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.

 

my time at the capital – a please read

 

 

I worked at The Capital (newspaper) from 1998-2001. I worked part time in the Advertising Department as a retail ad designer and was happy in my work and incredibly fond of my co-workers. I did well in my department and designed the entire tabloid for “Midnight Madness” (an Annapolis Christmas event) in 2000—a big deal in my design portfolio. I was offered a full time position at the paper when I gave notice but refused. I have no regrets.

It was a large, open-space, work environment with each department clustered together, but with few walls, portable or permanent. The six of us in advertising could see the obituary people on the other side of the room with no obstructions. Reporters were clustered behind my department, but with considerably more privacy. An interesting note about advertising—we were the only department in the paper with a proof reader. While I don’t know the practices of other newspapers, the Capital’s position at the time was that spell check and competent reporters/editors were enough of a safeguard regarding news articles, but a proofer was needed in advertising to make sure that phone numbers, web addresses, etc. were correct. If the ad printed wrong, the paper didn’t get paid.

Phillip Merrill was the owner of the paper at the time, a George Bush Jr. buddy and closet politician. Without delving into the Merrill family history, they were a storied, Annapolis institution with both good and bad press; Phil, deservedly so, got most of the bad. He was a foul and rude man who regularly screamed in the newsroom, who had no problem humiliating, diminishing and scolding his employees in public. Fortunately, I had little contact with the man but I did happen to live on the same creek as the Merrills. The Merrill family compound was a peninsula on the Severn River, and in my mind, the most beautiful piece of property on a river filled with beauty. My house was high and at the head of the creek, my bird’s eye view allowing me to see both sides of the waterway, the river and beyond. I told this to Phil Merrill at the company picnic one summer; told him that I could see his house and his boats and if anyone were sitting at the point under the flag pole—all in a friendly, neighborly way, of course. I had introduced myself to him but he had no idea who I was and looked at me quizzically, as if he were wondering who the hell in this crowd could be living on my creek? Many years later, my ex-husband and I watched him sail out of the creek for what would be the last time. Merrill committed suicide that day, dropping to the sandy floor with an anchor on his ankle. The public story was that he was suffering from depression after heart surgery, but an intelligent friend of mine claims to this day that Dick Cheney had him axed.

I worked at The Capital on the morning of September 11, 2001. Minutes after I arrived the newsroom fell silent, people paralyzed under tv monitors. Some started to cry, most held their palms over their mouths in disbelief, Oh my God whispers hung in the air like ghosts. I am sure that we’ll all remember where we were on the morning of 9/11, and in hindsight, I believe a newsroom was a good place to witness the events. Professionalism kicked in, phones rang, machines of every variety began to hum, people went to work with tear wet faces and quivering lower lips. Activity eased the horror and the paper had a purpose fueled by unprecedented courage and the public’s need to know. It was clear who the enemy was and I watched heros go to work. I don’t remember working at all that day but fortunately for me, non-essential personnel, of which I was one, could leave early—and I had to get my kids, schools in the D.C./Annapolis corridor were shutting down like dominoes. By that afternoon, the first I had ever seen in Annapolis, Capital employees stood at red lights and sold newspapers.

I’m writing this piece on a very hot day in the Florida Keys. My air conditioning is turned down nice and low and I have to step outside every now and then to warm up—like my lizard friends and the IT guys at the Capital. IT occupied the basement floor of the facility and the temperature in their workspace read frigid. We laughed and joked with them as they crawled out of the basement to smoke cigarettes on hot rocks in the parking lot, a visual I remember still. I remember Wendi Winters. I remember my advertising pals and hope I show up in their memories now and then. I remember too many stories about tragedy and am so so sad that the Capital must now write one of their own.

 

writing sucks

 

 

Do you know how many inspirational quotes, essays and blog posts there are on the subject of writing every day, on the absolute necessity of a daily writing practice? Thousands. From famous authors, writing workshop instructors, from everyone who has ever picked up a pen it seems. Writers must write every day, writers have to write everyday, don’t wait for the muse! I sadly don’t write every day and I often go for embarrassingly long stretches where I don’t write at all. And considering this writing advice (which I do believe to be sound), freely given by intelligent people, I find it hard to call myself a writer. That, and I only made sixty some dollars on an ereader and nothing for my erotica. I liken this writing instruction to the 1950’s isometric exercise that came with its own rhyme—“We must, we must, we must increase our bust.” “We write, we write, we must stay up all night.” I rarely do, and if I am awake, I’m probably playing cards.

