Friday, January 31, 2020

Live Show Review: Radical Revolution

Last weekend was '80s Weekend at McMenamin's Crystal Ballroom, with videos Friday night and '80s cover band Radical Revolution playing on Saturday.

I'm calling this a live show review rather than a concert review, because it was more of a dance party than a concert, and there was nothing wrong with that. People were shaking and dancing and they liked it. We revisited a decade full of the best dance music, and it was a trip.

I appreciate that they had both male and female vocalists - Jason Fellman and Christie Bradley, allowing a wider range of songs that could be sung. I don't care if the gender matches the original artist, but with just one singer there are bound to be songs that they can't manage, not matter how good their individual range is.

Therefore, we were able to hear songs from A-ha, Whitney Houston, Kenny Loggins, Bon Jovi, Loverboy, Pat Benatar, the Bangles, and many more.

Speaking of range and coverage, there is an impressive mix here. In addition to singing, Fellman was also playing guitar. I was surprised to see the keyboardist, Mark Kent, take Fellmans' guitar and play that for a while.Then Fellman picked up a different guitar, so for a while there were three guitars playing, plus bass.

But there was an earlier surprise for me when I first arrived, seeing Mike Johnson (whose interview appeared yesterday) playing bass. I have known him more for keyboard and drums.

In fact, Fellman also plays drums in Stone In Love, and Stone In Love's lead singer, Kevin Hahn, was playing guitar here, with Radical Revolution rounded out by Justin Cook on drums.

So there is a whole stable of gifted, talented, versatile musicians up on the stage, playing for you to dance the night away.

(Stone In Love was previously reviewed here:

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Interview: 5 questions with MIKE JOHNSON

Saturday night I went to see Radical Revolution - a local 80s cover band - at the Crystal Ballroom. That review will appear tomorrow. Tuesday afternoon I chatted with their bass player, Mike Johnson.

Along with RadRev, Johnson plays drums for Journey cover band Stone in Love, bass and vocals in Red Light Romeos, frequently subs in for other bands on drums, and has recently started a new dance band: Slick Richard & the Candy Band. You may also remember him from previous bands like Camaro Hair and the Flurries.

I have also known him for long enough that going to Tower Records and buying cassingles might have been a thing we did together.

The conversation has been edited for clarity and brevity.

How has playing multiple instruments affected your outlook and work?

For one thing, I think I just had ADHD as a kid, and would get decent at one thing and then want to move on. I drummed for ten years, and then when I started my first band I didn't want to be the drummer. I started composing on piano and that became my main thing.  

It makes the gigs fresh because they are always different. I can have two gigs back to back, playing two nights, two different instruments. It is jack of all trades, master of none, but I can play well enough. My calendar is more refreshing. It is "do what you love" but not the same thing every day.

What do you think of the local music scene?

I'm probably the wrong person to ask. The market is a lot more saturated. Back in the day there were six main places to go see music, and now there are all of these little tap rooms. It seems like it was more buzzing back in the 90s.

Also, when Camaro Hair was playing it was before social media, you had to play the smaller gigs and work up. Now you can get a following on Youtube. It's different to come back and know how to be a part of that. Most musicians aren't business guys and don't want to spend their time on that.

What would be helpful for musicians?

It's hard because as the market gets saturated clubs are struggling too, and club owners really have to watch their bottom lines. The thing I would like to see the most is to have the pay level out for streaming. There have been some changes in legislation, but there are so many ways to get music for free that you underpay people. For shows, I haven't seen people rip off musicians like they used to, where they would have you sell a hundred tickets and then they underpay, but I'm not a guy that books. I have the best manager in town (Jason Fellman of J-Fell Presents) and we get treated really well. I've been doing 80s covers as a joke for 20 years; it's funny at this point in my life to be getting paid for it.

You recently completed the Hood to Coast relay; does being a runner help your stage stamina?

I'm not a runner. Well, I run sometimes, but not as much most of those guys. I had to really ramp it up for the relay, and then just exploded and partied. It was super fun and I didn't die.  For singers and breathing, cardio is good.

What are some of the musical goals that you are looking forward to?

I have a million songs that I've written over the years that I haven't had time to record. One solo album in 2009 took four years to make. My goal is to get caught up and put out my backlog of material. The cover bands started playing a lot more, so it takes longer. It's like being a painter with an idea in your head, and just not getting it out. That's my main goal. I found a guy that is great to work with so it should be easier now. We have laid down eight tracks, and I should have a video ready in a few months.

Related links: 

Red Light Romeos: 
Radical Revolution:
Stone In Love:

Also, if you missed it...

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Sharing the news

I bet you thought I was going to post yesterday; I certainly thought so!

It was a busy day, and a lot of the things that happened were good. There was also some computer trouble, which is concerning, but life goes on, except when it doesn't.

Like many I was shocked at the sudden death of Kobe Bryant. I have also had some concerns about how the story broke. It sounds relatives were notified before the story broke. I hope that's true. Even if it is true (I'm not sure that I trust TMZ for ethical decisions), rumors were flying around - including the erroneous announcement that Rick Fox was on board (he was not). That was irresponsible and unkind, and I am sure it came from desperation to break story and goose ratings.

Without saying that it doesn't matter, I have also come to the conclusion that there is no good way to find out.

