Accelerate!

My literary and professional life-partner, Michelle Gonzales, and I are getting ready for a conference in LA later this week. 

Here is what we might wear when we give our presentation: 

me and michelle in 80s outfits me and michelle in sixties outfits

Or I don’t know; I probably have some halfway professional clothes in the bottom of my drawer somewhere.

I don’t like going to conferences. To begin with, I don’t like going anywhere. I really, really like where I am on a regular basis, and I am a little stubborn about not wanting to go other places. Also, I have conference trauma, based on my experiences in graduate school. Granted, I only went to a few conferences, but they were generally like the one I went to on Surrealism: five panels going on simultaneously, one big name at each time slot so everyone attends that panel, all other panels attended by a sparse group of people who a) have some very vague interest in your topic, b) know you personally and feel sorry for you, or c) have a personal vendetta against the famous person on the well-attended panel. 

The panels themselves consisted of  four or five presenters reading pre-written papers that the audience had to listen to without any visual aid or reference. The papers were always about texts that almost no one had read–that’s the nature of English studies–so the audience nodded along and listened for points they could remember long enough to agree or disagree. During the discussion portion of the panel, the audience members would ask questions about their own area of study and how it related to the topic of the presentation, like “Wouldn’t Freud’s idea of the ‘death drive’ undermine the thesis of your paper?” 

Basically what I’m trying to say is that I never learned anything at a conference. Not while I was in graduate school, anyway.

During my final year of grad school, during my annual meeting with the department chair, she sternly told me that my CV needed more conference papers, and that I should aim to speak at two or three conferences that year. “Okay, I’ll do that,” I nodded, straight-up lying to her face. I had my own plans for that year, and one of them was no conferences. 

Since then, I’ve been to a few great conferences. The Future of Minority Studies group put on brilliant, collaborative conferences. They would have everyone read the same several books in preparation, and keep the conference size small so everyone could be at every discussion and presentation, rather than simultaneous panels. I learned a ton at those conferences, because they were structured as a change for real collaborative learning, rather than a chance for people to show off and build their resumes. 

The conference we’re attending this week will be a big conference with multiple simultaneous panels. Our presentation is up against a big name; in fact, we’re up against the group that organized the conference. So I’m not getting my hopes up for a big audience. I’d just like for there to be more audience members than presenters. 

But the good thing is that we’re presenting on a great topic: acceleration for basic skills students. Over 50% of community college students place into courses below college level (often because the placement test is poorly designed). Acceleration is the philosophy and practice of getting these students into college level courses as quickly as possible, rather than making them take multiple semesters of remedial classes. It’s a really important topic (my friend Sara just recommended this great book to me if you want to know more about it).  

The other good news is that this conference is about teaching, and teaching conferences are pretty much always good. No one is at a teaching conference just to show off during their own presentation and scoff at other people’s presentation. Everyone is there to get good, practical ideas that they can bring back to their own colleges. 

Michelle and I taught an accelerated course at our college, so we’ll be presenting on our hard work and the work of our colleagues in designing and implementing this course. It’s a great topic, and I think we created a pretty sweet presentation about it (get this…it has 38 slides) (some with graphs and charts and shit).  

So onward, step on the gas, take us to the conference. I just really hope I learn something. I am pretty sure I will…and I bet I will learn it fast. 

some fancy data in a chart
Some fancy data in a chart. This is in our presentation, bitches!!!

Writing Wins (Adam’s Show)

 Adam Caldwell paintingOn Saturday, I went to my friend Adam’s art opening. His paintings were amazing, of course. And it’s always fun to go to see them hanging in a gallery, looking really official and arty, while hipster art students and awkward, nerdy art bloggers mill around, try to get a word or a photo with the artist, gush over his work. 

I have a lot of writer friends, but just this one artist friend (I have other artist friends who are Adam’s friends that I met through him, and an artist mom). I love doing work at his art studio, watching him paint, feeling like a real artsy-artist surrounded by canvases and brushes and easels and globs of oil paint. 

Sometimes we argue about what is harder, being a writer or a painter. Obviously writing is harder, more grueling and less rewarding due to the following reasons that I have kindly listed below. 

