The Boss

Probably one of the most annoying, if not downright irritating, thing about being considered a marginalized author–no matter the cause of the marginalization–are the inevitable diversity panels one is almost always required to participate in; diversity is a topic worthy of discussion on panels at conferences or for libraries or bookstores or round tables for websites, newspapers, and magazines, after all; and what better way for people to learn about the challenges non-straight and non-white writers face all the time than public forums where they can talk about those things?

But it’s also a double-edged sword, too: as Steph Cha once put it, very wisely, “diversity panels inevitably turn into let’s teach the nice white people about racism panels.”

She’s right, although in my case, as a general rule, it becomes let’s teach the nice people about homophobia as a general rule.

It’s frustrating, and it’s tiring, frankly, and more than a little bit on the insulting side to realize programmers only see you as being of value because you’re different from the majority of the pool of writers they are programming for; why, for example, can’t I talk about character or plot or story or setting or all the plethora of subjects straight white people get to talk about? I am not just a gay writer; I’m a writer, and the adjective gay shouldn’t overrule or overpower any noun that comes after it.

But…I accept the invitations to do these panels because other invitations to do other panels, other readings, other events, aren’t forthcoming. I only get invited to do “diversity” readings and “diversity” panels; but I do them, even as I gnash my teeth a bit as I read the invitation.

I do them because my hope is that by doing them, queer writers of the future won’t have to do them. It’s a long haul, and a long game to play, but the recent movement of the crime fiction community in the right directions regarding diversity, and diverse authors, has been absolutely lovely.

But I also realized, several years ago, that I myself have no high horse to mount and ride in this game; because I myself wasn’t reading books by other queer and/or non-white writers. I set out to correct this, and an entirely new world of reading opened up to me; other experiences, other points of view, different ways of seeing society and culture and the world–and using these new points of view to breathe new life into a genre that was beginning to get a little stagnant again.

And I hate the thought that I might have, because of ingrained prejudices of a lifetime lived in a culture rooted in white supremacy, missed out on reading authors like Zakiya Dalila Harris.

Stop fussing at it, now. Leave it alone.

But my nails found my scalp anyway, running from front to back to front again. My reward was a moment of sweet relief, followed by familiar flood of dry, searing pain.

Stop it. Stop it.

I’d already learned the more I scratched, the more it’d resemble the burn of a bad perm–a bad perm that had been stung by fifty wasps and then soused with moonshine. My small opportunity for reprieve would come only after the trains started moving, when I could finally close my eyes and take comfort in the growing distance between me and New York City. Still, I continued to scrape at the itch incessantly, my attention shifting to another startling concern: we weren’t moving yet.

My eyes darted to the strip of train platform visible through the open doors, my mind moving faster than I’d moved through Grand Central Terminal just minutes earlier. What if someone followed me here?

The Other Black Girl is a riveting novel of suspense; workplace noir rather than domestic noir–and really, is there any place more noir than the office workplace? I’ve always been fascinated by group dynamics; how individuals behave in groups, and even in the smallest of workplace, office politics inevitably come into play–unfair bosses, under-appreciated employees; the suck-ups who don’t work as hard or aren’t as competent but somehow always get the plum gigs and promotions because they play the game properly; the underminers….the first workplace drama I ever remember reading about was, of course, also set in publishing: Rona Jaffe’s The Best of Everything, which is vastly overdue for a reread (but I barely have time to read as it is). While the workplace and the drama swirling around the coffee machine or the break room wasn’t the center of the novel–it was more about the girls who worked there’s outside lives, and trying to maintain the balance between what they wanted with their ambitions and what is expected of them as women in American society–it’s always remained in my brain as a book about the workplace. The Devil Wears Prada also took a look at a workplace–that of a fashion magazine–and I personally thought the deeply flawed film version was far better than the deeply flawed book–but also firmly established in American culture the character of Miranda Priestley, the monstrous boss from hell; but Miranda was also the most interesting character in both book and film to me. I wanted to know more about her, who she was; Andie was neither original nor interesting enough, in my mind, to center a book or a film around.

The Other Black Girl also takes places at a prestigious publishing company, Wagner’s, and our main character is Nella–and a fascinating, well-rounded, and deeply developed character is she–one it is easy to sympathize with, to become vested in, and root for. Nella is a young woman of color–the only Black employee in editorial at Wagner’s, and her own drive and activism is being gradually worn down by the micro-aggressions and games and politics played in that workplace, only to be further complicated by the arrival of another Black girl, Hazel. At first, Nella is excited to have another Black girl in the workplace with her…until she slowly begins to realize that everyone responds to Hazel better; listens to her more; and sees her own not exactly rock-solid position at Wagner’s slowly being undermined by the other Black girl…is it deliberate undercutting of a fellow Black girl (‘there can only be one”) or is Nella being paranoid, the every day stressors of working in a mostly white environment making her paranoid, her grip on sanity beginning to slip a little bit? And then she starts getting threatening notes left on her desk….

