Friday, December 31, 2010

My 2010 highlights

Ah, 2010. We hardly knew ye. Shortly, you'll be gone. Before I bid you adieu, here are some of the things I enjoyed about you ...

1. Isaiah Mustafa sent me a video message. Yeah, the Old Spice guy taped a spot just for me. I'd written something about the man, the ad folks must have seen it, and there you go. Nearly 300,000 people watched it. When someone with no shirt on and abs like that says your name, it's a wonderful thing.

2. I launched The War Project. This was the most important thing I did this year. I'd been wanting to do this project for five years, and I finally got it going. Finding the money and time to do it have proved harder than I expected, but this is what I want to focus on in 2011. It's been a game changer.

3. I got back to work on my novel. In a fit of pique, I gave up on my novel. Late this year, I returned to it. It's about a federal agent looking for a missing porn star. It's called PORN HAPPY. I hope to finish it in the not too distant future of 2011.

4. I'm a journalist. Sometimes I have to remind myself of that fact. I'm not sure what the stand-out moment is here. Probably this story for Salon about a male porn star who killed another male porn star with a samurai sword and then died in a police standoff. Frankly, in this area, I'm still in transition. I am shifting from one beat to another beat. This is a good thing. I don't know all the answers. But I am willing to seek out their possibilities.

5. I lost 20 pounds. I spent six weeks at the beginning of the year prone on a sofa because I got kidney stones. It wasn't fun. It also made me fat. Although, those doughnuts didn't help either. So, over a period of about five months, I lost around 20 pounds. I ate better and exercised more. Who'd've thunk it?

6. I moved halfway across the country. I was in a rut, so I gave away or threw away or recycled 80-percent of all my stuff and moved. I do that every once in a while. Now, I have a dishwasher. And radical sunsets. And the past is where it belongs. In another state.

7. I stirred up controversy. I have a tendency to not feel alive if I'm not doing something that is borderline trouble. This year, I became a blogger for True/Slant. It was really a great thing. I wrote about all kinds of issues. I was given free-reign. The most controversial post was about trigger warnings. If you're not making waves, you're not swimming.

8. I took photographs. And I need to take more. And I need to learn how to use my camera. And I want to get a point and shoot. And I keep either cutting off people's heads or focusing only on the heads, but I have a hard time taking a picture of a whole person. Every photo is a self-portrait.

9. I got an iPhone. I love this thing. If it was legal to marry this thing, I would. It's so pretty and takes nice pictures and makes videos. I can't stop checking my email on it, though, when I leave the house. I should work on that.

10. I got better. I think the biggest thing that helped me get better was bearing witness to the suffering of others. I guess that sounds like something Mother Theresa would say, but whatever. It's true. It's the fire that burns the fat from your steak.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

An early review

Via Oyboy. Follow me on Twitter here.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

A novel excerpt

Randomly, he plucks one of the picture albums off a shelf. Like all the others, it is stuffed to bursting with pages of Polaroid photos of naked women posing for the camera: dishwater blondes and fire engine redheads, bolt-on boobs and myopic tits, hairless sphinxes and seventies pies, crazy-eyed speed freaks and fresh meat waiting to be cleaved, illegal Thai girls and Ukrainian housewives, street-corner hustlers and the born freaky, moonlighting call girls and ingĂ©nues killing time, Midwestern innocents fresh off the bus and Southern dumbbells bored by their mothers’ pearls, somebody’s mother who likes to fuck and yesterday’s cheerleaders who’ll fuck anything, ready to drop and ready to die, apple-bottomed honeys and albino hippies, the totally tattooed and one who is cross-eyed, lost girls and married swingers, alone and stripped to the bone, terribly happy and unbearably sad, too-long unknown and stars-to-be, lapsed angels and love dolls.

-- from my novel, PORN HAPPY

Monday, December 27, 2010

Like a daydream, or a fever

I'm one of those people who spends their time off working. So when I got some time off work for the holidays, I spent almost all of it working on my novel. Much of the bulk of that time was spent revising. Eventually, though, I entered into the realm of writing new material.

