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!

Resilience Reading Coming to Word Up this Saturday!

We hope you can make it!

Hey everyone!  As this image indicates, there’s going to be a Resilience reading and open mic this Saturday, March 17th from 3-5 PM at Word Up!  It will feature Resilience editor Eric Nguyen, and Resilience authors from the New York area, Bill Elenbark, Anne E. Johnson, Emma Eden Ramos, James R. Silvestri, and me.  We’re planning to read our pieces from the book and then to open things up for other people to read their work, ask questions, discuss the project, etc.

To make the week delightfully resilient all around, my fellow authors have written guest posts for this blog, which I will start posting tomorrow, and continue posting throughout the week.  So– if you want an appetizer for the lovely writing you’ll be hearing on Saturday, or if you can’t make the reading and you want to participate virtually, please come by all week and check things out.

And don’t forget that your stories are always welcome here.  🙂

Of course, if you are in the New York City area, please come by to the reading on Saturday.  We want to have a gay old Saint Patrick’s Day with you.  And especially, if you know any young folks who could use some strengthening words, please pass the message along.

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.

Guest Post by Maddie: Pain and Sex

Here is my first guest blog post!  My dear friend Maddie has written this essay in response to our conversations and my earlier post about sex and secrets and self-definition.  I think it’s really awesome and fascinating.  I hope you enjoy, and are inspired to join our conversation!  Just leave me a comment if you want to write.  And even if you don’t want to write, leave Maddie a comment about her story.  And don’t forget to order Resilience— that’s a conversation, too.  http://www.lulu.com/product/paperback/resilience-stories-poems-essays-words-for-lgbt-teens/18821334

Pain and Sex

Growing up in a household of academics, and strongly suspecting I would become the same thing, I rebelled in the only non-destructive way I knew how: I read A LOT of romance novels. I graduated from teen romances to adult romances at 14 and at the height of my addiction (ages 16-20) I was probably reading 12 romance novels a month, possibly more. I was fascinated by sex, mainly because I was sure I was never going to have it, at least not in high school. In reality I wasn’t ready for it and subconsciously knew it, I think. Vicariously living through fictional romantic relationships was safer than trying to discover sex on my own at that time. Plus, I was terrified of getting pregnant.

So by the time I started having sex, at the age of 23, I was well versed in the modern woman’s sexual mantra that sex is fun and sex should never hurt emotionally or physically, except for maybe the first time. Well, reciting isn’t the same as knowing, at all. The first part of the mantra is easy;  sex IS fun; I have always found sex to be fun. However, I’ve found that the not hurting part is a lot harder to follow.

I’m not going to get into the sexual emotional baggage I had. My story is pretty common, pretty harmless, and has a happy ending. The guys who I had less than perfect intimate relationships with are not bad guys, we just didn’t work as more than friends. I’ve worked through that baggage a long time ago and if it ever pops up, I can always talk about it to them frankly. Now I’m engaged to a man who has never hurt me like that and who I can also talk to about this if I ever need to.
Surprisingly, the more insidious and disguised hurt was the physical pain. See, I had always assumed that since I had fun having sex, then sex didn’t hurt, because who likes things that hurt? Not me! Who is capable of massive self-delusion? Me!
The problem is that  no one ever told me that physically painful sex was possible with a partner you love. When people talk about sex hurting, it’s either emotional pain, which I got rid of around the age of 25, or physical pain because you were forced. In all my years of health class, girl talk, reading romance novels and listening to Lovelines (the call-in radio show about sex, drugs, and other young people stuff) not once did I ever hear of any woman without a history of  violent sexual encounters having painful sex. Or if I did, I never connected it to me.

The problem is, no one ever told me what painful sex with a partner you love and trust feels like. Well for me, it feels like initial resistance and pain, like every time is the first time. Like the first time, it gets better after a while, but I need to initially distract myself from the tightness and the feeling of raw friction. Lube helped a little bit, but not much. When I write it out, it seems ludicrous that I ignored this for three years, but I had no idea that this was not normal.

During the time I was ignoring this, I was conflicted and it affected both my sex life and my sexuality to some extent. My willingness to have sex decreased more and more until I just didn’t want to face the pain. It got harder and harder to ignore the fact that I had to literally grin and bear it for at least the first few minutes, if not the whole thing. I wasn’t even lying back and thinking of England, I was focused on the pain because I didn’t understand it. I was so confused because I had never thought of myself as someone who hated sex. I was the girl who read everything she could about sex! I really enjoyed sex; I wanted to have more sex, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. I was never in the mood when my boyfriend suggested it. I was never in the mood ever. He started to get very frustrated with me and hurt because he felt like I was refusing him every time he tried to have sex with me. While this is a slight exaggeration, it’s not that far from the truth. The worst part is that I didn’t share with him why I was pulling away because I didn’t know why. I knew sex hurt, but I didn’t realize exactly how it was affecting my sexuality. I really didn’t connect the fact that physical pain was keeping me from wanting to have sex.

