Useful Detours: D.A. Powell’s reading at Butler University

Sometimes roadblocks and road closures force you to detour in ways that turn out to be useful.

That isn’t a metaphor. Honest. So, I found out a while back that D.A. Powell would be reading in Butler University’s Visiting Writers Series, and knew I had to be there. Butler is on the north-ish side of Indianapolis, and since I drive like a little old lady, I always allow two hours to get there – it’s really not a bad drive at all, but far enough that I really have to want to go to a concert or a reading in order to make the effort. For a while there, I was driving an aging car that was actively trying to kill me (that’s an exaggeration, Mom) so the necessity of renting a car to get much of anywhere meant I got to places like Butler even less frequently – but now I have a sturdy reliable car, and I love driving, so yay for mini-road trips.

A few days ago, Indianapolis shut down two major thoroughfares through the city, I-65 and I-70, to do some major roadwork. For someone who lives 50-60 miles south of Indy I don’t actually spend that much time there, and I don’t know the roads all that well. So I puzzled over the detour maps for a while trying to figure out the best way to Butler, because of course my usual route is via I-65. Which was, you know, shut down. I decided the best thing would probably be to take I-465 about halfway around and then take 38th Street towards Butler, but between the construction sending people on all kinds of crazy detours and the fact that I would be getting into town around the tail end of rush hour (the reading was at 7:30 and hell if I was gonna be anywhere near late), I was afraid traffic would suck. So I allowed a full hour extra.

Traffic was fine, people. You wouldn’t even have known the construction was going on. I’m sure if I hadn’t planned ahead and had gotten into town only to find my exit closed I would have panicked, and if I’d tried to take back roads and cut through downtown or something I would have gotten lost (yes, I have a GPS; yes, I would have gotten lost anyway; I’m talented like that). But I was parked in the parking lot behind Clowes Hall at, um, 6:15 I think.

But then I sat in the car for a while poking at my phone, looking at Twitter and email and weather radar – and turns out if I’d left 45 minutes later, I would have been whomped on the way there by a badass thunderstorm, maybe even a couple of them. Wind, torrential rain, maybe even hail. I would have been cursing up a storm and hating my life. As it was, it sprinkled on me about ten drops as I walked from the car into the venue. So, go me. Hooray for detours and alternate routes!

D.A. Powell reading at Butler University podium

D.A. Powell reading at Butler University

The reading itself was, of course, fantastic. Powell read a couple of poems from Chronic (including the title poem, which knocks my socks off every time) and then the bulk of the reading was from his newest book, Useless Landscape, or A Guide for Boys. As always, listening to the poems (and Doug is a terrific reader of his own work) made me consider the poems differently than just reading them on the page – it’s like when you hear a song live after listening to the studio version a bunch of times, how just a little bit of changed phrasing makes a line stand out in a way that you think “wow, was that line even in there before?” And of course it was there all along, but hearing it in the moment, it’s different.

I’ve taken a couple of summer workshops with Doug Powell and besides being a phenomenal poet (which anyone who’s up on their contemporary poetry already knows), he’s also one of those teachers who can change a poet’s life. The thing about his workshops is: they were terrifying. Because I got pushed hard enough to write past anyplace I’d written before, and to tackle terrifying material. And at the same time, he created a space of absolute support and safety within the workshop, which made it okay to be terrified. Does that make sense? It might sound crazy if you’re not a writer, maybe. It’s not like I run around trying to get terrified for fun. I don’t like scary movies, I’m not crazy about rollercoasters – but being pushed to one’s creative brink like that is fucking exhilarating.

I haven’t been writing lately, and thinking about it now, I think it’s because I have backed away from letting myself be terrified. To be honest, real life has been terrifying enough on several occasions in the past couple of years, and I haven’t felt any desire to step out of my safety zone  when I didn’t absolutely have to. It’s hard to write when your life is busy being literal.

But I need to quit that safety zone like the bad habit that it is. I need to get back on the verbal tightrope. I just do.

On the way home I turned on the SiriusXM “Soul Town” station, which gave me some Sly & the Family Stone, some Al Green, some Stylistics, some Gladys Knight, and so on. Along the way I pulled into a gas station and scribbled out about half a poem, then bought an ice cream sandwich and drove the rest of the way in the dark, words bumping around inside my head in a way that I have been missing lately. Didn’t realize how much I’d missed it.

