Monday, October 31, 2011
I'm a member of FetLife although I rarely post there and haven't kept up with most of the community. A few days ago though, a new writer wondered if he could get away with writing a science fiction novel that included explicit (I think the words he used were super kinky)sex scenes. Since that dovetailed nicely with this topic, which I picked a few weeks ago, I thought I'd share parts of my posts on FetLife. You won't see the rest of the discussion, because posting other people's replies without their permission is just wrong, but I think you'll get the gist of where the topic wandered.
My first reply was basically: write what you want to. There are no rules.
There are many literary novels that have erotic elements that are essential to the story: Call Me By Your Name, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, almost every novel by Georges Bataille, The Vampire Lestat and Interview with the Vampire (which contain no sex, but are highly erotic), even Killing Johnny Fry. There are so many.
This led to a discussion about what makes a book erotica. So I said:
If a story is marketed as erotica, readers expect the story to be driven by the character's sexual needs. Okay, but isn't Crash by J.G. Ballard and The Fermata & Vox by Nicholson Baker precisely about that? And yet, those books are marketed as literary novels. Part of why that happened is the way the writer approached sex, part of it is how they presented the novel to their agent and then the publisher, part of it is how the writer saw himself, but it may also be because reader expectation is that a novel marketed as erotica will have sex in every chapter. So if [writer's name redacted] is writing a novel that won't have sex in every chapter but has sexual content, I'm urging him to think of his work as a literary novel with erotic elements because that will free him from the self-imposed burden of including sex scenes that feel gratuitous.
I should have included "or a science fiction novel" to the comment about urging him to think of his work as something other than erotica. Not that I think there's anything wrong with erotica - far from it - but if that definition bogs down a writer before he can even start his novel, it's time to chuck it aside. I've often urged erotica writers to look beyond the erotica genre and realize that our work often fits on many shelves in the bookstore. Proudly wear the erotica badge, but if your story is also a mystery or science fiction or romance, don't assume that your erotic content is unwelcome, because many books in mainstream genres are just as erotic as yours.
Then I went on to say (at length, forgive me)
Usually, the term literary erotica is used to describe erotica written in the genre style of literary fiction, as opposed to erotic romance, which is written in the genre style of romance. I don't see much debate between literary fiction with sexual content versus erotica...
Is the difference between literary fiction that uses sex to explore the characters and erotica simply a matter of marketing? Is there some essential difference? I can point to many books that don't strike me as literary fiction because the story seems to be an excuse to string together a bunch of sex scenes... Is that porn then? As I said, that's a matter of opinion, and my current opinion on that question is that I don't really care. On the other hand, there are books I can point to that are marketed as erotica that read like literary fiction. (I wish that I could recall one title off the top of my head. Any work by Remittance Girl would fit that category.) There are literary works that I consider to be erotica, but that doesn't make them "not-literary." (The Story of O comes to mind. I think most unbiased readers would agree that the main character's journey reflects the arc of most literary novels and the writing style fits the genre of literary fiction, but there's no dismissing the sexual content as a mere element of the story. It drives the entire plot.) So I guess my answer is "I know it when I see it" when I try to parse out a difference between erotica and literary fiction where sex is integral to the plot. But that's a matter of personal opinion, and your, and every other reader's, opinion will be different from mine - and all those opinions are just as legitimate as mine.
An interesting reply later on mused about why there isn't much discussion about erotica versus literary work. She later clarified that it's almost impossible to start a discussion about the many different genre styles: romance, literary, mystery, paranormal, contemporary within erotica with readers and writers and wondered why that was. That, I didn't have a good answer for, other than to guess that the idea of discussing erotica on literary terms rather than if it got the reader off or not is a fairly new concept for readers. Maybe we'll see more discussions in the future. I hope so.
Sunday, October 30, 2011
Let me start by saying that I have a bit of a problem with genre labels. My own work doesn't fit into neat pigeonholes, and often, the fiction I enjoy most is just as stubborn. I've found that the best books frequently defy categorization – or create new genres, which is basically the same thing.
Advocates of labeling claim that assigning books to particular genres helps readers find what they like. I'd argue that it's just as likely to discourage readers from picking up something new that they might actually love.
In any case, our topic this week is not genres in general but the specific genre label “erotica”. What is erotica? There's a lot of sex between the covers of books that aren't sold as erotica. Some of that is marketing strategy, but is there a fundamental difference between erotica and a story with graphic sex?
You want my opinion? (Well, of course you do, or you wouldn't be reading my post...) I think that erotica is not about sex, per se. Erotica is fiction that focuses on the experience of sexual desire. Sexual desire may be a concomitant or precursor to physical sexual activity, but it doesn't have to be. Desire in its many variants (arousal, lust, love, obsession) is fundamentally an emotional state or process. Thus, it's theoretically possible to write erotica that contains no overt sex at all. (More on this below.)
Conversely, a story that includes graphic sex does not deserve to be called erotica unless the author is primarily concerned with the characters' feelings about their encounters, and how those feelings affect the non-sexual aspects of the characters' lives. To the extent that sex is treated as a mindless, instinctual activity, a response to a stimulus that brings relief like a sneeze, it does not (in my view) merit the term erotic.
I've been a member of the Erotica Readers & Writers Association for more than a decade. ERWA has a list called Storytime, where members share their erotic fiction (and poetry) and ask for critiques. I don't participate in Storytime now – I just don't have the time – but the three or four years that I did had a powerful influence on my own writing.
In any case, I still recall one story that was posted on Storytime – at least ten years ago. I don't remember who wrote it, though I recall that it was a man. The main – indeed, the only – character is a soldier, staying in a cheap rented room somewhere, maybe Paris. A woman lives in the next room; the walls are thin. Night after night he listens to the sounds she makes coupling with her lover. He finds himself terribly aroused by this unseen female. He masturbates to her cries. He fantasizes about meeting her, about taking her lover's place. His obsession grows, his desire is unbearable, yet he still can't find the courage to knock on her door. Finally, one day, she's gone – the room next door is empty.
I still find this story to be one of the most erotic pieces I've ever read. There was no sex involved, or at least none that involved the object of desire. Yet the tale managed to convey such a sense of yearning, a desperate, intense need – manufactured entirely out of the soldier's imagination.
That story (I really wish I still had a copy) has become my touchstone for erotica. I enjoy writing about sex, but like the soldier, it's the idea of sex that really turns me on. I've experimented, trying to write (and sell) erotica that keeps the physical side of sex to an absolute minimum. One story that falls into that category is “Stroke”, which appeared in Please Sir: Erotic Stories of Female Submission, edited by Rachel Kramer Bussel. The male protagonist is a Dom who's bedridden in a rehab facility, partially paralyzed by a stroke. The heroine is his nurse, who suffers from kinky fantasies her boyfriend labels as sick and shameful. The dominant manages to fulfill Cassie's fantasies, without ever touching her.
"Look at me." His tone was softer but no less firm. I raised my eyes to his, which were the startling blue of glacial ice. I shivered and burned. "You're new, aren't you?"
"Yes, Sir," he corrected me. My nipples tightened inside my bra.
"Yes, Sir." Just his voice was enough to make me ache.
"What's your name?"
"Cassie, Sir. Cassie Leonard."
"Don't look away, Cassie. Look at me. Do you know who I am?"
