New Year, Old Habits

A year ago, I was writing about being celibate and ringing in the new year sober. I saw a wide range of reactions as 2014 drew to a close, including romance, ambivalence and desperation. I watched, alone, as people clutched to their loves and lovers, as others desperately turned in circles trying to find a physical connection as the clock wound down, as others contententedly gulped their drinks, finishing off the year with the same liquid courage that got them through most of it.

A month later, I wrote at length about my views on sex and sexuality, on promiscuity, on having fun on a physical  level. It was a post that carried over from New Year’s Day, one that touched back on the reasons I stopped sleeping around and why I was cutting back on drinking: because as much fun as casual sex was and is, I’m starting to reach an age where finding a genuine connection was more important to me. I even tried – briefly and hardly enthusiastically – trying online dating. It didn’t really pan out.

I went through the most of the year is this perpetual state of “lonely but determined” up through May. When I went to Montana to visit my grandparent’s old home and began clearing through their old things and began reliving old memories, it began to trigger a manic break. Which of course meant it was perfect timing to come back and use that break to help ruin a relationship and friendship with someone I trusted implicitly and had been close with the better part of two years.

And if 2014 taught me that I was finding solace in sex in an emotionally unhealthy way, I guess 2015 taught me I’m just emotionally unhealthy in general. I feel things in extremes and I’ve barely managed to figure out a way to manage it. I can actively choose not to engage with someone! That’s the fucking easy part. I can walk away from anyone and just not give a shit about the conversation. Or the friendship, really. I’m close with a very select few people that have really weathered a lot of intense periods of my life, things that most people would or even have run away from.

Even when it comes to sex, though I’d say 95% of the women I’ve been with I’ve cared about, that affection is usually limited to a friendly minimum. Don’t get me wrong: I would bend over backwards and do tricks and do anything for any friend that needed something or someone. I do my best to be strong for someone when they can’t be strong for themselves. And sometimes that means a physical connection. And sometimes a physical connection is just born of it. But for the most part, as much as I care and/or worry about them, however the sex turns out, I can still just write it off as one of those nights. You know? Maybe not. I mean, it’s an intimate act. More intimate than pretty much anything. But there’s an understanding going in that the act is limited to physicality involving two people who trust each other but don’t necessarily need to rely on each other. There’s no need for real attachment.

And that’s good for me, I thought, because when I find someone I want to attach myself to, it typically goes poorly, for any number of reasons. In 2015, I ended my whole “save yourself, find a healthy connection” at a time when I was – albeit mostly unaware – at my unhealthiest. I was in the middle of a manic break. It ruined that friendship and it left me hurt and feeling damaged and pathetic. And there were deeper, unrelated, more intensive and intimate reasons for all of that, but I still felt low.

So I got into my head that I just genuinely cannot make a relationship work. I’m not good enough to take a chance on or not to cheat on or to take seriously. And if I am good enough for those things, I find a way to screw it up somewhere down the line just by being myself. That wouldn’t be a problem if I just didn’t give a shit, but I do.

Here’s the thing: I can detach myself from people. I can avoid investing large chunks of myself in people. But it isn’t because I want to, it’s because I’m used to being used and being left and being hurt, and I’m used to being disappointing and to letting people down and to hurting others unintentionally. I always try to keep a shoulder open to lean on and an ear to talk to, but there are days when I can hardly keep myself going, much less anyone else.

I am a hard person to be a close friend to, and I’m even harder to be in a relationship with. I’m a lot of work and that embarrasses me, especially in light of what I learned about myself. So I shut a good part of myself away and keep it out of harm’s distance from people, and I thought that was a good idea. And when I start catching feelings for someone, I tend to just ignore it or turn away from it, and let it pass me by.

And when I don’t ignore it, I’m fucked. Because everything I’ve refused to let myself fear gives way to hope and love and an enjoyment of affection and romance and feeling valued, and I let myself feel it so intensely because I feel it so rarely. I soak up every bit of it because I never know how long it will last and I put stock in every. Single. Second of it.

It bleeds into every aspect of things. The sex is more passionate, the dates more romantic, my writing is better, my patience is higher. And because I’m a writer and because I’m in love with love, I make huge, sweeping gestures. I don’t give a little. I give it all. I pour my heart all over the table and let it spill onto the floor.

And when it doesn’t work out, I’m crushed. All those old insecurities come back to gnaw on my tired bones. And if I’m the one responsible, I hate myself as passionately as I’ve loved the other person. And if there is a goodbye, it has to be another sweeping gesture. As memorable and (hopefully) positive and (hopefully) passionate a moment as any other during the relationship. I have to get all of my feeeelings and wooorrrds out there because there will never be another chance, and if she thinks of me, I want her to think of those good moments and those last thoughts because the same things will fucking haunt my entire life.

Of course, it never works out that way. I have plans and I imagine conversations, the final things I want to say, the way a conversation or encounter may pan out. That’s delusional. I am literally mentally ill.

And the funny thing about it all, if there is something that can be quantified as funny, is that when it comes to the things I’m passionate about outside of writing – love, romance, sex, intimacy – I am completely ineffective as a writer. When I’m disengaged, I can speak smoothly, act confidently. I can charm. When I’m really interested, when I’m nervous, when I’m in love, I overthink everything. I run something over in my mind so many times that whatever I actually say or write is usually a mangled mess of the original intent and comes out as something horrible and easily misinterpreted. I am easily overwhelmed and become tremendously overwhelming.

I sat in a bar last night packed with happy revelers, cavorting about, kissing and touching each other. A former passionate love of mine (one of the handful that I didn’t screw up) was around. We were able to have a conversation in person for the first time in three years. I saw new relationships and new passion around me. I sat, alone again, with a glowing blue tiara I stole from a different bar crowned upon my brow. I didn’t feel like drinking but someone was buying shots and I don’t like to turn down free things and that always leads to trouble quickly.

And I’m sitting. And I’m thinking. And I’m lonely. And I’m stressing. What did I do? Did I say something wrong? Why couldn’t I just have let everything ride? Why do I always fucking feel so much? Why can’t I stop wishing for more? And I’m drinking. And it’s 2016.

