Monday, April 8, 2013

Lone Star Lesfic Festival...Sometimes You Have to "Go Look at Rocks."

This past Friday, I boarded a plane and headed out to the Lesfic Literary Festival in Austin, Texas. Accompanying me was my wonderful girlfriend, a few more outfits and shoes than I could possibly wear in a single weekend and a collection of beauty and hair products. Having naturally curly hair, I learned a long time ago that different regions come with different levels of water softness and unless I wanted to look like Don King, I had better come prepared.

As we boarded the plane, we were greeted by a male flight attendant. When I told him that I didn't like to fly, he responded, “Honey, it sure beats driving.” He made me laugh and for that, I was grateful. We made our way to our seats, stowed our carry-on baggage and prepared for take-off. My girlfriend lovingly held my hand as we took flight, never once complaining about the increasing lack of sensation in her hand as a result of my tight grasp. During my braver moments, I glanced out of the window and noticed the flatness of the terrain below. I knew this area of the country was flat, but knowing it and seeing it are two different things. I wondered how far in either direction you would be able to see if you were standing on the ground. I also wondered why the flight attendants had reviewed the safety procedures for a water landing since we wouldn't be crossing any large bodies of water. Thinking about that was enough to make me draw the window shade and return to my book.

After landing in Austin and being reunited with our checked bags, we boarded a shuttle van for the hotel. I quickly learned that driving on the side roads in Austin should not be attempted unless you are in a vehicle with four wheel drive and excellent shocks. Our vehicle had neither. As a result, I began searching Google for walk-in medical care facilities. I was pretty certain that several of my internal organs had shifted considerably during the drive and I was seriously regretting my choice in underwear; I was going to need professional help to undo the wedgie that this van ride had caused.

Thankfully, we reached the hotel before any of my body parts suffered permanent injury. My mood brightened at thoughts of our dinner planned that evening with RE Bradshaw, her wife Deb and Barrett. RE Bradshaw and her wife are friends, but I had never met Barrett and was looking forward to meeting her outside of Facebook. At dinner, I learned that Barrett is quick with a hug and has a bright smile that makes her eyes twinkle. I also learned that the glitter from the design on my shirt was quickly transferred through hugs. Looks like everyone would be bringing home a piece of me.

On Saturday, we made our way to the Lone Star Literary Festival. It was held in the back rooms of Nature’s Treasure, a store that sold a variety of different crystals. More than once that day I found myself announcing that I was “going to look at rocks”, but I will get to that in a moment. We set up RE Bradshaw’s table with her “swag”. She had generously brought bags, stress cubes (they were cubes, not balls so “stress cubes” was a more appropriate name) and flashlights to give out to attendees, along with copies of  her books for sale and note cards that she would sign throughout the day. It didn't take long before people began approaching, asking her to sign a book and offering a hugs and words of praise. The room was quickly peppered with women donning bags with her logo, squeezing, or in some cases, throwing stress cubes at one another. I found myself ducking a few times to avoid being hit by stress balls being thrown back and forth between Ms. Bradshaw’s wife, Deb and my girlfriend, Linda. They had quite a bit of fun trying to hit one another when they thought the other person wasn't paying attention and at times I thought they might end up being sent to "time out".

