Monday, November 26, 2012

Microphone Dance

The best thing that happened at dancing was Jean teaching us to dance while using a microphone that was not cordless. Usually, she holds a mic pack in one hand and the mic that's supposed to clip onto her shirt in the other hand, and teaches us to dance, and we need to decipher what she's saying because the audio is all staticky.

Not so this night. This night, she held a microphone that had a cord plugged into the microphone wall unit. That meant that she would speak into the microphone as she danced until she spun too far away and had to hold onto the mic at arm's length and yell towards it, the mic system not even picking up what she was saying because her head was turned in the other direction.

It became apparent to apparently only me that in yelling at the microphone, she was the most understandable and could be heard the best over any other method she usually uses.

Mostly, we repeated all the dances we've done this session except for the creepy Halloween song because we've been away from dancing for so long. No class was scheduled for Election Day. The class before that was canceled because we were having a hurricane. The class after was canceled because they were a warming and showering center for hurricane victims. They reopened for all programs, so it was nice to be back and return to some normalcy. We did hear that they were adding one more class onto the end of the schedule, which is good. So this night, via corded-mic, we reviewed.

We did learn one new dance. I don't know the name of it because since we were on time, we'd missed the first five minutes. It's a fun dance with lots of quick turns back and forth to a 1950s/1960s tune. Some clapping is involved. I have come to enjoy the clapping. I think it has something to do with everyone's reluctance to actually clap to make a sound. Then Jean said the magic words: You HAVE TO clap because it holds a count. Well, there it is. Jean said it. It must be.

We then relearned Burlesque, an apparently non-risque song about a movie about a burlesque show. Jean wouldn't teach us the dance to one of Pink's songs because it is offensive, but strippers? They are okay.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

The English Language: Not My Strong Suit

Baulderdash is "the hilarious bluffing game" for anyone aged 12 and up.

How to play:

One person picks a card and reads a word.

Everyone grabs a piece of paper and writes down a definition for the word, coming up with something that sounds sensible, and then initials the paper before handing it back to the reader.

The card picker and reader then reads all the definitions, including the right one.

Everyone else then guesses which one is the right one.

How to score:

Choosing the correct definition gets you points.

Having other people choose your definition gets you points.

Writing a definition that's close to the actual definition gets you points.

Now all this may seem like an advertisement for a good time. Note that this is not an endorsement. On the contrary, it is simply an explanation of why I should not be an English professor.

Eddie and I headed over to see J and C and D and D and their friends for board game night. Eddie likes the competition. I like the playing.

Fast forward to the end of the competition when all the playing was done. D had won. Eddie had come in second. Out of eight people, I came in last. Yeah, that's right. Last.

Not only was I last, I had moved only one space on the board from the beginning. Yeah, that's right. One space.

That means that I did not choose the correct definition, I did not write a definition close to the right one, and I had only one person guess that mine was the right one.

That means I suck at this game, which is really a game all about the English language, which should probably be my forte considering how many frickin years I went to school and how many frickin papers I grade.

However, I'd like to chalk the loss up to my creativity. In being overly creative, I came up with answers like [insert obscure word] is a buffet that serves only cold dishes and [insert obscure name] was a back up singer for Chaka Khan and [insert obscure company] originally dabbled in the rubber tree, amassing a small fortune.

See? All these things are very plausible considering the correct answers were things like [obscure state law] bans all roosters from crowing after 10 PM.

So at the end, with my sad little game piece sitting in the first spot after the START, there was Eddie, pointing, wondering why his wife's piece was left behind, gloating that he had come up with the answer that [insert obscure word] was a German carriage, which, by the way, no one else had chosen as the correct answer either. So there.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

How To Be A Rock Star

I took my mom to the Melissa Etheridge concert.  You know, the one I won the tickets to?  Getting there was an adventure itself since Eddie had my GPS in his car since I'd moved it when I brought my car to the shop before it exploded and I kinda knew how to get to Westbury but totally missed the exit off the Northern because it's mixed in with two other exits.  My mom kept asking, How will we get there?  And I kept saying, I'm looking for a sign that just says "Go this way."  Sure enough, when I got off the the exit after the right one and looped back around, at the end of the off ramp, there was a sign with an arrow pointing to the right that said NYCB Westbury.  See?  Signs just for me.

