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1.6.2021

01.06.21

The events of today are something I hoped I would never experience in my lifetime in my country, though I suppose I always knew it was coming. When you look back through history, there are moments described as turning points for our country, for our democracy. Today was one of those days. From November 3rd, and even before, something deep gnawed at me, a foreboding I couldn’t quite place. I realized what we were facing in the U.S., a president who would not follow the rule of law set out in our Constitution, not acknowledge facts or legal votes of citizens, and not follow any standard of decorum, integrity, or civility that typically marked the highest office in our nation, was what shook me to my core. It was the loss of democracy, the rise of a dictator (I would say mentally unsound, but I think that goes hand in hand), and potentially the loss of what makes the U.S. the great nation it is. A nation that until four years ago, held some sense of standing in the global arena, one that typically garnered respect, perhaps admiration, and even a mark of leadership in addressing some of the biggest challenges facing our world. In my life, I’ve seen the horrific consequences of dictatorial regimes, the warfare that can result in genocides. I’ve received images documenting mass atrocities that barely made the BBC for half a day. It still turns my stomach to remember. And what united all of those atrocities was hatred for a group of people, whether based on fact or not, propaganda to incite and fuel further hatred and acts of violence in its name, and a severe lack of humanity in demonstrating complete disregard for the value of a fellow human being’s life. Almost always, genocides are excused or ignored for a host of reasons that underline the race, class, and social issues thriving in our world, whether it be that those targeted live in Africa or another developing country or have long-standing religious differences. It’s always other. Until it isn’t. I remember being in Bosnia, where close friends of mine, only one year older than me, had survived the genocide there. It’s a developed country with lots of culture and traditions. Not a place where genocides are ‘supposed’ to occur, and certainly not in my lifetime. I looked around and tried to imagine how one could exist in such a place in the 21st century and in the next moment have snipers shooting at them, former neighbors and even friends, now gunning you down. As much as I studied it, until the last few months, and particularly today, I didn’t fully comprehend how we could get from a civilized society to chaos and outright attacks on fellow citizens and ultimately our democracy, the central tenet of the U.S. My heart aches for all of the lawmakers, staff, and police officers at the U.S. Capitol today, for everything they had to experience for merely doing their truly honorable jobs in an effort to keep our democracy intact. I am saddened for what they will have to process personally to overcome today’s trauma and how long that journey may take. I am grateful for the fact that I was in the middle of a Zoom meeting that went long and thus would not have to see the true horror of what happened today until I had a chance to speak with people who lead with humanity, decency, courage, and love, thus putting me in a more stable place for when I was able to watch what transpired at the Capitol. But it still shook me to my core. I am grateful, however, to be in the same orbit as those who lead with grace and humanity, even in our darkest moments, to not succumb to violence or derision. I only hope that one day I can be as wise and loving as them, to find the strength and fortitude to light a path that calls all of us to rise up and be better. Maybe some hope for my own evolution comes in something I thought I would never say, listen to Lindsey Graham. Enough is enough. Today was a harrowing and painful moment in our nation’s history, but like all of the times before, we will overcome and be a better nation and a stronger people. Justice and democracy are on our side, finally, and we will do better. So, take care of yourselves, and when you can, lead with love. ❤️

Avery Brooks’ (End of the Year) Survival Resources, Day 5: The Incomparable David Sedaris

01.02.21

 

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, two things I truly appreciate are comedy and stories that express the human condition, even better when both intersect. There is one writer who, to me, is an absolute master of storytelling who can take you from laughing to crying in the span of a sentence. His ability to turn everyday moments into profound life lessons is matched only by his comedic genius. Who? You might ask. Or not, because I put his name in the title of this post . . . anyway, it’s David Sedaris!

 

The other major aspect I love about David (I feel like I should use his full name or Mr. Sedaris or sir or something to reflect my esteem for him). Yeah, let me redo that one.

 

The other major aspect I love about David Sedaris is that he is openly gay, in life and in his writing, which is about his life:) While I’ve never seen any commentary to this point (though I’m sure it exists somewhere), the fact that he is such a well-known and successful writer and he is open in his writing about being gay, I believe, has helped bring awareness and maybe even acceptance of members of the LGBTQ+ community by people who might not otherwise have had the opportunity to get to know someone in our community.

 

Fans of David Sedaris adore him. I know I do. And it’s not just because of his mastery of storytelling and his writing craft in general, it’s because he shares himself with readers. All of his personal quirks and isms. Sure, he might expose a lot about his family members, but he does so for himself as well. He is a truly unique, one might even say peculiar, individual. But he is unabashed by that aspect of himself.

 

But he is only one part of an ensemble. A very unique, hilarious, and endearing ensemble. His family. As I’ve read his stories through the years, I feel like I know him, as well as the other members of his family. I’ve felt the sadness of the loss of his mother because he took me there in his writing, but also because all of the stories about her prior to her passing made me adore her. There are people we never meet and yet through hearing about them through the words of someone who did love them, we feel as if we did too, and thus share the pain of their loss. It’s how I feel about Sandra Moran, a woman I unfortunately never got the chance to meet prior to her passing but feel her presence in the love and sadness of many people I am fortunate to call friends now who loved her deeply. Sandra, like Sedaris’ mom, were larger than life people, not in swagger or bravado, but in their ability to share their warmth and kindness with everyone, so people left feeling better for having known them. So much so, that even people like me who never did meet them, still feel better for having known of them. Pretty remarkable. There is one story Sedaris wrote where a teacher comes to the house to speak with his mom about David’s tics and behavior in class. The warmth, grace, and humor his mom exudes makes the teacher instantly enamored with her, completely forgetting the complaints that were on the agenda and thus the whole reason for the visit.

 

[Editorial comment: I go off on an L Word tangent for the next three paragraphs, so feel free to skip ahead for the unbroken David Sedaris storyline.]

 

The feeling of loss for someone we never knew is the same with fictional characters. We sadly can never meet them in person. Only in our imagination, aided by the power of the writer’s words and imagery. When I wrote Day 3’s post about The L Word and The Planet Podcast, I felt a sense of grief when I tried to write about Dana. I get choked up about it even now. Fans of the show loved her, and she died in a way that many of us have known personally either through our own experience or that of a loved one, fighting cancer. There was criticism by fans about the rapidity of the disease’s progression and that the writers should have dealt with it differently, but unfortunately, as some of us know too well, sometimes cancer does move that swiftly, and it is heartbreaking to watch, made that much more devastating by the helplessness of not being able to do anything about it for those we love.

 

I think with Dana, many of us saw ourselves in her. This goofy, super, super gay athlete who wasn’t fooling anyone with her ‘boyfriend’ at events, but finding the courage to come out at the risk of losing her career and her conservative parents because she wanted to live an authentic life and not be suffocated by all of the lying about this crucial part of her being, and also because she fell in love with a woman, and didn’t want to lose that. For someone so talented (pro tennis player . . . I mean, yeah) to yet be so truly without game when it came to dating was endearing to watch. I mean, personally, I can’t relate at all to that. I’ve certainly never once choked on my words when chatting with a girl and quickly left the room. But I can imagine that if someone were to revert to the interpersonal and communication abilities of a kindergartener when interacting with an impressive, beautiful woman, that it would probably be really embarrassing. I guess I’ll just have to rewatch episodes of The L Word to gain insight into that type of person . . . for writing purposes of course;)

 

After Dana came out to the public as well as her parents, reignited the relationship with Lara, and declared her love for Lara to the world, she had just won. At life. So, for her then to be diagnosed with breast cancer and have it progress so rapidly, lose that relationship, and then lose her life, was just such a tragic fate to watch. Not to mention what Alice went through. I think the reason it still resonates so deeply with me is because I was doing my research in Madagascar for most of Season 3 and when I came back, having dealt with a lot myself during that period of time, my friend filled me in on the show including that Dana had died. I think my reaction to Dana’s death will forever be intertwined with everything else I was dealing with personally at that point in my life. But this is all to say that, as any reader and book lover knows, a well-written character can be as real to us as someone we actually know, and the mark of a good book is one that stays with you. For me, endearing characters that I can relate to or see myself in on some level, or that beautifully portray quintessential truths about the human condition are the ones who remain with me long after the book ends. And the ability to make someone feel that way about characters you write, real or imagined, is the mark of a truly gifted writer.

 

So, this post is about David Sedaris and yet I clearly went off on The L Word, again. See, everything does relate back to The L Word, and lesbians, always lesbians. It’s just like Alice’s chart. Not that David Sedaris will ever read this post, but if he did, I can see him being like um, where is the part about me? Ha. No, he is way too gracious to be like that.

 

So . . . back to David Sedaris, you know, the entire point of this post. I’m going to tell the story of how his writing came into my life and how it has been the backdrop for several important events in my life, as well as some stories I’ve loved (and highly recommend) and reasons why he is such a master at his craft. Let’s do this!

