Monday, October 26, 2015

Greetings 10.26.15

Greetings all,

As the tradition of our blog greetings would have it, here is a marvelous clip of Bat Eating Grape:

I have been waiting to post that one for ages. Now that it's out of the way-- lets get down to business! This week continues the midterms struggle, and we can all be prone to confusing dates and deadlines when there is so much to take care of and this many assignments to complete. Just in case there is no time for you to stop by our office and look for yourself, here are some important ones to remember: 

Open Mic: Nov 3rd, 12:30-2:00
Writer's Circle: Tuesdays from 12:30-1:00
Cuny Ethics and Morality Essay Contest: Deadline, Nov 6th 
(More information at

Information for contests and submissions to various journals can be found in our office. 
Stop by and take it easy!

- Anna

News Briefs 10.26.2015

Die, Leukemia. Just die. 

A new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has revealed a possible new way of treating leukemia. Leukemia, cancer that affects blood and bone marrow, is notorious for being a bitch to treat. It is known to relapse mid-treatment and become resistant to chemotherapy. But lo! There is a glimmer of light in the tunnel!

Researchers from The Scripps Research Institute have stumbled upon a technique that convinces leukemia cells to transform into leukemia-killing immune cells, rewriting their biological programming. The glimmer of light lies in an extremely rare human antibody, the proteins produced by the human body’s immune system. They act as the “handcuffs”  for the policing white blood cells and stick to foreign invaders like microbes neutralizing them or flagging them for destruction. 

We have different types of white blood cells that circulate our bodies - neutrophils, which go after and kill bacteria and virus, and monocytes, which go after and kill anything they recognize as foreign as well as act as a messenger to our lymphocytes, of which we have 2 kinds: T cells and B cells. Our T cells have a few functions, including being a natural-killer cell, and these are known to attack and remove cancer cells but are not very efficient. The T cells also "read" messages from the monocytes when they are presented with a foreign antigen. That T cell then knows the recipe for an antibody to attack, teaches it to B cell, and then the B cell matures into a plasma cell and starts to produce antibodies to the foreign invader. Some B cells actually take the recipe and just remember it so if it ever comes in contact with it, it can immediately produce the antibodies which is why there many illnesses that most people only get once (chicken pox, anyone?) we build an immunity to it and are well prepared for it if we ever encounter it again. What makes this most interesting is that the cancerous cells were transformed into dendritic cells, or messenger cells, responsible for communicating any antigen material to T-cells. They are important in the immune system because the create the database of information on foreign invaders in the body. We do not know nearly as much about them as we know about the other cell lines.

Scientists were attempting to find antibody therapies to treat people with immune cell deficiencies in which the bone marrow doesn't produce enough white blood cells. They hoped that they could find antibodies that would activate receptors on immature bone marrow cells that would cause them to change into mature cells. Over the last few years, they have succeeded in doing this. What was unexpected was that a handful of these growth-induced antibodies turn immature bone marrow cells into completely different types, such as cells normally found in the nervous system.
Acute Myeloid Leukemia is a particularly aggressive type of leukemia that attacks myeloid cells in the body; these cells deal with bacterial infections, parasites and prevent the spread of tissue damage. Sufferers of AML produce far too many white blood cells in their bone marrow, which interferes with the normal production of other blood cell types.

The researchers flooded a human blood sample rich in dangerous AML cells with these growth-activating antibodies, and what they found was remarkable: the antibodies transformed the AML cells into dendritic cells. With longer exposure to the antibodies, these cells were matured even further into cells that resemble, and behave similarly to, cells that hunt down and kill threats in the body, including viruses, bacteria and cancer cells. These “natural killer” cells showed the ability to extend their tendrils into their cancerous brethren, destroying 15% of them in one sample within a single day. Incredibly, these NK cells only seem to engage in fratricide, targeting only their former AML cell type, not other types of cancer cell.

The researchers hope that this technique, which they’ve called “fratricidin therapy,” can be used to transform a range of cancer cells into specific NK cells in order to actually cure a patient of their cancer altogether. Such fratricidal therapies would have several potential advantages. First, especially if they are antibodies, they could be clinically useful with little or no further modification. Second, their high specificity for their target receptors, and the resulting NK cells' specificity for related cancer cells, should reduce the likelihood of adverse side effects, possibly making them much more tolerable than traditional cancer chemotherapies.

