The Anniversary of a Promise 🤞

Twenty-nine years ago today I started a job I didn’t want in a career I wanted even less. I remember the day as if it were yesterday for both the warm, sunny late summer weather outside and for the dark, depressing pall of doom that hovered over me inside the building. I didn’t want to be a receptionist.

At twenty-one, I wanted to be an actress or a screenwriter—my heart knew it, my soul knew it, and my Leo astrological sign knew it best of all. That was my destiny, to embark on a journey of creative exploration through which I could reach the masses, not as a mere computer keyboard-poking paper pusher.

The screenplay I had written a year earlier and a literary agent in Texas had agreed to represent, not surprisingly, was not picked up for production by a Hollywood studio, so after a year under contract, the agency had returned the manuscript to me with their warmest regards. Dejected, bordering on despondent but still living with my parents, I felt obliged to at least try to assimilate like a normally functioning adult in the working world.

And so it was, the Tuesday after Labor Day weekend 1990, I sat down at my new post at the Fuchs Lubricants Co. reception desk, a job handed me by a friend who was headed off to her senior year in college, and tried desperately not to bawl my eyes out. The thought of eight hours a day, five days at week staring at fake plants, 1970s interior décor, and the faces of a bunch of adults with that definitive look of having given up long ago, loomed over me like the Grim Reaper of hopes and dreams.

Seriously? A lesbian working for a company called Fuchs Lubricants?

I don’t remember anything of what was said to me that first day or what I’d said to others, but I remember each syllable of the promise I’d made to myself. “This isn’t forever.” I’d whispered it aloud as I willed my eyes not to pool and dug deep within my self-preservation reserve for something, anything to help me believe it.

But it wasn’t easy.

Life, low self-confidence, and the lowest of expectations anchored me in the job for the next thirteen years. As the years went by, I feared that this was indeed my manifest destiny. My heart never accepted it, but my brain, ever the realist, observed, as each year came and went, the light of the hope of future greatness dimming ever so gradually until it finally went black.

That was about when my life partner at the time rigorously encouraged me to quit my wretched employment and embark on a new journey toward a profession that would bring me at least enough fulfillment that I’d stop coming home each night and making her life miserable with a never-ending litany of job complaints.  

When I reached the stage where even I couldn’t stand myself anymore, I took the dive—quit the security of that full-time position, endured the culture shock of full-time college campus life, and somehow found the self-discipline to do at thirty-three years old what most people were doing at twenty. The end result? I became an English teacher. Huzzah!

Almost exactly fifteen years to the day I’d nearly surrendered all my dreams to a steady paycheck and impressive health benefits package, I’d finally made good on the promise I’d made myself that sad day in 1990.

I was now a high school English teacher…a nervous high school English teacher who needed to get a Master’s degree to keep her full-time position.

Enter the creative writing program at Southern CT State University. Again forced into something I probably never would’ve pursued through my own volition, I opted for the creative writing thesis to avoid having to take two extra classes. During that time, I gave birth to my first “child,” the thesis novella that would become the coming out, coming of age Goldie award-winning lesfic novel, The Revelation of Beatrice Darby.

Biggest, Bestest Surprise Ever!

Now as I observe the twenty-ninth anniversary of the most important promise I’ve ever made, I write this to commune with all those who’ve ever promised something to themselves and have made it happen, are still waiting to make it happen, or have simply never had the inspiration to make a promise to themselves at all. To all of you, I say make the promise, and for fuck’s sake, keep the promise! No matter how long it takes, remember what you wanted, remember what you felt you deserved from this life and scrounge up the fucking the courage, whether you beg, borrow, or steal it, to make it happen.

At age fifty, am I the rich, famous writer I’d fantasized about being as a kid? Fuck no. But I’m living my best life, and I make no apologies and harbor no regrets.

I teach, I write, and I live. What more can I ask of this crazy, messy cluster fuck of an existence than to be free enough to allow myself permission to feel satisfied with myself and my life at the end of each day?

