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Libertarian Spirit: ATL Post #2

30 May

I was lying on my little mattress yesterday watching anime, unwinding from the emotional circus of Write Bloody’s announcement, thinking about writing, and one of the final episodes featured Kenpachi Zaraki, a captain of the Soul Society whose ferocity and pure lust for battle terrifies his enemies, and even his comrades.

In the episode I watched, where Zaraki takes command of his unit for the first time, he walks into the dojo and tells his squad, essentially, “I won’t censor any of your opinions, nor will I endorse any of your opinions. Do what you want.” That statement made me absolutely love that character.

At the best of times I feel that way on the road, free of censure and constraints, embracing all possibility. I’m a person who loves freedom, who can handle responsibility but works to transcend expectations, and being a traveling artist suits this side of myself nicely.

Ven and I set out from Richmond fairly late, and traveled into the thick of the Southeast. When you become accustomed to traveling through small states, or the edges of big ones, the vaster regions can kinda blindside you. So yeah, we were in Virginia for a long time, and the Carolinas were pretty serious, too. But we finally made it to Raleigh in time for an impromtu lunch – Ven and I literally called our Raleigh friends when we were an hour away to get them to meet us.

We walked into downtown Raleigh and I had that stranger-in-a-strange-land feeling in a good way, where I was owning my otherness. We got to the Raleigh Times, which has very cool decor: it’s wallpapered with huge, blown-up photos of old-school Raleigh and the original newspaper crew (read: dead white guys with cool hats who don’t smile).

Inside the Raleigh Times.

Very neat. Jesucristo that food was good. I had a sandwich of pulled pork from a local, sustainable farm, and we dug into fried pickles (WHO KNEW?)

Fried pickles are not a game.

with Ven’s friend Matt and my old friend Diana.


We hung out and got Ven some super-potent coffee, an unusual break from his accustomed Starbucks fix.

On the road, the early evening air smelled wonderfully rich and sweet.

Ven and I didn’t get into Atlanta until 2 or 3 AM. Karen was sweet enough to stay up and wait for us until we got to her and Malika’s surprisingly luxurious place. It had been a long day, so we crashed immediately.

The next day, before the show, was mellow. Ven roamed around with his camera and I hung around the house with Karen and Malika. Chad and Nicole stopped in, in the middle of a long journey up the coast, and hung out with us for a while, then crashed for a few hours. That’s exactly the kind of random shit I love, running into other friends in unexpected places, everyone doing her/his own thing, pursuing different adventures. There’s such pleasure in that. The duct tape messenger bag Nicole surprised Karen with,

Karen was ecstatic.

the meltingly delicious split pea soup with homemade croutons Karen and I ate the next day,

Um, YES.

Ven and Karen and I walking around through a park after the show.

Ven took pictures too, I'll show you later.

Even the abrupt, haphazard way that Ven and I arrived in and departed from each city on our journey pleased me, because getting up and leaving in an instant feels very liberating to me. Knowing all you need is in the car, you’re gassed up and good to go whenever, wherever you want.

Though to be real, in this aspect I’m mostly talking about traveling, not touring. When you’re touring, there are always obligations – places to be at particular times, money to be made, and other folks’ expectations to negotiate…


Individuality vs. Versatility: WoWPS Post 3 (roll the dice to check your stamina)

8 May

Recently, on Rik’s recommendation, I started watching Bleach, an anime series I’d seen around but hadn’t tried out. I’m about halfway through the series now, and y’know, it’s good. The episodes are a little more formulaic than I typically enjoy, but the devotion to long-term character development, satisfying plot twists, and overall badassery makes this a series worth watching, IMHO (if you want to watch, it’s on Hulu, and broken up into parts on YouTube. Just remember to skip the shitty theme songs at the beginning and end).

I tend to prefer anime that involves some kind of regular dueling action (swordplay, gunplay, supernatural powers, &c.). It’s fun and exciting, even when you know who’s going to win. I love the insane creativity that goes into the making of these alternate universes. Along with compelling RTV shows like Top Chef, Project Runway or The Biggest Loser, I find the anime I watch to be a great motivating tool for competition. Characters are constantly saying things like, “I’ll do my best!” or “I won’t lose!”, whether they be doe-eyed neophytes or virtual demigods.

Gonna spoil here, just a little. Bleach features a class of warriors known as Soul Reapers. Each Soul Reaper who attains a certain mastery of his/her (usually his, though there is one truly admirable woman thus far) technique has markedly different powers; these powers are halfway drawn from the spirit-inhabited swords they carry. Sort of like the patroni drawn from wands a la Harry Potter, only MUCH more dope. Kind of like each Dog of the State drawing on a different element a la Fullmetal Alchemist. Or just the old school notion of different martial artists practicing different fighting styles.

