Thursday, September 30, 2010

For Maria

Ten years ago I was told that I write porn. It wasn’t said as a compliment. The curious thing was, the comment came from someone who’d never read a thing that I’d written.

Maria: if you’re reading this, I despised sharing an office with you. You had breath like toxic warfare; and the personality of a wart on a baboons’ backside. I’ve never met such a contemptible example of human nastiness, all rolled into one wrinkled bag of loathing and hatred. Your breath was so bad I looked forward to your farts.

Not that Maria will be reading this. The rat-faced old harridan eschewed any form of fiction that hadn’t been sanctioned as wholesome by the likes of Oprah or Richard & Judy.

I worked in an office. I was a lowly monkey in a carnival of filing cabinets and post-it notes. Trust me: it wasn’t as glamorous as it sounds. I shared the office with Maria and, in the hierarchy of the corporation, I was beneath her privileged status.

I don’t much care for offices. Or crabby know-nothing-bitches with unfounded opinions. Especially when those imbeciles have breath that smells like they brush their teeth with roadkill.

However, when Maria told me that I write porn, I was hurt.

Pornography is considered a dirty word.

Arty-farty critics describe films with a violent content as ‘pornographic.’ I’m sure they don’t mean that in a good way. People will stare disparagingly at lewd advertisements and condemn them as soft porn. I’ve watched music videos on MTV and said, “Without the annoying music, it’s little more than thinly veiled pornography.” However, with the music it’s obscene and unbearable.

It’s a strange relationship we have with this word. I assume there are many people who occasionally enjoy some sort of pornographic entertainment. Yet the connotations associated with the word are most often negative.

And when Maria told me I write porn, I genuinely felt disappointed with myself. She was my superior in the office, so I was naïve enough to believe her opinion had merit and weight. Even though she was discussing my third or fourth published novel, when she labelled my output as porn, I felt as though she had pinpointed the true failing of my creative endeavours. I wasn’t an artist. I was a worthless pornographer.

I engaged Maria in conversation and discovered, by chance, that the woman was a raging simpleton. A priggish buffoon with the literary comprehension of used toilet tissue.

“I’ve never read Stephen King,” she later assured me. “He only writes pornography.”

“You told me the other day that you enjoyed Shawshank Redemption,” I reminded her.

“I did. But I doubt Stephen King had anything to do with that. He only writes those nasty little horror stories.”

“Like the Green Mile? You told me, the other day, that you enjoyed that one too.”

“I doubt Stephen King had anything to do with the Green Mile.”

I can’t tell you how relieved I was to get away from that office and Maria. The woman was a drain on my faith in humanity and one of the most misanthropic excuses of humanity I’ve ever had the misfortune to meet. And she had breath that smelled like she’d just eaten a shit sandwich with extra garlic.

Of course, nowadays, I’m not quite as naïve as I was back then. If someone describes my work as pornographic, I thank them for the compliment. And, if they tell me the word wasn’t intended that way, I tell them to go and find a thesaurus and look up an appropriate synonym.

And then I do whatever it takes to stop talking to them. They’ve already made it clear that they’ve not got anything to say of worth.


  1. Ash - Maria's breath obviously carried the stench of her rotting soul.

    What is so wrong with porn that it deserves such spite? I guess the answer is that when you're a terrible person, you have to think that there's something worse than you in order to feel good about yourself. Come to think of it, demonizing something you've never seen and don't understand is pretty much the hallmark of stupid people. But if porn is the monster under the bed, Maria better watch her (cankled, I'm sure) ankles.

  2. I've met one or two Marias in the past (men and women) and assumed that they've using the term 'pornography' in a generic sense to mean 'the kind of writing I probably wouldn't want to read'.

    I've usually further assumed that whatever they say had nothing to do with me personally but related to some event in their own past, and not worried about it.