I actually figured out several years ago that there is no good way to lose your mother. One friend had lost her mother to cancer after dealing with it for a while, and another lost hers suddenly to heart issues. It was pretty clear that the elimination of some pain only leaves room for different pain. With dementia we get to do a lot of mourning along the way, but we have no illusions that it will mean less mourning at the end.

Recently some plans with friends fell through, but we had still arranged care for Mom, so my sisters and I went to do errands. We ended up talking a lot in the car, and it was good. There was a time when I thought we didn't have very long left, and Maria periodically likes to call me out on that. She did it again, but I had an answer because I have been thinking a lot. We got to get stuff out, and ask and answer with a level of freedom and openness that we often don't have.

It allowed me to ask one thing that has been worrying me: how do you want to find out?

Because I am our mother's primary caretaker, and often alone with her, it could happen while they are at work or something. There is not a good way to give the news, because it will not be good news. Do you want a call or a text? They didn't know, and I don't blame them.

I had this thought once that maybe a text asking them to call would be the way to go, but then thought, no, they would know that's what it was. Then I thought, no, it could be something else, like a fall or a hospitalization. Then I thought, what if I text all four siblings to call, and then they call at the same time so I am having a fraught call with one and then others are calling in and can't reach me? That won't help anyone! It might not be very likely either, but still.

One thing I have done is come up with a putative list of who needs to be notified, and in what order. For Mom's nieces and nephews I  can message some via Facebook and some via e-mail, but I will definitely not post to Facebook until all of those messages have been sent. Then they will help notify each other, and that's fine. It's more about keeping communication open and bonds strong.

I have a sense that it is morbid to be thinking about this so much (and then on a completely different level that maybe these posts should go on the preparedness blog). When there is so much that we can't know - and believe me, forgetting that she is deteriorating is out of the question - then being able to make a few points solid is kind of comforting. It reassures me that I can handle this, and that we will be okay.

The other thing that frequently comes up when people are talking about death is that life is uncertain, so remember to tell people you love them and not waste time.

It's not quite as uncertain here; we know we have already lost pieces of her, and we know that will continue inexorably until the end. That could be a reminder to show love and not hold resentments, but it is also incredibly stressful, which leaves room for resentment.

The gift that has come from thinking it could be soon has been remembering to work through things, show love, and give her good times in any ways that I can. There was a brief period where she would frequently threaten to get a lawyer to figure things out, because of things that she was worried about that were missing or not real, but felt real to her. It would have been terrible to lose her then, when there was so much hostility coming from her. It was not easy being on the receiving end of that.

Now we have been dealing with it for a while, and it is easier to conceive that it could go much longer, even though there would be frequent changes within that. Now the gift has to be learning how to do the marathon: how to keep going, how to maintain the ability to keep going, and the patience with that.

Maybe that's not so much a gift as a need, but I am socializing more, and that is a gift. Maybe sometimes it is more about the perspective.

Monday, January 27, 2020

A year or so of magical reading

I have been working on this one post for a while, realizing that it is too much for one post, but not sure how many and which posts it actually is.

It started out as a reading list about death, but also about dementia, and also about wholeness. Those topics all loom large in my life right now, and the bump into each other around my edges.

Really, it started with Black~ish. Specifically, it started with episode 5 of season 5. Bow commemorates her recently deceased father's birthday; it does not end up being as celebratory as she intended. Grief hits hard, and not always when you expect it. We see very different modes of grief for her and her mother, but what stayed with me was Pops' initial reluctance to deal, and then his understanding of how some things can comfort the living. It ends with Pops giving Dre instructions for his burial and so on. He says he is doing it for Dre. Based on his observing Bow, that makes sense, but also there is a feeling that it matters for Pops too. Maybe it is more of an acknowledgment of his love for Dre and Dre's family.

It inspired me to get to two books that I had been meaning to read for a long time and never gotten around to. They did relate to death. I thought I could pull them out, maybe along with some others, and be more able to deal with death. They were Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach, and The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion.

The main thing Stiff did for me was introduce me to human composting, which does interest me.

Didion's work affected me more. For one thing, it kept giving me more books to read. Well, it really only ended up being three.

Intensive Care: A Doctor's Journal by John F. Murray

The first case involved a dementia patient, and I felt that, but she was the exception. I ended up thinking more about how we decide to value human life, but the closer look at what kind of life-saving measures are possible and their potential success rates may help me be clearer-eyed in the case of decision-making.

How We Die: Reflections of Life's Final Chapter by Sherwin B. Nuland

There was a chapter on dementia, and they were good (if hard) things to know. I also recognized other things here where reading it may not have just been for my mother. Part of how it helps me is giving me a mechanical understanding of different ways that the body stops. At some point I assume I will need to deal with that.

I also realized that this was probably the book an aunt was talking about once after the funeral of a cousin. Her main takeaway was that everyone wants to die peacefully in their sleep, and that's not how it usually happens. That is something I think about a lot.

The last one was the most disappointing. It was an etiquette book by Emily Post, but I failed to note the edition. I did check one out from the library, but it was too current and everything had changed.

In that older edition there was more about things like how long to wear black, and how old clothes could probably be dyed rather than new ones purchased at great cost. Also, light, warm foods - like tea and broth -  were important for the bereaved, because their systems had received a shock. Warm liquids could invigorate the circulation without requiring too much physical effort. Didion noticed that in conjunction with a neighbor who kept bringing her congee (apparently a rice porridge) through the period right after her husband's death.