Also, it occurs to me that maybe nobody should ever try to write more than half a poem. I pretty much only get in trouble when I try too hard to finish them. From now on, I write half-poems. Terrifying? You bet. And hooray for that.

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Setlist: 4th St. Festival, 8/30/2013

Fourth Street Festival t-shirt designI’m going to start using this blog to keep track of which poems I read at readings. Maybe it will be interesting to other folks, maybe not… we’ll see!

The Spoken Word Stage at this year’s Fourth Street Festival was a lot of fun; I especially enjoyed sharing the stage with Indiana’s current poet laureate (and former classmate from way back in undergrad days) Karen Kovacik, storyteller/movement artist (and former dorm-neighbor from way back in undergrad days) Nell Weatherwax, and local group Five Women Poets, of which I was a member for several years. In the “it’s the little things that count” department, one of the organizers thought to install a clock on one of the poles holding up the canopy, within sight of the microphone used by the readers. Super helpful, as I’ve become one of those awful people who relies on her cellphone to check the time instead of wearing a watch, which makes it a lot harder to discreetly check on how you’re doing for time as you read!

Anyway, my setlist, which clocked in at just about 25 minutes:

  1. What This Poem Will Do
  2. Ten Years
  3. It’s Not the Heat, It’s the Mortality
  4. Lucky
  5. Sleeping in Space
  6. The Roar the Day After
  7. Free Hot Breakfast, Free Dreams
  8. Seventeen/Forty-Seven: Darkness and Magic
  9. Relax with Song of the Whales
  10. O

 

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Upcoming: Fourth Street Festival

Once again this year, I’ll be taking part in the Spoken Word Stage at the Fourth Street Festival of Arts & Crafts in lovely downtown Bloomington – reading for about 20 minutes at 2 pm on Saturday. Stop by if you’re in the area! You can find all the details on my events page.

Two years ago, it was about 93 million degrees outside during the festival, and without any shade, I just about keeled over while reading. I’m told I stayed upright, though I don’t really remember. Last year, the remnants of Hurricane Isaac dumped a ton of rain on us the weekend of the festival, and the Spoken Word Stage was cancelled. Here’s hoping for a wee bit more cooperation from Mama Nature this weekend, eh? (As of now it looks like 90-ish degrees with a 30% chance of rain, but this is Indiana, so who knows.)

I love the Fourth Street Festival; in 1979 when I was a starry-eyed freshman I stumbled into it somehow, and have managed to get to the festival every year since then, even the year I was recuperating from surgery and kind of stumbled through for a few minutes clutching my incision. I don’t always buy anything, but I wouldn’t miss this event.

Haven’t yet figured out what I’m going to read – lively and humorous poems tend to work better than ones that require quiet listening and contemplation, so… we shall see what I can come up with. I’ll probably read a couple of the poems about my fictional rockstar, and maybe some surprises, who knows?

Here’s the complete list of spoken-word performers for the weekend:

SATURDAY AUG 31
10:30 Alyce Miller (fiction)
11:00 Jack Ramey (poetry)
11:30 B-ton Storytellers Guild (storytelling)
12:00 4th Wall Ensemble (music+dance+storytelling)
12:30 Karen Kovacik (Indiana State poet laureate)
1:00 Matthew Jackson (poetry)
1:30 Shayne Laughter (fiction)
2:00 Anne Haines (poetry)
2:30 5 Women Poets (poetry)
3:00 Nell Weatherwax (story comedy)
3:30 Tony Roberts (fiction)
4:00 Erin Livingston (poetry)
4:30 Abegunde (fiction)
5:00 Jason Ammerman (poetry)
5:30 Reservoir Dogwoods (poetry group)
Tony Brewer, Matthew Jackson, Jason Ammerman

SUNDAY SEPT 1
10:30 Eric Rensberger (poetry)
11:00 Samrat Upadhyay (fiction)
11:30 B-ton Storytellers Guild (storytelling)
12:00 Tony Brewer (poetry)
12:30 Kid Kazooey (spoken word/music)
1:00 Patsy Rahn (poetry)
1:30 Firehouse Theatre LIVE (radio theatre)
2:00 Tom Hastings (poetry)
2:30 Nell Weatherwax (story comedy)
3:00 James Dorr (vampire poetry and prose)
3:30 Brewhouse Poets (In-Ky poetry group)
Christopher R. Blair, Kristen Marie Brecht, Angela Elles, Michael Jackman, Nancy Chen Long, Joel Nelson, Drew Pomeroy
4:05 Shana Ritter (poetry)
4:30 Alex Chambers (poetry/fiction)

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Macca’s Magic: Paul McCartney in Indianapolis, parts 2 and 3

Paul McCartney and band onstage

[Read Part 1, in which I experience Concert Ticket Drama and Kerfuffle.]

