MOXI REPORT: Nerdy Good Time on a Friday Night

Yes, I’m a big nerd, and my idea of a fun Friday night is a science lecture. With a side order of dissection. Fair warning, there are pictures, so avert your eyes if filet of cow eyeballs isn’t your thing.

My friend Lisa invited me to a member only night at MOXI, The Wolf Museum of Exploration + Innovation. It was my first visit and pretty much confirmed that the museum is Santa Barbara’s mini version of the Tech Museum in San Jose.

It is full of beautiful interactive exhibits, labs for hands-on learning, and crafty creative space.

We nibbled on veggie spring rolls, bacon wrapped dates, and chicken salad puffs prior to a lecture by Dr. Dante Pieramici. His presentation was called A.I. and The Management of Eye Diseases. He covered basics about what A.I. is (and is not), recent advances, and potential advantages of having A.I. support the diagnosis and treatment of macular degeneration, specifically. He also covered the basics of the eye and evolution of the eyeball.

Because my local SB ophthalmologist is old school, I had forgotten that much of the modern eye exams is all about looking at images of the eye and comparing annual optomap retinal exams to previous images.

Narrow A.I. could be trained to compare an image of a patient retina, to, say, a database of previously labeled “healthy” and “detached” images. The “narrow” comes from the fact that the A.I. would have a slim focus: only identifying pictures that, in comparison to hundreds or thousands of similar images, show the likelihood of a health issue or risk. On this simple comparison task, A.I. has a very high degree of accuracy and is much faster than humans at processing data.

It was fun to hear about the efficiency to be gained, especially once we are all DIYing our eye exams with an attachment to our iPhones. (Might be awhile.)

After the lecture, we had time to play in the museum and wait for our lab time. We visited the Inhabitat exhibit but skipped the line for trying out the VR (Not worth it without the hand-held controls, IMHO).

At another exhibit, we tried to align our eyes in an intimate mirror helmet. Called The Mirrorbox, it was created by artist Megan May Daalder. To get the name and info I contacted MOXI who said:

We’re so glad you enjoyed it! If you want to learn more about it, check out Megan’s TedTalk here.

 

The item looks like a conglomeration of the cone of silence, funhouse mirrors, bizzarre lighting effects, and two conjoined black steampunk dive helmets. Each partner put their head into one side of the contraption and the experience went from total blackness through a number of lighting shifts.

It was disconcerting to see my eyes with Lisa’s hair, or eyes of green and blue together, or her very long black lashes and high cheekbones under my green eyes. It was a few solid minutes of staring into her eyes, but I think we got aligned so quickly – both of us entirely unafraid to immediately make eye contact – that it didn’t take much effort.

At 7:40pm helpers from the California Retina Research Foundation took pictures of us while we dissected the eyeballs left over after last week’s steak dinner. The dissection experience in the Exploration Lab was interesting, in a squishy way. I have a tactile appreciation for my own floater-filled, Vitreous Humor, and my too human lack of a tapetum (the bit that allows animals to see better in the dark, and flashes scary green/blue at night when they look straight at the camera).

A really good time that was a much-needed break from NaNoWriting and a rough week.

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Finnemore Friday: The New Edition Sketch

Finnemore Friday: The New Edition Sketch

I traveled this summer, asking a lot of people I had just met if they were John Finnemore Fans.

“Who?” Was the most frequent reply.

CHALLENGE ACCEPTED! 

Everyone should be listening to John Finnemore. Unless you have listened and didn’t like him, in which case, I ask, “Are you sure? Really sure? Go on, have another go.”

It is possible that if you don’t find at least 80% of John Finnemore’s work hilarious, whether sketch comedy like Souvenir Programme, or his series, Cabin Pressure, or especially his slightly longer Double Acts, that it may be impossible for us to remain friends. Certainly, it makes it probable that you dislike as much as 50% of my jokes.

If you like Monty Python’s humor, and you like Douglas Adams’ humor, then you need to know that John Finnemore’s comedy is the direct descendant of those genius humorists. He arrived at writing comedy via the same route they did, hanging out at Cambridge, being funny. Then going to the Fringe Festival and being funnier. Then getting paid to make me laugh.

