I Walked With Whitman

The Walt Whitman Birthplace invited me to host and read and sign books as part of their Walking With Whitman community reading series and it was exhilarating!

Some things that happened:

I made sure everyone knew it was National Donut Day.

A small workshop of poets introduced each other and read poems aloud using the skills they are developing in the workshop.

First Poet Laureate of Suffolk County and Writer-In-Residence George Wallace introduced me.

Former Poet Laureate of Suffolk County Robert Savino was there.

More than several people who didn’t know me before the reading were clearly trying to find out my age. Instead of asking me how old I am, they were asking all the questions I usually get when I know someone is trying to figure it out. The most obvious one is How long have you been teaching? Usually, I say Forever, which is of no help. Then several people also told me, You’re too young to remember but…. And I nodded because sure, why not still be too young to remember? Which doesn’t make any sense when you think about it. To be clear, I’m not annoyed when this happens. I think it’s funny. I have no concept of age, and I frequently forget how old I am if I’m not in a rounded-number-year, like 50. So let’s call me 50 for now.

Two comics were there and were inviting people to come to a maybe-maybe-not-super-secret-speakeasy that was also a hip hop recording studio. A discussion of this venue led to a discussion that confused Jake Tapper and John Taffer, which I very much enjoyed. Since I had plans for coffee because I may or may not be an old lady or child out past my bedtime, I had to decline checking out the venue, which is a pity because stand-up comedy is one of my favorite things in the world. Also, one of them asked if I thought I was funny, to which I responded, Yes, I’m hilarious.

[Sidenote: During one of the year-end student readings, a student from another class asked me if I do improv because I’m funny. Who needs the potential flopsweat of improv when you’ve got a captive audience in a classroom?]

As usual, I held court because I. Cannot. Stop. Teaching.

Christina M. Rau reading

Photo by George Wallace

The open mic included the musings of Tom D’Angelo, Russ Green, Mary Healey, Dan Brown, and several other poets who were simply wonderful souls.

As usual, I made a crazy poet face.

Crazy Poet Face

Photo by George Wallace

The band 1 Step Ahead played, and they are brilliantly talented and everyone should book them for everything.

The Q&A was basically me mentioning 2001 A Space Odyssey about 2001 times.

There were snacks. I ate grapes. They were good.

I ran out of copies of Liberating The Astronauts. Never before have I seen such an engaged audience and sold that many books. Poetry! Is! Lucrative! (not really, but it’s nice to not have to carry back home such a heavy bag of books).

[Sidenote: if you would like a copy of For The Girls, I,  WakeBreatheMove, or Liberating The Astronauts, check out my books page for information on how to do that. Are they sold on Amazon? I have no idea, but instead of Amazon, maybe order from the small presses or from me directly.]

I am so grateful to WWBP and the people who came out to share an evening of words and music.

WWBP Reading 1

Photo Courtesy of Robert Savino

“Opposition Night” Is Nominated For A Rhysling Award !

So thankful and excited to learn that “Opposition Night” is nominated for the Science Fiction & Fantasy Poetry Association’s Rhysling Award in the Long Poem Category. This poem appears in Liberating The Astronauts (Aqueduct Press 2017). Here it is in case you’re interested in reading (or voting!).

Opposition Night

I.
You need a supersonic parachute for landing
and even then, it’s still tricky, a terrifying
seven minutes.
You need these simple interplanetary
wads of sticks inspired by
those egg drop experiments in high school
physics. They’ll cushion the impact.

When you awake to see the new horizon,
you’ll need your rations followed by
freeze dried ice cream for dessert.
Then you can begin the mining project.
Resource extraction, that kind of thing.
Once you’re there, life is easy.

II.
A six month road trip to the red planet
and farther: Jupiter, Saturn, alongside
the asteroid belt—possible only in a
sleep state.
No roadside pit stops at hole-in-the-wall
diners, no waitresses in white sneakers
named Luanne.
No off-road shoulder dust kicking up
and settling down on a hood and
through a window ajar.
Only the pod, fitting six, tentatively
called Copernicus, hurling itself
through as humans hibernate
like bears. Only you’re not a bear.
And you’re not on Earth.

