Instagramlet (Get Thee to Unpluggery)

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To Tweet, or not to Tweet – that is the question;

Whether ‘tis nobler off the line to suffer

The stings and harrows of outrageous comments,

Or to type reams against a sea of trollers

And by opposing end them. To like, re-tweet –

No more; and by Delete to say we end

The headache and the thousand cyber shocks

The web is host to. ‘Tis a disconnection

Desperately to be wished. To post, to Tweet –

To Tweet, perchance to SCREAM. Ay, there’s the rub.

For in that Tweet of wrath, what screams may come

When we have rattled off our mental bile,

Must give us pause. There’s the Reply

That makes calamity of logged-in life.

For who would bear the links and shames online,

Th’obsessives wrong, the proud men’s humble-brag,

The pangs of tagged old loves, the trolls irate,

The insolence of hotheads, and the spurns

Of posts that merit few if any Likes…

When he himself might peace and quiet make

With a broke modem? Who would Facebook bear –

To gloss and Status-hype a weary life –

But for the dread of what is off the net:

The un-updated country, from whose road

No traveler checks in or ‘Grams their meal,

And makes us rather live those lives we have

Than share with followers we know not of?

Thus, consciousness makes cowards of us all,

And thus the natural glue of real connection

Is cybered o’er with hash-tagged bytes of thought,

And intercourses of points rich and cogent

Eggplant and poop emojis turn awry

And lose their satisfaction.

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Contra-Band (Once More Unto My Niche)

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As I lay hog-tied on the mystery-stained carpet of the Harvard University Band headquarters in the winter of my freshman year, suffering tickle torture at the hands of my too-good-to-be-true senior boyfriend (who, it would soon turn out, was also too-gay-to-be-true), one thought dominated the forefront of my mind: “I really hope I don’t pee my pants.” A close second, though, was the thought of how unexpectedly happy I was in that moment.

A few months earlier I had come to college specifically determined NOT to join the school band. I had been a band geek since the fifth grade, had held the rank of First Lieutenant in my high school marching band, and had no desire to carry the geek stigma into adulthood. I’d join the Wind Ensemble so I could keep playing my French horn, but college was my chance to become something more. College was my chance to be an alluring actress, or a badass jock, or a popular politico; college was my chance to be COOL; it was my chance to be anything but the person I actually was. My marching days were behind me.

Within a week I had joined the Harvard Band. As I went around those first few days, signing up for drama club and the crew team and Model Congress, the Band was everywhere. And they were not like any marching band I had ever seen. There were no Naugahyde hats or crazy chicken-feather plumes, just tasteful crimson blazers and ties. Sure, they marched, but in a style more akin to an amoeba than an army; their shape morphed and stretched and contracted freely, yet some invisible force bound them together as a single organism.

They were loud, boisterous, actually quite musical (!), and completely shameless. What I noticed most was that no matter anyone’s feelings about the relative corniness of bands, geeks, fight songs, or school spirit, when the band was around, people simply could not help but smile. I had to go to the Band Room to audition for the Wind Ensemble, and from the moment I set foot in that Wonka-style clubhouse, I was done. As with the Borg, my resistance was futile.

Yet while the Harvard Band does assimilate anyone who is lucky enough to wander into its orbit, unlike the Borg, it takes those people and makes them stronger. I learned so much in my four years sporting my Crimson blazer. For one, I learned what hog-tying really is, and several other things about bondage that my parents would probably rather not know about. I learned to chicken fight, to Time Warp, and to always “whisper” in a library.

I learned the joy of finding sexual innuendo in almost everything, and the confidence to resist sexual out-uendo until I was ready. I learned that shorter is funnier, that anything can (and should) become a drinking game, and that it really is all fun and games until someone loses an “I”.

I learned that tradition is important, both to make new members feel instantly welcome (that’s what she said!) and to give Crusties the joy of complaining when things inevitably evolve. I learned that fights don’t mean the end of friendships, and sometimes mean the beginning. I learned the joy of welcoming everyone to the party, no matter who they chose to be – gay, straight, man, woman, or even asshole.

Most importantly, my time with the Band taught me to accept and like myself for who I am. I still did Model Congress, and lots of theatre (crew went out the window with 5am practices), and many other things that conflicted with band activities. There was often friction, and some resentment from my peers that I wasn’t as dedicated a Bandie as they were, but the Band itself always made it work. No one ever asked me to deny my other interests the way I had tried to deny my own geekery at first. Instead, I was valued for what I could contribute, and encouraged to stay as involved as possible.

