Does Anyone Else Feel Old?

I‘m having one of those, “Can this really be happening?” weeks. Yes, it can, and yes, it is.   This week was the double whammy of a sudden death in the family and the potential for much worse endings, pending a few tests. I feel old.   Mom and Dad have been careful about when to call me with news. They expect me to break down while I’m driving or whatnot, so they wait until I’m sitting on a couch with my husband nearby to tell me whatever it is they have to say. Then they marvel at my ability to just hear it.   I guess I grew up.

I’ve noticed lately that I keep thinking that I’m forty-six, even though I’m forty-five. In fact, for the past year, I’ve considered myself closer to fifty than I really am. Why is that? Why am I making myself old, rushing through the remainder of my forties?   Maybe it’s because the forties kinda suck. I just have this feeling that the forties are gonna go down in my history as the decade I lost everyone.

I’ll explain: My favorite uncle had a stroke on the operating table and died exactly a week later. We all thought it was gonna be a quick and easy operation. We all expected this summer to be the worst of his trials. Not even close. I don’t think anyone was prepared for an end. My father sure wasn’t. He lost his little brother, his closest sibling, and his greatest ally. This uncle and I spent weeks together while my mother and father were in the hospital or recuperating from one illness or the next. He was always there to help. I thought my mom was being morbid when she alluded to his last visit, while he was still on chemo, as a potential final hurrah. Damn, these people in their seventies who are so starkly aware of death.

And that’s one bit of bad news that has colored my week. There’s more, but the test results aren’t in, and I’m still allowed hope. Hope feels very different lately. It’s not a positive or a negative, it’s just an unknown. Sometimes, the unknown is better. For a little while anyway, while we process what we do know.

Embracing Rock-Bottom

Although the forties are the new forties in many more ways than one, sometimes we get snagged on one feature that plagues us throughout the decade, like alcoholism has me now. And while these snags are not just a forties thing, I suspect they’re a distinct characteristic of the forties in the Western world. The Washington Post recently published an article titled, “Under 50? You still haven’t hit rock-bottom, happiness-wise,” in its “Wonkblog” section (soooo millennial… the blog AND the title). The writer contends that our general sense of happiness reaches its nadir in our forties, supporting the claim with evidence from a survey designed to determine the life-satisfaction of over a million subjects. In one more line, I can summarize his point: people in their forties are the most unhappy people in the Western world.

A line graph attached to the article makes it easier to digest this generalization—our lives seem to follow a U pattern—first, life’s one big party—all the wavy lines are at the top of the graph; then we hit rock-bottom; finally, we turn fifty, and all the wavy lines rise again to the top of the graph, like a middle-aged phoenix soaring from its ashes—life becomes one big party again. How nifty.

Ordinarily, I would ignore or vehemently argue against such conjectures, i.e., the whole point of this blog; however, we experience some pretty heavy stuff during our forties, enough for us to question our own life satisfaction and possibly admit doubts on a survey designed to assess our “happiness levels.” Here’s what I know: the forties are humbling. It’s the decade when we finally start to see life for what it really is—a finite series of choices that we make, choices with results that could affect us for the remainder of our lives. I was unhappy with my job in my thirties, but I was too busy being a born-again single lady to notice. I ignored the really big choice—staying at my job—for the simple choices like where to go for Sunday brunch. I dreaded going to work five days a week, but I lived it up on the weekends, and I thought that was happiness. That’s not being happy. That’s just being delusional. If a representative from the “General Social Survey” had asked me about my happiness levels when I was, say, 33, I might have responded, “Yeah, all good here,” even though I didn’t know what the fuck I was talking about.

The other side of this spectrum takes a different, yet no less delusional, approach to its life satisfaction. Have you ever asked an elderly person how it’s going? How often do we hear something like of “Oh, can’t complain!” That’s right. Once you’ve already faced your life’s choices, once you’ve recognized your own mortality, and your friends and family start dying off, you might feel fortunate to still be breathing. At that age, it’s probably easier to frame the definition of happiness in an “I’m still standing, so what?” kind of attitude. Life isn’t one big party on the young or old sides of the line graph, life is just one big fantasy to get us through our days.

