A new favorite. I didn’t know that all my life I’d been looking for a fable about queers loving and working together as they prepare to destroy the patriarchy. Or “the men” in Mitchell’s parlance:
The first revolutions destroyed the great cultures of the women. Once the men triumphed, all that was other from them was considered inferior and therefore worthy only of abuse and contempt and extinction. Stories told of these times are of heroic action and terrifying defeat and silent waiting. Stories told of these times make the faggots and their friends weep.
The second revolutions made many of the people less poor and a small group of men without color very rich. With craftiness and wit the faggots and their friends are able to live in this time, some in comfort and some in defiance. The men remain enchanted by plunder and destruction. The men are deceived easily and so the faggots and their friends have nearly enough to eat and more than enough time to think about what it means to be alive as the third revolutions are beginning.
It’s a short book. Over the course of it, the faggots and their friends help each other stay alive and sane in Ramrod, a place run by the men. These friends include the women, the [drag] queens, the [radical] fairies, the faggatinas and the dykelets. Even the “queer men” who dress and walk among the men, “using all the tricks their fathers taught them” and at night go out and cruise the faggots.
One of the beautiful things about this book, which is full of beauty and wisdom and even pretty line drawings, is how generous it is with its spirit. It is easy as an out and proud faggot to hate on the closeted “queer men” in this book. I’ve done it myself: big vocal public anger at Larry Craig types who work to protect and maintain straight power, and then try to also reap the joys of queer sex.
You don’t get to have both unless everyone gets to have both. You pricks should be locked up for life.
Mitchell, as I’ve said, is more generous. Here’s how he ends the page on the queer men:
It’s the most beautiful book I’ve read about solidarity.
That it’s a book everyone should read doesn’t, probably, go without saying. Maybe isn’t readily apparent. If I’m making it seem like this book (from 1977 and out of print, but any easy googling will turn up a PDF) isn’t for you straight friends of us faggots, if I’m making it seem like something niche, or a relic, know that this book gave me the clearest lesson on what the patriarchy is, at heart, and not just why but how to fight it.
I’ll leave you with one more bit to inspire you, one I’m planning to hang over my desk at work:
Abandoned halfway through. This book is Not For Me. I think I failed to take its title literally enough: this is a how-to book for folks between their quarter- and mid-life crises. If All Advice Is Autobiographical, this book is a memoir, but one directed at a You I couldn’t quite step into:
Breakups make me feel old and haggard, all used up. Getting a new hairdo or a shot of Botox lifts me out of dumps. Even a mani-pedi and an eyebrow wax remind me to take care of myself?an outward manifestation of all the inner self-care breakups require of you, and a continuation of the declaration of self-love that you made when you dumped that fool. Oh, wait?the fool dumped you? As we say in 12-step, rejection is God’s protection! The Universe is looking out for you by taking away someone who was bringing you down. Give thanks by getting a facial.
What makes this Not For Me has little to do with gender (I like mani-pedis and restorative skincare treatments). It’s got a little more, perhaps, to do with age, but mostly it has to do with my looking for wisdom these days beyond 12-step bromides and This Worked For Me So It’ll Totally Work For You advice. But here’s where I’m trying to take this post: I can recall a time when I would’ve finished this book and set it aside a satisfied customer. Tea’s book’s being Not For Me is all about me, not her book.
Reading it brought me back to my first term teaching at USF. I had a student who wrote flash essays in this Tea-ish/How-To vein, specifically about how the reader might go about self-treating their depression without needing drugs or therapy. Self-care tips. Streetwise, This Worked For Me anecdotes. Assumptions that the reader’s life/background/belief system were in line with the author’s.
I was a shrewd, ungenerous reader of this work, aiming in my feedback to bring it all around to what I knew as Classic, Universal Essay Form: lengthen and enrich the structures, deploy more psychic distance between the narrator- and character-selves, etc. I wrote honest marginalia about how the You being spoken to was not me and was presuming things about me I couldn’t agree with.
The student protested: maybe I was reading it wrong, or unfamiliar with the style.
I counter-protested: how else can I help you but by reading this as I am, and gearing my feedback/revisions toward The General Reader?
