“I know I’m submissive. But where do I start?” aka “I just read Fifty Shades of Grey and I want THAT.”

1. Read a fucking book

Read fiction, sure—Carrie’s Story, The Marketplace series, Mr. Benson, The Leather Daddy and the Femme (these are some of my personal favorites)—hell, even Fifty Shades of Grey—read the fiction, but know that it is designed for one thing: Arousal. The reality of it is both much, much sexier, erotic, and mind-blowing and also sometimes very different, full of realistic mundane problems that aren’t sexy at all.

Read non-fiction. There are many good ones: ask a bookseller at your favorite local bookstore for recommendations on where to start if you’re exploring kink (I know, it’s old fashioned, but do it anyway.) Go in to your local feminist queer sex-positive sex toy shop (is there not a good directory for those online yet!?) and ask them for their book recommendations. Go to your favorite queer sex blogger’s list of recommended BDSM books on Amazon and browse around. Go intellectual-butt-sniffing (aka, look over their bookshelves) at your bibliophile friend’s place.

All of those recommendations are worth reading, but these are essential. Consider them assigned to you as homework.

You can do this step while you also do the other steps, but do not skip it.

2. Find a buddy

It doesn’t really matter where you find your buddy, but you gotta have that person you can talk to about this thing that is growing and that you are beginning to voice and give weight and value to. It’s great if that person has lots more information about kink than you do, if they can guide you on the path, if they can be your mentor, but that’s not the most important thing.

They must:

  • Feel safe to talk to
  • Listen to what you’re curious about
  • Be supportive and not judgmental, not shaming of your interests
  • Ask interesting questions

And, most importantly:

When you leave the conversations with this friend, you feel invigorated, empowered, stronger, braver. <— Pay attention to this, to how you feel after visiting with your friends and relations in general. You don’t need anyone else stomping on this new baby-green identity that is just starting to sprout and grow. It needs some scaffolding, a tomato cage of strength and nurturance around it, one that won’t disrupt it’s growth but is there if it needs something to hold on to, some guidance of how to get to the sun, some support if the fruits get too heavy.

Find those tomato-cage friends and lovers and confidants and beloveds. Identify them. They are out there. You probably already know a few of them.

3. Brave up and go to a Thing

BDSM, kink, and fetish events abound. You may not find “your people” or “your community” or your next mind-blowing fuck at the first, second, third, fifth, or even twentieth event you attend—but then again, you might.

Depending on where you live, this might be harder than it sounds. Your Thing might have to be on another coast, in another city, while visiting that one friend from college who is always posts “interesting” things on Facebook.

Look up whatever might be happening in your local kink community on Fetlife. (I wish I knew of another good source for you, but that’s the best I’ve got. And hey, I’ll be your friend!) Yes, you might have to wade through unsolicited solicitations. Yes, you might not have the exact right orientation or gender or fetish event that you’d really most want, in your heart-of-hearts, to attend. But that’s okay. You don’t have to go to the only very most perfect events. Go to the events that kind of weird you out, that you don’t get, that you are totally “meh” about.

Regardless of the Thing, you’ll learn. Pay attention. Put your phone away and really listen. Think about it as if you’re a scientist studying what these kinksters do. Why do they like it? What’s amazing about it? What makes them squirm, in good ways or bad ways? Even if it isn’t for you, you can still observe and learn.

The more brave you are, the more you’ll feel strong and capable and badass, and the more you’ll be able to do.

Of course, it doesn’t have to be in person, though I do encourage you to make sure to attend at least one kinky event every two months. But if socializing is too too hard, if your schedule just doesn’t work, it could be online. Lots of kinksters host online events. I’m just about to launch Submissive Playground for the second time, which is a more in-depth study for anybody who knows they’re submissive (of some kind) and wants to explore more submissive headspace. It’s great for folks who are beginners, for folks who have done so much kinky bottoming that they are practically bored and stagnant, for people without much kink community around them geographically, and for people wanting to dip their toes back in after something hard happened (be it a breakup or a bad scene).

Regardless, the point is to prioritize your kink. Prioritize your submission. It’s important, and nothing to be ashamed of.

4. Brave up and ask a top to play

Step 0: Go to a kink/bdsm/fetish Thing.

