Jonnie

Source: Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images

Source: Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images

During my senior year of college I became mesmerized by a guy named Jonnie Russell. In some ways my enthrallment was founded on superficial things like music and fashion; Jonnie had style in spades, and at the time I wanted few things so badly as to be thought cool, but he also had a certain elan, a scrappy joie de vivre that gave his carefully cultivated art rocker image a lighthearted edge and magnetized his personality, drawing me in. We were students at Biola University, near the border of Los Angeles and Orange counties. I had shown up at school with a set of ideas about what was hip that had been shaped in my home town of Santa Cruz, which, while a surfing Mecca, was a tiny hamlet compared to L.A. and provincial in its own way. Said ideas began to morph and expand within fifteen minutes of my arrival on campus. By the fall of 2004 I had come to see Jonnie as the embodiment of style.

Jonnie and I weren’t quite friends; we were the textbook definition of acquaintances. We moved in overlapping social circles, but only just. From the outside looking in, Jonnie’s crew was a rotating cast of poets and aspiring filmmakers and musicians and recent graduates (everyone seemed slightly older than me, and slightly more worldly) who had read books I hadn’t and listened to music I knew nothing about. While I’d spent high school listening to Christian ska and going to youth group events, they’d been listening to The Pogues and reading Susan Sontag. They were hipsters, and in hindsight a few of them were probably insufferable. I didn’t understand this at the time, being too busy trying to emulate them.

I’d experienced the kind of gravity Jonnie exerted before, pulling me toward various heroes of the subcultures I identified with, like skateboarder Heath Kirchart or Russ Rankin of the punk band Good Riddance. Each had their own mystique, Kirchart with his goth vibes and death-defying acrobatics, Rankin with his tattoos and ability to command a stage. Jonnie had his own charisma, with one crucial difference; I actually interacted with him. Not often, and not much, but more than enough for him to become a cipher onto whom I projected an aspirational grid of hopes and dreams. While it was not a sexual fascination that held me in its grip, whatever force was working on me was hardly unrecognizable. I had a crush on the guy. A raging man crush.

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As with anyone, the first thing I noticed about Jonnie was his appearance. He was slender, with artfully tousled, straw-colored hair and a leisurely air of self-awareness. If you could chill equipoise like liquid nitrogen, the fog would have rolled off him in waves. He was that cool.

While “cool” may be among the most subjective terms in modern English, it undoubtedly connotes something for you, regardless of how you would personally define it. For me it has always included a sartorial quotient. Jonnie was ahead of the skinny jean bell curve by a couple years, wearing snug denim long before it caught on in the chain stores. He could be seen around campus in a collection of weathered t-shirts and rumpled cardigans that opened my eyes to the possibilities of a simpler, less outrageous style than the punk aesthetic I’d long cultivated. Part of what lent his wardrobe power was its simple consistency, its coherence. He actually had a recognizable style, whereas I was mired in a catastrophically indecisive transition from band shirts and skate shoes toward a vague notion of sophistication that failed to ever really crystallize. I couldn’t commit to a new direction, the result being that some days I wore pants that looked like they’d been applied with spray-paint, while on others jeans so baggy I could’ve used them to smuggle bowling pins.

More important than any shirt or pair of boots was the way Jonnie carried himself. Like all the truly cool ones, he was a lounger. James Dean, Jim Morrison, Elvis, Sinatra, Newman, McQueen; notice how they move. You’ll never find them walking rapidly from place to place, or looking around nervously, or even standing up straight. They lean against brick walls and drape themselves over motorcycles. They swing in close to beautiful blondes, and sink down in their chairs. They raise their eyebrows while taking slow drags on their Lucky Strikes. Jonnie was no different. I would regularly encounter him reclining on a grassy hillock outside the cafeteria, basking in the sun like a Roman senator, a beautiful woman at his side laughing at something he’d just said.

In addition to his style and easy self-possession, Jonnie had a rogue’s wit that could burst into flame unexpectedly. He would riff in a wry, deadpan style on anything that came to hand. My friend Charlie once told me about a night in their dorm when Jonnie launched into an absurdist, freestyle spoken word session centered on nothing but a burning candle. Jonnie went on to start a band, and I’ve seen a film clip from one of their recording sessions where a producer can be heard asking Jonnie to describe what kind of guitar tone he’s hoping to dial in.

“Pretty clean,” Jonnie says.

“Can you cite an example?”

“Well,” he says, straight-faced. “Sort of like... nothing that’s ever been done before.”

Looking back on it now, I realize that whatever force drew me toward Jonnie was amplified by my perception that we shared certain similarities, which in turn exacerbated our differences. Like me, Jonnie was a small guy, short and slight of build. Unlike me, he didn’t seem to be deeply conflicted about this. He was a darling of the philosophy department, while I was an aspiring writer who posted bad poetry in our school’s online forums. We were both guitarists, though he could actually play well, as opposed to strumming the same four chords over slightly different melodies, which is what I did. He seemed comfortable in his own skin, whereas I was still struggling to come into my own.

If my observations sound dipped in envy, that’s because they were, but not the consuming, bile-soaked type. Jonnie didn’t give off the aroma of disdain, at least not when I was around. Despite the airs that some people in his orbit put on, he never made me feel unworthy or unwelcome. I was self-conscious in his presence not because of anything he did, but because of the strength of my desire for his approval. I did not resent him. I wanted to be him.

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During the time my fascination was taking root, my roommate and I got into the habit of hosting little parties in our on-campus apartment. Our Christian college didn't allow any drinking, even for students of legal age, so we served juices, teas, and, my personal favorite, a mocktail that was simply a gin and tonic, sans gin. Yes, just tonic water, with a forlorn little slice of lime floating in it. It was pathetic, not only because of the actual substance of the drink, but because, in our sheltered way, we thought it was kind of cool. My wife has advised me to cut this anecdote, stating, “You don’t have to be that honest.”

Anyway, I invited Jonnie to a couple of these get-togethers. He said yes more than once, but never came. Something else had come up, I reasoned. He'd had somewhere to be. He'd forgotten. Who knew? He hadn’t been trying to spite me. 

This should have made me mindful of the many times I had blown off the invitations of people I didn’t consider important enough to remember or prioritize. It should have been a learning opportunity. Because the reality is that it was rare for me to be on the receiving end of this kind of forgetfulness. Mostly though it just stung. It stung, even if it was only a confirmation of something I already knew, which was that Jonnie and I weren’t really friends. It stung, but not enough to keep me from still wanting to somehow prove myself to him.

One of the many things that might have trumped our sad party invite was band practice. During that last year of college, Jonnie was in the process of forming a group with a few other guys from our school. If you’ve listened to your local indie rock station at some point in the last decade, you’ve heard their music. They called themselves Cold War Kids.

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I knew about them before they were big. It’s the classic refrain of music snobs everywhere. Sometimes it happens to be true, though you can never know it at the time.

