10Nov16

This is going to be one of those times when I type and post without a whole lot of “simmering time” in between to let my thoughts settle.

I realized this morning that my election hangover is looking a whole lot like how I remember my last major depressive episodes in New York (and that hangover from those is still ongoing). I keep having to remind myself what day it is, what my life expects me to get done. I’m easily frustrated, especially when I’m in transit. I don’t want to hear the news. I don’t want to talk to people. I want to eat sugar instead of actual nutrition. I fall asleep at 8:00 and wake up at 6:30 and don’t feel like I’ve slept (that might be partly the time change). I have Amazon open in another tab on my browser right now, but I don’t remember why I opened it or what I intended to buy (I totally intended to buy something.) I’m getting caught in little obsessive tasks that I have to get done or everything will suck but it won’t get done and I can’t think clearly enough to problem solve or take perspective so I keep doing and doing and doing while my train of thought unravels further.

So. I guess I’m still a little early in this processing game. I did not think that Trump would win. I didn’t even entertain the possibility. I woke up on Wednesday feeling wrung out and couldn’t remember why for a few seconds; then I remembered that I’d spent a lot of Tuesday night crying. And then I remembered why I was crying, and, well.

I just want to watch Chopped and re-read Harry Potter and cuddle my dog and not a whole lot else. But I’m not sure where the line is between self-care and wallowing. A lot of my friends (on social media and in real life) are gearing up to fight, to protect each other. And I love that. And I want to be that. But I fear that I’m just not a fighter, and never have been. I’ve never been a get-out-and-protest sort. So I’m struggling to find what I can do, without feeling like a cop-out, but I haven’t gotten there. I don’t want to be the lame unhelpful weepy white woman. I don’t want to be the person who agrees in spirit but then doesn’t step up when I’m needed. I want to be there for my friends. The line between self-care and privileged opting-out is a thin one. I’m also walking the line between chaotic over-exposure to news and hurtedness and hiding under my covers. I keep waiting for clarity, for impetus, but my sneaking suspicion is that I’m going to have to find it on my own and I’ve never been good at that.

So I don’t know if I can hit the streets. I can write, and I can talk online, but that feels so small and petty and useless. I don’t want to get used to this new world. I don’t want to keep fighting these fights. I don’t want to keep having the same discussions and arguments about privilege that I was having a month ago. (This is part of my perspective from my own privilege, I guess: I was having these conversations a month ago, and I’m still having them today, even though the world feels different, the world is the same. Nobody is surprised by the racism of white people except white people.)

I kinda like the fighter who’s telling himself to get up off the mat even though his head’s spinning and his vision is black at the edges and he can’t feel his limbs. But I have to get up because behind me are people who are hurting so so so much worse.

Okay. Onward. Might be back with something more coherent and less pathetic later.


westwing“You have to know what the stereotypes are in order to avoid those stereotypes.” –Jonathan Green, Visual Director for 2016 Porgy and Bess revival

