The root of all evil.

I hate money. I really, honestly do. I hate that not having enough of it stresses me out, because otherwise I’m super laid-back. It pisses me off that money does that to me. And it’s not that I want lots of things or fancy things. I’m perfectly happy only owning one pair of jeans. But knowing that I will eventually need another pair when these give out makes me twitchy. I may not be able to afford them. That’s all I want from money, to be assured that I can get the stuff I need when I need it. Keep my tummy full on a semi-regular basis. Keep the heat on. Keep my dogs healthy. Keep my car running. I’m a simple person. Furthermore, I’m not judgmental about other peoples’ lives. Do your thing. I don’t care about race, religion, sexuality, whatever, so long as nobody’s telling me what to do. But I do have one prejudice that I can’t shake, try as I might. I fucking hate rich people. Not your average, normal rich person. I’ve known lots of awesome folks who happened to have quite a bit of money.

No, the sort of rich people I can’t stand are those who purposefully and willfully swindle and scam and climb to great heights on the backs of other people. Those who always want more, more, more, who are never satisfied, despite having so much they couldn’t ever spend it in their lifetime. Those who fuck over people without enough and couldn’t care less. CEOs who cut hours or benefits for wage workers while paying themselves and their cohorts huge bonuses. Politicians who pay millions for campaigns wherein they say they want to cut welfare and healthcare because if you’re poor you must be lazy. The white-collar fucks at the Giant Evil Bookstore who routinely keep employees at thirty-eight hours a week so they won’t have to offer health insurance, and who held sales contests where the winning store would get an all-expenses-paid vacation for the manager – a dude who makes six figures and I couldn’t afford groceries. Those kinds of rich people? Fuck those people.

All of which is to say: the elimination of Net Neutrality is class warfare and blatant corporate power grabbing. (Sorry I sort of buried the lede with my little rant there.) If you don’t know about Net Neutrality, you’re probably not going to have to worry. The odds are it won’t exist for too much longer. But here’s a basic rundown: The FCC classifies certain systems, like phone lines and radio waves, as common carriers. That means that, in addition to limiting the market share any one provider may have, all information transmitted by those systems must be treated equally. As of right now, internet service providers are common carriers. They want to change that. Their proposal involves creating a two-tiered internet, where some websites will be given priority over others. Those sites will pay to have their information sent to the front of the line, so to speak. Additionally, internet service providers will offer a high-speed connection to those who can afford to pay more. That last thing might sound like it’s already the case, and in some areas, that’s true. But most places in the US only have one or two ISPs available, and their services aren’t different enough to really matter. There is no legitimate competition. If this goes through, and Net Neutrality is eliminated, then everyone everywhere will feel the slowdown unless they can pay to get in the fast lane. Also, if you run a website or an online business and can’t afford to get onto the faster tier, but your competition can, you will pretty much become invisible. The FCC is accepting open comments on this issue until September 15th. I suggest you get thee to fcc.gov/comments or email openinternet@fcc.gov ASAP, friends, and tell them what you think.

This is abject fuckery. It’s like saying you can only use the passing lane if you drive a certain brand of luxury sedan. And why? I don’t feel like it’s necessarily intended specifically to squeeze money out of the lower classes, although that will certainly happen and the fallout from it is going to be incredible. Rather, I think this whole situation is yet another example of telling the rich that they deserve better than the rest of us. More to the point, it’s telling the rest of us that we don’t deserve what the rich have. We are, simply, not good enough.

Now, this may just sound like some techy, geeky thing that I’m upset about because I live on the internet. You may not think you should care. But let me tell you how this is going to go down. Say there’s a small business owner. Future Vanessa, let’s say, with her little used bookstore and online rare and collectible book business. Old FV can’t afford to get her website on the top tier, even though she does a healthy trade. Some other behemoth company, let’s call them Cramazon, they’re obviously on the top tier. FV’s website is slow and at the bottom of all the Google searches. Cramazon is quick, which, because we’ve trained our monkey brains toward instant gratification, is going to seem like better customer service. Therefore, people will go there instead. Because FV’s losing money, she can’t afford top-tier internet access anymore, either. Her email, banking, business, and entertainment are all painfully slow and little FV, Jr. can’t do her homework because everything takes a million years to download. You’re like, “So what?” at this point in my story. What I’m saying is that we increasingly rely on technology for every single aspect of our lives, and those resources should be equally accessible by everyone, and not give any one business an unfair advantage over another. What’s the endgame here? What is the goal of this change? Why would anyone want to make it harder for small businesses to have an online presence? Why would we want to make it easier and faster for businesses that are already successful to get even bigger? If we’re going to say that we’re capitalists, we shouldn’t be putting up roadblocks that prevent people from making money. That’s absurd. The bottom line is that people with money want more money. And yeah, sure, nice stuff is great. I love a man in a beautiful bespoke suit. Granted. But I like poor kids having shoes and books more.

Have you ever noticed that rich people don’t look at how much things cost? That they have no idea what’s in their bank account? Because it doesn’t matter, there’s always enough. When I worked at the Giant Evil Bookstore, I knew to the penny how much I had at any given time. I also knew what city all my bills were mailed to, so that I knew which day to post what, according to when payday was. “If this smaller bill is due before the big one, I can mail the small one on Tuesday so it’ll come out of the bank account on Thursday, leaving me $4 until I get paid on Friday, so let’s cross our fingers that the big bill I mailed on Thursday doesn’t come out until Monday, and maybe we’ll have enough left to buy gas to get to work this week.” It’s constant and it’s fucking exhausting. Rich people don’t deal with that. The point I’m trying to make is that there’s not only a monetary gap between the upper and lower classes, but an ideological one, as well. A psychological one. When you tell the guy on the street who just asked for a dollar to get a job, do you realize what that entails? A shower, clean and presentable clothes, enough food to think straight in an interview, and possibly a printout of a CV. Oh, and a job to apply for. It’s not like they’re just handing those out lately. When you say that people on welfare are lazy and don’t want to work, that may be true for some of them. But others are already working, working their asses off, and minimum wage is a fat fucking joke. When you say folks should go back to school so they can get a better job, realize that there are only so many hours in the day, rent still needs paid, and student loans are a crippling debt that can stick around for the rest of one’s life. Going back to school doesn’t guarantee a better job. It’s a huge gamble, and often a risk not worth taking. Meanwhile, bullshit like this Net Neutrality thing just reinforces what poor people are told every day: We don’t care about you. You aren’t worth caring about. You’re less than us and you always will be.

