Guest Post, Kristen Arnett: Writing Queer

Writing Queer: Away from the Body and into the Interior

Kristen Arnett Bio PictureI know how I used to write, or at least I think I know. We have patterns to our work, stories shaped by our interior lives. This is not to say we’re writing our personal experiences into fiction (though sometimes we are), but our personal experiences inevitably guide how we create characters. We plumb those depths over and over again, looking for the heart of things, the messy place where the real shit lives. I find myself moving toward writing that displays an action – generally something embedded in the body. Enamored with the physical, I am constantly looking for a way to center ripeness of feeling in these movements. I like to see movement. I want to know how things hurt. Their sharpness. The ache of a bruise.

I have never been comfortable with feeling.

For the past year, I’ve examined this compartmentalization. At first, I looked to my work. Many of my stories have a propensity to showcase trauma against the body, and through the narrative I work to discover how my protagonists react to those violences. When people would ask what my work was about, I had difficulty defining this for them. I came up with blanket phrases that covered what I thought I was trying to do. I came up with “lesbian domestic,” or “body work.” It was difficult; I stumbled over my thoughts.

“You should be able to tell people what your work is about,” a friend told me. “If anyone should know, it’s you.”

So I grit my teeth and looked harder. I examined my stories and found feelings buried in every physical gesture. Every time a character moved, breathed, hit, fucked, hurt, they were feeling something deep within the motion. This startled me, but it shouldn’t have. I do the same thing in my own life. I bury feelings I find too intense behind a wealth of physical actions. If I am incapable of embracing tenderness in my own life, of cracking open the vulnerable parts and sharing them with others, how can I expect to do it in my work?

This became abundantly clear when I considered my queerness. In my writing career, I have made it a point to write about queer actions. Characters who are queer, lives that are queer. At least, I thought this was what I was doing. Looking back at these stories I’ve developed, I find people so enmeshed in their own inability to feel that they would rather destroy themselves than accept intimacy. I wrote stories that were so distanced from feeling that it was like looking at characters through a telescope. Far enough away you could see the movements, but feel very little. These characters spoke in italics. They became caricatures. I created human beings who had so little interaction with their interior worlds that they performed actions without thinking, engaged in lives that held little meaning for them outside of momentary gratification.

This work did not fulfill me. I wrote more than ever; my body of work was prolific, but I couldn’t connect with the writing. I decided to look again at what I was doing, but before I’d write anything, I’d answer these three questions with regard to intimacy:

How am I writing feelings? What feelings am I writing? Whose feelings am I writing toward?

Many of these first attempts at emotional writing frustrated me. I had difficulty writing about feelings without slipping into patterns of physical processes. Thinking more about my personal life, I considered the fact that my queerness and my feelings about romance and love were always hidden and tucked away as I was growing up. They were considered wrong; a perversion of intimacy. I wondered if my struggle with putting tenderness into my work was because to show such intimacy, out in the open, means that I am violating the terms of it. Vulnerability. Softness. To open a wound that’s not yet ready for air.

I forced myself to sit in these stories. To wallow in the kind of emotions that I don’t often allow myself. It was desperate work, and necessary. I dug through narratives and found my characters could connect, if they tried. If they wanted it enough. If I wanted it enough for them.

Opening up made my writing better. Opening up can only make me better, too.

SR Pod/Vod Series – Authors Talk: Author Luke Muyskens

Luke MuyskensToday, we’re proud to feature SR contributor Luke Muyskens as our eighteenth Authors Talk series contributor with his interview-style podcast “Discussing Knock-Out Drum.”

“When my friend told me this story, I thought immediately, ‘that’s something that needs to be told; that’s something that I need to write about, because if I don’t, it’s just another story that’s going to disappear into the ether,’” Luke says in his podcast regarding the origins of his fictional story.

Unfortunately, the premise is real: An oil rig hand in North Dakota actually faced harassment at the hand of his co-workers for being gay. It’s a fact that makes “Knock-Out Drum” even more haunting. Luke’s discussion on its writing is similarly grounded, touching on the need to fictionalize events and characters as well as the responsibility he felt to the true story and the real people who became his characters.

But as Luke notes, his story is about more than a character’s sexual orientation. It’s about the challenge of not fitting it, the “clashes between who we were – who we’re going to be – as individuals, and as a collective whole.”

You can listen to the podcast on our iTunes Channel.

You can read “Knock-Out Drum” in Superstition Review Issue 16, and listen to Luke read it aloud in SR podcast #197.

