Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Love Doesn't Come with a Syllabus

Usually, when I listen to an audiobook in my car, I'm okay to stop when I get to my destination.  My daily commute to and from work is a 30-40 minute drive, so a ten hour long book usually takes me about two weeks to listen to fully..  However, every once in a while, I come across a book, and it is impossible for me to leave it in the car.  I find myself listening every moment I get outside of my car, including just before going to bed.  I've had books that I've read that I just couldn't put down.  Erik Larson's The Devil in the White City was like that, but it's generally easier to pause an audiobook.  In fact, I can only think of twice when this has happened.  The first time was Brad Boney's The Return, and the second was Heidi Cullinan's Love Lessons.  I got invested in the characters and their situation so quickly, I just couldn't let go, and though I loved the ending, this was a book that I almost cried because it was over.  I wanted more and thankfully, on the author's website she has a link to a short story that is a continuation and I loved those twenty pages almost as much as I loved the whole book.  One quick thing, I do love Amy Lane's books (one of my all time favorite authors) but when I'm listening to her books, sometimes you have to take a break from the emotional roller coaster or your heart will explode.
I've already reviewed The Return, but Love Lessons is a book that captured my heart and wouldn't let it go.  Initially, you might not be endeared to the two main character Walter and Kelly, but these boys quickly work their way into your heart.  Neither are perfect characters.  One is overly idealistic, while the other is overly cynical, and whereas that might sound like a turn off, Walter and Kelly are far more complicated than that.  I absolutely fell in love with Kelly after he suffers a major allergic reaction and is mortified.  Cullinan wrote: 

Kelly's allergies set him apart.  I think this touched me because so many of us find that there is something that sets us apart and keeps us from feeling normal.  I have a dear friend who suffers from anxiety and depression, and I've heard him say, "I just want to be normal.  I'm so fucked up."  The truth is, he is not "fucked up" but his anxiety makes him feel different and separate.  My depression and headaches make me feel the same way.  We all see that thing that sets us apart as something that is abnormal or fucked up, but we learn to love with our separateness and not let it stop us.  It doesn't stop Kelly, and probably more so than anything, it allows him to understand the demons that haunt Walter.
The complexities of Cullinan's characters are not the only only thing that drew me into this book.  It takes place at the fictional Hope University, where diversity and acceptance are supposed to be its major mission beyond excellent academics.  Hope is billed as a family and community for its students and faculty.  However, like much of life, the university isn't the Disney fantasy it portrays itself to be.  There are loopholes in the system.  They may technically deliver on promises,  but they aren't following the spirit of their mission.  Corners are cut and the students and faculty find that it's at their expense.  
Heidi Cullinan says she has always loved a good love story, provided it has a happy ending, which means she's a woman after my own heart. Though her writing spans across many genres, she loves above all to write happy, romantic endings for LGBT characters because there just aren't enough of those stories out there. Cullinan is a vocal advocate for LGBT rights and is proud to be from the first Midwestern state with full marriage equality. And because it may be of interest to at least one of my readers, I think I read that Cullinan lives in Ames, Iowa, but I couldn't find the reference again.  You can find out more about Cullinan, find the short story sequel "Frozen Heart", and links to her social networks, at  I think I've found a new author to love.
The narrator for Love Lessons is Iggy Toma, a voice-over artist, musician, and activist based in New York City. He is an avid reader of romance and mystery, and he has a soft spot for daytime soap operas, which comes through in a good way as the narrator of a romance novel.  I was really drawn into his narration and it really brought the emotions alive for me.  I only have one complaint, and this is just a small (very small) thing that bugged me, but I can't let it go.  As part of Hope University, the upperclassmen dorms, called the Manors, has each individual "manor" named after civil rights martyrs.  Kelly notices one called Dahmer, to which Walter explains, "Vernon not Jeffrey," which would be clever and I assume that's what Cullinan meant, but the names are actually pronounced quite differently, no matter the spelling.  The serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer is pronounce "DAH-mer" but the Mississippi civil right martyr Vernon Dahmer (and someone I have always found to be a true hero) is pronounced "DAY-mer". I know that is being petty, but I've met Vernon Dahmer's widow, Ellie, and their children several times, and I've heard firsthand how they pronounce their name.  I can't help it that as a historian I caught on to that.  I'm sure most people wouldn't.
This is one instance where I loved that the book wasn't filled with angst.  Will they or won't they get together?  Except for Walter and Kelly, everyone knows exactly where this relationship is headed.  There's plenty of drama and heartbreak but you know they will overcome it in the end.  Their relationship grows from a great friendship and mutual lust for one another, but grows deeper throughout the book.  I know I've said this already, but you become invested in these characters.
There are a lot of lessons in this book, but at its heart is a love story. A beautiful love story and we should remember that as the books tag line says, "Love doesn’t come with a syllabus."
A blurb for Love Lessons:
Kelly Davidson has waited what seems like forever to graduate high school and get out of his small-minded, small town. But when he arrives at Hope University, he quickly realizes finding his Prince Charming isn’t so easy. Everyone here is already out. In fact, Kelly could be the only virgin on campus. Worst of all, he’s landed the charming, handsome, gay campus Casanova as a roommate, whose bed might as well be equipped with a revolving door.
Walter Lucas doesn’t believe in storybook love. Everyone is better off having as much fun as possible with as many people as possible…except his shy, sad little sack of a roommate is seriously screwing up his world view. As Walter sets out to lure Kelly out of his shell, staying just friends is harder than he anticipated. He discovers love is a crash course in determination. To make the grade, he’ll have to finally show up for class…and overcome his own private fear that love was never meant to last.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Florence Ripley Mastin: Poet and Teacher


