WORDS & MUSIC CLUB
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01. WRITER

Stephen Wisniewski 


02. THEME

Mathematics


03. MUSIC INSPIRATION

The Sundays:
I Feel


04. WRITING

There was a girl in high school that I knew, but not well — we were friendly, though not exactly friends. She was older than I was. But she was one of us weirdos, so we often found ourselves together.

She would drop acid before geometry class because she said it helped her "see the shapes." I thought about that a lot. I thought there were probably worse ways to understand mathematics.

Late in her junior year, she suddenly started selling lots of random possessions, including all of her CDs, to people she hung out with. "I need an abortion really fast," she explained. She had a shoe box full of CDs in her locker for $5 each. I bought the Sundays "Blind" from her box. We lost touch after that, but I still listened to that album every night for a long time as I fell asleep.

Almost 20 years later, I saw her from a distance — even though she was a grown woman, her features were unmistakeable to me. She was with two young children, trying to manage them as they entered some store together. I don't know if they were her children. It doesn't matter.

I was glad to see her, glad she made it. I was glad we both made it.

 

01. WRITER

Eric Doucette


02. THEME

Mathematics


03. MUSIC INSPIRATION

Tera Melos:
Weird Circles


04. WRITING

It looks like 4. 
Until it is 5. 
But these won't add up to 9. 
You're not seeing double.
More like 1.5.
It will stay young, at 5. 

From there it can grow.
But that depends.
What can you accept?

Accept your sense of adventure
And the object will double itself. 

10 of 4. 
5 of 4. 
How long do you wait to solve the problem? 
Do you ever solve it at all?
Is it even really a problem at all?

 

01. WRITER

Andy Dalton


02. THEME

Mathematics


03. MUSIC INSPIRATION

Toadies:
Little Sin


04. WRITING

Last time, I made alternate lyrics. This time, I just feel like blathering.

Math: Probably the only discipline I felt I grasped naturally in school/college, aside from creative writing I guess. I like that mathematics have formulas, and if you understand the concepts, you can solve any problems. There are very few gray areas.

In life, I find my interactions with people have an endless number of gray shaded areas. Instructions from employers are intentionally gray. As my luck usually has it, when I’m at work, the weather is beautiful. When I have a day off, it’s cloudy and gray. Most of my undergarments are black or some shade of gray (I never saw the point of “fun” undies, even if they were Ren & Stimpy themed – I’m too utilitarian I suppose). Relationships with family members are gray. My financial stability is gray. My future in general often feels gray.

Not math though. Math is pretty straightforward. At least the core disciplines like Arithmetic, Algebra, and Geometry. I’ve grown an affinity towards spreadsheets, budgets, and tracking income and expenses. I like balancing things and understanding the journey of money through a system. I enjoy tracking merchandise sales for the bands I’m in. Slicing and dicing the numbers gives me tangible proof of success (or lack thereof) and provides a clearer path to the desired financial goal.

Math in music is extraordinary. I find that almost all music is simply a form of math (though I understand that some truly avant garde pieces purposefully eschew such traditions). Any time someone tells me “I’ve always wanted to learn drums, but I just can’t do it. I don’t get it.”, I reply, “it’s just Math. Just count to 4 with your dominant hand, use your dominant foot on the ‘one’ and hit the snare when it feels good!” Usually, they have a mini breakthrough and they’re playing a beat and really stoked about it.

Over the years, I’ve come to love complicated rhythms. Jazz music is a treasure trove for such fodder. But what got me started and really digging deep were bands like Hum, The Dillinger Escape Plan, and Toadies. Hum has all these really cool turnarounds and utilize time signatures that were baffling to me in my youth. 11/8? 7/8? They’d sit on a time signature for long enough for you to finally get it, and then they’d move on or end it. Dillinger’s first full length, Calculating Infinity, was a mind-fuck for me. That’s when I learned what a Polyrhythm was. Beyond that, they played with such speed, aggression, and intensity that it was impossible to ignore them whether you loved it or hated it. I’m of the former camp. Come to find out, the original drummer, Chris Penne, was very much Jazz influenced.

