my introduction at Michael Patrick MacDonald event, March 14, 2008

My name is Joyce Linehan and on behalf of the Dorchester Arts Collaborative and our presenting partner for this event, the Dorchester Historical Society, I am pleased to welcome you to this, our second event in our Corita Kent Lecture series. 

Before we get started, I need to thank a few people. There was a great committee involved in the planning of this, including many of my fellow board members from the Dorchester Arts Collaborative, Earl Taylor from the Dorchester Historical Society and Karen Fegley, who designed our printed program.  I'd also like to thank the Commonwealth Museum for providing us with this space.  We're a resourceful bunch, but we do have to pay for some things, so we had to raise some money.  We're very grateful to our sponsors - Mt Washington Bank and the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority. 

Our lecture series is named for Corita, the artist who created the rainbow gas tank you undoubtedly saw on your way in here, and in a way that I didn't understand when we first started planning this event, there is a real connection between that tank and the conversation you're going to hear tonight.  Some of us who live here have decided that we were going to reclaim the gas tank, and Corita, in all of their contested glory.  On the one hand, here's this giant piece of art - reportedly the biggest copyrighted object in the world - by one of the most famous graphic artists in the U.S. at the time the tank was painted in 1971.  But the reality is that it’s a rainbow on a gas tank full of LNG, placed on a site that was once part of an oceanfront community, until Morrissey Boulevard was built - I think in the 40's, separating the community from its beach. My mother, who grew up on King Street always thought of herself as living close to the ocean, while I, growing up just a few streets away, always thought of the other side of Morrissey Boulevard as another planet.  At any rate, we're claiming the tank now, as well as the University, the JFK Library, this building and all of the other great resources on this side of the boulevard as being part of our neighborhood of Dorchester.

I'm one of those Irish-Americans who wanted nothing to do with St. Patrick's Day growing up. You wouldn't catch me dead in green (anything but black actually in those days) and I completely rejected what I saw as knuckleheaded nationalism. But as Michael so eloquently expresses in Easter Rising, one can't help but embrace one's Irishness once there is an understanding of the actual history. Once you have an understanding that insularity and community are two very different sides of the same coin, it's easier to reconcile the two. As Michael and I have been talking about this event, we've also been hatching all kinds of plans for reclaiming St. Patrick's Day, making it less about beer and shamrocks and more about our actual culture. And tonight, you're going to see our first humble stab at that. Tonight, no matter what your background, you'll be embracing your Irishness, the gas tank, Columbia Point, and this side of Morrissey Boulevard.

Michael Patrick MacDonald is a gifted writer, and the author of the huge bestseller "All Souls." His most recent book "Easter Rising," is a sequel to All Souls, and is just out in paperback, and available for sale here.  Michael grew up South Boston, though I believe his family actually lived in Columbia Point when he was born (a fact that has been used against him by detractors trying to claim that he's not "from" Southie.)

Michael will be interviewed by Joe Keohane, an editor at Boston Magazine and a native of Quincy, an actual beachfront community.  A former hotel employee, bookseller, gas-pumper, musician, and office drone, Joe joined the staff of Boston Magazine last year after serving as editor in chief of the Weekly Dig for four years.  His writing has also appeared in The Boston Globe, The Boston Herald, The Boston Phoenix, The New York Times Book Review, Conde Nast Portfolio, and other publications.

We'll start with a conversation between Joe and Michael, followed by audience Q & A and Michael will be available to sign books for a little while afterwards. 

We're very pleased to welcome Michael Patrick MacDonald and Joe Keohane to the Commonwealth Museum.

rated C for cancer

Movies and TV shows have ratings for language, sex and violence.  Records are often labeled with parental advisories. But none of these diversions are rated for the really useful things – like the presence of cancer and other illnesses, deaths and so on. So when these things become even the littlest part of the subject matter, the diversion is no longer a diversion, but rather a painful reminder of how badly life can suck sometimes. 

I have a friend who has cancer. To keep her from slipping into the depression that so often accompanies the feeling that you have absolutely no control over your physical well-being, a group of her friends, including me, is trying to keep her socially active. To that end, we try to go to movies, plays, dinner etc., and just keep the conversation from being about the intruder all the time. She’s a reader, and based on reviews, I was going to recommend the new Mark Haddon books, because I liked his previous one so much, but luckily I read it first before opening my mouth, because the main character is a man who has a growth on his hip that he thinks is cancer, and tries to cut it off with scissors. She can’t be reading stuff like that right now. I want to take her to see a play that’s supposed to be funny called “Well,” but what I’ve read about it refers to an illness, and until I know what illness that is, I’m staying away. 

I propose a new ratings system that lets people know about subject matters contained in works of literature, film, theater, dance and television that might cause discomfort and close the escape valve. 

It’s not that I advocate ignoring the 300 pound gorilla in the room, but I think he should stay in the room and not leap from the screen, stage or page into the head of the unsuspecting victim.

