Tagged personal life
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I picked the subject for this Smut Slam—“True Lust”—out of the air a month ago and only yesterday—the day of the slam, whoops!—did I sit down and think, what the hell does this even mean? What makes an encounter or experience qualify as “true lust,” anyway? What makes it that for me?
In my world, in my body, lust has to do with physical craving, a sense of wanting that is actually viscerally felt. I want to have that, says my suddenly hollow stomach, my tightened throat, my tingly cunt. It feels electric, and it comes seemingly out of nowhere, usually in response to eye contact, often combined with a touch or something said.
I had always considered myself driven by true lust at the beginning of all of my relationships, but when I sat down to consider my freshly articulated definition, and measured my actual, historical sex experiences against that… it’s just not true. Lust is not what grabs me.Frequently my long-term relationships have gotten started in what might now be called a demi-sexual way, after a longer period of getting to know someone, either online or in person, and so the comfort and enjoyment was there. And I have had more casual sex for many reasons: I was drunk and the person was there; it felt like something I was expected to do; I abstractly wanted to do it because of the experience; I felt fine with going along with what the other person wanted because they seemed to really want it. In many of these cases, eventually I got into it, but… you see what I mean?
Actual True Lust moments, as far as I can remember, have been few, as in… two. Twice have I been struck through, without forethought, without a whole lot of conversation. And oddly enough those two times were on opposite ends of the “serious intent” spectrum.
The first time was after I had spent a year feeling terrible about wanting to be with cismen after 10 years of identifying as a lesbian. I wanted cock, in other words. After I had talked with a therapist long and hard about all this, I asked my long-term female partner about opening the relationship. She agreed, upon terms, one of those being that I not “do it in her territory.”
And so I went to Burning Man, and watched the sexy times unfold all around me, and felt like I didn’t know what I was doing and never would. I didn’t know how to approach men anymore, or how to be approached. But the night of the Burn, two nights before I left, a gentle man sat next to me on a couch in the middle of the desert, while a 40-foot-tall wooden effigy caught fire in the distance. The man placed his hand on my thigh as the flames leapt upward, and he said, “Those panties you have on are really cute.”
It all came down to the one crackling touch of his palm against my skin. What we did later that night is another story, and I never saw him again.
The second time I felt true lust was something else entirely. Again I met this guy offline, face to face, the traditional way, at a bar. Seriously, in the UK that feels like the traditional way. I liked the way he looked all right, but we hadn’t really talked before he beat me at Bananagrams. People who know me, know how I tend to bring this game out at the drop of a hat, and that I’m very good at it, and that I really love it when I find people who are good at it.
But I didn’t know how turned on I would be when this guy BEAT ME. It had rarely happened; I can count the times on one hand. When this guy won, and we had scanned each other’s word grids, I looked up at him and our eyes locked for a moment, and I can’t say what he was feeling at that moment, but I felt it zing into the back of my brain and drop down to the pit of my stomach and I got a little blurry, it was electric again, and I knew that I wanted to kiss him, more than I had wanted anything in years.
It all came down to that moment, seeing how smart he was and joyful in the game. The lust this time originated in my brain, and the one who struck that spark is now my life partner.
I know, of course, that following lust unthinking, or building one’s future around it, can be a shitty foundation for a life. You can never know, in those electric moments of no thought, just pull, what is actually there. It can be castles in the air, lava underfoot, broken hearts, broken homes.
You can’t rely on the immediate chemistry, the instant heat, whatever the sensation of true lust is for you. (This is the danger inherent in New Relationship Energy.) And it is unwise to place any more meaning on it than the meaning that emerges on its own.
But I think true lust is, besides that spark, a divining rod, showing you something that you need more of in your life. And that can start with anything, and lead to anywhere.
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I don’t consider myself a diva. I suppose every diva probably thinks that they’re being reasonable, but I honestly try to be chill. I have to be, with all the traveling and fast load-ins and being my own roadie most of the time. Last night, though, after my second night of a three-night run, I found myself wracked with tears about my set furniture.
“IT’S NOT MY HOME ANYMORE,” I sobbed over the phone to UK Muse. “it’s not right.”
I didn’t expect this intensity of feeling, even though I knew things would be different. This is new furniture, see. I had commissioned it to live here in the UK, to be available for European performances of Phone Whore. The original pieces are still back in Montreal; I left them there because I just couldn’t justify bringing them all the way over, paying huge sums in extra baggage fees. In retrospect, I see that I could have paid slightly less than the cost of construction and skipped the heartache, but at the time it just seemed like the logical next step towards establishing my performance work on two continents. I needed two sets.
