Twenty Carat Clients

I adore my clients. I never know when a new face will materialize out of the fog of websites, advertising platforms, referrals, and the vagaries of economic fortunes. I never know when they will disappear into the next relationship, a different city, a new favorite provider, or simply reshuffled priorities. In the vast majority of cases, this is just how it is. The nature of the demi monde is one of uncertainty. Mystery.

On occasion, however, someone sets themselves apart.

Gig work is unpredictable. This industry even more so. We constantly advise each other and ourselves to save as much as possible when things are good, because it will not stay that way. We try. We sometimes succeed. But there are ways our clients can help.

If you find yourself returning to the same person over and over, you may find yourself becoming a 20 carat client. This is a term I have manufactured, and I define it thus: a twenty carat client weighs significantly in a provider’s books. A twenty carat client provides an unusually significant portion of her income and holds her in unusual esteem. My threshold for that is three or more meetings per month, or 20,000 in total revenue in 12 months.

If you hit this threshold, Congratulations! You are almost certainly a twenty carat client. Your ATF spends time in her personal life thinking about you, she goes out of her way to make time for you, she goes on special trips with you, and trusts you with her financial stability.

With this achievement comes some responsibilities.

While we like to know if we’ll see you again, most clients can come and go freely without putting our financial stability in jeopardy.

You, unfortunately, cannot.

We like to think good things will last forever, and we hope they will, but people change, life moves forward, and people even die. When it happens that you have to end your professional relationship, it is your responsibility to take care of her.

Now, there are no contracts in this industry. No policies, no worker protections, no unemployment insurance, no easily accessible precedents to which we can refer. You won’t get arrested, fined, or even really shamed for not putting in your notice or offering severance. When I say this is your responsibility, I am speaking to your conscience as a person who cares about the woman you’ve spent so much time with, and has forethought and resources.

Caring for her means giving her adequate notice (at least a month for every year of your professional relationship) or providing a financial cushion to ease her transition back to “active duty.”

I could give you reason after reason why this is a good idea, but those who will take this advice don’t need it and those who won’t are unlikely to be swayed. That’s fine. I find that I am almost exclusively surrounded by those who will, as long as they know they should.

Financial arrangements are always a fraught conversation for me. Women are not encouraged to advocate for themselves, particularly not in emotionally charged situations. I am deeply appreciative of my colleagues who have cajoled, reasoned, and sometimes even shamed me into sticking up for myself. I am also grateful for every single person who has heard me set a boundary or ask for aid and has not only respected it, but thanked me for sharing.

I see you, and I love you.

The End of the World

Last month I made a pilgrimage. It wasn’t spiritual, or at least, any more or less spiritual than any other travel for me. But it took me to a temple in a remote, dense jungle, and for a half a moment, it connected me to times past and future.

The Mayan ruins of Ek’ Balam are not well known. After the crowds at Chichen Itza, the Zona Arqueológica de Ek Balam was an oasis in the jungle. A low wall surrounds over 20 acres, includes a number of excavated structures, and hides even more still undiscovered.

It was the end of a long day. We’d been up since five thirty and wouldn’t be home until seven or eight. It was our last stop of the day so we already had a great deal of background on the Mayan Empire, its reach, and its eventual fall.

I am a lone wander, on occasion. I like to linger at my own pace, moving on quickly from things that don’t interest me and contemplating those that do. Guided tours, however, rarely offer that flexibility. I chose one that offered free time at each location, and for just a moment, I really got some.

We had wandered the city of Chicken Itza, swum in the cool green waters of cenote Hubiku, and been walked around the discovered perimeter of Ek’ Balam. We stumbled on an active archaeological dig and got nervous at some suspicious sounds from a not distant enough for comfort distance. And in the last few minutes before heading back home, I took myself to the edge of an ancient platform to sit, my legs dangling over the edge, a twenty foot drop into dense jungle below me, and contemplate.

Being high up gave me a sense of safety, so when the jungle rustled and groaned, instead of shrinking away in fear, I searched for the source of the sounds. I saw the ubiquitous lizards, some little scuttlers and a few big old iguanas, climbing trees in search of food and mates. I saw squirrels with their fluffy tails hopping about, being squirrelly. Far above, local birds of prey circled. And beneath my feet, a colorful assortment of plastic bottles, wrappers, and other human trash.

In answer to the question “Why did the city die?” Our guide gave us depressingly familiar answers. Overpopulation. Pollution. War. History repeats itself.

Which is why I almost laughed out loud to myself when I first noticed the trash. A bitter laugh. Where has humanity not touched? Corpses litter the highest mountains and the wasted husks of our food and drink sink to the bottom of the deepest oceans.

Can we ever learn from the lessons of the past? Certainly. Will we? I think not.

We have been warned. The warnings are old, ancient, and more insistent every day. Not content to poison our water, we have now belched toxic waste into the air, filled vast oceans with unkillable plastics of every size and shape, ripped mountains to powder and ground thousands of people under the churning wheels of industry. Corporations externalize the cost of picking up after themselves into debts that we pay in the currency of our lungs, our drinking water, our cancerous growths, and our guilt.

As a little girl of about ten or eleven, I once asked my dad why the economy needed to grow. (My mom listened to NPR a lot.) He replied that it needed to keep up with people having children. As the population grows, so does the economy need to grow, to keep up.

Even then that didn’t make much sense to me. I couldn’t quite figure out why but it has since become obvious. The world is finite. We cannot grow indefinitely, kids or not, and expect the planet to supply our needs. We have made some incredible technological leaps that have staved off the end, but they have also given us a false sense of our own ability to mitigate.

More accurately, perhaps, it has given us a false sense of when and how much to mitigate. We allow tourists to lug single use bottles into the heart of the jungle and when they toss them over the edges of centuries old structures, structures that themselves stand mute witness to the inevitable consequences of exactly that behavior, we shrug and get back in the van.

I only sat on the edge of that wall for a few minutes. Just long enough to tap out a few quotes. I wanted to remember what it felt like to feel awe, anger, despair, all at once, all only enough to squeeze out a rueful laugh.

