Maisha Foster-O'Neal’s Campus Journal

foaming up along the walls

Poetry devoured my week so completely that I forgot to keep up with basic daily obligations like homework, eating, and sleeping. Monday and Tuesday was a haze of pacing whatever empty, windowless rooms I could commandeer, rehearsing the first piece I would perform at the Poetry Slam National Qualifiers. About an hour before taking the stage on Tuesday, I performed my piece for Marielle, my RA, since she had too much homework to go to the whole Slam – and it’s a good thing I did! Marielle is a Spanish major, and she caught my Spanish goof-up: in my piece I was using the verb espirar when I really meant esperar.

I competed in the Slamwich against 14 other Lewis & Clark poets. It was phenomenal! It would be impossible to convey in blog form how much supportive, enthusiastic energy the audience and poets ping-ponged back and forth at each other. I believe everyone in attendance swallowed a big dose of inspiration. After Olivia tallied up all the scores, she announced the top eight scorers – and I made the cut! Round 2, here I come!

Spilljoy Ensemble membersThe meaty goodness of the Slamwich was Wednesday’s performance by The Spilljoy Ensemble. Students started arriving for Spilljoy over an hour early, foaming up along the walls outside Council Chamber. When the doors finally opened, we all flooded in, filling up most of the 250 chairs in a matter of minutes. The excitement was unbelievable, and the four Spilljoy poets – Shira Erlichman, Jon Sands, Ken Arkind, and Danny Sherrard – soaked it up and spit a stellar performance. Portland performance poet and LC favourite Anis Mojgani made an appearance too, and performed two of his pieces as an opener.

After the show, I got hugs from all five poets – two from Jon – and I bought a chapbook (with requisite autographs), a t-shirt, and a CD. Danny wished me luck in Nat Quals Round 2, and Ken sent me an email a few days later asking about the results. Poets are such friendly people.

Apocalips donation boxThursday was the third and final day of the Slamwich. We purposefully chose judges from the audience who had never scored before, and that ended up backfiring a bit, because there was definitely a schism between audience reaction and judges’ scores. I am super excited for Anna, Chris, Molly, and Christabel – our final four poets on their way to Nationals – but I am surprised that Aukeem and Lauren didn’t make the team, because I thought they would be picked for sure. (As awesome as it would’ve been to go to Nationals, I’m a little bit relieved that I will be at Lewis & Clark that week, since it’s the Gender Studies Symposium and I’m on the planning committee.) Apocalips, our Slam team, still has to dig up about $200 for the trip to Nationals. Christabel made a donations box that she and Aukeem paraded around at all three nights of poetry; I’m convinced the box’s ethereal beauty is what inspired a small rivulet of quarters to roll out of students’ pockets.

Valentine’s Day Vocal ConcertThe Poetry Slam wrapped up just in time to make it to the Valentine’s Day Vocal Concert on Thursday. The vocally-inclined LC students sang the gamut: lovey mushy songs as well as hilarious, cynical songs. Momo and the Coop, one of our a cappella groups, performed Palisades, which melted me. My friend Jon is the soloist and also the one who wrote the arrangement. I am going to marry his voice.

ScoreboardThe last two home basketball games were on Friday. Some friends and I attended the girls’ basketball game in Pamplin Sports Center after dinner. Pio, our stand-in mascot (he’s a huge, drooly, poofy Newfoundland) sat in the row right in front of me, and I spent almost as much time petting him as watching the game. At halftime, the kids in ASLC (our student government) played a hilarious game against the administrative staff – and totally schooled them, of course. The second half of the girls’ game had all of us clinging to the edges of our seats – Linfield called two time-outs with less than a minute on the clock. But we won – by a narrow three point margin!

Afterward, Kenna, Tea, Anna, and I bounded through the library making loud, terrible dinosaur sounds and wild, terrible dinosaur movements. Sometimes I channel my inner four-year-old. Usually I try to restrict it to locations that are not sound-sensitive, but Friday nights exist to be exceptions.

