Monthly Archives: October 2011

the souls have their day

graffiti of three decorated skulls, honoring the Day of the DeadGood morning, foghorns, tall candle, sleeping puppy. Good morning, quiet music, strong tea, warm toes. Good morning. How’s the morning feel where you are?

(This feels like a conversation — like when I ask that question, somewhere you’re answering.)

Today is Halloween. All hollow’s eve, the day we bring the old pagan ritual of harvest, of releasing summer and releasing/honoring spirits and ancestors,  of masking and revelation into the public sphere. We take these days to honor who we’ve lost, to think about all the different selves we are, have been and could be, too.

This year, I think I’m going to dress up as someone on the verge of transforming her life in the direction of her dreams. What about you?

Are you being easy with yourself, if this is a difficult time of year for you, if the ritual aspects are triggering? What are you doing to take care of you during these days, if so?

In recent years, I’ve felt a lot more connected to the All Souls’/Dia De Los Muertos celebrations. These are the times to remember who has past, those we love who’ve died. I feel a little disconnected this morning, and this isn’t flowing like I want it to. I want to remember you, Grandma Sherman, and you, too, Grandma Cross. Yesterday we were on our way to a Dia de los Muertos ritual/celebration, and I was making ambrosia salad in your honor. It was the first time I was going to make that perfect midwestern treat, the thing you both always offered at your family-gathering tables. The invitation to the party said, to share at the potluck table, to bring a dish that connects you to someone you’ve lost or to your ancestors. But I’ve lost almost all of your dishes. All I have left is the candy, the cakes, the angel food and divinity, the peanut brittle, the sweet things that you prepared in small kitchens with a hundred little kids running around, including this one, who didn’t pay attention to what else you were making, who never imagined there’d be a day when she wouldn’t be able to remember what your hands looked like when you turned over the bread (did you make bread?) or stirred the batter, or basted the turkey, or mixed up the salad. Did you use jello in your ambrosia, or just sour cream and cool whip? What were your favorite foods? What were the foods you made to remember your own mothers or grandmothers? Here’s what I carry into this time of all souls’ and remembrance: I am sorry that I never asked you these questions when you were alive.  Tonight I will light the candles for you and hold the marigolds for you. We create our altars in quiet and secret, or in isolation. Some year, I’ll bring the pictures of you out from underneath items on my own private altar and celebrate your lives publicly, add your names to the big altars that get created in San Francisco or Oakland.

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A prompt for today: Who are you remembering and honoring (or not honoring!) at this time of memory and celebration? Can you take 10 minutes and write their memory, what you still hold of them in your hands and behind your eyes? You might begin with food (like we so often begin with food): What foods did they like to eat? What tastes or smells remind you of them? What foods did you eat together? Start there — and follow your writing wherever it seems to want you to go.

Thank you for the ways you hold memory, in sweetness and complication, the way you let those you love be messy in your memory of them. Thank you for all the rituals you hold, for the ways you release the rituals that aren’t serving you anymore, for the times you let costume tell deep truths about you. Thank you for your brilliant, creative soul & thank you for your words.

Tomales, Report Two

Got to bed closer to my right time last night, but still waking up early was hard today — in my bedroom, we got lots of serenading from the snoozed alarm. How’s the morning where you are? Still quiet? Deep blue? Opening?

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Remember: Next month, I get to spend a bunch of good time up in the Davis/Sacramento area — come and join me! Over the second weekend, I’ll be facilitating two day-long workshops, Reclaiming Our Erotic Story and Write Whole: Survivors Write, both hosted by AWA Sacramento/Sutterwriters (visit their site for more info and to register). On November 15, 4pm, I get to talk about erotic writing as liberatory practice at UC Davis as a part of their Conversations with Writers series.

Also! On Nov 12, 7:30pm, there will be a book launch for The Healing Art of Writing: Volume One. The launch reading and celebration will be held at Open Secret Book Store on C Street, San Rafael, CA. I have an excerpt in this book from a memoir/fiction piece called sistersister. I’m figuring out if I can make it to San Rafael when the workshop ends at 5 in Sacto — I’d love to be there for the reading. It’s going to be a fantastic event.

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I think part of me, of my writing self, is still up in Tomales, looking around for time to write, time to settle into the words that describe what just happened. A number of folks from my workshop group, I think, are in the same sort of head-heart space, holding all that just got broken open in us and working, now, to figure out what to do with all that gorgeous mess, how to fit it into our lives, or how to shift our lives to hold the places where we’ve grown.

In a comment to the previous post, alexn wrote:

Learning about writing seems to be  just a small part of the experience of attending a workshop like this. It seems so much more about learning about myself as a writer.   It’s the sort of thing the will be settling in me for weeks, months maybe.

I nodded along with alexn, reading this: although I did get a lot about writing practice and craft from the five days at Tomales (including learning about the associative voice and, over and over, visceral experience/examples of show don’t tell), the deeper stuff that’s looking for words/integration now is the part about who I am as a writer in my life — that is, the space that writing practice and work has in my life, and how much I want to grow that space. Let me see how I can write about it now, five days after coming home.

What I met, at the conference, was another part of who I want to be in the world, both in myself and in others: someone who regularly and consistently engages with writing on multiple levels, the blogging and first drafts, yes, please, and then, also, the next part: the editing, the revising, the deeper work of finding the true voice of a piece and working to let it out. That’s a part of my writing life I don’t engage often enough. The part that publishes, yes, and the part that gets to talk with other people about deep and arcane aspects of craft and the experience of a writer.

Also: I felt (I think this is one of the biggest pieces for me) the space that I want/need to  be able to get into some of my writing projects — over the course of those five days, I touched a life practice that could truly be centered around writing, and that sort of bodily experience effects and shapes visioning, helps me to feel that it would be possible to have that sort of life more consistently, away from writing retreat — I mean, in my real life.

I came home with some powerful clarity about what I need as a writer, and with some encouragement to be ferocious in naming and claiming that space. We’re clearing out some clutter, reshaping spaces — cleaning off the desk, getting rid of these piles of paper that sit for weeks until I file them or recycle. Just do it now. Rethink a decorating strategy that’s about letting framed photos lie flat on tabletops — how do you want to honor your space? With dust and clutter, or with some room to breathe, room to let ideas and images grow?

