Do I Make You Uncomfortable?

Like most girls raised in the South (or GRITS, as we’re sometimes known), I was raised to be compliant. Smart, sure. Sassy, even. But when push comes to shove, don’t.

Don’t challenge the status quo. Don’t challenge your elders. And whatever you do, for the love of God, don’t make others uncomfortable.

I’m really good at making people comfortable. Like, freaky good. It comes in handy sometimes. Who doesn’t love making people feel more at ease?

The problem is that I often make people feel better about things that they shouldn’t. Through the years, I’ve helped family and friends rationalize some pretty bad/selfish/immature decisions. I’ve also all allowed people to get away with some pretty bad/selfish/immature things.

I’ve owned that this is cowardly on my part. I’ve accepted that confrontation is not my forte and I’ve given myself permission to choose self-preservation over standing up for the myself. At times, I’ve truly needed to do that. But not always.

The thing is, it’s not all about me. Sometimes–most of the time–it’s about standing up for what is right. And not even “right” in the vaguely morally superior way. I mean “right” in the way that keeps people from getting killed.

I was reminded today (by my brilliant editor and friend Ashley Bartlett) that silence is death. True, it might not be my death. I am, after all, an educated and well-employed feminine-presenting white women who lives in a progressive community. But many queer people (and people of color and people in poverty and people with disabilities) aren’t so lucky. And by making my majority culture family and friends more comfortable, I am making life more dangerous for those not in the majority.

Hate crimes don’t exist in a vacuum. People who shoot up black churches and queer night clubs and mosques are acting out hate that simmers, not on the fringes, but in the mainstream. Around the supper table. At holiday parties. On fishing trips. At the gym.

My fellow citizens–the ones who shrug off racial slurs and gripe about “illegals” and tolerate presidents who joke about sexual assault–are a greater danger to me and to my community than the radical terrorist I’m told to fear. My own uncles–the ones who screen the packages I send to my mother for fear I might try to sneak her another of my novels–enable bigotry just as much as as guy on the street corner who screams about my eternal damnation.

Now that I think of it this way, it’s a no brainer. Danger beats discomfort. The days of smiling and nodding have passed.

If it’s any consolation, I’ll be uncomfortable, too.

 

For the Love of Gumbo


It’s February! That means a few things.

One: Crescent City Confidential is out! If you haven’t got your very own copy, what are you waiting for?Crescent City Confidential.jpg

Two: it’s gumbo season. Nothing warms a winter evening better than a bowl of Cajun goodness and a glass of old vine Zinfandel.

Three: those things are not mutually exclusive.

Crescent City Confidential is an Aurora Rey novel, after all, and it’s set in New Orleans. That means lots of food and lots of cooking. Oh, and a cooking lesson. Because who doesn’t love to flirt and make dinner with the woman you’re trying to get into bed?

Today’s lesson? Gumbo. Tess shows Sam how it’s done. And because I love y’all, I’m going to show you, too.

Chicken and Sausage Gumbo

1 chicken
1 lb. andouille sausage, sliced
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 cup flour
2 onions, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
3 stalks celery, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1/4-1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 T. apple cider vinegar
salt, pepper, and hot sauce to taste
gumbo file (optional)

  1. Put chicken in a pot with enough water to cover and boil until the meat begins to pull away from the bone (about 45 minutes). Remove chicken and separate meat from bones, discard bones and reserve stock. Note: You can take a shortcut (and not sacrifice much flavor) by using a rotisserie chicken and a few cups of purchased stock.
  2. Combine oil and flour in a large, heavy bottomed pot. Whisk over medium heat until the color of milk chocolate. This will take a while. Be bold, but don’t burn it!

    It starts out looking like this.

    Keep whisking so it browns evenly.

    When it looks like peanut butter, you’re getting close.

    When it’s the color of milk chocolate, you win.

  3. Add chopped vegetables and stir until they begin to soften.

    It will look scary. Fear not.

  4. Slowly add chicken stock and pepper flakes.

    It will look a lot less scary.