Reading Tea, I saw at last an example of how I was wrong. If pushed in that classroom to describe The General Reader, I imagine I’d describe a man with a background and reading history closely aligned to my own. It is clear on every page of Tea’s book that whatever her notion of The General Reader might be, it’s not a 40-year-old professor who stays mostly at home and distrusts even the slightest interest in fashion and material objects.
The General Reader doesn’t exist. Not universally. It’s something I always try to keep in mind in the classroom: how is this work asking to be read? What do I know of the writing process (not The Essay Form) that can help this student see their work more deeply and develop it to the end.
I don’t know what I would do if handed Tea’s book in a workshop, but I know I wouldn’t do or say anything without listening to her first about what the work is, to her, and where she wants to go with it.
A graphic memoir about a young girl in the world of mid-level competitive figure skating, who comes out as queer and comes to realize she has to leave skating behind. What’s beautiful about it are Walden’s colors and her use of rhythm and pacing, how she moves from small and tight panels to wider and more expansive ones. Examples are hard to quote, so to speak, but here’s a couple of JPGs I could find.
It’s just that deep violet color throughout, unless there’s light in the scene, and contrasting light: the sharp angles of early morning sunrises, or the glow of litup windows in a dark evening, car headlights at dusk. When that yellow appears on the page it’s like a trumpet or melodic refrain you’ve been waiting for.
The matter-of-factness about her queerness and coming out to family and friends was a smart touch, because this is a story hanging its narrative on other ongoing conflicts. And as with all coming-out narratives I felt that same pang of envy and self-loathing. To have even known I was gay at Walden’s age….
Much less had the guts to tell others.
I was amazed by the insight into the power and purpose of memoir from an artist just 20 years old at the book’s publication. Here she is in her author’s note:
I think for some people the purpose of a memoir is to really display the facts, to share the story exactly as it happened. And while I worked to make sure this story was as honest as possible, that was never the point for me. This book was never about sharing memories; it was about sharing a feeling. I don’t care what year that competition was or what dress I was actually wearing; I care about how it felt to be there, how it felt to win. And that’s why I avoided all memorabilia. It seemed like driving to the rink to take a look or finding the pictures from my childhood iPhone would tell a different story, an external story. I wanted every moment in this book to come from my own head, with all its flaws and inconsistencies.
I like this idea of how researching the facts/memorabilia of one’s life can push a story to the exterior, rather than keeping it true to feeling, which is to say true to emotion, intellect, and art.
I love the sad wisdom in these lines, which is a sad wisdom that runs throughout this collection. I’d only before heard Sax’s poems, at two readings here in San Francisco, where he spent a number of years. He’s from the performance poetry school: some poems were memorized, some asked the audience to woop at certain breaks, all seemed to draw mysterious things out from his body, which is sturdy and self-possessed about how it fills the space it takes up, like a dancer’s.
Echoes from his past performances came to my ear as I read certain poems, that voice, but on the whole these pages were filled in a variety of ways. Space and line working toward effects beyond what the voice alone can do. The concerns throughout are with mental health, physical health, ailments, drugs, addiction, sex, and the body and its transactions. Sax is younger than me by a number of years, but smarter than me in a host of ways about queerness and ways of being queer in the world we, as above, find ourselves just living in.
how technology can move
from its corrupt origins
i have to remember the internet
began inside the murder
corridors of a war machine
each time i link to a poem
or watch two queers kiss
“Queers” and not “men”, note. Also that cleaving of sex to poetry, or poetry to sex. “[T]he homosexual since his invention has been a creature held captive in the skull,” he writes in “On Trepanation” (the practice of sawing open a hole in the skull), and it’s a sentiment I felt in my bones. What made this book a gift was how readily Sax found salvation within this world, the one here, outside the skull. Because “heaven’s a city / we’ve been priced out of”, his speakers are here to make as much of this life as they can, no matter the costs.
spare me the lecture
on the survival
of my body
& i will spare you my body
Because I tend to be a late adopter of certain trends and habits.
Because even as late as 2017 the message I hear in the conversations about books, and stories in particular, is that the most important stories (and the stories most valued) out there are about A Man and A Woman.
