Posts By Sam McAuliff
Come listen/watch me read from my latest novel, Reset, on Facebook Live this Thursday, Oct. 21st at 7pm CST. Free event. If it goes well there will be more in the future. Just follow the link below. Come join me.
I’ve just been informed that my latest novel, Reset, is up for preorder on Amazon. Order now and it’ll be available on Oct. 15th. Ebook only this time. Follow the link below to get your copy.
Have you ever made a choice you later regret? Or witnessed a tragedy you wish you had the power to change? What if there was a company that promised you could go back and revise things? Such a company does exist; however, there’s a catch: Once you go back, you have to stay there and live your life from that point forward, regardless of the outcome. And you can only do it once.
Three individuals make this journey back in time, two by choice, one sentenced by the court.
Each one has his or her reasons for taking this journey, unique to themselves and all varying in virtue. They are guided and worried over by a dutiful man who works for the company that holds the technology to make it all possible. Our three narrators, Roxy, Yuri, and Kam, each continue on their own separate journeys, all hoping for a positive outcome. The question is: Will they all succeed?
Travelogue: Galesburg, IL
I never have a book to leave on the “Leave One – Take One” shelf at the train station. If I did, I wouldn’t be perusing the shelf in the first place. I don’t know why I bother. Though the books are different every time, the themes are not. I scan the shelves thoroughly, however, knowing that hidden amongst the thin paperback romances, the Reader’s Digest Condensed Books, and books about the Christian God, there will be a hidden gem somewhere. Last time I was here that gem took the guise of a large print novel about a modern retelling of the Arabian Nights. I don’t read large print normally, but my no line bifocals are proof that I should probably start. This time, the book I take off the shelf is a memoir written by a local man I’ve never heard of who uses words to paint a sepia photograph of Illinois in the 1950s. I wasn’t born yet, so I have no choice but to believe him. I still have another two hours to wait until the Southwest Chief comes in from Chicago.
Travelogue: Amtrak train, somewhere in the middle of Northern Missouri
Across from me in my lower-level seat sits a man about my age and an older woman. I take them for a couple, though an odd one. I learn they are snowbirds and that he has a bad back and that he used to work for BNSF and has a radio in his bag that lets him know everything that’s going on with the trains. He knows everything about the trains, just listen to him, he’ll tell you. She uses a lot of “we” statements, solidifying my assumption they are a couple. Later, just before he falls into a medicated, blissful sleep on the outskirts of Kansas City, I learn she’s his mother.
Travelogue: Oklahoma City
The last part of my trip is on an Amtrak charter bus, with seats smaller than a child’s booster seat. I say the f word in front of three young children and their parents as I’m trying to put my backpack on in the narrow aisle. I feel guilty for a second before I realize they’re in public and bound to hear things. Besides, I haven’t pissed since Newton KS, which was 3 ½ hours ago, because the driver didn’t see fit to tell us there wasn’t a bathroom on board. So, I’m in a hurry. I head into the station, forgetting where the bathrooms are, finally finding them down a rabbit hole. When I’m finished, I stand in the middle of the room dripping and annoyed. That is, until a frightened child, a different one, silently points to the dryer on the wall before she leaves the room.
I walk to my hotel, which is just around the corner from the station, tired, bedraggled, annoyed, hungry, and not feeling so fresh. The man behind the counter says he’s not sure if he can get me into my room before 3pm. It’s eight in the morning. I say to him, “Sir, I have been traveling over twenty hours, I’m tired, hungry, and I need a shower. What can you do for me?” Turns out he can get me into a different room, this one with two queens instead of one king for the same price. I say, “Book it,” and hand him my credit card. He hands it back a moment later with my room keys and three cards for free breakfast in their dining room.
Travelogue: Galesburg, IL
My layover at the Galesburg train station is much shorter this time, only an hour. Out of boredom I peruse the bookshelf again. Some new ones have been added. Among them, three Time Life picture books about magical beasts and legends, as well as two books on witchcraft. Quite different than what is normally there. I retrieve the memoir from my bag that I never got around to reading while in Oklahoma City, finding Golden Girls reruns and a Pawn Stars marathon more enticing. I put back the book I had taken before and pick up the Encyclopedia of Witches and Witchcraft. It looks interesting. Something might come from it.
So, I just finished reading Henry James’ The Bostonians. I know, I know, I’m a little late to the party, considering it was published in 1886. But even through all my years of college as an English major I had never heard of this novel. That’s not so surprising but given my queerness and want of uncovering queerness in literature, you would have thought I would have stumbled across it much sooner, but I digress. I have stumbled across it now and yeah, I’ve got some thoughts.
