Inspired by a post written by Adam on his blog Roofbeam Reader, I’ve decided to compile a list of books and writers that I deem my own personal canon – that is, texts that I continue to go back to, that I’ve deemed important in terms of my own life, that haunt and continue to guide my own writing throughout the years. This personal canon, since it is personal, will inevitably evolve over time. We all have our themes and tastes. Come back and maybe you’ll find something new.
I have separated it by genre, although the works/writers are in no particular order.
Carson McCullers: The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, The Member of the Wedding
J.D. Salinger: The Catcher in the Rye, Franny and Zooey, Nine Stories
Kazuo Ishiguro: The Remains of the Day, Never Let Me Go
Haruki Murakami: The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Norwegian Wood, Men Without Women
James Baldwin: Giovanni’s Room, The Fire Next Time
Raymond Carver: Where I’m Calling From, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love
Lorrie Moore: Birds of America
Laura van den Berg: The Isle of Youth, What the World Will Look Like When the Water Leaves Us
Carmen Maria Machado: Her Body and Other Parties
Sherwood Anderson: Winesburg, Ohio
Sandra Cisneros: Woman Hollering Creek and Other Stories
Tobias Wolff: In the Garden of the North American Martyrs
Stephen Chbosky: The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Flannery O’Connor: The Complete Stories
David Mitchell: Black Swan Green
Maggie Nelson: Bluets, The Argonauts
Kate Zambreno: Heroines, Book of Mutter
Leslie Jameson: The Empathy Exams
Olivia Laing: The Lonely City
Tracy Brimhall: Our Lady of the Ruins, Rookery
Ocean Vuong: Burnings, Night Sky with Exit Wounds
Jamaal May: Hum, The Big Book of Exit Strategies
Peter Campion: The Lions
Richard Siken: Crush, War of the Foxes
Sara Eliza Johnson: Bone Map
Audre Lorde: Our Dead Behind Us
Sylvia Plath: Ariel
Adrienne Rich: The Dream of a Common Language, Tonight No Poetry Will Serve
This year felt busy, despite the fact that my 2018 memory jar looks a lot emptier than previous years. I did a lot of thinking about my current job situation and resolved to finally take the plunge and apply to MFA writing programs. If accepted, I will be going to school full-time while also teaching some classes as a graduate teaching assistant. I have never taught before in my life, but my family has always told me I’d make a great teacher and my husband agrees. As a child, I played pretend school and made stuffed animals my students, complete with name tags and alphabetization of their surnames. After my sister was born, she became my student instead (sorry, Paula!).
For one of the MFA applications, I had to take the GRE. Some MFA programs still require this, although I’m not sure why. I had to study geometry, which was terrible. The exam itself was extremely difficult, but I ended up with a score that passed the minimum requirement. Hurray! Once that was finally over, I then had to put together a portfolio of what I consider to be my best work (in fiction), craft a statement of purpose, and track down professors I hadn’t talked to in over a decade for letters of recommendation. Fortunately, they’ve been very gracious and patient despite all the frustrating technical hiccups with online application systems. Now we play the waiting game.
The ugliness of American politics and our current administration continues. It has become a tightrope act in terms of engaging with the nightmare vs. disengaging with the nightmare in order to stay sane. I saw a lot of protests on street corners downtown, primarily of handmaids. My husband has considered running for some kind of office in the past, but every conversations ends with us enjoying our privacy too much and the refuge we built away from the madness. Be sure to take care of yourself.
My friend Melissa got married earlier this year and it was a lovely event. Her boyfriend at the time proposed to her shortly after David proposed to me. I’m so happy she found such a great guy. I was a bridesman in their wedding. Melissa and I would compare notes as we both planned our special days.
My husband’s band Soundbarrier played a lot more gigs this year. They released their first album, “In the Air Tonight,” which is a cover album of 80s rock. I became their groupie and occasional photographer. David and I also got to see some of our favorite bands in concert, including Little Dragon and the Indigo Girls.
During the summer, David and I took a trip to Texas to pay a visit to David’s dad’s side of the family. We walked the San Antonio Riverwalk, played Pokemon Go, and took a trip to Austin. At one point, it was 107 degrees outside. My throat and lips were dry as a desert. While in Austin, I got to pay a visit to Malvern Books, which I wish we had here in Florida. They sell a lot of poetry, translated works, and even chapbooks!
My literary diet has become very omnivorous. This year I read graphic novels, poetry, short stories, fiction, non-fiction, and everything in-between. I read a lot more LGBTQ literature because I still think I’m woefully lacking in this area. I know grad school will continue to help me with this and I’m really looking forward to it.
