Thursday, December 31, 2009

Just Another New Year's Eve

As a kid, New Year's Eve was never over until I saw Barry Manilow sing "It's Just Another New Year's Eve" on television. Looking back, I realize how homosexual this sounds, but it honestly was my personal tradition, and really should be the last supporting evidence needed to prove people are born gay. My family was never big drinkers or party people, so New Year's Eve normally consisted of going to a nice dinner with the family (early to avoid the drunk drivers that my parents' feared were looming at every corner in our small Midwestern city) and then home to movies until about 11:30 P.M. when we would start watching Dick Clark's Rockin' New Year's Eve, which always included Barry Manilow singing at about 1 A.M.  At this point I was normally the only one still awake. My father would be passed out snoring in his chair, my mom would be in bed, and my sisters would either be sleeping on the couch or in bed themselves. There I would sit and watch Barry at his piano and would think of the year to come. As the years passed, Barry became more plastic, nipped, and tucked, but he was always there starting my year. I would then get into my waterbed (yes, I am a kid of the 80s), and would write in my journal. I'd write some sentimental message about my hopes and dreams for the year to come.

As I've grown older, my traditions have changed, but I still don't know that I've ever had a fantastic New Year's Eve.  There's too much pressure on the night. It is the beginning of another year and I always want it to start perfectly, but it always falls short of my expectations (I often have this problem, just ask Dustin). Last year, was terrible. Dustin and I got into a huge fight at about 11:55 P.M. that carried into 2009. It was not ideal, though the year that followed didn't seem ruined by the horrid beginning. We survived, because as Barry sings, "it's just another night, that's all it is."

New Year's Eve, by its very nature, has a bit of sadness that comes with it. It is the reminder that we are all getting older and that time never stops. It also points out that the year is over and there's no more time to accomplish anything that you might have wanted to accomplish. We are told by mass media to set goals and resolutions for ourselves, but are then quickly told that of course we won't actually do any of these things. Perhaps it all of this that looms over the day that ruins it for me. 

My plan this year is to relax and go with the flow. I'm thinking of it as just another night out. No pressure. No drama. Dustin and I are going to Parliament House to ring in 2010. We will drink, dance, see drag shows, and hopefully share a kiss at midnight. But no matter what happens, 2010 will be upon us. A new decade that will bring with it many challenges, sadnesses, fears, changes, good times, and my 30th birthday. In the morning will everything be suddenly different? No, of course not, but maybe with time we will grow a little wiser. 

-Stephen (Fanilow)

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

I'm Not a Loser: Thoughts on Spending Christmas in a Gay Club

A few weeks ago, an article appeared in The Orlando Weekly that focused on people who have to work on Christmas Day. Living in Orlando, this is a good portion of residents. I didn't because I work at a school, but my boyfriend and most of my friends did. One of the people featured was a bartender at my favorite gay club (Parliament House). He is not someone I personally know. The club is large and I always go to the same bartender, so I have never bought anything from the man in the article or spoken to him. 

Through the course of the piece, the bartender focused mostly on the idea of all the lonely gays that come to Parliament House on Christmas. He made various negative comments about them and even referred to them as losers, but made sure to throw in that he didn't mind working because he gets good tips on that night (because people are so lonely and desperate). The overall feeling and message from the short (and poorly written article) was that gay people often have family who hate them, are lonely on the holidays, and are basically losers if they go to a gay club on a holiday. The article also made uncomfortable comments about the fact that the owners are Jewish and therefore are always open on Christian holidays. Hello, we live in tourist-ville. Everything is open on Christmas.  

I was shocked for multiple reasons. First, the nature of the article was offensive to me as a gay person. It is fine to profile someone working at a gay club on Christmas, but the tone and focus of the article was not on the bartender working, but on the supposed losers who hang out at the bar. Second, I was taken off guard because I have such a fondness for Parliament House. This fondness comes from how nice and inclusive the bar is. I was shocked that such a person worked there, because everyone I have ever interacted with has been nothing but kind (and I mean everyone from drag queens, to bartenders, to the custodial crew). 

I'm not sure of the full fallout from the article, but I'm pretty sure the bartender no longer works at Parliament House and with good reason. Parliament House made various comments on their Facebook page assuring everyone that the establishment does not agree with any of the opinions expressed in the article. About a week later, one of the other bartenders even made a t-shirt that said "I don't think you're a loser" and wore it all night. 

This brings me to Christmas Day 2009. As Dustin worked, I sat alone at home, miles away from my family. No, my family doesn't hate me. They fully support me and my relationship, but lack of money and distance often keeps us apart on holidays. I spent the day reading, writing, and cooking. Dustin got home at 3 P.M., which was a little earlier than I expected. We opened our gifts and had a nice dinner together, and then we decided to go to Parliament House to be with the "losers." If that article hadn't been posted, I'm not sure we would have really thought of going, but something in me wanted to be there. We called our friend Gail, did some pre-drinking at home, sprinkled some glitter on, and headed to the club. 

