Shambala

Thursday afternoon, home from work and the grocery store. It’s overcast outside–there was a monsoon earlier, but no flooding–and I am really glad I made it home before it starts pouring again. I really should be putting the groceries away, but it’s so hot and muggy outside I wanted to just sit for a minute before I get up. I also have laundry to do, and might as well get started on the slog of cleaning the kitchen/office/living room. Heavy heaving sigh. I also want to do some writing or editing this evening before I give up for the day and start dinner and relax.

Storms clouds have rolled in since I got up and put away the groceries and put the laundry into the dryer. It’s weird because I can visually tell it’s darker outside–if I turned off the kitchen lights it would ridiculously dark–but when I look up out the windows through the crepe myrtles next door,  all I see is blue sky and white clouds.

Ah, New Orleans weather and its many peculiar vagaries.

Shit, I just remembered there are clean dishes in the dishwasher. Be right back.

Okay, that’s one, and I have Pet Sounds by the Beach Boys playing through the stereo unit in the Lost Apartment (those harmonies!) As I look around at the kingdom of my office, I spy things that need to be put away, things that need to be handled, things that need to be put away. I’m also kind of avoiding my email inbox, because I also don’t want to deal with any of that, either.

I’m still thinking about Laura Lippman’s lovely essay that I read the other day, as I continue to struggle to get a grip and handle on everything I’ve managed to again fall behind on.

One of the more interesting–perhaps curious is a better word–things I’ve noticed over the course of my lifetime is the change in what the cultural definition of what is (or isn’t) sexy when it comes to men and masculinity. I can remember when I was a kid that bodybuilding was primarily seen as the province of queers; I’m not sure how or where I became aware of that, but I know the eschewing of weight lifting for men (and younger men) was not something that was a cultural norm; health clubs didn’t really start proliferating until, best as I can recall, the late 1970’s/early 1980’s. Even then, the idea wasn’t to get ripped or cut or to have a six pack, it was just to have a bigger overall physique.  I don’t remember how old I was when I began having a love-hate relationship with my body; I joined my first gym in 1981. Over the course of the next ten years I joined several others; I never lasted more than a few weeks. I wasn’t particularly motivated–I wanted to look better and feel better about myself, but I found the weight room horrifyingly intimidating and gyms not particularly welcoming. I am sure some of that had to do with the PTSD acquired as a tween and teen with gym class, athletics, and everything to do with those things. I tried several times, and it never took.

I always blamed those failures on my own laziness. Now, though, I am beginning to wonder about that more; if there was more to it, on a psychological or subconscious level. I know when I joined a gym in January of 1995, I was determined to accomplish change, not only in my body but in my life. I also joined a gay owned and operated gym; which was not only welcoming and friendly, but kind of nice. Everyone who worked there was friendly and available to answer questions and help. That made a huge difference. I liked my gym, I liked going there, and the changes I was seeing in my body–I was also on a very strict eating plan–were enough reward to keep me going. And I also noticed that the way I was treated in general was better–bartenders, servers, sales clerks, even the passengers at the airport–were friendlier and nicer to me the more my body shape shifted and changed. I was very dedicated to this self-improvement kick; I also have a tendency to be obsessive when I become interested in something. When I lost my job at the airline, I decided the next step in my career would be to work in health and fitness, trying to help people who were like me and pay it all forward.

I fell off the fitness wagon about ten years or so ago; primarily because I injured my back and also started working full time outside of my home. The adjustment to finding time to work out around a forty-hour work week, a brutal editing schedule, and an insane writing treadmill (which led to the publication of a ridiculous amount of novels and short stories over a highly productive few years) made finding time to workout more and more difficult. The injury didn’t help…and I would always try to come back too soon and aggravate the obviously-not-completely healed injury. I even hired a trainer to make me go to the gym–I’d keep appointments, even if I couldn’t be bothered to go to the gym at other times. A few years ago the tightening of my finances and the need to buy a new car forced me to let Wacky Russian go as an expense, which sucked…because I’ve never really been able to find a rhythm for working out again since then. I keep meaning to go…but then I am so tired, and I can’t keep up with my writing and my emails and my cleaning, and then…

Yes, excuses. I can always find them. Never fear.

