Stick. Not because he’s good with a bat and not for the size of the stick in his pants, not that I had any clue about that, in any case. I'm curious, sure, but I'm curious about most of the boys my age, or some of them, most of the time. But Stick is Stick because he’s tall and thin, or tall for his age a few years ago, must have been before I met him. Stick isn’t much taller than me I know. But he doesn’t use his real name.
I wrote that paragraph back in August of 2009, almost 10 years ago, the start of a short story titled "Stick" that became my first submission for a fiction class I was taking at Rowan University, my final year of study for my MA in Writing. I needed both a short story idea and a novel idea for my final-year thesis, given that I had exhausted my time and energy on the previous novel I'd been workshopping for three years at Rowan, the long forgotten (and likely really terrible) Five Day Morning. I was reading a novel at the time called What We Do is Secret, about teen punks in LA in 1980 dealing with the death of The Germs lead singer by suicide, and what was fascinating about the novel was the way in which the narrator spoke - a sort of ultramodern stream of consciousness, like Holden Caulfield on speed, one of the many drugs the narrator of the novel was actually on. I loved it - I still love it - and I wanted to try that style of writing so I took a stab using an abbreviated version of one of the many bizarre character nicknames in the novel ("Stickboy") and turned it into the free writing paragraph above. And lo and behold, just those lines gave me two characters (Stick and the narrator) and a story of sorts -- the narrator's attraction to Stick, his best friend. I loved the short story and I loved writing it and many many many versions later I was able to publish the short story "Fireworks" based on the same characters, in a flashback sequence in the novel I ended up writing for my thesis, which began with the same exact paragraph as "Stick." And now, 9 years later, in a completely rewritten story, plot, timeframe, and with almost all new characters, that novel is getting published. The Young Adult novel "I Will Be OK. Everything" will be released in January 2020 by Amphorae Publishing. So yes, I buried the lede pretty far down in this post but I'm getting published!
And the character of "Stick" remains.
As a YA writer, I read a lot of YA novels. In fact I would say the majority of my novel-length reading is of stories intended for teenagers and I'm not sure why I enjoy them so much - the stripped-down first-person narrative or relatable characters, the messages told, but probably, mostly the hope; these are generally stories of hope. And I was hopeful when I first picked up the YA phenomenon The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas last year... hopeful to enjoy a story not about white kids, the dominant theme of the genre. But when I picked it up, other than the fore-fronting of a black female narrator, I didn't know anything about the story itself. And it was a jarring first chapter if I recall, full of slang and musical references that were not exactly in my wheelhouse, but I kept reading and got to "the scene" and of course was hooked from then on, reading the entire novel in a matter of days (which is very rare for me). Thomas's novel not only told a YA story from a different perspective than most YA stories, but also told a powerful, crushing story about police brutality and the Black Lives Matter movement and I think I cried about 20 times while reading (I also laughed!) and I don't necessarily think I left the story with "hope". I am a white male in his 40s so I was not the target audience for this novel and I am an outsider to the experience of Starr, the lead character. But I've spent the past six years dating a younger black man, who grew up in very difference circumstances than Starr, but I couldn't help but get emotional considering the horrible things that happen to young black men and women because of their blackness, and I couldn't wait to bring him to the movie version of the novel, hoping to share that experience with him.
I'm going to see Pedro the Lion play at the Bowery Ballroom tonight. The band -- which kind of was just lead singer / songwriter David Bazan anyway - "broke up" over a decade ago and David went out on his own, but they've toured in recent years, I remember seeing them play their seminal 2002 album Control live a few years ago (maybe way back in 2012?) and they're on tour again this summer, playing mostly their classic hits from nearly 20 years ago along with a few Bazan solo efforts. I have been a longtime fan and can't wait for the show but anytime they spring back up into my life I always think about religion, partly because so many of their songs have religious themes and partly because Bazan publicly discussed (and on his solo albums, wrote about) losing his faith and becoming an atheist (I think). Which is interesting to me, perhaps because it parallels my life but also because his early songs - while having a ton of religious themes and imagery - always seemed to be questioning religion, questioning faith, and as an outsider trying to read his mind through song lyrics, seemed to indicate he was on a path to abandoning religion, which he eventually did (causing much strife in his family).
Anyway, the opening track to their first full-length from way back in 2000 is supposedly the track they are opening with on tour this summer and hopefully tonight. It is - awesomely - categorized by iTunes as "Spiritual and Religious"... which yeah, maybe it is. And maybe it was a clue that hey, Bazan saw something wrong with both blind faith and overly religious people whose only goal is "to get to Heaven" while ignoring their fellow man on Earth. I'm sure he wasn't writing about Mike Pence in 2000 but...
Car Seat Headrest have recently released a completely remastered version of Will Toledo's Bandcamp solo project "Twin Fantasy" from back 2011, an album I had never heard before, despite the band releasing my #2 favorite album of 2016 (Teens of Denial) and occupying a permanent spot on my weekly playlists since late 2015 when I randomly discovered "Something Soon" off of previous masterpiece Teens of Style (2015). I saw Will and the band three times in concert I believe, all in 2016/2017 and their show at the Bowery Ballroom in 2016, I still remember being my favorite show of the year, which is shocking because he looked so young (he's 25... I'm old) and the band seemed so young but their performances are so secure, with so much style and energy and CONFIDENCE, for such a young band... I've definitely been impressed by Car Seat Headrest and had high hopes for their followup to Teens of Denial.
This blog belongs to Bill Elenbark.
Lover of songs. Writer of wrongs.