I’ve been listening to The West Wing Weekly, a podcast in which the two hosts watch one episode of the West Wing each week and discuss it. (Side note: If you like political drama at all, The West Wing is totally worth your time.) The hosts are Josh Malina (who also starred in the show starting in the…fourth season?) and Hrishikesh Hirway, who also hosts the podcast Song Exploder, and they regularly bring in former castmates and writers to talk about their experiences on the show. One of the people they talked to during the first season was Janel Moloney, who played Donatella Moss, Josh Lyman’s secretary. And she said something that got me thinking.
Basically, from day one, one of the things that Janel put into Donna’s character as a primary motivating factor was the idea that Donna was in love with Josh. Episode directors independently came to the same conclusion early on and planted the seeds of Josh’s love for Donna, but for most of the series, these feelings were only ever implied, not acted upon. And Janel noted (almost casually) that even though she knew that Donna was in love with Josh, she was not eager to have that story play out, because as soon as it did, Donna would lose a lot of avenues for where her character could go. If Donna and Josh started dating, that would be the end of Donna’s story, because she would have to quit her job, and of course Janel would lose her job too. Later (after Janel became a cast member, instead of just a recurring character), the character of Donna got new arcs and grew a lot as a person. But early on? Dating Josh (the most obvious storyline that basically everyone wanted) was the worst possible thing that could happen to Donna.
Sharon Lawrence, who played ADA Sylvia Costas on the 1990s police drama NYPD Blue (which is also totally worth your time), said something similar. She was cast in the pilot, in what was not supposed to be a recurring role (kind of like Janel Moloney, now that I think about it), but was brought back as a recurring character and potential love interest for Detective Andy Sipowicz, and eventually became a cast member. And I love Sylvia Costas the character. She’s smart, she’s outspoken, she doesn’t let anyone push her around. She faces her fears and doesn’t let them rule her life. She’s one of the few female characters in a male-dominated show (and a female professional in a male-dominated profession), and she’s this wonderful shining light of femininity and strength. But once she married Andy Sipowicz–and especially after they had a baby–she faded away. As Ms. Lawrence put it, the mystery of her character was basically solved by her marriage to Sipowicz, and there wasn’t much place else for her to go, so she was written out. (I hope I’m remembering what she said correctly, it was an interview that she did for a DVD extra for one of the NYPD Blue DVD sets, which doesn’t seem to have made it to YouTube). Her femininity, her female-ness as a character, worked against her, even though they told a story for her that millions of women have experienced: Sylvia had a baby and then went back to work, and then wrestled with her desire to stay home with her kid instead, and eventually decided to do that, before going back to work as an ADA much later. And that’s something that a lot of parents (moms and dads) struggle with, and it was nice to see it depicted on screen. But it was also a shame to lose such a wonderful character.
By contrast, Jill Kirkendole, a female detective on NYPD Blue, was a mom from the beginning, and a love interest to basically no one (she dated a male ADA character for awhile but I don’t remember that being a primary arc of the show, just something that was sort of happening in the background). From her very first case in the squad, her experience as a mother was something that informed her work as a detective, gave her an ability to read people and understand them. Gave them a way to understand her, too, when she was trying to get information out of somebody. Her experience as a mom informed her work as a detective in a way that Greg Medavoy’s status as a dad never seemed to inform his. She also made friends with another female member on the squad (Diane Russell) and that allowed for some female energy and Bechdel-passing episodes.
It’s one of the things you don’t think about in stories until you’ve seen and read a lot of stories: The bones of so many stories are the same, and the beauty shows up in the way that they’re told. And sometimes it’s just the nature of the stories, the nature of narrative. Joseph Campbell has examined this to an extensive degree in books like The Hero With A Thousand Faces. I remember learning in high school about the seven different types of stories (man vs man, man vs world, man vs self…I forget the other types). There’s a certain amount of same-ness, or of parallel-ness, that’s unavoidable. But then there’s the same-ness that’s bad and unhelpful. Why are so many brown-skinned characters terrorists? Why are so many black male characters drug dealers? Why are so many white women mothers? Why do so many fantasy books take place in a feudal English Tolkien-esque landscape?
Representation matters, as I’ve heard over and over on the internet. And it does. There are so many different stories being lived right now, so many people having so many different lives. They all deserve to be a story, to tell their story, to see their story (in one way or another) represented in popular media, whether that’s a television show or a comic or a novel or a video game or a history book. Our capacity to speak for ourselves is enhanced when we see characters who go first, who speak our stories for us, who validate our existence and experience. But in the obverse, our capacity to empathize is enhanced by knowing another person’s story. This is to say, diverse stories don’t just matter to marginalized people who need more stories like theirs. Speaking as a white person, reading stories about and essays by and tweets of people of color has helped me alter my perspective enormously when it comes to the question of racism and race in the United States. Were those stories written for me? No, not always. Maybe almost never. But art and stories make eavesdroppers of all of us, and Junot Diaz and NK Jemisin have taught me things that I never would have had occasion to know otherwise.
The thing about representation is, for me at least, it’s almost never an obvious thing. Maybe this is because I can find stories that are close enough to me to get by; maybe it’s because I tend to be a little oblivious to subtleties. But you go through life, not necessarily cognizant of what you’re missing, until someone smarter than you comes along and shows you this character, and you didn’t realize how badly you needed to see this thing that you didn’t know existed. Who knew I needed somebody like Amy Farrah-Fowler on The Big Bang Theory? (At least up until she started falling in love with Sheldon, at which point I lost interest in the entire series.) Who knew how badly I wanted to meet Jessica Jones, before she arrived? Certainly not me. Why have I been so fixated on needing a Black Widow movie? I’m not even entirely sure, but apparently there’s a gap in my life that only Scarlett Johansson can fill.
I’m tired of female characters who stop being on television the minute they become mothers. I’m tired of female characters whose primary story arc is falling in love with the leading dude. One of the reasons why I love The West Wing is the fact that it largely resisted those tropes for most of its run, and as a result, many of the female characters from the first season survived all the way to the last. As I try to get back into writing my own fiction, I don’t know how much I’ll fall into these tropes myself because of failures of imagination and empathy, or how much I’ll be able to dodge them just because I’m a different person writing different stuff. Nobody wants to think that they’re writing stereotypes, and yet somehow our collective artistic unconscious ends up full of stereotypes. Sometimes we don’t even know they’re stereotypes until someone cracks them open, like an egg, and reveals they’re hollow.

The Remains

28Sep16

resoundpidgey

One of the things that has repeatedly come up for me recently is the stories of the people left behind by violence. One of my friends reposted something written by one of a teacher at the school that Terence Crutcher’s child goes to (Crutcher is one of the black men killed by police recently). The effects that this child’s father’s death is having, not just on his daughter, but on the whole school regardless of how well they knew Mr. Crutcher. How does a group of kids make sense of such a thing?

And then I listened to a podcast of an Australian radio show that told the story of a woman investigating her family history, particularly that of her grandmother, who died from a botched abortion in the 1930s. And for all the political discussions we have about abortions and the women who get them, we don’t (on either side of the debate) talk enough about the women who get them and why. About the consequences of losing your mother that way. About the consequences of knowing this thing about your family, this thing that you may never be able to say out loud to other people.There’s so many ripples of pain in the world that we never ever talk about.

I wanted to share, at least, the Third Coast podcast show. It’s worth listening to. It’s hard to listen to, but it’s worth listening to. You can find it on iTunes or some other podcasting service to download it, or you can stream it here.
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babyotterSay hello to the random baby otter that I downloaded from somewhere on the internet and put into my pictures folder and then forgot about.

So, life has clearly been getting in the way a little bit, and I need to build my writing habit back up. This entry is partly a placeholder and a statement of intention, and partly a public service advisory, in case anyone reads this at all: This blog might suck for a little bit.

