Friday, December 31, 2010


The year we made contact.

In January, I stood outside of a house in Pittsburgh where they were holding a New Years punk dance party. Right after the countdown, some friends set off homemade fireworks. They actually went off this year, and did not dissipate as they fell down. Two guys with fire extinguishers ran into someone's backyard to put it out. Since this is Pittsburgh, you could hear fireworks going off all around. There were also some popping sounds that weren't fireworks.

In February, I held my first birthday party in 13 years. It was small, and cozy, and all of my Cyberpunk Apocalypse housemates were there. I read a whole hour-long story for my friends. "Graveyard Shift," the zombie story. Then we danced to New Jack Swing.

In March, I was working at the Pittsburgh Job Corps Center as a residential advisor. I find that the only jobs I can really tolerate are ones where you interact with real people, such as this one, where I was responsible for a dormitory of 80+ 16-24 year old men. Any job where you're just saying "Thank you" and "How may I help you?" is 100% soul crushing. Social work is occasionally soul crushing, but the rewards are stupendous. At Job Corps I saw true poverty. I grew up poor, but not that poor. Men who could not afford to take a bus anywhere, leaving them stranded at the center, waiting desperately for the meager check they got every two weeks. A whole network of relations around the borrowing of change, laundry soap and bus passes. There was also a fair amount of thievery and drug use, and some deadbeats who could care less about their children. Seeing firsthand how the system creates whole generations of neglect was pretty heartbreaking. The light was in seeing the people who actually got their lives together. I remember one young man who had a serious drug problem before he came to Job Corps. He was very focused on getting through the nursing program. Unfortunately, the dorms are not the ideal place to make a life change, and he started to wear down from all the people stealing his stuff and acting disrespectful. I was so happy to see him at the graduation in July. Hopefully he's gotten into a medical program by now.

In April, I waited in the drizzling rain outside the house of my publisher, Nathan. He emerged carrying a box. In this box were the first copies of my very first book. I thanked him, put them in my car and drove to the Cyberpunk Apocalypse to drop the books off. Then I drove through the rain to go to work. Pretty low-key fulfillment of something I've dreamed of since I was a little boy. Anyway, we had the book release party later that week. Many thanks go out to the friends who made that possible.

In May, I read in Cincinnati, the last stop on the Elvenslaughter Tour and, in my opinion, my best tour performance. We were staying with an old friend of Dan McCloskey's mother, in a house with cable, which meant we got to watch HBO. You forget how good a bed can feel after so long sleeping on couches. Dan and I had an hour to kill before the performance, so I did the only thing I could think off to do in Cincinnati: drive across the Kentucky border and go to the Cork 'N Bottle. The trip took way longer than it should have, and, yes, we did get lost looking for the Buttermilk Parkway exit. However, hallelujah, we reached the liquor store. Dan: "Since we're in Kentucky, we should get Jack Daniels." Jack Daniels is from Tennessee, but anyway. We ended up buying a bottle each of cold duck, that country-ass pseudo-wine my father used to drink like water. By the time we got back from our impromptu road trip, everyone was at the U.Turn Art Gallery, ready for the show. "When the Law Come" was the first story I read on tour, at the Bloombars open mic, and I don't think I did very well. I still had to work out how to perform that particular one. By the time I read it in Cincy, it was killer. Seeing people get so delighted by a fantasy story is amazing to me. I want to do it again and again. After the show, we met some good folks, went back to Dan's mom's friend's house and toasted a successful tour with cold duck. Then we watched True Blood. Then we watched The Wrestler. And then we slept, well.

In June, I was still working as a residential advisor at Pittsburgh Job Corps. Every week we got new guys in the dorms, gave them some basic materials and assigned them a room. Two young brothers got put in a room with the section leaders, i.e. students who ran the chores on the dorms. I don't know who started the beef, nor did I care. The new guys were certainly immature and prone to shit-talking. The section leaders were certainly arrogant and covetous of their space. Either way, an ungodly fracas arose around midnight, with everybody up in everybody's face, everybody telling the other guy to put his money where his mouth is. The section leaders told the kids their shoes were emitting an odor, and they replied by spraying a whole bottle of Axe on the shoes. It was like somebody set off a chemical weapon on the dorm. I made some room moves, obviously. The first move was the kid in the room with asthma, who could have straight up died from that. I stayed an hour after my shift was done airing out the dorms, weeping from the stench of Axe. Then I went to the bar. I'm happy to say that, last I checked, the two brothers had acclimated themselves and become more responsible students.

