An oddly-phrased line from Kevin Sampsell‘s book A Common Pornography struck me the other day.

“I liked her because she was easy, because I’m easy too.”

When I read that, I wanted to write Kevin and say, I get that line so much, I get liking somebody because they’re easy, and recognizing that that so-unnecessarily-maligned human quality is actually good, and furthermore recognizing the positive quality of easiness in yourself, and owning it.

And I also liked Kevin’s line because I’m easy too.

Now easiness in a man manifests itself differently than easiness in a woman. An easy man is not a slut. In fact, easy men tend to be just the opposite, because being a slutty man is remarkably hard work, and easy men aren’t up for that. What easy men like me do, when they’re single, is they find a number of likable women, they date them, they sleep with the ones that will sleep with them, and then, because they’re easy, they happily agree to long-term monogamy. Easy to get along with, the monogamy lasts for months, years, and lifetimes. Not sluttiness at all.

I used to beat myself up for this. There were all these people out there who were looking for the ONE, the perfect companion, and I wasn’t. It seemed to me I’d be perfectly happy with about fifty-thousand different women. They were all so smart and beautiful and unique. That one looks good, oooh that one too, and how bout that one. The pickiness I saw in others seemed revolting and egotistical. When I’d get serious with someone, a friend would ask me, “Do you love her?” and I would kind of go spacey for a moment, and I’d want to say, yes, but I also loved her and her and her and her, and why does everyone have to be stuck on this find-your-one-true-savior thing?

I want to go back for a moment, just so you have an example in your head of what I mean by an easy man. Nate Fisher from Six Feet Under is the perfect easy man archetype. He’s a slut—he has anonymous sex with Brenda in an airport maintenance closet—but what truly makes him easy is that he doesn’t run away screaming: he gets in a relationship with her. What man in his right mind would commit to a woman who grabs anonymous men and fucks them in closets? An easy man who sees that quality in themselves would.

I’ve gotten so off-track that I don’t know if I can redeem this essay. Because what I wanted to talk about is why easy is good, and I’m going the wrong direction.

So here’s someone else who’s easy and who we all have respect for: Brad Listi. Yes, the proprietor of The Nervous Breakdown is a slut.

Let me explain.

Last year I received an email from Lance Reynald, a TNB contributor, asking if I was interested in contributing to TNB’s blog. Anyone who’s been a mid-list writer for any length of time will know how rare this moment is. People don’t ask you to contribute to their literary venture. You submit something, and it sits in a slush pile, and then you send them a few cowering emails to see if they still have it, and then they send you a rejection slip. You bow to the man.

Surprised and interested, I visited the site, and what I saw was awesome. Hundreds of contributors–some rock stars, some mid-list, some hacks just getting their wings–all mish-mashed together on a content heavy website, driven by community and lots of Facebook linkage. So I wrote Brad, in my usual literary genuflective way, if I could please, please post to his site, and what I got back was, well, easy: here’s your login, here’s a twenty-two page document teaching you how to post, write often and much.

No writing samples. No bullshit biography. Just post. If the writing is good, they will come.

I loved it. I loved Brad. I loved TNB. I loved easy. Brad got it—what the literary world was missing—fewer hoops . And it was working. TNB was very, very popular, because easy was something we all craved.

Recently, I’ve started my own writing school, offering online creative writing classes at the Basement Writing Workshop. Being easy has helped me as well. I hand-coded a website with a simple layout. I found some friends who were talented writers and asked them if they wanted to teach: if they said yes, they got the nod; if they said maybe, I talked them out of it. I didn’t vet my teachers. I didn’t ask for resumes. I didn’t scare anyone away by being high-maintenance. These writers’ reputations preceded them and I trusted that they would deliver. I’ve made their lives easy, given them some potential work, and in turn, they’ve trusted me, helped me market the site, and made my life easy too. We’re starting classes in the Fall, have some students lined up, and things couldn’t be going smoother. (Knock. Knock.)

We didn’t spend weeks researching the market. We didn’t write up a business plan. We didn’t pour money into Google AdWords. We just nailed down the basics and launched.

So let’s get back to Nate Fisher, and me, and how it’s all working out. It might seem that being easy is settling, but if you have a little faith in the universe, and the way things shake down, it isn’t settling at all. What ends up happening to easy people is that the hard people drop off—they get annoyed with our easiness and leave—and eventually, dumped and feeling a little used, we find each other lying in the trash heap.

And then we have sex in airport maintenance closets and know.

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JAMES BERNARD FROST is the author of the novel A Very Minor Prophet, published by indie wonder-press Hawthorne Books, reviewed here by The Oregonian, recently optioned by Rocking Stone Media, and available wherever books are sold. He is also the award-winning author of the novel World Leader Pretend, published by St. Martin's Press, and the travel guide, The Artichoke Trail. His fiction, essays, and articles have appeared in venues as diverse as Wired, SF Weekly, the San Francisco Examiner, The Official Magazine of World of Warcraft, Trachodon Magazine, and the Farallon Review. He lives in Portland, Oregon with his two children, the rain, and the trees.

