What I Learned This Summer

I got back a few days ago from GCLS in New Orleans and wrote all about it over at Women & Words.

One of the most memorable moments for me was when Dorothy Allison, author of Bastard Out of Carolina and other works, said during her keynote speech:

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Dorothy Allison keynoting

My daddy was a son of a bitch, and my mamma didn’t love me. I write to survive.

Her speech was poignant and moving, and many of us in the audience got teary. Even Ann McMann, graphic designer and author of several novels, said later at the Goldie Awards ceremony that she’d had an epiphany. She said that she was a designer because she was trained to be one, but after hearing Dorothy’s speech, she realized that she writes to survive. (You can read more about Ann’s epiphany HERE.)

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Stevie Nicks Is the Key

Once again, I’m faced with the coincidence question.

So, there was this night bird that took residence in my neighborhood. Specifically, in the tree around the block, directly behind my house. As soon as the sun went down, this little bastard would come out and start a symphony that would last all night long. As soon as the sun started coming up in the morning, it would stop. Then the morning birds would start. This went on for months.

It was a freaking nightmare.nicks-stevie 2

I have nothing against birds. In fact, I like birds. They’re beautiful creatures. But I have to get up early to go to work and I’m a light sleeper. I simply can’t tolerate this avian behavior. And every single night when this damn bird would start its squawking, the song “Edge of Seventeen, by Stevie Nicks, would play in my head. Specifically, these lines:

Well, I went searching up the stairs and down the hall
Not to find an answer
Just to hear the call of a night bird
Singing come away
Come away, come away.

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From The “It’s Freaking Me Out, Man” File

Recently, I began talking about freaky occurrences and the idea that everything happens for a reason (or not, depending on your point of view). Sometimes things happen that are so freaky that even the most stalwart person has to wonder, what does it mean?

For instance, in THIS BLOG , I talked about an incident that was so coincidental that I really began thinking seriously about this whole life-with-purpose thing. (It also brings to mind an episode of Seinfeld in which Elaine and a writer from Eastern Europe get into an argument about coincidences. Elaine says that there are varying degrees of coincidence; the writer says, “There are no small coincidences or big coincidences, only coincidences.”)coincidences

Well, this past week, it happened again.

A few years back, I worked at a travel magazine. The managing editor went out on maternity leave shortly after I was hired, so the director hired a temp (let’s call her Mary) to fill her position until she returned. But she never returned. Mary was there a few months and then a permanent managing editor was hired (Mary didn’t want the position). I did not keep in touch with Mary.

Several months down the road, I was laid off in a massive downsizing. A couple of months into my unemployment, I got an email from Mary asking me if would like to attend an off-Broadway show with her. See, she was a theatre reviewer on the side and always got free tickets to shows. I don’t know why she thought of me, but she did and I gladly accompanied her.

That was in 2009. I never saw her or heard from her again after that, but every now and then, I think of her, for one reason or another (not least of which being that the show we saw was horrible and you just can’t help forgetting train wrecks like that), but it’s not like she’s in my mind all the time.

A couple of weeks ago, Mary entered my mind—I don’t know why—but I couldn’t think of her name. The next day, I got a spam email. I looked at the person who “sent” it and I couldn’t believe my eyes. It was from Mary. Someone obviously had hijacked her email account and I guess I was still in her address book.coincidences 2

The real crazy here is that I had just thought about her the night before.

But it gets better.

I was on my lunch break one day last week and was running some errands along one of the major avenues near where I work. On my way back to the office, a woman walked past me, and damn if it wasn’t Mary! I hadn’t seen or heard from this woman since 2009. Now I thought about her, got an email from her account, and walked past her on the street all within a matter of days. What the hell?!

Now, if there was a purpose to me running into her, I’ll never know. At first, I really wasn’t really sure it was her. As she walked past me, I thought, “Is that Mary? Can it be?” Then I turned and watched her continue to walk and I kept wondering. By the time I was pretty sure it was her, she’d walked far up ahead (she’s a tall woman). I had to get back to work and I was loaded down with heavy grocery bags, so I couldn’t run after her. I’d missed my opportunity to connect with her, if that was in fact the purpose of all this. All I can say is that it really freaked me out for a while.

