2.26.2007

One Last List Because AWP's Right Around the Corner

Albums I've purchased this year:

+44, When Your Heart Stops Beating
They kind of remind me of Sugar and Foo Fighters playing together, but I like it. It has a fresh, 90s-alterna feel to it.

Ok Go, Oh No
I was a little late to the train, but I've sorted it out now and I really like this band.

Avril Lavigne, Under My Skin
I'm done fighting this. I love Avril Lavigne. Do you hear me? I LOVE HER. I'm gonna tell the world. I listened to the album for two weeks straight. It's well done.

Matchbox Twenty, More Than You Think You Are
Another belated purchase; I really like Rob Thomas's songwriting and lyrics, and this is a good album.

Wham!, Make It Big
Is this title something George Michael is fond of uttering in men's rooms? Whatever the case, it was a nostalgia purchase. I used to roller skate to this album in my basement. It was like Xanadu, but no ONJ.

The Blow, Paper Television
A gift from my friend Kevin, this is an interesting, quiet little album of softcore alternative electronica. Nice, different.

Matt Kearney, Nothing Left to Lose
What would happen if Coldplay picked up Duncan Sheik's guitar and started doing a little spoken word? The answer: this.

Gnarls Barkley, St. Elsewhere
A strange album with a wide range, I really enjoy the way they inject R&B and soul into their songs. Great cover of the Femmes's "Gone Daddy Gone."

Dannii Minogue, Neon Nights
If it's not clear by now, I'm gay.

Lilly Allen, Alright, Still
Oops, and I just got a little gayer. Allen mixes reggae, ska hooks, P!nk's brand of lyrics with Shirley Manson's anger into a pop confection you don't mind so much when she stretches to rhyme "al fresco" with "Tesco." Cute accent, too.

Stefy, The Orange Album
Yes, delicious. Sweet and tangy, with a thick rind of guitar and...oh, where is this metaphor going?

Young Love, Too Young to Fight It
LOVE. Reminds me of Panic! At the Disco with a heavier focus on electronic beats than guitar.

Erasure, On the Road to Nashville: (Live in Nashville)
How am I so blessed but to have TWO acoustic albums by Erasure? This one torques up the country and provides revisions of some of their older favorites like "Stop!," "Chains of Love," and "A Little Respect." A must-hear.

Evanescence, The Open Door
I tried to resist, but I love Amy Lee's voice, and sometimes I get angry too. And sad. And my dark angry sadness needs a little company. I haven't heard it yet because I just bought it today, but it will probably keep me company in the dark angry sadness that is AWP.

2.25.2007

Thanks again

Thanks again to everyone who attended the ASU Writers Conference this week! It was so much fun for us to have you on campus and I hope you enjoyed yourselves!

2.23.2007

From the Vault: Ten Surprisingly Classic Albums

Today's list is something I mentioned earlier—a brief consideration of my extensive music collection. Today I'm choosing ten albums, released in the 90s or earlier, that have remained compelling pieces of work for me. Some might not be that shocking and some you've maybe never heard before, but all deserve a good listen.


1. Abra Moore, Strangest Places.
I first learned of Abra through an ad for Visa. She was one of those "I lived in a van" singers in the 90s, and she had a brief moment with this interesting rock/country/folk album. The songs have held up because the writing, particularly the lyrics, is so interesting.


2. Belly, King.
A swan song for Tanya Donnelly's short-lived band, King is a 90s-alterna-rock curiosity. Departing from the "confessional" tone of their first album, King snarls and bops with ferocious abandon and quiet restraint.


3. Dave Matthews Band, Under the Table and Dreaming.
I still think the first album is the best, but it took several years to grow on me. I bought it, sold it, and then bought it again a few years later. "Satellite" in particular is an enduring song, and "Ants Marching" is one of my favorites by him.


4. Duncan Sheik, Duncan Sheik.
How unfortunate that Duncan fell into a tweener marketing ploy with his first single, which is, yes, catchy—but good, and this album is lightyears beyond what "Barely Breathing" might make you think. Tender, unrestricted, and emotionally honest, his first collection is truly his most cohesive.


