6/20/2010

Eight years ago today, June 20, 2010 at 1:37 AM in the morning I posted the following on my Facebook page.

“I’m done! I’m done! I’m done! I’m done! I’m done! I’m done! I’m done! I’m done! I’m done! I … AM … DONE!!!!! HALLELUJAH! THANK GOD ALMIGHTY!! I … AM … DONE!!”

After 3 years of remembering, researching my own past and writing down the results, I had written the final sentence in “Dear Mom and Dad.” Had it been published in that original form it would have been in excess of 700 pages long. Thankfully, the person I’d been dealing with at iUniverse advised me that unless I was James Michener it was entirely too long. Following that advice, I began a slash and burn editing process. Well, I didn’t actually burn anything. I still have the original hard copy script in a 2” black binder on a shelf in my bedroom along with all the notes I used creating my original outline. In addition to that, I have several flash drives with the various edits in my desk drawer.

When I think about writing another book I find the prospect daunting. After all I had an accumulated 60 plus years of events and people to make writing easy. All I had to do was write about those people and events as they were, though not accurately  remembered in the first draft. Accurate memories came only when I realized that the people written about would actually be reading what I wrote. Now with a mere 8 years accumulation of people and events I wonder if it would be of any value.

I also wonder if I could add anything to the dialogue engaged in by the majority of the transgendered activists and their accomplices in the LGBT (I refuse to use the “Q” since that is a term earlier used to describe gay men) community. I have, since the publication of “Dear Mom and Dad”, written about issues that are near and dear to my heart with respect to the trans community and I have written about issues unrelated to gender identity; faith and politics in particular. My opinions on the latter have met with approval and with disdain. Writing another book is somewhat immaterial it seems. What is material to me is that whatever I do in the future be of consequence. It that includes the inspiration to write another book so-be-it.

My involvement in the lgbT community has left me with a few impressions which have had a lasting effect on my attitudes regarding “activism”. The most significant of those is the impression that the demands of the community to be treated equally are accompanied by demands for laws that in essence require not equal treatment but special treatment. It seems to me that the demand for special treatment trumps the request for equal treatment. It’s an attitude adapted from the racial equality movement which approaches their situation in the same manner. In both cases, it seems to me that the demands are equally exclusionary. Granny would have said something like, “Make up your mind. You can’t have your cake and eat it too.” To me, demanding equality is the equivalent of admitting that one does not feel equal or at least doesn’t see one’s self as equal.

I am firmly convinced that what our community needs are more people like Dr. Marci Bowers who has gone about her life without wearing her gender transition status on her sleeve, helping make the lives of innumerable people more enjoyable and complete.

Another person that I see as an example of getting on with life and using her abilities and education without wearing her gender status on her sleeve is Amanda Renae Simpson. While I acknowledge that her liberal political activity was largely influenced by her gender affiliation, I am not by any means going to discount her contribution to our community by using her training, education and experience to move about the halls of government in both Arizona and Washington DC exposing those realms to the notion that gender identity does not exclude one from making a significant contribution to society by productive use of their training and abilities.

These two people are not the only ones in our community who have made the transition and gone on with their lives using the training and abilities they possess for the good of society, but they are 2 that I have a personal connection with and knowledge of. They have made life more livable and enjoyable for the rest of us by virtue of their willingness to take personal risks without making demands on society for special concessions for them; at least none that I’m aware of. That’s what “people” do. They don’t make an issue of their gender; they simply apply their extensive training for the betterment of society.

For myself, I realized long ago that getting on with life without making a stink about my gender identity made life so much easier. I freely admit that I have been extremely fortunate in my physical make-up but I have also made it part of my attitudinal make-up to not expect special treatment. The expectation of special treatment generally leads to disappointments and there are enough of those already. For me, being treated as if there were nothing special about me is the highest compliment I can receive as a transgender person. The only thing I want special recognition for is the application of my skills and training in my field and the application of my talent in my writing.

“Dear Mom and Dad” finally hit the market July of 2012 and my first blog entry was posted by the publisher the same month. Since then I have posted nearly 120 more. Altogether they could equal another book I suppose. But it would be rather disjointed since my subject matter has varied so much. All in all, I will continue writing one way or another. It might be another book …it might be a more blog. It might even be some of what “ended up on the cutting room floor” as the saying goes, in that original draft..

Stay tuned …

Do You Trust Me?

During my lifetime I have read quite a few books; not as many as some people, but more than most. The book shelves in my home contain a considerable number of books and I’m proud to say that with scant few exceptions I have read every single one of them at least once. Several of them I’ve read more than once and a few, many more times than once. The genre for most of those relate to history of people and/or events. And, there are novels on my book shelves as well.

