Archive | February, 2010

The Golden State.

27 Feb

Returning to the Bay for the third time in the year and a half since I moved away finally felt like coming home. Before I even saw any of my friends I felt it. Looking down on the lights sprinkled in the folds of the East Bay hills, smelling the warm sugared air as the winter rain fell… I wanted to leap around the Oakland airport –but I let my smile handle that instead.

I was a whole different kind of terrified about performing in the Bay. I started slamming there. San Francisco was the first team I made, Berkeley the second. Out of all the folks in the slam scene, the ones in the Bay have seen me at my craziest, and my most vulnerable. They saw me slam when I was just beginning to find my voice. I was determined to show them how I’d grown.

Luckily, I booked smart, so I had plenty of chances to showcase my range. Apologies in advance if I don’t remember every detail regarding who performed where, and all. I was in the Bay for a solid three weeks, so the details are a little blurry. Anyhow, these are all the places I featured in the Greater Bay Area:

SAN FRANCISCO

The City Slam

The City Slam has a distinctive flavor. Slaminatrix Mona Webb has made a point of cultivating a safe space for women, queer folk, and people of all colors. The show feels much more sophisticated than a lot of slams, very cosmopolitan, very adult. It’s the one regular show in the Bay you can dress up for and not feel out of place – and that’s a big deal in California. Mona encourages different kinds of performing artists to come through, so there’s typically some music, sometimes theater or dance.

Chas.

**highlights: performing “Camp Victory”, our SF 2007 team piece, with Kim and Lucky 7; getting to see lots of folks for the first time since iWPS; hearing amazing poetry, much of it new, from Kim, Chas, Terry, Patrick, Dre, Lucky, Matt, and Stephen; seeing the proud tradition that started with me, as Mona’s first rookie, has continued with the flourishing of lots of young voices in the San Francisco scene.

Denise & Kim.

**lowlights: still being too disoriented to catch everyone else’s poems; feeling rushed for time; following Joaquin Zihuatenango – the gesture was really sweet on Mona’s part, and I don’t feel his poetry’s especially better than mine, but I was a little uncomfortable because Joaquin’s been doing this a lot longer than I have, he’s a national champion, and I think he would have given the feature a more polished finish.

Terry Taplin.

MODESTO

View of Inland Cali.

Although I lived in Oakland for three years, I never made it out to Modesto, so I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect. I took a train inland from the Bay. The journey was pleasant and meditative. There were plenty of open seats, and it was a sunny day on the top deck of the train. When I arrived, Sean Franco met me at the station, and we paused for a moment at a gorgeous little cafe. At twilight, we headed to the show, which had a wonderfully large audience with a great age range, many of them hungry for poetry.

Dusty Rose.

**highlights: performing in the round, super-physically, off the mic, and feeling I really got how to use the space; Sam Pierstorff’s smart, biting, but loving hosting; Shawn Franco’s startlingly quiet, naked performance; hearing challenging poems from a young man soon to be deployed; Dusty Rose’s newfound mastery of her craft; The Saint’s love poem, dedicated to yours truly.

Sam Pierstorff.

**lowlights: can’t think of one, actually. I’d call this one one of my top three performances. I had an incredible time.

Shawn Franco.

BERKELEY

The Starry Plough

More than anywhere else, Berkeley feels like my home venue. The Starry Plough is the show Christian and I used to attend religiously (again, slam is like church for me). I felt a lot of pressure to ace my Berkeley show, since it’s one of the venues poets across the country murmur about. The weather was shitty, so the crowd was a little light, but there were plenty friendly faces to make me feel at home.

Jason Motherfuckin' Bayani.

**highlights: Jamie, one of my favorites ever, hosting bawdily as ever, exhorting the crowd to get off their asses; performing “Spinster” exactly as I had to and feeling that moment of genuine grief resonate throughout the room; seeing excellent work from Stephen Meads, Sam Sax, and Jason Bayani, and several new women; rolling with the homies; getting to hang out with Shahin; Naz telling me I’d become “quite a performer”; Matt Blesse’s big grin when I got offstage letting me know I’d really done it right.

Sam Sax.

