I AM a writer, I AM a writer, I am a writer…

On Friday I signed and submitted a contract, legally binding me to revising my sex ed book first written in 2003. I’ve known about the possibility of revising for several months now, and have been working on it ever since the editor proposed the idea. Yet, I wasn’t sure I would go through with it until a few days ago. Allowing myself a way out, a changed mind, until the last minute. I’ve been researching, writing, going to writing groups, collecting stories from young people, and thinking about this revision for weeks on end. And I signed the contract.

Yet, I still don’t consider myself a writer.

I wonder what the hell it will take until I feel I can own that label – a writer. A successful book? And if that’s the case, how do I define successful? I mean, I’m revising a book I already wrote at the request of the publisher. They have to consider the book somewhat successful in order to ask me to update it, no? And if the answer is no, then I question their business sense.

my book

See? That’s a book with my name on it.

For some reason, it’s easier to claim the title of Author; maybe it’s because, in my academic life, I’ve “authored” several manuscripts and have the vitae to prove it. Being a writer implies a level of craft and creativity I’m not sure fits me.

What is a writer? What is an author? Who is a writer? Who is an author?

I’ll ponder these questions more as I continue updating my work.

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Holiday fury

Bloomies ad

W. T. F.

This makes me want to scream. It’s wrong. It promotes violence, dishonesty, disrespect, sexism, unhealthy relationships, and many other things that make me both mad and sad. After spending all weekend reading transcripts of teens who express confusion when they try to make sense of unwanted sex when alcohol is involved. After devoting countless hours trying to promote messages of healthy sexuality. It’s not just that it’s “too soon” after Steubenville. Or Maryville. Or any other case in which a teen is sexually assaulted after drinking. This advertisement should never be acceptable. yet somehow it was. Bloomingdale’s published this in its catalog, during the prime holiday shopping season.

What the hell was this company thinking? Why would someone ever spike someone’s drink without their knowledge? What if that person needs to stay sober because they are driving? Because they are taking a medication that interacts poorly with alcohol? Because they don’t want to drink? Because they have a bad reaction to alcohol? BECAUSE THEY DON’T WANT TO DRINK?

What are the motivations of someone who would spike a drink? They think it’s funny? They want someone to “loosen up”? What does that mean? They want to see someone more relaxed? Out of control? Not able to consent?

In the ad, we see him gazing in her direction, while she is not looking his way, but somewhere else – at another, at the door, at a beautiful work of art. No matter, she is not looking at him. There is no dynamic between them, despite the fact that they are implied “best friends.”

What are the motivations for creating this ad? Is this someone’s idea of sexy? Of fun? A part of me wants to know the POV of the creators, while another part doesn’t want to admit they exist. I want to understand, I do. Because only through understanding how this passed through many evaluators in order to reach such mass-production, can I understand how to approach this topic in classrooms. Yet, my heart is racing, my jaw tightens. I practice deep breathing to come back into focus.

As I was writing this, news came out that Bloomingdale’s has apologized for the ad.

Damn straight, Bloomingdale’s. Your acceptance of disrespect for others at best and rape at worst is inexcusable. Apology not accepted.

We’re not alone

Trigger Warning: Relationship violence references.

I put my rubber bracelet on, the kind designed to stand for a cause. This one is purple, and was made for a classmate of mine whom I knew, but not very well. I remember her huge mass of beautiful curly blonde hair, bright red lipstick, and thickly applied mascara. I remember her laughing with her friends in the smoking lounge at our school. I bet she had no memories of me. We traveled in different circles, having nothing in common in the eyes of teenagers who are often too nervous to get to know each other, in case the feelings of friendship or admiration are not mutual.

I wear this bracelet this weekend because this woman – someone I knew – was murdered by her husband, before he turned the gun on himself.

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The site of the memorial service in Mountain Lakes, NJ. I missed it by one week.

I wear this bracelet because some – many – close friends have survived abusive relationships. I’m sure there are others I love who have experienced the same, but I don’t know about it. Will never know about it. They are all in my hearts.

This weekend I went on a writing retreat with a friend and colleague and decent headway on a manuscript about youth understanding of consent when there’s alcohol involved. The scenario we write about happens countless times every day: a young woman has something to drink, ends up with a guy, and there is sex – or is it rape? That is what the participants in the study are asked to untangle. The results show confusion. The findings scream a call to action: to better teach young people about not just their desires and limits, but of others’ desires and limits. To make sure that conversations about relationships, alcohol, and consent happen honestly and often. To let them know that it (consent, sex, desire, relationships) is a difficult topic, which is why we should dive in, not hold back.

I look at the paragraph above and wonder if I wrote something that was offending/victim blaming/wrong. Even I am not educated enough in the language to feel confident. I’ve been working in sexuality education for almost 20 years, and I am still afraid. For most of my career, I have purposely avoided talking about relationship violence in my classes; I would bring in guest speakers or just tell the students to review the chapter. I knew that in my class, there would be survivors and there would be perpetrators. To teach the topic in a detached way, I thought, would be more of a disservice than not addressing it at all. I’m not sure that was the right decision, but it was the one I made at the time with the skills that I had.

