Marilyn Manson Might Have a Cold

My New T-shirt

My New T-shirt

When Marilyn Manson got popular in the’90’s, I was in a pious, yoga obsessed vegetarian state-in truth a rather vain attempt to purge myself of a dark path. So I missed him. He wasn’t on my radar. Instead, I found him a few years ago, as a middle aged mother of two, after asking my niece about a book she was reading with a devil eyed man on the cover. I am partial to devil eyed men. It was Manson’s autobiography “The Long Hard Road Out of Hell,” and I adored it. Don’t come running to me all offended, though, if you read it. Please don’t if you can’t stomach severe, revolting excess. It is also hilarious, and in the words of a Chicago Sun Times review “Repulsive…well written and uncommonly addictive.”

What I love about Manson is his ability to expose himself, and not just on stage. He spares nothing, especially himself, in the book and I admire that level of honesty. What the book reveals is that Manson, who I think is often dismissed as just an overblown shock rocker, comes by it all legitimately. He went to an evangelical Christian school that taught him that the Beast was coming, and if you denied Christ, you would be stamped with the mark 666 and allowed to live. If you stuck by Jesus, which was the right answer, you would be decapitated in front of your family. But you would go to heaven! To a sensitive, bright little boy, this spiritual abuse was the perfect poison to turn him into an anxiety ridden mess. When his own brain kicked in, as it does for most around the age of 12 or so, he figured out that the apocalypse probably wasn’t happening and he had been brainwashed into years of pain and fear. He was mad. He eventually decided to become what he was taught to fear and a handful of years later, Marilyn Manson was born.

So last night, when he was ripping up a Bible and flinging it over the audience as he does, it would be easy to be all “Yawn, there he goes again,” but to me he’s still fighting the fight for individuality in the face of brainwashing. That’s his deal. Individual freedom. Simple, but never outdated.

I was delighted by his show. He stomped around in a pink boa, makeup smeared by the end of the night. Adorable. I want to make him a sandwich and have his babies. Every song, he changed his look. Canons spewed glitter and confetti over the masses of people of all ages screaming and holding up their devil horned fingers. He blew his nose on the front row. I think he might have a cold. I hope not. Someone actually gave him their cellphone. He screamed into it for a few seconds and then, of course tossed it deep into the bowels of the audience. Please. Did you think he was going to hand it back? It wasn’t the old days of him cutting himself up onstage. No blood. No simulated sex acts. Why would there be? He’s middle aged. I would be concerned for him if he was still doing that. Instead he sang his guts out and produced a great big fun spectacle.

The tickets were my Mother’s Day present, plus my husband bought me a t-shirt at the show and held my hand and shared a delighted grin with me when the copious gobs of phlegm shot from Mr. Manson’s lovely long nose. “Did he just….” I mouthed. My husband nodded vigorously. A perfect gift for a mother who has spent years and years of dealing with other people’s snot.


Happy Valentines Day Anyway, Love Junkie

ImagePublished in Belle 2013

As a young child, my crushes blot me out with the ferocity of my pure, relentless obsession. And the first time I fall in “love,” it almost kills me. I am eighteen years old, attending my  first semester of college, and I’m at a bar with the most powerful drug imaginable: live musicians on a stage. When I see him, a guitar player the size of a jockey, I must have him. He does not notice me the first night as I dance beneath him in jeans, no make up, my hair unbound and wild. The second night, I use my supernatural ability to discern which key unlocks a man. I appear beneath him in a tight red sweater, my hair slicked back and my lips blood red. And by the end of the night, he’s all mine, sort of.

When he takes me to his brother’s apartment after our third date, he tells me it’s because he has a roommate and this way we can be all alone. I feel very, very special. We consummate the relationship in his brother’s bed. And I soon learn that his roommate  is the lead singer of his band. He has lived with her for eight years; they’re all but married. I handle this like a broken toe. It hurts, yes, but I can still hobble around.

One night, we kick my roommate out and romp in my dorm room for hours. He calls me the next day and confesses, laughing, that he picked up a hitchhiker on the way home (to his official girlfriend) and had sex with her in the back of his van. I am so cool that I laugh with him. He is my one and only, and I will suffer any amount of pain to keep him. Oh, there is nothing like a sex addict. He excels at providing the love addict with the perfect, narcotic attention she craves while he extracts what he wants. She is like a lump of pink sparkly clay in his hands.

After two years and several operas worth of drama and pain that I mistake for love,  he’s all mine. When we move in together, the physical, emotional and sexual abuse starts. Despite the complete erosion of my soul that culminates in a nearly successful suicide attempt, I stay with him for a few more years.

When I finally break up with him, and he stops stalking me, I take up with a series of men who do not abuse me, but are nonetheless my equal in their inability to have a real relationship. I use them like a drug, and the oblivion I feel when I completely lose myself in them keeps me from confronting the spinning void inside. I need attraction, attachment and  sex like I need food, water and air. At least, I think I do. Always in my heart I keep a nest made of smoke and dreams for a perfect love who will come in like fate and make everything all right.

Valentines Day did not start with chocolates and roses. Originally, Romans celebrated the mid February Lupercalia Wolf Festival by sacrificing two male goats and a dog, using the blood to anoint the priest’s foreheads. The goat hides were used to make thongs to flagellate women, thought to promote fertility. Naturally, a pope shut this all down in 496 A.D., replacing it with St. Valentines Day. Only no one knows which St. Valentine. There were three of them, and all were beheaded.

With a history like this, Valentines Day is the perfect holiday for love addicts. A very real disorder recognized by the mental health profession, love addicts leave a trail of broken relationships, suffering and sometimes even death. It is easy for the love addict to live unidentified, forever bolstered by popular culture’s focus on romance and comforted by friends who tell her he was a jerk and the next relationship will surely give her the love that she (or he-men can be love addicts, too) deserves. Which is simply not going to happen until she’s ready to face that her problem is far deeper than picking the wrong man.  It’s nothing loads of therapy, perhaps a 12-step program and a lifetime of vigilance can’t keep in remission.

 Resources

For more information, and helpful quizzes:

sexual recovery.com

A blog about love addiction and recovery:

thelovelyaddict.com

Books:

Facing Love Addiction: Giving Yourself The Power To Change The Way You Love

By Pia Melody (HarperOne; $16.99)

A classic book by one of the original experts.

Is It Love Or Is It Addiction: The Book That Changed The Way We Think About Addiction And Intimacy

by Brenda Schaeffer (Hazelden; $15.95)

The third edition of this book contains new information about the brain and addiction.

Love Junkie: A Memoir

by Rachel Resnick (Bloomsbury USA; $14.00)

The brutal, scorching journey of one love addict and her path to recovery.


Bad Boys and Sick Girls.

Henry-20121203-00692

Published in Belle magazine, Dec. 2012

The first bad boy I love is Jeff,  a fellow kindergartner who skids across the linoleum  floor on his knees. His pants are always torn, and I talk about him to my mother all the time. She marvels at how impressed I am by the skidding.

