Sunday, December 30, 2012

On Taylor Swift and Slam Poetry.

I have no right being a Taylor Swift fan. How many 22-year old, African American females are Taylor Swift fans? I should be a slam poetry fan, right? But I hate slam poetry, and I love Taylor Swift. I've never seen good slam poetry. Slam poetry to poetry is what Taylor Swift is to music. While that's an outrageous statement and not fair at all, let me explain.

Poetry should hold up on the page and when read aloud. When I go to a poetry reading and cannot follow the poet, it sucks. When I imagine slam poetry on the page, it sucks. I don't read poetry when I want something especially sweet or silly or over-dramatic.

When I want something sweet and silly, I listen to Taylor Swift. She does sweet and silly pop (with a country twist? What?! Thanks, God!) really well. She tries really hard to do dramatic, and almost always, it feels like contrived. We get it Taylor, you're getting older, and your 7-month relationships are a slightly more legitimate, but please, go back to the magic of "Our Song." (Don't get me wrong, I love grown up Taylor, but c'mon.)

Is my point that we should stick to what we're good at? That poetry should stay on the page and slam poetry shouldn't try to be real poetry? That Taylor Swift should be singing sillysweet pop songs at age 65? Yes, that's exactly what my point is. And, the cherry on the top of this contrived pairing is me, doing a dramatic reading of "Back to December" (with Miles Davis in the background). Here you go:

P.S. Got good slam poetry to share? Please share it with me.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

On Newtown.

I've been home for a couple days, and driving around in the daylight has started to become overwhelming. Every flag--every single flag--is at half-staff. There are billboards about Newtown, you can donate to the victims almost everywhere you go, and every conversation I've had finds its way to the topic of gun control.

I don't have anything especially new or poignant to say about the shooting in Newtown. (If you want that, then watch this, which I thought was particularly well-spoken: Joe Scarborough: For the sake of my four children and yours, I choose life and I choose change.) Possible solutions to something as horrible as Newtown are multi-faceted, complex, and drenched in politicization. All I have is an inflated sense of self-importance and the blog that goes with it. But The Dean of Students at my college, Christina Klawitter, sent me an email, and not only did it make me grateful that I chose Beloit, but it is also relevant to post (in part) here:
     I can hardly think of anything more tragic than the school shooting that happened Friday in Newtown, CT. To say that the lives of the survivors have been changed forever is probably a vast understatement. To think that we in Beloit aren't affected, because we weren't present, may be an understatement too.

Not being in Connecticut when the shooting happened made that effect much less intense. When I was in Beloit, caught up in finals and papers and reading and friends and drinking, it was easy to ignore Newtown.  It was easy to forget that it happened, and even easier to be unaware of the fact that it happened an hour away from where I grew up. Here, in Connecticut, it is impossible to ignore Newtown, and it should be just as impossible across the country. These things do affect all of us, in some way or another. A former-teacher at my arts high school lost his daughter. He also went to high school with my older sister, whose ex-boyfriend was a first responder at Sandy Hook:

I don't understand how my sisters haven't been more of a wreck. One has four children under the age of 12, and the other has a three year old, a 12-year old, and a 16-year old. How they've been able to let their children out of their sight amazes me. When I saw my five year old nephew, Yonathan, for the first time after getting out of school, he jumped up to me and wrapped his arms and legs around me and said, "This is my Sasha and I'm never letting go." We talked about his graduation from pre-school, and how excited he was for kindergarten soon. He told me he wanted tic tacs and an iPhone for his sixth birthday, in June. Six, of course, is the age of many of the Sandy Hook victims. After Yonathan agreed to let go of me, I went upstairs and cried. This might seem overly-dramatic, and it probably is, but the world is a scary place and its even scarier when there are children you love and care about living in it with you. I am normally a nervous wreck, and being home usually makes it better. Not this time. I had a severe anxiety attack, mid-Hobbit, and had to leave the theatre because I was sure every person who got up was going to pull out a gun. That's a small example.

Y & I, this summer.
I can see how Connecticut has changed. In many ways, it has changed for the worse--we know that unspeakable, awful things have happened and can happen, and families are missing their children, but in my daily life, I've seen some good changes. I've always thought of Connecticut as a cold place, where people don't look up and nobody holds the doors for you. Maybe its the holiday season, or maybe its Newtown, but Connecticut seems a little warmer than it did last time I was here, in August. People have been kinder, more polite, more patient--my learned Midwest nice hasn't seemed so out of place. That is a good thing. It doesn't come anywhere close to outweighing the bad, but it is palpable. It is something. There are so many children in my family, and still, my older sisters fight and argue, my aunts and uncles spread rumors and gossip about private issues. Newtown has made me realize that that has to stop. Who cares if so-and-so said such-and-such about whatever? Enjoy the time off from work, the times when your nephew says he's never letting you go, and do something for Newtown if you can.

