Posts Tagged ‘romance’
September 29, 2014 | by Amie Barrodale
How not to meditate.
Martin had a long pair of navy-blue socks that he wore when it was cold. He wore them in the morning before sunrise, and usually took them off before noon.
We were doing a silent, shamatha meditation retreat in the foothills of the Himalayas. The retreat was led by a stern Zen monk from Japan. We referred to him by his honorific, Venerable. Venerable was tall. It was hard to determine his age. He might have been fifty years old, at most. He wore aviator-style glasses. He had square front teeth. His eyes tilted a bit down at the outer corners, down toward his ears, giving him a sad, warm, sexual look. He was handsome and he was stern. He told us that if we learned to sit shamatha, we would no longer have nightmares, and all our anxieties would reveal themselves as mental disturbances and nothing more. He asked us to consider, when we were feeling anxiety, if that was really bliss. Really look at it, he said, really ask yourself. Actually, I don’t think he understood our practice, but I think he’d gotten some instruction, and I was a little offended and a little uneasy that he’d come and sit here and insult us—suggest vaguely that his style of Buddhism was superior. But maybe I was imagining it.
On the first night of the retreat, Venerable told us that ego is like a vampire. Martin, whom I was secretly dating, raised his hand and asked how, if he was to think of his ego as a sneaky vampire, he was expected to relax. The phrase “sneaky vampire” got stuck in my head. The question seemed like a comeback. It made Venerable seem, all at once, ridiculous. I was afraid, while Venerable answered, that I would start laughing, so I didn’t hear his answer. The next person asked a question. I was still thinking “sneaky vampire.” Then I broke. I started laughing. Each time I got my laughing under control, it would explode again, worse, when I thought, “sneaky vampire” while looking at Venerable’s handsome face, noticing his elegant comportment. Venerable was answering an Australian paraglider’s question about light. “Ah, light,” he said, “that is a big subject. For that, come and talk to me in private.” Read More »
September 4, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
- Before he made his second “appearance” on The Simpsons in 2004, Thomas Pynchon made a few edits to the teleplay—he crossed out a pejorative line of dialogue about Homer’s ample posterior. “Homer is my role model,” he wrote in the margins, “and I can’t speak ill of him.”
- Walter Benjamin’s “vexed relationship with academia”: “Benjamin could do first-paragraph seduction with a vengeance; yet on the several occasions when certain essays were the key to a prestigious university post—when those powers of seduction would really have worked in his favor—what does he do? He goes in the opposite direction, producing dense thickets of prickly, forbidding verbiage. Today, there isn’t a university press anywhere in the world that wouldn’t kill to get the rights to publish those same contentious, rejected essays.”
- Now that so much of our media is stored in the Cloud, “the tide has turned against the collector of recordings, not to mention the collector of books: what was once known as building a library is now considered hoarding. One is expected to banish all clutter and consume culture in a gleaming, empty room.”
- From If Only He Knew: A Valuable Guide to Knowing, Understanding, and Loving Your Wife, a 1988 Christian relationship guide that seems to presume marriage is a total bummer: “While a man needs little or no preparation for sex, a woman often needs hours of emotional and mental preparation … Comfort her when she is down emotionally. For instance, put your arms around her and silently hold her for a few seconds without lectures or putdowns.”
- In which a Roald Dahl story moves a man to pursue beekeeping, a hobby that teaches us much about the nature of loyalty (and the loyalty of nature).
February 14, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
Choosing your own erotic destiny, or trying to.
A few nights ago, I was in a world-class sushi restaurant, holding a radish shaped like a rose and contemplating my next move. Koji, the head chef, had carved the radish-rose for me moments ago, after a game of strip poker that ended with him fucking me in the dining room. Earlier that night, I’d adjourned to a lavish hotel suite to suck tequila from a rock star’s navel; a renowned fashion photographer had taken pictures of my genitals and gone down on me in his darkroom, where I’d blurted without thinking, “God, I’m so wet!”; and I’d indulged in a little tasteful S&M with my friend’s older boss, spanking his firm, muscled, George Clooney-ish buttocks with a schoolteacher’s ruler.
Now I felt trapped, denatured, and sort of bored.
A Girl Walks into a Bar is a new choose-your-own-adventure-style erotic novel in which “YOU make the decisions.” YOU, in this case, was me—I was calling the shots in this vale of thrills. I’d picked up Girl in pursuit of cheap gender-bending laughs, but I also had what you might charitably call an anthropological curiosity. In the wake of Fifty Shades of Grey, I wanted to see: What did a mainstream erotic novel look like?
