Books That Changed My Life

Back when Sugarbutch was a little baby new blog (did you know it will turn 4 in April?!), I used to write a Sunday Scribblings prompt often. This week’s prompt was “the book that changed everything” and I already happened to have a halfway done list in my drafts, so I figured I’d go back to it and finish it up.

It was going to be a “new year, new you” type of post, which gives away that I started it in January, and which kind of explains the self-help-y list. But of course I couldn’t make a list and show it off here without adding some of my favorite sex books, too!

But first, the stuff to enhance your renaissance-man (regardless of gender!) fabulous self. In alphabetical order:

  1. The Art of Civilized Conversation: A Guide to Expressing Yourself With Style and Grace by Margaret Shepherd. Excellent for dating, deepening relationships with people you already know and like, and generally elevating the discussion around you. I especially remember the part about how conversations between two people should start with facts, move to opinions, and then and only then should you discuss emotions.
  2. How to Cook Everything (Vegetarian) by Mark Bittman. Whether or not you know how to cook, this is a fantastic resource. I got a copy of the vegetarian version over the holidays. Though Bittman isn’t famous for his desserts (pastries aren’t really his strong point, or, let’s be honest, so says Kristen) he has a little bit of everything in here and chances are, it’ll be a great starting point, if not an excellent recipe. Lots of great tips for technique, too.
  3. The Modern Gentleman: A Guide to Essential Manners, Savvy and Vice by Phineas Mollod and Jason Tesauro. I have dreams of writing a butch equivalent, but shh that’s a secret. This contains excellent thoughts about conducting oneself socially, manners, conversation, style, how to tie ties, how to order drinks, how to be suave on a date, all sorts of things that a gentleman would want to know. Not impressed with the sex part (cheesy!) but hey you can’t win ’em all. Along with Dressing the Man: Mastering the Art of Permanent Style, this is one of the books about masculinity that I recommend most.
  4. The Power of Less: The 6 Essential Productivity Principles That Will Change Your Life by Leo Babauta. You probably already read Zen Habits, so you know Babauta’s style and simplicity. This book is a lovely collection of philosophies on productivity, minimalism, moving on, getting shit done, and focusing on what you really want to do. Along with The Four-Hour Work Week, this really changed my attitude about my time (a non-renewable resource!) and how I make decisions.
  5. There Is Nothing Wrong with You: Going Beyond Self-Hate by Cheri Huber. Huber is a buddhist monk, founded two zen monasteries in California, has written about twenty books, and travels widely. I found her writing when I was in high school and have been reading and re-reading ever since. It’s kind of self-help-y, yes, but there’s a lot of spirituality, philosophy, and psychology in it too, which the best self-help books contain. She has many other titles that I’d also recommend, The Depression Book: Depression as an Opportunity for Spiritual Growth literally changed my life when I first read it, and Be the Person You Want To Find: Relationships and Self-Discovery is a great book for those of us seeking long-term valuable love relationships. Speaking of love relationships, I can’t not mention If the Buddha Dated and If the Buddha Married by Charlotte Kasl. Both were very life-changing and eye-opening to my own patterns and tendencies, and very useful. Kasl is a buddhist quaker feminist psychotherapist, and her perspective is so full of lovingkindness and sweetness and understanding that you can’t not be drawn in, only to learn about yourself and your tendencies. Though it’s pretty hetero-focused in its example couples, I tend to change the pronouns (or pretend it’s a butch going by him/her and a femme). Kristen and I have been reading through it aloud and discussing it, which can be intense but has been great.

