Finding Community in Unexpected Spaces

I don’t know what your writing process is like, but for me currently it’s kind of all or nothing. Inspiration strikes and suddenly I have to let all of these words fall out of me. But if I wait too long, it begins to feel like a chore – the further away I get from the feelings that inspired the words in the first place, the less likely I am to actually commit them to paper. Or blog post. Or even an Instagram caption, some days…

With that being said, I wrote most of this post in a fever dream at midnight last night before I passed out from exhaustion. The feelings this experience conjured are things I reflect on quite often, and I’m sure that others do too – but I think actually speaking them is important.

Last night Spencer and I were at Play the Bay at Brewcade. For those of you that know us, you know we’ve been doing some sort of board game night for a long time – but it can get exhausting after a while. Especially when half the work of running the night is introducing yourself to strangers in a bar and inviting them to play a board game with you. Sometimes strangers that came there with the express intention of playing Codenames, but quite often, strangers that came just to enjoy a typical night out who are unprepared for Spencer’s fast talkin’ elevator pitch on why you must play Onitama.

Luckily, one group we met last night fell somewhere in the middle, and soon we were playing a game of Dixit with them. They mentioned needing to keep an eye on the time, and revealed that they were playing a show at the Swedish American Hall a few doors down in about half an hour. We talked about their band and what they were like, which was most succinctly described as “doom folk.” Spencer and I were intrigued, but as we were running our own event, couldn’t exactly step out for a quick concert.

Throughout the course of our conversation, we talked about where they were from (Portland) and likewise for us (Lou-ah-vul, of which they were interested to hear the local pronunciation). We had kind things to say about each other’s towns, but the conversation eventually moved to California and how we each found ourselves here. They were touring, as were we, sort of. We told them about travel therapy and our time in Santa Cruz, at which point they lit up and revealed that they had a show scheduled there the very next night – and we should come, if we like. “Where,” Spencer inquired, “the Catalyst Club?” “Yes!” “Oh, cool, that’s right down the street from our house. Yep. We’ll be there!”

And just like that we filled up a Thursday night that I had been planning to use to catch up on work and sleep. C’est la vie. Seeing a show at the Catalyst Club had been on our bucket list since we moved to Santa Cruz, and as our companions had kindly offered to put us on their guest list, we certainly weren’t going to pass up an opportunity to do it for free.

Spencer and I agreed that prior to the show, we would listen to nothing by either our new friends (Haley Heynderickx + band) or their opener, Kera and the Lesbians. It felt more pure, more magical this way.

I was excited to have a good excuse to bust out a new tube of liquid eyeliner I had recently acquired. Of course, I worked too late and didn’t save myself enough time to struggle through making the wings even, but what are you going to do? People who get that right on the first try are almost assuredly harnessing eldritch magic anyways.

At the venue, we waited in line and eyed the pizza window that had long been on our mind. It’s a cash only operation that only makes 4 different types of pizzas daily and then sells by the slice until they’re all gone. The pepperoni cups up in a way that you could only dream about in elementary school, and Spencer and I quite often stop on our walks to eye it hungrily while we look through our wallets and will our debit cards to turn into dollars.

Once we were in, we clumsily told the ticket seller that we were “on the list” and were given two stamps and a blue wristband. We noticed that others didn’t get the wristband, so we finally asked what the function of it was and learned that it could get us in backstage.

I’m not exactly a stranger to the music scene. I spent a fair amount of my youth going to small shows at weird venues, or scouring the internet for every recording that Say Anything/Max Bemis put out, or begging my dad for this to finally be the year I got to go to Warped Tour (spoiler alert: it never was). A large part of my wardrobe was band shirts and Vans, which all got purged as I “grew up” and wanted to have a more mature look. It feels bittersweet now.

Still, I’ve never felt quite “cool” enough to feel truly comfortable in this space. Maybe it’s because I never really know what to do with my hands, or maybe it’s because my own attempts at music (6 guitar lessons as a high school freshman) and rhythm (dancing is not a natural talent of mine) have been short-lived and mostly unsuccessful. So while I really enjoy listening to music, the bigger part of my time spent with it has been alone in my room, looking up song lyrics and singing quietly to myself. I don’t really feel I fully belong in a crowded auditorium, and certainly not backstage.

