My Bookshelf Brings All the Boys to the Yard

This post was inspired by a couple of posts I saw on FetLife about being attracted to a person by the books on their bookcase.  Since I don’t want to link to someone’s blog there without permission, and he hasn’t yet posted them publicly – for now, that’s as much attribution as I’ll give for the inspiration.


Up until about a month ago (when I moved), my bookshelf was a farce.

Someone perusing my titles might have found me eclectic and interesting and imminently fuckable because of it.

Thing is, based on those books, they’d probably meant to fuck my late husband.
It’s too bad they weren’t around to meet him, because most of those books were his. He was a voracious reader. He had 52 years on this earth to collect – and collect he did – since he never threw a damned thing away. Ever.

No, I mean, like…ever.

I went through one purge shortly after he passed. I kept my books – (and I’ll get back to that) – but I also kept a lot of his. The ones I thought were cool. The ones that attracted me to him. Had an entire room in my house dedicated to books because they were precious and I had a difficult time letting them go.

But I never read them.

If you were to look at my bookshelf….the books that were placed there by me?

Well, you’d probably want to fuck the version of me that existed 20 years ago. That’s about how long it’s been since I’d have considered myself a “voracious reader.”

Then again, you might be turned on by the fact that after so many purges, those are the ones I’ve kept. Those are the titles I want serving as the ambassadors of what you might think is my intellect, but really? It’s my sentimentality.

That’s where you find my entire collection of Star Trek novels. I was in junior high when I started reading those. They take up a lot of real estate on that shelf. I’ll likely never read them again, but I love them. I just love them for my love of the franchise they represent and deeper insights and further stories about the characters I love.

I mean, I read all the Sweet Valley Twins and Sweet Valley High books during that time, too, but even though I can remember exactly when Bruce took Jessica’s bikini top off in the ocean and the description of the water swirling up and chilling her breasts (the cornerstone of my early sexual fantasies for years) – I don’t actually HAVE any of those on my bookshelf anymore.

There’s one still on the shelf called Number the Stars by Lois Lowry, published in 1989. I read it when I was in elementary school. It was the first book of a serious nature I’d ever read – about two young girls during the Holocaust. It made an impact on me. I tried to get my parents to read it so that we could talk about it.

They didn’t. But I kept it. I still have it.

Ooh. And the Westing Game. I loved that book. Read it so many times. It had an effect on me – there was a character who was lauded for her beauty, but she quietly hated it. She wanted to be known for who she was as a person and not respected for how pleasant her face, hair, and body were. I related so strongly to her. I tried to get my parents to read that one too.

They didn’t.

I still remember exactly where I was when I read the big reveal. Oh my goodness, that feeling of all the pieces starting to fit together. I was in an after school program at the Jewish Community Center, ignoring all my peers and huddled into one of those plastic orange chairs leaning over a low table. I raced through the last few pages and went right back to the beginning and read the whole thing again in one sitting; now with the key piece of information in mind.

I think that’s the first book I ever read multiple times. I loved it so much!

I’d loaned it out to somebody and it never made it back to me; but some time in the last year, I found a copy in a giveaway pile. It’s back on my shelf again.

Any books that have found a place onto my shelf since then were either given to me by my husband, or compulsorily purchased for high school or college courses. After all, I was an English major with an emphasis on creative writing. I liked a few of those, so those are the ones granted intentional place on my shelf.

From him: Lolita. Don Quixote. Permanent Midnight.

From School: The Awakening. Metamorphosis. House of Mirth. Geek Love.

And, of course, there’s the entire Harry Potter collection. I started reading those right after book 4 was published – devouring my cousin’s first three during a week-long family houseboat trip on the Sacramento Delta. I read 4 – 6 electronically, and pre-ordered the final book in hardcover as it came out. I read that one from cover to cover on a flight from LA to New Jersey ten years ago. I then lent my physical copies to my stepdaughter when she came of age to read them. Being a child, she loved them to the point of destruction – so the hard-bound ones that now sit on my shelf with uncracked spines in the collectible trunk were a gift (like many of the Star Trek and Doctor Who coffee table books I do already have on display) from a loving husband who enjoyed my fanaticism.