I clung to that. A lot of my reading on this (and there is much more to write) stems from knowing that I am the responsible one that will have to look out for everyone else. That's not necessarily thinking that they are expecting it, but it is certainly not expecting anyone else to be on top of it. Perhaps that is not fair, but if everyone is kind of dazed and listless, then I need to know that they need broth! There is nothing like that in the new edition; it is all about what correspondence can be conducted through e-mail and social media, and things like that.

Where Didion hit me hardest was predicted by the title, but I didn't see it coming. Didion's year came after their daughter was hospitalized and then her husband died, everything suddenly and unexpectedly. There was a lot to deal with, and a lot of time spent trying to understand death and the body and medicine better. The "magical thinking" part is that on one level she was operating as though she believed that somehow by learning enough she could reach back and change it.

Yeah, that sounds like me. But you can't.

It is not a reason not to learn. I mean, at some point someone is still probably going to need broth. I will still need to know what phone calls to make. If there are signs of something coming, recognizing those signs can be helpful, whether that means there is something you can prevent or something you need to accept.

However, it is possible that there is really more to learn about acceptance, and that's something to work on as well.

Friday, January 24, 2020

Album Review: Admission by Torche

This review is going to seem more critical than I intend.

I really enjoyed listening. There is this rumble that goes through my chest when Torche plays. I like it.

I just can't necessarily tell it from their other albums.

I know it's them. I love them. That is not a problem.

I am not even saying that all of their tracks sound the same, because "Triumph of Venus" still exists. However, there is not an equivalent track to that on this album. "Submission" probably stands out the most, but it isn't really about standing out. I am tempted to say that is a common issue with instrumental bands, but Torche does sing; the singing just doesn't matter as much as the guitars.

It is also true that I often praise bands for trying new things and digging deeper. I know.

So Torche continues doing their thing, but they do it better than anyone else.

Related posts:

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Talk to me

I have been frustrated with not having as much time for music listening, even with sprinkling album reviews into the mix. I have gotten somewhat better about the other topic blogging, but at this time two music reviews a week is not possible (except with live shows, sometimes).

Blogging every single day may not be practical anyway; I don't know when I will get back to the travel blog or the preparedness blog regardless. I have been thinking about this hole on Thursdays, though, and I kind of want to start running interviews.

Speaking of things where you don't know if they're practical...

With the band reviews, there are many times where I have thought it would be nice to be able to interview some of the musicians when they come to town anyway. That is not new. More recently, it has seemed more possible. Every now and then at a smaller gig someone recognizes me from the reviews, or I am there because I know them some other way. I probably could get those people to answer a few questions. For the bands that follow me on Twitter and end up on the review list because of that, well, they are following people to get more attention; they might be open to more detailed attention.

So there are definite possibilities there. I don't know that I could interview someone related to the Friday music review every week, but that leads to something else.

Several years ago, I had this idea that I would like to do something like a magazine that focused on people. The name People was already taken, but maybe it could be Persons.

The idea came partly from the Smithsonian magazine. There was an article on pernambuco, a wood that is particularly well-suited to violin bows. In the course of the article they spoke to someone who makes bows, and a musician, and someone who harvests the wood, I think. They were all there about the wood, but it seemed like there could be room to learn about them too.

Also, there was something about Andrew Steele.

It is easier to find information on him now, but then he was part of a story where they couldn't get good analytical photos of these Martian rocks, so - if I recall correctly - he requested the samples and invented a camera to get the right angles, and he was a student when he did this. I believe it was a graduate student, not a high school student, but still! The confidence and ingenuity there was amazing.

Finally, I saw this guy on the Metro in DC who stood out because he looked like a young Viggo Mortenson. Also, we were near the Pentagon, and he had a badge on so I knew his name and rank. Shallow, perhaps, but a friend explained that for his rank based on his evident age, he must have risen through the ranks pretty quickly. There would be a story there, beyond his being good-looking. (Though he was really good looking.).

At the time those factors all worked together to impress me that everyone has a story. I'm not the only one to know that. Now there are options like Humans of New York and Faces of Homelessness that delve into that more. I certainly didn't do anything with it at the time, but now I kind of want to.

But also, Friday is going to be an album review of Torche's latest, Admission, and there was a member that I used to interact with sometimes but he is no longer on the band. I don't anticipate any post tomorrow.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Notes on two birthdays

Friday I turned 48, having been 47 for a year already. I really didn't want to do it.

I was fine with aging, but hitting the actual anniversary felt like a lot of pressure to feel celebratory and to want things, and I could not do that.

The last few years have been hard. One really bad year I hid my birthday on Facebook because I just couldn't bear the well wishes. It felt hypocritical, because I am really conscientious about that. If I find I can't wish you a happy birthday, I usually unfriend you, because I must not like you. Remembering people is important.

That year, I could not bear to be remembered, and I knew if I didn't take it down it would happen.

The next year wasn't quite as bad. I meant to allow the birth date to show again but then when I went to check I couldn't figure it out. I eventually got that back up.

This year I thought would be normal, but when I logged in there were only two birthday wishes and they were both in direct messages. I could have been okay with that, but it seemed not quite right, and I discovered people were not allowed to post on my wall.

I don't remember doing that, but it may explain why I haven't been getting a lot of political push back lately. I assumed the people who really hated the things I post had just muted me, but now I don't know.

Anyway, I changed that and received many well wishes, and if we'll see if it changes anything else. We are now officially in an election year.

I did a fundraiser last year. It reached goal and was for a charity I cared about, and so that was good.

