February 25, 2013

Camp Camp: Best Time Ever

I've headed north near the end of the summer the past two years for a week in the Maine woods at Camp Camp: A summer camp for GLBT adults.

I never had the opportunity (or sentence) of spending a week at summer camp - the closest I got was day camp through the local YMCA or churches. I was a kind of quiet, bookish, and therefore bullied, stick close to the walls kind of kid. Camp as a kid was akin to torture; and my parents were wise enough to recognize that it was not a good fit. And yet, everything that happens at camp - sports, crafts, campfires, music, swimming, nature - are some of my favorite things.

Camp Camp's motto is "Best Time Ever!" - but a secondary one might be "It's never too late to have a happy childhood!" If you are interested, follow the links. There are often opportunities to work off part of your fees - I teach yoga at camp, if you have a skill or craft that might be valuable at camp (or are simply willing to wash dishes!) it is surpisingly affordable. And, if you are (or have, or know of) a younger person (8 - 15) dealing with the trans, try Camp Aranutiq

Yoga Studios: Open to Everyone

A friend passed along this link via Facebook, from the Moonlitmoth blog: yoga and social justice.

Yoga Studios: Open to Everyone

It's a good read, thought provoking. I thought I'd do a little self examination of some of her recommendations / suggestions with regard to my own home studio.

Offer by-donation classes: I'll give us partial credit here. While we've never had a strictly "by donation" class, we do host a monthly "Free Intro to Yoga" class, we've had a weekly "Community Yoga" class ($6 suggested donation, all proceeds to charity), and we host a dozen $6 classes during the week.

We also offer work-study positions - cover a 4-5 hour shift per week and you get unlimited yoga. It's an awesome deal for a student, un or underemployed, etc. - I did work-study myself for a while before I started teaching. So, lots of low cost / no cost options.

Make your studio an LGBTQ safe space: Again, partial credit. We're not flying the rainbow flag, and not a lot of queer signifiers on the doors / windows. To be fair, there are *no* signifiers (yogic, political, etc.) on the doors / windows - more of an aesthetic choice, I think. On the other hand, the lot is filled with queerish bumper stickers, there are a number of out teachers / staff / work-study and visible relationships. I suspect we're also the only studio in the state with a trans teacher on staff ::she said, whistling and looking around innocently::

The studio makes generous donations (financial and items for silent auctions / raffles) to many of the local GLBT causes (CT Aids Oscar Night, G/L Film Fest are two I am aware of) which raises the LGBTQ footprint.

We fall down on the bathrooms - our changing areas are non-gendered, curtained off spaces - but we've only got two gendered bathrooms. I lobbied, hard, to take part of the three-stall women's room and make it a non-gendered, accessible bath / shower (would have also taken some of the load off the single men's room stall, which gets a bit of a line at times). Did not happen.

Multi-language posters/teachers: No points for this one. We're English only. Not sure how much of an audience there is for other languages, but we're certainly not chasing ESL populations. Interestingly, we do get a number of hearing impaired students, and we're talking about offering a sign language interpreted class.

Celebrate fat bodies and body diversity: Partial credit here. There's a lot of talk about healthy eating and nutrition - and I can see that getting a bit oppressive to some. On the other hand, several teachers fall outside of the "Size 2 yoga bod" - we've got diversity in size and in age on the staff. And the style of yoga at the studio is very diverse - ranging from restorative, gentle, yin, all levels, hot, power, pre-natal, post-natal, kids, tweens. There are a lot of options.

We did try to offer a "Yoga for Larger Bodies" class - and just not enough interest to make it fly - but hopefully that population can find a home in other classes. I know my classes are always modification and prop friendly!

Offer meditation classes: Double credit here. We've held a weekly meditation class since the studio has opened. And it's free. We also offer workshops in mindfulness, pranayama, savasana, yogic wisdom.

Make your studio accessible to people with non-normative physical abilities: This is a hard one. The main studio entrance has stairs - we've got an accessible ramp into the back of the studio (unfortunately, passing through our main studio) and we've got a portable ramp we can put out front. But we're really not set up for special needs yoga (chair yoga, etc.) in terms of teachers, facilities, etc.  Our restrooms and showers are ADA compliant however, and once inside the studio, it's all on one floor.

Offer trauma sensitive classes: Again, a tough one. I'd like to think that I and my fellow teachers are sensitive to trauma, that our intuitive skills are honed enough to recognize an issue and to work compassionately. But we could do better. It really comes down to the teacher - some teachers have a bit more loud, assertive teaching style, others are a lot more low key. But we don't offer special classes designed specifically for trauma survivors - no.

