Thursday, December 31, 2009

FORWARD HO

Everyone is reflecting on the decade and I guess I should too--holy cow, what a boom-and-bust decade, for me and everyone else, in every sense. (Happy to report I'm currently in boom mode, and not taking it for granted for a second.) On January 1, 2000 I was standing around a giant bonfire at Amy and Aaron's house in the woods, where they have solar panels and an outhouse, hiding only half-jokingly from Y2K. Then I flew back to New York City, where I lived. I lived there ten years ago! In my $750 one-bedroom apartment on a cozy little mafia corner in the Gowanus trough of Brooklyn. It had an eat-in kitchen and a bathroom with a tub and a hard bristly stick-on carpet and a living room and a large bedroom that faced Third Avenue. Tiny little baby roaches would race for the drain every time I came home and turned on the light. Foot Foot would sometimes catch the bigger ones and try to play with them. It was my first apartment all my own. I loved it. I was the research editor at Out and the merch person for the Magnetic Fields and had very short bangs and had not yet mailed in my application to Iowa.

But I am too impatient to think back about the last ten years because it wasn't until a few days ago that I suddenly actually realized it was the end of a decade (again? already?) and the thought overwhelms me. What I really want to think about right now are two forthcoming albums I am really excited about:

1. The Magnetic Fields' Realism arrives in January. I anticipate a perfect January album. (Every year I end up listening to some album on constant repeat in January; always a month of writing, solitude, solace. Then that album becomes forever a January album, evoking snow and woodsmoke, long drives, long nights, lamplight. Distortion shared it with Trees Outside the Academy in '08. Last year was the Blood Bank EP. ) This one: in the style of orchestrated '60s Brit-folk. "I can't stand the sound of an acoustic guitar for more than three minutes at a time," says Stephin. Well, bring it.

2. Quasi's new one comes in February on Kill Rock Stars. I've heard these songs live a few times now and they are the kind of songs that sound like classics on the first listen. A gentleman called Brewcaster put up several videos from their excellent June show at Disjecta in Portland. Check out "Little White Horse" and "Never Coming Back Again" and "Bye Bye Blackbird." Agh! I love them! To the point of teenaged hand-waving incoherence.

For the neoennial occasion: "Merry X-mas" by Quasi (from the unjustly overlooked When the Going Gets Dark.) Oh how do you do?

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

INCIDENT REPORT #12

I'm home in Park Rapids, day nine of ten, perched at the Bella Caffé (sic). When I grew up here (insert creaky voice and waving of cane) we didn't have a coffee shop. How different things would have been. Now there are two: Bella, which serves fair-trade coffee and has a lovely sun room full of absurdly robust plants (e.g. a five-foot tall geranium) contributed and tended by my friends' dad in exchange for free coffee, and Jackpine Java, which has a fireplace and where all the tables and chairs are hewn from pine logs, and where half the space used to be a taxidermy joint but now features Tanning & Scrapbooking. By taxidermy joint I mean it was a veritable frat party of stuffed northwoods creatures, lounging and awkwardly socializing around more hewn-pine furniture for sale, including two buck heads mounted for corner display, facing each other with their antlers locked, and a fake pond scene with an improbable congregation of stiff grouse, raccoons, rabbits, a fox, and an upright black bear with a surprised look on his face, holding a bird feeder between his paws.

You can kind of see the sign here behind the snowplow pickup.

















I am here to grade portfolios, but first I had to pick up the new Park Rapids Enterprise and turn to the Incidents report. Here is today's selection.

Mailbox and Christmas light damage was reported in Helga Township;
A couch was left on railroad tracks in Farden Township;
A Park Rapids store requested an officer for a party who's asleep/passed out in the store;
A Park Rapids caller reported he left his vehicle to be worked on two years ago and it has not been returned, "may be a problem to get back";
A 911 Park Rapids caller reports a male "assaulted her old man, has a wrench";
Suspicious activity was reported on Central Avenue, "possibly running a business out of his home, several cars late at night at this residence";
Exhibition driving was reported in Park Rapids;
Harassing text messages were reported in Park Rapids;
A Nevis vehicle was rummaged during the night;
A female reported going to a male's house in Helga Township to retrieve property and he answered the door with a baseball bat;
Two children were reported locked in a vehicle in Straight River Township;
Mail was opened and moved to another mailbox in Akeley Township;
A Lake George Township caller reported his ex calling three times, he has an order for protection;
A four-wheeler was reported towing four kids on a toboggan on city streets in Hubbard Township;
A male was reported rolling around and yelling in Park Rapids;
A Hart Lake Township caller reported two young guys with slurred speech stopping by her house, looks like they've been four-wheeling their truck in ditches and she thinks they are stuck, reporting party called to say they are now running over fence posts;
A Farden Township caller reported hearing a gunshot, back window has a hole in it;
A party was refusing to leave in Henrietta Township;
A person was reported kneeling by the side of the road in Nevis Township;
St. Joseph's reported a man was assaulted with a willow stick;
A deer was reported caught in a fence on CSAH 36, extricated but now it appears unable to move;
Four horses were reported out at a Helga Township intersection;
A Park Rapids store requested an officer as they are terminating an employee for theft but the employee is claiming he was being threatened, which is why he didn't ring up the items;
A caller reported putting her truck in the ditch on the east side of Highway 71, she thinks she can drive it out, requesting officer for traffic control.

Home sweet home.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

BRING IT

I'm back in the Minnesota northwoods and my parents' house is full of activity. Bread baking, soup on the stove, wine and aquavit poured, people sprawled in a post-cross-country-ski post-sauna comfort-slump. Family friend Brita Sailer, standing in our kitchen, just now: "Has anybody heard about the storm? Are we gonna get any, or is it going to just go south of here?"

My mom: "I heard that we are going to get six inches."

Brita: "Well, I guess that's better than nothing!" [Face lights up, rubs hands together.]

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

FRANK, FUNNY, AND SO ON

The semester is drawing to a close and with it comes things like having your students over for dinner, which I did for my nonfiction worskhop, as I always do for my upper-level workshop. These twelve were particularly fabulous—adventurous, candid, going to some pretty real and raw places without sentimentality or self-mythologizing, but instead tough and clear-eyed writing. And, best of all: hilarious.

My friend here pointed out that I use the word "funny" as my default appreciative term. She asked me why that is. I had to think about it for a second, but this was my answer: It's not that I'm a sucker for the easy laugh, or need the instant gratification of humor. I think wit--sharp wit--in writing is a sign of intelligence and depth. I especially like wit when it's the searing agent for the rawer redder stuff that is anger and sadness. It spikes everything. It makes the sad stuff sadder and the dark stuff darker. It gives it complexity. Not everyone can be funny, I know, but all my favorite writers are deeply sad and deeply funny.

