January 31, 2011

Why Writing Erotica is the Best Thing You Can Do

I am not a writer by any stretch so I wouldn't dream of attempting to give any advice on such matters. If you want writing advice, go to Lauren. She's got all the good tips like 'stop randomly capitalising words' and 'shimming isn't a word'. She's a gold mine of information.

I do, however, enjoy writing and it used to be the feather in my academic bonnet between the ages of about 6 and 14. I managed to impress teachers with an early aptitude for creative writing, which distracted them a little from my appalling maths skills and retarded drawing ability (1). But somewhere along the lines, I must have got confused and came out of university with an art foundation and a maths and physics degree. Writing disappeared backstage during those dark years.

But I still enjoy writing, and in recent times I've been trying a few things out again (reducing my comic-load in the process) so when I spotted a writing competition on twitter, I went and checked it out. It turned out to be an Erotic Fiction Competition (2) for a women's magazine called Filament ("the thinking woman's crumpet"). I toyed with the idea in my head for a bit, never really wanting to commit, as writing about sexy times could be pretty embarrassing. But then I kind of got into a dare with a lady on twitter so I wrote the damn thing.

I won't go into the plot or who-did-what-to-whom here (just in case), but I will tell you a little bit about the experience.

Firstly: everything sounds like a bloody innuendo while you're writing it. "I was up late last night"; "you've got to get it in by the end of the day"; "fucking hell". Everything.

Secondly, and most importantly: it was the hardest (!) thing I've ever written in my life. Not in the sense that I was writing about sex and that it was awkward and cringeworthy, though it was. Once you commit to writing erotica, you're going to have to accept you're going to have to write about sexy bits and sexy actions; you get over it pretty quickly. No, it was difficult because you quickly come (!) to realise that the whole sexiness of sex is that it's an unspoken language. And a language without words doesn't work well in written form.

I'm sure there are some people that get their rocks off with dirty talk in the bedroom or with an endless stream of verbal instructions ("do this"; "do that"; "put it there"; "let's do it this way", etc) but in the world I'm familiar with, everything is a lot more subtle and spoken in actions, expressions and suggestion-by-touch. I might be the statistical whisker here, but whatever - it's my story (3).

This is coupled with the fact that sexy anatomicals... aren't sexy. Vagina sounds like something you'd floor your kitchen with. Penises and breasts are too clinical; cocks and pussies are too vulgar; boobs and willies are too silly. Even Vagitionary (4), the thesaurus for female anatomy stayed mostly within the vulgar/silly/clinical groupings.

And this is exactly why I found the whole experience so rewarding (though the result was utter cack). I really had to think about what I was writing. It reminded my of my French lessons: the teacher would encourage us to keep talking if we didn't know the right words, 'Talk around the words,' she'd say. 'Describe what you're talking about if you don't know the word you want.' This is what I had to do here: I had to talk around all the anatomical words and sexual acts and terrible, terrible dirtiness and describe everything as emotively as I could without getting too explicit. Because, in my opinion, explicitry (that can't possibly be a word) isn't sexy.

In working this way, you think a lot more about what you're doing and what you're trying to do. And it's bloody hard (!). Not only that, what do sexy feelings actually feel like? You can't just write "orgasm" or "sexy rumblings" throughout, you have to emote the whole feeling to the reader. I spent a lot of time staring into space trying to think of that the actual physical feeling of sexual interaction felt like. It's like trying to describe the colour blue (5): a fundamental sensation that can't be broken into smaller feelings. And furthermore, I wanted to tell it from a woman's perspective - it is a women's magazine, after all.

All in all, it was a journey fraught with obstacles that taught me a lot about writing, so I'm very glad I did it. And I'm very glad I never, ever have to do it again.

(1) I use retarded in its naissant sense, meaning that I was slow to figure out how to draw and colour properly. I still remember that beautiful day in year 5 when I finally figured out how to colour in the lines and the class congratulated me. I am not making this up.
(2) http://bit.ly/dKljuE
(3) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Box_and_whisker
(4) http://gregology.net/Entertainment/Vagitionary
(5) 7.5*10^15 Hz. Sexy.

January 27, 2011

Notes on the Right to Speak Offensively

Recently, two football pundits came under attack for a variety of sexist comments towards some particular women in football. Of this, enough has been said. However, someone on twitter (who I shall paraphrase for anonymity) said, rather angrily:

"Dad reckons that the guys off sky sports were unfairly vilified; that it was free speech and 'why we fought the war'"
There are a couple of responses to this. It's easiest to start with the parts that are right: that people have fought for the right to free speech. I think it's entirely fair to say that no one had to fight for the right to denigrate women, but all in all, thanks to long efforts in progressing society people can say whatever they like.

