Archive for category Holiday Highlights

Who We Are (a.k.a. Wear Your Nametag) – a song


A few weeks before JoCo Cruise 2020, I wrote a song to perform at the open mic. It’s a singalong which I figured everyone could relate to, so I figured people would enjoy it. I came up with the tune myself, and Joey Marianer worked out some ukulele accompaniment. Then we found out there would be no open mic on the cruise, so we performed it at Beth Kinderman’s song circle at MarsCon, though there was a lot of background noise and not much singing along there.

I was signed up to perform in a shadow event called ‘A Bunch of Monkeys Read Some Stuff‘ on the cruise, so I also performed it there, along with some short poems I’d written during NanoRhymo 1 and 2, and Global Poetry Writing Month. Words and tweet links of the specific tiny poems are in the video description.

Later in the cruise, Joey hastily organised an especially unofficial open mic, so we performed it there as well. By that time I was slightly more confident about remembering the words:

Here are the lyrics. They contain much haplology, and work best in an accent without the trap-bath split; I had to change the way I pronounce ‘demand’ to sing it, and I didn’t always keep that change consistent through the rest of the song.

We’re close, and I’m finally here with you.
You don’t look like your avatar.
Until I demand all
your names and your handles,
I probably won’t know who you are.

You’ve changed name and gender
your hair, or your shirt
You took off your glasses
your beard or your skirt
You left for three seconds,
your mouth’s now ajar.
I probably don’t know who you are

I probably don’t know who you are.
I probably don’t know who you are!
Your name and your face too,
I just cannot place you.
I probably don’t know who you are.

You’ve just really killed it at open mic.
Your singalong chorus went. far,
but nobody says so
when you’re off the stage, so
they probably don’t know who you are.

They snubbed you at dinner
they brought the wrong beer
Regaled you with stories
you told them last year.
They won’t share their stateroom
or give back your car
They probably don’t know who you are

They probably don’t know who you are.
They probably don’t know who you are!
Even if someone knows ya,
there’s prosopagnosia —
they probably don’t know who you are.

You once seemed at least somewhat normative
but each year things get more bizarre.
There’s joy and there’s strife while
you’re changing your lifestyle.
You probably don’t know who you are.

I couldn’t write this part;
It wouldn’t be true.
Just think about things
That are changing for you.
It takes time and patience
To tune a guitar
You probably don’t know who you are

You probably don’t know who you are.
You probably don’t know who you are!
You’re constantly growing
new parts for not knowing.
You probably don’t know who you are.

We probably don’t know who we are.
We probably don’t know who we are!
And we don’t know whether
we’ll find out together.
We probably don’t know who we are.

It’s all based on truth. Every JoCo Cruise I spend an action-packed and sleep-deprived week with people who are, to varying degrees, my friends. It’s a cruise where people’s clothes and makeup are often far more memorable than their faces, so I may or may not recognise my new or old friends each time I see them during that week. The subtle difference between formal night and pyjama day attire in the videos above can’t compare to the costume changes some people go through. I spend the rest of the year connected to many of these friends via the internet, where I learn their full names and/or other handles, but (despite the name of one of the websites) not necessarily the faces which go with those names. Then we meet in person again, a year of growth different.

Sometimes they grow a full beard between cruises, and then once I’ve figured out who they are, shave it off during the cruise (you know who you are. I didn’t.) Sometimes they transition, tell me their new name, and I don’t connect that ‘new’ person with the name and face they had previously until weeks after I get home. Sometimes I accidentally tell people their own origin stories.

I perform at many open mics, and often love the performances as they’re happening, but don’t remember exactly what the performers looked like or who did what. When people come up to me afterwards and praise my performance, I want to do the same for them, but am not sure whether or what they performed.

I wrote the ‘I’ and ‘they’ parts with no particular plan to turn it into something serious at the end, but then a ‘you’ section seemed like the obvious continuation. That part is true for me, too — the most predictable thing about my life is that it will keep getting ever more ridiculous. May you all find a Jim Boggia to help tune your metaphorical guitars, and if not, time and patience.

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Three more Hallelujahs


You might have noticed that Joey and I have been writing original songs and new versions of existing songs set to the tune of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah. Here’s a playlist of 24 Hallelujah videos we’ve recorded so far (including one of Joey singing part of the original in a choir.) We have many more lyrics waiting to be sung. We started writing these after getting the song stuck in our heads from hearing Beth Kinderman’s ‘Stop Covering Hallelujah‘ at MarsCon 2019. The day after that MarsCon we went to the biggest ball of twine in Minnesota, in formalwear, because it’s a ball.

