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January 30, 2008

Wondering

Increasingly of late I have been wondering what this child of ours will look like. In most ways, Robbi and I look nothing alike, and yet we share certain similarities. Neither of us is seven feet tall, for example, and both of us have roundish faces.

Three of this baby's four grandparents were born with hair as fair as corn silk. The fourth had hair as black as coal. Robbi is firmly opposed to the idea of a blond child, and threatens to love it less if it comes out towheaded. Given the genetic likelihood of this result, however, I do hope that she summons the generosity of spirit to change her mind.

When I was home for Christmas this year, I rooted through some old pictures, looking for clues. I scanned a few favorites.

Here's the classic. Dad and me enjoying a relaxing morning in bed.

And here I am on the occasion of my first kindergarten graduation.

There was a second kindergarten graduation because, upon completing my first year of kindergarten, I was deemed not to be emotionally ready for the hard-hitting rigors of first grade. I was allowed to don the cap and gown so as not to feel excluded from the fun when all of my classmates actually graduated. I don't think I was emotionally astute enough to notice when I showed up in kindergarten again the next fall.

The second graduation did the trick, and I eventually did reach first grade.

The operative point remains, however. I was a very blond little sucker. Robbi beware.

Posted by bogenamp at 11:14 PM

January 29, 2008

Larger than Life

Some of you have been clamoring for belly updates. Sometimes words are insufficient. Or simply unnecessary.

Perhaps the wide-angle lens on our camera paints a slightly misleading picture. This is perhaps truer to life.

And as we step back just a bit more from Mount Ribbu, we see the long view of Her Majesty.

We went to the doctor yesterday and the various measurements were right on par. Robbi is getting vigorously pummeled of late by our child. S/he has been displaying what we can only interpret as extreme enthusiasm at the prospects of its looming birth.

According to the Web site I have been consulting, the child is in roughly this position right about now.

I, too, would be looking forward to liberation.


Posted by bogenamp at 05:13 PM

January 26, 2008

Collaboration

When Robbi and I first proposed to teach our Winter Study class at Williams, we were mostly curious to know if others would be interested in trying their hands at producing the kind of books that we have been working on. We were pleased that enough students were interested to meet the minimum enrollment numbers. But we arrived on campus in early January with decidedly low expectations. A number of factors were working against us.

First off, Winter Study is really only three weeks long. Not enough time, we worried, to generate collaborative creative content with a partner one had never worked with before. Surely not enough time to piece together an attractive, interesting, coherent narrative.

Also, the general idea of winter study is to provide a low-key, low-stress outlet for students between two intense academic semesters. Many of the courses are neither rigorous nor time-consuming. To work according to plan, ours would have to be both.

Finally, collaboration between writers and artists is a pretty novel concept. Typically, especially in college, writers workshop with other writers and artists critique with other artists. We had no idea how quickly our students would be able to adjust to the mixed media aspect of the course.

We had 12 students, evenly divided between guys and gals. We had a fairly even mix of class years. We had six writers and six artists.

Given the short time frame, we had sent our students homework to complete over the break. We emailed them three paragraphs and three images. The writers were instructed to "respond" to the images and the artists to the paragraphs. On the first day of class we looked at the responses together as a group. It was interesting to see how stunningly various were the responses to the same prompts. Our hope was that it would give our students, and us, a good sense of aesthetics and interest to the end of helping us come up with compelling collaborative pairs. We gave our students the opportunity to write us an email that night letting us know who they might like to partner with, not along the lines of who they liked personally, but along the lines of creative compatibility. We took this info, added our own judgment, and assigned pairs. The next day we spent most of the class period looking through an anthology that was the course text, looking at and discussing the work of established indie comics makers. At the end of the class, we announced the partner pairings and sent them off to spend the weekend starting the conversation about a collaborative project.

The rest of the course was essentially a workshop to discuss and develop their works. We met three times a week for two hours as a group, and each pair met independently with Robbi and me for an hour long tutorial session.

Our biggest worry was that the groups would have difficulty getting off the ground with the initial idea from which to depart. Not a single group struggled in this respect. Their ideas were interesting and surprising. The creative direction seemed drawn from a place of genuine collaboration, not from one person's aesthetic or agenda overriding the other.

I'll cut to the quick:

Our students were amazing. They worked their butts off. They took risks. They articulated their ideas with passion and eloquence.

We were so pleased that we took them bowling. Writers versus artists. In a match to the death.