Clearing away all the piles and mess is just one part, though, the easier part. The harder part is owning what I really want for this one wild and precious life, and devoting myself to it with fierce compassion — if you are a writer, I learn over and over at spaces like Tomales, you must take the time you need to write. Others won’t give it to you. There will always be more demands. You will sacrifice in order to own this part of yourself. Sacrifice joyfully. Parents at the workshop, including Dorothy Allison and Kwame Dawes, talked about the necessity of the parent-writer to embrace benign neglect in order to make space for their writing.

(Please note, however, that in the middle of the sentence above, about focus and sacrifice, I stopped to help the puppy find her rope bone in the dark apartment. So, take from that what you will.)

There’s more: the desire for the deep quiet at Tomales, multileveled. Over the course of those five days, I was away from media, both traditional and social: no tv, no facebook, very little email. Talk about breathing room. What if my life were situated such that I had to work to access those things, those media, rather than working to clear open space in my head and life to write? Just imagine the ripple effects of such a shift.

So in the midst of planning for next year’s workshops (Bayview Writers in Tiburon and San Rafael, Dive Deep project/manuscript workshop in San Francisco, Write Whole in San Francisco, Declaring Our Erotic in SF, Writing the Flood in SF and Oakland, and, hopefully, a couple of online workshops as well — yowza) — wait, I lost track of what it was I wanted to say. You see the need for big space? What was it — in the midst, oh yes, in the midst of planning all this, I’m thinking about how I can get back to Tomales Bay for regular retreats, deep writing space, big openness and quiet in head and heart, as well as outside.

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A prompt for today: Find a candle and light it — be silent for a moment, watching the flame; if you’re doing this on a work break, sit quiet for a moment and imagine a candle. Notice the sound, the scent. Notice what associations you have with candle, with quiet, with flame. Notice what voices begin to rise up, even if it’s your to-do list. Begin to write from whatever arises during the time you spend with the candle. Give yourself 10 minutes, and follow your writing wherever it seems to want you to go.

Thank you, always, for the ways that you burn. Thank you for your deep light. Thank you for your words.

Tomales, report one

Van Gogh's starry night as graffiti

Oakland, I’m holding you in my heart and bones this morning.

Good mornin’ good mornin’ — the foghorns are going where I am; the streetcleaners, no, the garbagefolks are just coming around to collect the recycling. Those are the noises outside my window just now, that metallic sound of mash into maw, that long and hollow bassoony note. What’s it sound like where you are?

It’s hard to get back into my writing schedule, after a week away. Most nights at Tomales I stayed up until 10 or later, and woke up about 6. I’d get up and shower, then get to the breakfast (dining) hall between 6:30 and 7, and there I’d write and do my homework for that morning’s workshop. It got in my body, that schedule, that kind of writing time, that sort of focus: days spent reading and talking about writing. We did only a bit of writing in workshop; Dorothy Allison gave us prompts on the morning of the third and fourth days, and that was fantastic — we wrote together and then read around our writing, not giving one another feedback, just receiving one another’s words.

I blogged for you on the second morning, but then the WordPress iphone app ate my blog, and then I was too frustrated to rewrite it, so I left the blogging for home.

There’s a bubbly noise coming from outside; I think it’s a couple of women walking by, headed to the club/gym down the road. At first it sounds hyena-like, then almost electronic. I’m not quite back in this world, I don’t think.

I want to tell you everything. I want you to be able to go to this workshop, to be there, to have this writing space for yourself. Here’s what I can give you — these were some highlights:

  • Five days listening to Dorothy Allison talk about writing practice and about the necessity to honor and accept our true nature as writers (fierce, hungry, generous, selfish, competitive, gorgeous) — that first meeting, on Wednesday afternoon, when we all gathered around a circle of tables and met each other, I was so desperate and scared and hungry, I thought I might crack open like a brittle husk right there at the desk and fall into pieces that could be blown away, but after a good cry that night deep in the shadows of the woods around campus, I was a bit more solid the next morning, Thursday, when my piece was going to be one of the ones we workshopped.
  • Workshopping with eleven powerful women writers and learning craft and possibility by diving deep into each of our writing samples.
  • Kwame DawespoetryJon Davis‘ poetry — Dorothy Allison‘s prose — Fenton Johnson‘s essay/prose about faith and truth and possibility — Danzy Senna‘s short stories — Ben Percy‘s suspense and characters (and yes, I’ll say it, his voice) — Melinda Moustakis‘ short stories; we got to hear each of the faculty read from their work and talk about their craft, their thoughts about voice in particular; what a gift that was, to get to soak in all this possibility. (Go check out all of their work — powerful, powerful writers.)
  • Talking with both Danzy Senna and Dorothy Allison at the table the first night at dinner; you can’t imagine how nervous I was — I’m amazed I was able to open my mouth to speak at all. (These two wrote books that sing to and inspire me as a writer and as a reader; Senna wrote Caucasia, which is the book of hers I return to most often, and you know what Dorothy Allison wrote.)
  • Two craft talks (three, if you count, too, Kwame Dawes’ q&a) — the craft talk is a chance to hear what established and skilled writers have to say about some particular aspect of the writing process or writing life, and can be technical or philosophical, and often ends up being both and more.
  • Stargazing one night with two of the women in my workshop — when we were too-full-to-overflowing, we took one night for ourselves, away from more readings, more words, more input; we had one small flashlight and walked up into the bayside darkness, up a small hill (watching out for deer) and lay ourselves out on a small concrete slab (remnants of maybe an old building, or some underground workings that we could only see the tops of), turned off the flashlight, turned on a bit of music, and just stared up at the enormous, aching sky; we let ourselves throb with all we were trying to take into our bodies over the course of the workshop. At one point, we could hear the coyotes having a party in the distance, and at least one owl came to join us overhead.
  • Quail running around in burbly clumps, all over campus.
  • The towering, top-heavy Monterey pine.
  • Feeling so jealous of some of the writers in my workshop group when I read their writing (“damnit, why can’t/didn’t I write like that?”), and then allowing myself to open up, learn from them, connect with them.
  • The gorgeous open mic, with the voices of so many of the women in my own workshop group, and many others, and how we all got to cheer for and celebrate one another.
  • The cracking open that happens in me, every time I put myself in a space similar to this, where I know I need to learn something important, know I need to let other people in — how, every time, I resist it, I assure myself I’m going to stay closed and tight and quiet, and then I can’t, and I cry for awhile, and then I let the new good stuff in. (That’s not very specific, I know, and someday I’ll figure out how to write about the embodied sense of that experience.)