I’m remembering when I was good at updating my blog, and what’s going on in my life then–and when I’m bad at updating (or keeping up with life generally) and what that looks like. And one of the things that it looks like is general fear of failure, of being self-conscious, and of knowing that I can do better. There are times when I can’t do anything because the fear of doing something badly is worse than the fear of not doing anything at all.

So, this isn’t going to become like my old livejournal or anything, where I habitually made entries that were one or two sentences long (I have Twitter for that now). But I may make more entries that make you go, “Why did she think we’d be interested in this?” And the answer is, I don’t think you’re interested. I need to just…not worry about writing things that are interesting, and just write things. So, bear with me. And sorry about that.


This is the final installment of my four-part series on a concert festival I went to when I was twenty. For the first entry, along with a more detailed explanation of why I’m posting such a thing, go here.

I Ran All The Way Home (Doo wah doo wah doo)

The conversation the next morning consisted almost entirely of groans of exhaustion and pain. We were all sunburned (I think Dan, Joe, and me took prizes for the worst), and Andy had sprained his ankle somehow, and the everyone was sore from eight hours of dancing and standing on concrete. We all wanted to go home and talked Dan out of bungee jumping, but had to stop for souvenirs at the World’s Largest Souvenir Shop, and eat breakfast (steak for breakfast! Okay then, Vegas) so it was past 10:00am by the time we got going.

Conversation faded in and out, mostly restricted to what needed to be talked about. We would stop for gas and get out and talk a bit and get revived, but as soon as we got back in the car the conversation would fade away. We were all tired and kind of cranky, too tired even for post-ska exuberance. But it was stored away, we’d take it out and think about it and then put it away.

“We should do this again next year, only spend more time in Vegas.”

“Catch 22 needs to play next year.”

“And the Mad Caddies. And Less Than Jake.”

“And the Pietasters.”

“And the Smooths. Well, if they got back together.”

“Or did a reunion show like Attaboy Skip this year.” (If there’s any former members of the Smooths reading this, one more tour, please, just one.)

We got through Utah without incident, hitting 128mph in Andy’s car and passing a van that had “Ska Summit 2003” written on the back window in soap. As soon as the sun sank behind Utah, I fell asleep.

 

One Week Later

April 6, 2003

I finally got a decent night’s sleep on about Thursday (we’d driven back to Denver on Sunday). I’m writing this sitting at Action Shot’s band practice. Life is back to its regular routine. I told everyone my Ska Summit stories, but left out the total exhaustion part because that’s not what sticks in your head. The image that comes to mind is the Toasters onstage, Bucket (guitar player/lead singer) bobbing back and forth on the balls of his feet like he does, his eyes shut against the bright stage lights; Jack Ruby (other lead vocals) rolling around onstage and throwing things at Sledge. Sledge looking angry and then, at the last minute, breaking into a grin. Dave Waldo, the keys player, hoisting his keyboard onto his shoulder like a boombox. The saxophone player and the trombone player dancing, holding their horns away from their bodies; the people around me gently bumping shoulders as we danced.


This is part three of a four-part series on a concert festival I went to when I was twenty. For the first entry, along with a more detailed explanation of why I’m posting such a thing, go here. Part two is here.

Ska Summit

March 29, 2003

So many kids. So many checkers! Checkered hats, checkered pants, checkered shorts, checkered capes, checkered backpacks. Good lord.

By the way, if you haven’t tried it, saying “checkered” over and over a way is a pretty good way to lift your spirits. It’s just a fun word to say. Like spork. And quark.

There’s one thing that always makes me wary of large, outdoor music fests and that’s the mosh pits. Generally speaking, the more mainstream the concert, the worse the mosh pit. Warped Tour pits are the worst. I have a friend who broke three ribs and almost had to have her spleen removed after she fell in the pit at an Offspring concert and nobody helped her up. I like being in a mosh pit and fucking shit up, but I don’t like being in a put where people think it’s all about hurting each other and don’t help you up if you fall. That’s not a fun pit.

My other beef is that lately, at least in Denver, there has been a severe shortage of skanking at ska shows. I went to the Toasters/Selecter/RBF show and there were drunks trying to mosh to the Selecter. For crying out loud. And the thing that sucks is that the two or three people who want to mosh can disrupt dozens of people who want to skank.

But neither of those were present here. A few thousand people, at least, all knowing how to skank. All the skanking! So much skanking!

It’s a Small World After All

So, here you are. Seven hundred miles from home. In a city you’ve never visited before. And suddenly, out of the crowd, you hear your name. You’ve got to be kidding me, I thought. But sure enough, out of the crowd came Doug, lead singer of the Accidents, a ska band in Denver that Dan and Andy’s band, Action Shot, has played with a bunch.

“Holy shit, what are you doing here?” he asked.

I looked around at all the ska kids. “I’m doing my income taxes,” I said, grinning. “What’re you doing here?”

I ran into other kids too, another one from the Accidents and two from the Rightaways, another Denver ska band. It was then that I realized that the ska is such a small world, and everyone knows each other, even hundreds of miles from home. Ska (tiny, maligned ska) is important enough that people come hundreds–hell, thousands–of miles to attend, and then find themselves right back at home, among people they know, in the same community they thought they’d left behind. Funny that some crushed, hot, crowded piece of grass and skating areas and temporary stages and tents could become a community, but it did, for a few hours, anyway.

 

Overload! Pleasure Overload!

 

After we got into the show, we wandered around for awhile, scoping out the booths, buying merch, getting free stuff, pretty much just figuring things out, looking to see where stuff was. Dr. Octopus was on one of the backstages. They were really good, very catchy, very snazzily dressed.

Around noon, we all gathered in front of one of the big stages (as a group, we kept separating and then finding each other again, usually near one of the big stages) and looked at the schedule that Kyle had in his backpack. “Who’s up next?”

“Well, Let’s Go Bowling is on that stage at 1:00…and the Skeletones are on that stage at 1:00…then Fishbone, then Mustard Plug, then the Voodoo Glow Skulls, then Monique Powell…”

Oh my God, I thought. I had to cover my face for a moment. I am seeing all these bands. Today. If I didn’t go to another concert all year….Up until that moment, I don’t think that it had truly sunk in. I’d been so occupied with getting there. Saving money, getting time off work, getting up at 4:00am and meeting everyone at King Soopers. Driving through stupid Utah, wandering down the Strip at 11:00 at night on a Friday. But with all that past me, feeling the heat of the concrete through my sneakers and the Vegas sun on the back of my neck, watching the kids with skateboards and the rudies and skinheads, I suddenly realized where I was, I was here, and it was overwhelming.

“We better get food now,” said Andy, “‘Cause we won’t be moving from this spot for another eight hours.”

I spent the rest of the day migrating between the two main stages. One thing that always endears me to bands is if they look like they’re having fun themselves, and nobody has more fun on a stage than a ska band. Let’s Go Bowling was over-the-top amazing. The Selecter blows my mind. Fishbone was…well, Fishbone is Fishbone, and I don’t think that they could play a bad set if they tried (though it was weird seeing Norwood in regular clothes). I got to see Neville Staples perform “Ghost Town.” The Specials were one of the first ska bands I listened to–if they whole band had been there to perform, my brains would’ve come leaking out of my ears. It was my first time seeing Buck O Nine and the Voodoo Glow Skulls and Attaboy Skip, and I was happy with all of them. Mustard Plus was their usual happy selves. I talked to Jim (trombone player) afterward at their merch tent. And the Toasters! Oh my god, the Toasters. I could babble for pages about them, but they were the best I’d seen them in awhile, and I got onstage and I got a hug from Sledge (trumpet).

I was the only one with any energy left after the Toasters–who closed the festival–and that was only because I was wired from dancing onstage. We went back to the hotel and laughed at Andy burying himself in all the merch he’d bought, and at everyone’s raccoon-style sunburns showing where we’d missed with the sunscreen. We found food, and then collapsed into beds and corners of the floor (there were a lot of us crammed into the one hotel room). Home tomorrow. Back through stupid Utah. Life is good.


This is part two (er, obviously) of a four-part series on a concert festival I went to when I was twenty. For the first entry, along with a more detailed explanation of why I’m posting such a thing, go here.

Welcome to Sin City

Las Vegas, NV

By the time we make it to Vegas, the mountains behind us were turning purple and the sky was going dark. My first glimpse of Vegas was full-blown, lit up, neon lights going. A little overwhelming for a kid who doesn’t even like the neon sign on top of the Quest tower in Denver.

We made it to our hotel room around 9:00 and we’d been in the car for thirteen hours. We were all tired and cranky and slightly delirious; I was so hungry I was lightheaded. We didn’t think it would be worth it to try and find the ska party at Julian’s, so we met up with my friend Lori and found dinner. Then we went out wandering on the strip.

I think Las Vegas is a sort of corrupted Disneyland for adults. I mean, what kind of grown man builds a hotel shaped like a castle? (I know, I know: a rich grown man.) Vegas is some kind of weird alternate reality. Does it always have that smell?

In front of the New York New York hotel was a small group of anti-war protesters holding signs and handing out fliers. Behind me, a big beefy tourist muttered to his companions, “Oh great, more protesters. Just don’t say anything.” Then as soon as we were past them, he started talking about them, how sick he was of protesters, they don’t know anything, they’re stupid. I was so mad I could barely talk, but I managed to say, “I like how you can mock them behind their back but won’t say anything to their face.” I realize humanity will never come to a consensus on anything, and I don’t care if people disagree with me as long as they show some degree of respect for my viewpoint. But don’t talk shit about people behind their backs. All that proves is that the kids on the street corner, handing out fliers, putting their opinions on display, have more nerve than you.

Okay. Off my soapbox now.

Not much else to say about the strip, I guess. The water fountain show in front of the Bellagio was awesome. That pool, I think, has more water than the entire state of Colorado. And again, there is a hotel shaped like a castle. A castle.


I’ve been going through boxes of old papers (and thinking that someday maybe I’ll go through the Documents file on my computer), seeing what I can get rid of, when I came across this travel journal from 2003 written on looseleaf notepaper. Originally, I was going to just type it up and store it on my hard drive, but I decided to post it here for a couple reasons. One is that I wasn’t actually a bad writer when I was 20 (when I was typing it up I did clean up some grammar/sentence structure things, but really not that much). I’m a little disappointed that I’m not a demonstrably better writer 13 years on, actually. I feel like I should be embarrassed by my 20-year-old writer self, but skill-wise, she’s still pretty close to my 34-year-old self, I guess. The other thing is that I considered myself to be a pretty timid and non-risk-taking teenager/adolescent/young adult. I was never a sneak-out-at-night-and-go-drinking teenager. My friends and I never bombed down I-25 at 110 miles per hour with the music as loud as it could go just to see if we could (well, there was that one time…). But I was reading this and realizing, I did some potentially stupid things, I just didn’t think of them as stupid at the time. And still don’t think of them as stupid, which is maybe partly why I identify as a non-risk-taker. But impulsively driving to Vegas with five other kids and sleeping in a hotel on the strip and going to a ska show? Potentially dangerous. Potentially dumbass kid thing. It was weirdly reassuring to know that I was a dumbass when I was 20.