By the end of my four years, I was leading the band as Manager, another position I had openly resisted (wanting a flashier role where I could be funny and cool), but then turned out to be the exact right job for me. That was the last gift the Band gave me – the faith that I don’t have to get what I want to have everything work out for the best.

This weekend, the Harvard Band reunited one more time, as we do every five years. In my worn woolen blazer, marching through Harvard Square, surrounded by new and old faces (both old-familiar and old-decrepit), gazing into the iPhones of countless tourists, I played the notes I could remember and raised my voice to the skies. Once more, a single thought dominated my mind: “This is the way to live.”

Guide right, but walk in your own style. Play your part, but don’t worry about perfection. You may not always know where you are going, but trust those around you to get you where you need to be. And do good work, but never, ever miss an opportunity to have fun along the way. Oh yeah, and whatever you do, do NOT let the bastards grind you down.

Illegitimum non carborundum my few, my happy few, my band of “others”. Happy 95th Anniversary.

Twitterpated (Ode to a Sight of Mail)

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Remember chain letters? Not email spam, or those “make a wish and send this to nine people within sixteen hours or you will die a nightmarish death” forwards you get from your Aunt Spinster every other day; I mean actual, physical, in-the-mailbox chain letters.

They used to show up every now and then when I was a kid, usually sent by some member of my Girl Scout troop or a camp friend, usually involving an idea exchange of some kind. The hardest part was copying the letter out a half-dozen times, by hand, because the typewriter was too loud and I was too slow on it. (Yeah, I said “typewriter” – remember those?)

Having teachers for parents came in handy, as sometimes I could convince my mom to add the letter to her pile of worksheets slated for the mimeograph machine at school. (Remember mimeograph – technically ‘Ditto’ – machines? Oh, that purple ink and the cool, soggy feel of fresh copies…) After making copies, the job usually entailed choosing a handful of new victims, adding my own address to the bottom of the chain, and then sending something – a recipe or reading suggestion – to whatever name was at the top of the address list.

Sure, chain letters have always been annoying, but at least back then you could respect that the person subjecting you to one had put a little effort into it. Plus, you had a real chance of getting some actual, physical something in return for passing it on. With chain emails, all the sender has to do is type your name and click a button – and with auto-fill features, they probably don’t even have to type your full name! It shouldn’t be that easy to inflict mass exasperation.

Remember sending messages by balloon? Not for accuracy, but for fun. We did a class project in elementary school where we tied note cards with little wishes or greetings on them to the strings of individual helium balloons. En masse, we released our balloons, then waited to see if any of the note cards would get a response. They bore instructions for those who stumbled upon them to write back saying who they were, whose message they had found, and where the attached balloon had come down. It was exciting to have your message found at all; if it had cleared the city limits you were a freakin’ rock star.

Nowadays, kids post a status on Facebook and ask people to share it, to see how many likes and posts and trips around the world it can complete in a week or something. Forget one person finding it, success is judged by the thousands. Sure, this method causes fewer avian deaths from choking on latex, but it just doesn’t feel as exciting to me.

Remember phone trees? That intricate system of parental communication to spread the word about school closures and game cancellations, and the political intrigue of which parents got placed how high on the list, and whether this was based on popularity or reliability or both… Screw Game of Thrones, phone trees were the real epic drama in our lives.

Remember pen pals? Remember note passing? Spending hours of your life drafting and re-drafting, deliberating and analyzing with friends, and consulting the Magic 8 Ball, all to find the exact, perfect way to say, “Do you like me? Check one: Yes ; No”… Taking great pains to fold your note with origami-master-level intricacy, and using every color of pen at your disposal to make it beautiful… Then playing your own version of “Six Degrees of That Cute Guy Kevin” to devise the most efficient but least risky network of girlfriends to get that note from your third period art class to Kevin in sixth period Algebra in secret… Remember that?

It took days of planning and weeks of working up the nerve, not to mention hours of tortuous waiting for the response. Each letter, each note, each thought was an EVENT. Now you can just text, “DTF?” and it’s all over in four characters. Where’s the beauty in that?

There used to be a romanticism to the way we communicated in the world. The difference between the past and today’s technological convenience is the difference between Shakespeare and two emoji’s depicting a milkshake and a throwing spear.

Which brings me to my point: I joined Twitter this week. I have shuffled off this Luddite coil and now will bear the whips and scorns of time… or whatever. My handle is @FFrontalNerd if you care to find me. Let’s see if we can make poetry in 140 characters or less (ahem, fewer). See you on the Dark Side!

