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February 26, 2009

The Little Gym

Last week, Cannon invited Alden to accompany him to his weekly class at the Little Gym. Given that her alternatives included crawling around on our living room floor or crawling around on our kitchen floor or crawling around on our studio floor, she decided to take him up on the offer.

Consequently, she crawled around on exercise mats instead.

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And crawled under the bars.

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And contemplated the balance beam.

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Cannon tried to show her how much fun it was to crawl through the tunnel.

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She thought about it.

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But then found something much more fun to do.

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Then it was time for the educational portion of the class:

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...a lecture on the beneficial properties of glycerin.

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Alden wanted to give it a try.

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Mary Lou Retton, she is not, but it's fair to say that Alden's first foray into the world of gymnastics was at least better than the alternative.

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Posted by bogenamp at 06:48 PM

Yesterday

Robbi has been trying to finish up a big project, so yesterday Alden and I decided to get out of her way. We had been looking for a good time to go visit our friend Sarah, who recently had surgery that has rendered her bedridden. We picked up some sandwiches and drove out to her house in Kennedyville, a little town a few miles from Chestertown.

Alden encountered a new cat and her first cast. It was difficult to tell which impressed her less.

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On the way home from Sarah's, we stopped by the road to watch a huge flock of birds take off and land and take off and land.

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They were so beautiful that I took a bunch of photos, but none of them are satisfying.

I feel like showing two, hoping that somehow two photos will do a better job than one of capturing the spectacular movement of this wall of wings. I know that I am only being hopeful. The dramatic flights of many birds moving wordlessly in concert is one of the most incredible things I know of to experience in person.

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And one of the lamest things to look at in a photo.

The project Robbi has been working on is a short film that is one component of a larger project we are doing for the website tor.com. We have been commissioned by the folks at tor.com to creatae a series of "stories" that can be downloaded from their site and constructed into physical books. We came up with an idea which allows someone to fold and make one cut in a single sheet of paper and in so doing create a "book" that can be recombined (pictures and words, both) into ten separate "stories." It's kind of the same idea as our books Ten Thousand Stories and After Everafter, but with a single piece of paper.

Anyway, the act of folding, cutting, and recombining is somewhat complex, so Robbi made a short movie, which will be downloadable from YouTube, to show the reader how to build and manipulate the book.

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By setting our video camera on a chair atop our flat table, Robbi was able to capture an eagle-eye view of the action while watching her work on the little screen.

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It's a nice little movie, and now Robbi can add "filmmaker" to her list of unexpected powers.

There will be four stories in the series, and they will be posted every two weeks starting in early March. I'll be sure to let you all know when the first one is available.

Robbi leaves tomorrow morning for the Philadelphia Flower Show, leaving me, the baby, the dog, both cats, and the fish alone to fend for ourselves. In spite of the lean economy, the Chestertown Taco Bell will experience a dramatic spike in sales over the next ten days.

Posted by bogenamp at 12:16 AM

February 23, 2009

Hint of Things to Come?

Given Robbi's and my long history of optical challenge, Alden's future probably looks a lot like this.

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Posted by bogenamp at 08:02 PM

February 22, 2009

When Technology Goes Too Far

I am a Mac guy and have been since my freshman year of college. This means I have access to the wonderful application iChat, with which I keep in touch with various friends, either by typing messages back and forth or by having conversations via video. Alden's two sets of out-of-town grandparents make regular appearances on the other end of the video chat. Usually the session consists of watching the baby drive her plastic car or watching her eat or watching her throw things and yell. Really grandparents have no high standards when it comes to the subject matter of a video chat. But tonight we took the grandparent video chat in a whole new direction. Let me set the stage.

Tonight was the second matchup of the season between the Duke Blue Devils and the Demon Deacons of Wake Forest. Wake clipped Duke in the final seconds of a hard-fought game three weeks ago in Winston Salem. Alden and I were keenly interested in a different outcome in the rematch.

We put on our Duke garb.

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And I had on my Duke slipper sneakers.

