Boss Up with Bevin Your dream life is at the end of your comfort zone

2013-03-14

Book Review: Nevada by Imogen Binnie

I was given a copy of the e-book of Nevada by Imogen Binnie to review by my friends at Topside Press. Imogen is one of those friends-in-law people I know to be awesome but don’t know personally, and I was excited to read her first novel.

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I seriously couldn’t put it down! Nevada was the first work of fiction I’ve read in a long time that made me want to keep reading more than go out, which is saying a lot for an extrovert party girl like me. Conversely, once I got toward the end of the book I couldn’t bear the thought of finishing it because I didn’t want it to end, I just wanted to keep hanging out with weirdo, angsty, heart-wrenching main character Maria.

Nevada begins with a sex scene that should be kinky and exciting but you can tell the main character, Maria, is bored out of her skull and can’t seem to find a way to tell her girlfriend. So she just fakes it. And so is most of Maria’s life, a series of her doing the same thing she’s done for five years, same bookstore job, same girlfriend, same apartment, and she’s faking it because she can’t stop the momentum and hasn’t stopped to figure out what she wants out of life.

We follow Maria, breathless as she bikes across the Williamsburg bridge, enduring some old-fashioned dyke drama, escaping her life through whiskey and monster movies. We participate as Maria makes some bad decisions, thinking it’s really going to change her life.

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Imogen Binnie

I thought Maria was entirely relatable, especially through her easy, colloquial language. “This rules” and strong opinions. Also, through her being stuck in a life she created but doesn’t really like anymore. I think no matter how amazing your life looks on the outside, folks can relate to feeling like they aren’t getting traction or going anywhere.

Maria ends up with nothing to lose, on a road trip in a sorta borrowed sorta stolen car. I can also relate to going on a road trip because everything in your life felt like it was all ending all of a sudden. Her real shifting point comes in Nevada, where through country music and a sense of “knowing,” meets a closeted trans woman working at Wal Mart.

Nevada is a book that, though it is way beyond coming out, provides essential trans narrative beyond the traditional. Maria’s been an out trans woman for years and has a palatable ennui that is relatable like the best 90s Liz Phair songs. One thing Imogen did that I thought was to the book’s great credit was tell Maria’s coming out story slowly, in pieces, rather than all up front. She also drops a lot of trans and queer 101 information in a way that both flows well with the narrative but also answers a lot of questions that readers might have. I mean, I know a lot of beauty rituals that folks who weren’t born female use because I’m in Femme community with trans femmes but probably not a lot of folks know about the boiling water before you shave trick.

When you’re a trans woman, patriarchal mandates about presentation get extra twisted up with narratives of disclosure, validity as a human being, violence, the possibility of ever being found attractive, and probably a bunch of other stuff you haven’t even identified yet. It makes it actually pretty complicated to leave the bathroom once you’re in it.

Totally relatable.

And you know what? Everyone who is trans does trans differently. Mainstream society, when it acknowledges trans experience at all, does not show more to the MTF trajectory than a traditional narrative of having the means to have surgery. A lot of folks don’t and therefore need to find ways to exist and thrive in the world that doesn’t depend on having cost-prohibitive procedures before you get to living an authentic life.

The end of the book took me by surprise. So much so that I immediately texted my friend/the publisher to make sure that he didn’t send me a bum e-book and I didn’t get all of the ending. But my investment in the book, the characters and the story was a testament to how great an author Imogen Binnie is. She’s incredible and I can’t wait to read her next book!!

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This is one of those books that you should really support the amazing, queer/trans lead publisher when you purchase. Topside Press offers not just a hardcover, ebook and paperback editions of Nevada, there are also limited edition support-the-author’s-book-tour covers and posters of the artwork from the cover! Check it all out here.

Imogen is on tour right now on the West Coast supporting the book! The NYC release is on April 2 at the QEJ offices at 147 W 24th St, 4th Floor at 7pm. East Coast tour dates will be announced soon. But don’t wait for the event to order your book, get it now! $17.95 makes a huge difference to indie publisher authors!

Also, if you’re like me and need to talk about this book (you should really just host a book club), join this group on Facebook!

2012-04-11

Lesbian Jack Kerouac Gay American Road Trip Part 6: Salt Lake City to Bay Area, CA

Dubbed the Lesbian Jack Kerouac by my BFF Brian for my propensity for long distance romance, “A girl in every port and on the road with a broken heart,” he describes me, I set out on a life-changing adventure in November of 2011. This is my tale of deep heart exfoliation via asphalt. Check out all the tales in this series at the Gay American Road Trip 2011 tag.


