Tuesday, November 20, 2012

A Gay Citizen and a Straight Soldier

I’m a very lucky man.

When I was a teenager, I was in a punk rock band. That band had five members: guitar, bass, drums, and two singers. It wasn’t very good, but that band changed my life.

I was one of the “singers” (read: screaming). The other guy was a guy named Tom. Tom was gay. We all knew he was gay, but apparently, he didn’t. He came out to us, and we accepted him because he was our friend and we already knew it. It apparently changed his life. I don’t even remember it because it was so inconsequential to me.

There was also a guy named Eric in the band. There were two other guys named Corey and Chris in the band. They are both wonderful people, but they’re inconsequential to this particular story. Eric ended up having an unexpected child, getting married, and joining the military, where he served valiantly.

Tom came out to us as a gay man. Eric came out to me as a conservative. They both accept each other, and I accept both of them. These two men are two of the most influential people in my life. I love and respect them both. They are both strong-willed and opinionated. They disagree on a lot of things, but they agree on the humanity of the other.

I am worried most of the time about how there’s no middle ground, and about how there isn’t any hope for us to find it. I’m concerned that we’ll find a way to kill each other. I’m worried about division.

Talking to both of these guys gives me a lot of hope. They occupy opposite ends of the political spectrum in a lot of ways, but they still give a shit about each other. They’ll always be friends. That gives me a lot of hope. There needs to be more Toms and more Erics. They’d be helpful in making the Matts of the world understand the grey areas that are so hard to understand.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Stories in Criminal Class, Savage Kick, book review, etc.

A brief update on written work. My first published short story, "Crooked," is available now in Criminal Class Review, Vol. 5 (Chicago). You can order it here. "Crooked" involves a weak-minded drug runner, his prostitute girlfriend, and their dealings with a crooked cop in an also-ran city.

Next up, the first story I ever submitted is finally coming out in the next few months via Murder Slim Press's literary journal, The Savage Kick #6 (United Kingdom). I'm pretty excited about this one, because Savage Kick's reputation among crime-noir-terrible-people writers is sterling, and the piece they're printing is the best story I've written. The story revolves around a bad and abusive father's accidental killing of his young daughter. 

I've also got a book review coming in the fall issue of The Historian, and am diligently working on a novella which I hope to finish in September.

Happy reading,

Monday, March 12, 2012

When people die, the people around them get terrible

I saw a name today. It was my late sister's fiance's name. I don't think about it much, but it makes me really mad and upset when I see it.

My sister died when she was 27 years old. I've written extensively about it on this blog. I was 25. I'm 29 now - almost 30. It's been four years, and in that time I've gone from concerned to friendly and supportive to angry to arguing to not on speaking terms with her fiance. The last of those has lasted over three years.

My sister was a writer, and a prolific one. She had piles of notebooks and a hard drive full of short stories and poems. I'd like to read them. I'd like to collect the best stuff for a book for my family, but her fiance won't return emails. I suspect there might be some embarrassing stuff about him in the journals. I don't care about that. Rip that out. I just want the stories, and the stuff about her life. I want to read the only record that she ever existed. I have a handful of poems and a few pictures, and nothing else to prove she was ever even here. What kind of person does that to a family? What kind of person takes all of a person's record and buries it?

Her fiance met a woman on the internet and was married within six months of her death. He moved to Chicago with her life insurance policy. He got married on the week she was born - maybe even the day.

Hundreds of pages of stories and poems remain languishing on hard drives and in note books. Some have probably been deleted, some thrown away. But there might be some left out there, and I want to read them. I want a little record that she ever existed in the first place.

What kind of person does that? What kind of person wants to bury the memory of Amanda Wilding?

Monday, January 30, 2012

An open letter to the Neighborhood Association of the Back Bay

The cover of this week’s Boston Courant (published 1/27/12, no website) carries the headline “Activists Declare Hi-Tech War On ‘Ugly’ Crime.” The article, equal parts public service and battle cry, touts the launch and positive reception of the Citizens Connect smart phone app and its utilization by the Neighborhood Association of the Back Bay (NABB) to fight graffiti, stencils, and flyers.

While the argument has raged for years about whether graffiti is art of vandalism (or maybe a bit of both), the rage and focus of the Back Bay Association against flyers specifically caught my attention, raising the question of the rights of use of public space, the right to advertise, etc.

