Friday, June 28, 2013

The Casting Director - by Lily Harlem

Movies, now there’s a subject I enjoy. If you read my last post about things I’ll miss when I’m dead you’ll know that stories are one of my favourite things. 

But how about putting a spin on it? For once I’d love to sit on the other side of the camera, no not as an actor, I’d be rubbish at that, I’m far too shy, but as a director or a producer or even as a casting agent. Oh, yes, casting that would be fun. Getting to choose which actors played which characters.

I’ve got a few favorite actors, plenty of movie stars who I think are cute, but some I simply adore for their acting alone. I like Edward Norton, especially in Fight Club, and Antony Hopkins in Meet Joe Black – yes Brad Pitt is in both of those, looking damn fine too, but it was his co-stars who sucked me into the story. 

Edward Norton

Antony Hopkins

Also I like most things that Jennifer Anniston is in – I say most, some I’ve turned off – I think her sense of comedy timing is spot on. Sandra Bullock is another actress I enjoy watching, I watched The Proposal just the other day. She picks easy to watch stories most of the time, and the Alaskan scenery in that one – including Mr Reynolds – was damn fine! 

Ryan Reynolds

So, and this would be a biggie, who would I cast if I sold the screen rights to one of my books? It’s not ridiculous that authors get a say in that these these days, I do believe JK Rowling made the majority of the casting decisions for Harry Potter. First I’d have to pick a book though, Mmm, I’ll go with my lastest, Breathe You In. The hero in that is handsome, sexy and also, to a degree, vulnerable. I’m thinking I’d have to audition the man of the moment Henry Cavill (who by the way I have adored for years, ever since the Tudors!), Kit Harrington who plays John Snow in Game of Thrones and possibly Hugh Dancy who plays Will Graham in Hannibal. They all have the tormented hero, a little unkempt look that could work. Mmm, the possibilities…

 Henry Cavill

Kit Herrington 

Hugh Dancy

And the heroine, Katie, she’s had a tough time but ready to grab life, and Ruben, by the horns again and get on with being in the real world. She needs to be delicate yet strong. I’d see who gave the best performance at auditions between Kristen Stewart who does depressed so well (LOL), Helena Bonham-Carter, because I just know she’d put a quirky spin on the character, and perhaps even Catherine Zeta Jones – fellow Welsh girl – could give it a good shot.

 Kristen Stewart

 Helena Bonham-Carter

Catherine Zeta-Jones

I suppose then it would be a case of throwing all of the actors and actresses together to see if there was any chemistry, wow, wouldn’t that be a fun party, the Oh Get A Grip gang should definitely go and hang out!

Thanks for reading.

Lily x

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Those Two People With Their Stupid Faces

by Giselle Renarde

If I were writing about my absolute favourite movie, I'd be asking if you've ever seen Ghost World.  (Have you? It's based on the graphic novel of the same name, and stars Scarlett Johansson, Thora Birch, and Steve Buscemi.  I only own six DVDs, and Ghost World is one.)

But, instead of talking about a movie that resonates with me, I'm going to talk about a character that does.

So, let's start again: Have you ever seen Friends With Money?

It was recommended to me by my sisters, who described it as "a movie that stars Jennifer Aniston, but it's not a Jennifer Aniston movie."  Hers isn't the character I relate to--even though she's the poor girl among the Friends... with money.  (haha... like Friends, but with money.  I just got that.)

Anyway, it's Frances McDormand's character I found myself relating to.  "Jane."  She's the one who explodes at the people who cut in line at Old Navy (watch the trailer if you don't know what I'm talking about).

Now, Jane is rich, works as a fashion designer, and is married to a man commonly assumed to be gay.  I am none of those things. In fact, I'm the opposite of ALL those things--poor, single, and only really comfortable in clothes full of holes--but none of that really matters.

What matters is the hair.  This character WILL NOT wash her hair.  Won't do it, even when fellow "friends with money" start commenting on her ragged appearance.  There's an explanation of why toward the end of the film, but it seemed forced, to me.  I like a movie with unanswered questions.

And then there's Jane's rudeness, her explosions.  What does it say about ME that SHE makes total sense?  She's fighting for the little things because, goddamn it, nobody else will.  Everyone in line just mutters under their breath when somebody cuts in, or they don't even notice.  Why don't they speak up for themselves?  Muttering under your breath isn't going to change anything.

I've always been the one to speak up, all my life.  When I was in kindergarten, my teacher assured my mother, "life will round out the edges."  Well, that hasn't happened.  If anything, I've gotten more jagged.  Especially in the past year.

