Song of the month: March 2017. “Mississippi” by John Phillips

2016 was the year I started square dancing.  The Rosetown Ramblers had been on my radar for a few years.  I saw a poster advertising their lessons on Wednesday nights.  At the time, I had yoga, so couldn’t commit, but I hoped to be able to in the future.

When the gym closed, yoga went away.  A year passed, and then an article about the club was published in the newspaper.  I emailed indicating my interest and was told that there would be a special summer session for lessons.

Square dancing hits a lot of my pleasure centers. One is that it has dancing, but with rules.  There are levels to square dancing, where you learn specific calls.  Once you know those calls, you can go “anywhere in the world and dance” as square dancing people are fond of saying. Over the summer, we learned the Basic calls and when official lessons started in the fall we learned the Mainstream calls.  You can keep dancing at the mainstream level, or you can move on to Plus, and then Advanced (2 levels) followed by Challenge (three levels).

Our class graduated in February, and in March the official report from the president of the club outlined the steep decline in membership over the past two years and his recommendation that if we don’t find and retain eight dancers in the fall, that the club disband.

There are other clubs in the area I can join, but Rosetown Ramblers is the only Portland LGBT club.

Square dancing is full of things that will cause it to wither away.  You have to learn a skill, for one.  Attending weekly lessons takes dedication and practice.  Of our summer crew of dancers, half came weekly with half coming now and again, which made it hard for them to progress. And then you have to go through that stage of being bad at something, which is hard, even when people are cheering you on.

And when you start square dancing, you join a club.  Paying for the first series of lessons got me the learning, but I felt the pressure to join the club, as low-key and friendly as it was.  There are many things I love about Generation X and Millennials, but we are not joiners. You can see it at the dances.  There are bunch of people retired or nearing retirement, and not many people younger than that.

There’s also the outfits.  Personally, I’ve lusted after those floofy skirts since I was a little girl watching the square dancers on flatbed trucks in parades.  But I recognize how ridiculous they look.  The advantage of LBGT clubs is that people don’t wear the fluffy skirts, but my observation of other clubs is that nearly every woman does have a square dancing outfit.  That’s another thing people born after 1962 are not good at:  being told what to wear. Or, as my friend put it, “I’m not at the stage in my life when I want to dance in costume.”

So I’ve been mourning the loss of something great I just discovered.  And this was driven home when our caller didn’t show up to call at a dance because he was in the hospital.  He’d had a heart attack.

Ian Craig is the caller who taught me how to dance.  He’s a good teacher, knows how to do all the good teacher things: keep the students engaged, review material, introduce new things, make learning fun.  My mind boggles at his knowledge and skill.  Callers have to move couples through a series of moves that switches them up, keeps time to the music and is fun.  They have to maneuver those couples right back to where they started, which I still marvel that they have the ability to do this.  And they have to sing.

Singing calls were my big surprise about square dancing.  I knew about the caller calling. But at my first lesson, when Ian sang a song and called, I had no idea it was coming.  Singing calls give callers room to use modern music.  They alternate singing and calling.  Here’s an example:

Note that this is a pretty good example of what square dancing looks like.  Age, costume, level of raucous are about what you see.  My club is a little louder.  The call Allemand Left/Weave the Ring would be followed by the dancers yelling, “5, 6, 7, 8!” and then doing a more complex version of Weave the Ring.  These are good dancers, dancing at the Plus level.  There are few mistakes.

Ian’s last singing call at lessons on Wednesday was “Mississippi” by John Phillips.  I’d never heard this song before, not at square dancing, not out in the world.  Ian’s arrangement has a killer opening bass line, which is not present here.  But the rest of the song is very fun.

I think I will be able to square dance for a long time to come.  It will be dancing through the downward slide to oblivion, though.  Clubs will probably disband again and again as people get too old to dance, and callers die.  I missed square dancing’s heyday by 60 years, and I missed gay square dancing’s heyday by 25.  It’s a joyous thing, square dancing, and I do my best not to think about the time when I will have to stop dancing.

Books read in March 2017

It was a stellar month for YA. 

Picture Book: None this month
Middle Grade: The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle
Young Adult: Piecing Me Together; The Hate U Give
Young Nonfiction: Grand Canyon
Adult Fiction: The Underground Railroad

The Secret Project
Jonah & Janette Winter
Read for Librarian Book Group

The development of the atomic bomb!  In picture book format!

I think this story needs a lot of scaffolding.

Ed Galig/Erin E. Stead
Read for Librarian Book Group

It wasn’t apparent to me I was reading a poem, and I found myself puzzled by the writing throughout and also by the ending.  It took reading the book flap to clarify things.  Even with clarity, I found that there wasn’t much there for me.