The first time I  feel a full body bolt of longing, mysterious to me at the time, is when my second grade gym teacher lifts me up so I can grab the monkey bars. He later went to prison for murder.

My first kiss happens shortly before I turn fourteen, delivered by a boy on crutches after a drunken car wreck that killed two of his friends. He wrangles my skittish self expertly despite it all, irresistible with his punk hair and hard, amused eyes.

“It’s like a plague I have lived with all my life,” my friend Vicki says of her love of bad boys. It’s not entirely uncommon, most women having at least one experience with a man she knows she should resist and does not. But for some of us, the attraction seems to be hard wired.

The boy I love in high school is so bad I recycle him years later when he gets out of  prison for stealing a Corvette from a used car lot. He also unsuccessfully robbed a donut shop. “The gun wasn’t loaded,” he said. “And besides, I just drove the car.” His own mother wails when I tell her we’re dating again. “He’s no good,” she says. “He’s a sweet boy, but he’s no good.”

I have to drag him past my father’s big white police captain car in the driveway when we go over to have dinner with my family. A true bad boy is brave; he steels himself and goes inside. We make it through dinner, my father employing the same cold courtesy  he uses when he loads handcuffed people into the police car.

I love going to work with my father. When I come home from college on weekends, he and I blaze through alleys at impossible speeds. I watch him arrest drug dealers and even a murder suspect. I stand rapt with knees shaking against the wall of a building as my father draws his gun. Maybe the imprint of my sire, who comes home from work with finger shaped bruises on his throat, conditions me to men who love risk. Only I choose the wrong side of the coin.

My father starts running my boyfriends through the police computer. “Did you find him?” I ask. The answer is always yes. He says very little about what he finds, sometimes just one word. “Pot,” he snarls. “Did you know he used to wear  stupid little black framed glasses?” he asks once in a quiet, icy voice. But his standards are very low. He just makes sure they aren’t murderers.

I believe his approach of standing by without much commentary while his daughter makes a series of dreadful but somewhat supervised mistakes pays off. The man I marry only looks like a bad boy when I meet him. For fifteen years, every night after work he comes home and helps the children with homework and reaches for my hand at night. I was duped, thank God. If I need a fix, I can always watch an episode of “Louisiana Lock Up.”

For a short time after college, I work at a thoroughbred farm. One day, a stallion comes to the fence, jet black, blowing air at me through distended nostrils. He allows no one to stroke his thick neck or rub his muzzle, and he has no use for me. For a split second he looks at me with his cold, wild eyes before he whirls and tears off across the field. His gaze sears me, that brief attention from a dangerous creature. If he had allowed me to untangle his forelock, if he had eaten from my hand, I would  be the chosen one, the special girl who rode when others walked. The one who could have it all.


Sarah Wendell is One Smart Bitch and She’s Making Me Read Trashy Books

Image

For my “Private Parts” column in  the June/July issue of belle magazine, I interviewed Sarah Wendell,  author of “Everything I Know About Love, I Learned From Romance Novels,” and co-founder of the brilliant and hilarious website smartbitchestrashybooks.com. She also co authored, with friend Candy Tan, “Beyond Heaving Bosoms: The Smart Bitches Guide to Romance Novels.

I laughed and whooped, cackled and made ridiculous approving noises  through the whole interview. Be glad you are reading and not listening.

Me: I feel guilty as a feminist when I read romance novels.

Sarah: Well, it’s a billion dollar industry built on the narrative creativity of women for women. In my opinion, that can not escape being feminist. There are some sexual tropes  and emphasis on things like ubermasculinity and clueless virginity and those things still reappear and they are very much hetero sexist and can seem a little in conflict with the idea that the genre is feminist, but for every book where there is a super huge male with giant man boobs and abdominal muscles that go on for six miles and a mullet, there’s also a hero who doesn’t fit that type. And for every woman who can’t find her clitoris with a map and a flashlight, there are women who are very sexually forthright.

Me: (I bray with laughter, just like a donkey)

Sarah: Now, in the history of the genre, if you look at what is considered a romance novel right now, that began in the early ’70s with “The Flame and the Flower.” If you think about the 70’s, that was a period of great sexual ambivalence. It was not then, and to a large extent now, acceptable for a woman to openly have horny-pants.

It’s still not. If you look at the Republican efforts to curtail birth control, access to abortion and eventually our right to have an orgasm, it is still very greatly frowned upon for a woman to say “I would like to have sex with that guy because sex is great, he’s hot and let’s do this.” That’s not okay for a woman to express openly, in a lot of ways. So when the genre began in the early 70’s, there were scenes that romance readers now find quite distasteful and troublesome. There were a lot of forced seductions, a lot of moving the heroine from the keeping of a father or guardian into the keeping of a hero, and he would initiate her into sexual activity, often unwillingly. And unfortunately that’s where the genre gets a lot of its bad reputation.

That does not happen as much in romance anymore. Those romances are still important and fit into my idea that romance is a feminist genre because at that time there was so much ambivalence about female sexuality that readers frankly probably were not comfortable with a woman who said “hot damn, he’s hot, I want to chase him down a dark alley and bone him.” That wasn’t going to be expressed in the ’70’s.

And the ambivalence about female sexuality was expressed in the books of those times. And you move forward and you have a very, very wide range of sexual content in romance. You have romance that is explicit and erotic and involves two men or two women or a guy and two girls or a girl and two guys or a whole polyamorous collective of people who live together in gravity defying erotic bliss. And you also have romances that feature some really sexy hand holding, and that’s about it. There’s Amish romance, erotic romance, polyandrous, romance between people who have already been married and are trying to figure out how to care for each other.

Me: Wow. (At this point, I can think of nothing more to say, because I am marveling over this woman’s brain, and how everything that comes out of her mouth is some kind of rapid fire complete sentence, with great content.)

Sarah: Does that help, at all?

Me: Oh my God. You’re making me so happy.

Sarah:  (laughs) Good. You’d be surprised about how much crap readers of romance take for the fact that they read romance. There’s a misconception about romance that they’re read by stupid women. Not true. That the women who read them are desperate and unhappy. I am very happy. I only have three cats, not eighty six. I don’t spend my days in a puppy sweatshirt and a fanny pack finding romance novels are my only source of happiness.  The most pervasive misunderstanding of romance novels is that it’s all about sex. It’s about courtship. Romances are about establishing a courtship and finding a happily ever after through obstacles.

Me: So you see them almost as an evolution of feminism?

Sarah: Yes. I think you can look at the overall history of the romance novel and  the motifs  and  the sexuality present in all of them and see that they match up with the major events in feminism. I think of romance novels as sort of a popular culture anthropology of women. If you want to see how the role and sexuality of women has changed, you have to look at the novels women are reading and writing to understand how women see themselves and each other.  Any woman who is writing down the narrative of women fictional or real is committing a feminist act. If you look at the established literary canons, it’s a bunch of white guys.