 

Back in 2004, I was doing some research in Puerto Rico, and there was a shelf of books that previous researchers had left behind for people to borrow from and add to the collection (think free libraries of today). One of the books was Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris. Little did I know what I was getting into when I opened that book, a collection of essays that covered topics from the demise of each of the family’s childhood pets to his kind but F-bomb fueled brother to living in Normandy with his partner Hugh, learning French, and using it very roughly to explain a Christian holiday to a Moroccan woman (a story entitled “Jesus Shaves”). The one that I just can’t shake, even all of these years later, is “Big Boy” which describes the trials and tribulations of finding himself in the bathroom at a party where someone has not flushed their ‘business’. There’s also a story involving a lesbian (just keeping my audience in mind). The humor, the story arcs, and the heartfelt moments amidst absurdity hooked me.

 

Thankfully, probably the same kind soul who had left Me Talk Pretty also left Holidays on Ice. Aptly titled, it is a collection of stories about Christmas, which was a nice reprieve from the heat of Puerto Rico (not complaining at all, but it was a bit toasty). The popular “Santaland Diaries” chronicled his experience working as an elf at Macy’s during Christmas. Interestingly enough, his sister Amy Sedaris, another comedic genius, played the secretary, Deb, in the movie Elf a few years later. My favorite story though was “Dinah, the Christmas Whore,” in which he and his mom help his older sister Lisa’s friend Dinah, who happens to be a prostitute, escape an unsafe situation. That was one of the first stories where I realized the brilliance and kindness of the family’s matriarch, and all of the stories to follow would only further cement those truths.

 

When I got back to Chicago, I tried to read everything Sedaris had published, which included Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, which included some essays about homosexuality, particularly one about being kicked out of the house by his father for being gay. His mother, coincidentally, also kicked the kids out of the house in the story entitled “Let It Snow”, when she had ‘a little breakdown’ on the fifth snow day from school after a heavy snowstorm. David and his four sisters go sledding, but when they return home to find the door locked and their mother still unwilling to let them in, things take a turn. To teach her a lesson, they decide that one of them should get hit by a car. Here is the full story in The New Yorker, as well as this excerpt:

“Gretchen, go lie in the street.”

“Make Amy do it,” she said.

Amy, in turn, pushed it off on Tiffany, who was the youngest and had no concept of death. “It’s like sleeping,” we told her. “Only you get a canopy bed.”

Poor Tiffany. She’d do just about anything in return for a little affection. All you had to do was call her Tiff, and whatever you wanted was yours: her allowance, her dinner, the contents of her Easter basket. Her eagerness to please was absolute and naked. When we asked her to lie in the middle of the street, her only question was “Where?”

 

In 2009, my mom came to Chicago to see me defend my dissertation research. The dissertation defense is a pretty monumental deal wherein you give a public talk (but mostly just scientists show up) on your research as a succinct and more palatable version, hopefully, of the written dissertation comprising all of your findings and blood, sweat, and tears from the last 5-6, or sometimes 10, years. My PhD committee had already read the 200-page dissertation I had written, and after my talk, I would sit down with them so they could provide feedback and ask questions on anything they deemed appropriate for me to know prior to me leaving the room and waiting while they decided if I had in fact earned the title of PhD. As you might imagine, it’s a bit stressful. Prior to my defense, one of my committee members shared that the day before her own defense, she had been up all night with explosive diarrhea from the level of stress. It wasn’t as comforting at the time as I think she meant it to be.

 

As you also might imagine, the research talk wasn’t really something you finished a week or more in advance and thus could relax and focus on practicing prior to defense day (there probably are some people who did just that, and frankly, I don’t care to know them;) ). But most people I know worked until the final second to make sure it was perfect, that nothing was forgotten or overlooked because this was not the time for ‘good enough’. So, when my mom arrived to be there for me, I really just needed to focus and finish the talk. Because she is a lover of books as well, I gave her Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim to read and got her settled in the living room, hoping she would understand. It started out small, but soon enough, my mom’s wholehearted laughter filled the entire apartment. After a couple of internal sighs, I stopped for a moment, recognizing the distinct emotional realities we were experiencing merely 15 ft from one another, and despite my stomach churning and entire body buzzing with the adrenaline of everything I had been through for the past few years coming down to this one final talk, hearing her unbridled laughter, knowing everything she had traversed in her own life, reassured me that it was all worth it. I was grateful she was there and that I had a mom who not only loved the power of words, but also had enough of a warped sense of humor to truly enjoy them.

 

One of my all-time favorite David Sedaris stories is “Repeat After Me”. In characteristic fashion, it takes the reader on a journey from amusement to full-body laughter with moments of resonance leading to sheer poetic beauty in the expression of gripping and heartfelt truths. It involves a visit to his sister Lisa’s house where he explores eternally fixed childhood roles and sibling rivalries, unique pets trained as emotional cheerleaders, and his morally ambiguous role as a writer who shares private family moments with the rest of the world.

 

Here is David Sedaris reading “Repeat After Me” (in three parts).

 

Every story David Sedaris writes is hilarious, largely due to the cast and crew of a very unique family. In a more recent interview, he talks about how his mom appreciated humor, and so in many ways, the pursuit of careers based in comedy by Amy and David stems from a desire to make their mom laugh. For more insight into the relationship and humor that Amy and David share, here is an article David wrote for Elle. It has a great family photo of all of the siblings when they were kids, as well as a photo of Amy with her male rabbit, Tina. Enough said:) What’s really interesting though is that they used to pretend they had a hospitality show when they were kids. Cut to several decades later and Amy wrote I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence, which is a hilarious and effective guide to entertaining. In the introduction to the book, images of Amy progress from sitting in a chair to succumbing to sleep from boredom and sliding off the chair as the introduction drags on from one page to the next. She followed that book with Simple Times: Crafts for Poor People! So yeah, humor runs in the family, and I’m a fan (notice anything interesting in the background of the photo below?).

 

For interested writers (and interested readers, too), David teaches the craft he has become an expert at, storytelling and humor. In the short video below, he provides some advice to writers, such as learning to trust yourself as a writer and that writing is rewriting. He rewrites his stories between 12-18 times, sound advice, which I’m sure you can tell I did not do in writing this blog post. He also wrote every day for 15 years before his first book was published, so don’t give up.

 

 

If you’re ever fortunate enough to hear him give a reading, grab the chance. He came to my city years ago and I was shocked to see a long line of people already getting him to sign books before the show started. When asked in an interview why he does this, he mentioned an actor who had greeted everyone at the theater door prior to the show, and that it is hard to be critical of someone’s performance when you feel like you know them and they’ve already offered such goodwill. So, he took the lesson and began signing books both before and after his readings. He takes the time to actually speak to each person, asking unique questions to learn about them, and making it an experience rather than just an impersonal conveyor belt of people seeking his autograph.

 

When I heard his voice for the first time, it didn’t match initially with what I imagined his voice might sound like as I read his many stories. But it quickly became a voice I adore. He and his partner Hugh were featured in the 2014 documentary Do I Sound Gay?, an interesting exploration of the stereotypes surrounding the speech patterns of gay men. Here is a clip.

 

 

 

Though I’ve included a couple of favorite stories in this post, there is a plethora of pieces of stories that I’ve loved and that stay with me. For example, when David lived in Paris and felt like he was observing the dissolution of a marriage as he listened to a couple outside his window argue over their sightseeing itinerary, which quickly devolved into personal attacks on each other’s character and all-around faults as humans. Or the Stadium Pal, a bag that can be used as a portable urinal, so that he could survive long flights (or if he were a different human, a sports game) without needing to visit the restroom. “Thank you, Stadium Pal.” Or the joy Amy gets when someone decides they do in fact deserve to make an impulse buy, and her encouragement of David to buy women’s slacks with an ill-placed zipper, because, no one will notice. Or the Great Danes their parents got after all of the children had moved out and how it enlivened a streak of absolute parental adoration and generosity of gifts that they had never bestowed on their actual human children.

 

David’s most recent book, The Best of Me, is a collection of his favorite stories. It’s a title I am a fan of because it was originally the title of my book, Other Girls, before Ann McMan kindly suggested a title more fitting to the final version of the novel and thus raised the bar, as with everything she lends her brilliance to.

 

I hope that this incredibly long blog post provided some humor and insight into one of the most skillful writers of our time, and that the next time you are looking for exceptional writing, endearing characters, and a good laugh, along with LGBTQ-affirming content, you’ll settle in with one of David Sedaris’ collections of stories and essays.

Happy New Year! Here’s to a Bright 2021!

01.01.21

 

Happy New Year everyone!!!! It’s been a crazy year, but I think all of us are ready to leave it behind and step powerfully into 2021. A year that I hope will be full of kindness, compassion, growth, acceptance, love, passion, and joy, for everyone.

