The Crush Letter No. 8

. 11 min read

Hello Crush,

Happy Saturday morning!

If you're new here (welcome!), I'm Dish, the Master of Ceremonies. For more about me and why we're here go here.

Last week's piece "Waiting on a Friend. Six Ways to Get the Friends Who Count and Why You Want Them" provoked the most surprising responses. None more than variations on this: "Dish, any advice on how to figure out which friends to lose and the nicest way to do that?" It resonated since I had just been saying to a friend that an upside of the isolation has been the opportunity it provided for some gracious shake-offs. Because if you can't lose the toxic ones during an extended period of forced distancing, when will you ever? Now seems like the time. Thanks for asking. I'm pulling my thoughts together for you in a future post.

We are going to experiment with some new positions (wink) in this week's newsletter. (Thank you Sarah, Deirdre and Ruth.) Starting with a section called DEVOUR, we'll share an expanded offering of recommendations on things to do, read, see and have relating to love, sex and friendship. That's followed by STIR, a section with tactical strategies for being more connected. We're taking that quite literally this week by starting with the story (and recipe) behind Mike's "Bad Girl Pasta." Our last section is SIMMER, featuring original articles, personal essays and opinions to ponder. We're simmering on the erotic imagination through Esther Perel's lense with "The Power & Responsibility of Erotic Imagination" this week.

"The Power & Responsibility of Erotic Imagination" according to Esther Perel in SIMMER (below)

DEVOUR {things to do, read, see & have}

Book Review: A Certain Hunger by Chelsea G. Summers. Hungry, horny and horrified describe how I felt reading Summers' debut novel about a food critic with criminally lustful appetites. Dorothy Daniels, the seductive, villainous protagonist-narrator, writes this fictitious tell-all memoir about her life of unchecked gluttony from her prison cell. "I skinned it, trussed it, rubbed it with olive oil, red wine, thyme, lemon, garlic and salt ... I made a delicious Bordeaux reduction sauce, and I served the roast with crisped Yukon Gold potatoes, caramelized shallots, and sauteed asparagus," she records. "Thus I became a serial killer." The rump roast to which she refers is that of a former lover with whom she had previously enjoyed copious helpings of flavorful sex. Notably, her descriptions of eating her lovers afterward are more sensual than her depictions of eating them during sex, which serve primarily as instructional foreplay.

Dorothy is a radical psychopath in the vein of Amy Dunne from Gone Girl (by Gillian Flynn), and her unrestrained appetites provide the lense through which we can consider the restraints on women's appetites generally, for food, sex and everything else. She is irresistable herself, if unreliable as a narrator, and I often wondered whether she was bullshitting us which was part of the fun. Salacious, darkly humorous and highly offensive, read A Certain Hunger if you love Patricia Highsmith and Ruth Reichl and can stomach Hannibal Lecter. A rump roast will never taste the same.

Costarastrology on Instagram: A Hyper-Personalized, Social Astrology Experience. The "hyper-personalized" observations of humanity based on sun signs in the instagram feed of costarastrology will entertain, even if you don't believe astrology gives you an inside look at the human condition. For instance, "Where you keep your emotions" for the astrological sign CANCER: "In a box labeled 'Caution: Explosive' that you lug around everywhere and ask people to help you carry." (Ouch. Help!) Under the heading "Why they block a phone number" for LEO it reads "Never blocks their exes in case one sends a thirst text" (entirely true of every Leo I've dated). "What's on their bedside table" for SAG "A vintage alarm clock & trail maps from a weekend adventure" captures the sophisticated artsy vibe of my one Sagittarius friend. (Hat tip to Peter.)

Read Foria's Totally Useful Guide to Sexting. Foria, the same company that brought us the arousal oil Awaken that I reviewed in No. 5, has just today penned a definitive guide for the considerate sexter. (Talk about considerate, just on the bell to make it into this issue for you, dear Crush Readers.) "Text Dirty To Me: A Sexting Guide," covers all the bases it should, from establishing expectations and consent to checking in, and goes beyond. Sexting is like improv, they say, it's a collab with the first rule of thumb being to take what your partner gives you and build on it before volleying it back.  I was already with them (the Foria folks) when they threw in one of the first erotic novels I read as an example of good "buildup," Vox, by Nicholas Baker. Published in 1992, Vox is the story of an extended, rambling phone sex story that repeatedly rambles back to asking the other person for further details on what they want, sexually. Some of us might think we don't have all day to sext like Vox. But Foria has me thinking today might be the day to give it a try.

