Excerpt from "The Grief Muscle"

On my first day back at the gym, I was still pretty depressed and distraught about my break-up. Exercise seemed to me to solve two major problems: it gave me something constructive to do since I couldn’t sleep and I felt like I could punish something—in this case, my own body—for causing me pain. Because I couldn’t take it out on anyone else—and truly, although I was hurt by my boyfriend’s message, I wasn’t angry and I still loved him—I would make the pain I felt internally something I could feel in every muscle of my body. And also, something that would, after a few days, fade away the way I hoped my sadness would.

I walked in, feeling out of touch with the gym after my two-month absence. But right away I saw Green Shorts Guy pedaling away on an exercise bike and the husky couple wrapping up their cardio on the ellipticals. Cute Gay Guy was there too, with his friend, and he’d gotten a new haircut—and it looked good! I walked on by my early morning comrades and approached the bicep curl machine, my typical starting place.

I sat down, unstrapped my iPod from its shoulder holster, and popped the buds into my ears. I hadn’t listened to my workout mix in ages—I wasn’t even sure what I would hear. Loud music filled my head and drowned out the gym’s pathetic excuse for “radio.” All the talking around me disappeared. I gripped the handles of the machine and started curling. I did about ten reps without much effort, but thought I was being too easy on myself. I increased the weight by twenty pounds and did it again. And again. And again.

Freud—that old bastion of mental health—wrote about the experience of grief in his 1917 book Mourning and Melancholia. In the discussion, Freud postulated that persons who are grieving must constantly confront the reality of their loss in order to reconcile their former reality (like being in love) to the new reality (being out of love). Among his other works, Freud frequently touched on love and intimacy, describing the way we become connected to other people as a process of internalizing them into our psyche. This is never more obvious than in romantic relationships, where couples move from two distinct “I”s into a collective “we.” That destruction of the “we,” in which the lover becomes so invested, is traumatizing.

To constantly confront the reality of the loss is no easy task. In my early stages of grief, mourning the relationship feels much like losing an arm—and truly, investing ourselves, our identity in another person can become as critical to us as a limb. This is probably why many people start at denial—this isn’t happening; I am still whole—because no one wants to be an emotional amputee.

In his consideration of traumatic events, such as the shock of a sudden loss, Freud says the mind turns toward repetition—reliving the loss again and again until it is understood and mastered. By “mastery,” Freud implies that the ego overcomes the loss, works around the loss or through it, and no longer suffers the pain of losing.

In exercise, repetition (or “reps”) leads to physical mastery. Because it is generally not possible to make one’s self experience an actual break-up over and over again, maybe the repetition becomes displaced—we turn to repetitive behavior because, in the end, we’ll feel like we mastered something. In grief, people may say the same phrases over and over again, might put on a familiar music album and listen to the same tracks on repeat—or they go to the gym, forcing their body to work through the same motions again and again until their bodies have mastered the physical burden that is a metaphor for their emotional loss.

There are pockets of early morning work out folks who band together at the gym. Women generally tend to work out with a friend or group of friends, while men congregate around the more advanced weightlifting devices, like the flat bench and the machines that use the enormous flat plates. Typically, in groups larger than just two, one man will spot another man while he does his reps; the others look on and chide him or encourage him or just tell each other jokes. This was the case with the group of men in front of me as I sat at the bicep machine lifting the most weight I’ve ever lifted (also known as “grief weight”) to offset the greatest level of grief I’d ever experienced. I held the curls for a few seconds at the height of the curl to increase the amount of damage—and ultimate repair—they’d make to my muscles. I thought about my boyfriend—ex-boyfriend—and shrouded myself in grief.

Even after two months away from the gym, my body—and my mind—were ready to work. What used to feel like an insurmountable amount of weight to lift was, today, sort of boring. I had actually lost eight pounds in my time away from the gym due to stress and poor eating habits, but my muscles seemed undiminished. A vein appeared in my right bicep, crooked, meandering its way around my arm and disappearing underneath. My hands, which used to develop callouses from gripping weight bars, were soft and still painless. I stared straight ahead and watched myself, blurred, in the mirror on the far wall. I felt resolve. I felt productive.

