Thursday, October 8, 2015

On Not Actually Answering the Question

by Annabeth Leong

I often come back to the special sort of panic that would set in for me when a certain sort of worksheet was handed out in elementary school. A list of seemingly innocent questions, with neat blank lines laid out beside them. Who is your best friend? What is your favorite color? What is your favorite food? These worksheets often had titles such as “About Me,” and yet the way they approached the world was fundamentally not about me.

If no one had ever told me I was supposed to have a favorite color, I would not have had one. I would have just had colors I liked. The same goes for friends and for food. I like easily, and I like that about myself. I am also a very complicated thinker, for better or for worse. I am and have been always aware of situations. Who is my best friend? Are we talking about the person who is best to go to the movies with or the person who is best at keeping secrets? What is my favorite food? Are we talking about dessert food or snack food or actual dinner?

So I find that the question of what’s most important to me discomfits me in exactly this way. Is the question about what’s most important to me as a writer? As a person? In this exact moment in my life?


As I contemplate possible answers, I worry, as I often do, about how they might be perceived. I feel like I’m culturally allowed to say “family,” or “God,” or perhaps name a value such as honesty. If I say career, I can probably get away with it, though I may sound selfish. Other stuff starts heading into shaky territory where I have to put my case forward in a very persuasive and creative way or risk sounding shallow or antisocial.

But the list of acceptable answers doesn’t sit right with me. Let’s take the example of family. It’s a good and acceptable answer, a cliche but a deep one, and it’s true for a lot of people. Family certainly is very important to me.

But then the situations come to my mind. When my father died, I got onto the next plane home, but it was the first time I’d been there for twenty years. My family there would very much agree with statements like, “Blood is thicker than water,” and, “When it comes down to it, family is the most important thing.” I have treated those things as true in my own way, as best I could. If family weren’t very, very important to me, I would not have stayed in touch with my dad at all. He was a dangerous and violent man, and though we loved each other very much, it wasn’t good for me to be around him. On the other hand, I hadn’t seen the aunts and uncles and cousins I grew up with for two decades. I was an exile from a home, a stranger who had lost her culture, a person they didn’t know or trust.

As he lay dying in the hospital, his girlfriend asked me why I hadn’t come to visit him when he was healthy (I allowed him to visit me twice in those twenty years). “It would have meant so much to him,” she said. I remember feeling stunned at how naive she was. I knew he would have wanted that, but I also knew I wouldn’t have been safe. Because the home where I grew up is far from my current home, and isolated, and an expensive place to visit, I would have always had to go there on his terms. I never wanted to do it if I couldn’t afford my own place to stay, my own car, my own escape route. The especially complicated part is that my dad was the one who taught me to pay attention to that sort of thing, to never walk into a bad situation without cab money tucked into my sock.

I can’t say, though, that I lived my life valuing family above all else. If I had, I would have taken the risk and gone to see him. After all, as he liked to remind me sometimes, he was still my father no matter what.

I remember the way I felt when I read War and Peace. Princess Marya remains utterly devoted to her cruel father (who does love her underneath), and is in the end rewarded with his acceptance and the true love of a handsome soldier. I remember wishing I could have been that person. But I am not and never have been devoted in that entirely self-sacrificing way. And so I chose self-preservation over family most of the time—but not often enough for me to say self-preservation is the most important thing.

When I was getting divorced, I did not want to be a person who got divorced. I did not want to declare to the world that I honored myself and my happiness above family and commitment and promises before God. I believed I was doing something wrong by walking out of a marriage—and there were plenty of cultural messages around to tell me so—but I couldn’t turn my back on myself anymore. So I again chose self-preservation and authenticity over family.

I hadn’t always, though. I spent eight years sacrificing myself on the altar of that commitment, being praised by friends as a martyr and a saint, aware of the bittersweetness of that praise. So it took me quite some time to get around to self-preservation, partly because other values are also very important to me.


