Walking on Broken Glass

Sometimes I try to remember the first time I saw or heard or watched or read something, anything, that made me feel less weird, less like an outsider…often to no avail. I can never remember if it was That Certain Summer (a very SPECIAL ABC Movie of the Week), or reading Larry McMurtry’s The Last Picture Show, or discovering The Front Runner on the paperback racks at the News Depot on Commercial Street in Emporia; and then I will remember something else, some vague memory of something–hints about Richard the Lion-Hearted in Norah Lofts’ The Lute Player, or subtle hints here and there throughout history (Edward II and Piers Gaveston; Louis XIV’s brother Phillippe Duc D’Orleans; James I and Robert Carr; Achilles and Patroclus)…Mary Renault’s Alexander the Great series…I can never remember precisely the first time I was exposed to who and what I am in popular culture, nor can I remember if it was positive or negative. I do know that in my own life, it was made very clear to me when I was very young that what I am was not normal, was unacceptable, wasn’t what I was supposed to be. My earliest memories are of me not being like other boys, and it took me a while to realize that the others were just playing at being boys (something I was never very good at) and were actually like that; that they weren’t, underneath, just like me, just better at pretending than I was.

This is why we have emphasized, as a community, the importance of representation in popular culture; kids needs to see themselves reflected in the culture they consume so they don’t feel like they don’t belong. Queer kids aren’t raised queer; we don’t learn how to be queer by interacting with our peers (who are mostly straight when we are kids), nor do we learn anything about being queer while we are inside the educational system in this country. I’ve always firmly believed that queers take longer–at least in the olden days–to form lasting romantic relationships because we don’t have “trial runs” when we are kids; we don’t get to date, we don’t get to “go steady”, etc. We don’t get to play House with other kids of the same gender, we don’t learn societal and cultural expectations about relationships and how they work when we are actually kids. Our queer adolescence doesn’t actually start until we come out–admit it to ourselves without shame, and then start telling our family and our friends and our co-workers that we aren’t wired the same way they are. It’s very tricky, and very complicated and sometimes very messy.

Representation absolutely matters.

And we cling to that representation when it shows up. When a prime time show like SOAP introduces the first long-running gay character to the world in Jody Dallas (does anyone even remember this was Billy Crystal’s big break, playing gay on a sitcom in the 1970’s/early 80’s?), we watch–even if the depiction is problematic to the extreme (you also learn very early that your hunger for representation will also force you to turn a blind eye to some things). Steven Carrington on Dynasty, the terrible film Making Love from the early 1980’s, as well as some other problematic depictions and films along the way–we took what we got, and always had to remember that these characters and stories also had to be palatable to straight people…that, in fact, these characters and stories were created with straight people in mind.

As they used to say, “but will it play in Peoria?”

As i stare down sixty this month, I am very happy to see that representation becoming common-place. It’s lovely to see gay books–THRILLERS, even–being published by major presses with queer characters in them. It’s lovely seeing straight writers including sensitive depictions of queer characters and their stories in their books.

And over the year, yes, problematic tropes that can make you very, very tired have also developed–which makes me wary every time I approach a book by a non-queer person that takes on a trope without hesitation, as S. A. Cosby’s Razorblade Tears does, and that trope is one of the biggest and most hated by the queer community: bury your gays.

Ike tried to remember a time when men with badges coming to his door early in the morning brought anything other than heartache and misery, but try as he might, nothing came to mind.

The two men stood side by side on the small concrete landing of his front step with their hands on their belts near their badges and guns. The morning sun made the badges glimmer like gold nuggets. The two cops were a study in contrast. One was a tall but wiry Asian man. He was all sharp angles and hard edges. The other, a florid-faces white man, was built like a powerlifter with a massive head sitting atop a wide neck. They both wore white dress shirts with clip-on ties. The powerlifter had sweat stains spreading down from his armpits that vaguely resembled maps of England and Ireland respectively.

Ike’s queasy stomach began to do somersaults. He was fifteen years removed from Coldwater State Penitentiary. He has bucked the recidivism statistics ever since he’d walked out of that festering wound. Not so much as a speeding ticket in all those years. Yet here he was with his tongue dry and the back of his throat burning as the two cops stared down at him. It was bad enough being a Black man in the goo ol US of A and talking to the cops. You always felt like you were on the edge of some imaginary precipice during any interaction with an officer of the law. If you were an ex-con, it felt like the precipice was covered in bacon grease.

“Yes?” Ike said.

My faulty memory doesn’t remember how and when I first became aware of S. A. Cosby. What I do remember is that I bought and read one of his earlier works (perhaps his debut?) My Darkest Prayer, and enjoyed it thoroughly. Hard-boiled with a healthy dose of noir, I had a great time reading it–and was thrilled when his Blacktop Wasteland debuted to raves and attention and lots of recognition. Cosby can write like a house afire; and while he keeps up a rat-a-tat pace of story, he also manages to construct sentences and paragraphs beautifully, with a poet’s gift for language–spare and tight, yet poetic and beautiful at the same time (Megan Abbott is the Galactic Empress of this).

So, when I heard the “elevator pitch” for Razorblade Tears, I inwardly winced a bit, even as I had to admit Shawn’s guts; taking on bury your gays is a ballsy move–and also a bit of a dangerous one. If you don’t stick the landing…you’re fucked.

For those of you who don’t know what bury your gays means, it’s very simple: a show, or a book, or a movie, will introduce gay characters (lesbians, queers, whatever initial in the all encompassing umbrella those characters might choose for their identity), get the audience (and especially the queer viewers) deeply vested in them–and then kill them off suddenly and unexpectedly, all so the other queer characters (but usually the straight ones) will experience some kind of personal growth…in other words, you introduce a gay man into your narrative simply to later use him as a plot device, so the other characters can mourn and experience personal growth.

That’s probably explained badly, but you get the gist: gays will inevitably die. A good example of this is the so-called groundbreaking AIDS movie, Philadelphia–but the Tom Hanks character in that movie existed so that Denzel Washington’s character could grow and develop and move on from his own homophobic beliefs and fears about HIV/AIDS; as Sarah Schulman, one of our community’s finest minds, once said, “the entire point of Philadelphia is to make straight people feel better about HIV/AIDS and the gay men dying from it.” (Sections of her book Stagestruck: Theatre, AIDS, and the Marketing of Gay America are absolutely brilliant; it should be required reading for any Queer Studies course.)

The plot of Razorblade Tears is so deeply steeped in “bury your gays” that the gays are already dead when the book opens. The gays in question–Derek and Isiah–were brutally murdered, and the police don’t seem to care too much about looking into who killed them. Their homophobic fathers–both ex-cons–decide to look for their son’s killers. Both Ike and Bobby Lee feel a lot of guilt about their sons and how they rejected them both–their relationship, their eventual marriage, their child–while they were alive; finding their killers isn’t just about revenge but also a matter of atonement. In some ways, it’s like this book is borne from the anger every queer child rejected by their parents feels–you’ll be sorry when I’m dead.*

Ike and Bobby Lee are, indeed, sorry now that their sons are dead.

This also falls into another long-existent fictional trope: don’t fuck with a father. How many films (I’m looking at you, Liam Neeson), books or television shows are about a father’s rage, a father’s revenge, what a father will do to save or avenge their children?

Ike and Buddy Lee aren’t supermen, though. Cosby’s strength (besides his ability with words and images) is how well he creates characters and makes them human through their faults and frailties. Ike and Buddy Lee don’t much like each other as the story begins to move along–I kept thinking of the old Sidney Poitier/Tony Curtis movie, The Defiant Ones–but their ability to look past their own internal prejudices to see the commonalities between them as they unite in this foolhardy crusade to avenge their murdered sons is the real strength of the book here. (As well as the language.) You eventually start to understand them, care about them, want them to get their vengeance…even as you know it will bring them no peace.

I have to admit, I was hesitant to start reading this. I really was concerned I wasn’t going to be able to read it with the empathy necessary for Ike and Buddy Lee and their suffering–that I would think, yeah, well, maybe you should have thought about that when he was alive–but the book ultimately isn’t about their redemption, either; which is a genius move by Cosby. He makes their pain all too real–I cannot imagine the pain any parent should feel when their child dies–but he makes it clear there’s no easy answers here for Ike and Buddy Lee, and that pain will go on even if they get justice for their sons.