I don’t start my new year on the first of January. I start my new year on my birthday. Those are my years of life in which to consider the things I’ve accomplished during 12 more months of being here. But January 1st is at least an event that reminds me I have five more months before my year is over.

In those five months, I need to seriously begin to evaluate my emotions and reactions and try to find a healthy method of regulating them. I don’t know how to do that. I have a hard time asking for help. But I’ll figure it out. Right? Of course I will.

I’m always okay, even when I’m not.

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The Bedroom Is a Powerful Place

A powerful place is the bedroom.

There is a space where your most valued possessions lie; the things you can’t forget in the morning and want to remember before shutting your eyes for the final time that day. It’s a place of comfort. A place where you can shed your clothes and any masks you may have used to brave the world through morning and afternoon.

The bedroom is where the rest of the world ends and you convalesce. Where you can get the silence you’ve wanted all day. Where you can scream at the walls and blast music that shakes the window looking out to the patch of yard you share with the neighbor you never talk to. Or it’s a place soft notes coax the tears that have been fighting their way out for hours, letting them free, finally, to find a home in the pillowcase softly caressing your cheek.

The bedroom was a place one could feel vulnerable or powerful or free. There was a release in a bedroom. There was an intimacy there.

He was all too familiar with intimacy, release, and soft caresses. He was all too familiar with bedrooms.

And vulnerability.

He traced the rim of the shot glass with his index finger and stared into the amber liquid within. It didn’t reflect as well as he, and he saw nothing in it but the worn wood of the bar beneath it. He was a man so familiar with cold that he had fallen in love with the fire for the way it danced in his chest and made him feel… something. Finally. When it wasnt women, it was whiskey. There hadn’t been a woman in a while.

But he thought of them, often, every one. He thought about how each person he had taken to bed had taught him something about himself he never would have discovered otherwise. Most of those things were good. Not all of them, but most.

Despite all odds, he recalled vividly the drunken nights of stumbling down stairs, one arm wrapped around a woman, their hands running over clothes, craving intimacy and too impatient to wait for the articles to be discarded. A careless hand pushes into a pocket, the apartment key is dropped, picked up, fumbled around the lock until it finds purchase. The door falls open and the lovers fall in and the door slams closed and the lovers bob and weave to the bedroom. Shirts are tossed, pants are kicked away. A sock or two might stay on and the next morning they would both thing too much about it and roll their eyes.

The sex would be frantic and desperate, both eager to please and eager to feel something. Both primed to be vulnerable and be wanted in the midst of it. There were nights when it meant nothing but sharing a moment with someone who needed him as much as he needed them, and that was okay.

That was okay. And it was nice. And it was soft pecks in the morning and an agreement to get lunch soon and six months of sporadic texts and an occasional short, happy conversation when they ran into each other in a restaurant or a bar.

Comfort.
Companionship.
Release.
Acceptance.

Sometimes it worked better than others. There were always other things in play. The mind is distracted. The body doesn’t cooperate. Both participants had their distinct ways to communicate. Even when it meant nothing in the grander scheme, it was an intimate arrangement, an exposure of body and interest, a reveal of arousal and preferences. But it was temporary, an act of validation, an acknowledgement that one could be desired in this world, that one could cause pleasure or serve as an escape from worse things.

It doesn’t always work like that, does it?

He recalls a woman he had had his eye on for some years. A chance meeting. The first kiss. Rhythmic sex interrupted by a call into work and texts that promised repeats of a performance she “couldn’t stop thinking about”. But he had provided nothing special and there was no second encounter and she began dating someone a scant few weeks later. She was married now, years after, and happy.

He recalled a passionate affair. Neither of them could keep their hands off of each other the minute the door snapped shut. There was a desperate craving, a need to be wrapped around each other an irresistible urge to be as close as possible. They were flint and tinder and together created a wildfire.

That wasn’t how it started. It started in a quiet bedroom lit by a tiny lamp in the corner. It started with sitting next to each other and asking if each little touch was alright, assuring each other that nothing was crossing the line. Innocence was found among the guilty and it released a flood upon good judgment.

He remembered being on the phone with his brother when a t-shirt fell into his lap. He remembered looking up to see a naked back retreating to the bedroom. There wasn’t even a cheeky glance back. There didn’t need to be; that call had ended with a quickness.

He remembered an ex-lover that he had reconnected with while mourning the loss of his mother. They had a need for each other that transcended the physical, and they felt comfort in being weak with each other, and they took turns keeping their souls in, holding each other when the world threatened to break them down to ash.

That relationship hadn’t ended well, but it had ended with as much raw emotion as had breathed life into it.

There was a woman who was everything right and everything wrong for him all at once. When they clicked, the world was wide open. They loved each other and took every moment in every place to express it. The sex came easily, naturally, two parts to a whole. They knew what the other wanted and gave it and afterwards collapsed together contentedly.

And when they argued, they were brutal and scathing and cut to the core. They wept for each other, for the mislaid lines and frayed edges. They were perfect and terrible.

He remembered a woman he never expected to love. He remembered the first night together and the panic attack he had because he was so terrified to let her down, and how she patiently worked him through it. He remembered laying next to her, on their sides, looking at each other and forgetting there were lives outside of the sheets he had bought just to impress her. He remembered hours spent, naked, beside her, both reading, both touching enough to reassure reassure the other that they were still there.

He remembered desperately clinging to her because he knew she would slip away. And with a long, lingering kiss, she did. He found her hair on his pillow the next morning. He could trace his hands over the silhouette her body haunted his bed with. Of all of them, he thought he might miss her the most, for her patience, for her passion.

He traced that goddamn shot glass with his finger. He searched for answers in the liquor he knew would light his belly. He longed for connection and recalled fondly every one, every drunk, desperate, passionate, awkward, loving, awful, perfect one.

The bedroom is a powerful place.

My Own Worst Enemy

I have a pretty liberal view on sex. I’ve believed for a long time that as long as you’re being safe and consensual, have it with whoever, or however many whoevers. Sex is fun, and the beautiful thing about people is that they’re all different, and finding what each person likes is a delight.

Since high school, sex has come easy to me (no pun intended). It’s a lot easier to find someone you’re attracted to and vice-versa and agree to something that doesn’t have any strings attached. Ninety percent of the time, we even stay friends afterwards.