And now, to help balance out everything awful, is my favorite Christmas song:

Sunday, December 16, 2012

On Confederados, Exodusters and Adderall.

After an early and brief hiatus, my blog is (probably) back (for good/for a while). I had a 20-25 page paper due on Tuesday for my American Studies senior seminar about Atlantic World.

Vocabulary: the Atlantic World is a period of history lasting from 1492 (when Columbus sailed the ocean blue) until 1888 (the end of the slave trade). The Atlantic World is made up of North and South America, Europe and Africa. Confederados were the approximately 2,000 white Southerners who moved to Brazil in the years (1865-1867) after their defeat in the Civil War. Exodusters were the approximately 20,000 freed slaves who moved to Kansas towards the end of Reconstruction (1877-1879). My paper focused on these two groups emigration out of the Reconstruction South and their reasons for leaving. I could go on.

James McFadden Gaston, whose 397 page book,
Hunting a Home in Brazil
was my primary source for the Confederados
Benjamin "Pap" Singleton,
whose extensive scrapbook of
pro-emigration materials was my
Exoduster primary source base.

Adderall is weird. I took it for the first time to finish the last fifteen pages of the paper. When I told people at Beloit that it was my first time taking study drugs, they actually laughed in my face. I’ve never needed or wanted to take adderall, but I had also never had to write a 20-page paper before, so I swallowed the pill and got to work. I’m a generally neurotic person and wary of uppers. My brain moves at a thousand miles per hour and the idea that it would move any faster was terrifying to me.  At the best of times, being on Adderall felt like I had finally learned how to use my powers the right way, a la one’s first year at Hogwarts or X-Men: First Class.

By the time I was ready to print, my hands were shaking so much I couldn’t use the electric stapler, and that did not feel good. Lying wide-awake in bed, legs twitching every so often, for three hours after turning in the paper did not feel good either. But on Tuesday, at noon, I walked down the stairs into the Morse-Ingersoll basement, one minute late to class, with a 19-page paper (sloppily stapled) and a power point that I had put together in the previous hour. But, I finished.  

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

On Martin Van Buren.

This is my new favorite commercial. Watch it, now.

If for some reason you can't watch it, I'll sum it up: a family is rushing to get out of the house in the morning, when a little girl, still in her pajamas, annouces to her stressed mother that today is Dress Like A President Day, and she has to be dressed like Martin Van Buren. Her mother uses Google to learn about Van Buren (and maybe some crafting tips on how to create faux sideburns for little girls?). Boom. Its a great commercial. Google knows everything about the Presidents. Who knew? The first time I saw it, I screamed out loud. Van Buren and I have a history.

True Presidential Scholars call them the "side-Burens."
For the summer of 2011, I received a Venture Grant from Beloit to study lesser-known presidents of the 19th Century. I visited the birth places, homes, graves and statues of six presidents: (in alphabetical order): Chester A. Arthur, James Buchanan, Grover Cleveland, Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce, and, of course, Martin Van Buren.
Summer vay-cay.
Some background on Van Buren: he was born on December 5, 1782. That's 230 years ago, today. He wouldn't "be 230 years old today!" because medical science hasn't advanced to the point of people being able to live until they're 230 years old. But, with this Google commercial going viral, maybe he deserves a little bit more attention from this blog. You wouldn't know it from the commercial, but as a younger man, Van Buren was a redhead; his nickname was "The Red Fox of Kinderhook." Anyways, he is the only president for whom English was not a first language (his was Dutch), and he's also the first president to be born after the Revolution, making him technically the first American president. If you're going to learn anything about Van Buren, you have to know about his predecessor in the presidency: Andrew Jackson. Van Buren was Jackson's Vice President, and after Jackson's two terms were over, he hand picked Van Buren to be the next president, and, essentially, remain his Vice President. Obviously, being on Jackson's good side afforded him great political opportunities (not that he rose to meet those opportunities, seeing as the only thing we know about him today is that he has big sideburns), but it also had its consequences. For example, the Trail of Tears technically took place under Van Buren's presidency, despite the fact that Jackson was the stronger proponent of Indian Removal.

