book reviews

Repost: DJ Williams’ Playing Dangerous Games…

I originally wrote this book review for Epinions.com on May 11, 2011. I thought the book was pretty bad, but it was an amusing read. So I’m reposting the review as/is for your amusement.

A few months ago, I admitted to being a trifle bit kinky.  Around that time, I happened to add a few books to my Amazon.com wish list.  One of the books I added was DJ Williams’ 2010 book Playing Dangerous Games: The Personal Story of a Social Scientist Entering the Complex World of Sadomasochism.  To be honest, I’m not sure why I added this book.  It wasn’t reviewed on Amazon and it was priced at a relatively expensive $19.95.  But I recently decided to purchase some actual books as opposed to Kindle downloads and Williams’ book somehow made the cut.

Once I started reading Playing Dangerous Games, I found out why it was both rather expensive and unreviewed on Amazon.  It was published by Booklocker.com, which is an outfit that sells ebooks, print on demand titles, and self-published works.  Now… I have nothing against self-published books.  Prior to reading Williams’ book, I read a couple of other offerings by Booklocker.  One book was really awful.  The other was very good.  One thing that I notice about self-published books is that they aren’t necessarily brilliantly edited, and I did find that to be the case with this book.  On the other hand, I think maybe Williams self-published because his book might be hard to pitch to mainstream publishers.  While I think a lot of people would be very interested in reading about kink, it’s potentially embarrassing to buy a book about kink at the local Barnes & Noble.  Therefore, a mainstream publisher might not consider a book like this one a good financial risk.  Thank God for the Internet.  It spares consumers the need to approach a cashier with books about taboo topics.

Who is DJ Williams? 

At the beginning of this book, DJ Williams is a post doctoral graduate student doing research at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada.  Williams had earned his doctorate from the Faculty of Physical Education and Recreation at the same school.  Prior to becoming a professor, Williams had been a social worker, having earned a Master’s degree in Social Work from the University of Utah.  He also earned a second Master’s degree in Exercise and Sport Science from the University of Utah. 

Williams was in Edmonton, working on some research on gambling in prisons in Utah, when he innocently stumbled into the wonderful world of BDSM.  BDSM, for those who don’t know, stands for bondage, discipline, sadism, and masochism.  Williams read a paper about sadomasochism which included some discussion on SM practices such as whippings, electroshocks, canings, bondage, and anal sex.  Williams had apparently never before been exposed to these more exotic flavors on the sexual menu.

A chapter or two later, I found out why Professor DJ Williams was so sexually innocent and naive.  He was raised by devout Mormons and had served a mission in the United Kingdom for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  Prior to his mission, Williams took his first trip through the temple, where he took out his endowments and presumably donned temple garments for the first time.  After his mission, Williams came home, got married to a fellow Mormon, and had a daughter.  The marriage didn’t work out and Williams eventually left the church.  And now as a college professor, he had free rein to study the subjects that interested him.  So, although Williams was supposed to be studying gambling in Utah prisons, he soon found himself drawn to BDSM.  Before long, he had scheduled his first appointment with a professional Dominatrix named Mistress Kitten, who gently introduced him to the pleasures of “sexual deviance”. 

One thing led to another and pretty soon Dr. DJ Williams developed an alter-ego he called “Doctor Deviant”.  He began to experiment in earnest, attending his very first “munch” (a gathering of people who are interested in BDSM) and moving on to to his next mistress, Mistress Midnight.  Apparently, Mistress Midnight was well-known for being one of the most twisted of the BDSM bunch in the Edmonton area.  Mistress Midnight taught Doctor Deviant how to throw a bullwhip and exposed him to other BDSM couples who showed him just how deep the lifestyle can run. 

To the uninitiated, BDSM practices can be shocking and disturbing.  Indeed, Williams was shocked and disturbed by some of the things he saw during his earliest experiences at BDSM parties.  I got the sense that Williams was trying to overcome his sheltered upbringing as well as the conventional wisdom he’d picked up as a social worker working with sex offenders and domestic violence victims.  At the same time, he was trying to be a responsible father to his teenage daughter, Brittney, whose mother, stepfather, and half siblings were all still faithful members of the LDS church.