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My keen interest in Duke basketball stems from the keen enthusiasm of my mother, who, as a dancer at Duke, was once asked to fill in as a Duke cheerleader for the ACC tournament one year. We always "watch" the games "together." In the time before iChat, this meant calling one another on the phone during commercials or at halftime, and sometimes even for the final minutes of a particularly tense or important game. More recently, we have chatted with one another on iChat throughout the game, making such insightful comments as "nice three!" or "terrible call!" or "boy oh boy do I hate UNC." But tonight my mother could not get the game on any of the hundreds of channels available via her satellite cable package. I, being in ACC country, was able to watch it. What to do? How to reconcile the inequity?

By placing my mac on stack of books set upon a stool...

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...and pointing the screen at the TV...

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...we were able to project the game from the TV to my mac to my mother's screen in Andover.

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In this manner, three generations of Duke fans watched the game together.

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During commercials, Alden and I visited with my mom.

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It turned out to be serendipitous that we were all together, as the game was a tough one to endure. Down by 22 points early, Wake rallied to pull within two. My mom and I exchanged groans of agony when Wake scored and cries of joy when Duke did. All the while, Alden struggled to grasp the import of what was happening. My carryings-on probably constituted the most baffling behavior she has witnessed in her life to date.

In the end, my team won, racking up 100 points for the first time in five years. Alden and I were incredibly excited. After saying good night to mom, Alden requested that I jump, a thing I have not done for many months.

In honor of Duke's victory and because I was wearing my lose-fitting comfortable penguin pants, I decided to give it a go.

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Who am I to disappoint a child?

Posted by bogenamp at 11:22 PM

February 18, 2009

In Defense of Summer

I woke up early this morning and couldn't get back to sleep, so I stopped trying to fight it and came over to Sam's, our little coffee shop on Cross Street, to do a little writing and watch as Chestertown woke up. As I walked over from the barn, the tops of the buildings were bathed in rich amber light. I wish I'd had the camera with me so that I could show you.

Something in the way this morning feels, takes me to Lake George, where Robbi's family has a cottage.

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It's up there nestled in those trees, closed down for winter with its water turned off, waiting for the thaw and the new leaves.

We'll head up there at some point for at least a long weekend on the banks of that beautiful lake.

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I'm usually a cold weather, dark skies kind of guy, preferring rainstorms and gloom to sunshine. But something in this morning's early light reminded me that there's a place for summer, too.

Posted by bogenamp at 07:56 AM

February 17, 2009

Dog Days

Iggy used to get a lot more love on these pages. And a lot more love in general. She is a good and patient dog, resigned to her demotion. Instead of dwelling on her fate, Iggy chooses to focus on the scant pleasures that remain in her life since the arrival of Alden.

Like going outside.

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We had spectacular weather over the weekend.

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Blue, cloudless skies.

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Brown, flaky grass.

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Crisp, early spring air.

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It was enough to make a dog feel like a puppy again.

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While Iggy and Robbi romped in the athletic fields up at the college, Alden and I (and the BOB off-road jogging stroller) navigated the perimeter.

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But the day belonged to Iggy. She was a dog in her element.

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For an afternoon, at least, she was out from under the oppressive thumb of that miserable baby.

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Posted by bogenamp at 09:19 AM

February 15, 2009

Moving Up in the World (And Down Again)

Alden has discovered a new favorite pastime. It started with standing sneakily at the bottom of our very short flight of steps threatening to climb up.

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This quickly evolved into actual climbing.

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Punctuated by intermittent pauses and additional sneaky looks.

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Like Sisyphus, she is not content to gain the summit, but once atop the stairs, wants nothing but to come back down again. In reverse, of course.

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It occurs to me suddenly that pictures of babies climbing backwards down stairs look an awful lot like the ones of them climbing up. Minus the sneaky glances, which perhaps are not possible in light of the relatively greater amounts of concentration required by the act of descent.

When not climbing up and down stairs, Alden spent her Valentines Day not enjoying her Valentine from Grandpa John and Grandma Judy.

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What a churl. Her indifference was palpable. When does adolescence officially begin?

Posted by bogenamp at 09:11 PM

February 14, 2009

Valentine's Day

This year, Valentine's Day takes on a whole new meaning.

