Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year!

Due somewhat to psychic pain that still simultaneously zaps my strength and energizes me, that fills me with contempt and sadness and teaches me love and compassion, I started this blog.

My partner of going on twelve years describes it best: “I thought you were sick. But you’re really just an asshole.” Thank you for never pitying me, partner.

Of course there were other factors in creating the blog: my desire to write a long essay about one of my gay poet heroes Mark Doty; to show my respect for Reginald Shepherd; to make myself visible after Proposition 8 said to gays everywhere: you should die; to redeem myself to the young gay men I failed in the worst queer literature course ever taught. I’m sure there are others reasons, too.

There are many, many people I would like to thank. But I hate naming names; I always forget one and then feel like a jerk.

I never thought anyone would read my blog. It’s nice to know a few individuals do from time to time. In the beginning, I just hoped that the gay poet/blogger pioneers that I look up to would maybe glance at it. And once in a while when I get sad, I make myself feel better by imagining them. I hope that maybe when they have a little time away from their busy schedules, they take a brief look at my words .

There are many things I’m proud of. The most significant is that I like to think that I contributed in small part to the disappearance of what became the most dangerous blog in our literary community.

Even though I appreciate the praise, I embrace the people who have challenged me and annoyed me and even hurt my feelings. You’ve kept me honest.

And most of all I’d like to thank all the gay poets I’ve named on my blog. I haven’t necessarily liked your work, but that’s not really important. It’s all in the spirit of poetry and love and words. And if you haven’t realized that, it doesn’t matter. Your words made me love you in such a way that I wrote about them. It’s one of the only ways I know how to say I love you, and that love, for me anyway, doesn’t need to be reciprocated. That’s what makes it love.

An Open Letter to Bill Henderson, Editor of Pushcart Prize Volumes

I always hate it when poets are cynical towards other poets who brag about being nominated for a Pushcart Prize. I like it when someone's happy. It makes things feel better. "Who isn't nominated for a Pushcart Prize these days?" a friend said recently. This was he truth: me.

But my friend misses the point. There is something special when you're singled out. When you say in your introduction that you received more than 7,000 submissions that means a hell of a lot of people have been singled out. And I like that. What can it hurt? I've always found it cool when a lit mag posts its nominations. And a lot of them do. Your annual volume has offered the hope to so many writers of their work being made even more visible. And, for me, anyway, maybe because I am a gay man, visibility is always better than invisibility-- in all realms of life.


In graduate school, my best friend said that she had two goals: to be nominated for a Pushcart Prize and appear in Glimmer Train. Glimmer Train has always freaked me out. Does anyone really want to see someone's childhood photo next to their published story? It's creepy.

But a Pushcart Prize feels like a normal, good , healthy thing.


Here are the some things that concerned me about your introduction that makes me fear that your amazing project is losing its integrity and even worse its necessity:

1.) I fear that you might find yourself charming in a cranky, old codger way when you say that on-line magazines aren't as significant as print ones. You write, "Another lust that consumes our culture today is speed, not the drug but the electronic version. This is especially deadly to writers. One demand vanity publishers will zip out your efforts, no questions asked (and usually no readers found)." This feels at best hypocritical and at worst mean. Your volume, I always thought, was meant to be for the magazines that no one sees. Those very small presses.

There are, as far as I can tell, no stuff from the electronic version in this volume. For a man as energetic as you are, I cannot imagine that you haven't had curiosity at what's out there in that cyber world. If you haven't, I don't think you've looked hard enough.

2.) And then there seems to be an annoying glorification of old age itself: "The electronic juggernaut drives their frenzy for renown and is very destructive, particularly to young authors. It takes years, maybe a life time, to figure out what you want to say and how to say it."

The most revealing statement: "Because you can burp out a poem or short story online, you will not immediately join the ranks of the immortals."

That's true, but another reason is that your volume has grown committed to publishing people who have been around forever. Or the few, same young people have been published volume after volume after volume. Or you choose judges that I thought were already dead. This year it was Rosanna Warren (a poor woman's Linda Gregerson) and Wesley McNair (who I met once and loved. He was a true gentleman, something there needs to be more of these days.) See. I'm already writing their eulogies.

Do people really change ultimately for the better as they grow old. Look at Louise Gluck in this volume. She's been recycling the same issues over and over again--which just goes to you: psychotherapy never works. We need more drugs. And yes: no matter how you may resist, speed should be a choice. You can't tell me you didn't at least a caffeine pill or two when you went through the alleged 7,000 submissions you received.

3.) Don't quote people like Rosanna Warren who have the audacity to say that poetry at this historical moment "exhibits a blessed profusion not easily categorized-thank heavens-into schools..."

When you have conservative poets --not that that's necessarily a bad thing--like McNair and Warren doing the judging, you get a lot of what you expect: strategically flat, unadorned understated narrative. When people complain about the Best American series being rigged, I find it annoying. They're guest editors, what do you expect. Of course, people are going to publish their friends? Who else are they going to? Their enemies?

But with all these nominators, and screeners, and judges, you expect more difference.

4.) Who the hell is Diann Blakely?

I swear she must nominate at least half of the 7,000 submissions. I see her name reprinted at least a dozen times every volume. Confess, Bill. Have you succumbed to the conglomerates? And if so, does she have stock?

It makes me queasy that out of 60 of the award winners, they come from only 41 different magazines. I'm not going to get into a numerical analysis. You can make statistics mean whatever you want them to. To a certain extent anyway. Also: I'm too lazy to make a pie chart. But you know what I'm saying. It doesn't take much time to scan the volume and see that a lot of the small magazines aren't that small.

Your volume was a great thing, but now it's starting to date itself before it's even be released. Here are some ideas to rejuvenate it: a.) make a concerted effort to peruse those on-line magazines, or at least put them in the maybe pile. (I'll be happy if at the end of my life the Universe puts me in the maybe pile. It's fitting closure) b.) if someone's already won a Pushcart, maybe they should be ineligible. c.) reprint only one entry from a magazine for each volume.

With 7,000 or so nominations you can't have at least a few runner ups. And isn't the Pushcart Prize volume all about the idea of the runner-up. It's about those of us who have exerted ourselves, hoping secretly that we might move beyond the small presses into undeniable fame. But through our own egotism forget that coming close is all as anyone--even those who have, indeed, "placed"--can do.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

On Mark Doty's Essay "Bijou" and Techno-Necrophilia

In the most recent and boring Pushcart Prize XXXIV, the volume sports an exciting, if flawed, Mark Doty essay entitled “Bijou.” Although he never names it, Doty raises the possibility of a techno-necrophilia as a way of assuaging (if not eradicating) gay male grief related to losing lovers in the AIDS epidemic.

