Exposing40

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Tag: Wicked Wednesday (page 1 of 4)

Observations

“Photography is an art of observation. It has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them.” Elliot Erwitt

Usually when I pop up on Wicked Wednesday it’s to respond to the prompt with some big thinky piece about relationships or bodies or something I need to get off my chest. Not so this week! But the prompt is ‘observe’ and as I’m halfway through a six week course at the Photographer’s Gallery that a few of you have I asked about I thought I would do a bit of a diary entry…

The Possibilities of the Photographic Body is a six week course led by Tom Lovelace. In case that link gets killed at some point in the future the blurb reads: “This workshop series examines contemporary approaches to the compelling and ever-present subject of the human body and how it is represented in photography. Using the body as a starting point, participants will explore contemporary photographic practice through a range of themed sessions including the digital body, performance, architecture and gendered forms.” Reading the programme there wasn’t a single week of the schedule that left me feeling ‘meh’ so without much more than a minute’s thought I’d signed up.

Anyone who follows me on Twitter will know that the cycle of my professional life is working like a dog for nine months of the year and flitting around during the summer enjoying photo adventures, gallery outings and lazy lunches. The summer months offer a welcome opportunity to recharge and I could never go back to 9-5 life but that doesn’t make the winter months, and in particular the slog up to Christmas when we’re churning out fundraising appeal films at a ludicrous rate, easy to cope with. As much as I hate to admit that age becomes a factor in our physical and mental resilience, I have noticed over the last couple of winters that 12 or even 15 hour days are not quite as easy to tolerate or bounce back from as they were even five years ago. Last winter I got sick and the viruses I picked up had me rundown until well into July.

This winter I resolved to take more care of myself. And taking care of myself means carving out time where I am not working. Working at home is great in numerous ways, but when you register no more than 100 or so steps in a day going bed to desk to sofa for a late night bowl of pasta and back to bed, via the kettle and bathroom a few times, it’s not so healthy. Fern’s fitness challenge where I’ve pledged to five bouts of exercise a week is one thing that’s making me break from work. This course is another. The very simple act of turning off my computer bang on 17.00 so I can be out of the house and in town by 18.30 makes me feel more in control of my ‘downing tools’ time than I have in years; it’s amazing how not needing to catch a train can make the end of the work day slide.

What a joy it is to sit and listen to an engaging and down to earth (no old school or patronising arty snootiness here!) course leader who really knows his shit talking enthusiastically about fascinating photographers. I have so many new names scribbled in my notebook that I just know that I am going to go down a rabbit hole of research during that twilight period between Christmas and New Year. In week one we visited and discussed Shot in Soho, in week two we took our own shots in the streets of Soho and this week we used the gallery as our playground.

Our group is made up of professional photographers, Masters students, a curator, a gallery agent, an academic and a drag queen from Brazil. We have an opportunity to share our work with the group and this week we saw a work in progress that is about the expression of chronic pain, a stunning series that explores a genetic flaw and political commentary through cabaret. It’s so fascinating! I can’t wait to see more of the work next week. I also talked about Exposing40 and shared some of my favourite photos from the last five years. It was particularly fun sharing this image; this friend and I have visited the Photographer’s Gallery more times than I can remember over the quarter of a century since we met at Uni and I honestly never thought I would be stood up there talking about a photo I had taken of her.

What I am loving most about this mini adventure is that it is completely without agenda or expectation. There is no set homework, there’s no exam at the end, no investment beyond the time and initial fee. I am not planning a career change. I have no intention of making Exposing40 anything more than the fun hobby project it currently is. I don’t want do anything more technical than use my iPhone or my small camera on auto setting. I am not doing it for any reason other than it’s interesting. It is just time spent with talented people and learning for the pure pleasure of it and that feels like a real luxury at this time of year.

Me in front of Heather Dewey-Hagborg’s How Do You See Me? a digital installation showing on the media wall at The Photographer’s Gallery until 30/11/19

Wicked Wednesday... a place to be wickedly sexy or sexily wicked

Always in Character

“I am not an angel,” I asserted; “and I will not be one till I die: I will be myself.” Jane Eyre

I am many good things: I am fun and funny, I am generous and kind, I am thoughtful and loyal. I can also be mean and spiteful, needy and angry, I lash out at myself and others. All of these things are entirely in character.

When someone is described as behaving ‘out of character’, unless it’s a portent to a medical calamity it is usually used to describe the less pleasant aspects of their personality. I wrote at length earlier this year about a period of my own poor behaviour. Until this morning I hadn’t revisited it since writing it. It was hard to write, hard to post and while still experiencing the aftershocks of that chapter I had no desire to reread my analysis of it. I only read it again just now because I thought to myself “I wonder if I used the words out of character in that post?”

The result of that ‘get it off your chest then put it on a high shelf’ purge means I had blanked out much of what I written. Until now I hadn’t appreciated how tangibly I’d described my behaviour, the examples I had given or how much thought I had put into articulating why it happened and how we can stop it happening again. I am belatedly very proud of how well I wrote in the face of adversity!