Over the last year, every request I have seen for money - mostly for great causes - has been like a little stab. It made it hard to decide to do a fundraiser this year, but I did. Again, some money was raised, even without much action on my part. It's weird, but if I did contribute in some way, I will take it.

Like many 48 year old people, I have a 30 year high school reunion coming up. I suppose that is why I was thinking about my 18th birthday.

I was working at K-mart. We'd just had our Christmas party - a few weeks after Christmas - and it was not really great; a dark American Legion hall with not enough raffle prizes and nothing really memorable. However, Family Shopping Night before Christmas had been really nice. They have recently completely obliterated the building I worked at.

A-ha was officially still my favorite band, but I was singing a lot of Escape Club, and picking up bargain records at K-mart: Human League, Times 2, Men Without Hats, Modern English. Tower Records was still great, but I got a lot of cheap vinyl at work. I no longer have it; sorry, collectors.

I had given up on science completely when... well I might say when I couldn't wrap my head around AP Biology, but the truth was that I didn't try very hard. Not liking the teacher tended to be a real stumbling block for me, but I was working a lot and doing a lot of activities, and it just wasn't a match. Instead I took an extra English class, which may seem like favoring the right side of the brain at the expense of the left. I still want to bring that back into balance, some day.

Whatever else was not going right for me, I was sure that I would at least get the foreign language student scholarship and maybe the nice person scholarship (no, that was not the official designation for the second one, but that was basically what it meant). Wrong on both counts. I didn't really know how things worked. I know now that is a cultural capital issue, but I didn't even know there was such a thing then.

I'd had a room to myself for a while, but my brother moved back in shortly before his wedding, and my younger sisters had come in with me. The wedding was four days before my birthday, so I was just getting my privacy back.

It had been a year since my father disowned me (for the first time). I thought I was handling it pretty well, but that restlessness and my brain not cooperating on some things seems to have been related now. I mean, I still don't drive. It sure made the wedding stuff stressful, but I worked a lot and that helped.

The only thing I could have accurately predicted about my future was that I would go to University of Oregon and graduate. Well, I wanted to write, and I have written things. That didn't go as planned either.

I suppose the main difference is that I thought I could predict then, and I am a little bit more realistic about that now.

Without knowing quite how the year will go, I have things to work on and to learn, and I will just try.

I saw Frozen 2 not long ago. "My love's not fragile" (I hope not) is a close runner-up, but I think the most personally affecting line for me was "When one can see no future, all one can do is the next right thing."

That I can do.

Monday, January 20, 2020

Odds and ends on MLK Day

Here are some opinions of mine! No, I don't think anyone has asked, but on a day that lots of people use to promote the mildest samples of quotes from Dr. King, without grappling with his murder, or the very real effects of structural racism, or the evil and structural basis of poverty, this seems like as good a post as any.

Harry and Meghan

I just really hope it works out for them. I had heard things about the attacks and the racism, but someone put out a long side by side of how equivalent stories on Kate and Meghan are treated - touching the baby bump when pregnant, eating avocados - it is glaring. That is bad enough on its own, but when you see the comments too, and all the hatred directed at her, I can't blame them for wanting out. I cannot doubt that Harry is haunted not just by his mother's death, but the scrutiny she was under before and the toll that took.

For people who say Meghan knew what she was getting into, I suspect there was a reasonable expectation that it would die down. There were some early attacks on Kate Middleton for being a social climber, but she is pretty well accepted now. When you find out that you can't win, you should recalculate.

I suspect there is some worry on the part of some royals that this will make people question whether the royalty is needed. I remember in AP History our teacher saying that one of the things Parliament really liked about the royalty was that it took attention of them; maybe that's not a great system. Regardless, there are plenty of heirs. If Harry and Meghan demonstrate that there are other options, maybe that will be a source of inspiration.

I worry that Canada has its own problems with racism. I worry that the press is attacking more now, and maybe they won't stop, but mainly, I hope that it works out.

It is worth thinking about how the press may harm instead of help. Even going outside of the tabloid press, uneven political coverage has caused harm over here. That leads us to...

Julián Castro endorses Elizabeth Warren

I am sad about Castro's withdrawal from the race, because he was the superior candidate by far. He did not get enough press attention and he did not get enough financial support, which was certainly related. That being said, choosing to endorse Warren makes sense, and doing it straightforwardly, rather than waiting around to see which way the wind was blowing went makes sense for his character.

Of the candidates getting any traction, Warren is not the one most likely to clinch the nomination, but she is the most similar to Castro in terms of creating detailed plans and being data driven. She is not as good at race - and that is a huge one for me - but she is also the one who seems most capable of getting there. I do not say that lightly.

Climate change

I have not said as much about the candidates as I could have, certainly, but part of that is seeing that so often the issues with the voters make pointing out various things about the candidates unproductive. Climate changes comes up because just today one of my mutuals on Twitter said something about feeling like it was too late to stop global warming; we could only endure it.

My response was that I put a lot of hope into permaculture, but the problem is people. There is so much that can be done with producing food locally and without needing a lot of fertilizer - therefore reducing fossil fuel use in two different ways - and even lowering temperature in an area. Yes, a lot of damage has been done, but there is a lot of healing that can be done too.

That is true of all issues, but it takes better hearts. It takes good will.

That is my sermon for today.

Friday, January 17, 2020

Band Review: Grumpster

Grumpster is a punk band from Oakland.