There’s more, but it’s getting late, and the puppy’s going to need to go out. She’s learned to paw and scratch at us when she wants something — where does she learn these things? I’ll share at least one of the prompts we got from Dorothy (Dorothy, I said, just using her first name, like we’re all familiar and stuff), probably both — but for now, the prompt is this:

What’s your ideal writing space and/or practice look like? Give yourself 10 minutes, or even 7, set a timer, and write — dream big. Let yourself live into that space and that practice; tell me what it smells like there in your space, what it feels like.

Thank you for your persistence, your love of words, your love of other people who love words. Thank you for your wild abandon, how you live so close, still, to that little kid who just wanted to put word against word. Thank you, now, for those words.

Tomales Bay

graffiti typewriterToday I head out to the Tomales Bay Writing Workshops, head out for  a five-day writing workshop with Dorothy Allison and deep writing community in a place that I love, and it’s thanks, completely, to you.

Thank you.

A few months ago, I applied for a fellowship to this workshop, and then didn’t receive it. I had told myself, initially, well, if I don’t get the fellowship, then fine, I just won’t go. But I got the letter informing me that I’d been placed in Dorothy Allison’s workshop and they hoped I could join them just the same, even though they had given the fellowships to other folks. Something in me said, the writer part said, we have to go anyway. I couldn’t afford it, not without help. We had sudden bills that were coming due, family business that needed dealing with, low enrollment in workshops — still: we have to go anyway, the part in me said. Just ask for help.

So I asked you for help. And you came through with help, and I was stunned. I still am. I described the process to someone yesterday, and she said, And how does that feel? Like affirmation, right? and I said, Oh, right, yes, like affirmation. I was going to say, like pressure. And so she and I talked abut shifting that inside message, paying attention to the way in which each of those gifts of money and messages of support and encouragement weren’t about pressuring me to write something in particular or to “be good” in some specific way (sigh), but about supporting this side of my work, the writing side. (The Mr. helps me re-think those messages, too.) I’m a little overwhelmed, considering it now, and kind of verklempt, and so very grateful to you all. I want to do right by you, and can’t wait to share with you what I learn at the workshop.

I’ll be working on a tiny excerpt of this novel I’m in the middle of, that I may be in the middle of for awhile. Right now it’s at 168 single-spaced pages. Sometimes I double-space it, just to give myself a thrill. I’ll be working with Dorothy Allison. (You know her work, right? She wrote Bastard out of Carolina, which about everyone has heard of and should read, and also the amazing collections Women Who Hate Me, Skin, Trash and Two or Three Things I Know for Sure, as well as another novel, Cavedweller. I would invite you to read them all.) I think I mentioned that already, and I might do again — it’s not quite real to me yet. Hold hopes for me that I don’t devolve into a slavering fangirl in front of her, ok? Also, Danzy Senna will be there, whose book, Caucasia, I reread at least once a year or so — I very much hope to get a chance to talk with her as well.

She asked us to have read Ursula K. Le Guin’s book on writing, Steering the Craft. I’ve liked reading it as homework, and appreciate, too, the opportunity to think more on craft. In the workshops I offer, while we do some craftwork (not kraftwerk), it’s always rather through the back door — we’re much more focused, at writing ourselves whole, in generating the material to work with, in trusting the guidance of our writing voices, and learning by listening to and commenting on one another’s work. The craft comes in through the backdoor, when I offer an exercise that’s all in dialogue, or we use a simile/metaphor prompt, or a prompt that invites us to consider setting and detail. We just don’t talk about those craft parts as much as folks might happen in other writing workshops. It’s good, sometimes, to refocus, to let craft in through the front door, and I’m enjoying Ursula Le Guin’s clear, invitational-yet-instructive voice. Reading the book, I have the sense of being in a workshop with her, which, of course, is the point. (Also, she encourages a re-reading of some of the classics, for specific writing-related purposes, and also purely for love of reading. I haven’t read most of our classic works, and am feeling invited to do so after spending time with Steering the Craft.)

So this morning we’re headed up to Tomales Bay for some time in Inverness, maybe a little stop at Spirit Matters, maybe some beach time for the puppy and the mama and the papa, and then I’ll go to the workshop. I won’t be blogging from there, I don’t think — I’m leaving the computer at home, anyway, will be handwriting this weekend. Whew. I do have a little wordpress app on the cellphone, so we’ll see what the at&t service is like up there.

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As a prompt for today, and maybe for the week, I’d invite you to generate a list of places that you or your character love. Choose one of them for today (or let one choose you) and describe that place — begin with just the place itself, no people, no description of why it’s beloved to you or the character; stay with the details.  Then, if you are feeling drawn to, bring yourself or your character or other people into that place — let us see what happens there.

Tomorrow choose another of the places from your list. Just ten minutes — give yourself ten minutes for this thing you love, this writing work. If you start on the prompt and end up going in a completely different direction, if you stop and write, You know, this isn’t what I really want to write about. What I really want to say is — and then take the work in the direction of whatever it is your heart wants to write just now, that’s exactly perfect.

(You can also create a list of people you or your character loves, and start writing by describing one of those people — just describe them, and let the love and relationship come through in the details you or your character notice to reveal to us.)

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Thank you thank you. I’ll be back with you in five days. Thanks for your affirmation. I want to be able to offer just the same back to you.

what’s erotic writing good for?

http://www.flickr.com/photos/wallyg/3922015993/

Good Monday to you (morning or afternoon or evening, depending on where you are!).