"No, Sir. I just started at Lindenwood this week. Before that I was in the rehab department at Miriam Hospital."
"My slaves call me Master Jonathan."
My earlobes, my nipples, my fingertips, all seemed to catch fire. I wanted to sink through the floor. I didn't want him to see how his words excited me.
But he did see. I stared at my hands, knuckles white from gripping the rail.
"You have a boyfriend, don't you?"
"Yes, Sir, I do." An image of Ryan rose in my mind, his brown curls and uneven grin, muscled chest and hard thighs. I did love him, truly I did, with his quirky humor, his gentle fingers and his boyish ardor. He was a fine young man. My mother approved of him.
"He doesn't satisfy you." It was a statement, not a question. Tears of remembered frustration pricked the corners of my eyes. "Why not, Cassie? Is his cock too small?"
I couldn't believe I was having this conversation with a stranger, a patient, a half-paralyzed man forty years older than I was. I stole a glance at Dr. Carver. His mouth was firm but his eyes sparkled with suppressed mirth.
"No, Sir. His cock is fine." Ryan was justifiably proud of his meaty hard-ons.
"What is it then? Is he a selfish lover? Does he come too quickly for you?"
Guilt washed over me. Ryan would happily spend hours licking my pussy and fingering me, trying to get me off. The only way I could manage it was to think about scenes from the kinky porn I hid from him. Whippings and spankings, gags and handcuffs, all the clichés that I couldn't stop myself from wanting.
"Well? Tell me, Cassie. What do you need that he doesn't provide? What do you want?"
My mouth filled with cotton. I couldn't speak. I was acutely aware of my rigid nipples pressing against the starched fabric of my uniform. My clit pulsed like a sore tooth inside my sodden panties.
"Cassie, I'm waiting." His sternness sent electricity shimmering through my limbs. "Don't disappoint me."
I dared a glance at his face. His left eyelid drooped slightly. His eyes snared mine. I couldn't look away. One eyebrow arched in an unspoken question.
"I—um—I want him to, uh, to do things to me. That he doesn't want to do.” I tried to break away from his gaze, but the force of his will held me.
“Things?” He sounded amused. A fresh wave of hot, wet shame swamped my body. “What sort of things?”
“Uh—tie me up. Spank me. Use me. Treat me like his slave.” It all came out in a rush, the desires I'd never shared with anyone except Ryan. Even then, I'd only shown him the tip of the iceberg, the least perverted of my needs. “He wouldn't, though. He was shocked when I told him. Disgusted. Said that I had a filthy mind.” The tears that had gathered earlier spilled out over my cheeks.
“I imagine that you do, little one, delightfully filthy.” His voice was a caress, soothing and seductive. “I knew that right away, just from your reactions to my voice. Your deepest desire is to submit to a strong master, isn't it?”
“Yes—Sir.” I felt relief, now that I'd admitted my secret. He at least didn't seem to condemn me.
“You want to be beaten and buggered, shackled to the bed and split open by a huge cock. You want to bath in your master's come, maybe even his piss. To be forced to service his friends.”
It was thrilling and horrible, listening to him enumerating my darkest fantasies out loud. My clit felt the size of a ripe plum, swollen and juicy, ready to burst. I nodded, still finding it difficult to expose myself so completely.
“I will do those things for you, if you'd like.”
“You?” The suggestion startled me enough that I forgot the honorific, but he seemed to forgive my lapse. I searched his handsome, ravaged face. “How...?”
“Don't underestimate me, girl. I may not be the Dom I once was, but I can still make you burn for my touch. I can still make you beg.” He snagged the button on the end of its cord and raised himself to full sitting position. He moved more smoothly and easily than before. “Remove your clothing.”
More recently, I tried a more extreme experiment. I wrote a scifi ménage novella which included erotic scenes where the protagonists have no bodies at all. Bodies of Light includes some normal, physical, tab-A-in-Slot-B (and tab-C-in-slot-D) scenes, but at the story's climax, Christine, Alyn and Zed couple in the astral sphere, as beings of pure energy.
Is it erotic? I think so. And I suppose at some level it is about sex – the kind of sex that happens in the mind.
I really do subscribe to the philosophy summarized by my tag line. Imagination is the ultimate aphrodisiac. For me, erotica deals, first and foremost, with the mental and emotional aspects of desire. The physical stuff is optional.
Saturday, October 29, 2011
I'm guessing that most writers can point, at least in the abstract, to 'barren acres' that prompted them to write stories or novels that, to one extent or another, could be viewed as success. (Hey - just finishing a novel represents success for me. )
But I do have my own quite specific barren acre. I have harboured fantasies of non-consensual sex as early as I can recall. For a long time, I found this very disturbing. Not just because I consider myself a feminist and this fantasy of disempowering myself seemed at odds with that, but because I have experienced rape in reality.
First, I think there the word rape gets thrown around a lot. And there's a propensity for society to conceive of rape as a certain kind of crime – heinous, deplorable, inexcusable and unforgivable. So I want to be careful to be careful about how I use the word in the context of my experience. My experience of rape wasn't particularly violent and my age, and the youth of the person who perpetrated it, were such as to mitigate the circumstances. I was pretending to be a lot older and worldlier that I really was, and he was too young to realize that. I was not traumatized in any deep or long-lasting way. Nonetheless, the realization that things were happening outside my control and without my permission – that feeling of helplessness and anger – stayed with me.
I want to be clear here: my puzzlement and, at a baser level, my disgust with my own fantasies were far more traumatizing, in the long run, than the incident of the rape itself. My barren acre was not the rape, but of my fantasies in juxtaposition to the event.
It has puzzled me why I would have such persistent and vivid sexual fantasies about being forced. It has remained an unreconciled paradox in my understanding of self. And questions of consent and power have, I think, been a consistent theme through a lot of my erotic writing because of it.
However, when I embarked on the writing of Gaijin, I did so with the aim to consciously and unreservedly give myself permission to explore unfettered the eroticism of these fantasies. Until that time, I had been very aware of the sensitivity of writing non-consensual erotica. I had, in fact, practiced self-censorship and the guidelines of my writer's group and of the vast majority of erotica publishers made it easy to do so. But I decided that if there was ever a way to really explore the paradox between my fantasies and the person I believed myself to be, then the best and safest way to do that would be in fictional writing.
I believe this resulted in three successes. To begin with, Gaijin was the first large work I ever published. Not quite a novel, it was nonetheless accepted for publication by Republica Press in 2010. And to this day, it remains my best selling work.
The second success is that its publication allowed me to legitimately enter into the debate on the limits of what is 'acceptable' subject matter for eroticization in fiction.
But for me, by far the most significant success originating from this 'barren acre' of mine was that it did offer me some insight, if not outright reconciliation, of my personal paradox.
Strangely, it wasn't until long after I wrote the book. Through twitter, I had the great pleasure of getting to know an extraordinary woman named Jane Princep. Jane lived through an experience of rape that was orders of magnitude more harrowing than mine. She has been courageous enough to participate in a series of extremely explicit interviews on the event and the long-term effects it had on her life (http://janeprinsep.com/2010/08/14/why-not-me-a-series-of-intimate-conversations/) as part of The Dialogue Project, directed by Karl James. http://thedialogueproject.com/ )I experienced a great deal of anxiety about Jane reading any of my stories and I warned her off them.
