Tired writer is tired.

I’ve got nothing, guys. Seriously nothing for the blog this week. My brain, that bastard, has taken off for parts unknown, gone looking for food like a stray cat. I’ve done stuff this week that I could tell you about. I read the newest Stephen King book. I watched a bunch of great movies. I had about five existential crises. But none of it seems worth writing about. Right at the moment, anyway. I’m sure I’ll get around to some of it soon. I hope so.

I’m tired. Being tired makes everything feel either A) equally dire or B) equally meaningless and what’s the fucking point? I have been sleeping better, which seems important. But I can’t rally any enthusiasm for the things I know I should be stoked about. I haven’t created anything I love in quite some time. I spend each day going through the motions, waiting for it to be over. When I laugh it feels fake.

We’ve reached the oversharing portion of our program. I apologize. Boundaries, man. I think some of my filters have broken down.

You know that Damien Rice song “Grey Room”? It’s been stuck in my head for days and days and it’s starting to feel more like an accurate description of my life. Speaking of which, this is how tired I am. An actual item from my ongoing list of possible blog topics:

Ways in which I do not ever want to be described, even though they’re accurate-

  • A plaid wearer
  • A She Wants Revenge fan
  • Mustachioed
  • A farmer
  • That girl who always talks about [insert geeky whatever blah blah here].
  • Makes good spaghetti
  • Tries so hard
  • Average
  • Angry

Boring, boring, boring, all of it. I heard somewhere recently, maybe on a podcast, that people who are more self-confident or in positions of power will refer to themselves less in written communication than other people. Interesting, that, and counter-intuitive. I talk about myself all the damn time. Click on that tag that says “me talking about myself again” and about fifty posts come up. Well, not that many, but a lot. Perhaps it’s because I have mostly myself for company. I don’t know.

I found a snippet that should have gone in my last post (but was in the wrong notebook – seriously, what the fuck? Clearly I’m falling apart) about our relationships to objects. It’s a big part of the character’s day-to-day life in that book, and I think it’s completely different for people who are isolated in some way than it is for regular people. Look at hoarders or recluses, for example. Their possessions are their expressions of self, largely because they’re not getting any societal pressure or feedback. They are bound by their lack of boundaries. Somehow when we’re alone (or even just lonely) we stray from the norm. Which is not to say that normal should be anyone’s goal, but there’s healthy-but-weird and then there’s pathological. Somewhere around “why am I surrounded by fifty years’ worth of newspapers and probably some dead things?”. I suppose what I’m saying is that my lack of human contact is making me feel like it will be difficult to reestablish human contact. I talk to my dogs more than I talk to other people. Hell, I talk to my coffee pot more than I talk to other people. He’s a surly motherfucker.

I’m getting twitchier. I’m nervous all the time. My writing is suffering because I spend so much time talking to myself. And, just as we are all our own worst critics, we’re also all our own bad influence. We validate our bad behavior, especially if no one else keeps us in check. What’s that dumb self-help mantra? “Character is who you are when no one’s watching.” I think I got that in a fortune cookie once. It’s pretty terrifying.

Anyway.

Blurgh. I need therapy. Sorry for unloading on you guys. I maybe shouldn’t have even posted this one. Well, there’s always the delete button. I’m sure I’ll be better soon. It’s just winter. The rain is getting to me. I’ll white-knuckle my way through. I always get there. And I’m doing stuff that helps. I haven’t had a drink in a week. Egg nog is helping. Star Trek is helping. Remembering to breathe and eat and shower is helping, even if I have to write myself notes to accomplish them. I promise I look crazier from the outside. Probably. That’s not really reassuring, though.

So, onward and upward. On to new things. I’ll be back next week with something of substance, provided this rainstorm doesn’t wash us all down the mountain. I think it’s hilarious that the worst rain to hit Humboldt County in a decade is being called the Pineapple Express Storm (if you don’t get that joke, go look it up). Meanwhile, I’m stuck in a bubble over here so feel free to send me things that I should read/watch/listen to/write about. Input is always appreciated. Input! Number Five is alive! (Again, go look it up, whippersnappers.)

Objects in space.

Once upon a time there was a trilogy. There were many trilogies, actually, but they were all old and had been argued over for many decades. The elder geeks had become complacent and set in their ways, firm in their arguments and their interpretations of canon. Then a young and beardy upstart wallowed into the fray with his new and exciting tales of honor, love, family, music, and a quest for vengeance via knowledge. And all of geekdom did rejoice. Buried deep in the fiddly folds of this new story was a girl, a beautiful and weird creature who wanted nothing to do with civilization. She provided an objective viewpoint, what with being batshit crazy and all. She changed everything by doing very little.

Alright, sorry. I’ll be straight with you. As you all know, I’ve been waiting about a thousand years for the third book in the Kingkiller Chronicles. It’s torture, this particular fandom. However, Patrick Rothfuss has put out a new book set in our beloved universe. If you haven’t read Rothfuss’s other two books, this post makes absolutely zero sense right now. Just go read them and then come back. Because what the fuck are you doing with your life if you haven’t read these books? I’ll wait here.

Good? Okay. Moving on.

So you know Auri, the weird girl who shows up on the roof with occasional pearls of random wisdom? This newest book (The Slow Regard of Silent Things) is all about her. Sort of. It’s about her life in the Underthing, how she gets around and spends her days and sees the world. The structure of it is strange. There’s only one character, no dialogue, and, really, very few plot points, aside from a ticking clock element that isn’t ever fully explained. It reads like a treatise on OCD and agoraphobia, which makes it claustrophobic as hell, almost Hitchcockian. It’s crazy, and adds nothing whatsoever to the ongoing Kingkiller story.

