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Erotica: Spying on Your Neighbors Is Hotter Than Porn

April 15, 2014

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The two of us often struggle with erotica. On the one hand, we think it’s an awesome resource (and by resource, we do of course mean wank material) for women who are easily squicked by porn –by  its cheesy dialogue, its fake boobs, and its even more fake orgasms. On the other hand, we are easily cheesed out by erotica. Also, while we want to inform our readers about new erotica collections — especially when they’re edited by fabulous sex writers like Violet Blue — we feel a little funny publishing material that people might wank to. That’s just not the kind of site we want EMandLO.com to be.

That all said, today we’re publishing an excerpt from a short story called “Reality TV” by Alyssa Turner. It’s part of the book Best Women’s Erotica 2014edited by, yes, Violet Blue.  We’ve convinced ourselves that this excerpt — about how spying on neighbors who “forget” to close the blinds or drapes can be a kind of interactive porn — is more of a tease, and that no one will actually wank to this story until they buy the book and make it all the way to the steamy end. Hey, two prudish sex writers can dream! In the meantime: You’re welcome.

“Reality TV” by Alyssa Turner

“Are you spending another evening in that window, Marcella?” Abby only sounds annoyed as she asks me the same rhetorical question I’ve heard every night this week. Her keys clank on the table next to the door, and I glance in her direction.

“Okay, so I’m nosy. Beats watching TV since they cut off the cable.”

“Maybe if you’d paid the bill instead of getting a new set of headshots…” she says, taking off her sneakers.

I pout. “You don’t mean that.”

And she relents. “No, chica. I don’t. You know I don’t.” Abby kisses me on the cheek. “So what’s playing tonight on NYC live, Amsterdam and One Hundred and Twenty-Third Street edition?”

“Checked out a girl doing Pilates over the bodega.”

“Big deal, I can see that working at the gym any time of the day.”

“Oh, but she was only wearing her panties.” I turn to her and smile.

Abby isn’t convinced. “Give me those,” she says with a devilish grin and snatches the binoculars out of my hands before I can protest. “Now let’s see here. It was the third window from the left, wasn’t it?”

“Wasn’t what?” I act clueless, but I won’t win any Academy Awards with my performance.

“Uh-huh, just like I thought.” She peers down at me from over the Nikons I scored for a bargain at a pawnshop in Times Square. “Same dude we caught stroking his dick in front of the TV three nights ago.”

I’m red, I know it. “Really, I didn’t see him.”

“Guilty little Marcella, can’t tell a lie for shit.” She’s laughing at me.

“Stop it.” I can’t help it. I’m giggling with her.

She takes another look at the nameless guy sitting naked on his couch with just one light on in the kitchen and the blue flick- ering glow of the television washing his taut body. “You’ve been watching him every night, haven’t you?”

“Maybe I have.” I shrug my shoulders.

Abby cocks her head to the side with an eyebrow raised and returns the binoculars to her eyes. “Where’s the zoom on these things?” I start to show her, but she waves me away. “Never mind, I got it.”

… [edited here for length and prurience!] …

“You want chocolate cake, I go to the bakery. You want a bubble bath, I run the water.” She rolls her tongue against mine in a single slow wave. “You have a taste for some cock?” Her voice is throaty. “I’ll see what we can do about that, too.”

“I love you.” All I want to do is show her how much. But Abby is scooting off to our bedroom.

“Stay there. I’ll be right back.” I hear her rustling in the night table. “Don’t you move.”

Sliding down my pants, I’m ready and waiting for her when she returns. Abby saunters back in peeling off her T-shirt and dropping it to the floor. In her other hand, a strap-on harness dangles between three fingers. “Hurry up and bend over before he finishes,” she says, and I do as I’m told. Looking through the binoculars, I’m pleased to see we’re not too late. “You keep watching him stroke his cock. and I’ll help you imagine what he feels like.”

“But you fuck like a girl.” I tease her with a wide grin and my eager booty wiggling in anticipation, waiting while she fastens my favorite dildo snug against her boy shorts.

“Oh, is that right?” Abby squares herself behind me and wraps her tawny fingers onto my hips. She takes a nice firm hold of my sandy brown ponytail and makes sure I know that she intends for me to eat my words. “Well, let’s see if you scream like one.”

Best Women’s Erotica 2014, edited by Violet Blue, is now on sale

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Losing It: How We Popped Our Cherry Over the Last 80 Years

April 11, 2014

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Author Kate Monro has managed to make us jealous of her job: searching the world for first-time tales that don’t often get told. In her new book, “Losing It: How We Popped Our Cherry Over the Past 80 Years,” she picks up where Nancy Friday left off, letting a wide range of people — from a 90-year-old woman with “one foot in the grave and the other on a banana skin” (her own words!) to a disabled punk rocker who moves near a lesbian hippie camp in Wales in the 1970′s — tell their stories of how they lost their virginity, smartly bookending each with historical and cultural context. It’s a fascinating book that shows, to put it one way, just how far we’ve come.

Below is an excerpt from the story of a man who’s been married for ten years with two kids. He’d been the one to take his wife’s V-card fourteen years earlier. Then it was her turn to take his:

Boys Don’t Cry

from “Losing It” by Kate Monro

I expected men to hold back, to be economical with the truth. I assumed they would be reticent and reluctant to talk to a woman about one of the most revealing moments in their sexual history.

Reader, they sang like canaries.

Not only that, but they did it with extraordinary honesty. I was about to receive a story that could not have illustrated this point any better if it tried:

[T]wo years ago, while we were in bed, [my wife, Georgina] first brought up the idea of anal. I was, to put it mildly, petrified. Visions of ’being gay’ ran through my head. She assured me I wasn’t but I tried to let the topic die. She wouldn’t. She brought it up again and eventually we made a date to go to a sex-toy store, just to look.

We went, we looked, and I was astounded as to how many toys and videos there were about woman-on-man anal. We both laughed and I found myself going along with things, retreating from a ‘no way’ attitude to one in which I was saying, ‘but that’s way too big’. Eventually we settled for a harness with a dildo on the small side. The salesman nonchalantly rang up the sale.

That night I was about as nervous as I’d ever been. We took our clothes off and kissed. There was no turning back. She looked at me. ‘Ready?’ I went over to the bed and lay down. She went over to a closet and finally reappeared, fully harnessed. I must have gasped. The sight of that missile protruding from her, and meant for me, brought everything home. This was real. I was about to get fucked.

[If you want the dirty details, you'll have to buy the book! Keep reading for the aftermath...]

It was a mind-blowing orgasm, the likes of which I’d never experienced before. I was joyful and ashamed at the same time. What an odd sensation. It was so impersonal. It was as though my private parts were just there to be used by her. She lay atop me, eyes half glazed, staring into space or at the wall or something, but not at me….We said nothing for a while, just holding each other tightly.