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This weekend I heard Jane Hirschfield talking about her latest book of poetry on a local NPR radio program and one thing that stays with me from that program (besides the tremendous power of her poetry) is one of the reasons she gave for the importance of poetry in her life: she said she wanted her life to be more permeable. The interviewer had asked why we should welcome poetry into our lives, and Jane had said, I can’t answer for everyone, but I can say why poetry is important in my life, and she began her answer with a list of ways that poetry opened her and her life, and permeable was just one of those, but it stuck fast in me, and rung true. Yes: permeable. When Emily Dickenson says, “If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry,” she is talking about that experience of permeability, how poetry invites, allows, requires that we allow life and possibility to move through us. That’s the deep intimacy of poetry, that vulnerability that is required of us as we read, because the experience of a poem, the tethering of our own ideas into the metaphor of the poem, the way we lace ourselves into the meaning, the reading, the possibilities, suddenly, we are intimately interwoven into the mind and experience of the poet, we are together, there is no separation.

I was grateful for that reminder.

Saturday night I got to hang out with a number of people I admire greatly (Carol Queen, Robert Lawrence, Gina deVries, horehound stillpoint, Marlo Gayle, Allison Moon) at the LitQuake LitCrawl, where we read stories about sex, desire, music, home, lesbian werewolves, occupy wall street, the metaphysics of longing, the power and uses of erotic writing, sex and parenting, so much more in that hour of reading. The room was packed — we had the auditorium at the Women’s Building. I felt so proud to be in that room, proud to get to count myself among the number of the readers, folks who are brave enough to risk writing about sex, talking about sex, putting shit out on the line, saying things we’re not supposed to say, breaking taboos; there’s more — I felt part of something.

There are times when I’m ashamed to be an erotic writer, that’s the truth. I’m ashamed because I know my father’s ashamed, because I know this work makes many people uncomfortable. On Saturday I didn’t feel ashamed — some of the dust and pebbles of that feeling got brushed off me as I listened to the other readers, felt such deep and beaming pride for them, felt, too, so wildly grateful to be one of their number up there in front of a big room full of people wanting space to hear about sex, wanting public space for some honesty about how complicated and gorgeous our desiring is, how messy and fucked up and funny, how necessary.

Here’s the piece I read on Saturday — I cobbled together pieces from workshop writes and from this blog, thinking about the power and uses of erotic writing, my forever topic. I think I want this to be a longer piece, but here it is for now:

I lead erotic writing workshops. My father does not like that I do this work. About a year ago, I got reminded, again, that the queer daughter is the opposite of the ‘good’ daughter. The queer daughter can never be the good girl. Audre Lorde told me that years ago, but I have to keep on learning the lesson.

I’m still thinking about that line I brought as a prompt to the Femme Conference workshop, from Mary Oliver’s “Wild Geese”: You do not have to be good.

What would you write if you did not have to be good?

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Here’s an writing prompt: public sex. Create a list of places where something dirty could go down (or, even better, where you could never imagine something salacious erupting), and then let one of those sites choose you, and write what happened there.

Here’s something I wrote in response to that prompt at a workshop earlier this year:

It’s not like everyone doesn’t know I’ve got a thing for sex in bathrooms — and honestly, the more public the better. The night Jolly got her hands wedged there down beneath my slatted skirt we were at the dyke bar on the far side of an odd town. The place was broke down and gorgeous, flocked with the preened and disheveled, smelled like CK One and beer and hairspray, and was hotter than that sweet funky spot right between my tits beneath that goddamn corset.

I was far from home, visiting family, untangling myself from history and loss for the night, just looking to get a little bit drunk and a lot surrounded by my own kind, and was well on my way to meeting both those aims when Jolly pushed up behind me on the barstool and introduced me to a third.

Never seen you here before, ze said, leaning into me enough ze kinda destabilized my equilibrium –or was it just that little fat strong hand ze held up to get the bartender’s attention?

Never been here before, I said, forced to lean back against hir so I wouldn’t fall off the damn stool. Ze smelled like Marlboros, whiskey, sex and suddenly I was clutching my fishnetted thighs together. The bartender was flirting with some fauhawked argyle-wearer at the other end of the bar, and Jolly, who stood a good coupla inches over me, tilted hir greaser-slicked dark head down and flashed me the rinsewater grey clouds that hid in hir eyes, and said, Know where the john is?

Not yet, I choked.

Ze had my hand in hirs, urged me down off the barstool, just as someone threw a dollar in the jukebox for “Cherry Bomb.” Jolly was all tight black t-shirt, engineer boots, torn denim, and me with the aforementioned corset and tight-assed pencil skirt that flared into pincers and foam at the hem, which fell just mid-thigh. We didn’t need to introduce ourselves, our bodies had done that for us, and as ze closed the door to the stained and band-stickered single stall back by the pool tables, I leaned back against the wall and put one boot on the toilet. Jolly pursed hir lips, slid hir tongue down to make that kind of wet suckling sound someone lets loose with when they’re contemplating something very interesting or stupid or dangerous— I guess I was all of the above.

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What’s erotic writing good for? This is what my father wants to know.

Ok, for me, what it’s good for is getting my body back up off the floor, pulling me back out of cobwebbed corners, delving into the interstices and sewing, with the sweat of a pen, all my pieces back together again. Porn is good for reminders, it’s good for training fantasies into friendships, good for naming your own devices.

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Another response to a prompt: this one was, describe something you’ve forgotten.

Who taught him how to walk in high heels? His mother certainly never put a line of tape down on the hard wood floor of their dusty living room and presented her boy with that information: Put high heel pumps on this way, hold the bottom  in your one hand and press the shoe onto the opposite foot, or with platforms, if they have a buckle, press your legs together and lean your knees to one side, swishing your skirt or the bell bottoms of your jeans out of the way so you can see to do up the strap. Then stand tall, see, shift your center of gravity some, lean back onto them — like that — good! And now it’s one foot in front of the other, directly in front, honey, and let your hips go — good, just let your hips go.

