Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Sex and the Single Octogenarian

This week “Obsession: An Erotic Tale” (HarperCollins), by Gloria Vanderbilt, is arriving on a bookstore shelf near you. Honestly, I thought the lady had passed a while ago. Apparently I am not as up on my “society” studies as I should be. Then again, I have a history of thinking people are dead when they’re not. For instance, I know that Jack Palance died at least twice before the final time in 2006. It was disconcerting to have him showing up in things when I knew he was gone. So the other day I blinked in surprise to read that the creatively creative Ms. Vanderbilt is indeed still very much with us and has penned what Charles McGrath in the New York Times suggested “may be the steamiest book ever written by an octogenarian”. I am still not clear if I was blinking more in response to finding out she was alive or finding out that she wrote an erotic novel. How many octogenarians have written erotica I wonder? Are there varying levels of “steaminess” depending on how “octo” an author was when they wrote? Was this particular book about octogenarians behaving erotically? That answer, at least, is no.

Gloria Vanderbilt has always been on the artistic side. A prodigious artist and designer, probably best known for those jeans that everyone I knew in college tried desperately to squeeze into. Although she and her famous jeans have long since parted company, she continues to put her stamp on the printed page. “Obsession” is her third novel. I’ve read several opinions on the simple fact that she has written this book and found them to vary from grudging admiration to bewildered embarrassment to downright oh, that just simply isn’t done.

I begin to wonder if the opinions weighing in on the embarrassed side of the scale have more to do with the fact that the woman is 85, or more to do with the fact that sex in general seems to embarrass a lot of Americans. We are a curious mix as a culture. On the one hand glorifying youth and beauty and whatever our broad definition of “sexiness” is at the moment, yet on the other hand, stampeding up onto moral high ground over any sexual expression deemed “not nice”. I am not saying there should not be some stampeding over pornography. There is a difference between erotica and pornography. Not that I am about to explain that here. All I will say is that if you have experienced them both, you know the difference. As a people, we tend to accept more easily things that are “safe”. This is understandable on some levels, but deadly dull on others. The seniors frolicking in Cocoon was a safe experience, even cute. Erotic novels, not so much.

I don’t fall on the embarrassed side of the scale. I say good for Gloria. Why not write an erotic novel? Why not still succumb to adventure at 85? If you haven’t earned the right to do what you want by then, you never will.

You go girl.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Back from the cosmic lessoning. For good this time. I hope.

Sometimes I get discouraged. Discouraged over life, the state of the world, etc., on microcosmic and macrocosmic levels. I’ve even thought I could write a blog and entitle it: What the H-E-Double-Hockey-Sticks is Wrong With People?, and never lack for subject matter. While I know I’m not alone in this feeling, it isn’t something I enjoy. I also don’t find the thought that there might be camaraderie amongst the ‘discouraged’ to be a comfort.

The last couple of years have been rough. That is a polite way to put it. I last wrote on this blog in July of 2007, before my most recent round of cosmic battering. I believe that The Universe is actually run by a Godfather who keeps making offers I shouldn’t refuse. And when I do, the enforcers Snub Nose Louie and Ricky the Rat Bastard come around with their wicked clue-by-fours and…well… it’s just ugly. I’d like to think I learn. We’ll see I suppose.

In the last few days, however, I have been struck by the resilience of friendships and the generosity of strangers.

I had not spoken to my two oldest friends in…let’s just say… a very long time. Near the end of 2007, they had this idea we should meet for a weekend. The email was enthusiastic, and I would have loved to go. I never responded because I was being assaulted by the aforementioned Louie and Ricky. In fact, I forgot about it completely.

And in the meantime: A Lot Of Things Unfortunate And Unpleasant Happened.

Flash forward to a couple of weeks ago. Louie and Ricky have largely backed off and I continue to make my way forward. A movie that reminded me of my friends came on and I thought “Hmm… haven’t heard from those guys in a long---_”

(Insert dramatic intake of gasping breath of realization here).

For the next week and a half I worked myself into such a state of “they-hate-me-because-they-think-I-just-blew-them-off-and-they’ll-never-talk-to-me-again” that I broke out into sweaty hives just thinking about calling.

Darn my parents for instilling in me a sense of The Right Thing To Do.

Then there was the brief interview with a playwright who had a new play about Anne Frank opening. If there is anyone who ever existed who can point out how you need to ‘suck it up’ and look at things in perspective, it was Anne Frank.

So I called. First one friend then the other. Both of them were so happy and relieved to hear from me. I was happy and relieved that they were happy and relieved. So much happiness and relief. They thought they had out of date information. They even tried to contact my brother but couldn’t. Never even entered their thoughts that I might have been “blowing-them-off-and-so-they-should-hate-me”. Joey Three Bells, the cosmic jester who works for the same boss as Louie and Ricky jangled his festive hat and scepter then gave me a dope slap to the back of my head. I, of course, grinned like an idiot. Another chance at a reunion weekend will be coming around.

Before launching back into my blogging today, I checked on a message board for a writing group I belong to. I had posted a question regarding how long a certain bit of information would be accessible. I said I didn’t want to be one of “those people” (the ones that go on and on about their problems), but that things had been rough and so I had been away. There were two responses. One of my fellow writers gave me the information I needed. Another writer didn’t address the information question, but posted something that touched me with its generosity of feeling. She said that “one of those people” is a person experiencing life with all the ups and downs and that she hoped I’d have more ups now. She and I have never met before, and never communicated before (it’s a large group), but with that post, she brought a wonderful sense of warmth to my day.

Both of these things might seem small or not very important. To me, they were refreshing and reaffirming of my faith in friendships and the generosity of people unseen and never met.

I always say “I never make the same mistake twice. I just make new and interesting ones.” Right now, I’m hoping I’ve learned some things and won’t be receiving any visits from Louie and Ricky any time soon.