Sunday, January 31, 2010

Thanks for visiting

For reasons mysterious to me, blogger has sent about 400 visitors my way this week via the navbar. I had stopped checking my analytics because they stayed pretty constant, but several comments from new visitors made me wonder . . .

And in honor of wonder, here's are some pictures of whale songs by Mark Fischer and AguaSonic. Here's how they were made. (Via dhruva on metafilter.)

I'm happy to see strangers here. What's the fun of a blog if it's only read by people you know in real life?

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Reading the phone book

I had a "phone audition" yesterday to read a narrative for what I think is a consumer research agency. It's a gig through a friend.

I had to read a paragraph about one lady's church-going experience in a slow and reflective way. I did it from my car parked outside the gym in between the elliptical machine and the pool. When I finished the lady said, "That was just perfect," and now I'll get paid a decent wage for an hour's worth of reading.

I'm not flattering myself that my performance was actually "perfect." This is a non-union thing, they don't need a pro. But I can give them what they need, and they're paying me in one hour what I might expect to make in a full day of babysitting.

In high school, people used to tell me they would pay to hear me read the phone book. It's one of those hyperbolic things people say when you're in private school and everything you do is supported and the sky is the limit. And I knew that then, but when people would say it, it still gave me a sense of security, like, "well, I have this one thing people like." I actually pictured myself sitting in front of a microphone reading names and numbers, like that might be one way I would survive my adult life.

I'm not making a ton of money right now. I'm afraid of filling up my schedule with part-time jobs and never finishing my book, so when a gig like this comes up it's kind of a big deal to my wallet.

And it feels a lot like getting paid to read the phone book -- which is kind of magic.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

I've done it again

For the second year in a row, I've agreed to be part of a Monkey-O-Kee number based on some sliver of pop culture that may or may not be appreciated or even recognized by the audience.

Last year it was "Why Do You Think You Are Nuts?" a reproduction of a performance by crazy people on some public access channel in the seventies that was apparently a Youtube craze for a brief moment in time -- so brief that the faces of our audience were mostly blank with cringe-worthy wonder as we performed. Still, it was really fun.

This year it will be 2ge+her's "U+Me=Us," a song from a 2000 MTV movie satirizing boy bands, which then became popular for a brief time almost like it was from a real boy band -- the band toured with Britney Spears -- making both its own point lots of money. How meta.

I'll be playing "The Cute One," because he looks the most like a girl.

See I missed all this because I was busy doing college, but my so young friend Philip is making sure I'm up on what all the cool twenty-somethings are nostalgic about.

For a small donation to Barrel of Monkeys, I will be more than happy to send you a link to a video of me performing in this parody of a parody!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Did you know that karaoke can save the world?

Barrel of Monkeys is having our annual Monkey-O-Kee benefit! It's this Sunday, and I would love for you to come and/or donate money online!

This is the place to do it . . . Monkeyokee 2010. It's easy to buy tickets (plus two free spins of the prize wheel) or to donate money in $10 increments.

We all know, and will keep hearing, that the economy is making it hard for non-profits. It's true that giving is down.

This company is a big part of my livelihood (both financially and spiritually). I believe in the work we do. I spent Monday doing a show at the Kohn School, about as far south as you can go without entering Indiana, then taught afterschool on the far north side. Yesterday I worked with fourth and fifth graders at a new Monkey school way southwest where kids are really struggling with writing, and today I taught fifth graders on the far south side at a the Dixon school where kids recognize us from past years and welcome us as part of their community.

All three places need us in different ways. Please consider donating some money to keep us strong! And tell them Rachel sent you! It is good for my Monkey street cred.

Monday, January 18, 2010


I got back on my grad program's student forum for the first time in months today. Guests can visit parts of it here. A graduating student was saying that she expected to take a break from all things VCFA for a bit until she got closure.

It may have taken me a whole semester to get closure. I really loved my program, and somehow in missing it I've failed to appreciate one of the most incredible things about it, which is that it has an amazing alumni network and sense of continuity and community beyond graduation.

All sorts of exciting things are happening for VCFA people.

Board Member Katherine Paterson is the new National Ambassador for Young People's Literature!

Kekla Magoon just won the ALA's Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe New Talent Author Award for The Rock and the River!

Carrie Jones' Captivate
made the NYT's bestseller list!

My third semester advisor Uma Krishnaswami is having a book turned into a play.

A couple of my classmates, Jessica Leader and Varian Johnson, have books coming out in the not-so-distant future, Nice and Mean and Saving Maddie respectively. I've read Saving Maddie and heard readings from Nice and Mean, and I'm so excited about both of them.