The physical act had been one thing, and a weird one at that. But the psychological effects were just beginning to waft in. I’d just come about as close as I ever will to experiencing what Georgina had experienced the first time I had screwed her. This was not like my first experience all those years ago, from which I took away feelings of power and exhilaration. On the contrary, this mostly involved powerlessness – being pursued, penetrated and under the control of another person.

All my life I had been the penetrator and even when the woman was aggressive, there was no doubt as to who was doing what to whom. But now, as the one being penetrated, I was on the other side. She’d gotten me to give it up. She’d probed, thrusted and done any manner of other things, all of her own urging and without regard to what I wanted. She had been cool, under control, self-assured, while I’d been emotional, afraid and out of control. And yet, I’d experienced great orgasms, real rock ’em, sock ’em ones. My mind had reeled at the experience; my body had enjoyed almost every second of it. Even the pain (and there was pain) was rewarded in the end by pleasure.

I told her all these things. She hugged me all the harder and explained how it had been great for her. She told me how she loved being in charge for a change and how great it felt to be able to control me, as opposed to usually being under my control. She said that what really surprised her was how protective she became of me when she realised that I was now vulnerable to her. (Yeah, I thought sarcastically, you really acted protectively.) She said that she felt like she’d conquered me but at the same time wanted to make sure that I was OK.

She also said, mimicking a cornerstone on which patriarchy is based, that she felt surprised at how easily I’d let her do what she was doing and in a way lost some respect for me. I nodded. I was surprised by that too and a little angry that that was how she felt. After all, I’d just done what she wanted me to.

“Losing It” is available now on Amazon.com



Top 6 Worst Kind of Kisses

April 8, 2014

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photo via Flickr

Violet Blue is one of the most prolific sex writers we know — we’ve literally lost count of how many books she’s written — and yet she’s not the slightest bit annoying, so we can’t hate her for this. The latest in her grand oeuvre — we’re pretty sure she’s going to tip the scales into a full-on genre soon — is called Kissing: A Field Guide. It will tell you everything you need to know about smooshing face, from timing to style to tension and technique.

In this excerpt, Violet details the six most hazardous kinds of kisses you might encounter in the field:

1. The Fish Tank Kiss:
Every girl’s nightmare. He’s totally cute, funny, the conversation is good—but then you kiss and it feels like he’s trying to clean the inside of your mouth as if it was a fish tank. As the minutes pass more slowly than you ever thought possible, you wonder if he’s actually looking for treasure. His tongue is too hard, and it darts about quickly and all pokey. You are usually too stunned to decide whether you should wait it out or hold up a “send help” sign. Toss this one back into the sea.

2. The Chewing Gum Kiss
You’ve seen these before—a couple joined at the mouth, lips locked in a deep French-kissing session that looks like they’re about to gnaw each other’s head off. Don’t worry, everyone will be fine, but this combination of French Kiss and Fish Tank Kiss with extreme jaw movement looks pretty scary if you watch too many horror movies.

3. The Limp Noodle
So sad, the Noodle. When you lock lips and start to French, and his lips just hang there and his tongue lies there like a slug, you have a Limp Noodle on your hands. No matter how much you push, massage, and prod his tongue to bring it back to life, it plays possum, dead in the middle of the road. There is nothing you can do—you’re basically giving mouth-to-mouth to this guy.

4. Mercy Kisses
Sometimes you kiss for fun, and sometimes you just have to give a kiss out of pity—hence the Mercy Kiss. You give these kisses when you feel bad about something, want your date to look good (even though you aren’t into him), or just feel sorry for the poor sap. Only in the movies do these kisses turn into a blazing romance. If you end up on the receiving end of a Mercy Kiss, just enjoy it and then excuse yourself to go wash your cat.

5. The Zombie Kiss
Another nightmare kiss many of us have experienced, which seems to come from beyond the grave. It’s as if all the life drains out of him as he comes in for a kiss: the eyes flutter, clamp shut, or roll back into his head. His face goes slack and lifeless. And the most horrifying part of all: his mouth opens up into a gaping maw, threatening to swallow you whole. Sometimes the Zombie Kisser comes at you like a lost extra from Night of the Living Dead, mouth agape, with a shiny pink sluglike tongue pointing out at you. Scream! Run! Barricade the doors and windows!

6. The Zoolander Kiss
Ever wonder what it would be like to kiss an international male model? The Zoolander makes you feel like you’re a pretty prop designed to make him look good as he poses, shifts, and gives his “sexy” face to the world while kissing you. Would he notice if you were gone? Probably not. The Zoolander Kiss is meant purely to compliment the physical beauty of the man kissing you—it’s not for anyone’s actual physical pleasure. It’s used when trying to impress others or to make someone jealous.

Violet Blue, author of Kissing: A Field Guide

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A Love Poem for National Poetry Month

April 3, 2014

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photo via Flickr

APRIL IS National Poetry Month. So to have your new book of poems be named one of the Books of the Week by Publishers Weekly this week has got to feel doubly good. Thus, a big congrats to our friend Mark Bibbins, whose new book is called “They Don’t Kill You Because They’re Hungry, They Kill You Because They’re Full.” A few weeks ago we featured his “Poem that Wants to Use Revelation 3:16 as an Epigraph.” Below is another great one from his new book. Enjoy!

 

By the Number 3

Can we back up and read
that sign again, the one

trying to tell us about a band
playing on a beach lined

with pine trees, very old.
If the internet doesn’t work

there you have to build
your own. Let’s rewrite

the constellations
so they read as all kinds

of fruits: here we see
the Grape Cluster reclining

just above the indigo treetops;
Can of Lychees keeps tampering

with my weekly horoscope
but I don’t know how.

Thus magic shuffles reluctantly
toward us and if you claim

you can organize it you should
be making a joke. Look

at a 3 the wrong way
and all you see is your own

wretchedness. If you look at 3
in a different way you might

see a fortunate mouth getting
ready to kiss. You used to

feel like you were always
going to the same place

but it didn’t hurt and other
times the ocean glowed

so blue it broke
half your bones.