I have plenty of time to write, I want to be a writer and I believe I have a modicum of talent. I have ideas, insight, hell, I’ve got dreams, lots of dreams—pick a dream, any dream. I’m a new female voice waiting for the audience to arrive, I have something to say. What I don’t have is much discipline or ambition. And how many times must I summon the courage and energy to continue writing at all? Perhaps my next writing project should be a book entitled, The Reality of Writing—Non-Inspirational Ramblings from a Not-Famous Author. And please feel free to forward quotes that I might use in this work; I will, of course, acknowledge all sources. A sampling:

 

“Writing sucks.” – Pamela Naruta

“Rejection sucks.” – Pamela Naruta

“You suck.” – Pamela Naruta

This is a good one:

“There are no new ideas. Everything has been done. All the “girl” stories are used up.” – Pamela Naruta

 

But I do compose in my head every day. I write titles, opening sentences, memorize paragraphs, edit, all while on the way to work, on the way home, over coffee, over and over. I composed this piece that you’re reading in my head last night. Does that count as writing every day? I go to the cemetery looking for names, for the million stories that live underground and above. I listen to neighbors talking, fighting, I stare at tourists, I read old letters from my lover. Does that count? I think about what I’ve written and what I will write till my hair starts to hum. Will write, not yet on paper. But they’re all there, sweaty in my pocket. The tortured soul, the disillusioned, the suburbanite, the whore, the women standing at the edge of old—all of them waiting for the call, waiting for the writer to show up.

One last quote from my up-coming, non-inspirational book, this one with a more positive slant:

 

“You write stuff, right? Then you’re a writer. Whether you’re any good or not is fodder for the next book.” – Pamela Naruta

.

 

shame on me

 

 

April is National Poetry Month, and I failed to remember and failed to post a single poem. Last year I posted at least a dozen. Not that it makes a difference at this point, but the link below is for the National Poetry Month website and it’s packed with interesting reads on all things poetry. I’m not going to hit you a ton of my favorite poems at this time, but I will try to get back in the habit of keeping poetry alive—at least, in my life and on this blog.

Two very short poems below; the first is mine, a piece that in many ways was the beginning of a profound journey. The second is from Key West writer, David Sloan, a piece of sidewalk poetry that lives across the street from Hemingway’s house.

 

What’s Love Got to Do With It?

 

She had an affair not for love nor lust

Nor obsession with her fading self.

Standing on the edge of old

She wanted to be startled at every turn. – pn

 

 

Of writers and poets and pirates

who walked the dirt beneath this slab

each carrying a pocket full of dreams.

And none as unusual as yours;

but all of which came true.

 

            – David L. Sloan

 

National Poetry Month website

 

art: paula robino

 

 

and yet another reason why I despise donald trump

 

 

As my writing hiatus fades to black and my focus comes back to the page, I’ve found yet another reason to detest Donald Trump. He has forever spoiled my use of the words “trump” (as verb) and “pussy” —words I apparently use a lot.

I’ve always like the word “trump,” imagining a one-upmanship with a gentleman’s hand and an understanding of the cards. One better, baby, beat ‘ya. But also a lucky pot that fools can fall into, and here we are. “It was a desire so startlingly savage, it trumped all restraints.” “We were dealing with a movement in which bravado trumped truth.” As I write these sentences, I cringe; almost a reference of intelligence or artfulness to a man who has none, but unfortunately, “trump” as his name.

And pussy…well, what can I say? I occasionally write dirty—what word am I to use in reference to a woman’s vagina? Certainly not vagina, everybody hates that word, even those who have capitalized on it, an unfortunate word similar to “ointment.*” I don’t mind use of the word cunt but I get so much rotten feedback from women that I wonder if it’s worth it. CUNT—just as nasty and dirty and demeaning as DICK in my mind. Whatever. So I’m left with “entrance, opening, core, center..” and “pussy.” Ugh.

Our president—destroying nature, the physical and mental health of a nation, civility, and now, vocabulary (at least mine). And tweets? Oh good God.

