Sunday, December 30, 2012

No Fear, or Obligation

Here's another thing that happened in 2012: I came out on Facebook. In the least creative way, on National Coming Out Day and by posting this picture. I don't know what a creative way would have been. Maybe a Lady Godiva-style ride through the village with a rainbow sash.

Apparently, it caused a kerfuffle, and included some speculation that it was a mid-life crisis, when Geoff, my husband, posted the question You're What? in response to my admission.

He was kidding.

It's not a mid-life crisis, and Geoff has always known.

GK 95
Here's my least favorite reaction, when you do tell people, and maybe this is why sometimes, I don't tell people: But, you're married.

That's right. I'm married, and I've been married for a long time. Almost 17 years, and we've been together since 1994. When we met, I was batting about 60/40 male / female on the dating. I was skeptical. Not because he was male, but because he was cool.

I got lucky. We belong together. Not because the government or the bible says so. Not because we are male and female. Because we are who we are. We are people who belong together. And for us, that was lucky. It meant we could get married without a battle. It meant that when we decided we wanted kids, we had them. (Which is lucky on more than one count; plenty of heterosexual couples can't, or have difficulty conceiving.) No one gave us a hard time.

But. It certainly wasn't a choice based on ease. In fact, I'm not even sure it was a choice. People are given to you. By what, you decide, or discover. Me, I prayed to the Virgin for my people. Both my partner and my kids.

So why bother saying it? Let me ask you this, you who have been married or partnered a long time, who are straight but still look at, desire or think about the opposite sex: you do sometimes think about the opposite sex, right? Guys: I know you look at women. Girls: Come on. We had a fair debate over Channing Tatum versus Ryan Gosling. Your desire for other than your partner does not fade away to nothing because you have paired off. You are still your own sexual being.

And so am I.

I've had significant relationships with women. I've fallen in love with women, and I've fallen in love with men. Here's one of my favorite quotes about it:

In itself, homosexuality is as liming as heterosexuality: the ideal should be to be capable of loving a woman or a man; either, a human being, without feeling fear, restraint, or obligation.  -- Simone de Beauvoir

There's me. Don't put me in your box.

Your deal.

Friday, December 28, 2012

The World Didn't End. But It Did, Sort Of

2012, I'm so over you.

Some years are bad years. I'm still not over 2008, or 2005 really, although 2005 had some really high points to it as well.

Here's a rough line up of some of the crazy shit that happened this year.

I pulled my kid out of school and homeschooled him for the spring semester. It was critical, and in some ways, it worked. If it kept him from being arrested or out of the hospital, then it worked. But because of that decision, I didn't actually lose my job at Syracuse University, but it was recommended that I never be rehired. Which is pretty much the same thing. You can read about that here.

I never revised my novel. I started to. I started again. I started again. And one more time. But never finished a revision to send to my agent. This is a real problem for me.

I tried to start my own consulting business, but never followed through on it. Also, a problem for me. Also, I tried this at the beginning of this summer, and as we say around here: this summer sucked.

I watched my kid (same kid) get into and out of an abusive relationship. It was intensely painful, for him, for me, and because of this, this summer really really sucked. I've never felt that helpless or trapped. Because of this, I haven't even written or really talked about this summer. It'll take a while for that writing to surface.

I got to meet John Taylor. Yep. That was my high point. He's extraordinarily sweet, honest, and humble. And still really handsome.

My mom came to visit. Which probably also should have signaled the coming apocalypse.

Geoff got a new job. Theoretically, this means he will travel a lot more, but it hasn't happened yet. Also theoretically, it should help pay off some of our exorbitant debt. Debt we accumulated after years and years of not making enough money but still buying houses and having kids. It hasn't happened yet. But maybe, in 2013, it will.

I set plans in place for a new book. A second book of stories. When I can, I will tell you more about that. But in the mean time, there's some champagne to be had. Because of the new book. Because things have ended. Especially this year.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

In All Things

Way back in elementary school somewhere, Kieran was asked to tell the things he was thankful for. I don't remember what grade, but it was early, pre-K or kindergarten maybe. He listed two things: the moon and my body. Probably, that's all anyone ever needs to be thankful for.

