Tuesday, March 19, 2019

March 19th: Boston Ain't Friendly Like New York

Walking home last night, I listened to Marc Maron chat with Amy Sedaris on his podcast WTF.  It was clear from the jump that Marc knew Amy personally and genuinely enjoyed this excuse to record one of their conversations.  It certainly is a bonus that Amy is an energetic and quick-witted guest who came ready to throw back any ball Marc tossed her way.  I've listened to a lot of episodes of WTF -- not all of them, but a lot of them -- and this kind of relaxed mutual respect is infrequent with any of Maron's guests, largely because he doesn't really know most of the people he sits down with prior to recording.  On the occasions that he does know them -- and, for bonus points, does not have a strained history with them -- the result is like this conversation with Amy.  It's delightful and magnetic.  You can stream it here.

But the best part of the whole thing came right near the end.  Amy lives in New York City -- Marc used to live there -- and Amy currently works with a former neighbor of Marc's.  And so the last ten minutes or so of the podcast is Marc giddily recalling the characters who lives in his Astoria apartment building and the quintessential magic of the city.  "You've gotta ask [mutual friend] about Crazy Mary," Maron says.  "She was the sweetest little old lady...but then we'd hear her just screaming at no one -- just really going off -- in her apartment."  He told a story about how the woman next door to him died and he didn't know it for a week.  When paramedics came to get her body they asked him, didn't you smell that?  "It was an apartment building in Astoria," Marc told Amy.  "People were always cooking weird things, who am I to judge?  I know what dead rodent smells like but I guess not dead body."  And then came his recollections of September 11, 2001 and how a woman in his building was killed, another was a first responder, and how everyone in the apartment complex came together in support of those families who were involved in that gruesome and tragic day.  "It's a thing I miss about New York," Maron said.  "You knew that when shit went down, there would be a whole crew of people there to have your back."  Amy was largely quiet while Marc spiraled down memory lane.  It was her episode but his show -- and tangents like this were a keen reminder of that.

It made me think about the difference between Boston and New York.  Technically, I don't live in Boston -- I live in Somerville and have the entire seventeen years I've been on the East Coast.  But I think I know enough people who have lived all over the area to say that Boston is less friendly than New York.  My college roommate Corey lived in Brooklyn for about a year back in the early 2000's (maybe 2005-ish?) and I would take the bus to Manhattan about once a month to go and see her.  At that point, I'd been living in the same apartment building in Somerville for a few years with the same neighbors, and it was stunning to me how much better I knew Corey's neighbors than I knew my own.  I was on a first name basis with the other people in her building and also several local shops and vendors.  We would take her dog for a walk and run into people we knew all the time.

Then I'd return to Somerville, Massachusetts, my home, and continue not to know a thing about anyone.  I've even had roommates that I've lived with a year and not really known much besides their first and last name -- I couldn't even tell you what some of them liked to do for fun or what they did for work.  And these are people who lived with me.  Neighbors, forgettaboutdit.  

Boston, you're not friendly.  Marc's reminiscing about his old Astoria apartment reminded me of that.

It's a strange thing to think about after living in this socially challenging part of the country for so long.  Obviously, I made friends and found my own community here -- but I've also had to reinvent that community a few times, the three big eras being Grad School, Music Scene, and Yoga Scene.  My life has changed by leaps and bounds over the last seventeen years -- it's insane, sometimes, to think back to old social circles and what we did in them.  I regret nothing and thank my time in this bristly city for helping to mold me into the badass woman I am today.  

But when I hear Marc Maron talk about New York and the six block radius the city's inhabitants enjoy and the community that results from that nucleus, it does draw attention to how different the city I call home is -- how less familiar we keep ourselves here in Boston.  Eyes straight ahead, no smiling, no reason to break that fourth wall and admit that there are other people around us who are seeking the company and unity of others, social creatures that we are.  I don't know what makes Bostonians so tough -- I always mumble something about the harshness of the weather -- but breaking through here and finding love and genuine connection of any kind feels warmer and more earned than anywhere else.  And when I can walk down the street and make someone catch my eye as I smile and say hello, I delight when they respond in kind, often with a smile materializing on their faces.  You have to work hard for it here -- and maybe that's what has kept me here for so long.  m

I want to earn it.

I need to earn it.

And in many ways I have.

