Scene report from inside my head

Written on June 15th

Some concerts are a joy and some turn into an ordeal that must be endured. Most are the former, very few are the latter. Last night’s Francis & the Lights show was somewhere in between.

Most of it was my own fault. I was coming to the end of some extremely stressful time at work up to and including that very day. I was sweating bullets hoping I would to get to leave on time. (the show had an oddly early start time of 7:00pm, and I normally leave work at 7:30). So I hopped in a cab at 7:30 while Dawn was texting me that despite the 7:00 pm start time nothing was happening. As it is, I got there in plenty of time, because opener Peter Cottontale didn’t go on until shortly after 8:00.

In my ignorance I’d never heard of Peter Cottontale by name, but he’s a member of Chance the Rapper’s band The Social Experiment. His band crowded the Metro stage, with a rainbow coalition of singers, a horn section, bass player, guitarist and drummer alongside his keyboards. On a better day I would’ve LOVED this performance with all my heart. It was a jumping, jamming, Parliament/Funkadelic-style joy. And it was all I could do to not burst into tears because I just felt empty. At one point he shouted “Do you all feel free tonight?” and of course everyone yelled, “YEAH!” and I was like, really? You do? Because I don’t. And then I was furious at myself for being unable to enjoy this beautiful thing happening in front of me, wiping away tears and trying not to look like I was having a nervous breakdown. All the bottled-up stress & anxiety of the last few weeks had chosen this exact moment to break me.

At the end of the set, Chance came onstage. He’s also worked with Francis so there was much pre-show buzz about whether he might make a guest appearance, and when Peter Cottontale was announced as the opening act the buzz was even stronger. So there he was, for their final song, performing “Blessings” and that was exciting! The crowd lost their collective shit and all the phones went up in the air (including mine).

Now that we knew Chance was in the building, it seemed inevitable that we’d see him again during Francis’ set. But the crowd was dragging me down. It was a sold out, all ages show and it was PACKED. Dawn & I were trying to hold our spot on the raised floor area where we usually stand at the Metro. But of course we were constantly being jostled and blocked by “The Talls” as Dawn has hilariously labeled them. We’re both about 5’4″ and I really wish I could institute standing zones by height at GA shows. (Any clubs interested in a pilot program, get in touch.) I know I’ll be banging this drum until the day I die, but maybe #TimesUp for tall men with no self-awareness at GA shows.
Then Francis finally appeared. Right off the bat, he jumped into his signature dance moves, and the stage couldn’t hold him for more than 10 minutes before he started climbing a lighting rig, and ended up on top of the giant speakers at the side of the stage. He didn’t bother climbing back down, he just jumped.

Later he climbed up the other lighting rig and maneuvered himself to the balcony with ridiculous ease. I don’t know how he does it, and he must have a hell of a liability insurance policy because if he fell, the best he could hope for would be broken limbs. (These are the thoughts you have at shows when you’re 51.)

Halfway through the set, Chance returned again, to perform “May I Have This Dance” (the song he features on with Francis) and cue everyone losing their shit again. I couldn’t see much (the aforementioned Talls being in full effect) so I put my phone up high and could actually see it better that way. I THOUGHT I was recording, but as the song came to an end I realized I hadn’t hit the button right and the delightful Francis/Chance choreography was lost to history. I’ll be periodically kicking myself until the end of days about that one (which I KNOW is not a big deal and there are a hundred other videos of it that I can watch on Instagram & YouTube, like this one:

But it just put another log on the fire in my head.

After a few more songs I started feeling really sweaty and nauseous, so I worked my way out of the crowd to get some air and shed a few more hyperemotional tears before walking around outside the crowd to the left side of the stage where I watched the rest of the show.

Then it was over, and we made our way out of the sweaty crowd into the cool night air and I felt a little better, but still annoyed at myself that I couldn’t get out of my own head and enjoy it more. Dawn and I walked down the block to Jeni’s Ice Cream and it was still open, so we had ice cream and talked about the show, and babies made of Jell-O, and all the other shows we’re going to see this summer and I felt more like myself again.

