Category Archives: Mothering

Making Up with Punk Rock

This summer, as I spend most of my time working furiously on my novel, I will be reposting some of my favorite pieces.

About this piece, when I told her a version of this story, Alice Bag, said, “You really broke up with punk rock didn’t you.” I realized then that I ought to write it down. This piece was originally published  July 16, 2016 on my PM Press blog

In 1998, I broke up with punk rock. It was not a good boyfriend. It liked fucking me, but it wouldn’t introduce me to its mom, worried she’d notice that I wasn’t just punk rock, but that I was something else too, something/someone it didn’t quite understand. I feared I had aged out too. Standing around at 924 Gilman hurt my feet, the cold, hard cement floor. All the young people, seeming to get younger, as I got older didn’t bother me. I quite like young people. I gave birth to one, and I teach at a community college.

I broke up with punk rock, but it appears I’m back, having never really left at all. Still, I feel I have some explaining to do.

For me, punk rock was always about participation. I starting listening to punk at thirteen, was in a band, Bitch Fight, by the age of fifteen, and in 1987, by the age of seventeen, I had moved to San Francisco with Bitch Fight, and we began playing shows with bands like MDC, Operation Ivy, Frightwig, and Crimpshrine. When Bitch Fight broke up a year and a half later, I did a stint in Kamala and the Karnivores, and started Spitboy. After Spitboy broke up in 1997, Karin (guitar), Dominique (bass guitar), and I stayed together, and formed Instant Girl, a band we knew that would be short lived because Dominique was headed to Yale to study architecture. No longer hungry to continue participating in this way, I figured I should finish school too, and I got myself accepted, and a large scholarship, to Mills College. I wanted to study creative writing and English. My feet hurt from standing around on cement in my job of fifteen years as a preschool, and Gilman, and my back from hauling around drums all those years. My band days were over, and I was fine with that. I had said a lot through the band, made a contribution, traveled the world. I wanted to study. I wanted to write. I got married too – I felt like traitor, but I was happy.

Punk rock has a way of making you feel like a traitor when you decide to grow up a little, go to college, get married. At least it did back then, but after years of dating men in the scene who liked to pretend they didn’t have families, didn’t come from somewhere, let alone introduce me to their parents, I married a Mexican. I had finally been true to myself.

Photo by Ilona Sturm

For about ten years, when I was in my thirties, nursing my son, going to graduate school, I hardly ever mentioned to anyone that I had been in a band that traveled the US, Europe, New Zealand, Australia, and Japan.  A band that put out records, did radio interviews, and for fanzines, a band that got fan mail. I didn’t want to be another boring adult talking about her glory days. Everyone wants to be rock star. Everyone wants to write a book too, but as a wise professor once said, you can’t, especially the later, standing around at parties talking about it. The cool thing about punk rock is that you actually start a band by standing around talking about it. That’s how bands start. Someone says let’s start a band, you think of some cool names, you decide who’s going to play what, you learn to play your instrument if you don’t know how already, and you write your first song. It’s what attracts people to punk rock in the first place – you don’t need to go to Mills College or Yale to do it.

While some people get into punk rock because they just want to fuck shit up, many of us call punk home because of its access to radical politics and people who hold them, people who question authority, people who question their own thoughts, people who read books, and attend demonstrations, and now discuss white privilege, people who don’t believe we should give up our basic privacy rights to protect ourselves from actual, or  so-called terrorism, people who aren’t afraid to call themselves feminists. And it’s         for all these things that I’m back, lending my voice, participating, now, in the best way I know how. 

Something To Prove

karnivoresEveryone laughs a little when they find out that Kamala and Karnivores started practicing in August for a show that will happen on January 1, that we have a shared spread sheet filled with practice dates, that we don’t dare drink at before we play or during. We’re not afraid to suck; we just don’t want to, and we are women, so we have something to prove.

Women always have something to prove.

It might be why we went on to work for colleges and the city of Berkeley. It might be why we studied philosophy, became a multi-million-dollar fundraiser, a college professor, and a mathematician.

