Thursday, February 24, 2011

New Publication: The Los Angeles Review

If you follow me on Twitter or are my friend on Facebook, you probably have already seen me post and promote my latest poem to get published. My poem "A Man Tells My Lover and Me Happy Valentine's Day" is in the current issue of The Los Angeles Review. I'm thrilled to see this poem in print. I wrote it over a year ago and it is probably one of the shortest poems I've ever written.

Writing can be a very solitary act, so I always find it rewarding to hold in my hands an issue of a magazine containing my work along side the work of many other great writers. I am honored to be a part of the The Los Angeles Review. This is the second time they have published me, which is exciting and one of the first times I've reappeared in a magazine. It feels like a new step in my writing career to have people want to include me in more than one issue.

As always, I encourage people to read and check out literary magazines. The Los Angeles Review is well worth the money, so go buy a copy and read my poem (http://redhen.org/losangelesreview/). You can also still get a copy of the spring 2010 issue, which contains my poem "A History of Hangers." Happy reading!

-Stephen (Pleased)

Monday, February 21, 2011

Interview Series: Valerie Wetlaufer

Once a month during 2011, I am devoting a blog post to interviewing an emerging GLBT poet. I interviewed Bryan Borland in January and this post contains my February interview with Valerie Wetlaufer.

I’ve known Valerie (or V) since graduate school. We both got our MFAs at Florida State University. She entered the year after me, so we spent just two years together and often had the same workshops and courses. I’ve admired her work for quite some time and enjoyed getting the chance to ask about her work and her thoughts on various issues facing the poetry world. I hope you will enjoy our conversation.

S: You have lived in many different places and climates. You are currently out in Utah working on your PhD, which is quite different from Florida, which is where you were before. Do you find that location influences or changes the work that you write?

V: Definitely. I’m originally from Iowa, and I went to college in Vermont and studied abroad in Paris, so I truly have been all over the place. I am very inspired by my surroundings, and have written poems about a lot of those places. I was drawn to Florida initially because the landscape and climate were so different from anywhere else I’d lived, as is Utah. Growing up in a rural area that I find incredibly beautiful and spending a lot of time outside in my youth really tied me to the land. I think I am also drawn to extremes in landscape, like the hot summers and bitingly cold winters of Utah or Vermont, the high mountains versus the beach in Florida. All of these things have made their way into my poetry. And, actually, I find my interest in the body connected with landscape. Maybe that’s my Whitmanic legacy, but the way society disregards queer bodies like we disregard taking care of the planet…I see a definite connection between our bodies and the landscapes we inhabit and that definitely influences the work I do and changes depending on the landscape I’m in. It’s not that I’m exactly and eco-poet, but I’m very interested in the idea of poetry being and doing something greater than itself. I think John Clare is my model for this.

S: Your work often focuses on lesbian themes and, as you just stated, the female body. Do you feel that lesbian poetry is viewed the same way that gay male poetry is? Or is there a difference in reception to the two from your perspective and experience?

V: I feel a kinship with my gay male poet brethren, so maybe the differences don’t stand out as much because of that kinship? I didn’t read contemporary poetry until I started writing it my senior year of college, and I was working with Mark Wunderlich, an astoundingly wonderful gay male poet who introduced me to Mark Bibbins, Spencer Reece, Mark Doty and many others. Gay male poets were the first ones who literally (and literarily) welcomed me into the poetry fold. And when I first began writing poetry, I was really just coming out to the world after a year studying abroad in Paris and being with a gay community for the first time in my life. I was writing a lot about sex and drugs and other sorts of things we do to and with our bodies and I found a lot of inspiration in gay male poetry. I feel like there must be a difference between lesbian and gay poetry, but I feel such a connection between the two. I see them both as my legacy. This year I have been trying to read more lesbian poets and obviously the experience of being a woman and female-bodied has always been more marginalized, not being endowed (pun intended) with male privilege, and there’s a lot of butch/femme dynamics that are interesting, but the way many gay male poets write about the body is revolutionizing our ideas of masculinity, and that fascinates me. I do think there is a difference in reception, because I feel like there are more mainstream gay male poets—Mark Doty, Carl Phillips, etc—but I don’t think that’s because the public is more comfortable with male homosexuality, just because these poets are men and the public is more comfortable with men than women, regardless of sexuality. The recent VIDA count that shows a vast disparity between the number of men and the number of women published (while a problematic cis-gender binary) proves that there is a difference. Because it didn’t measure gay male poets vs lesbian poets, it measured all men vs all women, and the simple fact is that, overall, men are published and reviewed more widely than women. I have to believe that’s true in the gay community as well. As Eileen Myles wrote for The Awl recently: “Because a woman is someone who grew up observing that a whole lot more was being imagined by everyone for her brother and the boys around her in school.” I think gay men understand and work against this disparity more than most straight men, but at the same time, some gay men are more misogynistic than straight men, and that does leak into the poetry. But I don’t want to go too far down that road, because playing the “who’s more oppressed” game doesn’t get anyone anywhere and it’s beside the point. I like to see all queer poets as part of the same family regardless of gender, even though the disparities exist. I still feel that kinship.