 

Mark Bibbins’ “They Don’t Kill You Because They’re Hungry, They Kill You Because They’re Full” is available on Amazon.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Bi-Curious George: The Best of #RuinAChildrensBook

March 26, 2014

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This week’s most fun hashtag trending on Twitter was #RuinAChildrensBook. Given that we each have two small kids and we’ve been writing about sex for fifteen years — often between diaper changes and school runs — this hashtag was practically made for us. Here are our favorite ruined book titles that we posted to Twitter this week:

1. Harry Potter and the Red Room of Pain #RuinAChildrensBook
– Em & Lo (@emandlo) March 25, 2014

2. The Poky Little Penis #RuinAChildrensBook
– Em & Lo (@emandlo) March 25, 2014

3. Pierre’s Penis Pump: A Cautionary Tale in Five Chapters and a Prologue #RuinAChildrensBook
– Em & Lo (@emandlo) March 25, 2014

4. Pat “The Bunny” #RuinAChildrensBook
– Em & Lo (@emandlo) March 25, 2014

5. Bi-Curious George #RuinAChildrensBook
– Em & Lo (@emandlo) March 25, 2014

6. The Very Hungry Caterpillar Who Only Had a Teaspoon of Cottage Cheese All Day and Still Feels Guilty #RuinAChildrensBook
– Em & Lo (@emandlo) March 25, 2014

7. Lilly’s Purple Plastic Vibrator #RuinAChildrensBook
– Em & Lo (@emandlo) March 25, 2014

8. Tales of a Fourth Grade Anorexic #RuinAChildrensBook

– Em & Lo (@emandlo) March 25, 2014

9. Charlie and the Fudge Factory #RuinAChildrensBook
– Em & Lo (@emandlo) March 25, 2014

10. Please Don’t Tickle Me Elmo #RuinAChildrensBook
– Em & Lo (@emandlo) March 25, 2014

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The Best Way to Fix Love (According to the New Book “Love Sense”)

March 21, 2014

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photo via Flickr

The new book Love Sense by clinical psychologist Dr. Sue Johnson tries to take some of the mystery out of that big emotion. While that may not sound very romantic, Johnson is dedicated to the scientific exploration of love so that we may have better, more-fulfilling, more intimate long-term relationships — especially in a world where independence, isolation and non-monogamy are growing more common. Her book offers real-life examples and practical exercises, based on the Emotionally Focused Therapy she developed in her own practice. In previous weeks, we’ve featured the first sections of Chapter 1 on the history of love and the sceince of love; below is the final section, which presents a unified theory of love and offers an exercise to try at the end.

 

Love Sense” by Dr. Sue Johnson

from Chapter 1: A Unified Theory of Love

Understanding that our lovers are our safe haven from the vicissitudes and depredations of life has given us new insights into what makes romantic relationships fail and succeed. For years, all of us have focused solely on what we see and hear. The fights that erupt over money: “You’re spending a fortune on shoes you don’t need.” “All you want to do is save. We’re living like misers. There’s no fun.” The disputes over in-laws: “You’re always on the phone with your mother, telling her every little thing we say and do.” “You’re Daddy’s girl, totally. When are you going to grow up?” The disagreements about child rearing: “So he didn’t do his homework last night. He gets too much. You’re too rigid and controlling.” “And you’re too lenient. He has no discipline. You let him get away with murder.” And the disappointment about sex: “You cheated. How many times? You’re such a liar.” “Well, I wouldn’t have if you were willing to try new things or have sex more often. And anyway, it didn’t mean anything.”

But concentrating only on what’s right before our eyes obscures our vision. We don’t get the big picture. Home in on the miniature dots in Georges Seurat’s painting and you’ll be unaware you’re seeing A Sunday on La Grande Jatte. Sit at the piano and play a few notes in a score and you won’t hear Johannes Brahms’s lulling Waltz in A-flat Major. Take the dance floor and repeat one series of steps and you’ll never realize the sensuality of Argentine tango.

Similarly, troubled couples are fixated on specific incidents, but the true problem is broader and deeper. Distressed partners no longer see each other as their emotional safe haven. Our lover is supposed to be one person we can count on who will always respond. Instead, unhappy partners feel emotionally deprived, rejected, even abandoned. In that light, couples’ conflicts assume their true meaning: they are frightened protests against eroding connection and a demand for emotional reengagement.

In contrast, at the core of happy relationships is a deep trust that partners matter to each other and will reliably respond when needed. Secure love is an open channel for reciprocal emotional signaling. Love is a constant process of tuning in, connecting, missing and misreading cues, disconnecting, repairing, and finding deeper connection. It is a dance of meeting and parting and finding each other again, minute by minute and day by day.

The new science has given us what I like to call a unified field theory of love. Einstein couldn’t find it for physics, but we’ve found it for love. At last, all the pieces we’ve been puzzling over separately fit together. We see the grand scheme. Fifty years ago noted animal researcher Harry Harlow, in an address to the American Psychological Association, observed, “As far as love or affection is concerned, psychologists have failed in their mission…The little we write about it has been better written by poets and novelists.”

Today we have cracked the code of love. We now know what a good love relationship looks and feels like. Even better, we can shape it. For the first time, we have a map that can guide us in creating, healing, and sustaining love. This is a consummate breakthrough. At last, to quote Benjamin Franklin, this “changeable, transient, and accidental” phenomenon—romantic love—can be made more predictable, stable, and deliberate.

The fixes we’ve tried in the past have been failures because we have not understood the basis of love. In general, therapists have attacked the problem in two ways. The first is analytical: couples dig back and sift through their childhood experiences to find the reasons why they respond the way they do. This seeking after insight into first relationships is laborious, time consuming, and expensive—with small benefit. It comes at the problem sideways, through intellectual insight into each person’s relationship history. Your present relationship is not just your past automatically playing out; this dismisses your partner and the power of his or her responses, as if this partner were simply a blank screen on which you project the movie of your past.

The second approach is practical. Couples are instructed on how to communicate more effectively—“Listen and repeat back what your partner has said.” Or they’re taught how to negotiate and bargain their way through divisive issues, from sex to cleaning—“You agree to vacuum the rug, and I’ll clean the bathroom.” Or coached on how to improve their sex life—bring on the flowers and racy lingerie and try positions from the Kama Sutra. All of these techniques can be helpful, but only temporarily. Love is not about whether you can parrot back what’s said or decide who vacuums the rug or agree on what sexual moves to try. Such practical counseling is like putting a finger in a cracked dam to hold back the tide or sticking a Band-Aid on a suppurating wound.

My client Elizabeth tells me, “The other therapist made us do these set exercises using the statements she gave us, but we just couldn’t talk to each other that way when we got home, let alone when we were upset. And we did make a deal about chores, but it didn’t change the way I felt about us. I was still lonely. At one point we were doing this ‘leave the room, take time out’ thing, but then I was even more angry when he walked back in, and I didn’t even really know what I was so angry about.”

Ultimately, these remedies are ineffectual because they don’t address the source of relationship distress: the fear that emotional connection—the font of all comfort and respite—is vanishing.

When we know how something works, fixing it and keeping it healthy is much easier. Before this basic understanding, all we could do was flail around trying to fix one part of the relationship in the hope that trust and loving connection would somehow find their way back in through these narrow routes. The new science has given us a straight arterial road to our destination.

To really help couples find happiness, we must shore up the foundation of their relationship; that is, help them relay and rebuild their emotional connection. The technique I and my colleagues have devised, EFT, or Emotionally Focused Therapy (my irreverent children call it Extremely Funny Therapy), does just that. We’ve discovered that discontented lovers fall into set patterns of behavior that plunge them into cycles of recrimination and withdrawal. The key to restoring connection is, first, interrupting and dismantling these destructive sequences and then actively constructing a more emotionally open and receptive way of interacting, one in which partners feel safe confiding their fears and longings.

