hubble1This is another flash fiction story from a Chuck Wendig flash fiction challenge, which he apparently posted in 2015 and I happened upon it in 2016 or something and thought it was current so I wrote half of a thing, and then finished it in 2017. Here’s the thing. Note that I read basically no space opera/military sci fi/battles in space thing, so please do not write to me telling me that I got space opera wrong. Also, because this is the internet, the grammar error in the first sentence is deliberate and I’m not fixing it.

 

Me and my platoon strapped ourselves into our seats and snapped our face masks in place. Hyperdrive jumps are liable to get bumpy on exit and re-entry, so we all checked to see that the barf bags were handy, and each of us hoped that we wouldn’t be the one who had to use one (and then get roundly mocked for it).

The commander and the pilot were up front, programming the hyperdrive. I put my head back and tried to go to sleep. They’d sounded Reveille hours before the usual roll out, ordered us to ready for maneuvers. Nobody, not even the commander, had been told of the mission beforehand. The element of surprise was vital, we were told. No leaks. Surprise attack. We’d storm their shores and end the war. We weren’t the first to trip off to battle, just the next wave. Commander said he’d have orders when we came out of hyperspace.

We all bit down, the pilot engaged the hyperdrive, all of our insides lurched backwards and then caught up. The ship went dark, and all that all of us felt was eerie nothingness for an unknown period of time.

And then–lurch, shudder, and an alarming cracking noise from elsewhere in the ship–we were out of hyperspace. We braced ourselves, unbuckling from our harnesses and going for our guns, sure that we were dropping into a firefight and were about to go out the gangway.
Instead, nothing.
Silent space.
We looked sideways at each other, out of power and out of knowledge, just dumb stupid soldiers who didn’t know what to do if they weren’t fighting.

We could hear the commander cursing at the pilot, double checking coordinates. We waited.

And then, we were descending, entering atmosphere, watching the sky change color, become something recognizable as sky. We were ordered to shelve our weapons. The ship landed, the hatch opened, the air hissed outward. We exited the ship by the gangway, blinking in the bright light. It didn’t look like we were going to die today after all.

The commander pointed towards the…well, off toward some direction on the compass, anyway where he could see the rooftops of a town, maybe two klicks away. We formed up and fell into step. Nobody said anything. Nobody knew (except the commander) if we were deserters, if we were lost. Just that, so far at least, we didn’t seem to be dying today.

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A writer I follow, Chuck Wendig, often posts Flash Fiction challenges on his blog on Fridays. I got this one from a January post, so I can’t submit a link to it in his comments as he says to do, but I’m posting it here anyway because fuck writer’s block. Since Wendig is mostly a science fiction author, I decided to try writing a science fiction-y story.

 

Morning routines should be routine. Even when you’ve got a chronic, potentially life-threatening illness, there are certain things that just always happen, and a morning routine is one of those things. Even if–especially if–your chronic, potentially life-threatening illness is kept in check by (among other things) a neural net of brain implants in your cerebellum and temporal lobe that keep you breathing, blinking, standing, walking, talking.

Wake up, coffee, toast, update neural software, brush teeth, shower, get dressed, make lunch for later.

That is my routine. Every morning.

I like routine.

And then one day. Just some stupid regular Tuesday.

Wake up, coffee, toast, update–

stutter stutter stutter blank

Wake up, coffee–but there’s already coffee. I already made coffee but I have to make coffee again.

Coffee, toast, up–

circle circle circle circle blank

No, brain, I already made coffee, why are we making coff–

Some corner of my brain knows that this is not the routine but I can’t–

coffee toaste up–

blue blue blue blue

I am crying now. Coffee toast coffee toast what was wrong why can’t I stop–

update

cycle cycle cycle cycle

Somebody help me, somebody come check on me–

error error error error

blank


1200px-Harry_Potter_wordmark.svg(My writing life is still slow. Which is why this is being posted a week after everyone else posted their Harry Potter reminisces.)

 
I work in a public library, which means I have frequent (and frequently random) conversations with customers about books and local politics and the idiocy of computers. Yesterday, a customer came up to me and started telling me that Harry Potter was 20 years old and all about her Harry Potter memories (she did this with no introduction or conversation opener whatsoever; just walked up to me while I was shelving holds and started chattering at me about Harry Potter). So that was basically how I celebrated the week, which is (in some small way) in keeping with my relationship with Harry Potter for the last 20 years.

 
I started reading the Harry Potter series in 2000. I remember because I read it on a road trip with my family, our last big trip as a family because I was graduating high school and my brother was graduating college and moving to Seattle. I started working at a bookstore the next year, and for the last three books (which came out in 2003, 2005, and 2007), I worked the Harry Potter release parties. When the Deathly Hallows came out, I was also working at a public library; I got to stay late the night before the release date and process the holds so that they would be ready for customers first thing in the morning. In short: I have been a part of getting the Harry Potter books into people’s hands for almost as long as I’ve been reading them, and in a lot of ways, this is fundamental to why I find them important books, and what they mean to me, beyond just being a fun and enjoyable story.

