Tuesday, April 24, 2012

A Brief For Defense: Poetry Month (Late Again This Year)

A Brief for the Defense by Jack Gilbert

Sorrow everywhere. Slaughter everywhere. If babies
are not starving someplace, they are starving
somewhere else. With flies in their nostrils.
But we enjoy our lives because that's what God wants.
Otherwise the mornings before summer dawn would not
be made so fine. The Bengal tiger would not
be fashioned so miraculously well. The poor women
at the fountain are laughing together between
the suffering they have known and the awfulness
in their future, smiling and laughing while somebody
in the village is very sick. There is laughter
every day in the terrible streets of Calcutta,
and the women laugh in the cages of Bombay.
If we deny our happiness, resist our satisfaction,
we lessen the importance of their deprivation.
We must risk delight. We can do without pleasure,
but not delight. Not enjoyment. We must have
the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless
furnace of this world. To make injustice the only
measure of our attention is to praise the Devil.
If the locomotive of the Lord runs us down,
we should give thanks that the end had magnitude.
We must admit there will be music despite everything.
We stand at the prow again of a small ship
anchored late at night in the tiny port
looking over to the sleeping island: the waterfront
is three shuttered caf├ęs and one naked light burning.
To hear the faint sound of oars in the silence as a rowboat
comes slowly out and then goes back is truly worth
all the years of sorrow that are to come.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

How I Learned to West Coast

1) By kind of liking the spirit of latin but being bad at any and all of the technique.
2) Social dancing with Robbie Fraleigh.

Hence this showcase.

But a disclaimer: if you actually know west coast, then please forgive us. We've never had any real training in it--other than youtube and obsessive re-watchings of Jordan and Tatiana showcases.

Watch the dance on youtube

I really loved working on this particular showcase. In many ways, it is exactly how I learned to west coast swing. I learned it first out of curiosity when Fraleigh offered a few lessons on campus. I had the hardest time keeping the timing right for a good long while. And as I started figuring out personality in dance (mostly by way of salsa) and started figuring out my troubles with latin, west coast swing just kept making sense. It was upbeat and dynamic. It used a lot of music I knew and enjoyed. I could mess with the music and my body and make things interesting. And by golly, I didn't have to keep straight knees or keep stopping and starting movement with my stupid hips!

I've wanted to do a wcs piece for a while. When James had to stop dancing at the end of last fall, Fraleigh comforted me by saying we would focus on becoming true westies.

Thanks, Robbie Fraleigh, for putting this together with me when you had another showcase and formation and grad school to worry about all at once! It was way too much fun. Way too much.

I think I've got this whole "dipping" thing down now too. :-)

Monday, April 16, 2012

Notes from Igor

A few times a semester, a ballroom professional comes to Penn State and teaches workshops. We're all supposed to take scrupulous notes and become perfect by the end of a few days. It doesn't happen. However, there are always a few moments that stand out to me and they usually have to do with someone's dance philosophy rather than with specific movement instructions. This paraphrase on work is from last week with Igor Litvinov, a extraordinary dancer and kind human being.

[hear this in a in a russian accent]

"When you become a professional dancer, it becomes hard to feel like you doing a good job. For great dancers, you can feel like you dance really well maybe once every three years. Those are the times when your energy and the competition and your partnership and the judges and everything just works. But those times you feel really great are very rare. This forces you to learn how to enjoy the process of becoming better rather than enjoying the high of feeling amazing. It means you learn how to feel good and confident about yourself even when you are tired or struggling because you enjoy the working."

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Why We Make

It was a simple enough idea: get a bunch of thinkers and makers in a room and talk. Ask questions about what motivates us all to make things.

The execution of the idea was simple enough too: a batch of scones, some tea, a small white board, a facebook invite, soularium cards, an outline.

But even the best laid plans sometimes turn out unexpectedly. This time, it was the chronic problem that haunts my best ideas. This time, no one showed.

That isn't exactly true. Three people came. Elaine, my print making friend, and her two younger siblings in ninth and eighth grade. We went through my planned outline for the event as if there were ten of us there.

As discouraging as no-shows can be, it was a delightful time.

