Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words are bloody complicated.

Holy shit, Rachel Dolezal. Rachel, Rachel, Rachel. I’ve been fascinated by this story for the past week. She is the living embodiment of WTF?. In case you missed it, Rachel Dolezal was the head of the Spokane chapter of the NAACP. While interviewing her for a local tv news piece a reporter, seemingly out of the blue and unrelated to the topic at hand, asked her if she is black. Confused, I assume, about the relevance, she responded, “I don’t understand the question,” bumbled and spluttered when asked again, and then walked away. Now, that would have been fine, and excellent news blooper fodder. Except Rachel Dolezal isn’t black. She’s been posing as a black woman for almost a decade. Which would also have been fine, if she hadn’t accepted a college scholarship for black students, filed several police reports saying that harassment incidents were racial hate crimes, and told her adopted son not to blow her cover. That’s where this gets a little fraud-y and gross.

Legitimate fraud aside, why does this story seem so batshit crazy? Is it because her white birth parents (from whom she is estranged) outed her suddenly after all this time? That definitely makes me think there’s some weird backstory we’re not being made aware of. Or is it because we’re hearing about it in the aftermath of all the recent stories about systemic racism and police brutality against people of color? And all that very real, very nasty shit makes Dolezal seem silly? Is she actually mentally ill or delusional? Is she conducting a social experiment? Is she taking advantage of and defrauding social programs like Affirmative Action for her own financial or career gains? Again I say, WTF?

Because white people appropriate black culture all the time without running around in blackface. Furthermore, white people get jobs with the NAACP. White people teach African American studies. White people have black spouses and adopt black kids. You do not have to be a thing or pretend to be a thing to love and protect and fight for it. Somehow her charade feels really icky and insulting. But I’m white. I don’t necessarily know how sure my footing is in my arguments against her actions. I do know that I’m a hopeless Anglophile, but I haven’t cultivated a fake accent or lied about where I grew up. That’s a really weak analogy, but you see what I’m saying. She may feel a deep and abiding affinity for black or African culture, but she damn sure hasn’t had the black American experience.

But then that raises even more questions. What is the black American experience? Can one even say “the” rather than “a”? Why does it seem so weird that she would choose to go from white to black, given that black is, ostensibly, “harder”? What does that even mean? What does it say about our country that we can label one racial identity “harder” than another out of hand, without even thinking about it? And on a similar note, black people straighten their hair and lighten their skin all the time. Why isn’t that weird? Does it insult and offend and appall people like this story seems to have? I honestly don’t know.

Not to change the subject too drastically, but I wonder if Dolezal’s story would have had a different impact if she had been a man. So often we talk about body image and beauty standards as a distraction from bigger, more important issues. Oddly, in this case, it really does seem to be at the heart of the matter. Having said that, I find the many comparisons of Dolezal to Caitlyn Jenner really annoying. “Transracial” is not a thing. Transgender definitely is. Transgender people legitimately feel that there is something physically wrong with their actual body, and they make the decision to transition after years of struggle and pain, knowing that their path is not going to get any easier. Jenner didn’t just slap on a new vagina and a new name like someone getting a tattoo or a haircut or some overzealous bronzing. The comparisons between these two women are absurd. Jenner was seeking truth and authenticity. Dolezal is a liar. Although I can see the logic in saying that while Jenner always felt she was a woman, she also didn’t have to go through life having the experiences common to women in America – misogyny, harassment, unequal pay, job loss due to maternity leave, the costs of child care or the controversy of contraception, sexual violence or threats of sexual violence, body shaming. But she will now. Welcome to our wonderful sisterhood, Caitlyn.