 
I was a reader, all through my childhood. It was one of the things that made me weird in school. I was never teased for it, I was never ostracized just because I was a reader, but I was definitely the kid that maxed out all the reading lists, got in trouble for reading in class, read while I was walking home from school, fucked up the curve on writing assignments because I read so much that my writing skill just followed right along. The other kids just acknowledged that this was a thing that I did. When I started reading Harry Potter (well past the magical formulating years of reader-hood when one book drops into your life and changes you), it was just another book, another fun story. This was also before social media; certainly before I was on the Internet with any regularity, before fandom became the behemoth it is today. Those early years of Harry Potter, maybe even up to the first book release party, I certainly knew that Harry Potter was popular, but it wasn’t the sort of thing it is now–where people discuss and bond over it.

 
It was the book release parties where I got to see the fandom for the first time, and more importantly, got to see something that I think adults who grow up reading (and who were often the “weird kid who reads” in their class at school) always want to see more of: kids who are fucking excited about books. Weird Reader Kids, all over the place, all in one bookstore, instead of scattered from classroom to classroom. Kids up past their bedtime, getting chocolate frogs and butterbeer from the bookstore coffee shop. Kids dressed up in wizard robes. Kids waiting in line for hours. Kids getting handed their books at midnight, and then sprinting for the door to get to their parents’ cars to get back home so they can start reading.

 
They were late nights, after the book release parties, when me and my coworkers would be at work until the wee hours of the morning cleaning up the remnants of chocolate milks and fire whiskies and double espressos that the parents needed to stay up. Cookie crumbs and pastry wrappers. Dirty coffee mugs and plates. I didn’t care. I loved it. I wanted to make books exciting and fun for these kids in a way that I never got to experience.

 
The movies kept the community going, I think, in between books, and then after the books were done. The movies pulled in a lot of people who weren’t Weird Reader kids, and even though I haven’t seen most of them since they were in theaters, they broadened and cemented the fandom. I went to a couple movie release nights and they were much the same mix of fun, overwhelming, noisy nerddom as the book releases. And by then, the books had been around long enough that older siblings were indoctrinating younger siblings. Livejournal was a thing. Tumblr started to exist. Fan fiction started leaking out of its previously-ironclad hinterlands. And Harry truly stepped out of the books and into our heads.

 
Even though I don’t actively participate in the fandom that much, so much of that fandom is what Harry Potter is for me. I don’t write fanfic or cosplay or draw fan art or even really get into long discussions with people online. I like the books. I like the stories. But really, what I love–what I adore–is that this books are so huge, took over so much of the culture. And maybe the kids who read during class feel a little less weird these days than they did when I was young. Maybe they can talk about Harry with their classmates, as well as in online forums. I don’t know exactly when nerdy fandom went from a thing that only happened at Comic Cons to a thing that happened all over the internet; it seemed fully fledged and omnipresent by the time I happened upon it. But I’m really happy that this is a thing in the world that exists, even though I only ever observe it from the sidelines.

 
At some point (and I resisted doing this for a long time because I hate having to give my email address to things because then everyone sends you email) (Also, come on, I’m an adult, I don’t need Sorting, I am too old, sniff sniff), I went over to Pottermore and got myself Sorted. It was…weirdly emotional, and resonant, and flattering, when I got Sorted into Hufflepuff. So, here’s me:
House: Hufflepuff
Patronus: Occamy
Wand: Willow wood w/dragon heartstring

 

PS. Also, one thing I discovered in the week it took me to write this: Harry Potter might be 20, but “Wannabe” by the Spice Girls is apparently 21 this week, and that makes me feel old in a way that Harry Potter does not.


DSC01787.jpgWriting Prompt: “Remember a time when you were scared, where you felt like you were experiencing something strange/supernatural/preternatural. Something scary, something real.”