Except…

Well, except that it makes me really happy. I always wanted to know what Auri’s deal is. And, honestly, my biggest questions remain unanswered. Where did all the shit in the Underthing come from? Why hasn’t it all rotted away or been rediscovered? Where are all the vandals? Does the Underthing have suburbs where University schmucks do dare to tread? How is Auri healthy, living with no light and only what food she can steal? How did she get there? And exactly how crazy is she? These aren’t exactly important questions, their being unanswered neither helps nor hinders either the new book or the existing trilogy. But, oh, how they bother me.

On the other hand, obviously, the story you know and love is never the only thing going on in any of our imaginary worlds, is it? Cain and Abel were the only children in the universe until one of them suddenly wandered into Nod and found other people, right? What the hell, Bible? Auri is in our story, therefore her story is in our story, whether we ever got to read it or not. We can assume that she has to eat and sleep and does not exist solely to provide philosophical, albeit bugnuts, insight into Kvothe’s problems. She’s a person, not a plot device. This book may not do a lot for pushing our trilogy towards its thrilling conclusion, but it was a part of it from the beginning. Had to be.

Think it through. We all have that not-quite-tertiary character in our lives, don’t we? That person who wasn’t quite a friend, or maybe was but wasn’t in our inner circle. That one who helped with some catharsis or epiphany you wouldn’t have gotten to on your own? That one you don’t feel like you really need anymore after you turned that corner, and haven’t kept up with since then? Auri is that person for Kvothe. She’s crazy and seemingly out of place in his world. But I think that in these kinds of stories nothing is ever really out of place. We just may not realize which pieces are supposed to fit into our story, or when or how. That sounds weird, but allow me just a moment of writery blah blah here: a story isn’t just two sides, the one you read and the behind the scenes machinations offstage. At the very least, even with the laziest writer in the world, it’s those two sides plus the writer’s secret stash of insider information. They always know all the answers. Occasionally a bit of backstory or sidestory pokes its head into our on-the-page dimension, and there are always many sides to those tidbits, as well. Fragments upon fragments upon fragments, and that’s how the world is built. It is, and I say this with no hyperbole intended, infinite.

I respect Rothfuss so much for putting out this book. Largely because he catches a lot of shit for taking a million and a half fucking years between Kingkiller novels, and some asshats with no appreciation for craft saw this as merely a way to stave off the starving lions with an insignificant nibble. Personally, I don’t think it was just to hold us over. I honestly think he’s a writer with enough wherewithal to do something beautiful and odd and against expectations. A rarity, that. Although I would argue that the rage-trolls only felt slighted because it’s set the same world as the trilogy. Nobody was bitching about either of the Princess and Mr. Whiffle books because they didn’t step on the Kingkiller’s turf. But, as always, those idiots can fuck right off, I say. To invoke and paraphrase a well-worn Gaiman-ism: Rothfuss is not your bitch. None of the writers/creators of the things you like are machines built for your pleasure. You have to go to a very special electronics store in Tokyo for that sort of thing. And perhaps you should take that trip and get yourself a pleasurebot. It would be time better spent, rather than wasting your life making slobbery, agro “hurry up and finish book three!” comments on every single thing Rothfuss posts on the interwebs, you inconsiderate, childish, selfish, entitled fuckers. Suck it up and cultivate some patience. This is art. You’re not allowed instant gratification. But your new robot friend can help you out with that while you wait.

The point is, I dig that the man had an inescapable story in his head and did something with it, instead of just writing it down and locking it away. I’m sure there are so many brilliant (not to mention lucrative) things locked away in file cabinets and mildewy basements and forgotten computer folders all over the world, and probably a lot of them wouldn’t make sense if published separately from their brother pieces. Some of them might. A few could change the world, I’m sure. But they’ll never see the light of day because one asshole behind one desk couldn’t come up with a way to market them in the flyover states. That guy? Fuck that guy. We need to eliminate that guy from our culture. More importantly, we need to eliminate even the idea of that guy from our thinking when we create. Screw him and everything he stands for. Just do the thing. Do the weird shit you think no one will understand. Do it even if it’s just for yourself. As hard as you can, as loudly as possible. Someone will hear you. Someone will love it. I promise. We all have an Auri. She just needs a voice.

Holiday feelgoods have been postponed due to technical difficulties.

Urgh. So, two weeks ago, I promised I would tide you over with a delightful blog during Serial’s week off. Meanwhile, some horrible gremlin moved into my IP address and made my router think that my website is not a thing. Snake in the grass bastards, those computer gremlins. I broke a blog promise, but it was not my fault. It was the opposite of my fault. But it’s fixed, thanks to my web guru Luther. Everybody say “Thanks, Luther!” And now I give you last week’s blog, which has been rendered completely irrelevant by the ravages of time. I’ll put up this week’s blog tomorrow so as to make it up to your sweet, sweet faces. Hugs.

Consuming tiny dinosaurs never gets old.

Hey, it’s Thanksgiving! Hooray! My second favorite holiday. And, really, that’s only because it’s cold out and there aren’t any explosions. Clearly I just like to stuff food down my neck and hang out. It’s my nature. To all my non-American friends – I wish you a fantastic nationalistic, gluttony-oriented, made-up holiday of your choice, whenever that may be, as well as a wonderful Thursday. For what it’s worth.