Parking was another adventure.  My mom sometimes has a hard time walking distances so I wanted to park close.  She has handicapped parking.  In situations like these, we use it.  When we pulled up to the first group of parking attendants, they waved me through to talk to "the next guy."  I went to him and he told me that handicapped was all filled up.  Then he said it wasn't filled but it was for wheelchairs.  Then he said, You don't happen to got a wheelchair in there, do you?  I was like, um, no.  He was like, you know, just go ahead to "the next guy" and I'll forget everything.  Um, ok. We went to "the next guy" and he first told us to park in the VIP parking.  Then he stopped me mid-park and told me to park in the other handicapped spot, but to back in.  I got skillz so I backed into the spot in two seconds.  

After all that, I told my mom to make sure she appeared handicapped and she said not a problem as she slowly crept out of the car and up to the entrance.  Her usual pace. 

Our FREE seats were all the way on the side of the stage.  Okay, practically behind it.  The section was pretty empty.  These people came and sat in front of and behind us.  One of them was wearing really gross perfume.  The guy who said in front moved behind and started telling a story about how he doesn't eat ice cream because he worked in Friendly's.  Then he began another story but immediately stopped it with Oh no oh no.  Apparently, he'd spilled coffee on himself and the woman next to him. 

Seeing that the seats were not exactly filling up quickly, and seeing that my mom was about to pass out from the perfume and I wasn't sure if I'd be able to control myself once that guy came back from the bathroom and started talking about allergies or something, we moved to where we could be actually side stage instead of behind stage.  Don't get me wrong, we spent most of the concert looking at Melissa Etheridge's butt, but it's a nice butt.

The concert?  Was amazing.  This woman, who is 51 (and I know that because she said it about 23 times), can rock it hard.  I found myself wanting to be her with every song. I'd forgotten how good her songs are, how bluesy and cool.  I was sent back to when I used to play my cassette tapes from end to end, singing along with every lyric, hitting the harmonies sometimes.  She played a lot of new stuff that I don't know but I want to know.  She even gave away a free copy to someone wearing an I Heart Kansas shirt (because she's from Kansas, you see).

So then I decided, I need to be Melissa Etheridge.  Here's how I'm going to do it.

1. Learn to play harmonica.
Every cool rock person knows how to play harmonica.  She had her regular mic set up but it has several attachments for a water bottle and an extra mic. It also has a place to put her harmonica, and when she picks it up, she plays like no one's business (hey! I haven't used that phrase in a long time and I STILL don't know what it means!).

2. Learn to play other people's instruments.
Now that sounds dirty, but it's not.  A lot of the songs had musical interludes that were uh-maze-ing.  Towards the end, she tore off her jacket, took out her drum sticks, stood behind the drummer, and played WITH him simultaneously on the same kit. THEN she went to play the guitar by standing behind the guitarist and doing the same thing. 

3. Growl.
The ability to growl at the perfect moment in a rock song is key to success.  Melissa Etheridge actually has a variety of growls.  Long ones.  Short ones.  Low ones.  High ones.  Ones that work themselves into a scream.  Others that work themselves into a trail of notes.  I can growl.  So, check!

4. Wear cool boots and a sparkly shirt and a cool jacket and not sweat.
I have a variety of cool boots and sparkly shirts and two cool jackets.  I'm working on the sweating part.  She also was wearing black jeans and I have black jeans and I think we could trade clothes if only she were a bit shorter.

5. Do a little bit of Bruce. 
In the middle of one of her songs, she started singing "I'm on Fire" and it was again uh-MAZE-ing. She could have done more Bruce or more covers or more of her own songs, but she talked a lot.  A whole lot.  Like between every song, she gave a therapy session about loving yourself, loving someone else, and how sex feels good.  Lots of times.  Over and over.  You know, a good way to bond with your mother.  I get that she wants to talk about how she's been cancer free for nine years on the lead in to that "I Run" song, but all the other stuff?  The songs say it all, so I don't know why everything had to be a very long conversation.  Still, she rocks so that makes up for it.

She ended the concert with "Bring Me Some Water" which is the song that made me fall in love with everything that is Melissa Etheridge.  It also made me love Joan Osbourne because one very late night of tv watching when I was probably in junior high revealed a taped intimate concert with the two of them singing and that's the song that stayed in my head for years.  Even now, I can see them singing it clear as day.  I rocked out and danced and then they went backstage.

The lights didn't come on and I was wondering, what the heck is gonna be the encore?  She did every song I know, which means she did every song that was popular.

Oh, wait, no she didn't.  I actually forgot about one of the best songs not only by Melissa Etheridge but one of the best songs ever.

