If I had to go back to the beginning of my career and give myself one piece of advice, it would be….
I can’t narrow it down to just one thing, as there are two really important messages I would love to press upon my newbie self!
The first is the importance of hiring a good editor. My first book was co-authored and self-published, and we thought that appealing to wonderful, well-intentioned friends would be a great, cost-effective way of catching our errors. We were wrong. Of course, they found many, but our first edition went to print with an embarrassing amount of typos and grammar glitches. I cannot stress enough the importance of hiring a good editor. Even when I sought traditional publishing with my second book, I hired editors to do substantive and copy edits. It was money well spent and gave my manuscript a professional, polished feel. Without that effort, I would never have found my agent!
The second piece of advice I would give myself is to never, ever, think a first draft, or a second draft, or even a third draft is the final draft ready for submission. I get it. I’m impatient. We’ve spent months, years, or even decades working on this project, and once we finally reach ‘the end,’ we just want to shout our book baby to the mountain tops and send it out in to the world. But our pour babies can’t even roll over yet, never mind crawl or walk! I’m the first one to admit, I need immediate gratification, but where publishing is concerned, this is one area where we have to slow down, dig in, and sharpen and hone that manuscript until it is a shimmering piece of literary beauty. No rushing this part. No thinking, maybe mine is good enough. Let it sit in a drawer. Hide it under your bed. Let it stew and settle for a few weeks to a month, then pour through it again. You’ll be surprised what you find and grateful you didn’t send it out before it was ready!
In my book LIFE: Living in Fulfillment Every Day, Grace encourages Eve to embrace the main goal, the big plan … and that is to always follow what feels good! Embrace your passions; enflame your desires; do the things you enjoy, the things that invigorate you, that make you come alive!
While we don’t speak about this directly in the book, sex could be one of the things that you might want to experience more of on this wondrous physical journey. As women, sex is a multifaceted quandary. It is psychological as well as physical. When we were young, we may have been bursting with sexual curiosity, but in expressing that part of ourselves, we would have opened ourselves to society’s censure and risked incurring the wrath of derogatory labels—think the Scarlett Letter. Or perhaps we embraced the opposite philosophy and practiced abstinence and still experienced social and peer pressure to change. As we get older, we may find ourselves in a committed relationship, and we might be so caught up in our careers or parenting that sex is relegated to the ‘to-do list.’ Stress is great at depleting desire. Or, as is too often the case, our body image and self-judgement might dampen our fervour, at any age.
A friend of mine was very self-critical about herself and her body. She was married to a wonderful man who absolutely adored her, and accepted her for who she was … but she would not accept herself. Because she erected a concrete wall of self-consciousness between them, their sex life dwindled, in fact it was teetering on life support. She desperately craved intimacy, but she resisted having sex, because she didn’t like her body and felt self-conscious in bed with her husband. He didn’t understand her torment and tried to reassure her, but she couldn’t get past her negative beliefs.
Our ego with its negative self-talk can ruin a perfectly good evening—or morning depending on your preferences. It’s hard to get ‘into the mood’ when our mood is wallowing in self-inflicted cruelty and criticism. There have been a lot of negative comments about plus-sized models lately. These women do not view themselves as ‘plus sized,’ but rather believe we need to take stock and embrace a healthier model of beauty. There will always be detractors in life, and standing in your own strength takes courage and perseverance. A Scarlett Letter can only hurt if you allow people to stick pins in you, otherwise the label just slides off.
Beauty comes from the inside. If you are a kind, loving, joyful soul, that beauty shines through and people naturally want to be around you. We all come in different shapes and sizes, like my co-author Annemarie and I say in the Life, we are all a magnificent collection of unique and colourful containers but inside we are filled with the same essence … a loving, beautiful soul. It’s often hard to appreciate that when society focuses on the container rather than the substance.
If my friend had left her ego at the door and invited her soul into the bedroom instead, I suspect she would have had a very different experience—one grounded in mutual respect, adoration, and love. I suspect, she would have rather enjoyed herself and the sensuous time spent with her husband because her head wouldn’t have been there sabotaging everything she truly wanted—a beautiful, honest, intimate connection with her partner.