Later in the year, I started working for The Review Review as an assistant editor. My role consists of coordinating interviews with editors of literary journals and occasionally posting literary news and submission calls on their official Twitter account. I’d previously conducted some interviews for the site and was happy to join the team. I’m looking forward to editing more interviews with both old and very new journals. I enjoy helping writers find home for their work, and The Review Review is an invaluable resource for writers at every stage of their career.
My writing took a backseat during the latter half of this year. Editing has taken up more of my time and I watched as my submission queue went down to zero. Nothing is “in-progress.” This must be a first, but I have to say, it feels good not having to worry about submissions. I hate the publishing portion of the writer’s life. Can someone please just send submissions out for me?
Despite my lack of output, I did have some writing published throughout this year:
I will admit, I probably wrote a lot less this year because I spent a lot more time playing video games. A lot of massive video games that took a long time to complete. Horizon Zero Dawn was probably my favorite. And, for the first time ever, I went to a Video Games Live concert with friends and absolutely loved it. I’m definitely interested in going again next year.
In December, David and I celebrated our one-year anniversary. I can’t believe how it’s been a year already since our wedding. I wrote a post about it and you can look at all the adorable pictures.
I know 2019 will be a year of transitions, but I’m ready for it. I made decisions this year that felt more important than year-end resolutions. Next year we will see how they play out. Wish me luck.
Here’s a list of all the cultural objects and media that helped define my year:
Simon Vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli Call Me By Your Name by Andre Aciman Rat Queens by Kurtis J. Wiebe Avatar: the Last Airbender: The Rift; Smoke and Shadow; North and South by Gene Luen Yang Empire of Imagination by Michael Witwer The Witch Boy by Molly Ostertag The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas The House of Impossible Beauties by Joseph Cassara The Life to Come and Other Stories by E.M. Forster Where the Past Begins by Amy Tan Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado Men Without Women by Haruki Murakami A Boy’s Own Story by Edmund White The Beautiful Room Is Empty by Edmund White The Farewell Symphony by Edmund White Stitching a Revolution by Cleve Jones Lawnboy by Paul Lisicky Boy Erased by Garrard Conley Gay & Lesbian Poetry in Our Time by Joan Larkin Saudade by Traci Brimhall Emerald Ice by Diane Wakoski Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude by Ross Gay Catechism: A Love Story by Julie Marie Wade When I Was Straight by Julie Marie Wade
Ladybird Gone Baby Gone Nanette Call Me By Your Name The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar Paris Is Burning Love, Simon Ready Player One Coco Black Panther Alex Strangelove Hereditary Bad Moms Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald Mary and the Witch’s Flower
One Day at a Time Grace and Frankie (always!) The Legend of Korra Atypical Aggretsuko Everything Sucks! Dear White People Murphy Brown Glow She-Ra and the Princesses of Power The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina
Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time Tekken 7 Horizon Zero Dawn LittleBigPlanet 3 Stardew Valley ABZÛ Injustice 2 Lego Marvel Superheroes 2 Lego Dimensions Butterfly Soup Nexomon Pokemon Go Bravely Default: Second Layer Little Dragons Café Donut County Soul Calibur 6 Undertale Deltarune
On How Life Is by Macy Gray Dirty Computer by Janelle Monae Love Is Dead by CHVRCHES Pocketful of Sunshine by Natasha Bedingfield Junior Empire by Junior Empire Portals by Fleurie Kiss + Swallow by IAMX The Greatest by Cat Power Anchor by Trespassers William Ash by Ibeyi don’t smile at me by Billie Eilish Shake the Spirit by Elle King Church of Scars by Bishop Briggs The Undertale OST by Toby Fox
David and I were married on Dec 9th, 2017 at Tree Tops Park in Davie, Florida. It was a small and intimate event. The time and place were perfect for us.
The weather forecast said it was going to be a cold and rainy day, but that was only partially true. It drizzled slightly in the morning but let up by the afternoon, just in time for us to take some great wedding photos outside. Unusually courteous for South Florida weather.
We stood among the giant old oaks and slight breezes shook water off the leaves. The crispness of a cool, wet atmosphere combined with the prehistoric canopies in the background made the photos look almost timeless. I enlisted the help of a talented friend from high school, Amy Nales Ramsaran, to be our photographer.
My aunt Toni Ann was our wedding officiant and master of ceremonies. She’d graciously acquired her minister license just for the occasion. I knew she’d make a great choice. She donned a rainbow scarf and made sure all the important parts went according to our plan.
The ceremony itself was secular, lacking any sort of symbolic gestures that usually come from religious or cultural traditions. As a nonreligious same-sex couple, these didn’t really apply to us. Weddings are still very much defined by religious language and strict gender roles. So we rewrote it all ourselves. Gay marriage is still very much a new thing, so trying to come up with our own terms and ceremony was perhaps a much more personal experience than is typical for other couples. There weren’t rituals to lean on. We set the rules.
