Summer is here!

Summer has come to USM!

We hope you all have a chance to relax! Some of you may still be taking classes, or working..or all the other stuff that happens in life. We still hope you get a chance to relax over the next few months.

Marco Polo will be back in September!

Thank you for following us. We look forward to seeing you again!


Also- We are looking for new writers and editors. Are you a USM student? Do you have something to say? Join us! Contact with your name, contact e-mail, and why you want to write for us!

If you have work study, and would be interested in editing the Marco Polo blog, we’d love to hear from you too!!


Rape Culture and Consent by Brian McNally

Last year, a young woman in Ohio was raped. Her attackers took photo and video evidence of the attack, and bragged about it through texting, Twitter, and other social mediums. The attackers referred to themselves as the “Rape Crew”, and they were popular boys who played on the high school football team. Her case went to trial, and the media reported on it. During the trial, internet users berated, insulted, blamed, and dismissed her. When her assailants were found guilty, major news outlets like CNN lamented the damage the charges would have on the boys’ futures, ignoring the lasting emotional, psychological, and physical damages that the victim, referred to as “Jane Doe” by the media, has to live with for the rest of her life. Fox News even leaked Jane Doe’s real name. And now, one of the boys is trying to appeal the decision saying that he isn’t fully mentally capable of understanding his actions.

And people think rape culture isn’t real.

Maybe it’s because they don’t understand what rape culture is. Let’s start with what it isn’t. Rape culture doesn’t mean that every man is going to rape someone in his lifetime. Rape culture doesn’t mean that men should always be afraid of having sex with a woman. Rape culture doesn’t mean that we need to immediately crucify anyone accused of rape.

It does mean that 1 in 5 women will be raped in their lifetime. It does mean that only a “yes” or other clear, positive affirmation means consent. It does mean that we need to believe the victim when they come forward with an accusation.

I know a lot of women and female-identified people (a group for whom the likelihood of being sexually assaulted is even greater). That is to say, I know a LOT more than 5 of them. Rape isn’t something that happens to “sluts” in “provocative” clothing, walking down a dark alley after a night of drinking. Rape is anytime anyone is forced to have sex after they say “no”, or after they don’t give consent in another way, such as simply not giving consent. It’s when someone emotionally manipulates their partner into having sex, even when they don’t want to. It’s when a long-time partner ignores their partner’s rejection. And it’s certainly when teenaged boys sexually assault and violate a passed-out teenaged girl.

And yet, some people still think that if the victim drank too much, they deserved their attack. If the victim dressed in a certain way, they were asking for it. If the victim didn’t try to fight back, they secretly enjoyed it.

The American Medical Association says that sexual violence is the most under-reported type of violent crime, and these beliefs are why. Victims shouldn’t be told that their ability to control their sexual autonomy was completely invalidated by alcohol, or their outfit. Victims shouldn’t be told that they are making up the assault because their assailant “isn’t that kind of guy”. Worse, victims shouldn’t be told they shouldn’t press charges because of their attacker’s “bright future”.

Believe victims. Support victims. Care for victims.

Film v.s. Literature….by Bill McCormick

       I was in class the other day, half listening to a discussion on the general effects of literature. The subject was redirected somehow to directly compare film against literature. The overall consesis of the discussion being that people would rather see a movie than read the literature it is based on. Not only that, but this is wrong and film is nowhere near the level of storytelling quality when compared to literature.

                Let me tell you guys something. I love reading. I don’t do it as often as I should, but anything I read. I always have fun. Literature is important not just to me, but in general. It is a dream of mine to write both a film trilogy and a novel series. The two are of equal value to me. The opinion that film is incomparable in the most general sense to literature to be an idea that is throw around in a classroom like it is a stone cold fact is not only offensive, but it is flat out wrong. What no one seems to recognize is the fact that a large portion of films are either inspired by, or developed directly from literature. Not only that, but films are only made after developing a written screenplay either from literature or originally. This screenplay is just as imaginative to the mind visually as literature. Perhaps even more so since everything in a script is specifically written and meant to be seen visually in some way. A script isn’t magically easier to write than a novel just because the final product doesn’t stay on the page. Whether it is original or adapted, a film starts from the written page. People always seem to forget that fact.

                Now, literature and film are two things which can work together in my world and support each other. I certainly don’t choose between the two. When the two work together, I can fully appreciate both separately. I don’t understand why other people can’t. This is especially true of people who go and see movies from books they love. Do you know what these people all have in common? None of them are satisfied with the film. Ever. There is always something missing, it was changed from the book, or actors don’t look like the character or blah blah blah. I get it. You read the book first and are directly comparing the film to it. That doesn’t make the film wrong because it differs from the book and it doesn’t make the book better because it differs from the film. Its called an adaption for a reason.