So, here it is. Broken up over several entries, I’m sure. Also I don’t have pictures to go with this because I didn’t have a digital camera in 2003. Use your imagination, I suppose.

 

Part One

Journey to the Center of the Earth

Colorado

Friday, March 28

6:00am


A god-awful hour for high school and college kids. We–Andy, Dan, Joe, Kyle, Nick, and me–met at King Soopers while the sun is still streaked across the sky in purple and orange. A quick run through the store to grab donuts, beef jerky, Mountain Dew, coffee, and water; another quick stop for gas, and we’re on our way.

It snowed on Thursday night and Colorado was cold and windy, the highway slushy and wet. We piled into two cars with a walkie talkie in each. Most of the first several hours were spent trash talking each other through the walkies.

The quickest road out of Colorado going west is I-70, which climbs through the foothills and goes up and over Vail Pass, and then slides down the other side, into the mesa country of western Colorado and then out into Utah. People live all along it. It’s the road skiers take to most Colorado ski resorts. Mining towns are littered all along it (or, more accurately, it was built along the old road that connected mining towns to Denver). It’s our way out of Colorado, and almost all the way through Utah, until it dead-ends at I-15 and we turn south.

We had to stop in Vail because the slush kicked up so much dirt behind the cars in front of us that Kyle’s car ran out of windshield wiper fluid. We tried to get to an exit but Kyle ended up pulling into a turnout–he couldn’t see at all and was hanging his head out the window, Ace-Ventura style.

If you’ve lived in Colorado for a long time, like I have, and spent a lot of time camping and backpacking and skiing in the mountains, like I have, the mountains develop a personality. They’re huge megalithic chunks of rock that alternate between not caring if you live or die, and actively trying to destroy you. There is no such thing as friendship with the mountains–the most you can hope for, if you know them well enough, is a sort of benevolence. Everything you need is there, if you know where to look, but the mountain won’t help you find it. It’s put it there, and that better be enough. You don’t think about jet streams and cold fronts in the nature, it’s more like nature being in a bad mood. Once I was one an eight-day backpacking trip. It rained for six of the eight days. By the fourth or fifth day, we were tired of the mountain and cursing the weather gods, because it felt like they were toying with us. That’s what the mountains do: they toy with you. It can be beautiful sunny weather at 11:00 in the morning, and by 1:00 it’s raining and you’re hiding from lightning and digging in your pack for long underwear. Beautiful and stunning landscapes hide loose rocks that can sprain your ankle (a minor injury, normally, but potentially lethal when you’re twenty miles from the nearest road and nobody knows where you are). The mountains are full of deer and elk and everybody wants to see them, while avoiding attracting the attention of a cougar or a bear, forgetting that the supposedly harmless herbivores kill more people every year. What’s beautiful is dangerous, the seemingly harmless can be deadly, and only bitter experience can teach you the difference. That’s what the mountains have taught me.

Humans’ attitudes towards the mountains vacilate between changing it, controlling it, and leaving it exactly the same. We build towns and highways, carve trails, put houses on hilltops. We chop trees and control the animal population, which can no longer control itself. But then something happens that’s out of our control, like a wildfire that destroys thousands of acres of vegetation. It’s a vicious and brutal process, but a natural one, part of the mountain reforging and renewing itself, keeping a balance. Given time, the landscape can renew itself, but humans are impatient. We don’t give the mountain any time anymore. After a forest fire we go in and plant quick-growing seeds that will take root and lessen the eroding. Back and forth, hot and cold, that’s how the mountains are. You learn to live with them because they sure as hell don’t care if they live with you. And they won’t ever be subdued.

While I stared out the window for a good four hours thinking about all this, the mountains slid past us, the highway threading between and around and through the peaks. We held our breath going through tunnels (except for the Eisenhower tunnel, which is too long) and listened to music. Traveling to a show, getting there is half the fun. You listen to music and in the back of your mind is the thought, “By this time tomorrow I’ll be hearing this music live and it will rock.” As for me, I don’t have a lot of friends who will tolerate ska, let alone seek it out. Dan and Andy are the only guys on this trip that I really know, and everyone else is friends of theirs.

When we stopped at a gas station in Grand Junction, Andy helped himself to some of Dan’s CDs in the other car. We weren’t five minutes out of the gas station when Dan came crackling over the walkie talkie. “Hey fuckers!”

“Yes, bastard?” returned Andy.

“Do you have my CDs?”

“Define ‘have’.”

“Are you holding them in your possession, asshole.”

We couldn’t answer for several seconds because we were laughing too hard. Finally Andy managed to say, “Well, maybe.”

“Fuckers.”

We turned up the music and held the walkie talkie up to the speaker.

Utah

Stupid Utah.

