Wednesday, February 29, 2012
Me and Dee and Thee
The sofa was pinching my back and I can’t sleep anyway so I’ll write this and put it someplace you’ll find it. I’m not complaining about the sofa, its not your fault that I got bumped off the bus at the border.
I’m looking at your bedroom door. Your cat Pooh is looking at your bed room door. Pooh looks at me. We want the same thing. To curl tight and clawful, rough tongued and nipping in your sheets. Cathy is down the hall sleeping in her little room, anesthetized by fruit loops.
I will see this door all my life if I do not put down this pen now and act. I will become a ghost who always must choose to be nice.
This afternoon, lying on the hill with you with pricks of blackberry brambles we told each other the stories of how we had lost our virginity, which somehow is not spectacular though it could be who would know? There is that memory worked by mirrors in you that will make your tongue go soft, your knees to loll and bubble with brawling kisses.
You were taken on a crested crooked vale of harp shaped hill on your back under of rustic shade and spell of windfall light protesting dutifully in broken Italian in the Tuscan sun which is young once only. The man said Italian men were the best lovers in the world as he lifted your bra and hung your white maiden flag of abject surrender on a branch above your chin, 32C. With tuneful turning mounted, high rumped and tar boiled bellowing rode you into womanhood as you looked past his humping shoulder counting the cracks in the bedroom sky and golden merry sun behind the shadow of your hand, the hair of his lurching legs tickling your inner thighs so that you had to hold your breath against laughing as he squeezed his eyes tight and stung into stillness rolled off your belly triumphant, uncircumcised ape. Forty seconds flat. The red flush had spread over your chest like a map of your inner world he was too dull to read.
This winding day when once you lay on your back with me as still as the sea on the rolling blackberry hill that is clear once only and I rolled over beside you on my elbow, a serpent striking distance calculating the right attitude with which to capture the bottom of your blue Mariners t shirt where it touches the top of your tennis shorts polite as a German and give it a lift, and the quick window of confusion in which to plant my lips flag on your startled belly. If I moved before you gained your senses I might have touched my tongue in your navel and tasted you there and if your hand swatted me away I would have stolen that gesture grandly for all my life.
And I lay and look, thinking as you watch the clouds of the unminding salmon sky the fork to the future laid bare and different paths lie tattered across your broad belly and you might say “Cathy is right down there!” and I would mutter licking into the thin line of hair that trails from your belly like an sign post to depths below “That’s not the same as saying no.”
And if you did nothing?
I would place my warm palm on the skin of your inner thigh and move it in a circle as the manuals say I should and mesmerize you numb eyed with pleasure and my other hand unsnaps the button of your shorts and there is a whiff like wakame from below the elastic and you would mumble from your deep trance to say “What are you doing to me now? What now? Whatever are you doing to me down there now?”
I’m watching the crack of your bedroom door, waiting with my will the wood to widen still more and more until your tousled head appears and you whisper the name of your faithful incubus and Pooh too. Leading lady like we out into the dark and the high hill always turning we might lay side by side always and look up at the simple stars and the stillborn crescent moon and begin, belly and button and kiss and smooth, gathering the light in your arms until you reach into your heaped discarded jeans and press a wrapped parable in my heaven proofed palm and say firmly “First, you have to put this on.”
Tuesday, February 28, 2012
Like me, I mean.
And I don't know why I expected her to like me for guessing, either - because she didn't. For some bizarre, random reason, I did come up with the answer. I don't know if it had been lodged in my subconscious, or if it was as I had weirdly felt at the time...that I knew the answer, and pushing hard enough would unearth it. But it came to me - I remember saying to her that it was the line at the back of all the houses - and then she'd simply looked at me, aghast. Or with contempt. Or with something similarly reserved for a child who's just shit herself.
Not for a child who came up with an answer she assumed was beyond the reach of all.
And I often wonder...why did she look at me like that? Shouldn't she have been pleased, that one kid actually worked it out? Why pose the question if you genuinely think no one has the ability to come up with the answer, and then seem to mysteriously hate it when they do?
Especially when the group you're asking is comprised of six year olds. I could understand someone wanting a kind of silly triumph over a group of peers (like asking a brain teaser or a joke, giggling to yourself when no one knows), but a group of tiny little creatures? Ones you already know are kind of idiots, by default?
There's nothing to prove over a group of idiots. But I've kind of felt ever since that she did want to prove herself over a group of idiots, and that's always made me sad. That's what life is. Proving yourself over a group of idiots. Making someone else look foolish, so you can seem better.
And I wish we were...happier, that someone knows what the horizon is. That someone can see the sky and want to reach for it, instead of being aghast that someone who you thought was an idiot has guessed the clever game. And I can see how that feeling has resonated through my own life.
I feel cautious, about revealing accomplishments - in case they make anyone else feel bad. And I tend to feel like an idiot all the time, or like people see me as an idiot, even if they don't say. And finally, I find it very, very difficult to correct people. If a friend says something about one of my books, I can't tell them they're wrong. If someone pronounces my name wrong or calls me Mrs Smith because they assume I took my husband's name, I can't say. Even as a teacher, I find it crushingly hard to tell my students that they've not quite got the right idea.
I don't want to be that person, looming over people, willing them to be idiots so I can feel good. I want to be the opposite. I want to feel good because other people feel good - but even that's a very dangerous feeling to have. It exposes you, and makes you weak. People can see the soft underbelly, and they go for it. I'll never be one of those supremely confident authors who thinks everything they do is marvellous. I'll never be cut throat; I can't give fake bad reviews to my "competition" the way I know some other people do - sometimes I'm not even sure I understand the idea of competition, the way a lot of people do. I can't talk other people down or dismiss them, and if I feel like I have in some stupid way I experience nothing but a crushing kind of guilt.
Though don't get me wrong - I'm glad I feel this way. I'd rather feel this way, than anything else. I'd rather reach for the sky on my own terms, than stand on other people's heads to get at it.
Monday, February 27, 2012
Let's Climb to the Sky
She talked me into it. The girl down the hall with the bright purple shock of hair. Teresa Marie. We needed another science credit for our majors and for some reason were determined to take the class together. I was sitting on the floor in her dorm room, my head resting back on her mattress. She was on her bed, on her stomach, slipper-shod feet waving in the air, a pen in her mouth as we looked through the course offerings for the next semester. James Morrison, lead singer of the Doors, smirked down at us from a poster above her bed.
Jim Morrison brought us together. Her dorm room door was open as I shuffled past on my way from the shower. She was standing on her bed. Her fishnet stockings had rips in them. So did her black t-shirt. I wasn't sure if that was by design. She had a purple lock of hair, after all. She was taping a poster of James Morrison to the wall beside a picture of Nancy and Sid Vicious. His gorgeous face and black, curly hair - my catnip - brought me to a lustful, dazed halt.
"Who is that?" I asked breathlessly.
"You don’t know the Lizard King?" She squeaked with outrage.
I shook my head. "I know the Golden God, but I'm much more of a Jimmy Page kind of gal." Black curly hair. I'm telling you...
Incredulous that I didn't know who he was, her voice climbed octaves and decibels. "The Doors? Baby Light My Fire?"
"Oh. I've heard that."
She'd grabbed my arm and pulled me into her room. "That song sucks. Listen to this."
Teresa Marie tapped her pen on the huge class schedule they printed out on newspaper stock. "Chemistry II?"
My lab work was spectacularly good. It's just cooking, after all, only you don't eat the results, and the ingredients read like lines from Macbeth. But in lecture? It was a good thing my lab grade was averaged with it. So I poured through the lines in the schedule looking for a way to weasel out of Chemistry II.
"Awww." I sounded so disappointed. I was such a faker. "That's scheduled at the same time as the Economic History of the United States from 1550 to 1860. I can't miss that class." That part wasn't a lie. I'm still a monetary theory and economic history junkie.
Her blue fuzzy slippers swung dangerously close to my head as she sat up suddenly. She leaned down with the schedule and tapped a line. "Right here! It's perfect!"
"It's ..." I finally figured out which line the tip of her pen bounced on. "Astronomy? Really? It meets at night."
Teresa Marie squirmed with pent up perky Catholic school girl joy. "I know!" She leaned even closer to me, her brown eyes squinting up the way they always did when she laughed. "I've heard about this professor," she whispered. "He has a reputation."
"For what?" Immediately, my imagination went to the worst reputation a professor could have. Even before I got to campus, I'd heard that people fucked their professors for grades, but half way through my first semester, I was already shocked, disillusioned, disgusted, outraged, and finally jaded - the five stages of growing up - to find out it really happened. "I'm not desperate enough to fuck a professor yet."
Teresa Marie squeaked outrage then burst into giggles and smacked me. I swear the sun rose with her smiles. She was too perky to be punk, but damn, she was a wonder. "Not for that. For other things."
She rose from her bed. "Sign up with me and find out." With an evil chuckle, she grabbed her laundry basket and headed out of her dorm. I'd brought mine with me, so I followed her down into the basement. I questioned her through wash cycles, drying, and folding, through studying Calculus and another hopeless stab at my chemistry lecture notes, but Teresa Marie just giggled and shook her head so hard that her long, black curly hair whipped into her eyes.