What doesn’t come easy to me is a connection. It’s been five years since I’ve been in a committed relationship and the handful of times since that I’ve felt like I’ve found someone worth making that leap for, it’s gone horribly wrong.

I say often that it isn’t easy for me to trust people, and that’s true. I’ve been hurt so many times that I can’t muster the energy to confide in someone I don’t think will give a shit or someone I think will hurt me somehow or use what I tell them against me. I don’t feel that connection with many people. I don’t see myself being with many people. I can see hook-ups and flings, sure, but it isn’t common that I find someone who takes my full attention.

Maybe that’s why, when I do, I fall so fucking hard and fast. When I trust, I trust completely because I’m bursting at the seams to find someone who is patient with my anxiety and my mood swings, who lets me be vulnerable without judging me, someone who believes in me. I don’t find many people who really believe in me. My last relationship, five years ago? She told me she didn’t ever see me being anybody important. We dated a while after that, too, because I’m a fucking idiot.

“I was never insane except upon occasions when my heart was touched,” said Poe, and persistent other mental issues aside, I find myself in a similar recurring predicament. I blind myself to hints and red flags and I hold out hope that things will work out, that things can be worked out, that the connection I feel is as strong for them as it is for me. That I’m worth working for. I do this, this planning too far ahead, this ignoring the signs, this fantasy wish-fulfillment, I do this until I’ve backed myself into a corner where I can do nothing but be hurt.

And I can’t be mad, except maybe at myself. No one has done anything wrong, except maybe me for clinging at threads that no longer even connect to the dress. But I can’t sit here and hate myself. I’ve done that before, for a long time, and it doesn’t do much in the way of making things better.

I can only be sad. I can only be upset, and brother, that’s a lot harder to get over.

See, my life is finally getting into shape. I’m setting money aside. I’m putting book submissions in and entering contests. I’m writing… or trying to, anyway. People still seem to like my first three books. But I still blame myself for not being good enough. I’m not handsome or charming enough. The sex wasn’t what it should have been. I’m not smart enough or in good enough shape. My life isn’t together enough. Ultimately, I’m not good enough to believe in or to work towards or to have faith in.

There’s a little spot in the back of my brain that reminds me some things just aren’t meant to be, that getting out of Alaska means a fresh start, be patient, you are good enough. But I’m always going to blame myself, because I always have. That is what feels right and logical to me: that I’m just a fuck-up with pipe dreams.

I’m tired of sleeping around. I’ve traveled that road. I’ve done a lot of it, more than the awkward, outcast, bullied kid I was in high school thought he would. It was fun, and I don’t regret it. But I’m tired of it. I want to find someone I can be myself with. I want to find someone I feel safe with. I want to find someone who tells me I’m not fucking crazy for wanting to be an author.

“Write hard and clear about what hurts,” Hemingway said.

You know what hurts? I do. All the goddamn motherfucking time.

La Petite Mort

With a soft moan
The door
Opens
Like a lover and
With a breath,
The breadth of distance
Closes
She is there like warm smoke
Filling my lungs, clinging to my clothes
Bright and bare as the moon
Searing as the sun, hot to the touch
We become cartographers
Mapping trails across each other’s skin
Hands grip and knead
Unraveling knots
Caught up in the moment, we
Fall
For the moment
For the other
To the floor
Tightly wound, bound around one another
Pressed lips slip, drift
Across and down
The sounds of fire’s desire cut through the room
A knife and
Life thrums under every inch of skin
Crackles down every vein
Thunders in each chamber of the heart
We find our places, begin our paces
The walls around us become a temple
Cries to God sanctify it
Nails dig scripture into flesh and
Breath comes quick and heavy
Heavenly
Our coils twist and tighten
Senses heightened and
When release comes, it is as
A flash of light in a storm

No one ever told me a little death would taste so sweet

Sex and Online Dating

I’ve been on a self-imposed celibacy kick for a few months now, starting right around the time I decided I seriously needed to stop drinking less.  It’s not that I regret being promiscuous or that I’m going to, I don’t know, save myself for marriage from here on out (I don’t and I’m not respectively), it’s just that I’ve reached a point where just fucking around has put a strain on me mentally to where it’s affected my ability to pursue a healthy relationship.

Not that sex isn’t healthy! Not that even casual sex isn’t healthy! Thing is, though, the last committed relationship I’ve been in was four and a half years ago. Oh, I’ve dated a few women since and been exclusive to them and still even care deeply about them as friends, but I was exclusive out of choice, not an expected arrangement. I don’t know if they were loyal to me; I didn’t care, I didn’t expect them to be. But boundaries set and established monogamy for both parties? It’s been a long,  long time since I’ve had a girlfriend. It’s been a long, long time since I’ve been anyone’s boyfriend.

Anyway, to understand where I’m at with this celibacy thing, it’s probably best to understand where I am in terms of how I view sex and sexuality.

I grew up in a modest household with a Christian grandmother and a mellpw grandfather, but I had addict parents and a step-father who owned and ran strip clubs. My mom was a dancer, and my dad was sort of a player when he was young. There was a very liberal mindset on the fringe areas of my youth that fascinated me. I was never taught to body-shame. I was never taught to be ashamed of myself or my sexuality. I was always taught to be respectful of people in general, but especially women.

Anyway, at some point growing older, it all seemed simple to me: if you’re being safe, if you’re being honest with your situations and everything is consensual, then there shouldn’t be a problem. Your sex life is none of anyone’s business, nor is theirs yours. Feel free to save yourself for marriage or for a select few or however many you want. As long as you’re safe, honest, and clearly consenting.

Now, I’ve never been good with women. Romantically, I mean. Our relationships either failed due to infidelity (theirs), depression (mine), differing plans for the future (ours) and probably countless other things that I never even noticed.  I’m a great friend (or I try to be) and I’m a romantic at heart, but I’m terrible at picking up on hints from interested women and I constantly (or have in the past) feel like they’re going to wake up one day and realize they could be doing so much better.

Anyway, sex. Because sex has seldom been a problem over the last 8 years and yet, AND YET when it all began, there were all the indicators that I would be fucking miserable at mixing sex and relationships.

