key west literary seminar 2019

I’ve lived in Key West for 2 and a half years but this weekend attended my third Key West Literary Seminar. I somehow managed to secure the coveted position of volunteer immediately upon landing here, a stroke of luck, for sure, as this position gives me free entry into the event. (The Seminar is ridiculously expensive with registration selling out in minutes, yes, minutes—a problem having to do with patronage that has no clear or immediate solution). I was not completely onboard with this year’s theme, Under the Influence: Archetype and Adaptation, primarily because I know little regarding the classics, the Greeks, Shakespeare, the Bible, nor have I paid particular attention to their influence. My literary knowledge is sub-par. But within the marvelous broad stroke of author/panelists (diverse but heavily female), assembled with extreme expertise and consideration by the KW literary team, was a treasure trove of imagination that went far beyond adaptation, that reshaped archetypes as far as genius and respect for original works allowed. It was awesome—even though I sadly missed chunks of this awesomeness. The elite tourists that come to the seminar are the customers at my place of work and it’s all hands on deck. Although my volunteer status could get me into just about any event, my financial status prohibits total immersion.

I can’t touch on every panelist nor every topic (visit kwls.org), but visiting royalty included Margaret Atwood, Joyce Carol Oates, Geraldine Brooks, Emily Wilson, Michael Mewshaw, Victor LaValle. Atwood possessed an unexpected and snarky humor, Emily Wilson possessed the voice and presence of a rock star, Oates’ reading was gruesome, Mewshaw on Pat Conroy was revealing and tender. Unknown to me (although I’m now a big fan of both) was cartoonist, novelist and Marvel Comic writer, Eric Shanower and Key West resident, Meg Cabot, author of Princess Diaries (and slutty novels under a pen name that she did not immediately reveal—who knew?). Topics or works touched on included The Odyssey, The Wizard of Oz, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Aquaman (Atwood’s spin on Aquaman was fabulous), Cinderella, slavery, women as minor characters, as major characters, along with influential references from the New Testament to Jane Eyre to DC Comics and fan fiction. My take away from this breadth of talent—there are new stories to be told, stories that burn within the stories we already know or think we know, there are a thousand voices yet to be heard—all for the writer to grab and wring out every single word that he or she can imagine.

But beyond the spoken word, beyond the brilliance, is the combined influence of these contemporary, master authors and the theater effect—the act of sitting and listening to purposeful voices in a dark and quiet space that is mesmerizing, an actual high, a journey that one was not prepared for. It’s like going to the movies on a summer afternoon and you step outside after the show and get smacked by the sun. You’re disoriented, confused perhaps about what you just witnessed, heard or felt. That disorientation times 10 is the Literary Seminar—it’s holding your breath, it’s an enormous ah-ha, crying, laughter, it’s an event that makes you think about things you have never thought about, an event that leads you to ask, “What was that? What just happened in there?” Genius at work.

While the Key West Literary Seminar is cost prohibitive for many, they offer a variety of scholarship and program opportunities for students, teachers and young writers, workshops that follow the Seminar for advanced and beginning writers, and lectures that are free and open to the public.

from margaret atwood

“Why is it that we want so badly to memorialize ourselves? Even while we’re still alive. We wish to assert our existence, like dogs peeing on fire hydrants. We put on display our framed photographs, our parchment diplomas, our silver-plated cups; we monogram our linen, we carve our names on trees, we scrawl them on washroom walls. It’s all the same impulse. What do we hope from it? Applause, envy, respect? Or simply attention, of any kind we can get?

At the very least we want a witness. We can’t stand the idea of our own voices falling silent finally, like a radio running down.”