  5. Add chicken and sausage to pot and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer about an hour. Add vinegar. Add salt, pepper, and hot sauce to taste.

    Perfection in a pot.

  6. Serve over rice. Add additional hot sauce and a sprinkle of gumbo file, if desired. If you want to be authentically Cajun about it, serve potato salad on the side. (No, I don’t know why. It’s just a thing.)

I hope you enjoy both the recipe and the book. I’d love to hear from you about either!

 

The Personal Is Political: Local Edition

I’m pretty sure that my Facebook and Twitter feeds now consist of equal parts 1) the latest horrifying thing proposed or said by the new administration, 2) instructions on who to call and what to say to protest said horrifying things, and 3) happy and/or cute things designed to help us all keep our sanity. Oh, and the occasional “Aren’t you overreacting?” (But that’s another post.)

It’s encouraging to see so many people fired up and banding together, but it’s overwhelming. First, there’s the fact that I’m an introvert and arguing makes me sick to my stomach. Second, there is so much going on, it’s hard to decide in any moment whether one should be defending science, women, queers, people of color, immigrants, free speech, reproductive rights, the environment, education…I could go on. I have seen some great lists to stay organized, which help, and some great encouragement to remember self-care.

The latter is especially important. The fight will be long and we can’t afford to burn out. That means I fully intend to embrace romance novels and videos of baby sloths and moments of zen and big glasses of good red wine.

It also means I’m going to throw myself even more into work I can do in my community. Take, for example, the Advocacy Center, my county’s agency that provides service to victims of domestic violence, childhood sexual abuse, and sexual assault. It also provides education and prevention training. I’m on the board and we are currently working to purchase the building, a move that will provide financial stability when funding fluctuates.

It’s good and important work. Now, however, it’s critical. The budget that Trump has proposed cuts all grants tied to the Violence Against Women Act. All of the funding. Gone. Now, it’s not a done deal and I’ll be part of plenty of calls to demand it get put back in. And don’t worry, I’ll be imploring all of you to do the same.

But in the meantime, I can put more time and energy into our campaign. I can donate a couple more hours a month to make sure that this vital service in my community is supported and promoted and valued. I can do concrete and tangible work that has impact and makes me feel good. It feels less daunting some days to do that than call my senators. In the grand scheme of things, it might even help win over more hearts and minds than my Facebook posts. (Especially since I’m pretty sure that most of my family that disagrees with me doesn’t look at my posts anyway.)

So in these hard times, I’m adding my own call to action into the mix. Find something close to home that you care about and give it your time and maybe some of your money. Make it personal. Because your experiences and your contributions are by definition political, now more than ever.

Marching Orders


This weekend, Andie and I drove down to D.C. for the Women’s March on Washington. It was amazing, inspiring, energizing. While it’s still fresh in my mind, I wanted to capture the highlights of the day.

First, I should note that I found myself on the fence about going in the weeks leading up to the March itself. I was afraid it might be a rather amorphous thing of (mostly) white women without a true agenda. And then the platform was published. As I read the four-page document–articulate and unflinching in its focus on progressive issues and social justice–every hesitation vanished.

We booked a hotel near the end of one of the Metro lines and drove down Friday after work. We arrived at the Red Roof after ten, tired and still shaking our heads at the alarmingly nationalist tone of the inaugural address. I had a hard time falling asleep.

The next morning, we woke at five. A knot of anxiety sat in my stomach. I was excited, but didn’t know what to expect. So many people had encouraged us to “be safe.” We diligently wrote each other’s phone numbers on our arms in Sharpie, just in case.

We arrived at the train station around 6:30. Dozens of cars were already there. People in pink pussy hats, people with signs and clear backpacks streamed in. As I waited in line to buy metro passes, people explained to each other how it worked, what they needed. We rode the escalator to the platform and I soaked in the energy around me. I knew then it would be a good day. Our train was already full–moms with their teenage daughters, an older straight couple who clearly weren’t new to marches, couples with small children, packs of friends.