That’s about what’s on my shelf that I’d say is mine. Except the ones in my kindle and audible accounts.

There aren’t many. And there are several that are in there that I haven’t read yet. But…unless you’re looking through my phone or tablet or laptop, you won’t see an accurate representation of what I’m into today.

But, as I wrote this out, I realized that the ones you might see in my house (or in a photo of me in my house) were a bit more than simply sentimental. In many ways, the ones I kept helped to influence who I am at my core.

So maybe taking a look at my bookshelf, now that the books there are mostly mine is an accurate representation after all – maybe not of the entirety of who I am and what I’m about, but certainly there are some key elements they helped form.

Ooh. That was a fun thing to write. It even surprised me at the end.

I’m gonna go back to the beginning and read it again.

On Compliments

I won’t have been the first person to write this, nor will I likely be the last. I, like so many others, am just one of the many who – in shedding some of the (perhaps unintentional) burdens laid upon my psyche by the patriarchal system that dominates our society – has come to regard the “compliment” with unease.

More plain English?

Some compliments by some people make me feel uncomfortable.

Now, in a world unencumbered by the patriarchal system I’ve already alluded to, I wouldn’t need to say more than that. I should be able to say “X makes me feel Y” and “Y” should be accepted, respected, and boom.

And if, for example, someone were concerned about their “X” making me feel “Y” they might be driven to ask “but, why?”

And… you know what? That’s a valid question. It’s a question that does not dismiss my feeling of “Y”, but seeks to understand it. It may also be an attempt to validate it; but it certainly does not come from the position of denying its existence.

But that’s not what we get when we say things like “Your doing of X makes me feel Y,” where “Y” is not a positive thing.

What we get is “No, you’re wrong.” Or “Jeez, take a compliment.” Or “Fuckin’ feminists….”

What we get, frequently, is an invalidation of our feelings. So you know what we do?

We say nothing. A lot. We say nothing so many times.

We say plenty to the people who are willing to listen. We say plenty to the people who say “Oh, I know,” or even those who ask “But, why?” but until we know you’re one of those people, we just say nothing.

So, I’m going to publicly answer the ‘why’ for me. Why it sometimes makes me feel uncomfortable.

This is a society that has placed a high value on the way women look and act and behave, but predominantly it’s about how we look.

I can say “I feel like shit today, I’m so tired….” and someone’s response might easily be, “But you look beautiful.”

Like that’s going to make the shit-and-tired feeling go away, or make it feel less shitty or tired. Every time Erin Andrews, the host on Dancing With the Stars talks about how beautiful one of the female contestants looks I cringe. So often it was “Well, the judges didn’t score you very well, but you look HOT.”

When I was ten years old I started begging my mom to let me wear makeup. She told me I couldn’t – not until I was thirteen. On my thirteenth birthday, I asked if I could wear makeup. She said not until I’m sixteen. I said, “But wait! You said I could wear it when I’m thirteen!” She responded, “I didn’t think thirteen would come so soon!”

For years I wore makeup every day. All of it – the foundation and the powder and the gloss and mascara and the liner. And then, it was an uncle actually who asked me “why?” And I said it was so I could look pretty, and he said “you are beautiful without it. It doesn’t make you prettier. You don’t need it every day. Save it for the days you want people to say ‘wow!'”

It took me a little while, because at this point I was pretty darned pimpley and I really felt like I needed it.

But over time, I did lay off all the heavy makeup. I started really getting used to seeing my face without it. And you know what started to happen?

My mom started telling me to go put on some makeup.

Because it made me prettier.

And that was really important. Hell, just the other day she kept harping on how I had to do my makeup “really nice, like you used to do it – i know you know how” for my job interview. She even asked me for a photo as proof that I did it right.

Over the past few years, I’ve done a lot of work overcoming my addiction to validation. So many of us have this addiction – and it’s no wonder. We’re infused with doses of it from day one of our existence, and it only gets more prominent as we start to blossom. We crave that validation.

