I’ve celebrated the new year twice this month: first at the New Year’s Eve bash at the community-run LGBTQ club in my town, where my spouse Mirtha and I spent an afternoon chopping vegetables for the midnight buffet, and then at a Chinese New Year banquet in a local Chinese restaurant, where spouse and I were invited by a Chinese friend. (As paying guests, we dined luxuriously.) In the Christian reckoning, we are in the year 2020 since the birth of Christ, but in the Chinese reckoning, we are in the year 4718, the Year of the Metal Rat.
Aside from the ongoing disaster of world politics and climate change, I’ve wondered whether the year 2020 (or the brand-new Year of the Rat) has a different theme or flavour from any previous year.
If you didn’t consciously know that a “new year” had begun in the middle of winter, would you be able to feel something new in the air?
The theme I’ve noticed in my own life could be called “recycling.” Old things tend to return with a new twist.
For example, I’m still teaching first-year English courses in the local university, as I have for the past thirty years, but every time I meet a new class in early January, there is a different atmosphere in the room. This is probably why Show Biz never gets stale for some performers: no two audiences are exactly alike. I try to vary my course outlines from one semester to the next so as not to get burned-out, but certain basics always have to be covered. No matter how many times I explain the relationship of a subject and a verb, or the significance of an epiphany in a work of fiction, I never get tired of watching the look of discovery in the eyes of certain students. The best epiphanies happen on the spot, in real time.
Then there is the withdrawal of a royal couple from the Royal Family of the United Kingdom and Commonwealth. The decision of Prince Harry and his wife Meghan (still the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, although no longer their Royal Highnesses) to escape to Canada has been compared to other abdications, which were supposedly shocking.
Personally, I’m not shocked. I’ve seen examples of the snark aimed at the Duchess by the British media, and I doubt if I could just ignore it either. This is essentially the same snark that was formerly aimed at Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York, until she split up with her husband, Prince Andrew, and then at Princess Kate, a.k.a. the Duchess of Cambridge, until a new victim appeared on the scene. Note that while “Fergie” was judged to be too fat, Kate Middleton was judged to be thin, waif-like and undignified. And could complaints about the vulgarity of Duchess Meghan have anything to do with racism? Not according to those who claim that she simply doesn’t know how to behave.
Most objections to the monarchy as an outdated institution seem logical to me, but firing darts at relatively harmless individuals, especially women who were not born into royal families, is just nasty. I’m reminded of the French porn that was written about Marie Antoinette, the last Queen Consort of France, before she and her husband, Louis XVI, were beheaded during the French Revolution. Apparently some anti-monarchists could find no better way to attack the Ancien Regime than by claiming that La Reine was a nympho who couldn’t get enough.
Now, in 2020, I feel mildly pleased that the newly-escaped royal couple plan to settle in Victoria, a small city on Vancouver Island off the west coast of Canada, which has been luring British expatriates for generations. I found out last year that a group of retired academics from the prairie university where I currently teach have settled in Victoria, and meet regularly for lunch. I was told that Mirtha and I will be welcome to join this group if/when we escape the harsh prairie climate to enjoy the gentle rain of Victoria in our old age. So there is a chance that someday, I might pass by the Duke and Duchess on the street, or even meet them through mutual acquaintances. Or maybe not. The prospect doesn’t keep me awake at night.
I’ve been warned in the press that Canadian taxpayers will probably have to pay for the security of the Duke and Duchess, but this was always the case during royal visits anyway. I can think of better things to worry about.
Then there is the imminent release of my revised novel, Prairie Gothic. I wrote the first version in 1998, before I even joined the Erotic Readers Association, as it was called then. It featured a lot of sex, mostly between women, and a network of relationships in a “gay” community based on the one I knew. The novel was divided into nine rambling chapters. For some reason, it was accepted for e-publication by Roy Larkin, then a member of Erotic Readers, who wrote BDSM erotica under the name “Laurie Mann,” and ran an on-line publishing company, Amatory Ink. After complaining that good material was hard to find, he closed shop in 2006, which meant that my novel was no longer available to paying customers. I tried submitting excerpts, repackaged as erotic stories, to editors of anthologies such as Best Lesbian Erotica, with no luck. I let the novel gather virtual dust on my hard-drive.
During my sabbatical year, 2016-17, I decided that I needed to take another look at Prairie Gothic, and decide whether it was worth saving. I was amazed at my own chutzpah in writing a novel when I really didn’t know how, but I was also somewhat surprised by the novel’s good bones. On rereading scenes that I had almost forgotten writing, I could feel the energy in them.
I also noticed that my narrative of the 1990s had a complete lack of visible computer technology. The characters can’t contact each other by cell-phone, nor do they meet in on-line dating sites. The only way they know to find a same-sex date is by going to the obscure local “gay” bar. (In real life, some male regulars objected when “lesbian” was officially added to the name of the elected board that ran the bar. Such exotica as transpeople or a non-binary crowd seemed literally unthinkable, while self-proclaimed bisexuals were seen as gay but shifty with it.) The way my characters find sexy reading-matter is by going to an actual store called “Dirty Harry’s.” The retro flavour also came from the incorporation of some real-life local scandals: the destruction of the local Conservative Party in a series of trials for financial corruption plus a lurid murder trial which I attended because the two young male killers were friends of my teenage daughter.
In short, I came to realize that my raunchy novel had become historical fiction. I decided to keep it that way, and add the subtitle: “A Tale of the Old Millennium.” I revised the story substantially and divided it into 22 chapters while adding 10,000 words. Strangely enough, the fear of some of my characters that the world might end in “Y2K,” the year 2000, seems current, since fear of a coming Apocalypse is still with us. Do we have until 2025 to enjoy our unsustainable lifestyles? It’s debatable.
I now have a proof copy of the new version of Prairie Gothic from Lethe Press, the new publisher. I need to go over it with a fine-tooth comb, and add some acknowledgements. I can hardly wait to see this piece as an actual book that I can hold in my hands for the first time.