Getting to know Jane better, we began to discuss the phenomenon of the non-consensual fantasy. It was really in the context of my concern for her reaction to my writing (and her assurance that she actively sought them out and read my non-con stories because she found them very erotic), that I began to conceive of these types of stories, not as a re-visitation of the rape or a breaking open of an old wound, but as a vehicle by which the real loss of power, of dignity, of control might be overlaid by the repeated re-writing, editing, embellishment and repurposing of the event.
This bad experience, once imposed upon me by someone else, becomes mine. And in making it mine, I can then go on to over-write the parts I find distasteful to me, and replace those with parts I like better. And the more I do it, the more this new, better, more vivid, more pleasurable telling begins to eclipse the original event. In essence, I am rewriting memory.
For a while, I thought this was just a fuzzy, crackpot explanation I'd come up with until I saw this TED Lecture: The Riddle of Experience and Memory (http://blog.ted.com/2010/03/01/the_riddle_of_e/ ) by Dr. Daniel Kahneman on the construction of experience and memory. When we remember an event, what we are really doing is constructing a narrative remediation of that event. And we are not particularly precise about the way we do it at the best of times. It is perfectly possible for someone to be recorded experiencing an event, and remember it in an entirely different light. Memory is to some extent self-storytelling.
I'm not a psychologist or a neurologist or a psychiatrist, but the conclusions that I have come to ring very true to me. My non-consensual fantasies are the way by which I have in the arena of memory and narrative transferred power from my rapist to me. And my barren acre has become my riotously fertile, always filthy and sometimes savage dark garden.
Friday, October 28, 2011
Thursday, October 27, 2011
I mentioned in an earlier post that I promised my current spouse I would never write about her in my fiction. If I were married to a writer, I would probably ask for the same favour.
Yet fiction, however creative, fantastical or overblown, always has roots in reality. How do I fictionalize my life? By writing about relationships based on the attraction of opposite types who come to understand and believe in each other. Sometimes it takes the characters awhile to get to the Happy-Ever-After or Happy-For-Now ending, but after scaling a few mountains, they reach a flower-strewn valley.
In real life, I’m still climbing.
According to my horoscope, I have the planet Saturn in the sign of Libra. Apparently, this means that one-to-one relationships are a challenge for me – or a “learning experience.” (It's hard to imagine a person for whom this would not be true.) Whether or not star-crossed love is my inevitable fate, this seems like a fair description of my relationship history.
Consider the plot of my life. I was born to academic parents when my dad was earning a Master’s degree at Stanford University in the Bay Area of California. After a few false starts in other parts of the U.S., my parents settled in southern Idaho, where Dad had a teaching job at the state college. This is where I lived from age four to the summer I turned sixteen.
I might as well have parachuted into the semi-desert, working-class Mormon environment of Idaho as a green-skinned baby from another planet. The anti-Communist paranoia of the McCarthy Era was at its height in my early childhood. Intellectuals in general were suspected of being part of a Communist conspiracy to overthrow the government by using too many “fancy words.” Everything evil was associated with book-learning.
Growing up there, I learned early that I was the strange child of sinister parents who seemed “foreign” in some sense (un-American as in “House Un-American Activities Committee,” a committee of the federal House of Representatives, whose mission was to sniff out traitors). Everyone I tried to befriend either backed away at some point, asked why I was “so weird,” or tried to “save” me from the influence of my parents. God forbid that I should go to college and become as alien as they were.
I was told that “girls” (females of all ages) with ideas are even worse than men with ideas. Presumably, the only cure was to marry soon after puberty and begin having babies. I was told that if I didn’t marry sooner rather than later, I would be miserable.
Trying to explain myself usually proved fruitless. I thought of myself as weird, and not in a glamorous, nympho-from-outer-space way.
I became more-or-less resigned to an unmarried life. I decided that a friendship-with-benefits would suit me much better than the kind of love affair which leads to marriage. In my last year of high school in Canada, I had an affair with a boy who came to resent me for being “too straight” (conservative). This was his perception, not mine.
In university, I had an affair with a man who seemed at first to be my fellow-leftist. The first time I said no, he raped me. Before he left, he pointed out that I hadn’t really been raped, and that if I made such a claim to anyone, I wouldn’t be believed. This seemed like a sign from some Ultimate Authority that my reality was just not credible for earthlings.
I was nineteen years old. I knew I came from a family line of long-lived women. The prospect of being alone and despised for another seventy years, more or less, was too much. I tried to kill myself. I failed at that too.
The aftermath of these events included a psychiatric diagnosis and a firm belief in my family that I was out of touch with reality. Wanting to escape from my role as the Madwoman in the Attic, I married the first (only) man who seriously proposed to me. I was delighted that he still wanted me after hearing the ugly truth. He was a Nigerian who seemed to think my parents were both wealthy and generous enough to provide for us. After the divorce, I came to realize that he probably saw me as an unmarriageable girl whose parents would be grateful to the man who would take her off their hands.
At the time, I looked forward to the deep bond that Husband and I would develop, based on our mutual understanding in the face of prejudice from a philistine world. Remembering my naivete is a cringe-worthy experience.
Fishing for dates in a different pool (the local gay bar) changed the setting and some of the conventions, but not the usual outcome. My first woman lover was an alcoholic who had dropped out of high school. When I met her in the bar, I thought I saw the gleam of a diamond in the rough, a creative spirit who only needed my emotional support to develop her potential.
Since then, she has developed her larcenous ability to con and steal money and other material things from women, men and organizations. She has a criminal record that would discourage any legal employer from trusting her.
In my dreams and my fiction, trust is mutual and justified. Soul-mates recognize each other across a crowded room or a cultural barrier. In that world, hot sex is not a snare and a delusion, but a sign of intimacy on a level that is deeper than the flesh.
Do I think my “realistic” (non-fantasy, in a generic sense) stories are true to life? No. Not from what I’ve seen. As Jean-Paul Sartre said: “Hell is other people.” (It sounds better in the original French.)
The lizard tattoo on my shoulder is my emblem: a stubborn little animal, descended from dinosaurs, that survives in the desert by dreaming about rain.
Wednesday, October 26, 2011
“If a writer knows something, but doesn’t write it, it’s still present in his work.”
On this list, among the writers here are two women who have each been beaten and raped, and one individual who has done some time in a mental hospital working things out, and that’s just the stuff we know about. Compared to them my existential angst seems a bit small and self indulgent. But until something worse comes along its just what I’ve got and I make the most of it.
The Creature’s speech to his woman in last weeks post “Born of Rain and Fire” is my long sigh of resignation between me and my useless old god. I’ve told that story and sighed that sigh many times in different ways because that’s the barren ground that I explore. Its an image that I come back to again and again because that’s my autobiography. The Creature’s little sermon to his newly minted woman is God talking to me. You will love me, you will be disappointed in me, you will hate me, you will outgrow me, you will re-discover me and forgive me and when all that histrionic bullshit is over and done we’ll start to get to know each other honestly.
Fiction writing and poetry is the art of the image. A good image, a compelling one has truth discernable under the surface. In my own stuff, I don’t begin a story so much from an idea or a character as from exploring a compelling image. I have this image I’m chewing on these days of a very young girl with her father. During a dangerous lightning storm they see a dark figure climbing the roof of a church. The man on top of the church holds his arms out wide and leans on an iron cross as lightning falls around him. The little girl asks why he’s doing that and her terrified father says “He is a nosferatu, Nixie. He wants God to kill him.” I don’t know how they got there or what happens next but it’s the image that sticks in my mind. You have to admit, it’s a compelling image.