We were in D.C. by 7:30, wandering in search of breakfast and coffee. Most places weren’t open yet. The couple that were had huge lines. We walked on, figuring we’d find a food truck or something along the way. By the time we arrived at the National Mall, hundreds of people were there, taking selfies and hugging and buying buttons. I chose “Pussy Power” and “I Like Girls Who Like Girls.”


We made our way down 4th Street, along the side of Museum of the American Indian. The crowd was thick–mostly women, but more than a few men; black and brown and white;  differently abled; women in head scarves; old and young and everything in between. We walked to Independence Avenue, where the rally stage was set up, then backtracked to the museum, taking up residence on small ledge a couple of feet off the ground. We had a view of one of the screens and some of the crowd. By the time the rally started, the entire street had filled in, with only a single-file line of people moving in either direction.

There were so many people, but we had no idea the true scope of the crowd. We also couldn’t hear the rally speakers. (Don’t worry, we watched the videos after.) We chatted with women from California, Colorado, Massachusetts, and New York. Our little posse on the ledge consoled a young woman who’d been separated from her friends, helped create a clear path for wheelchairs trying to pass.

And the signs. So many signs. “Don’t Tread on My Ovaries.” “A Woman’s Place Is in the Resistance.” “I Can’t Believe I Still Have to Protest this Shit.” “You’re So Vain, You Probably Think This March Is About You.” And this one:


By 1:30, the rally was still going and the crowd was getting restless. Chants of “Let’s march now” gathered steam. Then the message came, passed through the crowd like a hot potato. There were too many of us to march.

Hell, no.

Rather than trying to make our way to the march route along Independence, we headed back to the Mall. So had thousands of others. The throng was massive and felt, at times, disorganized. We were all heading in the direction of the White House, but didn’t really know how we’d get there. Even then, everyone was friendly. People paused to let others pass so that groups wouldn’t be separated. At one point, we bent low to walk under a swimming-pool-sized Constitution.

We were funneled eventually to Pennsylvania Avenue, the route of the inaugural parade. The police offered direction; everyone listened and thanked them. It felt like a march, then. Chants broke out. “No hate, no fear, immigrants are welcome here.” “This is what democracy looks like.” “Women’s rights are human rights.” “Black lives matter.” “Trans lives matter.” “We will not go away, welcome to your first day.”

The bleachers, notoriously empty the day before, were packed. Cheers and waves and solidarity. I heard there were some counter-protesters, but I never saw one. One guy in a “Make America Great Again” hat passed in the crowd at the rally. No one said a word to him. The news made a big deal about a crowd that size without a single arrest. More than than, though, there was no shoving, no fighting. I felt profoundly safe. And while I know that being a crowd whose majority was white women made us “less threatening,” I don’t think you can underestimate the importance of it remaining a peaceful demonstration.

Around 5:00, we peeled off from the crowd. I think the ellipse in front of the White House was full and the march had essentially stopped. And we’d yet to eat. (I know, poor planning on our part.) We went in search of sustenance. We snagged two precious seats at a sports bar and laughed about all the hungry and thirsty women pouring money into local restaurants. We were exhausted, happy, proud.

We took the train back to Maryland. At our hotel, we showered, scrubbing off the Sharpie ICE numbers we’d not needed. We caught up with the news (there was absolutely no phone signal at the march) and were asleep by 8:30.

And now I’m home. I’m disgusted that the President couldn’t even be presidential enough to acknowledge the millions of people who showed up to express their concerns, the issues that matter to them. I remain horrified that his racist, homophobic cabinet picks will likely go through without a hitch. I am deeply worried about my right to marry the person I love and the future of public education and the consequences of diplomatic clusterfucks.

But I’m resolved. I’m resolved and energized, knowing that there are so many good people out there, fighting for equality and justice. I’m resolved even though it estranges me from my own family–most of whom “like” all the pics I post of my dogs, but didn’t even acknowledge my half dozen posts about the march.

The true work begins today. It begins with the Ten Action Items and with calling my representatives. It will continue. The complacency that helped to create this situation will not return. The future is not entirely female, but it’s feminist. Or, as my sign said, Feminist AF. And I’m going to help make it so.

