28 June, 2013

Losantiville Lines: Moth StorySlam, Williston, and Current Events

Storytelling reveals meaning without committing the error of defining it. -- Hannah Arendt

Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not.
-- Ralph Waldo Emerson 

(Image by Amanda L. Hay)
1. Grand Slam

Getting up on stage reminded me of how much I have missed it.

The Moth StorySlam is where The Moth Podcast gets it's audio from; the podcasts tend to focus on the coasts, particularly New York, and they tend to air stories from well-known folks. In order to be considered for the grab bag, however, I had to sign a release giving them permission to record audio and video -- in the event the producers end up using my 5 minutes on the regular podcast.

StorySlams happen all over the country. In Louisville, it happens on the last Tuesday of the month at Headliner's Music Hall. I'd listened to the podcasts, but had never been to a live event. When I signed up to perform, I had no idea if I would be able to: not because of nerves so much as the nature of the event. I can stand up and read poems and tell stories for a long time. My problem with stories is generally that they tend on the long side. (I'm working on the craft a bit to get better. It's surprisingly difficult for someone who's longwinded.)

After putting my name in, I sat down with Amanda, had a cocktail, and waited. There are only 10 slots for storytellers, and you don't know if you're getting on stage until they pull another name out of the bag.

I tried not to get nervous. I'd thought about the story I was going to tell, and had practiced a bit. The topic for the night was "Fathers." I had decided, rather than talk about my own father -- the personage of whom, like my paternal grandfather, has fallen somewhat into the category of myth -- that I would talk about my own experience as a father. I chose a story that I thought reflected some of my own foibles and frustrations and experience as a father. But even after practicing, I was well above the prescribed 5 minute limit.

I drank a few bourbon and cokes, stayed calm, and half listened 11 stories. I enjoyed them for various reasons. Some did better than others about staying in the time limit; but I noticed that some of the slower moving ones made similar mistakes to the ones I usually make. By the end of the night, I didn't expect to step on stage.

And then they called my name.

The good news about a venue like that is that the stage lights are so bright, it's impossible to tell if people are making faces, not listening, or becoming horrified by your performance. Except for the times they laughed -- at points where I was hoping I'd be funny -- I really had no sense there was anything there. I'm generally used to more intimate performance spaces; I can usually see the people in the audience. But even that can be stressful, particularly with my still burgeoning musical exploits. And in this case, not being able to see the audience was more of a help than a hinderance... it helped moderate my nerves.

I didn't win the slam -- that went to Jim Call, who told a tear jerker about camping with his dad. But that's hardly the point. I was able to put a story together, make people laugh, talk about my daughter (which I love to do) and manage all of that within 5 minutes.

Not too shabby, Dear Readers. Not too shabby at all.

In the event that my story actually makes onto the podcast, you better believe I will mention it to you. Check out the podcast anyway. It's worth it.

image from therubygroup.com
2. The Re:Visionary Story Gathering Project 1: Williston 

Even though the Kickstarter funding didn't come through, the project goes on. I have my upgraded pack and a multi-city train ticket that will take me from Chicago (that leg will be completed on   a good ol' Greyhound Bus... in spite of their shabby treatment, I still return to them in desperate times.) to Rugby, North Dakota for a brief (one night) stop. Then I'll hop back on the train and go to Williston, where I hope to find some interesting stories about what it's like to live in a boomtown.

Why Rugby, you ask? Rugby happens to be the geographic center of North America -- or so ascribed.

After 9 days in Williston, I'm headed further west to East Glacier Park, Montana, where I plan on camping out for a few days, somewhere in the Glacier National Park. Then I'm back on the train, headed east, via Minneapolis.

From there, I'll wander back to Kentucky one way or another.