Night Fell
By Florence Ripley Mastin
Night fell one year ago, like this.
He had been writing steadily.
Among these dusky walls of books,
How bright he looked, intense as flame!
Suddenly he paused,
The firelight in his hair,
And said, “The time has come to go.”
I took his hand;
We watched the logs burn out;
The apple boughs fingered the window;
Down the cool, spring night
A slim, white moon leaned to the hill.
To-night the trees are budded white,
And the same pale moon slips through the dusk.
O little buds, tap-tapping on the pane,
O white moon,
I wonder if he sleeps in woods
Where there are leaves?
Or if he lies in some black trench,
His hands, his kind hands, kindling flame that kills?
Or if, or if …
He is here now, to bid me last good-night?

When Florence Josephine Mastin was in her 20s and already a published poet, she decided to replace her girlish middle name with “Ripley.” “Ripley” sounds jaunty and masculine, and Mastin was proud of her Ripley ancestors, including George Ripley, a Transcendentalist who founded the utopian community of Brook Farm in West Roxbury, Mass. For the rest of her life, her friends called her Ripley. 
Florence Ripley Mastin chose her own name, and she spent her entire life trying to hoist that name out into the world. Between roughly 1900 and 1967, the year before she died at age 81, she published probably hundreds of poems in newspapers and magazines, including more than 90 in the New York Times alone. She authored several books of poetry, and her work appeared approximately a dozen times in Poetry between 1918 and 1935. 
Mastin’s timing was lucky and unlucky. She was brash and butch and she loved women—one woman especially—but she died one year before the Stonewall riots. She was not a great poet, but she was lucky enough to be writing in a time where poetry was published in almost every daily newspaper, and commissioned for just about every public ceremony. Poetry, during her lifetime, was a viable, exciting, and culturally relevant pursuit; Mastin relished its sheen of elitism, but the truth is that she benefited from its mass appeal. She was able to publish prolifically as a high school teacher with modest talent and without many connections to the literary scene. 
Grace Beatrice MacColl, Mastin’s partner of some 50 years, was a fellow teacher at Erasmus Hall High School in the Flatbush neighborhood of Brooklyn. Mastin met MacColl, who was born in Vermont, when they were students at Barnard College. When they graduated, they both took the exam to become New York City high school teachers, and applied to teach at Erasmus “because of its illustrious past, its beautiful campus, and its famous staff of teachers,” Mastin later wrote. 
Mastin and MacColl’s partnership was as public as the era allowed: They presented themselves as “close friends and devoted companions,” to use a phrase from feminist historian Judith Schwarz. Family members and friends sent “love to Grace” in their letters, and the pair traveled together, marched in suffrage parades, and lived together. When an Erasmus student working on a profile of Mastin for the school newspaper wrote her a letter in 1961 mentioning her “devoted friendship” with MacColl, Mastin wrote back paragraphs on the “gifted beautiful girl” who “was a constant inspiration for my poetry: She had a keen, a brilliant mind, a broad understanding and a subtle and delightful wit. She was more of a realist than I, and was an excellent balance wheel for my romanticism. A more noble, true and devoted friend never lived.”
