An Anniversary Of Me

One year ago today, I came back to life. I’d had my first cofeature back in March for B J Spoke Gallery where I reconnected with people I hadn’t seen and had known for over a decade. I became good friends with the co-feature, whose poetry was brilliant.
A few months later, I was walking with Whitman. The open mic was fun. My reading made me feel energized. For the first time in a long time, I felt completely at ease, totally in control, and simply happy. I met people from far and wide; several still keep in touch. The band 1 Step Ahead played, starting with a few bars of Brown Eyed Girl since I’d referenced it in a poem.
Then a few months later, I was named 2020 Long Island Poet of the Year for Walt Whitman Birthplace Association.
I am forever grateful for this day, this reading, and all the people in my life who have gotten me through and continue to.
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I Want A Fog Machine

Poetry needs more fog machines. There. I said it. It cannot be undone.

Sometimes I think I’m going overboard with the astronaut ice cream, but now I’ve kind of got the reputation as that poet who gives away astronaut ice cream, so really, there may not be such a thing as too kitschy, too gimmicky. Maybe wearing a space suit, but even then, maybe not.

Crossroads Talent hosts a talent showcase every second Friday of the month. I know this only because someone from that group found me on Instagram and has been asking me for months to join the show. This past month, I was free the night of the event, so I said I’d do it.

Then it dawned on me that I should probably look up the show. I found disco lights, smoke machines, step troupes, and rappers. Some soul singers and some R&B singers. More rappers. Lots of fog.

Now I have no problem being the outlier in a lineup. I was, however, left wondering why this guy had consistently asked me to be part of the show when clearly I do not do anything anyone else does. Still, I’d committed, and so I went.

Off to the American Legion! DB and EA met up with me, and what we found was what I would call the equivalent of a fun school dance. There was a drum kit and guitars set up with flashy lights and the fog maker. There were chairs flanking a blank space that would no doubt be a dance floor. There were decorations for Valentine’s Day, and that’s when I realized, hey, it’s Valentine’s Day. And then there were donuts.

I don’t know how to describe the donut situation other than abundant. Just when you thought they were done putting out the donuts, there was another tray being set down. The donuts had not been on the clips I’d seen of the previous events; maybe they’d been hidden by the fog. In any case, a pleasant perk, for sure.

Everyone was so incredibly nice. Anyone involved in putting on the production kept making sure everyone felt welcome and supported. They asked the audience to crowd around the performers to show them love. Their kind of love showing and my kind of love showing are a little different because an audience five inches from a performer’s face seems more intrusive than loving, but still, most of the performers seemed to enjoy it. Some even asked for people to get closer. I stayed near my seat, but I did stand and clap and cheer. I loved how supportive everyone was of everyone else, especially for the performers who were 13, 14, and 15 years old. When I was that age, I wore mismatched oversized sweatpants and stayed in my bedroom listening to Paula Abdul and eating rice cakes while pondering all the ways I didn’t fit it in in life, so kudos to them for even stepping out into the world. I turned out pretty okay, though, because here I was, too.

The night kept going. The smoke machine kept billowing. There were some R&B singers and then a string of rappers followed by a Hawaiian dance group followed by another string of rappers. I don’t listen to rap all that much, but I do enjoy it from time to time. However, this was getting to be a lot. Also, some performers were leaving right after they performed, and I’m not a big fan of that. So after about two hours, I decided I’d had enough, and my posse of two agreed.

I took my name off the list, and one of the event planners told me he’d put me up next and I didn’t have to leave. That was really sweet, but then I’d stay even longer because I don’t leave right after performing. So I thanked him profusely, said I could come back another month, and then left.

What this group does for artists means a whole lot. There’s no place else I know of that invites people of every artistry of every age to do what they love to do for free and gives them donuts and a fog maker to boot. The world needs more of this kind of love.

 

The Universal Language of Poetry (And The Socially Awkward)

I was so fortunate to be asked to read for The Americas Poetry Festival of New York,  a series of multilingual poetry readings and talks across several days and venues. Also, I was included in their anthology. This is a happening. This is so me.

My reading was at the Consulate of Argentina in Manhattan. Ooh, how fancy does that sound? I know,right!

In a bit of a drizzle, I made my rainy way to the Starbucks a block away from the consulate where an entire fleet of cyclists were at rest. I shared a table with a man and his helmet. Fact: he was not part of the fleet. He was a lone cyclist. I don’t understand outdoor sports done in the rain. This is why I don’t ride a bike anymore. Yep, that’s the reason.

Anyways, when the call time rolled around, I headed to the Consulate and arrived at the same time as a gentleman who came to listen. Interestingly, he greeted me in Spanish, and I replied in English, and then we were greeted by a man I’ll call the Silver Fox of Argentina who spoke to us both in English, ushering is into a room with couches where others waited.

Then several groups of people came in all speaking Spanish and went directly upstairs. The Silver Fox of Argentina seemed to know them. I wasn’t sure, though, because, you know, language.

Speaking of–let’s talk about my mad language skillz . I’ve got none. I’m like really super good at English, but other languages? My brain cannot compute. Nine years of Spanish education and the most I can say is Me llamo Cristina y no me gusts la basura. Loosely translated, that means They call me Christina Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die. Or maybe it means something about the trash can. Either way, not very helpful for further conversation.

My senior year of high school was spent sharing a classroom with 8th graders taking Italian 1 because none of us seniors wanted to enroll in AP Spanish literature. In my one year of Italian, I learned quanianihai? Loosely translated: how many years do you have?

So here I am at the Consulate of Argentina, and the Silver Fox of Argentina tells us all in English that we can go upstairs now. We all go upstairs and the people in the little lounge at the top of the steps clearly know each other, but I can’t understand what they’re saying because they’re speaking in Spanish. Then in the auditorium through the double doors next to the lounge area are people hugging and greeting each other. In Spanish. Slowly, I’m realizing that I’m pretty much the only person here who is not speaking Spanish, and I have no idea what’s going on so I wind up texting a few people whose answers to me were to either yell Defect! or simply Que? Which loosely translates to K?

Now I could have asked someone who looked like they were in charge about what was going on. I could have gone up to anyone near the microphone set up or anyone adjusting the posters for the event to introduce myself and ask for the organizer. If you think all this sounds logical, FOR SHAME! You don’t know me at all. I mean, I can barely do that in a room of people speaking English. You think I’m gonna start introducing myself to people who are speaking a completely different language. Ha ha! I scoff at your confidence in my social abilities.

Instead, I did what any normal adult would do. I walked around like I was casing the joint until I saw everyone start to settle in.

Everyone sits down, so I sit down. Then several people go to the front of the room to start. And they start speaking in Spanish. It then dawns on me that I’m in the Consulate of Argentina and not only are the social conversations in Spanish, but the entire program is going to be en Espanol. Loose translation: in Spanish.

I understood every 8th word, like when they were saying the next reader’s country and name. I understood some of the poetry because that was read more slowly.

Then the poet from Mexico read a poem in English! Okay, now we were bilingual! Then he explained and read his second poem in Spanish. I’m not exactly sure what was going on because he had in his ear buds and carried his phone in his face and kept his eyes closed (ojos!) and bumped into people and things as he walked around and recited, but he didn’t bump into as many things as you may expect.

Another poet read poems in several languages. Okay, now we were multilingual!

My plan was to sit there until I heard my name. It was all I could do. A few poets later the stars aligned and I heard, Now is Christina Rau here?

Yes! I am! I am Christina Rau! I understand the words coming forth from your mouth, ma’am. Yes, that is me! I am here! Yes! My hand shot straight up and I may have jumped with glee. I didn’t have to figure out when I was going next after all.

I made it to the podium, and I could have said Hola or Buenos tardes, but instead I said Good evening because I didn’t want to give anyone the impression that I may be able to hold any kind of conversation in Spanish. I read my few poems without any commentary and then at the end when I could have said Gracias I said thank you and made my way to my chair.

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This lovely person in the crowd Instagrammed some of my reading. I’m still not 100% sure what she wrote, but I recognize my name and poetry, so I’m going to say it’s a-okay.

The director found me and showed me my poem in the anthology, handing  over my own copy. It’s a fabulous book!

Then a few more poets went and there were announcements and reasons to clap. I clapped because that’s what you do when an entire room claps. That’s also how The Handmaid’s Tale begins, but what’s a gal to do? Simply do what everyone else is doing and be okay with it.

All the readers were called to the stage for photos, and that I understood and was able to thank all the organizers who gathered around. Then we said we’d try to do something out  on Long Island. We spoke in English. And there was then wine and snacks, and I left because I don’t speak the language of alcohol anymore either.

On my way out, the gentleman who had walked in with me was also leaving. And in Spanish he wished me a good night (or cursed me out—I wouldn’t know the difference) and I said good night to him in English. Because nine years of Spanish taught me to stick with what I know.

Someone should probably point me in the direction of the Rosetta stone. Or a Spanish-English dictionary. I may not be able to wrap my brain around another language perfectly, but I can sure try.