Because if not “important” or “valuable”, then what One-Man-One-Woman stories often get called is “universal”.
Because If not A Man and A Woman, then the other best/important/valuable stories are sagas of families, as distinguished by sexual reproduction and hereditary bloodlines.
Because I’m a queer writer writing a queer book, and I’d like to get a sense of the conversations I hope to step into.
Because my knowledge of queer books has centered for too long on Books By Gay Men, and it’s time to rectify that.
Because in trying to figure out why I wasn’t enjoying Call My Be Your Name (the movie) I kept asking myself “Would I keep watching this is if it were about a man and a young woman?” and I realized I would not.
Because calling Call My Be Your Name a queer story when the story itself invests so much of its energy in not calling queerness by its name feels inaccurate.
Because if CMBYN is a straight story by/about queer people I’d like to start finding queer books by queer people, because, again, I’m a queer person writing what I hope is a queer book.
Because, in the end, queers are my people, and I’ve spent too long convinced otherwise.
You can follow along with my year of queer reading on Goodreads.
[This is going to be a useless and boring post for anyone not looking to nab a convenient Global Entry interview at the San Francisco International Airport. (Or not my mom.) But because the information on how to navigate these waters is (from official govt. sites) hidden or (from Yelp and other such places) wrong and misleading, I thought I’d do a public service here. You’ve been warned. Click away.]
On April 11, 2017, I got the notification that I was approved for Global Entry, and was invited to schedule an interview to complete my application. I logged onto the official system and the soonest appointment was in November. (I’m flying abroad in late May.) This is because Republicans have defunded the government, and we should all feel nationally disgusted.
Neal found online that SFO accepted walk-ins, meaning you didn’t have to wait until your official appointment. Here are some notions from the general wisdom online (all of these are false/no longer true, btw):
The SFO Global Entry office only takes 6 walk-ins a day.
Walk-ins are only accepted first-thing in the morning; or, similarly, to be accepted as a walk-in, you have to be there before the office opens (at 7am).
To ensure being seen, you should show up before 5am.
Again, ALL OF THIS IS WRONG. IT’S WRONG. DON’T LISTEN.
Here’s what happened with us, today, Thursday May 4, 2017:
Reading Yelp reviews of this, we decided to show up just before noon.
We parked, as folks suggested, in the G garage, but the G garage wasn’t initially visible. First you have to follow signs for International Terminal, then once you are heading there go to International Hourly Parking, and THEN you’ll see a sign for the A and G garage. You for sure want G (to the left).
We arrived at the Global Entry office (follow the clear signs) right at noon. There were maybe 20 people sitting and standing around. We were discouraged, having thought from online reading that we’d get seen within minutes.
Within ten minutes, an officer came out of the locked office with clipboards. He first asked if anyone had an appointment. A number of people did. They got checked in, and were thus at the top of the list.
Neal said we were walk-ins and asked if there was a signup sheet. The officer handed it over and Neal put our names in, along with the Program Membership numbers that were written on our Global Entry approval letters. (Print this out or screenshot it on your phone if you can’t print.)
We were in the middle of the second page of walk-in signups. There were 10 names ahead of us in line.
How It Goes I: Every 10 minutes, an officer comes out. They ask first “Anyone have an appointment?” If they have an appointment that day, they will get invited inside first. It doesn’t matter when their appointment is. If their appointment is 3 hours away, they will be ushered in. Always.
How It Goes II: If no one around has an appointment, they will announce the next name on the walk-in list. So: If you don’t get your name on the walk-in list you will never be seen.
Just before 1pm, an officer announced that they were taking no more names on the walk-in list until the 3pm shift started. How many total names were there on the list at that point? I don’t know. My guess if that 5 or 6 more walk-in folks showed up after us.
By 1:15/1:20 it was clear that all the appointment folks had all been seen. More and more folks from the walk-in list were being called. Also: many of those walk-in folks who’d shown up hours ago had given up and left.