And it’s like, in order to wean ourselves off of it, we feel like we have to go in totally the opposite direction. Like, we purposely try to dress unsexy and let our armpit hair grow and behave in the most unladylike fashion we can. Quitting validation sometimes felt like quitting femininity.

But then something else happened. I realized that trying to hide my beauty in response to the patriarchy’s unwelcome valuation of it still gives my control over it to someone other than myself.

I started to see the power and in owning my own looks. Now, here’s the thing. I value them. I’m not going to sit here and pretend that being pretty isn’t something I am aware of or something I’m not appreciative of – but what I resent is that it makes a difference in how others perceive me. I like looking like me. I like that my partner likes the way I look.

But I hate that it has any bearing on whether I am qualified for a job or my family’s love or a stranger’s respect. I don’t look at other people and “rate” their looks or treat them differently to how I treat other people….

….unless I’m flirting with them.

Which brings me back to those compliments.

When someone who is not sexually interested in me (any gender) tells me that I am beautiful, it feels like a compliment.

When someone who is sexually interested in me (any gender) tells me that I am beautiful, it feels like a down payment.

Maybe it’s not intended that way. Holy shit it probably isn’t intended that way! But that’s the system we live in. That’s how it works, and that’s how I interpret it.

I get that there are people with crushes out there on people who do not reciprocate those crushes. I get that it can feel awkward and weird to have a crush on someone who doesn’t crush back on you. I’m not saying don’t talk to them, or don’t compliment them…

…I’m saying that when it comes to me, anyway, understand that a compliment on my level of attractiveness to you can make me feel uncomfortable. I might say “thank you,” if I don’t think there’s any ulterior motive…but if I feel like a response might be leading you to think that I’ve accepted the down payment and we’re now negotiating terms?

I’ll probably just say nothing.

One final thought: If you think this is about you or something you’ve said to me in the past, don’t worry about trying to apologize or explain that your motives are not disingenuous. I’m not holding any grudges and I’m not angry with anybody. Just let this message percolate and keep it in mind the next time we have an interaction.

1000: Even deeper than I thought I’d go

I began blogging on FetLife (a kinky social media site) close to three years ago. Today I reached the milestone of my 1000th post there (many of which began crossing over to this blog about a year ago). That’s the context you need to have the post make sense.  Carry on. 


When I first started writing on Fet, it was in the wake of heartbreak and renewed hope. When my writings first started getting noticed on fet, it was in the wake of even more heartbreak and lost hope.

The more I exposed my pain and vulnerability, the more tenderly I was received. It was a light in a dark tunnel, and I followed it through.

But there came a time when I realized I was perhaps exposing too much. I don’t exactly recall how I came to this conclusion – but, it was (at first) a suggestion made by someone else.

That someone turned out not to be compatible for friendship, but nonetheless – their suggestion remained present in my mind. I was able, eventually, to recognize there were some unfortunate consequences to my oversharing, but they ran deeper than the ones I’d been warned about.

I’m not having a good day.

In fact, I’ve not had a good couple of days.

Relax: I can handle it. It’s okay for me to have bad days. But, it’s been a while since I’ve felt so low. I am experiencing emotional doomsday feelings where my mind travels to the worst places, and drag up memories of the most helpless moments of my life. I am also experiencing physical manifestations of the anxiety that has been dragged upward – the choke-sobbing fits and the acidic ache in my chest and knotted pains in my belly that won’t seem to pass.

I feel, at any moment, like I could give in to the bubbling emotions just beneath the surface and go into a full blown anxiety attack. And for teetering moments at that edge, I almost want to do it – if only so I can let it all out and find myself in a state of dulled emotional capacity on the other side.

Though it has been some time since I’ve been in this state, it is one with which I am familiar. Reverse back a few years, and this is a shadow of what I used to experience on a near weekly, if not daily, basis.

I know what this is.

