Tag Archives: Musing

The Joy of Sucking Cock

Black and white picture of a kitten with a bowl of milk staring into the camera. Tongue in cheek illustration for The Joy of Sucking Cock.Last November, Girl on the Net posted this in response to an article by a guy who felt that, while going down on a woman is tricky,  “the penis is a simple thing – it’s hard to get things completely wrong.”

Girl on the Net did a brilliant take-down of that bit of silliness, which I totally recommend reading. So, why am I bothering to write a post about this when GotN already did it so well?

I’m not actually. Her article got me thinking. One of the things I love best about oral is that anyone can do it in a way that is authentic to them. Here’s what I mean….

Sucking cock is often thought of as a form of submission, but it can also be a spectacular way to top someone (“I don’t care how badly you want to come down my throat. Don’t.”). It can be a sweet, Sunday morning blow job or a filthy face fucking in a bathroom stall. It can be a homecoming or a good-bye. It can be reverent or carnal. It can be anything you and your partner need it to be. In fact, some of the most memorable sexual moments of my life have been blowjobs because they were authentically perfect for the finite moment we were in.

I’ve written before about how my first time giving head wasn’t fantastic and that it wasn’t until I was in my mid-twenties that I gained a real understanding of what I call The Joy of Sucking Cock ™. Up to that point, my experiences with giving head were tinged with insecurity. I approached each one feeling as if I didn’t know what I was doing, but that I’d better figure it out, which is why those early years were more about experimentation than enjoyment.

It wasn’t until I made a sloppy, chaotic mess of it that I really understood how wonderful sucking cock can be, because my sloppy, chaotic mess turned him into a writhing, desperate shadow of his control-freak self. That’s when it finally clicked and a feedback loop formed – his pleasure gave me pleasure, which gave him pleasure and so on…. It’s that feedback loop that I crave now when I give head (or have any kind of sex) – the mutual enjoyment that turns us both into animals until someone comes.

That’s why I rarely think about what I’m doing. Sort of like how you’re not supposed to ask the caterpillar how it walks, I try not to pay attention to anything but my partner and what feels good at the time. If you ask me to do that thing with the roof of my mouth again, I probably won’t know what you’re talking about but the odds are that I’ll accidentally do it again because it feels good. That’s The Joy of Sucking Cock.

Screen Shot Google Search "blow jobs" 1/19/16

Screen Shot Google Search “blow jobs” 1/19/16

So, let’s drill down into why this is important. We live in a culture where, for better or for worse, the emphasis in mainstream media has been placed on prowess rather than enjoyment, which is why newsstands are full of women’s magazines selling the arcane wisdom you’ll need if you want to “blow his mind”.

Even if we set aside the subtly toxic, hetero-normative fact that these articles place the emphasis on the woman’s ability to perform [insert sex act here] like a pro, the paradigm is still problematic because these articles aren’t nearly as empowering as they initially appear to be. They are, in fact, disempowering because underlying the conveyance of the must-have information is the implication that if you’re not doing it “like this”, you’re doing it wrong.

“Like this” can be anything from using vise-like suction, (thanks, Cosmo), to looking at him while you suck his cock because “he’ll think it’s hot”.

What’s wrong with using (non-injurious levels of) suction or looking up at him while you give him head? Absolutely nothing. Those are legitimately awesome (and super hot) things. What I object to is the emphasis on her performance rather than their mutual enjoyment.

That’s really at the heart of this for me – the mentality that sex is, in the end, something you perform, rather than enjoy. It’s as if we’re all supposed to be mainstream porn stars rather than regular people engaging in a super pleasurable, shared activity. This emphasis on performance is the biggest reason for my ambivalence about oral when I was younger. Without even realizing it, I’d absorbed the assumption that there is a “right” and a “wrong” way to do it, which fed my insecurity, which got in the way of our mutual enjoyment, which blocked the feedback loop, and so on.

I mean, let’s face it, outside of keeping your teeth off his cock (unless that’s been negotiated beforehand), there is no one perfect, blow-his-mind technique. There are only the things you try and he loves, and that changes with every partner and, quite possibly, every blowjob. Knowing and discovering those individual ticks is a massive pleasure that has nothing to do with performance. It has to do with pleasure – yours and his. That’s where The Joy of Sucking Cock is.

Sinful Sunday: Cunt

“An ancient title of respect for women, the word “cunt” long ago veered off this noble path.”

– From Cunt: A Declaration of Independence, by Inga Muscio

Apparent 3/4 nude of author holding the book Cunt over her cunt.