I lost my virginity when I was 15 to a girl my age who was not a virgin and who I liked very much until she cheated on me a week later and wound up with three kids before she was legally allowed to drink. I was distraught, temporarily, as teenagers are wont to be, but found solace in the arms of someone else not long after, albeit briefly. This woman I loved deeply and her family was close to me.

But this isn’t about love, silly, it’s about sex, and I didn’t have much of it. Like, count on one hand the times total in the three or four months between when I lost my virginity (it was an early February) to the last instance (late May? June? Shit, it might have been an October, this was over ten years ago) and then I didn’t have that kind of contact again for years.

I had opportunities, don’t get me wrong. I partied a lot, a lot, and people get frisky at parties, but the only two people I had slept with I cared deeply about, I was super-duper depressed in general,  and so – back then – I WAS saving myself. I just didn’t know for who or what.

I was really into this girl when I turned 18. She introduced me to a bunch of weird music that I liked but would never have discovered otherwise, and we would end up at each other’s houses fooling around but never go all the way. I liked her a lot, man, and I constantly asked her out but she wanted an open relationship (the other guy’s name was Kenny. My first name is Kenneth; this pissed me off to no end). I didn’t want an open relationship – she was the only woman I wanted – but I was willing to make an exception if it was the only way I could get her. Then she FLIPPED OUT on me when I went on a friend date with a friend-girl.

You see? Healthy relationships. I told her that I couldn’t handle the double-standard, especially when I was being yelled at for a non-romantic relationship with a friend who had been there for me through some heavy shit. I broke it off. I was headed to Europe in three weeks and while I would have been faithful had we been in a relationship,  I wasn’t about to start one just to leave right away.

Here’s the thing, though: 18 and single or not, I still knew jack shit about talking to women. A few email addresses and drunk kisses aside, my trip abroad was sexless. This did nothing to detract from the incredible experience I had, and I was more concerned with the hand I paralyzed and spent two months fixing, but my hormones were out of control and I grew frustrated.

When I finally had sex again, it was terrible. I was so bad. I felt so bad for her for agreeing to that. Holy shit, let me tell you, I’m astonished that word of that didn’t spread, that I wasn’t mocked in the streets, that I ever regained the confidence to give it another shot.

I ended up in a relationship not long after that, though, and she was a lot more patient with my inexperience. It helped that there was an actual relationship involved, too. There is strength in an emotional connection to support a physical relationship.

That relationship did end, eventually, though. Not prettily. I’ve found break-ups are seldom neat and romantic notions don’t help for shit when someone tells you they don’t love you anymore.

A strange thing happened then, and I’m not sure how or when: where I failed in relationships I began to excel in flings and one-night stands. Now, I have never misled a woman for sex. I’ve never lied about myself or the situation. If I wasn’t interested in a relationship, I would make that clear and if she was uncomfortable with that arrangement, it didn’t happen.

There were a myriad of reasons for the experiences. Mutual attractions. Mutual emotional desperation. The need for release or just to have fun. Though I’m not friends with most of them now, the reason why has almost never been because of that.

I mean, I love women in general. I love the first time a woman and I come together because there it’s incredibly intimate. Even if, in the large scheme of things, it means nothing, there’s an intimacy to the whole experience. You discover each other’s likes and dislikes, the erogenous zonez, everyone kisses differently, wears their hair differently, puts on a different perfume. It’s exciting, it’s fun. That’s the point.

Then it stopped being fun for me. Not because of the sex or the women,  but because all of these other aspects of my life were falling apart and I felt like a piece of shit. I wasn’t taking care of myself physically, I was withdrawing from all of my friends, I wasn’t writing hardly at all and I hadn’t been for months. My life lacked substance beyond the day-to-day and I started realizing you can only live in the moment for so long when you’re not doing anything good for yourself.

I decided to be celibate while I figured myself out. This is weird for me for two major reasons:
1. It’s difficult for a guy who was super shy and awkward and didn’t have sex through 99% of high school to pretty much always having options to go back to not having sex at all. I realize that it had reached a point where I was doing it less because it was thrilling and more because I was desperate for companionship, but, again, I was pretty honest about that up front and it took me a long time to see that as a problem.

2. People really want to have sex with you when you really don’t and some of them will get offended when you turn them down. If you’re reading this and you’re one of them: I’m terrible in bed. Just ask anyone.

Anyway, this focusing on myself shit has been really good. I’m drinking a lot less, saving a little more money, and writing a LOT more. I’ll be putting another book out at the beginning of next month. I’ve been waking up rested after having been more productive and I would say 9/10 mornings I wake up generally happy. I’ve been focusing a lot more on trying to make time for friends, online and over the phone if I can’t do it in person.

I’ve started trying to date again, too. Like,  seriously date. Dinner or coffee or a movie or fucking anything that involves me spending time with someone I like and find interesting, and it’s nice because I can go into it with a clear mind, a better understanding of myself and my goals, and comfortable in trying to develop a relationship of real substance.

It hasn’t gone well so far.

Soooo on a lark, I signed up for OKCupid. I’m not even mad about it. I’m not embarrassed. Shit, I dished out $50 bucks so if anyone likes my profile, I can see who it was because I am genuinely bad at noticing.

So it works like this, this online dating shit: you fill out your profile. What do you like? Your favorite foods/tv/books/movies, what are you working on, etc. Message me if: this and that and here or there. Then you can answer from this endless stream of questions. It asks you a question,  what you’ll accept out of someone else’s responses,  and how much it means to you (a little, somewhat, very).

The more questions you answer,  the more it can tell you who matches your interests, likes and dislikes, and whose interests and opinions oppose yours. I’ve had it for a week or two now, and I have to say: it’s ridiculously accurate. I’ll see a profile with a 90% match and they’ll list off a dozen books, films and shows I like, list hobbies that line up with my own and so on and so forth. It’s exciting and frightening all the same.

Things I’ve learned so far:

1. My best matches seem to be in Los Angeles and New York and looking for people in their general area only. This seems to confirm things I already know.

2. Women who match me 55% or less locally have been blowing up my profile.  I can’t imagine why.

3. I’m hesitant to reach out to someone locally because Anchorage is a place where mouths like to run and I seem to have cultivated a much more negative opinion about me than positive, some of which is justified, some of which is from years ago, and some of which is completely false.

