Vacation Photos: Siena, pt. 1

Siena, sunset

Siena

Tomatoes

Duomo di Siena

Duomo di Siena

Duomo di Siena

Duomo di Siena

Duomo di Siena

Piazza del Campo

Piazza del Campo

I think it’s only normal to draw comparisons between new places to cities we’ve already visited; Florence reminded me of Paris, and Siena reminded me of Ghent, Belgium, which we visited in 2012. Meaning: it’s tiny! Adorably small, less touristy than Florence and Rome, certainly, but equally as deserving of a visit. We stayed a ten minute walk from the center of Siena, just outside the walls that fortified it in the 14th century, and the views from our apartment’s balconies (plural. There were three!) were magnificent. The brick buildings and the town’s Duomo caught the sunlight so beautifully, we found ourselves just staring at it in disbelief.

We arrived on Sunday and were scheduled to drive back to Rome for one last day early Wednesday morning, which honestly gave us too much time in Siena. We decided to spend a full day exploring and visiting the main sites, and then on Tuesday, take advantage of having a car and drive to other small towns around Tuscany that were harder to reach. This ended up being the perfect amount of time to really take in everything Siena had to offer. It’s a wonderfully quaint city, and fantastically easy to get lost in, as all the streets seem to run in concentric circles around the main square, the Piazza del Campo. We were blessed with really picture perfect weather the whole time, too.

I was more than ready to let go of what happened earlier in the morning in Vicchio, only it seemed like the universe didn’t feel the same way. We popped into a café in Siena and I ended up getting locked in the bathroom, a tiny, suffocating space at the end of a long, deserted hallway. I’m claustrophobic, so you can only imagine how delightful this experience was. The walls started to narrow-in on me, and despite my initial, normal-volume calls for help, I ended up having to scream bloody murder for someone to come get me out. (Jamal said I’m really, really loud, which naturally I took as a compliment). I recovered, spilling onto the street taking huge gulps of air, only to go to lunch and order lasagna, and have it arrive made entirely of veal. I learned this after eating a few bites and not recognizing the taste or texture of the meat. I don’t eat veal.

I refused to let that series of events ruin the entire day. Sure, I’d faceplanted in the forest and broken my camera. Sure, I’d ruined a pair of pants. Sure, I’d gotten locked in a bathroom. Sure, I’d accidentally eaten veal. But I would not be broken! I was going to have a good day if it killed me, because we were on vacation goddammit. So we went out for a glass of wine before dinner, to prove I couldn’t be broken by a few mildly traumatizing experiences to the point where I was incapable of enjoying the soothing, universal cure-all that is happy hour. Besides, what else could possibly go wrong? Hadn’t I suffered enough that day?

lolnope.

Because as we took a seat at a sweet outdoor table, on a cobblestone street facing a tiny square, with the golden, early-evening sun streaming in over the old stone buildings, and ordered our wine, I got pooped on by a bird. Splaaaaat. All over my hair, my scarf, and my bag. Honestly, all I could do was laugh (and then cry from the depths of my destroyed soul in the phonebooth-sized bathroom as I wiped bird shit off myself). When I came back to the table I power-chugged my entire glass of wine, chuckling at the sheer ridiculousness of my day. Jamal took me a fancy dinner where I ordered a bottle of Prosecco for myself, along with a large pizza and a plate of spaghetti carbonara, because, really, there’s nothing carbs and bubbly can’t fix.

Vacation Photos: One Night in Vicchio

Villa Campestri

Villa Campestri

Villa Campestri

Villa Campestri

Villa Campestri

Villa Campestri

Villa Campestri

Villa Campestri

Villa Campestri

Villa Campestri

Villa Campestri

Villa Campestri

Villa Campestri

The rain that had dogged us for so much of Florence followed us out of the city on Saturday, as we picked up our rental car and drove into Tuscany. We’d made reservations at an olive oil resort near a small town called Vicchio, about an hour northeast of Florence. The drive alone charmed the pants off of us; every hill we crested afforded us these unbelievable views of the Tuscan countryside, and all the mental images those two words conjure up are spot on or, if possible, better. Even overcast, there’s no denying the beauty of it.

