The Devils on my shoulders

I hesitate to call them “friends” in the sense that, more often than not, my relationship with them is complicated. They’re like these invisible vampires who stay mostly hidden throughout the day then attack from the darkness, draining me of happiness, peace, or even contentment.

Cringe and cliché are their names and I can’t fuckin stand them. They’re what keep me from wearing my heart on my sleeve, from openly declaring, from speaking my intent. Any feeling that is raw, honest, and pure they snatch up, locking it into a box covered in chains of irony and self-deprecating humor. Any attempt to be open and true is shot down immediately, lest I do something that will embarrass me, humiliate me, or make me feel like crawling into a cave. As antagonistic and fraught my relationship with them is though, I’ve grown accustomed to them. The discomfort they cause is like a heated blanket in the winter – sure, it’ll likely get too hot, maybe even burn the house down, but better that than the bitter cold.

Years ago, when I was a boy, my mom set about buying my grandmother (her mother) a new mattress. The one she slept on was oddly misshapen. Lumpy. So concave on one side that the spring would poke me or my uncle as we sat on it to watch tv. I don’t remember if my mom actually brought the mattress to grandma’s apartment, but I remember the two of them arguing soon after my mom told her that she’d bought one. Grandma turned down the mattress despite obviously needing one, for reasons neither me nor my mom understood and to this day I can’t remember her rationale. What I know for sure is that my mom was very (understandably) upset over the refusal to budge on mattress. I was perplexed at the time; why wouldn’t grandma just toss out the shitty mattress for the new one?

Photo by Wendelin Jacober from Pexels

Now that I’m older, though, I think I have a better understanding of my grandma’s logic. The discomfort and intermittent pain are familiar. Grandma grew up in a tough environment and was a tough woman – I still remember her hand-washing laundry using a washboard and tub. By no means do I know the level of labor and toil that she went through, but because of my two “friends”, I understand the inability to let go of that discomfort.

The thing is, I’ve reached a point in my life where these two, cringe and cliché, have overstayed their welcome, and I’m ready to ask them to move the fuck on.

Throughout my life I’ve been afraid or embarrassed to refer to myself as a writer. That title always seemed lofty, appropriate only for literary giants or people who labor in fiction and non-fiction. The kind of authors that I loved to read: Kurt Vonnegut, Gabriel Garcia-Marquez, Haruki Murakami, Barry Hannah and Paul Ruffin. More recently I’ve been diving into sci-fi, fantasy and horror: NK Jemisin (thanks to my wife), and especially Neil Gaiman and David Wong. All that to say, they are the writers. I think I mostly went into composition as a way to be adjacent to but a step away from writing writing.

If I swung that way, this would definitely be my type

But I’m almost 40 and I’ve lived too long being afraid of doing writing. I don’t have an MFA. I’ve never been a part of a writer’s workshop. I have plenty of friends and colleagues who have those credentials and have done that kind of workshopping. The closest I’ve come is that I worked as a shitty reporter at a weekly newspaper in South Texas. But in light of the past few years and the many transitions and shifts in my life, I can only open up to the possibility of doing writing. In my writing, particularly in the past year, I’ve opened up a lot more. I’ve written about being aloof, adrift, heartbroken, inspired, and downright furious because I was and am all of those things. I can’t keep moving through this existence waiting for permission to be honest with myself and, most importantly, honest in my writing. Because if I can’t be honest in my writing, then what is the point?

But far more powerful than cringe and cliché, there has been a question. It’s a question that got me into graduate school, out of Texas, through Indiana and Wisconsin and finally here in Seattle. From the tenure track to the teaching track, this question has been my one north star.

Why not?

Let cringe and cliché park their fuckin Chevy pickup trucks on my front lawn. Let them throw a rager of a party and invite all of their shitty friends. It really doesn’t matter anymore. I’ve got plenty of ideas, thoughts, and enough hot takes to fill out novels that would make Tolstoy weep. Because I’m tired of letting them dictate what I do or don’t do. I actually enjoy writing now and I’m excited about the prospect of jumping into writing.

So why not? And, most importantly, why not me?

When I think of death

I live my daily life blissfully unaware of a great many things. It comes from a brain that gets easily bored with daily life. I’m slow to respond to emails, text messages, DM’s, etc. because deep down I’m still a little catholic boy who craves that fear of looming bad news. I’m often silent while driving with company because my mind is busy imagining alternate realities where I grew up in a rural farm town, or maybe where I decided to really see where being a musician would take me, or even where I’d stayed a reporter and not gone off to graduate school.