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For the first time I didn't have to put on the red pajamas and cardboard wings and pose on the worktable. But I did have to hold the backdrop when we moved from the "candid" to "studio" portions of the photo shoot.

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Alden wasn't sure about the backdrop, at first. But after a while, she seemed to forget all about it.

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I've got a whole new kind of love this year.

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And just when I think I've got it contained, it keeps moving about and getting bigger.

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Posted by bogenamp at 08:59 AM

February 12, 2009

Rock Star for Four Days

So the first annual Idiots'Books East Coast Tour has come and gone. We have returned home, aglow with the glories of the road and inflicted with physical distress both abdominal and systemic.

To recap:

We pulled out of town last Saturday afternoon, the minivan full of gear, baby, dog, and Drew Bunting, who had flown in from Milwaukee to make the drive north with us. We landed that evening in Metuchen, NY, home of Brian Wecht and his lovely wife Rachel.

Before heading over to the Raconteur for our gig, the guys warmed up playing Rock Band on the Wii.

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While I spent some quality time with Alden.

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The Raconteur is an outstanding independent bookstore in downtown Metuchen. We set up in a cozy little nook in the back. The eager crowds got seated a full half hour before the show began.

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While we warmed up, Drew got funky with the banjo uke.

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And Slattery got all moody on the guitar.

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The Raconteur's proprietor Alex got things started with an introduction and a plea to those assembled not to stop buying books in response to the downturn.

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As for the show itself, Robbi and I read a few books, Drew played a few songs, and Brian Slattery did a few readings from his new novel Liberation while the band played on.

It was practically a WIlliams class of 1997 reunion. In addition to the band members, Kenny Harmon and Maria Plantilla drove in from New York City.

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That night we drove to New Haven to crash for the night before heading on to Williamstown the next day. We spent the afternoon with our friend Gina Coleman and her family, including her son Garcia, who we met for the first time.

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The babies got to know one another. By which I mean, Alden tried to strangle Garcia.

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And acted like a little punk while playing with his toys.

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And then tried to look all innocent about it.

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On Monday morning, we picked up the PA and started setting up for the day's events. Although a large part of the spirit of these performances is derived from the mostly improvisational aspect of the proceedings, the band did do a bit of rehearsal.

We were lucky to be joined by Kris Kirby, PhD (Where did your drummer get his PhD?)

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Drew led the way on guitar.

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Slattery added fiddle (And banjo. And guitar.)

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Wecht jumped in on keys.

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And Steinway.

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And sax.

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Rich anchored it all on bass.

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That afternoon, we opened the proceedings with a panel focused on our various trajectories from the Williams English major to lives (more or less) in the arts. Many more students came than I had expected, and a handful of professors also stopped by to hear what we had to say. I think that we were at least marginally helpful and occasionally amusing. I'll post the sound file for download once I figure out how.

Then a handful of interested students joined us for dinner.

At 7:30, we unleashed the full dose of rock, joined by teen drumming prodigy Aidan Shepard. Drew led the way with a set of his songs that acknowledge the tension between his callings to be a priest and his callings to be a musician. Then Robbi and I read from our books. Slattery brought us home with a series of readings from Liberation, followed by a spirited reading of the children's book Salmon and a finale that included a death metal interpretation of Little House on the Prairie.

I love my friends and am so glad that we all are able to get together every once in a while to do things like this.

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The tour ended, as all good tours should, with two babies in an empty box of Huggies.

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Here is the mood shot we took for the cover of their upcoming album of wistful duets.

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Which will be released within the month.

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Someday when Garcia and Alden are on a tour of their own, may they think back happily on the role they played in their parents' fleeting glory days. May their crowds be even larger than ours, and their roadies more numerous.

Posted by bogenamp at 11:15 AM

Dirty Mouthed Toys

We have returned from our tour, but the entire family is sick and so the comprehensive recap will have to wait a bit.

To tide you over, I offer a photo sent in by reader Neil B of Oklahoma. Apparently he spotted this bin when picking up his small child from daycare a few days back.