This is a terrific read, and I loved Nella (although I would have loved to see more of her best friend, Malaika); Nella was fascinating to me. Raised in a mostly white upper middle class world, Nella often questions herself about whether she is “Black enough”–she has a white boyfriend, Owen, and has spent most of her life in mostly white spaces, and has for the most part found herself comfortable–if micro-aggressed–there; she’s ambitious and has a role model–a Black female editor who worked at Wagner before disappearing–and you can’t help but root for her to achieve her ambitions. Hazel is more of a mystery, but she is developed as well as can be for someone who isn’t the point of view character; and this mystery helps drive the story. What exactly is Hazel up to? Is she even up to something?

And the book also–spoiler alert–has a huge shift about 2/3rds of the way through that the reader will NOT see coming…and after that point, you won’t be able to stop reading.

Brilliant, absolutely brilliant. I loved it.

Got to Be Real

Sixty Eve!

Tis the last day of my fifties and it’s also a work-at-home day. I may go to the gym later–the jury remains out on that one for now–but I have data to enter and condom packs to stuff and television shows to catch up on while I stuff the condom packs and so…yeah. A full day for the last of my fifties, methinks. Tomorrow I mostly want to just hang out around the house and be a slug and read all day–I’ll probably straighten and organize too, it’s a compulsion–but I really want to just finish reading my book and start the next one. Over the course of the weekend, I’ll get other things done, of course–but tomorrow–other than the dash out to Metairie to get my deep dish pizza–I intend to literally be nothing more than a slug of the worst kind around here.

I may even allow myself a second Coke.

That’s me, living large on my sixtieth birthday.

I was actually looking at my submissions spreadsheet yesterday (mainly to make sure my list of published stories for the next collection was correct), and imagine my surprise to see I haven’t submitted much this year–one short story in January that was rejected–and prior to that, it’s been well over a year since I sent out any short stories for submissions. I have written–and started–any number of short stories in the mean time; but my, how time does fly when you really aren’t paying attention. I would have sworn those stories were sold this past year, but they came OUT this year; big difference, really.

But–it looks like I have about ten or so stories published that weren’t included in Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories, so I am about half-way there for my second collection–and there are some unpublished ones I can also include in the new collection, which is pretty awesome.

Our gym is doing renovations, and is also asking for proof of vaccination for entry–which I deeply appreciate–but the renovations make working out a bit of a challenge. They’re putting in, among other things, a new floor and getting new equipment for the weight room, so all the current equipment is shoved into the room on the first floor where the spin classes are….and it’s a very tight fit. Every open space that is not the weight room floor on the first floor has equipment crammed into it; I appreciate them staying open for the renovation but at the same time…it definitely makes it more difficult to get the workout in, and you are crammed into much tighter space with strangers. I walked over there last night after work (Christ, the humidity was intense) and just dashed through my upper body workout–no stretching–and got out as quickly as humanly possible. I feel good for going–it would have been easy to decide not to–and this morning I feel a bit tight in places, so the workout worked, which was incredibly cool.

But my God, was I overheated and drenched in sweat when I got home!

I also got a new Fitbit; this isn’t out of some insane desire to track my fitness and my steps and my day-to-day activity; having something that monitors this for our health insurance is in my best interests, and after my last Fotbit gave up the ghost, I just started using the Apple Heart program on my phone…but it doesn’t sync with my health insurance website, etc etc etc., and a Fitbit worked remarkably well back when I had one a gazillion years ago–so, hello sixtieth birthday present! (I told you I was leaning into this sixty thing.) So, my sixtieth birthday gifts to myself thus far include a new computer, a new phone, a new Fitbit, a new aromatherapy atomizer for the kitchen, new shoes, and (of course) a shit ton of new books. Today I have a lot of things to do around the house in addition to working-at-home duties (the dishwasher is leaking, so I have to do them all by hand; and of course, the bed linens are done every Thursday), and I also have to box up my old computer so I can ship it back to Apple for recycling. Tomorrow, being the birthday itself, I plan on just hanging out around the house and reading. I don’t think I will leave the house other than going out to Metairie to get my deep-dish Chicago style pizza (and the mail, and Costco to pick up Paul’s new glasses), but no gym, no work, no being on-line (other than trying to keep up with birthday wishes on Facebook, a time consuming, if delightful, exercise)…and no concerns about getting any writing or editing done. I had thought about making it a completely free weekend, frankly–but i know myself too well to think I won’t be antsy and checking my emails and social media accounts and so forth. I think I’ll most likely simply structure my days so that I handle all of the stuff I want to do by a certain time in the afternoon before adjourning to my easy chair for reading. I want to finish The Other Black Girl so I can move on to The Turnout–after which I will most likely dive into either A Beautiful Crime or Yes Daddy; to be determined….and again I need to start pruning the books. I am going to likely take at least one day of next weeks Boucher-vacation to work on cleaning out the attic…and at some point I’m going to have to start working on the storage unit…but I’ll cross that terrifying bridge when I come to it.

And while I pack condoms today I will watch the season finale of Superman and Lois, as well as getting caught up on my Real Housewives shows, which I am not really enjoying this season as much as past ones…not sure what that’s about, but it might be worthy of its own post once I get that figured out.

