Interview with Amber Dawn
Q: The format of How Poetry Saved My Life (prose pieces mixed with a variety of poetry forms) deviates from what readers might have come to expect from the literary memoir form. Sections “Outside,” “Inside” and “Inwards” hint at a narrative arc, though the overall structure remains more loose and thematic than chronological. Why did you choose to tell your story this way?
Amber Dawn: I have a great deal of admiration for authors—especially ex-sex workers—who write their memoir as a chronological journey. Some books I’ve had the pleasure of reading recently are Whip Smart, by Melissa Febos and Candy Girl: A Year in the Life of an Unlikely Stripper, by Diablo Cody. I doubt I’d have the wherewithal to sit down and write my own story in this manner. How Poetry Saved My Life encompasses nearly fifteen years of collected writing. I wrote each piece for different reasons. Some poems had more therapeutic or cathartic beginnings, harken to the book’s title. Some prose I wrote to present at sex worker conferences or forums. It took a while before I realized I had an entire book’s worth of writing, and a bit longer still before I felt brave enough to release these collected stories and poems publicly. I view the account of my experiences as more of an emotional journey, rather than a chronological one. Through this approach I hope readers will make there own personal connection to the book, even if they’re life experiences are different from my own.
Q: The book represents nearly fifteen years of collected writings. You’ve had a very diverse writing career—you’ve edited horror and porn anthologies and dipped into the magical realist genre with your first novel Sub Rosa. How did you come to write a non-fictionalized memoir?
A: I believe a voice is a powerful and privileged resource to possess, especially when it comes to something like sex work, which is constantly silenced and stigmatized. Through performing on both small and larger stages, I’ve found that in every audience there is at least one woman (or man) who not only relates to my story, but feels almost desperate to have silence around sex work and survivorship broken. I feel a duty to speak up.
Q: Is there a piece of prose or poetry in the collection that was particularly difficult for you to write or realize, and in turn share with readers?
A: “Lying is the Work” is a personal essay that juxtaposes a bad date I had during the last year of working in the sex trade with my grandfather’s story of joining the Navy at age 17 to fight in WW2. This is one of very few examples where I bring my family history into my work. I love my family and want to protect and spare them of triggers or “digging up dirt.” While I’m proud of who I am, I acutely understand that survivors and sex workers are stigmatized and that this stigma can impact families and loved ones.
Case in point, recently, my grandfather disowned me when I married my wife—a ceremony that everyone in my family attended but for him. Therefore, I feel I can tell a bit of the story between my grandfather and I—in a dignified and objective way—without worrying about him reading it. As an Italian-American immigrant and Navy veteran he has a tremendous story of survival. It’s bitter sweet that I relate to him as a survivor and yet we have no present-day relationship. This makes the personal essay very difficult for me.
Q: RADAR Productions recently awarded you the 2012 Eli Coppola Memorial Poetry Chapbook Prize for “How I got My Tattoo.” How does the title poem of that particular collection fit into your personal narrative in How Poetry Saved My Life?
A: What an honour to win the Eli Coppola Memorial Poetry Prize, and just before I launch How Poetry Saved My Life! I have a quite a few titles like How Poetry Saved My Life and “How I Got My Tattoo” that are posed like answers to questions. Sex workers and survivors get asked questions all the time. I could over-simplify all these questions to essentially, “How did this happen to you.” I hate that question—the question implies that being a survivor or being a sex worker is outside the norm and needs explanation—when in fact these experiences are very common. Nonetheless, I also sympathize that people need to ask questions and discuss. The titles that I’ve written as answers to questions are there to promote discussion in a proud and creative way.
Q: In the book you cite author Jeanette Winterson and “powerful women whose voices have been cut short” among your inspirations. Would you tell us more about how you have been influenced by literary and activist voices in your life?
A: I was in my teens and early 20s in the 1990s, and was gobsmacked by the Riot Grrl movement. My first serious girlfriend introduced me to the feminist music and zine culture and listing to Team Dresh and Bikini Kill gave me the idea that I too had something to say. Not only where these voices powerful, but they were accessible. I didn’t need education to understand the feminist politicking of Riot Grrl. But after being introduced to feminist art and literature, I wanted to learn more. This was probably the first time I ever wanted to learn or read anything. I began reading Jeanette Winterson, Beth Goobie, Larissa Lai, Evelyn Lau, Sharon Olds, Lucille Clifton, Michelle Tea, Sarah Schulman. Finally, I understood the comfort and solidarity that could be found through books.
Q: You’ve toured with the Sex Workers Art Show, created short films, as well as performed at a variety of venues including the Vancouver Art Gallery. How does your performance and film background compliment or deviate from your writing?
A: Performing at galleries or appearing in my own films has helped me get into my body. Like many survivors, I’m inclined to live in my head, my imagination is a real sanctuary. Performance art has allowed me to embody the themes and emotions of my work and connect more closely with audience. I really feel the work when I’m hurling my body around a stage. In turn, this has helped me sink into a deeper connectivity to my written work.
Q: You now teach creative writing classes—some to queer and at-risk youth. Can you say more about the potential of art to be a survival skill and lifeline to others?