                If you give me the choice, I will watch the movie first and then read the book. If I know a film is being made directly from a book I haven’t read. I won’t touch it until after I see the movie. This is daunting to people. How dare I? Well guess what, I don’t have anything to complain about while watching the movie do I? No, I get to watch it fresh and clean the first time just like you did reading it. Guess what, the story is still effective the first time. Also if it is interesting enough to me than I will read the book almost immediately after I see the movie. I’ll pick up on all the stuff that was either changed or left out just like you did. The difference is the film doesn’t get worse because I read the book. The book gets better because I saw the movie. Think about it. All the extra scenes and missing stuff gets added to the mythology and I get to see the same story told two different ways. I basically get to experience the same story twice and both are rewarding in their own right. On the other hand, if I find a good novel and read it before a film is made than so be it. I have no qualms about seeing it in theaters afterward. I can separate the two because I take the elements of the novel and see it onscreen totally happy. Same story, two different ways of telling it. Do I notice things are changed or missing? Of course I do, but I’m not uptight about it. The film doesn’t have to be a carbon copy of the book just because it would please people who have read the book first. What is the point of that? Just read the book again.

                At the time, my girlfriend begged me to read the Hunger Games novels before the movie came out. I refused until after the first movie. Did I see the first movie and then read the novel and say, “The film is so much better than the novel?” and start picking apart the novel? Of course not and why? I don’t look down on films for being based on literature I’ve read. I don’t judge books for being the inspiration for the film I’ve seen. Does anyone make that argument ever? This high and mighty opinion of literature over film makes no sense to me. This “don’t take it seriously” aura of films is what is daunting to me. I mean really, what makes you’re experience of laying in bed or sitting in a library and reading so much better and more important than me sitting in a theater or laying on the couch and watching a film. I’m not talking about comparing War and Peace to reality tv. I’m not taking about Citizen Kane to Thirty Shades of Grey. I just don’t understand the ultimate debate that one is better than the other or especially, that I have to choose one or the other. I’m a huge fan of Batman despite rarely reading the comic books. I’m willing to bet a ton of people are exactly the same. This argument is the equivalent of comic book geeks saying the Batman movies suck because they don’t follow the comic books. It’s just pretentious and I already explained that it doesn’t go both ways. It is possible to love both the novel and the film. Yet, people will fawn over a book they love and hate the film because it wasn’t the novel. No kidding? Not to mention the fact that people who do this rarely understand any of the effort or struggle it takes not only to write a screenplay, but to transition pages from a novel like that into a film that works and appeals on its own. That is a lot of hype to deal with and taking it out on the filmmakers for doing something new with well known material really handicaps them for doing their job and doing it well. It’s unfair.

                Despite what you read or see on screen, both work on their own. Look at what Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings have been able to accomplish in two industries. People love both separately. Why is there a double standard on every other novel turned film? A lot of this is because of the two to three hour standard of movies. Would you watch a four, five or even six hour Harry Potter film? I would in a heartbeat and you know what? Everyone would be satisfied. Unfortunately, the people don’t want that and film studios don’t want that either. Hollywood cares about the money and these people pay for a ticket to a movie they will just complain about. As long as this comparison exists and film isn’t given its due, than people will continue to complain about something that is out of anyone’s control. Despite your side, the last thing film represents is a lower standard of storytelling just because the final product is on screen and not strictly on the page.

My Not-So-Secret Addiction by Kelsea Dunham

I’m sitting at a desk in the Student Government Association office, trying to find something to write about.  I ponder writing about my February break trip to Universal and Wizarding World of Harry Potter.  Actually writing about the art walk crosses my mind.  So do Student Body President elections (of which I’m a candidate) and an upcoming burlesque show that I have.  Nope.  None of them are right.

So, while I wait, I pull a bottle of nail polish out of my bag, to give my hands something to do while I think.  As the gold polish gets spread on my fingernails, I realize I have found my muse.  My nail polish addiction.

It all got started when I decided to stop biting my nails.  It’s a gross, dirty habit, and one that I’d had my entire life.  It was time for it to stop, so, being the femme that I am, I decided that if my nails were painted, I’d be able to resist the urge to gnaw on them a bit.  Well, it worked.  A little too well.

I loved having my nails painted.  Nail polish – cheap bottles at Target – became my go to self-reward.  I figured that if my partner could spend $4 at a time on a cup of coffee, I could spend $5 here and there on a bottle of nail polish.

As I got more and more obsessed with this idea of having my nail polish, I realized I needed more color options then Target could offer me.  I branched out into the world of high quality nail polish.  

My favorite high quality brand is Julep.  They have awesome colors, and they have what’s called the Maven program.  Their polish is expensive – usually $14 a bottle!  But, if you join the Maven program, for $20 a month, they will send you 2 bottles of the month, based on your style profile, along with something else.  For the something else, I’ve got cuticle oil, pedi cream, an eyelash curler.  You can also earn points, which you can put towards a free month or an add on color, if you love a color that’s outside your style profile.  Broke and can’t afford a month.  Trust me, I have been there!  You can skip a month.  Go check them out!  

