Saturday, May 27, 2017

Dear Death: I See You Here

This is not a funny post. Today was a bad day. My vet told me to do a good day/bad day jar for a couple of weeks, but I don't really need it.

Death is stalking my household.

Thanatos waits patiently in the shadowed corners of my living room while we watch movies and bark quietly at neighborhood kids or invisible monsters in the back yard. Badb is hanging out cross-legged on the floor under a desk in my office, casually flipping through books in my library, content but staying close.

If I'm lucky. Persephone is working on a new spot with Thor: one with enough toys that they can steal from each other again.

I know the sensation of Death lingering in my house. I've done this already.

We are getting to the point that "tired" is more than just sleeping between meals and an exhausting barking session. It's a look in the eyes, a distinct need for comfort that forces failing legs to keep trying to push 110lbs up the stairs so he can sleep near a person. It's the sad expression when I pick up the leash, and half-hearted attempt to get up only to lie next to the open door, because the urge to pee isn't strong enough to bother going out even though it's been nearly 12 hours.

He's not ready, but I think we're within a week or two now. Taking responsibility for another living creature is a double edged razor. The vet says the timing is up to me. What that really means is I'm no longer monitoring and caring for Chewy to provide him with quality of life, but quality of death. Some would argue there are many reasons to make that choice on his behalf - send him on before he suffers, the expense involved in waiting, the disruption to my life, moving on.

Responsibility is a heavy burden because it's SUPPOSED to be heavy. Who the hell am I to determine how much of his life to cut off? People who bring up the expense involved are talking a bout the vet bills, the pills, the time involved in waiting for him to struggle back inside twice a day. But the real expense is the waiting, the burden of choosing when to invite Death formally instead of letting her hang out, because at some point the suffering is just enough. But I am only a caretaker: Chewy will let me know when he hits that point. Thor did.

We, people, humans, are so afraid of Death visiting that we'll do damn near anything to avoid it. Dogs are different. They'll fight to survive until it's time, and when it's time they're just...ready. They've done their jobs here, they've loved and protected and forgiven, and they let you know they're ok.

My vet is truly a fantastic man. When we let Thor go, he warned me what might happen - convulsions, bodily fluids, scary and awful struggling against the soul slipping from the body. He told me so I wouldn't be surprised, so I could stay in the room and be a comfort instead of a basket case. NONE of that happened with him - in fact, he give a little sigh of relief and just slipped off his body like an uncomfortable jacket that's gotten too tight.

I want that for Chewy, too. I want an easy death that relieves him from his broken down body and gives him freedom to bark at ALL THE THINGS. I want Thanatos to give him quiet sleep, and Badb to take him on a long, leisurely walk. There's always the chance that won't happen, that his passing will be somehow scarring. I hope not.

I suppose I'll find out in the next couple of weeks, because I know this countdown.

He stole a loaf of bread today while I got coffee. He was so proud of reaching it I can't even be all that mad, even though it was MINE MINE MINE. Cheeseburgers and treats will be the order of the days ahead, and a lot of sitting in the grass so he can just hang out and do what he loves best - watching over the neighborhood. Until it's time to stop.

Yes, I could say Tuesday is the day and we could be done and save me the emotional stress of Death becoming my temporary roommate. But that's not my job here. I'm not afraid to wait with him. I'm not afraid to make the decision or lie with him on the floor in the vet's office, or let him go.

When it's time, I will ask Death to walk my dog gently, and kindly request no more visits for a long while. Until then, we're sitting in companionable quiet, listening to Chewy's quiet breathing while he dreams.

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

The Red: An Erotic Fantasy by Tiffany Reisz (Spoiler-Free Review)

"Art should be dangerous, you know. It should say something to society that society doesn't want to hear. Do you know what the opposite of art is? Propaganda." -  The Red

This review is safe for work. The book isn't.

Mona Lisa St. James made a deathbed promise to her mother, vowing to keep their struggling little art gallery open "at all costs." Months later, she's about to fail the promise and just desperate enough to take up the mysterious Malcolm's (no last name) shockingly straightforward offer: become his, on demand, for the next twelve months and make enough money to save her business. Over the next year, Mona finds out the exact cost of keeping that promise, in explicit detail, and discovers some fascinating secrets about her odd lover and his artwork-themed demands.

I often recommend Ms. Reisz's novels because she doesn't write simple smut (that's right: she writes complicated smut), or syrupy romance, and The Red lives up to my expectations. I love Reisz's work for the depth of character and fascinating navigation through complicated and taboo sexual situations. The underpinnings of the story is an exploration of Mona's value, of her own sense of self-worth that becomes stronger and more pronounced as her boundaries are pushed, and her discovery of what she really wants. It's downright voyeuristically compelling, watching Mona's thoughts and actions evolve with each new level of debauchery.

Oh my God, the debauchery. Make no mistake: this is definitely a Tiffany Reisz erotic novel.

Seriously well written, unapologetic lust exists between those covers. I tossed sleep aside to finish it in a night, and this book is worth it, although I may never look at a bottle of water the same way again. From an erotica perspective, The Red has at least one kink that will appeal to you and at least one that will make you terribly uncomfortable. I know what you're thinking, and I definitely don't mean the "blushing and you hope no one notices because WHY are you reading this in public" sort of uncomfortable.