Shop Jean’s novels at:

https://www.amazon.com/Jean-Copeland/e/B00P7YT9DS%3Fref=dbs_a_mng_rwt_scns_share

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50 Years of F*cknuttery: What it Took Me Half a Century to Learn

Now that AARP has seduced me into its cult of early-bird specials and discounted movie passes, I thought I’d take a moment to reflect on the past fifty years of life in this kooky world and share my musings with you all.

As we know, the ideal beginning for young people includes following a linear course in life, aspiring to make wise choices that will guide them down the path of least resistance. And then there was me. I was the one always veering off the road into ditches or getting stuck in the vortex of those vexing rotary circles at every opportunity.

At 16, little did I know that I was gathering up a cache of fucks that would haunt me for the next 25 years.

Robert Frost suggested that taking the road less traveled made all the difference. However, at times I’ve posited that the reason the road was less traveled in the first place was because most people were smart enough to avoid it. It’s overgrown and littered with the fuckery of such things like incompetent people rising to the top and the exasperating inanity of perpetually picking the slowest line in the store or the lane of traffic zipping along only to grind to a halt the moment I switch into it.

No matter what I did, it seemed I was destined to do it ass-backwards. Even my early educational path was obstructed with dubious choices. Later when I got my shit together, I’d think, dammit, if I knew then what I know now I would’ve installed myself in an all-girl college and joined the field hockey team. But nope. By the time I realized I wanted to finish my college degree, I was almost old enough to play the Rodney Dangerfield role in Back to School. Yes, I eventually earned my master’s degree, but what had I missed out on taking such a divergent path? A big lez-fest of sorority house pillow fights in our bras and panties? Or was that just lesbian pulp fiction wishful thinking?  

Missed opportunities in Sapphic experimentation aside, by the time I’d turned 40, my “happily ever after” long-term relationship had ended and my life had become a cliché in desperate need of a total reboot. Ironically, the evil empire that is Facebook would be my deliverance, and I would never again doubt the power of female friendships, both old and new, in enhancing the enchantment of life’s journey.  

Now as I turn 50 (insert Sally O’Malley impression here), I feel like I’ve finally learned the most practical and beneficial of life lessons. I’ve come to realize that every time I gave a fuck about the minutia in life that won’t matter a year, a month, or a week from now, I was giving away a piece of my joy. Recently inspired by the self-help idea Du jour of “decluttering,” this year I decided to declutter my vast collection of fucks to free up space for more joy. Yes, when I’d used up the last fuck on something like feeling the need to apologize simply for being me, I vowed that once my fuck reserve had been depleted, I would not restock. 

When I say I’ve defucked my life, I’m not talking about the simple daily fucks one needs to give as a member of a civilized society so we’re not banished to the colonies—things like caring about my career, my loved ones’ and my health, and recycling so that I’m not part of the army of douchebags who continue to leave their toxic footprint on the necks of our future generations. I’m talking about the big, festering, self-defeating fucks we store up and then expel in the form of crippling guilt and anxieties. Women worry much more than men that on any given day we’re failing everyone around us or that we’re not measuring up to some ridiculous, idealized expectation society uses to oppress us. Then we allow those fucks to sit there on our shoulders, weighing us down, stiffening our backs, and upsetting our stomachs. Those are the fucks from which I have resolved to divest myself.

For some reason Millennials have been able to figure this out with their “Imma do me” mantra that often irritates the shit out of elders around them. Maybe what we are so annoyed with is that these young’uns have reached this level of clarity a lot sooner than we have and thus, will enjoy many more years of living their best lives. 

But now I’m sounding like the fuck of bitterness has perched itself on my shoulder. So do you know what I’m going to do? Flick that fuck right off me and remind myself of my own mantra, “what is.” That’s the tricky part. When the fucks land on you, you can’t allow them to roost. You must be mindful to shoo them away like a horsefly at the beach the minute they alight on you, trusting in your new fuck-free existence.