Here is Robbi's crew.

And here are some of mine.

It was a well-contested match, but I am happy to report that the writers prevailed by a slim margin. Our victory can be attributed to a general lack of will among the artists. I cite this example: at one point one of our more audacious writers, name of K-Town, stole the 8-pound pink ball that many of the artists had been using. The act was overt and witnessed by various members of the artist camp, but beyond minor protest, the theft went uncontested, the result of crumpled spirits. From that point, my people cruised to easy victory. We aren't above a little necessary sabotage.

Perhaps the highlight of the evening was the purchase and consumption of the "cod roll", a curious item from the snack bar that fascinated one member of my team.

The month continued and the work continued to exceed our wildest dreams. We had hoped for not much more than good thinking on the topic of cross-media collaboration. But complete narratives were emerging, complete with strong, thoughtful syntheses of writing and images.

The six projects were, in a nutshell:

1) a mock-academic piece on Emily Dickinson that gradually but unflinchingly pilloried the life and work of the misunderstood Belle
2) the tragicomic tale of the dawning of consciousness of Moshe the "just add water" Tyrannosaurus Rex, complete with questions of ontology and the premature onset of epistemological gloom
3) a process piece on the inner narrative of a superhero/assassin, who, in the end, is revealed to be just like you and me, an honest average Joe who goes to bed in his suburban house each night
4) the quiet, yet powerful story of a disabled woman trapped in her upstairs apartment, taking the voyeur's long look at the world passing by outside her window
5) the story of two college lovers poignantly reunited on the occasion of a wedding told in an alternating narrative of photograph and prose
6) a quirky, knowing voicing of male insecurity that unfolds across a 96-inch accordion-fold dreamscape of self-aggrandizement and surreal fantasy

Further, our students seemed motivated to actually produce finished books, formatted in InDesign, the professional page layout program we use for our books. Robbi did a two-hour seminar on the software and expected that the students would be overmatched by the new technology. Instead, each group created sophisticated layouts, which would enable them to print and assemble multiple finished copies of their book.

We set up a bookmaking lab in our classroom and spent a full day printing, trimming, folding, scoring, gluing, and stapling.

They were tireless and amazing.

In spite of the usual fare of errors and delays on the part of the printer.

It was incredibly gratifying to see the care they took in assembling their finished books.

And the pride they obviously felt in beholding them.

On the last day of class, this past Wednesday, we had an open house for the public. I would have been happy with a dozen or so visitors. Instead, over the course of two hours, 50-60 people came through to see the finished books, students and professors alike.

Perhaps it was the spread of delicious cheeses that drew the crowds, but our students' work spoke for itself. They were absolute stars.

Inspired by the spirit of collaboration, one of our artists penned the following illustration, which I may have made into a poster for the benefit of generations of collaborators to come. It speaks volumes, I think.

I am reluctant to ever teach another course for fear that no other group of students could match up to the ones we had this month. For those of you who care about the place, it seems that Williams is in very good hands.

Posted by bogenamp at 10:05 AM

January 22, 2008

Live Free or Die

I haven't been writing because we have been busy of late. Last Friday night I played a gig with Misty Blues at Liston's roadhouse in Worthington. We played loud and long and my ears rang for two days after. There are no pictures of the event because we lost the cord that recharges our camera. But Robbi went to Radio Shack and fixed the problem. Saturday we drove north and east to Hebron, New Hampshire, home of the Connor Brothers, the manly trio who fishes up in Bristol Bay with us each summer.

Here they are in full Alaskan glory, on the deck of the good ship Charisma.

Paul, the brother on the lower right, had invited us up to visit his homestead, a house he built by hand in the middle of 60 acres of New Hampshire wilderness. Being as close to Hebron as we're likely to be for quite some time, we decided to make it a day trip.

It took about three hours to get there, the roads we traveled getting progressively smaller and snowier. When we arrived, we wouldn't have known we were in Hebron except for the post office.

There was a lot of snow on the ground, and snowmobiles are a primary form of transportation. Hence, this machine that grooms the various trails.

Paul's house is about a mile from the closest road that can be accessed in the winter, so Paul met us with his snowmobile and drove us up to his place.

The trail through the woods was steep, but Iggy kept pace.

For the most part.

Paul's house is a work in constant progress.

Situated in the middle of 60 acres of New Hampshire wilderness, the house is not on the grid. Paul runs generators to charge the batteries that run the electricity in his house. Water comes from a well. The fridge, stove, and hot water heater run on propane.

