REVIEW: COSTUMES – 2022 Fall Ann Arbor StorySLAMS at The Blind Pig

The Moth StorySLAM was a hit! 

If you’ve never heard of Moth, this is how StorySLAMs work: 

StorySLAMs are a night of storytelling. Ten brave souls volunteer to tell a five-minute story, which are given scores. The story crowned with the highest score moves on to compete at the Moth Grand Slam. In between each five-minute story, there are also story slips (strips?), which are anonymous 140-character micro stories that are shared in between each storyteller. The story slip prompt was, tell us about a time the mask came off. 

 

“True stories. Told. Live. No costumes, props, visual aids.”

The theme of the night was Costumes. This compiled into stories about prized garments, wigs, dyed hair, Halloween, costumes for the sake of survival, and revealing your true self. 

In a way, the clothes we wear are our daily costume, as the event had described. As soon as the host, Amir, described his attire as “recently fired from Hogwarts,” I knew the night could only be going good places.

My friend Isabel and I wrote our story slips with her copywriter skills obliterating my wordy ramble. 

Being one of the youngest people in the room, with big fat sharpied Xs profaning both of my hands, it felt weird to see all the adults of Ann Arbor sip their cocktails on my left and right, laughing boisterously at the host’s jokes. It felt like I was at the filming of a sitcom. All the laughs felt fake, like someone pressed a remote and a ‘LAUGH’ sign lit up and cued a sound effect from the audience. I sipped my water and swallowed this new taste of sophisticated fun.

The three teams of judges were specially handpicked from the audience: people who were completely unburdened by expertise, with no experience whatsoever under their belts. At least one person would be telling a part of their lives to an audience for the first time in their lives.

… And the fate of these storytellers was in the hands of judges named The Ghostbusters, The Mothman (“…Moth is a copywriter trade mark” – Amir), and Witch, please.

I’m afraid I can’t do justice to the ten stories that were told, and I wish you could just hear them yourself. To boil it down, there were stories about clown sex, sexy Beetlejuice Halloween attire and hand-me-down tank tops, a fiberglass back brace from the eighties, designing yoga clothes, working with a trauma patient, a lawyer dying her hair, seeing the sea for the first time, misunderstandings from an eyepatch, a pleated drinking skirt named Alice, and a closeted trans woman who played the part of a male pastor for years until she found the freedom of not pretending.

To our complete shock, Isabel’s anonymous story slip was pulled first, mine second. My first Moth experience was off to a great start.

Amir walked up to the mic, unfolded my slip, and read: “I ran over a grandma with a bike. Wheel punched her leg, my chin got chucked. Mask heavy, soaked red, pooled with blood, it fell off.”

 Silence. 

Then the room exploded. Amir went on a tangent. “You’re not focused on the right mask, it’s not all about you! You’re worried about your mask when Calin’s (the sexy beetlejuice girl) grandma is lying on the ground, clutching her spaghetti straps, wheezing out her last?!!”

A few more of the good ones:

“When I first met my girlfriend I used to hold my farts. Now that she’s in love with me I toot to my heart’s content.”

“Took him home. We did it. My wig came off.” 

By the end of the night I had no idea which story would win; all of them were phenomenal, unexpected, fantastic. A guy did the math on the whiteboard. We drumrolled.

…..It was 3-way tie! (A drunken holler of “3-way!!!” from an audience member.) In this scenario, they decided to take the highest individual score, which had been Johanna’s (the ex-pastor and proud trans woman, who no longer bears the burden of being in costume)!

The night ended with a late night Blank Slate run where we ran into the host of the show. We psyched ourselves up to own up to the stories we wrote (Listen Amir… I’m the one who ran over that grandma…), but he grabbed his cone in a brisk blur and the door jingled on his way out, coattail fluttering before it closed shut. The universe didn’t want us to confess.

I’ll definitely be joining the next StorySLAM in November! There’s no telling how the night will go with Moth, where its wispy wings might take you. The clown sex story is a testament to that.

REVIEW: The Hurting Kind By Ada Limón

 

Poetry is for people who see the human in the inhuman. Poets can look at a wheelbarrow and see a meaning beyond hauling dirt and bricks. They see the memories, the origin of such an object, and something deeper that I can’t name. The Hurting Kind by Ada Limon is a prime example of this phenomenon.

As peak reading season approaches with rainy, cool days and changing leaves, I headed to the Ann Arbor District Library. Poetry drew me towards it because I knew the books tended to be short and sweet and mid semester I needed the satisfaction of completing something. The title, The Hurting Kind, seemed like the perfect mix of melancholy and deep that fits poetry so well and the author has gathered some acclaim at least from the short blurb that I read. 

However, I must admit I’ve never read a poetry book before. I found myself speeding through the book at my normal speed. It seemed wrong. After years of spending an entire class period on a poem and sometimes two classes, I felt like I shouldn’t just be flipping through the pages to reach the end. The more I read, the more I realized that the gift of a poetry book is that you’re able to pick the poems that resonate with you. You don’t have to tread the ones with top shelf names. 