Another fancy brand that I love is Zoya.  Once again, pricey, but cheaper then Julep, at $8 a bottle.  Zoya has literally thousands of colors to chose from, and they often run deals on their site, if you sign up for emails.  Recently, I got three bottles for $10, with free shipping, just by keeping my eye on my email.  Their polish lasts forever on me, which is saying something, considering I knit in class and do a LOT of dishes at my house.  They also have the coolest glittered and textured polishes in the market.  Take a peek!

Some days, though, I just can’t wait for polish to come in the mail.  On the days when I’m really desperate, I hit up the clearance sections at Walgreens and CVS, where I’ve got some really great deals.

I won’t admit exactly how many bottles of nail polish I have (because I don’t know!), but I will let you in on my little secret stress reliever.  What’s yours?

Remembering Why by Sam Hill

Hello USM!

It’s been so long since I had to write a blog post that I pretty much forgot it was a thing even after Kelsea reminded me yesterday. Luckily, Crystal happened to be hanging out in the lounge of our hall in Gorham and reminded me.

The problem is, I have a million and one things to do. All the time.  Right now I should be transcribing a half-hour interview for a thousand-word story that I have to have completed and to my editor by midnight.  Being a journalist is rough, even at the university level.
Throughout working at the Free Press for a semester and a half now, I’ve thought about quitting a hundred times. With having to deal with writers not making deadlines, copyeditors tearing my work to pieces, working 20 hours most weekends and eating leftover pizza for just about every meal,  it’s not exactly an ideal job choice.

But this past weekend I had an experience that kind of changed my attitude.

Last Friday night, I drove up to Lewiston to see this band called Skösh play. I had never actually listened to their music or even had a chance to look into them much before I set out. A friend I work with had mentioned them to me, there are USM students in the band and they had just won the Young & Free Maine 2013 Soundoff (Which is awesome. They get free recording time and get to play at Kahbang music festival this summer), so it was worth taking a look. Sometimes you just have to take a risk and go with what you’ve got in front of you. I had no idea what to expect. I had talked to their drummer and vocalist, Jedidiah, over email a bit and he seemed excited, but who isn’t about free promotion, right?

So anyway, I get there and they’re awesome. I mean, I don’t go to see a lot of live music, but these guys have to be one of the most upbeat, energetic bands I’ve watched. They played a set of covers at Fusion, this Ramada Inn up there, and EVERYONE is dancing all over the place to these guys. From Lynyrd Skynyrd to 2pac to everything Top 40 to that god-awful Gangnam Style song. All of it is funky and they twisted every song to give it a little of their own flavor.

In between their sets I got to sit down and talk with them. Just talked with them. I wouldn’t even call it an interview because it was so relaxed. I basically just got to hangout with them and record our conversation.

I don’t want to get into too much detail (because I have a lot of other things to do tonight), but it was the most, if only, fun I’ve had being a journalist. I was so excited to write the story when I drove back to Portland that I accidentally got in the northbound lane and drove to Augusta before turning around. I was pissed, but pumped up enough to let it slide.

Wrote the story. It was really easy because everyone was so interesting. Simple. Loved it.

Jump back into the real world of journalism.

The story is too big, copy editors found out that I can’t actually write. Once printed, the delivery guy flaked and the paper didn’t even get out til Tuesday night. Tuesday! It sucks not being able to see your work immediately. It’s like carrying a baby, giving birth and having a doctor tell you he’ll go grab it for you when he gets around to it.

Okay, I might be exaggerating, but still. The story is posted online though, which is cool, except no one really reads online. Or so I thought.

I’m walking through Bullmoose on Tuesday night, buying cheap books to get rid of some stress and an employee comes up to me.

“Hey, you work for the Free Press, right?”

Jesus Christ. What’d I do? We only ever get feedback when we messed something up. I said yes. Apparently she is dating the bassist from the band and was at the show on Friday. She loved the article and thought I took some great photos, too.

This was the first time I had been approached about a story and gotten such positive feedback (Minus my ex-girlfriend when she told me she read all my stories.)

When I get home I see that the band shared the article on their Facebook page and are loving it! I couldn’t stop smiling after seeing people enjoying my work.

I feel completely rejuvenated and have promised my editor that I won’t quit for a while.

I know this was kind of a brain dump, but if you can take anything from this it’s that you need to stick with things. Life’s rough. Everyone has awful things going on that are stressing them out til they can’t sleep at night. The real rewards come when you can make yourself work through that. Really. Whatever you’re doing right now, keep doing it. I promise it’ll be worth it eventually.

Pivots in Academia by guest blogger, Philip Shelly

I am a non-traditional student (a euphemism for “old”) from New York, where I spent most of my life as an alcoholic rock musician, working in bars and bookstores. With the coming of the internet in the late-90s, I somehow wandered into the world of interactive advertising, where I was able to put my creative and conceptual skills (especially as a writer) to good use, and I ended up staying there for a decade, becoming (with a lot of help) gratefully sober along the way. I learned a lot about how the business world works (hence, really how the world works, stuff that blew my bohemian mind) and the experience helped me grow up a lot.

