Friday, July 30, 2010

BEATIFIC: Kaleidoscope Reading Series

Last night I attended the Kaleidoscope Reading Series, curated by Michelle Wallace. Of the readings I have attended so far, this one felt the most familiar to me. Perhaps it was the dim, red lighting or the small, cozy living room atmosphere of the Kaleidoscope Free Speech Zone. It could have been youthfulness of the audience and the readers, who are on similar career paths as myself: current MFA students or recent graduates, educators, publishing in familiar journals. It also seemed that everyone there knew one another. I noticed that about all of the readings actually. There is definitely a community here, but it seems that they run in smaller packs, which is similar to Pittsburgh. Lots of readings, but it's too soon to tell how much crossover there is between reading series. There were definitely fewer people at this reading that compared to the RADAR Reading, but also Diane di Prima put a lot of people in the audience, so I can't fault Kaleidoscope.

There was something else that felt more familiar about this reading. I keep sensing it was the intimate space, the cheep beer, the funky young audience. But I suspect it was the writing. It resonated more with me than any other reading I've been to so far. I'll try to be brief with my reviews of specific readers, since there were five in total. Kudos to Michelle (who welcomed me when I awkwardly walked in at the last minute) to planning a short intermission. Too man readings I've attended (in any city) run on too long without a break.

The readers themselves were all young, in their late 20's or 30's and they read a mixture of fiction, poetry and memoir. First up was Michael Zhai who read some nonfiction that were pulled from his experiences going to on a high school field trips to visit a Pilgrim village in his home state of Massachusetts. Zhai's prose was well written enough, but I was more captivated by his poetry. His verse was musical and had more surreal striking imagery, which made up for the fact that he was kind of a low-key reader. Sometimes I wish people would practice reading and be a little more compelling, like they actually like their own work.

Next up was Elissa Perry, who read an excerpt from her novel. I find it difficult to be dropped into the middle of a larger plot line, but Perry pulled it off with her understated confidence and warm cadence in her voice. Her writing detailed a gathering of young lesbians and included a rather sensual scene that managed to be sexy, but not pornographic. I think she was probably the best in terms of reading ability and presence. I was also left wanting to read more of her novel, which is probably what she's going for.

The next reader was Richard D'Elia, a quieter man who's poetry had no titles. He was all business when he read, very efficient, pausing long enough between pieces to make up for the fact that his pieces were untitled. While some of his work was compelling, I felt like I needed to have more time with it. I always feel this way, especially about lyrical poetry. If it doesn't have a narrative or a long extended metaphor, it's difficult to really get a poem the first time you hear it. His work incorporated a lot of earthy imagery, one in particular was about the body and merging with the natural environment, something I rarely hear coming from a man's work. But perhaps I'm stereotyping.

After a short intermission, Scott Duncan entertained us with some nonfiction that he claims to not have written himself. He is apparently working on a re-imagining of Helen Hunt Jackson's Ramona. Instead of reading an excerpt, he chose instead to read synopses the various remakes of the story in film, documentary and even pornography.  In short, it was very funny. I'm probably not the best person to comment on it simply because I had never heard of Jackson's classic novel until Duncan read this piece. It is clearly a part of the culture in California though, and part of the Mexican culture specifically in Southern California. Good reader, relaxed, entertaining. It's rare to have sustained humor at a reading and I appreciated it.

The final reader was Maiana Minahal who read both poetry and a selection from her new memoir. I did find the subject matter of the memoir compelling, mostly because it details the events leading up to the sudden death of Minahal's father six years ago. As the story progressed, it seemed to point toward her father drowning while the two were swimming in the ocean together in Hawaii. However, she stopped short of the actual death, so we're left wanting more. A good tactic on her part. Minahal admitted to never writing nonfiction before and that this was a work in progress. I felt the excerpt lacked the emotional tension that I longed for earlier in the section. She spent a lot of time setting the scene and describing minuscule events and it wasn't until the end that we got to feel what she was feeling. I wanted more of that earlier in the piece. I think her nonfiction could benefit from her poetic sensibilities, which are clearly her strong suit. Her poetry was my favorite poetry of the evening in both the ambition of the text and the reader's particular voice. Minahal read from her book Legend Sondayo, which is primarily a retelling of a Filipino folktale. She stated during the reading that she both modernize and made the stories queer to reflect her specific voice and the story's impact on her as a young person. Minahal's strong reading voice was as it's most deliberate when reading from this collection. I never wanted her to stop. I also bought a copy of her book. You can too.

