Sunday, August 29, 2010

BEST OF BOTH?




I'm back in the city. Well, on weekdays.



For now, I'm staying in a condo in Vancouver's West End, the area where I first lived after moving from L.A. in 1994. I love it as much now as I did then. (Though I do recall that, after two years, I felt boxed in and fled for Kitsilano. I'm a fickle lover.)



During my first week, I dabbled in the things I so enjoyed back then. I took the dogs to Spanish Banks where they could run, sniff and tumble off-leash along the shore. I perused my favourite bookstore in Kits. I jogged along the seawall past Science World and over to Granville Island. Much of the development is new, but the story on the water is still what catches my eye. I walked the dogs down to Sunset Beach and sat on a bench, taking in the sunset as kayaks shared the sea with freighters and yachts. I drove to a neighborhood on 10th near UBC and walked with a friend while enjoying an ice cream. So good to be back!



Of course, I am still adjusting. I'm still thrown by people seeming to be everywhere as I walk the dogs in the West End. My schnauzers are not fond of leashes and even less fond of my reining them in as we dodge cyclists (on the sidewalks!), swarms of joggers, a woman on a mission with her yoga mat in tow and an impromptu boot camp session under a bridge. Vancouverites are fitness crazed. My poor aging, deaf schnauzer struggles to stay on his shaky legs as we navigate the pedestrian traffic.



Due to the warm weather, I have to keep the windows open day and night. The noise at the foot of the Burrard Street Bridge runs 24/7. Somehow sound amplifies as it is trapped between the high-rises. I don't miss a thing: sirens coming and going from nearby St. Paul's, busses, car alarms, skateboarders, motorcycles revving, even drumming that recalls the Hare Krishnas I used to encounter on weekends while biking by the beach in Santa Monica. I run a fan through the night, my feeble attempt to drown out some of the noise. Alas, most of the din shouts over the gadget.



When I returned to my place in Nowhereland Friday afternoon, I went straight to bed. The mattress, so much firmer, felt wonderful, the silence sounded even more inviting. Both my dogs seemed relieved, even thrilled, to be in a familiar environment. The elder flopped onto his cozy chair while the younger raced in and out of the house, searching for snakes in the back yard and rearranging pillows on the chairs and sofa that he seems to think exist solely for his comfort.



I need the city. The insanity brings sanity. It also causes (temporary?) insomnia. Methinks I need to invest in a pair of ear plugs.




Saturday, August 14, 2010

UP IN THE AIR



Yes, now what?



I'm in the air once more, somewhere north of Sault Ste. Marie, wondering if it might have been better if I'd discovered one of those Seinfeldian insurmountable flaws in Michel. Over the course of five days of rushed meals bookended by a couple of more leisurely dates, I only grew more attracted to the man and, from what I can tell, it was one of those rare occasions when the feeling was mutual.



I'm tempted to search out that old Alan Alda-Ellen Burstyn movie, "Same Time Next Year" for some fictional guidance and an affirmation that I've uncorked a possible date with Destiny rather than Desperation. It had better be more than an annual fling. Already my head is trying to figure out if once a month might be possible. Highly unlikely as I begin a new, (almost) all-consuming job in a week's time.



This wasn't supposed to happen. When I left L.A., I did so after falling in love twice. On each occasion, I gently persisted—is that even possible?—with pitching a move to anywhere in Canada. (Surely, now that he'd fallen under my spell, he'd follow me anywhere, right?) After these relationships fell apart (for reasons other than my Canadian leanings), I decided I needed to move to the place I loved before finding the man I loved.



How was I to know I'd strike out in Vancouver? (There was, ahem, that seven-year disaster of a relationship, but I try to block that as much as possible.) I still love the natural beauty of the city and its diversity, but it's been the most challenging place I've ever lived when looking at the social front. I'm fortunate that Michel is Canadian, but I thought my "anywhere in Canada" plea had expired.



We met up in Ottawa, but he's from Toronto. Can I live there? I grew up in Hamilton until I was thirteen, but I've never explored T.O. as an adult. I know it as the home of the CNE, the Maple Leafs, the Blue Jays and the Ontario Science Centre. I've long outgrown these attractions. How can I ever abandon the Canucks? How will I follow them in the land of Leafs-Senators-Canadiens fans?