Mastin wrote on subjects from the suffrage movement to both world wars to Sputnik to Vietnam. Since the above poem was published in 1918, I tend to think that it is about a young man going to war.  If it was written early in 1918, it would have been roughly a year since men began being sent to war.  In the poem “At the Movies,” two stanzas on watching a newsreel of British soldiers, was anthologized in a 1919 Treasury of War Poetry and is one of her only works to be reproduced frequently online. 
Occasionally she was funny, even cruel. In one undated handwritten poem, she savaged “certain modern poets”:
The ebullitions of modern poets make me sick.
I am an ordinary person, thank God,
With an ordinary brain and ordinary emotions;
And I come in tired to a warm fire and a drink,
And I open this book of verse . . . . . . . .
I may as well be a surgeon hereafter
And open gall bladders and tracts of bile and
holes with pus in them.
Why should I continue to read your verse
Spread everywhere like damp fungus?
… Dirty highways caked with manure will be
clean to me after you.
As her confusion and anger at highbrow moderns suggests, Mastin was an old-fashioned lyric poet with little interest in being on the literary cutting edge. And though she was publishing constantly, there is no evidence that she was in regular conversation with serious poets of her day, even those she admired. For Robert Frost’s 75th birthday in 1949, Mastin published a poem about him in the New York Times, then printed the poem on a huge scroll and had her students at Erasmus sign it. When Frost gave a talk at the New School soon afterward, a delegation of three students presented him with the scroll. She was only a dozen years younger than Frost, but this is the work of a fan, not a peer. 
Grace MacColl died in 1960 and was buried in the Mastin family plot on a hilltop overlooking the Tappan Zee. Afterward, Mastin couldn’t maintain her home Four Gables on her own, and she moved into an apartment north of Piermont, where she had a porch, a garden, and a view of her beloved Hudson River. “I think I never shall feel old—and maybe it is because I have lived with poetry all my life—and poetry is timeless,” she wrote around that time. “It is built of music and dreams so it never grows old.” She died in 1968. 
Florence Ripley Mastin loved to see her name—the name she had chosen for herself—in print. She kept detailed records tracking which newspapers reprinted which poems and who nominated her for which awards. Today, a few boxes of those papers can be found in the archives of Syracuse University’s Bird Library: dispatches from a life in poetry when such a thing must have seemed like anyone’s for the taking.
It is possible today to see Mastin as an unlikable woman; an unrelenting self-promoter, she sent clippings and copies of her work to friends, acquaintances, and politicians, including President Eisenhower. She was forever bragging about her Mayflower ancestry and her distant familial connection to Ralph Waldo Emerson. But she was a confident striver, that great American archetype, and her identity as a poet gave shape and weight to an otherwise ordinary life. She called herself a poet, and then she made herself one. And her story illustrates an important but easily overlooked chapter in the story of poetry in the 20th century.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Back to the Grind

Spring break is over and there are eight more weeks of school.  And thus begins the marathon.  I had such a wonderful and magical spring break, that it makes it even harder to return to school today.  However, my plan is to let my good mood shine through and hopefully it will rub off on the students.  I know that's wishful thinking, but good things are happening and I'm trying to be optimistic.  The best news is that it's a four day week.  We have Good Friday out of school.