A: Something very palpable occurs when a person writes their story. It doesn’t have to be for future publication, but simply to put memories on paper and/or to read them in a room full of safe, supportive listeners. It’s an investment in one’s self. It’s an act of acknowledging one’s worth. It’s making the unspoken, heard. This can have life-changing impacts on people who have been shut down or silenced. Each time I run a creative writing workshop I see a little bit of change happen. “Thank you for listening,” my students always say to me. They don’t need to thank me; they should thank themselves. They do transformative work when they use their voices.
I’m reading as a special guest for Amber Dawn‘s San Francisco book release party for How Poetry Saved My Life: A Hustler’s Memoir this Wednesday night, May 22nd, at 7pm at the Modern Times Bookstore Collective.
I haven’t finished How Poetry Saved My Life yet, in part because every time I start reading it, I read it slowly, taking time with each word, and I put it down often to jot down my own poetical thoughts. It’s inspiring.
“I’m asking you to entertain that wish I made earlier. To treat this like a two-way conversation. My dear reader, you’ve caught on by now that this is not really about sex work. Sex work is only one of many, many things we learn we are not to talk about. Sex work is only one of many things we’ve been asked (but never agreed) to keep silent.
This is about the labour of becoming whole … Locate yourself within the bigger, puzzling, and sometimes hazardous world around you. You are invited to do this work.”
I’m working on a new piece, chewing a lot on the connections between poetry and sex work, between gender and sex, between desire and language. I think there are so many overlaps and connections and I’m striving to connect the dots in a poem for Wednesday (tomorrow!) night.
If you’re near the Bay Area, please come! I won’t be reading much more before I head up north for June & July, so this’ll be a rare appearance. And you really want to hear Amber Dawn read from this new book—trust me!
Amber Dawn reads from and discusses her new book, “How Poetry Saved My Life: A Hustler’s Memoir”
*Joined by Special Guest Sinclair Sexsmith*
Wednesday, May 22nd: 7PM
Modern Times Bookstore Collective
2919 24th St (at Alabama)
Amber Dawn’s acclaimed first novel Sub Rosa, a darkly intoxicating fantasy about a group of magical prostitutes who band together to fend off bad johns in a fantastical underworld, won a Lambda Literary Award in 2011. While the plot of the book was wildly imaginative, it was also based on the author’s own experience as a sex worker in the 1990s and early 2000s, and on her coming out as lesbian.
“How Poetry Saved My Life,” Amber Dawn’s sophomore book, reveals an even more poignant and personal landscape―the terrain of sex work, queer identity, and survivor pride. This story, told in prose and poetry, offers a frank, multifaceted portrait of the author’s experiences hustling the streets of Vancouver, and the how those years took away her self-esteem and nearly destroyed her; at the crux of this autobiographical narrative is the tender celebration of poetry and literature, which―as the title suggests―acted as a lifeline during her most pivotal moments.
As raw and fiery as its author, How Poetry Saved My Life is a powerful account of survival and the transformative power of literature.
Sinclair Sexsmith (www.mrsexsmith.com) is an erotic coach, educator, and writer. They write the award-winning personal online project Sugarbutch Chronicles: The Sex, Gender, and Relationship Adventures of a Kinky Queer Butch Top at www.sugarbutch.net, have contributed to more than twenty anthologies, and edited Say Please: Lesbian BDSM Erotica. They travel frequently to teach workshops on gender and sexuality.
Amber Dawn is the Lambda Literary Award-winning author of Sub Rosa, as well as a filmmaker, and performance artist. She’s appeared at dozens of universities and literary festivals, both for readings and to sit on discussion panels. She is often invited to speak on topics such as “writing from the margins,” queer identities in writing, and sex-positive writing. She also leads creative writing classes with high-risk youth and/or sex workers populations. She has toured three times with the Sex Workers’ Art Show and is the former Director of Programming for the Vancouver Queer Film Festival (VQFF). Her website is amberdawnwrites.com.
I had some new headshots taken, with the aim to actually capture some joy and pleasure and fun, instead of someone who has “been through the ringer” and “in the wars”. I’m spending a lot of time thinking about my business and what I’m doing and how I’m representing myself, in no small part thanks to the Catalyst Conference I attended in DC in March and Barbara Carrellas’s Urban Tantra training for sexuality professionals.
BD Swain (who is a butch kinky erotica writer—if you aren’t following her blog, you should be) hooked me up with Meg Allen, whose portraits immediately resonated with me. Meg is also working on a portrait project she’s calling BUTCH which features—wait for it—masculine of center folks.
Working with Meg and talking about photographing butch identity, what makes it different than photographing other gender presentations, how to encourage butches to feel more at home in our bodies through photography, and a dozen other things, made me think about all the other butch portrait projects that have been popping up lately, like BUTCH: Not like the other girls by SD Holman and the Butch/Femme Photo Project by Wendi Kali. I’m starting to put together a panel for the BUTCH Voices conference that is full of photographers of butches and I want to address exactly those questions.
BUTCH Voices call for proposals is open, by the way! Submit art, workshops, lectures, panels, or performance ideas before June 1.
I know for me, having my photograph taken changed significantly after I came to a butch identity. I actually started liking how I looked in photos. I actually kind of recognized myself. I spent some years obsessively taking self-portraits, from 1997 to about 2002, and maintaining personal photo blogs online, and one of the major reasons for that was experimenting with visual representations and markers of gender. After I came to a butch identity that I was pretty solid and comfortable with, somewhere in 2001 or so, I took fewer and fewer self-portraits and felt much more at ease having my photo taken by others. Having professional photos of me taken, starting in about 2006, has continued me on that journey of finding myself through visual representation and continuing to feel comfortable with the way that I look, my gender, and my body.