I also know why it’s here. Not just the obvious catalyst for its arrival, nor even the underlying essential motivations, but deeper down to the fathoms of my existential being, – the stuff I think most people don’t access on a regular basis – I do. I’ve got my number.

1,000 posts ago I’d have shared those details. I’d have given you, the anonymous reader, all of the data: the catalyst, the motivations. I might have, by the end of the essay, drawn a line toward my existential conclusion.

And the reason I’d have done that? I’d have painted you a word-picture of my pitiful state for the purpose of gaining your tender support. It’s a form of manipulation, but not in a nefarious way. After all, writing and story-telling of any kind is a form of emotional manipulation.

So yes, I’d have explained the who, what, when, where, and why of my despair and swam in the soothing elixir of your concern.

It’s what I needed then. But, over time, I became dependent on it. It became a crutch without which my emotional limp would heal but never reach maximum strength.

Now, 1000 posts later, you’re not so anonymous. I know who many of you are on some level.

I also have, for perhaps the first time in my life, an understanding of who I am independent of my relationship to anybody else, (including family, friends, lovers, husbands, stepchildren, or colleagues).

I exist as a person on my own. The people in my life closest to me that inspire love and affection provide an enrichment that I’d never want to take for granted, nor mistake for the emotional equivalence of oxygen.

What’s this got to do with my bad day?

Well, that’s just it. It’s my bad day. I know why it’s here and what caused it, and I’m well aware that it will be fleeting.

So, while I feel the urge to tell you all about it – to dive into the details of the why and how I’m feeling the way I feel – I also now know that the resulting concerned feedback does not help to achieve my purpose.

I just want to share. I just want to to share my truth. I want to illuminate that even one with a charmed life can sometimes struggle – not for the purpose of eliciting your pity, but in an attempt to narrow the chasms that sometimes separate us.

We all suffer, in varying degrees and for different reasons – but we all suffer.

I don’t want to feel separated from humanity. My current (and admittedly temporary) state of despair should not serve to isolate me when, in fact, it has so much potential (and history) of doing the exact opposite.

I want to tell you that you’re not alone, because – in doing so – I remind myself that I am not either.

Addendum to the self-improvement manual

Are you trying to make a change in your life?  Acknowledged some bad habits and are doing the work to address their sources and make adjustments to overcome them?

There’s something that’s not in the “self-improvement” manual that I think you should know.

There are people in your periphery who are going to be hard-pressed to acknowledge that you’ve changed. I’m not talking about those closest to you who are witnessing your efforts, cheering you on, and providing support along the way…

…I mean the ones that you call “friends” but are really more like acquaintances.  These are people in your life you would not call upon if your car broke down at 3am, but you would have a conversation with them at a party.

They took a mental picture of you back when you first met, and filed it away in a folder with your name on it. That is who you are to them – no nuance, no complexity.  You may be a three dimensional object but you are static, not dynamic.

This is a normal thing.  You do it to people all the time. There was a woman when I was in my 20s who was in her late 30s that didn’t realize I’d overheard her when she said to a mutual friend “I don’t want phi to tag along, She’ll take all the attention away from us” when we were making plans to go out dancing in a group.  Later that afternoon, she feigned a migraine and told me our plans were cancelled. I filed her away as “jealous, petty, insecure, lying bitch.”

I’ve not seen nor heard from her in 20 years.  In that time she might have changed completely and become the sweetest, most charitable, and kind-hearted grandmama you’d ever meet – but I wouldn’t know it.  If I were to run into her today I still think of her as the woman who lied to me because she’d created a competition in her mind that wasn’t there.

“Ok, so people won’t believe I’ve changed.  Who cares? I don’t care what they think.”

Well, to an extent, yeah.  Except for a lot of us, our self-worth and self-acceptance is wrapped up in how others treat us. Many of us are programmed to seek validation from others in order to feel secure about ourselves.  What happens when there are a bunch of people who still treat you like you’re the town drunk when you’ve been six months sober?

You start to feel like that hard work you’ve put into self-improvement has no payoff.

THAT’S what’s not in the manual.