And on that note, I have condoms to pack and data to enter. Tomorrow I will check in for the Big (?) Day. Have a lovely Sixty Eve, Constant Reader!

I Wanna Be Your Lover

Thursday and working at home.

New Orleans Bouchercon was canceled (well, postponed until 2025, at least) yesterday; it was inevitable, I suppose, but it was still a let down. I kind of feel like Charlie Brown trying to kick the field goal with Lucy holding the football–so so close–but it was the right decision, if a difficult one. As someone who has worked on more than his fair share of events, I am very well aware of how hard it is to keep all the plates spinning and how much work it is and even as someone who occasionally derives a perverted, sick sense of pleasure from organizing events from time to time…canceling an event is always a hard call, always heartbreaking, and always an enormous disappointment. Watching all that work circle the drain is overwhelming…as I well know. I watched it happen with the Tennessee Williams Festival and the Edgars in 2020; for 2021 both were planned as virtual from the very beginning–which wasn’t the same, but was still lovely. I have also decided to keep the requested time off–it’s not quite a week, one day short, really–yet I think it will be absolutely lovely to have that time to get things done, get caught up, read, clean and rest and relax, really.

I was exhausted last night when I got home from the office–although I was able to pick up my copies of Megan Abbott’s The Turnout and Stephen King’s Billy Summers on my way home. (God, I am so far behind on my King reading it’s not even funny; like I said the other day, I may have to simply devote October to trying to catch up on King) We finished watching the second season of Outer Banks, which continued its bonkers ways right up to the very end, setting up season three–which I can only assume will be even more bonkers than the first two–and it really is quite fun. (Although Paul periodically would say, at a particularly bonkers part, they’re just high school students!) But…it’s because the show is so completely bonkers that makes it fun; it’s like a teen version of Dirk Pitt or Indiana Jones; that sort of thing. Just great fun to watch and experience.

Although now we have binged through the entire thing and will have to wait another year for season three… DAMN IT!

Today I am working from home (hello condom packs!) and so got to sleep a little later this morning. Emotionally and physically I feel a bit drained; the rollercoaster of the Bouchercon stuff all over social media and the eventually cancellation absolutely wore me out. It’s weird to realize that it’s actually August already, and the last days of my fifties are slipping through my fingers like quicksilver. Today is the 5th, I believe; which means two weeks from tomorrow is the BIG DAY. I am not overly concerned–although it may seem that way, given how often I bring it up–about turning sixty; the real truth here is that I am more amazed than anything else. I certainly never thought I’d make it this far (and to be fair, there’s still a chance I won’t make it to sixty); when I was a kid I was certain I would die young–and even knew how; I had a recurring nightmare that I would die in a car accident, which is why I loathe driving, try to avoid getting into cars as much as possible, and am always terrified when I am the passenger and someone else is driving. I’ve taught myself coping mechanisms over the years to deal with being in cars (whether driving or riding), amongst which are listening to music I like (the last big drive I took I discovered that books on tape work just as well), and when I am a passenger I very definitely have trained myself not to watch the road or other cars, but to look mostly out the passenger window–and if there are people in the back seat, I always turn and face them when I talk to them. I know it’s irrational–and for fuck’s sake, I’ve made it this far without being killed in a car accident, haven’t I–but it’s one of those weird quirks I have.

There’s also a part of me that thinks that if i ever get over that fear–that’s when it will happen.

It’s probably also why I write so many car accidents into my work.

I am pretty strange, aren’t I? I know I find myself to be fascinating, with all of my weird little quirks and beliefs and fears and superstitions. Stephen King writes about his fears and obsessions and quirks–became a best seller and an icon in the process–so maybe I should have begun my career exploring my fears and obsessions and quirks. I don’t know, sometimes I sit and think about how I probably could have done my career differently, but in all honesty, I am pretty pleased with where I am with it right now. Sure, more money and more acclaim would have been lovely to experience, but those are all surface things; side-effects, really; I’m pretty happy to be able to just write what I want to write and not ever worry about those sorts of things. I’ve seen other writers literally make themselves unhinged worrying about their “legacies” or the lack of success they think they deserve; being gay and writing gay, I guess, eliminated that concern for me, as I knew it was highly unlikely that I would ever achieve either. Sometimes I wonder if holding on to all my papers–correspondences, drafts both corrected and uncorrected–is a vestige of vanity; the whole I need to preserve my papers and find a place to donate them to mentality is one of those things that, when I stop to think about it further and in more depth, turns into what the fuck do I care? No one is going to study my little career in the future anyway.

On the other hand, as was pointed out to me once, my papers and books document gay life in New Orleans before Hurricane Katrina and after; and could prove to be a valuable source of material for future queer scholars studying the gay history of New Orleans. Would simply destroying my papers rather than donating and archiving them be a loss of source material, just as I wonder about all the source material about queer lives in the past being destroyed and not surviving?

And then I laugh at myself for taking me and my career so ridiculously seriously.

After all, thanks to ebooks, my books will live on forever. Are my personal papers really that valuable to any future scholar? Probably not.

And on that note, my condom packs are calling me. Check in with you tomorrow, Constant Reader.