Which is yet another reason why I started craving new headshots for the summer. I want it to reflect where I am, and how I feel about myself and my work. They needed to be updated.
Here’s about 30 of my favorites from the shoot. I’m still experimenting with which will be my new avatar for Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and for the sidebar and my about pages, so I might pick one and then change it up in a week or so, test some of them out.
If you can’t see the photos, here’s a link to the full set on Flickr.
Here’s the other thing about these photos: they look like me. They don’t really look like “Sinclair,” they don’t look like some persona I’m putting on, they look like me, how I look on a pretty much daily basis, how I look when I’m hanging out with friends or teaching a workshop. Maybe if I would’ve dressed up more that would be different? Maybe it’s the sweater over the polo, too casual for this shoot somehow.
Not that that’s a bad thing, exactly. I am aiming for more integration. The difference between me and my “Sinclair” persona/character gets thinner and thinner. It’s just kind of … odd. Unexpected. Interesting.
What do you think? Which ones are your favorites? Any advice for headshots or representing my work?
So, I put this big call for support out there, and you responded—you responded! Thank you! My paypal account is still pinging me occasionally! I am working on a dirty dirty story to send some of you as additional thanks—and then I have barely written this week. That’s because I’ve been eyeball deep in another job of mine, which is coordinating workshops for the Body Electric School.
I’ve been working hard to get the Celebrating the Body Erotic for women workshop in New York City off the ground. It starts tonight and runs through the weekend. The coordinator of these workshops, in addition to being the contact point and the marketer and the one who does all the recruiting to get the workshop to fill up, is also the person who makes sure the space is all set up with the right supplies and objects for the staff and the facilitator to come in and do their jobs of holding the circle strong and bringing the participants through the healing journey.
I’ve done a lot of these workshops by now. I can recite the order of events and what supplies are needed for each ritual off the top of my head, can give alternatives if things are missing, I know the storage locker combination by heart. Also, I like this job. It doesn’t pay much—it barely covers expenses, really. But a big part of the “payment” of this job is attending the workshop as a staff person, being one of the people who holds the container for participants to come into and have a transformational experience.
I love guiding people through transformational experiences. This is probably one of the biggest reasons I’m a top, and feels like a deep calling in me. To encourage releasing trauma, releasing pain, healing wounds, letting things go, and moving forward with more clarity is perhaps what I am most interested in, for myself and for others.
So I won’t be at the CBE this coming weekend. I’m really torn and sad about that. It was my choice to hightail it out to the west coast in April, and I am so glad that I did; I couldn’t stay just to make sure to be there for this workshop, I needed to leave. But I feel guilty that I didn’t finish my commitment, that I am relying on other people to do the work I was supposed to do. My job with Body Electric is changing, in part because I left New York, and in part because I’m getting burnt out. Coordinating is a somewhat endless job done out of love of the work, not out of motivation for compensation. If it was my only volunteer job, that’d be one thing, but my other two main jobs (Sugarbutch and BUTCH Voices) are mostly volunteer as well. I’m trying to figure out how to do these jobs that I love, this work that I love and that I think is so valuable to contribute to this world, and still be able to afford to live.
In some ways, though, I’m relieved to not be visiting New York. From my own personal emotional standpoint, I don’t know if I’m ready to go back there. There are some friends I miss and adore and want very much to catch up with, but for now I’m going to have to do that via Skype and phone calls. It’s hard not to see that city as just full of heartbreak right now, as accosting me at every corner with memories of happier times and being with someone I still love deeply and have so much pain around.
And I’m glad to be focusing on the future, focusing on the west coast, focusing on making friends here, focusing on how to get my work fluid and, well, working.
But I’m still sad to miss the transformational experience that is CBE. It’s such a beautiful process, and I coordinate because I love to be inside of that process, not because I actually get paid. And I coordinate because I get to have those blissful minutes at the center of an energetic vortex, where I can really relax into it and ask the universe or the earth or god or whatever it is to take away a chunk of the pain that I’m still holding on to in my body, to dislodge it and carry it away, back out to sea or out to the stars or out to wherever it goes. I have pursued healing in a lot of different ways, but still, there’s nothing else like this experience.
So I’ll be breathing deep for the circle and the CBE all weekend.
To go back to the thank you at the beginning for a moment, I want to tell you that from the donations that you’ve given, I have:
- Paid my hosting bill for the next two years
- Paid an editor to look over an ebook compilation of 16 short smut stories that I’m working on getting together
- Paid one of the staff folks to take over for the Body Electric workshop this weekend
- Bought an e-course package I’ve had my eye on about utilizing your online business (except way more fun than that sounds) and taking your work to the next level
Thank you for making that possible. I’m really excited to keep writing for you, to keep elevating the work I’m doing. Donations = more smut for you to read, I promise. Thank you.
Before the door is even all the way open, I’m on you, slamming your upper back against the wall in the hallway. I’d been waiting for you. Heard your car outside and keys in the lock. Stayed half-hard all day, waiting for this moment where I could catch you off guard and suddenly, make demands and put forth my needs, use your body.
