9.30.2010

Please stop this.



Please watch this interview of Andrew Shirvell, a Michigan attorney general, defending his practice of harassing of a U of MI student using anti-gay slurs, Nazi symbols, and other forms of "free speech."

9.24.2010

Sunday! Sunday! Sunday!

I'm reading on Sunday at the Baltimore Book Festival, along with poets Cherrie Amour, Buzz Mauro, and Ines Rivera.

If you can't be there, here's a poem from The First Risk, read at the Decatur Book Festival. Many thanks to Cleo Creech for the video and Lambda Literary for posting it on their website this week:

9.23.2010

Newborn.

A book manuscript I thought I was only half done writing suddenly came together into a draft. A draft that runs...maybe a little on the long side. I'd thought the book was so far from being done that I had started flirting with another manuscript I saw coming together, even though those poems feel more troubled to me, need more work.

I had been working/revising with a paper draft of the (good) poems, loosely thrown together in a haphazard order, when, while driving from Detroit to DC, the appropriate structure for the book struck me. For a month I kept that idea at a low boil in my head, and earlier this week I started putting the plan into action.

I retyped them into a new document page by page. It took about four hours. (Naturally, in the midst of this I had to eat dinner, play my guitar, etc, so it wasn't four constant hours. But close.)

The exercise--retyping drafts--is one that I've come to find essential. I retype my poems from scratch several times throughout my writing process now. It helps me shake off any unnecessary words or phrases, like how transplanting a potted plant allows you to shake loose the old, unhealthy soil.

And when I feel cringe-y when typing something, I just cut it from the draft, even if it means putting myself on the spot to rewrite the ending or come up with something new for the piece.

There is something about working with the manuscript holistically, from the start to finish, that means the arc of the book is preserved and the language and diction remain fairly consistent. Of course, it also means I sometimes grasp at straws and throw in something that's all wrong--but generally, it's better than what was there and it's closer to what it should be.

I printed the manuscript off and, for the last few days, I've felt like I've been in that aura of having-just-met-someone-you-really-like. I steal glances at the stack of pages on my desk. I flip through it gently, marveling at my turns of genius. I want to call people I know and say, "I think I've met the one!"

All of this, but I know after some time, the newness will wear off. We will slip back into our routines and, while we will still care for each other, it won't ever be so perfect. I'm good with that. When the aura wears off, I can tinker with the poems again.

But for now, I'm enjoying the glow.

9.22.2010

Latin Lover Seeks Same

Also, if you read/understand Latin, please backchannel me. You're my only hope.

9.21.2010

Neologisms

I'm making a list of neologisms and I need your help.

Please drop a few in the comment section. What are your favorite? I'm especially interested in neologisms that:

> are American in origin
> pervert an existing word (like "blamestorming" from "brainstorming")
> elide two existing words (like "frenemy")
> have come into common usage in the last five years or so

Many thanks!

9.20.2010

Notes toward an Autobiography

I have developed a new obsessive-compulsive behavior. Before I can read a magazine, I go through and remove all the blow-in subscription cards. After that, I go from cover to cover and tear out any advertising (or advertorial) printed on stock heavier than the rest of the magazine, typically cologne/perfume samples and tobacco ads (I'm looking at you, Marc Jacobs).

Then I may read the magazine.

* * * * *

I have traveled over 6,000 miles since August 15. Only 2,200 of those miles were by aircraft. The rest were by car. I love driving. I love to travel by car. Air travel makes me stressed out and cranky. I dislike being close to people I don't know, and I have a secret fear that I will be strip-searched by TSA, or, at the very least, that the metal detector will go off even though I have dutifully removed everything from my person that may contain a metal. Driving for travel is like being Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman: you say who, you say when, you say how much.

* * * * *

Whenever I do fly, I'm as neurotic as when I read a magazine. I have three primary fears in life: being hungry, being cold, and being bored. Being on an airplane exacerbates all of those concerns.

Here is a list of the non-negotiable things I have to carry with me into the cabin:

a neck pillow
a zip-up sweatshirt (in case I get cold)
a bottle of water
some kind of nutrition bar
a bag of candy of some kind, or a salty treat
my iPod
my Nintendo DS
at least two books, but usually three (in case one is boring or poorly written, and also to cater to my unpredictable reading tastes).
(in some cases, I substitute a magazine like Spin for one of the books)
my laptop

Partly this is because I've rarely flown on flights shorter than 3 hours (see driving, above), and these items are often used in conjunction with each other. For instance, the iPod goes on at 10,000 feet. (I find it an especially useful form of stranger repellent.) Then I sleep or play games or read.

I do not talk to other passengers, and I never, ever, disclose that I am a writer. It's just too risky.

I always sit by a window. And before I get on the plane, I like to have tomato juice.

* * * * *

On one of my recent flights, the man next to me made the stations of the cross while we took off.