When my first book came out, we were on the radio on NPR’s “All Things Considered”  Weekend edition because the producer was a reader of the website, so they brought us on and the host of the show kept saying “I don’t read those books. I have never read those books. I don’t read those romance novels.”

After the show, the producer came out and told the host she thought she should read one, now, so give us some recommendations. She picked up one. Two months later I got an email saying “I don’t know if you remember me, but I was the host of NPR’s All Things Considered who had never read one of these books? You were right, I loved it. Can I please have more recommendations?”

If I can convert an NPR radio host, who are self appointed bastions of culture and high brow discussion, it shows that the genre has something to offer almost everybody.

(The book is “Bet Me” by Jennifer Crusie)

Then, Sarah and I try her game. I tell her the name of a book I like, and she gives me a romance novel that she thinks I’ll like.

Me: I really like  “The Road,”  by Cormac McCarthy,

Sarah: Hmmmm….I haven’t read it. What are the things you liked about it?

Me: Oh, apocalyptic, end of the world hopelessness, with a tiny thread of love and survival.

Sarah: Emotional bleakness is something you  can find a lot of in romance, especially if you like tortured heroes who suffer from great emotional damage.

Me: Oh my God, my very favorite thing in the entire world!! Yes!

Sarah:  Read Anna Campell. She has emotionally tortured men her novels. They all have to get over themselves in wrenching ways.  Sherry Thomas also writes emotional torture. Also,  Meredith Duran. She writes very smart people in historical situations.

If you like the dominance of the male hero, there’s also novels that explore BDSM sexuality. The “Natural Law” hero is detective who goes into the BDSM community. The twist is that he’s the submissive. In general,  it’s very liberating to read about your own sexuality in different ways.

Me: It’s liberating to accept all facets of yourself and just enjoy it.

Sarah: And if you like the fantasy of being dominated, that is okay. And if you like being the one who is doing the dominating, that’s also okay. There’s a tendency for women to shame themselves or one another for sexuality they find unacceptable. If you aren’t hurting anybody, and everybody is consensual and legal, go on with your bad self. Whatever turns you on, fine. It’s not my business, or anybody’s, to tell you what you should do with your own horny-pants.

Also, there are not very accurate or fair portrayals of female sexuality in pop culture. Women who are portrayed sexually are airbrushed into a far distant representation of reality. And female sexuality is almost always portrayed from a male gaze. If you look at the recent super bowl commercials, how many women in bikinis could there be in a three hour sports broadcast? It had to set a record. Every now and then you get David Beckham in his underwear, but that’s about it. This is even though nearly half of the NFL fans are women. The representation of female sexuality is almost always through the male gaze, saying this is every man’s fantasy, when it’s not and almost always painted with a narrow caricature of male sexuality. But I think that women have it worse because it is okay for a dude to say ‘wow, that totally turned me on’ and it’s not okay for a woman to say that publicly in a lot of ways.

Me: No, I mean, I have sort of just barreled through my life with a sort of ‘ah, screw you  I’ll be who I want and like what I want’ in sort of a rebellious way. But inside, if I tell the absolute truth, I have been judging myself, and I haven’t been honest about any of it.

Sarah:  But I think every woman does this. I know I  castigate myself for thinking things I feel I shouldn’t think. I think women are infiltrated with archaic, old fashioned ideas as long as they are exposed to popular culture. Sometimes romance embraces those things, and sometimes romance subverts the hell out of them. But one of the most reassuring things I’ve found about romance novels is that no matter what your sexuality is, no matter what interests you, you are not alone in that and there is probably a novel that represents a piece of you.

Me: And that is beautiful.

Sarah: These are stories where the female always wins. This is her story, she wins. When you think about literary history, when characters had sex out of wedlock, The wages of sex were always disease, death ,shame, humiliation. In a romance, you are ultimately rewarded for that sexual curiosity. And the experience of sexuality, is never the reason why the heroine is given an unhappy ending. Because there are no unhappy endings.


Mark Lanegan, Old Shoe Leather, Smoke and Sadness

Image

I’m not doing well. I saw Mark Lanegan at the 9:30 Club in D.C. Friday night. It’s all I can think about, now. I am used to living as an obsessive, immature person, but this too much. I wore my concert t-shirt all day yesterday and I must wear it again today, so it’s in the wash right now. I have never let my children wear the same thing for days in a row, and I can’t understand why I’m letting myself do so.

My friend Sarah sent me a CD of his music some years ago, and I was instantly, completely in Lanegan’s thrall. For me, his music is a direct line to the furious creative force suspended in every moment, an amalgam of suffering and joy, like roses blooming in a forgotten garden or a broken winged archangel surrendering to an ancient demon. Lovely things to a dark heart like mine. If I am happy, Lanegan’s music makes me happier. If I am hurting, he transmutes the pain into something I can work with. I’m his bitch, in other words.

I have been to many concerts. I saw all of my idols when I lived in San Francisco in the early 90’s-Nirvana, Soundgarden, Beck. Eddie Vedder sweated on my sister and I at the Warfield, we were so close. But the problem was that all of this happened in my drinking days. And while I thought I had a marvelous time, and kind of did, it wasn’t about the music as soon as I got a drop of booze in me. It was about getting more booze.

So when I walked into the club on Friday night stone cold sober and saw the musician who means the most to me in this world, it about killed me. I was gobsmacked. He’s tall and lean, and simply stood holding the mike stand, singing with his eyes closed almost the entire show. He creates a storm with his voice, his tight, hurricane force band right behind him. I’ve read numerous complaints about how he does not interact with the fans. Excuse me, but the man is blowing his guts and entire soul into his voice. You want him to smile and talk, too?

After the show, Mark courteously signed autographs. I stood in line practically shaking. I could not believe I was going to interact with him. I clutched my t-shirt and waited. The t-shirt is the most perfect ever: black, of course, a soft, fine preshrunk cotton. His name in a pale, creamy green, with the blowsy pink rose brocade from the cover of the  Blues Funeral album outlining a skull. It’s so pretty. And Chris bought the second to last one for me. He also went up to take a peek at him and reported back, “Oh my God he is intense. Really intense.”

My turn came. He was hunched over at the table with a baseball cap on backwards, his face suprisingly fine boned in person. I shook the massive, tattooed hand. His eyes will haunt me forever, a fragile rare tundra of world weary pain. I wanted to take him to  quiet, safe room and make him a sandwich. A man who writes of magnolias blooming and his own brokeness is someone I want to feed and protect.

“How are you,” he politely asked.

“Fine, now that I’ve met you,” I said. “Could you please sign this “Sarah, you are a whore?” I asked him. Now, see, I thought I was being hilarious, but apparently this was all old hat to Mark. He simply asked how she spelled her name.  “I owe her, ” I explained. ” She turned me on to your music.” Later, on facebook, Sarah asked me how he smelled. She postulated he smelled of old shoe leather, smoke and sadness. I wish I could have found out.