The results of EFT, as measured in a multitude of studies, have been astoundingly positive—better, in fact, than the outcomes of any other therapy that has been offered. Lovers say that they feel more secure and satisfied with their relationship. Their mental health improves as well; they are less depressed and anxious. And they are able to hold onto the changes they make long after therapy has ended.

Why is EFT so effective? Because it goes to the heart of the matter. We do not have to persuade or coach partners to be different. The new
science has plugged us into the deepest human emotions and opened the way to transfiguring relationships, using the megawatt power of the wired-in longing for contact and care that defines our species. Says one of my clients: “For twenty-eight years, my wife and I had been circling the kind of conversation we are having now, but we’d never actually gotten down to it…Either we were too afraid or we didn’t know how. This conversation changes everything between us.”

Once you have a map to the territory called love, you can put your feet on the right path and find your way home.

***

To help you turn the new science into love sense, you’ll find brief “experiments” for you to do at the end of each chapter. Science, after all, is deliberate observation that leads to identification of recurring patterns. By doing these experiments, you’ll be collecting data on your own relationship that will help you understand the way you love and help you find the security and satisfaction you—and we all—long for.

EXPERIMENT 

Find a quiet place where you will not be interrupted for about thirty minutes. Sit comfortably and quietly, and count twenty breaths in and out. Now imagine that you are in an unfamiliar, dark place. You are suddenly unsure and scared and aware that you are very much alone. You want to call out for someone to come.

Step 1 

Who is the person you want? Imagine his or her face in your mind’s eye.

Do you call or not? Perhaps you convince yourself that this is a bad idea, even a sign of weakness, or an opening that will lead to hurt and disappointment. Perhaps you decide that it is not good to rely on another person and that you must take care of your distress on your own, so you hunker down in the dark. Perhaps you call, but very hesitantly, then go hide in a dark corner.

If you call, how do you do it? What does your voice sound like? When someone comes, what does he do? Does he express concern, offer comfort and reassurance, and stay with you so that you relax and let yourself be comforted?

Or does she come, but then sometimes turn away, dismiss your distress, tell you to control your emotions, or even criticize you, so that you try to hold onto her but get more upset, feeling that she has not really heard your call or cannot be relied upon?

How does your body feel as you do this experiment? Tight, numb, sore, agitated, calm, relaxed? How hard was it for you to do this experiment? Do any emotions come up for you—sadness, joy, anger, or even anxiety?

Step 2

Now stand up and move around for a few minutes. Sit in another chair to consider the results of your thought experiment from some distance. (If it is hard to get distance, you may want to postpone reflecting on the experiment until another day or even discuss it with someone you trust.)

Summarize, in very simple terms, what happened in this fantasy scenario. Write the steps down. What does this imagined scenario tell you about what you expect in a relationship? Our expectations, our predictions about how others will respond to us guide our steps in any dance with a lover. They are our very own love story.

Step 3

Reflecting a little more, see if you can articulate your general feeling about love relationships.

Some people automatically go to phrases such as: “They just don’t work”; “Men/Women are impossible to relate to. They always reject you or let you down”; “Love is hard work, but it’s worth it”; or “Love is for dummies.”

Step 4

Ask yourself, “What do I really want to know about love and loving?” See if you can find the answer by reading the rest of this book.

 

from “Love Sense” by Sue Johnson, available on Amazon.com
Copyright (c) 2013 by Sue Johnson. Reprinted with permission of Little, Brown and Company. All rights reserved.
 Read the first part of Chapter 1 on the history of love
Read the second part of Chapter 1 on the sceince of love.
 



New Poetry: “No Girls in the Porn Store”

March 18, 2014

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Did you even know there were poets any more? Well, there are. We know one, and he is awesome. He is Mark Bibbins. And he will make you believe in poets again. He will convince you that they are sexy and dreamy and powerful and relevant. His knew book, just out, is called “They Don’t Kill You Because They’re Hungry, They Kill You Because They’re Full.” See? How can you not love that? How can you not give it as a just-because present to someone you want to have sex with? Even if that someone is yourself.

Here’s a poem Mark Bibbins is graciously letting us reprint in these unpoetic digs of ours. If we’re lucky, maybe he’ll give us another one next week.

 

Poem that Wants to Use Revelation 3:16 as an Epigraph

 

A guy who was a regular
at the bar where I used to work

we called Peckerhead because
he looked sort of like a balder

Ginsberg, who looks like a pecker.
Well I have no idea how Ginsberg looks

now, but it’s probably pretty
peckeresque. Peckerhead drank dollar

drafts and was no doubt ten times
smarter than all us smartass bitchy

barmaids put together, maybe he
was a botanist or an actuary

or had some other clever gig. I felt kind
of guilty about it, even though we never

called him Peckerhead to his face, as far
as I know. Ginsberg died April 5 (1997),

birthday of Colin Powell (1937), so happy
b-day C.P. and happy d-day A.G. Inevitably

we would get loaded during our shifts, before
we killed ourselves or caught you-know-what

or left town before either of those things
or worse happened. Did I read somewhere

that Ginsberg fucked a guy who fucked
Whitman? Fucked/got fucked by? So stinky,

who cares. I must not see what fucking
is, other than stinky. If I had anything

to say about gender I’d already
be fucking you or paying Peckerhead

to fuck you. I think he was gay too.
All the girls we saw after work

at the porn store, their skin was
the color of a three-month-old

plaster cast. If I could make you
a real simile it would be like when

I turn into a boy I will wag
a pecker at you like a dirty mop

until it cracks and flops around like
my broken leg. No girls better

go there, Peckerhead always said,
no girls in the porn store.

 

Mark Bibbins’ “They Don’t Kill You Because They’re Hungry, They Kill You Because They’re Full” is available on Amazon.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The New Science of Love (from the Book “Love Sense”)

March 14, 2014

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photo via Flickr

The new book Love Sense by clinical psychologist Dr. Sue Johnson tries to take some of the mystery out of that big emotion. While that may not sound very romantic, Johnson is dedicated to the scientific exploration of love so that we may have better, more-fulfilling, more intimate long-term relationships — especially in a world where independence, isolation and non-monogamy are growing more common. Her book offers real-life examples and practical exercises, based on the Emotionally Focused Therapy she developed in her own practice. Last week we featured the first part of Chapter 1 on the history of love; below is the next section, which lists the recent findings in the latest scientific research on love.

 

Love Sense” by Dr. Sue Johnson

from Chapter 1: Revolution

Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary defines revolution as “a fundamental change in the way of thinking about or visualizing something: a change of paradigm.” And that is exactly what has happened to adult love in the field of social sciences. Two decades ago, love didn’t get much respect as a topic of study. No emotion did. René Descartes, the French philosopher, associated feelings with our lower animal nature and thus considered them something to be overcome. What marked us as superior animals was our ability to reason. Cogito ergo sum—“I think, therefore I am,” he famously proclaimed.