My thoughts

This book could have been a lot better than it is.  DJ Williams is technically a good writer.  By that, I mean there aren’t any egregious typos or grammatical errors and his prose is basically easy to read.  However, despite Williams’ obvious personal affinity for BDSM and his interest in educating himself and others about the subject, he comes off as a bit of a dork.

For one thing, he swears a lot.  It’s as if in order to shed his Mormon upbringing, he has to drop the f-bomb gratuitously as he describes the sensations he feels when Mistress Kitten ties him to a St. Andrew’s Cross and hangs five pound weights from his testicles.  Before anyone tells me they would drop the f-bomb too in that situation, I will share that Williams uses the f-word very liberally.  I’m not at all offended by cussing, but when a word is used so repetitively that it becomes annoying, I’d say it’s time to hire an editor.  And as Williams is a college professor, I would expect him to have a broader vocabulary anyway.

Williams frequently comes off as dorky and contrived in his dialogue… kind of like he’s trying too hard to be cool.  It’s as if he’s trying to make up for a lost adolescence through rebellion, and that entails taking on an alternative appearance, using the f-word, going to munches and drinking screwdrivers (groan), and submitting to a Domme.  I can tell that the BDSM turns him on and is a bit of a mindblower.  Knowing what I know about Mormonism and the stereotype about how church members tend to feel about sex that isn’t strictly vanilla, I can understand where the dorkiness and awkwardness come from.  I sense that despite his efforts to be open-minded, Williams still seems to think there’s something kind of “wrong” with BDSM. 

Williams’ dialogue reads like a cheap novel in that it’s very amateur.  He writes a lot of internal dialogue that comes off as especially disingenuous.  He seems uncomfortable with what he’s doing, even after he wades into the BDSM underground and apparently really enjoys the experience.  Even the title conveys what, to me, seems likes Williams’ conflicted feelings about BDSM.  Done correctly, BDSM doesn’t have to be dangerous at all, and yet Williams titles his book Playing Dangerous Games.

Williams also seems to have a problem with overweight women.  In one chapter, he describes attending a BDSM party where many people are participating in “scenes”.  He notes a “heavyset” woman being tied to a table by male Dominant.  Then he writes that he can’t believe she’s comfortable enough with her body to engage in a public scene.  It seems to me that Williams was trying to be “nice” in using the euphemism “heavyset”, when he evidently meant to say the woman was fat and unattractive and should be ashamed of herself.  Later, Williams describes a private party he had with several other people, one of whom was an overweight woman.  He writes outright that he doesn’t find her attractive.  But then, once the scene starts, he realizes that the “heavyset” woman is a natural actress who makes the scene more real for him.  She becomes more attractive to him for that reason.  But if he hadn’t been tied to a bed, would he have given her a chance to show her most attractive qualities? 

I guess I can give him credit for at least realizing his bias… eventually, anyway.  I do think that he pays lip service to looking beyond the surface, though.  I checked out his Web site and saw evidence that he’s still pretty hung up on the external.  It’s been my experience that people who spend a whole lot of time on their physical appearances often do so to cover up some less flattering internal qualities.

Anyway…

Despite my criticisms, I did find this book interesting on many levels.  For one thing, I myself hold Master’s degrees in social work and public health, so I could relate to some of Williams’ comments about the social work profession.  For another thing, my husband is an ex-Mormon.  He was not raised in the faith, so it’s not a pervasive part of him, but he did spend enough time as a Mormon convert that he knows the culture very well.  I, in turn, have done plenty of research on the subject of Mormonism, though I have never been and will never be a member of the church myself.  And then there’s the fact that I’m also a little kinky, though not nearly as kinky as Williams is. 

