He called me fat

or more specifically, “gorda,” because his language is Spanish. We were in front of the vanity after sex, the mirror reflecting the shining skin of tropical heat. My skin used to be pale, the evidence reduced to the twin territories that mark the bikini I wear everyday now that I have a pool on my roof. The new color I carry is toast—exactly the shade of browned white bread that my brother and I would smear with butter, before Saturday morning cartoons, after mom went to work.

His color is always the same: toward coffee, with cream, smooth on the eyes in the same way that milk interrupts the sharp bite of black. The sun bears down everyday on the coast of Colombia, but the wardrobe of my lover, and the millions who’ve always lived here, elevates fashion over temperature. Blue jeans, long sleeves, and even skullcaps defy the elements when the mind considers style. Clothes and hair—personal style transcends poverty in Cartagena Las Indias. People care about appearance and they celebrate it in others—you know you’re on when your chico’s shout, “bacaaaannnnooooo!”

superman vista

I’d been in Bogota for only a quick trip, but the days on either side added up to a week without contact. We’d reunited in a fierce embrace that began at the entry next to the washing machine, pushed through the long kitchen and into the front room, before shaking the wall behind the bed. Reunion sex is conflated with the reacquisition of territory. People will say that absence makes the heart grow fonder, but what I know for sure, is that it makes the dick stand harder.

 I had splashed water on my face, bent over the bowl, slick beyond capacity in a climate where a body can’t compete against the twin assault of humidity and anaerobic passion. When I stood up again, the adoration in his eyes matched the white smile that split his face. The reverence was non-verbal and blessedly familiar; it was almost a year since we first discovered that bilingual communication had been narrowly defined to language. It was in that afterglow moment, our eyes locked in the mirror, when, “eres gorda,” left his lips and pierced my lungs with that breath-stopping reflex.

He called me fat!

In my culture that’s a slur equal to the offense intended with bitch, cunt, slut or whore. The fact that his smile was lit with love, or that his culture held nothing but authentic desire for every pound of flesh that took female shape, failed to register against fifty-four years of  American fat-phobia. The previous hour of adult-rated choreography evaporated like vapor, as I pursued a panicked inventory of my naked reflection.

I’m an athlete by most standards, driven toward self-competition over a lifetime, with a catalog of solo sports. I’ve taken toward pole fitness recently, and the reality that reflected back at me was tough strands of abdominal strength. I carry the pride of a six-pack, female version, where my belly is framed with the clear diagonal tracks of tissue. When I’d had medical treatment in December, the weight loss had almost hollowed my gut, and rigidly defined every muscle that I’m made of.

I had filled out since then, and the hard angles had softened. That had been true for several months, and I looked healthier with the re-sculpting of meat. I’m writing a memoir, The Bachelor Chapters, so I know that memory is arbitrary, and even inaccurate behind the veil of time. I looked no different than I had the prior week; but there was indeed change since February, when the combination of aggressive weight training, and the consequences of treatment, had dramatized my figure. It seemed clear from his comment, that during our separation, my lover’s memory had pulled the February file.

There are many things that haunt woman’s psyche and self-image. So many of us are friggin’ smart—intellectually conscious of our cultural mind-fucks—yet still at war with them in the streets, in our happy hour laments, and in our language on the page. At middle age, I carry wisdom as my trophy; a vessel of accumulation from a life lived paying attention to each lesson. I command the desire of young lovers in multiple countries; I cultivate a lifestyle that reverberates the so-called youthful endeavors of dance, adventure, and creativity; I am more authentic and more satisfied in my fifth decade than ever before.

The fact that a finger pointed to flesh can preempt more than fifty years of common sense, supersede the radiance that follows sexual satisfaction, and challenge the veracity of my own eyes, illustrates more than anything I know, the weight of culture. It’s my terminal luggage. My best bet is to keep it stowed in that locked bag, where it trips me up occasionally, until I push it once again into the corner, and out of my way.

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I picked Barcelona

then bought my ticket and I arrive in ten days. My editor, Stacey Donovan, returns The Bachelor Chapters on July first, the same day I endure the time travel of a Cartagena-Bogota-Atlanta-Barcelona itinerary. Why Spain? Why not? I thought, as I looked at a map of the world, and realized I could be anywhere at anytime.