Our bodies and our identities are inextricably linked, obviously, and we’re advanced enough to change one to suit the other by both small and large degrees. And that’s fine. That seems healthy and like a step in the right direction. Why, then, do I support Caitlyn Jenner but think that Rachel Dolezal is a raving banana sandwich (actual prosecute-able fraud aside)? Where’s the line? When is a body just a body? Are medicine and psychology ahead of or behind our culture? I mean, homosexuality was listed as a mental disorder in the DSM until 1986, for fuck’s sake. We’re still fighting to keep people out of those evil sexuality conversion places, but at the same time require sex offenders of all stripes, no matter the severity of their crimes, to pay enormous amounts of money out of pocket for court-appointed therapy, basically trying to change their sexual proclivities in exactly the same way. There’s a particular body dysmorphic disorder where people feel like a part of their body (usually a limb) is not theirs, an alien, intrusive thing. They, too, are routinely sent to therapy and heavily medicated in order to be “normal,” and often resort to crudely removing the offending appendage themselves. We still have puritanical prejudices against the heavily tattooed or body modified. We fat shame and skinny shame, making some arbitrary average number the demarcation of “health,” but only if it looks a certain way. While we simultaneously pump our food market full of poison, fat, sugar, and salt, we fill our media exclusively with airbrushed ectomorphs. We sweat the hot ladies in skimpy outfits and overtly sexualized scenarios on every billboard, magazine, and commercial, but are deeply unsettled by public breastfeeding. We rejoice at the sudden acceptance of the “dad bod,” but put only fit young hipsters and ripped silver foxes in Father’s Day ads for beer and burgers. We extoll the virtues of diet after diet after diet so we can show off the sexiest body possible to whomever will look, but cry foul on a rape victim’s allegations when her skirt was too short for our outdated sense of sexual modesty.

Why do we have to have all this running commentary on other people’s lives? The real problem, I think, is that so many folks see those lifestyle choices as an affront to their own. The word “tolerance” has been thrown around so much lately as to make it meaningless. As in: “Why do I have to tolerate you but you get to be intolerant of my opinion? Who are you to judge?” Well, who the hell am I to judge? Who am I at all? Is there a Venn diagram that perfectly lays out the topography of my personality? I mean, I guess so. But I’ve never really had to defend any of the ways that I identify from outright attack. I’m white, but I have had people be shitty to me several times when I had a deep tan because they thought I was Hispanic (and once, Asian – weirdly, this usually happens in grocery stores, maybe it’s the lighting). I’m from a lower-to-middle middle class family, which has only ever been a problem when I’ve told people that my dad worked for the most evil corporation to ever evil, but clearly that wasn’t my decision. I’m bisexual but nobody cares – except maybe that one girlfriend I was an asshole to in high school because she wanted to hold my hand in the hallway and I didn’t want to put up with any redneck bully bullshit (I’m sorry about that, Mel, I truly am). I’m an atheist, and I guess that’s the one where I have to pick my battles the most. But I’m not evangelical about it, like a lot of atheists I know who start fights just so they get to tell religious people they think they’re stupid. That shit is mean and unnecessary. And, by the way, just as ignorant and judgy as they think religious people are.

But these are all words. Words that we hear and assume we understand. A word or a label is never the whole story, the big picture. We use so few words but we need so many to really explain ourselves, and then we let a disturbing number of them go in one ear and out the other. There are very few words people use as identifiers that I immediately react negatively to (pedophile, for example, or Neo-Nazi). So long as you’re a nice person and you tell me which pronouns and adjectives you prefer, we can probably be friends. Why can’t we all just be a meaningless jumble? Why don’t we realize that we already are? There’s this saying about religion that I often regurgitate. It varies, but it’s usually something like: “Religion is like a penis – it’s fine to have one and love it, but don’t wave it around, show it to my kids, or try to stick it down my throat.” Truth is, lots of words can be substituted in that analogy. Race, religion, sexual preference, gender identity, politics, wealth – anything can be a penis. Just don’t be a dick about it.

No pilikia today. Sit. Talk story.

