Thursday, January 18, 2018

When it just keeps happening, how do you not give up?

by Giselle Renarde


Some people have the energy to fight endless battles. Well, that's some people. That's not Giselle.

When I first started writing, I wasn't so aware of the business side of things. I didn't know how publishing worked, and I didn't need to know. I wrote stories for anthologies, submitted them to editors, and the rest basically took care of itself.

Then, I became aware of ebooks. So I started submitting to publishers and getting rejected, submitting again, getting rejected again, and finally seeing some success in the form of acceptance letters. Happy Days.

But I still wasn't much part of the publishing process.

It was only when a lot of my old publishers went under and I started self-publishing that I learned about things that hadn't even been considerations, previously. Like staying away from certain keywords when you publish erotica, because they'll get your book banned, or at least relegated to an adults-only dungeon--which is so much less fun without the beaded curtains. Why can't cyber-dungeons have beaded curtains? Riddle me that, internet.

Anyway, I've learned a lot over the past... holy shit, five years? Did I really start self-publishing that long ago?  Feels like only yesterday. I feel like a babe in the self-publishing world, while simultaneously feeling like Methuselah for remembering what things were like before Amazon.

What is the point you're trying to make, Giselle?

Thanks for asking. I was getting off-track, there.

The point is, I've seen a lot of corporate censorship of my work. A lot. So much.  Like, it's crazy how much.

If you're an erotica writer, I guarantee someone somewhere is going to ban your books. How can I guarantee that? Isn't it true that only filthy nasty smut gets banned, these days?  Nope. Not true in the least. There are a lot of ebook retailers that refuse to stock erotica on their shelves at all.

Okay. Well. I guess that's their right.

Am I chill about that?  Should I be chill about it?  I don't even know anymore. I've just seen so much rejection. But this is different than the rejections I received as an author submitting my work to publishers. With publishers, if I changed this or that, or if I improved my craft or whatever, there was a chance the next submission might be accepted.

Not so in the case of retailers who don't stock erotica. Better erotica is still erotica. The best erotica is still erotica. And they won't have it. So there's nowhere to go from here. Not with them.

But, like, at least those guys are clear from the outset that they don't accept erotica. They don't sell it. They don't want it.

Is that better or worse than Barnes and Noble, which used to carry every kind of erotica under the sun and now... doesn't?

Here's what happened, if you're not aware: for many, many years, Barnes and Noble sold erotica of all stripes. That includes bestiality. That includes rape. That includes incest and pseudo-incest.

And then, overnight, everything changed.

Barnes and Noble decided they didn't want any of that extreme sexual content on their shelves. Okay. Again, that's their right. It sucks because I was just starting to make good money off Lexi's PI and a few incest titles, but nothing gold can stay.

The thing they did that was super-super-shitty was they actually closed down offenders' accounts. Immediately. Without warning! So one day it's fine to publish anything you like, and the next day it's against the rules and we see that, in the past, you've published content that offends us in the present, so bye-bye account?  That's ludicrous. But it happened.

Don't worry. I've saved the best for last.

The best of the worst has got to be Playster. They didn't want erotica on their shelves, so you know what they did? THEY REMOVED ALL GAY AND LESBIAN CONTENT. For real. This is a thing that happened.

Because everybody knows we queers are bound to sneak not only our gay agenda but also RAUNCHY SEX into everything from sweet romances to cozy mysteries.

If you do a quick google search, you'll notice a lot of the posts around this topic say the issue is "resolved." Which is true in the sense that all those innocent LGBT books have been reinstated on Playster's shelves. But "resolved" in the larger sense? I think not.  LGBT content is constantly being blocked, being banned, being quietly removed while the overseeing bodies hope nobody notices. A public outcry is bad for business, after all.

And here's where I circle back to what I said at the beginning.

Some people have the energy to fight these endless battles. Last year taught me that I'm no longer one of those people.

When I found out what Playster was doing, did it fill me with so much moral outrage that I blogged about it immediately? Sadly, no. It made me depressed, sure. But I sighed and said, "This again?" and I didn't do a thing. Because I've been through this shit so many times, as a queer writer.

And as a queer erotica writer? Well that's a double-whammy if ever there was one.

When Barnes and Noble took down the very books that were earning me the most money, I don't think I mentioned it to anyone. That was another momentary sigh. My battle wouldn't be with the company. My battle wouldn't even be a battle. My process would be to find the next thing that'll earn a buck.

Because a queer's gotta eat.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

The Art of War (and BDSM)

I had a colleague who was fond of quoting from Sun Tzu’s The Art of War. Much of what is in that book makes a great deal of sense, even two and a half thousand years later, but my favourite quote is this one:

The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting

I think the modern translation would go something like ‘get others to do as you want, but make them think they’re doing what they want.” I suppose it’s even better if the other person is actually doing what they want. Many of my stories feature BDSM relationships, often new relationships where the submissive is just discovering the exquisite magic to be found in pain, and sometimes making those discoveries against their better judgement. In real life, of course, people go into D/s play with their eyes open, those are the rules – safe, sane, consensual – but I like to think a little angst makes for a better story. After all, I don’t write training manuals.