The grief was a great motivator. With grief comes both self-pity and self-loathing, for as the grieving party feels sadness and disappointment, there, for me, is also the frustration of having out-of-control emotions. But feelings were sneaking up on me even there at the gym, tapping me on the shoulder, and jumping into my head. The song on my iPod switched to Dannii Minogue’s “I Begin to Wonder,” a song I picked up after hearing it at my boyfriend’s place one weekend, and I clenched my curl just a little tighter. Yet another unfortunate trait of grief is that it causes you to locate deep and existential meaning in pop song lyrics:

And every time I think I'm breaking free
These thoughts return to trouble me
Hanging on to love has left me empty
You're a sinner but you told me you're a saint
Too fast I tripped and lost my way
Can't believe what's happened to me lately

I pressed the “skip” button on my iPod and moved on.

The group of men in front of me seemed to have a leader, a forties-ish man with yellow-blond hair who walked with a bit of a hunch. It was probably from working out his chest muscles too much and his back muscles not at all, I thought to myself, and reminded myself that the next day I’d have to give equal time to my lats. I gathered up my water bottle, towel, and car keys, and walked over to the chest press machines. They come in three varieties—decline, incline, and bench—and supposedly give your chest a full range of workout motion. The big group of men, about five of them, all of varying sizes and shapes, were working at a flat bench. One of the men was large and round. I thought he was just overweight until I saw him bench press six 45-pound plates at once, bouncing the bar off his chest at the sternum with each lift. I realized I had a lot of work to do.

It was only a few weeks ago that I was at this machine, doing these chest presses, when I saw a man I very briefly dated during the summer months. We’d gotten along great and I enjoyed his company, but there was something off about it. At the time, I was going on dates with several men, trying to see if I could be the kind of person who just went on dates. I’ve never been good at dating; I’ve been good—despite my track record described here—at having relationships. Dating seemed torturous, almost cruel, in its repetitiveness. Anyway this guy, let’s call him Rick (also blond, I might add), went away for a week to visit his family in California. While he was gone, I got a single text message from him, which was nice, but in the meantime I’d met and started hanging out with another guy who said he wasn’t keen on me seeing other people.

Except that I never got a chance to tell Rick that I couldn’t see him anymore. Before I could call him, he walked into the restaurant where the new guy and I were having drinks, looked right at me, and kept walking. The other guy’s arm was around me and I’m sure it was pretty clear what it all meant. Guilt stung me and I yelled at myself for not being more proactive. Rick was followed into the restaurant by a friend who, as they vanished behind a nearby wall, turned and gave me a shocked and offended expression. It was done.

On the day I saw him, I wasn’t wearing my glasses. For about ten minutes, I just thought I saw him—or someone sized and shaped very similarly to him, so I pretended not to notice. He and his friends moved to a weight bench closer to me and from that distance, even I couldn’t mistake him. He looked much the same—a bit smaller than I remembered, but generally like the Rick from last summer. I felt like he and his friends were circling me like emotional vultures, waiting for my discomfort to peak so they could dive in and pick away the tightening muscles I was working so hard to develop.


Good Grief, Charlotte Brown!

This week the new Good Charlotte album dropped and even after just 24 hours I can say I am totally in love with it.

Good Morning Revival is a bit of a departure from their first two albums, The Young and the Hopeless and The Chronicles of Life and Death. Their previous efforts have been pop-punk anthems chock full of misanthropic lyrics, lots of thick eyeliner, and snarling guitars.

The snarling guitars are back (and good thing), but now they're joined by driving dance-rock beats and—yes—synths and electronica. The resulting fusion is something wonderful. My favorite song—I listened to it three times on the way to work today—is "Victims of Love." I love rock songs that make you want to get up and dance, and this album is full of them, but Good Charlotte haven't "sacrificed" too much of what made their old albums good too. The lyrics now are deeper, have more complexity (although that's not much of a stretch, really), and the melodies are, well, more melodic.

Other great tracks include "Misery," "The River" (which is sort of about finding a new start), "Dance Floor Anthem" (yes, it's true), "All Black," and "Break Apart Her Heart."

The lead singer used to date Hillary Duff, so you have to wonder how many of these songs are about her. Or about finding solace in Nicole Richie's...arms.

I used to be ashamed about my love for Good Charlotte, seeing as I'm not currently a fourteen-year-old girl, overly emo, or goth. But I'm coming out. I love them! This album is so good it's even going on my workout mix.


Living Out Loud

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of judging the Arizona state finals for the Poetry Out Loud competition. About fifteen students competed from all over the state, reciting everything from Lewis Carrol to Maya Angelou.

The poem choices selected for the competition are interesting to say the least. There are some very archaic pieces ("The Flaxman") and some more contemporary choices ("Learning to Love America"), which gave the competition a wide range. The poems are pre-selected by the Poetry Foundation, who runs the competition, and students are given an anthology from which to choose their pieces for performance.

