Five years on already

5th candleIt was a cloudy Friday afternoon in January 2010, about 12:30, at the place that was my de facto second home in Fresno, the Revue coffee shop (since sold and renamed Mia Cuppa) in the Tower District.

I met up for a lunch/coffee appointment with my former Fresno Bee colleague, Jennifer Ward. At that point, it had been eight months since I was discarded, in a mass layoff, by the McClatchy chain, from the job for which I had moved from Connecticut six years before, as an assistant features editor at the Bee. Jen was the paper’s interactive editor, brought in from the Dallas Morning News to implement and oversee the paper’s online operations.

But Jen had just been let go, too, and unlike this frustrated, depressed, middle-aged editor and writer who couldn’t even get a dog to sniff me despite a glowing resume, she had some ideas.

So she sat down with me this particular afternoon to introduce me to the world of social media.

She told me I needed to do three things — start a Facebook account, start a Twitter account and create a blog — so prospective employers would see that I was adept at social media.

I told her no Facebook — for one, I reasoned that the same people who told me “You need to get on Facebook!” were the same ones who told me “You need to get on MySpace!” two or three years before, and who’s to say that in a year they wouldn’t be telling me “You need to get on Zork.com!” or some other site? Also, while I was out as transgender to my family, my friends in Fresno and my closest friends back in Connecticut, I didn’t feel comfortable having a social-media page as Frannie 2.0 yet, and wouldn’t be for another year.

But I was more than amenable to Twitter and a blog. She walked me through both. She told me to go with WordPress, as it was an easy-to-manage content-management system. I came up with the name Franorama for my blog — same as my radio show back home at WPKN in Bridgeport — but someone had beaten me to it. So I settled on Franorama World, and she left me to play with the blog and learn to navigate my way around it.

But what to write?

I had the world in front of me, but what would I write that would make sense? And people would want to read?

Also, when I left my longtime job as the entertainment editor/music writer at the New Haven Register to move to bigger and better across the country, I was seriously burnt on writing. My job was two and a half full-time jobs compressed into 55-60 hours each week — planning, laying out and supervising a Weekend section, writing one or two feature stories, planning and lining up interview questions, writing a music column — and the new job in Fresno was strictly editing, no writing, 40 hours a week. And save for posting an occasional CD review on Amazon, and a handful of blog posts on MySpace and Fresnobeehive.com, I had done no writing for nearly six years. I had to dig a lot of ashes out of the furnace.

So I was seriously out of practice.

Technically, my first post was on Feb. 3, 2010 — an automated introductory post from WordPress on the day I finally activated the account. But I finally found some inspiration four days later, the first Sunday of February. One of my two football teams, the New Orleans Saints, was ending decades of frustration by playing in its first Super Bowl. I banged out a post before the game about the excitement level I felt going in … and afterward, a little more ragged (and buzzing) for the wear, I posted again about the glorious aftermath.

I figured I would go back to writing entertainment/review pieces — after all, I reviewed albums and the occasional movie for 20 years in my professional life — but I still didn’t feel I had a purpose.

Then came April — and I found my purpose, not to mention an outlet to keep me relatively sane as I went through both my transition and the looooooooong unemployment.

And here we are, five years later; I can’t believe that. And now, where the hell am I, really?

*****

It was a Column One feature that ran in the Los Angeles Times the last week of March, about one of their own.

It was the heartbreaking story of veteran Times sportswriter Mike Penner, who, in 2007, announced in a column buried on page two of the sports section that he was transitioning and going by the name Christine Daniels. She wrote a blog for the paper on her transition while going about her sports duties, then suddenly vanished from the Times altogether.

In late 2008, word got out that Christine went back to living as Mike, asked the Times to take the extraordinary step of removing the blog from the Web (it did) and distanced him/herself from even closest friends. His/her marriage to a longtime Times copy editor ended, and while Christine was generally treated well by fellow journalists and athletes, she encountered increasing pettiness and sniping from within the trans “community.” On the Saturday of Thanksgiving weekend 2009, (s)he committed suicide.