Cold War Kids’ first recording, an EP called Mulberry Street, failed to capture my imagination. I had picked up a copy because Jonnie was in the band, but the music was heavily influenced by The Velvet Underground, an inaccessible reference given my palate at the time. Singer Nate Willett’s voice initially struck me as whiny, and his lyrics as precious.

The four original members of Cold War Kids were Nate, Jonnie, bassist Matt Maust and drummer Matt Aveiro. In the beginning they did what every band does and played anywhere they could. This included a house party in my friend Charis’s backyard one Friday night. Cold War Kids would eventually go on to play shows across five continents, but at the time no one outside our school had heard of them. Most of the people inside our school had never heard of them.

The guys set up on a brick patio beside the garage. I remember Maust using a little curly-cue cord to plug in, something that looked more like a toy than a piece of musical equipment. As the band started up, a loose collection of partygoers spread out across the backyard. I ended up standing next to a guy drinking straight from a bottle of red wine. At one point between songs a drunk dude in a leather jacket started shouting praise from the kitchen window. He leaned forward, shaking his fist in a universal “rock on” gesture, then lost his balance and nearly fell out.

The band didn’t play long, maybe five or six songs. They didn’t have much material at that point. Afterwards I wandered back inside and ended up sitting on the carpet with Charis, flipping through her collection of vinyl records. Sometime after midnight I got tired and stood up to leave. Just as I was about to head out, a door off the living room opened and Jonnie and Nate emerged, the strains of a hypnotic blues song unspooling from a stereo somewhere behind them. Jonnie was doing a strange dance, a kind of cross between the slow prowl of a hunting Tyrannosaurus and a tiptoeing villain in a silhouette performance. After a few feet he lay down on the carpet, threaded his hands behind his head, and stared up at the ceiling.

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The Mulberry Street EP grew on me a bit, but before long it became irrelevant. It was completely put in the shade by the band’s next two releases, a pair of EPs they put out the following year, one of which contained a song called “Hang Me Up To Dry.” If you’ve heard it yourself you know how perfectly it employs the best traits of a great pop song, the memorable intro and the catchy hook. The hook in this instance was a double-whammy, an infectious chorus followed by a simple, unforgettable trio of ascending guitar chords. The first time I ever heard that guitar part my eyes turned into spirals. It burrowed deep into my brain, colonizing the musical part of my psyche so completely that all these years later I can still feel the shiver from that first listen traveling down my spine.

In the months leading up to those breakthrough records Cold War Kids were still just another undiscovered indie rock band playing dive bars around the vast Babylon that is the greater Los Angeles metropolitan area. I went to a few of these shows. I’d been to a lot of concerts by that point in my life. Starting in high school I’d made a steady circuit of the local clubs in Santa Cruz, then started driving up to San Francisco for shows at Slim’s and The Bottom of the Hill. I’d seen hundreds of bands, big and small, but I’d never seen anything quite like the live show Cold War Kids put on.

One of the main joys of going to see live music—though, in the world of indie rock, self-consciously hip audiences and occasionally bands themselves can seem determined to deny it—is getting to watch the musicians; the guitarist’s mid-solo grimace; the hitch in the bass player’s hips; the visceral hammering of the drummer. Live music is among the oldest and most elemental forms of performance art, and Cold War Kids performed. They were fun to watch and they knew it.

Their early sound was a deliberately lo-fi marriage of soul music and hyper-literate garage rock. Performed live, the songs arced and snapped with the band's kinetic energy. Accustomed to the heavy distortion and supersonic drumming of punk, the thing that threw me off about Cold War Kids was the fact that, while they trafficked in an entirely different style of rock and roll, they had as much spleen as any punk band I’d ever seen. Even on their slow numbers they jived and shimmied and banged into each other, managing to pack more tension into a single tune than many punk bands channeled in an entire set.

One night I drove down to Costa Mesa to see them at a place called the Detroit Bar. It was a tiny club with a low stage backed by a rich red velvet curtain. Word of mouth had begun spreading at this point, and the place had sold out. By the time the band went on the tension in the room was thick. From the first note of the first song the three guys who weren’t trapped behind a drum set began rumbling around the stage, sashaying and bobbing in a vigorous ballet.

I knew Maust from school, where he cut a shy figure, skulking around campus in tight t-shirts and rarely smiling. Onstage he transformed into a dynamo, whacking his bass with the heel of his hand and randomly hip-checking his bandmates. Nate Willett was a paradox. His bona fide good looks made him a magazine-ready frontman—he was like a more handsome version of Woody Harrelson—but his high, almost girlish voice seemed out of place in that strapping body. He was prone to bouts of spastic clapping and hand-flailing. Independently, either of their live personas might have seemed an affectation. Taken together, the idiosyncrasies somehow worked.

Meanwhile, Jonnie could do no wrong in my eyes. His mannerisms seemed to embody the band’s angular, neo-blues sound, his whole body fairly humming as he alternately crouched over his amp or struck out across stage in a distinctive flamingo strut that was part Keith Richards, part Someone Just Dropped An Ice Cube Down My Shirt. He wore his hollow-body guitar high across his chest as if it were a bandolier of ammunition and he an electrified revolutionary.

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I was making my own music back then, writing simple folk songs in my dorm room and playing the occasional show. Jonnie came and saw me once at a little coffee shop in a boring part of Fullerton. The blandness of the setting made it that much more surprising when he showed up alone and stayed for my whole set, sitting toward the back of the room. When I noted his presence my pulse ticked up a beat. Going to someone’s local show is a gesture of support and respect that musicians extend to one another all the time, but I doubt Jonnie realized just how much his attendance that night meant to me. 

Eventually we graduated. I moved back in with my parents in Santa Cruz while Cold War Kids hit the road. Before long they were discovered by influential music bloggers, got a record deal, and began touring at an increasing pace, playing to larger and larger crowds. Within two years of forming they had entered the stratosphere of indie cred and begun selling out clubs like San Francisco’s Café du Nord, where I drove up to see them one crisp September afternoon. I showed up a few hours early, hoping to hang out.

During my time at Biola I’d gotten to know another student named Brett Williams, a friend of Jonnie’s who became Cold War Kids’ manager. Brett was standing out front as I walked up, making small talk with the guitarist from the opening band. He greeted me, and then we ran across Market Street and ducked into a little bodega where he bought loose tobacco and rolling papers. Back inside the club we joined Jonnie on the open floor directly in front of the small stage where hundreds of fans would soon cram themselves. For the moment the subterranean bar was silent except for a low murmur from the back of the room where the sound man was running through a checklist. The ineradicable skunk of the previous night’s beer lingered in the air. Jonnie and I watched as Brett prestidigitated a pair of cigarettes.

“Are we allowed to smoke in here?" Brett asked, handing one to Jonnie. We all knew we weren’t. Jonnie shrugged and lit up, exhaling a thin stream of blue smoke from his nostrils.