I’ll spare you, my beloved reader, from the end of this train of thought. I do think it’s possible that things will turn around. My generation cares more than the one before, and the ones after are downright pissed about it. Vegetarianism and teetotaling is rising in popularity, as is a movement to hold corporations accountable for their shitty single use packaging and over reliance on unbreakable plastics.

There is hope. It can be hard to see, sometimes, but there is. Even in the worst case scenarios… the world has been through an awful lot and look where she’s come. She’ll be ok. Eventually.

The Movie Doesn’t Make the Man

I am a huge fan of Michael Caine. Not necessarily his movies (though The Muppet Christmas Carol is one of my all time favorites) but him as a person. In the wake of #MeToo, it seemed like every dick in Hollywood had done something dumb and it was all finally coming out. Michael was one of the few left unaccused.

It’s possible that his infractions were so long ago, or his victims were so far from show business that they simply didn’t come forward, but it seems far more likely that he is one of those men who can, in fact, behave like a professional when they are at work. Wild, I know.

I have always loved him as Scrooge and every year the muppets make an appearance in my holiday parade of classic Christmas films. One year I googled his name during the movie and read this amazing story about how he came to be there. He was at a point in his career where he got to be choosy when it came to scripts, and he chose projects as much for work life balance and who his coworkers would be as for the brilliance of the script or size of the paycheck.* Realizing that he had so far done nothing that his eight year old daughter could watch, he chose a child friendly project so they could all enjoy the fruits of his labor as a family.

I may or may not have dived head first into Hot Toddy season by then, but I to this day have several minutes of video that I recorded and sent to a friend where I sobbed at what a wonderful, thoughtful, just over all nice person he was, and how happy I was to be singing along. “The love we found, the love we found, we carry with us, and we’re never, quite, alone.”**

So as I browsed the internet, or read someone else’s book, or some other how stumbled across his book Blow the Bloody Doors Off I immediately snagged it from the library.

It’s an autobiography, with all the ego and self centeredness necessary to assume other people want to read about your life. Except it’s not. He can’t stop falling over himself to thank other people. He lavishly complements other actors, thanks his family and mentors for their love and encouragement, rarely names names when he tells stories of other people’s bad behavior (he only name drops when it’s a fully fledged statement of someone’s bad character or attitude), and acknowledges what advantages he did have as a tall, white, handsome man coming into Hollywood in the sixties and seventies.

And within all that, he shares things he’s “learnt” over the years. Not always specific to film or theater, but life lessons that apply anywhere.

“Be Reliable” I have covered. If nothing else, I show up when I’m expected. I seem to be chronically five minutes behind, but otherwise I am there, and I am present.

“Be Yourself” is also easy for me. Sure, it’s a polished, selected version of myself, but I still crack jokes, overindulge, and enjoy the outdoors.

“Be Prepared” however, I’m still working on. Oh I’m dressed, and the lights are low and the sheets are clean and there’s water for tea, but his preparation is intense. He will have every line for the entire film memorized by day one. Not only that, but he has already thought his way through two or three different ways of delivering them, ready to do his best, or to pivot as the director asks.

I am fortunate. Since I’m “playing the same part” over and over, every performance is also a rehearsal for next time, and flubbing a line doesn’t ruin the scene. But there is still a lot I could do to be more prepared. Many of my readers are already aware that I have a truly atrocious memory. Especially for names. There are ways to solve that. And while flubbing a line may not exactly ruin a scene, having a good one handy can make it, oh SO much better.

I have some ideas, specific to me but inspired by his words, to make my experience, and yours, even better in subtle ways. I look forward to trying them, reflecting on them and maybe even sharing them.

So thank you, Sir Michael Caine. Your brief journey down memory lane, at the ripe age of 85, didn’t change much for me, but it felt good to spend an afternoon with a solidly good damn guy. It always feels good to spend an afternoon with a good damn guy.

*It goes both ways. He missed his chance to accept his first Oscar because he was on location for JAWS 2. He tells everyone who asks about it that he knows it’s awful, he’s never seen it, but he has seen the house it bought and his mother is very happy with it.

**This is the final reason I am firmly in camp love song. Belle’s refrain as she leaves Ebeneezer is “The love is gone, the love is gone. I wish you well, but I must leave you now, alone.” Without the love song, the final refrain loses half it’s meaning.


I haven’t been to the aquarium in ages so I was delighted when one of my beloved patrons suggested a trip as a way to spend some time between the bedroom and the dinner table.

I have mixed feelings about animals in captivity. On the one hand, the Seattle Aquarium works almost exclusively with rehabilitated animals or those born in captivity, particularly birds and mammals. Their salmon hatchery is small but educational, and they only keep their octopuses for a few months before returning them to the wild.

On the other, the Dolphinarium in Puerto Aventuras had a fully grown sea lion in an enclosure smaller than my apartment. And if you didn’t otherwise need to be convinced that keeping charismatic mega fauna is inherently inhumane, you must have missed the nation’s collective  binge watch of Tiger King.*

But an aquarium is populated largely by invertebrates and otherwise relatively low needs creatures. Their internal worlds, as far as we can tell, are small and so it seems so much less cruel to keep them in (well maintained) tanks. In fact, it seems quite the opposite. In a world full of predators, offering simple prey animals a sanctuary, and feeding predators relatively easy meals, is kind of like offering them an early retirement.

While I did enjoy the afternoon (it turned into a gorgeous day and the outdoor sections became a pleasure to linger in), I felt a snag or two, watching the fur seals and the river otters doing laps, bored off their cute furry asses. I know they wouldn’t survive in the wild, being either rescued or captive bred, and that helps me feel better. It also helps that the staff are dedicated not just to the physical health of the animals, but also to offering them enrichment and amusement, just like we do with our pets at home.

But no amount of sea otters feeding and harbor seals hamming for the tourists** kept me from returning to my favorite exhibit.

The Cuttlefish

Cuttle fish are not fish, they are cephalopods, related to Octopuses and squids. And they. Are. Awesome.