But there has been some rumblings of interest and that’s refreshing and a bit encouraging for me. So we’ll see how it goes, and maybe I’ll meet someone at a bookstore or something, if not online. Maybe the woman of my dreams will send me a private message.

Anyway, I’m not sorry for having been sexually active or for being open about my sexuality, and with one exception (an incident which was not my fault), I have zero regrets about that part of my life.

And I’m no saint now. My libido is high and I doubt that will change. Growing up requires introspection in every part of one’s life, though, and I’ve seen that mine lacks a good amount of healthy, supportive, communicative relationships. It so happens that certain aspects need to change in order for me to change that,  and I’m happy to have made those changes.

My relationships with my friends have improved dramatically over the last few months because I finally had enough courage to ask for help, to ask for someone to talk to, and to ask for a few encouraging words when I’ve needed them.

I want to be able to share the love for life and art and this world and so much else with someone, too, and I want to do it without these knee-jerk thoughts and impulses and feelings I’ve had for strangers that catch my eye. I’ve had a pretty shitty track record with that.

Will OKCupid work in the long run? Who knows? I have a couple friends who got married off of it. I’ve had two other friends get married after meeting online in other ways. Right now, I’m taking it a day at a time without the pressure of sex or awkward silences, and with a good amount of information about me (and her) already up front to parse through.

Worst case scenario, nothing happens and I just made you read about my sex life.

Six Reasons Why 50 Shades of Grey Sucks, and Why It Doesn’t

A couple years ago, I tried to write an article for Cracked about a SUPER HOT TOPIC at the time. They weren’t biting and I dropped it. But with the release of the 50 Shades of Grey trailer and the fact I have a blog now, I thought I’d resurrect it. Here’s the original article:

Straight up: before writing this article I read both Twilight and 50 Shades of Grey, I did it sober, and holy shit was that the worst idea I’ve ever had. But once the migraines subsided, I tucked back my man-bits, took some Midol and pretended these books were marketed towards me. This is how I came to my conclusions. Note there are spoilers to follow:

1) It’s Fan-Fiction!

For those wondering why I bothered to read Stephanie Meyer’s abortion of literature for a 50 Shades article, let me enlighten you: 50 Shades of Grey started its rags-to-riches fairy-tale life as a rip-off of someone else’s fairy-tale life. Because of that, it’s impossible not to draw a few comparisons. They’ll pop up. I had to be educated.

The fact remains, 50 Shades of Grey was once a humble, smutty, Twilight fan fiction titled Masters of the Universe and I can’t begin to tell you how pissed I was when searching for He-Man/Fisto slash stories and coming across this bullshit.

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Fuck with the universe, the universe fucks back.

Now fan fiction is not a new thing. If you don’t believe me, Google it! Actually, maybe don’t. There’s a lot of dark shit on the Internet. But while it’s not uncommon, the attention this one got was insane.  What’s more surprising is that it hasn’t happened before. There have been thousands of stories at least of Harry Potter getting Bunghole Expanidicus’d and none of them have come close to drilling the oil of Hell and making the author a veritable tycoon.

But it happened with this. 50 Shades of Grey got kick-started by Edward dark-fucking Bella and thousands of people liking it. It’s like a porn parody that doesn’t know it’s a parody.

But it’s not so bad because…
           
Once Stephanie Meyer’s people started shoving Cease and Desists so far up E.L. James’ ass that her off-brand Wheaties tasted like law, she took down Masters, took a second to reflect, and overhauled the whole damn thing.

Seriously. 50 Shades is almost completely different. All you need to do is read them both to see. There are some similarities. Edward and Christian both get their Elton John on with their own pianos and serenades. They’re both abrasive, distant and thrumming with danger. They both rescue their loves from a speeding vehicle (Anastasia’s was an eager cyclist; Bella only had to worry about a truck).

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I vampired the shit out of that truck with my glitter-pecs.

And that’s about it. The relationship is different, save for the “I’m not right for you, so pick someone else, but I won’t really let you” cliché that exists in every romance with a “bad boy”. But in Twilight, you have Edward, a 107-year old vampire who’s been hanging out in high schools because… who the fuck knows? He’s like the Van Wilder of statuatory rape. On the other hand: Christian Grey, a mid-twenties ridiculously rich entrepreneur who has equally questionable tastes but is far from an undead confessed murderer. Their relationship is not predator-prey, but master-servant. There’s no real danger, unlike Edward’s overt threat that he will murder his lady friend and ditch her body in a different state. (Page 214. And 255. Romance!)

And unlike Bella’s repeated carelessness and indifference in the face of danger, Ana feels, recognizes and addresses her fear. There’s no super-nature, there is thinking characters, and a mostly private romance with a public figure as opposed to a public relationship with a mostly private figure. At most, it’s close to a total opposite, like a picture negative. The same, but different, and that’s no worse than anything already being vomited and re-digested in all forms of media.

2) The Pacing

The cadence of this book is more bi-polar than a sexually confused penguin. It starts out at a pretty speedy pace, devolves into sexy hijinks that are… dubious… and then it fucking draaags for a good third of the book. My god, once you get to the banging, how can you just write a hundred pages of, uh, not banging?

The most egregious example of Rapidash-level plot advancement is our opening. After Anastasia Steel interviews Christian Grey, we’re met with a “the rest of the week” style fast-forward. Using context clues, we can deduce that, at the earliest, Ana interviewed Grey on a Sunday. Assuming that’s the case and following the narrative from there, it is twelve days at the most before 21-year old Anastasia- who has never wanted to kiss a man before in her life – lets Grey be her first sexual partner.

What?!

The only things that could drop a virgin’s panties faster than Christian Grey are gamma hydroxybutyric and the Rapture. Maybe the Flash, but he’s a real hero… and the friction burn would be terrible.

But it’s not so bad because…

E. L. James wanted to leave her mushroom print on literature, so she introduced us to naïve but willful Anastaia and cold-but-sexy-hot boner owner Christian quickly, a little faster than we’re used to. It felt wrong at first, but… so, so right. Then she blew our minds, hard and enthusiastically, with the sex. Then sure, it went slower, but we knew it’s because she was going deeper.