Read A Quiet Revolution in SPIN on the Indigo Girls Now. In the wake of the happy announcement of their upcoming summer live tour dates, Liza Lentini of SPIN fills us in on Indigo Girls' Amy Ray and Emily Saliers life in music, activism and friendship. "A Quiet Revolution," gives an in-depth and eye-opening look at their beginnings, including awkward scenario: "We played frat parties. It's pretty funny to think about that." As well as their steep trajectory (opening for R.E.M.) and current life and projects in their home state of Georgia. Longreads, which features "the best reading online" featured A Quiet Revolution amongst the best long-form pieces around. We're big fans.

Listen to Why Colton Underwood's Coming Out As Gay Is Such A Cultural Moment. Don't watch The Bachelor franchise, have a very tentative understanding of who Underwood is and don't know why you should care? Listen to Emma Gray and Claire Fallon, the hosts of the podcast Rich Text, discuss its cultural significance with Daryn Carp, host of PeopleTV's Reality Check. They sort through their own reactions and provide valuable context to understanding Colton's actions and the broader implications of Colton's coming out. I listened to it with a close gay friend and we both agreed it was an important 60 minutes.

Watch the 'Free Solo' Filmmakers Talking Film with the 'My Octopus Teacher' Filmmakers. Sometimes we connect with an octopus. Hopefully you've seen the exquisitely odd and wonderful film My Octopus Teacher about the wildly remarkable story of how a guy befriended an octopus and what he learned from her. The directors of last year's Academy Award winning documentary Free Solo, Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin, ask Pippa Ehrlich and James Reed, the directors of Octopus, how they turned 3,000 hours and eight years filming footage into an astonishingly original and moving story, and many more things here.

STIR {tactics for being more connected}

Mike's Bad Girl Pasta.  I wrote about The Sex Object Stanley Tucci, and how The New Yorker just recently realized that Tucci is a sex symbol though some of us have known since he starred in Big Night in 1996. It got me thinking about how a perfect post-pandemic Sunday night "friends gathering" would have everyone rolling up with a big bowl of their favorite pasta and a bottle of wine to share. And then we all just low-key casually shoot the shit about big and small things and everything in between as if the joy of being together in an ordinary way is ordinary life. And we really appreciate it. And the very next thing I thought is that I would want my friend Mike there and I'd hope he'd bring his "Bad Girl Pasta."

Like The Sex Object Stanley Tucci, Mike is Italian on both sides. Sicilian on his mother’s side, and Calabrese on his father’s. “There was a lot of yelling,” he offers nonchalantly. Mike learned to cook at the elbow of his grandmother, "Mama," from whom he also learned that a beautiful bowl of pasta is a bowl of love (and other important lessons about feeling the presence of love in what we eat, read, watch, hear, as he shares here.) Like the Sex Object Stanley Tucci, Mike cooks (and shares it with us on instagram.) The story of puttanesca pasta as it was handed down to Mike (most likely from "Mama").

"Italian sex workers don't make a lot of money, and they don't have a lot of time for lunch.

They needed a delicious lunch that could be made with pantry staples, a pasta sauce that could be prepped in the time it took to boil the water, and done in th time it took to cook the pasta. Thus was born Pasta Puttanesca, or "Bad Girl Pasta" as it's it's known in Mike's house. In Italian, roughly speaking, Pasta of the Whores.

Thanks, ladies."

And thanks, Mike. Here it is (along with a lot of other food stories) on Mike's insta @miketrap. You can get the recipe card on our website here.

SIMMER {original essays & opinions to consider}

Esther Perel on The Power & Responsibility of the Erotic Imagination. Sex Could Be A Playground But We're Treating It Like A Cubicle.

Erotic imagination is the essence of creativity and vitality, and a necessity for feeling truly alive.

Esther Perel, the renowned psychotherapist, talks a lot about the erotic imagination. Among the serious relationship therapists who are her peers, only she has made it a major focus of her work. I first understood why when I heard her as a guest on the Tim Ferriss show, where she spent considerable time describing her childhood and its profound influence on her worldview.* Raised in Belgium by two Holocaust survivors in a community of children raised by survivors, Perel speaks about how she noticed even as a young girl that some people survived the Holocaust, but others were alive. The difference, according to Perel? The creativity and vitality of the mind - erotic imagination.

In "Bringing Home the Erotic: 5 Ways to Create Meaningful Connections with Your Partner," Perel says: “The central agent of eroticism is our imaginations. The most overlooked erotic organ is our mind.”