But I also realized that ultimately it was unfulfilling, and not good for my soul to create advertising and work in an office. By then I was in my mid-40s, and I had to come up with an escape plan quickly. I wanted to get out of New York, I wanted to do something that contributed to the community and was not evil. I wanted to stay close to books, my first and greatest love. A nearby ocean would be nice. Those were my criteria. So I came to USM to pursue my newly formulated goal of becoming a high school English teacher.

This is an incredibly pivotal time in the world of academia and education, and I feel incredibly lucky to find myself in the thick of it. There is perhaps no other major area of our society where so many culturally critical issues are currently being so hotly contested: the proper uses and limits of technology; the rapidly evolving demographic and linguistic makeup of the US; and the battle over whether certain institutions should publicly or privately held. At USM I have already been given several interrelated opportunities to start grappling with some of these issues.

Along with my classes, I knew that if I wanted to find a job in the future, it would be important to get as much experience as I possibly could working with high school students. Some kind of part-time volunteer work in a high school would help me get a taste of the job and see if I really wanted to do it, and also help me figure out if I was actually any good at it. On a more crassly mercenary level, it would also look good on my resume to have logged all these hours, and, assuming I did well, I would be making valuable connections in Portland’s tight-knit educational community, and working for people who could provide (hopefully) stellar recommendations to future prospective employers. (Another immediate practical benefit: writing about my experiences in Make It Happen helped me win a scholarship in 2012.)

One of the great things about USM (and colleges in general) is the way they provide resources for the surrounding communities, and are plugged into so many aspects of life – including, of course, educational life. So it wasn’t long before I found the office of Office of Community Service Learning on the Portland campus, where I met some very nice (but not ick-ily nice) people and was quickly matched up with a volunteer gig at Deering High School, as an Academic Coach in a program called Make It Happen for non-native English speakers (mostly African and Asian immigrants), helping them with any writing or schoolwork they have. This can be anything from homework, to papers, college essays, to research, or to just taking over certain ideas and concepts. There are math and science tutors, as well, but I am terrible in those subjects.

Anyhow, that was two years ago when I first started at Make It Happen, and it paid off more wonderfully than I could have ever imagined. For one thing, it is both pleasantly surprising and heartening to discover that pedagogical theories learned in my USM classes can actually be very effective when working with high school students. But really the main thing is, it is just a great group of people, and we almost always have fun, do good, interesting work, and share a great learning experience. No doubt, I learn as much from the students as they learn from me: about their (often) different cultures, sure, but also how to listen better, and to be more attentive, more kind, and more engaged myself.

I think I am lucky to be at Deering, where the culture of Make it Happen is pretty strong and self-sustaining. And for me, the more the students know me, the more I am able to help them – there is no substitute for time and relationships. Although weather and holidays seemed to disrupt the schedule a lot (I admit I do not always feel like driving over there, although I am always happy once I get there), I was also able to help outside school a little bit, giving students rides home, taking some kids on a USM campus visit, and participating in a Video Release Party.

I was once asked to sum up my work at Make It Happen, and I said the following, which, though it seems a little corny (even to me) is heartfelt, and I think, true; I will carry this lesson for the rest of my life:

“To me, what’s so impressive about Make It Happen is how focused the program is on fostering strong relationships and a sense of community. I am learning that when you have relationships and community, you can accomplish anything; and of course, when you don’t have them, it’s nearly impossible to accomplish anything.”

An Ode To My Crock Pot…by Julia Pond

I’m going to go out on a limb here and make a grand statement. Are you ready?

The Crock Pot is the greatest kitchen equipment a busy commuter student can buy!

Since my mom handed me the gently used, 80’s era, stone brown Crock, I’ve learned a ton about the convenience of slow cooking.


(Yep…that’s the one my mom got when she was newly married over 30 years ago!)

 So.  Yea. That’s my post. Buy a Crock-Pot.

Until next time….

WAIT! No! Recipes…that’s what I do! I share awesome ideas that make your life easier!

Here are some links to get you started:

This blog is all about cooking in your slow cooker for an entire year! Yea. I know. That’s a ton of ideas.

And…for all you dessert people out there:

Don’t forget to check out your local library too! There are always cookbooks that you can grab for free. Or you can pick up one at the book store. Amazon has a good selection. I’ve used this one in the past:

My latest slow cooking culinary adventure was to make shredded chicken fajitas. Here are the details:

You’ll need:

An onion (or 2 or 3…depending on how large your onions are…and how much you like onions)

3 bell pepper- I used one red, one green and one yellow. They basically taste the same. But the yellow and red are pretty (and you eat with your eyes first!)

3 chicken breasts

1 package of taco seasoning- I used the hot and spicy version. Use whatever you want. (you could also just use salt, pepper, chili pepper, garlic powder and cumin)

1 Lime

Put the peppers and onions in first, then the chicken, then the spices.