But I’ll level with you: I hate nature. I can’t take it. I need concrete, and skyscrapers, and noisy urban life. The solitude of nature that many find so relaxing, that people seek out for its tranquility makes me so desperately uncomfortable I can barely articulate it. I hate the bugs, I hate the quiet, I hate the knowledge that someone could come murder me and no one would hear me scream. I remember enjoying camping with my dad when I was a kid, but that might have been because he bribed me with a Camping Barbie (she had her own lantern and hot pink hiking boots). But if there was anything that was going to win me over, it was Tuscany.

It had a large job ahead of it. And it knocked it out of the park, despite the way our little country-mouse weekend ended (we’ll get to that).

I’d written about Villa Campestri before we left, and though I’d seen photos and scoured online reviews all singing its praises, I still couldn’t believe anything could be so beautiful. A cluster of stone villas, pale gravel paths lined with tall, pointy Cyprus trees, lemon trees, the works. We were upgraded to a two bedroom, private villa, with a fireplace and full kitchen, immediately making us regret the fact that we were only staying the one night and not, you know, forever.

It rained the rest of the day, so we stayed in the grand living room of the main villa, curled up on the sofa, playing chess and reading. The front desk had given us a cute map of the property, with four different nature walks they recommended, peeling off in different directions and all promising a payoff of things like an ancient stone wall, beautiful babbling stream, or a panoramic view of the area. We smartly decided to wait until the weather was better before attempting any of them, and lazily whiled away the hours sipping tea, having a beer, or just staring out the wide glass doors at the back of the house into the gorgeous, rain-soaked landscape. It felt indulgent, and was a welcome change of pace from all the running around we’d done in Rome and Florence the whole week previously.

We had dinner at the main house that night, and got to have a tasting of their signature olive oil, as well as two others from Spain and northern Italy. They all varied in color from lime green to a deep, golden yellow, and were just as different in consistency and flavor. Forget wine flights, give me an olive oil flight any day. That was a big reason we picked Villa Campestri, being the olive oil fiends that we are, and we’ve already agreed to go back at the end of the harvest season one September or October, to see how they do everything from plucking the olives to bottling it all. We took our unfinished bottle of wine back to our villa, and lit a fire without realizing that the flue was closed for the season, so we ended up smoking ourselves out and nearly dying of smoke inhalation. We hid in the bedroom and turned on the Eurovision Song Contest, which was fascinating. Why can’t we stream that in the states??

The next morning, the sun finally decided to make an appearance. After a delicious breakfast of fresh-squeezed orange juice, soft boiled eggs, fresh yogurt covered in honey the resort produced itself, and way too many mini brioche buns, we picked a path from the map they’d given us, and set off, up through their vineyards on flat, slightly inclining ground. Easy enough, though the further we climbed away from the main house, the more taxing it got. The ground had dried somewhat overnight, thankfully, but was still damp. Undeterred, we pressed on, the leftover dew on the tall grass soaking through our shoes. I was trying to be a good sport about it, because this was Jamal’s vacation too, and it’s a compromise, and that’s what marriage is all about. And honestly, the views were spectacular, so it was easy to suck it up and march on. We caught sight of the heavy fog hanging low over the valley, dark blue hills in the distance and green squares of farmland and vineyards spreading out into the distance. It was breathtaking. Nature isn’t so bad, after all!

Until we get a little deeper into the woods, and the path becomes less of a path and more of, well, straight up forest, dotted occasionally with a signpost confirming that we were still going the right way. The terrain is muckier here, wilder. I send Jamal ahead of me, because I was not going to be the one to walk through the inevitable spider web floating between two trees. We walk on for about fifteen minutes, our voices the only noise we hear aside from happily chirping birds and the soft rustle of the wind. I’m swatting around me like an idiot, just to ward off any creepy crawlies, and then the path turns rocky and dips downward toward a muddy stream, before picking back up on the other side in a steep incline. There’s no way we’re making it. Especially because at the top of the next hill, it’s all wild overgrowth. It doesn’t even look like we’re on the path anymore. Even Jamal agrees we should turn back and satisfy ourselves with the views from the top of the vineyard we passed, rather than trekking further in.

