On My Decision to Move to Arizona for My MFA

“You’re going to fry,” were the first words a friend told me after I shared the news I am moving to Arizona for my MFA. Subsequently, with everyone I told afterward, regardless of whether or not they gave a supportive and positive response, even at two generous surprise going away parties, I imagined they were really projecting the same heat weary reaction. It’s my own insecurity. I’m excited. And can’t wait, although it’s hard not knowing what I can’t wait for. I sit here on my laptop at a desk I won’t be taking with me next to boxes full of books trying to imagine where they will be in an apartment I don’t have yet and hoping my eyes aren’t deceiving me when I try to fit everything into my two door hatch back. It’s like I’m in this weird limbo with everything up in the air. An MFA is something I’ve wanted to pursue for awhile now. I had applied to programs before with minimal luck — either rejections or not enough funding (Side note: for those who are unfamiliar with MFAs, many applicants get rejected from every school they apply to. Getting in is highly competitive, because most of the top 50 programs in the nation have an acceptance rate of 1.0-3.0%. And for a degree with little straightforward economic utility on the other side of it.) When I applied again, I decided to expand my options geographically with the mindset I would allow this endeavor to take me anywhere. And, it certainly is, the farthest program I applied to.

I’ve lived in Kentucky my whole life. These last few weeks, I’ve been filled with so much nostalgia and sentimentality: how have I not appreciated this picturesque trail in Cherokee Park or remember that one time we drank margaritas on that patio or laughed during that movie night or jumped off that rock quarry or went to that art gallery? It’s the simplistic memories that get to me. But, I need to experience something new and welcome change. For instance, living in my hometown for the past four years has had its frustrations. Hello, soft homophobia via heteronormativity systemically reinforced all the time by those around me, and also the isolated incidents of more blatant slurs, even by those I consider friends. I know Arizona is rife with its own bag of conservatism , but I’ll be steeped in a writing community with like-minded support. This social gripe is peripheral though; the primary reason is creative. I’ll admit, deciding to apply again was an emotionally and not logically based decision. It was about a year ago, and I was starting to get fed up with where I was in my life. I didn’t feel like I was doing anything substantial or pursuing goals I set out a few years ago. So, what the hell? I said on National Bourbon Day, I think it was, and decided to give a go-around with applications. And, it’s worked out. Another part of my insecurity is feeling the need to justify to non-writers why I would want this. As I referenced before, an MFA is not something like a business or medical degree with secured job prospects afterward; it is essentially a 2-3 year artists’ residency. I don’t think I need to defend my decision, but I will say that it’s the right time for me. I’m at an age where if I don’t start taking on what I said I wanted at some point, those dreams seem further away. I feel the need to pursue my artistic ambitions with serious intent right now. And, I’m committing to a stellar program. Even though it’s far, I’m thrilled it’s ASU. And, everyone I’ve been in communication with there has been more than gracious and welcoming with altruistic enthusiasm, which has put me at ease during my uncertain transition period. I couldn’t turn down a top notch offer like this. I know I would be a writer regardless; an MFA does not make someone a writer. But, I think I need a program right now to give me focus and motivate me more. What would my other options have been? Keep working my office job in the same position for the next three years — maybe, who knows? — while writing at night when I get home IF I’m not too mentally drained? The idea of that is grim. What else? A lateral move to another job I also don’t really care much about but that pays the bills? No, I need a sense of growth. That’s not to say my job has been a wholly bad experience, and this isn’t to air work grievances (that would be one lengthy post!). I need to move on though. A writer needs to be a working artist, but I don’t see any of these alternative trajectories getting me or my work anywhere.