I mean the uncomfortable where you're certain this particular kink shouldn't be so arousing because it's so dirty, but you're turned on anyway. You'll think about it for days afterward and read it again, and you'll want to recommend it to friends but worry they'll figure out that scene worked for you. THAT sort of uncomfortable.

Of course, part of the fun of reading The Red is discovering which encounters fall under which category for you.

The Red is a standalone novel, available on July 11th, 2017 in paperback and e-formats (Kindle is available for pre-order). If you enjoyed her Original Sinners series I don't have to recommend this one, because you already know exactly why you'll love this book. If you're new to Ms. Reisz's work, I highly recommend picking up The Red as soon as you can: it's an excellent mix of erotica and dominant/submissive dynamics, with a hint of the supernatural for flavor.

The Red is definitely exactly the right sort of dangerous art.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

13 reasons to watch 13 Reasons Why (Review)

I've been sitting on this for a bit, mostly because the social media attention surrounding Netflix's 13 Reasons Why is rather fascinating.

For those of you who have no idea what the hell I'm talking about, 13 Reasons Why is an adaptation of the novel by the same name, which follows Clay, a high school boy, on the terrible journey through the reasons why his love interest committed suicide.Hannah's story, her truth, is told in her own words through cassette tapes that each focus on a friend, acquaintance, or adult whom she considered a contributor in some way to how she got to that point.

1) The series itself is well done. From a purely technical perspective, I found all the kids in particular to be good actors, and the story moved along well. I skimmed the book at B&N the other day, and I have to say the series was better, although some of the episodes were hard to watch so it took me a week or so to watch them all - needed breaks.

2) It reminds us that we have NO FUCKING IDEA what's actually going on in anyone's life. That's a terrifying thing to have so baldly depicted; I imagine it's both easy and comforting to think you know exactly what your kid is doing or experiencing. I think the stark reminder is valuable.

3) The 'heroine' isn't a romanticized figure. Hannah is just as flawed and fucked up as the rest of her circle, and it shows. She makes good and bad choices. She's sometimes selfish, overwhelmed with conflicting emotions, and wants to be "good" but makes mistakes that eat at her.  She's closed off, she keeps secrets, and she's unable to cope or open up enough to let out any of what's building up inside.

4) The 'hero' also isn't romanticized, but at first he THINKS he is. I loved Clay's journey from confused horror (that he'd be one of the receivers of the tapes themselves), to working through the idea that he has no insight into his classmates' lives and his ultimate acceptance not only of what she'd done but also how he needs to be more mindful of how he treats others afterward.

5) Bullying and Cyber Bullying. The terrible effects of mob-mentality bullying, not only for Hannah but also many of the subjects in her tapes, are starkly evident. Equally evident is the lengths to which people will go to avoid being the target, even if it means participating or knowingly standing by when shit goes down. It's easy to say "why didn't s/he just stand up for him/herself or that other person", but I thought they did a fantastic job of showing a variety of personalities: some strong, some not, and how even the strongest can be eroded over time without some support.

6) Sex. Drugs. Drinking. If you don't think any of that happens in teenage life, you're just stupid. What I loved about this show is that none of that was depicted in a glorifying way - in fact, they were shown as series of bad choices resulting in being out of control and self-destructive.

7) Sexual harassment, slut shaming, and BOTH rape scenes (which do come with trigger warnings before the episodes, regardless what you may have heard). The nonstop casual sexual harassment and accepted as "boys will be boys" attitude by the school administration is, (and I say this from my personal experience I still vividly remember 20 some years after high school), absolutely accurate: ass grabbing, a barrage of comments, stalking, assumptions that Hannah was 'easy' (a word I loathe in describing a woman's sexuality but I use here because it was specifically used in the show), the administration's obliviousness (perfectly portrayed when the principal had to ask the counselor what the term "cum dumpster" meant, since it was on the girl's bathroom wall). Ugh.

The two rape scenes are terrible in their accuracy and commonality, and really well shot (NOT gratuitously sexual or violent, yet horrifying and so difficult to watch). Because consent is impossible to give when you're incapacitated, and fighting back isn't every girl's instinctual response - sometimes, freezing in fear is all she can do. And you know what? Kudos to the producers/director for the treatment of each of those scenes.

As an aside, one of the big critical arguments about this show is "but why is it always about rape, and why does it have to be a teenager getting raped"? How about: because you can probably count on one hand the number of women you know who HAVEN'T been sexually assaulted or outright raped in their lifetime. And most of us who were in some way or another assaulted? Yeah...a lot of that shit happens in middle or high school. THAT'S MOTHERFUCKING WHY.  I am seriously over this bullshit do-gooder whitewashing of rape from all art, media, and public venue under the guise of "talking about it makes it worse."