III.
Photovoltaic power is all the rage!
Asteroid ablation! Comet ablation!
Every kind of ablation you could desire!
A plume of heat and laser light and
Kapow! Kablooey! Kaboom!

IV.
Even with a strong core
I can’t roller skate.
Melanie mocks me
when her voice comes over
the 70s station.
The starting isn’t a problem.
It’s the stopping that poses
concern.

I need a magnetoshell,
like the ones the engineers
are tweaking for the spacecrafts—
a force field generator that uses
magnetized plasma that would
slow me down upon approach
to anything that I might want
to not crash into.
A building.
A sidewalk.
A tree.

V.
A disappeared notice.
Appearance oddities.
A paraded centipoise.
Panacea diode stripe.
A paradise deception.
Paranoic seeded pit.
Sanitaria decode pep.
Eradicated aeon pips.
Arcade opiates pined.

VI.
To harness all energy
green gold silver
liana lariat lasso
telegraphed from arm to
quasi star non moon

A trap door unhatched
impossible to repair

Catch solar
Clasp wind

Stay aloft as long
until
the asteroid becomes the ship.

VII.
Icy moon
after
icy moon
ocean
under the surface.

If sound could travel
the ice would moan
shifting and old and heavy.

VIII.
Pluto non planet — photographed only in echoes

IX.
Decades spent tooling around
crashing and breaking down

all that debris floats in
angular momentum
its own orbit self-paced.

The dust sits there
a still cloud.

X.
We missed Mars.
It approached Earth over
the weekend, coming
thisclose
as the sun spun to the Earth’s
other side. When the sun set,
the red planet rose, neighboring
the almost full moon, shining
almost as bright as Jupiter.

In its brightness, its redness lessened—
gradient shades of warmth, I suppose.

I was inside, away from windows,
preoccupied with mundane matters
that matter only every day—
what time the sun will come back up
when the hedges will be trimmed
what kind of planet I’ll leave behind
when I leave.

Lunacon Badge and Schedule

My LunaCon: Part 3

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Badly lit conventioning selfie

A morning panel at 10 AM was the plan. The original plan had included an afternoon reading, but with nothing to do in between and checkout at 1, the plan got pared down. I packed my stuff and then packed my car and then went in search of hot tea. The free coffee outside of the hotel restaurant did not have a hot water accompaniment, so I had decaf. Then I realized I could have taken the empty cup to my room to make tea in. So I drank the coffee and then rinsed the cup and then had tea. It was early. I had time to drink things.

I watched the news. I watched some Mystery Science Theatre on Netflix (the hotel TV had a smart TV). I check all the drawers again to see if I’d left anything behind. I found reading materials.

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Decisions, decisions.

Then I headed out to the second panel I’d attend on social media. If you’ll recall, the first one didn’t exactly go as planned. I hoped that this one would not include unwanted touching or any other kinds of accosting.

When I got to the room, the door didn’t open, so I leaned against the wall and tried to get the wi-fi to hook up to my phone. I’d been doing this since I’d arrived on Friday to no avail. Then I heard a door open and someone say, Hey you stalking me?

It’s game time! Ooh, I think this is the first time I’m doing this on this blog. Or maybe the second. Whatever, we haven’t done this in a while.

Question: Who was the guy who came out of the room across the hall?
(a) Hotel staff
(b) Someone from the Brooklyn Speculative Fiction Writers crowd
(c) Okay, this is dumb. We all know the answer is B because there’s no one else it could be.

Answer: B!

I was like, Oh hey.

And he was like, You waiting for a session to start?

I was like, Yeah but I think the door is locked.

He walked over and then opened the door.

This. Is. My. Life.

He held it open for me, and I walked in, and we both told each other to have a good day. I sat on an aisle seat towards the middle and again fought with the wi-fi. Then two men came in–two of the three Glenns from yesterday–and one asked if I had moved from that seat. Because that’s exactly where I sat during their panel. On the plus side, someone remembered me, and that’s actually a nice change of pace. Usually, I have to introduce myself to people about nine times on the average until they recognize me later on. This is not self-pity. This is another fact of life, and I’m okay with that.