What I rarely, if ever think about is my own mortality, which is odd considering I’m close to 40 and have seen numerous friends and family pass on. I rarely, if ever think about the physical aspect – the sensation of your last breath when you’re absolutely sure it’s your time. I rarely, if ever think about what emotions you feel as

your heart beats

slower and

slower

and

slower

until it stops.

But sometimes I do and

when I think of death, I think about it metaphorically. I try to conjure up a different image of him – not the macabre, hooded, scythe wielding skeletal-demon that we see on Halloween. I picture a man who looks like my grandfather; a strapping, thin frame that betrays a strength that comes with a lifetime of manual labor. A handsome man with salt-and-pepper hair underneath his white cowboy hat, pressed gray slacks and a guyabera. He has the same caramel-bronze skin as my grandfather, the same moustache, only

softer eyes somehow.

When I think of death

I picture myself that same little boy, nervously waiting as my cousins before me line up to greet my grandpa, only this time it’s not him and the line is full of faceless strangers waiting their turn to talk to him. As the line grows shorter I grow more anxious because

when I think of death

I don’t think about an afterlife. I don’t think about heaven, hell or judgement. I don’t think about the slow decomposition of my buried body or how it could break down into ash during cremation. No, I’m fidgeting in line because

when I think of death

I wonder how I’ll respond. I step forward and imagine another reality where death knocks on my front door. How will you answer? Do you ask who it is? Do you hide and stay quiet? Try to peek through the blinds? Do you yell through the door, refusing to let him in? Or maybe you partially open it, blocking it just enough as you figure out your next step. Or maybe, just maybe, you welcome him in, leading him into your living room to chat before you both head out the door one last time.

I step forward to the front of the line now and look up at him while thinking about all of those things, because

when I think of death

I think about how I’ll respond and, most importantly, what that says about the real, not alternate, me.

Post script: this is not a “cry for help” or reflective of any deep seeded depression or whatever. Sometimes people can be happy and contemplative. Both things can be true.

Who knows where this shit will lead

It’s difficult to describe what my relationship to writing is like. For most of my life, it’s been something I just did. I’ve always done well in my English/writing classes for as far as I can remember. In high school I won awards for journalism writing I did competing for UIL, which I only signed up for because it was something to do. I never intended on becoming a writer, but as with most things, I failed upwards and ended up in a vocation where I not only have to write but even teach others to do it better.

But my writing was always work for me; or rather, it was always a thing I kinda wanted to avoid, but knew I needed. IN that way, it’s much like my relationships with other people: I often neglect reaching out to friends and family, not because I don’t care, but because emotions and people are complicated. The thought that, because of who I am and what I do, I’ll be looked to for advice or be asked a difficult question fills me with existential dread. So I avoid (not consciously, it has to be said), lest I feel drained afterward.

And it’s that draining that worries me. On my best days, the writing and the reaching out is…rhythmic. That’s a good way to describe it. I’ve been part of a support/mindfulness group for BIPOC faculty and one of the coordinators observed that my favorite physical activities, specifically biking and weight lifting, involve rhythm in their own unique ways. With cycling, I get into a groove where I’m acutely aware of my breathing and cadence and feel like and can just keep going and going. With lifting it’s just pick up heavy thing, then drop heavy thing. No analysis, no reflection, no interrogation – I just do thing until I want to stop doing thing.

Sometimes the weight feels too heavy. Sometimes the ride is all uphill. Writing, more often than not, feels that same way for me. In the past couple of years, I’ve been seeing a therapist who diagnosed me with mild depression and anxiety, during which time my writing (academic and blogging) has hit some good rhythms and then…stopped. Upon reflection, I’ve found that I can track where my mental health is by my writing – the more thoughtful, reflective work happens when I’m struggling. But that’s a draining life to live. The thought of having to sit down and wade through the jungle that is my clown-brain and come away with sentences that make logical sense just sounds…tiring. Then I avoid that too. Hell, I started this fucking blog as a way to avoid the academic writing I had to do in grad school.

Photo by B S K from FreeImages

But I’m a stupid, petty, asshole human who needs things: comfort, love, connection, support. All of those things by their nature require connection in some way, shape or form. Irony of ironies, the thing that best allows me to express my dysfunction, humor, emotions and thoughts is stupid-ass writing. I feel like some sort of extraterrestrial, isolated on a planet whose sentient beings communicate in some obtuse manner that forces me to go through several layers of cognition to translate, after which I’m thoroughly spent. So spent that the alternative, complete and utter isolation from others, starts to sound appealing. While solitude is nice, complete solitude makes you a monster.

Since I’m barely human as it is and don’t know exactly why I’m writing this, other than to write, I’ll just say

Consider this my reaching out.