Finally, the peculiar dynamics of fratricidin therapy, in which every cancerous cell is potentially convertible to a cancer-killing NK cell, suggests that—if the strategy works—it might not just reduce the targeted cancer-cell population in a patient, but eliminate it altogether. 

Need more info? Look here!




Make Sure You Vote
(I don't care about who you vote for but make sure you vote)

Everybody has a friend that believes they're too intelligent to vote. 

"It's picking the less of two evils, man."
"Democrats and Republicans are all the same, bro."
"Our votes don't actually count."

I'm here to tell you not to listen to this friend. Whether or not it's true (as true as 'beliefs' can be) that Republicans and Democrats have more in common than either would like to admit, you should still vote because no two people are the same and at the end of the day, we vote for people. Here's how to do it:

1) Are you registered? If not, here you go.

2) Do you know where your voting location is?  If not, here you go.

3) Do you have state ID? If not, go to your local DMV and get a non-drivers' ID for twenty-five dollars, or if you're feeling like it's time you stopped waiting for that bus that never comes, get a permit or license, but those are a whopping ninety-five bucks at most places. 

We all have opinions about this country we live in and I assure you that no matter what the guy at that Brooklyn party discussing his kickstarter campaign says, your vote matters. 

See you guys at the polls,


But This was Actually Cool

On Wednesday, October 21st, something happened. I think you know what I'm talking about.

That's right, all Facebook users were reminded of the existence of every forgotten (and now drunken) high school friend, elusive Facebook family elders, and even the Republican middle-schooler. If your News Feed was anything like mine, all these people and more slammed on the 'Post' button to prove how delightfully ~nerdy~ they are (I realize I'm saltier than the Black Sea).

That's right, October 21, 2015 was the date Marty McFly and Doc arrived in Back to the Future Part II. Everyone and Jimmy Kimmel lost their freaking minds. Including myself.

Lyft, Über's less creepy cousin, got good. From 11am to 5pm on Wednesday, they provided New Yorkers with "McFly Mode," which entitled the patron to a ride in a DeLorean to his or her destination. 

Man. Can you imagine this pulling up to Brooklyn College, you pulling on your 'life preserver' vest, and being all "1.21 GIGAWATTS?!" while no one actually pays attention nor blinks an eye because this is New York? I almost did, before I remembered what class was. I cri evrytiem.

Did I mention this ride was FREE?! For $10 worth of a ride and below, but FREE! 

I'm so sad that I didn't get to participate, but I'm sure I did in some alternate timeline (har har).

Your partner in time, 

Poem of the Week 10/26

During my first year of college, for half a minute or so, I became friends with a French exchange student who was in Brooklyn College to pursue studies in the film department. I had been helping another friend out by being in his film project for class and met Morgann on set.

Morgann somehow completely missed the part where I'm the worst actress on the face of the planet 

"Courtney, look dramatic"
and asked if I'd be in his project as well. I said okay. This became a friendship where we'd talk about philosophy and cultural differences and film theory. But one of my favorite things to notice throughout the conversations were the little translation blips that just served to remind of the different backgrounds we've come from. Upon searching through old emails with him to find an example, I realize this perhaps will demonstrate what I mean: "I have no clue on what I want to be dressed like for Halloween and I do ask myself that question since May." He spoke fluently and more poetically in English than I can ever muster, but there were still little hints (aside from the obvious Parisian accent) that demonstrated his original country. One time we discussed translation and the problems inherent in translating artistic works, and he pointed me to the following poem:

A une Damoyselle malade

Ma mignonne,
Je vous donne
Le bon jour;
Le séjour
C’est prison.
Puis ouvrez
Votre porte
Et qu’on sorte
Car Clément
Le vous mande.
Va, friande
De ta bouche,
Qui se couche
En danger
Pour manger
Si tu dures
Trop malade,
Couleur fade
Tu prendras,
Et perdras
Dieu te doint
Santé bonne,
Ma mignonne.