I have a fairly complete collection of Steinbeck; the same for Michener and Agatha Christie. Michener is among my favorites because his writing is a wonderful blend of history and fiction which I find both entertaining and educational. But, the fact remains that my favorites all involve history.

I share in Dear Mom and Dad, my early childhood experience with the children’s library at the Methodist church in Okmulgee, Oklahoma and the wonderful collection of biographies of the founders of our country and others who were influential in our country’s history.

As I grew older I began to read more sophisticated biographies. Some of those were of the same people and some were of different people that I had no prior knowledge of. Obviously they all had different backgrounds and were influenced by a variety of events in their personal and public lives, but the thing that I was fascinated by was what made them rise above the crowds they were born into.

None of their births were heralded by heavenly hosts and the arrival of magi bearing gifts. They all began life in very ordinary circumstances in most cases. So what made them so different that people want to remember them and their contributions to our world and our country?

In the late ‘90s actor Jim Carrey narrated and briefly appeared in a movie titled “Simon Burch.” The title character, played by Ian Michael Smith, was a small physically handicapped, boy that refused to let his handicap deter him from diving into life with gusto. He stated frequently that he was born to “do something important.” He eventually did do something important and what he did ultimately led to his death. His selfless act was one that would go unnoticed by the world outside of his small town. But, for the lives he saved and their families his act was “something important.” The point here is that, even though the story is fictional, it shares a thread of purpose with all the real heroes of our world … an overriding sense of purpose.

In all of my reading, I don’t remember any discussions of a “sense of purpose.” Maybe that’s because a “sense of purpose” was just assumed. After all, isn’t purpose or a sense of purpose, generally behind all great accomplishments?

I don’t remember when I began to feel as though God had a specific purpose for my life; that I was supposed to become one of those people that others write about; that I was to “do something important. And, I don’t recall when I lost that sense of purpose, although I believe that it was lost along the alcoholic path of my misspent young adult years.

When I sobered up, my focus became one of attempting to make up for all my failures and prove to Marilyn that I could be the person she expected when she married me. When she died I felt that the only thing left for me in this life was to learn to live with the grief of losing her … and to learn why God took her away and left me all alone.

Reflecting back on my life at that time I concluded that it was doubtful that I would ever be one of those people whose life was worth writing about. So is was up to me to write about me.

It was cathartic to say the least, and I highly recommend writing about oneself with an eye toward others, who have been involved one’s life, reading what is written. It tends to force one to be brutally honest about circumstances, events and the causes and effects of events and acts.

The effect of Steps 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9 in Alcoholic Anonymous was to force me to take that first hard look at my own biography. It was a bitter pill to swallow and one I resolved to take once and only once. I never want to go through that again. But to my original point … what was the difference in those people whose biographies I read as a child and me? I believe that most of them rose to the occasions in their lives in such a way as to inspire others to record their lives. As to whether or not they responded to guidance from God or not, I’m not certain. I do believe that the early founders did respond to what they felt was a mission from God. And, that required faith or to put it another way, “trust.”

For much of my life I have relied on the issue of faith to guide me; faith as defined by “trust.” However, I have never use the word “trust” to define faith … until recently. Last November, a friend from church handed me the latest novel by Wm. Paul Young titled, “Eve.” I confess that I wasn’t expecting much because my experience is that anything resembling a “sequel” has always been a disappointment. “Eve” was anything but a disappointment. By the time I finally placed it on the shelf next to “The Shack” I had read it at least six times. I read it repeatedly because, in addition to Young’s ability to fascinate me with his un-orthodox views of God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit and their relationship to us humans, I found myself totally consumed with one concept.

That concept was presented when Adonai asked Adam, and then Eve, not once but a number of times, “Do you trust Me?” That one question actually shook me to the core of my faith. I had never associated having faith in God with actually trusting God. The question was always in the context of trusting God to eventually grant Adam and then Eve, their heart’s desires within the context of their love of their Creator.

And that is the crux of what I have been struggling with in terms of my own desire to see my creation, Dear Mom and Dad, You Don’t Know Me, But … bear fruit. I’ve always believed that I’ve applied the talent God gave me to advance the mission I believe He gave me, but always with the mindset that my belief would be confirmed by the success of the book. To date that has not happened. So when I read the question posed to Adam and Eve, “Do you trust Me?” it took a few readings to realize that it was a question and not an order, “Trust Me.”

That’s a hard question to answer truthfully, but I am working on it and in the meantime I am writing and creating more of my own biography that I hope, for those affected will include “something important.”

