2017: The Retrospective

It seems as if this was a year most people would like to erase or do over, much like last year. There was more political turmoil, disappointment and horror caused by the U.S. government, the public outing of sexual harassers (and worse), racist/fascist awfulness, devastating hurricanes, and the crushing feeling of powerlessness. I can see why people are sharing images of literal garbage fires with text of “2017” edited over them.

Despite the ugliness of the outside world, I personally had a wonderful year. I got married to my better half and we had a beautiful celebration. The planning was stressful, but our special day was well worth it. I will do a post about it in the future that will include photos. There’s probably a lot to say.

We went to San Diego, California for our honeymoon. The weather was 70 degrees the whole time and the skies were completely blue. We walked Balboa Park, went to the Birch Aquarium, visited the San Diego Museum of Art, and dined at Hillcrest. We took naps in the middle of the afternoon. It was wonderful.

My husband formed an 80s rock band this year and they’re quite good. They recorded a demo and had their first gig. The living room has been transformed into a music studio. I love how we both have our creative outlets–his music and my writing. It allows us to have space when we need it.

We’ve continued going to concerts together. This year we saw Garbage, Blondie, Toad the Wet Sprocket, and others. We don’t have the same tastes in music, but it’s always nice being introduced to new artists and sharing the experience of a live musical performance.

Speaking of rock stars, I also met Roxane Gay this year. She was on tour for her book Hunger. The room was completely packed and hot, but filled with positive energy and a diverse group of readers. And of course, Roxane herself was a delight. I’m excited to read more of her work in the future.

This was the first year I kept track of my submissions to literary journals with a spreadsheet. I was afraid to do so previously because of how discouraging I thought it would be. Instead, it has managed to keep me organized and pressures me into sending more things out into the world. I sent out around 75 submissions this year, which were mostly rejections, but included a lot of encouraging remarks from editors. I hope to reach over 100 rejections next year, which was inspired by this essay at Lit Hub. The rejections still sting, but it’s become more like quickly ripping off a band-aid. You enter it in, make note of the comments (if any), and move on.

I had a few pieces published, including a poem at South Florida Poetry Journal, whose editors invited me to give my first ever poetry reading. I read essays about prose poetry to dispel my misconceptions of the form and published a prose poem of my own in Unbroken Journal. Most surprisingly, I was named a finalist for the Lascaux Prize for Poetry. My poem will be published in their 2018 anthology.

Aside from the anthology, I already know I am starting off 2018 with a few of my pieces forthcoming from Gone Lawn and The Fanzine. Stay tuned.

Here are my obligatory lists that helped define this year:

Books:

Our Dead Behind Us by Audre Lorde
Scald by Denise Duhamel
My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem
Rookery by Traci Brimhall
The New Essential Guide to Gay and Lesbian Weddings by Tess Ayers
The Red Parts by Maggie Nelson
Hunger by Roxane Gay
The Field Guide to Prose Poetry, edited by Gary McDowell
The Big Book of Exit Strategies by Jamaal May
Book of Mutter by Kate Zambreno
Drawing Blood by Molly Crabapple
Krik? Krak! by Edwidge Danticat
Avatar: The Last Airbender: The Promise by Gene Luen Yang
Avatar: The Last Airbender: The Search by Gene Luen Yang
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
The First White President by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Dept. by Speculation by Jenny Offill
Help by Simon Amstell
Cruddy by Lynda Barry
It Devours! by Joseph Fink
The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro

Literary journals:

The Adroit Journal
Memorious
Boulevard

Waxwing Magazine
Gulf Coast
Electric Literature
TriQuarterly

The Shallow Ends
Paper Darts
Blueshift Journal
South Florida Poetry Journal
wigleaf
Unbroken Journal

Movies:

Moonlight
Hidden Figures
Kill Your Darlings
Loving
Boy Meets Girl
Closet Monster

Get Out
Wonder Woman
Moana
Thelma & Louise

TV series:

