Writing a Book in the Middle of a Pandemic

On March 8, I returned home from New York.  I said hello to Alisha at the Admiral’s Club in New York, visited a bit with Pam at the club in Charlotte, and stopped by at the club in Denver to say hi to Rick while I was waiting for my ride home.  We all felt the tension in the air, but none of us had any idea what was coming.

How many times have you heard that phrase in the last couple of weeks, “I had no idea what was coming?”  We didn’t get private briefings that allowed us to remove millions from the stock market.  We hadn’t fully grasped the unprecedented virtual shutdown that was on the horizon.  We were just living our privileged American lives, unaware of the storm fast approaching.

Yeah, well, not now.  Other than to go running or biking in the beautiful village where I live, I haven’t been out of the house in a week.  I have seen almost all of my counseling clients via tele-therapy.  I have spoken to my children by phone, that ancient communication device that preceded texting, Marco Polo and TikTok.  They seem amazed to discover you can have a conversation in real time.  I have spoken for one video conference and one podcast, and have calls today to prepare for two more video presentations.  I have incessantly scrolled between the New York Times and Washington Post to read the latest news.  I have asked Alexa (interrupting her important work spying on me) to play the local NPR station, and I have studiously avoided briefings from the White House, unless Dr. Fauci is speaking.

I get up and look in the refrigerator at the rapidly dwindling supply of staples, then peek in the pantry to make sure there are still M&Ms on the candy shelf (Yes, I have a candy shelf.  Don’t judge me.)  If it’s morning I make a cup of tea.  If it’s afternoon I pour a glass of iced tea and look in the refrigerator again to figure out which frozen dinner I am going to eat for my evening meal (Again, no judging.)  In the evening I switch back and forth between Maine Cabin Masters on the DIY channel and old reruns of Bonanza stretched wide to fill the screen, which makes Hoss’s face look three times as wide as it really was.

At 9:00 I watch Brian Williams on MSNBC and marvel at an interviewer who knows how to ask the right questions and then get out of the way.  I read a section of Wendell Berry’s Andy Catlett: Early Travels, or Colin Woodard’s American Nations, and turn out the light.  I stare at the tiny blinking light on the smoke detector and tell myself, “Tomorrow you need to change all the batteries,” which I know with great certainty I am not going to do until one of the 59 smoke detectors in my house starts beeping.

A few seconds later it occurs to me that I am supposed to be writing a memoir, and I never actually opened a single file related to the book all day.  I did think about it before I went on Amazon to order a giant tub of animal crackers.  (Need I say it?) I thought about it again when I was in the middle of my bike ride on Apple Valley Road.  I even thought about it while I was waiting for my Marie Callender’s turkey dinner to heat up in the microwave.  But I never actually opened any file related to the book.

I almost opened one of the files around 7:00, but that was when I thought, “Wait a minute, is that a heaviness in my chest?  Am I developing a cough?  Do I have a headache that’s different from my normal tension headache?”  Then I spent the next hour obsessing that I might actually have the virus and I live alone and nobody but Kristie and Christy and Cathy and David check in on me very often, and what if I really am sick.

Writing a memoir requires creative juices to flow.  I don’t know about you, but nowadays, not many creative juices are flowing.  I do actually force myself to write two or three hours a day, but it is not easy.  I have an easier time editing what has been written than I do writing new material.  What makes it more difficult is that I am writing chronologically, and I am up to the most difficult years surrounding my transition, leaving one macro-crisis in real time to focus on my own past micro-crisis.  There’s not much inspiration in that.

I will get back to the book, probably as soon as I complete this blog post and finish memorizing my sermon for Saturday.  I have an April 30 deadline for a first draft of the book and say what you will about me, I do not miss deadlines.

I’ve thought a lot this morning about Alisha, Pam and Rick, at LGA, CLT and DEN, friendships I have developed because of my travels.  I wonder if Alisha’s son got home from Europe, where he’s been playing basketball.  Has Pam talked to Kim lately, and if so, how is Kim’s mom?  Is Rick’s husband doing well?  Are they all staying healthy?  And what about Christy, working as a labor and delivery nurse, or Kristie, serving with the Boulder County Emergency Operations Center, or Cathy, swamped with terrified counseling clients, or David, who just lost his father?

