As a show host, I’ve introduced countless performers over the years. I often ask them to provide me with a couple of sentences that gives the audience a bare minimum of insight into who they’re about to experience. Most performers give too much to read from the stage and I am often forced to edit as I read, denoting the most interesting points from their autobiography.
Three years ago this month, I asked the incredible hip-hop performance poet Kojo Opong-Mensah to write down a line or two about himself before I introduced him as the headliner for my weekly literary open mic in San José. I handed him a napkin and a pen and he went to work. Add to mind he was already a favorite performer among the regular attendees, so I didn’t need much.
I returned to Kojo’s table a little while later and asked him for the napkin, which he returned to me, folded neatly. I put the note in my shirt pocket without reading it. When it was time to bring Kojo to the stage, I pulled the napkin from my pocket, opened it and laughed like a burst of backfire. I expected to read something biographical and self-promotional, but I read this instead:
Being the finest bio I have ever read on stage, it is now framed on my wall.
Noticed some friends posted this “challenge” on social media. Figured I would join in the fun. (Since I am single, I will have to compare myself to a 9″ by 12″ veggie lasagna with zucchini “noodles.”)
How’d you guys meet: I make the lasagnas. First date: There have been SO many lasagnas! How long have you been together: Never more than a week. Married: Not yet legal. Age difference: 45 years and counting. Who was interested first: Me. Who is taller: Me, for once. Who said I love you first: ME… Every. Single. Time. Most impatient: Me Most sensitive: Me Loudest: Me Most stubborn: The lasagna. Very hard to convince it of anything. Falls asleep first: Me, especially after eating the lasagna. Better morning person: The lasagna. Better driver: The lasagna. Funniest: Me, but the lasagna seems to get my jokes. Where do you eat out most as a couple: Wow. Okay! Who is more social: ME! Who is the neat freak: Me Where was your first kiss: Just outside the oven. So hot! How long did it take to get serious: About 1 hour at 375F (190C). Who picks where you go to dinner: Me Who is the first one to admit when they are wrong: The lasagna. Who cries more: Me Who has more tattoos: Me Who sings better: The lasagna. Hogs the remote: Tie! Spends the most money: Me 😦 Did you go to the same school: Not yet legal. Where is the furthest you two have traveled together: Where do I begin!? Who drives when you are together: We use public transit and Tupperware. Post a picture of you and your Valentine: Not yet legal.
In 2005, I appeared on an episode of Russell Simmons’s Def Poetry Jam on HBO. It was an incredible experience. To hear Mos Def say “from San José, California, give it up for Mr. Mike McGee” at the beginning of the clip is still pretty cool. However, my first “appearance” on HBO actually came fifteen years earlier—and 30 years ago today.
January 5, 1991 was the dead center of my freshman year of high school and a week before my 15th birthday. I was in the midst of trying on my new high school uniform: class clown. There was nothing classy about it, pure and simple, as it required an obnoxiousness I had yet lowered myself into (much like Arnold did at the end of Terminator 2—obnoxiousness being a vat of molten metal that would kill some portion of my self-respect), but it was all I ever wanted. I was never going to be popular for sports, academics or good looks, which was fine since I had no patience for any of those traits, as it was. For many months, maybe even a couple of years, I had dreamed of being a well-liked funny person who gets paid to be well-liked, funny and a person.
On this particular Saturday evening, during a break from Desert Storm news coverage, my mom and I were watching Roseanne Barr and Tom Arnold on a live HBO call-in special hosted by a very pre-Today Show Matt Lauer. They kept an 800 number on the screen and I had nothing better to do, so I set out to get stand-up comedy advice from 1.2 of the biggest names in comedy at the time. I sat at the phone, finger-dialing the push-button numbers over and over, a skill I developed through dialing radio stations for prizes. I was used to waiting for the busy-signal, hanging up and dialling again. After about 26 minutes and several hundred busy signals, it paid off and the sound of the line ringing on the other end was exhilarating. My mom’s eyes were bugging out of her head. After a dozen or so rings, a staffer answered, took my name and told me I had time for one question, so what was my question? I want to know how to become a comedian! They put me on hold and my mom’s head volleyed the tennis match between me and the television. The audio on the line switched to a live, undelayed feed of the conversation with the trio on TV. After a moment, Matt Lauer answered and prompted my question, “Mike from San José, California, you’re on live with Tom and Roseanne. What’s your question?” I am proud of and love representing San José, California however I am capable.