When I was a kid, I used to creep out of my bedroom at the top of the house, descend five flights of stairs into the basement, climb up on the washing machine, and creep out of a window that had a broken latch and didn’t stay locked.
I couldn’t have told you why I did this, exactly. I was a kid, and it was forbidden and exciting. I liked the way the air was cooler and fresher at night. I liked being the only person awake, walking through a neighborhood with no one else but me, the raccoons, and a couple of foxes. I liked the way shadows pooled under bushes and on the lea side of garages. And it was always hard for me to sleep, as a kid. It felt like I was always awake and never sleeping. So I broke out of the house, and I walked.
Sometimes, I would walk to the park about a mile away from my house and play. There was a pile of equipment on top of a hill in the center of the park—swings and a jungle gym and a metal slide that gave uncareful kids second degree burns on their butts in the summer. I would walk there and sit on the swings and swing back and forth, tilting my head back, watching the stars rock in and out of my vision. Sometimes I’d lie on the bottom of the slide and just stare up there. I don’t remember thinking about much—not about how far away they were or about wanting to travel among them or anything like that—just that staring up at the blackness made the static in my brain feel quiet.
This one time, though.
It was a usual night. I’d snuck out and was swinging on the swings, and was just thinking about heading home, scuffing my feet in the gravel to slow the swing down, when I happened to look down at the hill instead of up at the sky and there was a man there. He was lying flat on his back, in overalls and heavy work boots, hands laced behind his head. I could see the shadow of prolific whiskers across his cheeks and down the front of his shirt.
I froze. I had never, not once, seen another human out on my late night wanderings. Sometimes a car, but never someone out walking. Not even an insomniac dogwalker. Being able to forget that other humans existed was part of why I liked going out.
The man didn’t move.
I wondered how long he had been there, and then realized that he must have been there longer than I had, and that I just hadn’t seen him when I arrived, because if he’d walked up the hill while I was swinging I would’ve seen him. He’d just been there, not moving. Had he been listening to me? Was he asleep? Was he dead?
I hopped off the swing and took a few steps toward him, stopping at the end of the playground gravel, trying to see his face. Was he awake? Was he dead?
I couldn’t see his face. He still didn’t move.
I should leave, I thought.
I took a few hesitant backward steps, moving away from him. I didn’t want to turn my back on him.
At the edge of the playground, I turned and ran. There was a soccer field between me and the street and I sprinted across it, faster than I ever had during soccer practice. When I got to the sidewalk, at the true border of the park, I turned and looked, wanting to make sure he was where I’d left him.
He was. I could see the tan of his boot’s soles in the moonlight. But he was moving. He was…expanding. Rising up. He was taller than the playground equipment. His arms were out, huge and growing, and his shadow fell like wings over the soccer field. He took up the whole sky. I could feel him staring at me, like a mouse feels the eyes of a hawk. I have no idea how long that moment lasted. It could’ve been seconds or hours. I didn’t move, couldn’t breathe.
And then he was gone, wings rising and disappearing, the stars re-emerging. The hill was empty.

wheredyougoAaaaaand we’re back. First up in my brain is, why didn’t I write about Where’d You Go? five years ago (jesus, five years ago, that’s completely weird somehow) when I wrote about the Bosstones’ other EP, Ska-Core, the Devil, and More. Who knows. Maybe because Ska-Core has such a funny origin story about how I first started listening to it and what an unknowledgeable person I was then.

Interestingly, Wikipedia’s entry on the WYG EP contains contradictory information: the body of the entry says it was released in 1991, the sidebar says it was released in 1992, just before More Noise. I’m currently listening to the album on my phone and I’m nowhere near my CDs or vinyl to fact check this, also, I’m lazy. I do remember that the moment when, as a 16-year-old-or-about-there kid, listening to the CD as I walked to school (I remember the exact spot on the sidewalk), I heard the lyrics in the third verse (“I opened a fridge I opened a beer I played a tape I couldn’t hear..”). Like, heard them and understood the words without having to consult a lyrics booklet or the internet. (Looking up Bosstones lyrics was one of the first things I used the internet for. Seriously.)

Next up, “Sweet Emotion.” Pre-Bosstones, I think I mostly knew this song from those long commercials they used to show on daytime TV about buying CD sets of “hits from the 70s and 80s” or whatever they were. My parents didn’t listen to Aerosmith (and it took me awhile before I caught on to the fact that part of the reason the Bosstones chose Aerosmith to cover was probably the fact that both bands are from Boston). Man, the guitar and base sound so thick in this song. Is that even an adjective I can use? Also I like the horns taking on the harmonic part of the chorus and Dicky just chopping all the words into tiny little vocal pieces.

“Enter Sandman.” Nate Albert told a story in an interview once about getting to play this onstage with James Hetfield, in Denver, apparently (way way way before my time). This is also the first song I learned to play on guitar. It is really easy to sound like a badass on this song. (Thanks, Metallica, for writing a deceptively simple song that’s more entertaining to play than “This Land is Your Land,” another early song I learned.) Other song that is fun and deceptively easy: “Rainbow Connection” by the Muppets. Fuck you, Muppets are awesome.

Take my hand, we’re off to never-never land.

Yeah I just enjoy the hell out of the guitars in this song. Nate Albert, I miss your guitars. Also, oh yeah, fucking Barry Manilow quotes in the middle of a punk band covering a metal song because that’s how they roll.

“Do Something Crazy,” not a cover, but now going much faster than it did on Devil’s Night Out. When in doubt, do everything again, only faster.

And lastly, “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love,” a Van Halen cover. Now that I think about it, the Bosstones have made covers a pretty regular part of their output. They just put out a cover of “What the World Needs Now is Love” by Burt Bacharach last month. But anyway, I have this thing in my personal history where the Bosstones have gotten me into a ton of music, either because they toured with the band or because they mention them in interviews or because they cover their songs. This song was one of several elements that got me curious about the British 2-Tone band The Specials, because the Bosstones (I’m pretty sure it’s the saxophone player Tim) quote the song “Nite Klub” in the bridge. Ahh, says sixteen year old me, I see we are covering a Van Halen song and quoting a Specials song. Obviously I will go buy the Specials LP and never listen to Van Halen again.