A couple of OGGs ago I mentioned getting back the rights to some of my earlier work. One of those stories soon to revert to me is Sure Mastery, a trilogy whose main female character has more than a few battles to face and she becomes very skilled at choosing when to stand up for herself, then going for it. Ashley contrives to get her abusive boyfriend arrested when he pushes her too far, but finds herself reluctantly submitting to a spanking from an angry Dom she hardly knows. In fairness, on that first occasion she has little choice in the matter (yes, I know, I know), but the next time he suggests he might punish her she’s not having it. This excerpt is Ashley making a stand, and meaning it.

“I’ve never done much ironing. Maybe I should just leave that, or practise on tea towels or something…”
He fixes me with a glare, the mossy glint in his eyes chilling. “Practise on your own tea towels if you must, in your own time. But you’re on my time now and I want you to iron my shirts, jeans and bedding. Maybe a sweatshirt or two, whatever’s in there. And anything you ruin gets added onto your debt. Or maybe I’ll just take it out of your hide. Again.” His lips quirk. He’s probably joking. Maybe. But those jibes and veiled threats sting, they hurt me, undermine my fragile self-confidence, every time. And as far as I’m concerned there’s no funny side to this. He needs setting straight.
I take a deep breath, set my shoulders and lift my chin. Best to look the part. And I go for it.
“No, Mr Shore. You won’t. You won’t lay a finger on me again. In any circumstances.”
Now I do have his attention. He regards me quizzically before leaning back in his chair, his booted feet up on the spare seat next to him. That hard emerald glitter is fixed on me. “Do go on, Ashley. I get the impression you’ve something you want to say.” His tone is soft, but I’m not misled by that. I square my shoulders again, I can’t back down now.
I clutch my mug of coffee to stop my hands shaking, but this is my opportunity, maybe the only chance I’ll get to set out my stall, and I need to do it quickly. “You caught me at a disadvantage that first time when you, when you…”
“When I stripped you naked, put you over my knee and spanked you?” he puts in helpfully.
I know my face is beetroot, the very memory of how he treated me that day, how I let him treat me, mortifying. After everything I’ve been through, that I could allow such a thing to happen to me… I stare into my coffee for a few moments, regrouping. But the words are not to be stopped. “Yes. That. I should never have let you do that. You had no right.”
“I don’t remember giving you much choice, to be fair.”
“Well, whatever, like I told you then, I’m not a punchbag or a doormat. Not anymore. I lived with a violent man, a man who thought it was okay to kick me around when he felt like it. Even to rape me. But I left Kenny, and I started again. I’m different now, and I won’t let any man think he’s got a right to hit me just for scorching his shirts. Or for anything. I’ll do my best with the ironing, but if I spoil your clothes I’ll pay you for any damage in cash. But I won’t work for you for any longer than we agreed, and I won’t let you hit me again.”
No? What are you going to do about it then? I wait, defiant, for the inevitable response. And even before he calls my bluff I’m starting to consider, and dismiss, my options. Walk out? To go where? Call the police? Yeah, right. I’ve marched myself into a corner and I’ve no real way out I can see. What an idiot.
And to top it all, my voice was cracking by the time I finished my little speech and I’m horrified at what I’ve let slip. I never intended to tell anyone about being raped, least of all this overbearing bully who came close to doing the same thing to me, only stopping because he doesn’t find me even attractive enough for that. Thank God. But I should never have mentioned it—it’s still too painful to talk about, too personal and too raw. A long silence follows my little outburst. He doesn’t move, but I can feel his eyes on me. Watching, assessing. I wait for his next attack.
Instead, “He raped you? Kenny?” The question is soft, gentle.
I nod. “Yes. Twice.”
“Did you report it to the police?”
Ah, here we go. “No.”
“Why not?”
“I lived with him, slept with him, had sex with him regularly. Who’d have believed me that once or twice it was against my will? And… I was scared of him.”
He nods, doesn’t press me further, seems to accept this explanation. “I knew he was a vicious git. I saw the way he treated you that night. I just didn’t realise… I understand now why you were afraid of Nathan and me when we came to your cottage.” He hesitates, his gaze softening. “I’m sorry for that, and for the way I spoke to you afterwards. I was insensitive and cruel. You are safe here, with me. I hope you can believe that.” He reaches out, tips my chin up with his fingers, gently raising my eyes to his.
I hold his gaze, assertive Ashley back on her soapbox. “Yes, I do believe that. But only because you don’t fancy me. I’m too scrawny, ‘not enough to go around’ I think you said.” The bitter sting of those cruel, dismissive words still bites. Hard. Without thinking about possible consequences I press my point. “And I’m not having any more of that from you either. No more insults, no more belittling me with your personal comments. I won’t let you make me feel small again. Just leave me be, and if you’ve nothing nice to say about me then keep your opinions to yourself, please.”
Gently cupping my chin with his palm, he holds my gaze, his gorgeous eyes now warm, tender almost. And I see respect starting to dawn there. At last, he speaks, his tone low, serious. A hint of admiration there, just maybe.

“Well said, Ashley. You’re right, and I apologise. For the things I said to you, back then and just now. I was rude, cruel, and what I said wasn’t true. The truth is, you’re so lovely you take my breath away—especially naked.”

https://www.amazon.com/Unsure-Sure-Mastery-Book-1-ebook/dp/B00GUN1UNM/ref=sr_1_2?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1516114311&sr=1-2&keywords=Sure+Mastery

Monday, January 15, 2018

Battles with Editors - #Editing #AmWriting #TrustYourself


Editors red pen

By Lisabet Sarai

I’ve been publishing erotic fiction for nineteen years now. During that time, I’ve learned two important, somewhat contradictory lessons:

1. My words are not sacred.
2. Editors can be wrong.

When I first began publishing, I tended to think of my stories as artistic creations which would lose their integrity if they were altered. This attitude probably carried over from my poetry. I’d always viewed poems as snapshots of experience and perception. All my poems were written in a single sitting, often in less than an hour, to capture some sudden insight or intense emotion. I never revised them. Editing them afterward would distort the truth they embodied, the essence of the moment in which they were created. Or so I believed.