The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle
Janet Fox
Read for Family Book Group

The second reading was nearly as fun as the first for me.  The family book group was all over the place in their reviews.  I had the highest rating of the adults, with an 8.  The kid average rating was 7.0046, the adults’ was 6.575 for an overall rating of 6.770

On Edge
Gin Price
Five stars for a star-crossed story of a runner (parkour enthusiast) and a writer (graffiti artist).  I also really appreciated the urban Detroit setting.  Unfortunately, the stars start to drop as the story progresses.  The romance, while convincingly written, had a love-at-first-sight origin that was not really believable.  This was advertised as a mystery, but the mystery didn’t get going until halfway through the book.  My largest criticism has to do with the actions of the person who did the deed.  That person is the epitome of a 1950’s cliche and was not well received by me.  We’ve moved beyond that particular stereotype.

Nora & Kettle
Lauren Nicole Taylor
1950s historical fiction about a Japanese American orphan trying to make his way in Brooklyn after being released from the “relocation” camps.  He crosses paths with the daughter of a civil rights lawyer who is  abusive toward his family.

The writing is crisp and vivid, and the characters complicated and sympathetic.  There is a well-placed warning at the beginning. The scenes of domestic violence are brutal to read, and some of the experiences Kettle has are difficult.

This is a good addition to the post-war historical fiction cannon.

The Lonely Hearts Club
Elizabeth Eulberg

A girl, terribly hurt (emotionally) by her boyfriend, decides to give up boys for the rest of high school.  Her friends join her, and the club grows.  Overall a good quick read, though I there were a few detractions.

My high school had the exact same law-and-order/sports-oriented principal depicted in this book, yet I found it incredibly hard to believe he would even take notice of a band of girls forming their own club, much less be so vindictive.  There was also a scene of assault that was swept under the rug in a way that I did not feel fit at all with the sentiments of the club.

Piecing Me Together
Renee Watson
Read for Librarian Book Group

I’m interested in why Renee Watson sets her books so firmly in Portland and changes some, but not all, of the names.  As a Portland reader, it’s maddening.

Other than that, this book was exactly the kind of book I love. It gave me the opportunity to live in Jade’s life, which is a good life, and hard life.  Watson is a master at depicting the good/hard blend.  I particularly appreciated parsing the complicated feelings that come with being picked for the organization that will give you exposure to things you don’t get to experience, due to your reduced circumstances.

Aside from that, I loved the complexity of Jade’s friendships.  I’m a huge sucker for a romance, but those stories are plentiful.  Because of that, I really love coming across a coming-of-age book with a character I adore whose growth and change has nothing to do with finding romantic love.

Tiffany D. Jackson
Read for Librarian Book Group

One of those gobble-down books.  What would the life of a nine-year-old alleged murderer be like?  The details were fierce and disturbing.  I was all in, until the author pulled the rug out from under me with the ending.

The Hate U Give
Angie Thomas
Read for Librarian Book Group

I loved this book unconditionally. I love:

**Starr Carter, one of my favorite characters this year
**How the book shows the terror of being the bystander in a police shooting.
**How complicated the details of the shooting are.
**How complicated and nuanced Starr’s life is–kind of like how real life works.
**Starr’s family, especially the relationship between her parents.
**How this book was sad and weighty and difficult, but also delightfully funny.
**How Starr experiences sorrow and joy, and maybe even in the same day.
**That this book was in a 13-way bidding war

I don’t love that while I was reading this book, a young man of color in my hometown was shot and killed by the police.

If you are looking for a zeitgeist book for 2017, this is your book.

City of Saints & Thieves
Natalie C. Anderson
Read for Librarian Book Group

It took me a while to put my finger on what was off about this book.  I found the story and characters engaging, and the pacing was quite good.  But I never really felt like I was in Kenya.  I think more smells and descriptive sights would have grounded me more in a sense of place.

Other than that, it was a good book.

Grand Canyon
Jason Chin
Read for Librarian Book Group

Jason Chin brings a sense of wonder to this books.  I loved the tour through the geologic ages of the Grand Canyon.  And that’s saying something, as Geology is one of those Zzzzzzzzz topics for me.

The Underground Railroad
Colson Whitehead

The realistic depictions of slavery combined with the alternate-reality version of pre-Civil War US made this book a big win.

Random Song: “Tiny Dancer” Elton John

September 2000.  The new millennium hasn’t gone so well. I spent the first half of the year working for Census 2000 in Boston and then there was a period with no job and rapidly dwindling savings.  I’d just started a position as an accounting assistant, but money was still tight.  It was the first time I learned that when your money gets to a very low level, it takes time to pull yourself back into financial stability, even if there are paychecks coming in.

Cameron Crowe’s new movie was coming out soon.  There was a time when a new Cameron Crowe movie was a big deal, and this movie, Almost Famous, promised to be a really great movie.

Its release date coincided with a trip home for a friend-of-family wedding.  I didn’t really have the money for a weekend trip home, but had already bought my ticket, so I skipped paying for some other things and headed off to Boise.

I would have been better off staying home.  The wedding was nice, but my divorced parents freezing each other out at the reception was not enjoyable.  There was drama around meeting up with an ex-boyfriend, I completely dissed another friend, and then suffered through a night of not-dancing at a dance club with yet another friend who, I realized around hour two of watching her have fun with other people, had grown very distant.