The carpenter who I had found through a friend of a friend seemed prompt and responsive; when I emailed to him that the chair, for example, really needed to be fattie-friendly, he didn’t even (metaphorically) blink. Tanner, the director of my fifth show nerdfucker, had been able to reverse-engineer construction plans for the pieces (the original carpenter had gone off the grid, so I couldn’t find her).
Now, Tanner had mentioned to me, early on in the process, that he tried to streamline construction a little bit, because there was lots in the chair that seemed like overkill, etc, and I didn’t object because I knew that the original pieces had been kludged together with no plan, only a directive: both pieces need to pack down and be able to fit in the trunk of a 1991 Toyota Corolla. So yeah, maybe there was a way to make them lighter weight, without compromising the structural integrity. I didn’t want to get in the way of that.
So I knew that it would be new furniture; everything was going to feel different. But at tech, when I started handling the separate components and feeling the splinters, it began grinding home to me. These are really new. The edges are rough, and catch at the bedspread I use to cover the chair frame. I couldn’t find the right foam for padding the chair, and so I am sitting on a whole new assortment of lumps and bumps and none of the positions that I normally hold during the show are comfortable or even work. I did not realize how much choreography for sitting and shifting had gotten burned into my muscle memory over six years of doing this show!
Wait, there’s more! One of the arm assemblages malfunctioned in two different ways at tech and during the show itself. Three of the four chair legs fell out of their slots when I lifted the chair up after the show last night to move it, in spite of latches on each leg that were supposed to prevent that.
And to top it all off, the two tables don’t stack up over/around the assembled chair anymore. That wasn’t ever specified in the design; that was just the way the original set worked out, and then I never thought to tell this new carpenter about it, because that’s the way the originals were. But when the dimensions and measurements got changed and streamlined, something got buggered, and now they don’t stack up right.
I know I’ll get used to it. I have to. The carpenter is going to make good on the malfunctions and the structural reinforcements. He’ll sand down the rough edges. I think I can stack up the furniture if I take the arms out after each show. I will eventually find the correct foam.
But last night it hit me, hard: this set, this stupid, simple set for a show that is supposed to be taking place in my living room, this set really WAS my living room. It is the place where I knew exactly what was going on, and I knew how far back I could lean, and in which directions. I knew what was safe and what was probably a bad idea. I knew how to slam all the furniture and props into place in under 12 minutes, and I knew that at the end of that frenzied 12 minutes, I could sit down in the chair and lean back, and Phone Whore would be home. And now I don’t even have that stability anymore. It’s all changed.
I will deal with it. Hell, I made this move of my own free will. I knew. But I didn’t really know until last night, after two shows of not being comfortable and breaking my own chair with positions that the OTHER chair, the REAL chair could take, I didn’t know how it would feel to my body.
Right now, it feels all wrong. And I am tired of not having a home, not even a fake one.
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It could have been one of many conversations that UK Muse and I have had over the past two and a half years, on Skype or in person, naked or clothed, doesn’t matter. We have managed to keep a spark alive across the Internet, with glitches and sound lag and all; and then right up close, under the same blanket, has its own powerful magic, too.
It didn’t matter where the conversation happened, but it would have been about sex, tangentially, kinda, not directly and unrelentingly, more kind of dipping in and out of fantasy or prophecy or just random wack-ass things that one or the other of us comes up with, off the cuff, to tack onto our games. It’s all seething underneath our public skins, I mean, I’m sure it does for a lot of people, but there really is something about the way that he and I talk together that feels like all of that filth is right there, just beneath the surface. All we have to do, one or the other of us, is poke it, poke a hole in it, and it wells up.
And so then one of us did poke a hole in it, with whatever comment, we went a little further, or we took a tangent, an unexpected twist on what we already play with, we just kept talking, stream of consciousness, and the words just slipped out of one of our mouths, and that’s when the other person said it.
“Is that A Thing?”
The answer that came next depended on what we were talking about; it depended on the feel of the air that suddenly both thickened and sharpened between us, a space where a previously undiscussed act or look or object or phrase appeared between us, and neither of us knew what the other would answer, neither of us would have had any clue, because from the very beginning we have surprised each other, from the very fucking beginning.
“Wait, is that A Thing?”
Rarely has there been a solid Yes, because it’s always a question, a possibility, that we didn’t expect until suddenly there it is. But also rarely is it an immediate, resounding slap down: “no fucking way.” Usually it’s a “Mmmmmmmaybe?” or an “It might be” or simply “I’m not sure.” We know that the hesitation alone is not enough to rule anything out.