Seattle Aquarium has seven (that I found.) There are two near the seahorses, down low where the little uns can see them, and they are the more colorful ones. Their resting mantle colors are vivid blues and purples and yellows, but they change them at the drop of a hat. They can also change the texture of their skin, smoothing out or projecting spikes to blend in and hide or stand out and threaten.

Though the vivid ones were pretty, they’r tucked into a small corner, and the two were in neighboring tanks, unable to interact with one another.

Moving to the next room, we found a tank with five all together, and at adult eye level. This species is called Sepia bandensis and has a far less vibrant mantle. And their inter… cuttle-al? interpersonal interactions were SO COOL to watch. They mostly hang out under their little rocks, blending in so perfectly that at first I only counted three. While we watched, they came out and slowly, glacially, had a little tiff.

I think it was two males and a female, because one stayed low to the ground, her skin color and texture changing so slowly I almost didn’t notice it, while the other two jockeyed for proximity. They flashed from white to so purple they were almost black, spikes jutting from their skin and then smoothing out. The one in the middle showed his angry black top side to his rival as his underside, the side facing the female, was a reassuring white. As they moved around each other, like a sitcom rendered in silent ballet, their colors strobed, flashed, bled from one to the next, telegraphing meaning in an instant.

The subtleties of color and the speed with which they changed it, slow sometimes, when adjusting camouflage, lighting fast when telling someone else to piss off, are myriad. The color changes are controlled by a special type of cell that (called a chromatophore) they have instant and total mastery of starting at birth. Well, hatching. They come from lil eggs. They’re so cute!!

And how cute are they, anyway!?! Their eyes are at the transition point between their fat, oval little bodies and their short tentacles. Depending on which way they’re approaching you, they might look like they have an enormous fat nose and a teeny tiny little body, or they might look like they have a big round belly while their face is long and skinny. When their tentacles are all together, it looks like a long nose and a slightly disapproving face, but when they open their tentacles for whatever reason, they suddenly become a chibi Cthulhu, their small stature preventing any real scare factor from their tentacle ringed maw. Their motile fin is incredibly thin and encircles their bodies, a gossamer fluttering tutu.

And the best part? When they’re near the ocean floor, they take their bottom two tentacles and use them like little leggies! They’re buoyant, so the legs walk in a kind of astronaut slo mo effect as they wander to and fro.

At the end of our leisurely walking tour, after cruising the mammal tanks and swimming with the whales in virtual reality, we had enough time to revisit one exhibit and I chose cuttlefish.

The love triangle seemed to have cooled off for now and all five little smushy water dirigibles hid in their rocks, indistinguishable from their surroundings.

I don’t know which one it was. Maybe it was the female (I didn’t read until later that you can count their tentacles to discern male from female), maybe it was one of the observers to the delicate dance battle. No matter, one of them broke away from her stony hiding place and slowly, slowly approached the glass. She moved to the opposite side of the window, her little tenticlegs cautiously bringing her my direction. Finally, she settled across from me, mere centimeters of glass separating our noses, and we watched each other.

It’s almost impossible to know, and definitely to remember, what her mantle told me. She was in full camouflage, instinctively hiding her soft, tiny body from potential predators. He skin was mottled cream and brown and almost black, protrusions breaking up her silhouette, blending her into the gravel. And yet, she made small, subtle changes, strobing soft stripes that moved from head to toe, or from eye to forehead? It’s hard to tell what the equivalent would be. Her spikes sometimes softened at the tips, just a bit.

For a moment, nothing moved and no one else existed. I looked directly into her W shaped eye and wondered if she was thinking what I was thinking. What is this creature? This mute, bizarrely sized, caged creature. Did she know she was the one behind bars and not me? Was she wondering if I knew that I am me? Was she observing me, wondering about me, just as I was? And did she have the better life? Ostensibly free of stress, free of wondering about higher meanings or your impact on the planet, well fed and housed with stimulating neighbors, was she happier than me? Was I on the wrong side of the glass?

It’s a hard concept to accord any weight, later, over steaks and wine and gratuitous desserts. Cuttlefish don’t have orgasms, as far as we know, and their tongues are not for tasting, or for pleasure. Their lives are short and fraught, ruled by instincts and unable to know the wider world.

But it’s no harm to wonder, in both senses of the word. To wonder at my assumptions and ask questions of the world, and to wonder at this world of light and color and diversity and pain and majesty.

My thanks are often general, addressed to the many, many people who have helped me craft my life as it is, as I like it. But today I have the privilege of thanking one person. The wondrous gent who shared my joy, watching her watching me watching her, who conjured for me a day at the aquarium without knowing just how perfect it would be.

Thank you.

*To be fair, I missed it, too, but Didn’t miss the messaging.

**The river otters and the fur seals may have seemed kind of bored, but the harbor seals sure looked a lot like they were having fun interacting with visitors. They’d bump up against the glass right in front of someone, or boop face first into it at low speed. They played with each other, and took care to rest where people could see them clearly. Also they are one hundred percent adorable, and they’re a pretty sedentary species anyway.

The Dentist

I have never had a panic attack before. I’ve watched people have them (both before and after I knew what they were) and Ted Lasso has done a good job of portraying them, but I’ve never myself had that specific experience. My anxiety, when it arises, is more of a slow burn.

I also don’t like needles.

So when a needle full of novocaine slid slowly, deep, up into my jaw, I was prepared to hate it. I did. I was prepared to endure it. I did. I was not prepared to have a panic attack as it set in.

First, my heart rate spiked. I could feel it in my throat and hammering against my ribs. I tried to slow my breathing but it shook and rattled on the way in and out of my lungs. My hands shook, went icy cold and started to tingle. My palms dampened with sudden sweat and nausea hit the pit of my stomach.

I am so fucking proud of myself.

During the last few months of least year, I found myself in a situation that meant frequent but low level stress responses. I spent time learning exactly what adrenaline and cortisol feel like when they hit your system. I learned how to calm myself down and how to ask my body what it needed from me to heal. It wasn’t a fun experience, but it was valuable, because in this moment, when I wasn’t expecting this response at all, I was masterful in my handling of it.