Neal got called right before 1:30. I got called around 1:45, having to wait for a number of 1:30 appointment folks to show up and get seen. One guy had a 3:30 appointment, but still got to leap ahead of us all. So: If you have an appointment SHOW UP THAT DAY WHENEVER YOU’D LIKE and you’ll get ushered warmly inside.
We were back at the garage at 2pm. It cost $20 total to park, paid via our Fastrak.
Where our federal government is so visibly awful is when it comes to transportation. This is not a failure of Government as a concept, it is a function of post-80s life in the United States (i.e., the only life I’ve ever known). It’s unconscionable that we were told we had to wait six months to complete our application?our application not to be accosted in customs?when the truth of the matter is we just had to show up on any random afternoon and be seen in good time. But that’s the world we’ve chosen to live in.
To say nothing of how much money it cost to get a passport ($135) or to enroll in Global Entry ($100). To say nothing of how much time it cost to get these: 2 hours to prepare req’d materials and visit a post office to apply for a passport; 3+ hours to apply for and get interviewed for Global Entry. All this aside from the cost of traveling abroad. Leaving the country is now a privilege for the wealthy, which is another shame we should all nationally feel. The United States?in the name of, what…? national security??makes it extraordinarily difficult to leave the country and see how life is lived elsewhere.
I’m one person with strong ideas, so read all of the below with as much skepticism as helps. Also: nothing in here can guarantee you’ll get into the MFA program of your choice. Your writing sample is going to do the major lifting there.
But I’ve been reading MFA applications for five years now at two very different programs, and as a person with strong ideas I see the same misfires come up enough that I thought I might write this guide to help. It’s a weird thing to write, an SOP, particularly when your purpose for MFA school seems ignoble. You’re out of options. You’re afraid of office environments. You’re sick of the town you live in. You’re tired of just reading books but have no idea how to write them, and you trust higher education so much that you want to run back there to learn how.
Those were pretty much my purposes. They tell you why I wanted to go to grad school, but they don’t tell you what I planned to do there, which is one of the things I’m looking for when I read SOPs.
what I’m looking for.
I want to know how we’re going to work together. The best SOPs give me a sense of what kind of student the applicant will be in and out of the classroom. It tells me what the work alone can’t. I’ve found this comes down to two data points I always want in an SOP but rarely get:
A sense of the applicant’s plan for how they’re going to spend their time here.
Some evidence the applicant is thinking critically about their own work.
So many applicants treat the SOP as a kind of defense: explain to readers why they are most deserving of admission. Or even crazier: why they desire it more than any other applicant. You are not in competition with other applicants. (Not in this way, at least.) So, never begin with a story about how you’ve always wanted to write, or were born a writer, or a reader, how at a young age you wrote poems or novels or read the backs of cereal boxes. I just don’t care about it. And why I don’t care is that I’ve never been shown how a lifelong love for writing translates to success in graduate work. The logic of it seems wrong. People come to our program having discovered writing very late in life, with maybe two years of experience behind them, and they succeed as incredibly hard-working students who improve dramatically in two years and go off to write the rest of their lives. Are they for some reason less deserving of admission because they didn’t write their first illustrated novel at age eight?
I was one of them. I came to my grad program after just like a year or two of thinking I wanted to try to be a writer. So maybe I’m reacting personally here, but even if I am, the truth of SOPs is that 75 percent of them begin with some story on how the applicant has been writing since they were little. Maybe even 80 percent. And if there’s one thing you shouldn’t do in an SOP, it’s something that everyone else is also doing. The SOP is just as much a place to stand out as the sample is (though see “more don’t” #1 below).
It does help to give me a sense of who you are and how you came to want to apply to our program. But it’s at most 20%-of-your-total-SOP important.
Instead, focus on your plan. Not why you want to come here but how you imagine spending your time once you’re here. You have two or three short stories and you’d really like to write enough to end up with a full collection, but you don’t know how to do that. You’ve written a lot of poems but they all look the same and have the same sense of the line and you’d like to expand your understanding of what else poetry is and can do. You want to focus for two hard years on your novel. You want to dabble in every genre and emerge a well-rounded writer. Whatever it is. Ask yourself: what’s the best way I can imagine spending my time in my MFA? Then tell me about it. Talk to me about the work you want to work on.