This is a trip of a different sort from last year, and with a different purpose. One of the things I found when I was out last year was that there are still plenty of stories to tell, and more that are never heard, simply because no one is listening. I'm a sucker for a good story, and a hound when it comes to digging them up. Williston is fascinating -- not only because of the tar sands boom, but because of the narrative that's built up around our need for natural resources. "Drill, baby, Drill!" (which is either a demand for more oil wells or Sarah Palin's mating call) versus "Recycle, Reuse, Renew!" is all anyone ever really hears. Poor, poor oil companies that'll fall off the Forbes Most Wanted List without reaching into the very core of the earth. Fracking -- the the primary operation in Williston -- is by many accounts an environmental disaster. But it also means jobs. High paying ones. And one of the voices that has always been suspiciously absent in the narrative between those who would squeeze the planet dry and those who would squeeze the oil companies dry are the people who need the work, and those who have more of a first hand perspective, like the residents of Williston. Those are the stories I'm interested in.

If you'd like to hear these stories too, please consider a donation to the Travel Fund. I'm still short of funds for shelter, and Williston, because of the boom, has extremely limited areas where tent camping is allowed... and virtually no resources for the weary wanderer. Thanks, and Gawd Bless.

image from fineartamerica.com
3. Current Events

It would be remiss of me to not mention the gutting of the Voting Rights Act and the assault on Miranda Rights that came down from the High Court in it's most recent session. It would also be completely thick-headed of me to not discuss the impact of the court's ruling on DOMA. So here's the short of it --

Gutting the Voting Rights Act was nothing more than the next step towards what is a dangerous trend in Nationalism. Don't think Hitler. Think Franco. This isn't about world conquest because the world is already conquered by those corporate interests that own most of what we hear, and all of our politicians... not to mention the food we eat and soon, the water we drink. The world has been cut up by them into a map that most of us have never seen. Governments are conduits for making sure money moves around to all the Right People. And in case you're wondering, it's probably not You. And it's not all those Nasty Poor People who are blamed for everything. And it's not anyone you probably know or see on the street. These people don't shop at the same places we do. They don't eat at the same restaurants we do. And while we think we know their names, we only know a few. And as long as their coffers are full, what happens to the rest of us is statistically irrelevant to them.

Ruling that suspects DO NOT have the right to remain silent means that if you are arrested, you are required to assist in your own prosecution. That's the long and short of it. And if you think it won't apply to you, you're probably one of those who isn't bothered by PRISM. Then again, you probably weren't bothered by the Patriot Act, the NDAA, or the fact that Google and Facebook have been gathering information on their users for YEARS. It's called MARKETING people. Except now instead of selling us Russian Brides and fashion underwear, they're selling us on the sure safety of a Police State.

DOMA: All the ruling says is that states can no longer hide behind Federal Law in condoning bigotry. Now they can hide behind self-loathing, hatred, and people's quaint notions of who (or what) they think god is. This good for State's Rights people (read: Confederate Sympathizers) and a potential good thing for LGBTs who want to get married. Yes, married partners, regardless of gender will have access to the Federal Benefits of marriage. And not to minimize the potential impact, but the fact is there still a bunch of stuffy guys in power out there with fears of forced sodomy... and enough ego to believe that gay men actually want to fuck them.

On Whistleblowers: I'm still not sure whether I think Snowden is a hero, or whether I think I'm being distracted (like the IRS and Bhengazi "scandals.") from some other story of greater importance. It does seem oddly timed, given the narrative of NSA wiretapping, and news that China has been cyber-warring against us. But whether the narrative is meant to silence would be whistle-blowers or to distract the info-meme ingesting public from more pertinent goings on, it's still interesting to note that a few other whistleblowers and truth tellers have mysteriously died over the past year. In this climate, I give Snowden 6 months before he winds up dead from a mysterious strain of typhoid or in a convenient plane crash, or as collateral damage in a South American Civil War (funded by the CIA, naturally, who helped bring South America so many little coups and ruthless dictators.)


21 June, 2013

Poem: The Learning Year

Grass needs cutting,
and the grease spot on the porch
needs cleaning.

I am losing the war of the fruit flies.

Waking from deep dreams not worth remembering
I shower, make coffee, ponder the raised garden beds:
comforting myself with the knowledge
that this is a learning year.

Wine fermenting in the basement –
months away from wanting lips.
Mead on the shelf,
aging into proper fullness.

The old cat is sunning on the back porch,
being taunted by birds he is too tired to catch.
Out of habit, I listen for the sound of the dog.

This poem needs writing.