And then there’s the Toadies. Perhaps ostensibly a “yawn” compared to the previously mentioned group, but the Toadies have a great sense of songwriting, energy, and weirdness that isn’t alienating. Anytime I mention “Toadies” or “Possum Kingdom” people are like “who?!” and I say “the ‘do you wanna die’ song” and they’re “ohhhhh – yeah, I know that one” and a little part of me dies inside. Curiously enough, the song is a classic radio jam, but most drummers I know can never play the beat correctly. It’s just math! Three 4-counts, followed by a “one-two” and then three more 4-counts followed by a “one-two, one-two” and repeat ad nauseum. What’s so difficult about that?! But I digress.

The song that really popped into my head when I thought about this topic was “Little Sin” off of Hell Below / Stars Above – their second LP. It’s not a particularly stand out track, but what always struck me as genius about it was their ability to write a seemingly simple straightforward guitar riff, that didn’t quite match up with the drums. It’s a 5/4 feel on guitar, but 4/4 on drums, so every other measure, the turn around or resolve happens. But the in-betweens are so neat because the riff goes from leading on the kick, to leading on the snare, and it never feels uncomfortable. The listener is always bobbing their head in perfect time. It’s just enough to tilt your head sideways and pull you in, but not enough to feel exhausting. It’s just a song that feels good to me and the math behind it is what makes it really stand out in my world.

Writing insanely complicated riffs and beats for the sake of writing insanely complicated riffs and beats is all well and good, but my favorite songs or artists to listen to are the ones that find a way to simplify that complication. Like reducing a fraction, or taking the square root of something. I find great beauty in simplifying the complicated. I hope to one day simplify my own complications and enjoy that beauty within myself. Writing helps. Math helps.

 

01. WRITER

Michelle Lukezic 


02. THEME

Mathematics


03. MUSIC INSPIRATION

Mason Proper:
Point A to Point B


04. WRITING

Love lost. Friendship lost. Sanity lost. Dignity lost.

How do I get here? …so quickly? … and so low?

T-minus 0 days: The Test
“Complete silence.” Stated right before the timer starts for the exam. I want nothing more than time to dissolve, so I can get-out-the-door. I have no intention to answer any of the math puzzles. And I really have no problem with a major-fucking-F that imminently will destroy my current straight-A quarter. My only focus regarding passing, is the passing of forty minutes, so I can hand in my blank paper and bolt.

T-minus 1 day: The Preparation
I should be preparing for the exam, but instead I’m preparing for an emotional punch to the already purple/blue face. I can’t free my mind from thinking of the two of them both being in class with me. How could this have happened? How did I lose both of my best friends in a matter of days? Why wasn’t there any warning? What type of a person am I to deserve the world treating me this way? How am I supposed to sit in the same room with them?

T-minus 2 days: The Ski Crash
I tried to out-do her, an expert skier, and my (day-old) ex-best friend. I edged up to witness the double-black-diamond with moguls, far beyond my capabilities; but it was imperative to demonstrate that I was as good as her. Seven seconds down the hill I knew I was in over my head, but there was no going back. I bit it. Hard. On the very first mogul. One of my skis popped off and I did a forward flip. Bruised, but nothing broken, and a slice of skin cut open on my cheek by my eye from the ice scrapping against my face. She was there to see it all, as she flew past me and looked back, smirked, but didn’t stop. 

T-minus 3 days: The Kiss
I caught my best friend, and my (day-old) ex-boyfriend french kissing during gym class. I walked over to him, and slapped him as hard as I could in the face. She laughed. He didn’t see it coming. He looked sad and surprised wrapped together. The slap made a terribly beautiful and satisfying piercing noise. I proceeded to the leg lift machine and lifted the heaviest I had ever tried. A group of students formed around me, “did you see how hard she smacked him?” “can you believe she is lifting that much weight?” “dude she is a beast.”  I heard the comments, saw the group forming, but I was not reacting to any of it. I just needed to lift something heavy.