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A few months after the show at Café du Nord, Cold War Kids played in Santa Cruz. I had started my own band after moving home, and Brett did me a favor and got us on the bill. The main opener was another Southern California indie band called Delta Spirit. Their lead singer, a firebrand named Matt Vazquez, got on a baby grand piano a few hours before show time and started banging out a string of Tom Waits songs at the top of his lungs. While this was going on Matt Aveiro calmly sat in a corner, reading Camus’ The Stranger.

By the time we took the stage that night the club was maybe half full. I was nervous, wondering if either of the other bands would even watch our set, wanting so badly to play well. It's poignant, now, to realize how similar my feelings as a twenty-four year old were to my feelings as a sixth grader.

During Cold War Kids’ set I hung out backstage. This was my right as an artist who had performed, but I felt like an impostor. After the show I talked to Brett, who said some kind things about our set. Backstage, someone propped open an emergency exit to try and bleed off some of the heat from all the sweaty bodies, and I could see that a winter storm had rolled in. Sheets of heavy rain were falling past the open door. Maust and Willett opened a bottle of wine. The club slowly began to empty. We started packing up our instruments. At some point I glanced back at the open door and saw Jonnie leaning against the frame, smoking and staring out at the falling water. I watched as he took a drag on his cigarette, seemingly lost in thought. I couldn’t look away.

On Being A Racist

Photo: Alejandro Alvarez

Two weeks ago, a crowd of white men carrying torches wound their way through the campus of the University of Virginia. As the men converged on a statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee, the planned removal of which they had come to protest, they shouted Nazi slogans. 

Blood and Soil! 

Jews will not replace us! 

Taken together, their torches and their animus evoked a midnight gathering of the Ku Klux Klan. The following afternoon during a confrontation with anti-racist protesters, one of the marchers murdered a young woman, running her down with his car.

Three days later, my wife had an ultrasound. We watched on a monitor as the technician pointed out the hair on our baby’s scalp, then the outline of a delicate nose and lips. My wife and I are white. More accurately, we are a combination of shades that, depending on the body part, ranges from dirty orange to fuzzy peach to a beautiful pale eggshell color, but our people have come to refer to ourselves as “white,” and our child will be too. At some point I will need to begin giving him or her an account of the world. Amidst all the beauty and sorrow and history and context that come with being alive, my account will include some attempt at explaining how affairs between people who look like us and people who don’t reached their current state in our nation.

I wish I could tell my son or daughter that racism was an artifact of history, a problem that had been solved in the past, but of course it’s not.

It would be convenient if I were able to explain that racism is something that only happens in the southern United States, or rural areas, or the inner city, or anywhere other than where we actually live. But Oregon, where my child will be born, legally barred black people from even entering the state until 1926. At the time that law was taken off the books, we had the largest contingent of Ku Klux Klan members in any state west of the Mississippi. We have such a racist past that we were once described by the historian Karen Gibson as a state that seems to have broken off from the Deep South and wandered away.

Despite these bitter realities, I myself might still be able to come off looking like a decent person if I were able to tell my child that, though racism exists everywhere, it doesn't exist within me.

But I would be lying.

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I am a racist. Not a proud racist, nor a vindictive one, but a racist nonetheless. I want to be allowed to qualify this by saying that I am just someone with a few lingering racist tendencies. Or, that while I may be having a hard time shaking a last handful of incorrect views which I received through osmosis by virtue of being brought up in a racist culture, the militant wing of which I fully reject, I just need a little more time and I’ll finally put all that behind me. The thing is, there’s no difference between the positions I just described and racism. If I only do the occasional racist thing, or hold some racist beliefs, or entertain a few racist notions, I am still a racist.

This is the sad and inconvenient truth at the center of any conversation I have about race. It is difficult to acknowledge that racism finds fertile soil in my heart. Difficult to admit to myself because it is evil, and difficult to admit to others because maintaining the appearance of standing on moral high ground feels safer in our highly charged times. But I’m not standing on high ground. I’m floating fairly comfortably, as I have been for my entire life, in the waters of a cultural system that has methodically kept black people from housing, demonized the Mexican immigrants who pick our food, and stereotyped anyone vaguely Asian looking as a perpetual foreigner, no matter how many generations their family may have lived in this country as full citizens.

Steeping in the water of white America for decades has had a profound effect on me. Growing up, I heard enough racist jokes during sleepovers, saw enough racially inflammatory material on TV, took in enough racism just by being awake and breathing, and, perhaps most importantly, received little enough instruction in how wrong this was or how to resist it, that I made it far into adulthood before I ever confronted the well of darkness pooling beneath the surface of my heart.

I was taught about slavery in my Ohio grade school, by black teachers as often as white. I read about Manifest Destiny, and European colonization, and Wounded Knee. I encountered Toni Morrison in high school and Howard Zinn in college. But until the summer of 2009, nothing had ever punched through the veil of my privilege and ignorance. Until that summer I hadn’t realized, let alone owned, that I was a racist. It had been relatively easy to keep the revelation at bay, given that every family member and friend I had was white, and none of them challenged my thinking on the issue.

I was in Seattle that summer of ‘09, studying for a master’s degree in psychology. Needing some elective credit, I signed up for a short intensive course called “Multicultural Issues,” not knowing exactly what to expect. The class was taught by Dr. Caprice Hollins, a diminutive black woman with an easy smile. Dr. Hollins guided my classmates and I through a series of questions, activities, and conversations designed to get us talking about the practical realities of relationships between people of different races, and the histories that underpin them.

It was Dr. Hollins' class that finally destabilized my ignorance. Something about listening to my classmates methodically catalogue the stereotypes they’d dealt with their entire lives, and experiencing their irradiating sorrow and anger, finally brought me face to face with the realization that racism was not an abstraction that existed somewhere vague and far away, outside my daily life. It was within me.

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The word “racist” is so quickly hurled these days that it can feel like it’s been stripped of its meaning, if not its weight. Weaponized by all sides, it can seem suspiciously like a word that, almost by definition, never applies to the person using it. A racist is always someone else. A racist is never me.

So what do I mean when I say I am a racist? I mean that, to my lasting shame, I have perpetuated racial stereotypes through things that I have said and done, and that I have actually believed those stereotypes. I mean that I have stayed silent amongst groups of white people when someone has made a racially charged statement or joke that left me uncomfortable, letting it go unchallenged and unchecked. I mean that I have feared young black men without provocation. I mean that for decades of my life I accepted the crushing poverty in which my black and Latino schoolmates lived as normal, and lost no sleep over it. 

In addition to these personal failures, I also mean that I have been the beneficiary of a racist system. When you start invoking entire systems, it can feel like there is room to get away from personal responsibility; as if there is a significant difference between the racist system and the racist individual. There is not. The society I was raised in and am a member of has operated for hundreds of years by a set of policies set up to benefit, protect, and give advantages to people who look like me, while marginalizing those who don’t. These policies include redlining, restrictions on voting rights, and inequitable treatment at the hands of the criminal justice system. They include the taking of art and ritual from other cultures and using them for our own pleasure and profit, while simultaneously demonizing the very people who created that art and ritual.