Step 1: Identify the hottest person in the room. If you’re trying to develop your submissive self, then filter for whether or not that person is a top. (Hint: You might not know until you talk to them!)

Step 2: Dare yourself to find a reason to talk to them, and say hi. Maybe it’s to give a compliment (people like compliments!) or ask a question (it’s flattering for someone to be curious!).

Step 3: Find common ground, and elevate the discussion. (This is something my mom taught me and I think about it all the time.)

Step 4: If you’ve talked for 2-5 minutes at the event and are still curious and have more compliments to give, offer your phone number. Ask if they’re on Fetlife and give them your user name. Say that you’d love to be in touch and talk more.

Step 5: If you’re really bold, ask them on a date. If you are less bold, ask them on a date via whatever contact information they give you or when they find you on social media or email you later.

One more note about asking tops to play:

They are not better than you are, they are not (inherently) sexier than you are, they are not more entitled to play than you are, just because they are a top and you are/might be a bottom. Tops sometimes act like they own the scene, but they don’t. They need you just as much as you need them, and they are just as nervous/excited/lonely/wishing for the right person to come along as you are.

Sometimes s-types are nervous about asking for dates or being forward, because that is seen as a trait that dominants or tops have. I say, fuck that. There are absolutely ways to hit on someone from a submissive or bottomy or masochistic perspective. The more you hit on people and the more trial and error you do, the more play you’ll get and the more you’ll be able to read the signs better and better.

Rife has some great tips for how to get more kinky play from a submissive’s perspective—Watch for his video on that later this week!

5. One last tip to help you open up your submissive world:

Recognize that no matter what you consume about submission, there’s no one right way to do it, and your way is just as good as anyone elses. You don’t have to love service, or being hit, or playing in public, or being naked, or having your orgasms controlled, or body fluids, or blood, or ANY thing at all really. Your kinks are okay and your icks are just fine too.

Whatever you learn through any sources you take in, people or meetings or mentors or books or events or lovers—you get to remix everything into your own identity, and who you are, wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, is exactly right.

PS: AMAZING illustration by rife, who drew an infographic for the stages of kink and power dynamic identity development and formation. (I helped with some words and theories.) Watch for the full thing to be posted in a few days!

Open Relationship Mini Interview with Mysty: Advanced Relationship Studies

Mysty Mayhem, Women Writing the Weird

1. What insight about open relationships do you wish you had when you started?

It’s ok not to have the answers. My husband and I joke now that we are in Advanced Relationship Studies, and that when we began exploring 13 years ago we were in Relationships 101. It’s definitely a learning experience and should be treated as such. The opportunities for growth are endless, but you have to be willing to admit failure and learn from mistakes. There is no “right” way to be in an open relationship. You have to find what works for you and your partners. Also, communication communication communication.

2. What has been the hardest thing about opening your relationship, and how have you overcome that?

We have been open since the beginning, really. When he and I started dating, I had a grrlfriend and I was very honest about my desire to be physically with other people than him. He was raised in middle class white America with the model for Leave it to Beaver in his home life, so he was somewhat resistant at first. I was (and am) unapologetically Queer. Open communication was the key to our success. I don’t gloss over my needs and wants, I try to be very transparent. This helped him to understand not only WHAT I wanted, but WHY I wanted it.

3. What has been the best thing about your open relationship?

Building strong bonds with so many fabulous people, having a large, loving, caring support system to share my life with, learning more and more about my primary partner, growing emotionally, mentally, and sexually in ways that would have been impossible in a mono relationship. And the sex :)

4. Anything else you’d like to add?

Sugarbutch fucking rules. That is all.

Which Side Are You On? (The New Ani Difranco Album)

I’m pretty excited about this album. I caught the preview when it was up at whichside.net and it came out yesterday, now it’s $3.99 on Amazon for the mp3 download if you’re into that kind of thing. And considering I’m trying to figure out what to do with my massive CD collection that is doing barely anything more than collecting dust, I’m not buying any new CDs anytime soon. Even Ani CDs.