A lot of the beauty of Thanksgiving is lost in all the chaos: the sales, the turkeys being pardoned, the too-early Christmas music, parades, football, gluttony.

So, really simply, here are some things I'm thankful for.

My kids. These guys slay me with beauty and sadness, with their wicked (and very different) senses of humor, their talents and their perfect faces. I can't believe I made them. I can't believe they're sort of mine. (Because really, any parent knows you are just shepherding them through. They belong to something bigger than little old you.)

My crazy family. That's right. And when I say crazy, I mean certifiable. But in the spirit of real thanksgiving -- in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you (1 Thes 5:18) -- I wouldn't trade them. Even the really crazy one. It's hard to practice being thankful in all things, but I believe in it. That said, I'm also thankful for modern psychiatry and anti-anxiety drugs.

My own body. I hate it a lot of the time, but it works really hard for me. Tugging the dog uphill, working outside. It's sturdy, and it's healthy. And someday, I should probably send a thank you card to my liver.

Sunshine. Just that. Me, and the dog.
We love some sunshine.

This guy. Because even if we were the last two suckers on earth, we would figure it out, and it would be ok, as long as we were together. Which, also, incidentally, is why we should probably do The Amazing Race.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

This Writing Life

I was just admiring my friend, poet Jane Springer's work habits. She rolls out of bed, doesn't get dressed, sets up on the porch with her laptop, some iced tea, and a full pack of cigarettes and sets about writing. For the whole day.

I am a hub of distraction.

This morning, I slept in. Because last night, we decided to watch another episode of Twin Peaks at 10:45. And then, what's another glass of wine at 11:45? Before I went to sleep at around 1:00, I remember saying, You know what would be great? If you just shut the door and let me sleep tomorrow.

And I did. I said goodbye to my teenager, but missed the little one getting on the bus. I slept until almost 10.

When I got up, I got online, answered emails. Checked to see how many people liked the photos I posted on facebook. And got a phone call from my brother.

Cascade Mountains, WA
My mom is coming to visit for ten days. I saw her last in 2010, but she hasn't seen the rest of us since 2008. And while this should be totally exciting, it's really mostly totally anxious. Everyone is anxious. We're anxious about being anxious. And my brother's reaction to anxiety, especially high levels of it, is to talk about it.

At 11:05, I finally got off the phone, only to be called by the teenager, who was on his lunch break, and wanted a cigarette. So I drove to McDonald's, where they were all gathered, dropped of a cigarette and went through the drive-thru for a free cup of coffee and nothing else.

Because I'm also broke.

I haven't written anything yet. Or even opened up the dropbox where my writing is. Truth is, I probably can't today. Not with the anxiety hanging over me. I'll probably clean the house and walk the dog. The cleaning will be scattered and less efficient than usual. I'll flit from one task to another and the end result will be that the house won't look much different. But I'll pace around for a few hours.

Writers I know spend long days working, or reading, because that too is part of the process. My brain is like a misfiring weapon a lot of the time. Doesn't, or does, too much. Too rapid. I've been told to quit drinking, to go to bed earlier, to not answer the phone, to get help, to focus on my work, to become the asshole who can steal way, can hole up and write, as Sugar says, like a motherfucker. I've been told to man up.

But the truth is, this is who I am, and this is what has made me into a writer when I'm able to do it. I should do some of these things, sure. I should also eat more leafy green vegetables. I would write more if I could ignore the phone, if I could not be so invested in my kids.

And when I think of that, I think of when I used to go to mass with my parents, and the way my dad would grip my hand during the sign of peace. He'd grip it like it was all he had to hang onto. Us. Would he have been happier, more productive, if he could have shrugged us off a little and not clung so tight? Maybe.

And maybe I would too. But it's not in my blood.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Magic of Massage

I had a massage today. I love massage, and it's something I rarely indulge in, but we had a Groupon, so I tried a new place. It was great. A one-woman show. She had small but strong, blunt hands.

Normally, when I'm getting a massage I think a whole list of I should statements. I should go to bed earlier. I should drink less. I should get up earlier. I should eat more yogurt. I should do more yoga. It's a litany in my head.