The best images come to you in the simplest and barest form, elegantly empty, and invite you to twist and turn them and add things and pile things until you have something new. Blank paper. White rice. Water. The Frankenstein legend takes a simple compelling image – a man in the act of bringing an artificial man to life – and runs wild with it over the landscape of the great moral questions. Everybody who plays with that primordial image of man creating a man brings their own spin to it. Its taught in feminist classes by a couple of the writers here on the blog. In my case, and I’m not the first, I see it as the powerful image of the mysterious relationship between man and god. The idea of god, at root, is magnificently simple. A powerful creator who created all – even people. Can you cut a deal with him? On this image mankind has painted and piled the underpinnings of all cultures great and small, past and present.
What is the Creature’s problem? He was born without permission. So are we all. His creator, his god, abandoned him without guidance or responsibility. Even people who don’t believe in God find themselves with a feeling of spiritual abandonment, of being cast into the mystery of being and suffering. This image of abandonment by a creator is among the most universal, complex and ancient images conjured by mankind. It’s the human howl in response to the world as we find it with beauty and tragedy, looking for something to cling to and having only each other or maybe no one at all. It’s why we tell each other stories.
Modern neurological science has been pursuing the link between brain wiring and moral behavior. It goes to the heart of our ideas about good and evil. If you drive fast and high on cocaine and run over somebody, you’ve committed an evil act. If you have a heart attack and run over somebody, there's no moral blame because you can’t help it. This is the argument liberals like me make for lesbians and gays. If being straight wasn't a choice for me, why would homosexuality be? If we find that rape and murder are directly involved with bad brain chemistry, “a bit of bad beef or an under done potato” as Scrooge said, who we think of as ourselves as spiritual beings comes into question.
If reality as I know it can be destroyed by plague on the brain caused by Alzheimers, if my sexual identity and habits as I know them, my fundamental moral decency as I’ve preserved it, can all be blown away into psychopathic chaos by a brain tumor in just the right spot. Who is the real me? Is that person you think of as yourself reading this just an illusion fabricated by biological necessity, something Buddhists have been soberly stating for thousands of years?
If that neurological toss of the dice produces a conscientious man, it just means I’m lucky, not morally good, and maybe good and evil don’t even exist. This is probably true, but I hate to think its true. Because it’s an image that fails to move me. I want to be deeply moved. Religion has always dealt in images. Jesus dying on the cross or Jesus saving the adulteress from a murderous mob, that moves me. Those are powerful images, and Jesus knew how to convey a powerful image. None of that stuff probably ever happened, there’s no hard evidence it did. But does that really matter? Is the image that gives you wings to soar to noble deeds more true than the image that has no wings to give, regardless of which one fits the hard facts of life?
Most religious beliefs when examined from a distance have a silly quality to them. Faith without reason leads you into snake pits. Reason without faith, too often produces theology like a dry bone. A dry image of God though consistent with the world as we find it doesn’t inspire crusades or pogroms, but it also doesn't give us any hymns or great music or great deeds. It can leave a moral vacuum by not demanding anything of us. True is not always good. The sacred has to be searched out in our mundane being, formed grain by grain by our dealing with the emphatically dumb details of managing our daily life and the people in it. But that’s no fun at all. If you have to stick with the facts of your life only, the truth doesn’t get you all the way home. It drops you off half way and then you have to lie, and that’s why the great religious leaders were so often story tellers, and why we’re story tellers, the most unreliable of narrators. The truth is in the gaps between the facts. Our artful craft and dodge is to stick our finger in there and see what bites down on it.
Tuesday, October 25, 2011
But none of that has ever mattered enough to me to warrant space in my stories. Real things - purchases made, jobs had, bus rides I've taken, holidays I've been on - have never been so exciting to me or so interesting that they've informed my writing.
And then it occurred to me:
That's my disappointment. My barren acre. Reality.
When I first started writing at the age of twelve or thirteen, I didn't do it because it looked cool, or because I thought it would make me famous. I did it out of a sense of longing, for all the things life definitely wasn't turning out to be.
I wanted love, and what I got was a bunch of sticky, asshole-ish teenage boys, who either didn't want to snog me at all, or wanted to shove their tongues down my throat inside a giant plastic bubble on a playground.
I want to be carried up a hill, while crying. I wanted to run through a maze, with Gary Oldman chasing me. I wanted to desperately need the ghost of my dead husband. Instead, I got some idiot chalking my name on the pavement at a caravan park, for mystifying reasons I couldn't fathom.
I couldn't fathom reality. Reality was and is some bizarre mixture of horrifying shocks and endless mundanity. Where as fiction...ah, fiction is lovely. In fiction, the world can be whatever I want it to be.
Nobody has to die, unless I say so. No one has to prove themselves awesomely disappointing, in every single way. Nothing has to go wrong, and if it does it's only to make the highs sweeter, the love stronger, the stakes higher.
And the longing...oh the longing. It doesn't have to be one stretch into forever, a perpetual yearning without end. At some point in my stories, the longing is always met. The yearning culminates in something magical, wonderful, full of love.
Oh, love. Oh love. How I miss you, my imaginary love. And you should know, too, that it's all for you. Everything, all of this, all my words...they're all for you, and always have been.
Monday, October 24, 2011
For some reason, in Los Angeles the Mojave Desert is referred to as the high desert, perhaps because you have to make that long climb up the San Andres fault, where the Pacific plate shoves against the North American plate and forms peaks like the Cajon Summit. If you thought about stuff like that, you'd be awed by the fact that you're really driving from one world to another, from Oceania to North America. I'm a geek girl, so I actually do think about crap like that. But if you've ever been to the high desert, you'd forgive my mind for wandering. It's a long drive with hours of nothing but desolation to look at and staticy country western stations to listen to. (Okay, there are iPods now, but before that? You had to provision for the road with a stack of CDs, or before that cassette tapes, like a pioneer in a prairie schooner filling his water barrels before crossing the great salt pans of the American southwest.)
I know that some people are, but I'm not a desert person. It just looks like desolation to me. That doesn’t mean that there's nothing to see though. With each change in elevation, there's a corresponding change in vegetation - from sparse to downright dismal. As you fly past at ninety miles per hour (honest, officer, I was only doing eighty) the scrub in some sections is laid out in diagonals, rows, and columns as if some OCD god took out a ruler and placed each dried up plant with the military precision of tombstones at Arlington Cemetery. I'm always glad when I see the Joshua trees and yucca, because they're only in Victorville and that last pass before we begin the long descent to the Nevada state line. Not the end of the road on either end, but a sign that there's only about an hour and a half left to endure before we reach Las Vegas or Los Angeles. (There's some great joke in there about the distance between the stars and the angels being miles of void, but I'm not up to it right now.)
Did you know that in the southwestern deserts of the US, you can still find the ruts cut into the soil by wagons following the Oregon Trail? The earth here is that fragile. Scar it, and it will never heal.
Across the desert, there are mysterious dirt roads that stretch off for miles across the land like Nazca Lines. I always wonder where they lead. How can you sit in the middle of nowhere and still think it isn't remote enough so you head off on an even fainter excuse for a road to get over the next mountain?