Mom
West Wing
Bob’s Burgers
Full Frontal with Samantha Bee

Stranger Things
Neo Yokio

When We Rise
The Handmaid’s Tale
Sense8
Grace and Frankie
Take My Wife
Avatar: The Last Airbender (rewatch)
Legend of Korra
Atypical
Glow

Video games:

Persona 5
Pokemon Trading Card Game Online
LittleBigPlanet 3
Injustice 2
Ever Oasis
ABZU
Children of Zodiarcs
The Arcana
Earthlock: Festival of Magic
Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp

Music albums:

Future Politics by Austra
I See You by The xx
Ibeyi by Ibeyi
Pleasure by Feist
Silver Eye by Goldfrapp
Season High by Little Dragon
Bleed Like Me by Garbage
Debut by Bjork
Something to Tell You by HAIM
It’s Immaterial by Black Marble
Melodrama by Lorde
Master of My Make-Believe by Santigold

Take Me Away

I’ve been escaping into alternate worlds. This was my favorite pastime as a child and I’ve missed doing this. Falling down the rabbit hole. I read about these fantasies, dreamt of them, explored their vast landscapes in videogames. I’d watch movies like Return to Oz and become obsessed. I grew up alongside Harry Potter. I wanted to inhabit these worlds always, so immersed myself completely and eventually wrote my own. Many of us lose this wonder as we become jaded adults ground down to a nub by the tedium and obligations of everyday life. I like to think I haven’t just yet. Or, I’m trying my hardest not to become that.

I’ve been exploring the world of Umbra in the videogame Earthlock: Festival of Magic. It’s colorful and lush, even while traversing the Burning Desert and trying to desperately avoid death from the heat. There is a central hub that you use as a homebase, called Plumpet Island. Here, you can rest and recover your health in a library. You can bargain with and go on quests for Frogboy. You have a garden and use what you grow there as ingredients for healing potions and even ammunition in battle. I always love gardens in videogames and this mechanic is my favorite. I have a soft spot for apothecaries too. Gardens are always showing up in my fiction.

Magic shows up too sometimes. I’m reading/playing a game on my phone called The Arcana. It’s a very queer-friendly visual novel where you explore an intriguing world full of magic and mystery, while also trying to romance one of the characters of your choice. There are talking snakes, magical trinkets, and ghosts. You are given dialogue options that allows you to alter the course of the story. The art is gorgeous.

Unfortunately, I’ve also had a rather lackluster revisit to a universe that used to seem much more colorful years ago. I’ve been making my way through the first part of The Book of Dust by Philip Pullman. I loved the His Dark Materials series when I was younger but, despite the glowing reviews online, I’m finding this prequel to Lyra Belacqua’s adventures incredibly dull. I don’t really care so much about descriptions of carpentry, Biblical floods, and changing the Chosen One’s diapers (yes, this is a plot point).

A return to the town of Night Vale, however, is always welcome. I’ve been listening to the audiobook of It Devours! at work. The narration is what you’d expect, since it’s the same narrator we all know and love. The fantastic escape + well-earned laughs were a highlight of my week. It makes for a nice break in between all the literary podcasts.

I will someday write towards a collection of more fantastical stories. I know I have them in me, just like I have a queer coming of age novel in me and endless stories with idyllic gardens.

Fall Fragments

  1. The cool, dry air pays a visit like an old friend. My skin is glowing but my eyes are tearing.
  2. I have a short prose poem in the fall issue of Unbroken Journal. It is ominous, as most writing is these days.
  3. Someone asks me, “What do you write?” I freeze. You’d think I’d be able to answer this by now.
  4. I finished writing a story told in fragments. It features potions and a garden. My stories always seem to feature a garden.
  5. I finished reading Cruddy by Lynda Barry. Brutal and beautiful. I wrote a micro review about it. Easily one of my favorite reads this year.
  6. I’ve updated my list of literary journals for LGBTQ writers, women, and writers of color. People still seem to use it as a resource and I’m glad it’s been so helpful. Unfortunately, I’ve had to remove quite a few journals that have gone defunct or no longer appear online.
  7. I’m getting married soon. Since there’s no bride, we’ve had to write a ceremony ourselves. There are no real traditions to inherit yet, no set rules. We are setting them down. I should write about this eventually.
  8. The cool spell will be gone tomorrow, I’m sure.