Emotions were not rational and therefore suspect. And love was the most irrational and suspect of all, thus not a fit subject for scientists, the supreme rationalists. Scan the subject index of professor Ernest Hilgard’s exhaustive historical review PsychologiAmericapublished in 1993, and you won’t find the word love. Young researchers were routinely warned off the topic. I remember being told in graduate school that science does not deal with nebulous, soft indefinables, such as emotion, empathy, and love.

The word revolution also means “an uprising.” Social scientists began to recognize that much of their work was not addressing public concerns about the quality of everyday life. So a quiet movement, without riots or bullets, began in campus laboratories and academic journals, challenging the orthodox adherence to studies of simple behaviors and how to change them. New voices began to be heard, and suddenly, in the 1990s, emotions emerged as legitimate topics of inquiry. Happiness, sorrow, anger, fear—and love—started appearing on the agenda of academic conferences in a multitude of disciplines, from anthropology to psychology to sociology. Feelings, it was becoming apparent, weren’t random and senseless, but logical and “intelligent.”

At the same time, therapists and mental health professionals began adjusting their frame of reference in dealing with relationship issues, especially romantic ones. For years they had focused their attention on the individual, believing that any turmoil could be traced back to a person’s own troubled psyche. Fix that and the relationship would improve. But that wasn’t what was happening. Even when individuals grasped why they acted a certain way and tried to change, their love relationships often continued to sour.

Therapists realized that concentrating on one person didn’t give a complete picture. People in love relationships, just as in all relationships, are not distinct entities, acting independently; they are part of a dynamic dyad, within which each person’s actions spark and fuel reactions in the other. It was the coupland how the individuals “danced” together that needed to be understood and changed, not simply the individual alone. Researchers began videotaping couples recounting everyday hurts and frustrations, arguing over money and sex, and hassling over child-rearing issues. They then pored over these recordings, hunting for the critical moments of interaction when a relationship turned into a battlefield or wasteland. They kept an eye open, too, for moments when couples seemed to reach harmonious accord. And they looked for patterns of behavior.

Interest in emotions in general, and love in particular, also surged among “hard” scientists as advances in technology refined old tools and introduced new ones. A major hurdle to investigations had always been: How do you pin down something as vague and evanescent as a feeling? Or, as Albert Einstein lamented: “How on earth are you ever going to explain in terms of chemistry and physics so important a biological phenomenon as first love?”

The scientific method depends not only on observation and analysis but also on measurable, reproducible data. With the arrival of more sensitive tests and assays, neurobiologists launched inquiries into the chemistry of emotions. But the big push came with the advent of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Neurophysiologists devised experiments that peer into the brain and actually see structures and areas lighting up when we are afraid, or happy, or sad—or when we love. Remember the old public service announcement showing an egg frying in a pan while a voice intones, “This is your brain on drugs”? Now we have films that actually do capture “This is your brain on love.”

The result of all this ferment has been an outpouring of fresh knowledge that is coalescing into a radical and exciting new vision of love. This new love sense is overthrowing long-held beliefs about the purpose and process of romantic love as well as our sense of the very nature of human beings. The new perspective is not only theoretical but also practical and optimistic. It illuminates why we love and reveals how we can make, repair, and keep love.

Among the provocative findings:

The first and foremost instinct of humans is neither sex nor aggression. It is to seek contact and comforting connection. 

The man who first offered us this vision of what we now call attachment or bonding was an uptight, aristocratic English psychiatrist, not at all the kind of man you would expect to crack the code of romantic relationships! But John Bowlby, conservative and British, was nevertheless a rebel who changed the landscape of love and loving forever. His insights are the foundation on which the new science of love rests.

Bowlby proposed that we are designed to love a few precious others who will hold and protect us through the squalls and storms of life. It is nature’s plan for the survival of the species. Sex may impel us to mate, but it is love that assures our existence. “In uniting the beloved life to ours we can watch over its happiness, bring comfort where hardship was, and over memories of privation and suffering open the sweetest fountains of joy,” wrote George Eliot.

This drive to bond is innate, not learned. It likely arose as nature’s answer to a critical fact of human physiology: the female birth canal is too narrow to permit passage of big-brained, big-bodied babies that can survive on their own within a short time after birth. Instead, babies enter the world small and helpless and require years of nurturing and guarding before they are self-sustaining. It would be easier to abandon such troublesome newborns than raise them. So what makes an adult stick around and assume the onerous and exhausting task of parenting?

Nature’s solution was to wire into our brains and nerves an automatic call-and-response system that keeps child and parent emotionally attached to each other. Babies come with a repertoire of behaviors—gazing, smiling, crying, smiling, clinging, reach-ing—that draw care and closeness from adults. So when a baby boy bawls from hunger and stretches out his arms, his mom picks him up and feeds him. And when Dad coos or makes funny faces at his baby girl, she kicks her legs, waves her arms, and babbles back. And round and round it goes, in a two-way feedback loop.

Adult romantic love is an attachment bond, just like the one between mother and child. 

We’ve long assumed that as we mature, we outgrow the need for the intense closeness, nurturing, and comfort we had with our caregivers as children and that as adults, the romantic attachments we form are essentially sexual in nature. This is a complete distortion of adult love.

Our need to depend on one precious other—to know that when we “call,” he or she will be there for us—never dissolves. In fact, it endures, as Bowlby put it, “from cradle to grave.” As adults, we simply transfer that need from our primary caregiver to our lover. Romantic love is not the least bit illogical or random. It is the continuation of an ordered and wise recipe for our survival.

But there is a key difference: our lover doesn’t have to be there physically. As adults, the need for another’s tangible presence is less absolute than is a child’s. We can use mental images of our partner to call up a sense of connection. Thus if we are upset, we can remind ourselves that our partner loves us and imagine him or her reassuring and comforting us. Israeli prisoners of war report “listening” in their narrow cells to the soothing voices of their wives. The Dalai Lama conjures up images of his mother when he wants to stay calm and centered. I carry my husband’s encouraging words with me in my mind when I walk out on a stage to speak.

Hot sex doesn’t lead to secure love; rather, secure attachment leads to hot sex—and also to love that lasts. Monogamy is not a myth. 

Pick up any men’s or women’s magazine and you’ll find cover lines blaring: seduce him! this sexy move works from 20 feet away; 28 things to try in bed…or in a hammock. or the floor; and sex academy—get an a in giving her an o. In our ignorance, we’ve made physical intimacy the sine qua non of romantic love. As a result, we myopically pour massive amounts of energy and money into spicing up our sex lives. But we have it backwards: it is not good sex that leads to satisfying, secure relationships but rather secure love that leads to good—and, in fact, the best—sex. The growing craze for Internet porn is a catastrophe for love relationships precisely because it negates emotional connection.

It is secure attachment, what nature set us up for, that makes love persist. Trust helps us over the rough places that crop up in every relationship. Moreover, our bodies are designed to produce a cascade of chemicals that bond us tightly to our loved ones. Monogamy is not only possible, it is our natural state.

Emotional dependency is not immature or pathological; it is our greatest strength. 

