I’m behind on the pictures post this week evacuee the Northern Exposure conference took up all of my weekend, and then their after party of adventures around Anchorage took up all of yesterday. I’m on a plane right now heading back to Juneau, so here’s the photo essay version of this art week.
Pulse! The annual Body Electric advanced women’s retreat is coming up at the end of July, and I’ve been working on it a lot this past week | Rand Leather wrist cuff (review to come)
cruise ships in downtown Juneau
sunset looking toward the valley. We watched four bald eagles fishing in the harbor while also watching the sun set around 10pm | the boy mowed the lawn (we’re doing a lot of house chores to earn our keep)
Mendenhall Glacier | Mendenhall lake and icebergs
the boy on the sandbar
rainforest | Devil’s club forest
Lupine in the meadow on the Boy Scout Camp hike
Friends walked out to the sandbar as the tide was going out | the boy carved an otter
From the plane flying into Anchorage … Chugak mountains, I think? On the way to Northern Exposure!
Welcome to Northern Exposure! | ha ha | Cleis Press’s contribution to the Northern Exposure vendor room
Epic brunch at Gwennie’s | the Northern Exposure afterparty! We all piled into cars after brunch and took a drive down one of the “most beautiful drives in the US”, Turnagain Arm. This is Beluga point
the Big Game Wildlife Refuge at the end of the Turnagain Arm drive
Baby musk ox | brown bears
the Big Game Wildlife Refuge musk ox
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I’m catching a plane tomorrow for Anchorage, where the third annual Northern Exposure kink conference will be taking place.
NE is run by Sarha, who was just sashed International Ms. Leather 2013 at the IMsL weekend and contest in April in San Francisco. I was on the judging panel for this year’s IMsL contest, and while I promise I didn’t play favorites (Alaska rules!), I’m thrilled that my home state is representing the leather community this year, and I’m really excited to participate in the conference she produces.
The lineup looks pretty incredible. Though NE is remote, Sarha has attracted an incredible group of presenters who are teaching on a wide array of advanced topics. I’m particularly interested in the many M/s workshops that are offered, and I suspect I’ll be sitting in on as many of those as I can, taking copious notes. That’s a recent study subject of mine that I am really enjoying delving deeper into. I’m also really excited that Midori is presenting! I have been in classes of hers before, but it’s been many years, and I’m looking forward to learning from her. Lee Harrington is also going to be teaching!
Northern Exposure happens to coincide with Pride fest, so Sarha hooked me up with the folks over there, and I’m going to be teaching Writing Dirty, my skills for writing about sex class, on Thursday night (tomorrow!). I’m up against Drag Queen Bingo, so I suspect it might be a small class, but I hope we’ll have some good discussions and write some interesting sentences. I LOVE teaching writing classes, and often the ideal class number is something like 7-12, so I will be very happy with a small class.
The boy is coming with me. We’ve met at leather conferences before, but aside from IMsL in April, we haven’t actually come and gone from one together. And at IMsL, we didn’t get to play much (you know, just once or twice a day for short scenes, no big epic gang bang like at Winter Fire, no long, elaborate scene like at last year’s IMsL. I’m glad he’ll be there with me. I’m only teaching one class, Cock Confidence, aside from the writing class for Alaska Pride, so I should have some really nice time to play.
(Hopefully I’ll come back with some good stories to tell y’all.)
And, speaking of IMsL.
International Ms. Leather 2013 Sarha and International Ms. Bootblack 2013 bella join the IMsL and IMsBB alumni on stage at this year’s contest and leather weekend
I’d never judged a leather contest before. I attended IMsL the year before, but I’m not particularly familiar with leather contests. I’ve been more and more involved with the leather scene in the past few years, attending more leather conferences, events, and happy hours, and participating in more conversations online about leather and reading up on leather history and culture, but I’ve only recently really come to understand the difference between BDSM, kink, and leather, which, though related, are slightly different.
I’ve been kinky since as long as I can remember, adding sensation play and power dynamics to my friendships, playtimes, and interactions since my first adolescent sexual experimentations, and probably even a bit before that. I’ve considered myself part of the BDSM communities since … well, at least formally since about 1999 when I got my official membership to the SPCC, the Sex Positive Community Center (now the Center for Sex Positive Culture) in Seattle. But I’d only ever really gone to classes or events to gain a particular skill to take back to my bedroom—I never really stuck around in the leather community.