My family reunion is this weekend. Sadly, I’m not able to be there this year (Hi, family! Love you! Air hugs!). It’s a huge family, probably two hundred folks or so. Not Dugger huge, but former Catholic huge, which is pretty damn huge by normal human standards. And we’re Hawaiian. Hawaiians don’t “chat” or “visit” or “catch up.” We “talk story,” a figure of speech that I absolutely love. Very direct and to the point, Hawaiians. Probably a result of only having thirteen letters. The problem with having such a big family, though, is that I don’t get to talk story with all of them. There are far too many who I don’t know at all, and by this point we’ve grown into such a many-headed beast that I can’t even keep straight whose kids or spouses are whose anymore. Not to mention that I live so far away, which is a whole other bucket of bullshit.

Anyway, the other day I listened to a TED Radio Hour episode with Dave Isay, the guy who started StoryCorps, and I honestly think he’s a genius. If you’ve ever heard StoryCorps, it was most likely a snippet on NPR. But if you’re unfamiliar, the basic idea is that two people sit down in a recording booth and interview each other. The interviews are all archived in the Library of Congress and have become the largest collection of recorded human voices. There’s also a podcast, if you’re interested, but both it and the pieces aired on the radio are just short excerpts from each interview. Some of them are funny, some are mundane, some are baffling, some are gut-wrenching. Which, I suppose, is true of all conversation. So why are interviews different?

I listen to a shit ton of podcasts. Like, I probably spend five or six hours a day listening to podcasts. This may be an actual sickness. Some of my very favorites are interview style, with interesting people in both chairs. But here’s the thing about StoryCorps: the whole point is that everyone is interesting. We forget that, I think, obsessed as we are with celebrity and gossip and commentary and punditry. I may have some weird social anxiety stuff and prefer to watch people over talking to them, but I know that every single person has at least one interesting story (except babies, babies are pretty boring). How simple to just ask for those stories. How elegant. And potentially really important. Like Isay says in his TED Talk, the older generations will be gone one day but we can keep what they have to say forever. And some people don’t get to tell their stories. Either they’re part of a marginalized community that nobody cares about (prison, retirement home, freaky cult, etc), or simply, and perhaps more sadly, no one ever asks.

For example, recently one of my cousins was talking to one of my aunts and my aunt said something about the time when my mother lived in Iran. My cousin had no idea that my mom had lived in Iran. Or Singapore. Or Scotland. Or any of the other weird things my mom has done. She’s an interesting lady, but it had never come up, I guess. Not that I think a sit-down interview that’s being recorded would necessarily bring any of that to light, but there’s something about a microphone that flips a switch in our brains and eliminates the need for chit chat. Frankly, I’ve always sucked at chit chat. It’s kind of a chicken-or-egg thing with the social anxiety. Obviously, being a writer and an eater of books, story is important to me. Some people probably don’t give a shit what regular folks have to say. But we should always remember that those among us who are extraordinary are only made so by their stories. And sometimes we need to hear the story to see that they’re extraordinary, if they’re hiding in plain sight, masquerading as normal. Things like StoryCorps (and, in a slightly different format, Humans of New York) are making it easier for us to see the amazing stuff about each other that we might have missed.

And now StoryCorps has put out a smartphone app so anyone can record an interview and upload it to the collection without having to go to a sound studio. This is going to change the game. Of course I thought of my giant, wacky family when I heard about this thing. Wouldn’t it be incredible to get interviews from all two-hundred-something members of one family? What a great artifact, not only for us to have for ourselves, but as a weird little slice of this whole human story? I think I’m going to make it a project for the next family reunion. Get some quality microphones and set up a quiet place, have everyone pair off with a family member who they don’t know very well (or who they know has a good story they want on record). It could be so fun.

More to the point, it could be really important as our old folks get older and eventually leave us. We lost one of my uncles a few years ago (in a motorcycle accident – SHARE THE ROAD!), and I’m sad to say that I didn’t know him very well. I would have loved to hear his stories, but now I only get to hear stories about him. Same with all four of my grandparents. And, it’s funny, when my dad died the first thing I forgot was what his voice sounded like. I don’t think I have any recordings of him just talking, and certainly not singing or laughing, although those are the three things I remember him doing the most (when I could hear him over his tractor). We mythologize the dead in our minds, but for whatever reason, in my head they’re silent. Static. Makes me sad.