Hence I resisted my early editors, who wanted to change various aspects of my work. Only grudgingly did I remove the golden shower from the first, Black Lace edition of Raw Silk. I felt that the scene exemplified the D/s dynamic between Kate and Gregory. (It also pushed my personal buttons.) My editor replied, not unreasonably, that a man with an erection could not have managed this. Out it went (though the editor did allow the characters to fantasize about such activities in the indefinite future).

When my pure romance publisher got hold of Raw Silk, even the fantasy reference had to go. Indeed, as an author of erotica I had a lot of difficulty adjusting to the rules of erotic romance, at least as promulgated by this publisher. In their defense, they subjected everything they published to multiple rounds of editing, for both content and format. The overall results were definitely improved over my original manuscripts. Over the years that I worked with them, I received some excellent advice from some of my editors. Others, though, I fought with tooth and nail.

I’ve come to realize that authors need to balance their personal visions of their work with the informed suggestions (or dictates) of their editors. Editors often can see structural and language issues in a story to which the writer is blind. Editors also may have a clearer picture of the target market, so features in a story that conflict with the expectations of that market are more obvious to them than to the author.

That being said, I bristled when my editor insisted I replace my (many) semi-colons with em dashes. It took me a while to understand that this was a question of fashion, not correctness. Then there was the editor who wanted to strike every use of “that” to introduce a dependent clause. Every single one. Okay, I was willing to admit I might have overused the construction, but sometimes the rhythm of a sentence required that extra beat. I was selective in my obedience to her dictates.

The editor who believed that any verb phrase that included a form of “to be” was passive, however, I simply ignored. I also rejected changes that put entire paragraphs of flashbacks into the past perfect tense, even though strictly speaking that would be “correct”. Instead, I’d change the first few verbs, then revert to simple past. Otherwise, the text sounded stilted and awkward.

Content-related edits are tougher. Recently I had a story accepted to an anthology of fetish erotica. My tale, in a flashback, shows the birth of the protagonist’s fetish, when he was in high school. The scene includes arousal and masturbation, but no intercourse. The anthology editor insisted that we had to take out any suggestion of underage sex, even solo sex.

I fumed. Finally I gave in, deciding it didn’t make much difference in the story.

Probably the most difficult editing experience I’ve had was my erotic romance The Ingredients of Bliss. My initial manuscripts are normally pretty clean. Rarely did I need more than one round of content edits. In this case, we did four. My editor forced – well, strongly urged – me to excise or rewrite entire scenes.

One problem was that I’d let my imagination take over, and written a novel that was more erotica than erotic romance. My heroine Emily already had romantic attachments to two men, but I found her lusting after the tough female police detective Toni and even the sexy but dangerous villain – a French gangster named Jean the Shark.

The plot required her to seduce the Shark in order to find the drugs he’d stolen from the mob who’d kidnapped her lovers. In my early drafts, Emily enjoyed that process far too much to please my editor! I had to sit on my instincts, suppress my fantasies, and make Emily repelled by him, rather than attracted. I found that tough to do.

The seduction ends in an attempted rape, as the sedative Emily has slipped in Jean’s food to neutralize him fails to take effect. The editor really took a red pen to that scene! Okay, I’ll admit it was pretty raw and violent initially. The toned-down version still gets the idea across. And yes, as effective as the original scene was (in my personal opinion), maybe it didn’t belong in a book billed as erotic romance. Still, it hurt to cut those paragraphs, because I’d felt them so intensely in writing them.

I did draw the line, though, at sanitizing the language. Jean uses some strong epithets when he discovers Emily’s double-dealing, including some racial slurs. I refused to remove these terms. I viewed them as essential details helping to define Jean’s character.

The editing process for this novel was exhausting and demoralizing. I actually considered pulling the submission and publishing it elsewhere. Unfortunately, the book was designed for a particular series of this publisher. Plus it was a sequel to a novella written in the same series, so I would have had to figure out how to reclaim the rights to that book as well.

Did I choose my battles wisely, fighting about the important issues, surrendering gracefully in areas where the changes seemed less damaging? I’ll never know. I’m fairly happy with the way the book turned out (though I still fantasize about an affair between Emily and Antoinette), but it has never sold well. Sometimes I wonder whether readers can sense the tension that went into its production. Can they see the blood staining the pages where my editor and I fought?

Still, my publisher got the last word (though only on their site, not on Amazon).

Reader Advisory: This book contains female dominance and submission, anal sex, public sex, ethnic slurs, threats of violence and a scene of attempted rape.

Sigh.

