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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An Avalanche of Excitement!

It’s been such a while since I posted anything here that I actually have tons to post! And, of course, not very much time to do it in. But I figured I will give you an overview now, and then, over the next few days, hopefully actually say something substantive about each of these things.

First of all, Word Up, the amazing community bookshop I’ve blogged about before, needs help. We lost our space in August and are having a huge fundraising campaign to reopen, and, not incidentally, there’s a dance video in which I (and many others) dance to show our love for Word Up. Word up is supremely important to my neighborhood, and the concept of Word Up, a community space dedicated to books, art, music, theater, and education and performance of all kinds, is supremely important everywhere. I hope you’ll watch the video, because it is super amazing, and check out the campaign and throw some love, money, reblogging and tagging, etc. our way. We have a long way to go, and every little bit counts. //www.indiegogo.com/wordupbooks

Secondly, my story “Woman-Time” is included in The Best Lesbian Erotica of 2013, edited by Kathleen Warnock and Jewelle Gomez. My story has magic in it. The real kind, as well as the sexy kind. You can get it here:http://www.cleispress.com/book_page.php?book_id=503 or at your local queer-and-small-press-friendly bookstore. I know here in NYC you usually get it at Bluestockings: http://bluestockings.com/. Also, I will be reading from this story at the KBG bar in NYC on December 20th! Please come! I would love to see friends both known and as yet unknown there. Here’s more info on that:

Drunken! Careening! Writers!

Best! Lesbian! Erotica! 2013!

Rebecca Lynne Fullan

Sid March

…and special surprise guests!

with your hostess, Kathleen Warnock

Thursday, Dec. 20, 7pm

KGB Bar, 85 E 4th St., NYC

FREE

Finally, my poem “Telling My Beads” was published in The Other Journal as part of their Prayer issue, and you can read it right here: http://theotherjournal.com/2012/11/29/telling-my-beads/ It’s based on a true story, and includes a rainbow rosary. Also, if you like, I will read it to you– there’s an audio file on the top of the page, and that’s me reading the poem.

So: community book & art spaces, sexy stories, and poems about prayer. That is a good summary of some important aspects of my life, and certainly my writing life! I hope you check them out, and I hope to write something more substantive about each of those things in the coming days.

Gloria Mundi in NY______, Dating Issue!

I just got a pdf today of the NY________ magazine’s third issue, which contains my poem, “Gloria Mundi.”  The magazine (it’s pronounced “New York Underscore,” if you’re not sure that’s going on with the title), features writing about living in New York City, and each issue is organized around a theme.  The theme of this issue is dating.  My poem is about dating, clearly, and about public transportation, since you can’t really have one without the other in New York City.

I mean, I guess you can, if you live really close by to the person you’re dating or like driving around New York or are super rich and don’t take the subway– but I always thinking living in New York City and not taking the subway (presuming you can, physically, take the subway) is sort of bad sportsmanship.

I have lots of feelings about the subway, which is partially why my poem contains subway trains.  It’s a funny, happy poem!  I hope it makes you smile, if you read it, which you can do by buying the magazine.

The magazine, by the way, is spiffy.  I was impressed with my pdf copy that I just received.  It’s really pretty and well-designed.  I think you will like it, if you try it.  There might even be a picture in it of a man tied up with neckties.  In a sort of artful way.  Just in case a poem by me that will probably make you smile (I don’t want to promise, then I will have angry, non-smiling people writing comments here) is not enough incentive.

Here’s the magazine’s website: http://ny-underscore.com/about.html, where you can find info about where to buy the magazine in New York City.  I recommend that you go to Bluestockings, because you will find 12,000 other books there that you want to buy, if you are me or anything like me.  Probably that would happen at Book Thug Nation, too, I just haven’t been there.  Once Word Up gets up and running again, I will see if we can get copies of it too!  (Now people who only know me through this blog and have been paying attention to old posts are wondering what the heck happened to Word Up.  I should write a post about that soon).

If you’re not in New York City, you can order the magazine here: http://www.magcloud.com/browse/issue/443896, in print or as a pdf.

I hope you enjoy it!