We got there in time for their regular Friday night drag show at 10 P.M. The parking lot wasn't that full and the first show was fairly empty, but extremely enjoyable. As I sat there, in the dark of the theater, watching the drag queens do Christmas songs, I realized there was nowhere better I could be on Christmas night. I felt loved. I had my boyfriend of six years beside me, my good friend, Gail, and a room 1/3 full of men and women who wanted to be with "family" on Christmas. For those who don't know, the word "family" is a code word to refer to other gay and lesbian people. One might ask "are you part of the family?" meaning "are you gay?" Being gay goes beyond sex. You truly are part of a wider family that shares many of your same experiences, both good and bad. Does that mean you always get along with your family and like everything they do or say? Of course not, but they are yours. 

After the first show, the dance floor suddenly became full and by the midnight drag show the place was as busy as a regular Friday night. Were we all losers? Maybe to some we were and are. But what I saw on that night, that Christmas night, was a group of people coming together in celebration and guess what? We don't just do it once a year. We celebrate ourselves and our love all year long. Perhaps, that really is the true meaning of Christmas. 

-Stephen (Loser)

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Top Ten Tweets of 2009

As most of my readers know I became a big fan of Twitter this past year. I tweet a few times a day and have used it for networking, promoting, and just sharing my everyday thoughts and comments on the world. I like the idea of sending these little messages out into cyberspace. It's the compression of language and the challenge of being clever in just 140 characters that really gets me. If you aren't following me on Twitter and would like to, just search for me. My username is Stephenscott22. 

Keeping with the spirit of my top ten lists, I thought it was only appropriate to make a list of my top ten tweets of the year. Yes, I read through all 1,067 of my tweets and picked out these ten. I hope you enjoy! 

10. I'm wondering how Dustin & I became the tour guides for sex stores in Orlando. Maybe it was those sex toy parties we hosted 2 yrs in a row?

9. Wondering if cunts, toy poodles, Rent, Spike Lee, stoop behavior, lit girls, cum-sluts, and toned college boys is too much for one poem?

8. It is like a casting call for What Not to War in the parking lot of the Post Office. 

7. I think one of my students is a boy who asked me to follow him into a bathroom at a gay club a few months ago & wanted to sip from my drink. 

6. Reason I love being gay: a man at pride fest gave me a zipper keychain, which he insisted on attaching for me then he grabbed my crotch. 

5. All I can say is Thomas is amazing! I'm bending over as I write this!

4. Is it sad I expect men to look at my penis in public restrooms? Or maybe a sign that I spend too much time in gay clubs?

3. The girl next to me at P House just asked me what kind of skit takes place here, really?

2. It looks like Darcel covered herself in glue and ran through a craft store.

And the number one tweet that really wraps up 2009: Naked now. Gay playlist playing on ipod. Boyfriend in shower. Sexy clothes and make-up to follow.

-Stephen (Still Tweeting) 

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Top Ten Poems I've Written in 2009

As the years pass, I sometimes find it difficult to remember when I wrote different poems. I have a ballpark idea (I'm not that old yet), but I often don't know for sure. The point of this blog post is to help me remember my best moments of creation from this past year. 

This post might be slightly less fun for others to read (I am sorry), because I can't post the poems here (or then they won't be eligible to be published elsewhere). I will give a brief description and my favorite line from each. Hopefully that will make you want to read them, publish them, or encourage others to publish them. 

10. "If Homosexuality Offends You, You May Wish to Read Another Poem"

While I would never say that my poems are 100% autobiographical, they are very much inspired by my life and situations I experience twisted with fiction. This poem came from a night out with Dustin and our friend Josh. We decided to do some bar hopping to some sketchy gay bars in Orlando. This poem is inspired by the bar called Hank's. There is a sign on the door that reads: "If homosexuality offends you, you may wish to go to another bar," which obviously inspired the title. We only stayed about 30 minutes, but it was enough to encourage me to write the poem. At the heart of the poem is the generational gap between younger gays who have lived very different lives than generations before us. Hank's caters to an older clientele. I did send it out to a magazine, who rejected it (but published others of mine), because they thought the poem seemed too harsh and judgmental, which I found interesting, because that wasn't my intention. Regardless, I'm happy with the poem and think it captures something true about the gay experience. Best Line: "One stumbles toward me / like Frankenstein's monster first discovering his ability / to walk."