5. Fiona Apple, Tidal.
Why do I keep picking first albums? People gave Fiona a bad rap because she had some things to say and she was erroneously lumped into the Tori Amos bin. This first album is lush, disarming, with a youthful misstep or two—but still a classy debut by a promising and innovative artist.


6. Hole, Live Through This.
The first time I heard this band, it was a revelation for me. Courtney Love, while crazy, wrote a brilliant and provocative collection that borrows both from her history with the girl-punk band Babes in Toyland and brings in elements of pop influenced, no doubt, by her connection to Nirvana. "Violet" is a great example of this contradiction, but the album soars straight up from this first track to the last.


7. Luscious Jackson, Electric Honey.
Another last album by a great band, EH found these talented women finally gelling into some great catchy pop tunes with substance. An extension of their hit "Naked Eye," the album is wrought with unforgettable melodies and guitar hooks.


8. No Doubt, Tragic Kingdom.
A nearly perfect album, No Doubt's second major effort is, to me, one of the greatest examples of how personal torment can make great art. The collision of Gwen's confessional lyrics with ska rhythms and pop hooks is an amazing conflict.


9. Radiohead, The Bends.
Although I love OK Computer (and nothing since) by this band, I think The Bends is a more even collection of songs, all of them tying back to the theme of how technology impacts our lives and makes us different human. Songs like "Just" echo their first hit, "Creep," but amazing anthems like "Street Spirit [Fade Out]" really make this an album to hear again and again.


10. Tori Amos, Under the Pink.
I might be the only gay man in America who thinks this is a great album, but I prefer it to her other work. The striking irony of "God," the hushed secrets of "Past the Mission," the sprawling lush anthem of "Yes, Anastasia" all work for me. And other, smaller songs—"The Waitress" and "Cornflake Girl"—still hold up for me. I never was a cornflake girl. I thought it was a good solution hanging with the raisin girls.

Honorable Mentions: Violent Femmes, Violent Femmes; Rufus Wainwright, Rufus Wainwright.

2.22.2007

Shopping.

In celebration of my shopping Odyssey on Saturday and Monday night, I'd like to share with you all the stores I visited in search of the perfect pair of plain, shiny, brown dress shoes (preferably a slip-on):

SATURDAY (Arizona Mills)
Famous Footwear
Bass
Journeys
Kenneth Cole
Rack Room Shoes
Rockport
Shoe Pavilion
Shoeteria
Robert Wayne Footwear

I estimate on Saturday I tried on 15 pairs of shoes, finally going into any shoe store we passed just to look. Nothing. Everything was ugly, didn't fit right, didn't come in my size (I'm a perfect 11 1/2), or felt like strapping bricks to my feet.

Monday night I resolved to go out after work, with some desperation, in the hopes I could have these by the start of our conference on Wednesday. Was I being to restrictive? Too inflexible? Was I asking for too much? Did what I want even exist??

MONDAY (Biltmore Fashion Park)
Macy's--almost left with an uncomfortable pair of Steve Maddens, but pressed on
Cole Haan
Sak's
Apple store (my laser printer just died and I needed to scope out prices)

While at the Apple store, I searched for the nearest DSW, which was 15 miles away...in the suburbs!

So, I drove there.

MONDAY (Chandler Fashion Center)
DSW

Spent and hour and a half trying on 13 pairs of shoes, all wrong.

Frantic, I declared a shoe crisis! I called my man in Texas and asked for suggestions. He said, "You certainly seem to know what you want," echoing the salesperson's comment to Jimmy Stewart in Vertigo. And perhaps I was that obsessed.

Beaten, desperate, uncertain, I returned to Arizona Mills.

MONDAY (Arizona Mills)
Sketchers
Ross
Kenneth Cole

At Sketchers, I realized what I also needed to do was replace my casual brown shoes because the soles were cracked in half. I bought those, and because they always have buy one/get one half off, I got a cute pair of sneakers as a bonus for off-setting part of the shoe crisis.