We are the kind of women who run the world, or who should, the kind of women who do things right. We don’t fake it, or half-ass things, phone it in, or drink beer at band practice. And we do run the world, or worlds within worlds, worlds that depend on one another for the other to exist, worlds that some might not even notice because our running them is so stealth, so efficient, like a plate spinning on a plate, and a saucer on top of that, a balancing act that you can only grasp the deftness of when something almost comes crashing down on your head but doesn’t because one of our Kali arms righted it just in time.

And the sound, oh, the sound, it may even be better this time, the songs tighter, the harmonies better, the anger, and loss, and joy in the songs felt so many times over by now.

My son a talented musician and a teen boy working every angle to feel separate from his mom, scoffed when I told him how hard it was for me to learn our old songs all over again. He talked about his jazz ensemble teacher, a man who plays saxophone and played in the studio and toured with the Grateful Dead.

I hate the Grateful Dead.

“Mr. E could learn all those songs in a day or two.”

“Mr. E is man.” I hit the edge of the pot I was stirring at the stove with the wooden spoon to get the potatoes back inside.

My son looked me in the eye, his cockiness fading to confusion, the soft glow of the light fixture shined behind his head from the dining room, casting a shadow.

“A man who probably never stopped playing his instrument or doing his art when he had kids. A man who didn’t get pregnant or carry a child for nine months, and a man whose wife probably stayed home with his kids when he gigged at night.”

One of my hands was most certainly on my hip and the other gesturing in the air with the spoon.

“Yeah, your probably right,” my son said, and he backed out of my kitchen.

One of the most disturbing questions I’ve ever heard asked of female artists is how has becoming a mother changed your art. Have you ever heard a man asked such a question? Sure some men give up artistic pursuits for jobs that support their families, but it’s always assumed that when artists become mothers that they soften, start writing children’s books, make a kids album. In the cases of some women the answer would be, I stopped doing my art because the pressure to leave the self behind in order to be selfless and to morph into the perfect mother was too great.

I was only nineteen when I started playing in this band that has reformed for a few months to play this anniversary show, almost thirty years ago, a band that I play guitar in when I am really a drummer, a band that I played in when I only made $4.25 an hour, when I had no children, and no responsibilities but paying rent, buying cheese and tortillas to make quesadillas, and guitar strings. In my most panicked moments about signing on to play guitar again, when I can’t play and F or an F# chord, and my mind starts to race ahead, demanding I recall the next chord, so I can make the change in time, or when I despair about how many songs I must memorize, I wonder why I said I’d do this in the first place, why I agreed to subject myself to the humiliation of possibly sucking on stage, but I know the answer. It’s not simple, but it’s true, and it’s not because music makes us feel young again because it doesn’t when you need a music stand to hold the tab charts for your punk songs — it’s the camaraderie, the female company, moms, a non-mom, making art together, resisting expectations, and because women always have something to prove. 

 

The Spitboy Rule Book Tour: Back Home

Zocalo Coffeehouse, San Leandro, CA

 

IMG_33331 (1)My last reading was Friday night at a punk show in Kansas City at Minibar. The touring band Magnet School from Austin opened for the local band Emmaline Twist, and I opened for

Emmaline Twist

Emmaline Twist

Magnet School. Dominique, Spitboy’s second bass player and bassist of Instant Girl, came with me, while our husbands stayed home with the kids. I was scheduled to go on at 10:00, which is both late for a reading, and frankly, past my bedtime. There were a lot of late nights while touring with Spitboy, and I was always tired by 11:00 even though I tried to pretend I wasn’t. I was always the first one awake too because I’ve never been one to sleep that late either. In fact, I got up just a bit after Dominique got up with the kids at around 6:30 in the morning.

This guy named Sean who is in the Kansas City band, Red Kate, reached out to me on Facebook and helped me set up the reading. He even made a flyer for the reading using my book as the image. This is one thing Spitboy was always really impressed with: the kindness of people that you meet on the road. While there were definitely more people in the audience later when the bands played, there were at least twenty or so people in the audience when I read, and Sean said that a few people came just to see me read, and I sold 8 books, which is a good amount, definitely some gas money.

Dark bar photo with Dominique and Sean of Red Kate

Bar Selfie with Dominique and Sean

The band Emmaline Twist were great with an amazing post punk, Echo and the Bunnymen or Killing Joke – the kind of band that I’d like to be in if I were ever in an active band again. They are a female fronted band too(who also plays guitar), and they have a female bass player, Kristin, who saw Spitboy play in 1992 in Sioux Fall, South Dakota. When she met Dominique and I said that going to that show “was a very big deal.” It was a pleasant surprise to read with such a great band, and to share the stage with these women. When they release some music, I will listen to it all day long.

