Baltimore Book Festival Confessions 2016 – Part 1

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This is a shot from one end of the Tablers Tent – it was quite long with approximately 45 tablers.

I was a vendor in the Tablers Tent at the Baltimore Book Festival this past Saturday. I hope to do it again next year, since my second book will be out. There are some small things that bothered me, because nothing is perfect, but overall it was a very good event.

I learned some things about myself. About what I want to do as a writer, and how I want to present myself. I also learned some things about what I don’t want to be, and how I don’t want to present myself. There are also so points I plan on making to the book festival organizers in hopes they make a few tweaks of improvement next year.

Let’s get the things I didn’t care for out of the way first, so we can end on a positive note. The Tablers Tent is a mash-up of self-published authors, non-profit organizations, and regional books. Essentially indie types and folks selling some non-book stuff (apparently). This had the odd effect of having a children’s’ book writer next to a booth of tween beauty pageant folks with a “Oh The Places You’ll Go” banner using Dr. Seuss graphics, which I found highly inappropriate at a literary event, considering they only seemed to be selling their pageant, and possibly tees and other merchandise. They had a spinning wheel, for what I couldn’t tell. They set it up in the middle of the aisle and pushed their table back and stood in front of it. They had tween and teen girls teetering on platform stilettos and wearing crowns giving out some waves and pamphlets throughout the day.

There was also an aggressive author across and down a little from us. They put a huge sign in the middle of the alleyway, which really shouldn’t be ok. First of all, it caused a bit of a log-jam and made it harder for wheelchairs to get through (of which I saw five). The sign was sort of a way to funnel people to their table. The author was there and had an assistant. They stopped anybody they could and gave them a bookmark and a spiel about the book and convinced them over to the table, even from across the alleyway. They called out and got in front of people, therefore many people missed the next couple of tables (mine included) because by the time they took a couple of steps and turned around they were already past my table, and their neighbor’s as well. I was in awe, more than anything. The author stayed in front of the table at all times. Most of the rest of us were behind our tables – except the beauty pageant people. I didn’t care too much about it as a concept, in a larger space, but it did make traffic flow more congested in that one spot, which seemed to almost be the goal. The author had a spinning wheel (oddly, there were THREE spinning wheels within a few tables of us!) where you could spin and win candy, or 50% off of the author’s book. It was historical fiction and the cover of the book was an absolute rip-off of a best-selling book, right down to the coloring, composition, similar font, and even the title was the same with one extra word tacked on to the end. You cannot deny the success of these two people–they sold all of the books they came with, I’m guessing about fifty or so books. They did this before it was even time to pack up, so they packed up an hour early. I think they outsold everybody in the tent, and it was a big tent. But as I watched them I realized that I don’t want to hard-sell my book. I want people to come to it because they like the genre. Or they like my other work, art, blogging–whatever. It did have the effect of making me feel like maybe I’m not doing enough to sell my work, because I would have had to sell 40 books just to pay for my table fee. But if I hard sold my book to somebody and they didn’t like it, I would feel bad about that. I have that luxury though, for now. Maybe I’m not hungry enough? I don’t know. Anyway, I did learn that I don’t want to sell my book that way, even if I was kind of jealous of their sales numbers. Maybe I can’t sell the book that way myself, to festival goers. Maybe I need a crack sales team. Maybe it’s more of a hard-sell attitude I need for bookstores and booksellers. I like an enthusiastic approach to things, but this was too much for me.

The tent was long and didn’t have any breaks in it. This created a bit of claustrophobia for some people, I think. We had a flap behind us, so I could get out via the split, but I saw a number of attendees walk in at one end and take five or six steps and turn around and leave. If at all possible I have two tent suggestions that would have made the experience an improvement:  a break in the tents that allowed the alley to vent people out, but more importantly, allow more people IN through this small alley break. I would also suggest grouping people a bit more by genre. My sexy book was next to and across from children and baby books. The woman on the other side of me is an accomplished author and writer of non-fiction on the lives and history of black people in Maryland and Baltimore. I am very happy to have had a seat next to her and her husband because they are totally cool people and were fun to talk to, but they probably should have been able to be with non-fiction and history, rather than between an artist selling journals and notecards, and a paranormal romance writer (me).