So, to whomever came up with this brilliant fucking moneymaking scheme, to whatever minions of Satan decided this was a good idea, to whichever group of capitalist scumfucks run the world from a series smoky backrooms, to the sorts of bigwigs who treat people like commodities and regularly step on others for the sake of your bottom line, I have this to say to all of you, a story I hope with all the hope I can muster comes true: One day, in the not-too-distant future, both you and your corporation are going to have top-tier internet access, as befits your rank in society. Some poor person, some anonymous genius hacker with a piece of shit, obsolete laptop and a lot of time on his hands, hacks your service. Maybe he’ll start just to see if he can do it. Maybe he wants to look for jobs or apply to school or just get some pirated Game of Thrones or something. Whatever. Oh, but once he’s in he’ll become mad with fast service. The power! And he’s going to go exploring. He’s going to backtrack from your wifi to your harddrive. He’s going to spelunk about in your email and your address book and your bank accounts. Ooh, the bank accounts. The investments. The credit cards. He’s going to drain them, slowly at first, so you don’t become alarmed. He’s not greedy, he doesn’t take it all for himself. He doesn’t want to be rich. He doesn’t want to be like you. Just a little donation to a local homeless shelter here, a tiny endowment for a scholarship there, the sorts of things a fucker like you would do to try to look good in your community. For the tax writeoffs, of course. And since it looks innocuous enough, your accountant doesn’t send up any red flags. But then, as our hacker hero’s confidence grows, there will come a day when you are bled dry. You’ll go to buy another car you don’t need or go to a fancy meal with no intention of tipping your server. And lo! Your card will be declined. And your other card. And your other card. You’ll figure out that something’s wrong and you’ll head home, only to find that everything you own is being repossessed. You didn’t pay your bills. Your lights are off. Your phone’s disconnected. You don’t have any food. Your house is in foreclosure. How do people live like this? you think. Then, oh, what a sweet, sweet plot twist, and this is my favorite part, really: the FBI shows up. Seems that they have some questions about your former computer’s harddrive. There was some truly evil, sick shit on there, my man. I don’t know where it came from, you say. I’m innocent, you say. Too fucking bad. Because our hacker friend, as I believe I mentioned, is a genius. A genius with a grudge, no less. So, now, you can’t afford your high-powered attorney. You get the same exhausted, overworked, court-appointed schlub as all the indigents you never cared about. You go to prison. Of course you do. You’ve lost it all. You’re surrounded, day in and day out, by people who have been routinely fucked over by yourself and others like you their entire lives. And boy, do they hate you. They make your life a living hell. And, while I’m not a spiteful person most days, when I hear about how far you’ve fallen? I. Will. Laugh.

 

Turn, turn, turn.

A few weeks ago I was sitting on a beach on Maui. It was just about as beachy as beachy gets: hot, muggy, flowers having sex all over the place. I was reading the complete Sherlock Holmes. Again. I brought that book on vacation precisely because I’ve read it before, to avoid missing anything by getting all caught up in a new and exciting book. Problem is, Sherlock Holmes is the least sitting-on-a-beach-on-Maui book ever written. It’s all fog and rain and dark city streets and roaring fireplaces. Lots of coats and upholstery. Now, I can’t say off the top of my head what constitutes a good beach read, but I know this wasn’t it. Perhaps I should hang out on more beaches, call it research. But I’ve been thinking about it a lot, and because we’re coming up on fall again I figured I should try to nail down what exactly makes a book seasonally appropriate. Books are like pumpkin spice or Christmas lights. When used in the wrong weather they’re horrible.

Obviously the setting of the book has a lot to do with it. Something like Sherlock Holmes or Susanna Clarke’s brilliant Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell should be read in late fall or winter. They just feel chilly, like you want to cuddle up with them on a gray day. On the other hand, On the Road or Summerland by Michael Chabon are definitely summer novels. Lots of outdoor shenanigans. And some books aren’t really seasonal because they span a long enough period of time. The Lord of the Rings, for example. Or because the season is irrelevant, like Hitchhiker’s Guide.

There’s the rub, though: I think of Hitchhiker’s Guide as a summer book, for absolutely no other reason than having read it in the summer, every time I’ve read it. There are some things that stick in my head and I don’t know why. A few years ago, I was looking for a book outside of my comfort zone and I asked my buddy Janet for a recommendation. She suggested Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, which, to my understanding, is set in New York around the time of 9/11. I told her I didn’t want to read it right then because it was hot outside and New York is cold. Obviously she looked at me like I had three heads, but being very forgiving of my quirks and tics, she helped me find something else. But I thought about it later, because I got to thinking about 9/11, and I know for a fact that it was hot out that day, both in New York City and where I was in North Carolina. So what the fuck, brain? A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Last Exit to Brooklyn, The Great Gatsby, The Basketball Diaries – all set in New York in the summer and all decidedly summertime reads. I have been to New York City in the middle of the summer and it was hot as fuck. I got on the wrong train and had to walk thirty blocks and the soles melted off of my sandals! But my automatically thinking of New York as cold remains, however illogical.

And then there’s the genre thing. I was looking at books in several airport bookstores on my travels (it’s a compulsion, I have to look) and I definitely noticed a preponderance of horror and mystery titles. Being that I was traveling in July and August, I have to wonder if those stores were catering to the vacationing crowd specifically, or if their stock looks like that year-round and they’re always catering to the weary traveler. Either way, why horror and mystery? Sure, they pump out a lot of cheap paperbacks, but have we gotten so CSI-brained that murder and gore are considered fluffy beach reading? Because I know that I, personally, tend to read more horror in the winter. That whole “dark and stormy night” thing, I guess. I would expect vacation-y books to be lighter fare, junk food for people who only get this one week off a year and want to unwind. But to each their own unwindings, I suppose. I have, in fact, been laughed at in the face for suggesting that science fiction can be as high-minded as canonical literature, so read all the stabby stab you want while you’re at the beach. Fluff is super subjective.

There are books that confound me, though, that would seem better suited to one season but absolutely aren’t. The Stones of Summer is a perfect example. If you can get your hands on a copy I highly recommend it. Obviously, it’s set in the summertime, but it falls squarely on the list of books I would suggest for reading deep in the fall, but before it gets wintery. An October book, for sure. There’s something almost mournful about the way he talks about summer, probably because he’s using it as an allegory for lost childhood (which sounds heavy-handed but is beautifully done). And there are little nods throughout, little moments when he says something that makes you feel like summer has been trapped, caged the way that we tend to hold onto memories of childhood. One line, about a boy sitting on a wall and idly kicking his feet: “He was silent like screaming roses growing in glass houses.” If that’s not a line that belongs to autumn, I don’t know what is.

This all might be just in my head, you guys. And I think I might have a little bit of a seasonal bias because I have a literature degree. My tendency was always to read things over the summer that were as far removed as possible from what I studied in school, all that boring but important shit. Which is how I ended up reading everything by Kurt Vonnegut in about six weeks one year. One does not walk away from that marathon unwarped, my friends. Point is, in the fall, my brain wants to buckle down and get serious, do some work. I start itching for nonfiction or some heavy piece of classic fiction. It’s Pavlovian, almost. And it’s funny, really, because it’s different now that I live in a different climate. I feel like I should be seeing changing leaves and smelling woodsmoke and drying tobacco soon. But there’s none of that here. There’s not going to be one morning when I wake up and the smell is right and the chill is right and I know it’s definitely fall. The light is…what? Leaner, maybe. Gentler. And one day it will start raining. But that’s it. My brain doesn’t know what to do with that. A grouchy wee bugger, my brain.