Short entry because it’s an EP and that’s how I roll. I missed the 19th Hometown Throwdown last month and am still a little sad.


leiaCarrie Fisher’s death is hitting me way harder than I thought it would. I keep tearing up at random moments, thinking about her and her legacy, which I don’t think I’ve done with any other celebrity death this year. Not that I thought about this in advance, but on the surface, Richard Adams’ death should have way more of an effect on me: Watership Down is one of my favorite books of all time. I’ve read it countless times since middle school. Bigwig is one of my all-time favorite fictional characters. (“My Chief Rabbit has told me to defend this run and until he says otherwise I shall stay here.”) Harper Lee, another one of my favorite authors, also died this year. Maybe the difference with them is that they were both in their 90s, had both “finished” their contributions (at least insofar as their formative influence on my life, which I realize is 100% secondary to the loss and sorrow that their families must be feeling, because they loved Adams and Lee as people, and not as authors.) But Carrie Fisher? She wasn’t done yet. Not with life, not with work, not with her effect on me or all the rest of us.

I basically missed Star Wars growing up. Neither of my parents were into it (they were slightly older than the target audience, being newlyweds in 1977, and if they saw it in the theaters it didn’t grab them the way it grabbed so many others), so we never had it on VHS around the house. We never had cable television either, so I never saw the movies until the special editions were re-released in theaters when I was in high school in 1997 or whenever that was. It took me even longer to appreciate the effect that Star Wars had on culture and fandom and science fiction. And in 1997, I had not yet reached the point in my life where I needed role models and fangirl objects that were specifically girls. I was still doing fine with my music collection that was 97% male. I was doing fine with Watership Down, whose rabbit cast is probably 85% male. My favorite movie was The Princess Bride, and don’t get me wrong, it is still one of my favorites, but there’s two female characters in the whole thing (Buttercup counts as one character; the mom and the queen combine to be the other). I hadn’t discovered Patti Smith, or riot grrrl, or bell hooks, or the need for diverse and powerful women in my life. So Leia the Princess slipped right by me.

But General Leia Organa?

I saw The Force Awakens last year (age 33, for context), and the movie, the characters, all were great. I like the story, the dialogue, the music. It’s not my favorite movie ever, but it’s a solid, enjoyable flick and I wouldn’t mind seeing it for a third time. I didn’t think about it until this week, but it’s also a movie that is filled with active characters. Rey, Finn, Chewie, Han, even Kylo, all are constantly doing stuff. Reacting to stuff. Running away from explosions. They don’t really have time to stop and reflect on what’s happening and why.

But Leia? And to a lesser extent, Maz Kanata? In some ways, they’re the heart of the story, because they’re removed enough from the action that they can think about how they got to where they are and why they’re doing what they’re doing. They’re the calm at the center of the storm. Leia looks at Han and holds their entire history together—good and bad—in her heart. Leia can see how lonely Rey is, how hungry for family. General and Senator Leia Organa knows the weight of responsibility and power, she’s held it her whole life.

And as much as I need and enjoy Rey, badass female character who fights with a bo staff and survives basically on instinct?

I need Leia too, in a way I didn’t know that I needed her before this week, when suddenly she was gone. I need that calm female leader, the one who’s accomplished greatness, the military and political professional, the one who’s made mistakes but who keeps going forward anyway, the one who takes time to both lead and nurture.

We still don’t have enough female heroes that we can afford to lose this one. Who is my badass female hero leader now? It’s not like when we lost Obi-Wan, because his role then got filled by Yoda. It’s not like when we lost Dumbledore, who stepped aside because Harry could stand without him. And it’s not like losing a Batman actor, because there’s literally seven other Batman actors. There’s nobody else like Leia. Maybe it’s just because I’m sad and full of feelings, but I can’t think of another character who fills the same archtype who could stand into the gap that’s suddenly in my sad little nerd heart. There’s just her. And now she’s gone.

And look, it’s not even that I need Leia as a badass female to look up to. It turns out I needed Carrie Fisher. Who else is so perfectly imperfect? Who else owns her experiences—good and bad—with the aplomb and humor that she does? Who else is so likable precisely because she doesn’t give a shit if you like her? She had a tempest of a life. She fell down and got up and kept moving forward by any means necessary. Like Leia (or maybe Leia was like Carrie), she made mistakes, but kept going forward anyway. I don’t mean to idolize her in any way, because it was the public difficulties she had (living with bipolar disorder and being a recovering addict; and living those experiences in the public eye had to be so much more difficult than just living them on their own) that made her strength so powerful to me. She let us see her weaknesses, and that shone a light on how truly strong she was. She let us meet Gary, she was open about his role as one of her coping mechanisms. She was not ashamed. I think that’s the thing that breaks my heart open, just how blunt and unashamed she was, and how rare that is to see in a woman, and how brave that makes her.