What is luminous, really?

Before we get started, I need to warn you that this post might get a little catty. But I’m warning you. And I promise to throw in a “bless her heart,” so it will all be okay. (And before you ask, no, this does not make catty behavior acceptable in the real world.)

Whew. Now that that’s out of the way…

I just finished reading Emma Cline’s The Girls for a book club. I picked it up, and talked my way into this book club, because I feel like I’ve been in a bit of a reading rut. I’ve not been reading as much as I’d like to and, when I do, it tends to be lesbian romance. (Which isn’t bad. It’s good to keep up with the genre in which I write and I love the books. Love. That said, it’s not my only interest and I don’t want to have literary tunnel vision.)

Anyway, The Girls was the “it” book of last summer. Reviews called it “luminous.” (Not unlike the praise for Stephanie Danler’s much acclaimed Sweetbitter, which I could not bring myself to read).

I started reading and, for the first sixty pages or so, I was hooked. Cline is masterful at imagery. She wields adverbs in ways that make my hear flutter. She plays with the male gaze and creates a gaze of her own–female and unapologetic even as her protagonist acquiesces to the male (gaze and more). And she has a talent for evoking the mind and meanderings of female teenage existence and her regretful, middle-aged counterpart. I was at once nostalgic and uncomfortable, in that perfect mix of awe and envy.

After those first sixty pages, though, it started to grate on me. I couldn’t decide if it was the subject matter or the language. It was too…too. Too MFA. Overwrought. My partner really liked and I started to panic. I actually went online in search of reviews that might validate my ennui. Fortunately I found some. This made me feel better, enough so that I finished the book and sipped an IPA while discussing it with a bunch of really smart teachers who had interesting things to say about its strengths and weaknesses.

But, even now, I can’t get rid of this nagging feeling. Did I not love it because it wasn’t as good as all the hype promised? Or, much more worrying, has my reading palate become one-dimensional? Worse still, am I just jealous of all the attention? I don’t know. But the nagging has remained and makes me question who I am as a woman, a reader, and a writer. Not in an existential crisis sort of way, but still.

Part of me feels badly for even saying all this because the two authors I’m thinking of (Cline and Danler) are both young women writers and the world needs more amazing and wonderful female voices. Voices that evoke all sorts of things, demand attention, don’t apologize. Voices like theirs, bless their hearts. (See what I did there?) And here I am, aloof and nitpicking. But I go back to that feeling that I’m not critiquing their actual voices. My very problem with books like these is that they are processed and packaged to be young/fresh/ingenue. You know, luminous.

Maybe, at the end of the day, there’s nothing wrong with that. That specific packaging is simply not my cup of tea. The same way that romance isn’t everyone’s thing. Or fantasy. Or memoir. I just…I guess I’m just tired of the value judgment that seems to come with it. The fact that some (seemingly arbitrary) work gets picked up as the new luminous thing and is all over the New York Times, the New Yorker, NPR, the Slate Culture Gabfest. Are there really not enough great books that we all have to get on the same wagon? And for the love of all that is good and holy, does that wagon always have to be luminous?

Okay. Rant over. Thank you for indulging me.

Ring My Bell

I admit it. I’m a sucker for positive reinforcement. And I don’t mean those grand rewards for hitting some major goal. I mean the most basic Pavlovian type system–small, frequent, consistent treats tied to specific behaviors.

Example: I love Scrivener. I love that I can see my whole outline. I love that I can move scenes around with ease. But I swear I’d use it if it offered nothing more than that little bar that goes from red to green as I reach my daily word goal. And the big bar of the manuscript total? Swoon.

I’ve decided I’m so into positive reinforcement, I should try to apply it to more areas of my life. Case in point: exercise.

A few years ago, I was in the best shape of my life. I wasn’t skinny; I don’t think I’ll ever qualify for that adjective. Still. I was a bit lighter than I am now. More importantly, I had stamina and flexibility. I did two to three dance classes a week, I walked more days than not. I felt fit and limber and it was lovely.