There’s a strange linguistic thing that happens in groups of people – families, friends, coworkers, whatever – called liminal language. It’s a sort of shorthand specific to that group, very referential, and it binds the group together. So, for example, if I walk into my little sister’s house and say “Hello, meteor!” there’s a very good chance that either she or her mate will say “Aaaah! The atmosphere!”. Nobody else gets that, but there’s a story there. A dumb story, granted, but a story. A series of events and experiences distilled down to four words in a silly accent. I’m endlessly fascinated by the brain’s ability to do this. Memory, language, representation and reference – these are stories. Stories inside stories inside stories. Everything is story, inescapable and infinite and all-consuming. I see it everywhere, like the fucking Matrix.

And I could tell you that the written word and the spoken word are equals in our efforts to preserve story, but they’re just not. Reading and listening happen in different parts of the brain using different neurochemical whatsits. This is why I maintain that one should never read the plays of Shakespeare, but should see them onstage whenever possible. They weren’t meant to be read off of a dead page in cold ink, and doing so turns them into a wholly different creature. On a similar note (but in no way trying to compare myself to Shakespeare), it’s interesting that people who know me say I write like I talk. I think this is true, for the most part. However, when I was younger I helped out occasionally with producing my older sister’s radio show and would sometimes have to speak on-air (notice I say “have to” and not “get to”). She told me that I sound like a dead fish, that my voice only works when someone is looking at me. This is also true. My voice is rather monotone, but I talk with my hands a lot and pull tons of stupid faces. I imagine that talking on the phone with me is much like reading my writing – if you know me, you can see me saying it. If not? Potential dead fishness. This is why I blog instead of podcasting, and why recording people’s stories can be so much more impactful than writing them down. The medium does make a difference.

Anyway, check out StoryCorps. It’s a hell of a rabbithole to get stuck in. More importantly, even if you don’t record them, ask people to tell you their stories. People you love, people you hate, people you don’t know. It’s an incredible moment of human connection, some serious brain-on-brain action. Talk story. It’s all we are.

My own meandering experience…

It’s the end of May, friends, which means that it’s commencement speech season. I love commencement speeches. That may seem like a strange thing to say, but hear me out. In the spring of 1997, Baz Luhrmann gave a speech to a graduating class that was later set to music and, for whatever reason, became wildly popular. By the time I walked across the rickety stage at my high school graduation in 2000, it, along with that insipid Green Day song, had been played ad nauseam at every important event in teenage American life for years. When I got to college, it continued to feature prominently on mix CDs and Napster playlists, and is now one of a handful of de rigueur nostalgia anthems for myself and that group of friends. So I feel confident blaming Mr. Luhrmann for my fetishistic love of folks in weirdly medieval robes behind lecterns droning advice at youngsters through subpar sound equipment.

And isn’t it a strange tradition? Robes and funny hats aside, very famous or successful or important grownups giving lengthy speeches to groups of exhausted twenty-somethings, sweating in the sun, waiting patiently for this person to stop yacking so they can have their parents buy them lunch and then go get wasted and forget everything in the speech almost immediately. Basically, it’s the age when people don’t listen and a day when they particularly don’t care. I don’t remember my college commencement speech, or even who gave it. But ten years later, now that I can pay attention, I enjoy seeing those people doling out nuggets of wisdom. It’s one of my favorite YouTube rabbit holes. Very much like watching TEDTalks, only sappier. Do I need this sort of advice? Not usually, but sometimes. And it is certainly not collated and speechified with someone like myself in mind as the intended audience. There are some great ones that I watch over and over, though, because they consistently make me happy.