So. I assigned David Foster Wallace's A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again to my nonfiction workshop this semester, and the final thing I had them read was the title essay. It's 97 pages long, as engrossing as a novel and as funny in its obsessive detail as anything I've ever read; this is my third go of it, I think, maybe fourth. 

The first time I read it, when it came out in 1997, I dreamed about David Foster Wallace for a week. I had one dream that he was hanging out with me in my room in Brooklyn and started trying to climb the blinds. I had another dream I was making him pancakes on the kitchen counter with an iron. That sort of thing.

The second time I read it was in 2001, in my second year at Iowa, while I was taking Frank Conroy's workshop. Again I dreamed about it/DFW all week. But what struck me anew this time was the section in which Wallace quotes Conroy, who shilled for Celebrity Cruises by writing a quasi-literary rave about his experience on board ("I prostituted myself," he told DFW). This section (it's section 8) deconstructs Conroy's essay for a full six pages along the lines of
Conroy's essay is graceful and lapidary and attractive and assuasive. I submit that it is also completely sinister and despair-producing and bad.
Extensive and detailed examples follow. Pages of them. Yet Wallace also says that Conroy was "frank and forthcoming and in general just totally decent-seeming about the whole thing" in conversation, and that Stop-Time "is arguably the best literary memoir of the twentieth century and one of the books that made poor old yours truly want to try to be a writer."

So, at the end of the semester, Frank invited our workshop over to his house for dinner. Maggie, his wife, was there, sparkly-eyed and lean and cool, and his teenaged son ducked in and out, and their big yellow lab Gracie whose name I heard as "Crazy" obligingly traveled among our petting hands. For dinner they served a vegetable stir-fry on noodles, covered in a delectable sauce whose secret Frank revealed with relish: "Add half a cup of tahini near the end!" We sat around a big beautiful old table, and I remember the light was warm and low and comforting, and I remember that we--or at least I--well, I'm pretty sure all of us--got quite drunk, not least of all Frank, and I had just read the essay that week, and at some point in dinner I could not resist any longer and I asked him about what he thought of the David Foster Wallace essay.

Frank was very magnanimous about it. Others at the table had read the essay too, of course, and of course we wanted to know what he thought of David Foster Wallace as a whole. After all, he'd spent the whole semester drilling MEANING! SENSE! CLARITY! into our heads, ruthlessly and publicly tearing apart our sentences, proclaiming "You must write prose which cannot be bent!" and generally delivering edicts with verbal exclamation points (one of which was that you only get seven exclamation points to use in your lifetime, per Henry James.) And here is DFW, unwieldy and knotty and verbose and uncontainable.

But Frank liked him. He said he was wonderful, and "wildly inventive," and hearing his praise was a surprise and also a relief. And it was, peculiarly, a thrill to hear this writer speak of this other writer in this firsthand way: my actual teacher, addressing my actual very favorite writer at the time (I was a real headbanger for DFW in those still-pretty- sparse-internet days, tracking down every little piece that came out in every literary journal, etc., dying for the next book.) I don't know why it mattered. But it did, for some reason, to me.

Now Frank is gone. David Foster Wallace is gone. I miss them both. I miss knowing they are in the world. But reading "A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again" I hear Wallace's voice so distinctly and remember how hungry I was for it in my twenties, how much I could love a writer, a voice, a book. And as December kicks in strong and the year and semester wind down, and now I am the one opening the door to my students bundled in scarves and hats, I also remember the rest of that evening at Frank's, when we all retired to the living room, and inspected his little Grammy up on the shelf (for writing liner notes for something; it was small and old and looked much more modest than you'd expect), and Paul played a song on the guitar that was about Steve Marlowe, and then Maggie brought out baskets of musical instruments and we embarked upon the funniest sort of dozen-person impromptu jam session. My oddest and by far favorite moment was when Frank handed me the melodica and said, "You blow! I'll play!" And so I put that long ribbed plastic tube in my mouth and blew, and Frank played the little keys, eyes wide and wild behind his wire-rimmed glasses; I blew and blew and kept blowing even though it made me dizzy, even though it was ridiculous and a little embarrassing and I wanted to laugh, I had to keep the air going, I had to keep it going for Frank.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

YOU WANDER AROUND IN YOUR OWN LITTLE CLOUD

Petula in a RaincoatHappy birthday to Petula Clark, seventy years old today, who sings one of my favorite songs ever, "Don't Sleep in the Subway." Although it was a modest chart hit in 1967, I had never heard it until a few years ago when I was making a New York City mix for two friends who were about to move to Brooklyn. I looked for songs with "subway" in the title and it popped up. Listening to this song for the first time (the first several times, actually) was a delight-ambush: it starts off perfectly enough, with its brisk, cool, bustling first verse, but then it suddenly switches up into a grandiose orchestral cry, and then, whoa!--a steep dropoff into the minimalist chorus, like a reverse Pixies, all hush and pizzicato.

I played it again and again and again.

Nothing else in her oeuvre sounds quite like this or grabs me like this. But this is so perfect I couldn't ask for anything else.

Petula Clark, "Don't Sleep in the Subway"

Saturday, November 14, 2009

PHONELESSNESS

I have joined the esteemed club of Owners of Depocketed iPhones. Specifically, the ones that make their suicide leap from back pocket into the sparkling waters of the toilet bowl. The same ingenious design that makes the iPhone so sleekly delicious to the touch also makes it treacherously slippery.

Confession: I've had my iPhone for a year, and I am afraid that I am one of Those People: an iHole. I reflexively touch my pocket to make sure it is there; like a tamagotchi pet, it must be tended, stroked, checked upon every few minutes; I can mobile-upload a moment before it's even over, no, before I've even experienced it; I have been known to lie in bed post-contact-removal, myopia be damned, holding the thing three inches from my face as I scroll through my horoscope or tap my way through Word Wars. Sitting three feet from the door, I pull out the iPhone to check the weather. I know! Look, I'm coming clean here. Don't judge.

And now, following its watery plunge*, it has lain dark and still for two and a half days, tucked in a bag of rice. 

Which supposedly sucks the moisture out. No sign of life yet, but it's also possible the battery has run out. And I dare not plug it in yet for fear of braising the innards.