I was nervous about that. Would I do it? Would I fail? Would it be good? Would it be bad? Would I ever stop trying to figure out if my writing is "good" or "bad"?

Regardless, it ended up being a positive, productive experience.

I suppose it is true to say that I have been derailed by various things at time in the last few years, some within my control and some not, although I have always seemingly been able to slip back in the saddle. I don't know why this is the case. Probably the inexorable pull of destiny. Or my penchant for self-mortification of the flesh. Or maniacal narcissism.

It felt good, though. Like my brain was working again. Like dormancy was over, and it was time to get out in the forest and start killing again. And it woke me up and made me feel less asleep.

This morning, I had a dream I was laying in bed with a man whose identity I could not recall upon waking, and I was exclaiming: "It makes perfect sense my narrator is crazy -- that's what makes him unreliable!"

[See also: unreliable narrator]

Friday, December 24, 2010

From the bottle to the grave

Why stress out in some office wearing clothes you hate, when the REAL stress lies ahead, as we face an inescapable grave. *

Thursday, December 23, 2010

How to buy Christmas gifts for a woman

My latest STUPID ADVICE column for Playboy's The Smoking Jacket is: "Ideal Christmas Gifts for Women."
The holidays! A season that fills every man in a relationship with terror. Whether she’s your girlfriend, your wife or your friend-with-benefits, you will feel obligated to buy her something. Should you? Probably. Women like it when men buy them stuff. We’re materialistic like that. And it increases your chances of scoring. So, everybody wins.
[Read it]

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

I get email

So I read today's post about what it is that brings people to your blog. And I have to say, this is something I've been thinking about a lot over the last year or two since I discovered it, that is, what keeps bringing me back to it. 

Originally it was something to do with sexuality, to be sure, though not in the sense of grabbing a quick look at Sasha Grey's snatch (not that it isn't, um, pretty). It's got more to do with that borderzone where sexuality bleeds into the other areas of our lives and beings, the way sexual desire colors our emotions, our relations, and, in some distant way, what it is we write about. (I say "we" both in a general sense and, more specifically as a would be/never was writer). It's like this ambivalent space that can be both threatening and utterly honest (which I suppose is threatening in its own way). It's that personal space of honesty and dishonesty that I think initially drew me to your pages regularly if infrequently.

There's been this majorly (my word, don't complain) subtle change that's occurred in the shift from The Reverse Cowgirl to the Susannah Breslin blog. It feels like something's been lost. Not in the writing, but in whatever part of you it comes out of. The words now feel like they emerge from a box on a floor in an empty building, if that makes sense. It's not an issue of immediacy; it's like now you're suddenly trying to write, and in doing so penning yourself in. (Just saw the pun; unintended but good). Better, it's like the brief glimpse you get of the mannequin with her mouth clapped shut before you're re-directed from the Reverse Cowgirl URL.  

Reading the RC, I used to wonder if your writerly ambition felt trapped by having written about the porn-industry. It felt like there was an overhanging, understated sense of anxiety. And it used to make me think what happens if, as a writer, you get too firmly pegged to an ambivalent, out-of-the-mainstream subject by inclination and by your audience's expectations. I wondered which had to be accommodated. It's a problem I deal with (in a way different context), and it's one of the things that drew (and still draws) me to your blog, trying to see if it gets resolved, hoping it my lend me inspiration to resolve my own variation on the theme. 

I haven't had those feelings with the new blog until your post on The Anxiety of Influence. That was something new, unexpected, and surprising. A different part of your writer-you appeared that seems a more natural progression from the RC. (At a personal level it resonated, too, because of the nexus of art, fathers, death, and the Irish-Catholic New York of the last century). 

At any rate, that's why I go to your blogs. Thanks for them. 