Publication is the dream. But, I know I have to be realistic. My rationale is this: afterwards in three years when I’m on a potentially desperate job hunt with an MFA in Fiction writing, it will still have been worth it to me, and I will be in a better place than I am now because of it. During my undergrad when I decided on the Creative Writing major instead of English Education because I didn’t want to teach in a restrictive high school curriculum and the way workshops discuss writing in more substantial ways from the perspective of authorial intent instead of theoretical, political, sociological lenses, I never thought my writing life would take me in this direction, but I feel good that it is. I’m doing it, first and foremost, because I love to write and want to be in a supportive, artistic community to help me get better at it. So friends, think of me fondly for the next three years, lying against a cactus and hunched over my laptop.


Am I vegetarian or vegan or pescatarian or flexitarian or what? I cut out meat officially from my diet over a year ago, except I would eat fish on occasion. I loved it. I immediately felt lighter and fresher, and I enjoyed food more. Then two months ago around the year mark, I suddenly had a massive craving for fried chicken seeming to come from nowhere. Even after a year of pretty strictly eliminating meat from my diet, I wanted it. Bad. I admit, I had gotten a little lazy with frozen foods and food that while was technically vegetarian, also wasn’t the healthiest, and I also hadn’t been running like I used to. But, the way those kinds of chemicals in that fried chicken have been ingrained over the course of years and affected what my body was telling me is a little disturbing. I refrained though and re-read research and got back to the reason I went meatless. And, it even inspired me to start eliminating animal byproducts to make more vegan choices. I thought about it pretty hard, but as I’ve started eating more plant based than I ever have before, I’ve felt revitalized and healthy. Better than ever. As the way I’ve eaten has evolved, I’ve felt the need to defend myself and my eating choices. While there are the idiots out there who only consider a meal “real food” if it has meat, most of it is my insecurity. Vegetarian/Vegan eating has always seemed taboo and extreme, at least this is the attitude I’ve gotten, and once held myself. I’m surprised to find it’s really not that unusual or difficult, and I’ve loved what I’ve been eating lately, so I wanted to share.

Sorry for the blur on this. It’s a pretty simple pasta, but so good. Whole wheat penne with roasted asparagus, a store bought Simple Truth Tomato Basil marinara sauce, and white cannellini beans (these guys are great for health). A side of garlic spinach I cooked. That sheen isn’t grease but some balsamic vinegar since I lacked a lemon. And garlic bread. I love garlic! I add it to most of what I cook.
I made a delicious stir fry in my cast iron skillet a few weeks back. Cast iron is beneficial to cook in because it increases the amount of iron in foods rich with it (so, take that people who says vegetarians don’t get enough iron! Fruits and veggies have plenty). This has Rainbow swiss chard, red bell pepper, mushrooms, and tempeh (which is similar to tofu except the soy is fermented, which makes it more abundant in protein, calcium, and fiber, and the flavor is sharper and texture firmer). Cooked in a thick Korean stir fry sauce with ginger and garlic. 
I couldn’t resist topping with avocado and also added some peanuts and Nutritional Yeast, which is a much more nutritious addition than cheese. And put over a bed of quinoa. This is probably the most hippie thing I’ve ever made. Damn was it good. And the best part is that all of these foods blended together are packed with all vitamins and nutrients needed in a meal.
A classic vegan scramble packed with flavorful spices. It gave me a chance to use the leftover swiss chard and mushrooms. A key ingredient is that Nutritional Yeast I mentioned, which is a good source of amino acids. Not pictured is the obligatory avocado and tomato I topped it with.
These are amazing! Probably the best food I’ve made in a long time. Roasted chickpea and broccoli burritos. I wish I could take credit, but it all goes to Thug Kitchen, my new favorite food blog. I put the filling with kale, cilantro, and avocado in a whole wheat tortilla.
For breakfast I’ve been eating oatmeal. I don’t usually get this fancy with it, but here I put in some mango and walnuts and a scoop of peanut butter. The warmth is nice in the morning, it leaves me feeling fuller longer, and the health benefits are too good not to eat. Have you read about them? Low in fat but filling, low in cholesterol, omega 3 fatty acids, antioxidants. Get you some oats!
I outdid myself with this one. It’s a lentil loaf — like meat loaf but vegan.
I ate it first with crispy kale and skillet potatoes, but it’s given me leftovers for days. A slice on a sandwich makes a good lunch. It’s like vegan comfort food.
Speaking of comfort foods, who doesn’t love a lasagna fresh out of the oven? Well, they can be plant based too. And just as good if not better. This one has kale I needed to use up. I ate it with cooked lentils and will continue to eat on the leftovers all week. This was inspired by the Hungry Hungry Hippie, another blog I love.
Well, this is my defense. To show the way I eat isn’t deficient in nutrients but is the opposite. Vegetables, grains, beans, and nuts contain everything needed to be healthy. Or, to quote the Thug Kitchen, “I’M SO TIRED OF MOTHER FUCKERS asking, ‘Where do you get your protein?’ All you simple minded bastards better read up some. I eat shit like whole grains, beans, nuts, lentils, tempeh… I mean hell, where the fuck are YOU getting your protein?” I hold my tongue at this question but admire how the TK let loose. And, I don’t say anything, because I don’t judge the way other people eat. It isn’t my place. But, it’s a little difficult sometimes when I fear I will be in the position to defend the way I do. There’s a difference between someone who asks the reasons for my eating habits — that’s legitimate, respectful curiosity opening up to a genuine discussion on food — and someone criticizing or challenging out of a place of ignorance. 
I’m not sure what I would call myself at this point. Not vegan. That would be too much of an affront to people who legitimately adhere to strict tenants of non-animal based living. Because, I’m not that strict about it. I know those green beans at Cheddars or hash browns at Waffle House I ordered are cooked on food contact surfaces and cookware with leftover animal byproduct residue like grease. That’s not the core of what’s important to me. I also can’t say that if I’m out at my parents house or with friends and we’re ordering pizza, I will turn it down. But, my goal is to be more plant based in the way I eat, because that’s what works for me.
Memorial Day weekend family cookout is coming up, and not to toot my own horn, but I make a mean black bean burger I can’t wait for!

