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I made a lot of mistakes.

21 May

Preface: Language consists of placeholders. In the same way that money is an almost universally accepted placeholder for value/worth, words are placeholders for thoughts, images, and emotions. Words and phrases mark what people who share the same tribe, village, town, city, culture, class, lexicon or beyond hold in common understanding as to definition or value.

Cliches and stereotypes exist for a reason. Both definitions overlap with the word “truism” because a cliche or a stereotype is “true-ish”. We use cliches and stereotypes as placeholders in our brains to help us to operate more efficiently as we travel through the world. At their best, cliches and stereotypes help us to read or communicate a situation quickly; on the other end, of course, they foster sloppy writing, ignorance, or sometimes transmute into slurs, hate crimes, or worse.

A self-conscious writer, one who’s just begun to consider the craft in the context of all who’ve written before, soon learns to disavow cliches. Although they communicate meaning quickly and efficiently, relying on cliches can hinder the development of a writer’s unique style. More sophisticated poets or satirists sometimes return to cliches to play with these notions after they’ve gained confidence in their own voices and feel they understand well enough the framework these placeholders set up.

When you announce to people you’re moving somewhere or traveling somewhere, most respond in cliches. The first time I traveled to Guatemala alone, as a woman, and knew no one there, whenever I told people, everyone who’d been told anything about the country said, “Be careful. Guatemala’s dangerous.” Likewise, when I told people the naturalist and I were moving to the Bay Area after graduating college, people said, “Well, it’s expensive.”

In both cases, I ignored the talking people, but in both cases, the talking people were generally correct. Guatemala definitely can be dangerous, if you don’t pay attention: as in many Latin American countries (and many outside the US), the CIA’s meddling (read: assassination and conspiracy) disrupted the country’s foundation 56 years ago, just as it was coming into its own as a democratic nation. I haven’t been to Guatemala in eight years, and I’m not the most observant person, but when I went, the fissures were obvious. You could see it in the broken infrastructure, and yeah, it sounds cheesy, but you could see it in the eyes of the people who lived there. And you knew where you were supposed to travel with back-up, because folks warned you where to go and not go alone. Our government annihilated something integral to that place, and poverty and despair breeds violence. But the place is in no way overrun by that fear. So many things we forget are still alive there.

Because few of us (US citizens) travel often, people tend to have overblown stereotypes when it comes to places. When the naturalist and I moved to the Bay, life was expensive. Very, very expensive. The rent was astronomical compared to what I’d known living off-campus in Massachusetts for a few semesters. The food was much more costly. Rent was obscene. And gigolos were charging $150 a quickie? As if. *snorts* Not like I have to pay for it. But I told the naturalist the same thing I told myself: We can exist here. There’s a way. There must be a way, or else no humans would be here at all. The Bay was and is habitable. But it was much more expensive than I thought, in the end, in ways I hadn’t imagined.

The major Chicago stereotype I’ve encountered thus far, having lived here for six weeks? “You’re coming to Chicago at a good time,” this from the natives or residents. Folks who don’t live here say, “…but the winters…” Hearing the same thing over and over gets boring, but I suppose I’ve grown old enough to listen to the truisms others spit. I’d like to live here, but I’m not at all interested in braving a full winter with full wind chill nowadays. And if said coldness should have a double meaning the way “expense” does in the Bay? *shakes head* I’m not into that. I’d rather be the one who feels than the one who doesn’t.

Right now, this city is gorgeous enough to shatter me. The buildings and bridges and parks and rivers and people… It’s a special place. I live in Albany Park, a quiet, family-oriented, leafy,

Dandelions and shit.

multicultural neighborhood in northwestern Chicago. Yesterday, my excellent Aunt Lee took me to lunch downtown, where tall shiny buildings sprout,

very shiny.

and we talked family and life in general. She dropped me at the Bucktown/Wicker Park Library and I browsed the stacks like an addict, then sat for a few hours reading graphic novels,

This one made me sad, which makes it good, right?

nervously avoiding families (I was reading in the children’s section). When my time was up, I walked to the Young Chicago Authors hideout in the East Village and worked with the Speak’Easy Ensemble for a show we’re putting up next week.

