Appearance Wrap-Up: “Room: A Literary Reading” at Antigone Books

Last Friday, I and two other writers from the Writers Studio Tucson had the singular opportunity to read our fiction and poetry that we wrote in response to a spooky prompt by guest judge Ted McLoof for the third annual “Write-to-Read” contest:

“Three people wake up in a room. They have no idea how they got there. They have no idea how to get out of it. They have no idea how long they’ve been there. But they only have until midnight to get out…”

We read at Antigone Books, a great setting for such events. The staff there was fantastic, including Kate Stern who was very kind, helpful, and knowledgeable. After she and then Writers Studio Tucson Director and instructor Reneé Bibby kicked off the night with opening remarks, Ted McLoof spoke briefly about the contest prompt and the submissions he had selected.

Kay Murrens read “Where We Are Silence,” her poem about a room, the women there telling about their own experiences as women, and waiting for God. The last line was a gorgeous expansive moment about God entering the room after the other women had left.

Jennifer Makowsky read her short story “Room 6016,” a thrilling story about three people in a room who think they recognize each other but cannot recall for sure or how they got there. The details of the room were perfect, the story full of surprises, and there was a moment related to that number in the title that led me to gasp out loud.

I finished the evening by reading my poem “These Are the Animals You May Eat.” I was ridiculously nervous before I started and had to keep pinching the skin between my thumb and index finger to make sure I didn’t faint. My wonderful coworker, Sarah, brought me a cup of water, the kindness of the act helped to calm my nerves a little, and then I stood up to head toward the podium. Once I started reading, I relaxed and got into the horror and voices of my five-part poem. Another coworker, Audrie, filmed the opening minutes of my reading; I have embedded her video above.

I’m grateful to everyone who attended. It was quite the crowd, much larger than I expected. I cannot thank my coworkers enough, or my fellow writers and everyone at the Writers Studio Tucson and Antigone Books. It was a night of nerves, surprises, and appreciation for all the people who surround and support me.

Happy National Coming Out Day!

I came out to my mom twenty years ago, the day after Ellen Degeneres came out on national television. I was so inspired but I was so terrified. I could only make the attempt over the telephone and I couldn’t even say the words; I made my mom guess until I finally said “Yes” when she finally got around to “Are you gay?” Coming out became easier after that, but you never really stop coming out.

Why, when we have marriage equality in the United States, is it still important to come out? Because some tolerance is not full acceptance. Because intolerance never seems to go away. Because it’s still necessary to stand up and be counted. Because people still react in surprise or anger or hate. Because LGBTQA+ children and adults are still being bullied, attacked, murdered, shunned, disowned, fired, and discriminated again. Because the globe is still overwhelmingly bigoted and violent toward LGBTQA+ people. Because it still matters and will continue to matter.

Things were better for me after I came out. Every time I come out. But why shouldn’t things have been good to begin with, despite me being gay? Why couldn’t I have grown up loved unconditionally, free to be me, comfortable with my sexuality? Why did I wait until I was 24 years old to start the process? Why did it take a celebrity to inspire me enough to start? Why is coming out still so hard? Why does there have to be a process of coming out at all?

Because we still have so far to go.

Notebook Full of Poetry Fragments

Small Field Notes notebook full of handwritten poetry fragments next to an ink pen for scale
Small Field Notes notebook full of handwritten poetry fragments next to an ink pen for scale

A tiny celebration for a small accomplishment: a little notebook full of handwritten poetry fragments. The first two entries aren’t dated but the third begins at 9:54 p.m. on Monday, August 15, 2016: “Maybe we take for granted the trees, where some of us are able to go when we are young to find peace, away from the chaos of home and hurt”

A work in progress, to be sure, but I keep these notebooks, and the Notes app on my phone, close at hand because these fragments arrive so suddenly and unexpectedly. There are a few other items inside, like a daily calorie plan, notes for a novel, notes about a reading by Karen Brennan I attended in March, and observations about “The Thing” in southern Arizona that helped me ground my poem “Roadside Freak Show” in concrete images and fill it with atmosphere.

The rest are poetry fragments. A fragment might make me cringe and hurry on. It might become a full poem someday. Tomorrow.

