Never Grow Up

Being an adult is seriously overrated.

I was never really one to look ahead when I was younger; I don’t ever remember wishing I was older when I was a kid, or wanting time to go by faster so I could become an adult more quickly. I generally tend to remember my pre-adult life as miserable and unhappy, and while that’s an over-exaggeration to be sure–I often had fun when I was young, even if it was overlaying sadness–but as a queer kid who knew he didn’t fit in anywhere and never truly belonged (part of this was also being a child drawn to artistic pursuits and interests as opposed to everyone else; it wasn’t just the gay thing), I kind of didn‘t want to grow up and become an adult–I didn’t want to get married, I had no interest in having children, and any career options or choices that were being presented to me as desirable by the adults in my family all sounded horrific to me; the only thing that even seemed remotely possible was teaching, and even that was fraught (I have never been fond of standing up in front of a room full of people and speaking–although it wasn’t until later in life that it became such a horrific source of anxiety for me).

And while I may have turned fifty-nine in this most bizarre year of my life thus far, I still don’t feel like I’ve ever completely become a grown-up; God knows I’m certainly not the most mature person you’re ever going to meet.

And if I am the most mature person you ever meet, God help you.

So here it is Wednesday, mid-week, and we’re chugging right along. I got blindsided by a family crisis late Monday evening, which took most of my emotional energy yesterday, but while it is still in process the situation was somewhat better last night–still serious, but not as potentially terrifying as it was originally. Needless to say, by the time I was finished with work and came home yesterday I was exhausted, but I kept up this new routine I started on Monday night–when I get home from work, I take a shower and wash the day off me, and this gives me a boost of energy to get some things done. It is rather nice to get laundry done and getting the kitchen under control each evening, you know, and I’m sleeping better, which is always a lovely plus. I didn’t want to get up this morning–which was to be expected; it’s my first week of getting up early three days in a row, and of course this week has already worn me down to a bit of a nub. I get to work from home on Thursday and Friday, so it’s all okay, but it’s going to take me a while to get used to this new schedule.

They never tell you that being an adult is really just moving from one crisis to another.

I must stay flexible, must keep bending to the wind rather than breaking.

As far as mantras go, it’s the one that seems to be working–at least so far.

And I also realized last night that we’re actually almost midway through October already–yikes! This is what comes from wishing your life away, really; you keep pushing to get through every week and you’re not really paying attention to dates and suddenly it’s the 14th, which really leaves you with only slightly less than three weeks before the month ends, which is when you need to get things done by. YIKES. But I think it will be okay, everything is going to work out and be all right, but damn–there are times when it feels like getting caught up is a completely hopeless, Sisyphus-with-the-rock sort of task. But that’s why I make lists, why I try to pay attention to those lists, and today’s goal is to try to get back to work on this week’s list, all the while trying to monitor and keep tabs on the family crisis.

If it’s not one thing, it is most definitely another.

It’s also Payday this morning; or as I call it, Pay-the-Bills day. While it’s always delightful to see the amount of money still owed on the car slowly but surely getting lower and lower–at the rate I am going it will be paid off sometime around next summer, which is earlier than the loan’s end, but Christ it is so hard to get that damned thing paid off–and I can see financial daylight again; an end to this constant worry about paying the bills and buying groceries. And hopefully, this car will last me for the rest of my life so I never have to buy another one or go this far into debt ever again.

One can hope, at any rate.

The sun is rising in the east–which is always weird here in the Lost Apartment, because it always seems like the sun is coming up over the West Bank, but in my neighborhood the west bank (which simply means the west bank of the river) is actually due south of New Orleans; trying to untangle directions here is something I’ve written about any number of times. Part of the off-balance feeling New Orleans gives you subconsciously is from the lack of sense of direction; the North Shore means the north shore of the lake but the south shore–New Orleans/Metairie/Kenner–is also crescent-shaped, just like how the original city was nestled inside a crescent-shaped curve of the river (hence Crescent City)…so to get to the North Shore on I-10, for example, to Slidell and Mississippi, you have to head east on the highway–and west is how you get to Baton Rouge, not the West Bank. It looks like it’s going to be a sunny day with a cerulean sky with some cloud scattered across its expanse; I’ll take sunny over gloomy any day of the week. I’ve not had the heart to look at the tropical weather forecast yet this week, so if there’s anything struggling to form out there somewhere, it has yet to appear on my radar and I’m not terribly sorry about that, either. We still have a month and a half left of hurricane season; while it’s not that common for storms to form in November it’s also not outside the realm of possibilities.

And on that note, I need to start getting ready for work. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader–Lord knows I am going to try.