Tuesday, December 21, 2010

How to not kill yourself

I wrote a new post about suicide. It's on Thought Catalog. It's called: "Why You Shouldn't Kill Yourself."
This weekend, I was dithering around on Twitter, and I came across this post by media thinker Jay Rosen: “The Year in PressThink: These Are the Ten Best Things I Wrote in 2010.” That made me think what were the best posts of the year on my blog. Which in turn made me think what the most commonly searched terms are that bring people to my blog. Other than the ones that come in the middle of the night when a Playboy TV show that I used to be on reruns, which are basically “susannah breslin naked” and “susannah breslin porn,” people come to read a post I wrote on my old blog a couple years ago about a pornographer named Max Hardcore, which I republished on my current blog, or they come looking for pictures of an American Apparel ad I used to have on my old blog which features porn star Sasha Grey’s pubic hair, or they come by searching “how to gas myself.”
[Read it]

Monday, December 20, 2010

The anxiety of influence

On July 10, 1953, my father, James T. Breslin, reading The Herald Tribune while seated on the Flatbush Avenue IRT on his way to work, had a heart attack. He fell to the floor of the subway car and, despite efforts of some of his fellow passengers to revive him, died.

He was 49 years old. Even in middle age he was tall, lean, Tyrone Power handsome and athletic, having briefly played the outfield in the minor leagues. I always imagined him as a "rangy center fielder," moving smoothly backward and to his right to run down a line drive. He was also very smart, having won (as a boy) a scholarship taking him through a Jesuit high school and college.

But the college folded before he reached it; he quit baseball, married, worked as an accountant, helped support his and my mother's parents, and had two sons during the Depresssion. He grew conservative, frustrated, alcoholic. Living in an Irish Catholic working-class neighborhood in Brooklyn, he voted Republican and went to work in elegant three-piece suits as if he were an executive. At home, on week-nights, he sat quietly at dinner, still wearing his suit and tie, as he intently read The World-Telegram or worked on the crossword puzzle in the Sunday Times.

On Fridays he came home from work, removed his suit jacket, blue dress shirt, tie and shoes, then spent the weekend in his undershirt, suit pants and socks, drinking shots of Four Roses with beer chasers, taking naps, lurching through the house, loudly critical of his wife and sons. He frightened and embarrassed me. On Saturday afternoons in the summer, he and I watched Dodgers games on a small Philco television set. Sitting in his green armchair, a can of beer in his left hand and a Lucky Strike in his right, he would pronounce a Kirby Higbe pitch a curve; I then declared it a sinker. If the next pitch was hit down the right-field line and he called the ball foul, I insisted it was fair -- and so on through nine innings of empty dispute.

Then that morning -- two weeks after I was graduated from Brooklyn Prep, the same Jesuit high school he had attended -- he left for work, boarded the IRT, and disappeared.

Yet, even now, 40 years after my father's death, I am, in my dreams (as in my biography of Mark Rothko), still trying to breath the life back into him (or his substitute) -- as if a biographer were a paramedic administering decade after decade of CPR to a patient he refuses to admit he has lost.
-- from "Terminating Mark Rothko: Biography Is Mourning in Reverse," The New York Times Book Review, 1994, by James E. B. Breslin, my late father and the author of Mark Rothko: A Biography.

Friday, December 17, 2010

This woman's work

I took this photo sometime ago during a day I spent with a group of disabled artists. Some had physical disabilities, and some had mental disabilities, and some had both. This was a very sweet woman who described in very generalized terms what had happened to her many years ago. She was working on this watercolor, which I asked her to hold up while she posed for me. I said something finally, like, "Do you ever smile?" And then she did.

This is a reminder that I need to put this story together so other people can read it, and see it, and meet them.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

How to survive

You just have to keep on breathing because tomorrow the sun will rise and who knows what the tide will bring. -- "Cast Away"

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

How to be a male porn star

My latest STUPID ADVICE column for Playboy's The Smoking Jacket is "How to Become a Male Porn Star."
Honestly, the only way to get into porn is by doing so with a girl. People who work in porn don’t like male porn stars because they are irritating. But they like girls, especially ones who are pretty and willing to have sex in public for cash. If your girl wants to become a porn star, you can be her on-camera costar if you insist that you work together and she doesn’t work with anyone else. This will get you in the porn door, but soon enough they will talk her into doing scenes with other guys, and she will dump you, so there is that to consider.
[Read it]

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

More thoughts coming up

Starting in the next few days, I'll be doing another round of guest-blogging at Thought Catalog. You can see what I did last time around here. I'll post links to the stories as they go live.