The Blind Assassin – Margaret Atwood

a christmas card to my wonderful readers

There is a hard, cool, much needed rain falling on the island, 5 days before Christmas. The rain is romantic, nostalgic, holidayish, not depressing in any way, a small storm that is perfectly appropriate for the season. The palm are crashing, the gutters gushing.The cat, silly thing, has this very strong instinct-thing to go under the house rather than wait the storm out inside. He’s a fabulous cat, a true gypsy who seems to have a crush on me. I’ve managed to find decent live greenery for decoration (difficult in the Keys) and have an abundance of candles. I have a ton of groceries sitting on the counter waiting to be put away, a fresh pot of coffee, I have cigarettes and weed and 2 invitations for Christmas Eve and 2 events lined up for Christmas Day. I have Jingle Bell Rock playing on pandora. I have friends that bring me fruit, a friend that is helping me hang a lighted peace sign, and a pile of packages to open from friends and family everywhere. I have enough money to make it through another year and I have good health.

I pass this along to you in hopes that you have such feelings this time of year and hope that simple gratitude fills you to overflow. I wish you peace and love and know that they are attainable—even if you live alone. Cherish your family and friends, cherish yourself. From the bottom to the top of my heart, I thank you all for reading.

Merry Christmas

babies and key west

I’m a grandmother now, the proud matriarch, the beaming mama who now understands the enormity of future generations, little ones who share my blood. I try my hardest to not be the nauseating nana, to not be gooey or sappy, to not bore people with adorable photos and snippets of life with baby. But, oh my, do babies suckle at your heart. They attach perfectly shaped lips to your thumper and you look down on them and are mesmerized by their innocence, their purity, their miraculous entry into life, their trust in you as provider and nurturer.* Babies are the antidote to the contemptuousness that poisons us all. I look at them and think that close to everything they come to know will begin with this circle called family. It’s a big deal, an enormous yet delicate responsibility, a thought that is sometimes overlooked when in the throws of parenting, but one that the grandparent with less responsibility and more time can ponder. But more time can also generate more worry, and I think, “what the hell kind of world will this innocent little soul inherit?”

And why Key West, what possible connection? Obvious, really; I worry about my island paradise as I worry about babies. This remote rock of misfits and drunks, contrarians and cross-dressers faces perhaps an even more ominous future than that of our children. Since my move to Florida the state has been shaken to its core by Hurricanes Irma and Michael, and the latest environmental report says we’re up shit’s creek, if creeks can indeed survive the geographic apocalypse. Will this island still be standing in 20 years? No one knows. I do know that my house was worth a lot more 2 years ago and I may never see that number again but I’m okay with that—truly. I bought a lifestyle that fits me like a tee. I just want this place to be here long enough to see the grandkids sitting at my kitchen counter for lunch, damnit—and for a while, I won’t give a shit about the rest of the world.

 * I have often wondered if men’s authoritarian anger towards women, their diminishing of the female stems from jealousy over the fact that they cannot give birth—no matter how bullish or rich or famous or whatever—they cannot perform, although they will certainly try to manipulate, the most profound act of life. Womb envy, click here. 

a clarification / best of the fest

 

 

I try to keep my postings on the lighter side–snarky, yes, but I typically don’t elaborate on serious subject matter or opinion. But on the serious side, I do have a problem regarding Fantasy Fest, and it’s not the debauchery or salacious behavior—for the most part, the participants in Fantasy Fest are here for the celebration of sex, the intent is clear. My problem is with the drinking; to be specific, the fact that the City of Key West encourages excessive alcohol consumption. Certain restaurants, bars and hotels will have employees on the street with free shooters for parade participants, and there are private homeowners who will do the same. Half these parade crazies are already dragging kegs and fully stocked bars down the street in wagons. Liquor flows like water, bars and liquor stores come away from this event with buckets of money as does the city. It’s dangerous for the alcoholic, the recovering alcoholic, the alcoholic in denial, the families of the alcoholic, the bike rider who has to peddle home alongside the drunk driver. There’s plenty of liquor to go around. Nobody should be standing on the street handing it to you.