It only seemed practical that I close the book in the shadow of another sexy backdrop. Such is my life that practical is defined as selecting the next exotic spot where I will lay my head and unpack both my bags. I worked more than two decades in corporate manufacturing to fund this reality, and if you think this is as cool as I do then I have three simple words to get you on the same track: stash your cash.

Spain beckoned because she hosts the mother tongue of the language that I slowly—so slowly—have decided to make my own. I’m not a fan of the culture, but Barcelona prevailed, because everyone has told me it’s not “like” Spain. Whatever that means, I aim to find out from my fifth floor walk-up in Barrio Gràcia. The bohemian enclave is also home to the training ground where I will interrupt my writing regime each day with a short walk—and an intense workout—at the Pole Dance Factory. That pretty much sums up my current lifestyle; I’m a globe hopping, memoir-scribing, pole-dancing bachelor. I can’t imagine at this moment that my life could be any other way.

I know that The Bachelor Blog pole-tuck over bocagrande subscribers and Facebook friends think the book is done and are confused that I’m announcing yet a third round with the manuscript. But three rounds are the minimum, and it’s time for the final refinement. I will reflect on Stacey’s editorial notes, inflect the upcoming revision with deeper clarity, and then claim the treasure of a final document. In the process my education grows; I’ll learn again what a writer can miss, or overstate, in spite of the systematic scrutiny applied to that second draft.

The three-draft model was laid down for me elegantly yesterday, when I watched an online conversation between writers Neil Strauss and Tim Ferris. Strauss explained that the three stages of a manuscript aim to satisfy three audiences, and the first audience for the first draft is simply yourself. This is the colossal and uncensored mind-meld that becomes the sturdy architecture for all that follows: this is the making-something-from-nothing phase—and making it something enough to vie for an audience. There is a celebration when phase one wraps: and in my case, with a first book, I was certain The Bachelor Chapters was almost there. Hah! That innocence is behind me forever, but the memory will always be sweet. I sat my butt down for seven months, connected 72,000 words, and made a book. That felt just as potent as it sounds.

In the second writing, the audience sharpens and broadens: this draft is for the reader. The editor leads when this work begins. She has meticulously excavated the first manuscript, and her findings both shock and flatter. Two comments I remember clearly as I write this: “I have no doubt the author can find an audience and a publisher for this book…” and then, “Although much of the book reads quickly and easily… I don’t feel there is a reason to read from one chapter to the next.” Doble-hah! I was confused, but I bet on her experience, and decided to consider every opinion she provided.

Why would anyone want to read it? The answer, I learned, is in the storytelling. If a story is told well, even the content can be mundane, but still, the reader is satisfied. There is reconstruction to the original architecture here; some rooms are expanded, while others are abandoned. Efficiency rules—every word, paragraph, and chapter is in service to keeping the reader in the page. I adored this phase; it had become a puzzle, and my job was to locate the connecting pieces. I learned that trust and action collaborate in this stage, and that failure is not possible. The action is simply sitting down to write; the trust is self-perpetuating, because answers follow action. Until finally, another celebration—I wrote a book! The words sound the same, but the inflection couldn’t be more different; the book I’ve rewritten has been made for a reader.

It was serendipitous that I stumbled upon the Strauss-Ferris conversation on the cusp of my next revision. I know there will be changes ahead; I’m anticipating minor repairs, after rigorous scrutiny. But Strauss offered priceless insight when he pointed to the audience for the third manuscript; this final draft is for the haters.

Hello, real world! Of course, this is what follows—anticipating the criticism that is coming—and securing the document against cheap shots, as well as thoughtful ones. I prefer to avoid haters, but suddenly they have value; I will conjure those voices to fortify my own.

The Bachelor Chapters will invite particularly ruthless remarks, because at the end of the day, this is a story about female liberation: controversial in some circles, and nothing less than heretical in others. There will be name-calling, damn it. It will get personal. I’ve laid so much bare in this story—and trust me when I tell you there is no shortage of opportunity for a hater—hell, maybe even a fan—to be offended by what I’ve written. Living is offensive: burdened by difference, power, injustice and even innocent misunderstanding. And this is a story about living: told out loud, with intelligence, wit, and honest detail. Which is what makes The Bachelor Chapters not only an easy target and a story worth telling: but also a story worth reading.