I realized what was going on. I communicated with the staff. I breathed… in for four, hold for four, out for four, hold for four. In, hold, out, hold. Then for six. Finally, all the way up to a count of ten in each phase.

One of the scariest parts of a panic attack is not knowing what’s going on. The first time I watched someone have a panic attack, neither of us knew what it was or what it meant. We wondered whether it would be worth going to the hospital. We sat, confused and afraid, in the car, hoping it would go away. But without the tools to name and dissipate it, The effects lasted for hours, the fear for years.

When, within the space of an hour, I experienced the symptoms of panic attack, calmed myself down, communicated my needs, and returned to baseline, I was SO proud of myself.

And proud of my body.

At one point, about halfway through (and yes, the dentist and his technician were still going about their work) that nausea I felt in my stomach asked for my attention. In some of my meditations, I have visualized light of several colors rolling off of me, as if I was shedding love, calm, or strength, depending on the color. I put my hand flat, palm down, right over the soft spot under my sternum, applied gentle, sustained pressure, and saw behind my closed eyelids, the blue, cool light of calm coming from my open hand and soaking into my upset tummy. Next, my throat. I slipped my other hand under the little paper chest apron they give you and rested, cool, on my chest, just below my throat. As I cooled off and calmed down, my hands adjusted, finding the spots that needed attention and filling them with calm.

I wonder how things might have been different if I’d known this years ago. Perhaps I could have been more present for myself and my friends. Perhaps I could have found my voice sooner.

Rumination is one of my stressors so I’ll avoid it here. I am only grateful that whatever I’ve been doing, the reading, the meditation, the visualization, and constantly learning from others’ experiences, helped that day.

When I went back to have the other side done, I was ready. It turns out there’s epinephrine in the novocaine. It was likely responsible for my symptoms and now that I knew what to expect, I wasn’t afraid. I got a little shaky and my heart rate went up, but I didn’t need the focus that, the first time, was critical.

I almost cried with joy. Hand on heart, noticing my body, asking it what I needed to do and actually receiving a response, I felt this flood of gratitude. Thank you for telling me we’re in danger. Thank you for telling me how to help you. I thought. You’re doing such a good job, body, and I love you. 

I cry fairly often. It’s normal for me to express love in a flood of tears. I am trying to learn to let them come in the moment and embrace the awkwardness of those around me. However. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to explain to the dentist that my tears weren’t of pain. Particularly since his hands, the assistant’s hands, a bite spacer, and several tools were all jammed in to my incredibly tiny mouth. I had to change my train of thought and put my tears off until later. They still haven’t come. But they will.

There’s no particular point or ending here. This kind of work, learning the theory behind emotional health, practicing it in moments when you’re already calm, and drawing on it in moments of very-not-calm, is ongoing. There are dozens of approaches, each suited for different minds and hearts. For the lucky ones, each approach offers new insight, something useful we can weave into the fabric of our selves. There are no finish lines, but there can be pivot points. Moments in time where the gradual work comes together and, AHA! Something new crystalizes.

For me, this trip to the dentist was one of those moments. I didn’t know what I could do until I did it. Now I know it’s there if I need it, and that’s a powerful tool.

Forget Not, the Bathroom Gods

My washing machine has been leaking. I don’t remember when I first noticed, but I’ve run laundry with a towel on the floor for a few weeks now. I’m a procrastinator, but the accumulation of other maintenance needs finally got me asking for help. Two days later, to my relief, I have a spanking new washer drum to handle a backlog of laundry.

While I am not exactly excited to do laundry, I am pleased with myself at a series of tasks completed today and the prospect of still greater achievement. I have exercised, I have journaled, I have updated my planner, I am early to work, and it’s a duo no less. I know exactly how I will spend my afternoon and I am certain that by the end of the day, my sense of self satisfaction and accomplishment will only have grown.

Imagine my surprise when, freshly showered, anointing myself for my date, relaxed and a bit dreamy, I step into a puddle on my floor.

I’m not supposed to have puddles on my floor anymore. I am annoyed. I’ll have to call maintenance this afternoon. I toss a towel in front of the washer. The towel is immediately soaked. I am no longer annoyed. I am now nervous.

I take one, two, three breaths, watching the floor, realizing that whatever this is, this isn’t my usual leak. The water is spreading rapidly. In several directions.

As I move into action, pulling every towel I have ever hoarded out of cupboard and closet, I think. How do I stop the water? Should I call maintenance now? No way maintenance can get anything done in a half hour. Should I cancel my appointment? When is Phryne supposed to get here? Do I have enough towels? Shit, it’s gone under the wall. If I wring them out in the tub, I think I can reuse them. Should I put clothes on? Oh dear lord you idiot, you can just turn off the damn washer. No, you’re not an idiot, you’re just panicking. Gross! What the hell is coming out from behind my washing machine? Now I have to wash the tub. I hope that’s Phryne knocking on my door. Shit! Shit! Shit! How does maintenance know my washer’s overflowing!!! Thank fuck. They’re here for the other thing.


Oh dear god. I’m still naked.

Only two minutes after the intended start time, al(most al)l the evidence of my minor maintenance mishap was gone or hidden, I was dressed and made up, and Phryne and I had donned complementary robes. The sole remnant of the emergency was my still racing heart. Our dear gentleman friend was none the wiser.

I was so proud of myself. I had taken control of a situation and solved it, more or less. We had gone on to have an amazing time: a king sized bed full of the three of us and a delightful afternoon. My self assuredness from earlier in the day returned and I patted myself on the back on my way home.

Unfortunately, the bathroom gods, divine creatures of cleanliness, patrons to all who wish for hot and cold running water, saw me.

You see, they have been good to me over the years and, until now, I haven’t really given them their due. I took too much of my success on my own shoulders and failed to offer them my thanks and worship. The lesson of the washer hadn’t sunk in.

So they spit my shower head at me.