All this changed two months ago when I read a blog post by a woman who suffered from pelvic floor pain. She described exactly what I was experiencing, how she preferred to cuddle with her fiancé. How her fiancé was loving but hurt by her shunning of sex. How she doggedly went from doctor to doctor and pain specialist to pain specialist until someone diagnosed her with pelvic floor pain, a condition that makes it difficult for you to relax your pelvic floor. She said that she learned some relaxing exercises and did some PT and now sex does not hurt!

WHAT A REVELATION! I read this and I suddenly knew that this was what was happening to me. Suddenly, I had a name and I had a compatriot. I could face what was happening to me now. The next day, I broke down in tears and told my roommate all about it in our shared office and then went home and told my boyfriend. The next time he initiated sex, I didn’t turn him away; I focused on relaxing my pelvic muscles instead. Much to my surprise, it worked! Sex felt better than it had in a long while. I then went to the gynecologist and told her my symptoms. We made a few changes to my birth control and the type of lube, but nothing drastic. This pain is no longer something that just happens to me, I am now in control, something I haven’t felt for a long time.

However, I cannot overstate how much making these little tweaks has affected me psychologically.  As for my sexuality, my identity and understanding of myself as a sexual person, it has taken a blow, but is recovering. The fact that I am now in control of my symptoms and pain has given me back most of that confidence and joy that I lost. The fear of pain still hits me sometimes and it makes me hesitate, but not for long. I am back to confidently defining myself as someone who does like sex, even if my boyfriend is not totally convinced (he might be, I don’t know, I haven’t asked him.) Maybe this hesitance with never go away and maybe (probably) I can make that work for me, but at least I’m not mysteriously stalled anymore. At least I can keep redefining myself in ways that make sense.

(P)reviews of Resilience + Guest Blogging Series Inaugural Announcement!

Hi all!

It has come to my attention that Resilience has been featured in two previews– and they are exciting and laudatory!   Here’s the one: http://reviewsbyamoslassen.com/?p=14620 and here’s the other: http://asknicola.blogspot.com/2012/01/resilience.html.  Thank you, Amos Lassen and Nicola Griffith, for the warm welcome to this book!

Also, while writing that last post about my youth, something kept going through my mind: I really wanted to do something about the fact that there are such bounded and limited narratives of understanding sexuality that really have cultural currency.  It seems that everyone expects sexual attraction, interest, and experience to unfold in one of a very few ways, and I think there are tons of pieces of sexuality that get left out of that– and that gives us less of a sense of the richness and mystery of our sexualities and also leads to isolation, confusion, or shame about things that don’t necessarily fit into those narratives.  I think that’s part of the reason that I wrote about the particular things I did, which might not be included in a standard sexual awakening/coming out story, especially since they didn’t really involve anyone else’s physical involvement or much attraction to other women!  But they are significant to my own understanding of my own sexuality.

So, while thinking about all this, I was also thinking about how I wanted to have some guest blogging series on here, on many topics that I think could use a mosaic of stories which will honor all kinds of narratives and experiences, sexuality being one.

I mentioned this to a friend while we discussed my post, and she, thrillingly, immediately wrote a tale of her own sexual experience, including ways it did not fit in with the narrative she had been led to expect.  I’m very excited about this and will post it soon!

I also want to open the discussion up to the rest of you:  if you are intrigued and pleased by this idea, send me a story about your sexuality, its origins, its boundaries, its secrets or surprises… whatever you want.  Whatever you haven’t found a place to tell.  No length requirements or limits!  I may edit them for grammar and whatnot, and I’ll let you know if there’s other editing I’d prefer to do.  Please don’t send anything that expresses contempt for other people, and other than that I’ll let you know if your piece is not something I feel comfortable with for whatever reason.  Also, if you haven’t had sex, I am still deeply interested in stories of your sexuality– I don’t want people to feel that they must have had some particular experience to qualify.

If you would like, I can write up some prompts and questions to get you thinking, but feel free to just write!

I look forward to reading your stories!  And don’t forget to go and get Resilience while the sale is on!  https://www.lulu.com/commerce/index.php?fBuyContent=12440418

P.S. I realized that if you wanted to do this but don’t know me personally, you wouldn’t know where to send your post!  If that’s your situation, just leave me a comment and I will send you contact info.

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