I keep seeing write-ups that say—essentially or literally—”I think it’s safe to say at this point that the Ani many of us grew up on and love dearly (the self-titled/Out of Range/Dilate Ani) is dead and buried.” I find this kind of insulting, like saying that Tori Amos’s newest album isn’t Little Earthquakes, or my mom saying, “my little girl is gone” (hypothetically—my mom would never say that). I guess growth is important to me. These aren’t the only comments being made: in this Bitch Magazine interview says, “As I grew up and went on to college, Ani’s music came with me. ” But I hear the other kind of commentary more frequently.

I think there is a larger point attempting to be made with comments like that above, which is if you let go of your old expectations and really listen to the music she’s creating, there are some amazing things here, too, but I guess we as queer communities are holding too closely to the idealized Ani from the 90s. Personally I loved her dissonant sounding string of Evolve, Educated Guess, and Knuckle Down, I loved Reprieve, though I didn’t listen to Red Letter Year much. Not because it was happy, but because the lyrics and music seemed so thin.

But this one … more dense, more things to sink my teeth into. I’m glad to hear her use the word “feminism” in a song, though I question a little bit the nuance of her conversation in “Which Side.”I guess I like seeing the grey in-between things, and less worried about which side of the black or white.

Maybe I’ll get a more nuanced understanding of it after I spend more time with the album. I just downloaded it last night and look forward to having it on repeat today. Curious what your thoughts are—do you love the old Ani? Do you, like Jesse James, think her edge ended when she sang “I’m not angry anymore”? Are you looking forward to this album, do you like what you’ve heard?

The Struggle for Growth

The couple’s therapy session last night went pretty well, and I think we’re going to see her again.

The therapist mentioned the stages of a relationship, first by saying, “What stage do you think you are in?” and later by reflecting back to us that she thinks (and I agree) we are in a conflict stage, which is completely normal, after 2+ years, for the development of a long term partnership.

I spent the morning looking up articles on relationship stages. I think most of us can pretty easily identify the Honeymoon phase, or the NRE (new relationship energy) phase, which is pretty commonly discussed in my world anyway. It’s clear Kristen and I are past that … though to be honest, I feel a little sad about that, even just writing down that we’re no longer in it, I don’t want to admit that, to myself or to you, I’d rather be one of those couples that says, “The honeymoon never ended,” and be all blissful and gooey eyed at each other. I think I am grieving for that loss a little. We stayed there for a long time, certainly longer than I’ve ever been in it before, and we even were able to get back into that blissful wrapped-up-in-each-other feeling for a good year and a half into our relationship, maybe even a little longer.

I have read many books on relationships and taken some relationship classes, so it kind of surprised me that I’m not more familiar with these relationship stage theories. Some of the articles I read have four stages, some have five, some have five or six, some have eight, but all of them mention this key stage of growth, which is where I think Kristen and I are, and most of them refer to it as The Power Struggle. One place writes that it is “sometimes also known as the “Growth Struggle” by those who like to think positively,” which I think is more apt, not just because I like to think positively but because growth requires the temporary suspension of security, and that as much as many of us gives lip service to wanting to “grow,” most people don’t seem to be capable of doing so. And “growth” is what the Power Struggle actually means—we are struggling against each other, with power dynamics, monsters, whatever, and if we can work through it, it will be a huge stage of growth for us, into the next stages.

So, before I keep going into my personal reactions to these stages, here’s what I understand from my readings to be the major relationship stages, as compiled from multiple sources.

1. The Honeymoon

New Relationship Energy, Bliss, Enchantment, Falling In Love, Romantic Love—this stage has many names, but all the models I read seems to be clear and in agreement about what it does. It brings two people together, blissfully, and makes everything seem great. Better than great—wonderful.

“When you see things that you don’t like, you might deny or at least minimize them. You tend to go above and beyond what is required or expected. You feel energized, alive, and filled with new dreams.” Dawn Lipthrott writes at The Relationship Learning Center. She also explains that, “Your brain is flooded with feel-good neurochemicals like dopamine and PEA (phenylethylamine). Like most endorphins, PEA increases energy, feelings of well being, positive outlook, and diminishes pain. It increases sexual desire. PEA is what allows you to skip meals and sleep. If you usually tend to be anxious, PEA may help you feel safe and calm. If you are usually depressed, you might have more energy and see things more positively.”