For the state competition, students had to recite/perform two poems. I got to hear some of my favorite poems ("Fire and Ice" and "What Lips My Lips Have Kissed, and Where, and Why") and encountered some new pieces I hadn't heard before. The judging was tough--there were a lot of talented readers there, but in the end I think the best student went on to the national competition in DC.


Airport Art

Last week, I had occasion to drop in to the Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport's Art Museum Gallery. A small space on the retail level of the terminal, the Gallery currently houses a striking show of photographs by students at South Mountain High School.

The Phoenix Airport Art Museum is one of the largest in the nation. The collection ranges from murals to paintings to sculptures and is house in six different buildings in the Valley's three airports. The airport is funded by a policy called "Percent for Art," in which up to one percent of all Phoenix capital improvement funds must be allocated to public art projects.

Anyway, the photos at the Gallery were amazing, both in their complexity of subject and in the technical skill involved in the photographs. The students at South Mountain who participate in the photography program (I believe it's over twenty years old now) are trained on elements of composition, lighting, and production. At the end of the term, they produce a portfolio of work—one copy is given over to the Phoenix Airport Art Museum and the other is retained in South Mountain's archives.

The students who attend South Mountain are part of a diverse student body and many of them live in lower income neighborhoods in that part of town. Their photography explores the world around them—most of the collection featured portraits of people in the students' lives, including friends, sisters, boyfriends, and grandparents shot in their homes or in a studio setting—while others give little peeks into the vibrant social neighborhoods in which they live. A few pieces in the collection demonstrated a real concern for pattern—with so much sun in Phoenix, the play of light and shadow among various structures becomes something truly beautiful.

The lighting design in these photographs was especially memorable to me. The degree to which these young photographers demonstrated a talent for innovative light sources and shadow was nearly haunting. In the Gallery, twenty years of faces stare back at you, most without smiling. It was a real pleasure to participate in their work, and I hope the project continues to be successful


My Business Cards Came In, So...

I just wanted to let everyone know the "other" good news I alluded to several weeks ago.

I am now, officially, the (first) Assistant Director of the Piper Center for Creative Writing!

I'm pretty excited about it.


Get a Job and Unnecessary Censorship

The Piper Center for Creative Writing has posted a job opening for an Operations Coordinator to handle our financial processes and logistical/facilities work. You can view the posting here.

Thanks to Helena Handbasket and Helen Back for sharing this:



I'm the featured writer on the Casa Libre en la Solana homepage this month. You can check out some things I wrote about being at Casa Libre in December, link to some published work, etc.

Thanks, Casa Libre! You are wonderful


I love Larry Kramer so much.

I usually don't double-post, but I had to share what C. Dale linked to today:

"Why do you hate us so much that you will not permit us to legally love? I am almost 72, and I have been hated all my life, and I don't see much change coming.

I think your hate is evil.

What do we do to you that is so awful? Why do you feel compelled to come after us with such frightful energy? Does this somehow make you feel safer and legitimate? What possible harm comes to you if we marry, or are taxed just like you, or are protected from assault by laws that say it is morally wrong to assault people out of hatred? The reasons always offered are religious ones, but certainly they are not based on the love all religions proclaim.

And even if your objections to gays are religious, why do you have to legislate them so hatefully? Make no mistake: Forbidding gay people to love or marry is based on hate, pure and simple.

You may say you don't hate us, but the people you vote for do, so what's the difference? Our own country's democratic process declares us to be unequal. Which means, in a democracy, that our enemy is you. You treat us like crumbs. You hate us. And sadly, we let you." Full article here.

This is why I've written what I've written.

Living Things Lives Again

My new batch of chapbooks arrived yesterday, so I'll be able to fill your oustanding orders and take new ones!


Autobiographia Literaria or, My Parents Are So Cool

I had a nice lunch with my father last week at a Polish deli near his house. Over pierogies and salad, we talked a little bit about writing, and it suddenly occurred to me that first exposure to poetry was through my dad's tattered copy of Ogden Nash. We recapped one of our favorite:

"Men don't make passes
At girls who wear glasses."

On the (long) drive back to my house, I remembered all the things my parents did for me growing up that encouraged me to be an artist. I was a child in perpetual danger of falling into boredom, since I was the last child left at home, and often needed something other than He-Man or Transformers on which to put my attention.

When I was in grade school, I used to direct (and write, but not on paper) short plays with neighborhood kids, most of which included a monster of some sort and ended with a climactic chase scene that, unfortunately, had no resolution. People attended and, if I remembered correctly, even subsidized the production by playing a nickel for a seat.

