Wednesday, July 30, 2008

"Getting my Architectural Jonesing In" or "Why My Wrists Hurt a Lot"

My first semester of college, I was an architecture major. I quickly figured out that it wasn't for me (deficit of talent + inability to go sleepless more than 2 days without hallucinating), and since then, I haven't done any work even remotely resembling the visual arts, save for photoshopping the occasional picture.

While doing some reading a few days ago, I came across Google SketchUp, an earlier version of which I used in one of my VisLit projects. Google took the $495 piece of software (I only used the time-limited free trial) and released it, in its entirety, for free.

Too good to be true. But it was/is.

The toolset is much cleaner, and it's a lot easier to use than I remember SketchUp being.

I spent some time dinking around before trying to figure out how to make the windows of an office building I remember seeing in Colorado Springs (windows pictured to the right).

And of course I had to keep going.

SketchUp offers a way to build Components, which is essentially a grouped set of objects that can be replicated elsewhere, with the added feature of all copies of the original component will update themselves automatically as the original is edited (which saves the trouble of having to re-copy/paste everything).


I turned the little boxy office rooms into components, and stacked them on top of each other. Of course, this meant I needed a staircase.

I added a bunch of windows so that there'd be a lot of light (nothing's worse than a dark staircase), and also some curved bits to break up the orthagonal thing I had going on (you can see them on the left side of the staircase, even with the top stair on a flight (just below the landing).

I didn't see any stairs that I liked in the component library (which, by the way, is a nifty little feature), which meant I had to build my own. If I were to go back and re-build them, I'd do some work with making sure the stairs were of even height. I know how to bi-sect a given face/edge, but it'd be neat to be able to divide it up into different areas... that's something I still need to learn.

Going with the windows thing, I decided to play a bit more with the curvilinear theme (though at a fraction of a fraction of a percentage of what Frank Gehry does), and added a big, swooping walkway that sits suspended off the ground, and whose entrance and exists are the landings for the main staircase. The offset means I've got an awkward bit of space underneath it, but I'll find something awesome there (I'm thinking of raising the whole building up off the ground, then making that the entryway).

The curved hallway was the hardest thing to do. I wanted big windows, but I had a hard time figuring out how to make them. I'll probably have to go back and re-draw all the curved walls with polygons, at least until I figure out a more elegant solution (I'm sure that one exists, but brute force is all I know). So there's only one "window" there, and even then, it's mostly a rectangular hole in the wall.

But the whole thing is made of numbers, so I can't exactly complain.

And I'm having more than a bit of fun with it. I don't forsee any pragmatic use for this just yet (this may be an option for a project for my students at some point... except related to literature... and graded...), though I'll probably use it to sketch out the buildings and such for my novel (it's so much faster for me than pen/paper... a testament to my horrendous motor skills and shaky hands), so as to visualize everything in a perfect/awesome fashion. Or a substitute for all the time I've been spending on slam poetry (as my career as a poet is rapidly coming to a hiatus).

For now, though, it's a means of getting my architectural jonesing in again. It's been a long 3 1/2 years without it.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Last Slam in Lincoln, plus a new poem

Here are the news for slam-poetry:

1) I am now in the "Vagina" poem instead of John Mark. Oracle J and I are working some really awesome choreography; my job is to channel the internal 13-year-old who doesn't shut up with the puns, except lewd.

I was totally that 13-year-old with the puns, but I didn't know enough innuendo to be too terribly lewd.

Plus it means I don't need to stay still for a poem for once.

2) John Mark and I re-wrote "Magyarazni" (the Hungarian Poem) completely. It's now about finding places that are home. It's also probably a lot better, though I'd imagine that John Mark might still desire to strangle me just a little bit. Though I can't say I blame him, especially given how much work I was making him do at 1 am.

3) Slammed the last time ever in Lincoln, at least on an individual basis. I can't say that it's entirely sunken in just yet. Bob Nelson, from Arizona was there, and he did a rockin' feature - nothing too loud or crazy, just a good guy reading some good poetry. I read "Magnifying Glass" and it seems as though I was in 2nd place (behind good ol' Chris Book) going into the second round, before I brought out Redwood Spines (an automatic DQ 'cause it's co-written, rather than entirely original), and then proceeded to forget major portions... it'd have been much easier if JM was there so I didn't have to remember his lines. I should have run an Italian or something, but one of the judges gave me Avogadro's number as a score, which totally made my night. Chris Book ended up winning with the ADHD poem, and pulled a much tighter performance of it than I remember him doing before. Which is awesome.

After that, Bob, Ryan, and company went to IHOP (Ryan made me go with, under penalty of death), and we talked about non-profit organizations. Bob has some awesome things to say, and we all learned a lot. I'd capitalize "lot", but even that would not convey the magnitude of things learned... sometimes typography is remarkably underwhelming.

So it was a good night.

Here's the poem I was going to read in the 2nd round before I decided to go with something louder and bigger:


We knew the war was over when
daisies started growing out of the tanks.
They took root in the iron and steel,
leeched the oil and gasoline from the engines
and forced their roots into the seams and joints,
through the rivets and welds
and tore the tanks apart.

The daisies grew fast,
the roots forced their way into the tanks
and into the mouths of the soldiers inside,
frothy, verdant suffocation.

We knew the war was over when the artillery shells
stopped exploding, their dull muted thuds
absorbed by the rainforest that grew around them,
and the cannons were pulled into the ground
and devoured by a carpet of creeper vines.