**lowlights: some folks I really hoped would show didn’t. Since Berkeley’s the show with the most poet crossover, not seeing people up to that point let me know I probably wouldn’t at all.

FAIRFIELD

Fairfield

Patrick, Dre and I drove up to Fairfield for Barbara and Go’s show. Like many inland California towns, Fairfield has a strong stripe of ignorant hick, with a healthy underpinning of methamphetamines (yeah, I said it). However, Barbara and Go have carved out a genuine haven for artistic freedom and expression. The two of them emanate such powerful love that the Fairfield slam feels totally immune to the creepster vibe of the city as a whole.

Forward

**highlights: a bunch of comedians performed in the open mic, to my delight; poet friends from all over, as far away as Sonya in DC, checking in online; watching Selene Steese deservedly win her first slam ever; Foward performing before and after removing his pants; performing a new team piece, the sexy librarian poem, joyfully and successfully with Dre and Patrick; feeling the crowd’s delight at everything I did; hugs from Barbara and Go.

Barbara

**lowlights: there was some grumpiness on the car ride over; some douchebags tried to start shit after the show.

The Road to Fairfield.

OAKLAND

Oasis

Oakland was the last show I did in the Bay. I was scheduled to perform in Santa Cruz the Tuesday after, but a sudden turn in my friend Gabrielle’s health convinced me to buy a ticket to Austin as soon as possible. The Oakland show takes place at Oasis now, which is a warm and versatile venue for the kind of show Naz and D put together. The crowd was small but very engaged.

Joyce Lee.

**highlights: the feeling of being among family that Oakland does better than any of the other Bay shows; great poetry from Naz, Dahled, Joyce, Stephen (best balls ever), Dre, Jaylee, and a few folks who were totally new to me; flirting with the audience; making Joyce’s jaw drop; winning over the doorman, who was stoical my whole set; almost losing it when I sang part of “Hallelujah” after reading my poem for Gabrielle, and knowing Naz was with me all the way; recording goodbyes for Gabrielle from everyone who had something to say.

Jaylee Alde.

**lowlights: I was feeling a little insecure, and could have brought a set that was tighter and more confident.

After Oakland, Mona drove me to the train station so I could try to catch a show in San Francisco. She looked at me, coach to rookie, poet to poet, and told me she was so proud of me. Of everything I’ve been doing for the past year. That was the best gift I could have gotten from a trip to NorCal. That and feeling and knowing that the Bay is still my poetic home, and that’s still where my slamily is. I am so grateful.

Mona.

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Also…

25 Feb

Boise Mouse.

Agent of Chaos.

25 Feb

some Boise robots.

I’m beginning to think about getting settled again, much more so, yeah. Trolling cragslist tonight. Never ever my favorite thing, even less so when I’m not sure how my existence will look in the upcoming months. But for now I’m putting out feelers. I love this transient existence, but, paradoxically, the better I get at it, the more I fantasize about having a gym or a dojo where I regularly spar, my own kitchen, my own key, and a shelf where books and anime live.

There are times when my lifestyle contrasts starkly with those of the people I visit. Visiting Boise afforded me a great example of what can happen when worlds collide. I was staying with the incomparable Cheryl Maddalena, a fierce, honest poet and organizer.

Cheryl.

Cheryl and I have much in common: we have similar worldviews, we often use the same content and techniques in our poetry, we both rock quirky femmey feminism on the regular, and we both developed our performance styles in the Bay. The trappings of our lives are very different, though. Cheryl has several degrees, a slam scene she founded and for which she’s responsible, a husband with a Real Job, two gorgeous little boys, two cats, and a big house in Boise to encompass them all.

Cheryl & sons.

Nice quiet neighborhood.

What would I do if I had people to take care of and big pretty things? I’m not even great at taking care of the assorted people and things already connected to me. All trappings have to be super streamlined. Anything high maintenance either gets left at home, or has to make do with getting ironed once a month/a whole bunch of text messages.

So what happens when these two worlds collide? Let’s draw a Venn diagram:

Small, cacophonous boys shock the weary traveler awake. The debaucherous visitor coerces the mild-mannered housewife into staying up til 4 AM writing and drinking beer. Cheryl makes Laura a grilled cheese sandwich with pickles and a glass of milk,

It was so delicious.

