Sunday, February 5, 2012

The Wild Boar in Me

By Ann Regentin

Q: Why are you interviewing yourself for this blog? Isn't that a little weird?

A: I'm uncomfortable writing this. An interview format makes it easier for some reason, so I hope everyone will indulge me.

Q: Your story in Coming Together: In Flux is called "Meltdown". What inspired you to write this?

A: This story wasn't so much inspired as requested. Nobilis Reed, who edited In Flux, asked me to write something about the transformative nature of chronic illness. I was diagnosed with lupus twenty years ago and have developed other problems along the way, so I have extensive experience with that.

Q: So this should have been easy.

A: It was one of the hardest short pieces I've ever written! I normally write from imagination or from a somewhat distant vantage point. Putting this much of myself on the page was excruciating.

Q: Is this autobiography?

A: Not exactly, but it's not exactly fiction, either. It's somewhere in between.

Q: You compare life after chronic illness to the site of the Chernobyl meltdown. Isn't that a bit too lifeless for sex?

A: The area around Chernobyl is teeming with life. At the time of the disaster, about twenty percent of the area was forested. Now it's up to about eighty, with over two hundred species of animals. There are even birds nesting in the concrete Sarcophagus that encloses the damaged reactor. The Red Forest, which got hit so hard with fallout that it’s one of the most contaminated places in the world, is green again. There’s evidence of genetic abnormalities in both flora and fauna, things like slowed growth or abnormal tail feathers, but overall the area is thriving.

There are still a few people living there. Some are scientists and workers decommissioning the remaining reactors, and others preferred to live with the radiation rather than leave their homes, but the wildlife has pretty much taken over.

Q: And that's how you see yourself? Taken over by wildlife?

A: Yes. Being chronically ill means that I don’t get out much. It cuts me off from human interference, which has left me to develop in idiosyncratic ways. In addition, lupus has directly influenced my sexuality, much as the radiation has influenced the wildlife around the Chernobyl site, so while I've had some freedom, I've also been altered, and some of those alterations have been to parts of myself that were influenced by the other people's expectations.

Q: How did other people's expectations influence your sexuality?

A: People have expectations about how we’re supposed to be sexual, and that’s not necessarily bad. Relationships need ground rules, just like any other human interaction needs ground rules, but I always chafed under them. There was a constant, underlying anxiety that destabilized me, and I can’t afford that when I’m ill. After I was away from those expectations for a while, I found that I preferred to drop them entirely. I didn’t want to reject them or rebel against them, because that just comes with a different set of rules. I wanted them to not exist.

The isolation made it possible for that to happen, and when it did, parts of me that had previously been constrained started taking over. It was out of this radioactive wildlife sanctuary sexuality that my erotica was born. Before that, the kind of exploration I needed to do wasn't possible, and I've since found that relationships are incredibly disruptive.

Q: Why do you think that is?

A: Partly because I'm still radioactive. I'm still disabled. Neither modern nor alternative medicine have a decontamination protocol that works. I have adapted to my condition, but it was a painful process and most people prefer not to have to go through that, even second-hand. I didn't enjoy it myself, so I don't blame them.

The other problem is a hard truth that came out of the aftermath of Chernobyl: the dangers posed to wildlife by radiation are nowhere near as bad over the long term as the dangers of human intervention. Plants and animals can adapt better to high levels of radiation than they can to habitat encroachment, pest elimination and other efforts on the part of humans to manage their environment. For good or ill, I've adapted better to disability than I ever did to the rules governing intimate relationships, regardless of what form those relationships took.

All most people see in the exclusion zone around Chernobyl is the radiation and the effect it had on human lives, and there’s a certain amount of rubbernecking going on, which is different from observation. The nearby town of Pripyat attracts tourists, who come armed with Geiger counters and whatnot, and it attracts graffiti artists, photographers and looters as well. There's a lot of shock, and sadness and anger and horror and perhaps even a sense of superiority, that we never had a meltdown like that, and I see a lot of that with chronic illness, too. People are shocked, sad, angry, horrified and, to put it bluntly, sometimes rather smug, and they rubberneck, too. It's rare that anyone sticks around long enough to realize, as the scientists who study the Red Forest did, that the meltdown's impact on the ecosystem was a net positive.

People describe that area as "post-apocalyptic" because of the decaying remains of a abruptly abandoned lives, but for a wild boar, the area is, if you'll forgive the expression, hogs' heaven. They’ve been hunted nearly to extinction in other, more human-friendly places, and that's the thing. The wild boar in me is very, very happy and doesn't want the humans to move back. It’s fine with the radiation. I don’t think it even notices. The human in me continues to scratch her head over this situation, because while the empty buildings and rusting vehicles are monuments to tragedy, the wild boar has value, too, value that we push aside when we build all of this stuff. It would be great if we were better at negotiating with the wild boar, but whether or not we can do it, we don't do it. Even when we set aside space, we're still doing it on our terms, and it takes something like Chernobyl before the boar gets to make the rules.

It’s been a little disturbing to realize that I adapted better to disability than to the relationships, and that I’m most contentedly sexual when I’m alone, but that’s the wild boar in me.

By the way, I'm giving away a copy of my novel Train Wreck to one person who leaves a comment on this post. Please be sure to include your email address.


From "Meltdown"

In Coming Together: In Flux

But in solitude, I have gone feral, able to give in to every desire, and fiercely defensive of my territory. Female sexuality is a powerful force, one that most cultures put enormous time and effort into controlling, and mine is now unchecked. It can go anywhere it wants, burning through what was supposed to contain it, consuming everything man-made and transforming into something no one has ever seen before, including me.