 

I’ll take forth some lessons myself, such as don’t drink coffee in the afternoon or evening so you can actually sleep at night (no, seriously, don’t do it), when you promise to write a series of daily blog posts that take a lot of time and energy to put out into the world maybe actually budget enough time and mental space to do it (and sleep . . . and less coffee), take time to play with the dogs to really perfect the ‘hut hut hike’ sequence with the football (Sevvie’s almost got it), and most importantly, remember to check the weather before you go out into the snow for a walk. I can almost feel my face again. (Btw, hearing Blackstreet’s ‘No Diggity’ for the first time in a while blasting through my earbuds instantly calmed me and took me to younger days❤️ I recommend it.)

 

 

So, as I sit here, my body mildly vibrating from the perfect balance of exhaustion and caffeine, I look forward to putting some of those lessons into practice in the coming days and to remember that no matter how big the mission, you’ve got to start with self-care or everyone will just be on the same sinking ship. I knew these lessons once, but a refresher never hurts.

 

And in the grander scheme, 2021 will no doubt bring change. It’s the only constant we can count on. So, my hope is that we all find ways to be kind to ourselves, lead with compassion for ourselves first and then to others, and move forward with grace as we realize everyone is just doing the best that they can. And as Maya Angelou said, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then, when you know better, do better.”

 

I’m grateful to be on this journey together and I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished over the past year, both globally and in the U.S. in particular. So many curveballs and fundamental changes were thrown our way and despite some pretty unbelievable claims, we came together and stood firm in our truth for what we want from our world and our unwillingness to accept anything less. There have been moments in my life, and definitely in the past four years, where I questioned our common humanity, beliefs, and values, but I don’t anymore. I think fundamentally we’re all looking for the same things, and I’m going to do my best to lead with a solid attempt at understanding views that are different from my own, and then doing what I can to help bridge that gap through conversations, awareness, and the unequalled power of art, in its many forms, to reach people where they’re at.

 

In the meantime, I wish you a peaceful and joyous New Year’s Eve, and a Happy New Year like none we’ve ever before experienced. Because guess what, y’all? We finally have a female vice president, and things are looking up 🙂 It might have taken a lot longer to reach this point than many of us envisioned and fought for, but here we are, and I can’t wait to experience the limitless possibilities on the horizon coming to fruition.

 

And for anyone wondering how to spend tonight or tomorrow, or really any day in the near future. I will recommend the thing I’ve been recommending to everyone I know. Watch Death to 2020 on Netflix. It’s an hour-long mockumentary from the creators of Black Mirror with the likes of Samuel L. Jackson, Lisa Kudrow, Hugh Grant, and Leslie Jones, among others serving as fictional ‘experts’ breaking down the year that was 2020. I have not laughed so hard in a long, long time. It is witty and brilliant (and pay attention because the first ~20 minutes are nonstop comic gold), but then it also punches you in the gut with beautiful takes on the incredibly painful and unjust parts of this past year. It’s not a tearjerker though, so don’t worry about that (but as mentioned previously, I’ve been running on a steady diet of caffeine and insomnia so take that for what it’s worth). It will make you realize truly how much we’ve dealt with over the past year and give you hope for the kind of humor and commentary that is about to take hold again in America. Yay!!!! And, by the way, the names of the experts are hilarious. Pyrex Flask, I mean come on, that’s hilarious (science geek moment).

 

Lastly, thank you to those of you who have followed along with the series of daily blogs I’ve really been trying to keep up with to provide community and maybe even a hearty laugh to everyone at this time of year, but especially my fellow LGBTQ+ community. Thank you for your patience with my delay in getting everything finished and posted. My goal was fairly large, but lack of sleep and energy slowed me down. I am hoping to finish Day 5’s post and get it up tomorrow, which means I leapfrogged over Day 4, which is a longer and more involved post. At least part of Day 4’s post will be up tomorrow, but I appreciate your patience if you’re following along. In the meantime, if you are feeling alone or needing a laugh and/or want to stick your head in a beautiful cloud of earth-shattering, life-giving, wlw awesomeness for the foreseeable future, just follow the links in Day 3’s post to listen to one of the most incredible wlw podcasts that ever existed, “The Planet: The Podcast for L Word Fans!” Most episodes recap episodes of The L Word (the original), but the summer ones are incredible – funny, heartfelt, empowering – from two hilarious, intelligent, thoughtful, authentic, and inspiring out women, KC and Elka. I would recommend watching the Preview (aka first) episode, to get to know KC and Elka, and then the ‘Off-Season Podcast 05-03-06’ episode for KC’s hilarious retelling of her Carmen-esque Spanish teacher’s outfits (KC is a confident lady, but this teacher did her in, ha) and then a beautiful interview with Elka’s mom…along with KC’s very interesting comments regarding lesbian literature, but it’s circa 2006 remember. All of the links are in Day 3’s post. Enjoy, relax, and revel in the wlw love.

 

And big news, I’ve enabled comments on the blog posts on my website starting with the Christmas Eve movie recommendations one up to the most recent post. So please weigh in and comment but remember to keep them respectful and kind so it remains a safe and welcoming space for all (and please have patience with me as I navigate approving and moderating that as well). And finally, since I clearly have some posts to finish, and have quite a bit more to share and say, I envision continuing these posts into 2021 (though I always planned to do that for at least a little bit to help give everyone a little support as we transition to a brighter and more just future). 🌈

 

Happy New Year everyone! Here’s to a very bright 2021!

Avery Brooks’ (End of the Year) Survival Resources, Day 3: The Planet Podcast, finding my tribe, and the rise of Autostraddle

12.30.20

 

My goal with this series of posts was to help people, particularly LGBTQ+ and especially lesbians/wlw people, feel a sense of community and support through tough times, like the end of the year, the holidays, pretty much every day of 2020 since March, or you know, just any day. While I started off the first couple of posts fairly general with recommendations to hopefully help lift people up (badass playlist and witty comedies, especially featuring well-written LGBTQ+ storylines), my goal was to also get into some deeper content, both in expressing my own journey, as well as resources that were critical for me when I was looking for a place to belong and/or needing a light in the darkness.

 

(Side note: the current situation with labels/terminology/identifiers is something I’ve been thinking about and discussing a lot with people (for decades actually, but it’s hitting a critical point lately), so more on this soon, but as what I’m about to share will span the 2004-2009 years, just keep an open mind about terms because that’s part of the evolution of this story and the LGBTQ+ community.)

 

*Regardless of whether you read the side note above, please read this very important point for the terms I’ll use in this post. While I initially came out as bisexual, I now describe myself as lesbian and/or gay. I am getting better at accepting the term queer, but it’s a process as it was used as a derogatory term for all of my formative years. Writing the terms I use below is like walking through a virtual minefield. Some terms of today barely existed, let alone were used, when The L Word first aired. So, let me be clear regarding my intent whether I use lesbian, wlw, LGBTQ+ etc. below. I come from a place of inclusion. The L Word and the resulting movements it inspired were significant for many of our journeys and this post is about sharing this incredible, transformational, and revolutionary time in LGBTQ+ history, not just in media representation, but in the ways we created communities and tools for connection in the infancy of modern-day tech (read: the internet). So, if any term inspires a feeling of exclusion to anyone, please know that is not my intent and please look at the bigger meaning of what this post entails.

 

What I had envisioned as a fairly short post of me linking to a podcast that resonated with me during a very formative period in my life and letting people explore it on their own and hope it enhanced their life at least in some small way, took quite a different form today when I googled the podcast to link to and found a bunch of articles that took me on an incredible journey through my own past, as well as that of others, and to one of the most beautiful full-circle moments I could have asked for. It was as if simultaneously finding an old friend (though we had never met in person and may never) and realizing multiple epiphanies regarding my own path and the people/entities/revolutions that coincided to create one of the most poignant periods in my life. And at its heart, it can simply be described as finding my people.

 

But today, I learned more about those people than I had known at the time, and in their own pursuit of their true selves, finding and building their community, and fierce courage in being out in the public eye on that mission, it created a scaffolding for so many of us who were seeking the same, but from the shadows, to live a more authentic life ourselves. Though the people I’ll write about here are not very different in age from me, they carried the torch and burned the barriers motherfucking down despite great personal costs that come from standing in the arena as Brené Brown would say. Over 10 years later, as I’ve entered more of a public space and grapple with some of the same blessings and pains of putting yourself out there, I fully appreciate what they went through and continue to go through. So, to KC, Elka, Riese, Slo, and Green (and the entire Autostraddle OG posse), thank you. Thank you for pushing through and not giving up, and creating a space and mindset for the rest of us to one day step into our own power, when we were ready.

 

So, here’s the story. And if you follow the links in this post, be prepared to set aside 24-96 hours for a deep dive into lesbian/wlw fandom to feed your soul 🙂 But what better way to kick off 2021?!

