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Unfortunately, I did exactly with this blog what I vowed not to do—I stopped writing when I encountered something I didn’t know how to write about. But I also have to assume that I say something when I have something to say (is there any other way to do it??), and hi again.

I just started reading Megan Boyle’s Live Blog, the extension of the autofictional impulse to the absolute furthest place. It’s a transcription of everything eaten, consumed, thought, in totally engrossing detail. I’ve only read 20 or 30 pages (this book is a doorstopper, as they say) and I’m so compelled and challenged by it. I realize that the texture of lived life is so unbearably sweet to me, and I love it when someone will just let it be stated the way it is.

Here’s the thing I had a hard time writing about: the anarchist marching band I’m a part of traveled to Nogales, AZ, for an annual border action at the invitation of Casa San Jose, a rad nonprofit who so amazingly had invited us to partner with them. The trip was bewildering, hard, emotional, something to process beyond my typical thoughts about books and scenes from life. We played in a parade that crossed the border checkpoint, we played at the place along the border where Jose Antonio was murdered by border patrol, we played at a vigil outside the Eloy detention center, in the middle of the desert, and the detention center was lit up bright white like the only thing in the world. I drove three days there and three back to transport our big instruments, the first time I had driven more or less entirely across the country, and the first time I saw the slow fade from the billboards in the Midwest to the insanely beautiful purple cactus shadows in the desert. I didn’t say anything about it because I was afraid of saying the wrong thing, and I was afraid of claiming some kind of fucked-up activist cred, and I was afraid of performing a rage that might somehow cancel out the real one, or sock puppet everything. Kind of in the same way that I don’t always love to take pictures: I don’t necessarily like stepping out of the moment and into the camera. Maybe I’m afraid that if I do, the camera will show you something I don’t like. It’s almost certainly the case. Any wall I’ve ever made is all about that.

And part, too: I had the thought over and over that maybe that story, the story of the trip and the border, wasn’t mine to tell. But now I see it much better: the part of it that’s mine is mine. The part that isn’t mine is not. Declaring the whole thing off-limits is, I suspect, another effect of white supremacy. It’s harder to figure out what’s mine than it is to turn away and go elsewhere.

So here’s the part that’s mine, I think, or at least the part that’s coming forward now: We prepared a bunch of songs for this trip, in great part because we wanted to have material to match the mood of all of the places and events Casa wanted to attend. That’s how I saw our job: we bring the music with Casa and take their lead on when and how much to be present. Anyway! We learned songs with messages specific to the events, and we brought forth anything we had that could match the sentiments of the vigils and protests. But we also learned love songs. Just straight up love songs. I didn’t really understand why.

It turned out that we played the love songs way, way more than we played anything that was “on message.” It meant something better than a message for everyone to sing together. Especially the protest at Eloy—the people who had been there in past years told us that it felt safer to be there, even when the guards started getting edgy and the sun went down, that there was a way to sing together. Singing is a way to be together. It makes me think about playing music a different way. Instead of just wanting to play a bunch of solos or a bunch of juicy, scene-stealing parts, I get to be part of the boom box that makes a way to sing together. I cry with gratitude when I think about that, in part I think because it is such a relief to be useful. I never thought about love songs being useful, but I’m so grateful that they are.

Now that I’ve said it, I can’t figure out why I was afraid to, but I guess it’s like that sometimes.

I have more to say: about the desert, about Live Blog, about the way my cat twitches in her sleep. I never trust the impulse to make things too beautiful! Thanks for reading this.

Sarah Smith