Until recently. Really it was Dark Odyssey that started me on that path in a significant way. I thought I was familiar with leather culture and the kink/BDSM worlds, but when I started teaching more at leather events, I experienced how different it really was, and realized how I’d longed for leather community even without knowing it. I was on the board of the Lesbian Sex Mafia in New York City around that time, too—clearly seeking some more kinky community, not just to support my own kinky efforts but also to immerse myself in and learn new, different things.
I found a lot of what I was seeking at Dark Odyssey, and I found a lot of people who really felt like my people in a new way. (I’m kind of sad to be missing Fusion, which is next week! But it was either Fusion or Northern Exposure, and I’m so glad to be in Alaska right now. I don’t know if I’ll make it to Summer Camp in Maryland in September, but I would really like to. I’ve been two years in a row and I’ll miss it if I’m not there.)
So when I ran into Glenda Ryder, who runs IMsL, at Summer Camp last summer, I was thrilled to consider the possibility of being a judge for IMsL 2013. I knew very little about the history of leather contests, what it pertains, what a judge would do (aside from the obvious, duh), but I’d attended once (and watched almost exactly 20 minutes of the contest) and was interested in being more involved with leather culture, so I said yes.
The judges judging | The judges brief moment in the spotlight, onstage, when they introduced us
I spent more time with the judges panel than anyone else that weekend, and they were lovely people I’m thrilled to know. (One of my favorite activities was passing dirty fairy tale stories back and forth with Tillie during the contest.) It was great to spend some time with KD Diamond, and Sarah Vibes, both of whom I know from New York, and to meet Woody, the current International Mr. Leather, and hear more about the traditions of leather, fundraising, queerness, and history.I spent so much time at the contest part of the conference itself that weekend in April that I barely had time to do much else—I didn’t attend any of the workshops, though I wish I had. I did send my boy to attend a power exchange relationships class called “Exploring and Deepening M/s, D/s and PowerExchange Relationships” taught by Liza and Jody, which was excellent, from what he relayed, and he took many interesting notes and gathered some concepts we still discuss. I also participated in a author’s meet and greet with Mollena, Laura Antoniou, and Tillie King (one of my fellow judges), hosted by Mr. and Ms. SF Leather, where we read some snippets of our work (and got to see many of the literarily-inclined folks at the conference congregate in one place, which totally got me hard).
Oh! And, here’s a quick sidenote: Laura Antoniou read from her most recent book, The Killer Wore Leather, which is a murder mystery set at a leather contest conference weekend. I picked up the audiobook on Audible.com for the long 5-day drive through Canada to Alaska, and Rife and I have been listening to it and really enjoying it. The reader is excellent, and the story is really fun. It’s kind of amazing to see our community through an outsider’s lens, and it’s also a very tight insider’s satire. If you want to know more about leather community, this book is definitely a fun place to start. Full review to come when we finally finish the book.
I also taught a Flirting & Foreplay class, for which Rife designed a little IMsL flirting bingo card, which was a fantastic hit. I want to do that again, and I think all leather conferences should have a flirting bingo card in their conference bags.
I don’t have tons to say about the actual contest itself, aside from that it was a lot of fun. I enjoyed being behind the scenes but still in an important role as a judge, as someone described it to me that weekend. I don’t always want to have attention on me, but I do like to be important, somehow, so that felt good. I thought the contestants were incredibly well spoken, all had very impressive resumes (and formal leather), and had both new young spunkiness and wise experience from many years of serving and guiding and participating in these communities. I learned a lot.
I’d prefer to go to more classes, and I’m looking forward to being more of a participant at Northern Exposure this coming weekend than I will be working. I hope to have some fun, learn some things, and have lots of conversations about what it’s like to be kinky in Alaska.
I’ve got lots more things to say about Sarha and how she won (she won!) on an excellent platform about outreach to leather in little towns and not just big cities, how she excited (and kinda scared) everyone with her black bear fur lined chaps (where do you think leather comes from, folks?) and how it felt to have my Alaskan identity coming together with my queer and kink identities, too. I could talk about the MC and how unimpressed I was with her racist jokes (just because you “make fun of everybody” does not exclude you from racism). I could talk about the beautiful redhead who had a pet girl on a leash with her all weekend, and a new friendship and relationship that has bloomed from a distance. But this post is already 1600 words long, and it’s time to go to bed, even though it’s 10:44pm and the sky is still light.