The call is coming from inside of the house

Black and Brown anger is real. It’s relentless. It’s exhausting. All of those times we say, “this is happening” only to be met with indifference at best, hostility at worst. Over and over, we kept talking about how president McNuggets was inciting violence. About how he was attempting to overthrow a valid election just because he didn’t agree with it.

One of these things is not like the other

And today was the logical culmination of all of his horseshit. His scapegoating. But worst of all is the political handwringing of members of his party who for FOUR MOTHERFUCKING YEARS enabled his fearmongering racism. Every person of color told you that this asshole was going to cost lives and now you’re seeing what that looks like on the world’s stage.

I was lying: the actual worst part of all of this is that people are shocked that this sort of thing could happen. In America, of all places.

Ap photo/ John Minchillo

This is who America was, is and always will be. At its core, this nation is packed with selfish, racist, hyperindividualists who will fight tooth and nail against progress. Who will tell you that a social safety net is evil and is tantamount to communism. They will say all of this while defunding education at all levels, incarcerating the largest amount of its population than anywhere else in the world, as well as incinerating what little middle class there was. Racism is embedded in America at ALL levels. And we saw that today.

I already told you about this. I know a lot of you will still refuse to listen until the boot is on your face. But I know that, if you’re white, the likelihood of that actually happening is fucking infinitesimally small. So now I’m just pissed. At people like that piece of shit Ted Cruz who is “disputing” the election results. At The incompetent Greg Abbott (I’m a Texan so my hatred for Texas politicians runs deep) for keeping the capitalist party going and letting COVID have a fucking field day (amongst many other things). And professional Jabba the Hutt cosplayer Mitch McConnel, for his odious, smarmy, sniveling maneuvers that are keeping this country surpressed.

I have no sympathy for any of these fucking assholes. They deserve no fucking quarter. The time for “reaching across the aisle” has long since passed. We passed that shit 173 exits ago. They should be spit on every fucking where they go. I believe anger can be constructive and my rage is fucking boiling right now. They deserve the absolute worst this country gives them, if for no other reason, so that they finally feel the pain that Black, Brown, LGBTQ+ and disabled people have felt since this fucking country was founded. Bring their asses up on charges. Treat them the way this country has treated Othered bodies. They deserve nothing less.

One of the hardest things to do in life is to sit up and face an ugly truth. We don’t like to look at reflections that make us uncomfortable. I had to face a hideous truth within my own family: that Latinxs are often complicit in the disenfranchisement of Black people. It fucking hurt, for reasons I’ve spoken about before. But this is an ugly truth: America was and is racist. This is who we’ve always been.

P.S. Fuck Ronald Reagan.

American Individualism is Killing Us

I would like to salute

the ashes of American flags

and all the fallen leaves

filling up shopping bags

Wilco “Ashes of American Flags”

Ask any student I’ve ever taught and you’ll hear references to “the social contract”. I don’t know at what age I became aware of this moral compass that says, “hey, look out for others”, but it’s been a part of my psyche for a LONG time. I’ve always understood it as an implicitly agreed upon set of rules that allow a society to function. You help elders, offer help when you can, say “please” and “thank you” and, when given the choice, work toward the greater good. I used to believe that this was a cultural thing, and American thing. I don’t think that anymore.

I saw this last night and was broken (with all credit to Twitter user hilaryagro). How do we allow this to happen? At what point did we as human beings think this was acceptable? These are fucking children: one letter from this thread came from a little girl asking for a powered wheelchair. Another asked for a bed for her parents because they kept waking up with back pain. Again, I ask: how do we allow this to happen?

When I was a little boy, remember heading to some random building with my grandmother and waiting in a line for her to get some cheese (which later my dad referred to as “government cheese”). I also remember being sent to the local store to pick up a can of hominy and, instead of regular dollars, being given these bills that had a vague brownish tint to them that kinda resembled money but not. Later on, I would learn that they were in fact, food stamps. And absolutely nothing was wrong with that. At all. These were services that everyone in my family had received benefits from. It was normalized and it felt like the government was actually helping out the people who needed it.

Now? We’re so worried at the small chance that someone might receive a benefit that perhaps they shouldn’t that we throw obstructions between ALL people and social services. We are such a broken and disgusting society that the very thought of someone getting a little extra is worthy of gutting fucking ALL OF THE social programs.

