My Life

Grief and Legacy

Grief is weird, isn’t it? Sometimes it hides and you go days or weeks feeling great. Then it jumps out at you at the strangest times.

A few years ago, I went to the LCLC literary conference held by Sapphire Books. There, I met Amanda Kyle Williams, a lovely, brilliant, introverted author. She gave an incredible keynote speech and later, volunteered to speak to the writing academy students twice.

When she was diagnosed with cancer, my mother knit her a blanket which was promptly taken over by the pets in her home.

I have a few fun and funny memories of Amanda, but my favorite was when I tried to teach her a song to sing to Spike, the neighbor cat.

(To the tune of Let’s All go to the Lobby)

I like singing to kitties,

Cuz kitties like my singing

And humans don’t like my singing

But kitties like it a lot.

There’s another verse, but you get the idea. We sang it together a couple times, then I told her she could sing it as she went to feed all the neighborhood cats. Her response – “Right, because the neighborhood doesn’t already think I’m insane, wandering down the street in pajamas and rain boots with a wagon full of pet food and a herd of animals following me.”

This is only relevant because years later, for some reason, this morning I woke up with that song in my head. And as I was singing it, I was swept with such a huge wave of grief for this lovely woman who fought long and hard and ultimately lost her battle with cancer.

I was thinking about grief and how it attacks when you least expect it when I logged on to my email this morning and saw this blog post by my friend, Carleen. She was reviewing an excellent book by Anna Burke – and in the post, she referenced Sandra Moran, an author who also died way too young because of cancer.

Thinking of Sandra, reading about one of the authors who is succeeding because of her, lifted my grief. These women left a legacy – that of using their talent and their voices to help other writers find ways to bring their own voices to light.

And that’s the legacy I hope to leave. Through my work with the writing academy, through my beta reading for my students, through teaching everything from freshman comp to advanced studies in literature, I am using my voice to help other writers find theirs. Just like Amanda. Just like Sandra.

That’s why I devote so much time to the GCLS Writing Academy. And it’s why I spend time helping my students really understand the concepts we’re addressing in class. It’s important to me and if it’s important to them, I want to be there to give them every chance to succeed, just as others have done for me.

That’s the true circle of life – supporting others so they can go on to do the same.

 

My Life

NaNoWriMo

I can’t believe I’m considering another NaNoWriMo. It’s addictive. Last year, I wrote 51,000 words in a month. Maybe some people do this on a regular basis, but for me, it was a struggle. Yet, I did it. What’s more, I proved to myself that I *can* do it.

So when a friend asked if I was going to do it again this year, I thought, why not?

It’s not as if I have anything else going on.

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Last year, I did Coyote Ate the Stars. This year, I’m going to do a sequel in which Coyote and his sister go back to Adumbrate to rescue the man who was left behind in the pit of souls.

It’s just 1667 words a day for 30 days. I can totally do this.

I hope.

My Life

If You Don’t Truly Love Yourself…

For many years now, I’ve been a big proponent of body positivity, health at any size, and loving yourself no matter what. I’ve been at the forefront of fat activism with a kind of in-your-face like me or fuck off kind of attitude.

But something happened in the past two years that has, in a way, eroded a lot of my self-work in regards to my relationship with my body. I fell in love for the first time with someone who wholly and irrevocably loves my body, heart, soul, mind. Not in a fetishist sort of way, and also, not in a “well, I love your heart, so I’ll deal with the body” kind of way. I mean my wife unabashedly adores me, loves me, lusts for me, and respects me in a no holds barred, all of me for all of you kind of way.

That’s the best feeling in the world.

And – also…

For some reason, it has really triggered all of the buried self-hatred that I thought I had dealt with so many years ago. I’ve spent so much more time being disgusted by my body over the past two years than I had previously in a decade. And it’s really only within the past few months that I’ve been able to pinpoint why and start working out of it.

For years, I was either single or, more often than not, dating someone who had hangups about my body. There were the blatant fat-shaming ones. There was the one who seemed to be okay with my body, but then would ask friends who were with big women, “How do you deal with this size thing?” There were those who claimed to love me as is but didn’t really ever look at me or reach for me.

And in parsing it out with my wife a few months ago, I realized that I was body positive in defense. I was dealing with not only the messages from the outside world, from the memories of my parents fat-shaming me, from doctors berating me, from people on airplanes shoving me, from strangers in the street calling me names, I was also dealing with it in what was supposed to be my safe space – my relationships.