I used to feel like I had control over my actions, and, to some extent, my emotions.  Yelling at the guy who cut in front of me at Shopper's Drug Mart used to be a choice.  Lately, I don't feel that way.  Not so much.  It's like a monster takes over, and she's screaming, and I'm watching her.  It's mood swings, it's PMS, but it's all the time.

A family friend told me a story about losing it all over her husband and son, yelling uncontrollably, and for no good reason.  She shook her head and said, "Menopause.  It's turning me into a psycho-bitch."


About a year ago, I mentioned to my mother that I get crazy night sweats, sometimes waking up in soaked sheets.  She said, "Oh yeah, that'll be perimenopause."

Like... WHAT?  I'm only in my thirties.  No fucking way, dude.

Sometimes I get really hot, when all my life I've been the I'm-always-cold type.  I'm a generally happy person, but extremely irritable at times.  When I looked up symptoms of perimenopause, it was a little like looking in a mirror--and it looked a hell of a lot like Frances McDormand's character in Friends With Money.

The breakthrough was this: I remembered a conversation between my many, many aunts, when they realized that those among them who'd had children experienced menopause at pretty standard ages.  But my aunts who didn't have kids?  Symptoms of perimenopause began very early for them.  Like... when they were my age.

I don't have kids, guys.  I'm ONE OF THEM.

And it's like I'm not myself sometimes.  I'm good and kind and very generous, except when I'm not.  Except when I turn into a character from a movie, and I'm watching from outside myself--and half of me is laughing, and half of me is scared as hell.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Hey Gigolo Joe, what do you know?

I read “Super Toys Last All Summer Long” today.  I finally found a copy in my personal library of short story anthologies.  I’m actually a slow reader and was expecting a full length novella at least that would keep me going for days.  After all, it was made into a sprawling two hour movie with dozens of scenes and characters.  No, actually it’s a short story of about 5 pages, maybe 2000 words and even a lip mover like me can wade through it in the time it takes to toss down a tall Starbucks coffee, including the time it takes to add cream and sugar.

I write short stories, which I've always considered a sucker’s game.  Almost no one ever reads your stuff and you barely get any money for it.  But short stories are what the story fairy gives me, and the awful truth is I love short stories.  They’re my favorite fictional form.  A well crafted short story is a thing of beauty I still aspire to.

Here’s what amazes me, and if you’re an obscure short storyist it should give you pause also -  the huge number of movie adaptations made from short stories.  Philip K Dick alone has “Paycheck” (Paycheck), “Blade Runner” (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?), “Total Recall” (We Can Remember It For You Wholesale), “Minority Report”(The Minority Report), “The Adjustment Bureau” (The Adjustment Bureau), “Screamers” (Second Variety), “Imposter" (Imposter), “Through a Scanner Darkly” (A Scanner Darkly), and “Next” (The Golden Man) all made from his short stories alone.  Life being what it is sometimes, none of these were made during his life time in which he toiled in obscurity, mental illness and desperate poverty, the literary equivalent of Vincent Van Gogh.

I recently was snacking on a couple of favorites, Steven Speilberg’s “Artificial Intellgence”,  written by Speilberg from Brian Aldiss’ short story “Super Toys Last All Summer Long”, and Elmore Leonard’s cowboy story “3:10 toYuma” first published in 1953 in the pulp magazine “Dime Western”.  One thing that gives me hope is that all of these guys wrote short stories for the old pulps, writing for peanuts while they learned their craft. 
"3:10 toYuma", the short story, is maybe 3000 words tops.  A deputy sheriff is in a hotel with a bad guy named Kidd.  He's going to put him on the train to Yuma Arizona at - yes - 3:10pm.  Kidd's old gang shows up to get him out, and when bribes offered to the deputy are refused there's a gun fight and Kidd is killed.  End of story.

The two hour movie is considerably longer and way more complex.  Indians.  Ranchers.  Railroad barons.  Corruption.  Showdowns.  Ambushes.  Gun battles.  A father.  A son.  Honor.  Evil.  Heart break.  And of course that damn train to Yuma.  Where was that stuff in the story?

Adapting a movie from a short story requires an almost criminal infidelity from the screen writer and director because the stories don’t get you all the way home.  They pretty much drop you off in the middle of no where and you have to make up the rest. 