The essay begins with a wonderfully bold set-up. Doty writes about watching a 1972 porn film. The film follows an attractive man Bill who witnesses a woman hit by a car. Instead of helping, he grabs her purse and runs only to go home where he ends up, according to Doty, nearly ejaculating in the shower as he thinks about the image of her being almost (or actually?) killed.

The scene then ends abruptly. We never see him ejaculate. As Doty remarks: “just as he’s about to come he sees the woman in fur flying when the bumper of the car strikes her. That’s the end of that, the erotic moment is over, for him, and for the viewer, once the image returns.”

It’s a bit blurry as to what exactly happens in the film. Do we see Bill disgusted with himself for secretly being around by the image and then he stops? Does the director of the movie edit the scene in such a way that his stopping may be implied? Or does Doty simply guess that he doesn't finish? Could some viewers believe that he does, indeed, masturbate to the desired end point? It just is never definitively seen.

Isn’t it at all possible that the film is edited in such a way that we are meant to imagine what may be the most repulsive act to some viewers which they are indeed complicit in emulating: the idea of someone (and themselves by extension) getting off on the image of a (possibly) dead woman?

Perhaps the film (like Doty himself) can’t show or name the taboo: a sort of techno-necrophilia is taking place. We are implicated in the “inappropriateness of the scene.” By watching another man being aroused by the dead, we’re vicariously having a sexual relationship with the dead as well. In the essay, Doty immediately confesses that he doesn't know how to categorize the film and name its intentions: "I'm hesitant to call it porn, since its intentions are less obvious that then..."

Doty does tell us that the film’s protagonist ends up out of the shower (after he may or may not have ejaculated) and back into his own bedroom where he looks through the contents of her purse again. He find an invitation for a “party? An event? Someplace called Bijou at 7 p.m. Then he’s walking in Soho-the old Soho, long before the art glamorous and even longer before the Euro-tourist-meets-North Jersey shopping districts...”

Doty further describes:

“He finds the address, goes in and up, and the movie shifts from the gitty Warholian vocabulary it’s trafficked in thus far to another cinematic tongue. An indifferent woman in a lot of eye makeup sits in a glass booth; Bill proferrs the invite; she gestures toward a door and utters the movie’s only line: Right through there. ‘There’ turns out to be a hallucinatory space, its dominant hue a solarized, acidy green.”

In this space, he ends up engaging in what may be best described as a weird, no-holds-barred homosexual orgy.

Perhaps the most important sentence in the essay appears after he completes the description of the film:

“It makes the viewer feel suspended in a sort of erotic haze, but whatever arousal I feel in imagining Bill’s complete submission to pleasure suddenly comes to a halt, as surely as if I’d seen that woman struck down in the crosswalk again, because I realize that all the men in the scene I’m watching are dead.”

My question is this: since Doty draws an analogy to one's (and his own) inability to masturbate to the visualization of “the dead” (the woman hit by the car, the gay men), what would it mean if one could overcome that taboo behavior? What if one allowed himself to ejaculate to these images?

It doesn’t needs to be said that the presence of technology grows in its sophistication and presence. This may be one of the cures of gay male grief: to use technology as a way of making the bodies of our loves appear and use those images as a way of getting off. This could be a healthy form of what I’ll name as techno-necrophilia. Religious conservatives love to group our sexual acts with anything that is seen as an abomination. I think we should take the word, the idea of necrophilia back from these same very people, and recharge the word with our own meanings, ways of survival.

Many, many years ago, over fifteen years, when I lost a lover to AIDS, I found myself with all this stuff: pictures, home movies, etc. I didn’t know what to do with it, and in my predictable impulsiveness, I threw it out. I couldn’t be reminded of his body. I had tapes of his voice on my answering machine and I kept those, playing them over and over again. I used them for a sensual experience. I was lonely and depressed, and I used his voice as a way of making me full of some sort of desire, even sexual.

I kept on thinking, I wish I could touch him. If only I could touch him. How many of us, as gay men, have thought to themselves, If only I knew that was the last time we would have sex? That question haunts us.

My response: Maybe by keeping my films of him, using them as sexual material, I would have had a sort of physical communion with him. I would have touched him and he me one last time and have been released from my grief, or at least on a more determined, expedient path.

Isn’t watching an image of the dead a way of possessing his body one last time? Is it an ethical and useful form of necrophilia created by our technological resources?

Can’t engaging in masturbatory activities with an image of our dead homosexual lovers, staring as close as you can at their flickering images, even touching the TV screen, and feeling them, provide a necessary release? Doty smartly says he wants to "revive" the phrase : to "have knowledge of someone." Their technologically created bodies are more than memories. You could say they are the real thing. They are the knowledge. You don’t need to remember. His body is right there in front of you. All you have to do is look at the screen and touch yourself and maybe even him. Indeed, you are with him at least one last time.

Monday, December 21, 2009

My Potty Mouth Interview with Neil de la Flor

He's not that hot, but I did an interview with Neil de la Flor anyway. (Pity fuck.)

And how could I not want to take a few swipes at my usual targets with the year coming to an end?

Randall, hurry up and win that Lambda so I can write my final rant about your poems!

Here's the link:

Friday, December 18, 2009

On Greg Miller's "Watch" (Part One)

I never want to go see the Grand Canyon. There's so many postcards of it. Who needs to see it in person? Why should I see something the world has already has seen? That's what I kept thinking when I read gay poet Greg Miller's "Watch" (University of Chicago Press, 2009)--one of those double meaning titles that feels like default wit. Except the trips he or his protagonist seem to have taken have been a bit more expensive.

What's with the University of Chicago Press? The press has always been sort of dull. One of the few exceptions is Bruce Smith; Miller and Randall Mann could learn a thing or two from him. Smith's wild, eccentric rhymes feel so much younger than the rote hard rhymes of Miller.

And why is this press obsessed with gay poets who are aces at scansion. Do you immediately have a shoe in the door if you can master hard end rhyme? Is this what academic queer affirmation action has been reduced to?

Get over Thom Gunn, guys! He's so 1993. For the University of Chicago Press, Joshua Weiner edited a collection of Thom Gunn essays, assembling a few good ones, one great, making it a worthwhile anthology. How many pieces really matter in any compliation? That's the fun of reading an edited collection--you feel like you're the editor when you separate even further the special from the dross.

You would think that a reputable university press, they would be looking for some aesthetic diversity. That's one of my goals with this review: to encourage University of Chicago to include a more diverse aesthetic range. If I was an editor there, I would say their books feel dated even before they're released.

With rhymes or no rhymes, Miller's poems that aim for a meditative , transcendent quality, perfunctorily weight down with high culture/literary allusions. It's like reading a Sam Hamill derivative crossed with a Richard Howard travelogue.


Here's the opening of the poem "Lost" where Howard wins out:

A cloud from the Cape's base stalks us catlike
making fantastic shapes rising and stretching,
white megalithic pincers and mute O's,
until the wind turns again and I'm lost
I hear the breaking waves, one warbler, then
the drone of an engine scuttling the cliff.

Miller's trademark meditative poems here, emblematic of a lot of his work. You think that if you really are "watching," privileging descriptive pictures of this world that you, as a poet, would see something a bit more idiosyncratic.

Unfortunately, Miller allows himself to become a pretty decent tour guide, taking us to a stop where "Churchill summered here. Napoleon spent/the night once in a small, freestanding room." And then, of course, things culminate "At dusk in the Greek theatre I watch/stars piece the cobalt dome and I hear wings." It's the ultimate middle-class epiphany: your summer vacation becomes a moment of spiritual transcendence, making you feel guilty about the trip most people can't afford. Which perhaps is an unfair thing to say. But what surprises me about this book is how much seems so self-content with itself. You can't help but wonder what redemption Miller could find in Disneyworld.

At the same, there's nothing wrong with having money, but what feels like a sham is its narrative arc. Why does the pathos for his father's illness in the first part of the three-section book seem to drive the protagonist in his spiritual journey? Worse the poems are poor. Here's the second stanza of "River":

My father's legs were swollen.
His once thin ankles barely fit his shoes.
His heart no longer fed his body
Toxins and liquids began to drown him.
His swollen doctors didn't see
He couldn't breathe.

The lines are as flat as the poems of the shockingly overrated Patrick Phillips--there's only so much of this father-son suffering we can take. As Miller himself writes "Maybe artless misery's what's true." Maybe. But this is taking it to an extreme.

Autobiographical or not, it feels creepy to make the father into such a cipher when he seems to be the impetus for the journey in the rest of the book. Why not eradicate and immediately transport himself into all these foreign countries

I am always suspicious of middle-class poets who travel to faraway places and bring back a bad slide show and spiritual transcendence. Why not create a series of poems simply about indulgence? Why justify it? There's nothing worse than a significant friend who takes up your time with six hundred photos of their trip to Ecuador or Hong Kong. And then apologizes for taking up your entire afternoon.


Sunday, December 13, 2009

On Houses and Homes

My partner and I are the only people in our department who do not have a house. I've always wanted a house. A house is a good thing. This is obvious. More poems need to say the obvious. They need to say a house is a good thing.


My partner's mother had two houses. One of them burned to the ground. It was a weird thing when my partner received the phone call. It felt like one of those things that only happens in the movies. "My house burned down," he said. It wasn't his house. It was his mother's. But still. In a family, a house is a house. It was a good thing that his mother had a spare.


My family never lived in a house. We lived in a trailer. I remember complaining even back then that we didn't have a house. "Shut up," my mother said, "You have a home. If you have a home, you don't need a house."


I like when people tell me how much their house costs. It almost feels like we're trading social security numbers. It feel like they're sharing. Maybe they only tell me because they know I don't have a house.


I like when people invite me into their house. Somehow I feel special.


Until gay men can get married, it is impossible for them to have a home. They can only have houses.


People who have houses or homes have almost all the time been nice to me.


The patriarch of my department tell me that we need to have a house. That's how he says it: "You need a house. Professors need a house. Especially ones who are full-time. Or else everybody expects them to go on a job market. And move somewhere else where they'll buy a house."


A lot of people in my department tell me they struggle a bit. But they have houses.


It always seems the nicer the house the less it feels like a home.


We buy a lot of books, DVDs. Do we not have a house because we buy those things? Or do we buy those things because we don't have a house?


Houses seem to have less stuff than homes.


You feel less guilty spilling wine on the couch in a home as opposed to house.


It's home, sweet home. It's not house, sweet house.


Houses are more silent than homes.


Homes contain less ghosts than houses.


I never know what to say when I enter a nice house. Most people in our departments who have houses say when they enter another house, "What a wonderful house!" That's the etiquette, I guess. It feels like a bad thing to say even though you have to say it. It feels like saying, You have a lot of money. In fact, what else can you really be saying? It's not like you're saying, I like the way you arrange the furniture. You're saying I'm impressed at how much you spent on this house. At the same time, if you're out for dinner with someone who has a house, you can't say, You have a lot of money, coded or not. You have to say you have a nice house when you're walking through the immediate thresh hold: the door to the house. The doors to a house seem less open than a home. But there are always more visitors in a house.


Houses always contain more parties. Homes more get-togethers.

Monday, December 7, 2009

On the Need for the Gay Male Poet to be a Repulsive Braggard

Recently a gay poet said to me that no matter how silly it may be, he wanted to create poems that would last forever. Ever since he started writing poems, he decided to edit out any words, any references that may "date" it. There was something admirably self-aggrandizing about such a statement. For the record, I think gay men need to be less modest. I want more self-serving bragging in the poetry world. Gay male poets need to brag in every single venue (on Facebook and blogs and conversations with friends and enemies) about every single accomplishment they receive: grants, reviews, publications, book contracts, the slightest mention in any magazine or newspaper, no matter how ostensibly insignificant). For a gay poet to be called self-aggrandizing is a sign that he may be worth exploring. I love Richard Siken’s poems that refuse to be aligned with the left-hand margin; their obnoxiousness in sprawling out all over the page. With all the hatred created in mandates like Proposition 8 (and New York’s recent denial of gay marriage), it’s important that queer poets take up as much space as possible. Lethe Press’ decision to make Charles Jensen’s book “First Risk” oversized is an act of love, a crucial political decision. It doesn’t fit conveniently in the stack of books on my bedroom floor. Its cover protrudes from the others. It doesn’t allow for neat piles. What wonderful self-aggrandizement!

