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Still Writing

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Okay, I haven’t posted anything lately–but that’s mostly because I’m still trying to get my new website off the ground. And maybe I’m becoming so overwhelmed by the sheer verbiage of this world, I find I have nothing to say, except maybe outrage over world events.

And okay, maybe my claim to the title “Still Writing” is tenuous these days, but I’m sure I’ll be back eventually. Meanwhile, please go visit my new website at:

http://marsheiner.wordpress.com/

You could even follow it!

book piles

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California Propositions

My head hurts from trying to figure out how to vote on all the California propositions on the ballot. At the risk of repeating myself, I find the CA initiative system oppressive rather than democratic. The fact that our lawmakers can’t make decisions on their own, when that’s what we elect them to do, means they’re not doing their jobs. I don’t think there should be no initiatives ever, but come on–this year we’ve got 11 of them! And that’s in addition to county and city initiatives. My faith in the voting public is not so strong that I believe everyone is carefully weighing the pros and cons, and voting for what they really and truly believe in and desire. The way these things are written, what with all the convolutions and the fact that most people don’t have time, interest, or, frankly, brain power to address these complex issues….well, there’s not much chance this is coming out so stunningly democratic anyway.

Be that as it may, if they’re going to make me vote on all this stuff, then it is incumbent upon me to do so conscientiously.  So far I’ve waded through 7 of the 13 props. Out of those 7, I’ve decided on 6. Some are easy: I’ve been against the death penalty all my life, so Prop. 34 is a no-brainer. Others are not so simple. Right now I’m stumped on Proposition 35, which increases penalties for human trafficking. Naturally I’m stumped on it: most of the sex crime laws in our country are so half-assed they end up making things worse rather than better. They’re created by people who are, by and large, coming from a position of anti-sex attitudes or, at the very least, sexual ignorance. The sex offenders’ laws have primarily worked to create a whole class of homeless men with ruined lives who are more likely to re-offend.   These laws have made criminals out of curious teenagers whose only crime was to make love, consensually, to a younger girlfriend. (A great novel on this subject, insightful and illuminating, is Russell Banks’ The Lost Memory of Skin.)

I’m not stumped on Prop 35 only because I’m sex-positive, but also because I’m extremely horrified by the huge surge in human trafficking–especially of children–for purposes of sex, slave labor, or any other reason. I’ve seen the documentaries and read the articles, and it’s just appalling.  I want the law to catch the bloodless sadists who operate these nefarious businesses and punish them severely. Why oh why can’t the lawmakers get this right?

The Next Day:

Just discovered a handy article in Mother Jones  with guidance on the above. Best of all, the writer, Kevin Drum, opens with a rant and reasons he opposes the initiative process–a man after my own heart.

Also, for some more analysis of Proposition 35, Sex Trafficking, see the SF Bay Guardian.

Big Sex Little Death: Review

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Susie with Cocktails at Bruno's in the Mish

Big Sex Little Death
A Memoir by Susie Bright
Seal Press  2011

I wasn’t certain I’d review Big Sex Little Death, Susie Bright’s long-awaited memoir, since I’m too close to some of the material to be purely objective — but as it turns out, I just can’t stop myself.

 

Full Disclosure: Susie Bright was one of the first people I met when I came West from New York some 25 years ago, and one of my first acts as a San Franciscan was to submit my sex stories to her Herotica collection. Shortly afterwards, I joined the On Our Backs staff as Susie’s assistant, a year later became their fiction editor, and, finally, was second successor to the editorial throne. Shadowing Susie didn’t end at OOB: I assumed editorship of Herotica with the #4 volume, when Susie moved on to more lucrative projects. I told her I  seemed to be following in her footsteps; she replied with her radiant million-dollar grin, “I’ll just keep warming up the chair for you.”

 

That charm and generosity are quintessential Susie, and they permeate Big Sex Little Death, her journey from childhood to teen socialist to feminist to sexual activist and public figure. I was familiar with much of this history, but seeing it all together in one place, I recognized, for the first time, how much Susie and I have in common, beginning with abusive mothers who lost their own mothers at an early age. Being a “motherless daughter,” I’ve recently learned, can affect a woman more profoundly than any other aspect of her life; it particularly influences the kind of mother she becomes. My mother was emotionally abusive; Susie’s was mentally ill (apparently undiagnosed), and  physically abusive:

She pinched the top of my arm and dragged me out the door. I remember her grip on my arm—and her disgust at my blubbering. I was pathetic, I knew it, but I couldn’t stop. I could see in her eyes how loathsome I’d become.

All this because Susie missed her cat, which her mother had unceremoniously abandoned.

I know all about that look in a mother’s eyes; that Susie was on the receiving end of it makes it that much more astonishing that she grew to become such a strong powerful woman. Lest anyone foolishly credit such experiences with helping to radicalize a person, it was not her mother’s abuse but her father’s love and support that pushed Susie forward. He stood proudly behind his teenage socialist firebrand, and he welcomed her home when the fires went out. Both parents – Mommy dearest was not all bad – were “braniacs; they were language, poetry and music fiends; they took enormous pleasure in big ideas and the power of word. They were literary sensualists.” Not a bad heritage for a feminist leader.

Susie took a dollop of this and a plateful of that from her parents. She incorporated socialist ideas into feminism – and took feminism even further, insisting that female-centered sexual representation and expression were its logical extension.

I wish she’d probed a little bit deeper into her life as an active Socialist. As her one-time editor, if she had asked for my opinion I would’ve urged her in that direction. Some of her anecdotes of life among the Commies aren’t reflective enough to satisfy, and while I loved what I read, I wanted more.