They just released a new album in November on Asian Man Records.

Underwhelmed starts out strong with the title track. I especially liked "Crumbling" and "Tunnel Vision" as well.

If it is not obvious from those titles, life is kind of a bummer. Lyrics are about anxiety, nausea and people who use you up. Yes, that sounds like life.

But music is not a bummer and punk music definitely isn't. Punk can take all of those rotten things and still laugh and have a good time.

Grumpster is a good time, even if the name implies they might yell at you to get off the grass. In reality they would probably let you yell, and you'd feel better for it.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

National Hispanic Heritage Month 2019: Day of the Dead

A House of My Own is a collection of writings by Sandra Cisneros. There were some magazine pieces and a presentation that went with a slide show and things like that, but then she wrote comments on the context or on her process. Part of why I related to it so much was because a lot of it was about writing, but death played a role as well.

I have been doing a completely different reading list related to death and dementia and wholeness, but things come at you from all angles.

In this case, she wrote about the death of her mother, and feeling her soul's release. She had felt that before with a friend, and it had been so powerful that knowing her mother's dynamic personality she was expecting something like a tidal wave. Instead it was shockingly gentle, an aspect of her mother she had not known.

I have had an inkling of how death could be a release for my mother, with all of this worry that she can't resolve relieved. Maybe it read differently because I have recently been thinking about unrealized potential, and how the way this world goes no one gets to achieve everything that they have inside them.

My mother has been thwarted a lot. She just plowed ahead with whatever needed to be done, so it didn't register as a kid. She made good things out of it for the most part, but still, there was loss and I got this glimpse of how restoration could be. I'm not even sure that it's comforting, but it touched me, and I think that as I grow to understand that better it will be more beautiful.

Then there was Submerged, by Vita Ayala.

I do not think this has to lessen the reading experience, but I am going to spoil it here, so keep that in mind if you keep reading.

With a storm system heading in, Elysia goes in search of her brother in the subway system as sections of it become flooded. The callbacks to the Greek underworld were pretty clear, but I don't think I was specifically thinking of Orpheus and Eurydice until the end.

Having successfully conquered obstacles and found her brother, as they begin to find their way out and emerge back into daylight, Angel keeps asking Elysia to look at him, and she does not want to.

If you will recall, to reclaim his wife from death Orpheus had to get out of the underworld, back into daylight, without looking back to see Eurydice following him. They made it all the way, but he looked back just a little too soon - like he was out, but she was only mostly out - and Eurydice vanished, remaining among the dead. Orpheus never really rejoined life, mourning until he was torn apart by Maenads.

It feels like Elysia sees the resemblance too, in her determination to avoid looking back. Angel keeps begging, though, because he is in fact dead. This time they have had together is grace for both of them, but it is ending and she needs to face it.

But Elysia is able to live. She can't change the death, but she can face it and then move on. Denial wouldn't allow that.

I do not feel like I have done a good job of conveying these works. I felt them emotionally, and trying to explain them intellectually is inadequate. I have also given names and authors, though, so you don't need to rely on my accounts. Both are available through the Washington County Library system.

For me, maybe I have written this before, but I think that saying about the teacher appearing when the student is ready is wrong-headed in that it implies this one opportunity that has to be waited upon.  There are teachers all around, which is good when the student is finally ready to start noticing.

They're all around. Being open, you find a handful of solace here, and a spark of inspiration there. It can add up, if you let it.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

National Hispanic Heritage Month 2019: The books

I didn't have any children's books this time, but I did read several comics. One of them, Nightlights, could be appropriate for children.

Ricanstruction: Reminiscing and Rebuilding Puerto Rico by Edgardo Miranda-Rodriguez and many others (a collection of stories by different others, themed on Puerto Rico, and especially but not only recovering from Hurricane Maria.)

Submerged by Vita Ayala

Livewire by Vita Ayala

Nightlights by Lorena Alvarez

X-Men: A Skinning of Souls by Fabian Nicieza and others

Wonder Woman by George Pérez and others

Most of the comics were chosen via a combination of what our library system had and this article: 

Having often been disappointed with runs on certain characters, I had been trying to switch more to searching on creators, and maybe publishers. That kind of did not work well, because I was irritated by a few of these comics. However, it also makes sense, because X-men wasn't just Nicieza, it was also Lobdell, which I did not see until I got it. 

I did not like Livewire, but I really liked Submerged, so I think my problem with Livewire is not Vita Ayala but Valiant Comics; that also makes a lot of sense.

I saw recommendations for Nightlights and Submerged in other places, so I probably would have read them anyway. The biggest gain from the article, then, was that I read Ricanstruction. Like any anthology, it has stronger and weaker parts, but I overall enjoyed it. Still, recommendations from people who know comics are generally the best source for good comic suggestions.

I had mentioned wanted to read more Sandra Cisneros, and thinking about reading them in both English and Spanish. This time around I read The House on Mango Street, Woman Hollering Creek and Other Stories, and A House of My Own from Cisneros.

I only read them in English; that plan was overly ambitious for where my live is right now. I am not ruling it out in the future. There was a segment from The House on Mango Street that I read in school many years ago, in Spanish, and I think it felt different emotionally then. However, that could also be because it was read alone without the context of the rest of the book, or because it was read by a younger, less world-weary person over two decades ago. The experiment could still be valid, bandwidth allowing.