But don't ask me the names of the guys who've lived one floor beneath me for seven months.  I couldn't tell you even one of their names.  I guess that's where Boston choosiness comes in.  

Funny sidenote about all of this?  My current roommate grew up in the same Brooklyn neighborhood where Corey lived -- and she and I have waxed nostalgic about the restaurants and shops and landmarks of that part of the city.  I guess it proves we live in a small world.  I guess it proves that, ultimately, your community finds you.

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Monday, March 18, 2019

March 18th: Walking the Walk > Talking the Talk

Good god, social media.  You wily vixen, striking again.

Last night, Instagram suggested I follow Tom's new band.  New, I say.  These people first started at it more than five years ago, though it seems that they haven't really gotten it together until the last year or so.  

Needless to say, I haven't really been following their progress.

But occasionally social media shoves it in my face because Tom and I still have a ton of "friends" -- connections -- whatever -- in common.  Instagram did it last night by daring to suggest I might want to follow the band on the 'gram.  What it made me do was go to that account to block them.  And in doing so, I noticed something.

Someone I knew was already following them.  Someone who is heavily vocal on the activism scene.  First at protests, well known preacher of many social causes -- including women's rights.  Especially women's rights.  This person is constantly posting about social justice -- constantly sporting clothing with feminist catch phrases and radical agendas.  She's not someone who I'm that close to -- but I have always admired her consistent presence on the front lines of many issues I also care deeply about.  

And she was one of five people already following the account.  Since there are four people in the band, I'll guess that maybe the other four were those people.  And then next in line -- first in line -- to show her support?  This supposed activist who cares deeply about the fair and equitable treatment of human beings.

Supporting anything to do with Tom negates that.  Period.  This woman instantly became a fraud to me.

It's a thing that happens: people aren't aware of every single aspect of every single person they come across.  So you might argue that this woman didn't know what a toxic waste bin of humanity Tom is.  Yeah...except Tom has been a toxic waste bin of humanity on the scene this woman is deeply entrenched in for a long time.  He has victimized many of her friends.  Probably even more that she is aware of and I am not since I cut ties with him.  So I don't buy the "she doesn't know."  The stronger argument is that she's tight with someone else in the band -- which I know is true -- but I think someone with the activism achievement that this woman has displayed will know that that excuse is 100% bullshit.  Encourage your friend to make better choices -- don't simply lean in and quietly turn your head away from what stinks.

Maybe you think aw, who cares, it's just Instagram.  But I hope that faded from your mind just as quickly as it entered.  Who you support and follow on social media is as much a social and political statement as joining a march -- who you champion on public platforms become part of your brand, so to speak.  If you look at who I follow, you'd see it's my friends, drag queens, liberal-leaning activist organizations, and baseball players.  But, also, you can only see that if you're connected with me because my account is private.  This person I am telling you about has a public profile that anyone can see and it now includes support of a band that includes a man who is abusive to women.  What a shame.

She should be ashamed.

I think about the origin of that band and how the three core men involved were my three best friends for a decade -- I think about how two of them watched Tom treat me like shit for five of the ten years of our friendship and how they did nothing about it.  I think about how I still love them and how fucking manipulative and awful that is -- how cruel our own brains can be.  

And I think of the woman who was the original singer in that group and how she had her own issues during that band's existence.  The music the four of them created got started when I listened to old music of Tom's and narrowed in on one woman's vocals and I told him, "This girl.  Do something with her."  

It's thirteen years in the future and I would never call her a girl, I'd call her a woman, and having gone through that kind of mental growth shows me what little I knew back then except that I liked how she sang.  Once she left, it took the three remaining a long time to find a new doll to play with.  The one they found?  That started when Tom asked me if I thought she was any good and I shrugged and said, "Yeah."  The next day, they started rehearsing.

Soon after that, that same woman triggered the biggest fight I've ever had in my life.

And five years later, that woman's friend liked the new Instagram account of the very same fuckin' band.

What a legacy.

I've developed a zero-tolerance policy for abusive people, men especially.  I am especially sensitive to musicians in that category because of my personal history, but it certainly applies to actors, comedians, politicians, writers, and more.  It certainly applies to people I actively know.  There is so much out there to consume, why not consume that which isn't tainted by disgusting behavior?  Why not seek out art and community where toxicity isn't tolerated?  It's out there -- it exists, in spades.  So pay attention.  Wake up.  Care.  It matters.  