The short story “Super Toys” shows us Monica Swinton, a kind of wealthy suburban‘50s house frau in the far future, lonely and bored, where artificial humans are being experimented with, as well as super smart stuffed toys.  She’s looking around for her three year old artificial boy David, and has a conversation with a teddy bear named Teddy to find where he’s hiding.  Next scene is at Synthank where Henry Swinton is wowing them in the gallery with his new product line, an artificial Serving Man.  Their most successful product so far is a Crosswell Tape, which turns out to be an artificial tape worm that lives in your intestines, enabling you to eat like a fat man and still stay skinny.  Not a bad idea.  Scene shift, we find David writing love letters to his mother, letters he doesn't know how to show her and frequently asking Teddy if he is real, and if Mummy is real.  Like a little stuffed Buddhist, Teddy says “What is real?”  David plays at running away by jumping into a garden and hiding.  Henry comes home, with the artificial Serving Man in tow and announces they've been given permission to conceive a live child.  Which means little David the robot will definitely get the heave ho mighty fast.  Meanwhile David is asking Teddy, is Mummy real?  Is Daddy real?  What is real?

That’s it.  That’s your story.  That’s all you get.

If it were me I would have stuck it in a drawer and waited for further inspiration.

Spielberg found that inspiration by the dump truck load.  His version has David making a series of innocent but dangerous mistakes resulting in being callously abandoned on the side of the road by Monica, probably because a ten year old robot child is too big to flush down the toilet.  But he loves his mother and his great passion and desire is only to be reunited with her again if it takes him eternity.  He and Teddy wander the countryside, join a group of abandoned robots, make friends, have deep discussions, get kidnapped by robot hating gangs, almost killed in a demolition derby, escape with a male pleasure sexbot named Gigolo Joe, run, arrive at a robot pleasure city, escape, run, discovers his maker, is stricken with grief, throws himself in the ocean in despair, gets saved by Gigolo Joe, goes back in a helicopter to the bottom of the sea, waits 2000 years, mankind is extinct and he is rescued by space aliens who use DNA to restore his mother to him for one night.

Now that’s a story.  Why didn’t Aldiss write that one?

So I don’t know.  When I look at my brief little scribbles and feel a wave of despair I remind myself of what other hands and imaginations can do with your stuff after you’re gone and wonder at the mystery of how things turn out.  Imagine what Vincent Van Gogh would have thought seeing someone dump $82, 000, 000 for “Portrait of Dr. Gachet”, when the most he ever got was $40.

I guess he’d have probably shot himself.  Or maybe made more paintings.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

At the Movies

At the movies:
When I was a kid, and subsequently a teenager, I practically lived in the cinema. Of course in those days you didn’t have to give up eating to pay for a ticket—Phil and I just paid $16.75 each to see Star Trek in 3D! Froze my Scottish blood it did. Despite that, I love the movies, the ideal escape from reality. You can experience an earthquake, an exploding volcano, a burning building, a fight for survival in an arena or a jungle, slug it out with James Bond, all from the safety of your cinema seat—and in some instances, like the multi-plex where a bunch of fellow authors and I saw ‘The Proposal’ starring Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds—you can have the movie and a meal with wine at the same time!
I have so many favorite films in so many different genres from drama, romance to action/adventure, through mystery, suspense and horror it’s hard to pick from the bunch, but standouts are:

Anything with Brendan Fraser…

All About Eve’ starring Bette Davis at her bitchiest best as a hard bitten Broadway star Margo Channing and Ann Baxter as Eve Harrington, the scheming understudy determined to take over both Margo’s career and personal life. The movie is famous for the classic line “Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy night!” delivered by Bette to a party crowd and also famous for Marilyn Monroe’s first screen appearance in a bit part. It received an unprecedented 14 Oscar nominations and won best picture of 1950. Of course, I wasn’t around for the premiere.

Anything with Daniel Craig…

A Star is Born’—the original starring Judy Garland and James Mason, not the messy remake with Barbra Streisand. Judy should have won an Oscar for her portrayal of Esther Blodgett a.k.a Vicki Lester a small time singer who rises to stardom with the help of superstar Norman Maine—and of course and incredible amount of talent. The Oscar went to Grace Kelly for ‘The Country Girl’. No comment. Judy singing ‘The Man That Got Away’ is one of the many, many highlights of the movie. I wasn’t around for that premiere either.

Anything with Hugh Jackman…

Chicago’ I loved this movie because of the direction by Rob Marshall. I already loved the score by Kander and Ebb and the totally crazy story about two murderesses who meet while in jail awaiting trial. Marshall managed to make Catherine Zeta-Jones and Renee Zellweger look like champion singer/dancers and the famous numbers ‘All That Jazz’ and ‘Cell Block Tango’ took on a new dimension under his direction. I could’ve been around for this premiere but I wasn’t invited.