A World Of Color, or Everything Worth Doing Ends With A Ball Pit

Another day in NYC, another pop-up museum. But not just any other. Color Factory NYC stands as my favorite pop-up museum, temporary exhibit, and all around way to spend an evening. Immersive in color from room to room. Adding sweet treats along the way. Some poetry. Some movement. Some drawing. Some drumming. Some spinning. Some labyrinth walking. Something for every sense and then something more. Throw in some banter with a factory worker about guessing how old I am (we agreed on anywhere between 28 and 52) and that same worker letting S and me grab an extra marshmallow before heading to the next room, and throw in a free coat check that would hold my great big orange bag (courtesy of S — 45% of our friendship is giving bags to each other that we have to then hold for the rest of the time we hang out), and throw in a map of NYC that shows where to find colors specific to NYC, and there you have it. My fave by far. Also, a ball pit. I didn’t get stuck, but when I got neck deep, I also go claustrophobic and had to get out of the ball pit quick. Ever try to get out of a ball pit quick? It’s kinda slow. But still, my fave.

Color Factory Balloon Room 1

These balloons flew around.

Color Factory Dance Floor 1

Dancing!

Color Factory Secret Color Booth 1

There’s a long explanation of this photo but I’m going to let the psycho scare speak for itself.

Color Factory Drawing (1)

Listening

Color Factory Drawing (2)

Drawing

Color Factory Labyrinth (3)

Choosing A Path

Color Factory End (1)

Color Factory End (3)

And for the record, pre-claustrophobia:

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Best of LI Nomination!

I’ve been nominated for Best Author on Long Island through Best of LI. Hooray!

You can join in the fun of voting if you wish. Here’s how:

  1. Go to http://bestof.longislandpress.com/
  2. Sign up or sign in (just your email and no spammy stuff).
  3. Select the Arts Category.
  4. Select me! Christina M. Rau
  5. Submit your vote.

If you have that much fun the first time around, then it gets better. You can vote every day!

Mark you calendar for this coming Monday, October 1! It’s fun! Voting is fun! It really is!

Otherwise, it’s fantastic to be nominated.

Tesla, My Neon-Bright Love

IMG_1068Nikola Tesla invented. From his mind circa the 1880s came electricity. Okay, not exactly, but his inventions harnessed power and revolutionized technology. Also, he’s been popping up in my life in various ways. Remember that time my brother and I went daytripping in StonyBrook and stumbled across the Tesla exhibit? Remember that time I trounced around NYC and stumbled across the random street sign for Tesla? Remember that time I was on vacation and the hotel tv was playing a series about Tesla non-stop? Remember that time Tesla opened for Def Leppard at Jones Beach? Okay, different Tesla, but still. And but really? Is it different? Anyway, Tesla needs me. Maybe I need him.

In fact, if you’ve been at any of my recent poetry readings, you know I need him. I’ve been writing about him. If you know this, then you also know he’s the basis of my next collection. Poetry needs Tesla, too.

The best way to discover why our mutual affinity has been growing was to attend his birthday celebration. You might say, But wait, isn’t he, like, no longer among the living? To that I say, What’s your point? Wardenclyffe is still standing.

Out in Shoreham, Tesla did some things. His lab is there along with the remains of his tower of power–just the base squares in a circular pattern on the ground. The Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe plans to reopen the grounds as a science center. Right now, it’s still kind of desolate, but it serves quite nicely as a place for a birthday celebration.

This year, they held the Neon Birthday Expo. The expo included tours of the grounds, robotics demonstrations, tables of local artists and science-related clubs and organizations, a neon tent dedicated to neon things, and a PSEG table from which I scored another new pair of free sunglasses. All my sunglasses are now sponsorships. Tesla cars lined up and showed off.

I was in my nerdy geeky techy love glory. Moseying along the nature path. Moseying around the perimeter of the grounds. Moseying through the neon tent and then moseying quickly out because it was about 1000 degrees inside. (All the moseying was due to the day being really hot and we were all in direct sunlight. Which is actually a good thing because it was a birthday celebration and birthday parties should be sunny. )

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Find Clayton Orehek for all your neon art needs.

The keynote speaker was Gregory Olsen. Um, you guys, he’s an astronaut.  This totally made up for my not being able to find the astronaut at BEA. 

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Kyle Driebeek played Happy Birthday on the theramin. If you don’t know what that means, click this link because the link is better than any way I might attempt to describe it.

Then, there was cake. I shit you not. They had two sheet cakes complete with Tesla’s face on them.

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I’m looking forward to the day when we can head out to Wardenclyffe when it’s all decked out as a science center. It’d be one step closer to meeting the man himself. In the meantime, there’s always Belgrade.

Oh, and this. Because I like to amuse myself.

