Alecia Long: Writer, Historian, Her New Book and Working with a Life Coach
From our current shoot at the Honey House, from left to right: Holly, Truman and Alecia
In the 90's and early 2000's, I had a hair salon, Arthur's House of Glamour which was located in the French Quarter on the corner of Royal and Dumaine Streets It was a full time 24/7 circus that promised a "$5 haircut that included $40 worth of gossip." There were a cast of characters as clients as well as a colourful staff to serve you. People from the gaybourhood would stop by to “see and be seen“ and be a part of a circus that included monkeys that even I could not control. Alecia worked at an antique gallery down Royal Street and was a client of the salon. We figured out quickly that we share a lot of the same interests and have the same humour and became fast friends. At the time, I visited her house in the Bywater neighborhood that was long before the hipsters had moved in and took over. Her kitchen held her beautiful jadeite dish collection that started me on mine.
We have spent some of our holidays together. One was a Thanksgiving at her family‘s home in Tennessee. We took a ride trip along with her pups Truman and Holly. I've also dog sat for her fur babies along with the latest addition to the pack, Percy Louise, a yorkie who may or may not be the alpha of the household. Percy uses his cute little helpless self to control the situation. He’s so cute you can’t help yourself from spoiling him. Alecia and I have thrown a “wear a Christmas onesie and make your own nacho party” together. We’ve spent many hours processing our lives and most importantly pop culture. She’s introduced me to Richard Avedon's photos of the mental patients of the hospital in Jackson, Louisiana in the 60s. She‘s one of the most interesting folks I know. She's a published author and a brilliant lecturer and being a brilliant historian she remembers all the details of her archival research. She's written books on the commercialization of prostitution in Storyville that crossed racial lines as well as one on gender and women's roles in the military during the civil war. Her soon to be published book, "Cruising for Conspirators," is about Jim Garrison, the District Attorney of Orleans parish who’s conspiracy theory was that Clay Shaw, the head of the International Trade Mart in New Orleans plotted along with Lee Harvey Oswald to kill President Kennedy. Garrison’s legal strategy used details of Clay Shaw's private sex life for the prosecution that had nothing to do with the killing of the president. At the trial, the jury spent less than an hour to come back with a not guilty verdict but it ruined Shaw’s reputation who at one time was included in all of the New Orleans social functions even though everyone already knew he was a ”homosexual.”
One of my favourite moments came while watching Alecia lecture on Clay Shaw and the history of gays being harassed in the French Quarter in the 50s and 60s by the law. it was held at Gallier House in the French Quarter. A gentleman wanted to "mansplain" his own Kennedy conspiracy theory to her and her audience by quoting a "Youtube" video as the source of his information. Alecia so brilliantly quoted an article down to the page and the paragraph that proved his theory wrong without engaging any further.
A photo from her collection:
Social Distancing Notes Day 125:
I am posting the following picture along with this post for three reasons.
The first is that it is a hella' good picture -- probably one of the best pictures ever taken of me.
Second, my sister Anwhitney and I were joking this afternoon about head shots and (a la Mary Trump) how they ought to bear some close resemblance to one's current appearance at or near the time of publication. I have to have one made soon and I joked with her that I would use this one.
Third, this photo reminds me of a very happy time in my life. This was taken the first year I was living in New Orleans full time. I lived in an amazingly beautiful Uptown house with two cats, three terrific men, had a year of fellowship funding to do research and write on my dissertation, met a handful of people who have become my closest friends, and, ultimately, fell in love with and married my future (ex) husband. In fact, I remember having a very hot date in the French Quarter with him while wearing this dress. It hangs in my closet to this day. Getting it buttoned at this point in my life would require a miracle of physics, but I loved it then and love it now. And I love that girl who was so shiny, new, and promising in both the adult and scholar departments.
In my first three largely blissful years living in New Orleans I also brushed up against some events that involved accusations of theft, a very high profile police investigation, a trial in which I testified (very briefly), and the conviction and incarceration of a friend and mentor (whose conviction, thankfully, was ultimately vacated); but not before he served jail time and learned a lot about the vagaries of the law and its application in Louisiana and in the New Orleans Criminal District Court (something I HAVE written about before).
That friend and I have been discussing the possibility of writing a book about those events, which, for shorthand, I have adopted the working title Decorative Arts Sociopaths -- which was his suggestion and well describes the obsessions of a signficant segment of its dramatic personae.