Anything with Michael Fassbender

Midnight in Paris’ I’m not a Woody Allen fan—‘Stardust Memories’ is one of the few movies I left before the end—but his terrific script and direction of Midnight in Paris, along with a truly haunting score, made this my favorite film of recent years. I’ve seen it five times and could certainly watch it again and again. Even after knowing the initial plot surprises I still smile when Gil, played by Owen Wilson, realizes that the man playing at the piano bar is actually Cole Porter and the young couple who befriend him is F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald. If you haven’t seen this one, do yourselves a favor and rent the DVD, pour a glass of Cabernet, put your feet up and enjoy being whisked off into a fantasy world of pure delight.

And after seeing ‘Man of Steel’, anything with Henry Cavill…

Th-that’s all folks!

Monday, June 24, 2013

Three from the Vaults

By Lisabet Sarai

When you've been around as long as I have, you have to work hard not to repeat yourself.

Our topic for the next fortnight is movies - something of a relief from the relatively heavy issues we've been discussing over the past month. I've been blogging here at the Grip since 2009, and I've written a number of posts on this topic:

Furthermore, I have a list of my favorite movies on my website (, though it desperately needs to be updated.

Anyway, I thought that for this post, I'd take a trip back in time and talk about three memorable films that strongly influenced my sexuality.

Cabaret (1972)

I've seen this classic, directed by Bob Fosse and starring Liza Minelli and Michael York, at least three times, but the first was when I was in college. At the time I was painfully shy and socially inept, with little sexual experience. I was fascinated, nevertheless, by anything with an erotic theme.

In case you're not familiar with the story, Cabaret takes place in Weimar-era Berlin, famous for its decadence and hedonistic excess. American wild child Sally Bowles (Minelli) performs risqué song and dance routines in the seedy Kit Kat Club, sometimes accompanied by the disturbingly crude Emcee (Joel Grey). A bookish young Englishman, Brian Roberts (York), moves into Sally's boarding house and eventually the two become lovers. Sally befriends Maximilian, a rich playboy baron who whisks both her and Brian away to his lavish country estate where he showers them with luxury.

Although lively and funny, Cabaret is a serious movie about the ascent of the Nazis. It does not end happily. In later viewings, I tended to be more aware of the ominous backdrop of rising fascism and anti-Semitism. The first time I saw the film, though, I was mesmerized by the hints of Brian's bisexuality and the implication that Sally, Brian and Maximilian were involved in a carnal ménage. The movie is suggestive rather than explicit, which only heightened the emotional impact for me.

I had no knowledge about or experience with homoeroticism at that point. Sally and Brian have a quarrel, after Maximilian has tired of their company and left for Argentina.

Sally harps on Maximilian's generosity, his good looks, his wealth. Brian becomes increasingly impatient with her apparent obsession.

Brian: Oh, fuck Maximilian!

Sally: (after a pause, with a triumphant smile) I do.

Brian: (with quiet intensity) Well, so do I.

It's hard to convey, now, how thrilling I found this interchange. In fact it's a sign that the lovers' connection is unraveling, but that aspect was secondary to me at the time. I was overwhelmed by their bold admission of sexual transgression, especially the notion that Brian could have had both female and male sexual partners.

When I remember that scene now, eons later, I still get goosebumps.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)

I didn't see this rock horror musical - written by Richard O'Brien, directed by Jim Sharman, and starring (among others) Tim Curry, Susan Sarandon and Meatloaf - until 1976, when it achieved almost overnight fame as a midnight cult classic. A lot had changed in my life by then. I was in grad school and my first long term sexual relationship. Under the influence of my boyfriend and his cohorts (and maybe my own inner nature), I'd become less timid and a good deal more adventurous.

Someone in our circle told us about the movie and the outrageous crowd scenes that had come to accompany it. I saw it three nights in a row, as I recall, each time bringing additional friends to the cinematic party. However, the crazy interactions within the audience were not really what drew me to the film. No, once again it was the theme of polymorphously perverse sexuality, on a far grander scale than in Cabaret.

Just in case there's anyone who does not know the plot of RHPS, I'll summarize it here. Innocent, newly-engaged young couple Brad and Janet (Sarandon) are stranded by a flat tire and forced to seek assistance at the creepy mansion of Dr. Frankenfurter (Curry), a “sweet transvestite from Transsexual, Transylvania”, who parades around in full make-up, corset, garters and high heels. “I'm not much of a man by the light of day,” he sings, “but by night I'm one hell of a lover.” And indeed he is, seducing both Brad and Janet. The latter also finds herself seeking physical solace with the creature the mad doctor has constructed in his lab, a handsome body builder named Rocky who Frankenfurter claims “is good for relieving my tension”. Things begin to fall apart, however, as the cross-dressing evil genius becomes jealous, with Frankenfurter compelling everyone involved to participate in a sexy floor show and then an orgy.

