Thursday, January 2, 2014

Looking to 2014

I never quite understand people's resistance to setting goals at the beginning of a new year. I understand many people fail at these goals or resolutions, but setting them can't hurt. If you never challenge yourself, you often stay in the exact same place. All the negativity around resolutions often highlights how lazy so many people truly are.

I'm a goal-oriented person. I'm always looking for the next step or way to improve my future. I want to achieve a lot in this life and that means keeping myself on track. This makes me extremely hard on myself and causes some of my anxiety issues, but it is also responsible for many of my life changes and accomplishments. For example, I wouldn't be here in New York, if hadn't made it a goal and worked for it.

Like any year, 2014 will bring with it many changes, challenges, and surprises. It will also bring my second book, A History of the Unmarried, which will be released in September from Sibling Rivalry Press. As I think about the year to come, I want to make the most of it.

Here are my six 2014 goals: 

Goal 1: Read 52 books. I'm setting another reading goal this year, and I'm upping my goal to a book a week (52 in total). This past year I read 63, so there's a good chance I will exceed the number once again. You can always follow what I'm reading on Good Reads.

Goal 2: Write a poem a week. I have a new journal and my goal is to use it to write weekly poems. My expectation is not that these will be polished and ready to publish poems, but that I'll be focusing some energy each week on drafting a new piece. This year I don't have a specific book project I'm working on, so this will be a way to help generate new ideas and new work.

Goal 3: Write five creative-nonfiction memoir pieces. This past year I got back into essay writing and published my first memoir piece in The Rumpus in July. I want to continue working on memoir/narrative pieces and submitting them for publication.

Goal 4: Attend more theater events. I'm near the beginning of my second year of living in New York City. I've done a lot of exploring, but I'd love to see more shows (on and off Broadway). Over my holiday break I saw Ethan Hawke in Macbeth at Lincoln Center, and it was a great experience. With a little research and effort, you can find a lot of good deals on tickets. Lincoln Center does discount tickets for anyone 21 to 35, which I didn't know until recently. I hope to take more time out (and money) for the theater in 2014.

Goal 5: Get my job/money situation in a better place. I can't be too specific here because I don't have an exact plan, but finding a more steady job would be great or at least more freelance opportunities. My "day job" feels like one of the last pieces of the puzzle. I love where I'm living. My writing career is going well. I'm in a good relationship. But I need a way to make money, and it would be great if it was something I liked doing. I know I can't adjunct long term, so here's to another year of trying. 

Goal 6: Take what I learned from book one and apply it to promoting book two. My second book will be published in September, and I want to work hard to promote it. I learned quite a few lessons from my experience with my first book. I learned many people will say they will write reviews (and even get free copies), but then won't follow through. I learned that you have to be bit aggressive sometimes and put yourself out there to get readings and interviews, etc. For awhile I thought people who did readings all the time got asked to them, but then I realized a lot of them are doing those readings because they contacted someone. I didn't take any class on promoting a book, and there isn't just one approach. I'm thankful to have a press that helps as much as possible, but I also know it's partly up to me. My first book sold very well and was critically recognized, so I have high hopes for book two.

-Stephen (Happy New Year)

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Books I Read in 2013

For the last few years, I've been keeping a record of all the books I read during the year. One of my goals this year was to read 50 books, and I'm ending the year having read 63. This is a record for me. Living in New York has actually helped. For starters I live in a city with actual bookstores (many that sell used books). I also now travel by subway, which gives me more reading time. My work schedule has also helped.

Over the year I read a good mix of poetry, fiction, and even a few non-fiction books. Yes, many of the poetry books were short (making them quicker to read), but I also read quite a few long poetry collections like The Complete Poems by Anne Sexton that comes in at over 500 pages. One of my other goals was to read more Virginia Woolf (my favorite novelist) and I did.