Written by three South African women under the pseudonym Helena S. Paige, A Girl Walks into a Bar markets itself as an empowerment agent. “YOUR FANTASY, YOUR RULES. YOU DECIDE HOW THE NIGHT WILL END,” its cover says. (Another new novel with a similar conceit, Follow Your Fantasy, suggests, “Even if you choose submission, the control is still all yours.”) But by promising refuge for the powerless, the publishers reveal something much sadder—the subtext of these proclamations is that control, especially for women, is simply too hard to come by in the real world. One might as well get one’s kicks elsewhere. When you print “YOU DECIDE HOW THE NIGHT WILL END” on the front of a work of fiction, you imply that women are not often afforded the pleasure of doing so. Read More »
February 14, 2013 | by Ross Kenneth Urken
Three Fourth of July weekends ago, on a crowded Hampton Jitney, beach bag strategically placed so no one could take the seat next to me, I watched a flustered blonde board and sit down directly across the aisle. Think Marilyn Monroe gone boho in the East End swelter. The LIRR had broken down, and she had spent several frustrating hours in the humidity of Westhampton waiting for a train that wouldn’t be fixed.
By contrast, I was cool and composed, having spent the day at a painter friend’s vernissage. At the time, I was a lowly twenty-three-year-old magazine intern and had met the artist while covering an event. Now I was craving some solitude. Slouched and brooding, knees tucked up into the seat before me, I closed myself off. Coupled with my tote-bag force field, I hoped my general vibe said, “No conversation please.”
As she threw down the bag slung over her shoulder, I saw she was clutching a faded pink hardcover, a book of collected poems by Edna St. Vincent Millay. I caught her looking at me—a glance I interpreted as one of contempt. People who take up two seats... But when she had settled in and we began to furtively study each other through the half-light, I realized my misappraisal: she was more curious than anything. We tested the limits of our peripheral vision like elementary school pupils.
The captivity of a bus—coupled with the urgency of a short trip—blends with the spontaneity of bus reservations (compared, say, to planes booked in advance) to make chance encounters inevitable and last minute shifts in fate possible. Millay’s poem “Travel,” in retrospect, seems freakily appropriate for the cancelled LIRR and the day’s noisy disruption: “The railroad track is miles away, / And the day is loud with voices speaking, / Yet there isn’t a train goes by all day / But I hear its whistle shrieking.”
She would later tell me she was struck by how relaxed I appeared when she, by contrast, had undergone such an ordeal. How composed my body language, how casual my unbuttoned shirt (truth be told, what she interpreted as Zen was really just exhaustion).
I decided to say hello first, and we started to talk; the memory of the exact exchange is hazy, imbued as the moment was with the fluttering nerves and saccharine rush of a first encounter your subconscious recognizes as significant before you truly do.
She was an actress who nannied in the Hamptons between roles. Judging by my madras shorts and boat shoes, she assumed I was some kind of pool boy. Not quite, but I was probably one of the few on our bus without a family home somewhere between Quogue and Montauk. We playfully guessed each other’s names.
“Vanessa?” I said. (What, does he think I’m some kind of bitch?)
“Joshua?” she tried. (Is it that obvious I’m Jewish?) Read More »
February 11, 2013 | by Rachel Yoder
I didn’t know Amish romance novels existed until a trip I took a number of years ago to Shipshewana, Indiana. There my uncle directed an Amish and Mennonite cultural center, and I was ostensibly working on a book about Amish and Mennonite culture, so it seemed a place I should go. I had just turned thirty and was beset with ambivalent, indistinct longings for the Mennonite heritage in which I’d been raised, even though the entirety of my twenties had served as an extended exercise in exodus and estrangement. Still, I went, most excited to locate and eat some peanut butter pie made with flaky, lard-infused crust.
The cultural center my uncle ran was called Menno-Hof, hof a Pennsylvania Dutch word that means something close to “farmyard,” though at Menno-Hof the farmyard is neatly pruned, the pond perfectly ovular, the flower garden precisely planted to approximate a quilt. It seemed to me a beautiful lie in need of some freshly dropped horse patties.
After touring the fastidiously curated exhibits in the barn and adjacent whitewashed Amish farmhouse—replete with a recreated reformation dungeon, a small hurricane room with a vibrating floor and powerful fans, a Conservative Mennonite church where a booming God voice commanded that I consider my spiritual fate—I finally wound up in the gift shop on the brink of both ecstatic revelation and nervous breakdown. Many of the wares there approximated the contents of my mother’s root cellar (raspberry jam and apple butter in glass jars) and the theological section of my father’s library (Nonviolence—A Brief History: The Warsaw Lectures, by John Howard Yoder).
The only items there truly unfamiliar to me were two wire racks full of paperbacks, their covers each backlit with the golden glow of God’s everlasting presence and bucolic perfection: wheat fields, corn fields, rivers and barns beneath cerulean or honey skies. A plain-clothed woman in some state of muted emotional duress gazed into the middle distance beneath her white bonnet. I spun through the racks, elated, repulsed. Could there be anything better, or worse, than Amish romance novels? Read More »