And I was pleased to see that I hadn’t used the words ‘out of character’. Because I don’t think we behave out of character. We can’t behave out of character because our character is hardwired into us. I learnt this week that the word comes from the Greek work kharakter, an engraved mark, symbol or imprint indelibly stamped on coins. Our character is indelible.

The sides of our character we typically celebrate are the attractive aspects that make our loved ones relish our company. But the other bits are equally valid and rather than brush them off as ‘out of character’ I think our job is to understand what triggers them. In the same way we understand what brings out the best in us we must understand what brings out the worst.

I watched a talk the other evening where the speaker said: “We assume that if we have characterised someone as good they can’t be bad and vice versa but if we see character as behaviour on a continuum then when people act in ways that surprise us maybe it is not that surprising.”

For the sake of our own mental health and the health of all our relationships – familial, professional and personal – we need to understand our own continuum and take responsibility for it. That responsibility is to help others to understand how their behaviours create an emotional response and activates the different facets of our personality.

In affairs of the heart, if I feel threatened or usurped I will lash out and speak cruelly about the person who I believe to be a threat. But I shouldn’t just lash out, I should explain why I am feeling vulnerable and help my partners to understand that I need complete honesty and I need reassurance. They may not like that part of me as much as the part that’s independent and ballsy and generous, but there you go!

If a member of my family shares different political beliefs then I need to be explicit that teasing me needlessly and endlessly about Brexit is deeply upsetting. I didn’t help my Dad understand that and the pressure built and built until the valve exploded. I was angry and I said terrible things that hurt him. He called my response immature. He was right. The damage has been fixed now (although I need to work on his declaration last summer that “if this is what politics does I am never voting again”) but had I just had the difficult conversation to start with, months of family distress could have been averted.

Like everyone, I evolve with every experience and I am a work in progress but I like learning about myself and I like to understand my emotional responses and what triggers them. I like learning how to manage myself so I am as best as I can be. I enjoy enhancing the bits of me that make me fun to be around and quelling as best I can the parts of myself that can make me difficult.

IMG_0355 (2)

Wicked Wednesday... a place to be wickedly sexy or sexily wicked

Hundreds and Thousands

“The green autumnal parks conducting
All the city streets a wondrous chorus singing
All these poses oh how can you blame me
Life is a game and true love is a trophy.”

Poses, Rufus Wainwright

I’ve had the above lyrics on my ‘to write’ list for getting on for a year now. Last December there was a lyrics prompt on Wicked Wednesday and not knowing what to choose (I love too many songs for that to be an easy choice!) I asked Exhibit A to suggest some. He offered three and these were the lines that spoke to me. I didn’t make that prompt deadline and at points over the year I’ve returned to the lyrics but never found a good enough reason to get my words down. But this week’s relationship prompt ties in so closely to what I wanted to say that I find myself making time – after midnight and with a (disgusting marmalade flavoured) gin and tonic by my side.

The point I had wanted to make about the words above is that for me true love is not a trophy. At least not in the way that ‘true love’ is sold to us as the ultimate goal. I don’t want a big love, a trophy love (in the most positive meaning of the word trophy!) and I don’t feel like my life is less for not having it or wanting it. Yet, also, love is a trophy and it’s one I hold up and am very proud of. Love is so very important to me and my life is full of it. I give it freely and I take it with delight. I love my family (most of the time!), I love my friends and I love (some of) my partners. Some of them I just like but that’s ok too. For me, love is not the cherry on the cake, love is hundreds and thousands; smaller and singularly less spectacular than a big glossy fruit, but collectively so much prettier. To me.

And this is where my thoughts on love dovetail with my thoughts on relationships. The word relationship is often default taken as being a reference to the ‘one you love’, your intimate and sexual partner. But to me all my significant relationships make me who I am and I invest in them equally. If my oldest friends and I didn’t all show up for our annual gathering I’d be concerned that our cadence was out of step. If any one of Jedi Hamster, Charlotte Brown or me ceased to appear regularly in our WhatsApp chat or were unenthusiastic about our quarterly cards and Camembert meet-ups I’d worry about what was awry. If somehow mine and my business partner’s shared view that the business is both the most important thing (it funds life!) and the least important thing (it’s only work!) became unbalanced then that would be a problem. If my most important partner and I fell out of our monthly routine of good food, wine, sex, chat and music then we’d be cutting our red thread. If @19syllables and I didn’t seamlessly segue between winter coffee and summer naked adventures and back then that would be perturbing…

I could go on – there are many more to mention but I need my sleep and I’ve made the point. In short, I don’t need a big love because all my little loves colour in the lines of my life. And all the different relationships fit together like a jigsaw puzzle that has all of its pieces.