Our forties tend to be the years when we face those life snags, when we start ruminating over questions like, “How much longer do I have with my parents?” or “Is this really the only career I’m ever going to have?” or “Did I really sign up to spend the rest of my days with this asshole?” The term “mid-life crisis” had to come from somewhere. I’ve ruminated over those questions, except for maybe the last one because I chose wisely the second time around the marriage-go-round. These thoughts become big, existential dilemmas in our forties. Rather than considering the forties our time of greatest unhappiness, I would rather consider it our time of greatest introspection.

It takes a lot of strength to confront reality. I think that if you can come to grips with your choices, attempt to solve your problems without ignoring them, and find peace with whatever you can’t change (like crepe-neck or aging parents), then you have a right to label yourself “satisfied” or “happy” or whatever it is that the young and old are saying on this survey. To paraphrase Dickens, it’s quite possible that our forties could be the worst of times and also the best of times.

The $1300 Pee Test

I lived abroad for one year once, and during that time I learned to appreciate the perks of having been born and raised in the U.S. Engaging in a healthy discussion about opposing viewpoints, for instance, didn’t really happen in my host country. Opportunities for women’s advancement, as well, were certainly lacking in my host country as compared to the U.S.

Then there’s that “purple mountains’ majesty”—it exists.   I used to live on one of those old, East Coast mountains, along those ranges that change color with the seasons and even the time of day. Sometimes they do look purple, in certain shadow. In the U.S., one can drive a car for twenty-four hours, from those old ranges in the east to the newer ones out west, and still be in the U.S., and not even near a coastline.  That’s kind of awesome.

But I’m already running out material…

What else? Well, lines certainly aren’t long, not by third-world standards, anyway. You can wait in some semblance of a line in the U.S. and eventually get to the end of it and receive some kind of answer to your question (unless it’s the Department of Motor Vehicles). The answer isn’t always satisfactory, but you get one.

And that’s how far I got in my “perks of living the U.S. inventory” before settling for not-so-third-worldish line organization. There’s something wrong with this picture. Obviously, there is, or I wouldn’t be struggling to come up with five perks of living here, the fifth one being kind of a non-perk because one can compare any social or cultural institution to the worst the world has to offer, but that doesn’t make said institution an efficient one or even a good one.

It must be my mood today that got me thinking about how many things actually suck about living in the U.S. I’ve been attending the odd assortment of AA and SMART recovery meetings, the latter being a free hour or so of cognitive behavioral therapy, which definitely appeals to my pragmatic side. I’m following through with what I said I would do and getting help. Isn’t that what my closest friends and family have suggested I do for twenty years or more? To get help?

Yesterday, I got a bill in the mail for the remaining costs of that sham of a treatment center I visited for one evaluation. I was in the place for three hours—I took a breathalyzer and a pee test, then I talked to a zombie doctor for another hour or so, and then I received a summons to arrive at 9:00 sharp the next morning for five weeks of treatment. After paying an initial $160 upfront, the remaining costs of that afternoon, after my insurance kicked in a healthy sum, was $605. That pee test alone cost $1300.

This treatment center represents my view of how the U.S. works. There’s a lot of wealth floating around, and our business and institutions thrive on it—charging insurance companies $1300 for pee tests and whatnot.   The desire to “get help” in the U.S. is as profitable for some as the desire to buy the latest electronics—it’s big business. But desiring mental well-being for your own health and the sake of others around you really shouldn’t be a desire like buying the latest Samsung. It’s a need, not a desire. In the U.S., however, where everything’s for sale, there is very little difference between our basic needs and our base desires. Nothing is free, except for maybe groups like AA, and unsolicited advice from acquaintances.

In the U.S., if you’re not born into a family or a community that can provide you with opportunities, or if you’re not savvy, you will sink. Many of us do. And many of us drown. Getting that bill for the remaining costs of a $1300 pee test yesterday clearly drove that point home. Knowing that I potentially got screwed by this treatment center is enough to make me want to buy a box wine and check out for the remainder of my weekend. Perhaps last week I would have done that.

