The response to my anniversary post, The Handsomeness Experiment, was so overwhelmingly positive that I was a little bit buoyed by all the nice comments you guys left on it. Thank you very sincerely—both for your support over the last couple of years, and for your receptiveness to my hippie-dippie philosophies. In a sex blog, gawd help us.
At the same time, my mailbox got barraged with emails that were all very similar. They'd begin, Thank you for your thoughts in your anniversary post, or some variation thereof, and then continue, I want to think of myself as handsome, but I can't.
Everybody's story varied—and people do like sharing their stories with me, which is flattering and an honor. But they were all stories that had in common the refrain of I can't. As in, I want to meet men, but I can't. Or, I want to have better sex, but I can't. Or, I'm unhappy with the sex I have with my spouse, but I can't say anything.
I sympathize. But to a certain extent, I think this kind of thinking is bullshit.
I don't talk about my career much on these particular pages. But my particular creative career is something I've wanted to do ever since I was in my teens, and discovered I had a certain knack for it. I can't say I had a lot of parental support in my aspirations. They weren't exactly repelled by my grand dreams in the way they might have been if I'd announced I was going to make a go of a job course in high-visibility masturbation at the side of public school playgrounds, but they did kind of regard me with sympathy and suggest that I have a nice stable back-up career that would never go away in mind, like computer punch-card operator skills, or learning how to use a Dictaphone.
So I went to grad school, and made myself miserable. The only time I was happy was when I was doing what I instinctively knew I was supposed to be doing with my life. I made the big leap one summer when I ignored school completely and spent three months doing just that. I worked away at a big project and had a blast doing it. I'd never been on such a sustained high.
Along the way I got the attention of an artist's representative—an agent, if you will. She came on strong and told me how talented I was, and of all the things she could do for me. My head swelled. My hopes soared. She dropped names and made me see stars. When she was done, I didn't exactly write nicely-penned notes to all the bullies I'd ever known in high school and college that said, TOLD YA I'D BE RICH AND FAMOUS, SUCKAHS!, but I was pretty close.
Then the agent dumped me. No reason why. Just a month later, after I'd been cherishing notions of myself on The Today Show and Phil Donahue (this was the nineteen-eighties, after all), I got a postcard from the representative's assistant saying that they'd changed their minds, because on second view, they weren't as impressed with my summer project as they'd thought they were. That it was self-indulgent and self-conscious, and basically kind of sucky.
I hate to admit it, but I let that incident shape the next twenty years of my life. It became part of my life story, in fact—for a long time, the focal incident of my life story. I could've just gotten up off my feet and gone at it again. New project. New representative. I didn't, though. Over the course of time I would simply centralize that one failure so that it was an excuse for not ever really trying again. I'd think to myself, I can't start this new project and see it through—I had my one shot and I blew it. Or, I can't think about trying to get an agent to look at this thing. It's obviously just not in the cards for me.
For close to twenty years I lost all inertia, because the story I was telling myself about my life was all about defeat. It was an I-can't story. I was defeated before I even tried to begin—if I couldn't do it, why even try?
Eventually, when I realized what I was doing to myself, I made it into an I'm gonna story. As in, I'm gonna carve out another project for myself, see it through, and see if I can make a break for myself. And as in, I'm gonna keep going until I've really given it my all.
Can't is such an unassailable word. It might remove responsibility from your hands, in a way—it has a tendency to persuade us that we don't have any alternative. It's just something we can't do! But a lot of time, can't is just a damned lie. The things we can't face are really things we won't confront, or which we're too frightened to consider.
When I hear you guys saying I can't meet men, what I really hear is I'm too afraid. When you say I want to have sex that's more adventurous and fun, but I can't, I hear, There are a lot of reasons I won't allow myself to do what I want.
When you tell me, I can't fool around on my significant other, you're really telling me, I could if I really wanted to, but right now I'm choosing not to. And when you say, I can't tell myself once a day that I'm handsome, and try to believe it, you're really saying, I want to, but it hurts.
