Well, it’s Global Poetry Writing Month again. I can’t promise to blog a poem every day, but I have a few I prepared earlier. Here’s one called Negative Return, which I wrote in 2015 in order to have an excuse to wear my flight suit on stage. It’s about a Space Shuttle launch, or a breakup, or a breakup in which the person breaking up with you is leaving in a Space Shuttle (my preferred way of breaking up with someone.) It was inspired by something a tour guide at Kennedy Space Center said, which I happened to record audio of.
This particular performance is from the open mic on the 2018 JoCo Cruise, even though on the JoCo Cruise, no excuse is needed to wear a flight suit at any time.
I’ve performed it a few times in Vienna, with slightly different wording, though I’d never actually posted about it here before. Here’s a playlist of the recorded versions of it.
Immediately before me at the open mic, Joey Marianer, who follows me around singing everything I say, sang my parody of Jonathan Coulton’s ‘Glasses’:
I’m still processing, uploading, and getting the performers’ permission to post my video from the rest of the open mic.
I recommend watching the video if you can rather than just reading, as there are some added sound effects, but here are the words to Negative Return:
A while ago I wrote a poem about love, and how much more complicated it is than mathematics, and how the <3 heart symbol is a little oversimplified, or at least misleading to any mathematicians such as myself who come to believe that love is a strict inequality. I didn’t publish it here but I did perform it at my show in Café Concerto, while Johanna Van Tan improvised backing music:
This is one of those poems that was always secretly a song in my head, so while we were on a train to Minneapolis I told Joey how the tune went, and when he was back in stationary accommodation he sang it to a slightly better tune:
So in a sense that’s two (which is less than three) musical versions of it! I can barely come up with anything coherent to say about this. ❤️
Here are the words:
I’ve been away in the Bay Area, on JoCo Cruise, on trains, and at MarsCon, and too many things have happened for one blog post, but here are a few of them. Just before the cruise, Joey Marianer sang ‘Accessible‘, my parody of James Blunt’s ‘Beautiful’ about accessibility:
Joey sang a few other songs of mine during and after the cruise, but I’m going to save them for other posts so that this one is less of a mish-mash. If you would like a preview of those along with a recap of other things I wrote that he sang, here’s a playlist.
But Joey is not the only person whose name starts with ‘Jo’ who has sung words that I wrote! A while ago, my friend Joseph sang ‘Back to the Future Song‘, my parody of Moxy Früvous’s ‘Gulf War Song‘ as part of his Patreon. Lately he’s been opening up older posts to be visible to non-patrons, so now you can also hear Joseph singing Back to the Future Song. I changed that one line that I didn’t like very much.
You can also hear the cover of Moxy Früvous’s ‘Downsizing’ which Joseph sang for me after I lost my last job. If you like these covers, check out some of his other covers, short stories and poems on patron, and become a patron; I’m sure he’d appreciate the support, and you, too, would be able to request things like this.
I’ll post a few more times to update you on some other cool things, and who knows, perhaps I’ll participate in National Poetry Writing Month again. As is usual at this time of year, I’m spending most of my free time lately uploading videos from the JoCo Cruise, so if you want me to entertain you in some way and you can’t wait for the next blog post, subscribe to me on YouTube to see my latest uploads.
I watched a speech by by Haben Girma yesterday, and as she was talking about making things accessible to people with disabilities and how that can lead to usefulness and innovations beyond accessibility, I decided to write a quick parody of James Blunt’s ‘Beautiful’ about accessibility. Here are the lyrics. They don’t always match the original tune exactly, but rather an approximation of it I have in my head from listening to parodies such as The Amateur Transplants’ Beautiful Song, Weird Al’s You’re Pitiful, and James Blunt’s own My Triangle. Feel free to come up with your own additions to include other aspects of accessibility or other things which could be more accessible.