Then, on my second visit to Kenneth Cole, nearly in tears, I tried on several wrong shoes and started to leave

and there they were

just sitting there on a shelf under a sign that said "SALE"

and they were beautiful, nearly everything I'd wanted (they lace up) and when I looked, they had my EXACT SIZE.

I slipped my foot in and it was love.

2.21.2007

Now It Can Be Told

I've just received word that I can spill one piece of my big, good news.

I received an Artist's Project Grant from the Arizona Commission on the Arts in support of my manuscript-in-progress!!

At the time, I had only envisioned the Matthew Shepard poems and the Vertigo section of the book. The strange science-fiction section at the end was a complete surprise.

EVEN BETTER: four wonderful other artists I know also received grants during this cycle: poet Sean Nevin, poet Stephanie Lenox (who has been giving me amazing feedback on my work as I write it), memoirist Tania Katan, and visual artist Angela Ellsworth.

Please join me in congratulating them.

My Monthly Always Comes Early.

Lately I've been awash in magazine subscriptions—free, discounted, gifted, etc.—at my home. Here's a list of what I currently receive:

1. The Advocate
I like to keep up-to-date on what's going on with my people.

2. Real Simple
I'm a nut about neat organization strategies (although if you saw my desk, you'd never believe this) and I love their recipes. I do get a little put off by their articles on which pumps are fresh for fall—but everyone has to take their lumps.

3. Premiere
I've subscribed to this off and on since I was sixteen and reading Rolling Stone religiously. Although I don't like their most recent layout (too cluttered!), they generally offer artistic perspectives on new films as well as content about the industry.

4. Vanity Fair
People always think this is a women's magazine, but it's for everyone. Keeping track of the glitterati in a variety of realms (film, music, literature, politics) is always fascinating and I love their "Proustian Questionnaire," in which they ask the same 20 questions of various legends like Margaret Atwood and Gore Vidal.

5. Poets & Writers
A staple of my bimonthly reading. I think there's something important in every issue for any working writer. Yesterday at lunch, my colleagues and I discussed the implications of Bowling Green's Electronic Thesis Publication requirement. It was hot.

6. Stuff
Okay, and mostly yuck. This is the most hetero-male-centric thing I get, and I only get it because it was free, and let me tell you, I get awfully tired of getting something in the mail with scantily clad women on the cover. Even the agent at my apartment complex told me disapprovingly that he couldn't hold my issues for me at his desk because the magazine was too risqué. But I do enjoy some of its humor. Not much else.

7. Blender
I love music magazines, mostly because I avoid listening to the radio and I don't have time to watch music television, so this keeps me feeling connected to what's new out there. It's not as scene-ster as Spin and less ambitious than Rolling Stone.

8. Genre
This was one of the cheapies I get. It tries to approach gay culture with the approach of a kind of intelligentsia, but it's articles on which underpanties make your junk look hottest and sexcapade columns sort of chip away at this.

9. Saveur
I used to try stealing this from my mom's hosue, so I finally broke down and got my own subscription. It's an interesting approach to cooking—a little gourmet, a little comfort—and they write a lot about regional cooking and techniques. So far, I've cooked 0 recipes from this one.

Honorable Mention: although I don't subscribe, I always read the Harper's Index when I'm at work. Fascinating, horrifying, and funny, it never disappoints.

2.20.2007

The Man Who Knew Too Much Hitchcock



Since I can't nail down a list of my favorite films by Collin, I've given myself a handicap. Only Hitchcock films. Loosely ordered by preference:

Rear Window
Rebecca
The Birds
North By Northwest
Vertigo
Notorious
Shadow of a Doubt
Strangers on a Train
Psycho
The 39 Steps
Suspicion
Torn Curtain
Frenzy
Rope
Lifeboat
Dial M for Murder
The Lady Vanishes

2.19.2007

Phoenix Favorites

To start off the week, I'm going to offer a list of my favorite things in Phoenix:

1. My Florist
A sandwich-and-salad restaurant in a converted flower store, My Florist offers delicious food with fresh bread, affordable wines, and a ferocious live piano player several days a week.