Cook on low for 8 hours, or high for 4.

Once done-use a few forks to shred the chicken.

Squeeze on the lime juice, and stir it all up

Enjoy with some tortillas and your favorite toppings.

Ok, there you go. Let me know what you decide to try! Leave a comment below! And, if you have a suggestion for a food topic for the next post I do, let me know!

Peace Out!


Hooked on History by Lucie Tardif

Who knew college could be so much fun? That has been a constant surprise to me these past few years. The current semester, though, has topped them all.

I had long wanted to take a class in Maine history, so I was ripe for History of Maine. (If you ever have a chance to take a course with Professor Libby Bischof, grab it and run! She’s fantastic!) Libby, though, makes it even more fun. One of our assignments is to make ten visits to historic sites in Maine (although there are plenty one can do here in the Portland area) and create a one-page journal entry for each via creation of a blog (and, no, this isn’t it), a handwritten notebook or a standard multi-page paper.

We were given a list of suggested sites, but I, personally, like to get off the beaten path and do things others might not do, which meant trucking off to my hometown of Winslow. I was nearly salivating at the prospect of these visits. I love this stuff, and I love playing tourist. Winter break was a perfect time to get going.

I had recently learned there was a marker on Lithgow Street in Winslow, commemorating where Benedict Arnold and his 1100 men disembarked from the Kennebec on their expedition to Quebec. I had long known Arnold had stopped at Fort Halifax nearby, but I had never known about this rock. I lived in Winslow from age 4 to 27 – 23 years. How had I missed that? Though Lithgow Street is not especially close to the house where I grew up, I spent many hours there at the Public Library. Back then, the river side of the street was lined with homes, but all but one of them (further up and on higher ground) were wiped out in the flood of 1987. (Fort Halifax went for a swim, too, but was retrieved and rebuilt.)


I figured the rock may be small and covered in snow at this point, but it was worth a shot. As I rounded the bend at the beginning of the street, I could see the rock at the other end – completely bare of snow. It’s larger than I expected (about the same size Plymouth Rock is now), and on it is a plaque indicating Benedict Arnold had landed there in 1775. Amazing!

I also visited Railroad Square Cinema in Waterville. One might argue, “How is that historic?” Believe me, it is (and my instructor’s personal interest in history lies in the arts)! Railroad Square Cinema, by virtue of its founders, has put Maine on the film industry map with the creation of the Maine International Film Festival. The likes of actors Peter Fonda (sister of Jane, son of Henry), Sissy Spacek, Karen Black, Ed Harris; director Jonathan Demme; and Martin Scorsese’s film editor, Thelma Schoonmaker, have graced Waterville with their presence during the festival. I was charmed by the facility, its former owners (who have sold to the newly-established Maine Film Center) and wish I’d had some popcorn – made on premises and smells divine! (You can’t get popcorn like that at the movies anymore.)

The very next day I headed up to Skowhegan and the Margaret Chase Smith Library. That is an amazing place honoring an amazing woman! I didn’t realize she had represented Maine (in either the House or Senate) for 32 years and through six presidencies (FDR through Nixon). The walls to the right as you enter begin to chronicle her life and political service, year by year from when she was born in 1897 to when she died in 1995 at age 97 (on Memorial Day, no less – how appropriate for a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee).

By the time I left over an hour later, I was in total awe of Margaret Chase Smith. I only regret I never got to meet her. (I did once meet her Democratic peer in the Senate, Edmund Muskie.) I watched a 20-minute video of her life and service and commented afterward that our entire current Congress should see that video!

This class, too, has had an interesting domino effect on my life and quite possibly my prospective life’s work. I joined the Maine Historical Society soon after the semester began and started receiving e-mail updates from them. I discovered the Portland History Docent (yes, PHD) training program. Since our course required a final project, I figured chronicling that program in some way would make a great one. My instructor agreed. I am now in docent training. (Great way to get site visits in for my other assignment, too!)

That led to an interesting connection. I am taking Photojournalism this semester, too, and one way to get extra credit (which I will go for every chance I get) is to snap a picture that gets published in a legit newspaper, magazine or website. I learned Greater Portland Landmarks publishes a quarterly newspaper for its members. I wondered if they needed any pictures of buildings for what was likely to be an upcoming issue. The first person I contacted seemed to think I couldn’t get anything in the next edition, coming right up, but she forwarded my message to the responsible person. That woman said they were “desperate” for pictures of two buildings to accompany an article going in the spring issue. I was out the door with my camera, and they were thrilled with the shots. I’ll get my extra credit, and Greater Portland Landmarks is eager to have me take more. (They are working on a list.) I am just as eager to do it!

Now, I wonder how I might combine degrees in Media Studies and English and a minor in history into a job? The more history I’m exposed to, the more I want to work in it!