I know I will read more Cisneros, because she resonates with me, especially when she is writing about writing. I know I will write more about her this year, because there is more that I need to say about A House of My Own and about Submerged that will go together.

Also, there was a segment in "A House of My Own" (the essay that book is named after) where she writes about discovering other Chicana writers, and there is a lot I could potentially read from there. I made a list!

That leaves seven books, most of which were more academic, and needed to come through Inter-Library Loan. (Without that, I might have been able to finish in 2019.)

My Life as a Community Activist, Labor Organizer, and Progressive Politician in New York City by Gilberto Gerena Valentin

The Columbian Exchange: Biological and Cultural Consequences of 1492 by Alfred W. Crosby

Punished: Policing the Lives of Black and Latino Boys by Victor M. Rios

El Libertador: Writings of Simon Bolivar by Simon Bolivar

Mambisas: Rebel Women in Nineteenth Century Cuba by Teresa Prados-Torreira

Women Who Live Evil Lives: Gender, Religion, and the Politics of Power in Colonial Guatemala by Martha Few

Aztec Philosophy: Understanding a World in Motion by James Maffie

I'm going to be honest: they were largely boring. Gerena's and Rios's books were the most interesting and accessible, I think. Honestly, a lot of people should read Punished.

However, the way Few and Prados-Torreira use original sources to suss out more about the lives and roles of women is important and impressive.

The Bolivar and Maffie books may be the most important of all. There is such a bias toward "Western civilization" in understanding basic topics like government and philosophy, but that isn't all that there is, nor is it all that matters.

It may be especially important to watch how other democracies have developed when our own seems to be failing.

Monday, January 13, 2020

National Hispanic Heritage Month 2019 - What's in a name?

I started having some concern about whether "Hispanic Heritage" is the best way of expressing the concept shortly after learning that there was an official month called that.

Name concerns are not new: African-American versus Black? Native American versus Indian versus Indigenous? Two things specifically came up for this post.

One came when I was watching Huehca Omeyocan at the end of September:

The dancer mentioned that Eduardo Cruz - who was talking and playing the instruments there - would not be at a future event because of an art exhibit, but she was kind of teasing him because it was for Hispanic artists and he didn't like that term. I had been wondering if Latinx is better, but this seemed like a good chance to get some input. I went up to talk to him afterward and asked. 

He wasn't totally against the term (again, I could tell that she was at least somewhat teasing), but it was more that it is reductive. For him, everyone on the Americas is Nahuatl, which is historically what we call Aztec.

I might have considered that an oversimplification, but I had just read The Book of the Hopi, and the similarities are obvious. However, if you looked into the Inuit or Anishinaabe, that might not seem as connected.

Without making too much out of that, let's look at the other thing: one of my sisters asked me about the term "Asian-American"; because she had heard that it shouldn't be used.

It had confused her, and I don't know the full context of what she heard. I imagine it was something about how the experience of Japanese and Chinese immigrants, where they are more likely to be seen as the "model minority", compared to Southeast Asian immigrants, often coming as refugees and frequently troubled by gang associations - not to mention immigrants from India and Pakistan; there are a lot of different experiences there. Their month goes with Pacific Islanders too, but there are ways in which the native Hawaiian experience is more similar to American Indians than that of Americans with Japanese ancestry. (But then there are a lot of people with Japanese ancestry in Hawaii, and some of the WWII issues would relate.)

As I read more, I find more commonalities, but there are more specificities too. I hope that as we learn more about each other we will come to the point where we find out that we have a lot in common. We should, right? But to get there, we need to know how we got here first, and there are a lot of different aspects. There are frequent common denominators, but we learn from the differences too.

One issue with both "Hispanic" and "Latinx" is that it emphasizes the influence of their colonizers by focusing on the language. That's especially Spanish, but as we talk about "Latin America" it includes Portuguese, which with Spanish comes from Latin.

For United States history, that heritage can refer to the immigrants that come from Mexico, like with the Braceros program, but it can also mean our influence and conflict with Cuba, and our acquisition (and neglect of) Puerto Rico, and states that started out as parts of Mexico, like Texas, California, New Mexico, and Florida. You could argue that it includes our time in the Philippines, and maybe it includes the Contras and the Academy of the Americas and Coca-Cola and Dole. (Realistically, many more corporations and military operations could be included.)

It also includes a lot of indigenous history, some of which one would not tend to classify as Native American.

I am going to stick with "Hispanic Heritage" for these next few posts; I don't know what I will call it next year.

After all, if I wasn't open to things changing, there wouldn't be point in doing this.

Friday, January 10, 2020

Band Review: Kerbera

Kerbera is an alternative rock band from Stockholm, Sweden.

Listing influences like Muse and Avenged Sevenfold, and having toured with Falling in Reverse, that could give an idea of the likely fan base. It would be reasonable. I want to suggest two other factors.

One is that visually the band gives me strong glam vibes. They don't necessarily look more like glam rockers than other types of rockers (that could be hard to define anyway), but there is a creativity - sometimes playful - and a toying with identity. It reminds me of Gerard Way's Hesitant Alien videos without looking anything like them.

In addition, without being dominant there is an element of ornamentation via keyboards and synthesizer that at times reminds me of Linkin Park. It provides contrast to the harder edges of the music, increasing texture and interest.

The band is wrapping up some West Coast dates, playing in Los Angeles tonight.

They are worth checking out.

