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I Love You Just the Way You Are June 26, 2013

Posted by J. in FYI, Genius.
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1 comment so far

This last time I let my blogging slide, I did so before answering the last couple of questions from what I can only assume is an ardent and faithful readership. I saved Gary’s question for last, not because I didn’t want to answer it, but because it requires the most thought. I felt it was a thoughtful topic for discussion, and deserved a thoughtful response. Also, I confess that I’m a bit of a coward.

You see, a few years ago on its Facebook page, the Catholic News Service ran a news item about a Catholic university that was planning on offering a class on gay marriage. I honestly think that’s how ham-handedly they worded it, too. And the crux of the article was about the local Bishop getting his knickers in a knot over it. It was “an inappropriate thing to teach in a Catholic institution.” I made the crucial mistake of reading the comments. I know, I know. And the die-hard, militant, EWTN Catholics were out-fucking-raged and siding with the Bishop. A few voices supported the university, as did I. Call me a pinko-commie-liberal if you must, but to me, Catholic or not, universities are institutions of higher learning. You’re supposed to think and question things. I said that gay marriage (seriously, it’s just marriage–it’s neither gay nor straight) is the law in my state and is spreading. Marriage equality will happen, and quickly, and discussing federal lawmaking decisions in a university classrooms seems perfectly appropriate.

Well, one of the other posters took offense, and because the idea of locking my Facebook page down was new to me, I had my profile available for anyone to see, and she saw that I had “catechist” on my list of “shit that keeps me off the streets.” She used that information to send an e-mail to my Bishop’s office, and one afternoon I got a call from the head of religious instruction at the diocese accusing me of…well, I’m not sure what. Because when I figured out that this woman was calling me out on the carpet based on an e-mail from some woman from Michigan (yeah, Internet sleuthing works both ways, sweetie) questioning my ability to teach religious education at my Parish, I freaked the fuck out. I started shooting back, and I went OFF. She never read the article. She never read my intelligent and thoughtful comment. She did not know the woman’s name. She didn’t even have the e-mail handy.

I managed to not say “What the actual fuck is wrong with you?” on the phone. And when I hung up, there was no further mention of my ability to teach religious education in my Parish. Nor was my comment or phone conversation ever reported to either my Parish’s director of religious ed, or my priest. But I realized that internet comments could get my ass into trouble, so I’ve locked down my Facebook page, and now I try to avoid commenting on things that could upset my personal apple cart.

Plus, I’m just not political to begin with.

In matters of politics and faith, I’ve found it’s best to not delve into controversial issues where those things are concerned. Because someone is always going to take offense.

But Gary said, “Ok, lets touch on the two topics you said you wouldn’t discuss; a devout (?) Catholic with multiple gay friends. I honestly believe folks who have strong opinions one way or another on this never have to face the reality of having strong faith and friendship loyalty.”

I have an answer, but it’s something that, should word get around, might keep me from participating in the life of my Parish. I love to sing, and I’ve tried to avoid saying anything that would keep me from being asked to leave that ministry. And I’ve stayed quiet on the topic in public, not because I don’t support my gay friends, but because I have something to lose by speaking out.

Then, this happened.

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If you’re on The Facebook, you’ve seen it around. It’s the symbol for support of marriage equality. Lots of my friends changed their profile pictures on the day the Supreme Court was hearing arguments for and against the Defense of Marriage Act, which attempts to define marriage as between one man and one woman.

After much soul-searching, I changed my profile picture, too. And in my head the whole time was the knowledge that just one person making a phone call could make it so that the one thing I still love about Church is taken from me.

And the hypocrisy of that hit me like a banjo to the face.

Marriage equality is a no-brainer to me. There has yet to be so much as a single argument made against it that makes a lick of sense. Come to that, I don’t understand homophobia. The most succinct description of how I feel about it is this quote:

I hate the word ‘homophobia.’ It’s not a phobia. You are not scared. You are an asshole.