Byron wearing a black hat, black jacket with white shirt and red tie, and khaki pants, me wearing a long black dress and a tiara, and Joey wearing a black suit with a white shirt, all standing in front of a giant twine ball, seen through the glass of a pagoda. There is much snow on the ground.

While talking to our hitchhiker ‘Bernie’ (actually Byron) back at the MarsCon hotel, we realised that ‘Minnesota’ scans to ‘Hallelujah’, so I decided to write a Hallelujah version of Weird Al’s song, The Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota. I did so a few days after JoCo Cruise 2019 ended.

At MarsCon 2020, we found ourselves again in the song circle at Beth’s Space Oddity room party, so I convinced Joey to sing the Biggest Ball of Twine Hallelujah, but then I was unexpectedly recruited to sing a verse, which I think I did terribly, and then we skipped the last few. Here’s that performance:

And here are the full lyrics:

I had two weeks vacation due
From Big Roy’s Heating, Pipes and Flue
Asked kids at dinner where they’d like to go to
They made their choice as noodles twirled
Of anywhere in this great big world
The biggest ball of twine in Minnesota
Minnesota, Minnesota, Minnesota, Minnesota

Next day we loaded up the car
With wieners, taters, rhubarb pie
And rolled out in our 53 DeSoto
Picked up a guy as children fussed
His sign had said “Twine ball or bust”
The biggest ball of twine in Minnesota
Minnesota, Minnesota, Minnesota, Minnesota

We could not wait to see the twine
We only stopped when we were buyin’
More wieners and a diet chocolate soda
We sang for the 27th time that day
When we saw a sign that showed the way
To the biggest ball of twine in Minnesota
Minnesota, Minnesota, Minnesota, Minnesota

As sun was setting in the sky
Before our unbelieving eyes
A shrine beneath a makeshift twine pagoda
To see that huge majestic sphere
I had to pop myself a beer
the biggest ball of twine in Minnesota
Minnesota, Minnesota, Minnesota, Minnesota

Just who’s he trying to impress
There’s no bridge guiding to a guess
O, Twine Ball Man it seems we hardly knew ya
It’s a strange and what-on-earthly thing
Some twenty one thousand pounds of string
It’s a twisted and a ballsy hallelujah
hardly knew ya, Hallelujah, hardly knew ya, hallelujah.

I wept with joy before the ball
I bet if we unrolled it all
It’d reach right out to Fargo, North Dakota
“That’s what our country’s all about”
But then the henchmen threw us out
Of the biggest ball of twine in Minnesota
Minnesota, Minnesota, Minnesota, Minnesota

We slept a night at Twine Ball Inn
Next morning, headed home again
But I can’t think where else I’d rather go to
We didn’t want to leave; that’s clear
I think that we’ll be back next year
At the biggest ball of twine in Minnesota
Minnesota, Minnesota, Minnesota, Minnesota

When Beth Kinderman played her song in concert later at MarsCon, she flattered Joey and me with a special dispensation to continue singing Hallelujah.

A few days after I got back home, it was Joey’s birthday, so I sang a birthday Hallelujah I’d been planning ever since my own birthday. I used Joey’s Sore Throat Hallelujah as a backing track, simply by playing it on my iPad while I sang. I think I did a better job on this one, but still felt pretty uncomfortable with the high notes:

Lyrics:

Today’s the day we celebrate
recurrence of a great first date;
it’s Joey-left-the-womb-and-came-to-Earth day
and made it better than before;
I hope you’ll stay for many more,
so I can keep on singing happy birthday.

Now, four days into JoCo Cruise, COVID-19 was declared to be a pandemic, so by the time I got home, social distancing, quarantine, and self-isolation was the hot new thing. I got enough groceries to survive and then stayed strictly inside my apartment for 14 days to make sure I hadn’t picked anything up on the cruise or in the four airports I travelled through afterward.

I also wrote lyrics for an ‘isolation’ Hallelujah. But Joey had seen my birthday Hallelujah, and somehow become convinced that I could sing Hallelujahs all by myself. So we worked out a key I was more comfortable singing it in (A, in particular) and instead of singing it for me, Joey sent a backing track in that key and got me to do it myself. I happened to record it while still in costume from an online open mic I’d participated in, so at least nobody will know it was me if I sang badly.

Lyrics:

It follows a logistic curve.
It’s serious, and we observe
a median of five-day incubation,
so even if you’re symptom-free,
and so are all the folks you see,
please stay home if you can in isolation.
Isolation, isolation, isolation, isolation.

Since then, I’ve been uploading more videos from JoCo Cruise — I’ve just about finished uploading the entire land concert at Santo Domingo. I performed a few other things on the cruise (and one other song at MarsCon) but I’ll post about them when all the relevant videos are up.