Monday, December 13, 2010

I'm on Twitter (again)

I think this is the third Twitter account I've had, so catch it while you can. Eventually, I'll tire of it and delete it, but in the meantime you can follow along. If you're on Twitter, you can follow me at @iamsusannah.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Picture this

I had a bad day, so after I was done with doing some things that needed to be done, I walked to the coffee shop. Then I walked to the grocery store. After that, I went to the bookstore.

I wasn't sure what I was looking for, or if I was looking for something in particular, so I wandered around to see where that would take me. I looked at the magazines, and the photography books, and then I ended up downstairs, where I found a copy of Lynda Barry's new book, Picture This: The Near-sighted Monkey Book.

The book is about how to draw, which is to say it's not about how to draw at all. If you're not familiar with Barry or her work, she is most famous for having drawn a comic strip called Ernie Pook's Comeek. Lately, her work has been as much about the creation of work as the work itself, and this is true of Picture This as well. In any case, I removed the book from the shelf, took it over to a footstool, where I sat down, and read it.

It's a very wonderful book -- to look at and to read. There are pictures, and collages, and drawings, and comics, and photographs, and a treatise on the importance of doodles. There are monkeys, ghosts, and monsters. The characters include Lynda, and Marlys, and Barry's husband.

Here is my favorite line:
The trick is to stand not knowing certain things long enough for them to come to you.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Bullet to the head

I had dinner last night with a 26-year-old sometimes funeral director. She was interested in talking to me about some of the stories that I've done, and I was interested in hearing about her experiences with the dead.

At one point, she said something about how she worked with the dead because she was good at it, although it was not altogether clear exactly why that was the case. As she explained it, she was good at it, saw she could do it, so she did. This reminded me of something that I've said about some of the stories that I've done. I had a certain ability to deal with certain things that others couldn't, so I did.

Of course, that continues to be the case.

A long time ago, I worked with a TV producer who had worked previously on a very cheesy reality TV show. She had told her father, who was a well-known lawyer, when she had gotten that job. Her father had said: "Just because you can do something doesn't mean you should."

He's right. Only, in some cases, it's harder to not do it than to do it. And sometimes from the inside it can feel like this is what you were destined to do. And, who knows, maybe that's true.


Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The stupid advice keeps coming

My newest "Stupid Advice" column is up at The Smoking Jacket: "How to Dump Her Like a Man."
Stupid Advice is a huge fan of passive aggressively waiting out the relationship until it’s too unbearable for the other person to tolerate, forcing them to be the bad guy. We love that! In fact, we are currently shopping a book to Important New York Book Agents called How to Dump Someone Without Lifting a Finger. We consider it to be a virtual Bible on the subject. In fact, manipulating the other person to end a relationship you didn’t want to be in anymore is an act of mercy. They get to keep their pride, and you get to pretend you’re sorry.
[Read it]

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The art of self-publishing

I read with interest a Cory Doctorow post on Boing Boing today in which he announces that he is self-publishing his new short story collection.

Cory is offering the book in four different options: a paperback from Lulu ($18), an audio book ($10/$5.50), an electronic version (free), and a limited edition, bespoke hardback ($275).

In all likelihood, when I'm finished revising my novel, I'll self-publish it. This is for a variety of reasons, but increasingly it seems that allowing a corporate entity to publish your work is tantamount to handing your wallet to a stranger on the train.

The limited edition format is closest to the publishing model I'm considering pursuing with my novel. There are other options, but I feel that one is the most fitting.

In any case, I'll continue to update on these matters as they move forward.