The first two classes for astronomy, we watched Carl Sagan videos. I loved that man - meaning Carl Sagan. Not as much as I love James Burke, the science historian, but still, I could have listened to Carl explain the theory of relativity for hours and been fascinated. So I was content, but I still hadn't figured out what the professor was notorious for. He spoke a bit at the beginning of lecture then turned on the video, and afterward he talked about the themes and science terms in the video then talked another ten minutes about a planet or other astronomical body. Nothing daunting. He said we weren't to memorize distances between planets or their relative sizes, "since it's on a scale so vast you're going to have troubles making those numbers mean anything real to you. Just get the general idea." So maybe he was notorious for easy As. Who knew? Teresa Marie did, but I'd given up asking her.
The third class was almost the same, except at the end, he closed his book and took off his reading glasses. He leaned over the lectern. "Next week, bundle up for class. We're going on a field trip."
"Where to?" someone asked.
"To the stars." His smile was a bit crooked as he winked. "Bring a blanket."
Teresa Marie clutched my arm the whole walk back to our dorm, her eyes sparkling like the Pleiades, but other than muffled giggles, not a clue.
The sign on the lecture hall door said we were to meet down by the student union. I practically dragged Teresa Marie across the small campus because I was not going to miss this. All her teasing finally had a payoff. It was tonight. It was now.
We were the first ones there. The professor had a backpack that clinked when he moved. While we waited for the rest of the class, I asked questions, but he ignored me. It was one of those crystalline nights were every one of the "billions upon billions" of stars Carl Sagan promised shone, the moon cast shadows, and the air was so cold it hurt to draw a breath. I nestled deeper into my scarf and gasped through the wool in an attempt to keep the cold air out. Teresa Marie wore our blanket like a cape. I had to pee. Being cold always does that to me. And my nose dripped. Ditto.
Once class was assembled, the professor played Pied Piper and led us off campus. He led us past the chained gates of the abandoned mental hospital. My toes were so cold they burned. He crossed boulevards and finally stopped at a park.
The big hill, I remembered, was so packed with sleds and inner tubes in the winter that people waited ten minutes for their turn. We climbed up it, our breath coming out in frosty clouds. The hill was still covered with snow, but dirt-streaked. When we reached the top, the professor unfurled a piece of blue tarp and invited us to spread our blankets on it.
"Sit close," he told us, as if we needed to be reminded that it would be even colder on the ground.
He unzipped his backpack and uncorked a couple bottles of wine. Little Dixie cups with blue flowers were passed around, then the bottles, as he found a place to stand before us. He took a little cassette player out of his backpack that by now had to be empty and hit play. Suddenly, we were listening to the soundtrack of 2001: A Space Odyssey.
"Behold, Orion!" He pointed to the sky.
Between pointing out constellations and telling us the myths behind them, he offered suggestions on our seating arrangements. Before long, he had us sitting boy, girl, boy, girl, which pissed me off because my leg had finally warmed where it pressed against Teresa Marie's thigh. Once she settled into her new assignment, Teresa Marie leaned forward to catch my gaze. The tiny girl was between two members of the football team. I had been placed between a frat boy and a guy from New York (Queens) who was also in my calculus class. Teresa Marie raised her Dixie cup to me in a salute.
Apparently, professor astronomy liked to play amateur matchmaker. I'm smart, but I didn't figure that out until our second "field trip." But this is about the first one.
So for an hour, I drank sour wine and stared at the sky and listened to myths of love, betrayal, heroes, and jealous gods. And froze my butt off. And lost feeling on the tip of my nose. And really, really, really had to pee. Then we got up and headed back for campus. As we passed bars, other students went into them, but we were too young to get in, even if it was just to use their bathrooms.
The quickest way back to our dorm was a short cut through the cemetery that bordered campus. The gates were locked after sundown, but some enterprising juvenile delinquents had peeled back a corner of the chained link fence, so we ducked through. We could hear cars passing by on a street we couldn't see. The snow in the graveyard was still deep under tall, mournful pines, and fresh as if no one had passed between the mausoleums for a long time. If it hadn't been for the brightness of the moon, we would have tripped over headstones.
"I have to pee!" Teresa Marie whispered.
I pointed to the lights of our dorm on the other side of a fence. "It's not that far."
She hopped. "Damn it. Wine goes right through me. Keep watch."
"For what? Ghosts?"
She gave me that look as she reluctantly handed me the blanket. She walked off a few paces. Her mittened hands fumbled with the button on her jeans while she cursed as only a Catholic girl can. "Fuck it's cold." Her teeth chattered as she squatted and artfully avoided wetting the jeans bunched around her knees.
I took sudden interest in the four foot high tombstone beside me. After brushing away the snow, I found out the dude died while serving as an Indian killer with Grant. I wondered if his family ever wished they could go back and give him an epitaph that didn’t make him look like a genocidal jerk. I wondered how decomposed his body was by the time they got it back from the frontier. He will fight no more forever, that's for sure.
I shifted uncomfortably from foot to foot as the sound of her piss hitting the snow made my bladder threaten to release despite my clenching.
"Holy fuck. Would you look at that?" Teresa Marie said.
My eyes clenched closed as I turned to her. One barely opened to find her. "Do I have to?"
She yanked up her jeans. "Come here!"
"Did you make a pee-sicle? 'Cause unless it's that, I really don't want to know."
She giggled. "You're so repressed sometimes. Come on. This is cool."
"A pee-sicle would be pretty cool. Gross, but cool." By then I was standing next to her.
She pointed down at a memorial plaque in the ground. She gripped my upper arm and bounced as she made one of those girly excited sounds. "I peed on James Morrison!"
It wasn't the James Morrison. The James Morrison was buried in Paris, not this crumbling rust belt town. This was a James Morrison. Any old James Morrison.
Teresa Marie didn't care. She danced around me in the snow, hooking our elbows like it was a punk hoedown. "Let's swim to the moon, uh huh, let's climb to the sky..."
"Let's climb through the tide," I corrected.
"Shut up, little Miss didn't know who he was until a couple months ago anyway." Grinning, she swatted me. "Out here on the perimeter there are no stars. Out here we is headstoned."
"Immaculate." I said in a puff of dragon smoke.
She kissed my cheek.
I wished we could have stayed there like that forever. Instead, I had to make the final dart over the fence to our dorm to save myself from pee-pants embarrassment. The spell was broken.
I should have pissed on the Indian killer while I had a chance.
After a non-stop flight from Los Angeles, our room in Paris wasn't ready. "I'm sorry, but it is three hours until check in." It was a stop over. We were on our way to Rome. We'd catch the train for Milan the next morning. I still can't remember why we didn't fly to Milan or Rome. Maybe because we would have had to go through Heathrow if we went to Italy by air, and Heathrow was a nightmare of terrorist paranoia that year. You couldn't even bring a book on board a Heathrow-bound flight. Or tampons Or medication.
We left our luggage in the safe keeping of the hotel. Three hours to kill in Paris when you're punch drunk jet lagged and look exactly like your passport photo and your butt went numb somewhere over the Atlantic and still can't feel a damn thing?
"Come on. I know a place," I said.
It was further than I thought to Pere Lachaise. Maybe three or four miles. But we walked the entire way because after so many hours on the plane, it felt good.
I found a hidden, quiet bench for R and C. They fell asleep in the dappled sunlight. I wandered around and visited old friends. Oscar Wilde. Victor Hugo. Gertrude Stein.
My final quest was to find Pierre Abelard and Heloise. I couldn't think of something to write in a letter to them, because I didn't think I had any lost loves to find, but I figured I'd wing it when I got to their gravesite. On my way there, a girl with bright pink pig tails, a very short black skirt, and torn red fishnet stockings crossed my path. So of course I followed her. I only saw her from the back. She hiked over graves with no concern. I tried to be a bit more respectful of the dead.
We passed an armed gendarme. I worried about R and C getting into trouble for sleeping on that bench. For the briefest of moments, I glanced over my shoulder as if I could check on them even though I knew they were far uphill from me. I turned back. People swarmed around a corner. Sure my French punk girl had gone into the crowd, I moved with them.
I didn't see it at first because I was looking for her, but she'd disappeared. Finally, I looked at the place in the center of a circle of feet. It's small, and plain. Just a name. Maybe a date. I don't remember the tombstone because I had been awake for over twenty-four hours straight, my butt was still asleep, and frankly, I was beyond caring. (Pere Lachaise cemetery has a great website, but I still haven't looked for his headstone) I do remember the cheesy bouquet of flowers with a thick purple satin ribbon that said "The Lizard King" in gold stamp. I wondered if his spirit ever sighed over that whole Lizard King thing and wished he'd chosen a different epitaph for himself. Something that didn't make him sound like a stoner jerk.
And then for some reason, the twangy first notes of Moonlight Drive filled my brain. After that astronomy class, I've always sung the lyrics wrong, even though I hadn't thought about Teresa Marie for years. I guess I always wondered how one goes about climbing to the skies. Girls with mud brown hair don't know, but the ones with purple streaks in their black, curly hair and starlight in their laughing eyes? They probably do it all the time.