“Whoa. Is this A Thing?”
In the space that follows this question, there is a real rush for me, pure adrenalin as we look into each other’s eyes. Suddenly, there is a little part of him that is a stranger again, or some place that I didn’t even know existed. We are both cautiously, simultaneously lifting our freak flags and making ready to set them out a little further. Or leaving them in place; that’s also possible.
The conversation is what gets us to this exciting spot. It’s not just one conversation, I guess, it’s an ongoing one that circles and loops and weaves its way through the other separate conversations. This simmering undercurrent is about who we are and what we mean to each other, what we like and what we positively crave and what makes us feel nervous because WHERE THE HELL DID THAT COME FROM and how it feels to watch each other closely in moments of release. Inevitably, because we keep talk talk talking—I mean, we go off the map on the regular—the conversation keeps going places we don’t expect.
“No, really, is this A Thing?”
The question has become less scary over time, and mostly just exciting. After two and a half years, I’ve learned to trust him in those wide-open spaces where neither of us knows. I know that he will tell me the truth, and I know that I can tell him mine, and we won’t flinch or say eww.
It’ll just be, more likely than not, some variant of “I don’t know, let’s find out.”
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I am getting on that jet plane four days from today, heading over to the UK to try my hand at my particular brand of showbiz on that fair isle, to place my heart finally, firmly in the keeping of the love of my life, who I stumbled across 2+ years ago when I didn’t even know I was looking for anyone. And my feeling about this right now can be summarized as follows:
Four days is simultaneously NEVER GOING TO BE OVER and JESUS CHRIST THAT’S NEXT WEEK.
This confusing feeling of stretch-of-time and imminent explosion of everything I know, it makes sense, considering how major changes have always happened in my life: either there are slow, unnoticed shifts or there's a sudden eruption of consciousness-altering intensity. I highlight this with regards to my sexuality with my play slut (r)evolution. Hell, it’s right there in the punctuation of the title: is it evolution or revolution? The answer, of course, is yes.
This time around, at this particular point in my life, the same idea of gradual change versus sudden upheaval feels more… tectonic. I'm changing my location on the earth, the ground under my actual feet. People who study plate tectonics know how it goes. Sometimes pieces of the earth grind past each other. Sometimes they catch and stick, and the pressure builds and builds until suddenly one day they jerk past each other, destroying buildings and altering lives over head.
What's true is this: a life doesn’t happen all at once, and a seemingly sudden breakthrough is rarely that sudden. I’ve been building my performing skill set, my packet of offerings, for… well, not for decades, but definitely for years. I’ve been grinding through lines, and rehearsing for hours, and debating fine points of punctuation and delivery with my directors for probably the equivalent of DAYS. That is just the grind of the work. I will never bust through into stardom on Oprah's show. My accomplishments here are slow and uphill.
Ditto for my love life. I mean, not that it’s a grind, but where it is now is very much a function of all the little lists and humble presents and tense discussions and weekly skype-sex dates and pictures swapped. It is a relationship that has been sliding along nicely for a long time, but there was that sticking place, right? The same one that everyone in a long-distance relationship has to wrestle with at some point or another: when are we going to be able to stop this bullshit and move closer to each other, because we are agreed, yes? THIS LONG-DISTANCE STUFF IS BULLSHIT.
For the past year and a half, my own version of that sticking point—maybe it's everyone's, who am I kidding—has really been about just money and timing. Oh, yeah, and fear. Fear of not having my car, of not having any car, of losing some of the personal mobility that I value so much. Fear of not having enough money, for moving and staying and health care and everything. Fear of not being talented enough of a performer to drop the phone sex for good and be able to count on my wits and performance skills and goddamn teeth-gritting hustle. Fear of throwing in my lot with one lover, face to face, real time, because what if I had forgotten how to sail a relationship?
Thankfully, in the last few months those fears have started to resolve, or dissolve. I asked people to remind me—frequently—that I had made and survived big leaps before. I laid the groundwork, and started pounding the pavement for gigs way back in February and March. I talk with UK Muse multiple times a day, in silliness and in seriousness, and rejoice in knowing that it’s all there.
These have been the slow, gentle workings of my plans and dreams. The sudden shift, that comes next week. It’s still going to be an emotional earthquake of epic proportions, but I’m a decent psychological seismologist by now. I know it’s coming, and I’ve done everything I can to be ready for it.