End note: I'm so patting myself on the back for refraining from entitling the post Lesbians! Seriously, when I won the tickets, I thought, there will probably be a lot of lesbians there. Then I reprimanded myself for stereotyping and kind of forgot about it. Then when we got inside, I was like, whoa there are a lot of lesbians here, which didn't get lost on my mom either, who noted, hmmm I think there are a lot of lesbians here.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

What You Can Learn From Real Poets

The Academy of American Poets hosts an annual Poets Forum that presents contemporary poets discussing poetry in all its forms and avenues.  I trekked to The New School in the rain via a one block walk from Penn Station to Penn Station and then the subway since the wind turned my umbrella inside out. 

The first panel was Poetry In The Age of Social Media presented by Ben Mirov, Timothy Donnelly, and Randall Mann.  What does that sound like to you?  To me, it meant poets would discuss in detail how the specific social media they use in their lives coincides with their writing lives.  Instead, this is what happened:

The first poet began to discuss overheard language and ephemera, which was quite interesting.  Then he explained how he knew a writer who could memorize lines in his own mind and how he himself had a hard time remembering more than one line and then spent the rest of his presentation discussing this act of depositing lines into your mind except for a few seconds at the end when he explained that Twitter and Facebook were good for this, too. 

Helpful?  No.  The last few seconds should have probably been the focus here.

The second poet gave a long story about how he was reading about bees.  He offered interesting facts about bees.  Then he explained that he found these facts--which were actually really cool facts--from reading the side bar of a magazine page from his child's magazine.  He explained that he knew this magazine was print media, but the same can be said for the internet.  He was basically saying that the internet is filled with information we can use for poetry.  This from the poet who rarely uses Facebook and does not have Twitter or Tumblr.  In fact, they all said, oh yeah we don't know Tumblr that well.

Helpful?  No.  We all know the internet offers information in the same way that, oh, let's say, every type of media does, and also, the internet is not social media.  Only parts of the internet are social media.

The third poet mentioned D. A. Powell's "Panic In The Year Zero" and discussed how some poetry blurs the lines of media because the poem mentions twitter, not Twitter, but using the word evokes two kinds of things.
Helpful?  Well, more than the other two, but really, no.

Thankfully, when the three of them were finished with their "presentations," they talked to each other, asked each other questions, and finally, some ideas about social media and poetry emerged.  They discussed how Twitter offers formal restriction to force relatively succinct thoughts and how you can follow different Twitterers to find new poems by old poets you know and new poets.  They discussed how writers, especially very young ones, begin to manage a personal brand through Twitter--and sometimes Facebook--and some create an ever-evolving online persona.  One then offered a list of people who were pretty cool to follow, includings a robo-Tweeter called ehorsebooks.  I followed the list and so far have unfollowed only one because he has a serious spelling issue--not the kind of spelling that is inventive for Twitter but the kind that says "I never took a typing class, never passed a spelling quiz, and I just don't care." 

Then came the Q&A.  That's when I spotted my writer friend from Jersey, LS, sitting in the front row.  I basically stared at  her the whole time during the Q&A because this is our favorite part of poetry events.  The Q&A is usually more like theatre of the absurd with very few questions and mostly awkward comments that confuse the presenters and poets, much to our delight.  However, since she was in the front row and she's not an asshole, I knew she would not be able to make the face and say the comments she would be hell bent on doing because everyone would see her do it.  I saw the twitching--I knew she wanted to as soon as the first woman approached the mic and started asking the poets--and I'm not kidding--about how to use the Promote This button that is new on FB.  So instead of asking about poetry and social media, she was asking them how to use Facebook.  Then she asked them to spell some of the names they had mentioned.  Then she asked again because she could not understand the names.  That meant the poets on the panel were sitting there for a good minute and a half slowly spelling out names since this woman was positive everyone in the audience needed this information and she was brave enough to ask.

Then, to top it off, she then went into how she was a poet for the environment and ranted about, well, I stopped listening because it was just really ridiculous and had nothing to do with anything.  She ended with something like What's a poet to do?  The men sat at their table and then one asked, That was rhetorical, right?  Because the Academy is not paying us enough to answer questions like that.

Then I thought--they got paid to do this?  Really?

After snarking back and forth with LS and catching up since we hadn't seen each other in almost two years, we geared up for the second panel: Anxiety of Audience: Who We Write For, Real and Imagined presented by Mary Jo Bang, Mark Bibbins, and Brenda Shaughnessy.  I wasn't sure what to expect from this panel, but the title intrigued me.  I rarely think about audience when I write, so anything they said should have been new and interesting.  Thankfully, it was.

