What’s Love Go To Do With It?

The following is the transcript of Vicki Marie Stolsen with time on her hands, taking on pole, love, and the evolution of her Bachelor Ways. May 23, 2014 at FitPoling Studio, Panama City, Panama 

I lived in wonderful cities when I wrote The Bachelor Chapters, including Buenos Aires, Cartagena and Barcelona. I also lived in Medellin, which is where I landed on the first day of 2013, when I started to write the second draft. I wrote everyday for five or six hours, and then I’d walk to my gym for a workout. The gym was in a mall, and one day, I left the mall through a different door. That’s when I found a studio called Pole Fitness, and that was when I dumped the gym, and became a pole athlete.

Vicki Marie gets hooked on pole, Pole Fitness Studio, Medellín, 2013

Vicki Marie gets hooked on pole, Pole Fitness Studio, Medellín, 2013.

I’m crazy about pole—which sometimes is just crazy. Pole is painful, and often, pole is impossible. I’ve been doing this for sixteen months now, and from the beginning, whenever I train a new position or take on a new combination, there are two things I can count on. First, I’m wide-eyed and excited about how beautiful it is and how much I want to own it; and then I jump in and I’m clumsy and confused and certain I’ll never be able to pull it off.

 Thank God for my teachers, because they break it down into smaller parts and I learn to connect the dots, and because I try it again—and again and again—I also learn that impossible is often temporary.

Vicki Marie in Cartagena with Bianca Huls, pole and fitness diva from Holland

Vicki Marie in Cartagena with Bianca Huls, pole and fitness diva from Holland.

Pole makes me feel strong and it makes me feel sexy and it makes me want more. I want more combinations, I want more grace, I want more strength, and I want more results. I’ve come to view pole as more than sport and more than dance—I see pole as a way to be on the planet. Pole is about seeing what you want, and pushing through until you have it. Pole puts failure in your face every damn day, and pole teaches you to succeed by not giving up.

 What I also dig about pole: it is the ultimate feminist sport. Everyone knows that pole has its roots in strip clubs, and that the women who dance on poles for cash are stigmatized and denied social respectability. But not everyone knows about the global movement that began a little more than ten years ago. That was when women liberated pole from the red light districts, and planted it in the dance and fitness studios of our neighborhoods. Pole is hot—and not simply because we train half-naked, flick our hair, and shake our butts. Pole is hot because we make our bodies stronger, we make our limbs more flexible, and we make failure our teacher. Pole is hot because we make sexy normal and not shameful.

Urban poling happens in the streets, and in Cartagena, is happens at the crack of dawn before sweat and humidity take their toll

Urban poling happens in the streets, and in Cartagena, is happens at the crack of dawn before sweat and humidity slide you off a lamp-post.

It was destiny that I found pole while I was writing the book, because The Bachelor Chapters is also about making sexy normal and not shameful. The book tells the true story about a transformative moment in my life, which began a decade ago, following a serious illness. When I recovered, I took inventory of what had happened to me, and I understood that to stay healthy, I would have to change how I played my game.

I didn’t know exactly how I was going to do it, and unlike pole, I didn’t have teachers to guide me. So, I made it up as went, guided by wisdom and instinct and the drive to get it right. Along the way, I had to push through self-doubt and I had to wrestle with other people’s judgments, because I was forsaking some of our most inflexible customs.

My first audience, on the beach, near Barcelona with Pole Dance Factory.

My first audience, on the beach, near Barcelona with Pole Dance Factory.

 The first one out the door was that one we cherish without question; I became honest about the futility of romantic love, and I made a plan to find another way.

It hurts. You can't believe how it hurts.

It hurts. You can’t believe how it hurts. Pole Fitness, Medellín.

 By the time I hit my forties, I had been in love three times. That means that three times in my life, I told three different people, that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with them. That’s what we are moved to say, and that’s what we are called to do when we’re in love, because we imagine nothing less than forever.

Romantic love, partnership, and forever are the sacred trinity, and we worship without question and practice with faith. Despite divorce, despite serial monogamy, despite the excess volume of relationship wrecks, this collective faith that insists love means forever blindly ignores the facts of our lives. Why don’t we see that? And even if we did, what would we do about it? It’s

as if we have no choice to imagine anything else.

Pin Up GirlsBaile in Medellin with Monica who taught me about pole suave. Bless that girl.

Pin Up GirlsBaile in Medellín with Monica who opened my world to pole suave. Bless that girl.

 And just like everyone else, I wanted happily-ever-after, too—but reality kept dishing up a different result. With that first love, came that first heartbreak—and the incomparable suffering where I thought I was going to die. When I fell in love a second time, I was sure I had learned valuable things from round one, and I hadn’t lost my confidence that love guaranteed forever. We had a great run for almost ten years—but that’s not even close to forever. Another painful rip. Then the same result with the third love of my life. The bitter and common irony about each of those people who I promised to spend the rest of my life with is legend; I don’t even know them any more.