On Saturday we took my son to the Jazz Museum at 18th and Vine in Kansas City, and I got to hang out with Dominique most of the day before we got back on the interstate and headed back to Minneapolis, back where we started the tour and from where we’d fly back home. It was a 6.5 hour drive, our longest on the tour, but we got to see Iowa again, and drive along side a cool lightening storm.

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Jazz Museum

As it turns out, I was pretty sick the whole trip. It started with a sore throat that turned into swollen glands, a stiff neck, congestion, sneezing fits, and a bit of a cough. I didn’t really say that I was sick out loud until nearly the end of the trip, but I went through nearly a whole bag of lozenges, and a lot of tissue. I must have made it through the readings on pure adrenaline and old-fashioned work ethic, but I know I could not have even done that if my marido, Ines, hadn’t done all the driving, and if my son hadn’t navigated the roads, so I could rest in the back of the car. I was thrashed by the time we got back to Minneapolis. We all were, and I slept off and on all Sunday. We all slept off and on all Monday too after getting back home, and we slept well knowing that we done so much and seen so much in just six short days.

It might be a bit too early for real meaningful reflection on this book tour, but here’s what comes to mind now:

  • Do include your family and bring them with you when you can.
  • Your kids won’t always want to, but you should make them at least once.
  • Stay with friends if you can.
  • Staying with friends can make such a trip possible because it’s more affordable
  • Staying with friends is also often better because you’re more likely to see more of each city and be with people who actually know it.
  • Don’t forget to bring each host a small gift of appreciation.
  • Take a chance on the kindness of strangers, like Sean in Kansas City!
  • If you publish with a small press, try not to do all your readings in bookstores because you can’t sell your own books in books stores, and it’s nice to make a bit of gas money.
  • Do read in some bookstores because bookstore people are your kind of people.
  • If you can allow more time for sightseeing if you can, but since time is money, know that it might not always be possible.
  • Consider doing a fund-raising campaign, complete with cool perks. I didn’t want to at first, at all, but I also didn’t feel comfortable spending all my family’s money on a trip that revolves around me.
  • Find ways to make the trip to not feel all about you.
  • Lastly, always keep a journal.

Twelve Days of Winter Sewing

1149545_10201050734683373_1858688899_oNormally, this time of year I take the Literary Kitchen writing intensive class. Since I was super busy with my job and last minute edits for my upcoming book, I wasn’t able to sign up for the class. I will miss it.

Because the holiday season makes me uneasy, the way I vacillate between enjoying it (mainly because it makes my son happy) and wishing I didn’t want anything at all or worrying that someone will give me something horrible like lotion, or sad when I remember my mom trying so hard to make it feel like Christmas when it was so cold, and all she could afford to get us that would make any sense at all were slippers and robes – because of all that, because I need a distraction, a project, I’ve decided to embark on 12 days of sewing, starting today. I will also write, exercise, cook, play drums, and spend time with my family, which really goes without saying.

From today 12/18 to 12/30, I will sew everyday for at least one hour, more when I can. I will take one day off, probably Christmas because I’ll be cooking something to bring to a friend’s for dinner. This schedule is similar to the Wayward Writers Writing Intensive schedule.

I got the idea to sew everyday for a set number of days from Jil Cappucio who has the best pop up shop in Albany, filled with clothes she designs and makes herself. While it’s not a dream I ever expected to have, I hope to someday sew as beautifully as Jil, or as my main sewing mentor, my mom Cheryl. I wish I hadn’t waited until crafting was cool again to learn to sew, but that’s exactly what happened.

I no longer care if sewing is domestic art. I rather like staying home.

All that said, here’s a list of the things I plan to make/complete during my 12 days of winter sewing:

                        2 altered t-shirts

                        2 aprons

                        2 shopping bags (optional)

                        1 pair of kitchen curtains

                        1 dress

I’ll be honest, the dress on my own, without my mami’s help scares me, but I’m going to take it on anyway. I’m also going to use the serger she bought me. If I get stuck I will use modern technology – youtube and facetime. My mom loves it when I facetime her with sewing questions.