It’s going to be even lighter in Anchorage. I’m really looking forward to soaking up all the midnight sun I possibly can.
(Official conference photos by Rich Trove, thanks Rich!, except for the instagram ones taken by me.)
Well, hi. I’m in Seattle tonight, but it’s the last night here before rife and I and his puppy begin the five-day drive to my hometown in southeast Alaska.
It’s been an incredible journey so far. Though the drive from San Francisco to Seattle could be feasibly done in a (long) day, I took my time and leisurely drove through Oregon, watching the ground change from brown & tan grass and green trees to green grass and evergreen trees. Forest green, I think they call that color.
pit stop in southern Oregon
faery sanctuary at Wolf Creek, Oregon
Black Butte, next to Mt Shasta, Oregon
I had this illusion like I would still be able to write stories and follow up on things while I was on the road. Um, so that has not really happened yet. Which means I haven’t sent a) the dirty story that I promised when you donated some $$, or b) the information about the internship position for Sugarbutch for the summer. Sorry about that. I promise they are coming, and will magically appear in your inbox at just precisely the right moment (for those of you who asked about those things). Sometimes reality checks are fantastic, and I’m observing my behavior and the reality of the situation a lot, trying to take it in and realize what I am actually capable of. I’ll be honest, I miss spending a significant chunk of time each day at my desk, at a computer, but I’m also very glad to be outside, exploring, interacting, adventuring.
Portland tour! Stumptown & Voodoo Donuts (Joe had to get the pink donut)
Mt Rainier national park
Seattle. (Exhale. Nowhere else feels quite like home the way Seattle does.)
Greenlake, one of my favorite Seattle parks | Polaris Leather Family crest, who so graciously put us up this entire week | sunset from the Edmonds-Kingston ferry when we made a quick jaunt over to the Olympic penninsula
Seattle forest view from a dog park
Shilshole Marina | boy on the friend’s boat | the Chittenden locks, where the man-made ship canal connects the lakes to the sound
At the poetry benefit show for Tara Hardy, which blew me away. She has been one of my great life mentors, and she’s recently developed a pretty severe auto-immune disorder (among, it seems, some other things). The community rally to support her has been huge, and I just happened to be in town when a community fundraising show was going on.
Fremont (Center of the Universe) | University of Washington! the dog in the quad & the broken obelisk
Coyote Grace at the Triple Door in Seattle. If you aren’t listening to their music (and you’re a fan of smart queer poetic folk-country), you are missing out.
Rife and I mapped out the drive between here and southeast Alaska this morning, and I think it’s going to take about five days, but we’ll be stopping at some beautiful places, including Takhini Hot Springs near Whitehorse, YT, which used to be a family vacation for me as a kid and which I haven’t visited for probably twenty years. It’s such a beautiful drive and I’m really looking forward to seeing the Rockies and the continental divide and the mountains and forests of my childhood.
I ran into a friend tonight (I run into a lot of people here) who asked what I was up to, and I said I was on my way home, mentioned that my dad died last year and that my mom was about to retire and his estate still needs a lot of work to settle, and that in addition to the help I can offer, I’m going through a big transition (breakup, move across the country) and sorting through “stuff” and making order out of chaos sounds so healing right now. I still seek and need integration time. That’s the purpose of this.
And while I still feel like that is just out of reach, it’s been incredible to spend a week in Seattle, to visit my godson and my favorite people and old and new friends, to go around to many of my old haunts, to introduce my boy to my people and my many Seattle reference points, and to just feel the earth here for a while. My parents both went to my alma matter, too, and spent many years here … I’m just so comfortable here. Which, to be honest, is part of why I left—I liked it so much, but it was the first place I really landed after leaving home, isn’t there some better place out there for me? Turns out, after criss-cross traveling this country for the last four years, there’s not really. Sure, many other cities are wonderful, but this one still calls me.
I have SO many more thoughts and things to write about, I have been scribbling like crazy in my notebook about posts and outlines and theories to flesh out. Still working on the follow through, the preparation it takes to hit that “publish” button.
But for now, tonight, it’s time to call it a day and get some rest before putting the car in drive and aiming north.
For more shots not published here, check out mrsexsmith on Instagram & follow along in my adventures.
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.
“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.