We cheer black men on Sundays when they rumble forty yards for a touchdown, blast their music in our cars as we roll down the streets of our white communities, and incarcerate them at a rate that constitutes a form of genocide. The state of Alabama froths with religious devotion every autumn Saturday that their black-majority college football team takes the field, yet did not overturn their state ban on interracial marriage until the year 2000. In the end, more than 40 percent of Alabamians voted to retain the ban. 

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Many of the white people I know become faintly indignant when racism comes up, as if everything had long since been settled on this front, if not at the conclusion of the Civil War then certainly sometime during the Civil Rights Movement.

I remember the night several years ago, before I was married, when a friend of my roommate showed up at our apartment. The guy was a photographer, and a Native American woman had apparently contacted him to express frustration at his use of a headdress in a photo shoot. This young man sneered with disgust as he told the story. “Give me a break,” he spat, “People eat Lucky Charms, and I’m Irish, and that’s a caricature of my culture, but I don’t get upset. ” He seemed to think this was a reasonable comparison. It was one of the most tone deaf expressions of entitlement I’d ever personally witnessed.

I wish I could claim I didn’t understand the lure of indignation, but I have felt it myself. For me, indignation often comes out of a place of inner confusion, and a sense of being hemmed in. It can feel like a primal fight or flight mechanism. Except it’s not. Human beings have the capacity to reason, and to receive criticism graciously, and, perhaps most importantly, to repent. It’s just that none of these feel good when we are confronted with the need for them, which is why many white people breeze right past the opportunity to admit they’re wrong, or that the system keeping them in power is a machine that eats human beings. 

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During both of her presidential bids, Hillary’s Clinton’s changing stance towards gay marriage was brought up as an issue. Over several decades she had moved from opposing gay marriage to supporting its legalization. That she was labeled a hypocrite for doing this struck me as itself hypocritical, given that this same pendulum swing was one vast numbers of straight people, to say nothing of corporations and institutions, had also gone through. The mainstream culture’s stance toward homosexuality has shifted hugely in living memory. A similar dynamic is at play in our contemporary conversations on race. We live in hypervigilant times, fueled by two-hour news cycles and the ceaselessly roving eye of social media. Perhaps as a result, or perhaps because it is human nature to want to elide our past mistakes, people are quick to crush those they see as being too late to the progressive party, and to broadcast their own sensitivity to racism while denying they have ever been anything but an ally of the oppressed.

Bryan Stevenson, the prominent civil rights lawyer and author of the searing memoir Just Mercy, believes America may never heal from its racial wounds unless her people undergo a truth and reconciliation process akin to what South Africa went through following the end of apartheid. We will never do that until white people can acknowledge that the racial divisions we have are rooted in the fact that we have systematically enslaved, murdered, raped and brutalized nonwhite people in our country from the moment of its founding up to the present day. That is not something to dispute, as I will explain to my child, no matter how strenuously her white friends, teachers, or family seek to downplay it. Rather, it is a set of historical facts as unassailable as any history human beings have ever compiled. The question is not whether the United States has a legacy of profound racial violence and exclusion. The question is whether we will ever truly own what we and our ancestors have done, and seek to make it right.

Perhaps accepting responsibility for our sins and the sins of our fathers will mean advocating for the payment of reparations to the descendants of enslaved peoples. Maybe this would be a meaningful step toward communicating our collective grief, and acknowledging that we have never lived in anything like the meritocracy we pretend to. Perhaps it will mean amending our laws, so that they emphasize the humanity of immigrants, including those who come to our country without documentation, seeking the same promise our white forebears did.

These and other options are open to us, if we would but entertain them, bringing the same creativity and drive we bring to our quests for wealth or pleasure. It may be that in my lifetime a new and greater healing will come to pass. Or we may slide backwards into recrimination, grievance, and further waves of racial violence. As I intend to teach my child, history does not march inevitably toward justice, and there is no such thing as a foregone conclusion.

Old Friend

In the fall of 2006 I flipped my hunter green Honda Civic off a state route just south of the Santa Cruz County border. I was coming around a corner, half an hour after a steady rain had set in, when I hit a slick spot and the car wrenched sideways. One moment I was fighting the wheel, the next everything dissolved into a roar of white noise. When I came to I was hanging by my seatbelt. A few seconds later I heard someone calling from outside the car, asking if I was okay. Miraculously, I was.

The holidays came and went. Then in the spring, a guy from my church who I had never met called me and told me he'd heard I was looking for a new ride. This was technically true. I was living with my parents at the time, and borrowing one of their cars, but I was planning a move to Seattle and needed a vehicle. I just hadn't been looking very hard. 

"You going to be at church on Sunday?" the guy asked. 

"Yeah."

"Ok. Meet me in the parking lot before the service." 

When I arrived, my fellow congregant was waiting beside a white 1998 Ford Escort ZX2 sport coupe. Though I would soon learn the car was nearly ten years old, I could tell it was in excellent shape. The guy shook my hand, and introduced himself as Nathan. He hooked a thumb toward the Ford. 

"My wife and I have been looking for somebody to give our car to."

I blinked. "Give," I said.

"Yeah."

Nathan had a calm, unassuming presence that extended to his manner of speaking. Nothing flashy, nothing grandiose. Which made what he was saying even harder to compute.

I felt a confused grin contorting my lips. "Huh."

I remember sliding into the driver's seat, running my hands lightly over the steering wheel, marveling like a child at the generosity I was the sudden beneficiary of. A couple minutes later Nathan signed the car's title over to me. To this day, it is one of the single greatest material gifts I've ever received. I never saw or spoke to Nathan again.

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I soon learned my new chariot could get up and go. When I gunned the Ford to merge onto the freeway, or execute emergency maneuvers to avoid a bus, or because I was in my mid-twenties and sometimes I just gunned it to gun it, it would cough out a pleasantly throaty roar. I mean, it didn't necessarily put on a corresponding burst of speed, but the noise was great. Driving a stick shift is something a certain kind of person talks about with salty reverence, as if it's a skill that correlates directly with freedom and competence and self-sufficiency. Hemingway would have driven a stick, they imply. John Wayne. Davy Crockett. Achilles. Stick shifts. My experience is that driving a manual transmission consists of long periods of annoyance punctuated with occasional moments of not being safe. This is particularly true in a hilly city like Seattle, where the opportunities to stall out and roll backwards into a Mercedes are endless. 

While the Ford had a certain sporty quality, it also had other features—some people in my life have called them "problems," but I don't want to quibble about semantics—which came to the fore over the course of my first few years of ownership. 