And so the self-work that started when I quit smoking and skyrocketed when I left my decade-long, toxic relationship was thrown into overdrive. You’re not going to love me so I’m going to love myself harder and show you what a more evolved and better person I am than you. I don’t think anything like that was ever in the front of my mind, but it does make sense. In the same way that I found it so easy to complete P90X, an uber hard 90-day workout program because my partner at the time was so scornful of it. It was what my friend Nikki calls oppositional defiance disorder.

I had friends who loved me as is and that helped. I counseled other women on body image issues and that helped. I could see through the veil of patriarchy that profits on women hating themselves and that helped. And also…

I remember calling my friend SSML one day after an ex told me I couldn’t blame her for having moments of hatred toward my body. After all, she had to live in a society that gave off the message that fat = ugly. Fat = lazy. Fat = gross. Fat = sexless. And if she had to live in that world, how could I blame her for sometimes having those thoughts? SSML, true to form had gone on a rant of epic proportions about it not being my fault that the person hadn’t done the self-work to get past her own misogyny and patriarchal bullshit.

And I hung up the phone feeling righteous and strong. Because, as SSML reminded me, I’m an Amazon and I show up. That’s what I do.

And then I met my wife. And I suddenly knew what a safe space really was. And I realized that all of the times I was filled with uncertainty and indecision about relationships was because I wasn’t in a safe space at all. And then I was and somehow, the feeling of being completely accepted, cherished even, gave me room to unpack the decades of buried hatred and insecurity.

I remember the day I told her my weight. Said the number. And cried and shook and waited for her to freak out. She just hugged me and said, “There’s nothing different than there was before you told me.” She said, “How is this different than me telling you that thing I never told anyone?” Everyone thinks their own shame is so different, so much worse. I remember giving a self-love workshop to close to 100 women once. At the end of it, I said, “Who here now thinks that the people in this group are carrying shame about things that aren’t really shameful?” They all raised their hands. “Now, who here still thinks your own issue is so much more shameful than everyone else’s?” Again with all the hands.

The truth is we all have shame around something. And unpacking it is the only way to get rid of it. Sometimes that unpacking means talking to a therapist. Sometimes it means sharing it with a friend. And sometimes, it’s as simple as saying, “I hate this about myself” and letting someone acknowledge that it’s okay for you to hate that, but to let you know that they don’t.

It has been a learning experience, going back through all that old baggage I thought I’d gotten rid of long ago. My wife has some of her own body image issues and we’ve held each other through them, working them out with grace, acceptance, and unconditional love.

It reminds me of that stupid phrase  – If you don’t love yourself, you can’t truly love anyone else. You know what? That’s bullshit. It’s just another form of shaming people who feel broken from the society that broke us in the first place.

You absolutely can love and be loved when you aren’t truly in love with yourself. In fact, I’d venture to say we love even deeper.

If there’s something you hate about yourself or something that you feel shame around – find someone to talk to. Sometimes, the simple act of saying it aloud is the first step to throwing it away.

 

 

 

 

My Life

Cooperation, Unexpected Turn-ons, and One Night Stand.

 

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I’ve recently been thinking a lot about cooperation and connection. I’ve long been a proponent of cooperation in the lesfic community. I often share book links and blogs for other lesbian writers. I believe that the only way we can thrive as a community is for us all to help each other, rather than taking a me and mine attitude. I support women and I try to surround myself with women who support me.

With that in mind, it’s been fun lately to spread that spirit of connection and cooperation beyond the lesfic community. When my friend Elizabeth Anderson insisted I go to the Saints and Sinners Literary Festival, I was blessed to meet some incredible male authors. I have a reading event with one of them next weekend.

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And today, I’m featuring the blog of the bitingly brilliant, sarcastically witty, charmingly sexy Lewis DeSimone. His book, Channeling Morgan, can be found here.  (My wife sat on the couch and chortled while reading this book.)

So sit back, relax, and enjoy the musings of Lewis DeSimone:

 

A Nightstand I Never Expected to Be On

By Lewis DeSimone

 

Novelists are like parents: once you send your baby out into the world, you never know where it’s going to end up.

A lesbian couple I knew kept a copy of my first novel, Chemistry, in their guest room, with a bookmark stuck in the middle of the hottest sex scene. They claimed that their guests—mostly other lesbians—loved it. I’ve heard that straight women are often into gay romance, and even gay porn—as a means, I suppose, of enjoying male sexuality without the danger and complications that often come with straight men.