First, I want to say, it took me several pages (or chapters, but who’s counting) to realize the connection between the title and the term ‘Boston marriage.’ If you are unacquainted with the term, a Boston marriage is a Victorian term used to describe two women living together, supporting themselves, without the presence of a man. They may or may not have been lovers. Given Victorian quaintness, it would have been improper and impolite in the extreme to mention it if they were. Given the conventions of his time, James is never explicit about the relationship between the two female protagonists, Olive Chancellor and Verena Tarrant, but there is compelling evidence, when one reads with a queer sensibility (queer in the current use of the word queer) in mind.
With a queer sensibility in mind, common tropes of lesbian relationships presented from a cis male gaze are definitely present but they are presented in such a way as to invoke ridicule and pity on the ‘poor spinsters.’ However, it may surprise the reader that I don’t want to be too harsh with James and I think that over the years his novel about politics and relationships may have been not only harshly judged, but wrongly judged. Hear me out.
First, the comparison of this story and that of Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew should come easily to mind to anyone who has read both. Both deal, in part, with controlling women who dare to speak their own mind. However, at the end of the Shrew Katherina is clearly the victim of Stockholm Syndrome, seemingly living happily ever after. While at the end of The Bostonians, James leads the reader to the conclusion that Verena, over the years, is not so happy, but she accepts her fate regardless. An obvious comparison can be made between Shakespeare’s Petruchio and Basil Ransom, both of whom want to have calm, obedient wives. Their methods may be different (Petruchio uses torture, such as withholding food and sleep; while Ransom uses romance) but their goal is the same.
This is also a novel about opposing political views. Ransom’s family in Mississippi lost their fortune after the Civil War and he has gone to New York to seek his fortune as a lawyer. He travels to Boston to meet his distant cousin, Olive Chancellor. It is Olive who takes him to hear Verena speak about feminism. Both cousins are instantly enchanted with the young girl, and each want to win her affections; Olive with the intention of winning her for the cause of feminism, which would also mean that young Verena would not marry…because feminism. The rest of the story is about the competition between Olive and Basil to win her to their side. Basil is a staunch southern conservative, who belittles the women’s movement and is against everything Olive and Verena stand for. At first, the thought that Verena would throw Olive over for him, when she is so committed to the cause, and to Olive, might strike some readers as ridiculous. Unless the reader has ever read a novel or seen a movie about lesbians that didn’t come out in the last fifteen years or so. Those of us all too common with this eventuality know how this is going to end, though you spend the whole novel hoping Verena decides to renounce both of her main pursuers and go off on her own. But striking a win for feminism (and closeted lesbians) was not James’ intention.
In my humble opinion, I think James was satirizing all sides. I’m just not sure that he had a dog in that fight. Neither side comes out as seeming righteous. It could definitely be argued that they are mere caricatures, drawn for the sole purpose of James to make fun of two groups whom he found completely ridiculous (I haven’t read up on his thoughts on the matter, I wanted to come at this untainted, only put out my thoughts without being unduly influenced). And that would be a fair assessment. The characters are not drawn very deeply, though James does spend a lot of time with each character in introspection. As my mother would have said rather placatingly, “He tries.”
I honestly thought that as a queer person I would have a stronger reaction to how the alleged lesbian that is Olive Chancellor is drawn, but that was not to be. While I felt for her plight, I couldn’t help thinking that she would have been no better of a choice for Verena than Basil was. She, also, wanted Verena to be the person she, Olive, wanted her to be, just as Verena’s parents and later Basil wanted to control her. And Verena herself was no angel. She is drawn as fickle and naïve (I really think bisexual women have a bone to pick with James about the current mistrust some still have of them that a bisexual woman is likely to leave a woman for a man—I think this all started with James) and something of a liar. She strings both Olive and Basil along, promising her loyalty to each in turn, then having a change of heart later when she feels guilty. But this doesn’t make me hate her, or James. Obviously, his knowledge of lesbians, alleged or otherwise, was scant, as was everyone who wasn’t one, so we can’t fault him there.
So what was James trying to say with this novel? What was his overall point? I tend to think he was saying that no matter which side you were on, the more fervent you were, you were just ridiculous and bound to lose whatever it is that you were fighting for. I think James used the character of Dr. Prance (someone else I think was an alleged lesbian) to voice his own beliefs. Dr. Prance was more in sympathy with Basil Ransom than with the feminist movement, but she was not against the advancement of women. She was more of the belief that women were doing alright for themselves, putting more stock in actions and less in words. In other words, all the speeches weren’t really doing much good, to her way of thinking, that women should spend more time doing and less time talking about what they want to do. Granted, still a misguided view that doesn’t take into account restrictions placed on women because of poverty or race, but it may very well have been in keeping with a number of people at that time.