Today.

As midnight arrived on Sunday, October 08, 2017, I hurried to my little notebook with two lines in mind, frantic to capture them exactly as they were in those initial moments. Handwriting offers a kind of permanence. A few more minutes passed in free writing and then the notebook was full, this final fragment measuring two and a half pages long. That’s long enough, perhaps, to be considered the first draft of a new poem.

Monday.

My Poetry Revisioning workshop instructor asked us to bring in some of our collected poetry fragments for an exercise.

Someday.

so much depends
upon

a red note
book

Every day.

The next little notebook waits. It has a green cover.

Book Review: Lace & Pyrite by Ross Gay and Aimee Nezhukumatathil

Lace & Pyrite:  Letters from Two GardensLace & Pyrite: Letters from Two Gardens by Aimee Nezhukumatathil

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A short chapbook of beautiful epistolary poems between Aimee Nezhukumatathil and Ross Gay. Ostensibly about their individual gardens, the scope of these poets’ poems frequently expands in breathtaking ways.

Nezhukamatathil is reading at the University of Arizona Poetry Center next week and I wanted to sample some of her work before then. Pleased to discover in the process a new favorite poet. I also read her Lucky Fish collection tonight and it was equally as wonderful.

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Book Review: Lucky Fish by Aimee Nezhukumatathil

Lucky FishLucky Fish by Aimee Nezhukumatathil

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Aimee Nezhukumatathil’s most recent collection of poems (I think) concerns itself with autobiography, genealogy, geography, relationships, motherhood, and nature, among other topics. I love her sense of humor; poems like “Dear Amy Nehzooukammyatootill” and “The Mascot of Beavercreek High Breaks Her Silence” include unexpected humor along with more serious, lonely, and heartbreaking observations and revelations. I know when poems are working for me when the images suddenly erupt in vivid virtual reality in my mind and I gasp; several poems in this collection had those effects on me. It took a few readings of the first stanza in “A Globe is Just an Asterisk and Every Home Should Have an Asterisk” before the asterisk-shape of a flat cut-out of a globe in manufacture that would later be “pressed into a sphere” arrived in my mind’s eye, and I immediately loved that image. I was also really impressed by how she taught me to read with early poems poems later in the collection. For example, there’s a description of witches as wearers of eel-skin in an early poem that I recalled when a woman in a later poem was described as wearing eel-skin.

Nezhukamatathil is reading at the University of Arizona Poetry Center next week and I wanted to sample some of her work before then. Pleased to discover in the process a new favorite poet. I also read her collaboration with Ross Gay, Lace & Pyrite, which was also fantastic.

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Movie Review: Everything is Free

[This movie was removed from YouTube. If it goes back up, I’ll update the links. The video he added soon after, How to be a Slut in America – Part 1, is every bit as interesting [and has also been taken down.]]

When I say that Brian Jordan Alvarez’s new queer film Everything is Free—now available for free but age restricted on YouTube—is not afraid of penises, I mean that as high praise, and this is your opportunity to bail out of this review if this isn’t subject matter you’re comfortable with. You also might want to bail if you don’t want anything spoiled; come back after you’ve watched the film.

And when I say this film is further evidence that we are in more than just the Golden Age of Television, I mean that there are so many great web series and independent films and really video content of any kind. There’s a lot more crap out there because it’s easier than ever to capture and edit video, the price of software and hardware has plummeted, the number of platforms has multiplied, and many more people from many different backgrounds are releasing their video visions to the world, but the good stuff is better than ever, too.

[Spoilers ahead.]

Everything is Free comes from the brilliant mind of Alvarez, who wrote, directed, edited, starred in, and composed some of the music for his film. Alvarez is known for his comedy, and his latest effort is really damn funny, but it’s also full of drama, art, surrealism, and heat. Like really fucking hot moments of sensuality and nudity doing more than just titillating the viewer. The unexpected appearance of an erect penis in a YouTube video is a proclamation, a vulnerable character moment, kinda funny actually, hot, and happens as the drama escalates into homophobia and violence.