By way of a welcome home, I growl, “Hey, little boy.”
You whimper and melt into the wall, your knees sinking already, keys still in your hand. I shove you aside and close the door, keeping my forearm across your collarbone. Maybe you try to say hi Daddy, sometimes you do that, you’re supposed to reply audibly to me when I address you, but maybe your mouth says it without any sound behind it, maybe I’m keeping your voice clutched in my fist at your throat right now. You don’t need it. All you need to do is what I make you do.
I take a step back. “Strip.” I say first.
You do. I watch. You hang your jacket and slide your tee shirt over your head. Kick your chucks into the small pile of shoes in the hallway and unbuckle your belt. Click your keys back on to your keychain. The heavyness of the objects in your jeans pockets pull them to the floor without much effort and you let them slide off and step out of them. I stroke my cock, thick and hard already, through my jeans.
When we woke this morning I didn’t get the time I wanted to play with you. Didn’t get to slide inside you and sink into that place where our bodies pull and push in synchronicity, simultaneously out when you’re in, up when you’re down. I don’t understand how it is that we compliment each other so well, but we do. I pulled your hand under the elastic waist of my boxers and made you jerk me off while I whispered stories into your ear, my arm around you, hand gripping your arm or shoulder or whatever I could reach. Jerk it, boy, yeah like that. Harder. Just a little more. That’s just right. But you had to go to work. And I had work to do, too, though my work has less of a clock-in-clock-out factor.
I like missing you. That low pull of longing, of want, is enough to keep me focused and productive when otherwise I might be wallowing. I like wanting you. Always better than having too much and craving space.
I get my most important tasks done and pause through the day to fantasize, just enough to keep me hard but not enough to get off. I want to be wanting when you get here. Maybe the second or third time I do this, the vision forms to take you before you’ve even walked in the door. These scenes come to my mind almost fully formed sometimes, like a film I’m watching rather than something I’m creating. When I wonder what next to do, I just watch and listen for a minute, and it shows up.
You drop your tight white boy briefs next to your jeans and as you’re straightening up, looking at me shy with just a slight shiver in your shoulders, I lock the door behind you and I’m ready. “Down.”
You drop effortlessly, in one fluid movement, and I push your mouth to my zipper before you’re even situated. You lean into my hips and bite at me through my jeans. I lean against the wall and relax forward into your mouth. It’s a relief to have you home. It’s a relief to have your mouth here, wherever I put it. It’s a relief to have that control, a relief to know you’d do it, whatever it is, whatever I told you to do. I don’t need to execute that ability constantly—the knowing that it’s there is relief enough, most of the time.
Except sometimes, when I need to feel you supple and soft, feel you harden when you get it right and fall into the job I set for you to do. Just this. This is all you need to do right now, your mouth your tongue right there, your body relaxed and giving in, giving over, always giving it up to me.
You hum a little through your throat and I feel it vibrate against my cock. I feel the weight of the day, of the work, of the hate mail navigated and the dozens of hustling emails I sent with pleas, draining out of me. I pull up from the earth when I breathe in and try to feel myself empty, ohllowed out, able to be filled. You press the palm of your hand gently against my cunt, just enough for me to feel the pressure. Support, something solid for me to lean into. You catch the head of my cock in your mouth through my jeans and suck just enough for me to swoon. I unbuckle, unzip, pull it out while your hand kneeds my lips swollen and hanging like balls.
You suck me down slow and easy, slide it in, each inch slow until I’m all the way in your throat. “Swallow it down, my good boy, you know how I like it.” The thought of shooting, emptying out right here, pressed deep down into you, makes me shudder. I breathe into it and that rhythm, that rhythm takes me, moves me forward, the rhythm that starts in that bowl in my hips like a quake and starts moving me almost involuntarily, and I slide a little deeper into your throat and you open, open, open.
We writhe and rock and move together for a while. I let the pressure keep building, that pressure that started early this morning before you had to go to work, before we peeled ourselves out of the soft jersey sheets and made coffee and got dressed and were responsible. Or maybe it started when we met, or maybe it started long before we met, maybe it’s just something I have, that craving, that desire for taking and takedown. I watched you go out the door and felt that growl of want, not yet satisfied. What will satisfy me? Even when I get “enough” it isn’t exactly enough, it’s only temporary. I always want more. And you always give more.
“Enough,” I pull out, immediately feeling the lack, the emptiness where I used to feel held. “Hands and knees. Crawl.” I walk to the bedroom and strip, lay out the waterproof sex blanket over the sheet. I almost switch to the bigger cock but decide I want to fuck his ass, so I’ll keep this one on instead.
You’re breathing hard when you get to the doorway. You like crawling. Makes you feel controlled, it’s not something you would do without being ordered to. It makes you tremble and swell. I can see how you are pinkening between your legs.
I pull you up by the chain around your neck (“Up. Come on.”) and onto your stomach on the bed. Your open mouth is against the mattress, biting at the jersey sheet, arms twisted to hold you, ass up, legs splayed open, back curled. You know what’s coming. My thumb against your back hole and you moan and open even further. Your hole is so pretty and shades of rose (sometimes I really understand why erotica stories call it a “rosebud”) and I want to plunge in. I squirt lube right onto your hole, a generous line up my cock, and press . The head is the biggest and thickest, so pronounced on this particular cock, but you push back against me and moan Daddy Daddy and I can do it, we do it together. I go slow even though I want to plunge. I want to feel myself buried to my balls in you. Falling into you. But I restrain, and the tension between what I want and what I do feels palpable. I lean forward, hold my weight off of you while I slide in. Take a bite of your shoulder as my chest melts against yours, still holding my hips up. Slow, slow. Wait. And then you whimper and I feel your skin against the front of my hips and we’re there.