The last criticism I have is that there didn’t seem to be any attempt to provide outreach to book bloggers and vloggers. I would have been very happy for bookstagrammers, bloggers, and vloggers to come by my table so I could provide them with a review copy. This would be very helpful to authors, and to the reviewers as well.

 

Love Letters – Epistles of Love and Longing in a Modern Age

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I realized that I have years of love letters that I could share on my blog. Some of them I could share in whole, some in part. I think it would make a fun new series, since I have so many of them. I realize I need to step it back up with the Sensual Sundays, too.

This modern time of texting, emailing, social-networking, means plenty of opportunity for sharing missives to your muses.

I have always been a fan of the love letter. I love sending them and receiving them equally as well. There is something beautiful about seeing the words, in concrete form (however ephemeral pixels may be), a small gift for you. All yours.

I got this idea when I realized the small love note email I sent to my sweetheart today was a snapshot of my feelings today. The kind of thing you might post on Facebook, if all of your followers were your significant other.

So, here is the first Love Letters – Epistles of Love and Longing in a Modern Age.

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To: William
9/21/16 4:00 pm

Grumpy. And missing you. Wanting to talk your ear off. Wanting to have my desk on my bed. Wanting to pull my heart out and show you where it hurts – have you kiss it and put it back in. Talk about everything. Cheer each other on. Watch you get some much needed sleep. Pet your side. Kiss your cheek. Hold your hand. Get in deep.

Juicy Peach

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“They had apples. Honeycrisp. Some other kind, too…I forget what–well, they’re all new apples.”

I smiled. “Thanks.” It was the closest I would get to the market that day. I love choosing my fruit and veggies from the farmers who grew them. The dried mud on a mound of small potatoes, flaking off around the little crate that contained them. The weight of a fat tomato in my hand. The smell of a bundle of herbs. Feeling like a Duchess as I peer at each package, choosing which would serve me best. But I wasn’t feeling my best that day, so he went alone. He delivered, though–Honeycrisp is my favorite. Pink Lady, second.

“I got some peaches, too.”

“Ohhhh.” I tiptoed to the kitchen to peer inside the bag. There they were, three perfect peaches.

I selected my favorite, though they all looked lovely. I turned around and let water run over it, washing the fuzzy skin gently. I gave her a little rub with the dishtowel on the counter, to dry her off. I put the fruit to my nose and inhaled, to my satisfaction it was delightfully fragrant. I bit into the fruit, grabbing  a paper towel to catch the juices. Sweet, wet, divine–the last taste of summer.

“This peach is perfect. Come have a bite.”

He poked his head into the hallway, peering at me standing near the sink. Eyebrows up, “Well, alright.”

I watched him take the four paces to me. His light brown hair in want of a trim. His green tee making his eyes more green than ever. His eyes are magic that way, pulling green, light brown, or hazel–depending on the shirt.

I held the peach up, about breast high. He stood in front of me for a beat and looked at the peach, put both of his hands around my hand, cupping it from beneath and raised the peach to his mouth. He looked me in the eye as he bit into the flesh, I was transfixed. Any words that had begun their journey to my mouth were halted in their tracks as I watched him take another bite, his eyes locked with mine. Juice running down our hands. I forgot the paper towel in my other hand. I forgot that I could look away, if I wanted to.

He released my hand, smiled and chewed, still looking me in the eyes. I felt a chain of electrical tingles run down my spine, then back up again. He made a sound that indicated the peach was, indeed, as perfect as reported. He then turned and walked back into the bedroom to sort books, and fold laundry. I enjoyed watching the back of him as he went. I stared at the space where he stood as I finished the peach in four bites, then made my way to the bedroom as well.