My widget’s brilliant
My venue’s brilliant
Of that I’m sure
For all the people
I don’t ignore
I met someone who was different
And I knew I’d undershot
‘Cause I thought my plans were brilliant
and they were not
Accessible to all
To learn or say, in a different way
When one sense is essential
It makes sense to overhaul
So I fixed my stuff
It was not enough
I met more folk who tried and they still
found it tough
And I don’t think I can accommodate
But I have a goal now and I will innovate
Accessible to all
To simply manoeuvre, no matter how we move
Paralysed or pained or small
Still our movement shall not fall
la la la la…
Accessible to all
And the gains are shared with the unimpaired
Till there’s nothing that seems impossible
If you see, hear, feel the call
Make some tools; tear down a wall.
Of course, I can’t publish lyrics to a song about accessibility without mentioning The Accessibility Song by James Dempsey. If you didn’t like mine, try his, now also available along with his other songs about Cocoa development on iTunes:
I’ve actually seen the original song ‘Beautiful’ performed live, since I randomly went to a James Blunt concert with some co-workers the very first time I was in Vienna. However, even then, I did not really listen to the words. I did while writing this, and realised just how weird and creepy it is. The protagonist is not telling his partner she’s beautiful, as a casual listener might assume, but rather singing to a woman he caught a glimpse of once on a train as if she were some great lost love, despite the fact that they never spoke to each other and she was already involved with someone. It’s essentially Jackson Park Express, presented as a romantic short film rather than a feature-length comedy. With songs like this out there, no wonder random guys on the street sometimes think they can follow me home!
Unrelated to all this, Joey Marianer has once again sung some words I wrote! This time it’s A Few Things You’ll Need for the Cruise, slightly changed to be about the fact that there was, at the time of publishing, exactly one month until JoCo Cruise 2018. There is now less than a month, but still room for you to join us!
When I commissioned Len Peralta to illustrate my poem They Might Not Be Giants for a poster, I paid a little extra to get a speed-paint video of its creation. This was partly because I love watching how Len draws things, but also because I wanted to make a video that would showcase both the poster and the poem. Well, I finally got around to making that video. Here you can watch Len illustrate the poster (sped up, but probably not by as much as you think, because he’s pretty fast) while listening to me read the poem:
I’ve also collected all the videos I have of this poem (my performances, and Joey’s song) in a playlist, in case you’d like to hear the same words several times, or see how it’s changed over time, or whatever. I just like making playlists, okay?
If you’d like a copy of the poster, check my Things to Buy page for information on how to buy it. Or, if you happen to live in Vienna, catch me at one of the open mic nights some time; I usually have posters and bookmarks with me.
I’ve been meaning to put a revised version of the poem The Bookshop on a bookmark for a while, but put it aside as I didn’t have the tools to do it the way I wanted. Motivated by the recent Christmas shopping edition of the Open Phil open mic, I finally bought the app I needed, finished the design, and had some printed, so now you can buy them on my Etsy shop. They may be a little late for Jólabókaflóðið, but you were going to read all year anyway, right? These are considerably cheaper to post worldwide than my posters (fun falsehood: posters are call that because they’re more post), and while the postage still costs more than the thing itself in most cases, you can save on postage by ordering more than one at once.
If you’ve ever started casually reading something in a bookshop and then looked up and realised the sun has gone down, you’ll understand the generally timey-wimey nature of books and bookshops shown in this poem. Admittedly, when this happened to me shortly before I wrote the poem, I was in Stockholm on the shortest day of the year, but it can happen on longer days too. The background shows a sky slowly darkening and becoming a sunset as you read through the poem. The reverse of the bookmark has the name of the poem and author, on the same sky as seen facing away from the Sun.
It occurs to me that a customised version of this poem bookmark might be useful to promote an actual bookshop, so if you’d be interested in that, let me know.
