It’s a New Year

A Cold Fire Within SSP Logo


The year that just ended is a difficult one for me to summarize. It was not the best year of my life, nor the worst. But it was possibly the most complex, with a number of major events and changes. As we get older, time seems to accelerate, and it often seems like years slip away. This year wasn’t like that for me, for the most part. The beginning of the year feels like it happened years ago to someone at a much different point in their life–and then there were years of experience in between then and now.

I started the year with a promotion, one that promised to upend my life just as much as if I had changed employment entirely. It more than fulfilled that promise. It was difficult and rewarding work. I learned a lot about what I am capable of. I also learned a lot about what my limits are. I went in there expecting it to break my heart, and I wanted and needed it to. Again, it more than fulfilled that promise.

Halfway through the year, I was offered another promotion, one that would yank me from the new trajectory and what my life was shaping up to be. It was not an easy decision overall, but circumstances lined up to where I decided to seize the opportunity. It’s taken me longer to adjust to this position and it’s responsibilities.

It was also a big year on the creative front. My first book as sole author, A Cold Fire Within, came out, the culmination of a lot of work and patience. It’s a bewildering feeling to see it in the world, and it means more to me than I would have ever imagined. I also helped set up a new publishing imprint, Stay Strange Publishing, as editor, and I and my partners saw our first release.

While at NecronomiCon Providence, I had the first major episode of atrial fibrillation in a couple of years, and I had to go to the emergency room. This was frustrating and distressing on a number of levels. I was on a working vacation at a convention I always look forward to, with friends I hardly ever see. My episode came about from ridiculous circumstances. In the past, it had been from physical exertion. This time, it was from minor stage fright performing karaoke. Waking up alone in my hotel room and still feeling my pounding, jittery heartbeat was terribly demoralizing. As I recently wrote, I have a plan in place, replacing the current one of treating my condition medicinally with a surgical solution.

And hardly least, I fully came out as genderqueer. This was something I had been considering for a long time, and I had already begun the process in 2018 in certain contexts. I’ve more or less understood who I am and what my perspective on gender, sex, and sexuality is for over twenty years. It has primarily been something internal rather than something to publicly acknowledge, and I had basically always thought it would remain that way. But experiences over the last few years led me to finally be explicit about this fundamental aspect of my life.

There are other significant events that took place for me this last year that had a profound effect on me, but these are the ones I can share publicly. It certainly seems like plenty.

I know a lot of people who have had a difficult and overwhelming year. I thank everyone who stood by me in my own struggles and offered their support. I can only hope that I have and will do the same for you.

Farewell, 2019, you messed-up monster of a year.


A Momentary Convention Encounter

I wrote this last year on social media, and I was reminded of it when San Diego Comic-Con International, possibly the most crowded and chaotic of pop-culture convention events in the world, ended this year. I edited one sentence that I had agonized over.

Comic-Con 2018 is over, leaving only memories. Here is one such memory of an intimate encounter I had on the dealer’s room floor.

We both strained toward each other, surrounded by sweating, pressing bodies. We had different goals in mind, but luck brought us together. Our eyes met—just for a moment—and I looked away. Then, it happened. As I tried to veer out of your hobbling path, your belly pressed into the back of my hand. Your soft flesh quivered against my unyielding knuckles, spreading to envelop them…filling every space they offered. I felt the heat radiating from beneath your T-shirt, running from my hand, up my arm, and to my core. Your husky body stood in place. My lean hand did not move. How long did this last? It felt like forever, with neither of us allowing our eyes to meet again—with neither of us voicing our desires.

We should have moved on, and, perhaps, we were always two male-bodied people in motion, each in our own directions—neither of us truly coming together with the other. This moment—this fleeting eternity—was all we would ever have. This collision of flesh—this hesitation—was everything and nothing. As our halting, passing embrace continued, I felt your supple belly languidly drag itself across my hand. Your flesh flowed and rippled, lingering as if you never wanted to lose my touch. One last moment, and then your skin sprang free from the edge of my hand. You moved on, leaving me unsure which way to go in all these strangers.