My guilty pleasure

I'm not ashamed.  From today's Boston Globe, the "Guilty Pleasures" feature (scroll down to get to me) -

Birthday parties
Birthday parties are pretty stupid. Why celebrate me? I didn't do anything special that day except crawl out of my long-suffering mother. Fortunately for me, they're also rare. The last two I remember involve friends pouring pepper in my eyes during a junior-high sleepover and my college roommate throwing a party attended by people who brought their textbooks to study. Rock 'n' roll. Since then I have moped around every May 5, assuring people I don't want any attention. But secretly I hope they'll do something special for me. I know it's immature to want people to get together and sing a song for you and eat cake and stand around looking at you. It's selfish, too. People have TV shows they could be watching. Though now that I'm turning 30 (oof!) I think I'm going to go all out. I want all my friends there. I want them to get me thoughtful gifts (a new laptop, or at the very least a case of Red Bull,), and to toast what a great friend I am. No, a great human. A humanitarian, I guess. A hero of sorts. I want streamers and hats and secret guests from the past. Maybe even my favorite band. Anyone got Morrissey's phone number? Getting old is troublesome, but this year I want everyone I've ever known to band together to send me off into the horrible decline toward middle age. Oh, and ice-cream cake. That's not too much to ask now, is it? [Luke O'Neil]

Alan Jackson
I'm fully aware that my hard-earned indie-rock, cutting-edge-arts, and dark-blue-political credibility is at issue, but I love Alan Jackson. I was a latecomer, starting with 1998's "High Mileage," with its classic George Jones-ish country melodies and the great anti-Wal-Mart song "Little Man." I was spending a lot of time in Nashville then, where my boyfriend at the time was playing kind of regularly at the Grand Ole Opry. I remember people telling me about this groundbreaking song, "I'll Go on Loving You," which turned out to be as weird a song as you'd ever want to hear from a commercial country superstar. I might really dislike the guy if I ever met him in person, but I still routinely play "Right on the Money," and "Gone Crazy," loudly, while driving around not very inconspicuously in my Dorchester neighborhood. [Joyce Linehan, Ashmont Media]

Currently listening:
By Alan Jackson
Release date: 15 January, 2002

Shaken liberal syndrome

I (think) I try really hard not to judge people based on appearances. Something happened this morning that shook me a little. I went out early to walk the dog, and noticed as I was leaving the house, my Wall Street Journal was on the sidewalk just outside my walkway (it’s supposed to be placed on my side porch, but that’s a whole different story.) I should have bent down, picked it up, and threw it inside my fence, on to my property, but I was just walking the dog, and would be back in minutes, and could pick it up on my way back. This is at about 7:30 a.m. on a Saturday, a generally quiet time here on the mean streets of Dorchester.

Ten minutes later, Charlie and I were walking back toward the house, about three doors down, walking toward us was a kid, maybe 16, black, wearing all the stereotypical accoutrements of the urban youth – baggy pants, oversized t-shirt, headphones blaring beat-heavy music. I look at him, because I kind of make it a point to say hi to everyone I pass on my street. As he approaches, I notice he’s kind of wrestling with a newspaper, and I see that it’s the Wall Street Journal. In a split second, I make the assumption that it’s not his paper, it’s mine.  I didn’t see him stoop down by my house or anything, but I just assume the paper is mine. 

When he gets close, I look at him and say hi.  He takes one headphone off, and I say, “you didn’t pick that up from in front of my house, did you?” He says “where’s your house,” and I say “about three doors down.” He says, “Yeah, I did pick it up there.” I say, “Can I have it?” He hands it to me and I say thanks and continue walking home. 

Now I feel guilty that I assumed that this particular kid would not be carrying a Wall Street Journal. Okay, I was right - he did pick it up, but does that excuse the fact that I jumped to a conclusion based solely on his appearance? I mean, when I see a young Irish construction worker come out of a bar, I assume to know what he was doing inside. I am an equal opportunity assumer. But is that a more valid assumption with less racial/ethnic baggage attached to it? Then again, if I said nothing, despite the fact that I just knew that it was my paper, then I am just allowing someone to walk right over me? But isn’t people’s response to those perceived slights the very thing that often escalates tensions?

And I feel guilty that I embarrassed him by catching him red-handed.  How messed up is that? And a lot of things crossed my mind. Did he only give it back so readily because I was walking my pit bull? Or was he genuinely embarrassed that I caught him? Would I have jumped to the same conclusion if it had happened to be my Boston Herald that he had picked up, since he fits the demo for that paper a little bit better? It also crossed my mind (and how unbelievably patronizing is this in my white, middle class, liberal perspective) that the kid, not having gotten the same breaks I got growing up in this neighborhood, may not have known that newspapers left on the sidewalk by the walkway at houses are generally meant for the occupant of the house? For all I know, he was on his way to his Saturday morning summer-at-Harvard prep class for college, or on his way to help Habitat for Humanity build a house somewhere. One might assume (if it’s okay to assume), if he’s headed toward the subway station at 7:30 on the Saturday morning of a holiday weekend that his intentions for the morning will be less than nefarious. So then why am I unable to shake the feeling that he might feel like defacing my property a little bit when he’s on his way home from wherever he was headed this morning?

