Friday, August 7, 2009

The First Reject

Dear Ellen Neuborne,

I'm afraid we've chosen not to use your essay in Modern Love, but we
appreciate the opportunity to consider it. The volume of unsolicited
submissions we receive prevents us from responding personally to each
writer, but please know all essays are read and considered, and in
fact we discover most of the essays for the column among these
submissions. Thank you for your interest and best of luck.

Daniel Jones
Modern Love editor
The New York Times

But Modern Love's loss is Making Modern Love's gain. Here it is, for your reading pleasure -- the first reject.

How Green Is My Sex Life
By Ellen Neuborne

As if I didn’t have enough guilt to fill a steamer trunk, my children have been hounding me all summer with the knowledge they acquired during the school year about global warming.

“How come we don’t have a recycling bin?”

“You can re-use those baggies, you know.”

My daughter takes her environmental responsibilities so seriously that last week as we engaged in our nightly ritual of hogging the bathroom and preparing for bedtime that she reached over and slapped shut the faucet I’d left running while I brushed my teeth. She met my eyes and shook her head. Not a word was spoken, but I heard all too clearly: Tsk Tsk. What about the planet? What about the children?

So I find myself rating my green-ness in all areas of my life now. Is our car green? What about our food? Our apartment? And it was only a matter of time before I got to sex. Can you have green sex?

I posed the question to one of my writer-mom friends. She shrugged. “Ask the kids. They’re the global warming experts.”

“Ask my kids about sex?”

“Okay, maybe not.”

Definitely not. But the good news is, in this day and age you don’t have to ask anyone about anything anymore. Everything you want to know is on the Internet. Certainly, green sex turned up hits aplenty. I went surfing for answers.

I discovered my preferred method of birth control was probably contributing to alarming rise of pharmaceuticals in our water supply. I learned sex toys made from certain plastics may transmit dangerous PCVs into places unmentionable and then go on to last a millennia in our landfills. It seems the jury is still out on whether or not latex condoms are biodegradable, but vegans can opt for a particular brand that is free of milk enzymes. (I’m sure my rabbi never told me condoms were dairy – but apparently this is a common ingredient in latex.)

But what I really found online was community. As I read up on sex and the global warming conspiracy, I quickly found many total strangers willing to discuss sex with me and weigh in on my green possibilities.
One helpful soul recommended bamboo fiber sheets. Another said biodynamic wine is a great aphrodisiac. Then there were the many individuals who encouraged me to do it au natural.

“Oh, I have,” I typed quickly, eager to show off my true green colors. And I related my most memorable act of outside sex. An August afternoon, an episode of skinny-dipping in the summer house pool followed by great sex on the foam rafts laid out to dry by the diving board. These decades later I can still call up the blue of the sky, the dark green of the leaves on the trees high above, the way the colors framed my lover’s face as he bent in to kiss me. Awesome.

But not, apparently, green.

My new friends were quick to point out the myriad planet killers in my still-steamy memory.

“What kind of rafts did you say? Foam?”

“Pools are not planet friendly. Chlorine? Gunite? Try the beach. ”

“That’s a misdemeanor in my zip code,” I typed.

“We all make our choices,” was the reply.


So, I choose to keep my synthetic-laced sheets. I choose to keep my current birth control (and to forget that I ever acquired the knowledge that would make me wonder if condoms present a Kashrut violation.) I choose not to think too hard about whether my nights of lights-off, kids-in-bed, late night comedian cracking wise in the background sex are green. Green or not, it’s how I still show him I love him. And love is likely the only thing that can heal the ailing planet. I’d better go tell the kids.

Ellen Neuborne has written a novel titled “My Mother, the Porn Star.”

© Copyright 2009 Ellen Neuborne


  1. Well, I can see why Modern Love would reject this essay, to be honest. Neither the subject nor the 'tone' of the piece is anywhere even remotely close to most essays published by the Modern Love column. It's not a bad piece at all: it's just not right.

  2. And it’s the wrong length – you forgot that one! It’s a 600-word essay pitched to a column that generally runs around 1500 words. So it’s fair to say this one missed the mark all around. Tune in next month to see if I’ve gotten any smarter.

  3. Hi Ellen,

    I just received a rejection from 'Modern Love' today,(my second) so I googled number of Modern Love submissions and I came up with your blog! I enjoyed your piece - found it to be humorous and touching. I think if you played up the halachic aspects - dairy, tikkun olum tied into the green theme, and more about your current relationship (think kosher sex) that your piece could sell to a Jewish periodical like Hadassah, or Lilith. Like you, I thought if I landed a Modern Love column, maybe I'd get a book deal. Two writers I know, Jamie Cat Callen, and Robert Leleux have made it in. I realize that as a writer, sometimes I don't dig as deep or be as brutally honest as I could be. That's what struck me about Kerry's piece.

    I'm glad I found your blog!

    Take care,

    Jessica Feder-Birnbaum
    Danya and Brent's mom

  4. Hi Jessica, I think your point about brutal honesty is right on the money. There's an element of soul-bearing in a good ML essay that makes it delicious to read -- and really hard to write!
    It may take me all 12 tries just to get brave enough to go there.
    What's your book about?

  5. I have two YA's and a musical play about Margaret Sanger in the works. I thought my rejected ML column would make a great memoir or novel: cyber component, love triangle, long interracial romance, resurfacing of both 'the competition' and old boyfriend.
    After my ML rejection a producer called and said he liked my script. I'm trying to hang in there...
    I'm glad Kerry shared. Thanks for sharing.

  6. I also have my own Modern Love rejection. Maybe it's some sort of badge to be worn as a writer. Keep the hope!