Laura stubs her cigarette butts out in Cheryl’s pretty porcelain bowl. /diagram

The other creature I spent lots of time with was Janelle.

Janelle.

Janelle swims around in the center of our diagram. Sometimes she’s the lightning rod of raucous, sometimes she waves in the current like algal bloom. Janelle and I ate delicious gourmet pizza, played trivia, frequented bars, beguiled strange men, watched a row of drunken patrons stand on a bar, pull their pants down, and let the bartender stick snifters to their ass cheeks…

If only I’d had a camera with a flash, I would show you proof.

When Cheryl and Janelle and I hung out together, we did things that were both enriching and frivolous, but mostly harmless, such as making earrings, or watching The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus.

My earrings.

When Janelle and Tara and I hung out together, we drank a lot.

Told you.

*shrugs* That’s why Janelle’s in the middle of the diagram.

Anyway, I felt like the loudest creature in Idaho. My time in Boise inspired me to coin the term, “Agent of Chaos” to describe this manifestation of myself, a blaze of honor – but also a warning, I guess. My bouts of wildness suit me because I don’t have to worry about feeding other people or making it to class on time, and because my shadow and I are in constant rapport. I have more to say about chaos, and I will tell you later, I promise.

***

INTERLUDE: Sonnets, Son.

Boris Pasternak once wrote, “form is the key,” actually as part of a longer quotation, but it’s a thought I return to from time to time, especially when I consider poetic structure. A teacher of mine once taught me this, explaining that learning to write poems in form can be incredibly liberating. I like the seeming paradox of that, like walking towards the wall in the labyrinth and finding a passageway.

I’ve been reading a series of new poems by this Chris Gilpin fellow, and it’s got me excited about sonnets again. Long before I’d ever heard of this wonderful monster called slam poetry, I wrote and studied the “all balls, no cock” variety (of Q-Tip fame). Suffice it to say, I read a fair amount of sonnets over the years, and the form itself does get boring unless folks sometimes break convention in one way or another.

Sonnets are especially frustrating for me, for some reason, but Chris has got me wanting to try the form out again. Who’s with me? I’ll attempt to match anyone who wants to throw down. Classic formula here, stick to the rules or break ’em as you like. Below you’ll find the first of Chris’ series (x-posted with his permission), which got me thinking these crazy thoughts in the first place. If you like this one, ask to see his others. They’re awesome, too.

01

The rain beats down against my roof tonight,
a-rat-a-tat-tattering finger tapping,
insistent like a salesman’s trap-flapping
“Hey-hey, buddy, you want this one, right?”
I twist the foam earplugs into my skull.
What I want is a serious sleeping pill,
but all I’ve got is this weak-ass NyQuil
which does little to beat life’s edges dull.
I’m fucked. I’ll never get a wink of sleep.
I lay entombed in sounds of wind and rain,
while ex-girlfriends dance through my tired mind.
I count them (which is more fun than counting sheep)
and smile: if I could do it all again,
I’d choose the same ones, or at least, the same kind.

Note: the Blonde Sonnets are my experiments with the sonnet form. The rhyme schemes do not necessarily conform to the standard Shakespearean or Spenserian blueprints. But they are all 14 lines long, play with iambic pentameter and attempt a volta – a shift of perspective, or tone – after the eighth line. My goal is to write them in the plainest language, with lightness and naivety, the passing thoughts of a blonde, like me. –Chris Gilpin

***

The work element of Boise was fantastic. The workshop I ran was small, but I loved the challenge I set for myself and those in attendance: I brought in Rob Sturma’s “For Black Girls…” from his new book, and asked everyone to try to write a poem about blackness. Yes, in the middle of fucken Idaho. My stipulations were to try to be humorous, and to avoid white guilt as best they could. The results were excellent, enlightening, and cathartic, I think. I got a good seed out of it, the short poem I’m now calling “Black Humor”. Isaac had some really good stuff going, too; I hope he’s working on that seed.

My set was alright, lots of anthems. Found myself wishing I’d taken Cheryl’s advice and gone a bit more experimental. The best part was a poem about pomosexuality Cheryl and I cowrote (on the aforementioned 4 AM beer night) and performed together.