I could have sworn the conversation lasted about nine minutes. It was actually only 59 seconds.
Everything is on YouTube now, right? It had never occurred to me until recently to search online for video of a show that surely has no business existing beyond 2001. Well, thank you to the person(?) who made sure I could relive an actual moment of my life that has had a strangely wonderful impact. The video here starts a few seconds before my call, but the entire episode is there for your viewing… pleasure?
It has replayed so differently in my head over the years. I forgot that this call-in show followed Roseanne’s HBO comedy special filmed at T**mp Castle in Atlantic City. I don’t remember repeating myself so nervously or stammering at all. I only remember most of what they said to me on the phone. I realize now that I also never saw their reactions during our conversation because I was frozen, staring at our apartment wall the whole time. My mom tried to keep up with my live conversation and the tape delay on TV. They answered my question and hung up. I spent 30 minutes or so dialing that onscreen number and I only remember it because I got lucky and someone answered. These days, it is funny to think that, of all the people in this video, Tom Arnold is now the most likeable personality of the three.
I give Roseanne and Tom a lot of credit for boosting my my teen spirit. But at 14, I was probably already on my way to being a well-liked funny person.
For as long as I can remember, I have been deeply fascinated with calendars. I am sure it is based in part on my deeper fascination with time itself—as a concept, as a construct, and as a constant. I think it may be the false sense of predictability calendars offer—they give a glimpse into the future, but aside from holidays and plans, that glimpse is ultimately always a bit empty and never guaranteed.
Several years ago, I discovered the concept of re-using calendars thanks to their predictable repetition. So far, mine is a new, strange, tiny collection. As years come to an end, I take down the calendars off the wall over my desk and the one in my kitchen, then pack them away to be used again. On the back, I write the coming years in which they will sync up again, giving them the potential for future use for anyone who comes across them.
For example, in place of a 2011 calendar, you could have used any Gregorian calendar from 2005, 1994, 1983, 1977, 1966, 1955, 1949, 1938, 1927 and 1921. That is a great line of available calendars. I am trying to track down a copy of a 2011 Betty White calendar I used to have so that I can use it in 2022. I recycled mine before I fully understood I’d be able to re-cycle it in eleven years. To be clear, your holidays and time changes won’t always line up, but the days and dates will be just fine.
Due to 2020 being a leap year in which February 29 landed on a Friday, this year’s calendar is only reusable three times in the next 96 years, in 2048, 2076, and 2116, when leap day returns to Friday. And only four calendars from the 20th century could have been used in place of one from 2020—those from 1992, 1964, 1936 and 1908. This is the same story for every leap year, they’re spaced apart a minimum of 28 years.
It’s a simple fascination that I don’t spend too much time on. I do wonder, though, if it is possible to build a permanent collection so that I have all the calendars I will ever need. Then again, do I really want a complete collection? There is something so morbidly finite about that.
Here are my two resources on this subject. The best, no frills site for quickly looking up which calendars to reuse is whencanireusethiscalendar.com. And one of my favorite sites to waste time on all thing time and dates, and even repeating calendars is timeanddate.com
I do think it would be a nice trend to write the future years of re-cycle on the backs of our calendars from now on. Even if you don’t keep them, a like-minded collector will be glad you donated them to a thrift store. I now have a 1993 calendar I plan to use in 2021, 2027 and 2038.