Vegetarian (or Vegan if you want) Black Bean Tacos

The black bean tacos I make are delicious. I’m no cook. I mean, I cook, but it’s usually following the instructions of a recipe, obsessively re-checking measurements to make sure I get them correct, and nervously hoping it turns out. Only recently have I started blending what I’ve learned from different recipes to get creative. These tacos are an exception. I’ve made many variations in the last year. And, that’s the best part. The main filling I make is versatile to fit mood, taste, and preference. Lately, I’ve been opting to cook for myself while reducing restaurant outings during the week in the interest of both saving money and being healthier — I know what I’m consuming better. I never used to think I would be so bold to claim that what I make is as good as a decent restaurant, until these tacos. Have any Louisville readers had Taco Punk’s black bean tacos? Now, I love this place. Their veggie mole and salsas are some of my favorite local food in town. But, the black bean tacos are a sad excuse. You could toss some black beans and shredded cheese in a tortilla at home, and it would be the same. But, don’t do that. There are probably similar vegetarian recipes like this out there, but here’s what I do:


1 can black beans (15 oz.)
½ Onion, chopped
½ Bell pepper (red or green or yellow, whatever you want – red will be sweeter), chopped
2-3 garlic cloves, chopped/minced/pressed
Whatever other veggie(s) you want (recommended: chopped mushrooms, diced jalapeno for spice, spinach or any other kind of green you like – rainbow swiss chard is good – potatoes)
1 tbsp olive oil (or some water if cooking w/o oils)
Generous chili powder (maybe a tbsp.)
Even more generous cumin (maybe a tbsp.)
Optional: Some cayenne pepper or red pepper flakes if spice is desired (I’ll use this if I want spice but lack a jalapeno)
Salt (to taste)
An avocado, diced or sliced or smashed (however you like)
½ tomato, diced
juice of 1 lime
Salt (to taste)
Some reserved garlic if you want (I recommend b/c I love garlic)
Cilantro, roughly chopped
Corn tortillas

