Thursday morning and the last day I have to get up this early this week. Huzzah! I slept well again last night–after the weird sleep of the previous night–and feel rested this morning. Not sure how that will play out through the rest of the day, but we’ll see, I guess. I know I have a full schedule at work today, so I am hoping to have the energy this evening after work to get home and do some writing. I started doing the dishes last night but didn’t finish; Paul was home early last night so I spent the evening hanging with him and Scooter and watching television. We started watching this new high school show on Netflix–Heartbreak High–but it was just okay (no Elite or Sex Education, that’s for sure); we’ll probably give it another episode or so before abandoning it, since shows sometimes need an episode or two to hit their grove and become more fun to watch.
I really don’t want to look at the news about the hurricane; as someone with some firsthand experience to hurricane aftermaths, I also know that no matter how bad it looks on television or on the newspaper, the reality is about a thousand times worse because pictures and video–no matter how well done–can never quite capture the scope of disaster in a way your brain can process the same way bearing eyewitness can. I saw a lot of awful posts on social media–people seeking help for family and/or friends trapped; trapped people looking for help–and I had to put my phone down because at some point it feels like it almost becomes a kind of macabre fascination, like you’re not doing out of empathy but out of some far darker, almost primordial need to see destruction you can enjoy because it doesn’t affect you. Human misery always bothers me on a very deep level, at the core of my being; there are very few people whose misery I can actually revel in (looking at you, Putin!).
But a hurricane threatening the Tampa Bay area has sent me down a rabbit hole into my own history, and memories of living in that area–which is when I worked for Continental Airlines–and my word, how my life has changed since I lived there. I was still pretty immature and under-developed socially and emotionally; I was originally transferred there from Houston in 1991, after I’d been with the company for about a year or so; I think my hire date was April 1990? (You can tell it’s been a long time; your hire date/seniority is everything when you work at an airline.) I’d originally moved to Houston after blowing up my life in California–lost my job, drug problem, drinking too much–but that was also probably the self-destruction brought on by the horror that was my life in the 1980’s, and after living there for two years was ready to start over again somewhere new; Houston was a nice way station but I’d never intended to stay there for very long–I do like Houston but I really don’t want to live in a place where you literally have to get on at least one highway every day and it seemed kind of exciting to start over in Florida.
Tampa turned out to be another transitional location for me; it was where I was able to come into myself, work on myself, and figure out who I am, what I wanted from life–and how to make a plan to get what I wanted from life. I was hardly perfect (still am quite a distance from being the ideal Greg I would like to be), but I was on well on my way to becoming the Greg I wanted to be when I loaded up my car with everything that could fit and left for Minneapolis shortly before Christmas of 1995. When I moved to Tampa I didn’t really have any idea of what I wanted or who I was or the life I wanted to lead; when I left I had those answers figured out and was well on my way to becoming who I wanted to be as a person. Obviously, I am still a work in progress, and while my memories of Tampa may not all be terrific ones, I am very happy I made the decision to transfer there–because I probably would have never become an active participant in my life rather than a passive one to whom things happened; I wanted to make things happen.
Obviously, you only can ever have so much control over your life; a lot depends on other people, of course, and things that are beyond your control (hello, natural disasters!), but it really feels good to have a purpose; I had always wanted to be a writer but it was while I was living in Tampa that I finally realized I needed to get past my fears of failure and really put the effort into making it happen, and it eventually did…who knows how my life would have turned out had I never made the decision to transfer to Tampa and reboot my life once more?
And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Have a marvelous Thursday, Constant Reader, and will check in with you again tomorrow morning.