Anyway, lesson learned. No more Arthur Conan Doyle at the beach for me. I’ll keep you posted on what seasonally anachronistic things I run across this coming winter. I’ve promised to not buy any more books until I get through the forty or so I have sitting in a box, so we’ll see how that goes. It will be a trying experiment, I’m sure. Brain and I will get through it somehow. We always do.

 

A sweaty-toothed madman.

*Trigger warning: this post contains references to suicide.*

I didn’t want my first post back to be about suicide so I’ve held on to this piece and by now I think everything that’s going to be said has been said about the death of Robin Williams. But I’m going to say some stuff anyway. I was absolutely gutted when I heard. My sister is a huge fan and I was actually sitting on her couch looking at a framed, signed photo of him when her boyfriend told us. That was a surreal moment. I was so sure we’d get to watch him grow old, turn into the wacky grandpa everyone wants.

It’s been a couple of weeks, and in that time the internet has filled up with stuff about artists and comedians, their high rate of mental illness, their propensity for substance abuse, their suicide statistics. I feel like this is all fairly common knowledge, but we tend to forget about it until another one bites the dust and it gets thrown back in our faces. We ignore it as a day-to-day reality, as something we could help with, until it’s too late and we are forced to mourn. The fact is, the limelight burns. No amount of celebrity or money will fix the inside of someone’s head. Power won’t hold your hand and tell you everything will be okay. The love of millions won’t make you any less lonely in the middle of the night. Fame doesn’t check to see that you’re taking your meds.

People talk about suicide like it’s selfish or cowardly. I disagree. Life is fucking hard. Not in a pedestrian, gotta-pay-the-bills kind of way, although that does pose its own set of struggles. No, I mean that all of us, to a man, are tasked with making the most of our century or so on the face of this rock. That’s fucking daunting. Some folks just aren’t up to it. They quit. They leave us and it’s heartbreaking, but never, ever think that it’s lazy. I suppose a good percentage of them have some sort of faith in an afterlife and it’s comforting to think that it will all get better in that other place. That the pain will end and that we can exist beyond it, outside of it. I don’t believe that myself, but I don’t begrudge anyone that comfort, that little piece of hope. That’s powerful stuff, one of the engines that drives the world.

None of which is to say that I support suicide as a decision in general. But to judge someone’s life based on their death is absurd. These people aren’t weak, they’re tired. They’re not cowards for being unable to face another day, not when every day brings nothing but suffering and the promise of more misery. Sometimes there just aren’t any bright spots in the darkness. I don’t know that it’s really suicide that we have a problem with as a culture, but the aftermath. Death happens all the time. It’s a part of life and it will come for every single one of us. To make the decision as to when and how is not selfish, even if it seems so to those who get left behind. But it makes us feel like we weren’t enough to live for. Because we weren’t. That’s rough, but it’s true. I think it’s tremendously selfish and unhealthy, the way that we make suicide about the living.

(Having said all of that, I want to make it clear that suicide is a final solution and not an idea to fuck around with lightly. I’m not a fan of the practice, even if I do my best to understand it. If you are considering killing yourself, please talk to someone – a friend, a shrink, a stranger on the street. The number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 800.273.8255 in the U.S.)

Back to my point.

Mr. Williams’ death is sad. I’d like for us all to do our best to think not about his death but about his life. He lived and breathed to make people happy and that is, frankly, a pretty tough gig. The world can be shitty, can seem overwhelmingly negative, and there’s more than a little temptation to give up on doing our parts to make it better. It’s hard work being a force for good. So let’s not be sad in thinking that he chose to leave us, but be happy that he lived at all. Furthermore, the man was a fucking wizard. He could do anything. From his frenetic standup to his most subtle dramatic roles, it all seemed equally effortless, as natural as breathing for him.

My favorite of his films is Dead Poets Society. It’s a beautiful movie. Maybe it’s because when I first saw it I was going through a heavy Whitman phase. Or because I went to a shitty school and wept knowing that I would probably never have a teacher like that (I did, but not until college). Whatever it was, that movie sticks with me. I’m a grownup now and a lot of my friends are teachers. Much love and respect guys, I do not envy you your jobs. But I’m absolutely positive, in the squishiest bits of my little heart, that they will be someone’s Mr. Keating. And I hope whoever it is has the balls to tell them what kind of an impact they made. We should all do that more often. Anyway, I love that movie. Makes me want to write poetry and take walks in New England snowstorms.

What I think I like most about Robin Williams, though, is that almost without exception his films meant something. Popeye aside, if he did slapstick, it was in service of a great story. He brought levity to heavy subjects, a credit to his acting as well as to the great scripts he chose. Awakenings, Dead Poets Society, The Birdcage, Good Will Hunting, What Dreams May Come – disease, art, identity, genius, and death, all made funny and beautiful.

Because life is funny and beautiful.

It is absolutely critical that we remember that, you guys. Look up from your day occasionally and take a second to recognize what an amazing and powerful creature you are. You, a cog in this weird universal machine. You, a glitch in the matrix. You, with your flaws and your fuckups and your irrevocable mistakes. You, with your stories and your triumphs and your victory, every day, over entropy. Remember, most of all, that “to live” is a verb. You do it, it doesn’t happen to you.

 

The triumphant return of Rantypants McGee.

I’ve been away. I’m back now, feeling much more human, for the moment. I don’t think I realized how much I needed this trip. I’ve got no further plans to leave the face of the planet anytime soon, though, so your bloggening needs can all be accommodated.

I wanted to write a bunch of posts before I left and post them while I was away. But I was brainfried and didn’t write them. And I don’t travel with a computer anyway, so the logistics weren’t great on my part there.

And then I figured it would be okay because I’d come home with all kinds of interesting and blogworthy things to say, full of energy and writery juices. Not so much. I am, miraculously, fairly angst-free at the moment, and my best work seems to be born of friction.

But I learned a lot on these adventures, so I thought I could just make a list of those things, both epiphanic and mundane. You people love a good list. It’s like you’re reading my mind. However, somewhere between #1 (guava flesh will make you constipated but the skin is a laxative) and #15 (the story about pulling over at two AM to take pictures of a church sign in South Carolina that read “Close our borders. Even Heaven has a gate”) it all started to feel bloated and selfish, like those torturous evenings of looking at someone’s vacation photos. Only way more verbose.

So I decided to take a breather and unpack, clear my head. From the Tetris-like depths of my bag I unearthed a tiny notebook that I had honestly forgotten about, and found a drunken scrawled mess that I forgot I wrote. It’s weird and it feels like kind of a downer, but I like it so I thought I’d put it up here. Also, apparently, drunk me likes to add 90s music playlists to her writing. She’s so clever. Here goes:

That one moment, or: culture shock.