Slightly Sarcastic Suggestions for Wooing Your Someone by Mea Tavares

Quick editor’s note before we get started on the amazingness that is this post: We here at Marco Polo have decided that since next week is Winter Break here at USM, we’re going on break, too!  Our editor is already in Florida, updating this poolside, and well, that’s enough of that work thing.  Tune back in the day classes start back up, and we’ll have a new post for you.  Back to your regularly scheduled blogging.

Also, be sure to enjoy this post responsibly!

Ohhkay, so it’s my first post and I get the honor of writing for you on this most auspicious of days. Let’s face it – whether it’s met with excited anticipation, heavy-looming dread or blatant denial, we all have our own special relationship with the big VD (that’s Valentines Day, smart alec, but convenient that the initials also bear a reminder to play safely, regardless of the sort of amorous activities you may partake in. Coincidence? I think not.) It is in this spirit that would I like to offer you “A Local’s Guide to Dating in Portland”; otherwise known as: “Slightly Sarcastic Suggestions for Wooing Your Someone”.

So what kind of suggestions can I give you for Valentine’s Day that you
don’t already know? Well, I’ve lived in this town for a whole lot of
years (often more than I would care to admit to the freshmen class)
and in those years I’ve been on a lot of dates. Many of those dates have been
awesome. Some of them have been painfully awkward (to the tune of “you
didn’t tell me she was your ex…that makes so much more sense now..”),
and some of them I count myself as lucky that we didn’t wind up
finishing the adventure in a holding cell  (“I swear, officer, I had
no idea that was frowned upon in this fine state.”) So, I beg of you, pick up a hint or two, or at least learn from my mistakes.

Don’t have a special someone? That’s A-OKAY. Much of this will apply
to you too, my unpaired electron friend. Perhaps you’re looking for
another particle, charged and ready to take a spin, or maybe you’re
happy being a free-radical. Either way, I salute you. Valentine’s Day this year falls on a Thursday, which is Portland’s Friday. (Or Saturday, or any other day that ends in “y”, really. Let’s face it, this city likes its booze.) So that means, for you 21+ folks, you’ve got a lot of night-time options for flashing your bird-of-paradise best.

Maybe you’d like to show off your impressive knowledge of the latest fads in handcrafted infusion blends (strawberry jalapeno vodka, lavender pear martinis, elderberry liqueur, I swear – Portlanders will never tire of finding new things to soak in liquor.) I’ve often eyed the prominently displayed clear glass jars of fruits and sometimes spices that line the bar at Sonny’s, which is elbowing its way to the top of the chic-infusion-hot-spots list. If you want to try one of their signature cocktails, calculated elbowing is a skill to acquire – it’s a popular place and it sometimes requires the artful navigation of a ninja to get an order in. The atmosphere and the unique blends you can get there  do make it worth it.

Or maybe your style is more along the lines of raising a suggestive eyebrow to the captivating stranger under the Bud Light sign while the dollar draft you’ve covertly purchased is slid their way. For such opaque-cup debauchery, my top pick is always the downstairs bar at the Asylum. Sure, it’s a dark, often-sweaty basement where people dance too close and your friends sends your drink flying with his foot when Lady Gaga comes on (…or maybe that’s only happened to me) but either way, isn’t that what you’re there for? With $2.50 well drinks every Thursday and a “retro” playlist that has been played in exactly the same order for so many weeks that it is, in and of itself, “retro”, the Asylum is the kind of “no-facades, just throw your coat in the corner with all the other black hoodies and dance” kind of place in which the predictable seediness is almost, in some way, comforting. And, for a “straight bar”, it’s a place for all types. So whoever you wanna dance close with, you’re all good. You’re all one big family in the sweaty basement together. (Romantic, huh?)

If it’s an intimate setting you’re looking for, one of my top picks is always the Bar of Chocolate on Wharf St.  As the name suggests, they’ve got some decadent dessert options (including a creme brulee that I credit as helping a friend through a major breakup) and a list of martinis in which you can’t possibly go wrong.  But for a small, quiet place and a great semi-fancy date that won’t break the bank, the Bar of Chocolate is your place.

Local 188 and the newer and much-talked-about LFK, both towards the west end of town, are also on par in their swanky-suave ambiance and fancy selection to moderately priced ratio. LFK also boasts a functioning vintage typewriter where guests can wax poetic; and if you were the lucky recipient of a collaboratively written, gin-fueled erotic story my friends and I left there this summer, well, you’re welcome.