2. The Willo Grocery
Attached to My Florist and supplier of all their breads, this little stop-and-shop will fit all your baked goods, appetizer, and pastry needs. Any sandwich made on Willo bread is amazing. It doesn't even matter what's between your slices.

3. Queerbucks
My affectionate name for my local Starbucks (also commonly known as "Gay Starbucks"), the range of clientéle here sometimes prompt a name change to BearBucks.

4. Copper Star Coffee
Best place to study and free Wi-Fi to boot. At this former gas station-cum-coffeeshop, the owner will frequently come by and refill your coffee—for free!

5. The Gay Egg
The cheeky nickname for my favorite brunch haunt.

6. Made Art Boutique
An eclectic little shop on Roosevelt Row that offers books and artisan products by local artists.

7. Biltmore Shopping Park
The Borders store here features the largest poetry selection in Phoenix. The BSP is on kinemapoetics probation for recently closing their two-story Banana Republic, but they have an Apple store, so...

8. Chipotle at 16th and Camelback
Delicious enormo burritos just a hop, skip, and a jump from my house.

9. Fez
Moroccan-American fusion restaurant with the best burger in town.

10. Steele Indian School Park's Dog Park
Arden wanted to add her favorite place to this list. She's not really into other dogs, but she likes mingling with other people.

2.17.2007

Announcing: Good News and a Week of Lists



I have stellar, unimaginable news to announce sometime next week, but until I can spill the beans I'll have to leave you in suspense.

Next week I'll be posting a week of lists because I will be busy coordinating the 2007 ASU Writers Conference.

I work all year long pulling together the finer details of this four-day event, including selecting and contracting the faculty, arranging the venues, planning the schedule, answering questions, strategizing a marketing plan, and then: ensuring everything runs smoothly.

I'm really excited about the people who'll appear this year:

Marilyn Bowering
Bernard Cooper
Carolyn Forché
Diana Gabaldon
Lee Gutkind
Tony Hoagland
T. R. Hummer
Tania Katan
Kevin McIlvoy
James Masao Mitsui
Walter Mosley
Laurie Notaro
Peter Pereira
Claudia Rankine
Aaron Shurin
Richard Siken
Gail Tsukiyama
Tom Wayman
George Witte
and more...

The conference is one of my favorite events we do at work. I remember attending the first two as a participant and just was blown away by the collection of talent on the faculty.

In any case, all of you: have a great week, and hopefully I can pop back in next week with my announcement. It's a good one.

2.16.2007

Work.

On Tuesday I took three students from ASU to a Jess Schwartz Jewish Community High School's Celebration of Writing event. The CoW is a three-day annual series of appearances and readings by local writers (I think local writers) at this very small, very arts-positive school. The students I took are all in their last semester of the MFA program and are all wonderful writers and people I enjoy very much: playwright Carlos Chavarria, fiction writer Caitlin Horrocks, and poet Diana Park. You will continue to hear their names.

We did a brief Q&A with the high school creative writing class, who asked us questions like, "Is it important to listen to feedback from other writers, or is it okay to stick with your first draft?" Or, what starts a poem for us. We all come to writing from very different experiences and backgrounds, so our discussion was interesting.

The reading was great. Each of the ASU students read from their work and they were all fastastic. I read some selections from Living Things and was sort of embarrassed to get choked up a few times. This is the problem with the book. It holds too much. A poet friend of mine who also wrote about a grief experience (I don't know if he'd want me to reveal his identity here, so I'm holding it back for now), told me he was eager to stop reading his grief poems because it was like experiencing the loss all over again. I'm starting to understand this.

The poem that always gets me? "The Cat." It has this really "naked" moment in it where the speaker, after describing how he finds a cat meowing on his parked car's engine, comes to realize that there was nothing he could have done. And the tone of the poem, for me, becomes deeply personal and revealing. It was a risk I was taking in these poems to step out of the lyric moment and into a blank utterance.

I tell you if it weren't for dramatic pauses in that poem, I wouldn't make it. I take those three seconds, collect myself, and finish the poem.