 

More About the Author:

Luke Muyskens’ fiction, poetry, and humor has appeared in McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Digital Americana, and One Throne Magazine. He was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, though he now resides in Saint Paul, Minnesota. He is pursuing an MFA through Queens University of Charlotte, and earned a bachelor’s degree from St. John’s University.

 

About the Authors Talk series:

For several years, we have featured audio or video of Superstition Review contributors reading their work. We’ve now established a new series of podcasts called Authors Talk. The podcasts in this series take a broader scope and feature SR contributors discussing their own thoughts on writing, the creative process, and anything else they may want to share with listeners.

 

Guest Post, Brad Kuhl and Monique Leyton: Songzhuang, China: Emerging Art Town

Songzhuang is a town on the eastern edges of Beijing, China. In the past two decades it has become the home of a number of artists both Chinese and foreign. Songzhuang is one of many art districts in Beijing, perhaps the most notable of which is 798, formerly a military factory complex. Songzhuang is distinct in that it is less commercial, more community oriented and is still an affordable place for artists to work and live.

IMG_6400In the early 1990s many artists in Beijing worked at the Old Summer Palace in the northwest of the city. The government shut down the group of artists working in the Old Summer Palace and many chose to move to the far outskirts of Beijing where they could work free from economic and political pressures. According to some the 1989 Tiananmen Massacre was a catalyst for driving artists out of the city.

Many artists in Songzhuang are oil painters, but there are also sculptors, photographers, installation artists, traditional Chinese painters, calligraphy artists, woodworkers, furniture designers, and filmmakers. Some live in traditional houses with a courtyard, some in massive spaces that resemble a factory, and others in large complexes built specifically for artists.

Marc Baufrere and Tine Deturck are artists fIMG_0832rom France and Belgium, respectively, who first came to Songzhuang in 2008 after Marc was invited to a group gallery show at the Songzhuang Museum of Art. Tine notes that after first seeing Songzhuang they, “didn’t hesitate for one second,” to move to Songzhuang.

Upon first glance Songzhuang might appear very similar to any small town in China with many restaurants and scattered buildings, but one can’t help but notice the abundance of paint stores, framing shops, canvas stretchers, and the traditional calligraphy supply stores. It is home to hundreds of artists who often frequent each other’s studios where the tradition is to pour tea for a visitor. When asked why so many artists came to Songzhuang Marc says that it’s cheap. Tine disagrees noting that in Songzhuang there is, “a sense of community [like] we were somewhere else.” This is opposed to the city-center of Beijing which is slowly having much of its traditional communities uprooted in favor of rapid development. Marc adds, “it’s very convenient,” referring to all of the art stores. “If I need blue, I walk 20 meters and get blue.” IMG_3561

Change is bound to be a facet of almost any conversation involving the modern face of China.  In Michael Meyer’s book, “The Last Days of Old Beijing” he describes the force of change as “The Hand.” Songzhuang is yet another microcosm of the restless change that envelops China and “the Hand” is never far away; moving, adding, deleting, reimagining. When asked how Songzhuang has changed since they arrived seven years ago, Marc says it used to be only artists and farmers, “no cars. You saw one car every fifteen minutes.” Tine added, “No apartments like now.” Songzhuang is still relatively quiet and dark at night, but has a constant stream of vehicles during the day that run the gamut from BMWs and Audis to large trucks transporting lumber, watermelons and sometimes a gang of migrant workers piled twenty-deep. Marc notes than when they first arrived, “the only traffic was the sheep,” and that there were, “firecrackers every day.” Tine adds that before there were, “no locks on bikes, no banks.” Tine says, now farmers, “profit from artists.” There is a constant clamor of hammers in Songzhuang either knocking down buildings or erecting new studios and restaurants, with many eager to cash in on the wave of artists and cash that continue to arrive.

When asked about the good and bad with life as foreigner in Sonzhuang, Tine declares, “I don’t feel as a foreigner, I feel as a Songzhuanger.” The most difficult part, Tine says is, “I don’t speak Chinese, it’s a handicap for me. I can’t have interesting conversations.” She adds, “I speak baby Chinese.” But in Songzhuang, “I am at ease as who I am.” Many seem enamored with the sense of community in Songzhuang and an almost spiritual sense of calm that exists in the town. Tine says, “It’s different, you feel outside [of Beijing]” and adds that it is,“an artists’ community” I feel, “more like a person.”