I sink against you. You hold me up.
Alright, so they’re not all dirty. But many of them are very dirty. Definitely R rated, sometimes NC-17.
Remember back a few years ago when I used to have a reading list of links in the sidebar? It was powered by Google Reader, and it was awesome. Instead of keeping a links/suggested websites in the sidebar, I’d just subscribe to all of my favorite blogs in my reader, and then “share” the posts that were excellent and touching and interesting, and the shared items would appear as a list in the sidebar, complete with my notes about them.
It was great! I don’t know if you ever clicked through them, but there were dozens (hundreds?) of amazing articles shared through that.
(You can still see them on the somewhat-hidden community page, which I don’t really update anymore, or you can check out the whole google reader shared items archive of mine here.)
Unfortunately … trouble came into paradise. Google Reader integrated with Google Plus and they stopped offering the “share” feature. Curses! Looks like it happened sometime in October 2011, since that’s when my shared items stop.
I have used Google Reader less and less since then. Fuck, it’s been a year and a half! I have often thought that I should put a list of links in the sidebar, that I should promote other bloggers, because I like community and I think sharing the love and pointing you to other thinkers and writers and artists is important, but I haven’t had the time. This past year and a half have been insane, you might’ve noticed. (Was it insane for you too? Seems like it was insane for everyone.) I looked, but I didn’t have any luck finding a decent RSS reader to dump all my hundreds of subscriptions in and share.
And then … they announced in March that they’re discontinuing Google Reader entirely. What! The fuck. Argh. This does not go with my plan at all. I thought they’d figure out that Google Plus is not the new Facebook and put my beloved “share” feature back.
But with the demise of Google Reader entirely, new readers have popped up! The one I’ve settled on is The Old Reader, built after Google Reader at its prime, but a little bit better. Sweet! (The only feature I’m really missing is the “email this” article link, which I used to use a LOT. Oh, and an iPhone app. Please and thank you!)
So here it is folks: My shared items are now BACK in the sidebar, thanks to The Old Reader. If you use TOR, you can subscribe to my shared items there, or use the RSS feed of my shared items for your rss reader of choice.
This geeky internet reader post has been brought to you by the letter <.
PS … instead of maintaining two separate RSS accounts, as I did before with my two separate Google/gmail accounts, one for my personal use and one for public/Sinclair use, I dumped ALL of my RSS feeds into TOR and they’re all there at once. So you’ll get shares for sandwich recipes, writing prompts, and dirty dirty smut all in the same place. Integration! Yay!
TL;DR version: This is a request for financial help. Donate some cash to me, if you can, to keep enabling me to pay my bills and keep writing. Thank you.
The long version …
So, Give Out Day came and went yesterday, a drive “supporting the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender & Queer (LGBTQ) community through a new national giving campaign. … Give OUT Day will mobilize thousands of donors across the U.S. to contribute to 400 participating LGBTQ causes.” More than $500,000 was raised. I wanted to write a post about how I’m not a 501c3, but I need your donations, too, but I couldn’t figure out what to say.
Yesterday, I watched Amanda Palmer’s TED talk, The Art of Asking, again, which is up there with her piece Why I Am Not Afraid to Take Your Money, things I go read when I need inspiration. The artists going directly to the fans for financial support seems to be more and more of a common model. And yet … and yet. I don’t bite my fingernails anymore, but I start biting the inside of my lips when I think about money.
In March, I put a really weak little hidden sentence in the middle of a paragraph, “If you feel inspired to donate to me as I restart and recalibrate and transition into a new incarnation of myself, and figure out what the hell I’m going to do with Sugarbutch and my heart, that would be incredibly helpful.” Two people emailed me after that, saying that the donate link in my sidebar was broken and they wanted to help and how could they best do that?
I blinked. Really?
It was a weak request, buried and almost a sidenote, something shadowy I didn’t want to cop to. But I actually do need it. So I fixed the donate button in the sidebar. And I added a donate page in the top bar which includes a link to my Amazon wishlist, if you want to buy me practical gifts or books or other kinds of presents instead of sending money.
One of the biggest goals I have for my work, as I’m continuing to claw my way out of this fog, this year of grief, is to make it financially sustainable. When I started this site, I had a corporate office 9-to-5 job which made it possible for me to concentrate on writing all the time. When I was part of the jobs cut in their downsizing, I had unemployment compensation right after I left my corporate office job, but that ended last year. I used to have a tiny but regular income from affiliates, but as I am doing less and less product reviews, and as many sex toy stores have closed their affiliate programs, I have much less of that. I also used to have a long term partner with a day job, until she lost it last summer and, later, we split up.
All these things, all that financial support, enabled me to do this work.
