New KTCO: Brandon Taylor

This week on Keep the Channel Open, I'm pleased to welcome writer Brandon Taylor back to the show. Brandon’s debut novel, Real Life, is one of the best books I’ve read in years. Real Life is the story of Wallace, an introverted, black, gay graduate student studying biochemistry. Over the course of a summer weekend, a series of confrontations with his friends and labmates and a confusing encounter with a straight classmate bring all of the unspoken tensions in the group to the surface. In our conversation, Brandon and I talked about the craft of writing a novel, the question of what real life is, the banality of racism, and the hidden selfishness inside altruism. Then in the second segment, we talked about digital communities and how our interactions in those communities have changed over time.

Here are some links to where you can listen to the episode:

You can also listen to the full episode and find show notes and a transcript on the episode page at the KTCO website.

The Outer Banks

This morning on the drive to work I picked an old and relatively long playlist, and set it to shuffle. Just before I got to the office, "The Outer Banks," by the Album Leaf came on.

Back in the mid-2000s, my brother started making mix CDs for me. He's always been a lot more in the know about music than I have, and while I can't remember if he just started making them or if I asked him to help me find new music, those CDs formed the foundations of my music tastes for a decade. That song, "The Outer Banks," was on one of the first CDs he made me, and for several years that's what it made me think of. The CD, the other songs on the CD, and him.

A few years later, my son was born. On his first birthday, I made a slideshow of photographs and video clips from his year—a practice that has become a birthday tradition for each of my children. They look forward to it, and I enjoy it.

I've used a lot of different music for my kids' birthday slideshows, and I honestly can't really remember most of them, or which one I used for which year. Especially because after the first few, I started using music that I could pay to license, instead of just ripping CD tracks. The music I use now fits its purpose and, most importantly, it's legal, but it's fairly generic-sounding and forgettable. I do remember that first one, though. I remember many of the images, most of the video clips, and how I cut it together with the music. I used "The Outer Banks" for that one. And now that's what I associate that song with.

The funny thing is, I remember the process of making that slideshow. I remember listening to the music over and over, looking at these images and videos, all of which depicted scenes from the very recent past. My son wasn't quite a year old yet, but I was already nostalgic. I remember looking at these pictures and listening to this song—which, admittedly, builds in a pretty dramatic and emotive way, something that would be completely appropriate for a montage or climactic scene in an early 2000's indie movie. And I remember feeling the time slipping away already. I remember feeling how fast it was all going. How it was objectively silly for these moments to feel far away already, but that they did feel that way, and some day they actually would be distant in a real way. I remember feeling the weight of that, of being in between my current memory and the memory that I knew I'd have in the future. How it felt poignant, but I knew it would be even more so later, and how I could already feel the echoes of those future feelings.

Listening to that song this morning, yes, I did think of the pictures. I did think of my son as a baby, my son who is already as tall as his mom now. And that was poignant, in a way that I both expected back then and that I didn't understand and couldn't have been ready for. But perhaps just as acute, maybe even more so, was the feeling of distance from myself at that age. Of being a person who'd never made a birthday slideshow for his kids yet. A person who didn't know what it was like to have two kids, or three. Listening to this song, that self felt very far away, and it also felt very close, like I could lay the feeling of today right on top of the feeling from then, overlapping so closely that I couldn't tell the difference.

Looking back, life seemed simpler then—though, it only looks that way from here. Then, nothing seemed simple. Maybe it seemed simpler because so much in my life was new. Last weekend, J and I went out for dinner and stopped for coffee afterwards. I remarked how different it tasted from the coffee I usually drink, and how all coffee tastes mostly like coffee, how your first cup of coffee when you're young just tastes like that, like coffee, but how after decades now, you're used to it, all you notice is the small differences, the nuances. Life is like that, too.

There are times when I wish I could go back. Or maybe I just wish I could be as young and energetic and resilient and sure as I didn't know I was then. Maybe what I wish is for this, now, not to end, because I know, always, that it will—I knew it then, too. Mostly what I want is just more time. Things are nuanced and complicated now, but they are new and simple, too. Things are always newer and older than they seem.

Life is strange, and short, and long. It's beautiful, too. I hope you're well.

New LikeWise Fiction: "Auspicium Melioris Aevi," by JY Yang

Episode 9 of LikeWise Fiction features "Auspicium Melioris Aevi," by JY Yang. In a future where famous historical leaders are cloned and trained in a mysterious Academy to become advisors to the world’s nations, the fiftieth copy of Harry Lee Kuan Yew tries to buck the system.

Listen to the story at:

You can also listen to the full episode and read the story text at the episode page on the LikeWise Fiction website.

New KTCO: Lilliam Rivera

This week on Keep the Channel Open, I'm talking with YA author Lilliam Rivera. In her young adult novels The Education of Margot Sanchez and Dealing In Dreams,  Lilliam tells familiar stories in new ways—instead of a typical teen  drama or dystopian science fiction, she centers Latina characters in  stories that take on topics like colorism and gentrification. In our  conversation, we talked about why she’s drawn to write stories about  young people, what it means to buy into the American Dream, and whether  violence is actually empowering. Then for the second segment, we  discussed Jeanine Cummins’ recent novel American Dirt and the controversy around it.

Here are some links to where you can listen to the episode:

You can also listen to the full episode and find show notes and a transcript on the episode page at the KTCO website.


New LikeWise Fiction: "The Story of the Woman Who Fell in Love With Death," by Chaya Bhuvaneswar

Episode 8 of LikeWise Fiction features "The Story of the Woman Who Fell in Love with Death," by Chaya Bhuvaneswar. A young boy immerses himself in story, trying to find meaning and wholeness after his sister goes missing.

(Content note: contains references to child abuse and gendered violence.)

Listen to the story at:

You can also listen to the full episode and read the story text at the episode page on the LikeWise Fiction website.