49 responses to “On Being Easy —or— The Nervous Breakdown is a Slut”

  1. Uche Ogbuji says:

    I appreciate the sentiment (and your romantic analogy is fun), but I’d be just a bit careful. My experience with TNB is that it is indeed very welcoming, but I think in the process of being modest you probably overstate how much so. Yes, TNB is not the place for silly hoops, and I love it for that, but to join the collective you do have to have a something about you. I think you give away the game by mentioning the invitation from Lance Reynald. I’ve never met Lance (shamefully, considering he’s apparently so near), but from all I’ve heard he is a TNB legend, and a good word from him is enough to provide that certain something. You are on TNB because you’re a good writer who is willing to engage in the community.

    We all want TNB to grow, but we also want to be sure we can always look to the left of us, and to the right of us, and trust the writer we see there (in TNB front page terms, we all want some reasonable assurance that when we post our awesome piece, the piece above it and the piece below it will also be awesome). I think the easy bit comes in appreciation that there is a lot of diversity to awesome. But appreciation of diversity (“easy”) is not the same thing as abandonment of standards (“slut”).

    • dwoz says:

      The thing that drew me in here IMMEDIATELY, is that it was like walking into a room where there was NO DOUBT WHATSOEVER that I was not the smartest guy…and in fact, I was likely the guy who performs the thankless and difficult but necessary task of filling out the statistics on the wrong side of the mean.

      That’s a very refreshing place to be, sometimes. Really.

  2. Greg Boose says:

    “Anyone who’s been a mid-list writer for any length of time will know how rare this moment is. People don’t ask you to contribute to their literary venture. You submit something, and it sits in a slush pile, and then you send them a few cowering emails to see if they still have it, and then they send you a rejection slip. You bow to the man.”

    Nailed it.

  3. Joe Daly says:

    >>What easy men like me do, when they’re single, is they find a number of likable women, they date them, they sleep with the ones that will sleep with them, and then, because they’re easy, they happily agree to long-term monogamy.<<

    It’s like you were hiding in the room when all my friends and I were having our 2 a.m. bleeding heart sessions, while forcibly restraining the one guy from putting on “Monster Ballads.”

    For the record, I had to submit five online writing samples as part of my application process.

    I like the idea that the “easy” guys win out in the end. But it sounds more like “easy” means being comfortable enough in your own skin to keep doing what you’re doing, regardless of who might be smashing pots and pans around you.

    • James Bernard Frost says:

      Comfortable enough, naive enough, or unable to be anyone but who I am, I’m not sure which…

      • Joe Daly says:

        Well, if you ever try to be someone you’re not, I’d stay away from Paul Stanley. I tried to pull that off when I was 10 and it didn’t work.

  4. I’m all for EASY in so many ways. Often when you ask people a question they’ll answer, “Well it’s complicated . . . ” and they go on blathering bullshit that can always be reduced to one simple sentence. It’s never really that complicated. It’s always easier than people make it. Everything. Sex, writing, relationships, etc. Things are fucked up and complicated because fucked up people complicate them, not because anything is inherently fucked up and complicated. Look at the world. The ocean. The sky. Perfectly easy. Until people come along and unnecessarily complicate them.

  5. dwoz says:

    You sir, are a genius.

    there’s so much happening here, I can’t even begin. And all in the course of performing shameless self-promotion, which makes it doubly brilliant!

    I do however, have to rebut one of your points. There is a TNB slush-pile, and people do languish in it.



    • James Bernard Frost says:

      There was some minor self-promotion in there I admit, but I mostly wanted to make the point about TNB, and just how large and open it extends its umbrella–that makes it unusual amongst literary websites. This is genius, because this extension is what makes the site so popular and robust.

      As for the TNB slush pile… well, we’ve all languished in one before. At least, though, there’s some respect for those of us who’ve been around the block a few times.

  6. Greg Olear says:

    This is great, and the last line in particular is perfect.

    (While I never got into that show, I did watch the first few eps, so that’s one of the few scenes I actually did watch and do remember.)

    Good luck with the writing school.

  7. “Brad Listi is a slut.”

    Love this. And yes, bearing in mind the truth of what Uche said above in his comments, it’s still true that we are a slutty site, in the best possible way. Most sluts do have SOME standards, and TNB has them too, to be sure. But I think we have more writers, and are more welcoming to new blood here than any of the comparable sites, where the “clubs” are much, much smaller and the hierarchy clearer. This is a great strength of TNB and I think why we all kinda love it beyond reason.