Twenty-eight years ago I came to New Orleans for my birthday weekend, and my life changed completely. Earlier that month I had already taken a cold, hard, long look at my life and I didn’t like what I saw. I had been wrapped in misery for years, wallowing in it, and diving so deep into the misery that I allowed it to erase my dreams and any hopes I had for the future. It was, after all, very easy to blame outside forces for my miserable life, and when you dig deep down into the misery, well, it’s a lot easier to just wrap yourself up in self-pity than take any responsibility for your own happiness; making excuses not to try rather than reasons to better myself. I worked for Continental Airlines at the Tampa airport–most times not a bad job for the most part, but the bad days were horrible–and didn’t make much money. I was broke all the time and yes, I wasted a lot of money treating myself to things–like buying lots and lots of books every payday–in an effort to make me feel better about myself and my miserable life. I was horribly lonely.
A bad experience with someone I was romantically interested in was the impetus for the changes I made to my life, because for whatever reason that night everything just bubbled up to the surface; I hated everything about my life, I hated where I was at, I felt trapped and like nothing good was ever going to happen to me. I stayed up the entire night, feeling sorry for myself and unable to sleep, tossing and turning and occasionally crying. At seven o’clock the next morning (it was a day off) I went into my bathroom and took a long, hard look at myself in the mirror. I never want to feel this way ever again, I thought as I looked at red swollen eyes, the unshaved face. the dark purplish circles under my eyes. I then repeated it out loud. I went back to my desk, sat down and opened my latest journal and wrote the words: I hate my life. I stared at the words for a few moments, and then added, I have no one to blame for this but myself. I am the only person who can change things for me. I want to be a writer. I want to be published, and I don’t want to work for Continental for the rest of my life in this job that makes me miserable. I am lonely and it’s probably too late for me to find a life partner. But I have to stop being afraid of everything, and I can’t go the rest of my life NOT living because I am afraid of dying. Other men are not attracted to me because I am overweight–no one ever looks at me twice when I go to bars. I cannot change my face but I can change my body. I will eat healthy. I will drop some of this extra weight. I will do crunches and push-ups every day from now on, and if by January I have been consistent with the workouts and the diet, I will join a gym. I need to start figuring out who I am and how to get what I want because no one is going to knock on my door and just give it to me. The only person who can change the things in my life is me, and I am going to work on being the best possible me that I can.And that means taking the steps necessary to change who I am and what my life is so I can become a writer.
Three weeks later, my birthday weekend rolled around and I flew to New Orleans with a friend for the weekend. We were staying with his on-again off-again boyfriend–who turned out to be one of the nicest gay men I’ve ever known. I really liked him. thought he was a good person–but once they broke up for good that was the end of that; I guess he associated me with his ex and so couldn’t be bothered anymore (or he did a great job of acting the part of the generous host; I am not sure how the invitation to stay with him came about; all I knew was we were going to New Orleans for my birthday and staying with this guy), which was always a shame. I was always grateful to him–have been for twenty-eight years–because coming to New Orleans that weekend was yet another key piece to the puzzle of Greg’s future, a piece I didn’t even now I needed.
I think at that point I may have lost five pounds or so. My friend was gorgeous; one of those perfect gay men with golden skin and very little–if any–body fat; his boyfriend was his counterpart, only with much bigger muscles, bluish-black hair, and that gorgeous gorgeous olive toned skin darker Italians have. They looked beautiful together, too, and I was in some sense a third wheel that weekend, but it was okay with me. They were totally into each other which left me with time on my own to think and reflect. He picked us up at the airport and took us to his apartment (which was in a complex on Sophie Wright Place that Paul and I eventually moved into when we returned from DC in August 2001), we showered and cleaned up, and headed to the Quarter.
I had been to New Orleans before that particular trip, and while I had always felt drawn in some ways to this city since I was a child, I’d never before felt the sense of belonging I felt that weekend. When we stepped out of the cab that night at the corner of Bourbon and St. Ann, I felt this enormous emotional release, as though tension I didn’t know I. had in my shoulders and brain were suddenly gone and a big burden had been lifted from my shoulders. It was as though my soul was saying at last you’ve come home, and I knew then, before we paid the cover charge to go into the bars there at the corner–Oz and the Pub/Parade–that I was going to someday live in New Orleans…and all of my dreams would come true once I did.