“Give yourself over to absolute pleasure.
Swim the warm waters of sins of the flesh.
Erotic nightmares beyond any measure
And sensual daydreams to treasure forever.
Don't dream it, be it...”

Yes, I know it sounds silly now, but these lyrics spoke to me. Over the next few years, one might say that I adopted them as my personal anthem. I followed my fantasies, eager to make my dreams real.

RHPS doesn't end well either. Frankenfurter is overpowered by his servants, who tell him “his mission is a failure” and that he “lost out to extremes”. The creature is executed and the mansion is revealed to be a space ship, which blasts off taking the inhabitants back to the planet Transexual in the galaxy of Transylvania. Frank and Janet escape, but are, one suspects, irrevocably damaged.

Actually, I've been toying with the notion of writing an erotic story featuring Janet as a character, thirty five years later. Brad is terrified by the sensuality of Frankenfurter's world, but Janet embraces it (“It's a gas that Frankie's landed – his lust is so sincere”, she sings.) What would it be like to have one's “mind expanded”, as she puts it, through a night of intense sexual pleasure, and then to lose it all? I picture her as a cougar, seducing young men in an attempt to recapture the thrill of that night, but incapable of satisfaction with a human lover after experiencing the extraterrestrial mojo of both Frank and Rocky.

Unfortunately, I haven't got beyond this initial premise. All the ideas I've had so far have been either ridiculous or utterly depressing. I do identify with Janet, though, especially as I age and look back upon my out-of-this-world experiences as a young woman.

9½Weeks (1986)

I suspect that there's no reader of the Oh Get a Grip blog who has not at least heard of 9 ½ Weeks. This somewhat infamous erotic drama. directed by Adrian Lyne and starring Mickey Rourke and Kim Basinger, was panned by critics and received three Golden Raspberry nominations the year it was released, including Worst Actress and Worst Screenplay. Nevertheless, the film has a place in my personal erotic history, because it was the first time I'd seen a BDSM relationship played out on the screen.

As far as I can recall, I saw the movie not long after it had been released, and I believe I'd already read (with highly mixed feelings) Elizabeth McNeill's memoir of the same title, on which the film is based. I was only a few years married at this point, and my own experiences with D/s prior to my marriage were still fresh and almost painfully arousing. I must have dragged my husband to the movie too – we rarely engaged in separate recreation. I strongly suspect he hated it, but he endured it for my sake.

In a recent post on the ERWA blog (, I suggest that reading allows more room for the play of imagination, and thus provides a deeper and more satisfying experience than watching a film or video. While I believe this is true, actually seeing forbidden acts can be more exciting and disturbing than reading about them, especially before one becomes jaded. I had little patience with Kim Basinger's character, but I found Mickey Rourke compelling and plausible in his role of the dominant John Gray. (What is it about these Doms, that they all have the same surname?) He's not really all that physically attractive, which for me made him more real and more exciting. The fact that some of the trials he set for Elizabeth mirrored challenges from my own lost master only made the effects stronger.

I fantasized for weeks about the film, inserting myself into Basinger's place - and changing the ending. In both the book and the film, the relationship is portrayed as unhealthy and abusive. Eventually the submissive heroine manages to break away from the dominant's influence. The implication is that she has “escaped” back to a normal sexual existence. This interpretation really bothered me, perpetuating as it does the popular myth that people who engage in kinky sex are somehow sick or damaged, or that a vanilla relationship is intrinsically healthier.

Looking at the success of FSOG, it appears that this mistaken notion is still prevalent.

Zalman King co-produced 9 ½ Weeks. Perhaps if he had been more intimately involved, the film would have been a bigger success, both commercially and artistically. He's a master at portraying passion on the screen, as witnessed by such works as Wild Orchid, The Red Shoe Diaries, and Two Moon Junction.

But those titles will have to wait for another post.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Posted from my Work-Nest

Like everyone else here, I’ve come to realize that the things I will miss most once I’ve lost them are not objects that can be bought with money. I really think the things that give me the most joy (besides the presence of other beings: my spouse, our furry children, my two grown stepsons) are space and time.

Spending eight hours a day in monotonous, entry-level jobs taught me the value of time for myself. Between semesters at university, I worked in various government offices as a clerk-typist in the time Before Computers. My office uniform had to consist of dresses or blouses and skirts with nylon pantyhose that stuck to my legs in summer heat. (If memory serves me, this was also the time Before Air Conditioning.) Tappity-tap-tap was the dance my fingers did on a keyboard all morning and all afternoon. By evening, my mind didn’t feel capable of producing an idea for a poem, a short story, a play or even a letter to the editor. I thought of myself as someone who once had the ridiculous ambition of becoming a writer (especially after winning a national student writing contest in high school: clearly a fluke). But now I was in my twenties, so I had to grow up and accept the reality that my life would never improve.