The creeper vines snaked along the causeway
covering our roads and enveloping our houses
in thick leafy fecundity, forcing open the walls
and cracking the foundations, dissolving the mortar
and bringing our buildings in on themselves

We knew the war was over when
the rifles disintegrated in our hands
covered by bullet-stained moss.
when our pockets were full of only brass casings
and grenade pins.

We didn't see the wall of water come
after the dams crumbled, the way it swept away
the bridges and jeeps, the way it carried away
the bodies and the rubble, the way it knocked
us to the ground and left us gasping for air
amidst the puddles and pools.

We knew the war was over when the wheat fields and
orchards grew back, sopping up the water and
turning the air sticky moist with the aftertaste of death done.

We went to the fields hungry, scared and tired,
eating the fruit as it grew and filling our distended bellies
until our ribs were no longer visible.

We harvested wheat as juice ran down our chins.

Friday, July 11, 2008

The Lincoln Slam Team Feature Performance

So, one of the perks of this summer is that I get to be on Lincoln's Slam Poetry team. This is awesome. We've been spending the summer prepping for the National Poetry Slam (Aug 3-9 in Madison, WI), which this year apparently is emphasizing group pieces (poems with more than one person on the stage).

To that end, we've been working almost solely on group poems all summer. And last night, we finally got to test them out in front of a live audience. Granted, this entailed some feverish memorizing, and more than a bit of the ol' elevated blood pressure and hand-wringing from Ryan (the team coach and manager), but it was awesome to finally get to perform these poems somewhere other than Ryan's living room.

To that end, here's the performance (divided up into 3 parts for your viewing pleasure):

Part 1: "Test", "Unicorn", "Dear Student"

Part 2: "Vagina", "Gravity", "Magyarazni (The Hungarian Poem)"

Part 3: "Cannibal Love Poem", "Blue Shirt", "Dig Slow, Make Bones From Poems (The ASL Poem)"

The performances are still a bit rough (some of these were memorized that morning), but we've got 9 poems in the can, which leaves us to spend the rest of the summer tuning and perfecting, and it's a great feeling to know that we've got this much done already.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Poem: "Dear Magnifying Glass"

Dear Magnifying Glass,
It's been a while since we last talked
and I feel like I owe you an update:

There've been a lot of changes since the last time you saw me,
but that isn't to say that everything's different.
Some things are the way they were before.

For example, If you were to look under my bed you'd find that
I've still got a pair of size twelve shoes tucked beneath the frame.
You remember the joke my parents used to tell,
how they thought my shoe size and my age would
stay the same forever. You laughed every time, but that joke
stopped working when I turned thirteen and my feet stayed size 12.
My parents will still tell it if you give them the chance.

Part of the difference is that I'm finally growing into my feet,
I'm starting to figure out the breadth of my shoulders
and the span of my reach. I'm almost a human being now.
My spine is still wrapped with piano wire that keeps me
rigid upright, but it's slowly loosening.

Iambic chest pump beating
per-fect myself
per-fection I must become
per-fect I must make myself

but it doesn't beat loud like it used to
and I have you to thank, Magnifying Glass,
for showing me how to look for my redeeming features
and now the list of my personal failings I keep hidden
beneath my mattress is a lot shorter than it used to be.

I've become more honest, too, than you might remember
And I don't hate myself as much.

Along with my good, you taught me to look for God,
Magnifying Glass, and I built my vertebrae like the
Tower of Babel every night, I wanted nothing more than
to see the face of God, and yeah, I read my Bible, I knew
no one survives something like that but it was all I could do
to escape the crushing weight of my own inadequacies
written all around the inside of my skull.

I don't pray anymore for death.
I barely pray at all, but when I do, it's for peace.

There's an opera-house in your eyes, Magnifying Glass,
but I haven't heard divine since the last time I heard you sing.
It's not that I've stopped listening; my ears are still open.
I just don't try as hard to hear what I can't.

I spend my time instead unwrapping the piano wire around
my spine that keeps me rigid upright. I'm learning flexibility.
And I don't stack my vertebrae like the Tower of Babel anymore,
I don't measure myself by how close I am to reaching heaven.

I'd rather measuring myself along the curve of your spine, but
Magnifying Glass, we speak different languages now,
so what's the use?

I've got a 4 AM bottle of whiskey that says “I still love you”
but I'm not much into liquid courage these days
I'd prefer the real thing,
Iambic heart-pump beating soft

Friday, July 4, 2008

Things I Am Extremely Excited About, July 4th Edition

1) We are doing a poem next Thursday in Hungarian. And another in Sign Language. This is more awesome than I dare to quantify.

2) Federbot v. Nadal @ Wimbledon. Here's hoping for another 5-setter.

3) My "Chronicles of a First Year Teacher" project is starting to shape up nicely... now to keep pushing people so that they're all on-board.

4) On a similar note, my educational "Wiki" site is also shaping up nicely. To do: Build my grading policies (and run them by my administrators), figure out how to integrate my calendars and whatnot onto the site, and most importantly, rough out a plan for the first quarter/semester/year.

5) We are doing a poem in Hungarian and another in Sign Language on Thursday!

6) "Redwood Spines" (see old draft below) is 10x funnier, and also at least twice as ribald.

7) I'll get to see Shira Erlichman perform in about a month. If the chance to see Shira Erlichman does not sound exciting, you sincerely need to re-examine your priorities.