There's another feature I look for when we make the drive across the Mojave, and that's the cinder cones left behind from extinct volcanoes from the Quaternary Era (which includes the Pleistocene and Holocene eras, something I'm sure you know very well, thank you very much, and thus require no further geology lessons from me!) If you look for the black rocks, you can see the remains of ancient lava flows leading from those cones, across the land, and continuing on the other side of the highway. Since I live on a human scale of time, it's hard to wrap my mind around the fact that I can look at something that's 2.6 million years old. The cinder cones are beyond ancient, and yet, because this is the desert, they're right there, as visible to the eye as wagon ruts made a mere 150 years ago. Nothing goes away. Nothing gets hidden under layers of dirt or vegetation. You aren't allowed to forget what happened here, ever.
There is something hidden out there though. It's the reason for the mysterious roads. It's a gift from those long dormant volcanoes. It's why there are ghost towns strewn across the Mojave and why some wagon ruts don't follow the path of the Oregon Trail. It's the abundance of raw minerals just under the surface. Ever heard of the radio and TV show Death Valley Days (Death Valley is in the Mojave) sponsored by 20 Mule Team Borax? Guess where that 20-mule team trudged to? Calico, California. You can see it off the highway because the ghost town has been preserved as a state park and they've painted rocks white and laid them out on the mountainside so you can see the word Calico across the miles of desolation long before you reach it. You can see the caves miners turned into homes and the old jail, and wonder why anyone would chose to live in such a place, how they endured the summers before air conditioning, why they didn't keep stumbling to the west, find the Cajon Pass, and descend into the land of milk and honey?
To get quite writerly about it, the barren land of the desert is like any human life. No matter how hard we try to avert our eyes, the scars of old relationships are always there, etched into our surfaces, still visible if you know where to look. Seismic changes, choices, events, loom as large as cinder cones, and the trail of their destruction/creation spreads like dark tendrils across our present. No matter how fast you move to get past them, they still cross your path. And underneath every event, there's a writer's treasure to be mined. I suppose if I were to take this line of thought to its extreme, I could say that those roads seemingly leading off to nowhere are the stories that take you across the barren land to that mother load of inspiration, truth, and raw emotion. But staying there too long is like choosing to stay mired in hell rather than battling forward to the promised land.
It's not as if I look for grand metaphors in my life, because usually you have to squint really hard to get the pieces to align just so to make your point. I've made that drive enough times that it's come to me over time though, because it's something to think about when I'm sick of the rotation on my iPod already and everyone in the back seat is in a boredom induced slumber, the people still awake are all talked out, and I haven't seen a Joshua tree for hours.
Sunday, October 23, 2011
By Lisabet Sarai
You all must be bored by now. Week after week, month after month, it always comes back to him.
I want him. I can't have him. And there's no one to blame but my younger self, blind and unthinking, not understanding that some decisions cannot be rescinded.
No outside force tore us apart. I scarcely realized what I was choosing, what I was giving up. And honestly, can I regret the choice that has led to so much joy and comfort? My married life is the envy of everyone who knows me. My husband is a true jewel.
And yet...there's still the absence, like a missing tooth, an amputated limb. My kinkier self forever unsatisfied, and the knowledge that for him, the loss is more bitter still. He blames me, I know, and I can scarcely argue with his logic. (I never could.) After all, I was the one who blithely severed our deepest connections.
More than three decades ago I married, and renounced my Master, at least a physical lover. Over the years, the pain of loss has intensified rather than lessened. Out of that pain, though, has come inspiration.
How many poems have I written to him? How many stories has he, or his memory, kindled in my imagination?
When you read something by me that touches you, that sears you with its naked passion, know: I was thinking of him when I wrote it.
Point of balance:
A body suspended,
with loving precision;
almost on tiptoe;
a rosy map
of the ways of desire.
Point of balance:
The fire rises,
of brightness and shadow,
spices the breeze
with smoky incense.
Is it your flesh
Does it really matter
whose sighs, whose moans,
whose hand wields the whip
with such tender skill?
The same nakedness
we offer each other,
the same power.
Point of balance:
This holy night
between summer and winter,
darkness and light
(the darkness of the mysteries,
the velvet shadows
that render the light
all the more brilliant.)
a moment suspended
between two breaths,
between one loving
stroke and the next.
My first novel was a blatant paean to my neglected Master. I borrowed from our shared past and plunged deep into my well of fantasy. He recognized all the quotes - flattered even when he was trying to be angry. I lost myself in the writing of that book. Nothing, however, can bring back the magic we conjured when we were together.
I've consciously tried to wean myself away from him in my fiction. I don't want my readers to be bored. The further I stray from that fountain of emotion, the less intense and real my erotica feels - at least to me. Even now, in fantasy, I explore the consequences of having made a different decision.
He's smaller than my husband, but thicker and much harder. I dismiss the pang of guilt that flickers through me. This, now―this is definitely cheating. The blow job, the spanking...one could make a case that they didn't count, but now another man is ramming his cock into my cunt and I have no excuse.
Except that I have no choice. I can't say no. It would kill me. I've never known anything like this fevered bliss. The stranger―Mark―hovers above me, driving his cock deeper with each stroke. I'm wholly open. It's what I've craved all my life and never known. I swear I never dreamed of this―did I? He makes me wonder, as he fucks me like the slut that I am. Perhaps I've always craved this kind of surrender, my dark desires hidden even from myself.
His cock breaks me apart and remakes me as someone else. I strain against the welcome bonds, grinding my pelvis against his. I'm crying from the pain and joy of it. My cunt shudders around him as I come, and come again. He won't let me look away.
I'm transparent to him. He knows who I am, what I want. There's no need for shame. As I gaze into his eyes, for a moment he's equally open. We connect. I sense his need and his triumph. "Mine!" he growls as he swells and explodes in my pussy, still fluttering from my last orgasm. The heat bathing my tissues drags me over the edge one last time.
~ From "Never Too Late", in Body Electric, by Lisabet Sarai (Books We Love Spice, 2010)
We can't go back in time. I'm not sure I'd want to. Still, my mature understanding of what we had and what we lost - what I willingly let slip away - can bring tears to my eyes. The rare times he and I have been able to meet (even rarer now that I'm half a world, instead of just a continent, away) blaze in my memory.
The moon was full
two years ago
tonight. I wandered
in pools of moonlight,
the echoes of
your voice, your touch,
Felt you breathe
across the City;
Thought my heart
would break from longing;
Dreamed a Mistress,
harsh and tender:
"You must be empty
so I can fill you."
The moon tonight,
like you. Two years
of desperate dreams
have left their mark.
The City breathes
in this fragrant forest;
you are always
Tears in my eyes,
wind in my hair;
will we kiss
Is inspiration enough to compensate for losing a part of myself?
I guess it will have to be.
Saturday, October 22, 2011
I come from a long line of people who never forgive others for insults both real and imagined. I have tried to view forgiveness as a gift you give yourself since the other person rarely is losing sleep over what you're lying awake at night seething or hurting over; so forgiving the other person makes your life easier, and allows you to use that energy for something more positive than holding a grudge.