S: That’s a very thoughtful and careful examination of a complex issue. I do agree that I can name a lot more “mainstream” gay poets than lesbian ones, but, as you said, I don’t think that’s because male homosexuality is more widely accepted. I also think the AIDS crisis ended up giving gay male poets more recognition, but that’s an even bigger discussion to have and one full of its own thorny issues and questions.

One thing I’ve always admired about your work is your devotion to a central theme and story. I’m obviously basing this on the project you were working on while we were at FSU together. What drew you to writing that particular manuscript?

V: I don’t know if it’s my early beginnings as a fiction writer, which I fancied myself until my senior year of college, but I like to think of my work in terms of a project. I enjoy working on pieces of a larger whole, rather than individual unconnected poems. The project you’re referring to is my manuscript Call Me By My Other Name, and it began as one poem, “Helpmate” (which was published in Ink Node). The poem was based on a newspaper clipping about two women who lived as man and wife for fifteen years in late 19th-century Wisconsin. I found the clipping in Wisconsin Death Trip by Michael Lesy, and I was intrigued by what this couple’s lives must have been like. Connected with my fiction roots is my drive to tell stories, even though my poems aren’t strictly narrative, they are more lyric-narrative, there is always a story behind the poem. After writing “Helpmate,” I started doing research into lesbianism in the 19th century, though that’s sort of anachronistic. The more research I did, the more poems I wrote. I wanted to know what it was like to be a queer woman during a different time in the same place I grew up (though I’m not from Wisconsin, Iowa is not far). I have always done so much research for my writing, and maybe part of the reason I keep writing books that are part of a large project is because I want to get more than just one or two poems out of all that hard work.

S: I’ve been moving more in this direction with my work and have found it very rewarding. What do you consider to be your greatest poetry accomplishment or moment so far?

V: This has been the hardest question to answer! I have been extremely fortunate with my writing thus far, and I have worked very hard to get to where I am now. I think that my greatest accomplishment was finishing my manuscript and getting it to the point it’s at now. I’m so happy with it, and it has been through so many revisions. It might still go through more before it gets published, but shaping that book and all the time and hard work I put into it is what really made me a poet. The rest is nice, but if the writing itself doesn’t sustain you, then there’s no reason to keep doing this.

S: Very true. If someone came up to you who hasn’t read much poetry, what is the one book you would tell them they have to read?

V: It would depend on who it was. I really love Dorothea Lasky’s book Awe, and I think that might appeal to even the reader who isn’t in love with poetry, because it is accessible, but not in a creepy/crappy Billy Collins way. It’s deceptively simple. But my favorite book of poetry is A Hunger by Lucie Brock-Broido. It’s not for the faint of heart, but it continues to inspire me.

S: You and I have both written on our blogs about the divide or debate between “academic poets” and “non-academic poets.” We both chose to get an MFA and you are currently getting your PhD. What made you pick this path and what do you make of this supposed divide?

V: I once heard someone accuse non-academic poets of a “democracy of taste” and that phrase really bothered me, as it was used pejoratively. The longer I do this, the more I find my taste in poetry expanding and the notion that some poetry is more worthy than others is quite problematic and usually rooted in racism, classism, other isms. I chose the academic path simply because I love school. It is always the thing I have loved most, and I’ve been in school non-stop since I entered preschool at age 4. Learning and teaching feed my work so much, so aside from practical considerations, I really am doing this because I love it. It is certainly not the only path or the only correct path, though it does seem true that the PhD gives you a leg up in the job market. I would never presume to tell someone else that the only way to be a poet is to go into academia. For me, that’s what works because I thrive in a school setting. Though I will say, after 24 years of it, I’m ready to be the teacher full-time, instead of a student. I think the divide comes from an assumed lack of rigor on the part of non-academic poets, and while I do think the best way to be a poet is to read and study poetry (whether you’re studying on your own or in an academic program is up to you), there are stifling aspects to academia and the so-called rigor. I think a certain myopia can develop where we’re all writing the same kinds of poems. I don’t think that happened to you and I don’t think it happened to me, but I’m sure we can both think of people who just wrote poems like their professors’ poems and never expanded their scope. Whether you’re in academia or not, you eventually have to step back and learn how to be a reader of your own work and know how to make choices regardless of the advice you’re getting from outside.