The idea of self-validating *is* in the manual; at least, it was in mine.  I was given that piece of information early on by someone who was a friend and is now in my periphery.  He said I had to learn to stop seeking external validation.

I didn’t understand why, or how to do it – but I did know that it was part of the changes I would have to make.  What I didn’t know is that nearly every one of my successes now can be traced back to my learning to self-validate.  To disassociate my self worth from the value set OTHERS placed on me.

It’s not the same as saying “I don’t care what people think.”  I do care. I take it into consideration when I look at myself and ask “are they right?”

If I believe they are, then I ask “am I okay with that?”

And if I’m not, then I’ve got a new challenge to take on.

Schrodinger’s Baggage

(This post originally posted on FetLife on 4/27/2015)

There’s a thing I’ve heard said, when it comes to dating someone in his/her late 30s or older who has never been married or had any children: what’s wrong with them?

It’s not really a fair statement to make. First of all, marriage is not the end-game for everyone. It used to be for me, but it’s not anymore.  There’s a decent chance an unmarried male in his 40s is that way because *he wants to be.*

There’s a guy that approached me two weekends ago on OKC.  He had the best intro email I’d ever received.  Our back and forth that day was full of wit, personality, laughter.  He’s attractive, local, available – all the pieces fit.

But he hasn’t pulled the trigger and asked me out. (Oh, but why don’t you ask *him* out, phi? Simple. I want to know he’s got enough Alpha in him to do it himself.  Then I’ll know he might have what it takes to give me what I want down the line, should it get that far).

My guess is that guy has never been married because he never asked.

There was a really great post on the topic of “baggage” recently. Some people carry their own baggage, and some people pawn it off on others to carry for them.  That was the gist of it.

My baggage is odd. It’s Schrodinger’s Baggage.

I’m 36 years old.  Nearly 37, actually.  I have been married.  But I’ve never been divorced. Widow is a weird check box to tick. To declare myself “single” or “unmarried” feels like I’m not acknowledging an important part my identity for a significant chunk of my life. I don’t have the baggage of a messy divorce, and while I am still carrying the load of having suffered a major loss, I think I’m handling it very well.

I don’t have tethers to exes. I’m a clean slate.  And I’m not.

My husband had a daughter.  I had been an active participant in her life from 8 to 17.  She’s 18 now.  I helped raise her. I went to the track meets, dance recitals, helped her with her homework, and attended all the open houses I could.  But she and I aren’t that close since he passed away. I haven’t had contact with her since her birthday in February.

There’s that weird spot again, between being a mother and not.  I’ve never given birth. I’ve never changed a diaper. But I know what it is to worry when your child has a need and you’re in charge of providing for it.

I’m a mother (albeit a step-mother).  And I’m not.

And when it comes to emotional baggage, well…  I mean, I’m closing in on 300 blog posts on Fetlife alone – many of them fraught with emotion. I carry a ton of it, but here’s the thing.  I don’t carry it alone. I have friends. I have readers. I have family. I have an ability not to stuff my feelings deep down where they’re hardest to carry. Through my writing, I’m able to free up so much of that dead weight.

And it’s not like the emotional stuff is that horrific. Just your run-of-the-mill I can tongue-in-cheekly blame my parents for everything stuff; but have been through enough therapy to recognize my triggers and learned coping mechanisms that don’t require a pint of Ben & Jerry’s anymore.

Communication about how I’m feeling, when I’m feeling it, and why I’m feeling it is the key to my being able to maintain a level head most of the time.  *Most* of the time. Nobody’s perfect.

I am ruled by my emotions. And I’m not.

It’s difficult to be objective about oneself.  When I take a look at who I am today, I have to admit I’m a fan.  There are some things about myself I’d like to improve, and some flaws that I’ve learned to accept as “character enhancements.”

The more comfortable I become with admitting that I am worth a whole lot better than I’ve allowed myself to accept over the past year, the easier it is to feel content with my current status:

I am a single, childless, emotionally healthy individual.

I am also a married woman with a teenager and a whole lot of back story.

I may have some baggage, but it’s the kind with wheels.