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!

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.