Both/And, Guilty Diva Edition

I mentioned in my last post, the one about the RITAs, that I’ve been wrestling more and more with the idea of both/and. Not just accepting that life is full of contradictions, but working to make space in my psyche, heart, etc. to hold those contradictory things. And, of course, the idea that being able to hold both is the source of both wisdom and joy.

To that end, I’ve settled into being a RITA finalist. I’m celebrating some good reviews for my newest book, Recipe for Love, and not letting myself get bogged down by the bad ones. I’m even feeling okay about my job—sort of wishing I didn’t need to have it and knowing that I do good work and am a better person (and writer) for having the structure (and the income).

If you know much about me, these things probably don’t surprise you. I can be very reasonable. But if you know anything about me at all, you also know this stuff is child’s play. Just wait until we get to the feelings.  Cue hand flailing, groaning, and other modes of deflection. Just ask my therapist.

Speaking of therapists, I have a great one. I had a session with him yesterday (yes, right before flying to Scotland) and that’s what has inspired this post. Warning: I’m going to talk about feelings now.

I was telling him about burlesque, about my (mis?)adventures in dating. About feeling like I was finally settling into the idea that some folks are going to find me attractive. And he says to me, I kid you not, “Do you know anyone who is trying to do this expansive, open thing with their life right now who is rocking it better than you?”

I thought about all the people who’ve called me brave, or crazy, or any number of things they mean in a complimentary way. Of the things I’ve done in the last year that seemed, not that long ago, unimaginable. And in a moment of sassy diva (or brazen ego) I said, “No, I’m rocking it pretty hard.”

We sat with that, celebrated it. For about thirty seconds.

“Why do I feel like such a hot mess, then?” I asked.

He asked me to elaborate, as he is wont to do. And I realized that my particular perception of being a hot mess is a certain unease, laced with guilt. “Say more,” he says. He always says this. And then he helps me make sense of it.

My guilt comes in two flavors. The first is the rational response to a situation that inspires me to act. I.e., I wrestle with my privilege and know I’m not giving as much time or energy to social justice causes as I would like. This is useful and healthy and motivating, and also rather boring.

The second is far more, er, interesting. It’s guilt of the who-do-you-think-you-are variety. It’s the hope-you’re-having-fun-because-you’re-going-to-end-up-alone little voice.  The you’re-wasting-your-life tsk of disapproval.  It’s the sad little girl who doesn’t believe she deserves all the love/sex/adventure/bliss. The one who makes me hide my face behind a pillow because I so don’t want to go there when my therapist brings her up and wants to be tender with her.

Yeah. I didn’t want to go there. But my therapist is good, so we did. And here I sit. Rocking it. Feeling like a hot mess. Both/and. Easy peasy. I hear this is the path to enlightenment.

Both/And, RITA Edition

Less than a week ago, I was at the HERS Institute, a leadership development program for women in higher education. During the morning session, I got a phone call, but I didn’t answer (because we were in session and I’m a professional like that). I didn’t answer the second time, either. At this point, a little voice in my head reminded me the RITA® finalists were due to be announced. When it rang a third time in under an hour, I left the room to answer, sure that I’d be missing out on critical cover letter wisdom to talk to a telemarketer.

It wasn’t a telemarketer.

Lead Counsel, my novella in The Boss of Her collection, was a finalist. I was honored. Elated. Also, maybe, shaking a little.

I returned to my seat and acted like an assistant dean, using our short breaks to share the news with friends and my publisher. It was a strange feeling to get such a big writer validation thing during a such a big day job development thing, but what a fun problem to have.

It didn’t take long, however, for the full list to post and reality to sink in. The RITAs are so white. So white there’s a hashtag. Like the Oscars, and not in a good way. The ensuing firestorm was riddled with frustration and outrage, excruciating and deeply personal experiences, encouraging allyship, and, of course, a whole crap ton of defensiveness.

Here’s the thing that really got me. I recognized the voices saying “not all white people” and “can’t we be respectful and compassionate” about our “differences of opinion.” I recognized them because they were me for the first twenty or so years of my life. The good Christian girl from the south. The one who was taught that everyone had the same chances for success and recognition if they just worked hard enough. The one who “had black friends.” The one who believed she wasn’t racist. You know, a racist.

Now, I’m not going to say this form of racism is more insidious than the others. But I will say it’s pretty fucking insidious. Because while I can’t presume to understand the experiences of people of color, I do know what it’s like for people to “not have a problem with me” but also prefer I not hold my partner’s hand in public. For people to give my book a one-star review because they didn’t realize it was going to have “homosexual content.” It sucks and it’s demoralizing and it’s really fucking exhausting.

