The Horror of the Harlequin

No one batted an eye when I, a female, read the Borne series of espionage novels by Robert Ludlum long before the movies came out. Nor when I was enthralled by the Spenser detective series by Robert B.  Parker after being introduced to the character thanks to the 80’s TV series. Oh, but let me read anything from the Troubleshooters series, military novels by Suzanne Brockman and eyes roll hard because Brockman’s books are considered romance.

While I personally find most of what is published under romance novels as a genre to be poorly penned and predictable as all get out, my wiring simply cannot find pleasure in reading them. But I don’t knock their existence for clearly many people, like my best friend, simply adore them. Please note: I am not solely speaking of romance novels with sex scenes, explicit or otherwise, but the quick read novels made infamous by Harlequin which became so popular in the 80s and remain steadfastly so today. This includes many of which can be found under the somewhat less threatening big sister header of Chick Lit.

Romance novels are often dismissed as guilty pleasures, something a person should be be above reading once out of their teens by women, and to be outright ashamed of being seen as read by men. Granted, the covers of barrel chested men with gloriously voluptuous women do not help, but still it is not just females reading romance novels. Let’s be honest: just as “boys have adventures with action figures” while “girls play with dolls“, men read plenty of books with romance in them — they just aren’t called romance novels.

The espionage and detective series mentioned above have romance scenes, separate or including depictions of sex, to demonstrate the level of importance of the romantic interests to each other. It’s often needed to push the story, no matter how weakly. I mean was there really any need for the Marie character in the Ludlum books, or movies, other than to give the lead character the damsel to save? So guys aren’t exactly foreign to the concept of reading up on some lovely-dovey time in novels and tacitly accept it.  Whodathunkit? Uh, most e-book users and FanFic writers.

With e-books and Fan Fiction or FanFic for short, males -especially CIS males- can delve into the world of romance historical, modern, fact, fiction, and yes the homoerotic, BDSM and so many other subsets within subsets as most females have enjoyed in, sometimes covered, print for decades. One of the many reasons E-books have become so popular  is that people can read whatever they want in relative private, without the grandiose covers mentioned above shouting to world what steamy words lay on the pixelated screen.

We live in a (relatively) free society in which we can like anything we want. So if men are reading romance too, why all the hating? as the kids would say. The problem is we live in a society that claims to embrace equality between men and women and at the same time devalues femininity.

It seems that we’ve been taught to have a disdain for all girly things. It’s is just part and parcel of living in a patriarchal society.  While traditional femininity can be just as toxic as traditional masculinity, in the push for equality, somehow being actually feminine has been pushed away into being considered less than. That feminine pursuits are frivolous, while masculine pursuits are valid, including what we read. When we try to devalue femininity as a means of oppression that is a problem.

There’s no more wrong with a guy reading a historical romance for fun than a gal reading a political thriller for the same reason – if it brings the reader pleasure – to each/his or her own.

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Writing Our Lives #52essays2017 challenge – Week 13

52essays2017

A year-long weekly personal essay/memoir/creative nonfiction writing challenge. To learn more about this challenge or to participate, check out Vanessa Martir’s website and learn about it.

 

A Long Season

Feeling every second of the long season, it had been an especially rough time for her these past months. She can, and has done little else but, imagine how his penchant to skin a razor with his trade likely had him meander a little too long. She knows it was not greed that delayed him, compared to the mediocre craftsmanship of what was immediately available, he knew what their wares were worth and would not accept a sou less than. She did not begrudge him for an instant for it, but winter had assailed the mountain early. Its velvety white touch unusually brutal and endless, it was unsafe to travel the passage.

She thought she would go mad stewing in helpless isolation with the same cask of chores to occupy her days. Checking the store of supplies, because how on earth did those darn insects keep getting into the flour was beyond her ken, as if there were aught she could do had she run out. Checking the flue near religiously because only one lesson of waking, and nearly choking, in a dark smoke fill room was enough. He usually did that – checked the flue among other things. God how she missed him! His bawdy laugh, his soft whispers, his strong hands.  Her one solace had been her sewing. As his lutalica was what made him a master craftsman in his trade, she was with hers. A massive quilt in shades of blue, with white stars and one small red comet, with coordinating pillow covers, now adorned the bed she wearily crawled into.

She did not need a calendar to know winter was nearly over.  The winds were not so brisk. When she ventured out, the sweet scent of something green in the air adds to the warm sunshine finally reaching the foothills. With heavy lids she pressed her cheek to a star festooned pillow at last, even as she looked out of the window to the cold dark night and smiled with hope. The passage would be open and he would be home soon.