Have you noticed that I have spent a whole lot more time on Sugarbutch in the last few years a) promoting workshops and events that I’m doing and b) promoting products? That’s because the workshops have been my #1 income, and the products often give me that affiliate kickback of $100-200 a month, which made a big difference. Workshops have been my most reliable income in order to keep paying rent and keep eating—and keep doing this work. I spend so many hours a day pitching and replying that sometimes I just can’t stare at a screen anymore, and that means I don’t write those exciting productive things.
This past year, I’ve been focusing hard on how to let this work make me money.
Not because my only priority is making more money, but because I need some money to survive. To eat, to pay rent, to attend the events that I write about, to travel, to buy a new suitcase. (Did you know that the wheels on my carry-on suitcase, the one I purchased in 2002 to study abroad when I was in college, are almost completely broken? I basically drag the suitcase along the ground now. It makes a terribly loud noise. It also makes me feel like everyone knows that I am that dirty, broke-ass kid, just like I’ve always been, and I can’t afford new things. The business people in the airport look when they hear my suitcase chunk-chunk-chunking down the moving walkways and look at my suitcase and give me that pathetic smile, eyebrows kind of raised, skeptical. I shrug, feel sheepish. I don’t need a new suitcase, because this one technically still closes and holds my clothes. But it’s on its last legs. I should add that to my Amazon wishlist.)
Part of my aim in leaving New York and moving to the west coast is to cut my expenses down significantly. I know the Bay Area isn’t exactly cheaper than New York City, but that is part of why I’m sublet-hopping and spending two months in Alaska with family this summer—to cut down on my expenses, to hopefully build up my bank account for a little while, have some cushion when I start having more regular bills again. I’m not sure I want to live in the city proper—I’m not sure I can afford to live in the city and still do this work.
I don’t quite know how to get from here to there, but I’m starting to formulate a plan. This homeless summer on the west coast where all of my stuff is in storage is part of that plan.
Since last weekend, I’ve noticed my traffic on this site has been up, both because I have written more here in the past week than I have in probably two months together, and because Rife spent many hours debugging and finding all the malware in the backend of this site. (So useful, that one.) I spent some time looking at my traffic statistics this past week, and I noticed that my traffic dropped by almost half between February 2012 and March 2012, and it’s been down in that almost-half range ever since.
My dad died in March 2012. Maybe you remember that—I put up a request for donations then, too, and received enough that I could buy a last minute plane ticket home to Alaska and be with my family the week he died. (Thank you. Thank you.) I think that’s about when the spyware/malware issues first showed up, too, when readers started telling me my site wasn’t loading, and I didn’t have the emotional capacity to fix it. I limped along, this site limped along, my relationships limped along. And some other things happened then, too. I continued the year long Tantra training, and I went on tour for Say Please. My relationship with Kristen started falling apart, though I didn’t know it at the time. Everything changed that month last year. And the site statistics reflects that.
I want to build it back up. Keep including my personal struggles here, and write more poetry, write bolder, tell more rather than less, answer your questions, finish more videos, more advice, more theories. In order to do that, I have to be able to pay my bills. I don’t want to spend all my time hustling for college workshops—I want to spend time musing about power theories and what it’s like to grieve and what it’s like to be a Daddy when my dad died and how to make deeper bruises and how to fall in love and how to heal and of course dirty, dirty smut.
So I’ve been looking around, spending more time on this site, writing things, fixing up the sidebar, researching advertising. I received an email just this morning from a potential advertiser telling me that my site had too much “adult content,” even though they are an advertiser that is friendly to sex related stuff. Specifically, they had problems with the recent tags like “daddy/boy” and “my boy’s cunt” and “resistance play”, which, they said, “pushes the lines of what BDSM content we could accept.”
Hm, I thought. I could tone it down. I could take those tags off. I could stop writing dirty Daddy stories about force. Is that what I have to do in order to make money? Am I willing to compromise my art in order to have sponsors? No, probably not. But if I can’t have paid ads on this site, how can I afford it?
You could ask for help, my mind prodded. You could let people help.
I feel guilty asking for money. I feel failed. Amanda talked about how, as a street performer, people would drive by and yell, “Get a fucking job!” That’s what it looks like, right? That I don’t have a job, that I just play on the internet and live my life and do fun things like have a lot of sex and wear ties? But what’s underneath that is that I am an entrepreneur, even a business owner (I don’t want to be that, I didn’t aim to be that. I just want to be a writer. But if I want to keep it up like this, that’s what I now am). What’s underneath is that I am a figure, a mini-celebrity (very well known in tiny, tiny circles).
What’s under all of that is that I work so hard on the exchange between us—that moment where something I do connects with you.
Amanda talks about that moment as part of the exchange for the immense amount of help she’s had all along the way. Fans leap forward everywhere to offer home-cooked food and places to crash and entertainment for her fans. “Is it fair?” she asked in her TED talk. Is it fair to receive that back from her fans?
It’s an energy exchange. Is this energy exchange fair?
This site is free, always has been. You can read all of it—seven years of thoughts, musings, theories, my personal sex life, my best writings, poetry, breakdowns, ecstatic moments, feelings, recommendations for music, sex toys, books. And, yeah, smut. Lots and lots and lots of dirty stories to turn you on. I donate my time (and, when I can, my money) to my community, to people directly and to events and to products I support. I give away my time and my writing and my teaching. I give away hundreds of days of work on this site.