To Castro Valley, CA from Salt Lake City, UT via Interstate 80–through Utah, Nevada and Northern California.

I left Salt Lake City at 9AM on Thanksgiving. I didn’t realize until the night before that my Thanksgiving day journey was going to be a twelve hour drive. There’s a big difference between ten and twelve hours in the car.

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Stunning view from the parking lot of the Salt Lake City La Quinta.

When initially planning my trip I was planning to stop just Northwest of Sacramento for the holiday as one of my BFFs lives up there and we love spending Thanksgiving together.*

In a twist of fate Spunky was going to be in the Bay Area but my mom was hosting Thanksgiving at her house. And my beloved grandmother was going to be there, up from Palm Springs! My mom rarely hosts big holidays—she was a single mom and I’m an only child—and while she’s married now it’s not like there’s a big kerfuffle of family around. She often spends holidays with her best friend Linda or with my Aunt and cousins in Southern California. Linda’s husband, Peter, who has been in my life since I was 14, almost twenty years, passed away in a sudden boat accident at the end of August. After their loss, Mom offered to host Linda’s family (daughters, husbands, grandkids) at her house.

I was really sad that I couldn’t afford to fly out for the memorial service earlier in November. So the twist of fate that helped me be able to go to my mom’s for Thanksgiving was a wonderful opportunity to hug family friends in this tender time.

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In planning the details of the trip I never updated my estimated travel time from Salt Lake City to Spunky’s house to SLC to my mom’s house (another two hours). OOPS. So twelve hours in the car it was, and leaving at 9AM was way later than I wanted to start but I was so wiped the night before I needed to just let myself decompress and sleep. Lest we forget that my goal of driving solo across the country in five days was ambitious.

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I only lamented the lack of a human passenger on this trip a few times, and SLC was one of them. I drove past the Great Salt Lake and with a mind on hustling through my twelve hour drive without dawdling, I wished someone had been shotgun to read to me from my AAA guide books.

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My view of the lake.

As an aside, I am a huge fan of Sister Wives and have always wanted to do more than sleep in SLC, so it is a goal of mine to go back for a couple of days and poke around a little more. All the snowy mountains in the distance were beautiful!

After the Great Salt Lake I hit the Salt Flats. I had no idea what I was driving through until Macy and I stopped at a rest area and read a sign that told us about it. We took a little walk to the edge of the Salt Flats and poked my little boot into it.

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The next part of our journey brought us across the Utah/Nevada border. I stopped for gas, knowing from previous experience driving across the country that Nevada is extremely desolate with not a ton of consistent cell phone service or frequent gas stations. This oasis was exciting, there were casinos on one side of the block and the other side of the block were Utah pawn shops.

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It occurred to me in a moment of panic that the fact that it was Thanksgiving might mean I had no access to food on the road. What if all the fast food places in Nevada were closed for the holiday? I bought a lunchable at a gas station and threw it in my road cooler.

The high desert in Nevada is gorgeous. I saw a lot of mountains in the distance. Tried to get photos of them. Lamented that I hadn’t downloaded the audio book of Kerouac’s On the Road before I left. Started Barbara Kingsolver’s Prodigal Summer instead. Started taking photos of Macy on the roof of my car because the scenery around her was so stunning. I felt like I could see forever, which is something I miss a lot living in the city.

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The day wore on, stopping occasionally in desolate towns for gas or a stretch. I ended up finding a McDonalds and immediately regretted eating it. I listened to Liz Phair’s “Go West” a lot, a song I heard with new ears on the Brooklyn Queens Expressway when I was in the midst of the grief/emotional crash times of last September and fantasized about hitting the road and disappearing for a few weeks. (The little nuggets of inspiration to go on this trip were all very tiny but persistent.)

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Nevada is a huge state and I was near the border of California as the sun started to slip slowly toward the horizon. I followed some signs on the outskirts of Reno for a Starbucks and was super delighted to find one open in a strip mall. Inside was a flamboyant boy who was excited to learn I was from Brooklyn. When I see that glimmer in folks’ eyes when I’m far away from home I encourage them. “It’s a lot cheaper than you think to live in Brooklyn. I pay $875** a month for half of a 2 bedroom. The Starbucks are always hiring. I throw a queer dance party called Rebel Cupcake. If you feel like you want to come to New York you totally should. Look me up.”

