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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Without a working right ear, I live between two worlds — hearing and Deaf — and both are rendered more difficult and inaccessible by my halfway-ness. I have talked with other hard-of-hearing folks who share 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.
I can’t say for certain that my half-deafness is solely responsible for this, but 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 too-big questions while I’m hanging out with friends or dancing 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. In the moment, I wonder, 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 in their approach: they take the rules most of us were taught in school about essays and book reports and apply them to news and commentary. 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, impulsive 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, “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 should ask and a good writing coach should ask: what is the purpose of this? Why does this exist? When I think I have an answer, I start talking — to the window, 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 last week. We sit around bonfires and tell ghost stories. We do this without thinking about it, because 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’ve found in the universe.
After I get started, of course, 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 loudly to himself in front of a computer for hours on end.
This is my writing process, and I doubt it’s an uncommon one. I imagine many writers do the same. 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. Will I lose what I love most?
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 literally. I edit my work by reading it aloud, over and over. Writing a book made me go hoarse because I talked so much. In those weeks under deadline, I forgot to eat and sleep and discovered my breaks were when I needed to rest my throat.
The book is now sitting on bookstores 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 thanks to COVID-19, so you might wait a bit longer for it. This thing I mumbled to myself can now be held in strangers’ hands. The book tour is mostly wrapped up, 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 spoken word by word. 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 quietly — talking at a volume I can comfortably hear is yelling for everyone else).
I am so proud of this book. The words feel good in my mouth.