It hit extremely close to home. I had been a sportswriter for six years (and could never have transitioned were I still in sports, or any sort of quasi-public position in the media), we were both blonde and blue-eyed, only about three years apart in age, had the before-and-after photos that reflected the inner sadness and joy, respectively, and shared some musical tastes. And the weekend of the suicide, I was going through my own hell with the transition — I was home in Connecticut, near the end of three weeks away from Fresno, where I lived at the time, I had come out to my family 2 1/2 months before, and I was encountering a lot of weirdness from them. And out of work nearly nine months at that point.

Anyway, the Times story, on top of the actual suicide, gave me great room for pause. It was a huge speed bump — I would have these from time to time, and they were actually healthy things, me making sure I knew what I was doing before I took the next step, especially since I was about to start with my hormone replacement therapy, and that was gonna be a gigantic step physically.

And the story was the light bulb going off in my brain.

I should write about my own transition.

I should chronicle parts of what was going on as I navigated the Twin Towers of Anxiety — transition and unemployment. I should write here to explain to the great many people I knew just what the hell this gender thang was all about, try to get them to understand something that wasn’t general knowledge at the time, something I didn’t even totally understand.

I would bring people along on the journey with me.

At the same time, it would help me get down and firm up things that I would write about in my book. I guess I had the idea for a book all along — I started keeping a journal of sorts about the time I had my epiphany two years earlier — and I’ve even had the title for my book all along. (It’s a great title; trust me.) And the blog would help me condense and formulate some of these thoughts.

So, there you go. I wrote a post on the Times story. That’s how Franorama 2.0 evolved.

I would write tons about the gender thang, mostly the surprising amount of joy and acceptance and encouragement and downright fun I encountered, plus some physical aspects of the transition, my milestones, my fantasy about how I envisioned a trans community vs. the reality, and my coming-out to many people at home, along along with some of the storms of frustration — and of utter failure and near-suicidal despair — that came with the joblessness that would never end. I would express feelings and I would also write pieces that provoked and polarized. For a while, I answered questions people would ask me about the transition in an “Ask Aunt Fran” section of the blog. (My closest friend in Fresno, Heather, told me that she sometimes referred to me as Aunt Fran to others, so I stole the name for myself.) I would write about the shitstorms that threatened to consume me, between family weirdness, the unemployment stretching from weeks to months to years, and the approaching end of my unemployment benefits. And I would write eventually about moving home. And about getting a job at last — oops, false alarm — and getting a job at last, for real, a year ago.

And I would still write about other things. I would post my radio playlists, both at WPKN and, starting two years ago, my online show at Cygnus Radio. occasionally, I would write tributes to recently deceased musicians (some of whom were friends of mine) or other people who had impacts on me. My most-read blog post was a tribute I wrote after the death of the well-loved drummer for one of the greatest cult-following bands of all, NRBQ, Tommy Ardolino, in January 2012 — woke up the next morning to find more than 1,800 reads.

And the blog did get me a couple of job interviews at larger media outlets. Legally, prospective employers in California and Connecticut can’t ask me about the transition, lest they run afoul of discrimination laws. But they can say, “I read your blog” — and that was their sideways way of telling me, “I know about you being trans and it’s no problem” without bringing up the topic.

(Unfortunately, I didn’t get either job. One was as a copy editor at Pacific Standard magazine in Santa Barbara, and I was told by a Facebook friend I made that day that I was No. 1 on everyone’s list after interviewing all the candidates, but the editor-in-chief put in his two weeks shortly after, and the new EIC hired her own people. The other was back here, a six-hour interview for an associate news producer job at ESPN; I was left on the hook for six weeks, then rejected via voicemail.)

Just the act of writing blog posts, or journal entries, was therapy unto itself. Sometimes it was just what I needed to get out of my skull for a while.