9. "$5,000" and "$10,000"

I have lumped these two poems together because they are part the same series and are also very related. These two poems come from my series (I'm still working on) about a gay porn star who was convicted of attacking an elderly couple who owed some guy money. Basically, he was a hired hit man and is now serving 20 years in prison. He attacked the couple three times, but didn't kill them. He was paid $5,000 for the attacks and, at the time of his arrest, was in discussions to kill the couple for $10,000. This is where the two titles come from and the poems deal with all the things you can do with $5,000 and $10,000. What I like about the poems is that they will work really well in the context of the series, but they don't mention the actual subject matter (if that makes sense). They will add good variety. Best Line: "My partner and I have spent close to $10,000 on drinking and / tipping drag queens in the last year and a half, because when you're in debt and hate your job / and hear every day on the radio that things might get worse, there is nothing better to do / than drink, dance, and stick dollar bills in a sweaty drag queen's hand or down some man's / g-string."

8. "Brown Lace Hanky, Right Pocket (likes uncut)"

This poem is also part of a series I am working on with two other fine poets, Bryan Borland and Dustin Brookshire. The poems are based on the Gay Hanky Code. This is a code that allows gay men to display various preferences by wearing different colored hankies in their pockets (right normally means the passive or bottom role and left means the top role). It isn't used as much any more, but was very much a part of older gay culture when most men were not out. We have divided up the colors and are each writing 8 to 10 poems representing various sexual preferences, fantasies, and fetishes. It's going to be absolutely amazing, so just wait for the final product. This is one of my favorites that I've written. It's about men who enjoy having sex with uncut men. Best Line: "Let them make me feel my missing piece-- / my phantom foreskin, like accident victims / who have lost limbs, but never stop feeling / them"

7. "Seeing a Dead Lizard After Reading Mark Doty's "Turtle, Swan"

One of my favorite poems by Mark Doty is "Turtle, Swan." I was so inspired by it that I wanted to somehow use it, yet twist it into my own. My poem deals with the fear of losing a partner, which is what Doty's poem is about. The difference is that he was writing about AIDS and I'm writing more about the fear of not having rights to see a dying partner or being with them when they pass because you don't have the right paper work. It was a hard poem to write, but I'm proud of the final product. Best Line: "Even my dog won't go near the lizard. / Doesn't want to sniff it, has no / intention of putting it in his mouth, / for his is particular (or is it distrusting?) / of what he close his mouth around. / If only I was as cautious." 

6. "Imagining Your Penis in Blue After Watching Watchmen"

I'm a halfway superhero geek. I don't really read comic books, but I'm fascinated by superheroes and always have been. I'm also fascinated by how many gay people are drawn to superheroes and see them as a symbol of our struggle. As a kid I got up early every Saturday so I could watch Captain Planet. I love superhero movies and am always dragging Dustin to them. I didn't actually see Watchmen until it came out on DVD, but when I did, it blew me away. It was amazing and I immediately wanted to write about it. The poem uses pop culture, but quickly combines it with something else. In this case, I take on hate crimes and the fear they cause you as a gay person and our desire to save people if only we were as brave as our fictional superheroes. Best Line: "but the truth is my penis isn't blue, / I have no tights, no cape, only fear and the knowledge / that no matter what, humanity is set on destroying itself." 

5. "A History of Hangers"

Sometimes even I don't fully understand where my ideas come from. In this case, I was at work and a co-worker said something about how in high school a group of kids broke into the drama teacher's car with a hanger, and suddenly in my head I went "I should a write a poem about all the things you can do with hangers." And that's exactly what I did. The poem begins with my co-worker's story, but moves to mobiles, abortions, Brokeback Mountain, and hangers you can buy on the Home Shopping Network. It's a strange poem, but works. If you want to read it, you don't have to wait long, because it will be published in the next issue of The Los Angeles Review. Best Line: "I think of the old man / who called in, not to order, just to talk, to hear / someone else's voice. How he said, I'm just so lonely, / and you told him it'll be okay, when really it won't. / He knows that, like you know that."

4. "Silver Lame Hanky, Left Pocket (Starfucker)" 

This is another hanky poem. This one is about a man who has sex with celebrities. This was, of course, right up my alley, not because I've had sex with celebrities, but because of my love of using pop culture in poetry. This poem has great references to actors, movies, and TV shows. Best Line: "Then there was my brief affair / with Keanu Reeves. Neo could be my Christ- / like figure any day. I even went / to the theater and paid to see The Watcher, / found him just as sexy as a long-haired / stalker in that room full of flames."

3. "See You Next Tuesday"

This is also known as my "cunt poem." I'm proud of this poem for the bizarre collection of situations, people, and events this poems captures. It was inspired by an actual event that happened to my neighbor in Tallahassee. She was out walking her dogs and some strange man called her "a fucking cunt." I took this story and ran with it. The poem includes references to RENT, Spike Lee, and sexy college boys. This poem will also be appearing in Word Riot (soon I hope!). Best Line: "When the poodle lady told us her story she leaned in, / whispered against the hum of street lights, and I wanted / to say, I can't hear you, wanted to force her / to scream cunt so loud it would bounce off the magnolia / trees, rattle branches, stick in the Spanish moss."

