I just think it’s neat. That is all.
This is–almost!–the last album in this series (though not the last album released). It’s taken me so long to get through this listen-along that the Bosstones have released another album in the interim (When God Was Great). Also because of how long I’ve been doing this, it no longer feels like a cohesive project, though of course you can read all the rest of them easily enough. But it was fun to have something specific to get me listening to these albums again, and recounting memories.
The Magic of Youth came out in 2011, a year that seems impossibly long ago (surely the album’s only been out for like 3-4 years, not 10?). It’s their second post-hiatus album release, after Pin Points & Gin Joints.
I have delayed hitting play while I wrote my little introduction, because the album starts with a bang and I know I won’t have much time to futz around. It starts with bass and distorted guitar. Even the horns sound kinda angry. This song gives me chills, I don’t know why. “Do everything that we want to do/Try everything there is to try/There’s nothing out there stopping me or you/Do everything before we die.”
It’s kind of got “fuck it,” vibes, and “Let’s do this” vibes. A reminder that the biggest thing stopping you in any endeavor might just be yourself (especially, she added editorially, if you’re white and straight and middle/upper class). There’s a little swoopy part in the middle that’s like a tiny dance break (I always see Ben in my head when this part of the song goes by) before it kicks back in again. This song is a great album opener. And set opener, I love hearing the Bosstones play this live.
“Like a Shotgun” is, I think, either about Dicky falling in love or about becoming a father, which I think he did around this time. There’s some shades of “That Bug Bit Me” in this, where it feels like he’s talking metaphorically and literally at the same time. I like to sing along with this song, and it’s great live, just carries you along, but I don’t feel a huge personal connection to the lyrics.
Both of these songs (and more and more with the Bosstones, throughout their history) have a lot of sonic layering going on. It’s more complex now than it was early in their careers when they just cranked the distortion on the guitars and Dicky’s voice up to 11. But “Shotgun,” especially, manages to approximate the overwhelming noise that is being at a concert, with the horns and the amps and the PA system and the noise of the crowd all mixing together to make this wall that feels almost physical at times.
“Disappearing,” by contrast, has these quiet moments where there’s not much happening other than the drums and the horns. Joe Sirois also has one of my all time favorite drum breakdowns in this song (in 2012, I think, I went to the Throwdown, and I was really excited to hear Sirois do this solo live but instead they had the Dropkick Murphys’ drummer Matt on stage to share the solo with him, which was cool but also disappointing). I think it’s a snare drum that’s tuned really tight so it sounds more hollow than snappy? Look I don’t know, I’m not a drummer. But it is neat. That’s all.
“Sunday Afternoons on Wisdom Ave” is a more fun, sorta lighthearted song about a chunk of Dicky’s childhood. The keyboards is doing a lot of the work of the ska rhythm here, harmonizing with the guitars. (I realize that I’m a person who is almost always focused primarily on vocals, trying to find ways to talk about the music. There’s a lot to listen to and pay attention [HAHA I see what I did there] to on the instrumentals on this album. I apologize to anyone who’s an actual musician, reading me try to articulate what I’m hearing is probably painful. I’m also trying really hard to not mention Phil fucking Ramone).
Looking at the track list, the first five tracks on this album get played at their shows pretty regularly. I know that other Bosstones fans have kept track of setlists (there’s a spreadsheet that I could find if I went looking) and at this point have a database of ever single song and how often it’s played. I wonder if anyone’s calculated the prevalance of songs per album in live set lists (they probably have).
“They Will Need Music,” though it’s basically in the middle of the album (holy smokes we’re already in the middle of the album?) is often near the end of their set. Very end? It’s fun and triumphant. I’m just losing myself in a reverie of seeing the Bosstones in person, now. The lights and the noise and Matty picking me up so I can see and the circle pit and Lerch picking me up when I fall and other people’s sweat and confetti coming out of the ceiling…sigh. The outro on this song is JG (the keyboard player) getting to have a little solo mess around time (like, completely solo, like he’s alone on stage), kinda ragtimey, it’s fun. I think there are people who don’t like this song or are tired of it (just as there are people who don’t like “Death Valley Vipers, which, I just don’t understand), but those people are wrong.
“The Package Store Petition,” I don’t think I’ve ever heard them play this song live? It’s okay, not my favorite. One of those songs where Dicky is telling a story that’s not exactly his–he’s putting himself in this other guy’s head, I mean, and telling a story from that perspective. There’s tension in the horns, giving away that there’s some bad things going on. It’s one of those songs where the Bosstones manage to sound more threatening during the quiet parts? Oh, now that I hear Dicky sing “It’s hell they’ll caaaaaatch,” I think I have heard this song live. That’s bringing back some memories.