I’m also going to be fifty-eight next year. I am not as concerned as I was when I was in my thirties whether other people think I’m hot–or as Laura said in her seminal essay, “fuckable”–and ironically, doing it for my health, to improve my sleep and my energy, doesn’t seem to be motivation enough to get me to go. I am not, after all, going to hang out in the Quarter all weekend long with very little clothing on during Southern Decadence, nor am I going to pick out a slutty Halloween costume, or go out dressed nearly naked as a masked professional wrestler again. But feeling better–and I always do after I work out, after I stretch, etc.–should be enough of a motivator to get me to go. And yet, somehow I will always find some kind of excuse for it (I intended to go during my Staycation a few weeks ago; then I left my headphones for my phone at the office and since I couldn’t listen to music–I can always find an excuse) and wind up not going.

Repeat after me, Gregalicious: three times a week is optimal, two times is better than one, once is better than none.

So, my plan is to give it another shot this weekend. I do miss the gym, you know. I miss watching other people work out and making up stories about them in my head. I miss the smell of the weight room, the clanking sound the weights make, the friendly people who work at my gym, and even the water I drink–I hate water, don’t drink nearly enough, and working out forces me to drink it.

And on that note, I am going to try to get some of this mess cleaned up and maybe even do some writing.

Have a lovely rest of your day.

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New Year’s Day

Ah, the annual setting of goals.

1. Getting in better shape. Self-care is important, and there are fewer, easier ways to take care of one’s self than taking regular exercise. But self-care isn’t just the physical; it’s also the mental. So, I need to focus on taking care of myself mentally and emotionally as well as physically. I want to try to get a massage at least every other month, to help with that; and I also think I’m going to start practicing meditation and yoga. I’ve always liked doing yoga, and I need to stretch more regularly. The yoga-toes have already helped with my feet and leg-joint issues, and I need to use techniques to keep myself from feeling pressured. One of the reasons I stopped signing book contracts without having written the book already is because of the pressure deadlines put me under; I still don’t deal with those too well and I simply need to work on my own patience.

2. Finding an agent. This is still incredibly important; I cannot move to the next level of being a professional writer without an agent negotiating for me. I should have done this long ago, and I need to take this all very seriously going forward. I’ve been collecting names of agents and agencies over the last couple of years, but I still don’t have anything to show them. I sent the first fifty pages of the Kansas book out to some agents last year, and got no interest. Which is fine, it was more of a if you don’t ever start doing this you never will thing. But now that I’ve taken the Kansas book back to the drawing board, I think it’s time to accept that trying to make the Kansas book work is like trying to make fetch happen; it’s probably not going to ever be a thing. Which, while sad, is okay. I can always reuse what I’ve done for something else. But it’s also kind of freeing to let it go and think, okay, what else have I got up my sleeve? It’s only failure if I choose to view it that way, and I’m choosing not to; I did some good work on that manuscript and it may work out in some other way.

3. The Diversity Project. I had a lot of success with the Short Story Project, so I’ve decided to add a new reading project to my 2019: reading diverse books by diverse writers. First off, it’s a shame that I am having to make this a project in the first place; I should already be reading diverse authors. I’ve been buying books by minority writers for quite some time now and adding them to the TBR pile…and yet somehow those books never seem to manage to make it up to the top of the pile. What is that about, I wonder? But it’s definitely a thing, and I need to do something about it. I live for the day when I don’t even have to think about my choices because diversity has become commonplace; but I can’t talk the talk if I don’t walk the walk. How can I expect non-gay people to read my gay books if I don’t make an effort to make diverse reading choices myself? And I have a lot of these books on hand already. So why buy more books (always the question) when I have so many to read, so many to choose from? I will blog about these books as well, and I am going to do my part to try to diversify the crime genre and my own reading.