Now that I am further out than in, I approach all things with a hearty helping of perspective. While I’ve not yet entered that Zen zone of total enlightenment and still drink too much craft beer and laugh too hard when someone farts, I know that I’m doing the best that I can. Some days it will be enough and some days it won’t. But rest assured that even on my worst days, I’ll disperse no further fucks against myself.

I don’t give away my power to anyone or anything anymore. I’ve been through enough to know that no matter how bad it is, we all find our own ways to cope and press on with our lives. I’ve been luckier than some in this world and others have been luckier than me. But that’s how the fucks crumble. And if I can convince myself that I possess the power to make it rain on a beach day or ground the airplane that was supposed to carry my high school friends and me to Vegas, then I know that I also have the power to live in peace and find and accept joy in all its forms.

Going fuck-free is the best 50th birthday present I could’ve given myself.

Jean Copeland is an award-winning author of several lesbian fiction novels. For more info, visit: https://www.amazon.com/Jean-Copeland/e/B00P7YT9DS%3Fref=dbs_a_mng_rwt_scns_share

Pride Month is a Time to Celebrate But…

I love this month not only because June is when I finish the school year and can focus on novel-writing for the summer, but also because it’s the only month out of the year when the struggles and triumphs of the LGBTQ community receive the attention and thoughtful contemplation they deserve.

Pride 2019

Unfortunately, it’s also the time when some straight people, frustrated with the myriad minutia of their over-burdened straight lives, seize this opportunity to point out that if we want equality so bad, why do we want/get our own month of parades and special attention? Well, the simple answer is, and please pay attention, we don’t have equality yet. As long as our elected republican members of Congress fail to pass the Equality Act, America will always have states in which the LGBTQ community is most definitely not considered equal. And frankly, that’s all I’m going to say to heterosexuals about this asinine complaint they’ve sifted out of the cesspool of social media.

Now to the other “but” in my blog… and no, it’s not one of those tight, cute ones you see on boys marching in their spandex shorty-shorts in Pride parades all over the world. This “but” has to do with all the fabulous corporations in America that temporarily change their logos to rainbow, have “Pride” days at amusement parks or sporting events, or just give us a happy, rainbowy 2-thumbs up in whatever product they’re selling. We love this–don’t get me wrong. But you know what we would love more than anything else? STOP voting for politicians at the city, state, and federal level who REFUSE to support LGBTQ equality as evidenced by their shameless public sentiments and voting records.

Yes, this is a big, bold request. It asks a lot of republicans–going against your family, your spouse, and your financial self-interests to take a stand for the most important and fundamental promise this country makes: “liberty and justice for all.” Sounds good, doesn’t it? (I mean the quote, not the part where you have to go against your own self-interests. But hey, every movement has its martyrs, right?) Think of what we can accomplish with this powerful statement. If we make it through one election cycle where every anti-gay politician loses, you can bet that future GOP candidates will think twice before trading on the Constitutional rights and emotional well-being of LGBTQ Americans for re-election.

But hey, enough of this heavy realism. It’s Pride month! Whether you’re an LGBTQ or a straight ally, let’s all dig out our leather, spandex, and all things rainbow and have a blast dancing in the streets with the same relief, exhilaration, and faith in humanity we’d have if the Equality Act has more than a Progressive’s chance in Mississippi during the Trump administration!

Enter Sandmann: A Teachable Moment About What We’re Teaching Boys

If you’re like me, you’re thoroughly sick of seeing the sweet, pubescent face of Nicholas Sandmann as he stoically exercises his “right” to encroach on the personal space of Vietnam vet and Native American elder, Nathan Phillips, and smirk in his face.

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You’re probably also emotionally spent from indignation over this Catholic boy’s brazen display of disrespect for his elders, especially one who served our country during a war, and that it seems his parents didn’t teach him the virtue of humility. But what’s been overshadowed by this MAGA-hat(e) incident is the actual reason why Sandmann and his classmates were in Washington DC: to protest abortion rights. This begs the question of all religion-based high schools: What lessons are they really teaching our impressionable adolescent males?

