Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The 3 R's and the Big O (with a little help from my friends)

I was nervous before my recent reading at Good Vibrations in San Francisco. Of course I’m always nervous before a reading - that no one will show up, that no one will think my stuff is any good, that what I've decided to wear is all wrong and how could I ever have imagined...?

About the only thing I'm not nervous about before a reading is exposing my erotic imagination. In a Spiced Tea post a few months ago, Celia said something similar. Similar but different, of course -- mileage varies for everyone.

For me, reading publicly from my work is a very hot experience, but it's a different kind of hot from leaning back and letting it wash over me. It's so... purposeful, making sure that the sentences fall into real spoken rhythms, that the breath (both mine and the audience's) comes in the right places. Purposeful can be its own kind of sexy, though -- unless, of course, you're committed to the notion that sex is an entirely spontaneous, no-forethought kind of deal (makes it more innocent that way -- oops, before I realized what was happening, officer, there I was, having sex).

And of course I also always hope that people will laugh in the right places -- which is perhaps more like sex for me nowadays, than when I was younger and more deadly serious about it.

All in all, the reading went off quite well. I read from The Slightest Provocation; a young writer named Dahlia Schweitzer read from her short story collection, Seduce Me. We had lots of support: the good people from Good Vibes put out a great little spread of food and even better, they got the fabulous Carol Queen to introduce us.

Some introductions, if you need ‘em. Carol and her partner Robert Lawrence run San Francisco's Center for Sex and Culture; Carol can talk down and dirty in the sweetest, smartest, most rational and persuasive voice I know, and with her excellent shoes and cats-eye smart-bitch glasses, she’s likely to be the chic-est person at any orgy you might consider throwing. She’s written a lot of fiction and non-fiction as well: her cross-dressing novel, The Leather Daddy and the Femme, was an early inspiration for my Almost a Gentleman.

And Good Vibrations is San Francisco's history-making, worker-owned feminist sex-toy, sex education, sex-anything store; I believe it's the first of its kind in the country. There are ways in which San Francisco isn't my favorite city - its population density is too low to support a good public transportation system, for example -- but Carol and Good Vibes do a lot for my civic pride.

(I hadn't intended to include 2 photographs of Carol, but I'd never seen this one before, of her and Robert recreating the famous Brassai photo. Cool.)

Of course Dahlia and I both brought friends. For a while before we got started up, the audience threatened to look like a small, tasteful wedding -- her people on one side of the aisle, my little cohort of Will, Penni, Ellie, and Mitch on the other. But by the time we got started, there was a complement of genuine listeners.

Not that friends don’t listen. In fact, in some ways the best part of the evening was in Will’s car on the way home, discussing the reading and talking about sex. We all agreed that we’d specially liked the one of Dahlia’s stories about a couple who make a rule only to have sex once a week, to make the tension build up. Penni proposed that the tension was what made it erotica and not pornography, “because the orgasm comes at the end of a literary structure.”

“Hmm,” said Will, “but I’ve never had an orgasm in my life that didn’t come at the end of a highly elaborate literary structure.”

Which is why you should always bring your friends to your readings. You'll learn something about them and something about the world.

Because what Will said is what I think is what I’ve been getting at in all my novels, but which I don’t think I’ve ever heard put quite so succinctly. And I think it also has something to do with the weird way that craft and purpose articulate what's deep and involuntary, in the business of erotic reading and writing.

So I thought I’d seek your opinions, O panel of reader-and-writer experts out there. Earlier this week, the crumpets discussed how you put an orgasm into words. Is it possible that having a real live one implies a kind of narrative structure?

Do you think there's a difference between erotica and pornography, and if so, does it have anything do to with what I've been talking about?

How do the 3 R’s (reading, riting, and ‘rotica) come together for you? (Double entendre entirely accidental, of course)


Kate Pearce said...

I think that erotica, especially when its directed at women, has to appeal to that long slow burn of arousal that most of us need to get to 'that place'. And arousal starts in the brain. A good conflict, tight dialogue and extreme sexual tension make me hot and make me want to read on. Porn, for me, is more immediate and visual. It provokes an instant reaction rather than a long slow seduction.
Does that make sense?

Jane Lockwood said...

Penni proposed that the tension was what made it erotica and not pornography, “because the orgasm comes at the end of a literary structure.”
Pam I read this and (metaphorically since I was at work) shouted "yes!" It's certainly the closest I've ever seen to a definition of what differentiates pornography/erotica. And in porn the orgasm is always a given (why is it so difficult to write about this sort of thing without lapsing into single entendres?) whereas I think in erotica there's enough other writing stuff going on that might make it more elusive and thus more desirable.
Great thought-provoking post as usual, Pam. Thanks.

Pam Rosenthal said...

Thanks, Jane, for the kind words about the post. I'm not so sure I go with the distinction, in that surely there's S/M porn where at least one party isn't allowed to come. Though perhaps the achievement of control is the orgasm there?

Jane Lockwood said...

Pam, it certainly does get rather baroque, or possibly even rococo at times! Good point.

Pam Rosenthal said...

I get very chicken-and-eggy about this. Because I believe that every artwork is structured by it's particular loosenings and tightenings of knowledge, complexity... genres are sorted by familiar patterns -- think of mysteries, etc etc etc. Which is why I think sex and art have a lot to do with each other, and why there's a kind of prudery that hates this idea (best to pretend you had no idea what come over you).