Whether we doubt ourselves because of what society might think, or because of the limitations we impose on ourselves due to our negative self-criticism, it’s critical to honour what feels good to us!
While we were growing up, we tried to navigate a world that revolved around the ego. In other words, we were very concerned with what image we presented to the world around us— to the people around us. Should we be wild and adventurous, or conservative and practical? Our decisions determined how we presented ourselves on a daily basis. And we presented these images, these ‘holograms’ of ourselves to fit in, to be accepted. But at some point in our lives we want to take the bold step and turn off the hologram; embrace who we really are and what we really want, irrespective of other people’s opinions, judgments, and expectations!
This is the path to fulfillment—to truly finding a life of happiness and delight. Let go of the need to ‘fit in,’ to ‘be perfect,’ to ‘be who everyone else wants you to be,’ and simply be yourself!
Try a little experiment. The next time you are feeling a little frisky and the mind tries to interject its opinions. Kindly, but firmly tell it to butt out. Leave the ego outside the bedroom door, with all its negativity and doubts. Imagine for a moment, that you are born anew, without any expectations, or judgments. Embrace a new mindset. Just for one night, see yourself for who you really are— a lusciously yummy, beautifully sexy, wondrous, and passionate woman. Then, see if you can embrace that idea of yourself from this moment on!
According to Box Office Mojo, Fifty Shades of Grey grossed $239,670,000 worldwide during its opening weekend. The book itself has sold over 100,000,000 copies worldwide. There are many who have a hard time understanding this phenomenon, believing it a fluke—chalking it up to the power and momentum of hype and suggestion. For fans and devotees of E.L. James, the appeal is obvious, simple. From the other side of the fence, however, there is nothing simple about it. Most of the negative and hostile reviews are written by people who have not seen the film or read the book, however, many have done both and were horrified by what they read and saw. They interpret the messages in the book as reprehensible: rape, forced seduction, restraint, control, manipulation, abuse. Fans beg to differ.
Years ago, I moved to a new city. I didn’t know anyone and after several months, I became lonely and depressed. I used to walk my son to school every morning, and there was always a group of women standing around and chatting long after the bell had rung. I longed to join them. Then the day arrived when they invited me over. It felt like I had been given a glass of crisp spring water after stumbling through a barren, arid desert. At first, I was a little shy and uncertain, but after several mornings, I began to loosen up, laughing and chatting animatedly, enjoying the friendly camaraderie. That is until I told a joke.
One of the women regaled the group with a joke she had heard. It was cute and witty, and I chuckled along with everyone else. I offered up one of my own, one I had recently heard on a radio station. It was provocative, sexy, and a little dirty (seriously, it was really, really, funny). Except, when I delivered the punchline, I was the only one laughing. I was awarded a few polite smiles, and the conversation was diverted. That was a hard limit. Sex was off the table.
I went home that morning in a daze. I wanted desperately to fit in, and given the strict guidelines of the group, I adjusted my behaviour accordingly. I closed off a really fun, witty, playful side of myself in order to toe the line of respectable conservatism.
A part of me died that day.
Let’s flash forward a few years. I taught yoga, and I co-wrote an inspirational book called Life: Living in Fulfillment Every Day. I blogged about finding balance, about managing expectations, about finding the beauty and joy in our every moment. In my actions and thoughts, I tried to embody peace and serenity. I strove for balance and attempted to reduce stress in my life. There was an image I was expected to project, and at first, I embraced it willingly, but after a few years, I found myself wanting more. I was missing something. Part of me was still shut off. I was still toeing that line.
Let’s catch up with the present. In addition to Life, I’ve now written a historical fiction, Avelynn, which will be released this fall through St. Martin’s Press. It’s sexy, sensual, gritty, powerful, and compelling. I’ve also written a sexy, short story: Italian Delicacy, which is very yummy. Should I have written under a pen name? Hidden this other side of me? After years of tamping down my vivacious half, I coaxed it out of hiding. I offered it flowers and chocolate, begged it to come out to play. In fact, I’ve pushed so hard against the constraints and limitations that once bound me, that I’ve externalized that journey with a tattoo.