T-minus 4 days: The Heartbreak
The act was done in under 3 minutes. He broke up with me over the phone. We used to spend an hour-plus each night talking. Our conversations were intense, deep and meaningful; during the most intense, deep and meaningful transformative years of our lives. This was the shortest conversation in our history.

T-minus 5 days: The Lost Virginity
The act was done in under 3 minutes. We had been dating for over two years. We talked about how it was going to be special. I heard the clash from the front gate closing as he left, and it echoed inside my head. Was that it? That was it.

T-minus 30 days: New Years Eve
I bought several 9-inch nails from a local hardware store. I put the concert ticket under the nails, in the perfectly-sized, white rectangular box tied with a black ribbon. It is possibly the sweetest birthday gift I have given anyone in my entire life. Of course, I got her a ticket too. The three of us were the best of friends. Regardless of the outcome, it is still the best concert I have ever gone to. That night he and I made the commitment that we were ready to share ourselves with each other. A video of a deteriorating fox carcass in time-lapse counting backwards from one-hundred punctuated the moment. 100, 99, 98, 97, … Happy New Year. 

(Back to…) T-minus 0 days: The Test
I know that I’m distracting the class with my sniffles; I really should just blow my nose. I’m weighing the odds between the annoyance of making minor, high-frequency, sucking-the-snot-back-in noises every 1.5 minutes versus the annoyance of getting up once to grab a tissue from the teacher’s front desk, and blowing the snot out in a giant (and disgusting) blow. I don’t like being the center of attention, and somehow several small annoyances seems less obtrusive than one big distraction. I was sick. These were not crying sniffles. Truly. But I was self-conscious that people might think otherwise.

My solidified ex-best friend gets up from her desk in fury. She rips out two tissues from the box at the front of the room. And then slams them onto my desk. “Blow your goddamn nose.” 

I blew my nose, began to cry, picked up the pencil, and started the test. 

Submission under the weight of indescribable pain. I am alone. I swore to myself, last time was the last time. 

 

01. WRITER

Jonathan Diener 


02. THEME

Mathematics


03. MUSIC INSPIRATION

Death Cab for Cutie:
The Sound of Settling


04. WRITING

Mr. Gilbert’s 2nd period geometry class was always something I dreaded attending. I don’t know if it was his lack of caring about educating us—you know, literally his only job—or the fact that he was always picking favorites. Those favorites happened to be the athletes and cheerleaders, as he was a coach. Coach Gilbert, they would call him. I never called him that.  I was a musician.

It was my junior year of high school and I knew I wouldn’t be moving on to college. I felt as if I knew everything an aspiring touring musician would need to know. I was picking blow-off classes, draping study guides across my lap just out of the teacher’s eyesight to cheat on tests and mostly trying to concentrate on advancing my social life. As a blossoming teenager with acne on my chin, braces on my teeth and acid reflux, I had to get a head start before the cruel world swallowed me whole. Music was my thing and I had to wear it as a shield.

Each day I would wake up as a zombie, shove cereal down my throat, brush my teeth and accidentally trigger my gag reflex when the toothbrush would get too far down the back of my tongue. I jumped in the shower and prided myself on taking very little time. I read an interview a year prior about Jennifer Anniston taking three minute showers to save the environment. I loved that idea. It lasted only a few months before I started to have ideas in my head for music or stories and I would completely forget about the time I was wasting. The water I was wasting. The world was on fire and it was all my fault. I was late for school a lot that year.

The school had block scheduling, which meant only four eighty-seven minute classes one day then four other classes the second day. I only had to attend the bland, unhelpful geometry class from Mr. Gilbert every other day. Thank God. I also was well into not praying or thinking about God at this point thanks to punk rock and my friend group. Again, I was shedding my blissfully ignorant skin quicker than I could realize. I wanted to expand my mind, but the monotonous teachings of bored, suburban teachers to a bunch of ungrateful students wasn’t doing anything for me.