In the episode highlighted for Friday, August 25, skip ahead to 4:45. What you’ll hear is an interview sketch poking fun at those interminable “list of things to do” books that seem to be underfoot every time I try to vacuum the carpet.

The sketch is a perfect example of what I love about this humor: unexpected, taken to extremes, wrapped around a good-natured message with heart. There’s never meanness in the sketches. Nothing relies on the American sense of “unease” in order to get a laugh.

It is straight-up, smart, wacky comedy.

I will post more each Friday, but of course, you’re welcome to cultivate your own addiction to this man’s brilliance. I find all his creations completely addictive. I hope you get a laugh, or more likely, a belly-full.

 

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Cuisine & Confessions: 7 Fingers of the Hand

Cuisine & Confessions: 7 Fingers of the Hand

Watching Cirque isn’t normally my bag (I will not say circus. There is zero resemblance to Barnum or Bailey here). I saw a deeply traumatizing Cirque du Soleil show in San Jose once, and have avoided the performance style ever since.

So when I tell you that Cuisine & Confessions by 7 Fingers of the Hand cirque troupe should be on your life bucket list, you can trust that you won’t be seeing “just another” costume, music, tumbling, flying trapeze extravaganza.

This show is more than excellent clowning and physical daring-do: It is full of stories that spill the guts, sweat, tears, and yes, love, of the performers out for the audience to see. There’s no holding back. Each performer’s viewpoint has been turned into a unique expression of the intertwined nature of community, family, and food.

The day before the performance, UCSB Arts & Lectures sent out a document titled 10 Fun Facts About Cuisine & Confessions. I didn’t get to read it until after the performance, but there were some very interesting items:

 

1) The stories are true. Cuisine & Confessions was built on the real-life personal stories of each cast member. Creation began with extensive storytelling sessions, and directors Shana Carroll and Sébastien Soldevila extracted facts, themes, and images and wove them throughout each act.

 

I didn’t know whether what I was watching was true or truthfully acted (or both). But I never in a single moment of the two-hour performance doubted that what I was watching was dredged directly from some individual person’s soul. It was too raw, real, and intense. Even if I hadn’t learned that it came directly from the performers, I was sure it came from a particular individual’s real experience of the world, and thus, a relatable, point of view that I could learn from.

As with the very best live theater, the show swings back and forth from serious to sporting. To give an example of what I mean, take a musical number about a perfect omelet, made by a one-night-stand-stranger. This is a fun and sexy staging filled with excellent clowning, including the juggling of eggs, oversized whisks, and giant stainless steel bowls. It is easy to envy the lucky audience member on the stage, surrounded by the exuberant cast waiting on them hand-and-foot.

 

2) All the music is original. The entire soundtrack was created specifically for the show. Notably, New York jazz club owner and pianist Spike Wilner came up to Montreal for extensive recording sessions, providing a bank of piano music to choose from during creation. (Director Sébastien Soldevila is also musical director.)

 

Playful movement and music are repeated over the course of the evening as we dance to re-imagined Bolero and even a wholly re-arranged classic hit from Grease “The One That I Want.” And the upbeat music is just as beautiful as the quiet and sorrowful pieces, building off of stories so true that the audience can’t help but revel in the sadness. In contrast, the varied stories and the diverse types of dance and tumbling feel like a celebration. It creates an incredible theatrical experience.

 

8) They keep a “to-do” list, too. Observant theatergoers will see a “to-do” list written out on a chalkboard as part of the kitchen set. This is actually a list of numbers performed in the show, and cast members cross off items as they are completed during each performance.

 

There are two things that constantly threaten to be spilled in this show: food and blood. While it feels nerve-wracking and death-defying, these acrobats, gymnasts, dancers, performers are waaaaaaaaay too good to so much as tear a cuticle while tumbling, leaping, climbing, and spinning as if gravity was a thing they had read about someplace. The aerial silk, the Chinese pole, the choreographed flinging and catching of bodies in constant motion…each number seems easy enough at the beginning, and then quickly becomes unbelievably heart-stopping.

The show feels like something immense that has been simplified, pared down, peeled only to the choicest morsel. But that is the deception of perfection.