Have I seen the Bosstones live so often that now I can transplant any of their songs into a live situation? Some people know exactly how many times they’ve seen the Bosstones, I used to but I lost count sometime in 2004 around show 26 (I could probably go back and count, I keep ticket stubs and things). I know that I’m well above 50. At this point, it’s just as much about seeing people in the crowd as it is about seeing the Bosstones. I never really had friends to go to shows with in high school and college–eventually I made some, but my mental default to going to shows is still that I go by myself. Bosstones shows are really the only time when I go to a show to see more than just the band–I get to hang out with Bill and Steve and Matty and Lerch and Will and Xtine and Jonathan and Skippy and Flynn and Audrey and Chris and Boston and Caitlin and Nick and Phyro and and and and. It’s good to see people you know in the pit. It’s good to make plans to get beers before or (and?) after.
“The Horseshoe and the Rabbit’s Foot.” The horns in the intro to this song always make me want to dance like Molly Ringwold in The Breakfast Club. (LOL, the dog just groaned at me. I think he needs to go for a walk. Album’s almost done, dog.) (Also, look, I’ll be honest, I’m struggling a little bit to come up with things to talk about here, can I just skip to the end and babble about “Open and Honest”? Though, really, what I love about Open & Honest is that it’s full of references to their previous songs/albums which is hard to chart in a blog entry, so you might as well just go and see that I annotated it on genius dot com.
“The Magic of Youth” is a little bit like “Toxic Toast” and a little bit like “She Just Happened,” though less optimistic and nostalgic than either of those. Which is funny, because the title on its own is sweet and nostalgic–but there’s an edge to the lyrics that isn’t really there in “Toxic Toast.” There’s so many signifiers of downright poverty in the lyrics–“Do things on shoe strings to make the ends meet/Cut costs and corners in order to eat/Low income housing they couldn’t afford/Bills and collectors that they just ignored” If you’re in low income housing and you’re still dodging bills and “cutting corners” (I assume that means stealing) in order to eat….you’re in a pretty bad place. Up against the wall. In “Toxic Toast,” the characters in that song are broke as shit, and know it, and don’t care. They’re having fun. They’re young and dumb and okay with it. This song? Isn’t about that sort of being broke. This is about drugs, and doing shit you don’t want to do just to keep both ends of your body together.
I’m not sure if the couple in this song have a happy ending? The song says they stay together, “older and sickly and waiting to die.” Who knows how old “old” is, here, though. And who knows how long they could keep going with the particular hustles that are mentioned in this song, or what they started doing when those gave out.
“The Upper Hand.” I’m listening to the intro on this song and obviously I’ve heard it a bunch, but I’m realizing that I don’t actually know any of the lyrics or what this song is about. It’s managed to escape me. Onward!
“The Ballad of Candlepin Paul.” The Bosstones played this song once at a Throwdown with the real Candlepin Paul there in attendance. I think Dicky wrote this song at least partly as a joke and/or to annoy the Dropkick Murphys’ bassist and vocalist Ken Casey. But it’s also about Boston history, so who knows, maybe it’s 100% sincere (in keeping with Dicky’s general lyrical themes of contrast, and metaphors vs literals and things like that, it’s useful to view Dicky as Schroedinger’s Lyricist: He is both 100% sincere and 100% silly and full of shit, all at the same time). I admit that this is one of those songs where I kinda go, “Sooooo you had a finite amount of money and time to spend in a studio and you decided to do this with it,” not because the song is bad or anything like that, but just because….motherfuckers wrote a song about bowling. Bowling.
Okay! “Open and Honest.” Great fucking song. Is just crying out for a montagey music video. When I realized that this was the song I would be discussing last, I was actually really excited. Like what a great way to cap off my years-long series. And then, as I mentioned, the Bosstones put out a new album, so I have to review that at some point. It’s fine. Everything’s fine.
The song references all of the Bosstones’ pre-hiatus studio albums (Devil’s Night Out, More Noise & Other Disturbances, Don’t Know How to Party, Question the Answers, Let’s Face It, and Pay Attention). The references are not quite in order of album release which honestly bothers me a little bit (I bet it bothers Dicky too), but sometimes you have to make sacrifices so that things can rhyme.
