punched out

Last night on Oberlin’s events calendar, “late night jam session” was listed as part of the Punch Brothers’ artist residency.

I picked up my accordion, Jules (roommate) picked up his backpack full of bones and harmonicas, and we got to the Con at about 10. The stage of Warner Concert Hall was already packed pretty full, but we managed to find space among the musicians forming an arc against the stage’s back wall. A bunch of the Irish tune crowd (Erin, Leah, Brian, Alex, Ida, Kirk) were already standing on the stage and jamming on some tunes that I didn’t know, so I did what I usually do and figured out the bassline. Most of the people at the jam session weren’t folkies, and Alex started playing “Angeline the Baker,” one of the most simple old time tunes, so everyone could play. On the stage before the Punch Brothers actually came out, we had many fiddles, a brass section, two saxes, two flutes, three double basses, two accordions, and too many guitars to count. The audience was sitting on the floor in front of us, and they pushed back and cheered when the five Punch Brothers actually came out. To start they taught us a simple tune, “Dixie Chicken,” and Chris Thile pointed at a bunch of people (including my own self) for solos, and I managed to not make a complete fool out of myself despite forgetting that I was on bassoon stop so that B flat I wanted wasn’t quite accessible. (Hope no one took photos of my confused face.)

After that, people started yelling requests. The Cars, “Just What I Needed?” That happened. Someone in the crowd had a birthday, so Thile yelled for any vocal majors to get up there to sing Happy Birthday to the fortunate girl, backed by the motley band of Brothers and Obies. People started calling from the crowd that they had friends who wanted to sing Punch Brothers songs, so a girl with an amazing voice sang “Wayside” and a guy sang “This Girl.” (When I say they sang it, I mean they sang the verses and absolutely everyone on the stage and in the audience sang the choruses.) Once the Brothers realized that no one in the room was shy about singing, they led us in “The Auld Triangle.” 

Someone in the crowd (qusqu) wanted to sing Shady Grove but didn’t want to do it alone, and tried to get her friend up with her to sing it but the friend wasn’t moving. I asked if I could sing with her, and she let me, so we sang Shady Grove together aided by the lyrics from her phone. Shortly afterward there were a flurry of yells for “Jolene,” and a gang of six girls including myself harmonized on that and we all pointed to the one redhead in the group during “flaming locks of auburn hair.” (“Finally, a song that just does the same thing for the whole thing!” said Chris.) The last song we did was “The Weight,” and the Brothers led everyone out of Warner (still playing) to…where? I didn’t know if I was being Pied Pipered or this was the exeunt Punches bit. It turned out to be the latter, but I had already followed Chris Thile and Gabe Witcher through the doors into the central building with my accordion still strapped to my chest, so I asked Chris Thile for a photo. He kindly let me take one.

In the hallway outside Warner the Feve had catered tots and sliders, but Alex and Brian and Leah and Erin and Kirk were still playing Irish tunes so I joined them, and we were soon joined by Chris Eldridge. He outlasted most of the Obies until the remaining five stalwarts got thrown out of the Con at about 12:15 following a beautiful “The Blackest Crow.”

It was a good day.

03-12 / 10:22 / 4 notes

somehow I feel like my sphere of the world is about to shift under me and I can do nothing to stop it.

the work of the semester is beginning to pile up (the fact that I was at flurry this weekend didn’t help, though it was lovely) and all I want to do is curl up and be held with no other expectations. unfortunately the position of holder-of-me has no applicants in Oberlin so I’ll have to make do with a blanket.

02-18 / 23:03 / 2 notes

Woke up with a sore throat that turned out to be strep. I’m glad I went early to get meds because I should be fine for the dance tomorrow. 

In the meantime, I’m watching Pom Poko and maybe I’ll be able to finish Utena tonight.

02-06 / 15:04 / 1 note

testing my wings


Living in the Pioneer Valley has been good to me re: calling.

places I have called guest slots:

Greenfield (2x)
Youth Trad Song Weekend
Ralph Page Legacy Dance Weekend
Amherst downtown

bands with whom I have called

Frost and Fire
A pickup band with most of Last Exit
Maivish (2x)
The Riot Act

The Dances:

Winter Storm (Linda Leslie)
Earl and Squirrel (Chris Weiler)
Lads of Ohio (Rick Mohr) 
Pinewoods Dish Helper’s Reel (me!)
You Can’t Get There from Here (Carol Ormand)

All of them went quite well in my mind except for the one at RPLDW; I got through the dance but I couldn’t back off the mic without one line nearly unzipping because the dancers were rushing the calls and getting way ahead of the music, which was a tad slow. Next time I’ll ask the band for a bit more speed. My favorite slot was calling my dance, Pinewoods Dish Helper’s Reel, as part of Nils Fredland’s program at Greenfield with Maivish as the band. The crowd was advanced enough to handle it and the roll away into ladies chain created an “awesome vortex,” as someone in the car home pointed out to me. That dance is staying in my box.