2. "After We Watch The History Boys in Class My Students Fear I Want to Fondle Them"

Teaching has given me some of my best poetry ideas and this poem is a prime example. A few months ago, I showed my class of nearly 100 students (95% male), the film The History Boys. I have never in my life seen a classroom so uncomfortable. The film is based on a play. There is no nudity in the film, hardly any bad language, and most of it takes place in a classroom. But the film deals with a older teacher who likes to give his students rides home on his motorcycle and as they ride he reaches his hand around and touches the boys' dicks. He will only take students who are 18 and the students are aware of what is going to happen, yet many of them willingly go. The film also deals with lots of interesting questions about education. It's fantastic, but my students were not so impressed. This poem captures that moment and deals with the fears and misconceptions that many people have about sex, molestation, and gayness. Best Line: "I can see it now: Gay Teacher Shows The History / Boys In Hopes of Recruiting Young Males Into the Den / of Homosexuality. If only it was that easy. If only I had that much / power, though pimply-faced boys with ADD and Zac Efron / haircuts aren't really my type"
1. "My Attempt at an Epic AIDS Poem That References Harry Potter"

This was the hardest poem I wrote all year, which is why it has earned the top spot on my list. The poem is inspired by another person's actual life threaded together with my life. I'm very thankful to Scott, who answered every question I asked him and give me many personal details about his life and then let me use them in this poem. I would never have been able to write a piece like this without his help. This is also one of the longest poems I've ever written and in many ways is a signature "Stephen poem." It combines real life, questions we don't always want to ask, pop culture, and a twist of humor. Where else are you going to find Harry Potter and AIDS in the same poem? Best Line: "You won't tell me his name, / but refer to him as Voldemort (he-who-shall-not-be-named) / who committed the love-that-dare-not-speak-its-name."

-Stephen (Poetically Pleased)

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Top Ten Songs of 2009

If I were one of my students, I would begin this post by saying "everyone loves music." But I'm not one of my students (thank god) and this blog post is about more than just loving music. What I find amazing about music is that it can always take me back to different periods of my life. The second I hear particular songs I'm so vividly in another place and time. For example, every time I hear Alanis Morissette's "Head Over Feet" I'm back in 8th grade and at my school's annual Halloween dance slow dancing with a girl dressed as a cheerleader. Or when I hear most Counting Crows' songs I'm immediately transported back to driving with Dustin through the back roads of Indiana in the fall (beautiful leaves everywhere). Music has that power more than anything else. It is a time machine. 

2009 was a year of music. I spent a good portion of the year listening, dancing, and singing along to various songs. These will be the 10 songs that will always take me back to this past year: the good times, the hard times, and the truly insane times. As with the book list, these are not necessarily songs that came out in 2009, but are representative of the year and are songs I personally listened to a lot during the last twelve months.

This was also the hardest top ten to write, because I had so many songs I wanted to include. At the end I have listed runner-ups. 

10. "Boys, Boys, Boys" by Lady Gaga
Lady Gaga is my favorite artist of the year and 2009 will always be associated with her in my head. This song never become a big Gaga hit, but is still one of my favorite songs on her first album. It's simplistic in it's chorus (boys, boys, boys, we like boys in cars, who buy us drinks in bars), but has a fun playfulness and other clever lines to move it past most pop crap. Best line: "You taste just like glitter mixed with rock and roll."

9. "If U Seek Amy" by Britney Spears
I have honestly never been a huge fan of Britney Spears (I know, amazing, not all gay boys love her), but this song won me over just a bit. I like it because it is sort of a "fuck you" to the media and critics. The song makes little to no sense and basically is created around the idea of making the chorus sound like she is saying "all of the boys and all of the girls are begging to F U C K me." What was even more hilarious was the reaction people had. I remember, months after the song came out, some reporter on Fox News thought she had just discovered the "spelling" of fuck in the song, when of course most people caught it right away. Best line: the whole chorus. 

8. "Mercy" by Duffy
I fell in love with this song after Darcel performed it at Parliament House. I just really love the sound of it. It's different for current pop music. I also love dancing to it. I like the 60s sound it has and her voice. Best line: "Now you think I will be something on the side, but you got to understand that I need a man who can take my hand."

7. "Fuck You" by Lily Allen
Thanks to my friends at work I was introduced to Lily Allen and fell in love with her album It's Not Me, It's You. It was hard to pick just one song off this album because I truly enjoy the whole thing, but "Fuck You" really takes the cake. It's a great song about hating George W. Bush. The cheerful, pop sound, mixed with the lyrics is so cleverly done that you have to give this girl credit. Plus, I love that Parliament House plays this on the dance floor sometimes! Best line: Tie: "So you say it's not okay to be gay, well I think you're just evil," "Fuck you, Fuck you very, very much, cause we hate what you do and we hate your whole crew, so please don't stay in touch."

