Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Doing it for the First Time

Choo Choo!
Regular readers of my blog will recognize what I'm about to do here. The rest of you, get ready to take a ride on Elizabeth's Nostalgia Train!

I'll never forget the first time. The nerves, the sweaty palms, the racing heart... Is this really happening? I thought. Am I really about to do this? I second guessed myself the whole time, wondering if I was doing the right thing... or if I was doing it right. I worried what others would think of me when they found out what I'd done. Eventually, though, I succumbed to the need, thew caution to the wind, and embraced the experience. It was exhilarating. It was powerful. It changed me forever.

I am, of course, talking about the first time I wrote.

For this, you waste my time?

... About sex.

*Ding!* There it is.

It was my senior year in high school, my AP English class. The course marked a major milestone in my writing life, for while I was not yet writing my own novels, I was learning to analyze the hell out of others' works.

On this particular day--April 14, according to my file (You do hang onto your academic papers, don't you?)--we were given a poem entitled "The Centaur," by May Swenson (Downloadable text here). Our essay prompt was this: "Read the following poem carefully. Then write an essay in which you discuss how such elements as language, imagery, structure, and point of view convey meaning in the poem."

There was also some mention of spanking
and rump slapping.
So I read it. I read lines like: "I'd straddle and canter him fast"; "The willow knob with the strap / jouncing between my thighs"; "I shied and skittered and reared, / stopped and raised my knees, / pawed at the ground and quivered. / My teeth bared as we wheeled"; "Dismounting, I smoothed my skirt."

I read. I blinked. My 17-year old mind went straight to the gutter, as adolescent brains are wont to do.

Desperately, I tried to think my way around my degenerate ideas. There was no way Ms. Swenson's poem, told through the narrative voice of a young girl, was really saying what I thought it was saying. I mean... it was just a little girl playing in the woods, right? It was just my lurid imagination seeing titillation in the imagery, finding a phallus where a stick had been "peeled [...] slick and clean."

But no matter how I attempted to bully my brain into reading something more innocent in the text, I couldn't escape the notion of something deliberately erotic about this poem. I can't remember exactly what clicked, but I finally decided that "The Centaur" really was about sex, gosh darnit, and I was going to put on my big girl writing britches and say so.

It's like centaurs literally have NOTHING else to do.
I wrote how the language lent the poem an erotic flavor. In another paragraph, I stated: "In conjunction with the diction of 'The Centaur,' imagery and structure work hand-in-hand to bring about the sexualization of the speaker's imagined horse ride as a ten-year-old. The entirety of 'The Centaur' parallels a sexual experience. It opens with the expectation of a rendezvous 'by the old canal,' hidden away 'in a willow grove.'" I went on to map out the arc from foreplay to intercourse to climax to post-coital disarray. The paper I turned in ends with: "The poem transforms a seemingly harmless childhood game into a sexual romp in the woods."

I've never sweated so much upon turning in an essay. I held my teacher in great esteem. What if I was wrong? What would she think of me when she read my work? She would know I had all these thoughts about Ess Ee Ex in my head, that I knew about orgasms and women being on top. I was terrified.

I got an A-.

After "The Centaur," I was never afraid to call out what it was I read in a text. If I saw sex, or misogyny, or nuanced commentary on race relations, or a pink elephant in the sky, then I said so. I learned to trust my instincts, both as a reader and as a writer. As an author, this is a lesson I have to keep teaching myself. It's ok to go there. It's ok to write what's on my mind. I cannot be constrained by what someone else might think, whether I'll offend a reader's sensibilities. I have to be true to the vision I have for my work, and trust that it will find its way into the hands of readers who enjoy it.


  1. Ding there it is! I so adore this pic!! LOL

  2. Sweeter than wine.

  3. Way to go! Word to those who choose the word-y path of a writer! Be brave and bold those who wander there....

    Oh, Mythology and its half-beasts half-humans that were always all about sex....

    Satyrs in particular were particularly randy. Before they were cleaned up for neoclassical sensibilities they had a phallus and a horse tail that gave way to the more "modest" goat bottom....at least they kept their horns, so they could still be...horny.

    I am sure you completely impressed your teacher :)