Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Erotic Fiction Contest

The Chicago Women’s Health Center was having an erotic fiction contest, so I decided to enter. I love the CWHC. If it had not been for the CWHC and Shimer College I’m not sure I would have made it past the summer of 1997. That was the summer my ovaries almost killed me, which resulted in the fall of classes I attended with staples in my stomach, while having hospice care administered to me by a good friend. Between the CWHC, Shimer, and good friends I made it through the end of the year, and went on to do whatever it is that I have done with my life.

A little about the CWHC. The CWHC believes in non-oppressive services for woman and trans-people in the Chicago area. They are not government funded in any way. They work on a sliding-scale basis and they will not turn you away if you have no money to pay. They do sex education, OB-Gyn services, women’s health services, and insemination alternatives.

All around they are wonderful and I love them and think that any woman in Chicago or the surrounding areas should take the time to go and see if you need assistance, because they will very much be there to help you. I was there for a visit when I found out they would be having an erotic fiction contest, and I was not sure if I could allow that sort of thing to happen in the city of Chicago without at least taking the time to try to enter.

I sent an email to contest organizers, but didn’t hear back. Mostly I had wanted to know about little things like word count, formatting guidelines, and just what kind of erotic, as goodness knows there is a plethora in the genre. Could it be flagrantly vulgar, or should it be restrained? Was there a preference for location? A specific topic or theme? When you are going to put something into any kind of fiction contest it is nice to have a sense of what exactly the rules for the contest are, and maybe being a writer I’m just a little more paranoids than others about the type of rules and constraints that get placed on projects. Maybe I am a little too constrained by projects.

On the Tuesday before the contest I get a note that says if I submit my story, no more than two pages in length, by Wednesday night, then they would read it at the fiction contest.

This did not give me much time, but I put together a story for the contest (granted that story was possibly more fact than fiction), sent it in, and made plans to be at the right bar at the right time for the reading on Thursday evening.

The place to be was the Whistler, over in Logan’s Square. I boarded all the proper trains, made the right connections, and decided to skip dinner to be at the reading on time. The Whistlers is one of those storefront bars that just blends straight into the background. If you aren’t looking for it you probably won’t find it. From the outside it looks like an abandoned store, but once you cross inside you are in a small little speakeasy that feels like a prohibition bar. It’s tiny, with everyone crowded in at small tables with dim candles. The bar is busy and hopping, getting drinks out to patrons who are standing around and ordering. A few girls walked around with bags and raffle tickets and I suspected these were the CWHC girls who have organized the event.

I ordered a glass of wine and waited to see what exactly it was I should do, when I noticed someone else going up to a person with a clipboard and saying they are here, a writer for one of the stories. I follow suit, give a large donation to the CWHC, and ask if there is anything in particular I need to do.

“No, but thanks so much for coming.”

“Do I need to read the story?”

The girl I asked is a bubbly red head, with a flashing smile, and the primary organizer of the event. She smiled at me as she shook her head. “No, see, I forgot to print it so I am going to be reading it from my phone.”

“Oh. I do have my computer if you’d like to read from that?”

“No, I think it is funny to read it from my phone. Is that okay?”

“Yes, do I need to read it?” I was confused on this point, as I assumed we would read our own work unless someone volunteered, but slowly and through the subtle osmosis that is communicating in English I began to understand that what she was saying was that everyone would have the work read by a volunteer. I smiled, realizing now and told her it would be no problem if she read it from the phone and went to find a place that would be slightly less crowded for the reading.

I did my part by buying drinks and some raffle tickets. The Whistler was donating part of the bar to the CWHC. The raffle tickets were for several different types of goody bags, including one from Early to Bed, the best women’s owned sex shop in the city of Chicago.

The bar was too crowded; even on the cold Chicago even it had the warm humid jungle feel of a city bar in the summer. Maybe it was the collective anticipation of the pornography we were all tacitly supporting by being there. The press of people was omnipresent, and as the show began I could find no single place to stand and watch the stage.

A local comedian who was familiar with the CWHC was the MC for the night, and she told horrible stories from her own personal life to entertain us when there were no stories to read. She told one of how she accidentally was a lesbian for a semester at college, when she was going on regular dates with a lesbian in her class without realizing that, they were, in fact dating until the girl in question suggested taking their relationship to the next level. The crowd warmed with her self-deprecating humor and casual charm, as she worked the crowd between stories and raffle drawings.

