Joe’s Op Ed: Super Tuesday Hangover

Hey folks.

I haven’t said much about the election. I am a voracious reader, someone who keeps up on the news, yet I have only contributed soundbite opinions when drawn into a political conversation where it would be rude to refuse. I’ve been watching the mood of the headlines and my FB feed, tempted to chime in, but I have just felt too tired.

I’ve had a lot going on. I recently moved to a new city (“moved” is still a nebulous concept in my world). I’m sober again, there has been a lot of attention and excitement around the musicals I’m writing for, and I’ve been dealing with some medical stuff. Money issues are ever-present, no change there, but my priorities have changed quite a bit. I have not had much bandwidth to be very active in this election, other than to vote. But in the waning Chicago light, I feel oddly moved to throw in my two cents.

I voted for Bernie last time, and Hillary. It was painful to witness my mother watch Hillary lose that race, a memory that will stay with me. It was otherworldly to watch what’s-his-face take the wheel of the US Government, and it has been jaw-dropping to see so much good work dismantled in the name of blind tribalism. I think Warren is kickass, hooray for gay Buttigieg getting as far as he did, Kamala, Booker, even Biden as VP under Obama- you go. And I would be more than grateful for any of them in place of who we have now. But I voted for Bernie again this time, without fanfare.

Take an analogy, if you will – and this is actually NOT about healthcare! Hang in there with me – sometimes in life, one gets injured or sick enough to need to go to the hospital. Do you want to go to the hospital? No. Do you want to live in the hospital all the time? Of course not. Do you want to admit that you need to go to the hospital? Probably not – you have shit to do, life is hard enough without disruptions, and who wants to face the prospect that there might be something dangerously wrong that would require time, effort, vulnerability, and trust to deal with – nobody ever. But at some point, you’ll probably need go to the hospital. Is going to the hospital a conservative or liberal idea? Of course it is neither – something’s wrong and it won’t fix itself, so you go to the damn hospital. Hopefully it’ll be quick, you’ll focus on the problem for however long it takes and change some things about your lifestyle so you don’t have to deal with it again. Fingers crossed. But the sooner you go, the sooner you can get on with your life.

I wish we could actually vote for policies, and not personalities or parties. Noteworthy about the Founding Fathers’ original intentions is that they feared the electorate would split into warring political factions.. I highly doubt they would have agreed to restrictions requiring voters to register as a particular party in order to vote for the candidate of their choice. The Electoral College system was based on population numbers that changed long, long ago, yet it hasn’t changed. Citizens United is an absolute abomination in a supposedly democratic society. The incomprehensible sums of money that are spent in elections are shameful – and I don’t use that word lightly – when politicians hem and haw over the cost of evidence-based social programs that improve people’s lives and the economic success of the nation. Economic inequality is a grotesque and mindless monster slobbering all over everything, mangling and munching until it ultimately devours itself. Climate disasters are coming – they are here and getting worse – and we are in no way prepared. It will get ugly. Our country is sick folks, we need to suck it up and go to the hospital.

We need campaign finance reform. We need a single-payer healthcare system. We need to deal with our student debt crisis and provide accessible quality education for everyone. We need solutions to our massive contribution to Global Warming. We need industry turnover for pure survival, and so people can have jobs that actually go somewhere and mean something. We need to quit meddling in the affairs of other sovereign nations and killing hundreds of thousands of people in the process. We need regulations on how much more a CEO can get paid than the bottom tier worker; some kind of redistribution of wealth (sorry, not sorry) – it’s obscene, immoral, and it’s causing massive problems. We need to spend our collective money (i.e. our tax dollars, and there are LOTS of them) on things that are actually beneficial to the Earth and all it’s creatures, not just a few humans. Emergency interventions are needed to get us healthy and moving in the right direction, and that requires admitting unpleasant truths, cooperating with each other, and changing the way we live. Yuck, I know, I don’t want to have to deal with it either, but reality bites.

Do I think these challenges can be met without difficulty, or within the timespan of a single presidential term? Absolutely not. Do I think one single leader will make or break us? Nope – as if we could get off the hook that easy.

