The Morning After

Today I will be testing in the Carevan, parked on Rampart Street near the New Orleans Athletic Club, for Tales of the Cocktail. It’s going to be hot as hell, and while there is climate control in the van–it’s still basically a parked RV. The eight hours I spent in there on National HIV Testing Day was rough, and I was exhausted. This is only four hours, but I have to take the streetcar and walk a few blocks in the heat both coming and going; so I imagine by the time I get into the cool of the Lost Apartment this afternoon, I’m going to be done for the day.

We got caught up on Archer and Animal Kingdom last night, both of which are terrific shows–this week’s Archer was the funniest one in a couple of seasons, at least in my opinion–and then it was an early night for one Gregalicious. I managed to not get any writing done last night, but I did get the dishes situation straightened out, and then of course I did several loads of laundry. Today after I get home from work I have to do the bed linens, and if I am not too terribly worn out from the heat I might be able to get some writing done tonight.

I spent a lot more time yesterday thinking about the concept of vanity. I’m not going to deny that part of the reason I started working out–and it took–when I was in my early thirties was entirely due to vanity. Yes, I wanted to feel better and be healthier–particularly as a smoker (I quit nine years ago finally, don’t @ me) but vanity also played a part in the decision to work out; I wanted to be healthier but I also wanted to look better. And as I mentioned yesterday, as the way people treated me better the less overweight and the more muscular I became, that “reward” helped drive me to go to the gym when I wasn’t feeling it, or when I wanted to lazy; I could remember the stimulus of the compliments, the smiles, the guys hitting on me in the gay bars, and that would motivate me to head to the gym when I didn’t want to go. Part of the reason now that it’s so difficult to get myself up for a workout is the vanity motivation is simply no longer there.

Which leads to another question: is it better to be vain–which is frowned upon in polite society, at least in theory–or is it better to no longer be vain because I feel older? Just because I am turning fifty-eight doesn’t mean I should stop caring about how I look or my appearance; but that’s also a part of the problem I have. I don’t care any more if anyone else thinks I’m fuckable, to go back to the Laura Lippman essay (I told you, it’s brilliant, and if you haven’t read it, you really should; I am still thinking about it several days later), and I’m not sure how I feel about that. That shouldn’t play a part in my decision as to whether I should work out or not; and yet, without having that small bit of vanity and pride no longer there as a driving force…I no longer go to the gym.

One of my younger co-workers complimented me yesterday, and asked me if I’d been working out, which I found mildly amusing, particularly since I’ve been blogging and thinking so much this week about body image and working out. It was a lovely compliment about my chest, and my automatic reaction, my default as always, was to self-deprecate. “Oh, God, no, I haven’t been to the gym in over a year and my chest isn’t that big; I have a big ribcage so it makes me look bigger than I actually am.” I then demonstrated to him how big my rib cage is, mainly by putting my hand on the ribs just below my pectoral muscles, and then cupping my right one in my right hand. “See? My chest isn’t that muscular, it just looks like it is.” Thinking about that now, why couldn’t I simply accept the compliment without tearing myself down in the process? Would it have been so hard to simply say, “Thank you! I’ve actually not worked out in quite some time, but I worked out for years and was a personal trainer and taught aerobics.” Just as honest, just as true as what I actually did say, but no deflecting of the compliment and no self-deprecation.

I’ve never been able to simply accept a compliment, and I think that’s a real problem.

Compliments have always made me uncomfortable, and for a writer, this can also be a serious problem. I’ve spent so much of my life trying very hard not to be arrogant, or come across as arrogant, that my default on every kind of compliment is to deflect and demur. I think I was in my twenties when I decided that if I self-deprecated, ran myself down, and humbled myself constantly, no one would ever think I was arrogant (which is a personality trait I really loathe in other people) and if I insulted myself no one else would.

As such, I have always belittled my accomplishments and never take credit for successes–but boy, will I ever obsess over failures! I also have this very bad tendency to never celebrate the moment because I am always looking, not only ahead, but at the things I don’t have, or haven’t accomplished yet. This is also incredibly self-defeating. I always tell people–as I did when I was a personal trainer–that you cannot compare your accomplishments with those of other people; you should only judge yourself against yourself. Would I love to have the career of certain other writers (Harlan Coben, Laura Lippman, Michael Connelly, etc.)? Of course I would, who wouldn’t? But just because I don’t have their careers doesn’t mean I am a failure at my own. I’ve done fairly well for myself, and have published a lot of books and short stories and an essay here and there. I’ve been nominated for a lot of awards and even won a few times–in fact, there are some I forget about when I try to list them. I have difficulty even remembering all the books published under my own  name, let alone those published under pseudonyms. I’ve been very active, first in the queer publishing community and more recently in the crime fiction community; I was even really active in the horror writing community–although I do see myself as more of a horror fan than a writer.

Is it so wrong to be proud of your accomplishments?  I really don’t think so. Last year, on the suggestion of a good friend who is also a writer, I wrote up a list of daily affirmations I intended to speak out loud every morning, because there’s something about saying things out loud that makes them more concrete, more solid, more real. As usual, I stopped saying them out loud after about a month or so, but the time I was actually doing it was an incredibly productive time–it was that time last year during which I wrote first drafts or more of like twenty short stories. I also still hold myself to the standard of those years when I was producing so many novels–it’s so incredibly easy to consistently defeat yourself–and think, oh, you haven’t had a book out in forever, you fucking loser.

