I wrote a book about courage

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It’s a conventional tale, but has characteristics that make it spicy: after divorce, the middle-age protagonist launches a grand experiment to elevate her desire for sex—unhinged from love, or even monogamy—from the disgrace of sluthood assigned to women; into the respectability of bachelorhood granted to men.

        “What happens when a forty-four year old woman, decides to make sense of a divorce, recalibrate her heart, and sets out to find sexual satisfaction without falling in love?”

IMG_0064 It’s a true story, one that has no doubt been lived many times, by many women. Such a path is not common, but it’s also neither unique nor groundbreaking. Yet, because of the bias that follows women who stretch toward a lifestyle outside of partnership; because of the unequivocal hierarchy that we attach to long-term monogamy; the stories of those women’s lives, and the relationships that are developed, have been at best marginalized, but more often, they are demonized.

        “What would happen if a woman told every man she dated, that she didn’t want a boyfriend; and she didn’t want a husband; and she didn’t even want a one-night stand?”

Those were the questions I wanted answers to. It was not the first time in my life I had strayed from the parameters my culture assigned to female sexuality. I had come out as a lesbian in 1976, when I fell in love with my high school girlfriend. I lived the first fifteen years of my adult life as a lesbian, and I had a married-like partnership for the last ten of those. It was not easy to be a lesbian back in the beginning, but it was possible; with courage and community, women dismantled the proverbial closet board-by-board, and nail-by-nail.

When I was thirty-three, I fell in love with a man. I knew there would be consequences for merging into the mainstream, so I found a new closet to bide my time, until I once again had the guts to own the facts of my life and honor my heart. When I came out, many in my extended family of same-sex activists were horrified by what they understood to be betrayal, just as I had expected. No matter that I had served on the frontlines of gay liberation for years. At best I was tolerated for my transgression; at worst I was ostracized. I was confused by my social identity, but not by my heart; sure I was in love with a man, but did that make me straight?

        “What would happen if a woman could have sex; without lying, without cheating; without shame?”

I wrote a book about courage, but not until I solidified my status as a female bachelor; not until I left a career in business where perceptions always matter; not until age graced me with the wisdom to know that judgments opposed to my lifestyle said more about the jury than they did about me. The book is particular to my life, but the journey described is universal: look fear in the face; over-ride self-doubt; stand above the distraction of critics; and live your passion.

The book goes on sale next month, and from the beginning, I wanted a piece of the profit to benefit young people in pursuit of their passions. Higher education was the category I picked, having had my own life-changing entrance to college funded by the enlightened legislation of the Federal Pell Grant Program. Access to education is political when marginalized groups are left out because of income or discrimination.

Donating funds from the sale of my story to benefit young adults mapping out their own courageous plans was the perfect synergistic match, and so I picked a scholarship fund that was founded more than twenty years ago specifically to compensate for discrimination aimed at lesbian and gay students.

Only, I hit a hurdle with the scholarship fund I chose to receive my donation, and my proposal was respectfully declined. My book on courage speaks too frankly about sex. Sex spells risk. After twenty years, the scholarship administrators are experienced with risk. Sex—partnered with students—will offend some donors, and will also prevent some educational institutions from advertising the opportunity to apply. And with that, this venerable fund that was founded to compensate for discrimination against queer youth, has little choice but to reject public affiliation with a life story that—ironically—describes one woman’s struggle to overcome discrimination.

“Did I want to dance? Of course I wanted to dance and that’s not all.”                                        —Erica Jong, Fear of Flying

Warning: living can be sexy. Warning: Living can be sexy

I wrote a book that describes the self-doubt, the social ostracism, and the balls out courage necessary to stand one’s ground when faced with the facts of a life that cannot be folded neatly into social convention. Written forty years after Erica Jong published Fear of Flying, The Bachelor Chapters is also a story that spotlights social change and social stigma. I did not write this book for my own self-aggrandizement; the story is often unflattering and conflicted because it is so bloody honest. I called upon courage and audacity to write about my life because I recognized that my experiences had a larger purpose: that my obligation is to brighten the path for the young women and men behind me.

When you buy my book next month, you will partner with me, because I’m not abandoning my plan to donate ten percent of the profit. Why would I? There won’t be the publicity I had hoped for, but after this episode, I’m even more convinced that proceeds should benefit the next generation. Together, you and I will fund access to higher education. Thanks for your support. So many young people need us. Now, enough with the bullshit. Let’s dance. And that’s not all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We are friends, as my long distance lovers and I often are

He and I stand to the left of convention: both of us holding bachelor titles, and to be clear, I’m referring to relationship status—not academic achievement. For the purpose of this post, suffice it to say that we are dear friends and mutual fans, both Americans, having met in Central America, which remains the backdrop and the sustaining link of our adult-style friendship.

He wrote a memoir, too—a laser look at a life that began way to young on the streets of Brooklyn—messing with the mob as way out of poverty, and then stepping into the army as a way out of jail. My friend became a career soldier with a CID title—a serious shit-kicker in that corps of cops whose duty is to police other soldiers. The budding criminal saved by a law enforcement lifestyle; it’s a compelling saga told well in his words. As I read it, it was easy to imagine the movie adaptation would produce a celebrity hero.

Training Days The author in training for the up-coming battles that will follow the January 2014 release of her memoir, “The Bachelor Chapters: A Thinking Woman’s Romance”

Our political views are polar opposites, and there is not even grudging respect for how we both understand that the world is framed. I was certain he was the first Republican I’d ever had sex with, until he clarified that he is no more or no less than a passive independent. Passive, because he’s not an activist; but he’s Italian by heritage, a New Yorker by birth and his conservative views are loud and proud and reported as fact.

It was the energy of that New York pedigree that drew me in; I gravitate to strong characters whose confidence is absolute. Early on we left the political discussions off the table, and instead enjoyed a raucous repartee of every other subject over good food, Pacific Ocean views and smoking-hot sex.

When he asked to read my memoir, The Bachelor Chapters, I didn’t hesitate, and sent him the last revision of the second draft on the same day it went to my editor, Stacey Donovan, in May. Of course I wanted to hear what he thought, and of course he agreed to call and tell me when he had finished.

When I moved to Barcelona for the summer, Stacey returned the second draft, with red marks bleeding thorough the pages. I was mortified; the second draft was a fist-pounding improvement over the original manuscript, and I was certain only minor corrections would be in order. “Trust your editor,” that’s my advice—and if you don’t—go find another. I took on her notes; I considered every critique. I got mad—more than once. Eventually I came to understand that the fury I felt for HER—was the fury I would never have to experience from my future readers. That anger reflex led to my smartest self-editing reflections: Am I saying exactly what I mean? Am I keeping the reader in the story?

Wiser people than me won’t be surprised to hear that after one more rewrite, the third revision soars above that second draft, and soon, let’s say January 2014—I’ll be recommending a “buy” on the title, and begin the gamble on the reviews that follow. In the meantime, I had reason to call my Brooklyn-born buddy yesterday, needing his opinion on the situation that has us both bound to Panama in Central America. We hadn’t spoken since I sent the manuscript five months earlier, and he hadn’t answered the text message I sent later prompting his opinion.

Our business complete, I changed the topic. “So, wtf—did you read my book or not?” “Yeah, I read it,” his voice slowed down, and I thought I knew what was coming, “as soon as I got it.”

“You were gonna call me, r e m e m b e r—and tell me what you thought!”

“Yeah, yeah—well—I messed that up completely,” he confessed, as confident men often do. No excuses, no BS. These people still exist.

“So it would seem. So give it up now. Whaddya think, baby?”

“Well, I thought…” he didn’t so much drag out the sentence, as take a deep breath for the spate of condemnation that followed, “…I thought, what the hell are you trying to do here—lose all your readers?” That was what I expected, and he didn’t stop there.

“I mean you sound like—now, don’t get mad—you sound like an angry, white woman! You hate white men, you hate straight women—who’d you write it for—? —a bunch of lesbians who hate everyone?” Like I said, no bullshit from this man: just a little breather between facts.

“You’re doing this to get your story out—and to sell books,” he reminded me, “and how are you going to do that when you rip everyone apart?” It wasn’t a question as much as a critique, and when I thought he’d slowed down the steam, I jumped in with the obvious.

“Oh come on—I hate white men and straight women?—that’s what you got out of it?”

“Well, you do!

“I do not!”

“You do, too! Come on! It’s in the book!”

“Hell-ooh?—there’s like, one paragraph where I take on white men—but there’s no man-hating in the book—I’M HAVING SEX WITH WHITE MEN IN THE BOOK!”

I knew I wasn’t going to change his mind—but I was practicing the battle. I’m going to hear this again when the book hits. And when the book flies—I’m going to hear it a lot. And that’s not the half of. There are big, plump, cherry-picking opportunities to find offense with my fifty-shades-of-worldview that make up, The Bachelor Chapters. Two minutes with my guy and I’ve already decided; I need a trainer.

“I’m just telling you what I read—and it’s on the very first page!” he staked his position with that irrefutable fact. That’s exactly where it was.

And with that, I had to decide all over again, I had to cue up the questions, I had to bear the echo that familiar nagging voice: is this how I want to start? Is this going to cost me? Is this going to marginalize me before I even qualify for the game?

And there’s still one possible answer that always falls first: it just might.

So, today, right here, right now: I’m going to publish the first page—the preface, the prologue; the one way—out of a million ways—I decided to start my story. You tell me what I’m risking.

 THE BACHELOR CHAPTERS: A THINKING WOMAN’S ROMANCE

The Prologue

You want to know what I think is cool about black men? They’re not white men.

Hear me out. I’m not saying it to offend; I only say it because it’s true. For readers who aren’t white men, my point is old news. What’s also old news is that so many white men won’t get it, because the point is just that: so many white men don’t get it.

They don’t get that the world has been laid out for them. They don’t get that the cards are stacked in their favor. They don’t get that they are at the front of the bus and in line to take over the wheel. I don’t write this to pick a fight, or debate the merits of my claim; I write it to testify to the fact that there’s nothing quite as irritating as a misinformed white man with his denial on display. The rest of us are weary when these dudes won’t own up to the reality that they have privilege, and we are bone‐tired of their inane insistence that the field is level, and they are self-made.

In my life—lived first as a girl, next as a woman, and for many years as a lesbian—the field wasn’t near level; there were ruts and sinkholes and shifting sand. With no other option, I finessed the terrain and played the game of making it in the white man’s world and calling it mine. Of course, it’s mine too; in spite of the obstacle course that just kept on giving. The black men I’ve come to know don’t need to be convinced about the uneven playing field or the truth about blockades and double standards. They made their plays in a whole other ballpark, in a game with a different set of rules, and where the odds were also rigged against winning. But they won, too. It’s just the truth that the big game of life is played in the white man’s world with the white man’s rules; and what’s cool about black men is they can’t annoy me with either innocence or stupidity that somehow that’s not true.

That was one discovery that I made about Black America when I began to date black men in the first decade of the twenty‐first century. At that time in my life, I had set out to save myself, one more time, from my presumptuous culture. I was forty‐four years‐old and single for the first time in twenty years. I had just recovered from a serious illness, the debilitating side effect of a personal crisis. After I got well, I decided to adopt a new lifestyle, making it up as I went, guided by wisdom and instinct, and the drive to get it right. I didn’t have all the answers, but I had a direction and an advantage. I wasn’t just starting over; I was starting smarter.

But that came later, and this story won’t make a lick of sense, or deserve your attention, until I set the stage and you’re clear on what happened before.

(chapter one follows)

 

 

 

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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