Much thanks to my friend Grace Bridges for her advice on the design of the bookmarks; I would recommend her books to use the bookmark on, but they’re mostly on Kindle, so I’ll just recommend them whether you still use physical bookmarks or not. She also has some posters and T-shirts available on Teechip. I am now considering putting some things up on Teechip myself, since it would be better value than either Zazzle or Etsy for getting posters and T-shirts to people around the world. I’ll also publish a book some day. I’m also working on a few videos and apps and version two of the rhyming dictionary I’m not officially publicising (don’t tell anyone I just linked to it! It’s our secret) until I’ve finished version two. But one thing at a time.
The other day I discovered that the ukuletrically charged Joey Marianer has once again set something I wrote to music! Truly, a Joey is an exciting kind of friend to have. (No, not a joey. Not everybody‘s got a baby kangaroo.) This time it’s They Might Not Be Giants.
On the subject of people who could conceivably be called Joey, and who make music, my friend Joseph will be singing a parody of a song I wrote on his patreon some time soon. I’m looking forward to it! If you support him on patreon you’ll see it as soon as it comes out — check out some of his recently-unlocked older posts to get an idea of what you’re in for. The patreon is his only source of income at the moment, so your contribution would mean a lot to him, as well as being good value for you.
On the subject of They Might Not Be Giants, I recited it at the MathsJam Annual Gathering last weekend. It was my first time at a MathsJam and it was great fun. At MathsJam, anyone can give a five-minute talk about anything mathematical, and newcomers were especially encouraged to, so I decided to present The Duel, a more mathematical poem than I would usually do at open mics. I even made some slides depicting what was going on. Eventually, though, I started to think The Duel wasn’t very good and I should do They Might Not Be Giants instead. After reciting both to a focus group of order two a few hours before my talk, I made the switch. With my remaining talk time, I showed some of the haiku I found in the Princeton Companion to Mathematics. It seemed to go down well. I had brought along a few of my posters in case people would be interested in them, and came back with none.
The rest of MathsJam was amazing, and I’m sure I’ll be back. There were all sorts of talks, including another mathematical poet, as well as magic, coin-floating, robotic cube-solving, juggling, puzzles, balloon animals, fancy yarn spinning, mathematical song parodies (I also sang Tom Lehrer’s Derivative Song for the people at the MathsJam Jam, since they hadn’t heard it), mathematical cakes, and a competition competition!
I won an origami double-stellated tetrahedron in a competition competition competition. It might not technically be a double-stellated tetrahedron, but the competition was to name it, and, inspired directly by the talk by the shape’s creator (Kathryn Taylor), that’s what I named it.
I was a bit worried that it was going to be a pain to get that home without damaging or losing it, since it would get crushed in my bag and I’m not used to carrying something in my hands constantly. At first it had a string or rubber band around it which had been used to tie it to the competition box, so I tied it to a belt hook. At some point it fell off and partly came apart, but I was having dinner with other MathsJam attendees at the time, and one of them knew enough modular origami to fix it (Kathryn had run a table devoted to modular origami on the Saturday night.) After that I held it by hand, until I realised that it could be suspended quite securely in the Acme Möbius scarf I was wearing.
I heard, repeatedly, that there’s a magazine called chalkdust which I should really be submitting some of my mathematical writing to, so I’ll do that. First, though, I will read the copies I picked up at MathsJam.
A few weeks ago Alfred Ladylike was a featured act at a special edition of Open Phil, an open mic I perform at regularly. She heard me perform my poem/rap ‘Why I Perform at Open Mics‘. Last week she performed in Vienna again, and we spent an evening at my place with a bottle of wine and a collection of fart noises (a combination I fartily recommend) producing this recording of it:
Feel free to download it! If there is interest, I could also put up a karaoke track so you can perform it at your own open mics. The backing track is Galaxy by Free Rap Beats | Hip-Hop Instrumentals. Sound effects are all from freesound.org, by IFartInUrGeneralDirection and others.
