If you don’t know who Junot Díaz is, you should. His writing stands out as startlingly original in a world that often feels crammed with literary replication. He is the author of Drown; he won the Pulitzer Prize for The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao; and he is the author of the newly-released This is How You Lose Her, a story collection that centers around the charming and irresistible Yunior whose flaws only make us love him more.

Successful Hollywood films have an overwhelmingly ballsy, brassy and over the top obsession with the hero’s journey. While many people point to the cheap and easy way Disney films use the same formulaic music scores and elements of “imagination” from one film to the next, less has been said to criticize this same pattern in Hollywood movies aimed at adults. Perhaps this is because we are pretty comfortable with this motif. When The Social Network was first released, many critics marveled at how the director was able to make a film that was ostensibly about computer programming interesting and fun. In reality, this was done using the same formula used for any successful Hollywood movie. We were given booze and boobs, and a bunch of geeky college students suddenly transform into warring tribes, both on campus and in the courtroom.

Hollering

By Iris Appelquist

Poem

i want to go gray early.
i want all my lovers to,
eventually, leave me;
throwing up their hands
with giving up the ghost
of what, early on, i was –
vivacious, caring, funny, 
warm. i want the terrorists
to win against us, the 
brave new world to come
crashing. i want to win
the lottery or become 
homeless. i want, sometimes, 
to be a man. i want to 
continue to throw the
curve.

having breached the closing
cusp of youth, i predict mid-
life crisis at 42; the 
days get only shorter in 
length — earlier at the end — 
time becomes irrelevant, 
timing becomes everything. 
i want to wear a mask. 
i want the New Yorker to 
publish me. i want to have 
safe sex, never mention it
to the boyfriend. i want 
to, some day, vote 
republican.

it takes more than knowing 
better, more than keeping an open
mind, more than work; 
the requisite resources are 
vast and foreign. i want a drink 
or a sandwich named after
me; the depth of my rumored 
prowess in one thing or another.
i want sheepish to mean something
else. i want amnesia.

At a party, my new friend V. was ogling a blonde.

“Lovely, isn’t she?” I said. “Killer legs.”

He gave me a blank look.

“I’m bisexual,” I explained.

“No you’re not.” He laughed. “I know for a fact you’ve never slept with women.”

In my most ironic tone I thanked him for enlightening me, but how did my love of naked breasts fit into his equation?

“If you did sleep with a woman,” he said, “you might end up hating it.”

“Hold on a mo, Sir Lancelot. Let’s keep to the here-and-now.”

To make my point, I offered the following scenario: A teenage boy called Tom has never had sex, but identifies as gay. Tom can’t be bothered with topless women, but the sight of Jimmy Jones from Tech class sucking a ballpoint pen makes him hard as heck.

“Okay,” said V. “He’s gay, I guess.”

I explained that I, like Tom, haven’t had a same-sex partner but still feel a strong sense of who I am sexually. Sure, I might sleep with a woman and find I didn’t like it, but my identity is now, and unrealized desires are a part of that. We’re not solely defined through the people we’ve slept with. For instance, what about the use of lesbian erotica or heterosexual porn? If our erotic tastes contribute to who we are, then the fantasies that stir us are key. What do we like to imagine during solo sex? What arouses us? Now that’s relevant stuff.

Of course, V. is right in believing that our desires can shift. Though we don’t necessarily wake up one morning saying, “Wow! I want to give bondage a go!” we do often surprise ourselves. Buffy the Vampire Slayer explores this brilliantly. In season six, Buffy finds herself in a BDSM relationship with a vampire called Spike – a role that takes her completely by surprise and also helps her to face her own pain. Plus in season seven, Willow claims she started having gay sex because of one woman, Tara, rather than women ‘per se’. The writer and director, Joss Whedon, along with his team, explores sexuality with real elegance and feeling. The shows encourage us to ask each other, “Who are you?” and truly listen to the answers.