Somebody gave me “Arguments for Socialism” by Tony Benn, and I discovered that what I just thought was decency was a political position. You look after people who are less fortunate, and anyone who does otherwise is just fucking ghastly

Johnny Marr

I am absolutely tired of this shit. We’ve privatized our water supplies, our broadband, our roads, our cell phone service and even some of our utilities and it’s demonstrably worse. Who the fuck thinks any of this shit is ok? What is fucking wrong with instituting government programs that will help the disenfranchised and less fortunate AND HAVE BEEN SHOWN TO HELP TIME AFTER TIME? The worst are people who, when talking about the idea of FREE FUCKING COLLEGE, answer with, “well it’s not fair to the people who paid off their student loans…” THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA HAD FREE COLLEGE FOR STUDENTS UP UNTIL THE MID 90S WHEN VOTERS DECIDED THEIR PROPERTY VALUES WERE MORE IMPORTANT THAN THE FREE EDUCATION THEY BENEFITED FROM YOU FUCKING ANIMALS! [Ronald “I shit myself” Reagan fought hard to force tuition for students while also gutting education funding, FYI.]

We never have funding for public education, arts and music programs, medicare for all, or any other social services. We literally have people rationing insulin because they can’t afford it. But the minute the military or wall street are running low on cash, we suddenly have a print machine that can pump out the dollars with quickness. What’s the fucking end game here? Once everything is gutted, then what?

I hate the fact that, whenever someone asks Americans to do or act in the service of others, no matter how minuscule the task, our “personal freedoms” take precedent. Just because you wrap minor inconvenience around the flag of freedom doesn’t suddenly make you “free”. It makes you a selfish piece of shit and I’m tired of these assholes acting like giving a shit about other people is tantamount to communism. WE ALREADY HAVE BREAD AND FOOD LINES AND WE ARE THE BASTION OF UNREGULATED CAPITALISM, YOU INEPT, BRAINDEAD FUCKS!

I’m angry. Angry that my country’s motto is “look out for #1 and fuck everyone else”. I am disgusted at the idea that instituting government programs that could benefit a large portion of our disenfranchised is “socialist” and, therefore, evil. But mostly, I’m heartbroken that we have kids in our country who not only are food and home insecure, but are literally writing letters to Santa on behalf of their parents. Because WE failed them. Me. You. All of us. And these kids have to be robbed of a childhood because the only thing “social” about Americans is our ability to shit on everyone else and ourselves.

Reflecting on a broken election and presidency

I am not happy right now. I’m tired. You grow up thinking that the process of vetting candidates and voting, though riddled with smarmy, lecherous assholes, still pushes forth people with at least a facsimile of humanity or dignity in them. You think, “I’m not sure what kind of person willingly signs up for that kind of bullshit” and vote for them anyway because, well, who else is gonna do it?

I was living in Platteville, Wisconsin during the 2016 election. I remember being on the phone with my wife as we watched the results, the slow dread creeping through us across several state lines as we realized what was happening in real time. “What are we gonna do,” my wife kept asking and the only answer rolling through my brain was, “I’ve got fucking NOTHING for us right now.” As I cracked open my fifth beer of the night, I thought back to when I was on my campus visit driving into town and seeing a large cherry picker with a huge fucking Trump-Pence flag flying from it. Grant County, where I was living, went over 50 percent Trump during that election. It felt like a nightmare. [Side note: the next afternoon, I ran into one of my department colleagues who said, “wow, I’m surprised you even showed up today.”]

President McNuggets at his finest

Four years. Four years of this repulsive, lecherous asshole packing his cabinet with the most unctuous, disgusting, slithering, contemptuous blowhards and spineless cowards. For four years this fucking asshole refused to do the bare fucking minimum and say, “hey, maybe racists shouldn’t be racist”; opting instead to say that both literal fucking nazis and protestors wanting not to get murdered by police were basically two sides of the same coin. I…we (my wife and I) could not stomach the idea of four more years of president dipshit sauce, so she mailed her ballot in while I registered and voted day of (because that’s the bare minimum of what our voting process should be like in a supposedly “free” country). And still, we had to wait four more days in order for the election to be called.

I got a text from my dad letting me know that the AP and Fox News called it. I told my wife, who immediately turned on the tv, as if she (and me, to be honest) couldn’t believe it without seeing it firsthand. Sipping on our coffee as we did some light cleaning, my wife sighed and said, “I’m not happy right now.”

And she’s right. This isn’t happiness; this is fatigue from four years of living with racists showing their asses at every opportunity. Four years of seeing a red MAGA hat and walking the other way. Four years of chucklefucks completely bumbling through executive decisions, not to mention completely fucking up a pandemic that has claimed almost 300,000 American lives. My wife was a Warren supporter, while I was and always will be a staunch Bernie-crat. We both want progressive politics and, despite not getting either candidate (and me losing my shit at all of the DNCC fuckery that happened), the alternative to Biden-Harris was too fucking much to bear. I can’t protest vote when there are people literally plotting to kill a US governor. I can’t protest vote when people who look like my family are getting shipped off to Mexico, even if they served in our military, because fuck them. I can’t protest vote when Black people are getting gunned down by police officers for selling cigarettes, sitting in their grandmother’s back yard, or even sleeping in their own god damned apartment.