After a few initial anxious hours, I have not only adjusted to phonelessness, I have embraced it.**
a. Whomever I'm with, I'm just with.
b. A radical concept: making a plan and then carrying out that plan as planned.
c. Punctuality is once again not merely a general area of time, but an actual point. (A punct?)
d. I am not fondling my back pocket all the time, which must have looked weird.***

Today my friend and I drove down sunny roads through corn fields to the bulk-foods country store, phone-free and listening to an old R.E.M. tape. In my 1996 Honda. And time was totally itself again.

Let's not worry for now about the nightmare I had last night wherein a girl was violently thrown off the roof of Harkness in front of me and had blood shooting out of her thigh and I, phoneless, could not call 911, only yell it.

* Clean waters, for the record.
** For now.
*** See also: revelation when I removed my nose ring after nine years of fidgeting with it.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

HELLO SAILOR

Here's a link to download the Liz Phair Girlysound demos. Although strangely, many of the songs that I have on my double-disc bootleg-traded version I got several years ago do not appear here, like the afore-posted "Sometimes a Dream (Is What Makes You A Slave)," unless it's retitled here, and some songs (like "Hello Sailor" and "Ant in Alaska" were not on my version.

Either way, totally worth it: go get 'em, tigers.

Monday, November 2, 2009

MISMEMORY

Stephen Elliott came here on Friday to read from his new book The Adderall Diaries. I'd known him from the Stegner mafia, though not well--he's a person whom it's easy to know a lot about (for the obvious reasons) without really knowing. But his visit proved to me once again the pleasure of having houseguests. I know, I know! Houseguests: people often dread them. But I love them. I have this place that's sort of too big for me, and I have a guest room, and I'm incorrigibly social, and I live in a town of eight thousand people. One of the most interesting things in Oberlin is the people who come through, the visiting artists and writers and editors and critics who have nothing to do with our everyday student-o-centric college life and everything to do with the whole rest of the world. New faces are so exotic here. We get excited and spend hours drinking too much wine with them at the Feve or Black River or in our living rooms and talking their ears off. Stephen is a great houseguest. I recommend him to anyone. Emmett will back me up on this.


I dragged Stephen along to my radio show and we played songs and bantered a lot between them. Stephen talked about how publishing is the least fun part about writing a book--the writing is fun, and the time between finishing the book and its publication is really fun, and then when the book actually comes out, it can make a person miserable. We know people who have suffered this, lots of them, great writers with great books that do well. Then we played "Johnny Sunshine" by Liz Phair and we realized that Liz Phair went through something similar. Exile in Guyville was one of the greatest albums ever and she could never quite recover from it. So I followed up "Johnny Sunshine" with my favorite song from the unreleased Girlysound demos, "Sometimes A Dream (Is What Makes You a Slave)." Which I think says it all.

The way Stephen does his readings is he reads a little, then he takes questions, then he reads more, then takes more questions, then he reads more and takes one last round of questions. I think every writer should consider doing this. One thing he talked about is how people are weird about being written about. They may say, "Sure, you can write about me," but what they really mean is you can write about two things: 1) their good side, and 2) their bad side. What freaks them out, what they don't want to see in print, is a side of them that they didn't see in themselves--the things you see that don't fit with their own perception of who they are.

Another thing he talked about was memory. The only rule of writing memoir, he said, is that you can't intentionally lie. Memory is what you've got. And it's not always going to match up with someone else's. He cited as an example one of his friends from the group home recounting a story of the two of them that Stephen is pretty sure never happened. But what can you do? he said.

Here's a funny related moment. Stephen's been writing up notes from his book tour and publishing them on The Rumpus. Here's the one he wrote about Oberlin, including this moment in my dining room:
I started to talk about a girl that wasn’t really my girlfriend anymore, and a note I had sent to a few people, not many, asking them to link to my book on their Facebook pages and encourage their friends to purchase it. I imagined this girl purchasing twenty copies of The Adderall Diaries on Amazon.com and pulping them because money and books don’t mean enough to her. I was leaning against the entry to the living room where Chelsey sat at the table. I couldn’t quite bring myself to say it. Instead, I said, “You know when you try to do something with integrity, and you just fail?”
And it's so true: we both busted up laughing and he was wiping tears from his eyes with the napkin and I said I had just the very day before told my students to take note of when people use the second person to mean not you but one or I or not-just-me-right?. But in my memory what he said was, "You know how you try to do things with integrity, and sometimes you just fail?" Of course exact words are always elusive; neither of us could remember it exactly even when we were trying to recount it an hour later. What amazes me is that I swear, swear he was sitting across the table from me. Not leaning against the entry. And he wrote this less than 48 hours later. But which one of us is right?

Memory! Such a slippery critter.

Liz Phair, "Sometimes A Dream (Is What Makes You A Slave)"

Saturday, October 31, 2009

INCIDENT REPORT#11

Has it really been six months since I posted an incident report from the Park Rapids Enterprise? Well, trust me, it was worth the wait. The newest edition spread out before me on my dining room table is a gold mine.