The first impression that I have of Utah is a big blank tan expanse of nothing. The sign that says “Now Leaving Colorful Colorado” is painfully accurate and it seems like not only have you left Colorado, but all the color as well. The sign that said “Caution: Eagles on Highway” caused some discussion. Eagles doing what? Something dangerous?

We also spent some time in Utah seeing how fast we could get Andy’s car to go. I-70 in Utah is long, flat, and empty, and there’s nothing to hit (except eagles, apparently). We got up to 122mph before fear got the better of us. Best not to die a horrific fiery death before the Ska Summit.

We stopped in a town called Green River for gas and lunch. One thing I’ve observed about people: if you’re a freak wandering around alone, no one takes any notice of you. I can wander around Denver by myself in all my punk/ska clothes and nobody cares, except sometimes to ask polite (if silly) questions. “Toasters? So you like kitchen appliances, eh?” “Avoid One what?” “H2O? I also like water.” But when you’re part of a posse of freaks, people are a lot more likely to fear and despise you–and a lot more likely to show it. In Utah, a bunch of spiky, blue- and red-haired freaks wearing trench coats and patch-covered hoodies, are trouble. The ladies at Burger King wouldn’t speak to us, the customers all stared at us, and the gas station attendant wouldn’t sell us cigarettes.

Our growing feelings of dislike toward Utah increased when Andy, Brian, and Nick were pulled over by an unmarked state trooper. He didn’t use radar, didn’t check the ownership of the vehicle, and told us there was snow and ice on the (totally dry) mountain pass, and that they might crash and “not know what happened.” (“Wow, we seem to be at the bottom of a canyon. How’d that happen?”) What’s more, Kyle, Dan, Joe, and me in the other car kept going and pulled off at the next exit, but Andy and them didn’t. We wasted an hour trying to find them. Stupid Utah.


booksOne of the things that is both bad and good about working at a library is that you get to see these little chunks of people’s lives. A piece of the whole. Since I mostly re-shelve books, for me that often looks like going through the bookdrop and finding a little pile of books on “parenting through divorce,” or “how to file for bankrupty,” or “understanding your autistic child.” When stuff like that happens, I typically say a little prayer for that person, hope that they’re finding the support that they need, and move on.
But sometimes, it’s more complicated. Sometimes, it’s a homeless guy trying to tell you about all of his problems getting housing assistance, and he’s asking about help applying for jobs and he has a resume and you look at his resume and you have this sinking feeling that nobody’s going to hire this guy, but you don’t say that, because you’re really not qualified to edit people’s resumes. Sometimes, it’s a guy who doesn’t even know how to use a mouse trying to figure out the internet enough to apply for jobs online, jobs that don’t require any computer skills, and you think, This. This is what the digital divide looks like it is a huge fucking problem and I don’t know any way around it except to teach what it is to double-click, one person at a time. And also indefinitely extend their computer time because they’ve never used a keyboard before and it takes them ten minutes to type a single sentence. Sometimes it’s that.
I heard most of this second hand, but we had a group of teenagers (like 13- and 14-year-olds) playing games on our public computers. They were a little loud, as teenagers tend to be. Our security guard talked to them, but they apparently didn’t get as whisper-quiet as another patron on the computers would have liked, because he went outside and called the police and told them that a kid was “talking about buying ammunition.” (The kid may have been talking about ammunition, but if so it was computer game ammunition, and I’m pretty confident that the surly customer knew exactly what the kids were actually talking about.) The customer didn’t tell anybody that he’d called the cops, so the first we knew of the whole situation was when four cops came in to the library, made a beeline for one of the kids (one of the only black kids, as it happens), hauled him out of his chair, and started searching him.
The kid looked fucking terrified. The cops hadn’t explained themselves to us, but more importantly didn’t explain what the hell was going on to the kid, just hauled him up and started putting their hands on him. He’s fourteen, and he’s got this look on his face like he’s sure he’s about to get shot.
They didn’t find weapons, obviously. The kid was playing a game. They didn’t really apologize either, just shook his hand like, “Haha, still friends, right?!” and left.
I assume that the cops were responding to the description that the customer gave them. Why the customer picked out the black kid, I don’t know (the disgruntled customer was also black). But to the kid, and to everyone watching, a bunch of cops just marched into a public building and beelined straight for the black kid.
To the cops, they were being prudent and cautious, and maybe trying to catch a suspect in the act of looking at ammunition online (which is a crime since when?), to the rest of us, they were grabbing and terrifying a kid who might be obnoxious but who is not (to the best of my knowledge) a criminal of any sort. I want everyone to feel safe in the library, and when cops march in and haul people out of their chairs at the public computers, that undermines that goal.
And as an employee of the library, I can’t really go up to the kid and say, “Dude, that totally sucked and was racist and I’m sorry,” because then I’m speaking for the library. And what black kid wants a random white woman to label his experience, library employee or not? What commiseration can a total stranger of any race offer? “Oh, so you saw this racist shit go down, recognized it as racist shit, and did nothing, but now you want cookies from me for recognizing it? I think not.”
I know a lot of white people with this problem. We’ve gotten better about seeing racism, maybe; we’ve gotten better at listening to our friends of color and at reading blogs about the experiences of people of color. We want to be compassionate and woke while also being cognizant of when we’re overstepping, when we’re taking up too much space, when we need to shut up and listen instead of taking over a situation. We want to help create safe spaces but are painfully conscious that sometimes our mere presence feels unsafe. The fear of doing the wrong thing leads to doing nothing–but that is also the wrong thing.
First world problems? Oh god, yes. I swear this is not some poor-me-white-girl sadness rant. I’m just trying to articulate the rock-and-hard place spot that some liberal progressive whites (or at least, this liberal progressive white person) can find themselves in. And trying to meditate on how to move past it (this is where the entry ends on a disappointing cliffhanger, because I don’t have the answer to that question). I’m not so bad on the internet, where we so often talk about things that happened instead of being asked to react in the moment. But reacting in the moment–not just to racist shit, but to all violent shit and not-okay shit and people-who-need-our-help shit–is part of what all of us humans need to get better at. I work in a library, I work in customer service, I work with the public, and part of being good at that is being able to recognize and talk to people about their own experience when they want me to.
Postscript: The incident I described above happened about a week ago, and I’ve seen the boys in the library since then, playing their game and talking to each other. So thankfully, they were at least not so badly scared/unwelcomed that they stopped coming to the library. 