But this week, not so much. Perhaps it’s the week of sobriety whispering in my ear, “There’s so much more than anger.”  I’m going to do a few searches and make a few phone calls. Perhaps the $1300 pee test is an error.  Meantime, I still have my five perks, like the purple mountains’ majesty.  It’s a lovely morning.

 

Drunks and Reprobates… bring ’em on?

I have many skills and abilities. Some are useful and some not so much. I’m a good cook, for instance. There’s a useful ability. I can also give a decent blowjob, also a useful skill, especially after several years of marriage. I can edit the hell out of anything in print, sometimes useful (sometimes just an annoying voice in my head because most people don’t concern themselves with using correct object pronouns and active voice and such). I can plan and deliver a pretty good lesson, especially if it involves grammar!

Among my less than useful skills are my keen knowledge of nearly obsolete Office programs; my ability to see a vehicle from a distance and know the exact make, model, and ballpark year of assembly; and my keen introspection, which does nothing for me at the moment but bring on waves and waves of guilt.

Here’s what I know about myself today (because, like the subtitle of an old blog of mine once read, I’ve been psychoanalyzing myself since the seventies):

My alcoholism has indeed progressed to a new stage. My cousin’s method of “following skinny bitches on Instagram,” i.e., using women who look hot for inspiration to lose those extra pounds, ain’t working anymore. I don’t even fit into the fat clothes I bought at a thrift store last month to tide me over until I lost my extra weight. That was during a blissful week of sobriety, when I had almost reached that “how could I have done this to myself for so long?” stage. Almost. Then came the concert, always my undoing.

Anyway, my introspection makes me aware of this problem. My alcoholism doesn’t care. And my intelligence can’t ignore my alcoholism. We’re a strange trinity.

Today I thought about some of the infamous drunks I’ve known in my lifetime. There was the friend who, after a night of drinking with me and my ex, ate a whole pizza in our half bathroom. We woke up to no leftovers and crumbs all over the bathroom floor and thought, “What the fuck?” I display that kind of behavior now—the double-binge—when I drink too much and feel like I need to put something else in my stomach and that something else becomes everything I can get my hands on. That’s new.

I also thought about the two friends my ex and I drove five hours to visit one weekend. Infamous drinkers, they were. I had been drinking with one of them since I was twenty-two (a year of firsts in debauchery and experimentation, by the way). We knocked at their door, and knocked and knocked. Finally, one of them answered the door in his underwear, bleary and vaguely coherent. They’d been drinking all day, knowing that we were coming to visit. That truth didn’t stop them. Because, eventually, nothing does.

Am I there yet? God, I really judged all those reprobates that my ex-husband loved so much. Now, I’m secretly one of them. Secretly. I can still call some shots and avoid mimicking the behaviors of people I have respected least in my lifetime.

Just the times

Oh, my goodness gracious–what are these HGTV house hunters thinking when they turn down a perfectly good property because the kitchen isn’t white or the bathroom doesn’t feature a bidet?  You know what they are thinking?  Nothing.  Nothing of any substance, that is.

I’ll admit that I couldn’t criticize your average HGTV house hunter if I weren’t watching the show.  And I watch the show religiously, like my Catholic friend never misses a mass. It’s a guilty pleasure that also provides for my edification.   For instance, I know that someday none of this will matter.

But for now there’s something very compelling about watching your fellow Americans search for their dream house.  They have their little wishes–a fish pond or a white kitchen or a Japanese toilet.  Whether they know it or not, they have been made the fools in this network drama.

Times are changing, and owning the sizable walk-in closet to house your shoes isn’t gonna fly if this country puts itself on the chopping block.  We gotta think about our place in the world.

Instead of reading this, you should probably be following the news…

Kool Aid Man… but the news is terrifying, so let’s talk about the state of mental health treatment in the United States instead:

I gave it a shot. I dutifully called up a recommended treatment center, I filled out a stack of papers and answered hundreds of questions about my personal habits. I gave them everything except my social security number, which they asked for, but which I declined to give. And what did I get in return? A bad, bad feeling in my gut.