There was nobody else. Just her. And now she’s gone.


t1lbwd7I bought a car last year (a 1993 Volvo that cost 700 whole dollars), and as a result, I haven’t been riding my bike hardly at all. Turns out I am really really lazy. I still think like a cyclist, though, and am always checking bike lanes and crosswalks for errant cyclists. I hope that I’m the driver that I wanted drivers to be, back when I was biking everywhere and trying to co-exist with car traffic. Anyway, I was going through a folder in which I had a whole bunch of half-written blog entries, and came across this, and figured I’d throw it out there:

As a cyclist, I hope that drivers can keep in mind that whatever their frustration with me—going slower than them, taking the lane, needing to cross three lanes of traffic in the span of one block so I can turn from 18th onto Larimer—I’m causing you perhaps 10 seconds of inconvenience. You have the power to KILL ME. Some people seem to think that cyclists think we’re invincible daredevils, and maybe some are (I can’t speak for all cyclists, obviously), but I am hyper-aware of the fragility of my meat suit whenever I’m biking in traffic. On the contrary, it seems like car drivers are the ones who are apt to forget their potential to injure and maim. I’m not saying that there’s not badly behaved, unpredictable cyclists out there—there’s about as many irresponsible cyclists as their are irresponsible pedestrians and irresponsible drivers—but when you, Mr/Mrs Driver Person, catch yourself about to lose your shit at some poor schmuck on a bicycle, please take a breath and remember you’ll be past them in ten seconds, it’ll all be over, and you can go about your day.

Some days it just feels like there’s no way for a person on a bicycle to win. And not just in a collision, where I am obviously going to be the loser. If I run a red light, I get yelled at for running it. If I don’t run it, I get honked at for holding up traffic. If I take the lane, I get honked at, never mind that the reason I moved left was to not get doored by someone lurking in a parked car, or because there’s gravel on the road, or because cars were blowing past me with barely a foot to spare and I wanted to force them to give me more space. If I stick to bike paths, I unintentionally goose pedestrians who are walking there; if I stick to the roads, I get yelled at and run the risk of getting plastered. It can be both dangerous and frustrating when all you want is to get home from work in one piece.

That said, it seems a shame that cyclists and cars so often let the bad incidents define the discussion. I ride my bike just about every day, and I have to say, my close calls and angry incidents are few and far between. So:

THANK YOU for pausing and letting me ride by when you’re trying to back out of your driveway.

THANK YOU for waiting to take your right turn and letting me go by in front of you, even though I was going slower than you thought I was.

THANK YOU for pulling a little to the left when you’re passing me to give me space.

THANK YOU for waiting patiently behind me at a light while I start from a standstill.

THANK YOU for stopping last week when I wiped out in the rain, and checking to see if I was okay.

THANK YOU for seeing me signal that I wanted to take a left and letting me cross the lane in front of you.

THANK YOU for when you who lift up your hand and let me know that you’ve seen me.

THANK YOU for pulling your dogs closer to you when you see me coming so I don’t have to worry about getting clotheslined (and I did slow down as much as I could so as to not scare your dogs, I hope that was okay).

THANK YOU to the kids who were waiting for the bus, saw me pushing my way up a steep hill, and started clapping and cheering–that was hilarious.

Thank you all for, so far, not killing me. Thanks to everyone who hasn’t thrown bottles at me, honked their horn for no reason, or yelled at me out a window. I do very much appreciate it.

Thanks. And let’s, when on the road, all just try to be patient with each other. Me included.

 


