Category Archives: life / dog

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!

May 12, 2015 / life / dog / read / watch / LEAVE A COMMENT / 21

Our Wedding, Eight Months Later

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A few weeks ago, our wonderful wedding photographer, Inna, reached out to me asking if a local wedding website, Delancey & Penn, could feature our wedding. I said yes without hesitation, and sent her a little write up about the day, which was fun to revisit from the perspective of six+ months out. Their post went live this week, and I thought it was the perfect opportunity to share some more photos with you from the day that I hadn’t yet. You can read all about it, and see even more photos, here.

Thank you, Delancey & Penn, for featuring us, and thank you Inna, seriously, for being the best photographer we ever could’ve asked for.

May 7, 2015 / life / dog / wedding / LEAVE A COMMENT / 17

Voluntary Orthodontia as An Adult (Alternate Title: I’m 28 with Braces)

Let’s talk about teeth! (Because I can’t only talk about Paris all the time, right?)

Invisalign

I had braces –the old, horrible metal kind– as a kid for about a year and a half. When they came off, my bottom teeth weren’t entirely straight. My orthodontist retired immediately after removing my braces (I think he was already halfway out the door as I was fumbling over the surprising sliminess of my naked teeth), and in the years since, I’ve been nursing the suspicion that he took them off specifically so he could retire, not because my teeth were ready. My bottom teeth have been crowding little by little over the last 16 years, so slowly it hadn’t bothered me, until about four years ago when one tooth went totally rogue, bidding “GIRL BYE” to its neighbors, and jumped the line. I found it quirky and kind of adorable, personally. My dentist disagreed, and kept urging me to get it fixed, but let’s be real: voluntary orthodontia as an adult was just not on my list of priorities, or my list of planned expenses. Do you know how many flights to Paris I could buy for the same price?

But at my last cleaning in February, the dentist said either I get my teeth straightened or he’d have no choice but to eventually extract that one, sassy tooth, and because of the crowding there wouldn’t be enough room to insert a bridge. Faced with the choice of shelling out several thousand dollars or having a gaping hole dead center at the bottom of my mouth, even the grumbling skinflint inside of me couldn’t argue. Merde.

And so began the process of finding an orthodontist and electing to inflict pain and embarrassment upon myself. (I’d made up my mind that I’d be going with Invisalign, clear, plastic, laser-cut molded trays you swap out every two weeks, because if I have to be 28 and in braces, they had better be goddamn invisible.)

Invisalign

The whole experience was very “Goldilocks and the Three Bears.” The first orthodontist was all but mute, and sat in his chair staring at me (literally) without offering any information. The price was $5950. If you were going to flinch at that number, save it, because the second orthodontist I saw –which had plush white carpeting, Diptyque candles, complimentary champagne and truffles, Downton Abbey playing in the lobby– quoted me $8800. Where the first doctor was uselessly withholding of information, the second office was so communicative. They took photos of my teeth and blew them up on a flat screen in the exam room (which, while helpful, was an experience I wouldn’t wish on anyone, because omfg gross), and the orthodontist explained every single detail of his treatment plan. Both doctors had said it would be about a 12-15 month experience. The second office might have said more, but I can’t be sure because I blacked out from shock at the sticker price. Nine grand!! Again: DO YOU KNOW HOW MANY FLIGHTS TO PARIS I COULD BUY FOR THAT PRICE??

And then there was the third orthodontist. When I went in for my consultation, they were playing New Kids on the Block (you guys know how I feel about NKOTB). I would have signed on the dotted line just based on their musical tastes alone, but it only got better. The staff is incredible, kind and down-to-earth (free bottled water and chapstick instead of champagne), the orthodontist is young and nice and volunteers at an organization that offers orthodontic work to low-income kids, and it truly was a “just right” feeling from the moment I walked in. They took x-rays and the orthodontist encouraged me to ask questions. The best part? It is the most affordable option by far, which I realize is all relative; the office manager started writing down the price, and when I saw it started with the number ’4′ I all but threw my credit card at her. The BESTEST part? It will only take five or six months, not 15.

I had my digital impressions taken in late February –happily, new technology means I didn’t have to suffer those awful plaster molds– and received my first set of Invisalign trays mid-March. They took some getting used to, and while the dental assistants assured me I would be able to pop the trays in an out with ease soon enough, the first few days found me near tears with both hands in my mouth, trying to will the things off my teeth, saliva pooling everywhere. Attractive, I know. They were right, and it only takes me a few seconds now.

Invisalign

I’m on set 3 of 10, and now that I’m five weeks in I thought I’d share how things are going.