My father was significantly younger than his 3 siblings who were teenagers when he was born in Scotland. His father was a taciturn, cold man who never spoke to children and beat his wife when he drank. My father never did learn why his one sister and his dad didn't speak directly to each other for many years, though they lived in close quarters. She would ask my dad to ask their father to pass the butter and he would do as requested. After their father died, my aunt insisted to the day she died that those years never happened, and that she always loved her father. My own dad hated my tempestuous adolescence, and frequently took my picture out of his wallet, saying he "had no daughter," when our morals clashed. He would put the photo back into his wallet later after my abject apologies, telling me that he would "forgive, but never forget" my transgressions. But I was the one who listened as he unburdened himself before his cancer quieted him, and I was the one who held his hand as he took his last breath. I prayed for him to finally find peace that would allow him to forget his grudges.
My mother came from a large immigrant Polish family, with many siblings older than her since she was 8th out of 10. She was born during the Great Depression, so her father had been laid off and her mother, who spoke no English, took buses and streetcars out to the farms outside of Chicago to pick produce to supplement what was earned by the older kids who dropped out of high school as soon as it was legal, to earn money. My mom's dad doted on her, since she was the only baby he was home to care for. Until she died, one of my mom's sisters resented her for having been "Dad's favorite". He died when my mom was 12, but her sister not only held that grudge, she nurtured it like a prized orchid, encouraging it to grow and flourish; that resentment always seethed under the surface for the next 70+ years.
Though many families are like mine, with a history of one or more members who hold grudges and refuse to forgive others for anything, it has been my observation that the most difficult person to forgive is yourself. I have heard it said that a life lived without regrets hasn't really been lived---that it's the nature of our existence, learning how to live as we do it--that results in the regrets that haunt many a death-bed confession. This we call guilt.
I have lain awake at night reviewing endlessly something that I did or said, that I regret. I have often envied Roman Catholics who can go to Confession and have their sins expiated by a wise counselor who can intervene for them with the final judge: God. They are told what to say and do that will allow them to feel forgiven. Does the deed become undone? The words unsaid? Is the other person's memory wiped? I wish I could do that sometimes.
But as I said earlier, that you forgive because it frees you of the burden of holding a grudge, you must learn to forgive yourself also, to be free of guilt. We don't come with owner's manuals to teach us how to behave. The best we can hope for is that we learn from our mistakes and decide, I won't do/say that again! I don't know if it is just me who finds it harder to forgive myself than to forgive others. I cut other people more slack and hold myself to the highest possible standards. When I was young I wanted to be a doctor so maybe I took the medical motto too much to heart: Do no wrong. I can only hope that there are few people who are unable to forgive me.
And if you feel wronged by me, please tell me so I can make things right...so that both of us can sleep more peacefully, forgiven at last.
When not working long days and nights, Fiona is a slave to the characters who live in her brain and have always told her stories to amuse her. To her delight, after the first book was done she found that writing "The end" meant that group of characters stopped talking...then she learned that others began to shout that it was their turn! That's how her first book turned into a series of 6 books, with another on the way, about the Reyes Family Romances. One book is a free download on Smashwords.com.
She also has a second series started, with 2 books published about the agents who work for a shadowy government agency, hoping they are doing more good than harm when they follow orders.
Find out more about both contemporary erotic romance series' at her website: www.fionamcgier.com.
Friday, October 21, 2011
Thursday, October 20, 2011
Joe works for Megacorp, where he earns minimum wage. His wife Josie works as a waitress at the Hot Spot Cafe, where the owner and the cook are in a friendly competition to find out who can screw her first. Joe thinks Josie should quit, but she can’t afford to. They have two children.
Joe goes out drinking. When he returns at 3:00 a.m. and wakes Josie up, she tells him off. He hits her. Later that day, he apologizes. Later that week, he gets angry when he remembers his apology; he doesn’t see why the hard-working head of a family should have to behave like a saint. He hits her again.
Josie complains to a clergyman she trusts. The clergyman advises her to forgive her husband.
Josie is so frustrated that when her son and daughter get into a screaming match over a toy they both want, she hits them both harder than she intended. She feels guilty and tells them she loves them. At suppertime, they both refuse to eat their peas and scream for dessert. She tries to send them to their room, and they run around the table instead. Joe tells her she has no idea how to be a mother. When Josie catches the children, she leaves marks on them. Joe threatens to report her to child protection services.
As soon as Joe and Josie’s son Jack can survive on his own, he moves out. While home for a visit, he “comes out” to them as a gay man. Joe feels insulted as a father. He can’t forgive Jack, who goes for counselling. The counsellor advises Jack to forgive Joe.
Father and son lose contact until Joe dies and Jack comes home for the funeral. At the gravesite, he says aloud: “Dad, I forgive you.” There is no answer.
Joe and Josie’s daughter Jackie marries a man like her father, and warns him that she won’t accept the treatment her mother accepted. Her husband Jeff has frustrations of his own. In a moment of rage, he hits her while she is chopping vegetables. She stabs him to death. The justice system does not forgive her.
Would more forgiveness have changed this plot? Would less forgiveness have ended the predictable, everyday patterns of abuse?
Every religion I know of (except Satanism) and most schools of counselling recommend forgiveness. Did your parents give you a gothic upbringing? Forgive them. After all, you survived to adulthood. Are you harassed at work? Assert yourself appropriately, but forgive your harasser as you would like to be forgiven for your own annoying habits. Does your Significant Other behave in ways you consider unreasonable? Forgive him/her for the sake of the relationship.
Some advocates of forgiveness practice what they preach to an extreme degree. I’m reminded here of the local nun who forgave the men who gang-raped her, and petitioned the court to have the charges dropped.
When I read about that, I felt nauseous. Were the assailants likely to feel moved by the forgiveness of a Bride of Christ? Fat chance. Do all the men who rape “enemy” women in war respect the ones who manage to forgive them, after years of soul-searching? Does forgiveness have any effect on the forgiven?
But that’s not the point, I’ve been told. Forgiveness is necessary for the injured person (or one who feels injured) to regain peace of mind. There, I’ve forgiven you, so now the world is at peace.
What is forgiveness anyway? Is it a permission slip handed to abusers, assuring them that there will be no negative consequences for the harm they do? Is it a declaration of truce?
If it’s the second thing, the logic of it appeals to me. I can usually do that – after I’ve made sure the original harm is not going to be repeated over and over until someone drops dead.
Maybe that’s the key to the magic box called “Forgiveness.” I’ve forgiven my alcoholic ex-husband because he died with the year on New Year’s Eve 2006 – and his lonely death was worse than I ever wished on him. He will never again accuse me of being the Scarlet Whore of Babylon. His life is over, and so is my resentment.
I’ve forgiven my parents. In retrospect, their parenting seems better than average for their time, aside from a huge betrayal in my young-adulthood. They both died within six months of each other in 2009. Their ashes rest together in an outdoor columbarium that resembles a file cabinet. That file is closed. If I stood on the grass and screamed at them, I would get no answer except the echo of my own voice against marble.
If I were the heroine of an opera, I might have a spectacular Mad Scene in the cemetery, screaming melodically at the dead. In real life, I lack the necessary lung-power.
My surviving relatives are a different case, but somewhat the same. I’ve been asked whether I’ve forgiven them for accusing me (in writing!) of plotting to take control of my parents’ property without telling anyone else, a factual untruth. I’ve been asked whether I’ve forgiven my grown daughter for declaring our relationship dead. (Hello! I'm still alive!)