But lesbians? I wondered. Why would they want to read about sex between men? One of my first lesbian friends told me that lesbians have hot sex for one night and herbal tea for nine years. With numbers like that, why on earth would they want to waste an ounce of sexual energy on men?

Before the knives come out, this is all tongue in cheek (so to speak). I long ago learned that lesbian bed death is a myth. A couple of episodes of The L Word were enough to shatter that stereotype.

On the other hand, I won’t deny that Chemistry plays right into stereotypes of my own community. To put it bluntly, my first novel is riddled with sex. But that’s kind of the point. It’s the story of a sexual awakening, focused on a character who heals a broken heart by opening himself up sexually. Sex is one of the ways he discovers who he is, so I wasn’t about to be coy with it and end scenes with a description of waves crashing to shore. Instead, I freely showed bodies crashing into each other.

My subsequent work isn’t all that sexy. I like to joke that my latest novel, Channeling Morgan, is the only one in which nobody dies. But it’s also the only one in which there’s no cameo appearance by a penis.

You could say I’ve matured. Or that my testosterone level—even in fiction—isn’t quite what it used to be.

But maybe it’s just that some books need sex and others don’t.

Sex is messy and confusing and, above all, unpredictable. I googled this question, don’t you worry. But, like a lot sex, none of the hypotheses I found was fully satisfying. There is no unifying theory of everything when it comes to sexuality. Maybe, when it comes right down to it, sex is sex. And, just as you can’t really predict who you’re going to be attracted to, you can’t always be sure which depictions of sex will turn you on, either. That’s why there are so many subgenres of porn: one gay site I know of has dozens of categories, from “Amateurs” to “Voyeur.”

So who knows why a lesbian would get turned on my book? Who knows why I got turned on by seeing Blue Is the Warmest Color? Who knows why I love asparagus but hate artichokes? (I mean that literally, by the way. It wasn’t until I’d already typed out the sentence that I realized the sexual imagery. See what I mean? Sex is everywhere and nowhere at once.)

And that woman with the herbal tea? I met her at an AIDS service organization in Boston in the late 1980s. When I was just coming out, into a community with two kinds of people: the dying and the terrified. And lesbians, with only minimal threat from the epidemic, were at the forefront in fighting it.

In the end, it’s love that turns you on.

 

 

Lewis’ website

(Just in case you want to buy the sex-filled book.) Chemistry 

 

My Life

At Long Last

My life seems to be steam-rolling into a long-awaited success these days. Did you ever feel that you just worked your ass off on something for years and years and sometimes, it seemed as if nothing was happening and just when you started to think you were on the wrong path, one little thing falls into place and then, so does everything else?

I’ve been pounding away at school and writing for years, almost a decade now for writing, and seven years for school. Being an adult learner has its challenges and I won’t try to pretend it was easy. I can’t count how many times I had to drag my computer and books along to a writer’s conference because assignments don’t wait for real life stuff.

After I got my first master’s, I assumed I would have a teaching job within a couple of months. I was so wrong about that. I was conferred on November 1, 2016. It is now August of 2018 and I am just starting to teach my first classes. And it never rains but it pours. I was hired last spring to start teaching for the MFA program for Southern New Hampshire University starting in October of 2018. In the meantime, Johnston Community College, under the direction of the brilliant Doctor Tammy Bird, hired me to teach a couple of comp classes online.

My sixth book came out on August 1. On August 6th, I was notified that a short piece of mine was accepted into a mainstream literary journal. Today, August 10th, as I sit here laboring over learning how to use the back end of the online teaching platform, I received notification that the first fifteen minutes of the audio version of Coyote Ate the Stars was finished.

I know it seems as if I’m bragging, but the knot of anxiety that has lived with me off and on for years finally has a little bit of ease. Struggling to pay the bills, not sure whether I will be able to keep the electric on, being sure that nothing I wrote was worth anything, wondering whether I would ever get a job in my field – all of this was such a weight and now, despite feeling desperately busy, I feel so light. Like, my goals and dreams are finally coming to fruition.

I think the moral of the story is that if you know you want it, keep reaching for it, even when it seems as if it’s never going to come. Over the years, my dreams evolved, my career plans changed a bit. I used to want to be a full-time professor, but now, teaching online is really working for me. I still have time for my writing, I don’t have to put on pants when I don’t feel like it, and my wife and I might really be able to fulfill another dream of one day chucking all (most) of our possessions and living/travelling in a motor home.