Do I think a better future is worth fighting for, even if we don’t get to see the fruits of our efforts in our lifetime? Yes I do.

Will I vote for anyone who is honestly willing to meet these challenges head on, speak truth to power, call it what it is, and get us moving in the right direction? YES.

I didn’t vote for Bernie because I like him, or because I think he earned it; this isn’t about Bernie, the guy, at all. I have my biases – I want a woman to win, I want someone LGBTQ to win, I want anyone who isn’t rich or white to win. I didn’t vote for Bernie because I’m a Democrat, or because I think he’s “electable.” I voted for his ideas, his experience, and his policies. And the numbers speak for themselves – most Americans want these policies too. It is not radical to go to the hospital, figuratively speaking, when you are really sick or injured – it’s prudent, humble, and good for everyone, not just yourself. I voted for Bernie knowing that our system isn’t fair. I voted for him knowing I would be accused of naive idealism. I voted for him knowing he may or may not win. I voted for him knowing he isn’t the only way to get there. I voted for the ideas that I think will help America evolve into a safer, stronger, smarter, fairer, and more loving country.

It worked for FDR and the Greatest Generation, it can work for us.

Whoever wins – I will continue to fight for the values of compassion, humility, justice, and the search for truth, and I will continue to believe that the world will evolve into a better place – eventually.

 

“Mine is a faith in my fellow man” -Billy Bragg, Between the Wars

The Real Albert Cashier

I’m off next week to the New York Musical Festival, where the Albert Cashier musical will have three readings! We will have a new batch of actors (except Dani Shay will be with us, as our young Al), a smaller ensemble of piano, fiddle, and me on banjo and guitar, an awesome new director Shakina Nayfack, new charts and arrangements, and an edited script. We had a great opening run in Chicago last year, it was the first time the creative team got to see the thing we have been working on for two years actually performed on stage. I got to experience it 30-something times during our seven week run, since I played in the band, but I had to sit in the pit, so I never actually got to see it from the audience.. So it goes. We were nominated for a Jeff Award, a Chicago area awards ceremony running for 50 years – and we WON!! Albert Cashier, best new musical!

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This project came to me totally by surprise – Jay Deratany wrote the script, his friend and fellow writer Keaton Wooden decided it should be a musical, and went poking around for musicians and found me. I had no idea who these fellows were, no experience writing music for theater (except in college), but when asked, I said “sure,” as I often do. Two and a half years later, we are heading to New York to throw our hat in the ring and see what happens next. Ideally, this is an audition of sorts, to find whatever it is that will take us to the next step, whatever that may be. Hopefully there will be a big production next year, either in New York or on the West Coast.

Albert-Cashier

The story is about Albert D.J. Cashier, a Civil War soldier and Irish immigrant who was born female and lived as male. There have been so many questions to probe as we are trying to tell an artistic rendering of Albert’s story.. how did Albert identify? Was he trans or merely seeking opportunity? Was he full-on FTM or maybe just non-binary? What pronouns should we use? I have found the answers seem to be more reflective of who’s giving it than of Albert. As the creative team, we have had endless discussions on what our intentions are, what we are trying to say, who we think Albert was, and what is ultimately important about the story. We have come to a few conclusions – no one can know how Albert would have identified today, with the plethora of modern identity markers available. Albert was illiterate, none of his own words exist in writing. Most of the information we have is from the many letters written by his friends, second hand sources, court documents, and other official records. All we know is that he chose to live as male. That is all we need to know. We don’t need to know “why” he chose to live as male to call him “he.” The creative team takes no official stance on his identity, and that is an important point for us – we do not have to fully understand someone in order to respect their wishes. He chose to live as male, we call him “he.”

