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.
I believe love can save the world it cannot be bottled only born, bruised and breathed I want to make mouths out of the wrists of sadness may they learn to speak only in the bloody tongues of compassion
I am ready to love ready to win, lose or draw upon there’s so much to do before the referee counts me out
I am ready to be love, be loved and be lovely We can be love like soft boys to hard girls let my heart be a smooth stone of petrified wood resting on the pages of your autobiography keeping you from blowing away
Let’s kiss beyond gender a kiss to any body that cannot cry and—if needed—we’ll keep it in daydreams until they can abandon old pride and bad jobs
We can hold you like we are fingers guarding you, our champion thumb We cannot fight without you
We cannot grasp this life without you We cannot introduce my true self without you there to hitch us a ride to the next town where we will find other lovers who want to walk hand in hand with whoever they choose and by the hand we will take them confident in our carriage over uncertain roads
We can be one who loves the kids who wake up to get beat up the talkers who turn the heat up the swingers at their first meet up the girls who leave the seat up
I am learning love the hardest way possible by pushing it up against a wall of logic as armor as sword as shield as a last name as a first word Because I love Mondays and you’ll be there some day some Monday and you’ll need someone like me to be a Monday person or a morning person or maybe just a person who’s present There many out there like me ready to gift you our presence don’t be afraid to ask
Let us remind you that you need love I remind myself often Because I’ve learned that some of the best love this world has to offer is self-taught, taken back, and it is given out like overstock from a garden in good hands
I am just one person out of so many who love you so take it make it yours we’ll all be better off if you hang onto it for a while then you can pass it along when the time is right with the right person
But most of the time Love looks like someone who looks at you like you are made of a lost translation of that same love sometimes love is boomerang sometimes love is an accidental grenade we think is too heavy to keep and carry we toss it around like it is filled with a sad forever Like we’re just holding it for someone else or we didn’t ask for it to begin with, but it turns out that I am that love and I am here
We are here and maybe some of this love won’t come back to us, but tomorrow we will remind ourselves again to carry our hearts in our stomachs so that we can love from the gut and we will laugh again and I hope you will join us
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
“Mrs. McGee, if it is Spina Bifida, then the best as we can tell is your son is gonna be… special. His spine is fragile, so he probably won’t be able to walk. He’ll be slow to learn and he may never talk.”
Jokes on them. My mom spent the next fifteen years letting me prove them wrong. It’s really something that one incorrect snap diagnosis from a doctor making things up as he went could lay a foundation of You Will Never for the next 26 years of my life.
The one time my parents danced together was at their wedding. They almost lasted three years after that. My dad just doesn’t dance.
My mom loves to dance. With the right people, that is. “Michael, pick a tape for us to listen to while we clean okay?”
My little hands were steel to the magnet that was Michael Jackson’s “Off The Wall.”
I hope I never forget the memory of my mother sweeping the kitchen floor while singing and swaying to “Rock With You.”
“Come on boys, dance with me!”
It’s okay if I dance, mom?
“Sure, just be careful!”
And we dusted and danced and danced and cleaned.
I remember standing in the bathroom while my mom put make-up on our roommate Nick.
I giggled. Mom! Boys don’t wear make-up!
“Yes, they do, Michael. Anyone can, especially if they’re going dancing.”
“Isn’t your mom making me look pretty, Michael?”
Yeah, Nick! She is!
Then I lived with my father for a brief period of time. He meant well.
“Michael, what’s all the ruckus up here?”
“Well, it’s probably best if you didn’t because it could injure your spine.”
I like dancing, dad.
“I know, son, I’m sorry.”
Comedy world, here I come!
Several years and four more kids later, I remember sitting in the bathroom watching my mom get ready to go out dancing. Watching her eyes. Seeing how happy she was to be getting out of the house.
I want to go dancing with you, Mom.
“No, Michael. This time it’s for me.”
I sort of understood. But my step-father didn’t. Her nights out dancing ended shortly thereafter, followed by her marriage.
I remember my stunning date to my high school senior ball. “Why did you bring me if you didn’t want to dance?” she said.