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Seeing Stars, Charcoal – Karin Gustafson

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Sunday Wordle #292
Sweet, Touch, Months, Adds, Sunshine, Stew, Cask, Red, Velvety, Smoke, Foothills, Long

MLMM Wordle #148
Cheek, Heavy, Insect, Skin a Razor(Drive a hard bargain), Instant, Greed, Helpless, Meander, Assail, Mediocre, Passage, Lutalica{Lutalica: The Part of Your Identity That Doesn’t Fit Into Categories)

Use at least 10 of the words to create a story or poem. The words can appear in an alternate form, in any order that you like.

ManicDDaily – Seeing Stars, charcoal
This story was going to be something different, and from a male perspective until I saw Karin’s lovely art, then everything changed.

Oh, For Crying Out Loud!

My commute is such that while all of my subway ride is underground, various stations along the route are equipped with free WiFi. The thirty to forty-five seconds spent at each station is usually just enough time for my smartphone to pick up a signal and perhaps update texts and/or an app or two. As such I was having something of a textation, a texting conversation, with a friend. As we each were on different trains, with anything between two to seven minutes between stations, we innately accepted the stop and go nature of it.

At one pointed she texted something that caught me completely off-guard. I just was not expecting such words to come from her and it touched me in a way I was not prepared to handle. There I was, on the subway, choking with feeling. I was so completely overcome by it. I felt my face contort, tears I could not control were about to fall. It was made all the worse when the man sitting next to me touched my trembling shoulder asking if I were okay. I immediately put my head in my lap unable to answer. Unable to stop the ragged gasping that fell from my lips. I was just short of keening as I desperately tried to suppress my emotions.

GOD DAMN HER!!!!

It started with her asking me about a -how shall I say this? stranger than usual- Facebook post and the snark started. I wish I could share, but the comments started in the gutter and went downhill fast, even by my prurient standards. Taken on its own, it would not have been as amusing, but in context of the randomness of the texts coming in, some out of order, the time of morning, the picking on of a mutual friend and the simple lack of that life giving thing called coffee, it was all the more funny than it ever should have been to disastrous results.  That emotion I was choking on? Pure unhinged laughter.

I was was not just crying with laughter, I trying with all of my might not to howl with it. And that was my mistake.

I should have learned my lesson from the last time this happened and just let it out to begin with.  This happened to me years ago at work, where several of my colleagues, and my boss, thought I was distraught over something as I was literally sobbing with suppressed laughter for a solid ten minutes because my cubicle mate at the time and I got into a case of the giggles and completely lost it. When it happened back then, I went off the floor to the ladies room and let it all out – much to the amusement of the one colleague who witnessed the transition from presumably distraught to dying of laughter as I could barely breath for it.  The memory of that last time combined with this one. And. Did. Not. Help. At. All.  Apparently, laughing hysterically and sobbing hysterically share many properties, thus why the word hysteria exists. The poor caring -and bless their souls- folks on the train simply could not tell at first.  It was a good two stations until I could finally lift my tear stained face and unmistakably guffaw at their expressions, letting those near me on the train know I was clearly crazy as a loon, but otherwise fine.

I’m the kind of guy who laughs at a funeral
Can’t understand what I mean?
Well, you soon will
–“One Week” Bare Naked Ladies
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#SOL2017

#SOL2017

Let’s see how others are losing it through the rest of this Monday:

10th Annual Slice of Life Story Challenge! – DAY 27

Fine Dining

Yesterday was all about Georgia O’Keeffe, but that was not all I saw while at Brooklyn Museum. Continuing its feminist vibe, the museum also has on exhibit “The Dinner Party” by Judy Chicago.

At some point in our lives we ask or are asked “If you could have dinner with…?” type of question. In her work “The Dinner Party” artist Judy Chicago takes that question and answers it in a magnificent way. It is a tribute of women from mythical goddesses, government leaders, wordsmiths, artists, scholars, activists and more, from historical to 20th century contemporaries.

Before you get to the table itself you pass through an entry where you are welcomed via a series of banners which hang from the ceiling. The phrases, depicted in much of the color pallet used in the main exhibit, read:

“And She Gathered All before Her”
“And She made for them A Sign to See”
“And lo They saw a Vision”
“From this day forth Like to like in All things”
“And then all that divided them merged”
“And then Everywhere was Eden Once again”

I do not know Ms. Chicago’s intention, but reading this I felt as though a powerful feminine deity looked around to see the mess that had been made of things and took action setting things right.