I present to you the full gamut of what the males and females of the greater Park Rapids, Minnesota area were up to in the mere four-day span of October 15-18. Enjoy the theft, drugs, nudity, noise, bad wedding behavior, snowmobile capers, and mysterious moaning and ice cubes.
Miscellaneous: Oct. 15: A small black car was reported traveling at high rates of speed on a Nevis Township Road; A domestic was reported in White Oak Township; A brick was reported thrown at a window in Park Rapids; A fight between females was reported in Park Rapids; A Park Rapids caller reported waking up to find a younger male sitting at the dining room table moaning, ice cubes are all over the floor; A possibly abandoned car was reported in Park Rapids; Oct. 16: An Akeley caller reported "having problems" with a male's items being stored in his garage, the male is in jail; A Lakeport Township caller reported he was going to dispose of pain medication for his mother, who died, and himself and he found them gone; Several speed and other warnings were issued in Akeley; A driver was reported to be repeatedly crossing the center line in Helga Township; Citations were issued in Nevis for speed and lack of proof of insurance; Park Rapids caller requested a welfare check on a young boy, 8 or 9, who's in a parking lot on a bike talking to people in cars; Oct. 17: A Nevis Township caller reported to speak to a deputy about a vehicle she and her husband may purchase from Craig's List, some things appear to be fraudulent; A vehicle was vandalized in Park Rapids; Snowmobile windshield damage was reported in Todd Township; A caller reported her ex-stepmother has her two children in Minnesota (Lake George Township) without her permission, Florida authorities told her she had to contact the sheriff's department here for assistance in retrieving them; Two trucks were reported mudding on Helga Township property; Identity theft was reported in Akeley; A hitchhiker was reported in Fern Township; Gunshots for more than an hour were heard in Rockwood Township; Oct. 18: A Helga Township caller complained of a driver "messing around by his property"; Lakeport Township caller reported she and her husband are "having issues" and he is letting the air out of her car tires; A caller reported trespassers on the land he leases from Potlatch in Hart Lake Township; A Helga Township caller reported that two males who smell strongly of alcohol have been in his bathroom yelling for over five minutes; A naked man was reported coming out of the woods in Farden Township, crossing Highway 2 and heading back into the woods southbound; A party with loud music was reported in Farden Township; Loud music was reported in Park Rapids; A small amount of drugs was reported in Park Rapids; A Park Rapids caller asked for officer assistance in retrieving "stuff" from an ex-girlfriend; Squealing tires were heard in Park Rapids; A vehicle was reported all over the road in Park Rapids, vehicle pulled into a parking lot and a male got out yelling; Possible smell of drugs was reported coming from a Park Rapids apartment; Animal related: Oct. 15: Straight River Township caller reported cows in the yard are destroying hay bales; A "dog call" came from Nevis Township; Deer shining was reported in a Clover Township field; A dog was reported barking through the night in Hubbard Township; A German Shepherd was chasing deer in Park Rapids; Oct. 16: Dogs were running in traffic in Akeley, taken to the animal shelter; A deer was hit in Todd Township; Oct. 18: A black Lab was "hanging around" in Hubbard Township, neighbors were feeding it but now they're gone; A barking dog was reported in Park Rapids, "happens every weekend;" Burglaries, thefts: Oct. 15: Theft from a residence was reported in Park Rapids; Oct. 17: A shed break-in was reported in White Oak Township, a refrigerator, microwave, and other items were taken; A Todd Township caller reported two males were hired to steal her boyfriend's snowmobiles, caller states she received a call from a female who's a family member of the alleged thieves who states the males were getting a truck and trailer to pick up the snowmobiles; A pole barn break-in with a generator taken was reported in Henrietta Township; A residential break-in was reported in Akeley; Oct. 18: Theft of a tip jar was reported in Lake Emma Township, male suspect is part of a wedding party, they have it on camera; A vehicle window was broken and a CD player stolen in Park Rapids; Fires: Oct. 16: A grass fire was reported in Henrietta Township; Oct. 17: A vehicle was on fire in Guthrie Township, everyone safe and out of the vehicle; Accidents: Oct. 15: A rollover was reported in Park Rapids; Oct. 16: A rollover was reported in Henrietta Township, vehicle's on its roof but driver is out.

Hides for Habitat drop boxes at the Two Inlets Country Store, last November.

Monday, October 12, 2009

COLUMBUS CAN BITE IT

In dishonor of Columbus Day, here's an essay by Paul Metcalf that we're reading in my nonfiction workshop tonight. I'm pairing it with a Sherman Alexie piece, "Captivity," that I didn't scan for here, but you can read both in The Next American Essay edited by John D'Agata (Graywolf Press.)
Or was he—for all the mysteries, the obfuscations, the clouds of black ink that, like the squid, he oozed out around the facts of his life—simply put, an outrageous, wholesale liar?
Metcalf finds him uncannily, literally Quixotic. If only Columbus had merely been jousting at windmills rather than chopping off Haitian people's hands for fun.

Read: "...and nobody objected"

Friday, October 9, 2009

FEMALE TROUBLE

That's the name of my radio show on WOBC. I'm on Fridays, noon to one (EST). I play music made by/with women (and girls.) I'm about to head over to the station for round four.

A moment of anxiety hit after show number two or so when I thought, Oh no, I'm going to run out! I'd already played many of my favorites, the songs that made me go who is THIS? the first time I heard them. And I never want to be the DJ who plays all riot grrrl and/or the same handful of bands every time. Especially '90s Northwest bands.

The good news is, I am never going to run out. There is so much weird, inventive, great music made by female musicians across the last century. And I have become obsessive about digging through eMusic and Amazon marketplace etc. I can't stop listening to the Brazilian all-woman postpunk group As Mercenárias. I really like the High Places, especially "Storm" and "Gold Coin." Bettye Swann's "Don't Touch Me" runs through my head all day. I remembered about the Bush Tetras. I'm keeping my eye out for a Las Ultrasónicas album that's under 20 bucks.





Incidentally, if anyone has the Thompson Twins' "This Is A Foxy World" you could make my day. (My gmail moniker is chelseyjohnson.)

Over and out, off to play! Today all I know is there'll be some Mo-Dettes, Sharon Jones, Jenny Hoyston, Antietam, Twinkle, Pens, and maybe the Chiffons "Nobody Knows What's Going On In My Mind But Me."

Friday, September 18, 2009

A DOG CALLED RAISIN

This is simply to show you a picture I took last year. I took it with my old LG cellphone camera so the quality is, you know.

This is Raisin.

Raisin belongs to Jo Jackson. This is at a gallery show that she and Chris Johanson curated in Portland. Raisin is a real, actual dog. Though its planetary origins are, to my knowledge, unverified.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

WAKE-UP OPTIONS.

1. KIKI, my parents' cat. (Née Isaac and male; since moving in with them, his name has turned from Kitty to Kiki and sometimes just Kkkhhh, and his/her gender is in constant flux.)


2. At the Nelson Bros truck stop in Clear Lake, Minnesota, this new invention: "GO-nuts." As described in the picture:
Option One was a great one this morning. Option Two I'm trying on the way back down to the cities, though I worry it might be a little disappointing á la those peanut-butter-and-jelly-in-the-same-jar products.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

ADDIE FOREVER

The last time I saw my grandmother was August 21. She was sitting at the kitchen table in my parents' house. The oxygen tubes were out for the moment and my mom had persuaded her to wear the wig that she said itched her head, where the chemo had left her with birdlike tufts. She'd been saying some weird things, drifting back and forth between past and present, herself and her inventions. She applied lipstick, shaky but sure.

My car was packed up and Emmett was following me around with an anxious gaze, wagging tentatively, don't leave me. "I'm taking off now," I said, bending to kiss her. "I love you."

Her cheek was very soft. She put a hand on my face. "Love you too," she said. "We'll see you at Christmas."

And I almost believed it--even though I knew better and she usually did too--that the next time I came home would be Christmas and she would be there at that same spot at the kitchen table, where she always holds court.