Tine points out that there is a, “rangeIMG_6415 [of] famous to poor artists.” Perhaps one of the most talented and overlooked artists within Songzhuang goes by the name, “The Siberian Butterfly.” He creates images using a traditional paper-cutting technique that has its origins in his home province of Shaanxi and history of more than 2000 years. Although his technique is traditional, his subject matter explores homosexuality and his personal life. Life has not been easy for him, having recently lost his son and having worked numerous jobs from shoveling coal and collecting trash to working as a security guard. Thanks to attention from the LGBT center in Beijing he has been able to get international exposure.

A 30-minute video about The Siberian Butterfly is included below:

 

 

In Chinese, there is a proverb, “Tian gao, Huangdi yuan.” It translates to, heaven is high and the emperor is far away. It often refers the autonomy local areas far from Beijing are afforded due to the vast scale of China. More than two decades ago Songzhuang was a remote farming village accessible by no buses, taxis or subway. With Beijing’s rapidly expanding and developing suburbs one can only wonder how free Songzhuang will remain from “the Hand” constantly redrawing Beijing.

Kuhl and Leyton’s website

Photos by Kuhl and Leyton

AFFINITY: An LGBTQ Writer’s Workshop for the Greater Phoenix Community

AFFINITY: An LGBTQ Writer’s Workshop for the Greater Phoenix Community

When: Every Sunday in April, 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

Where: ASU Tempe Campus Memorial Union (café near Starbucks) 

Who: LGBTQIA identified writers of Arizona

Hosted by: Avery Radclyffe (Cat) Klotsche

Affinity is a four week writer’s workshop that intends to document and share the experience of LGBTQIA writers. All readings and writing prompts will be specific to personal LGBTQIA issues and experiences.

Weeks One and Three (April 8th &April 22nd)

  • A 45 minute long group discussion on selections of literature by LGBTQIA writers (chosen and provided by the facilitator).
  • Writing prompts for poems or creative non-fiction based on writer’s experience as an LGBTQIA identified person.  We will have time to share our drafts and initial creative feedback.

Weeks Two & Four (April 15th & April 29th)

  • Sharing of revised drafts, further discussion of creative feedback for final drafts.

Friday, May 4th

  • Participants from both workshop sequences will showcase their final work at the First Friday reading in Heritage Square.

What to Bring: something to write with (pen, paper, laptop, etc.), creative enthusiasm, and their LGBTQIA wit and colorful nature! There is no cost to attend, and previous workshop or publishing experience is not required.

About the Facilitator: Avery (Cat) Radclyffe Klotsche is a transgendered writer who has resided in Arizona for ten years.  His recent publications include Merge Magazine and TransAnthology, but he was once a member of the Mesa National Slam team.  Over the years, he’s facilitated many writing workshops for high risk individuals including LGBTQIA youth.  While Affinity is the product of Klotsche’s personal interests, it’s also part of his capstone project for his Bachelor’s Degree in English (Creative Writing) and Certificate in LGBT Studies at Arizona State University.

RSVP: If you’re interested in participating, you must RSVP via email to avery.radclyffe@gmail.com.  In the email, please include a brief bio.

Meet the Interns: Ashley Carter

Content Coordinator Ashley Carter is currently a junior studying English Literature at Arizona State University. She is also working on a minor in Media Analysis, a Writing Certificate, and an LGBT Certificate along with her degree. In her free time, Ashley reads, writes, spends time with friends, and participates in Gamma Rho Lambda activities, where she is Head of Public Relations. After graduating, she plans to move to New York, attend graduate school, and pursue a career as an editor for a publishing company. This is her first semester with Superstition Review.

1. What is your position with Superstition Review and what are your responsibilities?

I am the Content Coordinator for Superstition Review. My tasks include regularly updating the submissions spreadsheet, assign material to genre editors to read, and make sure materials get responded to in good time. I like to think of myself as the “professional organizer” for the editors of Superstition Review.

2. Why did you decide to get involved with Superstition Review?

I had an extremely encouraging professor, Judith Van. As soon as I expressed interest in a summer internship program in New York, not a day went by that she didn’t ask if I had applied to SR to jump-start my experience. It was that wonderful encouragement on top of all the good things I had heard about the online magazine that got me to finally apply.

3. How do you like to spend your free time?

Last semester, I rushed for the sorority Gamma Rho Lambda. It has been one of the best decisions of my life. I gained 18 sisters and a whole lot of responsibility as the head of Public Relations for GRL. I spend most of my free time hanging out with them, or fulfilling my sorority responsibilities. When I’m not doing that, I spend time with my roommates and my girlfriend, write, read, and dabble in photography.