Shawn is also a master of writing about the Southern working class–about the poverty, the lack of opportunity, the societal neglect and how those factors all combine to keep those already mired in it trapped with little chance of escape; he clearly loves the rural South but not so much that he can’t expose the tragedy and ugliness that exists there.

It’s a powerful book, and I do recommend it….although the people who probably should read it inevitably won’t. I can recommend it, and do, enthusiastically; it’s a very powerful book, and it made me think–and what more can you want from art?

*sadly, I have seen all too often that a lot of those parents aren’t sorry when their rejected child dies; far too regularly they will say something along the lines of “So-and-so died for me years ago.”

Waiting for Tonight

I don’t remember his name. All I now for sure is it started with a K.

Kevin, maybe? Keith? Kerry? Kenny? Maybe Kelly; for some reason the name Kelly-for-a-boy has always been stuck in my head, to the point that sometimes, frequently, when I need a name for a male character Kelly always pops into my head. So maybe that’s it. I never recorded his name anywhere–mainly for fear someone would find it in my journals or diaries (I’ve always kept some sort of written record of my life and my various emotional breakdowns over the years)–and I was also certain I would never forget it. And yet I have; the first openly gay man I ever knew, and also the first casualty to HIV/AIDS that I knew personally–that was more than just another name in the paper.

I’ve never really dissected my past as thoroughly as I probably should have; as I’ve said before, when I turned thirty-three I decided to never look back, stop having regrets, and not let the past continue to influence my present and my future. There was never anything but pain back there, so why revisit that? Now as I hurtle towards sixty at an ever increasing speed (less than two months now!), I do find myself, for some reason–maybe the sixty milestone? Being equally distant from twenty as one hundred?–allowing my mind to drift back to the past. I think it also has something to do with the two most recent books I’ve written (Bury Me in Shadows is dealing, in some ways, with my past by forcing me to remember stories my grandmother told me as a child and the legacy of being from rural Alabama; #shedeservedit takes me back to my teens in Kansas–and basing the main character in that book so deeply into my own psyche forced me to relive things and emotions and feelings I experienced as a teen in Kansas, even if the book is set in the recent present), as well as watching It’s a Sin earlier this year, and seeing the story of HIV/AIDS told from the perspective of young people who were my age when it all began. I’m not sure, really; but whatever the reason, my mind has been going through the file cabinet where I have locked all my memories from before 1994.

Kelly (I decided to call him Kelly, didn’t I?) was the first openly gay guy I ever met. I’d met guys who were attracted to men before; and I am sure guys I knew from my high school in Chicago were, even if they weren’t out (I did remember one’s name recently; I knew him only slightly but was certain back then he was like me; I looked him up recently on-line and sure enough, he’s out and proud and–thank God–alive). I wasn’t sure when I first met Kelly if he was or he wasn’t–he was effeminate and queeny, though; the stereotype–and we worked together at a fast food place on Blackstone Avenue in Fresno. He was already working there when I was hired; we both worked the closing shift on Fridays and Saturdays and our manager was a really hot muscular straight guy with a porn-stache that I stole glances at whenever I could; managers wore the same polyester pants the rest of us had to wear, but got to wear T-shirts with the company name and logo on the front–his were extremely tight, and so were his pants, for that matter–but he was also juggling three women at the same time (no surprise, really) and was clearly straight. I did notice Kelly also was stealing glances at him from time to time. Kelly was flamboyant, funny and friendly; I would have liked him even if I didn’t suspect he was also gay. He was certainly not as deeply closeted as I was, and certainly not as determined to keep it hidden. He was taller than me, and slender. He wasn’t what I was physically attracted to at the time–when I was younger I was a lot more narrow in my definition of what I thought was attractive, and what I was attracted to–but he did have a nice ass.

I don’t remember how or when he told me he was gay, but he did. He was also the first person to take me to an actual gay bar; there were two in Fresno at the time. It was the Express, and it was also on Blackstone Avenue, near Olive, I think; I don’t remember exactly where it was, to be honest, but I know there was an off-ramp for a highway right there as well (I recently tried to locate it on Google Maps, but Fresno has changed a lot since I left over thirty years ago, and it no longer exists). I don’t remember how he talked me into going–you can imagine how reluctant I was (what if someone I know sees me going in? What if someone sees my car parked there? What if what if what if what if…what if someone I KNOW is there–this last is hilarious, of course; obviously, if they were there…) but I remember walking in that first time and realizing, everyone here is into men. There were no women, the music was loud and there were some incredibly hot guys there. Kelly got us both a drink–vodka and cranberry; I drink I have ever since always regarded as a ‘gay’ one–and then he dragged me out onto the dance floor because he loved the song–it was the first time I’d ever heard “It’s Raining Men”, and it’s always been special for me since then; the first song I ever danced to in a gay bar–and I, who’s always loved to dance but always got made fun of for enjoying it at school dances and in straight clubs–felt free for the first time in my life.

As Madonna sang in “Into the Groove”: only when I’m dancing can I feel this free…

It became a weekly thing: every Friday and Saturday night after work we’d go over to his apartment, sponge off sweat and grease from work, change, and go dancing. There were so many hot guys–but I would never approach anyone; that social anxiety thing and fear of rejection has always hung over my life–and Kelly’s roommate was also really beautiful. Kelly had a lot of friends I was attracted to, but no one ever showed any interest in me–at the bar or at any of the after-parties we went to.

And yes, eventually, we did go to bed together. I wasn’t in love with him, nor he with me; he was the first time I became aware of the “friends-with-benefits” thing. I wasn’t his type, either–and I’ll never forget him saying, “just because we aren’t each other’s types and we’re not interested in being boyfriends doesn’t mean we can’t help each out, you know? It doesn’t always have to mean something. Stop thinking that way! It’s very Christian of you.”

I was slowly starting to come into myself when he got fired, for allegedly stealing money. I didn’t think it was true–it may have been, I could have been wrong about him and his character (it wouldn’t have been the first or last time I misjudged someone’s character) but I always suspected it was because he told me once that he’d given the hot straight manager a blowjob in the office a couple of times. I didn’t believe him, but I also don’t think I was the only person who worked there he’d said that to, and well, that just wouldn’t fly, you know. But he told me, through tears, that he was leaving Fresno and moving to San Francisco because “Fresno was really just Topeka in the valley, when you think about it.”

I’ve used that description numerous times since then.

He gave me a big hug, and told me to trust myself, and stop being afraid to be myself.

I didn’t see him again for years. It was a few years later when I ran into his roommate at the mall. I was high, had gone there with friends to waste time and get an Orange Julius, and was sitting on a bench just enjoying my drink and being high at the all and watching people when someone said my name. I didn’t recognize his roommate–whose name is also lost to time–because he didn’t look the same. He’d lost a lot of weight–he’d been lean but muscular, but was now barely more than skin and bones. He had to tell me who he was, and how I knew him, and I’ve never had much of a poker face–still don’t, actually. He smiled at the look on my face, and told me he had AIDS. Not only did he have it, but Kelly did as well, he was back in Fresno, and he was actually dying. “You should go see him,” he said, “I think it would mean a lot to him. He doesn’t get a lot of visitors. Anyway, it’s nice seeing you.”

I was, at the time, trying really hard to be straight again–still having furtive encounters with other guys, of course–and terrified that I was going to get infected myself. I didn’t have a car at the time, and the last thing in the world I was going to do was ask one of my straight friends to take me to see someone dying of AIDS in a hospital. I had met other gay men since Kelly, and considered them friends…but it was something we were all afraid of; made gallows humor jokes about; and I didn’t want to involve any of them in this, either. (All the gay men I knew at the time didn’t know my straight friends–and any gay man I met through a straight friend I kept at a distance because I still wasn’t ready for those separate lives to have crossover.)

