Getting serious

When I was in high school, the parking lot was full of pickup trucks driven by students. Many of them had gun racks, and often there were guns in those racks. It was the South. The students were hunters, and depending on the time of year and the athletic event schedule, hunting could happen early mornings or maybe on a Friday night.

Nobody ever took a shotgun or a deer rifle and turned it on their classmates on either of the high school campuses (very open, no security guards, no metal detectors) where I went to school. Such different times. I only ever heard of one student who was caught with a handgun in her bag, and we understood and were probably mostly compassionate about the reason she carried it. It sure wasn’t to use on her fellow students.

I’ve long-understood the perspective of hunters and gun enthusiasts who like to target shoot. I even understand a person’s desire to keep a gun for self-defense (like the girl in my first high school). But from the time I was a sophomore in college and researched and wrote my first paper on gun control (and did this with lots of discussions and consensus with my gun-owning, hunting boyfriend and friends), my belief has not wavered that there is something fundamentally wrong with our need to stockpile weapons that are meant for the sole purpose of killing humans. The second amendment allows: A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

We have a well-regulated militia. It’s called the National Guard. Even they make fatal mistakes (Kent State, 1970). Still, as mentioned in the amendment, I don’t call for the “people” to give up their hunting guns, their self-protection, or even their hobby. But there is nothing in that amendment that says there should be no limits to what you own or its deadliness, or its ability to wreak mass carnage in a short amount of time. There is nothing that says you shouldn’t be a certain age, or be expected to be educated in gun safety, or be licensed, or be a registered gun owner. Your vehicle is documented. Your right to drive your vehicle is documented. Your voting right is documented. Your educational achievements are documented. You can’t drive or vote or get certain jobs without that documentation. And there you are, driving, voting, and working.

Stop crying like little babies when you’re expected to follow some regulations to possess guns. Babies shouldn’t have guns. Act like an adult.

And “leaders,” stop being held hostage by a group that has lots of money but not nearly the power you ascribe to it. You work FOR US. Year after year, in poll after poll, a significant number of your constituents have expressed their belief that we need to do something about the gun problem in our nation.

I never thought I’d live in a country that other countries have on their travel advisory because of our gun violence. That I’d read how people all over the world feel sorry for Americans because of the society we live in. We are SO MUCH BETTER THAN THIS. Our children and students and fellow citizens deserve that we adults behave as our best selves.

Light My Fire

I have been waiting since my Button Sunday post on November 5 for this. It has left me shaken and so furious on Uma Thurman’s behalf that I haven’t been able to think of anything else this afternoon. I think of my friends who are huge Tarantino fans, particularly of his work with her. I’ve seen very little of this, because in general I don’t watch violent movies. But at least there’s always the thought, “It’s not real violence. It’s just a movie.” Over the past few months, I’ve had to acknowledge that many of the romantic comedies and favorite movies in which I’ve lost myself had a real-life violence behind them that has stolen the pleasure they once gave me.

This is the NYT feature on Uma Thurman. Try to find the full article, including a piece of film from one of Thurman’s films. I know sometimes NYT articles are blocked if you’ve read too many on the site, because they want subscribers. But I’m sure it’ll be posted elsewhere. I’m never going to be able to unsee that film clip. There are many actors who like to do their own stunts and often have to be discouraged for their own safety. But to force someone to do something after she’s clearly stated her fears and reluctance to do it–it’s easy to believe this was a warning or a punishment to a woman who was not playing by rules devised by a truly despicable group of powerful men.

scary lady heeds my fashion sense

I’m reluctant to post the photo below because it shows my fashion queen Anna Wintour with Harvey Weinstein at a Marchesa (fashion line of Weinstein’s estranged wife, Georgina Chapman) runway show. So I’ll say up front that it sounds like Weinstein is a pig who enjoyed a lot of success in the entertainment industry because his company has made some amazing movies with stellar talent. But he apparently used his success and power in a piglike way to sexually harass, belittle, assault, demean, and torment women. This is not new behavior, nor is it confined to the so-called Hollywood “casting couch.” It’s just that his are the accusers who have begun stepping forward–and that takes real courage–and now everyone who was ever in the same city as him feels that they must denounce him even as they say they were unaware of his piglike behavior, because boy, do humans flee the flames when a star begins his fiery descent to the pit of publicity hell to be finished off on a spit.

(Also, I’m sorry to insult pigs, who I happen to admire in a way I could never admire Weinstein, and I don’t like to see them on spits.)