S: That is a fair analysis. I always say the same thing. I believe reading and studying poetry is key to being a good poet, but you can do that inside or outside of school.

What is your advice for young gay poets just starting out in MFA programs?

V: I got really caught up with readership—who was and wasn’t a good reader for my work—when I was in my MFA, and it affected the writing I did. My best advice would be to write the poems you want to write and don’t let who is in the workshop or who is teaching the workshop keep you from doing that work. Of course I’m speaking mostly about content. I don’t mean to imply that you shouldn’t take any advice from your professors or peers, but that you shouldn’t let others determine your project for you. Lots of people told me not to pursue Call Me By My Other Name, or just generally cautioned me away from “identity poems.” To this I have the response Eileen Myles did at the 3 Dollar Bill reading when someone called the work that had already been read “identity poems;” “What the fuck’s an identity poem?” In other words, no one ever tells straight people that they shouldn’t write about themselves, their friends, their lives, because those things are concerned with identity, but when queer writers focus on such things in their work, they are accused of being mired in identity politics. Bullshit. Write what you want. Believe in yourself.

S: Excellent advice. You participated in the Writer’s Retreat for Emerging LGBT Voices last year. What was that experience like and did it influence your work?

V: When I think of the Lambda Retreat, I remember the first night, when we were all going around introducing ourselves and talking about why we were there. Each of us mentioned a desire to be in a workshop with writers who just “got us,” or, as one woman put it, where no one in the room asked if “topping” referred to a dessert. I love my colleagues at Utah, and my professors are consummately supportive, but it can be frustrating to be in a classroom with people who you know don’t support you as a human being (there are a lot of Mormons here, after all) or who accuse you of being “explicit” whenever you have any queer content at all. It was so nice to be in a workshop that focused on more than just the content of my work, but on its quality. Usually workshops slip easily away from formalist critiques when it comes to gay work and can only discuss the queer content, so that you come away from the workshop knowing only that straight readers don’t know what a stone butch is, and that scares them, so they want you to change it. At Lambda we all just understood and it allowed us to focus on other aspects of the craft, while at the same time allowing us the space to be vulnerable and write the poems we’d always been afraid to write. Plus, I found many new readers for my work and good friends. To be honest, my fellow fellas from Lambda are my family. When I got to reconnect with some of them at AWP, I didn’t expect to be as emotional as I was, but it feels like coming home to be with them. Everyone deserves a space like that for their work, and I encourage people to apply for this year’s retreat. Applications are open now, and you can get them through lambdaliterary.org

S: I am considering applying this year. It sounds like an amazing experience. I am sure most gay writers can relate to what you described. I remember many times in workshop where I felt the whole discussion was about the content or about understanding the content and discussing if it was too “shocking.” It would be a completely different experience in a workshop of that nature. From that experience and your others, how would you classify the state of gay and lesbian poetry in America?

V: This month at the AWP conference, I participated in the queer reading 3 Dollar Bill, organized by a fellow Lambda retreat alum Ilse Bendorf. We had 30 queer writers read in many different genres, and it was outstanding to see the variety, talent, humor, diversity and fierceness in their work. While there are certainly still roadblocks and difficulties to being a queer poet, there are also so many fantastic lit journals and the Lambda organization and retreat and the internet provides so many opportunities for connection. I think all of this community-building improves the state of gay and lesbian poetry, because it is difficult to feel as if you’re writing in a vacuum. I know I crave connection and feedback from others, and reassurance that it’s okay to write what Reginald Harris calls “the uncalled-for poem.” At a panel on Building LGBT Literary Traditions at AWP, he shared an anecdote of a gay male writer reading a poem in a not-queer venue and having someone approach him afterward, telling him the poem was “uncalled for.” Reginald said that we needed more not less of the “uncalled for” because queer literature would never be “called for.” I love that and I think it’s so true.