He adds to the house as need be. For years, he lacked a bathroom. Eventually, his wife Kathleen persuaded him of the virtues of indoor plumbing.

The interior is cozy and beautiful. Kathleen made us some delicious soup.

Our good friends Josh and Kay drove over from Boston for the day. Josh also fishes in Alaska in the summers.

Josh plays the banjo.

Kay plays with dogs.

Paul and Kathleen have two kids, Cian and Cullem. Cian was sick and remained understated throughout our visit.

Cullem, on the other hand, was anything but shy. Throughout our first half hour or so in the house, we were treated to five or so different personas. Here are a few.

Being the incredibly manly type, Paul is a blacksmith and has a lot of powerful metalworking tools in the unfinished barn beside his house.

Like this sucker, which adds tremendous force to one's hammer blow.

The hammers in question.

Another piece of indiscriminately masculine machinery.

This one is instrumental in heating the metal. I do not know its name.

One of Robbi's many virtues is endless curiosity.

In addition to the metalworking barn, Paul has a shed/tent structure for woodworking. Notice the open end. Nothing like subzero New Hampshire temperatures to compliment one's woodworking.

In addition to all his tools, Paul has other essentials on hand. Like a PA system for playing music.

Paul has a beautiful voice and plays a nice guitar. I brought my harps, and we played a bit.

Eventually, it came time to go home.

We piled back onto the snowmobiles and drove through the dark woods back to our car.

For years, Robbi and I have listened to Paul and his brothers talk about their homes on the lake in Hebron, NH. For years we have dreamed of our own cabin in the woods, away from it all.
And although we were inspired by the loveliness of the setting and the romance of their lives, the visit helped us feel thankful for the amenities of our barn. Our plumbing, our electricity, our well-manicured roadways.

Perhaps someday we will feel ready to truly set out into the wilderness to make a life among the trees. But something tells me that we won't.

We're home now, back from Massachusetts, looking forward now to Idiots'Fest, mere weeks away.

I have some catching up to do here that will be posted in the days ahead.

Posted by bogenamp at 10:22 PM

January 17, 2008

Snow

There was a foot of snow on the ground when we got to town two weeks ago. The temperature was hovering around zero. Then there was a period of sudden thaw. Temperatures soared into the mid-60s and all the snow melted. About a week ago, we reached a comfortable middle ground that felt appropriate for January in Williamstown. We've been getting lots of snow, but not so much accumulation. The kind of snow you can brush off your car instead of having to scrape.

In other words, all the beauty without the hassle.

On the way to class the other day, we stopped to admire our surroundings. Here, for those of you who know the Williams campus and are interested in the enormous changes currently underway, is the substructure of the new academic building now occupying the green space that had existed between the Congregational Church and Hopkins Hall.

Here is Robbi, mugging with the Williamstown sign.

Here she is wretchedly sulking along the byways as she is known to do.

And here she is standing at the famous gates of West College, the original building from which Williams has grown over the past 200+ years.

Later that afternoon, we took a walk in Hopkins Forest.

It was cold and the snow was falling.

Iggy was in high cheer. She loves to run around in the snow and tries to eat as much of it as possible. Her newest trick is catching snowballs lobbed her way.

Some times of year, the Hopkins Forest lower loop is full of joggers, walkers, dogs, families, student researchers, tree sap collectors. But, for the moment, we had the place to ourselves.


Posted by bogenamp at 01:02 PM

January 13, 2008

Only in New England

After class on Friday afternoon, we piled into the car and headed East. Though the snow had melted in the valley, as we climbed the pass outside of North Adams, ice hung in the trees.

It was foggy as we drove through Savoy and just on the edge of starting to snow.

We were on our way to Andover to visit my mom and Dean.

Because they like us, they took us to a Japanese restaurant. It was one of those menus with hundreds of options, all of which seemed very delicious.

Robbi got some udon, which pleased her.

I was torn. Sushi or noodles? Sashimi or teriyaki? I was scanning the sushi menu when something caught my eye. Red Sox roll? My fandom was piqued. Patriots roll? My mind was made up.

Here are the glorious foodstuffs in question.

The Red Sox roll (upper right) is topped with tuna. The Patriots roll, lower right, is a bit more puzzling, since their colors are not white and orange. But the white fish is blue marline, apparently, which is one of the Pats' colors. In any case, they were delicious.

The other two rolls on the plate?