To be honest, I am seriously considering burning my 2020 calendar at 11:59pm on December 31. No one should ever have to spend another calendar year with 2020.
Today will forever be a reminder that I was once the heaviest smoker I knew. I rolled tobacco and smoked constantly. On average, I smoked the equivalent of three packs a day of pre-rolled cigarettes. I smoked my final tobacco cigarette on November 11, 2011, ending my habit just two months shy of 19 years. I realized a little later that day that I had put out my final cigarette at 11:00am, coincidentally stopping my tobacco habit on 11/11/11 at 11:00am. Had I realized the date and time, I would’ve had one more and put it out at 11:11am, although, the last cigarette I did smoke wasn’t very tasty or the least bit satisfying. And it’s much more satisfying to have had the universe schedule it for me without my knowledge.
Growing up, I loved the smell of my mom’s Virginia Slims and my dad’s unfiltered Camels. In my house there wasn’t much of a concentrated effort toward making sure it looked unappealing. I was fascinated with smoking. It looked so cool to me. I was destined to smoke. I recall my grandmother having smoked for 30 years before stopping sometime around 1983. When I was a little older, she recommended I quit before I became too hooked, but it was too late. I had already been smoking a pack a day within the first few months of my habit. I had always thought she had quit cold turkey, but my mom confided in me that Grandma had had a procedure done—she had some sort of small metal BBs surgically embedded over some nerve inside or near her earlobes. Whenever she craved a cigarette, she would rub the BB lump behind her ear until the craving went away. I never confirmed it, but I watched out for ear tugging a la Carol Burnett.
In the spring of 2011 I was in Vancouver, BC for a few shows. My friend and old touring partner Shane Koyczan and I were backstage and I asked him to join me outside for a cigarette. He told me he hadn’t had a cigarette in six months. I was dumbfounded. Gobsmacked. This was a dude who had matched me smoke for smoke, pack for pack in all the days we spent together on the road and at home. The only thing left to fall out of my mouth was, What!? How!?? Shane told me that a few years earlier he had bought the book Easy Way To Stop Smoking by Allen Carr. He kept in his desk and tried reading a few times. The last time finally stuck.
I figured if it worked for Shane then I had to at least read the book. I had wanted to quit, but never saw much light in the possibility of succeeding. I bought the book on my mobile device and I read it over three days on a ferry trip from Vancouver to Victoria and back in BC, smoking the entire time. After completing the book, I smoked three more cigarettes and suddenly knew I was done. The book’s re-brainwashing had worked, but the feelings of anxiety and dread to come were horrible. Nearly everything I ever did throughout my adult life had been followed by or rewarded with a cigarette or three. The book itself is not an incredible example of the English language at its best. It’s redundant and repetitive, but that’s pretty much the prerequisite for brainwashing. Carr included some analogies that really hit home with me and helped me to visualize stopping my habit, including using the word stopping in place of quitting. Once you can see it, you know what you’re looking for. He also used a minefield as a smoker’s map. Once you smoke your first cigarette, you’ve stepped into a minefield. Every cigarette is a step within that minefield. Technically, a smoker never leaves that field and if they are lucky, they never set off any number of disease mines. This worked very well for me, but what convinced me it was time to stop was the realization that I had promised myself I’d stop smoking before I reached five years in, then 10 years in, then 15, then 20. I couldn’t believe I was a year away from 20 years of smoking. I finally kept my promise.
In 1996, my bandmate Kelley Mayne was the first friend I knew who stopped smoking and seemingly never looked back. He was 21 and dead set on discontinuing the habit. We’d meet up for band practice and he would join us outside between songs, just staring at us or into the void while the rest of us smoked. I’d ask him how it was going and he referred to it as feeling like he was in “Gumbyland.” I’d ask him to describe it, but he never could. He would just monotonously reiterate I’m in Gumbyland.