Add oil or water to a pan — I prefer cast iron, but any will do — to coat. Add veggies (But, if using potatoes, reserve them). Sautee until onion becomes tender and translucent. If adding greens, until they’re wilted and bright green. 3-5 mins or so (If using red pepper flakes, this is a good time to add them). Drain off the black beans but leave enough juice for moisture. Add to pan. Add garlic. Add spices. If using potatoes, they should be cooked separately and added to the mixture at this point. Let simmer and stir/toss around occasionally until moisture is absorbed (I like to mash the beans a little with the spatula). Consistency will be sort of like a dried, lumpy paste.

Topping is easy. Add avocado, tomato, lime juice, salt, and leftover garlic to a bowl. Stir. Make the taco. Add the filling to tortillas and top with the avo/tomato mix and cilantro, or whatever other fresh veggies you want (carrot, red onion, cabbage, celery, good store bought salsa, greens, etc. Instead of cooking fresh greens or jalapeno into the filling, can use as topping instead.) You can do whatever you want! They’re vegan up until this point, but if you want cheese, go for it (I’ve used sharp cheddar, Mexican blend, even feta).

Makes 4-6, depending on how full you pack them.
These will do you better than Taco Bell, or even — I’ll say it! — any gourmet taco place. If anything, it’ll be cheaper. So, save a buck, have fun with it, and enjoy a more flavorful and healthier taco.

Base filling cooked with red bell, mushrooms, and a few dashes of red pepper flakes.

WARNING: This Isn’t Your Modern Family

 I considered making this post about the banning of Travis Matthews’ 2012 film I Want Your Love to evaluate on a larger scope the overall climate of LGBT media content’s distribution, revealing why it’s so shunned and limited. But, that analysis is maybe a little too much to take on in a simple blog post. Let’s go off the assumption that it’s pretty bad. My friends hear me griping about it all the time, almost to the point of bitterness, so I’ll try to refrain from my usual diatribe. This film is great. I enjoyed it. The ban in Australia of all places, a relatively modern, major area is ridiculous. Yes, it’s explicit. But, even the word “explicit” has an unnecessary taboo meaning. I like that it’s explicit. Too often filmmakers shy away from depicting sex or do it in a sanitized, staged, and unrealistic way. My favorite is hearing someone who thinks he’s a movie critic because he‘s seen Wes Anderson or Darren Aronofsky or Wachowski films make the charge that certain sex scenes are gratuitous. Those “critics” usually come from a prudish place. All the more reason to explore sex in an artistic way to analyze these reservations. What I love about the film is that those scenes aren’t extraneous to the narrative. They are seemingly small but important moments for these characters – scenes that explore them psychologically and propel their lives to change. Travis Matthews could defend the necessity of these scenes in the film to the point of exhaustion, but that would be missing the point. People — straight, anyway — are afraid of gay sex. This ban is a clear indication in the huge double standard (i.e. the counterexamples of straight sex scenes just as explicit receiving an exemption). An exciting movement in queer cinema is happening right now – honest, realistic, and nuanced portrayals of modern gay lives — that won’t reach the audience it could. Lack of circulation and offensive official bans like this reinforce the conditioned wincing at real intimacy between gay people.

This ban is outright censorship. But, aren’t films like this tacitly censored to an extent even without an official block? Some comments have expressed dismay that Australians are denied this film. Those who want to see it and own a computer can see it though. And, even though I luckily don’t live somewhere it’s prohibited by law, I admittedly saw it from an online download. Louisville – a city in the shallow South that’s fairly progressive with an ample arts scene – didn’t screen it anywhere I knew of. And, if they did, it was probably somewhere small for one night only and wasn’t widely advertised. This film only circulates in the festivals, specifically queer/LGBT ones, a niche. For instance, I highly doubt Baxter or Village 8 would ever carry this even for a week given the production company and unrated status. The way the industry is set up is unofficial censorship.