History Has Its Eyes On You

Ah, Independence Day.

That’s really what the 4th of July commemorates–the day the Continental Congress ratified, and began signing, the Declaration of Independence, when the thirteen British colonies along the Atlantic seaboard threw off the yoke of the King of England and his Parliament and said, nah, thanks–we’re going out on our own. It was extremely radical–particularly since the British Empire was the greatest power in the world since the end of the Seven Years’ War (to the colonials, the French and Indian War) in 1763; perhaps the largest empire to date in world history.

And yet…no rights for women and there was still slavery for another ninety-odd years, give or take.

Someday I will write an essay about American mythology and how I learned it as absolute truth as a child; American history (or rather, US history) was my gateway drug to world history. I should have gone into History as my major in college; it’s entirely possible that History rather than English (or business; I switched back and forth between the two for a very long time) might have garnered an entirely different result when it came to my academic career. But I also would have had to have picked a time to specialize in, and how on earth could I have ever decided? There were so many interesting periods…although inevitably, I tend to think my metiĆ©r would have been sixteenth century Europe.

Someday–probably after I retire–I am going to write A Monstrous Regiment of Women.

Yesterday was rather lovely. I actually slept late, of all things; I cannot remember the last time that happened, and thus got a rather late start to my day. I started cleaning up around the house, and organizing things, but again–a late start kind of threw me off my game a bit, and I didn’t get near enough done that I had wanted to get done. I did read a couple of short stories for the Short Story Project, and I also read some more of Robyn Gigl’s wonderful By Way of Sorrow; that was lovely. I also listened to some Bette Midler albums on Spotify (joking on Facebook that I was doing my part to break down gay stereotypes by doing so); in particular I listened to It’s the Girls and Bette Midler, before moving on to Liza with the Cabaret soundtrack, and the little known sequel to Rocky Horror soundtrack, Shock Treatment, and then moved on to the Pet Shop Boys. I made meatballs in the slow cooker for dinner, and then we watched Fear Street 1994 (which was remarkably fun), then a few episodes of High Seas (which is really fun) and a few episodes of Happy Endings before bed.

R. L. Stine and Christopher Pike, who were hugely successful writers of young adult suspense/mystery/horror in the 1990’s, actually had an influence on me as a writer, surprisingly enough. I read most of their novels when I lived in Tampa back in the day (I actually preferred Pike, to be honest), and I actually wrote three novels–Sara, Sorceress, and Sleeping Angel–for young adults during that time. I had always intended to do the Fear Street thing–where the books were all connected somehow and minor characters in one would become the lead characters in another–and spread them across the country, as opposed to one town, as Stine had done; mine would be scattered between Kansas, California, Chicago, and Alabama (one of those ideas became Dark Tide and another Bury Me in Shadows). Then I discovered, through Paul, gay mysteries and all those ideas went into a drawer, along with those manuscripts, and I started creating Chanse and his world, and what eventually became Murder in the Rue Dauphine.

Fear Street 1994 is a lot of fun, as I said, both a mystery, a slasher film, and horror–the main romantic story is a lesbian love story, which was very cool–and it also slightly involved class differentials between the town of Shadyside (often called Shittyside) and it’s wealthier, preppy neighbor, Sunnyvale. It was a fun homage to Scream as well, and it was clever, witty, and quite a fun ride. I do recommend you watch it, if you like those kinds of movies. Nothing deep, but lots of fun, and now I can’t wait for the next part of the trilogy, which drops this Friday: Fear Street 1978.

I did try writing yesterday, without much luck, logging in less than a thousand words. But rather than despairing, as I am wont to do (Oh no! I knew I was breaking my momentum!), I chose to understand and recognize that the scene I was writing needed to be set up better–which was why it wasn’t working–and it needed more than just the cursory slide over I was giving it. I am going to open the document back up later this morning–probably after getting another load of laundry finished, and emptying the dishwasher–and scroll back a bit to start revising and getting into the story again. There really is such a thing as thinking too much about what you’re writing; that’s when the door to doubt starts to open a crack and Imposter Syndrome starts saying pssst through that open crack in the door.

And on that note, I am heading back into the spice mines. Have a happy and safe 4th of July, Constant Reader!

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.

Gloria

Friday with a tooth extraction looming. Not really a yay, but at the same time I’ll be delighted to get that pesky tooth problem finally taken care of–and yes, I am at that age, and of that heritage, where I am counting the teeth I have left (the real “heritage, not hate” of rural Southern people).