Now, much like my grandmother, I too didn’t quit cold turkey. I never could quite get the hang of having empty hands or a mouth that wanted so badly to suck in smoke, and a trachea that wants to catch it all. After a couple of weeks of feeling like I was losing my mind, a friend recommended that I try rolling herbal cigarettes. Living in Portland, Oregon at the time, there were a few paraphernalia shops that sold blends of smokable herbs like skullcap, chamomile, passionflower, marshmallow, mugwort, mullein, rose, damiana, mint and so much more. All I did that winter was loiter around my living room binge-watching Parks and Recreation, waiting for someone to come over who smoked so I could join them and bask in their second hand fumes. When my friend Eirean came over and realized what I was rolling, he told me couldn’t associate with someone who “smoked tea.”
Now, there’s a certain way a drag of smoke had to hit the back of the pharynx that made me feel like I was getting the full effect of smoking a cigarette. I would wager that most smokers know what I am talking about. I knew a number of especially heavy smokers who agreed that if it didn’t hit the back of the throat just right on the first two or three drags, it was very difficult to fully enjoy the rest of the cigarette. After about five months of smoking my herbal “tea” blend, I just stopped. There was no intentional weaning myself off of it, it just faded away. I had no interest in it anymore and the oral fixation had finally disappeared. I was full-fledged non-smoker by spring of 2012. Shane and my then partner Leia were pivotal in supporting me as I put an end to such a stupid habit, along with my entire family for not commanding me to do it, but simply supporting me throughout. Shane checked in with me a lot to pep me up. He recommended that I start the stopwatch on my iPod, since it would run for a very long time. Then, whenever I needed a reminder, I could see how long it had been since I’d had a cigarette. It helped. Leia may still have my last cigarette butt.
As a smoker, I remember crashing with friends at their fifth floor walk-up in Brooklyn. Taking wheeze breaks half-way up, then spending ten to fifteen minutes catching my breath in their hallway while dreaming of a cigarette. I’d climb out to their fire escape to smoke to avoid the five awful floors to the outside. Within days of stopping, my lung capacity felt greater. Within weeks, I had much less trouble breathing, I slept better, and after a couple flights of stairs I could catch my breath within ten to fifteen seconds.
The winter months following that last cigarette were about detoxing my body from nicotine, tar and thousands of other chemicals, but also, and seemingly moreso, it was about reconditioning my thinking and my hands. What do I do when all I want to do is the thing I no longer want to do? Fifteen years after Kelley tried to explain it to me, there I was in my own private Gumbyland. I wish I could fully describe it here, but the best I can say is that suddenly everything is at about 65% reality. What’s there isn’t fully there, especially thought processes. The realness and truth of anything—consciousness, matter, identity, air, purpose, connectivity, joy—can just suddenly fade to nearly half of its natural state. And there’s an inaudible hum-buzzing that commandeers one’s head, maybe to fill in the desire that cannot be achieved or a side effect thereof. Gumbyland is less a place and more an in-between. Where one might go when a massive bandage is torn off.
Smoking was thoroughly enjoyable to me. I miss it. The aroma of a freshly lit cigarette is one of the most intoxicating scents and it sends me back to great and horrific moments in equal measure. The draw it has on me still is fascinating. To say I was addicted to smoking tobacco is an understatement. I knew it would kill me and I certainly didn’t need added assistance. In 2003, I began traveling a lot on poetry tours around North America and Europe. There were so many times I booked flights based solely on not wanting to have to wait more than a few hours before my next cigarette. I would catch the first leg of a flight, land at my layover airport, rush out of security to the smoking area outside to chainsmoke as many cigarettes as possible. Then I would rush back into the airport, through security to my new gate. I must have reeked of smoke. I feel bad for the non-smoker passengers around me. At nearly every show or visits with friends, I would stand outside of the venue or house because it was more important for me to smoke than to engage with whoever I was there to see.
Funny how the one thing I thought was the coolest thing I could do was least cool thing I ever did. Smoking will still likely be a culprit in my death.