It’s attributed to Morgan Freeman, but he didn’t originate it. But the long and short of it is, I didn’t say anything because I didn’t want to lose something that matters very much to me–singing with the choir and being a cantor. But I got to thinking about what it means for me to call myself a disciple of Christ. Jesus said a lot of things, and the thing that sticks with me the most is when he says in the Gospel of Matthew, “What you do for the least of these, you do for me.” What matters is how we treat each other.

And I also know that as a Christian, I have to be able to love without counting the cost. Loving the way Jesus taught means it’s sometimes not convenient, or popular, and you might be called on to make sacrifices for that love.

I support marriage equality because I believe it is the right thing to do. It is the just thing to do. Maybe homosexuality is sinful…though I doubt it. If God made all things for good, there’s got to be a good reason for it. I suspect it’s to teach us lessons on tolerance and small-mindedness. I mean, you think we’d have learned our lesson about discriminating based on other factors like skin color, nationality, or gender, but it seems we’re not done learning. But that’s just my theory. I could be wrong.

I guess it’s more accurate to say that I’m not a devout Catholic. My faith is complicated. It’s more accurate for me to say that I follow Christ, but I believe his Church sometimes gets it wrong, with tragic results. History has shown this to be true, and will continue to show it for as long as there is a Church, because the Church is human, and we humans are prone to fucking things up in epic proportion.

I love the faith tradition of the Church. I appreciate that it traces back to Christ himself. I believe in the True Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, but if I have to some day set that aside over a difference of belief, I can. I’d rather not. I draw strength from that nourishment, and it lets me put my big girl panties on and love the way Jesus himself taught us to. That love is hard, man. Damned hard, and as disciples, we need all the help we can get. Jesus knew that.

I think there is room for interpretation and investigation and that we always have a chance to make things right. At the end of the day, I put my faith in God, first and foremost. I pray, and I follow his gentle guidance. I’d rather risk sinning in the eyes of the Church and love my gay friends with all my heart, then to condemn them for being made in His own image.

Love one another as I have loved you. It’s a tall order.

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Turn, Turn, Turn October 1, 2012

Posted by J. in FYI.
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2 comments

Ah, today we come to the question that took a few years off my life when I first read it. Buffy, there’s a reason I write using a pen name. Not everyone is privy to my unique literary stylings, and it’s with good reason. So when I saw your comment, I swallowed hard and realized I was going to have to suck it up and deal with that question in my own life eventually, and honestly, it seems as good a time as any to cross the streams.

“Have you written about how you balance church and erotica yet? Do you have Catholic guilt rear it’s ugly head ever?

There are a small group of moms at my daughter’s private Lutheran school that are all closet fuckery lovers. We private message each other with various bits of fuckery all day long. This includes the principle’s wife. That balance between how people expect us to act and how we actually act always has interested me.”

This is actually a few questions in one. No, I haven’t written about how I balance church and erotica, mostly because I’ve not let the cat completely out of the bag about writing erotica in the first place,. Some of my friends know, and some do not. If you’re an eagle-eyed reader or a shameless stalker, you may have seen that I’ve updated my About Poops page and let my proclivities slip out a bit, complete with links and disclaimers. I’m not ashamed of it by a long shot. I write, and I write well. At the end of the day, I’m a published author, and I’m damned proud of it. But erotica is a literary genre that tends to pull some folks up short. If I said I wrote grisly murder mysteries, or really bad poetry, no one would bat an eye. If I wrote about most anything else, this wouldn’t even be an issue. But write about sex? Hoo, boy.

I don’t feel guilty about writing about sex, and for the record, I have no Catholic guilt about anything, ever. I mean, I feel guilt from time to time when I’ve done something I know to be wrong. I’m a bit of a sociopath, not a complete one. I wouldn’t classify my guilt as “Catholic” because I have to admit that the Church and I don’t always see eye-to-eye on what is wrong and what is right.

