18 September 2011

Everyone Has a Perfectly Carved Ass

I am blessed.

Perhaps not with a perfectly carved ass, depending on your definition of 'perfectly.' And 'carved.'

But I am blessed.

With a wonderful Writer's Group. We formed perhaps nine years ago. It was one of those wonderful happenstance kind of creations that later you look back upon and say, "How did I get so lucky?" All women and all wonderful.

I love you all: Darcy, Joan, Marcella, Katherine, Kristina, Karla and Laura. The last two of which have gone another direction for a while but whom I still hold in my Writer's Group Heart.

At one of our magic meetings in Joan's Mother of all Sanctuary Garden Gatherings, quite a few years ago, the subject of what we don't write came up. Subjects or genres with which we are uncomfortable or in which we suck. We all have our areas of comfort and expertise.

But yet, less spoken of, we all have our areas of avoidance and perhaps fear.
I won't launder everyone else's confessions here. Just my own. We spoke that night about challenging ourselves. Perhaps a homework assignment that required us to come to the next meeting with a piece of work that was beyond our precious perimeters of preference. There was a lot of 'Well. now, I don't knows' muttered and a few toes stubbed into the dirt. So it was never agreed upon and therefore never happened.

Except that I went home wondering about the two things I mentioned. My preference is definitely fiction. But within that predilection, there were two things I had never written. Never been brave enough to try.
Sex and violence.

"Elle, do you think I've never been published because I don't write about sex or violence?"
"Spencer, have you ever submitted any of your writing for publication?"
"No, I haven't."
"That's why you've never been published."

Excuse me.

I looked back on my fiction up to that point and found no sign of sex or violence. In fact, even in my reading choices, I'd skim over the violence. (I never skimmed over the sex scenes however, I totally dog-eared those pages.) Even in a book I was otherwise enjoying thoroughly, the violence made me uncomfortable.

With this new realization in my system, I decided to push the Barbie Envelope. I sat down specifically to write a sex scene. I'm trying now to remember what that first story was but am not sure. Doesn't matter.

I loved it. It was the most playful, lively, energized writing I'd done in ages. I loved it. My mind started having little plot planning parties in my head as I drove to the store. As I balanced my check book. As I did all kinds of 'other' things, my mind was starting little wild fires. It was great. Still is. I love writing erotica. The imagination center of my brain goes a little crazy sometimes.

This being true, it is also a fact that I can be quite chicken at the same time. I might be a little bit afraid to write what really comes to mind. I have that chronic and contagious writer's curse: What will people THINK?? I picture the reaction of my co-workers, my extended family, MY CHILDREN!

As brave as I like to think I am, I might also be a big baby. (Oh wait, I just remembered that first erotic story: guy and a girl alone on the second floor of an antique store. Title: "How Brave Are You?" Then when they go down stairs to leave they see the bank of TVs recording all corners of the store. Makes me blush thinking about it even now. And it was a very mild, tame start.)

As erotica goes, my stuff could be quite soft. Or so Midge said. She said maybe I should not be allowed to call it Erotica, that I could surely do better. (Can't you just hear her saying this. Loud and in front of the entire IT department?)

Feeling like I'd come up against the wall of fear, that I'd written as brazenly as I could, I decided to read some of the library's erotic material and challenge myself again. Boy, that stuff is the shit! Vocabulary up your every orifice. Orifices that are named and nicknamed and renamed. Words I had to go look up on Urbandictionary.com

Excuse me, I'm easily distracted.

So I was reading up on my craft, right? A bit of research. And expanding what comes natural to me, I was reading lesbian erotica, gay erotica, group stuff, extremely extreme stuff. Okay, not extremely extreme, just moderately extreme but still. It tested my sensibilities. And my other things. I wanted to learn what I didn't know of first hand.

I confess I liked it. I looked forward to it. I had to ILL some of it because many of 'our' copies were missing and non-existent but I gathered, none the less.

I transferred some to a Nook. Not the coziest reading experience but even so.

Like any genre, there's good stuff and wretched stuff. What I didn't find a slew of was GREAT stuff.

I found it was just over the top too often. Writers trying to see how far they could go. Edgy for the sake of edgy. They lost me with this style.

Then it was sometimes just TOO MUCH. Not believable. I need to be able to buy into it. To relate. To potentially insert myself into the story if I feel so inclined. I swear the ass in every story was perfectly carved. Every cock HUGE! Every boob was full and perky and...and...and other things that 'perfect' boobs are. (In my experience, it's unusual to have REAL tits that are full AND perky. Either they are full and weighty in your hand OR they are light-hearted and perky. Ergo, if they are both full and perky they are probably Man-Made breasts, and I cannot emphasize the word MAN here strongly enough.)

This is not real, people. Bodies are imperfect. That is what we love about them, isn't it? We fall for the details, the imperfections. The mole on Marilyn Monroe's cheek was an 'imperfection' that made her face perfect!

I need erotic story lines that breathe truth. How erotic is a scenario that you KNOW can never happen. For me, as it turns out, not erotic at all. I'll see what I can do about this.

10 September 2011

No Place Like Home

Is it just me or does it feel like so much more than ten years? Can you remember a time before?

Of the countless things that changed because of September 11, 2001, I had hoped to be one. My desire was palpable. In the days immediately following 9/11, my thoughts were continually arrested by my desire that the horrifying attacks would have a life changing effect on me. Some kind of change for the better. Not a change toward fear and paranoia. Paralysis.