As I looked around the room, I noticed that most of the authors seemed to be having a good time. There was Barrett with her ever present smile, laughing and chatting with readers, Carson Taite with a thoughtful expression on her face as she discussed a plot with a reader and other authors engaged in discussions with readers and fellow authors alike. I was thrilled to meet some people I had previously known only from a group on Facebook and enjoyed listening as reader spoke about what a joy it was to meet authors whose works they enjoyed. One such reader, a woman I knew from a group on Facebook told me she had to make three trips to her car in order to bring in all the books she wanted to have signed. From my interactions with her on Facebook, I knew her to be a kind woman with never a harsh word to be said about anyone. In person, she was even kinder. She greeted me with a warm hug and instantly struck me as one of the sweetest women I have ever met. She has been a supporter of Lesbian fiction and its authors for quite some time and has amassed a considerable collection of books. She made her way around the room, asking authors to sign her books, and with only one exception, they were glad to do so. These authors recognized that women such as this, not only put money in their pockets, but also spread the word about their books. They recognize that readers like her allow them to make a living doing what they love. When I heard that one author refused to sign her books, I had to make a quick trip to go “look at rocks” before my mouth got me into trouble. When she had approached this particular author, who in my opinion should change her name to “Cad” because that is how I classify her behavior, the author informed her that she wouldn't sign the books because they weren't her latest works. She recommended that she bring the books to the GCLS Conference in Dallas, stand in line at the book signing and that she would sign them there, “if she had time”. What this author clearly failed to recognize was the fact that this reader brought copies of her older works indicated that she had been reading her books for quite some time. That is not the way one should treat any reader, especially one who has been supporting you for years. Being an author is your job, your chosen profession. However, it does not define who you are as a person. How you treat others is a much more accurate reflection of who you are as a person. I was not impressed by this particular author before this weekend and I am even less impressed after her behavior at the festival. Had she been nicer, I might have even offered a few suggestions about some hair products she might want to try.

As I tossed a second load of laundry into the washer Sunday night, I smiled as I thought about what I had learned over the course of  our weekend in Austin. I learned that both my girlfriend Linda and RE Bradshaw’s wife Deb are pretty adept at throwing stress balls, that when Ms. Bradshaw is driving and says, “hold on”, I am apt to land in my girlfriend’s lap, that Texans would rather vote Democrat than let someone with Oklahoma plates merge in front of them, that when you are as kind and grateful for your readers as some authors are, people are drawn to you and that sometimes, instead of yelling, “The emperor has no clothes”, it is best to walk away and go look at rocks. To quote the saying on RE Bradshaw's shirt at the Lone Star Lesfic Festival....Namaste Y'all

Thursday, November 15, 2012


November 28, 1965. That was the day my mother finally acquiesced to my father’s request that he take her to the hospital. Her tossing and turning the night before, which she thought was simply a case of indigestion, meant that neither one had gotten much sleep. Thanksgiving had been the previous day and she was convinced that she had simply enjoyed a little too much holiday fare. After a brief examination, the doctor informed her that she was in labor. My mother promptly asked for a second opinion. After all, she was a physician herself and while she was past her due date, this was not her first pregnancy and she “knew” what labor felt like. When her water broke in the elevator, she had to admit that perhaps the doctor had been right.

Were it not for my father, I might have entered the world in the back seat of a Ford station wagon with faux wood paneling. I think he took her to the hospital because he was hoping that he would finally be able to take a nap.

From the beginning, my mother stated that I was dramatically different from both my brother who is two years my senior and my sister who is two years my junior. She joked that given a wooden spoon and a sock, I would entertain myself for hours putting on puppet shows for my dolls. Evidently, my creative monkeys showed themselves at an early age. My mother also reported that I insisted on wearing dresses, regardless of how cold it was and given the choice, I would have built snowmen wearing my patent leather Mary Janes, because as she tells it, I informed her that “My snow boots don’t match my outfit.”

From as far back as I can remember birthdays were always important to me. Maybe it was because they were always around Thanksgiving, buried somewhere in between frantic holiday preparations and Christmas shopping. Maybe it was because, my birthday cake was often a slice of Thanksgiving pie; after all, the last thing anyone wanted to do after all of that holiday cooking was to bake a cake. Regardless of the reason, I always thought that you should be able to do whatever you wanted on your birthday. When I got older, I started making a list of things I wanted to do on my birthday. At first, my list contained things I had never done before like bake chocolate chip cookies or ride the subway. As I got older, I discovered that what I did on my birthday wasn't really important to me, it was the people with whom I shared my birthday with that mattered most.