It’s not that I don’t want to, I just don’t. I can’t. Fat guys look stupid when they dance. I could injure myself.
But she was gone, already dancing alone in a sea of hormones.
This was the tenth time I rejected a person who wanted to move with me. Inside me, I could feel the sitcom audience of a thousand ancestors frustratedly sighing. You idiot! She wanted to share something unspoken with you. Something no teenager can explain!
I wish I knew it would have been okay to look weird. I was already weird. This just would have been intentional weirdness to a beat. You got flailing chaos in my weird! You got weird in my flailing chaos!
Why was I the only one not dancing?
Every teenager but me understands that they need to move. But that may be all they understand. “Hi! I am new to this world! Nice to meet you! I just do what my genitalia tells me to do. Right now it wants me to flail around you for at least two songs.”
At the very least, Social Dancing should be taught throughout primary school with the distinct purpose of making people feel comfortable moving their bodies however they want in the same room with others.
I am the result of the paired and shared movement between thousands of people from hundreds of cultures that needed to dance to understand that which could not be spoken. “Who are you? What the fuck is this energy? This music is controlling us. It wants us to make babies. We have no choice. But I like this song! And I like the names Stuart and Maggie.”
At school they said, “Mrs. McGee. Your son is… special. He’s very imaginative and intelligent, but he lacks motivation and he talks… a lot.”
Sadness and stress stopped my family from dancing, replaced it with The American Way: carbs and sugar and television. But we could laugh. That was gospel and forgiveness. Laughter is the one dance everyone knows.
Holy shit. Let me be THAT DJ!
Let me make people dance in place with their whole bodies. Let them come to me with tears in their eyes pointing to the part of their body that is now sore from laughter.
Let my weird be a music.
My mother has never asked me to make her laugh. I just know she needs it. She’s always an innocent bystander to my sense of humor. Her laugh is big. It’s beautiful. It’s one of my favorite sounds. It dances into my ears and says, “Welcome home, my bright boy. I love you with every heartbeat. How did you become you? How are you so special?”
Her laugh dances into my heart, which responds:
Mom, I thought I couldn’t dance. I thought there were rules I was breaking. There are things I am not allowed in this life, right? I thought I was too disabled, fat and ugly to show my face on the dance floor. But it is all I want to do, Mom. Because of you, whenever I think of dancing, I think of love. Thank you for dancing with me and telling me it would be okay.
Dance is love. A language I want to be fluent in.
We all show love in different ways.
I talked a lot because my body wants to dance.
My body has something to say.
I am a great dancer.
Which makes me a great lover—especially when I dance alone.
So if you can’t dance, it’s okay!
Do you mind if I dance near you?
I’d be honored to dance around you.
Let me make you laugh.
Let me dance and laugh with you at your table.
In your living room. In the backyard.
We can bob our heads on the bus.
We can tiny dance from the waist up while sitting at a cafe.
We can slow dance in the kitchen and on the porch.
We can dance if we want to, and we won’t leave your friends behind
Because your friends don’t dance and if they don’t dance well then
let’s get close and say I love you with our floppy flailing chaos.
If I am dancing, what I am saying to everyone in the room is some combination of
I love you
We are so alive.
I love… myself.
Huh. That’s what you meant mom! It was for you. Not the men in your life. Not even us kids.
And because you danced with me, I learned to love myself too.
To write about this day
to write about this week
to write a poem about this month
is such a bad idea
Poetry is to regale
What the hell
is this day?
Who am I to write it?
All regality is lost
along with touch
but at least there
Today, I dance knowing someone somewhere dances with me Us, cutting two different rugs that would look great together if given the chance to sync
This morning in the shower and the garden I sang off-key, but somehow it was in harmless harmony with someone somewhere else
This afternoon I wept as I did the dishes a tear disappeared into the soapy water but I know it will go to meet others it will add to the upright rivers and oceans weeping with me into their own dirty dishes and dirty laundry so much to clean so much time to do it
Tonight, I write this poem-song-biography by candlelight a group effort of somehow from a widespread orchestra of me and you and someone, everyone somewhere else
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.