Can I tell you something a little embarrassing? When I started this blog, I honestly gave zero thought to the fact that it would fall on Thanksgiving. The embarrassing bit is that it took me until my third year to realize that it would happen every time. The derpiest of derps. I feel like I may run out of things to say at some point. But not today! Oh, no. I can still prattle on about food and family and the importance of gratitude. And, of course, I have more than a few rants about the capitalist scumfuckery of Black Friday and how we can all do our individual parts to make the whole holiday season less awful. It’s only money and stress that make it awful, guys. Remove the money and most of the stress goes away and we’re all left, once again, just stuffing food down our necks and hanging out. See? Sometimes I’m right by accident. Love that.

A friend put something up on Facebook this week about how many posts he’d seen from people bitching about having to spend the holidays with their families. It made me really sad. Don’t get me wrong, I get it. It can be stressful, especially if your family is prone to sniping at each other or drinking to avoid sniping at each other. But still, don’t say you “have to” hang out with your family, like it’s an undue obligation. You don’t have to go. If you honestly hate each other, I say skip it. But remember that some people don’t have any family. Or their family isn’t around for some reason. Some people are in the military. Some in prison. Some dead. So maybe don’t complain about getting to spend time with folks who love you. We don’t all get to. I miss mine terribly, even if they are crazy people. All of them. I mean, seriously, completely bonkers. A basket of banana sandwiches. For real. I wish I could do this squishy holiday stuff with them. Strange, the things that get you in the feels when you’re least expecting it. Stupid Facebook.

Anyway. Grownup Thanksgiving is weird. I’m having quite a bit of host anxiety, but I’m sure that will mellow out once the cooking stress sets in. I feel like it’s largely related to there being no chance for a couchnap and football after dinner. Argh, grownup responsibility. Ick. Also, I don’t have the sort of house and accoutrements to go all Martha Stewart on the thing, and even if I could that’s really not my style. Like, even a little. And I don’t have kids, so it seems selfish somehow to drag the family from all over the country to my shack in the forest. Doesn’t make any sense. So we do it up with friends, peasant feast style. Super fun, but different from those comfy family fests of yore.

For example, we slaughtered our own turkeys this year. Well, not our own per se. We didn’t raise them, The Husband’s best friend raised them. But we helped kill and clean them and The Husband is playing roastmaster. Holy crap, can that man cook a fowl. Anything with feathers had best beware. I don’t remember ever having killed our turkey ourselves when I was a kid. It’s not out of the range of possibility, but if it happened I’ve forgotten about it. I like it. Not in a blood-and-guts, serial killer kind of way, obviously, but watching them walk around and have a nice last meal of bugs and grass, petting them on the head, and being able to look them in the eye and say thank you before they got strung up. Lovely. Way better than getting that anonymous, plastic-wrapped one from the store that’s already been turned into faceless meat.

Isn’t it weird how we still celebrate with a feast? We either use a feast to create an event, or we tack a feast on to an existing event. There’s something really primal about eating with a group of people. The stuff of life, that: Come in out of the cold. Have some food. Have water and wine. Maybe make a baby or two. Anything can happen at a feast. It seems like such an old-fashioned tradition. Like, medieval. When I use the word, I see long, firelit rooms full of rustic tables, with lords wearing fur and eating some sort of joint of meat off the bone. Which is, frankly, not terribly dissimilar to my own Thanksgiving. But the cover of Southern Living it ain’t. So why are they still the same thing? What is it about our monkey nature that makes us instinctively demand peace around the dinner table? There’s something profound there, I just can’t quite ferret it out.

It’s been a weird year, and a particularly rough fall for me. I think I need this shindig more than I expected I would, hosting stress included. Some good cheer, some yummy food, some friends and family, some wine. I’m thankful for them all. It’s going to be great. I will probably burn something. It’s usually the green beans. Not sure why that happens. Every damn time. Anyway, go stuff some food down your neck and hang out with people. What are you even doing here? And if you’re shopping tomorrow, as always, please obey Wheaton’s Law. We’ve built this holiday monster, we can disassemble it with kindness.

UPDATE, from post-Thanksgiving Vanessa:

I did not burn the green beans. Because someone else cooked the green beans. Crisis averted!

A is for Alibi

Let me ask you a weird question: where were you at 2:30 PM on January 13th, 1999? No idea? Me neither. I might have been at school? Maybe not. Probably not. There’s no reason for that day to be special that I can think of. Putting aside the fact that it was fifteen years ago, I couldn’t describe in detail any particular day in high school without some touchstone event to tie it to. Rigid routine and aching boredom have made the majority of high school a dismal blur, thank Vishnu. More to the point, though, routine erases a lot of our memories. You work a normal-ish job or maintain a semi-consistent schedule of day to day tasks? Where were you six months ago? Six weeks? You sort of have an idea where you should have been, but if you weren’t, do you remember why? So strange, how memory works, how our brains pick out which days remain important.

On that day in 1999, Hae Min Lee, a high school student in Baltimore, was murdered. A few months later her ex-boyfriend, Adnan Sayed, was convicted of the crime and began a life sentence. Everything in between these two events was fubar, and that’s the focus of This American Life’s protege podcast, Serial. Rather than telling us one story every week, Serial tells one story over many weeks, like a book divided into chapters. I won’t go into all the details, because the first episode sums it up quite neatly, but the broad strokes are: girl gets murdered, ex-boyfriend becomes a suspect (obviously), his friend tells the cops that they buried the body together and where to find evidence, cops take his word and stop following any of their many other leads, ex-boyfriend goes to prison. Seems pretty pat, yeah? Except that the whole case hinges on that one friend’s statement, which changed several times and contains a ton of provably false information. These are the nitty gritty itty bitties that our reporter/narrator has spent a year obsessing over. And now she’s passed that obsession on to us, like a drug dealer. Thanks so much.