The car's poor cabin insulation left me partially deaf for several hours after any significant period of highway driving. Also, the Ford did not have not air conditioning, which meant I sweated like a pig in the summers. On the other hand, the windshield wipers didn't really work very well. This probably had something to do with my not changing them, ever. I once went so long without replacing the blades that they ceased to actually clear water from the glass. A friend offered to buy me a new pair after I nearly T-boned a minivan I hadn't seen through the wall of water. 

But the heat worked fine, I got great gas mileage, and I was young and carefree. I didn't mind a barebones ride. After my accident, I'd gone to the junkyard and pulled the stereo out of the Honda. The Ford's stock speakers sounded great, and I blasted my tunes while tooling around the city.

I commuted to work and graduate school in the Ford. I took numerous long road trips in it. I picked up women for dates. I gave friends rides. Time passed.

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I did not maintain the Ford. Or, I maintained it at such a minimalist level that it was as if I was running a field test on how long a car could go without regular maintenance and still keep operating. About ten years, it turns out. 

I moved to Portland, got married, and continued driving the Ford every day. If something vital broke, I fixed it. Other than that, I blew past recommended oil change deadlines like the "expiration date" on a package of Red Vines, rarely washed the thing, and never had it aligned. I spilled coffee on the carpet, with and without half and half. I allowed an ornamental moss garden to take root in the weather stripping of the doors. One of the wheels constantly bled an orange gunk, the provenance of which I never did discover. At one point I let a friend borrow the Ford while I was out of town for the weekend. When I got home, the interior door handle on the passenger side had been ripped off. My buddy swore this had "just happened." For the next five years I instructed passengers to grab the map pocket and yank extra hard. 

Towards the end of its life, the car's master cylinder would start bleeding off once or twice a year, resulting in an extremely dangerous scenario where the clutch pedal would stick to the floor whenever I shifted gears. I'd have to pop it back out with my toe. Every single time. I eventually got to a point where doing anything over forty miles an hour made the entire vehicle wobble and moan like a biplane in a dogfight, and I committed to never taking it on the freeway again. 

Then one day a few months ago I was driving down Burnside, headed towards the river. Just as I was passing the Laurelhurst Theatre, the Ford suddenly shuddered and died. The power steering had given out along with everything else, and I had to wrestle the car to the curb. I had it towed to my faithful mechanic, Gary, who told me the timing belt had thrown a ball bearing. When he quoted me a price, I suspected it was far more than the Ford was worth.

My wife and I were expecting our first child, and had been saving for a family car for some time. Given that our "nice" car was a seventeen-year-old Toyota Camry with a cracked windshield and some kind of skin condition that made the roof look like it had been repeatedly dipped in acid, letting the Ford go was an easy decision.

I called a local junkyard. They offered me $72. 

+  +  +

I never knew how nostalgic I would feel for the Ford until it was gone. The day I went to Gary's for the last time, with keys and title in a manila envelope for the tow truck driver (I had decided to donate the car to my local public radio station instead of suffer a $72 indignity), I was overtaken by memories. 

I thought of all the trips I'd made in the Ford, back and forth between Santa Cruz and the Northwest, including a memorable journey down the coast in which I camped on the sand outsides Dunes City. The next morning I had locked my keys inside the car at Moonstone Beach in Humboldt County. A friendly stranger loaned me a coat hanger so I could break into my own vehicle. Which, actually, was nothing compared to the time I locked the Ford while it was running in the parking lot at Emerald Downs racetrack. 

In the summer of 2008 I made an epic and ill-advised death hike along the extreme Northwestern tip of Washington State. After a fifteen mile scramble back out along a beach strewn with boulders the size of Volkswagens, in a driving rain, the interior of the Ford welcomed me like a cave offering solace to a neolithic hunter. Did I mention I had accidentally burned one of my socks whole in my campfire the night before? The Ford's heater probably didn't save me from hypothermia, but no one can prove it.

I cruised Seattle from Phinney Ridge to Seward Park, blasting Cold War Kids and Arcade Fire and Good Riddance on the Ford's stereo, my bandmates crammed in the back seat, which was often dragooned into services it was never intended for, like holding three guitars and half a drum set. I would regularly jam the passenger seat as far back as it would go, recline it all the way back, and crush it with a giant keyboard amp, which is probably why the stitching gave out at some point, and the stuffing began migrating outwards like straw from the dislocated shoulder of a scarecrow. 

I slept in the Ford. I strapped things to the Ford's roof. I picked up the woman who is now my wife in the Ford on the night we were reunited, Thanksgiving Day, 2010, and sat near the entrance to Mount Tabor Park from midnight until five o'clock in the morning. I cried in that car. I laughed in that car. I prayed in that car. I listened to baseball games and made phone calls and ate peanuts in that car. I lived my life in that car for a freakin' decade, and it kept on giving right up until the end.

+  +  +

On the day I said goodbye, Gary helped me pull out the stereo. I knew I probably wouldn't put it in yet another car, but it seemed a fitting gesture, like taking the Ford's heart with me. When we were finished, Gary ambled inside, leaving me to clear out the trunk and the glove box. After that there was nothing to do but leave, but I wasn't quite ready. I sat down one final time in the driver's seat and ran my hands over the steering wheel. It had started disintegrating a couple of years earlier, and a tacky smattering of granules came off in my hands. I looked at my palms. 

"Man, I am not going to miss you one bit," I muttered to myself.

I knew it wasn't true.

Library Dreams

Photo: Florian Monheim

Photo: Florian Monheim

At the end of 2016 I submitted Canowic to the Multnomah County Library Writers Project, an annual call for submissions by local authors. The book was selected for inclusion in the library's catalogue, which, as a devoted library patron, thrilled me to no end. Even more exciting was the revelation, a couple weeks later, that the library had already doubled the number of copies they were stocking, and, still more amazing, that none of those copies were available; they were all checked out, and there were even people with holds on the book, waiting in line for copies to come available. 

My earliest library memories involve our local branch of the Akron-Summit County Public Library. I recently went back and tried to figure out which branch this would have been, but all the locations closest to my childhood home seem to be new glass and chrome buildings, which doesn't square with my recollections of a small brick structure, cloaked in ivy, more castle than contemporary. My dad would be able to tell me where we'd gone instantly, but I find I don't really want my memories upended. 

Writing is a solitary endeavor, and so is the task of attempting to engage others in your work, be they magazine editors, literary agents, or the reading public at large. There are plenty of opportunities for discouragement, but also moments of wonder, where you realize that something you have created has gone out into the world and touched a stranger. I like to imagine some kid at my local branch here in Portland coming across one of my books on a shelf someday, pulling it down out of curiosity, and starting to read. 

The Diamond of a Century

When Rajai Davis tied the 7th game of the World Series in the bottom of the 8th inning last night, my dad sent me and my brother a text message.

“Welcome to being a Cubs fan.”