I know this is a short post, and there were several things in the news from last week that I could talk about, but it seemed like a lot of the news was depressing.  California has a proposed ballot initiative that calls for killing gays with "bullets to the head."  Really, what kind of sick minds could actually propose such a thing, but one lawyer in California has done just that.  Furthermore, indiana has passed a new law which the governor signed which is a legalized form of discrimination against gay people, even though it's under the sick and misguided guise of "religious freedom."  What utter bullshit!  It's pure bigotry and has nothing to do with religious freedoms, because they are meant for people who call themselves Christian to refuse service to the LGBT community.  What they need is to be taught about "what would Jesus do" if they want religious freedom.  They should be doing all they can to help everyone and anyone, not finding ways to discriminate.  

There were other news related issues, but even thinking about gem make me sad and/or angry.  This week is Holy Week, and I plan to spend my week being optimistic and trying my best to love my fellow man, which I guess means being nice to my students, or at least as nice as I can be without losing control of them.

I hope everyone has a fabulous week.  I'm starting my morning with a cup of coffee, which always brightens my day and puts a pep in my step.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Inclination by Mia Kerick

But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him?  1 John 3:17
I don't think I've ever posted a book review as a Sunday posting before today, but Inclination by Mia Kerick deserves a special posting.  I wish I had been able to read this book as a teenager coming to terms with my own Christianity and homosexuality.  Inclination is a guide for young gay Christians in a beautifully written and straightforward young adult novel.  Here is a description of the book:
Sixteen-year-old Anthony Duck-Young Del Vecchio is a nice Catholic boy with a very big problem. It’s not the challenge of fitting in as the lone adopted South Korean in a close-knit family of Italian-Americans. Nor is it being the one introverted son in a family jam-packed with gregarious daughters. Anthony’s problem is far more serious—he is the only gay kid in Our Way, his church’s youth group. As a high school junior, Anthony has finally come to accept his sexual orientation, but he struggles to determine if a gay man can live as a faithful Christian. And as he faces his dilemma, there are complications. After confiding his gayness to his intolerant adult youth group leader, he’s asked to find a new organization with which to worship. He’s beaten up in the church parking lot by a fanatical teen. His former best pal bullies him in the locker room. His Catholic friends even stage an intervention to lead him back to the “right path.” Meanwhile, Anthony develops romantic feelings for David Gandy, an emo, out and proud junior at his high school, who seems to have all the answers about how someone can be gay and Christian, too.

Will Anthony be able to balance his family, friends and new feelings for David with his changing beliefs about his faith so he can live a satisfying life and not risk his soul in the process?
Inclination can really be separated into three parts: coming out, coming to terms, and acceptance.  In the first part, you see Anthony struggle with his sexuality.  Once he comes to terms with the fact that he is gay, it is not a choice, he begins to ask himself how God could create him this way and yet proclaim it to be a sin.  Sin does not come from God, but his Catholic upbringing teaches him that homosexuality is wrong.  The anguish that Anthony goes through is so real, I felt as if I was reliving that time in my life when I was struggling with the same ideas.
Anthony, however, has two things that I did not: a loving supporting family and David Gandy.  David acts as a guide, a friend, and a teacher who helps Anthony wade through the literature about gay Christianity.  David is sure in his faith and in his homosexuality, and he serves as a major asset to Anthony that many young gay Christians do not have, which is precisely why I think this book is so important and deserves a much larger audience.
I really enjoyed this book, not because I agreed with everything in it.  I think that the physical intimacy can be a part of a gay Christian's life without it being sinful, but this is a young adult book and it should not have carnal relations in it.  Making love is just that, making love and as long as it is meaningful and in a relationship, then it is not wrong.  I believe this must be the case since in some places gay people still are not allowed to be married.  However, what I enjoyed the most about the book is that Kerick brings forth the idea that love and compassion are at the center of Christianity.
This except sums it up very well:
"Now you told me about how Laz acted today in the locker room.  And you know that it was wrong, because he was not showing compassion--you know, not loving you as he loves himself. And even though, on some level, he thinks he was acting in accordance with God's law as he understands it--cuz homosexuality is wrong in his perspective--we both know that he was not following the spirit of God's law.  The God I love and believe in would not encourage such behavior--it wouldn't make sense."  David reaches across the table across the table and grasps my hand.  The predictable goose bumps cover the skin of my arm.  "God is not arbitrary.  He doesn't make rules for the simple purpose of making us follow them.  We're not His trained ponies that need to prove something by turning in circles or jumping over orange cones at His whim.  There are reasons, you know, purposes, behind his rules." 
Kerick does a wonderful job illustrating the struggle many gay Christians go through.  Though Anthony is Catholic, Catholicism does not hold the monopoly on anti-gay rhetoric.  Most denominations spew the same hateful language that is against spirit of God's laws.  While I would love to see an adult-oriented version of this book, I think it is important that young people have access to this book.  I would recommend it to any library and if you know of a young person struggling with their faith and sexuality, please give them this book to read.  It should spur on further reading and hopefully open up dialogue about what it means to be gay and Christian. 