Wednesday, January 08, 2020

2020 Hindsight: A new hope

If the end result of this past decade is that I have become more aware of how big the world is, and how interconnected, the irony is that for my personal life my world has gotten much smaller. Yes, every now and then I say something that helps someone or clarifies something, but most of my effort goes into one person, and I don't get out much. (Hence my post from last week; I am working on it.)

However, there is an answer in this review of the past ten years that may give me hope for the future, because 2010 started off badly. I was underemployed, got sick trying to manage a job that was not paying well despite it being skilled labor, and behind on everything. I finally got a new job right before my 20-year reunion, averting some humiliation, but everything got worse before it got better. In learning the new job, refinancing the house, trying to get Mom through her knee surgery while her memory was starting to slip, having a writing partner who needed to talk for hours every night regardless of how exhausted I was... I just wasn't doing well. By the time I got through all of that, there wasn't any creativity left in me, and there wasn't much joy.

I thought 2011 was looking up, with going on Jeopardy! and a vacation finally planned again after four years, but I also came down with pneumonia in December. I used up all my time off for that and was really close to cancelling the trip.

But then I got on Twitter, and I found not just one band I loved, but a lot of music, of all kinds, and I had things to say again. I blogged and wrote screenplays and novels and short scripts and comics. It was an amazing time. It felt like coming back to life, but I hadn't really been dead, just dormant.

So the hope I have is that I am just dormant again, and that it won't last.

The hardest times of my life have been when I have lost something that was part of my identity. There was the time when it was my ability to be cheerful, which turned out to be directly related to my ability to compartmentalize and deny. I needed to lose that, but the process was hard. There was my ability to make a good living and make things easier for people. I guess I hadn't learned enough there.

Maybe I needed to get it really knocked out of me that I will ever be able to make money by writing. To be fair, I often wrote too fast because I so needed some type of income, but it never worked out like that. It's better to avoid being financially desperate, if you can.

In terms of being successful, yes, I have taken excellent care of my mother, but I will not succeed. Her brain has continued to decline. It will until she dies, and she will die. That's a losing battle, and for all the pain it has accumulated along the way, there is more pain in store. It may very well include an even bigger identity crisis, because this has been so much of a focus for so long. I like to think that some of the thinking and preparing and reading will help me not be so messed up, but there is no guarantee of that.

But no matter how much I lose, I do get refined. The dross gets burned off, and what is truest and realest stays, or comes back. Sometimes it is just a matter of hanging in there long enough.

When that thing about your top three accomplishments of the decade started going around, a lot of people felt like they didn't have much to show for it. I saw one post that if you are still here, that is an accomplishment.

I'm still  here. I may still be happy again.

Tuesday, January 07, 2020

2020 Hindsight: The books and the people and the bird

It has been very frustrating in this phase of my life finding that I can't write as much or listen to music as much, but the big comfort is that I have been able to keep up pretty well with my reading, even if I am slower.

Blogger was the biggest help in reviewing my decade, but Goodreads stats played a role.

I joined Goodreads in late 2008, around the same time I joined Facebook, and from that point on it is easy to see how much I was reading, and what.

(For some fun Goodreads stats, in 2009 I only read five books, but they were really long ones that took a long time, including War and Peace. I also recently checked and found that I added 135 books to my Want to Read list in 2019. This may be why that list does not shrink even while my Read list goes up.)

For the decade, it was right in 2010 that I did my first Black History and Native American Heritage months. That was only four books for each, but it may have got me started with more focused reading, and the overall book counts increased. That really took off with the Long Reading List in 2014.

That was a response to trying to help depressed teenagers. I worried about not knowing what I was doing and not knowing enough about mental health and eating disorders. I just started researching. I wanted them to be okay, and maybe that required me being okay too, so I worked on that. A lot of the goals that I set came from that.

That first Black History month came from a Facebook comment, and then Native American Heritage reading seemed important for balance, and hey, there was already a month for that: perfect! I didn't know that I would also find months for Hispanic Heritage and Asian Pacific American Heritage. I wasn't reviewing bands or doing daily songs yet, so I didn't know that I would start including music and bringing all of that together. I did not know that in the last year of the decade I would be looking for ways to make sure there was queer representation and representation of disability, but that was the natural path.

(I did not know that I would never be on schedule, but that would have been the most predictable part.)

I can point to a lot that came from depressed teenagers, and they largely came via My Chemical Romance. I have said before that my intersectional feminism started with comics. I have remembered now that isn't completely true either. It started with a television writer. I got onto Twitter because that's where all of the Grimm people were, and I really liked that show. One night - I had been on Twitter for about two months - Akela Cooper tweeted about a Black kid who was murdered in Florida, heading back to his father's house after going to get some snacks.

Trayvon Martin's death hit hard. It also led to a new way of interacting and getting news and learning things.

So I wrote out all of my pain and my anger with the world for six months, and then suddenly discovered a lot of other hurting people, and starting interacting with them and reading to find ways to help them, but also reading to better understand race and politics and other things.

They connect in ways you wouldn't expect. It was taking a class on Gender in Comics that gave me resources when one person was questioning gender. I've only needed them for one person, but that time it was important, and I'm glad I was there.

It has changed me as a person. I don't even know that it has made me more caring or kind; I was pretty caring and kind before. The big change is more what I can't forget, that there are things going on that I could have ignored before, or at least explained away, but now I can't.

And that is largely because of Twitter, with a big assist from the Washington County Library system.