I grew up hearing about the collapses of 1969 and 1984, and, although I am old enough to remember 2003, I was not yet the devoted fan I would later become. My dad knows all this. I think he was saying; Now you finally understand. Now you finally feel a little bit of what I have felt

But I don't know that I do. The Cubs just won the World Series, and I am only 33 years old. My dad is 60. He has been waiting since that summer of ’69 when he first fell in love with the North Siders to see something that literally millions of people have died yearning to see. I can't fully appreciate what he felt last night, as the rich patina of so many decades of frustration and sorrow found their ultimate consummation over the course of what is being hailed as one of the greatest baseball games of all time. 

15 combined runs between two storied franchises. Extra innings and a rain delay. Pitching genius and pitching ignominy. Profoundly dubious managerial decisions. A passed ball that cost the Cubs two runs, and then a game-saving bomb from the same guy, the oldest player to ever go yard in a World Series Game 7. At the end of it all, grown men in tears. 

Am I glad they won? Yes. Absolutely, definitively, unquestionably. But my pleasure at the victory itself pales in relation to my feelings about how the great edifice of my father’s fandom has now shifted. I spent countless summer afternoons watching Mark Grace and Ryne Sandberg turn double plays as a boy, but the magic in my memories of doing so comes not from them, or the game itself, but from knowing that these guys were Dad's team. And they always lost. 

Before spring training this past February I wrote an essay about my passion for the Cubs as refracted through the lens of my relationship with my dad. I wondered whether winning it all would be bittersweet. If Dad would lose something in the paradoxical shift that would have to come from no longer being a fan of the Lovable Losers, but of the Miraculous Deliverers. I figured he'd take that tradeoff seven days a week, and if the video Mom sent me of him taking a slug out of a bottle of champagne is any indication, it seems I was right. 

Still, I feel kind of wistful today. What I wanted has come to pass. But now my kids won’t grow up sharing the same history I have. They won't understand this tiny sliver, not really. They'll hear me explain the numbers, the century of frustration, but it will be numbers and names and dates to them, an abstraction of my life and their grandfather's life. They'll understand it like I understand that my grandmother grew up without a car. That's how it always is of course. Every generation must discover the world for itself. It's just strange. My children won’t be able to feel the way in which the weight of a century finally turned a lump of coal into a diamond one shining autumn night. 

I guess I’ll have to tell them the story. Better yet, I’ll let their grandfather do it. He can explain it better than I can.

Survive Anything

Even if you don't know much about the details of Solomon Park's life, you've heard his name. One of the most gifted inventors in history—and, as a direct result, one of the wealthiest men of our time—his creation, the Survive Anything Machine, changed the course of the 21st century, lowering mortality rates across a wide range of the most dangerous fields still featuring human-majority employment. Its impact on the spheres of business, technology and politics cannot be overstated. 

While you may never have heard of Genevieve Malheur, she too is a master practitioner in her own right. After beginning her career as a reporter in the Karachi bureau of the Washington Postwhere she covered the Sino-Pakistani war, she left for a freelance career highlighted by her investigative reporting and commentary on social and cultural issues. She won the Pulitzer Prize in 2080 for her essays on the street children of New Cascadia. 

This week Halcyon magazine put out a new collection of Malheur's work, including a previously unpublished profile of Solomon Park. The curiosity (or skepticism, depending on your viewpoint) that led Malheur to so many scoops compelled her to pull at what she perceived to be loose threads in Park's biography, and in the origin story of the Survive Anything Machine put forth by his company, Chronos Labs. Her research ultimately led her beyond the received hagiography of the SAM, with its jaw-dropping tales of Park's early field tests, and into the realm of the heart.

Letter from a Broken Heart

I’ve never had my heart broken by a politician. Never realized it was even a possibility until this year. For a long time Donald Trump just made me angry, but over the last couple of weeks I’ve felt sorrow seeping into my heart every time I think about him. Actually, it’s not him so much as the people voting for him. And it’s not all of them, but a certain subset. The hole the sadness is coming in through gets a little bigger every time I hear how another few hundred thousand self-described “evangelicals” have cast their votes for Trump in a primary somewhere. I find myself wondering what story they are telling themselves, these people who in calling themselves Christians are laying claim to the name of the one I love.

I take the message of Jesus Christ seriously. I have made it the cornerstone of my life. As far as I can tell, Donald Trump stands in opposition to just about everything Christ teaches about how we are to live. Which is what leaves me so nonplussed when I contemplate my fellow Christians’ support for him. I do not dismiss out of hand the sincerity of people who claim to be Christians and Trump supporters at the same time. That would be arrogant in the extreme. But that doesn’t mean I can wrap my mind around it. I consider all the people Trump is stirring up hate against—people who are not abstractions but real men, women and children living in my city, my state, my country—and then I think about the teachings of Christ, to love our neighbors, to love our enemies… and I feel the hole in my heart get a little bigger. More sorrow seeps in.

Pause for one moment: can you imagine what it must be like to be a Muslim in America right now? Realizing that millions of people are rallying behind a man who wants to bar your parents or nieces or colleagues from entering the country because they hate and fear you?

Can you imagine what it must be like to be a young woman whose father came to this country illegally out of a desperate desire to escape the murder and extortion washing over the small town where he has lived his whole life, hearing a wealthy, scowling man on television indiscriminately labeling that same father of hers a “rapist?”

The fact that significant numbers of self-identified Christians are voting for Donald Trump has led to questions (often posed by other Christians) about how people who claim to follow Jesus Christ can support the campaign of a man who is calling for torture, endorses killing the innocent family members of terrorists, talks about women as if they are less than human, and routinely fans the flames of racism, resentment, and fear. The reason for the confusion stems, at least in part, from the fact that most people, even staunch non-Christians, have at least a vague notion that Jesus and his message are somehow associated with grace and unconditional love.

The Scriptures teach us that the people of God are like the parts of a body; we work together and in fact “belong to one another.” We are a worldwide family, called to support and care for one another, not just with our words or a fuzzy sense of solidarity, but with our food, our money, the clothes off our backs. This being true, I must then ask my brothers and sisters considering voting for Donald Trump; do you not realize that many immigrants who came to this country illegally are devout Christians? Are you unaware of the fact that many thousands of Mexican immigrants are fleeing staggering poverty, corruption, and endemic violence that plagues their communities as a result of a drug trade we Americans fuel with our demand, and that they are not coming here to take our jobs away from us but because they love their own children and are more concerned with their well-being and future prospects than with the abstract laws of nations?

Having swum the Rio Grande or hiked across the Arizona Desert in an illegal border crossing does not in any way nullify the faith of undocumented Christian immigrants. I am not saying you must be in favor of some form of amnesty or path to citizenship. I am saying that a man who speaks about human beings in the way that Donald Trump does is committing an offense against the living God who created them, and that many of the people he is slandering and inciting hatred towards are our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Similarly, my fellow Christians who support the candidacy of Donald Trump; do you honestly not know that many Syrian refugees—including some who will eventually make their way to the United States, and who are being vilified by Trump and other Republicans—are Christians, hailing from some of the first Christian communities ever formed, in and around Damascus, where the Apostle Paul, whose words we read in our Bible and hear preached in our churches, himself lived and served?