There is cleaning to be done,
preparations for the coming celebration.

All my meditations are timed in head nods
and circuitous blinking of my left eye.

Western horizons expand in front of me.
In preparing to leave, I stuff dirt in my pockets

so I will have a piece of this place
so I will remember the way back

by the feeling of the dirt between my fingers
and its difference to sod beneath my boot heels.

09 June, 2013

Losantiville Lines: Stella's Graduation, Verse 2: Vox Nostalgia

Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself. They came through you but not from you and though they are with you yet they belong not to you. -- Khalil Gibran

When she was very young, I remember thinking how I would still be a young man when she turned 18 and graduated high school. I was not much more than a child myself when she was born. What growing up I've done, I've done in tandem with her -- even at the distance created by a brutal Kentucky divorce and non-custodial parenthood.

The only way that I've been able to keep myself sane is to remember the simple lesson that our children are not our children; it's something I've had to remind myself of over and over, as much for her good as my own. I have watched, over the years, as some other, more conventional parents treat their kids like property. I have listened to the cultural rhetoric which insists that parental responsibility equates to ownership. I have watched as society -- from which no father can protect his daughter without handicapping her with complete isolation -- insists our children behave like adults but gives them none of the privileges generally associated with that behavior, while enforcing all the punishments of perceived misbehavior. I have listened to people talk about protecting children but say nothing of how to help provide a way for them to grow and have a chance; instead we set our children against one another, fighting -- either by action or by passive agreement -- for increasingly limited resources within the context of a failing American Dream.

I have not always been a good parent; but I have always believed that being Stella's dad is among my highest and best accomplishments, and my most important educational experience.

And now she's graduating from high school.

Today I'm here at the beach, watching the Atlantic Ocean crash in waves against the beach and pull back. Where the water meets the sky, I see ships -- barges heading out on the shipping lane. The sun hits the water and sparkles like diamonds, only to disappear into the breakers and the sand. Dark clouds in the distant horizon suggest some rain later. Para-sails, small water craft, kids belly coasting on surfboards, hoping for one more good wave.

Tomorrow Stella graduates. And I'm still learning.

I've been across the country, seen both coasts, and a bit of what's in between. I have meant some interesting, some amazing, some poignant, some terrible, and one or two truly evil people. I've heard some powerful stories, and been witness to a few. There are more to hear. When I'm face to face with the ocean, I begin to feel how it's all connected, how it all washes away, how it all remains. Currents run in all directions. At times, I find myself carried away with them. At other times, I feel myself fighting the impossible gravity of currents and the thought crosses my mind that it would be easier to just be swept away. I feel the urge to erase myself, to be washed clean like the tides washes the sand and rock. I feel the urge knowing that it's not time, because I still have things to do, good will to return, people to meet and stories to hear. My obligations are not yet met.

Stella's graduation is not the completion of an obligation, it's a celebration of her accomplishments, and a building up of positive energy to carry her into whatever future she creates for herself. I am glad that I am young enough to enjoy it.

08 June, 2013

Losantiville Lines: Stella's Graduation, Verse 1: The Wallet

I base most of my fashion taste on what doesn't itch. - Gilda Radner

I see that the fashion wears out more apparel than the man. - William Shakespeare

Dateline: Virginia Beach, VA -- I abandoned all of my ties and "dress" clothes in Arizona along with my few remaining preconceived ideals about higher education as a positive and inherently useful institution. At the time, I swore to myself that I would avoid any work that required me to wear anything resembling "professional" attire. Professionalism, I decided was a matter of know-how and demonstrating that know-how when it's necessary. I don't need to wear a tie to do that.

But the thing that took to an area men's clothing shop was not a job. Jobs are fleeting and not all that important except for the part they play in the larger work of a person's life. But there are some events that warrant an updated wardrobe.

Like a daughter's graduation, for example.

I chose a men's clothing store rather than the open forage of a mall because I hate to shop. Specifically, I hate clothes shopping. I know I'm not alone in this, and the reasons are probably obvious.  Finding clothes that I like AND that fit correctly is a complicated task. My legs  and my arms are shorter than they're supposed to be for someone my size; I carry a few extra pounds, that's true, but clothes shopping has always been a pain, regardless of my size. The designers of men's clothes do not think beyond the idea that any man with a gut must necessarily be self-conscious and therefore would prefer to wear shirts cut to look like circus tents. I like short sleeve button down shirts. But it's difficult to find them in my size with a sleeve that don't look like a mid-sleeve jersey cut.