Sometimes you just have a bad night, and hopefully no one else can really tell.
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Scene report from inside my head

2018 Reading List Update

Currently reading:
Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly
Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff
They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us by Hanif Abdurraqib

 Read:
Hunger by Roxane Gay
Horns by Joe Hill
The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick
The Last Policeman Trilogy by Ben H. Winters (re-read)
The Alienist by Caleb Carr (re-read)
Who Thought This Was a Good Idea? (And Other Questions You Should Have Answers To When You Work in the White House) by Alyssa Mastromonaco
A Wind in the Door by Madeleine L’Engle
Yes Please by Amy Poehler

I’m kind of slacking on my reading so far this year. . .

2018 Reading List Update

2018 Reading List Update

Currently reading:
Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly
The Alienist by Caleb Carr (re-read)

 Read:
Hunger by Roxane Gay
Horns by Joe Hill
The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick
The Last Policeman Trilogy by Ben H. Winters (re-read)

2018 Reading List Update

In the old days, the phone would ring at some unusual time. Late at night, early in the morning. It would be startling. The news would be bad, whatever it was. Come to the hospital. Meet me at the police station.

But now, you don’t even have luxury of the phone ringing at 3am to brace yourself for the bad news. Last night I was scrolling aimlessly through Facebook, “walking my internet traps”  (huh, he said that once and I loved it so much I stole it.) and the bad news just cold-cocked me right in the face. He’s dead? What? I’d had a few cocktails, so maybe I was reading it wrong. . .  but no. Others were reacting in a similar fashion. I held it together because I was in a Lyft and almost home and maybe it was all some weird mistake.

But it wasn’t. And gradually, bit by bit the truth was revealed and it’s not just death but the worst kind of death, the thing you never want anyone you love to choose.

I say “love” which feels natural, but also strange, because we never met in person. He was one of those people I knew through the zine & comics world, for nearly twenty years, first through the mail, then message boards, then Facebook. He supported my work, and I supported his. He loved music and art and cats and food, and he could write a painfully bad joke better than anyone. Really, just paragraphs of build-up to the absolute WORST puns and now we’ll never get any more of those and it’s heartbreaking. And I’ll probably never know why. Not that I need to know, or am owed any explanation. Life can be hard. He felt a lot of pain. I will never be angry at someone for making that choice. I will be sad. I’ll feel guilty that I didn’t know, or couldn’t help even if I wanted to. I’ll wonder why he felt he couldn’t reach out to someone. Anyone. He would’ve been there for any of his friends when they needed him. I’ve walked up to that edge in my own life, but was always able to back away in time, by whatever grace there is in the world. He had so many people who loved him, but it wasn’t enough. Sometimes you can’t see your way around the pain.

You touched a lot of people. We all miss you, and the world will be poorer without you. We can only hope there is peace, and freedom from the pain.

2017 Reading List – The Final Update

Books read this year:
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
I Am Legend by Richard Matheson
David Bowie: The Last Interview and Other Conversations
Sipping from the Nile: My Exodus from Egypt
by Jean Naggar
How To Build A Girl by Caitlin Moran
Kindred by Octavia E. Butler
Girl In A Band by Kim Gordon
Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency/The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul by Douglas Adams
The Pope and Mussolini: The Secret History of  Pius XI and the Rise of Fascism in Europe by David I. Kertzer
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
The Sellout by Paul Beatty
Waiting for the Punch: Words to Live by from the WTF Podcast by Marc Maron and Brendan McDonald
The First Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock Critic by Jessica Hopper
Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West by Dee Brown
The Fat Girl’s Guide to Life by Wendy Shanker
The Awkward Thoughts of W. Kamau Bell by W. Kamau Bell
A Manual for Cleaning Women: Selected Stories by Lucia Berlin
Leaving Mother Lake: A Girlhood At the Edge of the World by Yang Erche Namu and Christine Mathieu
It’s Messy: On Boys, Boobs and Badass Women by Amanda DeCadenet
Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal by Mary Roach
We Are Never Meeting in Real Life by Samantha Irby
Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri
Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman by Lindy West

