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Local author dishes out modern advice for modern relationships

Sarah Mirk looks far, wide to pen love, dating guide


Photo Credit: COURTESY OF ADAM MURRAY - Sarah Mirk, author of Sex from Scratch, signs the chest of an admiring fan at The Waypost Coffeehouse and Tavern. Her book examines people who are thinking critically about their relationships.Portland author Sarah Mirk titled her new book “Sex From Scratch: Making Your Own Relationship Rules” because she wanted to set it apart from other dating books that are “built around a list of manipulative rules to help you snag a husband or girlfriend.”

She adds, “The idea that there’s a list of secret tactics that you just need to master in order to trick someone into dating you is pretty absurd — it’s a good way to sell books, but it’s counterproductive if you just want to be a happy person who has healthy, honest relationships.”

She also figured that readers in Portland, who understand the do-it-yourself approach to making things from scratch, would especially appreciate that her book applies the same language to building relationships.

Mirk will hold a book-signing party at Powell’s City of Books, 1005 W. Burnside St., at 7:30 p.m. on Aug. 25. She will ask audience members to share their best and worst dating experiences. The one deemed the best, or worst, of them all, will win a free copy of her book.

That date is also her 28th birthday, and after the Powell’s event she will hold an unofficial book signing at The Waypost, 3120 N. Williams Ave., in Portland; there will be cake and revelry, she says.

One size doesn’t fit all

Mirk is a former reporter for The Portland Mercury, currently is the online editor at Bitch, a national feminism and pop culture magazine, and hosts the podcast “Popaganda.”

In the introduction to the book, Mirk tells readers that “Sex from Scratch” is based on interviews with nearly 100 people around the United States, who were willing to share their experiences about how to make different kinds of relationships work.

“My book is based on interviews with many people who are thinking critically about their relationships — people who are really taking advantage of the freedoms we have today to build the kind of modern relationships that make them happy, whatever that looks like,” Mirk says.

Although she knows that most authors say their books are for everyone, Mirk says that hers is for anyone “who’s up for thinking critically about gender, sexuality and dating. I started writing this book because it was one I wanted to read: a book about relationships that’s not a list of rules and that features a bunch of different types of relationships.”

Most mainstream relationship books are focused on monogamy and marriage, Mirk says, and she is not sure that is exactly what she wants.

So her book “features people in open relationships, people in monogamous relationships, people who are single, people who are married, people in queer relationships, people in straight relationships, people who want to never have kids, and people who love having kids.”

Even her parents, who are in their 60s and have been married 30 years, say her book made them think differently about the world, Mirk says.

Intention, honesty

Reflecting on the book, Mirk says what really stands out to her is not one person’s story, but instead it is the variety of relationships that work for people.

“What matters is intention. People are always happier when they make deliberate, thoughtful decisions and are honest with each other.”

Mirk says she enjoyed interviewing Betty Dodson, an 83-year-old sex activist who lives in Manhattan.

Mirk says: “One thing she told me that really resonated is that honesty is never natural — we all have a tendency to lie to partners, whether it’s because we don’t want to make them feel bad or because we feel bad about ourselves. After talking to her, I made this poster that says, ‘Be More Honest’ and hung it in my room. I need that reminder every day.”

Future plans

She hopes that what readers take away from the book “is the idea that having healthy relationships with other people starts with feeling good about yourself. I hope people come away from reading the book with more tools to think about what they want for themselves and to articulate those needs and desires to other people. That sounds simple, but it’s tough work.”

In the course of writing the book, Mirk adds, she learned a lot about herself and feels she has better personal tools for making decisions about relationships and about how to speak up for what she wants.

In a few months, Mirk hopes to get started on a follow-up to “Sex From Scratch,” that will be aimed at teens.

“I’m envisioning it as a book full of lots of drawings, doodles and hand-written text, so it will feel like a zine or a journal. Instead of focusing on long-term relationships, kids and marriage, it’ll focus more on body positivity, sexual identity, friendships, safer sex and other issues teens could use more quality information about,” she says.

Mirk adds, “I’d love to know what people think of the book, good or bad. These are issues I think about and write about a lot, so if there’s something missing from the book that readers would like to see, or a topic that readers think I didn’t handle well, I’d be happy to hear about it so I can improve my coverage in the future.”

“Sex From Scratch: Making Your Own Relationship Rules” is published in Portland by Microcosm Publishing ($10.58 paperback). For more information about the book and about Mirk, visit www.sexfromscratch.tumblr

.com/book.