All I can say is that I accept my inability to change other people’s thoughts, feelings or behaviour. I will not confess to things I haven’t done. I see no point in apologizing for my existence as long as I’m not willing to end it.
Fritz Perls seems relevant here: I am who I am. You are who you are. If we find each other [connect in some way?], that’s beautiful. If not, it can’t be helped.
If forgiveness is simply a recognition of reality, it seems vastly better than, say, war in the Middle East.
Or maybe forgiveness can be summed up as another piece of sage advice I read somewhere: Go with God. Just go.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Wednesday, October 19, 2011
The last lightning bolt of the night storm had finally seized, mounted, and poured the stuff of life into his collection of cobbled together meat and pulled it across the fatal line. It was this last bolt that struck close enough to shake the stone walls, rattle and crack the thick glass jars of chemicals and preserved homunculus, and magically raised erect the fine hairs of his arms. The thunder crash was close enough to blot out his cold objectivity and fill him with an animal urge to cower and hide.
Drenched through the skin, he picked up a dry wooden rod and cautiously batted down the circuit breaker lever on the wall. The lights died and glowed like altar candles. He took the heavy chain hanging from the old mill’s suspended block and tackle and leaned all his great weight against it but it refused to move. Grunting, hunched, he wrapped the chain around his huge shoulders, bowed his head and threw himself hard against it, weeping, until he felt it give. The table spun half way around in the high wind as the pulley caught and the assembly began to descend.
As he labored at the chain, the thought came to him that the hardest part was still ahead. Until this moment it hadn’t occurred to him that he was not prepared for what to do if he succeeded. He’d been practiced only in steeling himself against disappointment but not how to endure hope. Catching a lightning storm with any reliability in the spring or summer when they abounded was in itself almost impossible. The indifferent things of nature performed when they would; unlike the things of man they could not be stolen or bullied while his labor dissolved into decay.
In the beginning he had studied the mysteries of his own body and despaired of the depth of the difficulties ahead of him. The single legacy his god had passed on to him was his savage birth, and as he grew to appreciate this accomplishment first hand he began to develop a grudging respect that was almost enough to give him a heart to forgive his creator for the crime of bringing him into this world. But he could not.
He learned there was only a very short window between the winter’s murderous but preserving cold and the spring’s life giving storms when he could cut, cauterize, stitch and try again. Each spring he’d grimly pushed his harvest of foraged human flesh into the boiling sky but it always went bad when the lazy lightning would not arrive to receive the battalions of tailored carcasses he offered to it. Tonight it had.
As the table at last came into view he was dismayed to see pillars of smoke rising from the bandaged bundle there. Turning away, swallowing his panic, he pulled the chains of the block and tackle with tender patience until he heard the rails of the table slop down into the swamp of mud the rain had made and for two minutes could not bring himself to raise his eyes from his shoes.
“It’s roasted,” he thought, and feeling liberated from the throes of hope, he was able at last to turn and go to the hulk mired crookedly in the mud. But the clean clouds that rose had a cheerful lightness and the bandaged tape was uncharred. It was only steam. Without touching the body he unfastened the half dozen mule chains that held it in place. The steaming steel links hot from the storm strike sizzled his fingers. He pushed the table out of the rain into a dry place and left it only long enough to light torches. The storm was far away and the work room was silent but for his breathing.
He held his breath. Under the soft patter of the receding rain the sound of gentle wheezing continued without him. There.
He fumbled through a tool box and found the greasy meat shears only when he stabbed his finger on them in the dark. Standing at the table he watched the rumpled bundle of bandages gently rise and fall, rise and fall, and like a terrified bridegroom he had no idea where to begin.
Please, please. The shears touched the bandages but he saw he was stabbing at them in his panic and hurry. He turned his back to the table, sat on it for a minute and waited until he was calm. Gentle now, gentle. This moment will never come again, because if I fail this time my soul will die. I can wait a little. This moment is mine. This creation is mine. Something new. Something defiant. My raised fist against God.
Calmer now, he began to cut. First the arms because symmetrically it was the easiest and straightest, the simplest place to begin. As the bandages fell away the flesh showed and the sight of it made him dizzy.
Is this is how he felt?
The skin showing under the bandages looked different than before, pinker, but it was so hard to tell by the torch light alone. His ran his fingers along the hot skin and it felt tough and resilient. It felt like his. He cut his way up the bandages above the elbow, lifting them above the thick and complex sutures he’d made a week ago from long study of the illustrated notebooks and the scarred runes of his own body. He snipped across the bandages of the chest and breasts. The nipples showed through and finally flopped free swollen and vivacious. The two breasts were mismatched, one larger, one smaller because they had come from different women.
He snipped up the shoulders, the neck, the face. When he drew the bandages away the fearful amazed windows of her soul were looking at him with wonder.
“Eva.” He touched a clinical hand to her cheek and felt her temperature. Her eyes roamed wildly around the room and finally settled on his face. Her bandaged hand reached up and caressed the long faded mountain range of scars that ran across his forehead and traveled behind his ears and down his neck where a man he had left for dead had once sewn his face onto his skull. Her fingers smelled strange and smoky and of the sky. They explored his lips and he kissed them and permitted his heart to heave and fall in love.
He brushed his face against hers and breathed the sour storm scent of her for a moment and whispered in her ear. “Can you speak yet?” Her chest wheezed in response and he felt her throat struggle.
He looked away and sighed. Her lips moved and sounds came out, but no words. He passed his hand over her cheek and touched her ear with his finger tips. He noticed the ears were not on the same level. That would have to be adjusted sometime when she’d gotten her strength.
“Soon you’ll remember how to speak,” he said. “It took me a long time. Don't worry, I can fix anything that doesn't work. Once you hear human voices it all comes back very quickly, you’ll see. I had to hide outside an old man’s hut for many days and nights listening to him and his children talking. When they discovered me they shot me with a gun. But you won’t have to go through that alone like me. I’ll talk to you and read books to you and sing to you."
He looked down at her exposed breasts. She had no self consciousness or shame in her. The sylphy girl no more comprehended her own nudity than a new baby. She reminded him of how he had been on the night he had risen from his lightning bed naked, phallic and huge and approached the bed chamber of his mortal god hoping to be celebrated there and loved. From that bitter instant on he’d understood his place in the world.
“Eva, I created you. You belong to me and I have purchased you with grief and failure only for this night. You’re a thing of the air and I’ll teach you about the uses a woman’s body can be put to and lead you into the pleasures of love and passion I created you for. Let me tell you what you will do for me in return.
“You’ll love me and look up to me. You’ll believe that I’m perfect and wise and all powerful because I know how to attend to your pain and repair you of every wound and flaw except one. You’ll long to be part of humanity, to take your place with others. And then you’ll see other women, and instead of seeing how much better I’ve made you, you’ll hate me with the bitterness of a fiend and long to kill me because you can’t kill yourself. You’ll curse the day you were born, no - not even born - ignited. And I will be perfectly faithful to you as only a man who has never been loved can be and you’ll hate me viciously and murderously for a while as I hated my small god. Then the day will come when you’ll see I’m not all powerful. You’ll see I can’t help you in your disappointment, that I have no hope or answers to calm you. You’ll know I made you to be my equal and only that and nothing more. I don’t want you to worship me. I don’t want you to pray to me or make up ideas about me. I want you to lay with me shamelessly and do what women do, and then when you need nothing from me you’ll forgive me for failing you and being such a useless god. When the day comes that you forgive me, your useless god, for failing you so abjectly, I’ll find the way to forgive my god for failing me.”