I’m riding down a two-lane backroad with three other humans. I’m not quite drunk. I’m smoking. All four windows are down. Something metal is playing on the radio and we’re going very fast. It’s warm. It’s raining. I’m laughing. My arm is hanging out the window and a lightning bug slams into it and dies a hopeful, wonderful, laughter-filled death. Suddenly I look around and wonder what year it is. These are my friends, this is the right road, this is the appropriate beer, the right Volkswagen. But wrong model, wrong guns, wrong cigarettes, wrong album, wrong combination of couples. The song changes. I’m tired. I’m older. I can’t live from awesome moment to awesome moment anymore. I have a husband and bills to pay and places to be. Dogs to pet. Snuggles to receive. Plans to make. A life to build, so they tell me. I want to cry, to quiver for the girl with all that potential, not so very very long ago. The one who loved warm nights and fast cars and cute boys and cute girls and loud music and cheap wine. She was fun and I miss her. Lots of people miss her. Sometimes I think about her and I wonder where she went, what she’s doing, if she died, who the fuck this person is who took her place. Imposter, poser, usurper. On the other hand, maybe she wasn’t good enough to live in the first place. Perhaps she was a figment all along. Some retroactive construction of my adult imagination, a defense mechanism created to justify later bad decisions. I don’t believe in regret. I believe wholeheartedly in wasted and missed opportunities, just not the mourning of them. Our eyeballs are in the fronts of our heads for a reason. Keep looking forward because forward is all we have. Thus it has always been and thus it shall always be, amen. No amount of Nine Inch Nails and fast cars on beautiful backroads will ever change that. No reason to be sad about it. Just accept that it’s been twenty-five years and Trent Reznor has a kid and two Oscars and the march of time is massive and terrifying and unstoppable. It is not chaos. Let it wash over you like rain. Roll the windows down. Breathe smoke. Laugh. Hold your friend’s hand and tell him you’re glad he’s alive. Take a whole summer night and enjoy it from beginning to end. Your time is precious. Measure it in lightning bugs. Measure it in rock songs. Measure it in winding roads. But measure it. Don’t just let it go by unnoticed. Please, please, please. Measure it…

 

Mini infoburst, and a heartfelt apology.

Hello, friends. I realize it’s not blog day. And I realize that I’ve left you hanging for two weeks with no explanation. Sorry about that. I should’ve given some warning. I’m on vacation! Hooray! Trust me, we’ll all like me better after I’ve taken a month off from my life. I spent ten days in Hawaii, came home for two days, and this evening I’m leaving to hit up the east coast for two weeks. It’s crazytown. I have much to tell you about. Now your line is: “Like what, Vanessa?” Well, I’m so glad you asked.

– Reading Sherlock Holmes on a beach in Maui feels weird, and other summer vs winter book arguments.

– Missing ComiCon again but flying through LAX that weekend, celebrity hunting, and how fucking weird is southern California?

– Buying a new ukulele, my mother’s ongoing struggle to get me to pronounce “ukulele” correctly, real music vs tourist music, bluegrass.

-Travelling during fire season, road closures, rockslides, and other menacing environmental factors.

– The first of (hopefully) many installments of short stories written about pictures of abandoned buildings in Appalachia. If I can wrangle my little sister into a documentarian adventure while I’m there.

And many more! I’m so stoked. My brain really has enjoyed this bit of rest. But I am sorry that I left without warning. My bad. Mea culpa. Next time I’ll plan ahead a little better. Right now I have to go get ready to be slingshot once again off the surface of the planet. Yay, physics!

The cage is full.

 

I finished Orange is the New Black the other day. I wanted to write about it that week, but I thought I might go back and watch season one again first, just to be thorough (read: because I was really pissed that it was over and wanted more more more, dammit!). And then that didn’t happen because I went on a weird documentary bender. More about that soon. If you haven’t watched Orange is the New Black, you are missing out on a big fat heap of awesome, my friends.

A brief rundown: Piper Chapman is an average American young woman – early thirties, adorable boyfriend, lives in New York, runs a soap company with her best friend (a nod to Fight Club? Anybody? No? Is it just me?). Thing is, she’s a convicted felon. Her ex-girlfriend was a drug dealer and at some point Piper carried some money through customs for her, and the ex ratted on her. Such a low-class move. But Piper owned up to it and took the heat. The first episode is about her saying goodbye to her life and showing up at the penitentiary to serve a fifteen-month sentence. And then the madness begins. The whole premise of the show is that juxtaposition between a normal girl and a setting so outside her worldview. I think a lot of people from her social milieu would never expect to find themselves in prison (unless they’re perpetrating white collar crime), and honestly probably don’t think about prison that much at all (unless they’re lawyers). It’s a vaguely menacing, faraway thing. Like war or starvation or Detroit. This show is, essentially, about culture shock.

What I like about it most (besides the fact that it’s a Netflix original so doesn’t have to bend to the whims of any network bullshit – you go Netflix! Do you!) is the storytelling structure. Piper’s sort of Les Miserables-ish accidental felon situation is just the through-line, but there’s a huge cast of characters and in the tradition of prison culture, we do not ask what they’re in for. Each episode has flashbacks cut in between the main story, focusing on whichever character is most relevant to Piper’s plotline at the time, and one by one we get their backstories. But until that character has her individual episode, we don’t get any information about them. Only after her episode will she have explicit dialogue about her past. It’s very well done, and moves the present action along by showing us that character’s motivations or weaknesses, something that the people in the prison may not even know. There are a lot of “oh, shit, that changes everything!” moments.

So, I know what you’re thinking. “Hey, Vanessa, aren’t stories about women’s prisons usually porn?” Why, yes, that’s certainly a thing. They even address it in one episode directly, when Piper’s boyfriend does a radio interview with an Ira Glass-ish reporter. Because of the whole bisexual thing, I think, there’s some relationship tension that the reporter wants to address, asking about “women’s prison tropes.” Such excellent euphemizing. There’s definitely some sapphic action in the show, so if you’re delicate about that kind of thing you should keep your fast forward trigger finger at the ready. I think they’ve handled the prison sex issue pretty well, overall. While it does seem gratuitous at times, they’ve done well to avoid any porn-ish-ness. Because none of us can deny that that’s a thing that happens, right? Might as well be realistic. This would be a completely different conversation if we were talking about a show about men in prison, though, so there’s that.

See how I dodged that Insufferable Feminist soapbox just then? I don’t know who keeps leaving that thing laying around, but I’ve been tripping over it a lot lately. On the other hand: this is the part where I’m supposed to say “something something strong female characters.” And sure, fine, that’s totally true. But in a cast full of women, using that rings hollow as a compliment. What I like more than the characters being female is that they’re, each and every one, bad guys. Some worse than others, granted, but how many other shows can you think of where even the hero is a villain to some degree? I can count, off the top of my head, only maybe six characters who aren’t convicted felons and a couple of them are more villainous than the inmates, without question. It fucks with one’s perception of the generally accepted standard of good and bad. Holy bigger picture, man.