And because I can’t make a book list without having sex books on it:

  1. Moregasm: Babeland’s Guide to Mind-Blowing Sex by Rachel Venning and Claire Cavanah, founders of Babeland. I’ve already mentioned this book on Sugarbutch recently, but it’s worth mentioning again. Modern, fun, wide-ranging, inclusive, sexy, kinky, open, welcoming. And the design is just so damn cute. If I had coffee table books, this would be one of them.
  2. The Topping Book and The Bottoming Book by Dossie Easton and Janet W. Hardy. I recommend these books constantly to folks who want to get more involved in power play or topping and bottoming roles in their sex lives. So many of my philosophies come from these books, and they are incredibly full of useful tips and ideas about aftercare, safewords, top drop, negotiations.
  3. Urban Tantra: Sacred Sex for the Twenty-First Century by Barbara Carrellas. Tantra books are usually way too cheesy for me to even get through, and I have some experience with tantra. But this one is different. Carrellas (@urbantantrika) is as grounded as she is woo-woo, as queer and kinky as she is accessible and open. If you’ve always been curious about tantra, this is a great place to start.
  4. Opening Up: A Guide to Creating and Sustaining Open Relationships by Tristan Taormino. There are very few smart books written about polyamory and open relationships (The Ethical Slut, now in a new edition, by the authors of the Topping/Bottoming Books, being the classic cannon), and this is the most recent. I’ve admired Taormino’s work for a long time, since her sex column at the Village Voice (collected into a book called True Lust), and she’s done some pretty amazing things in mainstream porn since then. I love that she’s bringing and underground queer feminist perspective to the things she’s doing, it makes her work even more complex and fantastic. Her most recent book (aside from Sometimes She Lets Me: Best Butch/Femme Erotica!) is The Big Book of Sex Toys, which I don’t have my hands on yet but will be reporting all about when I do.
  5. Exhibitionism For the Shy: Show Off, Dress Up and Talk Hot! by Carol Queen. The Amazon description says “[e]xhibitionism as a consensual erotic pleasure and a means to overcome shyness and body image issues” and I LOVE that idea! I’m not actually sure where my copy of this has escaped to, perhaps I lost it in a break-up, but there’s a relatively new edition from 2009 that I should get my hands on regardless. Want to feel more sexy, show off, but feel self-conscious? Pick up this book. In case you don’t already know Carol Queen, she’s the owner of the Good Vibrations toy shops and director of The Center for Sex and Culture in San Francisco. She also wrote one of my favorite erotica books, The Leather Daddy and the Femme.

Whew! Okay, that should keep you busy for the next few months, hm? I hope at least one of these is interesting and might enhance your life in some way. Books can be so magical like that.

I’ve included the links to Amazon, and while if you click through those links I do get a teeny tiny kickback from your purchases, I still encourage you to visit your local independent bookstore and support them by ordering these books through them. If you want them to be around next year, that means spending your money in their shop. I know they aren’t as cheap as Amazon, and probably not quite as convenient, but you’ll miss them when they’re gone. Or at least, I will. A lot.

So? What books changed YOUR life?

quarterlife crisis decisions

“It is our decisions
who make make us who we are,”
she used to say to me. Sometimes
that is all we have. The ability
to decide. To choose.

Even with all the social
inequities, we all still
get the same basic things,
in this life here on this planet:
our brains,
our bodies,
and time.

It is what we decide to do
that makes all the difference.

So what am I doing here?
What am I going to decide
to do with my time? What
are the particular ways
that I would like my mind
to grow and change
and evolve and work?
I do have some ideas,
but it seems like – that
age-old cliche – life
gets in the way.

I need focus. Laser-beam
steady focus, pointed precise
direction, precision. I’m not sure
how to gain or maintain that when
everything seems related to what
I want to do, where I want to go.
I’m not sure how to cut things out
when I so enjoy every aspect, the
book group, the writing group, the
drinks with friends, the parties,
the concerts – then of course there’s
the practical parts, the health,
exercise, eating right, taking care
of my body, then there’s money,
there’s my “career” –

all of this hanging in the balance
and I have to decide
what to cancel, what to prioritze
what to celebrate, what to remove
from this delicate balance

inevitable winter

sunday scribblings, rooted

I want to get to the root of this. Dig it up, look at it, dip it in water to wash the imperfections clean, to give it a fresh start. Find the source of the root ball and strip away the dirt. Strip away everything that isn’t root.Sometimes trees seem so deeply rooted in the ground that their trunks seem like arms, their branches hands, their roots hands gripping the soil. And sometimes it seems the soil grips back, tightens, tenses around the tree to hold it firm in place.