Recommended Reading #7

  1. “32 Names for Future Hybrid Tulips” by Traci Brimhall
  2. “Magic City Ruse” by Ariel Francisco
  3. “The Field of Rooms and Halls” by Richard Siken
  4. “Kitchen Coven” by Avra Elliott
  5. “Vows (for a gay wedding)” by Joseph O. Legaspi
  6. “Adolescence” by Nin Andrews
  7. “Sea Church” by Aimee Nezhukumatathil
  8. “Essay on Craft” by Ocean Vuong
  9. “Science and Magic: Wind in Seven Hayao Miyazaki Films” by J.D. Ho
  10. “Suicidal Ideation and Who We Allow to Be Real” by Joanna Valente
  11. “I Used to Be a Writer–Then I Got Sick” by Emma Smith-Stevens
  12. “Origin Myth” by Alfredo Aguilar
  13. “On Ekphrasis Using Video Games” by William Hoffacker
  14. “Stardew” by Melissa Goodrich

Finding (My) Voice

"Speak Up" by Kyle Thompson

This isn’t about writing style like you might think, or about carving out my own identity in the literary landscape. This is about actual voice and how I’m trying to change it.

I’ve always been soft-spoken. You’d think by now I’d be used to being talked over, interrupted, and not allowed to finish a thought. But just like the role of the wallflower, you never really get used to it. We like to believe we do, but we never do. The periphery is both comfortable and convenient when you wish to avoid any attention, but that also means people will relegate you to the shadows. It’s difficult when you desire recognition without the spotlight.

I never wished to disturb the universe. I wouldn’t dare, Mr. Eliot. I like harmony and dislike confrontation. I never wish to be an intrusion upon anyone, so I shrug in towards myself. I’ve always kept my head down and concentrated on the sidewalk, never daring to meet a stranger’s gaze.

Friends have noticed how I add “I guess” or “I think” to the end of most sentences, even when I’m a hundred percent certain about something. This is just like how I used to say I’m sorry all the time, even when there was absolutely no reason for me to apologize. Sometimes I’d even apologize when it was clearly someone else’s fault. It was only when I was made cognizant of it that I was able to change this behavior, and even then, it took some practice.

It’s going to take much more practice to free myself of this deep rooted self-doubt. Over years and years, it has become both my vocabulary and my voice. It’s kind of hilarious being a writer who doesn’t believe in the value of his own words.

I’ve been trying to teach myself that my contributions are worthwhile. I’ve been trying to teach myself how to raise my voice so you can clearly hear what I’m saying. It has become a matter of necessity now, especially since it has been brought to foreground by my work life. My editorial job requires me to tell people when they’ve made mistakes, even when I don’t want the confrontation. It requires me to voice confidence when I know I’m right and someone else isn’t–which, as it turns out, is often.

So I lied. I said this wasn’t going to be about writing. But if it’s about voice, then it’s going to be about writing too.

I received this rejection letter:

Dear Joseph Dante,

Thank you so much for sending us this. We love the nuance and patience of this story and the delicacy of this relationship. Unfortunately, this piece doesn’t quite fit the tone we’re developing for Issue 6, but I would love to read more of your work in the future.

We wish you the very best of luck placing this story elsewhere.

I couldn’t help but think, if only it were louder. If only softness wasn’t such a problem. If only we didn’t expect the writing to grab you by the throat.

I’m still learning how to turn up the volume.