San Diego Pride 2016, 2019, and Beyond

This last weekend, I participated in two San Diego Pride events with the San Diego County Library: outreach at Trans Pride and marching in the parade. This morning, Facebook showed me what I wrote on social media during Pride weekend in 2016:

Happy Pride weekend, San Diego. Never stop, never rest. Your enemies will not.

In the early 1990s, I attended my first Pride parade. I cried when, for a moment, I was overcome by a glimpse of a world better than the one I had been told to settle for.

In 1999, someone threw a teargas canister during the parade. I saw a distant white mass of smoke drifting down the street. An announcer in the stand across from us calmly but urgently spoke into the microphone: “This is teargas, people.” Moments later, it was on us. In seconds, I was reduced to fumbling instinct–unable to see, disoriented, in pain. I had no idea where Arianne was and no way of doing anything to ensure her safety. I didn’t know what was going to happen during the chaos to the pregnant woman who had stood near us or any of the children in the audience. I felt along the wall until I could dimly see again and went down a side street where residents mobilized and provided water and support. Four people were hospitalized, including a three-year-old girl. Many other adults and children, including a pregnant woman, were treated for respiratory, skin, and eye complications. The terrorist responsible was never found.

Last year, I marched in the parade for the first time, with the San Diego County Library, during the downpour.

This year, as with every year, there were numerous reasons to come together. I didn’t march, though I did wave joyously at my coworkers as they went by.

After the Orlando massacre, I saw someone take umbrage at a post that stated that the shooter was born and raised in America and that the toxic stew that he swallowed whole didn’t have just one ingredient, and which followed with examples of the long history of atrocities visited on this community. He asked how could the most horrendous shooting in US history happen during the time when we are the most tolerant? One ready possibility is that of backlash. Forty-seven years ago, you didn’t have to massacre homosexuals in their “hideouts”; you could harass them there while wearing a uniform. Forty-three years ago, you could throw the ones who “flaunted” it in an institution. Thirty-six years ago, you could ignore a health crisis and let it weed people out. Eighteen and twenty-three years ago, you could destroy them one by one if they stepped out of line. Move forward to the day when gay people have had the temerity to become fully visible, to demand that they be treated with the same dignity as any other person in society. The expansion of rights such as marriage equality is progress. But while we pat each other on the backs for how enlightened we’re becoming, let’s not forget that those on the other side are not going to go quietly, hanging their heads in defeat. They will enact legislation to bar people from safely using public restrooms. They will shoot a hundred people because two men kissed each other in public. You don’t have to look outside our borders or dominant culture to find people who hate us because of our freedoms.

Farewell to Another Dreamer on the Nightside

Last night, I heard of Wilum Hopfrog Pugmire’s death from friend and editor Bret Kramer. This morning, my Facebook news feed contains numerous images and remembrances of this singular individual. So, I throw one more picture of ye Queen of Eldritch Horror into the void in the vain hopes that it should finally be full. I took it of Wilum holding a copy of the author’s sumptuous Centipede Press collection, THE TANGLED MUSE, in 2010.

I did not know Wilum well. We spoke briefly at conventions, and we occasionally interacted online, including a brief correspondence a few years ago. But I greatly admired Wilum’s work, a delirious, atmospheric brew of Poe, Wilde, Byron, Baudelaire, and Lovecraft.

Wilum understood the allure of the monstrous and the grotesque and shared that mystique with us in a wealth of stories. W. H. Pugmire was many things: prose-poet, too-humble “dweller in Lovecraft’s shadow,” punk, queer, Mormon, recluse, gender nonconformist, warm-hearted and gracious soul, icon. Now, perhaps, WHP is nothing. Now, perhaps, WHP is everything.


Into the New Year: the Past Is Prologue, But the Narrator Is Unreliable

Mother and Father

My mother loved readers

Holidays are many things. A reminder to cherish those in our lives. A time for coming together. A moment to pause and look backward and forward, seeing what has come before and where it might lead.