2.15.2007

Maybe I Made a Big Mistake Last Night



After hearing this song several times at this bar I like to go to, I finally got around to figuring who this band was and what they're like.

Friends, I am here to tell you.

Stefy sound like the love child of Berlin and Pat Benatar who hangs out with Gwen Stefani (pre-solo career) and has a crush on David Bowie.

It's hot.

The video for "Chelsea":



And for "Hey School Boy":


More here.

2.14.2007

Goal!

Over the weekend I cleaned out my storage closet here at home, expecting to toss a lot of junk out, but was pleased to discover the mess was due primarily to poor organization and not pack-ratishness. I did set aside some items to donate to Goodwill, though, so I'm hopefully cutting down on the number of things I'll have to move...if I ever move...

Among my discoveries, though, was the yearbook I made for my RAs when I was a Hall Director at ASU from 2001-2002. It was my first year on the job here and I had a great year. Along with a picture page, everyone in the yearbook answered a series of questions, one of which was "Where will you be in five years?"

It might be no coincidence that nearly exactly five years have elapsed since I wrote down those goals, and honestly, I haven't seen them since, but it was interesting how many of them have come to pass:

1. Finish my grad program (done)
2. Publish something (done and done)
3. Stop living in residence halls (DONE)
4. Be teaching poetry at a university (not done, but I found something I like better)

Interesting how time has a way of working things out...

2.13.2007

HFR me ASAP

The new Hayden's Ferry Review arrived in our offices yesterday and it big, bold, and beautiful.

This issue features both the continuing section of International Writing (translations and original language texts) and a special section called "Works of Witness," which contains four pieces from my new manuscript.

Also in the issue: luminaries like Andrei Codrescu, Jen Currin, Matthew Gavin Frank, Pam Houston, David Dodd Lee, Melissa Pritchard, Gary Short, and more.

Preview:

from "Safe"

I recognize his face through all the dried blood. They say
the skin showed through only where his tears ran down





and it means all through the night
he felt pain





To reduce this down to its most intimate parts
is all I want to do





his red face
streaked with skin





he went into the night
he came back red

2.09.2007

The Other Art

Last night in my Art & Public Policy class, we talked a bit about how "the arts" are trying to cultivate larger audiences, gain more funding, and be more successful in general.

And I started wondering if it's effective for the arts to lump themselves into that ubuiquitous category THE ARTS.

For example, there are performing arts and studio arts, particpatory arts and spectated arts, commercial arts and fine arts. Those encompass a wide field of play! In Arizona we have the Arizona Commission on the Arts, whose job it is to circulate funding, opportunities, and resources among all the arts. (And they do a great job, too!)

But I was thinking about whether or not it might be better for the arts to splinter off into more discrete subgroups. Say, for example, the opera, the symphony, and theatre shuffle off into a Performing Arts Coalition—are there concerns similar? Do they share a similar audience/need/philosophy? Would it be in their best interest to share audiences and funding rather than competing for spare change with the rest of the arts?

Similarly, I often find that in discussions of THE ARTS, literary arts are often conspicuously absent! People are more inclined to associate the Fine Arts (visual and performing) with THE ARTS, but writing is often viewed separately. This is perhaps because there is such a large commercial publishing industry at work in the world that people have slowly come to separate THE ARTS from what you can buy at your local Barnes & Noble (and perhaps rightly so...). But, too, even at ASU, the Creative Writing master's program is in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, not in the College of Fine Arts, and I suspect this dichotomy exists at many institutions.

I'm not necessarily advocating for a splintering of arts disciplines; I'm just asking questions. Is it possible that our legislators and voters are rejecting arts funding because there is no line-item veto in funding the arts? Do people want to fund the opera and not literature, the art museum and not the symphony, the ballet but not arts coalitions?

2.08.2007

Art in the Abstract: a Concern

This semester I'm taking (and really enjoying) a class for my degree called Art and Public Policy, which focuses on the ways in which the public and private sectors fund, legislate, support, appreciate, and mobilize art in America.