We are lucky, though, that there are so many resources these days for queer work like the queer lit journal Bloom (artsinbloom.org) and Gertrude Press (gertrudepress.org). At the same time a lot of journals which are not exclusively queer are beginning to understand the importance of being explicit in their willingness to publish queer work. PANK Magazine has been phenomenal about this, for example.

S: I love the notion of the “uncalled-for poem.” That’s great. I’ve also been very pleased to see many magazines more willing to include gay themed poems.

We, I believe, both have the same goal of teaching creative writing at a college or university. There are some out there who claim if you want to do that you shouldn’t have a blog. We both have a blog, so I am interested in your views on that advice and on how you view or use your blog.

V: I worry about this a lot, actually. And before I write anything, I always consider what a hiring committee might think about it. For awhile this kept me from taking a stand on anything, even going so far as being afraid to say whether I liked or disliked a particular book. I do view my blog as an extension of my public writer persona, and I try never to say anything on the blog I wouldn’t say in person. I also try to stay positive and keep in mind how my posts might reflect on my current academic program.

S: In many ways, what you describe is how more people should be looking at blogging. I think blogs can be great, but this idea of writing anything that pops into your head or writing extremely negative stuff is not really in the best interest of anyone. I have, through my blog, greatly enjoyed the discussions about various important literary or social topics. For me it all comes down to civil discourse. I’m sure many think I share too much, but I always do so in the interest of good discussion and honesty.

Last year and now again this year, you have been writing a poem a day as an exercise. What has this experience taught you and how has it changed your writing process?

V: I’m so far behind this year, so I’m not really sure if I can claim to be doing it this year anymore, but it was fantastic to do it last year. I’ve always said I could never be the kind of writer who writes every day, but I also felt stuck and I was having trouble generating new work, so I just gave myself the freedom to write anything in at least 10 lines. It opened me up to be more playful in my poetry, to gain inspiration from unexpected places (like the news; I had never written poetry grounded in very specific events like the daily newspaper before). The weather really influenced my writing and I proved to myself that I could generate a poem a day, even if it was crap some days. It was incredibly encouraging and I learned to get out of my own way and just write the damn poem and then go back and revise it, instead of constantly revising as I go along. This has led to better poems, I think, because I tend to be a very conservative editor, but if I just get the poem down on paper or on the screen, then come back to revise later, I’m more likely to keep the riskier parts intact.

S: Now for some fun. What poet dead or alive would you most like to have sex with? And what kind of sex would it be?

V: Gertrude Stein. She’s got the butch thing down and reading her love notes to Alice, I get the sense she was a very naughty girl (and, um, reading any of her work, obviously, especially “Lifting Belly”). What kind of sex would it be? Here’s an excerpt:

“Kiss my lips. She did.

Kiss my lips again she did.

Kiss my lips over and over and over again she did.

I have feathers.

Gentle fishes.

Do you think about apricots. We find them very beautiful. It is not alone their color it is their seeds that charm us. We find it a change.

Lifting belly is so strange.

I came to speak about it.”

S: What is one poem you think is so great that you totally wish you had written it?

V: There are so many. I mean, of course I wish I had the genius of Gertrude Stein or Lucie Brock-Broido, but you know what really drives me to my desk to want to write is the work of my friends and colleagues. Rebecca Lehmann, Shira Dentz, Ilse Bendorf and dawn lonsinger are all incredible poets who I’m fortunate to call friends. Whenever I read their work, the top of my head is blown off and that, as Emily Dickinson said, is how I know it’s real poetry. They are all so good, I totally wish I could claim their work as my own.

S: What celebrity should play you in your bio-pic?

V: Hayley Hasselhoff kind of looks like me, but if we’re not going by looks, then I think Jenna Fischer could do a good job. It would have to be someone who could play sweet, sexy and bitchy. Although I am generally bad at answering this kind of question, because I just start thinking of all the actresses I find attractive. And there are quite a few of them.

S: Lastly, what are you currently working on?