A man by the name of Douglas Hofstadter once undertook the hefty task of figuring out how to properly translate the poem - a task which seemed insurmountable. The poem is silly and playful, and not very weighty in though; however, the beauty of it lies in its form. It is a poem of 28 lines, with three syllables per line, in a series of rhyming couplets. All of this adds to the whimsy of the piece, and the question became how best to translate that. Here are some examples:

Hofstadter ended up enlisting the help of hundreds of people, from traditional translators to slam poets, trying to find what's best - trying to find what could keep the beauty of the little poem. Most interesting to me is the mention of food in the poem, because the argument could be made that the "jam" mentioned in the original is completely inconsequential. The jam is not what matters here; rather, it is the implication that jam is a vessel and so there is toast implied. This allows Hofstadter's sixth version of the poem to change the word to "buttered bread" and the second to be fruit preserves.

Similarly, the poets all take different liberties with terms of affection. Some refer to the young girl as "my dear," or "my chickadee;" Hofstadter even asked his mom to write a poem, and she referred to the original girl as "toots."

Check out these poems for yourself, though! They're so interesting and I can hardly do justice. Shh, don't tell the gov'ment.


Canvas 10. 26.15

Welcome to Spanish Harlem: my home away from home. 

This building is on 104th Street between 3rd and Lexington in case you ever want to see it for yourself.  "The Spirit of East Harlem Mural" was completed in 1978 by a Pratt Institute student named Hank Prussing. 

Prussing, originally from Maryland, started the mural in 1973 after discussing how beautiful and under appreciated street art was (or is) with Reverend George Calvert who was the pastor of a church quite literally down the block from this building. Calvert spoke to community members about Prussing's interest in East Harlem and its people which was rare then.This was before gentrification was as violent and displacing to the residents of East Harlem as it is now. Local art stores and construction workers donated tools and supplies to Prussing who took pictures, with permission, of the neighborhood residents and used those pictures as reference to paint this mural. 

When the mural was complete in 1978, all of the faces could be found in East Harlem. It's neighborhood folklore that the men playing dominos around the table lived in the building and the fourth man who if you look closely, you can see just his hand, moved out and never spoke to them again because he believed they asked Prussing to cut him out because he never played fair. We call it La Mano del Tramposo, "The hand of the Cheater." 

More fact than folk, Prussing had a helper, a young man by the name of Manny Vega.
That's Manny 

Vega would later become one of Spanish Harlem's greatest educators and activist, creating mosaics and murals around both The Bronx and Harlem. Examples: 

Older Manny

If you want to see this stuff for yourself there's a wifi cafe across from the 104th Street mural that charges $3.50 for a cup of coffee. 


Currently Reading 10.26.15

This summer I took an amazing class at the CUNY Graduate Center on surrealism and radical thought; and it was in that class that I was introduced to Freedom Dreams. This book altered my view of the world, and Kelley's prose drifts between the personal and the political creating a beautiful amalgamation of the two. He has a diasporic view of political movements and contextualizes them within the realm of black culture demonstrating that the idea of radicalism, going against the grain of traditional thought, has always been a major part of black identity. In order to change the world that we live in we must not only conceptualize a transformation but we must also seek to become transformed:

 “Without new visions, we don’t know what to build, only what to knock down. We not only end up confused, rudderless, and cynical, but we forget that making a revolution is not a series of clever maneuvers and tactics, but a process that can and must transform us."   
                                                            -Robin D.G. Kelley, Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination

 “Césaires (Aimé and Suzanne) were creative innovators of surrealism—that they actually introduced fresh surrealist ideas to Breton and his colleagues. I don’t think it is too much to argue that the Césaires not only embraced surrealism—independently of the Paris Group, I might add—but also expanded it, enlarged its perspectives, and contributed enormously to theorizing the “domain of the Marvelous.” Aimé Césaire, after all, has never denied his surrealist leanings. As he explains: “Surrealism provided me with what I had been confusedly searching for. I have accepted it joyfully because in it I have found more of a confirmation than a revelation.” Surrealism, he explained, helped him to summon up powerful unconscious forces."
                                                               -Robin D.G. Kelley, Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination

"Sometimes I think the conditions of daily life, of everyday oppressions, of survival, not to mention the temporary pleasures accessible to most of us, render much of our imagination inert. We are constantly putting out fires, responding to emergencies, finding temporary refuge, all of which make it difficult to see anything other than the present. As the great poet Keorapetse Kgositsile put it, “When the clouds clear / We shall know the color of the sky.” When movements have been unable to clear the clouds, it has been the poets—no matter the medium—who have succeeded in imagining the color of the sky, in rendering the kinds of dreams and futures social movements are capable of producing. Knowing the color of the sky is far more important than counting clouds. Or to put it another way, the most radical art is not protest art but works that take us to another place, envision a different way of seeing, perhaps a different way of feeling."
                                                              -Robin D.G. Kelley, Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination

 I had the pleasure of actually meeting Robin D.G. Kelley (well, seeing him actually, from a distance, at the American Studies Conference in Toronto).  I was sitting in the same conference room as we all listened to professors present their research on a panel entitled From Ferguson To Palestine (shout out to Professor Robyn C. Spencer of Lehman College, her paper on anti-blackness in Palestine was incredible).  I saw him and I was too nervous to actually approach him, we looked at each other and then we went our separate ways.  I got home and I decided to contact him, but I never expected him to actually respond.  He is a major figure in history and literature, but then right out of the blue:

Robin D.G. Kelley starts the book discussing his childhood, how he admired his mother and how her perception of the world inspired his own.  By introducing his personal connection to the history of political movements, he shows us that his argument beautifully blurs the lines between the personal and  the political demonstrating how they are perfectly intertwined.  He moves on to argue the personal connection that other major figures have had to their political affiliations such as Malcolm X and Aime Cesaire. Cesaire's relationship between the surrealist movement and the creation of his poetry was an integral part of the struggle for liberation for people of color in the Francophone Caribbean, creating a ripple effect that resonated stateside in the Harlem Renaissance:

Kelley reminds us that our own lives and our personal struggles can inhibit our abilities to dream:

 I was ecstatic yet I was completely surprised by his humility, he said that I made his day, when in fact, it was definitely the other way around.  Freedom Dreams is a beautiful book crafted from the depths of an equally beautiful and imaginative mind.

-Lisa Del Sol

Currently Watching 10.26.15

It's time. After this post, I will not be making inside jokes with just myself. I'll be free, free to shout 'boop boop' and 'like a loooooooser' from the rooftoops, because you all will know. You all will know the YouTube I know. God bless.

We're going to treat post this like a train, because apparently I revert to cheesy metaphors when I'm trying to get people to love stuff that I love.


First stop! Good Mythical Morning/Rhett & Link.
Let's talk about that.
They are two men with kids and skinny jeans and they are my daily routine (ahem).
Good Mythical Morning is their daily talk-show style exploration of interesting topics, torturing themselves with weird food, and just doing crazy stuff.
Like...taking sound baths (I'm totally not easing you into this):

Just watch the whole video. It's so worth it.

They post sketches (#Sketchtober) and music videos on their original Rhett and Link channel.

And now...

Second: Hartland. MyHarto. Hannah Hart.
Hannah is known for her (boop boop) 'My Drunk Kitchen' show, in which she cooks...drunk. She started this series to cheer up a friend, and it unexpectedly became so popular she now has a full-time career on YouTube.
She gets drunk alone:

And does collabs (Tyler, you're next):

Hannah Hart is a TREASURE and just as beautiful in person:

(Dear God I hope this video player is not like the Tumblr one)
(And by that I mean I hope it actually works)
(And yes, she is riding around in a red wagon and we're
throwing cat toys onto her)

Third, the Queen himself, Tyler Oakley. The endlessly self-promoting, cackling, 'YASSS'-screaming Tyler Oakley is famous for...just that. His video style is pretty standard YouTube: vlogging, challenges, and collaborations; his personality is what made him one of the most famous YouTubers around. 
I mean...
Whatever he does:


...and anything else, he is a goddamn delight. He just published his book Binge, has a documentary in the works, and continues to be one of the busiest and well sought after cultural icons.

Finally, Markiplier. His schtick is producing 'let's play' videos of him playing through various video games. He has claimed his title as the King of Five Nights at Freddy's (a horror game involving animatronics, OD jump scares, and terrorizing children), 

Part 1...if you dare

slides around offices as toilet paper rolls,

Go to 1:23 like a looooooser

and makes very good use of his radio-quality [insert cheesy romance novel description] voice.

(this is a judgment-free blog, okay?)
(technically he doesn't even speak in this video but 
who wants some pancakes?!)