In 2016, I helped convince my father to stop smoking after living 40+ with the habit. My mother has switched to vaping her nicotine; not optimal, but a start. I am impressed with all three of us. If you want to stop, I give you my word that you can absolutely do it. You just need support and all the right reasons to quit.
Jack McCarthy was very dear to me. He helped me get closer to sobriety, guided me on my stage presence, and was pivotal in helping me develop my stage and page voice, and lured me into streamlining my choices in storytelling.
Jack died January 17, 2013, just 13 days after I moved up to Bellingham, Washington to be nearer to him. I was lucky to see him one last time and say goodbye.
On October 15, 2020, Write Bloody Publishing is releasing his new collection of poems and writings called Allow The Light. It’s a beautiful tribute to a man who was a beacon for many poets of all ages and all walks of life.
I’ll be hosting three online book launch events where a number of special guests will join me in reading selections from Jack’s book.
Jack was the sweetest, yet, most honest person I knew. He was always so patient with his critique, moreso the more one needed constructive criticism. To borrow a phrase from my wise and also-departed friend Lara Ka’apuni, Jack would “issue gentle corrections” to folks who were heading the wrong way. Plus, he only man I ever called with regularity on Father’s Day. 2013 was a doozy for me. It’s gotten easier since, but I often ask myself in times of uncertainty, what would Jack do? Well, a lot of those answers are now in this book.
This began as a response to a comment on my final Instagram post. I thought it might be interesting as an ongoing series.
Until March, like many self-employed artists, I used social media to promote my events and my work and to stay connected to friends and family. It occurred to me at the onset of the pandemic that isolation + social media were going to be a bad combo for me. Considering I’ve had significantly fewer events to promote, I found myself absorbing social media without much interaction. As addictive as I can be, I find myself unwittingly and mindlessly scrolling and scrolling (and scrolling)… Out of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, I decided I would need to give up one of them, if not two. Having left FB once before, I know I can do it again.
My #1 favorite app is Twitter—it’s where I get most of my breaking news, confirmations, and some of the best things to read and learn about. Twitter is my favorite combo: jokes, news and links to more things to read. It can be interactive, but easy for me to put down. The problem I have with Twitter is that I get very little interaction from followers. I’ve used it pretty consistently since 2008 and all I seem to do is hope people will like my tweets. If I stop using it to interact with folks, it becomes a text version of Instagram or Tumblr (also no longer using) and them all I’m doing is scrolling and liking posts.
My #2 account is Facebook. Most (90%-ish) of the people I love are on FB, whereas the percentages of my loved ones using IG and Twitter are closer to 30–50%. This is the main reason I decided to hang onto FB for now, however limited since I’ve been deleting my pages and promotional tools in an attempt to streamline my use. I can reach nearly anyone I need to either through my phone, email or FB Messenger. I only use FB on a browser having deleted the app from my phone a couple of years ago.This is a critical step in controlling addiction. (It’s the same reason I don’t keep Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups in the house.) I get no FB notifications at all except for direct messages. For me, FB’s the most socially interactive of the three and while it can generate negative interaction, at the very least, I can say I’ve met the people I am having that interaction with and “fine-tune” my connection to them thereafter. I have invested time and energy into those friendships. Facebook is where I can just be Mike/Michael and post about personal things and get real feedback or post about events and get the word out in a socially acceptable way..
#3: Instagram. If you had asked me in May 2020 which account I was most likely to hold onto, I would have said Instagram. It’s a wonderful app and serves my eyeballs like no other. I have enjoyed it since the first time I downloaded it. However, no app distracts me more than IG! Isolation and a lot of weird, sad and frustrating downtime has found me scrolling aimlessly on my little phone, clearing my mind of whatever my intended goal was for opening the app. Instagram serves me far less than FB. I am not saying I will leave it forever, but I want to close the account and take a long break. When I left Facebook in 2011, I came back a year later with a renewed focus. There’s nothing like a much needed reboot. Plus, FB already has so much of my data as it is and IG is merely an extension of FB’s data mining operation.