The first story of the night was a short piece, a nice straight story about sex on a picnic. The audience oohed and ahhed at the appropriate mentions of cocks and valleys down below. I sipped my drink and clapped with everyone while the first lottery went up. As the crowd was entertained by our comedian and encouraged to by more raffle tickets I got back in line for a drink.

And it was as I ordered heard the title of my story.

“A Taste of New York City.”

I said to the bartender, “One more red, please.” The bartender said, sure.

On the stage she begins to read: “I sat at the bar, late night, the last Friday night in New York. It was quiet, the music played, the bartender and I discussed wine.” And as she continued to read I found myself frozen. I heard the bartenders laughing at my descriptions of the lonely passage of time in a bar.

The bubbly redhead took her time with the reading, drawing out the right words, hanging on the right passages, and I felt exposed while being pressed entirely around on all sides by so many people. This sort of vague terror of being on display and being judged by so many people as my story was read. I breathed in and out, ashamed of the glass of wine in my hand, suddenly as if it would identify me and point me out to everyone; like a sign in my hand saying here is the author, over here. Why fear? I processed this as I was caught up in it, and I realized it was because I had no comrades here to cheer me on. I was alone in the bar, isolated and exposed, while strangers who do not know how I am listened to this semi-private exposition of myself on stage.

Knowing that people read what you write is the ultimate act of acceptable exhibitionism. I lavish in knowing that what I write is being read, whorish in my desire to know that somewhere out there someone is reading and experiencing and emotion from something I said, or something I remembered, or something I did. At the same time I am ashamed by the utter self-indulgence of it; in the bar I stood there and listened, to afraid to turn to the stage and watch the speaker, but taking my own satisfaction in inflicting my words on this crowded room.

She read from the stage: “My fingers, her mouth, my breath, her soft breasts, we roll over and over again, a cascade. Lost, found, desire, ending and beginning.”

The story came to an end. The audience clapped. The raffle went on. My heartbeat started to quiet itself. I list the raffles, but I bought another glass of wine and listened to the stories, reveling in the exhibitionism of the other writers.

There was a story of naughty lesbian nuns. There was a story about vampires and as it is read the bar grows noisy, and we all sort of acknowledged together that, really, vampire sex is boring. There was a story written in second person, so much you, you, you. There was a story about another picnic, this one full opulent vulgarity of Americans, including liquid nacho cheese, deer, pulsing members, feted love valleys. It was the sort of thing that was such a train wreck you could not stop listening, even while you were cringing in terror at bacon grease being lavished across the lovers' breasts. As it finished I knew it would win. It was the right kind of story for the time, funny, with a subtle message buried under the bacon dripping. There was an office story about the semi-submissive female executive finally dominating her overbearing boss that included a surprise twist ending. Altogether a short collection of stories, but all well written and interesting, amusing, and just the kind of titillating that we could all enjoy.

I knew I would not win anything, but was happy to have been a part. In the end the second-person story took third, the office story second, and first place went to the American Picnic story. As the final prize was passed out I checked the time and decided this would be a good time to make a dash, since I wanted to catch a late train home.

Before leaving I ducked into the bathroom quickly. Two girls came a few seconds after I had disappeared out of the way. They talked about the night, as girls do when we go to a bathroom. It doesn’t matter what is required by nature, if we can we will continue to discuss things.

The girls talked about their friends, happy they had won the contests. I was getting ready to flush as I finished straightening myself out when I heard one girl say:

“I was a little surprised that the New York story didn’t place.”

“Which one?”

“The one about the lesbians in New York. I’m surprised it didn’t place. I really thought it was probably the best written story.”

“Oh, yeah, I remember that one. It was all right.”

“Anyway, I thought it should have placed. What did you think of Laurie’s story?”

The girls continued to talk as they washed their hands and disappeared back into the bar.

I left, heading back into the cold Chicago night. The city felt empty after the bar, and I enjoyed how I filled it up as I walked.


gryffan said...

i sooooo live in the wrong town

gryffan said...

i sooooo live in the wrong town