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.

Top 10 2007

1. Dot Ratarama

Gone Baby Gone

I don’t go to the movies much, because though theoretically I believe in the goodness of mankind, the mankind I tend to actually interact with is largely rude and stupid.  I used to go to the movies all the time - more or less every day during my 10 year undergrad career, but that was before, when the world was civilized and I didn't have to work for a living. And I was obviously trying to escape from something.   I did go see this one, because I'm always interested in the portrayal of "my people" in popular culture.  There have been a lot of movies that tried to do Irish-American Dorchester and Southie, but none have succeeded.  Good Will Hunting had great moments, but the ending sucked and Robin Williams' Boston accent was an atrocity that should have gotten him some jail time.  Anyway, Gone Baby Gone, was almost note-perfect, though it seems to have unleashed a backlash against portraying the gritty side of life on Dorchester Ave or W. Broadway. For an excellent discussion of the film, see Patrick Radden Keefe's Slate essay (, though I think Keefe was a little bit hard on it.  I think, all in all, it was wicked pissa.


2. Daisy #1

Pushing Daisies

Okay, it's quirky, but not cloyingly so. I am an unabashed lover of television.  It has cost me much time and a few relationships.  My favorites tend to be gritty with a dark underbelly (see # XX below) or whimsical and tragic with a smattering of song.  Pushing Daisies is among the saddest and sweetest.  The reviews are all kind of weird; reading most of what I've seen would have you believe that life is all brightly colored pies and Victorian houses.  As enchanting as it is, the tragic fact of Ned's inability to pet his dog or touch his childhood sweetheart is devastating.  Plus every once in a while, Olive Snook breaks into song.  People just don't break into song like they used to.  I miss that.


3. Daisey #2

Mike Daisey, storyteller

OK, first, let me be clear.  I don't wear Birkenstocks, and puppets largely creep me out.  I'm not into participatory improv, and the thought of a drum circle makes me break out in hives.  Given all that, I'd say I'm not really the demographic for "storytellers."  However, this guy is a master.  This year, I was lucky enough to see him do three monologues - Invincible Summer, Tongues Will Wag, and Monopoly. His stories are strange and sweet, informative and funny.  Monopoly in particular, though it's still in its early stages, was great.  I had no idea the game of Monopoly was designed to show the evils of private property, and though I knew Nikola Tesla got screwed, I really didn’t know the story.  The fact that Daisey can weave and tie these things together makes him a genius.


1. Trader Joe's Shu mai

3. Life

4. Magellan Roadmate 650

5. Amy Winehouse


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

Top 10 for 2006

Top 10 2006


  1. The Wire – Oh. My. God.  This is the best season yet, and there was a VERY high threshold.  Two eps to go for me, but I can feel my heart breaking already.  I have to keep reminding myself that it’s not a documentary.  The paradox of hopelessness and potential that drives the kid characters is more compelling than anything I’ve ever seen on the big or small screen.  The best writing for television ever.
  2. November 7, 2006 – I’m not going to dive too heavily into this one, because I think there might be one or two Pernice supporters out there who might still get upset with our (the Ashmont Records family) propensity for wearing our politics on our sleeves, but this was a VERY good day.  Time will tell, but I certainly see a better Massachusetts, and can only hope that – well, let’s just leave it at I can only hope.
  3. The Pernice Brothers – “Live a Little.”  No one will believe me, but I think it’s their best.  Just don’t call it “literary.” He gets made.  Like Charlie Ashmont when you try to make him take a bath. (payroll)
  4. “The Year of Magical Thinking” - Joan Didion.  I know it came out in 2005, but I didn’t read it until January, and it’s my blog.   The things we think about when dealing with loss have never been more clearly and beautifully articulated in all of their perplexing glory.
  5. “Angels in America” the opera, by Peter Eotvos, performed by Opera Boston and Boston Modern Orchestra Project in June 2006.  I have no idea if you had to know the play and/or HBO special to be as taken with this production as I was, but I was taken.  When I first read that to cut almost four hours from the six hour work, the politics had been left behind in favor of the human side of the story, I was a doubter.  But it worked for me.  And it was way more punk rock than anything I’ve seen in forever. (payroll)
  6. The opening of the ICA in Boston.  Finally, a world-class contemporary art museum in the stodgiest state in the U.S.  See “paradox” for the ways in which a state can be “stodgy” and still be held up as its own Governor as an example of the decline of western civilization. 
  7. “Easter Rising” by Michael Patrick MacDonald -  I’m interested in knowing if this book has resonance with people who don’t have the same experience, and I wonder if his particular “exile” status depends on his relationship with home to such a degree that it doesn’t apply if you’re not from the Irish ghetto, but I love this book. 
  8. Dixie Chicks – “Taking the Long Way.” Not solely on artistic merit, though I am, and have for a long time been, a fan.  More because I feel bad for what they’ve been through.  The uproar was entirely inappropriate for the original action, and I’m glad they articulated some of their experience on this record.  It would have been easier to make a record that country radio would play.
  9. “The Pillowman” by Martin McDonagh performed at New Rep in Watertown, MA.  Yup, it’s dark and disturbing.  (And I wish I’d had the opportunity to see the New York version with Billy Crudup.)  But it’s also makes you laugh at the unthinkable while looking at the relationship between art and crime.  I’ve also never seen more people leave during an intermission.
  10. The Arctic Monkeys – “Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not.”  I really like this one.  Is it just that I live in a bubble, or was this kind of a bad year for music?

Letter to the Globe, not published

Proving the more things change, the more they stay the same.

January 26, 2005

Linda Dorcena Forry is running for Tom Finneran’s seat in a March special election. I can only guess that since there wasn’t any coverage, there was no one from the Globe at the gathering of 300 supporters in Dorchester on Tuesday night. This is unfortunate, because had the Globe come, they would have seen the “New Boston” that caught the pundits by surprise when Andrea Cabral won election as Suffolk County Sheriff. Lest the media be caught by surprise again, you should know that the crowd was about half black and half white and half male and half female. There were many seniors, and many young people. There were straights and gays, OFD (originally from Dorchester) people and newcomers. I met people who identified themselves as being from particular parishes, an affectation we’re famous for here, and people who have no idea of parish.

The identities of event co-Chairs speak volumes about what New Boston represents. Representative Marie St. Fleur, the first Haitian-American to hold an elected seat in Massachusetts shared honors with Ed Forry, Linda’s father-in-law, and the publisher of the Reporter Newspapers. His family’s twenty plus years of community service include publishing The Dorchester Reporter which (along with the Boston Banner) is one of the best, most vital community newspapers in the country, as well as the Boston Irish, Haitian and Mattapan Reporters. Linda received the support of groups whose common endorsements signify changing times, like the Carpenters Local 67, Caribbean-American Political Action Committee and DotOUT, a community group of gay and lesbian voters. Present were public servants like former Attorney General Bob Quinn, Department of Neighborhood Development Director Charlotte Golar Ritchie, former Representative Paul White, Cabral, St. Fleur and many more. Some of them were Old Boston. All of them are New Boston.

Unfortunately, I can’t vote for her, because I live in one of the contested precincts in the overblown Finneran redistricting controversy that you did cover extensively. This means that instead of continuing to vote with the neighborhood in New Boston with which I most strongly identify, I am represented by an elected official I’ve never seen at a community meeting. That’s Old Boston.

Joyce Linehan

Dorchester, MA

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.