I also hoped that by choosing a men's clothing shop that I would avoid the usual "Does this match" debacle that all seemingly colorblind men seem to experience.

It's not my fault that there are 50 shades of blue and that you're not supposed to put them all together. I really WANT to look like a giant fucking smurf.

When I walked through the door, I was allowed to wander the crop of overpriced formal and semi-formal wear for a few ticks before the store manager finely said something. I told him I needed clothes for my daughter's high school graduation. I told him I wanted a pair of pants, a nice button down, and maybe a vest. I tried to stay direct and avoid being sold anything above, over, or other than what I went there for.

The manager, who we will call "Stan" introduced himself as he was taking my measurements, which I thought was very polite. Generally, when people get that close to you and you're not in a mosh pit or on a crowded subway, it's good to be on a first name basis. Stan is on the large side, dressed in a dark pinstripe suit, suspenders, a light green button down shirt, and a tie that matched so well I don't remember the color. He wore a short cropped and neatly kept salt and pepper beard that hung to his jaw line. He was professional in almost managing to hide his disdain when I said I had no intention of wearing a tie, though he grunted a bit when I told him I had to leave town in a few days, leaving him no time for alterations. 

He put together some options quickly, matching shirts and slacks and finding a vest that would work. He was a large man, but he moved quickly. I hemmed and hawed a bit over making a decision. Black pants or dark blue ones? Greens short sleeve or blue and black hash design on white? There was only one vest that would fit, and I was inclined to build around that. I also told him I wanted a pair of suspenders for the pants.

I had a particular look in mind, and I knew it wasn't going to be exactly what I wanted. But it was going to be close, goddammit.

So much trouble when I would probably get more mileage out of a JCPenny sale special. But a daughter only graduates from high school once, and I wanted to be able to demonstrate I was proud of her. And I wanted to still be... well... me. If I have to look nice, I'm going to look the way I want to look.

Stan found this quaint, and I could tell he was questioning my wardrobe choices. I have to commend his professionalism once again, however, because rather than simply tell me I was wrong in my choice of the the black and blue hash print white button down with the gray vest, he chuckled and explained that he was a conservative dresser. We agreed that there's no point in arguing about taste. At that point, Stan initiated a fist bump -- which I NEVER do -- but it was polite enough and honestly offered. So I answered with a fist bump that any church marm would find acceptable. 

But then Stan pointed out that the shop was having a sale... a buy one get one sort of thing. And he wanted me to get my money's worth, of course. 

Did I need shoes? 


Did I need socks.


Did I need... a tie?


He explained that he wasn't trying to SELL me anything; he just wanted to make sure I got my money's worth. Did I need any kind of accessories at all?

Then I thought about my wallet.

I've been carrying a duck tape wallet, made by my friend and artist, Heather Houzenga, since I left Mount Carroll and hit the road last January. It held up remarkably well, but I had to repair a few times. It was coming undone on one side. I was planning on just repairing it again. Stan motioned over to a shelf and we walked over. He presented me with three options for wallets, none of which I liked particularly. I picked a brown leather bifold. 

I also ended up walking out with the green shirt, and both pairs of pants. Eh. Stan told me he wanted to keep me as a customer and that I could come back and have everything altered more closely when I got back into town. He was particularly intrigued by the fact that I travel, write, teach, and generally avoid a typical work week.

"You only work when you WANT to, right?"

Sure. That's more or less accurate. Labels are reductive, and certain terms (like conservative, liberal, anarchist, anti-capitalist, collectivist, socialist, communist, and most any other -ist) tend to be arbitrary based on the speaker's definition -- which most people assume is everyone else's definition whether it is or not. I work when I need to. But NEED and WANT are often the same thing in the minds of some folks.

All I wanted at the moment was to have a nice outfit to wear and watch my one and only daughter graduate from high school.