That’s how it began anyway, with a bad feeling in my gut. Since this brief encounter with a profit-motivated addiction treatment facility, my feelings have evolved.

Have you ever felt that mixture of sadness, foolishness, and indignation after you’ve realized that someone is just trying to sell you the Kool Aid?

(It stings much worse when the peddler is a friend—For instance, I have a very good friend who started getting weird about a year ago, seemed to be trying too hard to make me happy. I attended one of her life coaching sessions, mainly to show my support for her newfound bliss, and I thought it was quite useful. Fast forward about six months, and I’m on the phone with her, trying to explain my need for peace, and she offers me a special private life coaching series, taught by hers truly, for the low price of $3000. Enter bad, bad feeling in the my gut—but I digress…)

 

I think the majority of mental health professionals in the U.S. mean well, but they’re just little people in a much bigger, much more powerful system. I think this judgey humorless robot doctor who now possesses a lengthy checklist that vaguely represents a lifetime of my impulsive behavior and alcohol and even sometimes drug use probably means well, but to put this whole stream-of-consciousness post into simpler terms, “She don’t know me.”

After getting steamrolled through her reductive questionnaire, which now, unfortunately, will become a part of my permanent record—there to fuck me if I want to buy life insurance or join the police force or what-have-you in the future—I waited in a very calming room on a very cushy couch while she scuttled off down the hall to consult with some other “professionals” with administrative-type titles about a recommended treatment plan for me. I never actually saw these people who attempted to decide my fate, and now I wonder if they existed at all. Perhaps, my charmless robot doctor just took a trip to the loo and read a magazine for a half an hour while I wondered about gravity of my “condition.”

When she recommended a treatment plan, a very expensive and time-consuming plan that would require me to spend every day of the next five weeks attending group therapy and doing yoga at the center—this is after I explicitly told her that if she recommended such a plan, I would not do it, that if she couldn’t offer a less-intrusive outpatient program, then we were just wasting our time (and my money)—I told her I needed time to think about it and discuss it with my husband.

Dr. Robot then handed me another stack of papers and told me I could discuss my decision with some other professional (whom I had never met and whose phone number I never received) when I came back next morning for “processing.” Man, this bitch was itching for my signature.

As you probably already figured out, I didn’t sign and I never went back. Like the time I slipped out of that weird job interview in the nondescript office building, but unlike the time I bought the timeshare, I didn’t drink the Kool Aid.

Sadly, I think that if this doctor had been more charming (or possessed any people skills at all), I might be sitting in a costly treatment center right now, costing my family so much more money than just insurance deductibles for child care and animal boarding, losing a potential new job, and losing and the job I already have because I’d be scheduled to do yoga at same time I was scheduled to teach. Since my stepkids’ mom is in charge of the neighborhood social committee, everyone I know would also know I was in rehab. NOPE, nope, nope. I’ll explore other options.

Even AA is starting to look good to me right now. Those people might be trying to sell me an ideology that I don’t entirely agree with, but they’re not asking for my money. I’d rather join a cult for free than join a group therapy treatment that costs thousands of dollars.

Ah, the things in this country that should be a part of our basic rights as human beings—basic health care, mental health care, addiction treatment—are all treats for the wealthy… But I digress again, and if you’d read this far, I’ve already taken too much of your precious time.  Thank you, and Namaste.

Time for the Big “R”

I run. I do situps, weights, and planks almost every day. I eat a lot of protein and fresh vegetables and grains. I hike beastly trails. I kayak when I can. And I always take the stairs. I wear all the accoutrements of a fit, healthy person—physically and mentally. I smile in all my pictures.

And I drink.

Sixteen years ago was the first time I can remember openly addressing my alcoholism. I told my then husband that I wanted to keep beer out of our apartment. We were consuming about a case of cheap lite beer a night, and I was exhausted.

“Why should I have to change my lifestyle because you have a problem?” He replied. And that was the end of that.