Part 2: Rock Show

After racing around deciding what to wear (and being thankful that I’d done laundry the night before instead of saving it for Sunday evening as I usually do), printing out my ticket, feeding the cats, getting cash for parking, and gassing up the car, I plugged the Bankers Life Fieldhouse address into my GPS (yes, I’ve lived 50 miles from downtown Indianapolis for many years, but I often get lost enough to make the GPS worthwhile) and was on my way. To my delight, the Indianapolis radio station I listen to most often, WTTS, was playing an hour and a half of Beatles and McCartney music for those of us on our way to the show. I turned it way up. Few things put me in my happy place more than singing along at the top of my lungs while driving to a show, and I was definitely in my very happy place by now.

I arrived at the arena well ahead of showtime, took a few minutes to ogle the shiny shiny tour buses parked outside, went in and found my seat. To my delight, although I was pretty far towards the back of the arena floor, I was dead center and just three rows in front of the soundboard – which guaranteed that I would get the best sound in the place. Sweet! Based on the seating diagram I’d seen on Ticketmaster, the original plan was that Section F on the floor would be split into left and right halves on either side of the soundboard, so my guess is that the board ended up requiring a little less floor space than anticipated and they were able to open up five rows in front of it at the last minute.

I chatted with the folks around me a bit, all of whom had similar last-minute ticket-buying stories. We were all pretty grateful to be there, I think! Finally the lights dimmed, and for the next half-hour we watched a sort of scrolling photo/video collage on the big screens on either side of the stage – beginning with pictures of Paul as a small child and continuing on with photos from the Beatles and Wings days, augmented with painting (if I’m not mistaken, done by McCartney himself). It was really nice, although to be honest I could have lived without most of the DJ’d cover versions of McCartney’s songs that accompanied it…

McCartney and band took the stage about 8:30 to absolutely thunderous applause. Bankers Life (formerly Conseco) Fieldhouse was sold out from the floor all the way up to the rafters, and the audience was into it from the get-go. He opened with “Eight Days a Week” and it could have been the Beatles in Shea Stadium for all the screaming in there. Pure, pure joy.

Musical highlights included:

Paul McCartney playing guitar

“Paperback Writer”