And then you enter “The Dinner Party”

“The Dinner Party” by Judy Chicago at Brooklyn Museun

“The Dinner Party” by Judy Chicago at Brooklyn Museum

I had heard of the iconic, large scale project years ago. Still I was not prepared for the monumental scope of it. Chicago does not invite just one iconic woman, but what has to be nearly a thousand women in history to dinner. The lighting is intimate and inviting. You want to lean in and view each setting. About 40 who are represented by place settings at the triangular shaped table and rest via names inscribed on floor on which the table rests. Because of the flowing text and the lighting, I initially felt the table floated on tiles made to look like water. Especially in the center of the floor where the names of so many women, a representation of the ebb and flow, the fluidity of the female spirit throughout history. I thought it fitting.

Ceramics, intricately embroidered table linens sit beneath utensils and golden chalices surrounding unique porcelain plates created for each invitee, with radiating forms representing female external sexual organs. Akin to a Georgia O’Keefe flower painting in spirit, she of course is a guest at this astonishing table. I was amazed by the beauty and depth of detail of each setting.

I cannot fathom the amount of staff involved in the creation of such amazing craftwork, but I give immense praise to all who brought this to life.

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#SOL2017

#SOL2017

Let’s see how the others are slicing their Sunday,

10th Annual Slice of Life Story Challenge! – DAY 26

Georgia On My Mind

And before you start humming any more of the classic Ray Charles song, I mean Georgia O’Keeffe, the artist and one of, if not, the inventor of the American modernism genre in Art. Brooklyn Museum currently hosts an inspiring exhibit.

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The exhibit, though featuring numerous pieces of her art, was more about the woman herself. Known as much for her free spirit as for her dramatic and often sensual of art, something she maintained was never intentional,  O’Keefe was a female role model in the male dominated world of abstract and fine art. Her unique style made her a standout in many ways.

It was in the 1920s, when nobody had time to reflect, that I saw a still-life painting with a flower that was perfectly exquisite, but so small you really could not appreciate it. I decided that if I could paint that flower in a huge scale, you could not ignore its beauty.
–Georgia O’Keeffe

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The queue to view the exhibit.

Like much of her art, when she wasn’t wearing black, she wore deep, rich hues. Preferring well-tailored, nearly mannish in her cut of clothes, instead of the more flowy, frilly styles that are a constant of women’s fashion, O’Keefe preferred a more androgynous look in her clothing style long before we started bandying the word about.

A style icon in her own right, the exhibit displays items of her clothing, and accessories -off the rack and custom made, over the years. She was also a sassy little minx as images captured her in various states of contemplation and dress – and undress- from various photographers such as Richard Avedon, Ansel Adams, and others, but especially her ex-lover Alfred Stieglitz. These photographs interspersed throughout the exhibit cover decades of her life and are as much art themselves in the stories they tell of their subject.

The exhibit also included video interviews of her at different times in her long career. Seeing and hearing her adds even more dimension when combined with all these personal pieces of her.Though I have known of her work all my life, I really knew nothing of the artist’s life until this exhibit.

It was a wonderful fusion of the art and the artist. I have a new and much deeper respect of both for it.

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#SOL2017

#SOL2017

Let’s see how the others sliced it up their Saturday,

10th Annual Slice of Life Story Challenge! – DAY 25

You Want Me To Go Where?

Me, being me – with my mind and thus my mouth having finally resurfaced from the wasteland it wallowed in for most of yesterday, made up for its self-imposed exile with a vengeance – I eventually pissed someone off. Pissed her off to point I was instructed “Go to Hades!”

Those of you who know me, or at least have an inkling of me, are likely smiling already…

“Hades?” I asked incredulously, “Really? Go to Hades? You do realize being sent there is not exactly punishment?”

“Right, since you’re destined to rule by his side, it would not be fearsome to you.” She sneered. I gave pause, I was going to ignore it. Really I was.

I was.

Oh Fine! We know I wasn’t.

“That specific fact notwithstanding,” I rolled my eyes. “Hades ruled the underworld where the dead resided after their time on earth. Once you died you belonged to him and once you’ve crossed the Styx into his domain you were not allowed to leave. Those who tried to circumvent such were punished; otherwise he was mostly passive in his daily rule. So, you telling me to Go to Hades? Yeah, really not much bite in that. Hades, and his eponymous underworld, are a construct of mythology. Hell, the place you don’t have the maturity to call by its proper name, is a construct of religion.”

“Smartass. To Hell with you then!” Emphasis heavy on the noun this time.  I know my brow arched, I couldn’t help it and she, knowing me, groaned knowing something was about to drop and not in her favor.

