There’s something about turning 40 that many of us find (or found) unsettling. For me, it was the symbolic beginning of Middle Age, when staying fit required a lot more effort, injuries took longer to heal, and my arms had grown too short to read something we called a “newspaper.” It also triggered a renewed, realistic shuffling of my bucket list, after which I jettisoned a few things and moved others up to the category called Don’t Put This Off Much Longer.
Last weekend, I hit another milestone — my 40th high school reunion. I spent Saturday evening with classmates, all of us asking & answering that question, “So what have you been up to for the last 40 years?”
I moved around a lot as a kid but spent 3 years of high school in a small town in western NC. It was, frankly, the model for Leland, KY, the fictitious setting of The House on Sandstone, a town of haves and have nots where living outside the lines comes at a cost. I wrote that book 10 years ago, and ended it on a hopeful note for Justine & Carly, implying that while social change was stubborn in small Southern towns, it was nonetheless possible through the actions of a handful of people.
I put that premise to the test by taking Jenny to my reunion and introducing her as my partner. I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect, since Protestant churches play a central defining role in the community, and they’ve been less than friendly to the LGBT community. And it was only last year when a whopping 61% of North Carolinians voted to enshrine bigotry against us in their constitution. Even scarier was the fact that several of my classmates proudly touted on Facebook not only their support for Mitt Romney but also their love for Chik-fil-A during our infamous dust-up last year.
However, I’ve never been what anyone would call a shrinking violet, and I was determined not to wear their shame. If people were put off, we planned to pretend they weren’t and enjoy the evening anyway.
I came away with even more hope for Justine & Carly, and for lots of marginalized people in small communities everywhere. That stubborn social change was on bright display this weekend, when my classmates warmly welcomed both of us back to town, and when my high school physics teacher whipped out his smartphone to proudly show me pictures of his grandson, born to his daughter’s partner. That these moments are now commonplace leaves me optimistic that we are all capable of progress.
This was my big news from GCLS! Playing with Fuego won in the Romantic Intrigue category, alongside books from Clare Ashton & Carsen Taite. I always get so nervous on the stage that I can’t remember what I’m supposed to say, and then later can’t recall what I actually said. I intended to congratulate all the other finalists, then thank the judges for their consideration and the perseverance to get through that huge stack of submissions. I also meant to thank the entire staff at Bella Books — the proofreaders, the formatters, the cover designers, and everyone who keeps the trains running on time. Thanks to editor Katherine V. Forrest and to my personal proofing team of Jenny & Karen, and to Bella’s editorial director, Karin Kallmaker, for holding the bar so high. A very special thanks to all who bought the book and talked it up to their friends.
If you didn’t attend the GCLS conference in Dallas, you missed out on some great panels & presentations, outrageously entertaining karaoke, down & dirty dancing and a 5-day parade of smiles. We’ll do it again next year in Portland. Be there.
Several national & world events are pressing my hot buttons. I’m outraged by the GOP’s war on women, the stark-raving mad gun culture that allows the instigator of a fight to claim self-defense, the very idea that the US government feels entitled to possess all the private communications in the world, and the slothful excuse for journalism that fixates on the leaker instead of holding the powerful accountable. I’m adding to my bucket list that my life will not be complete without at least one arrest for civil disobedience.