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Sunday, July 24, 2011

Worlds Collide, Places Switch

( In which our author succumbs to a brief bout of fandom-based action.)

I had an amazing moment today after the second circus show at Circus World: something from my past came sliding back into my world in the guise of role reversal.

After each show, we form a meet and greet line outside the Hippodrome entrance. Quite a ways through the line of exiting audience members, one mother and her boys walked back to our line of performers and wanted to shake my hand and take a picture. My brain started screaming: "You know this woman! You know who she is! She's familiar!" It didn't take me long to put the pieces together.

This woman was the bassist from Champaign, IL's Poster Children; her husband was guitarist and lead vocalist of the band. Holy crap.

Back in college at Iowa State University was where I found out about the Poster Children. Thanks to Lee Bellon and the Ames Independent Music Society, I was introduced to my new favorite band. It was instant: love at first sight. They rocked from start to finish. They weren't huge or famous, and their sound and energy told a different tale. They didn't need fame. They didn't need a big label as their later releases proved. They just needed a gig and stage time and they would take care of the rest. I saw them many times after that first show. I even booked them in The Maintenance Shop once when I was the director of that magical space. Lately, I didn't know if they broke up or if they just took a life-imposed hiatus.

Normally, I decide not to talk to "famous" people. I don't want to be "that guy".  I once passed by Bj√∂rk at Boston Common when I was on Ringling Brothers because I didn't want to bother her when she was obviously doing some simple sightseeing. I couldn't let this go by. College Greg quietly pushed himself to the surface and fessed up, admitting that I recognized the two of them.

"I think I recognize you and I just want to say that you guys were my favorite band in college and my friends and I just went nuts over you guys. Thanks for coming to the show and I'm glad you all enjoyed it."

Wait – I forgot to mention that they mentioned and blatantly, non-verbally expressed that they enjoyed the show. THEY ENJOYED THE SHOW! The best part for me was not only did they enjoy the show, but her reaction was that her smile grew even bigger and she trotted toward me and hugged me.

Wow. I actually performed for two members of the Poster Children and their kids and they had fun. This is a great summer.

Friday, July 22, 2011

My May Bell

My May Bell by cookiepants1973
My May Bell, a photo by cookiepants1973 on Flickr.

A couple of weeks ago, I received the banjolele I won on ebay. I've been practicing quite a bit already and now have about three songs in my repertoire.

I fought it. I didn't want to be yet another performer who plays uke, but I have plans and I like the sound of the banjolele. I'll work so I'm not "just another".

More Waves

I received a birthday card from home today. Although I knew it wouldn't, part of me expected – hoped? – to see "Love, Mom and Dad". Of course, logically, it didn't. Another moment, another wave. I hadn't thought about that one coming, even though it obviously would. Part of that is probably because I process my birthday differently than it seems some people do. I never know what to say when someone asks me what I want for my birthday, I'm not one of those people who goes around announcing the coming of their birthday or the lament of the next year added to the count of their life. As such, I don't go around expecting cards or get salty if I'm not wished "Happy Birthday!"

It reminded me of last year when I was in Japan and it was the first year ever in my memory that there wasn't a call or voice mail from Mom singing "Happy Birthday". It was a strange absence and I felt something wrong. I suppose in a deep, intuitive place I knew a lot was wrong. I did learn that she was in the hospital at the time.

Earlier this week I also received something that was more forgotten than unexpected. My girlfriend had told me of this company that makes keepsakes out of funerary roses. She and I had gathered some roses to get this done to surprise my family. My rosary arrived a few days ago. I don't say the rosary anymore, but my mom always did, so it's a special, meaningful keepsake.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Eight Arms to Creep You Out

I welcome you all to the first formal telling of what I'm calling "The Spider Story".