I tried to find links to blogs or websites for all of these writers, but when doing Google searches, all of their names, save for Minahal's, came up with random links to strange websites.  I'm surprised by this fact. In Pittsburgh, almost everyone I know has a blog or a website or a project with their name attached to it. Your name is your product as a writer, IMO, and you need to have a web presence. Perhaps I just run with that crowd though. It seems all of these writers are doing well for themselves despite their lack of web presence. If I was going to be in San Francisco for another month, I would definitely go out to this reading again. Nice job, Kaleidoscope.

Note: I did find Elissa Perry on Twitter. Yeah, I'm following her now. Cuz I'm a big writer-geek fan-girl.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Blogathon is canceled, among other things

Just a quick update that I won't be doing Blogathon this year. It seems the alt-blogathon site couldn't get its act together either, so I'll hopefully be on board for next year. I think I'll  have the summer off next year.

I'm having some difficulties adjusting to life in San Francisco. It's a temporary life of course, as I will return to Pittsburgh in a couple weeks (sigh). When I would explain the trip to people in the spring, most would react with wonder and envy, wishing they could do something like this. The problem is, and I've been hesitant to say this but, I'm pretty lonely. As it turns out, independent studies are very isolating. Sal is working all day and I don't know anyone else. No one. I can only go to so many cafes, or the library or readings alone before things just get old. I like to experience things with people.

This all really has me thinking about the people in my life. Relationships have always been a big priority. Friendships, family bonds, peers, mentors. I've always been a people person. I do get excited on weekends to come home to my apartment in Pittsburgh and just be able to take a break, eat pizza in my underwear and watch Gilmore Girls all night. But then I want people. I want to talk something through with someone. I want conversation and understanding. I want to listen to someone else's thoughts, because mine are get old. Too repetitive.

It also has me thinking about investing in new relationships. As I begin the last year of my twenties, I realize that the people I'm closest to, the ones who know me the best and I can say anything to, are the people I've known the longest. I guess that's nothing new though. I've been lucky enough to make a few friends as an adult that have been my soulmates. But I've also lost a lot of friendships. I don't know if this a universal experience, or if the common denominator is me. Am I not investing in friendships in the way I want others to invest in me? I like to think I'm a good friend. I know I get a little lost in my head sometimes, but my oldest friends know how to just snap me out of my navel gazing. But then I think, how do people make friends as adults? It's not like childhood, where you realize you both love the color yellow and you're best friends forever.

Monday, July 19, 2010

IT'S BEATIFIC: Radar Reading with Diane di Prima 7.7.2010

As part of my independent study for the summer, I am documenting my travels around San Francisco. I was not sure if I wanted to document this experience online or not. After some reflection, I think that this space is the best place to document my experiences while I'm in the city. Another portion of my study is devoted to ecotourism and the Redwood trees of Muir Woods. I will not have internet access in that space, but for now, as I sit in Vesuvio in San Francisco, drinking my Stella and typing away in the upstairs loft, I figure I might as well document my experiences online for all the world to see.

I'm a little behind. I'm also not traveling in any particular order. I might return to some places more than once. But to kick off my initial study of the Beat poets, I discovered that Diane di Prima, lady beat extraordinaire and San Francsico's Poet Laureate, was reading as part of the RADAR Reading series. RADAR is produced by Michelle Tea and places an emphasis on queer art. Below is my experiences before and after attending the reading on July 7th.

I have been in California for one week so far. The first week has been stressful while we tried to find an apartment in the city. Luckily our phones could sync up with Google Maps and our GPS and we got around this new landscape. San Francisco, like Pittsburgh, is a city of neighborhoods. However, unlike my steel city, San Francisco's neighborhoods and their inhabitants aren't put off by the lines drawn in the sand. Folks from the Mission travel into the Lower Haight. People from Russian Hill visit the Castro and I have been to many neighborhoods, making note of their distinct characteristics, while also noticing the broader characteristics of the general city. People enjoy eye contact here. There is an openness to the people of San Francisco that has had me startled. Intimidated. There is not focus on what seems proper or expected, but on what is reality. Sometimes I feel I have to hide parts of myself in Pittsburgh: my queerness, my godlessness, my liberal politics and my artistic thinking. Pittsburgh might be fine with these things, but I'm not sure. It's like Pittsburgh is my mother. I'm not ready to be that person in front of Pittsburgh just yet. But in San Francisco, I can be whoever I want. And truly, no one cares.