Seems like most of these places say it tends to last 6-8 months, but completely vary depending on the couple and can be longer or shorter.

2. Settling In

Some places have more phases between the Honeymoon and the Power Struggle, like Discovery, and Commitment, or Accommodation , but most of the others go right into the Power Growth Struggle.

But I think there is more to the beginning of a relationship than just the blissful honeymoon, and that most of the time, more things happen before going right into the Growth Struggle.

“The initial excitement of being together is subdued so you can actually discover who the other person really is. You and your partner begin to discover each other’s quirks and neurosis, and you uncover things that bug you about each other. You also begin to discover what you truly love and respect about one another. Your communication should deepen to a soulful level, where you begin to open up to each other,” love coach Rinatta writes.

“Roles are established, expectations are set and compromises are made,” Dr. Marty Tashman writes.

I think Kristen and I spent a bit of time in this, settling in to each other, building, working on foundations, having small fights but recovering, still holding that deep bond between us. In relationships I’ve had in the past, we skipped this stage, and I think it’s important for a strong foundation.

3. The Growth Struggle

“Eventually, for virtually all couples, the enchantment phase ends, the drugs wear off and are no longer secreted, the negative traits emerge with a greater impact, wounds and protections from childhood start being activated and the relationship moves into the “Power Struggle”. Where a partner once wanted to spend lots of time and energy in the relationship … now the partner is quiet, pre-occupied, unavailable. … Where a husband or wife was, in the Romantic Phase, kind and respectful and listening; now in the Power Struggle Phase, he or she becomes impatient, authoritative, unresponsive … somehow familiar from childhood or teen experiences. This can be very distressing and even frightening. At some point there is often the panicky thought, “What have I done? I’ve married my Mom!” from Stages in Love Relationships, Gary Brainerd

“This is the stage at which most couples split up. The power struggle can be a gut-wrenching, painful place for a couple to be. This can be a time of arguments or silence, a time that truly will test the couple’s love. Couples at this stage wonder how they got here since it can come on unexpectedly out of nowhere. This can be a shocking stage for a couple,” love coach Rinatta writes. She continues: “There are two prime stumbling blocks. One is that when couples get to this stage they do not realize it is a normal stage for all relationships, and that they can get through it. Instead, the couple thinks something is wrong – perhaps they are no longer compatible or they no longer love each other. The second stumbling block is that the couple can get stuck in this stage, with one or both partners being unwilling to move forward.”

Men’s relationship advice (I know, cheesy, but I’m only picking what I think is useful and, in my opinion, accurate) says that the Growth Struggle is “a troubled – but necessary (like puberty) – developmental stage.”

Aha—puberty, I like that correlation. Awkward, bumbling, coming of age, growing up, sometimes it feels like the world is ending.

“I like to call this stage, “The Invitation to Growth.” It’s also a struggle for protection. One of the biggest illusions in our culture is that Romantic Love will last forever, if you just find the right partner. We hear that love is supposed to continue happening ‘naturally’ and if you have to ‘work’ on it, it must not be real love,” writes Dawn Lipthrott at The Relationship Learning Center.

I think more commonly in my life there is a sense that “relationships take work,” but also a lot of confusion about how much work is okay, how much is good, and how much is too much. But I like the idea of this being an invitation to grow.

How easy it is to forget that conflict and problems are invitations for growth, change, and evolution in general! This is a basic principle of Buddhism that seems to pop up in my life frequently, but somehow I can’t seem to remember it before I am already dragged down into the mud of, “Oh my god this is never going to change this sucks argh stuck stuck stuck.”

“In this 2nd stage, you might start feeling anxious or disappointed. Things that you once liked about your partner have become sources of frustration and hurt feelings. … Anger and resentment can build. Sometimes it feels as if you are walking on eggshells. Little things seem to so easily turn into big things.” Dawn Lipthrott continues. “For some couples this stage can get to the point of desperation where you’ve tried everything you know and it seems the only option is to get out—temporarily or permanently. … This stage can be the door to deeper connection and intimacy, and a fulfilling relationship, if you learn and use some of the tools to transform it into the path to real love. Conflict is growth trying to happen to help you and your partner realize more of your potential as individuals and as a couple! Conflict can be a door to healing and personal growth. Conflict is NOT the problem. What you do or don’t do with it can be a big problem.”