This is, and always will be, the bare minimum. I want prosperity for people, but I also want more investment in public education, student loan forgiveness, restoring voting rights for felons, medicare for all, a green new deal. All of this shit is possible if we actually hold these motherfuckers accountable for the things we voted for them to do. Get the fuck involved, people. As much as possible. Keep an eye out for progressive candidates. Make donations. Phone bank and send letters: a good time to start is now, seeing as how there’s going to be a fucking SUPER IMPORTANT RUNOFF in Georgia. As Killer Mike said in a speech for Bernie-the time is now.

P.S. Fuck Aaron Sorkin

My self importance is saving me

Everything feels fucked right now, in very thorough ways. This election and all of the personal and professional strife surrounding it makes it feel like I’m living in the end of days, some weird postapocalyptic scenario where the wrath of God is just around the corner.

After my last blog, I took a step back in order to reorient myself and try to make sense of it all. I was recently a respondent on a virtual panel on race and social justice for a conference that was originally supposed to take place in my home state. I’ve been to many academic conferences-it comes with the territory when you do what I do. As with any other conference they are meant to be a site for networking and learning new developments in my field, but I generally use it as a chance to drink heavily and hang out with friends I haven’t seen in ages. The last few conferences I’ve been to have drained me for a variety of reasons and conference life in general is sitting in panels and hoping they’re engaging. I go, meet up with peeps, learn some shit, then head home tired. And that’s usually it. But for whatever reason, I felt…inspired after this conference. Maybe it was that I wasn’t the only brown person speaking. Maybe it was the fact that people liked what I had to say. Or perhaps it was the fact that I was receiving validation from my peers. Hell, it could’ve been the fact that I gained a bunch of followers on Twitter (like maybe 10, but that’s a lot to me). Either way, that was the point where I started to feel inspired. Around that same time, my wife was talking about how I should go back to the more theory-driven work I’d been talking about for years.

I’m the kind of person who has lived a life of quiet desperation in that I don’t like to project my wants or desires out into the universe. I don’t do the whole “secret” thing because I’ve always felt that I would be setting myself up for failure; there’s a certain power to announcing and saying aloud what you intend to do. If you think back to those ancient Athenian auditoriums where philosophers, sophists and rhetoricians would speak to students and government officials, they were always designed in ways to center the speaker and project the voice. They (the Athenian Greeks) believed in kairos: simply put, it’s the idea that the right time and circumstance (place, setting, company) are just as important as the words or choices you make. Traditional rhetoricians lazily mutated that concept to mean that a good speaker/orator takes advantage of the moment to be a good speaker, but newer theorists argue that kairos actually compels you. It’s the other way around: the circumstance reveals itself and gently nudges you towards an action or a statement. This is not to say that you don’t have agency; rather, it’s the good rhetor that will attune themselves to kairos and actually listen rather than ignore it.

Right now kairos is compelling me to keep going with my writing. I’m at that moment where my brain is moving from a stop to a slow churn. I’ve been feeling a restlessness that I’ve not felt in…who knows when. It’s a good kind of unease where, when I get into a rhythm of writing I rock back and forth in my chair every time I pause to think about what I’ve written. When I’m not writing, I’m anxious to get back to work writing and just offloading ideas onto OneNote or GoogleDocs or this god damn WordPress site. And I want to give reverence to this kairotic moment and treat it with the respect it deserves; I’ve been journaling more and even ordered a mechanical keyboard in the hopes that the tactile sensation will further encourage me to write. I figure that it’s a tool of my trade so why not invest in it?

Baby’s first mechanical keyboard. Already have my eye on another…

All of that to say, I’m ready to admit that I’ve started working on a book proposal. I’m returning to some of the work I’ve already done and connecting it to things I’ve been reading recently. I don’t want to say too much about it quite yet, only that it’s prescient and involves the movement of people and capital. I’ll be ready to say more once the proposal is finished, but right now I have to finish a couple of other things first – namely, an article I’m 90 percent done with and awaiting feedback on and another article I’m co-authoring with a friend and colleague of mine that is likely 75 percent finished.