Don’t set up in a gentrified neighbourhood: Well, we're in toney West Hartford, and since that's embedded in the name / branding of the studio, it's hard to move out of town. On the other hand, we've always been in the least trendy, most industrial corner of the town. I'll give us partial credit here. In addition, the studio has been working with a local organization (with financial assistance and teachers) to bring yoga to underserved communities

Offer YTT scholarships: A significant number of teacher trainees receive assistance, either through work-study slots, outright assistance, or agreement to work with under-served communities once they graduate.

One big problem that we face is success. We're the biggest studio in the area, and we've got two studios that are larger than most. But with the larger studio comes higher overhead - so there is a need to put yogis on the mat for every available class time. A class that draws 5-6 people, regardless of focus, is not going to last. As a result, a lot of specialty classes (larger body, trauma, glbt, chair, ESL, etc.) never get off the ground, or are offered and fail, because the population just is not there to support that. I personally feel that our studio vibe is safe and flexible enough that folks who might otherwise fit into such specialty classes often opt for a regular class - find a teacher or class that works for them.  Alternately, I know many of our teachers (and training grads) teach specialty classes in the community.

A smaller studio, with a lower overhead and smaller studio, might find it easier to make niche classes work.

So - all in all, I think we're doing reasonably well. We could always do better. And this article was a good chance to step back take a look.

February 23, 2013

Midnight Radio

Woke early this morning; a fortuitous opportunity to listen to a friend DJ on WWUH 91.3. You can follow her on twitter (and witness our shameless "we're the only ones up at this time" lovefest on twitter @punkrockcabaret and @scenicroot)

Reminds me of other days. During ballooning season, I'd stumble across her show while getting dressed, and heading to the early morning launch site. And back in high school, working the 11-7 "close open" shift at McD's (when McD's actually closed) I'd listen Boston's progressive rock WBCN. I love that in these days of iTunes and Pandora and Spotify, someone is out there sharing music the old fashioned way - over the air.

February 19, 2013

Ellis Paul: The Day After Everything Changed

Ellis Paul is coming through - visiting nearby Northampton for an evening at the Iron Horse, Saturday, March 2nd.

I've been listening to Ellis' 2010 release The Day After Everything Changed, with many tracks co-written by Ellis and Kristian Bush (1/2 of the duo Sugarland) - it's been an interesting listen.

The album has a good kick to it - with the opening tracks punched up with the combination of power, instrumentation, and production that would feel right at home on the local country station. Annalee, a bit sparse in the Youtube clip above, rocks out on the album with a full band. And yet, woven in through the power country are plenty of quieter, more accessible tracks. Dragonfly, Waking Up To Me and Once Upon a Summertime feel much more personal, sweet and a little painful. The piano in Once Upon a Summertime was particularly winsome - hearkening back to classic Jackson Brown; I suspect the long past summer Ellis is singing of was a summer from my own high school days.  

I smiled through River Road, as snippets of the imagery and language of Springsteen's Thunder Road sneaks into a song (...would you like to know how it feels? To trade your wings in on some wheels...) that is less desperate, and more joyful than Springsteen's ode to a summer's drive into a risky unknown, and more at peace with the ride. Bruce's screen door slams; Ellis's screen door is a window into his love's eyes. It's not "do or die" for Ellis (and co-writer Kristian), it's a happy ride on a summer's evening, with a rolling banjo laying low in the mix.

Other songs charmed. An uptempo, nearly rockabilly version of Walking After Midnight morphs into Sam Baker's Change without missing a beat. The Cotton's Burning brought to mind The Band's Night They Drove Old Dixie Down with a bit more funk. Paper Dolls, banged out on a piano that feels like it's been sitting in the back of a bar for years, soaking in the loneliness and ever so slightly out of tune - as Kristian Bush folds in a countermelody and harmonies. And the closing track, Nothing Left to Take, brings it all back home - just a singer with his guitar - sitting down at a microphone at any coffeehouse, open mike, or rural bar on folk night. Beautiful, simple, and powerful.

It might be a chilly late winter in terms of temperature here in New England, but I suspect that the Ellis Paul Band is going to bring a balmy summer warmth to the Iron Horse next weekend. Definitely worth a ride up I-91.  

Ellis has been keeping the folk tradition alive for a lot of years; I've caught him at the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival many times over the past many years. If you know the year Ellis Paul stepped up to the Falcon Ridge showcase stage (and walked away with one of the coveted Most Wanted spots for the following year), drop me an email. First one with the right answer wins a copy of The Day After Everything Changed...

February 18, 2013

Last Night's Dream

A long and fairly exhausting weekend left me with a vivid dream last night. In the dream, I was in a new apartment in a big city (presumably NYC). It was a 1 bedroom, but was spacious - with a rather large and ornately furnished living room, a semi hidden dining area and big kitchen, there was a big bathtub (more of a small pool) in the living room.

Seemed like an artist lived there previously, I kept finding small pieces, postcards, signs in the place. I recall thinking that it was amazing that it was so affordable ($700) for just Elo and I, that I ought to have friends come stay over, that Elo would have to get used to going out in the city.