• All of the early Beatles songs – “Eight Days a Week,” “All My Loving,” “Paperback Writer” (using the guitar that was used for the original recording!), “I’ve Just Seen a Face,” “We Can Work It Out,” “And I Love Her,” and later on in the encores “Day Tripper,” “I Saw Her Standing There,” and of course “Yesterday” (sigh…!). These songs never get old, do they? God, just so brilliant.
• “The Long and Winding Road,” followed by “Maybe I’m Amazed” – two of my favorite McCartney songs, and I will admit that the room got awfully dusty there for a few minutes (sniffle). “Maybe I’m Amazed” seemed a particularly heartfelt performance of the song Paul noted he’d written for Linda.
• “Blackbird.” McCartney introduced this one by saying he’d written it in England with the intention of writing a song for the American civil rights movement. Less than 24 hours after the Zimmerman verdict, still feeling wrenched and heartsick, the song felt especially poignant to me. He played it solo on acoustic guitar, standing on a small platform that rose up as he played until he was standing high above the stage – a neat effect. One of my very favorite Beatles songs, both utterly timely and utterly timeless. I think this was my favorite moment of the show – and one of my favorite concert moments ever.
• That was followed by “Here Today,” which Paul said he’d written in memory of his friend John. “If you need to tell somebody something, do it now, because you never know when it will be too late,” he told us. Such a simple human thing, the sadness of losing a friend before you can say what you need to say – of course when you remember that the friend was John Lennon, and the absolute wrenching heartbreak of his murder and what the world lost, the grief is both personal and public. A lovely tribute to what must have been a complicated friendship.
• After that it was the fun and games section of the set (it really was a very well-constructed setlist overall): “Your Mother Should Know,” “Lady Madonna,” “All Together Now,” and “Lovely Rita.” So lighthearted, so much singing along!
• Another tribute to a lost friend: Paul got out a ukulele, and told us about hanging out with George Harrison and figuring out how to play one of George’s songs on the ukulele. The one he was playing tonight, he told us, had been given him by George himself. He began “Something” solo on said ukulele as images of George played on the giant screen; eventually the band came in for a really, really lovely version of one of my favorite songs of all time. (Sniffle. Again.)
• And there was “Let Me Roll It”! And “Nineteen Hundred And Eighty-Five”! And “Eleanor Rigby” and “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite” and “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” and “Band on the Run”! So many highlights. You start to realize after a while just how many incredible songs this guy has written and it blows your mind, it does.
• “Back in the U.S.S.R.” was an absolutely killer performance that had me dancing my butt off. I loved the “FREE PUSSY RIOT” graphic that flashed on the screen for a few moments among all the other Soviet-inspired imagery – and the loud roar of approval it elicited from the audience. Go Paul!
• “Let It Be” was – as always and ever – a religious experience. Something about that song is so completely comforting to me. I know he’s played it a thousand million times, but to hear Paul McCartney singing this song in person is just … it’s something that will stay with me for a long long time.
• And then “Live and Let Die,” a song I’ve always loved, came complete with GIANT JETS OF FIRE and actual FIREWORKS inside the arena! It was just spectacular. You know, I’ve always said that good musical performances don’t need laser shows and pyrotechnics and what-not… but this was SO MUCH FUN. Holy cats, it was fun. Following that up with “Hey Jude,” which gets its own brand of pyrotechnics from the utterly epic audience sing-along… nearly twenty thousand people, every single one of us at the top of our lungs… epic, epic, epic.
• And the encores! Two encores, three songs each – “I Saw Her Standing There” was loose and such a great damn song and SO much fun. The second encore opened with Paul standing alone in the spotlight with an acoustic guitar, singing “Yesterday” – followed by an insanely loud, psychedelic-light-show rendition of “Helter Skelter.” An awkward segue? Maybe, but also brilliant; you realize at that moment that this man has written, not just dozens of the best songs ever written, but both “Yesterday” which is the simplest, purest pop ballad in the world AND “Helter Skelter” which is one of the most furious, manic, heaviest rock songs ever. I loved the contrast.
• And of course, he has to end with “Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight/The End.” It’s the perfect ending to the show, and as Paul and band leave the stage we are showered with giant cannons full of red, white, and blue confetti. It’s perfect.

Paul McCartney at piano

“Maybe I’m Amazed”

38 songs. Over two and a half hours of music, by my calculation. (Here’s the complete setlist.) Some of the greatest songs ever written, performed very, very, very well by the excellent band that’s been touring with McCartney for many years. Paul himself has lost very little with age; all evening he kept doing little dances in between songs, grinning and pointing at the audience, clearly enjoying himself immensely. His voice is perhaps not as strong as it once was; at times he faltered slightly and at times he seemed to be singing with a certain carefulness. But that didn’t detract from the performance at all and in fact it made the music seem more precious in a way, just enough of a crack in the perfection to remind us all to cherish this experience while we can. Time eventually takes a toll on everyone – but for now, Paul McCartney is definitely still charming (dare I say, even downright adorable), still jaunty, and above all still rocking as hard as anybody out there.

A couple of other notes. I have read some complaints about the sound in the venue, and I would not be surprised if indeed it was bad up in the rafters – it’s almost impossible to get great sound in every part of an arena that size. From where I was sitting, three rows in front of the soundboard and dead center on the floor, the sound was absolutely pristine – resonant, crisp, and clear. I could understand every word spoken and sung, all of the instruments sounded great, and the volume was perfect (LOUD but not distorted).

The lighting and stage design were a wonder to behold. Like I said, I’m normally not one for a big light show or elaborate staging at a concert – the music should hold its own. Obviously, McCartney’s music needs no augmentation. But the way the lighting and staging were done, it was like we got a completely different stage every so often – the big screen behind the band was used in some incredibly creative ways, and the lighting set so many different moods. I felt like I’d been taken on a journey through a bunch of different places and times, and the lighting made the experience utterly immersive. It was incredibly creative and beautifully accomplished. If anybody knows who’s responsible, please do leave that information in the comments!

Finally, McCartney’s longtime band deserves a mention: Abe Laboriel (drums, percussion, vocals), Paul “Wix” Wickens (vocals, keyboards, guitar, percussion), Brian Ray (guitar, bass, vocals), and Rusty Anderson (guitar, vocals). All four of these guys knocked my socks off with their musicianship and versatility.

