By Dr. Tim Seelig–
March 12, 2016, was a red-letter day. It changed a lot of things for me. On that day, this appeared in the San Francisco Bay Times: “We are tremendously honored to be launching a new column authored by Dr. Tim Seelig.”
I’m not exactly sure why the folks at the Bay Times decided to invite me to do that. They may have heard me sitting in my corner of San Francisco singing the refrain of a favorite ABBA song, “Take a Chance on Me.” And they did. I have no idea why. It was a risk. They took the chance.
I also had no idea what I was doing. They thought I could do it. I started writing.
Three specific things prepared me for that task:
- I had written 5 books before that, but those are all about singing and choral music. That’s easy to do!
- I talk a lot! A family trait is that we can talk until we think of something to say. I would soon find out that the same trait applies to writing. I can also write until something good or important comes out. Fortunately, that’s where early drafts and an amazing editor comes in.
- I have always had a quirky view of life and events, humor being the major tool in my arsenal.
I didn’t know any better, so I just started. I didn’t have an over-stuffed chair or a smoking jacket or a pipe. I didn’t use a quill or parchment paper. Nope, just me and a laptop and a small dog staring at me and hoping the story would end soon so she could go outside. I wrote about things in my life and in my surroundings. I wrote about the San Francisco I had grown to love so deeply. I wrote about my kids and grandkids, boyfriends, my husband, and my divorce. I wrote about local heroes. I wrote about life and death, and often music.
I like quirky titles. Doing a search of “Tim Seelig” on the San Francisco Bay Times and reading them doesn’t give much hint at the content. I love that. Some of those included: “Corona Float Tank,” “Lazy Sluggard,” “Priscilla Meets Dixie,” “Mormon Gay Pride?” and “Alphabet Tent.”
Here we are, four years later, and they are still printing what I write each month!
What did that do for me?
For one thing, it taught me brevity. I was given a desired approximate word count that, in four years, I don’t think I have ever met. Yikes. Rules are hard.
It changed the way I looked at the world because I started paying closer attention.
My life has been full of some pretty dramatic events. It was never “normal.” At many turns of the roller coaster, people would say, with a little chuckle in their voices, “You should write a book!” Of course, I would chuckle with them and laugh it off with a shrug and said something like, “Oh please, my life hasn’t been all that interesting.” Or sometimes, “I’m not old enough to look back and write a memoir.” Well, both were not true. Interesting and old!
Then, even with all of the wonderful and painful life events I have experienced, one of these changed everything: the death of my daughter. Grief is personal. No one can tell you how it will affect you or for how long. This was to be life-long. I felt completely unmoored. When I could not seem to get a grasp on it, I took a 3-month Sabbatical. Looking forward to that, I began to gather my thoughts by journaling. When the time away finally came, I was ready to write.
With encouragement from the Bay Times and close friends who just wanted me to shut up with the stories already, my writing miraculously turned into a memoir. Actually, it is an autobiographical memoir. I knew that, to come to any kind of clarity, I would have to “start at the very beginning.” Turns out, it was a very good place to start.
The writing was another form of therapy to deal with my grief. Once I had it in some kind of readable form, I shared it with about six close friends to do their thing: Dan, Elliott, Michael, Justin, Gary, and Jen. Sometimes I would email them a chapter. “I’m talking about AIDS. Here’s the one on molestation. Maya Angelou, vodka, and the kitchen floor. And finally, here’s the Corianna story.” They were both honest and encouraging. They were also invaluable in the final draft I sent to the publisher.
Over the months, the overarching theme came to me, not like a lightning bolt or a burning bush, but close. I had spent 35 years in the closet, in the church, searching for God’s will, as we fundies are taught to do. And, soon, I will have spent 35 years out of that closet, with the gays, and, if truth be known, perhaps really doing God’s will. A life, split in half by time.
Then, the title came: Tale of Two Tims. Big Ol’ Baptist. Big Ol’ Gay.
And shock of shocks, I got a publisher. I spent the last month of Sabbatical writing in Bodega. It was not hard to do!
Many of you will remember that when SFGMC went on tour, the climax of that amazing adventure was our concert at First Baptist Church, Greenville. I’ve written a lot about that and about the pastor, Dr. Jim Dant. He is remarkable in every way. So, when I got near the end of writing, I asked Jim, a widely published author, about a publisher. He said, “Well, my publisher is a progressive Christian group, and maybe they are progressive enough to help tell your story.” I was doubtful. I told him there is cussing and homosexual sex in it. I sent it in. They said “yes.” Thus began the last six months of bringing it to fruition. The publisher is Nurturing Faith. I still have a shocked face when I tell that story.
One thing that definitely came from my column experience: quirky chapters. “Gutter to Glitter”; “Eating Jewish Crow”; “Catholics, Baptists, and Mormons, oh my!”; “Cesspool Behind the Baptistry”; “Blue Tiles and Abortion”; “Death Comes Knocking. Again.”
Once the book was finished and in galley proof form, several close friends said, “You need an audio book. And you need to read it!” I was hesitant for at least 30 seconds. And thus began the second huge undertaking. I am so grateful that one of my best friends, Lucio Maramba, is a fabulous sound engineer and producer in Los Angeles. He volunteered to do the whole thing for me. It’s done! He did an incredible job. And singer/songwriter Bobby Jo Valentine plays guitar sporadically throughout. More magic.
It is hard to describe how it feels to put your whole life out there for everyone to read. One of my friends, after reading it, asked, “Did you never want to go back to Texas again?” Of course, I do. Three of my grandkids are there! It’s really not that bad or salacious. I was just honest about some very difficult and glorious days in Texas. OK, not days. Almost 60 years.
When I came out, my parents asked what they had done to make me gay. Like all parents. I told them, of course, they had done nothing to make me gay. What they had made me was someone who valued the truth more than anything and who somehow found the courage to tell it. On the day I came out, at 35, I vowed to be a truth-teller and, equally important, to have fun for the rest of my life.
And there you have it. Tim has written an autobiographical memoir. It’s really not as grand as it sounds. It’s still just me talking/writing whatever falls out of my head. I am so grateful that you like reading it.
Being a columnist for the Bay Times helped me to cut my teeth. I’ll be writing this column until the dentures arrive. I hope.
Dr. Tim Seelig is the Artistic Director of the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus.
Published on June 25, 2020