There is emerging in this post the possibility that I could say “authenticity” is the most important thing to me. That comes out in the way I’m writing about important things, and in the way I’m telling these stories about my father and my divorce. I certainly value authenticity deeply.

But how authentic can I say I am when I spend so much time hiding? I am that rare writer who does not like to talk about her work, mostly because I fear how much it tells people about me. I avoid giving out my pseudonym, and I am quite skillful at redirecting conversations so people don’t notice that I’ve never actually answered any of their questions. I frequently live in fear of some sort of discovery.

It’s not just the erotica. I fear being found out as queer (I know there is increasing societal acceptance, but “increasing” isn’t the same as “acceptance”). I fear being found out as polyamorous. In places where people know me as a person who has a girlfriend, I fear being found out as a person who has a husband. In places where people know me as a person who has a husband, I fear being found out as a person who has a girlfriend. On the occasion of a recent death in the family, my girlfriend sent flowers, and I didn’t know what to think about hearing them described as a gift from my “friend.” Part of me wanted to stand up and say, “She’s not my friend.” Part of me sneered at that idea. What were people supposed to say? Was I ready to come out in all those ways to all my cousins, close and distant, in that conservative town where people were already having trouble grokking the concept of me as a person who is choosing not to have children?

As a writer, it is deeply important to me to be as authentic as possible, to be responsible for the words I put on the page. I wrestle a lot with what that means. I write stories even if they’re ugly and don’t represent my values for the world, but then I wonder what it would look like if I tried to embody my values more fully. I frequently feel concerned about what messages will come across in what I write, and yet there’s another part of me that doesn’t give a fuck and wants to fling myself into wherever the wild winds of creativity take me.


When addressing the question of importance, all those points about context come out very strongly for me. I have often chosen self-preservation, and I think that’s good. I’m trying to choose that more. On the other hand, I choose authenticity as much as I have the courage for it. I choose family when I think I can survive the choice. I choose tradition when I’m able to hide the ways I’m deeply nontraditional. I choose love when it doesn’t cost more than I’m willing to pay. I choose truth when I don’t believe it’s unkind. I choose kindness when I feel safe enough to do so. I choose art when I have the will, and distraction when I don’t.

All this talking is so abstract, though. I love being a person with a body. I spend so much time using that body, enjoying the blissful relief it gives from all the thinking I do. I work out hard, sweating until it feels like it’s raining from my head. I love being a person with a mind, and I spend so much time gathering new knowledge, satisfying my curiosity about my obsession of the month. I love being a person with a soul, and I spend so much time pursuing what I call the “spooky feelings,” those mysterious things that touch on love and religion and the unknown.

It is not in my nature to rank things. It strikes me, though, that I’m still answering that worksheet, still trying to get at the question of what it is that makes me myself. Funny that talking about what’s most important becomes a discussion of oneself, a statement of identity. That outside-looking question quickly turns into one that points within. And perhaps that is the real discomfort underneath it all. Saying what’s most important to me amounts to saying something big and personal about me, and subjecting that to scrutiny, hoping there is something universal in the particular, hoping it does not all come out sounding too self-absorbed.

Of course, that’s what I do all the time when I write. When I write, though, I get to tell more than one story, create a stable of characters, run multiple plots all at the same time. I get to show the situations and the context, and the different answers that come up at various times for various people.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

My Fave

by Daddy X  

All I’ve got to say is there’s only one possible choice for my favorite thing. My one, positively, absolutely first, definitely A-1, decidedly mostest bestest favorite thing is … Momma X.

At Santa Cruz Pier, Winter 2012

What a babe.

We met in high school and married six months after she graduated. I’d made it through the same school the year before—1963. She was the first girl to let me (or any boy) in her pants. Well, if not the first to actually let me into a pair of undies, certainly the first with bad enough judgment to let me put “Roger” inside her actual “Penelope”.  

“Roger? I’d like you to meet Penelope. Penelope? This is Roger.”

What a babe.