Serial has only put out nine episodes. In those nine weeks they’ve broken every podcast record, even blowing This American Life out of the water. That’s mighty impressive. However, now that it’s become one of those things people talk about in fevered tones, it’s time for the criticism to kick in. Which is totally fine. No one creates in a vacuum, nor should they. One complaint that I’ve seen probably more than any other is that the show is exploitative, taking a very real tragedy and a lot of peoples’ pain and turning it into a twelve-week episode of CSI, basically. I can understand the argument that it’s a real event whereas all those cop shows are fiction. But then I have to wonder how far down their cable menu these writers actually surf, because there are whole networks dedicated to Forensic Files and FBI Unlocked and Cold Case and every other reality show/docudrama based on real murders, and those assholes don’t have a single fuck to give about treating those cases delicately or sensitively. It’s pure sensationalism, and you don’t get to be all riled up about it just because it’s suddenly appealing to the NPR set. Sorry.

Which brings me to the second thing that seems to come up in every single article slamming Serial: Sarah Koenig, the narrator/reporter/mastermind, as well as the entire production staff on the show, are as white as you would expect NPR employees to be. The victim was Asian, the convicted a Muslim, and the primary witness black. The accusation that she’s whitewashing the story seems pretty unfounded, though. To say that she’s invoking a stereotype in talking about Hae Min Lee’s academic achievements and her strict Asian mother is utter crap precisely because Hae Min Lee had many academic achievements and a strict Asian mother! It’s not a stereotype, it’s a fact. Does she harp on it or make it a big deal? Not really. Is it relevant? Yes. If only to bring up the more important point that she had a series of boyfriends and sketchy extracurricular activities that her family didn’t know about. The same goes for Adnan. She’s not painting him as the good boy his parents thought he was, but showing us that he was a normal teenager, sneaking out to see a girl or smoke a joint. Her making a point out of these kids’ defying their parents’ stereotypes doesn’t reinforce the stereotypes, in my opinion. I think it makes the stereotypes irrelevant and solidifies these people as just regular folks. But, to be fair, I’m white. Maybe I’m not hearing what these critics are hearing.

However, to say that Koenig and her team are doing outsider reporting merely because of race is a bit reductionist, isn’t it? To come into any community and ask about a tragedy like this is going to be outsider reporting. No one is ever going to get the whole story. All those little things that people know about each other in a group of friends or a neighborhood or a high school, you can’t ever collect them all, and I’d say the bulk of them certainly wouldn’t end up in evidence (particularly when there’s lazy police work). I grew up in a small town with an insanely small minority population, and I’d be willing to bet that if this team of reporters came there to ask about a murder, they’d have exactly the same problems, regardless of race. It’s all about knowing the right questions to ask to the right people, where the connections are, no matter how tenuous. “His cousin told me that her sister said blah blah blah when they went over to Billy Bob’s to get high on the night in question.” Did the cops ask Billy Bob? No, because the cops have no idea that Billy Bob is relevant, being six degrees removed from the situation. See the problem?

I don’t know whether or not this show is exploiting someone’s nightmare for entertainment. I honestly don’t have the answer. I do know that, for good or for ill, we’re obsessed with murder in our culture. Those of us who are mentally healthy can watch cheesy cop show marathons unscathed. We do dehumanize those people. We must, if we’re going to see their guts splattered around a room. I think what I like most about Serial is that they’re trying to do exactly the opposite and examine the human elements in excruciating detail. Each of the main players’ personalities, the reports and interviews from police, the logic of both teams of lawyers – these are all directly affected by how people interact and communicate. They are not objective. They couldn’t possibly be.

Furthermore, I don’t even think this is a show about a murder, precisely because the murder itself is the thing that there’s the least evidence about. Serial doesn’t examine the murder in depth because it is impossible. Which shouldn’t diminish the fact that this community was devastated by tragedy. It should outrage us that no one satisfactorily scoured the scene or ran with every little piece of information until they couldn’t run anymore. It should outrage us that they stuck a seventeen year-old boy in prison for life because it was an easy fix. It should outrage us that Hae Min Lee’s killer might have gotten away, might do it again. And even if it pokes the wounds of the people personally affected, I’m glad that we’re all hearing this story and getting outraged together. Not for entertainment’s sake, obviously, although I do enjoy the show, but for the sake of getting to the bottom of it all, to figure out what really happened and whether or not justice has been carried out.

So, yeah. Go check out Serial. There are nine episodes so far. They’re skipping next week because of Thanksgiving, so if you get hooked you’ll have to wait until December for episode ten. We can all suffer together. The suspense is truly horrible. But you’ll have my blog to tide you over. See? I take care of you, don’t I? Damn right I do.

My brain is an idiot.

Occasionally I have a brilliant idea. Very occasionally these days, honestly. And I tend to tell people about these great ideas and then never proceed to the doing part of the process. Apparently brains think that positive, encouraging reactions from other people and actual accomplishment are the same thing. Oh, you rascal and your dopamine. So wily. The problem with (sometimes) having excellent ideas is that I also have terrible ones, and often I can’t tell them apart. This is a constant source of confusion. My personal brain responds equally enthusiastically, regardless of the quality of whatever batshit thing just clanged through it. Like a fat kid who has no idea how awful Necco wafers are, but is still screaming happy to get a thing that is allegedly candy.