Any gay male poet who desire to create timeless poems may automatically be, to a certain extend, a fraud. There seems to be something at least questionable, if not corrupt, in a gay male poet even considering the idea of achieving immortality through his words. It seems hypocritical to expect something like Proposition 8 to be banished due to its dangerous word choices; and at the same time, believing that any gay male poet’s words should become a permanent monument, inevitably anthologized. Perhaps gay male poetry should load itself with even more references to popular culture, proper names that make the poem a mere in-joke, meaningless factual accuracies (and inaccuracies), self-conscious references to friends in and out of the poetry world that already makes the poems dated. We should want our readers to feel like they missed something. This literary choice of making our own art obsolete may be one of the few potentially successful acts of resistance to a canon which excludes us and the laws that hate us.

Footnote: It seems that one of the most important queer presses has become Lethe Press. Which this year alone has produced two amazing gay male poetry titles: Ragan Fox’s “Exile in Gayville” and Charles Jensen’s “First Risk.” They seem to be producing wonderful books in every genre. With the death of so many gay bookstores, I hope that the queer male community supports its own presses. I know what my partner will be purchasing me for Christmas: books from Lethe Press. Here is the link to the press:

Thursday, December 3, 2009

On Gay Poet Randall Mann's Poem "Monday"

Recently appearing in the Washington Post, Mann’s autobiographical poem "Monday" focuses on a bad date with a beautiful, dumb gay man who was too lacking in cultural knowledge to keep up with him. From a cursory glance at the poem, it may seem unfair to raise any questions about its aesthetic or cultural politics. But the ending of the poem, an attempt to transcend its comic origins, reveals that the poem begs to be taken seriously. It wants to be seen as a work of art with a capital A. If Mann had the courage to make a simple comic rift, I would have left it alone. But he wants to go a step further, and as a result, so will I.

I have a two fold purpose in offering an analysis of this poem: 1.) to identify the ways in which gay narrative poets feel compelled to transform comic frivolousness into something tragic and the ostensibly meaningful 2.) the reasons behind that decision 3.) how critics unyieldingly affirm that decision through privileging the serious over the comic; thereby, marginalizing poets who don't depend on pathos for their work in terms of awards and grants.

I have written about Mann's work before. In my previous post, I wrote about James Allen Hall. I am currently working on a longish essay about these two poets and a few others. This post is an attempt to explore my ambivalent feelings about them and the critical inception they have received. As narrative poets, they may appear to be on opposite sides of the poetic continuum, but, in actuality, they are relying on similar popular rhetorical strategies, which (justifiably and unjustifiably) result in them being the two most reviewed young gay poets receiving cross-over success. This analysis is crucial when so many other gay poets with so many other aesthetic camps are ignored.


Here’s the more fun first two stanzas of Mann’s poem “Monday”:

While you wait for the J train, for work, think

of your new boyfriend, who loves apostrophes,

sizzle-pants, and you.

Who pointed out the "Andrew Lloyd Webber" house


and said his feelings have started to "Escalade."

You'll forgive him for now, smarty pants.

(Your last, the crisp progressive, declawed

his cat to save his Ethan Allen chairs.) Besides,


there's such promise, such furniture and new sex!

I do hope that Mann radically changed the details of his autobiographical experience. It would be unethical for him not to do otherwise since his date is living in the world.

Having said that, here’s the significant problem: its final lyric moment:

Look: wildflowers bloom in the streetcar tracks;

a syringe lies in the grass. It isn't

beautiful, of course, this life. It is.

Like some gay poets, you could make the claim that there’s a particular queer writerly anxiety in legitimizing their comic work with an unnecessary seriousness. He makes a leap from the playful to what some choose to seem as a profound worldview: there are the wildflowers blooming, a syringe laying the grass.

Perhaps the word “look” in the tenth line that bothers me the most. That damned imperative.

Am I supposed to look towards the sunflowers or look away from his satirical targets. If it’s the latter, I need to ask why Mann feels the sudden need to avoid his autobiographical comedy. Is there something else to see in them, something beyond the strategic caricature, that he allows himself to be distracted; or is it the former, he needs to ditch his comedy and towards that dreadful seriousness, those stupid looming wildflowers.

The world is beautiful and frail, Mann purports, emblematic of his characteristic ambivalence toward humanity. Mann is a comic, and his best work illustrates that. One of the rules of comedy: don’t apologize for your own jokes. The weak philosophizing is nothing more than a way of saying I’m sorry, I really am a serious poet. Or worse: see I'm more than gay. I can move beyond the camp. Queer poets need to see camp as something that could and should be honored as an end in and of itself.

With Proposition 8, I find this sort of philosophizing annoying. The world is not beautiful for gay men. It is a bad place where bad institutions (LDS churches) say that gay men are not equal. It's much more important to "flame on" than wallow in our own false, romantic perceptions of the world that lead to further middle-class inertia. How many gay poets does the Washington Post publish? And what is their stake in publishing a poem that allows a tired universality eclipse specific gay content?

Here’s a poem of his when he’s doing his better work:


Brent is a total fox and a mustache thief.

I’ve got amyls,
videos of dogs peeing,
and some time to kill.

What’s a mustache thief?
Like a turd burgler?
Or a butt pirate?

Please do not write dreamless prose.
It makes us feel awkward.

Free strong bad advice right here.

Fuck my fucking hole you fuck.

Flame on!!!

Mann feels no need to add on a closure that ultimately serves as an apology. Celebratory, tasteless, he offers a poem that no Washington Post would ever consider running. It's a truly gay poem. "Monday" ditches its queer sensibility, campiness, shallow one-liners, for an uninspired universality. You can feel heterosexual audiences saying, "Oh. That's what you were up to all along." And worse: we, as gay poets and critics, give them their cues.


I'd rather read the poem against the grain, and make the claim that Mann is strategically parodying himself. While he insensitively (and I mean that descriptively, not critically) cruelly mocks the uneducated queer, ribs the middle-class one, he --the artist with the capital A--tries to justify his own disappointments with his what ultimately is a hyperbolic "literary" non-sequitur, rather than an artful extension of one-liners. It's the ultimate declaration of self-pity: your date went bad and now the whole world is falling apart. What’s a poet to do, but share it with the rest of the world?


To draw the most embarrassing broad analogy, the critical reception of Mann’s work acts in the same way awards ceremonies treat films from the Coen brothers. (Who aren’t gay, unfortunately.) When they’re engaged in their best comic riffs like “Burn After Reading” or ”Ladykillers,” their work is ignored, but attach Cormac McCarthy and some pontification embedded in the narrative, you’ve got one of the most overhyped (Academy-Award winning) movies of all time: “No County for Old Men.”