The next day, less than 24 hours after the washer lesson, I decided to take a long, hot soak at home. I washed out my tub, added lavender epsom salts to a deep bath, and settled in with a book. I rubbed hair treatments and moisturizers in and let them do their work. I luxuriated in wet heat and my success from the day prior. After the water lost it’s warmth, I turned on the shower to rinse and wash it all off.

My punishment began with a pressurized jet bouncing off the wall directly into my face. Then the hose connecting the handheld shower head to the wall just… fell out. I was left standing in shock with a dribbling shower head in my hand and a sloppy spray facing exactly the wrong way. Dumfounded. All I could think was “are you fucking kidding me?”

This lesson’s silver lining came in the form of a gooey, garlicky, crispy quesadilla from the taco truck outside Home Depot. Instead of curling up with fresh clean hair and the rest of my book, I had to haul my soggy, rapidly chilling butt up Aurora for a replacement shower head to finish my wash. There was a very ling line. It was windy and cold. For that hunk of tortilla wrapped steak and cheese, dunked in fresh guac, it was absolutely worth it.

I am now officially humbled. I will never take a trustworthy washing machine for granted again. I will never gripe about how long the hot water takes to get hot, or begrudge the daily cleaning required to honor their temple. I will thank the bathroom gods for their carne asada gift and hope it’s enough.

Take heed from my story. Do not neglect the bathroom gods during your daily ablutions. Don’t forget to offer them regular sacrifices of drain-o, or the prayer of the drain snake. Otherwise you, too, may be humbled.


So, uh, yeah. Turns out I am not resort people.

I was invited by my best and oldest friend to be her plus one at a destination wedding. I wasn’t her first choice, but boyfriend and Spanish speaking friend could’t go. I’ve never been to Mexico before. I don’t love spicy food, or tequila, but I do love travel. For a week long immersive trip, I could learn to.

The wedding party chose a resort, one of those all inclusive joints with unlimited food and poolside drinks, to stay at. Turns out they book out way ahead of time and the first agent the happy couple worked with jerked them around. By the time they freed themselves from contracts and loopholes and started working on their own, many places were booked. They chose a quaint little town some hour or so south of Cancun itself and the wedding party piled on. There weren’t many of us, but we made a cute group, and we all wanted to stay together. For some of us, this was the first and last chance at tropical luxury.

What a fucking joke.

There are some things I hate to cheap out on. I LOVE food. I won’t hesitate to drop two hundred bucks on a really good dinner for me and my favorite book. Glittering wine, rich flavors, a tight menu, all can send me into ecstatic revelries. I try to stick to fairly and ethically made clothing (or second hand) and if I can’t get that, then high quality is non negotiable. I have a soft spot for antique jewelry. And when it comes to experiences: I’m an independent soul. I don’t like huge crowds or noisy places (unless that’s the point like in Times Square or a fireworks show.)

But finishes can go straight into the bowels of hell for all I care. Veneers, false enthusiasm, pretenses, fancy counter tops , overlarge shower stalls, and marketing misrepresentation are among the banes of my existence.

To save money, we spent our first three nights at a condo around the corner from the resort. We arrived a day early, walked around town, found the gelato shop, took a small group tour, sat by our private pool, nestled into our cozy little studio and overall enjoyed our privacy. We got acclimated, we did yoga, we had fresh caught local dishes directly from an open grill, and we made our own sack lunches.

Then we checked out and moved to the all-inclusive resort.

Our nightly rate went from 180 to 600.

We lasted six hours.

Hour one: we checked our bags, upgraded to VIP, and got ourselves a drink by the pool. We were accosted by no fewer than five attendants asking us to sign up for this extra or that before we could just relax.

Hour two: After a Pina colada, aware that our sunscreen got checked with the bags and increasingly disenchanted with our fellow tourists, we explored deserted corridors inside. We found the theater and, music nerds that we are, we made friends with the manager. That was the peak of our experience.

Hour three: our room was ready and we went upstairs. The bottle of tequila and our friendly bellhop were rays of sunshine in an otherwise increasingly unsettling atmosphere.

Hour four: we found some other members of the wedding party on the non-VIP side. The beach was white and sandy, but the gravel they used to build the beach wasn’t soft and silky as I had expected. It required shoes. Several party members indicated they’d be swimming with dolphins soon, an unsavory activity to anyone sympathetic to large mammals trapped in captivity. The tiny cages were visible from our hotel room.

Hour five: noise from construction was far less disturbing than periodic concerted shrieking from the pool area. I hate unidentified noises and from my balcony, it felt like some obscene sunburned water-based ritual kept happening just outside my sight line. The resort’s app said “weird game” was happening in the pool. My general unease moved into the realms of intolerable.

Hour six: I video chatted with sympathetic friends. After expressing my rising unease, discomfort, and dissatisfaction, one friend asked what I stood to lose by leaving. The answer: only money. Inspired to reach out to our host from the previous nights, I felt an immense weight lifted from my chest when he replied “the place is already clean, you can come back whenever you want and have it until Monday.”

I struggled not to wake my friend from her nap to share the news. “We can go back. We get to back to our air bnb.” “What? Are you sure” “Absolutely. I’ve already made the arrangements and we can go back whenever we want.” “Amie, that is amazing news! I thought you liked it here and I’m so glad you don’t! I wasn’t going to tell you, but I cried myself to sleep just now and I’m so glad we’re leaving.”

Hours seven to eleven or so we stayed in the resort, but only because just then, the rest of the wedding party messaged us to come have dinner and drinks. Knowing we could leave at the end of the night and sleep somewhere cozy and familiar made staying a million times easier. When we parted ways that evening, we collected our most immediately necessary items (and the laundry our host agreed to wash for us) and walked our happy little asses back to the condo down the street.

The next three days we came and went at the resort (I barely even tried to get my money back. After some other staff interactions, I had low hopes, and didn’t want to explain to the bride that we had left while the rest of them were stuck.) but we slept and cooked and ate at our private little studio with our private little kitchen and our private little pool. It felt like a personal villa. It was us sized, not some mega hotel built for hundreds of people. We made friends with the neighbor and his dog. The pool was quiet and calm. No one brought me my drinks, but the ones I made for myself were perfectly balanced, not too sweet. The air conditioning cooled us off without feeling like an icebox.