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Things I forgot to blog about, part n+1: MathsJam Things


Happy new year! There are so many things from last year that I’ve forgotten to blog about. For instance, my poem They Might Not Be Giants (which is, by the way, available spoken and sung on videos and on a poster) was published in Chalkdust 10. Chalkdust is a magazine for the mathematically curious, which we were frequently encouraged to submit work to during the 2017 MathsJam Annual Gathering. I gave a talk at that gathering where I recited They Might Not Be Giants and also presented a few of the haiku I found in the Princeton Companion to Mathematics, so that was an obvious thing to submit.

Joey and Angela standing together and smiling, Joey wearing a grey hoodie with a black 'there exists' symbol, and a nametag saying Joey, and Angela wearing a blue dress with a sparkly neckline that looks like a 'for all' symbol, and a nametag saying Angela.

There exists Joey for all Angela

Through a combination of luck and procrastination, I submitted it just in time for it to be in the latest issue available at the 2019 UK MathsJam Annual Gathering, which I also attended, along with Joey Marianer. We wore ‘matching’ clothes; a ‘forall’ (∀) neckline dress and a ‘there exists’ (∃) hoodie, so that if we aligned our nametags well (which I didn’t) we could make an unproven statement quantifying our coexistence.

Now, Joey and I have a habit of noticing words which scan to ‘hallelujah’ (that is, double trochees*) and writing short parodies of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’ about them. Having some experience singing the original song, Joey sometimes sings those parodies, as you can see in this playlist:

MathsJam has a Competition Competition, so naturally, I wrote a Hallelujah about that:

Well, sometimes competition’s tough.
At MathsJam, that is not enough —
they have a competition competition.
But what if all the MathsJams fought,
and all such fights together wrought
a meta-meta-meta-competition?
Competition competition competition competition.

And then we decided to enter a competition into the competition competition, where our competition would be to write a Hallelujah parody about competitions. I wrote these instructions for our Competition Competition competition:

You know that oft-sung Cohen song?
We challenge you to write it wrong —
instead of “hallelujah”, “competition”.
And if your lyrics really slam
we’ll sing them in the MathsJamJam.
We call this Hallelujah competition:
Competition-competition competition “Competition”

There was quite some competition in our competition Hallelujah competition; Hallelujah! Some entries used a word other than ‘competition’, and we ended up giving a prize to the best non-competition entry into our Competition Competition competition, as well as the expected prize for the best ‘competition’ Competition Competition competition entry. As promised in the competition rules, Joey sang some of the competition entries (and the two Hallelujahs above) at the MathsJamJam, with the accompaniment of whoever else felt like joining in:

Lyrics and credits for the other entries are in the video description. Joey came to Vienna after MathsJam and performed with me at Open Phil, including singing They Might Not Be Giants both on-stage and in Phil’s studio, but that’s for another post.

* I noticed that ‘double trochee’ was a double trochee, and stopped writing the blog post at that point to write a Hallelujah:

You heard there was a secret song
that if you play, they will sing along.
You want to make a splash at karaoke.
It goes like this, the halfs, the thirds…
you can’t remember Cohen’s words,
so sing about a random double trochee.
Double trochee, double trochee, double trochee, double trochee.

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My Performances on JoCo Cruise 2019


I’ve been going to JoCo Cruise since it started in 2011, and this year I finally had the nerve and organisation (okay, so actually Phil organised it) to take part in running a shadow event. What with this and MarsCon, apparently 2019 is my year for getting on stage at events I’ve long frequented.

There are many official celebrity guests on JoCo Cruise, but anyone can request a space and time to host their own events, whether concerts, crafting workshops, jam sessions, locksports seminars, hydrating face mask parties, PGP signing parties, space dog slideshows, scotch or foreign snack tastings, meetups of people who are various flavours of non-heteronormative, religious, merfolk, impaired, purple-haired, or scientists, or just a session of yelling at the moon. All of these things are real events that happened this year. This ‘shadow’ cruise, as it’s called, took up 292 of the 605 hours of programming.

My little corner of that was Angela Brett & Phil Conrad with Friends, later referred to as the ‘Hastily Assembled Entertainment Taco’, after the official event ‘Hastily Assembled Entertainment Burrito‘. The friends involved included Randy Parcel on vocals, Ryan Nathan on drums, Joey Marianer on vocals and ukulele, and Jeff Kahan on oboe. You can see the full show in the YouTube playlist below, or read on as I self-indulgently embed the specific parts I had a hand in, along with a few others from the open mic night.

