AWP Portland, OR (Bust)

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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.

 

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 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:

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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?