But here's the important part: if people don't like what you say, they can very much tell you so. The point of free speech is that it works both ways. If you're a public figure and heard to give some rather archaic and offensive views then it is very likely you are going to get a very public battering. It's not the madness of political correctness; it's not that 'you can't say anything anymore'; it's that your comments are open to scrutiny.

So, yes, it was free speech. And yes, we've fought for such freedoms. But freedom of speech is not the right to say anything without rebuttal.

But we don't even have to go that far, in this case. These two fellows are employees of a national broadcaster - in fact, they're not just employees they are spokespeople. They are voices of Sky Sports, and as such have a responsibility to their employer to behave ethically, responsibly and without bigotry. Heck, I'm just an analyst (professionally) and bear no outward face for my company and my contract still states I can't use language of a racism, sexist or otherwise offensive nature. And I can only piss off the few people who sit around me.

I think what we've seen from this is that while you can say nasty stuff about whomever you like (no one was arrested), most people will object to it and smack you down. Good.

January 25, 2011

The Language of Sexuality

This is a little thought about the language we use to describe sexuality and how there might be better ways to use our language to be more socially inclusive and to make things less "scary". Please note that I'm well aware that it would be mostly foolhardy to attempt to believe we can affect a change in today's language use; this is merely a reflection on a potentially better method. (Note: similarly, I read a great little essay on how people were using the wrong number for Pi (1), and the author similarly knew no one would ever change the way they used Pi). Hat-tip to Rebecca (2) who actually formulated the new terms used below.

So here's my thinking. The terms, 'homosexual' and 'heterosexual' are unnecessarily segregative  They've been used over the years to create an 'us and them' mentality in society that has brainwashed (for want, perhaps, of a lighter word) a good number of people into thinking about their fellow men and women in an imperfect light. Even paid-up members of the so called leftist, liberal elite have confessed a reactionary 'ick factor' when considering different sexualities, though whether this is a result of memetic language use is a matter for debate.

It all begins with a need to break things down into categories for descriptive ease. Anyone who's explored evolution a little will know that even the divide between species is not a black-and-white one, but a sliding scale at which point we have (somewhat) arbitrarily put a fence, with one side labeled as homo erectus, and the other homo sapiens. And that's fine. Labelling is a necessity for communication.

A lot of segragation is born of catergorisation and classification. Black people and white people; thin people and fat people; glasses-wearers and non-glasses wearers - these are some natural and obvious differences between us that are readily identifiable and immediately useful, if only for pointing at a crowd of people across the room to focus in on a particular person. The correctness of these terms to pick people out of a crowd will not be discussed here, but one can hardly disagree with its simplicity and usefulness.

With sexuality, however, there is no immediate need to start separating people out in this way (3). And, in fact, as sexuality operates in a two-dimensional array (the dimensions being 'your own gender' and 'the gender(s) you're attracted to'), dividing people into 'homosexual' and 'heterosexual' is not, in my opinion, the best and most elegant solution.

Firstly, from the literary and social research I have studied it is quite clear that the heterosexual/homosexual divide is not a binary one. It exists on a sliding scale, much the same as there aren't just skinny people and obese people. Generally, it seems that the segregation exists between the heterosexual side and anyone who shows inklings of bisexuality onwards.

So, to the actual point of this post: the language. I think it would be far simpler and more useful to use classifications based on 'who you are attracted to', not 'how the gender of your attraction relates to your own gender'. When asking for labels, Rebecca came up with the superbly elegant Androsexual (attracted to men) and Gynosexual (attracted to women).

So what is the benefit of this re-classification? For starters, it's not really a classification at all anymore, it's more of an adjective. It describes what you like and it bleeds across the genders and other classifications. And let's face it, we are all familiar with androsexual and gynosexual people anyway, and comfortable (for the most part) with those different from us within this description. If you are a straight man, you don't (I assume) find it disgusting and unpalatable that your straight female friend is attracted to men, even though you are not. You probably never batted an eyelid about it. If you ever thought a little deeper you'd probably think: yeah she's probably done [sexual acts x,y,z] with men and though you may not like to think too much about close friends in sexual situations, you won't consider such things heinous, offensive or wrong. Androsexuals and gynosexuals get along; they understand each other. In this sense, you (a straight man in this example, still) can approach the idea of a gay man as no different in sexual appetite to your straight female friend. You are perfectly familiar with the concept of androsexuality.