Sorry, fat kids, for using you in my insensitive analogy. But we all agree that Necco wafers are fucking gross. Even I wouldn’t eat them when I was a fat kid.

Hey, wait. I was a fat kid. I can make all the fat kid jokes I want.

I hereby retract my apology.

Anyway. Bad ideas. My brain doesn’t care if my ideas are bad, with the obvious exception of monkey behavior like sticking my hand in a fire or something. The initial rush, that moment of “hey! I thought of a thing!” seems to have no connection at all to the You’re a Bloody Moron center (pardon all my scientific jargon here, folks). I have to work out all those circuits later, on my own, with logic. It’s exhausting.

And having bad ideas really isn’t so bad on its own. What sucks, and I think it’s happening more and more just here lately, is the emotional rollercoaster of having what appears, on the surface, to be a fantastic idea, getting really stoked about it, only to be crushed later when I realize that it might have been the dumbest thought ever. For example, in my ongoing existential crisis, I have come to the conclusion that it would be best if I went ahead and applied to graduate school.

I have decided this about fifty times. And it’s not going to happen. Here’s why:

My Brain: Hey! Let’s go to grad school!

Me: We’ve talked about this. We don’t need to go to grad school.

Brain: Sure, yeah, but everything’s different now.

Me: It’s really not. We moved and we’re bored. That’s it.

Brain: Okay, but, literature is the only thing you’re good at and you’re not getting to exercise those skills. You should just go ahead and devote your life to academia because you’re going to fail at everything else you ever try.

Me: Little harsh there, buddy.

Brain: We could become a professor! Really make a difference in some kid’s life.

Me: Kids are idiots. And I can do that sort of thing, plus a lot of other cool shit, with a bookstore. It’s all part of the plan.

Brain: You know that it’s absurd to think that you can run a successful business in this economy, especially after ebooks. And god knows how this Amazon/Hachette thing is going to play out. You’re probably walking into a buzzsaw. Just give it up.

Me: I will not!

Brain: Even if you never use it, wouldn’t it be nice to say that you have a graduate degree?

Me: Not worth the money.

Brain: You could be Doctor Howe, and you could say “I teach. I’m a teacher.” It’s so noble.

Me: You’re not even listening to me, are you?

Brain: And your mom will be all proud and she can finally put another graduation photo on the wall, since you haven’t really done anything at all in a decade and you don’t have any kids yet to make her happy.

Uterus: Hey, you guys leave me out of this.

Me: But I have a whole plan…

Brain: And you won’t be that one friend everyone talks about like, “Oh, it’s such a shame. She had such potential. Didn’t she used to be a writer?”

Me: No one says that…

Brain: Sure they don’t. And wouldn’t it just be easier to go back to school? Rather than risk putting everything into a business that might close? Since, let’s face it, you don’t really have a backup plan for your life at all or any other goals to speak of or really any marketable skills and if this bookstore thing falls through you’ll be a broken, hollowed out shell of a person?

Me: Do we have any beer?

Brain: Let’s just look at programs in cities we could live in.

Me: Let’s drink eight beers first.

Brain: Agreed.

Me: But wait a second. I wasn’t even that great a student, and it’s been ten years since I was in school. I don’t know if academia is a good fit for us anymore. This doesn’t make any sense.

Brain: Oooh, look, this one has a philosophy of science fiction course.

Me: What? Really? That’s awesome. Huh.

Brain: Yesssssss…

Me: You seem to think this will fix all of our problems.

Brain: It will. I promise. You’ll see. You’re wasting your life out here in the sticks. Your precious youth.

Me: Oh, fuck off. This is one of those horrible ideas that looks like a good one on the outside. Why do I keep falling for that?

Brain: I don’t know. Surely you would have learned by now.

Me: Right?

Brain: Beer?

Me: Yeah, thanks.

Brain: Necco wafer?

Me: You’re a monster.

Aaaaaaand, scene.

So, this happens like once or twice a week. I’m so sick of it. Beyond sick. It’s not always grad school. Sometimes it’s a teaching license or piano lessons or learning how to work on engines or going back on the psych meds or quitting my life to go live in London or squirting heroin into my eyeballs. The point is that I think of it, get excited about it, then talk myself down and get sad. I should just stick to the plan. The plan is solid. I never get sad when I think about the plan. Except for that whole failing miserably, empty husk thing. But that has to be a risk I’m willing to take.

It has to be.

Doesn’t it?

It’ll be worth it to have tried.

Won’t it?

Do I have a point with this post? I guess not, now that I’m in the thick of it. Follow your dreams something something blah blah blah. The pursuit of happiness is an inalienable American right schmoo schmoo merpy derp. I think I just wanted to write out that conversation with my brain. He’s a bitch and I’m tired of his nonsense. On the other hand, if I have any friends out there who are animators, I think Conversations with My Brain would make an excellent cartoon. Like the Awkward Yeti only drunker and angrier. We should do a thing.

What a great idea! Maybe! Let me think about it…

Let them eat cake.

I hate reality television with the fiery passion of a thousand suns. I think it’s lazy programming and it can become exploitative and propagate negative stereotypes and behaviors (see, for example, the post Honey Boo Boo/Duck Dynasty rise in white trash pride). So it should come as no surprise that I can’t stand this whole celebrity chef thing. First, it should be said, I can’t cook. This is in no way an admission of jealousy or anything resembling jealousy, I’m just saying that watching people cook and listening to them talk about cooking is less than entertaining for me. Just a personal preference. Secondly, I am not a foodie. Largely because it’s an expensive hobby. Also because I’m a smoker so some subtleties of flavor are lost on me. Mostly, though, if I’m being honest, it’s because I have a healthy aversion to douchebag-level overuse of particular adjectives. Telling me something is “artisanal” isn’t going to make it taste any better if it’s a thing I don’t like. Sorry.