- “May I say we’ve been this way now since the day we met the devil”
- “We won’t be bought and sold controlled or told he don’t know how to revel”
- “The noise you’ve been hearing, the culmination of an awful lot of people caring”
- “Let’s face what you’re afraid of”
- “You don’t know when they might throw at you a curveball or a question”
- “So let’s not mention who you paid attention to”
The last words of the song (and the album) are, “Nothing left to say, thank you.” Which I’m pretty sure is just referring to this song/album, not the band as a whole (especially since they’ve released two albums since then). But it also sorta encapsulates how I feel (not that I’m going to let that stop me from saying more) about the Bosstones: Nothing left to say, thank you.
The library stopped being a library.
They let me back in to work in the building, three days a week. I emptied the book drops. I checked in material.
I watered my coworker’s plant, still hanging on after two months with no water.
I edited all the process documentation. I edited it again.
I took everything off the hold shelf, that had been sitting there for three months, unable to be picked up. Empty shelves. No patrons. No services.
I took all the forms that we have patrons fill out and filed them in a filing cabinet. I organized folders by month. I labeled the drawers.
I threw away old documentation. Out of date forms. Empty three-ring binders. I found circulation policies from 2007 and thought about sending them to the archives collection.
I ran documents through the shredder.
I noticed that my coworker, who quit two months before we went into lockdown, had left behind a really cool supply organizer on her desk. I stole it and put it on mine.
I reorganized our network drive, and the hard drive.
We were a one-way library. Books come in….they don’t go back out.
Outside the library, our campus had become something of a park, a picnic ground for neighbors in the area. They couldn’t go to the actual parks–the city had closed them. They couldn’t stay in their houses forever. So, they came to the college I work at, sat under a cottonwood for awhile, let their kids toddle in the grass.
I piled up boxes of mail, waiting for our ILL staff to come back to work, along the wall. I organized them by date, in crates. It took about two weeks to fill up a crate. I ended up filling 6 of them, before my coworker started coming to the office, started unpacking and processing everything.
I took our larger-than-lifesized cardboard figure of Legolas the Wood Elf and made a mask for him out of paper towels. I moved him to different places around the office so he could surprise the cleaning crew.
One of the staff computers near me had its monitor on, and it was being used by someone working remotely. I could see them highlighting and annotating old digital versions of the school newspaper to make them accessible to screen readers.
I was often the only one in the building. Most of the lights were off. I listened to podcasts. Wiped my desk down with disinfectant even though nobody else was going to touch it.
I stayed away from windows. Every now and then, someone would walk by, cup their hands to their face and peer through the glass, trying to figure out if we were open.
My coworker who organizes building stuff showed up eventually. He started taking away furniture, piling it in study rooms, blocking off the entire lower level. Stickers appeared on the floor, directing people to this side of an aisle or that one. We threw dropcloths over bookcases to keep people from browsing. Plastic wrapping appeared over the drinking fountains. I put a sign on the dishwasher letting people know they had to hand wash their dishes or bring their own dishes in with them. We ran out of coffee but there was nobody to order any more, and anyway, we weren’t accepting deliveries. At the request of the custodial staff, we placed our trash cans outside of offices, to reduce the number of areas they’d have to walk through.
We put up a curtain around the front desk. No lending books, not right now. Not even when we let people back into the building. The library is closed.
I signed into staff meetings on my phone so that I could walk around and show everyone else, who hadn’t been in the library in over six months, what the building looked like now.
Quiet, quiet, quiet. I had no patrons. I had no requests to fill. No printers to fill with paper. No questions about restrooms or room assignments.
I was getting caught up on so much that I’d been planning to do for years. It was terrible.
I took inventory of all of the chargers and headphones and projectors and everything else we check out to patrons. I wondered if we’d ever check them out again.
Eventually, I started meeting patrons by appointment. They could put items on hold and set up a time and I would bring the items out to their car. Since no one else was working in circulation, I could organize the hold shelf however I wanted. I gave patrons weeks and weeks to pick up their items before cycling them back to the shelf.
When does a library become a library again? We’re lending books now. Students are in and out of the building. We’re even having classes in the building. Holds get picked up. But there’s still no research center, no computer lab, no writing center. No questions about restrooms or school assignments. No group study rooms. It doesn’t feel like a library. I’m still behind a curtain. Still behind glass.