Years ago, I embarked on a personal quest not to kill spiders just for the infraction of being spiders in my personal space. Spider catch flying bugs, which are more annoying to me than spiders, so it made less and less sense to kill the things which would help thin out the insect menace. This quest has become easier and easier over the years and I've found myself pausing more to observe the spider in passing rather than pausing to remind myself of my pledge. Although I have admittedly and understandably found myself violating this pledge from time to time, I mostly stick to it.

One day back in Minneapolis – before my circus days – I found myself mired in a situation that thrust my face into the mud pie of the limits of my self control. One night I entered the bathroom/kitchen area of our apartment (as they were rooms next to each other) and I was slapped in the face with a sight I had never seen before: hundreds of baby spiders. Somewhere in the crawlspaces between floors of the old house had been a number of egg sacs and they all hatched at the same time; and hundreds of baby spiders found their ways to our ceiling in the bathroom and kitchen; and they were crawling all over the ceiling and lowering themselves on their amazingly thin, yet horror-inducing silk lines. I had never been witness to such a sight before and I silently freaked, realizing that I was outnumbered and could not stem the flood of tiny spiders.

I shut myself in my room, scanning the ceiling every few minutes until I went to sleep. Every twitch of a hair could possibly have been a spider touching down on my skin, maybe to crawl its way into the dark, damp recesses of my skull. When I awoke the next morning, there was no sign of the arachnid apocalypse.

Last Sunday, history repeated itself on a small scale.

I had entered clown alley, our dressing room. I tied up my hair, put in my contacts, and began putting on my greasepaint. I brushed at a small tickle at the top of my forehead, thinking it was a loose, single hair. I looked at my finger and saw a tiny spider carcass. I apologized – probably to the dead spider – and continued. While applying the flesh tone a few moments later (Mehron light egyptian, for the record) I noticed the sight of another baby spider lowering itself from one of my dreads. I dispatched that one as well as its companion that was on the other side of my head doing the same thing.

It was at this point that I started to think it wasn't just one spider that I picked up from walking under the trees from the house to the alley and that something might be amiss. A few moments later, I spotted two more lowering from the ceiling. I started to come apart – I could feel it. Somewhere in the wagon was an egg sac and it was probably in the ceiling space. This could have been the end or just the beginning. As any proper story would have it: it was the beginning.

All colors of makeup applied, I made my move to the outside to powder. On my way out the door I noticed it: the front of the wagon was ground zero. Dozens and dozens of baby spiders were crawling around on the left curtain and the rope that was holding up the curtains. The right curtain was untouched, but bearing to the right as I exited and to the left as I entered was no solution: they were covering the left (south) curtain and the rope that stretched between the curtain halves.

All bets were off: my pledge was null and void. I remembered that my partner Neal had a can of Yard Guard somewhere in the alley. I found it, shook it up, and not caring one bit about the fumes I was going to subject myself and the dressing room to, I stood back and I let loose with a few well-aimed puffs and sweeps.

After propping open the door for ventilation and letting my breath out, I finished powdering and re-entered to check my work. They were dead very quickly. I grabbed the vacuum to clean up the exoskeletal carnage and found the hatched egg sac on the outside face of the curtain. The devils had been there God knows how long! It didn't matter anymore. I had freed myself and the alley from the spidery menace, but I would pay a price for my vigor until after the first two shows.

I had slightly fogged myself and for a brief while I could taste the faint taste of the chemical death I dealt in my mouth if I breathed too deeply through nose or mouth. I was sure I'd recover. I had made certain that the pursuit of comedy would not be hamstrung by tiny arachnids that day.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

New New New (New?) Start

I've been a writer of some sort or another for most of my life. When I first started I was young and wrote about anything and everything for no reason except that I just liked doing it. I was inspired by stories and ideas and I had some in my head that I usually wanted to get out, for better or for worse.