Almost Famous was my vacation reward.  I was going to see that movie on opening weekend, because I suspected I was going to love it.  It was about the life I thought I wanted when I was in high school.  I was going to be a roadie, touring with the band, music surrounding me.

Almost Famous wasn’t playing in Boise that weekend.  It opened three weeks later.

I returned to Boston, beat up from the changing friendships, and with no extra money for movies.  I headed off to work as usual, girding myself for the day.  This job didn’t have enough for me to do and pretending to be busy for hours on end gave me a lot of time to mull over the sorry state of my life.

I can’t remember exactly when I finally watched Almost Famous, but I know it was a “screw it, I’m gonna see this damn film” moment. I’m pretty sure it was after work on a weeknight. I worked in Harvard Square in Cambridge and one night, instead of going home, I went to the theater after work.

I did love that movie.  I loved it from the first frame to the last one.  I watched the story of a time when music was changing at the same time my life had shifted so abruptly and that film imprinted itself on me. I hoped for a transformative cinema experience and I got one.  And I didn’t anticipate how funny it was going to be.

There are quotes from that movie that run through my head.*  Aside from being transformative, and having a really great soundtrack, this movie also rehabilitated my opinion of Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer” with one scene.

After a fight between band members, William Miller has just spent the night at a party in Topeka, Kansas with Russell Hammond.  The bus comes to collect them, and everyone’s mad.  Russell sits alone in the front seat and as they leave Topeka, “Tiny Dancer” plays.  Tension dissipates as people start to sing along, until the whole bus joins in for the chorus.

It’s shoddy storytelling, fixing an argument through a sing-along.  But it totally works.  Before this movie I thought Elton John’s song was kind of silly, seeing members of a touring band love the song so much made me love it too.


*The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what you share with someone else when your uncool.

One Story: Optimistic People

Charles Drangle wrote this story with a title I don’t like (though he does, I just read it in his author interview which I don’t recommend you read before reading this story).

This story starts along one path, and then takes a crazy turn that had me marveling.  I was so amazed at this changeup, I stopped where I was and put this story down for several weeks.

When I picked it back up, I started from the beginning. This time I was ready for the changeup and I finished the story, marveling at the skill of this author.

Goodbye to Ankeny Street Studios

I’ve been square dancing with the Rosetown Ramblers at the Ankeny Street Studio since June.  There is much to love about this studio, beginning with the fact that it is located in this nondescript building.

There are a variety of instructors who use the space, including ballroom dance instructors and folk dancers.

The  room we use is the Grand Ballroom and it’s huge.  It has mirrors and a beautiful floor.  Also a disco ball.

Along the side are tables and chairs.  The decorations on the tables change with the seasons.  One of my favorite details is the carpet-covered bumpers along the wall, which keep chairs from hitting the wall.Sadly, this space will be eliminated.  The original owner of the building was a woman who was invested in the ballroom dance community.  The building has been sold and the new owners are not interested in supporting the dance community.  The Rosetown Ramblers will be dancing in Milwaukie in the future.  And Portland will lose this unique space.

I am owsam

One of the fun things about being an “expert” at The Emerson School, is the thank you note that arrives in the mail after your informative talk.I was tasked with discussing why we use pickling salt instead of normal salt when pickling.  I imparted that knowledge (additives such as anti-caking agents and/or iodine cloud the liquid and can discolor the items being pickled) and assisted the class in making refrigerator pickles.  For my troubles, I got this very owsam thank you note.

Three sentence movie reviews: Love Jones

This is a great time capsule of 1997 Chicago and the black poetry scene.  It also is a love story of a couple who can’t quite get it together. I rarely see a movie with an all-black cast and that made this movie interesting, though I was confused by character motivations throughout and found that the movie dragged.*

Cost: free from library
Where watched: at home

*I watched this movie because there was an article in the paper about a special showing with Theodore Witcher, the director. He was going to discuss that this was his one and only film.  It’s disappointing that he got one shot and nothing else, because I’ve seen far worse films by directors who go on to make other things.

I was quite impressed that the Multnomah County Library had it in its catalog.

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Three sentence movie reviews: Sing Street

One Mr. Adam Kempenaar of the Filmspotting podcast loves this truly and deeply, so much so that he gets mad whenever anyone doesn’t love it as much as him.  He needn’t worry about me, I loved this all the way through every change of persona the band made as they were trying on different music styles.  There wasn’t as much female-forward stuff as in Carney’s Begin Again, but it was delightful and with some great performances.*

Cost: Free from library
Where watched: at home, while painting toenails purple.

*Ferdia Walsh-Peelo carried the film as Conner, and I also enjoyed Mark McKenna as the multi-talented Eamon and Ben Carolan as the manager.  Plus, Jack Reynor continued the charismatic streak he started in A Royal Night Out.

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