Tuesday, August 13, 2013

50 Shades of the Complainist: Chapter 15.1

Ana and Christian discuss "soft limits."

Warnings: They talk about sex stuff for a long time and then have sex, only they're going to do that next week because I'm lazy.

I post these on tumblr, too, only I'm bad at remember to post them, and so I'm way behind over there. Recently I was pasting my Chapter 8 essay over at aldeneagle.tumblr and I kind of got worried that this book is wearing me down to the point that I may have already peaked. Like, I had all these funny pictures and stuff? And that essay was super long? What I'm saying is that I'm trying, but I'm a little concerned that the book is winning. And I'm losing. Seriously. I looked back at that thing, right? And I posted it in June, and now it's August, and part of me was like, "Wow. Those were the days. I was so young. So full of life."

But now you see me? Just a withered husk, which is too bad. As I am a mere shadow of my former self, I didn't even manage to complete this week's assignment. Shocking, right? Instead, I just leave you with a half-assed, short essay that doesn't even cover the whole chapter. I'm making you wait to read about the boring sex that Ana and CG are going to have. I hope to do 15.2 before next week but who knows! Hard to say just what will happen in these complicated times. 

So where were we?

  1. Ana meets Christian, the dreamy billionaire, for an awkward interview. 
  2. She then encounters him a few days later when he buys supplies for his sex dungeon at the hardware store where she works. Ana gets his phone number and decides to help her friend Kate set up a photo shoot with CG because that somehow makes more sense than just seeing if he wants to hang out like a regular person. 
  3. Ana's admirer José joins Ana and Kate to photograph Christian, after which Christian takes Ana to a cafe, where they both act awkward. Christian starts to push Ana away, for reasons she does not understand. Then, Ana is nearly hit by a bike, but Christian yanks her out of harm's way.
  4. Christian tells Ana that they're incompatible and she gets sad. Ana drunk-dials Christian and he freaks out and traces her phone Batman-style, just in time to chase off José, who's acting rape-y. Ana passes out at the bar.
  5. Ana awakes in Christian's hotel room. Christian explains that he brought her there because he didn't want her to puke in his car. He says that they can't take things further until he's explained his secrets, so they arrange a helicopter ride together to Seattle and make out in an elevator.
  6. Ana and Christian fly to Seattle in a helicopter. Ana signs a non-disclosure agreement and then opens up the door to the sex dungeon.
  7. Ana and Christian tour the sex dungeon and we see some of his much-discussed paperwork, which is an agreement far more all-encompassing than, say, a typical marriage, even though they met less than two weeks ago. CG gets super angry when he learns that Ana is a virgin. 
  8. Ana and Christian have sex and later, when Ana wakes up, CG is playing a piano because he has a case of the feels.
  9. The next morning Ana cooks breakfast and then they have sex in the bath and then in the bed and then Christian hears his mom talking to his manservant, Taylor. 
  10. Mom leaves right away, so Ana and Christian drive from Seattle to Vancouver and also they stop at a restaurant and CG reveals that he played the role of submissive to an older woman when he was a teenager. 
  11. Ana reads the sex contract and gets a new computer from Christian and they exchange some emails and Ana reads about BDSM on wikipedia.
  12. Ana sends a "joke" email to Christian, telling him that she doesn't want to see him again, so he sneaks in and forces himself on her. 
  13. Ana and Christian meet for dinner to negotiate their sex contract, and CG largely accepts Ana's rather cosmetic demands. 
  14. Christian speaks at Ana's graduation and also her stepdad is there and Ana agrees to CG's contract.
So, they haven't had sex for a couple chapters and also Ana just told CG at the end of Chapter 14 that she was on board, so what are the chances that they aren't going to do it in Chapter 15? Slim, right? Also, there will probably be some foot stuff since there is always foot stuff. 

When we left Ana, she was emailing CG and waiting for him to come over. And now he comes over. The beginning of Chapter 14 was Ana's sex dream, in which CG was wearing jeans and using a leather riding crop. He shows up at her door wearing jeans and a leather jacket. This parallelism is as clever as anything we're ever going to see in this book ever. Can't get very far before EL upsets me: ". . . his face lights up with his radiant smile." Well, that's what "radiant" tends to mean! It's like she just learned the word "radiant" and wanted to make sure we would be able to enjoy it with her. 

CG brought bubbles:

"I thought we'd celebrate your graduation. Nothing beats a good Bollinger."
"Interesting choice of words," I comment dryly. 
He grins. "Oh, I like your ready wit, Anastasia."

