creative · literary art · literary events · performance art · poetry · poets · writers

Litquake/Lit Crawl: Blood, Sweat, & Literature

Date: October 17, 2015
Venue: Latin American Club, Dog Eared Books, Mission Cultural Center For Latino Arts
*Warning: A little late, a lot longer, & more photos to cover various events*

A literary experience for the ages.
A literary experience for the ages.

Lately I have been posting my adventures during Litquake 2015 and we have arrived at the conclusion. Lit Crawl takes place on the last day of Litquake and it consists of 3 ½ hours full of over 80 events in the Mission District in SF. In order to obtain some kind of order, the map of events is divided into three phases. I will be talking about the shows I attended and my overall experience of my first Lit Crawl.

It was recommended to take BART to the festivities since parking in SF on a normal day is a less than pleasurable experience. David and I got on the train late (rushing after watching The Martian which is amazing but that’s a different story) and headed to the first event not knowing what to expect.

On our way to the festivities!
On our way to the festivities!

Phase 1 – Wellness Not Intoxication: Reimagining Cannabis w/ Steve DeAngelo

I should start by saying that I picked this event for my boyfriend since my knowledge of cannabis is about .5% on a grand scale so I will be discussing the overall experience. After showing our IDs to the bouncer, we walked into the Latin American Club around 15 minutes late. Steve DeAngelo was seated on stage with the interviewer the entire time and since it was a rather small venue, we could hear everything perfectly even though we were standing next to another couple in the back. It was fairly dim as you can tell from the candles and while I was taking notes on his opinions of legalization, my eyes were drawn to the ceiling.

Creepy decor at The Latin American Club in SF.
Creepy decor at The Latin American Club in SF.

There were these piñatas hanging from the ceiling which I thought we so interesting. Looking back now they are more disturbing than anything but it was a surprising décor for what was otherwise a plain looking place.

Romantic note taking by candlelight.
Romantic note taking by candlelight.

As the evening went on we eventually found a seat at a booth where I could relax and admire how enthralled my boyfriend was. Amongst talks of the medical benefits of cannabis, the interviewer then fielded some questions from the audience. There was a very “open” feeling in the atmosphere which was refreshing and encouraging to the remainder of the night. My boyfriend asked a question which was surprising given that we are both generally the silent type and it was a live example of how the night seemed to have a power all its own. Steve DeAngelo was at the event to talk about his book The Cannabis Manifesto which I would comment on if I had read it and/or if I had any idea where to start. Although I personally would not have attended this event on my own, it was a great experience learning about who he was and what his mission is.

Window view from Venue #1.
Window view from Venue #1.

Once the allotted time was up, we headed out of the club with our maps in order to find the next event for phase 2. The night was settling in and the air was crisp enough to be welcomed opposed to a windy night. We were walking through the impending darkness in order to find Valencia Street and it was an experience. This was the first time we were actually walking through SF in somewhere other than Union Square or Daly City and there was so much to take in. While walking we passed a bookstore with a free book bin positioned outside. There are few things I love more than free books so I immediately stopped to have a look through. Unfortunately, the bin seemed to be outside for quite some time and there was only one book left. I glanced at the title and swooped the book into my hands feeling victorious. Later in the night I found out that it is a book set for middle-schoolers but that did not matter. It had horses on the cover and it was free, sign me up.

A very hipster photo of a very cool book.
A very hipster photo of a very cool book.

We witnessed numerous crowds with Lit Crawl maps in hand walking against us, around us, across the street, next to us, all trying to decide where they should head for Phase 2. It was such an amazing experience beholding so many people passionate about receiving even a tidbit of literary wonder in one night. I get this feeling whenever I go to a concert and you see people to your side with matching band shirts, lip syncing the songs with you. This is the first time I got this feeling with literature and it is something I will never forget.

Is this what it's like to be a goldfish?
Is this what it’s like to be a goldfish?

Although I feel silly including surrounding photos, they are necessary in order to get a view of the total experience. Since we were rushing coming out to the city, David and I stopped at an ATM to get cash out. The ATM was inside a locked glass cage which made the spectacle of the night even more apparent. This is my view looking out onto the city while my boyfriend pressed buttons to access his account. I have never felt that safe/secure at an ATM which seems odd because it was in the middle of the street and it was transparent. Thanks Chase anyway.

Phase 2, Part 1 – SFPL Bookmobile

SFPL Bookmobile outside of The Elbo Room.
SFPL Bookmobile outside of The Elbo Room.

Finally we arrived at the San Francisco Public Library Bookmobile. An RV had been transformed into a miniature library on wheels and I was ready to spend the whole hour looking at books to buy. Before we even reached the first step inside, there was another free book bin. This bin was bigger and contained more books so I instantly squatted down to sift through the treasures. I ended up coming up with 3 books and what made the collection even better was that one book had that clear plastic around it. That plastic that hardcover books have in a library that drive you crazy when you bend the book yet they are a signal that something significant is beyond the cover. After I attempted to calm my excitement, we walked into the RV and were sandwiched between media on both sides.