6. "Hush Hush" by The Pussycat Doll (the version with "I Will Survive" placed in the center)
I sort of have a love/hate relationship with this song. For instance, I normally skip it when it comes up on my ipod in the car, but I do love dancing to it. It is for sure a song that will always take me back to 2009,  but not necessarily by choice. Darcel, one of the drag queens at Parliament House, loves performing this song. I have seen her do it maybe 10 tens. She's very good at it and because of these performances the song is forever cemented into my year. Best line: honestly not sure there is a great line in this song.

5. "Beautifully" by Jay Brannan
Dustin and I have been big fans of Jay Brannan since we saw him in Shortbus (which is an amazing film). In 2009 he released a new CD of mostly covers. It's a good CD, but I honestly prefer the songs he writes, so my favorite on the album is "Beautifully" one of only two original songs on the CD. What I love about his music is how relatable it is, because he actually writes songs about gay experiences. This song is about a relationship between a gay man and his straight female friend (who happens to be in love with him). This is a situation many gay men have experienced. What blew me away about the song was the small details that really matched experiences I've had. It felt in my ways like listening to my own story in song. Best line: "She'll burn that bridge, and build a house, and swallow the smoke in her mouth, and she'll feel the burn and then make the choice to put the fire in her voice."

4. "Rehab" by Amy Winehouse
I guess this song is sort of fitting for a year where I drank more than any other year before. It's a great song and will always remind me of Gidget Galore and Camp Drag. Best Line: "He said, 'I think you're just depressed, kiss me, yeah baby and go rest."

3. "I Didn't Know My Own Strength" by Whitney Houston
Three words: Whitney is back! I've always loved Whitney Houston and I'm glad to see her back with a great song. Best line: "I didn't know my own strength and I crashed down and I tumbled, but I did not crumble." 

2. "Please Don't Leave Me" by Pink
Pink's newest album is amazing and toward the beginning of 2009 I played it on repeat. This song immediately caught my attention because I relate a lot to it. I told Dustin this song is about me (not really, but partly). As most writers do, I have a way with words and when I fight with Dustin I often have the ability to cut him into pieces. Pink captures something real in this song about relationships and for that I admire the song. Best line: "I can be so mean when I wanna be, I am capable of really anything, I can cut you into pieces."

1. "Bad Romance" by Lady Gaga
As I said before, Lady Gaga stole the show this year. She's absolutely amazing and gets better and better. "Bad Romance" quickly become my favorite Gaga song ever. The video is fucking insane, the lyrics blow me away, and who doesn't love to dance to this song? I can't wait to see what she does next. Best line: "I want your horror, I want your design, cause you're a criminal as long as your mine."

Runner-ups: "Bad Things" by Jace Everett, "Paparazzi" by Lady Gaga, "I Know You Want Me" by Pitbull, "Funhouse" by Pink, "Take Me On the Floor" by The Veronicas, "Bring on the Men" Linda Eder, "Russian Roulette" by Rihanna, and "Teeth" by Lady Gaga

-Stephen (A Dancing Fool)

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Top Ten Pictures of 2009

In the last year Dustin and I have taken more photos than any other year we've been together. I'm not sure exactly why. Maybe because Dustin got a new camera for Christmas last year, maybe because we've become more narcissistic, or maybe we've just had more to photograph. Whatever the reason there are lots of photos from 2009 and I have selected my top ten favorites of the year. 

10. This is my diva shot of the year and was taken on a random night when Dustin wanted to test make-up on my face and I had been drinking enough to let him. Before I knew it my Hedwig fur coat was out and pictures were being taken. Author photo? What do you think?

9. This photo was taken on Armani's birthday. Armani is my favorite drag queen at Parliament House and she is pouring a shot into my mouth in this picture. Oh, and it was a Monday night. That's Orlando for you.

8. My friend, Josh, and I take a lot of ridiculous photos together, but this is my favorite of the year. This was at Dustin and I's Halloween party. Josh is dressed as a female pirate and I'm dressed as Sookie from True Blood. I think we make a lovely couple.  

7. This picture is representative of all the days and nights we've spent at Disney over the last year. It is also representative of Gay Days (notice the red shirts). 

6. This photo was taken at Parliament House's first ever blacklight party and we had a blast. I like this photo because we both look cute and happy.

5. Typically, Dustin and I go out with Gail and Josh and we often take group photos. These group photos normally take place in our apartment before we head to the club, but this one was taken right in the middle of the night and I like it the best. I think it captures the moment and we all look good, which doesn't always happen in the same photo.

4. I picked this picture for purely narcissistic reasons. It was taken after I opened my birthday presents from Dustin (the shorts in the photo were one of the gifts) and I just feel my body looks good in it, which made me feel good. In the end, we are all insecure and sometimes need those reminders that we are beautiful on the inside and out. Now I sound like a Hallmark card or Oprah. 