Yes, I know. Breathe. I really shouldn't be thinking about who's moving where at this point. But there is also that haunting notion that we might meet halfway and settle down in...Saskatoon? Winterpeg?! Brandon?!! I am breathing, but now it's that choppy hyperventilating kind. I've set the Air Canada barf bag on my lap just in case. Does breathing into a paper bag really help? What will the beer-swilling, shoulder punching, armpit sniffing frat boys beside me think? (Frat boys. Really?! I'm starting to think that, when making seat selections online, there should be Twitter profiles for each of the "Occupied" seats. We have the technology. Wouldn't that make traveling more pleasant? Gosh, I might have a better chance of a row of seats to myself. My bio would read: Depressed, mid-forties Wal-mart stockboy; Rubik's Cube fanatic; just divorced and BITTER; lacking in flatulence control.)



When you live in the same city as a new beau, slow but steady is possible. But how do you put the kibosh on "WHAT THE HELL AM I DOING?!" when each date requires a security check, a photo ID and one checked item of luggage? (Sorry, I'll never fit everything in a carry-on. So many possible weather changes across three time zones, you know. Forecasts can be wrong.)



Michel tells me he's due for a trip to Vancouver. One of his best friends lives in New West. What's the "due" date? September? October? I didn't press.



Maybe that major flaw will surface in a Welcome Home email. Oui, Michel, we'll always have Ottawa. Of course, neither of us played things out as a carefree tryst. Unless I woefully misread the situation, both of us are seeking something deeper, something longer lasting. Being single is so much simpler. But here's hoping I'm done with The Simple Life.




Wednesday, August 11, 2010

WE MEET AT LAST


"I look forward to meeting you." The statement took me aback. We'd been in contact for six months. And yet, what he said was accurate. We'd exchanged a flurry of emails and talked on the phone once, but there had not been a face-to-face meeting.




I blocked all thought about introductions and potential topics of conversation while on my five-hour flight. I reminded myself, however, about how crazy the situation was. In our daily lives we were separated by 300 minutes of air time. Tick tock. Break them down and minutes aren't that long. Comprised of finger snapping seconds. No,...crazy. There was no way to rationalize things through silly mindplay that downsizes five hours.




He first messaged me on the social dating site Plenty of Fish back in February. I'd like to think that my photos and my carefully worded profile might have been the impetus, but he had a schnauzer and I had two. Who was I kidding? Dogs are a bigger draw, paws down.




Once I had my rental car and drove toward downtown Ottawa, thought repression became more difficult. In twenty minutes, I would finally meet Michel. I should have glanced at his online photo again. What if I didn't recognize him and he didn't recognize me? What if we each sat alone at different tables, sipping coffee, trying to look perfectly content while suppressing that shattering feeling of being stood up? What if he wandered in, spotted me, disguised a look of repulsion and made a quick getaway?




I'm good at preparing for the worst. What I wasn't ready for was the flip side. As I approached the entrance, there was a handsome man sitting close to the door. Was that Michel? He smiled and stood up. Signs pointed to yes.




How many times have I met someone for coffee, sat there and wondered how long was long enough so as not to appear rude? How many times have I sipped a latté and gotten the impression the guy across the table wanted me to Bogart the thing? I have this romanticized remembrance of the past when connecting was, if not easy, easier. And with years going by, I am cognizant of the possibility that history is not always cyclical. Sometimes the past is the past. When an immediate connection occurs, who cares that it required a long flight with the final hour being so turbulent that I hunched over and sprawled across the empty seat beside me, too frazzled to sit upright?




There was that awkward hello. Handshake? Coy wave? I surprised myself by hugging him. He didn't seem to pull away. Good start. As the café was set to close—Ottawa is a sleepy town on Sunday nights—he asked if I felt like grabbing a bite to eat. Just what I needed after surviving the day on plain bagels. (Airport cuisine is a challenge for vegetarians.)