Now, what on earth does all this have to do with Fifty Shades of Grey? Like the dragon and the OM. There are two parts of me. One is calm, the other likes to roar. One is peaceful, while one is rebellious and wild. One is mystical, the other one magical. One is powerful, one surrenders. One is dignified, and one is downright naughty. I am a kaleidoscope of colour and nuance. All women embody that brilliant tapestry. We are sexual and conservative. We can be dignified and respectable, nurturing and matronly, but we can also be playful and mischievous, hot and wild.
Women have a rich internal world and a vibrant external one. But too often, we are expected to live outwardly in a completely opposite fashion from who we really are deep down inside. Let me give you another example. Several years ago, I went out with my husband on a date. After months of spit up and diapers, I wanted to dress up—I wanted to feel sexy again. As I was leaving, kissing my children good-bye, my mother-in-law asked me if I was really going to wear that out. She was referring to a lovely blouse that showed off some considerable breastfeeding cleavage. She said this in front of my eldest. At the time, I was too dumbstruck to speak. It wasn’t until later that I explained to my son that I was a mom, but also a woman, and it was okay to be both.
I was done with shutting down that vibrant part of myself. The world needed to accept all of me. Every part, whether that fit into their expectations or solicited their judgments and disapproval. I was tired of being flat and colourless. I needed to be me. E.L. James fans get this. And they want to be given permission to enjoy the movie without condemnation and censure.
In my opinion, the appeal of Fifty Shades of Grey rests on the broad shoulders of female sexual fantasies. The part of us that we don’t always show to the world, the part that ignites a spark of desire and arousal that might not seem politically or socially acceptable—the dragon.
Studies show 30 – 60% of women have rape fantasies. For a couple interesting articles discussing these findings, feel free to investigate here and here.
To fans, the movie and books are not extolling abuse, but rather are condoning women’s fantasies, bringing to the screen a fantasy that upwards of 60% of women find arousing.
Anne Rice defended women’s fantasies in a recent Facebook post: She wrote: “Lecturing women on their fantasies, telling them NOT to like “Fifty Shades” because it includes abuse is just as bad, in my opinion, as telling women that “nice girls” don’t imagine being kissed, loved, touched, ravaged, swept off their feet. “Nice girls” can imagine anything they want.”
For a unique perspective. Huffington Post recently broke down another study by a team of researchers from the University of North Texas and the University of Notre Dame.
According to the article, there are two schools of thought as to why so many women get aroused by behaviour that the detractors of Fifty Shades of Grey consider deplorable. One is the ‘sexual blame avoidance’ theory, the other, newer, more enlightened theory is an ‘openness to sexual experience.’
The sexual blame avoidance theory proposes that women fantasize about being controlled and forced into having sex because they are unable to own their sexuality and instead worry about how society will perceive them. Being forced into and ultimately enjoying sex because of their submission removes personal responsibility—they couldn’t help themselves, it wasn’t their fault.
The women who fell under the new classification, described themselves as being open to sexual experience and didn’t feel a need to hide or repress their sexuality. They had high self-esteem and while enjoying the idea of being forced into sexual situations similar to what is depicted in Fifty Shades of Grey, they were also just as likely to fantasize about overpowering and forcing a man to surrender sexually against his will.
Fantasies are a natural and very normal part of our sexual lives, for both men and women, and we do ourselves a great disservice when we disavow that part of ourselves. A part of me died the day I hid the sexual, fun, flirty side of my personality. Rather than tamping down the gains we’ve made as women to express ourselves, (thank you, Madonna) to own our sexuality, to admit freely that we enjoy and think about sex as much as men do, we need to embrace all aspects of who we are. We are a dichotomy, and one aspect is not better than the other, we are both, we are all. We can stand against all forms of violence and abuse, whether it be against women, men, children or animals. We can fight injustice and ignorance. But we can also have a rich and varied fantasy life. We can be both the dragon and the OM.