I wouldn’t be doing my job as a moonlighting burlesque performer if I didn’t give a shout out to my friends who are performing tonight in what has all the makings of a sultry, bawdy, riotous and downright-fantastic show, which leads me to my next recommendation. Portland’s very own school-board-representative-by-day-burlesque-queen-by-night, Holly Danger, has pulled together some of Portland’s finest burlesque performers, ranging from classical burlesque (Vivian Vice of Whistlebait Burlesque) to queer neo-burlesque of the Dirty Dishes Burlesque Revue, (If you don’t know the difference, GO. There’s nothing like immersion to really create a genuine learning experience) along with a couple of performers who are new to me. “Brentney Schmears”? Um. that’s amazing! But seriously, burlesque shows are a great way to celebrate a night of all-things-love. Go with your date, go alone, either way, you’re guaranteed to have an awesome time. The show is at Geno’s Rock Club on Congress St, starting at 9pm. The ticket is slightly steep for a student budget – $12 (or $10 if you wear red), but, hey, it’s the first month of the semester so that student refund and tax return that are both supposed to last you until May still seem abundant. Go on, live a little.

If you’ve not yet attained the linear years where this country deems
you ready to experience tequila or tassles, worry not – you are not
barred from fun! I realize I’ve been writing a lot about places where
the primary activity is drinking. (But hey – play to your strengths?)
No – in all seriousness – there is a LOT you can do in this town that
does not involve booze. Even for folks who are 21+, some of the best
things in Portland happen in all ages or 18+ venues. Like, for
instance, SPACE Gallery, is always doing awesome things. Some of the
best shows I’ve ever been to have been at SPACE, including last year
when my friends and I did an impromptu performance with a 15+ piece
radical marching band whose lead drummer wears a monkey mask, wherein
they led the entire crowd of 200+ people into the alley across the
street and my friends and I did a 4-person fire dance (don’t worry,
we’re “professionals”) as everyone crammed in and danced and the sound
bounced through the city streets. SPACE is so awesome that, even
though they don’t have anything going on for Valentines Day (what the
heck?) they were worth mentioning, because I only get a couple of
these blogs over the semester and they’re a place you should darn well
know about.

But right – I was writing about Valentines Day. I did plenty of wooing
before I was 21 (…remember the allusion to “awkward” dates? yeah.
see my years of 18-25.) and honestly, a lot of it is about making your
own fun. But really, that’s pretty flippin’ romantic. Train bridges,
tree-climbing, abandoned buildings (okay, so these were my 18-25 year
old self’s ideas of good dates, which might be slightly different from
yours – and I don’t think USM wants me telling you to violate any laws
[see the next allusion to my dating history: interactions with local
law enforcement] but the basics are the same – making something out of
nothing, just because you like someone, is a really awesome gesture.)
As for things you can do in the city, something an old housemate of
mine was really into was heading down to Color Me Mine on Commercial
Street, which is a place where, for a small studio fee, you can paint your
own mugs, plates, all kinds of stuff, and have it professionally fired
in a kiln. She used to take herself on dates and come home with
artfully decorated bowls, cups and coasters, often with lewd sentences
she found amusing hand-painted in elegant cursive. They often run
2-for-1 specials on studio fees, or waive them altogether for certain
nights of the week. What’s sweeter than going out and making coffee
mugs with your person that you can then trade, and think of one
another when you have your morning coffee? And hey – if you break up,
you can then get the catharsis of blasting some Alanis Morisette (or I
guess, what, Taylor Swift for you traditional students?) and smashing
said decorative ceramics in your driveway. (Call me the eternal
optimist…but for real, a friend of mine at the U of Guelph swears by
plate-smashing as her preferred stress-reliever.)

Here’s another one – if you maybe hadn’t noticed, we just got a metric
crap-ton of snow. (We scientists use the metric system to ensure
consistent communication of our methods and findings) And what’s more
romantic than snow? (oh, I dunno, a tropical vacation? Or going
anywhere that isn’t freezing? my girlfriend would contest
this point with me, but I hold steadfast in this belief.) But
seriously – get a thermos and some sleds, fill up with your warm
beverage of choice (and if you’re extra thrifty, buy it at a USM food
location and put it on your student ID to avoid the sales tax –
because nothing says “sex god” like saving 7 cents on the dollar.) and
go have yourself some good ol’ fashioned fun. If you’re like me, you
will also recognize this as an opportunity to have an impromptu walrus
battle. …however, I am slowly learning that there are very few
people who are, in fact, “like me”, and nearly daily I become more and
more grateful that my girlfriend finds this somehow charming… but
basically, find some sort of flat, sled-able-thing, bring something
warm, and make your own fun. now that’s classic romance. and while
you’re at it, walk to school. preferably up-hill both ways.

All of these suggestions are, of course, only a teeny, tiny sampling
of all of the awesome things you could be doing tonight. (or just
staying home and relaxing, whether it be with a someone/some someones
or just your bad self) and tonight may come and go for you without any
significance. But I’m somewhat of a utilitarian, so most of these
suggestions can be used any time. And for some of the nuts and bolts
of important skill-sets for the day, USM is providing some good
healthy relationship and safer sex workshops for all students to check
out. And, to use some collegiate language, for those of you who are
past the 101 and want to get into some higher-level-lovin-learnin,
Nomia, “Portland’s first women owned and operated erotic boutique”
offers not only quality products and inspirationally knowledgeable
staff, but they also have an incredible range of small, totally
non-intimidating classes on a diverse range of topics, of which
couples or solo folks are all encouraged to go. (I once went to a
workshop wherein I learned about the power dynamics of giving and
receiving intentional energy by throwing a stuffed lobster back and
forth between a line of my friends.) Seriously, this is not your
average shame-based-marketing, “dirty” this or “novelty” that shop.
Whether you go in on Valentines Day, your partner’s birthday, or
Thursdays, you will feel welcome, safe and comfortable, and it is a
Portland experience everyone should have.