“There are no simple solutions to a power struggle in a relationship. It’s a complicated phenomenon that is inevitable. But it is resolvable,” Rinatta writes.

“If your relationship is not completely compromised, this is where you need to get help! No, not well-meaning friends or a self-help book – what you need is qualified, impartial third party assistance. Choose [a] relationship counselor in your area,” writes Men’s relationship advice.

“The Power Struggle is growth and healing trying to happen,” writes Gary Brainerd.

I don’t know how people resolve this on their own. Some couples must be capable of it, but I know I can really use some assistance. I’m not sure if any of my relationships have moved out of this phase, to be honest. They always end here, often because, in the past, my conflict resolution skills have been awful, with my tendencies to shut down and run away. I am working hard on that in my individual therapy work, and I’m definitely in a new place.

Because I haven’t really gotten out of this, I’m not sure what the next stages are. But I’ll try to summarize and bring together as much as I can, according to what I’m reading.

It seems like there are two options from the Growth Struggle: unresolved, and resolution. I’m interested in what happens when people stay in an unresolved relationship, it probably would explain a lot of my parent’s marriage, for example, but I’m more interested in a model that I can possibly follow, and a place for which to aim. So you can go read up on the further unresolved stages, though I’m going to focus on what happens when a couple is working toward resolution in this particular relationship stages model.

4. Transformation

Assuming the couple makes it out of the Growth Struggle and stays together, which it seems most couples can’t, the next step is work, work, work. And developing skills. And developing a common language to talk about our individual monsters, our needs, and our relationship’s needs.

“Couples who choose this route will find themselves learning a lot about themselves, about their partner, about relationships,” writes Brainerd. “The emotional patterns of each are clear and they have established patterns of dealing with their differences. It is common for problems to arise in this stage, but because you have already experienced a great many shared challenges, you stand the best chance of working through these issues,” writes Tashman.

“This is the stage in which you not only recognize that your relationship can be more than it is, but also that you have the power to make real changes. You choose to become conscious and intentional, and begin a whole new chapter in co-creating the relationship you both dreamed of,” writes Lipthrott. “In this stage, when you use good communication skills, you can gain new information and insights about yourself, about your partner, and about the nature of marriage or relationship. You discover the hurts, fears and unmet needs that are the roots of conflict and you can find more effective ways to address the REAL problems, not just the symptoms. … you consciously practice the skills you are learning about communication, stretching into new behaviors, creating emotional safety, etc. You become partners in the healing and growth of the relationship, your self and your partner. You hold in your mind and heart the vision of the relationship you want and you work each day to make it a reality. You also find that you are realizing your potential more in other parts of your life.”

“It takes a lot of soul searching, self-discovery, intimacy work and deepened communication to break out of the power struggle and move beyond it. Now both partners must grow emotionally for the relationship to thrive. Those who are committed to their relationship do grow, no matter what may be required of them. Think of this period as your second chance to create the relationship you have always wanted with a partner you have always wanted to be with,” Rinatta writes.

“Beyond the power struggle, in the transformation stage you understand that avoiding conflict is not an option any longer, as it makes you angry and resentful, shuts you down, and breaks the trust. You realize that guilt trips, justifications, blame, criticism, sarcasm, and violent behaviors deeply damage your relationship, brake your partner’s heart and destroy her respect. As hard as it may be, you must stop wasting time on useless distractions (TV, games, shopping, pointless activities) and start spending time with YOURSELF. Walk, run, or sit in quiet meditation; let go of your mind and enter your heart – the answers you are looking for are here. It is time to find yourself again: your needs, your wants, your passions and your dreams. Write them down. Keep refining and upgrading the old ones until you feel ignited again! Little by little, you start seeing your partner with new eyes: she is your best friend and you are both in this together.” writes Men’s relationship advice

Does that ring a bell or what? It seems like I have almost written that paragraph here lately, at least from the part about wasting time and spending time on myself. I have been feeling a strong pull to do that lately, maybe it will help me pre-build this transformation stage. Or maybe we’re already starting to be in it, since we are finally breathing a little more freely around each other, and I know I feel more hopeful that we can get through this than I have before.

