SOCCER MOM AT THE SEX MUSEUM: A LITERARY ADVENTURE
As I may have mentioned two or three (gazillion) times, I was a nerdy bookworm growing up, and this experience has shaped many of my social attitudes and expectations. I don't generally feel comfortable at gatherings of strangers. I don't assume that people will find my presence congenial or my conversation scintillating. When I'm invited to a party, my first impulse is to decline on the assumption that I was only invited out of obligation and nobody will want to talk to me and I'll get nervous and blurt out something idiotic and everyone will hate me forever. Usually I overcome this initial hesitation, and go out and have a good time, experience having proven that neither I nor most of the people I socialize with are middle schoolers anymore. But some invitations engender especially intense trepidation, and following through with these entails extreme efforts to master my Inner Eighth Grader.
For reasons I've discussed here, I agreed to attend a promotional event for Stephen Elliott's Sex for America at the Museum of Sex in Manhattan last Monday evening. As the date approached, I became increasingly apprehensive.
"Why?" a friend asked. "It's just a reading and discussion." (Obviously, this friend's adolescence was studded with cheerleader practice and Saturday night dates.)
"Because it's so--not-me."
"Isn't that the point of going to readings? To expand your experience?"
"Of course it is," I told her. "But this is different. I'm fifty-five years old. I wear dresses with jackets and pumps, and button earrings. Women my age weren't brought up to even talk about sex."
"But you write about sex. You have a story in the book."
"That was a fluke. The rest of them will be sex writers."
"What are sex writers like?"
"Oh, you know. Twenty-year-olds in black leather bustiers. They'll make jokes among themselves about who invited Grandma. And they'll read about bondage. Bondage gives me nightmares."
"So don't go."
"I have to go."
And so on. In the end, I dragged along a more adventurous friend and, fighting down nausea, slunk into the museum--to find readers and audience members whose demographics mimicked those of passersby on the street outside. And everyone was friendly and easy. Just like a regular reading.
Because it was a regular reading. Writers got up and read stories about human beings in a variety of human situations. The common threads were sex and politics, but the stories were as diverse as the people reading them. Two were hilarious. One was dramatic and ominous, and when the reader stopped and said we'd have to read the rest in the book, I realized I'd been holding my breath. One was, indeed, about bondage. It was intense and poignant. I'm glad not to have missed it. And I'm not writing about this in more detail, because this isn't a review--it's a reminder.
I may look and dress like a soccer mom, but my presentation doesn't define me. What I am is a writer. My peer group is not made up only of people who look and talk like me--who share my background, my skin color, my taste in clothing or decor or subject matter, or my sexual orientation or preferences. "My kind" are people who reflect on the meaning of what they see and experience, and express their observations, beliefs, and vision imaginatively, through the medium of words.
Apparently, I need to keep learning this over and over again, until I know it.
Susan O'Doherty, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist with a New York City-based practice. A fiction writer herself, she specializes in issues affecting writers and other creative artists. Her book, Getting Unstuck Without Coming Unglued: A Woman's Guide to Unblocking Creativity, was published by Seal Press in June, 2007. Send your questions to her at Dr.Sue at mindspring dot com.