  • A painting never requires you to to go research the history of, say, nineteenth century Russian prisons. 
  • Painters don’t have to invent imaginary yet realistic people in their minds. 
  • 20150613_212352_resizedA painting takes about a week to paint. Maybe a small, simple painting takes a day. A complex painting might take month. Writing a novel takes years, unless you’re Stephen King, in which case, a) you write a book in six months, then take a break for six weeks during which time you write a fucking novella, b) fuck you anyway and c) thanks for writing Carrie and that awesome book about writing. 
  • When Adam is done with a painting, he takes a photograph and posts it on Instagram. Four hundred people click “like” in fifteen minutes.  
  • It doesn’t take three weeks to look at a painting. Your friends don’t have to carry it around with them to enjoy it. 
  • You can paint and listen to NPR at the same time. 
  • No attractive hipsters ever come to your writing opening.  

Here are a few reasons painting is harder, though: 

  • You can’t do it in a coffee shop. 
  • You have to buy paint and stuff. 
  • If you paint a portrait, the person’s two eyes have to look the same. 
  • If there are bricks, you have to paint all the bricks. 

I am pretty sure that is all the reasons. Clearly, writing is harder. That’s okay. Art isn’t a contest of who does the most work. If it was a contest, though, writing would win. Also I would like to point out that I am not jealous of all those Instagram likes, not at all. 

painting of dancers

Adam’s show is currently on display at White Walls Gallery SF.  You can go like all his paintings on Instagram

Reunion

Sara and me Today I had lunch and a long walk with my best friend from graduate school, after twelve years of not being in touch.

I met Sara when I visited Michigan for the first time. The University of Michigan English department offered an expenses-paid welcome week for students who had been accepted into the PhD program. It was a long way to travel during the middle of the semester (I was a senior at Berkeley), but my roommates and I were in a giant, blowout fight and I was looking for any reason to get out of the apartment. So I went. It was good I did, because that trip convinced me to go to Michigan.

One thing that happened on the trip was I met Sara, and we hit it off instantly. We were were in very different areas of study (she was in early modern, i.e. Renaissance, while I was in twentieth century and literary theory), but we had so much in common. Both of us were nerds who hung out with partiers, the kind of students who might go out drinking all night with their friends on Friday but skip the next night, because we had to finish all our reading for Monday. We were both sweet, good-girl types who also had some pretty serious authority issues. 

We used to get together and study after our classes. I remember she was such a fast reader, while I read slowly; it used to make me crazy jealous. We would drink pots of coffee and she would smoke cigarettes and we would complain about the system. The system of graduate school. It was a hierarchy, a patriarchal hierarchy, and they couldn’t even see it, man.  How could they be so oblivious to the irony, all this critique of convention and arbitrary systems of value, and yet, look around. Didn’t they notice that if you wanted to write about James Joyce, you had to hang out with that one young, hip professor who was the Joycean, and that you also had to be young, hip, male? Didn’t they hear how dismissive they sounded when they talked about undergraduates? How could these Marxists not notice the way they told you not to write about what interested you, but what was the most marketable? Wasn’t their hypocrisy so, so, so obvious? 

We both ended up dropping out in different ways. She left with her Master’s and got a teaching degree, ending up as a high-school principal.  I finished my PhD but then got into community college teaching (which the layperson might not realize is not an acceptable job for someone with a PhD from a research university). Once she left my department, our schedules became really different, and it was hard to get together as much, and then we both moved away. We haven’t really been in touch until a few months ago. 

Today we met up in San Francisco, where she was visiting for her job. We had tea and lunch, took a long walk down Market Street to the water, talked about our lives and our jobs and education. She told me how she is spearheading a new, more creative curriculum for her school, and I told her about the conference I’ll be presenting at next week on how my department accelerated our low-placing students into a higher-level class. She told me about a book that supports my presentation. 

I always love talking to educators. That’s one reason I became a teacher (and why I call myself a teacher or instructor rather than a professor): because I love teachers, and I wanted to really like the people I worked with. And I do. I currently teach in a department that is more like a family than a workplace, with colleagues who are pretty much geniuses at instructing and inspiring budding writers. They never act like we are above our students, a few notches higher in a hierarchal system. All they care about is giving those students the best possible learning experience, so they can become our doctors and accountants and firefighters and car mechanics some day. 

I think Sara and I both know we were spoiled to get a free education, funded by fellowships and teaching positions, and to have access to the brilliant scholars who were our professors. But we also both knew, when we left, that there was no point sticking around research universities being annoyed and talking shit. Still, we did do a little shit-talking today, just a little, about how glad we are to be out of a profession that, for us, just didn’t get it, and into a profession that really, really does. 

How to Recover

So, my back went out like I knew it would. I’ve lived with this back for my whole life, and with this injured back for about eight years, and I know it very well. I did everything I could to help it: I got a massage, I did tai chi and chi kung, I went easier on my training. But today, in the middle of chi kung actually, something seized up in my back and now the whole right side is frozen and angry.