I knew I had a problem before that evening, though.   I was a drinker long before my twenty-first birthday; but it was after, when I found my people in bar culture, that I disguised my own habits by surrounding myself with those who drank more and who behaved worse.

That tactic succeeded—more or less—until my thirties, when I started to become the person who drank more, and who behaved worse, than her peers. It became harder for me to root out the foils. Those who did make me appear relatively sober by comparison were one or two blackouts short of falling down the well. Some, by now, have lost their jobs, some have committed suicide. Some have done even worse things.

Now I’m in my forties. Throughout my life I’ve had a few good years of sobriety—my longest stint was two.   But those years are so few in a lifetime.

Yesterday, I started seeing a therapist, mainly because my psychiatrist refused to allow me to experiment with “anti-drinking” medications until I proved to him that I was making some kind of real effort to sort out this problem. I even found an addiction specialist, and she told me what I already knew—alcoholism is progressive.

“Your methods for quitting in the past,” she said, “might not work anymore.” And they don’t. I can’t wait around for another inspiring catalyst—a hangover to end all hangovers, or a friend’s going down in flames—to make an effort to address this progressive problem. And oh, how it has progressed! How my habits and state of mind have slowly, but progressively, shifted from too many beers at the bar to too many little bottles of something stronger hidden behind the couch and in the pantry and dresser drawers.

Beer doesn’t do it for me anymore. I might as well drink cola. Both just make me feel fat and bloated and not drunk enough. I like wine now, and gin, and vodka. The buzz is faster, so I can drink them on the sly. I pretend I’m not a drinker now. That way, those who are concerned about me don’t need to worry. Unfortunately, my father can see the real me, one of the people I care the most about not disappointing. A former drinker himself, he knows the signs—the weight gain, the erratic sleep schedule and random outbursts. He gives me my space by pretending he doesn’t see, but he does. He can read me like I can read him, and I read worry and annoyance in his tone and on his face. And I’m an asshole.

But aren’t all us addicts?   Don’t we all disappoint? My own sense of morality can’t accept that.

So long story short—I think I’m on my way to the big “R.” Since I am high-functioning, and since I don’t yet show signs of physical withdrawal, my new therapist thinks I can manage to make a change in an outpatient program. Yoga and art therapy with the other drunks three days a week. I can do that. My schedule permits it. My insurance pays for it. It’s time for the big “R.” I can’t even say it. I’ll whisper it… rehaaaab

 

 

Just a couple quick words about death

Well, it’s Easter, so I’m seeing a lot of pastels and other awful Sunday best. Some of the neighbors are hosting the obligatory ham dinner I can see from the number of cars parked out on the street in front of their houses. Other driveways and streets are empty, their occupants eating their ham at someone else’s house. I wonder if anybody’s feeling particularly restored this year, rejoicing in their lord arisen and their souls buoyant. I’m not. Personally, I find Easter to be the most depressing of Christian holidays. When I think of Easter, I think of pastels, again, (never been a fan), and the moldy smell of a church basement where kids gathered to color creepy pictures of Jesus with his arms upraised and his hair all combed and neat. I think of quiet, nervous little ladies trying to teach us something, but with a bit of edge in their voices, like they just knew how many of us would never return after the age of ten. God, I hate church.

I think my church was always the blue sky and the sound of wind through the leaves of the trees around my childhood house. My psalms are the sounds of the doves outside my window that woke me up with their cooing in the springtime. When I first read William Cullen Bryant’s “Thanatopsis,” I felt like I had come home. It’s about death, “Thanatopsis,” and it makes no apologies for it. Resurrection, to the American Romantic like Cullen Bryant, was in the form of a new molecular structure—ashes to ashes, dust to dust. This poem told me that there could be nothing more beautiful than returning to the earth, feeding it like all of our forefathers did. Will I be worm food? Yes. But I like worms. Jesus avoided that fate. Hadn’t his flesh disappeared from the tomb after the crucifixion? If that’s the case, then he never really returned to the earth, did he? Had he rotted in the ground, fed the next season’s crops with his decomposed flesh, then he’d really be a part of this, a part of my church.