These feelings melted away throughout the night. Kera and the Lesbians opened with a song full of beautiful and chilling harmonies, and Kera herself has an enchanting and androgynous stage presence. They played a short but tight set, and we liked them enough to rush the merch table when they were finished. I thought that it was about time for a band tee to enter my closet again, and I’m hard-pressed to think of one that could be attached to a better story.

In between sets, Spencer and I debated going backstage to wish them luck before they went on. It felt so alien to us, and it’s hard to not feel like you’re just going to bother people. But damn it, they gave us these blue wristbands for a reason – let’s use ’em.

They were lovely and gracious, and still a bit surprised that we came. One of the things I mourn the most about this digital age is that commitments to plans have become more shallow. It’s so easy to click “interested” on a Facebook event with no real intention of getting yourself there. And when you invite strangers on a whim to come to your show the next day, I’m guessing it’s a smaller group of people that take you up on it.

We bid them farewell so they could finish preparing, and they joined the rest of the crowd in the atrium minutes later. Haley herself is so cute and kind, and introduced the band in her soft voice that reminds me of Missy from Big Mouth. They launched into their first song and I knew we had make the right choice in not prepping our ears beforehand. We’d gotten minor description from them while playing board games the night before (“What instruments are there?” “Guitar, drums, keys, upright bass, and trombone”) (“Is it like Modest Mouse?” “Not really.”) Intimate yet electric, with melodies that resonate in your chest and lyrics that ranged from wistful to silly to profound. One of my favorites was “Fish Eyes,” a song about a Filipina woman nervously sucking down the eyes in fish head soup on a first date with a goofy American boy – later revealed to be a song about how her parents met, but that they “didn’t actually like that much.” Or “No Face,” inspired by the character that you may be thinking of, which seductively and mournfully asks “Is it the bridge of my nose// or the backs of my skin// Is it the pull of my hips // that you couldn’t let in?” The whole performance was beautiful, reassuring, and regrettably short.

After they finished, we caught up with them and thanked them again for inviting us. We talked to Denzel, the trombone player, a recent Grammy winner and DREAMer who wasn’t able to go with the rest of the band to Calgary due to fear of not being allowed back into the country where he’s lived almost his entire life. He thanked us for inviting them to play Dixit, as it was a game that he and Lily (on keys and backing vocals) had played incessantly when they were roommates. In turn, we thanked him profusely for inviting us to listen to their music.


The other day in the car, we were listening to an older episode of Behind the Bastards about Paul Manafort. It talked about all the horrible things he did before he was blasted into the public spotlight on the Trump campaign. I don’t have much energy to fully discuss politics these days, but what I did find interesting was this text message exchange between his daughter, Ashley, and her friend:

AMS: It’s just weird. Like [my dad] doesn’t seem that smart. Like he is smart. But I know I’m smarter than him.

Friend: I don’t doubt that, he’s a master manipulator. Which seems pretty key.

AMS: He is very manipulative. I did inherit that ability. But I don’t exploit it like he does. I know all his tactics. They aren’t that brilliant but they do work.

At the end of the day, no matter how much power he held, he was still just a dad with a daughter rolling her eyes. People, after all, no matter any facade or public persona they may put on, are just people.

While it can be easy to let that information check a box on the “country is going to hell-in-a-handbasket” column, I prefer to broaden it and think of it in a more hopeful way. In the same way that “bad people” are just humans making bad choices, there is a whole slew of others doing the opposite. Your favorite artist choosing to paint. A writer you admire starting a new series of novels. An RPG designer releasing the game they’ve been working on for 10 years. Ariana Grande. They are all just people, too.

I’ve been able to do a lot of really cool things in my life, and very few of those things haven’t stemmed from putting myself out into the universe, however scary that may be. No matter how intimidating a person or a space, on the other side of it is a human with their own brand of anxieties and neuroses. So reach out to the creators you enjoy. Especially now in this incredibly connected era, it’s actually realistic that your tweets into the void might actually get seen. Tell someone you respect how they’ve influenced you. Ask for things, even if you think the answer is no. And most importantly, once you feel like you have something worth sharing, invite someone to experience it with you. You never know what adventure they may bestow upon you in return.

Also, the pizza window was all sold out by the time we left the show. Next time, greasy and beautiful pizza. Next time.

If you don’t go outside
Well nothing’s gonna happen
She’ll never write her number on a crumpled up napkin
She’ll never be your ego
She’ll never be a bandit
She’ll never get to eat you like your heart’s a pomegranate

-Haley Heynderickx, Oom Sha La La

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