And the odd part, when I found the kitchen, there was a meal all cooked - as if the previous tenants had left in a rush.

One of those dreams that will sit with me all day....

February 15, 2013

Music and Arts Update

There's a bunch of music, social and arts events coming up on my personal horizon:
Hold my calls....

Blogger App for iPad

This could be trouble. Just saying.

I have not blogged from bed in many years.....

February 13, 2013

Why I Love Southwest Airlines

As if the fares, free checked bags, flights that leave on time, cheery attendants, and as  egalitarian a seating policy as one might hope for we're not enough....Southwest now offers WIFI on many flights. 

All four segments this trip had wifi, for a very reasonable $8 per day (not per segment) - permitting me to get some work done, listen to a streaming radio show, and muck around on social media. I am impressed and thrilled. 

Plus, the flight tracker (which is free!) so I can watch our progress across the country.

February 10, 2013

Community Project

They are plowing the apartment building across the street; with a bit of a community effort.

Our recently plowed parking lot is the holding area / overflow for the apartment complex while they clear the lot. Can't complain, the apartment complex plow dude took care of us after he got the main area of his parking lot opened up and while he waited for the residents to come move cars.

New Britain Plow Update

Still no sign of a city plow, since early this morning when a plow came through just to make a path for emergency vehicles....here's a street by street neighborhood update as of 2:00 pm on Sunday 2/10.

Roosevelt St looking north from Edgewood

Edgewood Ave, looking east from Roosevelt

Kennedy Drive, looking North from Edgewood. Nary a tire tread, but someone with a snow blower cut a walking path

Benson Street, looking north from Edgewood

Fulton Street is driveable (with caution), single lane

Hudson Place, looking east from Fulton. Not plowed, sorry Dattco....

Astor Place, looking east from Fulton. Suspect someone on the (dead-end) street had a plow truck.

Parker Control Systems on Edgewood. Lot is nice and clear, has been since yesterday.

New Britain Neighborhood Update

Here's the present state of the roads in my New Britain neighborhood:

Fulton Street has been nominally plowed with a single lane. Someone ran a plow down Edgewood (and backed it up) - limited access and not really what I'd call plowed. Fulton, Kennedy, Roosevelt, and Crescent have not been touched. 

I walked the dog up Edgewood and all the way up Fulton - folks are digging out. While the snow plow owners were pretty quick to get out and clean up, it was pretty amazing to see the shovelers also doing a decent job of digging out. 

No sign of street plow today, nor anyone to clean up our condo lot, although there are signs of life - a pickup did a first pass on the apartment lot across the street.

I suspect today will be a day of waiting - and hoping that those with transportation do not get out and about too early. Already there's a pickup parked on the street (visiting? resident who parked off site and came back?) that was in the way of the lot plow dude, and will obstruct the town plows if they show.  And another dude rolled through in a Pontiac Sunfire (a shitbox in any weather, but particularly unsuited for the snow) and got stuck on Edgewood Ave - five of us out cleaning up pushed him out.

February 06, 2013

Life Hack: Rebate Division

I recently received a rebate from Pep Boys for some things I bought over the holidays. In the past, the rebate shows up as a check, which I eventually deposited into my account. But this time (and more frequently, of late) rebates are coming in the form of a debit card.

Now, these things are kind of annoying. They are rarely sufficient to buy much (in this case, $10), and it's a hassle to pay for something with multiple cards, card / cash, etc. On more than one occasion, I put the card in a pile with my unused gift cards, and promptly forgot about it. Or I rang up a small purchase, and left a buck or two on the card. In either case, the card expires, I lose my money.

But now, I have a new Square account / swiper. I simply charged myself $10 and ran it through my Square account - and within a day, $9.72 was deposited in my bank account. The small Square fee (in this case, 28 cents) is less than the gas it would cost to run down to a bank or ATM, less than a first class stamp. And I can dispose of the card promptly.

February 05, 2013

Knife Fight

Having just plowed through seven seasons of The West Wing (my January binge), I was delighted to see Rob Lowe featured as a political consultant in the upcoming film Knife Fight.

West Wing's Richard Schiff has a supporting role, juicing up the West Wing vibe.

Coming to Real Art Ways March 10th for a short run. I plan to catch it....

Oscar Nominated Short Films

Stole away for the evening tonight, to watch the Oscar Nominated Short Films - Live Action and Animation - over at Real Art Ways. The Live Action and Animated films are playing now through Feb 14th, the Documentary films arrive Feb 15th. Click through to find out more about the films and see the trailers.

First off, apologies to Real Art Ways. My membership expired in September - and I have just tarried on signing back up. I wrote a check out and everything, but figured I'd drop it off the next time I was there. And I've been horribly anti-social (and also a big underfunded) since then; this was my first foray back in months. But I'm back on the member roles and hope to show up in the real world occasionally as we start to move towards spring.