So we decided to keep it simple. As the ceremony began, our wedding party entered in twos. It just so happened that my side was all women and David’s side was all men (plus Jackie!). The women were dressed in juniper green dresses and the men wore blue vests. Our processional song was “Theme of Love,” from the video game Final Fantasy IV. David and I entered the hall together soon after.
Aunt Toni greeted our guests, read about the commitment we were making to each other, and gave us a blessing. Our friend Jackie read a love poem from Twenty-One Love Poems by Adrienne Rich. It’s one of my absolute favorites.
We read our vows to each other. Many couples choose not to do this and just proceed with a declaration of intent, but we decided to write our own. I was very nervous about this part, mostly because I thought I would just sob throughout the whole thing. I did cry a bit, but took pauses to breathe. Breathing is crucial. In the end, I’m so glad we chose to do this.
Here were my vows to David:
Our friend Jeremy presented us with the rings. We put the rings on our fingers and made our promises to each other. After a brief benediction, Aunt Toni pronounced us married. We kissed and led the wedding party back outside. I cried and hugged everyone. With all the preparing that went into this moment, it all went by so fast.
Before the reception, we made sure to have everyone sign the actual marriage license. So many couples actually forget this part, which is funny. More photos were taken with family and friends.
After photos were finished, Aunt Toni introduced us as we reentered the hall with the wedding party. David and I shared our first dance as a newly wedded couple. Our song for this was “Ice Cream” by Sarah McLachlan. We laughed nervously to each other as everyone stared at us. Fortunately, everyone else joined in soon after.
Dinner was a delicious Italian buffet: eggplant parmesan, chicken alfredo, and baked ziti. We had a little bar that served sangria, white wine, red wine, and a blush. That blush went real quick. Props to my mom for finding it. No one seemed interested in beer. I guess that’s just the kind of people we tend to hang out with. Classy people.
Toasts were given. My friends Brittany and Tiffany made us laugh with their speech. David and I thanked everyone for coming. We also made sure to thank all those activists who fought long and hard for our rights to wed. Also: thanks, Obama!
We cut our delicious chocolate cake, complete with the cutest wedding topper.
When the desserts came in, everyone clapped. With good reason. My mom and her co-conspirators went a bit crazy with the dessert table. It was a very impressive spread: donut holes, cupcakes, Italian cookies, eclairs, cream puffs, chocolate-covered Oreos…my goodness.
After all the desserts, we said goodbye to everyone and had our send-off. I couldn’t believe it was all over. We were told by the park that we made history by being the park’s first official gay wedding.
As we drove away, the rain started up again. I’m really not about cosmic alignment, but all the auspices seemed to show. I’m sure there will be more than a few poems that come from this. For now, I just feel incredibly lucky to have found someone this special to share my life with.
October was gone in an instant and November already has one foot out the door. Instead of writing and reading, I was very busy studying for the GRE and applying to MFA programs. I hadn’t done geometry since high school, and hopefully that was the very last time I’ll have to study math again. I had to seek out professors I hadn’t talked to in over a decade for letters of recommendation. I had to refresh their memory of who I was, what I did in their classes, and what I’ve been working on since then. Somehow, I put together a portfolio of my best short fiction. It’s very difficult selecting “the best” of anything. I crafted a statement of purpose, which includes what I write, why I write, what I want out of an MFA, and what I can possibly contribute. These posts by Carmen Maria Machado and Cady Vishniac were essential in figuring all of this out. Thank goodness for gracious writers like them.
I’ve also become an assistant editor at The Review Review. Their site is an invaluable resource to both new and veteran writers alike. I’ve previously written reviews for them. Now I’m coordinating all the interviews with literary magazine editors for the site. It’s become my mission to highlight new journals that seek to publish underrepresented voices, alongside the old journals who have been around for decades.
I received my contributor copies of the Lascaux Prize 2017 anthology. My poem, “Heathens at Thanksgiving,” was a finalist and was included in its pages. You can order a print or digital copy.
Unfortunately, some of the hellos I’ve gotten to say lately have come with goodbyes. This week, we lost my grandma on my dad’s side. Grandma had just celebrated her 90th birthday this year. It is a very unreal feeling when someone you’ve known your whole life is suddenly no longer a part of it. I remember watching The Price Is Right with her when I was little. I remember her excessive cheek kisses and her dance moves at parties. I remember all her Italian-isms: bicciuridu (my little baby), stunad (idiot), gifu? (what’s wrong?). Lots of mangia, of course. How she always cooked huge Italian meals for Christmas, every kind of chicken and pasta, the scungille (shellfish) and bruppu (octopus). How all my little cousins loved the octopus and how I didn’t trust it. I will miss Grandma, but I’m very glad she lived a long life. I’ve got some good genes.