I thank Whomever that it did. Teaching jobs have been the perfect complement to a writing life. Teaching gets me out of the house, it brings me into contact with other people, it actually forces me to discuss ideas and analyze other people’s writing, and then – best of all! – it provides me with unscheduled time. I don’t know of any other paid, structured job that includes “free time” within working hours. Teachers at the university level are expected to produce something more tangible than knowledge in the minds of our students, so we are provided with time and office space to do “research,” whatever that means to intellectuals in various fields. For English instructors, it usually means either scholarly or creative writing.

In 1929, Virginia Woolf famously claimed that women writers need rooms of their own, and the assumption that women don’t need or deserve any such thing helps explain why so many women eventually lose their creativity, or never express it in any way other than sewing curtains or knitting afghans.

I never really understood the significance of having space of my own, mine, all to myself, until I acquired my own office at the university AND a room in my house that we call the “library” because it is stuffed full of books, but where I spend time at the computer while Spouse uses her laptop. Something in the air of both rooms was inspiring, and I rediscovered writing. 1999 was a watershed year, when my miserably-paid marginal teaching job was transformed into a middle-class career (thanks to an aggressive academic union), my new income qualified me for a mortgage, Spouse and I moved into a character house (built in 1914) in the artsy neighborhood of our choice, and I got my first erotic story published in an anthology with the work of writers who seemed vastly more famous.

In the new millennium I’ve had ups and downs, but I’ve never sunk to the levels of despair that threatened to drown me in the past, when I was often told I was at the peak of my life, and that women’s lives go downhill after they turn twenty-five or maybe thirty. Ha.

Who knew that I only needed time and space of my own? Those are the things I would miss the most if I had to give them up.

Everyone on earth needs a room, a shed, a nest, a den or a cave of one’s own. And everyone needs a few hours to spend there, not tending to anyone else’s needs. There should be a new drinking toast in every language. Instead of “To your health!” friends should drink “To your space!”

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Pinball Wizard

by Amanda Earl

My death date was supposed to be November 11, 2009, but at the eleventh hour, a life-saving surgery changed that. This means that I now experience a kind of doubling. The first me is the one who almost died, who felt dead, in between my hallucinatory nightmares when I was sedated and on pain meds in ICU. I experienced blank moments that felt very much like the oblivion of my nightmare scenario of what death must be like. In some ways it feels like I left that person on the operating table. I have feelings of grief from time to time for my life before, before I felt so close to death, but I also have feelings of joy. In some ways, I lost my innocence then, that feeling that death was a long way a way. The point that we can die at any moment has been brought home to me.

The second me is the one who is alive now, Amanda 2.0. As the alive-despite-all-the-odds version of me I am constantly stunned, stopped in my tracks by this fact. I experience time differently and I walk around constantly humbled by the fact that I should be dead but  for the skill of some amazing surgeons and their team and the hope and love of my husband, dear friends and family. It's weird, I tell you, very weird.

I can be in the middle of eating one of my husband's delicious breakfasts and suddenly feel ecstatic over dipping my bread into the perfect sunny side up egg he has made for me. That gorgeous combination of butter, egg and bread, all mixed together. I can be walking along outside in the middle of a rainstorm and all of a sudden feel intense joy for the pain of the hard rain pelting me on the cheeks, for the deluge that is drenching my body. I want to scream from every rooftop. I am alive, I am alive! 

This time for me feels like the moment in the pinball game when you get an extra ball. It's exciting, it's a gift, but you know it won't last forever. It's your last chance to enjoy yourself in the game. You either approach it very carefully, taking no risks, or you go wild, since it's all bonus, time you weren't expected to have. And you hope for the multi-ball, but more often than not you get only a few minutes of glory to make your mark.