kackknifeIt snowed several inches last night, and it’s like one degree outside today, and my car’s power steering is broken, so I’m stuck in my house and thought that I’d return—long overdue—to my listening series of the Mighty mighty Bosstones’ discography. Up today (and hopefully my laptop’s battery lasts as long as the album does) is A Jackknife to a Song, put out after Pay Attention, after the Bosstones got dropped from their longtime label Mercury (which had turned into Island Records), and was instead put out by Side One Dummy Records.
I remember being nervous before this album got put out. This was still before I had any kind of regular access to high speed internet, and I’ve never really listened to much radio, so I hadn’t heard any songs (maybe one) off this album before it came out. It was the first album with Lawrence Katz on guitar instead of Nate Albert (Katz had been touring with them for a couple of years at this point, but Albert co-wrote the songs on Pay Attention and performed guitars on the album), and I was really nervous about how the sound would change. The Bosstones have gone through relatively few lineup changes since 1987, and me and pretty much every fan I was in touch with knew that the loss of Nate shook the band down to its foundations. (Literally. Nate is one of their founders.)
But I love this album. I think it sounds better and fresher and more energetic than Pay Attention, which I have always associated with the rumors of the band’s exhaustion and stress and Nate leaving. It stakes Lawrence’s territory as a songwriter, guitarist, and member of the band in his own right. It’s got the songs about people that Dicky writes that I love so much (this one being “Mr Moran,” about Sammy Gravano, which actually inspired me to go out and find a biography about the guy), random moments in Boston history (“Jackknife to a Swan”). This is also the album where Chris Rhodes replaced Dennis Brockenborough on trombone and backing vocals, and you can hear him and his energy back there. This album just plain sounds fun, (and I can attest to it being hella fun to hear just about any of these songs live).
Writing the above paragraphs took me through the first two songs, and now I’m up to “You Gotta Go,” which got me through a couple of collegiate run ins with terrible roommates and roommates’ boyfriends. Motherfuckers who ate my food and played with my keyboards and threw my shoes down the stairs and refused to flush the toilet because it wastes water and deadbeat boyfriends of roommates. I’m so glad to not have to live with any of those people anymore, and hearing Chris Rhodes yell “So pack your bags, cuz THERE’S THE DOOR!” was always cathartic.
“Everybody’s Better,” a slow ska song, is reassuring to me in the best way. This sounds dumb and silly, but it makes me feel like I’m sitting in an inner tube in a nice warm ocean being sloshed back and forth (yes I know oceans don’t slosh. Shut up.) It’s one of those songs that makes me feel okay about myself, like I’m safe with myself. I feel okay about being one tiny person in a world of 7 billion. Everybody’s better than I am, I think, everybody’s better than me. But I matter, as a matter of fact. And there’s this lovely chunky guitar, and the saxophone drifting in towards the end. You know, to be king you don’t need a castle.
“Sugar Free.” I’m gonna be honest that I don’t super understand what “Sugar Free” is supposed to be about. And it’s one of those songs that (as far as I know) Dicky has declined to explain. But there’s this great spinning sort of guitar part, and the horns coming in and weaving around it.
“I looked up to the Citgo sign, you used to be a friend of mine.” The Citgo sign, mentioned here in “I Want My City Back,” is also important to the 737 because we can see it from the Buckminster Hotel, where a huge chunk of the group stays every year because it’s walking distance to the House of Blues, where Throwdown is every year. I love this song because it’s so much about Boston, but also in the past 5 years Denver (where I’ve lived for 30 years) has changed to the point that parts of it are unrecognizable, and not in a good way. I can’t afford to live in my own city anymore, and neither can a whole bunch of other people. There’s a sadness you feel just looking around, this was once our sacred ground, but now it belongs to hipsters and artisan hot dog shops.
If I can get super symbolic for a moment, this song could also be…well, my experience with the Bosstones is the exact opposite of this song’s experience of Boston, or my current experience in Denver. “How should I feel when the place where I first learned I could feel/Is no longer where I left it when I left it not so long ago/How should I feel?…/How should I feel…?/ I don’t know.” The Bosstones, Bosstones’ shows, punk shows, ska shows…those are the places where I learned to feel. Where I learned how to transition my kid-level feelings and teenage-level confusion into adult-level perceptions and emotions. And I’m so, so lucky that they’ve been there for me all that time. I’m lucky that they share themselves to the extent that they do. I’m lucky that they’re the guys that they are, and that I’ve gotten to know them even tangentially. I’m lucky that I haven’t had to change my opinion on them or leave them behind. They’re the same to me as they’ve been since I was 15, even as they’ve grown and I’ve grown and time has passed. I’m so lucky to have found this band. Someday, I will wish for my band to come back. But not today, today I still have them, so I’m grateful for them.