Here's my reading list (may it give you some reading ideas):

1.     Dear Darkness by Kevin Young
2.     Spit by Esther Lee
3.     Real Man Adventures by T. Cooper
4.     The Complete Poems by Edwin Denby
5.     Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson
6.     Love Rise Up edited by Steve Fellner and Phil E. Young
7.     Looking for the Gulf Motel by Richard Blanco
8.     Double Shadow by Carl Phillips
9.     My Index of Slightly Horrifying Knowledge by Paul Guest
10.  Useless Landscape or A Guide for Boys by D.A. Powell
11.  For the Comfort of Automated Phrases by Jane Cassady
12.  The Voyage Out by Virginia Woolf
13.  H by Jim Elledge
14.  The Days Run Away Like Wild Horses Over the Hills by Charles Bukowki
15.  A Worldly Country by John Ashbery
16.  Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin
17.  The Complete Poems by Anne Sexton
18.  The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
19.  Sudden Dog by Matthew Pennock
20.  Deleted Names by Lawrence Schimel
21.  Appetite by Aaron Smith
22.  Render by Collin Kelley
23.  Blowout by Denise Duhamel
24.  Best New Poets 2012 edited by Matthew Dickman
25.  Milk and Honey: A Celebration of Jewish Lesbian Poetry edited by Julie R. Enszer
26.  Red Doc> by Anne Carson
27.  Less Fortunate Pirates by Bryan Borland
28.  Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris
29.  Hanging Between Heaven and Earth: Capital Crime, Execution Preaching, and Theology in Early New England by Scott Seay
30.  Shakespeare Makes the Playoffs by Ron Koertge
31.  Open Winter by Rae Gouirand
32.  Tilt by Ellen Hopkins
33.  Percival Everett by Virgil Russell by Percival Everett
34.  Jacob’s Room by Virginia Woolf
35.  Nocturnes of the Brothel of Ruin by Patrick Donnelly
36.  Men in the Off Hours by Anne Carson
37.  The Talking Day by Michael Klein
38.  Brit Lit by D. Gilson 
39.  Ceremonies by Essex Hemphill
40.  This assignment is so gay: lgbtiq poets on the art of teaching edited by Megan Volpert
41.  Torn by C. Dale Young
42.  Peyton Place: A Haiku Soap Opera by David Trinidad
43.  The Magical Breasts of Britney Spears by Ryan G. Van Cleave
44.  Our Naked Lives: Essays from Gay Italian-American Men edited by Joseph Anthony LoGiudice and Michael Carosone
45.  The Year of What Now by Brian Russell
46.  The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields
47.  The Biscuit Joint by David Kirby
48.  Trans by Hilda Raz
49.  Letters to Kelly Clarkson by Julia Bloch
50.  Pier Queen by Emanuel Xavier
51.  Horoscopes for the Dead by Billy Collins
52.  Emerald Ice: Selected Poems 1962-1987 by Diane Wakoski
53.  Fair Copy by Rebecca Hazelton
54.  Orlando by Virginia Woolf
55.  Running for Trap Doors by Joanna Hoffman
56.  Purpose and Devil Piss by Robert Siek
57.  Nefarious by Emanuel Xavier
58.  The Collected Stories by Amy Hempel
59.  Between the Acts by Virginia Woolf
60.  Alternative Medicine by Rafael Campo
61.  Here Be Monsters by Colin Cheney
62.  Between: New Gay Poetry edited by Jameson Currier
63.  White Girls by Hilton Als

-Stephen (Reading)

Sunday, December 29, 2013

2013: What I Accomplished

For the last few years I've set goals for myself that I've published here on my blog. It's been a good way of tracking my own achievements and thinking about where I want to go in the coming year. This past year was no different. Last January I wrote out ten goals for 2013, and today I've evaluating my progress on those goals.

2013 has been a pretty amazing year. It was my first full year living in New York City, which has been fantastic. The year provided some great surprises and personal accomplishments that I didn't see coming last January.

Here's how I did on the ten goals I set one year ago: 

Goal 1: My first goal for 2013 was to read 50 books. I always challenge myself to read more, but I'd never set a number. I tracked my goal through Good Reads, and I'm proud to say I met and exceeded it. If I can get through the book I'm currently reading, I will have read 63 books in 2013. I'll be posting the complete list of books here on my blog on the last day of the year.