This isolation has been the catalyst for a number of reboots, reassessments and analyses. I have been diligently re-sorting my priorities. I am writing more and starting new projects, so I need to make room. We stop going to cafes when enough people stop showing up or something more inviting comes along. It’s weird to leave a social thing I’ve relied on for eight years, but I left Friendster and Myspace too and I gave yet to regret it.
Someone I know recently posted an image of what I assume was their lunch on Facebook with a caption that implied the food pictured was delicious and that anyone who viewed it should be envious. Thanks to the photo, the only thing I envied was their appetite.
I generally don’t post images of food, especially meals I’ve prepared for myself because I feel that in many cases they probably look horrific. Not probably, definitely, because I’ll gladly mix three foods that taste great, but don’t belong together just to conserve dishware. Since the dawn of my own adulthood, every single one of my housemates has given me a look of pity as I plate my meals, like I’m a fat racoon setting down to eat garbage cannolis: tubes of dollar store American cheese slices filled in tapioca, lint and coffee grounds. Believe me, I get it. On more than one occasion I have thought, I know what’s in this meal and that’s THE. ONLY. reason I am able to consume it. There are so many tasty things in the world and yet their appearance would suggest otherwise. In my grumble opinion, too many people take pictures of the otherwise. Dang! I made a tasty thing and I ‘plated’ it ‘just right.’ I have a can opener! I have different salts! I make sauces!! I chef now and I share delicacy with world!
Like flavor, the visual aesthetic of food is a subjective thing and the world would be better off without images of your dish. I say this coming from a place of understanding: I too feel the world is missing out on the incredible flavors I’m constantly inventing with tremendous ease, however, when people who love me aren’t willing to be in the same room with me while I masticate my creations, that’s saying something. Heck, that’s saying two things, minimum.
I make delicious, ugly foods. I have no business taking pictures of my gastric risks so that my followers online may/will lose their appetites. I feel we share images of what we eat with the world via social media for two reasons. First, we share because we genuinely believe we are going to impress someone with our culinary skills/ordering prowess and we want to show off. Second, we share images when we would probably rather share the actual food. I believe most people want to feed others and want others to enjoy the foods with them.
I do know folks who know how to take pictures of food—they understand food prep and presentation. Those are skills most of us do not have. Just because you’re willing to eat it, doesn’t mean the rest of us should have to see it. Like people who love Roman columns on their houses, or paint everything in fake gold, or wear scarves in the heat: Thanks, but no thanks. Just like them, most of us have incredibly poor taste when it comes to how our food looks day after day. The occasional meal might come out looking quite presentable, but if your food receives little to no social media approval, consider that an outcry from people who might actually care about you.
To get a sense of how I feel when I see folks sharing images of their “meals” with the world, I will leave you with with a link to one of my favorite dead blogs. For those of you who get a kick out of judging other people food choices, this link is a goddamn gift. Whoever started this Tumblr has stopped updating it and I miss their sense of humor greatly. They stumbled upon a way of making an inside joke with us as strangers, mocking the food while keeping the chef anonymous. A minor warning: While nearly every image contained within is a picture of edible food, the meals are all very questionable. Each image is one that makes me quietly think Someone Ate This, which is a perfect name for the blog. I am aware that I’m ending a rant on how we should not post pictures of ugly food with a call to visit a photo blog of ugly food. The irony is not lost on me and this is different. And you’re welcome.
My hometown of San José, California is accused of only having two or three seasons, warm and less warm. Fine by me as long as snow doesn’t begin to acclimate to warmth. Other than looking at it for its inherent beauty, I despise being in the snow. I’ve heard folks attempt to mention the one time they saw snowfall in San José, but I stop them midst their woeful tales of blasphemy and wash my hands of our friendship. I’ve said it before: San José does actually have four seasons: light summer, summer, autumn and extreme autumn.