Last summer, I didn’t sew nearly as much as thought I would, so 12 days of holiday sewing should help me avoid the now dreaded didn’t-sew-enough remorse.

I will post updates here and you can follow along on Instagram (also Jil’s idea) @mexicana.brava

Summer Reading, Feels So Good

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MCG with Wayward Writer hermana, Lisbeth Coiman at The Last Book Store in Los Angeles

Because I teach and grade hundreds of essays during the school year, I don’t get to read as much as I like – just the books I’m teaching, books I’ve read five to ten times or more already. Because I’ve been writing mostly memoir in the last couple of years, I’ve been reading a lot of memoirs.

This summer I read four memoirs, all by women.

           I Was a Teenage Dominatrix, Shawna Kenney/1999

           Girl in a Band, Kim Gordon/2015

           How To Become a Chicana Role Model, Michele Serros/2000

           How to Grow Up, Michelle Tea/2015

Not only does it appear that I really like memoirs written by women, and books organized like how-to guides, but I also like books written by women who share my unfortunate first name.

imgres I Was a Teenage Dominatrix by Shawna Kenney made me laugh out loud several times. At only twenty-nine when she wrote it, Kenney is wonderfully self-reflective and good at punch lines. The thing that surprised me about this book is how much she included about her family, her working class background, and her determination to do everything she had in her power to do pay for college, since no one else could pay her way for her. I could have read even more about that, but I also loved her honesty about the choices she made about when to drop the dominatrix personae to just be a friend to a caller when she saw that some of these guys were just poor lonely saps with bad social skills and had only called her for the company. She even helped one guy learn to dress better and get some dates, and ultimately married. I am lucky to know Shawna personally, and I could really see her doing that.

imgres-1 Girl in a Band by Kim Gordon was practically required reading, as it was one of the books I read and wrote a brief summary of for PM Press to include with the distributor’s info, along with Violence Girl by Alice Bag, and Clothes, Music, Boys, by Viv Albertine of The Slits. Girl in a Band is well-written book, quiet and subtle in ways that I liked, but Albertine’s book was more my style, louder, brasher, and forthcoming. It’s important for me to point out here that it’s likely that I felt this way about Albertine’s memoir because she was in an all female band like I was, and because her background is similar to mine. We were both raised by single moms who were often down on their luck and money and necessities were often hard to come by. It’s not Kim Gordon’s fault that her mom was stable and that her dad was an academic with steady work and expectations that his children would go to college too. Gordon admits to being the type to keep her emotional reactions pushed down, but when she opens up in the, she is good at writing about her emotions, as a reader, you feel like super let in — I liked that.

  MicheleSerros           images  How To Become a Chicana Role Model by Michele Serros is a memoir of sorts, more a book of semi-instructional essays. In March, I read at a Michele Serros memorial reading in Highland Park. Shawna Kenney invited me, and I was honored to do it, especially since I only met Michele Serros once at a reading where she signed my copy of Chicana Falsa – a book with the best title ever. There’s a poem in that book that has a stanza strikingly similar to a poem I wrote around the same time. The stanza was about how both Serros and I did not grow up speaking Spanish because our families have lived in California for a few generations already. Michele was good at expressing the shame you feel when you can’t communicate in what most assume is your mother tongue. My favorite part of How To Become a Chicana Role Model is when Michele, who has grown tired of being asked where she’s from and not satisfying with the answer California, begins asking the same question back. “Where are you from?” She says this near the end of the essay.

      It was then I suddenly felt sorta sorry for him. It’s amazing how many white                          people don’t know anything about their own ancestry or background and so it’s                    no wonder why a lot of them confess to feeling so culturally bankrupt.

 

imgres-2 How To Grow Up by Michelle Tea — if you’re trying to learn to treat yourself better or break up with someone, you should read this book now. It is charming and super influenced by her roots in punk rock, spoken word communities, and recovery. It’s sort of weird that I’ve never met Michelle Tea, not because I feel I have to know every writer or every writer named Michelle, but because we have always traveled in similar circles, and we have a lot of friends in common. I  will finally meet her in October, as she’s reading at Lit Quake sponsored Zocalo Spits: Arts in the Dro event, a reading series that I host with Soma Mei Sheng Frazier.