Does this push the boundaries for straight audiences? I can‘t play coy by saying it won’t for many. I’ve recommended Weekend – a film I love so much – to most everyone I know, and gauging those reactions has been interesting. One friend I know said that it was definitely extreme in its sex scenes, not in a bad way, but compared to a movie like Brokeback Mountain or A Single Man. Well, I Want Your Love is a good deal more graphic. But, at the same time, the tone is subdued, a chamber piece about a quiet character going through a reevaluation of himself with his sexual identity, his place in the world, his artistic ambitions, and what his life has meant up until that point as he prepares for a life altering move. It may fall into navel gazing territory, but it’s allowed to b/c gay people can finally navel gaze on screen just as much as someone like Woody Allen does. It’s a beautiful, artful, and poignant piece. I shouldn’t have to say this, but feel the need to because I know people: Straights who are curious, you will absolutely need to go into it with the most open mind you’ve ever had viewing LGBT content, but I encourage it.


As usual, I’m late to respond here to a current event, because I’ve had a debate with myself about whether or not I should blog it. But after dithering, I needed to, because I find myself angry after President Obama’s current stance on gay marriage. I feel badly for being so critical of what many view as a major landmark for LGBT rights. Firstly, I’m disappointed it has taken him this long. This is a statement that had to be lured out of him. A response anyone may give me is the classic “better late than never” rote optimism. But, I’m sorry I can’t focus on the now of the situation. A main source of my spite isn’t so much at Obama himself, but at what this is politically — a move. He waited until it was safe. The hateful anti-gay bombs have been disarmed by public opinion lately, and so it’s all right for him to come out from the bunker and into the dust. It gives me a queasy feeling, realizing that this apparent public “evolution” is basically strategy for a broken but powerful political machine.

Not only is this supposed new position not all that revolutionary, it’s also not marriage equality. For all my mixed feelings about marriage, one aspect I stand firm on is how necessary gay marriage is for LGBT liberation. He has made a clear delineation. He is for same sex marriage only on a state level. Some may need this outlined for them, others not, so I’m going to reiterate what’s been outlined in all kinds of studies, articles, and blogs. A gay marriage within a state is not equal to a heterosexual marriage on a national level. Over 1100 benefits are still denied to ALL same sex couples — married in an individual state or not — under the federal government. And anyway, putting rights for minorities to a vote by the majority is flawed — a nail in the coffin. Human rights are not conferred to the disadvantaged by the masses. They are inherent. If only five hetero US citizens supported same sex marriage, that should not be a deciding factor in whether or not it should be put into law. As an outlandish example, if I didn’t want Guatemalans, and Guatemalans only, to become legally documented equal citizens to me, it would not matter. Their rights are not for me to decide. So, excuse me if I’m not leaping for joy at Obama and lauding him with, “Oh, thank you SOOO much my hetero President! for helping me get my rights. Give yourself that pat on the back!”

I realize arguments about how change has to happen slowly and on an individual level are circulating out there on the internets. And, there are the well intentioned, honorable, and courageous battle cries about not giving up the fight, but I can’t find the motivation to be rallied, and I’m truly sorry about that. Maybe it’s because I’m weak willed. Among all of the cultural divide, I’m more so filled with disillusion that being treated equally is something I have to fight for in the first place. When I’m surrounded by the swarm of heterosexism — even the small things like those dumb stick figure family bumpers to obnoxious Facebook man, wife, and kids picture posts toting them as the “perfect family” to subtextual hints from family members that I should date a girl, even though I am out — I’m sorry my natural reaction is feeling disheartened and bitter. Similarly, others may argue to me that I need to be an example, a testament for change. When did it become my responsibility to educate the ignorant? Seriously, why is it my job to change the prejudice of the outright hateful grandpa voting against positive gay legislation, or even the soft homophobia of any random dude on the street with a head full of stereotypes and fear of anything feminine in masculinity? Yet somehow I feel like that has become my burden to bear, and it makes me want to say, “Screw it” and live my second class citizen life in my curtained room away from those kinds of people while the political opportunists and analysts use me as a wedge issue.