Here's what I learned:

  • I learned that everyone is a maker. In one way or another. Everyone. The word "maker" leaves an open door for more people to participate. Elaine and I think terms of "artists", but people don't think of themselves that way anymore. However, everyone has something that they make and create. Yes, even engineers. Her brother builds robots! How cool is that?
  • I learned that food covers a multitude of otherwise empty moments.
  • I learned that there is a difference between spaces that "feed" us and help us make, and the spaces where we do our best work.
  • I learned that youngest brothers have similar souls. It made me miss my brother.
  • I learned that there is no scientific distinction between streams, rivers, and creeks.
  • I learned that explaining "why" to "why we make" is a mystery and very hard to put into words.
One of my favorite moments from the event was when each of us took two pictures from the soularium cards to describe what compels us to be creatie and make things. I wrote down key words from our answers. They say a lot about how we see and understand "making", wether for good or ill!
  • Delight
  • Can't NOT make
  • expression --> can't hide self which can be frustrating, helpless
  • Communicate
  • Overflow
  • Drawn to broken things --> compassion, beauty, light
  • "Without it, I would feel useless, like I was missing part of myself."
  • "Gives meaning"
  • To copy/imitate
  • Beautiful things
  • To make things work.
  • Be useful
  • Discover good design
It was a delightful test run with a delightful room of new friends. It must be tried again soon!

PS. I love homeschoolers. I love how age just doesn't seem to matter quite as much. That you are free to discover wisdom and good company in the eighth and ninth grader just as much as in the college sophomore.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Tell It Small

At Calvary all-staff meetings, one of the pastors asks the question:

"Where do you see God working?"

We call these "God stories." We are asking each other to look for the Divine, for the mysterious. We are asking for quick snapshots of stories long in the making.

People answer with stories about prayer. With stories of lives shifting. They tell the starts and the middle of stories--rarely is anything completed).

But I don't answer. I can never think of an answer. All I can think is how I want to I want to answer like this:

Last Saturday, I went on a hike in Shingletown Gap. There was a breeze and bright sunlight and we walked on a ridge that overlooked the Valley. And when we came back down to the Rush, my friend sipped the creek water from his hands as he balanced on moss covered rocks. And the water that fell through his fingers caught the sunlight and looked like glimmering fire.

I think this should count.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012


A series of moments in the last few days concerning reading. Per usual in my first drafts of story telling, all the verb tenses run helter skelter. Run? Are running? Ran? (sigh)

Scene: Whim Cotty Kitchen. A Monday Night growing later, a feeling similar to a weekend.
It started with me telling a story of how I saw a group outside of the theatre building tossing a volleyball in the air while reciting a Shakespeare monologue. Kaitlin and I went into raptures about his language and we all started to compare favorites. We talked about books we read in middle school. "Sign of the Beaver" "Shadow Spinner"  "Phantom Tollbooth". We go back further to elementary school and how "The Giver" terrified us the first time we read it. We go back further. "Puppy Peek Aboo" "Chika Chika Boom Boom" "The Red Ripe Strawberry" "Daddy Makes the Best Sphagetti". The further we went back, the fewer books we shared in common. But we remembered words. We remembered illustrations and vivid colors. We were all read to as children. And we all identify as "readers" today.

Scene: My bedroom
The night turns like summer and I am a limp bundle of muscle and skin and bones after a three hour ballroom semi-formal. Deep content. Too fatigued to want anything more than the dancers fatigue I'm slipping through. I think back over the dances: This chacha. That fun dance. This viennese waltz. That samba. This conversation. That tango lesson. This show case. That laughter. This bruised and aching foot arch. That jagged toe nail. The sleepiness and the watchfulness reminds me, somehow, of a moment in "Gaudy Night" by Dorothy Sayers. I find it tucked in with some other novels on a shelf in the library and read the scene of Harriet and Lord Peter Wimsey in the punt discussing the case. Then I open to another section of the book and read a scene. These are vivid places that act almost like memories in my own life. Within a few pages, I have turned to the beginning and start re-reading the book from page 1.

Scene: Whim Cotty Living room
Melanie and Kaitlin and I are all doing independent work, quietly munching on a peanut butter brownie and typing away. I find this article through twitter: Want to Do Meaningful Work? It's on the blog of a writer I've admired since high school. The guest blogger posits this thesis: doing meaningful work in the world means continuing to read. To be travelers, movers, empathizers, one has to read and read deeply, things that are challenging and good. It's somehow assuring to believe that the mystery novel I'm ankle deep in right now is somehow an important aspect of my everyday job.

Scene: Whim Cotty living room. Saturday afternoon
"The Two Towers" is playing while I do work on my computer. I look up to notice a hand gesture that Aragorn uses to express respect and grief. I laugh quietly. I forget how much those books and films have influenced my aesthetic. They came along at a strange middle place between age 12 and 15. I dressed as an elf once and ran around our yard in a rain storm. Should I find it odd, then, that my language and my hand motions mimic this constructed world?

Scene: Walk up the block to my car
It is warm and morning and there are birds. I think, "It is time to re-read 'The Secret Garden'. It's that time of year again."