And, honestly, if what you find "toxic" is me asking you to make these considerations, please do me the favor of removing yourself from my community.

I find that the older I get, the more often I look around and feel the isolation of being willing to stand up for what I believe, whether it's in advocacy for another person, cause, or even myself.  People are scared shitless to articulate their beliefs for fear of being cast out.  Well, not me.  I've gone through the process of having lost everything and everyone and you know what?  I found a new community that values what I value and supports what I support.  Speaking up doesn't always mean that you'll change the hearts and minds of those around you -- you may have to dissolve your entire world in order to live in one that connects with who you truly are.  Doing that is hard -- harder than anything you may ever have to do in your whole life -- I'm four years removed from that community and I still feel the pain of that break.  But it was necessary and I'm proud of myself for making that change.

As a reminder, I walk around with this quotation from Nanette:

((If you haven't watched Hannah Gadsby's 2018 Netflix standup special....please do.  It articulates this message in the form of comedy.  It's brilliant.  And it's on point.))

I am a broken woman who rebuilt myself and I was able to do that because I removed myself from a toxic and abusive relationship in favor of surrounding myself by true, unconditional love.  It took years to relearn how to feel at all and I still second guess myself from time to time because of the gas-lighting and emotional abuse I endured.

So, yeah, it sets my soul a-blaze when I see a local ultra-feminist social activist become one of the first people to support publicly anything that abusive fuck is part of.

My grandpa always used to say "People know you by your friends."  It's a truism that has stuck hard to my guts and sensibilities and feels like the keenest possible truth.

And another?  Be the change.  Don't just wear the t-shirt.

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Sunday, March 17, 2019

March 17th: The St. Patrick's Day Parade in Southie

I went to the quite legendary Southie St. Patrick's Day Parade exactly one time -- it was 2009 and I'd spent the night previous with Tom.  He probably had a show and then we likely partied -- very likely we cackled our way through Mallrats -- and hit up brunch the next morning.  All I know is he dropped me off at my Union Square apartment just before noon that Sunday and that's when my housemate Aprill pinged me to see what I was up to.  "Wanna go to Southie?" she asked.  I remember standing in my room, staring at her message, wearing the same clothes I'd been wearing since the night before, makeup smeared and brain fuzzy with hangover, and I said, "Sure.  I'll be downstairs to meet you in five minutes."  And, just like that, we were on our way to the T.

I think our friend Alisar met up with us, too.  Alisar may have been the brains behind the entire operation, convincing us to wade into these jam-packed-insane waters -- but at some point along the way, we lost her in the sea of people (never fear -- she floated on to other friends), and Aprill and I were left to play a game of hide and seek with a former housemate of ours who was "somewhere nearby."  That's the thing about Southie during the St. Patrick's Day parade -- everyone is "somewhere nearby."  Aprill and I wandered up and down the streets looking for our friend, who elusively remained a block away from us at all times as we ventured into strangers open doors to share their beer and mimic Irish jigs with them.  I, of course, was wearing my Cleveland Indians baseball hat (on account of unwashed hair), and this garnered the interest of a group of dudes stoop sitting.  They called me over to them.  "Hey," they said.  "You're brave."  I grinned at them and then Aprill and I both leaned in to chat.  One of the bros got the idea that I should give him a piggy back ride and hopped on my back.

Don't believe me?  Aprill caught it on film:

I don't even know this guy's name.  He's cute, though.

Eventually, Aprill and I gave up on trying to find our friend and started the long trek back to Somerville.  It was an insane day -- and I guess I'm glad I can say that I went to the St. Patrick's Day parade once in Southie.  But I wouldn't go back for seconds.

Writing about this, though, makes me think of another St. Patrick's Day I spent with Aprill where we bounced around all day and eventually went to meet up with our friend Lisa (ahem, we called her Crazy Lisa, and I'm not even sorry we did that) at this bar in Boston called The Living Room -- not exactly a classic St. Patrick's Day spot, but, whatever, Crazy Lisa picked it.  When Aprill and I got there, we were already pretty buzzed and found Lisa there with two other women we didn't know.  OK, no problem, this could mean that we wouldn't have to stay that long.  But as soon as we sat down, Lisa explained that she had met these two women on Craig's List and that we had to play these "get to know you" games, switching our conversational partners every ten minutes or so.  Aprill and I caught each other's eyes and were like....how the hell do we get out of this?  About 30 minutes in, we both said we had to go to the bathroom (totally synchronicity since, of course, Lisa didn't let us be in the same chat sesh) and after we both peed, Aprill and I were like, "Let's just sneak out."  Which we did.