3. This picture is from Labor Day weekend, when I went to visit my family in Houston. Here I am with my niece Lily. She's an amazing girl and is always quite attached to me when I visit, which is surprising because I don't get to see her that much. I've never thought of myself as good with kids and I've never really had a desire to have kids, but Lily shows me a different side of myself. But for now, I'm happy being the fun uncle.

2. Here is Armani again, but this time on my birthday. She had just ordered me a birthday shot and then got someone to take a picture of us. It helped make my 27th birthday amazing.

1. The top photo of 2009 is one of Dustin and I getting "married" on Vegas night at Parliament House. This picture captures the year for me. It's been filled with many fun nights out and this one was no different. It also has the extra political punch of not actually being able to get married even though I've been with Dustin for over six years and love him very much. The best I can do is get married by an Elvis in the courtyard of the world famous Parliament House Resort, but part of me wouldn't change that for the world, because at least there I'm respected, cared for, and, above all, accepted.

-Stephen (Photo God) 

Thursday, December 10, 2009

So This Is Christmas?

My parents arrive in Orlando in just three hours. I'm sitting here in my apartment doing last minute cleaning and preparing. They haven't been here in a year and a half and I've only seen them once in that year and a half. I saw them in September when Dustin and I flew to Houston (for more on that see my post entitled "I Don't Wanna Be a Cowboy"). But it's always exciting to have them visit me in my natural habitat and their visits always highlight that ever changing relationship I have with my parents. 

It is perhaps their visits that most remind me that I'm older and grown up. At 27, I have a very different life than my parents have or had. Obviously, I'm gay and that does make a difference, but also my relationship with Dustin is radically different than the relationship they have, my friends are different, and my daily activities are rather different than that of my parents (drinking, drag queens, dancing, and sex toys). What is fun about them visiting here is that they get a glimpse of that life that sometimes feels very disconnected from them. 

Growing up my family was very, very close. We all lived close together and we had family gatherings often. We ate dinners together and were always there on holidays. In the last four and a half years everything has changed. I moved to Florida and my older sister moved to Texas. In these four or so years the rest of my family have all moved to Texas and I've remained here in Florida. It is around this time of the year (Christmas) that I'm reminded of how much our lives have changed. I won't see my family on Christmas this year, and  I didn't see them last year either. My parents visit for the next few days will be my only Christmas celebration with them. 

These are the things that make me feel grown up. I no longer have that overwhelming excitement for Christmas and all of the traditions from my childhood are over. Last year was the first Christmas I ever spent with just Dustin and it was a great day, but very different from every year before that. When you are kid it's hard to imagine a time when Christmas won't be the most amazing time of the year. Now as an adult I can see the stress it can cause and the loneliness. I'm lucky to have Dustin and we have created our own bond and family right here in this apartment. 

I've also come to cherish the moments you get to spend with family and have realized that days don't really matter. What does it matter if I have a great time with my parents on December 10th and not on December 25th? You have to take the times you can get. 

Here in Orlando, I've found a comfortable community to be a part of and while no one here is my blood relative I feel very much at home. I'm looking forward to the next five days with my parents and showing them Christmas Orlando style.

-Stephen (War Is Over)

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Top Ten Moments of 2009

At times I've described 2009 as a difficult year for me and in many ways it was, but this post is all about the good times of 2009 and the top 10 moments of the year. These are personal moments, accomplishments, and all around good times.

10. Being named one of four finalists for The Ledge's Chapbook Contest. Back in February I was contacted by The Ledge and told I was one of four finalists for their annual chapbook contest. They wanted to know if my manuscript was still available and said they would let me know the winner in a few days. I anxiously waited through those days, and in the end I didn't win, but this was a huge boost to my confidence and marked the beginning of a great year for getting published. I've gotten more poems published this year than any other year and for that I'm very thankful to 2009. 

9. Orlando PRIDE 2009. Orlando's PRIDE this year provided one of the best nights out of the year. Dustin and I had a blast dancing away at P-House with hundreds of sweaty men. I think we each danced with seven or eight different guys throughout the night. The spirit of PRIDE was everywhere and nothing says PRIDE like rubbing some stranger's ass or making out with a cute guy you just met. 

8. My 27th Birthday. It is still very hard for me to believe I just turned 27, not because I think it's old, but because time has passed so quickly. Regardless, it was a great celebration weekend. I spent the weekend with my man and my friends going to both Parliament House and Disney. The highlight was getting a free birthday shot from my favorite drag queen, Armani.  

