At SlutWalk NYC we did this chant, "Whose streets? Our streets!" It was an especially apropos message for the Big Apple, and I can't help thinking about it in relation to another question, that being, "Whose story?" It crops up every single time I go to write something that involves another person, which is, invariably, quite often. It's a very tricky line to walk, to tell my story, when I don't exist in a vacuum, when the very things that make life interesting do involve other people.
I find myself working on two pieces related to some recent dates, and I do wonder, if things had worked out, if I'd even heard back from the person afterward, would I need to parse things out in writing? Probably, because the fact is, it was momentous for me. It was novel and revelatory for me. That is how I try to approach all my writing, and yet it's a tension. As I sat in the audience and listened to stories about online dating at How I Learned, I did ask myself what it would feel like to be on the other side of some of those stories, to be in the audience and hear about yourself as the horror story of online dating?
Except that's not the story I want to tell. The dual stories I want to tell are, I hope, about broader topics, one related to fashion, one related to, well, so many truly elemental aspects of life, one that gets at the heart of why I think sex is a window into everything else. For me it would be far more unnatural not to write about it, and not just because sometimes I'm asked for a "crazy sex story" or am responding to a query.
I know what it's like to give up, to pull yourself out of the equation because you're scared that what you have to say is stupid, has been said before, is irrelevant. I know what it's like to be so deathly afraid of success you'll do anything to avoid it, will run far from its path, will fight it with everything in your being. It's so easy to convince yourself success is for other people, and yes, I know that may sound strange to those who see me as "successful." I'm not saying I'm not, but the question, I guess, is "Whose success? By whose measure?" Back before I started writing erotica, or when I was just starting out, I'd have looked at my life now and thought, "Wow, you've done so much," something I hear a lot and that makes me want to hurl.
In the now, though, I know both that I've done a lot, and that I've said no no no to success, to money, to going beyond the status quo. I've let myself believe that I didn't belong at the party, even when I got an engraved invitation. I do it now, almost every week; I come up with an idea and belabor it to the point that either it's moot or I'm sure someone else said it better, smarter, faster.
I also know that I don't go into any situation, unless it's reading a book or reviewing an event, "looking for a story." It's my life, and I'm trying to live it to the best of my ability. It's especially topsy-turvy these days and my to do lists sprawl all over pages and pages and I get so close to the end and then so, so afraid. I think figuring out one's story is an ongoing process, and it's especially tricky because you might think you know what that story is, and then the story shifts, or the landscape shifts, or your shift. Something inside you shrinks, or grows, or moves, and the story that looked so settled, plotted, precise, is now words floating in the air, not quite right each time you try to set them down. My mind is like that, racing, leaping, wishing it could just land once and for all, receive The Answer to The Big Questions from, I don't know who. A god I'm not sure I believe in? Someone who's bed I've somehow conned my way into? It's much easier to think anyone else has those answers than that either I do, or no one does.
I'm writing this post partly as a kick in the ass to get going on those stories while they're still fresh, and to focus on the parts that matter, the parts I can authoritatively speak to: what it felt like, for me. I do things like wonder: What if that's the "wrong" feeling to have? What if I sound naive or foolish? I feel like a teenager in some ways, a total dating novice. Is this what it's like for everyone? Is this normal, or would other women relate to my dilemmas?
I finished some work this week that in some ways is the same old story, not even one I want to go over again, and yet, it won't leave me alone. It's there in my head, not all the time, but enough that I can't totally forget it. Again, it shifts, and in turn, changes me. I'd love to say that every time I write something I shift for the better, that I become that person I'm striving to be, but that is asking a lot from mere words. I do know that when I choose to give up, when I'm sure my story is worthless, so sure that even writing it down on my computer—the one I'm so grateful I "had" to buy in Emeryville in January, and now would be unable to work without—I learn nothing. I don’t advance and I daresay I regress. And no, not every story needs to be written down. Some of them are best giggled over on the phone, at coffee shops. Some are too painful to ever even let out of my head. Some are so ridiculous that they have to be seen to be believed, and I just need someone to laugh, darkly, with me.
At the end of this crazy year, which has taken me to so many places and yet is concluding with more time spent in my literal home and my neighborhood than I've spent in almost a decade, I know that I want to ditch the part of me that lives with that fear, that holds it so close to her she doesn't always even feel or see it. It's just there, like a second skin. I know that this week, when I took risks, big ones, just that act of reaching past the fear, of trying to outsmart it, even if that meant writing fast before I second-guessed myself completely, felt better than the best compliment from someone I admire, than the most gloriously sunny afternoon I spent in Seattle, than the cookie I ate for one of the most delicious dinners of the year. Yes, a part of me wants to know what will happen, wants to be successful in ways I am afraid to even dream of, but a bigger part of me knows that the real victory isn't always having an audience for your story, but in knowing what that story is, even if it's just for a single, slippery moment.