I did that today, but I also had a very specific thought about what I actually need from a massage therapist. I need a witchy woman.

Massage therapy has been sanitized, made clinical by spa culture in the United States. I'm not saying I want a dirty massage. But the decor is pretty standard: light blues, grey and taupes. Soft piano music or something that sounds like waterfalls. Zen looking gardens. Rocks. No smell stronger than lavender or maybe vanilla.

I would love to walk into a dark red or purple room. With things like gold elephants and stars. Wtih a moon hanging from the ceiling. I want sage sticks or patchouli or amber, rising in actual smoke.

I want a woman draped in weird fabric, with wild hair and big hands. I want her to be older than me. I want her to spend a long time on each limb, and to notice what's there, but never tell me. To know that I work with my hands.

I want exotic music. Indian or African, nothing sterile and relaxing. NO YANNI, OK? I want to feel entranced, enchanted, and when she's done, I want her to tuck me in, like I'm a kid going to bed.

She'd make us tea afterward, and read my fortune. Not my real fortune, and nothing like You will meet a tall dark stranger, or You will travel faraway. More like, she sits me down and tell me what to do with my life. When we sit, I notice that she has little stars and apples woven into her hair and they are silver. She never doubts me and she doesn't take any shit from me. She has a scar through her lip. Her tea is wicked strong and black and when I leave there, I feel soft and altered, but charged up for something else.

That's what I want. Monthly if I can get it. If you know where, message me. I think she probably doesn't exist.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Going about My Father's Work

When I began homeschooling Kieran in January, one of the things he said to me was, "You should start your own school."

It had never seriously occurred to me. His point was that many of his friends were envious of his new venture, learning at home. They liked the idea of gathering around a table, talking, moving at their own pace and led by their own curiosity. Or maybe they just think I'm cool. Or lenient.

Then Kieran said, "Grandpa had his own school. You should do that. It's probably like, your thing."

My dad, on the left, with his brother, Johnny on CBS radio.
At its height in the 1960s, my dad's school -- The Joe Stanley Accordion Studio -- had more than 125 students. He made his whole living between that and performing. He had his own office downtown, saw students in music rooms there, and then eventually saw some students at home too. He was at heart, both an artist and a teacher. (For a poignant piece about what it was like to be my dad's student, check out Dennis Page's piece, The Accordion and a Boy.)

Armed with this in my blood, this week, I launched a new effort. We've been, as I told Liam yesterday -- hustling: hanging flyers, making contacts, handing out business cards, building a new blog.

So I'm excited to announce the launch of SHIFT Writing: Creative Writing Workshops & Tutorials. 

You can find out more here about summer sessions, private tutorials and editing.

Recently, out of nowhere, Liam said to me, "When you lose someone, you become a different person." Probably, that's just the thing I needed to step out. I'm going to try this thing on my own. If I'm lucky, I'll live up to a small part of my dad's legacy.

Monday, June 4, 2012

A Secret Code Only Visible in Certain Lights

June is national LGBTQ Pride Month. If you know anything at all about me, you'll know that I'm always hesitant to reveal anything about myself. I'm like a slow leak, hoping no one will notice. But here, in honor of Pride Month, I'm listing the books helped shaped my queer identity, that kept me queer company, so to speak, since I was a young teenager.

Mapplethorpe's Warhol
The Andy Warhol Diaries. No shit. I read these when I was fifteen, and I fucking loved them. I liked, too, that they were not really written as diaries, but spoken, publicly into the phone, meant to be recorded and shared, meant for public consumption -- like all of Andy's work. I like the telling, about other celebrities -- John Travolta: hello. And the pictures of Andy's boyfriend, Jed, who was a twin, and who was beautiful.

Less than Zero. I read this at fourteen. If anyone had paid attention, I probably shouldn't have, but I did. I loved the bleakness of this book. The language, the despair, the cocaine. It was confirmation of what I thought might be true about LA. That it was sunshine on the outside, and something dark and damp right under the surface, black and bottomless. I had been to southern California,  had been to Hollywood even as a little girl, and felt it then, the pull of something terrible. There was the repetition of the phrase Disappear Here. The cars and pools and repeated TV screens. And tragic, doomed Julian.

