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Lusty Lady

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Friday, October 24, 2014

On personal essay writing and being written about

Unless you are a hermit who lives alone and never interacts with someone, I venture it would be impossible to write personal essays without including other people in them. After all, our relationships with other people, be they friends, family, lovers, even strangers, are so much of what drives us as humans. While I know that intellectually, there is still always a part of me that's nervous about releasing a personal piece into the world, and even more so knowing the people I've written about will be reading my work. It's hard not to want to apologize, even though for me, writing has always been an essential part of my makeup, my way of operating in the world.

Frankly, while I'm writing, I can't let myself think too much, if at all, about what anyone else will think. That always stops me in my tracks. But that doesn't mean that after I've written I don't care. I'm sure it's not easy to be written about, and especially so when you are repeatedly written about, whether you are the only one who knows it's you or not. It's an ongoing conversation I have in my relationship, but the bottom line is I couldn't really be partnered with someone who wanted to monitor every single thing I write, because that would, on a practical level, impede my ability to make a living, and on a much more personal level, make me feel stymied and controlled.

I do my best to ethically walk that line. I'm sure sometimes I fail at that quest. But what I always think about is: is this about more than me? That sounds grandiose on one level, but on another, I try to look at what about our culture and the larger forces at work am I talking about. I didn't set out to write an essay called "My Boyfriend's Fat" because that is a statement and a fact and alone isn't worthy of note. The whole thing came about because of the question posed to me by my cousin about his fatness and if there is anything that riles up this country, it's fat people. They are such objects of scorn and pity and I knew it was worth delving into because the question threw me off. I wanted to have an easy and pat answer and I didn't, and any time people are questioning me about things that I'm not sure about how to handle, I know it's rich material for some kind of writing. I've also tackled body image and size and desire in my fiction, most notably in "I Want to Hold Your Hand" (click to read it free) in my erotic romance anthology Obsessed.

Do I write things that may make their subjects uncomfortable? Of course, but probably that's true of any writer, nonfiction or otherwise, at some point. If you don't ever dare to say anything potentially off-putting, what are you really saying? I don't have a perfect answer or a one-size-its-all solution for myself or anyone else. It's a constant risk and I've had to embrace the fact that I may put out work that nobody relates to or likes, and that's okay. I also know that the subjects of my essays are, in almost every case, not the target audience. These aren't open letters; they are essays. When I wrote about not wanting to have sex at night, my boyfriend already knows that. It's everyone else who doesn't necessarily. Do I mine my life for things to write about? Yes, and no. I don't sit down and say to myself, What happened today that would make a good essay? Rather, those ideas leap out at me, bold and in my face and not to be ignored. Hopefully in my book Sex & Cupcakes I've opened up myself just as much as anyone else, ideally more. A personal essay or memoir is never the final say or the "real" truth, it's one person's truth, at one moment in time. The words themselves are final but our thoughts and feelings are not.

Sex&Cupcakes

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Thursday, October 23, 2014

Why does my vagina shut down after 8 p.m. and other sex timing questions in this week's column

My Let's Get It On sex column this week is called It's Sex O'Clock, time for a weekend romp and is about how I balance being part of a couple where one person wants sex at different times of day than another person, and how other people do as well, along with some suggestions on compromises. If you like it, I'd love it if you'd pass it on, comment, mention it on Twitter and/or like it at the top! I have tons of ideas for future columns and hope to keep writing it for a long time, but know much is riding on how many people are reading these first columns. That being said, I welcome ideas for future columns, nothing is off limits. Email me at rachelkb at gmail.com with "Column" in the subject line and your ideas. Thanks for reading!

