Sunday, November 28, 2010

Podcast 28: Brad Pitt Poems Part 4

Today is the last Sunday of November and as promised I have recorded my entire Brad Pitt poetry series this month. Today's podcast includes the final two poem titled "Questioning Our Future After Watching Fight Club" and "Deciding Our Future After Seeing Brad Pitt on Larry King Live."

As I wrote before, this series completely changed the way I viewed pop culture in poetry. These eight poems were a breakthrough for me and were all really fun to write. I hope you have enjoyed listening to them. If you missed any of them, check out my last three podcasts (posted on Sundays in November).

-Stephen (Changed)

Monday, November 22, 2010

On Turning 28

Twenty-eight years ago I forced my way into the world. I don't remember my entrance, but if you ask my mom, she can tell you it was a long and hard journey. While I may not remember those first few moments of my life, I do have a pretty good memory and always have. It's probably what has helped me be the writer I am.

From my first few years it is only flashes, but there are many. I remember the first house I lived in, even though we moved to a different one when I was four. I remember falling behind the bed in that house and being terrified. I remember this old lady from church babysitting me and my older sister and how she was eating KFC. I remember the carpet in that house and the Christmas someone stole decorations from our yard. It's all little glimpses.

The memories then get more solid. There are scenes I can run through my head at any moment. My parents telling me, at nine, that my grandmother had died. My first school play. The day my dog got hit by a car because the neighbor boy let him out the door. The day I learned to ride my bike and got my picture in the local newspaper. My sister's wedding. Getting my learner's permit and my dad teaching me to drive. My first car (an '86 Buick). My first car accident. My high school graduation. Leaving for college. It goes on and on.

Then there are all those moments I never felt right or that I belonged anywhere, and then the moment I finally admitted I was gay, which opened up a whole new world. Then there's the first time I met Dustin. Our first kiss. The first time we had sex. Our first fight. Our first gay club. Our first pride event. Our first gay cruise. So many firsts.

My memory is good, but I've also realized that the older you get the more you have to remember. Twenty-eight is not old, but it has made me think a lot about life and what has happened and what will happen. I've been a bit down the last few weeks due to this approaching birthday. It is not so much the number that bothers me, but that not everything is how I want it right now. See, I'm a perfectionist about where my life should be. I've always had a very direct plan and the last two and a half years haven't gone as planned. I'm still desperately unhappy with my job, and while I have so many other great things, my job weighs heavy on me. I've never been the person who wants to just do a job. Your job takes too much of your time to not be something that you love, yet the economy and basic facts of life have made it difficult to get a job I love right now. I know, I know, I'm young and I have time. I've heard it all before, but I also know that's how people get too comfortable with things they don't like, and I refuse to get comfortable.

I have high hopes for twenty-eight. My plan includes finding a new job no matter what. This year will also see more publications by me. I have quite a few coming out in the first few months of 2011, and my first book, The Hanky Code, which I co-wrote with Bryan Borland, should be out before my next birthday.

I've actually had a really great birthday already. I've been celebrating since Friday and have more fun planned tonight with friends. I know in many, many ways I'm very lucky. I'm lucky to be healthy, to have a strong passion for writing and the strength to put it all out there, and lucky to have an amazing partner who continues to grow with me and support my craziness at every turn. I've also gained some wonderful friendships in the last year. It is amazing to be supported and loved by a great group of people. I'm also very lucky to have a gay community that makes me feel like I belong. This last one is often what keeps me going, and I know, because I've lived in some pretty conservative places, this is not the experience lots of people have. For that I am thankful.

For anyone who shares my birthday, may it be a great day! Here's to the next year!

-Stephen (28)

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Podcast 27: Brad Pitt Poems Part 3

It is podcast Sunday and my third installment of my Brad Pitt series. I have devoted the month of November to recording my eight poem series that uses Brad Pitt and his films to discuss the workings of a gay relationship. Check out my last two Sunday posts for the first four poems.

Today is the recording of poems five and six in the series. They are titled "Disappointed and Horny After Watching Troy" and "Trying to Sleep After Watching Thelma and Louise." Both build on what has come before them, but also stand on their own.

Next Sunday I will post a recording of the final two poems. I hope you enjoy listening.

-Stephen (Pitt)

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Who's the Woman?: A Look at Gender Roles in Same-Sex Relationships

One of my biggest pet-peeves is when someone, after finding out that I'm in a relationship with another man, asks me "who's the woman?" This is sometimes asked in a funny or sexually inappropriate way (as in who is the bottom and who is the top), but it is often asked in a more domestic and gender-binding way (as in who takes on the womanly household tasks and who does the manly things). Either way, this is a troublesome question.