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This photo needs no clever commentary. I only wish that Neil had thought to put his daughter into the bin before taking the snapshot.

More to come once our stomachs settle and our fevers pass.

Posted by bogenamp at 12:23 AM

February 06, 2009

Returning the Favor

On a lark, I checked the Barnstorming tracking software yesterday and saw that traffic had been through the roof all week. My first thought was that this was a clear referendum on the post Robbi put up this past Monday when I was in New York. This made Robbi swell with pride. But then I dug a bit deeper into the submenus and found that we had been besieged with hits from Ephblog, a blog where various Williams graduates and profs post on all things Williams. They were good enough to do a post on the upcoming Idiots'Books tour event in Williamstown next Monday night. If you take the time to check it out, be sure to read the message string below the post, in which an amusing debate about the merits of the Williams English major transpires. The following comment is perhaps my favorite:

Lawyers help people (see, e.g., pro bono work). What do english majors contribute, aside from extra foam on on a latte? (NOTE: the two errors in the second sentence are not mine.)

Clearly, I have been missing my calling. I'm off now to apply for the open barista position at the Annapolis Starbucks.

Thanks for the ink, people of Ephblog.

And for those of you who only read to see photos of babies, here's one from the vault.

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Posted by bogenamp at 08:55 AM

February 05, 2009

Riddle

Here's a riddle for you:

What's better than a picture of Alden in Robbi's genius hat?

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Stumped? CLICK HERE to find out.

Whether or not you got the answer right on the first guess, it's always good to remember that even babies (being a subset of the group "everything") are better with bacon.

Posted by bogenamp at 04:57 PM

February 04, 2009

Pie Safe

Alden's pal Cannon came calling today.

For a while, the two of them were content to hang out on the couch.

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But then they got hungry. Fortunately, Cannon's mom Rebecca was prepared.

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Alden ate Cannon's lunch (guacamole with black beans and yogurt mixed with bananas) with such enthusiasm that his parents suspected that we do not feed her.

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"The face" has all but disappeared from Alden's repertoire in recent days, but she must have been feeling particularly feisty in the wake of so much consumption.

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Cannon, unflappable fellow that he is, did not protest.

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Later, Alden was like, "Dude should we get in the pie safe?"

And Cannon was like, "Only if I can get on the bottom shelf."

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Some day Alden will not fit on the top shelf of the pie safe, and it makes me sad. I suppose that it's one of those lessons we're supposed to learn as parents, that childhood is fleeting, that I'm supposed to cherish these days, that they will soon be gone forever.

Blah, blah, blah.

I prefer to get a bigger pie safe when she grows out of this one. I know they make them.

Posted by bogenamp at 11:33 PM

February 02, 2009

Gone Daddy Gone

So, today Matthew up and left for the big city. New York City, that is. He lit a shuck for New York City, as they used to say in the wild west (we've been watching Deadwood on Netflix (trying to squeeze it in before Alden starts to imprint the f-word) and it's put me in the mind of all those sappy Louis L'Amour books I used to read (and still drag out on occasion when I'm feeling the need for a predictable plot line and a happy ending) (not the kind of happy ending that seems to happen quite a lot on Deadwood, I mean the other kind, the kind that happens at the end of a story)), one of my old favorites being this one, mostly for its title). Anyhoo - this is all to say that Matthew is gone today. Which means everyone got depressed.

I mean, EVERYONE.

Iggy spent the whole day looking woefully out the window:

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Oscar could barely stay on his cat tower, so strong was his urge to fling himself off:

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And even Lily - crabby, unsympathetic Lily - considered the allure of the noose, even more deadly when made from live wire:

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I mean, it doesn't get any more pathetic than this.

Unless, perhaps, you consider this:

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Alden refused to move from this position for the entire morning. She said, "Mom, I'd rather spend all day looking at the floor than having to suffer you trying to live up to Dad's entertainment value. Please, please stop singing like that."

It was a long morning.

By mid-afternoon, she started to sway, and the combination of too much blood to the head and low blood sugar soon led to collapse. I took advantage of my upper hand, and threw her into a pile of paper trimmings, thinking it might cheer her up and remind her of the good times she spends with her dad, getting thrown into piles of things.

