Archive for August, 2013

Some bands seem so consistent that it is difficult to judge if they have really lost a step. They change with the times, sure, and even start to grow more reflective as they age, but the word “consistency” just works. To the point that it comes across as blasphemous to some extent. In many ways, Jimmy Eat World is one of those bands for me. There is such a consistency to what they do, especially over the course of every album they’ve released since 2007 (for the record that would be that year’s Chase This Light, 2010’s Invented and this year’s Damage), that I wonder if the greatness I pulled out of earlier releases–especially 2004’s Futures, my personal favorite of the band’s–that wasn’t there.

Prior to moving to the Carolinas, I had never seen JEW live. As of last night, I’ve seen them twice in Charlotte. I remember marveling at a very specific element of the live show during and after the first time seeing them play: they feel very real. I know, this is an overused phrase, but it seems apropos here. The band members–lead singer Jim Adkins, guitarist Tom Linton, bassist Rick Burch and drummer Zach Lind–have been together virtually since the beginning of the band, and you can feel the connectivity of four guys that have played together since the mid-90’s. That being said, they are not individually great musicians. They are good, but not flawless, and for me, both this time and last time out, was a major connecting point for me. These are four men who’ve worked hard to get where they are and who continue to work hard to write songs they feel connect with their audience. Last night proved that they can still do that.

After a few opening numbers from a band called Royal Bangs (who were fine, but not mind blowing), JEW came on stage and went right into the first song of what would be a 26-song set. It was mostly music, with minimal crowd interactions from Adkins or the others, although when they did interrupt the music with some chatter it felt genuine, a truly amazing thing given how long JEW has been at this.

They did an admirable job of covering songs from the band’s entire catalog, save for Static Prevails or the 2005 EP Stay On My Side Tonight, although neither exclusion was particularly surprising. JEW is one of those interesting bands that has a rather divided fan-base. There were people at the show who clearly have been there from the beginning (this guy to my left must have shouted for “Blister” from Clarity ten times during the show, including once after the third song, so which Adkins responded that he thought it was too early to be calling out requests, although he appreciated the suggestion) and then there are those who know them as that pop-punk band who wrote those fun songs “Sweetness” or “The Middle.” But for the most part, the crowd seemed pretty invested in the entire set. New cuts from Damage did throw some people (including the girls next to me, who I talked to between sets and as JEW played, who said the new album hadn’t sunk in yet), but overall the band managed to mix it up pretty well.

Again, though, the beautiful thing about the show was that it felt like a real rock band working hard to play the best they could and really delivering. Adkins and Linton occasionally missed notes in guitar solos, and a few voices traveled away from keys, but I don’t think anyone goes to a show like that expecting perfection. They entertain and that’s the point, and they do so with gusto and a true connection with their fans. That, above all, kept me invested in the show. Even as they grow up, the band continues to work hard and I cannot fault them for that. It was a really wonderful show overall, and I’m very glad I got to go and experience the music.

Set List:

I Will Steal You Back

Big Casino

My Best Theory
Appreciation
Your New Aesthetic
Lucky Denver Mint 
Hear You Me
Futures
Kill
Work
We Are Never Getting Back Together (Taylor Swift cover)
For Me This Is Heaven (acoustic)
Heart Is Hard to Find
Damage
Let It Happen
Pain
Like She’ll Always Be
No, Never
Coffee and Cigarettes
The Authority Song
A Praise Chorus
Sweetness
Bleed American

Encore:
Chase this Light
23
The Middle

 

Album counts:

Clarity 3

Bleed American (Jimmy Eat World) 6

Futures 5

Chase This Light 4

Invented 3

Damage 4

There’s a strange silence presiding over things on the last couple of days of residency. Week 2 launches like a cataclysm, all noise and excitement in spite of everyone’s clear fatigue. But it’s a new start in a manner of speaking, so it feels like everyone is pulling themselves up and out with all intentions of flying through this second week like they did the first.

But then there’s that silence. It comes through occasionally. Small grumbles here and there. Mentions of home that didn’t exist during week one. The drive has settled down a little bit. It’s an odd juxtaposition, but for a two week period as loaded as these two here at Ashland, it makes sense.

The schedule I’ve gone over and over, so I won’t overdo the subject. Suffice it to say, that continued through the second workshop session. Yes, we change professors and students in the class, but there are common refrains of tired brains, missing home and even television. I told one of my roommates here that I wanted to go to Walmart and when he asked why, I told him I just needed a change in the scenery. It really is beautiful here, but even the loveliest locations become overwhelming when they aren’t the norm. Sure, over the long haul I’ve no doubt that I could settle into this, but then I’d know that I was here for a longer stretch; the anticipation of knowing this is a short-term place in your life really forces you to search for stimulation. I’ve spent the better part of my time in three different buildings over the past two weeks, so I was ready for a change.