I spent most of yesterday making condom packs–the boxes are starting to take over the living room, so I am going to have to take them all into the office relatively soon–and getting caught up on Real Housewives of Beverly Hills (#lockherup) and Superman and Lois (which I love; more on that to come), and then doing laundry and straightening things up around the house. There’s still a lot to do, as always, and I was reflecting this morning (as I lazed in bed until nearly eight) that I haven’t matched last week’s writing production at all this week. Part of it is depleted creative batteries–I really drained them writing nearly twenty thousand words in a week–and said depletion inevitably brings self-doubt and imposter syndrome in its wake. I’m getting better about the imposter syndrome (about time, really) and feel a lot more confident about writing in general lately; I am feeling more like my normal, balanced self again. I’d love to get “The Sound of Snow Falling” finished this weekend, as well as the revision of chapter one of Chlorine–as well as deciding which novella to try to get finished by the July 4th weekend (I am torn between “Never Kiss a Stranger” and “A Holler Full of Kudzu”); but that’s also going to be dependent on how the tooth thing goes and what kind of pain killers I am on for the weekend. I am hoping that I’ll be able to focus and get shit done regardless of what pain killers I am taking–but I also suspect that they aren’t going to be as free and easy with them as they were the last time I had teeth pulled, which was eleven years ago (thanks greedy trash Sackler family for creating the opioid crisis! May you all burn in hell for eternity!). My email inbox also needs attention, and I really need to sit down and write out who all I owe emails to as well as answer the significant amount of them that have piled up in the meantime.

And in a worst case scenario in which I am completely leveled by the painkillers, hopefully I can at least read, or watch movies or something. I really do want to finally watch The Godfather films–yes, I know–along with any number of classic American and foreign films I’ve never seen. One of the lovely things about working at home and doing the condom packs has been getting to watch films I’ve never seen and have always wanted to, as well as the occasional rewatch of something classic, like Cabaret or The Last Picture Show. I’ve been enjoying my education in film history, great performances, and terrific film making, even if some are flawed and don’t live up to the hype (I understand the importance of The French Connection in film history, but the plot is terribly flawed, and while it doesn’t really make Popeye Doyle into a hero…it depicts him realistically as a very flawed cop…its stark realistic approach to police brutality, civil rights abuse, and systemic racism embodied in Doyle is almost painful to watch; but Hackman earned his Oscar).

I also have some other blog entries I want to get finished and posted over the weekend–an in-depth discussion of Superman and Lois, as well as something deeply personal I may never post (that old ‘bleeding in public’ thing which I still struggle with from time to time) but I am trying to embrace my past more rather than simply moving on from it; which I also recognize is kind of strange. “You’re going to talk about things in your blog that you’ve never talked about with friends over the decades?” Yes, I get that it’s strange, but I also know in writing about things from my past–the way my mind remembers them, even if they aren’t precisely accurate–will help me come to terms with some things. My methodology of never looking back and just living in the present while planning for the future may have helped me get to where I am today, but it may not have been the most emotionally healthy way for me to grow and develop, and most of all, heal. Things I thought were scarred over have not actually healed beyond a scab, which comes off rather easily once I remember it’s there–and that isn’t healthy. Freeing myself from some of these burdens from the past could certainly not hurt in any way, shape or form.

It’s getting cloudy, which might mean a thunderstorm is arriving at any moment; not sure how I feel about that. We’ve been having a lot of rain lately–and while I do love a thunderstorm (there’s something comforting about being safely warm and dry inside while it pours down outside), we’ve certainly been having an excess of them lately. The ground is already saturated, so it’s harder for the rain to be absorbed into the ground so the streets flood more easily–and as the payoff on my car draws nearer and nearer, I worry about it being ruined more than I have…

And on that bright note, I am heading into the data-entry spice mines. Have a lovely Friday, everyone!

Two To Make It Right

Thursday morning and I am slurping coffee and trying to get awake and ready for an exciting day of data entry and condom packing. I’ve not been terribly successful with my goal of cleaning out my inbox; I am going to try to work on that today after I finish working, after I go to the gym, and after I get today’s writing done.

I’ve identified a problem–a pattern, if you will–with my writing. I will get to a point in a short story where I am kind of stuck, and whereas what I do with a novel (write my way out of it) I won’t do that with the story, instead agonizing over it for a bit before consigning it to the oh well I’ll finish this later at some point folder. This is defeating, and why, ultimately, I have so many unfinished stories languishing around in my files. So, I am determined to solider on with the one I am currently working on, “The Sound of Snow Falling”, and try to get it finished. I am also determined to revise chapter one of Chlorine this weekend, and hopefully get into my next novella–either “Never Kiss a Stranger” or “A Holler Full of Kudzu”–and also get the Lost Apartment back under control at some point.

It’s amazing how little time it takes yet how easy it is for this place to look like a disaster area in need of FEMA assistance.

I also want to get back to reading–oh, how the books pile up!–and maybe it’s something I should do before I go to bed every night. I had tried for a brief while–after that less screen time before going to bed will help you sleep better thing circulated a few years ago–to read before bed every night; I have a non-fiction book on my nightstand that is now coated in dust that I would love to get back to reading–but it also wouldn’t hurt to do some fiction reading downstairs before I go up to bed, risking the getting caught up in the book and not wanting to put it down thing, which all too often happens to me with reading fiction. I am still greatly enjoying Robert Caro’s The Power Broker, by the way; Caro is an exceptional biographer. I also love how he weaves historical context into his biographies–I’ve only read the first volume of the Johnson biographies, and his description for how hard life was for poor rural women has never stopping haunting my mind–and always am blown away. I’ve never read the two biggest biographies of this century–Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton or McCullough’s John Adams, which I need to remedy–but then again my non-fiction reading (outside of necessary research for writing) has been woefully overshadowed this century by my fiction reading.