We were home that St. Patrick's Day by like 10pm and it was...outstanding to be calling it a day.

It's a weird holiday -- and I'm very certain if I started to dig deeper into my memories I could tell you lots more stories about Boston's luck-oh-the-Irish, but I'm happier to tell you that today and I wore a little green, did a little yoga, and came home to have my fingers jig across this keyboard -- and that's all that I could want out of this spritely day.

Now I gotta wrap this up so I can go cook up some Chinese noodles with broccoli and vegan "beef," a traditional Irish meal if there ever was one.  

But, hey, if you are out there in the world, be nice to your bartenders and other service people.  This is one of the primo Amateur Drinkers' Days and cutting your bartender some slack -- and/or showing them some extra kindness -- will bring your all the luck you could ever find at the end of any rainbow.

Of course, that's true the other 364 days of the year, too.

Happy St. Patrick's Day, if you're celebrating.  And if you're not, well, steer clear of those who are.  Sláinte.

**Please note: starting April 1st, a $5/mo. subscription fee will be required to access my daily writing project.  Click here for more info.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

March 16th: Pose

Raise your hand if you've heard of the FX show Pose.

Raise your hand if you've watched it.

I can't see how many of you there are still with hands up, but I will go right out on a limb and say that we should try to get those numbers up -- way up -- because Pose is a very important show.

So what is it.  Let's start there.  There is one season so far with second in the works (can't wait) and comes by way of show-runners Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuck (also behind American Horror Story and Glee).  The simplest way to describe the backdrop of Pose is "imagine Paris is Burning has come to life as a fictionalized drama."  But that would require you to know about Paris is Burning.

OK, so let's start thereParis is Burning is a 1990 documentary by Jennie Livingston about the "ball culture" of 1980's New York City.  The Balls were places for queer people of color to gather and compete, runway fashion-style, with other people in their community to win prizes in specific categories.  Being a champion at the Ball was a huge deal for that community -- it was a point of pride.  It was a way to find connection with others and a way to feel validated.  Groups would compete together in "houses" where a chosen mother would assemble her children to represent them all in certain categories, bringing honor to their name and their house.  RuPaul's Drag Race is based on many of the principles found in Paris is Burning: realness, voguing, posing, walking, fashion, boldness, uniqueness.  

And so, too, is Pose.  The show employs more transgender people than any other show on television -- and rightfully so.  It's about transgender and queer people, so it only makes sense that those same kinds of people are also writing, direction, and otherwise working behind the scenes as well as in front of the camera.  Trans-women, especially, dominate the cast and the storylines largely revolving around two -- and then three -- rival houses competing to be legendary in their ball community.  But the show is about so much more than that:  it's about the meaning of family and the achievement of true unconditional love.  It's about finding belonging and being at peace with who you are.  It's about poverty and desperation to escape dire straits.  It's about street code and thriftiness and loyalty and pride.  It's about the difference between white and black, suburban and urban.  It's about queerness and gayness and gender.  It's the most concrete exploration of trans people that I have ever come across, and that is what makes it stand out the most to me.

The reason this show is successful, though?  Trans people sharing trans stories.  So often trans people are portrayed by cis-gendered folks and it's had a clunky effect on my ability to connect with those characters.  But when a trans-woman portrays a trans-woman?  I hang on her every word, feeling them each with the conviction she brings.  There is nothing to be lost in translation when we're all speaking the same language, after all.