…If only good sex education was easier to come by. In my British high school Biology classes during the eighties, I learnt all about condoms, but nobody encouraged us to reflect on what we longed for or who we were. In spite of my attraction to women as well as men, I assumed I was heterosexual because I’d been raised that way, and it took me years to start loving my bisexual self. If someone had taught me that a man who has a wife isn’t necessarily heterosexual, and a woman who only dates women won’t necessarily kick Brad Pitt out of bed, I’d have been far happier. These days, though I know I may never sleep with a woman, it still feels wonderful to know myself.

In order to keep growing, I believe we should strive to be open about our sexual selves. If we’re gay, let’s own it. If we’re kinky, let’s own it. If we don’t yet know, let’s own that too. And when people try to tell us who we are, let’s set them right.

At the end of the party, I asked V., “How do you identify?”

“I’m heterosexual, of course.”

With a wry grin, I extended my hand. “I’m bi. Nice to meet you.”

The photo accompanying this post is by Suicide Girls from Los Angeles, CA, USA (Rambo).

I wanted to be an actress. I wanted to be a lawyer. I wanted to be a rock star. For the two years I took gymnastics I thought I would go to the Olympics. I thought maybe I would be a lesbian. I fully intended to be a poor writer, living in an apartment somewhere in New York with two or three dogs and no electricity. I considered doing the same in the country except that the basic necessities would take up all my time. I feared I would live out the dream scene in Look Who’s Talking, in which Kirstie Alley’s character pictures her life if she married John Travolta’s character. I got really close on that one. I thought I might be single for a while. I thought of becoming a happy old maid. I thought I’d be dead by now. Not for any particular reason, of course. Just because, which is why I think most things.

I also wanted to be a saint. Not just any saint, though. Not the kind that get her sainthood by doing a lot of nice things for other people. Not the kind who donates money, volunteers, feeds the poor, touches dirty people and so forth. I wanted to be a martyr. I wanted to be one of those virgins who got thrown to the lions rather than betray her vow of purity, one of those who were so beautiful that to protect their virginity, they mutilated their beautiful faces. I considered becoming a nun because the idea of alternately praying and working in a vegetable garden within the stone walls of a convent sounded sublime. I hated tomatoes, but I could imagine the freshness and beautiful red ripeness of tomatoes grown by the virtuous women of my would-be convent. I thought a vow of silence would be fab. Then I learned about sex. In the eighth grade, I thought really hard and decided I couldn’t become a nun because I liked boys too much. Not boys, really, but guys. The ones who notice you. The ones who toss meaningful glances across the church when you are sitting in your pew pretending to pray.

I thought my mom would die when I was 16 because when she was 16, her mom died. I thought I was really lucky to still have a mom at 17, and then I thought I was pretty dumb because if she was going to follow in her mother’s footsteps, she would’ve died when my older sister turned 16, since my mom was the oldest of her family. But the whole pattern started to lose credibility because my mom was the oldest of three while there were four kids in our family, and the oldest was a boy. That was a turning point.

I wanted to be terribly skinny, but that was never going to happen. I wanted to be one of those girls that other girls call “skinny bitch,” because even if other girls hate you, at least you’re skinny, which is the most valuable trait a woman can have. But starving myself was out of the question, and I couldn’t bring myself to puke, not even with a spoon down the throat. Then I thought maybe I’d just lose a few pounds. I wanted to be crazy and wear dark eye liner and be excused for things because people thought I was “sensitive.” Then I got therapy, and I wanted to be listened to. And I wanted a big dictionary, and I got it, but I never open it because it’s too damned big, and who needs a dictionary that big when you’ve got internet, anyway? Then I got group therapy and realized I was comparatively incredibly well-adjusted, and that as fucked up as I was, so was everyone else. Then I just wanted to be left alone and not to have to listen to these people anymore, and then I told this girl in therapy to say hi to my old best friend who went to her high school, and only years later did I realize how awkward that must have been. “Hey, I’m in group therapy with your best friend from junior high, and she says to tell you hi.”