I find it disturbing, in a Handmaid’s Tale kind of way, that schools like Covington Catholic are teaching teenage boys that they have the right, even the responsibility, to tell grown women what they can and can’t do with their own bodies and their own futures. And that this particular school sponsored a field trip so that the boys, our future leaders, can practice applying the theory of this “right” in a real-life setting.

I can’t help but wonder does the imparting of knowledge like this lay the groundwork for these teenage boys to grow up believing that they inherently have some level of power or authority of over women? That perhaps if they can influence something as critical as a woman’s choice about her reproductive health, they may also have the right to arbitrate other important things like when a woman is choosing to have to sex with them versus when she just needs a little coaxing? Is that the lesson men like Bill Cosby, Bill Clinton, and Brett Kavanaugh somehow learned in their formative years that paved the way for adult behaviors like the sexual assaults they’ve been credibly accused of?

We teach boys not to cry because it shows weakness; we teach them in grammar school not to hit girls because they are weaker than they are; we teach them that aggression in sports brings victory and in life brings the spoils of success. But what are the specific examples we, as a society, are setting to ingrain in them the belief that women are thinking, feeling, intelligent beings who are their equals? Aside from Gillette’s flaccid attempt to shame men out of their lifelong inclinations toward toxic masculinity in an ad for their products, what values are we really instilling in our boys? While everyone has the right to his or her opinion on abortion, the question of whether or not someone has the right to intimidate or force a woman out of choosing one is a matter of law. And that answer, in most places in the US, is an unequivocal no.

While we’re talking to our boys about respecting their elders and not pulling little Sally’s hair in homeroom, let’s make sure we’re also teaching them the difference between having an opinion about women and respecting women’s legal and human rights.

She-Devil: Susan Collins, Women, and the Kavanaugh Vote

 

Now that the SCOTUS has its newest credibly-accused sexual predator firmly in place thanks, in part, to credibly-accused sexual predator, Donald Trump, it’s clear who’s the undisputed winner of the GOP scapegoat award: Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, for her surprising YES vote on the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh, our latest exemplar of Teflon-coated, whiny, white male privilege.

Now, rather than inundating Mitch McConnell’s voicemail with angry rants about Kavanaugh’s confirmation, or even Democrat turncoat Joe Manchin’s, we’ve diverted our attention to Collins, the woman. It’s easy to see why she’s seen as a gender traitor by many if not most American women given that she was supposed to be a NO vote. What the hell happened? How was Sen. Lisa Murkowki of Sarah Palinville, Alaska the one to find the courage to push past the partisan bullying and bullshit, and say out loud that Kavanaugh is unfit to serve?

From what I’ve observed through some of my female friends’ social media posts and the female Twitter trolls I’ve encountered during my own protest posting, Collins represents a vibrant, vocal collective of women who choose to believe the hysterical denials of a man accused of sexual assault, whom they don’t even know, over the credible allegations from his multiple female accusers. I keep asking myself, how could this be? I could certainly try to understand it if Kavanaugh was their brother, ex-boyfriend, friend, or hell, even the guy they once lived down the street from. But the majority of Kavanaugh’s harem of avid supporters has never even met him. It’s utterly baffling.

As I struggle my way through trying to make sense of this travesty of an “investigation” and confirmation process, I’m reminded of one of my #metoo moments that happened 39 years ago. Yes, I said “one” of mine, and yes, 39 years is a long time, but I can assure you, like Christine Blasey Ford, I remember it with haunting clarity like it was yesterday and I’m still that scared, confused 10-year-old girl.