I read this book a lifetime ago when I barely knew my own anatomy. Re-reading it now, I’m struck by how deeply it affected my thinking on feminism, semantics and the female body politic.

I love the word cunt. It’s strong and forthright. It stands straight with its shoulders back. It takes your measure and meets your eye. It’s the opposite of an apology. It’s the kind of word that owns itself, and asks you to do the same.

To see more Sinful Sunday, click the pretty lips….

Sinful Sunday

In the Bleak Midwinter

A wrought iron gate set against a frozen, snowy landscape

I’ve been thinking about “In the Bleak Midwinter” since Exhibit A named it as a prompt a few days ago. This carol has always resonated with me, particularly the first paragraph. Predictably, the resonance of this song made me want to write about it. But unlike other times when I have almost relished the chance to probe my own discomforts, I’ve balked every time I sat down.

I began three different stories but stopped them all. I started two different essays, but stopped those as well. At first, I didn’t know why. This prompt is clearly sparking a lot, but I’ve stopped myself every time I’ve started something. And there’s a reason for that. I usually write to understand. I rarely write something if I already know how it ends, or understand the mechanisms behind the feeling or thought. In this case, I do understand why this piece resonates with me, and the reason for it feels intensely personal in ways that are hard to communicate.

A while ago, I posted the image above. This snowy gate resonates, for me, in the same way Christina Rossetti’s lyrics do. To me, it is a perfect visual metaphor – not of frigidity, as someone reasonably suggested, but of me.

Just to be clear, I’m definitely not frigid. I take great joy in my sexuality and in sharing it with my partners. I’m also not emotionally frigid. While I am, admittedly, guarded and very cautious, I love deeply and without reservation. Once I love you, I love you and I always will. But there is a part of me, very deep in the landscape of my upbringing and experience, that feels like this:

In the bleak mid-winter

Frosty wind made moan,

Earth stood hard as iron,

Water like a stone;

Snow had fallen, snow on snow,

Snow on snow,

In the bleak mid-winter

Long ago.

This isn’t a mournful thing to me. It’s actually quite beautiful and quiet and serene. Going back to the image, it’s as if there is a gate, but the gate can be gotten around. The landscape is cold, but it’s varied and thriving and full beneath the snow. But it is silent. And contemplative. And the gate is there for a reason. This isn’t meant to sound self-indulgent, and I’m certainly not glamorizing the fact that, very deep inside me, tender, fragile things are frozen, resting beneath a protective layer of snow.

But for all that, I am not cold. I am not a cold person. I struggle with passions and feelings that sometimes feel too heated to be entirely healthy. The curious thing, to me anyway, is that this landscape co-exists with that heat. It’s my foundation, in a way.

I have never known it not to be midwinter, and for midwinter not to be just a part of who I am. Unlike the song though, it isn’t a bleak thing. It’s the quiet that I sometimes need and the solitude I sometimes crave. At this point, the idea of the season changing and thawing the frosty wind and the hard iron earth is slightly terrifying. I have no idea if this gate and the snowy landscape will always remain. I don’t know if part of me will always rest in a midwinter from long ago.

What I do know is that I love and feel in spite of the coldness and, in some ways, because of it. I feel every day, how easy it would be to detach and stay in that quiet, safe, frozen place, and every day I choose to engage and love and laugh and find joy in everything I possibly can, and I’m grateful for anything and everyone who gives me an opportunity to do so. Without that landscape inside of me, I wouldn’t know how very lucky and alive I am.

My response to this carol is super rough and underdeveloped. It’s also not erotic, hot or even the tiniest bit sexy. There’s a great deal more I would like to write, but I’m afraid that, if I started working on it, I’d edit myself out of what I’ve just said. So I’m leaving it alone, which is almost comically hard for a compulsive editor like me. You should see me squirming on the hook 🙂

But, since you can’t, I’m going to suggest you check out the other entries in Exhibit A’s Awesome Christmas Erotica Meme. (How’s that for a segue way?!).  A new song title goes up every day between now and Christmas so click here to catch the prompts and participate (you should!). And click here to see who else is making merry this December.

On the Value of Fantasies

Japanese shunga erotica painting being eaten out by an octopus

The Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife by Hokusai (1814)

Recently, Emmanuelle de Maupassant posted a link to an article called “The Art of Dreams”. The art in that post contains two prominent themes – mortality and sexuality, which makes sense since sex and death have been cultural obsessions for centuries.