In my personal opinion – I do think Albert was probably trans. There are enough tell-tale signs of dysphoria in much of the available evidence, and to me – to go to those lengths to live as male, when it would have been so dangerous and shameful, speaks to the power of one’s internal identity. Yes he had more privileges in society as male, but he couldn’t have a family or children, had to be VERY careful to avoid doctors or injury (which is what ultimately blew his cover), and generally had to live a more marginal life. People unfamiliar with the trans/queer community seem to be more perplexed over the question of his identity, whereas I know so, so, so many trans and queer folks… It is not crazy to think that someone back then might have been trans – it is more of a statistical certainty. One of the most poignant stories of Albert’s history – he was old and ailing, stuck in an asylum for the insane, wearing a dress. He was caught trying to pin his dress together to make some semblance of pants, a last act of self expression when everything else had been taken from him. If it weren’t poetic enough, he tripped and fell in that dress, which caused the wound that he ultimately died from. If that ain’t determination to live as you feel, I don’t know what is. But again – opinions about Albert’s identity reflect the person giving them.

Back to the deeper point – his identity doesn’t actually matter as much as the life he lived and how he was treated. He lived alone, he was a hard worker, a contributing member of society, was in service to his country. When his secret was revealed, he was treated as less than human and died away from his home in a humiliating condition. Albert’s story is more than a story about gender – it’s about how we treat our fellows, how we treat immigrants, how we treat our veterans, how we treat our elders, and in a way – how we treat ourselves. It’s about letting people be who they are and contribute in the way they are called to, even if we don’t understand them. We don’t have to fully understand people to treat them with kindness and respect.

We are running a small fundraiser to help get us to New York, if you’d like to help carry the message, check it out here!!!

Wish us luck!!!!

Coyote Pays Rent

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It’s been many years, but I finally did it – I signed a lease….

I have felt a wide range of emotions.. ambivalence, excitement, impatience, terror… like the walls are closing in, like I’m so tired and just want to hang my hat somewhere for a while. So here I am – my storage unit is empty, Valcore is in side gig mode, and there is an extra set of keys on my keychain.

(Valcore is the name of my trusty Sprinter van, btw)

The Real Boy gigs are winding down. The Albert Cashier musical is ramping up for the next phase of development. I have a little studio set up, and am getting ready to relaunch Songs of the People, which I have decided to rename – Real Folk. More on that as it comes together. I have very few shows on the calendar so far. I’ll be offering songwriting and guitar lessons very soon. I am spending lots of time with my family. It is a new era, and I am looking forward to seeing what comes.

The grass is green in the Central Valley, soon it will be yellow and dry. The oaks will stand out in stark contrast, and the temperature will rise, rise, rise. There is chaos and conversation in Sacto after the police shooting of Stefon Clark. The US government is like a kindergarden class smashing all its toys that the tax payers worked so hard to provide. New research shows that the ice in Antarctica is not only melting from the sides, it’s melting from underneath.. further raising sea levels and the probability of ice chunks slipping out to sea. I need new front brakes and a decent spatula.

Life is beyond surreal. The gap between the profound and the mundane is elastic. Everything is at once meaningful and meaningless.. agency and futility occupy the same space. Absurdity is the new common sense.

Signing a lease is the weirdest thing I have done in a long time – we’ll see what happens..

 

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Real Boy and Beyond

Real Boy and Beyond

 

I haven’t written a blog post in almost a year.. The easy answer is that I was perpetually drunk and high up until Feb of this year. To my credit I suppose I have managed to accomplish a fair amount in that shape, but it has not been easy and I have to look back through my calendar to remember much of it. What comes to mind are a constant stream of failed attempts to dry up, frustration, stoking the tiny fire of hope in the figurative rain, punctuated with shows, screenings for Real Boy, workshops for the Albert Cashier musical, family dinners, and hazy AA meetings – all in no particular order. Oh and not to forget the empty bank account and endless nights being wasted alone in my van, chain smoking and yammering on in my journal about how I wish I was sober. I haven’t had a night like that in almost five months now, and I can’t say I miss it. That’s a welcomed change.