This year, I had wanted to rent a house on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, invite friends to join me for the weekend and wake up on my birthday to the sounds of the ocean. Alas, it was not meant to be. That’s the thing about having a birthday so close to a holiday; people are busy spending time with their families and loved one. I’m not crossing that one off my wish list quite yet. It won’t happen this year, but if the Universe sees fit, I may give it another try next year.

So as the day of my 47th birthday grows nearer, I find myself reflecting not only on this past year, but also on birthdays past. My life has undergone some pretty dramatic changes this year and I decided that it would be fitting for me to take a page from birthdays past and find something to do on my birthday that I had never done before. This year, I won't be having a slice of leftover pie on my birthday. Instead, I am going to make myself my own birthday cake. Now I just have to find a cake pan big enough to hold all of those candles and hope I don't set off the smoke alarm when I light them.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Cephalopod's and Social Media Sites

It all started with my friend Katie’s innocent Facebook post…Happy Cephalopod Awareness Days!

Suddenly, my creative monkeys were off and running. Within a few seconds, they had taken me from Cephalopod’s to the impact that social media sites have had on communication. Now, if you figured out how I got from one to the other, please contact me; our brains may have been separated at birth and that both fascinates and frightens me. For the sake of everyone else, I am going to explain the path my creative monkeys took on this particular journey.

Cephalopod Awareness Days, they get more than one day?...Well, I guess that makes sense; there must be a lot of different Cephalopod’s…Squids are Cephalopod’s aren’t they?...I don’t think I can name any other types of Cephalopods…I’m going to do a Google search to learn more about Cephalopods…More random stuff to add to the files in my brain…I bet I would make a good “Phone-a-Friend” on Jeopardy, because I know a lot of random, some would say useless, information…I wonder how long it would take before Cephalopods would actually come up in a conversation with anyone other than Katie?...When is the last time I actually had a conversation on the phone with someone for longer than five minutes who wasn't a customer service representative?...Yesterday? No, the pizza guy definitely took my order in less than five minutes…Wow, I can’t remember… Hmm, communication since the boom of social media sites has really changed how we interact compared to back in the good old days…Oh sweet mother of pearl! I just took two giants leaps forward towards becoming more like my mother by using the phrase, “The good old days!”

My creative monkeys took a five minute break while I breathed slowly and deeply into a paper bag and repeated to myself, “I am not my mother, I am not my mother, I am not my mother”…

I will be the first to admit that sites such as Facebook do make it easy for me to stay in touch with friends who live in other parts of the country. While my original reason for opening a Facebook account was for it to supplement other forms of communication, I have discovered that in far too many cases, it has become the sole mode of communication. Sure, I get to watch their kids grow up through pictures they post on their Facebook pages or learn about their new job, new car, new dog and in one particular case, their new pet goat. I am still shaking my head over that one, but at least when their son says, “My pet ate my homework”, he is telling the truth. The written word is a powerful and often adequate means of communication. But there are things that the written word cannot convey. It is no substitute for the human voice. No matter how adept one is at writing, you can never really use words to describe the sound of a friend’s laugh, the pride in their voice when discussing their child’s latest accomplishment or the sigh they emit when discussing a painful incident. Human beings are by nature, social creatures and as such, seek to form relationships with other human beings. And while connecting with others via social media sites has its benefits, it pales in comparison to verbal communication.

I am a people person. Anyone who knows me will attest to that. I love talking with people; I love learning about what is important to them, how their life experiences have shaped them and influenced their opinions and I love the exchange of ideas that result from a good conversation. And yes, sometimes a good conversation centers around something as deep as existentialism, but just as often it can center around something as simple as your weekend plans. My point here is this; how we communicate in the virtual world, impacts how we communicate in the real world. The next time you are in a public place, take a look around at other people engaged in a conversation. Take note of how long it is before one or both parties reach for their cell phone so as to send a text message. Appropriately navigating social situations is a skill and like any skill, it takes practice to both learn and maintain. Social media sites often allow boundaries to become blurred and things one would probably never reveal during a real conversation suddenly become hastily penned posts for all to see.