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I gave him a pole dance for his thirty-seventh birthday

last Friday night. I worked it for three weeks, after picking his romantic favorite from my playlist. Bianca did the choreography, my pole teacher from Holland, whom everyone believes is my twin sister. Well, I won’t argue we’re not sisters—the best kind—separated at birth until the stars lined up for us once again in the streets of Cartagena.

I took on pole when I was living in Medellin. Catalina Tobon’s studio is fine-tuned for fitness, and I learned the inversions with names like Géminis, Escorpio, El Libro, and Superman. The classes were in Spanish, and “pero, me duele!” entered my vocabulary. It was tough and it hurt in ways I could not believe I agreed to endure. The bare skin on the pole is a safety device, the slow drag of flesh on steel brakes downward momentum, and can even imitate Spiderman suction. The consequences are broadcast in purple and black, on thighs and biceps. Blood can be drawn; the face of my foot sprung open again and again from the repetition of climbing a twelve-foot rod.

Gemini Over Cartagena

I keep a strong body; so a few things came easy, which sucked me into the rest without a second thought. The impossible positions were even more satisfying; beating it up, day after day, until finally—those stars again—everything lined up and I pinned a new badge on my chest.

In Cartagena my progress was interrupted by ninety percent humidity in a gym with two windows and a fan. Tough was now swimming in sweat. I was eight feet from the floor, and threw my legs into Gemini when my flesh failed to grip and I dropped like an egg from a countertop, gravity working faster than reflex, nothing left to do but wait the sound of the break. There was luck in that fall, and when Bianca and I locked eyes from my position on the floor we gave thanks to the Angel de Tube de Gymnasio Atlantis.

I live in the small and elegant studio apartment that overlooks the old city of Cartagena, and her Caribbean coastline. This is the highest floor, twelve stories above the street that feeds Puente Roman, the bridge to Getsemani and Cartagena’s walled city. The sky-rises of Bocagrande tower the horizon on the left, and the sixteenth century fortress of San Felipe dominates the view to my right. The two hundred and forty degree view is easily described as breathtaking, and when I moved here in March to finish the revision of The Bachelor Chapters, I planned my days around puesta del sol—the sunset that amazes every evening after six. This is where we moved the pole: to the entrance of my balcony, between the two-meter gap of the sliding glass doors.

With a camera and a tabletop tripod, I repeated the routine, again and again, moving from awkward mimicry to personal style. New bruises erupted, faded, and were replaced by fresh markers. When it was too hot, which was every eight to ten minutes, I closed the doors and blasted the air conditioning, bringing my body temperature down, evaporating sweat, and reviewing the fresh video, the honest mirror of my progress.

Finally, on the eve of his birthday, my young lover found himself in a transformed apartment; an elegant and sophisticated lounge I had created by rearranging furniture and lighting on the balcony. I cued the playlist for the performance, left the room to mix his drink, and returned in my costume of bra and panties to deliver it to his hand, a soft kiss meeting his smiling lips. With my back against the glass railing, the sea wind lifting my hair, I faced the pole with the attitude of a seasoned entertainer, my ear alert for the cue to enter the open-air stage, present Bianca’s invention and my labor; and premiere the sensual athletics of my new sport that fooled as dance.

There was a grace that led me through the following four minutes; the athletics of body memory, united with the soaring soundtrack, against the backdrop of his eager eyes and applause. I found my flow, and connected the transitions between the inversions and spins as spontaneous punctuation and not the well-rehearsed details of footfall and hand positions. It was more fun than I had expected—motivated by love I fell easily over to joy. In a world full of stuff, I had elevated experience as the gift worth giving. In a world obsessed with instant gratification, I had revived the practice of practice: of moving from the unknown, through the sweat of failure, toward the acquisition of skill.

Feliz cumpleaños a mi amante de Cartagena, con todo mi agradecimiento por nuestras vidas y por todos los que nos hemos atrevido a compartir. Que Dios te bendiga, mi amor. 

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