This is a very long post. Ye be warned. Challenge yourself to reach the end. There may be ice cream.
Wellington has once again assumed its gray disposition. The sky matches people’s clothing: neutral blacks, dark greens and blues, with grays for miles. It makes playing “spot the American” quite a simple task. The one with North Face, not Kathmandu. The one in a bright teal rain coat and not the long black trench. The one with the tennis shoes and jeans instead of flash dress shoes and dark, slim fit pants. On more than one occasion people inquiring about directions have approached me, only to wince and shrink away as soon as I opened my mouth, my accent immediately betraying my non-local status. One lady was really funny about it in the most delightful, awkward kind of way. “Ohh…You’re not from here. Ahh. I…Welllll” and then she left me, nearly running from my side so as to relieve the burden of further uttering more indistinguishable half-words. Probably for the best, though, since I didn’t know where the building was anyway!
Saturday morning I went to an underground market that pops up in a parking garage every week. It was a full sensory experience. The sights of multi-colored scarves and the flashes of jewelry displays caught my attention between the bustle of searching peoples. The chatter of sellers describing their wares mixed with the noises of fascination and surprise from the prowling buyers filled the air. The smells of freshly roasted coffee mingled with the aromatic and tantalizing scent of warm crepes made by a man who smiled at the passersby and their longing, growling stomachs. Fingers felt fabrics while mirrors reflected dangling earrings interacting with lonely lobes. I love the market vibe.
The past week was study week at uni, a week without classes and no scheduled exams, a nice respite from the crunch that was the last week of classes, which for me included one essay and one exam. The Student Life crew, during the last week of class, hit the campus for about thirty minutes armed with lollies to try and spread some study week cheer. No strings attached, just helping people out with a small shot of sugary goodness. My partner and I decided to head to the library where countless students were milling about, flitting between computers and printers or poring over the pages of endless books strewn wildly across the surface of desks and tables. A stroke of brilliance came when we decided to head not to the masses and possibly interrupt their study and risk running into people that had already been approached by other lolly distributors, but instead to the elevator and let the people come to us. So we headed into the elevator and as people came on, we welcomed them to the elevator and offered them their choice of chocolate, fruit bursts or suckers (by far the least sought). Most people were initially taken aback and unsure how to react, but since we had a captive audience, gentle persuasion and the communal nature of the elevator experience soon led to the depletion of our lolly supply. Success! My favorite question was if we were conducting some sort of psychology experiment measuring the reaction and responsiveness of people in elevators when approached with an offer. We weren’t, but I’d be interested in being a part of that study. Elevators are ripe for experimentation. I’ve taken to walking into elevators and not turning around to face the door, but remaining with my back to the door and facing whomever else might be in the elevator for the duration of the ride. Try it sometime.
For my final essay in my Pacific lit. class, I wrote a poem back to Selina Tusitala Marsh’s “Fast Talking PI” (Pacific Islander). “PI” features snapshots of the vast diversity that exists within the Pacific. Our whole term has asked the question, “What is the Pacific? What is PI?” and Marsh’s poem is one voice in the Pacific that is attempting to answer that question. Her poem is not an inexhaustible catalog of every PI ever (although she does have a 42 minute version of the poem), but invites people to interact with their own realities and places in their worlds. So, I wrote “Fast Talking Buckeye.” I thought about the campus in Columbus, the people that make it up, the people who have moved on from it, the people who are simply near it, and it was not hard to see that the people that make up Buckeye Country are full of lives and stories that go so far beyond the physical confines of Ohio State. Alice, my prof, had me read it to the class on our last day and while some of the specific references to TP, the oval, and Mirror Lake were lost on the class, the notions of suffering, hope, and joy were more universal. And, Alice is going to be at Ohio State in October for a conference being led by one of her best mates, an English professor at OSU (small world, aye?) named Chadwick Allen (she told me to look him up when I get home), so we’re going to try and meet up. Boom.
My time lately has been filled with essay preparation for my final exam in my media studies paper. We get to write about the idea of genre construction and then pick a specific genre to discuss in depth. With the blessing of my music guru professor, I’m going to be looking at the “West London folk scene” where acts such as Mumford and Sons, Laura Marling, Noah and the Whale, and Johnny Flynn hail from. There is not much academic writing on this scene since it so contemporary and still happening, which means that it will be mostly me finding connections and making claims about this “nu-folk” meta genre. “Is that a question I see? Go for it.” “Oh, hai, yes. You’re telling me that you are writing about Mumford and Noah and the Whale and getting academic credit for it? You mean you get to listen to music and interviews by these bands that you listen to anyway and it is called study? So you are reading articles about these bands and making claims that they are a perfect example of the commodification and marketing of a sound that a few friends share, who happen to hail from a relative proximity to one another, and that while they shun typical marketing schemes as inauthentic and a forced aesthetic, this label of “West London folk” has been attached to them to create a sense of exclusivity and therefore desirability and marketability? Is that correct?” “Well…yep.”