While the quality of the food I think was specifically bad at this resort, the sweetness of the drinks, the crowds, and the overall sense of a lack of control I think are inherent to those all inclusive resorts. I found joy in learning about and shopping at the farmers market. I had a half dozen fresh, juicy mangos all to myself, and my friend (who has a lot of allergies and finds restaurant food hard to navigate) ate at least as many fresh, ripe, creamy avocados. I much preferred my tiny backyard pool with its six or seven guests at it’s busiest to the expanse of fake beach and screeching crowded pool activities. The quirky layout of our studio condo was far more charming than the commercial, standard hotel room, despite it’s third floor balcony. Free tequila is great, but priced out, I’d rather buy my own from the shopping center downtown. And if we’d stayed at the resort the whole time, we would never have found Martin’s gelato shop. It became a nightly tradition to stop by and get sorbet and affogato, chat with the owner, and pet the cats.

Dan Pashman’s podcast The Sporkful isn’t for foodies, it’s for eaters. I feel this motto in every aspect of my life. I don’t give a flying fuck what I’m supposed to like. I am well aware of the ironies and contradictions in my preferences: my favorite clothes are as likely to come from goodwill as American Giant, but never from Gucci*. My favorite jewelry includes diamond studs and rocks I picked up on a hike. My favorite foods include Tillamook cheddar and wheat thins, champagne, Dick’s deluxe burgers, and pate. I’d rather go back to the Herb Farm than the French Laundry. And I’d rather linger by myself on the edge of a mayan ruin, where human interference fades into the jungle, than spend any time lounging in that resort.

I think, like Vegas, I will only ever try again when it’s someone else’s treat. Maybe I chose badly and a different resort would have given me the exclusive, tropical luxury I was promised. Maybe there is a buffet line somewhere on that peninsula that offers fresh locally made tamales and succulent, juicy carnitas. Maybe there is a resort that actually delivers gobs of fresh avocado when asked. I am as open to being wrong as I always was. But maybe I’m just not freaking resort people.

Substance abuse

On occasion, my friends and I share stories. We vent, we awwwwwww, we smile, and we realize that some things we thought were rare are slightly less rare than we thought.

Turns out, substance abuse is surprisingly common.

Now when I mean substance abuse, I don’t mean hard drugs. That is common in the world, but in my tiny corner specifically, I’m thinking specifically of “sexual performance enhancers.”

Viagra and it’s compatriots can be a marvelous solution to a common problem. Marijuana can be a relaxing and intensifying drug to weave into an erotic experience. Alcohol can ease nerves and there’s a reason they call it liquid courage. Male enhancement tonics can be fun and energizing. Topical lidocaine can theoretically increase the time between arousal and ejaculation.

Don’t do them here.

If you are actually treating ED and you have been prescribed viagra by your primary care provider, try it out during a self love session first to see what effect it has on your body. How long does it last? How easy or difficult does it make arousal and ejaculation? Do you feel increased or decreased sensitivity? Bring that knowledge with you to your appointment with your favorite provider. If you think you’d like to try it for fun: don’t. There are other ways to get and maintain an erection, and recreational use can lead to difficulty orgasming at all.

Marijuana effects everyone differently, and I personally find the smell off-putting. Edibles can hit tremendously hard, and unless we’re doing an overnight, you need to be fit to drive. You certainly don’t want to try it the first time you come to see a provider, and if it’s integral to your erotic experience, I suggest you find another provider.

I very much enjoy a good cocktail or a fine whiskey, and I have a soft spot for gin. But I never drink before you arrive and I suggest you don’t either. While it can take the edge off your nerves, it does that by impairing your good judgement and blunting your body’s sensory input. Whiskey my make you brave enough to make it with the girl at the bar, but it can make making it physically impossible. Not a good way to end any date, but especially one with me.

Energizing tonics marketed at you to “last longer” or “get harder” don’t tell you in the fine print that they make you too wildly jittery to savor your experience. If a five hour energy is part of your usual routine, I won’t stop you, but I don’t recommend consuming anything that will keep you from quiet pleasure right before your visit to my pleasure palace.

Finally, and the precipitating substance for this post, leave the numbing sprays at home. I understand wanting your experience to last so you can savor it. I pace myself and move slowly for this reason exactly. But what good is a prolonged experience when you can’t feel most of it? And how is your provider going to feel when she showers you with kisses only to find her lips going numb?

With rare exception, if I become aware that you have made use of pharmaca to artificially alter our experience and you haven’t cleared it with me first, our erotic interaction will end. I take great pride in my work. I am a patient and willing partner. I am able to pivot as our bodies progress through an erotic encounter, offering enthusiastic persistence, a welcoming lack of judgement, and patience for a variety of activities and permutations. In addition, I have both practical and theoretical knowledge on the physiological function of our bodies from my studies. If you are a long time reader or a regular visitor you will know: I am not often a boastful or prideful person. But in this specific area, I can almost guarantee I know more about your body than you do. When you avail yourself of “enhancement” without my consent, you will have found one of the very few ways you can offend me. Don’t make this mistake with me, and please, don’t make it with other providers.

NEVER do anything harder than a cup of coffee and a cigarette before meeting a provider for the first time. NEVER try new products, legal or otherwise, for the first time when visiting a provider. NEVER do any of these without her freely given and explicit consent. And think really, really hard before consuming illegal substances during a date, even with a provider’s consent. It’s just a bad idea.

My darling readers. I have been navigating the Demi Monde for a while now and, thanks to you, it has taken a decade to accumulate enough of these stories that I felt it right to write on it. I have such pride and respect for you who have arrived, fully in yourselves, nerves jangling, who have come “too fast” and not at all, who have learned your bodies, who have enjoyed what comes organically, who have valued equally your pleasure and mine, who have trusted and loved and enjoyed and taken pleasure without trying to wrench something fake, to fabricate an artificial experience. As has been since I found this world and will be until the day I leave it, I am so appreciative, so grateful to my beloved, darling clients. This feels like a low bar, but thank you for not rubbing lidocaine on my tongue!

