Chipping Away at Life Goals, One Piece at a Time

​Nine years ago, when I began writing a personal blog, I could not have imagined that it would lead to dinner with Augusten Burroughs and his husband, Christopher Schelling, at their haunted house in Connecticut, but here we are. Wearing surgical gloves, Augusten places a plate of vegan burritos in front of me and my husband Paul and says, “Connecticut's first murder conviction without a body took place ten miles from here," which strikes me as odd. How can there be a murder without a body?
As if reading my thoughts, Augusten says, “Wood chipper. The pieces found in the river implied that the victim could not have survived."
He sits down at the head of the table, smiles, and says, “Bon appétit!"
My blog was more of an online diary and a poorly written one at that. So I read works by my favorite authors, attempting to learn the magic by studying the construction of each sentence, paragraph, and page. I read Augusten's best-selling memoir, Running With Scissors​ multiple times, and then consumed DryMagical Thinking, and Possible Side Effects.
The meatless burrito is one of the best things I have ever tasted.
“Isn't it wonderful?" Augusten asks.
I am seriously beginning to believe that in addition to being a witch, as he describes in Toil & Trouble,​ that Augusten is also a mind reader until he says, “I mean the murder. Isn't that wonderful?"
It is wonderful in the sense that I am delighted to discover that this is precisely how I expected one of my literary idols to behave. It all began with a hope to publish something other than what I forced my immediate family to read. When The Huffington Post​ picked up one of my essays, I thought I had reached the pinnacle of my publishing career.
“A significant percentage of me is Neanderthal," Augusten says, “according to a DNA test."
But here is the thing about dreams, they evolve. After I published the piece, and many others in The Huffington Post​, I set my goal on seeing my words in print and published an essay in The Boston Globe. After that, it grew into a desire to publish a piece in a literary magazine and then finally to write a book.
“A friend of mine, who never reads, told me I should read this book called The LIE," Augusten says.
After I finished writing my memoir, I sent a chapter to Dan Jones, who is the editor of Modern Love at The New York Times. Within 30 minutes of the publication of that essay​, Christopher Schelling, who, is both Augusten's husband AND his agent, contacted me.
I thought when my book was published that all of the hard work had been completed. However, looking back at all of the essays, interviews, podcasts, and readings​ that took place in the year proceeding publication, I can see pieces of me spread all over the globe.  
“This friend said that the writing in your book reminded her of me," Augusten adds.
This is it. I am dead, which is wonderful in the best possible way.
I killed it.​


Coming Out on Live TV

Last summer, I was pruning the boxwoods in our garden in Maine, when my neighbor Irene, a retired schoolteacher, and self-professed book maven walked by and said, “Hey, Edward Scissorhands, I saw your book in the New York Times.” 

I waved the shears at her and said, “Thanks!”

She dropped the hand she was using to shield her eyes from the sun, and scrunched up her face contemplating my reply, Thanks?

“I mean, so what did you think?” I corrected myself.

“You ready to be the poster child for all of this?” she asked.

“Um, sure, yeah,” I replied.

She raised one eyebrow and displayed a closed-lip smile. It’s a look I’ve seen before, typically, when my youngest daughter, Marisa, uses a phrase I don’t understand. Something like, “Ugh, Dad, you’re such a stan.” She’ll give me that look, and I can read the question in her face before she asks, Do you even know what that means?

“Um, sure, yeah.”

I published a book, a memoir about my personal experience. I wasn’t the first person to come out later in life, or as I like to say, Fashionably Late. That always gets an eye-roll from Marisa.  

Irene didn’t say anything, but I could read the question in her facial expression, But really, are you ready?  As she walked off, she shouted, “William Dameron tamps down the tall grass of untold experience,” echoing a sentence from the New York Times Review. That phrase has become somewhat of a joke in our household. We use it any time we try something new, like when I tell my husband, Paul, I tried a new pork chop recipe, and he’ll say, “Tamping down the tall grass, huh?”  

Since that summer day, I’ve received emails almost daily from people who’ve read my book. Most are kind, a few decidedly not, but almost all of them state the same thing: they feel heard. I reply to every single one. It is not something I take lightly. While I may have written one of the first literary memoirs about a person coming out later in life to his spouse and family, I am not the first one to do it. I can joke about many things, but I stand in awe of those who come out, often in environments much more hostile, sometimes life-threatening.

As queer people, we make a decision every day whether to come out or not, to co-workers, new neighbors, a manager, new clients, or even the taxi driver. It gets easier, but there is always that split second thought, is it safe?

Recently Philip Schofield, the host of This Morning, in the UK, came out on live TV. In light of those events, The Times published an excerpt from my book, and the BBC interviewed me on the Victoria Derbyshire program. Because I joined by skype, the studio didn’t want to consume the bandwidth by sending their video back to me. While I was being interviewed, I didn’t get a chance to see what the studio looked like. Maybe that’s a good thing because when they sent me a screen capture later, I certainly looked like the poster child for coming out and also? it reminded me of a scene from the movie Edward Scissorhands when he appears on a TV program.

In that scene, an audience member asks Edward if he has ever considered corrective surgery. “Yes,” he replies quietly. Then, another audience member stands up and says, “But if you had regular hands, you'd be like everyone else.”

That line slays me.

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