In addition to sharing a name, Michelle Tea and I also have a similar background, but it was my mom who was the one doing all the drugs – that’s not to say that I never experimented, or made terrible choices, and it’s for those reasons that did not agree at all with Michael Shaub at NPR’s review of the book, especially this:

                 Even for slow learners, the lessons here are painfully obvious, but Tea spells                           them out anyway: Don’t date people who sell pills in bus stations. Don’t date                         people who you know in your gut are lying to you all the time, whose stories are                   so shady you start to hope they are lying to you.” Fine advice, to be sure, but it’s                   hard to imagine readers who wouldn’t consider Tea’s story and come to those                       conclusions by themselves.

Those of us who are slow learners, or for whatever reason, growing out of a state of arrested development do need IT spelled out for us. Yeah, Michael Shaub (maybe you are just super lucky, privileged and well-adjusted), the lessons are obvious, but being raised a certain way and/or living a certain way for so long makes certain behaviors so ingrained that we need lots an lots of reminders to avoid them, and these lessons are extra helpful when they come from someone we admire. In this case, for me, it was Michelle Tea.

Wayward Writers’ Magic

Wayward.CarouselOperator2015

Every summer for the past four years, my family has packed up our little car, and sometimes a dog, and made our way to the mountains for the Wayward Writers Retreat.

It sounds a little fancy doesn’t it? For many, adding the word retreat to anything conjures images of long soaks in mineral springs, yoga, and rock mazes, but this retreat doesn’t really include any of those things, and it really only includes a little writing and one public reading. So what else do we do? Well, we drink wine and margaritas and we talk about writing, and writers, and books, our projects, the ones that are driving us crazy, and the ones we’ve finished that we’re proud of – published or not.

The first Wayward Writer’s retreat took place in 2012. It was Margaret Garcia’s idea to bring together as many writers as possible who met online in Ariel Gore’s Literary Kitchen – dubbed the Wayward Writers. It should have been a little nerve wracking that first year, the prospect of meeting a bunch of people in person that I had only met online. It was like a three-day long, polyamorous internet date. It could go right, but it could also go very, very wrong, and I’d be five hours from home, having subjected my whole family. The funny thing is that I never really thought of it that way at all. I only felt a bit nervous the first year meeting everyone in the seconds before found our way to Margaret’s house in Greenville, but before packing the family in the car, I hadn’t really considered any negative possibilities because I have faith in writers, especially women writers. Those of us who showed up that first year had been writing together in the Literary Kitchen for a year or more, commenting on each other’s work, getting to know one another by reading the others’ work, often memoir, and through the comments – Ariel Gore’s wise and kind style of leading, teaching, and critiquing was our guide.

I had finally found my people.     Wayward.AFG.2015

I’ve never been to any other writer’s retreat. They’ve always been too expensive, or too white, or too far away, or I didn’t want to leave my then younger child for so many days in a row unless I had to work because separations were so hard for him then.

Maybe I would have published sooner if I had gone to a retreat, but there’s no guarantee, andI hadn’t published anything yet the first year of the annual Wayward Writer’s Retreat in 2012 – none of the other Waywards had published much yet either, but they all seemed a bit more experienced and accomplished, some with chapbooks, blogs, and connections. I didn’t mind because I was working feverishly to finish my first memoir to concentrate much on publishing, plus I knew that these women would teach me a lot about where I could place my work and how to do it. One thing we all had in common was the yearning for a book deal, ideally, an agent and a book deal, but in this age of publishing we were learning agents were getting harder and harder to come by, but that there were also other routes – even self-publishing, though extra labor-intensive, was a viable and increasingly attractive potential option. I considered self-publishing my first, still unpublished memoir, Pretty Bold For a Mexican Girl: Growing up Chicana in a Hick Town, the memoir that I finished in the Literary Kitchen manuscript workshop, but then realizing that I had another memoir in me, one with a built-in audience, I focused instead on finishing, The Spitboy Rule: Tale of a Xicana in a Female Punk Band. I took the knowledge and the confidence from writing the first one and wrote another and got a publisher. I’ve published quite a bit in anthologies and literary journals too since that first Wayward Writer’s Retreat, many of which I’ve learned about from my Wayward Writer hermanas. I followed in Margaret’s footsteps and made the 2013 SF cast of Listen To Your Mother and had the great fortune, this year, of winding up in the anthology.