Valentine’s DaySaturday was for homework and pretending like St. Valentine never died and never got weirdly commemorated as a consumerist holiday. I did go to a tea party in Platt Hall in the evening, but mostly I aimed for antisocialism all day. In class on Friday, my Gender in a Cross-Cultural Perspective professor had a dissonant fit of domesticity and passed out candy, Bratz valentines cards, and lick-on tattoos. I adhered the tattoo to my bicep. That pretty much filled my Valentine’s Day celebration quota.

tie-dyingtie-dyed teesOn Sunday, Megan, Maddie, and I tie-dyed t-shirts in the Womyn’s Center. I think Megan forgot to mention to her roommates that the tubs she borrowed for dye tanks would be returned a different colour than their original blue, but hopefully no-one will be upset. The Womyn’s Center will be screenprinting the tees in the on-campus Print Shop and then selling them at this weekend’s Vagina Monologues. The profits will be donated to the Portland Women’s Crisis Line. I had funky-coloured hands for the rest of the day because we forgot to buy gloves.

Maybe next week’s post will be a little more academic. I’m sure you’re all pining for thrilling descriptions of class discussions focusing on Bernard Mandeville’s obsession with terrorising small children, and whole paragraphs dedicated to detailing how I’m meeting with two of my professors tomorrow to figure out what the heck I’m doing for final projects and papers.

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18 February 2009

it’s my Focus Hat

comic-ingMy schedule this semester is full of awkwardly-sized snatches of time. I can’t effectively do homework in those gaps, so I’ve taken to inking my comic in spare moments. As soon as Celia (my programming genius friend) has defeated her midterms at Portland State University, we will get the website up and running and I’ll actually begin posting strips on a semi-regular basis. This is my excited face!

button-makingI’ve also been collaging. Once Annika orders more button-making materials, I will magically turn my little collages into wearable buttons! This is the messiest our dorm room ever gets – when I’m in the midst of a sprawling round of button collaging. Other than our desks, which are post-apocalyptic, Yukiko and I keep things pretty orderly.

Maisha & familySaturday was my mom’s birthday, so I invited her out to dinner to celebrate. My mom, dad, grandma, grandpa, and I ate at Old Wives Tales downtown. The place has an overwhelming menu and tons of alternative food options: vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, dairy-free, whole grains… I had an Indian Burrito (it was filled with dhal!) and Almond Raspberry Crepes, but my highest recommendation is the Hungarian Mushroom Soup because it is pretty much religion in a bowl. Yeah, that good. I brought my family to my dorm room after dinner to meet my roommate.

Alex facilitating termsI might be coming down with a minor cold, so I’m warding it off by overdosing on Echinacea and Emergen-C. I do believe in placebos, I do, I do! So far, it’s working pretty well. Although staying up until 4:30am on Saturday night wrestling with Racism & Privilege journal entries was probably not the wisest move. But I was behind, and when better to catch up on homework than the weekend? Last class, Alex facilitated our discussion about terms and definitions. In light of our discussion, I need to tack a Take Two to my journal entry that responds to the question “Am I a racist?”

I have discovered a new technique for forcing myself to finish essays: bribing myself with mango sorbet. On Sunday night I was sitting on Gabe’s floor with my laptop balanced on my knees, poddling around the internet instead of composing my essay for Judaism, when Riya suggested a Maggie’s Café run in an hour. “The only condition,” she informed me, “is that you have to be finished with your essay by ten.” So I disabled wireless, donned one of Gabe’s beanies (”It’s my Focus Hat,” I explained, “and it’s too tight for me.”), planted earphones in my ears, and knocked out that last page and a half in 45 minutes. Mango sorbet for the win! Incidentally, I am most productive when a combination of Celtic jigs and vaguely French instrumental music pours directly into my ears loudly enough to white out the noises of people talking nearby.