I work with crazies.

So far, the balance feels good here. I think I have, at the most, two more years of semi-city living in me. My guess is I’ll live in the heart of a major city when that hourglass runs out, but the potential of farm or country, or mostly transient life stays possible for me. We’ll see.

Yesterday I got an email telling me I’d been accepted to be a Cave Canem poet. I still don’t know what that means, really. And it’s beginning to look like none of my close friends will be there. Grateful, but sad. Maybe that’s my default. Working on owning aloneness, and happiness. I love you. I’ll see you soon.

A Few Notes on Competition: WoWPS Post 2

5 May

I realize that by saying WoW wasn’t that much fun for me, I was implying that competition itself isn’t fun. Sometimes it’s a whole lot of fun. In this particular instance, I badly wanted to make a finals stage and I was getting impatient, so it was difficult to relax.

But being onstage is almost always fun to me (except in those scary, scary dreams), and performing the right poem at the right moment is especially enjoyable and exciting. Other aspects of competition can be fun, too: trying to beat someone whose haircut annoys you, for example. All told, the pirate queen in me occupies a very different territory from the bleeding-heart Californian (as some might see me), but when I slam, those two aspects necessarily have to coexist. The excited, fiery part that loves to battle and loves to win, and the sweeter dreamier part that loves connecting with people.

Rambling: It’s grey out, but a beautiful morning.

I care about writing and performing and connecting well, and I care about the game. If you consider games as a means to test oneself and be social, there’s nothing inherently wrong with them. If the recent past is any indication, I prefer to play Bully with John (Survivor) or Rob or Courtney instead of alone, and I never play Mario without Kate, Dave, Bekah, Courtney, Natalie, Rob or John (and we got Dad to play Mario once, right? but Mom didn’t play? but they both played some Wii Sports with us, which was cool. Emily Rose and her sister play Rock Band together, so that might be good as well.)

Suffice it to say I’m actually more interested in the interactive element of games. Khary has a sweet, funny PS2 poem in which he dreams of a “lovely Player 2” to join him, and that makes sense to me on a very elemental level. Maybe because my mom raised us to play cards together, don’t know. But I want to take a second to talk about aspects of the game of slam that I love and hate.

Winning isn’t everything, but winning is often good. Winning even the smallest slam implies a certain mastery of competition, of performance, of poetry, and love, I think. The love can be of the game itself, of humanity, of the attention and exuberance from being onstage, of moving one’s body beautifully or saying aloud words that sound and feel good together… Don’t matter. To do well, you have to love several of these things, and they’re all cool. To do noticeably well consistently, and to stay a slammer over the course of many years, I think you have to love most of these things.

I repeat: winning isn’t everything. MANY of my favorite poets, and people, don’t win a lot of slams, or don’t slam at all. I like a lot of people who like slam partly because we share a common interest/obsession, and I respect people who slam well as coworkers and competitors, but in the end, slam is a game, and no matter how much I like them, a lot of things in life matter more to me than games.

Rambling: The sun came out. Maybe I should go to the library when my laundry’s done.

Cliques suck. As much as I love my slam family goodness, I never ever want to be a Cool Kid. If we take slam as a game to a sports level, I never want to be the hot quarterback who treats people like shit because they don’t hang out with him or do the same stuff he does. The almost completely insular nature of slam annoys me, and so does tribalism; folks have a funny habit of hating on scenes they aren’t a part of. Competition seems to bring that out in people more, but I guess we’re all pretty much programmed to hate on shit we don’t immediately understand or recognize. Losing to someone or something you don’t get or trust feels really fucking bad, and that feeling makes people act badly.

Slamming brings people together. I’ve bonded really deeply with most of the folks who have coached me and the ones I’ve been on teams with, and being a part of the game helps me to respect and connect with folks who live all over the US, and also in Canada and France.

Rambling: It was good to see Sierra, if only for a hot minute. Also, I just called a pouch of Bugler “my Preciousss”.

So there you have it. A couple of things about slam. Careful as I am, I’m sure I still managed to offend someone, but I simply don’t care. My next post is going to be about Finals, I think, a little on the game, and a little on the experience itself.

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.