Book Review: A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole

This year’s resolution (one of them) is to read. I have two lists and on one of them is the title A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole.

I am still trying to decide whether I liked it, or just enjoyed it. 

Dunces is the story of Ignatius J Reilly, intellectual, bachelor, unlucky in many ways, and an absolutely insufferable elitist. He lives with his mother, who believes he is god’s gift to the world, and his “work” is to write a manifesto, work which advances at around a paragraph a month. The opening event is a drunken, low speed car crash (she is driving) that results in a financial burden beyond what the aged woman’s fixed income can cover. She badgers her son into finding work and so we, the readers, follow him from catastrophe to catastrophe.

On the one hand, he is relatively unlucky. On the other hand, he is supercilious, self righteous, overly educated, a pathological liar, obsessed with ruining an abrasive old college flame, puritanical and simultaneously prurient, grandiose, domineering, and would be pleased at the preceding volume of five dollar words. He is a truly awful human and he is not the only one in the story.

If you have ever watched Seinfeld, or The office, or It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, you know the characters: awful people, being awful to each other, to differing degrees based on the target audience.

But what struck me was how clearly I saw the author in his main character.

All I had on Toole going in was a photo of the young man, the knowledge that his mother badgered a prominent professor into reading his (very messy) manuscript, and that he killed himself at the age of 36.

While Toole didn’t look like Ignacious, he was able to, within the character, take himself to his potential extreme. I wondered, as I read rants of ire and fantasies of persecution, value judgements on and about everyone in the vicinity, and just general foolishness, if Toole was writing a character that represented what he feared he was.

I have spent the past several years (and will likely spend several more) trying to find the line between overweening pride and false humility. I have a constant low level fear that I am not, in fact, as likable, sexy, interesting, thoughtful, competent, attractive, wise, kind, or intellectual as I think I am. Reading Ignacious’s internal monologues, rants, and the words Toole chooses to describe his actions and mannerisms, I recognize the fears of a brilliant and broken mind, as they look when taken to the extreme.

Immediately after finishing the novel, I read Toole’s wikipedia page. Sure enough, though the physical appearance and eccentricities are borrowed from a colleague at college, many of the life experiences and world views are taken from Toole’s own life. Toole suffered from paranoia, depression, an overbearing mother, and a father rapidly descending into dementia. I can’t imagine what his internal life must have been, to be so perceptive, such a brilliant story teller, and at the same time convinced of the opposite.

Or perhaps, because I’ve read the misadventures of Ignatious J Reilly, I can.

A Confederacy of Dunces is oddly compelling, though I did have to remind myself that the novel was written specifically to lampoon and entertain. There is no deep meaning, that I’m aware of, only a parade of flawed and unsympathetic characters participating in unexamined lives.

I think I enjoyed it. No, I know I enjoyed it. I’m not sure I liked it, but I definitely enjoyed it, and as a romping story where the only wit or skill lies in the hands of the author, I can recommend it.


Every year, Seattle hosts HUMP Fest. It’s a short film festival started by Dan Savage in which every film is pornographic. I’ve only been twice now, and despite the discomfort inherent in watching sexually explicit (and often wildly kinky) material in a theater full of strangers, it was a blast both times.

Each viewer gets to vote at the end for Best Sex, Best Kink, Best Humor, and Best in Show. Since it debuted in 2005, it has expanded to cover multiple weekends and it now airs in multiple cities including San Francisco and Portland.

Each film is short, so short that it can be difficult to know how you feel about one until it’s already over.

Crimson Cruising, film number one, was a red tinted homage to gay cruising in a sexy art house lesbian flick.

Body Language made use of body paint to make two people look like one heart, beating together as they fucked. In English and Spanish with untranslated titles, filmmakers made a convincing argument that verbal language plays second fiddle when it comes to coming together.

The Boy With the Tighty Whiteys was a-fucking-dorable. Our young protagonist shares his love for the bum-hugging undies and turns what could have been traumatizing memories of middle school bullying into a niche, and a surprisingly hot, kink. My only disappointment was that we didn’t actually get to see our hero cum, but I’m pretty sure he has an only fans…

Anathema was ridiculous, absurd, and hilarious. Two space cadets wind up on an alien planet a la Captain Kirk and what few garments they had to begin with don’t survive landing. A bubble gun adds the perfect fun foolish gimmick to a charming queer five-some.

Feast of Fantasy confused me: I both wanted to attend the surreal sex and food party, and was terrified by it. Someone popped an olive out of her pussy to garnish a martini. Someone else mashed cake all up in their bits. A plague doctor fucked an I don’t know what and there was a LOT of eating food off of people. I have politely nibbled strawberries and cream from a breast or two in my day, but the sheer magnitude of the licking overwhelmed me.

Shadow Play took a minute to understand. Shadow puppets kissing, then fucking in a variety of poses. Pretty straightforward as to the action, but what’s the backdrop? Is that a leg? Someone’s cock? Oh dear god it’s a scrotum pulled taught! I can’t imagine the patience required to hold yourself stretched like that so someone can make smooching noises and film silly shadow puppets.

No Translation brings Spanish and English speakers together again, but this time their bodies are translated as well. An afternoon at home together invites the audience to enjoy the pleasure his pussy and her cock bring each other. A final shot of the two flipping through his sketch book drew an “awwwwww” from the room at what was arguably the most intimate moment of the film.

Screen/Play gave us all the hits as far as seventies lesbian porn tropes go. Roommates watching TV can’t help but imagine themselves soaping up cars (but mostly each other’s tits), slapping flour in a mixing bowl (but mostly on each other’s bums), and just generally projecting themselves into the screen. Off screen, they realize what’s up and things on the sofa get steamy, too. Cute and hot. What more could you want!?!