And then life happened. A bad ankle sprain kept me from dance class. A new relationship sent me into a state of happy nesting, complete with lots of great meals and wine. And I started writing.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m happier than I’ve ever been. And I love that writing has become an almost-daily routine. I’ve got three books published, a fourth written, and a fifth in progress. I’ve made friends with other writers and readers–a whole magical community of people I didn’t know existed a few years ago. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. Not even for pencil skirts and skinny jeans and a strong core.

But who says I can’t have it all?

No one, but I’ve not actually been good at doing it in recent months.  But it’s January and a good time for leaf turning and all that. Which brings me to Pavlov. I decided that uber fitness goals, while nice, don’t have that Pavlovian je ne sais quois. I needed something more immediate. Small. Preferably shiny. Enter stickers.


You heard right, stickers. I went to the craft store (for another, slightly more legitimate purchase) and raided the scrapbooking aisle. I got stars and flowers and little owls. And now, each time I exercise, I get a star in my planner. I’m not going to lie, it’s almost laughably satisfying. I’ve got five stars and an owl (for weekly word goals) so far in January. Not to mention 15,000 words of my new manuscript and spaghetti arms from flailing around to belly dancing videos.

Laugh if you want. I am (laughing at myself, that is). But I’m not ashamed to take all the help I can get. But that’s another life lesson (and another post). What about you? What gives you that extra little oomph? Or, as good ole Pavlov would say, what rings your bell?

The Power Woman Paradox

I woundn’t say I’m a high-powered woman. I don’t run companies or cities or even the college where I work. I’m more middle management. In practical terms, this means I hear a lot of complaints and make a lot of consequential, if not earth-shattering, decisions. Like, so many decisions. All. Day. Long.

I would also say I’m a competent, relatively independent woman. I don’t change my own oil, but wouldn’t be afraid to try if needed. I enjoy being handy and have a decent grasp of most domestic tasks. And we all know I love to ride the tractor. 

And yet.

And yet, in spite of these things, I sometimes crave being told what to do. No, that’s not right. I’d argue it is precisely because of these things, I crave someone else calling the shots. 

This isn’t a foreign concept, really. I know many women who come home from ten hours of being the boss who are crippled by the question of what to have for dinner. I know others who seek out the role of submissive in sexual relationships because it’s the one place they can cede control entirely. (And doing so is a huge turn-on.)

This week, the college where I work is closed. It’s a magical chance to get a break from the office without having to use vacation time. I always have high hopes for the week. I imagine myself in this nirvana of perfectly balanced productivity, relaxation, and fun. In reality, I often find myself restless, yet lazy–lounging on the sofa, fretting about the fact that I haven’t accomplished much of anything.  

It’s completely unstructured and, apparently, I don’t do well with that.

I took to Facebook today in search of some direction. I wanted to write 10,000 words this week and had barely scratched the surface. Friends and fellow authors jumped in with a wonderful combination of motivation/encouragement/finger wagging. It helped. Public shaming/cheering can be super helpful. I banged out 2,000 and feel like I’m back in a groove.

And yet.

And yet there’s a little part of me that wants something more. A writing dominant. That’s probably too suggestive, but you know what I mean. An external force besides my submission deadline to keep me in line. A stern voice to tell me to sit at my computer and not move until I’ve hit so many words. Someone to reward me when I’ve reached my goal. (And maybe even dole out some sort of punishment if I don’t.)

Perhaps I’ve over shared. But something tells me I’m not the only one. Being a woman in charge can be a lot of pressure. And while I’m sure some of my compatriots would be happy if someone simply decided what’s for dinner, I think  there are more than a few of us who wouldn’t say no to a nice bit of direction now and then. As far as this femme is concerned, it sounds like so much more fun than making a schedule.

Lessons and Leaving

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I just finished the final round of edits for Crescent City Confidential. Because the book is set in New Orleans, I decided to dedicate the story to the Southern women who taught me a great deal and helped me become the woman I am today. Grandmothers and aunts and cousins, teachers and nuns and neighbors. These women taught me about resilience and grace, perseverance, and not being afraid to be smart, or strong.

