Wednesday, May 30, 2012

fifty shades of wanting your life back.

So what I did was, I read Fifty Shades of Grey last weekend, and it made me feel things. Sexy things. Frustrated things. Grammatically incorrect things. Here's a random sample.

1. From now on I think editors need to limit writers to only one adjective per noun. None of this "deep, profound melancholy" or "cool, cold water."

1a. Yeah, don't get me started on "cool, cold water."

2. The porny bits kick in around page 87; you can pretty much skip the first part.

2a. And oh my lord, the porny bits! This shit gets REAL.

3. In the words of the poor bastard to whom I kept reading passages aloud one night as he tried to quietly read an article about outer space, "I'd be kind of turned on if it wasn't so horrible."

3a. To that end, here are some of the phrases I hope never to hear again: "the arousal of my sex" (yes, as in vagina. She did use the word vagina, thank goodness, but not nearly often enough), "Come for me, baby," "my inner goddess."

3c. For more of the very, very worst writing of this series, check out Fifty Shades of Suck. My inner goddess can't stop hitting her head on the table.

4. Guys, they have period sex! Insanely dirty period sex! To me this is a Sexy Final Frontier, something everybody probably does but nobody talks about. I love that she went there. I have this image in my head of a woman with one of those headlamp book lights staying up late to read over the description of a dude pulling out a young woman's tampon in a hotel bathroom, eyes wide. It's so over the top. Bread and circuses.

5. Here is something that I both love and hate: clunky literary allusions, meant to lend credibility to otherwise horrifying prose. In the case of Fifty Shades, it's an ongoing reference to Tess of the d'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy. I know that sales of Wuthering Heights spiked post-Twilight (thanks in part to the terrible Twilight-inspired editions). Given my irrational dislike of the Victorian novel, I will have a nice little chuckle if a whole generation of women starts slogging through Tess. Joke's on you, ladies!

5a. When I was in highschool I had to read Far from the Madding Crowd, also by Hardy. I had a really hard time wrapping my head around the novel until my filthy-minded teacher started pointing out all the penile, erectile, and otherwise phallic imagery in the book, at which point something clicked in my adolescent brain.

6. It is incredible how many people are reading this book. The first one in the trilogy has over 800 people on the library waiting list. I sincerely hope that this leads to bored people having a lot more interesting sexytimes. I also hope its popularity helps break down some of the antiquated social stigma around porn and erotica for women. Given the overwhelming prudishness of our society it's not at all surprising that part of the reason for this book's popularity is that in this digital age it can be read on a tablet with relative anonymity--a number of articles note that fans of the series who are grateful for the ability to read it without anyone knowing that they're reading it, because it's not the sort of book they'd want to broadcast about. The fact that women are still concerned about public displays of sexual appetite is problematic. If you want to read smut on the subway, for pete's sake, just read smut on the subway. Life is short.

7. I also really, really hope it will lead to some better-written smut, because for the love of god, I cannot abide this garbage. My inner goddess wishes E.L. James had had a better proofreader. After all, a solid, unforgiving, take-no-prisoners edit is nearly as satisfying as a solid, unforgiving, take-no-prisoners fuck.

Friday, May 25, 2012

peony season.

I once loved a man who grew incredible dahlias. 

Tom had the greenest of thumbs, which was, like most talents, a blessing and a curse. When he lived at the lake, he kept up a rambling garden patch overlooking the water below, in a spot that had at one time been an inground swimming pool ("You'd have to be an idiot to build a pool next to the cleanest lake in the county," Tom would often remark. "A real fucking idiot."). Tomatoes in garbage pails, rows upon rows of beets and basil, dill the size of potted palms.  Tom tended to his crops like a proud uncle. Some nights in early June we'd lie out on the grass next to his plot and just be still, certain with the certainty that some consumed substances might bring that we could hear things growing.  On heady nights later in the summer, we'd eat like kings and queens from that garden and then he'd send me on my way with a plastic cup full of flowers. It was easy to be in love back then.

Of all the blooms he cultivated, his dahlias were his finest work. Dahlias are finicky flowers with petals like infinite spirals folding in upon one another, beautiful little mandalas. Every spring as he planted the bulbs he got from his mother, he'd let me in on his particular strategies, none of which I can recall. Maybe it was a combination of his own neurotic energy combined with the equally frantic juju of his mother's garden, two generations of hardy, panicked part-Russian stock willing those flowers to bloom. Whatever he did, it worked. Those flowers were perfect, and inspired healthy envy. When we first got together Freya used to say she was glad we were together because it would give her an inside line on dahlia bulbs (best friends are best friends for many reasons).  

Last summer was my first in awhile that didn't include drives home from Frontenac County with a bouquet and leftover tomatoes in the passenger seat. As the first dahlias bloomed last August, I felt vaguely unsettled. I resisted the urge to take the scissors for a walk and pillage my neighbours' beds. I felt that small hole inside me grow slightly larger, as it often did, ebbing and flowing, expanding and contracting.  I rode it out, because 2011 was the year of riding things out.  I waited for those mandalas to fall off their stems, certain I would survive this season as I'd survived the ones before, knowing that this dahlia crop would be the hardest, with each one following getting a little easier.

Then, in October, I went to visit a friend in Halifax, and we spent a golden afternoon wandering in the Public Gardens, where the dahlias were just finishing up--Nova Scotia is a good few weeks behind us season-wise, just as my mother always said.  Erin and I wandered up and down rows of miraculous new cultivars, sun-baked on one of the last mild days of the year. Okay, I thought to myself, I can remember this instead.

So what happens now? It's May, and it's peony season. Last spring I moved into my cottage just as the peonies were finishing up, and in those first few days at home I cut blooms from branches, stuffing them into vases in every room in the house, feeling so hopeful and independent and free. All year, I've looked forward to their return. On the advice of a garden-minded colleague (one of the wonderful things about working in a library is the constant, endearing, instructional kindness of your coworkers) I trimmed them back to nothing last fall. I prayed all winter that I hadn't somehow killed them. These past few weeks I've watched their buds get fat, their branches bend under the weight. This week they all opened at once and I breathed a huge sigh of relief. Peonies are huge, messy flowers, fragrant and heavy and frilled. They're also easy to grow, eager to be cultivated, happy to be admired. They were here before I arrived, but I can do little things to help them along. They're not entirely mine, but for now they're under my wing, year after year. 

And I might still decide to plant a few dahlia bulbs along the sunny back fence. I think the bulbs will need to go in soon--it might already be too late for this year. Sometimes I wish I'd listened harder to Tom's secrets for success, but really, I'm not too worried. It's nothing I can't figure out on my own.