I’m not surprised any more. This happens at the end of every single semester. I used to gets colds when my classes ended; now the thing seems to be back pain. I know why, too. For at least three weeks at the end of every semester, I go into work early, grade papers before class, stay at work as late as I possibly can, skip tai chi or cardio training to grade a few extra essays, spend every non-training night at the coffee shop grading. By the end of that, my back feels like someone has replaced it with sheet metal. 

Then, when the semester is actually over, I say to myself: I have missed so much writing! I have missed so much training! I need to do all of it right now!!! So then I spend ALL day sitting, writing at the coffee shop for six hours, heading to my training space early to fit in a few extra sets of burpees, adding in all those extra workouts I had been skipping. 

I know what the answer is supposed to be: more recovery. I used to recover at the end of semester when I was a student. I didn’t really have a choice; I was too exhausted to get out of bed. Every time I finished a chapter of my dissertation, I knew I would spend a week brain-dead, sleeping ten hours a day, so unable to move forward to the next chapter that there was no point dragging myself to the library to pretend I was working. 

With my regular life a little more balanced, I don’t think I need to spend the week after every semester sleeping and watching TV. I’m not sure that recovery like that would help now. Probably the thing to do is to remember to ease my way into summer, not to jump in so crazy. But even when I think that’s what I’m doing, the back problems happen. 

I think a lot about recovery. I suppose it’s not so different from what people are calling “self-care.” That term sort of annoys me (not that I think it’s a bad term, just that something about it makes me tense), and now I realize why: I have a very antagonistic relationship to recovery. I don’t think I’m the only one; that’s why all those stress-case bloggers are blogging about how to do self care, like it’s a chore. It is a chore! Unless I am so exhausted, sick or injured that I cannot do anything but sleep, recovery never feels tranquil or healing to me. It feels forced, uncomfortable, like stretching when you’re stiff. GET UP AND TAKE A BREAK, I shout at myself. GET A FUCKING MASSAGE OR SOMETHING. 

Once I get to this state, where I am broken and discouraged and pathologically tense, I tell myself, you suck at relaxing and this is a horrible weakness in your life! I would also like to point out that I’m not some mega-productive workaholic, as I am making myself sound. Part of this cycle is that I am less focused when I work because I am so stressed and tired. So I procrastinate a lot, look at stupid crap on the internet. Then I yell at myself: you suck at working! You suck at focusing! 

So today I was telling myself all this, and I was thinking, this will never get better, right? It happens every semester! Even when I sort of half-assedly try to prevent it! There is my destiny/curse and I cannot escape! My life is a giant mess!!!

Then I remembered all the things I used to feel this way about, this constant, puzzled, helpless turmoil. Things like fighting with friends, finding a fulfilling career, eating healthy but not obsessing about eating healthy, taking a week off kickboxing without fearing I would forget everything I had ever learned. All kinds of things. There are dozens of problems in my life that took me years to work through, that once dominated my life, things that seem puzzlingly unproblematic now. I wasn’t stupid or a failure for not being able to sort those things out instantly, or even over a few years. Some of them took a decade to work out. But now they’re not problems anymore. They’re good parts of my life, things that work, the reasons my life is better every year as I figure more things out. Sometimes younger people complain to me about these parts of their lives, and if they ask my advice, I give it to them, and I tell them that this is part of the stage of life they are in and that it will get sorted out in a few years. And then I see that my response gives them hope, and I feel all old and wise and shit. 

So this advice is from my future, even older self: some day you will figure this out. It’s part of this stage of life. And some day, you will be past it. 

Stranger Envy

Every time I look at someone sitting across from me at the coffee shop
Someone working hard on their computer
Writing thoughtfully in their notebook
Someone giving their full attention to the papers spread in front of them
Someone not squirming in their seat, staring out the window
Someone who has a really nice outfit
Stylish and comfortable and well-fitting and unwrinkled
Someone whose hair seems messy in a planned-out way
Someone too focused to care about their hair
Focused yet carefree
Like the Dalai Lama, someone like that
Every time I see this person, envy the wonderful life they lead,
Wonder what it’s like to be
completely perfect in every way,

I try to imagine the person who feels the same way when they look at me
The person who doesn’t notice the tightness of my back
The surging stress hormones in my blood
The pimples and bruises and scratches
The pile of chewed gum in the wrapper next to my computer
The person who looks at me and thinks, I bet her life is perfect.
That person can’t exist every day,
But they might exist any day, the person for whom I’m the perfect stranger.
I think of them, and how they think I am
And I try to be like that.