I’ve started to picture the library as a great, slumbering beast. Unlike most beasts, though, it was a lot easier to send it to sleep than it is to wake it up. One of the podcasts that I listen to adapted its sign off by saying, “We are produced on Radio Row, which is currently scattered across the North American continent but will always be centered in beautiful downtown Oakland, California.” The library is currently scattered across the North American continent (or at least…the greater metro area), and what lives here is a skeleton that puts books in the mail and electronic files in email boxes. It lives on Zoom and in the chat room.
And it slumbers, which it can do because campus is quiet and empty, waiting for thousands of students to be safe enough to come poke it with a stick until it wakes up entirely.
(Okay, but seriously, me making a timely post within two weeks of the actual time? I am fucking on it, you guys.)
Thank you, to all the vigilant/anxious/conscientious people in 2020 who worked really hard to make wearing a mask and not leaving home the norm in 2020. It helped. I’m a person who wants to be vigilant and do the right thing, but ultimately I’m also lazy, and keeping my attention on something in a consistent way for weeks and weeks and weeks and months is impossible for me to do if I’m not around other people who are also doing it. (I don’t know if this is typical? If people in low-compliance areas would wear masks if it was more the norm? In some ways I notice myself being really susceptible to just rolling along with what everyone else is doing; in some ways I’m super ornery.) Surrounded by different people (or surrounded by no people), I know I would have continued to wear a mask, but I’m not sure if I would have stayed out of restaurants. I maybe would have forgotten about staying away from people at the grocery. I might have given up on social distancing at work. I would have just made doctors’ appointments and dental appointments and kept going to starbucks. I admit I did keep going to get my hair cut, partly because I couldn’t stand it and partly because my stylist owns her own business, but that was one of the only “That’s a really stupid thing you’re doing” things I did all year, and on balance…well, at least I didn’t have to pay a price for it.
Throughout this whole thing, I’ve underestimated the danger and the longevity of it. I started getting anxious about my work needing to shut down only a day or two before it actually did. I didn’t really think, in April and May, that we’d be settling in for doing the whole year like this, even though people said we would. I am still only half-believing the people who are saying that we need to be prepared for this to be our life for another six months. By this time I know to trust other people and not my instincts, and that my disbelief/disunderstanding is probably more self-preservation than anything else.
Thanks to the people who tweeted about non-instacart grocery ordering apps. Thanks to the people who tweeted about mental health and the agony of combining grief with waiting. Thanks to the people who normalized Saying No To Everything. Thanks to the people who gave me words with which to say, “No, I’m not doing that right now/this year/etc.” Thanks to the people who figured out how to have writer’s conferences online. And movie parties online. Thanks to the people who made me feel guilty for even considering doing a thing, which then steered me away from doing that thing. Thank you to the people who know that human life matters, and that all the lives we lost this year mattered, and that they all left holes behind. Thank you for making pushing back against boomer parents who still want to go to restaurants and to church a thing that we can do with love and humor and compassion.
Thank you to the pets, the dogs and the cats and bunnies and bearded dragons and iguanas and chickens and whatever, who made staying home a tolerable project. Thank you to the lady who let me keep coming over to watch her dog and hang out with him even though she probably didn’t need to. Thanks to the dogs for giving me a reason to leave the house, walk around, and look at the sky. Thanks for keeping me company on zoom meetings. And for interrupting zoom meetings. Thank you for the snuggles, for collapsing across my lap so thoroughly and heavily that my legs fell asleep.
If you still exist in the world and are reading this, thank you. I’m glad you’re here. I’m glad you’ve survived this long. Thank you for helping all the people that you helped. I’m glad you kept on as best you could. I hope you have something good to look forward to in 2021.
Thank you to all the activists who took to the streets in 2020, risking literal life and limb to do so. Thank you for telling your stories. Thank you for telling me what were the good orgs to donate money to. I hope in 2021 we can make progress on defunding police and treasuring black life, and not have to take to the streets and protest every time the police kill a black person.
And to thousands of firefighters, across a dozen states, who left their families (in the middle of a pandemic) to fight the worst wildfires ever (during a pandemic). Thank you for working to keep the homes of total strangers safe. I’m really sorry that the season was so long, and hard, and relentless. I hope you’ve had a few good nights’ sleep since October.
Thank you to the people who gave me stories to read, listen to, play, or watch in 2020. Thank you to everyone who figured out how to find the bandwidth to do creative things in 2020. Thank you especially to the people who made things lighthearted and compassionate, things that seemed as far away from 2020 as possible.