Now, I don’t have to go another writer’s retreat unless I want to, or until I apply and get a big scholarship for a retreat in some secluded locale with my own room and my meals prepared. Still, I know I’d miss Margaret, and Julian, and Paloma, and Diego, and Jenny, and Rebeca, Linda, and Rocky, and Lisbeth, even the others who have only made it up once, and I’d miss making two dozen tortillas by hand while my husband grills marinated steak brought from our local Mexican market, and doing things like riding a high-speed carousel in the woods. Most of all, I’d miss sitting around watching our kids play in the creek while we ponder if any of them will remain friends in the future, or joke about if they’ll need to form a kids of writers support groups.

This retreat where we camp out in Margaret’s yard and take turns cooking, checking on the children, and opening bottles of wine, I quickly learned is where a year’s worth of collective knowledge is gathered, combined, and shared. Never mind that it doesn’t come with word count promises, or cozy cottages, or fancy sponsors, or swag bags — just writers who cheer one another on, share resources and parenting stories, writers who collaborate, and writers who love to sit up with a glass of wine and talk about writing late into the night.

wayward writers 2012

Spitboy Rule Review of Green Day’s Return to 924 Gilman

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We used to call it the pest list, the list bands put names on to get their friends into the show for free. You can’t put everyone on the pest list.

If I remember correctly, when Spitboy was playing Gilman we were only allowed a few people on our guest list, a couple more if could make a particularly good case. The reason bands are only allowed a few people on their guest list at small clubs has everything to do with the size of the club, fire code, and of course money.

My son, Luis Manuel, and I weren’t on the guest list of last night’s Gilman show at which Green Day played (a benefit for the AK Press and 1984 Printing damage in a fire that claimed two lives) for the first time in twenty-one years, but we got in anyway. I won’t say how because it was a little dodgy and because I don’t want to implicate anyone (I did make a donation to the cause). A friend in one of the other bands that played offered to get my son and I in once we got to the door, so I guess we did have a real in after all.

My son who is thirteen and becoming mildly embarrassed of me (as is the order of things) is not the Green Day fan that he once was, but I am, so I made him come with me to see what all the fuss was about.

“We’re not even going to get in,” he said in his snide thirteen year old way on our way there.

As the parent of teen, I tend to ignore such behavior because it’s not worth the power struggle.

 “I bet some of my friends from school will be there,” he said later as we walked from the car.

I had my own doubts about getting into a show that sold out online in a reported ten seconds , but it was worth a try, plus I was meeting my friend Juliette from out of town at Pyramid Brewery across the street, a friend who did get on the guest list, someone I hadn’t seen in twenty years.

My son tried to play it cool when Juliette asked him if he was excited about the show once we got access to the wrist bands. He  just shrugged his shoulders. In addition to being a surly thirteen year-old, he can be shy around people he doesn’t know. I explained to Juliette that my son is a jazz musician, a piano player, and that he doesn’t listen to Green Day or any of the other alternative music that he was listening to two years ago. However, like Green Day, my son hopes to one day make money playing music because like Green Day, he is all about the music, playing it, thinking about, listening to it, and he hopes, one day composing it and playing for an audience other than his parents or other parents of his peers at recitals for the performing arts school that he attends in Oakland.

I understand the sellout argument, but I won’t bother rehashing it here. I was in a band that would not have been pursued by a major label. We were too loud, too angry, too feminist, but that was never a reason for me to turn my back on bands that have, to shame people I sort of grew up with. I, famously, went to see Nirvana play in 1993 at the Oakland Coliseum. In fact, I went to with Jason White who plays guitar in Green Day. It’s not in my nature to hate people for making a decision to make a living doing something that they love. I would love to make money on my writing, and I had a story recently published in an anthology put out by a major publishing house. No one is calling me a sellout or creating a bunch of controversy.

Punk rock is fussy. I know that. There are rules in punk rock too, rules made by people who hate rules, and that’s fine, I guess, but don’t ask me to make excuses for liking Green Day even though I played drums in Spitboy because I won’t do it.

I will, however, stand up on a table in the back of Gilman and dance just like I did when I was twenty-three years old if, even my thirteen year old son doesn’t approve.