Injured Avengers

Me and my team of tiny women assassins are all injured. It’s very sad. One of my main training partners has a torn tendon in her foot; the other one has an injured back. I have a messed-up knee. Over the last few months, our training has been deterred by laryngitis, a broken finger, a shoulder injury, migraines and shingles. And of course the things we all get all the time, which are colds and back injuries. My back is one wrong move away from being injured right now, all stiff and angry from too much sitting. Basically, we’re a mess. 

I know I am very lucky to have the health and ability to train regularly in a physically demanding sport. And I’m lucky my knee injury (torn meniscus) wasn’t too bad, and that I’ve been able to do maybe 60% of my regular training as it recovers. I can box, I can do very light kicking, I can do burpees and lift weights if I’m careful. I can do very whiny jiujitsu (a lot of, no, not that way, my knee!).

Still, it is so frustrating to watch your classmates spar and know that you won’t be able to do that any time soon, any time that you can imagine. I watch the impact they’re absorbing as they kickbox and wrestle, the unpredictable stumbling of their legs as their kicks are caught and thrown the the ground, the quick pivoting on bent knees, and I think: I will never be able to do that again. Which isn’t true. But not for a while. My knee still yells at me if I squat too low or walk up the stairs too confidently. A few months until sparring, probably, at least. It seems like forever. 

Having been through this a few times now, I’ve learned that this is part of the training. Sitting on the side, trying to learn something by watching, not doing. Feeling like your body has lost all it’s amazing magic powers. You know it will pass, just not soon, not “Oh, I’ll be back next week.” You have to learn patience and remember that challenging times always end, one way or another. 

Fifth Decade

Last week I turned 40. I’ve been getting ready for a while. Mostly I’ve been studying up on this clip by Louis CK so I’d know what to expect.  

I felt like I was in pretty good company with the 40 thing. I’m still friends with a lot of people from high school and college, so they’re all turning 40, too. Also the college I work for turned 40 this year. Also Saturday Night Live and the fall of Saigon. So that’s a lot of us entering our fifth decade. 

The very awesome thing about never doing anything athletic until you’re twenty-eight years old is that you get to enter your forties in waaaayyyy better shape than you entered your thirties. I am stronger, fitter, healthier, happier, and I’m pretty sure better-looking than I was when I was thirty. I basically expect I’ll be even more of all those things when I turn fifty. 

There are a few things I have gotten worse at throughout my thirties, though. They are:

1. Taking risks. When I was in my twenties, I took risks all the time. I think that’s all I ever did. I moved across the country to go to graduate school. I abandoned my scholarly career to work for a community college. I took weird pills people gave me and walked drunk down railroad tracks. It was easy to take risks in my twenties, because when you’re new at adulthood, everything is a risk. No matter what you do, it won’t be something you’ve done before (unless you’re going to live with your parents and work at a gift store for the rest of your life). You’re completely panicked and terrified all the time no matter what.

In my thirties, I had to really force myself to do risky things, and when I did, I wasn’t acclimated to the terror of it anymore. Like when I did a kickboxing tournament, I broke out in hives that lasted for months afterwards. My conditioning for terror is totally shot. I could probably work on getting it back, but I just can’t tough it through all those hives. 

2. Drinking. I used to be really good at this. Now I suck at it. Totally lost my motivation. 

3. Wanting to find a life partner. That seemed really appealing in my twenties. Somebody to always be there for you, now matter how crazy you were being. In my thirties, I got to understand the other side a little better: someone you always had to be there for, no matter how crazy they were being. (And someone who bore the bitterness of putting up with all your craziness). I realized I’m really awesome at taking care of myself. 

4. Moving. In my twenties, I moved at least once every two years. I always hated it, but it had to be done. I was moving across the country, or I was moving in with a new roommate, or I was moving in with my boyfriend or moving out with my  boyfriend. I hated the moving, but it did make me get rid of a bunch of crap every two years. It also helped me divide time in my head. I would remember what year an event occurred based on what apartment I was living in. I lived in the same apartment for all of my thirties, and I have no idea when anything happened. 

That’s it. There are probably more. I could make some kind of resolution to get better at these things, to take more risks and want a life partner and move and drink more. Or not. Maybe I’ll start with the drinking. 

