This Assignment is So Gay, Plus Also Some Notes on Disease and Mortality and Parents

This post is supposed to be about the really exciting poetry anthology that was just released, in which I have three poems. And it will be. But not in any kind of straight line. We have a bit of a tangle to get through first.

It’s time to start teaching again soon. I’ve been working on my syllabus (in fact, I should be working on my syllabus right now), making sure that my calendar is in order, and generally preparing.

It hasn’t been an easy summer. I had such clear plans for myself this summer, and had begun to get into their rhythm, when both of my parents got serious, frightening health news within a few weeks of each other. My dad has Parkinson’s disease, and my mom, breast cancer.

My dad is on some medication that seems to be helping a lot, and my mom has since had surgery and is recovering very well and rapidly. Both diseases are in early stages, and, at least for the present, things look like they are going to be ok for both of them. But still. The experience sent me for a spin, in so many ways.

When I was little, I used to deal with the idea of death, and my parents’ death in particular, by deciding the only way death would be acceptable to me was if I lived to be very old and my parents lived to be extraordinarily old, and we all died on the same day.

Much has changed since then. My parents are no longer together, and I don’t live with either of them anyway. I don’t know, if such an odd situation as I described above came about, if it would be particularly soothing to me. Charlotte and I were at the beach recently with her family, and there was a piece of art on the wall in the master bedroom that said something like, if you live to be a hundred, I want to live to be a hundred minus one day, so I never have to live a day without you. We both agreed that this sentiment seemed a bit odd to us: are you wishing your partner to have a sad last day of life, since you just died? Isn’t it a little creepy to quantify your love and decide who gets to die first based on that?  But death, disease, and vulnerability of those I love, of myself, and of my parents, particularly, whose strength of body I have counted on without even knowing I was doing it, and whose vulnerabilities seem to point in a direct but unreadable line to my waiting, seemingly so healthy flesh– which I know so intimately and yet whose significant eventual weaknesses I do not, cannot know– well, these things still have the power to stymy me completely, to leave me dizzy and disoriented in a landscape of being for which I have no map.

One thing that kept happening, in the maelstrom of my reaction to all this, was that I would think with surprising dread about the school year coming up. “Why am I doing this?” I thought, meaning the program I am in, the classes I will teach, all of it, I guess. “Does it matter to anyone?” It just seemed, I have to tell you, like a lot of stress and work that might not actually be important things to do–for me, or for anybody.

So… I didn’t quit, or anything. I traveled to see my parents. I traveled to see my friends.  I read a bunch: some my disciplined school reading, which I clung to despite my (hopefully temporary) inability to do the kind of organizational work I need at this stage of the game, and some just for desire’s sake– my old childhood standbys, a book for a book club, new books by fiercely loved authors. Finally, I began to work on my syllabus for this coming semester. Ideas for how to structure my teaching popped into my head on the subway and receded as soon as I was in front of the computer. I wrestled. I played. I counted out days– enough time between one assignment and the next? Too much?

When I visited my mom before her surgery, I kept trying to get her to drink more water to prepare for the dehydration that would result. I’ve always been a thirsty person, so I felt this was an example I could easily set, something I actually understood in the wilds of surgical language, paperwork, preparation. “It’s a skill I have,” I said, a bit facetiously,  as we walked into my grandmother’s apartment building. “Being a pain in the neck?” my mom quipped. “Well, I’ve had a good role model,” I replied, and we laughed and laughed, something in the easy teasing breaking through the fear and tension that were pressing in otherwise. Later, I heard her talking on the phone about reality TV, making the exact same complaints I had made in a separate phone call, one she had not heard, to Charlotte. I thought about apples and trees.

When I visited my dad, we went out for dinner and he told me that he is coming to realize that he is not his brain, that the threat to his brain does not have to be a mortal threat to him, himself, in the reality of himself. He doesn’t know exactly what that means yet, but he believes it. And I believe him. He has promised that the cracking of everything you thought you know does not have to be the end of growth or wisdom. And I believe him. He got a big dessert and enjoyed every bite, and then he got lost looking for where we were going next, second guessing himself and wandering too far. I thought about apples and trees some more.