 

The L Word came to Showtime at the beginning of 2004. I was 6 months into my PhD program in Chicago at the time, and Sex and the City was finishing its final season. I don’t know exactly how I heard about The L Word, except to be pretty sure I paid for Showtime at the time and was distraught over what cultural phenomenon would fill the void left by Sex and the City ending. As I read Riese’s article today (I’ll link to it later in the post), several aha moments happened for me, along with the line that The L Word was like Sex and the City but for lesbians. A line that resonated because I’m sure it was either uttered by me and/or to me at some point. (And could two better things even exist together when you’re navigating your 20s and trying to make a mark on the world?)

 

In these pre-YouTube, early internet days, you had to wait for each episode to come out on Showtime, which might also have meant befriending someone who had access to Showtime, ha. Do you know how long seven days can be when you are seeing some aspect of yourself being represented for the first time in the mainstream? But like, a really hot, LA version of your life and existence. And sure, that point as a choice can be discussed forever as can any major revolution in media, but the situation remained, lesbians were on tv (and youngish attractive ones, which was empowering given the fact that ‘lesbian’ could be a derogatory term when used by someone to describe you. A term filled with an air of flannels and general absence of style that I myself was hesitant to claim at that early period in my life (fast forward 10 years and 99% of my wardrobe was in fact flannels and/or plaids, and yes, there is a difference, and in Colorado, it’s not even as gay as it sounds. But it was gay, for me:) I own it now.). As I was saying, hot, youngish lesbians were on tv, kind of having sex during some episodes even (squint through all the heterosexual sex and there we are), and opening the door for what would be the first major mainstream steps (in my lifetime) toward giving lesbians/wlw a place at the table and creating that community. And as we all know, lesbians/wlw are loyal. Riese’s article gets into the fandoms that were built from this show and the many ways that fans shaped the internet (which was still in its infancy) as a tool to create community via forums, blogs, podcasts, and other avenues. Combine tech skills, vision, empowerment, passion, and scrappiness to DIY when much of this had never been done before, and damn, we’ve got a revolution. Who runs the world? Girls…who like girls 🙂

 

The first season was incredible. Every lesbian fell in love with Marina (think Gal Gadot but then lose esteem for her with a sordid cheating?/polyamorous/countess? thing happening), or was it Shane, or Bette, or Tina, or Dana, or Alice? To cut the suspense, it was either Marina or Shane. Maybe a dose of Bette on the side 🙂 So many incredible characters. Marina was the beautiful, usually straight girl we’d all always dreamed of, except, wait, she’s into women? Holy fuck!

 

Shane. Ah, Shane. I won’t use words for Shane. Just a happy sigh and my heart feeling full that Shane existed for us to witness, identify with, and be inspired by.

 

Bette. I feel stressed even talking about Bette. Someone clear her schedule, because work-life balance, you know? 🙂

 

And Tina. I’ll pause as half of you mutter expletives. As I was saying, there was also Tina.

 

No, I actually liked Tina, in the beginning, maybe because Bette embodied parts of every asshole I had ever dated, and so I was in for Tina. I will say, seeing Bette and Tina’s relationship was like an ethnography of an alternative existence. One you had always dreamed could happen, but had never witnessed firsthand (remember, I was in my 20s and had only been out for a couple of years, so calm down. I know strong love stories between adult women existed long before this, but this was the first time I ever saw it somewhat up close and personal.). It was beautiful, sad, loving, heartbreaking, horrifying, and very, very human.

 

Dana. We all knew a Dana. Maybe we were Dana. Sporty, super gay, in short, the very vague but apt word, amazing.

 

Alice. Hilarious. Quirky. Always curious.

 

Jenny. It’s hard to even think of Jenny without a grimace for what came in later seasons, but she was the lens the rest of us entered this crazy LA world through. And just as importantly, got to interact with Marina through.

 

I remember traveling down to Andersonville to go to T’s Bar, the lesbian bar in Chicago. The place was packed with women, but when The L Word started on the televisions in the front and back room, everyone went silent. Picture 100 lesbians, with alcohol, being completely quiet. I think only images of Xena on a screen have the same effect. And now, maybe Gal Gadot. I remember a group of people walked in the front door of the bar, faced throngs of lesbians staring silently at the televisions mounted on the walls, were shushed by some as they tried to enter, said something to the effect of “WTF? Hell no.” Then turned and left. It was epic.

 

As the second season happened, a straight (I think this is still an accurate statement, though it’s been a while) grad student friend of mine became equally obsessed with the show and came by my place to watch it each week since my roommate and I had Showtime. I mostly just adored having anyone I knew to speak with about this amazing show. When I had to go to Madagascar for a pilot research trip to find what would become my research site for my dissertation, my friend continued to come over to my place to watch the show while I was gone. Alice’s chart took off on the show, and when I arrived home several weeks later, I found a very detailed multi-page chart of relationships and events I had missed on the show secured to the front of my fridge. It’s still one of the best things I’ve ever received.

 

Interestingly enough (science geek moment, feel free to skip to next paragraph) and also a lesson maybe in life imitating art/science imitating lesbians? ;), in the field of animal behavior and evolutionary biology (my focus), social networking was the new hot thing. So, roughly at the same time when Alice’s chart of lesbian relationships was born on The L Word, part of my own research focused on the role of social networks in the female-dominant society of ring-tailed lemurs, a society where adult females rule without exception to adult males (the definition of female dominance is quite strict) and brutal, sometimes fatal attacks can happen between adult females (called targeted aggression) that result in fission of the group. Whether both aspects came together independently and synergistically, I don’t know, but I thought it interesting nonetheless. And in effect, Alice and I were both just trying to use a tool, i.e. social networks, to understand females and their relationships to one another.

 

Skip through going back to Madagascar and conducting first part of dissertation research, and back to the important point, Elka and KC entering the story 🙂

 

So, The L Word definitely had a following by the time 2006 rolled around and the third season was about to begin. From what I’ve read, as many cities were hosting watch parties for The L Word, apparently Albuquerque, New Mexico was not one of them. So, two glorious souls, named KC and Elka, decided to create a podcast to discuss the show. “The Planet: The Podcast for L Word Fans!” was born and provided KC and Elka’s witty, warm, engaging, accepting, supportive, and hilarious take on the details of each episode of the show via their recaps, as well as queer culture more generally. Elka and KC started The Planet Podcast with a Season 3 Preview episode, which I’ll include with links at the end of this post. They then did one podcast episode for every episode of Seasons 3-5, and most of the final Season 6 (more on that at the end). To keep us die-hard fans of the show and podcast going during the long break between seasons, they also posted some summer episodes, which were by far my favorite.

 

They quickly garnered a following of loyal fans who loved their personalities, humor, warmth, and commentary on the show and our community at large. KC and Elka were both out, which was amazing to hear, for those of us who were newly out and/or not yet out. Their unabashed honesty and authenticity in being their true selves was life-giving. Because they never showed photos of themselves, they were also a big mystery, and for quite a while, we were also left wondering are they just roommates or more?

 

A few things that stuck with me many years later include Elka trying out Tito’s vodka for the first time and licking the mouth of the bottle before KC even made it into the house after visiting the liquor store. Flash forward 14 years, and on my counter is my first handle of Tito’s, which I bought on November 7th, 2020, along with a bottle of champagne to celebrate Joe Biden and Kamala Harris being the projected winners of this year’s election. I do drink vodka, not irregularly, I just apparently take a long time to come around to quality vodka (plus there’s an excellent one in Boulder that tops all vodka ever made, but you can only get it if you go to Boulder. Thanks pandemic.) Anyway, when the liquor store owner asked how my day was going with a bit of a pained expression on his face, I said ‘Great!’ as I grinned and put my two celebratory bottles on the counter. (This is a conservative town sometimes, and I’m so over it.) This purchase was for me and friends, before any concerns start flowing in. Though I cannot think of any better day to celebrate with abandon.

 

Back to Elka and KC . . . other gems. KC finding a huge bag of Styrofoam packing material on the highway, stuffing it into her car just as her dog finally scrambled out of the way, and turning it into a DIY punching bag. I respect that. Elka being gone on a research trip in the field with no plumbing (she’s also a scientist) and just wanting to use a toilet when she came home, only to find out their toilet was on the fritz, ha.

 

I don’t know which episode it is in, but at one point, KC claimed February 15th as Gay Valentine’s Day. There is an episode entitled that, so maybe it’s in that one. I thought it was a thing that existed, but I think KC invented it (anyone who knows, feel free to set the record more gay). But I wholeheartedly love it, because a. you don’t have to compete for reservations on the 14th, b. if you’re newly out/deal with social anxiety, you don’t have to deal with all of the stares (well that was the case 15 years ago in a smallish town) for being with another girl on Valentine’s Day (the fact I’m even typing this sucks so hard that it existed and had to be endured/may still have to be endured), and c. it’s less crowded with heterosexuals on the 15th (nothing against heterosexuals, it’s just nice to not have to face being a minority so directly on a day intended to celebrate love).