So, I find myself stuck in that weird space between, the noncommittal ambivalence of being thrilled to be a finalist and disheartened to be one of the few (only?) LGBTQ authors to be on the short list. The satisfaction of feeling like a tiny queer step in the right direction and the dismay of knowing that the continued exclusion of talented writers of color is a big step in the wrong direction. Wanting to wear my queerness loud and proud and knowing that my whiteness silences other voices that need to be heard.

The problem with this paradox is that it lends itself to “but” statements. I want to celebrate those recognized, but we have a problem. Or, perhaps more dangerous, we have a problem but I really just want to celebrate and have my moment. The thing with “but” statements, at least for me, is that they tend to be paralyzing.

Cue the “and.” (As you may know, I’ve been working on the both/and a lot these days.) I want to revel in this recognition, congratulate the other finalists, celebrate f/f romance getting some well deserved love. And I need to acknowledge that systematic racism and implicit bias mean that authors of color have been marginalized. Again. It’s uncomfortable to hold both at once but not impossible.

I’m encouraged by the RWA President’s statement and the board’s commitment to do a meaningful overhaul of the judging process and to do so with the input of experts in implicit bias. I am hopeful we can harness this momentum to bring real change to an organization that advocates for a genre and an industry I care deeply about.

In the meantime, I’m sitting in my own discomfort. I’m working on making space for both/and. I’m adding some excellent new authors of color to my to-read list. And I’m going to keep showing up at the table, queer flag flying.

Closer to Fine

This weekend, I experienced a lesbian rite of passage at one of my favorite local venues–my first Indigo Girls concert. Although they’ve never been a staple of my musical lexicon (I know, bad lesbian), I had no trouble appreciating the show, both in terms of the music and being surrounded by practically every lesbian in town.

There is one Indigo Girls song I know by heart–“Closer to Fine.” Yes, I know, I’m obvious. Feel free to poke fun. Technically, though, I became obsessed with it naturally, shortly after my marriage fell apart, when every day became a combination of “what am I doing?” and “how did I get here?”

At the time, this song reminded me that it’s okay to sit with the unknown. That the discomfort of uncertainty is where growth happens. Oh, and that anything that feels definitive rarely is. And, as is the case with most Indigo Girls songs, it did so in a way that encouraged really loud, really enthusiastic joining in, which, let’s be honest, makes the whole experience much more satisfying.

Interestingly, I find myself in a similar moment now. Life feels like one question mark after another. It’s fun and exciting and filled with wondering what the hell I’m doing. So much growth. So much angst.

I’m not sure I’m any more comfortable with the unknown, but I’m working on it. I’m trying to stretch so that I can hold on to things that feel discordant without creating the kind of constant friction that makes me sick to my stomach. I’m trying to enjoy the moment. I’m trying to trust that the future holds good things even if I have no idea what those things are (or with whom they’ll be shared).

Some days, this feels doable. Others, it’s painful if not impossible. But it’s all about being a work in progress, right? The more I can remember this, and the more I surround myself with smart, compassionate people who challenge me (gently but fiercely), the easier it is. And the closer I am to fine.

P.S. Thanks, Amy and Emily. I’m sorry it took me so long. You put on a hell of a show.

Best Friends and Big Feelings

Those of you who know me know I love me some Myers Briggs. I’m pretty hardcore INFP. This means I’m an introverted, intuitive, feeling, perceiver (with some J coping strategies to give me the illusion of control). Another way of describing me is the mediator. I can listen with empathy and make folks feel better. I handle difficult situations gracefully and graciously.

More often than not, this is all good. Better than, even. The problem is that, paired with my unique flavor of childhood “stuff,” it means I keep my feelings pretty neat and tidy. Doing so isn’t just comfortable, it makes me feel safe. My therapist gave me this great analogy of a wavelength. Mine is pretty compact. I’m an even keel kind of girl.

But if you’re operating in this small space, trying to avoid the lows, you also miss out on the highs. Not good for a woman who’s trying to live big and be expansive and write emotionally complex characters. Or not eat her feelings on a regular basis.

Cue the bestie. My best friend Crystal is all about the big feelings. BIG. So big it’s a little scary for a girl like me at times.

But she’s also loving and kind and insightful and gives me space to dabble in the big and bold and scary. She gives me the tools and the words and a safe place to say things I can’t say to anyone else. Even more, she pokes at me when I try to gloss over everything. When I try to be gracious.

Girlfriend calls bullshit until I own my feelings.