Having said all of that, I’ve been watching Anthony Bourdain’s shows on Netflix lately. I’m so conflicted. Where’s the line between reality tv and documentary tv? Is it still a cooking show if it’s about a chef who doesn’t cook? Are travel shows exploitative or, at least, disruptive? Damaging in some way?

I don’t know the answers to any of these. I do know that I dig Bourdain. The thing I think I like the most about him is that he recognizes the universally communal nature of eating. When he talks about food, he’s talking about people. When he sits down to eat with someone, he asks them questions about their lives and their culture and if he talks about the food at all it’s in the context of what it means, not what it tastes like. He doesn’t set out to find the best food in a place, but the food that’s representative of that place. I like that he appreciates the awful meals as much as the amazing ones. We could all do with a little more of that in our mindsets, I think. The accumulation of experience should be the goal, not ticking restaurants and chefs off of our to-do lists just so we can say we did.

I wish I could just travel and eat the way Bourdain does, but some of those situations are downright scary. I can’t eat things without knowing what’s in them. I might die. But I do know how to say “shellfish allergy” in about ten languages (including Klingon, in case I’m ever stranded and hungry in some backwater part of ComicCon). My real problem is that I simply don’t like a lot of foods, and they’re often the sorts of things that people put on the plate to be fancy. Fucking foodies. Balsamic vinegar, truffle oil, stanky cheese, kale, sprouts – the stuff of nightmares. I’m no Philistine. I do like good food and fine dining. But I just prefer my meal to be recognizable, you know? When I eat a burger, dammit, it should taste like a burger.

I’m from the South, and have barbeque running through my veins. For years I’ve been saying that I want to travel the back roads along the Gulf and find the very best hole-in-the-wall bbq shack. Because you know the good shit’s tucked away somewhere in a tiny four-table hovel on a dirt road fifty miles outside a town no one’s ever heard of. It’s there, waiting for me. I shall eat its face and write a book about my adventures and try to keep the location of this little piece of Heaven a secret.

That’s another thing worth noting about Bourdain. He’s aware that he may be ruining these places by calling attention to them. I think it was the Rome episode of No Reservations when some locals took him to their favorite restaurant. He refused to say the name of the place and told his camera guy to keep the signs out of the shot because he didn’t want to come back in a year and find the place overrun with tourists. I respect that so much. Having lived in Asheville for years, I learned that I could only eat at certain places during the off season, or I would go to out of the way joints that the tourists could never find (or wouldn’t want to – I frequented a lot of dives). This is one of the biggest things I dislike about celebrity chefs. Their opinions have the power to make or break a restaurant or another chef’s career. And while I respect that their palettes are highly trained, certainly much more than my own, I’m not going to run out to try the thing Gordon Ramsay said was tasty just because he said it.

I like Ramsay, don’t get me wrong. I think the thing that people forget about him, though, is that he’s as much a businessman as a chef. Possibly even more so. One needs that savvy to be successful in high-end food. Especially when the foodie zombies are making everything so competitive. That’s the real rub here. We’ve created a culture where we’re going looking for the best of the best all the time, based largely on opinions of people we don’t know. Why shouldn’t I try the thing just because some hipster on Yelp said it wasn’t good? Maybe that guy’s favorite food is goat cheese soaked in balsamic. There’s no way to know, but we’re still reluctant to go to a place with a bad review, or even to a place we’ve never heard of. It makes me sad. Good food is everywhere. So are good experiences predicated on bad food. Don’t let people tell you what to do or how to eat. Try that sketchy street taco. Pay a hundred bucks for some hand-crafted cocktail. Whatever. But try things. New things, weird things, things that will make good stories. That’s the point. Otherwise we’d all stay home and eat mac and cheese every day. I know I would.

Say all the things.

Hey. Hi. It’s me. I still exist. Mostly.

I know I’ve been posting sporadically lately. Everything’s been a little bananatown these past few months. I was recently told that lists, which are my jam this time of year, are the laziest form of writing. So, yeah, all confidence lost plus all time sucked equals no bloggenings. Sorry. I’ll be back to normal soon.

Meanwhile, shit’s not great. You know, fall and whatnot. I’ll spare you all the black wave details. We know each other. You get it. I’m really okay. Just brainfried. Oh, and I smacked my own face on a fencepost the other day. That’s exciting. Got some color in my cheeks, as the girly girls say. Even though I think they may be talking about something else. I’m exhausted. I’ve been in my head too much. I’m bored even though I’m so busy I can’t see straight. This week has been brutal.

I lost something. It was driving me bugshit, mostly because my life is lived in tiny spaces and, even if I weren’t pathologically over-organized, there aren’t that many goddamn places to hide stuff. It’s the little things that get under your skin when you’re all sleep-deprived and delicate, you know?