The book is sectioned into the seasons with Spring as the start and Winter as the end. Each one has a subtle different feeling even if the season isn’t explicitly mentioned in the poem. My favorite poems come from spring. One of which is the Good Story. In the Good Story, Limon notices how she loved to hear the bad stories about the rough times her grandfather went through. However, once the days became bad, even the stories of overcoming were no comfort. She craved the stories about human kindness. She mentions one about her grandfather. After a breakup, her grandfather gave her a small pizza and watched her eat it in small pieces until she stopped crying. In the end, she decides that “maybe she was just hungry.”

The hope and familial connection drew me to feel something with this poem which may show my lack of poetry experience. Later in the book, Ada mentions the cliche of grandparent poems. Yet, she calls out her grandmother right after in the namesake poem the Hurting Kind. I think this shows a true sense of voice and the fearlessness to say something that may have been said before but that should continue to be said. Overall, I would recommend the Hurting Kind because it would not be the kind of book to hurt to read.

REVIEW: Pressed Against My Own Glass

 

Entering the exhibit felt like walking into a home. In the doorway, I paused and thought, should I take my shoes off? 

I walked in to look at the first painting, and backed up a little seeing how big it was. Am I allowed to stand on this carpet? I wondered. Knowing the reappropriated furniture had originally come from the artist’s own home, and being used to the etiquette of museums, Pressed Against My Own Glass was refreshing in its way of inviting you in to interact with the art. 

The first painting stares at you with a piercing gaze that scrutinizes you and feels alive. Looking into your soul without so much as a raised eyebrow or any tell of effort being put into making up their expression, makes the gaze all the more powerful and unnerving. So much that I forgot to photograph her. The subject is in an intimate space in the portrait, wearing just a shirt and no pants, sitting in an unmade bed. But I’m the one who feels stripped bare.

This theme of intimacy continued to bear itself through the rest of the room. There are diary entries on the wall on the same side as the door. Right away, you step into exclusive, individual territory. Anyone could have seen the murals, whether they wanted to or not, but those who have come to the exhibit have come by choice. Tatyana rewards and welcomes that. This sets the tone for the rest of the exhibit. 

To put your journal pages, scanned, then blown up on a wall is incredibly brave, I thought.

There were entries about accomplishments, revelations, longings, growing. I shared sentiments with all of them, but the final one I read in the bottom right corner is a moment I feel most women are familiar with. The chastising, the incredulity at our own selves, our own hearts. I’ve had the same feelings over feeling so much about a silly little man, so much that I write about them, and now it’s tucked in the pages here for anyone to read, forever. 

The cracked lampshade, the laminate album of rusted ink photographs; I was really coming into a home. How she could lay down something so personal in a public space, give it up for an exhibition, baffled me. I would want to keep those artifacts close, not letting them leave my bedroom bookshelf. Not even laying the photo album open on a table, only taking it out to indulge myself once a year or so. Tatyana’s courage to lay down so much of herself for others to view inspired me immensely to take more risks in my own art.

 

Something that especially delighted me was the writing. Since I was expecting pure visual art, I loved the poetry and journal entries and letters. Tatyana collages together a photo, mirror, sketch, earrings, and poetry on the second wall. I love the expression of the girl in the photograph because in its position of covering the poem’s body, her face says, I know you want to read this poem, but hahaha you can’t!

Following right after was the mirror where I fixed my headband. It surprised me to see myself while forgetting my existence, after a few minutes of just perusing through Tatyana’s world.

Just when I thought it couldn’t get more personal, I was brought to tears by Tatyana’s letter to her lifelong (lives long) friend who had passed away. It was while I was reading the letter that I ignored a call from my sister (probably exactly what Tatyana would have discouraged) because I was halfway through and wanted to see it to the end without interruption.

On the fourth wall, was a video projected over a large body of text. The audio included mellow and haunting hummings, the repeated chant of “I made / met peace up in my home,” and a woman in tears singing, “when I think of home, I think of a place where love overflows…”

The clips were calm moving stills. They displayed the motions within a home, like rolling over in bed, humming amidst housework. There were also home videos, facetime clips, a mother getting interviewed with a baby in her lap.

Beneath the projection, the piece reads, “despite the brutal reality of racial apartheid, of domination, one’s homeplace was the one site where one could freely confront the issue of humanization, where one could resist. Black women resisted by making homes where all black people could strive to be subjects, not objects, where we could be affirmed in our minds and hearts despite poverty, hardship, and deprivation, where we could restore to ourselves the dignity denied us on the outside in the public space of the world.” Put in context with the mural project, this exhibit demonstrated exactly that. The murals – all black and white, words bolded and illustrations blown up – were plastered high on buildings, yet, one could pass them without a glance. They resided in the outside world, where the weather’s starting to get colder, people are starting to rush, no time to take their time. The exhibit on the other hand, was lively with personality, colorful, secluded. A distinct sense of home: the oil paintings, personal artifacts, private words and stories. This is how it looks to see the full picture (even if we only uncover a small sense of a part of that person), while I understood the murals as how minorities are often perceived from the outside, paid attention to by onlookers: unsmiling, blunt, general statements, all grouped together. This makes spaces outside of the domestic household hard to feel truly like that of home, a sense of ease and comfort, “a small bit of earth where one rests.” Tatyana addresses this later in the passage: “An effective means of white subjugation of black people globally has been the perpetual construction of economic and social structures that deprive many folks of the means to make a homeplace.” The art was deeply personal and held many sentiments of loneliness, loss, and anguish, and yet, it definitely felt like a place of stillness, of silence, where one could “return for renewal and self-recovery, where we can heal our wounds and become whole.”