HE-MAN: The Secret of the…

Some amazing Netflix logic here!

1. Family Feature Animation is directly after Steamy Movies
2. HE-MAN!!!
3. If N-Flix knew me at all, wouldn’t they base The Secret of the Sword recommendation on this tour-de-force I unashamedly viewed the other week.
4. Or maybe they are subliminally putting it in the Family Animation for me, like a wink and nudge.
5. Do they think I’m a muscle worshiper?


Horrific: My Response to The Cabin in the Woods (No Spoilers in Here)

When I was about eight or nine, I walked home in the dark from a childhood friend’s house to my own only five houses down. Except in this particular case we had just seen IT, Stephen King’s clown-demon, terrorize kids through unsuspected sinks, shower nozzles, sewer systems, and caves. Surrounded by menacing suburban trees shaking in the darkness’ wind, my whole body was wrapped in fear. Irrational. Even then I knew this clown wasn’t real, but for some reason, I still rushed past the water drain in the street court of my upbringing, and on a path I tread over and over growing up, knowing it was perfectly safe. But watching this, my first horror movie, made me feel like I wasn’t, that something horrific could easily enter my life. I didn’t want to go near a bathroom for a solid month. Horror as a genre is often looked down upon, and understandably at times. Yet it can be one of the most powerful types of movies in that, if it gets everything right and immerses someone in the story, it has the ability to alter the viewers’ consciousness to the point their lives no longer feel secure.

After I got over it — still question whether I really did fully — and was able to bathe without fear of a balloon full of blood blowing up out of the drain, I was a glutton for punishment. On weekend movie rental nights, while being able to sneak away from my mom’s radar, I crept into the forbidden Horror section and eyed the VHS covers with fearful glee, and sometimes, before checking on both sides and with ears tuned in to make sure no one else was around to catch nine-year old me in a treasure trove of R ratings, I would swipe a read of a back cover, engrossed with the then-titillating melodramatic plot description, and maybe catch a frightening picture, like the glint of a Jason Voorhes machete, evil bump faced Leprachaun peering through a dimly lit door, the creepy blank stares of the Children of the Corn kids, or sharp Freddy Krueger claws coming down on a victim’s head. My fascination was partly due to the off limits status set by my parents, and rightly so. But, the other part was the need to experience an intoxicating thrill of unease and trepidation, of witnessing seemingly real terror in the comfort of a spectator’s role, and the unreasonable feeling the monstrosity could enter into my own life. I eventually was able to see some of these movies, of course, and sneaking Scream at eleven only made me more interested. I would imagine if I were to watch a few again, I would probably LOL forever at some of the god-awfulness. And, by laughing at the movies, I would be laughing at myself for allowing them to scare me. There comes a transition period, though I can’t identify a clear time frame for when mine happened, where we realize the movie, like our fear, was silly. The bubble bursts.

After seeing Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard’s The Cabin in the Woods this weekend, I’ve been dwelling on the nostalgia for my relationship with the genre. I recommend it to anyone who has ever enjoyed any horror movie. Without spoiling anything, all I will say is that it is a horror movie about horror movies. Yeah, yeah, I know. Movies like Scream and Drag Me to Hell had the meta self awareness going for them too. The difference here is that it’s self-aware while also taking that knowledge to create something original. We all know how flawed the genre can be at times — misogyny, pointless gore, the dehumanization as a result, lack of any character work, triteness, unintentional camp, plot structures with more holes in it that Pinhead’s needles, and the list could go on. But, horror wouldn’t exist if the masses didn’t create it by consuming it. And, who knows what kind of primal need that taps in to. The monsters represent the real-life kind, or more likely it’s not so much metaphor, but that the made up Hollywood creatures provide a popcorn distraction from our true fears. Or maybe a little bit of both.