling above my master and my fellow slaves, while they gazed up in wonder.

“Perfect.” He draws his fingers through my tangled locks then cradles my cheek with his palm. Unutterable joy swells my chest. “I knew you could do it, Lisa. I'll be proud to have you wearing my collar this weekend.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“I think you deserve a reward for all your hard work. Maybe I'll have Gloria fuck you with her strap-on, while you eat Sylvie's cunt. And I'll whip all three of you.”

“Whatever you like, sir,” I reply, trying to keep the excitement out of my voice though I know he can smell my fresh-flowing juices. Sometimes he takes cruel delight in arousing, then denying us.

“But first - let's practice the move a few times more.”

I crumble to my knees, grateful, horny, ready to give him my last ounce of strength - if that's what he requires.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Noise in the Universe

by Lynn Townsend

The first thing you need to know about me is that I suffer from a condition called tinnitus. What I've gone through and all the crap I know about the condition is summed up in five simple words that no one likes to hear: It's all in my head.

I hear... sound. Constantly. Even when there's nothing there to possibly make a noise. In my forty years, I've never actually been exposed to silence. (Sound of Silence, Simon and Garfunkle) When I was a child, I was convinced the sounds - my tinnitus is particularly bad at night when there aren't lots of other white noise
to drown it out - were ghosts, trying to tell me something. I would disappear into my own world, ignoring everything around me, trying to figure out what it was.

By the time I was a teen, I suffered from extremely bad insomnia (Who Needs Sleep, Barenaked Ladies) and migraines, as well as occasional episodes of vertigo and sensory- especially auditory, but in one spectacular case, visual - hallucinations. From doctors, I was told that "it was all in my head" and that I was "seeking attention" and placed under the care of a school psychiatrist who had difficulty separating sarcasm from suicidal impulses.

My freshman year of college, attempting to drive away the "interesting" smell of a roommate who had never done her own laundry before (and as far as I know, managed to get through her entire freshman year and still hadn't actually done the laundry... Dirty Laundry, Don Henley) I discovered the miracle that is white noise.

A simple oscillating room fan mostly cancels out the noise my head makes.

Music helps, too. Especially if it's new music. The sound in my head gets used to the same old stuff and sort of... tunes around it. Hard to explain.

Pretty much from then on, I've had some sort of noise going on in the background - a fact that made some of my later roommates rather annoyed.

But it led to my becoming an absolute audiophile. CDs and later mp3s... I was obsessed. Every scrap of music that I could get my hands on. I have a weird habit; I go to yard sales and estate sales and I buy random boxes of CDs. I don't care if I ever heard of the music before. Or even if the CD on the label is the same CD inside the case. (at estate sales, this is often the case, actually.) In fact, I'm just as happy not to have. Something new.

At current estimates, I have over 22,000 mp3s. I've ripped every CD I ever bought. I could listen to music for the next 2 months straight, 24 hours a day, and not hear the same song twice. (Well, maybe a few
repeats. I do have 8 different versions of Living in the Past by Jethro Tull.)

All of this sums up to; I have a rather large supply of music whenever I want to write. I like to start out a novel or a novella or a short story by finding a theme song for it. The song may not have, lyrically, anything to do with what I'm writing, but the tempo of the music will be appropriate. Sometimes it's obvious, sometimes not so
much.

The last piece I published, The Blister Effectwas written entirely to Jonah Knight's excellent Steampunk CD, The Age of Steam particularly "Once Again Around the Sun" which contain these lyrics:

I live like a ghost in the Age of Steam
These walls can't keep me from you
On every darkened street where gaslight cannot gleam
If you're there, I will be too
And every broken part can be replaced
With another part until you are machine through and through
And I will carry you once around the sun
I will follow too, once and then we're done


When Kristina was poling around for someone to guest post, I was, interestingly enough, putting together a playlist to inspire me. I'd seen a Submission Call that I wanted to do - I'd been pondering writing an erotica piece where most of the action takes place on the narrow turning in my staircase. (I just moved into a new house and I'm having all sorts of fun imagining where might be interesting places to have sex.) But I didn't have a character, I had no scenario, no plot, no nothing. Just a scene.

Once I saw the submission call, that narrowed it down a bit; Firemen.I could do that. My uncle and cousins are all firemen or EMTs, and I've actually been on site at a live call before with my grandfather who was also an EMT and happened to have me and my cousin in the car when the tones went off. I pulled up my music player and put together a list and titled it "Burn Baby."

Burn it Down - AWOLnation

Beds are Burning - Midnight Oil

We Didn't Start the Fire - Billy Joel

Sunny Came Home - Shawn Colvin

Burn all the Letters - Indigo Girls

Burning Man - Third Eye Blind

Burnin' For You - Blue Oyster Cult

Ring of Fire - Johnny Cash

Light it on Fire - Cowboy Mouth

Sex on Fire - Kings of Leon

She's on Fire - Train

Rooms on Fire - Stevie Nicks

I'm on Fire - Bruce Springsteen

Burning Down the House - Talking Heads

Set Fire to the Rain - Adele

Burning Love - Elvis

Fire at Midnight - Jethro Tull

Urgent - Foreigner

Sound the Alarm - Thievery Corporation


And if my characters resemble, in my head, Emily Saliers (from Indigo Girls) and the male lead's name is Steve... well, that's just a coincidence.

But I cannot lie. The title "Big Trucks" came straight from happening to catch Baby Got Back at exactly the wrong time.


Read more from Lynn Townsend at  Paid by the Weird or on Facebook