Knowing how much of my current life I would be missing if I had died in 2009 brings me to tears often. Not just for the good experiences, but for the calm too and even for some of the bad ones. Even pain reminds me I am still here. If I had died, I would have missed all of this:

midnight muffins;

exquisite dinners & coffee chats with dear friends;

my husband's marathon cum sessions;

creating whacky vispo, giving my imagination free reign;

slaving over the blank page, the moment when characters begin to write themselves;

reading my poetry and erotic fiction to attentive audiences;

walks in the fresh green lilac scented air after a rain;

my husband's homemade bread (but please make brioche, darling);

the lithe beautiful bodies of young lovers in my bed (the last one, a young Haitian gospel singer with the voice of an angel & the body of an athlete);

exotic taste combos, such as lapsang & lavender,  spinach & kippers;

being able to say and write anything I damn well please;

gorgeous frilly frocks, especially the  new red and white Flapper style dress;

orgasms from the fingers and lips of my husband, from my own hand & my Hitachi magic wand;

the texture of cadmium red and marine blue acrylic paint over surfaces;

eating french fries out of a bag from a chip truck while walking in the fine misty rain of a late autumn afternoon;

live concerts by my favourite singer, Ron Sexsmith;

Guinness and Scotch (in wee doses, mind you);

gifts of exotic tea & homemade blueberry freezer jam from a dear friend;

hearing great writers such as Colm Toibin & Etger Keret at the Ottawa International Writers Festival read from their works;

being clear headed to face each day, being able to move without aid, being able to walk for long stretches of time, floating on my back in the pool;

the feel of velvet, silk, metal, sand, brick, limestone, cobblestone;

the taste of caramel, coconut gelato, peanut sauce, fresh tomatoes, lobster dripping with garlic butter; black olives, profiteroles full of cream; 

my husband's sunday morning crepe, raspberry, sausage concoction;

podcasts & shows on CBC Radio & NPR;

finding silver spoons & odd items that elicit stories, poems, ideas for novels while wandering outside in construction zones;

plaid pj bottoms & fleecy soft sweaters;

endless cups of strong coffee at our dining room table;

cold early mornings out walking when no one is about, my toque down over my eyes, my red & black plaid lumber jacket Misty keeping me warm;

tiny colourful cups of espresso at my favourite café & all the beautiful lanky young café patrons;

the first glimpse of crocuses in the early spring followed by tulips, daffodils, irises, peonies, tiger lilies, roses, autumn leaves;

the bloom of hoar frost on the windows of my apartment;

the feeling of being inside a snowglobe during a blizzard, the snow all around;

the touch of a hand on my bare shoulder, the feel of a hot firm cockhead in my mouth, licking, stroking, caressing a man from head to toe, lying with him afterwards, while we listen to John Coltrane, Nina Simone…

I came so close. I came so close not only to death but also to having a serious long term health crisis. Instead of that, I bounced back very quickly. Yet I still remember that looming figure in my delusion, the tread of his foot on the stairs leading down to the dark cobweb covered room where I lay helpless and immobile, the gauze curtain dividing us, his hand outstretched. I wanted to take his hand; I didn't want to take his hand. And then the voice, the low commanding voice that said "Silence."  

I live my life with integrity, fervour & love. I am so very grateful to be here.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

If I Had Died

While on a death path in 2004, I couldn’t have guessed how much more was yet to come. At the time, I would have said I’ll miss Momma X, my friends, my business, music, my interests--sex--all the obvious stuff, but no telling what the future had in store. That’s what’s so intriguing about this topic when it comes to my world and what has happened since. These ensuing years have been a gift that came with my new liver. Seems I burned the first one out badly.

When first diagnosed with cancer, I shut down my antiques gallery and had a big sale, discounted all prices (it IS all about money) and nearly sold out my entire stock. Up for grabs were classical and tribal art objects from all over the world. These were the real McGillas, not reproductions, but genuine artifacts from prehistoric times through Egyptian, Greek and Roman and pre-Columbian. The African, Oceanic and Asian pieces I carried often hailed from later periods, but were just as compelling, just as artistically relevant.    

After some months of increasing physical complications, the phone call came while having dinner one Sunday night. Pasta with parsley, butter, olive oil and garlic. There was a liver available. It came as quite a shock. It wasn’t supposed to happen so soon. Confused, I asked if I could finish my linguine. After all, even though I was deteriorating, I was still fourth on the list in my blood type. It was a fortunate turn for me, however unfortunate for the three patients listed above me, those who weren’t healthy enough to endure the operation at the time.

If I had died, I would have missed the year of Interferon/Ribavirin chemotherapy for one thing. That was one of my more physically and emotionally draining times. When I took that shot of Interferon on Friday, I could figure on being in the fetal position the next three days, wracked with pain. I’d come back to the real world for a few days, only to do it all over again the following Friday. It’s like getting into a knockdown, drag-out fight every week--winning the fight, but then having to fight again next week, and the week after, and then the week after that. I developed a hernia during that year, but they couldn’t operate while I was on treatment. For six months, my guts would pop out, and I’d push ‘em back. Trusses.  … Ghaaaad. … Grinds on a guy.