Very often, it’s easier for me to just make someone watch one of these than it is to organize my own thoughts coherently and efficiently. Why reinvent the wheel? It’s not that I think I give bad advice, necessarily, but I’m a pragmatist and I don’t sugar coat things very well. When I try, I get all befuddled. It’s like my brain can’t tolerate bullshit and it can make me seem harsh or cold. I like to describe myself as “frank,” “straightforward,” and “levelheaded,” but in this context those feel like euphemisms. Someone once told me I’d be a very good mob boss, but that’s probably a conversation for a different time. There are two distinct types of these speeches: “You did it! Hooray!” and “Okay, now the rest kind of sucks.” Both of which are completely valid sentiments and things graduates need to hear. But I wonder if there aren’t other folks who need to hear that sort of thing as well. College is becoming less and less important, frankly. Not that it’s not valuable, but in the day-to-day paying the rent sense, people need jobs more than they need degrees. And sure, a degree might help you get a better job, but it might not. Then what? You’ve wasted a number of years you could have been gaining job or life experience and saddled yourself with a mountain of very dangerous debt and you still may not get a job in your field. It’s a risky gamble. Sometimes it’s worth it, sometimes not.

Guys like Adam Savage and Mike Rowe make an excellent point when they talk about technical training. Both have said that teaching people a skill, a tangible, immediately usable and marketable skill, is a better investment than sending them to a four-year college. If you can drive a backhoe or weld or build real things with your actual hands, there are huge opportunities out there because we’ve come to value and want tidy office work over getting shit done. What’s that about? Dig a hole. Plant a seed. Swing a hammer. Simple, useful work. We need those things done but look down on those who do them. Fuck. That. Shit. I spent $80K on a piece of paper that says I know how to read books, you guys. Think about that for a second. I won’t say it was a waste of money, absolutely not. But I feel like what I paid for was that time, not that piece of paper. Those years were incredible and I wouldn’t trade them for anything. Just being able to dedicate myself to thinking and learning and growing and making mistakes? Invaluable. Unquestionably, though, a luxury. If I had gotten a degree in something “useful,” maybe I wouldn’t call it a luxury. But for me, having the degree itself hasn’t changed anything. And I didn’t learn a single thing about what I’m doing with my life now during those years. Not one.

So when do those folks who don’t go to college get their big motivational rant? Who tells them when they’ve done well on a lengthy, difficult thing? When they get a promotion? When they have a kid? When they retire? Nothing really compares to the pomp and circumstance of getting a degree. Why is that? Why do we so equate education with utmost accomplishment? Don’t get me wrong, a college degree is a huge deal, and ostensibly a lot of work, but it seems to me to be one of the only occasions for which such a fuss is made. And, as far as I can tell, the last one. No more marching in weird robes (probably). No more speeches. It’s bleak and it’s hard, but you can do a good job and for that I preemptively pat you on the back. Hooray! You did it! But the rest kind of sucks.

Clearly I nor you see myself giving any commencement speeches anytime soon. But a couple of years ago, a friend’s younger sister was graduating high school and as a gift my buddy had people from all over the country send postcards with life advice on them that she bound together into a book (a fantastic graduation present, by the way). I kept a copy of my list and have kept adding to it. So since no one asked or is likely to, I will dispense this advice…now (cue bass line):

  • Find something you love and strive to be very, very good at it.
  • Never let anyone tell you what not to love.
  • Don’t order blue drinks at parties or crowded bars.
  • Travel and read and see as much live music as possible.
  • Tip heavily. Always.
  • Learn to appreciate difficult poetry.
  • There’s nothing between you and anything in the world but distance and time.
  • Pay attention. Be deliberate. Be precise.
  • Always carry a flashlight, pocketknife, and lighter.
  • Pick your battles.
  • Keep an open mind. Be flexible.
  • Don’t stress too much about money.
  • Embrace new experiences, even when they’re awful.
  • Give help freely and often.
  • Own your mistakes and use them to your advantage. You’re better for them.
  • Memorize important phone numbers.
  • Know how to drive a stick shift.
  • Laugh. Laugh. Laugh some more.
  • There is a big, important difference between a discussion and an argument.
  • Vote.
  • If it feels bad, don’t do it.
  • Never own more tupperware than will fit in your fridge or more hangers than will fit in your closet.
  • Love doesn’t fix anything.
  • Say what you mean, not what you think they want to hear. Never be afraid to say “I don’t know.”
  • Comfort equals confidence – comfort in your own skin, your clothes, your beliefs, your decisions.
  • Respecting others’ opinions doesn’t mean you have to agree with them.
  • Make your bed first thing every morning, especially if you live in a small space. It does wonders for your motivation, and you’ll always have extra room to get things done.
  • Accept compliments and criticism gracefully.
  • Food is fuel, not just stomach-filler.
  • The glass is neither half-full nor half-empty. The glass is always full. It’s half air.