I want to be better at what I do. I’ve never had a problem believing in my own capabilities, but have lived a life of either a) coasting through, or b) actively fucking myself so that I don’t need to actually try. But as the end of times rapidly approaches I want to be blatant and intentional and, frankly, cavalier about this. I want to see my name on a cover of a book. I want to know that I went through editors and publishers and manuscript edits and at an actual artifact that I can hold in my hand and say, “that was me. I did that.” In all other aspects of my life I am a certified self deprecating motherfucker, so please allow me this one space where I can actually lean into my own self belief. I know

This book will get done.

The election that broke my brain, my family, and my heart

“I’m tired of explaining to these people, something that’s SO god damn obvious.”

-Dave Chappelle “8:46”

This is neither a brag nor a humblebrag, but I think I’m pretty smart. You don’t survive 7 years of graduate school without being at least a little bit smart [citation needed]. By that same token, I do NOT think that I am the smartest person out there. I think that there are much smarter and harder working people out there and, in general, I tend to trust the smart hard working people when they say things. People like, oh I don’t know, the Southern Poverty Law Center. Or the Pew Research Foundation. Not some asshole who recorded a video on his iPhone and uploaded it to youtube. Hell, I’ll even seriously analyze conservative news outlets in order to try triangulate the different types of news out there.

Because that’s what I learned in school: read and watch (but mostly fucking READ) as many of the things, see who the authors are, what their agenda is/could be, suss out conflicts of interest, and THEN make a decision. Watching a youtube or tiktok video is NOT “research”. Reading fucking peer reviewed articles, news stories, and literature reviews? Research.

So when The Guardian, a newspaper founded in 1821, says police violence against Blacks is entrenched in US culture and it’s accelerated and become more institutionalized, I fucking believe them. Because they’ve been around for a fucking long time. When Forbes, a magazine that is staunchly pro-capitalism, calls out Trump’s bold-faced lie? I’m gonna lean more towards the “yeah, maybe he is a narcissistic, dumb piece of shit” side of the fence.

I’m rewatching Dave Chappelle’s “8:46” right now. It’s uncomfortable, even on a second watch. But it’s important because, in talking about the George Floyd video, he describes his reluctance to watch such a violent act. “For a week, I didn’t watch it-I KNEW…I don’t wanna see this, because I can’t unsee it.” When you see ugly, vicious, unforgiving violence, it changes you at a molecular level. Poverty. Trauma. They change your very being. So, when you look at your family, the people who have helped raise you, and you see that their politics support those of the people who view you as subhuman?

Well…likewise…you can’t unsee that. And as Dave says, “nobody’s going home [after seeing this].”

I just learned that members of my family voted for Trump (or were going to). The fact that my family are Mexican-American, that just a generation ago, WE would’ve been the “people that have problems” bears no weight on them. Because, it doesn’t affect them personally. Again, just a generation ago, we were those people that Mexico “sent over” that 45 refers to as “rapists and murderers”. Those family members accept that, because “at least he’s not a politician”.

My family was never one of those that ever overtly talked politics. I was MUCH older when I realized my dad’s political leanings: he’s an accountant who is pro-business, so naturally a Reaganite. Even HE, a lifelong Republican, went on a rant about how unhinged and truly fucked up 45 is. And yet, those other family members, who say “no politician is perfect” but couldn’t cite an actual bill they support of our current commander in chief, support him. They support a man that is so unctuous, a group of almost 500 military chiefs of staff, admirals, and generals all support Biden, including one who served under our current president. Those family members accept that because they, “don’t like Biden”.

Somehow, their act of voting for a man who says he grabs women “by the pussy” isn’t somehow a reflection of their values and should not be judged. Somehow, they support a man who called a Vietnam vet a “loser” while he himself dodged the draft and I’m supposed to be ok with that after my best friend’s Vietnam vet dad died of a pandemic that was totally preventable had we had an administration who actually believed THE MEDICAL PROFESSIONALS AND EPIDEMIOLOGISTS WHO KNOW WHAT THE FUCK THEY’RE DOING. The president who blocks Dr. Fauci, a man who has advised every president since Ronald Regan and was awarded the presidential medal of freedom, from attending press conferences. Those family members are ok with a president who rejects scientific and medical consensus.

No. Those family members don’t get to vote for a man who says that there are “good people on both sides” when one side wants to not be killed by police, while the other thinks minorities are inferior and think that we can just ignore that and still say, “I love you.” Your vote says otherwise. Your vote says you don’t give a fuck. Your vote has material consequences. Your vote is a symbolic gesture. What you’re saying when you cast your vote for 45 is, “I’ll accept the racism, narcissism, mocking of the disabled, sexual harassment, because hey; at least he’s not a ‘politician’.”