I have not fallen far, in many ways. I am so far, in others. I am not far in ways I cannot see, ways that are beyond the potential of body to fail, to suffer, to falter, ways that are about the spirit and the mind and the things that make me laugh.

So I came back from this, and I came back to my syllabus. (I know– we keep lurching back and forth, but this is how it has felt, so disjointed and everything so pressing). I was going through the mountains of paper my previous students had left me, and I found their words evaluating the course for me, bright, slippery, coated in salt and spice and drips of honey. One said a story we read pulled him in “like a fish.” One said she knew that one paper she wrote was her best, even though she didn’t get her best grade on it. Many said they loved our discussions best, getting to talk about things that mattered to them. I loved our discussions best, too. I always do. One said he fell asleep in them sometimes because they were boring, but admitted that maybe this would have improved if he had said something himself. They lied to me, I’m sure, occasionally, but they also told the truth. And the truth, in the balance, was that it seemed like we’d done something worth doing. That it was better, for at least a handful of them, to have taken this course than it would have been if they had not taken it.

I began to get excited about teaching again.

We lurch through these semesters, while our outside lives fray and tatter and come together and fall apart. We do it together. I think it’s hard to understand how fully we do it together, until you have been on both sides of the classroom, slipping the mantle of anxious authority on and off your shoulders, hoping for magic, for alchemy, for honesty, for connection, for five minutes together in which you all seem to want to be there, in which everyone is learning, although it’s rarely whatever the lesson plan had laid out for the day.

So there’s this anthology, and it’s full of all queer-teacher-poets, talking about teaching and queerness. And the premise, I think, is that what we say as queer teachers is significant precisely because of our identities, of the way we are situated in the world, even if we are not talking about sexuality at all. And the premise is also that teaching is something worth singing about, worth twisting words into beauty about. Worth the time it takes to do, and also worth the time it takes to write and read about.

And I realize, writing this, that this woven-together feeling that the book values and emphasizes, the idea that my queerness matters to my teaching and my teaching to my queerness, even if they seem separate– this is why I couldn’t just write a post that said, hey, y’all, I’m in a book! Or even something that was just about teaching and/or queerness, but rather I had to talk to you about what has really been going on.

I think in some ways that’s what this book celebrates. The “really” about all of us, and the way it may feel like a detraction, something that takes us away from the work we should be doing, something that distracts– when honestly, it is what makes us teachers. The “really” of our lives, beautiful, ugly, wicked, confusing, secret, thrilling– that’s the magic word. That’s what erupts in the classroom, every now and then, in the middle of the plodding and the oversleeping and the where-the-hell-is-the-worksheet-I-printed-out and the oh-the-paper-is-due-TODAY?, and suddenly we are somewhere holy. Suddenly we are somewhere true.

Here’s the link to the book’s website: http://www.thisassignmentissogay.com/home, and here’s the link to buy it from the publisher: http://siblingrivalrypress.bigcartel.com/product/this-assignment-is-so-gay-lgbtiq-poets-on-the-art-of-teaching

I hope you enjoy– this post, the book, your families, your lives, the remainder of the summer and the start of the school year. Thanks for reading!

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Anniversary

I wrote this today during the composition class I teach.  The exercise was to tell the story of your morning, from when you got up to now.  Naturally, I ran out of time.  But I thought I’d share what I wrote, since I haven’t written here in so long.  No editing, no additions, though there’s more to the story and I dearly want to continue–but–in the spirit of the assignment– hot off the presses:

I can’t believe it’s time to get up.  It’s both too early and too late.  Too early because I’m so tired and too late because I’m still marking these essays.  I meant to get up earlier–or maybe stay up later–but now it’s just time to go.  It’s chilly, so I’ll need warmer clothes–do I even have warmer teaching clothes clean?  It was so hot this summer, I thought it would be that hot forever.