He wonders if even girls got that kind of instruction—it was the 70s, after all, and his mother was more cork-soled comfort than platform boots by the time he started marveling through her closet after school, the days he got home so far before her, the days his name was Latch Key. He doesn’t remember how he learned this precious thing, this thing that separates the men from the flamboyance, this thing that sail-sells his faggot flag high and free. He had no Queens to teach him and he doesn’t remember especially examining how the rich, trashy ladies on Dallas shifted their bodies when their feet were pitched forward in stilettos. Somehow, the knowledge got in, like somehow he got himself inside a fine leather bustier and little denim hotpants, like he got himself inside words like Darlin and Mary, like he got himself inside another boy’s drawers.

He knows not all the fairy boys, the girly men, like to put their weight inside sequins and femininity, but he does— and he doesn’t remember when it landed clear as a furled fake eyelash that this made him no less of a man, but he carries that knowing in his bones like he carries the knowing how to let his hips shift easy like balls of butter in their sockets when he’s wielding a pair of high heels through a room full of wringing wet men, and this knowing his momma doesn’t know she gave him is what will save his life.

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Why does erotic writing matter? Why does it matter whether or not you’re in your body? Why does it matter whether or not you’re in your honest self, your heat and desire? We want more than to be trapped into the holes that our perpetrators drove us into. We want more than the body of loss that we became.  We want more than for our bodies to be the landscape of our terror. We want our bodies also to encompass joy — and this writing, it can be one path to our (re)embodying that joy, even before we try it on off the page.

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I have learned a tremendous thing to do with the not-good-daughter, the bad girl living in me.  I have made her into an alter ego. My father doesn’t know about her, which is all right with all three of us.

(here’s one more response to a writing exercise — the prompt was, if I listened to my body…)

If I’d listened to my body, I would have gotten up about a quarter of the way into the fucking, gently but firmly encouraged the butch off of me, maybe even unbuckled the strap-on while I was disengaging myself from that young one’s musty flannel sheets.

As it was, I stayed. Why? Because I was hopeful. And horny. I stayed, spread-eagled and doing my damndest to hump myself into some kind of urgency while the baby butch had used the dildo like a pneumatic drill after approximately 17 seconds of so-called foreplay — apparently the kid had been working out, ’cause she was super proud of her biceps and kept flexing them while she sweated and pounded over me. Had I not been so clogged with wishes for a good lay, I would have put my girl teacher high femme hard hat back on and moved to climb out from the jackhammer pit about 8 minutes in.

Can you imagine? I was imagining, ’cause it was helping me get off. I’d lean up, put a hand on the butch’s sweaty chest (what was the unfuckable’s name again? Oh yes: Commando. Seriously.) and said, Hold up. Excuse m, e. I gotta go.

No tension, no raised voices, no drama. Yes, my cunt would still be aching and hopeful and clutching at Command’s commando like maybe it could learn to do something different, a maneuver,, a trick, in spite of Commando’s obvious unfamiliarity with its possibilities.

Here’s how it was going inside my head: Commando would have frozen at the expression on my mussed face, one of all raised eyebrows and creased cheek to one side, lips pursed like Really? and so, I would’ve been able to slide myself (not really wetly enough) off the still cock, reach my nimble fingers to Commando’s hips and unbuckle the harness quick like butter would not be melting in this bed and yet before the stunned stud could respond. I’d push again between that thin butch’s small breasts, lean in for a long and too-urgent kiss (an indication, let me tell you, of my still pressing throb between the legs) and lean Commando down onto her broad back while I managed to install Commando’s contraption around my own wide and wanting hips.

Wha–? Commando might’ve said, from between my flush and swollen lips (the upper ones, since she hadn’t managed to find  my lower ones with her own).

Hold still, honey, I’d’ve said. I’m doing something here. And then I’d start to nudge the fat and not quite realistic head just to the other woman’s lower lips, nudge, too, the backside of the dildo rough against my own clit. That’s it, now. And just how much better it could have gone from there—

Take any of those prompt for your own writing today — and keep going with your work, knowing it keeps you permeable, open to the elements, alive and vulnerable, tough and meaty like the stuff of every heart.

Thank you for your words today.

un-practicing procrastination

graffiti: big red heart with the words "love yourself!" in cursive, written underneathGood morning good morning!

I’ve just had to go replenish my tea — moroccan mint (green with some mint) and nettle and tulsi and anise and cardamom. Today I needed a little bit of everything, I’m throwing in all the bombs, trying to figure out what will land, what will stick, what will help.

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Tonight’s the LitQuake LitCrawl! I get to share the mic at Carol Queen’s Good Vibrations reading with Gina De Vries, Marlo Gayle, Robert Lawrence, Allison Moon, and the ever-fabulous horehound stillpoint. (We’ll be in the Women’s Building Auditorium, 3543 18th St., 7:15 – 8:15 pm.) I just can’t wait. Do you have your LitCrawl evening planned out yet? Well, now you know what you’re doing for Phase 2! It’s going to be an incredible evening of literary fierceness — eat well today, rest up, do your calisthenics and stretching, then get out there and take in some words!

I’m finally figuring out what I’m going to read tonight — whew.

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Over the last few days, the writing has been coming hard. I am feeling overwhelmed, and so when I sit down at the computer, the first feeling that comes upon me is exhaustion (which I guess is not so unusual for many of us at 4:30am) and a sense of, how will it all get done? I’ve had the words “bird by bird” running through my head pretty constantly for the last couple of weeks — many of you have read Anne Lamott’s book by that name, and if you haven’t, I recommend it without hesitation, whether or not you’re a writer. The ‘bird-by-bird’-ness is related to the message I have taped to my computer screen at my monitor: one thing, everyday. Just take one piece of the big project, the enormous life change, the book, the essay collection, the lifestyle change, whatever big thing you’ve got looming over you, and focus on that little piece for today. We don’t get anywhere all at once; every transition/transformation, every big piece of work takes time and many steps.

I have to remind myself this, over and over, especially since I am an exquisite, practiced, adept procrastinator; I tend to prefer to put things off until the very last minute, right before the deadline, so that I can justify a day spent only working on that task (like, say, a performance for the LitQuake LitCrawl) — and then, the next day, I’ll be closer to the deadline for soemthing else, and will be able to justify ignoring phone calls or other tasks in order just to do that thing. The point is a life spent jumping from fire to fire, instead of pacing more steadily through a gently-warming, steadily-building (sustainable) life, one where I am much less frequently burned. (I’m not at all certain that that metaphor works.)

