You’re So Vain

You probably think this blog post is about you.

Vanity, thy name is Gregalicious.

Vanity is one of the seven deadly sins (which are not mentioned in the Bible, I might add; they are a part of Christian dogma and tradition, but never specifically named as such in their holy book) and I was raised to be humble, not vain; pride is also one of the deadly sins, and pride goes hand in hand with vanity.  The satisfaction of achieving or accomplishing something was theoretically enough of a reward, in and of itself, without getting praised for it; it’s wrong to bask in the glow of people’s compliments. As I have mentioned before, this has made promoting myself as a writer difficult; every time I make a post crowing about succeeding at something or winning something or being nominated for an award I can hear my mother’s voice, in her soft Alabama drawl, saying, “highs are always followed by lows, remember that, life likes to take the air out of people for having too much pride.”

It’s something I still struggle with. I was also told most of my life that self-absorption is also problematic, but a certain degree of self-absorption is necessary if you’re going to succeed at writing. (I think that like with all things, it’s a matter of degrees; some self-absorption is necessary, but anything taken to extremes is never a good thing for anyone.) Most writers have full time jobs and families, so the time they spend actually working on their writing is precious and should be sacrosanct; we give up our free time to write, and many of us get a very small return for that time. I’ve been accused of being self-absorbed by people I know most of my life, and it always used to sting a little bit, because the implication was that being self-absorbed is a bad thing. But as long as it isn’t taken to extremes it’s necessary, and when I began to notice that my “self-absorption” accusations usually came about because I was choosing to be jealous of my spare time and not do something someone else wanted me to do–I stopped caring so much about it and started embracing self-absorption.

“Sorry, I can’t do that, that’s my writing time.”

Having that statement met with anger and accusations of being selfish and self-absorbed, I realized, said more about the person saying it than me, to be honest. I am a writer, and am always in the middle of writing something, or have a manuscript or many short stories in some form of the process. I should, quite literally, always be writing and working, and I also finally realized that if a friend cannot respect my writing time, and gets angry and belligerent and nasty and insulting about me not wanting to give that time up….that person isn’t actually a friend, after all, and is everything they are accusing me of–but because of many experiences and lessons learned in my life (that I am still struggling to unlearn) my automatic default is to feel guilty and blame myself for being a bad person.

I’m learning. I am still learning, and unlearning, my conditioning. I’ll probably go to my grave still wrestling with these kinds of things, but I am getting better about this sort of thing.

My friend Laura suggested the other day that another good thing people should do is write a press release about themselves; channel their inner publicist and write a press release highlighting your achievements and accomplishments in glowing terms, without embarrassment and without shame. I’ve been thinking about that for a few days now, and looking back over my life, there have been quite a few highlights in my writing/publishing career…and I should be proud of myself. I’ve managed to publish over thirty novels and twenty anthologies and an absurd amount of short stories and essays and book reviews and author interviews and fitness columns/articles over the years. I wrote a writing column for the Erotica Writers Association for several years. I am currently writing a column called “The Conversation Continues” for the Sisters in Crime Quarterly, and have been for several years. I’ve been nominated for a Lambda Literary Award fourteen or so times, winning twice. I’ve been nominated for the Anthony Award twice, won it the first time, and will find out in Dallas how I did the second time. I have been nominated for a Macavity Award and a Shirley Jackson Award. I won two Moonbeam Children’s Book Award medals, one gold and one silver. I won a Lesbian Fiction Readers Choice Award for Anthology/Short Story Collection for Women of the Mean Streets: Lesbian Noir, which I co-edited with J. M. Redmann. My first horror anthology, Shadows of the Night, won a queer horror award, and Midnight Thirsts won a Gaylactic Spectrum Award. I won several Best of the Year awards from the Insightout Book Club, which used to be a wonderful queer version of the Book of the Month Club. I’ve published two short stories in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, and have been published in both Mystery Weekly and Mystery Tribune. I had a short story in New Orleans Noir. I’ve written for the Mystery Writers of America newsletter and for the Edgar Annual (twice), and even edited and put together the Edgar Annual once.

Wow, right? I do think it’s important, as Laura says, to take stock of everything you’ve achieved periodically, so you can get a better handle not only on your career but as to how other people see you.

You may not like me, you may not like my work, but you cannot deny me my accomplishments. And when I put them down, when I write it all down and look at it and reread it over, it is kind of staggering in some ways…particularly when you consider I’ve worked full-time outside the home since 2008, and if you take into consideration how much editing I’ve done since around 2002/2003…yeah. I’ve done quite a bit.