It’s terrifying. Sometimes I want to throw up. But she hasn’t given up on me. And, really, we’re kind of yin and yang. Having all the big feelings isn’t easy or convenient often. Comparing notes, I like to think, is good for both of us.

Last night was one of those nights. We wrestled with big ideas and big feelings, some specific to our relationship and some about life in general. We both cried. I’m pretty sure we both felt better for hashing it out. And I am profoundly grateful to have her in my life.

So this morning, I raise my latte to her and commit to expanding my wavelengths. Let’s be big and bold and sweeping. Let’s take up more space and be fierce and, if not fearless, fierce in the face of fear.

Cheers to feelings, y’all. And cheers to the besties we didn’t know we needed, given to us by the universe like some kind of cosmic gift.

Adorable, et al. (A Fat Femme’s Guide to Managing Pesky Adjectives)

So, I’m home from yet another amazing Women’s Week. Each time I go, I’m in awe of the community of writers and editors and readers who come together to mingle, have fun, learn, and celebrate lesbian fiction. It fills my cup in more ways than I can count.

This year brought more of the same, but a new layer. Newly out of a relationship, I tried to embrace a flirtier, sassier side of myself. It went well, I’d say. Mostly. A couple of misfires, but that’s to be expected. Especially when wine is part of the equation. But there were surprises, too.

Here’s the thing. I’m a reasonably confident person. I feel pretty comfortable owning that I possess above-average intelligence. I’m funny. I’m a decent writer and a damn good cook. I rock my day job like a boss. When people say nice things about those aspects of my personality, I might get a little bashful, but I can soak it up, be gracious, and say thank you.

But. There’s always a but, isn’t there?

I don’t know if it was my attempt to channel my inner sassy, or maybe the fact that I’ve been feeling better in my body (thanks, barre), or what, but this year I got another slate of adjectives. Ones I’m not used to. Ones I’m not sure what to do with.

Over the course of the week, I got adorable, pretty, and even a gorgeous. Now, adorable is tricky, but that’s another post. The point is that more than one person conveyed to me that I was attractive. Like, physically.

On one hand, declaring this in a blog post feels massively vain, but I hope you’ll bear with me. Because writing blog posts helps me process feelings. More importantly, I’ve come to realize that if I’m wrestling with shit, I’m never the only one. If flinging this out into the ether resonates with one other person, well then, it’s worth it.

So, back to those pesky adjectives. That P one, or the G one. Or, look out, the B one. For me, they’re really, really, like seriously fucking really, hard to believe. My general go-to is the they’re-just-being-nice interpretation. That’s actually an improvement over the they-feel-sorry-for-me interpretation. And maybe comparable to the oh-that’s-nice-they-don’t-hate-fat-girls interpretation.

I know. I’m obnoxious. I can recite the fat-positive playbook. If one of my friends uttered such nonsense, I’d give her a very stern talking to. But what happens in the overactive recesses of my mind generally stays there, to be fretted over a million times, in the comfort of my self-doubt.

Not today. I am putting it out there now, but please don’t feel like you have to give me the talk. I know. (Really.) I’m mostly marveling at the whole thing and trying to sort out how one might go about the believing it and the soaking it in. I’d happily take pointers on that front if you have them.

My current strategy is fake it ’til I make it. Oh, and resist the urge to say something dismissive even if I’m hella uncomfortable because that’s just rude.

I’m also happy, as I said, to fling my discomfort into world in the hopes it helps someone else know they’re not alone. If that’s you–today, this week, your whole life–I feel you. And you’re gorgeous.

xo
Aurora

 

Everything I Need to Know in Life, I Learned from You’ve Got Mail

According to Joe Fox, “The Godfather is the I Ching. The Godfather is the sum of all wisdom. The Godfather is the answer to any question.”

I beg to differ, even if I agree with the sentiment of leaving the gun and taking the cannoli. And while I don’t really think You’ve Got Mail is the sum all wisdom, I’ve gotten a lot more out of it than I ever got out of The Godfather.

For example, fall is the best season, especially in New York. A bouquet of freshly sharpened pencils would win big points with this girl. Also, taking all the caviar garnish is beyond tacky. Oh, and Pride and Prejudice is the best book, for way more than its use of “words like thither and mischance.”

When it comes to insults, I don’t think anything tops, “You are nothing but a suit.” It is, as Joe says, “the perfect blend of poetry and meanness.” It’s such a good insult, I’ve not been able to bring myself to use it, although tempted on more than one occasion.

“It’s not personal, it’s business.” Yeah, total cop-out.