And this is where we start wandering into territory of what I really don’t like to discuss on my blog. I spend half my life defending my Church for a variety of reasons and the other half condemning it for a variety of others, none of which I wish to discuss here. It’s personal and complicated.

I’ve been asked why I write erotica, or more accurately, “Don’t you ever write anything that’s not sex?” The answer is no, or at least very rarely. Sometimes my erotic stories aren’t very “sexy” but they are always erotic. I do wonder if anyone thinks to ask a mystery writer why they only write mysteries, though. It’s my genre, I say with a shrug. And for a long time–and yes, I’ve been writing erotica for a long time–I thought it was just because I had a dirty mind. But then I read something by another erotica writer that made me look at things differently. I found his opinions and ideas challenging and enlightening, and he writes some of the best erotic fiction I’ve ever read. He was answering the question, “What’s the difference between erotica and pornography?”

“The law’s never been very good at making objective standards for subjective judgments. And etymologically there isn’t, at least as far as I can tell. All the dictionaries I looked at make no distinction between pornography and erotica.

“But from a literary and aesthetic standpoint I think there’s a world of difference and that it’s very significant. Porn is aimed at the genitals; erotica is aimed at the mind. Porn deals with concrete sex while erotica deals with the abstract of sexuality. The fact that we’ve lost sight of this distinction for the last 200 years or so is the reason why we have next to no serious sexual literature in the West to this very day (though things have gotten better over the last 20-30 years or so). It’s also one of the main reasons we live in such a puritanical and sexophobic society, because the erotic has become so tightly associated with the obscene.

“A man and a woman meeting for coffee has no pornographic content. A man and a woman meeting for coffee does have a huge erotic content, though, and a good artist can bring that out and make us see how it works. And that’s the point of literature (or one of them, anyhow): to reveal the world to us and help us see things we wouldn’t notice on our own.

“To the Greeks, Eros was a powerful force, and didn’t just rule things sexual. You had an erotic relationship with anything you were attached to deeply and viscerally–a place, a person, even an object–and even patriotism was considered an emotion rooted in eroticism.

“Eventually the Philosophers–Plato, chiefly–decided the erotic way of knowing the world was inferior to the intellectual methods they favored, and the seeds of the exaggerated mind-body dualism that would infect early Christianity were sown, based on the supposed superiority of spirit over matter (intellect over emotion). But eroticism as a way of relating to the world was rediscovered and embraced with a vengeance by the neo-Platonists of the Italian Renaissance, which is one of the reasons for all those chubby Cupids in Italian art. They represent eroticism, sexual feelings without the sex.

“Today we still live in a very anti-erotic culture. It’s very sexual, but not very erotic. The great authors we think of as treating with sex in their works–Henry Miller, D.H. Lawrence, Erica Jong–really just titillate rather than examine. Anais Nin maybe comes closest to capturing the real spirit of eroticism that infuses our lives, and she’s considered a pornographer. I think Pauline Reage (”Story of O“) is up there too, though not many people are comfortable with her brand of eroticism.

“So that’s my take on it. We all fuck, we all have sex, and anyone with at least some literary ability can describe a sexual act and voila! — they’re a porn author. But to discern the threads of eroticism that run through our lives, to be able to know them when you see them, to understand how sexual feelings are generalized and applied to the mundane, how we apply them in our relations with ourselves… That takes a special kind of talent and perception.”

In respect to the original question he was answering, one of the drawbacks to writing erotica is that in the same way dictionaries make no distinction between erotica and pornography, neither does anyone else. They have become synonymous in the publishing world as well. But the stories that are well-received, and the kind of stories readers are really looking for are beyond that. Yes, they’re sexy as hell and they’re meant to be. But if I’ve done my job well, they make you think. They make you care about the characters.  I wish there was a more defined line between erotica and porn, but then I suppose one finds Dorothy Sayers novels in the same section at Barnes and Noble as James Patterson, so maybe it’s a matter of just taking the well-written along with the half-assed.

