Archive for February, 2011
Editor Rachel Kramer Bussel‘s latest anthology, Surrender: Erotic Tales of Female Pleasure and Submission, published by Cleis Press, has just been released! Surrender includes my story “Power Over Power” (which was originally published last year in Rachel’s Please, Sir).
Rachel has posted the table of contents and introduction to Surrender on her blog here. I find it a particularly lovely introduction, myself, and I’m delighted to be included in this volume with authors like Donna George Storey, Shanna Germain, Justine Elyot, Tess Danesi, Teresa Noelle Roberts, and Alison Tyler, as well as some extraordinary stories (Shanna Germain’s “The Sun Is an Ordinary Star” is one of the most striking stories I’ve read).
Dominic whipped me around and pressed me against the wall. “Okay, you weren’t expecting me there. You weren’t ready, and you paused. Assailants don’t wait until you’re ready. You have to be prepared all the time.” He eased his hold on me and backed up. I was breathless, staring in his eyes as my pussy tingled insistently.
-from “Power Over Power”
“And it has given me something to think about, to write about: How we construct boundaries around our worlds to make sense of them, but those boundaries limit our experience of life. The role of art is (poetry, novels, music films), in part, to question the limits we place on ourselves; the role of art is to offer a glimpse of a different reality. It stands there beckoning to us, –there is greater potential in you and in life than you can see, than you are trying to see.”
Indeed. I have mentioned here before why it has seemed to me that the inarticulable, intangible, perhaps preverbal moving quality of art has felt so important to me. I suspect that sometimes the historically rigid, self-controlling, hypervigilant part of me does want a break, perhaps allows it in this seemingly “safe” area of being affected by art. Of course, perhaps unwitting to or forgotten by it, such hasn’t always seemed so “safe”—sometimes it has resulted in an outpouring of affect that the aforementioned part of me has not seemed to feel comfortable with; sometimes it has even felt overwhelming. Sometimes it has led to insights, shifts, openings that are healing and nourishing for the soul and not so job-security-increasing for those structures of ego in me that don’t know how to see beyond themselves.
What an amazing, beautiful gift of art.
I wrote that blog post opening a few weeks ago. I was going to write about re-reading novels, how I have experienced some differently upon the second or further readings at different times in my life. Sometime, I may still do that. It happens that now, though, I just finished reading a book for the first time, and it is what I want to write about instead. It, as well, fits impeccably with the quote above.
Which, along with what I wrote following it, rings very poignant right now.
I finished a novel (not in the erotica genre) last night that I started reading a couple weeks ago after feeling inexplicably drawn to and purchasing it at Barnes and Noble. I’m not going to identify it here, partly because some that I say about it is not particularly complimentary, but mostly because in discussing what I want to about it, I’m going to spoil the hell out of it.
There were many things I found beautiful about this novel. The setting, the history, the writing in general were such that I pictured the scenery and the overall novel very vividly; such vision has stayed with me after finishing it and often while I was away from it during the reading of it. Most of all, I loved the main protagonist besides the first-person female narrator—her love interest and later husband, Tom. I fell in love with Tom upon our first exposure to him, and that never changed.
Other things I found lacking in the work. Frequently, especially during the second half, I found myself feeling like there was no central conflict in the book—we were reading along with what was happening in their day-to-day lives, but I was not seeing the conflict that was described on the back of the book (to me it had seemed to be resolved fairly early on in the first half), and there didn’t seem to be another “point,” if you will, holding the story together. Occasionally I felt impatience with the narrator, seeing her as selfish or a bit oblivious in ways that didn’t seem particularly convincing. Neither the story nor the characters ever really “pulled me in”; though I enjoyed it, I did not really feel invested in the story. I felt like I “knew” almost none of the characters and did not feel like I particularly cared about them.
The exception was Tom—who, incidentally, I feel was superbly written. It was because of Tom and the relationship between him and the narrator that I kept reading the book. He was the only character that I cared about—looking back, really, I was swept away by him.
To illustrate what I’m describing, about 15 pages from the end of the book, I was reading what I suspect was intended to be an intense scene. I was not particularly finding it so. It may have even consciously occurred to me then that the only character I really cared about was Tom, and as long as he and the narrator were together, I felt a fairly detached disinterest in how they would handle the potential tragedy that was in front of them. Probably in part because he was the main character, but also because of how I had interpreted the tone and content of the book, I felt no suspicion that Tom was going anywhere, so I was feeling fairly nonchalant as I read, my love for Tom and their relationship forming a background of appreciation for a novel I was finding fairly lukewarm on other fronts.
Nine pages from the end of the book, Tom died.