I also received copies of the MWA anthologies Deadly Anniversaries (edited by Marcia Muller and Bill Pronzini) and When a Stranger Comes to Town (edited by Michael Koryta), which reminded me of how much I’ve been languishing on the Short Story Project–while continuing to buy anthologies or single-author collections, which are also piling up around me. I also have a lot of short stories to read for my Bouchercon panel in August; I am on, of all things, a short story panel; which kind of caught me off-guard because I don’t consider myself a master of the form–or even half-way decent at it. But I have published quite a few of them, and my goal is to publish more (which means writing more of them) and I figure with the terrific panelists, maybe I can pick up a thing or two from some of them.

We started watching another Spanish language show last night, High Seas (Alta Mar in Spanish), which is a murder mystery set on a luxury liner sometime in the 1940’s, traveling from Spain to Rio de Janeiro. It’s gorgeously shot, the period costumes and decor are first rate, as is the acting. We’re on episode 4 now; there have already been two murders and some mysterious shenanigans, including a fire, and yes, we are completely sucked into it. (We’re taking The Underground Railroad slowly, because it’s not really something to be binged, since it raises so many philosophical and societal questions; you kind of need to absorb each episode. It’s really one of the most literate series I’ve ever watched, in part because the visuals are so incredible and poetic; I think it’s one that needs to be rewatched as well because it’s almost too cerebral–yet compelling–to absorb all at once for someone of such diminished intellectual capabilities as me–it’s also making me want to revisit the novel)

And on that note, I am heading into today’s spice mines. Have a lovely Thursday, Constant Reader, and I will check in with you later.

Who Do You Think You Are

Sunday morning is here, and along with it sunshine and no doubt smothering humidity–later today I will be heading to the gym for the beginning of this week’s workout schedule and also trying to get some other things done today. I have to finish the web copy I promised to do today, and I am itching to get back to my writing. Yesterday was a very good day on every level–I was highly functioning for a change, and it felt wonderful, more like the kinds of days I am used to having, or rather, got used to back when I was regularly highly functioning. I did sleep very deeply last night–I did have some very strange dreams, though; all I remember is they involved Taylor Swift and losing teeth–but I woke up very well rested this morning and ready to go. I am awake and not sleepy-tired, my muscles don’t ache or feel tired, and we watched some amazing television last night.

And I actually started writing another Scotty book yesterday–nothing like creative ADHD, right?

But the opening scene for this book has been in my head for quite some time now. One day recently as I was toying with an idea for the next Scotty book, this line popped into my head: “I’m really worried about Taylor” (those who have read Royal Street Reveillon will understand) and then another sentence came to me recently: It was the Monday after Mother’s Day and the termites were swarming. I’d initially thought the swarming termites line was the opening for a short story, and yet…couldn’t figure out a story for it to go along with. The other day it hit me: the two sentences go together, and are the perfect opening for the next Scotty. Yesterday when I sat down to write, these two sentences were swirling together in my head and I thought, why not go ahead and put it down on paper, so it’s there when I’m ready to go back to work on another Scotty? I don’t even know what I am going to call this one yet. I had already–because of these openings, and knowing they wouldn’t work for the next Scotty I had planned to write–so I decided to push Twelfth Knight Knavery back in the Scotty schedule to be the one after this one. I am going to leave it as “untitled Scotty book” for now. I have two stories I want to weave together into this one, and another subplot, but I’ve not taken the time to actually map any of that out or anything as yet. But hey, I wrote nearly twelve hundred words before turning my attention back to “Festival of the Redeemer,” and I am going to take that as a win.

And “Festival of the Redeemer” is now sitting at over seventeen thousand words. Not too bad, really; I’d estimate that I wrote well over four thousand words between the Scotty (around 1200) and the novella yesterday. The story also took an incredibly dark turn, too–I’d always intended it to, of course, but still–the turn was so much darker than I’d planned it even kind of caught me a bit off-guard. I do like it, though–it is a first draft, and as such is very sloppy and slipshod and is going to need some serious revisions and edits, but I am pleased with it. This twisted tale seems so perfect for Venice–and it may turn out, after revisions and edits, to be much longer than the original planned twenty thousand; but word counts are inevitably goals, anyway, and more a measure of progress than anything else.

Have I ever mentioned how much I actually love writing? It makes me so happy to be writing, and it’s so satisfying; there’s really nothing like it, and I can’t even remember the last time that I derived so much pleasure from actually doing it; I don’t remember going into the zone the way I have been lately–I feel like it’s been years since I went into the zone where the words just flowed out of me and I lost track of time and word counts and so forth; which is probably why I’ve been having so many concerns about burn out and losing my ability to write–always a fear for me, always–and yet here it is back again, and I feel centered again. I feel like the last malaise last forever–at least for years–and now I am past it, and even if what i am writing is not anything I should be writing… but if I am going to publish a collection of novellas I have to actually write them, don’t I? And this one is really going somewhere–even if that place is somewhere incredibly dark…and you know what? HUZZAH FOR SOMEWHERE INCREDIBLY DARK.