April Fool

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The month of April during my sophomore year of college was dubbed by my roommate, “The Month of Doom.” In those few weeks, several major relationships within the Harvard Band came crashing down, and she noted that a similar string of breakups had occurred in April of our freshman year, too. Snuggled comfortably in the warmth of her new relationship, she simply shrugged and noted that there “must be something in the air.” Since one of those relationships that had so recently disintegrated was mine, and since the observation was essentially her only response to my devastation, I didn’t appreciate the sentiment all that much. Looking back, though, she was completely right.

April is the cruelest month, breeding

Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing

Memory and desire, stirring

Dull roots with spring rain. – T. S. Eliot, “The Waste Land”

April is many things – including National Poetry Month – but at its heart it is a month of transition and change; it is a month when things end, and other things begin. Historically, it has seen the start of the American Revolution, the first shots of the American Civil War, the first Olympics in over1500 years, and the first space shuttle mission. It has seen endings such as the last shots of the Civil War, the official end to slavery (with the Civil Rights Bill of 1866), the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., and the spiritual end to apartheid with the election of Nelson Mandela. As for transition, it has brought us several events that have literally shaken us to the core, including the explosion aboard Apollo 13, the sinking of the Titanic, and the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. April is also the birth and death month of one William Shakespeare.

Oh, how this spring of love resembleth

The uncertain glory of an April Day;

Which now shows all the beauty of the sun,

And by and by a cloud takes all away. – William Shakespeare, Two Gentlemen of Verona

Is it any wonder that so many relationships burst forth and die in this tumultuous spring month? That April back in sophomore year saw the end of my relationship with my first love. But the April before it had brought our first date: a romantic walk on a perfect spring night, a pause on a bridge spanning the Charles River, a lunar eclipse and a fumbling first kiss.

The April winds are magical,

And thrill out tuneful frames;

The garden walks are passional,

To bachelors and dames – Ralph Waldo Emerson, “April”

It was April again a couple of years later when I ventured to England to visit my star-crossed soul mate. We spent a week wandering through gardens, exploring museums, getting lost on beaches and in woods, and sharing long nights of conversation in cramped single beds. He met his wife the day after I left, and our relationship was really never close again, but I wouldn’t give up that week for all the happiness in the world. To me, at the time, it was all the happiness in the world.

April comes in like an idiot, babbling and strewing flowers. – Edna St. Vincent Millay, “Spring”

A few Aprils after that, I entered my first (and so far only) boyfriend cohabitation. Sure, part of the reason I agreed to the scenario was because I *knew* I would never marry him in the long run (that made it safe, you see, because I was too young to be heading down that road), but that doesn’t mean we weren’t excited and a little giddy at the idea of playing house for the first time. That, and saving major bank on the shared rent.

April is a promise that May is bound to keep. – Hal Borland (New York Times editorialist)

Then again, our giddiness at living together also didn’t stop him from deciding only two months later to pack it in and move back to the other side of the country. It took him a full year to leave, but I came away with the rent-controlled apartment. Totally worth it.

April, April,

Laugh thy girlish laughter,

Then, the moment after,

Weep thy girlish tears. – Sir William Watson, “April”

Nowadays, the month of April brings the Coachella music festival, which for me will forever be associated with saying goodbye to my second great love. One April, around the time Gnarls Barkley was a more familiar name than CeeLo Green, I realized I was in love with him and he realized he wasn’t with me. He went off to the desert swearing we would always be friends, and as far as our friendship is concerned, he never came back.

The sun was warm, but the wind was chill,

You know how it is with an April day – Robert Frost, “Two Tramps in Mud Time”

More recently, in an April only a couple of years ago, I had finally defrosted my heart and opened it again. I started the month by seeing my last serious boyfriend off on his three-week European adventure (an assignment for work). We vowed to Skype every couple of days; he took me on video tours of his London neighborhood; I tucked a few romantic notes into his luggage to be discovered over time (a practice that had become our custom). But through it all, I could tell that he was growing distant, the solo trip rekindling his wanderlust and loner spirit. The omens of that April fulfilled their promise when he returned in May. We were all over by the end of June.

Sweet April showers

Do bring May flowers – Thomas Tusser, “500 Points of Good Husbandry”

The important thing to remember is that endings are also the prologues to beginnings. The sad spring showers DO feed the growing flowers, and every one of my tumultuous Aprils have carried me forward to some other new adventure. I have no idea what this April will bring; I would rather it be the start of something than the end – unless it is the end of something bad. We have already had two pretty big earthquakes in March, so I really hope it isn’t another one of those. But no matter what, I hope that I will dive in with abandon, as I have so many Aprils in the past. Because in the end…

…the first of April is the day we remember what we are the other 364 days of the year. – Mark Twain

I will always be an April fool.