This week Real Boy hit the greater public via broadcast on PBS, it’s amazing to remember back four years ago when this started with Shaleece and her camera, filming things I didn’t think were very interesting at the time. Since the film was released last year I have been hopping around the country and the world speaking and playing music at screenings and film festivals, fully enveloped in a world of Real Boy. I have seen it dozens of times now, I get the songs and bits of dialogue in my head as I’m trying to sleep. I am currently in Norway, getting ready to play at an event for Oslo’s Queer Youth Pride event, put on by Skeiv Ungdom, Oslo og Akershus, the organizer found me from seeing Real Boy at the Oslo Queer Film Festival.  This is my last Real Boy event until the fall; I’ll then go into full Albert-mode, gearing up for the premier of The Civility of Albert Cashier, a musical I have been working on for the last almost two years that premiers in Chicago in September.

It has been a whirlwind of travel, early sobriety, a new ladyfriend, and many things to do that I have never done before, but I am mostly content, if a little scattered. When I get home I’ll have a few days of jet lag and dental work, then I get to drive my favorite route through the Great Basin and the Rockies with my new travel buddy en route to Chicago. I am working hard to get my wits about me again – I have fallen out of touch with many a dear friend over the boozy years, my online presence is terribly sporadic and out of date, and my reputation for being a big flake precedes me in a painful way.. For any of you who have had the frustrating experience of corresponding with me, I am so, so sorry – agonizing over my poor communication keeps me up at night. I have been “sorry” for so long now, the only thing that can make those apologies mean anything is to actually change my behavior. I was hoping that just the act of quitting drinking and drugs alone would clear it all up, but alas, it will actually take some work. I’m on it.

I hope to be more present online, in my communications, in my family and my communities. For now I will go out into rainy downtown Oslo and find some food before a presentation tonight on the state of LGBTQ rights in America, should be interesting.

xoj

 

America loves bombs

America loves bombs

Yesterday on the fourth of July, I walked down to the bluffs overlooking the ocean in Long Beach, California. I said hello to the giant oil rig adorned with palm trees, cleverly disguised as some benign floating hotel. The lights of the other rigs flickered out on the water, breaking the waves that people used to surf along this beach. The lights on the giant cargo cranes in San Pedro sparkled, their red, white, and blue arms feeling the patriotic fervor. Boats anchored everywhere, awaiting the firework show. Families, people, and cars bustling up on the bluffs and down on the beach; folks riding every type of wheeled contraptions up and down the boardwalk. Children ran and squealed in the serf, lovers snuggled under blankets, parents held babies, teenagers gossiped, stereos blasted, and bar-b-ques smoked as the last of the sun cast a soft glow over the melee. I walked along the water line, letting the mild waves rush up around my ankles and recede, exposing little shells and causing me to stumble as the water changed direction. The tide was coming in, moving the line of trash further up the shore and melting down sand castles and foot prints. I have walked along this beach at least once a year for going on 15 years now. I take three mindful breaths, and smile at the view.

Up on the bluff as the sun has dimmed, I watch screaming children run around with sparklers and families set off small high-pitched fireworks. Occasionally a big one fires up over the crowd and explodes with a huge bang, and I watch the police drive around the beach in their little carts, trying in vain to find the perpetrators in the crowd. Helicopters, sirens, car horns, music, talking, yelling, screaming. On the south side of the pier fireworks bloom on the horizon, fireworks to the right from downtown Long Beach, rouge fireworks from the beach below, and now fireworks across the bay that the folks here have come to see. There are explosions everywhere – low rumbles from far off, the crackling of small ones on the beach, bigger pops from the formal displays, and crazy loud BANGS from the rule-breakers. The crowd can’t help but flinch and exclaim, but it is mostly with delight and excitement. Charred remains fall onto the beach, fall into the water and sizzle.

No one is deeply worried for their safety. No one is under any illusion that these pretend bombs might actually be real. No one here has ever experienced a real bomb, seen up close the damage it can do to buildings and people, heard the bang when it is dropped intentionally near you, unconcerned with you, and no one thinks they ever will.

We light fireworks to celebrate a war that we didn’t experience, a war that made our country what it is today. We celebrate with fancy faux bombs, meant to delight children and adults alike, with large warnings and protocols on how to use them safely so that no one accidentally gets hurt, implicitly making war seem like a big community party.