Wicked Wednesday... a place to be wickedly sexy or sexily wicked

Sometimes coming joint second

The last few months haven’t been easy. I have spent it getting over an ex. And it’s not even my own ex, it’s a partner’s ex. In fact, getting over this has proved more problematic than getting over some of my own exes – I have an enviable degree of ease in moving on from my own dead affairs of the heart; I tend to shrug them off with an ‘Ah, that was fun’ and no backwards glance.

To be honest, it wasn’t the break-up that upset me, it was the entire existence of this person in my partner’s life, albeit only for a few months, and so I am not really getting over the break-up, I am getting over the relationship. And with that it has thrown up a whole lot of questions for me about how good a partner I have been. Spoiler: I have been a bit of a shit. Why I am writing this now? As part of my own healing process, really, and to draw a hard red line under a difficult period. And because this week’s WW prompt is tantrums and I have had too many tantrums for any self-respecting 44-year-old in the last six months!

But really, it was this tweet from Nooky Semper, asking about the difference between jealousy and insecurity that really got me processing my thoughts and crafting sentences in the shower. Was it jealousy that made me so unhappy? No I don’t think so. I don’t ever really experience the debilitating grip of the ‘green-eyed monster’ and I never wonder or worry about what partners are doing when they are not with me. The voyeur in me delights in hearing about their sex adventures and I will happily host posts written by partners and by hot-damn-why-don’t-you-live-closer men about their wives.

What I do have is a sometimes debilitating degree of insecurity that can leave me ludicrously anxious. Without information and reassurance I display many of the erratic (and distasteful!) behaviours associated with jealousy. So maybe Nooky is right – maybe it is a fine line between insecurity and jealousy. On reflection, I think what shook me so much last summer was the surprise of it all. I chatter away to my partner about who I am swiping on and who is sliding into my DMs but he’s not quite so loose-lipped as me so when I realised there was someone more significant in his circle it gave me a profound wobble. He didn’t do anything wrong. He didn’t lie. I just didn’t have the information and reassurance I needed to feel secure and when I worked things out for myself the insecurity was already doing its worst. Last summer was a bit of perfect storm for me anyway – I had a huge ‘don’t come home again’ row with my Dad about Brexit, my business was not in a good place and I was already working through in my head the other changes that would occur in our relationship in a few months’ time. I was low on bandwidth to cope with curveballs.

I am also ‘blessed’ with off the scale status anxiety and while I still have no desire to have a primary partner I have realised that the possibility that I might be joint second does not fit at all well with my vision of myself in a hierarchy. My partner has pointed out that while I relish hierarchy it doesn’t mean he does and of course that is fair but I found myself thinking all the not-good-poly thoughts that I might not be good enough, that he’s gone off me. He reasonably and rightly pointed out that I manage to accommodate two or three ‘partner light’ arrangements without it affecting my feelings for him and of course he is right.

For me the hardest part was that I didn’t like her. I am used to thinking the other women in his life are magnificent, talented, hilarious, sensational women but I didn’t feel that about her. I found her opinions challenging and her comments about weight hugely upsetting and some of her attitudes to relationships jarred with my outlook. And I did not cope or behave well in the face of this adversity! In fact, I became a bit of a monster. In public I wrote thoughtful comment pieces but in private I had spiteful WhatsApp tantrums. I am lucky probably that I have a partner who has both patience and a remarkable ability to just ignore you rather than judge you when you’re being a harridan!

It’s at this point I feel the need to give @19syllables a cameo; last week when I was pondering what you call a partner’s partner if metamour seems highly inappropriate to the situation. “Step Fuck” she quipped. Now, being in possession of a lovely stepmum I don’t go in for the ‘evil step…’ trope but we guffawed so loudly at her joke I think we disturbed the sewer rats under the pavement where we were drinking coffee! I think Step Fuck is a perfectly glorious flipside to metamour!

So, here we are months later. I can’t deny that when it ended I was relieved. I am not a total cow – I was also a little sad for him when that happened because I could see he was sad – but my instinctive response was ‘Oh, thank God, we can get back to normal now’. Although of course, that was easier said than done because his new normal meant there was no time for us to re-establish our balance and contentment levels before an entirely welcome and glorious hiatus was upon us.

But now spring has sprung and we are slipping back into routines of writing geeky lists, long evenings at my dining table and cheeky photo adventures. I can feel my shoulders relaxing and my sense of calm returning. And the best thing to come out of it has been acknowledging my desire to dig in and survive the trouble. My default is usually to up sticks at the first sign of properly hard work but I found that I didn’t want to. There is too much wine to be drunk, recipes to road test, long lunches with mutual friends to enjoy and adventures to have. It’s nice to feel that way. Winter has gone!

And I think we have a new found appreciation of expectations and boundaries. I am certain he is much more aware of what I need to know to stay secure and I most definitely learned how not to react. I trust him to be more open with me next time and I hope he trusts me to be less wedded to a meaningless hierarchy. Because there will be new partners in the future, for both of us, and I must remember what he said: “It was something and now it’s not. It didn’t affect how I felt about you when it was something and it doesn’t now it’s not.”