We’re Gonna Be Ok

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I’m a little surprised at my last two blog entries. It seems as though I’m still working through some of that old stuff. Maybe I am to some extent, but mostly it’s all background noise now. I care so much less about most of it than I ever did before. Maybe this is a way of filing it into the boxes it all belongs in.

I’ve gone back to regular journaling and I’m seeing an awesome therapist, so maybe that has contributed to busting a log jam?

I wonder what it is about writing about things that helps me so much? I suppose organizing thoughts is a big plus. I love lists, too. Makes you feel like you have some semblance of control in your life. Also, when I write something down that’s been swimming around in my head for a bit, it kind of lets it have a place to live when I don’t want it hanging out rent-free in my brain anymore. Sort of a detox.

I think that there can be the danger of meditating on the negative in journaling (and blogging). Every time we send something out there, there’s a good chance something is coming back – and I prefer the stuff coming back to be happy. It’s hard to be Miss. Positvity all the time, though.

Is it for validation? Am I writing this so somebody will validate me? Hmmm. Lots to consider. Maybe some validation would be nice. But more than that, I believe I speak out to the people who these topics will resonate with, so they don’t feel alone. Because no matter how good of a person you want to be, stuff bubbles up sometimes. You can’t be sweet and rise above it ALL THE TIME.

When people sleep with your man, or lie to you, or lie to you so they can sleep with your man (I’m beginning to see a theme here) – it can really be difficult to rise above it. To just say, “HEY, whatevs, you go and have fun, catcha on the flip side.” Then go on like it’s no big deal. At the VERY LEAST it’s nice to get an apology, or even some kind of explanation. A little bit of salve for the wounds. I don’t want to go around being pissed all the time, bleeding from my hurts. Who has the energy for that shit? So…what do you do? You decide whether you’re taking the high road, or the low road. Sometimes you actually climb down that stupid little berm FROM the high road TO the low road because you can’t help but run on that low road a bit, then you try hiking back up (don’t slip!) to the high road (don’t get snooty!) and be your better self.

And it isn’t just stuff that people have done to me that gets me to twisting inside and writing stuff down.  I need to work out the wrong stuff I’ve done that has hurt others. Sometimes I don’t even feel like I’m ALLOWED to talk about the bad stuff that I have endured, because I know I’ve fucked up a bunch of times, and there’s nothing I dislike more than a hypocrite (except maybe an MRA or a Westboro Baptist). I wish I could go back and fix all of the things I did that were wrong, but I can’t. (If you feel I owe you an apology – please write to me and we can talk about it!) And it doesn’t take the sting away from what’s been done to me. Maybe it makes me sit in the corner a bit longer with it, and when I come back out to talk about it, I’d better be ready to work on my own bad habits and trespasses. Right side up. Upside down.

Then there’s the bad stuff that happened to me that isn’t as bad as the bad stuff that’s happened to other people, so do I have the right to be hurt or upset? The answer is YES we do – we get to feel our hurts however small they may seem by comparison to others. Your hurts count. You count. But never forget to be grateful. That is so important!

So, now I’ve dusted some stuff up, and when I sit down to write journals and blogs this is the stuff that’s coming out. And I guess that’s fine – I must have needed it. Working it out. Process.

I used to use that old saying with my kids all the time, the one about life giving you lemons. Well, one day I said to my youngest (who was 20 by then), “Well, if life gives you lemons…” and she replied, “Well, life better give you some goddam sugar too, or your lemonade is going to taste like shit!” And so the child is correct. Fortunately I have lots of sugar. Good friends, good health, a generous lover, and great daughters. I’m fond of my sister, too. HI SISSY!

Anyway, if you need to work some stuff out, I definitely recommend journaling. Make your lists. Take stock. Redraw lines. Feel your hurts. Put some Windex. It will be ok. We’re going to be ok, you and me.

Freedom

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I sent you notes. Lovely little notes. You blushed. I did not think you would blush.

Your hand tucked the note to your inside jacket pocket, and you smiled. Sheepish. Adorable.

Your hands outstretched, I came to you.