I have become comfortable with myself in new ways. I know exactly what I need, when I need it, and it is instantly granted. I answer to nothing and no one. If I want fast, I do fast. If I want slow, I can do that, too, building up for so long that orgasm resembles cocaine, then waking up from it to realize that over an hour has passed.

How often? However often I want, and the non-physical nature of arousal has never been more apparent to me. Sometimes I lie in bed imagining things, or reading them until I can no longer stand it, and only then do I resort to touch. Sometimes I start with touch, and let fantasy swirl around for a while until it becomes something coherent. I know exactly where I’m most sensitive, mentally and emotionally as well as physically, exactly how to use that, and have discovered that the end trigger for orgasm can be something as simple as a touch on my belly or thigh. Sometimes I come in my sleep.

Passion has burned through its containment vessel, blowing off the lid, setting fire to the world itself. The new growth of grass, the first spring crocuses, an iridescent beetle on a brick wall are all brighter than before. The first flakes of snow hit my face as delicately as a lover’s touch. Wind caresses my skin and sun warms it until it glows. The sensation of sliding in between cool sheets makes going to bed a delight, and curling up in a pair of flannel pajamas makes anticipating winter a form of foreplay. A morning shower heats me all the way through. A piece of chocolate melts me. A cup of spiced tea warms me. I live in a state of near-constant arousal, not the equivalent of a raging erection, but enough to make every sense just a little sharper and a lot sweeter.

Deep inside the sarcophagus, the corium looks inert, but it is still hot to a geiger counter, so hot and so hard that they had to use an AK-47 to get samples and then send in a remote device to pick them up. It generates dust spontaneously, and new, unnamed compounds are forming in it as it ages. Chernobyl is still active, only now it’s free of its confinements. The human race can encase it or ignore it, but they cannot stop it.

The meltdown at Chernobyl scorched the nearby woodland so badly that it became known as the Red Forest. People estimated that it would be barren for decades, but now it’s green with birch trees. Wild boar have moved in, as have wolves, lynx and hares. Endangered eagles have found a haven there, and it’s one of the few places left in the world where Przewalski’s horse roams free. The survival rate is lower than usual and there are mutations, subtle genetic confusion caused by the radiation, but nothing two-headed. While humanity bleats and wrings its hand, the area around Chernobyl has become a wildlife preserve.

I am not pretending that this upheaval is easy, or comfortable. It is, however, natural. Sickness and radiation were built into this world, death was built into this world, and it shows us the limits of our control. When we find something powerful, our impulse is to harness that power for our own use, and we are arrogant enough to believe we can contain a force of nature. Mistakes and miscalculation are fatal here, but they, like death, are part of the human condition. Eventually, somewhere, a system will fail, and create something more dangerous than what we started with.


Bio: Ann Regentin has written everything from reading comprehension test to poetry and music, but seems to have found her real niche somewhere in the gutter. As of now, she's still too happy there to climb out, but if you'd care to join her, you can visit her web site.


Imp said...

Regardless of your reasons, Ann, I'm thrilled you are part of Coming Together's roster of incredible authors!

Victoria Blisse said...

Thank you for such a glimpse into your life. It's illuminating.

Michelle said...

I really enjoyed the interview format...very informative, really enjoyed the excerpt...

Michelle B. aka koshkalady

Annabeth Leong said...

The Chernobyl metaphor has a lot of power. It's particularly interesting that you point out the difference between my associations and the reality. I definitely think of a post-apocalyptic wasteland when I think of Chernobyl. It's provocative, especially in context, that it's in fact full of life. Thank you!

The Scarf Princess said...

Such an intriguing post with its thought provoking comparisons. As a quadriplegic, many of the issues you bring up I can relate to. Thanks for being here today and for the great excerpt!

joderjo402 AT gmail DOT com

Garceus said...

This is one of the most unusual blog posts I've read anywhere in a long time. I'm just so amazed I don;t know what to think. Part of me feels sorry for you, and part of me greatly admires you. If Emily Dickinson wrote erotica you'd be her.

Your disability has isolated you but left you flights of imagination. I was watching an episode of Stephen Hawking's universe, and there was this shriveled man in a suit hunched in a wheel chair, not moving at all. And yet he sees the universe and teachs us about it. You and Stephen Hawking. What an amazing time we live in.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing today in your interview. You make a fascinating comparison between Chernobyl and your illness.


Ann Regentin said...

What wonderful, insightful comments! I was nervous about the comparison with Chernobyl, both when I wrote the original story and when I wrote this. I'm glad to see that it resonated with people, both those who are and aren't disabled.

I have never been compared to Emily Dickinson or Stephen Hawking before and I doubt it will happen again, so I'm going to treasure that. Thank you, Garceus.

Ann Regentin said...

Oh, hey Joder! The random number generator has smiled on you. An e-book copy of Train Wreck is all yours! Drop me a line at (My website is a bit messed up right now.)

Thanks again everyone for stopping by and supporting Coming Together.

Jolie du Pre said...

I came across Ann Regentin years ago at ERWA. Thanks for the read!

Sacchi Green said...

A metaphor so true it's blinding. And beautiful, in a no-holds way.

Post a Comment

Let me know your thoughts! (And if you're having trouble commenting, try enabling third-party cookies in your browser...)