Have I written before about how many landmarks and streets I know in Boston just because they’re mentioned in songs by the Bosstones and the Dropkick Murphys and the Street Dogs and other Boston bands? It’s a little bit funny. When I visited for the first time, it felt like I knew the city, even though of course I didn’t.
“Chasing the Sun Away” is another slow-ish, sweet ska song, with nice fat horns. It’s a break up song, a grief song, a song about the disparity between how you feel on the day after and what the world is actually. Why doesn’t it rain buckets when you’re sad? Why is that such a universal cognitive dissonance for people to express? Why do we all instinctively understand what it means that there’s a cloud always following Eeyore around?
This is also one of those songs that, if you played it next to just about any song from the band’s first five years, you wouldn’t believe that it’s the same band. It’s so different. And not just stylistically, but the way Dicky writes, the way they approach recording, the layering and…arrangement, I guess, is the word? They’re so much sophisticated than they used to be. Which is understandable, because they’re 30 years older than they were, but not all bands evolve to the scope that the Bosstones have.
“You Can’t Win,” I’ve always thought might be about the Bosstones’ experience on a major label (or maybe just the last couple years), but really, it could be about any experience trying to deal with a big monolithic corporate entity that you have no power against. It could be about the companies that caused the 2008 collapse, and their collusion with the government. It could be about citizens and the government generally. It’s about not having power. It’s about knowing that you don’t have power. They might let you in, but they’ll never let you win.
“Old School Off The Bright” is one of my favorite Bosstones songs. Of all time. It makes me think of Throwdown every time I hear it. Of being on the rail. Of dancing as best you can even when you’re in a crush of people. Of flashing lights and soapy snowflake machines. It’s got the fast, ever-rhyming lyrics of Dicky’s that I love so much. I love the drums and how they trade places with the horns. I love how it brings in everyone. It makes me actually want to party, and I hate going to parties. It cheers me up when I’m down. It makes me dance no matter where I am. This might be a perfect Bosstones/Throwdown song. Get the crew together, it’s the old school off the bright.
“The Punch Line” sort of thematically reminds me of “Everybody’s Better” (which in my head somehow always gets pronounced “Everybody’s Butter” because my brain apparently likes stupid and meaningless puns that are not even puns really) about not being a bully. About knowing the consequences of your actions. Of choosing right, right over wrong. Do what you know is right, don’t wait for someone to tell you what’s right.
“Go Big,” this was one of my early favorites on this album, though I don’t think of it as such anymore, not because I dislike it at all, but I think just because they don’t play it live very much so I don’t get the “yay! live music! throwdown!” high off of it that I get from songs like “Everybody’s Better” and “Old School Off the Bright.” But it contains the line “Put on your big boy pants,” which I tell myself sometimes when I’m trying to make myself do something. Also, random trumpet.
I love “Shit Outta Luck” because it’s about…traffic? Being stuck in traffic? Who writes a song about being stuck in traffic? Joe Gittleman apparently instead of Dicky. You can hear it a little (“tear it down to the ground” is something I associate with Joe), but it also contains the amazing line “a major road rager with a bone to pick” and the lovely line “it’s more fun when you don’t give a fuck,” which is something to think about when doing anything creative. Also, turns out, not the only song the Bosstones have recorded about traffic (the major other one being “Illegal Left,” about Dicky arguing with a cop about a ticket that wasn’t even being given to him). When you’re from Boston, I guess you spend a lot of time thinking about songs in cars.
“Seven Ways to Sunday” is weird, at least contextually speaking, because it’s an acoustic bluesy song, and the Bosstones are…neither of those things, even while everyone who listens to them knows that expecting the Bosstones to stay in whatever stylistic box you put them in is a fool’s errand. There’s also a lady doing guest vocals in the background, and I wish I could sing like her, but I cannot. Also a harmonica. Also no horns. I wonder if they’ve ever played this live. Steve could tell me. It also in keeping with a recent (like, since Pay Attention) tendency for them to put oddball songs at the end of their albums–“The Day He Didn’t Die” winds down Pay Attention, “Favorite Records” winds down Medium Rare.