Secondly, we start to move away from the sliding-scale sexuality to a more attributable sexuality. Let me explain: in the hetero/homo system, as you move from one extreme to the other you pass through a middle zone of bisexuality. As humans, we find this trickier to pin down that actua attributes. In the andro/gyno system, you can simultaneously hold both attributes at the same time, and not necessarily equally. This is similar to how I can like both apples and bananas, but prefer bananas. If you take a moment and reverse the fruit analogy back into the hetero/homo world you'd live in a world where, as a man, I would be expected to be a banana eater - a fruitnormian, maybe? The hetero/homo language is loaded with expectation.

I feel I've rattled off enough on this. It's a speculative and hypothetical idea, though I don't think I'm completely off the wall.

(1) http://unnaturalhistorymuseum.tumblr.com
(2) http://tauday.com/
(3) though I will admit, it certainly becomes useful in the singles dating pool.

January 23, 2011

British Atheism

Sometimes I have a moment of reflection about how I tend to make a lot of commentary on theism and religion and wonder why I feel so compelled to do so.

For in the UK, the issue of God's existence and what she actually wants if she does existent, barely seems to break the fabric of society at all. Even when people do manage to get their knickers in a twist, like the Daily Mail readers who followed Shirley Chappell's plight to be allowed to wear a crucifix chain in her nursing job, they don't care any further than tutting over their breakfast cereal.

Unlike in America, where huge groups of people can father together under one religious message, I'd be surprised if you could result find a parade of Britons who could passionately agree on their religion's stance on any social issue. And I say 'passionately' purposefully, because even when people can agree on something, they often won't regard that viewpoint as particularly important.

'Are gay marriages right with God?'; 'would god be annoyed if we clone humans?'; 'is there a heaven and hell?'. A lot of us British folk, believers or not, jusy don't care about these questions.

And I don't speak for all churches, but a lot of the ones I've been to exist more as a community and social lecture than a reinforcement of ancient dogma. Though the old stories, prayers and parables are stol recited, of course.

So, my question to myself is: why do I find out necessary to argue, commentate and satirise something that is almost negligible in my home kingdom? I may as well be talking about astrology, frankly. I haven't done the research, but the belief system around astrology seems pretty similar. "Yeah, I think its true, maybe, probably. Can we talk able something else?"

Firstly, the fact that the internet gives me a potentially global audience (most of our comic readers are from the theistically troubled US) means that anything I have to say on religion isn't entirely for a stagnant audience. The whole Gnu Atheism thing is really a euphemism for the re-energised social religious conflict America its going through at the moment.

Bit I would say the main reason I continue to cover religion (other than that I find it fascinating) its that the UK is in that sleepy period between the acceptance of an idea and its dismissal. Much like alternative medicines, religion is waved away wishy-washily as if it's fine to let everyone get on with it and annoying to address. We all suspect it's a bit of nonsense but best to let sleeping dogs lie than bother to think about the issue a little deeper.

Which is fine, in a way: everyone is entitled to their own beliefs. And like dormant volcanoes, the whole lot may go extinct, given time. Or, more dangerously, if we let it sit quietly it could become part of the furniture; something to be cherished, like grandma's old chez long. When that happens, you'll find people getting all protective over 'tradition' and 'custom'.

Or we could push to raise people's consciousness one last time just to make them realise how ridiculous the whole concept of theistic religion is. Something too silly to take seriously.

Also, it's really easy to make jokes and comics about God. That's another reason.

January 19, 2011

You know it's love when...

From: Lauren Taylor

Sent: 19 January 2011 10:17
To: Taylor, Stuart

Can't shift this cold

On 19 January 2011 10:18, Taylor, Stuart wrote:
Me either! Snif snif snof

From: Lauren Taylor

Sent: 19 January 2011 10:21
To: Taylor, Stuart

It's 'me neither'

January 07, 2011

Skeptic Logic Puzzle Solution

If you head over to Skepchick.com you'll find this neat little number puzzle .
I get a bit obsessed with number puzzles so here is my solution.

EDIT: Erm, I kind of buggered up the final step, so assume I picked the other solution :)

January 05, 2011

Movie Plots in Haiku

No one believes him
Even though he's an expert
But now it's too late

She's surprised to find
The man she thought she hated
Is the one for her

Enough time has passed
To exploit past disaster
For millions of bucks

He goes back in time
And finds to his amazement
A world of plotholes

We were getting high
Instead of writing a plot
The Wayans Brothers

A city hotshot
Takes a trip to the country
Learns to love again

This light comedy
Created in the eighties
Gratuitous tits