As I was looking through the pieces, two of them stood out. The first was the one above – “The Dreams of the Fisherman’s Wife” by Hokusai. The other is of a girl dreaming that she’s being carried into the woods by a bear. Both have obvious sexual overtones and, given the nature of my own dreams, my mind wandered from dreams into fantasies.

I have always had extremely vivid sex dreams, even as a girl. In fact, I knew I was bisexual before I understood what that meant after dreaming that I was kissing Sleeping Beauty and her prince. I woke up wanting more of both, a feeling I internalized as normal but never talked about. That dream led to my first sexual fantasies, and their influence on my sexuality as it developed can’t be overstated.

Years later, a friend and I were talking about fantasies in college. Her opinion was that if you’re in a relationship, (she was and I wasn’t), having fantasies about someone other than your boyfriend is cheating. I understand now, on an intellectual level, what she was saying, but fantasies were so integral to my sexual development that hearing them spoken of as a form of infidelity left me feeling vaguely bereft, as if what was natural to me was somehow immoral to normal, relationship-having people.

Side Note: I should state that there is a difference between fantasizing to explore your sexuality, and fantasizing to escape an unpleasant or unsatisfying relationship. If you’d rather be in your head than with your partner, that’s a sign that something could be off in the relationship. While I still don’t consider this cheating, it probably isn’t something you should ignore either.

Even though I lost my virginity relatively late, I had a massively active fantasy life, so much so that, by the time I finally did have sex, I jumped into new experiences with an enthusiasm that I may not have otherwise had. I fantasized about threesomes well before I had one. Same thing with group sex, oral, anal, strap-ons, D/s, sex in public and pretty much everything else I’ve ever done.

But it wasn’t just the exploratory quality of my fantasies that formed my sexuality. As I experienced new things, more and more of those experiences were incorporated into my fantasies, so that I began to understand what worked for me in greater depth. Everything, from my love of prowess to shaving (and being shaved by) a lover, was nurtured by an increasingly varied collection of fantasies.

Even impossible or transgressive fantasies are valuable. Some may get explored in real life, while others can’t (or won’t), but the fact that they can be played out safely is important. I want to understand what makes me click because I can bring that understanding to my partners. 

Fantasies are also a surprisingly accurate way to gauge how your sexual focus may have changed. Early on, my fantasies, much like my erotica, were highly situational – getting off on a Maytag dryer, being watched, making someone do something that makes them uncomfortable (but that they also undeniably want). These fantasies explored different situations and helped me understand my various kinks and predilections.

In the past few years, however, my fantasies have changed. As someone close to me noted, I’m after connection more than experience now. That isn’t to say that I’ve done everything I want to do (because I doubt I ever will). What it does mean is that my sexual focus now prioritizes intensity and connection rather than situational novelty, a shift that is also reflected in my work.

If sex is the lens through which I view life, then fantasies are how I keep that lens polished. The notion that fantasizing about someone other than my partners would take something away from the depth of my commitment to them rings as false now as it did when I was eighteen. 

If anything, your fantasies give you access to more of yourself, knowledge that you can then bring to your partners. Whether it’s fucking against a wall because you can’t keep your hands off each other, or ravaging and being ravaged by some sort of subhuman beast, fantasies, dreams and memories help ground you in your sexuality, and it’s your sexuality that you bring to real life.

Woman in Repose

Woman with arched back lying on a dark bed

Woman in Repose by Steve Harris

The past few months have been challenging. A series of difficult things destabilized what had been a very stable foundation. It was a bit like playing Jenga. Each thing that happened removed a pin from my tower, until I was leaning and listing everywhere – nowhere near falling, but structurally unsound.

As a result, it’s  fair to say that I haven’t been myself. The people in my life have had to deal with me being unusually emotional and term bound while I struggled with a limited sense of perspective. I’ve been anxious, reactionary and far more taxed (and taxing) than I ever want to be. It’s a state of mind that made me want to unzip my skin and divorce my body from my brain until I got a handle on things. And that’s essentially, what I did. The result was a general disinterest in sex and, to a greater degree, D/s.

There are labels I use for myself, and others that I don’t even though they could superficially apply. The primary example of this is “Domme”. I never refer to myself as a Domme even though I am sexually dominant. (To be honest, I’m dominant in general though I try to keep that checked. I’d rather be accessible than in control…unless there’s a reason to be in control).

I make the distinction between dominant and Domme because, while I enjoy playing with power, I can just as easily not and be very satisfied. The label “Domme” comes with implications that I feel don’t quite apply because my dominance isn’t formalized, nor do I want it to be. My recent situational reticence with D/s underscored that distinction for me in a very concrete way.