These days, I’ve switched almost entirely to self-publishing. Guess I’m avoiding the battles, rather than choosing them, but it’s a lot less stressful.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

I Cannot Tell A Lie

by Daddy X

Posting this from a remote cabin in Yosemite National Park.  Hope it makes its way through cyberspace…

I guess I’ve been lucky in not remembering many awkward situations. As I recall, I’ve always been fairly well-balanced and self-assured. Or maybe it’s just my memory, burying those awkward events so I can suppose a better image of myself at this point in life. :>)

I do remember one time things didn’t quite go as planned. I’d been laid off a job in San Francisco and took the opportunity to relocate to coastal Mendocino, out in the sticks. Since I’d been laid off and hadn’t quit my previous gig, I qualified for unemployment compensation until I found another job.

Well, you know how that goes in a rural area. There aren’t many places to work. So, once I’d exhausted all the legitimate interviews, I started making them up. When a woman at the unemployment office reviewed the form I’d submitted, listing all the places I said I’d been seeking employment, she asked who I had seen at Georgia Pacific Lumber.

 I said something like: “Oh, some woman gave me an application and I filled it out even though she said they weren’t hiring. She said they’d keep it on file.”

The unemployment woman came back with, “Well, my husband is the only one working in that human resources department.” Followed by, “You understand that misrepresenting yourself is against the law, don’t you? You can be prosecuted for that.”

I felt my head begin to swim. Ever since childhood, I’d been prone to passing out from a sudden or intense pain. Apparently, that included when caught in a lie. Gulp!

I said sheepishly, “I’m not feeling very well. I think I need a breath of air.”

She replied, “Yes, I think that’s a good idea. And get your story straight—while you’re out there breathing.”

After several minutes, I went back and asked for a new form. The balls I had! I couldn’t even imagine doing that today.


Monday, January 8, 2018

Awkward is the New Cool

Sacchi Green

As a kid and teenager I used to take being awkward for granted. I wasn’t especially coordinated physically or socially, and I had an off-putting resistance to trying to fit in. Specific instances of feeling (and being) awkward escape me now, for the most part, probably being mercifully repressed by my mind in self –defense, although there are a few fleeting images—does anyone here remember poodle skirts? Those wide -swinging felt skirts with appliqued designs? That was one of my few attempts to be “with it” in the late fifties, when we were all making our own in the 4H Club sewing class, but it looked absurd on my dumpy form. The worst part of a having a nasty boy mimicking my galumphing gait in said skirt was the realization than he was right. I really was that awkward.

I was also obnoxious, on occasion, when I thought I was being witty (as I also was, on occasion) which led to awkward situations. The summer after my junior year in college I scored a gem of a job, a student teacher of English Composition at a summer school for advanced (and rich) high school students. The first night, as all we student teachers met at dinner, I met a young man who I assumed was the other student teacher for my class, since I knew there were two of us. I don’t remember quite what I said—it may have been some dumb thing about competition—but of course it turned out that he was the actual official adult teacher. Awkward is putting it mildly.

The things I can’t remember are, no doubt, the worst. In any case, it never occurred to me that there could be an up side to awkwardness until many years later, and I’m still not convinced. The obvious example is the Book That Shall Not Be Named and its sequels where a clearly attractive and presumably intelligent young woman is portrayed as being, or at least feeling, awkward in the presence of a rich and kinkily dominant man. This quirk has been popular in other books, too, maybe to make the heroine easier to identify with, to make her vulnerable, or to make her submission believable, or, well, because there turns out to be something attractive about awkwardness for some people.

Quite a while before that book came out I’d discovered this for myself. Through my contacts as an erotica writer I’d become peripherally involved in a women’s BDSM club. That experience was extremely educational. I met people who got great satisfaction out of being made to feel awkward, flustered, vulnerable and dominated, and, of course, people who got great satisfaction out of dominating. I even knew some very well who transitioned from one extreme to the other while I knew them. I was too old by then to experiment with submission, or maybe I just never had it in me, and anyway it seemed absurd to submit to someone much younger and there was no one older. But I wasn’t too old to be awkward. I won’t go into details here; if I ever do it will be disguised as fiction; but when I apologized for a particularly awkward series of mishaps and a companion said that she liked her women to be awkward (and by extension, open to punishment) I realized that I was never going to fit into that milieu. But I did get to understand it.

Is the attraction of awkwardness still a thing? From some of the stories submitted to the anthologies I edit I’d say it is, and that’s just as well. We all feel awkward at times, or should, and making characters feel real and relatable is a plus in writing erotic fiction. A good writer can make awkwardness an essential factor in a story. But now and then I get a feeling that awkwardness has become a trope, an overused one. I guess that’s the inevitable fate of any “new cool” development in fiction. But it could be worse. What if narcissism becomes the  “new cool?” Or is that always going to be reserved for the dominant men? Oh no. Bring back awkwardness.

 

Friday, January 5, 2018

Headlines From My Life

by Jean Roberta

Parents Show Photos of Baby Daughter to Guests

(In real life, I was fifteen when my parents insisted on displaying numerous photos they took of me in my first year, mostly crawling, squatting, somersaulting and squealing with joy, completely naked. Back in the day, no one seemed to think this photo gallery might show questionable taste, if not something worse.)

Nude young Canadian Woman Opens Door of London Sub-let for Nigerian Boyfriend, but He’s Not Alone

(In this memory from 1974, Boyfriend came home from a meeting with a male guest who apparently owned most of the media in two African nations. I was 22. I ran into the washroom, and didn’t want to come out.)

Professor’s Wife Warned That her Husband Has Been Seen Driving Young Co-ed to University Every Morning

(Of course, the co-ed was me and the prof was my dad. Shocking!)