5. Gold

That’s how the therapist last night referred to it, anyway: as in, “you hit gold,” or “you’re golden.” I forget what she said exactly, but it’s The Point, I guess. Eventually. I don’t know how long it takes to get there—probably depends on the Growth & Transformation stages, and maybe even once you hit Gold you still go back and grow and transform sometimes again. That would make sense, given that life is ever-changing, ever-evolving, and that there are always crises to deal with.

“It’s not that there will never be hard work or hard times again, but you have reached a new stage in your relationship – a stage where you cherish and treasure each other, appreciate the good, and accept the bad. You have bonded, connected, joined. Now this is what love is all about. … Life happens to a more mature, seasoned, happy and vibrant couple. You move together and separately through your life and know when you need to connect and when you need time apart. You know how to meet each other’s needs and seek increasingly deeper connection. Your relationship is the rock, the wellspring of love in your life.” Rinatta writes.

“This is the stage of deep respect and cherishing of one another as separate and unique individuals without losing the sense of connection. It is a stage of joy, passion, intimacy, happiness and having fun together. It is the stage of living out the vision of true partnership, unconditional love and safety, and of coming to see your partner as your best friend. It is the stage of moving toward the spiritual potential of committed relationship the journey toward wholeness, the love in which you taste Divine Love in whatever way you imagine or language that,” writes Lipthrott.

“The final stage … is what is sometimes called “Realistic Love”. It is a much higher level of marital or relationship satisfaction, but unlike the Romantic Phase, it is based on a mature, realistic love that is grounded in understanding, healing and growth. It is a goal worthy of the best you have to offer,” writes Brainerd.

“The stage of real love, or blissful relationship, is what follows after the winded journey of discovering each other and consistent personal growth for mutual healing in committed relationships. According to researchers, if you reach this ultimate phase of complete acceptance and love you are part of the lucky 5% of the couples who make it. Much like the first infatuation stage, blissful love is full of joy, passion, fun, and deep physical and emotional intimacy. But unlike that phase of “no control and least awareness” you now live out your vision of collaborative partnership, deep respect, and true friendship,” via Men’s relationship advice.

I know I’m giving you a lot of quotes here, but I can’t write from experience about these stages as much. I can probably summarize them (and maybe I will condense this down and into my own words, and pitch it elsewhere, as I keep thinking about it) but I’m still now just trying to understand what the phases are and how we move through them. I have a much better sense of that evolution than I ever did before—not sure how exactly I’ve skipped this theory in all my readings on relationships, or maybe it just never quite resonated because I never got to the Growth Struggle phase and thought that I would actually get through it, and wondered what was next. It was so clear in past relationships that we weren’t going to get through it, so the struggle was simply to get out, rather than to move on.

Here, though, the struggle is to move forward, to open up, to face the growth and transformation, and to keep turning toward this wonderful person who has chosen me, as I’ve chosen her.

My Father’s Son

The GoatWhen I saw him in September we camped in his family’s cabin. My grandfather built it with his own two hands and gave it to his children; now his own two legs, the prosthetics he got after both were amputated below the knee from diabetes, are the legs of the cabin’s kitchen table.

My two younger sisters and I slept in the cabin’s only room on pillows and dusty weathered couches as Dad woke and stoked the fire. Mornings at the lake are chilly, even at the peak of heat in August when the summer has been baking the water to its depths and swimming is the best. I watched him add kindling and logs and sometimes dozed off. He spread another blanket over me. When I woke I saw a forlorn gaze in his eyes I’ve never seen. What was he thinking? Was he wondering how his oldest daughter evolved into this boy? This big-city dapper masculinity that is too faggy to fit in with him and his brothers and all my older boy cousins as they discuss elaborately the latest football game, the way they fixed their trailers and trucks, what they caught when out fishing, how to clean the geoduck, how to make a perfect sausage-and-egg breakfast for ten, how to put on a wedding, how to give away the bride.