This was our first draft.

During the slam, Tara Brenner performed some really ornate, solid work, Janelle surprised me by going dark and vulnerable, Kristen blew my mind with her innovation, and goddamn Cheryl did that poem I love about glow-in-the-dark white boys! Boise steady takes risks and sticks the landing, all while wearing 4-inch heels. That’s the sign of a grown woman, handling shit in stilettos, if need be. For my part? These boots are made for walking. Bringing the chaos to a city near you.

In Which I Connect the Washingtons Once More.

22 Feb

My sister Aliah took me out to dinner my last night in Seattle. YES. The weather was characteristically rainy, and the spot was a cozy little bakery/restaurant. Aliah ate salad, and I nuzzled up to some comfort food: ziti with luscious house-made meatballs. I drank a hearty red, Aliah one of the specialty hot cocktails, and we shared a dessert called a Sarah Bernhardt, a chocolate molehill of delight. All honesty, our conversation hobbled along at first. We’ve only been in each other’s lives about ten years, we live on opposite sides of the country, and both of us are a little flaky, so we don’t communicate often. We love and like each other, but every time we meet we sort of have to start from scratch. By the end of the meal, though, conversation was smooth and sweet.

Aliah.

The next morning found me enjoying another great meal, this time at the Portage Bay Cafe with Daemond and Inti, who’d just gotten home.

Daemond at breakfast.

Inti in the flesh.

Okay, breakfast was off the fucking hook. I went Swedish again, rocking thin pancakes with lingonberries, and Daemond and Inti went hard, too.

Swedish pancakes.

The menu was conscientious, sustainable, and filled with deliciousness. I was really, really impressed – and I don’t impress easily. I’ve eaten good food all my life, thanks to my folks, and developed my adult palate in the Bay Area (which I still believe has, overall, the best food in the country). But yeah, Seattle knows how to dish it out, and Daemond and Inti know where to find it.

***

INTERLUDE: The Ten Prettiest Cities in the U.S.

I know I’m courting controversy here, but why not. I’ve been lucky enough to see a lot of gorgeous places on my travels, so here’s a little shout-out to a few of my favorites, in roughly proper order. I focused on bigger cities mostly, to keep it fair, and obviously I’m biased towards places where I’ve spent more time (the South definitely got robbed, sorry). If you disagree, by all means, invite me to your town and prove me wrong.

10. New York. Lots of big, lovely wild parks, crowned by Central Park, of course. Good presence of the rivers and serious old buildings.
9. San Francisco. Disagree if you will. SF has a lot of beauty to offer, pretty pastel buildings, dramatic hills, the ocean and the mists, yeah. But any city that doesn’t have proper trees loses a LOT of points.
8. Boulder. A city with a very intimate feel, great to walk around in with a good dose of that Old West sensation, and heavily dosed in the shimmer of the Rockies.
7. Boston. The charm lies largely in Boston’s being one of the most intact historical cities in the U.S. The city has plenty trees, lots of brick, lots of circles, great for walking, with a lovely waterfront.
6. Providence. A largely unsung treasure, the city of Providence features an incredible river you can walk along, great variety in elevation, and a charming downtown with lots of huge glass storefronts, so everywhere feels very inviting.
5. Santa Fe. Again with the Old West feel and a good dose of old school Spanish architecture. Mountains and desert and plaza, oh my!
4. Chicago. Utterly fantastic parks, lots of props for the lake, trees everywhere, sexy old buildings, and maybe the best bridges in the nation.
3. Honolulu. This city has a lot of sprawl, which can be a big negative for me, but the downtown is serious and pretty, and puhleez. Any town that features some of the most beautiful beaches in the world will work for me.
2. D.C. Yeah, I said it. A third of the city is park, and the wild foresty kind. The Potomac River’s gorgeous, the Mall is old, serious and sexy, the embassies are no joke, plus circles and lovely old houses – Jefferson didn’t call it “the American Paris” for nothing.
1. Seattle. Truth. Water, water everywhere. Starkly varied elevation, lots of conifers, clean air, mountains, beautiful and varied downtown areas, an obvious commitment to outdoor art, and the best modern architecture I’ve seen in this country. Believe it, son.

Great view.