Sunday, February 26, 2012
The Friendly Skies
He was the one. She knew it, the first time she felt him slide into her. Everything was right. Perfect fit, glorious fullness without pain. Every movement woke new nerves, sent new sensations shimmering through her. Bent over the seat, digging her nails into the faux leather covering the armrests as her body shook with his thrusts, she couldn't see his face. She didn't need to see him; she knew what he was thinking, knew what he wanted.
She arched her back, letting him bury his flesh more deeply in hers. She clenched her inner muscles around his hardness, wanting to swallow him, to make him part of her. He rammed his cock into her again and again, one hand over her mouth to stifle her cries. She writhed against him, each stroke a shuddering, prolonged delight that nudged her closer to the ultimate pleasure.
He was not gentle like the men she had dreamed about before she knew him. He was not tender. Still, she had no doubts that he was meant for her. In the darkened cabin, he read her body like Braille. He knew how to tease every nuance of pleasure out of her wet and open flesh. While one hand held her gagged, the other toyed with her nipples through her blouse, twisting and squeezing the swollen nubs. She worried briefly that he'd tear the fabric, until the seething flood of sensation washed her worries away.
Above the sussurations of the passengers shifting in their seats, the coughs and the snores and the faint babble of movie sound tracks, she could hear the slap of his balls against her bare thighs and his open-mouthed panting. The steamy jungle smell of her cunt rose around them. She was sure that someone would notice, would turn around to check the empty rows toward the back of the section. His palm smothered her moans. Then the pulse of his come inside her swept her into a whirling climax. The engine whined in her ears. Gravity released her. She floated weightless, shaken by spasms of pleasure so intense that they practically stripped her of consciousness.
When she came to herself, she was on her knees, her face buried in the cushion, the seat belt buckle digging into her cheek. There was no trace of him, save for the burning in her cunt and the used condom she found under the seat. She pulled herself to her feet, smoothed her uniform down over her torn pantyhose, slipped back into her sensible pumps. She was still shaking.
She peered through the dimness toward the front of the plane. There was a man's head there in 16B, silhouetted by the lighted No Smoking sign on the cabin wall. He leaned against the headrest, seemingly asleep. She could almost believe it had been a dream. But her thighs were sticky with her own juices, and when she pressed them together, delicious echos of her climax sparked through her.
Later, an hour before landing when she came down the aisle with drinks, he had grinned and slipped a card into her hand. "Email me," he had said. "If you want, that is." His expression made it clear that he had no doubts about her decision.
~ From "Red Eye" by Lisabet Sarai
In Too Much Boogie: Erotic Remixes of the Dirty Blues, edited by Cole Riley
Saturday, February 25, 2012
A Vexatious Woman
I live atop a hill that is accepted to be the general spot where 19 folks were hanged for practicing witchcraft back in 1692. There’s a lovely park across the street where I walk my dog, a black lab and pit bull mix with one brown and one very bright blue eye. A perfect Salem dog. Perhaps because of the dog, I am often approached by tourists – and seekers – and asked, “Is this where they hanged the witches?”
“No, dear,” I reply, “There would have been a forest growing atop the hill three hundred years ago. They were all dispatched into the realm of spirits at the foot of the hill ... right behind Walgreens.”
I then direct them to follow my street to the bottom of the hill, take a right and walk to the next intersection where, on the corner where the aforesaid Walgreens stands open for business, they will find a plaque. The plaque does not honor the victims of the hysteria, but notes the origin of the Great Salem Fire of 1914. I can only imagine their disappointment; surely they expected their quest to lead them to something less mundane than the loading dock of a discount pharmacy store.
But that’s history for you, for most of us. Ordinary human beings in ordinary venues finding themselves thrust into extraordinary circumstances.
Three hundred years ago in my town the proper theology was applied to government every day. Puritan theology demanded one keep God in mind during every waking moment, and every endeavor. This included sex. Puritans, notwithstanding their dour image, had no qualms about sex, and very much enjoyed it. Every orgasm was punctuated by a “Praise the Lord.” Unwed brides were not that uncommon, so long as they conformed to community standards by entering into wedlock.
Conformity was the key. You dressed, worshipped, and carried on your everyday life along an accepted norm.
And in the midst of all this conformity dwelled a pair of ladies named Bishop. Historians today believe the accounts of these two accused wives have been mixed up. Bridget, destined to be the first person executed for witchcraft during the Salem hysteria, was likely in her sixties when she faced the bar of (in)justice. She was also likely the only one of the 19 victims hanged, and one tortured to death, who really did practice witchcraft.
Sarah Bishop ran a couple of taverns with her husband, and was in her forties when she was accused. More like roadhouses, her public houses were pitched just outside the jurisdictional limits of Salem Town and Salem Village. She sold hard cider made from sour apples (in those days all apples were sour) and the local kids liked to blow off steam there playing the forbidden game of shuffleboard and getting loaded.
Bridget had been accused earlier of bewitching her second husband to death, but acquitted through lack of evidence. She was known to enjoy vexing her neighbors (a great word: vex) and was said to have cursed a neighbor’s pig with a dirty look.
One of these women – we’re not sure witch, I mean, which – customarily wore showy garments, specifically a scarlet bodice. Utterly scandalous.
Evidence against Bridget included testimony from several men in the community who claimed she came to them at night and straddled them in their beds, even as their wives slept beside them, and they were not able to resist her. Or, did the cases also get confused and perhaps it was the younger Sarah who engaged in such spectral three-ways. Either way, it would appear the men of Salem were scared to death of the notion of a woman overpowering them in an intimate environment. Kind of puts you in mind of the stories, perhaps apocryphal, of female interrogators grilling suspected terrorists at Guantanamo while topless.
“By the beard of the Prophet! Please, I’ll tell you everything; just don’t make me see your breasts!”
Judge John Hathorne, whose progeny would include Nathaniel Hawthorne, is recorded as goading Bridget, “Are you a witch?” To which she replied if she were a witch he’d damned sure know about it. Judge Hathorne took that as a threat.
So here was a woman who intimidated men. And Sarah, another woman who flouted the norm, and pushed the boundary of conformity. If they have been confused in history, it’s no wonder.
One thing is certain; their nonconformity made them easy victims, both ended their days at the end of a rope.
So, what’s changed since 1692? We’re all agreed the Salem witch trials were an outrageous miscarriage of justice. Twenty people dead. A drop in the bucket if you consider the scale of atrocities that have followed, and all the victims people who didn’t conform, or just weren’t the right kind of people, because they didn’t believe in the right god, or didn’t look like the prevailing US, whoever they happened to be.
We’re living in scary times, but then, I think we always have. You just can’t write off someone who wants to control your beliefs, regulate what you do in your bedroom, or tell you with whom you can do it. Yeah, maybe they’re nuts, but enough of us have to stand up and call them out.
In the meantime, I think we ought to appreciate the weird, the eccentric, those among us who make us feel just a bit uncomfortable, lest we become the US who are set perpetually against them.
Friday, February 24, 2012
Violet Gordon Woodhouse (and Her Men)
I've been following the GOP debates lately with increasing shock and disbelief. Sometimes the things politicians say sound like satire. I know they're just pandering to their most vocal supporters, but their posturing sounds more like a Saturday Night Live skit than a debate among potential candidates for the highest office in the United States. Who are these men who think they deserve to be president? And who supports them and votes for them? They scare me, frankly. And not just them as individuals. Rich, narrow minded men with over inflated egos and enough money to buy their way into politics will always exist. No, what really scares me is the fact they've gotten as far as they have in the political arena, supported by people who agree with their increasingly narrow minded platforms.
I've noticed all political debates seem to devolve into discussions of morality, specifically women's morals. There's a lot of talk lately about birth control and abortion and putting an aspirin between one's knees to prevent pregnancy, ha ha. But it's not just in politics that we hear about how women today are bad, bad girls. There are warnings on the news about teenage girls "sexting" with boys and sending naked pictures of themselves through Facebook, which then get shared with everyone at school. There are the SlutWalks to protest the comments made by a Toronto police officer who said if college girls don't want to get assaulted they shouldn't dress like sluts. There are teen mom shows highlighting the worst of the over-dramatic worst. There are the sex-loving, dirty talking feminists speaking on college campuses and indoctrinating the next generation into their sex-fueled club of debauchery. There are the teachers and executive assistants getting caught making porn in the their free time and losing their jobs. And the list goes on... The message is that women today are wicked. Wicked!
The current crop of politicians and all of the news outlets (and probably your mother and grandmother) would have you believe that 2012 is the Year of the Slut. Or was it 2011? Or 2010? The good girl disappeared sometime in the past decade right? It's all gone to hell in a hand basket since the feminists took over in the 60s. Or was it when women got the right to vote in 1920? Whenever it started, it's only gotten worse and it's finally hit critical mass! And it's up to the GOP to get these bad girls under control. Now! Before it's too late for your daughter or granddaughter. (Cue the ominous music.)
Just when did women stop being quiet, submissive good girls and turn into outspoken, demanding sluts? Maybe someone can tweet that question during the next GOP debate. I'm sure they will be happy to support legislation to get women back in the home. After all, childless career women are responsible for the breakdown of the family and the downfall of our society. (And here I thought it was all Eve's fault.) Let's start by taking away their reproductive rights, shall we? Keeping them barefoot and pregnant should help keep them quiet. Sigh.