Anyway, seeing this young queer was the highlight of my trip that day. I just love seeing queer folks on the road.

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I started down the Sierra Nevada after I got through Reno and this was my second great OOPS of the day, timing-wise. Had I realized how treacherous that drive was going to be I would have gotten a motel room and called it a night. In fact I almost stopped a couple of times to do just that but couldn’t find an easy spot to do that while traveling down this huge mountain range.

Recall this was the end of November. The Sierras are mountains about three hours from where I grew up that I got to go camping and hiking in with my girl scout troops and sometimes we would be adventurous and go cold camping. Sometimes in college my sorority or women’s honor society would take a weekend trip and we would go rent a cabin in Tahoe or Reno and experience the joys of Nevada gambling and snowpack. None of these occasions required me to drive or put chains on a car.

I have lived on the East Coast for 11 Winters now (does this past year count as a Winter?). We don’t really have chain requirements here. Sometimes you get special snow tires for the winter but not me. I just review tips for snow driving before the season starts. (Another benefit to AAA membership—this road trip/car magazine that is really practical and interesting.) I have driven through a lot of scary snow storms on all of the local highways between Philadelphia and New York City. I don’t prefer to drive in the snow but that’s my life now.

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Macy, DJ and snack distributor.

However, I’ve never driven through steep, dark and twisty mountains like the Sierra Nevada while a rain/ice storm starts. Chains were not required but had the temperature been just a bit colder they would have. Of course, it was dusk so the risk of deer was real and a doe darted out in front of a car a bit in front of me. I was white knuckled and terrified.

This did not stop me from enjoying the last bits of daylight. Man, the mountains were beautiful. I stopped at a lookout area to pee in the woods (not even a single restroom along the highway during this stretch) and really appreciated the grace and glory of the trees, the waning light, the crisp air. It was the wilderness of my youth and I loved it.

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Earlier in the day.

I went about 30-40 MPH the whole time, sometimes slower. This is on Route 80, where cars were just speeding right by me, all self-assured about their driving in the slippery downslope of the Sierras. You do you, cars. I’ll do me.

I pulled off to go to the bathroom again (the whole stretch of mountains was probably close to two hours of drive time) but couldn’t find somewhere, so I just took a break and walked Macy in a closed for Thanksgiving grocery store parking lot. It helped me regroup, and it helped to smell the pine trees.

We hit the road again and I was so thankful to find we were finally in the foothills (near where Spunky lives) and Sacramento was imminent.

There is something about the smell in the air in Sacramento that just smells like home to me. I lived in Davis, CA, just 20 minutes from Sac, for four years during undergrad and I had so much fun (and depression, but that’s a larger story). College was a meaningful time for me and it was exciting to be there.

I always love driving through Davis, even if it’s just to get a quick cup of coffee or something. I stopped for gas on Mace Road. I wished it was still light and I wasn’t running late for Thanksgiving dinner (Mom was making me a plate) so I could have gotten a photo of Macy on a statue of a cow or on the UC Davis sign or in front of Thoreau or Regan Hall or something. One of these days I’ll bring Macy out for Picnic Day (the largest student-run event in the country—I was Vice Chair my senior year) or something.

I got back on the road and it was a quick 90 minutes to my mom’s house. I thought about going the back way zigging and zagging through tiny North/East Bay highways but the extra 10 minutes it was going to take me to go on 80 all the way to the end was sort of too awesome to give up. I drove past my birthplace in the North Bay and along Berkeley and across the Bay from San Francisco.

And then I was at my mom’s place in Castro Valley. It was 9:30PM (even with the hour change of time from SLC it took me 13 and 1/2 hours to finish my drive). Some folks were leaving and I got to say goodbye to them on their way out.

And on the inside of the house was my mom, her wife, Linda (who is like an aunt to me), Grandmother and more of Linda’s family. It was wonderful. And I dove right into that green bean casserole like nobody’s business.

Next up! My first day of rest and a quick trip into San Francisco!

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*I learned early on that the best way to plan this epic road trip was to let the plans shake out as they were going to and not force anything. In fact, other than the first three people I was stopping to see, I didn’t make any firm plans regarding arrival dates and gave everyone I was visiting a two or three night range, to be confirmed later. This flexibility proved to be crucial when accounting for road conditions, my whim and where the Goddess was taking me.