Nigerian Man Blames Most World Problems on “the Jews” at Home of Wife’s Family Friend: Chaos Ensues


(Nigerian boyfriend, now my husband, accompanied my parents and me to Christmas Eve supper in 1970s at home of an old friend of theirs who taught in the English Department of the local university. One of the other guests, a Jewish literary scholar, had recently gone completely blind from diabetes. He was known for his bitter world-view before he met my husband, who drove him into a shouting rage. I wrote a blog piece on this.)

Acquaintance Says He Knew Woman in University: He Remembers Her as Nude Model in 1970s Art Class


(That was me, of course.)

Elected Block Rep in Single-Parent Co-op Hosts Meeting for Block Members with Speaker from Insurance Company: Block Rep’s Toddler Escapes from Bathtub and Entertains Guests

(This is a memory from the 1980s. I had cleaned my apartment, laid on tea, coffee and munchies for the women in my building to meet an insurance salesman so he could explain the terms of tenant insurance, since most of my neighbours were completely uninsured. My three-year-old thought it would be fun to streak wet and naked through the room, as I chased her with a towel.)

Graduate’s Mother Removes Jacket to Reveal Shoulder Tattoo: Family Is Horrified

(This is a memory from the early 2000s. Spouse and I had gone to another city to attend my daughter’s graduation from art college. Most of my daughter’s classmates were pierced and tattooed, as was she. My two sisters, their men, my daughter and her boyfriend discussed tattoos. I mentioned my upper-arm tattoo of a turquoise lizard, and took off my cotton jacket which was covering it. One man said, “Whoa!” and everyone else stared. I said, “I just took off my jacket. Now I’m putting my jacket back on.” I’m sure this episode was turned into a funny story about how the graduate’s insane mother began taking off all her clothes in public, but was stopped by quick-thinking bystanders.)

“Chloe” and ”Kelly,” Girlfriends of Two Brothers,* Agree to Start a Lawn-Care Service Together: On First Job, Chloe Insists that Kelly Was Irresponsible for Not Showing Up in Morning, but Kelly Says There was No Agreement Re Hours of Operation

(*Jean Roberta’s stepsons)

(This credibility gap was followed by dissolution of business and two years of family discomfort. Kelly would never attend family events if Chloe was there.)

Stepson’s House-Mate and Oldest Friend Expresses Interest in Kelly, and Vice Versa: Stepson Is Not Amused

I think I’ll stop there.

:( :( :( :(

Thursday, January 4, 2018

How do you know what's right?

by Giselle Renarde


Christmas with my family wasn’t easy this year.

The week before Christmas, I was trying to get in touch with my mother. She’s got 3 phone numbers (work, home and cell) and she wasn’t answering any of them. When I couldn’t get my mom on the phone, I hovered between worried and irritated. It’s pretty common for my mom not to answer my calls because she’s “too busy” but that’s not what was happening this time.

When I finally got hold of her, she sounded awful. I could barely understand what she was saying. It sounded like her whole body was shaking.

She hadn’t answered my calls because she was too sick to get to the phone, too sick to even move. She’d been vomiting for five days.

I had no idea she was sick. Nobody did, except for my brother who’d been taking care of her. My mom has a very strong constitution. She never gets sick. But if you’d heard her voice on the phone, my god, you’d have been as worried as I was.

But here’s the thing about my mother: she doesn’t like doctors. I mean, I don’t either. I get that from her and she gets it from her father. But last year when I was having heart palpitations and chest pains and all sorts of messed up shit, I let my sister take me to the emergency room.

My mother clearly needed health care, immediately and urgently, but she insisted she was “fine” and she’d recover if we just let her lie on the couch long enough.

I called my sister, the one who lives right down the street from my mom, and asked her, “Did you know that mom’s really sick?” Nope. Of course she didn’t. My mom was hiding from us because she knew what we’d say and she didn’t want to hear it.

My sister brought my mother vitamin water and other supplies. At that point my mother couldn’t keep anything down, not even tea.

Christmas Eve, my siblings all assembled at my mother’s house. At that point, my mom had not eaten anything in a week. She was sick as fuck and we were legitimately concerned she was going to die.

My mother refused to participate in the healthcare system.

We called my aunt and uncle. They offered to come over and carry my mom into their car and drive her to the emergency room.

We gave my mom three options: my aunt and uncle could take her to the hospital, we could take her to the hospital, or we were going to call 911.

She freaked the fuck out. Well, as much as she could considering she was unable to even sit up.

Oh, did I mention that all this was happening concurrent with an E. coli outbreak in my region? Yeah, and my mother’s symptoms matched up pretty precisely. One of my sisters happens to be a scientist working on her PhD in disease epidemics, and she was the one who brought the E. coli outbreak to my attention. The fact that she was concerned, and that I know this is something people die from even when they’re in hospital, had me so worried I actually expressed emotions around my family. And I never do that.

I spent Christmas Eve screaming at my mother.

I said, “People care about you! People want to help! We’re not going to let you die just because you’re too stubborn to go to the hospital!”

That’s all it was. Stubbornness.

And fear.

I kept asking, “What are you so afraid of?” and that’s a question she wouldn’t answer. Because I’m pretty sure the answer in her mind was: if I go to the hospital, I’m going to die. That’s what people in hospitals do.

My mother adamantly and belligerently refused medical care. She wouldn’t allow us or my aunt and uncle to take her to the emergency room. Clearly, she needed IV fluids. We needed to know what was wrong with her. But she begged us not to call 911. Begged us. “Just let me stay here on the couch. Please, I don’t want to go to the hospital!”