Seattle Library.

Small example of outdoor art.

And another.

Water, yeah.

***

Then I jumped on a plane to the Bay. On the way, I was seated between two young girls. I got to talking to one of them, a remarkably self-possessed nine-year-old by the name of Olivia Haley who splits her time between her mom in Seattle and her dad in SoCal (she likes Seattle a lot better, for the record). As it turns out, Olivia’s a poet. She also knows how to freestyle. I asked her if it’d be okay if I wrote down one of her poems, and she said it was. Here it is:

The wind flows with the meadows
and swiftly carries the flowers among the trees
as they lie sleeping in the gentle breeze.
Children are awakening at the crack of dawn.
The birds are humbly singing
with the lake and the swans.
The sun is slowly rising,
just find it in your heart.
Don’t stress or be frightened,
for the Earth in you will never part.

Olivia was continuing on to L.A., so we shook hands. I gave her my book (telling her not to show her parents, please), and told her I hoped to see her on the scene in ten years or so. Keep your eyes open, loves. We poets are everywhere.

Phantasmagoria.

17 Feb

I just might have the laziest brain. It isn’t a stupid brain, just lazy. See, I didn’t want to bother coming up with a synonym for “lazy”. That’s what just happened.

The plan was to say something about “my itinerant heart”, but that felt fucken clichéd, and I do recall a conversation with J.W. while I was in Chicago, wherein he recommended using any word but heart, any fucken word but heart. Here’s what my brain just made:

* the fusebox beneath my tits
* my punching-bag chest (Roadhouse)

I enjoy that my lazy fucken metaphors effervesce hilarity and flesh.

The itinerant heart was supposed to make its appearance here because constant travel has acclimated me to absence. Love that wanders from job to job. Something is always going to be missing. Someone is always gone. And I am groping for the ghosts.

Many hours in Inti and Daemond’s home by myself. Inti’s an incredible photographer (check out her site, please!) and most of my visit she was on the job in Vegas. Inti was a legend in my lazy brain, thanks to all the glowing compliments other poets had poured in there, but we’d never met.

So my days unwound in perfect peace, padding around the house that Inti and Daemond built, and I could see what people had told me was true. So much natural light, such quiet. Interesting and tasteful decor.

Love those colors.

The kitchen was very well-stocked, but no processed foods were to be found. No microwave, either.

Where the magic happens.

Hmm. It just feels so good in that place! Consideration and beauty shine in all the smallest touches.

Arty thing on the wall.

This was how Inti’s ghost and I came to get along.

***

INTERLUDE: Performance Anxiety.

I talk to people everywhere, especially women, who tell me they admire what I do, and say they “could never do that.” By that they usually mean performing onstage. Well, for almost all performers, stage fright never goes away. We numb ourselves to it through drink or drugs or simply force ourselves up there again and again. It’s a lot like going into battle. Especially in competition, but even an open mic can be harrowing. It’s true, it’s true. You have to care enough about your purpose, your art, the rush of it, or your ego – enough to beat the fear, the ghosts of what may never be.

Worst, your body itself may try to betray you. Here are a few of the physiological changes I may go through before any given performance.

* Bitterly cold hands.
* Shaking knees and legs (makes it difficult to stand properly)
* Shaking voice (an obvious problem)
* Nausea, dizziness, lightheadedness
* Upset stomach
* Difficulty breathing
* Frequent urges to pee
* Extreme sensitivity to touch (in a bad way)

So stop feeling sorry for yourselves. Being scared doesn’t make you special, it makes you just like everyone else. 😉

***

Daemond drove me to the Everett open mic that night. Garrett was lovely. His gentleness was evident throughout the night.

Garrett setting up.

Hm, not so Daemond’s and mine. We were the boisterous folk in the audience, why?

Doesn't he look like a troublemaker to you?

Because we know slam? Because we’re city folk? Because most of the crowd was white? *shrugs* Don’t matter, don’t matter. I had fun. Heard some good poems. A man talked story and played two Lakota flutes, one which was crafted to look like a loon. My, that was moving.

Loon spirit.

At the end of the night, a man in a purple velour jacket (upon which his stage name was embroidered) read some very clever, humorous verse from a big tome of his own poems. He reminded me very much of Ogden Nash at his best.

um, awesome.