I find clothes and get out the door.  My metro card has run out of money.  It seemed to go on beyond the 30 days before, and I was secretly hoping that it was magic and would never run out again.  That turns out to be a false hope.  The turnstiles–well, the part that reads the cards–at my stop are dying some kind of slow death, and everyone just stands there swiping and swiping, hoping to get lucky and get in, which most of us finally do.

On the train, I focus on this one man sitting down.  He’s a tall white guy with a tattoo on his face–wearing camo pants and with a huge camo bag in front of him.  The tattoo makes wandering lines all across his nose and forehead–a mountain range, a bird, an insect?  No idea.  He seems out of it, staring a little, eyelids fluttering from time to time.  I am imagining dangers inside his bag, and I don’t like myself doing that.  When he gets off, I see he has had a large dog with him the whole time–where was it?  How did I not notice?

At my stop, it’s already warmer than it was before.  I head towards John Jay, thinking about class and what I will write in this assignment.  The bells at St. Paul’s are ringing.  I look at my watch, surprised.  It’s not yet 9 AM– why are the bells ringing?  Then I know why, and I stop on the sidewalk.  I put my hand to my chest, over my necklace.  I feel warm now.  I keep walking.

All You Holy Men and Women, Write for Us!

 

The prompt for the blogging challenge for today (or yesterday?  Day 3, and my 2nd post, at any rate) is about writers we admire, and writing mentors.

It feels like a litany of saints, eh?

I admire brave writers.  Writers who write about things that are difficult to say, or to say well, or who construct stories in ways that allow a deep and startling engagement with their intricate subjects.  Especially, I admire writers who are morally brave, who dare and struggle to reveal what is true about our experiences of the world and our choices in it.  I’m thinking of Patrick Ness here, and his brilliant Chaos Walking series, of Yann Martel, Hannah Green, the memoir I literally just finished by Margaux Fragoso, of Markus Zuzak, of Toni Morrison, always, of Louise Erdrich, of so many more.

I admire writers whose stories and characters are so alive that the books themselves feel like precious friends, or whose words and worlds have become the backdrop of the world I actually live in, always present, always ready, whole phrases there in my mind when I look at something from the corner of my eye, in the right light, in the right frame of mind.  Tomson Highway for Kiss of the Fur Queen; Elizabeth E. Wein, especially The Winter Prince; always, always, the first and beloved C.S. Lewis and L. M. Montgomery, whose writing literally helped me both recognize and construct a self to sit and write to you today… which brings me to the authors who taught and loved and maddened me from the earlier reading days: Madeleine L’Engle.  Cynthia Voight.  Authors whose names I can’t remember, of books like The Only Alien on the Planet. 

And the teachers of sex and adulthood like a glittering mirror ball with a thousand facets, they who help my sharpness, my desire, my wide-open eyes: Anne Rice, Armistead Maupin, Colleen McCullough, and, in his own way, Andrew Greeley.

This is impossible, every name leads to another, every thought or category to ten more who fit and break it.

The beautiful and blazingly intelligent William Shakespeare (I know, I’m not the first nor the last to love that one, but one of my first writerly ambitions was to have a vocabulary as large as his).  John Donne who melts me, Julian of Norwich who shores me up.  Those who have left their giant thumbprints on the details of my life, on my experiences and my relationships.  Little Willy Wycherly.  Diane Duane.

I admire writers who tend their writing like eggs in a nest, like thin-skinned infants, like centuries-old trees.  I admire so very many writers beyond this strange and idiosyncratic list that I could post on nothing else for the month and not be done.

I admire writers who are missing from my mind and from this list because I have never read them, because nobody has ever read them, or very few, but who keep writing anyway.  I admire Felix Gilman, who gave me his very excellent, intricate, beautiful book The Thunderer for free in a line at the New York City Comic Convention a couple of years ago, just an assembly line of signed books– it must have felt strange, perhaps discouraging, but I read what he writes now, and urge others to do the same.  I admire… oh, everyone!  The researchers, the ones who make me feel the whole spread and weight of their research like so many pounds of feathers, the intensely intelligent: Umberto Eco, Barry Unsworth… the comic artists who spread the world under my fingers– Craig Thompson, Fumi Yoshinaga…

OH, THERE ARE SO MANY.

