Tag Archives: Pat Conroy

An Enthusiasm for Similes

I’ve been reading a lot lately and when I find a sentence or paragraph I like I’ll go over it a few times, savoring it the way some people enjoy wine. I have a special appreciation for the artfully crafted simile. They’re difficult to write. It’s pretty easy, in fact, to come off sounding hackneyed. I’ve read some laughably embarrassing ones; they’re usually an indication of a lazy (or inexperienced) writer. I use them sparingly.

One of the most memorable similes is from Pat Conroy’s Prince of Tides: “The spanish moss hung from the trees like the secret laundry of angels.” That may be a slight paraphrase but isn’t it beautiful? A pretty girl may or may not be like a melody. And love is not at all like oxygen. See what I mean?

In my apartment building there’s a spot where people leave things, a sort of “free box,” and it’s where I get most of my books. I used to get them from my mom (and still do, occasionally) but she reads so voraciously that she mostly checks them out of the local library. Anyway, one of my recent acquisitions was Speaking with the Angel, an anthology of short stories edited by Nick Hornby. He assembled an impressive collection of writers, including Helen Fielding (of Bridget Jones’s Diary fame) and Dave Eggers (author of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, which totally was, and editor of McSweeney’s). I found myself dog-earring pages a few times:

“I mean, I recognize what’s going on in my head, what’s been going on for a while, actually, on and off. It’s middle age. I know that. It’s getting older, slower, tired, bored, fat, useless. It’s death becoming something real. It’s the old neighbours from my childhood dying. And even people my own age. Cancer, mostly. Car crashes.” That’s from “The Slave,” by Roddy Doyle. Brilliant.

“What about mystery? What about allure? What’s the point of marching the poor boy round Sainsbury’s in a filthy mood when you could be sliding your toe up his thigh in the Caprice while he slips his Gold Card to the garçon? You’re a woman, darling, not some sort of Chinese coworker in a communist cooperative. You’re not supposed to be his equal, you’re supposed to be his empress.” That’s “Luckybitch” by Ms. Fielding, an impressively tender take on old age.

“We go down a corridor full of old newspapers, beer cases and musical instruments and speakers all in their black suitcases. The carpet is like fungus on cheese.” How’s THAT for a simile? It is the work of Patrick Marber in his coming of age, uh, romp, “Peter Shelley.”

The collection was originally published to raise money for and awareness of TreeHouse, a school in the UK for autistic children. I highly recommend it. (The book, not the school. Unless you’re autistic and of elementary school age.) Other books I’ve read over the past few weeks and enjoyed: Water for Elephants (ooooh, I would SO love to run away with the circus!) by Sara Gruen, Maya’s Notebook by Isabel Allende (everything she writes is mesmerizing) and Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter (a boggling multi-decade tapestry of relationships).

Reading wonderful writing simultaneously inspires me to write and puts me off writing. I just downloaded Netflix and started watching House of Cards so maybe I’ll find myself more motivated to write since I won’t be freshly remembering someone else’s genius. Someone told me about this web site where you can see which famous writer “I Write Like” and, after pasting in four different excerpts (erotica, a rant or two and something more general-ish) I was informed that I Write Like: Cory Doctorow. Well, one rant came up with William Gibson. I’m not overly familiar with either of them and would’ve preferred, oh, I don’t know, Hemingway or Hunter S. Thompson or Bukowski. I guess I have some new reading to do! Ummm, after I’ve binged on every Netflix series I can handle!

Scared Sexless

This is very difficult for me to write. I am currently feeling terrified.


It is an emotion I’m not overly familiar with. I enjoy putting myself in odd and uncomfortable situations. I believe that the unfamiliar offers an opportunity to stretch boundaries. So while I have often felt nervous or apprehensive, I don’t usually feel afraid.