Summer has always been the time of the year when I abandon blankets, pants, long sleeves, safety and (especially) organization. Let me be honest with you: I have a thin relationship with pants to begin with. I want to wear shorts all year long. I can get away with it for about 10 1/2 out of 12 months. I am wearing shorts now. I will wear them tomorrow as well. Only, like many of you, I will be indoors for a large part of the day. But I have an even thinner relationship with organization.
When it is not summer, I love to do the thing that I call organizing: the act of stacking up the detritus of my entire life—over two or three years worth—into about three to five piles/boxes/baskets while fantasizing every now and then about what it might be like to, someday, schedule a time to attack the stacks. I have learned over the last few years that all I do is restack everything into temporarily smaller, neater piles. Small piles under my control always grow.
Ugh. I admit, I am a hoarder.
Let me clarify. I am a clean person. I shower once or twice a day. I take out the garbage frequently. I am adept at recycling. I clean out Xena’s litter box regularly. I am not super keen on yard work, but what one can see of my front yard from the street is neighborly. I collect tiny silverware I rarely use, but I never leave dirty dishes anywhere but the kitchen sink. Hoarding must fall on a spectrum. I am a hoarder in the sense that I can’t get rid of a good jar or box or magazine. I will find a use for it someday, or I will finally give a stack of it away. I have hard drives full of files I don’t need. As a self-taught designer of promotional flyers, posters and marketing images, I have nearly every file I’ve ever made that advertises past shows. Part of me wants to post them online as a gallery, but that’s unlikely to happen any time soon. I have a filing cabinet with some semblance of order to the folders of files, but I don’t know why I still have many of them. I have documents online and social media accounts for things I’ve only used once. To me, a hoarder is someone preparing forthe future, armed only with troves of items in triplicate that are certainly useless in the now—even beyond useless—an actual hindrance to the path of time used wisely. My jars and my flyers are in my way. I now feel as though my hoarding of papers and ephemera and sentimental items is an attempt at creating a future: If I have these things to deal with, but no time today to do the dealing, then a tomorrow must exist in order for the clutter to be dealt with. I put most of my life in The Wayside, maybe so that I can tend to the present?
I never have any desire to organize any aspect of my life in the dead of summer. The Urge to burrow, to sort papers and move furniture and donate clothes and books usually hits me like a tornado in the late fall and again in the early spring. Before Friday, 13 March 2020, I was performing, producing events, organizing workshops and hosting shows. I ran around downtown, hobnobbing, planning, detailing, and setting up and attending meeting after meeting with venues and performers alike. Because of my gluttonous schedule, I rarely had time to truly organize my life and the items in it with any real commitment. But here we are coming down the other side of July Mountain and I am in the midst of some of the most serious organizing I’ve ever attempted. According to my now deleted 2020 schedule, by now I should have already hosted five outdoor festivals, dozens of poetry events, four Go Go Gone Shows—all while performing at countless live readings and open mics. Right now, instead of writing this, I should have spent the last four weeks teaching poetry to kids at the School of Arts & Culture Summer Camp. I miss those events and I miss my students.
Admittedly, I also feel fine about not participating in any of them. I didn’t feel fine about it initially, but then I had to ease into something akin to wearing pants in the summer. Now I wake up to a very light schedule and I cuddle with Xena almost as long as she wants.