My parents had a good relationship with our next door neighbors. My father rarely drank alcohol, at least in front of my brother and I (who also never drank), but he kept beer in the fridge to entertain our neighbor when he would walk over. It was what men did. Or maybe it’s what men thought they should do? The beer was in the small, lonely refrigerator in the basement as part of our underutilized bar. We had a pool, we had a Michigan State University themed paint job, we had a pool table and we should have had the best parties imaginable. I preferred to play music with my friends. I sometimes thought I could have been better at being a man.

One night I was watching a movie in my basement, not sure exactly what it was, but I had a thought: What if I drank one of those lonely beers? I wonder how it would make me feel and I knew no one would ever know I took one unless they were keeping count. I had no intention of being included in the parties of my peers as I was already frequenting house shows and parties in Flint, Michigan with an older, cooler crowd. They accepted that I didn’t drink, which is something people my age should have been experimenting with already, but I truly never cared enough to try. Less temptation and more curiosity, I figured tonight would be the night to do it.

I quietly, yet casually walked to the mini-fridge sitting under the dimly lit, forgotten bar in our basement. I counted about seven Bud Lights. I didn’t know what made it Light or Lite, but I was concentrating on the number making sure no one would notice. Would the even or odd number be a giveaway? Maybe my neighbor could have snuck over and snagged one for himself on a hot summer day? How many days or months were those lonely beers sitting in that tiny fridge in the forgotten, under-utilized bar? I stopped questioning and reached for one.

I held the cold can, sweating with condensation to match the bead of sweat falling down my brow. I wasn’t scared, but I knew this may be a line I cross from which I can’t find my way back. I pulled the tab as I’ve done with so many cans of soda (or, “Pop” as we call it in Michigan) and I smelled that strange smell I’ve inhaled from years at parties, open houses, shows and more. I never had any desire to take part, but I was about to give it a sip.

I headed to the downstairs bathroom, locked the door and sat on the toilet. It was the only place with a locking door. Worst case I could make the excuse of taking a shit. No one would question me. I finally took a sip and tried to fully understand the taste or see if there was something secret that I’ve been missing out on all of these years. It wasn’t very good, but I could understand how it would eventually grow on people or at the very least, get them drunk after a few. I got through half a can and decided I couldn’t do the rest. It wasn’t for me. I didn’t feel anymore connected to my peers after having tasted and consuming it. I poured the rest out in the sink and buried the can in the trash can upstairs to camouflage it with forgotten paper plates covered in ketchup and so on.

Once I was in bed getting ready to retire for the night, I sat and thought through every situation where and how this could somehow better my life. Did I betray my ideas of never drinking? Did I really care enough if I did?

The next day I did my routine of eating cereal, brushing my teeth, gagging, showering then heading to school where I still wouldn’t care. I was in Mr. Gilbert’s geometry class once again, sitting in the corner of the room, escaping into the music blasting through my headphones thanks to my futuristic iPod and I mindlessly did my homework. A few minutes into class I felt a rumble in my stomach. Immediately I thought about what I did the night before and even remembered a song from my friends in a band called Takeout, called, “Beer Shits.” I think I was about to have one. Was I hungover? I had no idea what was going on or how a hangover would feel. I had less than half of a beer. Maybe that could give me a hangover, I thought.

I got a hall pass to head to the bathroom, did my duty and returned to class deciding that I didn’t like what I did the night before. I felt gross and lethargic. I blamed it on the lonely half Bud Light I sipped in the downstairs bathroom while sitting on the toilet. In retrospect, I knew it was something I ate earlier in the day. The feeling matched how I felt about the teacher. I didn’t care for him much and hoped I wouldn’t have to be in his presence again, or at least for a while. Maybe he would grow on me in my later years.

 

01. WRITER

John Duffy


02. THEME

Mathematics


03. MUSIC INSPIRATION

Goo Goo Dolls:
Slide


04. WRITING

Everything is Pretend

What you feel is what you are/ And what you are is beautiful
-Johnny Reznick

Truth is simply a compliment paid to sentences seen to be paying their way.
-Richard Rorty
 

Televised presidential debates are filled with all kinds of linguistic oddities: toothless insults, regrettable gaffes, non sequiturs galore. As a younger viewer, what resonated with me most were worn out metaphors, the direct comparison between two things—a referent and a policy or whatever—that never seemed to jive. Nowhere was this more vivid than the run up to the 2000 election when Al Gore famously insisted that he was going to place social security in an “iron-clad lock box,” and Bush countered that Gore’s calculation to secure the program’s funding amounted to little more than “fuzzy math.” Worse, Bush chuckled like a drunken gremlin every time he said it. 