I started out dealing chiefly in science fictiony fare, but by third or fourth grade, the poetry bug had bitten me. As I entered writing contests and repeatedly lost, I kept learning more and more about different forms of poetry, building the idea in my head that those who judged writing contests for school kids had no interest in anything resembling science fiction. That tendency and drive to write science fiction slowly faded, marked by a brief nova-like flame out that included writing a light-hearted, bare-bones science fiction play performed by friends for both classes in fifth or sixth grade. Much to my horror, a few of my friends from those days remember the play – and I think I successfully penned and put up a sequel – and one of them still has a copy on the original dot matrix printer paper. In a turn of humbling events, those same friends express enjoyment and marvel that anything like that even occurred.

Eventually writing faded from my self-image as I was busy with a number of things. Most of those things involved keeping grades up like a smart kid was supposed to do, denying any inclination to pursue clowning instead of a Smart Kid Career, and subsequently changing majors multiple times while stressing myself out by trying to do what a smart kid is expected to do. The moment that I realized that I was the one at the helm and that college could be anything I wanted it to be was an empowering one. One of the things I did was to listen to my penchant for performing. Another important thing I did was to search my insides and realize – remember, more specifically – that writing was once something that I loved doing.

My poetry turnout started climbing up from nothing to a point where I could tell when something was forming and I'd write it down on any paper I had available. In rough times, I would crank out quite a bit. This was something that continued well through my Ringling years, where I experienced a lot of frustration, mostly of the confidence and romantic kind. I now have a couple of folders full of typed up and printed out works, as well as those and other works in their hand-written form. It's been very important to me to write out poems by hand. There's something perfectly tactile and to me, essential about writing it out on paper with the faint scent of ink drifting to my nose. I've even started playing with the idea again of making a chap book.

I started writing freelance music reviews and preview articles in college and kept at it through my first year on Ringling Brothers. I reached a point where I was tired of the rat race to review CDs and get interviews with bands. This was 2001, still before the internet reached anything resembling the convenience it now has. without recording equipment I couldn't reliably do phone interviews, and without reliable internet connectivity, I couldn't make submission deadlines. I left the freelance music writing game.

My dad has always been on me about keeping my journals and blogs straight to allow me to write a book about my travels and experiences. Although I don't have the confidence he has that any appreciable amount of people (and by that I mean "any number that would buy a nice load of books from a publisher who might take a chance on me). My friend Sean and his wife stopped by Circus World Museum with their kids yesterday and both of them asked about my writing. Sean talks me up as blogging before blogging, as I used to write and mass email update screeds to friends.

It all just prompted me to shut up and listen and look at myself again. People still ask me about my writing and comment about my writing. People are still encouraging about my writing. I decided this past week that I would make a commitment to write something in each of my two public blogs at least once a week. I failed at this before, when I was a blogger for Juice magazine blogs in Des Moines. I just stopped submitting after a while, wondering why the heck anyone - if anyone - would read what I have to say about my life touring or making things work between tours and between contracts. I wasn't writing about sports. I wasn't writing about politics. I wasn't writing about sex or social issues. Those were the blogs getting the most hits.I didn't even write my editor. I just stopped blogging and stepped back.

So: once a week I shall try to write something. I don't think it should be difficult. I have a thing or three that has been bumping around in my head. I'm in the middle of my most creatively productive summer yet, I had a great story from this week involving spiders, and there's still the saga of Twilight and "Glee" that I have to tell.

I may even start to lay down some poetry. Don't worry: it's far shorter than my prose.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Just So You Know

Just so you guys know, I have not declared "your mom" statements as being off the table.

For example, such an exchange with me is still all right:

Me: "That doesn't quite match the first one."
You: "Your mom doesn't quite match the first one."

Really. I mean it. Besides, someone has already tested that social boundary and I was okay with it then. Sure, there was a respectful pause and a "Too soon?", but there was also a sigh of relief as I assured the person in question that I was not going to rail on them and even welcomed the idea that if something is serious, sacred, or close to one's heart, that it can still be fuel for the pursuit of laughter and release.

I loved my Mom and yes I miss her, but despite her outward reactions, she enjoyed a nice not-quite-nice quip every now and then.