But when I get this done–I think I may even get this first draft finished today or tomorrow-I am going to get that short story draft finished next and then I am going to get back to Chlorine. I need to get that first chapter revised and rewritten; a good task for this week, I think, and then I am going to work on that other proposal I want to get turned in to see if anything comes of it. Hey–you never know, right? You never know until you put it out there.

I also managed to clean the kitchen yesterday and worked on the filing, The area around my desk is a lot more neat and tidy than it has been, and my inbox is almost completely emptied out. This feels like a major accomplishment, and it’s nice to look over there and see just a few loose papers in there–which I may even get rid of today.

It’s amazing what I can do when I’ve slept, seriously.

We finished watching Elite last night, and it was terrific–perhaps not as good as the earlier seasons, which is a very high bar to reach; but with a cast reshuffle and an effective reboot of storylines, not surprising. We had three seasons to get to know the original cast, and with half of them gone (oh, how I miss Lucrezia!) and their replacements coming in, the story had to go into a bit of overdrive to get them involved with the original cast, and there were times it felt a bit forced and like it went too far too fast. The ending of the season was satisfying, and the next season–with two more characters being added–is now really well set up.

We then moved on to Apple Plus, with Rose Byrne’s new starring vehicle Physical, and I really enjoyed it–the three episodes that had dropped already, at any rate. Byrne plays a dissatisfied housewife whose own gifts and talents are being subsumed by that horrific housewife trope of the time–and even her supposedly “progressive” husband subscribes to that old patriarchical notion of what women’s value was in the progressive movement–they were there to fuck, feed, and clean up after the men; the men did all the thinking and the women did all the work. Then she discovers an aerobics class at a mall…and finds it incredibly empowering; rediscovering herself and who she is through the class. She’s not completely likable–she has a horrible inner monologue voice that is snarky and bitchy and judgmental (if funny at time)–but she’s understandable, and Byrne brings her charisma and likability along with everything she does. It will be interesting to see how the show develops.

After that, we switched over to Amazon Prime to watch the first episode of their mini-series adaptation of Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad, a book that I loved and thought was absolutely brilliant. Here is slavery in all of its degradation, abuse, and horror–the Georgia plantation depicted here isn’t the prettified Tara of Gone with the Wind, and these slave owners and overseers aren’t the genial paternalistic Gerald O’Hara the Lost Cause movement insisted were the reality. It was incredibly difficult to watch, but necessary; my own discomfort in watching, I kept reminding myself, was nothing compared to what the enslaved people endured, and my white fragility needed to look the reality directly in the face and deal with it. These are my ancestors; and even if the family legends my grandmother told me when I was a child was mythology and lies, they certainly believed enough in this horrible system to fight and die for it.

And if I learned anything from Hurricane Katrina, it’s that no matter how terrible something looks and appears on television, the reality and its scope is a thousand times worse. The show is beautifully shot–the cinematography is stunning; and the beauty of the production, and the care taken, only adds to the horror of what the viewer is witnessing.

I kept thinking, the entire time I watching, heritage not hate, huh? Fuck all the way off.

And now I am heading back into the spice mines. Have a lovely Sunday, everyone.

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.

Last Train to Clarksville

Tuesday and I have survived yet another Monday, which I am putting in the “win” column.

It was a grim, gray, rainy Monday yesterday in New Orleans, and all I wanted to do was curl up under a blanket and nap. But I managed to get quite a bit done yesterday, which is always a joy–I actually had my email inbox down to almost completely empty at one point–and didn’t start getting sleepy until after lunch, when the caffeine from my morning cappuccinos wore off.

Meh, it happens.

It’s raining again–it started last night while I was sort of sleeping (yes, another one of those nights again)–and parts of the city are in a flood warning; eastern New Orleans, which I assume means the East (but then again, compass directions are so completely useless here) and frankly I’m really not looking forward to going out to the car this morning, or the drive to work; rain makes the horrible New Orleans drivers even worse than they normally are…which is pretty fucking bad. I’m also having dinner with a friend in from out of town tonight after work–hoping it doesn’t get canceled because of this weather–but on the bright side, my car will look pretty clean thanks to this non-stop downpour.

We got caught up on Mare of Easttown last night, and my, what an intense and twisty episode this was! Certain shifts and twists we certainly didn’t see coming; and then it was over, all too soon. Kate Winslet and Jean Smart are killing it in this (Smart is also killing it in Hacks, I don’t think it’s going too far out on a limb to predict two Emmy nominations for Smart, one for each show; she could quite easily win both as well–although the actress who played Liza in Halston is going to be hard to beat), and the writing is quite extraordinary. It’s the best crime show I’ve seen in quite some time that isn’t based on a novel.