See? It's funny, because he wants to beat her! Heehee! Seriously, though, Ana is as witty as a ten-year-old who just realized that certain mundane words sound kind of like they might have something to do with sex maybe. Also, for any writers who might be reading this: if you ever find yourself writing that a character comments dryly you need to do some kind of penance. I don’t believe in karma or whatever, but I still think anyone who uses the phrase “comments dryly” owes something to the universe.

What's weird is that the next line, CG's line, is surprisingly strong. The simple verb "grins" both makes it explicit who's speaking, and does just enough to color CG's dialogue. He's never friendly, so it's a good choice to make it clear that he's not being all sarcastic when he talks about Ana's wit. I mean, he should be being sarcastic because Ana's jokes are terrible and embarrassing, but he's trying to be friendly or whatever. Also, EL somehow resists the urge here to tag the dialogue a second time. I expect CG to mutter, but EL manages to not to go overboard. 

All downhill from there, though! Like all Americans, Ana takes her tea-drinking seriously, and therefore, even though most of her stuff is packed up for the move, she still has teacups available, so they'll have to do for champagne. Not that Ana would own champagne flutes. Of course, she wouldn't own teacups either. Mugs maybe, but not teacups. Whatever. 

They have a little fight over the expensive first-edition books that CG gave Ana many chapters ago, which is a plot point that I cannot pretend to be even the tiniest bit interested in, so I'll skip ahead. They fight some more over CG's interest in giving extravagant gifts, because they make Ana feel uncomfortable, which makes perfect sense. They are uncomfortable gifts. 

Ho, my subconscious mouths at me. 

That's weird, right? The word "ho" strikes me as one that's both dated, and kind of reserved for racists. Am I making this up? I'm not quite sure. But in any case, it always surprises me when Ana's subconscious uses it, both because it seems like such an odd choice, and because it's mutterblushing ridiculous that we still have this subconscious / inner goddess bullshit. No matter how many of these books I end up reading, I'll never get used to Ana's complicated inner life. 

Here's a part that's actually kind of funny, although I have no idea whether it was intended as such. CG does a fairly good job of trying to make Ana feel better about his gifts, and then ends with this: "I just bought you some old books that I thought might mean something to you, that's all. Have some champagne."

So basically, he's like, "Stop thinking about me buying expensive stuff, and enjoy some of this expensive champagne, ok?" It's basically a sitcom punchline, but I enjoy it. These books are so humorless that they make the non-humorless desperate for things to laugh at. 

EL likes to overcomplicated descriptions of simple actions, maybe just in case we want to use this book as a tutorial: "He picks up the champagne, takes off the foil top and cage, twists the bottle rather than the cork, and opens it with a small pop and a practiced flourish that doesn't spill a drop." This has been a public service announcement from the Association of Champagne Bottle Openers. 

Ana says she wants to talk about "soft limits" but small talk continues. Here's a strange one, though: "I'd help you move, but I promised to meet my sister at the airport." (Editor’s note: remember that Ana is moving to Seattle, which means even more opportunities for EL to prove that she knows less about Seattle than even the Seattle wikipedia entry. Surprising, since CG is always yelling at Ana to read wikipedia.) 1) CG has a ton of people working for him all the time. One of them could go to the airport, or he could just send a car. 2) Moving is the absolute worst. CG is all about expensive champagne and first-edition books, but here's what I'm saying: call up some movers, CG! You want to spoil your new girlfriend, and you're a billionaire, and you won't spend a few bucks on some movers? You should probably dump this guy, Ana. 

Also we learn that CG's sister is Mia. We'll talk more about her later--but for now, it's worth mentioning the eating disorder theory again. "Mia," like "Ana," is a search term that will get you a specific warning message over at tumblr, as Mia is shorthand for “bulimia” in certain corners of the internets. 

Some more uninteresting chitchat follows, after which they pull out the "soft limits" list. This book has, as of yet, not made it clear to me what the difference is between a "soft limit" and a "hard limit" and I could probably research the jargon myself but I'm just not that interested. All I know is that we have another list of sex-stuff for Ana to think about. I guess it’s a “hard limit” if CG doesn’t want to do it and a “soft limit” if Ana doesn’t want to do it. Translation: maybe they’ll do the soft limits anyway because CG is a bully? (Spoiler alert: CG basically says he wants to do the stuff he really wants to do, no matter what Ana wants.)