(I want to pause here and point out that I was wearing white jeans, because of course I was, because I have nothing even remotely resembling “Nature Clothes” and even if I did, I didn’t pack them.)

So we’re standing there, surveying our options, Jamal standing below me near the stream bed, and we decide to turn around and hike back. There’s a massive rock on the slope of the path, but I got down it just fine, so going back up shouldn’t be a problem.

It was a problem.

My foot slips on the rock, but I’m already too physically committed to going up that I can’t recover my balance, and then I’m aware that either I am getting closer and closer to the ground, or the rock is somehow moving closer to my face. I let out a wailing, slow motion, “Nooooooooo” and then it all happens at once: my foot goes out from under me with a squeaky slide, and I land hard on my knees and palms on the mossy, muddy rock, and my camera, which is slung over my shoulder by its strap instead of safely in my bag where it ought to have been because OF COURSE IT IS, swings forward, smacking the stone lens-first with a sickening crack.

There’s a pause, a long moment of silence as my brain registers what just happened, and when it does, I explode, literally, into tears. Ugly crying, bubbling snot everywhere, and inarticulately shrieking in pain and panic: “MY CAMERA IS BROKEN,” only it’s coming out closer to “HanfgsgahNAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHH.” My hands are filthy, brown with wet mud, and there is dirt caked into my camera in places there should never be dirt. My white jeans are now a nauseating shade of yellow-y brown, with little pieces of grass stuck to the knees for good measure.

Magically fortified by adrenaline and desperate to get back indoors to the safety of NOT NATURE, I take off in a sad, limping sprint, Jamal simultaneously running behind me and ducking in case I whirl around and spray him with snot. I’m covering the messy terrain with ease, likely because I’m stomping like a pissed off giant. He somehow has my camera, I forget how he got it, and he’s handing me tissues over my shoulder at a jog, trying to test the shutter and realizing what I know to be true: that when the delicate little glass lens made contact that motherfucking rock, the motor that controls the autofocus broke immediately.

We make it back to our villa, and I strip off my pants and set to work cleaning my camera. By the grace of whatever higher power had my back that day, the lens still works in manual focus, but takes some serious muscle to adjust properly. The lens is replaceable for about $100. The camera body was $1800, so I was relieved beyond words.

I’m mostly mad that I ruined our weekend by being so stupid. Because really, it was SO STUPID. They tell you not to hike through the woods with your camera out in the open for exactly this reason. Had it been in my bag, I would’ve brushed my hands off on my already-ruined pants, and gotten along with my day. Instead, our glorious weekend trip to Tuscany ended with me disturbing every nature creature within a three mile radius and riding pantsless on the way to Siena. Sorry, Jamal!

You can’t take me anywhere.

Vacation Photos: Florence, pt. 2

Basilica di Santa Croce

Florence

Florence

Florence

Florence

Mercato Centrale

Trattoria Da Rocco

Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore

Florence from above

Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore

Florence

Piazza di Santa Croce

David, Galleria dell'Accademia

Ponte Santa Trinita

Piazzale Michelangelo

Florence

Okay, so maybe it didn’t rain the entirety of our stay in Florence, though it certainly felt like it at the time. There was no in-between there with the weather; it was either gray and raining or bright and gloriously sunny. Florence reminded me a lot of Paris in its extreme meteorological pendulum swings, that, while dramatic, charmed you either way. Our itinerary had us in Florence from Wednesday afternoon through Saturday morning, but we both agreed we could’ve spent a lot longer here. It’s not hard to see why, especially once the weather improved.

