Or Die

I keep thinking about a sign I saw during one of the Portland protests a couple weeks ago, as you read this. The majority of signs were exactly what you’d expect: variations on Black Lives Matter or Feds Out of Portland or Defund the Police, each one something I agree with — each of those mirroring chants during the protest as well, with so many of the familiar favorites being screamed at the Justice Center walls. (“No Justice, No Peace, No Fascist Police,” or “This Is What Democracy Looks Like,” they seem to have multiple applications, but maybe that’s a sign of the protests I show up for; the more simple “Quit Your Job” was a new joy, however.)

I’m distracting myself. The sign that I keep thinking of read, simply, “Fix Your Hearts Or Die.” It wasn’t a threat, or at least, that’s not how I read it; it’s not as if  the person holding the sign was threatening to kill anyone. But the simplicity of “Fix Your Hearts” as a demand sticks with me. There’s a cleanliness, a bluntness, to it — a reduction that feels assured and correct. People not supporting Black Lives Matter, people not appalled by what’s happening here in Portland in terms of federal agent overreach, people standing on the wrong side of history… their hearts are broken. Of course.

I keep thinking about the federal officers that night, as well. I keep wondering what they were thinking, what stories they were told and that they tell themselves to do what they do. In the middle of the protest, being there, it’s so clear that the lie of rioting protestors or violent agitators is just bullshit; there’s passion and anger and, yes, power in the crowd, but the tear gas is fired into the crowd for none of those reasons. It’s violence in and of itself, an attempt to disrupt and destroy protest. Who could do that?

(But then, I am just as unable to comprehend who could have a problem with protests saying “black people matter,” and here we are.)

Fix your hearts or die isn’t a threat, it’s a forecast. You might be living in the medical sense, but there’s no soul there. No true life worth living.

For Now It’s Part of You

Is it odd that, during these calamitous times, I’m leaning back into pop culture so hard? Surely not; there’s a relief and release in being able to find escape from everything hellish in music, movies, or whatever, even if I find myself increasingly worried that such things are frivolous. The authorities are at war with the people every night downtown, using tear gas and “less lethal” ammunition,  and yet here I am becoming newly obsessed with Michael Nesmith songs from more than half a century ago. Is that understandable, or is it obscene?

Nonetheless, listening to “Tapioca Tundra” lately brings an odd sense of calm, somehow. It’s from the album The Birds, The Bees and The Monkees, which is to say, the theoretical down slide of the band’s career — Peter Tork barely appears on the album — and it’s an album that’s ostensibly a bunch of solo records mashed together, but the song itself was about the Monkees as a music unit, the group identity that was greater than the sum of its parts, according to Nesmith.

I’ll take his word for it, because the lyrics of the song — often referred to as a “lyric poem, set to music,” which feels like a particularly pretentious way of saying “ you know, like other songs” — are obtuse, to say the least: “Reasoned verse, some prose or rhyme/Loses themselves in other times/And waiting hopes cast silent spells/That speak in clouded clues/It cannot be a part of me/For now it’s part of you” runs the first verse. Exactly…?

It is, of course, the sound of the song that makes sense. I find “Tapioca Tundra” a very pleasant, relaxing listen. There’s something about the rushing, insistent sound, the mix of country and psych and folk that reminds me so much of the band Love, that makes me happy and calms me down, for want of a better way to put it, even before we get to the outrageously shameful, thrilling lift of the riff from the Byrds’ “I’ll Feel A Whole Lot Better.” For something that may just be a thrown-together piece of nonsense to fill an album, it’s got this charm about it that I can’t deny.

A Million Dead-End Streets And

As we head into the all-too-hot height of summer, here are some graphics from the THR newsletter that include a whole bunch of alternate headlines because, man — everyone working from home means minds are changed a bunch, it seems.


The above graphic I hated so much, I spent half an hour the next morning drawing monsters so I could do something better. This is why I don’t try and come up with a graphic at the tail-end of a day when I’m mentally exhausted. Will I remember this lesson in the future? Of course not.

After handing this in, we discovered that the story it was accompanying wasn’t focusing on the Eurovision movie as much as we thought it was, so another Dan Stevens image was required…

…And then it was decided to change the headline, too.


Gonna Fuss and Fight

Before the big THR story was published last week, I was pretty nervous.

There were multiple reasons for that, I told myself; the subject was big — perhaps too big for the word count we’d been given, but print is print and you only have the space allotted you. (When I was starting out as a writer, I’d look at magazine pieces that stretched through multiple pages with awe and fear, thinking I could never write anything that long; I now know quite how short a two page magazine story actually is.)

More than that, the subject was important. The story we were writing was about something that had changed people’s lives, had ruined lives. (It had certainly ruined careers, or utterly derailed others’.) Each of the three of us who’d written the story had talked to a number of people impacted by what had happened, and we felt a responsibility to get everything right for them, if nothing else.

There was also the fact that, by the time it ran, we’d been working on this for some time — more than a month, in some form or other. We’d started seriously talking about it towards the end of June, and even that came after watching events unfold for a couple weeks by that point. The story had been something that we’d been living with for awhile, first as an abstract concept, then as information gathering, then finally more than a week actually putting together and pulling apart, going through the editorial process. The idea of putting it out, of it actually not being something in the works anymore, felt oddly daunting.

And finally, I was nervous about reception to the piece. Would it go over well? Would people be receptive? Reporting it had only uncovered more stories to tell, and I’d already pitched follow-ups. If we were judged to have done this one well, it would be easier to convince editors to go for what’s next.

I’d convinced myself that I was the only one nervous, but as the piece actually went out, I discovered that wasn’t the case; someone else who worked on it shared their own relief as reaction started to appear, and it was positive. It was an oddly restorative moment, for reasons I’m unsure about, but something that made me feel less ridiculous and less alone.

Of The Month

When I was a kid, I didn’t like August. August was when I went back to school.

The Summer Holidays, as they were called back then — or maybe I’m misremembering, maybe it was just me that called them something so blunt and clear and everyone else called it “summer break” or something more exciting — ran from the end of June through the middle of August. That made July an exciting month, a month to look forward to and feel filled with potential and possibility, even if all it actually translated into was lying around the house more, reading comics inside in the shards of sunlight coming in through dirty windows.

(I’m subtweeting myself there, to be honest, that was how I spent my summer holidays. Going outside? Why would I do that unless someone told me to?)

The promise of July made June a good month, too, thanks to the kid logic that runs no matter what happens this month, the holidays are still right there, I can see them…! Exams? Homework? Sure, I can handle that, because it’s only for a few weeks before good things happen.

August, though…! As soon as August rolled around, my mood changed; the end was nigh. It didn’t matter that I’d still have a couple of weeks of the break left when the month started — a full third of the Summer Holidays! — because school loomed visibly on the horizon, casting a shadow over everything. Whatever good things happened, they felt like consolation prizes or just postponing the inevitable heartbreak of returning to school. August was, then, an entirely untrustworthy month. August was trouble.

Decades later, I still have this suspicion when it comes to August, despite not having anything resembling Summer Holidays anymore. It wasn’t something that went away when I started art school, where the school year didn’t begin until September, and it didn’t fade when I left education and started working in the real world, which doesn’t offer six weeks off every summer for any purpose. Despite everything, I maintain this distrust for August, knowing full well that the poor month doesn’t deserve such disdain.

Maybe this year, this August, I’ll finally learn my lesson.