With your plan, always be personal, honest, and specific. Write what is honestly relevant to you and where you are, not what you think I want to hear from “an applicant”. And by “specific” I mean avoid the generic ideas everyone puts in their SOPs. Everyone wants to find themselves immersed in a community of writers. Everyone wants the time to focus on their own writing. Everyone wants to grow in a supportive environment. Don’t do what everyone else is doing in the SOP.
your own work.
So much of MFA instruction involves thinking critically about other people’s creative work that it helps to see your ability to do this kind of work with your own. Looking specifically at your writing sample, or at the stuff you’re writing more generally, what do you feel are its strengths, and what do you feel you need help with? What is your work doing that other writers’ work is not doing? What are you concerned with as a writer that you wonder why others aren’t as concerned with? Do you celebrate a kind of regionalism in your work? Is it important that you depict the lives of sex-positive people, given the oppressive role of shaming in our culture? Is it time, do you think, for a return to the 5¶ essay form?[*] And don’t be afraid to talk about weaknesses. We want to know what we can help you with. Do you find dialogue a challenge? Does it feel like your essays are too narrow in focus, or that you rely too much on outside research?
Knowing you’re thinking critically about your writing tells me you’re ready to be a writing student.
It’s often a good idea to include some explanation on why you’re applying to that program specifically. This is tricky, because you’re probably applying to multiple programs. Yes, I think you should tailor your SOP to each individual program. Don’t use the same reasons for every school you’re applying to. Don’t just find-replace to swap out “University of Iowa” with “University of Michigan” or wherever you want to apply. Again (see above), know that everyone else is doing this.[†]
Instead say something honest. Most people want to come to USF because they love San Francisco. That’s fine. That’s 100% perfectly fine and well and good. We hope to be the best MFA program in the Bay Area. We actively try to make connections to SF’s literary history and community. If that’s the only reason you’re applying, great. Fine. Well and good. It’s specific. If you sincerely like that we have cross-genre courses, or something else you’ve found on our Web site, also great.
But don’t blow smoke up our asses. Just be honest. With everyone. If you want to go to Iowa because it’s the oldest and most prestigious MFA program in the country, great. It’s your loss, but say that.
The SOP, I feel, is not the place to show off your creativity. Your writing sample is the place to show off your creativity. This is the place to show off your teachability. Or if that sounds too passive or Orwellian, then think of it as the place to show your readiness to learn and work. So can it with the vivid verbs and dramatized moments of discovery.
Maybe don’t mention any faculty members by name. It can be a bummer to read an SOP that mentions many of my colleagues by name but not me. Especially when the SOP lists every single NF professor except me. Do I get over it? Of course. Can you ever know who will read your SOP? No. Is it your job not to damage the fragile psyche of neurotic, insecure writer-teachers? No. But still: it’s a bummer. Best not to bum me out before I’ve read your sample.
Don’t say that getting your MFA will help you realize your dream of teaching, especially at the college level. This makes us feel bad because it’s untrue. MFA degrees don’t guarantee anything in this job market, and most of the time there’s nothing we faculty members can do about it. That’s a dean- or state-admin-level problem. If you want to teach, it’s not impossible, but use the SOP to focus on your time in the program, not what you’ll hope will come after. (So don’t talk about wanting an agent or book deal, either. There’ll be time to get there once you’re in.)
I should say I’ve never passed on an applicant because of anything they wrote in an SOP. Again, it’s the writing sample that matters. Also, I’ve never made the lone decision on an application. Both programs I’ve taught in required at least two readers for each application because a colleague might see something I didn’t in an applicant, and vice versa. It’s hard to find this out, but if the school you’re applying to doesn’t put at least two eyes on your application, don’t try to go there. (At Iowa, students working toward MFA degrees read your application, btw.)