He ran an exploratory hand down her breasts, first one and then the other and her eyes followed his hands and he thought he saw her try to smile or grimace, but it was impossible yet to tell.
“When that day comes, there will no creator and no creation. There will be only the heat of our love.”
So saying the huge patch work man pressed his lips to her and she allowed him to hold her long and long.
Monday, October 17, 2011
I mean, think about it. He didn't mind hanging around with prostitutes and lepers. Even with thousands of years of progress people still hate the former and aren't too keen on the latter. He could turn horrible tasting water into wine. He could turn loaves into fishes - or was it something else he turned into fishes? Maybe it was stones, though if it was even better. It's rare that I'll have a meal of stone and hollandaise sauce with crushed potatoes.
He healed the sick, he said orsum things like "turn the other cheek", he rocked a beard so cool that people still talk about today ("not you fat Jesus" is uttered to Zach Galifinakis because of the hair garden on his chin).
But most of all: he promoted the idea of forgiveness. He full on sold that sucker to everyone he could. He even got it in a book that people still read now, and he didn't care what anyone thought about it.
I've got to give him respect, for that. Because I find it almost impossible to forgive anyone.
I can't forgive my Dad, for choosing alcohol over me.
I can't forgive my brother-in-law for being the most terrible, selfish asshole.
I can't forgive that bitch at work, for abusing me, the workplace, her power, the students she consistently let down.
I can't forgive the head of Random House, for closing down Black Lace.
Though I suppose four instance of non-forgiveness isn't that bad a tally. After all, in my life I have forgiven:
902,464,278,838,220 people, for being random jerks to me for no reason.
Over 100 people I've worked with, for being lazy, incompetent, nasty, rude and misogynistic.
Ten family members, for complicated awfulness.
One friend, for sometimes being a douchebag.
And finally myself, for only giving me one one-hundredth of the life I thought I'd have.
Not a bad tally, eh Jesus? Jesus? Hello? Jesus?? You know, I suspect there's a reason why he doesn't call me back.
At the end of the movie Shutter Island, Leonardo DiCaprio's character asks: Is it better to live as a monster, or die as a good man? The death he speaks of isn't physical. It's obliteration of self. He'd rather undergo a lobotomy while grasping desperately to an illusion than live and acknowledge the truth about himself.
I write many characters who are dogged by regret. They're forever trying to fix the past even when they know there's no way to change it. Internal conflict like that isn't the same as learning a lesson from a mistake, because a lesson allows a character to move forward. Regret keeps them mired in the past and clouds their judgment. Like a ghost doomed to repeat the same motions for all eternity with no resolution, the character rewinds and replays the same scenario over and again, until something jars them out of it.
That's the lovely thing about stories. A writer can force a character out of a rut. You can make them fall in love and finally see a different future. You can make them confront their enemies and triumph. You can make them finally forgive themselves and move on. You can pry their mental fingers off whatever it is that they hold onto so desperately. Or you can make them fail, as Lenardo DiCaprio's character did in Shutter Island, but with grace and dignity.
When I first saw this theme on our calendar, I thought about how important self-forgiveness is to a writer, but Lisabet handled that aspect beautifully and I can't think of anything to add to her words. But while forgiveness is the absolution we need to move on, forgetting isn't an option. Like method actors, there are many of what I call method writers who draw deeply on their emotional memory and pour it out on the page. If we forget, we can't tap into it.
But I don't think many of us forget. As much as we'd like to, late at night, when the house is peaceful and the world is dark, when we should be sleeping, we haunt ourselves. Many writers know this is the creative hour, that space between wakefulness and sleep. Stories, plots, characters, all of it comes pouring out of us. This is the time of night when Mary Shelley, in the grips of a waking dream, dashed down what was to become the novel Frankenstein. What a horrible thing it would have been if she'd forgotten
Sunday, October 16, 2011
By Lisabet Sarai
“What a lazy slacker you are, Lisabet! You haven't written a word on Quarantine for nearly a month!”
“No wonder your books don't sell. You barely put any effort into promotion.”
“You just walked right by that beggar. You've got so much more than he does – couldn't you spare a dollar?”
“You said you were going to cut back on drinking, but that didn't stop you from ordering two whiskies last night, did it?”
“You dreamed about him again. Aren't you ashamed? Here you're lying next to your devoted husband, and fantasizing about someone else.”
Remember those cartoons, where the character has a devil on one shoulder, urging him to act on his desires, and an angel on the other, exhorting him to be strong, moral and virtuous? Well, I've got one of those – an angel, I mean – and I have to say she's a bitch. I don't know what happened to her demonic counterpart. Maybe he figured I didn't need any help giving in into temptation. Perhaps the angel actually managed to drive him away. Hallelujah! Good triumphs over evil. Why don't I feel like celebrating?
From what I can tell, she doesn't plan on going anywhere soon. She seems to get her jollies making me feel as guilty as possible. Now I know I don't live up to her ideals – or even my own – but honestly, I do try. And what she doesn't seem to realize is that the guilt she stirs up actually hinders me from accomplishing more, following through on my resolutions, acting more thoughtfully and compassionately.
The more I obsess about my writing (or lack thereof), the more difficult it is for me to sit down and let the story flow. The task of getting my name out there begins to seem so insurmountable that I'm tempted to just give up. I look at all the misery in the world, the hunger, disasters, injustice, and feel as though my own modest resources can't possibly begin to make a dent.Why bother to even try?
It used to be much worse, though. When I was younger, guilt could literally paralyze me. I'd wake up in a panic, palpitations and all, about everything that I had to do and hadn't done. I'd sit there with a mind as blank as my screen (or paper, in the earlier days), unable to write a word. Now I have a strategy that helps quite a bit.
I forgive myself.
Seems like such a simple idea, doesn't it? I listen patiently to the litany of my shortcomings that my angel offers. I acknowledge that perhaps I could have done better. I remind myself (and her) that I am only human. I take responsibility for my failings, but I also note the many successes that my angel somehow never bothers to mention.
Self-forgiveness takes effort. It should be enough to just let go, to release the notion that I've fallen short and accept myself as I am. For some reason, though, I tend to cling to the guilt. Maybe it's a way of punishing myself. I should feel terrible, if I haven't measured up to the world's standards, or my own, right? If I'm serious about self-forgiveness, I have to deliberately put my sins out of my mind and remind myself of the truth. I am basically a good person. My intentions are for the most part pure. I'm doing the best that I can.
What helps most is to realize that all I really have is now. Of course, I want to learn from my mistakes, but they're already in the past. Dwelling on them will not change anything. I don't know what the future will bring, either. All I can do decide how I will think and act now, at this moment. That's where I focus my attention. I can choose industry over sloth, generosity over miserliness, compassion over selfish disinterest. Peace over pain.
It's easy to know when I've been successful in forgiving myself. Relief and comfort pour into my soul. I'm energized and hopeful, ready to apply myself to my goals once more. I'm not the religious sort, but indeed, I feel blessed. And, for a while, at least, my angel falls silent.
Perhaps she doesn't come from heaven at all.