The idea of good and bad is changing. I don’t know if it’s our cultural climate in general, or the success of Breaking Bad, but lately we love a story about good people doing bad shit to get by, don’t we? What’s that about? Maybe it’s our shitty economy or whatever but I think there’s a lot of “just keep your head down and get through this” kind of stories popping up in America right now. Audiences can relate. Things are tough all over. You gotta do what you gotta do. Pick an aphorism. The bottom line is, if we paid teachers what they’re actually worth and/or (preferably “and”) had a functional universal health care system, Breaking Bad would never have happened. We’re breeding bad guys by making it hard for good people to make it. At some point I want to get my anthropologist friend to write a guest post about our prison system. Now would be the perfect time, but she’s busy this week going off to become a teacher so she can more actively participate in the elimination of the school-to-prison pipeline. Good on her. Thanks, buddy. Some other time, for sure. It’s interesting, terrifying stuff.

Anyway. If you’re into character-driven drama/dark comedy with shit tons of ladies being bad guys (and really, who isn’t?), check out Orange is the New Black. There are two seasons on Netflix so far, with one more due out next summer. Be warned: you will want to binge watch them all in one sitting. Remember to take breaks for showers and food and sleep, okay?

 

An ellipsis only has three periods. Always. Seriously.

Last week I posted a long and ranty and semi-political diatribe about food. It is currently siting in the number three spot on the list of all-time most-read posts (after this one and this one). Thanks, you guys, for continuing to read my stuff even when it seems like I’ve gone off the rails. Especially when it seems like I’ve gone off the rails, I suppose. It’s why I keep doing this, despite all the many, many times I’ve wanted to stop. Giving up is always the easier path, and I’m going against my nature each time I don’t choose it. Thank you, thank you, thank you. A special thanks to those of you who have chosen to share my work with others at some point. That’s the biggest compliment I could receive, honestly.

However. It does have a downside. Last week, a friend shared my ranty food piece on her Facebook page. She’d never shared a link to my blog before, so I was touched. A friend of hers (who, for the record, I do not know) commented on it thusly: “Hmmmmm…..this geek has WAY too much time on her hands….” Well. That’s a thing you could say. But why? Putting aside the fact that it’s patently untrue, it doesn’t mean anything. It certainly doesn’t speak to the subject matter or the quality of my writing in that piece. She could have given an actual opinion like “this is boring” or “I do not care about this at all” or “what a piece of shit,” and I would have been happier. Saying I have too much time on my hands is basically saying that I should have found a better use for said time, right? Better how? More in line with her personal interests? More in line with whatever it is people who live in normal civilization do in their free time, with their access to amenities and activities? Apparently working really hard on a piece I quite liked about an issue that means a lot to me was a waste of time. Who knew?

I spent two whole days resisting the urge to comment back. Since I don’t know her, and our mutual friend is someone I care about and didn’t want to offend, I struggled with this demon kneejerk snark reaction that will surely be my downfall someday. I fought that motherfucker hard. But seeing as how taking the high road comes even less naturally to me than taking the more difficult path, I decided to blog about it instead. Because if I’m going to burn someone down, I’m going to do it on my turf. Verbosely. And with vigor.

Insert malignant stare and steepled villain fingers here.

Ahem.

Dear Semi-anonymous Facebook Commenter:

I sincerely appreciate your reading a post on my blog last week. It means a lot to me to know that I’m acquiring new readership. Moreover, I’m glad to see that you provided me with some feedback. After all, art is defined by the boundaries of criticism and I welcome every opportunity to hear what people have to say about my work. I would like to congratulate you (if you haven’t done so already) on so immediately having such keen insight not only into the issues I addressed in that one particular piece, but also into my lifestyle. I do have too much time on my hands. Wallowing around in my golden pool full of money only eats up a small portion of my day, and I find myself having to wile away the hours by staring blankly into space, pondering life’s deeper meaning and speculating on human nature. Such pesky distractions. And a plight that you are most certainly aware of, having taken up some of your own copious free time to formulate your thoughtful and articulate critique of my writing. Tell me, how big is your golden pool full of money? I’m sure, with the Golden Pool Full of Money community being so small, that we would have much to discuss. And so much time in which to discuss it! I would also be interested to hear your further pithy deconstructions of the modern written word. It is up to us who are blessed with the luxury of too much time to maintain the critical standards of art, obviously, since the time requirements for free thinking are far too much for the common man. Their having to slave away brainlessly like they do saddens me, it truly does. Perhaps I will see more of your clear and very helpful commentary on future blog posts.

Lovingly yours,

Vanessa Howe

I feel so much better now, you guys. Yes, yes, that was petty and childish. But cathartic. And fun.

Look, I can take criticism. I’m not saying that people won’t or shouldn’t have negative reactions to some of the stuff I write. If everyone loved everything I wrote, I’d be a rock star novelist by now, right? I’m not, and the odds aren’t good I ever will be. Meanwhile, I’m pretty tough, and I know which comments to hang onto and which to ignore, what is useful and what I should let roll off me. Criticism is vital, or else we get lost in our own little world. No one can create in a vacuum. Furthermore, we as consumers need criticism; it’s often how we dig through the murk of an over-saturated media establishment to find the new thing we might want to try. But if you’re going to provide commentary, actually provide it. Have an opinion and a real point of view. I’m not one of those Pollyanna people with their “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all” philosophy. If you don’t like a thing, say you don’t like it. It would be too much for me to ask for polite, cogent discourse, but don’t just say something, anything, to fill space. That’s like carving “Billy Bob wuz here” on a picnic table or a tree. It’s almost masturbatory, just acknowledging your own presence and not actually contributing anything to the conversation at hand. I think this is a huge problem in the culture we’ve created online, given the anonymity that commenters hide behind (*cough*fuckingcowards*coughcough*). The comment threads on the whole internet sound like one long nightmarish episode of Beavis and Butthead and I’m starting to feel like there is no escape.

Anyway. I just had to get that off my chest. I don’t know why it got to me so badly. As always, please direct all your rage and indignation to my comments section.

 

Illuminati Mayonnaise

 

I’ve been watching The X-files again. It’s comfort food for my brain, like Star Trek or Stephen King books. One of the side effects of being a 90s kid is that X-files taught us all to be conspiracy theorists. We want to believe. I think we do believe, and we seem less crazy doing it than folks in older generations. As with a lot of social stuff that would make our grandparents climb the walls (being gay, race relations, foul language, spaghetti straps), this seems normal, nothing to even blink an eye at. Believing in aliens or government cover-ups is kind of a given, completely reasonable. And we have the internet, so we never have to feel alone. There’s always someone somewhere who believes the same weird shit. Thanks, internet. I know I, for one, see plots and schemes and machinations everywhere.