Needless to say, this is unfair nit-picking over a single poem. But this example is meant to prove a larger point: gay poets often feel the need to ditch their comedy in an attempt to be seen as an important poet. Which isn’t that bad of a thing: everyone wants good reviews.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

On Neglected Gay Poet A. Loudermilk, Natasha Saje, and Issues of Class

It would shock me if poet James Allen Hall has not read A. Loudermilk's inexcusably neglected book "Strange Valentine." It is undoubtedly an important literary predecessor to Hall's own award-winning collection "Now You're the Enemy," which deals with class on its own terms. Both books talk to Saeed Jones' important blog post "The Importance of Class & How to Write Ourselves Back to Relevancy." More complicated in its technique and class analysis, "Strange Valentine" acts as an antidote to the number of the more mediocre poems in Hall's exciting collection. Which is a book obviously by a young talent trying to find his own idiosyncratic vision. I think A. Loudermilk's poems will, if they haven't already, prove to be a touchstone for Hall.

What is instructive about A. Loudermilk's poems is that they refuse in any way to romanticize poverty or at the same make the claim that we're all --even the middle-class--impacted by its reach. Some people do suffer more than others, and to pretend otherwise is a dangerous fallacy. Self-awareness doesn't make you any less culpable for other peoples' predicaments.


The December 2009 issue of the Writer's Chronicle boasted Natasha Saje's annoyingly diplomatic article entitled "Poetry & Ethics: Writing about Others." From the piece, it could be extrapolated that Saje encourages what I see as the inclusion of pathos as a way of mitigating any political discomfort between the poet and marginalized people represented in a poem. In her discussion of Larkin's poem "Faith Healing" she makes the claim that the poem (consisting of a narrator observing a minister's attempt to heal his female congregants.) succeeds. Even though the narrator describes the women as objects, according to Saje, there the poet "seems to recognize what he is doing and he makes himself vulnerable." In other words: allow your narrator to feel a little guilty, and his own sins and the poem's problems will be redeemed. Liberal guilt goes pretty far in Saje's remedies for troubled poems that deal with cultural distances between people. Thankfully, A. Loudermilk avoids Saje's questionable solutions.


Here are the first stanza of A. Loudermilk's poem "Rent":

My bed is on the landlord's floor. His men are in the basement
clattering up dirt rooms where old wood smokes sunlight
chronometrically. They address the rotting timbers. The men
are in the basement, the teeth are on the saw, small mice
they worry, worry, & bed is on the breadth of my landlord's floor.

I love him so much I haven't touched myself for three days.

The initial repetition of passive verbs sets us up for the expectation of plain diction; the moves feel familiar. We've seen one too many depictions of a lonely tenant occupying a dilapidated apartment, feeling the landlord's oppressive presence. But then A. Loudermilk jolts us; that intriguing word-chronometically- takes us by surprise. It's definition --the scientific measurement of time--and its accompanying line break elevates the bleak scene into one containing a surprise: a beauty in the steadfast cycle of nature.

At the same, the word encourages us to see (without romanticization) the workers as doing something important, something that could be mistaken as rote, but isn't, according to A. Loudermilk. Their cleaning up of the outdoors deserves to be named in as precise of a way as possible. It is worthy of any middle-class scientist's job and warrants the same alluring, specialized.

A. Loudermilk refuses to pass over the working-class men's job without any special mention. In the next sentence, the verb "address" confirms this generous class awareness; the men aren't seen as perfunctorily chopping down the trees; instead the workers are speaking to the trees, treating the environment with the dignity they know it deserves.

The one-lined stanza that follows is more than a comic punchline. If this scene appeared in a movie, the landlord would be seen as a cranky obstacle to be avoided. A. Loudermilk allows his narrator to feel a weird identification with him that results in a devotedness. What is a greater display of love for a gay man than abstaining from masturbation?

Here's the rest of the poem "Rent" in its entirety:

First floor, my bed is on the floor. Sing mattress springs
to the trio of hammers against you & I will think of Matthew
in a v-neck romantically. Our bodies full of drum. The men
are in the basement, a claw is at bent nails, my morning
knocks hurry, hurry-rent is due on the landlord's floor.

How refreshing to not make the lower middle class narrator an object of pity, but an oddly romantic figure who takes happy refuge in the shabbiness of his apartment. Hall's poems sometimes unkindly makes his characters' shame feel lurid.

This narrator's "dirt room", his undoubtedly crappy bed, becomes a setting for dumb romantic play. The personification of the singing mattress springs allows for an imaginary threesome between the inanimate, Matthew, his boyfriend or trick, and himself. All bodies should be full of "drum," (and all poems) stealing people away --for a brief moment, anyway--from the lower middle class worries of getting that stupid rent check in on time.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Some Random Thoughts On Being a Gay Male Mentor to Gay Male Students (Part One)

In college, all my gay male friends and I signed up for a Gay and Lesbian Literature class to affirm the fact that we were successful homosexuals. I've always considered myself a failure at being gay. Dorky haircut, out-of-style glasses, belly, I didn't know even how to be a good wallflower at the queer bar; someone always stepped on my shoes on the way to pick up the gay man of their dreams. This is not meant in any way as self-deprecation--a trait I always find uncharming--but as an objective fact.

On the first day of the gay and lesbian lit class, all the queer men sat in the front row. I've always wanted to be one of those teachers who could gracefully scribble brilliant things on the blackboard. That's what he was like. His students took notes. Maybe it's because I'm a creative writing teacher, but I cringe when my students write down what I say. "What's important to you," I say, "You'll remember."

When we received our first papers back, I got an A-. I was devastated.

I decided to be a man. Someone who he'd respect. I looked up to him, after all. So: I made an appointment. We met and I said, "I received an A-."

"I know," he said.

"No homosexual ever gets an A in my class," he said, "We all need to remember we're flawed. Until we get equal rights. So we keep fighting."


After five years of teaching at my school, I finally received the opportunity to teach a Gay and Lesbian Literature class. All the books by gay men featured protagonists who were seriously troubled, and once in a while suicidal.

One young gay man came to my office and said, "From the books you choose, it seems like you don't like yourself. Do you?"

"Sometimes," I said.


Unless it happens to be in Gay and Lesbian literature class, I get very nervous about teaching a book by a queer author. I don't want it to seem like I'm biased. And I figure that my presence is more than enough. It takes up enough room on the syllabus as it is.