My grandmother Addie loved her kids and grandkids and great-grandkids, going to the lake, Reba and Dolly, reading Vanity Fair and People, eating Mexican food at Compañeros, dancing, and the sun. She had great legs. Her parents were Norwegian and she spent her whole life in northern Minnesota. My grandfather claimed proudly that she was "tougher'n boiled owl." To her great shock, she discovered at age 65 when she went to sign up for social security or something that on her birth certificate, her legal name was not actually Adeline but Leigh Camilla. "Why did they call me Adeline?" she said over breakfast at Perkins on Paul Bunyan Drive. "I would have liked to be Leigh!" But Addie she had been, and Addie she stayed. Seventy-seven years.

Here is one of my favorite pictures of her, dancing with my cousin Ben, from my cousin Sarah's wedding just eleven months ago.


And this was just January, with her great-grandchildren Ava and Addie, her namesake.

This is how I'll always know her: vital and warm and with her arms around one of us.

Monday, September 7, 2009

ROLE REVERSAL AT THE RACK

My friend Matilda (Tilly, you witty brainiac, why aren't you a blog writer?) pointed me toward the site of one Kat and her dry, funny, compulsively readable stories about working at Portland strip clubs and the general weird politics and culture of stripping. Like,
My psychiatrist regular paid me to talk to him about my love life, which is our usual thing. He never buys dances or sits at the rack, he just hands me $20’s to talk to him while he drinks gin and plays video poker. I try to make stuff up that is loosely based on the truth.
Now that you can't make up.

Friday, September 4, 2009

TASTES LIKE THE SUN

In the perfect convergence of my favorite chef and my favorite newspaper, Amy now has a food column in the Park Rapids Enterprise. Behold, Recipe-phile!

Already she has written about making wild raspberry syrup, broccoli pesto, green bean salad with spicy cherry tomato vinaigrette, swiss chard pie (I had that one when visiting a few weeks ago, it was amazing--olive oil crust!), and kimchi, for starters. Park Rapids has come a long way since we entered kindergarten there together.

The latest is one I've had chez Amy before, and it is simple and mind-bendingly good: fresh corn soup. Golden and hot, it tastes like the sun. I'm going to head down to a roadside vegetable stand and get the ingredients right now so I can make it for fast-breaking tonight at Kazim's. Kazim has been fasting for Ramadan (and blogging about it for the Kenyon Review), and I love the small impromptu dinners we've had when the sky grows dark. He lives right across the street from me now, and it's such a pleasure to cross over to his huge old house and sit down around the table with a handful of friends and neighbors. The dinners are lush with summer vegetables, hearty and generous, and even though Kazim has to cook without tasting them, they turn out absolutely delicious every time. Good ingredients, good hand on the spoon. And their two hilarious kittens wrestling gymnastically before melting sleepily into our laps.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

IN THE SHADOW OF BOOK TOWERS

Up to my ears in nonfiction. Literally, if I could stack this all in one tower, not to mention the other books I already returned to the library, I think it would go up to my ears.
Putting together my nonfiction workshop, I've been reading nothing but. I'm really into it.

Discoveries:
• I like Dorothy Allison's essays better than her short stories.

• I love James Baldwin's fiction, and I have discovered I like his essays just as much and maybe more. Here's what he says about writers, in "Alas, Poor Richard":
...it is extremely difficult to deal with writers as people. Writers are said to be extremely egotistical and demanding and they are indeed, but that does not distinguish them from anyone else. What distinguishes them is what James once described as a kind of "holy stupidity." The writer's greed is appalling. He wants, or seems to want, everything and practically everybody; in another sense, and at the same time, he needs no one at all; and families, friends, and lovers find this extremely hard to take.
• The New Kings of Nonfiction, edited by Ira Glass, is a disappointment. For one thing they weren't kidding when they said "Kings"--all but two of the contributors are dudes. (And the one Susan Orlean piece is a meticulous character study of a ten-year-old boy.) Maybe I'm just an impatient reader when I'm panning for teachable gold--but I'll more likely assign segments from the radio show.

• I've long held a candle for Jo Ann Beard's stunning essay "Undertaker, Please Drive Slow," which originally appeared in Tin House and is now anthologized in their nonfiction reader Cooking and Stealing; now I have also read "Werner," which appears in Best American Essays 2007 (ed. DFW) and that too has blown my mind. I was literally balled up on the edge of my seat with bated breath as I read it; and then, well, you just have to right now read "The Fourth State of Matter," available in full here on the NY-er, which is about a lot of things, but crucially, about the unwittingly life-changing decision to leave work early one day. Unbelievable, I want to rave, incredible, but those words are the opposite of her stories' flesh-and-blood truth.

What she's doing with this fusion of other people's stories and her own imagination is pretty astounding. It's the kind of thing where I can't wait to get to that point in the syllabus so my students can experience it.

• I am hard-pressed to name a single literary anthology that does not contain Jamaica Kincaid's "Girl." On hand I have no fewer than six.

This is what it looks like if I lay my head on the table. Which just maybe I sometimes have to do.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

THIS HEAT GOES TO ELEVEN

At the peak of the triple-digit temperatures last week, I found myself hunkered down on the floor of a tiny windowless practice room at rock camp every day, earplugs jammed in tight, listening to four 13-to-14-year-old girls figure out how to write a song from scratch together. 107 degrees and no air-conditioning, just a few strategically placed fans, and the volume turned up loud enough so that my fellow band coach could hear the keys, bass, and guitar over the drum kit that was two feet away. Every forty-five minutes we'd break to go grab handfuls of ice cubes or run outside and stand under the misting hose in the parking lot, then head back in for another attempt to hammer out the breakdown or a raucous six-minute jam.

It was awesome.

By Friday the song was finished, and the launch into the chorus--Deisha's lone eight kick-drum beats followed by Vivian's pulsing keys and Zoe's delicate guitar riff and Keziah's nodding bass and sweet voice--never failed to put a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes. (Sleep deprivation also took its toll, I'll concede.) Casey Parks came out to visit during the last band practice and interviewed the girls about their process at camp, then posted a great article and video at the Oregonian. Watch it! (The below photo is Casey's, not mine.)

Though this was my seventh summer at rock camp, I'd never before managed a band. It seems I've done just about everything else--since 2003, I've done the morning and afternoon assemblies; since 2006, I've been on the board of directors; last summer, I assisted Tara with her noise-making and pedals workshop. I love all those things. But nothing before has matched the pride and love I felt when Jellyfish Rave took the stage at the showcase. I knelt on the floor front and center and the beam from my heart could have lit them as bright as the stagelights.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

SONIC HEAT

Last night I saw Sonic Youth. By the time I disembarked from the MAX and walked through Old Town, it had cooled to 99 degrees. I don't mind the heat. I like extreme temperatures. They sharpen the experience. They make you feel something.

