Monday, August 31, 2009

"It's your birthday? Well, happy f&%$!g birthday!"


People are actually reading this, and I think that's completely wild. You know who you are (mostly because you are here right now, reading as we speak), and I say hello, thanks for being here, and feel free to say hi.

You know, I keep having these phenomenal days, and I'm afraid they're going to spoil me. The first mild, uneventful day I have may send me climbing the walls, afraid I have somehow lost my capacity for good, interesting times forever. Check me tomorrow, will you?

Today started off with lunch with Robin and Gabe, which then led into our friend date time, started by a run through the Powell's on Hawthorne (Baby Powell's, as I affectionately call it). Robin was looking for a book to take with her on her honeymoon, and I was just trailing behind, happily awash in the glow of so many books I will never remember to read. Though I had just praised Nick Hornby's "How to be Good" to the sky for her, and told her to read some Zadie Smith at some point, I didn't feel that either of those were really honeymoon-appropriate books. As we wandered up and down the aisles, asking one another if we had read this or that (usually responding with "no"), I confessed that Powell's makes me extremely lustful. I want to wrap the entire place in my arms and take it home, and more often than not I just end up talking myself out of it. I remind myself of the large, full bookcase at home, and all those stories waiting to be read.

I usually will have more than one book going at a time, as what I want to read tends to change with my mood. I keep a mix of novels, short stories and non-fiction around most of the time. This is the same reason I have so many cds in my car. If what I'm doing doesn't fit the mood I'm in, it won't work, or at least it won't work as well.

I also like to pass books along, unless they are my favorite. I have been keeping more and more books lately, though. I don't know for sure, but it feels like, since I haven't read for pleasure in so long, my brain has decided it loves everything. Or maybe, if I want to give myself more credit, I've become such a discerning reader that I know what I will love before I read it.

Robin ended up with some Umberto Eco, some David Sedaris, and some book I had never heard of that she swore everyone else had been talking about. I felt a little ashamed that I had recommended the Sedaris and not the Eco, but that's always what happens. In the face of the literary, political and poetic, I will almost always go for the starkly comic and honest. I'm not sure why this makes me feel less cultured, as I believe humor is as much a talent and a gift as any other kind of art, but comedy as a whole has been so diluted by the cheap and the easy that it can often get written off as an entire form. Personally, I hope Robin reads David Sedaris on her honeymoon and leaves the others behind...

We continued the conversation at Sound Grounds, where I am happy to say we had the best service we've ever had. There's a stereotype about Portland restaurants and cafes, basically that the servers will treat you like they hate you, and like you have interrupted a deep meditation or a private party when you request service of any kind. I hadn't been to Sound Grounds in almost a year because they had seemed to fit the stereotype so perfectly... I had stood at the cash register and waited for the staff to finish their conversations or tickle fights or whatever too many times, and so I stayed away. This time, I am glad to report, the coffee, the service and the conversation were all delicious.

Robin asked some more about the blog, and I updated her, and told her about my early paranoia about writing at all. We talked about Beer & Blogs (she's set on attending when she comes back from the honeymoon), and we talked about the impulse to compare ourselves to the creativity of others (see yesterday's blog). I realized, after picking this blog and my language apart in my head, that what people most say they love about my stories is not their eloquence, their freshness or even their wit: they say they love the storytelling. And so then, I decided, I should just be faithful in telling the stories, the mundane and the glorious alike (and so often the same). The rest will take care of itself.

After I left Robin, I picked up my friend Ashley and her new roommate, whose name I do not know how to spell properly and so I will not butcher it here. We headed down to Fernhill Park for Emmaus' first ever free hip hop concert. In the interest of being honest, I have to say that I drove there with some trepidation. Brand-new things are always hard, and no matter how much you promote them, there's always the potential of plenty of things not working out. When we got there, things were running a little behind, and I thought, "Oh, my goodness, this is gonna be a mess." I was proven so wrong.

I had only ever heard two of the five performers (Ragen Fykes and Theory Hazit) in action, even though all five of them attend Emmaus. But every single one of them (Da'rel Jr., Propoganda and Odd Thomas were the other three) did an incredible job, and the crowd grew as the evening progressed. I was manning a table with chips and water for people, and it was so fun to watch people enjoy themselves. I don't know how many people were there; Courtney came out for it, and she thinks there were between 100 and 200 people. While I think those numbers seem high, the point remains: the turnout was incredible.

I have never been a big fan of hip hop, have never followed the culture or had reason to do so until now. But two things impressed me about today. Firstly, it was clear that this type of event does not happen often, and so it was special for the people involved, both the performers and the crowd. And secondly, I found myself with a new respect for these folks as artists. The music was good, the rhymes were smart, and I honestly enjoyed every moment of it.

Today was Christina's birthday, and she had told me that she wanted to go to this live-action Star Trek re-enactment at the Baghdad, and we had laughed and laughed. So, shortly after the concert ended, Courtney, Christina and I and some other friends found ourselves at the end of a very, very long line to get in. I grumbled inwardly and shuffled along, posting from my phone onto Twitter, asking how I got here and announcing that I felt very, very lame. And then guess what happened?

(Photo courtesy Courtney Durham)
I laughed my face off. I have never liked Star Trek, and somehow I have always had friends who were fans. But I had no idea the cultural significance of the episode we were witnessing, replayed in simple, post-high school senior play fashion. For any of you Star Trek dorks (and I use the term affectionately) out there, this was the episode where Spock needs a wife, and at some point he and Kirk (who is not only his o captain, my captain, but also his BFF) are in a fight to the death for some Vulcan girl in a gold dress.

Trust me, it was hilarious. The movie followed, and I have to admit, it was the second time I have seen it, and I really like it. J.J. Abrams somehow managed to make Star Trek sexy and fun, which I would have told you was a feat that was utterly impossible. Watching it with this crowd, however, was an experience. Every new character that appeared, every knowing wink to the original show, got hoots and hollers and such a dorktastic ruckus that I leaned over to Courtney and said, "What am I doing here?"

It reminded me of the time, in college, when the second Lord of the Rings movie came out, and my friend convinced me that we needed to go to the first showing on the first day that it opened. We ended up sitting in the very front row, directly in front of two guys who were dressed in full chain mail. As they clinked and clattered through every moment of the film, I leaned over to my friend and whispered, "Who ARE these people? Does the fact that we're here right now make us like them? We're not like these people, are we?"

The fact is that I am exactly like these people, which is why I found myself in a crowded theater laughing at a bunch of people being silly on stage. I'm like these people because while I may not embrace the culture as they do, and I may in fact be a total stranger there, we're all there for the same reason. We're there because we like the ridiculous, the fantastical, and maybe the oddly familiar. And who doesn't like laughing?

In a sense, I was in two unfamiliar territories today. The hip hop culture and the Trekkie culture may appear to have nothing in common (aside from me not being a massive fan of either), but today showed me that both will make space for whoever comes in, however they choose to do so, and for however long they plan to stay.

There's probably science fiction rap somewhere, right? I hope I never find it...

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