That isn't to say that his doofy side is the only draw. Mark openly cries in videos, incessantly thanks his viewers, and has no qualms about getting appropriately serious (even if it means the inevitable lowering of subscribers. People are jerks). Recently, a very close friend of his--and fellow YouTuber--committed suicide. Mark handled and spoke about it in the most heartwarming, genuine way. Like the other YouTubers I watch, his personality makes his videos.


Well, we have reached the end of about an hour's worth of video. I know it's a lot, but try, when you're free, to support the careers of these hilarious, hard-working, caring, and incredibly lucky individuals. 

I think a lot of YouTuber fans like myself would agree that one is not only entertained by these people, but also kept alive. That might seem strange to someone who has not seriously thought about and/or acknowledged the Intertainment business. In truth, these people are not like 'normal' celebrities: all of them were born leagues away from any spotlight; most of them thrive in a culture that is unusually intimate with and grateful to its fans; many of them provide the source of empathy and openness that a lot of fans need and can't get in their personal lives. It's hard for me to not get emotional thinking and speaking about this because I literally owe these people my life. 


Love y'all,


Currently Listening 10.26.15

I dream in English.

In rare occasions I will dream in Spanish. And sometimes I have these dreams in which I speak a language fluently - a language that I do not know in real life. It has happened in French and German and both times I was surprised in my dream that I was able to speak it and both times I was extremely disappointed when I woke up and learned that I couldn't.

But mostly I dream in English. Which is highly convenient because I like writing in English and I find myself inspired by my dreams constantly. However, I have a hard time remembering them and so I try to record them as much as I can, either in writing or in using the voice recorder on my phone. I am by far a better story teller in writing than in speaking. So, I do not know why I always think that recording my dreams as soon as I wake up is a good idea. I make no sense whatsoever.

I have absolutely no idea what dream this was. Or what I was saying. Or why I thought it was a valuable dream to record in the first place. The only thing that is understandable in my recording is "purse" and "nothing much happened." When I write my dreams down they make much more sense. I jot down all the details I remember, I describe as much as I can, I reconstruct it bit by bit - namely, I am awake. I don't know if you could tell in the past recording, but I would fall asleep and then I would wake up and then I would fall asleep again. Nobody needs to listen to that (although, I am sorry I just made you). But imagine, imagine doing music with your dreams. Now that is something inspiring to listen to. 

In this song, for me, Fleet Foxes is able to put together the feeling not only of dreaming but of waking up and wanting to say everything that happened in it and knowing that it is quite impossible. I love the imagery of the dream, such as "Eucalyptus and orange trees blooming," that is juxtaposed with the uplifting beat. It translates to a sense of wonder and magic that we can only get in dreams but that we can "hardly contain." All our lives we will try to recreate, even remember, those memories - there's a hope that we will be able to attain it. 

Flying Lotus' album Until The Quiet Comes is inspired by "strange dream experiences I’ve had that have been—otherworldly... I wanted to make a record that was kind of dreamy, like a lullaby: magical, ethereal, like dream sounds—I got inspired by what else was out there. I think that's what my sound is like." The 4 minute short film inspired by three songs of his album embody just that:

Erykah Badu's voice singing "dream of love and light and laughter" juxtaposes with the strong images of the film. The song, holds you captive - it's a dreamscape sound, pulling your heartstrings, letting you know that even in death one can "dream of love and light and laughter" no matter how cruel the real world is. 

Lastly, I will leave you a song from The War on Drugs' album, Lost in a Dream. It is one of the few albums in which I like every song. I like to listen to it while I bike across Prospect Park because it makes me feel that I am experiencing a dream in real life. I get lost in their lyrics and rhythms, in their sounds, in their reverie. 

This song isn't about a dream. But it invokes a dreamy sound - a flurry of guitar chords and ethereal vocals take you to a creative space where everything and anything seems to happen. We just have to try to "not to crack, under the pressure" of real life. 

In short, record your dreams. You never know where they might lead you. Even if you make no sense, it might trigger your dream memory. And to be honest, it's quite meta to be currently listening to your own dreams.


PS: If you wanna learn more about dreams and how our daily lives affect them, I suggest you listen to RadioLab's Dreams. They report on a study done by a professor who records people's dreams after they have played a video game during the day. The results are very impressive. 

Currently Eating 10.26.15

I am up to my ears in Charles Dickens.