When people complain about social media, they definitely have points. Twitter does have too many Nazis and they are not good about handling abuse and they really do keep getting in the way of meaningful interactions as they try and put more ads in front of your eyeballs. It has still brought me into a greater awareness, and even into friendships.

Twitter is why I go to small shows and some of the musicians recognize me. Well, it's the reviews too, but they know about them because of Twitter.

So maybe my really significant decade end will be in 2022, when I have spent a full decade on Twitter. It is still a gift.

Monday, January 06, 2020

2020 Hindsight: 1 and 10 years

For the past few days I have been doing a lot of review and reminiscing. It has come mainly from Twitter. A lot of the results have also had a lot to do with Twitter, so I guess it all works out.

There were questions going around about your top three accomplishments for the decade, or what have you changed your mind about over the last year. Also one person asked about if your wildest dreams came true this year, what would that look like? She got some good answers. There was at least one person expressing her frustration with social media.

I didn't answer anyone, but I thought a lot. Many things were and still are sad, but then looking back, there were surprising things too. Some things were good.

My biggest accomplishment of the past decade may have been appearing on Jeopardy! I've wanted to do it since high school, and I tried out a lot before I made it. Then I came in last, but still, it was a good experience.

I blogged a lot about that, and the writing matters, but I will get back to that later. For now, one important thing about the blog is that looking back at different posts helped me remember. Having lost so many journal and photo files, I am grateful that I have this body of memories out on the internet.

There are three somewhat related accomplishments that it makes sense to string together. I would not have thought of them without the blog.

I have been a great daughter. Getting my mother through her knee surgery, then her Mohs procedure, and caring for her now as she goes deeper into dementia, I have been so educated and organized and patient and compassionate. I have fought when I needed to, and been a detective when required.

I have been a supportive friend, especially for one who spent some time in prison. I remember now finding an older letter and he had called me his ride or die friend; I had never seen the term before and it went right over my head then. I can almost forget that because he has been out for a while and is doing great, but a lot happens in ten years. There was a time when it really mattered, and I was there.

Finally, I reached out to depressed and suicidal people over Twitter, and helped in whatever ways I could.

That's the one I feel least comfortable with, because looking back I feel like I was so unqualified, but in the moment I would see the distress signal and I could not turn away. Some have come back and told me that I saved their lives. I have always pushed back on that, because they ultimately had to choose to live, but I will take the credit for caring and acting on it. I will take the credit for keeping my eyes open and believing that it matters, and that they matter.

The obvious link in those stories is that they are about caring for others. We have discussed how that is my thing, and that I still need to learn how to balance caring for myself. I am not oblivious to that aspect.

You might also infer that those are things I wouldn't really ask for; my service has all started out reactive even if I later ended up being more proactive. Maybe good experiences came out of those situations, but they started out as bad things.

That gets us to the other connection. These stories are not the only part of it, but they all go along with some politicization, and radicalization.

It is not that I didn't care before; I have always been at least somewhat politically aware, and pretty liberal.

However, by caring for young and elderly and incarcerated and sick and disabled and female, I have learned a lot about systemic issues. I know the problems with bureaucracy much better now. I have a clear view of problems with capitalism, and how often job creators are weasels. I know a lot more about the impact of Adverse Childhood Experiences, and a lot about misogyny. I know more about the problems of the world.

I know more about potential solutions too. Someday I hope that matters. For now, though, I guess my primary accomplishment over the past ten years is that I have cared and that I have learned.

I intend to get more specific about that tomorrow.

Wednesday, January 01, 2020

Help Wanted

I don't know how long being a caregiver will be my life, but at my core that is probably something I will always be. That's okay; there is a need for helpers out there. I don't need to change that about me.

I do need to change the part where I keep prioritizing everyone over me, and where I care for everyone but me. That is a problem, and I haven't made much progress toward it. I think I know what I need to do.

I have never been good at asking for help. That goes back to early feelings about what I deserve and trust issues. Asking has never been easy for me, and it feels like the next important step. Specifically, I need to ask people to take me out.

As a family we have gotten better at working out respite time, but that is generally me in a park or a restaurant or on the bus reading. I need some of that, but I need company sometimes too. I need to feel liked, and like I can be enjoyed sometimes. I need to feel like I might have something interesting to say other than updates about how our mother is doing. I need to be not just her caregiver.

Sadly, I was never super-smooth, socially, but this has taken a lot out of me. I have become very isolated, and I am strained all the time. Sometimes when I do get to interact I hear how harsh my voice is, but I can't change it. I have to put so much patience and gentleness into my mother, I might run out for other people. I am prone to crying jags. I am angry a lot.

This cannot possibly make me sound like a good time, which does not make asking any easier, but I've still  got to do it.

Can someone take me out once a month? It can be to eat or to bowl or to drink hot chocolate or play a round of mini-golf or listen to live music or watch something that I want to see on Netflix, because I do not have Netflix. I will probably not have money or transportation, though I can often make public transportation work. It just takes longer.

I know, I'm a catch.

I am not asking for one person. I think if I can get four, then each person will only have to take me out every three months and it distributes the burden some.

It hurts because I had friends that I thought might have done this. Even now there are people who will say we should get together, but then they never call back, or the sticking point is that I am only available on nights or weekends, and their kids do activities. I get it, but it doesn't help with those trust issues or feelings of worth.

I also need someone to take me to the temple once a month.

I know I will have to start asking soon, but a few volunteers would really be nice.