Hey, I got a chapter published!

A few days ago I stuck my neck out and submitted a chapter for publication to the online magazine Feminine Collective. They said yes!

Fair warning, the content is erotic. Proceed with caution if you are squeamish about such things. If not, follow the link below to read it and erm….. you’re welcome.

Vlad

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A Conversation, Lightly Edited

Beta Reader, male:  I hope you and yours are well. I just was curious, how is your book coming? I really enjoyed reading the chapters you sent. Have a wonderful day. 

Me:  My rough draft is done!  I am in revisions now.  Hoping to be ready for a publisher by the end of the year.  Are you interested in reading more?  I always need input!  Thanks for checking in. 

Beta Reader, male:  Yes, I would love to read more!

(Sound of chapters zooming through space)

Beta Reader, male:

Me:  Did you get the chapters I sent?  Just checking, no hurry!

Beta Reader, male:   Hi! I did and read it with great pleasure. I can tell you’ve spent some time tightening up the characters and developing them in more detail.  I found the detail of your relationship with (redacted) interesting. May I ask about the choice to include such erotic detail? Not judging, just curious. I certainly think those details are fascinating and stimulating, just sincerely curious about sharing the details.  I don’t think it is necessarily a bad choice, but it will be interesting when your grandchildren read it.  Who else besides the grandchildren of celebrities and rock stars know the sex life details of their grandparents? Because of my sexual repression earlier in life I probably now tend to have an unhealthy obsession with all things sexual.  To most reading your story it’s probably not a big deal. 

 I want to commend you on your bravery in writing. I grew up in the same religious context as you, although I didn’t nearly suffer as much. I’m sorry you had to endure that. I suspect because I am male and my dad did not attend church I escaped a lot of what many of my peers have endured at the hands of Pentecostals. But in some ways I envy you. I’ve always been a rule keeper of sorts and you knew a certain freedom of rebellion at an early age. I did all the typical teenager things but never had any of the adventures you describe in tantalizing detail. And now I’m at an age where the “What if’s” start to flood the mind. I wish I would have made some different choices earlier in life. But you did and now you are writing about them. Kudos. I want to read more!! Keep me posted. 

(Me, looking in mirror: GRANDCHILDREN?  Shit, I do look old.)

Me:  I appreciate your kind words.  You bring up some interesting points that have me thinking and refining my themes,.  Please allow me to think out loud here…

Regarding explicit detail and why I write it:

Sex and eroticism is and has always been a focus of mine, so I love writing about sex.  Also, everybody knows sex sells and I want to sell some books.  To that end, I also want to pull in male readers because I have something to say to them.  Men rarely read memoirs by women.

This brings me to what I want to say to men.  I am interested in their experience of sex and sexual interaction.  I also deeply believe that rape culture and the end of female oppression comes not only from women rising up but from “good men” listening and giving a shit about the effects of their disinterest.  People in power aren’t going to give it up voluntarily, but all men have a mother and most have sisters, female friends, daughters, etc.  It is important to understand our experience.

Which leads me to our experience.  Most women know what it feels like to be a sex recipient if you know what I mean.  A faceless receptacle.  I am fascinated that you find my experiences erotic as opposed to simply explicit.  They are descriptions of trauma.  Not rape.  Not non-consensual, but a search for belonging and love.  The narrator was not a free spirit out having a good time, but a damaged, sad, lonely girl.  Female readers get this.  I want male readers to get it, too, and I think they will when I’m done with the story, but I have to get them to pick it up first.

Also, no one gets out of fundamentalism without sexual damage, male or female.  You mentioned your own repression and the what-ifs that are coming around now.  I can’t help but notice that there is an assumption of shame associated with sexual experience in your response.  Sex is the best part of life.   People literally die of loneliness.  Lots of people are trapped in sexless marriages.  Many of the mass murderers we see in the news have a history of sexual rejection.  I think it is a worthy talking point.  Who decided sex should be associated with shame and guilt?  There is probably a provable answer to that question.  I am betting it is rooted in controlling women’s sexual behavior, which became a popular thing to do when humans started owning property:

Sex At Dawn

Do you mind if I use your response as part of a blog post?  Anonymously, of course.