Our articles and discussions are always interesting and complex, but one thing I'm already struggling with is how to approach the idea of "art" as an abstract concept.

This seems easier for non-artists to cope with. "Art" to a non-artist is probably more of a product, an object or thing to contend with, rather than a process, like it is for me. And naturally, my bias when thinking about "art" is to substitute the word with "writing"—by and large the least common genre associated with concepts of "art" by the masses. After all, isn't literature something different?

There are definitely kinds of art. People think often of the performing arts (music, drama, etc) and the studio arts (painting, sculpture, etc). Film and literature are frequently lost in this dichotomy, a difficult thing for me to contend with since both are so valuable to me as a person and as an artist.

An article I recently read from the Wallace Foundation ("Gifts of the Muse"—it's available for free download if you're interested) focused on a study that isolated the "intrinsic" (internal/personal) and "instrumental" (public/social) benefits.

But what concerned me as I read was thinking about the vastly different kinds of art that exist in the world and the kinds of people who experience it. Is it really so easy to determine that "art" in the abstract encourages higher test scores, greater self-confidence, and steady attendance in students K-12? And if so, how do the study of painting or the act of painting differ in their impact on students and on the community?

I probably think of the arts as so discrete because while I think I can probably write well, I can't paint, sculpt, carve, compose, or act with any competence at all, so those arts are something I appreciate differently than I do literature.

What is the most effective and fair way to think about the impact and value of art? Is it enough to lump the arts together into a group of like-minded endeavors, or do the discrete arts each offer varying benefits?

2.07.2007

Bizee



I've been a little busy at work lately, so I haven't had much time to blog. I hope to get back on my normal schedule very soon, though.

In the meantime, here are a list of potential topics I've been thinking about blogging about:

1. Margaret Atwood's The Penelopiad and Edmund White's The Beautiful Room Is Empty
2. How being an artist instills values of good citizenship
3. A few albums from my collection that are enduring favorites (today's thought: Abra Moore's Strangest Places)
4. Is self-googling purely vanity or is it just good market research?
5. I just taught myself how to play Madonna's "Jump" and thought you might like to hear it.
6. On Truffaut's classic Jules et Jim, which was sadder than I remembered.
7. Why I'm queer for Lost. And for boys.

2.05.2007

Back from the Lone Star

Chew on this:

The Washington Post's Style Invitational asked readers to take any word from the dictionary, alter it by adding, subtracting, or changing one letter, and supply a new definition. Here are this year's winners:


1. Bozone (n.): The substance surrounding stupid people that stops bright ideas from penetrating. The bozone layer, unfortunately, shows little sign of breaking down in the near future.

2. Foreploy (v): Any misrepresentation about yourself for the purpose of getting laid.

3. Cashtration (n.): The act of buying a house, which renders the subject financially impotent for an indefinite period.

4. Giraffiti (n): Vandalism spray-painted very, very high.

5. Sarchasm (n): The gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the person who doesn't get it.

6. Inoculatte (v): To take coffee intravenously when you are running late.

7. Hipatitis (n): Terminal coolness.

8. Osteopornosis (n): A degenerate disease.

9. Karmageddon (n): its like, when everybody is sending off all these really bad vibes, right? And then, like, the Earth explodes and it's like, a serious bummer.

10. Decafalon (n.): The grueling event of getting through the day
consuming only things that are good for you.

11. Glibido (v): All talk and no action.

12. Dopeler effect (n): The tendency of stupid ideas to seem smarter when they come at you rapidly.

13. Arachnoleptic fit (n.): The frantic dance performed just after you've accidentally walked through a spider web.

14. Beelzebug (n.): Satan in the form of a mosquito that gets into your bedroom at three in the morning and cannot be cast out.

15. Caterpallor (n.): The color you turn after finding half a grub in the fruit you're eating.

And the pick of the literature:

16. Ignoranus (n): A person who's both stupid and an asshole.

2.01.2007

By The Time You Read This

I will be a Texan.



Temporarily, at least.

See you all back here on Monday. Have a good weekend, kids.