I’ve spent most of my life deprogramming myself from so many things I was taught to believe and value as a child; I think one of the things I need to reprogram out of me is the self-deprecation and inability to take a compliment–I never know what to say other than thank you to readers I encounter who say lovely things to me–and stop being embarrassed when people say nice things to me. I should be able to accept a compliment without worrying about becoming arrogant.

Obviously, I need to work on myself; I am still, oddly enough, evolving and growing as a person and as a writer as my fifty-eighth birthday draws near.

Have a lovely Friday, Constant Reader! I need to get back to the spice mines.

IMG_1686

Tryin’ To Get The Feeling Again

It isn’t very often that I look back at the past. While memories and nostalgia can be quite lovely, they can also be a trap; it is far too easy to start second-guessing your life and thinking things like oh if only I’d done this or maybe if this hadn’t happened and so forth. Many years ago, shortly after I moved to Minneapolis to live with Paul, I gave up on looking back. The truth was, no matter how many bad decisions or wrong turns I’d made in my life, no matter how many shitty things I endured, no matter how many times a friend betrayed me or whatever…the truth was everything in my past was part and parcel of who I am today and my life would be different now if any of those things had changed; so having regrets about the past and playing the if only game indicated that I was, in fact, not happy with my life at the present time because why else would I want to change something in my past if not to change the present?

And I’m pretty fucking happy with my life and my career(s). I do love my day job, where I get to  help people every day, and I love my writing career. I marvel from time to time that I have one at all; it’s been my dream for as long as I can remember–I remember being a little boy and getting my weekly Scholastic book club books, sitting on the back porch of our little apartment in Chicago and reading them, and thinking that what I wanted to do when I grew up was write books for people to read and enjoy, the way I read and enjoyed books. Are there times when I wish I was more successful? Of course there are; I wouldn’t be human if I didn’t have some ambition. And really, while some of that ambition is about making more money, it’s mostly about writing more complex stories and exploring complicated themes and characters.

Right now I have three unpublished manuscripts here in the Lost Apartment; one has been languishing in a drawer after two drafts for nearly seven years, another has gone through five drafts and needs one more to correct everything then another to polish; and the partial I am currently working on (which is like pulling teeth for me, for some reason. I don’t understand why it’s so hard to write this book…). I want to spend probably the rest of this year getting those manuscripts ready for publication before I start writing yet another; I am also working on a proposal for a potential new series, and I have another idea for a stand alone thriller….there’s also an amorphous Scotty book swirling around in the mists in the creative part of my brain. I also would like to do another short story collection, but I need to get those stories written and sent out. I also want to do an essay collection.

Yesterday was a lost day for me, because I was tired all day. I didn’t sleep particularly well either night of the weekend; I was asleep and resting, but not a deep sleep that rests up everything; more of a I’m sort of asleep and wake up every few hours. This made my twelve hour shift yesterday more of a survival thing rather than a participatory day–I was present, and I gave my clients excellent service yesterday (I am, he typed modestly, extremely good at my day job), but I was too tired to really function mentally and creatively. When I got home last night, I was too tired to do much of anything other than stream the first two episodes of the new season of Archer, which I love–even though it’s not quite as good as the earlier seasons were. I’m also considering buying the first season of The Other Two, which isn’t available to stream for free anywhere, I’ve heard good things, and it’s only ten bucks…I hate paying for anything television, but since getting rid of the cable service and using Hulu’s streaming service, even with subscriptions to certain services (HBO, Showtime, ESPN) I still am paying less than I  used when I had cable, so paying to watch a TV show isn’t that bad of a thing. Animal Kingdom has also returned, and we’re watching it as well–and in just over two months college football and the Saints will be back, taking over my weekends. I’m taking a long weekend around the 4th of July–five days; it falls on a Thursday so I am taking Wednesday and Friday to go with it.

Anyway, to bring this back around to the first paragraph, as I said yesterday being interviewed for the Writer Types podcast put me into a reflective mood, looking back at my past–and part of that is also the current WIP, which requires me to probe memories of my childhood summers in Alabama to make the book come to life–and that, in turn, brings back other memories and reflections. At first, I resisted the rabbit holes of memories that were flooding through my brain, determined to never look back–but I also think part of that was not wanting to remember mistakes made and revisiting bad decisions. But embracing the memories hasn’t made them rosier and glossier; but I am able now, with the proper time and distance, to examine them dispassionately and deconstruct how and why, and the lessons learned from them.

And that isn’t a bad thing, really.

I was talking to my co-workers last night about how much change I’ve seen throughout my life–not just for the queer community, but for women and people of color–and even though none of us in those groupings have achieved true equality yet, we’re closer than ever and getting closer every day.

It’s also amazing how patchy my memory is–as I told Eric and Steve during the podcast, the years from 2005-2009 are mostly blanks, which I have learned is a result of the PTSD created by everything from Paul’s gaybashing through the Christian attacks to Katrina and it’s aftermath; it’s not unusual for people to have memory gaps after that kind of emotional trauma.

And now, back to the spice mines.

48398898_2405924939436295_8728262955889590272_n