 

the best of the fest / fantasy fest 2018

 

 

The first Key West Fantasy Fest, a masquerade party extravaganza, was held in October 1979, the brainchild of a few local businessmen to boost tourism during the beautiful, but not so bountiful, month of October. Since it’s inception, Fantasy Fest has grown to welcome upwards of 75,000 visitors each year; costumed, painted, half naked or whole, whoop-whooping through town for 7 days of partying, parading and drinking—lots and lots of drinking. And being that I just celebrated my third Fantasy Fest (FF), and being that I managed to stay sober through all of them (I’ve been sober forever), I feel somewhat qualified to weigh in on all the hoopla.

The events are non-stop; daytime parties are tame (although I’ve only attended a few), mostly hotel pool parties with live music and games, open to everyone. But as the sun goes down, and as one might expect, the party level goes up; zombie bike ride, tutu Tuesday, headdress ball, pajama parties, people’s parade, every variety of shenanigans imaginable, built on heavy drinking, nudity and a city full of tourists. [Please note: the majority of bodies one sees during FF are not pretty—a little liquor hides a whole lotta ugly] There are closed parties (available to anyone for a cover) filled with hetero hell raising—yes, they fuck in bars in swings–I’ve never witnessed this but its been confirmed by several reliable sources. And worth noting, while Key West is often thought of as a homosexual haven (and it is), FF is primarily a heterosexual event—tits and ass proudly displayed all over town. There is, thank goodness, a FF zone—a designated area (all of Duval Street) for nudity and shenanigans. My home, six blocks from ground zero, is unbelievable removed from it all. I wonder in this “me too” time where sexual harassment and unwanted advances make headlines and destroy lives, what can one take away from all of this revelry and debauchery. Big surprise: the sexual underbelly of America is alive and well in Key West.

I participate in only a few events—but I have a ball. The Zombie Bike Ride and People’s Parade are a must, either as participant or spectator. Tutu Tuesday is hysterical and the Green Parrott, this year and every year, was throbbing with way-too-loud music and big-bellied, dancing ballerinas. [If you’re ever in FL and Patrick and the Swayzees are in town—go see them]. I don’t do the late night events (geez, I’m almost seventy) but a night walk is a fabulous freak show, a must—if you’re into that kind of thing. Sadly, a woman I know was offended by a burlesque show in town at the onset of Fantasy Fest. I saw the same show and thought it was a hoot; women who bumped and banged and striped down to pasties, not unlike many of the shows my ex-husband and I would sometimes catch on Baltimore’s block in the early 80’s. I suspect there are many reason why I woman would choose to make a living off of her body, I just can’t weigh in on that. The offended lady left at intermission and I absolutely respect her decision, but this small-town burlesque show was but a tame introduction to Key West’s fuck fest. I suspect she didn’t take any late night strolls down by Sloppy Joe’s or pay the cover into Kelly’s.

I’m comfortable with a “don’t worry, be happy” approach to Fantasy Fest. It’s not an event for the newly sober, for feminists, evangelicals, for those connected to piety or sanity in any way. Fantasy pretty much says it all—people acting on zero inhibitions and mindfulness, behaving in ways they only imagined. One can participate or not. Is it alcohol induced? You betcha. I would drink if I could but I can’t and I’m not haunted by abstention. Truly. I love my Key West, filled with shock and awe and once a year, men and women strolling down the sidewalk on leashes.

 

a different kind of sixty – a writer’s profile

 

 

I’m a different kind of sixty. While I post the requisite grandbaby photos on facebook, along with a few dog and cat videos, flora and fauna pics (mostly to maintain relevancy with my home base), I don’t quite fit the sensible stereotype of the aging woman. And while I look and dress like the fashionable, older, white woman—nothing too high, too low, too gaudy (although my hair under certain light is decidedly lavender), I like to take risks in my life and in my writing. I have few filters, I like to stir the pot and write about a different kind of woman at age sixty, one like myself.

I write thoughtful memoir and an occasional piece of poetry. I write humorous essays, irreverence a strong suit. I write short stories, I write about life in Key West, my love of marijuana and profanity, I write about sex. Your sex life didn’t die because your husband did! You are fucking alive, woman! I like to write about human behavior—which I believe is mostly fear based—and I would like to, in all of my writing, tell women of my age to not be afraid. Don’t be afraid to stumble and fall, don’t be afraid to say the dirty word, don’t be afraid to live alone (don’t be afraid to live, period), don’t be afraid to die.