Possession. I first read this at eighteen, and then a few times since, and it changes for me every time. It's probably not traditionally considered a queer book, but it's queer all over the place. Not just in the relationship between the two women, the poet and the painter living quietly together. The painter's sharp neuroses, but even the straight relationships are queered a little. The way they finally come together, the images of the empty white bed. Beautiful, cold Maud. It's a book extraordinarily aware of the body, and the body as separate, as closed off from other bodies, the body alone. So much so that the collisions are finally shattering.

Written on the Body. So sly and so beautiful. I think I read this at about nineteen, some summer in between college semesters. This book made me want to write. It made me want to write about love, and about the body, in small, beautiful, crushing ways.

Really, every book shapes you. Every book becomes what you want it to be for you. The magic of these books was the language, the emotion, the revelation, finally, of what it means to be, not just human, but a separate bubble, colliding, like Pynchon's kiss of cosmic pool balls.

The beauty of queer to me is that it's complicated. It's not either / or. It's both / and. It all those letters before and then some. It shifts beneath your feet. So if you were expecting a blanket coming out statement somewhere in this post, there it is. It's more complicated than one sentence. It's a fragment and a run-on. It breaks all the rules, of grammar, and logic, and otherwise. Like love.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Hello Universe

The universe woke me up this morning. This is markedly different than the way I've woken up the last few mornings, gripped with panic, shaky and exhausted from not sleeping.

Yesterday, I saw a job posting that spoke directly to me. It was a two-year position, with the possibility of tenure track, for a 20th century Americanist, literature and theory heavy, a 2 / 3 load, at a small, prestigious college that just happens to be right up the street.

Where were you five years ago? This is the question I plan to ask my students today, with the follow up of where they will be five years from now. Five years ago, in 2007, I was still thinking of myself as a 20th century Americanist, still working through the coursework of a PhD. I was writing on Baudrillard, jazz and the Cold War, the birth and death of the American suburbs.

And then I stopped. I was unfunded. I was driving an average of 300 miles a week back and forth to Binghamton. My reason was simple and practical. Even if I did finish the PhD, I wasn't going on a national job market. It wasn't enough for me just to have it -- especially when I was paying for it. I didn't see the sense in having a PhD -- in hand, as they say -- only to sit around and wait for a job to open up at a local college. What are the chances of that happening?

Apparently, pretty good. There it is. The job. Within walking distance.

And me, without a PhD in hand, or even in progress.

What's the message in that, universe? The job that I never though possible is right in front of me, and it's not mine to have. Why?

Because it's not mine to have.

I talked with a friend, whose opinion and insight I trust, about the position, and about that fact that with the choices I'd made -- despite some really crazy coincidences -- it wasn't possible anymore.

Instead, he said, Work on your novel.

All panic aside, I'm going to try not to forget that. Sometimes the signs from the universe are subtle. Sometimes you miss them. And sometimes, they wake you up in the morning, after letting you sleep in, and rock your shoulder, reminding you to get to work.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Post-AWP Post, or the Publishing Trifecta

The universe threw me a ball last week. Not a curve ball. Not even fast pitch. More like a lob that said, Hey, are you still in this? I caught it. Here are three very awesome things that happened at AWP last week:

The Carve Magazine Esoteric Award: This year's theme was LGBTQ. I found out Thursday morning that my story, "Angels," was one of four winners. This is huge for me. Not long ago, I told Georgia that I really wanted to win a queer award soon. As someone whose first book is maybe two-thirds queer, this is nice recognition, a reminder, and acknowledgement.

I had the pleasure of meeting Matthew Limpede, the editor at Carve, who told me in person that not only did the story break his heart, but that they were shocked to find that the story -- whose main characters are both male -- had been written by a woman. That made me happy. Not because I want to masquerade as something other, but because that balance is important to me. I like to disappear inside of fiction. So what he said reinforced that it's possible.

my very first MR
The Mississippi Review 30th Anniversary Issue. I lost sleep over this baby. I knew it was coming out, and did not know until I saw it whether or not I would be included in it. Of course, MR launched my career. Without Frederick Barthelme's complete faith in me, not only would my publishing have occurred at a slower pace, but I would have spent more time doubting myself. I know no one so gracious or inspiring.