Here’s the point: yes, there’s a lot to do. I need to find regular workshop/office spaces in San Francisco and San Rafael, have three book projects to work on, have promotional materials to develop and disperse, there’s a talk to write, writing to edit, editing to send out to others. ) And there’s this puppy that needs time and attention, some more training, a relationship that needs energy and awareness.) These aren’t any of them things I can procrastinate my way into getting a day to complete; does that make sense? I’m talking about projects that require regular work, regular attention, steady progress and development; I can’t complete them in the mid night-to-five-am college-paper-writing crunch.

Those old methods aren’t serving me anymore (I’m saying this about a lot of practices these days) — and developing new practices and habits takes work and patience. I get frustrated with myself, get angry and overwhelmed, wonder when the work will be over. Oh, right: it doesn’t get over. It keeps building, because we’re on this path to a life that’s focused on the work we love. Still, that transition is a rough one. (What do you mean I deserve a life spent focusing on work I love?) I practice being easy with myself; it’s work, some days.

I’ve got more to say about procrastination — don’t we all? We keep coming back to what used to work, and trying again, trying again.

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a prompt for today: take 10 minutes with a character you don’t like very much, maybe writing about a time when you didn’t like yourself very much, or someone else you’re not fond of at the moment. (Just notice what comes to mind when you read that prompt, or sit with it for a moment — let yourself begin writing from whatever voices or images arise.) Write from the POV, if you can, of that person/character — who are they? What’s making them act the way that they do? Notice if you can write from a place of compassion for the character/person.

Thanks for your gentle patience with yourself as you walk through whatever changes you’re in the middle of right now — thanks for the patience and presence you offer to others. Thanks, always, for your words.

let it into the light

National Coming Out Day logo: Keith Haring image of a figure emerging, jubilant, from a closet doorGood morning good morning — is it Tuesday where you are? Here, it’s a Tuesday, quiet so far, dark. I’m having green tea with tulsi and mint, and there’s a candle lit in a tall jar — the flame is popping in the wax as air bubbles emerge, I think, and it feels like the flame is talking to me.

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Sent out the writing ourselves whole October newsletter yesterday — there are a whole lot of new writing opportunities coming up in the new year! We’re launching Bayview Writers, a general-topic writing workshop for Marin — women’s group on Tuesday mornings in Tiburon, and an open group on Wednesday evenings in San Rafael. Also coming in January: Dive Deep, an advanced workshop for folks who are ready to dive deep into a writing project. Please let me know if you’d like to learn more about any of the writing opportunities coming up!

Plus, don’t forget that October’s Writing the Flood meets this coming Saturday! We’ll be in Berkeley this time around — I’d love to write with you there.

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Yes, it’s National Coming Out Day in the US (linking to the wikipedia site rather than the official HRC page — when did this get to be an HRC-sponsored event?)– how are you marking this day? Is it a matter of coming out as gay/queer/SGL, or allowing some other part of yourself to emerge into the light?

The quote that I am the most fond of is this one, attributed to Albert Camus: Liberty is the right not to lie. We are most free, I believe, when we are free to tell our truths — our full truths, our complicated truths.

Coming out, as many of us know, is a never-ending process. Because we live in a hetero-centrist culture, those of us who are queer or otherwise non-heterosexual will be constantly provided opportunities to correct assumptions made about us by straight friends and family. However, we will also consistently run into folks in our own community who make assumptions about us based on their own understandings or experience of our identity labels: this presents us with further coming-out opportunities. We get to practice, endlessly, telling the truths about our lives, if we wish to. It’s kind of a gift.

(Of course, it can get kind of annoying, too. Just once, I’d like for someone I meet (in a non-gay context) to assume that I’m queer: even when I was a butch/boy, folks tended to assume that I had a husband attached to that wedding ring or reference to ‘partner.’ Really? I’d ask myself, looking in the mirror. Really? Not that boyfriend was outside the realm of my affectional possibility — but I just wanted folks to make a different assumption about me sometimes.)

Maybe you feel like you’re done already, if you’ve come out. You live your life as an out gay person, everyone in your family knows, everyone at work knows, everyone at the bocce court and at the softball field knows. Right on. Now, what’s the next layer of truth-telling that you can do? Do folks make assumptions about you based on your gender presentation, based on the short-hand label you offer to them as a representation of yourself: do they think they know you because they hold lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer, trans, same-gender loving in their hands and in front of their eyes when they look at you? How can you be more honest with them? What do those words mean for you, really? Are there folks in your own community who continue to assume that because you’re a butch lesbian, you’re only into femmes, or folks who think that because you’re a gay man, you must not care about intimacy? Do you let yourself be led in any way by the bullshit stereotypes that have attached themselves to our labels (by necessity, I know, but still, they tether us in and away from one another)?

Here’s my own (ongoing) coming out: I’m a queer cisgendered woman who used to identify as butch and bisexual, who surfs around the Kinsey scale over the course of any given month from about a 3 to a 5.5; I’m theoretically poly but have always been monogamous in practice (if you don’t include my primary relationship with the written word); I’m an incest survivor, a tomboy (definitely) femme (maybe) switch, an erotica writer. There are some truths I’m not sharing here, because I’m ashamed to (but that’s a truth, too, isn’t it?).

I believe in coming out (I came out in the 90s, after all), and then I believe in telling the truth about what the words we use to come out really mean — how they unfurl into our real, lived lives. If everyone already knows you’re a big old homosexual or queer, why not take some time today to write about or talk about some aspect of your life that most folks don’t know, or to challenge assumptions that folks make about you because they know that you’re a big ol’ homo?

This is the prompt for today, then: Write the next layer of your *or your character’s) coming out: ok, so you’re gay. What does that mean? How does it feel in your body, on your skin, in community, in the world? What does queer, bi, SGL look like in your life? How are you different from the mainstream assumptions that get made about your identity? What are the complications, the contradictions?

If you identify as straight, tell us about that, too: how are you different from the mainstream assumptions that get made about straight folks? Where are your complications and contradictions? Let’s get messy with these identities, with these coming out stories.