But I am hardly fearless. I’ve got this systemic virus called “fear of rejection” (which probably entered my body in high school) that surfaces whenever the hell it wants to. Like when I recently shared a story about masturbation with a friend who immediately told me, “put it out there, women need to hear this.” He reminded me that no one is talking about or writing about the older woman and sex (forget Hollywood—Jane Fonda having breakfast in a chic kimono and sex-tousled hair represents no one and nothing in the real world). He reminded me that there is no sixty-year-old protagonist in erotica, no fictitious sixty someone with desire, never mind lust (I seem to have an abundance of that nasty little sin). But my fear kicks in— that fear of rejection by editors, the disapproval from friends and family, fearful that I might be pigeonholed into one genre and labeled whorish. I have yet to push through this particular fear. The story remains unwritten. It often feels as if the courage well has run dry.

But here I am—talkin’ the M word, inching my way towards authenticity. The courage will replenish itself and I have no doubt that I’ll continue to take risks. I now live in a community where there are more women who talk and think like I do, where living out loud is lauded, where erotica is at home in ones library as is the biography and disapproval applies to over-priced produce. I am hardly fearless, but I’m not afraid of being afraid nor playing the fool. I’m an atypical 60 something, not a feminist but more of a potty-mouth Pollyanna, posting baby pics and pushing women to fully experience that which is not on the bucket list—or to at least stir that bucket with all you’ve got.

 

p.s. I’m 67.

 

 

gay uncle gary

It was Gary’s straight friends at the beach that affectionately dubbed him “Gay Uncle Gary”—which immediately brought to (my) mind the token gay-uncle-wedding-guest. The gentleman that thirty years ago was the subject of whispers, abruptly broken stares and shaking heads at second cousin Susie’s wedding—who now holds center stage at many a nuptial, stealing the thunder from countless brides; a better dancer, a better dresser, the authority on style and sarcasm.

But my friend Gary is no token anything, he is not a symbolic gesture–he is a profoundly multi-dimensional man, business and art smart, sexual, funny, serious, and in position to become the unofficial sheriff of his community. He’s a fine friend to the butcher, the baker, the gallery owner, and the boys at the produce stand—the ones that dubbed him “Gay Uncle Gary.” A chameleon of a man, really; a man who can change his colors to suit his environment yet every one of those colors is authentic and true to who he is. I’ve known Gary since 1980, when he was hired as a host in the restaurant where I worked as bartender, and he’s been my confidant and friend ever since. He gave me facials prior to my own wedding, he gave me job leads, he gave me his apartment and his beach house for solitude and for sex, he gave me confidence. We once met at a disco in Spain which was quite amazing, but it was one of those blackout evenings in my drinking career and I can’t tell you much of anything that went down—but I know Gary has tales to tell. He shared dozens of detailed stories with me about his sexual liaisons, he told me to trash my hidden sex toys when things were dicey in my marriage, he told me to write erotica, he told me that he has always wanted to make up for a botched make-out session we experienced ages ago. I had absolutely no recollection of making-out with Gary, but apparently it was on his mind when I recently visited him at the beach—when he invited the boys from the produce stand over for a late night party. A party where Gary offered the men and the opportunity to make-up for our failed attempt at love-making.