Wellington has very good to me this week in terms of new music. First, you’ll need a full breath for this one: Brockaflowersaurus-Rex and the Blueberry Biscuits. A jam band of sorts, my buddy Alex first heard about these guys. For a while, I was not convinced that they even existed as every referent that Alex offered for their musical transcendence fell through. But, after meeting one of the singers on the set of Rage, it was confirmed that they did indeed exist. They played at a bar called Bodega, one that is apparently good for classy acts. It is quite difficult to characterize what genre their music would fit into, but here are some snapshots from the night. Two dreadlocked men, one on bass guitar, the other on drums, an alto sax man who doubled as freestyle rapper, tenor sax, trombone, guy on keys who also had looping and drum machine who laid down crazy beats, and no fewer than three singers who showed up in combinations of one, two or zero of them present on stage at any one time. Their was jazzy, sonic bits, heavier rocky bits that bordered on metal, and then the pleasant wind instrument bits with crazy beats flying over it all. It was nuts, as would be expected with a name like theirs, and I can’t wait to see them again.
The following night found me at Bodega yet again, this time to see Jesse Sheehan and the Family of Actors. I think I have my new favorite band of the moment. Jesse is nineteen and has a huge ginger afro. A noticeable character on any street to be sure. His band featured two brothers, one on drums, the other on bass, and a keyboardist. Their music left me with an overwhelming sense of optimism that made me want to dance without regard and thank people for their goodness. The music was generally upbeat, funky pop and lyrical, but also there was the acoustic half of the set that was just as enjoyable. His drummer was a guy with shoulder length hair, a suede velvet suit coat capped off with a bow-tie who smiled the whole set. He was contagious. Whenever anyone else in the band would look at him it brought about huge grins in return. Incredible musicianship and cool as to have such a genuinely warm vibe from so many people. I’m not sure if this is his brother or not, but Rhian Sheehan has wooed me with his beautiful soundscapes. I’d watch a movie with no visual if it was set to his music, it is that inviting. Recommended if you’re into Sigur Ros, Jonsi, or Anderson Cale.
I managed to re-read the last Harry Potter book in preparation for the movie coming out next month. It, as always, was bittersweet finishing up the series, but so rewarding. I think the movie is released the day I get back to the US, so we’ll see if I’ll be able to rally out for a screening. The end of a cultural phenomenon. On a related note, I saw the NZ film Eagle vs. Shark the other day, which stars Jemaine Clement from Flight of the Conchords and a host of other kiwi actors. It is quite quirky. Think Napoleon Dynamite meets the daddy issues of Stand By Me meets the general family dysfunction of Little Miss Sunshine and you’ve got the movie. My favorite part, however, had nothing to do with the story, but instead was the realization that one of the minor characters was played by one of the stars of Rage, Gentiane Lupi. I had no idea anyone from the cast of Rage was anything accomplished, but there you have it! Two degrees of separation between Jemaine and me. Excellent!
Two friends of mine have recently finished reading Born to Run, a book I read last summer that was quite influential on my approach to running psychology and motivation. Read it! Part of the book deals with barefoot running, something I have done little of in my own running. At the encouragement of one of these guys who just finished it, we headed out for a run that finished on the turf field at uni where we did a barefoot mile. It felt good. I don’t know that I felt necessarily faster, but there was definitely something appealing to the lightness of my feet and really feeling the impact with each stride. The soft turf is a far cry from the Copper Canyons of Mexico, but hey, gotta start somewhere. We did two sprints at the end, and I think that was where I really felt the change. Sprints bring you to your toes, so the foot strikes were my actual toes leading me. I could feel my form change instantly. I’m not so sold on the rest of the ideas presented by the book about barefoot running, but am definitely keen for the occasional mile on the turf. The next day, I met up with some friends for some soccer over in Newtown. It’s been rainy, so naturally the fields were muddy metropolises. We went barefoot to save our shoes, and our feet quickly became numb to the cold, wet field. After surrendering to our inevitably muddy futures, the afternoon was a lot more fun as falls, slides and dives (not all of them intentional) littered the field and our clothes. After one goal was decimated by our action, we headed to the opposite side of the field seeking playable grass. Our belongings remained where we left them beside the first goal, when we noticed two kids and their dog approaching our things. Initially, they simply watched us play at the opposite goal, but soon took to yelling catcalls at us. “Why don’t you guys play a real man’s sport, like rugby? Your hair is stupid! You guys are bad at soccer and that’s why you don’t have girlfriends!” (They might have been on to something there) They tried their best to surreptitiously meddle with our unguarded shoes, socks, and keys while we were playing. It was quite obvious that they were trying to mess with our things under the guise of practicing kung fu moves, leaping and kicking at our things until we looked in their direction and they would then leap and ninja their way away, only to return after we returned to our game. We decided it would be fun to chase them. On their next attempt at our shoes, we bolted straight for them. They took off, as any kid would, and leapt down the grassy path that sloped down behind the goal and away from us. One of the guys and I pursued them down the path, Jesse yelling “Oi! Oi!” in his best disgruntled old man voice. Had they turned around they would have seen us cracking up with huge smiles plastered on our faces, but as those in hot pursuit do, they ran without so much as a backward glance. Exhilarating and hilarious. My buddy Cody let me borrow some clothes afterwards, so of course I got his old red skinny jeans that were too big in the waist. I met his lovely neighbors and the staff at the local dairy as we went shopping for breakfast for dinner fix’n’s. So what if I look crazy. I’m in New Zealand and I’ll do what I want! When are they going to see me again? I live for fashion, duh.
If you have read this far, I applaud you. You are a true friend and I value your continued support and encouragement. A haiku of thanks:
You did it! The end.
Now you can get on with life.
How ‘bout some ice cream!