And then the election happened and everything about that felt cheap. I felt betrayed. Betrayed by some of those same aunts and cousins and neighbors and friends. But even in that darkness, I knew that the lessons I learned were still there. Things like believing in myself, social justice, and not being afraid to stand up for what’s right.

Perhaps more than anything else, they taught me it was okay to leave. That I needed to leave. It was a lesson I didn’t fully understand until much later—that staying was tantamount to a death sentence. Every single day of my life, I’m profoundly grateful for having left.

What started out as going away to college turned into a full and satisfying life in a place I didn’t know existed and with people I couldn’t even imagine as a kid.  I can’t fathom what my life would look like had I stayed. I may have never come out; I may have never taken myself seriously as a writer. I might have gotten married and had kids and aspired to a (little pink) house in the suburbs and vacations (down at the Gulf of Mexico).

Without these women, I’m not sure I would have been brave enough to imagine something else.

But they saw something more. And even though they probably never fathomed that I’d live in New York and be a dean at a college and write lesbian romance, they sensed that I was different, needed something different. They laid the groundwork and offered the encouragement that set me on my way to becoming me.

I think the process of becoming is at the core of all my books. As much as my characters find love, they find themselves. This is definitely the case with Crescent City Confidential. Both Tess and Sam have strong feelings on who they are and what they want. Their identities have been shaped by family and geography and life circumstances; they are happy, but not complete. They fall in love, sure, but they also become themselves—more authentic, more whole.

It feels ironic now that I set this story in Louisiana, the place I needed to escape from. As I write this, I’m here visiting my mother and godmother. I feel a bit like a stranger in a strange land, counting the hours until I go back to my life a thousand miles away.

But I like to think I’ve come full circle. I know I’ll never again call Louisiana home, but it will always be part of me–messy, contradictory, infuriating, enchanting. I’m not ashamed or afraid of it. It’s mine.

I like to think maybe there’s a little girl somewhere with a big bow and a feeling she can’t quite put a finger on, a feeling that tells her she doesn’t belong. She might not be the next lesbian romance writer, but maybe this lost little girl turned romance writer can show her there’s more to life than the world she knows.

In the meantime, you can pre-order Crescent City Confidential from Bold Strokes Books. Catherine, Claire, Dr. Rosser, Dr. Landry, Mrs. Kurtz, Sr. McFayden, Cindee, Laura Lee, Leslie, Sara and all the rest of you fabulous women, this one’s for you.

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To My Family and Friends Who Voted for Trump

First, I’m not about to yell at you or call you names. No, really. I’m not a yeller by nature. Besides, I also know doing so will make matters between us worse, not better. And I’ve committed to making things better. So I’d like to give you some context and ask for your help. Okay? Okay.

Let’s start with the premise that you voted for Trump/Pence in spite of, not because of, their hate-laced, misogynistic, xenophobic, and homophobic speech and actions. If you’re in the “because” category, we probably don’t speak anymore and you’re unlikely to happen upon this. But I digress.

Here’s the thing. You may have voted the way you did for a million reasons. I’m not going to try to haggle with you over all those reasons. But whatever those reasons, the reality is that you voted for a man who bragged about sexually assaulting women. A man who thinks it’s okay to psychologically abuse and use shock therapy on LGBTQ kids. A ticket endorsed by the KKK.

That baggage is now yours. You don’t get to pretend that isn’t part of the platform your voted for. You don’t get to assume that I or anyone else will give you the benefit of the doubt. In our eyes, in my eyes, you are now suspect.

I know that seems unfair. It is. But it’s no more unfair than a Muslim woman being expected to denounce radical Islam every time someone of Middle Eastern descent commits a crime. No more unfair than a black man being pulled over for driving through a white neighborhood. And, to a lesser degree, it’s no more unfair than me having to decide whether or not to come out every time the plumber or the lady at the nail salon asks about my husband. So welcome to the club.