We ambled by the Parliament Buildings, having the grounds to ourselves. It reminded me of one of those "Bachelor" dates where the producers pay for exclusive access to a prime location. Sparks Street Mall was just as deserted. After nearly four hours of walking and talking, we headed back to my car. A block away, I stopped and pulled him to a side street. "Can we sit for a moment?" The bench was wet so I spread out my coat as a covering.




Normally, I'm thrilled if a first date ends with an awkward hug, but that's how the night began. Besides, I was only in town a few days and he had fourteen-hour work days ahead of him. I quoted The Beatles. "I want to hold your hand."




How long had it been? Years. I embarrassed to get more specific. I impersonated one of the Seven Dwarfs. Not Sneezy, not Grumpy. Bashful. Is it pathetic to be a forty-something Shy Guy? We cycled through few rounds of hand holding, kissing and hugging, interspersed with my nervous chatter—the same kind of banter that spills from me right before the doctor gives me a needle. How is it that the same odd mannerisms arise in moments of dread and moments of eager, heart-skipping anticipation?




A splendid first date. A disaster or even a shoulder shrug of a date would have been easier. I could have boarded the plane, congratulated myself for taking a chance and started emailing gay men in…I don't know,…Ireland? Nepal? Sometimes you have to expand your search.




Five hours away by plane. And I'm afraid of flying. So now what?



Thursday, August 5, 2010

ALPHABET SOUFFLÉ: LGBTQs @ SCBWI IN LA

I just returned from a week in Los Angeles where I visited friends from my five-year stint there sixteen years ago. But the main purpose of the trip was to attend the annual summer conference of the Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators (SCBWI).


One of the highlights for me was a workshop entitled A Look at the LGBTQ Marketplace. With over 1,110 conference attendees, it was comforting to step into a room of forty gays, lesbians and queer-friendly people. More than comforting. Reaffirming. It's the largest group of gay people I've come across in the past two years. (Sad, eh?!) I could have just sat there for the hour and observed these confident, inquisitive people freely interacting without any self-censorship over topics or mannerisms.


Three people were listed as speakers in the program, yet the panel doubled that. (How wonderful that MORE people wanted to take part!) The speakers included an SCBWI exec, an activist, a publisher, an editor, a blogger and an illustrator. The message from all: bring authentic LGBTQ characters to middle grade and young adult readers. To paraphrase the editor: It's not a crowded field. The submission would stand out.


One of the handouts was a listing of Lambda Literary Award winners and nominees in the Children's/YA category, dating back to 1989. While MTV and "Glee" provide gay and lesbian content for adolescents, the publishing industry must continue to grow in introducing younger readers to relatable queer characters. (I did not stumble upon a book with a gay protagonist until I picked up E.M. Forster's Maurice when I was twenty-two...and that only occurred after I saw the Merchant-Ivory movie.


Today's teens have the Internet available to help them find gay and lesbian reading material. Moreover, they don't have to shiver with fear as I did in approaching the gay and lesbian section of a library or bookstore. They don't have to hide the cover of their book under an issue of Sports Illustrated. They have Kindle and other eBook devices, allowing them to access content without fear of being prematurely outed. This is especially important for teens in small towns and rural communities. I spent my adolescence in Southern Baptist-infested East Texas where the kindest thing I heard about gays was "love the sinner, hate the sin." Checking out or buying a novel with a major gay character was inconceivable (assuming the library/bookstore even carried a title or two).


The message from the panel and from keynotes by talented, successful YA authors Rachel Vail (Justin Case: School, Drool and Other Daily Disasters) and Carol Mackler (The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things; Vegan Virgin Valentine): create authentic, fully realized characters whose thoughts and actions are not filtered. In my first middle grade novel, Fouling Out (Orca Book Publishers, 2008), I touched on incessant gay putdowns in schools and had one of the main characters beat a friend he perceived to be gay. It was a start. But what I take away from the SCBWI conference gives me the confidence to proceed with a YA novel I'm developing with a gay teen as a strong, fully developed major character. Young LGBTQ readers have always sought relatable fiction. Now they have a better chance than ever in finding it.