"No fisting, you say. Anything else you object to?" he asks softly.
I swallow.
"Anal intercourse doesn't exactly float my boat."
"I'll agree to the fisting, but I'd really like to claim your ass, Anastasia. But we'll wait for that." 

They talk about butt sex for a little while longer, but I want to pause here. What the hell kind of negotiation is this? "Tell me about the things that you don't want to do, and then we'll cross those off our list, unless I really want to do them, in which case, they stay on the list." He's just the absolute worst. Of course, Ana goes along with CG's little maneuver and instead gets mystified when CG tells her that "Mrs. Robinson" pegged him, because she’s not just the sort of person who hasn’t done a lot of stuff. She’s also the sort of person with absolutely no desire, curiosity, or imagination, which is why she’s so super fun.  

Here's a weird part:
"And . . . swallowing semen. Well, you get an A in that."
I flush, and my inner goddess smacks her lips together, flowing with pride.

So the "A" part is the grossest, right? At least it is to me. Also something troubling about the way that Ana's actual reaction and the reaction of her "inner goddess" are at odds with each other. That's creepy, right? Usually her little imaginary friends are just giving advice, as though representing different parts of her psyche. Presenting desires and doubts. This time, inner goddess almost seems to have her own, distinct agenda, which makes me worry even more than usual about Ana's mental health. 

They talk about sex toys, too, and of course if Ana can't figure out how Mrs. Robinson could do sex to Christian's butt, she probably has some toy-related questions, too. It's obvious that she has no idea what she's agreeing to, but I guess it doesn't matter since whenever she tries to disagree, CG is all, "Oh, but I'm way into that so we'll do it anyway." It makes sense. Ana has basically caved at this point, so CG sees less reason to be flexible. Classic 

She should've maybe taken some lessons from this guy:
"Anal intercourse doesn't exactly float my boat."

And then CG is like, "What kind of stuff can I tie you up with?" and Ana is all, "All the stuff is fine." So that part of the process is pretty easy. Ana likes being tied up! Great! This book would be way, way better if she didn't just sort of passively enjoy and instead took a more active role in pursuing particular experiences but whatever! Basically ridiculous to expect Ana to have actual opinions at this point. Instead, Ana's world is split between stuff she hates, stuff she kinda tolerates, and stuff she's never heard of. The last category is the biggest, of course. 

They move on. CG keeps dodging Ana's actual concerns. She wants to talk more about gagging, which is a thing CG wants to do to her, but CG is pretty much just like "#YOLO" and they move on to punishment. CG allows as how it would be ok with him if they didn't use genital clamps. Such a gentleman!

Here's a sample of CG's negotiation style:

"Well, you said no to genital clamps. That's fine. It's caning that hurts the most."
I blanch. 

"We can work up to that."
"Or not do it at all," I whisper.

"This is part of the deal, baby, but we'll work up to all of this. Anastasia, I won't push you too far."
"This punishment thing, it worries me the most." My voice is very small.
"Well, I'm glad you've told me. We'll keep caning off the list for now. And as you get more comfortable with everything else, we'll increase intensity. We'll take it slow."

EL does, once again, an uncharacteristically good job keeping it clear who is speaking when. Many of her longer exchanges devolve into a depressing mystery, when all you want to do is figure out who's saying what. EL also introduces Ana to blanching, which is depressing, because we are now confronted with the terrifying notion that we'll be seeing Ana take on a range of colors and not just blush all the time.

And here we see CG come clean: We're not negotiating whether or not I'm going to hit you, because I am going to hit you. Plus, he concedes clamps
but when Ana suggests maybe she'd like to not get beaten with a stick, either, well, that's a bridge too far. Some of these things are up for negotiation and others are not, but these deal-breakers are not made clear in advance. It's patently unfair, and Ana ought to bounce. 

One central question, though, is left undiscussed, and it kind of irritates me that Ana doesn’t feel the need to bring it up. "So, why would you ever punish me, Christian?" 

Here’s the thing: so, as a rule, adults in relationships don’t make up punishments for each other, right? When one of us upsets another, the upset party either fumes about it for a while which “punishes” the transgressor kinda sorta, or else the upset party decides that maybe things aren’t working out, and ends the relationship. Children, of course, are a different category, and they may get doled out specific punishments. “No Instagram for a month!” That’s probably a way that someone is being punished in America in 2013, right? I bet it is. I’m literally typing this on a literal boat and have no wifi, and that is my excuse for not researching. But you know what I'm talking about. Adults (at least non-cops) don't tend to punish each other for breaking "rules" or whatever.