All that being said, observe Miss Wintour, below. Do you like her dress?

Gary Gershoff/WireImage / / Mandy Moore, left, Harvey Weinstein, Anna Wintour attended the Marchesa fall 2017 runway show during New York Fashion Week on Feb. 15, 2017.

Did you like its reverse colors in November 2009 when it was designed by Becks?

Looks like we are both crafty women. But she accessorizes better. My Anna Wintour needed those boots.

Bonus photo:

AndrĂ© Leon Talley, Anna Wintour, and Grace Coddington at Becks’s 2009 final collection.

P.S. If you click on the link to my November 2009 post, you’ll see my soldiers in a nod to today being National Coming Out Day.

Yes, it still matters

It’s the twenty-fifth anniversary of National Coming Out Day, and the theme is “Coming Out Still Matters.” If you don’t think it does, I urge you to read the information available on the Human Rights Campaign web site. Being honest about oneself is an act of courage. Don’t do it until you’re ready, and once you are, my wish is that you have a good support system in place. With that in mind, it remains important for advocates for and allies of the LGBT community to be equally visible. There’s also a guide on the HRC site for straight allies.

To all my LGBT friends who’ve shared themselves and their stories with me, thank you for your trust. You always have a safe place with me.

You can see the summit

The last panel I attended at Saints and Sinners was “State of the Art: LGBT Writing Past and Present.” The panel was moderated by Thomas Keith and the lively discussion was driven by Dorothy Allison (Bastard Out of Carolina; Cavedweller; She Who), Andrew Holleran (Dancer from the Dance; Nights in Aruba; The Beauty of Men; Grief), Val McDermid (author of 26 novels including The Vanishing Point; Wire in the Blood; Fever of the Bone), and Felice Picano (The Lure; Ambidextrous; Like People in History; Onyx; Late in the Season). This is one of those events about which I’m going to say–not meaning to be either coy or cruel–that you had to be there to fully appreciate the personalities of the panelists and the passion of the discussion.

Keith, Holleran, McDermid, Allison, Picano

What makes a piece of writing LGBT? Is it the sexual orientation of the author or the theme of the writing? For example, there are writers who identify as gay or lesbian who write mainstream fiction without gay characters or themes. There are gay and lesbian writers who write fiction with primarily gay characters and themes. There are straight-identified writers winning awards for novels about transgendered, bisexual, or intersex characters. There are writers who identify as straight writing mainstream fiction with secondary gay and lesbian characters. There is fiction which takes place primarily in gay urban enclaves with almost all gay and lesbian characters, and no one is exactly sure who writes it because the authors’ names are initials or gender neutral (“It’s Pat!”).

You might be asking what difference it makes, which means you’ve probably never been witness to the (figurative, I hope) blood baths that happen when these questions are discussed among writing groups as applied to getting published, finding readers, and winning literary awards. I’ve seen my own writer name bandied about in those battles a time or two, and I don’t have much desire to refight them, but it’s never good to make assumptions about my point of view. If you didn’t hear something from me, you don’t know what I think. And at that, what I think may evolve.

When publishing is talked about in general terms–as in, all publishing, not related to particular niche markets or genres, or even format (newspapers, for example, as well as novels and short story collections)–I often think of the history of commerce during my lifetime. When I was growing up among the small towns of the Southeast, we generally had a “downtown” or a town square, where most of the merchants were located. To shop, we walked in the open air from one store to the next. Most businesses were locally owned, and even if they weren’t (Western Auto or Sears, for example), they were franchised or managed by people we knew. The sun or rain beat down on you, and you stopped into the drugstore or the local sandwich stop for lunch or even just a cold Coke, then you finished your shopping (or “just looking”) and piled into the car and went home. If you lived in a larger city, there were shopping centers: an L shape of mostly locally-owned stores around a parking lot, often anchored by a grocery store for one-location shopping.

Then came the great reign of the malls, when all the stores were inside and the climate was controlled and music was piped in. You might still know a few managers or merchants, and mostly you just wandered, a little dazed, with the sound of water splashing in a center-court fountain where you dropped pennies and wished for more money to buy more stuff. You might even forget what city or town you were in, because malls, even with different anchor stores, were generic: department store(s), gift stores, novelty stores, home decor, maybe a store that sold pianos where an employee sat, day after day, playing alone, because almost no one went inside, gender-specific fashion stores, a jewelry store or two, and around it all a parade of seniors walking in their pastel track suits during the day and groups of bored teens on weekends and summer days–mostly in the food courts and arcades.

