I’m writing on the back porch, the sunroom. The sun abandoned this side of the world an hour ago, a screaming periwinkle streaking across the sky before darkness finally caught up and blanketed it.
Years ago, I painted this room in cool colors, sea-foam greens, and blueberry sponge prints, interspersed with grape vines dancing along the room’s seams. There’s a Latin inscription YELLING ACROSS THE BACK WALL that makes you wonder if maybe the Roman’s went extinct because of hoarse voices. All that Latin yelling E PLURIBUS UNUM, and such.
The phrase wasn’t originally Latin.
The phrase came into my life as a fortune cookie from Rainbow Chinese. I had been so touched by the simple words, I taped the fortune in the kitchen door frame, somewhere I would notice but others might not. Over the next year, I grew so attached to the fortune, I asked my dad to help me translate it into Latin to go with my grapevine-themed, Romanesque sunroom.
“You have the capacity for enjoying life.”
Insert a theological sermon about life-is-short, or why-not-love-it-all, but I have no patience for the simple morals dispersed at the end of TV sitcoms. Life can suck. People fall in love and then out. Children die unfair deaths. People wither from cancer all the fucking time, and then they’re just gone. You’re left with this person-shaped hole that only one person will ever, ever fit.
Life can be violent and brutal.
But the capacity is there. The capacity joy life.
I thought the phrase would look cool in Latin, so I asked Pop for assistance with the translation. Before his retirement, Dad taught high school Latin and English. In fact, he was my English teacher and also my Latin teacher. I saw him a lot during the course of a school day.
HABES FACULTATEM AD VITAM LAETARANDAM
After the words were stenciled, outlined, and painstakingly painted with a tiny brush, I was proud. I liked seeing those muscular words whenever I passed through the room, the room hoarding the most sunlight and breeze. I photographed the final resulted and printed out the photos, mailing them in a letter. (Yes, this was pre-cell phones.) I called him to discuss our collaboration, and like every hungry son, silently hoped for a father’s praise.
The first words out of his mouth were, “I think I gave you the wrong word for enjoying. I don’t think it’s supposed to be laterandum.”
I screamed, “WHAT?”
“I’m kidding,” he said. “It’s the right word. Room looks nice, by the way.”
My dad died of cancer.
There’s a hole in my life where he stood. Brilliant men I love have stepped through this Joseph-Leon-Manning-shaped wound and held my hand, so I’m not complaining about how there’s “no love” left for me. Far from it. I’m one of the most fortunate people I know. But my dad is gone and while I am adult enough to spend a whole weekend doing those same chores he often performed, I will always love him unreasonably, as if I were ten.
My book, Come Back To Me, releases today.
I wonder what dad would say.
It’s easy to romanticize him now that he’s gone but I prefer to remember the hard truths. He was not what anyone would call “supportive” regarding things of a homosexual nature. When I came out, he wept. When I was in my teens, some local Chicago alderman was getting an award taken away from him because the press found out he was gay. My dad glanced over the top of the newspaper he was reading, and said, “Good.”
Over the next twenty years, we argued. I disagreed with his priorities. His religion. His hypocrisy in that religion. I treasure those fights now, because I sharpened my courage with that man. I argued for greater love. He argued for greater love, too, but with different rules. It’s hard when you love people who see the world so differently from your own world view, but you know that. You love people like that.
I’m not sure he’d send flowers for this latest book release.
But he might be proud of me.
Come Back To Me has an odd history.
This is the very first book I wrote in The Lost and Founds series. I created this story (well, a shittier version of this book) in 2008, and despite it being shitty, I loved what I wrote. I loved this strange narrator so much, and his insane manipulations, I decided I could write another book about him. There was a sentence in the original draft that had stuck with me.
In speaking to another character, Vin said, “Want to hear the story of King Perry? There was a baby duck involved.”
I kept returning to that sentence, sensing a challenge. I wondered, could I really write a whole novel in which a baby duck was a central character?
As the vision for a book series became clearer to me, I filed away this shitty first draft and focused my energy on writing King Perry.
I hadn’t finished King Perry before I started writing key scenes from King Mai. In fact, one night while returning to Minnesota from visiting my parents in Illinois, I was seized by a thrilling idea on how to resolve the second novel. Despite the late hour, I pulled over at a Wisconsin rest stop off I-94. Under the fluorescent glow of bug-swarming lights, I wrote frantically at a picnic table until the computer battery died.
Then, The Butterfly King.
There have been a lot of release days.
Somewhere along the way, I stopped celebrating.
There somehow feels like less to celebrate when a total of twenty-four people purchase your book during an entire sales quarter. (A GOOD sales quarter.) Don’t get me wrong, those twenty-four are incredibly loving readers who have gushed love back to me, so much so, it makes me feel guilty for writing this sentence. The reviews are incredible. The friendships I’ve made are lasting. People have wept with my characters, which is what an author secretly wants.
I feel blessed.
But when you spend a year writing and polishing your sentences, and it’s the very best you can offer, and those sentences are not mentioning on The Tonight Show…you feel a little slighted. (I felt slighted.) Where’s the parade? Why hasn’t someone told Oprah “there’s a new author you should read.” It’s not even about book sales (although it would be cool to make money doing this thing I love). It’s the dreamer inside who thinks “I can change the world.” And the world doesn’t even notice you exist. Over the years, I’ve gone through a process of adjusting expectations. Growing up. Accepting the world as it is.
After King Perry, I stopped celebrating my releases. It wasn’t an angry, pouting decision. I just felt silly celebrating something that five people would purchase on release day.
Grow up, I would tell myself.
But then there’s that Latin phrase in my sun room: you have the capacity for enjoying life.
Today, I am celebrating.
Celebrations are sometimes quiet and sometimes loud. I’ve been waiting soooooo long to share this book that perhaps this time should be a slightly louder celebration. I’m toying with an official book release in a few weeks, done at a local bookstore.
I might not. But I love that I’m considering such an extraverted party.
Then again, this book’s release might require a quieter celebration, spent eating carrot pie in the sun room, letting a chilly August breeze delight me.
Today, I’m choosing to enjoy my life–this life–not an imaginary one where Jimmy Fallon says, “Hey, did you see there’s a new Lost and Founds book out today?” Then, he rips me a new one.
Nope. I’m celebrating this life. This release day.
I think my dad would be proud.
Maybe he’d even yell at me in Latin.