I took a city bus to the hospital. I remember they put me in a hospital gown, gave me a mask and rubber gloves to wear before I could go see him. I remember how bad he looked, how labored his breathing was; and I don’t think he knew who I was; I don’t think he ever did know who I was or why I was there. I sat with him for a while and held his hand, and we didn’t talk much. It didn’t seem important then to try to get him to remember me. I remember being afraid, and to this day i wonder if I would have held his hand if I didn’t have the gloves, and even having that doubt fills me with shame; and no matter how much I remind myself I am far better educated now than I was then–even then there was so much misinformation and unknowns I couldn’t have been as educated as I am now–I still feel a bit ashamed. There were several people on that ward; guys i recognized from those nights at the bar, guys I’d been attracted to but never acted on, guys I met after after-parties, whose names I don’t remember now. I went back as often as I could, as often as I thought I could get away with, sitting not just with Kelly but those other guys, too. Kelly’s old roommate eventually ended up there, too, and I sat with him sometimes. Every time I went back I was never sure who’d be alive, who would still be on the ward, or if someone else i recognized or had known would be there this time. I don’t remember how many times I visited before Kelly died; I just remember I came back and his bed had someone else in it. I know I went to some memorial services and I know I went to some funerals, and I know I kept going back there periodically; I wasn’t worried about getting infected and dying because I had begun to believe it was inevitable. I know I went numb at some point during that period, and I also know it was when my college career went off the rails for the last time and I began losing myself in drugs and alcohol to stop feeling anything. I knew I couldn’t make myself straight because I would be miserably unhappy if I tried; I was miserable trying. I also believed I couldn’t be myself because I would lose everything and end up dying all by myself in that ward–also knowing that when the inevitable day came when I wound up in that ward, I’d die alone.

There were times I wish it would happen so I could get it over with–the horrible death–because my life was so miserable I often didn’t want to go on living.

And yet, no matter how many times I wished I were dead, no matter how many times I wanted to die, I never could end my own life. I couldn’t do that, for some reason.

So on I lived, somehow getting through my days, letting life happen to me rather than making my life happen, until I shook myself off and decided to take control–death is inevitable for everyone, after all, so why not live until then?

Here I am, on the cusp of sixty, still alive when everyone gay I knew from back then, from my first baby steps into living my life as myself, died. I wasn’t there for all of them. I wasn’t there when many of them died, and I felt guilty about that, guilty about not getting sick, guilty about living, guilty about somehow still being here when so many of them have gone. I feel guilty about not remembering their names.

I fought a long hard battle with myself and who I am, and somehow came out on the other side of it slightly wiser, definitely wounded, and still struggling from time to time.

This is how I remember it, through the fog of time and the prism of my own narcissistic self-absorption. I have things wrong, I’m sure–it’s been over thirty years–and I’ve never tried to remember before. I’ve certainly never talked about it before to anyone and I certainly have never written about it before. My memory, once so sharp and perfect, has become fogged and befuddled the older I get and the more time passes. Watching It’s a Sin, frankly, made me start to remember–so much of it brought back memories–and I also realized I never mourned, never really dealt with any of it. Was that the right coping mechanism? I don’t know. I just know I went numb and decided never to talk about it; when I left California I closed the door on that part of my life and knew I had to change my life. It took another four years before I was able to also change my mentality and got a new attitude towards life and love and well, everything; not only closing that door into my past again but sealing it hermetically and walling those memories off in my brain, never to remember, never to relive, never to examine.

And I realize now that while I never stopped mourning them, I also never allowed myself to experience the grief…and in order to finally heal, I need to finally grieve.

Baby steps, always.

Believe It or Not

I picked up a copy of Sarah Schulman’s Let the Record Show: A Political History of New York 1987-1993, this week at the Latter Library. I imagine it’s going to be a rather painful read, and probably difficult at times, but I also feel that it’s important for me to read it. I am pleased that she, one of our community’s best writers and brightest thinkers, has written it. Sarah, whom I have known now for over twenty years plus, has written extensively about HIV/AIDS, both in her fiction and non-fiction; her non-fiction work is always thought-provoking, incredibly well thought out, and written beautifully. Her fiction is always fascinating; she always tackles enormous and important themes in her work–and often plays with form and style, in innovative and creative ways that would never occur to me, let alone attempt (Empathy is one of the most creative novels I’ve ever read; she reminds me of Faulkner in her willingness to experiment with styles and narrative form). She’s always incredibly fun to talk to–I have greatly enjoyed every conversation we’ve had; she is fiercely intelligent and yet has the remarkable ability to not make you feel stupid, or incapable of understanding what she is saying. (As someone whose intellect has always been somewhat less than, or been made to feel less than, I’ve always appreciated her speaking to me as an equal and peer; even though I am inevitably humbled and awed by how her mind works.)

Lately, I have found myself worrying that the truth and actual history of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and the societal neglect and systemic homophobia that made it so much worse than it could have, should have, been would be erased from history and forgotten. I am reminded of this every day at work, really; as I’ve aged in my job, the people I test and see regularly become younger and younger. At first, I was always a little taken aback by clients born in the 1980’s; now those people are nearing forty. As we move into the third decade of the twenty-first century, I am now starting to see people born after the turn of the century; 2000 babies are turning twenty-one this year, which is stunning to me. Those born in the 1990’s don’t remember a time when infection was a death sentence; and slowly but surely the horrors of the height of the plague seem as distant as the Spanish flu epidemic of the World War I era, or the bubonic plague in the Middle Ages.

This month was the fortieth anniversary of the New York Times article announcing the discovery of the first cases of what was soon to be called the “gay cancer”, eventually renamed GRID (gay-related immune deficiency) before it was finally labeled as HIV/AIDS (human immunodeficiency virus/acquired immune deficiency syndrome)–this is a vast over-simplification of the history of the disease and its naming; you can find an excellent timeline for it here:

https://www.avert.org/professionals/history-hiv-aids/overview

1981 was the year I turned twenty; it was also the year I moved to California, putting Kansas in my rearview mirror once and for all (I’ve never returned); and I can remember the feeling, the excitement, of moving to a more progressive state (or so I saw it at the time) from one that was deeply mired in conservative values and Christianity. I already knew I was a gay boy before we moved to Kansas when I was fourteen, but that short period of time spent there (short in the overall scheme of my life; at this point as I stare down sixty rapidly approaching on the road ahead, I spent about a twelfth of my life there) was warping. (Then again, what part of my life wasn’t warping?)

It’s also very weird to think HIV/AIDS has now shadowed two-thirds of my life.

I tend not to look back at the plague years before 1994 very much; it’s all a part of my “never look back” mentality. I made some great friends in college–the ones who didn’t give a shit when I finally came out to them; I relish and love those memories made with them during the 1980’s, but the shadow always falls over that part of my life too; I was, as I said on the San Francisco Public Library panel the other night, trying everything I could think of to make myself straight (or able to push my true self so deeply into the closet that it would never ever see daylight) and yet there was still the other part of my life my straight friends knew nothing about; the sneaking out at night to gay cruising areas where other closeted types like myself met up; the furtive visits to gay bars and hoping no one from my other life saw me coming or going or saw my car parked nearby; the trips to hospitals to visit the always held at arm’s length gay friends who tried so hard to help me be myself, even when they were dying alone and unvisited in their quarantined hospital beds. The specter of HIV hung over me at all times; the shame of what would happen if I got infected, and the certainty that my family and straight friends would turn away and leave me, too, to die alone and unmourned, getting what I deserved.

And even when I moved to Florida, getting away from Texas and California and trying to get my life and act together, trying to be who I was, to live openly and honestly for once on my life, the phantom was always there, just out of my line of sight: the death sentence we were all sentenced to by fate, by timing, and by the callous indifference of the mainstream American community.

By some strange twist of fate I survived the plague years, never got infected, never got the bad news I expected was my inevitability.

I merely served witness, and even then, I was never anywhere that saw the worst of the decimation: New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and even New Orleans; this small Southern city’s community was ravaged and decimated; that shadow was over this city too. I can remember coming to New Orleans every month after I discovered its magic, and seeing the evidence of the plague here in the disappearances of people from previous visits; a waiter at the Clover Grill, a bartender here or a bar back there–service people who made me feel welcomed, made me feel like a part of the family, helped convince me that my gut feeling New Orleans was the right place for me, helped me believe that gut instinct was correct. Now, years later, I don’t remember their names and maybe, if I try hard enough and come up with other memories, I can also summon up their faces but the names are gone–just like those I lost in the 1980’s, names I never recorded in my journals for fear someone might find and read them, experiences and joy and laughter gone forever because I was too afraid of leaving a record behind if and when the plague came for me.

Never look back was the theme of my life from 1994 on; a maxim or motto that should have been cross-stitched onto a sampler for me; the only words I ever thought about having tattooed on my body: NEVER LOOK BACK. There was only pain in the past, and I wanted to move beyond that pain, forget the scars, and try to live in the now and for the future–whatever it might hold, if I was even fated to have one.