My set was solid, although I surprised myself by dropping a poem (“Animal Alarm Clock”, for those of you keeping track at home). The small-town swell was in full effect: I sold a number of books. Best of all, lots of women came up to me afterward and told me how much they’d enjoyed my set. That’s my favorite. A young woman with purple hair asked her mother to buy my book for her, as she was too shy to approach me herself. She smiled and flickered in my peripheral vision, then vanished into the evening, like a ghost.

I’m So Happy ‘Cause Today I Found My Friends (They’re In My Head).

15 Feb

The fun part about writing these recollections a good month or so after they happened? Realizing full well the permeability of memory. Even trying my hardest to get the details just right, I always look back on these entries and shake my head, usually with a smile, at all I’ve gotten wrong. It’s just as Basho suggests: traversing the internal and external roads are very much alike, and accepting flux keeps ya sane.

When I said I slept soundly my first night in Seattle, I meant after the two hours or so I spent sipping rum and frantically trying to compose my set, singing loudly enough for Daemond to hear me two floors up. I was exhausted from my journey from Van, but I was also petrified at the thought of disappointing Seattle. I’d felt a similar terror before Vancouver, but this was worse – the worst I’d felt since my sudden Urbana feature about a year ago, when I was so nauseous and dizzy I could barely lift my head off my arms. So I shuffled songs and poems around, picked things up and dropped them, until finally my body absorbed the basic logic of what I’d put together.

Earlier that night, Karen and Daemond expressed mild surprise that touring poets feel so intimidated before their Seattle features. Well folks, for years Seattle has consistently turned out poets of the highest caliber whose work is respected on the page, but who can also represent with pride at any national-level competition. Seattle is also, as Daemond himself pointed out, one of the only scenes in the country (if not the only scene) where all the poets on the team tend to be firmly planted in adulthood. Grown folks who’ve been around aren’t the easiest to please.

I spent a couple more hours the next day tightening things up, then watching movies (She’s Gotta Have It and The Hangover) and For the Love of Ray J, because I didn’t know how to change the channel on Inti and Daemond’s swanky TV.

***

INTERLUDE: What Is Blood? (Baby Don’t Hurt Me)

Debilitating cramps struck me this morning. Standing made me dizzy with pain. This hasn’t happened to me in a while, probably because I’m dry for the now, but accustomed to drinking fairly heavily; alcohol seems to act as a blood thinner or relaxant of some kind. Anyhow, I thought it was cool. One of my favorite poets, Lucille Clifton, died yesterday, and I read her book of poems, Blessing the Boats, in memoriam. Clifton writes what may be the most moving uterus verse I’ve read. I especially like the poem below because, as a single girl uninterested in bearing children, I try to always celebrate the arrival of my blood, no matter how painful or messy it may be. [For the record, I have no rights to this poem besides the existential.]

to my last period

well girl, goodbye,
after thirty-eight years.
thirty-eight years and you
never arrived
splendid in your red dress
without trouble for me
somewhere, somehow.

now it is done,
and i feel just like
the grandmothers who,
after the hussy has gone,
sit holding her photograph
and sighing, wasn’t she
beautiful? wasn’t she beautiful?

***

Daemond and I headed to the venue early, early.

Said venue.

This gave me a lot of time to feel sick to my stomach, take a little nap, and stare dolefully at empty chairs while Daemond stayed busy doing twelve things or so.

Empty chairs, oooooooh.

In due time folks showed, however, in force. The venue was full of poets I knew and didn’t, and Civilians too, you know. My sister Aliah came through with a couple of her friends. Karen and Tara showed up, though they didn’t read. Jack McCarthy did, however, and unleashed my four-chambered monster as he always does.

Mild-mannered? Think again!

Daemond read D. Silence’s “Dance”, a pleasant reminder of Doug’s poetic dexterity.

Daemond reading.

I also got to hear Sara Brickman’s excellent sacrificial poem, plus Dane Kuttler’s muscular throwdown during the slam. And really cool work from a couple of folks I’d never heard, ever.

Dane bringing the noise.