One of the major differences between Susie’s journey and mine is timing: I was a young mother when I first became, as I see it, conscious — while Susie seems to have been highly conscious from birth. I don’t know of many teenagers who can be as confident as Susie seems to have been in her beliefs, especially since they ran against received opinion.

The first time she stands up for women and their bodies is, appropriately, the day she first bleeds. Late returning to school after lunch, sent to the principal’s office, Susie marches right in “like a mad bear,” protesting, “This is not right…My period just started at noon, and I had to figure out the Tampax all by myself….and you can’t discriminate against me just because I’m menstruating…” The mortified principal nearly passed out and practically begged her to leave his office, showing her the power of her sexuality in one fell swoop. She has continued to confront sexual ignorance and patriarchal privilege ever since.

Although I ate up the first two sections of the book, I was, naturally, in something of a hurry to get to the part about OOB. Reading Susie’s account of each incident, from the founding of the magazine to its change in ownership, I kept receiving little shocks of recognition with every turned page. If this was a comic book, light bulbs would be hanging over my head, popping off in every panel, so faithful is Susie to what happened, at least as I remember it. For those who weren’t  close to the scene, I direct you to the book. It’s a helluva story; maybe someday I’ll have enough distance to write more about it myself.

Big Sex ends on a positive note – the day that Susie and Jon and baby Aretha move to Santa Cruz to begin family life anew. That too I remembered….then I eagerly turned the page…and was confronted with a page headlined “NOTES.” I could not believe I’d reached the end! And more than 15 long years ago!

Now,  I have been waiting since the day Aretha popped out of Susie’s belly to see what kind of American girl/child/woman Susie Bright’s daughter would become. As a mother who feels that I fucked up the sex education along with everything else, I was dying to see how Susie did with the hardest job on the planet. Unfortunately, a veil descended and I didn’t find out.

Susie has a right to put in or leave out whatever she wants from her memoir – but as a reader, and as her friend, (and as an editor) I wanted more. I especially want to know what happened in the years since the time of this book’s ending. I want to know about her mothering: how did being raised in an atmosphere of, or at least lip service to, sexual freedom affect Aretha and her attitudes? What about their relationship? My daughter is still angry about some of my sexual openness; what’s the story with Susie’s? More than most people, I understand the delicacy of the mother-daughter relationship, as well as the desire not to violate a child’s privacy – but surely some of Susie’s story can be told without inflicting damage. This is not just idle curiosity, either: I honestly believe that Susie has something important to contribute to  this other area of female experience that’s been historically shrouded in darkness.

Because of this and a few more minor gaps, it doesn’t feel like Susie’s story has been fully told. Then again, nobody’s story is ever fully told, is it? Still, Susie has a lot more livin’ to do: I’m looking forward to a sequel.

Poem For A Reader

For My Ex-Lover’s Lover

I see what she sees in you:

the curve of your cheek

is almost more than I can bear.

Sometimes when we talk

you touch my shoulder gently

and I feel it in the places

where she hungers.

I know her weaknesses

and the way she likes to hold you

how her face looks to you

from below.

I see your limbs entangled loosely

and the movements that arouse her,

feel her hot and pulsing in your hand

as if I lie between you

instead of by myself

remembering the curve

of your cheek.

Sometimes I wonder
on whose account I’m jealous.

Movie Star Sex

Cover of

Cover of The Way We Were (Special Edition)

Yesterday Oprah Winfrey reunited Barbra Streisand and Robert Redford on her show as a sort of tribute to their 1973 movie The Way We Were. Millions of women all across the country, including me, shed millions of tears at the sight of these two coming together again. TWWW is the chick flick of the century, a story of unrequited love that breaks your heart every time, whether it’s your first or seventh viewing. For me, the ultimate Barbra Streisand fan and aficianado (see At the HoJo with Babs), the most intriguing aspect of yesterday’s show was the way they interacted: they just could not keep their hands off each other. Their kiss-hug greeting was more than just friendly, and throughout the interview they held hands; every once in awhile a hand would roam. Strangely enough, I’d never wondered if Babs and Bob (she calls Redford Bob) had a real-life affair, being so caught up in the film version. Yesterday I couldn’t help but wonder, what with her facial expression announcing that she was dying to go backstage and grab him good. As my friend Angie said when I asked what she thought, How could they not?


I got to thinking about movie stars’ sex lives, a topic that’s never seriously engaged my interest. I wonder why – after all, the possibilities are endless. Think about it: we plebes have our little fantasies that we think are so risqué, while these golden girls and boys have endless reels of erotic drama to play with when the cameras aren’t looking. Think of all the scenes that end at the bedroom door: why wouldn’t the actors take them to their logical conclusion? Why wouldn’t Babs and Bob have had breakup sex, makeup sex, falling-in-love sex, angry sex – you name it, that movie relationship covered the gamut of human emotion. Why wouldn’t they fly to the nearest bed after the day’s shooting ended?


Celebrity fantasies are nothing new — but people frequently use them as cover-up: to the question What’s your fantasy? a person will often respond by naming Brad or Jen or Angelina, rather than confessing their deep personal dramas. We all have them. Some of us have even written about them. My friend Shar published a couple of collections of sex with the famous and beautiful called Starf*cker.

I’ve dreamt, in my sleep, of doing a 3some with George Clooney and Jimmy  Smits. Even that now seems mundane compared to imagining celebrities with each other, completing all the truncated sex scenes in PG-Rated movies, incorporating the characters into their bedroom fun. By comparison, the straightforward celebrity fantasy seems almost clichéd.

I’ve gotta go now: I have a ton of movies I want to watch again. Camelot. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. All About Eve. West Side Story. And oh yes — The Way We Were.