Side note: Drawing this distinction deserves its own post, so forgive the broad brush I’m using now.

While I love playing games, I’m equally happy to meet my partners without a power dynamic in play. What keeps me from being even remotely switchy is the fact that I won’t submit sexually to anyone. Ever. My aversion to sexual submission is serious enough that I couldn’t do it for love or money. There are reasons for this, but I’m going to save those for a separate post.

I’d be lying if I said that I don’t enjoy gentle cruelties or imposing my will on consenting partners. I’d be lying if I said that there isn’t a carnivorous part of me that gets off on taking control. But I’d also be lying if I said that that particular kind of assertion is an integral part of who I am. It’s something that I do, not something that I am (unlike my resistance to submission, which is a fundamental part of my personality). That’s why I love sex with an equally dominant partner just as much (and often even more) as D/s play. 

The result of dealing with what I’ve been dealing with is that I haven’t really wanted to play in a D/s sense. I haven’t wanted to control, create or weave scenarios. So much of my energy was going to keeping myself under control, that the idea of taking external control in a play context was exhausting. Unfortunately, I didn’t consciously realize any of this at the time, though I wish I had. I was pushing myself in ways that I shouldn’t have.

In hindsight, I can see that what I needed was something else – good sex, balanced dynamics and, perhaps most lowering, a sense of safety so that I could get out of my head and back into my body. I’ve been sexually reticent and, though not passive (because I’m almost never passive), I’ve definitely been more cautious and reserved – what a friend of mine would call a woman in repose.

While I was in London, Exhibit A and I went for a short run. Afterwards we talked about how, after you’ve been injured, you tend to go more carefully and not push yourself as hard. It’s an understandable thing but, at a certain point, that self-protective instinct can get in your way. Then again, sometimes it’s what you need, even if only for a short time…the hope is always that you’ll return to running at speed.

To circle back to where I started, certain facets of my sexuality and personality have been feeling fairly injured of late – facets that are tied to my relationship with sexual dominance. In a sense, I needed to rest those muscles – the ones I use in D/s – because D/s is not my home base. Sex is. I needed to get re-grounded in sex while those other parts of me rested. I needed to feel, not think or plan. I needed to be spontaneous and basic, so I didn’t go out on available limbs or explore interesting possibilities. I played it safe because, as with running after an injury, I needed to respect my boundaries and get the lay of my land again.

I didn’t realize it until I wrote this, but sex was, and is, the key to that for me. Good, connected, uninhibited, back-to-basics sex with someone I trust.  And now, on the tail end of what turned out to be a pretty difficult patch, I’m happy to say that I’m in better shape than I thought I was. The muscles that needed resting are stretching and waking up. I’m feeling like myself again, and it feels awfully good. I really am happiest on my feet.

On Virginity, or A Case For Not Throwing It Away

Image of a man and woman sitting on a fence. His hand is going up her skirt while she looks away.

A Voyage of Discovery by Jack Vettriano

I would love to say that the loss of my maidenhead* was a magical experience. I’d love to say that it set a healthy tone for the whole of my sexual career. In reality, it went more like this:

I was nineteen and deeply frustrated. I’d had boyfriends but none who would go past second base with me, (I dated a couple of Irish Catholics. Confession was a thing). I was sexually aware to the point of discomfort, but I’d never gotten close to do anything about the live wires beneath my skin. I was massively frustrated and burdened with this thing that I didn’t want anymore. So, one night I decided to get it over with.

I met the guy through an acquaintance. I knew him just enough about him to feel relatively sure that he wasn’t going to kill me and dump my body in a lake. I say “the guy” because I don’t remember his name…Jason maybe? I’m not sure. I was sober, so I assume that I must’ve blocked it out. In fact, I’m fairly certain I did – not because anything terrible happened, but because, even at the time, I knew I was making a subtle but serious mistake. It was the start of a pattern that would do me no favors. But more on that in a second. For now, let’s stay with “the guy”….

In the end, his name doesn’t matter because it wasn’t about him. It was about me and the fact that I was approaching twenty and the only virgin left in the city (not really but it felt like it). So, there we were in the back of his mom’s minivan in a mall parking lot. The foreplay was minimal and consisted mostly of my sucking his cock. After that, we moved to the back seat where I gave it up to the age old rhythm of my head whacking against his baby brother’s car seat.