At check-in, our Airbnb host insisted we visit the Piazzale Michaelangelo, a garden and piazza nestled high in the hills on the southeastern part of the city. The view, he said, would be worth the climb. He was right. We went late one night, after a long and delicious dinner (a common theme) we wound our away across the Arno and up up up to the expanse that overlooked the city. On our next trip back (because yes, there will be a next time) I really want to camp out there for a full day and photograph the city from sunrise to sunset.

We also climbed 414 steps the top of the Campanile, or bell tower, next to the famous Duomo in the center of town. If you’re going to Florence, seeing the Duomo is a must; The Cathedral itself took almost 600 years to complete (from 1296 to 1887), and its famous dome, built by Filippo Brunelleschi, is a marvel of ancient architecture. It’s incredible. But I’d skip climbing it in favor of the Campanile, because that way you can actually see the Duomo from the top. Sorry for another Paris-comparison, but I make the same recommendation when it comes to the Eiffel Tower: skip going to the top, and instead climb the Arc de Triomphe, where you get to see the Eiffel Tower from the top. It’s the best part of the city’s landscape, and you can’t see it if you’re on it. The same logic applies for the Duomo.

And then of course, there’s Michaelangelo’s David. Nothing prepares you for its grandeur the first time you see it in person. It’s massive, and completely breathtaking.

But I think my favorite part of the whole trip was wandering around the Mercato Centrale, a sprawling, two story indoor food market (which we ducked into to avoid yet another flash rain storm, ha) and watching Jamal’s face light up at every vendor and stall we passed. “Look at the fresh octopus!” “Look at the size of those artichokes!” “Real San Marzano tomaotes!” The best: “Wow, imagine if we lived here. I’d be here every Saturday morning buying food for us.” Swoon.

Vacation Photos: Florence, pt. 1

Via della Vigna Nuova

Galleria degli Uffizi

The Birth of Venus

Florence

Rain

Ponte alla Carraia

Bicycles, Santa Trinita

Bicycle, Florence

Bicycle, Florence

Florence

Reflection, Piazza Santo Spirito

Florence

Florence

Ponte Vecchio

Ponte Santa Trinita

Does anyone remember this old Kodak commercial from the 90s? A couple is looking through photos from their honeymoon in Hawaii, and after everything the wife says (“It was romantic,” and, “It was exotic.”), the husband says, “It rained.” That’s what our time in Florence felt like. It rained! We went to the Uffizi Gallery and saw Botticelli’s “The Birth of Venus.” It rained. We ate some of the most delicious gelato on the trip. It rained. We had lunch at a teensy prosciutteria (aptly named La Prosciutteria) where they slice cured meats to order; I had prosciutto and herbed ricotta with honey and it was out of this world. And then it rained. We walked to a sprawling indoor market and ate a delicious meal at a little lunch counter run by an old man named Rocco. And oh, yes, it rained.

But even all that rain couldn’t put a damper on how wonderful of a city it is. It’s more quaint than Rome, and just lovely. I think it was my favorite city out of everywhere we visited in Italy, in sort of a Golidlocks way: smaller than Rome, but bigger than Siena. Juuuust right. It’s visually stunning, too, a real treat to wander and explore. And since so much of the city is clustered right against the Arno river, you’re always crossing bridges and being afforded gorgeous vistas. The whole city felt safe and inviting, no matter where we trekked (and we covered quite a bit of ground in the three days we were there).

We did get some sunny patches in between all that rain. You know what else there was a lot of? Bikes! Bicycles everywhere. Old, young, and everyone in between rode a bike. What a life! Perhaps my favorite thing about life in Italy was the daily occurrence of ‘apertivo.’ Usually between the hours of 6-8pm, with some variance, bars offer a generous buffet of cold and hot dishes you are free to stuff your face with for just the purchase of a cocktail. It’s the most magical concept (and one that would never work in the states without contributing to our already raging obesity epidemic) and while you could technically make an entire meal out of just the apertivo offerings, we always followed it up with a full dinner, because it’s Italy, and you don’t pass up dinner. Anyway, apertivo was my favorite, but my second favorite thing was how little reliance there is on automobiles. (This is true for everywhere I’ve been in Europe, adding just one more thing to the column of “Things They Get Right,” along with universal healthcare and an emphasis on quality of life in general.) Buses were always packed, locals walked everywhere even in the rain, and almost everyone owns a bicycle. We’d hear the happy chime of a bike bell with regularity, a noise I will forever associate with the small, crooked alleys of Florence, along with the sound of bike wheels on damp streets, like someone peeling off long strips of tape.