So, before I knew I'd been included, I grabbed my old grad school friend, Barrett Bowlin, editor now of Memorious, and told him to come with me, because if I wasn't in it, tears were imminent. Barrett's tough. He's a dad and a husband. He's seen some tears. When we got to the MR table, though, editor Elizabeth Wagner handed me a copy. Take one, she said. You're in it.

No tears. In fact, it was much the opposite. This is a huge anthology, and tremendous company: Margaret Atwood, Joyce Carol Oates, Raymond Carver, Rick Moody, Amy Hempel . . . to name just a few. MR's been a huge part of my writing life, so it's great to see Rick's tenure there properly recognized, and compiled into such a beautiful book.

Ocean State Review.  A day after the MR 30 and "Angels" flurry, I walked over to the Barrow Street table, to see if the new Ocean State Review was out, and they were handing out flyers of recent contributors. My name was on it. I grabbed it. Wait, I said. Wait.

I just about drove the intern crazy.

Um, that's me, I said.

Oh, he said. No one told you?

We went back and forth. Apparently, not only had they accepted my story, "Knoxville," but there was, as editor Peter Covino said, a buzz about it.

This story had come close -- been named a finalist -- the year before at American Short Fiction, but ultimately lost. It's a hard story, one I worked on for over a year, hammering through the old song, Knoxville Girl -- a murder ballad so old, no one knows its exact origins -- and fleshing out the boy, Will, and the poor roving eyed girl, only to kill her all over. I love this story. It's violent, and terrible. Biblical and trashy.

Needless to say, I was thrilled.

What are you? Fiction or poetry?
poems, mostly.
Some other highlights from AWP: I was totally on about the lace tights. You couldn't avoid them. The men have begun to look less scraggly and more Mad Men. The women, influenced by Downton Abbey. Seriously, AWP fashion is a big deal. I saw more Edwardian looking buns than I have since a Merchant Ivory film.

In the meantime, I'll be home in my own lace tights, trying to catch up on writing. Of all the pins and stickers handed out at book fair tables -- including my usual favorite Lets Make Out -- there was one that simply said, Remember who you wanted to be. That's always the benefit of AWP for me.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Pre-AWP Post

This evening, I'm taking the train to Chicago. It's an overnight trip, 9:30 to 10:45 the next morning. I've never taken a train, other than a slow Adirondack scenic one. My idea of train travel comes from the movies, Strangers on a Train, or North by Northwest. Like, should I wear a hat? A chignon? The hotel we're staying in is historic and grande, full of gold and chandeliers.

What do I expect? AWP is overwhelming. My best analogy is that it's like the New York State Fair. You end up carrying around bags of stuff, walking a lot, eating too much, or too little, drinking too much. It can be loud. There's a lot of people watching to do. I know a lot of people who like to complain about it. It's too much, too taxing, too stressful, too everything. But really, it's kind of awesome.

There will be men in beards. Somehow, the male writer population under 40 or so all look like Zach Galifianakis to me. There will be impossibly thin women in lace tights. They tend to look a little gaunt. A little sad. I think they might be poets.

I'm giving a reading . . . of poems. I will not be thin, though, or sad, or wearing lace tights. I'm on a panel celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Comstock Review, who will publish two poems of mine in forthcoming issues. I'm joined by managing editor, Georgia Popoff, (aka, travel buddy, roommate, bff), and poets Quraysh Ali Lansana, and Bertha Rogers, who also runs the fantastic Bright Hill Press and Literary Center.

The best parts: seeing people you haven't seen since last year, or the year before. Meeting up at the hotel bar at the end of a long day. New people. Connecting names with faces at literary magazines and presses. Seeing who has the best book fair swag. A great city, and a huge lake. 

The worst part: there isn't one. But I'll report back next week.

If you'd like the daily dish, follow me on Twitter.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Origins of the Novel

The first time I wrote and finished a novel I was sixteen. I wrote it in Mead notebooks in class, and sometimes at home. After I wrote the whole thing out in notebooks, I typed it on a plastic Smith Corona at a desk in the basement. I still have the desk (it's in my office). I still have the notebooks (they're in the attic). The Smith Corona is missing in action.