I lost my virginity with less care than some people give to cutting their hair. At the time, I remember feeling a grim satisfaction, one that I now recognize as a defense mechanism. I knew even before he dropped me off (in the minivan) that I wasn’t going to see him again, even if I wanted to (I didn’t). The fact that I’d been a virgin had thrown him. I literally saw him panic the second his cock hit my hymen.

Holy shit! A virgin! They get hella clingy! Finish this and get out of there!

So, the grim satisfaction was both for a job well done (I was no longer a virgin – Ha! Take that, virginity!) but it was also because I needed to own what I’d just done. I knew that wasn’t how it could have been.  I knew it wasn’t a good start.

Now, looking back with roughly eighteen years of sexual experience to call on, I can see that I set a pattern for myself that night – one in which I disregarded the rounded whole of my needs in favor of satisfying temporary dissatisfactions. That pattern is pretty much broken now, but not without effort and a nice collection of regrets.

Should I have taken more time and given myself a positive, even loving, first time? Ideally speaking, of course. I should’ve. But the truth is that I was wired for sex and self-injury. I can’t pretend that a different decision would’ve saved me from years of mistakes. That said, if I had waited and not pushed, I might have developed a sense of myself sooner, and that would have made a difference. Who can say….

Virginity is not a magical thing, nor is it a marker of moral, spiritual or physical worth. The loss of it is, however, a pivotal event in a person’s life. Your first sexual experiences set a tone, even if only subconsciously. Would my sexual development have been different were it not for the minivan and the parking lot and the goddamn car seat? I don’t know. I honestly don’t. And that’s the thing that stays with me. I will never know.

I have wanted to write that phrase into something for ages and I missed the #EuphOff this time around.

NB: I drafted this over the weekend but wasn’t able to get it posted in time for Wicked Wednesday.  It’s still something I’m happy to have written though, so here it is – a little late, but hopefully better than never. Click this link to see all of the Wicked Wednesday posts on Virgin(ity) – there are some excellent pieces in there.

The FuckIt Post

Black and white vintage photography of a woman doing a belly flop.My brother, who is one of my favorite people ever, once said that taken separately, “fuck it” is just a couple of words, but run them together and they become a philosophy. FuckIt is not the fuck it you’ll find in Urban Dictionary. It has nothing to do with giving up or blowing something off. FuckIt is what lets you hit a dude twice your size at full speed. It wins wars and glory. It can also get you killed.

My brother is nothing if not wise, at least in the ways of FuckIt. Thanks to our dad (a veritable guru of FuckIt) it’s how we learned to engage the world. My brother was just clever enough to name it. Bastard.

Last Sunday, I posted a picture of myself sitting in a leather chair. In it, I am nude and very alert, ostensibly doing something that I love. The response to that picture was typical of the Sinful Sunday community – gracious, supportive and lovely in every way. The fact that I even considered posting it was due in large part to the warmth of the people who participate in that meme.

Though I did several versions of that image, the one that I finally posted is nearly untouched (save for cropping out half the room). It’s just me in the chair with the lighting from the window – the best I could do with my iPhone.

The fact that the image is unfiltered gave me pause as I was preparing the post. Filters are like veils and I like them – they reveal as much as they obscure. They’re a little bit like clothing in a way. Going without one for that post was oddly unsettling. It made me feel even more exposed than the nudity did. Ultimately though, I’m glad I used that one and not the filtered option. It made pressing publish a little harder to do.

That’s how FuckIt works for me. It’s the weight on the scale between action and inaction, comfort and risk. It pushes me through hesitation to the place where I truly commit.

Earlier this week, I got an email from a very good friend who was very supportive about the post. In her email, she mentioned something that made me think. She observed that while I seem comfortable with exhibitionism, she prefers to remain more guarded. As a (perhaps surprisingly) guarded person, I totally understand this, especially given that what drove me to post that image wasn’t exhibitionism (though I can see that being a motive at some point). What drove me was the impulse to push my own boundaries. I’m a FuckIt junkie. I like making myself uncomfortable so I can push myself through it.

You can see that tendency in my writing. As my boundaries have shifted, (and continue to shift) my posts have become more personal and my stories more reflective of curiosities and concerns. I can feel a boundary coming because it either turns me on, or gives me a sharp kick in the gut. That’s when I have to decide whether or not to push myself through it. And I have to admit that I love doing it – nudging up to no just before saying yes, but only if yes is the right answer. FuckIt is about action and choice. It’s the risk I choose for myself.

That’s because FuckIt only works if you weigh your odds. Dark alleys in bad neighborhoods aren’t the best place to say FuckIt, just as FuckIt! I’ll lie and have that affair! is not a responsible relationship choice. It all goes back to my brother’s point about FuckIt being equal parts glory and getting people killed.