Thanks to the kids, the little ones. I know that in a lot of ways you don’t even know how fucking weird this year was. Thank you for being adaptable, for being bouncy and bubbly and bringing us all up with you. I know that I spent a lot of the year wishing that everything would be less noisy, but the truth is, if you were less noisy, I would be a whole lot sadder. Thank you for continuing to find fun and excitement even within all of this nonsense of a year. I hope I was able to support you in a way that was helpful.
Here’s to 2021 being better in any number of ways than 2020.
July, 2017. I’m at Denver Comic Con, in a room full of rows of chairs, and a projector on a cart set at an angle to find the screen in the corner. I find a seat on the aisle (I always find a seat on the aisle), as near to the front as I can get. We’re in a mid-sized breakout room for this panel, which is called “Marvel: Then and Now,” and it’s crowded enough that people are filling the seats, standing along the back wall, shuffling bags and cosplay weapons to try to make space for someone next to them.
The panel has three generations of Marvel writers and artists: Two old guys (like, in their late 80s, they rolled into the panel on mobility scooters) who were at Marvel in the 1950s, a white English man who started at Marvel in the late 80s, and a black woman who works there now and whose titles include Black Panther, Iron Man, and World of Wakanda.
The first question that the moderator asks is about how Marvel has changed since each panelist got into the business. One of the old guys said (and in spite of the quotation marks, I’m paraphrasing), “I don’t want to get political” (so don’t then) “but” (uh oh) “I started at Marvel during World War II, and the nation was one. And I think we need to make America great again.” (please be being ironic right now) “We need to just give him a chance” (oh dear) “He’s going to take down the Mexican mafias just like he made it safe for a black woman and her kid safe to walk down the street in New York” (stop talking) “and why can’t we be as one” (seriously though stop talking). He goes on citing “fake news” and random crime stories for several minutes. I’m not sure why the moderator didn’t interrupt or redirect; he certainly should have. The few people of color who were in the audience get up and walk out. I noticed some white people too. After a weirdly agonizing minute, as my ingrained training about being “civil” (or at least “not rude”) battles with my desire to not look like I was endorsing this shit by continuing to sit here and listen to it, I get up and walk out too. I feel like everyone is staring at me, even though I’m sure nobody was. Someone sitting on the floor probably crept into my seat and that was that.
Of course, the minute I got out into the hallway, I realized, well shit, now I don’t get to hear Alitha Martinez talk about her career, the things she’s done and what she enjoys about drawing for Marvel. Ain’t that always the way: old white dude takes up too much space, too much oxygen, pushing out other voices or making them impossible to hear. I find her booth later in Artist Alley, and buy whatever I can. She’s really nice, there with her teenage son, who’s helping her sell art and books when he isn’t off doing his teenage son thing.
Artist Alley. Remember Artist Alley? And how close everybody had to stand to each other in order to move around at all?
September, 2019. I’ve been awake since 2:30am, and only had four hours of sleep total anyway. Showered and walked to the train. Didn’t manage to fall asleep on the train. Got to the airline gate with enough time to spare to buy a bagel and cream cheese at a Smashburger, the only food place that’s open on the concourse. They don’t spread the cream cheese on the bagel even though they have a full kitchen. Just drop a couple of individual servings in the bag.
I doze on the plane, at least for a little while. I was the sort of tired where everything around you and inside you starts to feel fuzzy and unreal. Being locked in a dark tube as it hurtles through the air doesn’t help with this impression. After we land, I take the train into town and and find the hostel I’m staying in. Check in time isn’t until like 4pm, but they let me store my stuff in the luggage room so I can head right back out and take the train to Douglas Park, where Riot Fest is happening.
I have almost always gone to concerts, music festivals, things like that, by myself. It’s not weird to me. And I like being able to choose my own schedule, decide which acts I want to see, and not have to discuss it with anyone else. I like being able to pull up a patch of grass and read a book when I need some downtime. Chicago in September is sunny, and warm, but not unbearably hot. The Sears Tower (or whatever it’s called now) looms in the distance like a giant, hibernating Transformer. Riot Fest rents out lockers so I don’t even need to keep my backpack with me most of the time. The lines to the port-a-potties, though on the long side, move quickly. Same for the water bottle refilling stations. People are handing out free individual packets of Pedialyte to keep everyone moving and hydrated. I am not filled with the amplified excitement that I used to get when I was younger and looking at the lineup for Warped Tour, and I’m not interested in getting myself clobbered in the mosh pit anymore, but I am perfectly content, standing in the shade to see H2O over here, dancing in the sun to The Selecter over there, buying ice cream that is way too expensive, checking the Riot Fest subreddit and meeting up with a random guy who happily gives me a pair of foam ear plugs. There are a whole lot more Latinx people here than I remember seeing in the scene in Denver, and I remember how multiracial punk is, or could be, or should be, or has been.