For me, maybe the coolest thing about making it to Finals was feeling I was meeting eleven other incredible warriors in battle. And dude, I’m not gonna lie to you, it’s pretty fucken extra awesome to me being in a room full of warriors with vaginas. I’d seen or sparred with all these women before, so I knew each had something really special going on, her own power, her own fighting style. And Finals was a different kind of arena than I’d ever battled in before. The previous night’s prelims at the tight, packed Writing Wrongs venue felt, before it even began, like a street fight waiting to happen, where the women who won would have to grapple, get bloody-knuckled and sweat; WoWPS Finals felt as close to the Coliseum as I’ve ever come. Neat-o!

Yeah, I respected and continue to respect all of my competitors in the context of the game. Fond as we are of saying slam is random, the random draw, ranking system, and double preliminaries make it kind of hard to ascend to finals on an absolute fluke. And okay, say Ms. Wise, Tristan, Hannah, Megan or I, or any Finals first-timer, makes it on a fluke. That doesn’t explain why most of the pack stays veteran: Sierra, Dee, Chauncey, Eboni, Nicole, Nitche, and Gypsee Yo have all done it before. On the adverse tip, I remember someone bemoaning the lack of new blood to challenge the seemingly eternal champions of slam, but I don’t see it that way at all. I think a lot of folks, once they “get” their own styles and “get” the way the game is played, are more likely to reach that level again and again, if they stay wanting it (few stay wanting it). But every Finals I see new warriors in the arena, and often enough it’s those new warriors who win the day. Amy winning iWPS last year is a great example of that, and so are three of the four top teams at last year’s Nationals (because no one thought ABQ would come back, right? or that SF and St. Paul could bring some serious shit? but Nuyo does make it pretty much every year).

I would not filthy my presently veryshiny brain with trying to imply who the Best Slam Poets are; I’m not suggesting any given Finals necessarily showcases the best motherfuckin artists in the known universe, just a sliver of the slam poets who have enough mastery of their own personal styles and mastery of the nature of the competition to score the best, given the proper circumstances. I killed in prelims at WoW using a poem that totally bombed in prelims at iWPS only a few months before (Did I get five 10s? Yeeaahhh. That has never ever happened to me before, or since, with any poem, in the four years I’ve been slamming. Still think it’s a dream).

Which brings us back to Bleach. When characters are confronted with a really dope hero or villain, Bleach uses a phrase I’ve seen in other anime series: “He’s so strong!”, but even more fun, sometimes characters say, “That…that spiritual pressure!”, which is Bleach‘s way of implying someone’s really powerful, in the zone, or on fire. What reliably puts someone in her spiritual firepower zone? Desperately wanting to win, needing to share the poems she’s brought, reading the venue and the crowd and the night well, and having practiced to the point where the odds that she’ll drop a line or fuck up her delivery are slim.

Different venues and different nights matter enormously, in the same sense that battling on one kind of terrain plays to some fighters’ advantage. If, say, Jeanann Verlee were battling Tony Jackson, on most nights I’d be inclined to give Jeanann the advantage in NYC, and Tony the advantage in Austin, because they’re both incredibly savvy writers and performers, but familiar turf matters very much.

When you’re on the road, you have to learn to adapt very quickly to different crowds and venues. Sometimes you’re more successful, sometimes you disappoint yourself, but you do better the more you get out there. Touring can definitely be an advantage in competition. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that at least eight of the twelve of us up there had done some touring previous to that night – and the high representation of women who have 2+ venues to work with on a regular basis, from NYC to ATL to DEN, speaks even more to that point.

So I’d definitely say versatility is one of the lotus/cherry blossom petals (I’ve been watching anime for days) of slam winningness. This is the idea (that I heard from The Fugees first, righteous) that one should “practice many styles” or, as we say in slam, “have deep pockets” – think of Sonya Renee going from a fist-pumping anthem on a woman’s right to choose to an insanely funny adventure with a manmade cheese product. Being able to speak to different crowds – the difference between the set I choose to perform at Van Slam or Java Monkey. Knowing how best to utilize a space – Jared Paul standing on a chair at a strong focal point in the venue to command the crowd’s attention. Adaptability is key.

But even more important, I think, is having a keen sense of oneself. I’ve seen a lot of poets who have one really developed style do very well in slam – folks who just do that one thing really fucking well, and no one else does it quite like they do. If you can’t beat someone who only does one thing, maybe you need to do your thing better. Or just not slam: that’s cool too.

As far as strategy goes, I’d definitely rather try to flip or transform the trends the poets before me have set than try to beat them by following in their footsteps. They’re likely doing what they do best, which probably isn’t the same thing you do best – and even if it’s something you do better, as long as the poet who precedes you reps okay, you need to smash that representation to smithereens to make that moment really worthwhile for you and for the audience.

If you think about it, slam is just like Bleach: having a strong sense of self and a strong understanding of the weapons one carries (even given mastery of only one technique) affords a person a definite edge in battle. I felt like bowing to my eleven opponents before we’d even begun, because I knew they’d all mastered styles that I hadn’t.

So for a minute, at the beginning, it felt pretty great to have the hodgepodge of us tradeswomen or masters crowded into that little Green Room backstage, waiting for the show to begin. Then we did the draw for the first round order, and that was the moment my chest suddenly felt three sizes too small for all the suddenly rowdy fucken organs within.

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 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? 😛


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.