I admit part of my timing of coming out of the proverbial closet also has to do with the sudden upsurge in popularity of erotica as a genre thanks to that literary abortion called 50 Shades of Grey. Did I enjoy it? Hell to the no, and if you want to know why, author Jennifer Armintrout has written the best, most comprehensive analysis of what was wrong with that novel that I’ve ever read. I can’t add anything to it that she hasn’t already said, and eloquently–also hilariously. I belly laughed at that blog more than once. Even if you’ve never read the novel, read the recap. You won’t regret it.

But I digress, as usual. Suddenly, people–women in particular–are finding that reading about sex is enjoyable. God bless the Kindle for making it possible to read something a little steamy without anyone being any the wiser. See, there’s still that stigma attached. Good girls don’t like to read about sex. Respectable women don’t enjoy coarse language and adult themes. And church ladies certainly don’t write stories containing such sinful elements as extramarital affairs, premarital shenanigans, and *gasp* masturbation.

Or do they?

I don’t think writing about things that are considered sinful by some is in and of itself, sinful. In that case, no one would be able to write about much of anything, would they? Writing–in fact all art and not just the theatrics Shakespeare described–“whose end, both at the first and now, was and is to hold, as ’twere, the mirror up to nature, to show virtue her own feature, scorn her own image, and the very age and body of the time his form and pressure” needs to be honest.

The human sex drive is normal and natural. It is a part of everyday life. I write stories about that aspect of humanity and create characters who are dealing with their own sexuality. And my stories resonate with people because for the most part they aren’t just what we in the world of erotic fiction call “stroke pieces.” I get inside my characters’ heads in the exact same way any writer does–or should, if they’re any kind of a decent author.

Have I written stroke pieces–purely sexual fantasies? Sure. Have I written stories designed to titillate and arouse? Oh, you betcha. But is that wrong? Should I feel guilty? I ask myself that from time to time as I struggle to keep my erotica-writing life separate from my regular life. In the end, I don’t think writing something arousing is any worse than writing a cookbook that makes the reader hungry, or a horror novel that gives the reader nightmares, or a romance novel that makes a lonely woman pine for a white knight to carry her away. It’s what the reader does with their feelings that matters.

I believe in my heart that my writing is not dirty at all, but rather that it serves an important purpose. It makes us examine an aspect of our  humanity for sure, but it has a more immediate effect as well, and when I read first hand about what my writing and talking openly about sexual issues has done, I’m more convinced than ever that I’m behaving neither sinfully nor scandalously. Here’s what a friend of mine said just this morning, in fact: “For the past couple of months, my sex life and my relationship have been getting better and better, and I really do feel I owe it to you people for making me feel sexy and inspired again. So, you know, thanks and stuff.”

She’s not the first person to say that. Within a small group of people, as we shared stories we’d written and links to other stories we’d enjoyed, more and more of us reported the same thing. Hell, you can read in the mainstream media about the 50 Shades phenomenon and how women who used to lie there and think of England have suddenly found new passion in their own marriages.

I can state unequivocally that getting back into writing erotica has been one of the two things that has saved my marriage, and I make no bones about that. Getting help with my depression was the first step, particularly since depression was the thing that made me put my pen down and stop writing for awhile. I didn’t have the mental energy to write, and our sex life was almost non-existent. Larry hung in there, and his loyalty and fidelity to me during a rough stretch of years means more to me than he will ever know. He refused to let the fire go out when it would have been a whole lot easier to do so.