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The Cabin Reading That Wasn’t In A Cabin

DC’s Joaquin Miller Cabin Poetry Series has shared poetry for over 40 years. It used to be held in the actual cabin. I thought I was going to read in a cabin. I was ready to be sweaty and buggy. However, these days, the good folks who run the series project photos of the cabin on a large screen in an auditorium in the Rock Creek Nature Center, an air conditioned space with no critters abounding.

I’d like to reiterate: I was willing to read in a cabin with possible non-human living creatures and possible humidity that would frizz my hair out and increase my usual sweats tenfold. Gold star sticker for me please.

Really, this take-it-on-the-road poetry-reading thing becomes me. Meaning I dig it and I wish for it to continue. Not only do I get to share my work with people I don’t know, I also get to hear what’s going on in the poetry realm of others. Plus, sightseeing. This is all I want in life. Poetry and travel. And cotton candy without cavities. And these peppermint crumbly things you can buy in a bucket from CVS. And snow without shoveling. And Train concerts every night. And line dancing. And yoga. And tea. That’s all. Is that too much to ask?

The poets at Miller Cabin were delightful! Talented. Insightful. Witty. Open to my antics, which is always a plus. (If you haven’t seen the dog and pony show, come see it some time. You’ll get at least a sticker). I hope to keep in touch with them and maybe read there again in the future.

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Crazy Poet Face, Cabin Edition

As for the sightseeing, one of the officemate-friends took a ride down with me and together we saw some sights. We popped by Politics and Prose to hear Kim Roberts present on DC literary history. We also headed to the National Portrait Gallery mostly to see the Obama portraits, but then found portraits galore. And then found lots of art that wasn’t portraits, and I was confused until I realized that half the building is the portrait gallery and the other half is the American Art Museum. They’re both Smithsonian and they’re both FREE! The art gallery had an exhibit about redacted landscapes, so if you’re paranoid about conspiracies already, that might not be for you. Or maybe it is, if you’re looking for affirmation. All I know is that LL popped up in the portrait gallery, and that made my heart soar.

Also free is walking around the Tidal Basin. Not free is the parking unless all the meters at the Tidal Basin are all jacked up. In which case, you can call the number on the meter about its jacked-up-ed-ness, and then leave a message about it and then have the machine that takes the message say Thank You and hang up on you. We didn’t pay the meter, and we didn’t get a ticket, thankfully.

All around the Tidal Basin are monuments, most of which I hadn’t seen in my most recent DC trips. The FDR monument sprawls magnificently. The Martin Luther King Jr. monument stands starkly tall. Then there’s the Washington Monument that you can see from everywhere and the Jefferson Memorial that’s very cool with a cross breeze once you make it up the steps in the beat-down sun heat.

Georgetown had lots of good food and the waterfront is always pretty. I’m on the lookout for information about what tv or film was shooting on at the end of June and beginning of July. Some streets were closed, and crowds gathered. We were told to keep moving and not to “saturate” the sidewalk. The sidewalks remained saturated with throngs of onlookers peeking between parked cars circa late 1970s and early 1980s. My guess is a Back To The Future reboot. I could be very very wrong.

Ford’s Theater has a few free slots for presentations that we happened upon. You don’t get to go into the museum with the free show. That was fine. We saw the presentation which was given by a man dressed in old timey garb, claiming to be the sheriff on duty the night Lincoln was shot. This presentation was vastly different from the one I saw the first time. That time it was given by a park ranger dressed in a park ranger uniform. So now I want to go back a third time to see what else I might get.

Off the beaten path, kind of, we stopped at the National Cathedral. This is the perk of driving around all of DC. You see stuff that’s not on The Mall. It was gorgeous. Fact: An earthquake made pieces of it fall down. Still, it’s standing tall, and it’s got a garden, and the garden has bunnies!

The plan: continue driving across the U S of A, poetry in hand, taking in the sights, drinking tea, doing yoga, listening to Train, getting sticky from cotton candy.

 

Lost In The Mountains of NY

When Bright Hill Press invited me to read in Treadwell, NY, the invitation sent me reeling to days of slippery uphill walks to class, fuzzy wool socks, wearing coats upon coats, frozen snot (it’s a real thing), and gray skies for days. SUNY Oneonta, fifteen minutes from Treadwell, was my home for a few years during my undergrad days. I knew the drive there would come as second nature, as much as second nature could be for a gal who gets lost in parking lots. Not even a slight hesitation. I said yes yes yes, packed up some books and some outfits, and off I went towards the mountains of upstate New York.