But such that I would see the value of life more clearly, that the desires of my heart would rise to the top of my consciousness and overrule the ordinary, daily behaviour trenches I'd dug over time. That my actions would, from then on, be a true reflection of my core values and of the notes of my soul.

It was so important to me that I be profoundly changed. It was an ache. That I be able to take this incomprehensible series of catastrophic events and make something positive on a personal level. That my life never be the same. I journalled and I prayed. I wished and I wrote. I cried and I prayed some more.

Tears for the pain of the images on the news. The fliers and posters with faces of the 'missing.' The oppressive national grief. The destruction and rubble. The tireless energy of the digging and excavating. I cried and I watched for the moment.

The coverage. The news, the commentary, Oprah. People on the screen of my TV telling me they would never be the same. I believed them and wanted that too. I watched the celebrity fund raising specials. I wrote. I waited. But I felt only sadness. No awakening. No new found determination. Just overwhelming and deadening sadness.

At the same time, flags were suddenly everywhere. American flags painted and draped on anything. Americans openly proclaiming love of their homeland. Unabashed displays of emotion. In all my years, I had never seen my country so unified. It was stunning. Startling even. But served as a balm to my heart. It helped me breathe.

I was not raised in a particularly patriotic environment. My childhood, my family, the political air of that time leaned away from patriotism. Vietnam, Richard Nixon, the activism of the late Sixties, early Seventies. 'Love' and appreciation for country was not of high importance. Culturally, when 'cool' was paramount, it was seen as uncool to show blatant and open patriotism.

We were not a family of a strong military focus. My grandfather served in the Navy during World War II but never spoke of it.

In the weeks following that Tuesday in 2001, anything remotely patriotic made me weep. Do you remember how it was? Movies, songs, books. Everything became red, white and blue. Mostly genuine but also plenty of opportunistic marketing. I wept regardless. Uncontrollably. I felt utterly helpless. Not a comfortable emotion for a control freak like myself.

But I decided I loved my spanking new patriotism. I embraced it. I had never become emotional during the playing of the National anthem before 9/11. I never noticed where flags were flown, displayed, worn. Holidays like Memorial Day, Veteran's Day had always been lost on me. I was a child, a young girl, a woman who had taken her country, her citizenship for granted. But I'd suddenly become a puddle of grief and love and gratitude for my home.

In the months, even years since 2001, as the depth of my gratitude for country increased, I kept waiting, watching for my big change. That personal epiphany that would alter the course of my life. (I smile back at my belief.) And all along my patriotism grew and solidified. I watched for opportunities to thank the military patrons who came into my branch around Veteran's Day, the Fourth of July, Memorial Day. The anniversaries of September 11th. Teary and grateful, shaking their hands. I wrote a public piece on Veteran's Day for a blog at work a few years ago. It felt so good to nurture this side of myself.

Yet over time I began to criticize myself for the personal transformation that never happened. What kind of shallow, un-evolved soul must I be that 9/11 had not changed me at all?

My grandfather died on February 4th. This year. He was 94 years old. There is a great deal of harsh truth to say about this man that will go unsaid here. For now and for the most part.
He was buried with honors. I had never been to a military funeral.

I was undone.

My grandfather, with whom I had an intense and difficult relationship, was laid to rest in such a way as to bring about a life awareness I had failed to see before.

I would love nothing more than to fully and accurately articulate to you what the service was like but I can not. I probably was not meant to wrap it up in any kind of bow.

You cannot imagine, however, how startled I am to say that it was the most profound and moving moment of my life.

This statement includes:

  • the birth of my children,

  • watching my infant son being wheeled into open heart surgery,

  • then with great relief watching him wheeled back out six hours later.

This includes the night I sat next to someone as they drew their very last breath.

I stood in that cemetery with my family and the honor guard and have never been so moved. So deeply affected by one moment. Military personnel who volunteer for these services dressed in full dress uniform. Mostly sailors. Standing at strict attention to honor this veteran they never knew. When the gun salute went off, a cry came from deep within me that I was helpless to contain.

You know that scene near the end of The Wizard of Oz where Glinda explains that Dorothy doesn't need her help? That Dorothy had what she was longing for right there with her all along. I had my change immediately following 9/11. The moments the flags first appeared that day. Something I had all along but never stopped to appreciate before. My country. My citizenship. My home, given me at birth.

With her sometimes crazy, insane administrators. With some unthinkable political directions and decision: past, present and future. With all of her glory and flaws, arrogance, in her successes and broken parts, with her often bewildering and misplaced priorities, I love my country. I never knew this before September 11, 2001.


In an attempt to continue my healing, every year for the past ten years I've found different ways to stop.

I've stopped to write:

I've stopped to read:

  • Joe McNally's Faces Of Ground Zero

  • Watching the World Change by David Friend.

I've stopped to watch documentaries:

I've stopped by way of fiction:

  • The movie Reign Over Me with Adam Sandler

  • The novel Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer

During my Tillicum Library years, I spent days gathering and arranging September 11th library material in our display window. It was a helpful, healing display, more so for me than for anyone who happened by.

Most years I stop at nearby fire stations to leave flowers. I hope that it was appreciated by the fire fighters at the stations but it was I who most needed the act. The search for healing.

This year was a little different for me this way, but that is another post for another day.

I hope you remembered to stop.