* * * * *

I have only once really believed I might be about to die while flying. It was, I think, on one of my flights to Phoenix/back. Right after we lifted off and were making our ascent, the plane arced and pointed down. I mean, down. I didn't hear that weird plane-diving whistle sound, but the other passengers and I all leaned forward involuntarily. We flew at that angle for about ten seconds.

They were the longest ten seconds of my life.

When the plane flattened out and began to climb again, I looked over at my seat neighbor, who, like me, had been staring out the window, as if that could help. "Holy shit," I said. Her eyes, round and wide like jet engines, said the same.

* * * * *

In an unrelated story, my niece is, at this very minute, at school, dressed as Lady Gaga for Spirit Week. I had no part in cultivating this action, but believe me when I say it delights me to no end.

How did she do Gaga? A long, blond wig and a dress made out of dollar bills.

Note to self: Halloween.

9.09.2010

Resurrection Stories

Please take a moment, if you can, to pass along this call for submissions to the third annual ReBound Series from Seven Kitchens Press. 7KP will publish a new edition of an out-of-print chapbook, complete with a new ISBN and an introduction by the nominating writer. Submissions are currently being accepted through October 15; complete guidelines are available at http://sevenkitchenspress.wordpress.com/series-guidelines/guidelines-the-rebound-series/.

We think this is a wonderful opportunity to "bring back" deserving titles, and we'd truly appreciate your help in getting the word out or nominating a deserving title. The first title in the series, *Notes from the Red Zone* by Christina Pacosz (with an introduction by David Chorlton), is available now, and the second title, Naomi Lazard's *Ordinances* (with an introduction by Edward Field), is scheduled for release in October.

9.08.2010

Cue the dueling banjos

2010-09-03_14-33-49_609.jpg

Our GPS device is like HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey.

First, you should know that she gives directions in a British accent. I'm totally serious. She sounds a little bit like Helen Mirren, if Helen Mirren were giving you driving directions while being AutoTuned. Her crisp diction and cold demeanor keep our driving focus on the task at hand, not, say, gossiping, as we might if she had a Southern accent, or craving Polish sausage, if she were from the Upper Midwest.

I've recounted the story of how we set her compass toward Kings Dominion outside Richmond and, trusting fully in her navigational skills, followed her instructions without deviation. And we were surprised, then, to hear her announce "Arriving at destination--on right--" as we pulled up next to a small brick McMansion in rural Virginia.

On our trip back from Atlanta, she decided we'd seen enough of the interstate for one one-month period (and granted, we'd driven about 3,000 miles of them). While I slept, she convinced Beau to take an offramp onto a U.S. Highway that started out freeway-like but ended up as a divided highway with stoplights running through the tiny towns between Lynchburg and DC.

It didn't seem to take us any longer than the interstate would have, and the scenery was pretty enough. Virginia's stretch of I-95 is a punishing corridor of nothing, broken only by the too-infrequent rest area or tobacco industry headquarters. For a while, we were grateful for her sly transgression and went along with it. I even searched on my phone to see if we'd be fortunate enough to get within ten miles of a Pei Wei, but no luck.

As we drove the winding roads, we passed few cars. It seemed like we were one of the few people using Labor Day as a travel day. But I was still slightly unnerved. I called my sister-in-law and told her we were in Deliverance territory. She told us to run if we heard anyone fire up a banjo. I assured her running was our default response to hearing banjos in any context.

At one point, we passed a minivan. A gray-haired gentlemen sat behind the wheel, remarkable only for the Day-Glo yellow sign he held up in his door window. On it, he'd written, "OBAMA means everything free but self-respect."

"What does that even mean?" I asked Beau. Beau didn't know. I looked back at the driver. He refused to look over at me, and so his face remained in stern profile, unblinking, the sign unwavering. I kept hoping he'd flip it over and complete the thought, the way composition students are taught to back up their claims with evidence, but he didn't move. And then our little fuel-efficient Scion (a four-banger!) overtook his Goliath of a minivan and the man and his sign vanished in our rear view.

It's times like those when I'm grateful for having the Psychotic Helen Mirren-brand GPS in puckered up against my windshield. Look at all the strange I get to witness just by getting behind the wheel! Who knows where we'll end up next time? Milwaukee, Montauk, Monaco...only Helen Mirren knows for sure.

9.07.2010

Decatur Book Festival

Reading at Java Monkey in Decatur

Beau and I got back late yesterday afternoon from our long, lovely holiday weekend in Decatur, where I was fortunate enough to be a part of the Decatur Book Festival. My visit was sponsored by the Atlanta Queer Literary Festival, a fabulous event in its own right. AQLF is having a fundraiser on Sept 10 in anticipation of this year's event, to be held October 13-26. You should go!