Then the super discount chains began to steal customers from the malls: Walmart (and for a while, KMart), Sam’s Club, and Costco, where you could also sometimes buy gas for the cars you had to drive to get to these monoliths. Then people began to complain about where the merchandise comes from and how the buildings themselves are a blight on the landscape, and suddenly, popping up in the suburbs, came artificial town squares and outlet malls, places with landscaping and brick “streets” where shoppers walked from store to store in the open air and dashed into a sandwich shop…

Everything old is new again.

There used to be a few big publishers and they wouldn’t touch LGBT-themed books because they were controversial or they thought they couldn’t sell them. Small presses formed to give LGBT writers a chance to tell their stories and market them. And they did sell, and as these marginalized groups fought for and won more visibility, along with the writers who wrote about them, the big publishers caught on and some of those writers were published to acclaim and awards. Then the small independent bookstores that once sold titles for and to that limited market (and other limited markets) were gobbled up or run out of business by the chains and big box stores that could stock more titles. Except publishing also changed, because, according to some observers of the marketplace, other entertainment was available 24/7 so people weren’t reading as much. The big publishers with high overhead struggled and the brick-and-mortar stores, blaming e-books for their diminishing business, began to sell non-book merchandise and when that didn’t work, to close, and nobody wanted to publish anything unless they thought it was a sure seller (written by someone with a proven track record or a celebrity or at least someone with a TV show of some sort)–and where did all this leave LGBT writers or LGBT-themed books?

Into the breach arrived the small presses. And the university presses. We’ve been here before: see above.

Some of the best books I’m reading may have a limited print run or be available only as e-books, but as I said in an earlier post, if you write something good and you are persistent, you can find a publisher. People still love to read, and in time, more people will discover or develop that love and they will buy books, and good books will sell more than bad books, and because of that, the work of editors will be valued again, and well-edited books will sell more than poorly-edited books. The manufacturers and sellers of e-readers are fearing that their market has reached its peak, that readers are already tiring of the novelty, and from consumers, I’m starting to hear more, “I just want to go to a little bookstore where they know me and what I like to read and can recommend and sell me a book. A real book I can hold in my hands and loan to a friend and that no vendor can ‘erase’ from my e-reader because the vendor is mad at the publisher…”

What do I think this all means? That no one really understands this industry in flux, and it will evolve to sustain itself. If the “experts” don’t know, how can you? Write what you want to write. Let your creation begin with love. Treat it with kindness and discipline. Don’t write to markets or trends. Publish what you write the best way you can find. And then–here is the final piece of advice from me that I wish every writer would heed–LET IT GO. I don’t mean don’t promote it (although sweet baby Veg-O-Matic, not every day, over and over, on every bit of social media available to you, because you are alienating the shit out of everyone, including potential readers). Yes, blog it. Sign it. Send out postcards. Whatever. But LET IT GO in terms of, don’t compare your sales to every other writer’s sales. Don’t obsessively read your reviews and engage in discussions–dare I say, fights?–with people who don’t get it or don’t like what you’ve written. You can’t control how your work is received, and not everyone will understand and love everything. Don’t resent other writers whose work (you think) is selling more than yours. Don’t feel like another person’s success robs you. There is room for all the books and all the authors: Books are like drugs. The more people read, the more they want to read, and I can’t tell you how many times, as a bookseller or when attending events related to books, I’ve heard people say, “I read this one book with a (gay or female or teen or detective) character and then I went to my library (or bookstore) to find more books like that.” Every success builds the market and gives you a greater chance of being published and read.

The book that sells a million copies may end up with a disgraced author and can’t even be located in a remainder bin a year later. The little book that never took its author out of obscurity suddenly finds an audience twenty years after his or her death. Hateful comments from a reviewer–or a lot of them–sometimes make a person like me pick up a novel out of sheer orneriness (“If it pisses off the mob, must be something to it!”). As a writer, you really can’t control all of that. You can control what happens when you sit down with your iPad or smart phone or computer or legal pad or Moleskine to write that story.

And then what happened?

Rowr

It’s Be Kind to Animals Week and my camera is in the shop and can’t document how good The Compound Canines have it. Will it be back before the week is over? Should I just go ahead and plan to be kind to animals next week, too?

Seriously, if you want to be kind to animals, here are some ideas.