  8. “Anonymous sex with Brenda” may well be the single greatest keyword tag ever.

    I wish I knew a Brenda, though that might defeat that whole anonymity thing.

    I totally love that you didn’t say “hacks just getting their wings” as if that were a bad thing. Because it so totally ain’t anymore, and I think the Nervous Breakdown has at least a little to do with it.

    • James Bernard Frost says:

      Thanks, Will. I originally linked “anonymous sex with Brenda” to a porn site, then thought better of it. After all TNB does have some standards. (Unlike, err, let’s say, The Rumpus)

      And “hacks” to me is a compliment. I got my first book deal on the strength of random querying and a strong book proposal. I had no connections, no English background, no MFA, and NO IDEA what I was doing. I just knew I wanted to write. Eventually I figured it out, but I’m still a hack at heart.

  9. Kerry Cohen says:

    This is the first piece I’ve ever read where a man says outwardly that he likes easy women, not just for fucking, but for commitment. I spent so much of my life assuming that because I could so rarely control myself and had to jump into bed with everyone was part of why I couldn’t ever get loved. Certainly, that’s what girls are told – you’re either a whore, or you’re wife material. Thank god you’re my boyfriend 😉

  10. I once read on a blog that everyone on TNB has VD.

  11. Hmmm…I thought Nate had sex with Brenda because he was so desensitized from his father’s death, his recurring hallucinations, and his mother’s bizarre redheadedness, that it was the only way he could feel anything. And then he stayed with her, through five seasons of painful relationship discussions and general betrayal, not to mention the unbearably hammy acting of Jeremy Sisto, mostly because the writers were running out of ideas. Which, I guess does make him easy.

    Dig your piece. Then again, I’m easy for anything that mentions slush.

  12. Art Edwards says:

    You mind if I vomit in your men’s room? I’ll buy something.

  13. I believe I had to submit a few sample pieces before getting accepted into this wonderful little club…

    Anyway, that was a pretty ballsy first post. I’m sure you’ll fit in well around here.

    • James Bernard Frost says:

      Oh gosh, this wasn’t my first post. And my posts are always ballsy. I’m infamous for getting myself in trouble. I’m still waiting for Brad to step in here and swat me.

  14. Erika Rae says:

    Lance Reynald rocks – and he’s also the reason I’m here. Which makes us only two degrees from separation, James. And that’s…not exactly kinky…but almost a love triangle. Hurray for easy!

    • James Bernard Frost says:

      Yes, what’s going on with Lance? Last I heard from him it was midnight and he was wandering the streets of Portland looking for a couch to crash on. I do hope is couch surfing days are on the wane.

  15. Quenby Moone says:

    Hello, Easy Man. I’m just becoming aware of this “slush pile” of which you speak. Damnable and impenetrable and embarrassing! Especially after my entre here with a Nervous Breakdown, my own and everyone else’s, simulcast, going great googly-mooglies all at once.

    The slush pile was a bit of a burn after this. Form letters and my thin skin, effusive non-dismissals and embarrassingly polite “good–but not enough’s” have peppered my last week. (A side note: why all in one week? Why not portioned out over the same number of weeks I submitted? Why did I need to be rejected all at once by multiple publications?)

    Anyhoo, I see that you’re not only easy but in the Greater PDX Area, of which I am familiar, being parked here too. We can be easy together.

    But not THAT easy.

    • Aurelie says:

      “A side note: why all in one week? Why not portioned out over the same number of weeks I submitted? Why did I need to be rejected all at once by multiple publications?”

      So that it can feel like only one rejection?

      So that your energy gets only sapped once?

      So that you can have one big grieving party instead of multiple little ones?

      • Quenby Moone says:

        Awesome. I will thank my stars from now on that the heavens rained rejections in one week instead of many! Often it takes the perspective of someone completely outside to make sense of the senseless!


        (And in case this reads as jocular, it’s not! I’m really happy for the perspective; much better than my own. It’s stuffy in here–no air and circulation in my poor brain–and I’m glad for any other point which makes the sting a bit less. You’re Benadryl! Which I could really use, as I’ve been devoured by insects in the last hour…)

    • James Bernard Frost says:

      Portland’s an easy town, Quenby. Look me up.

  16. Aurelie says:

    Loved this piece. It reminded me of the book “Marry him: the case for settling for Mr Good Enough” by Lori Gottlieb. She makes the distinction between optimizers (women who want to find the best mate out there, and break up with perfectly fine boyfriends or husbands in their never-ending quest for Mr Right – Gottlieb, a single mom in her early forties, admits she fell into that trap) and satisficers (women who settle down with someone good enough without trying to go for Mr Perfect, and end up in very happy marriages). She also points out more men than women tend to be satisficers.