**My rent is also a little cheaper now, BTW, and I know folks who pay $500 who live in tinier places or in Queens.

2011-11-29

Lesbian Jack Kerouac Gay American Road Trip Part 1: Planning

Dubbed the Lesbian Jack Kerouac by my BFF Brian for my propensity for long distance romance, “A girl in every port and on the road with a broken heart,” he describes me, I set out on a life-changing adventure in November of 2011. This is my tale of deep heart exfoliation via asphalt. Check out all the tales in this series at the Gay American Road Trip 2011 tag.

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A previous Lesbian Jack Kerouac adventure in San Francisco.

I have an inspirational calendar above my desk that has stated for November “Open your arms wide and beautiful moments will come to you.”

After a sudden break-up just two weeks before the end of a two month protracted lay-off experience, I decided to embark on an epic journey. My goals for my Gay American Road Trip were to shift my perspective and my energy. I felt very bogged down in sadness and lacking traction in my life, which was very frustrating. Creatively blocked, I hoped new perspective and big skies would clear things and make way for new blank pages in the chapters of my life.

The decision to go on the trip was solidified quickly, just two weeks prior to leaving. Everything fell into place, and with places to stay popping up from friends it didn’t feel nearly as alone as a solo trip might. I also have a very charming and friendly seven year old Shih Tzu dog who loves to nap in the car. It is hard to feel alone when in the company of a canine companion.

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“Macy you can sleep while I drive,” I adulterated classic Melissa Etheridge lyrics as I packed to leave.

I decided to hop out of town right away―literally the day after my last shift at Re/Dress. I was ready for that energy change. Already a difficult nine and a half hour day working retail, adding community sadness and the agita of uncertainty plaguing me and my fellow Shop Girls, I wanted to shed this juju immediately. Since I had a gig go go dancing at Hey Queen on November 19th I knew that my first chance to leave was November 20th. So I did.

The reactions of my friends, advisers and family were similar―overwhelmingly supportive but very concerned for my safety. As a single 32 year old woman traveling through the heartland solo, I need to be vigilant about safety, but strike a balance where safety vigilance did not compromise the feeling of complete and utter freedom the road offers. As a lifelong Girl Scout and devout traveling adventurer I am familiar with both wilderness survival and road survival. I will be offering my safety tips throughout this blog series.

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Getting things in the rearview mirror, somewhere near Reno, Nevada.

I have hit the road before. When I moved across the country at 21 I departed with my college best friend who decided in Minneapolis to take a train back home. So I had already driven halfway across the country by myself and knew what that was like. I’ve driven the two days to Atlanta, GA from Brooklyn and driven back and forth to Michfest several times. I knew my limits and my preferences and I also knew I liked being alone in the car. I definitely would not have gone cross country on a solo road trip if I hadn’t had experience.

Preparing the Car
*Safety tip.* Prior to leaving I did a few crucial things to ensure my car was ready for the road. I have a Toyota Prius, a dream car I bought myself when I was making $80K a year as an attorney in a small firm before I got laid off and tried my hand at living on less than a third of that per year as a part time Shop Girl and part time solo attorney. The solo business has dwindled to about nothing this year and I am looking for a new full-time gig to replace both of those. I have had to scramble like hell to keep making payments on my car but I love it and couldn’t get out of the loan. So why not celebrate all I’ve sacrificed to keep it by taking off on this trip?

I only go to the dealership to get the Prius serviced. They do safety checks every time I go in and I knew I was due for an emissions service (about $200), which would also help with better gas mileage, and when I was there for the service they surprised me with the need for a brake fluid service (another $200). But making sure it was safe for the road was really important to me.

Preparing the Dog
Macy got her shots updated and a fresh rabies vaccine before we left town (the rabies certificate is packed with us). I also treated her preventatively with Frontline for fleas (who knew what she might get exposed to on the road). I bought extra poop bags, brought a full bag of food, some small tupperware to keep a single portion of food in for our overnights, a couple of extra small tupperware for her water needs, some treats and her favorite lamby toy. I also packed a down blanket to put on the seat next to me, which was something she could dig in and also easier to clean off than my interior.

I also researched pet-friendly hotel chains. I knew we would need to spend a couple of nights in hotels and wanted to prepare for Macy’s welcome. Motel 6 is nationwide and La Quinta is located in most of the cities I might need to stop.