One Christmas, my parents bought for me a half-sized Casio keyboard. I couldn't play piano then, but they gave me a few remedial instruction books and from that point forward, I spent many hours. I never became "good," but I always enjoyed it and they always encouraged me. I remember my oldest brother brought home a college girlfriend, and she sat down at the keyboard and just banged out the theme from Terms of Endearment without hesitation, a song I'd been struggling to master since I could only play the right-hand notes.

I asked for lessons. In eighth grade, when I lived on an island in Wisconsin for the year, my parents connected me with the local piano teacher. I blazed through three levels of instruction in that year, learned to read and play bass clef, and even gave a recital. I loved it! I still love piano even now, although I no longer have that old Casio, and someday, when I'm a grown up, I'll own a real piano I can use to get better.

It was also during that time I started writing little stories. Mostly by hand, and mostly awful, as you can imagine. I wrote science fiction. I wasn't ready for literary fiction yet. I also toyed with noir writing, too, although I never knew who committed the crime.

At my parents' encouragement, I took up the trumpet in band. Again, while I never truly mastered it and was, for four years, relegated to second chair, I enjoyed it. I quit once I got to college and had braces put on, and then sold the trumpet for a measley $50 when I was broke in grad school. But I still remember all the fingerings. Still.

In high school, my parents were going to throw away my dad's typewriter, having upgraded to a Mac computer, and asked me if I wanted it. It found a home in my bedroom, where I'd furiosly type out my stories and poems, which I'd recently begun to write. I loved that old typeweriter, the hum of it that shook the wall of my room, the punch and tap of the keys, the ugly Courier font. I wrote in rhyme and meter. It seemed right.

Not long after, my parents gave me a key to my dad's office, located in the "downtown" area of my hometown (think Stars Hollow from Gilmore Girls), and I was allowed to go there after-hours to write and print out my poems. I'd take these furious little poems to my high school English teacher, who would give me a yea or nay on them. I did this for several years, until I went to college.

In college, I pursued a degree in film studies, which my parents supported, even though it was sure to lead me to the soup kitchen and the unemployment line. Although they probably would have preferred I study something more practical, I'm afriad the bar was lowered after my older brother graduated with a degree in French literature. So, thanks for that, Dennis.

I never once thought about a life in the arts—nor of "being a poet"—because such things were never discussed or considered in my house. But I also never considered that the arts weren't a worthy pursuit, even if it never led to anything gainful or anything more than personal enjoyment. Still, I have spent the past three years slowly teaching myself to play the acoustic guitar. I play the guitar more than I read or write poetry. But it doesn't seem to matter and my neighbors haven't complained yet, even after my 300th run through of "Tainted Love."


Principles of Nonprofit Employment in Buffy the Vampire Slayer: A Case Study

There are several traits involved in working for and succeeding in nonprofit environment that seem fairly common across the board, whether someone works toward social betterment or in the arts sector. Over seven seasons, Buffy Summers epitomized the kind of moxy the nonprofit employee must embrace in order to create positive change in their community.

1. The nonprofit employee must experience his or her work as a calling.
In the first season of Buffy, we learn Summers has been "called" to duty by an ancient prophesy. The prophesy states that into every generation, a girl is chosen to lead the fight against the forces that seek to harm humans, and that Buffy herself is the most recent chosen one in a long line of former (now dead) Slayers.

Buffy's work as the Slayer supercedes all of her other commitments. In school, she must constantly miss classes to train, stay up late and skip studying to fight vampires, or work within the academic environment to fight evil. Slaying comes first. In season six, when Buffy finally has to get a "real job" in order to pay the mounting bills, she has to battle evil at her job (the Doublemeat Palace) and rearrange her work schedule in order to be successful in her calling.

Work that is experienced as a calling comes to us as something sacred, something from which we benefit as we benefit others, and seeks to make positive change in the community on many levels. Those who experience their work as a calling in this way tend to be more invested and more passionate about the work they do: they are working for something "more" than just money; they are working for humankind. The pitfall, however, is that the nonprofit employee may then also make too many personal sacrifices to succeed at work, thereby putting their whole emotional investment in the job rather than their life. Buffy manages to offset this through her connections to her family and friends, who provide a necessary level of balance to her nonprofit work. This, too, is an important lesson for the nonprofit employee.