It's slowly beginning to invade most aspects of my life. I find myself randomly quoting chunks of his prose, and calling my daughter "Little Nell." "Go Suck A Dickens" is what I yell at my kindle when I need a break from the heavy lit.

However, one thing has quite stuck with me in a very entertaining fashion. Wemmick (from Great Expectations) and his "portable property."

Everything has become portable property. When I cart around my puppy? Portable property. My iPhone? Jewelry? Tatty old paperback of Sherman Alexie poems? Portable property.

How is that related to EATING, you ask?

It's my FAVORITE portable property.

I know my favorites by feel alone. I swear, if I were Mr Rochester, and Jane Eyre was a freaking oatmeal raisin cookie? I could find that forgotten soul with one arm, no sight, and hear her call to me across ALL THE HEATHER FIELDS. 

"Is that you, snickerdoodle?"

But here's the thing; about 6 months ago I became a vegan. Making cookies--good cookies--vegan is NOT easy. Trust me. However, I have found myself a loophole!

The brownie mix cookies I made before becoming a vegan are dead simple to veganize.

Easy as heck to make.

You'll need:
1 box of Betty Crocker fudge brownies
the liquid from one can of chickpeas
1/2 cup peanut butter (creamy)
2 tbsp oil
3 tbsp flour
1 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 375F
combine wet ingredients until smooth. 
sift in dry ingredients. 
scoop onto lined cookie sheet. 
bake 10 minutes
press tops down with the bottom of a glass sprayed with cooking spray.
serve at room temp.

- C

Culture Corner 10.26.15

Today, I will sing you a song of baseball.

Yeah, I’m just as surprised as you are, but here goes.

Baseball’s always been a thing in my household. There are baby pictures of me in team gear, because yes, they do make onesies emblazoned with the New York Mets logo, and yes, babies look adorable wearing baseball caps that are far too large for their heads. I can remember my parents taking my siblings and me to minor league games in the various cities we visited on vacation - we saw the Portland Sea Dogs in Maine and the now-defunct Montreal Expos in Canada, and of course our own Staten Island Yankees. As a kid, I accepted these outings, because while I considered baseball an interminable bore, I got snacks at ball games, and that made it cool by me.  My overall assessment was that nothing ever happened in baseball. Every so often there’d be an exciting play and it’d pique my interest, because for one shining moment, things were happening, and it was fun and exciting. But the moment would fade and I’d soon resume pondering when I was due for my next hot dog.

For my dad and my brother Peter, though, this was Serious Business. My mom favors the Yankees, but my dad and Peter would shed blood for the Mets. They’re diehards, plain and simple. They own a ton of Mets caps and jerseys and t-shirts, they pick favorites, they hang on every pitch. My brother gets emotional. Usually, because it’s the Mets, that emotion is “anger,” and I’ve watched him throw many an innocent baseball cap to the ground in utter disgust. But he always picks them up and keeps watching. 

My dad recounts how his mother was a Mets diehard too, because she grew up in Brooklyn and supported the Dodgers til they moved to Los Angeles, an act of high treason. For some arcane reason, she, and other former Dodgers fans in Brooklyn, refused to switch allegiances to the Yankees (the quote my dad always repeats is “I would have sooner rooted for Hitler,” because again, baseball is Serious Business) and so began decades of loyalty to the Mets, New York City’s perpetual baseball underdog. Let me tell you, Mets fans suffer. You’d almost think they enjoy suffering; I’ve watched my dad and my brother shave years off their lives from pure stress. The team has a bad reputation for folding under pressure, never living up to lofty playoff dreams. I’ve heard the diehards whispering to themselves “Next year, next year” as a season ends and the hope for the next one grows anew.

The 2015 season started out rough as usual. There was hope - there always is - but it was dwindling with the passing months. As summer started dragging on, the Mets seemed doomed for another year like all the others. And at home, it hurt a little more than usual. My brother was getting ready to go to college in New Orleans and we all started wondering what life would be like without him. He watched the games loyally: some victories, some failures, nothing special. He talked optimistically about the team’s chances. My dad just shook his head.

It was hard to be happy about anything; my father’s mother, the diehard before him, was, well…dying. Our whole family hung in stasis, just waiting. There always comes a time when all you do is wait for someone to die, when you tell yourself at least then, when it’s over, everyone can stop hurting, and it’s as horrible as it sounds.