[Video by Clayton Cubitt]

Monday, December 6, 2010

Letters from Johns, an update

From January 2008 to January 2009, I conducted an online experiment called Letters from Johns. Why do some men pay for sex? I put out a call for letters from men about why they sought out prostitutes. Over that year, I published 51 letters. Recently, I heard from one of those johns. His original letter: "I Was Smitten." I asked him for an update.
Two years ago, I responded to the "Letters from Johns" project because it gave me an opportunity to finally tell a secret. Reading over some of the other men’s letters, I sensed a lot of shame and self-hatred, but those weren’t the reasons I had always kept my involvement with providers to myself. As I detailed in my letter, I was more worried about the social and family implications, which came to a head when I started actually falling for one of my providers.

Looking back over my letter now, it reads more melancholy than I meant for it to. My time with providers was actually a lot more thrilling and adventurous than I related. And it wasn’t just about skilled sexual technique, but also about being with a lot of different kinds of women, with different kinds of erotic energy. And while it’s true that providers perhaps contributed to somewhat unrealistic expectations for my "real" girlfriends’ sexual prowess, it’s also true that they taught me a lot about how to please different kinds of women.

Being with a provider was never a one-way street. I only felt like the hour was satisfying if I knew she had gotten off, too. I’ve always thought that men who can be duped by a fake orgasm have no idea what they’re doing; a woman can’t really fake vaginal convulsions, copious lubrication, or rapid, full-body shudders. And there are as many different ways to make a woman come as there are women. Providers showed me how to be rough without actually being violent, how to go slow without being a wuss, how to direct sex even when being more submissive.

Ironically, I haven’t been with a provider since I wrote my "Letter from a John." Instead, I’ve been in two monogamous relationships with a few one-night-stands in between. I wonder if, by writing the letter, I released myself from the fascination with/romanticizing of the special charms of providers. I occasionally look at the local escort review board to see who’s new, but I haven’t made contact with anyone. My current girlfriend is as sexually experienced and skilled as anyone I’ve been with, so that may be part of it. Or maybe I’ve just gotten whoring out of my system.

I’ve also grown to wish that I didn’t have to keep this part of my history a secret anymore. Recently, my girlfriend asked me if I’d ever paid for sex, and I said "No" without thinking twice. She’s somewhat jealous as it is, and I knew that telling her the truth would be a recipe for disaster. Some small part of me thinks that, ultimately, the perfect partner for me would who be a woman who knows, accepts, and is maybe even turned on by my former experiences with providers. This feels like a tall order; I’m guessing that I will always keep my secret to myself.
[Letters from Johns]

Friday, December 3, 2010

I've got even more stupid advice

My latest "Stupid Advice" column is up at The Smoking Jacket: "Never Trust a Pickup Artist."
[Pickup artist Nick] Savoy elaborates: “You have a much better chance of dating or sleeping with a woman who currently hates you than one who is indifferent to you.” I say you have a lot better chance of getting hit over the head with a frying pan by a woman who hates you than one who is indifferent to you. If we think you’re a jerk, we’re going to think you’re a jerk until you go away. Then, we will forget you exist.
[Read it]

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The burlesque queen

I interviewed and photographed burlesque dancer Jolie Goodnight for the Austin Post.
Burlesque as social commentary dates as far back as Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, but in the first half of the 20th century, stripteases spawned by Moulin Rouge dancers commingled with American vaudeville to create a whole new type of show that was bawdy, comic, and sensual. In recent years, the New Burlesque movement has resurrected this lost art, one in which pasties and feather fans are key, the slow removal of over-the-elbow gloves is absolutely necessary, and a sexy girl on stage may remove most of her clothes, but she'll tease you by not showing you everything.
More photos here. (Your Flickr SafeSearch should be turned off.)

[Meet Jolie Goodnight, Burlesque Dancer]

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

I'm reading tonight

To remind, I'm reading tonight as part of the Five Things reading series. The evening's theme is freaky families, and I'll be reading a story that involves an oversharing holiday card. It's not be missed, surely.

Five Things, 7 pm
Wednesday, December 1st
United States Art Authority
2906 Fruth Street
Austin, Texas