Yes, officer. I'm 16.
I would post a picture here of what I looked like at sixteen, but this should do it: I had an uncanny resemblance to the Les Miz poster. The picture on my first license looks just like that. Minus the flag.

Probably, the novel was ok. It was about a boy -- who was seventeen, had a single mom and some weird daddy issues. He was tall and beautiful, and had burgundy hair. He loved a girl, who was Ivory girl pretty, super smart, shy and bookish. Her parents were stuffy. They didn't like him or his looks or his single, cigarette smoking mom. They had sex. She got punished by her parents and was forbidden to see him. They ran away and her smooth talking, crazy -- did I mention crazy? -- boyfriend talked her into suicide, all while kind of ad hoc quoting some Keats.

I remember when I finished it. I was at the bar in my parents' house, and it was close to midnight on New Year's Eve. I remember that feeling of writing the last few words in pen, and closing the notebook.

Also, this is what I thought life was probably like. You meet a boy, you get in trouble, you have to die. No way out.

Heh. I'm so not changing the end of Daniel Deronda.
As far as I know, my mom knew I was writing it, but didn't read it. When I told her what it was about, and roughly how it ended. She told me -- very seriously -- that I had better change it.

Also, this wasn't the first novel. The first one -- same boy, slightly different circumstances -- involved the same single mom, but included her abusive boyfriend. This guy was an asshole. And the kid, he's so sweet, so pretty, so shy. He had a friend, too. A sassy younger kid, even prettier. The mom's boyfriend had a bad habit of beating the shit out of my character. Their apartment was grim, dark and run down. The porch slanted toward the street, and the kids had a habit of sneaking in and out of an upstairs window in the middle of the night.

This was eighth grade. My mom read parts of it, and told me -- matter of factly -- that perhaps the boyfriend was misunderstood. And maybe the mom was misunderstood too. Maybe she shouldn't be painted as such a terrible person for staying with the boyfriend.

My genesis for this triangle: David Copperfield. I was in love/hate with Mr. Murdstone. Plus, his name was Murdstone!

My mom's sensitivity: life. Except that I didn't know it. Sure I had gleaned some details from the past, and I'd first hand witnessed some violence. But I wasn't after her, or her story. I was writing my own. It was fiction.

As for the suicide, it was the biggest crescendo I could built. The biggest. And I was sixteen. I needed a big finish. There was no subtle and then they work things out in the moonlight for me. It was go big or go home. To die.

No one has told me I had better change anything -- for its being too close to the truth -- for a long time. But everyone still looks for themselves, still assumes they know where it came from and what it's about.

But it's fiction.

Monday, January 23, 2012

A Joy and Pleasure to Have in Class

It was my most common report card comment: a joy and pleasure to have in class. Second to this one were comments about being too social, and comments about not working up to potential. Last week, in the midst of trying to teach Kieran statistics, I admitted to him that I only made it through half of what was then Sequential 3 math, also known as trigonometry.

I dropped out after I got a 50 on the midterm. It was really abstract. More so than any math I'd had. And while I wasn't opposed to abstraction -- I probably preferred it -- I just couldn't make my head pay attention.

Also, I had a novel to write.

I spent the 40 minutes of trig every day writing. I was working on my first attempt at a novel, and some stories that were really exciting to me. That year -- 11th grade -- I was reading Lolita and The Great Gatsby. I was immersed in French language and culture and wanted only to take more art than my school could possibly offer, or than I would be allowed after I'd filled up on all my requirements.

I remember going up to the teacher on the day I dropped and he said, What have you been doing all this time?

I said, Writing.

Really, he said. He was smirky. Smarmy. He used to tell us if we wanted to sit there and be stupid we could go right ahead. I'd told him I was writing so that he would know I wasn't sitting there being stupid.

Good luck with that, he said.

What might have happened? If I'd been immersed in writing back then, instead of taking math, instead of finding something to fall back on, something to make money with: a job teaching, a job at the bank, as a nurse. How much time did I waste, trying to be something that would earn a paycheck instead of something I loved? I did it again and again: in high school, in college, in graduate school. Any step I could take to get away from writing I would.