One summer evening, as I was walking home, the neighborhood pedophile, a friendly seventy-something husband and father, called me over to his front porch. Teddy had engaged me in a discussion of a sexual nature on at least two occasions. I thought it was funny and silly to hear a grownup talking like that, and while I can’t recall his exact words, I’ll never forget the offer he made that sent me running home and made me afraid to walk past his house for years after. He said, “Why don’t you come inside and I’ll let you feel my balls.” How generous of him. While it was almost 40 years ago, I’ve never forgotten him standing in the threshold holding open the screen door for me like the witch luring Hansel and Gretel into her shack. And not just because I could’ve been raped by a disgusting old man, but because of the way the adult women responded once the incident was discovered.

After I ran off, Teddy must’ve got nervous and in a preemptive move, told his wife, as I later learned from another neighbor, something to the effect that I was making advances or suggestions toward him. Yes, that’s right—a seventy-something-year-old man trying to convince his wife that a 10-year-old child attempted to seduce him. Perhaps even more shocking is that his wife believed him and apparently contacted my mother.

I’m not sure what the conversation was between them because my mother is 80 now and her memory does not serve her that well anymore. But I  remember my mother asked me if I was hurt or if he touched me, and after I informed her that he hadn’t, she told me to stay away from him and not to tell my father, fearing he would get involved in the way all concerned fathers would. So essentially, the sexual assault attempt on me was swept under the rug, and we were all supposed to pretend it never happened.

Over the years, I’ve convinced myself that both my mother and the pedophile’s wife were products of a generation of submissive women who were brainwashed into believing that men’s bad behaviors were to be forever justified by shifting the scrutiny toward what the woman/girl did to provoke the behavior. I accepted that the man who sexually harassed me never paid for that crime since, like most child victims, I believed I was somehow responsible because when he called me to his porch, I went.

Sadly, however, that subservient, permissive attitude women were expected to have toward men isn’t some distant, distasteful memory from a bygone era. It has become abundantly clear over the last two years that this ideology that men can do no wrong and that women who accuse them of sexual misbehavior are somehow responsible for what happened to them, or are just plain lying, is alive and well in 2018. Somehow the GOP has managed to cultivate a new generation of women who believe unwelcome and/or violent sexual behavior and demeaning language directed at and about women is “no big deal,” especially if it happened in a man’s past. We shouldn’t, after all, ruin a prominent dude’s career and life now by holding him accountable for one or all of his misogynistic whims toward women in the past.

Many minds more intellectual than mine say the problem isn’t only men; it’s the rape culture that continues to undermine a woman’s truth in favor of a man’s right to “due process.” We should be able to accommodate both, but in an age where the balance of power clearly tips to the right; the gender breakdown of our Congress and lawmakers disproportionately favors men, and too many Republican female voters just don’t feel that women’s rights issues are their problems, it’s hard to see how we can change that culture.

Like many women’s rights proponents, I’ve vented my anger toward Sen. Collins as it was her YES vote that ultimately put an “unfit” man who “lacks judicial temperament” on the Supreme Court. But Susan Collins isn’t the only responsible party—it’s every woman who continues to empower and enable condescending, male-dominated political and social ideologies by siding with accused men based on their party affiliation and diminishing the words and stories of female victims who find the courage to stand up to the “boys will be boys” club and speak their truths.

I’m keeping my fingers crossed for that blue wave that I’ve heard is coming in November. Let’s hope it hits, so that the next generation of women won’t be swept away in the mounting GOP red-tide that has us headed toward mandatory red dresses.

Image result for handmaid's tale

George Kraychyk/Hulu

Writing Lesbian Romance is Cheaper than Therapy – Jean Copeland

            Recently, I was given some questions for an upcoming signing event for the September 12th release of my third novel, Summer Fling. While scanning my choices, I found one that seemed deceptively easy: Why do I write in the genre of lesbian romance fiction?

Well, of course it’s because I’m a lesbian who likes romance. But that answer didn’t quite satisfy me, and the question lingered. As I searched my soul at the crowded coffee house, sipping away at a cup of House Blend, a much deeper reason revealed itself like a breakthrough in a therapy session.