Beta Reader, male:  Thank you for the thoughtful response. I suppose I did reveal my ignorance. I agree there shouldn’t be any shame associated with sex, I apologize for missing the point in your expressions of your experience. I was wrong to interpret them so. I confess that I’m still learning and not being a woman or someone who has suffered as you have I’m limited in my ability to fully understand. I’m sincerely sorry if my observations came across insensitively. Not if, they did. Thank you for confronting me on that point. If my ignorance will help inform others feel free to publish it.

ME:  Oh geez.  There’s really no need to apologize.  I appreciate your forthrightness.  You’re helping me form my thoughts on this subject in a very real way.
We are all dealing with this subject from different angles. Thanks for letting me use your thoughts to further the conversation.  I really do have a point to make with the explicitness of my writing and I want to make it thoughtfully and well.

And you know, if readers get turned on, so much the better!

 

Fiance:  If you want male readers to understand why the sex is traumatic you will have to beat them over the head with the point.

Writing Coach:  I agree.  Do it.

 

Isolation

I’m thinking about isolation.  Not what you do on a Sunday morning? Just me?

Several recent conversations with my sisters and my mother have reminded me how isolated we all were from each other in years past.  The stage was set within our family for absolute obedience and we were a perfect storm of noncommunication.

Firstly, the cult of Pentecostalism required isolation from the world in general, effectively taking away any context for normality.  Intrinsic to that religious culture is the submission of women to men.  Women cannot hold positions of power or have a public voice.  Their submission must be evident in behavior and appearance.

But you know that.

Add in an ambitious, power-hungry, sexually frustrated narcissist on a mission from God with a public persona to protect and we have a family of women who were not allowed to talk to each other.  Not because we didn’t want to, but because we were forbidden and didn’t know how.

When crises came around, we were already in a state of silence.  By the time my teenage fallopian tube exploded (see Close Call for the story) and I was near death, we were all perfectly trained. All Dad had to say was do not speak and we didn’t.  Our silence went far beyond lying to church people who would judge him for having a wayward daughter.  He didn’t have to tell me not to speak.  I hadn’t spoken out loud in my family for years and was not about to start.

Mom knew I was sick but was not allowed to visit me in the hospital, nor to comfort me afterward.  Dad told my sister that Mom didn’t know what happened to me and not to tell her, so she didn’t.  My sister was the only person who spoke to me during my six weeks of recovery following surgery.  I sat home alone with no one to blame but myself. My other sister was told nothing at all.

Silence filled our home, the air too thick to breathe. Not one word was spoken between mother and daughters nor sister to sister about the fact that one of us had a tragic, terrifying, near-death experience.

Thirty-ish years later, with the threat of Dad’s wrath long gone, we talk.  Now we know what we were forced to deny.  Now we say the words.  Now we are free to love each other.  And breathe.

Ode to Broken Commitments

I came across this blog post on good ol’ Facebook and it stopped me in my tracks.  So many of my own experiences and those I grew up around are piercingly described here, as is the truth their effect on young lives.  Please take a few minutes to follow the link below and read.

http://stuffapostolicslike.blogspot.com/2015/08/285-nayc2015-ode-to-broken-commitments.html

But I WANT It…

As a child raised in the extreme isolationism and clamped-down atmosphere of the United Pentecostal Church, I had a deep, insatiable desire for worldly things.  The state of females’ appearance was rigidly controlled:  dress length to the knees (even for children), no pants or jeans, no sleeveless shirts, uncut hair (not even trimmed), no make-up or jewelry and I lusted for it all.  My most prized possession as a little kid was a big fat gold ring with rhinestones that I was allowed to wear only when playing “house” in the basement.  Once, some poor soul got saved and turned over her entire collection of costume jewelry to my dad; three boxes full.  I was momentarily ecstatic, envisioning hours of fabulous dress-up play.  My sisters and I got to keep the empty boxes.  I have no idea where the jewelry went; probably into the garbage.  Oh, that just made me feel a little bit sick to my stomach.