It probably matters less why now than it does that I have recognized it and stopped it. I gained something in the stalling, mostly in the form of people, especially in the form of children.

But get this: I wasn't outwardly subversive. I was a pleasure. A joy to have in class. I had learned early on not to be a thorn in anyone's side so I kept my rebellion to myself.

For too long.

What's to do now but move forward? And make sure that my own kids don't repeat the same pattern and shelve what they love for what's practical, for what an administrator tells them they should do, because that's what everyone does, everyone who wants to be uniquely just like everyone else.

There is no report card comment that says: this kid is crazy driven to do something we're not doing here, so we're encouraging her to do so. There is compliance and non-compliance.

I'm not suggesting a free-for-all, do whatever you want curriculum. I'm a huge supporter of the liberal arts education, especially when it's integrated.

But I'm just also a fan of what Nietzsche called "a long obedience in the same direction," because "there results, and always has resulted in the long run, something which has made life worth living."

And that has nothing to do with compliance. I want that on my report card.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Someday this will be a movie starring Drew Barrymore

I have work quitting or at least work flipping out fantasies. Among the best of these: Tom Cruise's flip out in Jerry Maguire . . .

and my favorite, Jim Carrey's back to you, fuckers, from Bruce Almighty . . .

Last week, I gave up $10,000. And while I didn't exactly flip out, or flip anyone off, I did sort of come to a screeching halt.

Last spring I was contacted to offer a couple of creative writing courses at Syracuse University: a lucky break for me. It was part-time work (aka adjuncting) but it paid well, and . .  well, it was SU. While I may have misgivings on the prestige of the big school for a lot of things (especially having gone to Le Moyne) I was not about to argue with the reputation of the creative writing program. Also, I could be teaching the next Lou Reed.

It went well. By which I mean to say, I liked it, but what I liked most about it was teaching creatively. I was also teaching a writing intensive on the interpretation of fiction: which is just what you think it is: a lot of interpreting, snow = death, inscribing pens = penises kind of thing.

In the fall, two sections of gender and lit opened up for the spring. Another writing intensive with even more pens, but with the added inscripted body, queer theory,  and performativity too.

It was a lot of work. And a good opportunity to show my mettle: gender / queer theory would have been one of my field exams, had I finished my Ph.D.

Ok: I have a problem with quitting.

I did this once before, my first time around in graduate school, in 1996. I had lost my funding. My first year, I was fully funded, working as an editorial assistant for Medieval & Renaissance Texts & Studies (MRTS). When it closed, and moved from Binghamton, I was shit outta luck. In fact, that might be the official language of the English department. I remember a shrug, and a I dunno coming from the chair when I went in to ask where else they could place me.

So my second year, I took a full time job as a proofreader / styles editor at Maple-Vail Book Manufacturing. When I thought I was going to get to read all of the Norton Anthologies (and get paid $7/ hour) I instead got to read an entire textbook on bovine venereal diseases. Seriously, inflamed cow vulva is nothing to laugh at.

I was studying full-time, working full-time and by October, I was pregnant. By December, I had to quit something, and the only thing I couldn't quit was being pregnant. (Yes, I know I could have. The baby was planned. I know. Who plans a baby in grad school? I do.)

So I left everything. School (leave of absence). Work. Binghamton. I found I could do one thing right then and that was have this baby.

Now, fifteen years later, I'm in the same boat. After struggling through the middle school years and watching my brilliant, (yes, I said brilliant) under-motivated son go from top of his class in Liverpool to bottom of his class in Clinton,* I decided something radical needed to be done. In the midst of a whole lot of bullshit sometimes you need to focus on one thing.

I pulled him out of school.

No one at the school district knows what to do with him. When I say this, I mean I haven't gotten any idea or solution from them that says "lets try this" that isn't just punishment. He doesn't need punishment. He needs inspiration.

We're in the midst of liberating here. We're homeschooling. And unschooling. And for the time being, following our curiosity towards doing whatever the fuck we want. To facilitate this, I quit my two writing intensives for spring. My move was deemed "unprecedented" by the department.