And now I shall tell you a silly story.

The Husband and I went to the coast to run a bunch of errands last week (which is why I didn’t post anything here – sorry about that). Because I take advantage of every opportunity to eat food I didn’t have to cook, we went out to lunch at one of those horrible casual dining places. Sitting there, surrounded by fake swapmeet Americana, I was weirded out. I don’t get out into civilization very often. Clearly. Anyway. They forgot my mayo, so I asked for mayo, and the waitress brought me one of those squeeze bottles. I hate that. Mayo should never be squeezed. Gross. But I noticed that the packaging was weird, so I read the back of the bottle (it’s a compulsion, I would have read it even if the label hadn’t caught my eye). It said a lot of strange stuff. “For restaurant use only.” Why? “Does not require refrigeration.” Sweet Jebus, why why why? “Labeled as [a different popular brand] east of the Rockies.” Hmmm. “The Cartouche is property of Unilever International.”

Wait, what? That sounds like some global military industrial complex and/or Indiana Jones nonsense. It just felt sinister, somehow, that sentence, like “The angels have the phone box.” So The Husband and I spent the rest of our subpar lunch making awful mayo-related conspiracy theory jokes. And then the check came. Have you noticed that every receipt lately has a fucking novel at the bottom about how you can take a survey and be entered to win a contest? I hate that, too. Mostly because it means that every single cashier I interact with has to give me a speech about it and I will never take your surveys. Never. But I read the thing, because compulsion, and at the very bottom it said in teeny letters: “Canadians will be subject to skills testing.” Schwaaaa? Why just Canadians? Tested by whom? For what skills? I mean, I know Canada’s a little strange, but are they mutants? Is this ubiquitous restaurant chain tasked with sussing out the fucking X-men through some sort of nefarious marketing scheme? What the hell is going on? Clearly, eating a lame chicken sandwich in a room that felt like a schizophrenic alcoholic’s garage had put me in something of an odd headspace. Is this how normal Americans feel all the time? Am I having culture shock in my own culture? Because I honestly thought for a half a second that I had taken the brown acid.

So we made the long trek back to the top of our mountain and I, being in a Mulder-ish mood, set out to look into this Cartouche situation. A cartouche is just a blank field with symbols on it, but this Cartouche with a capital C is the official name for the logo of this particular brand of mayo and its sister brand east of the Rockies. (A classic division of labor maneuver. The east coast doesn’t know what the west coast is eating. Well played, food-that’s-really-bad-for-you industry. Well. Played.) Interestingly, my own personal jar of mayo (a jar!) says nothing about the Cartouche or any other logo being the property of any multinational corporation. Wouldn’t it make more sense to put that information on all the mayo if you’re really concerned about copyright infringement? Who reads the condiments at restaurants when distracted by booze and half-price mozzarella sticks? Me, bitches, that’s who.

Apparently this logo has a long and storied history. It’s bloody boring, but it’s out there. Deep in the inky depths of graphic design geekery, I found this little nugget and it blew my mind: “The previous design lacked food appeal and emotion. The new identity celebrates the heritage of [name brand] mayonnaise and its quality ingredients and engages at an emotional level which helps in justifying its price point.” (I left out the brand name because I don’t want to get sued. You understand. But I assume you can guess which one I’m talking about, if you’re a mayo connoisseur.) First of all, some of these words are probably being used as industry jargon, rather than their normal uses. I’m completely ignorant about both food marketing and advertising. But, what does “food appeal” mean? Because it’s food. Why does food need food appeal? As opposed to what other kind of appeal that food might have?

But let’s talk about some of these other words. “Heritage” and “quality” stick out, because it seems like that’s not the sort of thing that could be conveyed just by changing the shape of a logo and adding a blue ribbon. It’s rather like judging a book by its cover. However. That shit works. I have absolutely bought things just because I like the packaging of one brand over another. This is exactly why store brands have the super simple styles on their labels, because they want to justify their cheap prices by convincing you that they don’t spend your money on fancy graphic designs. Using terms like “heritage” and “quality” and expressing those ideas through some sort of marketing magic on a label makes people want to buy that product because those things feel old-fashioned and therefore better. Like saying a company is “family-owned,” even though that has nothing at all to do with their actual business practices. Or putting a gray-haired granny figure on a tasty baked good that’s full of preservatives and emulsifiers and fake colors and flavors your granny never heard of. It makes us trust that product. Or saying something is “natural.” “Natural,” in this context, is an industry term that has nothing to do with ingredients, but refers to the number of mechanized steps that it takes to get from raw material to sellable units. I could be selling cocaine mixed with gunpowder (both made from perfectly natural substances, but so was the atomic bomb), and if it only took four robots to get it into the box, I could label it “natural” and some idiot would buy it and stuff it in their kid’s mouth. Especially if it was in a green box. Double especially if it cost two dollars more than the one that didn’t say “natural.” Now, my mayo story is silly and paranoid and somewhat hyperbolic, but this kind of psychological fuckery is not. This is the real conspiracy. Mulder would have a field day with this shit.

It’s one thing to go on and on about how we’re controlled by the media or by advertising, but when you get down to the nuts and bolts of it, the little things can affect us the most. Word choice, fonts, colors – we have lizard brain reactions to these things, and we don’t think about them when we go off on tirades about violent video games or boobs on billboards. But we’re being manipulated by them just as much, possibly even more because we don’t even realize what’s happening. Here’s the thing, and please forgive me if this sounds shitty in a white middle-class liberal kind of way: the dumber people get, the easier it is to control us using our emotions. The crux of this whole brand redesign was engaging “at an emotional level to justify a price point,” right? That basically says “Get their money by pushing the squishy spot on their feelings.”

Our school systems are failing miserably and we’re spoonfed vapid crap all day every day by tv and the internet and glossy magazines. But we’re happy with critical thinking and logic and reason going down the tubes, because we have emotion to fall back on. We’re a buzzword culture, perfectly willing to not pay attention to anything but the hot button words peppered in all the banal blah blah blah. We’re so outraged or inspired by such a small percentage of the words actually being used, we might as well speak in links and hashtags. (By the fucking way, while I have you here: I’ve seen a ton of folks posting memes lately about “In my day it was called a pound sign, not a hashtag, grumblegrumble…” It’s still called a pound sign, guys. You use it in a hashtag. They’re two different things. Slow your agro until you learn your terminology. Thanks.) My point is that the fewer people there are who care about real issues, the easier and easier it will be to get away with horrible, underhanded, monstrous shit. To quote John Oliver, “If you want to do something evil, hide it in something boring.” The line of what constitutes boring is moving, rapidly, to accommodate the lowest common denominator. So many of us don’t give two shits about the things that really matter, but by god when that cheesy music swells we know it’s our cue to cry.