Let me break this down for you. I am a man. My partner, Dustin, is also a man. We are both men. We both have penises. We have both been raised as men. We are not women. We do not have vaginas. Is that clear? See, gender and traditional gender roles are not issues in my relationship, and for that I am thankful.

When I started dating Dustin, we didn't sit down and have a talk about who would be the "woman," and when we moved in together, there were no expectations of the roles each would take. I do most of the cooking not because I am a woman, but because I like to cook. Dustin takes care of most of the car things, if it works out, because he knows I hate doing that. He doesn't really like car stuff either, but is willing to do it. Other tasks vary depending on availability and work schedules. We do argue from time to time about tasks, but it is never in the context of gender or expectations setup by society. And when it comes to the bedroom, no one is a woman, because again we are both men.

I know, most of the time, when people ask this question they don't mean it so literally, but what, then, do they mean? To me it is a perfect illustration of how narrow people's thinking can be. It seems there are heterosexual people, not all, that find it very challenging to understand how a relationship between two members of the same-sex can function. In many ways, I can't blame them. We are raised in a culture that constantly tells us how heterosexual relationships should look. You can find models on TV, in movies, in books, in magazines, in video games, etc. Close to 90% of our entertainment is based on this old joke of what men are like and what women are like. This is the basis for most sitcoms or romantic comedies. It is also the material that most standup comedians rely on to make people laugh. It is so ingrained in people that when presented with something different they still try to fit it into the hetero mold (that's going to hurt).

As a gay man, I am happy to be free of the shackles of this man vs. woman silliness. I honestly don't know how straight people deal with it. What I love about my relationship and about my life is this ability to explore the power of two men together. I don't place one kind of relationship over another (are you listening Christian right?), but I do know the bond that I have, being in a same-sex relationship, is a different bond than a heterosexual couple has. This is what fascinates me about homosexuality, and I think what has fascinated people for centuries. It might also be what terrifies people. Is there some deeper reason why some people are born gay? That is a topic for another post.

For me, this is at the heart of what I strive to explore within my poetry as a gay man. I'm extremely pulled in by the domestic life and inner-workings of a relationship between two men. There is a brotherhood there and a closeness that I'm still trying to get my mind around. It is through my own creative work that I have figured out things about my personal relationship and what I want from it. This is the power that poetry can have. I've also learned a great deal by reading other gay poets who explore this very topic.

I challenge all of us to ask better questions. When faced with the unfamiliar, don't ask how does this fit my mold, but rather learn about other molds. I love being a man and I love being gay. I can't imagine being anything else. Too many people (thanks to terrible TV) think all gay men want to be women. No, that's far, far from the truth. We love and respect women and we are willing to blur the gender expectations of society, but we really like our penises.

-Stephen (Man)

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Project Tasteless Challenge #4: The Don’t Pass Out Until Barry Manilow Sings New Year’s Eve Cocktail

Today, I am using my blog for a slightly different purpose. I am entering a contest that is being held on Rachel Wilkerson's blog. You should all check it out. Here is my entry for the fourth challenge (yes, I am a little late to the game, but this challenge involved drinking, so I couldn't pass it up).

I’ve always wanted to love New Year’s Eve. Even from a young age, I felt this holiday was somehow meant for me. It’s the ending of something, yet the beginning of something else. I was a sucker for the sentimentality of the holiday. From the time I could write, I've kept a journal (it’s called a journal because I’m a boy, but really it is a diary). Each year I made a point to write an entry in my journal in the first hours of the new year. There, in my bad handwriting, I would imagine the year to come and layout my goals. This made me feel older and wiser than I actually was.

In reality, my plans to love New Year’s Eve were often thwarted by my parents who never wanted to go out, or if they did it was to an early bird buffet. They also never drank. Well, that’s not completely true. My mother would take a few sips of a cocktail and then say she was light headed couldn’t drink the rest. My father might make it through one, but these were always frozen or fruity drinks. After our 5 PM dinner and my parents’ sips of alcohol, our family would spend the evening at home playing board games and watching Dick Clark’s Rockin’ New Year’s Eve. From my living room in Indiana, I would sit and watch all of those people in Times Square with their silly glasses and confetti and I'd imagine being there in the crowd of cheering drunk people. New York City was so foreign to a Midwest boy like me.

One year I distinctly remember saying, “someday I will be in New York for New Year’s” and my parents, looking horrified, said, “You don’t want to go there. It’s busy and dirty and you’d be freezing.” They took a similar stance about the dangers of the roads in our city of 40,000 people: “There are drunks out there, best to stay in on a night like this.” But I was determined to love New Year’s Eve regardless.