When we first met, I was going with another girl. Momma already had a boyfriend. After school, I’d drive to my girl’s place (she went to a different school and her parents both worked, the house consequently devoid of adult supervision… Nyahahahahaa) and make out, sometimes with other couples scattered throughout the house. We all traveled in the same extended circle, so one day Momma and her guy were going over to… let’s call her Jeanie… Jeanie’s house, after school. I was to give Momma a ride.

That day at school, a story began about some girl who’d been hurt in gym class. She’d been taken to the hospital. As the day wore on, Momma’s name kept coming up. She was the girl. She’d been running on the outdoor track where some wooden bleachers had been shifted around for a football game, and not situated in their regular places. Momma had been going full tilt, head down, not paying attention to where she was going. And Bam! Ran into the bleachers. Eewww. Needless to say, the make-out session never happened for her. Instead, she had to recover from a concussion. I went to Jeanie’s by myself.

Next day, instead of going to Jeanie’s, I visited Momma at the hospital and got to know her better, bruised as she was. Then her boyfriend fucked her best friend while Momma was healing. Jeanie wouldn’t put out. The rest is storybook. My Prom. Her Prom. Marriage. Nursing each other through near-death illnesses. Lots of joy. Lots of changes. Fifty years and counting. Fifty-two if you count the time before we got hitched.

What a babe.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

What's important?

This question smacks of the quiz OK Cupid users fill out. That part of my old online profile looked like this:

The six things I could never do without
My lovely family
My wonderful friends
A boyfriend! (which is why I'm here)
Healthy, tasty food
Exercise, which for me is hot yoga--I'm an addict

Or maybe this is more a propos:

I spend a lot of time thinking about
Personal growth and joy
My next trip overseas
How to keep my elderly mom, with whom I live, happy and healthy
How to stay happy and healthy while not living my ideal life
The book I'm writing

Or I can look at the amount of time I spend on an activity. Sleep wins, hands down--that includes afternoon naps. Love my afternoon naps! Hanging out online comes next, alas--I'm counting every kind of online activity, from Facebook to promo to writing blog posts like this one. Even following my Twitter followers back is time consuming. (Where do these people find me, anyhow? And who reads all that stuff? Not me).

Activities I really like, sleep excepted, don't take very long. I do a yoga workout of a little over an hour pretty much every day. I make love with my boyfriend, umm, maybe three or four hours weekly--we don't live together and maybe see each other once or twice a week. Heck, I read more than that. I socialize a few hours weekly--I don't have great social needs. I rarely feel lonely, and when I do, playing with my dog or hanging out at a Starbucks will take care of that, though I do enjoy my friends and family, and hope they enjoy me also.

When it comes down to it, our needs are minimal. We tell ourselves that many things are important--animal rights, the situation in Afghanistan, economic inequality. And these things are important, very important.

But I find if I take care of my little corner of the world while trying to positively affect the rest, that's enough for me. Changing the world is not on my agenda. 

Self-centered? Unambitious? Probably. 

Perhaps that's the mellowness that's come with age. At 60, I realize that while there's a lot I want to do with the rest of my life, I won't be able to do everything. I probably won't become a certified personal trainer or yoga instructor. Or a personal chef. I earned a CELTA credential in 2009, and it's a source of intense regret that I used it only in one job, teaching English to toddlers in China. I hated China but loved the kids.

Though I have regrets, perhaps what's important is treasuring accomplishments and experiences rather than harboring disappointment. I've done a lot and still have lots to look forward to, and I prefer to concentrate on the cool stuff I've done and the fun I'm going to have rather than repining about an imperfect past.

In the end, maybe self-acceptance is what's important.

Monday, October 5, 2015

The Importance of Being Important

Sacchi Green

Long, long ago in what seems sometimes like a galaxy far, far away—the 1950s—I became aware, as kids do eventually, of the concept of mortality. I don’t say that I entirely believed in it, but if I’d asked myself what was most important to me back then, I might have skipped over the things that really mattered—family, community, social justice (not that I’d heard such a term yet) and said that if you only had one finite life to live, as apparently we did, the most important thing to do with it was to make a difference, be noticed, have a lasting effect, and best of all, be remembered. There was also, of course, an element of “showing them!” with “them” being my supposed peers who despised geeks (although they didn’t have that word back then) and had even less respect for unattractive girls. I was both, as well as awkward, which definitely put me on the outside of the “in crowds.” Not that I even wanted to be “in”, which was part of the problem.