In July, I read at Bluestockings in New York City with four out of five members of my writers' co-op. It's a space I always wanted to read at. I'd been trying to book a show there for ages. Here I was, walking around New York City in the blistering heat, when I look up and see a raging inferno down the street. Biggest damn fire I ever saw. Destructive and beautiful. NYFD handled it, thankfully. The reading itself was sparsely attended, and we only made enough money to get a return on the coffee we bought, but that was fine. My only regret is that all five members couldn't come. Simply being in New York is a gift that I appreciate every time I'm there. Have you ever seen Central Park? Have you ever seen Spanish Harlem? Have you ever seen Broadway in the summertime, the endless surge of humanity? Hands down one of my favorite places on Earth.

In August, I left Pittsburgh for the Bay. The plan was always to return to San Francisco. Yes, it's an insidiously racist place, worse than anywhere I've encountered in the East. Yes, it's damn near impossible to make a living. I was leaving a steady lifestyle in Pittsburgh, and a woman I had fallen in love with. We had so many adventures in a short time, traveling around Pittsburgh and exploring hidden places. Leaving her was difficult. There was also the spectre of urban renewal: the G20 obviously, companies scouting out the city, so-called radical anarchists moving to the area to buy property and appear in Levi's commercials, turning into the new landlords. Gentrification is finally happening to my city, and I leave. What would I do if I was still there? I don't know. I think that it's impossible for me to stay in a place that's so easy and familiar. Then again, I've found that it's impossible for me to stay anywhere for too long. Maybe I'm just a floater pretending to be the sedentary type.

In September, I was knee-deep in classes at Mills College. It was the only school that accepted me in the Bay, so that made the decision easy. I took Reading and Writing the Body (body theory), Fiction Workshop and Theories and Strategies of Teaching Writing. Theories and Strategies was amazing purely because of the interpersonal dynamics. People were at each other's throats over the notion of how to teach English. I loved this. Education is a serious thing and should be taken seriously.

In October, I worked on my first audio project. Using borrowed equipment, I recorded "Dead Teenagers" on Audacity, complete with music and sound effects. There's a bit of an amateur quality to it, but for a first shot it came out pretty good. I've long wanted to add an audio supplement to my stories, maybe make mix tapes like Li'l Wayne. When I write there's often music going on in my head, so it's good to have a creative outlet for that. The program Audacity is amazing. Since "Dead Teenagers" is a Halloween story, I tried hard to get it uploaded on the 31st, only to find there were no internet sites that had the bandwidth. It still sits there on my computer. I'm hoping to turn it into video and post it to my Youtube channel, providing thrills and chills for the Easter season.

In November, I wandered from Berkeley to Oakland after the Meserhle verdict came down. I have long known that the lives of black men are forfeit in this country, but getting such a clear reminder of it made me physically ill. I was dating a woman at the time who was very much into relationship drama, and the last thing I wanted to do was call her. When you feel like there's a giant target on your back, and all you need is some reassurance that your life has value, the last thing you want to hear is "Why are you pushing me away?" Acknowledging I felt that way was pretty much the end of that relationship. None of my friends on the east coast were picking up their phones and there was no one to talk to on the west coast, and the only outlet for my rage was some downtown protest where they assembled every cop in the country to arrest people. Pure loneliness. Pure anger. Pure misery.

In December, I decided to do like Neil Gaiman does and write a Christmas story to send to my friends as a card. If Gaiman does something, it must be right. I finished the story, but never got around to making the cards, so I just emailed it to my friends. It was called "The Piper's Christmas Gift", my homage to early 20th century children's lit. I had great fun writing it. I think my friends enjoyed reading it, as well.

That's just glossing over what was an undeniably exciting chapter in my life. Another great year, filled with family and friends, and some adventures to top it all off. I feel so grateful for the love that has surrounded me. See you in 2011.

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