Our drive down to Decatur was fairly boring. Let me tell you: Virginia's freeway is basically a corridor of trees and nothing else. An asphalt lobotomy. We thought North Carolina was very pretty and marveled over the sudden proliferation of adult superstores, fireworks vendors, and NASCAR bumper stickers we saw immediately upon entering South Carolina.

The Decatur Book Festival is amazingly well run and really well-attended. I listened to David Groff (and Collin Kelley and Franklin Abbot and Cleo Creech and Megan Volpert, among others) read from the Persistent Voices anthology in the morning, and then gave my own reading immediately after. A big group of us went to lunch and had an amazing meal and lively discussion at Leon's Full Service, and then I wandered around to book fair while Beau got his hairs did at a local salon. After an afternoon nap, we hit up the Author's Reception for a bit and then hung out with some fancy friends who'd driven into town for the events.

Reading at Outwrite Books in Atlanta

On Sunday, I joined David Groff and Rigoberto González at Outwrite Books, where I had two firsts occur:

a) I read under a spinning disco ball
b) I read while one of the audience members perused a dirty magazine in the back row

It was pretty awesome.

And that afternoon I joined Collin Kelly's contingent at Java Monkey for a marathon reading that featured the lovely Lisa Allender, Dustin Brookshire, Cleo Creech, and Mike Dockins, among several other talented writers. Afterward, we grabbed another delicious meal, and then Beau and I moseyed back to the hotel for some R&R before our 10 hour drive on Monday morning.

We both love Decatur. The people are so nice and friendly and happy. All the food we had was amazing, and we got to have a bunch of really delicious beers at the Brick Store Pub. Atlanta stole our hearts this trip.

Beau has been speaking with a Southern accent ever since. Y'all.

9.05.2010

My hero

"My feeling is that people should want to be nice, but even if they don't want to be, they should fake it, because being abusive to someone who's deeply involved in the industry you hope to excel in just makes no sense."

Tim Gunn, Gunn's Golden Rules

9.02.2010

Pop quiz

Which of the following situations should prompt one to relocate from his or her home, should they occur nearby?

a. A hurricane
b. 55" of snowfall
c. A collision of two Metrorail trains on the Red Line
d. A crazy person strapped with explosives, carrying a gun, holding a building hostage
e. An 5.5 earthquake
f. 2 grisly home invasions resulting in 4 murders, including the murder of two toddlers.
g. All of the above

Choose carefully.

9.01.2010

In Praise of Tim Gunn



I think Tim Gunn might be one of my heroes.

If you watch Project Runway, you know why. Tim's got one of the better jobs on the show--he gets to introduce the challenges, motivate the designers to succeed, and then he critiques their work-in-progress from an objective standpoint in order to help them put their best garments down the runway at the end of the episode.

What I love about Tim is that he is, on the outside, a complete fuddy-duddy. He's always sharply dressed and well-appointed. His hair is never out of place. His glasses are never smudged. He always seems deeply serious, even when he's telling a joke.

But underneath it all, I believe Tim Gunn is sincere. I think all of his actions and statements come from a sincere place. He really wants people to do their best all the time, and I think he understands what people need to hear, even when they have to hear something unpleasant about their work. But it doesn't mean he wears gloves. He'll break it down and be blunt when it's warranted.

Witness this past week's episode, when an angry Tim Gunn (his rarest incarnation) appeared in the stew room at the end of the episode to lambast Team Luxe for turning on Michael C on the runway, even after they had all committed not to throw a team member under the bus. He rightfully called out Gretchen for being the "manipulative" ring leader of the whole debacle. His remarks were so purposeful and so true that even I, simply watching, felt ashamed. While I love Tim Gunn, I would never want him to be angry at me.

What Tim Gunn does in the workroom is what I aspire to do in the workshop room. I don't like to shame creative people who are working hard to make art out of nothing, particularly an art very few people care to read. Tim's feedback to the designers takes into account their unique point of view, but reminds them that point of view alone does not a beautiful garment make. Designers on Project Runway have to learn to edit their work, style it appropriately, and use flawless construction.

Poetry's not so different.

Isn't this our goal in the poetry workshop? Or, shouldn't it be? To stress those elements that bolster "flawless construction"--form, diction, syntax, word choice, line breaks. To style poems appropriately--through rhythm and music. To edit poems effectively, using only the most essential words and nothing superfluous or showy.

We don't want "matronly" poems. We don't want "dowdy" poems. We don't want poems that are "yesterday." We want to be poetry-forward. We want to see what exists and imagine what could exist, then make it be.

Almost all the designers unequivocally love Tim, and I think it's because they know Tim respects each of them. And that, too, is the last critical piece for the workshop room.

My favorite Tim Gunn confrontation? Kenley in season 5. The woman could not take feedback and constantly argued with him, tried to change his mind. She got to the final three, sure. But she took a yellow wedding dress with a feathered skirt. I mean, really. She later threw a cat at her boyfriend in a domestic altercation. I think we all saw that coming.