Ivan (played by Alvarez) is a gay American artist living in Colombia. His best friend and his friend’s brother, Cole, both straight, come to stay with him. As they begin to meet other Americans in Colombia, Ivan finds himself attracted to Cole, and is surprised by Cole’s tentative interest in return. As the relationship sputters and halts to a start, Ivan and Cole soon face an unexpected obstacle that adds a lot of tension and takes the film in unexpected directions.

What I find refreshing about Alvarez’s work is his unapologetic approach to depicting queer experience. I didn’t realize how much I hide and apologize for my own queer sense of identity until I started watching Alvarez’s YouTube videos. I also didn’t recognize  how much I have normalized on heterosexual ways of being, including monogamy and nuclear families. Ivan crafts a family of friends around him, and experiences his sexuality without apology, even to the ostensibly straight brothers who drop into his world. He expresses attraction, tests limits, has multiple partners, and isn’t afraid of being in love and lust. There’s a line late in the movie when Ivan asks why he’s the one being made to look crazy because he’s in love with a straight man that really resonated with me. I have also found myself in love with straight guy friends, relationships made all the more confusing by a level of intimacy and dependence that developed between us that straight guys don’t talk about and frequently end up lashing out unprovoked as they struggle to understand and set their own limits. It’s so refreshing and comforting to see this explored in Everything is Free.

The direction and acting are fantastic, but I am also impressed by Alvarez’s editing and color choices. There are surreal and artsy moments that make the film even more fascinating, and will lead me to watch it again to derive additional meaning. There’s a lot to think about here. I thought the end felt slightly tacked on and more hopeful than necessary, except it’s also really funny and satisfying in it’s own way.

If you’ve seen previous web series and shorts by Alvarez, then you have seen many of the other actors in this film. It’s always wonderful to see Stephanie Koenig, Jason Greene, Jimmy Fowlie, and the rest of the gang. They all work so well together, with a style that’s part improvisational, part pure joy.

So when I say I’m looking forward to seeing more of Alvarez’s films, it’s because he has matured into one of my favorite writer-directors, and I’m learning a lot about myself in the process of appreciating his art. This is a Golden Age of Creativity and of diverse voices describing experiences that haven’t been explored enough.

Movie Review: Juste la fin du monde (It’s Only the End of the World)

I have been eager to see Juste la fin du monde (It’s Only the End of the World) from my favorite director, Xavier Dolan, for so long, and yet I somehow missed that the film has been on Netflix for months. Stupid, stupid…

My goodness is this a rich, complex, brutally emotional movie that I need to watch a hundred more times. The director’s framing of most of the shots is so claustrophobic, a parallel to the angst and hurt that lies within this family on the day the middle 34-year old son returns home after a twelve-year absence to tell them he is dying. The film builds tension through Louis’ one-on-one conversations with each of his family members, which really are monologues as each family member fumbles to express their hurt and confusion about why Louis chose to distance himself from them and eagerness to have him back in their lives. By the end of the movie, the tension is so painfully high as we wait to find out if Louis will utter the words he’s there to say.

As Louis, Gaspard Ulliel is a master of expression, his wet eyes, grimaces, and small smiles conveying how all the things he really wants to say are bottled up behind his face and his two and three-word responses to his family members’ monologues. I was also moved by Marion Cotillard as the sister-in-law that Louis has not previously met. The actor plays against type as a shy woman attempting to navigate the deep waters of this dysfunctional family. Nathalie Baye, Léa Seydoux, and Vincent Cassel are also fantastic. Cassel’s character is particularly unlikeable, but his story arc is fascinating even while he is so brutal. Seydoux broke my heart. The matriarch, played with such life by Baye, and the relationship between mother and son were less of a focus in this film, which was unexpected based on Dolan’s previous films.

Xavier Dolan continues to surprise me with his evolution as a director (and writer and actor.) He has always had a mature eye despite his very early start and success. As he approaches his late twenties and a new chapter in his career, I’m running out of superlatives to describe his work. If you haven’t seen his films yet, I highly recommend them all:

  • J’ai tué ma mère (I Killed My Mother)
  • Les amours imaginaires (Heartbeats)
  • Laurence Anyways
  • Tom à la ferme (Tom at the Farm)
  • Mommy

Now I am even more eager for his highly anticipated English-language film, The Death and Life of John F. Donovan.