Though seemingly benign, these metaphors took on a life of their own within my group of friends. For weeks following that broadcast, everyone I knew—smartass 17-year-olds who couldn’t even vote in the upcoming election—used these terms as pejoratives to denounce just about anything that came up in casual conversation. Worse, the less sense we made, the more emboldened we became. 

“Hey, you try that new cold cut combo from Subway?”

“How about you put your appetite in an iron-clad lock box, dickhead!”

“Hey, you check out the new drill sheets at marching band practice yesterday?”

“Yeah, those formations look like a bunch of fuzzy math.”

That sort of shit. 

We had accidentally appropriated some of the most dominant language of the national political conversation leading up to the 2000 election, and we had turned it into something else, something really stupid. We attached and reattached the words in myriad ways, knowing that such work meant nothing because the signifiers themselves were worthless—empty referents that never fully illuminated the political ideas they were designed to explain. So the jokes continued. 

During the weeks leading up to the election, my first sense of national politics changed from an old man’s sport to something greater, a source of personal amusement. The gaffes, the hazy bullshit, the dying metaphors, the cult of personality—it all seemed like a joke that everyone else was in on. We later learned the painful lesson that this was not the case. 

The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Bush v. Gore destroyed the idea that we were simply ridiculing a universally recognizable theater of the absurd. Instead we learned that folks actually understood this language of lock boxes and fuzzy math as sincere, instructional even. Other hard lessons followed: language mattered; caring about things mattered, which meant that sincerity mattered; how we talked about the things we cared about mattered; creating spaces for people to tell the truth mattered, and finding and nurturing those spaces was difficult. 

Of course, we had no way of knowing any of this at the time. All we wanted to do was make fun of stuff that seemed so obviously unworthy of sincere engagement. Before we would learn any of this, though—before we would come out the other end as different people with different sensibilities—we would first have to dwell in a space where our thinking was wrong. We would first have to watch as everything around us became a straight-up horror show. 

_____

In need of a long-term project to take up as much class time as possible, my high school civics teacher asked us to go to a political event and write about our experiences. We received no real instruction beyond that. How fortunate, then, that Al Gore had recently announced a campaign event in Flint, a brief rally in the parking lot across the street from the Local. I could complete the assignment and expel minimal effort.   

The day came and I parked my van in a nearby alley before walking to the event site. The stage was modestly decorated with red, white, and blue streamers, and there were signs announcing the opening entertainment: the Goo Goo Dolls. 

Close to the entrance, I saw a couple of white dudes with pro-life signs—the really gnarly ones with images of barely discernible fetuses and scripture from Revelations. Because this was a rally for a major presidential candidate, there were a lot of people, and many of them were not happy about the signs. The discomfort began with whispers from people around me, but then I heard full-on shouting from 20 feet back. 

“Hey! You! You! Hey!” It was a woman’s voice trying to get the dudes’ attention. They didn’t look, so she persisted.

“You! Hey! You motherfucker! I’m talking to you, you motherfucking prick!”

She had their attention now. Another woman standing behind me joined in.

“Hey, you motherfucker! Let me ask you a question! Can you actually give birth? Are you able to give birth, motherfucker?!”

The dude ringleader looked at her blankly. It was like in Ghostbusters when Gozer the Gozerian asks Ray if he’s a god, and he’s like, obviously no, I’m not a god. Why would you even ask such a thing? That’s what this was like; the dude was like, obviously, I can’t have kids. 

The women looked at him and responded in unison: “Then FUCK YOU!”

Clearly not their first rodeo. 

We got inside and waited by the front of the stage. Johnny Reznick came out and gave an underwhelming speech about the political situation in America.  He mentioned jobs and then said something about opportunity. He clenched his fists as he spoke to crowd between songs, and after playing a short set of hits he urged us to “keep the faith” and then disappeared into the hospitality tent. It wasn’t clear if the faith that Reznick referenced was the same brand that was practiced by the men outside the event, but no one really seemed to care.

Gore took the stage 90 minutes later and he was visibly ill. He delivered a boilerplate stump speech about taxes and social programs and again used the term “lock box” to talk about his interest in preserving social security. The crowd roared, and I clapped along and laughed out loud like Nelson Muntz from The Simpsons. I used the laugh to signal a rift between what was going on and what I thought it meant.  Everyone else cheered. When the event was over, more songs from the Goo Goo Dolls played over the PA system and we all left. 

My understanding of the event, like the language I used in school, was ironic. I assumed that what had happened was a kind of theater, that everyone was there to better understand the world behind the show, behind the script, behind the production. I assumed that when Gore said “lock box,” he was really speaking in code; when he said “welfare reform,” he was really talking about something else. What surprised me most, then, was that Gore appeared to believe what he was saying as though it weren’t all just a game. To the crowd the words read as sincere, too. I overheard people say how impressed they were that Gore “spoke the truth,” and that he could “change the country.”    

What excited me most about the event was that I could use swear words in my civics essay (because they were direct quotes from the women in line, so it was OK) and that I could use it as yet another opportunity to say stupid shit about lock boxes with my friends. The language was still meaningless, we thought, even if other people didn’t seem to get the joke.
_____

The next week I was working at the Flint Local when a Green Party worker gave me a flyer for an event at a nearby auditorium. Ralph Nader was coming to speak, and he would be introduced by Michael Moore and Phil Donahue. It was free and open to the public, and I got extra credit for going to another political event, so I checked it out.

Unlike the Gore rally, there were no protestors, no metal detectors. The crowd was noticeably different. To my left was an aging crust punk—a guy in a black leather jacket and an anarchy backpatch.  He was wearing a latex skull mask, and he had torn off mouth area so that he could wear it for longer periods of time without his skin becoming irritated from the moisture of his breath. To my right was a woman who worked as an accountant. Her husband wore a suit.

Michael Moore and Phil Donahue told personal stories about the effects of deindustrialization, about Flint, and about what needs to happen as we move forward. Nader continued the conversation to address what was wrong with the direction of the country and what he was planning to do to fix it. People were enthusiastic. Before leaving, he made it a point to address two issues that he said major party candidates would never discuss: single-payer healthcare and prison reform. He asked everyone in the crowd to do what they could to bring these items to the forefront. He specifically requested that the crowd ask politicians about these topics knowing that these people would skirt the issues or pivot to address something else. They would deliberately obfuscate and then refocus on safer terrain. He talked about duty, and then he left. 

The idea of duty is what caught me off guard. Though indirectly, Nader’s speech crystalized the idea that irony can have a caustic effect on political discourse. In order to do the work he asked of the crowd, everyone would have to have the same understanding of the political metaphors that were circulating around. These weren’t neutral, meaningless words that we could mangle for fun; they were weapons designed to deceive people into voting against their interests. They were tools to preserve the power of a cultural and economic elite. Nader left us with a silver lining, too: just as it can be used to divert attention, language can be used to cut through the smokescreen, to clarify, to hold people accountable.

The day after the Nader event, a guy came into our civics class who was running for a US House seat, apparently at the invitation of one of my classmates. (I was spaced out most of the time, so his arrival may not have been as sudden as I recall.) A local reporter walked in with a notepad, then a professional photographer, then some kind of political handler, and then the guy.  He looked like a typical politician: tall, white, short hair, unnaturally white teeth. He wore a basic suit and sounded like Troy McClure. He introduced himself as Mike Rogers and then proceeded to give us his stump speech. He shared a series of disconnected ideas, the kinds of things you’d see printed on posters in the framed art isle at the grocery store, stuff like freedom isn’t free and hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard. That sort of shit.  It was like listening to my friends talk about fuzzy math and lock boxes: he just used a bunch of loosely-connected buzzwords to make it seem like he had a handle on what was going on. 