I watched Kathleen and Joe fall in love last night, for perhaps the hundredth time. I laughed, I said a lot of the lines aloud. I sang the violins part at the Shop Around the Corner Christmas party. And because I was three glasses of wine in, I got a little sentimental.

What got me last night was what Kathleen said about her store closing. She says, “People are always telling you change is a good thing. But all they’re really saying is something you didn’t want to happen at all has happened.”

I’ve been there many times. Change can be so hard and, in the moment, it can feel impossible to look beyond how much it sucks. But some of the best parts of my life have come out of those things I really didn’t want to happen. There was being sent away to boarding school, the end of my marriage, closing my bakery. Without those things, my life never could have unfolded the way it has. And while it isn’t perfect by any means, I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Raising the Barre

I’ve never been skinny. I’ve made peace with the fact that I never will be. Really, I have.

There have been a few times in my life, however, when I’ve been fit. When I’ve felt strong and limber and good about my ability to move the way I want. The most recent of those involved dance class. Belly. Modern. Ballet.

It was a few years ago now that I was going to three or four dance classes a week. I’ve wanted to go back, but the combination of time and money and the dread of getting back on the wagon have held me back.

This morning that changed. This morning I went to my first barre class. Here’s how it went…

I showed up at the studio twenty minutes early. I was the first one there. The girl who checked me in assured me it was 1) nothing like ballet, 2) really hard, and 3) unlikely I’d be able to do the whole class. Then she sold me $20 grippy socks.

Don’t get me wrong. She wasn’t mean. In fact, I appreciated her saying she couldn’t do the whole class at first either. She pointed out the room and told me to grab a mat and pick my spot.

I entered the room. Funky mirrors hung on the walls; ballet barres lined the room. The instructor promptly asked if I could take off my shoes first. Right. I’d not noticed the cubbies when I’d arrived. (They weren’t pointed out either.)

I took off my sneakers, put on my (cute, hot pink) $20 socks, and tucked my things into a cubby. Another regular arrived and the three of them talked amongst themselves. I hovered awkwardly.

Other women (and one guy!) trickled in. I was definitely the chubbiest in the mix, but there was a range of ages and body types. I felt better. A couple of them told me what to expect and how to situate myself in the room.

Why is it that the older, non-skinny women are the kindest? Do they know what it’s like to feel out of place? Or have they settled into themselves and are actually happier and more confident than the younger, more perfect-bodied ones?

I like to think the latter. After all, there’s hardly a woman alive without some kind of baggage about her body. Even the ones who are much closer to society’s standards of perfect. The patriarchy does a bang up job on that front. Besides, it’s not like anyone was mean. They might be introverted people who are just as nervous about being there as I am.

Class began. Much sweat. Extensive muscle trembling. A couple of things I couldn’t do at all.

But the instructor said encouraging things, corrected my form a couple of times, then complimented it. I made it to the end. I didn’t throw up.  Or cry.

The verdict? An intense workout that taps into my affinity for form, posture, and grace. Not as much actual ballet as I’d like. Intimidating, but not unbearably so. I’m booked for another class on Wednesday.

The I-Have-Mixed-Feelings-About-Resolutions Post

At this point in my life, I mostly shun the idea of New Year’s Resolutions. The timing feels rather arbitrary, the sentiment so often laced with self-loathing. And then there’s the whole bit about being cliché.

That said, I can’t seem to stop myself from being reflective. Dates and milestones of all sorts do that to me. (Yes, I spend way too much time looking at Facebook memories.) There’s nothing wrong with that, really. It can be fascinating/impressive/hilarious to see where one has been. Of course, it can be discouraging/hard/sad as well.

I’m not sure where I’m going with this. Oh, right. Resolutions. I, too, dislike them.

But I am into that whole growth mindset thingy. And I know my life and habits and thoughts could always be more and better than they are. So, what is a girl to do?

I do not resolve to fit in my too-tight pencil skirts. (Although I desperately want to fit in them.)
I do not resolve to sell 10,000 books.
I do not resolve to meditate/eat less cheese/do all those other things that are supposed to make me a better person.

I resolve to move in a way that feels good every day. (Much more kitchen dancing for me.)
I resolve to write as well as I can, with as much heart as I can, whenever I can. (Thanks, Roxanne Gay.)
I resolve to be more honest—with myself and others—about what I need and want.
I resolve to listen more.

I’m still not sure about “resolve.” Let me consult my favorite thesaurus…

I have a mind to move in a way that feels good every day.
I endeavor to write as well as I can, with as much heart as I can, whenever I can.
I strive to be more honest—with myself and others—about what I need and want.
I intend to listen more.

Much better.

What about you? What intentions are you sending out into the universe for 2018?