cardcatalog2“Simplicity boils down to two steps: Identify the essential. Eliminate the rest.” –Leo Babauta

I feel like my twenties was spent accumulating Stuff, and my thirties is going to be spent getting rid of it. I’m a writer, and accumulate paper at an alarming rate. I get supplies and ephemera and things, and plan to do projects that end up being stuffed into boxes. Instead of making a list of books I wanted to read someday, for awhile (because I worked in a bookstore that gave me a 30% discount) I would just buy the book and put it in a crate, planning to get to it eventually. This system may work great if you’re not already a busy person with a tendency to procrastinate, but I am not that person. Besides that, my living space never expanded to accommodate all my Stuff like I thought it would. Turns out that not everyone’s economic situation is a steadily increasing upward climb after college. I think I figured that by the time I got to my 30s, my living space would have expanded and stabilized, but that’s just not how life worked out. And so now I wonder why I have all this Stuff, why I pack it up and haul it around to a new living space every two to three years, why I step over it in my bedroom, why I trip over it in the dark, why I breathe in the dust it collects. I’m finally looking at fitting my stuff into the space I have, instead of the other way around. (And yes, it is capitalized in my head, this Stuff that I probably don’t need and yet don’t get rid of.)

A milk crate full of scratch paper. An old microwave. Six bags of clothes and towels. A bashed-up futon. Four pairs of shoes.

After my dad had to clean out his mom’s house after she died, he came home and started emptying out his own crawl space and filing cabinets and closets, so that me and my brother won’t have to someday. Hurricane Katrina took care of the problem at my other grandmother’s house. When I was a kid, I used to lie awake at night fearing that my house would catch fire (the school unit that was meant to empower me in case of emergency had the effect of opening my eyes to a manner of death and destruction I hadn’t, to that point, realized was possible), and I would make lists in my head of what I needed to take out of the house with me. I keep reading about Syrian refugees, millions of them, leaving behind everything they can’t carry. People fleeing from wildfires. Zombie apocalypse stories that reduce humanity to its bones. The problem of electrifying India and China while not cooking the planet. Why do I carry all this stuff. The objects, the lists, the tasks, the anxiety. The stuff. It’s all ephemeral anyway. Just one fire away from being ash and memories. Just one hurricane away from being black sludge. How much of it do I really really need?

A DSLR camera. An electric guitar. A 12×1 amp. A saxophone. A 12-channel mixer. Old art supplies. Old blank books.

This isn’t entirely the way I was raised. My parents are tidy people, my dad especially is budget-minded, and they didn’t just buy stuff willy-nilly. But neither did they throw anything away that might be useful (or rather, in the case of my dad, he doesn’t buy anything that he doesn’t think he can get at least ten years of good use out of). They didn’t police my own ability to control my bedroom space and accumulate possessions. Even as a little kid, I liked garage sales. I grew up reading Ranger Rick and its elementary-level precautions against how fast we’re filling up all of our landfills. So for as long as I can remember, I have been both surrounded by stuff and worried about it. Full bookshelves, full garages, full crawl spaces, full drawers of random crap that don’t have a place. I used to keep a milk crate full of paper that was blank on one side that I used as scratch paper. I carted it around for over ten years; it turned into a sort of sediment record of my academic career going all the way back to high school. I finally chucked it out last summer. As a friend of mine said, if you haven’t used it in ten years, you’re not going to use it. So out it went. And now it’s one less thing, physically and mentally, to carry around.

I was raised in Quakerism, and one of Quakerism’s founding principles is Simplicity. The definition I was told as a child, that I’ve always connected to, is that Simplicity isn’t about the amount of stuff you have or don’t have. And it’s not even necessarily about how busy you are, something that those of us in the 21st century probably find comforting. The way Simplicity was explained to me is that you need to have space in your brain and your heart to be able to listen to God in your life. For me, it happens to be true that a cluttery living space contributes to a cluttery headspace and a cluttery religious practice. On the other hand, some of the most cluttered houses I was around growing up were houses owned by Quakers, because we tend to save everything in the hope that it might be useful someday. It took me a long time to realize that I can’t save stuff hoping I’ll use it someday. It takes up too much space in my head. When I imagine my best living space, or when I try to imagine my life feeling caught up and simple, I’m in something like a log cabin with no extraneous furniture and simple tasks to do and I just move through life, doing one thing at a time. I keep daydreaming about putting my stuff in storage and going and teaching English in Japan, or even just getting a long haul trucker’s license and living in the cab of a truck with a dog and a small bookshelf with books and a laptop. (My need to collect books will probably forever stand in the way of my desire to live in a tiny cabin with no extraneous possessions.)