There are two major advantages to this project. The first is that much of the primary source material is (recently) in my possession. Research is a hard row to hoe these days, especially if you are immuno-concered about Covid-19, which I am. The other advantage is that the story is replete with qualities I love -- transgression, human frailty, close attention to the visual and material, has many amusing aspects and complicated characters, and its recently remembered history is in some need of factual correction.
There are two things that make me really nervous about this project. One is that it is VERY recent and for a historian that is a challenge. I tried to learn how to write narrative history in Cruising for Conspirators. It's not a natural gear for me and I took a long time figuring it out. There is NO WAY to tell the stories that swirl around these events except in a narrative forward fashion. It scares me a bit. Also, dealing with the living is much more sticky than writing about the dead -- so there's also that potentially messy aspect.
It also scares me because I would have to confront that beautiful and sometimes careless younger version of myself -- her thoughts, her feelings, her assessments, her actions and inactions, the wonderful and terrible things that happened to me and to others as those events unfolded, bloomed, and, in many cases, soured.
So, there you go. For a historian, uncovering the past of those who are long dead is a given. Excavating more recent experience(s) holds many dangers which I'm not sure I'm ready to navigate -- or, maybe as my writing coach counseled about the last book -- sometimes we pick the projects that help us discover what WE need to learn in the course of researching, writing, and completing them. Who can say.
Thanks for your indulgence. I hope you and yours are well. Me and the Three are fine. A beautiful night awaits and, I hope, a wonderful, placid, productive tomorrow. Bon Soir Friends XO
I've witnessed Alecia soar and strugglie to finish her book and find the direction she wanted to take it in and doing it while facing some extraordinary life challenges and continuing to teach her history classes at LSU, She also fought to get permission to use photos from a Life magazine article about Garrison’s trail from Getty Images that show the facts of her story and was told no. The photographer ended the article when he realized it was Garrison was a loose nut. She is dedicated to telling the truth and a stickler for the facts.
While struggling to get to the finish line of completing these book, she hired a life coach. After this experience, I’ve witnessed her affirming herself by being more present in her life.
From our current shoot at the Honey House
For the last year or so I've been working off and on with a coach and yoga teacher who emailed something this morning that I really needed to receive and take to heart. I'm sending it on to you in the event it might be helpful. Be safe, be well, go easy on yourself during these trying (and, sadly, deadly and delusional) times:
Dear South Louisiana (and whoever else needs to hear this):
You are not lazy, you are traumatized.
Remote school just got cancelled because there were two storms in the gulf at the same time the same week as the Katrina Anniversary. In the middle of a global pandemic.
You are not distracted, you are overwhelmed.
Two black men got shot in the back this week by the police. Two white men murdered people in plain sight this week, and were not immediately arrested by the police *who had the opportunity to arrest them.*
You are not weak, you are exhausted.
The first lady of the United States, dressed in dictator-khaki, addressed the RNC from the White House. The Secretary of State addressed the RNC from Jerusalem, where he is on official US Business.
There comes a point when you just can't really process everything that's being thrown at you anymore, and your brain just shuts down.
If you're not productive right now -- that is *normal*.
If you can't make decisions or remember words, that is to be expected.
This is not normal. We're like frogs in boiling water with the news this year. Just because your conscious mind can tolerate it, and "keep on," that doesn't mean your nervous system will allow it.
Please take care of yourself, and each other. You're gonna make it.
It's okay to press pause sometimes. It's okay to rest. It's okay to step away from the news for an afternoon. You can snooze your inbox.
You are not failing. You are working really hard at something you've never done before. That is hard. And brave.
Keep being brave.
These were from our very first photo shoot at her suite in the Fletcher home. On the photo on the left is Truman on the left and Holly on the right.
I have been told that I have plagiarized other photographer's work by copying them, but I believe it's ok to study their work as inspiration as long as I bring my own voice to it. I research photographers and cinematographers alike for creative inspiration and the history of photography and strive to learn their techniques. History in all things is important.
Alecia recently moved to her new mid century modern home with a room with three glassed walls that overlook a beautiful pool. It was perfect timing with my recent discovery of the photography of Slim Aaron's glamorous and colourful Palm Springs’world of socialites in modern mid century settings.
From our current shoot at the Honey House:
If you are struggling to get to a new chapter in your life, consider a life coach.
A life coachis a type of wellness professional who helps people make progress in their lives in order to attain greater fulfillment.Life coaches aid their clients in improving their relationships, careers, and day-to-day lives. ... In creating these strategies,lifecoaches target your unique skills and gifts.