I’m Alexander Cheves, a sex writer, worker, and educator. Friends call me Beastly. My book, My Love Is a Beast: Confessions, is available now everywhere books are sold.
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A little about me:
Without a working right ear, I am between two worlds — hearing and Deaf — and both are rendered more difficult by my halfway-ness. I have talked with other hard-of-hearing folks who share in this struggle: it is doubly hard for us to focus on what others are saying, and our focus energy drops every time we have to ask someone to repeat themselves. When I’m tired, I mentally check out. I think this is one reason why I write: words on a page have always been my easier communication method.
My half-deafness and neurodivergent brain mean that my ability to be fully present has always been one click removed. Part of my mind stays outside myself, observing as if from across the room, asking big questions while I’m hanging out with friends or in a bar. Around cool people, I wonder how I will portray them if I write about them, and sometimes I make mental notes to remember what they are saying as accurately as possible. When interesting things happen to me, I can’t just enjoy them. I wonder to myself: Is this an essay?
This disconnect is where my writing starts. Virginia Woolf is said to have thought of first sentences, complete and unchanged, before ever putting pen to paper. I know reporters who are very structured: they take the rules most folks were taught in school about essays and book reports and apply them to news writing. They write a thesis statement, bullet points, and conclusion, then fill in the meat between the bones. Jack Kerouac did the opposite: he doped up on Benzedrine and attacked his typewriter in a drugged frenzy.
I don’t do any of that. When I sit down at my computer, I look away, at the corner of the room or a window, and ask myself, often aloud, “What am I really trying to say?” The really in this question matters; it’s easy for writers to write themselves into a piece, wandering aimlessly for a bit, or just get caught up in the fun of words and end up saying nothing. I do this a lot, so it helps for me to ask this question aloud. It’s the same question a good editor or good writing coach should ask a writer: What is the purpose of this? Why does this exist? What are you really saying? When I think I have an answer, I start talking — to the empty room — and just transcribe.
All writing is storytelling, and the most natural way humans tell stories is by talking. We sit at bars and tell friends what happened. We sit around bonfires and tell ghost stories. We do this without thinking about it. We’re just talking, just doing what people do. Writing, in my opinion, should not be viewed as an elevated version of that. Writing is just the transcription of speech.
Once upon a time, there were traveling bards roaming across Europe telling stories to illiterate villages. Those stories were told over and over and became our great fairy tales and epics. Before those bards, an ape on two feet formed language — and, if some theories are to be believed, consciousness with it — telling stories on the African plain. As far as we can tell, humans are the only animals to fictionalize and historicize our experiences. We are the only storytellers we know of in the universe.
After I get going, I look at the computer screen. But I don’t stop talking aloud. I have to write in privacy because I must be an odd sight: a grown man mumbling to himself in front of a computer for hours on end. This is my writing process, and I doubt it’s very uncommon. I imagine many writers do this. It is strange to me that my method so necessitates the physical ability to hear — a slowly diminishing feature of my life. My hearing loss is degenerative. Someday I will be fully deaf, and what I fear most about that day is not the loss of music or dancing, but the loss of my ability to write.
My great teacher in college, the novelist Jonathan Rabb, told me many times in his classes that writing is about training the ear (in my case, only one). You can hear grammatical errors you’d miss visually, and you can hear, to borrow his phrase, when the text is “singing,” when you’ve hit that magical vein and know it’s working. It’s pure creation at that point. When he said “ear,” I don’t think he necessarily meant the physical ear, but some kind of mysterious inner one. Still, I’ve taken his advice quite literally. I edit my work by reading it aloud, over and over, to myself. Writing a book made me go hoarse because I talked so much. In those weeks under deadline, I discovered my breaks were when I needed to rest my voice.
The book is now sitting on shelves. You can buy it everywhere books are sold. If your local bookstore does not have My Love Is a Beast: Confessions, please ask them to order it, and understand that there is a global paper supply chain issue happening now thanks to COVID-19, so you might wait a bit longer for it. This thing I mumbled to myself aloud can now be held in your hands. The book tour is mostly wrapped, with only two more official readings left — a virtual one hosted by Literati Bookstore in Ann Arbor on Wednesday, November 3rd, and an in-person one at Nasty Pig’s new headquarters in New York City on Friday, November 5th (this reading is currently sold out). These are not the last readings I’ll ever do — there are at least three more, yet to be announced, and hopefully more after that.
I love reading the book aloud, and doing so feels natural because the book started its life this way. Being half-deaf, I can’t hear the crowd, the shuffling in the seats, the sounds of boredom or discomfort, and that’s probably a good thing. I can only hear my own voice, ringing back to me at half-volume (as a child, I trained myself to speak extra softly — talking at the volume I can easily hear is yelling to everyone else). I am so proud of this book. The words feel perfect in my mouth.