At the end of the day, I think this was a novel about class war (the rich Bostonians against the newly poor Mississippian) as well as an older way of thinking (slavery and the subjugation of women) versus the new (abolition and feminism). The novel was written at a turning point in our country when views were starting to lean more liberal, and the southern man needed to either change and adapt or just keep his views to himself. I think James was trying to capture that time in our history without picking a side per se, but still giving the most expected ending. So, I can look upon James and his Bostonians with empathy and accept the story he has presented for what it is: political satire; and forgive his over-simplified characterizations of a great many people he possibly disagreed with. I like to think, however, that eventually Olive found someone who was actually on her side, believed in the cause wholeheartedly, and stuck by her. She deserves a happy ending.
This is partly the story about a dress. The dress was a color reminiscent of orange sherbet, with little flowers, the color of which I don’t remember. It was made of a heavy, coarse material. It was itchy and hot and the skirt kept getting wrapped around my waist, making sitting uncomfortable and fidgeting inevitable. This annoyed my parents, who were trying to watch my brother’s eighth grade graduation in peace and didn’t need my fidgeting beside them. I didn’t mean to steal their focus, but it was partially their fault for making me wear the damn thing in the first place. At least, for once, my mother had not tried to curl my long, thin hair, which had never once held a curl for longer than a half hour, despite her best efforts. She simply held it back from my face with a barrette. Those little plastic teeth couldn’t hold on for long, however, and would eventually start to slide down my hair and be of no use whatsoever.
I remember when my brother’s name was called I clapped loudly and longer than anyone, not just because I was proud of him, but because I knew that meant that my torture was soon coming to an end. However, being that our last name is in the middle of the alphabet, we couldn’t leave just yet. Learning that was annoying. Afterwards, my mother admonished me again for fidgeting so much. I answered her by declaring, “I will never wear a dress again for as long as I live.” My mother, a consummate slacks wearer from way back, replied, “Okay.” It was 1981, I was eight years old, and I have kept that promise for the last forty years.
Last Friday, I set in the office of an endocrinologist to ask questions about whether or not, given my current medical situation, I would be able to take testosterone, should I decide that was something I wanted to do. I was there for medical reasons. Instead of just answering my questions and telling me the medical risks, she informed me that I would need to undergo psychiatric counseling so that I could be diagnosed with gender dysphoria. This is not actually the law in Illinois. She also proceeded to ask me stupid, insulting questions. When she asked, “So, how long have you been dressing like a man?” I wasn’t sure if I should be more insulted or be concerned about her state of intelligence, to say nothing about her compassion. My answer to her question was, “I haven’t been dressing like a man, but I have been dressing like me for over twenty years.”
I mean, honestly, when does she want me to start counting from? From the time I was eight and stood up for my right not to have to wear a dress? My clothing after that was pretty neutral, from then until high school graduation. Jeans, tee-shirts, Polo shirts. Did those clothes have a gender? What about the cutesy pullovers my mother would buy me that would match hers because she said, “If I like it, I know she will?” What was their gender? Or mine, for that matter, considering I would sometimes wear them? What about later, in college, after I starting dating a woman and my wardrobe slowly but surely started to mimic that of my butch girlfriend? Was I dressing like a man or like the butch I was trying so hard to be?
Also, the idea of having to go to a doctor and have them give me a diagnosis like being nonbinary or trans or anything different from the norm is a disease. Just one more thing the normies are trying to cure. Like someone took that Sesame Street song too seriously. You know what? One of these things may not be like the other, but it still fucking belongs.
This is also the story about gender. This is the story of not trying to fit in. This is the story of being normal. Because, despite antiquated gender norms, or other people’s expectations, I’m still me. I still belong, wherever I want to be and whatever I want to wear. Ask me again and I’ll tell you the same. What’s my gender? Irrelevant. I’d rather you ask me my name.
Happy Nonbinary Awareness Week everyone!