It was a blog. I still write everything out longhand before I type it. That Pavlovian aesthetic thing is helpful. I wrote this post last year after The Husband’s uncle was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. I was pissed and sad and all fucked up about it, but I decided not to post it at the time out of respect for the family’s privacy. And also not to bring any more bad juju to the situation. Better to treat these calamities with heavy doses of loving kindness and as much mirth as possible. So I spent the better part of an evening tearing my bedroom to shreds looking for this thing, and eventually I got so upset that I was laying on the floor crying, thinking how it was just gone, how it would be just a piece of paper to whoever found it, deprived of all meaning. Of course that’s when I see a box out of the corner of my eye, and of course that’s when I remember that I’ve got almost two year’s worth of blog posts stacked up in that box and that I stashed the box under a stack of books for safe keeping. Because I’m brainfried.

So, even though it may not make a whole lot of sense, here’s a thing I wrote almost a year ago:

Once upon a time I met a sweet, goofy boy during a Magic tournament at a comic book shop. There may have been Jim Beam involved. I married him. This latter fact has nothing to do with the Jim Beam. What I didn’t realize at the time is that you don’t ever just marry a person, you marry their stories, their baggage, their hangups, their annoying habits, and all their future selves. More to the point – you also marry their family. And I hit a goldmine. I mean seriously, I won the in-law lottery. And for the longest time I thought there was no way they’d accept me – the bisexual, Atheist, liberal, metalhead writer girl with too much eyeliner on who drank a lot and hitchhiked for fun. The girl with mental illness. The scifi enthusiast. The one with all the piercings in her face. The one most aptly described as “over there in the corner by herself.” And they wanted to take me to church, these people.

They did. They dragged my ass to church. But not to change my mind. Just to show me who they are, where they’re coming from, and what they stand for. From that I learned so much more than I would have ever thought I could. They didn’t just accept me, they embraced me. They love me. They’re never going to question my beliefs or my politics or my dirty mouth, because they trust in some kind of goodness they see in me, one I didn’t really know was in there. So now I’m stuck forever with this big bunch of badasses who are putting all of their energy into changing the world. All day, every day. It’s intimidating, but it gives me something to strive for.

So when his aunt Ginger married Greg, we were living in North Carolina and didn’t get to see the family as often as we’d like. It took a while for us to get to know him. Not to like him, because he’s nothing if not immediately likeable, but to really know him and understand how he fit into this big, constantly changing family machine. Truth is, I thought he was a weirdo just like me. Well, not just like me, obviously. But interesting, and with a depth of unexpected stories. He’s an honorable man. I saw goodness in him, and suddenly I understood better how I must have seemed to these people so unlike myself years before. Odd, but worth the effort. Someone whose stories you want to hear, who you know you can trust and laugh with and hug.

And now he’s sick. I would say he’s “dying,” but we’re all dying. We should really just stop using that word exclusively for the ill. He’s sick and it makes me sad. It makes me angry. When people lament about bad things happening to good people, I always think we should stop saying that, as well, because good things and bad things happen all the time to everyone. Nevertheless, this sickness makes me want to punch a wall. There’s no logic to it at all, but somehow this seems unfair. Not that I wish cancer upon anyone else, someone deemed a bad person. Mostly I just don’t think we have a psychological mechanism for dealing with the suddenness of tragedy, with the prospect of having a Greg-shaped hole in our lives, in our story, in our machine. It’s not the thing itself, but the idea of it that’s hard. Sickness and death are parts of living. We’ve had them both since the beginning. It doesn’t get easier. It never will.

But I’m comforted by knowing that this family shines with a golden light like no people I’ve ever met. I’m comforted knowing that Greg and Ginger have built a wall of friends and community and faith that will keep the darkness out. I’m comforted knowing that he’s a scrappy Scottish bastard who will fight this thing tooth and nail, with everything he has in him, laughing all the way. And so will we all, for his sake. I’m ready. Bring it on, cancer. You have no idea who you’re up against.

In August, Greg died. I wanted to send this to Ginger when it happened, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t bring myself to be the one to make her cry again. But, still, I should have said all the things. I should have posted this when I wrote it or, better, said all the things to his face. I shouldn’t have ever deluded myself into thinking there would be time. Time is not a thing we’re promised. But such is life, and these are the everlasting regrets of wordy people. The self-editing and the “what I should have said” goes on forever.

Last week, my best friend, the very first friend I ever made on the face of this planet, was diagnosed with cancer. It’s early, and it’s a pretty treatable flavor of cancer. I’m confident. He’s tough as hell and will fight a bitch even if he has to fight dirty. And yet. It makes me want to say all the things. Doesn’t it? When you get news like that? Just so you know you did it? Aren’t we all walking around being fucking cowards, not saying what we want to say all the time? I certainly feel cowardly. Or weak. Or something.

And while I’m sure this particular friend with this particular cancer is going to be okay on this particular occasion, what if it hadn’t been this thing? This thing that can be stopped right now? What if it had been a bus or a murder or an aneurism? I don’t wish those things on anyone, obviously, but they happen every day. What if I never get my deathbed confessional moment?

I didn’t when my dad died.

I didn’t when my friend overdosed.

I didn’t when my other friend ate a shotgun.

I didn’t when my other uncle wrecked his motorcycle.

I didn’t when my cousin got run over by a tractor.

I didn’t, even, when my grandmother’s brain was so riddled with holes that she was gone long before she was gone.

Shit happens. People die. All people. What’s the line? “On a long enough timeline the survival rate for everyone drops to zero.” It’s a truth I’m comfortable with. It’s all that life shit beforehand that’s hard. So tell your friends you love them. Visit when you can. Hug often and vigorously. Don’t put off saying those things that linger and tickle in the back of your brain. Tell complete strangers on the internet that hilarious story about the time he stole your sister’s car and got busted because he left the keys in it and had to break the window in the Hardee’s parking lot at two in the morning (absolute truth, and still funny twenty years later). Hold them when they cry. Laugh at the world, because we’re in this together. Call your mom. Send that silly birthday card that only you two would get. Buy the sad-looking guy alone at the end of the bar a drink. Ask him if he’s okay. Life is short. Fill it with kindness. Fill it with unforgettable moments. All we are is the memories that other people carry. Make them count.