Now class, what’s one thing that really galls us humans? Someone throwing our own words back at us.

With you? Oh, Certainement!” I just grinned. “Since, as you’ve stated, I’m destined to rule by his side, it would not be fearsome for me, that would make me your queen, and either as Persephone or Lilith, I would surely make it hell for you.”

Lesson of the Day: Don’t mess with an erstwhile church girl, who likes classic mythology.

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From my desk at work: Spy vs Spy, a killer notepad and a mini traffic cone that asks “Where are we going? And why are we in this handbasket?”

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#SOL2017

#SOL2017

Let’s see how the hell others are slicing it up this Friday:

10th Annual Slice of Life Story Challenge! – DAY 24

Zort!

I am feeling rather indolent today. There really is no other word for it. Well, that’s not true – lackadaisical, torpid, languid, and lethargic also come to mind, but I digress.

“Where can I stick this?” Slipped from a colleague’s tongue. There was a slight pause as the speaker and two others in the conversation realized the verbal misstep and looked to me waiting for me to snark. On any other day I would have pounced on that spewing innuendo. I gave them all a whatever hand gesture – they are still waiting. I’m not angry, sad, tired or even bored, I simply can not be so bothered to be so bothered.

When not on autopilot, I’ve had no discerning thoughts, until I came here to post. For this creative mind that is constantly conjuring snark while running emotional apps, mental programs and existential subroutines, over speculative subroutines, under jokes, and in pure utter randomness, this complete lassitude of thought is unnerving to say the least.

It is just weird, really weird. I’ve shrugged, idly smiled, casually taught by rote all through this morning’s training session weird. Weird as in The Dude I just want to see what condition my condition is in, without being in any condition to condition really weird.

In the world of Pinky, are you pondering what I’m pondering? Pinky would be the Brain among the two of us right now. You’ll have to think about that, because clearly I’m not in the mood to.
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#SOL2017

#SOL2017

Let’s see how others are thinking it through their day:

10th Annual Slice of Life Story Challenge! – DAY 23

Yaaaaaawn

 

My insomnia is catching up to me. I’ve maybe had eight hours of sleep since Sunday morning. After two days of straight out documentation, plus an all day training session today, with another double session to look forward to tomorrow. I’m so knackered I could cry, but that would likely keep me awake. Of course, just as my eyes are actually starting to feel the type of heavy that I may finally get a few good hours in one night, I remember I had yet to post.

So goodnight, sleep tight and pleasant dreams to you, and hopefully me – if I can get this damned Lawrence Welk earworm I just gave myself out of my head.

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#SOL2017

#SOL2017

Let’s see how others are slicing through what’s left of this wide awake Wednesday:

10th Annual Slice of Life Story Challenge! – DAY 22

Just Swell

A guy on the train and I are flirting madly. We’re having fun, but I know it’s not going anywhere. As time draws near to when I’m about ready to leave, I let him down slowly with a contrasting statement.

“How is it this not enough, yet too much?’

“Because you can’t do what I do.”

“Like what?”

We’d been conversing for a while; I knew I was deep in his head space. I arch a brow, slowly tilting my head back and to the side, as I even more slowly lick the inside of my lower lip before pursing them and then wait as he watches me. His response is near instantaneous and far too easy.

His pupils dilate and breath catches a little.

A vein near his jaw starts to pulse rapidly.

A hand reaches up to rub the back of his neck in nervous curiosity. He realizes what he is doing and quickly brings his hand down.

I know my smile turns into a slow, but teasing grin. Like I said, too easy.

“How  – I don’t even know what to call it – what is it you do?”

“Apparently manipulate sympathetic divisional responses in your autonomic ganglia.” I grin, mostly to myself, for I absolutely adore the times when I can successfully reel off such information at a moment’s notice as though it were pedestrian conversation filler.

“My what?”

Luckily, the train pulls into my station, so I stand and head to the door.

“Sorry, not telling, a woman has to have her secrets.” I wink exiting. At least I left him with a smile and tumescence.

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#SOL2017

#SOL2017

Let’s see how others are slicing through this Tuesday:

10th Annual Slice of Life Story Challenge! – DAY 21

Don’t Give!

I look at him and I see a face:
One that’s covered in silent tears
His voice is in the deepest bass
Every word riddled by silent fears

Don’t give!

Always so cautious, always trying
never to give himself away
And yet I can see, he’s dying
a little bit more each day

Don’t give!

And the thought stabs my heart like a knife
Time put him in this spot and only time can heal
That all I can do is pray that the strife
Does not push him past where he can deal

Don’t give!

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