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Peaceful La Quinta moment. The one in Ventura had some kind of ambient wave noise and moon you could watch.

As of this publication I have stayed twice in La Quintas and I find them super comfortable and affordable. ($52 and $62 with my AAA discount plus taxes and fees in Salt Lake City, UT and Ventura, CA, respectively when booked online at La Quinta’s website.)

Planning the Trip
I had about 17 days to spend on the road―with my next gig in Brooklyn being Rebel Cupcake on December 8th. I did a gas estimate on gasbuddy.com to find out if I could afford the gas―hey estimated $450 for round trip to Palm Springs, CA, where my fabulous Grandmother lives. I looked at the route and plotted some places in between where I could stay and where I wanted to visit.

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I’ll be honest that the “End of the World” episode of Parks and Recreation that aired in the beginning of November was a great inspiration to me in the conception and the plot of this trip. Characters April and Andy take a spontaneous road trip to watch the sunset in the Grand Canyon. I knew that was a spot I wanted to see― have never been there and it is only a few hours east of my Grandmother. I wanted to visit Austin and Atlanta, Southern cities where I have longtime besties and there are handsome Southern butches to give this freshly single Femme a little hope at the start of a long Winter. (Sometimes even just window shopping is like eating a full meal.)

I also have friends who popped up on Facebook and offered places to stay. My dear fried and co-creator Cam lives about halfway from Chicago to my mom’s place in the Bay Area. I have a lot of friends in Chicago I could count on for a place to rest my weary head.

*Safety Tip.* I am a member of AAA and believe that to be an everyday safety need as a single lady driving around in a city full of potholes late at night. If I need a tow not only are three included in my yearly dues, but it comes with a tow person who is vetted by my auto club. Helpful for peace of mind. And for around $55 a year in Brooklyn, it’s a huge value considering all of the discounts and benefits from membership. I’ve had AAA since I first began driving and my mom added me to her membership and it has saved my ass on many occasions.

To plot the route, I started plugging in addresses on AAA’s online Trip Tik planner. As a member I can save trips on their website when I log in and it was helpful to keep updating it as I confirmed with friends and got their addresses. (I found with google I had to keep updating my route from scratch.)

I copied a calendar from my wall (the inspirational one) to use the grid to fill in travel times and how long I wanted to stay each place. I started working forward from my departure date, filling in the daily hours and miles traveled and writing where I would sleep that night. I knew my comfortable daily travel was 840 miles, but I could do 1,000 if I had some rest the next morning. I also am a big fan of leaving at the crack of dawn so as little night driving happens as possible.

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This is what greeted me at dawn in Illinois.

I didn’t intend to reach anywhere specific for Thanksgiving― wanted to take exactly as long as I could safely to get across the country and back. Not setting deadlines was helpful for that. (Had I been accompanied by a willing co-pilot we could have done it in 3 days.) Luckily I was able to make it to California for Thanksgiving, 5 days after setting foot out of my door in Brooklyn, much to the delight of my mother.

After I worked my way out to California on the calendar, I began working my way back from December 8th counting backward the route it would require to get back to Brooklyn. This way I could see exactly how much fudge time I had in the middle of my route to plan my brief layovers and make my plans to see folks.

I planned a time in the mileage for an oil change around 3800 miles when I knew I had a day off from driving.

I had to drop a lot from my itinerary―honestly this trip could have taken me a full month. I wish I could have gone up to the Pacific Northwest to see pals in Portland, Olympia, Seattle and Victoria. I wish I had longer to soak in New Orleans―a town I very desperately want to spend a chunk of time exploring. But that’s the thing about travel and the open road, there is always more to explore. It’s with an abundant spirit I say I know I’ll be back and I will see more.

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Somewhere in central Wyoming.

I also ordered some travel books and maps and a Trip Tik book from my local AAA office. I really haven’t used them much, though they are great to have as back-ups and good driving tips, local speed regulations and whatnot.

*Safety tip.* Other safety items I always have on hand in my car are a flashlight, spare tire, shoes, car manual, cell phone charger.

So that was how I planned the trip. It took several days to plan, but the planning itself was very invigorating. When I’m not on a computer at my Grandmother’s I’ll post a map of my route.

In sum, I plan to be on the road for 7800 miles and 17 days.

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