2. The nonprofit employee must know, value, and embody the nonprofit mission statement.
Early in the series, we learn of the Slayer lineage that, "Into every generation, a Slayer is born. One girl in all the world, a Chosen One, one with the strength and skill to hunt the vampires, to stop the spread of their evil ways, to cease their destructive manners, to prevent the end of the world. When one Slayer dies, the next one is called. " (I believe this version of the mission is explained to Buffy by one of her nemeses.)

This is a clear nonprofit mission statement. From this, we can gather:
1. Who is doing the work. (The Slayer)
2. What resources are used in carrying out the work. (special strength and skill)
3. Who the target of her intervention is. (The human population/the forces of good)
4. What specific steps the nonprofit organization takes to fulfill its mission (the statements beginning with "to hunt," "to stop," "to cease."
5. How we can recognize when and if the work is completed (evil will end, monsters destroyed).
6. How the organization is staffed. (When one slayer dies, the next is called)

At the end of season 2, we get a clear sense of Buffy's embodiment of the mission statement when she reveals to her mother that she has been battling evil as the slayer for almost three years:

"Do-do you think I chose to be like this? Do you have any idea how lonely it is? How dangerous? I would love to be upstairs watching TV or gossiping about boys or, god, even studying! But I have to save the world. Again." ("Becoming Part 2")

Buffy's ownership of the Slayer mission statement and her recognition of the work required to carry it out make her an exemplary nonprofit employee.

3. The nonprofit employee must devote part of their time to fundraising, revenue generation, and donor development.
This is a complicated area for Buffy's nonprofit work, since revealing her secret identity as the Slayer is perceived as endangering the people she loves. If the forces of evil knew her identity, they could, for instance, target her family for retribution.

In season six again, during Buffy's financial crisis, she toys with the idea of charging for her services. Many nonprofits, especially these days, turn eventually to for-profit or revenue-generating endeavors in order to fund their community service or charitable work. These endeavors can range from bake sales to membership sales to ticket prices for events, but the end result is the same: the for-profit endeavors can only be undertaken if the end result is that it subsidizes the nonprofit work.

While at a bank applying for a loan to help her pay her bills, Buffy is told she has no collateral and is not a likely candidate for financial assistance. At that moment, demons rob the bank and Buffy fends several of them off, saving the loan officer in the process. Struck by an idea, she tries to use her services as the Slayer to barter with the officer to approve her loan, but ultimately, she has difficulty in developing a revenue stream there because her request is perceived as manipulating her audience rather than inspiring them to donate.

Later in the same season, Buffy does succeed in developing a donor/patron for her work: Giles. In the depths of her financial misery, Giles hands her a check—for all intents and purposes, a tax-deductible donation (were she incorporated as a 501(c)(3) organization by the IRS)—to help her offset the overhead costs of her Slaying work.

It's important for nonprofit employees to understand the importance of donor development in creating a successful organization; although 40% or less of a typical nonprofits income stream comes from private donations, these donations are generally some of the most flexible funding an organization receives because it often comes without governmental restrictions on its use or grant-specific project use.

4. The nonprofit employee must strive to develop an audience for his or her services.
Because nonprofit organizations typically do not provide "needed" services to the community, or because they work in low-income or disenfranchised populations who may not elect to receive services, the nonprofit employee must work hard to embed themselves in their community and reach out to affected or targeted populations in order to be successful.

While Buffy's identity is supposed to remain a secret, she often goes into underrepresented communities to do her work, finally cultivating there a devoted and supportive audience. In "Anne," for example, she works among the homeless, runaway youth of Los Angeles (who are sucked into a concentration camp-like hell where they labor tirelessly until death); in "Gone," she infiltrates the Child Protective Services system in order to save her sister from "the system;" in "Go Fish," she works among the high school's swim team to prevent them from turning into, well, fish.

In the season 3 episode "Prom," we finally get a sense of the return on Buffy's tireless work to rid the world of evil. At her high school's prom—which she barely makes because first she has to trap and kill three vicious hell-hounds who have been trained to attack anything in formal wear—she is honored and recognized by the senior class, who give her an umbrella-shaped trophy as the "Class Protector Award." She is given a round of applause and thanked for her services.

5. The nonprofit employee must understand his or her impact on the community, often through data.
In the same episode ("Prom"), Buffy is recognized for her work in cultivating public safety. During the speech that recognizes her, the emcee includes some factual data to back up the claim that she is the "class protector": the data collected by the class over her three-year period at Sunnydale High prove her successes: the class of 1999 boasts the lowest mortality rate of any graduating class at Sunnydale High.