In New Orleans, after Katrina, the trees that were left standing had protected the house next to which it was planted. The trees that fell often damaged more than the storm.

And it was the native trees, the ones who had been interacting with that particular land for the longest, that didn’t fall.

I want this with you. I want to dig my roots in and feel you grip me. I want to discover where I’ve come from by creating somewhere to go.

Right now, I can only see the trunk, can only see the leaves, and they are budding, they are quivering with blossom in the ready, they are tiny young leaves so baby-green and fresh, ready to burst into something grand, ready to spread and open and course chlorophyll through the veins of it until it courses its last green and turns to yellow, orange, red.

It’s beautiful, my darling. The way things grow and change and come forth in spring.

But if it is not rooted it will not last through winter. And winter will come, yes, the seasons change, the cycles go on, and we are nothing but animals on this miraculous circular ecosystem, after all.

secret identity

for sunday scribblings

I keep myself separate.

When I began the project of myself, I created a separate me for all of you to see. So many untruths, especially in the beginning. Of course, like all self-projects, it morphed into just one particular thread of truth, the bright silver-purple shining thread that I usually keep hidden in the center of all my cords and wires and ribbons, occasionally allowing a glimpse of its shimmering color but mostly it stays hidden, close, closed.

You have such slender fingers. You can easily pick the silver-purple thread out of the bunch and smooth it, soothe it, detangle it from all the rest and point it out to me, show me the places where the edges are frayed and breaking, thin, where things need repaired, where my old repairs of electrical tape and wood glue aren’t holding anymore.

Don’t look at that. Don’t shame me by seeing the pieces underneath what I am ready to show you. Those are my secret threads of light, the ones that make up my very core, the ones that I caught on a moonbeam and tightrope walked and strung up to make holiday lights in pine trees and the lifelines I caught every time I threw myself overboard to drown. Don’t look, don’t see.

I keep myself secret. Sometimes I don’t mean to, it’s just the core of me is so spiderweb thin and glistening, delicate, so easily damagable with even the slightest of breaths, the slightest of soothing caresses. And you want your fingerprints all over it, you want to leave marks, to rearrange and untie carefully knotted holding places and you want to touch the scars with your own fingers and pretend like you understand where they came from.

I don’t even know how you got inside of there. Did I let you in? Did I give you the key, the combination?

There are places in me no one gets to go. The caves of me, dark and damp and dank and full of refuge, where I drag everything back inside and sort through it all, discard what I don’t need and store the rest.

I choose how much to reveal and where. I choose when to show myself. You don’t get to show up and sort through the mush yourself. I know I’ve asked you not to.

Go ahead, tell me I’m not integrated. Tell me I’m living in secret, in hiding, in shame. This is the only way I know how to do this, and it is all I have, for now.

from the inside

Sunday Scribblings

This is how it went.

I wanted to say a red goodbye. A crystal goodbye. A goodbye hanging from the rafters of an old cabin in the woods, smelling of cedar and damn rainforest. A goodbye echoing off the silence of an underpass. Goodbyes the size of snowflakes, goodbyes the color of air on a hot day.

I wanted to say goodbye, and again, and again. You didn’t let me.

Instead, you fought. Brought me candles with flames, tall, and bright as the moon. Brought me mirrors in which to see myself. There are no goodbyes in moons and mirrors. Goodbyes in flames are flippant, final, but goodbyes in glass are generous. Giving.

This is how it went. But it didn’t have to go this way.

It could have been a brutal goodbye. The kind that tears up lungs and throats and insides and then wrecks your paper heart. The kind that tosses aside apologies like confetti. A party on your back. Chipping off bone from your spine like roots pushing up a sidewalk made of brick. From the inside.

That’s what you do. From the inside. A crystal goodbye echoing cedar smelling of rafters the color of someone leaving. Someone. Anyone. As if there is some definition of what that is: leaving. Left. Going. Gone. As if I can write these words and let you know what I mean when I say them. As if we have some sort of understood meaning between the times that my brain decides these words, my fingers tap these keys, your eyes scan these letters. There is no way to know what words are sparking what colors of goodbye inside of you. Only inside of me.