Not to mention the writers I actually know, the ones who inspire, encourage, and sustain me.  The BMVCOE for the conversations that would be epics were they piled up in pages, Charlotte Rahn-Lee for a life-sharing story, Jeff McGraw for every bit of faith, The Uncut Pages Writers’ Group for loving my weird entanglements of invented human beings.

I am still leaving so many out.  But after all, this is writing.  Writing is always leaving most of the things out, spinning ecstatically next to that which you most want to say, throwing out a hand as you grow dizzy and hoping that the other person will catch enough of the scent on you to understand.

For that, I admire all writers.  All with honest hearts and willing fingers.

All the writers I love whom I’ve not mentioned or forgotten, forgive and smile on me still. 🙂

Resilience is Here!

Here it is!  I’m so excited about this collection of writing for queer youth, and also excited about the project it benefits.  I always feel like it’s cheating to come all the way here just to give you a brief plug, so I’ll put it on top, and then I’ll tell you a story, so no matter what you are looking for (quick?  elaborate?) you can have it.   Here’s the link to buy the book:  http://www.lulu.com/product/paperback/resilience-stories-poems-essays-words-for-lgbt-teens/18821334, and here’s the link to the info about the book: http://betterbookproject.blogspot.com/.  It’s on sale (10% off) for the next two weeks, so get it hot off the presses and your pocketbook will thank you.  I also hope your brain, heart, soul, skin, etc, will all thank you too.  Certainly the Make it Safer project and all the other authors and the editor and I will thank you!

I really, really hope you like it.  And if you are a teacher or a young person yourself, I would love to hear what you think about it as a gift to young folks, since that is what it is intended to be.  I know the poem I wrote is very grounded, not only in my experience as a teen and young adult (am I still a young adult?  I must be on a similar threshold as when I was about 16 or 17 and started thinking, “Am I an adult now?  I might be.  I’m definitely closer to being an adult than I was… I think I might be an adult!!”), but specifically in the way of engaging with and viewing that world that helped give me some of the resilience I found throughout that time.  My dad always gave me fairy tales, along with interpretation, from Clarissa Pinkola Estes’ book, Women Who Run With the Wolves.  I would sit on his couch, in his basement apartment, and he would sit in his chair, and read to me from the book, and we would talk about it.

I think this is one of many things that gave me the feeling that I could slip on mythic stories like a second skin, and look around and see what I found while wearing them.

And what I found?  Well, I promised you a story.  I’ve been thinking a lot, with the advent of this collection, about myself as a teenager– in what ways I was resilient, in what ways I was queer.  Not necessarily the ordinary ways, I think, if there are ordinary ways to be these things.  I liked boys– and just boys, or at least that’s what I thought.  And I thought about it, carefully.  I thought about the girls in class I found the prettiest, and I compared my feelings for them to feelings for the boys I found the prettiest, and I decided these were qualitatively different, and therefore I was straight.  What’s interesting is that I still find my attractions to different genders qualitatively different, in some ways, from each other– I just no longer think that makes me straight.  Also, through unfortunate happenstance (as I thought then) and/or some kind of internal protective design (as I partially suspect now), I did not really get to test these feelings on the level of flesh and blood.

But then there was the world of story, of books I read and pages I wrote, with absolute erotic attention, whether I was dealing with sex or not.

A trajectory, then, of my queer journey through books and writing.  I’m going to tell you some of my secrets:

The first sex scene I wrote was implied, in a play, between a male human and a fairy woman.

The first explicit scene I wrote was in prose, between a male bird creature and a human woman.  The language of this scene borrowed heavily from A House Like a Lotus by Madeleine L’Engle, the book to which I lost my readerly virginity.

Somewhere in this time (maybe I was fourteen now, or fifteen?) I discovered two of my intense readerly crushes: Lucius Cornelius Sulla as portrayed in Colleen McCullough’s Masters of Rome series, and Anne Rice’s Vampire Lestat.  They were violent, beautiful, rampantly bisexual men.  I was rapt with attention for sex between men.  I thought this might be kind of strange.  I analyzed it.   I did not talk about it.  I thought maybe it was that I could thus imagine what I wanted without being implicated directly, in the flesh, in the act.  I thought there was something queer about it, for sure.