4. The Short Story Project. Let’s face it, I wouldn’t have read nearly as many short stories in 2018 had I not made a point out of doing so, and I have not come anywhere near reading all the anthologies and single-author collections I have on hand, so I am going to renew this project for 2019. I think it’s made me a better short story writer, and I’ve certainly enjoyed all the stories I read (with a few exceptions, of course; there are always exceptions, aren’t there?). I am, however, going to try to loosen the pressure on myself and limit myself to reading at least three per month as a goal, which would be thirty-six stories for the year. I think that’s do-able without creating any added pressure for me….because everything creates pressure for me, even things I start out doing as fun, if I’m not careful.

5. Writing more short stories. This is part of the Short Story Project, of course, but it also (without adding more pressure) was part of the point of the entire project in the first place; reading more short stories was meant to be a master class in short story writing, and therefore teaching me how to be better about writing them. I’ve come to the conclusion that part of my issue with revisions and rewriting and editing my own short stories has everything to do with my own stubbornness and my own refusal to admit a story isn’t working while still trying to force it to work. I have several of those; great concepts that I simply can’t pull off the way they currently sit, and I need to figure out some way to make them work as stories. My goal is to finish two collections within the next two years (Once a Tiger and Other Stories and Monsters of New Orleans),  as well as continue trying to get stories published as the year pass. I am very excited for the release of Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories this coming April 1. I definitely also want to get “Never Kiss a Stranger” finished and up as a Kindle single sometime this year.

6. Writing more personal essays. Yes, yes, I know the blog sort of counts as writing personal essays on a daily basis, but I’d like to start seeing them published in other places, and there are some blog entries that are more abstracts of what could be more in-depth, more introspective, and much longer. The goal is to ultimately come up with a collection of said essays called Gay Porn Writer: The Fictions of My Life, and again, this is a long-term goal; I’d like to have this collection ready in about three years.

7. More research on New Orleans history. This is also necessary for, of course, the writing of Monsters of New Orleans, which is a terrific project I am terribly excited about, plus I am kind of excited about reading up on New Orleans history, lore and legends, which will only make my writing about the city stronger and better. I am also looking forward on teaching myself how to do research, and making use of all the amazing local resources, such as the Historic New Orleans Collection, the Tennessee Williams Research Center, the public library resources, and of course, the Louisiana Historic Research Collection at Tulane University. (The Tulane library alone!) I am still reading Herbert Asbury’s The French Quarter whenever I get a minute, and there are so many others to read–currently in my research pile on my desk I have that and three Robert Tallant books (Voodoo in New Orleans, Ready to Hang, and The Voodoo Queen) along with Alecia Long’s The Great Southern Babylon and the ever classic Gumbo Ya-Ya.

8. Clearing out the TBR pile. I wasn’t able to read as much for pleasure this past year as I have in other years; primarily because I was judging a book award again (I think this will be the last time I actively participate in judging a book award; it’s just too time-consuming, not to mention all the books piling up in the house), and of course, all the research. I’ve also decided that books I want to keep to reread no longer need to be kept; if I need to read again or use it for research for another project (I still want to write about the romantic suspense writers who dominated the bestseller lists from mid-century through the 1980’s) I can always simply get an ebook version of it, which I can access and make notes easily on with the iPad. I also want to declutter the Lost Apartment, and let’s face it, the books are the primary problem.

9. Keeping a positive attitude. This is the hardest of all goals; because my mind is already trained to default to the negative. But negativity derails everything; and keeping belief in myself, no matter whatever career disappointments might lie around the corner for me, is necessary in order for me to do the work I need to do, not only on my writing but on myself, to be the best Gregalicious I can be. And ultimately, that’s the bottom line of all the goals, isn’t it? To be the best me I can be?

And now, back to the spice mines. I am taking a self-imposed exile from the Internet for the rest of the day, to get things done around the house, to write some more, to do some reading, and just get ready for the return to work this week. Happy New Year, one and all!

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