Near the end of summer, something changed.

The only way I can describe it is that the New York Mets became an inspiring, clichéd sports movie, the sort of feel-good family flick that encourages kids to believe in themselves. During one game in late July, social media was in a tizzy over a rumored trade deal between the Mets and the Milwaukee Brewers. The player who’d be traded, Wilmer Flores, had been with the Mets for his entire career, since he was 16 years old, and he came out to play despite the rumblings of the trade agreement. He broke the ancient adage of no-crying-in-baseball and cried on the field in anticipation the departure. It was a remarkably human moment, one maligned as melodramatic in the media. But the trade fell through and two days later, nobody was poking fun when Flores won a game for the Mets with a 12th-inning home run against their (heavily favored) rivals, the Washington Nationals.

And it was like someone had suddenly taught this team how to play baseball again. August was a whirlwind of wins, swept series, daring plays, emotional outbursts, and good old fashioned baseball. Maybe the most miraculous thing of all: my sister and I started watching with everyone else. We started learning players’ names. We started picking favorites. We hung on every pitch. When Peter left for school, my sister and I kept turning the games on, when mere weeks prior we complained about how he'd always hog the TV on game nights. It was impossible not to; things kept happening and happening, and the sudden elation was contagious. We got excited about baseball and the Mets rallied to clinch their division in September. It seemed unreal, and then it got better. This week, the Mets swept the Chicago Cubs to win the National League title. They’re going to the World Series for the first time in 15 years. Pure October magic. We had Peter on the phone, and I couldn’t even understand what he was saying from how much he was crying. And my dad…forget about it. He was weeping, wearing Mets-themed rubber bracelets on opposite wrists - one that reads “Amazin’” and the other emblazoned with “Ya Gotta Believe!” - and one of his many Mets caps.

But that hat was special. It’d been my grandma’s, and it sure looked the part, worn out and faded on my dad’s head. It’s October. She passed away in August, what feels like a lifetime ago now, but we have her Mets cap. My dad thinks it’s good luck, citing the fact that the last time the Mets lost - against the Dodgers in the division race - he wasn’t wearing the hat. And of course his mom would be lending otherworldly ghost powers to the team: the Dodgers left her and the rest of Brooklyn, after all. This was payback. It made perfect sense.

In August, my father, my brother, my sister and mother and other brother, uncles and aunts, cousins, friends, everyone around me, we all cried together. We held hands and hugged and let each other cry, supported each other through our grief. And now it’s October, and I watched my dad cry to a box score, heard my brother laughing through his tears over the phone, high-fived and cheered for every strikeout from the Mets’ aces and every home run drilled into the stands, watched as a team dismissed as losers from day one became World Series material, saw them all run out after games to high-five the loyal fans in the stands and spray champagne on them.

And I think to myself, okay, maybe I can get interested in baseball.


Illuminations 10.26.15

Today I’m going to talk to you about a little big thing called The ArchAndroid, Janelle Monae’s first studio album. 

Released in 2010, it’s the follow-up to her 2007 debut EP Metropolis: Suite I (The Chase), and contains the second and third suites of the Metropolis series.
You may be asking yourself “What is the Metropolis series?”
Fret not, my dear. Sit tight and let me giddily explain.
The Metropolis series is a string of Afro-futurist, sci-fi concept albums that, for some reason, are not mentioned on Wikipedia’s “Concept Album” page, or "Emotion Pictures" concerning a (fictional, duh) android named Cindi Mayweather. She is a revolutionary messiah from the future sent back in time to free the oppressed android citizens of Metropolis from The Great Divide, a secret society that abuses time travel to suppress freedom. The vast majority of music from Monae’s series tells Cindi Mayweather’s story, from her forbidden love with a full human, to the order of her disassembly (robot murder...) and her subsequent life on the run from authorities.The ArchAndroid is the pinnacle of this storytelling!!!

I say this because, at 18 songs and 69 minutes long, it is an absolute masterpiece of aural cinema that moves a listener through Cindi Mayweather's struggle for freedom and love through multiple musical stylings. Janelle Monae speaks through this fantastical story to bigger truths in society - the androids are an oppressed minority group mass produced for service, exploited and disregarded as very low class citizens. Cindi's struggle to love who she wants, be who she truly is, and gain freedom with a fight is fictional, but the sentiment, the concepts are very real.
I would love to delve deeper and muse about the lyrics of each song, how it relates to real life and what Ms.Monae is saying, but you'd be sitting here reading for approximately 22 hours.
I don't want to do that to you.
So instead, I'll present the first two and last songs of the album to show just how damn cinematic/theatrical and allegorical this album is.