I am pretty sure it is more important to think about these people than it is to write a book right now.  Because when I think about them my thoughts turn into prayers, offered for their safety and well-being.  The book can wait.  Good will toward all cannot.


Staying Occupied During Unusual Times

Who needs movies and television when you can watch people?  As a veteran traveler, I have always enjoyed watching people at the airport.  Now that airport travel is out of the question, I have taken to watching people walk their dogs.  There are a lot of dogs in Colorado.

On Long Island, I remember only three dog owners on our entire block.  Here I believe there are only three of us on the block who do not own dogs.  I’ve gone running every day since the COVID-19 crisis began.  My routine has been simple and yes, boring.  I get up and fix breakfast, then I look at the news, which includes seeing how many hundreds of thousands of dollars I have lost in my 403b account.  Then I work for a few hours on my book.  The first draft is about 55 or 60 percent done.  Then I head out for a long run.

Since people are working from home, there are a lot of folks out walking and running.  Two-thirds of them are with their dogs.  It is the interaction between owner and dog that has gotten my attention.  Yesterday I ran past the Lyons, Colorado dog park, and saw more people than are there on a summer Sunday.  On the way to and from the dog park, there were dozens more.

Contrary to popular opinion, I do not think most people look like their dogs.  Skinny people have fat dogs and skinny dogs have fat people.  Runners have lazy dogs and energetic dogs have lazy owners.  What does seem consistent is that most people know little to nothing about training their dog.  Dogs are pack animals, very aware of rank in the pack.  I’ve seen a lot of dogs that believe they are the alpha of the family and act accordingly.  As the dog lunges at you when you run past, the owner shrugs as if to say, “What can I do?”  Okay, I see who is in charge.

People here in Colorado have more of a tendency to allow their dogs off leash than what I see back east.  You are running down the road and a giant dog runs toward you and jumps up with his feet on your crotch and the owner says, “It’s okay, he’s friendly.”  Actually, I did not ask if your dog is friendly.  I do not care if your dog is friendly.  I do care that your dog’s feet are on my crotch.

Though I have owned a golden retriever and a golden/border collie mix, I would not classify myself as a dog lover.  I am a dog tolerator.  I will pay some attention to your dog, depending on my mood and the dog’s mood.  Lilly, the golden/border collie mix, was different.  (She is the dog pictured above.  And yes, we spelled her name with two ls.)  She was the best dog in the history of mankind and when she died nine years ago, I vowed I was done.  I have kept my word.

One of my best friends has a beagle mix who is quite well-trained, but then again, she is a beagle, and well-trained for a beagle looks a bit different than well-trained for any other breed.   I run with the beagle occasionally, and she is quite well-behaved, even when she is off leash.  Well, most of the time when she is off leash.  If she finds a dead baby snake in the grass, all bets are off.  She will roll her entire body over it, then put it in her mouth and carry it around, looking like she has a handlebar mustache.  If you have a treat and call her, she might come back, or she might not.  If she does return, she has a dilemma.  To take the treat, she would have to drop the snake.  The treat wins – and the run continues.  Much as I say I only tolerate dogs, I have developed a certain affection for the beagle.

While I was out running yesterday, I was thinking about the kind of a person that uses a dog leash that extends a quarter mile.  These people are not runners, of that I can assure you.  Runners spend half their running lives avoiding extended dog leashes that cross the sidewalk and two-thirds of the street.  As you run by, adding 100 yards to your run just to get around the leash, the dog starts chasing you and you find out the leash is actually a half mile long.  The better owner offers a quick “I’m sorry.”  The jerk owner is angry you would dare to run in his dog’s space, which with the retractable leash, is about two square miles.

It really is amazing how badly most dogs are trained.  I’ve trained two dogs.  It’s not all that hard.  But then again, one was a golden and the other a golden mix.  They are pretty easy to train.  I figure people are about as good at training their dogs as they are at giving their children appropriate boundaries.  Watching people with their dogs yesterday did not bode well for the behavior of any children they might choose to have.

I love when I’m running, and someone sees me coming and looks down at their dog and gives a single command and the dog immediately obeys.  I want to stop and fall at the owner’s feet and call them blessed.  I figure they also have well-behaved kids.