    Easy is an attitude that extends beyond dating. It’s the glass-half-full way of looking at life. I think part of it comes with age. I used to be much more uptight about things and much less forgiving about little flaws when I was in my twenties. Now (in my early thirties) I stay away from airport utility closets, but I do find life much more enjoyable if I don’t over-think everything into “here’s my ideal soulmate list and if you don’t match every single criterion, then either you have to commit to The Intensive Improvement Plan or it’s not meant to be.” I trust that the people I meet along the way are never a waste of time. I’ve become curious about them rather than judgmental. Maybe I’m just reading too many New Age books.

    Anyway, TNB seems like a satisficer (with a high bar) rather than an optimizer, which is a good thing.

    Good luck with the writing school!

  17. Lisa Rae Cunningham says:

    Brad Listi is one of those rare, magical creatures who knows how to get the job done: Step back and let other people do it because they want to and they will. In a world of micro-management, it’s pretty refreshing to cross paths with folks who have the ability to live and let live. It’s an optimistic venture: letting people show up out of love, desire, compulsion, easiness… whatever drives them. And it works.

    Joe Daly and I were just discussing “the slush pile” this evening. It’s really nice to be able to just fucking publish something! (Thanks, Brad.) And all the best with the writing school, James. Sounds very cool.

  18. Matt says:

    Brad’s easy? Damn. Wish I’d known that earlier.

    Like Joe and David, I pimped myself pretty hard to join the ranks of TNB’s contributors…not to mention my time in the trenches of the comment boards. If I’d known Brad was such a slut, I wouldn’t have tried so hard.

    One problem with your Six Feet Under comparison: while Nate Fischer might have started out as the quintessential easy guy, he turned into a massive unlikeable douchebag pretty quick.

  19. Angela Tung says:

    i love that idea of “easy,” in terms of both writing and relationships. i considered myself borderline-slutty (okay so that’s out there). however, what i wanted wasn’t just a roll in the hay but to take a chance that something small might be something big. not a guarantee mind you but just a chance. you wouldn’t believe how many guys that scared off. like, dude, i’m not expecting a ring and baby from you, just some fearlessness.

    i guess the same could be same for writing. and i like what uche has to say too. i feel pressure, in a good way, to try and produce good work because of the company around here. but at the same time, i feel free to bend genres, go semi-poetic, and take chances (there’s that again).

  20. New Orleans Lady says:

    For the first time in my life I want to be easy.
    And I have you to thank. 🙂

    I wish more people were easy.

    • James Bernard Frost says:

      I hate, hate, hate what our society does to “easy” women. I’m no feminist, but this drives me bat-shit crazy. It’s the biggest double standard on the Planet Earth. Go find yourself a man-toy today and have some shame-free fun on me. (Oh, and my brother lives in N.O., and is recently single…)

  21. Great work.

    In my first few attempts at posting, I think I’ve been “easy,” too eager to post that I haven’t kept to my authorial duty to quality. I’m a slut, too. A slutty, slutty slut.

    • James Bernard Frost says:

      Yeah, I keep it to about a post a month, mostly because it takes me that long to wrap my head around something worthwhile enough to write out. And even then, because we’re writing for free, I don’t necessarily do the research I would do if, say, I were attempting to break into The Sun, or Harper’s, or something else that provided some dough. If I were, I’d have had to spend a couple evenings watching old Six Feet Under episodes, which I suppose wouldn’t have been a bad way to research.

  22. lance reynald says:

    a hack and a slut… glad my instincts are still set to literary true north.

    no sofa surfing lately, I wander far less and have been trying the straight and narrow.

    it sucks… can we get some warm weather and a bottle of Jack already?

    once again… Glad you’re here Frost.

    • James Bernard Frost says:

      Wait… Did I read that correctly? You’ve been “trying the straight and narrow”? You haven’t switched allegiances to skinny waif girls have you?

      • lance reynald says:

        skinny waif girls…in Portland? lolololololololololol.

        nah, just trying to behave myself and not have the benders that leave me looking for sofas.

        already done the other, resulted in a amiable but barbed divorce after a fair 7 years.

  23. Carl D'Agostino says:

    The real sluts are in DC. In those buildings with columns and statues. They all preface their sentences with “The American people…” What do any of these sluts know about “the American people” ? At least not the ones in my neighborhood trying to eke out a living for their kids at minimum wage, no insurance and no pension. These sluts are felonizing minorities for criminal justice industry breaking up homes now without fathers. They are sluts.The captains of capitalism are the sluts. The biggest sluts are not in sex things. They are those who will do or saying anything for their own self aggrandizement usually at the expense of others who are least likely to be able to defend themselves. Anti Christs,hucksters, false prophets. And we hope and we want to believe and are always left with despair because we live in a slutocracy(new word I just made up) . Hope it catches on.

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