Consider this: If the United States government started shelling Minneapolis indiscriminately and you decided—though it tore your heart in two to leave your lifelong home—that your love for your own family meant you were going to leave everything and everyone you had ever known and move to England rather than watch your kids die at the hands of the U.S. Army, and then once you got to London you discovered that English Christians feared and hated you, how do you think you would feel?

And what about those immigrants who are Muslims? There are many of them. Do you assume they are all terrorists, or on the edge of becoming terrorists? That would be like assuming every Christian is seriously contemplating buying a handgun, walking into the parking lot of an abortion clinic, and executing a nurse as she’s climbing into her station wagon.

And what about the terrorists themselves? People who really do want to kill us? Have you forgotten how Jesus told us to love our enemies? Who are our enemies if not radical jihadists? Have you forgotten that Jesus never promised us security, or comfort, or safety? If you’re voting for Donald Trump because you think Christians need protecting, you’ve missed the point of Christianity.

Here’s the thing: Christians don’t “win” all the time. We lose. In the eyes of the world, from the vantage point of the powerful, we often lose, and lose badly. We don’t make good deals. We make horrible deals. We give ourselves and our possessions away. We lose when we put others before ourselves at our own expense. We lose when we choose to associate ourselves with the poor and the unpopular, which is costly in innumerable ways and can lead to awkwardness, hardship, and even misery. We lose, because in refusing violence and pursuing love we open ourselves up to real harm. Sometimes when you turn the other cheek you get punched in the face.

There is no getting around the cost of the love Jesus Christ calls us to. There is no credit card we can charge it to. Christ does not promise us we will be able to obey him and own a home, have a good job, a solid retirement account, a decent chance at an education, healthy children, a loving marriage and a sense of general security and well-being. In fact, he does not even promise us we will avoid being mocked, ridiculed or physically harmed for loving others in the way he has taught us to. On the contrary, he tells us that, “ ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.”

The persecution he received came in the form of being horrifically beaten and then hung on a piece of wood to die of exposure. Jesus doesn’t promise us a Republican or a Democrat in the White House. He promises us we will have to lay down our lives, which sounds vaguely poetic and glorious in the abstract, but is in reality both painful and dangerous. The precious mystery of our faith is that those who truly follow Christ into death find life everlasting, and that while he guarantees us neither riches nor safety, he does promise to satisfy the deepest longings of our hearts and souls. Longings no politician or system or political party can ever come close to satisfying.

Brothers and sisters, I am under the impression some of you are voting for Donald Trump in spite of finding him repellent as an individual. But there is no separating out his qualities as an outsider or businessman from his overt racism and violent rhetoric. To vote for Trump is to countenance his hatred, and the hatred he appeals to. I ask you, in all sincerity, to refuse to vote for a man who is so transparently opposed to the One we love and serve. Let us stand in opposition to one who speaks evil of our brothers and sisters, and of those strangers and poor neighbors we are called to welcome and serve.

 

Every Year Is Our Year

In a few weeks the Major League Baseball season will kick off and my Chicago Cubs will begin anew their perpetual quest to win the World Series. It's been 108 years since their last championship. For their season opener I plan to be on the couch with a cold beer in time to hear Pat Hughes open the radio broadcast with his traditional greeting, "Chicago Cubs baseball is on the air!" 

My relationship with baseball, and with the Cubs specifically, is tied up in my relationship with my father. I recently told the story of being raised a Cubs fan here.

Winter's Tale

My friend D.L. Mayfield is constantly running interesting series on her blog. Centered around some organizing theme, they usually involve a combination of guest posts and her own writing. She's currently hosting a series of entires on "The Book That Changed My Life," and was good enough to publish an essay of mine on one of my all-time favorite novels, Mark Helprin's Winter's Tale. 

Tooth & Nail

My first memories of recorded music come from sometime around the age of five or six. My parents had a big hi-fi system with smoothly scrolling knobs that let you pan endlessly through the radio dial, and a turntable for their record collection. I had some children's LPs featuring a character named Psalty the Singing Songbook. Imagine a combination of Barney, The Blue Man Group, and an exuberant children's pastor with a love of Richard Simmons and classic hymns. There were also lots of Keith Green records floating around along with some Paul Simon and a couple collections of Ohio State Marching Band fight songs. 

For much of my childhood my exposure to music would continue to come mostly through my parents. At age seven your friends aren't turning you onto new bands, so it was pretty much whatever dad would rock in the family car on long road trips. Praise and worship music, more Paul Simon, Randy Stonehill, Jackson Browne. I fell asleep plenty of nights listening to Wee Sing America tapes.

When I reached the point where I was interested in exploring music on my own, I was restricted for the most part to artists who were making music within an explicitly Christian context. Mainstream groups occasionally impinged on my consciousness through sheer dint of their ubiquity (Metallica, Green Day, Tupac, Marilyn Manson), but I wasn't buying their albums. No, my allowance money was going to purchase CDs by bands like Petra, DC Talk, Dakoda Motor Co., and White Cross. Some of this was good, some of it was haplessly derivative. I wandered blindly from one genre to the next, like a pill bug whose rock is forever being lifted up. It was a blissful time in my life. I can remember making a band of Lego characters and playing with them while blasting Guardian's "Miracle Mile."

Things took a dramatic turn one day in the fall of my eighth grade year. While on one of my regular pilgrimages to Linda's Bible Bookstore, I picked up a CD with a cover featuring three fresh-faced teens staring back at the camera. The band's name, MxPx, was a kind of cypher. It meant nothing to me and could thereby contain every strange emotion evoked by the sight of a tattooed Christian kid in a Social Distortion t-shirt. To this day I'm not sure what compelled me to buy the album, but I did. Upon being ferried home in the ancestral minivan I ran to my room and threw the new disc into my boom box. I immediately hated it.

To my virgin ears, the "music" coming out of the speakers sounded like a gang of syphilitic raccoons being blowtorched with a flamethrower. But tough luck, you know? Because this was back in the days before digital downloading, before Napster, YouTube, or Spotify. There was no moving on to the next thing five seconds later if you didn't like your first choice. You bought a CD, you listened to it. 

So I spun it again. And then again. Soon, something strange came over me. It was like Tinkerbell had shaken her pockets out over my bowl cut, sprinkling me with some unfathomable dust that opened my eyes and unstuffed my ears. I found myself nodding along, thrilling to the speed of the music, which had only moments before seemed insanely fast. That squealing sound, like several cars being slowly crushed by a huge magnet? That was a level of distortion I'd never been exposed to. It was like wading through an ecstatic auditory Chernobyl. I was hooked. Something raw and invigorating welled up in me (and, people, we're talking about punk covers of Keith Green songs), something I'd never felt before when listening to music. I'm not exaggerating when I say that that record opened my eyes and ears to a new understanding of what art could be. At some point I flipped the jewel case over absently and saw a little logo in the bottom corner comprised of two letters. T&N.  

