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blog Memoir

The Wayside

Soundtrack to this post: America’s “Lonely People” and
Ventura Highway” and Cat Stevens’s “Wild World

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 for the 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.

The moody, but cuddly, Xena: Worrier Princess.

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.

This succulent has no scent, but you get the picture (literally and figuratively!)

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

Categories
poems

POEM | Ode to the Delightful Hearts of the Valley

ODE TO THE DELIGHTFUL HEARTS OF THE VALLEY
An ekphrastic poem by Mighty Mike McGee

After Julia Chang’s mural, In The Valley of Heart’s Delight, San José Museum of Art, 2017. Debuted live in front of the mural at the SJMA’s 10th Annual Poetry Invitational, April 18, 2019. See and read about the mural here.

From this basin
between these ranges of hills
made for feet and hooves
I’ve seen the sun at every angle at every moment of the day
I’ve seen moon rise up from every possible hill
This goes to impossible beauties
even when I was unprepared, with eyes closed
or overtly selfish and unblinking

In my time, here
under the newest trees
in this land of graveyard orchards
and industries that fed three generations of my people
Keeping my mom and her mom struggling to keep us from struggling
I have worked for a paycheck at every hour of the day
In all of the seconds that come in year, there are none I have yet to laugh in
This goes to those who’ve made me laugh
in every city this valley cradles
This goes to a family that taught me
to worry less about money
and to make laughter instead

I miss the folks
I have made it to 4am with
the sunrise set
Protectors of the block
guardians of bookshelves on
2nd & Empire
6th & San Salvador
5th & Julian
all the way North First Street
Maybe I was the mayor of Alviso (all nine acres)
the love child of Sunnyvale and Santa Clara
Campbell’s loitering layabout
I could write odes to my crush on Milpitas
And Los Gatos… I’ve heard of you

This goes to
the protectors of Nancy Lane and the East Side
I still worry about you
To the living history at Alum Rock and King
To the cherry blossoms in Japantown
to midnight at the midtown Safeway
To leaving and always coming back
To the children who will find love in this valley
in between falling into industry
and children
and struggle
and a balance
like our four impossible seasons:
light summer
summer
autumn
and extreme autumn

This goes to the streets in all of our cities
and to the people who use them get somewhere
but especially to those who the streets got to first
to those who push everything they own in front of them
and yet, have nothing to speak of
This too is for you

This goes to the valley I hope to die in
if only this body would generate enough ash
to cover all the streets I’ve lived on

There is no perfection in perpetuity
Even a noble, ancient industry of fruits and vegetables
will be paved over for something easier

The sun shines brighter here
to see the impossible beauties
they come in glimpses
sometimes in a breeze of mock orange blossoms
in how our motherboards
help us put together the right combination of emojis
to let the best person we know
know how much we love them
Or how we love
orange sauce
laughter
sunlight
and whatever us is

This is for the thousands of seconds
we’ve spent together
here
yesterday
and tonight
thank you all
thank you for filling this valley
with your delightful hearts

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I had one of my most favorite Reuben #sandwiches today at the one and only Freshly Baked in downtown #sanjose Done with sandwiches for the year–ending 2015 on a high note! (at Freshly Baked Eatery)

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Chillin on the sixth floor of the library with Ben Henderson. I watched the world; He draw’d it.

#sanjose #represent (at Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Library)

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Ben and Wendy and me are waiting on hot lunch with varied moods at the best little spot downtown for a quick plate. #sanjose (at Mexico Bakery)

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San Jose’s Poetic Verses Presents
THE SAN JOSE BAR BRAWL
a head-to-head poetry competition!

Thursday, October 22nd
@ The Louisiana Bistro
19 North Market Street San Jose, CA

$10 at the door.

Sign-up at 7pm. Show at 8pm.

With our very first
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR MATCH
FEATURING
Asha Sudra Finkel VS. C Anne Gardner

CHAMPION OF CHAMPIONS MATCH
FEATURING
Michael Ting VS. Jarvis Subia

HEAVYWEIGHT MAIN EVENT MATCH
FEATURING
Thadra Sheridan VS. Mighty Mike McGee

https://www.facebook.com/events/908012689273128/

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https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/224731085/stream?client_id=3cQaPshpEeLqMsNFAUw1Q?plead=please-dont-download-this-or-our-lawyers-wont-let-us-host-audio

(via https://soundcloud.com/jorge-m-sanchez/jms-podcast-29-mighty-mike-mcgee?utm_source=soundcloud&utm_campaign=share&utm_medium=tumblr)

I recently spent an hour chatting with Jorge Martin Sanchez on his podcast. We talk about art, comedy and poetry in San José and my history in stand-up poetry. It’s an awesome conversation. Thanks, Jorge!

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Home. #sanjose #california (at San Jose City Hall)

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Cheesus comes into my room to nap. I feel hella lucky about this. #FourMenAndABaby #sanjose

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Home.

#sanjose
#siliconvalley (at San Jose International Airport (SJC))