Summertime Madness

This summer is decades long. Time no longer functions as it once did and cannot be trusted. The mosquitoes are the least of our problems. I’ve been meaning to write something, anything, but where to begin? Every day brings another disaster, another grave mistake that could’ve been easily avoided if we had strong leaders with even somewhat humanistic values and hearts in the right place. But we don’t, and this year has been a test of how shaky and precarious this country’s foundations truly are, how weak our democracy. There is a lot to be angry about. America’s leadership has politicized a pandemic, responded to police brutality against Black lives by inciting MORE violence, and continues to sow seeds of distrust in science and empirical evidence that extends and deepens our suffering. Florida has always been a complete train wreck, blitzed out and brain-dead, a window into the act of schadenfreude, but has become a nihilistic, anarchist paradise where people try their very hardest to live like they’re never going to die.

What to do? Everything seems so overwhelming, so irreparable, so far gone, that paralysis and withdrawal seem inevitable. It’s hard to say. All I can do is listen, share credible information, be skeptical of misinformation, raise voices that are better equipped with the language and experience, donate to organizations that are helping overcome deeply ingrained systemic issues, and vote. When I’m not doing these things, here are ways I’ve tried coping:

  • Playing many hours of video games, especially Animal Crossing: New Horizons and Summer in Mara (both of which allow you to explore and live an idyllic life on tropical islands and help well-intentioned anthropomorphic animals), as well as Maneater (you play as a bull shark and you can eat rich people on yachts and golf courses!)
  • Listening to music (examples: Fetch the Bolt Cutters by Fiona Apple, Petals as Armor by Hayley Williams) and funny audiobooks (like: Samantha Irby and R. Eric Thomas)
  • I want to say reading and writing, but I keep getting away from these activities because they simply aren’t escapist enough – at least, not the things I tend to read or write – and require thinking deeply about the world around me
  • Limiting my time on social media while still trying to stay informed
  • Reminding myself of the future goals I have, grad school, writing projects, and work

There is also this: I have to remind myself constantly that the craziest voices always carry the farthest. There are some lovely and tough minds left, some love and empathy, strength and hope to make everything better. All of this is getting drowned out because everything else is so overwhelming and overtakes the airwaves/our screen time.

I often tell my husband that nothing surprises me anymore. I anticipate Florida will get much worse. The virus isn’t going anywhere. I expect we will have multiple Category 6 hurricanes (a new hurricane for a new kind of terrible) in the fall. I wouldn’t be surprised that this year would be the end of all years. Maybe the Mayans were just a few years off.

Logophobia with Transition

That sounds like a title of a poem, doesn’t it? Or maybe I’ve just been reading too much poetry this year and my brain has become a poem, oh no.

I am going back to school for the upcoming spring semester and I’m very excited. I was accepted into the English graduate program at FAU. I’m going to be reading a lot and I can’t wait. Alongside my studies, I will be assisting students with their papers at the university’s writing center. I’ve left my job as a content editor. This change in my life makes me nervous, but I am incredibly fortunate to have such a supportive husband as I continue my education.

When I was little, I used to play imaginary school. I was the teacher, of course. My class consisted of 20+ stuffed animals surrounding me in a circle. They each had a nametag and a last name. I’d do rollcall and give them homework assignments. After I graduated college, my family was surprised that I didn’t pursue teaching and/or continue to graduate school. At the time, I just wanted to find work. I didn’t find work for a while because the timing was not great in terms of the economy. I occasionally regret not immediately going on to graduate school a decade ago. However, if I did, I may not have gained the perspective of someone who worked as both a civil servant and as a small cog in the private sector, deftly navigating corporate culture and all the big personalities it brings with it. But who knows. Anyway, what-ifs will drive you crazy. Poetry is a testament to that.

Perhaps the most important experience I’ve gained in the workforce is how to be more assertive, especially when I know I’m right about something. Doubt is a plague for any thinking person, but I used to apologize for being correct, even when I was absolutely certain. Now I take a step forward and reiterate. I give ample explanation where necessary. Despite this, I struggled a lot with collaboration. This was not due to an inability to speak up, but a difficulty in dealing with a lot of different personalities, each with their own problem with language. Whether it was using their own jargon, deliberately withholding or omitting information, having English as a second language, or not responding to my messages, this huge breakdown in communication really tested my patience. I am a writer. I use words to the best of my ability. I cannot read anyone’s mind, nor do I wish that curse upon my worst enemy.

I am looking forward to being around people who love books as much as I do. I am looking forward to helping students become better writers. I am looking forward to a new year of change and possibility.

The Wedding

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.

Hellos and Goodbyes

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.

In Memoriam: Zach Doss

I’m devastated and heartbroken to learn of the sudden passing of writer Zach Doss. Although we never got to meet in person, I got to know Zach online through his tweets and his writing. We corresponded through email throughout the years, sharing works-in-progress with each other and offering feedback and support. I loved his fabulist fiction with a queer bent and quickly found him to be a comrade-in-quills. I vicariously lived through his MFA experience and was looking forward to reading his story collection someday. When he graduated and was looking for work, I suggested he apply to my workplace. We had an open position in my department at the time. He had a phone interview with my boss and she said he was an absolute delight. She was almost ready to offer him the job but he ultimately decided Florida was not for him and went to pursue a PhD in writing in California. I have to admit, in hindsight, my recommendation for him to move here was mostly selfish – I imagined us hanging out at bookstores, becoming better friends, yelling at people to read each other’s books. We had planned on meeting eventually at the AWP conference, but I was unfortunately unable to attend this year.

Zach was an original talent and absolutely unapologetic in his love for the literary community. His passing is a huge loss. My thoughts are with his family during this time. Although he is gone now, he will continue to live on through the hearts of his loved ones and friends, and of course, through his stellar writing.

Here are some of my favorite stories he had published: