Back in March of this year, about a week after I went into self-isolation from C19, like many, I was feeling pretty low, lost and lethargic, forcing myself into routines so that I didn’t lose my mind in a vast field of worry. But even though I was flying solo on this journey, I knew wasn’t actually alone. While doing mundane tasks like household chores and sorting of things that I’d put on The Wayside, I realized that so many of the people I love (along with those I hardly know, but who are very lovely) were probably doing the exact same things and quite possibly at the exact same time. I often imagine how many people might be laughing while I am laughing, crying while I am crying, eating toast at the precise moment I am eating toast. The great potential for this sort of banal synchronicity fascinates me. So I jotted down a quick poem and called it “Widespread Orchestra,” a phrase I’d had rolling around like a fat marble in my head for the better part of decade. The poem got a good response from folks, especially from my friend Noah Luna, composer and fellow San Joser, who took the poem and gave it a sound I am incapable of formulating or performing. Over the last several months, he’s built a beautiful song out of my words, which renders me speechless every time I see and hear it. Check it out for yourself.
Noah had asked me sometime in late spring if he could play with it. I love poetry over music, so I was emphatic in my affirmation. Noah asked world class cellist Joshua Roman to play the composition he had written for cello. Then they both recruited a number of vocalists from all over (I’d like to say the world, but I don’t actually know where they’re all located) to record themselves singing and to capture it on video. Through the awesome support of Town Hall Seattle, where Joshua is the current Artist in Residence, he and Noah were able to stitch together all of the vocal tracks and footage to make what you see and hear in the video.
We had a video debut of the song over Zoom the other day a good number of the vocalists joined us. Many of them commented on how it was the first time they had to listen to themselves sing solo for a chorus. Noah commented that is was the first time he’d ever heard every voice in a chorus individually as he put the track together. Very fascinating work.
They made a widespread “orchestra” and turned my little poem into a much, much bigger song. My mind is blown and I cannot thank them enough.
Many, many thanks and kudos to Noah Luna and Joshua Roman for their incredible, remarkable work. Huge thanks to the vocalists who participated in this strange and beautiful endeavor. Major thanks and gratitude to the folks at Town Hall Seattle for their part in making this happen.
Noah and I are already talking about future projects. Stay tuned.
A Conspiracy of Clocks: An Ode to the Seemingly Useless and Certainly Mundane Biannual Task of Resetting Clocks
It would be so much easier if you got rid of us It’s funny how you only get to change us twice a year running around the house setting us back or forward usually wrong but what’s a few human minutes or seconds off that sub-sub-level of arbitrary we don’t really have time to get into right now yet, we’re always changing you you chase us we change everything We’re there for everything you’re waiting for and YOU ARE ALWAYS
W A I T I N G
even cats and lizards put waiting on pause to soak up the sun and lick their lips you program your phone so it can program you according to a schedule you agree to set by the sun a ball of fire too busy to notice you even exist but we notice, Mike we notice and every time you fall asleep we look at each other across the room and laugh we laugh so much that we lose track of time
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.
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
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
In the summer of 1998, my friend, Geoff Trenchard, newly dear to me, got his first car. The first thing he did was probably buy something with which to get high. Then he went to an open mic in downtown San José and got hooked on poetry, written and spoken. From page to the stage. Took him a while to convince me to join him so that I could perform stand-up comedy in front of a real crowd. I was too scared; no one would understand me except for every single one of my legion of friends. While he urgently attempted to lure me downtown, our friend David Perez was convincing me that I could and should write poetry. What the hell? I hated rhyming unless it was over beats. I still held it in my heart that I would be known for rapping and acting in sitcoms, a la Fresh Prince.
In no time, I was writing ode after ode to all things beautiful and funny. Geoff, David and I immersed ourselves in the San José open mic scene, which was healthy and full of a wide variety of writers and performers. We fell in love with the community and output of the Beat poets, the delivery of Saul Williams, and the hilarious subversiveness of Bucky Sinister.
Here I am, twenty years later, heavily involved with a new version of that community Geoff and David discovered, only now it seems younger, more vibrant and incredibly robust.
It is National Poetry Month and I am in the midst of a schedule that includes of a number of poetry events here in San José and in Portland. I am exhausted and congested. Not sure if it is due to allergies or some cold, but it’s been a very annoying trying to breathe through half a nostril.
But just now, someone I do not know on Facebook messaged me asking to help them remember a poem of mine:
“Hey, I hope you are doing well. You don’t know me and I don’t know you. But I was just sitting out in my sunroom having an Ol’ talk of life with a friend when our conversation led me to an old poem of yours. I used to have it memorized and tried through the few beers and 12 years to pull it back up but just couldn’t. Now I’m searching the internet with no luck. It was your ” as an observer I sit joyously watching all that surrounds me”. If you could point me in the right direction I would be eternally grateful”
The poem they’re asking for is called “The Renaissance Revolutionist’s Plea.” This made my night. I had been thinking of this poem a lot lately. It’s not especially good or exemplary of my usual work. It’s sentimentally “frustrated” in a way I remember being in my teens and twenties. It was the very first spoken word poem I ever wrote and I was 22 when I wrote it. I hear poems like it from young people all the time. It feels good. I wrote it because I had heard Geoff and David read their poems out loud at the open mic and wanted to see if I could do it also. I remember reading it to a lovely crowd. I read it on my knees for some reason. I do not recall why. I do remember it being received warmly. I didn’t read it very often since I was always writing new poems and essays and always had to share something new each week.
Note: “Linus Phelp” was David’s poetry pen name back then.
The Renaissance Revolutionist’s Plea
Mike McGee, September 1998 (or maybe 1997?)
As an observer, I sit joyously watching all that surrounds me.
Whether or not it moves, breathes, sings, plays, kills or loves,
I enjoy its existence now.
I wake to each day as that of a newborn baby.
A newborn with debts, but nonetheless, a bright-eyed wanderer on this pretty blue ball we call home.
However, there is this lack of what we need lately.
I’ve grown tired of this garden.
The farmers and greenthumbs have become bland.
They now plant the same boring, corn year after year.
What happened to the colorful corn and asparagus and apples of yesterday?
I miss those tastes.
I miss the sound of a new guitar riff.
I miss the sight and capability of pondering new colors on a painting that I will never fully comprehend.
Money has become primary.
Add green to the status of Yellow, Red and Blue.
I am not pleased with the poets of today.
Have they forgotten the world we live in?
Has their community died?
I want a world where skies are gray when they need to be.
When autumn eats summer.
I want the sun in due time.
When spring pounces on winter and shoves it up a depressed poet’s ass.
I want my revolution.
I want my Renaissance Revolution.
I want to be one of its millions of observers.
I want to write like writing was a new thing.
I want to slash and burn the Internet.
Burn it down, it’s making us fat, unoriginal and way too dependent.
I don’t need to have my words reach you at the speed of light.
I just want them to reach you.
Slash and burn anything that kills free thought, free love and free life.
Freedom of expression is my duty to further myself.
It’s not just American, it’s human.
I will not evolve into a computer.
I will not be used by a machine.
Slash and burn the old ideas that do not work.
Make new, make love, make life.
Make a friend, make an impossible friend.
Shake hands with your beauty, my beauty and someone else’s.
Tell it to fuck off if it doesn’t work for you.
Find something else.
Talk about your testicles at the dinner table.
Bring up your clitoris at school.
Once upon a time, a friend of mine and I watched the sun go down to wherever that son of a bitch goes.
Sadly, my friend was afraid of commenting on the truths he felt.
The “uncool” truths.
And finally, he mustered the courage to say that the setting sun’s sky looked a “pastel pink.”
The beauty of smog and the terror of the ending day had indeed made the sky a “pastel pink,” and I agreed.
For him to pontificate on this type of thing is normal, for he is a great poet and everyday becomes even greater.
But for him to deny himself his “revolutionary” right to “dig” and “groove” to his own world is a crime.
It is a punishment to all the real poets of the world, to subject them to the horror of feeling ostracized, for simply holding up a mirror to the world and saying, “Take a look, this is you. It’s okay to like what you see.”
I am just an observer.
But even I could see that the sky was a “pastel pink.”
What caused him to hold back?
Could it be that art is dead?
Could all of the the true artists of the world have gone fishing?
Can anybody hear me?
So, I want to thank him.
Thank you, Linus Phelp.
Thank you for showing me the “pastel pink” sky.
Thank you for putting the Renaissance Revolution in me.
Let’s show the world what we see.
Let’s love the world for what it is and what it will be.
Let’s spread some artistic mayonaisse all over the walls and cribs and playpens of the world.
Let us march to the closest and farthest nurseries and orphanages and plead with the next generation not to give up on us.
Not to give up on their world, for they are the world and it is so very precious.
It will be hard, but so worth it.
Musicians of the world, unite and entertain us. Put our lives to a soundtrack that rivals our own heartbeat.
Artists of the world, band together and paint the murals that will stand forever as a testament to the uniqueness of what we were.
Poets and writers of the world, teach us how to teach ourselves to be whatever it is we want to be.
Observers of the world, show us what we can’t see yet. Please be patient with us, we will see it someday.
And all who may be willing, please follow onto the train.
The train that will take us to the Renaissance Revolution.
How mysterious the revolutionist can be.
For he is the key.
To finding what we long to be.
I am one as he is me.
Tell your neighbours, tell all your friends.
The world is much bigger than the chair you sit in.
Bay Area: New writing workshops beginning this Saturday afternoon and evening at Studio Bongiorno in Santa Clara, California. Poetry session facilitated by Tshaka Menelik Imhotep Campbell and a story writing session facilitated by Shawn Taylor. Then you can sign up and share them right there at our story and poetry open mic, The Burning Tale: Chapter VIII!