It's important to engage in art made by minority cultures: immigrant, people of color, gay, lesbian, queer, trans, women.  It's important to support that art by including it in your intake, by spending your money on it and/or tuning in for it.  It is the way to push those stories more into central consciousness and make the larger national and global community aware of the struggles and satisfactions that come along with a life that is different from heterosexual white culture.  As a member of heterosexual white culture, I can tell you that falling in love with RuPaul's Drag Race has enriched my life in ways I can't exactly quantify, except to say that I am a great deal more aware of the similarities in the life of a gay man who can slay a runway with a garment made out of pink streamers and my own -- and, likewise, be more thoughtful about our differences, too, and what kind of challenges he might be facing.  Watching Pose similarly opened my eyes more broadly to the experience of trans-women in 1980's New York and made me wonder in what ways those women's lives are better, worse, or the same forty years later.  It makes me want to learn more about the actresses playing those women and asking them just that question.  A show like Pose gets me thinking in productive ways about people and walks of life I am less familiar with and that gets me in a mood to want to learn more and more and more...and to think constructively about how to be an ally and an advocate for people in the trans community.

Supporting their art is certainly a good start.

By consuming both Drag Race and Pose, though I know it is also important to state that there is a great deal of diversity and even conflict within the LGBTQ community -- that being a drag queen doesn't mean you're a trans-woman, nor does it mean that trans-woman can't do drag.  There's a danger and a laziness in lumping large cross-sections of any group of humans into categories and dumping them into strictly defined boxes.  RuPaul himself has been in the center of a ton of backlash and criticism in the LGBTQ world for being considered trans-phobic -- whether that label suits him or not.  Before attempting to learn about drag queen culture, I would have never in a billion years guessed that someone as legendary as RuPaul could be anything but a hero and a champion in the LGBTQ stratosphere.  All that any of this proves is I have a lot to learn.

But in the meantime, let me share where my pop culture education began to resonate with me:

You can stream Paris is Burning right now on Netflix.  Go do it.  You can watch RuPaul's Drag Race Thursdays at 9pm on VH1 -- I recommending watching with friends.  It's incredibly fun.  Pose I bought from Amazon for $9.99 and it was worth every fucking penny.  Come at me with other LGBTQ art I should be consuming: books, podcasts, movies, television shows, documentaries.  And that goes for any other minority art that I should be consuming -- I want to take a step back from all the straight-white-male-culture we're all so routinely spoon-fed so I can keep widening my perspective.  There's so much out there to propel forward-thinking and that is the mode I'm in, baby. I am not sitting here pretending to be an expert on anything besides my own experience, but I know I'm made better by listening to other people's stories.  And the stories in Pose?  They were so captivating I couldn't stop watching.  

I'm glad there's a second season in the works -- it's more than good enough to warrant that -- but I can tell by the way the first season ended that they were all prepared not to be invited back to the lineup.  Such is the case for so many minority-based shows -- and Pose is revolutionary in its niche minority camp -- so there's a certain timidity, like they were anticipating being canceled in one-and-done fashion.  But FX responded to the rally-cries of its vocal fan base and Season Two is coming soon -- and you better believe I'll be watching when it does.

**Please note: starting April 1st, a $5/mo. subscription fee will be required to access my daily writing project.  Click here for more info.

Friday, March 15, 2019

March 15th: Same Place, Same Time

The longer I know Rebecca, the more often it will happen that we discover we were at the same place at the same time before we knew each other.  Wait, the festival in upstate New York in 2009?  The Patriots game right before New Year's in 2011?  YOU WERE THERE, TOO?  These coincidences pop up from time to time and it never ceases to amaze me.

Clearly, Rebecca and I were destined to run into each other one of these days.

Where our paths did finally cross was in the Spring 2012 200-Hour Teacher Training program at O2 Yoga.  I remember being in awe of Rebecca's yogic skills -- she's tall and lanky and graceful as fuck -- though she and I never seemed to get put in the same groups during TT.  It was near the end of the program when one of our fellow yoginis was part of a dance show that I had maybe my first ever conversation with Rebecca.  A bunch of us were crowded around a little table at The Cellar preshow and Rebecca and I started talking about astrology.  Another future-bestie Shira was part of that conversation, too.  And I remember thinking that it was too bad I hadn't had the opportunity to spend more time with these two women during the training now that it was so close to the end.