Part 3: I Have Seen the Future of Rock & Roll…

Lastly, just a little bit about the crowd. Totally sold-out show, so there was a little of everyone there. Lots of people my age (mid-fifties) and up. Lots of Beatles t-shirts. But also… LOTS of young folks, many there with their parents. I love that! To say the audience was enthusiastic would be a pretty humongous understatement. Everyone was on their feet, all the way up into the rafters, for most of the show; during the encore breaks I took a moment to look around me and saw a gorgeous glittering sea of cellphones being waved. Before the show, such a huge sense of anticipation and excitement. After the show, some of the biggest smiles I’ve seen in a very long time. It was a beautiful thing.

Red, white, and blue confetti in the air.

confetti!

The show ended with a giant blast of red, white, and blue confetti into the audience. Some of us (okay, ME) immediately became little kids and started reaching up into the air to catch the stuff, scooping up handfuls of it to save. I realized as I danced around catching confetti that the young lady a few seats down from me was doing the same thing. I’d noticed her before the show – probably about 14 years old, wearing a McCartney t-shirt, shorts, and Beatle boots, carrying a super cool bag designed from an actual record album and painted with Paul’s face on it. We grinned at each other as we scooped up confetti, and started chatting. Her eyes were shining and then she melted into tears, utterly overwhelmed by how much she loved the show. “It’s life-changing,” she said.

And that, friends, THAT made my already full heart just about burst with happiness and joy. To witness somebody her age falling head over heels in love with rock & roll, with the exuberance and celebration of a show like that – it just gave me a pile of hope that I have been needing, you know? I told her “when I was about your age, maybe a little bit older, I went to my first Springsteen show and it changed my life too.” I know she probably feels like a lot of her peers, the ones who listen to Justin Bieber and One Direction and Taylor Swift, don’t understand the diehard Beatles fan in their midst. I know she probably feels like she’s not quite like the other kids, sometimes. I hope that by telling her that I’d had the same experience, she realizes that she’s on a wonderful journey that will carry her through the rest of her life.

Can music change the world? I don’t know (okay, I do know, and the answer is yes, but we’ll accept that there’s room for argument here) – but I do know for sure, for absolute sure, that it can change a person. And that person can then change the world. All you need is love, and all that. It’s hard to hold on to that level of optimism sometimes, in the face of the really hard things that happen. But then you go to a concert, and one guy stands there alone in the spotlight singing a song he wrote more than half a lifetime ago, and everything somehow makes sense – love, and hope, and belief. And you go home and you go back to your regular life but that song stays with you forever, cradled inside where you can reach in when you need it and hold on to it a bit.

Blackbird singing in the dead of night…

Was that concert ticket worth all the drama and the kerfuffle and the number of dollars that no sane person with my salary would think of spending on one rock show?

Yes. Yes, in fact, it was.

Thank you, Paul McCartney. Thank you, young woman in Section F Row 2, whose name I never got. Thank you, rock and roll. Thank you.

Paul McCartney alone in spotlight playing acoustic guitar

“Yesterday”

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Macca’s Magic: Paul McCartney in Indianapolis, 7/14/13 (Part 1)

Paul McCartney

Part 1: The Miracle

I’d known for a while that Paul McCartney was coming to Indianapolis. I don’t remember why I missed the initial on-sale date for tickets, which was back in April; perhaps I was expecting some stateside Springsteen dates to show up and didn’t want to spend the money, or perhaps I just wasn’t thinking. Whatever happened, by the time I wised up and realized I really wanted to go (aided & abetted by friends who saw the tour in other towns and raved about how terrific the show was), it was way past sold out. I kept on checking Ticketmaster daily, and a few weeks ago some “obstructed view” seats off to the side of the stage showed up (and for a reasonable price), but I was boneheaded and said “eh, obstructed view, I’ll wait for better.” Then when the “PILLAR – NO VIEW” seats showed up for 70-some bucks, I flat-out refused. No view? No thanks. (Seriously, Bankers Life Fieldhouse? I’m hoping these seats weren’t as bad as they sounded. They did get bought, so I guess there were enough people really desperate just to be in the building.)