As I grew towards adolescence, my cravings grew: a plastic Oreo cookie necklace with a bite taken out of it on a leather cord, a Donnie and Marie Osmond lunchbox.  I didn’t know who they were, but it sure looked cool.  The short flippy haircut of a girl at the mall, a Barry Manilow poster.  I had a plan, though.   When I was old enough, maybe 18, I intended to backslide temporarily.  I was going to have permanent eyeliner put on (it hadn’t been invented yet, I think I fantasized it).  I was also going to get my hair cut, all very quickly and then come back to church.  I would take a chance that the rapture wouldn’t happen and I could slide back in fast enough.  All that straggly hair would be gone, at least for a while and I wouldn’t be able to take the make-up off.  Even after my hair grew back out, it would still have that cool, straight edge across the bottom and the Farrah bangs would last for a little while.

This was my nefarious plan to look hot and still go to heaven.  I had it all worked out.

Close Call

Another new city, another new state, the third one in high school alone.  My sister had tickets to Hawaii and was taking my mother along for a vacation.  Preacher Dad took them to the airport in San Francisco, a couple of hours away.  He wouldn’t let me come along and then stayed overnight, doing whatever it was closeted gay men did in the 1980s.  That is how I found myself home alone on my 18th birthday, six weeks into a new place, knowing no one.  I had a car, a bright orange Pinto wagon that ran most of the time, and I remembered the way to the Casa Maria restaurant and bar. I was damned if I was going to sit in that house by myself, staring at the walls. Also I hadn’t had sex in three years.  I drove to the restaurant and walked in.  The bartender saw me, but before he could ask for ID, the only guy sitting at the bar said, “Come here.”  The bartender wouldn’t serve me.  We walked out together moments later, tried another bar, but I got carded again, so we cut to the chase.  We climbed in the back of the Pinto wagon, and he fucked me doggy style right there in the parking lot.  Afterwards, as I pulled myself together, he peed on the ground.  I watched the steam of urine flow underneath my shoe, a beige net peep-toe flat with a bow on the toe.  Terribly ugly.  He hopped into his sports car and drove off with Prince’s “1999” blaring through the window.  I went home to stare at the walls; the whole thing didn’t even take an hour, but I was pregnant anyway.

Back in those days, pregnancy tests were only available at doctor’s offices or clinics, nothing of the kind was sold over the counter.  The yellow pages and accompanying maps were a mystery to me.  I had no idea how to get to the free clinics in downtown Sacramento.  There was an ad for a free pregnancy test at a church nearby, so I made an appointment for 1:00 in the afternoon.  Told my mother I wasn’t feeling well, stayed home from school.  Feeling remarkably better at 12:45 as planned, I headed out to the “library.”  As I raised the garage door, I heard a voice behind me.  Turning, I saw a heavily made-up Asian woman standing on the sidewalk.  She said, “You know what means the word slut?”

“No” I responded, got in and shut the door as fast as I could; pulled the car out. She was gone.  Not on the sidewalk, not in a neighboring yard.  Vanished.  Hallucination?  Maybe.

I found the church, handed over my pee cup and was told that in exchange for the information I sought, I was required to watch an ant-abortion film.  When it started, I realized I had seen it before.  Off the hook!  My test results were negative, however it was too soon to really know for sure, she said.  I could still be pregnant and I knew it was true.  Knew that I was.

Days later, leaning against the church’s bathroom cubicle wall, twisting cramps contorting my body, I slid down the cold metal to a squat.   After catching my breath, I drove home and went to bed only to wake hours later with violent abdominal cramps.  PD was out of town. Mom called him, wondering what to do and PD instructed her to take me to the emergency room.  No questions, no exams, no x-rays later, I was sent home with possible pneumonia.