David browsing the latest in Audio books.
David browsing the latest in Audio books.

On one side, there were children’s books on CD as well as popular DVDs. Someone was at the front counter aka the driver’s seat and I overheard the impromptu cashier saying that the customer could check out as many books as they wanted. At that moment it dawned on me that the reason why there were posters of library cards everywhere was because these books were to check out. I would have been more disappointed if I hadn’t already had those free books in my head so we decided to browse around a little bit longer.

Festive banners galore inside a converted RV.
Festive banners galore inside a converted RV.

The other side contained fiction and non-fiction books along with an amazing La Biblioteca banner. If you say that you have never seen a TV show/movie where the line “Donde esta la biblioteca?” is uttered when the Spanish language comes up, I will know that you are a liar and cannot be trusted.

This is my excited face.
This is my excited face.

Before we decided where to go next, I wanted to take a picture beside the RV. Behind my Lit Crawl map are my treasures and with just a sweatshirt on, you can see that the weather was favorable even as time pressed on. Since we had only spent maybe 10 minutes at the bookmobile, this left time to find another event before Phase 3.

Phase 2, Part 2 – KRUPSKAYA at Dog Eared Books

After skimming through the Litquake guide, we actually ended up venturing backwards. Remember the place where I got my lovely horse book? David decided that we should return to that bookstore after reading the event description full of “experimental pose and fiction.” Once we entered the bookstore, we were smacked in the face with a heat wave. Bodies were scattered from those standing listening to the readers to patrons leafing through books on the shelves. With no seats in sight, we decided on a ledge near the new arrivals as the best view of the podium.

Steven commanding the podium.
Steven commanding the podium.

David and I walked in while Steven Farmer was reading. Without any introductions, there was not much I could gather from his pieces. The only thing that stuck out was his rhyme with “wawa” and “live mas” which I definitely cannot piece together myself. I wish I had the context for that poem.

Kevin taking a turn and turning me into a ball of confusion.
Kevin taking a turn and turning me into a ball of confusion.

It turned out that the gentleman who was standing in front of me was actually the next reader. One of the first things Kevin Killian did was read a somewhat biographical timeline. He was reciting life milestones and I was stopped in my tracks when he muttered “…married Dodie Bellamy.” Why is this so shocking? Dodie Bellamy was my professor. I took two classes with her including my final Creative Writing class where I wrote my major project. She had talked about her husband before and here I stumbled into one of his readings by pure accident. His poems had a lot to do with AIDS since they were period pieces and he flipped his hair a lot when reading which was rather distracting. I could definitely see his connection to Dodie with all of the mention of genitals and the body. I should mention that Dodie was my professor for a class called “Writing on the Body” which included more than a fair share of genital stories. I would have been terribly put off by his poems if I hadn’t been exposed to his wife which is why I was able to sift out the glorious line “…the men that died so we could live” in between his work.

Laura Moriarty and a clear view that I did not move at all.
Laura Moriarty and a clear view that I did not move at all.

Laura Moriarty followed and to me she seemed the most experienced. Her voice and presence screamed poet depth and lines like “Is she one of many or a singular masterpiece?” solidified that feeling. She mentioned that she did work with SPD which was interesting since I had interned with them for around a month years ago. Even though her poem was strong, I was already sweating at that point. People had begun exiting the store and that was my next thought. It was incredibly hot in there and with closed doors, there is no way I would have made it through another poem. Aside from the heat issue, I very much enjoyed this venue. I liked how the podium was fixed between all of the books and with customers in between, there was a “business goes on” feeling that I could definitely understand. This was the first time I had been in this bookstore and I look forward to returning in order to explore.

I tried to take a picture of the sign before quickly leaving the bookstore.
I tried to take a picture of the sign before quickly leaving the bookstore.

It was a breath of fresh air, literally, once we were back on the sidewalk. Despite attending two different events, we still had 20 minutes before Phase 3. Luckily we were passing a plethora of liquor stores and journeyed inside one to get drinks. I settled for water while David reached for a fancy glass bottle of organic raw apple juice. I am all for trying new things and/or healthier options but I tried to tell him that something seemed off about the bottle. I wish I had taken a photo of it. I sipped my water while he did not get past two gulps of the juice. There was a sour taste in his mouth that penetrated into his breath and all I can say is that we sure were grateful to have my plain old water.

Phase 3 – It’s Complicated: Multiracial Writers Make Meaning of Their Interconnected Identities

I'm a fan of chalkboard signs.
I’m a fan of chalkboard signs.

Successfully washing out that sour taste, we made our way back to Mission Street for the final event of the evening.

A unique cultural experience indeed.
A unique cultural experience indeed.

A few months prior, David and I were in the city before a Giants game and passed the MCCLA and I said that I wanted to go in there one day. When I came across events listed for Litquake, I was immediately drawn because of the venue. Out of curiosity of the place itself and what they had to offer.

Directional signs are my second favorite.
Directional signs are my second favorite.

This sign reassured us that we were indeed in the right place. All of the phases were only an hour long yet it had felt like so much more throughout the night. After picking up our audience surveys, we turned the corner into a theater type area. There was a stage set before us and black folding chairs for everyone to sit in. I had never been so relieved to see open seats given our experience throughout the week.