“We are the weirdos, mister.”

Last week Sony announced that they’re remaking The Craft. And then the internet exploded. The horrified gasps of thirty-somethings rang through the ether. Cries of “Noooo!” and “Whyyyyy?” could be heard from every corner of social media.

Okay, hang on. We’ll get back to the outrage.

To clarify (with mild spoilers): The Craft is a 1996 movie about a coven of high school pseudo-witches. They’re basically a gaggle of goths, outcast for one reason or another, until a new girl starts at their school who has actual powers. They take her in and explain their version of Wicca to her, so she becomes comfortable enough to show them how to do what she can do. They learn from her, usurp her powers, go a little batshit, and turn on both her and everyone who wronged them in the past. All hell breaks loose and it becomes a good witch versus bad witch situation.

As silly as it sounds, there’s a lot going on in this movie. The 90s were a very gothy time. Not in that lovely Victorian-esque, grownup way (which has since largely morphed into steampunk), but in a post-grunge, angry young Marilyn Manson fans in black lipstick kind of way. I don’t know how closely they’re related, but it makes good sense to me that Wicca was a huge deal in the 90s as well. The gothy version, mind you, not the hippiefied, crystal-munching, Earth goddess version. I suspect both of these trends were direct results of 60s and 70s teens coming of age. On the one hand, alternative religions became more acceptable because of all those New Age parents. And on the other hand, there’s the fallout from the Satanic cult scare of that era, which affected everything from practices in child psychology to the way law enforcement deals with religious groups, and of course every heavy metal band ever. All of which is to say that The Craft took advantage of a cultural perfect storm on a lot of levels.

As a teenage goth girl, The Craft was pretty much made and marketed specifically for my demographic. I was interested in Wicca myself, being at that age when one searches everywhere for any like-minded community and just tries shit on for size. I was never a spell-caster, per se, but I definitely read a lot of books on the subject, burned a ton of candles, and pissed off my parents with a séance or two. I never believed any of it was real, though, and I think that was the stumbling block to finding the deeper meaning or comfort that one should get out of any religion. But it did lead me down a rabbit hole to other New Age practices, meditation, Buddhism, and from there to Beat poetry, Castaneda, Bill Hicks, and on and on. My lifelong devotion to weirdos of every flavor can probably be traced directly back to those four idiot girls chanting “light as a feather, stiff as a board.” Sounds trite, sure, but every chain has a first link.

There’s a great documentary on Netflix right now called Beyond Clueless that deconstructs teen movies from the late 90s and early 00s, particularly as they relate to the rules of high school and the portrayal of social structures among young women. It’s fucking fantastic. The bit about The Craft had a lot of interesting stuff about outcasts and power dynamics. Each of the four girls is weird for a different reason: the new girl, the girl from a broken home, the lone black girl, and the girl who is physically disfigured. Tropes or stereotypes, yes, but they’re bound together by this involuntary otherness and use that bond to create a group that then relies on their voluntary otherness (their witchcraft, which they could have practiced separately but didn’t). That’s high school for me in a nutshell right there. Find the weirdos and stick with them. Safety in numbers. And when I was a messed up teenager, seeing something even a little like myself represented onscreen was massively important. It’s one of the few dumb teen movies that I really loved, everything else seemingly being about beautiful people or romance or other stuff I didn’t care about at all. Also, I had just fallen ass over teakettle in love with Quentin Tarantino movies and films about heroin that I probably shouldn’t have been watching (I’m looking at you, Basketball Diaries), so the weirder the better to hold my interest.