Meanwhile in Iraq, the death toll is rising to 200 from a bomb set off in a crowded market, intentionally meant to cause damage. This news comes to us so regularly that we can’t tell one from the next. Only when it happens in a European country do we discuss it online or change our profile pictures in solidarity. Meanwhile, other people will never understand why we would subject ourselves to a celebration of fake exploding bombs.

The world is surreal, life is strange, existence in absurd.

Birthday Reflections 2016

Hello world – I am 34 years old. Yesterday was my birthday. 34, I realize, is one of those years that I hadn’t really thought much about. I wondered what I would be doing at 30, or 35, but I didn’t think to picture what I might be doing at 34. As someone who is regularly plagued with anxiety, this is a welcomed thing. I had no preconceived notions to give myself a hard time about not living up to. I find myself in better shape than birthdays past, which is good enough for me. Feeling that way is strange in its ordinariness.

With each birthday that rolls around, I think surely – surely I wont still be drinking and smoking and leaving minor (and the occasional major) disasters in my wake; only to have yet another birthday roll around where I am still “working on” quitting. Which is depressing at best. On my 31st birthday I sat on my Sacramento porch in the blazing sun, drinking warm 40’s of Steele Reserve and chain smoking, wallowing in a pity party so ruckus the cops should have been called. Except it was only raging in my head. I called no one, I didn’t answer the phone. I drifted in and out of consciousness, attempting to blot out what felt like an intolerable reality. This year on my birthday, I was only 8 days from my last drink. This year at 34, I recognized that I have now been smoking tobacco for 20 years.. Which is coincidentally about as long as I have been playing guitar. This year, I sit with a calm acceptance of my experience as it is. My definition of a “disaster” has shifted, and in consequence my feelings about the disaster-maker have changed. I have done so much intense soul searching and reading about mental health and intersectionality that it doesn’t seem logical to dissolve into an agonizing pity party, only to emerge three weeks later, broke and unimaginably hungover.

I can attribute this shift to plain ol’ ordinary time passing and growing up, a strange insistent drive to understand and not give up, a loving and forgiving community as well as the interpersonal hard knocks, and – drum roll please – my psych meds. Yes, I give my money to Big Pharma the same way I give it to Big Tobacco, to Big Booze, to Big Oil by driving and paying my power bill, to Big Textile when accepting gifted clothes on Christmas. The list is endless. Some of my money has certainly ended up in those off-shore accounts that have just been revealed in the Panama Papers. We are all complicit. But I have come to a point where I recognize that I am of no use to anyone or anything if I cannot function, and I will try any tool available to get healthy and feel like myself. It is a strange thought that I should have to do something extra to feel like myself, something “unnatural”, but I have come to understand us humans as so hopelessly mismatched to our current environment evolutionarily, that we have no choice but to tinker with ourselves and our environment to survive. One might even classify that as evolution itself. Adaptation is nothing more than trial and error, at least I can credit myself for those two. I get an A for effort.

So at 34 I am still smoking, still sweating out the booze from 9 days ago, still wrestling with my seemingly pathological inability to write people back when it is actually important that I do. The more important the communication, the greater the block.. I don’t get it yet, but it is so uncomfortable I can’t do nothing about it. Aside from these things, at 34 I have apparently relocated to Atlanta, GA for the time being, to join up with Pretend Sweethearts. I have been looking for a new band that is down to work hard, play shows, travel and tour, and seek to answer the unanswerable questions, and I didn’t give up looking until I found it. I had no idea it would bring me to the Southeast, to an incredibly talented couple with two kids. The music is totally doing it for me, otherwise I certainly wouldn’t be here. Sometimes I get the urge to coyote off into the desert to “figure things out” first, but I recognize that impulse for what it is – fear, and a desire to escape the hard work of being in the now. That impulse also assumes that there is endless time to spend. Not so.