So, with that, you’ve got suggestions ranging from classic burlesque
fan dances to hot coca and sledding. Whatever you do, I hope you have
a fantastic night. Remember – consent is not only awesome but
fundamental, and applicable to everyone – regardless of what
adventures your evening might contain. If I can give you one
recommendation that is a steadfast, all-the-time thing, it’s that one.

Until next time!

Speak Up and Out by Crystal Farrington

Hello!  I hope you all survived Blizzard Nemo without any problems.  I, myself, feel that throughout the snowy mess that has been Nemo’s presence in Maine, poetry has been the best salve.  How else to soothe my cabin/dorm fever and angst over digging my car out of a four foot drift of cold stuff?  This means that I have so much to share with you all!  Not only have I recently been obsessed with watching YouTube videos of slam poet Sarah Kay, but I’ve gotten my hands on some information on features coming to our area that are worth killing for!  (Not really, but kind of.)

So, I suppose some of you might be wondering “Who the heck is this Sarah Kay lady?”  Allow me to educate you, please.  Ms. Kay is a spoken word artist from New York City who graduated from the United Nations International School, Brown University, and Brown University Graduate School’s Masters Program in the Art of Teaching Secondary English.  I know, she’s stinking brilliant.  She is the founder and co-director of Project V.O.I.C.E or Vocal Outreach Into Creative Expression with Phil Kaye (also an amazing poet).  This organization celebrates expression and encourages folks to use Spoken Word Poetry to better themselves and the world around them.  She is one of the many examples of how far loving and staying faithful in poetry can take you.  This young lady has been a speaker at the TED 2011 conference, the 2011 Cannes Lions Creativity Festival in France, a featured poet on Russell Simmons presents HBO Def Poetry Jam, and countless other marvelous and sometimes international stages.

There are certain poems I have come across in my life that stick with me permanently, and Sarah’s poem “If I Should Have a Daughter” is one of them.  After about ten seconds into hearing this poem for the first time I was nodding my head and smiling hugely at every single line.  “This life will hit you, hard, in the face wait for you to get back up just so it can kick you in the stomach.  But getting the wind knocked out of you is the only way to remind your lungs how much they like the taste of air,” has to be one of my favorite quotes from her poems.  She’s powerful, and I recommend her work to any person who isn’t afraid to feel.  She will bring out the best and worst in you, believe me.  Don’t hesitate to watch those videos, I know you’re curious!

Now, about those features I mentioned earlier…there are four venues in New Hampshire and Maine that I recommend for everyone with a will and a way to get to them.  Every Sunday at 6:30 at Dobra Tea is Rhythmic Cypher (RC), every Monday at 9:00 at the wonderful Mama’s Crowbar is a 21+ reading named Poetry on Tap, Tuesdays at 7:30 belong to Port Veritas (PV) at Bull Feeney’s for just $3.00/person or two for $5.00, and last but certainly not least is Slam Free or Die (SFOD) in Manchester, NH at Millie’s Tavern on Thursday nights at 7:30 for $3.00/person.  Each of these events is 18+ (Poetry on Tap is 21+, as a reminder) unless you have a parent or guardian with you due to the places they are located, except for RC which is an all ages venue.  Every night these wondrous events have open mics that are for everyone who wishes to read or perform poetry then there is a feature of some well-known poet or another.  They are not to be missed!

Features coming up these next week that I swear will KNOCK YOUR DARN SOCKS OFF are *drum roll* Hallie Noah, a local performance poet living right here in Portland who will be at Mama’s Crowbar on Monday the 11th; Ellyn Touchette, Port Veritas’s Women of the World Slam Winner on Tuesday the 12th at Bull Feeney’s (that’s 7:30, by the way); and Wil “1L” Gibson and Jen Jacques at SFOD at Millie’s Tavern on Thursday night, now this lovely couple will also be releasing their first collaborative book together that night.  WARNING: because it will be Valentine’s Day on Thursday, SFOD will have an erotic poetry reading.  Now, to have all of these things happening in one week is probably overkill for our poor corner of New England.  ALL of the incredible talent and love!  Please, go to as many as you possibly can!

If you have any questions or would just like to talk to me, please feel free to email me at  I’m more than happy to share my love and passion for this art form and its community with you!  I’ll leave you with this parting I heard after my first time going to an open mic, “You don’t have to go home but you can’t stay here.”  Have a beautiful week.

–          Crystal