I see Anti-Flag, who are still singing about how dying for your government is shit after all these years, calling for a circle pit “everywhere” (please no). I randomly see a band named the Thin Lips, they were good. Wander around the merch tents, the usual collection of tie dye and Bob Marley posters and skate decks and anarchist bookstore tents. I sit under a tree and watch Hot Water Music from a distance. I have a locker that I can lock and unlock, so every now and then I take out my homework and work on it in the grass while I wait for Andrew WK or the Village People to take the stage. .
There’s old punks, with grey hairs and battered Vans. Young punks, with shellacked hair and pristine Docs. It’s like Warped Tour, but more low-key, and with more older punks. There’s a breeze, trying to clear out the humidity and the smoke from various types of stimulating leafs. The grounds crew tried to fill in the soft spots in the ground with wood chips to prevent mud pits, and it’s…slightly effectual.
The last day, Sunday afternoon/evening, is the reason why I really came to Chicago for this. Against Me!, Patti Smith, and Bikini Kill play one after the other on the same stage. Sometime over the summer, I jokingly tweeted at Laura Jane Grace that I needed her to make sure that her and Smith’s and BK’s sets didn’t overlap because I needed to see all three of them. I know that LJG doesn’t have any control over stage order at a huge fest like Riot Fest, but I got my wish, and I decide it’s because of her. I head over to the stage almost an hour early, and get as close as I can. In the manner of fests, there are two big stages next to each other and they alternate which one is in set up mode and which one has a band playing on it, so even though I’m only seeing three more bands, I’m going to be in this spot for about six hours. I have already peed and also monitored my fluid intake so I won’t have to go to the bathroom. I have clif bars in my backpack. I have a book to read. I am not front and center, but I’m close enough to see the band members’ faces, far enough away to not have to worry about the pit, and near to the big screens on either side of the stage that I can look at those if I need to (and when I take pictures on my phone, I mostly take pictures of the screen, because as dusk falls my already-crappy phone camera gets even crappier). I’m surrounded by other women, and we are all so so ready.
The bands are great. How do I describe how great they are? What are the words I can use to convey how happy I am? Laura Jane Grace laughs her way through her set and Patti Smith rules the fucking stage. Bikini Kill is still making their own clothing and digging through thrift store discount bins for stuff to wear on stage. And to see Bikini Kill, who (along with their friends and the rest of the riot grrrl community) started their own revolution, who stand for so much and who put their voices in the mouths of so many girls and queer kids, to see them play for thousands and thousand of punks, to see them close out Riot Fest, to hear Kathleen Hanna talk on stage about the same things I’ve heard her talk about in 500-capacity theater venues…that was something. That was great.
Dare you to do what you want
Dare you to be who you will
Dare you to cry right out loud
“You get so emotional, baby”
Double dare ya,
double dare ya,
double dare ya
-Bikini Kill, “Double Dare Ya”
February 2020. Some friends of mine, who I used to dogsit for until they moved to California, ask if I want to dogsit for them in California. Instead of giving me money, they’re giving me a free trip to California, and use of their car. They live outside of San Francisco, at the tail end of one of the BART lines, in what seems to be a working class neighborhood that can’t decide if it’s sliding downward or sliding upward. Hazel (the dog) and I go to a different park every day, this one a big off-leash park on the coast where she can sniff at and play with other dogs, that one a walk through some redwoods up a big hill (though never quite high enough for a big vista). The air is sunny and crisp, and I find a little park on the coast a mile from their house, where I can go running every morning and appreciate doing a cardio workout at low altitude. I carry a jacket with me but hardly ever wear it. I go see Hamilton (yes, again) in San Francisco. I know the soundtrack by heart but every time I go to see it live, there’s too much to see and it’s overwhelming and my brain forgets to remember what happened. So, I go see it whenever I’m in a city that’s not NYC with tickets that are vaguely affordable and buy a beer in the lobby that costs like $15 fucking dollars holy shit. I’ve never seen Hamilton in the city where I live–just when I’m traveling. I find Chinatown by accident while I’m trying to find the City Lights Bookstore. I think to myself, I could live here, I just need to figure out how to quadruple my income. I understand why people want to live here. The air is just fucking fantastic, and since I barely need to leave the house once a day, I don’t care about the traffic. I write. I go on walks with the dog. I sleep as late as she’ll let me in the mornings. I cook messy things in the kitchen (everything I cook is messy to some degree). I have takeout burgers and takeout Korean food and a random gyro because that’s all I can find right before Hamilton. I see the ocean. I watch classic movies like Silence of the Lambs and Swing Time, and have a long conversation with a friend about genderqueerness and -phobia and Silence of the Lambs. It’s like a staycation, but since it’s not my own house I’m not distracted by all the projects and cleaning that I’m not doing. It’s just me, and my brain, and the dog. I’ve been casting my mind back to it the last six months, those last feelings of freedom, before I knew what was coming. Appreciating the sun and the sky with no impending sense that it might be gone soon.