It’s Nice to Have a Friend

Yesterday was kind of lovely, really. As I took a vacation day to get caught up on things, get some rest, and try to get the Lost Apartment under control again (I also discovered, among other things, that vacuum cleaners have filters you are supposed to clean monthly, which explains so much), it was kind of a nice day. I did get the bed linens laundered and a load of laundry done; I did the dishes and ran the dishwasher, and I also intended to vacuum, which is when I realized my vacuum cleaner has not been sucking properly in quite some time (I’d even looked into buying a new one, several times) and then thought, why don’t you google it and see if it’s something you can fix, which of course led to the shocking discovery about the filters. I removed it and washed it thoroughly (so disgusting, really). But, embarrassing as that was, it was also lovely to realize that I do not, in fact, need to buy a new one–at least until the filter has finished air drying, I reinstall it, and see if it starts picking things up again.

I also got a lovely notice on Facebook that my former editor at Alyson, Joe Pittman, had tagged me in a post, and when I went there to see what it was, was greeted with a reminiscence of his days at Alyson, and:

Hi everyone, it’s Joseph. It’s September. I’ve got another story of my publishing life, one of the most rewarding moments from my varied career. Let’s call it Love, Alyson Books.Okay, let me go back in time. It’s 2005 and I was hired by a small publisher named Alyson. The company had just relocated from Los Angeles to New York, and they were searching for a new staff. I applied for the Executive Editor position I saw advertised, got called in that day for an interview. I wasn’t exactly dressed for a job interview, but the woman I spoke with said that was fine. “I assume you have grown up clothes.”

I got the job, and two weeks later started. Every staff member had just been hired, and we had lots of manuscripts and contracts to cull through. From the publisher, to the marketing director, an editor, a production editor, and an assistant and me. That’s it, six of us. We had a big task set before us. Alyson had a storied history in the world of LGBT publishing and had released many iconic books. There was a lot on our shoulders.Our job? To bring Alyson into the 2000s, and show how LGBT themes had hit the mainstream. We had to totally revamp the list. We published 50 books a year, we had a very small budget, and as Executive Editor, I was told by the boss that I would be “the face of the imprint.” I embraced the role until it came to an ignominious ending.But in two and a half years, I felt I did some of the most important work of my career.

It started, horribly, with Hurricane Katrina, but led to a book and a series that would help define the LGBT past, present and future. It was a series with titles that began with the word “Love.” And that’s what these books were, love stories dedicated to a certain city, to a movement, to a community.The thing about working at Alyson, it wasn’t like traditional publishing, where agents sent you a manuscript, you read it, you liked it, you acquired it. Sure, we did a bit of that, but mostly we had to come up with our own ideas, track down authors who would be ideal in crafting our idea into a book. I hit the jackpot with an existing Alyson author, mystery writer Greg Herren. Greg lived in New Orleans, and he and his partner Paul Willis went through hell that late August. Katrina ripped their lives apart, as it did to so many others in the region. My idea, let’s get a bunch of writers together to pen nonfiction stories about their city. Why they lived there, what they loved there. Greg was reticent at first. The wounds of the city too fresh. But the book happened.

LOVE, BOURBON STREET was published to great acclaim, and that next year it won the prestigious Lambda Award for Best Anthology. I remember sitting in the audience when the book was announced the winner. I couldn’t have been more proud of Greg and Paul’s dedication to the project, I couldn’t have been happier for the city New Orleans.

Love, Bourbon Street is a book I don’t really remember much about, to be perfectly honest. It happened, and came about, in that gray time after the evacuation and before we were able to move back into the Lost Apartment (which, to me, closed the circle, even though the city’s recovery would still take more time–a lot more time); I think it even came out while we were still living in the carriage house amidst the clutter and boxes and praying every day that the Lost Apartment would be suitable for living again soon. I remember I was still house sitting for my friend Michael on the North Shore in Hammond when Joe called me with the idea–the great irony was earlier that day Paul had called me, and suggested we do a fundraising anthology about New Orleans by New Orleans writers, and I had emphatically said no. Most every one of the writers we knew were still displaced, no one could come back to New Orleans even if they wanted to, and we were all, from the blogs and emails I was reading, in bad places emotionally. I didn’t even know if I could write anymore; I was grimly writing a blog post almost every day so that the creativity wouldn’t completely stagnate, but other than that–nothing was happening. I had pitched a fourth Scotty book to Kensington, but at some point while I was on the road I’d emailed my editor there to say obviously I cannot write that book now–it was, ironically, going to be called Hurricane Party Hustle and be set during a hurricane evacuation when most everyone in the city had left, only for it to turn east at the last minute and spare the city (which had happened at least three or four times since we’d moved to New Orleans in 1996)–and I certainly never thought I was going to write another Chanse book; the second one had come out the previous year while Paul and I were still getting over the Incident and I think I did one signing for it; it came and went with very little fanfare and I had pretty much figured that series was dead in the water as well. I had been rewriting the manuscript that would eventually be published as Sara because an editor at a Big 5 publisher had asked me to write a y/a for them earlier that year and I’d decided that was what I would do after I, if I, ever finished Mardi Gras Mambo.