I read more.  Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin and Kiss of the Fur Queen by Tomson Highway.  My economics teacher, who was rumored himself to be gay, and then to be straight, and then to be gay again, out of nebulous unfounded evidence, paused to look at the covers.  He’d read Tales but found it too soap opera-ish.  He wanted to borrow Fur Queen.  I thought to myself: Was he trying to tell me something?  Were we entering in to some kind of agreement of mutual recognition?

I haunted the gay and lesbian section of Borders.  That’s where I got my Tales, and where I looked at all the other books.  I wondered if someone would see me there.  I– this I still find queer and fascinating– I wouldn’t buy Annie on my Mind, though I looked at it, time after time, curious.  There was something about standing in the checkout line with that one that stymied me.

I began writing a saga about Pilate.  Yeah, that Pilate, the one from the Bible.  Most of what I actually wrote centered around his intense adolescent affair with his male tutor, a Greek (duh) fellow named Claudius (not so Greek-sounding, really) who resented his subservient position and eventually betrayed his youthful lover, despite his genuine feelings for the lad.  This was a problem, especially as both of Pilate’s parents were fairly sadistic and nuts, in very different ways.  I sound flippant now– but I’m protecting myself.  I can still feel what it was like to write them tumbling to the library floor.

And somewhere in there, I got out of high school.

I’m not actually sure I’ve changed much, and yet I know that I’ve changed a great deal.  I hope you like my secrets, and that you see in them, as I do, both queerness and resilience, which I was only beginning to come into then, and which I am still coming into now.

Now, please go buy the book, and, if you feel like it, leave me a comment with your own secret of resilience or queerness.  It doesn’t matter how old you are or who you actually like to have sex with.  I think maybe we all have them.

It's gonna be even more exciting to hold in your hands and read!

Resilience Galleys for your viewing pleasure

 

 

Queer Vocation, or Violence and Voice

Yesterday, in my Medieval Conversions class, we were discussing the Prioress’ Tale from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. If you’re not familiar with the story, it goes something like this (be warned, Chaucer certainly tells it better): In Asia somewhere, there’s a city where Christians and Jews both live, though in different areas. There is also a Christian school. A little Christian schoolboy hears older children singing a hymn to Mary and is totally transfixed by it. He learns the song by heart, and sings it all the time, including when passing through the Jewish quarter. The Jews hear him, and become outraged, and hire one of their number to kill the boy. The murderer captures the boy, cuts his throat, and throws him in a privy-pit, where everybody in the Jewish quarter goes to empty their bowels. His mother is worried when her son doesn’t return home, and so she goes looking for him, and eventually finds him, lying face up in the pit with his throat cut, and, miraculously, still singing the Virgin’s song. This draws a crowd, and the boy is taken to church, singing all the while, and all the Jews are bound. The boy reveals that a little grain has been placed under his tongue by Mary to keep him singing, and so the abbot removes the grain and the boy dies. All Jews who knew about the murder are punished by being dragged through the streets behind horses and then hanged.

There’s lots going on in this story, and like many Medieval stories, it’s disturbingly steeped in anti-Semitism. That wasn’t always my primary focus when I was thinking about it in class, but it stayed with me like an aching limb as we talked things through. There’s a line early in the tale, about the Christian children at school that describes them all as being “an heep,” and we were laughing a bit at the image of children all piled up in a heap, and then talking about groups in the tale that are treated collectively, which led us to the Jews at the end, being killed “an heep.”

For a minute I smiled, thinking about the heaped up schoolchildren, and then I remembered that I know exactly what Jews being killed “an heep” looks like. And so do you. Those horrible images of the Holocaust, the bodies piled on bodies, the arms, the legs, the heads, the necks, the spines all heaped up together juxtaposed themselves over the words about Jews in these and other writings I have read. They layered in my mind in a visceral, inescapable way, and I rubbed at my head and I thought maybe I should make a huge art exhibition, something that would take up rooms, with images of the Holocaust and words, centuries of words, miles of words, that marked and remarked Jews as worthy of death.