It’s no surprise that putting up flyers is technically illegal. Certainly, there needs to be some regulation on constant advertising with zero maintenance. To her credit, Anne Swanson of the Association says that every flyer does not require city action to be removed. Her following sentiment in the article though, reportedly encouraging reporting the offender to the city, which can collect a $300 fine for a single flyer, is less than encouraging.

Is this Back Bay’s biggest problem? Personal trainers and shows at Great Scott?

In the case of the personal trainer, the clandestine driver-to-the-airport, the renter-of-a-room/$685/non-smoking-please, we are seeing an organization of moneyed-Bostonians attacking folks who are trying to make a little extra money and frankly can’t afford on-street or print advertising (it’s notable that the Courant itself sold half of the paper – not half of ad space, half of the whole paper – to real estate companies who sell million dollar-plus condos in the neighborhood in question). These are not flyers put up by Bank of America and AMC-Lowes Theaters.

The other example is that of the music/theater performance flyer. This most notorious of ad “graffiti” is so embedded in the culture of American cities, that to attack it seems wrong to me on principle. It’s legality notwithstanding, who does the city fine? The venue? Are city venues to be held responsible for every band they ever book from now on? Or are we going to spend more city resources tracking down the bassist of Monday night’s opening band at the Middle East or some comedy host who does open mics in a 2-star hotel bar/lobby?

Ultimately, all of the above arguments are easy enough to disregard in the face of law. $25,000 was spent on the development of this smart phone app to connect citizens with a direct, completely impersonal way to rat out their fellow citizens to the authorities, and with the laws as they are on the books, there is a mechanism to recoup those expenses in fines. Meanwhile, a more glaring offense to DIY promotion is rising with equal speed. With the loss of so many bookstores and record stores in Boston, and the massively corporate identities of others, the traditional legal homes of flyers – bulletin boards and store windows – is quickly dissipating. There’s still a Newbury Comics and a Trident on Newbury Street, but long gone are the days of CD Spins, Mars Records, Tower Records, and so many other places to hang up or drop off flyers for the basement show, the art opening, the cheap movers, and yes, the scams.

It can be argued, and frequently is, that this problem is solved with the Internet. Facebook, Twitter, Craigslist, and local, scene-specific sites and services list plenty of stuff. But like the book and record market, the event promotion market is different online. Facebook invites only reach people you’re connected to, unless you can pay for them. Craigslist is a swamp of garbage. Twitter is limited to those who use it and can use it. The community-specific listing sites are only good for people who know what they’re looking for. The beauty of the flyer on the electric box, post, or window is that it can catch you, and by either words or design, it can clearly articulate to “hey! This is for you! This is your crowd! This is your interest! This is your scene!” I never stop for a popular dance night flyer, because it’s not designed for me. The person it’s designed for probably won’t stop for the punk rock show flyer I’m reading. But they’re there, and for generations, people have been finding stuff they didn’t even know they loved by walking down the merchant streets of Back Bay, the Fenway, Allston, and elsewhere and getting caught by flyers. Systematically attacking this practice by enforcing laws that have long existed and scarcely been enforced changes our city in a negative way.

I understand that Boston is not the city it was in the 1970s or 1980s or 1990s or even 2000s. Crime rates have gone almost consistently down over the years. This has resulted in a safer place to live. Since the late 1990s/early 2000s, though, with crime at record lows, the city has made numerous efforts to clean up other aspects of the city, which have arguably made it too clean, too safe, sterile and suburban. These people in the Back Bay Association already have the benefit of owning condos, if not whole buildings in Boston. Let’s not give them the streets, too.

If you see an old flyer, tear it down and throw it away. If someone you know regularly puts up flyers and leaves the old ones up underneath, tell them to take them down and stop being a jerk. But don’t call the cops on them. Don’t take $300 out of a 23-year-old kid in a band, out of a broke comic, out of a struggling theater company, or out of a man with a van. These streets are for all of us, and so are these polls. Taking all the flyers down all the time makes it impossible for the really little guys to promote, and while it might make your streets a little cleaner, it also makes them more sleepy. You live in a city. There’s stuff going on in a city. Instead of trying to stop people from finding out about it, maybe try going to it… on the nights that you don’t have Back Bay Association meetings, of course.