Ultimately, I guess she won, because we didn’t call 911. We said we were going to… but we didn’t.

I told my mother she’s her father’s daughter, and she accepted that title gladly. My grandfather didn’t like doctors either. He had shrapnel embedded in his lungs from WWII, and toward the end he had tremendous trouble breathing, but he wouldn’t accept medical care or oxygen in-home. He’d signed documents, power of attorney type things, I don’t know, saying that he refused to be admitted to hospital if he was incapacitated. DNR type stuff. He was serious.

But when he had a stroke, my grandmother called 911. Exactly what he didn’t want, but he was incapacitated at the time. In order to admit him to hospital, she had to lie to medical professionals. She told them he had said to her that he changed his mind, that he wanted hospital care. That’s the exact opposite of what he wanted. My grandmother tells me she did it for herself. She wasn’t ready to lose him yet, and she didn’t want him to die in the house.

He died in hospital about a week later.

I don’t know what’s right in this situation. I don’t know what is the right thing to do.

When you’re dealing with a child, you can impose your will on them. You can take your child to the hospital when they’re sick. But when we’re talking about another adult? When it’s your parent? When they clearly require immediate medical attention and they refuse it? What is the right thing to do? Impose my will on my mother? Call 911 even when she’s told us not to?

Acting in someone else’s best interest is a complicated thing. Older doesn’t necessarily mean wiser, but I was also taught to respect my elders.

My mother hasn’t fully recovered from whatever mystery illness is in her body. She’s eating again. My brother is caring for her. But when my girlfriend saw the state of my mom yesterday, the first thing she said when we left was, “Your mother needs to be in a hospital.”

You try telling her that.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

"Yes Ma'am": An awkwardly experimental story



He stood in front of the revolving door, hesitating, feeling something he had not felt in years.  He felt genuinely youthful, but not in a good way.

My hair is silver, he t hinks.  That’s the name of the dating site after all, Silver Foxes.  I got the silver part.  I wonder if she’ll think I got the fox part.

Shit – I forgot her name!   Again!  That does not feel youthful.  That feels like an old fart.

He reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out the chip of paper –“Amanda”.  Amanda.  Amanda.  Amanda.  I look like my picture, can’t say I don’t.  Can’t say I’m not honest.  At my age, may as well be honest.

The face in the glass of the hotel’s revolving door was not honest.  Reflections lie to you.  The mind adjusts, shines, improves, shows you what you want to believe.  In the glass he looked great.  Interesting, nominally intelligent.  A worthy man to know.  But there was always the cell phone camera, that Dorian Gray truth teller.  If he took a selfie the wrinkles, the doubt in the eye, it would all be there.  He would see what oh, Amanda, Amanda, Amanda would see.   Would she like what she saw?  Did it matter since this was a blind date anyway?  All bets were off.

Fuck it.  Just fuck it.  Let’s go do this.

He pushed the door open and went in.  Regarding his breath, he took a pack of strong minty gum and popped one in his mouth.  At least I still have my teeth, he thought.  Most of them.

The hotel lobby had a thick red carpet with signs leading to “Antonies Italian Bistro” on the right.  And the bar on the left.  Would she be a bar girl or a bistro girl?  A bar girl would be more direct, wouldn’t she?  There was no one in the bar except a few young businessmen consulting their phones at the bar and a young couple at an empty table.  The bar spoke of intimacy, the bistro pf activity.  He turned away and went into the bistro, passing the salad bar, people at the tables nibbling at the dinner specials or the buffet.

She’s not here.  There’s not even any old ladies at all.  I’ve been stood up.

He felt disappointment, a sense of insult, which lasted maybe an entire three seconds.  Then a sigh of relief.  Well, he was off the hook.  He had shown up at his place of duty like a proper man, if the woman wasn’t there, he couldn’t help that.

But.

She’s a southern girl, he thought.  Old school southern girls are fashionably late.  They make you anticipate, doubt yourself, delight in knocking you back on your heels a little bit to see if they can shake you.  Maybe that’s all.  Yeah, that’s it.

He held up his hands, glanced at his watch.  Maybe, maybe she’s just as scared of you as you are of her.  Maybe?  Maybe she has doubts about herself?  Called it off?  Without notice?  He took out his cell phone checked out the black screen for any sign of a text message arriving.  None.  Shit.  You’re over thinking this shit, old man. Whatever.  Hell with her.  I’ll be fine.  I’ll go get a beer at the bar and if I don’t see her, well, fuck off.

The dinner buffet was a good twenty five bucks.  If she didn’t show, he’d grab a burger and go back to swiping on Silver Foxes again.  Next time, forget about a dame with brains and personality, he thought.  They’re too complicated for me, I guess.  Just go for big tits old man.  It’s all a buffet anyway.

He turned and almost fell into into her chest.  She had been standing behind him.

She grinned.  “Gotcha,” she said.  “Are you Edgar?”

“Amanda?”

“Hey there.”  She held out her hand.

For a wild moment he wanted to lift it to his lips and kiss the back of it.  Like Rhett Butler.  Would that be too much?  Or not enough?  Too timid?  Too squishy?  Was that too much?  What was she asking, what did she want from him?  What?

Goddamn!  I haven’t dated for years!  I forgot how tangled this stuff gets in your head.