V: Right now I’m working on what I hope will eventually become my dissertation and second book. I’m putting together my reading list for my PhD qualifying exams and we have to pick a theme for the list. My theme is Embodied Poetics: Queer Bodies in Literature. I take the most expansive definition of queer for these purposes, so I am reading (and writing) about homosexual bodies, transgender bodies, pregnant bodies, fat bodies, disabled bodies, any sort of bodily alterity. My project is still in its very beginning stages, but it deals a lot with the queer fat female disabled body. I identify as a queer fat femme and I have a disability that is some days invisible and some days prevents me from walking, plus I was diagnosed with a chronic disease last summer, and I also work as a birth doula, so all of these facets of my identity come into play. The writing—which becomes more and more experimental daily—is not autobiographical, but it comes out of my personal and academic research. I guess right now it’s in the disjunctive lyric form. It’s quite a departure from my first manuscript in form, but I’ve always been interested in corporeality and the idea of the Other and how that manifests itself physically. In Call Me By My Other Name, I was mostly dealing with issues of gender—both male and female and butch and femme—so I see this on the same continuum, just with added elements.

S: I personally can’t wait to see where this new project takes you. Thank you so much for being my February poet.

-Stephen (Q&A)

Photo by Molly Bennett.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Quest for Balance: Thoughts on VIDA's Count

There's been a lot of buzz in the last fews weeks over a count that VIDA (an organization devoted to female writers) did about the number of women who get published in literary magazines or reviewed by literary magazines in comparison to men. As you might expect, the numbers showed that men, in most cases, are getting published more and reviewed more. You can see the full charts and data here.

This study brings to light many issues, but also many questions. Anytime data is presented it is important to examine exactly what the data is showing and what the data is leaving out. You can see in the comment section on VIDA's website, that many state the need for more information and I do agree. How many women vs. men are submitting to magazines and publishing houses? This doesn't change the idea of representation, but it gets more at the root of the problem. Do women not feel encouraged to submit? Or are they submitting just as much as men, but not getting as many slots? Others brought up MFA programs and were curious how the statistics fall there. Are there more men or women in MFA programs?

From my experience, I have often felt in the minority in English departments. My undergrad in English literature, which I did at Hanover College, was heavily female. I was one of the few males in the department. At FSU, I felt a pretty strong balance between males and females. The year I entered, they took five poets in the MFA program and three were male and two were female. Most of my workshops felt well balanced in terms of gender. From what I've read or heard from others, I do not believe there is a great inequality in English departments or in MFA programs, yet on the publication side there seems to be inequality even with the missing information from the VIDA study.

This leads me to ponder bigger questions about inclusion. I firmly believe in publishing and reading a wide range of voices. This includes gender, race, sexual orientation, etc. But how do you fully go about that as an editor of a magazine? Do you really say that half your magazine every issue should be male and female? What then do you do about race or sexual orientation (which is probably not 100% clear from their work or cover letter)? People estimate 10% of the population is gay, so does 10% of your magazine need to be gay? These are complicated questions and are further complicated by the prejudices of people.

In an ideal world, none of this should matter. Everything should be based on quality and the hope would be that it would all balance out in the end. We, of course, know that is not going to happen.

Quality should be at the forefront of an editor's mind, but that is all subjective. Many magazines do blind readings and therefore shouldn't really know if you are male or female. In the comment section on VIDA, some were discussing subject matter and they felt some editors were less accepting of what they deemed "female topics." According to the comments, these included family and the domestic life. These may very well be valid points, but may be hard to prove. I'm sure many of these editors would say they published the best of what they got.

There is no quick or easy solution to these problems. I don't feel that a magazine has to completely divide everything up evenly, but at the same time a magazine shouldn't repeatedly show such an imbalance unless that imbalance is clearly part of their aesthetic and clearly stated. For example, there are many magazines I don't submit to because they aren't interested in the kind of work I write or subject matters I address.

In this discussion, you also have to be careful of demonizing the other side. In the comment section on this study, there were a few people making very generalized statements about men. There is always that danger with any group that feels oppressed. I see it in the gay community and have probably been guilty of it myself. There is unfairness in the world and much of it does stem from the white straight male population, but it is also never fair to generalize that population. We have to all find a way to make the publishing world more diverse and inclusive of all people.

I hope VIDA will continue to do work like this and get the conversation going. These are questions and issues we should all be thinking about and addressing.

-Stephen (10%)

Monday, February 14, 2011

Atlantis 20th Anniversary Cruise in Review

Yesterday, my partner and I returned from the 20th Anniversary Atlantis Cruise aboard the Allure of the Seas, which is the largest cruise ship in the world. It was an experience like no other.