During the ever-elongated stretch of jobless days in Fresno, with unemployment money coming in (at least the first 99 weeks), unable to afford to do much traveling, and living in a room in an alcohol-dysfunctional house, I developed a routine: wake up and go through emails and the latest news; eat breakfast; ride the bicycle 12-18 miles three, four times a week in the late morning/midday, before the sun and heat reached their peaks; have lunch; shower and doll up; be out of the house before my housemates got home; and drive down to Revue and open the laptop. I’d often spend much of the rest of the day/night there until closing (11 p.m. during the week, midnight Fridays-Saturdays) — yapping to people on the laptop, socializing with friends at the shop, conversing with the crew … and catching up on notes for the book and posting to this here blog.

It was a creative and cheap way to keep myself from cracking up — and believe me, I came close a few times.

And perhaps, I thought, the blog would attract a large-enough following, and maybe the right person would stumble across it and offer me a book deal. I’d seen it happen; another California woman with a blog, a mom in Orange County named Lori Duron, created Raising My Rainbow to chronicle her gender-nonconforming, kindergarten-age son, and ended up writing a book.

But for me, a funny thing happened.

People stopped reading the blog not long after I moved home, nearly 2 1/2 years ago. The number of hits declined rapidly.

Maybe it had to do with Facebook’s ever-changing algorithms and its whimsical way of deliberately preventing people from seeing one’s posts. (Previously, I would post the blog link on my page, and my post would get dozens of hits; now, I’m lucky if I get double figures.) Maybe people were just tired of blogs. Worse, perhaps I had committed the ultimate writers’ sin — maybe I’d simply become irrelevant. Maybe my story was played-out. (In my mind, it wasn’t as long as I was still job-hunting.)

I mean, I feel I’ve drifted away from so many people back here in the time I’ve been home — including quite a few who were all “Come home, Frannie, we miss you!” when I was stuck out West but who vanished once I arrived. And now that so many young and glamorous transgirls, the Laverne Coxes and Janet Mocks, are out and in the spotlight, I mean who the hell is gonna want to read the blatherings of a fat, fiftysomething trannie who couldn’t even find a full-time job for five years — in huge part because the job world considered me old?

So over the last year, I’ve stopped much of my writing, and not just because I went back to work. There’s no real place for me back here in Connecticut, and there’s certainly no room for another trans book on bookstore shelves. (Hell, the Barnes & Noble 10 minutes from me, in Waterbury, doesn’t even have an LGBT section!)

The only blip on this descendant bell curve came last summer. Through a friend named Ina Chadwick, a veteran storyteller who had seen me on stage at Cafe Nine in New Haven a couple years ago, I was introduced to Tom Fiffer, who runs a blog called The Good Men Project. And while it’s a place for a mostly male-oriented perspective, well, I didn’t trade in all my boy cards. And in the wake of Robin Williams’ suicide, I banged out a post about prolonged depression — something I lived with from puberty until my first hormone shot that April five years ago.

But otherwise, I guess, why bother? I’m just another sound in the noise chamber. I’ve been told that by life, in not so many words.

I long ago stopped keeping notes for the book. I mean, I have hundreds of pages of journal notes — I could have a book three times the size of War and Peace — and am nowhere near finished.

As for the manuscript, I recently started to have a fourth go at it — I mean, having torn up my knee twice the last two months, I’ve been mostly homebound, unable to drive with this brace I’ve been wearing, and this would be a perfect time to dig in and write — and am once again getting bogged down about two miles out of town on the road of a thousand-mile literary journey.

Why bother writing it? I mean, if no one’s gonna read the blog, who’s gonna read a book? What if I put my entire heart into this thing — and let’s face it, it would not be an entirely cheery book, and some people most definitely are not going to like it — and no one buys it? As Peggy Lee once said, oh, no — I’m not ready for that final disappointment.

This albatross has grown to massive proportions.

*****

It’s true that I’ve had many friends, both to my face and on Facebook, tell me, at some point or another, “Write the goddamned book!” And, well, over the last three days, independently of each other (they don’t know each other), two of my favorite people have chimed in on the topic.