Read the rest of this entry »

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With or Without U (U2 Parody)


Here are some parody lyrics to U2’s With or Without You which I wrote in response to a facebook comment back in May. It’s about time I shared them:

The contours of paramours
The velour of troubadours
They’re spelled with u
But in colour, labour day
with far-harbour ardour, neighbours say
They will write, without u
Write -or without u
Write -or without u
Not behaviour to condemn
Who has honour, humour them
Latinate roots for u
Spelled -or without u
Spelt -or without o-u-r
These are spelled
With or without u
And your dialect’s okay
And your spelling is okay
And you spell
And you spell
And your spelling is okay
My armour’s breached
There is no errour in yor ways
just flavour and splendour
And can I lend a vowel?
And your dialect’s okay
And your spelling is okay
And you spell
And you spell
And your spelling is okay
With or without u
With or without o-u-r
These are spelled
With or without u
O… O-U, O-R
With or without u
With or without o-u-r
These are spelt
With or without u
With or without u

Enjoy it with or without U2’s version playing along. I’d like to say that I used my Masters degree in linguistics to write this, but really, everything came from the -or, -our section of the Wikipedia page on American and British English spelling differences. I threw in a few other spelling variations for fun.

I hope you’re enjoying the holiday season. For those who celebrate Christmas, vicariously or otherwise, here’s a playlist of Christmas-related things I’ve uploaded to YouTube, and the tag of Christmas-related blog posts I’ve written.

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What’s the difference between European sleeper trains and US sleeper trains?


A while ago I posted about the difference between couchette cars and sleeping cars in Europe, mentioning that I wanted to compare that experience with the newly-introduced lie-flat sleeper buses in New Zealand. Well, I tried that, but the bus turned up hours late, it was not a sleeper bus because the only sleeper bus had had some water damage, I sat upright without sleeping all night and did not get the promised free onesie until I complained on Twitter, and the bus company has now gone out of business without any help from my hypothetical damning blog post.

However, earlier this year I took a five-day train journey from San Diego to Minneapolis (between JoCo Cruise and MarsCon) so now I can compare that with the European sleeper trains.

The most obvious difference is that in the USA, you can take a five-day train journey and stay in the same country, whereas in Europe, I’ve only ever travelled for one day or night at a time. On European trains, you keep all your luggage either in the room with you or on a luggage rack elsewhere in the carriage, and carry it off yourself, which makes sense for a one-night trip. On Amtrak you can check in your larger luggage, and pick it up from a carousel at the end of your voyage.

I was travelling with Joey Marianer (you know, that guy who sings things I write sometimes!) and we were booked to take the Coast Starlight from Los Angeles to Portland, then the Empire Builder to Minneapolis.

Our train from San Diego to Los Angeles broke down, and then the new engine which had been brought into service to pull us along also broke down. We ended up getting off that train in San Juan Capistrano and waiting for a train to Los Angeles, from whence we took a bus to Bakersfield, and then a train to catch up with the night train we were originally scheduled to be on in Martinez, twelve hours later than we were scheduled to get on it. Our checked luggage made it to our destination despite all the changes of route, and I’m still not sure how.

Luckily, we had a few other JoCo Cruise sea monkeys with us for most of that part of the voyage, so we could commiserate together. I’ll comment on it more in the sections below. Compare them with the corresponding sections in the European couchette vs. sleeping cars post if you want more detail on both sides of the comparison.

Amenities

There were no washbasins in the rooms, as there are on European trains, but there were basins and even showers, with provided towels and soap, at the ends of the carriages. It’s possible that European trains had showers as well, but I never noticed as I shower in the mornings but I always got off the train first thing. Unsurprisingly, they were the kind of shower that only runs for a minute or so each time you press the button, and rarely gets warm. Good enough to clean up when you really need to, but not pleasant.

During the day, we could either stay in our room or visit the observation car, where we had spectacular views of snowy landscapes. Photos from a moving vehicle don’t do it justice, so I captured an hour and a half of video:

Both the train and the replacement bus on the first day had tables, but the tables on the bus were too shaky to play card games on.

Evening Goodies

You’re not given any kind of welcome package on these trains. Given that people could be joining them at any time of day and staying for multiple days, and full evening meals, towels, etc. are provided throughout the journey anyway, such a gesture wouldn’t make too much sense. I’d have appreciated earplugs, though, and I like the newrest slippers from European sleepers as souvenirs.

Sleeping Place

While on European trains I’ve travelled alone and shared a four-to-six-bed room with strangers, occasionally lucking out with a room to myself, on Amtrak you book by the room, and fill it with whichever people you are travelling with. We booked a two-bed roomette — that’s two bunk beds, in a cabin just big enough for someone to stand next to the beds. There wouldn’t have been room to keep our suitcases in the room, but there was a slim cupboard where we could put some things. During the day, the top bunk was folded away and the bottom bunk was folded into two seats facing each other, with a fold-out table between them.