2017 Reading List – The Final Update

2017 Reading List Update

Currently reading:
A Manual for Cleaning Women: Selected Stories by Lucia Berlin
Leaving Mother Lake: A Girlhood At the Edge of the World by Yang Erche Namu and Christine Mathieu
An Innocent Abroad: Life-Changing Trips from 35 Great Writers (will I ever finish this? I dunno.)
Every Body Yoga: Let Go of Fear, Get on the Mat, Love your Body by Jessamyn Stanley (I kinda forgot I was reading this too)

Read:
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
I Am Legend by Richard Matheson
David Bowie: The Last Interview and Other Conversations
Sipping from the Nile: My Exodus from Egypt
by Jean Naggar
How To Build A Girl by Caitlin Moran
Kindred by Octavia E. Butler
Girl In A Band by Kim Gordon
Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency/The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul by Douglas Adams
The Pope and Mussolini: The Secret History of  Pius XI and the Rise of Fascism in Europe by David I. Kertzer
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
The Sellout by Paul Beatty
Waiting for the Punch: Words to Live by from the WTF Podcast by Marc Maron and Brendan McDonald
The First Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock Critic by Jessica Hopper
Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West by Dee Brown
The Fat Girl’s Guide to Life by Wendy Shanker
The Awkward Thoughts of W. Kamau Bell by W. Kamau Bell

2017 Reading List Update

Reading out loud

About a month ago, I got an email from Liz, the manager at Quimby’s Bookstore. She asked me if I wanted to read at an event the store was hosting, called “3 Songs,” where the Blue Ribbon Glee Club sings three songs, and three different writers read something either directly or tangentially related to one of those songs.

My initial response to this was, “Oh no I can’t do that. I’ve never done that, I’ve never read anything I’ve written out loud in front of people.” Well, not since high school and that wasn’t a particularly positive experience. But then I remembered that a few months ago I played onstage in a band, something else I never thought I’d do, and I survived. So maybe it was time to stop being afraid of this.

So I said yes. I chose the song “Dress” by PJ Harvey from the Blue Ribbon Glee Club’s repertoire. I figured I could write something around that song in a month’s time, despite not having been writing much at all lately. Writing something with the express intent of reading it out loud makes for a different writing experience. I’m a pretty conversational writer anyway, but I found myself reading sentences out loud as I worked, seeing how they sounded in the real world instead of just inside my head.

What I ended up writing was very personal, and I was worried I might not be able to get through it without crying or being choked up, and I didn’t want that to happen. But I spent enough time working on it, and I practiced reading it many times over at home, so I was pretty confident I could get through it calmly. If my nerves didn’t completely overtake me, anyway.

I took the day off work, for two reasons: One, we we’ve been super-busy lately and if I tried to just “leave early” to get to the reading it would’ve been impossible. And two, I also knew I’d be a nervous wreck and not really worth much at the office. So I took a vacation day. I practiced reading my piece, making some last minute edits, and trying to calm my nervous stomach.

I arrived at the store a few minutes early. There’s no rehearsal or run-through, you just show up and do it punk as fuck. A few friends came to show their support, for which I was extremely grateful. The store was pretty crowded, but I was feeling reasonably good about things. My biggest worry was my voice. When I’m nervous or stressed, my voice gets really ragged in my throat. I’d bought a cup of tea with honey at Starbucks and sipped at it, hoping it would keep my voice from getting too unpleasant.

First, the Glee Club sang “Glad Girls” by Guided by Voices, and then Mark Lazar read a really poignant and entertaining piece about being a nerd in high school, and I was amazed at some of the similarity in themes in both of our pieces.

Next, the Glee Club sang “Dress” and then it was my turn to read. I was afraid I would stumble over my words, or lose my place on the paper, or read super-fast out of nervousness. But none of that happened. I felt like, “This is okay. I’m doing okay.” And it was over, and people applauded, and I sat back down. I survived.