The Good:
• Mostly invisible! Almost all Invisalign treatments require tooth-colored enamel attachments on your actual teeth, matched to corresponding divots in the trays, to help move the teeth more effectively. The attachments don’t bother me even when the trays are out, though I did lose two or three off within a week of getting them, oy.
• I can take them out while eating!
• I haven’t had much pain! There’s some definite tooth sensitivity, which is actually comforting because it means it’s all working as it should, but I’ve only taken Motrin once or twice, usually the day after I switch trays and things are a bit tighter.
• I brush my teeth more frequently!
• I’ve stopped biting my nails!
• I can’t snack throughout the day! This has made me so much more aware of all the mindless face-stuffing I was doing, purely out of boredom, not hunger.
• My teeth will be straight!
• I love my orthodontist!

The Not-So-Good:
• Optimal wear” is 22 hours per day. When you factor in that you have to wait 30 minutes after each to brush your teeth (and you have to brush your teeth before putting them back in to prevent cavities), I pretty much only get three 10-minute meals per day. I’m nervous about our upcoming Italy trip, and I know I will be limited in the amount of gelato I’ll be able to inhale.
• You can only drink water while wearing the trays. I don’t drink coffee or soda, so this wasn’t a huge adjustment for me, but man do I miss tea.
• I’ll need a retainer at night for the rest of my life. Unless, that is, I want my teeth to shift back in another 16 years and to have to do this all over again. (Spoiler: I do not.)
• Brushing your teeth three times a day means I have to carry around a travel toothbrush and toothpaste. Upside: I found a cute pouch for them!

So there you go. I’m 28 with braces. That’s what’s been going on around these parts! My super expert advice is to listen to your dentist and also WEAR YOUR RETAINER. A big thank you to my darling friend Sabina for sharing her Invisalign experience with me and for answering all my (many, crazy) questions before I took the plunge. And a big thank you to everyone else who read 1000 words about my teeth.

April 21, 2015 / life / dog / LEAVE A COMMENT / 30

A Little Pick-Me-Up

Roses Costes

What do you do when you’re feeling low? I’m asking for a friend, we’ll call her Merin. Merin has been feeling particularly down recently, really worn out and stifled creatively, ground down from the tedium of her day job, directionless and all around in a funk. Merin has tried all sorts of remedies which previously worked so well: visiting museums, buying fresh flowers, burying herself in books as a distraction, wandering Paris in Google Earth, chopping off all her hair, eating a 9×13 sheet pan of cake by herself, making lists of the most simple tasks so she can feel, just for a second, a satisfying sense of accomplishment. She would normally sit down and write it out, as writing has been Merin’s chief form of therapy since she was a kid, but thanks in large part to the brain-atrophying futility of her daily work, she can’t summon the creative power needed to do something that once came so easily, so joyfully to her. Words don’t come, everything she’s written to this point seems banal, awful, embarrassing, she should just delete all 185 pages. Merin is worried, truly concerned, because she can feel herself turning bitter, hears herself making snappy remarks to her doting, kind husband (we’ll call him Kamal), for things completely unrelated to him, things that are not his fault, nor really within his power to fix. Kamal only wants Merin to be happy, after all. Kamal is kind of a saint and also a major babe and Merin is really, really sorry she has been hounding him about the goddamn dripping kitchen sink, because who cares about the kitchen sink, it’s a sink, it drips, it isn’t Kamal’s fault and it isn’t even about the sink, honestly, it’s about Merin being the grumpiest of grumpy cats and she’s really, truly sorry, Kamal. She’s trying.

So my Merin’s question to you, kiddos, is this: what do you do when you need a not-so-little pick-me-up? What works for you? Short of jetting off to Paris to ameliorate this situation (which is happening in oh, 40 days anyway), do you have any advice?

April 7, 2015 / art / photo / life / dog / Paris / travel / LEAVE A COMMENT / 47

Four Years

Les Pivoines

Four years ago today, an unemployed, bored, and creatively-unfulfilled girl started a blog as a means of shopping-aversion therapy. “Maybe,” she thought, “if I write about all the things I like, want, or need to buy but can’t afford, I’ll exhaust my desire for them. Now, what on earth would I call such a blog?”

(It’s me. I’m talking about myself in the third person.)

Four years ago, that girl was barely eight months into a relationship with the man who would later become her husband, and she didn’t know then that she would get to document their engagement or wedding for a community of friends (both online and off). Four years ago, that struggling girl could never have known she’d one day move to Paris to write a novel; if you’d told her there was that sort of the brilliant light at the end of the tunnel, she would have scoffed, adjusted her sweatpants, and started another marathon of America’s Next Top Model, a show she, in unemployed desperation, had auditioned for just a year prior. An experience that, while amazingly rich in lols, did nothing for her bank account or resume.

