April Events with me!

I’m giving several readings and talks this month–details below. If you’re local I’d love to see you! 

April 8th 6:00 – 8:00pm – URBAN ARTS PLATFORM, Parking Garage Roof at The Northern

Join us on Saturday, April 8th for a night of international and local talent featuring a stunning view of downtown billings atop the Northern Hotel parking garage!

This will be a 2 part event featuring:
-Video art screening by G. Roland Biermann
-Discussion with the artist and Dr. Aaron Rosen (author of Art & Religion in the 21st Century)
-Poetry readings by local poets Pete Tolton, Ashley Warren, and Meagan Lehr, as well as MT Poet Laureate Earl Craig.
-Drinks (for 21+)
-A discussion on the future of cutting edge art in Billings!

Part 2 of the night, located at 2905 Montana ave. will feature all local musicians including:
-Grant Jones
-Golden Hour
-Bull Market
-Snow Bored

April 11th 7:00 – 8:00pm ARTFUL WOMEN OF MONTANA, Community Room, Billings Public Library

Please join Zonta Club of Billings and Billings Public Library for our next event on Tuesday, April 11, 7-8 p.m. when our guests will be Anna Paige and Ashley Warren. In this Artful Women of Montana talk, they will be discussing a multi-disciplinary approach to the arts, the importance of collaboration, and empowering community voice through writing.

From a desire to connect writers to one another and grow the literary community in Billings, Ashley Warren and Anna Paige created Billings Area Literary Arts (BALA). Active in the writing community, both Ashley and Anna are faculty at Montana State University Billings, poetry teachers with Arts Without Boundaries, and instructors for Big Sky Writing Workshops. Through BALA, they host bi-monthly Write-Ins where they invite the community to “occupy space in form of creation.”

Ashley writes fiction and poetry. She’s a graduate of the Stonecoast MFA program, and her work has appeared in The Examined Life, Easy Street, and in the anthology Poems Across the Big Sky II among other places. She was recently an Artist-in-Residence with the Billing Public Library and teaches youth in the juvenile detention system through the nonprofit organization Free Verse.

Anna is freelance journalist, photographer, and poet. A Montana Slam Grand Champion, Anna has also been named Best Spoken Word Artist by the Magic City Music Awards in 2012 and 2014 – 2016. She’s performed spoken word poetry in several collaborative pieces, including a short act in Billings’ Fringe Festival and with Terpsichore Dance Company of Montana. She also co-hosts “Resounds: Arts and Culture on the High Plains” on Yellowstone Public Radio.

April 26th 5:30 – 7:00pm READINGS FROM POEMS ACROSS THE BIG SKY II, This House of Books, 224 N. Broadway, Billings.  

Poems Across the Big Sky II is a significant collection of Montana poets that came out late in 2016. Lowell Jaeger, the editor, wrote that the collection is an “effort to uncover hidden talent, to combine novice poets and acknowledged poets, to pay homage to Montana’s many voices, many poems.” Billings writers are well-represented. Come to hear your neighbors share their poetry of our place. This House of Books, from 5:30 PM to 7 PM. We gratefully acknowledge the effort of Corby Skinner, who wrote the Humanities Montana grant that allows Lowell Jaeger to attend our event.

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Things of the Week 8/31/16

Made up word: un-bungler–a person who is a fixer but isn’t as badass as Olivia Pope

Current Obsessions: recipes I can make from things grown in my garden, bergamot oil, the TV show Superstore

Trying: Ekphrastic poetry. I’m collaborating with local artist Michelle Dyk to create poetry from some of her beautiful collage work. A sample of my current inspirations:

Rabbit hole: articles on The Guardian containing research about dogs

  1. “Dogs understand both words and intonation of human speech” 
  2. “Study showing decline in dog fertility may have human implications”
  3. “Labradors may be genetically ‘hard-wired’ for greed” 

Wow: Beyoncé at the VMAs

Learned: Chuck Tingle lives in my town. 

Re-learning: Learning Management Systems (the irony is not lost on me)

I Was a Waitress for One Night

For one night I lived out a small fantasy. I got to be a waitress.

You might be thinking (especially if you’ve worked in restaurants) that my fantasy is a bit absurd naive. Difficult customers, low pay, other unappealing aspects too numerous to mention–where’s the fantasy in that?

It’s probably because sometime when I was small and in the I-can-be-tricked-into-doing-chores phase of development, my mom convinced me it was cool to set the table.

How I managed to make it through my teen years, college, and grad school and never work in a restaurant, I don’t know. I guess I assumed I didn’t have enough experience. Being a waitress has been a fantasy of mine simply because it was something I’d never done.

The details of how I found myself being a waitress are not super important. The easiest way to explain it is to say that I had to do it for a job, and also that I worked at a nonprofit (fundraising, donor appreciation, you get the idea).

