June is Pride month. As a kind of meditation, I read books by queer authors or stories about queer people. Some have been in my TBR stacks for ages, some newly published for the season.

Here’s what I read:

O’Keeffe: The Life of an American Legend (1993) an obsessive biography about the artist by Jeffrey Hogrefe.

Myriam Gurba’s Mean (2017) is described as part memoir, part ghost story, part true crime. And it is all art.

This cover, tho. Myriam Gurba, Mean (2017)

 

Eleanor and Hick: The Love Affair that Shaped a First Lady (2016), an epistolary-based biography about Eleanor Roosevelt and reporter Lorena Hickok, and their found love letters by Susan Quinn.

My partner and I read David Sedaris’ new collection of essays, Calypso (2018), together, like total lesbians. I held the book; she made slight nods when it was time to turn the page.

For fun, I read When Katie Met Cassidy (2018), a novel love story, swooning around modern day NYC by Camille Perri.

And I’ve just started Against Memoir: Complaints, Confessions, and Criticisms (2018) by Michelle Tea, whose perfect punk pitch of love and fight promises to help get me through July 4th this year.

Seeing this list–all together here–suddenly feels remarkable. These books represent such a spectrum of age, class, gender, and queerness; where they call home, spreading from North Carolina to LA, Brooklyn to New Mexico; their work exhibiting a variety of fineness. But also. For as fantastically diverse as they are in some respects, they are predominantly white authors writing about white characters or about white subjects.

My books are not usually so white. This is something I’m super intentional about. I read non-fiction (pretty much non-stop) because I’m interested in people and history. I deeply appreciate all of these books–adore that these stories are being shared–but it’s also true that there are so, so, so, so many stories yet to be supported into books.

The Feminist Press is hosting their Louise Meriwether First Book Prize for a debut work by a woman or non-binary author of color. Today is the last day to submit a manuscript. If you’re waiting for a sign, an omen, a flapping flag of some sort, may this be it.

The Betsy Hotel in South Beach, Miami is a bookish place. They have a library. Each room holds unique stacks. Bookshelves line the hallways.

On my way to the pool, a paperback, the color of a sand dune, caught my eye: O’Keeffe: The Life of an American Legend by Jeffrey Hogrefe. On the cover of this 1993 edition, Georgia O’Keeffe appears as ancient as the desert. She’s nearly blind, I’d learn.

Flipping, I discovered O’Keeffe made pottery. Late in life, when her eyesight failed and she could no longer paint, she worked in clay.

OK PotteryAt age 71, O’Keeffe learned to throw pottery from her assistant and companion, Juan Hamilton.

“O’Keeffe loved holding wet clay in her hands and then running her fingers over the walls of the finished products” the biographer wrote.

Ever the perfectionist, O’Keeffe was disappointed that her work was not as “fine as Hamilton’s smooth-walled vessels.”

Hamilton could make the clay “speak” O’Keeffe said and called him “one of our great talents,” Hogrefe shared.

I was taken with the story of these two artists. She followed his hands in clay; he created ceramics and sculpture inspired by shapes from her paintings.

dan-budnik-georgia-okeeffe-at-the-ghost-ranch-with-pots-by-juan-hamilton

Georgia O’Keeffe with pots by Juan Hamilton by Dan Budnik

While I’m prone to picking up books in hotels, I rarely finished them. But this one was different. I needed to read the full story of art being passed along. I offered to buy the book — the hotel has a partnership with the local, independently-owned Books & Books — but the concierge gifted it to me.

“We believe in supporting writing,” he said and mentioned their residency program.

The Betsy Hotel hosts a dedicated Writer’s Room for authors to come and write for a few days. Applications were opening soon.

“Did you know the owner’s father was writer?” he continued. His desk is in the Writing Room.

“Take a look at our website,” he encouraged. “Apply.”

My friend asked over dinner if any of us wanted to go for a float. I gave it exactly zero thought before saying, “Sure.” He booked our appointments for the next morning.

1. The float studio was in a nondescript strip mall, the glass display windows, tinted. We opened the door to find a woman, with hair resembling the inside of a geode, strumming a ukulele. “You here to float?” she asked.

We nodded and explained this was our first time.

“What is floating?” I wondered out loud.

2. We had two options: One could be in a space that looked like a walk-in refrigerator with standing water; the other would be in a pod-shaped tub with a lid, like a retractable clam. The room smelled of brine. “How deep is the water?” I asked.

3. “Eleven inches,” she responded, “filled with one thousand pounds of epson salt.”

We were told to shower, plug our ears with wax, get in, close the door, turn out the light, and lie on our backs, palms up. The density of the salt water would hold us up—even our heads, even if we fell asleep, we wouldn’t drown, she reassured us.

“For how long, again?” my friend asked.

4. “Ninety minutes.”

We exchanged looks. For some reason, we both thought the float was for 30 minutes. What am I going to do with myself for an hour and half in the dark? In total silence?

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BRB floating.

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5. “You can keep the light on,” she told us, if we wanted. But once I was in, lid lowered, and every science-fiction movie ever watched recalled, I was keen to give what was referred to as “space-dark” a whirl.

6. Sure enough, the water held me up. The length of my body bobbed to the surface. I pushed my palms downward against a surprisingly dense resistance. The salt stung surface scrapes. The temperature—though slightly cool in the beginning—soon matched my body temperature. I lost track of where my skin ended, and the water began.

7. I blinked, unable, sight-wise, to tell the difference between my eyes being open or closed. After awhile, I realized I was still holding up my head and bracing my lower half upward. I quit flexing. The relief was immediate. But then I lost my coordinates. I knew I was only a few inches from the bottom of the tub, but I felt as if I’d tilted upright and was head over feet.

8. In the darkness, my mind worked through one knotted problem after another. Then somewhere along the line, my thread of thoughts frayed and then disappeared. I lost track of time.

9. I heard my heart throb; my eyelashes beat together. My mechanics loud as airplane takeoffs; yet I floated way beyond cruising altitude. I wasn’t somewhere between departure and destination; I was anywhere.

The blue light came on. And an involuntary grin floated across my face from ear to ear.

My friend was in the lobby. “What’d you think?” I asked.

“Girl, I flipped off the light once and was, like, nope.” He laughed. “I took selfies and stretched, but my skin feels ah-mazing. You?”

“I want to do it, again.”

The geode woman nodded knowingly.

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