He took her fingers with their fresh cherry red fingernails and chastely shook her hand.  

“Do they have sweet tea at the bar, do you think?”  She let her fingers linger in his hand.

A real southern girl, he thought.  And careful.  Sober, non-committal sweet tea, not alcohol.  She won’t be rushed.  Or hustled into bed.  She’s already thinking about a handshake kiss off and going home.  She’s instantly bored with me.  I wasn’t what she was hoping for.  I shouldn’t have shaken her hand, should have really kissed it, just gone for the home run, of course that’s what she likes.  She’s a red head.  I was right the first time.  I’m screwed already, I blew it in the first minute.  It’s over.  Well, chalk it up to practice, a dry run.  But how would I even know what she wants?  They say a woman decides right away if she’s going to have sex.  Maybe she’s sized me up already, my aura, my vibration and I’m just not that guy.  Nothing’s going to happen here, it’s all over.  I’ve got nothing to lose here.  Should I even buy her dinner or let it go?

 She was about two inches shorter than him, and he was a short man.  Her face was clear and smooth, her mop of red curls carefully casual.  Her lipstick bright and her jewelry elegant.  Her eyes cautious and accessing.   

Oh yeah, he thought.  Complicated, this one.  I’ll be under the bus in ten minutes.  I’m a big boy, I can take it.  Nothing to lose here anyway.

They went to the bar and she chose the table, off in the corner where they could talk quietly.  He came back with a sweet tea and a Sam Adams for himself.

“So Amanda, what do you think?”

“About what?”

“Oh, I don’t know.  Trump.  The meaning of life.  Anything.”

“I think my son doesn’t call me often enough.  I’m not sure how I feel about dating.  I’m just a little tired of being alone.  I want to get out.  Have you been on Silver Foxes long?”

“No, you’re my first one.  Am I your first?”

“No,” she said.  She sipped her tea.

“Is this our first date?”

“No,” she said.  “We’re just introducing.”

“How am I doing?”

“You’re doing okay so far.”

“Good,” he said.  Okay.  He sipped his beer.  “What should we do on our first date?  Dinner?  Is there a movie you like?”

“Dinner,” she said.  “When you have dinner you get to know someone.  Nobody talks during movies.  We should talk.  There should be talking on a first date.”

“I agree,” he said.  His eyes ran over her bright copper hair.  Her neck.  The up swell of her breasts under her white cashmere sweater.  He imagined his hands on that sweater.  His lips on the small of her neck.  She knows I’m checking her out.  Of course she knows.  This woman knows men.

“You’re quiet all of a sudden,” she said.  “Already thinking of the second date?  Penny for your thoughts?”

Oh fuck it.  I’m just going to go for it.  He crossed his knees and leaned in.  Nothing to lose.  Here goes nothing.

“The second date.”  He cleared his throat, took a long pull of Sam Adams.  “All righty then, second date.   On the second date we should have sex.  We’ll make a date for the sole intention of human copulation.  Not dinner or a movie, except as foreplay, to extend the anticipation.  We will have sex to reinvent ourselves, to ourselves.  The need for my penis to rise and stiffen on cue at the sight of your breasts, to see and be seen, for both to know we still have the magic to offer, to need beyond words to see that penis yet rise to your magic, to feel your spell go out and be cast and take hold, hard hold, and be answered by a man’s desire made visible.  

“My place has a good bed.    We can go there.  I’ll clean the room and light scented candles.  Arrange some throw pillows, one in particular, artfully chosen to fit under your ass when we commence.   Or maybe you prefer the familiarity of your own bed, so that when I’ve zipped up and gone home, you may have the wet spot on the sheet to contemplate my audition, the scent of me on the pillow and sheets.  Which may be the scent of your triumph over me, of your surrender, or perhaps of your humiliation, or more likely mine?  Or a strange bed, in a room in a hotel – I’ll gladly pay – someplace where I can surprise you with flowers and a trail of rose petals pointing the way to strange flesh in a strange bed.  A big public bed, which has hosted newlyweds and adulterers both, where someone has lost their virginity and someone else has lost their hope, much conquest and failure of conquest, thrill and dissolution of passion.  And most of all when we stand at the foot of that bed, like Adam and Eve, we will know why we are there and what is coming.  

“Or maybe you’ll say, wherever we have our second date,  ‘I must take a shower first,’ and I’ll stare at the bathroom door and hear the water coming down behind it and a voice in my head will say ‘She is naked in there.  At this very instant, on the other side of that door, a woman’s bare feet are standing in the shower tub, soap and water are running like a mountain stream over the hair between her thighs, the valley where your own thighs will soon be lying.  Go to her, old man.  Go to her.  Show your manly possession of her.  Be the caveman she craves.  Pull the curtain aside and see her nude, get past it, show your phallus, take her, soap her, wash her and know the landscape, the terrain of her body and make a plan as the water runs down between her breasts.  Let her know she is beautiful as she is.  

“Or is it better to let you emerge according to the plans you have drawn while you dry off alone?  Study the constellations in the ceiling, see what’s on the TV news, see what Trump has done now, check my email, while behind the door you powder yourself, spray some perfume, a little extra pointing the way to the places you hope to be kissed and licked.  Arranging your hair through the steamed mirror.  Some bright cherry lipstick that will leave red rings around my dick.  A moment to lose confidence when you see your own imperfections and lumps.  Knowing you’re not all that perfect either.  First fearing, then defiantly spitting out the possibility of my judgement of your body.  Of what time and child birth have done to you.  Daring my eyebrows to frown – ‘I fucking dare you not to want me!’