In terms of comfort and bed linen, the beds were closer those in the sleeper cars in European trains rather than a couchette. I’m told that the top bunk was more difficult to sleep on due to movement and noise.

Food

On a European train, your ticket includes breakfast in bed just before you’re scheduled to get off the train, and perhaps a snack or drink when you board late in the evening. When you’ve booked sleeper cars on a multi-day Amtrak voyage, it includes breakfast, lunch, and dinner throughout the trip, in a scenic dining car. There are about five choices for the main course of each meal, and the choices were the same on both trains. You can have whichever meal you want, even with extra sides and toppings, and salad and dessert at dinner; only alcohol costs extra. This was a good way to ease into the real world after being on a cruise ship with unlimited included food — we just had to get used to having only one main course at each meal. Here’s a menu.

Passengers not in sleeper cars can also eat in the dining car, but they have to pay for their meals. We could go to breakfast at any time during a certain time window. Reservations are taken for lunch and dinner, with sleeper passengers getting first pick. Tables fit four people, and we were usually seated with other passengers, which often led to interesting conversations. On our first night, we were seated with a couple who had also endured the replacement train/bus debacle, so we had something to talk about.

On that note, for the first day of our trip, we were not on the sleeper train so did not have access to any of these nice meals. We got a partial refund for that. On one of the trains there were tea, coffee, and mini-muffins available for free, and on one there was an enterprising announcer trying to make more money out of our predicament:

The sea monkeys we were with shared some of their food (they were not taking a sleeper, so had packed food for their shorter journey), and another passenger shared her home-grown mandarins, in exchange for some ukulele music and IT help from Joey, as I recall. There were many friendly conversations. [Note: these experiences may not be available on your Amtrak sleeper train adventure.] We bought some food at the station in LA while waiting for the bus to Bakersfield.

I’ve now written almost 1200 words, mostly as an excuse to show you my one-and-a-half-hour-long video of scenery. Do look at the description of that video if you like the quality Josh Woodward soundtrack and want to know which songs they are. Also, check out my friend Joseph’s Patreon, as he not only makes music and stories but also provided some great hugs and conversation while we were changing trains in Portland.

If you are still interested in visiting New Zealand despite the lack of motorised beds, read up on some kiwi facts I made up, which were quite popular on Twitter.

Happy travels!

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They Might Not Be Giants Posters, now touched by my own hands


Note: I am back in Europe now, and have the posters available on my Etsy store, which are good value for anyone ordering from Europe. From the US it may work out better to get them from Zazzle.

At the Presidential Variety Show, and later the Open Mic Night, on JoCo Cruise Crazy 5, I recited my poem ‘They might not be giants.‘ Here’s a video from the Open Mic; pretend I said that ‘I was waiting for the shaking to stop’ was the name of my Taylor Swift cover band.

I brought along some locally-printed copies of this Len-Peralta-drawn poster of the poem, since I figured people would like them, and if they bought the ones on Zazzle they’d have to give a lot of extra money to Zazzle and the postal service.

The posters I printed are 11×17 inches (approximately A3) on 300gsm silk-coated stock, which is really quite fancy and sturdy. Quite a few people wanted them, which meant (since we’re not supposed to sell things while onboard, and I was mostly able to resist the urge to give them away) I had more fruity drinks and other items than I otherwise would have, plus some cash from sea monkeys I saw on land. But some people who wanted posters didn’t manage to catch me at the right time to get one. I have some posters left, which you can order from my Etsy store. (Note: when I wrote this post originally, I was temporarily in New Zealand, and it was economical for me to send posters to the US for a lowish price. That is no longer the case, so I have updated the post with a link to my Etsy store which has the correct postage from Austria.) If you’re in Europe, the combined price is slightly lower than from Zazzle while still giving me a bigger cut and getting you a better-quality poster. It is of course better value for both of us if you order more than one at a time, since the postage costs the same amount for multiple posters unless you’re ordering a ridiculous number of them. I’m not a warehouse full of elves, nor am I on my home turf at the moment (update: okay, now I am), so I can’t make any promises about how soon I will post posters after you order, but I’ll do my best. Feel free to order from Zazzle if you prefer elven reliability.

If you want me to sign it or write some kind of message or doodle in the small area or empty space, say so in the message to the vendor when you check out (update: I am not sure if there is a way to do that on Etsy, but contact me here, on twitter, on Etsy or something). Please note that I have not settled on an official famous-person-style autograph yet, so results may vary. Also, my doodles are the doodles of a poet, not those of Len Peralta, so don’t expect them to match the quality of the rest of the poster.