If you have read my blog for awhile, you will know that I have gone on two other Atlantis Cruises. One last January and the other other in March of 2008. When Atlantis announced that they would be celebrating their 20th anniversary by being the first to charter the brand new ship the Allure of the Seas (creating the largest gay cruise in history), we knew we had to be there. Luckily, we booked early because the cruise sold out in three weeks. The boat holds 5500 people, so that is pretty impressive (4600 onboard were Atlantis alums like us).

Atlantis is a company that I fully admire and it was amazing to be onboard this anniversary cruise. Atlantis has spent the last 20 years renting out either all-inclusive resorts or cruise ships to create all gay vacation experiences. The thing is they don't just rent out these places, they take them by storm. This most recent experience was no different. The ship was packed with great gay entertainment hired by Atlantis. Atlantis throws constant parties all with specific themes. Many days there are t-dances and huge night parties. All of that is impressive, but it continues. They play popular gay music everywhere on the ship all the time. The shops onboard change up the merchandise they typically sell to include gay friendly apparel and items. Window displays are changed to reflect gay couples. Even the spa specials were gay friendly. For example, one was called "Lazy Bear Day Special" and read below "Otters and Cubs also welcome." Basically anything you can think of is altered to suit the gay crowd. This is all in addition to the regular entertainment provided by the cruise line (in this case Royal Caribbean). They have it all down to a science.

What I always underestimate is the power of this experience. Everywhere you look for seven days you see gay people, entertainment made for you, advertisements for you, parties for you, etc. I've never gone anywhere that can create that complete and total feel of acceptance. For this I am forever grateful to Atlantis. They have found a way to create a gay world in an often hateful and intolerant world.

This cruise was different than our past ones. The size of the ship created new challenges and caused some changes to what we were used to from other cruises. 5500 gay people is a lot to accommodate. The biggest challenge was the parties. On a regular cruise, you are never all encouraged to go to one spot, therefore most ships don't design a spot big enough to hold all onboard. On an Atlantis Cruise, there are some really big themed parties that basically everyone onboard at least makes an appearance at. Atlantis did the best they could with what the ship offered. The t-dances were held in the Aqua Theatre onboard, which was outside and at the end of the boat. It was crowded, but provided the best visuals of any of the party spots. It is empowering to stand in a crowd that size and dance. During the dog tag t-dance, I specifically remember the unbelievable sight and sound of 5500 gays singing at the top of their lungs Rihanna's "Only Girl (In the World)." You don't get those experiences everyday.

The night parties were divided into two locations, but neither was as fun as dancing on the full pool deck like on the other two I've been on in the past. They couldn't use the full pool deck on this ship because the Allure has the center of the boat cut out to create a "Central Park" in the middle of the boat, which was very cool, but chopped up the pool deck.

The ship as a whole is beautiful and absolutely huge. Dustin and I didn't quite realize how huge until we went to some of the ports and saw our ship next to many of the others. It is truly a boat for size queens (and who isn't one?). My only complaint with the ship and with Royal Caribbean as a whole is their food. This is our second Royal Caribbean experience and I think it is fair to say their food sucks. It has little to no taste and they really don't like vegetarians. The Allure luckily had a few more options than our last Royal Caribbean experience, but I still think I lost weight on this ship for lack of anything worth eating. Because of this we probably won't be going on a Royal Caribbean ship for awhile. Atlantis also does cruises on Celebrity, which we went on the first time and really enjoyed the food and service.

This year also provided some extra special entertainment that maybe some of you have read about. Yes, there was a drug bust onboard and some people were kicked off on two separate occasions. I don't have many details, but all I can say is why are people so stupid? Really. People have done drugs on every Atlantis Cruise I've been on and I don't personally have a problem with what people choose to do. I do not partake. I drink heavily, which I'm not sure is any better for you. But don't be stupid about it and don't get angry if you get caught. There is a risk involved in doing something illegal. Accept it. Thankfully, the drug issues gave great material to all of the comedians aboard the ship and provided some of the funniest moments.

The other surprise moment of the cruise was also probably drug related (though I can't say for sure). On the second or third night at the big themed party, someone did shit on the dance floor. I don't know who, but I can say that Dustin and I were very close to it, yet, in the moment, didn't realize what they were cleaning up was shit. Again, this provided some of the funniest jokes for the rest of the week. Another tip, if you do drugs, don't do enough that you lose control of your bowels. I think that's a good line to keep unless you get into scat and if that's the case, go right ahead.