The above is how I planned to begin my musings on what’s the most important, but recent events are nudging me toward going off briefly on a tangent. Making a difference, being noticed, being remembered, “showing them!” How many millions of us have thought that way, especially in adolescence? Very few of us go over the edge of sanity and choose one brutal moment of violence over a life of perceived failure, but any are too many, and all the media coverage and online interaction among others with similarly warped minds seems to be making things worse and worse. I don’t have any answers, just observations, one of which is that more is still expected of males in our culture than of females, so it’s not surprising that young males are more likely to feel that being important, no matter how, is the most important thing. Females aren’t supposed to be important, or noticed for anything beyond their sexual appeal to men. (This is an overstatement, I hope, but not that far off in much of our society.)            

Getting back to my own situation, I wanted to some day be important in some way, and I wanted that way to be writing. Books were a huge part of my world, and taught me a great deal about the world, much of it wrong, of course, and some of it even harmful—no, life doesn’t always follow a rational plot or have happy endings--but that’s beside the point. I wanted to be immortal like—well, I didn’t aspire to rival Shakespeare, but how about Sir Arthur Conan Doyle? Or an updated Louisa May Alcott? Or Agatha Christie?

My role-models changed over the years, of course, and so did my personal roles. I had a family to raise, and even more responsibilities as my parents aged. I eventually got serious about writing, but not about serious writing, and I enjoy it that way.

Family is definitely the most important thing now, from my granddaughter to my elderly father. What I want now is to do everything I possibly can, meet the challenges, be there when I’m needed no matter what. I can’t help wondering whether I could have done more to help my son with Asperger’s syndrome adjust to life, if more had been known about that sort of thing when he was younger; should I have pushed him more? Could either of us have survived that? I’ll never know, and we get by now. Sometimes you just can’t tell what are the best, the kindest, things to do. As my father slows more and more in his mid-nineties, is it kinder to do whatever I can, traveling back and forth, to let him stay in the home he shared with my mother for so many years before her death three years ago, or to insist that he come to live with me, or near me in assisted living? We’re teetering on an edge, all the more so as we approach more tests to see whether the lung cancer he probably has is progressing much.

I don’t say that I’m entirely resigned to my limitations, but I have a different perspective on mortality now. Everything we do has some effect, for better or worse. We all make a difference. I think of all the good things my father did in his life, people he helped. Some of these things he doesn’t remember himself, which is sad, but he’ s still pretty sharp for his age. It’s impossible to know how we may have affected other people, or our corners of the world.

I don’t deny, though, that the transitory place I’ve made in my very small corner of the writing world is important to me, especially because of the friends I’ve made. Not THE most important thing, but really, why rank the importance of things? Maybe it’s just as well not to get too obsessed with the importance of being important.



