Decatur Book Festival

Reading at Java Monkey in Decatur

Beau and I got back late yesterday afternoon from our long, lovely holiday weekend in Decatur, where I was fortunate enough to be a part of the Decatur Book Festival. My visit was sponsored by the Atlanta Queer Literary Festival, a fabulous event in its own right. AQLF is having a fundraiser on Sept 10 in anticipation of this year’s event, to be held October 13-26. You should go!

Our drive down to Decatur was fairly boring. Let me tell you: Virginia’s freeway is basically a corridor of trees and nothing else. An asphalt lobotomy. We thought North Carolina was very pretty and marveled over the sudden proliferation of adult superstores, fireworks vendors, and NASCAR bumper stickers we saw immediately upon entering South Carolina.

The Decatur Book Festival is amazingly well run and really well-attended. I listened to David Groff (and Collin Kelley and Franklin Abbot and Cleo Creech and Megan Volpert, among others) read from the Persistent Voices anthology in the morning, and then gave my own reading immediately after. A big group of us went to lunch and had an amazing meal and lively discussion at Leon’s Full Service, and then I wandered around to book fair while Beau got his hairs did at a local salon. After an afternoon nap, we hit up the Author’s Reception for a bit and then hung out with some fancy friends who’d driven into town for the events.

Reading at Outwrite Books in Atlanta

On Sunday, I joined David Groff and Rigoberto González at Outwrite Books, where I had two firsts occur:

a) I read under a spinning disco ball
b) I read while one of the audience members perused a dirty magazine in the back row

It was pretty awesome.

And that afternoon I joined Collin Kelly’s contingent at Java Monkey for a marathon reading that featured the lovely Lisa Allender, Dustin Brookshire, Cleo Creech, and Mike Dockins, among several other talented writers. Afterward, we grabbed another delicious meal, and then Beau and I moseyed back to the hotel for some R&R before our 10 hour drive on Monday morning.

We both love Decatur. The people are so nice and friendly and happy. All the food we had was amazing, and we got to have a bunch of really delicious beers at the Brick Store Pub. Atlanta stole our hearts this trip.

Beau has been speaking with a Southern accent ever since. Y’all.

The Phenomenology of Anger

I realized, about a day after the fact, that last week represented a passage of 14 years since I first came out to another person. It happened at college. I’d been out to myself, somewhat, for a few months before, but I don’t really count that time because it was a tentative, exploratory, uncertain kind of growing-towards being an out person.

How can I recall the date? I told my best friend right after she’d opened the birthday present her family had mailed to her. Kind of sticks in your mind.

After feeling sort of stunned by the amount of time that has passed, I started remembering other people I came out to after her. I remember being really excited, but also nervous. I’d grown up in this little town and I’d gone through a few really difficult years of high school–years that I think most people in my life, including my friends, had no realization of just how difficult they were.

Almost all of my friends were supportive, and I’ll never forget my best guy friend’s response: “Actually, Charles, I’m not all that surprised.” He said that while we shot some pool in my parents’ basement. I was sort of offended. Hadn’t I been just sooo in the closet that nobody could tell? Ha. Good god, no.

I told one friend when we went ice skating. I loved to go ice skating even though the closet rink to my town was 40 minutes by car, in an outer ring suburb of Milwaukee. We’d driven out together, and skated around the rink during open skating, and as we sat on the bench unlacing our skates afterward, I told her.

This was a girl who I’d known for years. For most of my life. A girl who had sat next to me in band as people threw shit at the back of my head, who teased me mercilessly because they thought I was a fag, who had seen me humiliated in the lunch room by kids in my school on more than one occasion. I’d driven her to school in my little car and forced her to listen to Ace of Base, Madonna, etc. And when I told her, her face went pale. It crumbled with disappointment. She had a hard time keeping eye contact with me. Me? I sat there, smiling dumbly, thinking she was just surprised.

“You know what? I’ll pray for you,” she said finally. It was the conclusion of a long internal monologue that apparently ended in my favor. She put her hands on her thigh decisively. “I’ll pray that you won’t end up in hell for this.”

Naturally, an awkward silence opened up between us.

She said, “I want to tell you something, since you shared a secret with me.” She went on to explain how she’d been away from home, involved in a group that required her to be out of town for training and preparation purposes, and she explained that she’d gotten romantically involved with a man in her group. “He really wanted to have sex,” she said, “but I want to be a virgin when I get married, so I let him have anal sex with me.” She started crying a little bit. “And it was awful,” she went on. “It hurt so bad.” I could tell she was embarrassed and ashamed. I comforted her. I told her it was okay, that it was nothing she couldn’t or shouldn’t move on from.

It wasn’t until sometime later that I realized she had thought me coming out = her dirty anal sex secret in her mind.

And this week, I finally got angry about it.

Four Degrees of Separation

At the wedding reception this weekend, I was introduced to a woman from DC, who was friends with a couple of my friends. She was a DC native and had lived in Minneapolis some time back and came to know my friends who’d gotten married.

“Charles, this is Jessica. Charles used to live in Minneapolis,” our introducer said. (Some of my Minneapolis friends call me Charles.)

“Where do you live now?” Jessica asked.

“DC,” I said.

“Me too. What part?”

“Silver Spring?”

“Me too. What part?”

“By the Metro.”

“Oh my God, me too. I live right off _________ Avenue.”

“Me too!” I said.

“In [Apartment Complex}??”


We swapped building numbers. Turns out she is in the building behind me in the exact same apartment complex. We had to fly 1200 miles to meet neighbors.

Later, we talked about my connection to the U.

“You lived in Middlebrook Hall? When?”

I told her.

“You didn’t know I___ K_____, did you?”

I explained that he was the senior RA when I was there.

“I moved to Minneapolis because I was in a relationship with him,” she said.

My life just does not seem to have six degrees of separation. Further evidenced by the fact that nearly everyone at this reception seemed to have a connection to another guest’s college roommate. The two of them lived two doors down from me in that dorm.

How to Be Community

Been thinking about Steve Fellner’s post here about perspectives on gay male poetry community.

There are a few things I personally think are important about being in a community, any community, and having good experiences there:

1. Be nice to other people.
2. Don’t say shitty things about other people in the community.
3. Help other people get to where they’re going.
4. Respect that people have different expectations of the community.

Not saying shitty things about other people doesn’t preclude the necessity of critical writing on others’ work–but such writing can be done respectfully.

I think about Tyra Banks, how she hates girlfights. A girl got kicked off Top Model a few cycles back for throwing beer in another girl’s weave. You know why? You don’t throw beer in another girl’s weave. This cycle, Tyra called out Celia for revealing to the judges that Tahlia didn’t want to be in the competition. She made coy allusions to her feud with Naomi Campbell.

“You don’t mess with another girl’s money,” she said. Or, for us (since there is no money in poetry): you don’t mess with another girl’s right to write what she (or he) writes.

I don’t love all gay poetry. Some of it I don’t even really like. But I make no claims of being the arbiter of good taste (in fact, I think we can all agree that I often confess to being the Arbiter of Questionable Taste, or at the very least, the Arbiter of Fourteen-Year-Old Girl Taste). And I wouldn’t want to do anything to someone in my community that would, in Tyra’s words, mess with another girl’s money.

It’s not true for everyone. And so what? Everyone has different expectations of the community. So I don’t get to say they’re doing it wrong if they spill beer on my weave or mess with my money.

I don’t go into the community expecting to get something. I try to go with something to give away. Maybe I sound very Buddhist right now, and I’m okay with that, but I always think about what my mom used to tell me when I’d complain about not getting any mail:

“You have to send a letter if you want to get a letter.”

Yeah. Community’s like that.

Feeling My Age?

Over the weekend I enjoyed a lovely brunch with a poet friend here in DC (where I got to have aebleskiver–one of the few ethnic treats of my childhood!). Over the course of our meandering conversation, we talked about what it meant to feel old.

“I was just thinking recently about how no matter how old I am, I feel old,” I told her. I expected her to reciprocate the sentiment.

“Not me,” she said. “When I was in my thirties I had so much energy, and it stopped all of a sudden. I do feel like a different person now.”

Since our talk I’ve been thinking about this because

a) I’ve continued to feel old
b) I’ve continued to feel tired

I had to remind myself that I spent seven years living on college campuses, and that for the last three of those years, I lived with 18-year-olds. Hundreds of them. I lived with them, then I taught them in comp and creative writing classes, and then I spent the next four years working on their campus, surrounded by them.

For all intents and purposes, I spent roughly the first 13 of my adult years completely surrounded by 18-year-olds, deprived of adult contact and conversation, except among colleagues.

Although it’s not much time between, say, 18 and 25, the mental distance is vast. I watched young adults make the same mistakes I made, had conversations in which they said to me the exact same crazy/stupid/arrogant things I said in my own youth.

More than that, they saw me as old. They weren’t able to distinguish much between me and some of the regular tenured faculty, for example. I was pretty much a generic “grown-up.” I had a “real life,” whatever that meant. Bills, I suppose–a car payment.

It reminds me of an encounter I had at my Target Greatland. My cashier, a girl in her late teens, had been awkwardly talking to an older man. I took his age to be about 45. As he left, she rolled her eyes. “God!” she complained. “He always flirts with me. It’s so gross–he’s, like, thirty.” She laughed and looked at me. I must have had a shocked look on my face; she dropped her laughter and silently scanned my items.