I’m also digitizing my calling cards into Caller’s Companion, which Will Loving sold to me for half price. It should be a lot easier to program now, if I do end up programming and not flying by the seat of my pants! Hem of my skirt? I’m not sure if I’ve ever contra’d in pants.

happy new year everyone

New Year’s Eve was, this year, devoid of broken bones, getting left outside in the New York cold for 45 minutes, and/or getting sick at dances. 

So that was one of the best nights of contra dancing I’ve ever experienced. Too bad the band was a one-off for the night because I’d drive hours to dance to those bagpipes again. Thank you Greenfield.

01-01 / 12:08 / 4 notes

My flight back to the USA had Pacific Rim, Rise of the Guardians, 20 Feet from Stardom, AND Goodfellas.

I didn’t take my laptop out once.

12-20 / 1:48 / 3 notes

it’s official

I am going to cry when I leave my host family’s house tomorrow.

Today was my last day in the house. I spent it packing, going out for 100-yen-a-plate kaiten-zushi with a friend, and teaching my host mother to play “Itsumo Nando Demo” on the piano. She had asked me earlier in the semester after she first heard me play it, but I hadn’t had time. She made okonomiyaki with squid for my last dinner with them. Most of my room is now packed into three bags that I’ll carry on the train tomorrow to Tokyo, save for a few chargers. I am so lucky to have been living with this host family and I know I’ll stay in contact with my host mom for the rest of my life.

I’ll be approaching the Pacific coastline in four days.

12-15 / 7:31 / 1 note

Laptop charger let off a huge spark when I plugged it into the computer. It had been getting old but tonight was not a convenient night for it to break. I had been planning on working on my final presentation for a class and now I can’t till I get a new one, which I’ll be able to do tomorrow but still. Also, the horribly cold room I am living in is not doing the accordion any favors in ease of playing or in sound. Urgh…

11-29 / 5:32

Went to explore Mt. Hiei today with my friend from Australia. It must have been about 55 degrees up there, but she was holding onto her hand warmers like a shipwreck survivor holds onto a life raft, whereas I was fine in my 3/4 sleeved shirt, jeans, and poncho — and I get cold the most easily out of my group of friends. Lesson learned: sweet Australian summer children know nothing of winter (but actually, they don’t, because the average high temperature in Perth during winter is about 60 degrees) I’m going to look at the Maine tag now, because being on Hiei made me miss mountains.

10-27 / 6:54 / 4 notes

my new neighbors

Because of my room’s being the closest in the house to the nearby rice paddy, I’ve had a few mosquito problems (okay, quite a few) since I’ve come to Japan, especially in the first month which was so hot that it was agonizing to not have the window open, even when I had the fan on. However, in the past few days, I’ve only had to go late-night mosquito hunting once, and this morning when I woke up and looked out the window, I found out why. Three local spiders have apparently gotten wise to the fact that mosquitoes like me, and they’ve set up shop on the overhangs outside my room and are flat out feasting on the little bastards.

The first one I saw is by the window by my bed, and the second and third are outside the sliding glass door to the little balcony. The first time I saw the second, it chomped into a large bug’s head the second after my eyes lit on it, and my first thought was “Oh, I guess you’re Charlotte then?”

Five seconds later I realized that Charlotte is probably the least original name for a spider.

Anyway, I have no fear of spiders, and so Gertrud, Charlotte, Elly, and Elly’s two smaller neighbors are welcome to hang out outside my room and eat as many bugs as they like.

10-14 / 2:16 / 1 note

Miscellaneous karaoke shenanigans from today in Hirakata. Includes my trying to find all the Lancaster canon on the machine, mostly with successful results.

10-04 / 11:14 / 1 note

A dance club of older women in Hirakata came to Gaidai a few weeks ago to outfit some international students in yukata and teach them some Bon dances and a party game called Yakyuuken. I’m the one in blue who’s winning at Janken in the bottom picture.

After the day’s activities, the dance club called for a few students to learn a more complicated dance than what had been taught that day, and perform it at their showcase later this month. I signed up for that because a. I had fun dancing during the one day workshop, and b. I think it would probably be a good thing to interact with some people who aren’t between the ages of 18 and 23.

We had practice yesterday and it seems my color guard muscle memory re: smiling while concentrating intensely still exists. 