I always thought, even as a child, that I was destined to die young. When I became aware of HIV/AIDS, I assumed that was the ticket to the hereafter I would eventually punch. And yet here I am, nearing sixty, and the last twenty-seven years of my life have held more joy than I ever dared to dream were possible for me, and the dreams I held wrapped so tightly to my chest, those dreams that got me through even the most difficult of times, eventually did come to pass, and came true for me.

Watching It’s a Sin earlier this year brought it all back to me; as I have mentioned to friends, it hit me much harder than any other HIV/AIDS film or series; primarily because in films like Longtime Companion and in the fiction that has come to be known as “witness” or “survivor” fiction inevitably the story began in the pre-HIV hedonism of the 1970’s before the change; and while the lives were always cut dramatically short, they were somewhat older. It’s a Sin was the first time I saw it all through the eyes of characters who were the same age I was when it all started; and while their experiences and what they went through was so different than my own, it was impossible not to watch and remember and think my God, we were all so young when it hit. Watching the show allowed me, for the first time, to grieve; I know at some point back then I simply went numb. I know where my aversion to funerals comes from; I’ve always known, really, just never faced up to it before.

I’ve never wanted to write about the plague years, never wanted to write about what I witnessed and what I saw, the unbearable sadness I lived with for so many years. Others had it so much worse than I did, and so I never really felt like it was my story to tell; there was always a sense, a feeling, a fear, that I would make it all about me when it wasn’t, and sometimes I do wonder–since watching the show–if the work I do at my day job is, in some ways, an atonement for still being alive when so many are not. Survivor’s guilt is very real, and something I think about on those days when the pendulum of my moods swings too far in the wrong direction, when despite my best efforts not to look back, I do. I also think I don’t ever want to write about that time because my memories are so untrustworthy; and I am not entirely certain that I can tell those stories without centering myself…because it’s not my story but theirs.

So, I am both looking forward to and dreading reading this book, but no matter what, I am very grateful that it exists and that the record of the times, the anger, and the way the community rose up to challenge authority and thus changed the world will not be lost to the passage of time.

There is still, to this date, no vaccine for HIV–and yet, one was developed in less than a year for COVID-19.

Rather telling.

Shake it Up

Well, I wrote the timeline for Bury Me in Shadows last night–lame as it was; I am waiting for my editor to write me back and say, um, you could have made more of an effort on this. But it’s done, and I am well relieved to be out of those woods–for now, at any rate. I am kind of mentally fatigued; two books back to back like this will tend to do that to one–although I used to do it all the time; book after book after book. But I also didn’t used to have to get up at six three days a week, either, nor did I ever have the insomnia issues like I do these days. Last night was another of those nights where Morpheus chose to not visit my bed, but I feel relatively okay at the moment, as I swill my first cappuccino. I am sure I will hit a wall later today. Tonight is also supposed to be a gym night, but…we’ll see how that goes.

I’ve decided to put aside the Thomas Perry novel for now. It’s very well done, but I am not connecting with it, which is more my problem than Perry’s; I am just not in the mind space right now for a hired killer thriller. I’ll come back to it at some point, I am sure; so it goes back into the TBR pile rather than into the donation box. I’ve actually gone on a tear with buying ebooks on sale (or for free) lately, and I’ve also gotten some wonderful e-galleys stored in my iPad–including this year’s titles from Laura Lippman and Alison Gaylin, not to mention some sparkling debuts and some wonderful classics. Yesterday I finally figured out how to sort my ebooks (I am such a Luddite) in the iPad by title, so I could see how many duplicates there were–and there were quite a few, so I deleted all the duplicates to free up space as well as make it easier to find things in there. I think when I go visit my parents, I may just take my iPad instead of books with me to read–although I am taking the hard copy of From Here to Eternity with me–that way I can read through take-off and landing…although I suppose one could just put the device on airplane mode but I still think they make you power it down. It’s been so long since I’ve flown anywhere, it’s hard to remember. I just ordered some more books with points from credit cards that should be arriving this week–yes, yes, I know; I shouldn’t continue buying more books when I still have massive TBR piles–but I’ve cleaned out so many books over the past few months that I thought why not use the points and get some new titles, as well as the Laurie R. King backlist. I am still planning on reading something else before treating myself to A Letter of Mary–I just haven’t decided what just yet. I am torn between She Who Was No More by Pierre Boileau (which Les Diaboliques was based on) and The Cook by Harry Kressing, which was filmed as Something for Everyone with Michael York and Angela Lansbury–a classic and bizarre queer film from the early 1970’s–it’s on Youtube.

Or…maybe something else.

We watched another episode of The Innocent last night; this show is so damned good and full of didn’t-see-that-coming plot twists! Of all the Harlan Coben shows on Netflix, this is my favorite so far–not really surprising, since Paul and I have fallen in love with Spanish-language crime shows (cannot WAIT for season 4 of Elite to drop)–we talked about this last night, and Paul said–and I agree–this particular show wouldn’t be as good in English, or if it was set in the US or England or France.

Of course, hot Spanish and/or Mexican actors might play a part in our thought process. Just sayin’.

I also have a story in yet another anthology that is dropping in June and can be preordered now: Unburied, edited by Rebecca Rowland, from Dark Ink Press. My story is “Night Follows Night”; which I wrote an original draft of years ago for an MWA anthology–I think–that didn’t get accepted. I revised and rewrote it a number of times, and when this call for submissions was forwarded to me by Felice Picano (thanks, Felice!) I thought, well, “Night Follows Night” loosely fits this call, and sent it off–and was very delighted to hear back from Rebecca that she loved it and wanted it. Yay! This was the same period last year where I sent off five stories in one day and sold three of them within 24 hours–which was exactly what I needed to have happen at the time, as I was going through one of my malaise periods…nothing like selling three stories in less than twenty-four hours to get you past that hump (the other two were rejected, but that was expected; they were long-shots to begin with).

And on that note, tis off to the spice mines with me. I hope I have enough energy to make it through this day–I was planning on going to the gym tonight, but the lack of sleep for two days running means that probably won’t happen….

Evil Dust

The sun is actually out today and there aren’t many–if any–clouds in our beautiful blue sky this morning, which is lovely. It’s rained pretty constantly ever since Tuesday afternoon, and everything outside is still wet from nearly a week of rain. I love rain–especially thunderstorms–but even I thought five straight days of them was a bit extreme. I wound up running my errands in the rain yesterday–I dropped off another five boxes of books to the Ladder Library sale yesterday (you actually can tell now that I’ve gotten rid of books)–and made groceries and got the mail. It was pouring while I did all of this, so my plans to go to the gym yesterday were finally scrapped. I also wound up taking the day off from almost everything yesterday–I think I needed a brain-free day, frankly–and so we watched a lot of television–we binged all the way through a delightful comedy called The Other Two, watched the Tom Holland movie Cherry on Apple Plus, and then switched over to Acorn for a riveting crime show called The Cry.

Yes, I was a slug all day and I am not a bit ashamed of it.

Oh, sure, I had my journal with me and scribbled notes freeform all day–my favorite is that I came up with a short story title I now HAVE to use, “To Live and Die in La.”, while having absolutely no idea what the story would actually be, but I laughed at the title and now want to. use it–so I did do something. But today I have to start revising/copy editing/making notes on Bury Me in Shadows–due to be returned to my editor no later than the first of May–and so, if I do go to the gym today (leaning towards it, since it’s sunny out) I can curl up in my easy chair to do it, so that’s a start. I really need to work on my story–the deadline for that submission call is May 15, I believe–and so I need to kick everything up a notch this week. I am getting caught up on a lot of other things as well–it’s never-ending, and have also accepted that I only have so much bandwidth for things. The emails, for example…I’ll never get caught up on those, ever…so I need to prioritize and so forth in order to get through everything that absolutely needs to be responded to immediately.