The Cannoli brothers introduced me to the term docking, in the style of a (deliberately) badly shopped nineties late night infomercial. If you’ve never heard of docking, it’s…. Well, don’t worry about it. Just imagine a cannoli made by wrapping the dough around a couple cute lil cocks. They do not look delicious, but they do look fun to make.

Grace spent a lot of time off my screen. A few moments in I realized that this was the film to miss if you had to use the ladies’. I’m not into cutting, blood, or piercing, but starlet Grace very much is and for those who love it, it’s got it all. What I did see before excusing myself was a very happy young lady. If all I had seen was her face, I could not have guessed what was happening to the rest of her.

Bloom Room… I don’t… I know this is an indy film festival, but this was too indy even for me. It wasn’t even pornographic! Just weird.

Ronald McDonald for Some McDicken just skeezed me out. The other food related films made me slightly uncomfortable, but still offered something visually compelling. This couldn’t be anything but satire, and not very good satire at that.

State of Mind was, for me, one of the most difficult to watch. I admire the dynamic between a loving dominant and a loyal submissive, but I struggle to watch black people assume roles and postures of fear or subservience with any comfort. Had the dominant not also have been black, I think it would have been impossible. The cinematography was beautiful, and I believe that, because of what HUMP is, the relationship on display must be loving. But without knowing the two men personally, it was hard to get comfortable with it.

For Your Health doubled down on the discomfort, except this dominatrix and her submissive added a heavy dose of medical fetish play. Again, well shot and well edited, the film did exactly what it was going for. Which was not my thing at all.

It’s Me, Mr. Yamface was hilarious. Two dolls go to have sex but can’t find their genitals! At a loss, they are excited when Mr. Yamface bust through the wall kool-aid man style and offers them a plethora of choices. This stop motion film plays a silly game full of vulvas, tits, and dicks of all shapes, sizes, and colors. Truth be told, given the chance for some spare stick-on parts, I think I would be just as excessive as Barbie and Ken.

Cum As You Are tried to make an angry feminist point. Lots of smashing things and yelling. Vice overs about power and witches. I’m not a particularly angry person so I didn’t see the appeal. But whoever made their props did a great job. Real glass beakers won’t break against soft flesh. Their sugar ones were pretty darn convincing.

Get Ready With Betty starred our hostess, Drag Performer Betty Wetter, as she did a simple, brief makeup routine. Drag makeup is not only precise, it’s outrageous. But I never knew they could get such results using people’s cocks for brushes! Charming and exactly a Drag Queen’s amount of farcical, her tutorial made the whole theater laugh.

Luscious was exactly that: Sumptuous fabrics, long slow kisses, elegant lingerie, an envy inspiring peignoir, and two overflowing bodies gently roiling in an 1800’s royal bed made for a sensational short film celebrating big beautiful bodies.

Demon Seed absolutely had to have been satire. It had all of the worst things about porn guys :TM:. Uninspired dialogue, stiff acting, a complete lack of foreplay of any kind, and the money shot didn’t even make sense. If you’re trying to put a demon baby in the guy, why did the demon pull out!? I didn’t get the feeling that any of that was done on purpose, and I have no idea how it made it into a festival so richly populated with quality art house style works.

Color Me Wild was by far the hottest from a strictly sex perspective. What happens when you and your lover dip your hands in UV paint and fuck under a blacklight? This. And when you and your lover are stunners with a friend willing to hold the camera for you? This. Hands down my all over favorite.

A Deep Understanding gave it’s viewers a window into probably one of the most obscure kinks of the night. I did not know until now that watching attractive women “sink into quicksand” is a fetish. I get it, the ostensible helplessness, the viewer’s fantasy that only they can rescue the young lady, and being consumed I am all familiar with. Plus, they writhe and moan and whimper, all of which are sexy visual and auditory cues. But the best part was finding out that the performers who do the sinking love it, too. Not because they find it sexy, but because they find it hilarious.

Menage a Fromage tickled my nerdy bone. Hard. Imagine you’re an amateur cheese maker and want to make a unique cheese. Now imagine you have five or six adventuresome eaters who like to fuck. Add a dude in a hazmat suit wielding q tips and you’ve got it. The yeast sampled from the bodies, lips, bootys, even feet of the orgiastic revelers went into a gallon of whole milk, fermented overnight, and became a fresh, soft cheese. Yes, they ate it. And no, I can’t promise you I would’t at least try it.

Two things I noticed this year: there was, in my opinion, an over abundance of slo-mo shots. I get it, it’s a cheap and easy way to make something look dramatic and give yourself extra seconds of the best shots. I myself have used it when editing my own content. But it’s like salt. Too much ruins the dish. Between that and the wildly popular and headache inducing shaky camera trend, I felt like things were a little more amateur-art-housey than I wanted. But hey, I’m not behind the camera, and for 25 bucks it was totally worth it.

The second thing I noticed was a complete lack of cis/het/white couples. No one likes being excluded from spaces and so I notice in myself a mild sense of feeling left out. I don’t like that feeling. But I am SO glad it was there this time. I live in Seattle, I consider myself pretty socially progressive, the festival is run by a gay journalist. This is nothing that isn’t welcome or expected. Ditto with my discomfort: humans are inherently tribal. Discomfort at exclusion is a survival mechanism we have not yet learned to overcome. But I am doing my best to see it, acknowledge it, and let it go.

As with the Seattle Erotic Art Festival, I am trying to remember to attend these city specific sexy events more often. I’ve been to two HUMPs and one SEAF now, in my twelve years as a Seattle Resident. And I’ve been to zero Fremont Summer Solstice Parades. It’s fun to see what happens when creativity and sex meet in the hearts and minds of a variety of folks. It’s fun to talk with friends about how the products of those creatives make you feel and think. And it’s fun to absorb these events and bring them into the privacy of my bed where I can share them with others who aren’t quite ready to enter the arena of public sexuality.

I look forward to hearing from those of you who have been to HUMPs now and in the past, who can’t see themselves there, or who just haven’t been yet.