But going back to Sunday’s post…. Though I’m selectively open on this blog, I’m actually a pretty private person. While I reveal a great deal of myself here, I do so within the boundaries I set (or push) for myself. That Sinful Sunday was a push, one I was able to do because I realized that, if you strip away everything, it’s just a picture of me in a chair. On a global scale, it’s just not that big a deal.

Coming to that conclusion made me feel calm when I hit publish. It gave me a sense of grounded satisfaction. That’s what a well-chosen FuckIt gives me – the satisfaction of bumping up against discomfort and of rolling on through it. That feels really good. In the end, it’s that satisfaction that I crave in all aspects of my life. Saying FuckIt is always a risk, but it’s a risk I’m willing to take, provided there’s a lake to land in when I jump off the cliff.

Character Limits

A purple reverse negative photograph of a vintage clock by Angela Bonilla

Ornate Vintage Clock in Deep Purple by Angela Bonilla

A few months ago I wrote a post called #DraftingIsHell. The title pretty much says it all. I’m one of those writers that drafts just to have something to edit. It’s only in edits that I find the threads that pull a story together.

In that post, I compared my writing process to sculpting, with drafting being the equivalent of making the clay. Recently though, the way I think about writing has changed. Working on my current project feels more like building a clock. Drafting is like digging through a big box of parts. Revision is figuring out how to assemble them and editing is the process of fitting them together and making sure they work properly.

Which brings me to my point. Twitter has made me a better editor. Or rather, it’s made me a more efficient writer.

I realize that efficient is a cold-sounding word. It doesn’t carry the throbbing creative impulse that fills your doc with a promising, fresh-faced draft. Efficiency is a different form of creative, more about refinement than creation. It’s the difference between drawing a clock and making a clock. When you draw a clock, you want to let yourself dream of the clock’s potential. But when you build the clock, you need efficiency to make sure the damn thing works.

So, back to Twitter. Have you ever gone over the character limit on a tweet? When you do, you get this little notification:

Screen Shot 2015-09-15 at 3.21.51 PM

It’s that “you’ll have to be more clever” that makes me smile. Not long ago, I realized how applicable that is to writing – not how clever are you? per se, but rather how cleverly can you say something?

Balancing your content in the most effective way is a sort of cleverness. It’s how you slide under a reader’s skin, rather than appealing to their brain. That’s what makes flash fiction such a pleasure to read – those little punches that make you feel before you think. Therein lies the beauty (and cleverness) of efficiency.

I’m not suggesting that there aren’t great advantages to expansive prose and rambling, evocative imagery. That’s some of my favorite stuff. What I have found though is that it’s good to be able to choose what sort of style serves a story best, and then execute on that choice.

Sometime over the past year or so, I began to think of every post and every story as a puzzle box that I fold up as tightly as I possibly can. Then, in the reading (if I’ve done it right), it’s meant to unfold and reveal more than the word count might imply. If a piece of writing is going to work like that though, the parts have to be balanced. It’s my job in editing to weight them out correctly. Every word, rhythm and pause has to have a purpose. There isn’t room for anything that doesn’t serve the design that came from that first creative burst.

There’s great freedom in boundaries like word counts and character limits, even when those boundaries are largely self imposed. After all, I could write a 5,000 word post but that wouldn’t feel as satisfying as saying in 1k (at least to me), just as I wouldn’t want to write an essay in an endless string of tweets. Context and form shape style and voice, even when (or especially when) the influence is a happy accident. Blogging and social media have taught me to say more by writing less. They force me to be efficient, and to figure out ways to say more than what is, strictly speaking, on the page.

Hollow Places

Photo by Maria Robledo

Photo by Maria Robledo

This post is a bit off the cuff – I had something else planned for later in the week, but this side-tracked me completely so I’m running with it. Apologies in advance – this may get a little navel-gazey.

Last night, I watched The English Patient. It’s one of my favorite movies, based on one of my favorite books, but I haven’t re-watched in a while. One of the things I love about watching this film (or re-reading the book) is that, over the years, different things have resonated with me at different points in my life. I always cry, but never in the same places. Now, when I watch it, I’m in the interesting position of not only seeing it as I am now, but through the additional lenses of my eighteen year old, twenty-five year old and thirty year old selves. It’s an oddly nostalgic experience.

For those of you who have neither seen the movie, nor read the book, you can read a quick synopsis here. All you really need to know for the purposes of this post is that the one of the main narrative threads is a disastrous love affair between a woman named Katherine and the eponymous English patient – a Hungarian cartographer named Almasy.