On the other hand, I am much better at these things compared to a decade ago: writing, uppercuts, teaching, poetry, drawing, patience, balance, roundhouse kicks, alliance, pull-ups, taciturnity (not good but better), burpees, flexibility.  So I think it’s a decent trade-off. 

Pink Cloud and Fantastic Negrito

Last night I talked to Fantastic Negrito and Pink Cloud. That’s a fucking awesome sentence, right?

It was after kickboxing and jiujitsu. My training partner and I emerged from our dusty basement gym, up the stairs and out the front door, still talking about jiujitsu. Our neighbor Xavier, a.k.a Fantastic Negrito was out on the sidewalk.  We asked him how his show on Saturday went. There was a block party right there on our block, with Fantastic Negrito and others playing, hosted by NPR music. He told us it was crazy, a free show, totally packed of course. We were sad we couldn’t make it. He told us about his new baby twins, the traveling he’ll be doing for his music, how Oakland has changed since he was young.

Then a guy in a tasseled jacket and a long, white beard rode up on a bike. “There used to be a chiropractor’s office around here somewhere,” he said. This was 10:30 at night.

“I think there’s one over there,” Xavier said, pointing down the block.

“This was like eight years ago,” the man said. His voice was high-pitched and had a twang a little like Bob Dylan.

“You’re from Berkeley!” Xavier said.

“I am Berkeley,” the man said. “My name is Pink Cloud. I’m all over wikipedia.”

Xavier took out his phone and looked it up. “He’s right,” he told me and my training partner. “He’s on Wikipedia.”

We talked for a while about how Berkeley used to be. Pink Cloud used to crash in Barrington Hall, the Berkeley co-op dedicated to mind expansion. It got shut down in 1990. Pink Cloud said that he was now living in a “mental hospital disguised as a hotel.” But he’s moving out, back onto the street.

“I’m not going to another one of those places,” he said. “There’s no freedom living there.”

I love my training space. I love the corner near Jack London Square, the yuppies walking their dogs, the weirdos on bikes.  “Some of these people wanted us out of here,” Xavier said, pointing to the fancy condos on every corner but ours. “They wanted everything that was from old Oakland to be stamped out. They wanted all the artists and black people stamped out.”

I love the artists and the black people and the homeless people and the weirdos and Oakland and Berkeley and our beautiful, ugly warehouse basement.

Yes I AM Writing About that Dress, and Yes It IS Important

dressLast night, during a writing break, I looked at the internet, and this dress was all over it. All over Facebook, Jezebel, Gawker, Buzzfeed. People were already writing articles about how they didn’t care about the dress, that it was an ugly dress that no one should be talking about. But no one was talking about the dress because it was pretty. They were talking about it because no one could decide what color it was. To some people (like me), the dress was clearly blue with black lace accents. To other people, it was obviously white with gold lace. A handful of people saw other colors: lavender, brown, green.

Then I saw the people decrying the waste of energy of debating the dress’s color. “With all the injustice going on in the world right now, if you are discussing that fucking dress you are an asshole and please unfriend me.” That kind of thing. I agree that this kind of internet babble, the way the internet makes a thing out of everything (I guess meme is the right word), is annoying. But to my mind, the dress picture is really interesting, and not only that, it’s really important.

