#Weeknotes S02 E13

Doing things in a different order this week. Because I can, that’s why.

THOUGHT OF THE WEEK
For as much bullshit as comes out of my home state of Ohio these days, I still get occasionally wistful. I was sent an article from SCENE MAGAZINE (oh, I still remember how cool I thought I was in high school carting one of these around every week), “An Oral History of WMMS, Cleveland’s Legendary Radio Station”

Legendary DJ Kid Leo — as famous to me and most Clevelanders as Wolfman Jack ever was — brings to mind the city I grew up in. (If it helps you get into my head, listen to “My City Was Gone” by The Pretenders as you read this section.)

In those days, Cleveland was a joke to most in the national media and therefore to a lot of America. Our sports teams were inept, our mayors were fodder for late night talk show hosts’ monologues and hell, our river even caught on fire.

I only understood a fraction of the shit going on in Cleveland radio at the time, except for the big things like the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the ROLLING STONES ballot box stuffing thing, WENZ “The End.” But names like Malrite, Ruby Cheeks, Jeff and Flash; the competition like WCNX, John Lanigan, the Stern show when it came to town — these are motes and flashes of deep, deep memories of good times I remember. (Yeah, I know it’s a Chicago song, shut up.)

Why am I waxing so nostalgic this week? Because this time period was on my mind anyway after reading this article, and others like it, on how Generation X came up with the skills to cope in this time of coronavirus.

Which, as I tweeted, wasn’t necessarily the most ideal situation. I’m not whining, though. Sure, an outsider’s picture of growing up in the ’80s on the “Mistake on the Lake” is probably close to how you envision it. But much like quarantine, isolation, remote work, fear, and uncertainty in 2020, it is what it is.

WRITING PROGRESS
Longest Writing Chain This Week: 1 days for 2 days overall. What do you want, there’s a fucking global pandemic on.

FEEDING MY HEAD
I don’t need any more books, but I got them anyway. It’s been a long time since a writer’s stuff made me happy that they jumped their place in my reading queue like Osama Almoar’s.

ROTTING MY BRAIN
I still think “Replay” is the best episode of Jordan Peele’s TWILIGHT ZONE so far, but I’ll be damned if “A Traveler” doesn’t come a close second.

IN THE WILD
I feel you, Asher. We’re all a little stir crazy. That… that’s my arm, though.

4th Street, Listens, and Reads.

4TH STREET FANTASY. I know I promised a write-up, but there’s still too much stuff in my brain for me to dump here in a reasonably coherent manner. Seriously, I look at my notes and my brain goes into the exact same fog it was in at that point on Sunday where I had to stop taking notes. Suffice it to say it was just as good a time as last year’s, minus “That Thing” that happened last year. Bonus part was that the last conversation at the con was on whether I’d like to be on a panel next year (which, yeah).

LISTENING TO. Because no backlog is big enough to keep me from distracting myself with shiny things, namely 2 episodes of PRI’s STUDIO 360.

First, an interview with underground comics icon Aline Kominsky-Crumb. It doesn’t get too far in before her husband Robert Crumb gets mentioned, but so does Alison Bechdel, Marjane Satrapi, Phoebe Gloeckner, Spain Rodriguez, S. Clay Wilson, et al. I found Kominsky’s narrative about her attitude of general rebellion to oddly resonate with me. Note to self: pick up a copy of the expanded/reissued LOVE THAT BUNCH.

Second was a piece on the “FRONT International Cleveland Triennial for Contemporary Art”. Yes, I’m biased, and I know there’s so much Rust Belt ruin porn fascination combined with can-do-no-wrong boosterism. But there’s still something that tickles me about the idea of a “‘Second City’ emergence of really creative productivity” happening there.

I’m listing these here so I can find them later…

SHOULD’VE BEEN LISTENING TO. You people are supposed to tell me when rock deities release live albums. And you failed. 😉

CURRENTLY READING/RE-READING:

  • AIRSHIPS by Barry Hannah. Because it’s odd to imagine stories of fucked-up places less fucked up than today’s world.
  • BLOOD, BONES & BUTTER by Gabrielle Hamilton. I’ve been reading this for awhile now, but feel an urge to finish because after Bourdain, I feel like we need to appreciate chefs who can write.
  • ANALOG (JUL/AUG 2018). Because I know someone in it.
  • F&SF (JUL/AUG 2018). Also, because I know someone in it.
  • BENEATH CEASELESS SKIES #256. Again, because I know someone in it.

“You gotta try to keep your head above the water / You gotta try to keep a step ahead of time…”

I’m in Cleveland in the house where I grew up, and I dug up that picture of my sixth birthday. It brings to mind a couple of things. First, my mother who we lost before the holidays, which necessitated traveling a week before I’d planned. Second, it’s a pretty funny reminder to myself that the struggle is real. That’s right, Don, raise that fist!