Now, on to the films. First, up, the Animated Shorts, in order of viewing:
Maggie Simpson in "The Longest Daycare" - Maggie Simpson attends the Ayn Rand Daycare Center, where she finds a caterpillar and faces off against her nemesis.
I'm a huge Simpsons fan, have been for years, and the creative team has kept me amused for over two decades. But I just do not get this (or any other animated franchise) in this category. Yeah, cute story, yeah, nice to see an underused character fleshed out, yeah nice to see the show animated in a bit more detail and texture. But....not really what I want to see. 
Adam and Dog - A playful dog exploring the newly created world comes upon the first man.

OK, maybe it's the dog owner in me, maybe watching the Genesis story from a different perspective and fleshed out, made human, was enough. But I was sobbing. Beautiful old-school animation, sweet, substantial. My vote for the Oscar, hands down. 

Fresh Guacamole- An unseen cook uses a series of unusual ingredients to prepare a bowl of guacamole.
Totally charming, very short (2 minutes) and a little bit of a one joke wonder that sustains and amuses for the lentgh of the short.

Head over Heels - The emotional distance between a long-married husband and wife has resulted in an unusual living arrangement.
Very sweet, and little weepy, done with puppets. It has a little bit of the cleverness of last year's winner
The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, although a bit less magical. I liked it, did not love it.
Paperman - A young man working in an office tries desperately to attract the attention of a girl in the building across the street.
Very clever animation and story, and aiming for the same turf as Mossis Lessmore. But a little too perfect and Disneyfied for my taste. Suffers a bit too much from "me too" flying paper, sweet romance, wind all hearken back to last year's winner.  

Between the films, there were some bits by Morris Lessmore's William Joyce and Brandon Oldenburg who were funny, smart, and magnanimous in telling their story. Nicely done!
Now, on to the Live Action films, again, in order of viewing:
Death of a Shadow - A soldier attempts to ransom his soul from Death and return to the girl he loves.
Beautiful, creepy, dark, romantic, steam-punk. All of this and more. It was a really engaging, creative, beautiful film. Not my favorite, but the competition was fierce in this category.
Henry - Henry, an elderly concert pianist, undergoes a series of confusing experiences as he searches for his wife.
And...more tears. Having a friend's mother struggle with Alzheimer's, this film was especially poignant. Again, not my fave, but a real winner. 
Buzkashi Boys - Two boys in Afghanistan, a blacksmith's son and an orphan living on the streets, dream of winning a popular and fierce polo match.

This one gets my vote for the Oscar, in a very strong field. The Kabul cinematography is stark, gorgeous, and so very sad - shot amidst burned out buildings, palaces, and rubble. The story is amazingly simple and yet so well told. I am sure there was a lot of money behind this (including the US Dept of State) and it shows - normally I'd discount that but for this one time, it does not matter. There is no sign of ongoing war here - just the charred remains of decades of war, poverty, and a beautiful, up close and personal, and so very sad story set in that backdrop.

Curfew - A young man on the verge of committing suicide receives a call from his sister asking him to babysit his niece.
Like Paperman, this film has a similar vibe to last year's winner (in this case, God of Love) - albeit darker. It was very sweet, had it's whimsical moments, and a precocious and lovely child actress. It all worked, totally worth the watch - just not my winner.
Asad - A boy from a poor Somali village must decide between piracy and life as a fisherman.
And...this must be the year of putting boys in ravaged landscapes and telling a story. The heart of this film is in the right place (almost all the actors are Samoli refugees or asylum seekers) and the story has it's moments. But the darkness and horror are neither fully explored nor completely redeemed. The ending / resolution seemed a little off - fantastic, impractical, unsatisfying. Tore at my heart strings, but something lacking in the storycraft here.

As with the Animated Shorts film, the between film patter was handled by last year's winner, Luke Methany. Not as effective - partly because there was just him, with no partner or foil to bounce memories off. And partly because, dark horse that God of Love was, he's not quite as seasoned as Mssrs. Joyce and Oldenburg - so a bit more of the "gee whiz, I won" and a bit less of the "we've been at this for 15 years, we've done a lot of grunt work, so keep hold of your dreams no matter what" that made the Animated segments work so well.


So my last blog post was Dec 2012; on the day of the tragic Newtown shooting. Much has happened since.

I've been pretty quiet - a combination of seasonal blahs (winter and holiday), busy work life (especially since the first of the year), and just that slow, sad erosion of the blogosphere in favor of social media platforms. Facebook, yes. Twitter, just a bit. But my poor, unattended blog - not much.

Hope to correct that. I'm feeling a bit more like writing, I need to get my creative, social, and cultural mojo engaged, and I'm overdue for a commitment.