Five Things I’ve Learned About Self-Publishing

What 5 things have I learned from Self-publishing?

Now that’s a question that could have a short answer and it could have a long answer. So, let’s see where this takes us.

The very first thing I learned was that I was in for a huge, I mean really huge disappointment, because I was terribly naïve, short-sighted and ill-prepared for what lay ahead of me. They don’t call it “The Vanity Press” for no reason. The fact that I was just plain lucky to have happened upon one of the premiere self-publishing companies in the world, did not mean that I had a clue about what needed to happen after I sent them my manuscript.

I have always been a dreamer. The one issue that came up repeatedly in the parent-teacher conferences of my youth was that I was a day-dreamer. The reality of school held no interest for me. Apparently, a certain dose of that has endured. I had visions of the first people to read my book spreading the word far and wide about what an amazing read Dear Mom and Dad, was.

Here was where I should have remembered a lesson I learned long ago. If something you do is good, if you do something worthy of notice, people will tell others, but only a few close acquaintances. On the other hand, if you screw up, make a fool of yourself, do something shameful the same people who were so careful to spread good news; those same people will tell everybody they come in contact with. Therefore, in this case, since it was rather good, very few people outside of my immediate circle of friends ever heard about it.

Lesson #1 then is be prepared for disappointments and criticism. They are inevitable but not insurmountable. You can’t be “thin skinned” as Granny used to say.

The manuscript isn’t the only thing that requires preparation. You need a plan and for that plan to work you need realistic assessments of what it’s going to take to make your baby a best-selling winner. You need to know where you are going with the effort and what you want readers to absorb and remember. When I started writing Dear Mom and Dad, I had no outline. I had an idea of what I wanted to accomplish and after one chapter I realized that I wasn’t accomplishing a thing. So I stopped writing and spent nearly a month creating an outline. This is something that any author needs to do but it’s really critical for a self-published author.

Lesson #2 was, have an outline. Know where, and why you are going with your book.

The next thing I learned is that I was not prepared for the investment I was going to have to make beyond getting my book published. The investment for that turned out to be a drop in the bucket. If I’m honest here I will tell you that I guess, I thought I was going to sell a million copies after a measly $2,100 investment. If I had really thought it through I would have researched what a major publisher invests in publicity when it takes on a new book project. With what I know now I imagine that an investment of that kind is far beyond what most self-publishing authors are prepared to spend.

Lesson #3 then is it takes more than a couple of thousand dollars to make a book a best seller.

The fourth thing I learned about self-publishing is that it takes perseverance. Even with a big investment it will take time for the seed money to germinate. The more specialized your subject matter is, the longer it will take. Self-publishing is another way of saying self-promotion. What I should have remembered was something I heard the late Dr. Wayne Dyer talk about what he had to do to get his first book on the book shelves and in the hands of buyers. He would go into a book store and ask if they had the book without telling them who he was. When they said, “No, they didn’t have it.” He would introduce himself and tell them he just happened to have a box of books in his car. Then he called the publisher to find out when the next printing was scheduled and they said it wasn’t, he asked why not, since they were sold out and he knew they were because he had bought them all himself.

Admittedly things are a bit different than they were in the early ‘60s but the principle remains.

Lesson #4? Hang in there Cupcake. “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.”

There is never ever going to be a consistent substitute for hard work. Writing is hard work for most of us and the hardest part of it is actually sitting down to do it. And, once you do the next hardest thing is to stay on message. We all tend to think that what we have to say is so important that however long it takes is how long it’s going to take. When I was finished with the original draft of Dear Mom and Dad, it filled a 2-inch binder completely. Published in that form would have meant a 700-plus page book. Cutting into my baby was tough because, after all, what I had to say was important. Of course it was … Cupcake. However, brevity being the soul of wit is also the soul of making your point effective. I lost track of how many times I edited that original version to get it down to the 270 pages which eventually went to the printer.

If you are self-publishing and you really want a polished product a professional editor can be a big help when it comes to punctuation and style. But if you’re like me and working on a shoe string budget that may not be doable. If you have a good friend who happens to be a journalism/professional editor like I did, don’t hesitate to ask. For me it was a Godsend because Linda Talley-Branch was not only my friend but had been one of my late wife’s best friends and knew us and our relationship well enough to make some very important edits and suggestions.

Lesson #5 summarized: It’s hard work to edit/refine your own work, but staying on message is critical.

I learned a lot more than these five things but they are the most important … especially if one is writing about one’s self. So … don’t just read … WRITE!!!