The first poet discussed Harold Bloom's Anxiety of Influence from which the panel title took its name.  Poets find themselves in a difficult spot needing to please and not be disdained by audience.  However, the audience doesn't really know what it's looking for until it finds what it wants so poets can't predict that.  She went on to discuss how poets say "I write for myself" and the "myself" is like an avatar (which has three meanings--one about a Hindu goddess and one about an alien-human hybrid!) and the avatar is a persona, not the poet, in the same way that the speaker is not the poet.  Not that the audience differentiates.  (I teach my 102 students that the poet and speaker are separate, but then the write papers that say William says as in William Carlos Williams, because, you know, they're on a first name basis).

The second poet discussed how the audience is a bunch of strangers and some poets like to road test their poems for different strangers to see what works and what doesn't as part of the writing process.  Two quotes arose: "I write for myself and for strangers" from Gertrude Stein, and "Praise to the face is open disgrace" from Hemingway.  (Incidentally, I just watched Midnight In Paris yesterday and now I'm in love with these quotes once more).  The poet went on to say that the best poets you know are your best audience.  Also, we should consider always who are we leaving out of the poem since every poem will not reach every person.  Language, culture, and poetry always exclude; variation leaves room for more inclusion.

The third poet discussed the need for feedback to see ourselves through the eyes of others.  She then said something that I've probably known subconsciously and was happy to hear someone say aloud: You become a different kind of writer when your parents die; you learn to shrug off the opinions of strangers.  That transitioned into a quick discussion of how all poems are love poems in which love is a life force; they carry the electricity of love and love becomes all verbs at once.  Now that's poetry.

Then came the bigger discussion that got even more interesting.  They discussed the tension between self-disclosure (like the confessional poets -- Plath, Sexton) and veiling through language wherein the veiling creates a type of persona.  Persona poems allow a veil to say thing things you want to say without it being the poet saying it because the persona poem shows that there is indeed a specific speaker at work other than the poet (even though some still don't recognize the two different entities).  Even ekphrastic poetry offers a veil because the artwork acts as a muse, so the thoughts come from some other place.

Mary Jo Bang then said this: Poetry is a kind of egomania.  Everyone has thoughts but poets write them down and want people to buy them.  Thank you, Mary Jo Bang; you are my new best friend.

They then went into a discussion about students of poetry.  They mistake obscurity for mystery which they think is good poetry.  Instead, we want intensity of a working mind and we should own our preoccupations and obsessions.  Ah, that made me feel so much better, allowing me to own my awkward.

Then there was a very technical poetic discussion of metaphor.  Poets don't need to put all the particulars into a poem, no need to open up secrets and traumas all at once.  The function of a metaphor is to bridge the gap between the writer and the reader.  Staying in abstraction is like keeping things hidden.  Metaphor creates a world of something to look at while the speaker talks.  Words themselves are metaphors; poems are metaphors, one-sided conversations.  The more senses we use in metaphors, the more of a chance we catch a connection with each other.

There was very little snarking between me and LS after that.  She informed me that she got a free book because she was a member of the academy.  Oooh, that sounds like something I should look into.  By that time, the tea and coffee had run out as had the complimentary cookies.  Then it was time for the final panel.

Elizabeth Alexander is the fourth poet in American history who was given an inaugural poem.  She was giving the Blarney Lecture entitled, Reconsidering Lucille Clifton.  I'm not a huge fan of Clifton mostly because I'm not very familiar with all her work.  I've read some of her collections and I teach a few of her poems.  This lecture made me want to revisit her work.  Fun fact: Clifton was at Howard at the same time as Morrison and Baraka.  How's that for a poetic powerhouse? 

The day ended with a long walk back to Penn since the rain had stopped.  I'd opted to leave before the awards ceremony because the break was too long and I'd learned enough.  The walk back was fun since I challenged myself with "How Can I Take Off My Sweater Without Taking Off My Coat?" and then "How Long Can I Keep My Coat On Before I Pass Out?"  When the rain left, the heat rose in the city and after the walk, I was pretty hot.  I got to the station just in time to get my train and head home all the while reviewing my notes and pumped to write again.  What I found in my scrap notes for possible poetic assembly: the enlarged heart; canticle; because there's a slit in my boot.  Now that's poetry.