But lately I have felt nothing but fear. It is a fear of many things: getting old, being alone, and the combination of the two. I’m afraid about having no health insurance…and losing my health. I’m afraid of having no job and of never finding one. I’m afraid of having no money, no savings…and no credit. It is all conspiring to paralyze me.

Mixed in with the fear of being alone…forever…is the fear of never having sex again. Ever. “Don’t be ridiculous,” my friends tell me. They all think I’m being dramatic.

I haven’t had sex in six months. That about ties my previous “record” of how long I’d gone without sex. Let me start by saying that six months ago I had a boyfriend. Today, I don’t. Sex with this man was everything I’d ever dreamed sex should be: passionate, warm, comforting, occasionally daring or dangerous, spontaneous or mysterious, all of it. His skin was  soft, his muscles firm;  I loved the smell of him, the taste of him, the feel of him. Walking…anywhere, and holding his hand made me so happy I can’t describe it. Sleeping with him, with or without the sexual act, felt like home. Our bodies fit together perfectly; spooning was transcendent. As I sit here typing this I can’t even imagine my life without him. And it has been. For six months. That isn’t likely to change. Ever.

My fears are very much caught up in the loss of this man. But they also involve many other things. My age is probably the scariest thing. I am 51. I was 50 the last time we were together, a terrifying benchmark that delineates, for society if not for me personally, the “end game” of life.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, I have heard the stories, read the books and articles: sex after 50 and how awesome it can be. It sounds to me like they’re trying to convince themselves as well as others. Vibrant, new age-y women crowing about how much better sex is once you’re “of a certain age.” Frankly, I can’t imagine sex being any better than it’s been…with this man…ever. And I can’t begin to tell you how sad and scared that makes me.

The thought of getting used to someone new, of becoming comfortable — naked! — with a new lover, is more than I can bear. As someone who has, in the past, engaged in promiscuity almost as a sport, this may sound completely ludicrous. And I can’t explain it. Why would something that once happened so easily, almost without thought, become so scary? But it has. Is.

Contributing to these fears is my past: It seems that every man I meet makes the assumption that merely because I’ve written erotica, sex toy reviews, etc., and hostessed unusual soirees, that  moments after shaking his hand I should be prepared to jump in bed with him. Which is most certainly NOT the case. Especially now. Aside from the abject fear of bursting into tears because any man is not THAT man I have a whole host of other concerns. And many of them are physical. Which may make them baseless when looked at objectively. But they loom, nevertheless.

Over the past year or two, my body feels foreign to me, like someone else’s entirely. My skin feels less taught — not that it ever felt all THAT taught to being with. It hangs off my frame “like the secret laundry of angels,” to quote Pat Conroy. Everywhere I touch myself feels strange, and not in a good way. I don’t smell the same way I used to, oddly. Everything’s creaky or weakening or weird. Orgasm isn’t as easily achieved. Lubrication is elusive. Blahblahblah. I can barely bring myself to masturbate.

This man…THAT man…was with me pretty much through the entire process of menopause, from the hateful hot flashes and rabid increase in libido to the less lubricated, comfort-seeking stage. Now that I am “on the other side,” and alone, I don’t know what to expect. I haven’t found anyone — NO ONE! — who has appealed to me sexually. Which is probably the scariest thing of all! I don’t know if it’s a total lack of libido or merely my fears. Even through those “dry spells” of no sex in the past, I was always at least attracted to people…to someone. Now the mere idea of making out with someone almost makes me physically ill.

Is this a phase? Will it pass…eventually? I keep hoping that tomorrow, next week, sometime soon — though certainly not soon enough! — a new man will cross my path and make all this seem laughable in retrospect. Everything I read assures me this will be the case and that feeling the way I do will only prolong the process. So how to turn this all around? How to keep myself from dissolving into a puddle of tears every time I think of intercourse? I guess it will take time…time I don’t feel like I have. Or perhaps patience. Another thing I’m not too experienced with. Either way I will attempt to embrace my solitude until true and enduring love presents itself. Along with the sex…