Yes, it's 5 minutes long. But it's two songs...(switch at 2:30) your best attention to the second song's lyrics.

The ArchAndroid begins with an Overture to the second suite of this saga, and you can't tell me it wasn't beautiful. You just can't, I'm sorry. It's the perfect opening, and listening to it gives me such a feel for the drama of the album. "Suite II Overture" allows me to see the opening scene of a play with my EARS. Gorgeous! They even clap at the end, it's so gorgeous!
Then, Monae's rap in the second song gets so many beautiful lyrics in, her bars floating with the rhythm of the neo soul instrumental to explain the dystopian state of Metropolis. "Dance or Die" goes straight into the plot, showing the state of a desolate, mass-produced, exploited Android population and their place in society, while reaching for a higher criticism of real life society. Each verse contains meaning that is applicable to Mayweather's world and ours, and the song as a whole highlights the oppression the black community, and more broadly, the "second-class" citizens all over the world face.
The transition from European, classical music stylings to the neo soul rap thatis characteristically rooted in African musical styles signifies the difference between the oppressors and the oppressed - the Androids are certainly not in the crowd clapping at the end of the Overture but they are the subject of "Dance or Die".
This theme is evident throughout: there is a mix of genres on the album, most of which are derived from African American musical traditions, but the overtures - the transitional spaces between suites is dominated by European style. Humans, the oppressors, are represented by this music, save for Anthony Greendown. He is the human that loves Cindi Mayweather, and is represented through European folk music in the love song "57821" (Cindi's android registration number) sung from his perspective as he saves her from imprisonment so she can save her people. Music that is/has often been considered "common" is used to elevate the stories of those who wish for freedom, aiming to empower both the characters in this arc AND the people who fight for freedom in the real world through empowering the folk.
This use of classical music and terminology is representative of the societal structure imposed on the oppressed Androids of Metroplis. The album moves through two suites and contains two overtures, but the vast majority of the music on the album has little to do with the Classical traditions referenced.

BTW, can you tell how excited I am?
I mean seriously, I'm holding BACK. I could write an essay about these two songs alone, so I'm going to move on to speaking on the ways in which the last song on the song utilizes European classical music with African musicality to best convey a turning point in Cindi Mayweather's journey....

I'm sorry, I know it's 8 minutes long and you hate me. Also, some of the lyrics are in Spanish ya go.

Man, I've been bumping this album for 5 yrs and I'm still amazed by this song. It's a three movement piece that details Cindi Mayweather's departure from her beloved human partner, Anthony Greendown, before she moves on in her journey for Android freedom.
Again, you CANNOT tell me this isn't beautiful in any way. To me it is an epic that, when I close my eyes, I can envision my own theatrical representation of this song. From beginning to end, I can see the first movement played out on a stage; I can imagine the scene switches to the second and third movement, the desperation and love between Cindi and Anthony.
This love between Anthony Greendown and Cindi Mayweather, and their separation is represented by a mix of classical and characteristically African music. It is the only song on the album with such a mix - it outwardly utilizes "movements" of the European classic musical tradition, employs that classical musicality beside jazzy bass and Afro-Latin music and eventually creates this distinctly hybrid sound of violins and congas and bass.
"BaBopByeYa" signifies the journey Cindi must leave Anthony for in the perfect way - she is the oppressed messiah that must go and free her people, deconstruct the hierarchy of Metropolis and create an equalized society.
It's the perfect ending to an album that could easily double as a soundtrack (or psuedo soundtrack?) to (the first half - I mean, they can't leave us hanging like that...) of a musical, leaving the listener to wonder what will happen to Cindi on her quest.

Will she evade all the Droid Control and the Wolfmasters that hunt her?
Will she save the citizens of Metropolis?
Will she ever be able to gain freedom, and be able to love Sir Greendown once more?

Find out some time in the future because Janelle Monae's most recent album, The Electric Lady (2013) is actually the PREQUEL to The ArchAndroid.


- Renee