It seemed to me then from a writing standpoint as though all those things I mentioned—character development of most of the characters, pulling into the story, strong central conflict—weren’t even needed because the end of the book was one of the main protagonist’s meeting an untimely death. The “climax” was at the very end, if you will. All that came before was made instantly more poignant by, its meaning as a work of art perhaps even largely derived from, his death at the end of the work. Likely exacerbated by how I experienced this circumstance in the book personally, I did not appreciate this.
Emotionally speaking, I was stunned to a degree that I found stunning in and of itself. I actually found myself in denial, sure he hadn’t actually died and was going to reappear any second (which would have worked under the circumstances). It was literally not until I read the last sentence of the book that I understood that in this story, Tom really did die. And funnily enough, as I was reading the last page I didn’t even know I was doing so yet, because it is followed by an “Author’s Note” that I had not glanced at yet and thought as I was reading the last page was still more of the book.
When I realized the book had ended, I experienced some anger (a furious hurling of the book to the floor with a What a stupid book I hate it! may have been involved) as I felt the flood of feeling related to this occurrence in the book rising to potential overwhelm in me. It struck me as almost ironic in that I had not felt very invested in the story and had certainly not anticipated that I would experience much of a significant degree of affect after finishing it. I had not in the slightest expected or seen coming what happened, had felt no wisp of a hint that Tom was going to be taken away, that the emotional wind was about to be knocked out of me, that I was about to feel the flood of pain and devastation that I did: sobbing for intermittent periods over the course of the day and night, experiencing difficultly sleeping, physically feeling pain and unease in the heart area of my chest, and feeling as though, despite his status as a fictional character, I was really almost grieving Tom a little bit.
I may not have been invested in the book…but I sure was invested in him.
Less than a week ago, I experienced a realization. It was not a deduction or an analysis (or the result of one) or an intellectual examination. It was a seeing, a spontaneous embodiment and insight through which I was made aware of something about myself.
The awareness was of the absence of heart. I experienced a sudden seeing of how absent connection with my heart had been in my experience over a period of the past several months. The immediacy of this insight was breathtaking, and I was stunned that I had not seen it, had not been aware of it for the several months that it had been taking place. Granted, since the phenomenon of disconnecting from and holding myself outside of my heart is an unconscious pattern in me developed at quite a young age, it has not been an uncommon thing for me to do in this lifetime. But it is something I have become more aware of and worked on quite a bit in recent years, so to see suddenly that I had been so oblivious to its occurrence, that open awareness of and connection with my heart had been almost entirely absent in this particular period of time, was astonishing as well as heartbreaking.
At the time I saw this, I stated out loud that I desperately did not want to operate without heart, to be disconnected from my heart and exclude it from my experience and awareness. I unquestionably wanted to reconnect with it. And I felt—and said—tearfully, right then, that I did not know how.
It has occurred to me in the 24 hours I’ve had to contemplate since I finished this novel that the relationship between the narrator and Tom seemed one of the most beautiful I’ve ever read about and felt privy to observe. Seeing such heart between two people (and especially in Tom, whose inner workings the reader did not get to directly see) may have felt like the observation of something new and incredible, that has not always been forthcoming in my own experience and that calls to something profound in me. Particularly at this moment in my existence, this may have occurred to a degree that I felt, really, awestruck by it and experienced from it both a yearning and a satisfaction not unlike that akin to drinking water in the face of urgent thirst. I can—and do—appreciate that I have realized I actually felt a shift reading about them, reading the relationship between them. More and more I have felt a gratitude about this. Though I hate with a passion that the book ended with Tom’s dying, I have felt the energetic shift in me in remembering the witnessing of the love between them. In ways, that being one of them, I did love this book.
Given how I saw this relationship and how it moved me, it makes sense to me that I would have found the abrupt and unexpected loss of one of the participants in it, and thus in a way the relationship, as stunning and excruciating as I did. It occurs to me that other readers may not experience or have experienced it that way did they not have the circumstances and current experience I have described in common with me. Even I may have experienced it differently at a different time.
As it was, I was overwhelmed—blindsided, I had no guard up against the devastation that was coming because I had no idea that it was coming. The rawness in my heart has felt scathing, initially almost unbearable as I felt the fury at this book’s ending and the soul-wrenching awareness that I could not undo the experience of reading it, of falling in love as I did with Tom and experiencing his disappearance from the form in which I came to do so. That it was a fictional work and he was a fictional character seemed to have little effect on the anguish to which I was privy when I realized the story was over and Tom was dead and I had no choice but to experience what I would as a result. Emotionally, I was laid out flat.