Additionally, Buffy also receives gratitude from the people she saves. They thank her for her services, and then run like hell. However, one failing of Buffy's work as a nonprofit entrepreneur is that she begins to lose touch with her community. In "Once More, With Feeling," she rescues a man tied to a tree by several demons and vamps. The gorgeous young man, his shirt nearly falling off his body, reaches out to her and begins to thank her, assumedly with some kind of physical affection. Her reply, which cuts him off: "Whatever." It is during this time that Buffy's connection to her mission and community are at its lowest; even then, it is critical to listen to the population served, to gather qualitative data on the service delivery, in order to further the mission and better the organization.

In order to carry out both audience development and donor development, data like this are essential in educating the community about an organization's impact. It is also useful when applying for foundation or government grants to support nonprofit work; those organizations typically prize hard data over soft data (like participant comments and other qualitative data). Soft data tend to mobilize private donors, who are more interested in "changing lives" than broad community impact; their focus on effects on individuals means they are more interested in hearing from individuals.

6. The nonprofit employee must know when it is time to close up shop.
Over her tenure as the Slayer, Buffy works tirelessly to end evil, dying twice in the process (but never staying dead for more than a few months), until, at long last, she rids her town of evil once and for all ("Chosen").

She does this using an interesting method: first, she shares her sacred power with all of the "potential" slayers, who have been gathered in Sunnydale under her protection so as not to end the lineage of the Slayers. This is her largest community impact and it is a metaphor for the nonprofit employee who is so empassioned, so persuasive, that he or she inspires others through their work to take up the mission and work toward the same goal with her.

Once the Hellmouth (and, in the process, Sunnydale itself) have been destroyed, it is clear that Buffy has fulfilled her mission as the Slayer. Over the course of American history, a few nonprofits have succeeded in fulfilling their missions; their choice, then, is to close up shop or revise the mission. In the case of Easter Seals, they revised their mission to include working against birth defects rather than just polio (which was eradicated from the US); in Buffy's case, she is reminded that there is still "another Hellmouth in Cleveland" should she choose to continue her work in a new affected community.


This Just In

MESA, Ariz. - A cable news program was temporarily replaced with hard-core pornography, shocking viewers who had been watching a health show featuring former NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw. The incident Monday night on KPPX-TV was "an act of human sabotage" at the Phoenix-area station, said ION Television, which operates the station.

"We have launched a rigorous investigation, and any implicated employees will face strict disciplinary action and termination," ION Media Networks spokeswoman Leslie Monreal said in a statement.

Brenda Schodt, of Chandler, said she was shocked to look up and see graphic sex acts on her television screen.

"Maybe five or 10 minutes into the show there was no volume," Schodt said. "I thought it was the TV, but when I looked up, there were these images."

ION Television, based in West Palm Beach, Fla., declined to say whether the pornography aired beyond the Phoenix market.


Excerpt from "Memoirs of Orthodontia: an Oral History"

I started developing headaches around age fifteen. Dull and senseless, there was no painreliever strong enough to quell them. At school I become known as the boy with the Costco-sized bottle of Tylenol, popping a few pills every couple of days to try to stave off the throbbing pain. A visit to the dentist—and yes, more x-rays—revealed that my wisdom teeth were creeping in. Like the rest of my teeth, they were growing in at an angle. “Impacted,” my dentist explained. “They’ll have to come out before he can get his braces on.”

It was for that reason I ended up in another mouth doctor’s consultation office—this one belonging to Dr. Joe, oral surgeon to the far suburbs of Milwaukee and parts unknown, where I was told that wisdom tooth extraction was simple, painless, and common. Dr. Joe was tall and a little rotund, the kind of guy whose weight makes him appear all the more jovial. He had a quick, perfect smile and a gentle laugh.

“We can give you a novocaine shot or general anaesthesia,” he explained.

“General,” I cut in. “I’d like to sleep through this if possible.”

Dr. Joe laughed. “That’s fine. Most patients opt for the shot, but there’s no reason you can’t be comfortable. Since your teeth are impacted, we will have to make some incisions in the back of your mouth to make sure we remove them completely. You’ll have rubber stitches in place for a bit, but they’ll dissolve and fall out on their own after a few weeks. And then there might be complications.”