On Sunday, Claire and I caught the Raz to downtown and went and saw Apollo, a three-and-a-half-hour play at Portland Center Stage. I heard about it initially from one of my professors, who emailed the whole class to recommend seeing it. It was a really good production. Very cathartic, as Claire remarked. It had a lot of really crazy lighting and sound effects, and everything was drenched in historical and psychological symbolism. Very avant-garde. We both enjoyed it a lot. Afterward, we walked down to the waterfront and Claire guinea pigged for me so that I could practice performing one of my poems to an audience before Nat Quals (which begin tomorrow! Eep!). It would be so wicked to make the team.

My inbox is lonely without your emails! Fire one my direction, All inquiries and thoughts happily received.

9 February 2009

befuddled with clouds

My weekend schedule was busting at the seams, so on Friday night, I resigned myself to a thrilling evening of studying in hopes of freeing up my Saturday and Sunday. And then Abe had a pack of cards at dinner. Alas! All my studious plans, dashed on the 52 rocks of four suits! When the Bon booted us out at closing, we migrated to the Manzi lounge, which is currently dominated by a tent someone pitched and never took down. Everything’s more fun in a tent! Even card games where the first rule is you can’t talk about the rules.

fortune tellerMy roommate and I were both up at crazy o’clock on Saturday morning – Yukiko was riding the Ski Bus up to Mt Hood for her Snowboarding class; I was attending campus tour guide training. I bailed ten minutes before the end to catch the Raz (the free student shuttle) into the city. Last year I volunteered at Cascade AIDS Project as a youth peer educator; via CAP, I was invited to feature in an international major motion-picture length documentary called Let’s Talk About Sex, which is scheduled to hit theatres early next year. With cameras and mics flickering around us, four other Portland youth and I led one of our typical outreach activities in Pioneer Square. Armed with paper fortune-tellers, we approached unsuspecting Portlanders and asked if they would play our game for the camera. The fortune tellers contained questions like “What is one thing you wish people knew about HIV/AIDS?” and “What’s your favorite body part and why?” – each designed to spark dialogue about health and communication. After five hours rattling around the cold of Pioneer Square, our filmmaker (a dude from Australia) bought us all coffees just so we could unfreeze our fingers.

Evidence that Saturday was the straw on the back of a busy week that broke us: my roommate and I were in bed before midnight. On a Saturday. But at 2am, we both bolted upright to the tune of the fire alarm. Sleepy-brained and pajamaed, we shuffled into the parking lot, then joined the crowd of students glomming together in Templeton Student Center. Turns out some joker broke a fire extinguisher in a hallway, and we weren’t allowed back in the building until all the fire extinguisher goo was cleaned up. At least fire alarms are a rare occurrence – we were evacuated from my residence hall a grand total of once last year – because someone had burned toast.

Oregon Nikkei Legacy CenterBack in the days of gigapets and Your Oxen Died Trying to Ford the River, school ended around 3pm on Friday. Turns out, college is not the fourth grade. On Sunday, my Qualitative Research Methods class field tripped to the Oregon Nikkei Legacy Center in downtown Portland. It’s a pretty neat little museum/heritage center located in what used to be Japantown. The project we’re doing for class is to track down certain Japanese Americans, now in their tottery eighties and nineties, and interview them about their experiences in the WWII interment camps for official historical records.

new piercingAfter our informational session at the Nikkei Legacy Center concluded, I met up with my friend Rachel, who had been studying at Tea Chai Té on 23rd. It’s a personal quest of mine to investigate a spectrum of piercing shops in Portland. This time, Rachel and I one upped our earring claims at Straight to the Point, located on 3rd and Oak. It was a decent place, if rather acetic. The piercer dude was really nice. The new stud doesn’t match the others.

postermakingLast night, Apocalips Slam Poetry Club pumped out a bundle of hand-sharpied posters advertising our upcoming “Slamwich”. The Slamwich is three days of poetry goodness. Day one is round one of our National Qualifier Competition, where LC students are invited to perform their poetry for a chance at a seat on the plane to Nationals; day two is the Spilljoy Ensemble, a quartet of phenomenal Slam masters touring the country; and day three is round two of our own Nat Quals. I love poster-making, but I love performance poetry more! If I want to compete at Nat Quals, I need to shine one more poem.

the mountain is outThe mountain was out today! In Portland, skies are befuddled with clouds so much of the time that there’s an unscientific average of five days per school year where Mt Hood is actually visible. Today was one of those days.