Class ended and I left. I was walking down the street, feeling overwhelmed, and the idea of how hate and violence and revilement can infect culture, or maybe sort of pool around in its hollow places, sitting there like stagnant water, until later—maybe hundreds of years later—they come back again, reconstitute themselves, and erupt in new ways. And people die. And the rhetoric is never really gone, waiting to fork a tongue and come on out again.

It made me feel hopeless, doomed. I reached out in prayer, and then I was struck by the idea that the whole structure of Christianity, which my prayer was surrounded and in some ways constituted by, was contaminated with this anti-Semitic poison.

I was thinking, too, about the Occupy movements, about my involvement with them, about a student strike being called next week at exactly the time of the class I’d just left, a class I enjoy, and for which I am scheduled to do a presentation, next time.

So I said a prayer, anyway, for openness and for learning. I said a prayer opening myself up to learn and to understand what to do.

I continued walking, passing Macy’s on my right, and grumbling internally about their already-present Christmas decorations, even as I wanted on some level to stop and stare at the admittedly thrilling display. I got to a corner where, on two previous occasions, I had seen a tall black man surrounded by posters and signs laid on the ground, with a small semi-circle of people around him, preaching. I’d glanced at one of the posters as I went by, heard a snatch of his words, and interpreted the whole thing as something about which races and nationalities were included and loved by God and which were not. The whole thing was so frightening and disturbing to me that I did not stop and check things out further, so perhaps that is not what he was saying. The images on the posters looked violent, bombs blooming out in red and yellow fire.

He was not there yesterday. But I pictured him there. And then I saw myself, standing at the edge of his crowd, and I heard myself yelling, “THESE WORDS KILL. THESE WORDS KILL.”

The day before yesterday, one of my composition students stayed to conference with me after class. He told me about a video his friend had shown him, of a Jamaican, black, gay man being beaten and then burned to death. I was horrorstruck and rageful, and trying to find an expression of this while still steering him toward a workable research project.

“Obviously,” he said, “beating and burning someone to death is too extreme, I don’t agree with that, but this is their cultural belief—”

“The one leads to the other,” I interrupted him. “They’re not separate, not completely. If you treat lives as worthless in words, someone will come and take those lives away.”

These words kill. The words of hate spoken in our streets, in our subways, in our schools, in our senate. And I was tired–as I walked to my train yesterday I was burning with tiredness—of having the voices of hate being the voices that shout. Of letting people say, we are the saved ones, you are the damned ones. Of letting people scream that God will enjoy burning homosexuals in Hell and walking by quietly. I was tired of hate being loud and love being quiet. I was ready to shout.
I began to think about sex, about my sexuality, and about church, and about God. I have thought about these things many times, but they blazed up new for me yesterday.

I want to tell you this story: I grew up loving God and loving church. I was not bored; I was not disengaged. I loved Jesus, adored him. I loved being Catholic. I enjoyed Mass. I took part in all kinds of ways. This was not a cultural love—not only that. This was not a social, I’m-part-of-this-group love—not only that. This was my love for my God. It was mysterious. It was overwhelming. It was mystical and real and very solidly experiential.

Today, I do not know what to say when people ask me what religion I am. I do not know how to share the joy of my religious experience because of layers of pain and fear that stand between me and the religiosity I so enjoyed when I was younger. Going to church is a strained and conflicted experience, and yet I don’t like the idea of trading in my Catholicism for something else, so I stay home most Sundays. I feel nervous when I think of times when I will be called upon to go to Church, and I feel nervous when I think of staying away. I feel pretty fucking goddamned nervous a lot of the time. So I try not to think about it too much at all.

These changes in my feelings are not because I am a bisexual woman living in a loving, mutual, sexual partnership with another woman, and I somehow recognize my sinfulness and feel divided from God—though there are some who will say that this is why.