Days ago, I said that I wanted desperately to reconnect with my heart—but that I felt I did not know how to.
Here is my answer.
If I take seriously that I want to connect with and open to and integrate my heart, then the invitation to me is to see this for the opportunity that it is. To see the offering, as Rod put it, “that there is greater potential in you and in life than you can see, than you are trying to see.” There was no guarantee, or even a likelihood, that it was going to be comfortable. As wrenching as my response to this book may feel, this is the opportunity I asked for. This is what I said I wanted.
And I love it for that.
Poignant as it felt to me to read when I started this post, I am brought back to the assessment I offered at the beginning of it, that I wrote long before I finished reading the novel I have discussed here: What an amazing, beautiful gift of art.
In humble appreciation.
“And if your glass heart should crack, and for a second you turn back, oh no, be strong…I know it aches and your heart it breaks…walk on…”
-U2 “Walk On”
“Seven Minutes on TV, Discussing Sex In a Different Way” by Dr. Marty Klein (Sexual Culture, Parenting, Sex and Youth) 5/2009
There is a video that goes with this overview that I definitely recommend watching—the only reason I didn’t make the video itself the recommendation here is because I find the aspects Dr. Klein details in this brief written overview particularly pointed and significant in regard to youth. His assertion that parents may never feel 100% comfortable speaking with their kids about sex and may thus find opportunity in learning to so even when they feel uncomfortable strikes me as invaluable and something that may not have occurred to many. In addition, the emphasis on adults’ anxiety around sexuality being one of the most prominent and direct sexual threats to children resonates deeply with me.
“Conservatives Freak Out Over MTV’s ‘Skins’ — Teenagers Have Sex. Get Over It.” by Julianne Escobedo Shepherd ( Sex and Culture, Media, Sex and Youth) 1/24/11
I have never seen the show that is the main topic of this article, but I don’t feel like I need to have to appreciate its (the article’s) commentary around teenage sexuality and U.S. culture and media.
“The Battle Hymn of the Sexually-Sane Mother” by Susie Bright (Parenting, Psychology, Sex and Youth) 1/12/11
I find this piece on parenting and kids’ health and sexuality so striking and poignant I don’t even know what to say here to express it. (Thanks to Jo for the link to this in a comment on a post from Kristina Wright last month.)
In the United States, we are currently in the middle of National Condom Week, which is recognized in the U.S. during the week of Valentine’s Day (February is National Condom Month). Thus it seemed an appropriate time to post my ode to this rubber entity I love and appreciate so much.
Several weeks ago the beautiful and inspiring Nikki Magennis initiated a series of posts honoring the condom on her blog. I deeply appreciated the sentiment and much enjoyed reading the lovely pieces, many of which were fiction flashers, she offered on the topic. (In fact, she has now created an entire blog devoted to the loveliness of the condom—check out Rubber Soul!)
In one of Nikki’s posts, she linked to this piece, in which three authors discuss their respective perspectives about including the mention of condom usage in the fiction they write. The piece is specifically about M/M romance, but I myself frankly don’t see distinctions either among which populations it is more appropriate to use condoms or in which genres their use is appropriately included/displayed—to me condom usage seems appropriate across the board in partnered sex unless the partners are monogamous with each other and have been STI/STD-tested*—so I read it as a general post about condom usage/mentions in fiction.
In the comments, I saw a number of assertions of something I have heard before (in regard to both erotic fiction and pornography of other media): These are “fantasies,” so the realism of condom usage is not necessary and/or desired and may even seem misplaced.
I feel very differently about this. The first thing that strikes me, I think, is that I don’t feel I write erotica just to write “fantasy” (this may be different in the romance genre, to which the aforementioned article appeared to be more related). I write it because sex interests me, and its inclusion in life is what I want to reflect in my writing—the ways sex enlightens, challenges, connects us, the plethora of sensations and emotions we feel around it, how it shows us things about ourselves, others, society. For me, the idea that I’m writing an “escape” and thus should not or would not want to include real-life concerns in what I’m writing does not resonate. In fact, in my case it feels more accurate to say the opposite would be true.
As I mentioned in the interview Ashley Lister did with me for the Erotica Readers and Writers Association, I have been carrying condoms in my purse since I started having sex. Rarely am I anywhere without them. This has of course been quite deliberate, and I have made use of condoms I’m carrying with me numerous times. Often the characters I’ve written have adopted this trait as well, and as I mentioned in the interview, while some readers may find this unrealistic or “too” convenient, the first part of this paragraph may show why I do not.