So we went to get cheese. Well, to be fair, we went to Grandpa’s Cheese Barn, where they sell more cheese than I’ve ever seen in one place, along with popcorn, spreads, dips, dressings, meats and all assortments of food items grown locally. Not to mention the myriad chocolates, candies and fudge at the affiliated shop across the way and it certainly was a stimulating experience. Also, I got caramel/chocolate popcorn, cherry licorice bites, rice crackers and salted caramel fudge, so I’m all good.

In the midst of all the people talking about going home, I’m torn. Like I said, I think I could get used to this being around writers all the time and the experience of life back on a college campus. Which isn’t to say that I don’t miss my family and friends back at home, just that there’s an excitement in being here. Plus, it feels like it’s taking me somewhere, a feeling that I really don’t feel at home very much. Again, this isn’t a knock on the people, but I feel like the city is a dead end for me. It’s where God has me for now, so I’m grateful for what I have, but I do know that I don’t want to be teaching public school 6-12 kids for the rest of my life, so I feel a very strong connection to Ashland because of its ability to help me in doing that. It’s not the only step by any means, but it is a step.

Which brings me to this: I got a call from a principal I interviewed with a few weeks before I left. Well, two calls, technically. The first was the old “thanks for coming in, but we gave the job to someone else” call. The second was a new one: someone resigned and we’d like to talk to you about the position. Mixed feelings rushed over me. A job would be excellent, but it’s middle school again, so I’d be working with another tough age group. And while I agree I can learn from the experience regardless of the grade level, I was very much hoping that this job situation would be an opportunity to move onto higher levels of the educational realms.

Long story short, he asked who the principal was at my last school and I told him the name. After a few back and forth calls and some miscommunication, he was able to get in touch with my old principal, who told him, as I understand it, that while I had great potential and good content knowledge, that my classroom management needed some work. No shock to me, so I told him about the situation in my classroom, and after that phone call he told me he was going to be putting in the recommendation to HR for a one-year temporary contract, which he made a point of saying wasn’t the norm for the county. Again, a job at this point would be great, so I decided that would be fine and I’ll worry about the 2014-2015 school year when the time comes.

He called me back again today to tell me that HR suggested that look at other candidates, and while that didn’t make it impossible for me to get the job, I can’t imagine how this would be a good sign for me, considering that he had this little red flag going into the recommendation anyway. So we might be back to square one, but I won’t know until Monday or Tuesday.

It’s weird to think I have a red flag on me in any way. I’ve never been a negative character guy or anything, so this is new for me. I’d certainly appreciate continued prayers on this front. I’ve been considering my options if this doesn’t go through, so we’ll see how things go from here.

Anyway, I drive back tomorrow morning, with hopes of being home late Saturday night. Might take the slow road. We’ll see how I feel. In any respect, thanks to Ashland for a great first residency. Charlotte, I’ll see you tomorrow.

 

God bless,

Robert

To recount each day since Tuesday like a play-by-play announcer would be the blogger’s equivalent of a broken record: repetitive and rapidly growing in level of annoyance until you want to throw off the needle and toss the record across the room, smashing it. I would feel responsible if you did this to your computer, so I’ll avoid the mundane repetitive details in lieu of the highlights.

Wednesday’s workshop was my day under the microscope. I had the fortune of working with three women with poetic aesthetics very different from my own, so it was good to see where things were working and where things were not. Some of the criticism I was already mindful of, most predominantly that I sometimes get overwhelmingly caught up in abstractions, leaving my reader to have to think a little too much about what the poem is about. This is something I’ve been cognizant of for a while, and an issue I’ve been deliberately paying attention to as I’ve been writing throughout this past week. The exercises we’ve done in class have certainly helped with that, now I just have to work on moving those lessons learned over to my own poems. Since this is the same group I’ll be working with in the fall, I’ll have plenty of time to write through it. That’s really the plan, actually: just generate more and more material and see if I can’t write myself into a frenzy and fix the unnecessary commitment to abstraction.

Wednesday night as karaoke night at Buffalo Wild Wings, an unofficial program event. Several of the people from the program went, though, including the administrative director and her husband, and, quite surprisingly, the poet who was the visiting writer on Wednesday and Thursday. I sang two songs—“All At Once” by The Fray and “Iris” by The Goo Goo Dolls—and surprised most everyone there by, in their words, “killing it.” I don’t know why, but those are some of my favorite moments, when you get to shock people by doing something they didn’t know you could do. One of the other students I met even asked me what happened to the “shy boy” that was sitting in their apartment a few days before. I told her it was the microphone.

I proved this point yet again on Thursday, overall another day of the same flow here in Ashland. But that night we had a student open mic, where students signed up to read poetry or sections of nonfiction. I find these moments fascinating, especially in regards to how different people approach a microphone. Most of the readers that night did okay with it, others stared at it like it was some sort of visual anomaly they would rather ignore. As usual, I jumped right up and read a few poems from my MA Thesis project at UNC-Charlotte, and fell right into the flow of the verse. The running joke amongst several of the students and myself now is that I need to carry a microphone around with me so I can engage everyone in conversation with the brooding self-confidence I have when singing or reading my poetry. It’s funny, though a little sad in some ways, but this does lead to a good point: this is one of the more accommodating groups I’ve ever been a part of.

Yes, we joke on each other, there are lots of opportunities to, but it all feels good-natured and safe. Nobody here really seems stuck inside himself or herself too much or overwhelmed by what could certainly be ridiculous amounts of intrastudent competition. We are, after all, potentially going to be fighting for jobs, publishing rights and journal spots for years to come, but the overall feel of everyone here is that we are truly just a group of like-minded people who want to help one another out. We’ve had fun just sitting around and talking, usually about writing, but often times just about what’s going on in each of our lives. And I’m sure it’s not perfect, but it feels very homey and collaborative.

Friday night we were introduced to a few publishers who also write for the evening readings, and then they spoke at a publishing panel on Saturday morning. It was an eclectic group of artists, from an understated, soft-spoken editor of a journal out of Emerson College, to the head of the Arkansas Poetry Press, to the boisterous, blues-singing Keith Flynn, the owner and founder of the Asheville Poetry Review. The publishing panel wasn’t as insightful as I would have hoped, especially once the Q&A started and the tangents dipped off into a few places slightly off topic, but overall I was impressed with all the opportunities I have. I was challenged to do two things out of those sessions: 1) make trips up to Asheville and see what’s going on with the arts up there; I’ve heard fantastic things and 2) I need to start submitting to journals again. My goal, I think, is to make as many trips up to Asheville as I can over the next year. It’s a long drive, but not long enough that it should deter me, especially when I can have opportunities for open mic nights and to read and hear from poets who are right in my backyard. And as far as journals, I feel like being able to show that I’m making an effort beyond this degree will go far when it comes time to start submitting my manuscript in late 2015 or so; and if I catch a break and get a few poems in a journal or two along the way, that can only help.

Today marks the beginning of week two. We’ve got a few alumni in town who are doing a reading this afternoon and then a reading from another visiting writer this evening. I am starting to realize that this is going to be a good deal of work—especially in the reading and writing department—but I’m very much looking forward to the process. And in the back of my mind, I think I’m already excited to be back here next year even though this first residency as yet to reach its end. There’s still work to be done this week, and I know that, but I believe a program like this requires to be thinking ahead at least on some level, so I’m trying that a little bit. We’ll just have to wait and see where it takes me.

God bless,
Robert

PS: Here are my WoD’s for this first week here at Ashland. I’m having to get a little creative because a) the gym is not set up for CrossFit and b) I’m having to work quickly, so I have to keep them short since free time is at a premium and the gym is only open until 9. But it’s good to be myself back into the groove of working out, something I was falling down on the last few weeks. Feel free to borrow my wonderful programming 🙂

7/28
7 rds 3 back squat ladder
(95, 135, 185, 225, 275, 295, 300)

Then:
5 rds
10 box jumps
10 ab mats

7/29
4 rds
400 m run
8 push presses (95)
12 hand release push ups

7/30
Dead lift ladder
3x
185, 225, 275, 315, 355(2x, new PR)

Then:
2rds
Torso rotation x30 (15 each side)
Abdominal crunch x30
Back extensions x30

7/31
Rest day

8/1
5rds, single rep clean and jerk ladder
115,135,155,185, 205 (dnf)

Then:
3rds
5 air squats
10 push ups
15 sit ups

8/2
6×3 front squats
135,155,185,205,225,235

Then:
4rds
8 lunges (alternating legs)
12 dumbbell curls (alt arms, 30#)
16 sit ups