You were young, so you were a bit awkward. I didn’t care. I let little things that should have been red flags that you would be a life-long liar, slip by like toy sailboats on a pond.

You always thought you knew more than me, and made sure I knew it. How did I not notice it then? How did I let it slip by, over and over and over. Toy sailboats.

We rode home in my old car–a hand-me-down from my parents. We talked for hours. I would eventually migrate to your lap, or we would end up on the curb, thighs touching, leaning warm onto each other.

You bought me flowers sometimes. I have photos for evidence, because you tried to make me believe it didn’t happen. You were a master at gaslighting, with the word “ridiculous” always at the ready to hack off another piece of my self-esteem.

You said you never loved me. But you did. You just can’t let her know that, because then she’d have to wonder if the little things you do now that make her feel loved, will some day be magically disappeared by the very person who made her believe they existed.

At least it doesn’t hurt anymore. It’s like recalling an old movie that you’ve seen dozens of times. Only you don’t really like the movie, and some people in the movie are saying you remember it wrong. I suppose we all take something to, and away, from things like that.

I remember when I was gutted. When it felt like I could never get to a place of indifference. And even if I did, it would be tragic.

It’s not tragic. It’s freeing.

 

What It Isn’t and Is

I want to preface this free-thought exercise by saying I’m totally fine. I’m not actually upset or struggling at the moment. I just channeled a lot of thoughts I’ve had over the past several years for different reasons – this isn’t about any one specific person or situation, it’s a composite of struggles and processes. It’s all of the good and “the upside down” (for you fellow Stranger Things fans!) that comes with just being human and forming (and trying to form), and unmaking, bonds with people. What those bonds are, and what they aren’t. Peace!

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Loki (he’s been gone a few years now) and my old art studio, which I could no longer keep.

It isn’t a beginning.

It is an end.

It isn’t a big house.

It isn’t a favorite book.

It isn’t tenderness and validation.

When you have to move on, it can be grueling. It can feel like ash and stone flying through the atmosphere. Why is it like that, no matter how bad it gets?

I look back at what it was. What it wasn’t. What it is now. What it isn’t today.

It is the absence of respect.

It is the presence of resentment.

It is an angry woman who reads her husband’s emails and lashes out because she is insecure – because of the way she got her husband to begin with. It isn’t a woman who accepts blame.

It is loss that is far more good than the subtraction of love, but the addition of self-respect.

It isn’t caring what you destroy until you’ve already crushed it to bits.

Looking down. Dust on your boots. Blood. Ash. And you wonder why people don’t want to have a happy chat.

It’s creepy little threats.

It’s a smell you can’t forget.

It is blame, not in the mirror, but outwards – for your very own flaws.

It is a bad review out of spite to manifest your petty anger.

It is accusing people of the very things you are guilty of.

It is shedding your own skin like  a reptile, if you ever had your own skin to begin with.

And it is assuming the identity of a Stepford Wife. “Whatever you like, I now like.” As if you are hollow inside.

It is long distance.

It is cold hearted.

It is selfish beyond selfish, but ultimately the best thing ever.

It is banana bread and canned peaches.

It is lilacs and gold roses.

It is forgetting as the memories scatter into darker corners with each passing week…month…year.

It isn’t the acceptance of the role you play, because you are perfect. Remember? You never do anything wrong.

It’s the fault of people who you believe take advantage of you, not your falseness that made them believe that they were not trespassers. It is the people who didn’t know you were lying who are to blame, not the person who lied.

“Why don’t you trust me?” HA! THAT IS HILARIOUS! Oh, the resentment when I showed skepticism was rich!

It is rape of my trust. It is sliding into a booth and planting a kiss on me without my permission. It is the everlasting overlapping of lies and truth that made a nice veneer. Thin and brittle, but it looked so shiny, rich, solid on the face. Fake. False. Fake. False.

It is the hot resentment on the back of your neck when you walk by because you took what you wanted and I still rose up from the ash. Poorer and richer. Depends on how you look at wealth, I suppose.

It is vulnerability.