When I had my autograph, I said, “Thank you, so much, for your music, man.” The unthinkable happened. He smiled at me as I walked away. Chris said it was like it was against his will, and it was a smile like a broken bicycle with a bent frame, only moving part of his face. I’d like to think it was because I reached him with my hearfelt thanks, seriously coming from the deepest part of me. But maybe he was just thinking to himself, “Dork.”


Jillian Lauren: former harem girl, mother, writer and smoking hot person

Jillian Lauren is the author of the memoir “Some Girls: My Life in a Harem,” and the new novel “Pretty,” a brutal and lovely tale of a young woman’s struggle to stay clean and sober in a halfway house in the underbelly of L.A.  I was terribly excited to talk to her. Sex work? Addiction? Beautiful honest writing? Oh, I couldn’t wait. But wait I had to . We took turns messing up Pacific Standard time versus Eastern Standard time, which really made me know she is my kind of girl. At last, we talked.

Me: It was so interesting to read the reviews of “Pretty” on Amazon….people saying “This wasn’t a pretty read…this was depressing”….and I felt like the book was very hopeful.

Jillian: Me too! I try not to read the Amazon reviews. Of course I’ll scan them once in awhile. People are coming to that with a lot of expectations of how they want a book to be. Of how they want a book to entertain them, or what they want to get from it. And I’m writing from a specific point of view that doesn’t always jibe with what people want. Maybe they are mislead from the title…maybe looking for lighter fare than what I have to offer.

Me: You seem to be kind of stepping outside the prescribed genres. Which is what I loved about your books. I found that people also had some preconceived notions about what being in a harem should be like.

Jillian: Yes, people were very surprised. People picked it up because of the cover and thought it would be a titillating sort of trashy airport read and found it was very different.  But I like that my work is surprising people.

Me: Oh, absolutely. I really think you are very brave in both books. For me, it was very emotional to read them because I really identified with the addict mind in “Pretty” and the dissociated state in “Some Girls.” I know as a writer who has written about my own life how difficult and painful it can be to write about that stuff. Did you find it to be that way? How did you get through that?

Jillian: I did find it really painful. My general view of that is that it’s supposed to be painful. I don’t think it’s supposed to be easy to write things that are this raw. If I’m not willing to sit down and cry when I’m writing, how can I expect that my readers are going to sit down and feel things when they read? I think that in order to make something worthwhile, there is going to be some suffering involved. I’m willing.

Me: I sort of came into writing believing it was supposed to be cathartic to write it all out, and I didn’t necessarily experience it that way. I felt what you are talking about-I put myself back in that state-and that is not fun and not cathartic. But what have you found about it that is worthwhile?

Jillian: I would agree with you. I am not of the school that thinks that writing is cathartic. But what I found was that by putting my own frame around these events, these questions and these themes, it put me in meaningful dialogue with these things that might otherwise be overwhelming or incredibly depressing for me. And that has been useful. And honestly itself has been useful to me. And so it’s not so much a process of catharsis as it is a process of finding my own meaning to my narrative.

The fictional narrative is still a truthful narrative. Everything is just sort of in a different costume. To be able to sort of take control of my own narrative has been powerful for me. I don’t think writing is therapy. I had to go to therapy because of some of the things I wrote about. But it is transformative.

Me: I think you’re on to something here. That idea of reframing your own life. Your books were very healing for me because I realized that when I first started writing about my life, I was coming at it from kind of a victim way. Technically speaking, sure, I was a victim. But my perspective now is very different. As in, that was the way my life unfolded, and it taught me these things. On a good day, I wouldn’t trade any of it.

And I also recognize younger self in both your memoir and your fiction- the young girl who is actually very curious, open to new experiences and brave. There was a fierceness in me as a young woman that isn’t served by a victim story. I walked into some of those bad stories. I walked into the woods and met the wolves head on. Some of that is because I had already been damaged, and some of that is because I was a wild ass. I felt like you were framing things that way, also.

Jillian: Yes. It was important to me to come from the perspective of not being a victim. Although technically, you could say there were ways in which I was victimized as a child. But I think it’s very important for me to take responsibility for the choices I made, both good and bad. It’s good to acknowledge the links to events in my past, but not to present myself as a victim of those events, because I don’t think that’s the truth. And I also don’t think that it’s a very interesting way to look at my life or the world, for me.

Me: I agree. I really think that you broke some good ground in the way that you are not apologetic in the way that maybe some people think you should be.

Jillian: I think that most of the criticism that I got about my memoir was exactly that-that I should be ashamed of myself, that I should be more apologetic. I should be taking a more moralistic stance otherwise  I must still be an opportunistic prostitute if I’m not cowering in shame about the whole thing. And I thought that perhaps the most valuable thing I have to offer in my memoir was to present it without shame. Because I hope that I can encourage other women to honor their own stories, as imperfect and flawed as they may be.

Me: That is so powerful. I feel like as women for us to honor the difficult parts of our stories and not just chalk it all up to being damaged is one of the best things we can do.

Jillian: I get emails telling me that every day. I think it’s true…it’s empowering for other people and it’s empowering for me to look back on that part of my life and say yes, I’m saddened by some of the choices that I made and there were aspect of my decision making and boundaries that did come from damage in my childhood but I also was bold and fearless and adventurous and romantic. I was always a performer. Things that I like and admire about myself when I look back on myself as a young woman. And those things also played an equal role in the decisions I made. So I’m not interested in attributing my choices to just to bad circumstances.

Me: And doesn’t doing that just put women back in old molds? It sets us back. It’s like we can only have these experiences and be accepted if we are victims. It’s not the whole story.

Jillian: The whole story is complicated. There are shades of gray. That was another thing that I was interested in portraying-the complexity of it . It’s not just an A plus B equals C situation. There’s a myriad of factors.

Me: It was moving to me how you walked through all that. You dealt with being a sex worker and also you ended up having some feelings for the prince.

Jillian: Yes, and that’s a gray area that people have a hard time understanding. That as far as I understood love at that time, I would have told you that I was in love with him. Yet I had walked into that situation as basically a prostitute. That I could hold those two things at the same time is hard for some people to digest. So I wrote a book about it…to look at the complex aspects of the situation that aren’t easy are the most interesting to me.

Me: Oh, me too! And I’m so relieved and delighted and happy and expanded when I read writers who do that.

Jillian: I love when writers do that too. I hope in some small measure I was successful in that.

Me: How do you reconcile being a mother with the material you write and how is it for you being a mother and having a career?

Jillian: It’s a new kind of hard that I’ve never experienced before. I deal with material that is sexual and all these things that are unacceptable things for a mother to talk about or a mother to admit and yet, here I am and I’m a mother.My son is three and a half. He has yet to encounter my work and people’s reactions to it. I just hope that one day I’ll be able to tell him that there is value in honesty. And that even when, and especially when we have made mistakes, that there’s value in sharing these things with the world. It’s what I do, and I hope he’s able to love me for it. I imagine that he’ll probably go through a lot of different feelings and a lot of different stages  around it. And I’m just hoping that our communication stays good enough that we are able to process them.