Goal 2: I wanted to write three non-fiction essays this year. I also met and exceeded this goal. I had my first creative non-fiction memoir piece published in The Rumpus in July. I also wrote a piece for a friend's blog on academic fashion, and I began writing pieces for a pop culture online magazine called Hidden Track. I've also been working on a few other memoir essays that will hopefully see the light of day in 2014.

Goal 3: Do more poetry readings. And I did. I've done more poetry readings in the last year than any other year of my life (and maybe all the years combined). Living in New York has provided a lot more opportunities to read and share my work. Being a finalist for the Thom Gunn Poetry Award and winning the Lambda Literary Award also helped. My proudest reading experience was getting to read in Bryant Park as part of their summer reading series.

Goal 4: For the last few years, I've made it a goal to be happier in my career and to find a job I truly enjoy. This has proven to be my biggest challenge in life and continues to be a struggle. I've spent the last year adjuncting for a career college. I actually really enjoy my job and where I teach, but I've also learned the struggles of adjuncting. The amount of time, education, and effort required to teach college should result in getting paid more than minimum wage (if that). I have no job security or paid time off or benefits. Anyone not paying attention to the adjunct situation that is taking over our higher education system needs to wake up. My job struggle continues into yet another year. I'm thankful for the job I have, but I need a bit more security and money.

Goal 5: My fifth goal was to explore New York as much as possible. I give myself a high grade on this one. Dustin and I are great at jumping into new places and doing things. New York is full of endless things to do, and we've done a lot of them. I've come to appreciate how many free events take place in New York (more than any place I've ever lived). I've loved every minute of our exploration from movies in the park to Shakespeare in the park to parades, festivals, and art events. It's been a great year of experiencing what this city has to offer.

Goal 6: Blog more. Okay, this didn't really happen (probably because of the other goals listed above and below).

Goal 7: I often post a money goal and this year was no different. I wanted to continue to work on paying off my debt, and as the year closes, Dustin and I have made some good money decisions to help make this possible.

Goal 8: Make new friends and keep in touch with old friends. The hardest part of moving to New York was leaving behind a great group of friends. I miss very little about Florida, but I do miss my friends. Thanks to Facebook, keeping in touch is easier. In September, Dustin and I got married and were absolutely thrilled to have four of our good friends from Florida fly up to New York for it. Distance makes friendships hard, but when you care about people, you can make it work.

As for new friends in New York, it's slowly happening. I'm not someone who becomes close friends with lots and lots of people. I know lots of people, but I'm a bit more guarded about who I make a lot of time for in my life. I'm also a good judge of character, so if I don't see us being really close, I don't make a huge effort (this is why people sometimes perceive me as rude). I feel more settled into New York now, and I look forward to bonding with more people in the coming year.

Goal 9: This goal was to work on my new poetry project. I started off the year doing a lot of research on a new project and doing some of the writing. I took a break from the project to finish my second book manuscript, which took more time than I thought. My second book, A History of the Unmarried, will be coming out in September of 2014. At the beginning of the year, I thought the book was close to finished, but it kept changing and growing. This did pull away from my newer project. In 2014, I hope to finish it up. It will probably turn into a chapbook length work.

Goal 10: Volunteer. To be honest, I forgot about this goal, so I didn't really do much volunteering this year, but it's something I'll keep in mind in the new year.

As you can see, most of these goals I met and some I went even further with. I'm proud of the year I had, and I'm truly excited to see what 2014 will bring. My thirties have been pretty great so far. I'll be posting my goals for the new year soon.

-Stephen (Accomplished) 

Monday, December 23, 2013

A Year in Writing

2013 has been one of the best years of my life (especially in the writing department). My first book came out nearly two years ago (in March of 2012), but it hit new heights in 2013 when it was named a finalist for the Thom Gunn Poetry Award and won the Lambda Literary Award for Gay Poetry in June. I did more poetry readings in the last year than any other year of my life (including getting to read in Bryant Park), but I also kept up with writing new work.