What else might you (or your character) be wanting to come out about? Maybe there’s a part of yourself that has nothing to do with your sexuality at all, but that wants, finally, to be shared. Write about that part, if you want — the parts that cut or that survive, the parts that have to do with an eating disorder, with multiple small ones inside, with a secret love of flame. Maybe there are other parts — you’ve started going to church, you’ve taken up knitting, you’re exploring the family tree you thought you’d written off forever. Whatever part of yourself that’s been kept secret, kept in a closet, kept in the dark, whatever part that’s ready for some light, let it down on the page today. Let some of the light, stuff, into the dark, too. Give yourself 10 minutes — and follow your writing wherever it seems to want you to go.

Thank you for your generosity, the brave and complicated truths that you hold in your skin and tendon and bones. Thank you for the places you’ve protected by keeping them secret as long as needed; and thank you for the ways you let them into the sun and rich loam at the right time. Thank you for your words.

thoughts for a Monday

graffiti of stars painted on a brick wall; the painting also shows the silhouette of a person holding a spray can, creating the art.Something from this weekend:

Living on the edge means recognizing those places and experiences that do not offer me easy answers, those fierce edges of life where things are not as clear-cut as I hope for them to be. There is beauty in the border spaces, those places of ambiguity and mystery.

– Border Spaces, by Christine Valters Paintner

Here is another:

The Nigerian storyteller Ben Okri says that “In a fractured age, when cynicism is god, here is a possible heresy: we live by stories, we also live in them. One way or another we are living the stories planted in us early or along the way, or we are also living the stories we planted — knowingly or unknowingly — in ourselves. We live stories that either give our lives meaning or negate it with meaninglessness. If we change the stories we live by, quite possibly we change our lives.”

– The Truth about Stories: A Native Narrative, by Thomas King.

One more:

One time, twice, once in awhile, I get it right. Once in a while, I can make the world I know real on the page. I can make the women and men I love breathe out loud in an empty room, the dreams I dare not speak shape up in the smoky darkness of other people’s imaginations. Writing these stories is the only way I know to make sure of my ongoing decision to live, to set moment to moment a small piece of stubbornness against an ocean of ignorance and obliteration.

– Trash, Dorothy Allison

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Why are you writing this morning? Give yourself 10 minutes to start your week out with words: what are the stories that need telling from last week, from this weekend, from your dreams? You might also write from any response you have to the image above, to one or more of this morning’s quotes: follow your writing wherever it seems to want you to go. Begin this week with your words!

Thank you for the brilliance (sometimes quiet, sometimes loud) of your resilience and your resistance. Thank you for all the ways you grow and stretch, for your willingness to risk growing and stretching. Thank you for your words.

bring that beat back

graffiti of a turntable, painted onto the side of a grey concrete building ornamentationGood morning — how is this morning treating you so far? Here it’s rainy and it took me a long, long time to wake up; I think I hit snooze about 20 times.

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What’s going on this morning? I can’t remember my dreams — in the dream I wish I’d had, my grandmother, one of them, or maybe both, came to me. we were sitting in a city park, on a dry bench, and they were holding hands. They looked like I remembered them, washed grey permanents, slightly bent bodies, deeply kind faces, my father’s mother’s face a little more open than my mother’s mother’s face, but still both so very much there. They pat the space between them, want me to sit down there. They tell me things I need to hear, they tell me about the time when I was gone, the time when their families were missing two grandchildren — this is what the holidays were like, they say, this is what it felt like to miss you and your sister. The space didn’t fill in around you, they say, there was just a hole. We didn’t talk about it much, but we all knew it was there.The wind blew against our faces, gentle, and somehow they were sitting next to each other and also around me.The air was blue, fresh, the sky was open. There were other people, far away, walking. My grandmothers explained about their lives, they told me how to go forward in my own. They opened their hands and let me put mine there, they let me see how our hands are so much the same. You see, they said to me, look at our hands. You belong to us. You’re home here.

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Night before last, I went with a good friend to see Erasure, a band whose music saved me when I was coming out (and when I say that I mean both coming out as queer and also coming out from under my stepfather; these are always intertwined for me). I want to tell you about dancing, about dancing there in the way high seats at the Fox theater with my friend and hundreds of other people, about opening my mouth to sing along with a favorite song and realizing that hundreds of other people are also singing, about not being ashamed of loving something this much, about letting my body explode with and into this intertwining. At one point, when I was singing and all these other people were singing, and we were hollering for the artists who made the music, people we would never meet, who would never know us personally but whose work had touched us, had maybe made us feel heard and understood and welcome at moments when we believed (we knew) no one would ever really welcome us again, I understood sports fans. Just a flash, but it was there: this was a place of communal celebration, a place of connection — because we shared a love for those artists on the stage, we could share a love with one another.

Erasure takes me back into the very early 90s, full on, to the time when dancing saved me more than anything else ever could, because he had never had his hands on dancing. He’d had his hands on everything else I loved, every other spot of possible escape, including writing, even including alcohol, but dancing was all mine, and like swimming, I could get lost on the dance floor, alone and also intimately interwoven with the bodies and energies around me.

Yesterday I unpacked all my Erasure cds, both to share with my friend, and to copy back into my life — I uploaded them to my music playlists, haven’t listened to them much since moving to California. Somehow, being in San Francisco was like having Erasure, all that bouncing queerness, all around me. But, of course, San Francisco I’ve found is less bouncing queer and more please I need a job or a gig so I can pay the rent so I can have some time to do my art, and under the weight of that pressure, a little Erasure (I mean levity) must come.

As ever, I’m thinking about radical self care, and about paying attention to what works for you, what self care looks like and feels best for you. Other people, back in those early days, for instance, went to the gym, went jogging, lifted weights, took boxing classes — I took the very best care of myself that I could on the dance floor; the dance floor, for many years, was the only safe place, where I reminded all the inner selves that, yes, look, we can be all the way in this body and be full of power, be a brilliant, explosive thing, be connected to something outside ourselves (that music, yes, that rhythm) and in each one of those steps, we can also be connected to these people around us. We can feel desire and let that live all the way in us, right here, just here if you want. Yes, body, we can feel delight and be safe, even powerful, in that delight. Powerful? Yes– that was it. I didn’t just feel safe when I was dancing, I felt wildly in control, both loose and firmly present. This was my meditation, my strength, my power.