By "no one cares" I mean, if I wanted to leave the house wearing a hot pink tutu and a tank top that reads "I like to kiss girls (and boys too)" no one would care. I can openly give affection to my current partner and know that while I might get some attention, but more likely the beautiful drag queen at the other end of the bar is getting more attention than me. And this is not meaning to sound stereotypical. There are plenty of just "regular" mainstream people here. Although I do find myself longing to either cut my hair, pierce my nose or tattoo something on my wrists.

After our apartment hunting excursion, we found the loveliest place in San Francisco, situated in a quiet off-street in the Lower Haight. The online maps were such a success, I've begun to create a map for all my excursions around the various parts of the city for my Beat Poetry studies. While doing research for my map, I was referred by a friend to the RADAR Reading series. Once I checked out their website I realized that the beat writer and poet Diane di Prima was reading at the main library branch in the city. Since we had yet to move from Mountain View, I decided to face my fear of public transportation and take the CalTrain toward the city, with a quick switch onto the BART system that took me directly to the library branch holding the reading. I got there so early I had time to get some dinner, sign up for a library card and check out the poetry section. I breathed a sign of relief to realize it was quiet extensive and that I would not have buy too many additional books for my study.

I went downtstairs for the reading about 10 minutes before it was set to begin. There were only three people there and they seemed to be the folks that organized the reading. I left, got a bottled water, used the bathroom and by the time I returned the seats were filling up. I quickly snagged a front seat and did not move from it the entire reading.

RADAR Reading Series featured Diane di Prima, Tony Tulathimutte, Mica Sigourney and Ryka Aoki, their first winner of the Eli Coppola Poetry Chapbook Prize. Diane read last. All of the readers were pretty incredible. The first thing I noticed about this reading was how prepared all of the readers were to do their writing justice through performance. Perhaps this is part of the beat movement rubbing off on them. Perhaps it seeps into the writers and poets in the air.

The first poet, Mica Sigourney, was irreverant, funny, sweet and overly-concerned with the volume of his speaking. His work was like little portraits of "a day in the life of a gay man" and later described his work as such. He said (and I paraphrase) that he steals his work from his friends and the things they say. He just wants to document the cool and funny and fun things he and his friends say and do. Document what it's like to be a gay man in San Francisco. A number of his poems were named "Faggot" and it almost became a running gag. His poems were narrative and surreal and funny and grand and specific. I enjoyed them.

Tony Tulathimutte, a fiction writer, read a selection from his novel. Tulathimutte will be attending the Iowa Writer's Workshop in the fall on the Truman Capote Fellowship. Bastard. He's really talented. His work was amazingly detailed and really peaked into the mind of a character who was so cut off from the human experience, so throughly obsessed with organizing and documenting his porn collection, yet somehow we had the greatest sympathy for him. Because this character had somehow taken sex and followed it around through pornography and digital re-imaging and back around again to real human experience. Fantastic.

Ryka Aoki was my favorite of the new-to-me writers at this reading. Her work was just SO honest and real and straightforward, yet also mired with familiar religious imagery and often taken to surreal landscapes in the sky, in the mind, in the emotions, in the voice, in the transitory places, in between things. Her honesty about being a trans-person and being an abuse survivor was so compelling. She managed to balance being overly confessional with just being real. There was no exhibitionism, it was just personal experience that was somehow made universal and mystical and wonderful.

To the final reader, I cannot do justice to her presence. Diane di Prima got up wearing a simply black cotton shirt that was falling off her shoulder, revealing the fact that she was braless at 72-years-old. She began her reading with a few songs she wrote earlier that day and some anecdotes about her husband, who's back had been thrown out and he was at home, lying on the floor. She sang in a voice that was gravely and too low for her vocal range. But it didn't matter. We were at story time. The room was packed, standing room only in the back, and people egged her on to read more and more. She decided to read primarily from her yet-to-be-published memoir about her life as an artist in San Francisco. Her first memoir, Recollections of My Life as a Woman: The New York Years, I have yet to read, but if it was anything like the selections she read from tonight, I cannot wait to pick up a copy. Her stories were funny, part how-to guide for artists, part grandmother telling you her life story, you could not stop listening. She only read for a few moments, but the story she told us was more than enough from which to glean inspiration about how to truly live a rebellious artists life.