Another gay teacher during my undergrad years was HIV-impacted. He was beautiful. He had a wonderful chest--you could tell he had the best pectoral muscles. Something that obsesses me. I suppose it's because I was never breast-fed.

His health declined. Along with a bunch of friends, we visited him in the hospital.

"I got this disease because I was promiscuous. I never used a condom," he said, "And I have no regret. I did what felt good for me. I'm not saying you shouldn't use a condom obviously. But you need to do things that make you happy."


Recently a male student told me he was gay. I shuddered.

"That sucks," I said laughing, maybe a little too hard. Or maybe not. Maybe not hard enough.

He said, "I heard that's what you'd say."


As a gay male teacher, I'm always walking a difficult line. In a workshop I taught, some women always believed that I was siding with the heterosexual men--there I was, according to them, getting off on masculinist impulses. On the other side, some of the heterosexual men told me that I seemed to be promoting a feminist agenda, too concerned about the representation of men.

The gay men never accused me of anything, even when I asked. They seemed not to have anything to say about the matter.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Why All Creative Writing Instructors Need to Teach Intro to Composition

This is my claim: with the university exploiting adjunct faculty to teach basic composition classes, it is up to tenure-track and tenured faculty members to volunteer to teach these courses as part of their normal load and enhance in part those same skills in their creative writing workshops. With CW teachers boasting publications, no doubt they should want to use their talents to help with fundamental skills: creating a thesis, synthesizing evidence with analysis, etc. Any CW teacher who uses the excuse that they themselves never took enough a comp class and as a result don't know how to teach it is copping out on their moral responsibility.

In my department, I am appalled by even the Literature faculty wanting to shirk their composition duties because they're upper-level courses are so precious.

As most CW teachers assign students to write a short critique of their peers' work, they need to teach them how to go about doing that. Most CW teachers take that for granted, failing to teach close reading skills, etc--the very skills their students need to complete that task. Instead they do twee writing exercises like another dumb, twist on the "I remember..." writing exercise that students share without any critique. (Although I have used Joe Brainard's "I Remember" precisely for that purpose. Or find a litany poem, and have them emulate it only to xerox a few of them as examples. This makes an analysis of abstraction vs. concrete manageable and urgent since it is their own work.)

For me, whatever writing class you’re engaged in, even composition, you need to start with one basic skill: the use of idiosyncratic detail, stressing specificity over abstraction.

CW teachers can claim that there’s other ways to go about writing instruction.

But I think they're foolish.

Having taught at a number of different universities and community colleges, I can attest that students, no matter how intelligent, will always avoid, to some significant extent, offering unique details. If they can’t do this, they will not be able to do much in terms of their writing life in and outside of the classroom.

So: undergraduate creative writing teachers have an ethical responsibility to give their students skills that apply not just to various aesthetic poetics camps studied in class, but to supplement the failure of certain introductory composition classes.

Most undergraduate composition papers suffer from a lack of detail, vague claims as do a lot of their poems.

From reading various blogs and talking to CW teachers from other universities, I find that a good number of teachers often ignore a skill that they may feel is beneath them: abstract versus concrete details. These same irresponsible teachers pride themselves on such embarrassing rationales that they’re expanding their students' possibilities with form and content, and the connection between the two.

CW teachers often fail as a result of teaching out of their own aesthetic and cultural obsessions rather than appropriately diagnosing what our students need.

I taught at University of Utah, largely populated by LDS students, who are some of the most literate and cultured students I’ve ever had, largely as a result of their evangelical missions to other places in the nation and world. Even there, a majority of the students faltered in being able to identify an abstraction and an idiosyncratic detail. Obviously, there is a role for abstraction in poetry. However, with students being unable to comprehend a fairly simple narrative or lyric poem, nothing else can really be taught with any efficiency or effectiveness.

I was this baldfaced with my CW students this semester. I wrote three words all in caps on the blackboard: GENERAL, SPECIFIC, IDIOSYNCRATIC. They would have to choose an object and brainstorm a general description of an object, then a specific, and then an idiosyncratic one. For instance:

they would choose car as a general item,

a rusty Volvo with a bad paint job as specific,

and as idiosyncratic: an Oldsmobile with a bumper sticker that says "I AM THE PARENT OF AN HONORS STUDENT" torn off by what could have been the kid who just got a C for the first time.

This was very difficult for them. Idiosyncratic description usually involved puke, vomit, blood, etc. The only way they could expediently describe something was through the grotesque. They don't like to linger over their writing and provide something truly unique. This isn't in any way to blame my students. Cloudy, sentimental, vague writing permeates our culture; why should they write any different.

This abstract-versus-concrete skill obviously can be applied to composition. It's hard to move beyond a thesis that says "This ad is sexist" or "Society reveals there are similarities and differences..."

No doubt some CW teachers would liken my pedagogical philosophy to forcing students to write the five-paragraph essay in their composition classes. At Project Advance at Syracuse University, a gathering of high school and college teachers, I brought up on the panel that I wish the five paragraph essay was taught more often in the classroom. Much to my surprise, I caused an inadvertent controversy. My belief was so unfashionable. One teacher came up to me and said, “I wouldn’t expect a fellow homosexual to encourage such retrograde ideas. You’re supposed to be on the cutting edge.”

Thursday, November 12, 2009

On White Space, Poetry, and Serious Depression

It's always after the fact that you realize you are depressed. It comes so naturally that you don't think to look at one of the signs: the growing white space in your poems. Before the psychic pain, you thought it was quite the opposite--you thought it meant you were happy. A lot of white space meant ambition.

You were excited about sending out your book of poetry. You believed that you found the way to a win a contest. Put as few words on the page as possible. This was your rationale: screeners are flooded with too many manuscripts. What is smarter than giving them as little as possible to make their way through. They won’t realize it. But they’ll thank you. They’ll thank you by passing your manuscript on to a final judge.


White space is a place for rest on the page. You wanted your readers to rest, or at least you thought. You didn't realize you were projecting.


The Sun and electric incandescence create white light. Maybe the growing amount of white space was a sign of resistance to depression. As your depression increased, so did your desire to fight back. Or at least you like to think that.

Through the white space, you were saying wake up. Wake up. The white space was the closest thing to sunlight you could let in.Too tired to get out of bedd and open the curtains, you laid in bed and lamely browsed through a book of poems, anything longer than a dozen lines felt too time-consuming. Like tying your shoes. Depression makes you feel like tying your shoes is something that needs to be completed in steps.

Has a doctor ever considered white space to be an antidote for Seasonal Affective Disorder?