Little did I know that the women of TT2012 would go on to be my entire world going forward.  Rebecca -- and Shira -- and more -- playing pivotal roles in my life from then on.  And with the case of Rebecca, specifically, it was because she is a "say yes" person.  I am also a "say yes" person.  What that means is when an adventure is presented, I say yes -- with gusto.  Yes, I'll drive to New Hampshire at 9pm on a Wednesday night to see your show.  Yes, I'll go to that restaurant that serves food I have never had.  Yes, I will help you organize a party themed around Whiskey and Pie.  Yes, I will take your extra ticket to go see a play I've never heard of.  Rebecca was of a similar mindset, and, at the time, I was deeply involved with Tom and his musical aspirations as well as the aspirations of many other local artists, so I was constantly trying to get my new crew involved in what my old crew was up to.  And while Rebecca wasn't the only person to say yes to these sometimes insane nights on the town, she showed up the most consistently.  And as a result, she became my new best friend.

Seven years later, she's still precisely that.

A lot has changed in our lives since 2012, but what's important has remained the same.  I spend Thanksgiving every year on the Cape with her family (her parents have claimed me as an adopted daughter) and many a summer days in Newburyport where she and her husband Murphy moved in 2014 to open a business.  Now Rebecca and Murphy are traveling all over the country in a VW Bus and you'd think that would put a damper on my relationship with my #1 Yes Queen friend, but if anything, we are closer and more involved in each other's lives than ever.  It's a true testament to friendship when it can survive distance -- and in the case of my relationship with Rebecca, it doesn't merely survive: it thrives.  

I like to think that's because we're simpatico.  But it's also because we care enough to keep in touch.  We have found ways to remain actively part of each other's lives even while on opposite coasts because we're important to each other.  And while I'd say it takes work to do this sort of thing, it's really more like it takes committing to fun.  When she first left Somerville, it was to move to a cute beachside coastal New England town, so if I must plan some beach days with my bestie, I guess I shall.  And now that she's on the road full-time, I watch her YouTube videos about her travels and she reads my blog about what's new with me.  We comment on each other's Instagrams and we send a lot of Marco Polo videos back and forth.  It's an instance of technology and social media being for good: even though we aren't often in even the same time zone at the same time, it never seems like my dear friend is very far away at all. 

Today is Rebecca's birthday and I wish her another year of adventures.  I think she and Murphy are still in Las Vegas right now, so I'm sure it will be a memorable good time.  Rebecca deserves magic for that is what she is.

Love ya, sis.  Safe travels.  Happy birthday.  I'm gonna be singing to you on Marco Polo in 3, 2, 1...

**Please note: starting April 1st, a $5/mo. subscription fee will be required to access my daily writing project.  Click here for more info.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

March 14th: Enjoy the Free Ride While It Lasts, Y'All

I'm not one to sit around and complain without being proactive about finding suitable problem solutions.  Lately, I've been uncomfortably bothered by what I will boil down to a simpering response to my writing.  I mean that in terms of the presumed readership of this year's blog.  I mean that in terms of my book sales.  I mean that in terms of I am a grown-ass woman with an MFA in Creative Writing and, nine years into this practically unprecedented project (is anyone out there doing what I'm doing???), I feel like all that's being achieved is me giving and a dwindling few are merely taking.  

This, I realize, is all perception.  And many of you have been very kind and demonstrably supportive by taking the time to reach out to me about what I'm writing.  It's proven to be more of a conversation starter than stopper, that's for sure.  

But I want more.

I deserve more.

As an artist, I'd prefer not to starve.  I'd prefer to be paid for my art.  I think my street cred on this issue should speak for itself -- I churn out excellent content (#notsohumblebrag).  So unless there's someone out there who'd like to commercially sponsor my blog going forward and keep it free for all to enjoy, starting April 1st, it'll cost ya five dollars a month to subscribe.  That's about seventeen cents a day, if you pay your dues on the 1st.  But you will be able to sign up at any point during the month for that same $5 rate and have access to all remaining posts that month as well as all previous months.

But not the next month, not unless you re-up.

Keep your life simple and pay your dues on the 1st, OK?

If you want to keep access, fresh payment will be due on the 1st of the next month.  Send your $5 (along with your email address, which is how you'll be added to the access list) to @sarahwolfstar on Venmo.  If you don't have Venmo, why the hell not?  If for some reason you are morally opposed to using Venmo but would like to subscribe, email sarahwolfstar@gmail.com and we can discuss other options.

I should also mention that I have made all previous year's blogs private, too, so if you want access to any of those, the fee is $20 sent, once again, via Venmo.  That's a nickel a post -- you can afford it.