Then the Glee Club sang “Words and Guitar” by Sleater-Kinney and Jonas read about his relationship with that song, which was really funny. The Glee Club sang two more songs after that, and that was it.

Afterwards, a few people told me they thought my piece was really good, amazing, they loved it, which thrilled me to no end. I successfully did a thing that in previous years I would’ve gone to many lengths to avoid. I was over the moon.

And then I had to go back to work the next day like nothing happened. Sigh.

**********

This is what I read at Quimby’s:

This year, I turned 50 years old. A desire to make this year somehow “special” and also escape from the nightmare we’re currently living in means I’ve been going out more often than is normal for me. Not that I’m trolling bars every night seeking to reclaim my youth. My youth wasn’t like that in the first place. But I’ve been feeling an overwhelming “eat drink and be merry for tomorrow we die” kind of vibe these days. So if there’s a band in town I want to go see, the odds are good that I’m going to go. If someone calls (Wait, calls? Who calls anymore?) If someone texts me and says “hey do you want to meet for a drink/dinner/whatever?” I’m probably going to go. Whereas before, I was more inclined to just stay home.

And going out at age 50 is very different from going out at age 25. At 25, my self-esteem account was overdrawn. I had less than none. I’ve always had some version of this body. Sometimes it’s bigger, sometimes it’s smaller, but I was extremely aware that I was not going to get anywhere in this world based on my looks. I was ridiculously shy and awkward and always felt like I was probably the least interesting person in the room. I relied on humor and withering sarcasm to get through the day, but those were rarely successful strategies for superficial socializing with strangers in the mating dance of youth. That was deer-in-the-headlights time.

And before I could even steel myself to get out the door, I had to answer the eternal question: WHAT DO I WEAR? There was a constant negotiation between wanting to be cute and fashionable and. . . this body. My best friend could wear any damn thing she wanted to and look smoking hot, and she knew it. I loved her like my sister but I felt like Humpty Dumpty when we went out together. She had the body (and the confidence) to walk into a bar wearing a catsuit and heels, and I was probably wearing a plaid skirt and a cardigan and Doc Martens, going for some version of quirky-cute because that’s the best I could hope for. 1992 in Chicago was actually not a bad time to express your unique style. Thrift-store dresses, shaggy haircuts and clunky shoes were the height of hipster fashion. But even if I could pass for cool in the right bars, I certainly did not feel that way. I was the sitcom fat best friend who provided sass and wingman services. I was terrible at flirting, I absolutely did NOT know how to do it. If I was standing by the stage at Lounge Ax, waiting for the band, and someone tried to chat me up I either didn’t understand that’s what was happening, or I was immediately suspicious. I was such a mental mess that the idea that someone would be attracted to me really did not compute. I assumed that I would end up being the victim of some guy who would pretend to like me for the amusement of his asshole friends and then I would be destroyed by humiliation when the truth was revealed. I know it sounds absurd in retrospect, but this was a serious concern of mine. And in my defense I was still recovering from some harassment in high school that really did a number on my head.

(Side note: sometimes I look back at my life and think how different it might have been if anyone in the 1980s had defined what “sexual harassment” was, or if anyone had given a damn about bullying back then. Instead, like so many others, I got the worst possible advice: “just ignore them and they’ll stop.” Yes. Just be a quiet good little girl and don’t make noise. Fuck that. Scream your bloody fucking head off.)

Anyway.

Regardless of whatever clothes I was wearing at age 25, I was also wearing military-grade psychological armor because I was convinced I was in for another round of the bullshit from high school. No wonder I had so few dates. This, despite the fact that two of my closest friends at the time were great guys who rarely acted like jerks, so I should’ve had more reason to trust the occasional man.

Oh, there was this one time that a guy flirted with me and I guess I was able to sort of halfway competently flirt in return, so we had a few dates, but then we went to a party together and he left with someone else, so yeah. My two guy friends were also at this party and I left with them. I’m still friends with one of those guys.