  • Never give an animal as a gift–in particular, an unexpected gift. It’s shocking how many animals adopted from shelters and pounds are no longer living in their new homes within six months after adoption.
  • Teach children to respect animals. Don’t let them tease your dog or cat. It’s not cute, and it could be dangerous. Don’t leave small children unattended with dogs. Dogs are not people, and their behaviors are dog behaviors. Be a responsible pack leader and stay in charge of the situation. Also, oversee children as they interact with cats, rabbits, hamsters, etc.
  • If you can’t have an animal in your home because of lease restrictions or allergies or expense, there are still plenty of animals who can benefit from your attention and affection. When rescue groups have adoption days, hang out, walk a dog. Volunteer to walk dogs or spend time with cats at your local animal shelters. Help out in whatever way works best for you: donate time, money, supplies, food. There will always be animals and organizations who need your help. You will be repaid a million times over for kindnesses toward animals, in ways you may not even think about.
  • Yes, your pet is perfect and never misbehaves. But as a responsible dog owner, follow leash laws. And clean up after your pets. That way your neighbors will love them, too.
  • NEVER NEVER NEVER leave an animal unattended in your vehicle. NEVER.
  • If you see or suspect mistreatment or neglect of any animal, report it. At the minimum, animals kept outside need shelter from weather (heat, cold, rain, snow) and access to water.
  • Don’t buy animals from irresponsible breeders. In fact, if you’re looking for a specific breed, do Internet searches on rescue groups for that breed. Consider adopting older dogs and cats. You may find the best friend of your life.
  • If you choose to eat meat or use animal products, try to find cruelty-free sources. If you must wear fur, check resale or vintage shops. Let corporations know your feelings about animal testing and animal cruelty for food, drugs, cleaning supplies, and cosmetics.
  • Try to use animal-friendly cleaners, lawn and gardening supplies, and pest control substances. If at all possible, make your yard a little sanctuary for any creatures you don’t mind having around (butterflies, birds, squirrels). Be wary of wild or feral animals. Find healthy ways to coexist.
  • Be careful with plastics. Consider shopping with reusable bags instead of getting more plastic bags that can end up harming wildlife on land or in water. Cut the plastic rings that hold soft drinks before you put them in your trash or recycle bin.
  • Spay and neuter your pets. Keep them up-to-date with vet visits and shots. If you can, get them chipped; at the least, make sure their collars have up-to-date identifying information in case they get lost. Keep them inside during thunderstorms or fireworks so they don’t become frightened and run away.

I’m sure there are lots of things I’m not thinking about; feel free to add more in comments!

Aw, SCOTUS, for ME? You SHOULD have.

Seeing a lot of this on your social media networks today? The Human Rights Campaign created it as an alternative to their usual blue and yellow equality logo for people to show support of marriage equality. Because today, the Supreme Court began hearing arguments in Hollingsworth v Perry, a case having to do with the legality–or its lack–in California’s Proposition 8. Tomorrow, the Supreme Court will hear arguments regarding striking down the Defense of Marriage Act.

It’s no secret I’m a proponent of marriage equality. To me, it’s a simple matter of civil rights that has nothing to do with religion or social custom, as first, our government is not a theocracy, and no individual or law can compel a religious institution to conduct a wedding ceremony, and second, social custom does not always reflect what is right or fair. Further, the religious and legal (or state, or federal, call it what you will) entities called “marriage” are not the same thing. I believe the beauty of the system we live under is that we protect people’s rights to worship as they choose, and in return, we do not live under a church-sanctioned government, nor can or should a particular religious or social entity infringe on an individual citizen’s freedom to enjoy the same rights and privileges as all other citizens.

But what to me is a no-brainer is to others a hot-button issue, so we have arrived at the Supreme Court hoping for clarity in the law.

The Supreme Court won’t be tallying how many pink and red equality logos are showing up on Twitter and Facebook. This is not “American Idol”; nobody gets to flood the judges with phone calls or texts to influence their votes. Why then, will so many of us share this symbol online and maybe even on our cars and in our businesses? The best reason is summed up in what I read on Cousin Ron’s FB page today: “Nice to see so much red on my wall. I have good friends.”

We display it to show that we support the equal rights of our friends and neighbors. We want them to be treated with legal justice and civil fairness. We value them and their relationships, and if marriage is what they choose for those relationships, we want them to marry.

I love that the Supreme Court began hearing these arguments on my birthday. Their ruling will likely not come until June. Tom’s and my twenty-fifth wedding anniversary is on June 18, and I can think of no greater gift or way to celebrate than for the Supreme Court to say all those I love, and those they love, have relationships that are equally respected under our laws.