4. What other position(s) for Superstition Review would you like to try out?

I’d like to try my hand at being a Fiction Editor. My future goal is to be an editor for a book-publishing house, which will entail a lot of reading and evaluating of possible books. Fiction Editor seems like the small-scale version of that.

5. Describe one of your favorite literary works.

My favorite literary work of all time is The Fionavar Tapestry series by Guy Gavriel Kay. This series has been compared to J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic The Lord of the Rings by many and with good reason. Kay is a genius, one of the best I have ever read. The way he spins stories and creates such beautiful worlds and dynamic characters cannot be matched.

6. What are you currently reading?

I am currently reading Becoming a Visible Man by Jamison Green for one of my classes. It’s an autobiographical work that describes Green’s own experiences as a transsexual man and offers a deeply insightful approach to all of the challenges transsexuals can still face today.

7. Creatively, what are you currently working on?

As of right now, I’m not working on much. My creative juices have become stagnant thanks to a little thing I like to call the world of academia. While school is in session, I like to focus all of my attention on my studies. As soon as summer break starts, I plan to revitalize some of my old stories. With a little bit of editing, they may be ready for publication. We’ll see.

8. What inspires you?

My grandmother, Sarita Mullin. She’s strong, independent, intelligent, hard working, caring, unbiased, and so many other great things. She has always been around to give me a hug or a swift kick in the butt when I needed it. She is by far one of the greatest women to ever walk the planet. If I’m half of the grandmother she has been to me, then I’ll be happy.

9. What are you most proud of?

I am most proud of how hard I work. I devote a lot of time and energy into everything I do, be it work, school, my sorority, or this internship. I refuse to give anyone sub-par work, and I think that people appreciate it.

10. Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

In 10 years I will have obtained my M.S. in Publishing from NYU and have a job as an editor for a book publishing company. Hopefully, at this point my girlfriend of three years (so far) and I will have gotten married and be able to adopt kids.

Meet the Interns: Dustin Diehl, Nonfiction Editor

dustinDustin Diehl is a Senior at Arizona State University majoring in English Literature and minoring in Religious Studies. He is also pursuing a LGBT Certificate.

Superstition Review: What do you do for SR?

Dustin Diehl: I solicit work from nonfiction authors to be considered for publication. I then read through submissions (both solicited and submitted) and decide which ones I think should be included. Together, with Liz, we decide which ones to include, then send out rejection/acceptance e-mails.

SR: How did you hear about or get involved with Superstition Review?

DD: Trish is my Honors Thesis advisor and asked if I would like to participate…I said yes!

SR: What is your favorite section of SR? Why?

DD: I really enjoy fiction; however, I’ve been earning a deeper appreciation for nonfiction…seeing how people can take ordinary circumstances (or even not-so-ordinary circumstances) and convey them in a creative and readable form is fascinating to me.

SR: Who is your dream contributor to the journal? Talk about him/her.

DD: I would love for Michael Stackpole to contribute a short fiction story. I love his Star Wars novels and he’s a local writer!

SR: What job, other than your own, would you like to try out in the journal?

DD: I think it would be fun to be a part of the marketing team. I work for an online ad agency, so getting to apply my job skills to something fun like SR would be pretty cool.

SR: What are you most excited for in the upcoming issue?

DD: I’m really excited to read the submitted work…it’s always fun to read people’s work, especially when you find a diamond in the rough!

SR: What was the first book you remember falling in love with and what made it so special?

DD: The first book I fell in love with was The Bronze Bow by Elizabeth George Speare. I loved how it deftly juxtaposed religious history, political history and fiction into a very readable and timeless story. In high school, I adapted the book into a play script and would still love to produce a stage version of the book.

SR: What are you currently reading?

DD: Currently reading the Star Wars: X-Wing series by Michael Stackpole and Aaron Allston. Reading should be fun, and these books are fun!

SR: What are some of your favorite websites to waste time on or distract you from homework?

DD: I’m a huge movie buff, so I’m constantly on WorstPreviews.com, a movie news blog.  I’m also an avid Star Wars fan, so I enjoy TheForce.net as well.

SR: Do you write? Tell us about a project you’re working on.

I do write; usually fiction, but I’ve found nonfiction to be very satisfying as well. I’m working on a collection of creative nonfiction essays for my Honors Thesis as well as a LGBT-themed modern fantasy novel.