Though erotic intelligence is important to a loving relationship, to think of it exclusively as something that links you to others is missing the point. Eroticism is a about you, your self-care, your own vitality and thus, your relationship with yourself. Do you want to feel alive - separate and apart from whatever you've got going on. Do you want to be alive? It's a commitment to yourself.

You are the responsible party for your desire.

Desire is a life force, and erotic imagination is the source of it. “We carry the responsibility of our desire,” says Perel in “Why Eroticism Should Be Part of your Self-Care Plan.” Why? Because desire is an expression of our free will. Nobody can force us to want. So if it is ours, then it is also our responsibility to activate it. We can turn ourselves on and we can turn ourselves off. We can have thoughts that will instantly shut us down and thoughts that will keep us open to possibility and curiosity.

This may be hard to hear for people who like to link their desire to a partner, but according to Perel it starts with the individual. And it requires a practice.

Sex could be a playground, but we’re treating it like a cubicle.

It’s the erotic imagination that transforms sex into a something that makes you feel alive. Perel speaks at length about how sex can be an animalistic, biological desire, using no more brainpower than it takes to empty the trash. But she goes on to say that we can elevate sex by using our ingenuity to make it feel new each time. When we don’t, sex doesn’t even count as erotic; according to her, “Eroticism isn’t sex; it’s sexuality transformed by the human imagination.”

A sense of routine undermines any sense of surprise, suspense or longing. How can someone possibly long for something they are tired of? People who cook the same meal over and over will come to tire of it, if not loathe it. And people who have the same kind of sex repeatedly often find that they no longer want it. Their desire plummets. Perel believes that we can solve it simply by engaging our minds. During her interview on the Ten Percent Happier podcast hosted by Dan Harris (at 24:25), she talks about how our imagination is the gateway to adding artfulness—even poetry—to sex. There’s nothing basic about sex, especially when we aspire to create rather than to climax—though that’s important, too.

How to engage the erotic imagination? Explore what brings you vibrancy. To each their own - creativity is the heart of the erotic - but we have ideas: reading erotic literature (Vox by Nicholson Baker is a great place to start - if you have a partner try reading it aloud to each other); trying a new sex toy or product; perfecting your sexting (we love Foria’s Guide to Sexting); reading some erotic poetry aloud (we might begin with Charles Simic’s Breasts). Perel provides a sampling of some of the best steamy movies in “The Best Steamy Movie Scenes and Why You Should Indulge.”

The erotic imagination is a reminder that we’re not just literal beings. We’re mysterious, unknowable souls. We can explore and play and connect with our vitality and the things that make us feel alive. It’s important for sex and our relationships. But the magic of the erotic is something we have to own for ourselves - the responsibility for knowing how to switch it on, and the commitment to do so. It's the essence of life.

*The show’s first twenty minutes on growing up in the Flemish “hood,” on her mother hiding in the woods for a year to escape nazi’s, on the five languages spoken at home and sitting in her parent’s dress shop observing in detail the ways people related are not only the high point of the podcast, but also the only place where she’s gone into the significant detail on the background that shaped her.)

Esther Perel has many specific resources on the erotic, here are some of our favorites. Blog Posts: “Why Eroticism Should Be Part of Your Self-Care Plan,” “Bringing Home the Erotic: 5 Ways to Create Meaningful Connections with Your Partner,” “How to Introduce Role Play and Fantasy into Your Relationship.”

Videos: “What is Erotic Intelligence?” “How Eroticism and Fantasy Can Help You Embrace A New Year

Podcast: “The Erotic Is An Antidote to Death” On Being with Krista Tippett

If you’re only going to take in only one thing on Perel and Desire then it should be the podcast podcast: Cultivating Desire” [The Knowledge Project Ep. #71] Farnham Street with Shane Parrish

Consider that your wake-up call for the weekend. Thanks to Lentini's SPIN article, we've got our song of the week. We hope it brings you closer to fine.

Dish Stanley XO,

PS: If you want to write for The Crush Letter, including short reviews of books, movies, products (or other things!), please check out what we've written here and how to submit to us here.

PSS: We're trying to grow our readership, so if you like what we're doing please forward this on. Thank you.

The Crush Letter
The Crush Letter is a weekly newsletter from the Dish curating articles & intelligence on everything love & connection - friendship, romance, self-love, sex. If you’d like to read some of our best stories go to Read Us.


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