Conflict Resolution?

No, this isn’t a post about finding ways to deal with that annoying thing your partner does or the boss who mansplains. It’s your friendly neighborhood conflict-avoidant  writer having a moment.

If you know any published authors, you know the love-hate relationship most of us have with reviews. We know they’re part of the game; we appreciate when people take the time to write them. We feel giddy elation when they’re good. We go through the five stages of grief when they’re terrible.

My latest release, Summer’s Cove, is no different. I check Goodreads and Amazon far too often. I laugh. I do happy dances. I huff and roll my eyes. I do my best not to cry.

Actually, they’ve been more good than bad so far, which is nice. A few people have commented that they see growth in my writing (yay!). One called me her hero (blush, swoon). A couple dislike a character or the way I went about something (point taken).

But here’s the thing. No one has dinged me on my weak/non-existent/uncompelling conflict. No. One.

As a person and a writer who really likes everyone to get along, this is huge for me. (Just ask my editor.) It makes me feel like I really am growing as a writer.  That I’m doing something right. Maybe it’s a conflict resolution after all.

P.S. If you’ve enjoyed a book and want to make an author’s day, leave them a nice review. I promise they’ll appreciate it. And if they’re anything like me, they might even jump up a down a little.

The Complicated Art of Simplifying Things (Repost)

Another re-post, pulled from the old Bold Strokes blog. It turns out, I’m pretty good at advice. I’m less good, sometimes, at following my own words of wisdom.  This is a perfect example. Whether or not it really counts as simplifying is debatable. But I’ll take the reminder to focus on what matters, what brings me joy. I’ll take that any day of the week.

The Complicated Art of Simplifying Things

BY AURORA REY

built-to-lastI think there’s a switch that gets flipped when we approach middle age. For some people, it’s all about more—more money, more toys, more thrills before youth slips away. For others, the switch flips the other way and there is a burning desire for less—less stuff, fewer demands on our time. I’m definitely in the latter camp and, like many people closer to forty than thirty, I’ve found myself looking for ways to make life simpler.

Whether clearing away excess clutter or ridding my closet of clothes I’ll never wear, part of this desire is tied to having less stuff. Another part is about authenticity, which is partly about stuff, but also about focusing on people and relationships that are meaningful and resonate with who and how I want to be. And, last but not least, it’s about deciding how to spend the most valuable resource of all—time.

Which all sounds a little hokey, I know. But hear me out.

A little over a year ago, my partner and I bought a little farmhouse out in the country. We decided to trade our downtown existence for fifteen acres and no neighbors within a thousand feet. We cancelled our cable; we started talking about chickens and goats. One of us (me), became enamored with the idea of keeping bees. Sure, we’d have to keep our day jobs, but life was going to be simple and we were going to love it.

The irony of moving out the country is that it requires a lot of equipment. You can’t really tend fifteen acres without a tractor. It’s alarmingly easy to spend five hundred dollars on dirt. Canning is fun, but definitely not child’s play. Don’t even get me started on how much attention farm animals require. And while I definitely have fewer tchotchkes than I used to, I now have more power tools.

So, I’m not sure we’ve mastered the art of simplicity, but we are a lot happier. I like the exhaustion of a day tilling the garden. Tomatoes you pick an hour before you eat taste a thousand times better. And I don’t think I’ve ever been more relaxed as I am sitting around a fire, drinking wine and looking up at the stars.

I think the moral of the story is that simplicity isn’t always simple. Sometimes it’s more about mindset that minimalism. It’s about figuring out what’s important and focusing on it. It’s resisting the allure of things that seem shiny but will suck your energy and leave you feeling unsatisfied. It’s understanding those things aren’t the same for everyone and accepting there are a thousand ways to be happy. And, perhaps most importantly, it’s learning that finding the love of your life isn’t about finding someone just like you, but finding someone whose version of simple (or complicated or happy or satisfied) fits with yours.

Which brings me to Olivia and Joss, the protagonists of Built to Last. Over the course of the novel, the characters embark on a similar journey. Olivia buys a farmhouse in an effort to break away from the artifice of her upbringing and family, but quickly realizes she got a lot more than she bargained for. She navigates the world of DIY with relative ease, taking pride in her work and doing things her way. In the end, though, she has to learn that making a home is about a lot more than paint chips and finding the perfect stove.

Joss, on the other hand, believes she’s mastered the art of simple goals and straightforward priorities—family and work, in that order. She’s convinced she has it all figured out, until Olivia shows up and drives her to distraction. She has to confront her own notions of what it means to be family, and whether happily ever after counts if it comes in a package you don’t expect.