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Reading With Sea

A book club on your own time

No, not Liz Phair, but Melissa Febos’ Whip Smart.

“Do I want to have smooth or my current state of unshaved legs?”, I asked myself internally.  I was reflecting on how I wanted to look when I jumped into bed with Melissa Febos (or her recently released memoir, Whip Smart, that is). I was thankful that the experience of listening to an ex-professional dominatrix caused me to reflect on my own… let’s just say issues and driving forces and self-understanding.  Let me note here, that I have always believed that being aware of our desires intellectually, sensually, sexually are each of equal importance.  In any case,  I wasn’t planning on purchasing a copy of her memoir the night of her reading, since I had far surpassed my pre-determined limit on reading material for the month of March, but when I returned home, I had more than a book with me.

I have been wanting to write about Melissa Febos since I returned home from her reading, at the Elliot Bay Book Company, this past Saturday night.  I am one of those readers who breathe in what I am consuming and allow it to stir what it may in me.  My ability to open myself to influence, allow it to resonate and then filter out what I don’t want to possess or be possessed by made this book a difficult read to begin.  It was intimating to enter this story; knowing nothing of the world you are entering creates a wide spread tantalizing tension. I am not entirely comfortable in predicaments of minimal understanding.  I was apprehensive and expectant and the anticipation was thrilling.  No matter the thoughts spinning and teeming inside my head, I could not help but read it.

I remained curled under the blankets for hours with only a small lamp for light.  Each night that unfolds into early morning finding me under covers infatuated with a read leaves me feeling like I am with a secret lover.  I felt giddy.  I felt ache.  I felt heartache, sadness, strength, determination and a human connection that I am sure runs along the most raw, existential line.  This is a short list of what I felt and am still feeling even now, after finishing.

We have a mixed readership here, at Reading With Sea, so I will not go into every explicit detail, but basically, Melissa Febos worked as a professional dominatrix while earning a MFA from Sarah Lawrence University, somehow maintaining a 4.0 GPA and living in a state of addiction to Heroin.

Now, I have worked with a population of addicts of all kinds for years now and I cannot recall one person who was able to simply maintain a part-time job while using Heroin.  How Melissa was able to walk away with a 4.0 GPA with so many other intense distractions is a mystery to me with the exception of understanding that she is a truly brilliant being.  She has this determination that is beyond the word determination.  This is incredibly rare. I am completely inspired by this woman.  Truly taken by her.  From the moment she stepped up to the platform and microphone I was captivated.

Critics have written that Melissa’s memoir is “titillating, seamy, honest, brave, provocative, curious, disturbing, funny, dark.”  All of these things are uniquely true of this story, in their own context, but Febos, as a writer, is more than these limiting descriptions.  She is expansive and limitless.  Though a fair amount of people grow up with the experience of having at least one person in their life tell them that they are capable of anything they put their mind to, Melissa Febos, actually is.  She does not live in the possibilities of life, but in the movement, the upheaval, the roar, the friction.  There is some privity that resides in Melissa Febos, that she may not fully understand, but I like the way she carries it around.

I can only lament the paucity of time I was able to observe and be near her, but I look forward to her future bodies of work.  Some times there are people that you feel instinctively drawn to.  My innate intuition flared and Melissa Febos does not disappoint, no matter how many layers exist in her daily existence.  After the experiences she had and the ones she wrote about, I hope she knows this simple fact: she does not disappoint, regardless of circumstance, it is just who she is.



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