7. Earning enough money to pay for an Atlantis All-Gay Cruise for Dustin and I to go on in January. One of the hardest parts of the past year has been my job situation. It's been stressful and has provided me with plenty of anxiety. Due to the high number of students I've been teaching, the last six months, I've been making some extra money and was able to, just last week, book a cruise for Dustin and me. We set sail on January 17th and we can't wait. We went on an Atlantis cruise nearly two years ago and loved it. Atlantis rents out some of the top ships in the world from different cruise lines and completely takes them over. They do about five or six different cruises every year. The January one is always the largest. They set their own rules for the ship, provide completely different entertainment, including huge parties that go all night, but the best part is being with 2,000 gay men for seven days. It's like a utopia and you don't want to leave. It is the most relaxing and fun vacation a gay person can go on, especially when you are a couple. You never have to worry about holding hands or being affectionate in public, or having some negative experience. I'm sure I will write plenty about it after it happens, so look forward to those posts.  

6. Starting this blog. In May I jumped onto the blogging scene knowing very little of what would become of Joe's Jacket. I had toyed with the idea for months, maybe even a year or two, but had always stopped myself and, in many ways, I'm glad I did. I think I needed to start this blog when I did and not any sooner. I'm proud I have kept it up and haven't let it fall along the roadside of the past year. It has helped me meet other writers and it has kept me writing and thinking, which is always a good thing. I've also been pleased that I've gotten to share my thoughts on various topics including gay rights, sex tapes, and good poetry books. I hope, if you are reading this now, that you have enjoyed some part of this blog over last six months. 

5. Getting to see Anthony Rapp and Adam Pascal in RENT twice! I've been a huge RENT fan since Dustin introduced me to the show the first month we were together (back in 2003). In 2009 the Broadway tour welcomed Anthony Rapp and Adam Pascal from the original production and I was lucky enough to get to see it twice. I saw it in Tampa in July and here in Orlando a few days ago. Getting to see two original cast members in the front row (because we always rush for tickets) was an amazing experience. The show means a lot to me as a gay person and is very much tied to my relationship with Dustin, because it has always been something I've experienced with him. 

4. Gay Days 2009. Gays Days is always a fantastic time here in Orlando, but this year was particularly great, especially the Saturday night I spent at Parliament House. I got to participate in my first ever foam party. The day at Magic Kingdom is also always a powerful experience.

3. Getting my poem "Mistaken Identity" published in The Antioch Review and getting paid for it. Money and poetry don't often go together, so I was thrilled when I got a poem accepted in The Antioch Review and actually got paid for the work. The magazine is a good one and the 30 bucks I got from the poem bought me a new pair of underwear. 

2. Twitter. I'm counting this as one moment, when in reality it has been a series of tiny moments. I'm not a huge tech person. I don't get excited by fancy cell phones or computers, but this past year I fell in love with a website. Twitter has been one of the best online experiences I've ever had. I created an account last December, but didn't really start using is full force until May of 2009, and the rest is history. What I've loved about Twitter is all the people I ever met. I've found it to be a great tool for networking and learning about poetry publications, contests, and projects. It seems the poetry world has very much embraced Twitter. I've also used it to promote myself, which hopefully is working. It's the compression of the site that really gets me and keeps me engaged. I love that it's just these little messages (tweets) and nothing else. Most social networking sites have become too much. Twitter is just right. I'm just praying they don't fuck it up.

And the number 1 moment of 2009: Celebrating six years with Dustin. Of all the things I've done in my life, the one thing I know for sure is I picked the right guy. Does that mean our lives are perfect? No, but Dustin and I have grown and changed together and are constantly there for each other. I know he would do anything for me and I for him. Six years is a long time when you are young, like we are, and when you live in a society that seems to not value long term relationships. For me this was the best moment of the year and my proudest accomplishment.

-Stephen (Here's to 2010 and 10 more great moments)

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Top Ten Poetry Books I've Read This Year

Today is December 1st, which reminds us all that the year is rapidly ending. It is hard to believe that 2009 is almost over. It's been one of the fastest years of my life. They say the older you get the faster time goes, and I now firmly believe it. I have decided to devote many of my December posts to the age old tradition of top ten lists. At the end of the year we like to make lists of the best, the worst, and really anything else we can come up with. 

Since a good portion of my blog is devoted to poetry, I figured this was a good place to start. I don't always read poetry books in the year they are published, therefore I have not kept the list to books from 2009 (many are, but not all). What I have done is post the top ten poetry books I read this year. These are books that stood out to me, changed me, and made me grow as a writer and reader. I hope you will check some of them out.

10. Please by Jericho Brown (2008)
I read this book last winter and very much enjoyed it. Brown's use of music throughout the book is beautifully done. It's sexy and challenging. 