Yes, you can critique politicians. I myself have been critical of Obama’s “I’m gonna drone the shit out of the middle east” policy. I am VERY critical of both Bill and Hillary’s interventionist positions regarding Latin America. THAT’S critiquing policy. None of them, however, told known white supremacist groups to “stand by and stand down“. None of them mocked John McCain (who I personally dislike, but whose military service is unassailable). None of them acted as openly heinous and disgusting as this man. I’ve spent the last several days thinking and writing about this, working to provide link after link, because that’s what you do when you write – provide EVIDENCE of the shit that you’re saying. Will they read this? Maybe. Will they change their minds? Probably not. Reflection is tough and cognitive dissonance is a motherfucker.

A while back, I ran across the concept of “native futurisms” and the idea that in indigenous communities, you no longer see narratives of apocalypse in their fiction because for them, the apocalypse already came with colonization. That’s what this feels like right now: I’m staring at the upcoming collapse of society and trying to warn people, but they’re acting like the large meteor in the sky heading towards us is just business as usual. I don’t know what the fallout of all of this is going to be because my mind is exhausted from all of the spinning that’s been happening these days; thinking about what this means for me and my wife.

What this means is that these choices have a ripple effect, and myself and my Black wife are affected, because we know what your choices symbolize. You may not mean it, but that’s the consequence. I’m angry. Hurt. Numb. Full of self loathing. All I can do to work through all of these feelings is the thing I know to do best: write. Because I feel powerless to do anything else. Most people who know me know that I’m not a melodramatic person given to fits of public posturing, so when I say this I feel it with every fiber of my being: I’m broken right now.

But hey: at least he’s not just another politician.

[Please note: I am not calling out or naming those family members because, despite how hurt I am, I refuse to do that.]

Racism is an American Virus

They’ll write about decolonizing as they gentrify every black and brown neighborhood.

They’ll say “black lives matter” but never when it actually matters.

They’ll talk virality and viruses but never point their microscopes at the virus of racism.

They’ll praise solidarity while looking away when the boot is on our face

or when the arm is around our neck

or when the man is following us as we try to leave,

gun at his hip.

I don’t want your grief

when you do nothing to stop the cause of it.

Representation and rap/rock

My most powerful memories revolve around music and my earliest memories revolve around two songs: Stevie Wonder’s “I just called to say I love you” and Tears for Fears’ “Everybody wants to rule the world”. When I hear the former, I think of being cramped in the back of my dad’s red Ford Escort driving…somewhere. The latter reminds me of the wood paneling of the Woodriver Apartment complex that we lived in in Corpus Christi, Texas. What got me to finally sleep by myself was a boombox that my parents got me where I could pop in Michael Jackson’s “Dangerous”, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie soundtrack, or the top-40 station…well, that and the incessant crying of my infant sister. But I digress…

I inherited my love of R&B from my mother; growing up in Saginaw, Michigan in the 70’s, she was fond of Gloria Gaynor, Chic, Sister Sledge and everything disco (in addition to the compulsory tejano groups becoming any Mexican-American at that time). My mom told me that for the most part, she didn’t like school except for choir, and I would inherit that love of singing throughout my life. As such, when I heard the song “Mowtownphilly” by a group called Boyz II Men, I went deep into a rabbit hole of what would later be called “New jack swing” (a subgenre of R&B popular in the early to mid 90’s). This was years before the internet, so I didn’t know much about these groups other than what was in the liner notes, so I obsessed over the songwriter credits and names like “Tony Rich”, “Babyface” and my personal musical heroes, “Jimmy-Jam and Terry Lewis”. I saw those names on other artists’ catalogs and learned that singers and songwriters weren’t mutually exclusive; that producers often wrote songs and could win awards of their own. In the 6th grade, me and a group of friends covered “I Swear”, which had hit the charts when All 4 One covered it earlier that year, for a choir performance.

7th grade: new school and new discoveries. My older cousin brought me a double-cd that I just had to listen to. It was 2pac’s “All Eyes On Me”. Down another rabbit hole, only this time it was West Coast G-funk inspired rap. I never caught onto the Bad Boy roster, which I think was mostly due to the disco samples. I repped the West Side and devoured artists like Cypress Hill, Kid Frost, Richie Rich in addition to stalwarts like Snoop, Dr. Dre and the Death Row roster. Mostly though, it was 2pac and “Me against the world” is one of those albums that I still find myself digging into as I inch closer to middle age.

I don’t know how an album can feel both comforting and claustrophobic, but “Me Against the World” is that album

After football practice one day, I was in the locker room changing while listening to some tunes when one of the coaches grabbed my headphones, asking what I was listening to. It was Pac’s “Hit ’em up”.

“Does your mom know you’re listening to this,” he asked.

“Yeah, she bought it for me,” I answered.