We visited my family for Thanksgiving this year, fortunate to have a rare opportunity to reconnect. On the first evening of our visit, we sat and chatted. At some point, I walked over to my mother, put my arm around her shoulder, and said, “And I’m thankful to you for teaching me how to read.” My mother chuckled with a smirk and replied, “Yeah, right….”

I’ve loved books as long as I can remember (and I have memories that go back to when I was three years old). Long before I could read them, I would look through them constantly. I was fascinated by the mysterious symbols of letters and other characters, which I knew had meaning just out of my reach.

On my first day of kindergarten, the boy who came into class behind me introduced himself and already knew my name, thanks to his ability to interpret what my name tag said. I was astonished that someone my own age had the power to divine meaning from the chaos of letters. That kid had a head start on me, and I wouldn’t catch up to him for the rest of our time together.

One day while my mother took me grocery shopping, I told her about what we had learned in class: how to make rhymes. I excitedly demonstrated, frog, log, dog, fog. My mother was proud of me. On another day, weeks later, on another shopping trip, my mother asked me what I had learned recently. I excitedly demonstrated, frog, log, dog, fog. My mother smiled at me and quickly made plans to talk to my teacher.

In that meeting, my mother asked my teacher if I shouldn’t be learning to read by now. No, she was sorry, she replied, I wasn’t ready for that. My mother learned that there were children being taught to read but that I would not be one of them. I watched as other children in my class would pull Go, Dog. Go! off the shelf and slowly but surely puzzle out the words within. I wanted to do that too so badly. The kindergarten year ended without me knowing more than my alphabet, my numbers, how to play nicely with others, and how to recite the worst poetry in the world.

Go, Dog, Go!

Despite what the Cat in the Hat might promise, the best I could do was rhyme one of the words in the title.

During the summer before I entered first grade, my mother sat with me and books like that one about the speeding canine and did what my teacher hadn’t even tried to do. But I can’t blame that teacher too much. I really was a poor student until I went to college. I was bright but undisciplined, kicked out of advanced programs in both junior high and high school. If I had been born a few years later, I probably would have been diagnosed with ADHD and prescribed drugs to focus me. So, my teacher had me figured out and used her energy on the children whom she expected to get more out of her attention.

My teacher, however, didn’t realize how much being able to read meant to me. My mother may not have either; she just wanted her son to be prepared for school. So over that summer I learned how to read.

On the first day of first grade, we were tested on our reading and math levels. I was immediately put into the highest reading group. From then on, I was constantly reading (though rarely what I was assigned to be reading, I’ll admit). In fifth grade, Ms. Cameron wrote a Halloween story starring her GATE program students, providing a characterization based on what she’d learned about us so far. At one point in the story, I wander away from the mystery involving all of us to read a book.

I love words, all the more because I fought for them. And my mother fought for them with me. At least, that’s how this foundational story goes in my personal history. My mother, it turns out, saw this differently. She remembered trying to teach me to read and failing. She’d expressed this regret to others over the years.

I provided her and my father with more than enough frustration during my school years as I failed classes that I should have mastered. That I well knew. What I didn’t know is that for thirty-five years we had walked around with diametrically opposed views of the events surrounding that summer, ones which filled us with very different emotions. It was one more frustration for her, not directed at me but at herself.

Memories are tricky. I’ve been fooled by them before. I was quite young. Perhaps I’m wrong. But I don’t think I am. Even if I’m wrong about immediately going into the top reading group in first grade, I highly doubt the bitter and spiteful Mrs. Anderson, who filled me with fear and anxiety, succeeded in teaching me much of anything–I left her class barely knowing simple arithmetic. Even if my own desire played a huge part in me figuring out what those letters meant when placed in order, I know my mother was a huge part of it too.

Certainly as far as foundational myths go, the one in which my mother, no matter how unsuited to the task, fought for me and succeeded is one that is more attractive than the one in which she failed. Ultimately, the important part of the story is that she fought for me, and that part is true. So whatever the fine particulars may be, I will continue to believe that I can read because of my mother. I will always be thankful for that.