Inheritance at Underwater New York

So, I’ve decided to do this Author Blog Challenge to get blogging again, especially now that I’ve finished writing my last paper for the semester, and I saved some good writing news just to get started!

A couple of months ago I found this cool project/website/organization called Underwater New York.  What they do is go around to the waterways of New York City and environs, and find all sorts of strange, evocative stuff in and around the water.  Then they post about it on their website and people write stories, poems, even songs about the stuff!  Seeing that I love strange, evocative stuff, water, making up stories about strange, evocative stuff, and I live in New York City, I was pretty excited and raring to go.  They were having a flash fiction call when I found them, and I decided to write about an 1897 pocket watch found near Coney Island.

Here’s a link to all the tiny stories that were published about the pocket watch: http://underwaternewyork.com/2012/05/16/flash-fiction-submissions-1897-pocket-watch-coney-island/  Mine’s at the bottom.  With my name on it.  And it’s called “Inheritance,” so the title of this post is now making tons of sense.

I noticed that nearly all the stories about the pocket watch had some aspect of it being inherited or at least a special gift, and also that all of them had something to do with death or loss.  I guess the pocket watch aspect lends itself to the former, and I wonder if most stories about things being lost in the water related to death or loss.  It would be interesting to try to do one that was really jubilant, or something!

Anyway, I hope you enjoy the story, and that you check out the rest of Underwater New York, and that you come back throughout the month to see how the blogging challenge is going.  I’m not sure what the challenge is, exactly, mostly just to blog and read stuff by other writers, which I’m excited to do.

If you’re stopping by for the first time, welcome!  I’m glad you’re here!  Please feel free to say hello, and tell me a story about inheritance or pocket watches or Coney Island or finding stuff in the water, or whatever you like.

Yay Blog!

Ash Wednesday Thirteen Ways

Here is a poem I wrote today.  A present, for Lent, from me, to you.

Ash Wednesday Thirteen Ways

Anger the beginning

and end

of my observance.

 

In Granada, we caramelized

sugar in our spoons over

an open flame.  Took

what remained

on the underside and crossed

each other’s foreheads, laughing

laughing.

 

Someone is running

in the subway station

along the dangerous

caution yellow, like it’s

a track, singing.  I want

them to stop.

 

Today I notice especially

the Jewish men

with beards and hats

and yarmulkes.  The choice

they are making or

not-making

every day.

 

Behold, behold,

behold, behold—

to look, to take

in fingers, to put

in mouth, to swallow

to smear on face,

Oh Lord.  I am

beholden.

 

I have never trusted

a priest with

my whole heart,

not one.

 

The priest who marks me

is an old man, but looks

strong.  Remember you are

dust and to dust

you shall return.  He smiles

with great kindness, as though

this news is welcome, as though

it is what I have been waiting for.  And it is.

It is.

 

I present myself in ice,

hoping to be melted.

Someday the sun

will eat the earth, you know,

in its death pains.

In its growing.

 

Oh, what a fool

he is, to speak

of a small church, a pure

church.  There is no small-

and-pure, O papa,

there is only your flesh

and my flesh being one

flesh that is Christ’s flesh,

and isn’t that just

the worst?  Aren’t we just

fucked by it, you and I, doesn’t it

make you

laugh?

 

On television, the whales

are having the most beautiful

hunt I have ever seen.

It is a dance.

The whales circle,

and sing the herring

right into their mouths.

 

At church I often think

that people will shout at me,

attack.  Also on the street,

sometimes, on the subway,

at night, when the door to my

room is locked.

 

Jesus,

I want you

to love me enough

to leave me alone,

and to want me enough

to bother the hell

out of me.  I present you

with a note: Do you

like me?  Check yes

or no.  I spend my evening

smudged

and scribbling.

 

Dolphins throw themselves

into the air to say things,

and whales sing all

together.  I watch.

The ash on my forehead

itches.  Gladness comes.

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

 

 

Chatting with Charlotte about Royal Quarry

Royal Quarry is ready for release! Cover art by Anne Cain.