I considered becoming a Realtor. I worked in customer service, selling shoes, then selling jeans, then selling coffee. Turns out it doesn’t matter what I’m selling. I cannot be nice to people purely in the hopes of receiving money from them. I waited tables at a seedy strip club while wearing a black leotard, shiny tights, black heels and red lipstick for a week until a man offered me money to go home with him and a stripper tried to give me lessons on how to upsell: Don’t just make do with cash — offer to start him a tab. Ask him if he’d like to meet one of the girls. Don’t call them dancers, call them ladies. Then she did her dominatrix routine on stage in something resembling an Aeon Flux outfit. I really just wanted to hang out in the dressing room and watch them. One of them threw her cell phone across the room upon learning her boyfriend had spent all their rent money. On what, I wasn’t sure. Then a woman called Luna, who was the mother of a five-year-old boy, made the sign of the cross and said a blessing over her plate of spaghetti in front of the large makeup mirror all the girls shared. Her glittered breasts dangled precariously close to the marinara. I took cigarette breaks every fifteen minutes or so, and a stripper told me I should quit because smoking would ruin my good looks. I didn’t know I had any such thing, and I told her I didn’t care. I kept smoking for a couple years, but I took a job at the Gap a couple weeks later. I folded some shirts for a week and didn’t sell a single pair of jeans.

I wanted to be a journalist, or at least a copy editor, but I’m a bad speller and terrified of interviewing. I can’t write fast enough. I want to learn shorthand. I want to write a book. I want so much. I have wanted so much, but I have so much else.


The Bus

By Zoe Brock

Writing

It’s rush hour.

The bus is crowded and sweet-salty-humid with the airborne sweat of human secretions. The blood in my veins feels lethargic and viscous, greasy and sticky like spilled motor oil. It’s going nowhere. My heart beats dangerously slow but with tremendous force, a slow, throbbing, near-cardiac arrest as it tries to pump hot-wet-red stuff through the million minuscule tubes of my body. Boom. Boom. Boom. I feel obvious and naked. I am bruised, raw and bloodied.

And I am not alone.

I face someone. A man. Taller than me, lean and long and lanky. A three day beard shadows a strong jaw. Kind green eyes watch me, seeing past my inane, protective facades, melting me. He is beautiful, and he is no stranger.

The bus swerves. We collide into each other, pressing close to avoid contact with other humans. People Who Are Not Us.

The driver accelerates sharply to avoid a parked car and I stumble forwards, crashing into him. A shot of electricity charges through my chest, my face, between my legs. I flush. A sharp intake of breath gives me away.

“Shh”. He consoles me. “I have you.”

It is a truthful statement, in every way. He had me then, and he has me still.

When we boarded the bus there already existed a heightened sense of emotion between us. Longing, loss, love… all compounded with that other L word.

Lust.

It’d been a month since we’d ended our relationship, a month since we’d been intimate, and not a day had passed without me yearning for his touch or missing his nearness.

The bus brakes again, jamming his body closer to mine.

He holds me close, keeping me safe, preventing me from falling. Preventing me from falling physically, but, with every second we touch, sending me plummeting further into the abyss of love and want and confusion and sorrow.

With every sudden lurch and every violent braking we are jammed against each other and pulled apart. I feel as if I am drowning. The people around us are a blur, a tide of humanity that washes around us like a foaming, undulating ocean.

I close my eyes and imagine a huge neon sign above our heads that reads “THESE TWO PEOPLE WANT TO FUCK EACH OTHER”, alerting the entire, crowded vehicle to our plight.

In retrospect I don’t think a sign was necessary.

In the moment I’m convinced our energy is infecting the passengers around us. Deep desire oozes along the aisle and seeps up trousers and skirts, soaking fabric, into the souls of the commuters, causing each and every one of them to debark in a flustered hurry, to rush home to furiously masturbate, grind their pelvises against their walls and make urgent, frenetic love to their partners.

Brake. Lurch. Rev. Brake. Jolt.

I whimper. He draws me closer, pulling my head into the space between his neck and shoulder, that place I know so well and fit so perfectly. I rest there, allowing myself to drown a little, but not enough.

And then the ride is over. Suddenly, too soon, we step out into the world, still apart, still sad, still hurting.

It was a bittersweet ride, from beginning to end, and my only regret is not thanking that heavy footed bus driver for the best almost-sex I’ve ever had in my life.

Dude? If you’re reading? I fucking love the way you drive.