If I gave you a poster on the ship and you didn’t have anything to give in return, you can donate something:

Contribute to the They Might Not Be Giants Appreciation FundOr you could lend some money on Kiva and join the Sea Monkey team I created yesterday. I don’t have a day job at the moment, so I am no longer promising to lend poster proceeds on Kiva before using them, but I probably will anyway as long as I have enough savings to live on.

Many other things also happened on JoCo Cruise Crazy, which I might summarise when I have time. I have a lot of video to upload when I eventually get home. For now, here’s The Future Soon a cappella and Jim Boggia’s cover of Paul McCartney’s ‘Junk’.

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The Vatican Nag (Tom Lehrer Parody)


I visited the Vatican recently, and a friend was kind enough to put this song in my head beforehand:

After arriving early enough to get to the front of the line for Saint Peter’s Basilica fairly quickly, being turned away because of a weapon I’d brought from Geneva (no, not antimatter), coming back unarmed and being let through without waiting in the then-hours-long line because they noticed I had ‘problems’ (I had blisters. Also, I’m not very good at walking), and then being repeatedly offered paid guided tours to skip the line while I was going to the post office and generally chilling out, I decided to write a parody. Here it is; The Vatican Nag:

Half off gods that come in threes!
Twelve for ten on rosaries!
Fourteen euros ninety-nine
to skip the line, skip the line, skip the line!

Buy a stick to take a selfie.
Try a discount saved-from-hell fee.
Whatever your indulgence is,
they’ll upsell the whole Jesus
doing the Vatican Nag.

Get in line for that basilica?
Only clueless pilgrims will, a co-
lossal fee will leave you poor as a m-
onk enjoying guided tourism.
You don’t have to spend the day there.
Save the day and spend your pay there.
Two, four, six… great!
Ninety euros, skip the wait!

Half off gods that come in threes!
Twelve for ten on rosaries!
Fourteen euros ninety-nine
to skip the line, skip the line, skip the line!

Hawkers oft insisting crap’ll
put you off the Sistine Chapel.
Don’t Holy See ’em;
try the Colosseum.
Hide in your attic and
never do that again.
Out of the Vatican Nag!

I used some artistic license here, but a lot of it is true. There were plenty of people selling 12 one-euro rosaries for the price of ten, and the ‘skip the line’ tours were either €15 or €43 depending on the kind of tour. People selling selfie sticks, hats, cellphone chargers, and flat wooden things that magically transform into sets of bowls were all over Rome and the Vatican. I did not see anyone selling indulgences (‘saved-from-hell fees’), however. Also, it wasn’t all that annoying, really. But do see the Colosseum.

I thought about saying ‘then the cost’ll send you Pentecostal’ but I think that’s even worse than the lines I have. I also wanted to use ‘poperies’ in the first line, but since it would be indistinguishable from ‘pot pourris’ if anyone actually sang it, I decided to go with the holy three-for-one deal.

In other news, I’ve been reciting my poems at Open Phil, a great open mic night in Vienna hosted by the Phil half of Crazy for Jane. You can watch some of the performances on the online highlights reels, but to see the whole thing you really have to be there.

Also, Shit Your Inner Voice Says is now on The FuMP Sideshow.

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Ten Minutes A Day (Live on JoCo Cruise Crazy)


I recited a revised version of Ten Minutes a Day at the JoCo Cruise Crazy 4 open mic, because it’s about how to start doing the things you’re passionate about when you’re not in a position to literally quit your job like all these JoCo cruisers did. I introduced it with some quotes from John Hodgman from this video, which can be seen with more context in the JoCo Cruise Crazy 2 Q&A.

Here are the words I intended to say:

Ten minutes a day:
that’s all you need
to realise your dreams —
not as hard as it seems!
Ten minutes can always be freed.

Ten minutes a day,
a sixth of a clock,
to keep up your writing,
the forced march providing
the force to march through writers’ block.

Ten minutes a day
can’t be denied,
to read through your bookshelf
and castle your rook self,
with culture of kings by your side.

Ten minutes a day,
one day at a time.
To inch past the worst of it,
combat inertia that
nothing excuses, must try if it uses just

ten minutes a day.
Don’t you forget
to learn a new language:
word spread, grammar sandwich.
Ten minutes to keep your tongue wet.

Ten minutes a day,
not big amounts,
to work on your fitness;
don’t tire yourself witless,
but even a small workout counts.