I lay all of this out to say that up until June, I kept thinking about the future. How would I reconnect my pre-pandemic identity and my life actions to a mystery point in the future?—a date I cannot possibly know. For the first month, my brain urged me to keep my life on hold until that mystery date so that I may restart all of those activities and be Mighty Mike McGee again. Someday, we will all be able to select and delete The Quarantine start date, the end date and everything in between them! Right? But there is no date on the horizon. There is no box on a 2020 calendar that I can look forward to until there is a Covid vaccine. I have come to terms with the notion that I need to self-isolate through 2020—and likely until the day a medical professional is injecting a vaccine into my body. Until then, no shows, no gatherings, and no socializing in the ways I was accustomed. What to do? Logically, dig into it. I shall see it for the personal gift of time that it is and I will organize and I will create. Utilize this time to reconsider every aspect of my life and smash my own preconceived notions of identity, dismantle my own patriarchy, double-check my sense of self, reinforce my wavering sense of duty, investigate and unlearn my misogyny, my racism, my prejudices, and any other burdens I put upon my communities. Slow the fuck down. Stop and smell the anything and the everything.
Luckily, I write for a local weekly arts paper and it pays the rent and bills for now, plus I get food stamps to cover my groceries. I feel incredibly lucky and all I need is to do is hold on like this for now.
Like many, I’ve had so much time to think and reflect on everything, internally and externally, while seeking the grand connection between me and the world. Because honestly, who I thought I was prior to 13 March is not who I think I’m going to be come 2021. The past few months have really brought a number of very powerful feelings and ideas to my attention. I have spent so much time pushing my name out into the world. The last 20 years have been constant self-promotion. It is a symptom of the desire for fame and my desire for it has faded significantly over the the last year.
I claim to be someone who hosts shows and I can prove that with loads of evidence. I also claim to be someone who writes things, but up until recently, my most consistent period of writing was 1995 through 2003. I was constantly writing while working the graveyard shift at Kinko’s, and while socializing, which included attending open mics and poetry slams. I turned some of that writing into 11 years of touring and performing. In 2014, I came home to San José and began producing variety shows and poetry events, partially out of my need to stay put. Over the last six years, I’ve hosted so many shows and promoted my events so much that I was recognized on a regular basis. Up until March, I wrote the occasional poem, but only if I had a deadline to write it in. I thrive on the pressure; I am forced to take risks when I am running out of time. Now I write because it’s urging me to let it out. Much like it did in 2001 when I was poor, struggling and so curious about me and the world and how the two fit into each other. I have come full circle, but this current version of myself knows a bit more—I have been heart-broken a few times, in love several times, and I’ve seen a few lifetimes worth of human interaction.
I now live an alarmless life. Writing is one of the few aspects of self-isolation that has made me feel alive. I find myself excited to create again. After treating this website like a glorified business card, I am now adding to it more and more. Mostly poems and thoughts, but the frequent output is very welcome. I have put off so much of what I am passionate about, relegating the things that won’t immediately pay the bills to I just don’t have the time for it now. I now have a glut of time to dedicate to causes and creativity (and I am halfway through the sitcom Cheers.)
It feels strange to say that the actions I am taking now are things I want to do considering I, like many of us, have no real choice in the matter. In order to feel safe living in a city, I must spend most of my day at home. I am a homebody again, like in my mid-twenties when I spent so much of my time in my bedroom writing and thinking about everything. This also means I am now spending most of my day in The Wayside. It is a real place now and it is bursting at the seams with the detritus of my entire life. It is actually, and probably subconsciously, my way of saying, I can’t deal with the past today, but maybe future me will. Saying it deserves my attention now is saying I need to pay attention to who I was and truly organize this time if I am going to have a future. This world is a puzzle and I cannot be hindered by jpegs, jars and boxes if I’m going to help figure it out.
“The times are urgent: let’s slow down.”—Bayo Akomolafe
I originally posted this project to my Facebook account in October 2019.
For the purposes of helping the the entire world, I am building a music playlist called “Unexpectedly Saxxy” (or maybe “I Am Too Saxxy”) and it only contains songs that feature a sax solo when no saxophone had appeared in the first half or so of the song.
I feel like this is probably mostly an ’80s phenomenon, but I welcome any entry you can add. NOTE: Songs like “Baker Street” and “Careless Whisper”—while divine jams—do not count because the presence of saxophone is not a surprise.