A day or so later, the cramps began again with terrifying force.  I called PD at work, “Come get me.” And he did.  We went to the nearest walk-in clinic.  There were questions this time.  The doctor said to go to the emergency room right now.  We did, I in my enormous lime green sweats that I wore to bed.  I knew this had something to do with being pregnant, but had no idea what.  While waiting for a turn in the ER changing room, Dad asked if this was the first time I had had sex.  I told him about my first boyfriend.  He didn’t say anything.

In the changing room, my head started to spin and I had to sit down, unable to undress.  The ultrasound technician came in to see if I was ready, but I could no longer stand.  She helped me onto the ultrasound table; turned the machine on.  Instantly she was on the phone, urgency in her voice; words I could not decipher.

Wheeling down the hall, operating room, bright lights, lime green sweats shredded with scissors, masked faces, count backwards.

Recovery room.  Slide from the gurney to the bed.  Really?  So far away.

Someone explained later that I had an ectopic pregnancy and my fallopian tube had ruptured.  I was lucky to be alive.  The ultrasound technician came to visit, stood at the foot of my bed, still pale and shaken, surprised I had survived.  I remember the metal staples across my lower abdomen, a sponge bath, snarky birth control comment from the nurse.  PD stopped by to read bible verses.  My sister came to see me, but not Mom.  No conversation, just a big fat Holy Shit atmosphere.  Silence.  I found out years later that PD did not tell my mother why I was hospitalized; would not allow her to see me.  He told her she didn’t need to know and forbid her to talk to me about it. I certainly wasn’t going to bring it up; I knew how ashamed they were of me.  And how angry.

Six weeks home from senior year, no one noticed when I went back. I had been a new face, anyway.

Nothing was ever said to me about what happened, except when the insurance bill came.  I needed to make monthly payments to dad for the $3000.00 deductible.  They barely got the new health insurance paperwork filed in time.  It was a close call.

Later, I asked PD why he didn’t sue the first hospital for negligence.  He said he would have if something had happened.

Silence and the Stage

Preacher Dad decided he needed to be around more.  My mom had been a good mother in our early childhood but it was time for him to take over.  Her usefulness as a parent had been served and she could step aside, he told her.  He took a job as the vice-president of Jackson College of Ministries in Jackson, MS.  This small church college was owned and operated by the local UPC pastor, Brother Thomas Craft.  If you have ever seen the movie The Apostle with Robert Duval, that’s the man.  If Mr. Duval did not study Brother Craft with a microscope in preparation for that movie, I will eat my hat and yours.

We arrived in the Deep South on a pedestal.  Big announcements were made, public introductions, etc.; PD went to work and I went to fourth grade.  Socializing at school was not allowed.  All other kids were sinners from sinner families and had to be kept at arms’ length.  I was, however, allowed to witness to them or invite them to church so that they, too, could be saved.  Knee length dresses with sleeves were required at all times; my uncut hair hung to my knees.   Television and movies were strictly forbidden.  There was no secular information of any kind in our home.  I lived in Jackson, MS in the mid-1970s and knew nothing of the civil rights movement or of Martin Luther King Jr.  A classmate made a diorama of the solar system for their science fair project; I didn’t know what it was.  Any acknowledgement offered to me at school was refused on my behalf.  When my teacher chose me to be hall monitor, an honor given to responsible kids, my mother wrote a note refusing because it would make me too bossy.  My personality just wasn’t good enough.  To be fair, mom probably did me a favor.  When the teacher told the girls in class (me) to leave our little dresses at home and wear blue jeans the next day for field day, mom wrote another letter explaining that because of religious beliefs that wasn’t gonna happen.  The music teacher asked who had seen Star Wars and everyone raise their hands.  Nope, no idea.  I had seen stars outside at night… but that wasn’t what she meant… I kept my nose in a book as much as possible.