Wicked Wednesday... a place to be wickedly sexy or sexily wicked

“If in doubt take a photo of your arse”

The Wicked Wednesday mentor prompt feels like as good a reason as any to get my arse into gear to write up my Eroticon talk. I have been (and am) a mentor to many in a professional capacity but I didn’t imagine my little hobby blog would result in me becoming one within this community. But iof Ros’s awesome photo from the closing hours of Eroticon weekend and JenetalTorture’s stunning Sinful Sunday this weekend are anything to go by, maybe I am here too!

The title of my talk was Nude photography and its role in personal power and self-esteem. I split my talk into two sections: the first half was a brief look at some photographers who’ve used nude photography to powerful effect and the second looked at some of my own techniques for helping me and those I photograph feel fabulous. This post was going to be developed into a longer one so it had some of my ‘talking’ bit to bring the slides to life for those who weren’t there but I ran out of time! So here are the slides flying solo…

nude-photography-and-its-role-in-personal-power.pdf

Wicked Wednesday... a place to be wickedly sexy or sexily wicked

Language Matters

“She had a shotgun wedding.”

“She’s living in sin.”

“She’s just his bit on the side.”

One late September Saturday in 1983 around 100 of my grandparents’ friends and family gathered for a 50th wedding anniversary party that my Mum and her siblings had organised. It remained a surprise until the Friday afternoon when my Aunt told my Nan that there was a hair appointment booked for her on the following morning. On hearing the news my Nan broke her heart crying and revealed a secret that she’d kept for 49 years. You see, they hadn’t married in 1933, they’d married in 1934, just six months before their eldest child was born. For almost half a century my grandparents had been lying to their children and friends, hiding the shame of their ‘shotgun wedding.’ In the face of this very public celebration the mask finally crumbled and my Nan confessed that we were celebrating a year early. But she swore that Aunt to secrecy and the rest of her children only found out five years later when their parents died within a few months of each other.

Almost 80 years to the day after that 1934 wedding I was sat in my local pub chatting to a then partner about the news that had come out of his country that day; America’s Supreme Court had allowed same sex marriages to stand in five states meaning for the first time more Americans lived in states where these unions were legal than not. That evening he stated his view that “non monogamy is going to be the next relationship structure to come into the spotlight and upset the status quo.”What makes you say that?” I asked. He argued that people have always gossiped about and judged other people’s relationships and that as each one becomes more socially acceptable (and disparaging the people in them becomes less acceptable) it paves the way for something new to bear the brunt of judgment. “Think about it,” he said. “Having a child out of wedlock used to be the worse thing that could happen, but imagine calling a child a bastard now? And living in sin – you’d never say that these days.” His view was the legalisation of same sex marriage marriage would mean another paradigm shift and the door was now open for non-monogamous couples to out themselves and ‘enjoy’ a period of being the object of fascination and fear.

I can’t really decide whether he was incredibly astute or over simplifying things and bloody lucky in the timing of his statement, but it’s undeniable that in the last five years ethical non-monogamy and polyamory has been enjoying its moment in the spotlight. There’s an increasing amount of coverage in the mainstream media, some of the most popular dating apps have introduced the opportunity to declare your non-monogamous status and more people are coming out about their relationship structures to family and friends. And, as he predicted, there’s backlash.

While it would seem inconceivable in 2019 to make asides about ‘shotgun weddings’ or ‘living in sin’, comments like ‘she’s his bit on the side’ still prevail and they carry the same weight of casual thoughtless judgement. I read something recently where someone talked about poly men “pretending to be enlightened and sex-positive and forward-thinking when really it’s just them wanting to stick their dicks into as many women as possible.” A couple of weeks ago LoveLustLondon tweeted an OKC comment where someone’s blanket message to non-monogamous folk was “don’t even think about messaging me and good luck catching an STD.” Comments like these are not prejudiced on the scale of homophobia or racism, but they are prejudiced nonetheless and can be deeply hurtful to non-monogamous people. And they are lazy. People who make them are invariably lashing out and making no effort to understand or respect the dynamic and hard work that goes into successful open relationships.

Of course, there are some people who are using the increasing profile of non-monogamy and tick boxes on apps to behave in an entirely unethical way. Tech can facilitate in a far more efficient way the same poor behaviour that drunk Saturday nights with mates or late nights at the office used to pave the way for. Humans have always and will always behave like arseholes sometimes. A while back a few of us got involved in a Twitter chat defending poly in light of someone claiming that it’s being evangelised. Exhibit A said at the time: “The pseudo-poly guys and opportunists on dating apps are assholes, but ‘it seems to be all over the media and it’s the evangelical ones who shout loudest’ is exactly what people used to say about homosexuality: “why do they need to shove it down our throats, etc”.
To extrapolate the point Exhibit A made, to those people who make snide comments about poly being trendy or poly people just wanting to fuck everything that walks, I would suggest they replace poly with ‘gay people’ and check whether their comments stand up to scrutiny. If your comments are stigmatising someone and how they are honestly and consensually living their life then you may want to interrogate your attitude rather than their lifestyle.

Last weekend, knowing this post was in the pipeline, I asked Twitter what their experiences were. I could have written this post just sharing people’s responses. I think the one that made me saddest was The Curious Mermaid who said: “The more I read of these tweets, the more I feel that I’m right to still be in the closet about non-mon as far as work acquaintances and parents are concerned.” I hope in time it becomes as acceptable to talk about your different partners without raising eyebrows as it is to now say you’re moving in with someone. I’m unlikely to ever experience the half a century of shame that my Nan did when she became pregnant with her first child, but I also look forward to the day when describing me as someone’s ‘bit on the side’ becomes as unlikely and unacceptable as discussing that someone is living in sin.

This was meant to be posted in time for the fear prompt last week but time ran away with me. Here it is a week late!

Wicked Wednesday... a place to be wickedly sexy or sexily wicked

Lutz Wanking, a fantasy.

“Don’t stop.”

“What?”

“Don’t stop,” I repeat, sitting back on heels and dropping my camera to my lap for moment.

It’s a warm spring day and we’ve been walking in the woods for a couple of hours, chatting aimlessly while also keeping an eye out for hidden spots away from the main path. We’ve found one. Our usual drill follows – I test a couple of frames and angles while you undress. Moving into position you reach down and give your cock a couple of swift strokes. You’ve no intention of getting yourself hard, it’s just part of what you do to get camera ready. It always makes my cunt pulse. I usually ignore how damn hot it is and just focus on getting the shot, but today I don’t want to.

I’m on my knees, ready to get the angle I wanted for my photo and looking up at you against the trees has brought the image of Lutz Wanking to mind. It’s no secret that Tillmans is one of my favourite photographers (I’ve used his work as inspiration before, after all) but the Lutz Wanking shot is just everything. A naked man, wanking for the camera, in the woods. It’s got me written all over it.

“I want you to wank. Here. In the woods. For my camera.”

Your expression is a mixture of disbelief and mild discomfort. An exhibitionist you may be but there’s a difference between the risk of being caught naked and apologetically passing it off as an art project and being caught wanking. For a moment I think you’re going to refuse but you hold my gaze, spit in your palm and move your hand back to your cock. Your jaw is set and you look almost annoyed by the situation but as your cock hardens your face softens.

I watch. I watch as your body relaxes into the pleasure. I see your knees sag slightly and your eyes close as you tilt your head back and lean against the tree. I take in the sheen across your chest and the colour rising in your neck. Your rhythm changes and I clench my cunt in time to the brief pauses in the short staccato pumps of your hand.

As the grunts rise from your chest I raise my camera to my face and capture the shot I’ve fantasised about.

In the small hours of Sunday morning, sleepless in a hot mosquito ridden room in Nairobi, playing this scene in my head resulted in a deliciously intense orgasm. A few hours later I read this week’s Wicked Wednesday prompt. It seemed too much of a coincidence to not share this fantasy with you. I hope to make my tribute photograph a reality soon though!

 

Lutz Wanking, Wolfgang Tillmans, 1991
Wicked Wednesday... a place to be wickedly sexy or sexily wicked

The Long Shadow

Me: I still have ‘big scary post’ on my list.

EA: You really need to just write that

Me: I’m basically never going to write that post, am I? Not unless there’s some celibacy prompt on Wicked Wednesday or something that I won’t be able to ignore.

EA: Smirks.

I periodically like to brainstorm blog ideas with Exhibit A and it’s often successful, but this time it came back to bite me on the bum. By the time we’d finished dinner Marie had emailed him to confirm that celibacy was now on the list of future prompts. Stitch up. Possibly. But the fact is this blog is four years old next month and I’ve had ‘big scary post’ on my list of things to write for almost as long. So why have I taken nearly four years to write this and why, when I sat down on Monday evening to write it, did I almost sabotage it by purposely letting myself get upset by something entirely unrelated? How exactly did it come to be called ‘big scary post’ anyway?

If I’m honest I think it’s because I was (am?) ashamed. Ashamed and embarrassed to write about a period of my life where I didn’t have sex for five years. Then, after that drought was broken, went on to only have a handful of flings over the following few years. Nine years where I could, if I thought about it for not too long, probably remember every occasion that I had sex. There is no reason to feel ashamed about this, I had done nothing wrong. Thankfully, there was no distressing reason for it either – no abusive relationship in my past and I wasn’t harbouring an unrequited love or nursing heartbreak. I wasn’t being unnecessarily unkind so that karma got me (sorry, but I totally believe in karma!) and I didn’t have sex on a pedestal. I was just a normal late twenties woman who’d had a couple of infatuations, a small love, a big love and a good amount of fun casual sex during the ‘Camden party days’. That my sex life dried up was entirely circumstantial.