It was a collision of blessings and curses. Things gained, things lost, people lost, opportunities gained, lost, and re-gained. My writing life all but halted this year. It was only because of the connections I have with my friends and allies in the SF/F/H writing community (You all know who you are!) that kept me going.

The first part of 2018 will be finishing up all the old business (mine and my mother’s) from 2017. And then I’ll ease back into my backlog of short stories in preparation for rejoining proper society (read: the SF/F/H community) at Boskone in February. As for the rest of it…? Well, I’m usually further along at this point in formulating a loose idea of what my resolutions will be for the new year than I am right now. What can I tell you, it’s been a busy few weeks. And anyway, I’ve become less and less of a “Resolutions” person over time, and more of a “Here’s a GTD Projects List for the Year” guy.

2017 had its way with us. And if you’re like me and most people I know, we need some get back (metaphorically speaking) in 2018. How? Well, Mom might not have said these exact lyrics to me, but if I boil down everything she’s said to me over the years, it all comes down to the same good advice…

Thanks, Mom.

Quickie Review: NOTHIN’ BUT BLUE SKIES

Nothin' But Blue Skies: The Heyday, Hard Times, and Hopes of America's Industrial HeartlandNothin’ But Blue Skies: The Heyday, Hard Times, and Hopes of America’s Industrial Heartland by Edward McClelland
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Lest anyone think I read this just to latch on to the hipsterish aspects of the “Rust Belt Chic” trend, know that I was born in Cleveland a mere four years after the Cuyahoga River burned, and I grew up through most of the events in the “Burn On, Big River” chapter of the book. Take McClelland’s writing on Dennis Kucinich’s various rises and falls, for instance. No matter how much prominence he gained after reinventing himself as a national politician, and regardless of how many of his views I might share, I’ll always know him as “Dennis the Menace” because in the late 70s/early 80s, even a six year old like me could read a political cartoon in THE PLAIN DEALER and glean from how the grown-ups talked that that’s what everyone thought of him. We were reading USA TODAY in grade school when the whole the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame thing came up. And I had one of my first underage drinks just as the Flats was transitioning from a hotspot to a hive of scum and villainy. (I’d left before it finally turned into a “Scooby Doo ghost town“.)

All that to say that if McClelland, a native of Lansing, MI, did enough of his homework to get those sorts of Cleveland details right then it seemed likely to me that his notes about life in post auto industry Youngstown, Detroit, Flint, Lansing, etc. also has a genuine ring of truth. In fact, reading about the stories of these other places and some of the people in them felt like a rediscovery of sorts. I can imagine this is what it feels like for someone who has some weird personality quirk that never made sense to anyone until some previously hidden fact of biological or social history was discovered and gave you the context. I’d never heard the terms “bathtub Madonna” or “Mary on the half shell” before reading this book, and never knew how prevelant they were in other places similar to Cleveland, and yet I’d grown up seeing these little homemade grotto shrines to the Virgin Mary in every neighborhood I ever rode through inside Cleveland.

The book succeeds in giving me what feels like a thorough background about subjects I already knew, or at least in filling in the gaps about things I witnessed from a short distance. I was familiar with the socioeconomic patterns and movements of White Flight and gentrification, but this book clarifies the mechanics of it, particularly with respect to the decrepit housing and infrastructure it left behind (neither of which was really all that great to begin with). McClelland also lists a few examples of what happens when movements born of social justice to serve people crash and burn when they start becoming unsustainable, which many times has to do with internal personalities and politics, as much as whatever the latest company outsourcing or international trade plan is.

I was startled to learn exactly how much politicians in other regions of the country are looking over the carcass of the Rust Belt and still see a couple of things worth stripping even now, like Great Lakes water. A part of me cheered when I read about the political pushback these efforts get; Michigan representatives basically saying, “You wanted to go live in that sand box [i.e places like Georgia, Nevada, Arizona, etc. which have lured people and jobs from Michigan]. Don’t come crying to us when you can’t find anything to drink.”

The one nit I have is that McClelland does a little too good of a job integrating various regional idioms of, to put it mildly, an insensitive stripe. It’s one thing to quote, or report a quote from, various sources and stories, like one in which a Daley political operative tells Chicago Latino voters, “We want you guys to be our minority, because we’re already sick of that other minority [emphasis mine].” But it’s another to uncritically mix them into your own narrative. The author writes, “[Latinos in South Chicago] had their own church — Our Lady of Guadalupe — and they were tolerated by Stosh and Chester [i.e. code for “men of eastern European descent”] at the ironworkers’ tavern, who figured it was them or the colored [i.e. the other minority].” And while I’m fairly certain McClelland himself doesn’t espouse these beliefs, that contention might be a tougher sell for people to whom I might recommend this book. I theorize (but could be wrong) that I’ll have to deal with this in the next book in my Rust Belt reading queue, Ben Hamper’s Rivethead: Tales from the Assembly Line.

But then, personally, I’m a little (too?) used to it. After all, I grew up around that; hell I’m a Filipino-American who grew up in it. And if nothing else, this book goes a long way to telling me why.

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