 

One other brilliant thing and I again don’t know which episode it’s from, but KC shared that she flipped the script in how she spoke to people, such that straight people were the minority and it was okay if they weren’t really gay (implied as the ideal state of being), but their lives still had value, or something to that effect. And that, my friends, is the world I prefer. Elka also called her the great converter of straight girls . . . listen to an episode, you’ll get it 🙂 Here’s a brief interview with Elka and KC in 2006 to give you an idea of their personalities/commentary on The L Word.

 

As fans of The Planet Podcast and Elka and KC grew, more people entered the mix and furthered the fandom that was being built, including a forum that was added for fans to communicate. Slo and Green, two fans who met each other because of the podcast, were another incredible love story in their own right. Green had her own blog I believe (sorry, at this point it’s all mixing together, and I just know the stories and people were poignant but whose podcast or blogs the info showed up on, I am not quite sure. Also, which blog is not the point.) and detailed her and Slo falling for each other, Green flying to visit Slo and having to visit the car to make out before hitting the baggage claim:), and then Green going on the road trip to move in with Slo, in I think Arizona.

 

From the outside, it was incredible to hear about, and gave me hope for the future and maybe finding a love like that down the road as well. Most importantly, these were role models of courage and coolness, these badass, intelligent women who were part of creating and molding, just as much as providing commentary on the culture and community being established at the time.

 

About this same time, I was becoming aware of another major entity in this evolution, Riese. I remember seeing videos of Riese and her assortment of cool friends, including Alex and Haviland, hanging out in NYC, commenting on The L Word, and to me, setting the world on fire. They were my age, and though my life-long dream revolved around studying non-human primates in other countries to better inform human behavior (aka conflict resolution/avoiding genocides, etc.) and doing social justice work on the side when I could, I felt a pang of missing out on the action.

 

I’ll return to Riese at the end of this post, but first back to KC and Elka, and The Planet.

 

Fans loved Elka and KC and many interacted/reached out. KC was really supportive of doodles/animals (if I remember correctly) and they both seemed to value hearing from people (they would read comments and answer questions from the fans on certain podcast episodes). While I usually never would have ever reached out to someone I didn’t know, no matter how much they touched my life, there was something very welcoming about the two, so I went to the store and printed out some photos of lemurs to send to them (mainly KC I think, because maybe she had a thing for lemurs or non-human primates, I forget, but also Elka because ahem fellow scientist, and they’re both incredible humans). Despite not being the best photos, Walgreens as per usual assured that the quality was printed even lower than I could have imagined, yet, undeterred, I mailed (see how old this all is . . . no digital photos here folks) a couple incredibly blurry photos to them and at some point later, KC wrote me back. It was incredibly kind, particularly because they had such a huge following, and she didn’t even make fun of how crappy the photos were, which I’m sure must have taken effort on her part, because she’s sarcastic and hilarious. They both are.

 

Anyway, as I’ve traversed the past year plus in a more public arena, and know the pain of sharing your work and either it falling on deaf ears or getting negative feedback (for me it’s more social media stuff, I’ve been very fortunate with incredibly kind and supportive readers of my book, which I am grateful for every day), I’ve changed my views a bit on reaching out to people, even if they might be strangers, to let them know their work resonated with you (not in a creepy way, though as someone who occasionally receives messages to this effect, it’s really hard to know the difference sometimes, so I do my best to step forward with kindness and assume best intentions until I’m shown otherwise). So, while KC and Elka may have been my only courageous attempt back in the day, I’ve slowly began reaching out to people whose work I admire to let them know. I don’t expect anything back, I just think it’s nice to know that something you put out into the world mattered to someone.

 

Okay, back to the podcast and its following reaching epic proportions. As this is happening, The L Word itself had taken a dip from its amazing first season, but the fans of The Planet were still growing, because Elka and KC had created this entire community where people felt seen. Fans referred to themselves as Kelkians (I never used this term myself, I have some boundaries, ha). Kelka was KC and Elka’s ship name. And then in 2008, KC and Elka organized Kelka Pride in ABQ during ABQ Pride, for Kelkians from the U.S. and beyond to celebrate together. I, as usual, observed from afar, and was so amazed by the impact these two women had on so many lives and the way they got us all to celebrate and truly take pride in something many of us had never had the courage to even acknowledge previously about ourselves, let alone fully step into with joy, confidence, and love.

 

Following that epic event, the sixth and final season of The L Word came out in 2009, and after the first six podcast episodes came out, Elka and KC disappeared. The final two episodes of The L Word were never podcasted about and KC and Elka never returned to say goodbye. While some fans may have been angry, for myself and what I heard from others was more a sense of sadness and loss. The era had ended. And maybe that was the only way it ever could have ended. When I looked for it today, the podcast blogspot, forum, RSS feed, archives on iTunes . . . it was just a series of empty pages and error messages. If I ever find my iPod (super high-tech thing back in those days) and a charger to plug it into and make it functional again (very unlikely), maybe the episodes will be there waiting for me. Thankfully, there is still hope. Some kind soul(s) posted the episodes on YouTube, so allow me to introduce you to “The Planet: The Podcast for L Word Fans!” and KC and Elka 🙂

 

Here is the first episode of The Planet, the Preview to Season 3, and your introduction to KC and Elka!

 

Here is the entire playlist of all of the episodes!!!!

 

And if you only ever listen to one episode, let it be this one. The ‘Off-Season Podcast 05-03-06’ episode. It combines many of the best and most important pieces of what this podcast came to represent, to me at least. Humor, heart, witty banter, inspiration, authenticity, and a call to do better. Highlights of the episode: KC filling Elka and everyone in on her very attractive Spanish teacher’s outfits. KC described her ‘like Carmen but cuter’. (Can we take a moment for Carmen/Sarah Shahi? . . . okay, I’ll continue.) Minutes 6 – 13 of KC relaying this story is so hilarious. Then the teacher trying to out KC in class and KC’s beautiful moment of being truly out and herself. [Side note: The ‘Orcadome’ episode is the follow-up to this one, for closure on the Spanish teacher:) Because KC saved the story to share with everyone, you get to hear Elka’s firsthand reaction as well :)] KC also talks about the importance (even beyond voting) of being out, which leads into a heartfelt discussion of different peoples’ coming-out journeys and families, and the desire for everyone to come out as soon as it is safe to do so, because living an authentic life is so much better than being in the closet.

 

KC and Elka were so far ahead of the game. My only sadness is the years since the podcast ended that many of us have missed their steadfast presence (though they certainly deserved the break from the public eye and gave us all so much in the time we did share), and I can’t wait for those of you who never heard of this incredible movement, to get the chance to experience it now.

 

To end this post, I want to bring it all full circle by sharing two pretty incredible pieces. Near the end of the above episode (around min 48), Elka’s mom, who is incredible and a book lover!, recommends the writer Ellen Hart, who writes “good mysteries with a lesbian theme.” KC responds “I think most lesbian literature is pure shit myself . . . that I’ve read.” Dagger to heart, but! remember this was in 2006, and so the options were much fewer and who knows which books KC had read of those available. Why is this important? Well, because Ellen Hart is a Lambda Literary Award-winning author of the Jane Lawless and Sophie Greenway series. Here’s her very impressive bio, “Ellen Hart is the author of over thirty crime novels in two different series. She is a six-time winner of the Lambda Literary Award for Best Lesbian Mystery, a three-time winner of the Minnesota Book Award for Best Popular Fiction, a three-time winner of the Golden Crown Literary Award in several categories, a recipient of the Alice B Medal, and was made an official GLBT Literary Saint at the Saints & Sinners Literary Festival in New Orleans in 2005. In 2010, Ellen received the GCLS Trailblazer Award for lifetime achievement in the field of lesbian literature. In 2016, she was named a Grand Master by the Mystery Writers of America.” And the part that I’m leading into is that in 2013, Bywater Books (which is the publisher I’m honored to work with) became her publisher. That’s the first pretty awesome full-circle moment.

 

For the second one, I need to give a little background. As I alluded to earlier, Riese, the co-founder of Autostraddle wrote an illuminating article entitled, “How ‘L Word’ Internet Fandom Built Autostraddle Dot Com: The Oral History”. In the article, she has a conversation with Autostraddle’s Executive Editor, Laneia, about the role of The L Word, The Planet Podcast, and the fandom that KC and Elka helped start that enabled Riese and Laneia to come into their own respective queer identities and create relationships and a community that they would continue to build into Autostraddle, the safe and accepting space for members of the lesbian and queer community. It was so interesting to be reminded of all of these events I had tangentially lived through and to learn about aspects I had never known. And I must say that when Laneia mentioned her screen name, my mouth dropped open. And I spent the rest of the day reliving this time in my life with joy, pride, and more than a bit of nostalgia for the girl I used to be and her journey to who I am today. While I’m glad to say I’ve grown a lot and am much wiser today, these people played a role in my life that will always be one of the truest periods in my journey.