Footnotes (↵ returns to text)
There are plenty of shitty writing professors out there who will read this in an SOP and think, I can’t possibly work with someone who doesn’t see that the way of writing I’ve built my career on is the only way to write. And then potentially pass on your application. So there’s danger, potentially, in following this advice, but wouldn’t you rather study with people who respect your tastes as a student writer, and who understand they’ll continue to change? A visiting poet once told me a story about a professor at Iowa who won’t allow anything other than realist fiction in her workshops, because to her that’s the only real literature worth writing. “And I won’t say her name,” he said, “but it rhymes with Marilynne Robinson.”↵
And sometimes poorly. It’s always a shame when we at USF get an SOP that includes a line like “…which is why I think I’ll be a perfect addition to the MFA program at the University of Minnesota.” Triple-check those SOPs, folks!↵
I was a late fan to GBV, and after years and years of Bee Thousand supremacy in my fandom,[*] their Under the Bushes Under the Stars has usurped all their records as my favorite. I was surprised that this song’s tabs weren’t posted online anywhere, and then surprised that I was able to figure it out. Lots of open chording.
Tune down a half step (EbAbDbGbBbEb), which everyone should always be doing anyway.
Play all chords with open, ringing B and e strings, sliding the E/powerchord shape up and down the neck.
E A B
INTRO/BRIDGE: same open E-A-B chords
Seen you around, yeah. I wanted to call you around (x2)
E A B
Could you, could you keep a secret from me, yeah? (x2)
A G Bb
When I'm alone, I can see no sky. (x2)
BRIDGE (repeat to fade)
Footnotes (↵ returns to text)
While I was supposed to’ve been writing the taxidermy book I instead spent some months in the spring of 2009 recording, track by track, this record, titling it, stupidly, Me Thousand. It’s been heard only by close friends who don’t judge.↵
Awards, Accolades & Publishing
News came in yesterday that Alan Chazaro, a MFA student at the University of San Francisco, where I teach, won something called the Intro Journals Award from AWP. For those outside MFALand, this is an annual series of awards granted by our prof. org.: the Association of Writers & Writing Programs. (Like the MLA but for creative writing.) Every creative writing program in the country is invited to submit one student’s work in poetry, fiction, and nonfiction, which then get judged by a single writer. The top 4 students (8 in poetry) are chosen to win publication in a leading journal and, of course, prestige?the idea being that AWP is introducing the world to talented new writers via journal publications.
Two key things:
The judging is blind. No names or affiliated schools are anywhere on the manuscripts.
A USF student has won an Intro Journal Award every year for the past four years. And we’ve had someone win in every genre.
This is a success worth bragging about, and so I have. Here and on Twitter. And it shows a continued track record of excellence: our students’ work wins awards and finds publication while they’re still students here. And yet, as far as I know, USF has never once been ranked in even the top 50 MFA programs in the country. (more…)
This is my song of 2015. I heard it during an Adult Swim bump that was chiefly about nipples. Not one of their best. It was too short to Shazam, or nothing came up, so I took to Adult Swim Bump Forums (yes they exist, and yes there is more than one) and posed the question to the group and within a day they got back to me. All I heard on the bump was the first 8 bars or so, and then a bit from the outro. I was very pleased to find the rest of the song even better:
I found chords for the song online but they’re mostly wrong. Here’s the song in full:
E A D G B e E A D G B E
Gmaj7: 3 2 0 0 0 2 Cmaj7: x 3 2 0 0 3
Dsus4: 5 5 7 7 7 7 D1: 5 5 7 7 7 5
A: x 0 2 2 2 0 F#m: 2 4 4 2 2 2
D2: x x 0 2 3 2 F#dim: x x 0 2 2 2
[Gmaj7 Cmaj7 Dsus4/D1 Cmaj7] x2
Is it depression or disease?
Dsus4 D1 Cmaj7
Tell it to the millipedes.
The casserole was good,
and the drives were so nice.
Welcome to the worst part of your life.
A F#m D2/F#dim Cmaj7
I'm hard to fix because
it took me so goddamn long
to figure out that I broke down.
(Verse chords over weird synth solo.)
Mold spores fill my lungs.
The silverfish hide in the venetian blinds
in the wintertime.
In the bathroom,
With the shower running and my clothes on
I figured out that I hate you all.
I'm hard to fix because it took me so goddamn long
to figure out that I broke down.
Hold Cmaj7 for many bars, then back to Verse chords until out.