Only goodbyes are the color of goodbyes, and very few of us will ever know what it’s like to have the roots of a tree set us free.

sunday scribblings: fantasy

She is the fantasy, and I am the dreamer. Or perhaps it is she who is the dreamer: she is the one who is always creating meaning from metaphors and analyzing the superstitions that are coming between us: bread and butter. Knocking the tree spirits awake and away we beg for forgiveness for being so presumptuous that we would know what is to come ahead of us. What nausea will pass and what we will be doing to ring in the next new year. How much of this will we weather? I already know how and where our great downfalls will come: flattery. Consumption. The great flaw of sunshine on a winter’s day.She is the fantasy, and I am the dreamer. She is the dreamer, and I am the magician with the magic hat who watches from the edge of the room after she cries herself back to sleep, never knowing which magic spell will bring her back into herself.

I have created a swirling romance around her. Sweltering inside a coil of smoke, a glass wall such that I cannot reach her. But that I did not place around her. Did not choose to erect such a barrier between us. She did, when she chose to dream me. I did, when I discovered the fantasy of her was more real than the real skin touch of her hand, her thigh, her kiss.

Is it only the dreamer who comes up with such fantasies? Perhaps I would rather be a writer than a dreamer, so I can write myself into something as solid as stones.

thirteen and a half times

in the last hour
I only thought about you
and a half
timestwice I thought of your legs your thighs clad in jeans or skirted fabric swirling or stockings (god) the way your knees touch when you’re driving the way your ankles curl when you walk – but then I stopped thinking of your legs your thighs the curve of the back of your knee ’cause my attention slips quickly quietly to the s of your spine down your backside – and I get easily distracted there, so I try not to think of your lovely, long legs

three times I thought of your luminous smile, the way your cheek feels like silk, like velvet, like ice cream melting when you’ve just come in from the cold night air

once I thought about twirling you on the dancefloor, leading you in inside-turns and outside-turns, in the sugarpush and the skid-pass and the charleston, circling around each other until we come back into a closed basic and I can kiss you as I hold you close and dip you low

twice I thought about the curve of your hips, the bone of your pelvis and how it fits next to mine like puzzle pieces like the cap of a pen clicks onto the barrel

once I thought of that look you gave me across the room, from the couch, which said, take me and i’m yours and i love you and i wish you were inside me right now and i still feel you everywhere (or maybe that’s what my look said) and I wanted to jump, dive, claw, climb out of my chair over to you, push everyone out of the way so I could taste you, put my hands on your skin, hear to you gasp, breathe into my ear, hold you close

once I thought of the way your fingertips feel on my neck, casual, the way you leave them there while we sit in a circle of friends

twice I thought of that way you laugh when you’re nervous, gentle and slow, while your eyes dance, searching for recognition, searching for someone to see you

once I visualized you in a rocking chair, homemade hippie afgan wrapped around your shoulders, cradling a baby, looking up at me with a look that said, look what we did, or we should do this too, or I’m an aunt, or isn’t this amazing, or awe – I’m not sure what it was, but you looked at me and saw me and I wanted to lasso the moon for you, wanted to sing buffalo gals won’t you come out tonight, I want to see that look again & again, what could I possibly do to get you to look at me like that, I would do anything

then I thought of all the things I’ve said to you, all the ways I want to tell you I adore you, I desire you, I want to know you, want to hold you, want to watch you grow and hold my hands like a stirrup you can step into, hands on my shoulders, so you’ll be able to reach the windowsill two floors up – and that was maybe more about me but half about you too, cause you’re holding your own and you’re holding me and we match blend mix together like a potent chemical combination, combustible, barely contained

and a half
isn’t very many
considering how many hours
your magic
your trilling, smoky voice
your sweet smile
your raw insights
have taken flight, making nests
inside my canopies
settling in
hour after hour
after hour

Inspired by the Sunday Scribblings prompt “in the last hour.”Update: featured on the Fleshbot Sex Blog Roundup 08 December. (Thanks Jefferson!)