First off, marriage and babies happened. Not for but me but for all the people I used to party with. There is a period during your late twenties and early thirties where you are on a merry-go-round of hen dos, weddings and new baby celebrations. The life that you knew momentarily becomes hijacked by celebrations of other people’s milestones. Of course, this is wonderful, but if you’re not on that path you emerge slightly bewildered that your own life has ‘settled down’ against your will and with you as a solo player. For a while, if you want to stay close to your oldest friends you swap stumbling home at 3am with tales to tell for a bottle of wine on their sofa and interrupted conversation. (Spoiler: the storm passes and before you know it they’ll be up for stumbling home at 3am again and if you’re really lucky you’ll have some new friends in the shape of their children.)

I also chose that time to start working in a sector with a higher than average proportion of women and gay men. My now business partner (who I met at work) was the only man in a department of 30 women. My (gay male) desk mate once looked up at the huge open plan office and said “do you know, we can only see seven men from our desk and they’re all gay.” I wasn’t likely to meet a string of suitors for casual affairs at work!

“What about online dating?” I hear you cry. Mmm. I refer you to the age rings in my trunk and ask you to count the years backwards! Online dating was fledgling back then. I joined Dating Direct and Guardian Soulmates and every so often I half-heartedly went on a dates but those sites largely filled me with doom. The fundamental flaw with them was they assumed that everyone was looking for ‘the one’ and people behaved accordingly. Namely, in a tedious this-is-how-a-first-date-should-be-done way. If that wasn’t your bag there weren’t really any options 15 years ago. I still remember the straw that broke the camel’s back. I spotted a hot bloke on Soulmates and clicked on his profile. “I wake up to Radio 4 and go to sleep to Radio 6”. Really? REALLY? Your opener is going to be that self-conscious? I didn’t hang around to read the rest but I am sure if I had got to sentence three I would have discovered that on a Saturday evening he liked to curl up with a bottle of red wine and a DVD.
Apps for hooking up and sites where you could be more nuanced in your preferences were way in the future. In hindsight, I am sure there were numerous like-minded men who would have been more than happy with the kind of relationship that I now know suits me but those conversations were not happening in the early noughties. At 30 the idea that I would one day use apps to seek out men who were specifically looking for a secondary partner rather than ‘the one’, or couples looking for a regular play partner would have been inconceivable. That tech did not yet exist and my social life had shrunk to nights in with mates and nights out after work with colleagues and I just slipped into a place of acceptance that sex wasn’t part of my life.

So, if I can objectively look at the personal, professional and tech environment that I was operating in and recognise the circumstantial nature of my celibacy, why do I still feel shame about it? And why was it a ‘big scary post’ for so long? I think it was scary because however much I can rationalise why it happened there is still a part of me that sees it as a reflection on me. I am embarrassed that I accepted without much of a fight the loss of something so important and fun. And I worry that all the rational reasons I use to explain why it happened are just hot air. That actually it might be that I just wasn’t hot and that people didn’t fancy me. That thought casts the longest shadow.

There is much about my physical self that I love. I love my height, my legs, my arse, my hair and my face does a very good job of reflecting who I am on the inside. I don’t like my belly or my tits but generally as a whole package I can live with what I’ve got. But I don’t really believe I am hot. And that lack of confidence in my physical appeal bleeds into sexual confidence. I equate being good at sex with being physically appealing and as long as I don’t really believe I am physically appealing I don’t really believe I am good at sex. I should say at this point that I think I suck cock like a boss and I have awesome partners who work hard to reassure me that I am hot and good and that I should just shut the fuck up about all of this, but the voices in our head linger.

So what changed? How did I emerge from a sex-free decade to the life I have now? At 36 I became self-employed. I joined a host of freelance networking groups and bobbed about all over London meeting new people. Overnight I had new circles of friends, all in the mid-thirties to late forties ball park and virtually all of them committed to nurturing just one baby – their business. I had a found a new tribe and they shared my priorities. Within months I was having a fling with a fellow freelancer. Then in early 2012 I was on a contract where idle lunchtime chat with a fellow consultant led to her saying, “You haven’t heard of OKC? Oh my God – it’s amazing! I am having so much sex!” And the rest as they say is history. There I have met many more like-minded people, one of whom led me to this tribe.
The app can get a bad rap and people can be inappropriate but I don’t really see a whole lot of difference between a drunk bloke in the pub pinching my arse and saying my dress would look better on his bedroom floor (hello North Wales circa 1995!) and someone being suggestive in an app. They’re certainly easier to mute in an app than the pub! I think of OKC as being like the flirty parties and pubs of my twenties. I don’t give a fuck what radio station you listen to and I like watching movies on my own. Some flirting and some suggestive chat as a gateway to some drinking and fucking suits me fine. Would I have had the wilderness years that I did had something like OKC existed in 2003? Probably not. Am I bitter that it didn’t exist 15 years ago? Hell yes!