What did sustain me through those years of staying in and watching the ball fall on TV was Barry Manilow’s performance around 1 AM of “It’s Just Another New Year’s Eve.” By this point, my sisters would be in bed or asleep on the couch. My mother would, for sure, be in bed, possibly going before the stroke of midnight, and my father would be snoring in his La-Z-Boy. It was often just me, Barry, that overly sentimental song, and the beginning of a brand new year. See, I’ve been a huge fanilow from the time I can remember. I had all of his cassette tapes as a kid and would often sit on my bed with my walkman and listen to him for hours. Many of the tapes I inherited from my grandmother who died when I was nine, but also shared my love of Barry. On summer vacations, the five of us (my parents, two sisters, and me) would pack into our Cadillac and drive from Indiana to St. Pete Beach. This was an 18 hour drive and to fill the time we’d take turns picking the music and every time it came to me I would select a Manilow tape. And just in case you are wondering, yes, I actually did still have to come out to my parents when I turned 20.

This annual viewing of Barry Manilow’s song continued for years and even into my adulthood. After moving to Florida to go to grad school, I remember making my boyfriend stay up and watch it. Yes, my at home New Year’s Eves continued for some time. I went to grad school in Tallahassee, which isn't exactly jumpin' jumpin'. Each year Barry got older and older, and so did I.

It hasn’t been until the last two years that I have actually had more wild and crazy New Year’s Eves out on the town here in Orlando, but I often think of Barry Manilow in those first few hours of the new year no matter where I am. I haven’t made it to New York City, but it’s still a goal.

As I’ve grown up, I’ve also become a functioning alcoholic and find that New Year’s Eve is even better with the perfect cocktail (who knew?). For this challenge, I wanted something festive, but also full of alcohol. When you think of New Year’s, you think of champagne, so that is where I started. But I didn’t want any old champagne, so I bought Moscato Spumante Champagne made by Barefoot Wines. The Barefoot Moscato is my favorite wine ever (don’t judge me). It’s sweet and delicious. Plus, Barefoot is a huge gay supporter. I've had many a free sample at a gay pride event, which is actually where I first tried the Moscato Champagne. Next, I thought a shot of Vodka would help out the alcohol content. I then added white grape peach juice and some frozen grapes. I have to say it was refreshing and sweet. You can easily knock these back, so you might want to have some snacks to munch on while you are waiting on Barry (as a Midwest boy, I would recommend a good cheese ball).

Here is the exact recipe for The Don’t Pass Out Until Barry Manilow Sings New Year’s Eve Cocktail:

1 shot of Vodka

1 shot of White Grape Peach juice

Fill the rest of the glass with Moscato Spumante Champagne

Garnish with frozen grapes

This cocktail is sure to please and will have you singing Barry Manilow tunes all night long.

-Stephen (Fanilow)

Podcast 26: Brad Pitt Poems Part 2

Welcome to podcast Sundays! As I said last week, I am devoting my November podcasts to recording my Brad Pitt series. I started last Sunday with the first two poems. If you missed them, you can listen here.

Today's podcast includes the next two poems in the series titled "Making Love After Watching Interview with the Vampire" and "Protesting the Circus After Watching 12 Monkeys." These two are the beginning of the film poems. Each takes on a different Brad Pitt film and further examines the relationship of a gay couple.

I hope you will enjoy them.

-Stephen (Film Buff)

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Breakfast with Thom Gunn: A Review

I love being exposed to a new poet. I especially like it when that poet enjoys writing about similar topics as me, but does it in a completely different way. A few weeks ago, one of my fellow employees gave me a copy of Breakfast with Thom Gunn by Randall Mann and it was a fantastic reading experience.

Mann is a poet I was not familiar with at all, which allowed for a very pleasant surprise as I read his book all in one sitting. What I admire about Mann's work is how compressed and tight his poems are. Over the years, especially in the last two, I have gotten long-winded and have explored and pushed my personal length boundaries. Most of my poems now spill onto at least two pages and last spring I wrote a 13 page poem on Jeffrey Dahmer. I did study with David Kirby, so this really should come as no surprise. In Mann's book, the poems are short, but packed full of power and insight.

He tackles many of the issues I'm interested in addressing like sexuality, relationships, and gay politics. When opening the book, I was at first unsure if this was going to be my cup of tea. As most of you know, I am a huge fan of great titles and of letting your title really drive the poem. Mann, while a great poet, clearly goes for the more simple title. For example, the book includes poems titled "Song," "Pastoral," "Syntax," "Ode," "Ocean Beach," and "Monday." These are not exactly attention grabbing. This, coupled with the tight and short poems, made me assume this was going to be a slightly tame and quiet book.