“Well I’ll tell you one thing that I know.
You don’t face your demons down, 
You gotta grapple ’em, Jack, and pin ’em to the ground.”
–Joe Strummer, “Long Shadow”
Every June, I go to a conference in the mesa country in northern New Mexico. There’s a couple hundred people of all ages, no cell phone signals, sleeping in rustic cabins that have spiders and occasionally rodents, bitey juniper gnats, no cars. It’s great.
The high school and college aged kids stay together in their own building, and most of the rest of us only see them at mealtimes or maybe for an hour or two a day. They do their thing, and their thing is good. In less than a week they assemble and foster a community so strong it carries them the rest of the year (or at least it did, when I was part of that group, and I see no signs that it’s changed with the passage of time. If anything, the creation of social media has helped them keep the community connected over the rest of the year). This year, even though I never saw the kids for more than an hour or two a day, I found myself buoyed up every time I was with them or thought about them. They are such a great and fantastic group of kids (they are not all kids, as the age group goes up to about 22, but I considered myself a kid when I was part of the group and the terminology stuck). Strong and funny, grappling with the world, struggling and dancing and listening to each other. They’re not angels, they’re just regular human teenagers, and they amaze me. I am in awe of them even though/because I know they struggle. I know some of them have mental health issues or substance abuse issues. General life-as-a-teenager issues. Some of them have lost dearly beloved family members, and that shreds you at any age. But they’re stunning people all the same.
It’s hard to even try to describe how happy they make me, partly because there’s no way to do it without sounding hokey, and partly because I’m afraid that if they knew how much someone was watching and enjoying them, it would make them feel self-conscious and weird and they would stop being so fabulous. But they’re the light of the world, okay? They’re great and amazing. I see differences in how I was as a teenager/young adult and how they are now and they are so far ahead of me and so wise. I can’t wait to see these kids run the world. That’s what I was thinking that week, six months ago, in June 2016.
And then on the drive home, still going in and out of cell service, I started checking Twitter and Reddit and found out about the shooting in Orlando that had happened the night before. And just like that, all my rosy and optimistic thoughts about The Youth, they all evaporated, replaced with dread and sorrow and regret.
Because I was supposed to make this world safe for the queer kids of the future, black kids of the future, Latino kids of the future, Muslim kids of the future. I was once The Youth, and I charged myself with changing the world. But I haven’t. We haven’t. Shit like Matt Shepherd’s murder and the shooting at Columbine, those were supposed to be the high water mark of shittery. Not the floor. Michael Brown’s death, Trayvon Martin’s—hell, Emmett Till’s—were supposed to be the cultural turning point. Not the beginning of a new season of violence on black men. And now we have these beautiful kids—queer and not—that are going out into a world that isn’t safe for them. And what do we do? What do I tell them?
So I’ve been carrying that around with me, trying to figure out how to write about it, trying to find some wisdom, and in the meantime 2016 carried on being the oozing Vogon of a year that it is, and now it’s December and some aged orange troll is going to be president and it’s so much worse. I admit that I was one of those who was just waiting for the election to be over, because I assumed that Clinton would win and we could all move on with our lives. I did not give one second of thought to what would happen if Trump won. (This is, incidentally, me showing off my White People Problems, because when I read post-election reactions of PoC on Twitter, I was reminded that African-Americans—particularly older African-Americans—have always known just how racist America is, and that white people still don’t know.) A bunch of old white people who will die before the world fully catches on fire have burdened us (and the world) with a 70-year-old man-baby who may very well destroy the country and/or the planet and/or all the civil rights gains we’ve spent the last 100 years trying to attain, and we’re going to be paying for that decision for decades. Now it feels like I have to fight the battles of my mother and grandmother all over again. And I still don’t know what to tell these kids, these kids who don’t even know how amazing they are.
In my worst moments, I think that maybe we should be raising our kids to be harder. If I had less of a “saving people thing” (as Hermione puts it), if I didn’t care so goddamn much, this wouldn’t be so hard to live through. I know there’s some that do that, that teach their kids to encase themselves behind walls so that the world can’t crush them. But then, I don’t know the difference between hiding your light and extinguishing it. Maybe there isn’t one. I don’t know. I don’t know what to tell you, you beautiful kids. I’m sorry. I wanted the world to be different. I assumed it was different. Getting bruised by the world is inevitable, and nobody can keep you safe from that. But now I’m worried that you might just get crushed, and that’s different.
I don’t know what to do to survive this, to fix it.
I had a conversation with a friend of mine when we were 17 or so. She’s social justice-y like me, and in our fabulous teenage naivete we both felt like the larger historical battles against injustice were done. Slavery had been abolished, Jim Crow was over, women could vote and have abortions. It seemed like the last big cultural battle left was gay civil rights, and then after that we’d just mop up some of the leftovers that hadn’t 100% gotten the message about how we do things now, places like Jasper, TX. But, we thought, we could relax. It was done. We just had to finish what had been started, tackle the totally surmountable problems of injustice in Palestine and famine in Africa, and we’d be good. The world would be good.
But progress isn’t inevitable. I learned that this year (more importantly, I learned that that was a thing that I thought was true). There is no moral arc of history, there’s nothing about our culture or species that says we can’t also go backwards, erase everything we did fifty years ago. There’s nothing in our culture or history that is assured. We are stuck in this shitshow for the duration. Water goes over the wheel and right straight back into the same fetid pond.
I don’t know if it’s a silver lining, precisely, but there is one small comfort in the whole “progress is not inevitable” truth: we need you. We won’t be okay without you showing up and demanding better of us. You can’t sit this one out because on some lower level you think it’ll happen with or without you. It won’t happen. We won’t move forward.
So do the thing.
Write the story. Go to the protest or the city council meeting. Start the band. Sign the petition. Plant the garden. There are millions of things that won’t get done unless we do them.
One of my favorite shows is The West Wing. And one of the most famous and quoted pieces of dialogue, from anywhere in the whole series, is in the second season, when Leo (the White House Chief of Staff) convinces Josh (the Deputy Chief of Staff) that it’s okay to need help. That it’s okay to not be okay. This is the story that Leo tells Josh:
This guy’s walking down a street when he falls in a hole. The walls are so steep, he can’t get out. A doctor passes by, and the guy shouts up, “Hey you, can you help me out?” The doctor writes a prescription, throws it down in the hole and moves on. Then a priest comes along, and the guy shouts up “Father, I’m down in this hole, can you help me out?” The priest writes out a prayer, throws it down in the hole and moves on. Then a friend walks by. “Hey Joe, it’s me, can you help me out?” And the friend jumps in the hole. Our guy says, “Are you stupid? Now we’re both down here.” The friend says, “Yeah, but I’ve been down here before, and I know the way out.”
I’ll be honest: I don’t know the way out of the hole. I don’t know if anyone really does. What the United States is trying to accomplish, has been trying to accomplish since our infancy, is knit together many disparate groups into one cohesive and just whole. It’s not something that’s ever been successfully done, on a large scale, in the history of the world.
But I’m in this hole with you. Because you’re my friend. The rest we’ll figure out together.

Don’t Worry

15Dec16

aleppoI’ve been reading accounts of what’s happening in Syria on Twitter and this person’s tweets stood out to me because they sound like poetry, in the best and worst and most heartbreaking way. They can be found @AmalHanano and wrote all of these words. I just re-typed them.

 

Don’t worry. Soon images and videos will stop coming out of #Aleppo. We will stop bombarding you with our gruesome images and horrific stories.

Soon #Aleppo will fade to darkness. Soon you’ll hear only one story once more. You’ll no longer be “confused” on what’s going on in #Syria.

Soon you will be told a simply narrative of a secular government with a westernized president who was fighting terrorists. And finally won.

They will say, we only killed the bad ones. They will say, the rest love us. They will show you a sea of flags and deafening chants. And say,

“Do you see now? We told you.” And you will say, “Now we understand.” And you will know nothing.

When the videos and images stop coming out of Syria, you should be terrified. It means that public genocide has become private once more.

We know what it’s like to live in silence. In darkness. With our truth buried within us. We will slowly learn to go back to that existence.

But don’t think we will ever forget these years. When people paid with their blood to speak their truth. You should never forget either.

 

@AmalHanano