Speaking of childless career women, I don't know when Violet Gordon Woodhouse came on my radar, but I often think about her when I listen to politicians get up in arms about women's morals or women's reproductive rights or women's roles in society. I might have picked up a book about radical women at the bookstore and found Violet there. I seem to recall reading about her along with the likes of Mata Hari and Amelia Earhart. In any case, I had never heard of her until a few years ago. Have you?
[ETA: I found the book that introduced me to Violet. It's Seductress: Women Who Ravish the World and Their Lost Art of Love]
Violet Gordon Woodhouse was born in 1872 and died in 1948. She was an acclaimed British musician, proficient in the harpsichord and clavichord and she was considered to be a musical genius of her time. This is one reviewer's impression of her, based on the 1986 biography Violet: The Life and Loves of Violet Gordon Woodhouse:
"Violet Gordon Woodhouse was an expert. She knew how to get her needs met without compromising herself. She had the brass neck to lead her life as she wished but still avoid the condemnation of society. She had an imperiousness that would brook no opposition. But as long as she got her own way, there was little malice in Violet and she gave more than she received. She was one of these rare charismatic personalities who bring joy into people’s lives and leave the world a better place than they found it. "(Dr. Nick Read)
She sounds like a feminist to me.
Jessica Douglas-Home, her grandniece as well as her biographer, said this about her adventurous aunt:
Life enhancing people are rarely perfect--their flaws are part of their vitality and their fascination. Violet possessed an exquisite selfishness, but despite her well-deserved reputation for generosity, friendship and warmth, she could also be cold and critical. But those who loved her forgave her everything.
Besides her music and a certain charming, generous autocratic personality, Violet is known for something else. Something simply scandalous. She lived with four men.
Yes, this rich, talented woman had four "husbands." There is much speculation over how much (and what kind) of sex was had and who filled what roles and the fact that she apparently had a celibate relationship with her legal husband and how he might have felt about her other relationships and the fact that Violet was equally desired by women. Her personal life overshadows her professional musical accomplishments because Violet was a very bad girl before bad girls became so common. And boy howdy, that must have pissed off the men back in her day. (Well, all but the four men who lived with her.)
People didn't know what to make of Violet back at the turn of the twentieth century and they still wouldn't know what to make of her:
"Some women just have it, that magic; the ability to evoke adoration in others. Violet did. How else could she make four men fall in love with her so deeply that they devoted their lives to her. First there was Gordon, whom she married, then Bill, the love of her life and then Max and finally Dennis. With interruptions, they all lived together in a ménage a cinq until separated by death. Apparently, they didn’t seem unhappy with the ‘arrangement’, which for a time scandalised the sensitivities of others. It seems that they got on famously and each in their unique way serviced Violet’s needs. Gordon expressed fidelity, Bill romance, Max intellect and Dennis courage."(Dr. Nick Read)
Even contemporary writers who have lived to see the rise of feminism and birth control and Roe v. Wade and Madonna-- seem to sneer a bit when writing about Violet. She was "magic"-- how else could she make four men fall in love with her and be willing to share her? That only happens in dirty books written by wicked women!
Magic, my ass.
Violet had a progressive attitude toward marriage and relationships and she was able to find four equally open-minded men with whom to share her life. There was no magic, no mind control, no unwilling partners. The writer above wants to categorize each man, suggesting that none of them was more than a one-dimensional play toy, taking turns "servicing" Violet's particular needs at a particular time. Ridiculous. The men were successful and accomplished in their own right, complex individuals who chose to be in a complex relationship with a clearly complex woman. And guess what? They were happy. Or at least as happy as anyone anywhere in any kind of relationship can be happy.
In her New York Times review of Violet, Angeline Goreau wrote:
For years, I took it on faith that Tolstoy knew what he was talking about when he told us, ''All happy families are alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.'' But on the accumulating evidence of recent memoirs, I've come around to the view that unhappy families may be more alike than we've given them credit for. (It also occurs to me to wonder exactly which happy families Tolstoy had in mind. Perhaps they crowded the landscape in 19th-century Russia, but I wouldn't bet on it.)
We suffer still, I think, from the reigning idea that family happiness implies a certain lack of imagination. To this notion the life of Violet Gordon Woodhouse, told for the first time at length in ''Violet,'' a biography by her grandniece, Jessica Douglas-Home, offers a useful, if deeply quirky, corrective. Violet, who was officially known as Mrs. Gordon Woodhouse, lived with four ''husbands'' (only one of whom was her legal spouse, though the others unquestionably regarded themselves as married to Violet) in a household that was, oddly enough, at heart a happy one.
Violet's ménage a cinq was scandalous a hundred years ago-- and it's still scandalous in a society that blames the length of a woman's skirt for her sexual assault and argues against allowing women in combat zones because they're too emotional/fragile/weak. A society that freaks out over two men kissing on a television show but doesn't bat an eye when dismembered bodies are shown on the six o'clock news. A society that condemns politicians for their affairs, real or virtual, but devours every dirty detail that's fed to them by the news outlets.
Can you imagine what the GOP would make of a woman like Violet? They freak out over the idea of two men getting married-- what would they say about a woman who wanted to marry four men? Slut! Whore! That's just sick, right? A woman with four men! Who thinks this stuff is okay? Politicians--and those who enjoy the likes of Jerry Springeresque talk shows-- just love to wallow around in the (often fictional) salacious details of a story and decide what's moral and immoral, don't they? And then they like to inflict those beliefs on the rest of us.
We don't know what Violet was up to behind closed doors and we don't need to know anymore than we need to know what our neighbors are doing in the privacy of their own bedrooms. Everybody gets so hung up on the sex in an open marriage or polyamorous relationship and we rarely have a clue what is really going on-- and the truth is, it's not really about sex at all. It's about connections. It's about creating bonds and building nontraditional families. It's about love. It's about happiness. (Okay, it might be a little bit about the sex.) What we do know about Violet is that she loved four men enough to want to live them with them all and that she was generous in sharing her love and affection. Her choice. Their choice. And they were all happy with their choice. It didn't need to be debated or legislated or judged by men who buy the silence of their mistresses or cast aside one wife in favor of a younger model or hide their homosexual affairs, all while railing against immorality.
Violet Gordon Woodhouse had the money, success and prestige to be able to thumb her nose at society and live the life she chose--something many women can't do even now for fear of penalties ranging from losing their jobs to losing custody of their children to losing their lives. And it's all just so much hypocrisy in a society that is more comfortable with portrayals of violence than sex, that prefers to hide and deny their indiscretions, and feels righteous about voting for people who would attempt to legislate morality.
Politics should never be about social issues and politicians should not get to decide what is moral, and therefore legal. And brave, passionate women like Violet Gordon Woodhouse should be able to do whatever they damn well please without somebody somewhere calling them sluts and trying to legislate their rights away. The fact that there are people in the United States without homes, without jobs, without education and without health insurance while politicians are yammering away on television about birth control pills and immorality is not only ridiculous, it's offensive.
I have a feeling Violet could have taught our current crop of politicians a thing or two about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Wednesday, February 22, 2012
The Cave Where God Was Born
He stops to look at things and smell the air which is also full of life and full of sounds. He hears his mother talking beside the fire pit at the edge of the grass. His mother is sitting naked with his baby sister sucking at her limp teat. The baby is starting to doze, but mother is talking to another woman who is also almost naked because it’s a hot time of the year. The tribe has been awake from before dawn but everyone seems to be falling asleep on their feet from the heat. A few men with stick spears are standing together keeping an eye on the trees for any long nosed lions prowling the shadows.
His mother is talking to the woman, her cousin. She’s telling her a story of what her sister’s girl did this morning that annoyed her. The air is full of little stinging flies and stories. She looks up at him as he passes. “Hey – he’s looking for you.”
He listens to her voice go back to telling the story and then goes down to the great flowing river. She no longer tells him to be careful or worries much over him so he knows he is becoming a man. He stands about four feet and a few inches in his tied over moccasins, and wears a chewed animal hide around his waist, tied with a simple rope. His hairless skin is clean and his thick head of hair is brushed back neatly by his mother and reaches to his shoulders. There are itchy little bugs in his hair which sometimes she picks out for him while telling him stories.
Down by the water in the taller reeds he hears the heavy rhythmic panting of a man and the urgent meat slap sounds his loins make against the woman. The boy is used to hearing these sounds any old day. As he passes by he sees them on their knees together, the woman in front with her face pressed down in the grass as the man kneels behind her with his hairy knees between her knees. The man glances up and seeing its only the boy and not an animal goes back to working the woman, wrapping his arms tightly under her belly as he works her.
The naked woman with her butt pressed up tight against the man’s groin is his aunt. The handsome young man was cut badly by a big pig last month on the leg just above the ankle and his aunt took care of the wound so the leg didn’t go bad. She saved his leg. He’s giving her back for the leg.