A little over two weeks from now, on July 12th, marks the 24th anniversary of my coming out. I still think of that day often, as well as the person who held the door open for me and made space for me to say out loud what I had spent the first 24 years of my life hiding. I had grown up in a town of 5000 people, a town where there was only one out person I knew of, and I never saw anyone treat her with respect. A town where gays and POC, if they were mentioned at all, were done so with derision and words you shouldn’t say in public. Going to college, though it was also nestled in another small town about the same size as my hometown, was necessary for me to become who I was supposed to have been all along. There weren’t a lot of out gay people on that campus at that time, but there was at least one brave man, and I wish I could thank him for having the courage to go first. But the person who held the door open for me wasn’t from that small town, nor did she go to that school…she was from Chicago, four hours to the north of me. She was the bff from back home of one of my friends who came to campus when our mutual friend graduated, 1.5 years before I did. She and I became fast friends, but I didn’t come out to her until 2.5 months after that graduation. We talked all night under the stars and she opened up the world to me. I remember at one point she even said, “There’s more to the world than small towns.” With her encouragement, I started coming out to my friends: first our mutual friend, then others. They all took it well. I came out to the rest of the campus while I was giving my part of a debate in Ethics class on the topic of gay marriage. I made no big announcement, but as I casually pulled my Pride rings, which I had been secretly wearing under my shirt for months, out for all to see, I saw nods of acknowledgement and smiles of encouragement from those who knew what it meant and knew what I had just done. It would be more than a year before I told my family. I had recently graduated, the girl I had come out to and I had been broken up for months but were still friends. They knew her and loved her. They accepted me and after that the next two relationships, they accepted them too. When my mother died and I went to clean out her apartment I found the pictures of the children of one my ex’s I had sent her. That ex and I had been broken up for seven years by that time and she had never met them because we lived out of state, but she still kept their picture, I’m guessing because they had once been a part of my life.
In the last 24 years I’ve had to learn to accept myself as different aspects of my identity have revealed themselves to me. There is more to my identity than I had always thought, and it can’t be summed up so easily with a word or two. I’m in my late 40s and my identity still continues to evolve. My parents are gone, so I can’t share this part of my journey with them. I have no idea how they would feel about the next steps I’m taking. They might be appalled, unforgiving, unaccepting…or they might be ok with it, as long as I’m happy. The little girl whose hair my mother always tried to get to hold a curl and to wear a dress once in a while, never really existed, though I tried to be her for a while. When I was eight and made to wear a dress to my brother’s 8th grade graduation, I made a declaration afterwards that I would never wear a dress again, and my mother, never into dresses and skirts herself, accepted my decision without protest. Forty years and counting, still haven’t worn one again. It feels like an accomplishment.
By this time next year, I hope that there is a different name on my state ID, and I’m able to wear button-up shirts with ease. Other changes may still be ahead for me, as things continue to evolve. I’m just glad that I have more people on this journey with me than I had before. Twenty-four years ago there were a lot of lonely times. For me, it did get better, and I’m glad to say it continues to do so. Happy Pride everyone.
Well, I don’t have a publication date yet, that will be set later. I’ll keep you all updated. Meanwhile, here’s the blurb for my new novel, Reset. Enjoy.
Have you ever made a choice you later regret? Or witnessed an experience you wish you had the power to change? What if there was a company that promised you could go back and change things? Such a company does exist, however, there is a catch: once you go back you have to stay there and live your life from that point forward, regardless of the outcome. And you can only do it once. Three individuals make this journey back in time, two by choice, one sentenced to by the court. Each one has their reasons for making this choice, unique to themselves, and all varying in virtue. They are all guided and worried over on this journey by a dutiful man who works for the company which holds the technology to make it all possible. Our three narrators, Roxy, Yuri, and Kam, each continue on their own separate journeys, all hoping for a positive outcome. The question is: will they all succeed?
I keep telling myself that someday I’m going to write a book about Chicago gay history, and maybe I will. But I keep getting mixed up in my head about my own experiences there that and my own memories, that I can’t separate the two. I have tried to tell both of these stories many times in many different ways. I have written academic papers on the history, and I have written poems about my gay experiences. I have also rewritten a novel at least four times that intermingles all of the above with my first romance and her later suicide. I find it hard to fictionalize the novel enough so that it doesn’t still come out like someone else’s life story I shouldn’t be writing. And it’s never good enough. How can I reproduce a real person who had real struggles, whom I dearly and completely loved? How can I put that on a page and make it be at all legitimate? And who do I think I am, anyway?
I can’t separate them because they were always enmeshed for me. She took me to my first gay bar, and she showed me around Boystown, and she introduced me to the man who would later write the best book on Chicago gay history. And so many other things. I went to my first International Mister Leather with her, which was held in a swanky hotel just off Michigan Avenue. I went to my first Pride Parade with her. And her girlfriend, the one she broke up with me for. But that’s lesbian culture for you. She was my first kiss, my first love, and my first broken heart. And I grieve her still.
That’s the other problem, every time I try to write about gay Chicago, it turns into something about her, whether a poem, a blog, or a novel that I will completely love while I’m writing it but hate immediately once it’s finished. I think I have a problem. I also keep telling myself that someday I WILL write a book about her, whether fiction or non that I will be happy with and will be able to release to the world. But I probably won’t. Maybe she’s best left to the realms of poetry. At least there I’m not bound to reality, just the truth.