So now I am in the happy place that I am – with one regular partner who I value deeply and other more casual affairs that come in and out of my life according to how my diary is dictated by my business (roll on April when work quietens down for six months and I’ll be looking for this year’s spring/summer flings!) – I have finally written this post. How do I feel? Relieved to be honest. That period of my life sometimes makes me feel a bit of fraud in this community and, like I said, the long shadow affects my self-confidence at times when I feel more vulnerable. But something I have learnt here over the last four years is that almost every time I have worn my heart on my sleeve someone has popped up to echo my sentiments or to express relief that they are not alone. Part of what makes this community strong is how honest people are and how giving they are of their own experiences in supporting others. It’s kind of a relief to look at this secret, take a deep breath and chuck it in the fuck it bucket.

Wicked Wednesday... a place to be wickedly sexy or sexily wicked

After the Flood (reprise)

Today is day three of my period. I’m not wearing a tampon. I didn’t wear one on day one or two either. In fact, I haven’t worn a tampon for months, maybe even more than a year. These days my periods are so light that I only know they’re here by a very slight colouring of the loo roll. In fact, earlier today, knowing I was going to write this, I giggled when I wiped my hands and the juice from a blood orange left more of a mark on a tissue than an earlier bathroom visit had.

Things used to be very different. I used to plan my work diary to avoid leaving the house on day three of my period. If day three fell at the weekend and I was away I would take my own towels to wrap around me like a nappy in case I ruined a friend’s mattress. Dates, nights out, exercise – all of them would be embargoed if it was day three. Day three was when the floodgates opened. Literally.

Then in summer 2016 a pub conversation with Livvy set in place a chain of events that led me, five months later, to surgery. Nothing serious – just a simple 15 minute procedure to remove what turned out to be “a multitude” of polyps and insert a Mirena Coil to stop them coming back again. Today, I would delight in answering the white trouser question very differently!

Had that conversation not happened would I still be on that frankly horrible monthly rollercoaster, living in fear of public embarrassment? Or would I have eventually taken myself to the doctors of my own volition? I’d like to think the latter, but who knows; I was already putting up with ridiculous levels of inconvenience and had made it my normal. And too many women do this. One of the reasons I’m so glad to see Sub Bee’s new meme, Menstruation Matters is because it provides a place where we can all share our stories and experiences and where we think someone might need a gentle nudge to seek help or just a friendly word, we can help.

So is it all a bed of roses now? Not exactly, but it’s nothing I can’t deal with. Although my monthly bleeding is nothing more than mild spotting now, other things have changed. I rarely (ok – sorry – never!) had period pain but now I get very definite cramping. I’d hesitate it to call it real pain but because I’ve never experienced cramps before I do get a bit cats bottom mouth about them, especially as I cramp but don’t bleed. The most problematic change is emotional. When I was talking to friend around the time of the op and told her I was going for the Mirena Coil she replied: “ah, PMS to FMS!” I pressed her on this. Apparently FMS is fat miserable and spotty. These were the side effects she’d read about when she was researching her own procedure. Fat we’ll come back to. Spotty – I have been annoyingly fortunate on that front all my life. But oh my, miserable? Yes!

I’m not talking ongoing constant malaise but as regular as clockwork a few days before my ghost period arrives I get truly distressed about things. In the old days I’d get all ranty and cross, now I just get really really upset with someone-is-pouring-a-watering-can-down-my-face level of tears. It’s mildly annoying but unlike the hormonal swings of my twenties, when the pill didn’t agree with me, I feel more robust when it comes to coping with these dips. They just happen. It just is. It lasts 24 or 48 hours and then it passes. What I find most fascinating is they’re never irrational tears. When I used to get angry and rant, that was often about stupid pointless things of no consequence or out of my control and afterwards I would feel stupid. Now, I find myself intensely upset about things that I may have been trying to push under the surface for the rest of the month and then – boom! – in the same way a hot flannel will bring a spot to the surface and make it easier to pop, my cycle brings all that emotion up and out. It took a while to cotton onto my new patterns but now I have I am more prepared for them and I examine more closely what that emotional purge is telling me.

And then the fat thing. The official paperwork says fewer than 5% of women experience weight gain, although 5% of the number of women who have one fitted is probably a lot of women. I have put on a fairly significant amount of weight in the two years since the op. But I would be really really disinclined to say that’s coil-related, it’s almost certainly life-style related. Many people talk about ‘eat less, move more’ as a method of losing weight. I generally gleefully subscribe to the ‘eat loads, move loads’ method of making sure my clothes continue to fit! I’m lucky enough to usually enjoy good physical health and I love exercise so this isn’t usually a problem but a stupid accident on a bus last spring left my knee in a sorry state and seen me in and out of X-ray rooms and MRI pods. Of course, I haven’t tempered my eating or drinking to match my reduction in exercise – if anything I’ve done more of both in response to work stress. In short, I’m 99% sure consumption and lack of movement is the cause of my weight gain and that in time normal service will resume. However, if someone was to say to me it is all because of the coil, would I have it removed so my favourite clothes fitted again? No bloody way. Excuse the pun! I never want to find myself hiding in a graveyard washing my legs or cleaning my carpets at 3am again.