The show was hot. The band were hot, glittering sweat shaking off Thurston's soaked hair, Kim in a silver lamé dress, guitars going haywire. The intense human zoo aroma made me wish for a snorkel but I didn't even mind the sweat rolling down the backs of my legs. It felt good to be engulfed in sound and the heat became a physical element of it; dissonance is a hot sound, friction. Lots of Kim songs, lots of Lee songs, most of The Eternal, light on the hits, heavy on dude-roars for the hits, a crowd-surfer beamed in from the '90s, two encores, I would have killed to hear "Schizophrenia" but it wasn't in the lineup. Is it ever?

I like The Eternal a lot so far. It's solid. But live, I cannot even tell you how thrilling the song "Antenna" was. To approximate it, turn it up and up until you feel it in your whole body, and then when it gets to that single unison repeated eighth note, da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da, turn it up steadily louder and then at the pause, hold your breath for a second, and at the crash, flash all the brightest white lights on stage so the whole room seems to explode. It was like that. Pure pleasure. A thrill to the bones.


Here's "Antenna".

Thursday, July 23, 2009

THE SEETHING STATIC OF EVERY PARTICULAR THING

David Foster Wallace, in the intro to the Best American Essays 2007, has this to say about writing nonfiction.
Writing-wise, fiction is scarier, but nonfiction is harder--because
nonfiction's based in reality, and today's felt reality is
overwhelmingly, circuit-blowingly huge and complex. Whereas fiction
comes out of nothing. Actually, so wait: the truth is that both genres
are scary; both feel like they're executed on tightropes, over
abysses--it's the abysses that are different. Fiction's abyss is
silence, nada. Whereas nonfiction's abyss is Total Noise, the seething
static of every particular thing and experience, and one's total
freedom of infinite choice about what to choose to attend to and
represent and connect, and how, and why, etc.
I am always gonna miss this guy.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

THE MUSE IS A STALLION

When a baby horse is born, it is said to be by its sire and out of its dam.

As in, Secretariat was by Bold Ruler, out of Somethingroyal.

In other words, the father authors the foal, the mother simply expels it.

This strikes me as a little sexist.

But it also reminds me of that timeworn writing trope wherein the author claims to be the mere vessel for some kind of divine authorial force.* You know what I'm talking about: "The words seemed to write themselves," "This character came out of nowhere and all I could do was sit back for the ride," et cetera.

In this context the writer becomes mare, and the muse the stallion.

Which is at least a satisfying switch of their classic gender assignments.


*a.k.a. "the Muse." I detest "the Muse."

Friday, July 17, 2009

BRING OUT YOUR VIVIAN GIRLS

The Builders and the Butchers music video I worked on had its premiere on Monday night at Mississippi Studios. It was like a reunion. Kristin was wearing some crazy Australian leggings that were part plastic. Rachel concocted plans for a "celestial voyage" to central Oregon to see the Milky Way. At first I did not recognize Lacey outside of her Vivian Girl costume, so sleek and brunette and grown-up was she in real life. And Alicia was showering us with drink tickets.

We watched the video five or six times that night. It was like Teletubbies: Again! Again! and someone would hit the play button. I personally am quite taken with it, no less enchanted for having witnessed its construction behind the scenes. Maybe more, in fact. That one-second underwater moment means a lot more once you've seen your friend immerse herself in a thick green pond to get it. (The "pondcam" aka "scumcam" shot.)

Today the video premieres on Spinner.com. Get your Darger on.


We filmed at the beautiful barn and property of Mike Midlo, whose charming musical project Pancake Breakfast is playing on my speakers right now.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

CORE SAMPLE

The Waypost feels both open and cozy on an uncharacteristically gray July day. They're serving Stumptown's Panama Carmen Estate, subtle and delicious enough to drink black. The barista is taking it easy, sweeping, chatting. Low-key cello music and the hiss of espresso steam. This is what it's like here all winter, a good reminder of what I've left behind. One of the guys playing guitar outside is in buffalo plaid, the other is someone I played with in the Extreme Guitar Orchestra a few years ago. (I think his band is Sexton Blake?) It feels familiar, comfortable, brooding and gentle, productive and slackerish. It feels like my life again.

Trying to unpack that statement only leads me down a thorny path of how much "life" is the narrative you make it.

This morning I pined for the brilliant blue skies and river-ready sunshine Portland summers overcorrect with, but bunkered down here now I appreciate the introspective cloud cover. A gray blanket pulled over our heads. Good for closer reading and writing, taking stock, figuring out where the narrative is headed and what this twist is really about--as I pester my students, not just about, but about.

The word nostalgia comes from the ancient Greek nóstos (a return home) + álgos (suffering, pain). A suffering to return home. When I returned to Portland last month, the first week back was nearly unbearably good and painful. I ached, peculiarly, for the place I was already in. For leaving it, for returning home to it, with the knowledge I'd leave it again at summer's end. I think most of us tend to think of nostalgia as a softer twinge, sentimental, golden and hazy, but this was a sharp and difficult feeling, true to the root.

M. Ward "To Go Home"
("I'll be true to you forever or until I go home")

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

READER, I BOUGHT IT

I am now the proud owner of How Do You Want Your Hair Cut Today? from the wonderful Lesbian Art Show by my beautiful and talented friends Mary McAllister and Asza West. When I saw it online I thought it was cute, and then when I actually arrived in Portland and felt the enormous relief and joy and love of being among My People in such great numbers, and then saw it in person, big and beautiful and real, I knew I had to take it home with me to Ohio.


On Friday, driving through the Columbia Gorge en route to a video shoot, I listened to Mary and gallery co-owner Leslie Miller talking about the show on KBOO. Mary talked about the hand-painted barbershop posters that inspired her, and how hair is such a cultural marker, and the ways "lesbian haircuts" are both stereotypes and meaningful signifiers. I felt moved hearing my friends' voices on the radio, broadcasting real truths about queer art and life and culture. It's only when you actually do hear it that you realize how little it shows up on the mainstream radar.

The conversation hit me in an unexpectedly deep place, and the stunning stretch of the Columbia River I was on made everything feel epic and meaningful, and the second the show ended I called up Leslie and said, "I want it."