Shining bright under 98 degree lights.
Shining bright under 98 degree lights.

There were open spots in the middle so we decided on those. Unfortunately they were directly beneath a spotlight so right after this picture we moved two spaces to the left. There were a few people scattered here and there but right before the show was set to begin, the place had filled up.

Audrey before I used common sense and zoomed in.
Audrey before I used common sense and zoomed in.

Lights were dimmed once introductions were given and the crowd was informed that all of the women reading were a part of a writing group called Mixed Writes. The first reader was Audrey Esquivel who is a Oakland, CA writer with an MFA in Creative Nonfiction. I really enjoyed hearing that because not many people major in that genre and that was the genre I wrote one of my best pieces in. She read excerpts from her memoir Chutney & Chitlins which brought up common threads of being biracial like the what are you debate, cultural cues, and integration in today’s society. One of the first things that touched me was when she talked about segregation on buses in the past and she questioned where she would sit. I have had this very same thought in every history class I have ever taken. I used to joke around with my friends and say “Yeah, but where would I sit?” and chuckle off my discomfort. It was such an awakening to have another woman bring up that very same thought and it let me know that I wasn’t the only one who wondered where I would have been positioned in the past. The second thing that I found powerful was her final line, “What will it take for all of us to be joined on the sidewalk?” when discussing that integration is a process still taking place.

Maria clapping for Audrey's performance.
Maria clapping for Audrey’s performance.

Roars of applause erupted once Audrey finished reading. As the first reader she was amazing and definitely set the tone for the night. Next was Maria T. Allocco who was as funny as she was intelligent in her deliberate delivery. She had such strong pronunciation when she spoke that it made lines like “No memory meant a good party” stick in your head. I enjoyed how she read pieces she wrote in different genres because I always feel “wrong” when I venture into other genres. When I tell people my emphasis was in poetry, they treat my fiction pieces like they are a part of amateur hour. It was comforting to see someone who was not afraid to risks in otherwise restricted areas. Her most entertaining piece was “My Son’s Gf” which was told through the perspective of a White mother then an Asian mother. There was poignant lines of humor such as “…chopsticks you have to split yourself” and “Everything’s white like we’re dying” that provided laughs throughout the room yet pointed to the extremes of the race spectrum at the same time. It was a kind of satirical approach which left you pondering after you finished laughing.

I mastered zoom but not clarity for Jackie.
I mastered zoom but not clarity for Jackie.

The final reader of the night was Jackie Graves who is the co-chair of the English department at Laney College which is incredibly close to where I live. Her sister had a stroke when she was 37 years old so the parts of her memoir in-progress were on this subject matter. I immediately identify with anything family related considering how close I am with my family. There were blatant feelings from the hospital experience like “Maureen is in a coma with brain damage but not brain-dead” (Graves) combined with glimpses of her identity with lines like “No one else calls me Jacquelyn.” I have that same relationship with my own father and there is something so significant in addressing someone by their full first name. I am definitely looking forward to reading Jackie’s memoir because the last line, I seem to have an attachment to last lines, is still ringing in my ear “On the third day you will wake up. On the third day you will rise.” Even if you do not subscribe to the religious imagery of it all, that is a beautiful place to stop reading. Waking up and rising when talking about a coma patient leaves nothing but hope in the air.

An accurate depiction of the night.
An accurate depiction of the night.

Throughout the night, the audience was encouraged to sign the clipboard up front to get more information on the readers. Previously I mentioned that all of these women were part of a writing group called Mixed Writes and the importance of joining a writing group was stressed. It was said that you can’t do it alone which is something I struggle with as a writer. I constantly feel like I have to get better through my own thought process which is virtually impossible if I’m not in the company of like minds. I hope that makes sense because it made me realize I need to join a writing group if I want to get nearly as amazing as these women were.

Powerful.
Powerful.

I wanted to discuss each reader before I came out and said that Maria was my favorite of the night because of these business cards. She created these cards that addressed the “What Are You?” question and we picked up a pack on the way out of the venue. As a multiracial woman, this is a question I have had to deal with my entire life and I still come into contact with as an adult. There is such a want/need to define someone as an introduction to getting to know someone and these cards are such a great way to address it. I am Awesome and if we grow together to the point where we are discussing our identities, the defining process will have turned into something else entirely.

If I had seen this photo before getting home, she could've been our new friend.
If I had seen this photo before getting home, she would’ve been our new friend.

Another pit-stop at a taqueria and then we headed home from what I can only describe as a life-changing experience. In just under 4 hours I was introduced to so many different works and got a glance at some inspiring minds. Lit Crawl is so much more than just alcohol and poetry which is what I assumed it was. If you don’t experience it yourself and strictly rely on other opinions, you will miss out on something truly extraordinary. Filled with literature and hope, David and I headed home. Keep an eye out for Lit Crawl next year and maybe our paths will cross. Discover the beauty around you even if it means smiling in the background of a couple’s train selfie.

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