It will be featured on The FuMP Sideshow tomorrow. If you like funny songs, raps and occasional sketches, I recommend subscribing to The FuMP (a podcast which publishes a couple of free comedy songs every week) and The FuMP Sideshow (more of the same, but generally by more amateur-level comedy songwriters, like me. Given that this one was produced by an actual professional, perhaps I could have submitted it to the main FuMP, but I’m not that sure of my sh💩t yet.)
I thought about adding a donation button (mainly because WordPress told me I could) but I have some decent freelance work right now so I’d feel weird about asking for donations. Maybe buy something if you really want to encourage me. And if you really like this track’s production value, head to Alfred Ladylike’s or her band Donut Heart’s bandcamp, and throw a dollar in her general direction.
My friend Joey Marianer used his brain to come up with a tune for I Love Your Body, and then he used the rest of his body to turn it into sounds! Isn’t this great?
I’ve been thinking this could be turned into a longer singalong by having the same thing repeated with ‘I love my body…’ etc., and then maybe ‘We love our bodies’. It would remove one of the few rhymes (‘brains need ATP/and there’s no ESP/that would show you to me’ would become something like ‘there’s no ESP to show myself to you’ or ‘there’s no ESP to show ourselves to each other’) but the cool thing about songs is they can sound good even when they don’t rhyme.
In any case, those lines should perhaps be changed. Mentioning ATP (a chemical that transports energy that cells can use) is a little too scientific for this song, and I’m no biologist so I’m not sure it’s the best chemical to mention anyway. (Edit: The obvious substitution, which I didn’t think of until far too late, is simply ‘energy’.) Most of what I know about ATP comes from songs. If you want a song that explains how ATP is made by mitochondria, try Come On Down (The Electron Transport Chain) by Science Groove:
Or Oxidative Phosphorylation, also by Science Groove:
Back to ‘I Love Your Body’, I’ve found that I’ve ended up with a completely different musical version of it in my head. I can’t transcribe the tune, but the words go something like this:
I love your body
The way it keeps you ali-i-ive
I love your body
The way it has a you inside
I love your body
How it allows communications
I love your body
The way it gives you sweet sensations
That’s all from me. Use your body to make somebody happy today!
I love your body
The way it keeps you alive
The way it lets you touch me
The way it lets us communicate
The way it gives you pleasant sensations
I don’t love its flaws
The way it hurts you
The way it makes you sick
The way it makes you tired
The way it can’t do the things that you want it to
But I love
that you have it
so that I can have you,
because brains need ATP
and there’s no ESP
that would show you to me.
I love your body
I hope it takes care of you
and you of it
for a love-filled lifetime.
I wrote this in a couple of minutes a few nights ago because I was sick of how much of even ‘body positivity’ seems to be focused on embracing how unfashionably-shaped bodies look, thus lending credence to the central tenet of body negativity and body shaming: that a body’s appearance is its most important attribute.
On the other hand, perhaps it is sometimes a good idea to pay attention to appearance (as with race, gender, etc.) in order to actively counteract subconscious or institutionalised biases. I am not sure. It’s probably not my place to say, since it’s been a long time since I had any body image issues of my own or paid attention to other people’s issues with my body’s image.
I wasn’t sure whether to post this already, but some very powerful people have been making unsolicited comments about the appearances of people’s bodies lately, and also a friend who hadn’t read it encouraged me to post it. I’ve dusted it off a little but not as much as I usually would. Perhaps some day I’ll craft it into something fancier, choose some better words, some rhymes, or make it into a parody of some well-known ‘I love your body; it has comfortable places for me to put my genitals’-style pop song (any suggestions? I don’t know very many songs that aren’t already funny), but for now I’ve at least ticked off the recurring ‘write something’ item on my to-do list. Have a great time consensually touching the universe with your meat-suit!
Also, about an hour from the time I post this, there’s a live stream of CERN’s doo-wop band, and the first band on the web, Les Horribles Cernettes (LHC). If you read this in time to watch that, I recommend it! I’ve had the privilege of seeing several of their shows in person, as well as meeting them, and they’re nowhere near as horrible as they claim.