So, tomorrow is the release day for Charlotte Rahn-Lee’s novella, Royal Quarry, and to get you ready for the release, Charlotte and I managed to collaborate on an exclusive interview.  You may be wondering how this worked– we were wondering how it was going to work too!  Basically, I pretended I didn’t know anything about the book, and wrote down my questions in a notebook.  Then, Charlotte wrote down her answers.  Now, I am going to type them up here and ask her follow-up questions when they occur to me!  It’s a little silly, perhaps,  as a procedure, but I think you will find the content interesting.

RLF (that’s me!): Give a little intro about yourself and your background as a writer.

CRL (that’s Charlotte!): I am an inveterate creator of stories– my sister Lilah and I invented all sorts of characters, plots, and happenings for as long as I can remember.  I think I began thinking of myself as a writer in 6th grade. My writing training is all in playwriting– I have an MFA from the New School for Drama.

RLF: What happened in 6th grade?

CRL: I was in a different school district in 6th grade, in Cambridge, MA, and there was more emphasis on writing in this new school.

RLF: Is there anything in particular you want to convey to potential readers of Royal Quarry that isn’t mentioned in the blurb?

CRL: Royal Quarry was a lot of fun to write, and I hope it will be a lot of fun to read, too.  I did my best to impart this sense of fun while I was condensing the plot into blurb-form.

RLF: What prompted you to write this story?  Tell us something about how it took shape in your head.

CRL: This story had an unusual beginning.  Albert and Manning existed as characters in an epistolary game that you and I were playing.  Because of this, their relationship really had a chance to develop and grow in a satisfying way.  This story is a retelling–a reboot, I guess you might call it– of how they met.  I wrote it because you were planning on submitting to the “men in uniform” call for Dreamspinner, and I kept urging you, “Manning wears a uniform!  Write about Albert and Manning!”  You had other ideas, however, which eventually became The Clown and the Magician, so you convinced me to write it instead.  It was fun to write something for which I knew the characters so well but could dream up a new plot, choosing elements of the original version and inventing my own as it suited the story.  That’s the joy of a reboot, I suppose.

RLF: As I remember it, you had a whole bunch of ideas for the men in uniform thing, including a story about Manning and Albert, and kept pitching them until I was finally like, well, you should write one yourself!  I’m glad you did. 🙂  Since you most frequently write plays, I’m wondering how this experience related to your other writing.  Were there any interesting differences in the writing process for this prose piece?

CRL: Yes!  Prose is very different from drama, a medium I’m more comfortable in.  You have a lot more control over how your audience experiences your story in prose than you do in drama.  [In prose], you can draw the reader’s figurative eye to specific details in a way that reminds me of screenwriting.  You can describe your characters’ thought processes, even!  I was conscious with writing this story of not wanting to go crazy with my new-found powers of prose and explain or describe too much of what people were thinking.  You still do want your characters to show you what’s happening with them after all.  But it was a lot of fun to work in prose for a change.

RLF: What was your favorite part about writing these characters and their relationship?

CRL: I love how Albert’s (over)reactions always surprise, and I am very fond of Manning’s continuous struggle to maintain his professional composure.

RLF: Did you encounter any surprises while writing?

CRL: Of course!

RLF: How did you like writing a story that is centered around a romance?  Was it similar to or different from other kinds of relationship-based writing you’ve done?

CRL: The most unexpectedly tricky thing was the pronouns.  When two men relate to each other–sexually, romantically, or otherwise–in prose, your sentences become tangled knots of “him”s, “he”s, and “his”es.  It took some clever editing to make clear who was doing what to whom.

RLF: Did you learn anything new (in research or otherwise) while writing Royal Quarry?

CRL: I learned more than I will ever need to know about deer hunting.

RLF: Do you want to write more stories about these characters or this world?

CRL: I sure do!  Albert and Manning go on to have many exciting adventures together.  It would be a lot of fun to write down some more of them.  It would be really great to see them in a graphic novel– I’ve always wanted to try writing one of those.  Anybody know any sequential artists?

So there you have the interview!  Do you know any sequential artists?  Do you have more questions for Charlotte?  Let us know in the comments!  Are you ready to buy this fantastic book?  Here’s where you can find it, starting in about ten minutes: http://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/store/product_info.php?products_id=2477

Enjoy!

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