More panelists came in followed by two more audience members, so the panel began. It was a good conversation about social media. They didn’t really give the ins and outs of actual examples of how-tos and which apps (Reddit was mentioned but not like how to actually use Reddit so it is still a complete mystery), but they did give solid advice about writing: be genuinely consistent and consistently genuine. I kind of know that, but it’s good reinforcement. One of them talked about how one of his non-fiction pieces went viral and how he continued to blog using interesting titles. So, click-bait.

Another is a creative writing professor at St. John’s and a fiction writer. He made some grading references and student paper references, so he was speaking my language. So much so that I went up to him afterwards, introduced myself as a professor at NCC, and then chatted about students and social media. Yeah, that’s right. I went up to someone. I engaged in conversation. A conversation I started. He agreed that that the younger generation is into the way everyone thinks they are.

Here are the two take-aways that stood out:

  1. Pieces should be personally dangerous.
  2. No matter how or why you begin a project, in the end, it must emotionally resonate with an audience.

What I’ve found is I do all the things these panels talk about. I don’t have the kind of following they all have. The main difference seems to be that I don’t go out and meet people face to face as much as they do. I suppose I should go to conventions and conferences more often. I can take my department travel money and run! (Of course, the travel budget for each faculty member barely covers one conference registration, but you know, one can dream.)

I ate a Larabar, put on The Dear Mattie Show Podcast, and drove home, listening to the GPS until I got to Bronx River Parkway and then took my own way home. Where I found the house immaculately clean courtesy of Eddie. Aww, what a way to end a weekend.

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Lunacon Badge and Schedule

My LunaCon: Part 2

Because I’m an 87 year old woman, I wanted to turn in before midnight. I even chose a quiet floor to cater to my wanting to sleep. When music came booming from somewhere and echoed throughout the entire hotel, I used my nifty Marriott app to inquire as to why I could hear blasting music on the quiet floor. Apparently, it doesn’t matter if you’re on a quiet floor if there’s an event  that goes until midnight. You have to wait it out.

Marriott App Chat

You also have to wait out evens. (read closely)

Even so, I woke up early, did some dance aerobics to a workout DVD on my laptop, and then headed out to the Stop and Shop to gather food for the day. Yes, I’m a gatherer, not a hunter. I then wandered around until it was time for Plausible Impossible.

I’m getting a lot out of attending fiction-writing workshops. Though I don’t write fiction, I teach it in Creative Writing, so it helps to pick up these tips like 1. Create your own set of rules, and 2. Break the rules for conflict, and 3. You can’t know everything. This last one is a really good rule for life, too.

0174e6a3ca2e8bbf08ce2d4740123b981a4587e9c9I went to the Lobby to pick up my stuff from Programming. I got a name thingie and a badge thingie, making me a pretty big deal. Thingie.

The woman who handed me my stuff asked me, “Did you dance last night?” I took a moment to think and then said it wasn’t me. I’m not sure why I had to think about this.

Clearly, I blog. I’m on Twitter and Instagram and Snapchat, though Insta and Snap are more for fun and not for promotion for me because I can’t really figure out the promotional aspects for my purposes. And I really can’t figure out Snapchat at all aside from sending funny filtered faces to people. Anyway, I figured I could get something out of the panel on Pop Culture and Social Media. The panel wasn’t well attended and two of the panelists were MIA. No biggie. I moved to the front and engaged in listening to everything the three remaining presenters had to say.

There was talk of Refinery 29 (that site that sends you lots of emails when you sign up for it and then you spend two hours reading everything and then you realize you can’t get anything else done in your day so you unsubscribe only to resubscribe when you come across it again and then it all starts all over). There was talk of saying yes to everything and being nice to everyone. I pretty much do that. What I don’t do is talk to people face to face, and that’s kind of why I’m here. I need to do that more as it seems to be key in, you know, life.