I don’t know if this was purposeful or just a big coincidence (after this, I have to side with Elaine Benis on the matter of coincidences). It’s just another episode in the ongoing saga.

What do you think?

From the “Are You Kidding” File

I read several blogs that cater to chefs, food writers, and foodies. One post I read recently was a Q&A with a culinary R&D specialist at a large company, where she tests new products and develops and tests recipes for the company’s cookbooks and website.

Before I continue, let me give you a quick back history. Many of you know from various blog and Facebook posts that I’ve been extremely unhappy with my job situation. I took a job at a place where I never would have if I hadn’t been desperate. I’d been laid off from my last job when they downsized (cut themselves in half, really) and spent the next year and a half out of work. This was in 2009, at the height of the economic ugliness in the U.S. A friend told me about this job and recommended me. It was supposed to be temporary until something else came along. Five years later, nothing else has come along.

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Self-Eval, Part 2

This is my second entry in blogging about editing my life for my parents. This blog comes at an appropriate time because this past Monday was the Lambda Literary Awards ceremony. My co-editor, Andi Marquette, and I were finalists for our book All You Can Eat in the erotica category.

We didn’t win, but being finalists is an honor unto itself. Winning a Lammy is for LGBT writers what winning an Oscar is for actors—the highest honor. It would have been nice to win, of course, but I’ll always be proud of being a finalist. (For a rundown of my evening at the Lammys, check out my blog at Women & Words.)

So there I was, a finalist for a Lambda Literary Award, and my parents knew nothing about it. They didn’t know about this awesome honor, and they didn’t know I was going to a ceremony where I would be hob-knobbing with (or at least looking at) some major people in literature. Not that they would know any of those people—even those known by the straight community, such as Liz Smith, Gloria Steinem, and John Waters—but they wouldn’t even know that I would be in celebrated company.

Any therapist would then ask me the question: How does that make you feel?

A bit sad. Not just for myself but for my parents. I always felt that I had never given my parents anything to boast about, to be particularly proud of. I didn’t become a doctor or lawyer, I’m not rich, I didn’t marry rich, I didn’t give them grandchildren, and I haven’t done anything prestigious. I feel like I’ve deprived them. And now that I have accomplished a few things in the world of fiction and have been a finalist for a Lambda award, I can’t even share that with them.

Does it diminish the meaningfulness of the award for me? No, it doesn’t. Does it make me feel isolated from my family? Yes, it does. But I’d argue that they wouldn’t appreciate the full magnitude of events like this anyway. They wouldn’t appreciate the meaning of it fully. I say that because a) they don’t live in that world and b) even people who I explain it to (like my friends) don’t fully comprehend what stuff like this means to me. That’s because they don’t live in that world either. “B” equals “A.”

Writing is a solitary art and although you can have millions of people (well, not in the world of lesfic) reading and following you loyally, they don’t really know what you do. They don’t know what excites you or brings you down, or what makes your art worth it to you. Or what it means to have others in the industry praise you. It’s different for actors and musicians—the Oscars and Grammys are televised worldwide, they’re choreographed, photographed, and fussed over. No one except writers knows what goes on at the Lammys, or Goldies, or Edgars, or Writers Guild of America Awards. And, frankly, nobody cares.

So, in a nutshell, I feel like I’ve disappointed my parents and yet am unable (okay, unwilling) to share my achievements with them. It’s a form of self-denial, maybe even self-punishment. And by not sharing my achievements with my parents, maybe I’m diminishing their value (the achievements, not my parents).

Perhaps. But knowing that is not going to change anything. My parents are elderly now and have health issues. It’s simply not a conversation I’m going to have with them. Not now, not ever. My accomplishments are going to have to be enough for myself and those who share this part of my life.

Editing My Life

My therapist gave me the optional homework of keeping a journal about how it makes me feel that I’m not out to my parents. I’m using this blog—at least for the next couple of entries—as a journal. I’ll understand if you don’t want to read on, but I hope you’ll rejoin me when I’ve worked this out. (Who knows, maybe this will end up being the only entry. I’m so undisciplined.)

My therapist feels that hiding parts of my life from my parents, excluding them from half my life, takes its toll on me. She believes that it has contributed to my feelings of low self-worth, since hiding something equates a sense of shame and, ergo, a lack of self-esteem. And it’s an understandable hypothesis. It makes sense.

