Wednesday, May 12, 2010

How Sex Found its Way into 'Free Fall'

Part I of an occasional series on writing about sex

I didn’t set out to write about sex. I wanted to write about a cathartic love affair in the context of a life swamped by mounting complexities. I had a story to tell and themes I wanted to explore and comment on. Because I’m a journalist and have a journalist’s desire to share important information, no sooner had I grasped the significance of the affair than I began to draft essays about it.

The “context” I mention — the details — included a combative relationship with a hair-trigger boss, a significant other who wound up in ICU — the first of seven hospitalizations in 2007, a creative and fulfilling career in an art museum, euphoric runs along the ocean near my home in Rockport, writing projects, reviewing books, frequent travel, good friends, aging, mental illness, music, joy. The fact that sex ended up in the book doesn’t surprise me since sex was a big part of the love affair. And sex was the model for letting go, for having a free fall and, ultimately, for making change. It seemed essential to the story.

One journalist who read the book and wrote an article afterward said, “It’s a unique book. I’ve never read anything like it.” As a book reviewer and the writer of the book proposal that included a “survey of literature,” I came to see why she made that statement. “Free Fall” is 100 percent me, in my free-falling voice, written in the most honest way I could find. I wanted to paint 2007 for readers as sensually and as impressionistically as I had experienced it. This took work and numerous rewrites.

I recently looked at a blog titled “Bespoke Erotica” that linked to in May. The writer, Joshua David Stein, barters with readers who would like their own personal erotica. They provide him with three words and he writes an erotic story for them.

From his April 25 story on Tumblr, he begins:
Rhys felt the warm Caribbean breeze against alabaster ass cheeks, exposed westerly as Abel knelt also westerly with Rhys’ knob betwixt his lips. Things were going well for the lovebirds. Rhys moaned contentedly; Abel hummed and drooled. To read more:

In “Free Fall,” there’s no cum or alabaster ass cheeks or fantasy islands, though breasts and a penis are referenced a number of times. But I had to be careful because I didn’t want jargon and the mechanics of sex to get in the way of what was going on emotionally or psychologically. On the other hand, the act of sex was how I found my way to some of the deeper issues I’d begun to reconsider, such as my penchant for control, dependence vs. independence, the experience of joy. Not to mention, the mechanics of sex, presented with less grit and more authenticity, can be erotic but challenging for most writers to pull off.

With regard to Joshua David Stein, I would not barter for one of his personalized stories. Why did Harper’s link to his erotica? Do men like different erotica than women? Why are some people offended by writing about sex while not about watching sex in movies and on television? These are questions for other essays in this occasional series of writing about sex.

I couldn’t have guessed that sex would trigger major life changes. I didn’t pay attention when reading Freud in my sociology classes and I hated it when my mother espoused Freud. I was naïve. I thought I was going to have a fling. Think again. Sex causes big things to happen, like babies and marriage and the end of marriage … and everything I wrote about in “Free Fall.”

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