Unprecedented because I pulled out so close to the start of classes. Also, I expect, because in a highly competitive academic milieu, leaving for family issues just makes you a mom, when they thought you were a professional. Unprecedented because how could you give up $10,000 to stop everything and figure out how to teach your most important student? If I were a legit, full-time employee I might have been able to finagle a leave of absence, but when you operate as a satellite, they just kind of cut you loose.**

As always, I second-guess myself. I asked for a lot of advice. I got a lot of advice. A lot of it was super helpful. And I'm still getting lots of advice. I expect it will continue. Everyone (but the school, apparently) has ideas about how to raise and teach a child.

We had a meeting with the principal and the guidance counselor last week. A meeting where I expected to be offered some insight, some proposal, but what I got instead was a version of them telling on him, and what the told me was what I already knew. What I was prepared to say, instead, and what we did say, in a longer, more formal way was I got this.

You know what, I got this. Thanks anyway. And for the time being, I have to let go and not feel bad about my unprecedented decision to stop teaching 60 students in favor of teaching one.

*I'm not pitching some east cost / west coast Liverpool / Clinton thing here. Chances are, he would have done the same thing in Liverpool. But the reality is that he never got the chance to shine at Clinton. He was tracked into mediocrity and stayed there, and partially, my gut tells me that's because no one tried very hard to get to know him or notice his particular understated sparkle. That's right. I said sparkle.

** Also, yes, I know I am privileged to be able to make this decision at all. In another household, mommy would just keep working, and junior would just keep failing. Losing 10k is hard for us, but it's not the end. I'm not the sole or even the main breadwinner. And I'm still teaching one class: the fiction workshop.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

I Am Woman, Hear Me Mew

I've seen two posts recently that caught my eye: the first was an anti-rape poster that is directed at men. As in, Men, you have the power to stop rape from happening. Innovative. Most rape prevention materials are aimed at women. As in, Rape is inevitable, so here's what you need to do to protect yourself. In fact, most involve techniques for self defense, martial arts, or in some cases, handguns, and the most extreme: the newly invented South African female condom that has teeth. 

That's right: teeth. Because what better way to stop men from raping women than to threaten them back with a vagina that might chew your dick off. Other effective ways to stop men from raping: shoot them. Beat them with your fists. Oh, and pepper spray. Because apparently, men are completely incapable of controlling themselves.

In the men's ad, the tagline is "My strength is not for hurting." It acknowledges, maybe even panders to, men's power, the power of male sexuality. It's so powerful you can't stop it without excessive force. In fact, what the Rape-aXe essentially says is, You can't stop them from going in, so you might as well hurt them while they're in there.

The second post that caught my attention was a tweet from Pank magazine that read something like: not interested in stories that use the word "cougar" to describe female sexuality in women over thirty.

What's wrong with the word cougar?

In the rape-prevention ad, male strength is honored. Men are strong. Men can rape. It's within their power not to.

When you use the word cougar, you acknowledge that female sexuality -- when not infantile -- is dangerous. It can eat you alive. It has teeth. And can outrun you.

By contrast, Maybelline has a new product, Baby Lips -- a lip balm which promises to give you back the lips you were born with. It's winter. Who doesn't need lip balm? But the ad features a young model with girlish looks -- girlish as in babyish. Big lips, big teeth, wide vacant eyes. In one shot, she pulls a string of bubble gum out of her mouth, twirling it like a kid would. The product's tag line? Get back the lips you were born with. Doublespeak. It's as much an ad for lip balm as it is for virginity, and you're kidding yourself if you don't think so. Vaginal rejuvenation has come to Central New York.* Which means it's pretty much everywhere. What's next? Anti-aging labia cream? Wait, do they already make that?

What I learned from these two posts: you need to pussy-foot around men's power and the inevitability of force. Or grow some teeth. But when women over thirty are powerfully sexual -- and God forbid, assertive -- it's essentially deadly. Kinda sexy, but deadly. You're better off being a really hot baby.

*I hate even giving this guy a plug. And yes, the center for women's incontinence is run by Dr. Sopp. Some stuff you can't make up.