Over the next ten years I would fall in love with numerous bands on the Tooth & Nail Records roster, including Zao, The OC Supertones, Dogwood, Craig's Brother, and Slick Shoes. Their albums filled aimless car rides and pleasantly pointless afternoons spent hanging out in my friends' bedrooms. I went to an unending procession of shows at tiny Bay Area churches where I saw bands like Watashi Wa, Burnt Sienna, Noggin Toboggan, and Nifty Tom Fifty open for (often vastly superior) Tooth & Nail acts. I took guitar lessons from Andy Snider of Craig's Brother. I drove five hours each way to see Zao play at Chain Reaction in Anaheim. I filled the storehouse of adolescent memory with songs and shows and patches and safety pins. To this day, any of a hundred different Tooth & Nail tracks has the power to evoke intense and detailed memories of a wonderful, innocent period in my life.

Tooth & Nail celebrated its 20th anniversary last year. In a stroke of unbelievable fortune, I'd moved to Seattle a few years earlier and become friends with one of the label's art directors, Jordan Butcher. He informed me he was going to be heading up a project to create a book detailing the label's history. I still remember the talk we had at a Seattle dive bar where he officially asked me if I wanted to collaborate with him. We were both a little merry in our cups. I was so excited I could barely contain myself. The option to pre-order the book, which is being released in conjunction with a feature-length documentary on the Tooth & Nail story, went live this week. Looks like they're only printing 1000 copies.

During the writing process I spoke with legends of the Tooth, including Ronnie Martin, Mike Herrera, David Bazan and Bill Power. At times I had to pinch myself, it was all so surreal. "What would my thirteen year old self think of all this?" I found myself wondering more than once. What would my brother, or buddies like Jeff Hazen and Joe Ruppert think if they could be listening in on these conversations?

Through out the process of writing the book, I must admit to having been both intimidated and humbled by the knowledge that thousands of people the world over have their own fond memories of having grown up as Tooth & Nail kids. I hope those of you who end up leafing through it will take great pleasure in venturing out with me onto the cobblestones of memory lane. 

A Ragged Coda

In November of 2010, two months into my last year of graduate school and already deep into the dread funk of a Pacific Northwest winter, I lugged my laptop to the Capitol Hill branch of the Seattle Public Library to conduct an e-mail interview with a college friend. Adam Sjöberg (link) and I had both attended Biola University. Since graduating I'd putzed around a bit, then formed a rock band and moved to Seattle. After the band ended I enrolled in a master's program in counseling. Meanwhile Adam had been traveling the world as a photographer, seeing interesting places, conducting adventures, and living his life to the full. 

Since college I'd sheltered in my heart the smoldering wick of an impulse. This impulse didn't always take the form of a conscious thought, let alone an overt plan, but it was always there. As best as I can tell in hindsight, the impulse was toward storytelling. There was an attendant dream, although that dream has changed in some ways over the years. The dream went something like this; maybe I could do something meaningful someday with my storytelling. 

Music had been my first real push at telling stories. I'd taken a crack at overwrought poetry and already knew that I worked better in songs. As the years went by, and as my passion for playing music subsided into a deep appreciation of the form that was nonetheless divorced from any kind of implacable need to do it myself, I discovered a more primal impulse.

Writing.

It had always been there of course. You write poetry. You write lyrics. But it wasn't until this juncture that I had ever really thought, Wow, maybe I want to Write. I spent the next three years finishing a novel that, despite ten drafts, turned out to be weak and underdeveloped.   

But I'm getting ahead of myself. We were in the library. It's a rainy Seattle night and I'm pulling on my hoodie because it's cold and I'm typing out questions for Adam and getting back very honest answers. I'd asked him if he'd be open to being interviewed for a new website I was starting. We finish our interview and while I'm packing up I keep thinking about something he's said. It's stayed with me for years. I'd asked him if he ever struggled to stay grounded while flying all over the world, and whether he ever felt he'd become an object of envy amidst his friends. I omitted that I had at times envied him myself. His answer humbled me.

Why is it that I always stumble through this answer? I guess I feel some contradictory emotions. On the one hand, I’m humbled by the opportunities I’ve been given that I don’t deserve. But on the other hand, I don’t have a lot of patience for friends and family that act bitter or resentful towards me. I truly believe we are all called to find what we love to do. Though I know not everyone is lucky enough to be able to do that, I do think that many people haven’t worked hard enough to do what they love. Perhaps we aren’t taught to value it as much as it should be valued.

It seems at times like we are cursed to toil and never find complete satisfaction in the work of our hands, but on the other hand I think our job is to overturn the curse, to flip it on its head, tip it upside down, shake its contents out.

If anyone has ever been resentful towards me for the life I live there are usually one of two reasons at play. Either I have been wrongfully boastful and overly vocal about my job and life, which is my fault, or they aren’t happy with their job and life, which is their fault.

When I started Ragged Band my goal was simple. I wanted to talk to people who were doing extraordinary things and find inspiration in their discipline, talent, and hunger. My head and heart were full of dreams and grand designs for my own future, and I wanted to figure out what it was that had allowed those further down the road than myself to get to where they were. In speaking with them, I hoped to find some wind for my own sails. I wanted to kickstart my own soul. Maybe rubbing shoulders with people who were Doing It, or had Made It would help me believe my own dreams were possible. Heck, I figured, maybe I could even get a magazine piece out of it. Stumble onto a story or a character big enough to charm an editor. 

I also genuinely wanted to inspire other people. And I hope I did. I was certainly inspired myself. A couple of favorite memories are the interviews I did with Rosecrans Baldwin and Eliot Rausch. Rosecrans was one of the most encouraging people I spoke with along the way. I had the impression he'd be a fun guy to sit around and talk about books with while drinking Arnold Palmers. And Eliot... what can I say? I was challenged and fortified by his vision of the life of a believer in the real world. 

Over the last six months I've come to a simple realization; as much as I've enjoyed talking with people about their art, I'd rather be making my own. I'd rather devote as much of my time as possible to creating something that will last, something that will affect other people. I want to tell stories that matter. I want to speak my truth. Many of you reading this are longtime friends and readers who've been with me on the journey for a while now. When I recently published True Stock, my first foray into the world of self-publishing, many of you bought the piece and gave me great feedback. You're also the people who encouraged me throughout my time publishing Ragged Band. Without your support I would have stopped a lot sooner.

Rather than writing a final post on RB explaining why I'm stopping, I decided to turn that ending into a new beginning. Moving forward, this site will be a place to get all the latest news and info on what's going on with my writing, including the next installments in my journalistic fiction series and developments with some longer projects that are in the works. It feels good to start fresh.