As far as 90s teen movies about weirdos go, they’re either bubblegummy (Bubble Boy) or indie artsy (SLC Punk), but we did have a few other representations of Wiccans. Thing is, they were all either silly or psycho, and never a realistic representation of actual practitioners. When real Wiccans get together, stuff does not fly around the room. Sparks do not fly from wands. There’s a great stink of burning sage and a lot of talking, but none of that other nonsense. Anyway, Willow from Buffy is the obvious example, and one of my all-time favorite characters. She was great until that time she lost her shit and went all evil because someone killed her girlfriend. This is basically a “bitches be crazy” moment that somehow made it seem like the magic’s fault and not the result of grief. There are movies like Practical Magic and shows like Charmed, neither of which starred teenagers, so at the moment they’re irrelevant for our purposes. And of course Sabrina, which was just a sitcom with a quirk, pretty much a reboot of Bewitched without all that creepy 60s nuclear family propaganda (also heavily relying on residual viewership from Clarissa Explains It All, but was so different as to make that plan crash and burn with a quickness). These are all witches of the Hogwarts variety, not that girl from your dorm who sincerely believes that every living thing is connected and all energy is a resource that can be tapped with focused intention. And they’re damn sure not things that creep in the night.

But now, with some kind of hindsight malfunction, every article talking about The Craft remake is calling it a “cult horror” or a “teen horror” movie. For me, it’s neither of those. It did well at the box office and has had great success since then, so I would never call it cult. And when I think of “teen horror” as a genre, I wouldn’t compare any of those movies to The Craft. Something like I Know What You Did Last Summer is a great example of 90s teen horror. Or Final Destination, for a more supernatural plot point. Older stuff that’s more slashery tends to be populated with teens, like Nightmare on Elm Street or Friday the 13th, although I wouldn’t necessarily say that those were marketed as teen films. And all four Scream movies relied heavily on teenagers being morons for one reason or another, even as the main cast aged out of the genre (I recently binge watched all of those, I should really do a post about that). More to the point, and I hate to pigeonhole or discourage anyone from watching The Craft if you haven’t seen it, but this is a chick flick. I might come off like an asshole for saying this, but no one makes horror movies that are marketed to girls. Sorry. Horror for girls is not a thing. Horror starring girls is a thing. Horror that girls enjoy is a thing. But horror made specifically for girls? Not a thing. It should be, but it isn’t. And there are too many reasons The Craft isn’t a horror movie for me to call it one just to fill a niche. Not going to do it.

I wonder if, remake or not, we really need another movie about young women being mean to each other. Yeah, sure, the first half is about solidarity and finding your tribe or whatever, but there’s a twenty minute magical catfight at the end of this movie. Which is the lesson that will stick? I’m all for making more female character-driven movies (especially with a female writer/director, as is the case with this remake), but the crux of this whole story is that a group of friends gets torn apart by jealousy and greed. They wanted her power, and when they got it they immediately forgot that their vulnerabilities were what drew them together in the first place. It’s a good way to put women in the age-old “absolute power corrupts absolutely” situation, but this is ultimately going to be watched mostly by teenagers and I suspect what they’ll see is just bitches throwing vengeance spells at each other. A glittery action film. Obviously I’m underestimating their critical thinking skills to some degree here, of course. Seriously, though, what teen do you know who comes out of a movie talking about the bigger social ramifications of gender politics or power dynamics in friend groups? I could think of a couple of kids in my life who would do so if asked, but they’re oddballs anyway and they’d have that conversation with me, not with their friends.

And everyone else who’s going to go see it will be angry women in their thirties who just want to see what a mess has been made of a thing we loved. I’ve said this before, but maybe it’s that generation gap thing. Maybe it’s just our turn. Maybe teenage girls will watch this remake with a different set of assumptions about witches than we had in the 90s. These kids are kind of steeped in supernatural entertainment and might be more primed for this type of story than we were at their age, because where we just saw angry goth girls they see something like other characters they’re already familiar with. But why not just watch the original? They don’t have cell phones, but other than that it totally holds up. And it has a great soundtrack. And Fairuza Balk completely losing her shit, which is always a pleasure to watch. There’s really nothing quite like it.

