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.

The Year of Poetry

Poetry month came and went. I did it right by reading tons of it: John Ashbery, Charles Bukowski (my first ever, if the internet can believe that), Adrienne Rich (all-time favorite still), Peter Campion, Juliana Spahr, Angela Sorby, Richard Siken, Ocean Vuong, Campbell McGrath. I think I may just extend it to make 2014 my year of poetry, much like 2013 was my year of women writers. It looks like it’s headed that way regardless.

About a month ago, I met Amy Tan. She was at FIU, my alma mater. The university presented her with the Lawrence Sanders award for her contribution to literature. I first read The Joy Luck Club in high school, one of the books that inspired me as a teenager to take writing more seriously. Her fascination with an indomitable mother figure also resonated. Her speech at the ceremony was funny and heartfelt. She discussed the idea of the writer’s brain being more porous, having less barriers. Her husband of 40+ years was in the audience with their little dogs in a bag. The next day was their anniversary and they were heading out to Key West to celebrate. Ms. Tan talked about the Dry Tortugas and how she wanted to swim with the sharks. She signed my copy of her newest novel: To Joseph, joy and luck.

I didn’t go to AWP this year, even though I’d been invited to do a reading at an off-site panel that focused on videogame writing. I’ve actually never been to AWP. It’s on my bucket list though. From what I’ve gleaned from Twitter, AWP always seems like a huge frenzy that causes a lot of exhaustion. But hopefully fun exhaustion. I would especially love to meet some of the editors from the literary magazines I read. And of course, maybe I’ll even bump into some writer friends that, up until this point, I only internet-know.

Speaking of internet friends, thanks to some help from Adam, I was recently able to start a Goodreads author page. You can now become a fan of me. Oh wow. It might make it easier since my blog posts will also update through Goodreads now. If you’re into that. And of course, my constant barrage of books.

In the past couple of months, I’ve managed to stumble upon a few bookish places in tight little corners of South Florida. I am always on the lookout–especially since there are hardly any bookish places within my immediate vicinity. I sometimes feel so culture-starved.

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One of these places was Second Edition Books. I went with my sister, who is always up for an adventure. She bought some Shakespeare, I bought some Lorrie Moore. There were shelves and shelves, stacks and stacks. It was crammed full. The bookstore provides a very homey atmosphere–rustic interior and leather armchairs. We sat in them and looked for the Great Catsby, the bookstore’s mascot. Catsby the cat lounges around the books. My sister pointed out that he also has an Instagram with a huge amount of followers.

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Another place I found was the Undergrounds Coffeehaus. The first thing I noticed: it’s not actually underground. In fact, you have to climb stairs to get to the door, where it warns you that no illegal substances are permitted beyond the threshold. Already I think we’d found a place with a distinct personality. Inside, there is a playful kind of chaos: board games set out on tables, shelves of books against walls, knick-knacks scattered all over. It seems like a good local hangout spot for artists and youth with that kind of alternative edge. Tattoos and green hair. They serve tater tots and lots and lots of different coffee and teas.

When I’m not exploring books nooks or working now, I write letters–actual paper and pen–in order to fill the void where the incessant blogging would be. If you wish to start an exchange, you can let me know at lettersforburning@yahoo.com. I promise I won’t burn them–not this time.

Carousel #18

  1. The Millions covers a long list of upcoming books in 2014. Like I don’t have enough in my to-read pile already.
  2. This dialect quiz got passed around the internet quite a bit recently. I took it and was surprised how easily it picked out the Ft. Lauderdale/Miami/Pembroke Pines areas for me. Extremely exact. I guess using the term “sunshower” gave me away. I made my mom take it and she got areas in New York. Even she couldn’t trick it.
  3. Via Buzzfeed, Roxane Gay discusses how unlikable female characters are less socially accepted and more unfairly dismissed than unlikable male characters. I could not agree more with this.
  4. At Tin House, here is an interview with Laura van den Berg, whose book of short stories I am now making my way through. If you can find it, you should read “Opa-Locka.” Or maybe just buy her book, yes?
  5. Here’s some recommended reading from Judy Blume and Lena Dunham.
  6. And recommended reading from me: Every Year Is Comeback Year / The #11 Ranked Tennis Player in the World / Chain.

2013: The Retrospective

I might say 2013 was the first year I felt my age, even though I didn’t feel that way in the beginning. High school drama has faded. College was a blur, a TV channel blinking scenes in and out. Coming of age might just be a cough. The throat is cleared, the page can close.

Maybe it is also because more people in my life call me Joseph now, instead of Joey.

There were firsts, coming late: first nosebleed, first time travelling alone, first full-time job, first Pushcart Prize nomination, first romantic interest.

I read mostly women writers to level the playing field. By now, you all know it’s still a problem that half the human population is being overlooked in publishing. It’s surprising. What wasn’t surprising was how easy it was for me to take it to task, a simple lesson in being more mindful of what we consume. And I still have plenty left over sitting on my shelves for the upcoming year.