Not talking about it makes it worse. Not recognizing it as a major conscious and subconscious contributing factor to a woman's life is just another way to silence us, because even those lucky few who haven't been physically assaulted have likely been verbally assaulted. Because women grow up learning how to not get raped - it's in advice given to us by self defense experts, by our mothers, by police, by the media, by each other: don't wear that. Keep a key between your fingers in your hand when you're walking to your car. Park in lit areas. Go to the bar/bathroom/public in groups. Don't lead him on. Don't make him angry by saying no the wrong way.

NOT TALKING about it, sweeping it under the rug as "that doesn't happen in high school" or "why make her get raped, it's so typical" is utterly idiotic. It's typical because it happens all the goddamned time.

8) Rape aftermath. Accurate. Awful. Not only for the girls', which is self-destructive and terrible and numb and a ringing endorsement for talking to girls and women about getting help after an attack, the show also touches on the guilt the boys who loved them clearly felt for being unable to protect them and how they deal with that (positively and negatively).
And the bro-code and breakdown of the clique as the weight of protecting the perpetrator becomes more than some of the boys to bear.
And the lack of real help when a girl does talk about what happened.
And the way it changes her forever.

9) Adults. I suspect part of the sting of this show when parents watch it is the very clear implication that signs were there, but none of the adults in her life really paid attention. It's true that she didn't say anything - she kept dangerous and damaging secrets, and interestingly that's ALSO depicted as a bad choice. She didn't talk to her parents, to her teachers, to her friends. When she does finally try to talk to a school counselor and is told, BY THE ADULT SHE'S SUPPOSED TO TALK TO when terrible things happen, that if she didn't clearly say "no" and won't name the perpetrator all he can tell her to do is get over it. Every goddamned adult needs to watch that episode. He doesn't refer her to a rape counselor or mental health professional, he doesn't recognize the apathy as a sign, he doesn't report anything to her parents or the police or even his own principal: he doesn't do anything to help her at all.

10) Depression vs Giving Up. The girl in this show wasn't classically depressed in the often-portrayed way, and the word "depressed" never comes up. Even in the flashbacks, there is no clear downward spiral of depression culminating in such a terrible decision. She becomes convinced she's worthless, that she's unloveable and incapable of any "normal" relationship. Then, she reaches a place when the will and desire to live is absent, a moment she recognizes where she doesn't care anymore about anything or anyone and is completely done. Part of the shock and horror of suicide is the lack of indicators, and this show fucking NAILED that horror. 

11) The Suicide scene. I feel like calling out every single person who says "don't watch this show, it glorifies suicide as a viable option" and slapping them for commenting on something they CLEARLY didn't actually watch.  This is not romanticized in any way - it's depicted as horrible, physically painful, emotionally broken, and utterly awful. FYI, it is relatively bloody for a moment, unbelievably difficult to see. I cried multiple times in this episode (which does contain a clear trigger warning).

12) Survivors' emotions. If anyone actually watches the final episode and sees the moment her parents find her, I truly can't understand this idea that suicide is glorified as an option. The whole series is about the pain she leaves behind. Clay, Hannah's parents, the others on the tapes, the others in school, the others' parents...everyone dealt with a myriad of emotional fallout in the aftermath. I liked that the full range of emotion and coping mechanisms (some positive, some self-destructive) appeared, sometimes in the same character over time.

13) Discussion. Suicide, rape, bullying/harassment, depression, anxiety, death...they're so often glossed over, ignored, or quieted in effort to "protect" people from harsh reality. 13 Reasons Why was done specifically as an unflinching look at the darknesses in a teen's life that led to suicide and its aftermath, and if nothing in any of the episodes sparks some discussion, among adults and/or teens, I don't have any idea what would. It's so easy to dismiss what a teen is going through as unreasonable drama, but when you live in a microcosm and your long-term thinking isn't fully developed (as multiple psychologists indicate that part of the brain isn't fully developed until 25 or so), "for right now" seems like "forever".

The point of 13 Reasons Why is to bring it all into the light, to talk about it, to find common ground about it so maybe suicide doesn't seem like a good choice. To talk about rape and consent. To talk about learning to take a step back from the current emotional state and remember that it won't always be this bad, that things can get better, that it's ok to NOT be perfect. To offer resources if someone doesn't feel comfortable talking to their loved ones (if you watch the behind the scenes, the producers, directors, and actors DO discuss the whys behind some of their choices and refer to a site that will find you local resources.

I watched the final episode again last night and thought about suicide (as a topic, not a possible course of action) for a very long time. I was pretty heavily bullied in middle/high school, and at some point my parents must have noticed I was off because I will always remember my dad saying, bluntly and out of the blue one day: no matter how bad something is suicide is never an option: it leaves everyone behind you devastated (a comment that worked for me because I feel more responsibility to others than to myself, so pulling the "it's selfish" card worked...I realize it may not work for everyone), and it robs you of finding out the good things waiting for you. EVERYTHING PASSES. EVERYTHING. All you have to do is hang on. 

I've been on the edge of that same dead-inside moment a couple of times in my life - talking about it with Dad when I was a teenager stuck with me.

Find a way to talk about the bad stuff, the dark stuff, the uncomfortable stuff. It matters. 

"There is nothing about this show that's polite." - 13 Reasons Why - Behind the Scenes

"It has to get better. The way we treat each other. It has to get better somehow." - Clay