* for ellen murray

 

photo credit: The Onion

 

on women, women writers, and women in politics

 

 

Shame on me and big apologies for not posting a single thing on the 2018 Key West Literary Seminar. During last year’s Seminar I think I posted everyday. My excuse is a bit of an embarrassment; I was not as familiar with this year’s panel nor was I as enthused with the topic, Writers of the Caribbean (last year’s topic was The Literature of Politics). I attended fewer sessions then before but must note that this does not at all speak to the genius of the panel or those who select them—it speaks only to my miseducation. I fortunately heard Jamaica Kincaid’s opening address and had the pleasure of listening to Teju Cole and Billy Collins for the second time.

But I was also less enthused because I had signed up for a writer’s workshop that followed the seminar; and I could not wait for it to begin. The class topic was memoir and roman à clef (both near and dear to me), taught by Lisa Zeidner, Novelist and Director of the MFA Program in Creative Writing at Rutgers University (I cannot praise Ms. Zeidner enough—she was a marvelous instructor). There was quite a bit of homework for this workshop–10, long, student submissions to read and critique as well as required reading. Instead of boning up on Caribbean authors, I read our instructor’s latest novel (an optional read – Love Bomb – very good), and a required read from the list provided by Ms. Zeidner. I chose Erica Jong’s memoir, Fear of Fifty – not so good. We were asked to talk briefly about why we selected a particular memoir, or memoir turned fiction, and to read a passage from our selected work that resonated in some way.

I chose Erica Jong’s memoir not because I’m a fan of her or her writing, but because I was familiar with her work and she’s a contemporary who writes about sex. Ms. Jong is also very fond of putting herself into the role of protagonist which I’m prone to do. Erica Jong enjoyed a privileged and indulgent life and the indulgence continues in Fear of Fifty. The book is way too long, there are too many marriages and lovers, and I’m sorry, but “princess” comes to mind in too many paragraphs—apart from the paragraphs where she intentionally uses the word “princess.” I don’t mean to imply that Ms. Jong is not talented or intelligent—she is both, and I gleaned much from her writing. The passage below that I shared with the class has stayed with me for weeks.

 

“My generation grew up with an imposed myth: the myth of happily ever after—always implying a man—a prince who someday comes (and makes you do the same).

…We tried to write other myths—someday my princess will come, or I am my own princess, so there—but they were all derivative. The armature of plot was the same. We were reacting, not creating. We had not expanded the terms in which we saw our lives.

Is there only one story? The prince comes or does not come? The princess replaces the prince? Solitude replaces them both?

Couldn’t we find a story that has nothing to do with that, a story in which neither relationship nor renunciation of relationship was the be-all and end-all?

Apparently not. Our writers and philosophers thrashed through this territory and came up with new versions, not newly created myths.

…Where is the woman who self-starts, who doesn’t merely react, who lives her life for an ideal apart from relationship? Can we even imagine such a woman? And if we did imagine her, would our readers identify with her?”

 

What resonates? Pretty much everything; the myth, the relationship reruns in life and in print, the limitations of self. Yes, I can imagine the self-starter and yes, I want to be her, but so far, have come up with only vague and amateurish attempts at rewriting the myth. And I am too often obsessed and confused by what my readers identify with, which brings my wandering mind to women in politics. If you change the word “readers” to “voters” in Jung’s last sentence, therein lies much of Hillary Clinton’s demise—too many [female] voters couldn’t identify. Tough shit. Fucking grow up, gals. Try, at least, to expand the terms in which you view your lives. As Jung calls womanhood today, try to imagine yourself as not the “second sex.”

My mother was the most capable woman I have ever known. She could fix anything from a broken heart to a broken toilet, and given a proper background and proper set of tools, I believe my mother would have been able to fix a broken nation. My heart and my hopes lie with the courageous women throwing their hats into the political ring. And I’m talking elected positions, women willing to take on the concerns of a larger community, not the female spokespeople, cabinet members, etc., of the current administration. I’m not saying vote your sex, be an informed voter. But, and at the risk of sounding sophomoric, do not dismiss the fact that since the beginning of time wives and mothers have ruled as peace makers, policy makers, doctor, lawyer, and chief of the clan.

Why the hell are women suspicious of women in politics? Would readers relate to a protagonist as self-starter, living a life apart from a relationship?