Did I mention it rained?

Vacation Photos: Rome, pt. 1

Ristorante Sabatini, Trastevere

Piazza di Santa Maria in Trastevere

Piazza di Santa Maria in Trastevere

Vintage Fiat!

Caffe

Rome

The Colosseum

The Forum

Piazza della Bocca della Verita

Piazza di San Calisto, Trastevere

Carbonara, Ristorante Carlo Menta

Piazza di San Calisto, Trastevere

Making friends with the locals

Carciofo,

Creeping vines

Rome

We arrived in Rome on a gloriously sunny Sunday afternoon. After checking into our Airbnb rental, and in an effort to stave off jetlag and resist the urge for a quick nap, we quickly set out to get a lay of the land. No easy feat, considering we were staying in the Trastevere neighborhood of the city. Full of windy, tucked-away streets, cobblestone piazzas, and endless old-world charm, Trastevere sits on the south bank of the Tiber river and was just far enough off the beaten tourist track to really give us a sense of how the locals live. (We basically found the Montmartre of Rome.) We decided to familiarize ourselves with our new, temporary home, and save all the major sightseeing –including the Colosseum and the Forum– for Monday. We stayed in Rome for three and a half days, and could’ve spend the full two weeks just there. There was so much to see and discover on both sides of the river, and while we mostly stuck to Trastevere when it came to dinner options, we were floored with how good the food was wherever we ate. I know, I know, it’s Italy, they’re kind of known for their food. But my best friend had gone to Venice and Milan in February, and came back sadly underwhelmed and lamenting the quality of the food; maybe it was my lowered expectations, or maybe it’s more of a regional difference in cuisine, a northern Italy vs. southern Italy thing, but MY GOD THE FOOD. That dish of spaghetti carbonara up there? Yeah, it cost a whopping €5 and was some of the most delicious pasta I’ve ever eaten. (I’d go on to have carbonara or cacio e pepe, a simple pasta with tons of pepper and cheese, almost every single day. Give me bacon and melty egg yolk and cheese and carbs any day.) Our first night in Rome, we split an enormous, thin crust pizza with heaps of fresh mozzarella for the absurd price of €3. Three!

And then there were all the sights. The centuries-old ruins Rome is famous for. On Monday we ventured across the river to the Circus Maximus, the Forum, and the Colosseum. The surreal feeling of standing in the Colosseum where gladiators and emperors once stood was one of the highlights of the trip. You read about these things in grade school and they seem so abstract and faraway, and seeing them in person, standing in them, is a beautifully humbling experience. I am so grateful to have been able to see them (and equally as grateful for the delicious gelato we gorged on right after).

This is Rome, part 1. See you on Friday for part 2!

Italy & Paris Instagrams

Italy& Paris Instagrams

Italy& Paris Instagrams

I’m baaaaack! And I’m exhausted, in the best possible way. Those two weeks were some of the best of my life; I’m not sure it gets better than eating gelato and carbonara and pizza every day, all while surrounded by historic ruins and famous art (and then a whirlwind two and a half days in Paris). I have so much to tell you guys, and so, so many photos to inundate you with. I think I’ll organize the upcoming posts in order of the cities we visited this trip, which means that on Wednesday I’ll share photos from Rome. Roma! Everyone who said I’d fall madly in love with Italy was right. Truly, madly, deeply doesn’t even begin to cover it. I can’t wait to tell you kiddos all about it.

But first, laundry.