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Can't sit still - on loving my home and loving traveling

I woke up from a nightmare I can only vague recall at 4:30 a.m., and considering I'd passed out while barely mumbling sentences to my boyfriend around 10, I decide to wake up and get some work done, because the bit I do remember from my nightmare was that it was about work. I've taken on a lot this month, between writing my weekly sex column, debuting my essay collection Sex & Cupcakes, teaching my first online erotica writing class for LitReactor and assorted other projects, plus travel. It's the travel that seems to throw me off the most, because you never really know what your schedule will be like when you're away from home. Even when you make plans, they are subject to change, and time to yourself or to work often seems harder to carve out. It doesn't have to be far away to throw me off.

I just spent two days in Philadelphia, attending an event I was covering for my column, meeting with friends and businesspeople and my Philadelphia City Paper editor, enjoying a lobster roll and walking around on Tuesday, racing through the rain on Wednesday. It was a lovely little visit (thank you, Bolt Bus, for making it so cheap to get there), but it also takes me out of my routine. Next week I'll be in Los Angeles to attend Hello Kitty Con (yes, really!) and teach a live writing workshop. I'm so often torn because I love traveling but I actually love being in my cozy home even more. We've given it many touches that make it ours, and it's one that I feel utterly relaxed in.

There's a tension between the fact that I can't seem to sit still, that I'm constantly hopping on a train or a plane to somewhere, and that when I do get home, it feels so glorious. There are times when I look at my calendar (which is actually more like the calendar in my mind, because while I do use the calendar function on my phone, I don't currently have a paper calendar) and get excited about the trips I have planned. I like filling in dates and having trips to look forward to. Yet sometimes I dread the idea of being away from home, from all that makes up my routine. I'm slowly getting used to the fact that I'm half homebody, half traveler. It's confusing sometimes, trying to figure out which one I want to be at any given time. But it's also made me treasure my time at home, where we plan our meals and watch "our shows" and I make the exact same amount of coffee every morning, drinking it out of the exact same mug.

I don't think a whole month goes by where I don't go somewhere, even if it's just to New York, a city I love but often find exasperating and stressful. It's not that I couldn't wake up at 4:30 and forage for food and listen to the rain anywhere, but more that it feels right when I'm home. I don't have to be as on as I do when I'm away, navigating plans or directions. I follow a lot of travel bloggers, and for many of them travel is their way of life to the point that home seems, to my reading, almost beside the point. I don't think I could ever do that. I love traveling because I always get to come home, and this home specifically, where I've lived since April, is a very special one.

I'm already making plans for 2015, vacations which I feel very lucky to be able to afford for now (it's been a very up and down year, and I have no idea what the future holds in that regard), teaching at events like CatalystCon (I just submitted a panel proposal as well, and encourage you to do so ASAP; the deadline is November 4th and this is an incredible, inspiring conference) and hopefully teaching at more sex toy stores and doing other events. I am the kind of person who doesn't mind airport layovers because I love people watching; I love the sense of excitement that builds just before a trip, and can even get it vicariously by watching others about to embark on a journey. But as I sit in my kitchen on a wet, rainy day, having just sent my guy off to work, there's no place else I'd rather be at this moment. Maybe there's nothing wrong with not knowing how to sit still for more than a few days or weeks, as long as I can appreciate being wherever I am at any given moment.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Get on my mailing list for exclusive giveaways and deals

Since I just switched to Mail Chimp, I wanted to share this - I give away books and offer special deals like this month's buy one get one free offer exclusively to subscribers, so if you like my work, you'll want to sign up.

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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

I'm not edible, I'm monogamous

I just got this email regarding my newsletter, which you can sign up for on the left-hand side of rachelkramerbussel.com (I am very excited about using MailChimp, which is making me want to send a newsletter every day but I promise to keep it to two a month, max!), and it amused me enough to post it:
every time I get your monthly letter I found you more edible. Are you married?
I'm not married, although that line between married and unmarried often feels murky. Technically, legally, no, I am not. But as my boyfriend and I attended a wedding this weekend, of course we discussed it. "We're fake married," I said. "No, we're married, we just haven't done the paperwork," he said. Fair enough. That is a gigantic, huge distinction in the eyes of the law, and that is a separate topic. But in my heart, yes, I'm married. I take a lot of surveys and hate when the distinction is "single" vs. "married," though most of them now have a spot for domestic partnership.