Four years ago, that girl moved in with her boyfriend over the summer and together they got way in over their heads and adopted a wily, lovable, lunatic-wrapped-in-fur named Fitz. Proving that nothing really changes and also that his Prozac does nothing for him, this morning he whined at a parked car because he didn’t like the roof rack. He is, however, my most trusted editorial sounding board. “Fitz,” I’ll often say to him because who doesn’t anthropomorphize their pets, “what should Mommy blog about today?” To which he’ll roll right over and distract me with his little belly and imploring eyes.

In four years, my tastes in interiors and music haven’t changed, and neither has my Francophilia, but I’ve made an effort to expand my horizons. Four years ago I never would have dreamed I’d honeymoon in Santorini and like it (sun! not-Paris!), but I did. Correction: I loved it. (I’m expecting nothing less from Italy in a few months.)

In four years of blogging here I’ve learned a few things along the way: I’m comfortable coding in CSS now, and I’m comfortable not blogging every single day. I’ve hit the sweet spot with two or three posts per week, but it took a while to get over the initial self-imposed stress and guilt on the days when I didn’t post something. I hope you kiddos don’t mind too much; I’d rather post when I truly have something to say and feel inspired to share, rather than post for posting’s sake.

I don’t know if I have another four years of blogging in me, to be honest. In four years I’ll be 32 (WEEPING. WEEPING OPENLY.) and might even have a kiddo of my own then and lack the sufficient time or energy to craft such groundbreaking posts as Gary Oldman in Paris. Who knows. But this will always be my favorite side-project. I’ve met so many incredible, and incredibly supportive, people in the last four years, including my first ever blog friend, Annie, whose birthday is today! Happy birthday, darling! Yes, in a delightfully serendipitous twist, my first blog friend and my blog share a birthday. Annie and I have hung out in New York and Paris together, something that never would have happened if not for this blog.

Avenue de l'Opera

I’m wildly grateful for your friendship and comments here every day, you guys. Thank you for making this blog what it is. And now, if you’ll excuse me, I must go indulge myself in some macarons and 80s boyband music to celebrate.

February 12, 2015 / art / photo / life / dog / LEAVE A COMMENT / 33

Dream Job

Tea & Writing

If you could have any job in the world, what would it be?

I don’t mean something like, “doctor” or “lawyer,” actual professions you can go to school for and obtain a specified degree. I mean something zany, and overly precise, and likely non-existant, like “Museum Hanger-Outer.” You know, that dream job where you’d be paid a salary to sit in museums all day and look at paintings and think.

After watching that hours-long annual spectacle on TV yesterday, I realized there are people in this world who get to do their dream job for a living. Children with a profound enthusiasm for one particular thing can grow up and be paid to do that thing in a professional setting, paycheck and all. I’m speaking, of course, about the wondrous event that is Puppy Bowl; the producers of that show as well as the ref, I like to think, grew up believing, “One day I will get to play with adorable puppies and be paid for it.” We should all be such dreamers.

So, let’s.

What career title would you choose for yourself if the world were such a place? Ideally, I’d love to have a job where I can be paid to read books all day, maybe in a small art gallery. Gallery Bibliophile, I believe it’s called. When I was younger I would have loved to be a Space Ballerina, a job that would have combined ballet and my brief flirtation with becoming an astronaut (a track that was swiftly made unavailable to me due to my, shall we say, lack of mathematical prowess). Don’t ask me how a grande arabesque would have worked in zero gravity, but I’m sure it would have been beautiful.

Your turn.

February 2, 2015 / life / dog / LEAVE A COMMENT / 32

Happy Birthday, Fitz!

Happy Birthday, Fitz!

Happy Birthday, Fitz!

Happy Birthday, Fitz!

Somebody had a birthday yesterday! Fitz, you’re four! He was totally unfazed by all the high-pitched squealing I was doing in celebration, though he rightly interpreted it as a sign to be extra demanding of belly rubs. It even snowed yesterday, and as snow is one of his favorite things (to eat, to play in, to pee on) I kept telling him it snowed just for his birthday. I can’t believe he’s four! When did this happen? I’d like to say that his age now ensures he’s outgrown all of his, um, insanity, but I’d be lying. Fitz will always be a crazy (wonderful! loveable!) puppy, no matter how old he is. (In fact, I refilled his Prozac prescription yesterday.)

Happy birthday, Fitzy! May you never outgrow your silliness, your darling sense of curiosity at any and all fridge-related sounds, or your willingness to give big sloppy kisses. Though may you please, please stop screaming at everything outside. I love you so much.

January 7, 2015 / life / dog / LEAVE A COMMENT / 32

2015: What Will Your Verse Be?