Dependency is a dirty word in Western society. Our world has long insisted that healthy adulthood requires being emotionally independent and self-sufficient; that we, in essence, draw an emotional moat around ourselves. We talk of being able to separatand detacfrom our parents, our first loved ones, as a sign of emotional strength. And we look with suspicion at romantic partners who display too much togetherness. We say they are too involvewith, too closto, or too dependenon one another. In consequence men and women today feel ashamed of their natural need for love, comfort, and reassurance. They see it as weakness.

Again, this is backwards. Far from being a sign of frailty, strong emotional connection is a sign of mental health. It is emotional isolation that is the killer. The surest way to destroy people is to deny them loving human contact. Early studies discovered that 31–75 percent of institutionalized children expired before their third birthday. More recent studies of adopted Romanian orphans, many of whom had spent twenty hours a day unattended in their cribs, found that many suffer from brain abnormalities, impaired reasoning ability, and extreme difficulty in relating to others.

Adults are similarly demolished. Prisoners in solitary confinement develop a complex of symptoms, including paranoia, depression, severe anxiety, hallucinations, and memory loss. They call their experience a “living death.” “When we isolate a prisoner in solitary confinement,” writes Lisa Guenther, associate professor of philosophy at Vanderbilt University and author of Solitary Confinement: Social Death and Its Afterlives, “we deprive [him] of the support of others, which is crucial for a coherent experience of the world.”

The idea that we can go it alone defies the natural world. We are like other animals—we need ties to others to survive. We see it clearly in a multitude of cross-species combinations: in Thailand, a tiger adopts baby pigs; in China, a dog nurses lion cubs; in Colombia, a cat cares for a squirrel; in Japan, a boar carries a baby monkey on its back; and in Kenya, a giant male tortoise fosters a tsunami-orphaned baby hippo.

We, too, as the Celtic saying goes, “live in the shelter of each other.” World War II historians have noted that the unit of survival in concentration camps was the pair, not the individual. Surveys show that married men and women generally live longer than do their single peers.

We need emotional connection to survive. Neuroscience is highlighting what we have perhaps always known in our hearts—loving human connection is more powerful than our basic survival mechanism: fear. We also need connection to thrive. We are actually healthier and happier when we are close and connected. Consistent emotional support lowers blood pressure and bolsters the immune system. It appears to reduce the death rate from cancer as well as the incidence of heart disease and infectious disease. Married patients who have coronary bypass surgery are three times more likely to be alive fifteen years later than their unmarried counterparts. A good relationship, says psychologist Bert Uchino of the University of Utah, is the single best recipe for good health and the most powerful antidote to aging. He notes that twenty years of research with thousands of subjects shows how the quality of our social support predicts general mortality as well as mortality from specific disorders, such as heart disease.

In terms of mental health, close connection is the strongest predictor of happiness, much more so than making masses of money or winning the lottery. It also significantly lessens susceptibility to anxiety and depression and makes us more resilient against stress and trauma. Survivors of 9/11 with secure loving relationships have been found to recover better than those without strong bonds. Eighteen months after the tragedy, they showed fewer signs of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and less depression. Moreover, their friends considered them more mature and better adjusted than they had been prior to the disaster.

Being the “best you can be” is really only possible when you are deeply connected to another. Splendid isolation is for planets, not people. 

Like Darwin, with his list of reservations, many of us think of love as limiting, narrowing our options and experiences. But it is exactly the reverse. A secure bond is the launching pad for our going out and exploring the unknown and growing as human beings. It is hard to be open to new experiences when our attention and energy are bound up in worry about our safety. It is much easier when we know that someone has our back. Thus fortified, we become imbued with confidence in ourselves and in our ability to handle new challenges. For example, young professional women who are emotionally close to their partners and seek their reassurance are more confident in their skills and more successful at reaching their career goals. It is an ironic paradox: being dependent makes us more independent.

We are not created selfish; we are designed to be empathetic. Our innate tendency is to feel with and for others. 

We are a naturally empathetic species. This part of our nature can be overridden or denied, but we are wired to be caring of others. We are not born callous and competitive, dedicated to our own survival at the expense of others. As biologist Frans de Waal points out, “We would not be here today had our ancestors been socially aloof.” We have survived by caring and cooperating. Our brains are wired to read the faces of others and to resonate with what we see there. It is this emotional responsiveness and ability to work together, not our large, thinking brains alone, that has allowed us to become the most dominant animal on the planet. The more securely connected we are to those we love, the more we tune in and respond to the needs of others as if they were our own. Moral decisions and altruistic actions spring naturally from our emotional connection with others.

The bonds of love are our birthright and greatest resource. They are our primary source of strength and joy. Seeking out and giving support are so vital to human beings that social psychologists Mario Mikulincer and Phil Shaver observe that, rather than being called Homsapiensor “one who knows,” we should be named Homauxiliatoveaccipiauxiliumor “one who helps or receives help.” To be even more accurate, I say we should be called Homvinculum—“one who bonds.”

 

from “Love Sense” by Sue Johnson, available on Amazon.com
Copyright (c) 2013 by Sue Johnson. Reprinted with permission of Little, Brown and Company. All rights reserved.
 Read the first part of Chapter 1 on the history of love
Tune in next week for the next section of Chapter 1!



Excerpt: Revenge, Secrets, and Whiskey in “Deceptive Innocence”

March 13, 2014

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Kyra Davis, New York Times bestselling author of Just One Night, is keeping things steamy with Deceptive Innocence, the story of Bell, a beautiful young woman out for revenge who falls in love with the one man whose secrets are as dangerous as her own. Here’s a taste of the new story (we totally fell for the last line!):

 

Deceptive Innocence by Kyra Davis

From Chapter 1

 

My heart’s beating a little too fast and my eyes keep darting toward the door. He’ll walk through there any moment now. There are only a handful of bar-

flies to distract me, and the kinds of drinks they order don’t take a lot of thought to make. This is not a Mojito Sparkler type of crowd.

Most of the people who come to drink at Ivan’s are men. They come to lose themselves in alcohol and sports. The few women who show up are looking for a special kind of trouble. This isn’t the place you come to in hopes of picking up a nice guy.

I know these women. Maybe not personally, but essentially I know who they are and what they’re about: disheartened or damaged, looking for men who can inflict enough pain to help them forget the pain that’s coming from within. Screwing assholes, making themselves vulnerable to emotional predators—it’s just another form of cutting, really. Every time they smile at a Hells Angels type I can see the unspoken words hovering over their heads.

Here’s the knife. Hurt me so I don’t have to hurt myself. Take away the responsibility and just give me the pain.

I get it, I really do. But it’s not my game, not anymore.

So I just pour the beer, keep the whiskey flowing, keep my smile evasive, cold enough to scare away the more aggressive ones, warm enough to coax the tips out of the passive . . . and keep my eyes on the door.

And then it happens. At exactly seven fifteen, he shows up.

I feel an acute pang in my chest, right where my heart is.

