It’s hard to believe that another GCLS has come and gone. You begin planning months (or, in some cases, a year) in advance, and then it goes by in a blur. That’s especially true when it’s held in a place like New Orleans.
First, let me talk about GCLS. It was fun. Lots of fun. Although I was sad that people who I’ve come to know and care about weren’t able to make it, I met many more new people, and finally got to meet people with whom I’ve interacted with online but never in person (even if we were both at past GCLSs). Andi and I manned the Women & Words table and got to watch many people stroll by, as well as steamboats on the river behind us. It was a great view. We did a T-shirt giveaway and had cupcakes on Saturday.
I heard lots of praise for the panels this year. I was on one panel where we talked about the direction in which lesbian fiction is headed. It was lively and I think the audience took away some really good information. I also had fun reading at the paranormal event at Muriel’s restaurant. The place is an interesting mix—fine dining with a haunted-spookiness vibe. It’s also a stop on the various “haunted New Orleans” tours because, you know, it’s haunted.
Dorothy Allison was the keynote speaker, but she also read and sat on a panel or two. I attended the reading and I was blown away. She read a passage from Bastard Out of Carolina and put such life and passion into it that I felt as if I’d been drawn into the book. You could hear a pin drop while she read, and I can tell you that if you were chatting at all when she began, you quickly shut your mouth once she launched into it. But that’s not to take away from all the other readers who read that afternoon—everyone was good.
Her keynote speech was no less moving. Her seemingly random stories and anecdotes actually all came together in the end. If you wondered for a bit what her story about teaching a class in a castle in the South of France had to do with writing, she made it clear in the end. It was as if she drew a map and placed pins on all these random points—places that seemed to have nothing to do with one another—and drew a road between all them that led to one place: the meaning of her stories. And she summed it up with these words:
My daddy was a son of a bitch, and my mamma didn’t love me. I write to survive.
It was like a punch in the gut. (And, somehow, those words seemed to carry more weight when spoken in a Southern drawl.)
She was hilarious, bawdy, irreverent, poignant, eloquent, and intelligent. Even when she was accepting the Trailblazer award on behalf of Joan Nestle, she told amazing stories about the early days of the feminist movement.
Rita Mae Brown. What can I say about Rita Mae? She’s a legend, she’s highly intelligent, and she’s very entertaining. She won this year’s Lee Lynch Classic award for Rubyfruit Jungle and, as she did at the Lambdas, gave an inspiring speech. The most surreal moment of the entire conference for me was on the night of the gala. Rita Mae was standing with a couple of other people in the middle of this huge open area that leads to the ballrooms. I was walking with Andi and we approached to greet them. Rita Mae stuck out her hand to me and said, “Hello, ma’am. It’s nice to meet you.” I think I came off very calm when I responded, but as I walked away, I just kept thinking, “Rita Mae Brown just called me ma’am.” She’s a Southerner, but I still wasn’t sure how to feel about it. On the other hand, Rita Mae Brown can call me Charlie, if she wants to.
I managed to get out of the hotel a couple of times to do NOLA things. The haunted French Quarter tour was really fun but utterly exhausting—two hours of walking in 500-degree weather. The pharmacy tour was also fantastic—it offers the history of not just New Orleans, but of pharmacies in the US (it was the first one), the medical field, disease, culture, and politics. Yep, all in one place. I highly recommend it. Heads up: If you’re squeamish, don’t look too closely at the antique dentistry tools. Yeesh.
You can walk through Jackson Square and enjoy the music of a dozen or so musicians/bands vying for attention. And, yes, you may just catch a piece of “When the Saints Go Marching In,” as I did, while brushing powdered sugar off your shirt from the beignets you had at Cafe Du Monde.
And, as if NOLA isn’t exciting enough, we had an extra bit of fun added to the mix. Some time on Thursday or Friday (I can’t remember which), we were all informed that a brain-eating amoeba was found in the water supply in the next parish over and a water advisory/restriction was being mandated. That meant no drinking the water, brushing our teeth, or bathing.
Did I mention that it was 500 degrees in the shade? And the humidity was at 1,000%. Oh, it wasn’t pretty for a while there. And the worst part was that no one had coffee. The shops in the hotel weren’t making any and I’m not sure if any of the local places outside were making it, but I’ll tell you, it was rough there for a while. Luckily, I was able to make coffee in my room with bottled water. Otherwise, it would have been gruesome.
And so I, like many others, am back into the swing of my normal day-to-day life. It’s always quite a shift in mood and attitude when coming home from one of those things. But I have the memories of a good time, not to mention a Goldie to look at (I won for Unwrap These Presents). Next year the con will be in Washington, D.C. I hope to see you all there.