I don’t know how to ask for money. Maybe it’s because I’ve never had much of it. I’ve never lived anything but paycheck to paycheck, and now in my creative class/working artist life, I barely even have that, because the paychecks are so irregular.
I’m still trying to figure out how to make this work successful, how I can have enough space to write deeply. Do you want me to keep doing that? Is it worth it to you, to keep reading those things here?
“Don’t make people pay for music,” says Amanda Palmer. “Let them.”
So I’m letting you. I’m letting you help me, by letting you know that I need help—financial help. I don’t need a lot to cover my expenses, but right now, I’m barely making that from this work. I have to keep seeking other supplemental income, and I am and will. Anything you give me will enable to me keep writing.
I am so very grateful to have people I can ask, to have the privilege of even asking. Thank you. For reading, for sticking with me while I’m struggling to make this into something I can keep doing.
Oh, one last thing: everyone who donates $25 or more will receive a special sponsor smut story unpublished anywhere else. (It’s a good one, too.)
“Put nothing between yourself and your grief.” —Tara Hardy
So I get raw. Strip away that which makes me numb. I try to substitute something else, unconsciously, until I realize and strip that away too. Showering feels good, turning up the water just a little too hot. That wakes me. Movement feels good, but I am so sluggish I can rarely remember to do it. Like my brain tricks me to stay still and not feel. Close and collapse and tighten, it silently urges.
But I don’t want to.
It’s so much easier to push it down, push it away. Easier to numb out the heart. Easier to harden. In some ways, I wish I was that kind of person. I miss the ability to turn things on and off. Or—can you miss something you’ve never had? I am envious of it. Want more of it in my own life. Want a little light switch on the back of my neck. That’d make for an interesting tattoo. I have enough marks but sometimes I seek more needles, more things staring at me, yelling, you survived. Marking time passing. Marking a different state, so I can remember that things always, inevitably, change.
I have thrown myself into shadow comforts. Films, tv shows, food, alcohol, sex, power. I even started smoking again. Quit now, once I left New York there wasn’t quite the need to regulate my anxiety so daily. I caught a cough the week I came here and didn’t shake it for long enough to stop wanting them every couple hours. I wonder if the same will happen for a drink. Still, in the evening, when I’m done working, when the boy comes home from work, I crave a little something in my glass. Something liquid and smoky to sip on. Ice cubes clinking.
I lied. I do want to.
But I’m trying not to. I’m trying to be aware. My brain that is seeking aliveness, awakeness is sometimes at odds with the part of me that screams, I can’t feel anymore of that stop just make it stop I don’t care what I have to do just stop. Take a deep breath. Feel down into my feet. It will pass. It’s probably temporary. Just wait, and feel it, and be still.
Those are the easy shadow comforts. There’s also Facebook, reading things online but not really reading them, being way too busy, sleeping until noon. I am on entirely too good of terms with all of those habits these days. I am not good at being still, but I’m not good at moving either. I’m not sure where my aim is, so I’m not sure how to move. The apartment where I’m staying has an arrow on the wall above the bed and I stare at it when I can’t sleep. How do I become an arrow? How do I find a target at which to aim? How can I make myself sharp enough and strong enough and capable of riding the wind enough to find something close to center? I filled out a form today for a coaching session with a I’ll-make-your-business-better coach and it asked, Where are you now? Where do you want to be? … That’s kind of what I need to figure out. Sometimes I think, I could do anything, if I only knew what it was.
But grief is a fog, something that envelops, “its tropical heat / thickening the air.” Something I am choking on, sometimes without warning. I’m all fine, thin sunny air with lemons and lemonade and ocean breezes through the leaves making the most pleasant sound, then I get a flash and I’m on the floor, searching for that one foot of air that isn’t already black. Floundering. Grief. I don’t know what happened. It feels like a before and after, the landscape devastated, muddy brown everywhere. The rage bubbles up like the electric tea kettle water which is probably done in the kitchen and now back to cold. Push the little button down again and make the blue light appear. Does twice-boiled water have any benefit? I’m floundering now. It doesn’t matter. Either way, I will make some tea and get another sweater because I haven’t been able to warm up at all today.
I’m trying to listen. What does my body need, what do I need, what do I want, what would feel good. Maybe not even good—nice. What would feel not like a football thrown by a pro straight to my chest. Anything but this. Anything but this. “Shadow comforts say, ‘Come home to your life.'” wroteJen Louden. I’m trying to come home. I know there’s a boy and some fresh vegetables, even a bit of chocolate, my most important things. Funny how little I have discovered that I really need. Thirty boxes in storage waiting for an address, four suitcases from sublet to sublet. I don’t need much. I’ve been looking at photos of myself all afternoon and now I feel the ghost of me behind each of these lines. My own image is starting to come into focus. I already know the answer to all of those questions. I don’t know what that means, but I know it’s true. It’s not time to sit still. It’s time to move. I have already purged. I have already fed myself full, gorged on honeysuckle and lavender ice cream, water with meyer lemon that puckers just right, all of my favorite things I am letting myself indulge in. I don’t know what else is going to happen, but I know I’m heading toward home. The compass of my body is telling me it’s time.
I’m getting some new headshots done today by the talented Meg Allen, with the aim of reflecting me as a little bit more west coast and a little more joyous.