Lander Gable. How many times have I seen this man walk into this bar while I was sitting across the street in a cab or rental car? But now, today, I’m in the bar, and he’s walking toward me, not away. I’ve never been so close to him before. I can almost touch him!

And soon I will.

The ringing of the phone momentarily distracts me.

I pick up and ask, “Ivan’s, can I help you?” The person on the other end mumbles an embarrassed apology for calling the wrong number and hangs up, but I keep the phone pressed to my ear long after hearing the click, pretending to listen while I study the perfect specimen in front of me: a clean-shaven face, bronze skin, a watch that’s worth more than everything I own . . . Only he’s replaced the suit he wore to the office today with a pair of Diesel jeans and a sweater. Less conspicuous, but still a little too clean for this place. His physique hints at time spent at a gym, not a dockyard.

You’d think some of the other guys would kick his ass just for entering their bar.

And yet absolutely no one gets in his way.

It’s not until he’s almost at the bar stool that we make eye contact. He doesn’t smile, but there’s something there—curiosity maybe, perhaps surprise at finding a woman bartending, definitely appraisal.

I’ve gotta give myself a major pat on the back for that one. I must have spent two hours putting myself together today for him. He’s why I’m wearing my wild black hair down, letting it cover my bare shoulders. He’s why I matched the loose, low-slung jeans with a fitted tank that subtly reveals the benefits of my new push-up bra. He’s why I’m wearing thick mascara and sheer lip gloss. I know this guy’s tastes.

He takes his seat, pulls out a ten, and gestures to the bottle of whiskey still in my hand from the last drink I poured. “On the rocks, please.”

“You sure?” I ask even as I fill a glass with ice. “I could make a whiskey sour if you like. Maybe throw in a cherry?”

He raises his eyebrow slightly. “Mocking a patron when you’re new to the job? Risky, isn’t it?”

“How do you know I just started?”

“I’m here a lot.”

“Every day?”

“A few times a week.” He reaches for his drink, brings it to his lips. Over the glass he offers a bemused smile. “I like your prices.”

“Really?” I ask. “Drinks more expensive where you’re from?”

“You make it sound like I’m visiting from some far- off land.”

“Are you?”

His light-brown hair looks darker in this room, his eyes brighter. “Upper East Side,” he says.

“Ahhh.” I take a step back and cross my arms over my chest. “That’s about a million dollars from here.”

He winces. “Not necessarily.” On the other side of the bar a few men burst into cheers as a UFC fighter’s arm is broken on live TV.

“You living at the 92nd Street Y, then?” I quip.

“No,” he answers, his smile returning. “I’ve managed to avoid that fate.” He studies me for a moment, trying to gauge what he’s dealing with. “How ’bout you? You live here in Harlem?”

“Occasionally. I’m a bit of a drifter.” I fiddle with a glass, playing at cleaning it. “So why do you really come here . . . I’m sorry, I didn’t get your name.”

He gives me a quizzical look. “Considering how coy you’re being about what part of town you live in, I feel like maybe I shouldn’t volunteer my name just yet. That way we both have an air of mystery.”

“Oh, I’m only coy about inconsequential things.” I lean forward, put my elbows on the bar, and cradle my chin in my hands. Ever so slightly I arch my back. “I’m very straightforward about the things I want.”

“Really?” He takes another sip. “And what exactly is it that you want?”

“Tonight?” I pause for a moment, pretending to think. “Tonight I want . . . your name.”

His smile spreads to a grin. “You think you can coax it out of me?”

“Maybe.” Out of the corner of my eye I spot one of the regulars on the other side of the bar waving his empty glass in the air. “When I have the time.”

And I walk away to pour the next drink.

The foreman needing the refill is too drunk to notice that I’m trembling while taking his money.

God, is this working? Am I being too forward? Too much of a tease? My mother would have chewed me out for behaving like this.

But when I look back, Lander’s still smiling. I exhale in relief. I have to have confidence. I’ve studied this man; some would even call it stalking, although I’m not sure I see the distinction. But the point is, I know what kind of man Lander is. He’s different. Edgy in that upscale kind of way, and he’s rebellious enough to drink in this dive when he could easily afford to knock back cocktails at The Carlyle.

When I return to him I refill his drink without his having to ask. “So I was thinking about this, and before I resort to coaxing, I think I’d like to take a stab at guessing.”

“I don’t have the kind of name that’s easy to guess,” he says.

“So it’s not Rumpelstiltskin?”

He laughs and shakes his head. His laugh is deeper than I anticipated, appealingly unrestrained. “I’ll give you a hint,” he finally says. “It’s English and it means ‘lion.’”

“Leo.”

“Close. It also means ‘landowner.’”

Another well-weathered drinker several feet off has started muttering to himself, adding an odd soundtrack to the scene. He’s minutes away from falling off his stool.

“Landlord,” I say. “Wait, is that a name? How about Leolord, or Lionlord, or maybe Landlion.”

“My name is Lander,” he supplies.

“Lander, the landowning lion.”

He nods in confirmation. “And what’s your name?”

“Bell.”

“You were named for your beauty.”

I shake my head, a little harder than necessary. “It’s a nickname. B. E. L. L. No ‘e’ at the end. Like Taco Bell.”

“Like Taco Bell?” he repeats. “Did you just say that?”

“What should I have said? A church bell?”

“No.” He takes his drink and downs more than half of it in a gulp. “But maybe like an alarm bell.”

I giggle at that and shake my head in protest, though I’m secretly flattered.

“Care to tell me your real name?” he asks.

“Guess,” I call over my shoulder as I leave to serve another customer. I can feel him watching me and I work to make sure my movements are graceful, too graceful for this place. That’s what he should think. I want him to be curious about me.

I need him to want me.

“Keep ’em on their toes,” my mother used to say. “If they don’t know what’s coming next, they’ll keep coming back in hopes of figuring it out.”

I remember that conversation so well, although at the time I pretended not to listen. I had found it distasteful to be advised on men and dating through bulletproof glass.

Looking back on it, I really hope she knew I was listening.

More customers come in: a chick dressed like a prostitute clinging to a guy dressed like a deadbeat, then a dark-skinned man with a scar, and, a few minutes later, a light-skinned guy with a grizzled beard and a bald head. They all glance in Lander’s direction but none of them bother him. It’s like he’s mingling when he shows up here. He doesn’t belong. He’s no better than those tourists on the double-decker buses, gaping at the sights of the city without ever understanding the first thing about the lives of the people who live in it. Does he know that?

The unspoken question helps me. It sharpens my focus and fortifies me for the next step. When I go back I look him in the eye and silently invite him to restart the conversation.

“Bella,” he says, his eyes moving from my hair, to my eyes, to the antique garnet ring I wear on my right hand.

“That would be too easy,” I say.

“Belinda.”

“Nope.”

“Blair.”

“Now you’re just pulling names out of your ass.”

He almost spits out his drink as he holds back an ill-timed laugh. When he composes himself, he opens his mouth again to continue but I gently press my finger against his lips. The move is startlingly intimate and he immediately falls silent.