Ten minutes a day,
on or offline
to maintain your friendships;
accept rain, and send drips,
as long as it’s something, it’s fine.

Ten minutes a day —
find it somehow!
Deny social network fun;
finally get work done.
You’ve got all these things to make, it’s really not hard to take

ten minutes a day.
That’s all you do.
To try meditation —
it’s self-re-creation!
You have to take some time for you!

Ten minutes a day;
it doesn’t take long
to tidy a tight space,
put junk in the right place,
and live with things where they belong.

Ten minutes a day;
put down those chores
to teach well your baby;
remember that maybe
its life will be bigger than yours.

Ten minutes a day?
I can do that!
Grab life while I’m alive!
Did all the things, and I’ve
got what I’m leaping for now,
and I’m sleeping for

ten minutes a day.
That’s all I need. [yawn]
Night dreams are boring,
my real dreams are [sound of snoring]

The main change since the last version of this poem is that I replaced ‘if you’ve spread spores’ with ‘put down those chores’ and moved that stanza nearer the conflicting advice to tidy up, because in the end it’s all about conflicting advice. The ‘spores’ line always seemed like grhyme scraped off the bottom of a barrel anyway. Also, people might take offense at my likening parents to fungi (not that there’s anything wrong with fungi), and if they’re going to take offense at my views on reproduction, I’d rather they react to The Family Tradition.

I’d recited an earlier version of this at an open mic in Geneva, which went well: my stated goal for that performance was to make the audience yawn, and I succeeded. But I was nervous that people would think it was over when it wasn’t, so I started the last few lines while people were still laughing too loudly about the previous ones to hear me. It’s a good problem to have, I guess. So my goal on the cruise, aside from getting all the words right (I got six words wrong, but they weren’t the most important ones, and I don’t remember whether ‘sleep dreams’ instead of ‘night dreams’ was a mistake or a premeditated improvement) not hesitating or rushing too much, and not dropping entire lines or displaying as much high rising terminal as I did at the last JCCC open mic, was to wait until the laughter died down before continuing with the last few lines. I succeeded! Achievement unlocked: elementary stagecraft.

My dictionary says that ‘stagecraft’ doesn’t mean what I thought it meant, but I’m sticking with it because ‘stagecraft’ is only two letters away from ‘spacecraft’. It’s a pretty cool thing to have. On the subject of spacecraft, I highly recommend seeing Atlantis on display at Kennedy Space Center; the way they show it to you is great. I’ll put up my video of it later.

While practising the poem, I got pretty self-conscious about the corny/overwrought rhymes, and wondered whether it was worth wading through them to get to the laugh line. Oh well: stagecraft! Jack Conte from Pomplamoose was hosting the open mic, and I think he is made of stagecraft. Hank Green was also hosting, but he made it pretty clear that he is made mostly of quarks. Hank Green, we’re not so different, you and I.

A few people who heard this poem at open mic have told me they were inspired by it, and are making progress on various projects because of it, and that’s great. But when I wrote this it was out of frustration with the idea. It always takes more than ten minutes, and there are always other things to do in the day, and if I try to do more than a few of these ‘ten minute’ things there isn’t enough time for sleep. Maybe I need to be stricter about stopping when the time’s up no matter whether I feel like doing more or am still waiting for my nearly-five-year-old Mac Ayu to let me start. I put in the ‘teach well your baby’ stanza almost as a joke, because I’m amazed that people with children have time and energy to do anything else at all, and yet they are told to spend just that wafer-thin amount of extra time doing each of several conflicting things to raise their children better, as well as all the other things. If you really only have ten minutes a day for a child, consider spending them on contraception.

The spontaneous Mr. Creosote reference in the last paragraph made me think of this extra stanza:

Ten minutes a day:
it’s just wafer-thin!
To add to your total,
create, Creosotal!
Conserve it, but don’t hold it in.

Which is kind of gross and kind of negative, but if you have something you want to create, and you just spew out whatever you can in ten minutes, it’s better than forgetting about it or using up mental energy fretting about forgetting it. If time is your nemesis, fight it with emesis.

I’ll leave you with the much prettier words of Jonathan Coulton and Hank Green: There isn’t time and space to do it all, so pick the right addiction.

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Queen of Pants: The JoCo Cruise Crazy 4 Ball Pits (In My Pants)


My last post here said that JoCo Cruise Crazy would have a ball pit. Due to hygiene regulations, that ball pit became an imaginary ball pit, but there were still at least two real ball pits on the ship. The one I brought was sewn onto my pants for the annual Fancy Pants parade. Anyone who wanted to get into my ball pit would have to at least buy me dinner first.