I know, it feels like I’m yelling. I’m not. I’m laying the groundwork to ask you to do something really important. I’m asking you to be vocal. Be vocal about the things you don’t want me to assume about you.

Don’t tell me you’re okay with marriage equality. Tell your friends and coworkers and the guy at the gym who makes a comment about faggots. When someone you know makes a racist or sexist joke, call them out. If you don’t know what conversion therapy is, find out and speak out against it, up to and including a phone call to the Vice President you chose.

It might feel like I’m asking a lot. I am. But I want to believe that however much you and I disagree on matters of trade or taxes or even national security, we are both on the side of decency, humanity, and equity. I want to believe it so badly. And it’s the only way I know how to start reconciling the cognitive dissonance that has consumed me for the last few days.

And it matters now. It matters so much. I’m not being dramatic when I say that people feel–physically, literally–unsafe. I do. And I’m a middle class, feminine-presenting, white woman. I’m about to visit my mother in Louisiana and I’m dreading it. I’m afraid. (And I feel guilty for being afraid, but that’s another post.)

The stakes are so high. And you, more than me or any of the other liberal queer folks who are freaking out right now, have power. You’re in a position of influence that I don’t enjoy with other conservatives. You can draw a line in the sand between yourself and the people who are setting fire to the rainbow flags on people’s houses. Because if you don’t, those people will feel even bolder, thinking that they are somehow in the majority. That their hatred and their violence is acceptable.

We can’t let that happen. You can’t let that happen. I beg you. Please do your part so that doesn’t happen.

The Gifts We Give Ourselves

Today, my friend Nell shared–eloquently, thoughtfully–her recent struggles with a pernicious variation of writer’s block. She talked about about a recent reading she did that involved a feeling of detachment from her writing. It was something along the lines of thinking: hey, that’s good/did I really write that/will I be able to write that way again? (She said it way better.)

My response to her was a lesson I learned from Minnie Bruce Pratt. I had the amazing fortune to take a course with her once and, in a meeting about my writing, I lamented the need to buckle down and write every day. She promptly corrected me, saying that writing should be a gift I give myself. No matter what else is going on in my life, no matter how unimpressed I may be with my words in the moment, writing is essential. It’s part of who I am. It’s something I should not–cannot–live without.

After sharing this nugget of wisdom, fate–in the form of Facebook memories–reminded me that five years ago today I danced at the Westcott Street Festival. And by dance, I mean belly dance. And by belly dance, I mean on a makeshift stage in front of an audience in broad daylight. No really.

My first reaction was to smile. It was an amazing day. And then I felt badly. I’ve not danced in earnest much since that day. It started with a sprained ankle, probably the worst sprain I’ve ever had. (I actually sprained it two days before the festival and probably shouldn’t have performed but really wanted to and likely made it worse in the long run.) So I took some time off to heal. Then A. and I started dating and we were living an hour apart and it became so easy to skip class if it was a night we could get together. Then I got a new job and moved to Ithaca. All good things. Great things. But they were such good things, I made less time for things like dancing.

I tried to get back to it a couple of times. My last attempt came just as I began writing in earnest. The forty-five minutes I had each morning devoted to exercise became my writing time. And, as noted above, I’m not about to give that up.

So exercise in general, and dancing specifically, fell by the wayside. And all my talk about getting back to it has come in the form of “I need to make myself.” Do you see where I’m going with this?

Here’s the thing. I was never a good dancer. But for a couple of years, and during a difficult time in my life, I was a dancer. It made me feel good–body, mind, spirit. It made me feel sexy and good about my body and brave and silly and quintessentially feminine. So I came home from work today and I danced. And I was painfully reminded that, while never really good, I was way better than I am now. But I did it. And I told myself it was a gift.

I don’t know if this will work, but I’m going to try it. It fits in nicely with my life goals of being grateful for the little things, self care, general sassiness, and Ann Taylor pencil skirts. (I know I shouldn’t be focused on the last one, but I have some really cute ones that are too snug right now.) I’ll let you know how it goes.

What gifts do you give yourself?