I was wrong.

I realized just how wrong I was in the first poem ("Early Morning on Market Street") when I came across these lines: "And though desire // is a dirty word these days, what / else to call the idling car, its passenger door / pushed open; or the shirtless man-- / he must be mad, tweaked out on speed--." Right away, my expectations were changed, and I was intrigued.

These poems come in neat and tidy packages, but the content is anything but neat and tidy. It is a wonderful contrast. There is much exposed in these poems that is raw and real, yet beautiful. This is perfectly shown in "Monday." The poem is written in second person and is addressing the "you's" new boyfriend. It captures the excitement of a new relationship, but closes with these telling lines: "Look: wildflowers bloom in the streetcar tracks; / a syringe lies in the grass. It isn't / beautiful, of course, this life. It is." These lines seem to fit the overall book. Many of the images are not beautiful, but they are at the same time. It's all very contemporary.

Another stand out poem in the collection is called "The Mortician in San Francisco," which is in the voice of the mortician who prepared the body of Dan White for burial. For those who don't know, Dan White is who killed Harvey Milk. This poem embodies so much of what I love about poetry. It's a great topic and a wonderful perspective to take that truly gives new insight into a familiar story. It reminds me of Sharon Olds's poem "The Death of Marilyn Monroe," which is from the perspective of the ambulance men who carried out Monroe's body. I'm always drawn to these famous stories, but told from an unexpected angle. I also loved the poems "Ganymede on Polk Street" and "N."

As a whole, I greatly enjoyed this book. It does, in many ways, pay tribute to Thom Gunn, who I had not read much of until this past July. I actually wrote a blog post about him then. You can check it out here.

Randall Mann is another great gay poet to add to my bookshelf and one I will continue to look for and read in the years to come. I often learn the most from poets who write very differently from me, yet still hold many of the same ideas and values. I also included his photo here, because he's pretty sexy. I don't typically comment on the looks of poets and probably shouldn't, but it's my blog, so I'll do what I want.

I'm thankful to my co-worker, John, who introduced me to this book. Poetry is best spread by word of mouth, so go out and tell someone about a great poetry book you just read, or send them here and I'll tell them.

-Stephen (The Most Important Meal)

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Nerve: A Beginning

Last night was the first meeting of a new poetry workshop I started here in Orlando called Nerve (which comes from a Frank O'Hara quote). This is something I've been wanting to do for quite some time. In many ways, I miss the academic community and I miss being around other writers talking writing. Many of my friends do write and are big readers, but we spend most of our hanging out time doing things like getting drunk, tipping drag queens, dancing with the gays of Orlando, or stuffing our faces at 3 o'clock in the morning at a local diner. That's not to say we aren't smart and don't have smart conversations, but I wanted something more focused: A time set aside for the discussion of writing and literature.

I was even more pushed to do this after reading the book Unending Dialogue: Voices from an AIDS Poetry Workshop edited by Rachel Hadas. The introductory essay got me thinking about the positives of a workshop. She often only had two or three men come to meetings and many died during the two years she conducted them, but wonderful work was produced. It also got me thinking about workshops outside of the school setting. All of the workshops I have been to have been part of academia and part of getting a grade. I wanted something community based and open to everyone. There is a lot that can come out of a mixed group with differing interests and backgrounds.

This led me to starting Nerve, which I have called a workshop for GLBT people and their allies. You clearly don't have to be gay to come, but I wanted the workshop to be an open space for GLBT work. I had no idea what to expect from organizing the group. I figured maybe a friend or two would show up that would be it. I created a page on Facebook and encouraged people to spread the word. Many of my friends did just that. My goal was to get at least one person I didn't already know to come. Thankfully, my goal was met. Six people came to the first meeting and one of those six I met for the first time last night.

My goal for each meeting is to introduce the group to two poems by GLBT writers (mostly contemporary). For the first meeting, I had us read Richard Tayson's "My Mother Asks If Men Make Love Face to Face" and Kara Candito's "He Was Only Half as Beautiful." I love both of these poems and talked about them in the context of discussing the importance of having a great title. I was impressed by the group's comments on each. They seemed to really enjoy and get a lot out of both. For this first week, I also planned a writing exercise around taking titles from other poems as a jumping off point for a new poem. We closed the meeting by looking at a couple poems that one of the members brought, which will be the goal of the meetings in the future.