It thus seems odd to me to not include this aspect of sexuality in what I write. I am, as I mentioned, aiming to write about the integral nature of sexuality in life, and to me condoms are a significant part of that. Since I myself have never found condoms a “mood-killer” or any such thing, I have not aimed to portray them as such in what I’ve written (which is not to say one would never interpret them as such—I have no control, of course, over how my work is interpreted). Rather, I have mentioned them generally the same way I have experienced them in my life—matter-of-factly, as a requisite and understood aspect of sex. I myself have often found condoms sexy: they offer a protection I appreciate indescribably, and they tend to represent that I will soon be, well, having sex. :)
Don’t expect me to care about “real” characters who only act like “real” people when it’s convenient and I have to ignore everything else. If I’m sitting there thinking “what kind of idiot has bareback alley sex with a stranger” I’m not thinking “that was really well written and wow, that was a funny line and I loved the description of the garbage bin.”
I will admit I feel relieved to see comments like this, not because of a vested interest in regard to my own writing or because I want readers to agree with me, but rather because I have sometimes felt there has been an underlying idea permeating society that condoms somehow “aren’t sexy” and aren’t really important or desired or used in real sexual interaction. I find that very disturbing, and probably in large part given my history as a reproductive rights and health activist, I have tended to place a lot of importance on the open acknowledgement and embrace of condoms as an essential and desirable component of modern sexual landscape. It is both because I feel no desire whatsoever to contribute to the perpetuation of the idea that condoms are “un-sexy” or “kill the mood” or somehow decrease the quality of sex in any of the depictions of sex I offer (including in video porn) as well as the simple reality I have experienced of the connection between condoms and partnered sex that leaving out the mention of them when writing erotic fiction feels jarring and inappropriate to me.
That all being said, none of this is to say anyone or everyone else, writer or reader, should feel the same way I do. I am simply stating my perception and experience of condom use in life and fictitious portrayal and why I have made the invariably deliberate references to condoms in my writing that I have. On the subject of fiction, incidentally, I will say that applying a rule (from a publisher, for example) that characters must use condoms does not seem appealing to me. Characters are characters; they do what they do. To state what a character in fiction must do before the character has even been born or created (even by the author) seems dubious and intrusive to me. It is not that I support any installation of such a rule; rather, I am stating why I personally find it called for to include condom use and the reference to it in sexually explicit fiction and why I have chosen to do so (as well as why I find condoms sexy!).
Happy belated Valentine’s Day, and happy National Condom Week and Month!
-Rob Thomas “Real World ’09”
“Creating Change: Solidarity, Human Rights, and the Smell of New Ideas” by Dr. Elizabeth Wood (Self-Awareness, Rights and Advocacy, Sexual Identity) 2/11/11
I find this piece simply brilliant. There isn’t much I have to add to that, except to say that what I particularly adore and appreciate in this piece is the framework I interpret Elizabeth as presenting that the sexual rights movement and indeed all rights movements are ultimately about human rights—the fundamental rights of all humans that don’t need to be gained or granted somehow but simply recognized, as they are universal. Really, she says it better than I know how to: “I have these rights and freedoms not because I am queer, but because I am human. And because I am human and I care about these rights it is my obligation to fight so that everyone, regardless of identity, can enjoy them.”
“Rob Thomas: Biography” (Non-sex-related, Creative Process, Writing, Self-Awareness) 2009
So this is the official website bio of Rob Thomas, and yes, I adore Rob Thomas’s work and have since the release of “Push” on the radio in 1996. But I really don’t feel I’m featuring this here just because of that obvious bias. Every time I have read Rob’s words and perspective in this piece, I have been struck by what I see as the brilliance within them—about the creative process, about songwriting (which to me translates pretty easily to creative writing in general), about universal experience. Toward the middle, there are some paragraphs devoted entirely to discussion of his particular music, and those could be skipped over in the context of this recommendation—but I truly find what Rob says here inspirational and well worth reading whether a fan of or familiar with the music he’s created or not.
“Wael Ghonim and Egypt’s New Age Revolution” on YouTube (Recommended Watch, Non-sex-related, Politics, Self-Awareness) 2/13/11
This has been pretty widespread in the general news, I suspect, but I still want to feature it on my blog particularly. What I sense in Mr. Ghonim’s words here is extraordinary awakeness, authenticity, and groundedness. Particularly notable to me are his mention that revenge is not his goal (something I find indescribably heartening and deeply relate to), the statement that he kissed each of the soldiers who held him captive when they let him go, and his response to whether his captors hit him—yes, he says, but he takes care to explain why he feels they did so and that he harbors no vindication about it. What I see in Mr. Ghonim here is a profound inspiration to me.