Afterward, I cannot say how I felt, except that the room was bursting with intellectual questions for the Q&A session, bursting with personality, humility, hospitality and creativity. The audience was comprised of a fascinating mix of people that, were I to describe them, I would fail miserably by placing them into strange stereotypes of modern beatniks and hipster-queers and hippie-lovelies. I will say they were diverse and warm and I felt very comfortable in this space.

If this reading is any indication of what the current poetry scene is like in San Francisco, I cannot wait to get out there and attend another reading. This really set the bar high for me.

Friday, July 16, 2010

I'm Gearing Up

I've been searching the web for tips about Blogathon. I found this helpful post from a few years ago. The tips I'm finding seem to range into multiple categories: how to stake awake, blogging topics, screen and browser navigation, what to eat, how to pick a charity - some of these things I'd never have thought of. Like, it would not occur to me to research browsers and think about which ones work best with multiple tabs open. I'm leaning toward using Chrome, because Firefox totally sucks the life out of my blog for some reason and makes scrolling super slow.

The tips about eating all say to avoid high carbs because they make you crash and burn. Good thing I've been eating a new diet that has me at 100 calories for each waking hour. I'm already thinking of preparing a fridge full of 100 calorie snacks to eat during the 'thon. Staying awake will be hard, but I think I'll be able to pace myself.

The topic suggestions fascinate me. I find I always have something to say and have to reign myself in with my blog. I don't want to spam my Twitter and Facebook feeds with updates constantly, so I try to just post daily or less. Also, reading other people's blogs often help me come up with ideas for posts. For Blogathon, I am already connecting with a number of other "thonners" so hopefully that network will cause some cross-pollination inspiration. I'm thinking I'll post about a number of related topics: writing, poetry, teaching, skepticism, editing, nonfiction, etc. I might even consider doing a few video posts, but I'd have to practice beforehand and come up with a quick way to edit and upload. Experienced blogathonners suggest making an outline of topics ahead of time from which to draw inspiration.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Vote for my Blogathon Charity!

Ok people, I'm trying to decide on a charity for Blogathon and I'm not making any headway. I just can't choose between any of these great organizations. I need your help! Before the poll, I've provided links to all of them in case you want more info. Thanks for voting!

Carnegie Library
Gay & Lesbian Center of Pittsburgh
Center for Inquiry Pittsburgh

Which charity should I support during Blogathon?

Saturday, July 10, 2010

I'm Emotional and I'm a Skeptic. So fuck off.

I do not have a degree in bio-genetics or astronomy. I'm not an expert on evolution or black holes. I have not studied philosophy or consciously debunked paranormal claims using logical fallacies. I try my best to stay informed of scientific issues that are important to me. I try my best to step back and consider the validity of an argument and I'm willing to admit I do not know enough to state an opinion on something. I value proof, logic and reason. I consider myself a skeptic.

But still, I can't wrap my head around a lot scientific knowledge. It's not because I'm a girl and I'm a less inclined. It's because I've chosen a different path. My talents and interest like outside the realm of being any kind of scientific expert. I make the world a better place by helping people understand the world through connections and metaphors. I find painful beauty in a well crafted poem. I am very in touch with my emotional self. I am full of passion and spark and vision and excitement. I'm emotional.

And I'm pissed off.

Why? Because of these question that's being posed by Bruce Hood (author of Supersense) at TAM8:

* Would you willingly wear Jeffrey Dahmer’s clothing?
* Could you stab a photograph of a loved one?
* Would you accept a heart transplant from a murderer?
* Would you exchange a sentimental object for an identical duplicate?

Actually, I'm not pissed off because of these questions. I LIKE these questions. You know why? Because it's proof that skeptics aren't untouchable. It's supposed to be an exercise that shows skeptics that we are HUMAN TOO. Even the most skeptical of us have irrational beliefs. This doesn't mean we aren't skeptics. This isn't a weakness. I repeat: it's called being human.