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She took it calmly, but did not sway from her resolve to be sad. She spent the rest of the day trailing around the big pile of trash, much like Pigpen and his cloud of dust.

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All I have to say is, thank goodness he gets back tomorrow. It's exhausting trying to keep this carnival running when the ringmaster is off waxing his mustache.


Posted by ribbu at 10:08 PM

February 01, 2009

Idiots'Books Tour, 2009

Yes, friends, the time has come. In five short days, we depart for the first annual Idiots'Books east coast tour. I call it a tour because we are leaving town and will be performing in two separate venues in two separate states. Just as two points make a line, two venues make a tour. If I sound defensive it is because I fully realize that the upcoming itinerary is the bare minimum of public performances that could feasibly constitute a "tour". Yet I am not above stretching a bit for the sake of glory.

Here is what lies ahead.

This coming Saturday, February 7, at 8:00pm, Robbi and I, along with Brian Slattery (novelist and musician), Drew Bunting (punk rocking preacher), Rich Flynn (bass playing bacon enthusiast), and Brian Wecht (string theorist and musician) will be performing at the Raconteur, an independent bookstore in Metuchen, NJ.

The aforementioned gentlemen:

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Go to this link and scroll down to see the posting on the Raconteur schedule of events, or just read this blurb (written by Brian Slattery) to get the gist of what we'll be up to:

A couple of years ago, a husband & wife named Matthew Swanson & Robbi Behr decided to live in a barn in Maryland and make books. He wrote the text; she did the illustrations. What are these books you're making? the townspeople said. They weren't children's books. They weren't comics, either. The duo shrugged and said they did not know. They just kept making them. Thus was Idiots'Books born. Around the same time, a public policy editor living in New Haven, CT published a novel. What is this book you wrote? the towns- people said. It wasn't exactly literary fiction. It wasn't exactly science fiction, either. He shrugged and said he did not know, but he wrote another one, and that was published, too. Thus did Brian Francis Slattery change from the name of that kid you knew who went to Catholic school (though he did not go to Catholic school) to weird science-fiction author. Swanson, Behr, & Slattery all happened to know each other. They also happened to be pretty good musicians and know a bunch of musicians who were even better--bass player Rich Flynn and clarinet/saxophone/keyboard player Brian Wecht, among others. All of them shared a flair for the dramatic. So they decided to join forces and do readings from their books, accompanied by projections and a backup band. Like the Beats in their heyday might have done, except with more rock and a projector. The results are unrehearsed, unpredictable, and, according to those that have seen them, thoroughly entertaining.

The second part of the "tour" takes place two days later (February 9) in Williamstown, Massachusetts, home of the alma mater of all of those mentioned above, the small, understated college known as Williams.

The Williams event was the impetus for the tour, and so it called for professional marketing materials. Here is the poster/postcard Robbi designed to advertise the happening:

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And here is the back of the postcard, which goes into greater detail regarding the lineup (click image to enlarge).

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Basically, we're going to have a panel in which we will describe for current students our various routes to lives in the arts, explaining that being an artist sometimes means finding a way to pay the bills by non-artistic means as a way of subsidizing the creative habit. We will then eat dinner with any of them who might enjoy the proposition before returning to the stage for a performance that will include music, literature (variously defined), and images. It will be a boiled-down version of the lineup at last February's Idiots'Fest (though sadly without a National Book Award finalist in the lineup).

We will once again be joined by teen drumming sensation Aidan Shepard.

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Iggy will be coming on tour as well, though her role in the act is yet to be defined. It might involve some sort of dramatic reading while wearing her blue polka-dotted bathrobe, but then again, it might not.

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She'd like to preserve a bit of mystery, if you don't mind.

So if you find yourself near Metuchen or Williamstown on the appropriate evenings, we'd love to see you. And if we aren't coming to your city this time around, know that we will try to make next year's Idiots'Books tour even longer and action-packed than this year's thrill ride.

Stay tuned.

Posted by bogenamp at 11:48 PM