  1. It’s important for science and philosophy. It gives insight, a concrete example of how our perceptions do not reflect some true external reality, how our interactions with the world are shaped and often limited by our senses and how our brain interprets them. My favorite part about this particular example is how most people cannot will themselves to see the dress in any other way than how they originally see it. Most optical illusions are only noticeable as such because we can see them differently: when we look at those dots individually, they are stationary, but when we look at the pattern as a whole, it appears to be moving as though animated. With the dress picture, some people only see it as blue and black, and others only see it as white and gold. The illusion isn’t even evident unless you have another person to discuss the picture with (which begs the question of how many other such pictures exist without having been noticed). I showed the images to people at Peet’s coffee last night, and they were most frustrated by the fact that they couldn’t see the other color combination, even if they tried. This is what freaks people out—the inability to see what others see, to alter their own perceptions. I noticed myself looking at the black sections, trying to figure out how they might be gold. It seemed so baffling, since I didn’t see any gold tones in the black, and then I realized: that’s the point. Of course I don’t see the gold color. My brain isn’t showing me that. My brain is showing me black, and my friend’s brain is showing him gold. I’m sorry if you think it’s petty, but that is fucking amazing.
  1. It’s important for social justice. The ACLU noticed this importance and tweeted about it, and ended up taking a lot of shit for it, which they probably expected. Someone called it “the worst forced analogy I’ve seen in a while.” I don’t think the analogy is forced at all. There are innate differences between people. There are socially conditioned differences between people. These differences affect how we perceive the world. Therefore, to get a full understanding of reality, we need to pay attention to other people’s perceptions as well as our own. We also need to understand that our perceptions may be wrong, and other people’s may be right. I noticed so many people discussing the color disparity with the assumption that their own perception was correct. Of course, some of this was joking, but I saw a lot of serious comments from people trying to explain how the other side could be misinterpreting the image, along the lines of, “I think some people are noticing the blue tint in the white sections and darkening that tint to convince themselves that those areas are actually blue.” This shows how our brains work: of course our perceptions are accurate and other people’s are false. In order to create a just society, we need to learn to question our own perceptions and value the perceptions of others.
  1. It’s important for teaching. It’s a pretty common teaching practice to introduce units about prejudice and stereotyping by showing the class optical illusions. The illusions show students that what seems evidently true to them is actually influenced by their expectations and assumptions. The Academy for College Excellence, a program for at-risk students, does an exercise called What You See is Not What You Get, showing optical illusions to help the students open their minds to new experiences and viewpoints. For these students (emancipated foster youth, former gang-involved students, students with disabilities) who have been traumatized and hurt in the past, the illusions are an important lesson in how to respect each other and feel safe sharing their different views and experiences. Illusions turn out to be pretty radical lessons for a lot of people, providing an experiential understanding of how we limit ourselves when we stick rigidly to our own viewpoint without entertaining others.

I guess this all means that I need to respect the viewpoints of those people who think this dress debate is the most annoying thing to ever happen on the internet. I can agree: people proudly declaring themselves “team blue/black” or “team white/gold” is pretty annoying, and turning it into a debate misses the point entirely. But I think there is a point, at least I see one, and that’s why I’ll be showing this picture to my classes next week, to see what we can learn from it.

photo credit: http://swiked.tumblr.com/post/112073818575/guys-please-help-me-is-this-dress-white-and

Fantastic Negrito!

deadly betties elevatorEvery Monday, Wednesday and Friday night, me and my gang of tiny women friends (and some normal-sized women friends and honorary male guests) punch, kick, and grapple on the concrete floors of a warehouse basement. Yeah, it’s badass. I don’t mean to brag, but actually yeah I do. We’re really proud of our space, which came to us filthy and neglected, which is still pretty gritty but relatively clean and extremely functional. The warehouse is partitioned into work areas rented by artists, musicians and small businesses. A few of our neighbors are annoying, like the woodworker who would smoke in the indoor hallway just outside our door and leave benches reeking of toxic varnish there, or the people who lock themselves in the sole bathroom for fifteen minutes and get mad if you ask them to hurry up. But we have some extremely cool neighbors, too. We used to have an Afro-Cuban jazz band next door, and a troupe of African dancers who left for a trip to LA to audition for America’s Got Talent and never came back. Come to think of it, I hope they’re okay. Maybe they’re famous by now; they definitely had talent. 

The king of the building is Xavier, who runs a gallery and music studio up on the top floor. They have art shows up there once a month. They also have concerts; one night as I was leaving, I climbed up onto their stairs and listened to the most amazing African drumming (a lot of Africanness in our building, awesomely). And one night, when we arrived for our training session, Xavier was playing with his band on the ground floor, right outside our bathroom and freight elevator, with a band that included his young son (I’m guessing around 5 years old) on drums. They had the loading dock open and were playing for the neighborhood. They sounded beautiful. It was hard to tear ourselves away to start our training. 

Yesterday when my clock radio woke me up, the announcer was saying something about a band from West Oakland who had won a contest to play on NPR in Washington DC. I was like, cool, go Oakland! Then they said the name of the band: Fantastic Negrito. And I thought, hey, I know that band name. Isn’t that… Then they played some music, and I was sure: our upstairs neighbor! I ran to my computer to confirm it. It was true! A beautiful, prize-winning song. Not only was there a picture of Xavier and a story about him, but a video of him and his band performing inside our freight elevator. Which makes sense; it’s a pretty badass place. 

I would also like to note that I have woken up to the music of people I know on NPR two other times, both used as the interval music between stories on Morning Edition. Once it was a Julian Lage song that my brother-in-law played on, and once it was a very obscure early-2000s band from Ann Arbor that I still can’t figure out how Morning Edition got a hold of.  Basically, I want everyone I know to be on the radio because there is no awesomer way to wake up.