I realize there are people who read my blog who may want to remain anonymous about that.  I hear you and I am OK with you -- but I ain't waiving your fee.  There is only one person on the planet I have specifically asked not to read my blog and should she attempt to gain access, I would say no.  Literally anyone else is free to subscribe, no judgement.  My Venmo is private, also, so your subscription loyalty will be a strictly business thing between you and me.  

All I know is that I am excited to be even freer in my writing, knowing that it won't live quite so starkly on the internet.  Who knows what topics I'll uncover.  I'll post the occasional teaser-snippet on my Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter so you'll know what you're missing if you haven't paid up.

But in the meantime, enjoy the free content.  It's been 2,994 days of such magic.  Seventeen days 'til I start passin' the hat -- thanks for stickin' around to enjoy the show.

Snagged from my website:

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

March 13th: For the Woman I Used to Be

The editing process for a project like A Somerville Love Story is massive.  I wrote it, of course, over the three hundred sixty-five day span of 2014 and once that final installment hit the internet, I backed away, stunned and numb.  I couldn't believe I had done it, actually done it -- I'd written a novel, a complete novel, in this unconventional choose-your-own-adventure style and it had worked.  I didn't know or understand how that had been achieved.  I didn't know what sort of magical intervention had swooped in to tie all these bows without tying too many bows and all the while keeping the integrity of the process fully intact.

I had written a novel.

So there's that.

In December of 2014, I gave a talk to a group at MIT about the CYOA blog.  The organizers had found me via a google search, I suppose, and invited me to explain myself, which was an honor and a delight.  Here were these strangers who were interested in my process.  I remember chatting with the event leader about how folks voted daily for what happened next and how it was allowed for them to write in their own suggestions with the rule being whatever option got the most votes was the thing that would happen next.  He asked me, "What if someone would have written that aliens invaded -- were you worried that would happen?  Would you have written it if someone had?"  His question nearly baffled me.  "Well, yes, I would have written it that way if someone had tried that, but it wouldn't have," I told him.  "How did you know?" he asked.  "Because people took it seriously," I explained.  He stared at me with a sense of odd confusion that evened out to a brilliant smile.  "That's cool," was all he could add.  But I thought about his question a lot over the last couple of weeks of the blog and how dedicated my readers and voters were to the cause of Callie, Rachel, Jeff, Andrew,  Martin, Wendy, Kevin, and all of the rest.  I thought about how the whole thing was birthed first from my friend Aprill suggesting the audacity of such a writing project and my friend Shelby daydreaming about a dating app where your friends set you up with suitors, matchmaker-style.  And that was pretty much all I knew about the story before it launched on that January 1st.  I made a point of basing my characters in worlds I knew intimately -- retail, yoga, the music scene, Boston and Somerville nightlife.  But everything else happened with a gentle blend of my prose and my voting crew.

And as the year of writing went along, the characters started to bend more and more into amalgamations of people from my real life, some more intently than others.  The two main female characters, Callie and Rachel (aka "the twins"), were initially both based on me, but as the year went on, Callie drifted further away from being a direct mirror of me and more into a direct mirror of another person I was close to at the time.  Callie's husband Jeff was based on another close friend at the time and their problematic friend Andrew was initially a blend of two males I know but eventually was based on only one.

Rachel and Andrew.  Sarah and Tom.  Very much this.

Of course, the details of the story were completely different.  Rachel gets involved with an open relationship guy, which I never did -- Rachel performs with Andrew's band, which is also something I never did, though there was a brief moment where I think Tom was considering asking me to sing with him.  Dude knew I could sing.  But the test was he asked me to write a song -- in that he gave me a melody and I was to try and write lyrics.  I guess I failed the audition because I never got feedback on what I wrote.  But I also think that, like Andrew's band having issues with Rachel joining, so did Tom's (specifically Brian, who bristled any time there was remote mention of me even being silly and singing with them in the practice space, which I did all the time).  Anyway, the point is that the plot of Rachel and Andrew didn't mirror the plot of Sarah and Tom, but the way the characters related to each other and treated each other?  That was carbon copy.