I don’t feel this way because I am not strong enough or brave enough, or because I can’t just suck it up and deal with the whole church-stance-on-sexuality thing like a lot of other folks do. I thought this was why for a long time. I thought this was my problem, an individual problem, something I, personally, in my own heart and head and soul, needed to work through.

Yesterday, sitting on the train with the Prioress and the Holocaust and the murdered Jamaican man all together in my mind, I understood that I feel this way because of spiritual violence. I feel this way because of spiritual violence that has been and is being committed against me and against lots of other people, queer and straight, of all colors and races and genders and abilities, in sacred and secular spaces.

I do not feel comfortable and at home in Catholic spaces NOT because I have often heard priests preaching against homosexuality. That only happened once, and I walked out—followed by my girlfriend, my mother, and my octogenarian grandmother. I have heard many other Catholic people be completely warm and accepting of homosexuality—many, many more than I have heard denouncing it or me.

I do not feel comfortable and at home in Catholic spaces because this church that professes to love and mother me would protect that one priest and would not protect me. Because everyone has a right, according to what the church teachers, to denigrate and deny my life, my family, my experience, my love, and my body. And defending those things must be done secretly, quietly, sotto voce, under the radar. I could go to a Catholic church my whole life—but could I stand there and marry the woman I love? Could we stand at the fountain and baptize our children? And if we did—what would happen to the church that let us? Who has the power? Who is supported? You know the answers to these questions. And so do I. And so does every queer person in every congregation, even the most welcoming.

That is enough. I am here to tell you that that is enough to brutalize the spirit. The silence is enough. The secrecy is enough. This kind of atmosphere is antithetical to spiritual growth. It is the exact opposite of love and welcome. There need be no shouting, no dramatics. These words kill in a whisper. These words kill in a roar.

I am hardly the first person to say this. But I want to make it clear. And it is not just about me, and it is not just about sexuality, and it is not just about church. I want you to feel it through my experience, and I want you to look, carefully, at the places where you worship, work, live, sing, play, read, cook, sew—who is there? Who do you know is there? Who is silent there? Who is not present at all? Where are the people of color? Where are the immigrants? Where are the women? Where are the queer people and the gender non-conforming? Where are the poor people? Where are the disabled people? If they are not there, or they are silent—it is up to each of us in positions of privilege to notice, and it is up to us to take the risk and ask why and ask what we can do to make the spaces we are in places where all can be welcome, where all can worship, work, live, sing, play, read, cook, sew…

It is time to be loud. And it is time, for me, and I hope for many who have experienced spiritual violence, to recognize our lives as ones we have been called to. Last night, through all of these swirling experiences that I have tried to recreate for you, I felt a strong sense that intense, joyful, Jesus-loving, religious-little-girl me was not on some separate trajectory from questioning, wounded, angry, men-and-women-and-Jesus loving exiled-Catholic adult me, but rather that my vocation, my call from God, is to be found in these very experiences.

I don’t know that I was “born this way,” though I also did not experience my sexuality as some conscious, particular choice. I do feel that I was and am called to be who I am, in all my embodied particularity, and that my queerness is part of a holy, mysterious call. And I feel called to be louder about love in the face of hatred, wherever I see it.

I don’t know what that looks like yet. I know we still live in the fog and mud of history and old and new hates are waiting to swallow us whole. But I still believe in a better kind of resurrection, too. And I just wanted to tell you, and ask you to begin, with me, to use your voice and declare a call, declare a welcome, declare a defiance of that which limits and destroys love and life. I just wanted to tell you. I just wanted to begin.

When I was trying to think of what to say, what message of worth I would like to give to oppose the messages of worthlessness I was hearing, I thought about saying “You are essential to the universe. The entire universe needs you to be exactly what it is right now. You are vital to us all.” And then I thought a moment more, and added, “Just like the blades of grass.”

Amen.

Word Up- a Video, a Petition, and a Story

So, if you’ve been wondering about Word Up, the new community bookstore I posted about awhile back, here are some things to take the edge off of your curiosity.