My speech at Interim House "Raise the Roof" benefit, May 2003

Good evening.  I am Joyce Linehan, the oldest child of Yvonne Linehan, who we honor tonight. 

On behalf of my brother David and sister Gail, I thank you all for coming.  I am humbled at the sight of so many  - family, friends, neighbors and a few strangers. Your presence is testament to many of the good things my mother did in her life, whether you knew her or not. She would have been very pleased to see this gathering, to celebrate her 70th birthday.  She’d have been horried about turning 70, but she would have been touched. 

Through your generosity, and that of other friends who couldn’t be here tonight, we in fact actually raised the roof.  There is enough money to replace the roof on Interim House.  They need some plumbing work done too, but “Pay for the Plumbing” didn’t have quite the ring of “Raise the Roof.” 

At my mother’s wake, as I stood receiving the good wishes and sympathy of so many friends, I was struck by the remarks of three individuals – three men who looked like they’d seen a fair amount of hard living. Each man told me that my mother saved his life. While I knew what she did for a living, it really didn’t hit me until I shook hands with living proof of her day-to-day work. These were pretty awesome gifts she had, this capacity for compassion and empathy.  I was very proud of her. 

Though she would NEVER characterize herself as such, (much too unladylike) she was a feminist. She raised some very independent (when we didn’t call her frequently enough, she’d say too independent) children, and she exemplified self-sufficiency. Having been widowed with three small children and not much education, she knew full well the pitfalls of being dependent. She changed the course of her life, and in doing so, taught us self-reliance.  Growing up watching her, it never crossed my mind that a woman couldn’t have any career she wanted. And I am grateful for that.

She was also adventurous, with a love for new experiences.  As many of you know, I work in the arts, and one of the benefits of that work is that you get invited for free to all of these plays, concerts, dance performances.  I think that’s when I miss her most.  When I am sitting in some theater in town waiting for the curtain to go up, I think about how much she would enjoy being there, experiencing that. 

She was always up for those kinds of things, any kind of entertainment – movies, plays, whatever, no matter how esoteric or eclectic.  If you had an extra ticket, you could be sure that she’d be up for going.  Sure, she might look at you afterwards and say – that was really weird. What was that all about?  But she was always game. 

And she loved to travel.  She went to all kinds of places all over the world, at any opportunity.  I remember once, when she was a little upset with David about some trip he was taking that was going to make him miss a family gathering or something.  She was complaining that all he ever wanted to do was travel.  She looked at us, without even a trace of irony, and said “I don’t know where he gets it.” 

She also taught me the importance of laughter.  Every day was an adventure. Even when she was really sick, when we were driving to Dana Farber for thrice weekly blood infusions that took up the whole day, we laughed, and she made the people around her laugh too.  Her bald hat always matched her socks and her turtleneck. 

I remember one day, she was feeling kind of defeated by the nagging pain and discomfort caused by the chemo and radiation.  The doctor came in and she said, “Doctor, I can handle the cross.  It’s the splinters that are driving me crazy.”  She had a way of talking, sometimes misusing words or using outdated phrases (like calling a bag of broken donuts like the ones they would get as children “cripples” or saying someone looked like a whore in a church to describe someone looking guilty).

Once, we went to see my then-boyfriend, who is a country singer, perform down at the Music Circus.  After his set, she said to him, “Oh I love the way you sing those “ballards,” trying to disguise her Boston accent.  She had a language all her own, and inspired by a news story that was big a while back, we dubbed these little Momisms “Yvonnics.”  She was a very funny lady, and she raised pretty funny children.  Well, funny girls.  David’s not that funny, but he got some marketable skills, so don’t worry about him.

I just want to say a quick thanks to a few people who helped put this event together.  My co-chairs, my sister Gail Linehan who dealt with a lot of the logistics and little things.  She was the glue for this, just as she was when Mom was sick, and she spent so much time taking care of her. Judy Coughlin Curley, who must be very special because Yvonne was very fond of her despite the fact that she taught me how to smoke when I was 11. Dan Gay and Amy Meehan – two new friends whose humor and grace made a the work go  a lot faster.  JJ Rassler and Jen Rassler, old friends whose commitment to public service is inspiring.  Tom Johnston, who helped assemble the entertainment. His fate as a friend of the family was sealed in 1967, when his parents took my brother sister and me home with them so my Mom could go to the hospital the day our Dad died. We discovered this much later when we re-met in our late teens, and figured it was some kind of a sign that we were friends for life. Phil Sullivan, Brendan Haley and Greg Hanniwalt who are dealing with all of the tech stuff. And Naomi Yang, who designed the lovely invitations. Thanks to my friends Joe Pernice & Peyton Pinkerton, the Tarbox Ramblers and Blake Hazard. I don’t think we’ve had entertainment of this caliber around these parts since Ray Bolger played the Strand and Tony Bennett performed at Blinstrub’s. I’d also like to thank Florian Hall, the Dorchester Reporter and Paul Driscoll for their generosity. 

Again, thank you for coming. It means the world to David, Gail and me, to be able to see that Mom’s work is carried on. It is what she wanted.