Dad, are you wondering how I got here? How I went from that tree-climbing skinned-knee ragamuffin girl to this prettyboy? From that girl who worked through her teens in your sports card shop, flirting with the boys as my girlfriends came in to seek sanctuary from the juvenile delinquent park hangout across the street when their feelings were hurt, when someone dumped them (again), when they got caught smoking, when they were being sent tomorrow to rehab or summer camp or anorexia camp or gay camp or bible camp.

I never was your tomboy daughter, never got in fights with the boys in the neighborhood, never stood up to the bullies of my younger sisters. I was the artistic one, moody, on my own. Studying my peers as we metamorphosed into our adult bodies.

We used to go on drives sometimes. After dinner restless, this was when neither of us wanted to be home, neither could stomach my mother’s depression. We’d go on drives and this was when you first told me, “I want to open up a store, right there maybe,” pointing at the empty corner lot that used to be a restaurant bar, at the mall on the wharf. “But my dream space,” he whispered, leaning in, “is right by Foodland.”

That was back when we shared our dreams with each other.

It was on one of those drives, too, where he saw a little silver Saab for sale and said, “that’s the kind of car I want to buy you.” I was fourteen and wouldn’t have a license for nearly ten more years. I couldn’t see myself as a driver, just as I couldn’t see myself as a grown woman, a wife, a mother, a panic that plagued my teens.

Recently on a road trip I saw a blue 1970s GTO and remembered some photos from my mom’s college album. “Hard top, 1964,” my dad emailed back. “Midnight blue, the original muscle car. I got it up to 100 easy on the road out to the cabin. I called the car my “Goat.””

Once, I told a lover that I was considering taking T. She had a string of baby trannys, she knew how to break us in over her knee. “You won’t turn into Cary Grant,” she warned me, and stopped at a photo of my father in the hallway. “You’ll turn into him. Look. Is that what you’re thinking you’ll be?”

I didn’t grow up in my father’s footsteps, but suddenly I’ve found myself standing in his shoes.

And now, fifteen years later, he moved his store right next to Foodland, the only grocery store downtown. A prime spot for retail. He has all but retired from the environmental engineering business upon which our family was built and now sorts sports cards, comics, coins from his father’s collection, from when the store opens at noon – so he can sleep in – to six pm, every day except Monday. “I’ve worked enough Mondays for a lifetime,” I’ve heard him say.

Now, fifteen years later, I don’t drive much; I take the subway and taxis but I still miss the stick shift in my hand and the dance of the pedals, just like you taught me. Now fifteen years later I can imagine myself as my father’s grown daughter, this “man” I’ve become, your son.

Three daughters and your wife, our mother, all in one house for nearly half of your life. Did you ever wish you had a son, Dad?

I wonder what he’s thinking, as this fire, his fire, warms our morning. He smiles at me with a look I’ve never seen.

“I sleep just like that,” he says. “With my arm over my eyes. You look just like me.”

In Praise of Femmes: Stretchmarks

Stretchmarks are one of the most gorgeous features of the body.

I like scars and beauty marks too – all tell the history of where the body has been, what it has been through. These are not things we are born with, but things that are painted upon the naked canvas of us as we grow and change and develop and blossom.

I love skin. Who doesn’t? The body’s largest organ, home of countless nerve endings, housing the sensations we all crave, touching and being touched, sensations from sandpaper to silk, from friction to feathers.

On women’s bodies, we tend to get them in delicate stretched lines around the edges of our breasts, and over our hips. Two of my favorite places to grip and take palm-fulls of flesh for stability and movement, two of the most sensitive curves of the body, ripe and ready to be directed, pushed, persuaded, maneuvered.

Stretchmarks record the pulling of skin over muscle and bone, remembering the change in the curve of the body. Oh, that is so beautiful. Sometimes I can feel these tiny indentations in skin where the turgidity changes, just a small ridge to the fingertip where there is a slightly lighter pigmentation to the eye.

They so often follow the curves of the body more intricately, more delicately, more beautifully than any tattoo or cutting, because the body itself made them.

Sometimes they run in such gorgeous lines [original here] around a curve that they look like the mouth of a river, they look like a tributary, stunning, the way a river hugs the earth, the way the skin stretches around bone, around sinew and muscle, around experience, around knowledge, around growth.