I have never been sure what was different about that trip than previous ones. On my brief, previouos visits to the city before, I’d never gotten a real sense of the city before–we stayed in motels by the airport or on the West Bank–and so it wasn’t really possible to get a sense of New Orleans. Waking up in the spare bedroom in the morning, walking out onto the balcony and looking around at the roofs and unique architecture of the lower Garden District, I felt like I was at home. It was also the first time I’d ever come to New Orleans to hang out with other gay people and in the gay section of the Quarter, and maybe that was the difference? I don’t know for certain, but I do know that was the magical trip when everything coalesced in my head on that trip here. I knew New Orleans was my home, and I needed to live there, and my dreams would finally all come true once I’d moved there.
My friend’s boyfriend was a great host. He made sure to take me to see Anne Rice’s home at First and Chestnut (which was also the home of the Mayfair witches in The Witching Hour, a book I’d loved that had only heightened my sense of need to come to New Orleans), and showed me (us) around the entire weekend; we went to Lafayette Cemetery in the Garden District, ate amazing food, and then at night we’d head down to the Quarter to the bars and danced the night away.
That was also the weekend I did Ecstasy for the first time, but that’s a story for a different time.
The entire weekend was a whirl; I have pictures somewhere (or lost many years ago during the course of a move or something) of all the places we went and things we did; the amazing food, dancing all night and going to the Clover Grill in the morning (or La Peniche, over in the Marigny) and then sleeping before going roaming again throughout the city. I fell for New Orleans hard that weekend, and have never really fallen out of love for the city, really, since. We broke up once (that dreadful year Paul and I spent in DC), but we came back and New Orleans forgave us for our desertion and welcomed us back home.
I don’t remember how old I was when I first heard about New Orleans, but I do remember Nancy Drew came to Carnival (called “the Mardi Gras” in the book, eye roll to infinity) in The Haunted Showboat (she also visited briefly during The Ghost of Blackwood Hall), but I don’t really remember much else. I think everyone in the country has a sense of Carnival/Mardi Gras, and always associates that with New Orleans–but New Orleans, obviously, is so much more than that. I was a kid when I watched the James Bond movie Live and Let Die–which whetted my interest in New Orleans and Louisiana–later movies like The Big Easy and Angel Heart and Tightrope expanded that interest, as did Anne Rice’s novels and the Skip Langdon series by Julie Smith. Whenever I had been to New Orleans previously I hadn’t felt anything but a sense that the city was different than everywhere else, and that difference felt alien to me.
But that entire weekend was different. That weekend in the city changed me and changed my life. I’d never felt like I’d belonged anywhere before–I always had felt out of place wherever I lived; part of it was being gay, part of it was being a creative, and the rest had everything to do with being raised by Southern parents with a Southern mentality but not living in the South (not a complaint, I am very grateful to have not been raised down here)–so New Orleans felt special to me; I’d finally found my place or, to quote Pippin, I’d finally found my corner of the sky.
Within a year I’d met the love of my life–who also was in love with New Orleans and wanted to live there–and on August 1, 1996, I drove the U-haul truck with all of our stuff and towing my old car into the city to start the rest of my life. I had already started dipping into the waters of writing–I got a gig with a gay paper in Minneapolis that actually paid me, and had started writing the book that would eventually become Murder in the Rue Dauphine. Within three years of moving to New Orleans I had a book contract and had sold my first ever short stories. Twenty-eight years to the day of that most important visit to New Orleans, and look at me now.
I live in the city I love with the man I love doing the work I love. I’m glad that I didn’t know at the time how important that weekend was going to prove to be; that it was, indeed, really the first day of the rest of my real life, when I finally stopped just enduring my life and actively started living it. It’s not always been easy to live here and love the city; New Orleans can be a hard place a lot of the time. We’ve endured hurricanes and floods, disease and injury, poverty and horror. But even the bad things are made bearable because we live in New Orleans.