Upstate New Yorkers, would probably frown upon my description of the Oswego area as upstate. For me, a life-long Long Islander, anything above the Bronx is upstate. However, those on the Canadian-US border are kind of more upstate than where I was headed. I was really going to Central New York. Unless this territory-debate has changed over the years. You can see it’s kind of ingrained in me.

Anyway, at three and a half to four hours depending on traffic, I set out for a day or two of hilly mountain driving. I stopped in Sloatsberg for a quick bite. I stopped in Roscoe because you have to stop in Roscoe. The Roscoe Diner is there. It’s like a law or something. I didn’t eat at the diner. I visited the parking lot and moved on.

Then came the part of the trip where I veered away from the Oneonta route and headed to Treadwell instead. There were huge trucks that sometimes drove behind me on one-lane roads. My car was doing really well on the vertical roads, but I still panicked every time one appeared because I didn’t want them to think I was going too slow. I didn’t feel like I  was going slow until cars passed me. I kept telling myself that slow and steady wins the race. Then I would counter my own self with we’re not in a race.

Then I passed a milkery and knew that I was very much in the country.  What’s a milkery? It’s a very large factory where milk is made that appears out of nowhere on the side of a mountain. Many of the large trucks were coming and going from here. I figured this is where a lot of the cows I saw were sending their milk. That’s how it works, right? Right.

Rounding a bend after hours of clutching the wheel, I came upon a sign at the end of a major road that had four arrows at the top. This was not a street sign. Instead, the arrows indicated: Franklin, Oneonta, Delhi, and Walton (I think these were the four). Ahh, I was in the area. Then I followed my GPS turn by turn and then the last turn came and I missed it.

No big deal. This is the reason I have a GPS. It’s not so much for directions to get to places. It’s for directions for when I screw up. So I waited for the recalculation, and it didn’t come. I took a quick glance. There was a wide blank space on the map and a blue dot hovering in the center. I’d lost GPS. I’d lost all phone signal. There would be no phone calls. There would be no artificial intelligence. There would be only me and my brains.

No big deal. I’d pull over and turn around. Ummmm, nope. When you’re on a mountain, there’s nowhere to do that. If you miss a turn and have no GPS, you really have no idea how long you have to keep driving  until you can turn around. It could be a few minutes. It could be an hour.

And that’s when I did what any self-respecting adult would do. I started drive-crying. Crying at the GPS. Crying that I was lost. Crying that I just wanted to get out of the friggin car. This is me and my brains working it out.

I found a road, finally, and turned around. I found the turn on the way back. Then I found that I was too early. What’s a gal to do? No cell service to call or message. No nothing. No one around. No place to ask anyone in person. So I headed back over to that four-arrow sign and decided to drive in the direction of Oneonta.

The road. To Oneonta. Was closed. I shit you not.

So I did some more drive-crying, only this time, it was more of sit-in-the-motionless-car-crying. Then I chose the next best arrow. Delhi. I had no idea how long it would take me to get there. I just drove and drove, passing cows, passing farms. Drove and drove until I heard a bunch of dinging, which mean I had emails arriving, which meant my service was back on. I kept driving until I saw the sign for Delhi and then cried because I’d found Delhi. I parked on the main street in Delhi and walked around a bit. Then I saw the time and decided I needed to eat and change and get ready for my reading. From Delhi, the road to Oneonta was open, so I headed towards the Southside Mall.

Up and down and twisting around, the GPS stayed on the whole way. I rounded a mountain bend and saw a sign and started drive-crying again, this time because I was all nostalgic because this was the turn to Oneonta. Oneonta has a Panera. Oneonta has wi-fi. Oneonta is technologically advanced, at least more than Treadwell.

I ate. I changed. I messaged. I called. I charted out my way back. I realized that the way back from Oneonta was the street where I’d turned around when I missed my turn, which means that only one road to Oneonta was closed.

The reading was fabulous. I read with Tom Clausen,  a poet who writes what he calls “little poems.” They are haiku and haiku-adjacent. The poems are very lovely; a lot of them read like tiny meditations. I read about space and sci-fi and vacations. I gave away astronaut ice cream and stickers because that’s my schtick. I crashed at Bright Hill because they have a room for crashing. Tom drove back home which would take about an hour, which is not long when you live up there. I perused their library. I wrote and read. I hooked up to their wi-fi. Life was good.

For breakfast, they left for me a bagel and a banana and some other breakfasty stuff, which was such a nice gesture. I wasn’t a bagel snob. I ate the bagel, and it was good. I headed out shortly after breakfast. The morning was sunny but chilly–probably not chilly for up there but it was for me.

I. Did not. Get lost. In the mountains!

Instead, I got lost in the Bronx.

But then I found my way home. Which is always my favorite part of traveling.