Joan Calof

Oh, how I dread my new computer
Hate taking on that talking head
It really ruins my day
To hear that robot say
Your keychain is gone
Your e-mail is wrong
You can’t turn me on
This morning
Someday I’m going to kill that computer
Throw it out the window of my den
I’ll wipe its OS system clean
And smash in the computer screen
And then I’ll have my real life again.
Joan Calof sang this little ditty to me as we sat in the Tea Garden, sipping our drinks, shortly after I explained to her about blogs (cleverly concealing how little I knew myself). It’s from her latest project, a chapbook of poetry entitled The Lyrical Curmudgeon. “I loved to sing, actually, when I was young,” she remarked later in the conversation. “That’s the thing I liked the best. If I believed in reincarnation, I’d like to come back as a singer, whether operatic or jazz or blues.” Not all of her work is funny, she says, but she does do a lot of satire, like this song. She has sung in her performances before, but she has never put together a chapbook. But she likes trying new things. “It’s a risk, I don’t know if I’ll do okay or flop–fall flat on my face,” she told me, laughing.

 

Joan Calof has always loved to push herself, to expand her horizons. Eager to escape an overprotective childhood, she got into child welfare and worked with what were then called “disturbed childen.” (One girl climbed up into her lap and hugged her, which pleased her immensely–until she realized the child had stolen her brooch.) As a licensed social worker she traveled around placing children in foster homes. It was an interesting time, and she learned many things: among them that sleeveless dresses and religious families don’t mix, and that it is highly embarrassing to bite into a heavenly cinnamon role just as a family starts to thank God for sending you to them. On a darker note, during this time she had her first encounter with the reality of children being exploited sexually. There was no set procedure in place; she once had to pick up an abuse victim and drive her to the Y to get her to safety. Ms. Calof went on to work at the Hennepin County Mental Health Center, where she dealt on a regular basis with people who wanted to kill the President (so she had to notify the FBI), people who wanted to kill her (she had to notify the guards)…one schizophrenic girl she was attempting to treat literally climbed to the top of her bookcase! Later, a teaching job at St. Cate’s prompted her to cut back on her time at the clinic and eventually go into private practice. There she treated many women who were depressed, or who had difficulty knowing what to do with themselves once their kids had gone, or who were struggling with coming out (one such women was a minister having an affair with a member of her congregation–whose husband came after her with a gun!). Ms. Calof says her energy was flagging a bit, so she began to gently turn some of the more violent and unstable patients towards the clinic, including a women from Las Vegas who habitually carried a gun.

Halfway through her private practice years, Ms. Calof took a course in autobiographical performance at the Playwrights’ Center. She followed it with more courses there, as well as at the Loft. She came in second place in the Minnesota Women’s Press Short Fiction Contest, wrote a play whose scenes can still be found in national anthologies of monologues for mature actors, and created the CD Songstories with fellow writers Agnes Smuda and Nancy Cox.

Patrick’s Cabaret was actually the first place she ever performed her work, and she has since become something of a regular. She says she was scared at first because everyone else there was much younger, but that she went ahead and did it and had fun: “I find it a very congenial place. I think the people, audiences, are usually sophisticated but they’re kind.” 

 In keeping with their mutual love of adventure and the new, she travels a lot with her partner, Jerry. They have been to Thailand, Bali, New Zealand, Ireland, and lots more places that I will get jealous just typing about, so let’s move on. Travel and theatre are the main things she spends money on, she says, as she believes it is very important to support the arts. Ms. Calof also enjoys biking. This is sort of like saying Michael Phelps also enjoys swimming. “I used to do fifty or seventy miles a day, I could, but now if I do twenty, I’m okay. You know. I’m really not okay, but I gotta be okay,” she laments. I would tell you  my reaction, but I’m not really sure how to type a facial expression. Suffice to say that it was something along the lines of HOLY FREAKING COW YOU ARE AMAZING. I mean, twenty is damn impressive in my book, but fifty or seventy, Ms. Calof? HOLY FREAKING MOTHER OF RODDENBERRY, WOMAN!

Ahem.

Joan Calof will be at the Cabaret on this coming Friday or Saturday. Be there or be square.

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