By the water’s edge the boy kneels down and peers down into the water weeds. A few inches below are the water people, the tiny round tailed things that live in eggs like eyeballs and then burst first and sometimes the fish eat them, but there are too many to eat all of them. Even so, a good big fish is watching them to see if any stray. The water people are too smart for him and stay together where he can’t get at them. If he had a sharp stick he would try for the fish.
No one strays. To be alone is to become prey. The worst thing is to be alone, the direst punishment is to be cast out by your people which in a world full of lions and panthers and cave bears and evil spirits is like a death sentence. The most important thing is to take care of each other’s spirit. No one strays.
Kneeling by the water the boy watches the water people loafing, moving their tails. Across the great river he sees the men with their weapons circling the edge of the bison herd. Watching for a stray. Watching for one alone.
In the weeds he hears the meat skin slap! Slap! slapping speed up until the man makes a desperate grunt. Everything turns still and then woman moans and then laughs hysterically. The weeds wobble as the two bodies tumble down with rough panting sounds.
He watches the animals across the river. The world is so full of big animals. Animals with horns on their nose. Big bison with horns over their ears to fight off the big cats and the bears. And then the horses, long nosed, long legged, fast and full of dignity.
He tosses a leaf at the big fish to see if it will eat it. The fish goes on watching the water people. The leaf goes down stream and the boy follows it with his eyes, wondering if the leaf is lonely and where it goes off all alone and far from the tree.
As he begins to leave he passes his aunt and the man laying in a heap on the ground. The man’s thing is still standing up, wet and sticky purple in the sun. His aunt is gently holding the man’s thing in her fist. It worries the boy. He can’t make his thing stand up when he wants it to. His older sister is curious why men make their things stand up when they like someone and why the women say it feels good. She tried to make it stand up for him so she could see how it feels inside but his thing is still too small and soft and it didn’t work and it all seemed strange somehow so she said something mean and they stopped. He knows it works because he woke up one morning when he had to pee bad and it was standing straight up but then it went back down so he could pee. It wouldn’t come back. The men won’t tell him how to make it stand up hard and straight when he wants it to. They say don’t worry.
“He was by here,” says his aunt. “He was looking for you.”
The boy nods and glances at the man’s big hard thing in her hand and worries again. He waves to his aunt and goes back to where the cave is.
The cave is full of spirits. The people don’t live in the cave. They only go there to hear the spirit stories and dance in the dark with fire. Only the spirits live in the cave. He takes off his leather shoes and leaves them at the cave entrance. There are other shoes here too. By the shoes there’s a fire going and thick sticks in the fire. He takes one for the light and goes in.
Far inside the man who talks to the spirits is working. He has a seashell with animal fat mixed with flowers and berry juice. He has a special stick burned black by the fire and he’s making pictures of the horses on the wall. The boy holds his torch up higher but it goes out. He picks up a sharp rock and scrapes off the burned part. The man stops and watches him.
“I was talking to the water people,” says the boy.
“What do they say?”
“They say the horse people will be leaving soon, moving down where the grass is better. I’m worried.”
“Why?” says the man with the charcoal stick and the dish of paint.
“My thing doesn’t stand.”
“When you’re older,” says the man, “the spirit of the Bison Woman will enter you and your thing will stand.” The man puts down the dish and pulls a torch from the wall. “Come see.”
The boy follows the man to a small place off the side of the cave and the man lifts the light higher so he can see. “There.”
He had painted the Bison Woman Spirit on a white rock. She was a woman from the waist down and a Bison from the waist up. The boy feels his thing stir and become heavy as he looks at her. “I feel her inside me.” he says
“The Bison Woman will come to you soon,” says the man. “Give me your stick.” The boy hands him the clean torch and he lights it from his own. The boy moves forward to take the stick and his foot sinks in the soft squelchy mud.
Together they hear the sound of heavy wet breathing and the soft padding of feet in the dirt. The breathing is beside him in the dark and he lifts his torch.
Standing next to the boy is a huge Dire Wolf as tall as his shoulder. The wolf’s long tongue is hanging out between its teeth. The boy holds his hand out in easy reach of the animals jaws as a sign of trust and the great wolf sniffs it and looks at the man. His tongue zips inside his teeth with a slurp. He takes a step and his paw sinks in the wet mud.
“He was here looking for you,” says the man.
In the Chauvet caves by the Ardeche river in France are the oldest works of human art ever found. The cave paintings were made over a period of 32,000 to 20,000 years ago during which time the cave was intermittently inhabited by Man, before a landslide sealed off the cave mouth, preserving the paintings like a time capsule until their discovery in 1994. Beyond their scientific value, they are considered of themselves among the greatest artworks in the world.
Among the paintings is an image of a nude woman from the waist down, and a Bison from the waist up. The Minotaur image may have been an object of shamanic worship and the most ancient evidence ever found of spiritual activity by early hominids. It is the first and oldest image of a human being ever found. It may be the beginning of Man's earliest religious yearnings.
Near the image of the Bison Woman is the single footprint of a very young adolescent boy. Next to, and parallel to the boy’s footprint is the footprint of a gigantic wolf. No one can explain if the animal was hunting the boy, or if the huge wolf was the boy’s companion.
Monday, February 20, 2012
He'd have to be caged. I imagine him pacing, snarling. The lighting would be soft, maybe even gaslight. Something that flickered. Something that cast as much shadow as light. And the place we met would be cold and hard. There'd be no place for me to sit so all I could do is lean against a stone wall that wept like a Madonna icon. The floor would be stone. Sounds would echo. Drippy, wet sounds. In a burst of frustration, he'd grip the bars and shake them so violently that I'd shrink back.
Then maybe he'd laugh. Maybe a maniac's howl, but a soft chuckle would be much more terrifying.
That's one thing I've learned about horror. It's a quiet medium. Everything is hushed. The soft whirl of the air conditioner sends shivers over your skin before the cool waft of air even reaches you, and you listen so hard with every fiber of your being as if your life depended on it, because it may.
He'd smile. Maybe beckon me over. "Come on, love." Rage over, his voice would be silken persuasion.
He'd pat his tradesman's pockets to remember where he'd placed the lure, or maybe hold out a fine pure white handkerchief, embroidered with initials. "Would you like a grape?" All the while smiling. One likes to think there'd be something obvious about him, like gross teeth and blackened fingernails, but he could have smelled sweetly of Bay Rhum and his shoes might have gleamed in the lamplight. He should have been menacing, but he might have been pleasantly vague. But the one thing that would have to be the same was his smile. It wouldn't have reached his eyes, because they are the windows of the soul, and his soul was an oubliette. Except that no one will ever forget him.
When the grapes don’t work, he'd probably lower his voice into a whisper.
In horror, everything is hushed so your imagination, which filled lonely days with invisible friends and told you stories and made moonbeams into ropes you could climb up to the stars, can suddenly turn on you and sadistically fill every shadow with things you haven't seen since your childhood nightmares.
"Would you like to know?" he'd say. "One step closer for every question."
An exhilarated rush would flash over my skin. Gooseflesh and tingle. Oh yes. I couldn't help it. Anticipation.
What to ask first? "Only the five?"
I'd tell you what he said, but knowledge is dangerous.
"Some people say you died in St Louis, Missouri. Others say Broadmoor."
"You forgot to take a step."
I'm worried now, because things are getting hazy and I'm afraid he'll slip away from me as he has everyone else. He's elusive, this one. Lost to history.
"I'll tell you everything," he promises. His pupils are unlike any I've ever seen. Like mirrors. They alone shine through the gathering mist.
The scent would change from the stone to the stink of poverty and somewhere not far off, a fouled river. Only the coppery stench would linger, and it would be growing stronger.
I lean forward so it looks as if I took a bigger step than the Mother-My-I baby step.
"Which letters did you write? Did journalists fake them all?" In a post-Murdoch world, I trust journalists about as much as I trust my interview subject.
"That was two questions, so you are forfeit them both."
My feet would shuffle on the cold stone floor, bringing me closer. His hands, clean or filthy, might disappear into shadow as the gaslight failed to hold back the mist. Cold drifts of fog would appear first almost like low garden gates no higher than my knees, but the closer I'd get, the more insistent they'd become, like thorned vines gripping my clothes and pulling me back. Did the cell bars become the fog or evaporate into them? I can't recall the last moment they were distinct, real, there.
"Was the writing in blood on the wall your work?"
"That's my Polly."
"That's not an answer. You owe me one."
He'd flash anger then at my saucy tone.
"Who are you?" That's what we're all dying to know.
His fingers would be scalpels and butcher's knives. He'd ignore my question, insistent now, his voice tinged with sexual need.
"You know. I'm Jack."
Sunday, February 19, 2012
Rendezvous in Paris
"I named my first car after you." As soon as the words are out of my mouth, I want to snatch them back. My clumsy attempt at homage comes out as insensitivity, given the tragedies of her children's demise, and her own. My companion simply smiles, though, her expression a bit vague - the effects, perhaps, of the vin ordinaire we've shared (one glass so far for me, three for her).
"That's flattering, I suppose," she says finally. "Though I've never cared much for machines..." The lowering sun slants between the narrow buildings, drawing bars of gold on the cobblestones. A gaggle of primary schoolers erupt from one side of the square, tumble past us, and disappear in a cloud of shrieks and laughter on the other. Her moist eyes follow their progress, but her lips still quirk up at the corners. "The natural exuberance of childhood," she murmurs. "I still feel it."