See, the pacing is a little jarring at first only because James hooked us by jumping right into the deep end with no floaties. We got our characters, our basic set-up, our hard sex, all at once. We’re not used to it happening so quickly with anything that doesn’t have “co-ed” or “turkey baster” in the title. But once it’s out of the way, we can slow our thudding hearts, take our hands away from our parts and get to the juicy meat of the story.

3) The Story

But the story fucking sucks. We’re not just talking about the plot, though we doubt the verisimilitude behind a prudish virgin rocketing towards nymphomania at a speed so fast Mr. Fahrenheit would finally let someone stop him. The book is essentially the film Eros zip-tying Never Been Kissed and taking her to Pound Town.

But more than that, the writing style is atrocious. It just hammered home phrases like “Don’t bite your lip”, “inner goddess” and “baby. Oh, baby.” I haven’t seen so many unconvincing usages of the word ‘baby’ since Little Man, most memorably after he romantically removes her tampon, slips it in and says, “That’s right, baby.”

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No it’s not ‘right’, baby.

I haven’t swooned so hard since The Notebook. And by “swooned”, I mean “recoiled” and by “The Notebook”, I mean “Ichi the Killer”.

The crowning achievement of this masterpiece comes after Grey gives Anastasia Steele a laptop so they can e-mail each other and she’s flustered when the first one arrives. “I got an e-mail from Christian Grey.” Gasp. First off: Lady, you deep-throated the man in his bathtub after less than two weeks of knowing him, you can stop being surprised. Secondly, here are what some of those e-mails entail:

CG: I do hope you had a good day at work.
AS: I had a very good day at work.
CG: Delighted you had a good day.

Fuck you, E.L. James!

But it’s not so bad because…

Like a Rubik’s Cube with Asperger’s, the characters and underlying plot are surprisingly complex. Christian Grey’s disposition and predilection for rough sex are a result of his being seduced (read: statuatory raped/dominated) by an older person at the ripe age of fifteen. No, it wasn’t Edward Cullen.

A big chunk of the book focuses on Anastasia’s sexual curiosity, the chances she takes and her growing experience all while wrestling with the commanding nature of aggressive sex and Christian’s mood swings. They talk to each other, a lot, and in those conversations, they learn about each other and begin to build a connection that starts the crumbling of Christian’s walls. Ultimately, the book even closes on a downer, which is a little unconventional, even for the first book in a trilogy.
 
And yeah, some lines are groaners, but let’s look at some other romance novels:

Lora Leigh’s Nauti Deceptions: “…sent a shard of sensation tugging at the forbidden entrance to her lower body.”

Roxanne St. Claire’s Barefoot In the Sand: “Still looking up, still holding him with her eyes and her mouth… and her heart.”

Laurell K. Hamilton’s Narcissus In Chains: “It was tight, thick, like he plugged a hole with his body…”

ROMANTIC.

Compared to Twilight, which reads like a blind spastic was flailing frantically at a keyboard, 50 Shades is fucking Shakespeare. Plus it has the term “just-fucked pigtails” and the sentences, “I don’t remember reading about nipple clamps in the Bible. Perhaps you were taught from a modern translation,” and that shit is gold.

4) The Misogyny

Do a search in any engine asking if 50 Shades of Grey is misogynistic and the results will come back as an overwhelming “Fucking Duh”.

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Christian Grey’s whole thing, his schtick, is that he likes to dominate and control women. He orders them around, refers to them as his property and physically abuses them. He wants to make Anastasia sign a strict contract on what she can and can’t do with her own body, including her diet, sleep regiment and masturabatory practices, like the Hitler of handjobs.

He makes Anastasia cry on multiple occasions, spanks her – one time with a belt! – chastises and demeans her. And she takes it. And she doesn’t tell anyone about it because he made her sign a non-disclosure agreement, meaning she has to ask permission before she can ask her best friend all the new sex questions she’s got running through her mind. Anastasia is Reverse Rosie the Riveter, a stunning sample of alliteration that will stir the loins of any chauvinist readers.

But it’s not so bad because…

Misogyny: noun: hatred, dislike, or mistrust of women.

Hatred is a… pretty harsh word. And while Christian Grey mistrusts women, he mistrusts everybody, but there is little in the book to support a claim that he hates Anastaia or even dislikes her or even likes her discomfort and distress.

And as far as the distrust goes, the entire book is about how he learns to love and trust her while she trusts in him as he frees her of her sexual inhibitions. So it’s more about the removal of misogyny, if anything.

Shit, if we’re definining misogyny as being wary around people or making them cry, any man who’s ever hurt his girlfriend’s feelings (or vice-versa, you femisogynists) is guilty!

If it’s about the fact that he likes to control and smack her around… I can see how that can be taken the wrong way. But while I would never condone domestic abuse (except in the case of the Muppets and the Flintstones), that’s not what’s going on here. I’ll get to that in a minute, but first let’s analyze the book a bit.

Christian Grey’s got the personality of sexy sandpaper, probably because his mom was a crackhead and he was burned by cigarettes as a kid. But beneath that uncaring visage is something more humane, something that makes him protect Ana from her would-be date-rapist/friend Jose, take care of her when she’s black-out, Exorcist-expulsion drunk, bends over backwards to provide for her, frets for her safety, showers her with gifts, confides in her and makes exceptions with his lifestyle that he’s never made with anyone. Hell, I want to have sex with him now.

The abusive stuff, the debasement and bondage and spanking? The only things that happen outside of her contract signing are asked for and verbally encouraged. The non-disclosure agreement was only to protect Christian Grey’s image, probably because – for some reason – he doesn’t want everyone to know he’s got Marquis de Sade’s wet dream in his penthouse.

The sex contract on the other hand is detailed in pages 165-175. Ten pages. The thing reads like a dissertation and outlines their relationship, the length (a three month trial period) and everything else that will be involved. Anything she doesn’t like or feel comfortable with, she negotiates away. And the debasement and abuse she’s agreeing to? Here’s a list: spanking, whipping, biting, genital clamps, hot wax, paddling, caning, nipple clamps, ice.

Now, while the genital and nipple clamps seem rough (she denies them and he agrees), the rest of that is pretty fucking tame…. wait a second…..