The Celtics roll and the Bruins roll, of course.

Very full of raw fish, we turned in. The next day, we went to see Juno. I hope that I do not ruin anyone's fun by revealing that Juno deals prominently with pregnancy. At the end there is a delivery. Watching it, I wept like a small boy whose candy has just been stolen.

After the movie we went grocery shopping with mom. Perhaps the citizens of Lawrence, Massachusetts know something we don't, but people were crammed in there like the end of days were nigh.

Safely back at mom's house, we started mixing the batter for popovers.

For those who do not know, popovers are a light and fluffy pastry thing which, though tasty in their own right, are mostly a vehicle for putting enormous quantities of butter and jam into one's mouth.

I used to spend my boyhood summers on Mount Desert Island in Maine. My favorite day each year was when mom took me to high tea at the Jordon Pond House, where I ate popovers, butter, and jam in enormous quantities.

My mom is a wizard in the kitchen. I love my mom.

Robbi, on the other hand, kept sneaking bites of things she was not supposed to be eating.

In spite of better judgment, I love her, too.

The occasion for the popovers was a high tea we were having for our friends Bill and Betty Lychack. Bill is Andover's artist in residence and an incredibly talented writer. If you have not read The Wasp Eater, you really ought to.

Though we like Bill and Betty quite a bit, our real motive in inviting them over was the fact that they had twins six months ago. The popovers were mostly a bribe to ensure that we got to spend some time with Burgess and her brother William.

William was a very good natured little boy, though he wasn't quite sure what to make of us.

Burgess just seemed embarrassed to be seen with me.

I was delighted to learn that it is perfectly fine to put your baby on the floor.

And that, if you have two babies of approximately the same shape and size, it's a good idea to vary the color of their packaging.

We were inspired by the babies. "We can do this," we said to each other. "This is going to be easy."

Five minutes later, we fell into a profound late afternoon slumber.

Mom says it has something to do with the babies, but I blame the popovers.

Posted by bogenamp at 08:26 PM

January 09, 2008

Roadhouse Revival

In just four days it has gone from 1 degree to 65 in Williamstown, Massachusetts. At the far extreme, Iggy was refusing to pee on account of the cold. She would go outside, pretend to pee, and then lunge for the door and the promise of warmth within. Back inside, she'd still have to pee and get antsy. So we'd make her go outside again and the crisis would repeat itself. Eventually we had to exercise some tough love. Now it's warm and Iggy is having no problem taking care of business, but the world is a muddy soup. I took a run in Hopkins Forest today and came back with soggy feet. It is unnatural to walk around Williamstown with no jacket in the heart of January.

Roadhouse Revival, the album I recorded last weekend with Misty Blues, my friend Gina's band, has been recorded and mastered and is currently in production. If you are interested in hearing a cut from the album (featuring yours truly on harp), visit the band's MySpace page. The song posted, Down By the Riverside, is a jaunty, happy tune.

The second day we were in the studio, Gina laid down a few more vocal tracks on this very attractive microphone.

And Jeff, who had not been able to make it the night before, added his guitar throughout the album. As I was preparing to take this photo, he wanted to make certain that the World of Warcraft shirt would be legible.

And this is Greg, who recorded and produced the album, with his very large mixing board.

Though it is difficult for the mind to grasp, apparently Greg knows what to do with all of these knobs.

Here is Misty Blues proper, minus the "special guest" harp and piano players.

In other news, Robbi ate a baked potato for dinner.

And just tonight we prepared the volume 12 mailing.

Subscribers, keep an eye on your mailbox.

Posted by bogenamp at 11:36 PM

January 06, 2008

Idiots'Fest Web site

Friends, it is time to make your travel plans. Idiots'Fest 2008: Subscribers that Rock is a mere six weeks away.

Robbi has built a rather nice festival Web site. Check it out by clicking here.

It can also be seen here.

Or here.

If you must, you can see it by clicking here, but if you click here, consider yourself unwelcome at the festival. We try to be reasonable, accommodating people but we do have our limits.

Know this: Idiots'Fest is going to be a pretty wonderful thing, if only because of the extraordinary cast of characters who will be strutting their stuff for your enjoyment.

It may not seem convenient to travel to Chestertown in the middle of February, but if I were a betting man, I'd wager that you would not regret it.

Unless you dislike things that rock. If this is the case, you might be better served by clicking here.