I do want to be clear that the drugs and shit did not greatly interfere with my experience or ruin it. This is also not a reflection of the majority of what took place on the ship.

Before I wrap up, I do want to take a moment and promote a couple of the amazing people I got the chance to see perform onboard. The best show, hands down, was Pam Ann's show. She was also on our last cruise and is absolutely hilarious. If you ever get the chance to see her, go, go, go. We also got to see Sherry Vine, who is a drag queen who does parodies of pop songs. She has quite a few videos out there, so check her out. Shawn Pelofsky is a great straight comedian, who has been on lots of Atlantis Cruises. She preforms all over, so check her out if you get the chance. We also got to watch a concert by the out broadway star Cheyenne Jackson, who is sexy and has a great voice. His show really surprised me. Lastly, is Miss. Richfield 1981. She is a fixture of Atlantis and no cruise would be complete without her. She always does a show herself, but also hosts bingo, ice skating, and country western dancing. She is a queen with many talents.

Being on an Atlantis Cruise, especially one this big, makes me realize how lucky I am to be a part of the gay community. People, inside and outside the community, like to bash it from time to time, but I feel so at home and at peace when I am there with all of my chosen family. We are some insane, creative, talented, and flat out fabulous people. Oh and we know how to party better than anyone. There are so many moments from the past seven days where I just had this overwhelming feeling inside me of complete love and acceptance and I'm so lucky I got to share that with my partner, my lover, and my best friend.

Bottomline: Go on an Atlantis Cruise. You won't regret it.

-Stephen (Cruiser)



Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Need to Get Away

I spent much of my childhood crammed into the backseat of our Cadillac between my two sisters on our way to a vacation spot. Yes, we always drove. We often came to Florida, which was an 18 hour drive from Indiana. Our car would be loaded down with suitcases and shoeboxes. My parents are not light packers and always insisted on bringing plenty of clothing and many pairs of shoes. They are also big shoppers, which means the trip home often required my sisters and me to hold some gift for grandma, or our new found seashell collection, or the latest knickknack that my father thought our house in the Midwest, far from any beach, needed. There's really only so many sand dollars in shadowboxes that one house requires.

Many of my memories from my childhood consist of these trips. We often stayed in the Knight's Inn, which always had purple bedspreads and paintings on the walls of Italian gardens. I can still remember the smell of those rooms and how my mother insisted that we never walk barefoot. I was often forced to sleep on a rollaway bed, which was typically blocking the exit. Thank God, there was never a fire.

We went lots of places: Florida, Washington D.C., Niagara Falls, a cruise, the Bahamas, etc. My family wasn't wealthy at all. In fact, during much of my childhood we were quite tight on money, but my parents always made sure we could go on a family vacation. For that I am forever indebted to them. They instilled in me a desire to explore new places, try new foods, and meet new people. It was this that lead me, my sophomore year of college, to go to Europe and to spend four weeks by myself in Ireland. No, I didn't drive.

Thankfully, I met a partner we also loves to travel and makes taking a vacation a priority. Dustin and I have been many places together and always seek out new adventures. People often say they can't afford to go somewhere, but that's often not true. It is that people don't always choose to spend their money in that way. There are cheap vacations to take and not so cheap ones. The way I look at it, vacation renews you and gives you the strength to keep going in your everyday life. It is a vital part of my mental health. This past year, I could have paid down more of my credit card, but I didn't. I chose to pay to go on a gay cruise with Dustin and we leave on Sunday.

I don't know about you, but my January was more stressful and crazy than I was expecting. I had a couple personal things happen that were hard to deal with, so I'm very ready to get away. The best part about going on a cruise is that I won't have internet or phone service. I truly will be getting away from my life and everyone in my life, but Dustin, which is something I'm extremely excited about.

Last night, I was having dinner with my friend Jaclyn and we were talking about how crazy we sometimes feel about our dependancy on computers and cell phones. We are both close to the same age and are in that bracket of people who did not grow up with all of this stuff and yet now can't seem to live without it.

All next week, I will be just a human being. The people I meet onboard won't have their faces buried in some piece of technology. They won't be updating Twitter or Facebook, but will actually be living in the moment. They might actually look at me in the eye or at least in the crotch (it is a gay cruise).

I make the act of getting away a priority and I see the benefits. Life can be hard and stressful and it is easy to forget the beauty that is out there and that is inside your family. I think of it as a way to reconnect with Dustin for seven days and to just be ourselves.

-Stephen (Vacationing)