10-02 / 2:45 / 4 notes

serial experiments gaijin

On my Japan to-do list is to watch a bunch of Japanese series that I’ve been meaning to for a while but haven’t gotten around to yet. Travel, though I love to do it, is expensive. A round trip ticket from Hirakata-shi to Osaka or Kyoto is 680 yen, and that’s only if the destination can be gotten to using only the Keihan Line. Usually, it can’t, and I’ll have to take a subway or switch train lines. The fact that I can’t work for money is quickly becoming an annoyance; I’m needing to live on about 10,000 yen a week, about 3500 of which has been going towards food — meaning, lunches on school days (usual cost: between 400-600 yen), the odd coffee, and some dinners on days that I go to Kyoto or Osaka and don’t make it back for dinner. I’m trying to see if I can knock that number down, but that would require either never drinking coffee or eating the least appealing food in the Gaidai cafeteria every day. This week, I’m writing down wherever my money goes.

Anyway, the amount of downtime I have is giving me more than usual to practice the accordion, play a beloved video game from my childhood in Japanese with an emulator, and watch all the anime I don’t get to when I’m too mentally fatigued to process anything that is not school, co-oping, or dancing The first series on the docket was Serial Experiments Lain, a very dense, very surreal cyberpunk series about the Internet, what it means to be a human, and how a shy teenage girl plays an important role in all this. In Episode 2 of said series, her more mature-looking classmates persuade her to come to a dance club, and she’s not quite sure what to do with herself there. 

How I looked last night:

How I felt:

I’m twenty years old. Legally, an adult. I can drink in Japan. But put me in a club situation, especially one where I don’t know most of the people there, and I’m an awkward fourteen-year-old all over again. The club in question was in a basement in Ame-Mura, short for Amerika-Mura. America Village, in Osaka, is a neighborhood full of neon flash, American clothing stores, nightclubs, and windowless love hotels. Maho had invited me the night prior; a friend of hers who teachers English in Tottori, who had previously been a Gaidai student, was back in Osaka for the weekend to celebrate her birthday and had invited her. Her friend and a few others were planning on partying all night, but Maho and I had homework to do the next day and were only planning on staying late enough to get on the last train. I’d never been to a club besides the Sco at Oberlin, and if I go there I’m guaranteed to know at least a few people. She hadn’t been to one before either.

We got some ramen in Dotonbori and got to the club at about 9:30, when her friend said she would be there, but she was nowhere to be found. The music was loud rap and R&B, all in English. Maho didn’t get up to dance, but she was swaying and saying she liked it even though she couldn’t understand most of the lyrics. I was kind of relieved that Maho turned out to not be a club dancer, because that would have given me the not-so-appealing options of either sitting alone at the table or trying to dance in my usual awkward way, which passes for the Sco when I’m in a circle of friends but definitely wouldn’t fly in Ame-Mura. I wasn’t dressed like most of the people there either; most of them favored very tight, patterned clothing — short shorts or skirts or body con dresses, and there I was in my Stevie Nicks-esque usual going-out wear. Maho’s friend was nowhere in sight, and an hour and a half passed of us shouting over the loud music in our usual patter of mixed English and Japanese. After drink #2, my Japanese was markedly better, a phenomenon that apparently isn’t too rare.

Brooke, an energetic blonde from Idaho, ended up showing up three minutes after we were supposed to leave. She had texted Maho and said she would be there “soon” an hour before, and then we had gotten another text saying “almost there.” We only had enough time for one very blurry picture on Maho’s phone before we had to catch the last train. Both of us had had a few drinks by then and I may have treated Amerika-Mura to a few verses of the Police’s “Walking on the Moon.”

Woke up in Maho’s apartment. Both of us laid our futons out, watched gameshows, drank tea and collapsed once we had rode the last train back. No hangovers for either of us. Pineapple pancakes from a bag for breakfast, and I wrote postcards to send to America tomorrow once I got back to Sonenji. 

I feel very detached from last night. I was there, but not all there. Someone who looked like me was sitting in that club drinking sweet cocktails and my usual Great Lakes or straight whiskey-drinking self who sometimes enjoys Kahlua with hot chocolate (but only in the middle of winter with friends) was hovering in the air behind her, watching with amusement. 

09-22 / 3:48 / 4 notes

iPod: broken, then fixed. Nice earbuds: broken. Camera: so broken. I’m incredibly fortunate that I’m going to the camera’s homeland and will probably be able to get it fixed there, otherwise today would have been a lot worse than it actually was, which was pretty awesome after the riding-around-on-buses and being told that my camera had no easy fix part was done with. Even during that part, I found some wild blackberries by the road. Nothing could have been more delicious to my breakfast-deprived stomach.

08-24 / 21:34