All the recent headshots of me, while technically beautiful, like this one by Kristy Boyce, which is one of the most gorgeous shots of me I’ve seen, have me looking so … miserable. The agony just seeps through and it’s depressing. I can’t use it for much. “I don’t mind earnest, or stern, or serious—I play all of those things a lot, and it kind of goes along with the bad-ass-top thing I am portraying,” I wrote to Meg this morning. “But these just look … sad.”
I keep thinking about this head shot of Sherman Alexie’s from a few (10?) years back—he’s open mouth laughing and it’s gorgeous. I remember being captivated by it when it was on the back of his book Ten Little Indians, and thinking how it was so unconventional, and also had so much deep joy.
So that’s what’s on the agenda for today.
My mom received a letter
from the person who
got my dad’s eyes
after he died.
My assumption is that
flesh has no opinion
of its own, so
they don’t now look
at Chinese food all-you-
can-eat buffets and salivate
taking a few extra General
Tso’s chickens, just because
my father did.
I assume also that
everyone tends to call weeds
did not become their favorite,
did not become that
which scatter the hill
outside this person’s kitchen
window, did not become
part of the visual jokes
of forgetting. So what
will happen? What’s it like
to see through another’s
eyes? And if we meet,
if we cross each other
unknowingly on the streets
of my small hometown,
will there be a confusing
moment of recognition, when
they look at my brown hair
brown eyes slightly expanded
waistline femur bones just
a little too long and I’ll
write them off as curious
about my unconventional
presentation but they’ll
get a flash of a six year old’s
birthday party, a velveteen
green dress with white
tights and polka dots, a cake
in the shape of a hot
air balloon, and they’ll
shake it off, isn’t that
funny. I won’t see them, but
will you recognize me, even
just a little?
We were together four years, and had sex six times in the last two years. Six times! I counted! I was going crazy, tearing my hair out with desire and want, getting off in secret and feeling guilty, feeling depressed and anxious and unmotivated. I wasn’t writing. I couldn’t write anything without writing I want out of this relationship but I wasn’t ready to face that. I couldn’t get sex off my mind. So I decided that anytime I wanted to have sex, I would either go to the gym, or I would write erotica.
… So of course I wrote a lot of erotica (and didn’t really go to the gym). At first, the writings were all what I wished we’d done, what I was daydreaming about.
“You did this little twist with your hips this morning that made me want to press you to the wall, hard, and take you right then.” … “Mouth open eyes closed, fingers pinching your nipples, working every lingering inch of me inside you. It didn’t really happen this way but it could have.” … “I can’t even hold a conversation with you anymore because every word in my mouth is clouded with why are we not kissing right now?”
I started writing things, sentences, syntax that I actually kind of liked. And as I started breaking through, I started discovering what was inside the block: a deep unknowing—on both of our parts.
I was struggling to become butch, but I was also struggling to become myself.
So I did what I knew to do with writing I kind of liked and was afraid to own: I put it online. I wanted to study myself, more than anything else: to study sexualities, genders, and relationships. To make a graduate study of these things, to read all the books and read all the blogs and listen to all the podcasts and ask all the facilitators I could find what their best philosophies are for these tricky topics. It became a sanctuary, a writing prompt every day, a practice, a deepening of what I knew about myself and how to be me in the world.
It has been a personal study. This place has been the place where I’ve become me.Of course, my college girlfriend (here known as “The Ex”) and I broke up. When I started writing and telling the truth to myself again, I couldn’t stay. It was a mess. I didn’t know how to leave. I didn’t know that not having good sex in a monogamous relationship was enough of a reason to leave, but I now do believe it is. I fell in love, hard, and got burned. I started healing, and grieving. I dated and explored and studied, I wrote and wrote, I started teaching. I fell in love again. There’s a lot more to all of those stories, but you can mostly read those for yourselves in the archives.
Somewhere along there, I started asking myself: “Now that I got everyone’s attention, what do I have to say?”
I’ve been puzzling through that, trying desperately to make a living to enable me to keep doing my work these past few years, which is part of why you haven’t heard as much from me. I’ve been trying to come into integrity, into integration, bringing who I am offline together with the vision of myself I came to know through words. I’ve been struggling to create myself a life I can settle into, one that is sustainable, that can last, that can feed me and carry me into the work that I know I have to do in the world.
I haven’t figured that out entirely, yet, but I am getting closer. My life has been radically restructured in the past year, and I need some retreat and some quiet and some inner work so I can feel into what the new mission of my work is here beyond my own personal liberation. Telling my own story has been and will continue to be an important part of it, but there is more to it than that. I seek structure and vision in a bigger way, and I don’t quite know what that means yet, but I can feel that I’ve been moving steadily toward it.
Thank you for reading. Thank you for all of your comments and support. Thank you for your emails (even when I don’t have time to write back as thoroughly as I’d like). Thank you for coming to my workshops and buying my books. Thank you.
I love my job.
Some of the other anniversary posts:
- Sixth Anniversary
- Fifth Anniversary
- Fourth Anniversary
- Third Anniversary
- Second Anniversary
- Bed Death, Standard Variety: the post that started it all.
(The anniversary of Sugarbutch starting was Monday, April 29th, but that was my first day after a long 6-day training and the day before I left for a two-day trip to Madison, Wisconsin, so it took me a few days to get to it. Now I’m hitting “publish” from an airplane 30,000 feet up, zooming back to the Bay Area. We live in the future.)