I also need to spend some time getting organized and cleaning a bit this morning. There’s filing to be done, of course–always–and somehow the kitchen looks like a tornado ripped through here (not completely an exaggeration, to be honest) and I need to get that taken care of this morning. I have a load of laundry to do, and there’s always dishes–always. I also want to organize the refrigerator a bit more this morning. Since the sun is out, I’ll probably grill hamburgers later on this afternoon, which is always an absolute treat (I really prefer all meat to be cooked over hot charcoal, frankly–or at least, most). I am also a bit excited that the next step of book decluttering (and yes, I am aware I am completely Marie Kondo-ing my apartment) is to go up into the storage attic and start clearing the boxes up there. This will, of course, be more complicated than the bookcases and the hidden boxes in the living room, since I’ll have to bring them down and go through them, combining the ones to keep (I can’t imagine there will be many of those) while putting aside the ones to donate. The goal is to clear out enough space in the storage attic so I can clean out my storage rental and close that account; most of the books in the storage are copies of my own books (and my kids’ series collection) along with some other things–mostly papers–and it would be nice to either no longer have that bill every month, or to use that space for other things…but at the moment I can’t think of anything that we’d need to keep it for.

But it would be great to lose that bill by the end of the summer.

Not as great as paying off the car, but still pretty good.

I think I’m going to add Semi-Tough to the donate pile. The first three pages are nothing but racial slurs as well as justifications for using them, and how the main character–it’s a first person narrative–isn’t really racist and the slurs are just words that don’t mean offense and so on–and yeah, I really don’t feel like spending any of my time with that kind of character. I certainly wouldn’t in real life–imagine being at dinner or a cocktail party and the person you are talking to says, and this is a direct quote from page one: Just because I may happen to say (the n-word) doesn’t mean I’m a racist.

Um, actually it does. It says a lot about you, who you are, and how you were raised, as well as how you see people and the world.

And I really have no desire to read a book filled with racial slurs…because you KNOW its also full of gay slurs, too–and most likely without the caveat justifying the racial slurs: Now listen, just because I say “faggot” doesn’t mean I’m homophobic.

Sure, Jan.

There are so many other good books to read, why reread something I originally read as a teen that plays on racism and homophobia and misogyny for humor? I stopped rereading The Last Picture Show, a book I absolutely loved, a few years ago when it got to the part about bestiality, and how it was perfectly normal for the teen boys to fuck animals…I closed the book and put it away. I may go back and reread the entire thing at some point–the reason I was rereading it in the first place was to examine how it handles homosexuality–which I distinctly remembered it doing–but I don’t think I was able to get far enough into it to get to that part. I know that Coach Popper–long-suffering Ruth’s awful husband–was a deeply repressed one, who favored one of the more athletic boys primarily because of his attraction to him; that the preacher’s son Billy Bob Blanton was often mocked and teased and bullied and humiliated for being a “four-eyed queer” (before he molests a little girl, after which he’s taken away as a pervert); and that the heterosexual English teacher, who was cultured and sensitive and kind, was accused by the coach of impure thoughts and fired (everyone, of course, would never suspect the manly football coach of anything, or question him); and I remembered a particular poignant scene between the fired English teacher–who’s been fired, whose wife has left him and taken their daughters and filed for divorce–and Ruth, where he’s just so beaten down and defeated that it’s heartbreaking. But yeah–that whole “boys will be boys” attitude towards bestiality was too much for me to get through again.

The Last Two is a terrific show, and quite funny. Paul and I really enjoyed it; the premise of the show is the two older children are in their late twenties–one is a struggling actor whose most recent audition was for a commercial in which he would play “Party-goer who smells a fart”; the daughter had wanted to become a dancer until she broke her ankle and dropped out of dance school and cannot figure out what she wants to do with the rest of her life–when suddenly, their thirteen year old brother puts up a video of him singing a ridiculous song (“Marry Me at Recess”) and becomes an overnight viral sensation with a record deal and a manager under the name “Chase Dreams”; which makes them feel even more like losers. The older brother, Cary, is also gay and in a weird relationship with his straight roommate; the daughter has broken up with her boyfriend and is now homeless at the beginning of the show. I thought it was terrific, frankly, and look forward to season two.

My primary takeaway from Cherry is that Tom Holland is an amazingly talented actor–he really gives a stunning performance as a poor young man who falls in love, gets his heart broken and joins the military, serves as a medic in Iraq and comes home to nothing but PTSD and drug addiction, which leads him to a life of crime. It’s a very dark story–but also weirdly a love story at the same time–and I don’t think the film, worked overall; the Russo Brothers, who directed, turned it into this big grand opera style thing in the way they shot it; to the point where the beautiful imagery is almost intrusive. It’s a very real story–based on a true story–and it highlights, very powerfully, how we abandon our troops completely after their service is over (since they’re no longer the troops….”support the troops” makes me angry because it is used primarily as a political prop and the actual soldiers themselves suffer in silence and neglect while we give billionaires and corporations every break in the world), but it’s worth watching for Tom Holland’s performance–he was also fantastic in The Devil All The Time–and it’s really nice to see him pushing himself in his non-superhero roles (he’s also the best, in my opinion, Spider-Man).

And on that note, I am heading back into the spice mines. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader!

Academic

Friday morning, and I slept well again last night. The washing machine arrives this morning (between 9:15 and 11:15) so I am up earlier than I would be ordinarily, but despite using an alarm to get up (I need to be sufficiently caffeinated when they get here to remove the old one and install the new one) and then it will be “catch up on the laundry day” while I do my home data entry today–which means the new one will be getting quite a workout today. I also had to remove the doors to the laundry room last night–it’s going to take some serious maneuvering to get the old one out and the new one in, and I figured the doors would be in the way–which made me feel quite butch and masculine. The feeling didn’t last.

The electricians came and replaced the fuse yesterday as well–so now I can use my dishwasher and the coffee maker can be on the proper counter where it belongs again. Slowly returning to a sense of normality here at long last, and starting to not feel quite so fried and exhausted, which is actually lovely.

I also have to do a conference tomorrow, which I need to prepare for, and honestly–my brain is so fried I keep forgetting that it’s happening and that I agreed to do it. I cannot remember being this discombobulated and fried before when I finished writing a book–but then again, it’s also been quite a while since the last time I finished two books in such quick succession without a break in between. Having everything around the apartment go on the fritz almost immediately thereafter was also not much of a help in that regard, and of course, that created more stress and insomnia…I’m really surprised I was able to sleep so well the last two nights, to be completely honest; but that was probably a result of exhaustion from the stress of things.

And of course, I also had to take down one of the laundry room shelves, just in case, and will have to put that back together once the washing machine is installed again.

So yeah, pretty big day around the lost apartment this morning….hopefully I can get going on my data entry before they come, and it’s probably what I am going to be doing for most of the day today. I make condom packs for hours yesterday–and ran out of condoms, so I don’t have that to do today, unless I run by the office to take these others and drop them off, and pick up some more…but I don’t really see that happening today…although….hmmm. Something to ponder before the washing machine gets here. (Of course, it would also depend on when the washing machine gets here as well…if they get here early I could run over to pick up my prescription, then head to the office, drop off the finished condom packs and pick up at least one more box….never mind, I shouldn’t think out loud on here. Suffice to say I have options.)

I actually don’t remember what all I watched yesterday while I was making the condom packs, but I am proud and happy to say that I broke the streak of serial killer documentaries at long last. I know I watched some interesting documentaries about queer horror movies, or why horror appeals to gay men (I honestly have no memory of Nightmare on Elm Street 2, which apparently is the gayest non-gay horror movie ever made?) as well as some documentaries about apocryphal books on the Bible, including Enoch–which led me down a rabbit hole into videos about the nephilim and pre-Flood Biblical history, as well as some interesting discussion about how things get mis-translated from the original archaic Hebrew into other languages over the years and then became stuc–like how “Lucifer” wasn’t really a reference to the devil (or Satan, or whatever) but a literal mistranslation of a verse probably referring to the recent fall of the Assyrian kind and his empire, rather than a reference to angels being cast own from heaven and sent to Hell to have dominion. I’ve always found that sort of thing to be interesting–potentially lost books of the Bible and prophecy, etc.–have always wanted to write a book about a missing or secret book of the Bible that was smuggled out of Constantinople before it fell to the Crusaders in 1204 during the Fourth Crusade, to keep it out of the hands of the Roman Catholic Church, only to disappear for centuries; a lost book that would revolutionize and change Christianity forever (not really an original thought–this sort of thing has been done before, most notably–for me, anyway–in Irving Wallace’s The Word); I’ve always seen it–since 2001, anyway, as a Colin novel (yes, the Colin stand alone novel I’ve been thinking about for twenty years; I’ve always kind of wanted to spin him off into his own espionage thriller series–think gay Dirk Pitt/Indiana Jones/James Bond hybrid), but again–when will I ever have the time to write such a book?