There was talk of blogging and friending and being a woman on panels at conventions where that is not the norm. There was the very brilliant idea of hashtagging and metatagging using words that are not traditionally for your own audience so that you reach a wider audience, whether or not they’ll immediately like what you have to say. Simply. Brilliant.

The moderator explained that Twitter will be gone very soon, replaced by Instagram. Hmm. IMHO, until you don’t have to write Link In Bio on Instagram, I don’t think Twitter is going anywhere.

Most of all, however, Things. Got. Weird.

The panel dynamic seemed to be someone who tells bad jokes and knows it combined with two very outspoken voices. I don’t think they knew each other prior to the panel, and it seemed like the moderator had a list of items to discuss but was thrown off by the two additional panelists not being there, and it also seemed that the list was not shared beforehand. This seems to be common at this convention, however, because there’s simply a lot going on all over the place.

So that wasn’t exactly the weird thing. This was the weird thing. Okay, not so much weird as really uncomfortable because sometimes people don’t understand boundaries, especially when they think they are half-joking in a friendly way but what they do is not funny and they aren’t your friend. The moderator basically attempted to cover the mouth of one of the panelists. Jeez. No no no.

The main reason I loved this panel was that the two panelists were simply fabulous at being confident people. Immediately, they were like, that’s not okay. Immediately, he was like, I’m sorry.  See? Make it clear and don’t get cutesy, and your point gets across.

Remember that song “The Bad Touch”? Yeah, that’s what this reminded me of. Not the entire song, just the title.

A bit later when the moderator was explaining something or other, the two panelists were whispering to each other. That was a bit distracting, true, but the moderator was like, I’m just going to stop because the thing that gets to me is people talking when I’m talking.

As someone who encounters that every single working day of my life, I get the frustration. I have even used that tactic in a classroom.

However.

I have never done it while on a panel in front of an audience. It was really, really uncomfortable.

So when asked if I was interested in promoting myself on social media, my response was, Well I’m not sure. I wasn’t responding to the question being asked. It was more of an I’m not sure what the hell is happening here. I wanted so very badly to explain to the incident-maker how to not make things weird, but I’ve been really good at not trying to micromanage strangers, putting my teacher-persona aside in situations where I’m not in charge. Plus, the panelists held their own. They did not need my help.

When it was over, I thanked both of the panelists for their insights and followed them both on Twitter. In fact, I realized that I had already started following one of them before the convention when she was retweeted by LunaCon. That’s serendipity.

Things got a little lighter at the Marvel Comics/TV/Film panel. It was billed as a panel of Glenns. All three guys were named Glenn with two n’s. Then another Glen arrived, with only one n, sent there by Programming to do a song about comics. Because his name is Glen.

This is why I’m loving this convention.

The discussion went in all different ways. I kept busy, jotting down snippets of super hero ideas and tidbits. My next collection is going to incorporate super heroes in some way, so anything that sounded like it could be a poem went straight into my notebook.  This panel ended in a song by Glen with the one n.

Moving on to the next session: Writing Social Change in SF. Again, the women from the character dialogue workshop was on this panel, so that’s three things I’ve attended that she’s been part of. I feel like I’m fanning out on her. The panel offered insights into diversity and building worlds. Mostly, I was distracted by the two people in the room who were coughing. Lately, I’ve been getting really bad with cringing at first cough. People cough for many reasons, not only because they are sick. Some of them even cough into their inside elbow as we are all supposed to. Still, I get germ-ed out and fixate on where the cough is coming from and my potential of getting sick from it. Then the panel was over.

I walked through the fair and this time bought stuff. Yeah, that’s right. I. Bought. Stuff. Me, the girl who hates shopping. I bought some spices from Auntie Arwin Spices. Then I bought two charms for  myself. Yes, that’s right. I bought stuff for myself. I couldn’t decide between the two, so I bought them both. And because I bought them both, I got two dollars off. Steal! Thanks, Geeks Bearing Gifts!