Speaking of writing, I’ve not been doing any lately of note. I think I’ve started a couple of short stories, as well as a personal essay about being a sixty-year-old Swiftie; but there’s simply no motivation there. It’s entirely possible I’ve fried my writing machine by writing two books back to back; I also know there are more revisions to come on Bury Me in Shadows as well as the initial ones for the Kansas book, so perhaps my subconscious knows better than for me to get going or involved in writing something else before those are completely out of the way. But it’s frustrating as well as worrisome; although I did at least get the outline of the first act of Chlorine written last week. I know I won’t get any writing done while on my trip this week–hopefully From Here to Eternity will engage my mind and keep me entertained; I think I am going to take the iPad with me as well so I have access to all the ebooks I own in case I either hate the book so much I stop reading, or it engages me so much that I tear through it till the end. I’d rather not take another hard copy with me on the trip, but I’ll probably end up doing so because I always need options for reading when I travel. The question is what to take? I certainly don’t want to be at the mercy of the airport bookshops.

Oh yes–Stephen King’s Fever, his latest work for Hard Case Crime. That should do nicely; and I’ve not read any King since I finished the Hodges Trilogy, which is kind of strange for someone who is such a big fan of King’s. I’ve somehow managed to fall way behind on his books–still buying copies, of course–but they are so big and long and daunting I’ve not been able to face one of his big books with my addled, short attention span brain lately–and most of his books are extremely long these days. Perhaps I should make getting caught up on King a project for the summer; after all,. reading King is always inspiring to me; I love how he creates characters and relationships; I don’t think I have ever been bored reading a King book–because he just draws me into the world he creates so easily and effortlessly.

Last night as I was lying in bed with my eyes closed in the dark listening to the rain, my brain dredged up yet another memory of a horrible writing experience I had in college–it really is astonishing how little I was encouraged, and how hard my writing professors tried to extinguish the desire to write in me. I took the basic English course all incoming students take my first semester; it was an hour and a half every Tuesday and Thursday. On the first day, we had to do one of those incredibly tedious writing assignments: if you had to spend the rest of your life on a desert island, what three things would you take with you? or something along those lines. I don’t remember what three things I took; but I can assume they included music and books–because quite frankly I could easily go the rest of my life without human contact if I had both of those and a computer (there were no computers in 1978, obviously, so that wasn’t one of my three things). When I went back to class on Thursday, the professor pulled me aside and told me the assignment was really for him to assess our writing abilities, our grasp of grammar and paragraph construction, etc. etc. etc., and that my skills were too advanced (at sixteen!) for his class and he feared it wouldn’t challenge me enough; he had talked to an Honors English professor, showed her my essay, and she agreed to allow me to enroll in her class late. So after class, he and I walked to the Admin building and effected the shifting of classes, and you can imagine how thrilled I was at this turn of events–a college professor thought I was a good writer!

Unfortunately for me, I was not to experience that feeling again for many years–at least, that was the way I remembered it….

The Honors English class wasn’t hard, but the professor was horrible, absolutely horrible. There were only ten of us in the class, and we all bonded over how awful we thought she was. She had no sense of humor, and we had to construct our essays only in the way she believed essays must be written; she was constantly assigning us to read boring, uninteresting essays “so (we) could learn how to properly write one.” She never gave me higher than a C on anything I wrote for her, and she seemed to take particular relish in ripping my essays apart in class as an example of what not to do for the others. Lord, I despised that woman. The other students would often grab me after class for a soda or coffee or something and try to make me feel better; that is how awful she was. I was just grateful to get out of that class alive with a passing grade, but alas…the second semester of Freshman Honors English wasn’t much better. The professor was much nicer than the first, but she had absolutely no qualms with letting me know how bad of a writer I was–and clearly felt there was nothing to be done about it. Towards the end of the semester, as we had one final paper to do for the class, she called me into her office and told me she was regretfully going to have to fail me. “The only way you can pass this course is if you get an A on your final paper, and frankly, I don’t believe you can do that. But if you retake the class in the fall, it will erase your F for this semester–or I will sign off on you dropping the class.” I had already selected Lillian Hellman’s The Little Foxes as the subject for my paper, so I told her I was willing to take my chances and write the paper anyway. She was clearly not happy–I will give her credit, she clearly hated failing people and didn’t want to fail me–but I was determined.

I wish I still had a copy of that paper. It was brilliant, if I do say so myself. I had read a biography of Bette Davis (Mother Goddam), and the author actually used her films as a way to write her biography and even gave her the opportunity to comment on her performances. It was a great biography–I’ve always thought that was the best way to do one of a film star, if the star was still alive and able and willing to participate–and Davis had played Regina in the film version of the play (and was nominated for an Oscar). I had never seen the film, but I had read the play and the biography, and Davis’ insights into who Regina was served as the launching pad for my essay.

I got an A on the paper, and the professor actually wrote on it, “Well, I’ll be damned if you didn’t pull this off. Congratulations.”

But given this past history, and my psyche’s uncanny ability to keep the negative and not remember the positive, is it any wonder I have little to no confidence about writing essays? But now I do remember that I finished Honors English with an impressive triumph–the highest grade in the class on the final paper–and with that knowledge, perhaps I will be a little less hard on myself when it comes to writing essays in the future.

And on that note, I need to take a shower and head for the spice mines. Have a lovely Tuesday, Constant Reader!