Saturday, March 24, 2012

Reading at UNI: Spring Break Wrap-Up

64º ~ on the way up to a sunny 77º, amazing Spring Break weather, trees in the act of leafing out, still able to see some sky, soon to be obscured by green

I am returned home from my Midwestern travels.  It was a wonderful trip that culminated in my reading at the University of Northern Iowa.  I’ve said it before but I’m happy to repeat: THANK YOU to Vince Gotera and Jeremy Schraffenberger both of UNI and North American Review for hosting me.

We began with dinner with a few students and colleagues at Sakura, Cedar Falls’ Japanese hibachi grill and sushi place.  Stunning.  When I lived in Waterloo/Cedar Falls there was one Chinese restaurant, an excellent Italian place, and the regular chains.  Now this!  Plus, news of a good Thai restaurant in downtown Waterloo and an Indian restaurant on the horizon.  Seriously Uptown these days for the Cedar Valley.  The food was excellent, by the way, as was the company.  I felt completely at home as I regaled these new friends with tales of cruising University Avenue, the main drag in Cedar Falls, and the road that took us to the restaurant.  When I mentioned that someone from Cedar Falls had written a hit song in the 1980s about the activity, there was a bit of disbelief.  Here, in fact is a YouTube vid of the song with the songwriter’s notes on why and how he wrote the song.

After dinner, there was fro-yo and more reminiscing about music and movies before we headed up to UNI for the reading.  What a huge delight when I rounded the corner of the stairwell and ran headlong into one of my dearest jr. high/high school friends, Kelly Young Delveau.  She was sporting her UNI colors as was my best friend from the age of five, Deanna Wright Brasch, also wearing her purple and gold.  There was much hugging and laughing and some gentle chastisement about my lapses in visiting.  My folks were there, too, and some of my extended family as well.

L to R: Deanna, me, Kelly

Dear Reader, I can’t tell you how emotional it was to be surrounded by these friends and family.  My mom and dad had heard me read from Blood Almanac twice before but never at an official reading hosted by a third party.  I was already emotional because my mom had gotten to help me bake and ice the Earnestine cookies for party favors for the audience.  Usually she hears about my preparations via a phone call, but this time we got to work together on such a fun project.  With Mom & Dad, came my sister and her two kids, plus one spouse.  They left the great-nephew and great-niece at home as a 2- and 6-year-old might not have lasted through the reading without causing some commotion.  Still, it was amazing to have everyone there, especially when I read some of the poems in Blood Almanac that had to do with my childhood.

Earnestine cookies!

Perhaps most amazing of all was the change in my dad.  As many of you know, he lives with Parkinson’s Disease as his constant companion and in December underwent brainsurgery in order to use Deep Brain Stimulation to help alleviate some of his symptoms.  I visited him right after the surgery but before the electronic gear inside his brain and chest had been “activated.”  Mom described the dramatic improvements that occurred the instant that electricity began flowing to his brain, but I hadn’t seen it much in person (aside from my quick visit for Grandma Longhorn’s funeral in February).  Let me just tell you, I was stunned!  Dad was climbing 12 foot extension ladders and using power tools (uhm, gulp, including a circular saw and a table saw) during this visit.  When I saw him in December, his Parkinson’s had so immobilized him that he had a hard time getting in and out of a chair.  Now this!  Along with the renewed muscle activity, his voice has returned.  He made jokes and laughed and was fully engaged in our activities, including the reading.  I will be forever indebted to the doctors and scientists who made this miracle possible.

Lest I give the impression that the audience was made up entirely of my family and friends, I want to give a shout out to all of the UNI faculty, staff, and students who showed up as well.  Mom’s basket of cookies was well-depleted by the time we finished.  The non-family audience members were super attentive and locked in with me.  I was able to read in a small room with couches and comfy chairs, supplemented by a few of the regular multi-purpose event chairs.  It was a wonderful, intimate space that allowed me to connect with nearly everyone in the audience. 

All in all, I can’t say enough about the reading and the people I spent time with while visiting UNI.  I am refueled and re-invigorated to get back to the sickly speaker poems, as I was able to read a handful of those poems for the first time ever.  I stumbled a bit here and there and learned something more about the speaker’s voice, which is an invaluable benefit to reading live for me.  

Now, as I live on University Avenue in Little Rock, I'm thinking it might be a good day to do some cruising of my own!  Wahoooo!


Kathleen said...

I'm so glad your dad is doing well!

Also glad to hear that you learned important things by reading new work aloud to an audience. I do this, too, in small amounts, thanking the audience for participating in this stage of composition and revision.

Sandy Longhorn said...

Thanks, Kathleen. The medical advances in the treatment of Parkinson's really are remarkable.

As for reading new works, I too let the audience in on the process. They are crucial to those polishing moments. :)