You always look forward to seeing a psychologist. One of your favorite games is pathologizing yourself. You can't imagine too many poets not looking forward to it. It means, I'm special. There's a name for it. It's the same way with a poem. The problem is the novelty of finding a name for something indescribable only lasts so long. Within seconds, the words date themselves. Your poem rendered obsolete.

White space has no expiration date. It always looks fresh and alive and ready.


In Vietnamese culture, white is the color of mourning and death.


In page layout, white space is often referred to as negative space. Negative space, negative capability. Where does the willingness to be "uncertain"--the location in-between uncertainty and limitless potential occur? Where is the space on the page? Do the two negatives complement one another? Do the two negatives equal a positive? Or do they simply cancel out one another?

Friday, November 6, 2009

On the Vignette (Part One for Nicole Walker)

For months in graduate school, I suffered from urticaria—a kind of hives. It was the weirdest infliction. The hives appear on one part of your body, and then disappear only to appear on another. You never know how long it’s going to take for them to reappear or where they’ll show up next. This is when I started to write vignettes for what would turn out to be a memoir. I would start writing a vignette when a bunch of hives appeared, and then end it as soon as they appeared in a new place. This is the truth: It always felt like my body gave me the perfect amount of time to finish my vignette.


My best friend’s father stopped reading novels when he began to die. “I can’t afford to spend too much time reading. I'm dying and have to say bye,” he said. He tried switching to short stories. That didn’t last for long. “Short stories are like bad hospital guests,” he said, “They’ll sit by your side, and you think they’re going to stay for a long time, but not that much time passes until you can feel them getting ready to go.” One day he told my best friend to tell him a story. He talked for a few minutes and then his father stopped him. He never let my best friend share more than a short episode, a vignette. It was too tiring to hear more. During that time, it was when they felt the closest.


You can ethically judge an essay made out of vignettes without having to read all of it. In fact, your assessment made me best served by only reading parts. A good vignette should be self-contained; it shouldn’t need anything other than itself. At the same, if you do put it next to another, it should feel like the perfect decision. Like the essay would be incomplete, doomed to failure, if you didn’t put it exactly where you did.


For middle-aged writers like myself, writing a vignette is pure nostalgia. The best ones are like photographs. You have no choice but to show. No time to tell. All those useless, silly, dated mantras, your high school creative teachers taught you- like show, don’t tell- feel, once again, like undeniable Truths.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

On the Definition of Creative Non-Fiction

It’s weird how annoying and self-satisfied writers become when they’re asked to define creative non-fiction. They don’t like labels, they say. Or: “It crosses-genres. You can’t pin it down.” I remember when an esteemed creative non-fiction writer was interviewed at my graduate school. He looked appalled by the question and then said, “It can be whatever you want it to be.” He turned out to be a favorite mentor and I'm always amazed by his writing.

As a gay writer, I can’t help but see it as our ethical responsibility to name and define things. If we don’t, the world defines it for us, and may use it as a tool for oppression. Take Proposition 8. People can congratulate themselves as much as they want on their refusal to define their sexuality, that their “sexuality is fluid.” But California voters named a group of people as homosexual. Which essentially meant to them you do not deserve equal rights therefore you are nothing more than dead to us. For any queer person to believe they can transcend a label is at once foolhardy, and cruel to those who suffer psychic and physical harm from such mandates.

“I don’t know what creative non-fiction is,” my students ask on the first day of class. I will not have them jot down on a piece of paper what they think it may be. And then share their ideas. I always hated as a student being asked to offer something that the teacher already thought she knew. It felt weirdly condescending—just tell me, jerk, I always want to say. This isn’t to say I don’t allow for classroom discussion, but that I offer them something first. It's the generous thing to do.

And then I encourage them to challenge me and my definition. This is scary for them, but benign threats always work—tell them that their grade depends partly on being contentious with tact—they’ll do it.

Here’s my definition:

I tell them they need to break up the word. Creative. Non-Fiction.

Non-Fiction=The Real=Autobiographical Experience and/or Texts and/or History=”The Content” of the Piece

For the “Creative” aspect of the definition, they need to ask the question, “Where would the author locate his artistry in the piece?”, “What special formal strategies does she employ?” (ie point-of-view, diction, organization, etc.”)

“That’s why,” I say, “Journalism and diary writing cannot be creative non-fiction. There’s nothing inherently special about its formal strategies. It’s simply meant to convey. To an audience. Or to oneself. It’s not meant to convey in a way that is special or artistic.”

Of course, there are an infinite number of ways to deconstruct this definition. (Even though I think it's pretty good.)

The endless battles about this definition as a result of that can go on and on.

But it offers a starting point rather than simply raising your hands in the air, and offering nothing except to claim no one can pin it down, that it transgresses boundaries and refuses to be defined. Of course, it refuses to be defined; that’s why we’ve become writers, to fumble our way towards a useless, necessary naming.

If your class should look at Jamaica Kincaid’s “My Brother,” your can collectively name her autobiographical experiences dealing with HIV-impacted, drug-addicted brother as the Non-Fiction. And then collectively discover the creative aspects, “Where would Jamaica Kincaid locate her artistry?” (ie the consistently elongated sentences which echo offer one another, the identification of repeated words that accumulate in number and meanings, the successful overdetermination to use flattened syntax.)

[Whatever you do, don’t assign Kincaid’s “Girl.” It’s an insult to Literature to read the most trite and unchallenging piece by one of our greatest living authors.]

If your class should look at say David Shields’ “Fear of a Black Planet,” your class can name his racial analysis of the Seattle Supersonics’ 1994-1995 Season. And then collectively discover the creative aspects, “Where would Shields locate his artistry?” (ie the artificial organization of the diary over time, the deft obsessive delineation of time to provide a sense of increased self-awareness.)

Sunday, November 1, 2009

On Gender Inequality and the Whiting Awards

I am concerned that this year only 2 out of the 10 Whiting Award Winners are women.

I demand a recount.

There’s more curious news. Look at the history of the award. In 2008, 3 out of 10 were women. In 2007, 3 out of 10 were women. In 2006, 4 out of ten were women. In 2004 and 2005, 5 out of ten were women. According to the anonymous panel, women’s writing must be declining in quality, and fairly quickly.

It cannot be emphasized enough how esteemed the award is for young and emerging writers. Everyone sees the honor as a confirmation of a long-lasting, important career. I cannot tell you the number of times in graduate school that one of my classmates would express a hope to receive the title of Whiting Award recipient. In a special-topics graduate class that focused on young writers, one of my teachers simply assigned a whole year’s roster of Whiting Award winners.

I have no problem with the Mrs. Giles Whiting Foundation cloaking their judges in anonymity, but I do think the significance of these awards needs to be questioned, and why exactly the Foundation may possibly be invested in keeping everything such an annoying, self-important secret.

This is how the award is described on the website:

Since 1985, the Foundation has supported creative writing through the Whiting Writers Awards which are given annually to ten emerging writers in fiction, nonfiction, poetry and plays. The awards, of $50,000 each, are based on accomplishment and promise. Candidates are proposed by nominators from across the country whose experience and vocations bring them in contact with individuals of extraordinary talent. Winners are chosen by a selection committee, a small group of recognized writers, literary scholars, and editors, appointed annually by the Foundation. Both nominators and selectors serve anonymously. The Foundation does not accept applications to the Writers' Program.

No doubt someone could make the claim that for a prize of this significance the selection committee shouldn’t be cloaked in anonymity. If that’s the way the Mrs. Giles Whiting Foundation wants to conduct itself, then by all means they should do it. Who is anyone to claim that they should do things differently? Maybe they should start their own foundation then.

But there is a larger issue at the stake: Why exactly does the selection committee seem more likely as of late to choose a man over a woman? Are the identities of the judges kept a secret because it’s essentially a men’s only club and it wants to protect itself from any accusations of sexism?

It’s scary challenging the legitimacy of the awards. Let’s face it: it’s an especially dumb idea for a woman to criticize them. You might be attacking them to someone who’s a judge. No one wants to be associated with a troublemaker. Or a sore loser. You might be passed over if you open your mouth.

And who doesn't want their art valued? But this year it seems that if you’re a woman you have a lot less of a chance.

No one can tell me that with a committee of so many reputable writers they could only find two women as worthy finalists.

With this year's lack of female recepients, this Whiting Foundation could be seen essentially a secret society that through its selection process bestows its awards on men. Because of the prestige of the award, these same men can use the award as a gateway towards something larger, further legitimizing their career. More leads to more.

This post is not meant in any way as a critique of the men who received the awards. I haven’t read most of the winners’ work. I'm sure they are amazing.

But I do mean for this post to act as an attempt to reevaluate the significance of what it means to be a winner of a Whiting. By looking at the relatively low number of female winners, the awards could be seen as a confirmation that the publishing industry and the awards committees are a fraternal system based on predictable, though no less inexcusable, gendered inequalities.

The Whiting Foundation surely chooses brilliant authors. It also knows the importance of the written word. If you’re going to possibly exclude people, and, in this case, women, don’t say it to their face. Make invisible committees. Lurk in whispers. Don't offer any rationales. At least not in writing.

Friday, October 23, 2009

The First of A Series of Responses to Saeed Jones' Blog Post Concerning Class and Poetry

Saeed Jones’ October 9 post on his blog for southern boys who consider poetry raised an important question in terms of writing and class:. As Jones himself asks, “The language of class seems to be hyperbolic at best. Sure, we can name what it means to be exorbitantly wealthy or extremely poor, but where are the words to describe the rest of us?” This is such a brilliant and necessary question to raise, and before I began to discuss the where, I think it’s urgent to ask the reason we can't readily find them.

Unlike most writers who raise the issue of class, Jones instructs us to look what’s between the extremes—something I don’t believe we do enough of. Jones’ call-to-action should be amplified. It’s a difficult thing to hear (let alone accept) when so many poets, especially those employed full-time, complain about how poetry doesn’t pay.

It’s a lie. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t feel grateful for what my poetry afforded me: health insurance. What’s greater than the luxury of living in a small, generous community where my partner and I can be shut-ins and read to one another at night before we go to bed? (Yesterday he read Young Goodman Brown.)

Most poets employed full time obviously come from MFA programs where they're encourage not to talk about class in such precise terms, as Jones asks us to do. They like to think their art transcends the particular and embraces a dumb universality. Which it can. Sometimes.

MFA students (the ones who later receive those full-time jobs) often feel unconsciously guilty that they are attending a writing program; as a result, instead of admitting their privilege in attending school, they do the opposite and claim poverty. I cannot tell you how often a best friend of mine from Syracuse claimed she was “poor.” At first I first believed her. But then as the months continued and our friendship deepened, I found out what constituted poor: she only received $500 a month (or maybe more, can’t remember) from her parents. Her mother made an investment for her that was guaranteed to pay off. Without any self-awareness, she told me that she was afraid that she may need to take out a student loan, and would I help her with the paperwork if she asked.

Needless to say, she didn't need to take out those loans.

It often made me cringe how many MFA and full-time employed poets squawk about their poverty and can call Mom and Dad for that extra hundred dollar to make ends meet and to have a little extra left over. I would like to emphasize that MFA students and part-time faculty are exploited. There's no doubt about that. I couldn't believe how much buying health insurance for me as a student took out of my already paltry stipend. However, I wasn't destitute, and living off the streets, and as poets and fiction writers we need to realize that. This isn't to say we shouldn't silence our complaints, or fight radically for more, it's just the opposite, in fact, but we do need to see exactly where we stand in relation to everyone else.

Not having is a different than not having as much as you want. If you can call someone to bail you out, you have nothing to worry about. You're doing OK. Some MFA students (and full-time employed poets) and their mock crisis of a fictional poverty refuses what Saeed is asking for: an analysis of the full range of class statuses. How can you talk about class when everyone is boasting unabashed financial ruin.

These false narratives of poverty reveal the privilege of academically trained poets. On one hand, they want to be seen as extremely charitable (look at how much I care about the world! I’m writing about it!), and on the other hand in-the-gutter poor (look at how much I’m deprived of as a writer!). This constant oscillation makes it impossible to have a genuine conversation: everyone feels the need to reveal their generous contributions to the national crisis and prove their own suffering.

Financial problems occur after graduation. When the loans are due. And you may be only able to find work as a part-time adjunct, shelling out your hard earned cash on gas to shuttle you from gig to gig to gig.

I lucked out. I got a great job.

I have $90,000 in student loan debt. I was not going to live a life that I led growing up. Screw a cheap, scummy trailer. Screw hand-me-down clothes. Screw meatloaves and casseroles.

I have no shame in tell you: Watch how many Dragon rolls you order. They do add up. And all the clothes you used your student loans on won’t fit after awhile. Too much rice can put the pounds on.