You can do any of those things. They might not be easy. They might not be right for you. But you can do them.
So this is my hard-won advice: don't tell yourself you can't do things. When you do, you'll start making it an official part of your own narrative. Can't is a seductive deceiver, a mask, an enabler. Be honest with yourself about these things, and recast your narrative as an I haven't yet story, or even an I'm afraid to tale.
Fears and lapses can be overcome, if you work at them. Can't, can't.
All right. Enough of my hippie-dippie nonsense, and onto some questions from formspring.me.
How often do your co-workers irritate you?
During the years I did office work, constantly. It was my prime driving factor in taking my creative work full-time.
I was just thinking about this issue yesterday, in fact, when I was remembering the awful man who was my supervisor for a good three or four years. He was the vice-president of my division of the university where I worked, and was so beloved by everyone that we referred to him as 'the lisping troll' behind his back. That is, when we weren't referring to him simply as 'shithead.'
Writing articles for a university publication was part of my job at the time, and once he summoned me into his office and screamed at me for forty minutes straight because he disliked a headline I'd written. The headline was innocuous: Jones to Helm Animal Investigation Committee, or something very similar.
He screamed and spat and swore and said I'd embarrassed him and embarrassed the university, ranting and raving so direly that he had me convinced that I'd put in the wrong name of the person who was going to be the committee chair, or something dire.
Then it turned out that his entire screaming fit was because he didn't think helm was a real word.
I stood up, took the dictionary off his shelf, opened it to the definition, dropped it in front of him, and left the office.
Do you own and wear any jewelry? What pieces do you wear every day? Do you have any special pieces you only wear for special occasions?
I have a ring on my left ring finger I've worn for twenty-two years. Once in a while I'll wear a watch. If I have French cuffs on a shirt, I'll wear cuff links with them. That's the only jewelry I have, though.
If you could inhabit anyone's body for 24 hours - male or female - in order to experience (and give) physical pleasure as that person experiences (and gives) it, whose body would you pick, and why?
I don't have a specific individual in mind, but I know how guys work—despite slightly different wiring between various guys, the plumbing's all the same.
I'd enjoy being a woman for a day, simply to experience the differences, and to seduce a few straight guys.
Have you ever fooled around with somebody on grindr?
Yuh-huh. I surely have. I haven't found it as effective in hooking up as other internet sites, however—and as I wrote about recently, I've actually had more hookups from the non-sexual Instagram than I have from Grindr, which was made expressly for that purpose.
When you dislike someone, do you normally let them know or do you hide it?
I'm not really very good at hiding dislike. There's always going to be a certain frosty reserve in my manner when I have to deal with people I dislike.
I'm not one of those people who feels it's necessary to be liked by one hundred percent of people one hundred percent of the time, so I don't much care.
If someone's behaving in a manner that's rude or heedless, and it's causing me to dislike them, I'll typically point out the behavior and suggest it stop, but not mention that it's driving a wedge between us.
What's one new thing you want to try -- sexual or other -- in 2012?
I'd started the new year with a resolution to bottom sometime before 2013, but I've already busted that one. So to speak. Let's just call it mission accomplished, and ask me again next year.
What was your first car? What color was it? Did you buy or was it given to you?
The first car I ever drove was a metallic green 1974 Dodge Demon that belonged to my parents. Man, that thing was a bucket of bolts. I hated it.
The first car I ever owned was a 1979 Malibu. When I bought it from a colleague of my dad's in 1991, it had less than 20,000 miles on it. The woman who'd owned it drove it a half-mile to work, three times a week, and that was pretty much it, so it was in fantastic condition.
Until I got it, that is, when it decided to go through tires like potato chips and sputter and die whenever the temperature got below, oh, fifty degrees Fahrenheit. Man, I hated that car, too.