So that’s my before and after! If you’re experiencing periods that are disrupting your life, don’t be like me and wait years to get it sorted – book an appointment with your GP right now!

Wicked Wednesday... a place to be wickedly sexy or sexily wicked
Menstruation Matters

A Love of Photography

“The show’s aim ultimately is to look at the couple as a catalyst for creative dialogue. What Modern Couples seems to suggest is that if love was the catalyst, it was often the photographer’s darkroom – that liminal, womb-like space – that incubated and protected creative fulfilment in its early form.” British Photography Journal

Some of you may have seen on Twitter or Exhibit A’s Sinful Sunday post last weekend that he and I went to see the Modern Couples exhibition at Barbican last weekend. Those of you who know either or both of us will undoubtedly know that photography is in the DNA of our dynamic. In fact I would say it’s the red thread. Before we’d even met he’d send me his photos for feedback or occasional editing before posting; his early Sinful Sundays are woven in my mind with memories of our earliest interactions. The first time I photographed him was only the second time we’d met.

Looking at that quote above, I would invert it for a more accurate commentary on us. Love was not a catalyst for creativity, but photography incubated and probably, at times, kept alive a friendship that over time has given way to a deep and nourishing affection. There were times in the early days of knowing each other that we didn’t always behave that well towards to each other but somehow we always stayed connected through the photography. We could sit and argue at his kitchen table in North London and 10 minutes later he’d be naked on his balcony and I’d be talking through an idea.

That I am more often than not the one behind the camera mirrors one of the objectives of the Barbican show, which is to subvert the notion that it is always the woman who is the muse. It would never have occurred to me to call Exhibit A a muse, but maybe he is. I certainly rarely think of anyone else first if I have an idea of how I would like to photograph a man, despite me shooting other partners since I started this blog. He’s a willing model if an idea seizes me and is up for many things that others wouldn’t be. A busy lido on a hot sunny day in July? Sure! I’ve messaged him on a weekday morning in February and 45 minutes later he’s been naked in his garden balancing on one leg. And when I’ve wanted him to be the one behind the camera he’s never really batted an eyelid at my rather random requests, whether that’s ‘make my belly look as fat as possible‘can you make a 50 in stars on my back’ or‘I want to balance this mirror on my throat.’

Of course, he means much more to me now than just being a willing photography partner in crime. We’ve got a mutual love of the Manics and a strong Spotify and ‘one for the road’ game too! Seriously though, there’s much I don’t recognise about either of us from the early days. His circumstances were very different, while I was reactivating a long dormant sex life (I’ll write about that one day!) and primarily interested in the physical. I was deeply and vocally averse to any suggestion of a more committed connection – with anyone. Over time, and largely through this community, I have learnt how relationship structures aren’t quite as black and white as I had always thought and I have realised there’s much on the spectrum between fully blended lives and friends with benefits.

That photography is still a big part of how he and I look, despite all the ways we’ve both evolved over last five years, makes me happy. I am probably biased, but I think our photography has got better as we have got better together. And this adventure has brought photography back into my life in a more significant way than it’s been for years. In my business I lead on production and writing – it’s my business partner who’s behind the camera. For years my relationship with photography was as an exhibition goer and travel snapper rather than anything more creative or thoughtful. I love that meeting EA and setting up my blog brought this part of me back.

While the “liminal, womb-like” darkroom (oh, how I miss those days!) may have given way to computers, the intimacy of the developing process has not been superseded by tech. The joy I feel at diving into the editing process is just as it was when I passed through the light-resistant revolving door into the deep red light of the darkroom at university. Last Sunday, flicking through my camera, EA looked at the original of the image below and commented that it hadn’t worked too well. ‘It’ll be fine in the edit,’ I said, because I knew the light was falling just right for me to realise the image that was in my head. The inspiration for the photo below was one we saw at the exhibition.

Writing about Modern Couples The Art Fund talked of it “charting how the concept of a ‘couple’ has evolved, along with society’s approach to marriage, family and gender, it showcases the way in which a variety of intimate relationships – traditional, famed, short-lived and fixational – have resulted in experimentation and, at times, subversion of the status quo.” I like this. I like that the couple is in inverted commas! And I like that I was at the exhibition with Exhibit A. I like that it showcased a multitude of relationship types and celebrated those where art was the lifeblood of them, not a by-product.

Last Sunday was a good day. It was also a funny day. Will he be a Dad next time I see him or will Baby Liv-EA keep them waiting and grant me and him another (closer to home!) meet-up? Who knows! But as his Uber was on its way I said ‘I am looking forward to the next chapter of us.’ And I really am. With all the other changes that will unfold there’s one thing I am sure of – there’ll definitely be photos!

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Wicked Wednesday... a place to be wickedly sexy or sexily wicked

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