And this isn’t just me ranting to rant or preaching intellectualism to an already pretty damn savvy choir. They’re not just mindfucking us for our money. This is directly affecting our educational system, our political structure, our economy, our health (that’s “schools,” “Obama,” “jobs,” and “abortion,” for those of you playing along with the buzzword game at home). But our food, man, our food. That’s the one that really pisses me off. This mind control stuff is everywhere, it’s desperately important that we be aware of it, but food is the way that it has the most immediate impact on us. We have to eat every day, more than once. Luckily we live in a country where that’s not particularly difficult, relatively speaking. And I’m not going to get all organic farmgirl on you here. Eat whatever the hell you want, I’m not trying to tell you what to do. I will admit to having had nothing but Cheetos for dinner more than once in my adult life. I just told a story about eating crap restaurant food. I know that neither of those is real food. But they’ve made things that aren’t real food cheaper and easier to get. Therefore, the people with the least money (and, not coincidentally, the least education) buy that shit by the ton. Then these capitalist scumfucks make their money back through vertical integration when we get cancer or diabetes or heart disease because we’re working multiple jobs just to be able to afford Kraft mac and cheese and premade meatfood product and we don’t have time or energy to garden or even make a thing from scratch. We’ve given up control over what we put in our bodies and we think it’s normal. And over what? Money? Money is a fake, stupid system. Tomatoes are real and you can eat them to stay alive. Better than money.

A less silly story, as an example of what I’m talking about: I was talking to someone in my family at Christmas about how hard it is to eat healthy food when on food stamps. I tried to explain to her that frozen or canned veggies aren’t as good as fresh ones, but they’re cheap, they’re covered by WIC, and they’re better than no veggies at all. I told her I’d get her a spice rack for Christmas, so she could buy plain tomato sauce instead of that spaghetti sauce in a jar. It’s way cheaper and doesn’t have all the sugar and preservatives that Ragu or whatever has. She laughed and called me a hippie. And her four-year-old is diabetic. This is what I’m dealing with. “Normal” food is, largely, not great for you, but we crave the familiar, the comfortable, the easy, the cheap. “Normal” isn’t good enough. We’ve been trained to never expect anything more, anything better. Organic or wholesome food is for rich people. Obviously. It’s class warfare, dictated by business bigwigs: “Keep them stupid, keep them sick, keep them in debt, and they’ll work their fingers to the bone for the entirety of their miserable lives just to barely get by. They’ll pay our bonuses and spend all their money on shit they don’t need to furnish a lifestyle we tell them they want. They’ll fucking adore us for it because we’re rich and they’ll want what we have because we’re better than them. Praise Jesus.”

Fuck that shit. Fuck those people. Fuck their telling us all we have to have flatscreens and iPhones. Fuck their ninety-nine cent cancer burgers. Fuck their substandard educational system and their refusal to raise minimum wage. Fuck their making billions off our student loan debt and our medical bills. Fuck their planned obsolescence. Fuck their emotional manipulation. Fuck their arbitrary morality. Fuck tying your dignity and your self-worth to material things. Fuck living by someone else’s standards. Wake up and smell the bullshit. Then spread it on some dirt and grow tomatoes in it. That’ll show ‘em.

 

I’ll act my age when I figure out what that means.

I love the internet. It’s the greatest technological revolution since…what? The assembly line? Accurate timekeeping? The telephone? I don’t even know. It has its downsides, though. There are some dark and scary places online, and I think that a lot of people have learned that internet anonymity means they should act like fools and monsters without accountability just because they can. That’s not the internet’s fault, necessarily. But it’s leveled the playing field in a lot of ways. The music industry is different, the publishing industry is different, the way we do business has drastically changed. Most importantly, everyone has a voice. This is not always a good thing. For example, even just ten years or so ago, this article may not have gotten published. It would have probably been relegated to some op-ed column in a local newspaper, buried behind who won the high school football game and what’s on sale at the hardware store. Instead, the good folks at Slate put it on their website, and the internet exploded.

Now, I’m all for the First Amendment. Say what you like. I will loudly and unabashedly defend free speech and freedom of the press as basic human rights until the day I die. But don’t be shocked when you say something dumb and there’s backlash. I mean, come on. Your only options are to stand by your opinion and defend yourself, or keep saying dumber and dumber shit until someone suggests you run for public office. I don’t know much about Ruth Graham. Her Slate bio says simply that she’s a writer from New Hampshire. That could mean anything. Except for the New Hampshire part, those stereotypes are pretty spot on. Looking back at some of her former articles, though, she seems to be a wholesome, middle-aged, ostensibly upstanding American. I’m not here to fault her character. I’m just here to tell you that as far as that one piece goes, she is dead fucking wrong.

I’ve talked about kids’ books and YA books on the blog before. I’m a fan. It’s weird, though, that I didn’t read most of the ones I like until I was an adult. I think this is probably because I started reading adult books super early. I jumped straight from R.L. Stine’s Fear Street series to Stephen King and never looked back. I read tons of Michael Crichton and Dean Koontz and stacks and stacks of weird crime thrillers that my dad left laying around for me. Then later it was all Kerouac and Burroughs and Nietzsche and Baudelaire. To my recollection, and according to everyone I’ve asked about this anomaly in the space-time continuum, YA wasn’t really a thing when we were growing up. There were books that teenagers read, books for and about them, but the category wasn’t the behemoth of marketing that it is now. In the golden age of Reading Rainbow, kids’ books were king. And then at some point someone handed you an adult book you could handle and that was that.

Culturally, the idea of the teenager is fairly new. Back in ye olden times, you were just a kid and then you were a grownup. At some point you went off and got married or joined the army or got a job. End of childhood, get over it. That’s assuming that you hadn’t already been working on the family farm or sent down a mine or whatever. But this idea of adolescence being a separate, pupal stage of life is pretty new. And it’s directly tied to the invention of the high school. Oh, that most horrible and hate-able of institutions. But putting them all in one place like that made it clear that they had tastes that were distinct from either children or adults. And lo! A market force was born. (But seriously, what idiot thought it was a good idea to put as many hormonal sociopaths as possible in one building against their will? How does that even make sense?)

So now we have all these books that are marketed specifically to teens and tweens. And I say fuck yes. Get those kids to keep reading. If you can snag them when they’re little and get them to like reading, the hard part is to maintain their interest through all that stressful, angst-riddled bullshit, so they come out the other side as devoted adult readers. It’s a worthy scheme and I support it. Are a lot of those books complete crap? Sure. But better that they read crap than stop reading altogether, I think. I still read crap occasionally and I’m in my thirties. A little junk food for the brain never hurt anybody, and there are plenty of grownups who read cheesy romance novels and bad whodunits by the truckload and nobody blinks an eye about that. Those people have to come from somewhere. My sister made a good point when I asked her about having a houseful of teenagers who were all voracious readers. She said, about her daughter: “reading all her damn sparkly vampire crap set her up for the classic stuff – Shelley and Stoker.” She also said that any book she told them they couldn’t read would immediately show up in her house, passed from kid to kid like prison contraband. I suspect she did it so that they would want to read those books even more, but that might just be because I know how damn sneaky she can be.