But I wasn’t sure if I would ever write about New Orleans again, or if there would even be a New Orleans for me to write about.

Given the fact, though, that Paul wanted to do this and my publisher called me later the same day to suggest it, my superstitious lizard brain decided it was something we needed to do; I don’t remember how long it took for me to either call Joe back or email him that we would do it, but we did. It was difficult to do, primarily because recruiting people spread out all over the country wasn’t easy, nor was getting people who were terribly depressed to try to write something about why they loved New Orleans when 90% of the city lay in ruins was a bit much. Also, people would agree to write something and then change their mind right before the deadline, which kept pushing the delivery date–already a tight turn around, because Alyson wanted to release it on the one-year anniversary–back. Finally, I pulled all the essays together into a single document, saw how many words were left to reach the contracted minimum, and started pulling together my own essay, the anchor piece, “I Haven’t Stopped Dancing Yet.” I remember I worked on it over the weekend that Paul had his eye finally removed, and so he was asleep thanks to painkillers most of the time and would only wake up for me to clean the socket before going back to sleep. It ended up being almost thirty thousand words, and I really don’t remember very much about writing it, if I’m going to be honest; I don’t. I just remember pulling it into the word document of the manuscript, seeing that we now had the length requirement covered, saved the document, and hit send.

That same fall, as we were doing the whole Love Bourbon Street, Joe was also calling and emailing me, trying to convince me that I had a duty and obligation to write another Chanse novel. “You’re right there,” he kept saying, “and who better to let the world know how it felt, how it feels, and what’s it like to go through something like this?” Again, I kept resisting. I didn’t know if I could write, I didn’t know when i would write, I didn’t know anything. And then, in late September, I drove back into the city once it was reopened, to check out the damage to the house and see what all we had lost, as well as to see if anything clothes-wise was salvageable from the upstairs. As I crossed the causeway bridge and saw all the damage to Metairie, I recoiled from it all, felt sick to my stomach and a headache coming on; by the time I got onto I-10 I had gone numb again so I could handle it all. As I noticed the mud-line on the walls along the highway, the words It was six weeks before I returned to my broken city popped into my head, and as I came around the curve in the highway, right near the Carrollton exits and the Xavier campus and the Superdome came into view, the words started coming into my head and I knew that not only could I write this book, I needed to write this book.

As soon as I got back to my sanctuary in Hammond, I emailed Joe and said, I am going to do the Chanse book and it’s going to be called Murder in the Rue Chartres.

And yes, both books won Lambda Literary Awards (my only wins, out of 14 or 15 nominations in total) in back to back years.

So that’s the story of how a very kind and generous editor essentially saved my career as a writer.

It’s funny, because whenever I think about possibly doing a collection of essays, it always takes me a while to remember, well, you’ve already published one that will take up a quarter of the book.

And now, to have some serious cleaning joy with my clean-filtered vacuum cleaner.

Say Has Anybody Seen My Sweet Gypsy Rose

Paul and I both stayed up way past our bedtimes last night, finishing the third season of Stranger Things. I had spent the afternoon finishing The Pacific on HBO streaming service (it’s really quite brilliant and moving and heartbreaking and horrifying; probably one of the best things about the horror of war I’ve ever seen, and how it wrecks the young men who fight them–if not physically, than psychologically). As such I slept later than I usually do this morning–much later than usual, which is obviously a problem as I have to go back to work tomorrow morning which means getting up extremely early. I’m not terribly concerned, however; it is what it is.

We never lost cable or power yesterday; and it didn’t even rain in our neighborhood until later in the evening; I think it was around eight-thirty that I got a tornado warning alert on my phone. I checked it out on my computer–it wasn’t for our area, but further downtown and in the lower river parishes, who also had overtopped levees and flooding. That was when I noticed it was raining outside. There wasn’t thunder or lightning, just rain. We’re still in a flash flood alert, but I think I’m going to go take a long walk in the rain and retrieve my car from the Touro parking lot, where I took it Friday afternoon just to be on the safe side. I need to stop at the grocery store, but I suppose it will also depend on if one’s open. I suspect the city is fairly operating normally again today, but I’ve also just woken up and am still on my first cup of coffee, so I could be wrong.

