#45: Tell It Like It Is, by Paul Florez
I never leave the apartment without my Moleskine notebook. I’m a freelance writer, author and MFA student. My livelihood, and sanity, is contingent upon the ability to obsessively scribble down seemingly arbitrary observations and thoughts onto a sheet of paper and making sense of them later. Was someone clipping their toenails on the subway? Jot down every detail and decipher the symbolism while having lunch with my boyfriend. Did someone accidently kick a blind person’s cane on 5th and 31st during rush hour? Write a short story about it with the main theme being the loss of innocence in a cosmopolitan jungle.
#42: Asian Girls, by Paul Florez
My first year as an MFA student at The New School is coming to an end. By this time next month I’ll already have turned in my final paper for my literary seminar, dropped the extra seven pounds I gained during the Polar Vortex phenomenon, and bid adieu to classrooms with awful florescent lighting for summer shares on the sunny gay haven known as Fire Island (Note: I haven’t been formally invited to a share yet, but the devil never needed an invite to paradise).
#39: Tea Time, by Paul Florez
The question of when to use humor is a challenge every young writer eventually faces. Humor is a good way to hook a reader at the beginning of an article or an excellent way to present your closing thoughts. However, from my experience as an amateur humorist and all-around awkward person, there is a fine line between being funny and being offensive. I never considered such a line even existed when I was an undergrad at Florida State University and discovered humor for the first time.
For my Introduction to Article & Essay class, I wrote an Onion-style piece about Paris Hilton holding national tryouts for a gay BFF. The piece was written at a magical time in our nation’s history: the Paris and Nicole Richie fallout was a national headline, Bush was using an antigay platform for his reelection campaign, and the question of how far can reality TV go was being asked. I like to think my gag article epitomized this turmoil. I even went as far as putting a mock quote by an angry heterosexual man that read, “Why do those faggots get to see Paris in her undies? I should be able too as well. It’s sexual discrimination.”
#36: The Workshop, by Paul Florez
The most horrifying rite of passage for all MFA students is getting your writing workshopped by your peers. Just the thought of submitting your carefully crafted prose to a pack of bloodthirsty grad students is enough to make any aspiring writer run to the bathroom. If there is something wrong with your story, any inconsistencies or grammatical errors, you can bet your lucky penny they will sniff it out and bring it to everyone’s attention.
Last semester, when I was first workshopped, I wrote a story about a young Japanese man living in Nagasaki during World War II who was exploring his sexuality with a screwdriver when the allies dropped the atomic bomb over the city. Admittedly, the piece was weird and experimental, but that’s how we roll at The New School. I went into my workshop knowing I had done something outside my comfort zone, trekked unknown waters, and any feedback could only be constructive. After all, if I wasn’t pushing myself out of my safety zone, what was the point of workshopping?
#32: The All-Gender Bathroom, by Paul Florez
When I was twelve years old a girl by the name of Jane pulled me into the girl’s bathroom for my first kiss. In an alternate universe, this defying act would’ve made us the coolest kids at our small catholic school and we would’ve been remembered as a Bonnie-and-Clyde duo. However, Jane and I weren’t like the other boys and girls who listened to pop music and dressed in Tommy Hilfiger. Our band of choice was Marilyn Manson and our trapper keepers were adorned with Sailor Moon stickers imported from Japan. We were different.
Looking back, Jane may have been a Bonnie in her own right (she wore guitar string bracelets and wrote in gel pen), but I was certainly no Clyde because if we were in said alternate universe, I would’ve wanted to have been kissing Butch Cassidy or even the Fonz (I developed a nasty Henry Winkler fetish when Happy Days began airing on Nick at Nite back in the mid-90s).
Encounters in Publishing #29: What To Do With That MFA Degree? by Paul Florez
On Monday nights most of the students from my MFA program go to Treehouse in Greenwich Village where, among the two dollar draft specials and nostalgic 90s movies that are projected onto a large screen, we regale horror stories from our writing workshop classes.
“I had a typo on my submission,” my friend cries. “ “I wrote Jew Jersey instead of New Jersey. Should I e-mail the class a revised copy? I just don’t want to draw attention to it.”
“Someone called my character vapid,” my other friend says, taking a swig of his Bud Light. “They don’t know the character is actually based off of me so the joke’s on them.”