I'm thankful to everyone who came, and I know many others were interested but couldn't make it last night. The meeting helped fulfill a desire in me to talk more about writing and poetry, but also to teach more. I currently only teach online, and I miss the interactions of a classroom. While my living room isn't a classroom, it did provide an open learning space.

The goal of this post was to give an overview of the group and the first meeting and let everyone know that you are more than welcome to join the Facebook group. Our second meeting will be on Monday, November 29th at 8 PM.

-Stephen (Pleased)

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Podcast 25: Brad Pitt Poems Part 1

For the month of November, I am devoting my poetry podcasts to recording a series of poems I wrote that use Brad Pitt and Brad Pitt films as their jumping off points. The poems are interrelated and work as the central section of my first book manuscript.

As I've written before, these poems mean a lot to me, because they were a huge breakthrough in my thinking about pop culture in poetry and about how I could get the workings of a gay relationship onto the page. The poems are strange in places, funny in others, and often a little heartbreaking.

Today's podcast is a recording of the first two poems in the series. They are titled "A Gay Man's Ode to Brad Pitt" and "Arguing After You Claim to Have Seen Brad Pitt Getting in a Taxi." There are eight poems in total and I will be recording and posting the other six in the weeks to come.

I hope you enjoy listening.

-Stephen (Starstruck)

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

When Did We Forget How to Disagree?

Today is Election Day 2010 and things are looking pretty grim for us Democrats. The excitement of 2008 is long gone and much has happened in just two years. There are many things I could write about today. I could encourage you all to go out and vote, which I hope you have or will. I could say how disappointed I am with so many of the Democrats and with Obama, but also how fearful I am of this Tea Party surge. But all of this you know or could expect from me. Instead, I wanted to write about an old friend of mine.

My best friend growing up was a boy named Chad. We knew each other from the beginning. We both went to the same elementary school, middle school, and high school. We became especially close during our middle school years. Chad and I were unlikely friends in many ways. Physically, we looked very different. He was always a little thicker and more boyish with buzzed dark brown hair and I was the skinny red haired boy with freckles. He enjoyed sports and I did not. He played baseball and was a wrestler for a short period of time. I worked for the high school newspaper and wrote one of my first stories on a wrestling match. He was into student council, but not for the same reasons I was. He really did care, and I did it for social reasons. We were both on the speech team. He did debate and I read poetry. He was religious and conservative and I was raised religious (though always questioned it) and I seem to have been born a liberal even though I think my parents voted Republican until I came out of the closet. But we did share a love of learning and of discussing.

We lived close to each other and spent a good amount of time each day on the school bus. We were probably the only boys that at 13 sat on a bus in rural-ish Indiana discussing abortion, gun laws, and capital punishment. The thing is we rarely agreed, yet we just kept talking and challenging the other to think more deeply. This is how our relationship continued for years. Of course, we also joked around, both loved movies, books, and music, but these discussions were at the heart of our relationship.

In all of those years, I never remember us fighting or getting angry with each other. We spent endless nights going to movies together, driving around town listening to music, or sitting in my basement just talking, which we always did civilly. He was also one of the first people to ever take an interest in my poetry. He would carefully read it and want to talk about it with me.

In the weeks leading up to this election, I've thought a lot about Chad and those years of talking politics with him. We don't talk much anymore. We stayed close through most of college, but then life happens. He's a teacher in Indiana now. He's married and just had his first kid. Clearly, very different from me still.

This current election has been appalling. No one talks about the issues. They just shout at each other or spout endless lies or ideas with no basis for them. People seem to have the impression that you can just say whatever you want without backing it up or paying the consequence. Or if you say something enough, it will magically become true.

Those days and nights of debating with Chad made me a smarter person. I truly believe that. I was always pushed to defend my ideas and to think through them in a thoughtful and respectful manner. I didn't agree with lots of things Chad thought, but I respected him and his convictions.

Today, it is so easy to forget how to have actual conversations with people. The media is clearly at fault, but so is our changing attitudes about how we communicate. The internet has really allowed people to say anything they want to a rather large audience. Anyone can have a blog (I mean really, if I can have one, anyone can). Recently, we've seen the effects that Facebook messages can have, and I see it everyday in my interactions with students as an online instructor. We need to listen more, talk less, and always think. Oh, and read. I always like to plug reading.

No matter what your views are, believe them fully and be able to defend them properly and civilly. I will always be thankful to Chad for helping teach me that and I hope I taught him a thing or two myself.

I would go find a silly photo of us and post it, but I will save us both the embarrassment. That is the civil thing to do.

-Stephen (Civil)