I managed to get absolutely nothing done over the course of the last four or five days; the city flooding and that aftermath, while trying to prepare for the arrival of a tropical storm/hurricane kind of drains you of most energy and your ability to focus. The waiting is also horrible, I might add, the wondering endlessly if you made the right decision or not, whether you should have fled when you had the chance, and so on. This is how it ever was, and how it ever will be. Paul and I were talking about this very thing on Friday, as we adopted our usual wait-and-see mentality. We have actually only evacuated twice; once for Katrina, and for Isaac (or was it called Ike?) in 2008. The other I storm left us without power for the week leading up to Labor Day in 2013, I think it was–I just remember we had tickets for the LSU game that Saturday, and the irony of sitting in the heat all day that Saturday after complaining all week that we didn’t have a/c or power, only to have it come on the night before was kind of the most Louisianan thing we’ve ever done.

I also feel that all of my friends and family deserve an apology for the horror that was the storm coverage all week, culminating in emails, texts, and posts/PM on social media. And admittedly, the arrival of hurricane sex symbol Jim Cantore from the Weather Channel here on Friday was not a good sign. New Orleans and tropical weather has been major news, alas, ever since the levees failed, and nothing gets clicks and views like apocalyptic headlines and news coverage. I’m sorry all the 24 hour channels and even some reputable news organizations decided to go down the terror route for everyone; I’m sorry you all had to be put through that kind of stress and worry on our behalf.  Don’t get me wrong, it makes my heart feel full that so many people nationwide care, not only about New Orleans, but about Paul and me and our friends and our lives here. Thank you for that. I just wish the media wouldn’t put you all through it…as we always say down here, this kind of coverage is what makes the really dangerous storms get not taken as seriously as they should be.

Paul and I are also very prudent, and cautious. In our twenty-odd years here, we’ve learned what to listen for and who to listen to; which local stations are dependable, which models of storm tracking to pay attention to, and we also aren’t ever locked into a decision–we make a decision based on the information available at the time, continue to check, and adjust decisions accordingly based on new information. We’re not meteorologists by any means, of course, and there’s always the possibility we’ll make a wrong decision–and your concerns and worries mean so much to us. Don’t ever think that’s not the case.

And once New Orleans is out of danger, it’s truly awful and sad to see how quickly the story dies…despite the damage that actually was wrought, and continues to be, from this storm system. New Orleans isn’t the only part of Louisiana that is below sea level, and protected from flooding by an at best iffy levee structure system. This system is going to continue to dump lots of water everywhere on its path, and it has the upper Mississippi valley, already in flood stage, square in its sights. Even as I type, the north shore is in tornado warnings, and there are also flood warnings for rivers on the north shore. The North Shore and the I-10 corridor between New Orleans and Baton Rouge were horribly, unexpectedly flooded several years ago–places that generally never flood, or at least, not often–and they are still recovering from that horror. (I think that was August 2016?) So, do keep those areas in your thoughts.

Storm days, as we call them down here–the free days off from work because of weather, the tropical version of Snow Days–aren’t conducive for getting anything done, at least not for me. Even though I ignore the doom-and-gloom news, and pay attention to the reports I’ve found reliable over the years (I still miss Nash Roberts!), there’s always that nagging sense in the back of your head, that horrible little voice whispering are you so sure? Are you so sure that not leaving is the right thing to do? That is, as you can imagine, emotionally draining and exhausting, and also makes it hard to focus on anything. I can never write or edit during these times; reading is often difficult as well. So I wind up watching a lot of television: this time, Band of Brothers (still unfinished), The Pacific, and Stranger Things. I did enjoy this third season of Stranger Things, even if there are enormous holes in the plot and things that didn’t make a lot of sense; but as entertainment it really did a great job–and it also introduced new characters to the cast seamlessly; not an easy task.

But I do think this enforced period of inactivity–in addition to my vacation the week prior–may have done some wonders are far as kicking my creativity back into gear, which is lovely. I think today–after getting the car and doing a minor grocery gathering–I may sit down with the first seventeen chapters of the WIP and reread them, making notes and figuring out the final act of the book so maybe, just maybe, I can get a strong, workable first draft finished by the end of this month. That puts me behind schedule, of course, but I think I should be able to work on my next project alongside a revision of the Kansas book for the next two months. Maybe that’s an overestimation of what I can do, and get done–it is, after all, going to be the dog days here–but we’ll see.

And on that note, it’s back to the spice mines and getting back on track. The house is a mess and needs straightening–and it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that we could still lose power.

Thanks for all the good thoughts, y’all. Greatly appreciated.

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