So, in a moment I am going to start doing my data entry for the day; while I wait for the washer to arrive and be installed. When I am done working for the day I intend to get down my Henry Willson biography and start mapping out Chlorine–yes, world, I am finally ready to start writing Chlorine, or at least work on it, anyway–and I also am going to start figuring out what to do with these short stories and so forth that I want to get out for submission. So, the goals for this weekend–after getting my work done and the laundry room reassembled–is to finish reading The Russia House, get some work on short stories done, and fill up another box to donate to the library sale (maybe two), and get the outline/character bios for Chlorine started. (I’m very excited about this….although I am getting a little more excited about the next book I want to write, Where the Boys Die.)

And on that note, I am heading back into the spice mines for the day. Have yourself a lovely Friday, Constant Reader, and I’ll check in with you again tomorrow.

Bizarre Love Triangle

Recently I got a very lovely private message on social media from a reader; it doesn’t happen near as much as it used to (not sure what that says about me or my career, but I prefer to believe that I am so public with my social media and blog that people don’t feel they need to reach out to me…don’t judge me; it works for me. I often prefer the little fantasy world and life I make up in my head rather than reality. It keeps me sane) so now it’s a surprise on the rare occasions it happens, and that’s very pleasant.

And with this one, it just goes to show what you can do without meaning to, and how the inability to make a decision is sometimes a good thing.

The message was simply that he had recently discovered my books, and was reading and enjoying them. What drove him to reach out and send me a message wasn’t simply because he was enjoying my work but because it was the first time he’d seen anything that mirrored his real life relationship in fiction; in other words, he is in what is now referred to as a “long-time throuple” and it meant a lot to him to read a book series centered around a main character who is also in a ‘long-time throuple.’ This isn’t the first time I’ve gotten such a message–I’ve heard from other readers in throuples, or readers enthralled by the very idea of such a thing, but like I said, it’s been a while. It always catches me a little off-guard, because it never occurred to me that I was doing something revolutionary, or something that had never been done before in crime fiction or not done much outside of erotica; the truth was I couldn’t make up my mind who Scotty should wind up with finally, so I had him wind up with both of them. It never occurred to me that I was doing something never really done before–or that some nearly twenty years later, I’d still be one of the only ones writing about a throuple–there wasn’t even a term for it when Bourbon Street Blues came out all those years ago; I always had to call it a “three-way relationship”–I don’t even think I’d even heard the term polyamorous then, either. I had no idea how such a thing would work, either; but Scotty was unconventional and so it stood to reason his romantic relationship would also be such. I also wanted to make the relationship seem as normal as possible and like it wasn’t unconventional; no one ever comments on it, says that’s odd or unusual, has ever questioned Scotty about having two partners rather than one. I also never wanted to write about jealousy or any of the usual romantic melodramatic devices–they all love each other; there’s never any jealousy; and while Colin sometimes, in the course of his job, does things that seem criminal or dangerous or even endanger them, there’s never any question about expelling him from the relationship–and there’s always a sense of sadness from Scotty and Frank until everything gets cleared up.

I also like to believe that Scotty and Frank and Scotty’s family are Colin’s rock, his tether to the normal world outside of espionage and international spying. New Orleans is his safe place, where he can relax and let down his guard and just be a normal, if extremely hot and sexy, guy. Sometimes I write myself into a corner–which I kind of did with Royal Street Reveillon, and figuring out where the boys go from where I left them isn’t always easy–Twelfth Night Knavery is going to be an incredibly difficult book to write, from that perspective–but that’s part of the challenge of writing the series, and part of the reason I enjoy writing it so much. I stopped writing Chanse because the stories and the series and the character were beginning to feel stale to me…but I greatly enjoyed writing my Chanse short story “My Brother’s Keeper” for Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories, and there’s a Change novella I am tinkering around with that may wind up being a novel–I doubt it, so don’t get your hopes up–but again, I am enjoying writing shorter pieces about Chanse; I can’t imagine doing a Scotty short story if for no other reason that backstory alone would take up the length of the short story.

Yesterday I ran errands, paid some more bills, and went to the gym. When I got back from the gym I indulged in some cleaning and organizing, and then discovered that old episodes of Moonlighting are on Youtube, so I watched the pilot yesterday around watching other Youtube videos, mostly those Queer Cruise videos about queer representation and how queers were presented in old twentieth century television shows, and how that changed over the decades. But Moonlighting–I absolutely loved that show back when it was airing, despite it being a deeply troubled show, often behind schedule with all kinds of behind the scenes drama and clashes, between producers and actors, between the actors, and with the network. It was a highly bizarre show, occasionally indulging in incredible creative choices (the black-and-white episode called “The Dream Sequence Always Rings Twice”, the Shakespeare episode, and probably one of the best Christmas episodes of any show ever produced), and watching young Bruce Willis in the role that made him a star–he later became a surprise movie star, which no one saw coming, with Die Hard–and of course, the chemistry between him and co-star Cybill Shepherd literally burned up the screen with their “will they/won’t they” dynamic. It was always clever, sometimes meta (often meta, before anyone even knew what meta was) and there was nothing like it on television before–or since, really. Witty and clever and uniquely self-aware, the quality was difficult to maintain in the face of all the production problems, and finally the show finally went off the rails and was eventually canceled. But I still remember it fondly, and it was actually lovely to rewatch and see that the pilot still works. One of the things I loved most about the show was that almost every episode began with David and Maddie arguing, both certain they are right–and then the case would bring them around to seeing the other’s point of view, so that by the end of the episode they understood each other better. It was inspired writing, and something I always wanted to do with my work (I’ve never done it)–but while I couldn’t mimic that with either series of my own, I always wanted my main character to learn something from the case he is working on, about himself, and grow a little bit.

At least that was the plan. Whether I’ve managed to do so or not remains to be seen–as well as it not really being up to me to decide these things…

Today I am diving back into the book headlong; yesterday’s grocery-making and gym visit sufficiently drained me of excess energy so writing/editing/etc wasn’t really in yesterday’s cards, alas. But that’s okay. The gym was marvelous and necessary, as was the cleaning and organizing I did–I need to do more, really–and while I know I need to get better organized (I really need to make a to-do list) I am not going to do anything like that before I work on the book. I know I’ll wind up not wanting to if I put it off until later, and while the organizing is terribly important, as is the to-do-list, I really need to work on the book more than anything else.

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines.

Academic

And just like that, it’s Saturday again, and huzzah to everyone for making it through another week. It’s another beautiful morning here in New Orleans; the sun already high and shining bright, the sky bright blue. I have errands to run and the gym to get to, and then I am planning on spending the rest of the day reading the manuscript and editing it. It will be a full day here in the Lost Apartment, and I relish getting back to work on my book. I hate being behind–this was the month I was supposed to spend getting caught up on everything else and finishing short stories so next month I could focus on Chlorine–but delays and things happen, as always, and sure, I am in that time of life where one is acutely aware of how quickly the sand is slipping through the hourglass–but I have also learned to not beat myself up over things I have little control over. I have no control over whether I sleep well, for example, and I have no control over my energy levels. I can do the best that I can, but I exert only so much control over any of those things.

Not allowing myself to get upset or stressed over things I cannot control is a lesson I am still learning, alas.

I often feel pulled in many directions (and am fully aware that this is probably the case for everyone; it seems as though everyone is having a rough time since the pandemic shut down the world last year–almost a full year ago; we closed down services at my day job on March 16th) with an inevitable amount of endless tasks for everything I am involved in, and usually every day I have an idea of what I want and/or need to get done with every day; and yet I never achieve those goals because inevitably something new pops in and/or pops up that requires attention of some sort from me, and this inevitably results in me not getting to everything that needs getting to, which then makes the to-do list seem even more endless, and on and on. Part of the problem I’ve been having since the pandemic altered everything is my inability to sit down and make an actual to-do list–because the to-do list would inevitably require me to get through all of my emails, and I sometimes have neither the strength nor the patience to work my way through them all. Right now in my primary in-box I have 56 unread emails–I’ve already deleted the trek–and there’s about another 100 or so in there I’ve already read that probably need a response, or an addition to my to-do list.