“And of course, I’ll be thinking the same about myself.

“And I’ll wait for you by the bed.  And when you come out of the bathroom, I’ll go up to you, meet you half way across the floor, stop.  Wait for you to come the rest of the way to me.  Like a tawny animal consenting to be tamed.  And if you cross to me, I’ll know this dance is mine.

“I’ll undress, if there is disappointment in your eyes,  I’ll refuse to see it.   I’ll take you into my arms and embrace you and gently hug you to me, placing my hand on the back of your neck as a woman once taught me to do.  If I press you just right, my penis will rise to your magic and stiffen and I will hold you firmly and gently until I’m sure you see my desire, the boner never lies, and the sight will erase your doubts and fill you with confidence in the power of your seduction. You’ll drop your robe and reveal  your bounty to me.

“I’ll bid you lie on the bed, on your belly, not your back.  Maybe for a moment you might be afraid I’ll suddenly put it in your ass, but instead you’ll feel my hands on your shoulders, light and authoritative, as I visualize my male energy flowing to your skin.  Massage your shoulders.  Massage your neck.  Slowly, with infinite patience seduce you with my hands, until you’re half asleep, until your fears and insecurities have fallen silent, until your spirit is open and your body too, more and more.  Then massage your back, in firm and loving swirls, so that each inch of your skin is anticipating my touch, waiting to be possessed.  And down to the small of your back.  Because I know your secret.

“The small of a woman’s back is always a little tired.  If you have entered the room in high heels your back will certainly be tired.  If your breasts turn out to be large, I know your back will be tired.  And that is how I will get you.  It’s there – not your vagina – not in your kisses which have barely begun – but there in the small of your back that I will seduce you and require your surrender.  There I will begin my loving conquest, there in the small of your back, above the twin swells of your meaty and wonderful ass.  I will kiss and worship your ass as my hands massage the small of your back and the tension and sore places  which I will heal you of.  I will serve you like a slave.  I will conquer you with my loving care of you.  I will have you.  Not with promises.  Not by trying to impress you with my job or my career success, I have none to offer anyway, but with my loving care of the small of your back, where  time and age have been harsh on you, and where I will be kind to you.   And then the back of your thighs, then your calves, and then one more conquest, which will make you helpless to resist the final caresses of my tongue.  

“Your feet.

“First the small of your back, which will open you to me.  Then your feet, each foot, slowly.  Each toe.  And when you see how I love and accept this most humble and unlovable part of you, loving who you are just as you are, this part of you which daily touches the earth, when I spread your toes open and take each toe between my lips and demonstrate what my tongue can do between your thighs, you will know me.  You will know that you have been waiting for me to appear.  You will know what I can offer you, how far I will go for you, that there is nothing you can ask of me that I would not do for you, to serve your pleasure, that there is no part of you which is not beautiful to me, as inch by inch I take away all the pain and rejection of ages away from you.  I won't stop at being your man - I will be your monkey.

“I will overpower you.  Make no mistake.  I will blot out the memory of any man who has had you before me.  With my hands I will drive from you the demons of doubt and rejection and fear with my smoothing, moving, caressing, never ending hands and my lust for you.  As you are.  Anyone might fill you with pleasure.  I am that man who will take away your pain.

“And if you let yourself fall in love with me, my body will take away even the memory of your pain.  The bounty of your madness.  The exposure and revelation of your secret chaos.  Give them to me.  I’ll take all you’ve got.   I want all of it.  It is your nakedness I desire most of all.  Beginning, with the nakedness of your skin exposed, but no, not ending there.  Much more, I want the desperate nakedness in your eyes.  I want the naked intimacy of your breath gasping heat against my cheek.   The nakedness of your teeth gripping my ear and naked sting of your nails at my moving back.   I want the nakedness of your heart exposed in the raw recklessness of your orgasm.  When I massage my way down, finally to your woman’s soul, I want your tears and sighs against my chest;  your life time of woman’s wounds unpacked and shouted at the ceiling as I slip deep into the raw of you.  I will relieve you of them with my body, I will give you release.  I will be inside you and you will want to hold me inside of you and we will want to stay that way forever. “

The old woman blinked and sipped her coffee.  “Oh.  Really?”

“Yes.”  He nodded.  “Yes, really.”

“Whoa.  Well.  You’re a bit full of yourself.  You think?”

“You don't think I can deliver that?”

“Personally, I’d like to go dancing first.”

“Oh.”

She put her hand on top of his.  “I’m not saying no.   And you think you’re all that, stud?”

“Well, I just thought, I’m sorry if I - “ 

“You're going to need a pack of rubbers and some lube.  I insist.  And Haagen Daz.  I always crave Haagen Daz after I come.  Is that weird?  Rum Raisin. ”

“Should I . . . Should I get the Haagen-Daz, now?   And also the rest?”

“Let’s go some place where there’s dancing.  Haagen-Daz after.  Maybe.  Depending how you dance.”  She lifted his hand and put his thumb in her mouth, just up and did it.  Her hot wet mouth, her soft, slippery, commanding tongue.  At the next table, a young man lifted his cell phone and took  a picture. “You know, I think maybe I’ll show you a thing or two, old gentleman.  See if you can keep up.”

“Yes, ma’am. “