The restaurant, a small establishment downtown, reminded me of something you might see in a city much bigger than ours. Painted brick, hardwood floors, high ceilings, a stylized logo across one of the view windows. Inside, empty, except for the musician warming up and a man behind the bar drying glasses, I was immediately put to work preparing for the patrons to arrive. And as I worked I was struck by the artistry already creeping into the experience. White tablecloths covered unused tables to make lines of symmetrical squares. Silverware was wrapped in napkins folded like origami then placed on plates, each at exactly the same angle. Even the font on the menu was beautiful, clean, precise.

The man behind the bar and two other gentleman (henceforth referred to by their roles: The Sommelier, The Apprentice, and The Chef) worked the restaurant that night and brought their individual artistries to the experience. I learned that in addition to his extensive wine knowledge, The Sommelier was a painter, whose work was hanging on the restaurant’s walls. I watched The Apprentice nimbly dice something green and fragrant into pieces so fine they stuck under my fingernails when I was allowed to garnish the entrees.The Chef magicked a gelee that tasted and felt like soup-Jello in my mouth, and made me feel nostalgia for some comforting down-home experience from my past I knew I’d had but couldn’t remember.

As The Waitress, I floated between tables and removed dishes in a tempered, tai-chi fashion–a rhythm that rarely characterizes my movements in a normal day. Confidence came from somewhere, and I found myself joking with the patrons, caring about their needs. I was serving them.

Being allowed into this world for one night, I developed an appreciation for food and its production in the way I can appreciate a cellist who attacks her instrument during an allegro, or a poet who selects a word for the way it feels coming out of her mouth. And in the feeling of serving others, I felt the immediate satisfaction of delivering something to someone, in this case, a six course meal, six works of art, and was witness to the experience of that art.

Spending the evening with The Sommelier, The Apprentice, and The Chef, I was in concert with artists, each of us connected by our own appreciation of that which we find beautiful, clean, precise.

The Chef joked that the restaurant was hiring. Did I need a job? He knew a guy. And for a moment I seriously considered the offer, then wondered if being in this world night after night would make it lose some of its splendor. For the sake of holding onto the feeling, for engaging in art for art’s sake, for being reminded of that truism, I don’t think I’ll ever take him, or anyone, up on the offer to work in a restaurant.

When Artists Retire

image courtesy of The Philip Roth Society

Last week, several American news outlets reported that novelist Philip Roth had written his last book.

Here is an excerpt from an article posted on Salon.com:

Roth said that at 74, realizing he was running out of years, he reread all his favorite novels, and then reread all his books in reverse chronological order. “I wanted to see if I had wasted my time writing,” he said. “And I thought it was rather successful. At the end of his life, the boxer Joe Louis said: ‘I did the best I could with what I had.’ This is exactly what I would say of my work: I did the best I could with what I had.

“And after that, I decided that I was done with fiction. I do not want to read, to write more,” he said. “I have dedicated my life to the novel: I studied, I taught, I wrote and I read. With the exclusion of almost everything else. Enough is enough! I no longer feel this fanaticism to write that I have experienced in my life.”

As an artist at the beginning of my career, Roth’s statements seem hard to believe. With more books to read than I can count, and story ideas that keep me awake at night, how could a lifetime be possibly long enough to read everything I want to read and write everything I want to write?

Roth’s statements bring to light a great debate or paradox for many artists: is being an artist a job or a calling?

Continue reading “When Artists Retire”

The Benefit of Knowing Artists

“I felt a twinge of regret that I wasn’t a writer or painter, someone special enough to be invited to talk with Gertrude, to sit near her in front of the fire, as Ernest did now, and speak of important things. I loved to be around interesting and creative people, to be part of that swell,” –excerpt from The Paris Wife, by Paula McLain

“Art Opening” by Vivian Chen via Flickr

My boyfriend pointed out to me recently that all my friends are famous. What he really meant was that several of the people I’ve grown up with have gone on to accomplish things in the public’s eye. I have a friend who works as an intern for the Seattle Symphony, I used to dance with a kid who had amazing pirhouettes; now he’s a New York based photographer who shoots Broadway stars, dancers, and occasionally, Abby Lee. My friend the jeweler just made a necklace for Lisa Kudrow. My boyfriend isn’t immune to the fame-brushing phenomenon; one of his friends is a World Fantasy, Nebula, and Hugo award winner. In short, there is no shortage of talented artists in our circle of acquaintances.

I’m not here to tell you that I think my friends and acquaintances are cooler than yours. Like Hemingway’s wife in McLain’s novel, it’s that I love “to be part of that swell.”

Continue reading “The Benefit of Knowing Artists”