“That’s three strikes,” I say as I pull my hand back. “Looks like you’re not getting to first base tonight.”

He cocks his head. “There’s always tomorrow.”

“That depends on how you perform next time you’re up to bat.”

And again I walk away. I serve the other drinkers, and occasionally I throw him a smile or two, but I don’t go back to talk. Not yet. I have to tease this out.

It’s only when he prepares to leave that I grab his hand. “Do come back another time,” I say, my eyes locked on his. Then, slowly, I remove my hand and bite my lower lip teasingly before adding, “For our prices.”

He answers me with a smile, puts down a ridiculously large tip, and leaves.

 

He’s back the very next night.

He arrives earlier this time, takes the same seat, and waits for me to approach. I hold up the whiskey and raise my eyebrows questioningly, waiting for his nod before pouring him a glass.

He throws out a pile of names: Beliva, Bellanca, Benita. The names are foreign to me, unfamiliar, irritating. But I keep my tone teasing and light as I reject them one by one.

The traffic in the bar is also light tonight, but a few distractions manage to pop up. The drunk from the night before is here, the one who almost fell off his stool. This time he’s sitting at a table, with a troubled expression that indicates he’s watching “his” bartender flirt with “the stranger.”

It takes effort, but he manages to get out of his chair and make his way back to the bar. When he puts his empty glass in front of me, he hits the wood of the bar a little too hard so that the placement reads more like a demand than a casual movement. “Empty,” he says, staring at the bottom. On the screen behind me “The Most Interesting Man in the World” opens a Dos Equis as this man before me fishes out six crumpled dollar bills and puts them next to the glass.

I shake my head. “I can’t serve you; you’ve had too much.”

The man shakes his head in return. “I had too much twenty years ago, but the Lord keeps piling shit on.”

“I meant I can’t give you more to drink,” I clarify. “Go home.”

The drunk’s head snaps up at the word home, as if I’ve spoken of some kind of coveted prize, as if I’ve spoken the real name of God. In that moment I know his whole story; the perfunctory telling of it is almost unnecessary. Newly evicted, no family, nothing. The man has no center. I shake my head, whisper useless words of comfort. I recognize his pain, I’ve lived with it before, but I can’t help. I can’t give him a home, or a family. I can’t even give him the final drink that might make him forget.

“You have to go,” I say as gently as I can. “There’s a shelter a few miles from here. Perhaps they can—”

But before I can finish my sentence, Lander slams his hand on the bar, and when he lifts it there’s two hundred dollars there. “For a Best Western,” he says, his voice cool and steady, as if he’s ordering a drink, not a bed. “Find one with a free breakfast.”

The man gapes at the bills before snatching them up and weaving his way out of the bar.

I stare at Lander, who is now occupying himself with his phone. “He won’t get a hotel room,” I finally say.

“He might,” Lander counters. “Not a Best Western, not a hotel that will buy him a moment of human dignity. But he might find a bed, a room, someplace where he can drink the liquor he’s about to buy in private.”

I shake my head, still not getting it.

“I feel sorry for him,” Lander clarifies.

“Because he doesn’t have a family?”

“Because he’s chosen despair over anger,” he says distractedly as he checks his emails. “It’s a bad choice. Despair will kill you. Anger’s more useful.”

I drop my gaze, toy with my garnet ring. Lander’s singing my song . . . my anthem. Again I feel my pulse quicken, just like it did right before our meeting, before I began my game.

I lean into the counter, my hands spread out to either side as if I’m balancing myself. “Are you angry, Lander?”

He looks up from his phone, his expression almost seductive, almost menacing. “Not as angry as you, Bell.”

Immediately I step back. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I’m—”

“I can hear anger scraping at the underside of every cheery word that comes out of your mouth,” he interrupts. “You’re absolutely draped in anger. And you know what?” He puts a few bills down, more than enough to cover the drink he consumed. “You wear it well.”

My heart pounds in my ears as once again he leaves.

What if he knows? 

Dear God, what if he knows I want to destroy him?

 

Read more of Deceptive Innocence here

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A Brief History of Love, from the New Book “Love Sense”

March 7, 2014

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The new book Love Sense by clinical psychologist Dr. Sue Johnson tries to take some of the mystery out of that big emotion. While that may not sound very romantic, Johnson is dedicated to the scientific exploration of love so that we may have better, more-fulfilling, more intimate long-term relationships — especially in a world where independence, isolation and non-monogamy are growing more common. Her book offers real-life examples and practical exercises, based on the Emotionally Focused Therapy she developed in her own practice. Below is an excerpt from the first chapter, which outlines a brief history of love and why it still matters in the 21st century.

 

Love Sense” by Dr. Sue Johnson

from Chapter 1

My memories are full of the sounds and sights of love: The ache in my elderly grandmother’s voice when she spoke of her husband, gone nearly fifty years. A railway signalman, he had courted her, a ladies’ maid, for seven years on the one Sunday she had off each month. He died of pneumonia on Christmas Day after eighteen years of marriage, when he was forty-five and she just forty.

My small enraged mother flying across the kitchen floor at my father, a former naval engineer in World War II, who stood large and strong in the doorway, drinking her in with his eyes, and she, seeing me, stopping suddenly and fleeing from the room. She left him after three decades of slammed doors and raised fists when I was ten. “Why do they fight all the time?” I asked my granny. “Because they love each other, sweetie,” she said. “And watching them, it’s clear that none of us knows what the hell that means.” I remember thinking, “Well, I won’t do this love thing, then.” But I did.

Telling my first great love, “I refuse to play this ridiculous game. It’s like falling off a cliff.” Weeping just months into a marriage, asking myself, “Why do I no longer love this man? I can’t even pinpoint what is missing.” Another man smiling quietly at me, and I, just as quietly, leaning back and letting myself plunge into the abyss. There was nothing missing.

Sitting, years later, watching the last of the ice finally melting on our lake one morning in early April and hearing my husband and children walking through the woods behind me. They were laughing and talking, and I touched for a moment the deepest joy, the kind of joy that was, and still is, entirely enough to fill up my heart for this lifetime.

Anguish and drama, elation and satisfaction. About what? For what?

***

Love can begin in a thousand ways—with a glance, a stare, a whisper or smile, a compliment, or an insult. It continues with caresses and kisses, or maybe frowns and fights. It ends with silence and sadness, frustration and rage, tears, and even, sometimes, joy and laughter. It can last just hours or days, or endure through years and beyond death. It is something we look for, or it finds us. It can be our salvation or our ruin. Its presence exalts us, and its loss or absence desolates us.

We hunger for love, yearn for it, are impelled to it, but we haven’t truly understood it. We have given it a name, acknowledged its force, cataloged its splendors and sorrows. But still we are confronted with so many puzzles: What does it mean to love, to have a loving relationship? Why do we pursue love? What makes love stop? What makes it persist? Does love make any sense at all?

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