it is that time of year again, the season of the winter solstice. this year i really want to come into it much more prepared, to be more intentional with it than just a quick meditation, light a candle, and welcome the light to come. so i have been contemplating what it is i need to let go of to bring in what i want to move deeper into my life.
so, a couple of days ago i woke from my dreams with many things from my past that i can now see differently and therefore can let go of and also celebrate. i woke energized and charged with a sense of direction as i moved through my newish ways of beginning my days. all the things i do before i allow myself to touch devices that bring in the outside world. on this particular day, the first piece of news i read was that anne rice had transitioned from this world. she was 80 years old. she had a stroke. that was the only piece of news i read then as my mind was only full of all the ways the works of this writer had influenced my life, perhaps in ways i am just beginning to understand.
i don’t remember where i found her, but i think it was at a used book store. the first book i read was…well honestly i can’t remember if it was queen of the damned or her first book on her family of witches. when i find a writer that brings parts of me alive, i just start reading everything they have ever written. i do know that i read the vampire books, not in order. and yes, i did read her books under other names. books that were categorized on different degrees of erotica. books that were about so much more than sex, but about all the different ways we people can relate and potential reasons one may want to. eyes were open. mind was blown.
i stumbled on this writer, already popular in the gay community, as i was coming out and trying to understand what that meant. i knew it couldn’t be just about who i slept with or how i was when i was in a relationship or my love for vampires and witches. there had to be more to it than that. it was way before i would understand just how much i want to tear down the binaries of well everything. it was her writing more than anything else i was reading at the time, especially gay and lesbian writers, that being queer could mean that i moved and viewed the world with a different lens. that being queer is a type of superpower i can use when moving through the world. that by breaking this binary into pieces the world could explode in color, sound, smells, tastes, bodily sensations….the sensations are limitless.
her characters, no matter what realm they existed in, lived deeply. the ones who, at first seemed weak or vulnerable, were actually the strong ones, the ones who carried the others in challenging and difficult times. she showed that we, that i could hold these contradictions all at the same time. the way she wrote these characters into being inspired me to go outside of my comfort zones to find deeper more lasting comfort. not some false sense of security that capitalism offers. she helped me understand why i could not find comfort in the ways that i was told would bring joy and success. and that i am the only one who knows how to find them.
i have always been a type of loner. i deeply enjoy doing things by myself, but i think it was her characters that gave me permission to do the perceived dangerous things alone. i would go out dancing, alone to meet my friends. i would dance and dance…learning to express my young newly queer self. i would leave a happy sweaty mess. if it was one of those fortunate nights where the dj spun just the right tunes that i left exhausted and high from the beat and rhythm of it all. i’d leave just before closing and find a place to just walk the back alleys of deep ellum, exposition park, or turtle creek. i would listen to the night winding down. the smells of a hot summer day hopefully cooling down. i’d walk until my heart calmed or i found a fountain to cool myself, then i’d drive to a parking garage, climb to some rooftop, an abandoned building, or an empty construction site. anywhere that i could get up above it all and watch the sunrise, usually with the cure in the tape deck of my car as the soundtrack of the moment. i’d sit there with sweat still dripping down my neck, my shirt soaked, my muscles wrung out, happy. once the sun would hit my face, i would get up to face what was next. usually, a shower to get to class, maybe a breakfast date, hopefully, sleep.
but i think it was her characters that gave me permission to do this alone, and then later backpacking and bike touring solo. the things i’ve been told weren’t safe for women to do not just by themselves, but without men. from outdoor adventures to walking or biking my city’s streets alone late at night into the early morning. i did try to go with others a few times, but then i would find out later that they brought weapons to the places i find peace, or they would spend most of the time questioning our relative safety. so, i stopped bringing people with me. if they wanted to meet somewhere, cool, but, nope, i am a solo adventurer with the exception of very few people.
one of the many things i loved about anne rice’s stories is her attention to everything. her depth of research is astounding. when i first read cry to heaven, i could truly imagine the unique sounds that the castrati opera singers performed or the smells of the vienna canals. she was able to find the only recording of one of the last castrati singers ever made and was able to give great detail to the quality and depths of their voices. she could describe places i have been and have lived to such a degree that i knew exactly where she was talking about. i could smell the unique scents in the depths of heat in new orleans as well as the bone-chilling cold that could happen there when temperatures drop and humidity stays high, so i knew i could trust how she described experiences i have never had, and probably never will. she kind of became a new type of history teacher for me before i found howard zinn.
she has also taught me, in very deep levels, that a fascinating person can be very complicated holding deep contradictions in wonderfully beautiful ways. i always knew her as someone who wrote about vampires and children who were vampires and witches and the deep dark nights of mystery and the otherworldly. then one morning i woke in new orleans early, before all my friends that i had road-tripped with, so while they slept i went out for a cup of chicory coffee and walked the garden district. i found a cute bookstore and naturally went in. as i walked around i heard a voice off in the kid’s section, sweet a storytime!? sure was and who was reading to the children who were so enthralled in what was being read to them but the one and only anne rice! i was caught up in this experience as well. how can one go from writing exit to eden to reading to children? we are not meant to be put in boxes and labeled. we can be many things and we can hold many identities all at once. we get to move through this world appreciating and loving so many different aspects of the world around us. it is how i gave myself the space to love going to hear chamber music just as much as i love going to a hardcore punk show or industrial rave. i can love dark goth and energetic dance mixes. i can be complicated and dive into depths that even i don’t understand, and she helped me find those places because she also held that for herself and for her characters. i also learned here to separate the writer from the person, the artist from the human.
there was a point where i stopped reading her. where her stories went to places i was not prepared to go. it happens. i have had this experience with many teachers, and friends. people move to different places, and i found other writers who picked up and helped me find other worlds within me, other worlds to explore. her transition from this world to whatever is next, reminds me how much i am because so many others have risked, have been vulnerable, have challenged the way things are to imagine how things can be, how we can be, how we can relate to one another and live in a way that uplifts the possibilities as opposed to smother and suffocate them.
as i was about to finish this post, i found out that bell hooks also transitioned, then so did e.o. wilson.
i don’t know how to put into words how bell hooks influenced me, my thinking, my education, my time in the university setting, my inability to stay in higher education. two books by bell, teaching to transgress, and all about love influenced me deeply. there are so many common themes in both books. one almost inspired me to be a teacher, but instead helped me move out of institutional education. the other taught me what love could be, how to begin to move this one powerful word from a noun to a verb, inspiring me to also move from being a noun to being a verb.
bell hooks showed me by how she lived and wrote that it is possible, indeed necessary, to live what we affirm, that our lives must be lived as an example of our politics. that my life is not just a theory, but a life to be lived. i could go on and on about how she inspires my to this day on how i look at the world around me. she reminds me that moving into a life that views the world contrary to the institutional lens is a painful transition, that there will be internal and external complications. but there is also great joy especially when we find pals doing the same.
i can not imagine who i would be without so many writers, storytellers, singers and songwriters, movie makers, and artists of all sorts to open up the imagination of brilliant lives. i am forever grateful for all of them, especially the ones i get to call friends, comrades, coconspirators, accomplices, those willing to go down the dark alley, the unknown path to see what there is on the other side….
thank you all for i am much more alive because of every last one of you and that is a gift that can only be repaid by living the dream they inspired in me and to attempt to inspire others to do the same in their way.
may you all enjoy the coming light