Rue du Pré aux Clercs

On New Years Day 2013 I woke up and decided, “I’m moving to Paris next year.” It would take a while for all the details to fall into place, of course, but, unsurprisingly, I now place a high value on even the most random and fleeting thoughts that manifest on January 1. What will 2015 look like for me? A stream of consciousness from the first day of the new year:

I’m going to finish my novel this year. I’m absolutely going to finish it. I just need some undisturbed time to devote to writing. I might get my real estate license, wouldn’t that be cool? I love real estate, it takes up a lot of my time as it is, just looking at houses and studying the market. I could sell houses, right? I could sell houses and then write part-time! I could work for Sotheby’s Real Estate. But then wasn’t there a real estate agent who was killed while showing a listing to someone? I mean, if you think about it, the logistics of sending single females to empty houses with random strangers has, like, all of the elements necessary for a Law and Order: SVU episode. I’m Erin, I’m Real Estate Agent. Or, yes yes yes, I could get an MFA in Creative Writing. Oh, I’m going to do that. Where does Paul La Farge teach? Bard! I could go to Bard. We could move to upstate New York for two years. We wouldn’t have to worry about Fitz because we could drive up with him. We’d need a car. I looked at Bard with my dad back in high school. What was my objection to it ultimately? It’s not in a city. But still! Paul La Farge could be my teacher. Wait, it’s $60k? For a creative writing masters degree? That is not a sound investment. I could apply to Hunter College! I was going to apply there for my undergrad degree all those years ago! They have a really good program! Hmm, this looks financially more feasible. $24k? I could swing that. All the classes start after 5:30pm, so I could work and still commute. It’s just two hours each way on the bus. Jamal says I will get burned out on that quickly. I need two letters of recommendation. I need to apply by February 1st. I want some cake. Cake! Why can’t I just eat cake for a living? I need a nap. I’m definitely going to finish my novel this year.

January 2, 2015 / art / photo / life / dog / Paris / travel / LEAVE A COMMENT / 18

Goodbye, 2014

If there was ever a year I am sad to see go, it’s this one. Where do I even begin to wax nostalgic for the amazing things that happened this year?

From the top of the Arc de Triomphe

Chairs

Place Dauphine

In May, I went to Paris for eight weeks, to soak up the city, speak the language, fill two 16GB memory cards of photos, and work on my novel. I lived in Montmartre, in a charming apartment with a balcony, the view from which was the iconic red windmill of the Moulin Rouge. I ate croissants and demi-baguettes with beurre every day, spent more money on flowers and macarons than anyone should, and wrote more in those 61 days than I knew I was capable of.

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To say that coming home was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to do is an understatement. I almost didn’t.

But I had a wedding to come back for.

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In September, we were married on a rainy, perfect Saturday. That day feels like a million years ago, when it was really just a few short months. I haven’t even gotten my dress dry-cleaned, and we haven’t sent out all of our thank you cards (if you’re still waiting on one, I’m so sorry!). I was staunchly an anti-bride leading up to the wedding, but I wouldn’t have changed a thing about the actual day once we got there. I’d do it all again (to the same guy, of course!) just to have all our favorite people in one room.

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After the wedding it was off to Greece, where we spent a few days in Athens and a week in Santorini.

The Acropolis

Oia

Fira

I’d spent too much time in Paris (a sentence I never thought I’d say) to remember that there are other, friendlier Europeans on the continent. The Greeks are warm and inviting and our experience there made us feel so welcomed, rather than the indifference from most Parisians. We were often given free dessert once waiters realized we were on our honeymoon, a treat that goes a long way to winning me over.

Paris Print Shop

This fall I also began selling prints of my Paris photos, an endeavor that has been rewarding and fulfilling beyond my wildest imagination.

There were trips to the museum, weekly French classes (I’m in level 301 now), and through it all, I’ve been writing. Oh, and there were also plenty of cuddles with Fitz.

I don’t know what 2015 has in store, but it has a lot to live up to. I do have some surprises to share with you guys, including a very exciting trip next spring. Thank you for following along for another year. Have a wonderful (and safe!) New Year’s, kiddos!

December 31, 2014 / life / dog / LEAVE A COMMENT / 27

Joyeux Noël!

Joyeux Noel

A very merry Fitz-mas to you all! May Santa bring you everything you wanted, may you spend lots of time with your families (with only minimal yelling and emotional scarring), and may you fill up on caloric baked goods to the point where your Christmas jammies don’t fit. I’m signing off for the week to enjoy the holiday and gorge myself on cookies.

Joyeux Noël, mes amis!

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December 24, 2014 / art / photo / life / dog / LEAVE A COMMENT / 7