It started with a boy , and it started on a very particular Sunday .
The name of the boy is lost, or was never known, certainly not outside the
original conspirators. This is as it should be.
The news went out that a Royal Ball had been announced for Sunday. Decrees proclaiming a holiday were posted in the town square. Supply wagons had been trundling to the castle, day after day, food and decorations and bands and extra cooks, all working flat out to prepare for the upcoming celebration. Lutists and flautists could be heard practicing late at night, soft music dancing on moonbeams as they sought not to wake the town.
Maybe it was one of the boys in the tavern, or the stableyard , or one of the delivery
boys. Again, his name is lost to us. Perhaps it went like this: looking across the square at the market stalls where the ladies held up frocks and skirts to see what would suit them
best for the ball, he stared for a little too long. Perhaps after school let out, a crowd of boys clustered around a sign to read the Feast Day Proclamation and start planning their attendance (the event was open, anyone could attend, from the richest miser to the poorest churchmouse), and one boy sighed, and looked wistful; or perhaps he said, jokingly, to disguise his true desire, “I wish I could wear a dress.” Or, “Wouldn’t it
be grand if we all went in dresses?”
As for why, we don’t know that either. A popular schoolmaster had recently been shamed when it was revealed that his out-of-town sweetheart was not a beautiful lady, or, in fact, any sort of lady at all. The school boys had arisen as one and refused to go to school or do work of any kind until their master was reinstated. One particularly obstreperous lad was heard to declare that he did not give a ewe’s left buttock who the schoolmaster monkeyed about with, everyone should just mind their bloomin’ business. So perhaps they wanted to support their friend, or their schoolmaster. Perhaps something else.
Regardless, on the day of the Ball, twelve boys in glittery skirts, rouge and eyeliner, and
plaited hair stepped onto the dance floor. Hovering behind them were various giddy sisters and girl cousins who had donated skirts and paints and hair-ironing skills, who had hurriedly let out or taken in bodices and skirt lengths.
If the boys had been laughing, or cutting up, or teasing each other, it would have been boys doing boy things. But it wasn’t. They behaved as they always did. But they did it in dresses. It’s hard to dismiss something as a prank when it is so earnestly and seriously done. Lady Havishton was scandalized, but then, she is always scandalized by something, so nobody paid much mind.
The boys wore their gowns all night. The next morning they reappeared in their usual trousers and jackets, though some with a smudge of rouge still next to their noses, or black edging to their eyelashes. They declined to explain themselves beyond a vague shrug.
The next year, there were fifteen boys, and instead of wearing their sisters’ dresses, they
had procured their own.
I get off the gondola at the top of the hill and walk, carrying my snowboard, to the Schoolmarm trailhead. I take the gondola to the top as much as I can because de-boarding from a ski lift on my board still scares me (my fear is also justified; I fall over on maybe 4 of 6 attempts).
The top of the mountain is cold, and windy. Hard little bullets of snow hit my cheeks and fall into the collar of my coat. I walk to the top of the run, sit on a bench, and buckle my feet onto my board. Before I stand, I look around me, down the slope, readying myself to get up, telling myself that I can stand up and maintain control, that I won’t immediately go shooting down the mountain like a water slide.
This is my third time snowboarding this year, after fifteen years away from the mountains. The first time, I wouldn’t say I white-knuckled it, exactly. I butt-clenched it, sliding on my heel edge, staring straight down the hill, all my muscles from my hips down tense and shaking with the effort of keeping me upright. I didn’t do turns, I didn’t shift to my toe edge, I was afraid to build up speed. I had a tendency to fall on my rear. The act of snowboarding wasn’t fun, exactly–it was exhilirating, sure, and I was with my friend Christine and she’s fun, but I was too afraid of falling to loosen up at all. (I did fall, of course. The next morning all of my muscles hurt and my knees were multi-colored.)