Posted by bogenamp at 02:47 PM

January 05, 2008

The Village Beautiful

We have been absent but not idle. Since returning from Missouri, a number of things have happened. As part of our ongoing research into small, young people, we hung out with "Baby Joe" on New Year's Eve.

Baby Joe is the son of our friends Yarwen and Hsu. Baby Joe is two months old. He was not much of a conversationalist, but he was awfully cute.

He gave small but very nice hugs.

Also on New Year's Eve, we opened our Christmas presents from Bob and Seiko. The Berhs don't do anything the "normal" way.

Robbi got a very special shirt from her Aunt Mimi. At first it seemed too small.

But further investigation revealed it to be quite expandable. And so I had to try it on.

We came to the conclusion that it is really more of a lady garment.

After the New Year's Eve Christmas party, Robbi finished putting together the layout for Volume 12.

The next day, I trimmed and stapled 200 copies.

Then we had a traditional Japanese New Year's Day lunch with Bob and Seiko.

We packed. We drove to Baltimore with our cats in a box. We dropped off the cats with Supi Loco, ate some pizza, spent the night with Chris and Emily, and the next day drove to Williamstown, Massachusetts, where we will be living for the next three weeks. Williamstown, also known as the Village Beautiful, is home to Williams College, where Robbi and I went to school and met so many years ago.

We are teaching a class on collaboration between artists and writers. Over the next three weeks, we will do our best to help them think about the possibilities inherent in combining pictures and words. We had our first class on Thursday, our second on Friday, and I am pleased to say that we have an outstanding group of students.

To celebrate after our first class, we went downtown to the thriving hub of Williamstown's pulsing commercial district. Our destination, Papa Charlie's deli.

All of Papa Charlie's sandwiches are named after famous people. Quite a few of them are actors who have acted in the Williamstown Theater Festival over the years.

Many of these people have actually designed the sandwiches that are their namesakes. You can either order your sandwiches as a show of solidarity for your favorite actor or because you like the ingredients. I usually go the ingredient route. Which means I usually order the Zonker Harris. Not a real person, I realize, but still the inventor of a damn good sandwich.

After class yesterday, we met my sister Andy for coffee.

Andy lives in Haiti, where she is doing good for the world. Should you want to keep tabs on her goodness, you may do so by reading her blog.

Her Christmas present to us was this Haitian object, which apparently has something to do with our child. I'm not sure what it's for or how it works.

However enigmatic it may have been, I was pleased by the gift.

But Robbi was unimpressed.

Later that day I headed to Dalton, Massachusetts with my good friend Gina Coleman, who in addition to being a Dean of Williams College, the Executive Director of an educational nonprofit, head coach of the Williams women's rugby team, and mother, is also the lead singer of Misty Blues, a band of which I am lucky to be an occasional member. We were heading to Dalton to Derek Studios (a recording studio where the likes of Arlo Guthrie and David Crosby have recorded albums) to record Misty Blues' new album.

On the way, we dropped Gina's son Diego off at his grandma's house.

He spoke with great passion about the virtues of "Shrek Third", which he had just seen, even sharing the titles of some of the songs from the movie in a spirited attempt to persuade me to watch it.

The hills along Route 43 were covered with snow.

In the studio, I caught up with the band.

Bill, our bass player, is also a stained glass window maker and electrical engineer.

Jason, who does things with a guitar that can only be described as "tasty."

Bassie, who firmly believes that a man's drum kit is a reliable measure of his manhood.

And Gina, our leader and spiritual core.

Here is Bob, not a full-time band member, joined us on the piano. The album is a kind of honky tonk gospel/blues record with a loose and carefree sound meant to suggest a bar show. Bob's playing added a lot to the gospel side of things.

And here am I, in my lonely isolation booth.

It is a well-established fact that harp players get no respect.

There were a number of small vintage tube amps of the variety that are highly sought after by harp players looking for that fat blues tone.

I tried them all but decided to go with my own, a Gibson GA-5 from 1951. I spent a long time being very geeky on Ebay to get it. I love it. If you come to my barn, I will gladly play it for you.

Last night we laid down the recordings and today we added a few solos, tweaked a few endings, and did the mastering. The disks will be available in time for our gig at Liston's roadhouse in Savoy, MA on January 18. If you are anywhere near Savoy that day, do drop by. We'll also be playing the Williams Faculty Club Martin Luther King, Jr. event on MLK day, but I think that you have to be employed by Williams to attend. This gives you about two weeks to contact HR with your resume.


Posted by bogenamp at 08:07 PM