 

So, here is the final full-circle moment for me. After having this meaningful but distanced connection all of these years to The Planet and all of the people it brought together, and rooting the Autostraddle team on from a distance as well, a friend sent me an email back in March, just before the U.S. shut down due to the pandemic. The email, from a person I respect very much as a fellow writer and also a leader in the LGBTQ+ social justice sector, included a link to this article on Autostraddle.com: “Eight Great Angsty Lesbian Romance Books”. My debut novel, Other Girls, had made a list on Autostraddle, and if that wasn’t enough, I was beyond honored that my book was even mentioned amongst works by such incredible writers, including Clare Ashton and K. Aten.

 

I made the following FB post that day.

 

 

I tried to express how much it meant to me, but I think it took a day like today, this incredible journey of the dreams of my past meeting my present in profound ways I could never have even realized until now.

 

So, I guess all of this is a letter to tell some incredible women how much their efforts, belief in themselves, and belief in the importance of building our shared community mattered to me, one of what I feel is safe to assume many, many, many women out there. Thank you.

 

As KC and Elka would say, “Adios amigas”. 🌈❤️

Avery Brooks’ (End of the Year) Survival Resources, Day 2: Witty Comedies to Make You Laugh

12.29.20

 

In terms of things I value, right up there with stories that express the human condition is comedy, and I think often the two go hand in hand. When I need a pick-me-up or a break, I often turn to witty comedies (tv series for this list) to make me laugh and return to a sense of normalcy. While I’ve enjoyed many shows over the years, here’s a list of my favorites, particularly more recently. All can be found on Netflix (except #6 & #9). And I’ll write ‘LGBTQ+’ next to the titles that include an LGBTQ+ storyline.

 

These are all, in my opinion, witty, well-written shows with great (read: unique, well-developed, and/or endearing) characters, oftentimes exceptional editing, and impeccable attention to detail from script to execution and everything in between.

 

While I don’t typically remember lines or even much detail about shows in general, I may point out particular lines or scenes for this list because they stuck with me. And a truly well-written line tends to stick with me.

 

Don’t worry, no spoilers…I don’t think.

 

1. Arrested Development
This used to be my favorite tv series of all time. It took tv writing to a new level with humor even above Gilmore Girls’ witty banter. The exceptional editing with hilarious lines always meant there was more than one interpretation to a scene. It was so smart that you could watch it several times and still hear/see something new. If anyone grew up with a father who told them not to leave the door open because the A/C was running, this show will make you laugh. So many favorite characters and lines, but Tony Hale’s portrayal of Buster is up there with his ‘that was 90% gravity’ line when on an archaeological dig and as the team takes in a crucial new archaeological specimen they just found, his hammer comes down and smashes it to pieces. The lines stayed with me for a long time from this show. Back when I was doing field research, I happened to have a field assistant one year who also loved the show. As the lemurs we were observing would sit huddled to keep warm as they slept high up in the tree, my field assistant and I would trade Arrested Development quotes back and forth and will circulation to enter our digits until our focals decided to wake up and actually do something, anything.

 

2. Schitt’s Creek (LGBTQ+)
I learned about this series a few years ago and quickly made up time watching what I had missed from previous seasons. First, my favorite movie of all time is Best in Show, which stars Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara, so this was easy to love. But even if I didn’t have a predisposition to some of the actors, there is so much attention to detail in the writing, movements/gestures, and costumes that words can’t even come close to expressing the magnificence of this show. But more than anything, the creation of a show with nothing but love and acceptance for the characters of David and Patrick and their love story, despite being set in a small backward town, truly was remarkable and heartwarming. It set the bar so high for all shows to follow in representation of LGBTQ+ love stories. And to do it to the music of Tina Turner, well my heart leaps for Tina Turner joy at that 🙂 I adore all of the characters, but Alexis’ backstory lines, gestures, and pronunciation of ‘David’ are close to the top. Some favorite scenes: halfway through the 1st episode, David and Alexis are fighting over who gets the motel room bed by the door. They argue, ‘you get murdered first. No, you get murdered first’ as they move a suitcase on and off the bed, cut to Eugene Levy’s face in the adjoining room, and I was hooked. No spoilers, but in the 5th and final season (silent tears), something happens to Moira’s car and the line she says made me nearly spit the drink out of my mouth. So enjoy that:)

 

3. Schitt’s Creek: Best Wishes, Warmest Regards (LGBTQ+)
This 44 min documentary covers the final season of the incredible show that Dan and Eugene Levy created. It explains how the characters ended up being so well developed from the very first episode on, which any fans of a solid story will appreciate. There’s one poignant letter from a group of over 1,800 moms of LGBTQ+ kids that will leave you in tears for the importance of this show and what it did for people in the LGBTQ+ community. The letter is so incredible, here’s the video of it being read to Dan Levy.

 

4. Derry Girls (LGBTQ+)
This show is set in 1990s Northern Ireland amidst major political happenings but focuses on a group of teens who are so stuck in their own teen drama that only hilariousness ensues. One of the teens has a lesbian storyline, plus the soundtrack is filled with music by The Cranberries, aka my favorite band when I was a teenager myself. If the first scene doesn’t crack you up, nothing will.

 

5. The Unicorn
It took me a while to watch this show because the title put me off and I didn’t think I’d find it relevant to my life at all. But when it came to Netflix, I gave it a chance and the scene with the dogs in the first 5 minutes of the pilot episode hooked me. The group of friends of a widower with two teen daughters are flawed characters but driven in their mission to help their friend get back into the dating scene. His honest and ethical attitude is a breath of fresh air, and as Season 2 is now on television, there’s also a bit of a love story that keeps me hooked.

 

6. The Goldbergs
This show is hilarious. It’s set in the 1980s and based on the creator’s actual family as archival recorded footage reveals at the end of each episode. So, it’s hilarious for those of us who lived through the 80s to experience those truly unique fashion choices once more. The thing I love the most though is Beverly, the mom. Her fierce mama bear attitude to the point of suffocation of her kids’ growth is endearing to watch, especially when she drops some F-bombs, like when her daughter Erica finally agrees to make a scrapbook with her.

 

7. Atypical (LGBTQ+)
I actually found this show really interesting, although it’s probably technically as much drama as comedy. It follows a teen boy who has autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and his character (penguin fanatic!), the relationship with his sister Casey, and that with his precocious friend Zahid is truly endearing. It gets into bullying a bit. And Casey explores her own gender identity throughout the story as well.

 

8. Kim’s Convenience
Another endearing yet hilarious show following a Korean-Canadian family running a convenience store. Like Derry Girls, the characters are all so self-involved, it’s funny, but their love for each other runs throughout. The sibling relationship between Janet and her older brother Jung rings pretty true for anyone with that sibling dynamic.

 

9. Bob’s Burgers
This is an animated series set in a family’s burger shack. The writing is brilliant, right down to the names of the burger specials, many of which you’ll miss if you blink. The three kids are hilarious as well. My favorite scene: Bob is standing on a ladder in the house and the kids keep running by so that the ladder keeps shaking. Bob: ‘Hey. Okay everybody, I have an announcement to make. I am on a ladder. Stop shaking it. I feel like I shouldn’t have to say that.’ (It might be a you-need-to-watch-it-to-get-it thing, so here’s the clip.)

 

10. Thanksgiving Episode on Master of None (S2:E8) (LGBTQ+)
The show itself took a pause when allegations were made about Aziz Ansari’s personal conduct outside of the show. However, the Thanksgiving episode (Season 2 Episode 8), shows Denise, played by Lena Waithe, realizing she’s gay, telling her best friend Dev about it, and coming out to her family over a series of seven Thanksgivings, spanning the 1990s to present day. (Waithe and Ansari wrote the episode together, which won them the Emmy for Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series.) The friendship between Denise and Dev, and the evolution of that story arc is, in my mind, one of the best coming out pieces in the history of television. The episode is made that much stronger by Angela Bassett giving an incredible performance as Denise’s mom.

 

Avery Brooks’ (End of the Year) Survival Resources, Day 1: Your Badass Playlist

12.28.20

No matter how I’m feeling, a good song can change my entire mood. So, what better way to kick off this series of posts than a list of songs/anthems to help bring out your inner awesomeness. These are either songs with lyrics that inspire me to express my inner badass/true self and/or music that jolts me into a more confident and energetic place. Though I’m sure one or two might slip through (or the song is just too empowering not to include it), I tried to keep this list to songs not involving a breakup/other person, etc., as best I could. Those might come later:)

 

It’s also worth noting that I like nearly all different kinds of music so regularly listen to a wide assortment. Though I have been on a big Kygo, Khalid, and Billie Eilish kick the past few years. And Sia. Always Sia. And while I do appreciate indie music, the busyness of life in the past few years has made it such that I often am limited to what’s on the radio (i.e., pop music) and my fave Pandora playlists. So, feel free to post on social media with your own anthem/badass songs because I’m sure others will benefit and I’d love to expand my own repertoire (I’ll put the rules of engagement at the end of this post as a reminder). Also, this is not an exhaustive list, and I am positive over the next few days I’ll be kicking myself because of artists and songs that I left off the list. But this is just to get people started and maybe find something to lift their spirits and make them step a bit more confidently through their day.