It was break time. I came back to my room to warm up. All the conferences rooms are about 20 degrees below zero. I’m keeping my room at a balmy 70something. I wrote. I ate dinner. I had coffee. I then headed back out into conventionland.

I first sat in on a panel about Cult Films. I thought they might show film clips because there was a projector in the room, but they didn’t. It was still interesting, listening to plots of movies that people watched in the 60s, 70s, and 80s on Channels 9 and 11 or on Mystery Science Theatre. A lot of cult films sound like horror movies. Then there was a guy in the audience who was participating as if he were part of the panel. Then a lot of people were participating. I had nothing to offer, and then I had to go to my own panel.

bad mirror selfie

I look like a poet, right?

Erasing SF and Fantasy: Creating Found Poems! The panel/workshop in the room before me seemed to not want to end, so at 7, I walked in and started putting my stuff down on the panel table. Some people in the room saw me setting up–the folks from the Brooklyn Speculative Fiction thing because of course–and asked what was going on. I was like, It’s poetry! I showed them my book, prompted by my colleague who was attending. I didn’t sell one, but I gave away a space sticker. People like stickers.

There were five people. Two girls I’d met in the lobby. I was walking down the hall from Cult Films, and a guy pointed at me and said to them, She’s a poet so maybe she knows. I was like, Know what? He was like, There’s a workshop. I was like, I’m giving that workshop. So I had the girls follow me there. They were really awesome young women. I keep saying girls because they looked 12. They were, I believe, college age.

The workshop went exactly as I’d hoped. I talked a little about found poetry and then erasure poetry. We went through examples of different ways to erase. Then I let them pick up photocopies of different sources ranging from sci-fi novels to science textbooks. I put colored pencils, crayons, and pastels on their tables. Then they made poetry.

The room got quiet. Every so often, I suggested ways to spark new poems. They really worked at it. Time flew. I mean, we started late, but it still flew. They all shared what they wrote, and what they wrote was so fantastic. I told them if they wanted to send me their final product, they could. One of the young ladies asked if my email was on the handout. I was like, no but it should be. So I handed out my publicity postcards. Then I said I also had stickers but they could get one only if they bought a book. Both gals were like, Stickers! And I was like, I know, right? And they were like, Stickers are awesome. So I gave them each a sticker. See? People like ’em.

Then I sold two books AND I found out that there’s an old Solaris movie, one without George Clooney, that I haven’t seen and need to see. How did that come up? One of my sample poems is from Liberating The Astronauts, based on Stanislaw Lem’s Solaris. Want to read the poem? Go here.

I went with my colleague to the masquerade. It lasted for maybe 20 minutes because there were only four entries. Then the emcee made bad book puns as a band that sings about fandom set up. This went on for much longer than it should have. My colleague tapped out after they’d sung two songs, and I thought I’d stay to hear the winners of the masquerade, but I tired pretty quickly and headed to the lobby for some semi-silence before the last panel.

The last panel was Real Bio-Apocalypse. Basically, we’re all going to die because everyone takes antibiotics too often when they shouldn’t like when they have viral infections AND because there are many of us who stop taking meds when we feel better instead of finishing out the dosage, which means we are potentially leaving behind bacteria that is now getting stronger because it hasn’t all been killed off.

I will point out that there was an incessant cougher at this panel.

I called it a night so I could go warm up from the ice den that was the last meeting room. My head is swimming from all the stuff of today. There’s more to come tomorrow, too.

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Lunacon Badge and Schedule

My LunaCon: Part 1

When I pulled up to the hotel / convention center / largest building with the most rooms ever, I wasn’t quite sure even where to go to get in and to the front desk. On the way to what seemed like the front door, I saw this:

Lunacon1

And then everything was okay because Big Band AND Harry Potter? Yes, this was the right place in so many ways.

I checked in. I figured out how to use the elevator (you push the floor and the screen on the wall tells you what elevator to go to and then you go in it and there’s no buttons inside because it takes you only to that floor). I found my room. I called internet help to get onto the wifi.