Now I will go pull up masses of overgrown ivy from my sweet neighbor’s yard so that she can finally after many years tinker in her garden again. Then I will gratefully eat good food that I spent my hard earned money on, and then push through the discomfort of answering some of those scarily important communications. I will contemplate my 20 years of smoking and continue to manifest letting go of such a big relationship in my life. I will be grateful for my measly 9 days free of booze. I will exercise my greatest gift by playing some music. I will accept the world as is, including myself as a thread in the grand tapestry. I can live with this.

Wishing everyone a happy springtime, personal illumination, and all the trappings of a joyful life.

j

Guns and Cigarettes

Guns and Cigarettes

I grew up in a house without guns. My parents are artists, they love a beautiful aria and a good book. We were not a hunting family, we didn’t even fish. I don’t recall one single conversation about guns. Their absence was entirely normal to me, in my quiet mostly white and Asian suburban world. I was mildly intrigued by the idea, the power and masculinity they seemed to imbue, but having little interest in sports or much of an inclination towards activities that required good aim, they left my mind as breezily as they went in. It didn’t occur to me what the black and brown kids who lived on the other side of the freeway thought about guns until I was much older. I found myself drawn to a different symbol of masculine self-reliance – cigarettes.

Visiting my brother in rural Ohio, I remember going into a gun store at the end of a quaint little collection of stores selling quilts, Amish furniture, antiques and the like. My brother and I, having never really been in a store that sold guns, went inside to look around. My father followed us in. At 5’10” in his Puma sneakers, with his hands in his pockets looking around, he smiled an expression that was not a smile, and he turned around and walked out. Something about that small moment struck me – the look on his face was a knowing look, with more than a hint of resentment and disapproval. He looked culturally out of place in that store, and he probably felt that way too. My father, who loves nothing more than puttering around the house and to fall into a nap with a spy novel and a cat at his feet, who will weep at the sound of a beautiful solo tenor or a chorus of children’s voices, exuded a particular version of masculinity to me, as his child. He has many traditionally masculine traits – he loves baseball and tools, women and woodworking, he was in the army reserves and was a pretty good shot. He was even pretty rageful and scary in his drinking years. But the unarmed, emotionally minded, gentle masculinity was what was passed on to me.

It is difficult to come to terms with the privilege I now know it to be, to be able to grow up in a world with not even the faintest fear of gun violence. It’s so easy for me to take a moral high ground and make a grand statement that I will never own a gun. That sentiment reminds me of the snarky comments I often received by those who clearly disapproved of my cigarette smoking and the effect it had on others. It was an obvious cultural difference between us, and I indignantly disregarded their comments. The gun lobby and the tobacco lobby share many similar traits – the stalling and hiding of science showing the heath risks involved in their products, the appeals to libertarian freedom of choice, invoking images of rebellious individuality, and the stoking of culture wars to keep the sales flowing. For both industries, it is ultimately about profit. I grew up in a world where cigarettes weren’t smoked in front of children, but was still something adults seem to enjoy, or was at least acceptable to do. I cringe at the thought of all the butts I threw from my car window, and all the youthful eyes that watched me smoke. My depression and anxiety had me searching the ashtrays in front of restaurants as a teen, and I have given god knows how much money to the tobacco billionaires, all for a cultural and chemical coping mechanism. Clearly guns and cigarettes are different animals, but both are animals none the less.

I could go down so many rabbit holes on this topic – how the relentless sales of arms has fueled the ridiculous violence we are seeing in the world, a musing on the human propensity to take a life, white privilege and guns, the sadness around so many unnecessary deaths cause by both guns and cigarettes… I could write about how I think regulating gun sales actually helps strengthen responsible gun ownership (look at Canada, look at regulation of driving cars), and speculate on how far past that point we are. Many, many rabbit holes. But what I sit here with is just the enormity of our shared predicament, and the powerlessness I feel to affect it as a single individual. It is a hugely complex issue that is interconnected to so much else, with no quick fix or sound bite slogan. Like the reality of poverty, its causes and solutions are multifaceted, requiring effort from all angles to even get it to budge. A myopic attack of one small variable will not move it.

When did you first experience guns? What was the culture surrounding them in your world as a child? Do tell 🙂

j