He didn’t believe me, so he confiscated my discman and told me to have my mom write him a letter saying I had permission to listen to “that” music. I went home and told my mom and she was LIVID. See, I never hid what I listened to from my mom and she never censored my music choices. She wasn’t always happy if there were curse words but she never really cared because she knew I was obsessed. Plus, I got her to actually fall in love with 2pac after I showed her “Dear Mama”. Now I don’t remember exactly what she wrote in that first letter, but I do remember that she proceeded to write a 3 page letter about how I was an honors student who never caused trouble and how dare this football coach judge my listening habits because that meant he was judging her parenting and he had no right to censor what I listened to. I asked her to reign it in, as I didn’t want her telling him off to result in me doing black halos after practice, so she wrote a shorter letter. I took it to him, he read it, and gave me back the discman without a word. I took music seriously and was staunch about listening to whatever the fuck I wanted to.

But by and large, outside of tejano bands, I never really saw any music groups who looked like me and my friends. Late high school I’d started listening to rock music, mostly metal. Yeah, hip hop had some Mexican representation (like Cypress Hill and Kid Frost), but metal was pretty god damned white. Then in high school, a friend introduced me to Deftones’ “Around the Fur”. The opening track slapped HARD and that riff (which would be the first riff I would learn to play by ear) just hypnotize me. Down another rabbit hole I went, but first I wanted to know what these fuckers looked like and…

Pictured: my friend group in high school (aka Deftones)

I felt like I knew these guys personally. Chino, the lead singer, looked just like my cousin Sergio while Stephen Carpenter looked like my classmate Eric. That these So-Cal skater punks could write some fuckin heavy-ass riffs while Chino screamed/whispered his way through their catalog was just the thing I needed in high school. You could sub any of my JNCO or dickies wearing friends in that band and no one would bat an eye. It was the first time I saw brown dudes in bands. Incubus, Sevendust, Fear Factory and fuckin even Coal Chamber had a pretty diverse band (and I even went so far as to rip off their guitarist Meegs Rascon’s move of painting my nails cause it looked cool while playing guitar).

Far left: Miguel “Meegs” Rascon, Mexicali born guitarist from Coal Chamber

I saw a good amount of these bands live because, get this, they actually would make the journey down to the Rio Grande Valley and play. No one EVER fuckin played the valley because most acts would go as far south as San Antonio then turn right the fuck back around (and even that was rare as they mostly stuck to Dallas and/or Houston). I saw Coal Chamber open for Slipknot and busted a dude’s nose with my elbow after he kept using my shoulders as his own personal spring board. I pulled a friend out of a dangerously collapsing mosh pit during a Sevendust concert. I saw the band Kittie and they were more terrifying than 90% of bands full of dudes (and I also had a mad crush on their guitarist Fallon Bowman, who cemented my love of brown women). But it was the Deftones and that weird genre of rap/rock/nu-metal or whatever the fuck that first opened my eyes to the fact that people who looked like me could be musicians and I was super happy that they played the Villarreal Convention Center in my town (fun fact: Incubus opened for them that tour so I got to see them right before “Morning View” blew them the fuck up). At a lyrical level, these bands were even broaching subjects like sexual abuse and mental illness, which I still firmly believe was one of the good things that came out of that movement.

But the late 90’s were fuckin weird. That genre that started more punk than anything started to morph into something more insidious, misogynistic and mostly just lame. Sure you had bands like Korn who were ok, but then you also had your Limp Bizkits who were just god awful and made that whole scene just look like one giant frat party. It always made me angry that Fred fuckin Durst’s band got so big when all he did was mercilessly rip off Chino Moreno’s fashion sense AND musical sensibility (seriously: Durst is the Diet Rite to Chino’s Coca Cola). Musical fads shifted and by the early 2000’s that nu-metal scene was largely a joke-and it was, because by its very nature it was an attempt to put a label on what was actually a dynamic and largely diverse musical landscape and almost all of my friends who were into those bands ended up starting their own bands at one point or another.

Because that’s the point of that thing called representation: it’s a moment where you recognize you and give yourself permission to do the thing that you’ve been dying to do. And when you’re a young, pissed off, sad bastard who lives in a place that feels like its the end of the fucking earth, it makes a world of difference when you go from consuming the thing to making a thing. In my case, it was the Deftones and you would be hard pressed to find a better album to listen to than their unassailable album “White Pony”.

Edit: just so we’re clear, I don’t consider the Deftones a part of the whole nu-metal scene and they’ve been very adamant about distancing themselves from those other bands. I only speak of them as a larger entity because they largely broke through around the same time. I would never sully the Deftones’ name by calling them nu-metal because they’re better than that.