Then I wrote a poem. Yeah, that’s right. I made a cup of free hotel room coffee, and I wrote a poem about the Fantastic Four.

After that, I headed downstairs, got my badge and schedule, and then wandered around to find the first workshop. It was about character dialogue. I thought it would be ideal for me to get some good ideas about how to teach character building in my creative writing classes. I sat down, and then the woman running the workshop told the set-up crew that the chairs needed to be moved because she needed space. All the chairs were pushed aside and she asked us to stand up and move around and shake things out.

My first instinct: Run away.

I fought that instinct and simply shook things out. I realized at that moment, Wow, this is exactly how my students feel when I ask them to do anything. Plus, I’m always telling them to go do things that make them uncomfortable, so I stayed.

I uncomfortably walked around and stopped and talked to whomever was in front of me when she tapped her glass with a pen. I uncomfortably repeated this walking and stopping and talking until I’d said weird things and asked awkward questions to half the room. Then I uncomfortably paired up with someone and had a conversation as a dead witch in a cave (he was an alien in disguise over a million years old).

Then things got a little less uncomfortable because she told us to plan a vacacation as our characters, but we had to give our characters an actual voice. I chose a valley girl witch who needed a new hat, and since the alien traveled the world, I told him to choose where we went. Sumeria. That became our vacation plan, and he needed to drag me because, remember, I’m dead.

The final thing was choosing a character we invented (most people I think were fiction writers and had characters already–I chose a persona in a few of my poems named Judith). We had to answer questions about the character and then say them as if we were the character: I’m Judith, aged 32 or not or maybe or perpetually. I’m disgusted by warm milk in the sink, and I laugh at funerals but only if they’re outdoors. I have two friends, but they don’t know it, and maybe enemies; I really don’t keep track of those things. If I could be anything else in the world, I’d be my mother.

Not too shabby for a poet, huh?

I took a quick walk through the fair on the way out of the workshop. I turned a corner and saw a man in a cape. I gasped on the inside. And then I remembered, oh, yeah, I’m at Lunacon. Things like this are going to happen, and this is where they should happen. Yes, quickly getting over my fear of adults-wearing-costumes.

Then I met up with a colleague friend for dinner. For some strange reason, the hotel restaurant has a pared down menu. It worked fine, though–a grilled chicken sandwich with a salad works for me. We chatted about conventions and books and work and writing and mountain trails that seem shady, like not tree-shady but murder-shady.

We both were interested in the Brooklyn Speculative Fiction Writers reading, so we headed up to that. A group of writers read vastly different stories. That’s the great thing about the speculative genre–there’s a lot of difference within it. The woman who had conducted the workshop earlier was one of the readers, and some of the other readers had been participants.

And now I’m in my room because I’m exhausted already.  I know I did only two things, but it was a long day that included driving all by myself, which means using my sense of direction, which means a lot of brainpower and willpower to not get lost. There’s a lot of stuff still going on. There are parties in rooms and official gamers gaming. On the way to the elevators, we passed a party room in which a man was holding a stuffed octopus that was half the size of him, and I startled a bit, but then again reminded myself, hey, this is Lunacon. These things happen here, and they should.

Currently reading: The Circle by Dave Eggers
Currently watching: The X-Files, Season 1
Currently planning: tomorrow night’s presentation on Erasing SF & Fantasy: Creating Found Poems

 

Liberating My Video Skillz

Whenever I use the word “skillz,” you know I must be up to something creatively good. “Good” is a subjective term. You’ll see. I’ve been playing around with Storify and my MS Movie Maker to teach myself how to teach a class in rudimentary tech skillz. The other reason: my book is going to be published soon, and this is my new marketing plan. Make videos. Storify them. Send them out into the world. Here goes.

UPDATE: Okay, so my mad WordPress skillz seem to not be on point. I’ve got the embed code from Storify and the HTML tab chosen. It’s not working. And so, to see my video skillz, here’s a link instead.

https://storify.com/christinamrau/liberating-the-astronauts-a-video-pastiche

Impressed, aren’t you? With, like, this whole thing, huh?