First, a really cool video made by volunteer DJ Boy, so you can see what the place actually looks like!  (Though the layout changes all the time…)

http://uptowncollective.com/2011/08/15/word-up-books-a-video-retrospective/

I love the song he used.  It seems really perfect for the space.  I also love the wall art with the guy with the big book bling.  The part with the kids talking comes from a presentation they had pretty early on in the life of the bookstore, which was this play/presentation called Dig It, written, created, and performed by Northern Manhattan kids as part of a workshop based on Howard Zinn’s A Young People’s History of the United States.  I recommend all of the things that went into this performance… collective theater-making, Howard Zinn, Northern Manhattan kids… all pretty great! 🙂

Next, we’re now trying to figure out a way to stay permanently in the space or at least in the neighborhood, so here’s a petition about that.

http://www.thepetitionsite.com/1/help-make-word-up-a-permanent-bookstore-uptown/

You can sign it even if you aren’t from Northern Manhattan, so if you like the idea of the bookstore, don’t hesitate!

I’ve been enjoying my time volunteering there (aside from the fact that I seem to be facing a small curse related to turning the lights on and off).  A fascinating mix of people comes through the store in the course of a night or afternoon, and so many are so excited about the bookstore.

Today a man named Eddie Spaghetti came in and bought photography books from the bargain section.  One had pictures of European castles.  He showed me one, saying it was Dracula’s castle in Transylvania.  I don’t know if he meant a castle that was used in the movie (he was a fan of the one from the 1930s) or the actual castle of Vlad the Impaler, or what.  In any case, he told me that the castle had been on sale for… I think it was a hundred million dollars, at a time when the New York Lottery was three hundred million.  (Does the lottery even go up to three hundred million?  Shows how much I know about this..)  So his plan was to buy a lottery ticket, and if he won, buy the castle.

“I’d still have 200 million left,” he told me, laughing, “Use it to buy blood for the man.”

His favorite artist is Escher, and he rhapsodized for awhile about this Escher painting called Metamorphosis.  He gestured around the room, showing me how large it is.

“It goes all the way around, all the way from here…. all the way around the whole room.”  He described how one thing transformed into another, and then back into what it had been.  I liked the idea of this.  He told me that the painting is in Rhode Island, if I remember right, and that he wanted to go and see it himself. I thought of the paintings I have seen myself.  How beautiful they are up close.

He told me, too, about a boy who had cancer, and then his father snuck cannabis in the kid’s IV, and the boy got better and was hungry.  While the procedure sounds highly suspect, the detail about the hunger held my attention.

“There’s all this stuff we don’t know, about bark and plants and stuff,” he said.  And I agreed.

I thought about Dracula and transformation.  We talked about prison, about people in prison for drugs, about the books that people bring to the store.  He talked about how much a simple book can be worth, in money, if it’s a first edition, has a dust jacket.

After awhile he left.

Here’s a picture I found when I looked up “metamorphosis by Escher.”

http://www.globalgallery.com/enlarge/20774/

So there’s my Word Up story for today.  If you’re in the neighborhood, don’t forget to stop by!

The Clown and the Magician- Another Great Review!

Well, today is my first day of orientation for the PhD program in English that I am about to start.  So, naturally, I was relieving my nerves by seeing if anyone else had reviewed The Clown and the Magician.

And someone had!  Here, and glowingly: http://mmgoodbookreviews.wordpress.com/tag/rebecca-lynne-fullan/.  Thanks, Portia!  I am delighted to learn that there are gems falling from my literary tree.  I’ll try to keep ’em coming.

Also, I know everyone is eagerly awaiting the exclusive interview with Charlotte Rahn-Lee about her upcoming release (upcoming as in tomorrow!), Royal Quarry.  Fear not!  The interview is progressing apace, and shall be posted here just as soon as we both have a minute to breathe.

Actually, taking a minute to breathe sounds like a good idea.  Want to join me?   I’m gonna close my eyes… breathe in deeply… and let it out.

There.  We’re conspiring.

(I got to explain conspiracy to my Upper Elementary school students on our last class day.  I talked about how if you’re working on a secret plot you have to lean in so closely that you’re breathing the same air.)

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