But I went back another day, and took a lesson. Learned about placing my weight and how to hold myself (for instance: not like a rock) and where to look (up, up, always up), and how to make turns. I still fell, but it was in service of learning, not from trying to stand still while sliding downwards.
And now, here I am, ready to board down all three and a half miles of Schoolmarm. I’m still stiff and clumsy, and I have to think about every turn before I make it, but there’s also these moments where I’m sliding along, feeling comfortable and relaxed, feeling like there’s butter under my board, like there aren’t any edges that might catch on the snow and set me on my ass. And when I’m tired, I can sit on the slope and look at the mountains and the sky and take deep breaths and listen to the silence.
During the lesson that I took, my teacher showed us how to do flat 360s (spin in a circle without jumping off the ground), and to my enormous surprise I master it immediately. I do it until I’m dizzy, giggling and giddy, spinning in circles on a mountain slope.
I got a new job last year, and with that came an affordable gym membership, so I’ve been trying to supplement my running with gym classes and lifting. It has also, somewhat unexpectedly, been a place for me to battle with my anxiety, and my fear of being seen (to be more specific, to be seen doing something poorly or looking stupid in some way). The gym classes are all in a big room lined on two facing walls with mirrors. The weight area always has other people in it, and it feels like they’re all lifting more than me, like they all know than me. Intellectually I know that this is wrong, but my anxiety brain is full of people watching me. Getting into the gym sometimes is like waiting for Argus, with his thousand eyes and hypervigilance, to go to sleep. Some days I would fall asleep in my car instead of going inside. Some days I would change into my gym clothes, then sit in a chair and kill time on my phone instead of going to use the equipment. Some days I tell myself to just get on the exercise bike, because if I can do that for twenty minutes I can usually talk myself into doing something else. Some days I’ll do squat but then decide that I can’t do deadlift, not today, no thanks.
I didn’t always used to be actively afraid of the gym, though when I look back on what I was doing in the gym at the time, it was almost always treadmill or pool. Challenging myself with new things—and, at the same time, becoming afraid of all of those things—is something that happened after I left New York City, when I was sad and broken and felt far away from everyone.
When I was a student at Columbia, there was a gym on campus that students could use. The cost was folded into our tuition. At first, I went because hey, free gym. At some point I started going because I think I could sense that my mental state was not the best, but exercise is supposed to be good for depression. So I would go. I took a step aerobics kind of class, and tae kwon do, and ran around the quarter-mile loop that was in the center of the gym. Maybe that’s when the anxiety started to amp: the classroom where step aerobics and tae kwon do happened were in the center of the gym, with big walls of windows; the track was immediately around that, and the outer ring was the weight machines and treadmills and stationary bikes. It was easy to feel like you were being watched, but hard to see if you actually were. Also, I wasn’t going to the gym because it was fun and I wanted to; I was going because I felt like I should. And I was going to step aerobics feeling incapable of dancing, incapable of moving with any pep, any grace. I’ve never been a great dancer, but this was a whole other level. I felt like I was sleepwalking through gym class. Everything felt slow. Everything felt stupid. Everything felt unsuccessful. I always stood at the back (against the windows) and when class was over, escaped as soon as I could. I never spoke to anyone. I was a ghost.
So here I am, five years later, not feeling like a ghost anymore, but still feeling haunted by one. Still feeling the specter of Argus’ eyes.
It does get better. After almost a year in the gym, I found a program and I’m following it and that gives me something to lean on, something to focus on besides all the weight I’m not lifting, all the people who are (not) staring at me. Usually, these days, when I say, “I’m going to the gym after work,” I actually get there. And one happy side effect to global warming is that I’m still running in parks a few times a week, even though it’s December. I also made significant headway on a project at work, which was a big contributor to the “You’re dumb everyone’s going to find out you’re dumb and then they’re going to take your job away from you” feelings that I was having all fall.
Maybe someday soon I’ll feel that gliding feeling with my writing, that coasting-along-while-you-stare-at-the-sky feeling. That’s the feeling that I’m waiting for. But until then, I have to accept that I will suck until I don’t. That some days it will feel like pulling a car out of a lake with nothing but my bare hands. That I have to sit through some boredom and not knowing what I want to say. I might be bad at all kinds of things, but I’m trying really hard to not let that stop me.
2019 goals, man. Happy new year.
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.
Say 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.