And now I am writing about the topic with the guidance of someone who has more practice and courage than I do. After a weekend I am still hesitant, still wondering how to put words on a page that are accurate but do not perpetuate the myths, the victim blaming, the silence. I hope to learn and gain confidence to at least address violence in relationships, because people I love have experienced violence. Because I no longer believe a sexuality education program can ignore this topic. Because, while I remain committed to teaching sexuality education through a positive lens of relationships and health, I understand that we still have to talk about what might happen no matter how much “prevention” we teach. Because I’m not going to go so far as to say “no more,” but I want the level of awareness to rise and the conversations to happen. So I apologize if I say something wrong – I’m trying and learning. I believe that trying is better than silence.

Today I am grateful for all the people who choose to share their stories of relationship violence. I also thank those who support them – whether they are aware of it or not.

This post is written in honor of Lauri Hove. I’ll never forget your beauty.

A writing retreat

Trigger warning: Some acquaintance rape references in a research context.

Yesterday we were fortunate to arrive before sunset. The sky wasn’t completely greyed over – an anomaly for the Oregon Coast in November. We drive to the beach and walk along the low-tide waves as the sky turns from pink to orange to red to dark. The clouds turn the sky into an abstract painting. Both of us fall in love with the dead trees that enhance the scene.

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Dusk in Oceanside, Oregon

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I love dead trees.

Driving back to the house we rented for this escape, we discuss the plan for the next day – how to turn a mass of data into something that matters. How to convey the idea that when young people grapple with a scenario about sex and alcohol and popularity, that the word “rape” is relevant, yet barely reaches awareness. How “victim blaming” ideology still plagues our culture. Objectives for the next day set, we take our minds off of the work and indulge in a hot tub soak. Conversation turns to the data again; we are optimistic about our goals. Sleep comes easily that night.

The next morning brings the expected Pacific Northwestern rain and ten hours of work. The fire burned all day, filling the storming outdoors with piney smoke. We analyzed, deconstructed, reconstructed, and finalized an analysis plan. Wrote, deconstructed, and reconstructed again. A better plan. Writing was slow, but steady. It feels good, even though the material is heart breaking.

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This fire made everything better.

We finally take a break from reading difficult phrases uttered by youth: “Well I think she put herself in that situation first of all, and if she didn’t want that to happen, then she should’ve said, ‘No.’” and “how she could have prevented it” to cook a Thai meal. Onions, summer squash, baby bok choy, red peppers and tomatoes in a curry sauce. I over-cook the rice noodles but it still tastes good. The break from the sadness and frustration over the youth voices feels good, but it’s time to go back.

We notice flaws in the analysis, and begin again. A few more hours of struggle. The hot tub waits patiently. Finally, we put the computers, printouts, and pens away and soak out all the difficult thoughts. We talk about our dreams and fears. A couple of stars shine through the black cloud cover. The rain is light and cool.

Tomorrow we will dive into the work again for a few more hours. It won’t be as completed as we had hoped, but we’ll continue to make sense of something that shouldn’t exist in the first place.

Everything old is new again

Facebook, WordPress, Twitter, ResearchGate, and now add Goodreads to the list. These are the social media platforms I am on where I publicly admit that I am a writer. Or at least trying to be one (again).  Or something. While I am not sure exactly what it is I am trying to do by getting my Goodreads profile up and running (Friend me! Become a fan or whatever), I do know that it signals a merging of an older part of myself with what I am doing today.

I published my first book almost twelve years ago with the hope that it would be a book that people, well, read. I suppose a few have indeed read it (or at least bought it), but I know not many have given the meager royalties I have earned from it. Yet, I am fortunate, for each year a check for about fifty bucks comes in the mail and I treat myself to a new shirt or I buy a round of drinks when some friends and I meet for happy hour. Each year I have to fill out a particular part of my tax return that acknowledges that I have earned royalties – the word itself becoming humorous when the dollar amount is entered.

my book

I learned today that my book was re-released in 2013 in Kindle edition! So nice of my publisher to tell me…

 

 

Back then, I wrote about sexuality and youth identity. Now, I write about my experiences in the world and in me. These disparate topics do not make good bedfellows on a social media page. My profile ends up looking like I have no idea who I am or where I am going. This is, to some extent, true. But in a lot of ways, it just shows how things can change in a decade. And how complex people really are. I am sure my favorite authors have as many varied interests as I do. They too can be hockey fans, feminists, karaoke queens, travelers, sexuality educators, striving cooks, and best friends all in one being. Yet somehow, when we “get to know them” online, their identity is much more refined, as if it was purposefully stripped down to make it easy on readers to understand the person behind the words we love so much.

But if I wanted to be included among those considered authors in Goodreads, I had to prove that I had written something worthy of publication. So I bring back my past in hopes of inspiring my future. But that’s not even it. A few of my most recent publications have been about youth sexuality, so this part of me is not completely gone, and I don’t want it to be. In fact, I go out of my way to be involved in this work. I write things, remain involved in collaborations, and conduct a little bit of research in my off time so I can hold onto this part of me – the part that can still claim to be a sexuality educator. A sexuality educator in a country where uttering a few incorrect words could result in losing my job. A sexuality educator who cannot ask the very questions of her students that she thinks about daily: What do you know about sex? What does a healthy romantic relationship look like to you? How many children do you really want? If you had your choice, would you choose who you were going to marry? What would that person be like? How would you get to know them?

It’s a good thing that us authors are more than the sum of our words. And that inspiration comes from so many places and experiences. I’d hate to feel that my writing was limited to one form, genre, or topic. Perhaps one day I will fall in love with an idea that keeps my writing focused again. Today I am grateful for the many outlets I have to express myself, even if they can seem overwhelming at times.

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