Their love affair has always touched me. When I was younger, it was purely romantic. Inexperienced as I was, I thought tragedy was glamorous. Now, I have plenty of scars and enough experience to know that being shattered is not the beautiful adventure young romantics think it is (though I have also come to understand that, if nothing else, it means your heart is alive, even if you want to cut it out).

The things that touch me about this story have changed, as well. At first it was the tragic love story. Then, when I was bit older, it was Juliette Binoche’s grieving, shell-shocked nurse, or Willem Defoe’s thief.  This time, the Katherine / Almasy love story struck me again. Or rather, one of their love scenes finally got my attention beyond the fact that I’ve always thought it was incredibly hot.

EnglishPatientSexScene

From The English Patient

Almasy and Katherine steal a moment during a Christmas party and have the most restrained unrestrained sex I’ve ever seen on film. Here’s a clip of the scene – it’s better in the context of the movie, but this is the relevant part.

While I’ve always loved that scene, it wasn’t until last night that I realized how formative it was. There’s so much about it that has stayed with me – the deliberate, continuous eye contact; the way he maps her skin with his fingertips and unzips her dress so he can slip his hand over the small of her back…those tiny moments formed the foundation for my tastes both aesthetically (it’s a beautifully shot scene) and sexually.

Someone once asked me where I like to be kissed, and I answered “in the hollow places” without thinking. As I was watching the film last night, I realized that that has always been the case. My neck and shoulders, the soft skin beneath the ridge of my hips…I love it when a partner kisses those places, and it’s because of the way Almasy kisses the hollow of Katherine’s throat (and his subsequent fascination with that part of her body).

That scene formed my love of stolen moments and deeply intense attractions that are emotional and mental as well as sexual. It made me aware of my collarbones, the inside of my wrist and the small of my back…. In a very real way, that scene welded my internal connection between the sexual and the aesthetic and, as a result, I have always thought of consensual sex as basically beautiful, even when it isn’t.

I suspect that’s because there’s a profundity to the sex in that scene. Movies and pornography are full of sex that’s way more graphic or overtly hot or just plain filthy in the best sense, but for me, that scene spikes right off the charts of eroticism  because of the sheer intensity of their connection. That sort of sexual charge is rare – it doesn’t happen with every partner, or even every love. I suspect that’s one of the reasons attractions like Almasy’s and Katherine’s feature so heavily in fiction. That intensity is something that I have always chased, both in life and in my writing.

Which brings me to fiction. I also realized as I was watching that scene, that there are aspects of sex that can’t be distilled into words. Sex is, by nature, experiential. As a writer, the best I can do is to evoke an experience – the moment before a kiss, the restlessness of having someone deep under your skin, the sadness of unrequited love and the joy of affinity.

These details, far more than where he fucked her or how her wet her cunt was, make for sex that resonates. It’s so tempting, as a writer, to try to control the reader’s experience by supplying the mechanical minutia. It takes a much larger leap of faith to select your details carefully and leave room for the writing to evoke a memory or a feeling, rather than tell the reader what she should feel, or mechanically turn him on….

Not that there’s anything wrong with turning your reader on. I love hearing that a story got someone off, but if I want to touch someone, that’s a slightly different game. The wonderful thing about erotica is that you can provoke a visceral sexual response paired with an equally visceral emotional one. It’s only when you leave space for the reader’s experiences that you connect at that deeper level.

As I was watching that scene last night, I realized that very often (though not always) when I write a sex scene, I am trying to connect with my reader in the same way that the scene connected with me – at eighteen, and twenty five and thirty and now thirty-seven. When I first saw that film in 1996 as a lonely undergrad on my own for the first time in New York, I longed for experiences. I desperately wanted to transcend the perceived limitations of my youth and inexperience.  I was such a little girl… I didn’t even know that I had hollow places, let alone where they were or how I loved to be touched.

I’m very aware of my hollow places now – both sexually and emotionally – and that there are more of them than I ever could have imagined. I’m not sure I’d have been able to see that progression without the film to act as a sort of personal timeline. I’m curious to see what will touch me the next time that I watch it in however many years.

#DraftingIsHell

Last week, I tweeted this:

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I know a lot of writers love drafting – the excitement, the exploration, the sheer creativity of it. I don’t. I hate drafting. In fact, writing first drafts is something I do because I need something to revise and edit. It doesn’t even matter than I outlined this book before I began to draft (for better or worse, I’m a planner). I’m just not happy until I have a mess to clean up.