I'm pissed off because people assume I am less of a skeptic because I wouldn't be willing to get rid of an object because it holds special meaning. I'm also pissed off because people are taking these questions out of context and using them to play "I'm a better skeptic than you are!" game because one person would be willing to throw away their wedding ring.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Shhhh.... I'm at the library

I love being nosy at the library. To my left a woman with a cute purple purse is reading intensely. To my right, another woman has self-help books surrounding her: Highly Effective People Who Make You Shut Up and Sit Down in 8 Easy Steps kind of stuff. Some guy behind me has really kickass boots and an ascot is taking a little snooze with a magazine resting on his lap. Yeah.

I got my San Francisco Library card today. Turns out visitors can get them for three months. Awesome! I quickly located the poetry section and found some books I've been meaning to read. I also hopped on the wireless while I wait for the reading to start at 6pm. The RADAR Reading series has Diane di Prima reading tonight, which works out oh-so-perfectly with my study of the Beat poets. I even took public transportation here for the first time, and as a girl from the suburbs who loves her car so very very much it was a nervewracking experience. Once I get used to it I'll be golden. Maybe even start taking the bus more when I'm back in the burgh, since you know, it's free and all for Chatham students.

I've also decided to do Blogathon this year along with my friends Daisybones and Nyelarebirth. Seems that the real Blogathon is down for the summer, but people quickly began an AltBlogathon site to fill in the gap. I'm still thinking about what charity I'm choosing. Considering: Pittsburgh Public Libraries, Center for Inquiry, Pittsburgh LGBT organization or perhaps something BP oil spill related. Ideas?

I'm off to the reading! I'll let you know how it is.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

I Hate Vincent D'onofrio

The TV is on in the background tonight, with my least favorite Law & Order spin off. It's on mute. My boyfriend is currently scouring the internet for a solution to our entertainment problem. We want desperately to get rid of Comcast, but unfortunately there are no good alternatives that will work with Tivo. Oh the modern problems we have, so trivial.

In the matter of "learning to live like a writer", I've managed to edit two poems tonight to a somewhat respectable state. I also edited a piece of flash fiction I'm working on. Additionally I've gotten a lot of work done for Weave earlier today. I'm surprised at how much I've accomplished. It's been a literary day. I was bored after dinner, wanting to quit for the night, eat a bag of chips and watch three episodes of LOST.

Instead, I got caught up on my blog reading tonight. I read this really great blog post over at my new favorite poetry blog. Mehnaz Turner reminds herself why she writes poetry. My favorite?

6) Because poems are fun.

It got me thinking about why I write poetry. For me, with boring television (and my hatred for Vincent D'onofrio's ridiculous, spotlight-hogging monologues) poetry brought a little magic to my otherwise mundane Tuesday evening.

Thanks poetry.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Are You Always This Sunny?

When I came to visit California last year, I could not get over the sunshine. I awoke each morning with the same exclamation: "It is so beautiful outside today!" My boyfriend tried to tell me that it was like this everyday, but it did not stop my gleeful cries. I couldn't help but gush about how amazing it was outside. Being so used to the very occasional sunny day in Pittsburgh, I savored each day. We drove around with the top down on his 2003 silvery-blue Thunderbird and I got a little sunburned. We went to Sonoma and tasted the wine that grew from the earth that was constantly touch by the sun's rays. Brilliant.

So now I'm back and I'm here for a longer stay. I've been to California for three days. I've barely spent one moment outside.

What's wrong with me?

I think I've been putting a lot of pressure on California. With all the fault lines and earthquakes, I don't think it needs it. I was betting on being happy here. The sun and Sal made me so happy last year. But that was a vacation. This is the summer. I'm here and I have a ton of work to do. My independent study on the Beat poets and Muir Woods/Ecotourism. Interviewing applicants for Weave. I've been writing. So that's good. But while I'm in the state of California, the state I really find myself in is a blurry one. A blurry, transitional, slightly-depressed state that is now resenting some of this delicious sunshine that I adored so much last year. Who knows when we will find an apartment and get settled into the city? I find myself lacking the skills to know how to be productive without a routine, my desk, my books and my car. I don't have any answers yet.