He wrapped up with a few minutes left in the class period, so I said fuck it and decided to test Nader’s theory. I raised my hand and asked why he didn’t work to do away with jail time for non-violent offenders. I didn’t even know what I was asking, really. It just seemed like the right thing to do.

Rogers seemed visibly caught off guard and pivoted to a completely fucking made-up story about a girl “about our age” who was taking a Greyhound bus to see her grandmother. All of a sudden, he said, she met a guy who got her hooked on crack and then sold her into a network of sex slavery. 

Rogers looked at me with laser precision. “Technically, he’s a nonviolent offender, right?  So you’re saying he shouldn’t go to jail?”

I didn’t know if he actually wanted to argue or if these were rhetorical questions. I was just doing what Nader wanted me to do. I was 17 and knew next to nothing about what jail was like or who ended up there.  My classmates listened to Rogers’ story and they nodded in agreement. The logic seemed simple, and so did the lesson: if you do terrible shit like get girls hooked on crack and then enslave them, that is A) a non-violent offense and B) still worthy of incarceration. The implications of Rogers’ thinking also seemed simple: everyone in jail is there because they committed an offense as egregious as the man in the story, so why bother questioning it? To do so would put you on the side of people who hook children on drugs and enslave them. To do so would be terrible, unAmerican. To do so would sound like fuzzy math, or fuzzy logic, or fuzzy whatever-the-hell.

Rogers lectured us on violence having already accepted $21,400 in campaign contributions from the National Rifle Association. He went on to serve as US Rep to the 8th congressional district in 2006, eventually serving as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.  During his tenure, he oversaw an expansion of governmental surveillance, appropriating an undisclosed amount of taxpayer dollars to NSA efforts via the Intelligence Authorization Act before retiring in 2015. The exact amount is classified, but files leaked by Edward Snowden suggest it to be close to $50 billion dollars. Ironic, then, that an ambiguous understanding of violence ended up serving him so well.

A week after his visit, photos of my class appeared in Newsweek Magazine. We never consented to any of it—the talk, the photos being taken, their use in a national magazine.  But we were told that “it was an honor” to be associated with such a “powerful figure.” Power.  Honor. Fuzzy Math. Lock Box. Cold Cut Combo. Cavefe.

In truth, I didn’t give a fuck about the photo, and I certainly didn’t give a fuck about Rogers. He seemed like a True Believer, someone who had played the game for so long that there was no longer separation between the mask and the face underneath. The only lesson I learned from the whole thing was that Nader’s prediction had come true and that Rogers’ story masked a reality far more complicated than girls on busses. If there had been any ambiguity about which side made sense and which side was complete bullshit, it had now vanished.
_____

The assignment deadline came and I turned in an essay that talked about the difference between the two rallies. I didn’t say much about Rogers, about how he seemed like a complete ass stain. I didn’t explain the difference as some symbolic ideological chasm. The difference between the two rallies, I wrote, was the difference between someone telling the truth and someone who convinced you of a kind of truth in order to further his own goals. For me, the difference was between those who would use language for good, and those who would make it into some self-serving bullshit.

We couldn’t know it at the time, but perhaps we weren’t on the right side by appropriating political metaphors and making them into something equally stupid. Perhaps we shouldn’t have participated in that weird symbolic economy by giving attention to the language that would later help to elect George W. Bush. Or, perhaps our time could have been better spent taking direct action, or sincerely engaging a debate against opponents who simply traded in buzzwords, invaded high school civics classrooms, and then got to decide how much money went to the NSA. Maybe we should have done something else.  But we didn’t. 

If there is a lesson in any of this, it’s that the 2000 election revealed that the people who are least likely to win a general election have the greatest ability to tell the truth and the smallest platform to do it. Those with greater chances of victory resort to a strange game of pretend where words and phrases become situated within a larger cultural imagination, a kind of dreamspace that encourages people to attend rallies, clap wildly, and find political inspiration in the music of the Goo Goo Dolls. 