I’ve written millions of words about New Orleans. One of the best compliments I can receive is being told that I’ve depicted the city so vividly and lovingly that it’s a character. I do laugh when people call me a “New Orleans expert”–I am anything but an expert; you could fill the Great Library of Alexandria with what I don’t know about New Orleans; every day I discover something new about this wondrous and bizarre place, the only place on earth I’ve ever felt at home. I will never run out of material to write about this magical city, and every day, more ideas and thoughts for stories and characters and essays about New Orleans comes to me.
So, my favorite part of my birthday is the fact that it is also the anniversary of me finding, at long last, where I belong.
And thank you, New Orleans, for always, no matter what, being New Orleans.
And here we are, once again, on a Monday morning with the darkness pressing against my windows, a cappuccino in my hot little hands, and wondering how this week is going to play out. Admittedly, it’s kind of a fool’s game trying to anticipate a week in 2020–I rather miss the sameness of weeks in the before-times, and I am really not certain I’ll know how to behave once things become more like they used to be; if they ever go back to how they used to be. I suspect the before-times are gone forever and once whatever this new reality we are living in moves beyond, there will be a different new reality we are all going to have to adjust to and move on.
Keep moving on.
I’m adjusting quite nicely to using the Air, sitting atop my Baring-Goulds, as my primary desktop computer. There are still some adaptations that are going to need to be made, of course–I still need to get that adapter so I can use the printer and the back-up hard drive–but thus far I am pretty pleased with how it’s all working out. My desk is out of balance now, of course—which means I am going to have to rearrange and reconfigure the desktop itself, moving file holders and books and so forth around a bit more–but honestly, it’s just so nice being able to work without the spinning wheel of death showing up periodically to slow me down and make my head split in half in controlled rage that I may just keep this system for as long as the Air remains functional.
From lemons to lemonade, really. I’m just disappointed in myself that I didn’t figure this all out a while ago–but stubbornly I kept wanting to believe that my desktop was reparable. It still might be, and at some point (depending on extra cash) I may want to take it into the Apple Store and have it looked at before trashing it completely; but in the meantime I. just need an out-of-the-way place to keep it until the extra money shows up and I can take it into the shop in Metairie.
I also can’t believe how well this has worked for lowering my incredibly high stress levels.
The workspace is still going to need some tweaking, frankly–as I mentioned, i need the adapter to gain access to the back-up hard drive, for one, and I may decide to move the books off the desk at some point or maybe make the stacks on either side of the laptop lower, I don’t know; there’s a sense of clutter that sometimes bothers me and sometimes it doesn’t, so there is that as well.
I really do think my mantra needs to remain flexibility, the ability to change and adapt to circumstances rather than rigidly refusing to bend and thus getting damaged. I remember when I was hired by Continental Airlines and started the five week training; the first thing our instructor told us was “the most important thing to remember about the airline industry is the only constant is change” and that’s really pretty true for life in general, really; if you don’t adapt and change you risk becoming a rigid dinosaur and extinction, really. And while there is certainly some comfort to be derived from routine and sameness, there’s also stagnation.
So, this week I need to rewrite an essay, revise a short story, and make some progress on the revision of Bury Me in Shadows. I also have a shit ton of volunteer work to get caught up on, I owe everyone and their grandmother emails, and for the first time in a long time i feel like I can not only get caught up but can stay on top of everything once I do get caught up (Universe, this should not be seen as an invitation to pile more unexpected things up on me, for the record), and it kind of feels nice, you know?
Let’s see how long it lasts, shall we?
We started watching a new show, an anthology series, called Monsterworld on Hulu last night; the episodes are all based on short stories from Nathan Ballingrud’s collection North American Lake Monsters: Stories. I had literally just had my hands on the book when I was moving things around earlier yesterday–part of the rearrangement of the work space thing; pull a thread and so forth–and so, rather impressed with how well done the show is and how good those first two episodes were, I found my copy of the book again and opened to the first page.
The first two paragraphs were amazing; and it’s short stories, so I think I can add it to the Short Story Project and justify reading a story here and there.
And on that note, tis time to return to the spice mines.