Over the last year, I spent a lot of time on my second book, A History of the Unmarried, which will be released in September of 2014 by Sibling Rivalry Press. Just a few weeks ago I submitted my first draft of the book. I also devoted more time in 2013 to writing essays, which was one of my goals. I also had quite a few new poems get printed in online and print magazines (and more coming very soon in 2014).

Here are some of my favorite pieces that got published in 2013:

1. "Tonight I Dream of January Jones in a Supermarket in Florida," Hobble Creek Review

This is from my new book manuscript and was also nominated by Hobble Creek Review for a Pushcart Prize.

2. "ABC's Scandal: A Non-Guilty Pleasure," Hidden Track

Two months ago, I began writing pop culture pieces for an online magazine. My favorite piece so far was one on the insane, but addictive show Scandal

3. This assignment is so gay: LGBTIQ Poets on the Art of Teaching, Sibling Rivalry Press

In August, a great new anthology came out from Sibling Rivalry Press that I'm extremely honored to be part of. I have two poems in the collection, but the whole book is worth reading from cover to cover (which is rare for an anthology).

4.  "The Long Engagement," Joe's Jacket

I published this piece myself here on my blog, but it is a piece that means a lot to me. In September I married my partner of ten years, and this piece is a reflection on my views on marriage and my journey with my partner.

5. "Surviving a For-Profit School," The Rumpus

In July I had an essay published in The Rumpus on my experience working at a for-profit school. This piece is the one I am most proud of from the last year. It was difficult to write and is about a very difficult period of my life. When the piece got published, I received a really amazing response from so many people who had also experienced for-profit education. It felt good to tell the truth about a situation that is happening in our education system. It also gave me some peace with my experience at that school. 

-Stephen (Writing)

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Smart Ride: A Poem

Two years ago, I participated in the Smart Ride, which is a 165 mile bike ride from Miami to Key West. It raises money for those living with or affected by HIV/AIDS. It was a very challenging experience for me because I'd never done something that physical or athletic before. It was also challenging because I had to raise quite a bit of money. I met these challenges and had an experience that I'll always look back on in a positive light. I wrote about my Smart Ride experience on my blog afterwards. You can read that post here.

This past weekend was the tenth Smart Ride (I did the 8th). I wasn't able to do it this year, but I was asked to write a poem for the opening ceremony of the ride. This was yet another challenge. I'd never written a poem for an event, so there were very different concerns that I had to consider when constructing this poem. I wasn't there to share in the moment, but I'm glad my poem was. This year's ride raised a record amount of $1,047,514. This is truly amazing and I congratulate everyone who road, helped with the ride, or donated.

Since the ride is over, I thought I would share my Smart Ride poem here on my blog. Here it is:

Adaption: A Poem for Smart Ride 10

Yesterday we moved through rooms
of the lost. Swam through stale air.
The windows sealed shut. The dishes
moldy in the sink. The knick-knacks
wearing thick coats of dust. Books
half read. Magazines flapped open
to smiling celebrities, gossip columns,
and more bad news. Rooms interrupted,
abandoned, unfinished. Left as evidence
that it can all change.

Today we move through open spaces.
Air deep in lungs. Salt in the breeze.
Down our spines. Across our foreheads.
We ride for miles toward the sea
where life and death meet in crashing
waves. Today we claim the named
and the unnamed. A history that is ours.
Not forgotten. In the Florida air
we feel bound by only this moment.
By the pavement beneath spinning feet.
By the power of the mind. For this
is not about the body.

Tomorrow we’ll move through our own
rooms full of the artifacts of the living.
Our own existence. Our lives simply
on pause. We’ll clean dishes. Wipe dust
from shelves. Pick up open books.
Watch the news. Make love. Eat takeout.
Yet everything will be a little different.
Might burn a little brighter. And at night,
with bodies sore, we’ll find a bit of sand
still stuck to our skin. Small grains
we’ll rub between fingers, reminding
ourselves of how easily we adapt.  