Ice?!

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You sick bastard.

5) The Sex

Here it is. The most talked-about aspect of the book. That’s because when it comes, it is graphic. Believe it or not, that’s partly why it sucks. It’s not a book so much as literotica (from the ancient Celtic phrase “book porn”). And while it’s detailed, it stays just vague enough to be kind of bad.

There are a whole lot of “down there’s” that make it almost sound like she’s getting her ankles fucked, and the “babys” and “inner goddess” references keep on coming and kill the joy faster than John Wayne Gacy. That fucking inner goddess… she grates like Fran Drescher.

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Imagine sex with her voice. You’re welcome.

And it’s all so… weird. Hell, Grey’s completely indifferent to de-flowering his new toy. He approaches taking Anastasia’s virginity in the same manner one would use when scraping the ice off of their windshield before sticking their dick in the car.

The bondage aspects are talked about but only weakly explored. Zip-tied, for God’s sakes? The guy who shoplifted a box of lamb-skin condoms got that far when security fucked the center of his back with a knee.

Dispassionate and unambitious, it’s a watered down Penthouse letter with a plot written by an angsty ninth-grader who sees it as the only way to get the senior prom king to fall for her… and she still imaginary-begs for it.

But it’s not so bad because…

Clumsy sex is still sex. That old phrase, “It’s like pizza: even when it’s bad, it’s still good”? It’s true here, too, if you’ve got the imagination for it. And there’s a reason soap operas have been around for decades. They’re addictive because there’s that dramatic relationship, and in 50 Shades, that same relationship makes each new sexual encounter more passionate, more exciting, especially as Ana’s inhibitions lessen. It’s “Shades of Our Lives”.

That’s actually why this book is so great with sex. Remember when we said earlier that it wasn’t misogyny but something else? That something is the BDSM fetish. It’s been around for a long, long time, and it stands for “bondage and discipline, sadism and masochism” and you should be able to gather from that it’s all about the master-slave thought process. And guess what? It goes both ways; plenty of men like to be “punished” as well.

BDSM has already been portrayed in plenty of movies (Pulp Fiction, Eurotrip, Secretary, to name a few), but the book has done tons for exposing the fetish on  a mass scale simply by virtue of the millions of copies sold. And for those who like being spanked, choked, cuffed, scratched, bit or called filthy things (whore, shitheel, Tila Tequila) during sex… this is part of that. 50 Shades lets those people know, if they didn’t already, that it’s okay to have a fetish and it lets the inexperienced live a fantasy vicariously through Anastasia Steele.

Just don’t get carried away and kill someone.

6) The Lack of Vampires

Do you know why everyone’s writing about sexy vampires who learn to love? Because who doesn’t want that? Vampires are handsome, charismatic, dangerous, mysterious, like to bite and are powerful. Despite that last thing being the only quality separating vampires from Jeffrey Dahmer, the not-quite Draculas just open the goddamn flood gates. Hell, Anne Rice made a kajillion dollars off of it.

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Lestat de Lioncourt. Edward Cullen. Eric Northman. Angelus. Jerry….you know, from Fright Night. What the fuck kind of vampire name is Jerry?

Whatever. The point is that they’re alluring. They’re surreal, something more than the average Jerry, er, Joe, and when they so gently nibble on your neck, it’s easy to forget they’re capturing your heart in a more literal sense as well.

50 Shades, despite being a Twilight rip-off, has no vampires. It’s just a handsome, mysterious, powerful, dangerous, charismatic guy who likes to bite but is ultimately just a man.

But it’s really okay, because…

Yeah, just a handsome, mysterious, powe… look, you get it. He’s all the great qualities that make vampires appealing, but his “danger” comes from his aggressive sex acts and not the fact that he’s trying to EAT you.

Romanticized vampires are done to death. Twilight was the worst offender when Stephanie Meyer wrote out the vulnerability to sunlight and added diamond sprinkles. That’s not even a fucking vampire! That’s a, a… a glampire!

Even having sex with them has grown stale. Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake has been slutting up literature for ten years to the point that she’s not so much a vampire investigator anymore, or even a “fang-banger” as True Blooders would say, but a depository for the supernatural as a whole.

What happened to Nosferatu? Dracula? Dhampir? Do you remember the last movie that made vampires terrifying? No. No one does. Not even Josh Hartnett’s abs could save that movie from flopping so hard it snapped its own spine.

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“’I can smell your blood.’-sexy when Edward says it, apparently.

By keeping Christian Grey human and giving him a whole different and completely regular fucked up mental issues, the story is more relatable and all-around better for it. And as a planet, we can start trying to inject some fear back into our kids with real monsters.

So does 50 Shades of Grey suck or not? I don’t know. I thought I did at first, and it’s certainly better than Twilight, and there is this:

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A Christian Grey rendering, apparently. “Don’t bite your lip.”

But comparing the two is like comparing paraplegia to quadraplegia: you’re still not walking anywhere. What do I know, though? I’m fifty shades of fucked up.

Fucks Given: Sex and Swearing In Writing

I’m still pretty new to the blogging game, but I’ve found I have the time and material to update far more often than I first expected. This is bound to be one of my more controversial entries, but I encourage you to share it as often as possible. I don’t want to put too much emphasis on my own writing talents or influence, but there are certain topics that I think need to be discussed not only amongst writers or readers but the public in general, as it pertains to the conceptualization of what is deemed acceptable and unacceptable in terms of prose (be it in a novel, a comic book or on screen).

Before I get into the writing aspect of it, I want to cast a very honest spotlight on our honest-to-God societal reality, at least as pertains to the United States:

Children swear. A lot. So many children so much, and that is how it has always been. When I was in first grade of elementary school, a TON of children would use “curse” words whenever they felt an adult wasn’t listening. That was over twenty years ago. By the time I hit fourth grade, 70-85% of my class was swearing, easily. Does that mean I think you should go out of your way to swear in front of children, or that you should even share this blog with your eight-year old? Absolutely not. But I do think it’s something that is being blown out of proportion. You should let your children know which words are considered adult-only and inappropriate to use as they come up in conversation. This instills in them an awareness and understanding that they can then use to formulate their own usages and personalities regarding it.