Jackson carrying Van Buren into office.
My younger brother, Evan, and I went on the trip to Van Buren's house, in Kinderhook, New York. My father can be very protective, so the fact that he let me drive two hours to outside of Albany with his only son in the car is kind of a miracle. The tour of Van Buren's home was state-run by park rangers and was also the biggest tour group I was a part of on my summer travels. The rest of my president trips that summer were usually just me and whoever I brought along, and we were allowed to walk into every room and get to know the house. In Van Buren's home, which is expansive, glass is up in the door frames so you can't get in. The artifacts are probably in better shape when you put up glass doors, but as a museum/historical site guest, you feel disconnected. 

Our tour guide did not mention the fact that Van Buren owned one slave, but she did mention the fact that he owned the first flushable toilet north of New York City.

In one of the last rooms of the tour, I noticed a bust of Van Buren in the corner that was especially ugly, and in which his sideburns were especially big. I pointed it out to my brother, and when the tour guide told us it was Van Buren’s favorite depiction of himself, we burst out laughing. For the rest of my life I'll associate my brother with Martin Van Buren. I love the presidents so much, and being able to share it with my brother is special to me, even if, in the end, our enjoyment came out of laughing at just how absurd his facial hair really was. It always comes back to the side-Burens. 

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

On The Hobbit and the Walk of Shame.

I did my first real Walk of Shame recently.

I have done a walk of shame, but never a Walk of Shame. I have even done a stride of pride and a Stride of Pride (even when walking back from Peet, Beloiters--its possible). But, this recent Walk of Shame was significant to me because of my pure amount of embarrassment. The guy was cute, and we only made out for a bit, but my behavior that night, most of it as a result of drinking, is gross to sober me. As I walked back to my dorm room at 6 a.m., I thought to myself, Why, oh why did I ever leave my Hobbit hole?

(My mother is probably reading this, embarrassed for me and for her parenting skills, but she should keep reading.)

My life has been circling around Middle-earth for the past two weeks. I've only read the first 100 pages of Lord of the Rings, and I've only seen the first two movies (in their extended-entirety), so I am no LOTR expert, but my mother was obsessed with the books when she was a girl. We saw the trailer for The Hobbit before seeing The Adventures of TinTin in 3D, and she absolutely freaked out. I won't say it was like she was a girl again, but it was cute.

My mother, on the bottom right, in her early LOTR days.
Anyways, one day in October, a friend of mine checked The Hobbit out of our college library. He is a sophomore, and has time to read The Hobbit, which made me bitter, but nonetheless, it inspired me to listen to the audiobook. Long story short (jk, its been a long story), I've been listening The Hobbit every night as I fall asleep, and identifying more and more with Bilbo Baggins.

Top 5 Reasons I Identify with Bilbo Baggins:

1. I have a deep, emotional connection to the spaces I live in. I never feel as comfortable outside of my space as I do inside it. Bilbo puts it best: "I wish I was back in my Hobbit hole by my own warm fireside with the lamp shining." Even if you're on a wonderful adventure, you're still going to miss the things in your crappy dorm room because they're yours. Also, when Gandalf brings an entire party to the Hobbit hole, Bilbo is obviously having a seriously out of control panic attack. I would be like that, but way worse.

2. The night that ended with my Walk Of Shame, I didn't really want to go out. But for some reason, in spite of myself, I did go out. I left my Hobbit hole. Big mistake?

3. I have peculiar eating and sleeping schedules, and I hate when things/people interrupt them. If you know anything about Hobbits, you know that this is as characteristic of a Hobbit as their hairy feet.

4. I complain about everything--even when I am clearly enjoying myself. (Well, almost everything. I can talk myself out of doing anything and can always come up with a reason to not do or not go to something.) My brother does this too, but only with movies--he never wants to watch them, but when he does, he always immediately go on Facebook to post a status about how great the movie was. (Recent examples: Megamind, Fantastic Mr. Fox, both of which are perfect movies to watch with nieces and nephews of all ages.) The reader knows that Bilbo leaves his Hobbit hole because he wants to leave, he wants an adventure, even if he claims he only does it in spite of himself.

5. "'Never laugh at live dragons, Bilbo you fool!' he said to himself, and it became a favorite saying of his later, and passed into a proverb." Is it corny of me to say that this past weekend was a live dragon, and I laughed in its face? Because I learned my lesson. I'm taking it easy for the rest of the semester(, she said, hopefully).

Thank God I'm not identifying with Gollum. Thank God my mother raised me to love reading, or else I'd have no friends.