This was not shocking to me (I perhaps know too much about Gary’s wants and needs) and frankly, I found it extremely flattering that he thought a sixty-seven year old woman could entice and arouse a couple of young men (although I did). What was more bizarre was that the evening went into high gear at the produce stand (after the karaoke bar), a large tarp over a large frame, a bright space on a dark highway, lit by hanging bulbs and wired people. Where gay uncle, his gal pal (me), and a half-dozen almost hillbilly types, did drugs, drank, danced, hooted and shimmied down rows of cantaloupes and tomatoes. I’ve partied in a lot of unusual places, but never a produce stand. Such an odd scene that I most likely will never forget. An hour or so later, four of us wiggled into Gary’s car and headed back to his place—and the handsome, young man next to me in the tight space of the back seat put his hand on my thigh and stroked me up and down and over and over. I had no idea what to do or say. Can you imagine? This was amazing, this was fuck me or not. This was the something I had not experienced in decades. Yes, I could have easily given in, yes, my legs were tingling and my tongue was circling my lips. But I held his face and kissed him and said no thank you. And immediately wished I had not.

The party continued for hours. Gary prompted me, he encouraged a threesome, foursome, but never encouraged anything more than joyous sex. I was absolutely curious but could hardly hold myself up any longer and said goodnight to my new friends—secretly wishing that back seat boy would come to my room but he didn’t. It’s difficult to express how much fun I had that evening; I partied like I was 20 something and it was wonderful. But it’s even more difficult to express how I felt the next morning—elated, buoyant but exhausted, fuzzy yet perfectly aware of what went down and what didn’t, happy to be the old fool deep in the love hangover well. My darling Gay Uncle Gary, giving me and the produce boys a fantasy that would delight for months. May you all be so blessed to have a Gary at your wedding—and clearly, a Gary and in your life.

taking my pulse

 

 

Believe it or not, weather is actually more important down here than donald trump. Everyone checks NOAA radar multiple times a day, myself included. The heat of July and August is relentless in the Keys, night time temperatures drop only 2 or 3 degrees. The humidity is painful, dew rags are both fashion and function. And so, on another hot Sunday afternoon, my cat and I take refuge in my cottage, siesta practices a part of island life—we’ll go outdoors after 5. And pardon me for repeating myself, but this is Barbie’s Dream House, and I’m dreamily listening to torch songs and sexy Latin sambas, stepping outside for a smoke or a joint now and then. Despite a searing sun and moisture everywhere, the skies are crystal clear, a blue that belongs only to the sky, never to be captured, replicated, duplicated. There’s little to no pollution here, no industry, few cars, Gulf of Mexico on one side, the Atlantic on the other. I tear up at the bounty of it all, the bounty of this island and the bounty of living a life I imagined. I’ve worked hard for these rewards. It’s a good day to take my pulse.

 

today is for housekeeping

 

 

Today is for housekeeping, for housekeeping, as ridiculous as it may seem, soothes my soul. Order out of chaos, although chaos is perhaps too strong a word in this instance, order in the unordinary more accurate. My unordinary circumstances are that I find myself unexpectedly in Maryland, thirty minutes from my previous home, tending to a friend with a broken leg. And along with the challenges of care giving (in a very untidy and neglected home that I am about to clean) there is the challenge of going back to my beloved house and visiting my ex-husband (and his new girlfriend) whom I have not seen in almost 2 years. Hence the housekeeping.

Ah, the flush of a toilet, white suds to wash away shit stains, gone in an instant—instant gratification. Mold in the refrigerator, fuzzy, green, leftover memories from a dinner long ago, lifted by a magic eraser. Dust and sand and gravel under your feet swept away as if it never happened, as if you never brought dirt into the house, as if you never lived a life that somehow got very messy. The slate and horizontal surfaces are wiped clean and you stand back and look at your work with pride, with the satisfaction of knowing that you did all that you could at the time—all that you could to make living pretty again.

I know it’s not for everyone, this cleaning thing. Many find comfort in the clutter, in dust bunny pals, in the smell of worn sheets, and I’m perfectly okay with that. I never impose my clean habits on others; I don’t grimace at a sticky tablecloth nor do I care that your mail has spilled onto the floor creating yet another pile. But in my own home, where it is not uncommon for me to vacuum at 11 p.m., in my own wacky, obsessively clean, little world, I find calm in orderliness. I wash the crap away, I straighten crooked picture frames, lamp shades, I smile at my beautifully made bed—it soothes my soul.