Social ostracism deepened as my parents’ need for control grew. They were strict even by churchy standards.  Free time before and after services was to be spent on my knees in the prayer room.  Other church girls had sleepovers.  I wasn’t old enough.  Sunday afternoon play-dates between church services?  Sometimes. The only place I had any freedom was the college campus, so I hung out with the college kids.  I learned titillating things, heard scandalous gossip and wore padded bras and high heels. Made out with 18 year old boys.   It was pretty fun.  At least there people would talk to me and I learned to kiss. Well.

Dad’s explosive temper grew; triggered by any little thing.  It was always there like a scary movie soundtrack, setting the scene in the background.  I remember him yanking my sister off the couch onto her back because he didn’t like her tone of voice.  And the shocking smack of his hand on my face, again for tone of voice.  I just couldn’t see it coming because I never stepped out of line on purpose.  He had a low Slytherin-like way of reaming your ass in a pants-wetting hiss.  This was back in the days of 45 records.  My sisters had Andy Gibb, Rita Coolidge, Climax, Debbie Boone, John Denver. (Don’t you just remember every word to every song?  They’re embedded.)  So on a rare outing to the local mall I purchased, for $1, a 45 of the song A Little Bit of Soap, by Nigel Olsson.  Dad found it and made me play it in front of the entire family, then proceeded to give me a humiliating lecture on the evils of secular music and my personal shortcomings for listening to such unholy crap.  When I found the courage to speak up, I pointed out that my sisters had records, too (yes, I sold them out; yes, they were mad). Any perceived rebellion (a breath that sounded like a sigh), sitting when we were told to stand (the man of god told you to stand up), suspicion of promiscuity (being out of sight for a moment), asking a question that put him on the spot (can I go over to so-and-so’s house?), cheeks flushed with humiliation (scrub check for makeup) resulted in his seething rage.  Endless lectures on my shortcomings, which I received silently, constant fear of dad’s wrath, disdain and dismissal of my needs and feelings, evolved into my almost complete withdrawal.  To be seen and not heard, while never actually put in those terms, was the rule.   This did not go well later on.

Scrutiny was the name of the game at church also, and invisibility at school; hours of primping before Sunday night service and oddball denim skirt-centered frump on the bus left me swinging between two worlds, silence and the stage.  It is impossible to underestimate the warped nature of my development during those years.  Appearances were paramount; skirt length measured by fractions, hair length was glorified and uneven, uncut split ends were mandatory.  Any female whose hair had an even bottom edge had clearly sinned with scissors.  (A few years later, I clipped some long bangs around my face in a 15 year old bout of fuck you and was told that I had ruined my dad’s career.  The sick thing is, it really was a nail in the coffin.  Dad was an asshole but he wasn’t making it up.) Teenage girls rubbed Vaseline onto eyelashes and eyelids in lieu of mascara and eye-shadow.  Clear lip gloss was allowed, but not clear nail polish and oddly placed Vaseline was pushing it.  The youth pastor’s wife spoke against the use of Vaseline during a girls’ only service.  I asked why it was okay to put shiny stuff on your lips but not on your eyelids. She openly mocked me, but didn’t answer.  I also asked why we were not allowed to go to baseball games. (A hot new guy came to church and rumor had it he played; thus my interest.  I hadn’t heard about Title 9.) Sister Youth Pastor told me not ask dumb questions and never answered.  Maybe she didn’t know, but I never found out.  Brother Youth Pastor wouldn’t let me get off of the choir bus with everyone else because he could see my bra strap through the cap sleeve of my shirt.  He cornered me, placing full blame for my promiscuous clothing choice squarely on my inadequately covered shoulders.  I was 14.

Many years later, after Dad died, I had a series of nightmares about him that left me terrified.  I would wake up shaking, my heart pounding and sick.  I do not remember the details of those dreams.  Then one night, I stood up to him.  I faced him and, with voice quivering and knees buckling, told him what I really thought of him, how I really felt.  I never dreamed about him again.