I just think that if I wrote things that are always appropriate for my kids and my parents to read that I could maybe write for the Disney channel, but that’s not the kind of work I do. I have to do the work I am compelled to do. And the people in my life get to have their reactions to that. As for being a mom and balancing it with a career, I don’t have any solutions or answers. I just try to be kind to myself for doing none of it perfectly. I just take it one day at a time.

Me: Did you have a lot of fall out after you wrote “Some Girls?”

Jillian: I did. I had a lot of fall out. But there was less of a backlash than I expected. But mostly I have to say I was surprised by how supportive and encouraging people were. But there were reactions by my family that were disappointing. Not entirely unexpected, but disappointing.

Me: I always have people in my writing classes ask how to handle writing about the difficult things in your life and about the fall out.

Jillian: People ask me the same thing all the time. I don’t think there’s a perfect answer. For me, it was important enough to write this material honestly and fully. I was willing for people to have their reactions. You have to allow people to have their reactions. You can’t prescribe what those are going to be. You can hope. I’d hoped my parents would be able to be supportive of me. Ultimately, they haven’t been. I think they’ll come around eventually. I think that it’s not worth it to deal with this sort of material in a half assed way, like I’m going to share this, but not this. Or protect this person or my relationship with that person. I think you have to just do it in the most relentlessly authentic and honest way that you can or write a different kind of book. I had to write it this way. Nobody would believe “Some Girls” if it were fiction.

Me: People were so annoyed by the boredom factor in that book. It made me mad. People, this is not a dirty Cinderella movie! This is what really happened to her. Aren’t you incredibly interested to find out that being in a harem is boring? I am.

Jillian: I think that’s one of the most fascinating things about it. I hope I wrote about it in a way that wasn’t boring.

Me: No, your boredom was riveting.

Jillian: Why, thank you. That’s one of my favorite things that anyone has ever said about it.

Shortly after that, Jillian had to go. And I was sad. I wanted to talk to her forever.


Being late, lost, overdrawn and unable to count change

Published in Belle magazine, Dec. 2011

I am, once again, in Commerce City. Although I have lived all of my 27 years in Denver, Colorado, whenever I need to go downtown I somehow get sucked into this labyrinth of  smokestacks and industrial buildings surrounded by ponds of thick steel colored water. It doesn’t matter where I am going. This is where I end up.

     In my purse is a checkbook, teetering, unbalanced, with checks ricocheting all over town. I sincerely try to balance it, but the numbers are slippery and never add up the same way twice. According to my watch, I am already late for my appointment. Which comes as a terrible shock because last I knew, I had an ample block of time that seems to have simply dissolved.

     I need to go north and I pull over to take a look at the mountains, which are always west. This I know. As I look at the mountains, I grope around for which way might be north. A wheel spins in my head, and even my hands, which I try to use like a needle on a compass, refuse to stay left or right. They’re just hands. One of them might be a little dominant.

      That night, at my job as a retail manager in a clothing shop in the mall, I struggle when a customer demands I count out her change instead of what I normally get away with, which is dumping whatever the register suggests into the waiting hand with a nice big smile.

    “Okay, it was $52.82 and you gave me $60.00? So, uh….” I hide my fingers  underneath the register to do some counting. “Three cents brings us to .85 cents and then you get this dime and….hmmmm.”  The customer walks away with her change, eventually, and  a tight lipped what-is-this-country-coming-to look on her face.

     So many people tried to help me throughout my life. My father sat with me night after night with flashcards, trying to drill basic addition into my little head. My math teacher in seventh grade was a kind man, passionate about his job. He spent extra time bent over my desk explaining concepts to me, his eyes igniting when I finally understood something. But at night, while I slept, all gains made during the day were simply wiped away. Every day was a brand new day.  A brand new “I Love Lucy” clown day.

      Many years passed, and I eventually learned to cope.  Now, instead of trying to think when I hit one of the boggy spots in my mind, I go limp. I breathe through rising panic and if I’m driving, now in a Richmond still brand new to me after eight years, I turn right when I am one hundred percent certain I should turn left. Right is wrong when dealing with my brain. I know that I will step out of a store in the mall and go the wrong direction.  I will also lose my car and spend too much money.  I don’t let it bother me.

     Finally, a few months ago, I learned the term for exactly what is wrong with me. Dyscalculia is a learning disorder that includes difficulties with math, money, time, directions, dance step sequences, and mistaken recollection of names.

     Now I know why I head for the bathroom when it’s time to do the Electric Slide at weddings and why I call a good friend’s daughter Sophie, when her name is Sadie, every damn time since she was born four years ago.

    The world of math, supposedly concrete and infallible, is slippery to me. What is real are words and the images my mind connects into endless, effortless stories, unfettered by time, space, money and numbers. It’s not so bad, as long as you aren’t married to me.   

    

 


My Dead Civil War Soldier

I know he’s out there. He’s beneath a fine lattice of tree roots. The roots grew over him, through him and his bones are tea colored, his uniform turning to earth. This May, it will be 148 years since the battle where he was wounded and crept away to die alone, in what is now my family’s yard. Although it’s very hard for me to think of a piece of a forest as belonging to us. How can we own trees that are older than all of us combined?

We look for him in the spring and fall, when the air is cold enough to slow snakes and kill mosquitoes. We think we know where he is. We mark the spot by two ancient oaks across the stream. Their roots have grown together in a heart shape. I’d like to think he leaned against the maple and the sight of them gave him comfort as his eyes filmed over.

The metal detector goes crazy at this spot, over about six feet of ground, chiming readings for every kind of metal it can detect. All of this metal is about eight inches down, it tells us.  There is his sword, turning to lace, I think. His buttons, falling through his rib cage.  A canteen gutted by rust, nothing but a curved outline.

So the kids and I dig some. I hate breaking tree roots. So I try to go around them, but it’s quite impossible. Really, we need an ax. I give up very easily. Here is why: it feels terrible in that spot. I ignore the feelings of pressing intensity as I poke around. My daughter gets nervous. She asks me if I feel it. I can’t lie. I feel it, yes.

Damn it, I say to my dead Civil War Soldier. Why can’t I have a  button? Just one damn button. If you want to stay here, you can, I tell him. I won’t tell anyone we found you.

But it gets rather unbearable, like a storm coming. So we move off, on  to the sandy stream with tumbled pebbles worn smooth and round as eggs. It feels better immediately. Even when we find the broken, thick black green  bottle bottoms and put them in our bag like plunder.  We can have as many pottery shards as we can find without a trace of ghostly disapproval. We don’t even need the metal detector. This stuff is just sitting there, kicked up after every big storm.

I still want a button.

A few years ago, I was in the airport in Santa Fe. A Navajo man checked me through security. His eyes widened as he read the name of the town on my license.

“You had a lot of big battles there.”

“I live right up the street from a battlefield,” I told him. I know his culture finds that incredibly stupid.

“You have ghosts?”  He looked at me like I had a string of them attached.

“I’m knee-deep in them,” I told him. I hope he didn’t think I was being facetious. I’m really serious.

I don’t care.  I just want a button.

Here is something very sad. Last year, right up by my house, I found a tin. With the metal detector! Not a freebie like the broken bottles- I got a reading, I dug, and I found something. I looked it over. I knew it was not a recent tin because it was thick. And without any expertise or knowledge, I identified it as a sardine can from the 1950’s. And recycled it.

Several months later, in a case in a museum exhibit, I saw tins like the one I found.

From the Civil War.


David Henry Sterry, Pitchapalooza, Sex Workers and Tips for Writers.

Talking to David Henry Sterry is like sitting down to a feast. Where do you start? Normally, I’d dig right into his days as a sex worker (read his book “Chicken: Self-Portrait of a Young Man for Rent”) but David is also a book doctor and God knows I want a piece of that. Here is an interview I did with him for Style Weekly. Catch David this weekend at the James River Writers Conference. He’ll be doing his much lauded Pitchapalooza with Arielle Eckstut.

Me: You’ve written eleven books since 2001?

David: Twelve books now.

Me: I don’t understand that. That’s amazing

David: I have an addictive personality….and so instead of pursuing addictions that are horrible for me, after years of therapy I’ve channeled it into something that’s productive.

Me: It’s nice, because it seems to me that you got the material when you were in the addictive phase…

David: Yes, I have stories to tell.

Me: So you’ve got books on sex, partying, The World Cup, children’s books, books for writers who want to get published…did I miss anything?

David: Well, I wrote a series of books for 11 year old girls who want to know how to throw a great pajama party….I give a lot of really cool tips on how to do that. I’m just also interested in lots of different things.

Me: Tell me about Pitchapalooza.

David: We’re really looking forward to coming down there. I love Richmond. In my head I thought Richmond was some backward place in the South and it’s such a cool city. I’ve been down there a couple times now.

Me: It’s surprising, isn’t it? I came here from San Francisco. I’m shocked how much I love it here.

David: I was saying to Arielle we should move down there…houses are so cheap. Interesting people from all over have gravitated there.

Me:What can people expect from Pitchapalooza?

David: One of the most neglected, under rated things in the whole writing book business game is the pitch, I think. Because no matter how you plan to get published, whether you’re going to try to get a mainstream publisher like HarperCollins, Simon Shuster, Random House, or whether you are going to publish yourself….and there’s so many options these days with ebooks, print on demand….you gotta have a great pitch. Because the pitch is the thing that’s going to attract an agent or an editor. And it’s going to attract a reader. The pitch follows you throughout the whole experience with a book from the time you first tell somebody. They say “what are you up to” and you say, “Oh, I’m writing a book”, and they say “what is your book about?” That’s your pitch. The answer to that question. From there to when you get on Fresh Air and Terry Gross asks you…. so, what’s your book about? The answer you give has to display how brilliant, entertaining, informative, funny, tragic ,wild, serious… whatever your book is, that pitch has to, in 60 seconds or less, display all of the great unique, fascinating qualities your book has. And if your pitch doesn’t do that, and most pitches honestly don’t, you have a really hard time getting a book deal.

Me: This is news to me. I had to work up some pitches because I was trying to sell screenplays for a little while.

David: I did that.

Me: God damn it, that’s hard.

David: It’s ridiculous, isn’t it?

Me: So I’m turning my screenplay into a novel.

David: That’s what I did. I was living as a screenwriter in Hollywood for some years and I sold a screenplay. It never got made into a movie and I sold it three different times. I turned it into a middle grade novel. And sold it in about 5 minutes. So we’ve had the same experience.

Me: Not exactly. I’m in the middle of working on mine. I think it will actually end up a face book post. So the pitches are a bitch.

David: They’re hard. That’s really why I came up with Pitchapalooza, because of my experience in Hollywood. I spent five years of my life going into executives offices and pitching ideas to them. I studied it relentlessly. That’s actually a great way to learn how to pitch. In a way they’re like movie trailers. That’s the art of a pitch. You have to present word pictures for people and it’s in the details-the minutiae. So you have to really draw people in with particular details, because the universal is revealed through the particular. And then present the big themes and the larger picture and how your story fits into it towards the end of the pitch.

Me: That’s different….I’ve always thought of it as cramming the whole story into 60 seconds or less.

David: That’s what we call a plot heavy pitch, where you say all the details from your plot. The ideal response to a pitch is “I can’t wait to read that book.” When I think of the great stories that I gravitate back to like Wizard of Oz, Gone With the Wind… I wouldn’t lay out the entire plot. Most of what I love about those books are Dorothy from Kansas and Scarlett O Hara. So that’s the other key…if you are doing a pitch that’s a narrative-a story with a beginning middle and end- whether it’s a memoir, nonfiction or a made up novel, we have to identify and fall in love with our hero, out main character. And that’s something else people neglect. There should be a villain.

Me: So you are even going to stick that into your pitch?

David: Definitely.

Me: So what are you going to do with the people at the conference?

David: Here’s what happens: people come to the Pitchapalooza and they get one minute to pitch the book. We’re very strict about this. Because if you can’t tell your story in a minute, that’s a problem. These days, agents and editors are bombarded with material and you’re lucky to get a minute with an established agent or editor. And, frankly, with the public. We now have this short attention span and brain that’s just getting worse. Forty characters. That’s what you get these days. So you get a minute. Then we critique the pitch in a gentler kinder way…we are the American Idol for books without the Simon. No one is going to make fun of your hair or ask you who dressed you this morning or call you stupid. Our goal is really to help people get published. Pitchapalloza is to make you pitch better. And then at the end of the pitchapalloza, we announce a winner, and we hook that person up with an agent or an editor. In the last three weeks, three of our Pitchapalooza people have been hooked up with publishers and we’ve gotten them book deals.

Me: Oh my god! You’re going to need a body guard pretty soon. I’m thinking of kidnapping you already. It’s such a good idea to keep your pitch in mind as you’re writing, too. I mean, if you can’t put together a pitch, you might want to look at your book.

David: Yes! I’ve videotaped a bunch of pitches and put them up on you tube and on our website bookdoctors.com. It’s a great way to sort of observe. There’s a couple things that I would say that people do over and over again that are big mistakes. For example: people are always telling us that their book is funny or sad or thrilling. In the end, I don’t want you to tell me your book is funny. I want you to make me laugh. Don’t tell me it’s sad, make me cry. I don’t want you to tell me it’s thrilling, I want you to make my heart pound faster. Anyone can say I’m funny a funny guy, but not many people can make you laugh.

Me: I think Richmond is dying for this. This is awesome.

David: We’ve done this from coast to coast. we have encountered over and over again wonderful writers with fantastic stories to tell. But they don’t have any connections to anybody in the publishing business. It’s so hard if you’re an outsider sending cold emails to agents and publishers or putting your ebook up when you don’t know anybody. The publishing business is so exclusionary because so many people want to do it and there’s so few slots available. So that’s part of our job is to help people. Either to connect people or to help people figure out how they can get to somebody on the inside.