PREVIEW: COSTUMES – 2022 Fall Ann Arbor StorySLAMS at The Blind Pig

The Moth Radio Hour is coming to Ann Arbor for one night for their event, COSTUMES!

It is a StorySLAM where people are instructed to “prepare a five-minute story about playing the part. Holidays, parties or the school play. Stories of wearing the clothes to conform or stand out. Imposter syndrome or uniforms that itch. From ComiCon to Mardi Gras— Santa Clause to Spock, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle to Sexy Zombie Cat. Reveal yourself!”

My friend, who is a big fan of Moth, told me about this event and is SO excited that they’re coming to Ann Arbor. Another friend who used to review for [art]seen went to a Moth Radio event for her writing class, and said: “it was sm fun.” It will be a great opportunity to view writing performance, but also participate as a member of the audience! At least for me, it sounds like a great way to push myself out of my comfort zone and enjoy writing for fun and not for a grade for a night! I also haven’t seen a lot of events involved with the art of writing. As a writer, whose main form of art is writing, I’m excited for more events like these to be reviewed for [art]seen!

The event is on Tuesday, October 18th at the Blind Pig (doors open at 6:30 pm, stories begin at 7:30). General admission tickets are $17.50 and 18+. Come enjoy a night of writing and sharing to end your fall break!

View more details and purchase tickets for the event here!

https://themoth.org/events/ann-arbor-costumes

PREVIEW: RE:CLAIM : IMMERSION

 

Come visit the Washtenaw County Courthouse tonight (9/15) from 5:30 to 8:00 pm to experience the opening night of RE:CLAIM. RE:CLAIM is a project seeking to honor the complexity and diversity of the community impact of the criminal legal system as it affects youth, adults, and families.

Tonight will be filled with song, dance, poetry, and visual arts. It will surely be an experience to remember with over 30 dancers, poets, and musicians performing. The night will also include poems featuring artworks from the Embracing our Difference Exhibition that took over Gallup Park, Leslie Science and Nature Center, and River Side Park.

REVIEW: These Precious Days by Ann Patchett

Ann Patchett’s recent collection of essays, These Precious Days, is a tour de force that traverses a wide range of themes and the author’s life experiences. There is, however, a weighty thread running through the book, which reads more as a personal memoir than an essay collection – mortality, particularly in connection to the pandemic and the last several years.

In the book’s introduction, entitled “Essays Don’t Die,” Ms. Patchett, a prolific novelist, explains that when she is working on a novel, “were [she] to die, [she’d] be taking the entire world of [her] novel with [her]”, and “the thought of losing all the souls inside [her] was unbearable.” On the other hand, essays offer a way out: “death,” she notes, “has no interest in essays.” Hence, These Precious Days is a collection borne out of 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the resulting inability to avoid our own mortality. “Death always thinks of us eventually,” she writes, adding that “the trick is to find the joy in the interim, and make good use of the days we have.” Ms. Patchett’s essay collection is a tabulation of that joy.

The essays themselves are vivid without being florid, and poignant, but certainly not saccharine. They are humorous at times, and melancholy at others. They offer a small window into Ms. Patchett’s childhood, education, writing process, and personal life, touching on her family, relationships, bookstore, and even her knitting. One of my favorite essays, titled “Reading Kate DiCamillo” is a reflection on children’s literature from an adult reader’s perspective. (Ms. Patchett writes: “These books had given me the means to look backwards. I marveled at the resilience of children who were strong enough to read such sad and beautiful novels full of prisons and dungeons and hunger and sorrow and knives.”)

“These Precious Days,” the book’s title essay, is simultaneously the unlikely story of how Ms. Patchett and her husband spent quarantine with Sooki Raphael, who happened to be Tom Hank’s assistant, and a meditation on life, death, and the human experience. Though the essay could gleam with the star power of the celebrity names included in it, it instead ends up being a real and tender story of regular people. Ms. Patchett notes in the introduction that this “essay was so important to me that I wanted to build a solid shelter for it” (These Precious Days, the book, being the result). It is the longest essay in the book, pithy and raw in a way that stings, and I stayed up reading it into the early hours of the morning because I could not stop in the middle.

Though death is a current present throughout These Precious Days, “the river that ran underground, always,” the essay collection is ultimately about life, and the people and moments to be cherished. It is a beautifully-crafted literary reminder in trying times that, even when death and shadows lurk, there is still life, and there is still joy.