A few:

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I got more into podcasts because my job allows plugging in as long as we are plugging away. There is Other People, as usual, but also Literary Disco. Books can, and should be, funny. Books can be a party. And of course, there’s Welcome to Nightvale.

I started thinking more about how video games and writing are both important to me, how integral to my formative years. How I grew up with both, alongside each other; how they informed my imagination and creative endeavors. I thought about how they can intersect, how they can both be very important to identity. There are games being made like dys4ia and Depression Quest and Gone Home. I wrote an essay for Sundog, which is maybe the most intimate thing I have published. I am still getting used to this nakedness.

For the new year, Melissa gave me the idea of keeping a memory jar. I don’t think anyone who knows me would consider me a very sentimental person, but I like this idea very much. Getting a big jar and collecting bits and pieces throughout the year to remember it by. Ticket stubs, seashells, pictures, buttons, quotes. It’s like keeping another kind of journal. Maybe it would also force me to be more of observant and aware of what is happening around me, kicking me out of any bubble I am prone to curl up in.

I wrote down resolutions too, which is not something I believe too strongly in. But, as I mention, I’ve already begun working on them. I’ve set myself a Goodreads goal.

I need to make a new mixtape. Maybe my throat has cleared of those days of advanced placement classes and aggressive acne, but the music stays.

Books:

Quiet by Susan Cain
Rise of the Videogame Zinesters by Anna Anthropy
Summer by Edith Wharton
A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf
Heroines by Kate Zambreno
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Stigmata: Escaping Texts by Hélène Cixous
Bluets by Maggie Nelson
The Member of the Wedding by Carson McCullers
Unclean Jobs for Women and Girls by Alissa Nutting
Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino
Mother Ghost by Casey Hannan
Light Boxes by Shane Jones
Winter’s Bone by Daniel Woodrell
We the Animals by Justin Torres
The Marbled Swarm by Dennis Cooper
My Vocabulary Did This to Me by Jack Spicer

Films/TV:

Downton Abbey
Upstairs, Downstairs
The Perks of Being a Wallflower (again)
Ghost World (again)
My Mad Fat Diary
Girls
Black Books
Parks and Recreation
The Royal Tenenbaums
North Sea, Texas
Bridegroom
Battle Royale

Music:

“Hot Knife” and “Daredevil” by Fiona Apple
“My IQ” by Ani DiFranco
“Closer” by The Tiny
“Royals” and “Tennis Court” by Lorde
“Don’t You Touch Me” and “I’ve Been Alone Too Long” by Soko
“Mother, Mother” by Tracy Bonham
“Lights” by Ellie Goulding
“Lungs” by Chvrches
“All Your Gold” and “Lilies” by Bat for Lashes

Misc.:

Lady knights
Boy witches
Haunted doll houses
Praya dubia and deep-sea creatures
Satin bowerbirds, salamanders
Confessional and fantastical poetry
First-person point of view
Self-destruction as renewal
Memoir-criticism and essay-reviews

Forget Your Nerves

I have been typing and typing, but no words. Numbers instead. Little robot doing repetitive tasks. The nerves are dead. Open your hands for me. They’re too soft. I can almost feel the blood. They might make nice replacements.

In November, I attended the Miami Book Fair with an old friend from college. We had the same creative writing professor summers ago, Mr. John Dufresne, who had a new book out. It was hot and wet as we walked the barricaded streets, but never rained. There were crowds of people, which would normally send me running, but the knowledge that they were there solely for books and writers was more of a comfort. We had nutella crepes in the makeshift food court and freshly squeezed lemonade. I got some new books for $5.

Book haul:

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I forced my friend to go to a queer poetry panel with me. It was hosted by Reading Queer. The room was packed. People had to stand. Looking around, there were wings inside my chest. There were fantastic writers on the panel, like Eduardo Corral and Maureen Seaton, who had a poem published alongside me in Pear Noir! #9. They read some of their poems. There was a performance piece that made my head tilt a little. There was awkward laughing and a bottle of champagne.

I was reading the latest issue of Birdfeast and I came across a name that was like an arrow in my brain: Caroline Cabrera. I took to the internet and saw if I could find more. There was more, much more, and even a book of poetry. Of course, this was Carrie from elementary school. I remember. Carrie who always got straight A’s, Carrie who hung out with Julie who also got straight A’s, Carrie who would no doubt become a teacher, and did. Not Carrie who had telekinetic abilities, but she probably should have. I immediately sent her a message and we were able to reconnect. How odd that two Catholic school kids would turn into writers running in similar writing circles, reading and publishing in the same kinds of magazines.

Amidst all the end-of-the-year list-making, I was nominated for my first ever Pushcart Prize. The nomination came from Ghost Ocean. I wonder if I’m allowed to call myself an indie author yet?

Let’s go back to words. Let’s make them routine again, and hopefully they’ll be neighborly to the numbers that have grown into a town. Norton Juster would be proud.