You’re prolly getting tired of hearing this over and over, but my feature was awesome. I planned a special Seattle tribute, using grunge songs in my set to salute the place, and the crowd enjoyed it muchly. It was here that I encountered my favorite audience member of the entire tour: a ladykins in the front row who enthusiastically sang along with me, even picking up my slack when I dropped the lyrics to “Black Hole Sun”.

How are these girls so cool? How do they know all the lyrics?

The set ended with a standing ovation (thanks to Tara!). Post-show was the best ego trip, damn. Tara specifically loved “The Behemoth Feasts”, my soft-spoken poem about elephants. Karen said my feature was “even better than [she’d] expected,” which I choose to take as an awesome compliment, *wink*, and Jack really liked me, too. Not a damn thing better than pleasing excellent poets.

Sara Brickman and I commenced with the beer drinking for the remainder of the show (she is adorable when she’s tipsy, y’all).

See?

But Daemond and I ultimately decided to head back to the house, watch some movie, and call it an early night. I don’t remember what we talked about on the car ride home. Don’t remember which movie we watched. But when I reach back into time, I remember Sara’s giggle. Karen’s little smile.

There it is!

Tara’s burning eyes.

Just like that.

Jack’s brow furrowed with appreciation. I can feel exactly the euphoria and satisfaction I knew that night, that same triumph and acceptance, and the same gratitude to Daemond for inviting me in and being my friend.

I hope I never forget these things. I believe in telling these stories and writing them down. I believe in the importance of remembering love, keeping it close wherever I go. I suppose that’s one reason why I do this. My, what big words I have? The better to love you with, my dear. The better, the better to remember you.

I Might Not Be the Sharpest Tool, But I’m the Brightest Bulb.

10 Feb

Given the succession of blizzards currently savaging DC, I’m stranded in Minnesota for the next couple of days. It’s a good chance to catch up on these entries, yes?

I’ve been thinking a lot about light as a metaphor. Enlightenment, the light of religion, the light at the end of the tunnel, light as the opposite of heavy. Light as a synonym for grace, for what humans emit when we do good. I talk to my friends these days and I hear the burden of winter on their voices. It’s an especially stark contrast when I’m calling the East Coast from, say, sunny California. Plus I’m on the road, traveling as lightly as possible, living without the same burdens of ownership and responsibility (that, for many, have only gained weight with the current recession). But we on the road are vulnerable to every shift in the wind. That’s why it matters so much to find real havens along the way.

Two descriptions of the Foxy House, from those who’ve been:

1. A sort of psychic rehab where people wander when they need their hearts sewn back together. A spiritual halfway house, if you like.

2. “Anything you want it to be, anything you need it to be.”

These are, essentially, the same answer. Over the course of my Foxy week, I saw Jess and the others play therapist, nutritionist, stylist, and clown for the most random array of humankind. What I wanted and needed while I was there was a slightly insane but genuinely loving surrogate family that relished art and laughter as much as I did, a home with doors always open, where folks wouldn’t try to control or judge me, but who would allow my light to breathe. That’s exactly what I got. I didn’t mention some of the best moments – talking about being bicultural with Nora, talking anime with Keith, and more, because they’re too many to count, and I’ve gushed a lot as it is. Just go to Vancouver, go see for yourself.

***

INTERLUDE: My Favorite Animated Series

Everybody needs downtime. We creative types love self-flagellation (because it’s just another excuse to touch ourselves), and not working hard or often enough is our favorite reason for it. Yes, it’s important to be committed and as disciplined as possible, but part of the creative process is passive. So don’t forget to take time off to let your brain work properly. Go for a walk or a swim or a drive, sew something, volunteer somewhere, go out to trivia night, read, look at art books. It’s okay. Really.

My favorite new downtime activity is watching anime, and I do it whenever I get a chance. I like space cowboys, samurai, and ninja mostly, but I’m open to strong adult series of any caliber. If you’re interested, you can find a lot of them online for free, or check out a good video store. Netflix has some as well. Here are my favorite series to date, in no particular order. Pay attention, Keith!

* Cowboy Bebop: The penultimate space cowboy experience. Christian and I tore through these DVDs back when we were still in college. I’d count this as the first real seed of my love for anime (yeah I was late, you wanna fight about it?), and it remains one of the most elegant series I’ve seen in the years since.