-Stephen (Proud)

Friday, October 11, 2013

Academic Fashion Post

This week I wrote a guest post for a blog on academic fashion. Fashion is something I've always had an interest in and something I've thought a lot about in the classroom setting. My post explores how my clothing choices connect to my teaching style.

Check it out here.

-Stephen (Fab)

Monday, October 7, 2013

New York: One Year Later

A few months ago, one of my students told me she couldn't believe I wasn't a native New Yorker. She said I seemed so "New York," and she kept forgetting that I had only recently moved here. October marks one year in New York. It's hard to believe at times that a year has gone by, but when I think of my old life in Florida, it already seems so distant. Making big changes always reminds me how adaptable we are as human beings. We can adapt to bad situations, and we can adapt to good ones.

In one year, my whole life has changed and that change has been for the better. I moved to New York, I turned thirty, I won a respectable poetry award for my first book (the Lammy), I signed a contract for a second book, and I married my partner of ten years. It's hard to complain with that much good in your life. I also give myself and my partner, Dustin, a lot of credit for the hard work we put in to make many of these things happen. A lot of people don't put in the work to make changes. It's not easy, but I can tell you, it is worth it. Not everything is perfect right now, but we are working to build our lives here in New York. A place we both truly love. A place we want to be. 

At this one year mark, I'm thinking a lot about what it means to be a "New Yorker." There are few places in the country with as much pride as New York. People often wear their New Yorker status as a badge of honor even if they no longer live here. There's the saying that if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere. In many ways, that's very true. Living in New York is drastically different from living anywhere else in the country, and it provides its own challenges. In exchange for those challenges, I get to live in one of the greatest cites in the world.

I've come to realize that being a New Yorker is not simply living here in the city. In fact, I would argue many people who live in New York are not New Yorkers. My students, most of which are native New Yorkers, often comment on my New York-ness because I exhibit a lot of qualities that are valued here, and I truly live in the city. I'm active, I know what's going on, and I participate.

I spent 29 years of my life never feeling like I truly fit. I always felt like the odd one out. Some might contribute this to the fact that I'm gay, but I think there's more to it than that. My otherness is not simply defined by sexuality (though that plays a role). My otherness is also marked by my personality, my passions, and how I view life. I'm a strong-willed person with a strong sense of who I am. I don't back down easily, and I'm a good judge of other people, which is why I don't like that many people. I'm a focused and driven person with a passion for writing and literature. These are passions many don't understand or respect. I will probably never make tons of money because of these passions, but I'll be happy. I often have unpopular opinions, and I don't follow all "the rules."

This last year in New York has felt like finding a home. I fit here in a way that I've never fit before. My directness is appreciated here. My intelligence is appreciated. My bitchiness is appreciated. People don't get offended easily here and nor do I. My work as a writer is appreciated and valued. I've done more poetry readings in the last year than any other time in my life. What I'm saying is perhaps I've been a New Yorker all my life, but now I'm finally here.  

To me, part of being a New Yorker is also taking advantage of the city and truly living in it. Dustin and I love doing new things and going to events, museums, bars, clubs, and restaurants, so we've taken major advantage of our time here. In fact, we are constantly informing other New Yorkers about events they've never heard of before. I don't understand living here and not being active. There are endless things to do.

I've also never lived somewhere with so many free events or a place with a bigger sense of community. People interact with each other in a very different way in New York. I've had more people speak to me in my neighborhood than anywhere I've ever lived. I've seen people be more helpful and nice than other places. Directness is often perceived as rudeness, which is why people think of New Yorkers as rude, but  I associate directness with honesty, which is perhaps why New York was recently named one of the most honest cities in the world.

It's safe to say that I've fallen in love, and I'm not going anywhere. I'm happier than I've been in a really long time, and I'm very thankful to have a husband who shares my passion for new experiences and enjoying life.

-Stephen (New Yorker)