Now I’m 50 and when I go out, I am relieved of the burden of youth, and the presumed burden of seeking love, or a hookup or whatever the kids are calling it now. I look around and see all the 25-year-olds still doing the thing they do, drinking and dancing and flirting, and I feel a very complex mix of emotions – like I’m visiting a civilization I’m not a part of anymore, with a sense of relief that I no longer have to participate in it, but also a tiny bit of nostalgia and regret. If I had the wisdom of 50 in my 25-year-old brain would it have made a difference? Would I have been able to make different choices, or at least feel better about the choices I made? I do know when I go out now, I don’t spend much time fretting about what to wear. I no longer have time for standing around in shoes that make my feet hurt. Did I remember to put lipstick on? Maybe. I’m not there to be seen by anyone except my other middle-aged friends, and presumably they like me for other reasons than my fashion sense or my cleavage. It’s remarkably freeing.

Obviously, I could’ve had this freedom at 25, or at 18, or whenever I wanted it. It was always available to me, but I just couldn’t access it. When I was young I admired the women who already seemed to have that freedom, but I also felt jealousy and resentment. If I saw a woman who my absurd judgmental brain assessed as somehow “less attractive” than me, or fatter than me, yet she had the audacity to wear something I wouldn’t even consider OUT IN PUBLIC, I just didn’t know what to do with that. How could she do that and I couldn’t? Wasn’t she afraid that people would make fun of her? Maybe they did. Maybe it was a monumental experience for her to leave the house in that dress. Maybe her day wasn’t easy. Or, maybe her sheer self-confidence just shut everyone down and she strutted through the day like the Queen she was. She had some secret knowledge, and I was clueless.

When I was 25 in 1992, what was all around me? Riot Grrl. I loved the music, I read the zines, I admired these women and their fearlessness. I loved them shoving their anger in everyone’s faces and saying “fuck you and fuck this fucked up system.” It was right there, ready for me to jump in. But I still couldn’t make that leap inside my own head. No, I can’t do that, not me. I’m not brave enough. Not cool enough.

So instead of becoming a Riot Grrl I just kept getting older. When I was 30, I put a few purple streaks in my hair, just on a lark, at the hairdresser. I had long hair then, and the streaks were subtle. It’s not something one usually STARTS doing at 30.  (I’d been coloring my hair for years, but never anything outside of normal human shades). It was kind of groundbreaking for me, and I loved it, so I kept doing it. The streaks changed color, changed location, took up more space on my head. Then I cut my hair short, and stopped doing the streaks for a little while, but I got bored and I wanted them back. I wanted more. Streaks weren’t enough. I needed bright chunks, big sections. Multiple colors. I don’t know if everyone with brightly colored hair experiences this, but I get so many compliments. I had a woman yell out her car window at me as she drove down the street, “I love your hair!” Which is a far cry from what I was used to hearing yelled out car windows at me when I was younger. I’ve had women tell me they wish they were brave enough to dye their hair and I always tell them, “DO IT. It will change your life.” But I know not everyone has the luxury. Not every workplace is so tolerant. Not everyone’s family is so tolerant. Now it was my turn to be the woman that someone else wished they could be like, that I was somehow “brave” for walking down the street looking this way, and that was revelatory to me.

So now I’m 50. I still have this same body, which is currently larger now than it was when I was 25, and yet I hate it a lot less than I did then. Back then, I saw It as the source of all my problems, and surely if I could just get down to the right dress size everything else would fall into place. It took way longer than it should have for me to understand that a skinnier version of me would still have the same brain rattling around inside my head and that was 3 pounds I could never lose.

I still live with huge amounts of anxiety – about work, about money, about the demons systematically destroying our country, and what the hell happened at the end of Twin Peaks? Really?

But I feel much less anxiety about myself than I used to. I’m still awkward when I meet people for the first time. I still feel like puking when I have a job interview. Small talk still feels like slow death. But gradually I stopped feeling like I had to apologize for taking up space in the world, and stopped caring so much about the opinions of others — whether I actually knew those opinions or my brain assumed what those opinions were. I’m just me and you can like it or not.

I wasn’t ready for Riot Grrl but maybe it’s time for Riot Crone.

Reading out loud