It's forever fascinating to me that I wrote this novel in 2014, which is the year I spent breaking up with Tom.  I didn't know on January 1st where we were headed.  I didn't know that this person who was the central figure in my existence would soon cease to be part of anything I did at all.  Writing those two characters, especially, was an act of therapy that I didn't even know I was conducting.  I don't know if Tom read along with that blog -- he didn't get blocked from all of my social media and etc until November 13, 2014 -- so he could have.  I'm sure he would have recognized himself in the story.  And to my credit (?), I still think to this day that I represented him fairly.  It wasn't like he was a villain -- he was just a guy, livin' his "truth."  The problem with Rachel and Andrew was they couldn't get on the same page.  Rachel would back off of him and he would turn up the heat and when she finally agreed to snuggle in, he'd disappear -- and so on and so on.  That storyline was most people's favorite -- what will happen with Rachel and Andrew was a frequent question I got offline.  A lot of the people who were reading didn't necessarily know Tom, so it wasn't readily obvious that these characters were so specifically based on a real relationship.  So in the year I spent dissolving the most complicated and significant partnership of my life, I had to smile politely as friends told me how much they hoped that Rachel and Andrew could work it out.

I'm here to tell you, folks -- they can't.

Going back through Parts One and Two to prepare the final edits was hard for me.  I bumped on so many situations and emotional responses and reactions these characters experienced -- not just Rachel and Andrew but many others, too.  That world ceased to be for me on November 13, 2014.  I think I made one more trip to the Lizard Lounge shortly after cutting Tom completely out of my life, but, soon, even that lifestyle ceased to be mine.  I spent all of 2015 in "safe mode," completely shellshocked and numb by what it meant to make this monumental change.  By 2016, I felt the color return to my life and by 2017 I was in full-on mental dump mode, releasing the stories of those life-changing years with Tom out into the wild.  

2018 I decided to revisit the choose-your-own-adventure blog and split it into two.  Diving back into the first six months of that story, I swallowed back a lot of cringe-y moments:  I used to party that much, I used to drink that much, I used to stay out late like that all the time, I used to have friends like these people.  To everything there is a season, and I don't regret that partying or that drinking or those late nights or those friends.  They formed me and I am thankful for that.  But it had been four years since that life was my life.  It was like the deja vu of past life intervention.  Don't I know you from somewhere?  Oh, right.  Mesopotamia.  Revisiting those pages was like ripping open old wounds -- but the writing was good and the story was perky and pleasurable.  I felt that fictional drama ripple through me with an odd sense of delight:  I made this with my own two hands.  A fair and just recollection of the Camberville Music Scene. 100%.  Even the fact that the main characters are turning 35 (I think? I know I made them the same age as me-at-the-time) makes me wince in the editing process.  Aren't they too old for this shit? I mused.  But the truth is: no.  Not 'round here.

By the time I released Part One about a year ago, I needed to take a massive break from the project.  I told myself I could return to it in the winter.  It was too much nostalgia, too much old truth for me to digest all in one sitting.  Picking the baton up for the final lap proved just as difficult, though.  I wrote this all during the final Tom-year, my brain would remind me as I flipped through pages.  Callie months were so much easier for me to enjoy than Rachel ones as Rachel's chapters were largely devoted to how succinctly she was falling apart as her relationship with Andrew grew more and more tense.  I remembered that trajectory in my own life.  I remembered how awful it felt.  And I thought about how ballsy it was for me to write that story at that exact time in my life.  I didn't know if Tom was reading and I didn't fucking care.  It was my way of dealing.  His way appeared to be absolute silence.  He certainly never said a word to me about it.

November and December in Part Two were saddest of all for me to read.  Because as I was making the hard choice to end things with Tom, the readers were pushing for Rachel and Andrew to find common ground.  The rule was I wrote what they wanted and they always voted for the positive (or the seemingly positive) option to happen with those two, especially.  It broke my heart that so many people were rooting so vehemently for this fictional pair of friends to remain besties while I knew that the reality was that Rachel needed to get away from this emotionally stunting relationship.  But I wrote the outcome the readers asked for, anyway.  Dem's da rules.

Part One of A Somerville Love Story was dedicated to Aprill, Shelby, and all who voted during 2014.  Part Two, though, I considered briefly dedicating it to Tom, since his influence was greatest for me at the time of the writing.  But, instead, I woke up from that mindfuck where I still give him credit for anything and went this route:

For, surely, that old friend is one I owe it all to.  She is the one who freed me to be me.

For more info on the 2014 blog or to buy copies of my books at wolfstarpress.com.