9. The Badboy Book of Erotic Poetry Edited by David Laurents (1995)
I bought this book used off of Amazon and when I hold in my hands I can feel all the other men who have held it, read it, and probably jerked off to it. My copy looks older than 1995 because it has been read, used, and abused, which is all part of the fun. It's just what it says: "erotic poetry." I haven't made it through every single poem yet, but this book still makes the cut. It combines edgy poets like Antler with well-known poets like Mark Bibbins, Mark Doty, and Allen Ginsberg. With such titles as "Tagteam Blowjob," "For Old Men Who Suck Cock," and "Smart Boys Turn Me On," how could you go wrong?
8. A Brief History of Time by Shaindel Beers (2009)
This is the first book on the list that came out in 2009 and it's a winner. I reviewed this book a month or two ago on this blog, so check out what I said then. Partly, what made me include this book on my top ten list, is how much I related to the poems. Beers writes a lot about the Midwest and even mentions Florida (the two places I've spent most of my life). I found inspiration in how she handled her topics and look forward to more of her work.

7. Speak Low by Carl Phillips (2009)
Carl Phillips is one of the first contemporary poets I fell in love with. Speak Low is his tenth book of poems (which is amazing because he only turned 50 this year). While Cortege will always be my favorite book of his, this one doesn't disappoint. Phillips has a beautiful way with language and his style and approach to poetry is so different from mine, which in a strange way helps me be a better writer. I had the honor of seeing him read while I was getting my MFA at FSU. It was one of the best readings I've ever attended.

6. C. P. Cavafy: Collected Poems translated by Daniel Mendelsohn (2009)
It was this new translation of Cavafy that finally introduced me to his work. Early this year I kept finding articles about this book and I realized I had never read Cavafy's work before. I was blow away once I started reading. His directness and willingness to write about homosexuality in the late 19th century and early 20th century is astonishing and moving. He will be a poet I will continue to read and go back to over and over again. 

5. The First Risk by Charles Jensen (2009)
Jensen's book truly wowed me. It's divided into four distinctive sections and really shows the possibilities of poetry. The first section deals with the murder of Matthew Shepard. I think it is hard to be a gay poet and not, at one point, feel compelled to mention Shepard. I've done it myself, but Jensen takes on the subject in interesting and compelling ways. Another section is devoted to the film Vertigo. I had never seen it, but after reading these poems I had to watch it. There is nothing like a good book of poems that makes you want to know more about the subject they are writing about. This book inspired me to try new forms and to never underestimate what you can accomplish in a well-crafted poem. The only thing I will say negative about the book is that it's oddly shaped and doesn't work well on a bookcase with other standard sized poetry books.

4. Lucifer at the Starlite by Kim Addonizio (2009)
Someone once asked me if my poetry is hard to read or if it's easy like Kim Addonizio. I didn't really know how to respond. On the one hand I understood what he meant, but on the other hand I wanted to say, "I don't really believe in hard vs. easy poetry." These labels are problematic. Yes, Addonizio's poetry, on the surface, is easy to read, if you find poetry that uses current language, relatable situations, and 21st century humor easy. The problem is most think "easy" means you can whip through it and not look back. For me Addonizio is not just "easy" poetry. She writes in frank and interesting way about sex, women, and current affairs. Lucifer at the Starlite is her newest book and truly one of her best. She takes on a variety of topics and really paints a challenging portrait of America today. 

3. Taste of Cherry by Kara Candito (2009)
This is another book I reviewed here on this blog and one I still highly recommend. I am slightly bias because I did attend FSU with Kara, but believe me I attended school with many and I would not necessarily recommend all of their books. Taste of Cherry is a wonderful collection of poems that vary in location, voice, and subject matter, but are all beautifully crafted together. It's a book you will want to read again and again. Stay tuned to my blog, because I interviewed Kara for Boxcar Poetry Review. When the interview is published I'll be the first to let you know.

2. Ka-Ching! by Denise Duhamel (2009)
I read this book months ago and I still think of it every time I see an escalator (you'll have to read the book to find out why, or read my review I posted months ago). This book will not disappoint. It's Duhamel at her finest and that's pretty damn fine. 

And number 1:  My Vocabulary Did This To Me: The Collected Poems of Jack Spicer edited by Peter Gizzi and Kevin Killian 
This is the book that has changed me the most in 2009. About a year ago, I had never heard of Jack Spicer and then I started hearing about this book coming out and I was intrigued. I'm a huge 1950s poetry fan. Frank O'Hara is my god, but I've mostly studied and focused on the New York scene of the 50s and 60s. Spicer was on the West Coast and brilliant. After I read more about him, I understood why I'd never heard of him. This book, in many ways, is his debut to a wider audience. For the first time many of his poems are seeing the light of day. My Vocabulary Did This To Me is one of the few collected poems books that I've read cover to cover within weeks of buying it. I just couldn't stop and wanted to take each poem in and examine it. In many ways, Spicer fits the mold of other 1950s poets, like O'Hara, but he's also doing something strikingly different. He was gay and a rather odd fellow and had very distinct ideas about poetry and the creation of it. He died, like O'Hara, at age 40 and his last words were: "My vocabulary did this to me." If nothing else Spicer has made me realize you have to have a great last line prepared (especially if you drink a lot).

-Stephen (sorry Bryan for posting more books)