 I was forty-four years old when I divorced. Just to be clear, forty-four is middle-age, and I had put more than twenty years into the happily-ever-after cult, and there I was, right back at ground zero. Sure, I had many good years in my two long-term relationships, and I wouldn’t trade them for anything. But the results begged the obvious: why wouldn’t love stick?

First twisted handspring at Pole Dance Factory in Barcelona

First twisted handspring at Pole Dance Factory in Barcelona.

My husband was the third love of my life, and my second long-term relationship. He was also, the first man I loved. I came out as a lesbian when I was seventeen years old, and several years later, my first long-term relationship was with a woman.

It’s confusing to some people when they hear I was a lesbian, and then later, I was not. But it was never confusing to me. Love describes how we are connected to another person; love has no sexual identity. It’s not straight, or gay, or bisexual—love is simply love. Back in 1976, somehow I found the guts to let my heart lead me to the people I could love. For me, twice it was with women, and once it was with a man.

The face of first perfect pencil

The face of first perfect pencil, Pole Fitness, Mendellín.

My husband was a great guy, I loved him like crazy, and I married him because I was sure we’d be together forever. But anyone who has been in a long-term relationship understands that on the way to forever, you live day-to-day.

Vicki Marie reads excerpt from Chapter 3

After my husband and I split up, I had steaming, super-sexy, storybook affair with a woman I had loved more than twenty years earlier. We talked about forever, as well, but instead, it blew up in my face. That was when I got sick, and after I got well, I was determined to get real.

I looked hard at the evidence and my path was clear—romantic love was no longer an option for me, because frankly, love no longer appealed to me. I’d been there, I’d done that, I was moving on. Convinced of the facts, I committed to avoiding love, without regret. Still, there was one major wrinkle to smooth out. I was cool to be done with love—but I was not done with sex. No way. Sex had to stay.

My first trainer and inspiration; Catalina Tobon, Pole Fitness, Medellín

My first trainer and inspiration; Catalina Tobon, Pole Fitness, Medellín

But how was I going to do it? Between my husband and my girlfriend, I had been coupled for twenty years. I knew nothing about dating, and I didn’t know anyone who dated without a goal for the status quo. I was motivated to find a new model and answer a fresh question: was it even possible to find sexual satisfaction without falling in love?

I didn’t want to go steady. I didn’t want to be monogamous. Still, I was interested in something more meaningful than booty calls or anonymous sex. I wanted to know how I could get laid without getting screwed, and so I jumped into the email dating pool with this question in my head:

PTY_0144

Make sexy normal and there is no shame. FitPoling Studio, Panama City.

What could happen if I told every man I dated, that I didn’t want a boyfriend, and I didn’t want a husband, and I didn’t even want a one-night stand?

Vicki Marie reads excerpt from Chapter 26

There is something I need to make clear. My experiences led me to opt-out of romantic love—but that didn’t mean I didn’t need love. I needed it and I wanted it and I had it. I was blessed: I had more than my fair share. I had loving relationships with friends that spanned decades. I had a brother and a mother that really had been with me forever. Unlike my romantic partnerships, these relationships were enduring and they were going to be with me forever.

Finally. I live in a dance studio. Panama City

Finally. I live in a dance studio. Panama City

It occurred to me that we got it wrong. Our desire for love is human, but maybe it’s just too heavy for one heart to hold. Who can argue that very few people get away with it?

When I decided to opt out of romantic love, I elevated familial love. I changed the hierarchy and I changed my life. I already had multiple love relationships. And eventually, I had multiple sexual relationships.

On the Cinta Costra in Panama City, or as we refer to it: Urban Pole Paradise

On the Cinta Costra in Panama City, or as we refer to it: Urban Pole Paradise

With love on my side, The Bachelor Chapters describes my journey as I practice and refine my Bachelor lifestyle. There were many dates with many men; and there are enough juicy, adults-only descriptions of shameless sexual action to excite the cream in your coffee.

But the book is more than a kiss-and-tell romance, because The Bachelor Chapters is not Fifty Shades of Grey for Forty-Something’s. I get real about love, I come clean on adultery, and I spell out the differences between black and white men. I raise the curtain on lesbian and gay prejudice of bisexual’s, I describe the consequences of female sexual shame, and I remind every one of the timeless injustice of slut slander and stigma. I talk about feminism and fashion and body image: and I talk about aging. I was a middle age woman when I began my bachelorhood; there is a lot to say about aging.

We go in teams. There's no stopping us.

We go in teams. There’s no stopping us.

Vicki Marie reads excerpt from Chapter 38

And with that, we have come to the end of this evening’s story hour. I thank you for your time, I thank you for your attention, and I thank you if I have tempted you to add The Bachelor Chapters to your nightstand library sometime soon!

(shout out to Pole Dance Factory in Barcelona, Pinup GirlsBaile and  Pole Fitness, Medellín,

Fit Poling, Panama, and Biana Huls, Cartgena)

Graduation at FitPoling Studio in Panama City where I learned my new favorite pole trick: performing.

Graduation at FitPoling Studio in Panama City where I learned my new favorite pole trick: performing.

Order The Bachelor Chapters: A Thinking Woman’s Romance

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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