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4 February 2009

this machine runs purely on ideas

I’m barely back to life on campus, and already things are crazybusy. Maybe it’s because I’m taking five classes, or maybe it’s because the weather did a backflip yesterday and slapped snow on us after two weeks of clear winter skies, or maybe it’s because I’ve reinserted myself into my usual pattern of committing to way too many extracurricular activities. Whatever the culprit, it means we’re barely a week into school and already sleep has been relegated to my back burner. Also, it’s pretty weird to be sitting in actual classrooms (even if I usually reject the desks in favour of the floor), since last semester in East Africa we held class in all manner of bizarre places – treehouses, mountaintops, coral reefs, fifteen feet from a herd of zebras – you know,  your standard study abroad lecture halls.

It seems like everyone has twice as much homework as usual this semester. I’m taking Gender in a Cross-Cultural Perspective because I am truly a gender theory geek; Intro to Judaism because Islamic Mysticism/Sufism was at the same time as Gender; Qualitative Research Methods because I need it for my major; and Utopias/Distopias in Lit because I miss reading actual novels.

The fifth class I’m taking is a two-credit independent study course entitled “Critical Thinking: Racism and Privilege in American Society.” It’s the thesis project brainchild of a senior Anthropology student who decided that students would get more out of a Socratic Seminar-style class than they would out of a regular ol’ thesis essay. In the first informative blurb, Alex said she needed at least five students to register for the class for it to be a go – within a day she had received emails from about 35 interested students. And it’s scheduled right over the lunch hour. I think that says quite a bit about Lewis & Clark students. Yesterday (the third time the class has met) we banged out a tentative syllabus – this machine runs purely on ideas, and there is seldom a professor in the room to operate it, so it’s up to us to choose what we’re gonna learn. Cheers for dismantling pedagogy.

On Saturday night, some friends and I convened in the United Sexualities office, which has a comfy couch and a dvd system that is both functional and usually available. We watched three excellent chick flicks in a row. I detest most chick flicks, so watching three in a row and proclaiming them “excellent” actually means something. Also, I ate my weight in rainbow-coloured goldfish crackers. Oh, and we played Scrabble. My weekends are filled with debauchery and excitement.

Aside from homework and movie marathons, I’m keeping myself zipping around with clubs. I’m one of the leaders of United Sexualities (hereafter “Unisex”), and we are working on assembling our big annual April AIDS Summit. At the meeting for Apocalips Slam Poetry Club on Monday, I found out that the Spilljoy Ensemble (including one of my favourite performance poets, Shira Erlichman) is coming to campus in a month, right before we send our own team of performance poets to Nationals. If I can get it together, I’m hoping to compete at the Qualifiers. I’ve gotta pump out one more polished poem in just over a week, though!

Last night, between reading about the historical Judaic sectarianism and reading about the asymmetrical construction of gender across all cultures, I took a study break to pop over to Copeland hall. Momo and the Coop, one of L&C’s fabulous a cappella groups, performed four songs. My favourite one was an arrangement of Imogen Heap’s “Hide and Seek” – when I was in Germany over winter break I met the girl who arranged it. Man, I wish I could sing. On key, I mean. Next time I go to an a cappella performance, I’ll have a camera. I will record it. I will post it. You will marvel. (Photos coming as soon as I pick up my camera, too.)

That’s all I’ve got time for. If you like what you’ve read, or if you’ve got any questions, exclamations, or semicolons, give me a shout at I would be thrilled to pieces to hear from you. Pieces, I tell you.

28 January 2009