Me: That’s so necessary. There are so many writers who are introverts.

David: That’s so true. They just want to sit in their rooms and write their books. Exactly right.

Me: Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

David: I would say there’s four main keys. One is research. Find out other books that are similar to yours. We had someone come up to us and say, look I’ve got a great book. It’s everything you want to know about pregnancy and giving birth. And we’re like, did you know there’s a book called “What to Expect When you are Expecting?” They were like, no…I’ve never heard of that book! Their book had already been written. And if you want to write a book about pregnancy and birth, you need to say my book is different from “What to Expect When You are Expecting” in these ways. Because there are problems with “What to Expect When You are Expecting.” There’s a lot of backlash against that book. And someone can write that book. But you can’t do it without knowing about “What to Expect When you are Expecting.” So research. Find similar books to yours. Find out who agented and edited those books. Those are the people you’re going to go after. Find out the audience for those books.

Also….networking. Find a community of people who are interested in the same things you are. That’s huge. And a lot of writers don’t do that. The world wide web is a tremendous gift for the shy. For the writer who doesn’t want to go to cocktail parties and hob nob. You can do that in your bathrobe with bad hair on your computer now. You identify who are the movers and shakers in the blogosphere, as it relates to the idea you are writing about. Because every book has people who would be interested in it. Or if it doesn’t, you’re going to have a lot of problems. Whatever it is, find the group of people who are interested in the same thing and network with those people. Identifying them and becoming friendly with them is a huge part of becoming a successful writer. And then of course…writing. A lot of people call themselves writers and they just don’t write. You have to do it everyday. And then, perseverance. That’s something that is key in everything, but especially in writing.

Me: It seems like things have changed. I sort of grew up thinking that all I had to do is write a book and if it’s good enough, it will be fine.

David: Maybe once in a while it happens. But by and large it’s people who are really aggressive and persevere and won’t take no for an answer. I’m the sort of person where if I think a publisher or agent is right for my book, I’m going to go after that person until they take out a restraining order. What I learned in therapy is a term called ’healthy detachment.’ You know about this term?

Me: Yes, people have been trying to teach me this for years.

David: This idea that….I don’t take it personally when someone doesn’t return my email. I keep going until they say don’t ever email or call me again. It’s the godfather model. It’s all just business. And people take it personally. They send out an email and if they don’t get a response so they say that person hates me. If you send out an email to an agent or an editor somewhere, chances are they didn’t even look at your email. Not that they hate you or think your work is bad. They don’t even know you exist.

Me: But they might if you keep going.

David: I really wanted to interview Neil Gaiman. And so I found out he’s very active on twitter. So I tweeted Neil…hey, wanna be interviewed on twitter? I thought that would be fun. To interview him in 140 characters a pop. So I tweeted him. I didn’t get anything back. I tweeted him again, I didn’t get anything back. I tweeted him again…on the 5th tweet he said Oh, that sounds like a cool idea. Yeah, lets do it.

So the normal human reaction after one or two or three attempts at communication where you get nothing back is to give up. That’s normal. That’s what most human beings do. But by the 5th time…he’s a busy guy, he’s writing books, he’s got a couple of kids…after 5 tweets I was able to interview this guy. And that’s the beautiful thing about social media. I would never in a million years be able to get in touch with this guy by telephoning him or writing a letter. I was able to have this really fun interview with this guy who was known all over the world.

And then when I finished my young adult novel, I emailed his agent and in the subject line I said “I emailed Neil Gaiman over twitter” and I pitched her my book. Ten minutes later she emailed me back…this very famous agent…and said oh, fun, you interviewed Neil…please send me your book. So that’s a weird way to get an agent.

And it’s all through perseverance and networking and writing…all those principles I just laid out are exhibited in that story.

Me: It’s terrifying to me, everything you just said.

David: I get that all the time. I’m curious, why is it terrifying?

Me: Well, remember when we were talking about people who just like to sit inside and write?

David: That’s you?

Me: I’m pretty social, but that whole network thing is….it seems so…well, basically, I just sat inside and wrote for a number of years and then I had to get out there and do exactly what you are talking about and I’m in the early stages of it. It is wonderful the way you lay it all out like that.

David: Thank you. I mean, what’s the worst that’s going to happen in a story like that? I’ll send 10 or 20 tweets and I’ll never get anything back. It’s only my time.

Me: Right. And that godfather thing means it’s just about business.

David. Just business.

Me: And I think that’s the biggest problem: the writer’s little squirmy just out from under a rock in the blazing noonday sun ego is so wrapped up in the business that we just get ground into dust.

David: I see it all the time. Many really talented writers with great stories are in exactly that predicament you’re talking about. It makes me sad because they won’t get their books published even though they’ve written really good books.

Me: Even though they deserve it.

David: They’ve worked hard at honing their skills. They have stories that are important to the world and they are just going to sit in a file on the computer.

Me:Thank heavens there are people like you pulling us along.

Some of you might notice I refrained from asking David about his astrological chart.


Interview with author Mike Albo

I loved Mike Albo’s book “Hornito” so much that it’s going to be a Mike Albo Christmas around here. Anyone who can handle it will be given a copy for their holiday present. And they will thank me. Mike made me howl with laughter and he made me feel a lot of things, including very sad. I prefer to feel other people’s feelings instead of my own, so that was a treat for me.

I was so excited by his book that I was a wreck when I called him to interview him for Style Weekly. I was, in fact,  a jittery combination of rabid fan and new best friend. Yes, I read his book and felt like I knew him and we were close. What a journalist! I swore to myself that I would not gush. This interview has been slightly edited for length and because I confessed some things to Mike that I will only reveal for money. He’s that kind of person.

Me: I’m so happy to talk to you.

Mike: (Laughs)

Me: I am. I’m reading “Hornito” and I’m… I…don’t know.

Mike: Thank you so much for reading that.

Me: Are you kidding me? It’s my pleasure, my God! I swore to god I wasn’t going to gush but I can’t help it. It’s hi-larious.

Mike: It’s very Virginia based. Very Northern Virginia based.

Me: Well. Yes. The Virginia thing. We’re just lucky that you lived in a Virginia at all.

Mike: I went to the University of Virginia, you know? All my funky friends went to VCU. At the time it wasn’t the most fun place for a gay guy. I would come to Richmond all the time and hang out. I loved it there. There’s nothing like it.

Me: I’ve always felt kind of guilty about how much I like it. We’re fairly recent transplants. I just love it here. It’s so weird.

I read somewhere…and I loved this so much…where you said your books are like reality show literature?

Mike: I just released a thing called “The Junket.” It’s kind of like a part two of “Hornito.” What happened to that person in their thirties and forties. I felt this way about “Hornito” and I felt this way about “The Junket,” too. I really don’t feel comfortable writing memoir. Because of course when you write  something you have to liven things up. Unless you’ve had this incredible life, you are telling a story. And stories need to be fictionalized to tell them. It’s just the way you tell stories. Anyone that’s putting words on  paper knows that they’re spiffing things up here and there. And so I started thinking that it’s just like reality TV. Obviously we know that’s not the real story, that it’s well edited.

