The Matter of Bodies

A simple fact: we are our bodies. This fact was one I tried my hardest to escape especially in adolescence, which of course, led to complete misery. Detachment of the flesh, asceticism: these seemed worthwhile goals. Buddhism was the only world religion worthy of my time. The rest of that time was spent anguishing about bodily things that simply couldn’t be changed. All the energy of youth, so uselessly spent.

It was a process to some semblance of acceptance. It’s always a process. You learn: the mind is the body is the mind is the body.

We try to escape our blemishes too. This past month, my sister and I have been participating in a university study on skin. It’s quite an experience having someone actually count out your flaws to you. We had to be the appropriate amount of blemished in order to participate. I’m receiving blue light therapy – which consists of some kind of alien technology half-surrounding my head for about 15-20 minutes – and my sister is having some kind of electro-therapy done. So far, I haven’t felt anything except slight tingles on my face. My sister says she tastes metal. Somehow, these treatments are supposed to help in ways that topical potions cannot.

It’s for science, you see.

Our pictures have been taken for BEFORE and AFTER. My sister and I always have a good laugh at those TV advertisements where the BEFORE pictures are always of pretty faces with maybe two or three blemishes. No scarring, no boils, no cysts. My heart truly bleeds for the miserable lives they must lead.

trulyhorribleacne

But the prom’s tomorrow!

Maybe not so coincidentally, my fiction writing has been all about the body: how it’s a prison, how we may attempt to escape it, how it is perceived, how these perceived images can become so wildly distorted. It’s obviously personal. How appropriate that one of these stories found a home recently at Corium Magazine. Their tagline: “beneath the skin.”

Now, I’m working through dysmorphia, fascinated by all these monsters we see in the mirror. Maybe it will just turn into a small project of similarly themed stories, or maybe it will turn into a whole body of literature itself. The distortions can be truly endless.


Your Surreal Adolescence

Do you have any rain rituals? I think about the patterns of forgetting the garden and remembering the sound of wind chimes coming from our neighbors’ patio. I think about all the times I played a farming simulation video game with my sister, since rain is always so important for the crops and knowing when to put the animals inside. I think about the times I had problems with sleep as a child because of my brain buzzing too loud when it was time to be quiet. I listened to those cassettes of rain falling in all types of geographies. Now, I can sleep through hurricanes. I’m a boulder in a pool. I fall deep and quickly, dreamless. Plunk.

My story, Angels vs. Salamanders, was published in the debut issue of Wyvern Lit. The editor, Mr. Brent Rydin, is a treasure. He sent me very helpful edits and somehow managed to publish the finished issue on the day of his wedding. You simply can’t be more dedicated to the literary arts than that. The story itself is another surreal tale of adolescence in the vein of The Electric Level. There’s slang, identity confusion. There’s a club with cliques. You have to pick a side. But of course, you find yourself where it all splits down the middle.

I’ve been working on poems and getting rejections. I’ve gotten bolder. Some have been from fairly big journals. Some were more personalized, which always hurts more than you anticipate. Maybe hurts more than form rejections sometimes. I feel confident enough that they’ll find a good home, however. I’m revising and reading more journals to maybe have acceptance rub off on me.

There’s a piece that started off as a half-story of less than 300 words and transformed into a slice of a character sketch. Or a vignette. I’m not sure. Metazen published it and you can read it online. I feel like I’m in very good company here too because they’ve published a few of my friends, who are all fantastic writers themselves. You should read them too. I also feel like I want to do more with this character? Regardless, I know I’m destined to someday write a story of siblings because there just aren’t enough of them.

I want to help with diversity in the publishing landscape. We’ve gotten to the point, I think, where this is a huge topic that is finally being addressed in the media as it should be. Not just in publishing, but in the film and video games industry as well. In order to do my part, in any little way I can, I’m trying to compile a list of literary journals and presses that exclusively publish women, LGBTQ writers, and writers of color. If you have any suggestions, please don’t hesitate to shoot me a message, especially if you’re an editor of any of these journals or presses yourself. I’ll publish the list here on my blog once I’ve collected a decent amount. My goal is to keep updating it as I discover more and to provide writers seeking out these places to have a good starting point.


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:

bookhaul1

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


Small Stories, Small Spaces

I am not going to launch into a reintroduction or make excuses because I promised I wouldn’t last time. I will just say things as they are.

A few months ago, I was asked to help read submissions for Keyhole Magazine, which I happily agreed to. They now have a new online portion to the magazine and it’s worth a look. It will be updated periodically.

I’ve been reading small books and messing around with poetry. Most of my thoughts work themselves into short fiction or notebook scribblings or to-do lists. The dregs become the poems.

Vector, issue 2

Three poems of mine will appear soon in the second issue of Vector. One of these poems features a fictionalized version of my sister. If anything, that should sell you. I also noticed that this issue features a lot of writers who also happen to be editors of other literary magazines (Monkeybicycle, Word Riot, Sundog Lit, Untoward). A colorful bunch. Characters from the internet have arrived and we will haunt you.

PANK 9

I am also happy to say that my short piece of fiction, “The Geography of Squares and Circles,” will appear in the print issue of PANK 9. The piece is about a family with very different moving parts, parts separate like the seasons. They exist like islands, and unfortunately, it takes a son’s self-destruction to bring them together.

Sundog Lit, Games issue

Online, I had a fragmented piece of nonfiction appear in the Games issue of Sundog Lit. It’s about growing up, alienation, sexual identity, and video games acting as both a means of escape and a place of solace. It’s probably one of the most personally intimate pieces I’ve published yet. Admittedly, I felt like this wasn’t very different from writing fiction. The themed issue itself was large and fantastic, which the Millions selected as recommended reading.

Going smaller now: I have a short short in Ghost Ocean (in which I also do a reading for you) and a piece of Twitter-sized fiction in Nanoism. They are sad, of course, but also maybe a bit surprising.

My sister is trying to write a story about one of her boy band concert experiences and her professor wants her to show, don’t tell. Of course. So I offered her a first line: “We were hugging and sobbing.”

Mom has found an old, unfinished dollhouse in the garage that we’re going to put together. As a hobby, she used to build sets from pieces. Looking at all of the small furniture and knickknacks scattered on the table, I am anxiously waiting to see what kind of place I will call my own.