 

Thanatopsis

BY WILLIAM CULLEN BRYANT

To him who in the love of Nature holds

Communion with her visible forms, she speaks

A various language; for his gayer hours

She has a voice of gladness, and a smile

And eloquence of beauty, and she glides

Into his darker musings, with a mild

And healing sympathy, that steals away

Their sharpness, ere he is aware. When thoughts

Of the last bitter hour come like a blight

Over thy spirit, and sad images

Of the stern agony, and shroud, and pall,

And breathless darkness, and the narrow house,

Make thee to shudder, and grow sick at heart;—

Go forth, under the open sky, and list

To Nature’s teachings, while from all around—

Earth and her waters, and the depths of air—

Comes a still voice—

Yet a few days, and thee

The all-beholding sun shall see no more

In all his course; nor yet in the cold ground,

Where thy pale form was laid, with many tears,

Nor in the embrace of ocean, shall exist

Thy image. Earth, that nourished thee, shall claim

Thy growth, to be resolved to earth again,

And, lost each human trace, surrendering up

Thine individual being, shalt thou go

To mix for ever with the elements,

To be a brother to the insensible rock

And to the sluggish clod, which the rude swain

Turns with his share, and treads upon. The oak

Shall send his roots abroad, and pierce thy mould.

Yet not to thine eternal resting-place

Shalt thou retire alone, nor couldst thou wish

Couch more magnificent. Thou shalt lie down

With patriarchs of the infant world—with kings,

The powerful of the earth—the wise, the good,

Fair forms, and hoary seers of ages past,

All in one mighty sepulchre.   The hills

Rock-ribbed and ancient as the sun,—the vales

Stretching in pensive quietness between;

The venerable woods—rivers that move

In majesty, and the complaining brooks

That make the meadows green; and, poured round all,

Old Ocean’s gray and melancholy waste,—

Are but the solemn decorations all

Of the great tomb of man. The golden sun,

The planets, all the infinite host of heaven,

Are shining on the sad abodes of death,

Through the still lapse of ages. All that tread

The globe are but a handful to the tribes

That slumber in its bosom.—Take the wings

Of morning, pierce the Barcan wilderness,

Or lose thyself in the continuous woods

Where rolls the Oregon, and hears no sound,

Save his own dashings—yet the dead are there:

And millions in those solitudes, since first

The flight of years began, have laid them down

In their last sleep—the dead reign there alone.

So shalt thou rest, and what if thou withdraw

In silence from the living, and no friend

Take note of thy departure? All that breathe

Will share thy destiny. The gay will laugh

When thou art gone, the solemn brood of care

Plod on, and each one as before will chase

His favorite phantom; yet all these shall leave

Their mirth and their employments, and shall come

And make their bed with thee. As the long train

Of ages glide away, the sons of men,

The youth in life’s green spring, and he who goes

In the full strength of years, matron and maid,

The speechless babe, and the gray-headed man—

Shall one by one be gathered to thy side,

By those, who in their turn shall follow them.

So live, that when thy summons comes to join

The innumerable caravan, which moves

To that mysterious realm, where each shall take

His chamber in the silent halls of death,

Thou go not, like the quarry-slave at night,

Scourged to his dungeon, but, sustained and soothed

By an unfaltering trust, approach thy grave,

Like one who wraps the drapery of his couch

About him, and lies down to pleasant dreams.

 

 

Behavior Modification for the Debauched

My mornings are always filled with grand promises to myself: I’m going to start a healthy diet; I’m going to stop drinking; I’m going to get up earlier; I’m going to write and read more and watch TV less. Yup. It’s 10:04 as I write this, and I’m still processing my second of two routine cups of coffee, hours past my early morning wakeup goal.   My coffee ritual in the morning, that nothing can officially begin until I’ve processed those two cups, is about the only routine in my life that I’ve built and haven’t strayed from since I was sixteen. It only takes a few weeks to build a habit. I’ve built quite a few and even managed to make some of them healthy habits. But the scales tip more to side of unhealthy in my world, and my success rate at kicking is much lower than my success rate at starting. I think coffee is the only habit I haven’t tried to kick at some stage or another. I mean, why, you know? Why kick coffee? I do much worse things to my body in the course of a day.

And speaking of those other habits, I’m going to kick them now! The diet starts TODAY. The detox starts TODAY. The munchies after 11:00 pm end TODAY. Blah blah blah. Now I really sound like a middle-aged woman.

I remember, decades ago, listening to my mother talk about the exercise routine that she was going to start any-day-now. She was going to start walking and riding her bike. Yup. She’s 75, and I think she’s ridden a bike ten times in the past three decades. Her get-up-and-go got up and went before she even tried to start that habit. Am I gonna be like my mom and talk about what I need to do for the rest of my life? Or my mother-in-law, who has been talking about starting a diet since the eighties? I heard one time she actually did stick to a diet and lost like forty pounds. I think my husband might have been in middle school or something—it was that long ago. But it was a triumph she still talks about. She has plans to return to that svelte woman who looked so good in a red dress at her 40-something year-old son’s Bar Mitzvah. Ahhhhhh! I can’t do this to myself. I can’t become these women who I am so eerily resembling at the moment.

Well, then I guess I have to cultivate and maintain some good behaviors for at least three weeks, the minimum amount of time it takes for a behavior to become a habit. Let’s start today. Why not, right? Tomorrow’s not gonna hold any more promise than today for getting my life back. It’s April 14th. I must maintain my good behaviors until at least May 5. I can do that. I can do that, right?  Yeah, I can do that.

 

 

Survivalist Porn (with a nod to reenactment nerds)

I should know by now that when all the women in my family are passing a book around and even becoming irate when it isn’t returned fast enough, something’s up with that book. With the 50 Shades of Grey series, their attraction was obvious. The marketing makes it hard to avoid the 50 Shades pervasive theme—fucking, and so the matrons of my kin red-facedly admitted that they were reading sex simply by owning copies. They didn’t share with me what would have been horrifying details coming from, say, my mother or my aunt, but the ladies acknowledged what they had to acknowledge—they were all reading erotica.

After the 50 Shades of Grey and its attendant shades craze, which—incidentally—I still refuse to read, I should have known that The Outlander was a much-better disguised (and written) bit of porn itself. My mother has been recommending the series for years, but it was my latest interest in edible weeds and other information on basic survivalism that led me, finally, to crack it open (pardon the pun). Before I even knew Outlander was historical porn, I was quite satisfied with what I got—I didn’t drift off after every few pages, I started visualizing landscapes, and I even began highlighting points of interest. For the first hundred pages of The Outlander, I was perfectly content to learn about pagan traditions, the Scottish countryside, healing herbs, and eighteenth-century fashion.

Then—WHAMMO—the leading lady gets force-married to the hunkiest outlaw Highlander in the gang, who plows her and/or beats her into unconsciousness every twenty pages or so. Then the plot becomes a distraction!

Of course, I am exaggerating a little. Claire doesn’t explicitly say she was unconscious on those occasions… she might have just been playing dead… OK, seriously, there are the tender moments, too; and entertaining dialogue and bizarre vocabulary for objects that no one has used in two-hundred years. Basically, it’s a learny kind of text, the kind that I will annotate. And it’s also erotica. So I am reading it with gusto, like all the other women in my family read it. Interestingly, none of these women ever said a single word about the copious sex scenes. I actually got lured into joining their porny book club by the assurance that I would learn a whole lot about how people lived in the eighteenth century. I really am a nerd, aren’t I?

Since my family appears to be too prudish to admit that there’s a heck of a lot more to this series than the rich descriptions of the stars in the sky and the blue lochs of Scotland in the eighteenth-century, I’ll go ahead and introduce the series on their behalf—there’s lots of sex. Tender sex, grimy sex, violent sex, any kind of sex. It’s there. But, oh boy, is it ever providing me with so much historical information. If you’ll excuse me, I have studying to do…