As to the other question, technically, legally, no, I am not edible (sorry, cannibals). But it's a funny line, because certainly with my book cover for Sex & Cupcakes I was aiming for a sexy cover, to lure readers in. The inside is a little bit more serious and thoughtful. There's sex, and cupcakes, but there's also a lot about how sexuality intersects with the rest of my life, how there's a mountain of stereotypes attached to you the minute you publish erotica or anything about sex, and sometimes I play with and into those, as with my book cover. I don't mind that I've taken sexy photos and used them as part of my articles or "brand," to use today's modern buzzword, because that is also part of who I am. If I dressed every day in a very austere manner, it would seem more jarring to me. But I'm basically myself on the page and in person, and I want that to come across in my writing.

Clearly this person did not read my essay "Monogamishmash," which reads in part:
Now, when I get a crush on someone, or even the inkling that a crush might start, or a fantasy, I know that it's starting from a solid foundation. I don't need the outside relationship to feel happy or fulfilled in my life overall; I want it to enhance the wonderful life I already have. To me, that is a key difference, whether I take advantage of it or not. I know our love is secure, and that nobody can "break us up."
If he'd read it, he would have seen that the only person who gets to "eat" me these days is my guy. Will that change someday? Possibly. Whether we are married or not, that question is separate. But it's a line I toe, and think about; would it be better for my author image to pretend to be single? I don't seriously consider that because there would be no way I could pull that off when I keep wanting to write about my relationship. Anyway, I thought it was an interesting question, one that wasn't so simple to answer. I may not be edible, but hopefully I'm likeable.

Read "Monogamishmash" and more in Sex & Cupcakes, out now for $4.99 on Kindle.

Sex&Cupcakes

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Monday, October 20, 2014

My heart tattoo, almost three years later

I got this tattoo almost three years ago, in November 2011, two months before the fateful first date that brought me to my current boyfriend.

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I tell the story behind the tattoo in my Thought Catalog Books ebook Sex & Cupcakes in the essay "Wearing My Tattooed Heart On My Sleeve," the bulk of which I wrote soon afterward. Here's a snippet:
I don't hate my heart for failing me, for leading me down so many dead ends, for being too impulsive when she should be cautious, patient, watchful. Well, that's not entirely true; today, while I'm in a good mood, I don't blame my heart. I can forgive her her fanciful whims, her childlike earnestness, her belief that next time will be better. I've spent so long hating my heart's lack of reason, wanting to slice her up, banish her back to a simple biological role and let my head make the big decisions, but I can't. That's not who I am, not deep down, and now, not on the surface either.
That too was rejected from Modern Love in The New York Times (I can be stubborn and persistent, but I've given up on that hallowed section for now), but was a major turning point for me. I didn't know who I was looking for exactly, when I sat in that chair, I just knew I was going about love the wrong way. I knew it wasn't supposed to be something where you gave 100% and never felt secure. I knew it was supposed to improve my life, not make me feel so off balance and uncertain.

I started 2012 adamantly not looking for love, or at least, that kind of love. I want to fix my stumbling career, I wanted to explore. I booked a trip to Hawaii for a week by myself, on my piddling budget, using frequent flyer miles and a very cheap AirBNB rental, amazed that I, who was struggling on the personal and professional fronts, could do that. But that first date happened just before my trip, so I wound up in a romantic, beautiful setting alone, but not single. There's been so much that's happened since then, paths that my wayward and sometimes impulsive heart has led me, that I didn't know were possible. This weekend we went to a wedding and as we were sitting at the bar talking to a fellow friend of the bride, she said, "How long have you two been married?" I immediately said, "Oh, we're not married," because it just seemed like such a foreign thing to say, and yet it wasn't, not really. That happened once in our first year of dating, checking into a hotel for a staycation, and I laughed about it. Then I wasn't sure exactly where our relationship was heading.