The room darkened as a cloud passed over the sun. Dr. Joe’s voice took on a hushed urgency as he explained that impacted teeth can be challenging to extract, that some patients’ teeth must be crushed and then tweezed out bit by bit. “And then, even if we do get all of them, there’s still the chance you could develop a dry socket, which is very uncomfortable.” By this time, I knew any form of discomfort was doctor speak for “really fucking painful” and a I paid close attention. A dry socket was an unfortunate turn of events in which the empty space where the tooth was develops a kind of infection, usually brought on by sucking in the mouth, which prevents the wound from healing. “But let’s not get into that unless we have to, yes?” he added brightly. He handed my mother a prescription for Valium “for the ride in, it keeps the patients calm” and we were on our way.

Several weeks later, my mom and I hopped in the car and drove the 35 miles to Dr. Joe’s office for the procedure. “Here, take this,” my mom told me, handing me a small blue pill and a bottle of water. “It’s time.” I swallowed the pill, letting it drop into my empty, surgery-ready stomach. By the time we reached the office I’d forgotten where we were going.

This was how I learned that I am very, very sensitive to sedatives. We got in the elevator and I was no longer responding to my name, having forgotten that it belonged to me. My mom, nine inches shorter than me, struggled with my loose frame as we made the long trek from the elevator doors to Dr. Joe’s office down the hall, trying to avoid too much weaving as I struggled to put one foot in front of the either. “Watch where you’re going,” she snapped with frustration. “That’s a nurse, not a door.”

Once in the office, I sat on a comfortable cloud and floated over to the waiting area, where I swayed like a falling feather into an institutional waiting-room chair. To pass the time, I picked up the nearest copy of US magazine, flipping through the pictures. I tried to make sense of an article about Bruce Willis and Demi Moore, full of picture, but the text in the captions was dancing across the page and I couldn’t keep up. Finally, Dr. Joe emerged, large and bear-like, from the back office and placed a big paw on my shoulder. “It’s time for you to come with me,” he grumbled. Or so I heard.

Back on my cloud, slipping gracefully down the hallway, I let him lead me to a corner suite where a familiar-looking chaise lounge chair was already reclined and waiting. “You’re going to feel a little prick,” he explained as he fiddled with a device to my right.

Yes, there it was—only the smallest of pinches, which immediately cooled my whole arm. I felt even lighter, the cloud I rode in on enveloping me in its silky, quieting mist. I closed my eyes. Everything felt beautiful. I could feel myself becoming one with the earth, and then there was the sound of om—the beautiful humming of all things in creation vibrating in unison. I could feel every tremor in every fault line of our glorious world buzzing in my head.

I woke up hours later, at home in my bed, sleeping in a pool of my own blood.

It was like something you see in a horror film: teenaged boy who knows too much about the way of the world wakes up, can’t remember where he’s been, only to find—blood! in quantities too large for there to be a survivor, but then he realizes, no! it’s his blood! He’s the victim! What’s happened here?

I sat up in bed with a start. My head was throbbing and my face felt tight and swollen. I tried to speak, but just as in all films that make this genre great, no sound emerged. I was still dizzy and out of sorts. I remembered the pill…the blue pill…dear God, what had happened?

I climbed out of my bed and pinwheeled toward the door, only a few precious inches from my flailing hands. I could feel dried blood all over my mouth and cheek, caked onto my tongue. At least, I hoped it was my tongue and not the stub of meat left after some leatherfaced maniac clipped it out for his trophy wall. Finally, I made contact with the knob, opening the door, stumbling out into the sun-drenched hallway. I could see my mother so far away, chopping something in the kitchen (my tongue?!). I tried again to speak but nothing! Moving down the hall with the help of a guiding hand against the wall, I stopped in the kitchen doorway waiting to be greeted.

“You’re up,” my mom said. She glanced up from what she was doing. “Oh God,” she whispered. “You didn’t throw up, did you?”

Tears formed in the corners of my eyes. My tongue was missing, I kept thinking. Where was my tongue? Why couldn’t I speak. My mom eased me into a barstool in the dining nook and grabbed a wet washcloth, carefully wiping the bloody grime from my face. “You want some Gatorade?” she asked banally. I nodded. I didn’t know what I wanted. My tongue, the power of speech. Gatorade seemed like a good compromise by then.

I lifted the glass to my lips. “Whatever you do, don’t suck,” she reminded me. “Dry sockets.” The Gatorade lubricated my mouth, washed the dried blood down my throat, and I was finally able to say, “Okay?”

“You’re fine,” she said. “You should go back to bed. And don’t suck.”

The next day, feeling normal again, sure of my tongue’s place in the world and in my mouth, I was able to go back to school. I was still a little swollen, sore, and bruised, and after some brief reassurance with the school’s guidance counselor that I was not a victim of domestic violence, I went back to my classes.