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Moment of Zen: True Bliss

Often, my MoZ for the week is a picture that I think is sexy or puts a smile on my face or something that I just enjoy.  It's meant to be a picture that brings a brightness to my day and yours.  This week, though, I had a true Zen moment.  It was a moment of peace and tranquillity, of happiness and contentment.  Actually there were several this week with my boyfriend: eating dinner in a restaurant at the top of a mountain with an incredible view, hiking trails and looking at the scenic beauty of Alabama, cuddling together and watching a movie, or sitting outside on a beautiful evening watching the sunset.  There were many other moments of intimacy that I will leave to your imagination. However, the true moment of Zen, that true bliss, came as I was laying next to my boyfriend, my head on his chest, and I realized in that moment I didn't have any pain (not even the minimum trace of a headache), I was happy and content (no depressive thoughts), and I was in the arms of someone I really care about and want to be with as much as possible.

It really was the best week.  I'm still experiencing some residual headaches, but they are less and less and there is more time between attacks.  It's no longer constant.  I still have points when I'm sad, but it's because of something, such as saying goodbye to my boyfriend and not getting to see him for a few days.  The amazing thing is that the pain is no longer constant nor is the depression.  I'm beginning to see real relief and that's a moment of Zen in itself.

I think this is the most I've ever said in an MoZ post before, but this MoZ was not about the picture, but the moment, though I think I found a pretty good picture to illustrate it.

The view from the restaurant.

A very small waterfall on a stream by the hiking trail.

An Alabama sunset at its most beautiful. 

Friday, March 27, 2015

A Few Thoughts...Happiness

First let me say this, I have never in my life enjoyed a vacation (or even just a few days in a row) as much as I did with my boyfriend this week.  It was so easy to be with him: to talk, to cuddle, to be intimate, to fall asleep next to each other, to wake up next to each other, etc.  I've never felt this easy companionship with anyone else.  It felt so incredibly natural.

It's so easy to talk to him about anything.  We can talk about history, politics, education, and religion with so much ease that it is a dream come true.  I love being with him.  He makes me feel so wonderful and happy, and I hope I am doing the same for him.  When we parted yesterday to go to our respective homes, I missed him instantly.  I didn't want our vacation to end.

He makes me happy, so very happy.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Beauty of Nature

Yesterday, we did some hiking and had a wonderful time checking out small streams and waterfalls and enjoying the scenery.  Mostly, we have just enjoyed being with one another and being kind of lazy.  It's spring break and teachers need the rest and relaxation much more than the kids.  We have to have the strength to forge ahead through the last few months at school and make sure that the students don't give up too quickly or easily.

I'll be heading home later today.  It's been a wonderful trip.  I haven't had much internet access up here on the mountain, which is the reason for the short posts.

A quick health update:  the new antidepressant seems to be working well and my body is adjusting.  Also, the medicine for my cluster headaches seems to be working.  As I'm typing this, I unbelievably am not experiencing any pain.