It began, phallically enough, on a train. In November 2001, the Amtrak carrying Patricia Belkowitz from Salinas to Oxnard was delayed for nearly 14 hours. During the wait, she struck up a conversation with a young man in the observation car. Presumably to fill some dead air, the man told her about a short story contest held by a local paper. The twist, he said, was that each entry could be only 101 words long. The concept intrigued Belkowitz so much, it inspired her to publish her own collection of stories with the same challenging restriction.
That rather mundane anecdote made it into the subsequent book — with a few embellishments:
Illuminated by bright flashes of sunlight, the half-empty bottle of Dubois Sauvignon Blanc rested on the table between them. Abstract patterns dance upon the white linen as the train rumbled along.
Absentmindedly, she stroked the stem of the wine glass. Her body swayed with the motion of the train. Lulled into a reverie, she studied the lines of his face as he talked. Beautiful stranger. She wondered what might happen before they reached his station.
Slowly, she eased her manicured toes out of her right shoe and slid her naked foot up against his leg. Delighted by the touch, he smiled.
“This was all very, very innocent,” Belkowitz says of the actual encounter. “It’s just that when it was translated into the story, it was a fantasy about what could have happened.” Out of that amorous daydream sprang one hundred others and, by April of last year, Belkowitz had Erotica 101, a spiral-bound anthology of no-frills sensuality. Each tale is more foreplay than climax: There’s a beginning and a middle, but the end is left open. The characters are never given names, referred to only by their respective pronouns. That way, Belkowitz says, readers can graft themselves into the stories and allow their imaginations to pick up where the words leave off. “We are always looking outside of ourselves to find pleasure,” she says. “Part of my mission, so to speak, is I want people to understand that it all starts in the mind … The pleasure center is between your ears.”
She should know: As a licensed hypnotherapist, “advanced therapeutic imagery facilitator” and “emotional freedom techniques practitioner” — yes, these are real job titles — Belkowitz spends a lot of time between other people’s ears. Blond and green-eyed with an easy laugh and near-constant smile, she has the aura of someone perpetually swimming in the euphoria of the universe. Sipping a mid-afternoon martini at the Whale’s Tail, the restaurant overlooking the harbor that holds her beloved boat Necessity (“because it’s not a luxury — it’s a necessity,” she explains), it’s also not hard to imagine that this is a woman in tune with her own sexuality. But Belkowitz didn’t write Erotica 101 for herself. And it’s not just about sex, either. “I can get people’s attention with sex,” she says, “and maybe if I get their attention with sex, it can help them to open up to some of the other things I’d like to teach them about creating their lives and making themselves happier and better.”
Harnessing the subconscious for self-improvement has been Belkowitz’s passion since long before she started getting paid to do it. Growing up in Connecticut, she began dabbling in transcendental meditation at age 13. Surprisingly, she wasn’t raised in a hippie commune: Her mother was a homemaker and her father worked construction. “I was the odd one in the family,” she admits. Her introduction to the metaphysical world instead came from the source of pretty much every new idea in the 1960s: the Beatles. Spurred by the Fab Four’s connection to Eastern spirituality, Belkowitz began exploring stuff like yogic breathing and trance states while in high school. In her isolated New England town, this made her seem a bit strange. “During a creative writing class in my senior year, I wrote this thing that was a little weird,” she says. “It was from a vision that I had from the meditation. At the time, they were thinking I was probably doing drugs. But I wasn’t. It had nothing to do with drugs; it was just me going somewhere.”
For decades, Belkowitz mostly kept her enlightenment for private use. (She swears she gave birth to her 19-year-old son without the assistance of any drugs, only self-hypnosis.) She moved to California in 1973, got married and went into teaching art. It wasn’t until she injured her shoulder in 2002 that Belkowitz considered turning her lifelong hobby into a second career. Unable to work, she enrolled at the Hypnosis Motivation Institute in Tarzana. It was a revelatory experience. “Hypnotherapy kind of became an umbrella, where all the things I had casually studied over the years came together,” she says. As part of the curriculum, Belkowitz opened her own hypnotherapy practice in Thousand Oaks. It was the push she needed to finally begin sharing her knowledge of the unconscious mind. “I wanted to help others. I wanted to teach them what I knew. It was like, ‘Oh, I found secrets! Let me show you!’ ”
While going through the course, Belkowitz embarked on the Erotica 101 project. As much as she enjoyed the subject of her schooling, it was school nonetheless, and composing erotic literature became a form of escape. It served much the same purpose for her back in the mid-1990s, when her husband nearly died as a result of injuries sustained in the Northridge earthquake. The trauma of that experience moved her to write an ultimately unfinished memoir, a process she describes as “cathartic.” To unwind during that period, she would often spend nights penning heated romantic fantasies she never intended anyone else to see. Those stories were a lot longer than 101 words — “and way more explicit,” she says with a mischievous chuckle.
For her book, though, Belkowitz rigorously adhered to the rules she imposed on herself: If two words went out, two more had to replace them. It developed into an exercise in restraint, and the precision is evident in the minimalism of the narration. There’s often a specific setting — a museum, an elevator, an office — and a bare-bones (ahem) description of the participants’ interaction, but beyond that, the details are sparse. It’s enough to stimulate, but not entirely gratify, and that’s the point. “People don’t think anymore. Everything is given to us,” she says. “When you think about movies, the difference between what movies used to be, when things were implied, and now when they’re blatant — I think they were more sexually exciting when they were implied. That’s why this book can work in the way that it does: You’re engaging your imagination.” The text is augmented with simple line drawings that, like the stories, are more suggestive than graphic. “Again, it was the idea of, ‘Let’s see how much the imagination will fill in.’ Just as I eliminated words, I eliminated lines.”
Erotica 101 was released last spring by Simi Valley-based publisher Oak Creek Printworks. Although it has not yet found distribution outside local adult bookstores and lingerie shops, it did land Belkowitz a speaking engagement at the annual Erotica L.A. convention in Los Angeles. She took the opportunity to do more than simply promote the book. “I was able to give a presentation on mind-body connection, and how you can use that connection to increase your pleasure. What a joy, to be able to tell people how to increase their pleasure.” Her advice wasn’t terribly complicated: Think, and you shall receive. “Your subconscious mind is a goal-achieving machine,” she says. “Whatever you tell it, it will accomplish.”
The speech led to an invitation from Playboy to read all 101 stories for broadcast on their XM Radio program Sexy Stories. The reading was almost as fun as the writing, she says. In fact, she now intends on getting her own radio show. So does that mean she wants to have a show, or that she’s already got the ball rolling on starting one? “It’s exactly the same thing, in my way of thinking,” she says, laughing. “It’s all about intention.”