Turns out, my affinity for writing loud and proud about lesbian romance is a sort of literary retaliation against having lived decades of my life in the closet, afraid and ashamed of who I was. Even though I’d had girlfriends, I’d never felt entitled to experience my relationships the same way heterosexuals do, with pride and an eagerness to share them with others. The simple idea of walking down the street holding hands with a girl overwhelmed me with fear—not just of the possible immediate physical danger, but also the potential of some irreversible catastrophe like losing friends or my family’s approval once they’d discovered this part of me.

What a sad way to live. But in the pre-Will & Grace era, too many of us lived that way, convinced it was best to conceal and conform rather than assert our individuality and endure the fallout. It had a more profound impact on my life than the mere inconvenience of keeping a secret. Because both society and our government devalued the humanity of LGBT Americans, I lived for years with a devalued sense of self and the poor choices that usually accompany it.

“After all we are nothing more or less than we choose to reveal.”

–Sylvia Plath

I’ve finally forgiven the former me for bowing to societal expectations and allowing the opinions of others to dictate how much happiness and respect I felt entitled to. The process took longer than one might imagine, with a few relationships falling by the wayside as a consequence.

That’s where writing comes in. What better way to liberate myself from the tethers of a history of self-loathing than by freely writing about the freedoms I’d been deprived of for over two decades? Now, when I consider the criticisms of others about me as an out lesbian, especially those from the current presidential administration, I have to scour the kingdom far and wide for a fuck to give.

Kim Novak No fucks

This naturally lends itself to the other reason I love writing lesbian romance: the absolute control I have over the characters and their circumstances. Yes, I admit that I like venturing to the dark side and letting absolute power corrupt me absolutely.

As readers, we enjoy watching characters plummet into desperate situations and then try to claw their way out. We commiserate with them through the real-life conflicts and complications we experience in our own lives and relationships. We feel we’re not alone in what we’re dealing with because even though the characters aren’t real, we may assume the author has also experienced them in a similar fashion. Ultimately, if the story is well-written and the characters well-developed, we draw hope from the notion that our heroine always comes out stronger in the end, whether she obtains what she initially desired or walks away with nothing more than a grain of precious wisdom.

A veteran of a few defunct relationships, I savor the momentary escape of a love affair I can experience from a safe emotional distance, knowing my fate isn’t in someone else’s hands. Through my characters, I reflect on mistakes I’ve made in real-life relationships, so hopefully, after knowing better, I’ll do better.

Kate Randall, the flawed and irritatingly guarded main character in Summer Fling, is definitely seasoned with a bit of Essence of Jean. I don’t know if it’s such a smart idea to admit that since at times she’s frustrating and rather unsympathetic in her vehemence to protect her fragile heart. But like all of us, she’s a product of her life experiences, for better or worse, and is trying to figure out how to navigate a new, unexpected romance with a much younger woman who’s rocked her off her stable emotional foundation. I suppose I should give Kate a break. I don’t know anyone who’s gone through a breakup and hasn’t been a little annoying and unsympathetic at times. We all either have that friend—or we are that friend. If we’re lucky, though, we also have friends like Didi and Viv, Kate’s unconditionally sassy and supportive besties who help her hold tight when she feels she’s losing her grip.

Whether you’re that friend or not, check out Summer Fling from Bold Strokes Books for a fun and funny foray into the complex, unpredictable, and love-affirming world of lesbian romance after forty.

Upcoming Readings/Signings:

9/16/17:  Annie’s Bookstop of Worcester, Worcester, MA, 3-5:00 p.m.

10/13/17:  Provincetown Library, Provincetown, MA, 10-11:00 a.m.

10/14/17:  Provincetown Library, Provincetown, MA, 1-2:00 p.m.

11/7/17: Yale Barnes and Noble, New Haven, CT, 6:30-8:00 p.m.

Visit my Bold Strokes Books author page:

https://www.boldstrokesbooks.com/authors/jean-copeland-113