 

Each song is hyperlinked to the YouTube video. So, here we go:

 

Your Badass Playlist

 

Lizzo – Good As Hell

 

Billie Eilish – Bad Guy

 

Sia – Unstoppable

 

Kesha – Praying

 

Dua Lipa – Don’t Start Now

 

Portugal. The Man – Feel It Still

 

Halsey – Still Learning

 

Billie Eilish – Therefore I Am

 

Sia – Chandelier

 

Alicia Keys – Girl on Fire

 

LSD – Audio ft. Sia, Diplo, Labrinth

 

Rihanna – Diamonds

 

Dua Lipa – Levitating ft. DaBaby

 

David Guetta – Titanium ft. Sia

 

Sia’s acoustic performance of Titanium

 

Alicia Keys – Underdog

 

Lady Gaga ft. Beyoncé – Telephone

 

Christina Aguilera – Fighter

 

Foster The People – Pumped Up Kicks

 

Kings of Leon – Sex on Fire

 

Imagine Dragons – Believer

 

LSD – Genius ft. Sia, Diplo, Labrinth

 

The Roots – The Seed  (this is definitely for the music, not the lyrics, ha)

 

Rachel Platten – Fight Song

 

Katy Perry – Firework

 

Sia – Bird Set Free

 

 

Rules of engagement reminder: The whole point of this is to help people feel a sense of community, joy, peace, or whatever resonates for them. Also, this is me opening up about things that have mattered to me. So, you may disagree about whether something I like is something you like, but you don’t need to share that here. I hope that in a kind and supportive way, people may feel inspired to share things that have helped them as well. Since I do not have the comment feature enabled for each blog post (for now at least), you can comment on the social media posts for each blog. I will keep an eye on it and remove comments and people if needed to keep it a safe space, but please, respect each other, share good things, and be kind. And feel free to comment even if you don’t have a resource to share. I love to hear if things are helpful or resonate in some way with people.

Avery Brooks’ (End of the Year) Survival Resources

12.27.20

 

Why I’m Doing This

I think we can all agree that it has been an exceptionally hard year for everyone. And there’s a special place in my heart for LGBTQ+ youth, particularly those living in less open-minded regions, families, communities, etc. and trying to figure out their place in this world and find their people where they finally feel seen. I guess it’s because I was one of those kids, knowing I was different, but not fully sure how just yet, and also not sure who I could trust to tell. To us in the LGBTQ+ community, we know coming out and accepting yourself is a life and death issue. We can lose our families over it, our homes, our friends, and our lives, whether it be at the hands of someone else or our own. Being a kid and going through puberty and figuring out who you are is hard for everyone. But, when you’re a minority, LGBTQ+ specifically, and especially when you can’t find people like you around, it’s that much harder, leading to much higher rates of mental health issues and self-harm behavior, as well as homelessness. Because of COVID-19, an already bad situation has become even worse. Every day at the beginning of December, I heard a news story about the mental health crisis that has arisen due to social isolation for our kids, and rates of ER visits by tweens and teens increasing as much as 30%, meaning it reached the point of self-harm behavior and/or suicide attempts. Those were for tweens and teens at large, so of course the numbers would be even higher for LGBTQ+ youth.

 

But the thing is, we’re all hurting right now. Not just the youth. Our world is forever changed from what it was a year ago. And while I do believe there have been some great things that have come out of this situation, the amount of loss, stress, anxiety, fear, and isolation is overwhelming. Not to mention the level of food and financial insecurity. It’s led to a mental health crisis in the country, and even people who have never had mental health issues are struggling as well. As much as I try to be positive and grateful for the good stuff and relationships in my life, the amount of pain and suffering this year can grip my heart so quickly that in one short moment, I can go from laughing to sobbing. And the holidays just exacerbate the sense of loss, isolation, and change we’ve had to endure this year.

 

I truly believe that we all want the same thing: to find love and community. When I used to study non-human primates, as well as human behavior, the research supported the same truth: social connections decrease stress and lead to more fulfilling lives.

 

So, I decided to post some things that have helped me get through tough times in my life so that anyone who is struggling or needing to find their people or simply needs a laugh, can hopefully find it in something that I share. This is not a best of list or 2020 list. Some of the shows or songs might be more recent just because my memory only goes back so far, there’s more supportive and better (sometimes) content available out there now, and it’s easier to access recent stuff in many cases (shows for example). My plan is to share a post each day through the end of December to help lift peoples’ spirits. While I do normally share most content on FB, because these may be long pieces with links to things, and because I also am reaching people on Twitter and Instagram, I will post the content on my website’s blog: averybrooksauthor.com. That way, down the road if you’re looking for this resource, it won’t take a year and a day to scroll through the FB feed to find it. I’ll send out social media notifications when a new blog is up each day.

 

And while the resources may largely be LGBTQ+ focused (either by and/or for LGBTQ+ people, or about LGBTQ+ issues/stories), they go beyond LGBTQ+ content. So, this is for everyone. Well, everyone with an open mind. I value comedy and while it sometimes can be offensive or hard to hear, it doesn’t mean it isn’t accurate. I believe that comedy is an important medium for social commentary and I’ll discuss that more down the road.

 

So, let me say two things before sharing the first post tomorrow:

  1. While I may enjoy enlightening conversations and getting to know people, I am an introvert at my core. And an empath, something I had never even heard of until a couple of years ago. I am also a very private person about the things that matter to me, which I learned I had to do at a young age. I’ve dealt with depression and social anxiety most of my life, only to learn recently I have general anxiety as well (I just thought everyone felt like I did all of the time, whoops). So, I get not feeling okay and struggling. I also never used social media as a rule prior to being a published author. It made me depressed to see everyone’s highlight reels (and a few other reasons kept me off it as well). But, I decided when I published my book that it was more important to me to connect with people than to hide away. And so, throughout these posts, I will be sharing more about myself than I ever have and probably ever intended. And the reason is singular. I want to save lives. Because that’s how serious this is. We are feeling so alone, and yet paralyzed from seeking help because we’re so full of fear and self-doubt because of cancel culture and social media trolls and like buttons that we’re petrified of saying the wrong thing or being who we really are. But we all have something to say. We’ve all traversed beautiful life-giving moments, horribly dark low points, and everything in between. I’ve been biting my own tongue (or keyboard?) so much over the past year, but no one ever helps anyone by dimming their own light. So, shine bright, y’all:)

 

  1. Which brings me to the next point, Rules of engagement. The whole point of this is to help people feel a sense of community, joy, peace, or whatever resonates for them. Also, this is me opening up about things that have mattered to me. So, you may disagree about whether something I like is something you like, but you don’t need to share that here. I hope that in a kind and supportive way, people may feel inspired to share things that have helped them as well. Since I do not have the comment feature enabled for each blog post (for now at least), you can comment on the social media posts for each blog. I will keep an eye on it and remove comments and people if needed to keep it a safe space, but please, respect each other, share good things, and be kind. And feel free to comment even if you don’t have a resource to share. I love to hear if things are helpful or resonate in some way with people.

 

All right, here’s to getting through the end of the year and a bright, kind, compassionate, and fulfilling 2021!

 

Merry Christmas Eve and a Few LGBTQ+ Movie Recommendations

12.24.20

Merry Christmas Eve to all who celebrate! Merry WW84 Release Day Eve to everyone:) Today ended up being an incredible, but nonstop, day of interesting conversations related to the post I was planning to make with content to help us all feel a bit more connected and uplifted as we navigate this emotional time of year. I spent so much time discussing said post that I ran out of time to actually make said post. So, I will kick that series off tomorrow.

 

A good friend recently said that I help keep her up to date with popular culture. It was a kind way of saying, ‘Damn, Avery, you watch a lot of television.’ But I do it for all of us:) So, until tomorrow, here are a few recent LGBTQ+ movies I would recommend for the holidays and/or just to relax with, perhaps amongst twinkling lights, warm drinks, and a furry pal or two.

(Note: I am not starting a debate on these movies. They made me smile and have a better day. Nothing is perfect. Representation is good and no one movie/book/idea/belief can represent all that we are. And that’s a good thing. Also, this is NOT an exhaustive list, just a couple ideas to bring people some joy. Also also :), these are on streaming services, so not everyone has access, but we are nothing, if not resourceful in finding ways to watch and support content that makes us feel seen.)