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I normally write two blog posts a week, but I just couldn’t this week. The US elections got me seriously strung out. The day after hit me like a hangover, and I hadn’t even been drinking. I went to bed early with a sinking heart, tried to sleep for over an hour, and woke up at 3:30am knowing without even looking that the world had direly shifted.
For a few minutes, as I thought about what I needed to do next, what I could do next, I felt acute despair, and I really just wanted to, you know, clock out for a while. I could just cancel all of my remaining shows for this tour, I thought, and get out of the States as soon as possible, hunker down in Montreal for a month before catching my plane to the UK. I wrestled with the weight of this choice, knowing that audiences were going to be a tough sell, and wouldn’t it look a little, I don’t know, callous to put on dirty storytelling shows in the middle of this?
Underneath that was the tiny little shame of an artist: what good is art at a time like this? Especially art about sex? Who cares? This is a luxury, all of this swanning about around sex stuff. The apocalypse is upon us! No one has time for a dirty storytelling open mic, no one has time for silliness. What is theatre but self-indulgence?
I think most performers, most artists of all stripes, feel this at some point or another, this internalized illegitimacy. Mine is not real art. Real art can start revolutions! My art just gets people squirming in the back rooms of bars and maybe feeling a little horny afterward.
Fortunately, I recognize this barely breathed thought for what it is: the internal critic, the voice that has and will take the same tone with any art I try to create. It’s the internalized skeptic: art doesn’t change anything, never mind sex art, never mind hosting open mics. This is all helped along by my activist side, which learned and still believes that the only real activism is on the front line, chaining oneself to the gates of the nuclear power plant and blocking freeways, or at the very least going to rallies and being loud. That’s the stuff I should be focusing on that, my activist mind keeps saying. That is the only way to effect real change.
But this is not true, I was reminded today. Change can come from many directions. Art can change things. In addition to bringing the message—whatever message, I know what mine tends to be, but there are many others—doing art, if that’s what we need to do, contributes to a world in which we are all doing the thing that feeds our soul. That can't be the only thing—there are petitions and signs and money to be donated—but in a world that feels soulless, it needs to be top priority to put our souls back out harder than ever.
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I’ve been a full-time broke-ass artist for nearly 10 years, and yet somehow I never put it together in one sentence: poor people aren’t supposed to enjoy anything. We’re either arting and starving, or we’re scrambling through three part-time jobs and not arting. If you are not suffering, if you have time for anything else, you are not trying hard enough, either at being an artist or at not being poor. You should not have the time or the resources to be doing something that you love.
I catch a bit of this blowback any time I have to argue with someone over the phone about, say, why I can’t pay back my student loans in the amounts that they want, or why my taxes are so damn weird. The people on the other end ask, like it’s the natural question, why I’m not making hand-over-fist money if I’m touring. Surely touring artists must be rich, right? And if I’m not, then I need to get a different job. I need to give up. Poor people shouldn’t be trying to do this stuff; we shouldn’t be trying to do anything other than struggling and striving for more money. Talent and vision and desires and joy are not for the likes of us.
I shouldn't be out here doing this, I said to UK Muse, when I realized--within the last week, why did it take me so long to realize this?--how very much my desires clashed with my economic footing. Who do I think I am? I shouldn't be performing. I shouldn't be traveling. I shouldn't have met you. Clearly we shouldn't be together, I said to him, otherwise it wouldn't cost so damn much to get residency there.
UK Muse is also poor, and his committing to bringing me to the UK is going to cost. "I should have married a nice English girl," he agreed quietly, "and be doing DIY improvements around the flat on the weekends." But he has other dreams, bigger dreams than what he was born into, dreams of succeeding in his own solo-preneurial work, and now making the minimum income to buy my residency requirements and then take a vacation to an ocean-front cottage in Wales, because we both want some time away. What do people call that? A vacation. Holidays, in the UK. They call them holidays, I think.
Anyway, as poor people, we are not entitled to holidays, we are not allowed to do that, to take time for what will basically be a honeymoon. Poor people don’t take honeymoons or holidays. They maybe go sit in the park on a blanket and eat sandwiches they made at home and think about when the next bill is not going to be paid.
I have nothing against sandwiches in the park. But I want more than that. In spite of it all, I want to tour and create, and I want that goddamned vacation to that cottage in Wales.
Under the current rules of the game, we aren’t supposed to have room for holidays or working on one’s art and not starving. It’s unseemly, it’s debauched, it’s inappropriate, they say. Suffer for your art, or give it up and slog away in the trenches of capitalism. You are of the suffering class. You do not get to choose anything else.