I had help. I got some supplements that helped my body cope with the changes brought on my menopause and I could feel the fog lift from my brain. That was the first part. The second part was stumbling quite by accident into writing again. I hung out in the forums of a website and met a group of friends there. And as sometimes happens in forum life, there was a thread started that was full of drama. There was name-calling and hair-pulling and some first class trolling like you wouldn’t believe. Two of the guys got into a very heated argument, but realized that they were fighting about something that had nothing to with the topic at hand so they decided in a rare moment of maturity, to take it off-board and hash it out in chat. They did, and came back after dusting themselves off and shaking hands. Feeling silly, I wrote a couple of paragraphs right out of a gay bodice-ripper where the two men fight themselves bloody, then wind up looking into each other’s eyes and sexiness ensues. It was tame, for me, but the enthusiasm with which it was accepted was astounding. I was greeted with a chorus of “Do me! Do me! Write me into a story!”

So I did, and before long, we had our own thread that we called the Verbally NSFW (Not Safe for Work) thread. Other voices chimed in and added their own stories, and for me, after a few months, I was getting my chops back as far as writing goes. Two really good things came from it, besides making some really great friends. One was the people, women especially, who reported that their sex lives had improved. Some from writing and some from reading, and all from talking openly and honestly about sex. I include myself in that number. Poops got her groove back. *cue cheesy 70’s porn music*

The second was people telling me that my little stories were as good and better than what they’d read in officially published capacities and had I thought of submitting anything for publication? Over time, with their encouragement and support, I came to do just that. I’ve had two short stories published in anthologies of erotic short fiction so far, with a third one just accepted this month and in the publication process. I have self-published three books and I have a fourth one in the works. I get paid to write. Not a lot just yet, but it’s a start.

I blog and tweet under my pen name and I link to all my books from that blog. It helps me keep things separate. Secret, as it were. If you don’t want to read adult-themed stories or if frank language is off-putting to you, you don’t have to read it. It won’t hurt my feelings, honestly. In the same way if you were to write a novel about politics, I would be proud as punch of you, but I doubt I would read it because it’s not my cup of tea. Or if you wrote a story where bad things happen to animals. Jesus, I hate that.  We all have our likes and dislikes and I understand and accept that erotica doesn’t have a wide appeal because of how we as a society view sex in general. I’m okay with only being read on Kindle, though I have to admit that holding in my own hands a book that I wrote was a genuine thrill.

I probably won’t talk much more about my life as an author here because of the fact that what I write is still outside of the mainstream and first and foremost, I never wish to embarrass anyone. But the second, more pressing reason is that I realize that it’s not my own opinion that is making me hesitate to discuss and defend my writing choices but the opinions of others. I always hesitate to argue any point with anyone who has a very staunch, rigid view of anything, and nothing brings out staunch, rigid views like religion and politics, and it’s why I don’t discuss either as a rule. I know that there are those people who would not and will not listen to any explanation of how I can sing the psalm on Sunday with the love of God overflowing my heart and then sit at my computer and write a story using dirty words like cock and cunt. I can explain it and I can defend it, but I’m not keen to because I know that more often than not, I’ll wind up breaking my own prime directive of never trying to teach a pig to sing because it wastes my time and annoys the pig. Basically, I’d rather not. I can only state my case and either they’ll see my side or they won’t.

Oh, sex. It’s still so very, very taboo to discuss. So I’ve done my work in secret. Not secret in a way that secrets are bad, but secret in that it’s not meant for public consumption. If you are inclined to think that what I write is sinful, I know I can’t change your mind. But I have a close relationship with God that supersedes any church on Earth and I have never felt that I’m doing anything but sharing a gift I’ve been given. My conscience is clear on this matter.

Finally, as to how I balance who people think I am with who I actually am, all I can say is that I just am. I am me. I don’t put on one face for some people and show a different face to another. I just tend to not cross the streams. I have different bits of my life that are in different places. I mean, I don’t need my kid bringing my books into the middle school, so I don’t talk about it with them, because it’s not appropriate, though eventually we’ll have discussions about it. And rest assured, when I’m singing at Mass, I’m concentrating on God and focusing on how to best live my calling to love my neighbor, not working out a plot in my head.

I keep things balanced and separate because as it has been observed, there is a time and a season and purpose to every thing under heaven.