How much of my life is just extraneous? What could I do without? The vast majority of it. Easily. The question is, will I do without it because I want to, or will I wait until I have to, until the entropy of the universe takes my decision to own stuff out of my hands?

Paystubs from 2005. Old pots and pans from Wal-Mart. Three boxes of books. Two boxes of old magazines. Old candles.

Why do I save objects thinking I’ll use them someday? Wouldn’t it be better if I sent it back out into the world where someone who might be able to use it now could maybe find it? As a country, we’re drowning in stuff. We could stop producing jeans and shirts and shoes right now any everyone would still be able to walk around fully clothed for years. 40% of the food purchased nationwide gets thrown away. The problem of people not having stuff isn’t a problem of resources; it’s a problem of distribution. As I get used to being able to find everything online, and at my local library, trying to build my own archive of useful Stuff seems like a futile endeavor. I don’t have the time or the space or the filing system.

And so, a little at a time, stuff has gone out the door. To Goodwill and onto Amazon and ebay and into Little Free Library boxes and used book stores. I still have a box of records (music records I mean) to sell on ebay. I could probably stand to get rid of more clothes. I can’t quite stand to get rid of my old Nintendo, even though I don’t have anything to plug it into. There’s another drawer of audio cables and chargers that I could chuck out. These days, ironically, my problem is cardboard boxes, which I don’t want to throw out because I could fill them with stuff I’m throwing out, but I’m not sure now if I have more cardboard boxes than stuff to put in them.

Piles of bumper stickers that I don’t have a car to put them on. My childhood dog’s collar. A box of Mardi Gras necklaces.

I’ve been reading books like The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, listening to podcasts like The Minimalists, to get me in the right mindset to throw stuff out. I’m realizing that material simplicity–the sort of simplicity where you approach your possessions and schedule with mindfulness and intention instead of just automatically going wherever your impulses lead you–is one of those things that you approach entirely differently depending on your income level aand class privilege. What, for some folks, is a way to improve their life is for other people just life. I had an economic upbringing that was set to a packrat/accumulation default, and much of my adulthood has been spent unlearning that behavior (it says something about the creepy power of American culture that I learned this behavior in spite of my parents’ best efforts to teach me otherwise). If you don’t have money to buy that book you want to read, even at a 30% discount, you don’t buy the damn book. If you don’t have a closet or floor space in which to cram all your scrapbook supplies (that you had the money to buy), you don’t even start out with crafting supplies and half-done projects.

But even more than that, minimalism as a philosophy has a certain class-based bias. Maria Kondo, the tidying guru of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, recommends that throwing things out be the default setting, and that you only keep things that give you joy. Alright, okay. One of her anecdotes involves getting rid of a screwdriver, and then trying to use other household objects in the place of the screwdriver, before deciding that life really needs screwdrivers and buying another one. The idea of throwing away (or giving to Goodwill) a perfectly good screwdriver and not replacing it until I find a joy-causing screwdriver is bonkers to me. The fact that the Minimalists (bloggers Josh and Ryan) left extremely well-paying corporate careers to be bloggers, and to have that blog be about the joy of less stuff, is bonkers. Most of us can’t leave our jobs, no matter how much we want to. I just started listening to the Minimalists podcast, and on one level I love the idea and the content and the process, but on another level I really hope they acknowledge at some point that just the fact that they were able to make that choice at all is an extraordinary level of privilege and class and education in and of itself. I have maybe $200 left in my bank account at the end of every month; no way can I quit my job and be a blogger. They talk about their desire, early on their minimalism journey, to quit their jobs and be baristas. My reaction (because I was a barista for ten years) was, “Yeah, that’s not living simply, that’s just being poor.” What’s the difference between being poor and living simply? Even being a barista is a manifestation of privilege, because it means you’ve spent time in coffee shops, which means you have an extra $5 a day to spend on coffee and muffins. Nobody ever advocates quitting your corporate job for the joy of being a Wal-Mart greeter, even though the two probably pay roughly the same. The Minimalists said no to $10k a month by refusing to put ads on their site. I don’t know how much either of them has that they can say no to $10k a month, but holy shit, I would love $10k a month. Almost anyone would, and it’s not because we’re greedy or have no values, it’s because so many Americans feel fucking broke all the time.

But, y’know, maybe I could. Because that’s the thing, when I’m annoyed by shit like this, it’s often either because I recognize myself in this classist weirdness, or because I want to. I want a website that’s popular enough that someone will give me $10k per month for ads. I’d do that for six months, pay off all my debts, donate money to a scholarship fund for kids who don’t have money for college, and then go back to my ad-free model. I want to be the asshole that considers being a barista to be artful and working at Wal-Mart to be drudgery. I want to make choices about my life, not have those choices made for me either by economic limits or by cultural inertia. And one of the deepest inertias, one of the biggest lies told to us, is that we don’t have choices about things that we actually have a choice about.

I don’t know. I really don’t. I’ve been working on this entry for weeks, and while it’s gotten longer, I don’t think I’ve reached any more clarity on the whole thing. Maybe I should just stuck with throwing stuff out, and not thinking about the lifestyle implications.