I say fuck that noise. Monkey-wrench that machine. This is the original “life hack”: when you are jumping off the grid in pursuit of Someone or Something You Want/Need, well outside the bounds of what you are expected to do in your life. This is not finding a new use for an empty 2-litre bottle; this is not learning the fastest way to fold a fucking tee shirt. This is actually hacking your life, tenaciously shaping it into something that this world never meant it to be, something that perhaps the world is actively taking steps to keep you from doing.
The great part is, it’s the poor people who life hack the best. We have lifetimes of making do, and jerry-rigging, and scraping together, and pushing through. Putting all of that in service of creating, or going to the person you love, or both? That’s easy. I will totally hack the fuck out of that.
Something that helps me hack through this creative jungle is Patreon. Your small per-piece financial pledge becomes part of something larger, which enables me to keep making the good stuff. If you read my stuff and like it, consider becoming a patron!
Compersion, in poly terms, is the happiness one experiences watching their partner being happy in love/sex with another person(s). I feel like there must be a parallel concept/word in the performing arts, for when one is genuinely happy watching other artists succeed. What we call it doesn’t really matter, I guess, because I usually experience the opposite: I wrestle with professional envy, all the time.
Don’t get me wrong! I am also happy for my successful friends, I am! People are fucking talented and giving, and I am fortunate to have these folks in my life. I also intellectually know that success is not a finite thing. Success is actually an infinitely replenishing pie, and in theory it is possible for everyone to have a slice. But lurking right there in the background of my happiness and my intellectual understanding, there it is: envy.
I get it looking at people’s line-ups at Fringes, or media coverage, or Facebook photos of audiences, even though I know full well that what goes on Facebook is slanted heavily to sunshine and rainbows. For me, envy is like depression, in some ways. It’s a jerk, and it makes me think jerky thoughts, and it’s just there.
I used to feel really bad about it, like, not only was I a shitty colleague, but I was also a shitty friend. When my envy crept in, an oily dark stain on my soul, I could feel myself retreating further and further into a shadowy corner. I peeked around at all of the happy faces—some happy because they were having big successes and others I guess happy because they did possess that ability that I lacked—and I felt even shittier. I forced my face into an expression more friendly and welcoming and happy, because otherwise I was in danger of turning into a malevolent troll. Or I just went home and got my grump on in private.
This is not ever a good space for me to be in, but given how financially rough this past summer’s tour was, I was in it all the time and it was eating my heart out from the inside. Fortunately, I recently found a mantra that will hopefully—over time, as I get better at it—lead me out.
“My world has many paths.”
It’s a short sentence, but I really thought it through. It involves three concepts or beliefs that feel important to me:
- I own this world that I move through. I don’t mean literally, just… it’s mine, the way that I perceive it is uniquely mine, and I have some power—often more than I think— to change it.
- There are many ways through that world. Sometimes I just have to clear away some of the underbrush, and sometimes the paths don’t even exist until I lay down the cobble stones, and sometimes I’m trotting along on someone else’s path for a while, but I get to choose the ways that I go. There’s no judgment attached to any of these paths, either; they are all just ways and means to get to where I want to be.
- Success means many different things, and I get to decide the metrics.
I say this mantra now, when I’m feeling fragile and envious, to remind myself that I am actively creating my life, and it will be different from other people’s lives. The way that they are working is not going to be the way that I work.
Our successes will look different, because surely our visions are different too. I am aiming for different goals, some of which may not come to fruition for a while, slow-burn projects. I am diversifying my income streams, a literal application of the “many paths” philosophy.
I don’t think this is me making the best out of sour grapes. (I mean, maybe it is, but if that’s what I’ve got, I’d rather make some nice balsamic vinegar, you know?) I choose to think of it rather as reframing my place in the spaces where I thought I had to live. If I do not succeed in that particular way, it is not the end of the world. I have other ways of surviving and thriving.
It also helps me remember that the work I bring to the world is unique and needed. I will probably not ever have a blockbuster hit in indie theatre, or be running an intense route of workshops and sex-ed conferences, or whatever. But that’s okay. I know how to write the work that sings for me, and teach the workshops that feel important. I write blog posts that resonate for some, and create erotica that makes people jump for joy, and host Smut Slams that are rowdy and replenishing at the same time, and I do many other things that no one else can do.
My world has many paths.
One of those paths, darlings, is Patreon. If you agree that what I do are important things to bring to life in this world, you can show your enthusiasm by becoming a patron of mine. Your small per-piece pledge merges together with other people's pledges, and then it winds up making it possible for me to, say, concentrate on my book projects or move the 2017 tour up to a higher level. Go on! Put your money where your heart is!