That year, my mind became too addled to create, but my appreciation (and collection of) jazz took a giant leap, and I got a prescription for a certain medicinal herb. Wheee! Started growing my own. Started supplying the first LEGAL dispensary in California. Became the local go-to guy for the lowdown on outdoor cultivation.

Momma X had endured, nursed me, and brought me back to health. I didn’t want her to have to deal with our personal art collection if I were to croak. So we decided to sell the artifacts I had appropriated over the years. Pieces that spoke to us. While in business, I had three criteria for keeping a piece of art:

1        1-    Must be compelling to us, outstanding in a collection of similar objects.
2        2-    Must be small. We live in a house with under 1000 sq. ft. floor space.
3        3-    It had to cost nothing, or next to nothing.

Our financial situation never allowed us to buy as collectors. I could sometimes keep an item from a group purchase if we liked it, making up the difference with sales of the other piece. Sometimes I’d find something at a flea market or antique shop at a great price.  That’s one reason I went into business in the first place; I like turning my hobbies into businesses.

The personal collection sale enabled Momma to retire a year early.

If I had died:

I wouldn’t have built my inventory again. I wouldn't have rented a space in an antique mall, wouldn’t have done a few more big shows (enough to let me know I wasn’t getting any younger) or that one last exhibit at the internationally recognized Santa Fe Ethnographic Show (a ‘comeback’ show after seven years absence).

I wouldn’t have had open heart surgery for a triple bypass two weeks later.

I wouldn’t have started writing erotica in 2009.

I wouldn’t have taken a trip to Paris.

I wouldn’t have stayed at my friend’s new B&B in the far north of Thailand. Twice! I went there when he first opened, then again with Momma X two years later. I wouldn’t have known the Thai people, how accommodating they are. It’s really nice to be in a place where people are nice. The Thais are tolerant to the point of putting up with silly old men who search for lost youth, then find it again in that wondrous land.

I wouldn’t have had to endure the grief of a brother’s suicide.

I wouldn’t have attended my 50th high school reunion.

I wouldn’t be nursing Momma back to health after her recent operation. The incision didn’t heal right and we’ve been repacking it every day for over a month now.

I wouldn’t have had my first submission anywhere, anytime, anyplace, accepted for an erotic anthology. (Not that I’ve had anything accepted since). I wouldn’t have had something chosen for the ERWA gallery every month now for seventeen months in a row. I wouldn’t have eleven pieces featured in the ERWA Treasure Chest, best of 2012, ranging from poetry to flashers to quickies and short stories.

I wouldn’t be ERWA’s Flasher editor six months a year. (Back in the driver’s seat again this July)

And I wouldn’t have been invited to this prestigious OGG blogspot.

The richness of life comes at us in all forms; may we recognize what we have while we have it. One measure of our quality of life is in how we handle what comes.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

My kittens-bringer of all things comforting

There are so many things I would miss if I were no longer here—my children, my granddaughter, my friends. At my age and stage in life I have accumulated so many things that are special and important to me that to pick just one was very difficult. But…I’d have to say my kittens.
My three adorable four-footed children came to live with us in 2004, just after Nefertiti, our wonderful cat, had passed away at the age of 17. Our house was so empty. All our children are out in the adult world and without Kitty the rooms seemed so empty. We finally decided we needed another little bundle of fur but somehow between home and the animal rescue shelter we ended up with three instead of one—Grace (the alpha cat), Bast (who challenges Nefertiti) and Blanca who has her own very unique personality.

From the first night in our house they slept on the bed with us, curled in a ball, bringing to us unqualified love and acceptance. It’s true cats rule but they also love unconditionally and so it was with these three.
Nearly four years ago my husband became ill and was bedridden for the last six months of his life. Bast, our tiny black kitten, sent nearly every day curled up on the pillow next to him, guarding his spirit and infusing him with love. When he passed away she began sleeping on his pillow.
And in the time since then my cats have filled a big void in my house, my life, and my heart. During the day they have their individual habits but Bast usually spends her time with me at my computer. She sits on my desk, lying on one of my t-shirts, or on my lap (making it difficult to type!) and sometimes even draped over my arms. 
When I sit in my big arm chair to watch television I have a cat in my lap and one draped over each arm of the chair.
And at night when I get into bed, they are right there with me, all three, cuddled against me, purring and assuring me that I am not alone as long as they are with me. Some nights that’s all that gets me through the dark hours.
So while I’d miss many, many things, my cats have to top the list. They live in my heart as I do in theirs.
Be sure to visit me online and tell me all about things you'd miss or your favorite pet stories.