It’s become just my way of life, this hiding of things. I don’t like doing it, never did. But it’s natural now. Do my parents know that I’ve written a novel, a novella, and numerous published short stories? No. Do they know that I’ve co-edited several anthologies, including one that’s up for a prestigious literary award? No. I’ve always referred to this as editing my life.

Do I feel bad about that? Yes. Of course. I wish I could share my accomplishments with them.

When my heart was broken after my long-term relationship ended, could I cry on my mother’s shoulder? Could I share with her my heartache and feelings of failure, rejection, and despondency? No, I couldn’t. It made me feel lonely.

But I also felt guilty that I was not sharing these things with my mother. Aren’t these the kinds of things that were meant for mother-daughter talks?

I feel bad for my mother. I feel like I’ve deprived her of so much: helping me plan my wedding, grandchildren, and being her daughter’s confidante. I couldn’t give her any of those. (Walking down the aisle to the waiting arms of another woman would have been beyond her understanding.)

I feel like shit. I feel like a bad daughter. I feel like I disappointed my parents, and have disappointed everyone ever since, from lovers to teachers to bosses. I simply don’t live up to what’s expected of me.

There. My therapist just earned her degree.

Green-Eyed Monster Is a Bitch

Some of you already know—and for those of you who don’t know—I write a weekly blog over at Women & Words. Back in February, I wrote about how my frustration over not being able to succeed in selling a certain nonfiction project led me to hate someone.

This someone has nothing to do with my work (except that she writes in that genre as well) and certainly nothing to do with my failure. I have absolutely no reason to hate her.

Except that she achieved what I wanted.

But why do I hate her and not the so many other writers who also achieved what I wanted? Because I met her and she told me her story. Without going into too many details, she “got lucky” (her words) and got this idea for a book; simultaneously, there was a publisher who was looking for a writer to do a book on that very topic. And just like that, she’d succeeded in getting what I wanted.

I had been riding the proverbial merry-go-round for years, trying to grab the brass ring. But every time I went around and reached for it, it slipped through my fingers. On her very first ride on the damned horse, this person grabbed the ring, and it’s been shining on her finger ever since. She not only sold the project but got a contract for additional books and managed to get on board with one of the top literary agents in the country—the one that I so very much wanted to represent me. Three years later, she has several books out and, I’m sure, more in the works.

She’s a perfectly nice person. Sweet, actually. And she even tried to “help” me by introducing me to her agent. I swallowed the humiliation of a younger newbie “helping” me after I’d been working at this for years and took hope that my willingness to be humbled would pay off. It didn’t.

And so, with each book of hers that comes out, each cool thing I see about her on Facebook, makes me hate her a little more.

It’s completely irrational and unfair to this other writer. And detrimental to me. It’s not good going through life hating people, especially those who don’t really deserve your hatred. It’s psychically damaging, and on a more practical level, it just doesn’t help.

The reason this has come up for me again is because two people in my department —TWO—just got offered positions elsewhere, and job hunting is another hot-button issue for me. It’s another area of my life that simply won’t go the way I want it to.

I decided that after years and years of bending over backwards and flipping cartwheels trying to achieve the things I want to achieve, there are some things I just can’t control. I think luck and/or destiny is involved. People who are successful advise others to “follow your heart,” to “do what you love, the money will follow,” and if you work hard enough, you can achieve the things you want. Well, it’s easy for them to say all of this because they got what they wanted. And, while I would never diminish the hard work that they put in and the dues they paid, I believe that they were also lucky.

How else would you explain why two people who work equally hard and, all things being equal, one succeeds and the other one doesn’t? Doesn’t luck have to play a part in this? Think of all the artists out there (actors, writers, painters, etc.) who bust their asses and never make it.

Luck is not something you can force, or find, or buy. You either have it or you don’t. Therefore, there’s no sense in sweating it.

I’ve decided that I will just continue doing what I enjoy doing because I want to do them. That’s the only reason worth doing them, anyway. “Success” will come or not, but being the captain of one’s ship requires someone liking you enough to give you a promotion.

Unless, of course, you’re a pirate. Then you just take it. :-)