01 October 2003

Reviewing "The Lisa Diaries"

"A FRIEND TOLD ME that if you masturbate right before a date, it gives you a glow.” This is Lisa Carver, punk rocker, writer and on-line diarist in reference to her wedding day. She writes often that she dislikes masturbation, but did covet the picture of herself a glowing bride in white.

Predating most “weblogs,” Carver’s notorious let-it-all-hang-in column, “The Lisa Diaries,” taken one entry at a time, was a droll travelogue across an uncharted terrain of inventive, gender-bursting sexuality. Who’s going to resist four hundred, five hundred words at a spurt that begin with terse, bright confessions like “I have been masturbating like a madwoman”? Or a writer who can reflect, “Dave and I need a wife—I’m much more like another husband. I work all the time and want someone to bring me a drink”? In Lisa’s candid dispatches about love, lust and creative relationships in the expanded collection of her reports from the open marriage bed, “ours is a tale of marital problems and solutions, just with a few more penises and vaginas than usual.”

There aren’t many writers who can pull this off, day after day. The creepy part of so many confessional diaries, political weblogs and spiraling rants found nowadays in “blogs” and “weblog rings,” is what sexless virtual circle jerks they are. It’s dispiriting that so many have so little to say at such length.

Lisa is open. (I’ll show you my weblog if you show me yours.) Her work is best when she’s concise, evoking hours of experience in a simple summa: “We fight all the time. Our latest fight, caused by his rejection of my hairless experiment and my inability to understand his skinny dying girl fantasy.”

In the online incarnation, Lisa escaped narcissism with the same punk rock zeal and attitudinal vehemence she poured into earlier vehicles, her band, Suckdog, and her classic zine, Rollerderby. The distilled intensity is daunting. Of course we want some bluster, the half-and-half in sex’s strong coffee—one writer who figures into the book has posted in her own web journal that some of Lisa’s work is “slightly embellished/fabricated, but that’s fine with me.” In measured doses, it’s tough to dislike someone who considers, “I got a haircut very unlike my usual pigtails: short, jagged bangs and long sides. It’s severe. You know what it is? The haircut of a woman who gets gone down on.” It’s not the same as Erica Jong’s notorious 1970s notion of the “zipless fuck,” it’s the zipless lips that Lisa’s got. I read the book over the course of a couple of weeks, imbibing only a few juicy rockets charging from her lifeforce at a time. Trying to read more than that is overwhelming: so much tenderness, so much raucous conflict, so much wetness. The short, sharp shock is Carver’s form.

While the entries were being posted, Lisa became aware that her relatives and acquaintances were checking in on her. It’s an idea that makes her even giddier: think of that level of exposure and/or exhibitionism, that all your friends and family might have read your mind, I mean, diary, without talking about it, that your illin’ repute might precede you. (Nice work if you can get it.) It’s unlovely enough a notion that someone would want to read anyone’s journals unless they’re brilliant and at least twenty years dead.

Most of the narrative finds Lisa and Dave negotiating the rules of their open marriage, their novelties, their fights. (She calls her 2000 entries “The Year of Swapping Dangerously.”) Here’s a visit to a private sex club: “The night had begun with such promise—flogging, Saran Wrap, toe-licking. But, in the end, Dave and I did the same exact thing we’ve done at more intellectual and clothed parties—have a quick in the coatroom and slink away.” She’s sentimental and so attached to her Dave, again and again. “Sleeping with someone else is one thing, but it would be wrong to let someone else borrow Dave’s space in my heart, even for a minute.” (Awwwww. It’s an ideal she’s rampaging through, illustrating with uncommon deftness, how communication in a relationship, the sharing of dreams and fantasies, create not only an obstruction against the outside world, but make both partners more open.

But then there’s always another naughty notion. Her friends are a confederacy of sensual voyagers. She and a friend shop for a strap-on dildo. Dave’s confronted her about bad credit, cocaine and the “exotic foods” aisle of the grocery. “It’s going to be a pleasure to fuck this new, regimented person up the ass. I wanted to impress Dave with my penis,” she writes. “We decided I’d get a medium… Then Rachel reminded me of some means things Dave has done and said… and I contemplated getting a supersize instead.”

All the sex, all the time, good, bad and convoluted, always flirting with heartbreak and laughter: “Anonymous sex or competitive sex never brings you the awareness of life that comes with love. Bad sex—frenzied, unfriendly, confrontational—is not painful. Loving sex is. Especially when there are rocks under you.”

The Lisa Diaries: Four Years in the Sex Life of Lisa Carver and Company
By Lisa Carver
Black Books, paper, $16, 272 pages

[Newcity, 1 October 2003]