I also remembered last night, as Paul and I watched the LSU gymnastics team defeat Missouri, that I’ve never finished watching two shows I really liked and was enjoying that he didn’t–Perry Mason on HBO Max and Penny Dreadful: City of Angels on Showtime. So those, along with a rewatch binge of Megan Abbott’s Dare Me, should go on my list of things to watch while I am making condom packs–or when I am done with work for the day and Paul’s not home. I was quite delighted that he came home from the office so we could watch the gymnastics; I am not really seeing a lot of him these days and so those moments when he is home are more to be cherished and enjoyed because of their rarity. I am a Festival widow every March, really; but this year more so than any other I am really looking forward to the Festival being over.

I also would like to get back into reading some more…I’m not sure what in my brain is broken, but for some reason I can’t read anything other than the chapter of so of Gore Vidal’s Lincoln that I get through every morning. I think it’s a combination of all the things I have hanging over my head, quite frankly, that keeps me from reading–and as I’ve also said, watching television or a movie or even just Youtube videos is much more passive than active and requires little to no brain power. I did come up with a couple of great titles yesterday for short stories as I made my condom packs and continued watching videos about queer representation in films and television from the 1960’s through the 1990’s; there was a lovely little video yesterday of how the Queer Cruise videos guy was helped to come out by viewing The Rocky Horror Picture Show when he was in high school; and that got me thinking about my own history with Rocky Horror, and what it meant to me; perhaps yet another essay someday. Is that still shown as a midnight movie? I would imagine not, given the pandemic and the fact that’s been on television and available to purchase on tape or download now for decades; I remember thinking the first time it aired on television well, that’s the end of that and it honestly did feel like the end of an era. I imagine many freaks and weirdos and queer kids no longer need something like The Rocky Horror Picture Show as a gateway to their own worlds and the possibilities that life holds for them…there’s more and more queer rep all the time, in books, movies, plays, and television; although I would imagine in more repressive parts of the country Rocky Horror would still be a revelation.

And now I am thinking about writing a short story or a book about a murder built around a midnight showing of the movie. Oy, it really never ends…

I also like this other idea for a story I came up with yesterday: “The Rites of False Spring.” I scribbled down a lot of notes about that one.

And on that note, the spice won’t mine itself, so I should probably head on into the mines.

Fine Line

Saturday rolling into our lives and taking no prisoners!

I slept really well last night, which was a good thing. Yesterday wasn’t a good day–suffice it to say I got through it–and after I finished my work-at-home duties I went to the gym, which was lovely (and my muscles are feeling it this morning, which is perfectly fine with me). Paul will be going in to the office later this morning and most likely will be gone for the rest of the dy, leaving me home alone. It occurred to me the other day that this year’s Festival widowhood is different; usually I don’t get off work most nights until eight or so, so I only have a few hours home alone in the evenings before he gets home. Me finishing work every day by five stretches the entire evening out in front of me alone; I think that might be part of the doldrums. It’s noticeable in a non-pandemic year, but this year those lonely evenings are taking a bit of a toll on me. Paul has always been my favorite person to spend time with, and always will be; his absence is always noticeable.

I asked for a two week extension on my deadline for the book, and they actually gave me a month. The weight of that deadline stress lifting off my shoulders was considerable; that means I can try to spend this weekend getting caught up on everything else that has been piling up (and dear God, has it ever been piling up) while also working on the book without the great stress of “oh my GOD it’s due on Monday!”) as well as working on cleaning. Cleaning for some reason is calming and relaxing to me–plus being occupied with my hands frees up my mind to be creative (Agatha Christie said, in my favorite writer quote of all time, “my house is never so clean as when I am on deadline”). I’m also becoming less attached to my books, which are sprawling everywhere and taking up so much room it isn’t even funny. My goal is by June to have cleared out, through donating to the Latter Library’s weekend book sales, most of the piles of books. Should we ever have the means or find a place to live that will provide me with an actual room to serve as my office–so I can have walls and walls of bookshelves–I should have no problem whatsoever with filling those shelves. It’s a long time project, of course, and will require, in many instances, the purchasing or repurposing of boxes, but the truth is the only books I should be holding onto are research ones–and even those can be replaced with ebooks as needed; and let’s face it, ebooks are much easier to use than hard copies because you can search for key phrases and words, etc. much easier than flipping to the index and so forth.

The pandemic, of course, has had a lot to do with the weird, eerie, dream-like existence of the last year; and these additional stressors in my life have, like the Katrina aftermath, affected my short term memory. This entire last year–our office officially shut down services on March 16th last year–is kind of blurry to me; I don’t remember when this happened or when that happened and so forth; I thought, for example, we had closed down earlier than March 16th and opened up for limited services much later than we actually did. I have no recollection of my birthday in August. This is also kind of understandable, as there were none of the usual markers of the year that generally mark the passing of time: no Southern Decadence condom outreach, no Halloween, no Jazz Fest, no Bouchercon, no board meeting in New York in January. I miss those things; I miss my annual events and seeing everyone that I usually see and the social interactions…and given my general misanthropist attitude, that is saying a lot. I miss my friends, I miss my co-workers, I miss the way things used to be. (I do not, however, miss the past administration in the least.) And that’s okay; that’s normal, and I really need to get to a place and point in life where I stop beating myself up for, you know, having the same feelings and experiences everyone has.

I’ve been doing a lot of unpacking in my mind over the last few weeks of issues–and yes, pain–from my past as well as reexamining things that happened. I’ve always been hesitant to write about my past–I’ve always been uncomfortable about writing my memories or a memoir or anything like that, simply because none of the people I’ve known and/or interacted with over the years ever gave me permission to write about them, or tell my version of their stories, which is also why I generally don’t talk about people I know or interactions with them or so forth on here. What constitutes an invasion of privacy in these cases? I really don’t want to find out the hard way. But I am going to start, I think, writing personal essays that will most likely never see the light of day–or maybe, I don’t know. But writing about things has always been the easiest and best way for me to process and deal with them, and while I may not want to pull off the scabs in public here on my blog…I don’t know, maybe someday I could pull together a collection of them. I know when I was using the discography of the Pet Shop Boys for my blog titles last year I kept thinking that not only do their songs have great titles, but those titles would also make great titles for essays, as well as great starting points and inspirations for the essays themselves. Do I have anything interesting to say, anything deep or profound? As Eve Harrington said as she accepted the Sarah Siddons Award for a role written originally for Margo Channing, “everything wise and witty has long since been said–by minds more mature and talents far greater than mine.”

I really need to watch All About Eve again.

So, we will see. Once I finish slurping down my morning coffee and get my gears in order this morning, mayhap I’ll start writing an essay. I am going to spend some time with the manuscript for #shedeservedit–I’ll have the cover art soon, and I can’t wait to share it, y’all–and clean, clean, clean and organize, organize, organize.

I also started watching Allen v. Farrow last night on HBO Max. It’s very well done. I’m very curious to see the rest of it. I never followed the story that closely back in the day–but it was one of those things you couldn’t help but be aware of and everyone had an opinion. I’ve never been a particular fan of Woody Allen, and haven’t seen many of his films–of the ones I’ve seen, my favorite is Bullets over Broadway–nor do I have much inclination to go back and watch them now. I recognize this is yet another one of those “art v. artist” things; and perhaps the distinctions I make in other cases (I won’t watch anything made by Roman Polanski after his crime, but will rewatch both Rosemary’s Baby and Chinatown–justifying those as being before he turned to criminal assault against minors, but apparently he was horrible to Faye Dunaway during the production….at the same time Dunaway is also notoriously difficult, so who is at fault in that instance?) are rationalizations to excuse myself. I won’t read Orson Scott Card nor Dan Simmons anymore, and really–there are so many books I want to read that I will never have time to read that cutting bigots out of my reading schedule isn’t an issue. I suppose the same goes for film–I’ll never have the time to watch every movie that I want to watch, so cutting out films made by predators or abusers or bigots really shouldn’t be an issue.

The art v. the artist! That could be an essay!

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader.

Sugarcane

My word, this week has not been an easy one for our Gregalicious. Suffice it to say that I am really looking forward to this week being over and leave it at that, shall we? I mean, Jesus Christ, already.