The stitches in the back of my mouth felt rubbery and made squeaky noises when I chewed. I ate soft foods, pliable foods, foods that didn’t require sucking of any kind, and after a few weeks, the stitches began to unravel. The last stitch fell out in my Spanish class, after an especially gruesome lunch of taco salad. For an hour I chewed on what I thought was a large piece of ground beef that had been stuck in my back molar, only to realize, upon confused inspection, that it was, in fact, the last stitch. I spit it out. I was free.


Mini-review: 300

Dir. Zack Snyder
Starring: 600 silver-dollar man-nipples, dead cattle in the form of leather briefs, the Sunday night crowd from The Padlock [gay leather bar] as the Arcadians

Let me tell you what I love about Greece: that men were men, and that they didn't pansy around with more than a striking black loincloth and festive cape. That their cape-clatches matched their shields. That their swords....oh, never mind.

300 is yet another thinly-veiled attempt to understand domestic terrorism as drag queen supergoddess Xerxes of Persia (is this a bar I haven't heard of?) brings thousands of his ugliest troll friends for a camping weekend near beautiful Sparta. When not preening his many piercings, reapplying his metal-toned lip gloss, or fiddling with his many necklaces, Xerxes perfects his "bored-now" scowl and best impression of Faye Dunaway impersonating Joan Crawford impersonating a human being.

The Spartans, led by a delicious slab of man-meat, decide to hold him off at a narrow pass into Sparta. What follows is a carefully choreographed orgy of violence in washed out color film stock. It's enough that there are about three women in this whole movie, one of whom is a bad-ass Spartan queen, because the men are either beautiful bearcubs or future stars of Falcon Films. It's a win-win film for the gay crowd.

[honestly, I just really liked it.]


I Miss You

It's been a crazy week, getting things set back right after essentially two weeks out of the office, plus catching up on grading and my own homework for my classes.

Arden came home the other day. She spent two weeks at the Dog Spa at my parents' house, and they must not have spoiled her too badly because she's been sitting on me every time I'm home with her.

Here are my AWP photos:

A river otter at the Georgia Aquarium

The jellyfish tank

Detail from the jellyfish tank

Me doing my best Axl Rose at the Tucson Heat reading

Me and Virginia's girls


Mimes Behaving Badly

What I love about the new Panic! video is that it draws attention to a social problem we don't commonly address: the self-destructive behavior engaged in by the mime community.

This might not be safe for work as it contains a performance called "Pornomime." While some may find the content objectionable, I endorse this video's use of great cinematography, costume design, and striking mise-en-scene.


Self-Portrait As Literary Zombie

I am running solely on a number of stimulants this week. Blogging may be sporadic. Living, too.

EDIT: Thank you, suspicious fast food joint in Atlanta or possibly Phoenix, which provided the horrifyingly disgusting stomach flu from which I now ail. Thank you, thank you.


The Poetics of Never Forgetting

I forget things. I forget things quick and often, or better to say, perhaps, that I lose track of things, lose track of memories and experiences and my childhood. Sometimes I make lists. To do lists, shopping lists, don't-forget-about-this lists. My house is strewn with old lists, lists clutter my desk. Sometimes I forget why I started the list, or whether I completed it.

Things I never forget: faces. I'll always recognize you—at the very least, that I've met you or sometimes even just seen you—and most of the time I'll be able to tell you where and when it was. Some people find this off-putting. Things I generally don't forget: names. If I know your name, it will stick with me.

But the rest of the world, so transient to me, must be kept somewhere. I put these things in poems, things I see other people forgetting or losing track of, things that to me are critical and essential.

I wrote about the rise of the AIDS crisis because we can't forget what it costs us. We can't forget what was lost/taken/discarded. It's important to me. I put it in poems. I wrote a book about my ex-boyfriend's suicide because I didn't want to forget him, forget how it felt to lose something I thought was already gone. I was wrong. I'm writing a book about losing other people: another man, a boy in Wyoming. I don't want to forget how whole things once were. I think the world is a constantly winnowing place: each day you have less but remember more.

I want to remember how it felt to fall in love with him, slowly, by voice. I put it into poems. I want him to remember this too, so I share the never-forgetting.

This is all I can do. I don't write a history, I write subjectivity. I want to recapture things and keep them close to me.

It's a simple thing. You don't have to do this in your poems. I don't think this is the right way for everyone. But how easy it is, now, to remember the things that used to escape me. There they are, right there. And I've learned now how to live in the past and the present without losing myself.