But the idea that adults shouldn’t read these books baffles me. First of all, what difference does it make? I’m very Eric Cartman about this: I do what I want! No amount of bah humbuggery is going to change my mind. I get scoffed at for reading scifi and comics, too, and I don’t care about that either. I still watch tons of cartoons, motherfucker! So there! Take that! Secondly, when you see someone of an inappropriate age reading a teen book, consider why they’re reading it. Maybe they’re a good parent, reading a book before giving it to their kid or (gasp!) reading it with them. Maybe they’re a teacher or a librarian or a writer. Maybe they’re just learning to read and they’re taking a big, scary step in grabbing a teen book rather than one for children. Or maybe, just maybe, people are allowed to read whatever they want in this country and you should keep your fucking judgmental mouth shut about it. We’ve had this conversation before. Remember the Comics Code? Remember Larry Flynt’s trial? Remember when that wacky German guy with the mustache burned books in the street? What was his name again?

Graham’s main point here seems to be that these books are beneath us, somehow, as adults. That we should be beyond the simplistic storytelling of teen books. While I can appreciate that logic, I say look at it from the other side. Nostalgia is a powerful marketing tool. The teens and tweens who are reading these books haven’t been through this shit, and their little worlds are so small and self-centered (no offense, kids, but not everything is as dire as you think it is – you’ll figure it out). They’re rapt and focused on what’s going to happen, where we grownups are wincing and thinking “this will not end well,” right? Keep in mind that these books are, by and large, written by adults who are looking back on their own teen years. They know how they reacted in those situations, but their memories are blurred by hindsight. I think that the thing we forget first when we come of age is how mind-blowing every little thing was to us at that stage. To read those stories from that perspective reminds us, a little, what it was like to still have wonder and enormous freedom to fuck up.

Furthermore, enjoying those time-machine moments, or just good storytelling period, does not detract from the other books we choose to read. Is Anna Karenina going to seem more stodgy and boring because we read The Hunger Games? No, that shit is boring all on its very own. I can think of probably twenty books off the top of my head that we regularly give to kids that were written for adults. Does that diminish a modern adult reading The Secret Garden or Little Women? No. Contrarily, there are plenty of books that were written specifically for children that we now put in the “classic literature” or “literary fiction” genre. Tom Sawyer or The Hobbit or Treasure Island or To Kill a Mockingbird, for example.

Everything is fluid. Culture is porous and malleable. The idea of what an adult is has changed. My generation specifically has been accused of being a bunch of overgrown children with no drive and no morals and no desire to grow the hell up. But the truth is, we don’t have to do grownup the way our elders did. A lot of that shit didn’t work, y’all. So many systems are broken or obsolete and I don’t want to be a grownup in a world where I’m expected to uphold an outdated status quo that is not in my best interest. And how you judge my status as an adult has very little to do with my actual character, doesn’t it? What’s the answer? Money? Marriage? College degree? Graduate degree? Babies? Successful career? The appropriate amount of debt? The books I read? How about we just stop judging each other? Wouldn’t that be simpler? Wouldn’t that free up so much time? It’s not a race. We don’t need to be ranked by our possessions or our ideologies or our differences. Maybe we’d know that if we read more.

 

Stumbling along, or: existential crisis #8462 (give or take)

I’m bloody exhausted. It’s planting season, which is super stressful. But it’s almost done, so there’s that. I enjoy the work, don’t get me wrong. It’s lightyears better than putting up and taking down and rearranging and restocking displays of books over and over and fucking over. How zombifying that shit was. I like being a farmer, I like the sun and the dirt. But the spring and summer are rough for me. I can’t put my finger on why, exactly. I like to work. I’m not lazy. I think part of it is that I’m not using my brain a whole lot. I spend most of the time I’m digging holes or watering plants thinking about books I want to read or things I want to write. Being intellectually understimulated makes me tired.

On top of which, like a fucking idiot, I’ve taken up running. So stupid. But it will help me to not drop dead at a young age like my father, so I do it. I hate every second of it, but I do it. It’s getting to the point that when I don’t do it I feel crappy. They tell me this is a good thing, that it’s progress. “They” in this case being people who also don’t want me to drop dead. I think they’re on my side? I believe that enjoying exercise is a myth perpetrated by athletic people who just don’t want to come across as masochists. Because that shit sucks. I’m a chair-oriented person. I’m a writer. We sit. We read. We type. We drink. We do not run unless something is chasing us. Which, to be honest, is not entirely out of the question. This is bear country, after all. Running makes me tired.

I’ve been doing some editing for that literary magazine I told you guys about a while ago. The few days I spent working on those projects I was pumped up and excited, full of energy. I think my brain might have thought we were doing cocaine, when really we were just thinking hard and using a skill we love which has, sadly, turned rusty. (And, yes, I do tend to think of my brain as a separate entity sometimes, my squishy little constant companion.) I’ve also been working on some stuff for another weird writing project. Apparently “memoir” requires catharsis and “narrative nonfiction” requires story structure. I do neither of these. I’m not sure what it is that I do, exactly. But, like the running, I’m soldiering on. Artistic frustration makes me tired.

I don’t sleep well in the summer. I’ve never slept well, really, but summer’s the worst. Occasionally I wake up shaking. When I was a kid I’d wake up with nosebleeds. Sometimes I have dreams where I can’t sleep. Exercising and eating better helps, and not having stupid, unnecessary stress helps, but it’s getting bad like it does every year. Maybe this is why I get depressed in the fall. I don’t know. I just reread Fight Club, and some of those diatribes about insomnia got me on a gnarly hamster wheel. At least I know my Tyler Durden is a real person. Hopefully. If not, everyone in my life is having a really fucked up (but adorable) mass delusion. Thinking about being tired makes me tired.

I got smacked in the face with a bad wave of homesickness the other day. It was my best friend’s birthday, and I called while she was getting her house ready for her party. Apparently it was a great party, and I was sad I couldn’t be there. Again. I’ve missed so many events. People I love keep graduating from stuff and having birthdays and getting engaged and having babies. I haven’t been home in a year and a half or so. And that was a year and a half after the last time I was there. I miss my friends and my sisters. I miss comfort and familiarity. I miss knowing which street to take. I miss back porches and endless conversations about nothing. I even miss Waffle House, which I don’t like to admit. I hate that I go days without laughing. I hate having to send birthday cards instead of giving hugs. I hate that I made a playlist of songs for a party I couldn’t go to and sat on my porch drinking a beer by myself. Being lonely makes me tired.

Anyway.

It’ll all be fine. Sorry if I sound like a whiny jerk. It happens. I’ve been called worse. New and exciting and happy stuff next week, I promise. Be well. Get some rest.