Now, it’s not like I’m a new McCartney fan. I was fairly obsessed with the Beatles through junior high and high school and college or thereabouts, and in fact the very first album I bought with my own money was “Wings at the Speed of Sound,” which had just come out. But somehow, inexplicably, I had never managed to see him (or in fact any of the ex-Beatles) in concert before. In recent years I’ve come to realize that you can’t just say “eh, I’ll catch ‘em next time around” because things happen. I really should have bought that ticket in April, you know. I had only myself to blame at this point.

As it got closer to showtime, I started checking StubHub for scalped tickets. I’m pretty firmly against ticket scalping in general, and in the past have refused to patronize StubHub on principle. But desperate times call for desperate measures, and I started looking. There were some balcony seats ($70 face value I think), way up in the upper stratosphere of the arena, that somebody was asking $250 for. I just couldn’t do that. There were, of course, plenty of lovely seats to be had for $400 and up – in some cases way up. Again… uh no. The other problem with StubHub is that most of the tickets are sold in pairs, and can’t be split up to purchase a single, so if I was going to fly solo it was starting to look like my best option was to purchase a pair of $250 balcony seats and give somebody a really nice present… UH NO.

I’m something of a veteran of Springsteen-related ticket drama, my own and others’, and I do know that very few shows are ever truly sold out. I know that, almost always, there’s a “drop” of tickets that are released within a few days of the show for one reason or another – they were being held for VIPs or press, or it wasn’t clear that they would be usable until the production crew got the stage set up and equipment loaded in – and often these are pretty darn good tickets. I also know that people sometimes get desperate when it gets really close to the show and start dropping their prices on StubHub. So I didn’t lose hope, but by the time Saturday night rolled around and it was 24 hours till showtime, I was feeling pessimistic.

Cue up Sunday morning. I’m hanging out on Twitter (who me?), checking Ticketmaster every so often, poking at the TM iPad app in hopes of seeing anything other than “sorry, no tickets are available.” A bunch of my Twitter friends, big music fans who’ve mostly gone through similar drama at one time or another, commiserated with me and encouraged me not to give up. My Twitter friends rock.

Then about 1:30 a music journalist from Indianapolis tweeted that he’d just been notified of a drop. I went into action – pounding away at the TM site on my laptop and my iPad as well as the iPad app, and calling the phone line. No dice anywhere – no tickets to be found. The Indy journalist kindly tweeted me the number for the box office at the Bankers Life Fieldhouse, which was great because I got a real human being … who confirmed that there had been a drop about an hour ago, but it was just a tiny handful of seats and they were sold immediately, and they had no more tickets.

At this point StubHub was starting to loosen up – some of the prices were dropping (I had my eye on a single club seat that was originally listed for $500 but had dropped to something in the $300s, as well as some balcony seats that were down to less than double their face value) and there were more tickets available than there had been the day before. And there was also the possibility that there’d be a drop right before the show; Brian Ray (one of McCartney’s guitarists) tweeted that people should check the box office about an hour before the show just in case. But did I want to drive an hour, pay premium event-parking prices downtown, and risk being shut out anyway? That would just be SO DEPRESSING.

Oh well, I thought. I’d been about to fix some brunch when the drop drama had happened, so I went back to that. I’m OK whatever happens, I tweeted, life goes on. “Ob-la-di, ob-la-da, life goes on, brah!” I sang as I chopped veggies. As I finished sautéing mushrooms and went to get eggs out of the fridge, I saw my phone where I’d left it on the counter. What the hell, I thought, picked it up and poked the Ticketmaster app one more time.

Wait a minute. That screen doesn’t say “sorry” on it anywhere. THAT SCREEN HAS A ROW AND SEAT NUMBER ON IT HOLY SHIT! I managed not to drop the phone as I processed the fact that I was being offered a floor seat for … well, let’s just say more than double the highest price I’d ever paid for a ticket before in my life. I’d told myself I wouldn’t go for the top-tier tickets, only the club level or balcony. But … it seemed like this might be my only option. And… and… and…

Reader, I bought it.

You know, it’s fairly difficult to type in your debit card number on a little touchscreen while your hands are absolutely shaking. And my reaction when I got all the way through and got the purchase confirmation email told me that I was definitely making the right choice. Is it possible to tremble all over and at the same time dance a jig while you are tweeting some pretty excited tweets? Yes, yes, it is. I’m going to see a Beatle tonight! I’m going to see a Beatle! I’m going to see A BEATLE!