One last thing (for now) relating to my mother. I inherited (read: took) her old records, and subsequently became obsessed with the music she listened to, especially Elvis Costello. I have two copies of My Aim is True on vinyl: hers, from the early 1980s, and my own, bought at a record store in the mid naughties. Anyways, whenever I'm feeling particularly angsty, I listen to this song. Any early, punk-y Elvis will do, but this song is perfect:

Monday, December 3, 2012

On Depression and Senioritis.

I don’t think it’s that weird to write about my depression because I don’t think depression is weird. Every gets depressed sometimes, and we shouldn’t shame people who have depression into thinking that they’re “different,” or else they might never get help. So, this isn’t an attempt to brag about how messed up I am, because I’m not ashamed or embarrassed or proud of being on medication for depression, it just happens to be a fact of my life right now. 

This semester has been sloppy, to say the least. My sleep schedule is irregular but my intoxication has been regular and my schoolwork, in general, has suffered.  I am taking two 100-level classes this semester: Introduction to American Government and Politics and Introduction to Cultural Anthropology. Both are borderline insufferable—the assignments and the people, especially. Despite the amazing professors, I skip class regularly because I have difficulty sleeping, difficulty waking up, and care very little about my GPA. I don’t really like leaving my room, and I only really socialize with the same six or seven people. I drink at least five nights a week, at least three of those nights to excess. Before this semester, I never puked once from drinking. I puked last weekend and this weekend. I forget to take my medication all the time, and feel a lot less stable for it. I am in the library a lot less, light hurts my eyes, and my right shoulder is bruised from recently passing out in a place that was not a bed. 

I am graduating from college in about two weeks. If my recent actions are my symptoms, I’m still not quite sure what the problem is. I have gone through months of depression before, but it has never been detrimental to my body like this. In the past, my depression was like starting the day with a punch to the face and never quite recovering. When I’m depressed, I walk with my head down, I bounce my knee constantly, I think at ten thousand miles per hour, and my body feels gigantic. My sleep schedule suffers, but I still do all my work. Even during severe bouts of depression, I still accomplished things. I found solace in good grades and a pat on the head from a teacher. Compliments from professors are one of the only things that make me feel better instantly. I think to myself, well, you can’t get out of bed on time, you haven’t called your mother in three weeks, you weight 400 pounds, but at least your thesis statement is great. Usually, that’s enough. I keep one part of my life together and the rest being out of whack isn't so bad.

But I’ve been accomplishing a lot less this semester. I only put 100 percent effort into the things that I really want to do. I want to write for the newspaper. I want to write poems about Presidents. Those things still seem easy (or, challenging in a good way) to me, but everything else is hard. Everything. The differences between my last bout of depression and this time are my age and my stress level; I can change one of those two things.

I’ll still be at Beloit from January to May, but under different circumstances—a tuition-free semester to work on a special project.  I’ll have an apartment and a cat and, hopefully, a subscription to a newspaper. I plan to get obnoxiously good at crossword puzzles. I will live without senioritis, and get even better at learning to live with my depression.

For now, I'm listening to "Lately I've Let Things Slide" by Nick Lowe on repeat, and taking solace in the fact that my hair is finally growing out.

"Along with my pride/Lately, I've let things slide."

On Curing Homesickness.

I Skyped into my niece, Sophie's, third birthday party for candles, cake and presents, and then I switched to Skyping with a college friend who is currently in Spain ("You can get a pretty good bottle of wine, well, not good, but better than Franzia, for a Euro. A Euro.").

I am the one inside the computer.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

On Blogging.

This is what I look like.
I am Sasha. I don't have the time to blog.

Blogging is terrifying. Twitter is easy. It clears my head throughout the day. Keeping it all bottled up for a blog seems unhealthy, like mental constipation. Twitter is regular. This is probably the most cliche first blog post of all time. Recently, I was cringing my way through my high school LiveJournal and Xanga. It was physically painful, but necessary. Writing can go bad quickly, like a banana, or something. (That sentence was bad before it was even finished.) Maybe, if i'm lucky, I'll read this again soon and be relieved when its actually slightly endearing.

I have two reasons for starting a blog: I like attention, and my friend Joy started a blog and asked me why I didn't have one yet. That's it.

Here are some things I might write about on this blog: poetry, college, baseball, presidents, American history, British comedy, graduate school applications, myself, race, hair, UFC, my nieces and nephews, coffee, television, baking, depression, living in an apartment for the first time, decoration of said apartment, my (future) cat, etc.

This is my favorite Monty Python sketch, for future reference: