The Skill It Takes

Contrary to Amanda, I love standup comedy. I admire the skill it takes for a comedian to actually reach their audience and being able to deliver. There is so much expected from a comedian because in order for the show to progress, the jokes and lines have to gauge positive reactions. Some comedians are better than others, that’s for sure, but it also takes courage to stand up there, literally under the spotlight.

I’ve seen many comedians, ranging from the likes of Yannis Pappas and Trevor Noah. The Black Cat in LES, the Comedy Cellar, The Stand, and Gotham Comedy Club are popular comedy clubs in NYC which I’ve visited before and have seen an array of stand-up comedians, as well as improv. It makes for a great night out. But, you have to know what type of comedy the comedians deliver. Trevor Noah is known to make lots of political jokes and pokes fun at American-isms, while other comedians simply roast their family, friends, and of course celebrities.

Tig Notaro is known for her deadpan comedy. Before her cancer diagnosis, she was more observational, whereas after, she reflected more on her personal life and childhood. In her documentary, she states that comedy is “always a risk” because you never know if something you say may trigger someone in the audience, especially when you’re up and coming and people aren’t familiar with you. Yet, taking that risk is something that stand up comedians are willing to take because it is something that they love to do.

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Love to Hate it

I think I hate stand-up. Almost every time I am exposed to it, I need to immediately engage in discussion to purge my vexations. Occasionally, I do this with my partner who loves stand-up as much as I hate it. You can just imagine how trivial these conversations can get. Anyways, I’ve been trying to figure out how to ease my hostility towards stand-up into this post since so much of my disdain is intuitive. So, I’ll try my best to articulate it.

The stand-up community is similar to the video game community—pervaded with racism, xenophobia, homophobia, and misogyny. Much of this destructive sentiment has been preserved by the mostly white and cisgender men who have preoccupied the sphere for so long (I’m not even going to name them). There has been a shift in the stand-up medium, less driven by the performativity of representation, and more involved with the reclamation of space by BIPOC and the LGBTQ+ community. But, like Hollywood, stand-up embedded in pop culture (SNL, Comedy Central, etc…) is still largely problematic. Many stand-up comics have pushed ethical boundaries to extract a reaction from their audience. So much depends on that receptive end and therefore, so much is neglected at its expense. This is not to say that stand-up is alone in its need to satisfy an audience. All art forms rely on an audience. However, there is more distance between the artist and the audience in writing than there is in stand-up. Writers do not necessarily have to be as preoccupied with the audience or prioritize the audience as much as a comic would. There is more urgency in stand-up since feedback is immediate. 

It’s worth considering what the medium demands in exchange for laughs. What is compromised for “universality”? What autobiographical authenticities does the comic sacrifice? Hassan Minhaj’s Homecoming King has some great moments of vulnerability but was bogged down by cheesy cultural references. As much as I want to be affected by Minhaj’s special, I could only appreciate it. The twists (of vulnerability) as well as the turns (for validation) felt inconsistent and resembled falling in and out of sleep.

Tig focuses on Tig Notaro’s life rather than just her status as a stand-up comic. That is not to say comedy is not important, rather, it is repurposed as the source of relief/catharsis. I think being shown the context rather than having it verbally set-up, is more effective in accentuating the humor as well as the tenderness of Tig’s stand-up sets. Separately, I found myself laughing the hardest during the impromptu exchanges between Tig and others in her everyday life, i.e. Tig’s text messages with Stephanie, or Tig’s face of disbelief when she gets her first painful hormone shot after the nurse told her that it wouldn’t hurt. Many of us can recount the times our stomachs ached happily from laughter, and how that involved an interaction with a loved one. It is incredibly difficult to replicate that outside of the moment. Laughter is a shared experience, but above all else, it involves a shared history and an intimacy that might not be afforded by stand-up. In this way, stand-up is an exchange between a host and a guest rather than between a friend and a friend.

Felicia Rose Chavez–November 17

The QC MFA Program in Creative Writing & Literary Translation will host Felicia Rose Chavez, author of The Anti-Racist Writing Workshop, on November 17. See details below.

FeliciaChaveztalk2021

 

 

 

Felicia Rose Chavez is an award-winning educator with an MFA in Creative Nonfiction from the University of Iowa. She is author of The Anti-Racist Writing Workshop: How to Decolonize the Creative Classroom and co-editor of The BreakBeat Poets Volume 4: LatiNEXT with Willie Perdomo and Jose Olivarez. Felicia’s teaching career began in Chicago, where she served as Program Director to Young Chicago Authors and founded GirlSpeak, a feminist webzine for high school students. She went on to teach writing at the University of New Mexico, where she was distinguished as the Most Innovative Instructor of the Year, the University of Iowa, where she was distinguished as the Outstanding Instructor of the Year, and Colorado College, where she received the Theodore Roosevelt Collins Outstanding Faculty Award. Her creative scholarship earned her a Ronald E. McNair Fellowship, a University of Iowa Graduate Dean’s Fellowship, a Riley Scholar Fellowship, and a Hadley Creatives Fellowship. Originally from Albuquerque, New Mexico, she currently serves as the Creativity and Innovation Scholar-in-Residence at Colorado College.

 

Website: 

http://www.feliciarosechavez.com/

 

Twitter:

https://twitter.com/writeantiracist?lang=en

 

The Rumpus Miniature Interview Project: https://therumpus.net/2021/06/the-rumpus-mini-interview-project-felicia-rose-chavez/

 

Latino Book Review of The Anti-Racist Writing Workshop: 

https://www.latinobookreview.com/the-anti-racist-writing-workshop-how-to-decolonize-the-creative-classroom—8203felicia-rose-chavez–latino-book-review.html

 

Excerpt from The Anti-Writing Workshop, “How to Decolonize the Creative Classroom”: 

https://www.goodriverreview.com/post/excerpt-from-the-anti-racist-writing-workshop-how-to-decolonize-the-creative-classroom

 

The Anti-Racist Writing Workshop can be purchased online here:

https://www.haymarketbooks.org/books/1552-the-anti-racist-writing-workshop

Lines inspired by A Sinking Ship Is Still A Ship

Disclaimer: I don’t consider myself a poet but I wanted to try LOL

Three Haiku While Pandemic Teaching

Pandemic teaching,

We have returned to “normal”-

This is not normal.

Pandemic teaching,

Students have a skill gap from

Eighteen months ago.

Pandemic teaching,

Plus first year teaching equals

A very strained me.

 

Poem Written On the Queens Village LIRR Platform

The sun rises like a phoenix emerging. Pinks, purples, and oranges in one distant corner, leaving the rest of the sky untouched, dark, in ashes. Me? I think I’m in search of some kind of truth, waiting on a 6:41 train that almost always comes at 6:43, looking at the train time app increase my travel time minute by minute, wondering why it couldn’t just tell the truth in the first place. Things often aren’t what they appear to be-this is known- yet I succumb to naive ignorance every time.

Brainstorming for a 2021 Edition of ‘I Remember’

Possible Editors and/or Commentators

Samuel Delaney

Jacqueline Woodson

Robert Reid-Pharr

Kazim Ali

Siri Hustvedt

Ariel Francisco

Kimiko Hahn

Paul Legault

Possible Essay Topics

  • Queer text ahead of its time in its portrayal of sex and sexuality
  • What do we choose to reproduce and how does construct our sense of history–who is remembered, how and why? Emphasizing race and gender?
  • Influential formal technique
  • Portrait of suburban, white America in the 50s and 60s
  •  The effects of the AIDS pandemic on American ar
  • Portrait of experimental / avant garde New York City artists in late 60s and 70s
  • Memory and the act of remembering
  • Examination of American masculinity in the 50s, 60s, and 70s
  • Essay that contexutalizes and challenges Brainard’s representation of racism

Marketing

 

Paratexts

  • Move Padget to foreword
  • Facing pages with creative translations, maybe funny?
  • Creative endnotes
  • Online mock encyclopedia / wikipedia
  • A series of essays at the end
  • New blurbs for back cover–updated!

 

 

 

…An intellectual is someone who tries to figure out what is true by means of the best processes available, and uses them in a rational, disciplined way to try to avoid deluding himself. . . . [C]onsider a general situation of looking for the truth: you have a pile of conflicting assertions about some matter and you want to know which are true. There are two basic games you can use, the doubting game and the believing game. . . . The believing game also proceeds by indirection. Believe all the assertions. .  .  . In the believing game the first rule is to refrain from doubting the assertions, and for this reason you take them one at a time and in each case try to put the others out of your head. You
don’t want them to fight each other. This is not the adversary method.

–Peter Elbow, “The Doubting Game and the Believing Game— An Analysis of the Intellectual Enterprise” (from Writing Without Teachers) *See our Documents page for a longer excerpt.

Doubting

  • Find internal contradictions
  • Find lapses in logic
  • Doubt even reasonable assertions
  • Look for imprecision
  • Look for mistakes
  • Uncover hidden (and not-so-hidden) assumptions and question them
  • Compare with your own experiences, reading, and observation to find places of dissonance with proposition
  • Consider negative implications of proposition
  • Consider what good may be accomplished by doubting
Believing

  • Don’t doubt any assertions
  • Enter into the skin of a person with other perceptions
  • Remain open; be willing to change your mind (at least during game)
  • Find ways to believe by metaphor, analogies, association
  • Find reasons that it makes sense to agree with the proposition
  • Consider positive implications of proposition
  • Consider what good may be accomplished by believing

Remembering A Time Beyond Us

Joe Brainard’s I Remember teaches us a vital aspect when it comes to our memories and.      how we access them. The sporadic nature in which we take the god, the bad, the unimportant and the mundane. In many stanzas we are given what matters most of each memory. Some may have more content than others, but most opt to focus on the main points and finer details. No long build ups to some of the memories, just the key points and how that connect to other memories residing within us. A collective of memories are used to convey a central idea.

This is not just Joe Brainard using writing to effectively get at some idea in his head, he is displaying what is the beginning of any autobiographical material. The act of remembrance and what that did to us and for us. How does the act of remembering something affect us from the time of the memory to the current you?  Perhaps you was once mad at the memory, but now view it as nothing. Brainard explores the depth of his mind and in doing so allows us to reminisce. This is autobiography at its base, being able to take an experience and convey that to an audience who may gain from it. Some of those memories may be spotty or even incorrect upon initial review (as shown in the text) but it is us nonetheless. That is the point, that is a message, perhaps not the message but a point that his works is meant to evoke.

I remember a time before now, one where my mind was clouded and full of resentment for past actions. I remember viewing it with a strong sense of melancholy. I now view it with a bittersweet after taste. These points on which I reminisce  may not be the same but I remember  that both matter to me and those around me. A change in perception automatically means a change in a memory. Not the truth nor the autobiographical pact that one must upkeep changes, but what I see in them always does. I Remember is simple yet complex, just as the way we traverse truth and excavate old scenarios in our conscience. The book is in some ways the autobiographical pact, and in some ways an antithesis to it with parts of memories being rearranged or expanded upon.

 

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I Remember How Much She Remembers

My daughter used to tell perfect strangers she remembered being inside her mother’s belly.

Yesterday, I asked her what she remembered from when she was really little: That time you let me eat snow!

I remember, in the Coney Island surf, a woman grabbing her by the wrist and pointing at me, Do you know that man? like I was plotting an abduction.

I remember, on the Upper West Side, her mother being asked if she was the nanny, as if a young black woman has no right entering a playground without a work permit.

I remember Is she adopted? and Where did you adopt her from? and even her motherfucking pediatrician, Do you have the adoption papers?

I remember when she learned to walk. Even though I was not around much when she was a baby, living two flights and one ocean away, she took off one morning and didn’t stop, and I was there, watching, just like I was there when she was born and her tiny wrinkled paw clasped my pointer finger and squeezed it.

I remember how my heart detonated with joy that I was there to witness her living breathing beauty with my own hands and eyes, and while that joy dissipated through my body, I felt it ossifying into a chunk of regret as my limbs and toes and the skin on my face remembered how soon I would be leaving her.

She doesn’t remember her family in Zambia, her cousins, her auntie, her Kuku, though they all lived in the same house for the first year and a half of her life.

But I remember her suffering a rare pang of shyness at a kiddie birthday party, and telling me how much she misses them, how she wants to go back because she doesn’t belong here.

Even though I’ve never met anyone who belongs so exceptionally everywhere she goes, amassing friends like an avalanche, such that this birthday girl’s mother took to posting on all the neighborhood parent groups Does anyone know Sepo’s family? because her daughter couldn’t stop talking about how much she wanted Sepo at her party.

And now Sepo is at the party and all she can remember is a phantom of her own displacement.

I remember seeking the desolate corners of playgrounds and singing songs to myself when I was her age, and I still seek those same corners when I take her to the playground and bury my nose in a book, hence that mother’s need to marshal a social media search party just to get my contact information.

I remember asking Sepo how she feels when she makes up songs: Like my soul has a new bed.

I remember she has had more new beds than most children, more new beds than many adults.

I remember, in her rhyming phase, “Thank you, wank you, shank you!”

I remember, the little ham, “Has anyone ever been a STAGE for Halloween?” and slicing those velvety red curtains.

I remember the next year, Whitney Houston AND Prince, and this year, Little Richard.

She must not remember the way she used to perform for her mother, beaming silly spontaneity, anything to force a smile or at least a response from the woman crumbling before her eyes, who couldn’t get herself out of bed, take her to daycare, or even speak words by the time I delivered her to the hospital.

But that must be where Sepo’s spark comes from, this irrepressible need to connect with everyone she meets; for some time there, sparking her mother awake was a matter of survival, and survival is something we remember even when we don’t remember it.

But she remembers sleeping on her daddy’s couch for the rest of her third year on the earth, and then her own bed, and then a move and her own bedroom.

I remember when I told her Mama was sick, how her mouth popped open and wailed My Mama is sick!

It was a repetition, a statement, but it was so much more, a sheer epiphany that this was her life now, and it still haunts me, how a two-year-old could know and see and feel so much in one moment, so chaotic, and yet so lucid.

She might not remember the last time she slept at her mother’s house because she didn’t actually sleep there, because her mother called me after midnight saying Come get her, she’s being a brat, because Sepo was crying for daddy, because her mother had kept her awake till midnight to blow out birthday candles only to realize she didn’t have candles or cake so she dragged her out squalling to the bodega, and I still see her waving a bundle of incense sticks to purge the room of her child’s ingratitude and shouting I don’t get it, I just don’t get it.

Later, Sepo remembered being scared at Mama’s house because there was a big bug in the bathroom, and maybe the bug was her mother, or maybe her memory is just a baffling Kafakesque parable, or maybe that’s what childhood is, and all of life after it.

She will remember something between nothing and everything.

I just pray she remembers how happy she was, how joyfully and bountifully human, squeezing life out of every moment like the world owes it to her.

The world does, my love. Just take it. It’s yours.

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Who Reproduces Cultural Memory? Who Remembers?

In the Afterword of I Remember, Ron Padgett quotes Michael Lally’s review of the book in The Village Voice (this quote is also featured on the book’s back cover), “Joe Brainard’s memories of growing up in the ‘40s and ‘50s have universal appeal. He catalogues the past in terms of fashion and fads, public events and private fantasies, with such honesty and accuracy and in such abundance that, sooner or later, his history coincides with ours and we are hooked” (170). Coincidentally, I read Matthew Salesses’ Craft in the Real World right before reading I Remember, and Salesses discusses how fiction, specifically how fiction is workshopped and by whom fiction is workshopped influences the reproduction and transmission of cultural norms. After finishing I Remember, I saw a post from the Instagram account @impact called “Stop Romanticizing the 1920’s-1950’s,” which pointed out that these were times of oppression for women and people of color, particularly black Americans. All of these texts coming together immediately raised red flags at the notion that I Remember could have “universal appeal” given the period Lally identifies as his and Brainard’s youth. For white men like Lally and Brainard, their experiences of childhood in the 1940s and 1950s would be drastically different than those of children of color in the United States experiencing the social turbulence of World War II and its ripple effects, including but not limited to Japanese internment, lack of federal funding for services on Indian reservations, the Zoot Suit riots, and the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement. In the text, Brainard periodically makes unflattering remarks about “Negroes” and “Orientals” which consistently snapped me out of whatever rhythm I fell into while reading. Early in the book, I was shocked by, “I remember my father in black-face. As an end man in a minstrel show” (33). It is one thing to internalize racist ideas that are insidiously embedded in American culture and to reproduce it (perhaps unknowingly), but it is another to remember – and in the words of its collaborators and initial reviewers, I Remember is an honest accounting of Brainard’s memory – how one’s father actively participated in the reproduction and transmission of racist ideas. Later, I was again more shocked by, “I remember feeling sorry for black people, not because I thought they were persecuted, but because I thought they were ugly” (Brainard 133). While the point of the book is not to reflect on the memories and to critique or address the writer’s upbringing or challenge the beliefs of the younger self, I have found through browsing casual book reviews that the focus is largely on the craft of I Remember, and not the content of the remembrances so neither the writer nor the reader is engaging in the work of examining exactly what kinds of things Brainard remembers and why it’s these memories that he chose to immortalize in published writing.

Thinking of Salesses and the way homogenous groups of writers continue to perpetuate the same cultural ideas in fiction until it is the norm, I really have to question Lally’s claim of I Remember’s “universal appeal,” that goes unchallenged even in Padgett’s 2001 Afterword, and if what Lally really means to say is that the book’s appeal is for white readers only. I think the craft of the book distracts readers from questioning what kinds of cultural memories are reproduced within, and that this book too contributes to the rosy view of American history that obscures the truth and prevents white Americans from coming to terms with the reality of America. When the people doing the remembering and immortalizing the remembrances are not remembering the realities of prejudice and oppression, they are producing cultural memory that continues to obscure the truth of history.

 

Works Cited

Brainard, Joe. I Remember. 1975. Granary Books, 2001.

Impact. “Stop Romanticizing the 1920’s-1950’s.” Instagram, designed by Tania Velin, 14 October 2021, https://www.instagram.com/p/CVBVgW6B1NU/.

Padgett, Ron. Afterword. I Remember, by Joe Brainard, 2001, pp. 169-176.

Salesses, Matthew. Craft in the Real World. Catapult, 2021.