I must admit, I do prefer the Long Island dog-to-family ratio to the Colorado dog-to-family ratio.  I mean, there are a lot of barking dogs in our neighborhood.  A lot. Fortunately, there is only one house next to mine, and that neighbor does not own a dog.  I have thought about paying them to make sure it stays that way.

And so it goes.

Well, That Was an Experience!

I had an interesting experience recently, jumping into the world of politics.  Last year I was asked to consider becoming a member of our town council here in Colorado, but at the last minute I decided against having my name considered.  Local politics can be brutal, particularly for a transgender person, and I was not convinced it would be good for me or the church I served.

In February I was contacted by the Mike Bloomberg campaign to ask if I would be willing to serve as one of 11 members of his LGBTQ leadership committee.  I said yes and a few weeks later was asked if I would be one of the co-chairs of his Women for Mike leadership committee.  Again, I said yes.

I was skeptical when Bloomberg first became New York City’s mayor.  I was aware of many of the crude comments he had made about women and transgender people, but I also saw that his policies in New York were different from his actions with his company, where his misogyny was little in doubt.  In New York, he blew it with stop and frisk, but he apologized for that mistake and supported policies that helped minorities.

When it comes to the fall election, I am a pragmatist.  I believe another four years of Donald Trump will threaten our democracy.  The Republican Party has proven to be spineless in the face of Trump’s tirades, and Mitch McConnell’s actions, beginning with his refusal to bring Merrick Garland’s name before the Senate, have been reprehensible.  It is time to vote out of office those who threaten our nation’s survival.

After the early unforced errors of Joe Biden’s campaign, I agreed with those who believed we needed an alternate voice who could actually defeat Donald Trump in the fall.  Therefore, when Bloomberg’s campaign came calling, I joined.  I found his campaign to be extremely well run.  They involved me in ways appropriate to my skillset and circle of influence, and I loved working with the staff assigned to the two committees with which I served.

What I was not prepared for was the anger from my friends on the far left, most of which are dedicated and tireless workers for the oppressed.  Not only were they angry, their rhetoric was caustic.  They exhibited the same lack of tolerance for an opposing view that I have seen far too often from the far right.  I appreciate their idealism, but I am old enough to know that idealism is not what brings down tyrants.  It is the general election I am worried about, and the unfair electoral college that served us poorly in 2016.  I am now a supporter of Joe Biden because I believe he has the best chance to defeat Donald Trump in November.

This past Saturday I gave a keynote presentation at the Mark Leadership Conference at Rutgers University.  I was impressed with the dedicated students who crowded into the sold-out conference to listen to ideas about how to lead our world toward greater justice for all.  I loved their enthusiasm and commitment.

What set this conference apart was that I heard no polarizing rhetoric, no cancel culture, no denigration of those on the right.  The extremely diverse group of students were coalescing around a message of dignity and hope, the kind of enthusiasm that can reverse the polarizing rhetoric we hear too often.

In addition to my keynote address, I presented a workshop on gender equity.  The workshop attendees were thoughtful, expressive, and open to all sides of the issue.  Some of the women thought I had been too tough on men, and it’s possible they are right.  The men in attendance were open-minded and desirous of recognizing their male privilege.  The whole day was quite a contrast to my experience with those who attacked my involvement with the Bloomberg campaign.  It gave me hope that we can bring people together instead of driving them further apart, allow for divergent opinions without vitriolic rhetoric, and make progress pulling our nation together.

I am currently reading Colin Woodard’s book, American Nations, in which he writes about the 11 distinct cultures that have made their mark in our US experiment in democracy.  The book has reminded me that we have never been a melting pot, but a stew pot, with each region and people maintaining their own distinct identities.  That we have managed to last 244 years is a testament to people like the Rutgers students, committed to unity – not uniformity, equity – not equality, and respect for all.

After transitioning and going through the massive rejection I experienced from the church, I have developed a pretty tough skin.  But I don’t think I want to make any more forays into the realm of politics, at least not in the near future.  I’ve faced enough poison arrows from the far right.  I don’t need any more from the far left.  The wounds accumulate and you get weary.  I would like to live in relative peace for a while, at least until my memoir comes out.  But then I’m pretty sure I left relative peace behind when I transitioned.  It’s one of the prices you pay for believing the call toward authenticity is sacred and holy and for the greater good.