It is feeling like a failure.

It isn’t closure.

When you want closure, when it is never going to be given to you (can it actually be given, anyway?) you have to keep working to find it.

Closure doesn’t come suddenly one day and BAM! You’re all better.

No – closure is a process. It is a place you first must find the path towards. Then walk the path. Then knock on the door. Sometimes nobody opens the door because they don’t give a fuck about you. Sometimes you have to open the goddam door yourself. And once that door is open, you have to keep going there for school, you keep having to learn your way to it. It doesn’t just wash over you. You don’t get out of it that easy.

It isn’t anointing.

It isn’t wound-less.

It is bleeding. Then dressing. Then scars.

It’s a lack of understanding.

It’s bad bad communication.

It isn’t perfection.

It isn’t absolution.

It is new walls with each assault.

It is stronger bricks.

It is a higher wall.

It is letters never sent.

It is apologies never received.

It is lies that burn my flesh.

It is hurt that tears at my heart.

Or tore. Or burned. It’s all of them at once.

It is fire and water and metal and earth.

It is humanness.

It is forgivable.

It isn’t forgettable.

The forgiveness is for yourself, not for them.

 

 

 

 

The Choice You Make – Sensual Sunday

I don’t know if I would undo it if I could. Your shirts are here. And your toothbrush with the fancy nubby side. I actually folded socks today (not my specialty). They weren’t mine. That’s how you know I care.

When you lift your head and put your feet on the cold hard floor, I swoop in and grab your favorite pillow, hook my arm around it and pull it in tight. I watch your naked back bend forward, the valley of your spine is perfect and I reach out and run a finger down.

You wipe the sleep and look over your shoulder, peeking through a mop of messy hair.

“I wish you didn’t have to go.”

“Me too.”

It doesn’t matter who said which, because we trade off these sentences, depending on what day it is.

I don’t know what force on this earth got to decide what love is or how it manifests, but I know what it is for me. Love is in the Don McLean song that crackles out the same line every morning, “The auctioneer saaaaaaaaid, I’m not through yet…” from your alarm clock. Love is around the edges of your iris, where light brown gives way to hazel. Love is in scrambled eggs and toast next to the window, on a single plate with two forks.

“I like ketchup on mine, do you?”

And now, even after what happened, we’re still here and maybe a little less sorry about it than the two years that followed, because love can also be an opportunity to choose somebody every day. We keep making that choice. I can’t undo it, so I will take solace in this.

 

 

The Corner of Fifteen

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It’s hard to imagine now just how small the world was to me then. He lived next door and worked for his dad’s contractor business. He fixed stuff. At least that’s what I thought. He broke stuff, too. My illusions of love, for example. My innocence of how lovers worked, and what power imbalance was. The belief that if you became pregnant, he would stay, because that’s what men are supposed to do. The reality that in the end, I might not want him to stay. And that people don’t always do what they are “supposed” to do.

I lost a lot of things that year, but I gained some things I would never trade. To say I am happy to have had a beautiful child come from that union may sound cliche, but I wouldn’t change it if I could. It set me on a path to self-improvement and an unfortunate spate of cynicism about men, I’m glad I’ve left behind (for the most part), but made me see feminism in a different light. Those bad experiences with a bad person set the cornerstone of the person I am today.

That house–my family’s, and his next door, are so foreign to me now. It’s like looking at a photo album from some movie I watched. I can conjure up the memories like they were last month, but I feel as though I am viewing them through a sheet of plastic.

I can’t remember the taste of him, or how he kissed. I can remember some of his cheesy lines and hurtful comments. I can remember him throwing pennies at me from his bedroom window. I can remember he smoked Marlboro reds and wore Stetson cologne. I would smell that combination into the mid-1990s sometimes, but thankfully Stetson has lost its appeal. Whichever men who might have stockpiled it, stuck in the 1980s, have probably run out by now.

My heart was broken. It was two years before I would date again. I wasn’t done making mistakes I wouldn’t fix, though. But that’s a story for another time.