Saturday, October 3, 2015

What's Important To Me

My apologies for being late posting my blog this time around. Yet my very lateness ties so strongly into the current topic.
It’s been a pretty full-on week here in the Rowe household. It was the second week of September school holidays, which automatically makes it pretty loud and busy. I work from home, my wife is a teacher and both my sons are at school. So holiday time means we’re all bound together as though we have an elastic band around us.
More on all of that in a moment…
For me, as an author and cover artist (and when applicable, a musician), what’s important to me is to produce the best work I can and be as versatile as possible. Those elements are not always interchangeable, since we each have strengths and weaknesses. And as anyone in a creative field will know, external forces can play an enormous part in our ability to create.
This brings me back around to the earlier discussion about what truly is important [WARNING, WARNING…cliché alert!].
In the last week, my wife had to go in for an operation. It wasn’t enormous, but it had her worried for a few days beforehand, and understandably, out of action for a few days afterwards. Long term, it will yield an excellent result, but of course, in the short term, these things have quite an impact on a family.
The last week also yielded another important milestone. My 12-year-old son (let’s just call him Monkey Buttocks, since that’s what I call him), had his first date. We realise it’s a young age for that kind of thing, but I was truly impressed. He doesn’t even organise to get together with his mates, so for him to organise a get-together with a girl he really likes is almost incredible to me. Also, given he’s as shy as I am (when not behind a keyboard), it’s an even bigger deal.
The final factor in making my blog late was the fact we attended the Monster Jam event here in Brisbane last night. That was around the time I should have been posting this blog.
Now, I’m not a rev-head at all. I don’t enjoy car racing of any kind really. The Monster Jam events seem, to me, to be the motor racing equivalent of the WWE. And I do not mean that in any kind of disparaging way. It’s a slick and well-marketed event, with drivers of great skill and insane bravery. It’s just highly contrived (and LOUD!)
So why were we there? Well, our elder son (Tall Man or Mister Special) is intellectually-impaired, to the point he’ll never be an independent dude. He’s in his second-last year of school now, and Variety offered his school some free tickets. Now, Tall Man is utterly besotted by cars. Every time we go for a drive he’s constantly prattling in the back seat, telling us what make of car it is, and whether it’s going to work or home. Going for a drive (heck, walking through a car park!) would actually be the perfect entertainment for him. His teachers even use “looking at the road running past the school time” as a motivational tool to keep him on track!
So when the offer came through for Monster Jam tickets, we jumped on board. The show was spectacular, but the best part of the evening was watching Tall Man’s face, and how he loved it.

I’m now even further behind in my work because of all those factors. And I wouldn’t change any of it. If I lose some cover art clients I’ll be unhappy, of course. But it would still pale in comparison to losing those family moments. Because as with nearly everyone, that is what is most important to me.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

True, Heartfelt, Loving Kindness

by Giselle Renarde

My mother recently told me about something that happened when I was a child. There was some kind of workshop for parents at my school. The leader asked everybody to write down five things they enjoyed doing, but none of those items could be family-related.

While everybody else wrote their lists, my mom sat staring at a blank piece of paper.

The workshop leader came over and asked what was wrong.

My mother said, "I can't think of anything to write. Everything I do is for my kids."

"Well, what do you do for fun?" the leader asked.

"I spend time with my kids."

"But non-kid things," the leader said.  "Do you take time just for you?"

My mom didn't understand that question. She didn't understand the concept of ME TIME.

"What about reading?" the leader asked.  "Do you ever read a book to relax?"


"What about friends?  Do you go out for drinks?  Have a girls' night?"

My mom didn't have friends, aside from other parents at my school. And everything they did together involved us.

The workshop went on, but all my mother remembers was the fact that she had no interests.  Twenty-something years later, she told me she felt like a non-person, in that moment.  "What kind of a person doesn't have even ONE thing that they enjoy in life?"

I actually think it's sweet that my mom's joy came from us, her children.  It showed.  She never told us to quiet down or give Mommy a moment.  I don't remember ever feeling like our mother resented us being around. That must have been because there was nothing else in the world she wanted to be doing. She just wanted to be around us, because we were the most important thing in her life.

Is there anything in my life that I would call THE MOST IMPORTANT?

The usual, I guess: my family, my girlfriend, my cats, my career.

But that one THE MOST IMPORTANT thing is rather more nebulous. It isn't a person or a thing.  It's more like a feeling. It's kindness--which probably sounds weird, coming from someone who regularly swears at strangers (but, honestly, why do so many people try to run me over? and if a jogger shoves me into a mud puddle, oh yes, that jogger WILL be called an asshole)...

What was I saying?

Right. Kindness.

I don't always live up to my own ideals, but when I do, I make a conscious effort to treat everyone I encounter with the same big love I feel for my family. I see no reason not to. Sometimes it's really easy, but often it's a challenge. Many humans are not friendly. That's when I need to redouble my efforts, because the people who are meanest to me are probably the ones most in need of kindness.