Being low energy low whatever it has been this week–started last week towards the end, really–has kind of sucked, to be honest. I’m not sure what the problem is–and it’s usually some kind of chemical thing in my brain, I think, these highs and lows came and go–and the lows really kind of suck; I just don’t have the bandwidth or energy to face or do anything unless it’s relatively easy and/or simple. It’a also incredibly easy for me, whilst in the grips of a low, to feel defeated by almost any and every thing that requires thought or some sort of energy, and I also find myself very short of temper–which means easily annoyed, easily angered, and easily aggravated. I got home from work yesterday evening and forced myself to go to the gym–but despite the energy and good feeling that came with the workout, it really didn’t last very long and didn’t carry over the way it usually does; pushing me into a whirlwind of getting things done and organized and dashing around the Lost Apartment cleaning and straightening. I did manage to get some laundry started, but the dishes are still is the dishwasher and the sink is starting to fill with dirty dishes again. Tonight I don’t have to go to the gym so after work hopefully I’ll have the energy to put the dishes away and finish the laundry and get my act together.

But I am glad I asked for a deadline extension. There’s no way I could have finished by Monday, and that would have made the entire low thing even worse.

I guess this is what I’ve always called the malaise before, only it usually comes around after I finished a manuscript–and yes, I know I finished Bury Me in Shadows, but usually the malaise doesn’t settle in until I have finished everything contracted–I’ve always thought it was triggered by the panic of being out of contract, but since I don’t really sign contracts far in advance anymore, I don’t think that’s what causes it and it certainly isn’t the cause of it now. Interesting that all these years I’ve always been wrong about the malaise, really. I guess I am not as self-aware as I like to think I am (nobody is as self-aware as they should be and I am very aware my self-awareness has massive blind spots; but I tend to think I am more self-aware than most people–which could also be one of the big blind spots, which is a sort of self-awareness and….yes, it’s a spiral endlessly circling back on itself, isn’t it?). I watched some history videos on Youtube last night–my mind wasn’t really functioning well enough for me to either read or write, so mostly I spent the evening with Youtube videos–some interesting ones on American history, Youtube really is a treasure trove of just about anything you could possibly want to watch to waste time–and social media, but I’m really getting a bit tired of social media. I hate the new Facebook design, and I find myself there a lot less frequently than I used to be; mostly I’ve just been sharing the blog there and not really interacting with anyone, and the same with Twitter–although I do enjoy replying to trash bag right wing elected officials with “resign, traitor”–but I also am not entirely certain that might not be a part of the general malaise.

I just want to get past it, really.

My muscles are tired this morning, the way they usually are after a workout day, and I slept deeply and well. The bed was a very comfortable and warm cocoon from which I didn’t want to emerge this morning; we’re back to the normal weather for this time of year in New Orleans–cold at night and warm during the day–which means you can never really properly dress for the weather because there’s going to be a twenty to thirty degree swing in the temperature throughout the course of the day, but rather this than last week’s frigid climes. Our new HVAC system is currently in process of being installed, which is good because while it can get stuffy in the Lost Apartment during the warm times of the day, I discovered yesterday that simply turning on the ceiling fans will take care of that issue immediately–coupled with the drop outside, of course. (I just checked today’s weather–it’s currently 46 but will reach a high of 75 today–if it was humid the apartment would be unbearable today when I get home; thank heaven for low humidity times of the year) It’s so weird to turn on the heat in the car on the way to work and have to use the air conditioning on the way home because the car has been sitting in the hot sun all day. Yay? But it also means that the temperatures are rising gradually to the peaks of the summer–and I am about to find out how the loss of the trees is going to affect the kitchen and my work space. I suspect there will be dark heavy curtains in my future….

Well, would you look at that? I never finished yesterday’s post, how unlike me this is–and yet another example of how off I have been this week; yesterday was much better than Tuesday, but there was still a lot of dragging and not wanting to get things done. I came home last night–Paul was filming a musical performance for the Festival on the roof of the Monteleone Hotel, and so wasn’t going to be home until late–and decided to finish watching It’s a Sin without him. The thought had (and has) crossed my mind that a lot of what I was experiencing this week, emotionally and energy-wise, was a reaction to watching the first three episodes on Sunday night–it certainly opened a lot of doors I had slammed shut in my mind many years ago. When we talk about representation, and how it matters…well, It’s a Sin, painful and heartbreaking as it is, was probably the first time I saw myself on screen–I saw myself in these characters, and some of the scenes could have come from my own experience. I have always compartmentalized my life–it’s how I’ve coped and not gone stark raving mad over the years–and I don’t think I was mentally prepared for all the memories this show was going to bring back to me. It’s a brilliant show, really; and while I can certainly question some of the choices made–I can also argue the counterpoint position as well. It also reminding me of so many choices made during the course of my life, and how, far too frequently, shame and fear controlled my life and the decisions made. When I rebooted my life in 1994–and yes, that is precisely what I did–I closed the doors for the most part on my past. Was that the right decision? I don’t know. But what I do know is that I also decided, in 1994, to live with the choices I made and stop feeling regret–even when you know damned well decisions were made out of cowardice. It was cathartic in some ways–I’ve realized over the course of watching the show that many of the decisions I made back in 1994 when I reinvented my life were for self-protection; a metaphorical wiping clean of the slate because remembering and thinking about things and experiences and losses was self-defeating.

I distinctly remember, at thirty-three, deciding that I could no longer live my life afraid of dying, and that no one at that age or younger should have to live with that fear. It’s also when I started getting angry, about injustice and prejudice and bias and casual hatred. There’s a lot more to unpack here, of course, and I suspect.I shall be processing this for a while.

I then decided, after the cathartic cleansing weeping from viewing the last two episodes of the show, to watch something fun and utterly escapist while I waited for Paul to come home, so I watched Richard Lester’s 1973 version of The Three Musketeers, which I actually saw in the theater when it was released. I’d not read the book (but had read the Classics Illustrated version; many literary classics have only been read throughout my life through Classics Illustrated comic books), but it was a historical and I loved history; so one Sunday after church we went to see it in the theater. It’s been a favorite ever since–the serious attention to period detail was astonishing–and again, Michael York. I think it was in The Three Musketeers that my early crush on Michael York was born–so beautiful, and those blue eyes! It was fun, even if, as I watched, for the first time I realized that the motivations for the characters–the royal and powerful ones, at any rate–made little to no sense. I have been thinking for well over a decade about writing what would basically be fanfic for The Three Musketeers…and in watching the movie again last night I was able to put my finger directly on why I’ve never been able to get that sorted and written, at least in my mind: it was precisely the motivations of Cardinal Richelieu in setting the action of the story in motion that I was never able to wrap my mind around. The antipathy that existed between Cardinal and Queen (the Spanish Anne of Austria) is well documented; and there has always been much speculation about it (I read one novel by, I believe, Evelyn Anthony called The Cardinal and the Queen that posited that Richelieu also loved the Queen and her rejections of him drove his hatred of her…although, per this novel, they eventually fell in love and Richelieu actually fathered her two sons! Yeah, I don’t believe that.) Richelieu was not someone who allowed his own personal feelings interfere with affairs of state and his plans, and his plans were to break the power of the Hapsburg family while building France–and its monarchy–into the preeminent power in Europe. The idea of exposing the Queen’s potential infidelity and humiliating Louis XIII in such a manner doesn’t fit into that plan–or perhaps I am simply not politician enough to see where it would…yes, it would be humiliating to Spain and the Hapsburgs (the Queen was of the Spanish branch of the family), but the marriage couldn’t be annulled as she had already been pregnant (losing all three children), and a divorce? I doubt the Pope would have granted such a divorce…and it surely would have meant war with Spain–at the same time that Richelieu was fighting a war against the Huguenots to unify France, and that war also meant maneuvering to keep England from interfering. But it’s good to know that there’s actually a good, historical based reason in why I’ve not been able to make the story work in my head or even as I scribble notes on it. Alexandre Dumas was able to get away with turning Richelieu into his villain without explanation of his plans and why it was politically important to publicly shame and embarrass the Queen (and the King by extension), and the flimsy “The Cardinal wants to ruin the Queen so he has more power over the King!” doesn’t work because the Queen had no power over her husband, or influence with him–she didn’t from the day they were married until the day he died, and even as he lay dying he tried to prevent her from being made regent for their son, so even then he didn’t completely trust her.

So, once I get the political situation worked out, perhaps I can finally write the book.

And on that note I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader, and apologies for never finishing this yesterday.