I am not giving up my Facebook page, nor am I suggesting that anyone else should. But I am suggesting that we seek balance with regards to how we communicate. Pick up the phone and call a friend you haven’t spoken to outside of Facebook in awhile. Make time in your schedule to sit down and have a face to face conversation with someone you love. We are all busy, but as the saying goes, “Be not so busy making a living that you forget to make a life.” Life is made richer by the connections we make with others. At the end of our lives, I doubt many people would say, “I wish I had worked more.” I suspect, many more would say, “I wish I had spent more time being with those I love.” So go be with someone you love and talk to them; if you can’t be with them face to face, pick up the phone and call them. I bet you’ll both be happy that you did.

And so, I shall end this blog by going back to where it all began; with our friends, the Cephalopod’s. For those of you who might be curious, I did learn that Cephalopod’s can be found in every ocean, that they cannot tolerate freshwater and that they are considered to be the most intelligent type of invertebrates. I also learned that were it not for the spell check feature, I would have spelled Cephalopod incorrectly. However, the most surprising fact I learned was that Cephalopod’s are social creatures. Now my creative monkeys are wondering what the world would be like if Cephalopods communicated via social media sites…I am going to call Katie and see what she thinks.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Life Lessons

Life has a way of teaching you lessons, even when you'd prefer not to be a student. Unlike college, where you can choose to drop a course and then add it to a later semester with a lighter course load, life doesn't concern itself with your preferences with regards to timing. It brings you what it brings you, and it does so according to its own schedule.

2012 has been in many ways for me, a year of loss. Budget cuts led to the loss of a job I loved and held for over 25 years, I lost friends due to busy schedules and differences of opinions and most recently, I lost two friends to cancer. I will be the first one to admit that many of these losses rocked my world so far off its axis, I wondered if I would ever find balance and peace again. Somewhere along my journey, I discovered that I am stronger than I thought, enjoy my own company more than I realized and that while subdued at times, my creative monkeys are still alive and well.

 I can still find humor in conversations with my mother, even when she states that my drinking of a glass of wine once or twice a week makes me "dangerously close to being classified as an alcoholic". I remind her that playing a Wagner LP at 45 rpm because she believes that his music is too sad when played at its intended speed of 33 rpm makes her "unquestionably classified as being tone deaf." On the ropes, she counters with her often used attempt at a bribe, "Marry a man and I'll buy you a house." I counter with, "Go on a date with a woman and I will buy you a toaster." We call it a draw... for today anyway.

Yesterday, there was a Memorial, followed by a party to celebrate the life of my friend Beth who passed away last week, after battling cancer for years. In her final days, Beth had said to me, "I don't want weepin' and a wailin’; I want a party with laughter." And that's exactly what she got. Beth was there yesterday as her family, some by blood and some by choice, celebrated her life. The common theme among the stories that were shared was how Beth had the uncanny ability to bring people together, to make everyone laugh and to make everyone feel loved. 

My friend Jim also passed away last week. Jim was my mentor, my friend and taught me that unconditional love can exist between two people. He always said that was a challenge for him when it came to me due to what he called my unquestionable lack of taste in baseball teams. I called him "Immy" and he called me "Wicked One". He would teasingly ask me if I got splinters from riding around on my broom and I would ask him if looking at the pinstripes on the NY Yankee uniforms made him as nauseous as their playing made me. We discussed everything; no topic was off limits, and while we did not always see eye to eye, we always held the other in the highest regard. Our conversations would always end the same way...
"I love you Wicked One"
"I love you more Immy"
"That's impossible Wicked One"

So while this year has brought many losses, I realized that it also has brought me many gifts. Every day that I was blessed to share my life with Beth and Jim brought me another day where I got to love and be loved by two remarkable human beings. Beth and Jim may not be alive in the physical sense, but they will always live in my heart. And so, while I continue to grieve the loss of these two dear people, I try to honor their memories by finding joy in something every day and by remembering the riches that can be gained when one chooses to love and be loved.