This weekend, hearing it felt like a compliment. My thoughts on marriage have changed and grown as I've learned from those around me, though I still think its benefits are too often wielded like an evil weapon that can boomerang back to hurt people whose only crime is love, but that's another story. I used to tease my cousins that they were an "old married couple" and now I've become part of one. We each have seats on the couch, we have little rituals and nicknames not just for us but for aspects of our house. We say hi to the squirrels and groundhogs and occasional cat that wander into our backyard. I'm sad I won't get to give out Halloween candy to the umpteen little kids in our neighborhood. When I sat down at Sanctuary Tattoo in Portland, Maine, I wanted that physical pain to take away my emotional pain. I wanted to give myself a way of reclaiming my heart and not trying to shut it off. But I wasn't sure at all what that would look like.

The farther I get from that moment, the more I realize how clueless I was. This, the real life everyday silly mixed with serious, opposites attracting kind of love, wasn't something I could plan for. It sometimes still stops me in my tracks. My life is very different from what it was that day I sat down in the chair. My routine is different, my location is different, my work is different and my job is different. I joke sometimes that I write so much about my boyfriend because most days he's the only one I see or talk to. Except when I'm in New York or traveling, I'm not usually meeting up with friends. It's a quieter life, a homey, cozy one. And I love all those little things, that together add up to something far greater than the sum of its parts. My heart isn't immune to getting hurt, to emotional ups and downs, but I also know I can weather them better than I knew in 2011. I'm more sure of myself, more certain that the kind of unconditional love I was looking for actually exists, no matter what flaws or obstacles or issues I have.

I joke when I visit that Portland, Maine is my home away from home, and it feels that way. I feel very me when I'm there. I feel welcomed and peaceful, and who knows? Maybe someday it will be my actual home. I like carrying a little bit of it around with me, where everyone can see it.

Liked this post? Check out my new essay collection ebook Sex & Cupcakes, available now on Kindle for just $4.99.

Sex&Cupcakes

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Saturday, October 18, 2014

Fear, writing and doing it anyway with my essay "My Boyfriend's Fat"

Writing about other people can be such a tricky endeavor; you might think it's old hat to me, but it never is. In my new essay collection Sex & Cupcakes I included an essay that got rejected from Modern Love in The New York Times called "My Boyfriend's Fat." It's one I'm proud of but also have been worried about putting out into the world, precisely because it's both personal and about the most important person in my life. Having been featured as a "character" in short stories, I know that it's probably not a barrel of laughs to be the focal point of a personal essay by your significant other. And yet. I did it. It was important to me and for me a way to express both love and frustration at the way our culture talks about fatness and bodies and "health."

So far, the four reviews of the book that are up on Amazon and a blog, all mention the essay.

Clitical:

The essay that hit me the most from a personal point of view is entitled, ‘My Boyfriend is Fat.’ As the wife of a portly middle aged man (ok, he’s fat), I felt for Rachel, and understood every word she wrote. The stupid comments that people make, the judgements that people (who should often know better) make. Although our circumstances are different in someways there were so many things she said through the words on the page that simply made me go, yes, that’s it! Why DO people say that? What does give people the right to judge?

Alyssa on Amazon:

I also liked 'My Boyfriend's Fat' because she talked about the judgement and comments that people make in our society aimed at those who don't fit the "skinny" group. This essay itself had so much emotion and it stuck with me as I myself am overweight.

Ilovebooks on Amazon

They are all entertaining, but I found myself really struck by the essay she wrote about her overweight boyfriend. It was about the prejudices he faced as an overweight man and her attraction to him. I had an overweight family member and I just related a lot to what she had to say about this.