My comfort is in brevity – flash fiction, short stories, articles and essays. As a writer, I like tight arcs and tiny details. I like snapshots in time, and little human moments that betray universal truths. I’m not good at being thrilling or even entertaining. I have no confidence in my ability to hold a reader’s attention past 5,000 words, which makes longer form fiction territory I need to explore. I have five novels simmering on the back burner, all unrelated, some erotic, some not. Every one of them is a demon I need to address, because I’m tired of being cowed by a word count.

But let’s go back to that whole, I hate drafting thing. This novel that I’m working on, tentatively called The Briary, is the simplest of the bunch, or so I thought. It was meant to be a fun, erotic romp through a Victorian manor house, but it’s turned out to be something else. The problem is that I’m not sure what the something else is, and that uncertainty froze me up.

The wise thing to do would be to keep drafting and not worry about it. Explore. See what happens. But I’m a control freak and that’s easier said than done. Drafting is difficult for me, regardless of length – 500 or 50k, it doesn’t matter. I don’t like finding out how a story ends. I like knowing so I can  figure out how deep it goes.

Pygmalian and Galatea by Jean-Leon Gerome ca. 1890. Image courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Pygmalian and Galatea by Jean-Leon Gerome ca. 1890. Image courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art

When I was an undergraduate, I took a handful of courses in the classics, and read a lot of Aristotle along the way. In addition to the Poetics, which I think every writer should read if only to understand the foundations of narrative structure, the thing that has most affected my writing was his philosophy of causality and the example commonly used illustrate it – that of a sculptor working in bronze or marble.

Around that same time, I spent many afternoons at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, journaling in the sculpture garden, so this notion of the creative  process being a tangible series of causes and effects wove itself into my subconscious and became fundamental to the way I work. Here are the Four Causes applied to my writing process:

1. Material Cause: Out of what has a thing come?

What’s the germ of the idea? In the case of The Briary, I had originally thought it was just my love of Victorian literature and threesomes (because threesomes are great), but once I began digging into it, I realized that the foundation of this book is a relationship I once had, and my need to work through unfinished business.

2. Formal Cause: What is it?

Could I tell this story, this germ of an idea, as a short? A novella? Fuck me, no. It has to be a novel. Time to get over that fear of running the writing marathon then.

3. Efficient Cause: Who makes it? Who causes the change?

The writer. The artist. The sculptor. As applied to any art, it’s the creator who molds the idea into its proper form. Sculptors have a block of stone to start with, but writers have to create the material they are going to change. Which means drafting. A lot. Fuck me, again.

4. Final Cause: Why? To What purpose?

Why do you create what you create? For writers, this is authorial intent, which is usually a form of communication – the subconscious dialogue between you and whoever receives your work. Do you want to make people think? Feel? Do you want to turn them on? The answer is unique to the writer and the story, but for most writers (though there are exceptions) the writing is, at least in part, done in service to the affect she hopes her work will have.

The Final Cause is what I love most about writing. It’s what drives me happily through multiple edits, because that’s where I uncover what the story wants to say. Many writers are able to find this in drafting, but for some reason I’m not. For some reason, my process is to coax the story open later, once it’s no longer a figurative block of stone.

This is where the sculpting metaphor comes in handy. I can’t sculpt the story out of nothing, so I need an idea, a foundation and a ton of material – what I call narrative clay, for lack of a better word. Writing the initial draft is where the clay comes from. For me, it’s lumpy, messy, chaotic, and yes, full of promise, but also in desperate need of refinement. I get impatient to dig in – I want to find the form hidden inside the lump.

Once I have that great lump of clay, I slough off the mess and slowly uncover the story underneath. This is where I feel like a writer, (whatever that means). This is where I hit my dreamy, natural stride, chiseling away like an archeologist on 12 square inches of Roman wall. Once I can see the thing for what it is, I edit for style, which is totally satisfying in a different way. And when I’m finally done, I have the final cause  – a finished story that will hopefully connect with its reader.

This novel, The Briary, got off to a difficult start. I began it last year, but put it aside several times because of deadlines, work and other obligations. In that time, it became a bogeyman, the symbol of a marathon I didn’t feel I could run. But I am running it now, very slowly, chapter by chapter (because I’m a sprinter so I have to trick myself 5k at a time).

I’m about a third of the way in now and beginning to hit my stride. I still don’t know what this book is going to be, but I need to learn to suck that up like I do with shorter works. I’ll uncover it revisions. Right now, I have to focus on making the clay.