How simple can it be to design props that are as flexible as the bodies of the performers using them? A series of wooden boxes that are a dinette in one scene, become 8 chairs in another. The same pieces also act as a series of wooden frames that can be stacked as “hoops” for acrobats to leap through. The tables used for cutting and cooking are at multiple heights, hiding or revealing props and tools as needed like any good kitchen does. What other pot racks (tempting as it always is to use them as monkey bars) can actually be used as monkey bars?!

If you don’t believe me that a lifetime without seeing these performers is a deprived life indeed, I will add a few last tempting details. The performers cook. Pasta, sauce, and banana bread are all offered at the end of the show. And you can eat, and not clean up – they wash all the dishes in the working sink that is part of their set!

The whole audience is encouraged to participate, by setting a timer for the banana bread. The last 36 minutes of the show tick by. The smell of baking INSIDE the theater gets more and more heavenly. No matter how off-the-cuff and playful the final numbers seem, as the smell increases, everyone begins to worry about whether the music and moves will be suddenly interrupted by the echo of a thousand phone alarms ringing in every tone known to Apple and Android. But the performance is so perfectly choreographed that the finale ends, the dancers gather for a bow, and having forgotten momentarily about the bread in the oven, the audience stands, clapping, whistling, and appreciating…just as the timers go off in a cacophony of sounds. Amazing, and timed down to the minute – maybe even second.

Many years after I learned to hate “cirque” at that terribly traumatizing show (faced with falling tightrope artists and mangled tumblers) Teatro Zinzanni in San Francisco redeemed the art for me. But until I experienced Cuisines and Confessions, I still felt reluctant to encounter the artform. Now I can safely say I would go out of my way to experience the work of this team, over and over. See them anytime and anyplace you can!

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Reading Aloud: Tips Prepared for The Braille Institute of Santa Barbara

As part of the Library Week Open House, I’ll be speaking at the Braille Institute of Santa Barbara about being an audiobook narrator. The interview and discussion are open to the public, and if you’re at loose ends Thursday afternoon, please drop by!

 

 

The institute asked me to write up three tips for reading aloud to kids and adults, and I figured why not share them with my blog peeps, too?

Three Tips for Reading Out Loud to Kids

1) Repetition: Kids (of all ages) love repetition. This is why we love to sing along with the chorus; it may be why it is such fun to hear a favorite quote from a movie and be able to blurt out the next line! We love it when we can anticipate language, and then get the reward of hearing what we wanted to hear. So when reading to kids, find the repetition and make it dramatic. If possible….

2) Participation: …Encourage kids to fill in the blanks! One of my favorite, very long, Shel Silverstein poems, “Peanut Butter Sandwich” basically has a repeated “chorus” of (you guessed it) PEANUT BUTTER SANDWICH! There’s nothing more fun than saying it together, every time it comes along.

3) Attention: Reading with children is about more than an entertaining story or teaching them to read. It is about giving them your undivided attention. If you are merely reading to them because you “have to” and it is part of the “routine,” they know it. So anytime you pick up a book, be ready to give the book, and therefore your audience, your undivided attention. Take a very deep breath. Decide to do nothing else. Enjoy just that one, simple thing and do it really well – no multi-tasking! Don’t even THINK about what’s next on your list. All your energy should be on the words (maybe pictures) and your listener.

Three Tips for Reading Out Loud to Adults

1) Know your audience: Ask the person you’re reading for what they like. Do they want a performance with voices? Do they want the reader to emote? Are they trying to learn something? Do they just like the sound of your voice? This is a lovely way to talk to someone about what they need in that moment. Reading aloud to someone is a special gift of time and shared intimacy, but listeners and readers don’t always want the same thing all the time from reading. A quick check-in can ensure the interaction is pleasant for both the reader and listener.

2) Choose good material: Read something that interests both the reader and listener. You’ll enjoy reading it more if you like it, so practice being curious. If you have no interest in the material, then be fascinated with the language itself. Each word, sentence, punctuation, and context must be clear to your listener. They should be able to HEAR commas, semicolons, and parentheses.

3) Hydration: drink lots and lots of water at least 4 hours before reading for any length of time. Have warm water handy and drink it at chapter breaks. Well-hydrated vocal cords are happy vocal cords!

I can think of TONS more tips for making reading aloud more fun, but do you have any favorites? Please let me know in the comments!
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