 

  1. The Prom (Netflix): It’s over the top, but it was hilarious. If nothing else, I highly recommend the ‘arena’ scene (around minute 35, you’re welcome) for a good laugh. My favorite line right after this scene: “Trent, I could rip your face off.” And I adore Andrew Rannells.

 

  1. A New York Christmas Wedding (Netflix): This one’s a bit more serious and an interesting premise but shows the importance of following your true self.

 

  1. Happiest Season (Hulu): I think we’ve all heard more than enough about this one. I like it though. Dan Levy is exceptional as always and has a poignant scene regarding coming out stories and chosen families that hits home for many. And honestly, I can think of no one better to be the moral compass on such an important topic.

Chatting Romance with Avery Brooks, Anna Burke, and Jenn Alexander – Part 2

08.27.20

My fellow Bywater authors Anna Burke, Jenn Alexander, and I sat down this summer to discuss what it’s like writing wlw romance. Here is part two of our discussion. If you missed part one, check it out on Anna Burke’s blog.

(Photos are from the #dogdaysofsummer Instagram campaign featuring the authors’ pups. Click on the photos to be taken to each book’s Amazon page.)

 

Do you have real-life inspirations for your books?

Avery: Other Girls is set in New Orleans, a city that I love. The time I spent living in New Orleans impacted me and, in many ways, the city acts as an additional character in my book. Many of the places I wrote about in Other Girls not only exist but are places that were significant to me. Other Girls includes several types of trauma, including bullying, loss, and domestic violence. Writing about many of those topics comes from personal experience, whether directly or indirectly through people I’ve known.

Anna: [Laughs] Spindrift is what happens when a writer marries a veterinarian. I know too much about the field to not use it in my own work. The novel is also set in Maine, and many of the places are based on real places I know and love. Writing Spindrift was fun, in this sense, because I got to explore areas I had personal experience with, as opposed to my other books, where the settings are more fantastical, futuristic, or pseudo-historical.  

Jenn: I get asked this a lot about The Song of the Sea, and I have gathered that people want to know if I’ve had a personal experience that inspired me to write about child loss. I was three drafts into The Song of the Sea before I realized what the plot needed to be about, and it really grew out of the characters and themes that I had written up until that point. The book itself was inspired by me listening to a lot of Mumford and Sons, and wanting to write a book set on the coast. Home, on the other hand, was completely inspired by my real life. I wrote a book about being homesick in Texas while homesick in Texas. I’m working on a new project that will follow various members of an all-lesbian band, which was inspired by my love of music and of playing drums in a band.

 

Sevvie loves curling up with Other Girls, her favorite book.

 

Are animals, in fact, better than people? Do you include them in your books?

Avery: Absolutely. Most of my life, and certainly my academic career, focused on animals and their environments so it would be hard for me to not include animals in my writing. If an author never included animals in their books, I would find that odd because it doesn’t reflect real life. Ash has a dog named Goose in Other Girls and though she’s largely a private person, the dog helped illuminate her character and motivations. I agree with Rachael Ray that dogs make people better humans. Maybe cats too 😉 Animals bring out a different side of people and that can be used as a tool for character development in a novel. 

Anna: I’m a huge animal lover. My mother once told me I needed to marry a vet to support my animal habit (I took her advice) and animals often play a role in my work. Spindrift has quite a few animal characters, who I hope you’ll love. As Jenn says, animals reveal aspects of character. A villain who loves their dog is more complex; a woman moving to a new town might cling to her pet more than usual, revealing her insecurities; seemingly soft and squishy characters might have monstrous mutts that reflect other sides of their personality. Animals reflect their people, and vice versa, and that is a powerful narrative tool.

Jenn: Where possible I include animals in my books. I wrote a dog named Roxie into The Song of the Sea, and if you didn’t already know from the cover, Home has horses. I like animals and I like writing about animals, but also, it wouldn’t be very true to life to write novels that never include animals. Pets are such an important part of people’s lives. They can also be used to show a softer and more genuine side of characters. 

 

Artemis gives Spindrift two paws up.

 

Why did you decide to write romance?

Avery: I don’t think I ever set out to write a romance per se. I set out to write a book. I had been reading primarily romances at the time, so that probably came easiest in terms of story ideas. My main goal was to write complex characters who had been through some really tough situations in their lives and weren’t necessarily fully recovered from those experiences but could still find love. I think there are a lot of romances that are lighthearted and based on idealized characters who are beautiful, fit, and largely have their shit together. I’ve definitely enjoyed reading those books and they can be really helpful when a reader is looking for something light to escape all of the heaviness, especially nowadays. But it was really important to me to write imperfect characters who are struggling with real and even gritty issues that the readers may have struggled with as well, and to show them overcome insecurities, loss, and pain to reclaim themselves and find a happy ending. Or more of a happy match on their journey because that’s never-ending. When you are a minority and/or have experienced something traumatic and finally see yourself being represented in a book, it has a profound impact. If even one person’s experience resonates with my writing and it makes them feel less alone, then it’s all been worth it. 

Anna: It happened by accident. I started out as a speculative fiction writer, but there were always romantic subplots, and gradually the subplots began to become the main plot. Thorn and Nottingham are in some ways structurally classic romances–what’s more romantic than a fairytale? And then the idea for the Seal Cove series popped into my head and I fell in love with the characters and wanted to see them happy–which, if you follow me on social media, you’ll realize is unusual. Which isn’t to say all my books will be romance from here on out–I hop around far too much to make any kind of guarantees. 

Jenn: For me, writing romance was a really natural transition from reading romance. I love romance novels. I love watching the journey a couple takes to fall in love, and I wanted to explore those journeys in my own writing. 

 

Delia loves reading Home while at home.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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New Orleans: A Love Story

12.16.19

Since my debut novel, Other Girls, will be officially released tomorrow, I thought I would take a few minutes to mention why I chose to set the book in New Orleans and what that city means to me. (In case the title of this blog post didn’t tip you off, I’m a fan.)

Back in 2010, I was fairly fresh from completing my PhD in evolutionary biology (just in time for the economic crisis to hit) when the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill happened off the coast of New Orleans. A friend of mine was living down there at the time, so I decided to go down and try to volunteer with efforts to save oiled birds. Despite the need for help, it can be quite hard to get access to such positions, so I was grateful when I found a position with a rescue team. Though most of the birds at the rescue facility were in fairly good shape because this was a few months after the spill, there were some that needed more help than others. It was a sad, infuriating, and heartbreaking situation, but in those circumstances, there’s also always hope and some amazing people trying to help.

I ended up staying down there for a bit and doing some post-doctoral research on the effects of the oil spill on the brown pelican population, which had been eradicated from Louisiana decades earlier by the use of pesticides.

Though I only lived in New Orleans for just over a year, my experiences there and the love I developed for the city have stayed with me. It’s a place unlike any other, and I’ve been fortunate to live in some pretty amazing places. I could go on about the cuisine, architecture, music, and culture, but if you read my book, you’ll find it there. What I wanted to write about today is the spirit and soul of the city.

New Orleans has been through its share of disasters. Though it was before my time living in the city, I remember the horror I felt at how the U.S. government handled the relief efforts during Hurricane Katrina in 2005. When I was doing research on the pelicans five years later, traveling across the state and out to the barrier islands where the pelicans nest, the effects of the oil spill were prevalent. The families that made a living from shrimp, crabs, and fish took the hardest hit. It still breaks my heart to remember the feeling of seeing people done wrong, again, and then left behind to deal with it on their own. Not to mention what the animals went through.

But the people of New Orleans are some of the most resilient I’ve ever known. It’s a city that doesn’t give up.

If I had to create a character to be the champion of New Orleans, to lead it through its hard times, I don’t think I could have done any better than Drew Brees. Drew became the quarterback of the Saints (the NFL team in New Orleans) the year after Hurricane Katrina. And a few short years later, he led the team to victory in the Super Bowl. And despite his many records and achievements, he seems to always be underestimated, much like New Orleans.

Though I’ve always been a sports fan, I became a die-hard Saints fan after living in New Orleans. I remember one Sunday when Magazine Street, where I lived, seemed like a ghost town. I could almost see the lone tumbleweed blowing across the road. I asked where everyone was and my friend told me the Saints were playing. That was my first clue.

During my time in New Orleans, I realized how much Drew Brees and his family have done for the city. Things that most people will never hear about. He’s much more than a quarterback. And New Orleans is much more than a city.

I’ve lived in Colorado for nearly a decade, and the Saints will always be my team. New Orleans will always hold a special place in my heart. Because to me, they are synonymous with the strength of the human spirit and the courage to never give up. And since that is really the essence of my debut novel, I couldn’t think of a better place for it to be set. I hope you read the book and enjoy it. And if you’ve never been to New Orleans, I hope you visit one day. It’s a place that stays with you.