And seriously, no wonder I am tired all the time.

Today Paul is heading into the office and then is spending the evening with friends; leaving me here all alone by myself in the Lost Apartment for the majority of the day. I have a lot of work to get done here this weekend–not just cleaning and so forth, the usual, but I also have a lot of emails to get through, some writing to do, and some revising/editing to do. I need to get the mail and I’d also like to get some groceries at some point today; I’m not precisely sure how that’s going to play out, frankly, but it’ll get taken care of. I started rereading Bury Me in Shadows while sort-of watching the fifth episode of The Last Czars (“Revolution”), and then after Paul got home we started watching the CNN series The 2000’s on Netflix–the episodes on technology and the first one on television in the twenty-first century, which is, as always, fascinating. (We’ve really enjoyed all of CNN’s decade-documentary series, from The 1960’s on.)

Rereading Bury Me in Shadows also was a bit of a struggle, you see, because while I have talked endlessly about the troubles I am having writing this book, some of them are due to stubbornness and some of them are due to technical challenges for my writing. The stubbornness comes from the refusal to let go of the opening sentence, which I love (The summer before my senior year my mother ruined my life.), but the reread showed me it really doesn’t work and doesn’t fit with the story or the style of writing I am using. The style of writing–remote first person present tense–is a departure from the way I usually write a book and something new and difficult I am trying, and after decades of  tight first or third person past tense, I have to actually pay attention because if I am not I will, by default, slip into the past tense. The first chapter is going to need to be completely redone, almost completely reworded, from start to finish. I’d like to finish reading it and making notes this weekend; I’d also like to finish writing Chapter 18, and also would like to revise some other short stories and other chapters of books in some sort of progress–I want to reread that first Chanse chapter I wrote, for example, and look at the first chapter of Chlorine again–and I should probably start working on some promised short stories I have to write.

It’s daunting, but I need to make a list, keep it handy, and just mark things off as I go.

It’s always worked in the past, so I should stop resisting, do it, and be done with it all.

And on that note, Constant Reader, I am heading back into the spice mines. Have a lovely Saturday, however you choose to spend it.

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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.

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Baby I Love Your Way

So, it’s Friday, and $562 later (not including the cost of the appointment itself) at the optometrist’s later, I am home. But I have my first new glasses in three years on order, and a year’s supply of contact lenses, which I am trying to get better about wearing more regularly. Part of the resignation to being old and not going to the gym regularly (if at all) anymore was the loss of contact lenses as an option years ago…I still don’t like the progressive lenses, but I am getting used to them, and I am very hopeful my vanity is going to kick in and get me off my ass.

I mean, if I don’t have to wear my glasses…

Don’t hold your breath.

So, here’s an insight into how my brain and my memory works. For years, I’ve been trying to remember the name and author of a book I read during a horror phase in the 1980’s–during that time I fantasized of being a horror novelist. When I worked at Bank of America, I didn’t have a car, and had to take the bus to and from work. I had to change busses at the Manchester Mall, going and coming, and on paydays I would, rather than catching the next bus, going into the mall, go to the B. Dalton and browse the books, and after getting a bag of books, I would eat in the food court–there was a place that had an amazing hamburger with grilled onions and bell peppers, but it wasn’t cheap and this was part of my payday treat for myself. (It was during this time period that I also went through a fantasy period; this was when I read the rest of The Shannara Chronicles and  The Belgariad) There was a horror novel that I read that has always stuck with me; when I moved to Houston from California I left most of my books behind, alas. For years I’ve been trying to remember the author’s name and the book’s title; it was set in rural New Jersey, the main characters were from New York and for some reason were spending the summer, independently of each other, in this small rural town. I remember there was a demon or a devil in a tree in the prologue which consumed someone; but there’s not much more I remember, except how brilliantly and vividly the author described things; there was a scene with the young woman working in a public library in Manhattan that was so vivid I could see the cracks in the paint and the plaster.

Today I was listening to Spotify and cued up The Best of New Order. When the song “Ceremony” came on I thought, that’s a great title for a horror short story or novella sand I was starting to reach for a pen when it hit me between the eyes, that novel set in rural New Jersey you’ve been trying to remember for twenty years was titled The Ceremonies.

A quick check on Google, and sure enough, the book is The Ceremonies by T. E. D. Klein.

And now I need to get a copy so I can reread it.

And now back to the spice mines.

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