I want you to understand, I want to find the words for you to be able to understand, what it meant to have something like that, a place like that, after living for a decade with a man who had made me believe that he had access to everything in me, who had shaped my insides to his own liking, who had crafted the perfect vessel for himself in me, not just in my body, but in my thoughts. In my thoughts. He didn’t have access to this place — even if I’d tried to share it with him, and once or twice, I probably did, in words, over the phone, long distance, coast to midland, doing the work that he’d trained me into: heaving all of myself into his hands, because that was the only way I could be made acceptable and worth anything — even then, he couldn’t really touch it. This was more than a miracle, more than self care: this was a crack in the thing he had made. this was the fissure I would escape out of. One time, when I was home on a school break, and I was in the home office (either working on the software application that our family business was supposedly producing for college students, or transcribing his notes for a new article about child sexual trauma), when I believed I was home alone, I put on some music, some something, and danced barefoot around the office (which had been my own bedroom before I went away to school). I turned the music up loud, I was taking something for myself from this house, allowing myself to be me, just for a few minutes, before he or my mom or my sister came home and I had to reshape into the scapegoat gnarl that lived only because she begged forgiveness or battled them every second. I was laughing to myself in that dancing, laughing out loud, I flung my arms out, sang along to the music, and then noticed that he was standing there in the doorway. I froze, flooded with adrenaline and terror, and shame, then stammered and went to turn down the music. He wasn’t paying me to dance, of course (let’s have a different conversation about waht he really was paying me for); we had to go downstairs to the living room and sit for an hour, more, talk about my priorities, my work, my psyche.

I think he saw, in that moment, what he couldn’t touch, what in me was already free.

There was nothing to replace that feeling, the work that dancing did for me, the work that dancing and I did together, when I stopped going, when I started drinking more, when the depression took me over for all those years. Here’s the thing: I can’t drink when I’m dancing; alcohol makes me sloppy and makes the dancing a mess. And so, for a long time, the drinking brought more oblivion than the dancing did, and for awhile, the oblivion was more important. Safer. No need to have any connection with others in the oblivion. I don’t write about that time much.

Since moving to CA, I go out maybe once every few months; with a full work and workshop schedule, plus needing morning time for writing, latenight dance parties are difficult to make and the dancing slips way off into the wayback machine. But every time I go, every time I fit my body back into that necessary place, I remember why it matters, I remember and am flush with gratitude for what dancing gave me, which was life, no exaggeration. And I make plans to go out again, and soon — even just monthly, couldn’t we make that happen? It helps to have dancing friends, one of whom was there at the concert with me, had shared his tickets; dancing friends know this place of resilient safety through connection with music and sweat and other people’s energy — they get it, and so we can call one another and say, ok, tonight? and they say, maybe, yes, tonight, and we go out into the world and make it a little more safe for ourselves and the others, the nineteen year olds there among us in bodies of all ages, the ones who are finding the space of safety that we had believed would never open up for (or in) us.
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This is the prompt: tell me about the music you loved when you were nineteen (or the music your character loved), a favorite song. Where were you living then? What about that song was alive for you, what drew you to that song or band or type of music? Who else loved that song? 10 minutes: take me there, then follow your writing wherever it seemed to want you to go.

Today I am grateful for house music, for synthpop and techno, and grateful, too, for all the music you loved that saved you, the stuff that streamed into your walkman, the music that you met yourself within. Thanks for allowing that to happen, for sharing it with others, for continuing. Thank you for your words.

Sex Still Spoken Here – A Call for Submissions for the ERC Anthology!

(So excited about this project! If you have participated in the Erotic Reading Circle since it’s re-start in 2006, please consider submitting your work! -xo, Jen)

Center for Sex and Culture LogoCall For Submissions
Sex Still Spoken Here: More from the Erotic Reading Circle

Editors: Carol Queen, Jen Cross, Amy Butcher
Publisher: tbd
Deadline:  extended to Dec 1 (original deadline: Nov 1, 2011)
Compensation: TBD (at minimum, each author receives a copy of the finished collection and we will be sharing profits with contributors)

Editors Carol Queen, Jen Cross and Amy Butcher are collecting submissions for a second anthology of hot writings from the latest incarnation of the Erotic Reading Circle. Have you attended the Reading Circle in the last five years? We want your stories, poems, novel or memoir excerpts. All sexual orientation, sexualities, and gender orientations welcome: we want to showcase the diversity and power of writing that has been shared at the Circle. That being said, please do not submit stories featuring sex with children. Submissions welcome and invited from anyone who has shared their work at the ERC since 2006; we will read and consider all submission, though we will prioritize work that has been read/shared at the Circle. Reprints will be considered as long as you retain the rights to the work.

This follow-up to Sex Spoken Here (Down There Press, 1998) will consist of three parts: an introduction to the Erotic Reading Circle (a conversation with the editors); an anthology of erotic writing shared at the Circle in its latest incarnation; and a how-to manual for those wishing to start an Erotic Reading Circle in their communities. We expect to release the book in both electronic and print formats.

Keep in mind that there are two chances to attend the Erotic Reading Circle before the deadline: September 28, October 26.

Payment: Because we don’t yet have a publisher confirmed, payment is still being determined; we will share profits with contributors, and all contributors will receive at least one author’s copy of the anthology on publication. Contract is for one-time rights.

How to submit: Include story title, byline, and the date when the piece (in any form) was shared at the ERC (if it was) at top of first page. Send double spaced Times or Times New Roman 12 point black font Word document (.doc only, NOT .docx) OR RTF of 1,000-4,000 word story. Indent the first line of each paragraph half an inch and double space (regular double spacing, do not add extra lines between paragraphs or do any other irregular spacing). US grammar (double quotation marks around dialogue, etc.) required. In the body of the email, please include your legal name (and pseudonym if applicable), mailing address, and 50 word or less bio in the third person to sssh.subs@gmail.com. If you are using a pseudonym, please provide your real name and pseudonym and make it clear which one you’d like to be credited as.