Fact: Other children are going to swear around your children. Fact: Other adults are going to swear around your children. Fact: With the expansion of and exposure to the Internet over the last two decades, and with the gradual acceptance of more and more words on television and young adult novels that were once considered taboo, they’re going to be exposed to those words no matter what. Pretending it’s not happening and punishing because of it is far less useful than educating about the proper ages/circumstances and usages.

Let alone a double-standard. When I was younger, “hell” was considered a bad word if uttered in earshot of an afult, but it’s also a religious concept. So one usage of a word is acceptable but another is not? That’s absurd (there is an exception to this, and that is any word that has been co-opted with the intention of becoming a slur to denigrate a race, gender or sexuality. I will say that words only have as much power as you allow them to have, but these words are never okay and neither is intentionally trying to hurt someone.)

Secondly, sex happens. Ohhh my God, does sex happen. And not wanting to talk about it or pretending it doesn’t happen can actually put your children at risk. I’m not saying show an explicit sexual video to your children. That’s horrible and without context or a certain level of emotional maturity, that can lead to a drastic misinterpretation of what is considered normal and what isn’t.

However, I was shown the Miracle of Life video in my 5th grade class and there is definitely a baby exploding out of a vagina. Granted, you needed a permission slip signed, but still: from the reality of birth, there needs to be an understanding of the act of procreation. If you’re going to figure out how a penis-shaped block fits into a vagina-shaped hole, one needs to be educated on the differences between men and women.

In 6th grade, when I was 11 years old, the teachers split the classes up to explain puberty, periods, ejaculation and masturbation. Our bodies are weird little machines that do scary things sometimes. It’s good to know that’s normal, but now we’re curious. I was in 5th grade when I first discovered I could feel pleasure when my genitals were manipulated a certain way.

With curiosity comes experimentation. In 8th grade, we learned as a co-ed class what condems and speculums were and what sexually transmitted diseases looked like. I was 13 years old.

I lost my virginity when I was 15, with a condom, to a girl my age who weighed significantly more than me and went by the nickname Pixie. Not my proudest moment. I’ve had worse. I learned a lot.

Now, granted, teen pregnancy has actually dropped almost consistently since the 1950s (the 90s were a crazy time, what with all the pastel colors and mail-in prizes), but even in 2009 46% of high schoolers had admitted in a survey to having had sex at some point in their lives and over 30% had been sexually active within the three months of the survey. ALMOST HALF had lost their virginity before graduation and it would be naive to think that the rest weren’t at least aware of the concept of sex and their bodies.

And as much as I hate to admit it, I’m slowly starting to realize that MTV’s 16 and Pregnant and Teen Mom is doing a faitly decent job of showing just what challenges are involved with and  how hard it can be to be a teenage parent. Sex is going to happen, but education and preparation go a long way towards making less accidents and more understanding of one’s body and interests and relationships.

Which is why it baffles me that such things in the existence of Young Adult novels can be met with such astonishment and protestation. In the Hunger Games, children 12-18 years old brutally murder each other. A child takes a spear through the chest. There are flesh-eating gas attacks. In Harry Potter, people are tortured and murdered left and write. Hell, the whole premise is kicked off with a double-murder and attempted infanticide that leaves a baby with a CURSED SCAR.

But the exploration of love and intimacy is to be ignored or shied away from or looked down upon.

These books/films I mention are for young adults. Typically 13-17, and I acknowledge that.  There are reasons that there is an MPAA to dictate ratings and, as I said, I’m not saying you should let your young children read, say, Stephen King. But if you find a copy of It tucked into their backpack, snuck away from the library as I did, maybe talk with them about it instead of clutching it to your breast as if it were a gun.

In regards to swearing, it also has a time a place. My first three novels are filled with swearing and violence and a little bit of sex. They would garner an R-rating. It’s the kind of show you would watch on HBO, if they would ever pick it up (Hint hint). I swear a lot personally, on this blog and in real life. I try to censor those words around children or in professional conversations or conversations with my elders out of respect, and I don’t talk about sexual things.

But in the context of writing, “swear” words can pack an emotional punch. They have a strength behind them. An “Oh, no” can have a resignation behind it that lets you feel the moment the character realizes all is lost, but an “Oh, shit” packs a whole lot more desperation and shock in it. There have been videos almost comically detailing the versatility of the F word, but they aren’t wrong. The word can take the emotional attachment out of an act of sex. It can describe bewilderment, anger, astonishment, exasperation and more.

Damn and dammit can be used to express frustration or dismissal (as in “Damn you.”) Ass can be used as an insult or description of anatomy. You could say someone has a nice ass, or someone could “fall on their ass” which sounds much sharper and more painful than landing on their butt.

Language can also be used to define a character. I’ll use my novel Waypoint as an example. Harper Beiden detests swearing and even grows frustrated and angry at others for the usage of what he considers crass words. Nicolas Rubel swears almost non-stop because he’s a blustering bully. Cale Farari rarely swears but when he does, the reader pays that much more attention because they know he’s frustrated or desperately trying to get a point across.

Sex can also be used as a literary tool. When Salem finally loses has sex with a woman, it is clumsy and awkward and slow as she leads his inexperienced body through the motions. When Basker and Mazel have sex for the first time, it’s out of mutual desperation after long periods of hardship. They’re able to push find fleeting comfort in each other where the world has given them none. Kight is promiscuous and loves both men and women. She is confident in that, picky in who she chooses and unfazed by the comments anyone chooses to fling her way (Oberyn Martell of Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire is much the same way).

Bottom line, I suppose, is this: Sex and swearing are facts of life that your children will be exposed to much sooner than you might expect, via classes or conversations or what-have-you. But growing up is a complicated thing and sex and swearing will be integrated into their lifestyles in varying degrees as they get older and especially once they hit teenage/young adult years. If sex is something you want to save and swearing is something you detest, that is fine. But don’t decry the use of it in art and literature when the world has always been a collective culture where these things exist and different people have different appreciations of them.

Utilizing these things in books and scripts and poems allows for a more accurate portrayal of feelings and diversity and the confusion that comes with maturity.

Basically, shit happens and people will give fucks. Just try not to be a bitch, bastard or asshole about it, dammit.