After Bush won the first time, I became skeptical of this process. It seemed like a trick. It seemed that what major party candidates were saying wasn’t true and that their campaign rhetoric, instead, was just a constellation of empty symbols. It seemed that nothing was as it appeared. It seemed that speechwriters used their power to shape political discourse and alter public attitudes, all to keep their masters in power. It seemed that all of this work was done to benefit the people who were currently in office and perhaps the organizations whose interests they represented. As a young person, these ideas seemed fantastic, far-fetched, even conspiratorial. We are 17 years past that election, and I’ve seen little to convince me otherwise.
_____

The sun was setting as the Gore rally wrapped up. Parents got back into their cars and the protestors had gone home.  The busses were gone and the workers began to disassemble the stage rigging. I walked back down Second Street toward the alley where I’d parked, and I walked through Beans & Leaves Café to get around the barricades. I bought a soda from the clerk and walked toward the rear exit when the bathroom door opened and Johnny Reznick came out.  He had just changed is clothes.

I said I thought it was cool that they played this event. I was lying, but it seemed like the polite thing to say.  We made small talk for a while and walked out back. When we got to the corner, about to part ways, I suddenly remembered that they were headed out on tour with Sheryl Crow.

“So, you guys are going out with Sheryl Crow pretty soon. That’s cool,” I lied again.

“Yeah, we’ll see. We’re all pretty tired, but that’s how it goes, you know? Rock and roll. Tour life. Way of the road. Lots to do.”

Fuzzy math. Lock box. Cold cut combo.

“Where are you headed to next?” I asked.

He paused in such a way as to suggest that what he was about to say had real weight, like we were both in a movie and that he was about to reveal the final lesson in some heart-wrenching drama. The pregnant pause was his way of expressing a need for the moment to read as some kind of metaphor. 

“You know, honestly, I don’t even know,” he said.  Then he walked down First Street into the sun. The bus door opened and he turned around to wave before taking off to the next show.


01. WRITER

David Beuthin


02. THEME

Mathematics


03. MUSIC INSPIRATION

The Strokes:
Tap Out


04. WRITING

and so, we counted. books on the shelf, invoices from screen printers, how many empty cans of la croix were ready to be returned. all of it kinda made sense to him i guess. it was gonna all accumulate and then be apart of something big and cool–to a city already going through a phase of minor gentrification i’m surprised it’s not just another starbucks. 

but hey here we are, all these people divided by numbers. what they can afford, how many figures are on their paycheck. we can’t live without it but i don’t want to know how it goes down. somehow we don’t have to know each other’s name.

 

01. WRITER

Brandon Trammell


02. THEME

Mathematics


03. MUSIC INSPIRATION

Jets to Brazil:
Lucky Charm


04. WRITING

I spent most of my 30s waking up from the naivety of my 20s. I learned that the world wasn't black and white, that there is no good guy. I came to understand that the things I thought I stood for and stood against were mostly fluid too. In the end, I was just as much a phony as anyone else. But in that understanding I gained some sort of focus that wasn't there before. 

I spent most of my 30s playing shows with my best friends in basements, bars, and small clubs, just like I had in my 20s. I learned more about myself with them than anywhere else in my life. I learned how to make art without an agenda, but for the sake of just making something with people I trust. 

Last year I turned 40, and I'm sick of myself. I'm sick of how I obsess over things until I burn out, how I can't seem to do anything at any speed other than zero and full throttle. I'm sick of having a million ideas without following through with any of them. Sick of drinking too much and feeling like an idiot the next day. Of singing along at shows so loud that people around me are annoyed. 

But I'm going to revert to my best self and make something happen. I'm going to obsess over things and burn out. I'm going to drink too much and look stupid. I'm going to put my foot in my mouth over and over. I'm going to sing my favorite songs at the top of my lungs and feel like the best god damned version of me that ever was.

 

01. Photographer

Tyler Gobberdiel


02. THEME

Mathematics


03. MUSIC INSPIRATION

Plaid: CLOCK