The Pacific Northwest in the summer is so beautiful I literally cry a little or at least feel that swelling in my chest every time I really look at the world around me. The green here is so saturated, so dark; in the winter the evergreen-covered hills are almost black, gothically so, but in the summer the golden light coaxes out the richest deepest green ever, stippled with the lighter-green of the deciduous trees that spring up between and in the clear-cuts. Red and gold cliffs jut out of the green, and the Columbia River is even bluer than the impossibly blue sky, and Mount Hood is sharper and whiter than ever by contrast, no mist or clouds to hide it.

I spent all weekend out on these mountainsides working on a video shoot for the Builders and the Butchers' new song "Golden and Green." The days were incredibly long and sometimes arduous, and most of us were working for free, but what better place to spend the weekend than in the sunshine in a place like this? Alicia Rose directed with meticulous attention to detail and a 20-person crew, and it's going to be gorgeous and spooky. (Henry Darger meets Deadwood!)






For really amazing shots, check out the Flickr sets of Casey Parks and band member Brandon Hafer.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

TEA FOR TEETH

Whoa! I am reading already tonight! I'm reading a true story, which is something I never ever write anymore--I infinitely prefer to invent and distort. But this is the piece I started to write for Portland Queer and never finished in time--as in, it was due around this time last year and I am finishing it today.

Every bone in my body leans toward fiction but there is no better time, place, or audience to pull out the Portland Queer story. It's about when I lived here in the summer of 1995, the brokest and toughest and most coming-of-age period of my life. (Also a lot of fun.)

The reading itself is a benefit for my marvelous and talented neighbor and friend Nicole Georges, self-descibed in a recent advice column as "someone with a 'cool' job who hasn't eaten a tortilla chip in over a year based on my lack of dental coverage." Here's the whole story:

And here's the flyer for the event, which also features the incomparable Michelle Tea, the hilarious Dexter Flowers, the witty and raunchy Hope Hitchcock, a queer puppet show by Nicole and sts, and live advice-giving from Michelle and Nicole.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

YOU REST YOU RUST

This is Vi. She's probably around eighty--"a spry eighty," guesses my dad. Vi lives in Texas in the winter and up here in Minnesota in the summer. She has a bountiful organic garden and sells vegetables and other relics and products out of her garage, hours: whenever.

Everything you see here is for sale, from glass bricks to flowering cactus. Swollen plastic jugs of honey: $7.50. Jars of beets she grew and pickled herself: $4.50. Old well-seasoned cast iron skillets: $5-10. Assorted glassware: 10 cents to a buck. Poplar logs: ask. Huge bottles of pure vanilla extract brought back from Mexico: $11. Radishes: she charged us 50 cents for a generous handful.

This is her garage refrigerator.


When I was growing up here, Dolores Nepsund (wildly creative cake baker, multi-grandma) had a perpetual garage sale out of her garage in town. In warm enough weather, she just left the garage door open, and you'd go in and sort through the heaps of donated clothes on the tables and racks and if she wandered in, you'd pay her, and if she didn't, you left the money in an honor system contraption. I wore a green wool duffel coat from that garage for seven years, from Ohio to Norway to New York, until it was threadbare at the hems and all the toggle-loops had broken.

Across the road from the lake, there is still an honor-system vintage shop set up in a little refurbished camping trailer parked in Iva Thielges' front yard. Inside, you find old picnic sets and paint-by-number horse portraits and dolls and embroidered dish towels etc., and a little hinged box where you write down what you bought and leave the money.

I prefer this kind of economy, run by old women and based on trust.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

TEENAGE DEVIATIONS IN AN IDEAL WORLD

I am very happy to be in northern Minnesota right now, watching minnows startled by my foosteps shoot out from under the dock, biking in the cool evening air by the birch trees whose delicate round leaves jingle like green coins in the breeze, past a dairy farm with shockingly clean black-and-white cows snacking on towering fluffy haystacks, toward a burrito at Compañeros that is hiding midwest-style under a thick blanket of melted cheese and sauce, looking up to see a waxing moon emerging bright in the still-blue sky, chopping up tart fresh rhubarb stalks for a homemade pie with my dad, and eating the pie with ice cream, and etc.

But if there were any other place I could be tonight it would be Portland, for the preview opening of my friends Mary and Asza's collaborative art show at Fontanelle Gallery. It is called, succinctly enough, "Lesbian Art Show," and it opens for real tomorrow and if you live in Portland you should go see it. If not you should click on "Lesbian Art Show" and flip through the pictures. Some of it is tongue-in-cheek, some of it is really vulnerable and sharp, some is Dada, some of it has a Chris Johanson-esque vibe I like (maybe it's the hand-lettering and the townscapes), some is all these things at once. I can't wait to see it in real life. (Next week!) 

Here are a few of my favorites, at least as translated via the world wide web.

"Teenage Deviations in an Ideal World"


"A Map Mostly About Opinions"


"Styles of Lesbos" (just because Aubree and Torrence look so cute)


"Lesbian Art Show" itself

On a side note, I struggle with the strange fate of the word "lesbian"--it's been so misappropriated by straight porn and shock jocks. Decontextualized, it risks sounding lecherous and fake. (To clarify, I am not talking about "Lesbian Art Show" and other such specific projects and contexts, but the more generalized use of the word.) In case we can't ever fully reclaim it, at least in The Larger Culture, I wonder what will take its place? I would love to find a word that a) encompasses a broader sense of genders and b) doesn't conjure images of long-nailed girls gone wild frenching each other lasciviously with one eye on the camera.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

BIRCH WATER AND OTHER DELIGHTS

I left Oberlin at 3:45 pm Sunday and arrived in northern Minnesota at 5:15 pm Monday. Turbo trip! My speedometer works approximately twice a month, and on neither day of this drive. The needle just hangs out at 20mph, going or stopping. So I had no idea how fast I was going, I would get myself into a comfortable car sandwich and go with the flow, figuring that if we were speeding outrageously the highway patrol would target the leader or the end of the line. Worked!

Emmett was an agreeable companion but no help driving.

On day one I blazed through Indiana and Illinois without pause. On day two I did the final 400 miles in a single shot, not even stopping for gas or restroom or Twizzlers. I just wanted it to be over. The right side of my body was numb by the time I arrived. Fortunately my dear and loquacious friend Melissa called around the time I was passing through Staples and we talked through the last hour-plus, 'til the phone grew hot and I had switched arms several times. This, I fear, is the point at which one's brain is being microwaved, but it made the time fly by.