Stay tuned for part 2, in which a good time is had by all and sundry…

 

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Cicada Summer

It’s not officially summer yet, meteorologically speaking. But here in Bloomington we’re a week into IU’s summer session, the Bloomington Speedway has begun its Friday-night whirring buzz (a sound I’ve associated with summer since childhood), and the landscape is green, green, lush and green. I call it summer.

Many of my East Coast friends are currently freaking out about the impending onslaught of Brood II cicadas. These are the 17-year dudes, so they’ve been burrowed underground since 1996. Cicadas are another thing I associate with childhood summers – both their sound and the brown shells they leave behind when they molt, along with the occasional shed wing, transparent and fascinating. Here in Indiana, our 17-year cicadas come from Brood X (that’s roman numeral ten, not X as in X-files); they last emerged in 2004. They don’t cause trouble really, though when they emerge in huge quantities you’ll see the tips of some tree branches turning brown and droopy – I remember this being fairly noticeable in ’04, though the damage didn’t last beyond that summer. Mostly they just make noise. It is a mating call, and it can be LOUD. (C’mon, the poor things have been waiting seventeen years and they only have a few weeks to live. You can’t blame them!)

cicada and cicada shell

Brood X cicada and shed skin / photo by the author

It’s also said that immediately after a major seventeen-year cicada emergence, editors of literary journals should prepare for an onslaught of cicada poems. We can’t help it, we poet types – when a natural phenomenon is that loud and that noticeable AND it has to do with sex, well, we can’t help but write about it!

I turned out my share of cicada poems during the 2004 emergence, and so for my east coast friends currently bracing themselves for Brood II, I’ll share this one which was published in the anthology And Know This Place: Poetry of Indiana.

 

Brood X
Periodical cicada (Magicicada septendecim)

They’re here already,
the tiny mounds appearing around trees
at the edges of Dunn’s Woods,
hundreds of thousands per acre,
the seventeen-year cicadas.
What kind of life is it,
dormant in dark soil,
weathering seventeen winters
and emerging? I imagine
seventeen years of my own shed
dreams, the crisp brown husk of them,
hard translucent covering over the eyes,
the split down the back where the bug
escapes, fat as a congratulatory cigar,
green-black and shining,
singing, alive in all the trees,
alive enough to balance out, in one
hot summer, that seventeen-year sleep.

– Anne Haines
published in And Know This Place: Poetry of Indiana (ed. Jenny Kander & Charles Greer; Indiana Historical Society Press, 2011)

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Dear Boston, Dear World

Boston. Oh, Boston.

 

I’m working my every-other-Monday split shift, 10-3 at my desk and a 6-9 pm shift on the reference desk. The news of the Boston bombing breaks just as I am on my way out of the building to get dinner. I spend my dinnertime – usually a relaxing couple hours of reading, journaling, enjoying a rare leisurely meal – scrolling through tweets on my phone, trying to sort out the credible from the sensationalistic and the rumormongering and the well-meaning-but-misinformed, trying to share what information might be useful to my friends and my friends’ friends, calling on Boston friends to check in, please. (They do, and they are all fine.) Because this is what we do. We connect. We crave that.

I text a friend. I mean to type “human beings” but it comes out “human wings.” We are hurtling through air, we are moving so fast we can’t stop, we are much too far from the loam and gravel of the earth – or so it seems sometimes.

Later, I am at the reference desk. I am surrounded by windows, and on the other side of those windows are trees breaking into bright green leaf, sunlight filtering through the awakening branches. Beauty, beauty. In between questions I continue to poke at Twitter and other sources of information both good and bad. I read that one of the people killed in the bombing was an 8-year-old child. I don’t know whether this is true or not (I find out later that it is), but after that I find it difficult to smile.

Here in Indiana, we are many hundreds of miles away from the horror. We are living our lives. I remind myself of this, remind myself that all we can do is keep on living. I think about a presentation I attended at a conference a few days ago, which described a study of “librarian approachability”; one of the conclusions was that librarians at the reference desk are more approachable, easier to ask for help from, if they smile at patrons. I remind myself to smile. There is nothing I can do from here, really, but to try to do my job. To help people find the information that they need. To help them feel welcome here. To share a moment of kindness. I try to meet their eyes as they walk past the reference desk, a little more than I usually do. I try to smile at them, and some of them smile back. That’s all I can do tonight: just try to share a little kindness, try to make some human wings feel welcome on this hard planet of ours.

 

 

Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you’ve got about a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of, babies — “God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.”

   — Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. from God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater (1965)

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