I also admire Williams for writing about this subject.  I think it takes a lot of guts to research BDSM, especially given the fact that he’s a college professor and an ex-Mormon.  I do think that Williams seems to have radically rejected his roots.  He’s dyed his hair different colors, gotten tattoos, and been branded… and he engages in some pretty exotic and erotic sexual practices.  However, it did occur to me that Williams has traded membership in a very strict, controlling church community for membership in another controlling group.  After all, Williams went from being a member of a church that told him what kind of underwear to wear to being a member of another group that tells him what kind of underwear to wear.  I’m sure Williams’ Mistress has a say in whether he wears boxer briefs or a cock ring. 

By Williams’ account, Mormonism is spiritually and behaviorally confining, while BDSM is literally confining.  It might be said that members of both groups could be led to a kind of liberation… In both situations, one gives up personal power to become part of something bigger than themselves.  A devout Mormon submits for the promise of a wonderful afterlife with loved ones.  Someone who submits to a Dominant submits for the promise of a wonderful physical and mental experience.  Being “forced” to submit allows the submissive to experience heightened sexual arousal without any guilt.

Overall

I can’t say that reading Playing Dangerous Games was a waste of time.  While I wish it had been better edited, I have to admit that Williams’ book did give me some food for thought.  I would recommend it to readers who want to learn more about BDSM, especially from an academic standpoint.  I also think this book would be interesting reading for ex-Mormons, particularly kinky ones.  Devout Mormons, on the other hand, might not like this book. 

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book reviews, true crime

Repost of my review of A Mother’s Trial, by Nancy Wright.

I originally posted this review on Epinions.com. I reposted it on the original blog on May 13, 2015. I am reposting it again, as is. This is a fascinating story.

A person who has Munchausen syndrome deliberately makes themselves ill so that he or she is forced into a doctor’s care.  People who suffer from Munchausen syndrome by proxy don’t make themselves sick; instead, they deliberately make their child sick.  It’s said that both forms of Munchausen syndrome arise when a person has a bizarre need for attention from medical professionals.     

It’s hard to imagine a loving parent intentionally hurting their child.  It’s even harder to imagine such a parent working as a trusted social worker.  And yet, Nancy Wright’s book A Mother’s Trial is about such a parent.  In the mid to late 1970s, Priscilla Phillips was convicted of second degree murder for the death of her adopted Korean daughter, Tia.  She was found guilty of deliberately making Tia sick by poisoning her with sodium which eventually led to the child’s death.  She was also found guilty of endangering the life of a second adopted daughter, Mindy.

The story

Priscilla Phillips met her husband, Steve, in the mid 1960s, when she was a student at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, South Carolina.  She planned to earn a bachelor’s degree in social work and then go on for her master’s degree in social work from the University of California at Berkeley.  The Phillipses were able to meet Priscilla’s goals; after she finished her bachelor’s degree, they moved west.  Steve got a job at a juvenile detention center and Priscilla earned her master’s degree and became a social worker. 

The couple had two sons, Erik and Jason, but a medical issue required Priscilla to have a hysterectomy.  Feeling that their family was still incomplete, Steve and Priscilla decided to adopt a baby girl.  Tia was born in 1975 and at the time, there were a lot of Asian babies being adopted and brought to the United States.  The aftermath of the Vietnam War made it especially popular for childless couples to adopt Vietnamese babies sired by American G.I.s.  Steve and Priscilla had originally planned to do just that.  But fate led them to Tia, a tiny Korean girl.  As he held the baby just moments after her arrival from Korea, Steve Phillips was sure his family was complete.   

But then Tia got sick.  She had a fever and multiple infections that had plagued her since her arrival in the United States.  She was vomiting and had explosive diarrhea.  Priscilla took her to see a pediatrician and eventually Tia was admitted to Kaiser Permanente-San Rafael.  The child suffered for months until she finally died, wasted by dehydration caused by diarrhea. 

Suspicions arose when Steve and Priscilla Phillips adopted a second Korean infant, a daughter they named Mindy, in 1977.  Mindy was not biologically related to Tia, yet she soon developed the same troubling and unusual symptoms and landed in the same hospital ward her older adopted sister had.  By all accounts, Priscilla Phillips was a loving and devoted mother who was helpful to the staff taking care of her daughters… until she fell under suspicion for poisoning them.   

My thoughts

Nancy Wright has done a pretty good job relating the complicated tale of a woman who had seemed so good doing the unthinkable.  Wright, who has worked as an English teacher and a screenwriter, keeps this book conversational with dialogue and a writing style that sort of conveys an earthiness, especially on the part of Steve Phillips, whom she makes out to be a very simple, blue collar type of guy.  She includes information on the court case that eventually put Priscilla Phillips behind bars, though there are no photos included in the Kindle edition of this book.

A Mother’s Trial was originally published in 1984, but was recently offered on the Kindle in a 2012 edition.  As far as I can tell, A Mother’s Trial was not updated for the Kindle, except to clear up the educational details of one of the prosecutors.  I was a little taken aback by how old this case was; I guess I didn’t read the book description very carefully before I downloaded it.  Nevertheless, this is a pretty interesting case, since books about Munchausen syndrome and Munchausen syndrome by proxy tend to be somewhat rare.   

Most of the time, true crime writers tend to take a decided tone against people who commit crime.  Wright’s tone seemed almost sympathetic toward Priscilla.  Indeed, even as I was finishing this book, I wondered if it was going to turn out that Priscilla had been wrongly accused.  It wasn’t until she was sent away to prison that I realized she had been convicted, though I’m still not sure if she actually committed the crime.  I realize this may be a turn off for some readers.  Also, Wright has not updated the book with information about what happened to Priscilla.  It’s been over three decades since her conviction.  I wonder if she’s still in prison (ETA: I just discovered from a news article that she served four years).

Overall

I’ve read better true crime, but I do think A Mother’s Trial is interesting reading for those who want to learn more about Munchausen syndrome by proxy.  I do wish Wright had updated this book, though, and would have appreciated some photos.  For that reason, I give it three stars and my recommendation.

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psychology

The wrong idea…

I saw the above photo this morning and decided I had to add it to my personal collection. There’s so much truth in it, especially for me. My whole life, I’ve been called “weird”, even by supposed loved ones. I suspect I have this problem because I have an outspoken personality and a rather well-developed vocabulary… (in English, anyway). Many people tend to chafe at anyone who doesn’t go along with the crowd. I don’t like hanging out in groups, nor do I enjoy having queen bee types trying to tell me what to do. I like having good friends, but I prefer to see them one on one or in small groups. I also have a very unique laugh that annoys some people. I can’t help it. It’s the laugh God gave me. It’s loud and distinctive and I’ve caught shit my whole life for it. Other people find it “infectious”. I like ribald, inappropriate humor. Bring on the fart jokes and oversharing. I’m all over it.

For many years, I tried to be more like the way other people said I should be. I can remember agonizing in grade school and high school, trying not to say or do such “weird”, offbeat things and trying to tone down my raucous laugh. Nothing worked, and I became really depressed because I didn’t think I’d ever find a tribe who accepted me for who I am. I also figured I’d wind up an old maid, since I didn’t have a lot of dates. But stifling my true self led to self-loathing and destructive habits. After years of trying to fit my square self into a round hole, I decided I needed to simply be the most authentic version of who I am.

The lovely thing about getting older is realizing that you’re never going to please everyone. Someone will always find something to dislike about you. Fortunately, in most cases, just as many people will find something to love. I have a number of wonderful friends, and even a few family members, who think I’m just great. My husband, who is himself one of those people who works hard at being liked, has told me more than once that he admires my ability to express myself. I have helped teach him that being “liked” isn’t always the best thing, especially when it causes you to compromise your own values. It’s still hard for him to stand up for himself, but he’s now better able to do it than he used to be. He’s told me that it’s partly because he sees that not being liked isn’t the end of the world, because in most cases, for every one person who dislikes you, there’s another who will get everything you are and love you for it.