Things I saw and heard on my drive, in order of appearance:
• a trio of glossy chocolate-colored mules, grazing
• a sign for FANGBONER ROAD
• an abandoned farmhouse collapsing backwards, overgrown with ivy
• speed metal on the radio while driving through rural Wisconsin at night, including a song called "Corey Feldman Holocaust"
• heat lightning over the field in Madison where my friends and I were running around with Emmett at midnight
• at least a dozen dead deer (which bear a disturbing coloring resemblance to Emmett), one of which had a neon-orange X spraypainted across its bloated and stiff torso in the dark
• two small crosses perched on a hillside next to 94, each decked with flower garlands and topped with a blaze-orange hunting cap
• a billboard for a place called Crystal Cave whose website is acoolcave.com
• an Adopt-A-Highway section sponsored by Minnesota Atheists
• girls walking through Menahga in shorts and flip-flops, it felt like true summer

Home at last, I went to Amy and Aaron's for dinner out in the woods. Amy had made homemade butter with local cream, which she sprinkled with pink Hawaiian sea salt. Delicious!

The leftover buttermilk she turned into a delicious cool cucumber gazpacho, which also featured pureed almonds and some kind of oil (walnut? olive?) and, best of all, juicy halved green grapes swimming near the bottom like little sweet treasures. This, along with tender mellow radishes from the garden and ciabatta and cheese and wine, is just the pre-dinner snack. Then we had a Spanish vegetarian feast, replete with shitaake mushrooms and sweet scallions grilled over the fire and homemade mayo and garden greens and chickpea stew and things whose names I cannot remember! And ice cream with cloudberries for dessert.

Then after dinner Amy pulled out the birch water. When the sap was running in May, she and Aaron tapped some birch trees and collected gallons of the gushing water. They boiled down some of it to make birch syrup (it takes 70 gallons of birch water to make a gallon of syrup, compared with 40 of maple), but they kept a lot of the birch water just to drink .

The taste is so delicate and subtle I can hardly even describe it; all I can say is that birch water is the purest, cleanest, most delicious water I have ever drunk in my life. It tastes clear and alive. Amy declared that she wanted to drink it until she replaced every ounce of water in her body with it. Sign me up!

P.S. You should see the crazy car cake she and Aaron made for their son's second birthday. And also, the cooking classes she is going to offer out in their deep-woods paradise.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

"AND THE TYPOGRAPHY IS ALL DONE IN THE SAME TYPEFACE AS MONEY"

This makes me want to read God Says No, James Hannaham's debut novel:
"There are a lot of novels out there that make you think America is England, you know?" responds Hannaham, describing the type of fiction he deliberately didn't write. "That book is sort of—it's dark green, and there's a very sort of sensuous but depressing-looking cover: a photograph, there's like a blurry thing in the distance. It's a beach maybe, and the title describes a relationship between a mother and a daughter, or a mother and a father, or a father and a daughter. And the typography is all done in the same typeface as money, and the interior is all about small lives lived in a small way. I've often felt like those books don't have much to do with the way life is actually lived in America." (— interview in the Village Voice)
Funny and true! If I remember correctly from meeting him in Austin at AWP a few years ago, he's also the man behind Revolting Sofas, a blog of terrible sofa pictures harvested from Craigslist with accompanying mini-stories by various authors. I tend to skim the stories and gawk at the sofas, some of which are merely trashed and some of which give me a weird crawling feeling just looking at them.

It's hard for me to even have that one sofa there. I feel like its creepy pale ripply surface is contaminating the whole post. I have to tip the balance by putting in more photos. Such as:

an overweight hedgehog (thank you Gail), my childhood dog Shady (1985-1998) swimming in the lake,

a rock that looks like a monster at the Oregon coast, and my beloved friends Brock and Nick after breakfast in Portland.

That feels better.

Here too is the cover of James Hannaham's book, which officially hits the shelves next Tuesday.

Monday, May 18, 2009

DERBY REDUX

A friend with an inside connection contests some of my criticisms of below, and since yesterday's post I've mellowed on the subject. Update: many participants were bike co-opers who put together the bikes themselves, and the kids cleaned it all up. I'm still not into the final outcome of a burning pile of wrecked bikes. But I can understand and appreciate the desire to keep the anarchic spirit of the Bike Derby alive.

Here's my final thought on it. I think that traditions and rituals worth holding onto are also worth adapting and reinterpreting. Whether it's marriage, Christmas, pedagogy, the Bike Derby, or whatever, I believe it's important to figure out what long-standing elements are worth keeping and what elements need to evolve to fit the times and one's own personal/political/ethical beliefs. I would love to see future organizers take the raucous, performative, and physical elements they love and make the Derby their own, in a way that speaks to the present and the future, not just the past.

Not that this matters to anyone outside Oberlin, I suppose.

Onward!

Here is Bernard in his well-worn ANC T-shirt from 1991.

That's radical.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

BACK FROM THE GRAVE... AND REVISED

When people ask if it's weird to be back at the same place I went to college, I usually answer that what's weird about it is how not weird it feels. My old coffeehouse is now a bar, but same owners, and I order the same things I used to make when I cooked there; nearly all of my mentors and professors are still here, now my colleagues; my fellow alums are everywhere, teaching and administrating and running restaurants and just living. Not much changes in a town of 8,000 people. From the day I arrived, I felt at home, and if Guided by Voices comes up in the shuffle I sometimes have to remind myself what decade it is.

Today, though, I felt the schism between my two lives here. What happened was that some students here revived an O.C. tradition that originally ended in 1993, the Bike Derby, but has been picked up off and on again over the last couple of years. The Bike Derby was an annual demolition derby on bikes, with costumes, in front of Harkness Co-op, but that doesn't begin to describe the gleefully destructive punk mayhem that it was. You can get a pretty good sense of it from this two-part video of the 1992 Derby:



The enterprising students involved in today's Derby apparently sought to recreate the whole thing from YouTube, down to every live-music and throwing-buckets-of-compost detail. But it's like when you try to clone a pet. It just isn't the same animal. Or maybe it's just that I am not the same animal.

Originally I posted a longer detailed report/critique, a viscercal reaction written in the heat of the post-Derby moment. A day later my feelings have cooled off, and I've got more information from people involved directly and indirectly, and accordingly I've come around on several of the things that bothered me as an observer. [See REDUX, above.]

Don't get me wrong, the costumes and the spirit of the thing were great.

The part where they torch the bikes still bothers me and is the part I believe is worth rethinking.

It was particularly ironic to see a pile of newly-destroyed bicycles set aflame, black smoke billowing from the burning tires, before the backdrop of the state-of-the-art new environmental studies building. In that moment, I couldn't help thinking the whole stunt could just as well have been a demonstration by Republican wingnuts.


Amazingly enough, the whole thing was apparently cleaned up within the hour. So props for that. Over and out.