There are more people with books coming out from other classes than I can even start to name here, but off the top of my head, I'm really excited for Trent Reedy, Marianna Baer, and Jandy Nelson's debut novels. I'm psyched for a deal Micol Ostow has on a book she read from at her graduation.

There are a slew of books that are already out that I haven't yet read. It is hard to keep up with the talent.

And I guess that's why I'm posting this -- because my withdrawal from the student forum is directly related to crossing that bridge from student to alum. Over here on the other side, there's some pressure to rise to the level. It's a high level.

Everyone is always learning. I know that. And I won't keep learning anything by distancing myself from this fantastic community.

Congratulations to class who are about to graduate -- I hope you "get closure" faster than I did. And I really hope to see you all at the mini-res next July!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

I joined a gym . . .

. . . for the first time ever in my life.

It has a pool. I swam more than half a mile and was real embarrassed about how many times I had to stop to catch my breath. I mean, back pressed against the wall, heart beating overtime, trying not to show how badly I needed to catch my breath.

But I felt really good about it because I've "returned" to swimming before, and I know it doesn't take that long to feel strong at it again.

Perhaps unsurprisingly when I went to bed without setting my alarm, I slept until nearly three in the afternoon. It's okay because today was a stay-at-home day. I have things to do but no set time in which I have to do them, but I did NOT see that coming.

Now I need to novel. I wrote more than 1000 words yesterday, not necessarily words to use, but words to get me going. I'm going.

Monday, January 11, 2010

In defense of being interesting

As promised, I've been working on my book this morning. And while I still feel lost with it, I'm confident I'll be able to sort it out one way or another.

I'm working with Hamlet in my book -- my main character's real into Ophelia. In reading some articles this morning, I stumbled on talk of T.S. Eliot's "objective correlative."

This term is popular at VCFA, but I'd never read the essay where it originated, which is called, incidentally, "Hamlet and His Problems."

And in that essay T.S. Eliot goes on and on about how Hamlet as a work of art is a big failure.

So far from being Shakespeare's masterpiece, the play is most certainly an artistic failure. In several ways the play is puzzling, and disquieting as is none of the others. Of all the plays it is the longest and is possibly the one on which Shakespeare spent most pains; and yet he has left in it superfluous and inconsistent scenes which even hasty revision should have noticed.

There's a hint that Shakespeare's failures are part of what makes the play so enigmatic and engaging:

And probably more people have thought Hamlet a work of art because they found it interesting, than have found it interesting because it is a work of art. It is the "Mona Lisa" of literature.

So the "Mona Lisa" is kind of a wash too.

Eliot says, "We must simply admit that here Shakespeare tackled a problem which proved too much for him."

Basically, Shakespeare bit off more than he could chew.

I am not aspiring to Shakespearean or DaVincian levels of greatness, and according to this other supersmart hero of mine, T.S. Eliot, even the great guys mess up. There is no way this book will ever be as perfect as I want it to be.

But I really hope it will be interesting.

At this moment

The VCFA residency is happening. I am not there for the first time in two years.

Sooo, sooo sad!!!

I wish everyone a great residency. I promise to work on my book and get it out into the world so my education will not have been for naught. I'll be working on it tomorrow morning and trying to channel good rather than jealous energy to Montpelier.

Friday, January 8, 2010


I posted a New Year's resolutions post a couple of days after I wrote it, and in setting the date, I made it publish for January, 2009. I'm used to messing that up in my checkbook but not in my blog.

Error corrected. 2010 is still for dancing!

I've done all right so far this year. My new room arrangement makes sleeping warmer, darker, and quieter. My new galoshes are helping me hate the snow less. I've been working out, cleaning, organizing, started a new residency, did a great show, and what was that other thing? Writing?

Oh yeah. Let me get on that.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

2010 is for Dancing

I made some New Year's resolutions.

I don't usually make them, but this year it feels right. . .

There are some usual ones -- eating better, exercise. Specifically I want to take up swimming again. Swimming in a heated pool makes Chicago winter so much more bearable.

Yoga gets more attention.

I'm going to send my book to agents this year -- sooner than later.

My apartment will be welcoming a new couch, and I will make sure that new couch has a good home. No more boxes for file cabinets. No more screaming blank walls.

And more dancing! I don't know what this means yet, but I went to a pre-choreographed dance contest/party last night to see Mr. Donnell do his stuff.

With homemade trophies, a speakeasy vibe, and multiple spontaneous dance battles it was kind of like being in an 80s movie. I thought for sure I would be too intimidated to join in the party once the contest was over, but the contest put everybody in such a good mood!

I have to hand it to one very drunk man who gave a solo performance with zero choreography and pretty awkward dance moves. There were some tense moments when it felt like the audience might turn on him, but they laughed and clapped and backed him up. I did not want to dance WITH him at the end of the night, but I was happy to dance near him.