She's pulled her silver-streaked hair into a classical bun, but stray locks have escaped to tangle upon her thin shoulders. The many layers of her clothing, dove gray, hide her body from me, but as she shifts in her chair to pick up her glass, I sense strength and grace, a purity of form that illuminates even her smallest movements. She drinks deep. I stare at the ruby drop that lingers for a moment on her upper lip, before her tongue darts out to gather it in. The tiny, casual gesture sends bolts of heat to my sex. I understand why she fascinated so many men - and women.
"Please, go on." She turns her full attention to me. I feel blood rushing into my cheeks. Laughter bubbles in her voice. "Why in the world would you christen your automobile with my name?"
"Freedom. That's what you've always been for me, a beacon of freedom in a world of constraint. You followed your heart, your vision, your passion. You didn't care what people thought of you. You defied convention. I've always wanted to be that sort of person."
"So why not be?" She leaned forward, fingers fluttering across my cheek, leaving trails of electricity in their wake. "No one can give you freedom, my dear. You must seize it for yourself."
"You make it sound so easy."
"No, it's never easy. You have to be brave. There will always be people who condemn you, who label you as trivial, or immoral. Who put obstacles in your path. Who try to bury you. It's far easier to give in and do as you're told. In the end, though, their approval means nothing. It won't compensate you for frittering away your soul."
I nodded. I already know the truth in what she says - otherwise, I wouldn't be here, in the waning Paris afternoon, ordering another round. Isadora winks at the slender young waiter who sets her goblet down on the table in front of her. He stumbles, almost spilling the contents into her lap. "Such lovely dark curls," she comments as he scurries back to safety of the bar. "I wonder if he has the same sort of hair on his chest. Drink quickly, Lisabet, so we can get him to come back."
"Tell me about your dancing," I urge, needing to change the subject, simultaneously embarrassed and aroused by her frank sexuality. "When did you first start? Where did you get your ideas?"
"I probably danced in my mother's womb. I don't remember ever not dancing. It wasn't something I chose. The dance chose me."
"I think I know what you mean," I respond. No one ever really taught me how to write. It was just something I've always done, a part of who I am.
"The Greeks really did understand - making the Muses into goddesses. There's a core of the divine in every art. And every artist has a touch of divine madness." She giggles, shaking her head till her long hair springs free from its chaste arrangement and tumbles over her breasts. I ache to run my fingers through those wild locks, working out the knots. I imagine stroking a finger tip across her nipple, sensing the stiffening response. I wonder what the wine would taste like, sampled from her laughing red mouth.
"And what about your dancing, my dear? I know that words are your primary medium but I sense that your lovely petite body craves movement."
I want to drop through the pavement. I want to gather her in my arms. I stall, sipping the blood-hued liquid and feeling liquid courage course through me.
"Sometimes - sometimes I dance. Sometimes I just forget myself and let the music take me over, control me." I don't tell her that the surest way for a man to seduce me is to dance with me.
"No, no, it's not the music. It doesn't come from outside. It's Spirit, that spark of truth, of the gods, inside all of us. The rhythm calls it forth, perhaps. You must let your guard down, let it out."
"I try. Sometimes I succeed. And then, the joy...."
Isadora's face is luminous in the dusk. "Yes. Nothing can quench that bliss. Poverty, illness, death... none of them has any power in the face of that glorious perfect grace. The bad things don't vanish, oh no, but somehow the dance transforms them. I transform them, weaving them all into the Art."
She's taken my hand now. She leans forward until I feel her warm breath on my face. "That's the secret," she whispers. "The body, this weak, misshapen, gross thing we lug around for half a century or more, is the crucible where we transmute base existence into transcendent beauty."
She grins as though mocking her own seriousness and waves at the boy cowering inside the café. The slight motion is so eloquent it brings an ache to my chest. "Garçon! L'addition, s'il vous plait!"
"A pity he's so shy," she adds, in a conspiratorial tone. "Ah well. He's probably too young to know much about love anyway."
Our check settled, we rise from our seats, so perfectly in unison that we might have been choreographed. Gas lights flicker into life around the square. Overhead the sky gleams a translucent teal. The café has filled up while we talked; the chatter of the other patrons is loud around us but velvet stillness has invaded my heart. I wait upon my companion.
Isadora surveys me, pleasure obvious in her expression. Desire surges through me, leaving me sweaty and trembling. She flings her scarlet silk scarf behind her and reaches for my hand. "My pension is a few blocks away. Shall we walk?"
Wednesday, February 15, 2012
Clever by Half: The Coming Together Series of Alessia Brio
I want to say thank you to her on behalf of so many of us she has given a chance to, and given us an opportunity to do something we love to do in a way that means something. And while I’m at it I want to thank Lisabet too, for what these two ladies did for me. They gave me a chance. They took me seriously.
I come from a fun and disreputable tradition. My literary heroes were the old pulp fiction writers, names to conjure with like Raymond Chandler, Richard Matheson, Robert E Howard and Ray Bradbury. They wrote one-shot wonders for magazines made from cheap wood chip paper with lurid covers of fair maidens in peril often dressed in brass brassieres and little else. For two bits, a factory worker or school kid could buy a world of stern jawed heroes, plucky heroines, exotic villains, and bloody murders he could roll up and stuff in a lunch box or a jacket pocket. They were written for the common man who had no patience with bullshit or dullness. The old pulp writers had one commandment and one commandment only – Thou Shalt Not Bore Thy Reader.
Thou shalt not bore thy reader, nor thy reader’s children, or thy reader’s servant, or thy readers ox or thy reader’s ass, or bore anything that is thy reader’s, no, no, no. Amen. I think it says that in the Bible somewhere. If it doesn’t it ought to.
The old pulps have died out, but to my way of thinking Alessia Brio has brought them back in her series of Coming Together Anthologies. These are the children of the pulps, the prurient and promiscuous carriers of their DNA with their chocolates box scatter mash of stories by different writers with all their different passions – and different demons. A wise person told me early on, kid, love your inner demons. They only look scary because they’re the guardians of your treasures.
Alessia has taken apprentice writers like me and given us a spotlight where we try out our stuff, and make no mistake, seeing your stuff published in some way or other makes a huge difference in your motivation, even when it’s the stuff you wouldn’t freely show your mother. And not just the wanna-bes like me. Alessia has assembled some of the elite professional writers of this genre and given them a big stage. Think - Rock n Roll Hall of Fame induction concert with the Rolling Stones and Springsteen playing side by side with their fan bands.
I have Remittance Girls Coming Together book, and it rides around in my eReader where I break it out at odd moments. These are stories you won’t find just anywhere. It takes guts to take a chance on them, and Alessia has guts.
I want to encourage you to look at her book series. They are a world of wonders, lovers and troubled souls you can carry in your pocket like the old pulps. They will never waste your time and they will make your heart bigger for reading them.
Lisabet is hosting a Blog Bash on her own web site, celebrating Alessia Brio’s Coming Together project and many of the writers are posting there daily. Lisabet doesn’t often plug her stuff but I will – meet Alessia Brio and the people who write these stories to do good in the world right here:
And as for Alessia, this is the Facebook Page to get acquainted with this great series:
and the web page and complete catalog (including zombies and . . . tentacle porn??)
And you writers reading this, whip it out boys (and girls). If you've got the stuff, you might get lucky.
Tuesday, February 14, 2012
What can I, obvious disaster area, share with other writers? Aside from: don't fall asleep with a towel on your head, because it makes your hair explode? Or: a cheese toastie is not dinner, and nor is that half bag of Doritos you found behind a pile of DVDs? Or: when you feel yourself falling asleep, move the laptop off the bed or suffer the consequences?
1. If your instincts tell you not to make a certain mildly controversial comment - on Twitter or on a blog or on Goodreads - don't do it. Just don't. Even if nothing happens to you because of the comment, you'll always suspect it was because of the comment and destroy your own immortal soul over it.
2. Try to be upbeat, when social mediarising. Nobody likes a whiny crybaby, and I know this because I'm a whiny crybaby and everyone far prefers when I work my angst out in the form of weird comments about Armie Hammer's ass.
3. If your writing isn't going well, try one of the following: write something else that you don't care about for a while; switch to longhand; free write for half an hour and just let whatever comes, come.
4. Don't ever let yourself be so desperate that you just go with any old publisher or agent. You are worth more than that. Remember: a bad publisher/agent is worse than no publisher/agent at all.
5. Pay attention to the market. I know people say - no, you should only write what you love! Go with that 500 page opus about mountain goats. The readers will come, because you're being so groundbreaking! But those people are fools. Only a fool pays no attention whatsoever to the market. And there is always, always a way to write what you love, in a manner that other people might love, too. For example, I prefer to write about submissive men. They are not popular. But writing a menage story about a submissive man and a dominant man IS popular. Be smart, not pretentious and obscure just for the sake of being pretentious and obscure.
6. Listen to reviewers. Again, this is not advice you often hear. People will tell you - ignore reviewers! They're all idiots! But that's simply not true. Yes, there are reviews you should ignore. There will be comments about your work that make no sense whatsoever, that are clearly about reviewer preference and nothing more, that say more about the reviewer than they do about your work.
But there will also be reviews that raise completely valid points about your work that you would be a fool to ignore - as much as you'd be a fool to ignore the advice of your editor. Yes, reviews hurt. They sting. But the sting only lasts if there is nothing you can do about the words being spoken to you. If you can do something, then do it. If a hundred people keep saying that you overuse the word rectum, stop using it. Think carefully: is it really worth another bad review, over the word rectum? Don't be precious. Be smart.
7. Don't put all your hopes and dreams in one basket. If you pin everything on one single MS that you've spent eight hundred years working on, it's going to be an almighty blow when everyone says no. It's less of one, if you've got other things already in mind. If you're willing to put that book under the bed, and try with another one. And another one. And another one. Have those bullets ready, then fire that fooking gun.
Same goes for publishers, too. If you get comfy at one place and don't try for any others, what do you think happens when the comfy place closes? And don't ever say it can't happen to you. My publisher had been around for 15 years and was backed by Random House.
It's gone, now.
8. Never give up. No matter how much you want to, no matter how bad you feel or how awful it is that someone said this at someplace, don't give up. You can do it. I believe in you, even when you don't believe in yourself.
Monday, February 13, 2012
The Big Reveal
I was thrilled when I saw this week's topic. What advice helped us as writers and do we pay it forward? Do we have an obligation to help? Is there such a thing as giving away too many secrets?
Writers will often tell new writers that the only way to improve is to sit down and write. That's the big secret. I've given it away. Every other writer has given it away. It sounds too simplistic though so it's routinely ignored. And why should you believe something like that? You just know there's a vast conspiracy to keep the real secrets from you.
Thank goodness I'm willing to share the real truth.
1) You are a special snowflake. You are a rebel special snowflake, and no rules will ever hold you down.
2) Everyone else on earth is trying to hold you down.
3) They've also conspired to make sure your work of art is never published. Really. We had a meeting. Skype makes worldwide conspiracies a breeze.
4) You have more intense feelings than any other person on earth. You feel everything so keenly that anyone who dares to suggest a single change to your deathless prose is actually attacking you as a person and they're mean, and evil, and have no taste, and they suck, and they probably wouldn't know the best story ever if it was printed on solid gold plates and titled "The Best Story, Ever."
5) The only reason anyone judges a writing contest is to steal your ideas and to make sure their friends win prizes.
6) The only reason a person becomes a literary agent is to steal your ideas and your money.
7) The only reason anyone becomes a publisher is to steal your ideas and drag your delicate artistic soul down into the scummy cesspool they live in.
8) Every other writer who has ever been published sold out and is merely a hack whilst you epitomize the height of artistic endeavor.
9) Grammar is just an excuse to be mean to you.
10) So are spelling rules.
11) Ordinary stories follow an expected arc. You write extraordinary stories and your readers will surely be grateful for the non-conformist structure.
12) If it's a real surprise twist, no one should see it coming. It should totally throw out all the rules of the world you set up before, because, it's, like, a twist!
13) You didn't rip off a highly popular novel. You improved it and made it your own. And you totally changed the character's names with different vowels and stuff. Besides, no one owns anything. Real artists share.
14) You should have been born in another century. You would have been worshiped.
15) You look fabulous in that tin foil hat.
Okay, so maybe I've had my fill of Lady ImAllMysticalAndShit types. It makes me a bit sarcastic. (A bit? Me? *gasp of astonishment* No.) Because the thing I find the most frustrating is people who say "I want to write, but..." But WHAT? A pack of roving werewolves ripped off your arms and stole your speech recognition software? That doesn’t fly, honey, because I know a writer without a hand. I know writers with dyslexia so bad they have to dictate their stories. I know writers who have suffered debilitating strokes. Guess what? They're still telling themselves stories and finding a way to communicate those tales to others, so I'm pretty sure you can too. If you truly can't, I have to see your excuse note. With video. And a copy of the police report from the werewolf attack. Because I'm pretty sure that excuse note will be the finest piece of fiction ever crafted and I do enjoy a ripping yarn. (not to be confused with a werewolf ripping off your arms yarn, although...)
Lord knows I understand writer's block. I understand periods of not writing. What I don't understand is not ever trying in the first place. Turn off your damn TV. Demand one hour a day to yourself. Trust me, no one is going to begrudge you one personal hour a day on even one a week. No one except maybe you. Stop the excuses. Stop holding yourself back. Don't have a story? Fine. Then work on a writing exercise. No time spent writing is ever wasted. Even if your computer crashes or your pad of paper bursts into flame before you can save anything, you did not waste your time, because you practiced your craft.
So, really, just write.
And take off that tin foil hat. Real writers wear berets. (Charlotte says so)
Sunday, February 12, 2012
By Lisabet Sarai
I'm not a great writer, and never will be. Please, don't object – this isn't false modesty, just realism.
I'm a competent writer, with excellent nuts and bolts skills. Give me a theme and I can spin a plausible yarn that will amuse or arouse my readers. My plots are for the most part believable and consistent, without the truck-sized holes one sometimes sees. My sentences generally read well. My characters might not jump off the page, but they're not cardboard either.
Still, I know I'll never win awards, never be called a genius, never write something that will change my readers' lives. I just don't have anything that important to say – possibly because I've lived nearly six decades without experiencing any great trauma or tragedy. My tales aren't mindless smut, but they don't have the emotional or moral depth of great literature. They're basically throw-away entertainment. When I die, I will not leave an enduring body of work behind me. Oh, I've got a pretty long back list, don't get me wrong, and I hope it will continue to grow, but I doubt that anyone will have heard of Lisabet Sarai ten or twenty years in the future.
That's one reason why I work so hard on behalf of other authors, especially those new to the publishing game. Maybe, just maybe, one of the authors for whom I do crits or whom I edit will turn out to be a truly Great Author. And then I'll feel as though I've done a bit to help make that happen.
I'm better at mentoring and critiquing than I am at writing, and believe me, I realize these are valuable skills. I try to apply them for the benefit of my colleagues. I know a few authors whom I really admire, who truly have the GA Potential, but still have difficulties with grammar, or pacing, or coherency. I'm pleased when I can assist them in smoothing the rough edges of their jewels.
Sometimes I fantasize about winning the Pulitzer Prize. Hey, I'd be thrilled with an EPPIE! My identity isn't tied up in those dreams, though. I've always written, but I never envisioned myself as a Writer with a capital 'W'. So honestly, it doesn't bother me – too much – to acknowledge my limitations.
If one of the authors I've worked with, though, won a prize, I'd be over the moon. I imagine their work, becoming classics, receiving the accolades they so justly deserve. If that ever happened, well, that would be my true legacy – not the slick and superficial novels and stories I list on my website.
And honestly, I'm okay with that. I don't need fame to be happy – luckily, since I'm certain I'll never be famous, at least not for my writing! The knowledge that I've contributed to the creation of something with lasting value is enough.
And speaking of contributions, let me add a quick plug for the Coming Together charitable erotica imprint. Writing and editing for Coming Together is another way I “pay it forward”. All through February, I'm having a Coming Together event called “Share the Love” over at my blog. Every day I'm hosting a different CT author. They're talking about why they support Coming Together, sharing provocative excerpts from their stories, and in many cases giving away free books or other prizes. Please drop by and join in the fun.
Friday, February 10, 2012
Work? Nah, I'm Just a Writer.
I have not had a full-time job in over 20 years. I have, however, had a series of part-time jobs, some of which were in the 30+ range, some of which were concurrent with other jobs. I have also been a part-time student and a full-time student pursuing both Bachelor and Master's degrees. Over the past two years, I've been become a mother twice over. In the midst of all the jobs and education and babies, I've been a writer since forever and an anthology editor since 2009.
The lack of a full-time job makes me seem like a slacker to many, including myself. I take my writing seriously, but those who don't write have no concept of how I spend my time. Or that it truly is work. This might explain my driving need to say yes to every project, every contract, every opportunity. The truth is, I'm extremely lucky and very grateful that I don't have a full-time job. I am able to write, to edit, to spend time with my babies. My schedule is flexible and fluid-- and that often translates into me working at 1 AM, as I have more than one night this week, because I have a part-time babysitter and full-time writing and editing commitments.
Just because writing is my calling, something I would do even if I won the lottery (which, to be honest, I feel as if I've won by being able to write), it is still work. It is hard, laborious, exhausting, disappointing, frustrating work. I could walk out of the coffee shop right now and find a job where I would work less and make more. Hell, I don't even have to leave the coffee shop. I could work behind the counter and make more. That's the truth. But we're not talking about our writing work this week, we're talking about the work that pays the bills. And I'm afraid I don't have much to say on the topic. I'm also afraid the people I respect the most-- the authors on this blog, my writing friends who work just as hard at I do and also have "real" jobs-- won't respect me.
Here's the truth that both motivates me and embarrasses me: I don't have to work. I don't have to earn a penny this year or next. Maybe sometime in the future I will need to put all of this education and knowledge to real use at a real full-time job with real work hours, but it will be after my husband retires from the military. It hasn't always been this way, but his 25 year career provides a comfortable life for us, even with babies. I am lucky we don't require a second income. Certainly, we could spend the money if I made it, if writing and editing were more lucrative than they really are or if I suddenly lost my mind and decided to be an accountant or a nurse or a retail manager-- anything that pays better than writing fiction, which is pretty much everything. But our bills are paid, there's money in savings and college funds and we are reasonably happy with the stuff that we have. In fact, we probably have too much stuff by some standards. We don't currently need the money of a second full-time career and I don't want to be away from my babies 40+ hours a week or forced to sacrifice my precious writing hours in order to buy more stuff.
So. That's my secret, which isn't so secret because most people know where I am on most weekdays--and it's not in an office. My work ethic is such that I would never be comfortable not working, but how I define work is not dictated by a paycheck. Don't get me wrong, I'm not the type to do without everything in order to pursue my writing. But I am lucky enough to be able to choose the things I enjoy over the things that pay the most. It is something I am grateful for on a daily basis. Saying I don't have to work is not the same as saying I don't do anything, though there are those who may look at my life and think I've got the cushiest deal around.
My lack of a full-time job is a conscious decision. I choose (we choose) a lifestyle that is conducive to a single income. Sure, I make money writing and editing-- sometimes I'm pleasantly surprised by a royalty check-- but anyone who has ever done this writing gig knows you can't count on it. Contracts dry up, markets turn fickle, editors have babies and retire... there are no guarantees. Our lifestyle is not extravagant, nor is it impoverished. I am not a starving writer, not matter how much street cred that title would give me. (If any.) We are solidly middle class. I drive a 20 year old car I love, but a new one would be nice, too. But not having a car payment is nicer. And not having to work at a job I only tolerate is nicest of all. We bought our house over a decade ago, before the housing market boomed. Our mortgage is reasonable-- and less than friends who've bought smaller homes in recent years. We considered moving before we had children, to a bigger/older house in a funkier, more urban neighborhood. I balked at the inflated prices and the knowledge that a substantially higher mortgage would provide us with what we already had, just more of it. So my income is discretionary, a nice cushion for those months we come up short (like December) or to cover unexpected expenses. A royalty check from my first book served as a down payment on our current house, a writing check paid for my oldest's second birthday party. And so it goes.
I willingly make choices in order to be able to avoid "real" full-time work. My luxuries are iced mochas and the occasional lunch or movie with a friend, not designer clothes and sparkly baubles. Does it sound like I'm trying to justify my slacker existence as a writer/editor/mom? Perhaps I am, though I try not to. I know it's about luck as much as it is about choices and priorities. I was raised to believe I should always be able to take care of myself-- that I shouldn't rely on a husband or anyone else to support me. And yet, here I am. I married a sailor who made less than I did and stayed married to him as his career progressed. A career that is somewhat economy-proof, I might add. His income provides for a lot of things, but most of all it provides me with the choice to not work. That is priceless.
But it's that ominous lecture from my my mother that all men leave, that life is hard, that I will have to take care of myself, that nags at me. I have degrees I don't really need, in case I someday do. (Plus, I really like school.) Right now, I am a writer, editor and mother. There is no time for anything else unless I want to put my children in daycare full-time. (In truth, I would pay less for full-time daycare than I do for a part-time babysitter in my home. This is also my choice and the reason for the 1 AM nights.) I have worked in a library and taught college, both of which I would consider doing again if I needed to make more money or if my boys were school age. I miss teaching and I miss the library, but neither job is my calling. I spend my time-- babysitting hours, after babies' bedtime hours, weekend hours, late night hours--doing the only thing I have ever wanted to do. Writing. Editing is a subheading of the publishing category and it also fulfills a need in me-- and it's covers the babysitter. Barely.
I have often contemplated what I would do if I were single and had to rely on my own income. You know, just in case it ever happened. There are no guarantees, right? I would likely be teaching or working in a library or pursuing more lucrative writing and editing (nonfiction, technical). I would work just as many hours as I do now (actually, probably less) making a lot more money doing something I don't love-- at least not the way I love writing fiction. But that's just so much daydreaming about a life I don't have-- until I read things like this that make me feel like I need to run out and apply for a full-time gig doing anything but writing just to justify my existence to people who would judge me:
"You tell most people what you do and you get this look — it’s a look that perfectly contains a tempest of information, a tangle of thoughts (and none of them good). You get a mixture of, Oh, he’s one of those, or, Look, another hipster-slacker-socialist-asshole stealing all our precious unemployment, or, He doesn’t look like he’s starving so he must have a trust fund keeping him alive, or, Ugh, that’s not a real job. Swamp logger, that’s a real job. Writer’s just something you say when you like to smoke drugs all day. It’s really quite disheartening. You get those looks often enough it starts to crack your egg a little bit, dontcha know?" ~ Chuck Wendig
But then that moment of insanity passes and I am grateful I have a choice to work full-time at the only job I've ever wanted to do. Despite the skeptical looks. Despite the snide comments. Despite the nagging urge to justify my existence to people who hate their jobs. Despite my own insane work ethic that has me sleeping less than 6 hours in order to meet deadlines... But whatever the future brings in terms of contracts (or lack thereof) or the need for a second household income, I am grateful that today I am a writer and an editor.
(Do read the rest of Chuck's hilarious 25 Reasons That Writers Are Bug-Fuck Nuts. You will laugh. You will cry. You will nod in agreement.)
Thursday, February 9, 2012
plowing more than one field
"Work is the curse of the drinking class."
"Behold the lilies of the field. They delve not, neither do they spin."
"Lucky you." (This line is often spoken by non-teachers & non-writers when they find out that my teaching job only requires me to be in the classroom for certain hours.)
I am typing this at 8:00 a.m. local time, after staying up until 4:00 this morning, moving every movable thing out of the kitchen and first-floor bathroom in the house I share with my female spouse so the renovators can come in, tear down and replace everything (cupboards, countertops, floor, ceiling) while we are in Cuba for 2 weeks, attending the wedding of some Cuban musician friends.
Cubans understand work (saben por que & como trabajar?). They won't see us doing it, so they will see us as norteamericanas ricas, rich bitches with endless leisure time.
I have to bring 2 thick sheafs of student essays with me so I can grade them before we return. I dearly hope (please, Creator or Fates or Loas) to find time to finish my novella, which has been stalled for months because I haven't had a spare moment to work on it.
So how have I been wasting my time? By teaching, grading, dealing with students who visit my office in despair once they realize that they probably don't know enough English to pass a mandatory literature-and-composition course. Yet the university keeps recruiting students in non-English-speaking countries, not providing enough language training when they get here, and letting them register for (and pay for, a very important point) classes that are intended for the fluent. No one wants these classes to be "watered down."
Whatever the instructors do is guaranteed to make someone indignant.
I get paid a comfortable salary, partly because of my seniority in this job. How ungrateful of me to want less tangible rewards as well.
One of my stepson's roommates casually told me that the whole English Department is known to non-English majors as a nest of snobs who think they are better than everyone else and who are obsessed with minor grammatical details. Presumably, we should all get a life. And we should all be fired for not teaching the next generation how to write clearly. The contradictions in a stereotype never seem to prevent anyone from accepting it.
I have two adorably young, eager, attractive young women Teaching Assistants (both English majors, one for each of my current classes) who have both politely refused to teach the rules of grammar -- they don't know them & clearly aren't planning to learn.
I come home from school to cook supper (usually) and try to sort out some of the chaos in our house left over from the earlier renovating job (entire second floor walls repainted, carpeting removed & new flooring put in, new bathroom cupboards installed during the winter holidays).
I write reviews, mostly of e-books, at least one per month and usually more. I feel flattered when I get private emails from Big Names in erotic writing or the history of various lesbian/gay/non-traditionally-gendered communities, asking me to review their books. This work is unpaid, and I am rarely acknowledged as anything other than a reviewer. At a writers' conference in September, a fellow erotic writer thanked me for showing an understanding of her work in my review of it, and seemed surprised that I also write fiction -- apparently as an afterthought. (She & I have had 8 stories in the same anthologies.)
It seems I'm neither a real academic or a real writer. Yet there is no part of my life that doesn't involve teaching in some form, writing in some form, or basic life maintenance (cooking, cleaning, etc.) so I can continue to teach and write.
Retirement beckons to me like a mirage, a shimmering oasis in the desert which will probably look shockingly different up close. I don't have to retire at age 65, and I'm afraid to be completely without an earned income. I would love to spend full working days writing fiction (with days for self-promotion, like baking days & laundry days for a housewife of yesteryear). But in today's publishing market, I still might not earn much. I would have trouble convincing anyone (mostly the non-writers in my life) that my writing is more than a hobby. (But how much do you make?)
Somewhere deep down inside, I am something other than my various jobs. I am definitely other than the roles I play. So are we all.
Writing always holds the promise that a writer can speak directly to a reader, not in a conventional role, and not paid by the word, the volume of sales, the hour or the month. This is what causes me to lose track of time, both as a writer and a reader. It's the antidote to burnout on the job.