* Samurai Champloo: Panama Soweto recommended this series, and I can never thank him enough for putting me onto it. It’s a super smart, sexy story set in feudal Japan with classic characters, compelling plot, a solid hip hop aesthetic, an abiding respect for Japanese history and traditions, and incredible fight scenes.

* Full Metal Alchemist: I watch the Japanese-language version. Jack Thompson’s obsessed with the English sub. Tomato, tomato. Incredible stuff. Intricate, compelling storyline and characters, good veins of the lighthearted and sinister running concurrently. I can’t recommend this too highly. Ask Jack.

* Black Lagoon: This was Krystal Asche’s suggestion (she has a lot of good ones in the “Boxes” section on her FB page). I simply love it. It breaks away from most conventions of anime, but it’s totally badass and really ballsy outlaw-tastic – and as Krystal herself points out, it features one of the most fearsome, awesome, compelling female leads you’ll find in any series. Yum.

* FLCL: I might lose you here. FLCL gets seriously kooky at points, and there’s a pretty strong sexual undercurrent that might make some folks uncomfortable. The story is short but well-crafted, full of hidden rooms and sudden sunlight. Love it.

* Paranoia Agent: Just finished watching this one, so I might be jumping the gun a little. Since I’m familiar with the mind behind it, though (I watched the feature Perfect Blue at Cooter’s house maybe a year ago), I feel confident recommending this. Hir-ö Hall suggested I try this one on, and it fits, for sure. This is a series done mostly in a realistic style, with brilliant little fissures in the norm as the episodes carry on. I described the PA world as a “subtle dystopia” to a friend a few minutes ago, so that’s what that is.

* Aeon Flux: Broadcast on MTV back before The Real World ruined everything. Terribly sexy, metaphysical, philosophical, creepy, in its short run, Aeon Flux hit just about every psychological pitch possible. Damn, I still miss that show.

* The Maxx: See above, word for word.

***

I took the bus from Vancouver to Seattle where I met up with one of my favorite light knights (as opposed to night lights), Daemond Arrindell.

Daemond.

Daemond would be quick to point out that the legendary Seattle scene doesn’t have a leader. As he told me, it’s a conglomeration of dynamic and creative adults who cooperate to make things happen. He thinks of himself pretty much as a facilitator, I believe. But I think it’s fair to call Daemond the keystone of the Seattle scene. He’s the rock, and he gives love and care to anyone who needs it.

Daemond drove me to his old neighborhood and showed me the Bohemian Gypsy Sky Palace, where he and Gabrielle used to live.

Bohemian Gypsy Sky Palace.

Artists’ houses are sacred places to me, no matter their character, and hearing Daemond reminisce about that place made me smile. I wish I could have seen it. But I know that yesterday’s Bohemian Gypsy Sky Palace is today’s Foxy House, Vox Ferus, or Worcester House. We’re still doing it, people.

We went out for pho, which I hadn’t eaten in years. As usual, I heaped way too much of that luscious chili paste into my bowl, and watched little beads of hot oil slither all over the surface of the soup. I also ordered a Vietnamese coffee, which I promptly overturned on the paper tablecloth (to Daemond’s delight). Our food came with cream puffs! I find it neat that Vietnamese cuisine has elements of both East Asian and Western European culture, epitomized in the popular Vietnamese sandwiches served on baguettes. Sure, we’ve got slavery, genocide, rape, destruction of families and tradition – but who doesn’t love the blues? 😛

WWBD?

Back at Daemond and Inti’s, Karen Finneyfrock joined us for drink and conversation. Karen talked a bit about the strain of putting her manuscript together for Write Bloody. Her pet peeve at that moment was seeing the same metaphor reappear like a poltergeist in poem after poem. That’s certainly another level of professionalism. Meticulous scrutiny of a poem is one thing, but taking stock of one’s body of work in full? *shakes head* You’ve got to be steadfast as Atreyu passing the gates to reach the Southern Oracle. Props to all my peers who’ve put themselves through that process.

Great sleep that night, at home in a Washington far away from the Washington I call home. Damn, it’s too late for a BC/DC joke, innit? hmph.