And they lived happily ever after.

You know that nursery rhyme about Peter, Peter, Pumpkin Eater? You think that’s about a dude eating his wife? Consider. He:

  • Had a wife but couldn’t keep her (because bitches be expensive, yo – needing food and shelter and shit all the time)
  • He put her in a pumpkin shell (as a connoisseur of pumpkin products, I’m sure old Pete had a reliable recipe for delicious, flaky crust at the ready)
  • And there he kept her very well (leftovers for like a week! Totally worth it)

These are the things I think about when I can’t sleep at night. But I had a reason, I swear. I wasn’t just contemplating spousal homicide and cannibalism to relax.

We’ve been watching Once Upon a Time. It’s cheesy, but the good (mostly) kind of cheesy. If you’re unfamiliar, a basic rundown: All the fairy tale characters you know and love are real. They live in a parallel universe to ours, called the Enchanted Forest, of course. The wicked stepmother/all-powerful witch from Snow White goes beyond her boring poisoned-apple shenanigans to get revenge, and sends all the storybook folks to populate a small town in Maine, where they don’t remember who or what they are and cannot leave. I can’t fathom a more horrible fate. Eventually, a strange young woman comes to town, ostensibly just passing through. But since no one just passes through, the witch (who is now the mayor of this weird little magical antfarm) takes notice and figures out that she’s the long-lost daughter of Snow White. Where did she come from? Where has she been? It’s a mystery, and soon turns into a battle of wills, a classic fight between good and evil, when this young lady breaks the spell that’s been holding the whole town in thrall. I don’t want to give anything away, because it’s all secrets and lies and machinations. The first season is full of fun moments when you get to figure out who’s who and what story you’re in this week. It’s pretty great. Cheesy, but great.

But I find myself having to suspend disbelief more than I normally would during a cheesy fantasy show, because I’m deconstructing the fairy tales. Once Upon a Time relies heavily on those watered-down, sanitized versions of the old stories, the ones that everyone knows because they’re squeaky clean and family friendly. I have major beef with the Disney Corporation for perpetuating that banal crap just for the sake of getting kids to buy toys. Fuck you, Walt. Could’ve been original. Could’ve stuck with Mickey and his cast of weirdo friends and done something truly innovative (like Warner Brothers did – ooh, does it burn, Walt? I hope it does). But no, you had to go and rip off a bunch of public domain shit so you wouldn’t be forced to pay a writing staff a decent wage, you cheap, anti-Semitic fucker.

Oh! And then you made up all that shit about lemmings! You’re a monster!

Ahem.

What was I saying? Fairy tales. So, fairy tales are the bastard children of parables, meant to be cautionary, in general, and simple enough that they could be easily spread by the illiterate masses. You know, like Buzzfeed. They’re grim and gory and I love them. For example, in Cinderella, the sisters whose feet wouldn’t fit in the slipper? They chopped off their toes, they were so desperate to bang a prince. Crazy. Delightfully batshit. The point is, you tell your kids a story about a big bad wolf and maybe they’ll stay out of the forest where there are actual wolves. There’s a reason these tales exist, and the world was scarier then in a lot of ways. On the other hand, there are more of us now. We’ve got rapists and murderers and kidnappers and human traffickers and genocide and war, still, but at least the likelihood of a small child happening upon a toothsome creature is less. Seems like, anyway. Maybe not, I don’t know. Either way the big bad wolf still applies, even if now he’s a metaphor for horror instead of a literal reality.

And that’s kind of what bothers me about Once Upon a Time. To use the cleaned-up versions of these stories takes away so much potential. It could have been so dark and so gritty. But people wouldn’t have understood. There’s always been a little murder and mayhem inherent to fairy tales, sure, but the twisted details from the original source material could have made for so much awesome. It could have ended up being awful and seemingly hamfisted, though, given that we’re so used to the Disney versions where everything always turns out happy slappy. I don’t know. Just seems like a wasted opportunity.

On a similar note, I feel like the show is a little whitewashed because of this Disneyfication. In season two, Mulan shows up. Which is fine, whatever, she’s a hardcore warrior chick and I like what they did with that character. But she’s also the only character from a non-European fairy tale. By that point in the show they had already pulled in Peter Pan and a couple of folks from Alice in Wonderland, opening up a whole world of literary characters and tropes to be used however they wish. And with the vast richness of global folklore, the possibilities are endless. But we get Mulan? Why? Because she’s the only non-white storybook princess anyone is familiar with. Because Disney. It’s infuriating. Oh, and a small agro aside here (spoiler alert, sort of) – the only two black people on the show both play bad guys. So there’s that.

Having led with all my criticisms, let me say that I do quite like the show. I like Jennifer Morrison and I lurve Robert Carlyle in everything he does. The puzzly bits, the figuring out who’s who and how they’re connected is really fun. And it’s fairy tales. Magic and monsters and twue wuv. How can you not love fairy tales? The cheese factor is high, but it’s only, say, Supernatural-level high, which is still well within the acceptable limits. So check it out. The first three seasons are on Netflix. Try to keep your ire down if you have a literature degree. And stop watching Disney movies! That shit will rot your brain.

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.