True, heartfelt, loving kindness is important.

That's not a bad answer, eh? 

On that note, I've got a new anthology on the market and I'm giving ALL my royalties away. I'd love it if you could help me spread the word about LGBT Love:

10 Queer, Trans, Bi, Lesbian and Gay Romance Stories
by Giselle Renarde

***All royalties from the sale of this anthology will be donated to charitable organizations supporting LGBT individuals and communities.***

All Romance Ebooks:
Amazon UK:

Wednesday, September 30, 2015


Musicians know the groove.  The feeling you have when you are lost in the music and the world goes away. Musicians see the man in the groove and they say “He’s gone.”  And he is.  For a writer the groove is that special and meditative place where the world goes away, that place where the voices are and the voices move the story and you mutter to yourself and space-time quietly goes adrift.  The groove is bliss.  The groove is better than being published, its the real zen.  Its the writers dope.  You have to love the groove.  You have to earn the groove by paying your dues at the keyboard, even on dry days.  The groove is your real reward.  You get the groove by paying your dues.  By courting the madness, by walking in the inner moonlight, hoping for teeth and claws to sprout, by spreading your blanket in the dark for a picnic or a midnight tryst in the light of your personal bloodmoon.

The price for the groove is madness.  You have to live close to your unconscious.  You have to open that cellar door and step through into the dark and the strange smells.  Most of us have a lot of noisy things  with dark wings in that darkness that fly in your face and climb on your skin.  If you walk or finally crawl far enough the lights go out and you know you’re in the presence of demons.  If you stay, you may make friends with them.  They don’t mind that you’re scared, it amuses them.  They won’t take you seriously if you’re not a little scared.  It means you have soul.  If you run, they’ll bring you down like a lion on a gazelle. Or maybe if, whimpering, you try to crawl for the door you’ll morph into some cosmic horror as in a Lovecraft story. Mary Oliver knows that place.  I used to know that place, though my cellar is a little cleaner now than is really good for me.  You have to love the dusty cellar.  You have to love the darkness at least a little.  You have to make friends with the madness and learn to listen with caution to the whispers in your head.

You can look at a painting and know almost nothing about the artist who made it.  Listen to music and know nothing about the composer - unless there are lyrics to go with it.  Ah - the lyrics!  The words.  The lyrics tell you of the artist, not the music.  The language arts are like that.  You get away with less, have to expose your heart more and maybe wring it out in public once in awhile.  Narrative fiction and poetry craft are so much about observation and empathy mixed with your interior world of experience.  You can’t pass judgment on people, especially people who hurt you, because your job is to observe and when possible listen. Losing your temper at someone closes that door and you’ve lost the chance to learn a little more.  So to be a language artist demands some humility.

Absolute and unmixed attention, whether down in the groove or directed to a human being is an act of devotion.  It is prayer.  Prayer and the groove are the same.  Anything might become sacred if you pray to it enough.  This is why the groove is sacred.  This is why we want to court the groove.

You can’t be lucky.  You do not have to be good. But with patience you can prepare yourself to be lucky. You do this by showing up, somewhere at some time during the day or early morning and stepping down into the cellar.  Most days you come up with nothing.  But you show up. That shows character. The groove respects character. You have to know what your problem is and what your problem isn’t.  Your problem is to show up. You do this by carrying a notebook with you in your pocket everywhere you go.  This battered notebook, squashed a little flatter by your ass every time you sit on it, becomes something like a sacred talisman.  A lantern held out to your particular madness, an image of devotion to your particular faith, your membership in the Church of the Holy Groove.  The notebook is your prayer and your key to the cellar door that you are willing to be inspired and more important willing to work faithfully in unrequited dryness and desiccation, like a forgotten houseplant in a window, until inspiration arrives, waters you and finds your blooms fragrant.  It is an act of faith.  So much of creative work is an act of faith believing in the future the way a farmer does under the white nets of winter or the watery dark of spring.