I’m just saying, if you want it, work for it. As long as you’re doing one thing every day to work toward your dream, whatever it is, you can never give up. One thing. Ten minutes of writing. One resume to a dream job. One guitar lesson. One more first date – whatever your dream is, figure out your steps and just start working them.

And if you get discouraged, message me. I’ll either cry with you or cheer you on. ❤

 

 

 

******* Next week, I’m taking a break from blogging and inviting Lewis DeSimone, a hilariously witty writer, to take over my blog for me. Stay tuned!

 

My Life

Ten Things About Me

  1. I just released my sixth book, Coming Around Again, through Sapphire Books Publishing.
  2. I have an old man dog named Brutus. He has diabetes and I give him a shot twice a day to keep him healthy and happy. brutie and gordo
  3. Gordo is the cat. He rules the house. In the mornings, he reminds me to open the blinds by yanking the slats apart with his paw. I have broken blinds, but I don’t sit in darkness all day.
  4. I have depression. Sometimes, it doesn’t seem to affect my life at all. Sometimes, it means I spend the whole day on the verge of tears, trying not to cry, even though there is nothing sad happening at that moment. Sometimes it means my chest hurts and I have anxiety that seems to fill my entire body and I can’t get rid of it no matter what I do.
  5. I married my soulmate. It’s the kind of relationship we’ve both always dreamed of but didn’t think it was possible to have. She never thought she was worth it and I didn’t think it existed. She is and it does.
  6. I’m naturally lazy and completely unmotivated. I am also a grad student getting my second Master’s, an adjunct instructor with three classes, an online instructor of craft of writing for a non-profit writing academy, the Director of Education for Golden Crown Literary Society, an author, and one of three admins of a 15,000 member women’s networking group in Lansing, MI. I could happily sit on my ass all day and do nothing. Instead, I make detailed to-do lists in half-hour blocks and weekly and monthly to-do lists with deadlines, assignments, student grading blocks, answering emails, etc. I even schedule time to clean the kitchen and make meals. I think I’m happier when I’m doing things. (FYI – my lists are ambitious and I rarely finish all of them.)
  7. I have a Patreon page. So far, I have 14 patrons. Some are fans of my work – others are just fans of me. It isn’t a charity thing, though. It’s exchange for exchange. Some of my supporters pay a mere 2 dollars a month and get access to short stories no one else will see, sneak previews of works in progress, rejected book cover ideas, videos of readings, and general writing process stuff. You can look at it here. 
  8. I don’t know how or when, but I really want to get my PhD.
  9. I just started doing P90X3, the workout program and my butt hurts right now.
  10. I believe in community and connection and I think we thrive when we have it. I value the groups to which I belong, especially the Golden Crown Literary Society for helping me to foster those relationships.
My Life

GCLS Conference

joy and beth at con 2018My partner and I got married two days before conference, so the whole thing was kind of like a working honeymoon. Despite that, the Golden Crown Literary Society this year felt like a homecoming. Perhaps that sounds odd, with over 100 new people this year, but it felt intimate, loving, and welcoming.

We had a diverse crowd, different ages, different races. It was wonderful to see so many young people. The board is getting old (I mean that lovingly – I’m part of the board) and we need young, fresh minds to shake things up for us and keep us relevant.

beth readingI read from my soon to be released novel, Coming Around Again. Incidentally, my publisher had copies of the book at the conference as an early bonus and it sold out. I’m sure it had nothing to do with me promising to write naughty things in the books that people bought.

The writing academy was a shining star this year. The whole 2018 graduating class was there and they were amazing. Such a great group of talented and smart women. I was proud of them in every way. The WA also donated a free year’s tuition to the GCLS raffle and it was won by a woman who had been in the writing academy presentation, excitedly asking lots of questions. I have a feeling she is going to do great things.

The GCLS board works tirelessly to put on this event. (Okay, not tirelessly – we are all exhausted.) This is a labor of love as the board is all-volunteer. We all put so much time and effort into bringing the best conference experience to every participant. And our reward, other than the happy faces and awesome hugs, is coming back and doing it all again for next year.

I hope to see a huge crowd in Pittsburgh next year. We just keep getting better every year and I can’t wait to see how incredible the next one will be.