So we know more or less how CG is going to punish Ana, and that he has every intent of so doing. But why, exactly, does he expect to punish her? Caning someone because you want to is just sadomasochism, right? “Punishment” isn’t the right word. We all have some familiarity with a sort of cheesy, pop-culture version of BDSM punishment, basically in the form of low-stakes role-play. “Oh, I’ve been very naughty hehe.” Fine. CG, instead, is talking about inflicting actual, real pain on Ana, but we've yet to establish any sense that Ana will enjoy any of this. Isn't the whole premise of this kind of arrangement that each party enjoys her or his specific role? And isn't the whole premise of "punishment" that it come as a result of some specific misstep? Once again, I feel like CG is going about this all wrong. He's describing things that he finds sexy using the least sexy means possible. 

You've been to restaurants where they offer a "spicy" scale of one-to-ten or whatever, where you say, "Make mine an eight!" and your server makes a face at you and sizes you up and gives you a "four" instead. The thing about that is that you probably do actually enjoy spicy food, but at a certain point, it becomes excessive, and the spiciness ceases to be pleasurable and starts being uncomfortable. 

That's kind of how this "soft limits" negotiation ought to work, I'll assume. But for it to work, the discussion requires that both parties have some actual desire for kink. "I am bored by level one through level four, I enjoy levels five and six, I can tolerate seven, but I start to get miserable at eight." So basically, to return to our semi-useless restaurant analogy, Ana is coming in saying, "Hey, let's do this at zero, okay? I've never eaten this kind of food before and I'm a total novice." And then CG, who is somehow the waiter, is like, "Well, let's start at eight, and then we'll get you to nine later on, because this is about me, not you." 

Perhaps I'm misunderstanding, but I feel like this is supposed to be a conversation about what Ana might enjoy and not just about what she wishes to veto. But of course, instead, it's a conversation about what CG might enjoy, and about what Ana can endure. Fun!

CG decides to make one concession and it makes Ana all swoony. He allows as how maybe he could try to act like a boyfriend every once in a while. "Outside of the time you're my sub, perhaps we could try. I don't know if it will work. I don't know about separating everything. It may not work. But I'm willing to try. Maybe one night a week. I don't know." 

That is, of course, how most people in dom/sub relationships operate, right? I'm pretty sure it is, if only because most people aren't billionaires and have to do jobs and stuff and can't organize their entire lives around sex-play. They have to occasionally turn off those aspects of their relationship that would confuse the uninitiated. CG doesn't realize it, of course, but even the non-kinky must compartmentalize. For instance, people with actual jobs--and not weird, made-up fantasy billionaire jobs like CG's--act differently when they're at home as compared to when they're at work. CG is the only person ever who just acts exactly the same all the time, and that's how we know he's not real, or perhaps a vampire. 

I don't know this of course, but let me take a guess: my guess is that people in relationships involving BDSM have their specific "rules" that they've agreed on--their soft limits and whatever--but also have the sort of "rules" that all people in relationships have. Meaning that, I'm pretty sure, all people in relationships have to make occasional sacrifices for each other in order for the thing to work out at all. This is just another one of those moments in which I find myself getting skeeved out by some aspect of CG's dom/sub shenanigans, but then have to stop myself and say, "Oh, hey. This weird setup couldn't possibly be indicative of the way any real people actually live, so try not to lump anybody else in with Christian Grey!"

Immediately following CG's declaration that he's going to try to be boyfriendy every once in a while, they have sex again, and, if I remember correctly, it's pretty boring. I could just end the chapter with that, but I won't. No, I'm going to post this mess, because I'm on some mysterious outlying island somewhere in Washington only accessible by boat and dirigible, and yet still don't want that to upset my delicate publishing schedule. So here it is. I'll post it, and add more later on, because, you see, I love you. And not in a like, "thanks for reading" way. I mean in a weird, confusing, I-want-to-make-out-with-your-feet way. And this whole project is just an excuse for me to share that with you. Surprising, right? It's surprising for me, too, but now that I think about it, I know it's true.

When next we confer, Ana and CG are going to have boring sex with each other, and we're going to read the ending of the chapter, and you'll say, "Oh. Maybe EL should've just ended it right here, you know?" But she didn't, so we won't either. 

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