The problem is that she was such an awesome person that I want others to know of her, know about her, know she existed and what she meant to me. She is my Nora Barnacle, and she is in everything I write. You can call her Joker. In fact, she would insist on it.
It started small. It started with the placement of the bathroom rug. He (at that time he wasn’t using that pronoun, but pronoun usage is retroactive) used to mildly complain that I had replaced the bathroom rug incorrectly after my shower. When I went in to see what he was talking about I noticed that the rug wasn’t in perfect alignment with the stool and the shower and had started to bunch up in places. It was either a simple mistake on my part or something the cats could have done. Either way, it was my mistake and I needed to fix it. I would invariably do so, thinking he was overreacting a bit over something so small, but I otherwise thought nothing of it.
It wasn’t the first time I had seen him lose his temper over nothing, but those times had been directed at his family, and I figured I didn’t know enough about his past to be troubled by it. Maybe there was some bad history between them that had facilitated his anger, and therefore nothing for me to worry about. After all, we had a great relationship. I had taken to calling him (based on a 90s cartoon character) Katy Kaboom when he got like this. It was a way to push it aside and make it seem like nothing.
That is, until the winter months of 2010. We had been together 2.5 years at that time, married (though not legally) since the previous summer. We had just bought a house together and were sharing it with a friend of mine. My ex’s anger against me started slow, with that rug. As his bursts of anger became more frequent, I realized, much as I hate to admit this, that I was glad our roommate was there. Because it was to him my ex directed most of his anger. The roommate became the fall guy, the one who my ex found fault with everything he did. Please understand, I was not aware, at that time, of being culpable in the abuse of our roommate. Eventually, the roommate had enough and moved out just under a year after we moved into the house. This left us in dire straights financially, as we were dependent on his income to help make ends meet.
Not long after the roommate moved out my ex lost his job. He had been in line for another one, but had bad-mouthed his current employer during the interview and they decided they didn’t want to take the risk of hiring him. He had already put in his resignation and felt too humiliated to ask for his job back. With bills mounting (many of them related to household repairs we were still paying on) I began to donate plasma to supplement my income, as I was the only one working.
We went through two more roommates, both of whom also got tired of my ex, before we lost the house in August 2012. No more roommates, it was just us, living on my student loan money (during this time I had gone back to school), plus food stamps, plasma money, and whatever I could get from foodbanks. I went to several of them. He, meanwhile, was not working, was going to school online, and made no money. He was also getting angrier.
Our fighting began to increase. He now yelled at me for nothing, and I was slowly but surely starting to hate him. The yelling matches would last hours, with him screaming in my face, calling me names, telling me I was worthless, that I was ruining his life. Why did this one start? Because I had brought him a fork instead of a spoon. Or I said something that he didn’t understand, so he accused me of using my intelligence against him. Or any number of infinitesimal reasons. We lived in an apartment, and I know the neighbors heard us. We were loud. Yes, I said “we”. Sometimes, I yelled back. Other times, I stayed stoic as long as I could, until I realized there was nothing I could do, and that was frustrating, so I cried while he screamed at me for three hours straight. Then, when the screaming was over and he was calm again, he spoke for at least another hour trying to make me see the error of my ways and made me apologize. I would agree with whatever he said just to get it over with.
Not one time did I believe anything he said of me. Not one time did it sink in that maybe he was right, and I was the reason his life hadn’t gone as planned. All his screaming ever did was solidify and strengthen my hatred for him. That has not gone away.
We ended our relationship on May 1st, 2016, but we continued to share the apartment because of financial reasons, thinking that we could make it as roommates. We lived in a two-bedroom apartment, so I moved out of our shared room. After enduring the last six years of screaming, I had found how powerful it was to simply be able to walk away and close a door between us, a door he never tried to breech. Because the fighting continued, but now I felt no obligation to endure it.
We officially parted ways the weekend before Trump was elected. He moved out of the apartment and in with his parents. A situation I knew wasn’t going to be ideal for him, but he was no longer my problem. I moved in with a friend in Illinois. It’s the same place I live now after going back to Oklahoma for a year and COVID made it impossible to keep my apartment. While I was in Oklahoma this last time, I saw him one time. It was cordial, but not a day I wanted to repeat.
He left me with a small pile of debt, which I have since paid off, a bad credit rating, which I’m working on, a bankruptcy, which won’t fall off until September of 2022, and some residual emotional scars that probably have psychological names that haven’t been diagnosed yet.
It started small, as it always does. It ended even smaller.