An Apartment in Paris with Potential

Paris Apartment

Paris Apartment

Paris Apartment

Paris Apartment

Paris Apartment

Okay, so perhaps to call this place “an apartment” was being generous; it’s more like a construction site, or a prison dungeon out of an Alexandre Dumas novel or something. But that’s why I said it has potential. The apartment is on the ground floor of a building along the Quai d’Orléans, right along the Seine, on the Île Saint-Louis. The building dates back to 1639, making it one of the oldest buildings in the city. Don’t you love seeing all that old stone, and the original fireplace mantel? Normally at this point I’d highlight its bathroom or number of bedrooms, but, um, aside from the historical details, the main thing this place has going for it is that it’s a blank (and dusty) canvas. Though the view ain’t too bad, either. The listing encourages you to use your imagination, which frankly isn’t all that difficult, given that it’s only 335 ft2, or 33m2.

And because real estate is just ridiculous in Paris, this 335 ft2 empty studio can be yours for the totally reasonable price of €485,000. Zut alors!

From the Archives: A Guest Post from Süsk & Banoo

Süsk was one of the first bloggers I really connected with back when I started blogging, and she quickly became one of my favorites. On her blog, she shares the adventures of country-hopping with her husband, the adorably nicknamed Banoo, documenting their life in France, then England, then Finland, before landing back in Paris last year. She also has a wicked sense of humor, is a talented designer, and is just all around cool. I had the pleasure of hanging out with them while living in Paris last spring, but two years before that, she wrote this guest-post for me while Jamal and I were on vacation in Belgium. Seeing as we’re on vacation in Italy now, her post seemed only too appropriate to re-share. Enjoy!

As I sit here with a scarf coiled around my head on a windy, grey Monday morning in London, Sicily seems a lifetime away. Hunched over my computer in two dressing gowns (truth!) and going through hundreds of photos on my hard drive of a tanned, glowing me romping in the nature of Italy’s Southern island, I am reminded just how wonderful a holiday can be. Throw in a few near-death experiences and Mafia run-ins, and you’re talking superawesome holiday times.

In 2009 Banoo and I headed to Sicily for our honeymoon. We avoided the tourist-y Northwestern coast and instead opted for a city clinging to the edge of a volcano named Taormina. From here we rented what was possibly the most ill-suited car ever for the 90 degree inclines that scaled the volcanic crag and masqueraded as roads, and headed out to explore this island that tectonic activity had thrust out of the sea thousands of years ago.

Or at least we tried to.

Read more

Arrivederci!

Arrivederci!

We’re off to Italy tomorrow, kiddos! I’ve been packed for weeks, though the same cannot be said for Jamal, who is a seasoned travel pro and also not nearly as anxious as I am and won’t have a heart attack if he packs tomorrow afternoon (though I totally will. I’ll have two, one for each of us). And, for the first time I can remember, I’m not taking my computer with me. I am planning to unplug for two weeks and soak up as much of Italy as possible (though you can guarantee I’ll be Instagramming the whole time). I’ve been practicing Italian with Duolingo for a few weeks and can cobble together some rough phrases, so I’m hoping the Italians are more forgiving than the French when it comes to butchering their language.

I have some posts scheduled for the two weeks (!!) I’ll be away, including some things I’ve dug up from the last four years of my archives that you may have missed. I will be back with the first round of vacation photos on Monday, June 1st, which feels like a lifetime from now. I’m hoping this trip doesn’t fly by. Have a great two weeks, miei amici!

PS. Where we’re staying pt. 1, and pt. 2.

Writing About Sex in Novels

notebook

I have a litmus test with most everything I publish online, a way to keep me (and my mouth) in check, something seemingly easy to lose hold over in this digital era when instant communication to broadcast even the most mundane of thoughts is right at our fingertips. Before I post anything, I ask myself, “Is this something I’d be okay with Jamal’s mom reading?” If I’m even a little bit in doubt, I don’t post it. (I’ve saved myself from some pretty curse-laden, reactionary tweets about everything from The Real Housewives franchises to people on my morning commute this way.) My own mother’s favorite piece of advice has always been, “When in doubt, don’t.” And while it applies to all manner of things –the suggestion to not do anything until you’re confident in your decision has served me well in relationships, work, finances, etc.– it’s equally as relevant to resisting the urge to post absolutely every unfiltered thought.