Thursday morning, Paola, my dearest friend (we were a couple for four years half a lifetime ago; these days, she’s famiglia to me), drove me to my first physical therapy session for my knee. I told her I gave up on writing.

She told me, “I can’t hear this anymore.”

I could hear the temperature in her voice rise a couple of degrees; she was getting passionate about this — she comes from a very passionate Italian family — while I was welling up, doing my damndest not to turn into an exploded pile of goo before my appointment, wanting this to just go away.

“You have a lot of friends out there who’ve been telling you to write it. Admit it. Right?”

I nodded, hoping this would go away.

“And I’m the head of your fan club, and I’m telling you to write it.”

“Well, no one reads my blog posts anymore –“

“Well, no one reads blogs anymore! No one has the time anymore. I don’t read them! Do you still read blogs?”

“Well, if something interesting pops up …”

“There! Calling the kettle black! “

“But I used to have a lot of people read it. Now, no one reads it. And if no one’s reading the blog anymore, who the hell’s gonna want to read a book? What if I totally put myself out there and no one reads the damn book? I’m not ready for that!” Again, the waterworks were welling near the surface.

“I get that!” she said, dialing back a couple of degrees. “I heard a lot of authors talk about it — that fear that no one will read what they write. (She listens to a lot of NPR.) It’s not unusual.

“You know I’m on your side, right?” she added. “I would love for you to write that book.”

And the next morning, checking out the Book of Faces, I saw that Cheryl — a makeup artist and hair stylist extraordinaire in metro New York, a sometimes model and one of the coolest rock’n’roll chicas in the universe — had tagged me in a meme on The Writer’s Circle’s page. The post — accompanied by a photo of ’60s-vintage manual typewriter sitting on a pristine pink-and-white Afghan — read:

You Write a Novel

Everyone Loves Your Novel

Someone Makes a Movie Based on Your Novel

Your Favorite Actor is Cast in the Movie Based on Your Novel

You Become Best Friends with Said Actor

It Can’t Happen if You Don’t

SIT YOUR ASS DOWN AND WRITE YOUR NOVEL

Well, it’s nonfiction, but her point was very firmly made, and out of left field; totally unexpected.

And if two of my favorite people are giving me cosmic kicks in the ass, then, well, that says something.

I’m running out of reasons not to write the book, I guess. I’m also running out of time. Suddenly, my epiphany was seven years ago, and I’m that close to being officially in my mid-50s. Not to mention certainly in no shape financially to be able to retire.

But the blog? Who knows? The jury’s still out as to whether it’s served its purpose. But I guess I’ll always find something to write about from time to time …

*****

A footnote: My friend Jen, the person responsible for this blog, eventually found her muse — and a huge groove — after some initial pain. About three weeks after she lost her job, her hubby, Scott, was laid off as well. They followed their muse, put their heads together and came up with a brilliant idea.

Both are hardcore gamer geeks, and they noticed how Fresno/Clovis had several gaming stores, but none that were very good. They realized they could open a kickass store that filled the voids and met the needs of the local gaming community. They formulated a business plan, secured a small-business loan, and the Crazy Squirrel Game Store came into being in 2011. It’s now the game game in town, with a well-stocked sales room and a game/tournament room that’s always busy with players squaring off.

I couldn’t be more proud of them. And thankful for her.

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2 Responses to “Five years on already”

  1. paulstef Says:

    Some of us still read and still remember the Register days. I looked forward to the column every Friday. Keep writing. So long as one person remembers a column or two all the agita was worth it. On a side note wasn’t that classic NRBQ lineup just about the best quartet ever assembled? Must have seen them over 100 times.

    Paul

  2. Jay Mucci Says:

    Fran, don’t forget… some of us (like me, for instance) used to read you on a weekly basis during the old Republican/American days. I wish I had kept up when you moved to the Register, but I didn’t buy the Register and didn’t know which days your articles and reviews would be printed. Anyhow, I still check out your blog. And I would love to read more music articles and album reviews. You have a great gift for writing.

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