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If you can recall the first twenty minutes of Saving Private Ryan, then you have a crystalline picture of the present state of the music industry: absolute carnage on all fronts. Record labels have begun suing people for illegally downloading new albums, while paradoxically, more and more bands, such as Green Day, are streaming their new albums for free. Technology has leveled the playing field, allowing anyone with a MacBook to release an album, and the price of gas continues to push more and more up-and-coming bands off the road because they can no longer justify driving a hundred miles to split $50 four ways. It seems like nobody’s making a living anymore, except the lawyers and maybe the toothpaste companies buying ads on American Idol.

An artist would have to be plumb crazy to walk away from a well-oiled support team and try to enter this fray alone. Right?

“It’s not the book you start with, it’s the book that book leads you to”
–Austin Kleon, Steal Like an Artist

In 2005 Austin Kleon experienced a bad case of writer’s block. Right out of college, after having studied creative writing, he was struggling to write a short story. To break out of the rut he took a Sharpie to nearby newspapers and started crossing out sentences, leaving only a few words and large swaths of black ink in his wake. Unknowingly, he created something he calls Newspaper Blackout Poems.

I was having a conversation with my friend Pat, who doesn’t read much, but who is nonetheless imbued with inebriated folk wisdom, he asked me, “what are you doing tonight?”  ” I am going to see (insert any name of any author reading in the Pac-NW) read at Third Place (or Elliot Bay, or Hugo House, or Pilot).” “Dude.” “Yeah.”  “. . . what the hell is a book reading?” “It’s when someone reads from something they’ve written, and you sit in the crowd and listen.  Then it’s usually followed by questions.”  He looked over at me with a dead look in his eye, “No offense dude, but that sounds boring as hell.  It reminds me of being in school.”

“You’re going to sell books, in this economic climate?”  In This Economic Climate.  In This Economic Climate.  In This Economic Climate. Really, it’s often like a Seinfeld skit.

Spring at my house is like a duel in an old western. My husband wields the Home Depot catalog, packed with tons of stuff for DIY backyard projects. My weapon of choice is the Crate & Barrel catalog, loaded with staged backyard idylls that make me want to reach for the lemonade pitcher.

“The boys and girls are one tonight.

They unbutton blouses.  They unzip flies.

They take off shoes.  They turn off the light.

The glimmering creatures are full of lies.

They are eating each other.  They are overfed.

Tonight, alone, I marry the bed.”

-“The Ballad of a Lonely Masturbator” by Anne Sexton

There’s a masturbator in the preschool class my friend Kat teaches.  She fondles herself at nap time and sometimes at the little round table where the class eats graham crackers and sips apple juice.  The child’s two-and-a-half and she’s getting it regular.  She’s taking matters into her own hands and she’s getting the job done.  Satisfaction?  Absolutely.

Color me impressed.

Kat has promised to ask the masturbator for some tips.  I wait with bated breath.

* * *

I like masturbation in theory.  It’s efficient.  It’s self-sufficient.  No messy interpersonal drama.  No emotional entanglement.  Just good aerobic fun.  And there’s opportunity to accessorize.  To dress up your pleasure with a vibrator or a dildo.  The choices!  Silicone, latex, pastels, neon: the kinky catalog of possibilities is endless.

The thing is, I’ve never quite gotten the hang of it.  Orgasm- clitoral, vaginal, mental- has remained tantalizingly out-of-reach.

And believe me, I’ve reached.

* * *

Jay knew that I was orgasmically challenged and he took it upon himself to rectify the situation.  It was a vanity project.  He would be the man to break through my defenses.  He’d be the man to storm the castle.  And so he poked.  He prodded, he sucked, he licked.  He bobbed up and down like a seal at Sea World.  For my part, I made what I hoped were sexy, satisfied moans.  “Oh.  O-oh.  Oh!”  I tried to arrange my face in a simulacrum of blissed-out beauty.  I sucked in my stomach.  I worried that I had not waxed enough.  I noted with displeasure the dark little patch of hair I’d neglected on my thigh.  Jay fingered.  Jay rubbed.  Jay stroked and Jay dug his stubby fingers deeper into my unyielding spinster’s vagina.

I appreciated his efforts.  Really I did.  I showed my gratitude with half a blow job and a complimentary appraisal of his manhood.  “I’m no expert,” I said, “but it looks big to me.”

I wanted to please him.  My pleasure was secondary.  An afterthought.

* * *

Freud would have things to say about me.  Krafft-Ebbing, too.  I’d be pronounced frigid and my unnaturalness would be studied and written up.  Cosmo would suggest 97 fail-safe tips.

But the problem- for me anyway- can be found in Woody Allen’s famous pronouncement on the subject: “Don’t knock masturbation.  It’s sex with someone I love.”   What happens if masturbation is sex with someone you loathe?  Can you ever make love to yourself if you don’t even like yourself?  Or do your ladyparts wither and die on the vine?  Are you left always wanting?

* * *

I envy that masturbating moppet.  I envy her lack of inhibitions and I envy her unabashed embrace of pleasure.  More, I envy her innocence.  At two, she hasn’t yet learned that she’s fat and ugly and wrong.  She hasn’t learned to pluck and tweeze and groom herself into someone else.  She doesn’t yet know that, if she knows what’s good for her, she’ll play dumb and act coy.  That boys don’t like girls who talk too much.  Who have opinions.  Wants.  Need.s  She doesn’t know to say that math is hard and sure, we can do it on my parents’ bed.  She has no idea that she’ll fake it to spare his feelings.

She is joyful and she is free.  Tickle me Elmo?  You bet your ass.