This has been a helpful self-imposed rule for my blog/twitter feed/various social media accounts, but the same standard, when applied to writing my book (though with a different relative) has been somewhat…restrictive? I’ll back up a bit. There are two characters in my novel for whom a romantic involvement is an ineluctable outcome. It seems weird to suggest that I have no control over fictional people I’ve created, I know, but I’ve written and re-written different plotlines countless times, reworked things in my head, and the end result is always the same: these two characters have to have a dalliance. You’ve read a bit about them before, about these two walking up the stairs to her apartment, his hand on her shoulder, the door closing behind them. I’ve been on the other side of that door for months, unable to write about what goes on when they stumble into her bed. Because…because what if my brother reads it? My older brother! (That’s obviously not the only thing keeping from writing about sex in my novel, but it doesn’t help the cause any, either.)

So I did some digging, and it turns out, plenty of authors struggle with writing sex into their novels. It’s hard! (That is not a euphemism.) How do you articulate it adequately? What words do you use? Does it seem gratuitous to include it, or a cheap cop-out to have a ‘fade to black’ moment? Here are a bunch of authors on writing about sex:

Lorin Stein, in The Paris Review:

Not all writing about sex is meant to titillate. There are other reasons to describe what people do in bed…It strikes me that fiction and poetry are especially good at dealing with sex—are in some ways designed for handling subjects that are private or shameful or deeply subjective—and that sex is inherently interesting (maybe especially to readers of fiction?)

Alexander Chee, also in The Paris Review:

Too much writing about sex tries to either make it prettier or more serious, sexier or funnier or shocking, or anything, really, except what it is. On its own terms, sex is information…When my teacher told me to read James Salter, what she meant was that this kind of sex writing…describes sex so that it tells you something about the story and the characters and yourself, all at once.

Dennis Cooper:

Sex is such a confusing situation that your ability to communicate what you’re thinking and feeling in the moment is severely hampered. If you try to articulate your thoughts and feelings in words, you’re reduced to saying the quickest and easiest epithets you can come up with—porn language, ­essentially…That’s why, when writers attempt to describe sex accurately, the scenes all tend to sound the same, no matter what the writers’ individual styles may be. I think most writers just want their sex scenes to be realistically sexy.

Adam Thirwell, in an interview in Salon with author Gary Shteyngart:

I think for me it’s always interesting to write about extreme experience, or experience that’s not really meant to be written about, that’s on the edge of the linguistic: where it merges with, I don’t know, brute noise.

Steve Almond, in the Utne Reader, lays out 13 guidelines for writing about sex, and they are wildly funny and insightful. Number 12 is my favorite:

If you don’t feel comfortable writing about sex, then don’t. By this, I mean writing about sex as it actually exists, in the real world, as an ecstatic, terrifying, and, above all, deeply emotional process. Real sex is compelling to read about because the participants are so utterly vulnerable. We are all, when the time comes to get naked, terribly excited and frightened and hopeful and doubtful, usually at the same time. You mustn’t abandon your lovers in their time of need. You mustn’t make of them naked playthings with rubbery parts. You must love them, wholly and without shame, as they go about their human business. Because we’ve already got a name for sex without the emotional content: It’s called pornography.

And finally, author Rachel Kushner, in an interview with the NY Times, being very smug about the whole thing:

I don’t think of sex as any more difficult to write about than any other human behavior. Writers fail or soar at anything. Everyone thinks about sex, engages in it. It’s the secret we all share. Just acknowledging its constant presence in people’s thoughts is a good direction for a novelist.

Fellow fiction writers and readers, I’d love to hear your thoughts!