Me: Well, I didn’t know that about reality TV. That’s very disappointing.

Mike: I didn’t mean to be the bearer of bad news.

Me: No, it’s true. There’s a producer when you’re writing about your own life. It’s funny, because I said screw it and decided to write a novel instead of a memoir. And it’s so much more fun, and I feel so much more honest  and I feel like I can really get to the heart of things much more easily because it just took off all these constraints.

Mike:  Right. I guess the reason that reality show literature keeps sticking with me is because ….okay, so all that shit happened to me with the New York Times (he was fired for going on a junket) and I had to tell the story. And then I started writing it down in a journalistic, blow by blow, true, quote unquote fashion, and I started realizing it was driving me insane. If I was going to do that I’d have to be like- in 1936, the Times started….and that would be just horrifying to my own brain. Then I was like okay, I’m going to really novelize this and like, have people die on the trip and have this extreme farce. And then that started feeling kind of not real, like I was going overboard, or loosing my way in parody. And so then there was this weird middle ground that seemed to work and I realized I was tapping into the same kind of writing style that I was with “Hornito.” It was just sort of this: I wanted it to feel as real as possible. I wanted the reader to feel like they are in on that the situation that is mostly real, but at the same time it’s fiction. There are a lot of things in Hornito that are fictional….I have two brothers and  neither of them had any sexual predatory moment with their babysitter.

Me: Oh, that’s too bad.

Mike: My brother Steve was like, thanks a lot. But there are things that aren’t real in the book but feel real. It’s just this weird kind of middle ground that I feel like I wanted to try  out. It seems more real in a weird way even though it’s fictional.

Me: You know what it is? In my opinion, it’s emotionally honest.

Mike: Yes. Exactly.

Me: For me that’s everything.  And, you’re doing what you do best. I think that’s your gift. I’m sure you’ve been compared to David Sedaris?

Mike: I have been. I’m grateful for that, of course. He’s…..I don’t want to make him sound like some sort of human rights hero, but he really paved the way for mainstream culture to get a gay point of view. Do you know what I mean?

Me: Yes. Because heterosexual people everywhere who might have their crappy little viewpoints were wetting themselves laughing.

Mike: I feel, though, I’m way more sexual. I don’t avoid sexuality in my work.

Me: You’re everything I’ve ever wanted in a David Sedaris. You’re not buttoned up. You have this soul…you’re not distant from your work…you’re just right in thick of it dumping it all out in a really beautiful way.

Mike: Thank you. I’m not the kind of person who gets any awards or anything. It’s kind of the risk you take when you use humor. People still think that humor isn’t as worthy of attention as some kind of serious endeavor.

Me: Yeah, nobody takes you seriously.

Mike: I think I would rather make people laugh, make people laugh make people laugh and then jab them with one little heartbreak. I feel like that is way more effective than being overly poetic the entire time. I don’t know, I just have satire in my soul, or something. I think a lot of people are like, it’s funny, therefore  it’s just not worthy. But they’re wrong.

Me: Do you know how hard it is to be funny? Damn it! Please…it’s a huge gift. What are you working on now?

Mike:  The irony of writing this Junket thing and about how desperate the life of a freelance writer is- having to write listicles and charticles and articles and bits and bobs to stay alive, is I’ve been getting so much work writing listicles and articles and charticles and bits and bobs. Of course. You say it and it’s going to come to you.I’ve been working a lot on tiny little things here and there. But I am working on a couple of larger projects. A science fictiony thing….it’s like, is this my schizophrenic break, or is this really going somewhere?

“Hornito” was kind  of like a book about me getting the confidence to write the  book…before that I was just writing poetry and essays. The way that it ends is writing something down. I can do this…that’s the fuel behind that. And then “The Underminer” is sort  heartbreak with the way the world was going. What I’m saying is I’m still confused about who I am and what I am as a writer and so every time I try something new, I’m like oh god, can I do it? Can I actually write fiction? Am I allowed? Am I good enough? There’s always that tension of whether I’m worthy. Does that make sense?

Me: Unfortunately, yes. And I can sit over here and say I can’t wait to see what this guy does next because he’s a fucking genius, but you’re not going to believe any of that. I know that.

Mike: Going back to the pros and cons of being compared to David Sedaris and why I don’t feel like I’ll ever in this culture achieve his huge popularity and it’s because I talk about sex and people are so uncomfortable with gay guys having sex.

Me: I didn’t even think of that when I asked myself why you are not a household name. That did not occur to me. But of course, I’m hetero and I get to walk around in a world that’s built for me.

Mike:  I wrote this essay for “Out” magazine a while ago that was about why there are no gay male comedians that are household names.  I mean there’s lesbian household names…Rosie and Sandra and Ellen. And more or less Margaret Cho. But you can’t find a gay guy who has a larger audience. And I think it’s because, pardon the pun, gay guys are still the butt of the joke. They are still used as the humor. Things are changing of course. But comedians will use the word gay to destabilize the crowd. There’s still this nervousness with being seen as gay.

Me: When heterosexual men can face the fact that they have dreamed  about (edited for graphic content ) their office mate or whatever….if they can face the part of them that has considered a gay encounter maybe that barrier could break.  Certainly interesting times. Are you still playing the bisexual Santeria priest, Arcadio?

Mike: I wish I was.

Me: Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

Mike: Yeah. Ummmm, I would say send your stuff out all the time. Don’t say I’m a fiction writer or I’m this or I’m that. And don’t let anyone else do that to you. Because if you are a writer, you’re a writer. It’s a medium, you know? That’s why I was so excited to release “The Junket” as an ebook. We’ve been living in this sort of fabricated literary system where it’s either a short story or a novel. It’s a magazine article or it’s a big fat book. And I don’t know literary history well enough, but I just feel like at any other time people were writing pamphlets and essays and printing them in different formats and people were reading them. It’s really promising to me that something can come out in a shorter novel form and have it be what it is instead of having to be expanded into a big fat hairy book.

Me: That old fashioned idea of sending stuff out instead of…..well, just doing the work and sending it out instead of having to have a pitch and an online presence.

Mike: There’s nothing more depressing to me than to hear “The way to sell your book now is to have a blog and update your profile and manage your blaaaaah.” Just keep sending stuff out.

Me: Here’s a really dumb question just for me. Do you know where your Pluto is in your chart?

Mike: My what?

Yes, I asked Mike Albo where his Pluto is in his astrological chart. I did. Mike used to write horoscopes with the help of an astrologer. And you know what? Mike knew his moon and rising sign. I hope my editor never reads this.

If you live in Richmond, VA you can go see Mike at the James River Writer’s Conference this weekend. I’m going to try not to rush up to him and throw my arms around him.

Here is my Style Weekly article : http://www.styleweekly.com/richmond/write-on/Content?oid=1618849


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.