I did, however, flash my balls at people occasionally:

Ultimately, giving such a ‘special show’ to the Monarch of the Seas, Queen Courtney, won me a trophy, and the title of Best In Terms of Pants. Here’s the video of the parade from my own camera (expertly wielded by Simcha, who also took his own videos of the cruise), showing my humble beginnings and triumphant return:

And here’s a video from an angle that shows the rest of the parade well. You can almost see that when Jonathan Coulton is walking around humming God Save the Queen, I flash my balls at him and make him laugh a little:

I thought I had some fancy pants, and now I know it’s true. I looked at all the fancy pants and held the trophy high:

I hold the trophy high, while Jonathan Coulton gestures towards my pants

Everybody cheered, but I swear by Coulton’s beard, that everybody had the best pants. For while it may not seem like it from the fact that I was wearing toys bought from a baby store and making jokes about balls, I am mature enough to understand that the key to happiness cannot be in supplanting someone else’s pants. Chances are you’re best in everybody’s pants. There were shiny pants, blinking pants, gumbo pants (I liked them, and he did put a ring in it), squid pants, wrong pants and right pants; you can see some of them up-close in Atom Moore’s gallery.

Some of the balls were less securely attached than others, causing a wardrobe malfunction whereby a few of my balls fell off during the parade. This was fun, because I could throw them to my adoring fans (of which I have none) in the hot tub at the end of the catwalk. It looks like they were thoroughly examined. I’m told the people in the tub chanted ‘ball pit pants!’ to correct Her Majesty’s proclamation of ‘balloon pants’. Off with their heads!

The fancy pants parade was followed immediately by a movie night, which was followed by a concert. As I made my way to the concert, I heard that somebody had already added ball pit pants to the life-sized Lego statue of Jonathan Coulton that brick artist and JoCo Cruise Crazy 4 performer Nathan Sawaya had unveiled earlier in the week and left in the game room to be embellished. I was honoured!

The guy who took that photo got a bit creative with the later shots.

We got special JCCC playing cards in the swag bag. Naturally I was very happy about this. Monkeys, squids, pants and robots, oh, my!Some people wondered how I made the pants, and some did assume I’d used balloons, due to the difficulty of attaching and transporting balls. But they are, in fact, balls. I started with some old jeans that were starting to fall apart. After searching for playpen balls in the toy sections of various stores without success, I finally found some at a store called Babywalz, and bought two hundred. They were for babies, and definitely not the crush-proof kind Randall Munroe recommended for adults. As such, they were made of a quite supple plastic that was easy to get a needle through, so I could sew them on. At first I only attached them with one stitch each, and these were probably the balls that fell off during the parade. We each got a single playpen ball in our swag bags when we boarded the ship, but those ones were harder than mine and wouldn’t have been easy to sew. The swag bags also contained the pants/squid/robot/monkey playing cards that the one pictured comes from; while this post is not technically part of Writing Cards and Letters, I couldn’t resist using such a card. The pants cards were designed by Katie Rice.

I used nearly a hundred balls to cover the front, outer sides, and back lower calves of my pants. I left the other parts ball-free so that I would be able to sit down, and wouldn’t have to splay my legs apart to make room for my balls, as I have little experience in that. On the backs of my legs I sewed some coloured foam circles I found in the craft section of a bookstore… not as many as I’d intended to sew, since I only remembered to do that on the night before flying out.

The balls were not crush-proof, but as Randall Munroe warned us, there still wasn’t really a way to compress them for transport. My pants filled that third of my suitcase that I usually struggle to fill without going over the weight limit. As I continued my vacation to Kennedy Space Center, Chicago (including Fermilab) and MarsCon, I accumulated more and more souvenirs, and my victorious balls got more and more crushed. I still showed the pants to a hot-tub full of dementites at MarsCon, though, and once again threw some balls in for playing.

The tutu was a birthday gift made by my mother; if you like it, and you live in New Zealand, you might be able to get your own. The ‘great tits’ T-shirt (entirely necessary to balance the inevitable ball jokes) was from an ornithological society which has since sold its domain name to a more lucrative enterprise.

The other ball pit was created by Christopher Badell (not pictured), one of my thirteen roommates in the Presidential Suite, and also the official sponsor (in the name of his company, Greater Than Games) of the imaginary ball pit. He brought a few hundred balls to float on the surface of our suite’s private hot tub, which were fun to play with on the only occasion I had spare time to sit in a hot tub. There may be video of that later from another of my roomies (or ‘suities’, I guess.) I added a few spare balls from my pants to that hot tub as well, making a total of three hot tubs graced by my balls.

I’ve been saying this a lot in the last few weeks: my life is ridiculous. And I like it.

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