I have a friend who is struggling with some life choices right now. She’s around my age and has decided to go back to school for a master’s degree. She’s been in other master’s programs and has never been able to finish, mainly due to the programs not being a good fit for her. Still, she has the drive to keep trying and one day succeed. Recently, she announced her decision to get a master’s degree in social work. I piped up to tell her that I have a MSW myself. I don’t use it, or either of my other two degrees, in a professional manner. However, I can’t say that I regret any of the degrees I’ve earned, especially now that they’re paid for. Each educational experience was worthwhile and each one left me with new skills and knowledge. I do use the skills and knowledge, just not in the manner in which I expected.

I told my friend that she’ll find that the emphasis in social work is encouraging clients toward achieving self-determination and adapting situations to work for specific clients. I encouraged her to look at herself as her very first client. The first step is to ignore the naysayers and do what works best for her situation. Social work is going to require a lot of hands on work, paper writing, group work, and hours. My program, had I not done a dual degree with public health, was 60 hours. With the public health degree, it was 81 hours. I actually completed 90 hours– 84 for the graduate degrees and two undergrad prerequisite classes. I took an extra graduate class because I was interested in the topic and thought it would be useful. It might have been, if my life had gone the way I planned it once I determined that I was an old maid. But then, it turned out I wasn’t an old maid, and I got swept into the globetrotting Army wife lifestyle. So now, here I sit, writing these sage words for those who care to read them.

There is more than one way to get through life. What works for one person doesn’t always work for the next. Each person is cut out for different things. You can’t control what people will say or think about you, so it does no good to worry too much about it. People have their own reasons for thinking and feeling the way they do, and you’ll never fully be able to know or understand the vast majority of those reasons. I’m sure that my personality triggers people positively and negatively, because I’m not particularly laid back and I tend to say exactly what I think. If I don’t say it verbally, it usually comes out on my face. I have very expressive eyes and facial expressions that often do my talking for me. That’s why I tend to be verbally direct. The eyes don’t lie.

If I don’t say something out loud, I’ll often write it. People read what I write and some people connect to it. Other people get angry or offended and try to silence me. I’ve gotten plenty of negative feedback on posts I write on my blogs. It always surprises me how upset people can get when another person dares to express themselves, even on something like a blog post. It’s like they can’t fathom how or why someone might want to write something down. They can’t seem to understand why I would write something so upsetting to them, seeming to forget that I don’t even know the vast majority of the people who read my words, and they don’t know me. I have no idea what most people’s personal situations are, or what will trigger them. Most of what I write isn’t for other people anyway. It’s for me. Moreover, while this is mostly a public blog, it’s still my space. Anyone who reads this has come into my space, the same way they might visit another person’s home. Everyone is free to leave my home anytime they want to.

I can be funny and entertaining for some people, yet others have told me I rub them the wrong way. I find that it’s usually “leaders” and controlling types who don’t like me, because I’m not much of a follower. I don’t take orders well, particularly if I sense that the person doing the ordering is not worthy of being followed. I do best when I work independently and am allowed to be creative.

I haven’t seen my friend in person in many years. We knew each other in high school and are now connected only on Facebook. She’s always struck me as smart, talented, caring and kind. While there’s a pragmatic side of me that would worry about trying so many different academic programs, there’s another side that thinks about how short life is… and how there are only so many opportunities to try new things. People are going to say whatever. They’re going to think what they’re going to think. It’s her life… and this is my life. When it comes down to it, deep down, most people know what’s in their hearts and what they can do.

There’s so much truth in this. The older I get, the more I realize that other people’s opinions, especially about me and what I do, are none of my business… because they are mostly formed by things that have nothing at all to do with me.

While I wish I were still as young, healthy, and pretty as I used to be– even though my love life is much better in my 40s– I would not want to relive any part of my life. Wisdom is a good thing. So is the ability to tell other people to fuck off without fearing repercussions. In my case, telling people to fuck off happens verbally or non-verbally. I can’t help it. But I really am a nice person deep down… I have a big heart and a great capacity for compassion. If people want to think I’m more of a bird flipping lion, that’s on them. Sometimes being thought of in that way is also advantageous.

Those are my deep thoughts for today. Now it’s time to watch Bill brew his latest homebrew.

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