    I was, however, fairly cagey about what I told people about my writing when I did work in an office. I told them about the science fiction, published under my real name, but not the erotica published by 'Fulani'. Though I did once take in a picture of me playing with fire - whirling a six-foot length of flaming kevlar rope around my head - just to prove I really was as mad as they thought I was.

  3. Hi Ash

    You found almost as many descriptions for breath as I found for masturbation in one of my posts here.

    I don;t know about England, but here in the former colonies, the word "pornography" is evolving. It is acquiring a broader meaning and applies to anything of extreme sexy appeal. Sarah Palin and Fox news in general is "wingnut porn", Bon Apetit magazine is "foodie porn" and so on.

    I suppose this would be blog porn. (compliment)


  4. Hello, Ash,

    What I find especially interesting about this post is the fact that the odious Maria actually succeeded in making you feel BAD about yourself. I guess you were younger then.

    In any case, you've gone on to fame and fortune (or at least fame) while Maria -- well, she has been relegated to one obscure blog post. With her name, appropriately, forever linked with the dreaded word she bandied about so ignorantly!


  5. Hi Everyone,

    Sorry for the delay in responding. I've been struggling with a bug this week and a couple of computer related issues.

    Kathleen: Whenever I was speaking to Maria, I got the idea that everything deserved her spite and contempt. She really was a sad woman - only happy when she was making someone else miserable.

    If I still had her email address, I'd be sending her a copy of this blog post.

    Fulani: If she was using the term in a generic sense, it still came across as a rude put-down. It did teach me to be judicious about who I share my wirting with, so I suppose it was a lesson well-learnt in that respect.

    Garce: I have heard the word being used in the contexts you describe. It's good to see that some positive connotations are finally being associated with porn.

    Lisabet: Yes. She made me feel crappy about my achievements. She had a way of making anyone feel bad about their accomplishments. It's sad that she had so little in her life that she needed to bolster herself with so many put-downs.

    Thank you all for reading and responding,



  6. Ah, I know I'm really late with this, but I loved what you said about pornography in this post, Ashley.

    "If someone describes my work as pornographic, I thank them for the compliment."

    I'm so with you here. It hasn't happened often, but when asked what distinguishes what I write from pornography as though it is a challenge (like I need to defend it somehow to make sure it is indeed different from pornography), my general response has been to smile and say, "Nothing."

    If by bug you meant illness in you (rather than that being part of the description of computer issues), all health and healing to you, and take beautiful care of yourself. ...Actually, wishing that always to you whether you're currently experiencing illness or not. :)

  7. Hi Em,

    The bug has been a nasty cold virus that's laid me pretty low all week. The healing thoughts are much appreciated.

    I don't know why so many people think that it's OK to criticise creations and condemn them with the epithet 'pornographic'.

    To my mind, these people are saying, 'You produce work that inspires a sexual response from your readers. Why on earth would you want to do that? No one wants to be sexually aroused, do they?'

    I suppose prudes of that magnitude are already living in the hell that they deserve to inhabit, but it's just a shame they have to trouble us with their nuisance opinions.



  8. Have been just as guilty of using the P word as a put down so mea culpa there. We try to dignify our sexual output with erotica these days to make is sound better but I think its just the same old scene. But as Billy Joel famousely said its still Riock and Roll at the end of the day. F*!k the folks who can't take it. Nobody is putting a gun to their head to read it. I may not always love what you write, but I do love how you write it. Whatever you want to call it.
    P.S. I still work in an office and have for the last 22 years and you have so got that mentality nailed down! There will always be those you put down anyone who can achieve what they can't. Those who can do, those who can't teach and critique work in offices...

  9. Tracey,

    I'm moving toward the 'those who can't: teach' phase of my life. Now that my faculties are fading and my abilities diminishing I feel I can pass on my lack of wisdom to students.

    My favourite Billy Joel quote is his comment about sex:

    "There's nothing better than good sex. But bad sex? A peanut butter and jelly sandwich is better than bad sex."




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