Wendy W on Amazon

I was especially drawn to her compassion for her boyfriend's weight "issue." I put issue in quotes because the people who are making an issue out of seem to be those who are NOT either Rachel or her beau.

Is it wrong to link to those reviews as if they alone validate my desire to write about that topic, or rather, is it wrong for me to want and crave that feedback? I hope not, because I do genuinely crave it. When I've been sending the ebook out to reviewers I've said something like, "I hope you like it, but even if you don't I want to know your thoughts." And I do, even though I also brace myself, because I don't think there's a way to separate judgment about the writing from judgment about, well, your choices, if you're writing memoir or essays. That's the risk you take by going there.

I wrote that essay not for my boyfriend as target audience but for everyone else who's expressed "concern" to me about his size, and for people who make judgments about fat people. I didn't write it from some World's Most Enlightened Person perspective about the topic, because how could I? I grew up in this same culture and have plenty of body issues myself. But even when we don't want to be changed, the people in our lives changed us. I love that that's the essay, along with "Monogamishmash," being highlighted by readers. I already got an email from a stranger via the Thought Catalog Books site (where, it should be noted, "Fuck" gets its full four-letter glory but on Amazon has to be F***" commenting on the title. Those are the essays that are all about my vulnerabilities and some of the conflicts of both my relationship, but hopefully, something a little more universal.

I was uncertain about publishing this fat essay, about naysayers and judgment, and more protective than usual because it's not my life on the line, exposed. The dance between public and private is an ongoing issue in my relationship. It's such a delicate line sometimes and clearly I so often fall on the public side. But for the last two years and nine months, I've learned to treasure all the private, often ridiculous, sometimes sappy moments that are just ours. To me those make what I do share all the more important. It sounds so lofty even as I type this, but I don't just write to purge or for catharsis, although I do believe writing is inherently selfish for me. I write to connect and learn and find out what other people think.

So if that intrigues you, all 9 essays are just $4.99 with the click of a button. I'll post more about the tattoo essay soon too. My heart surprises me all the time and even though the essay about it remains what it is, an essay is never the end of the story, but a moment in time, frozen in words on the page (or screen, as it were).

Sex&Cupcakes

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Friday, October 17, 2014

Sex and Cupcakes, my debut essay collection, is out now!

I'd be lying if I said I wasn't equally nervous and excited about the just-released ebook Sex & Cupcakes: A Collection of Juicy Essays, from Thought Catalog Books. It's out now on Kindle (only $4.99!) and coming soon to iBooks. It features some classic favorite essays and several newer ones that I believe collectively capture a bit of what I'm about, sexually, romantically and otherwise. There's even some writing tips thrown in. Yet now that it's actually for sale, now that I've sent it to several people and used all sorts of qualifiers because I'm so nervous about what they think, I realize how deeply personal the writing is. I knew it, of course, but I can sometimes dissociate from that aspect, almost forget about it, when I'm in the writing zone. I wrote some of these from wonderful places and some, like "Wearing My Tattooed Heart on My Sleeve," from darker, more painful places. The pain from my tattoo was nothing compared to the emotional pain leading up to it. So that's there too. It's a constant challenge, trying to get at our emotional truths, being as honest as possible while also protecting the people you love, or once loved, or may love. But I do know, as per The Four Agreements, that with this one, I did my best.

Sex&Cupcakes

The book got its first review from the wonderful Jenne at Clitical! She wrote a wonderful, thoughtful review, but I'll highlight one sentence that stands out the most, about the essay I am the most nervous about putting out into the world, "My Boyfriend's Fat." Jenne wrote:
What really struck a cord with me, was that it was obvious that these words were written from the heart.
Here's the thing: even when I am writing filthy erotica or personal essays about sex, those words are also written from the heart. I hope that is clear to everyone reading this book, but I've also had to accept that if it's not clear, that's okay, because it has to be. Jenne's review means a lot to me and I look forward to hearing what you have to say!

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