This remake is a bummer for so many people, I think, because it was so, so much a product of its day. It may not make sense now. To try to tell this story in a post-sparkly vampire world feels like they’re just grasping at supernatural straws, doesn’t it? Not only are they stepping on the adolescence of a ton of people, it’s just lazy movie making. “Bring me any script with a monster or some weird shit and at least three bitchy, hot chicks. I don’t care if it’s already been done! We’re going to pump this market as dry as Kristen Stewart’s acting!”

That was mean. I shouldn’t have said that.

But notice I didn’t delete it.

Moving on.

Why remake a twenty-year-old movie that’s probably both going to piss people off and not work as well as it did the first time? Why does this keep happening? Where are the new ideas? As if franchising titles up to fifty sequels weren’t bad enough. As though milking trilogies by adding an extra cliffhanger and a fourth movie weren’t the most insulting, obvious, money-grubbing scheme ever. I know it’s hard to get a movie from script to production, and that a lot of those movies are financial risks for those companies. But I feel like it’s condescending to audiences to assume we’ll just watch the same story over and over and over again. We can handle new ideas, new writers, new directors. We can be trusted. And pretty soon we’re going to get bored with the safe bet and angry that the things we love keep getting kicked in the balls. You can’t throw shit on a canvas and call it Jackson Pollock 2.0.

Wait, that’s a bad analogy. Someone would probably buy that.

Anyway, I suppose we’ll see how it goes. I will admit that I’m curious. Not enough to drive two hours to a theater, but I’ll probably watch it at some point. After I send some tweets begging Sony not to piss on my childhood. In the meantime, if you haven’t seen The Craft and you were sentient in the 90s I definitely recommend it. Sometimes cultural artifacts can also be deeply satisfying junk food for the brain. As above, so below. Or so they tell me.

I swore I wouldn’t go on a tirade, and yet here we are.

Hey, friends. Let’s take an unscheduled trip down to Rantytown, shall we? Oh, it’ll be fun. Maybe. Or not. Either way, come on, let’s go!

It’s Mother’s Day this weekend. I don’t like Mother’s Day. Don’t get me wrong. I like mothers, in general, but I have an inexplicable hatred for made-up bullshit. You know how single people hate Valentine’s Day because they don’t like being single and everywhere they look there are shmoopy (unusually attractive, usually white, and almost always heterosexual) couples getting shoved in their faces? That is not about love. That’s about marketing to a lack of something in people’s lives. Mother’s Day is the same thing. The lack, in this case, being appreciation for moms (or whatever human fills a mom-like capacity in your life – that’s a mouthful and I don’t want to have to say it every time, so just take it as a given that in my head and heart I am including stepmoms, grandmas, single dads, aunties, foster moms, big sisters, mentors, or whoever else raised you and didn’t fuck you up too horribly). I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, but I appreciate the shit out of my mother. She’s a beautiful weirdo and I adore her. I don’t need a special day designed to guilt me into buying her stuff so I can show her that appreciation. I just pick up the phone and call her and tell her (admittedly, not often enough – hi, mom!). Taking that time and that energy should not be an act born of guilt or obligation. And even if we show our gratitude for our moms with enthusiasm, we should do it all the time and not just on a designated day. This is why The Husband and I don’t do Valentine’s Day, in a nutshell. We’ve already got anniversaries and birthdays to deal with.

Hallmark fuckery aside, there are two other things on my list of complaints about Mother’s Day, and I know they’re going to seem only tangentially related. Hear me out. Thing the first: people without moms. These folks fall into a couple of different categories and are, in my experience, differently affected by Mother’s Day. There are those who never had a biological mom in their life. They were put up for adoption, left with a home or with trusted others, or orphaned. They may have had an adoptive mom or a foster mom or a stepmom and been raised in perfectly normal, loving homes, but some of them still have deep-seated mom issues (which basically boil down to trust issues and concerns about abandonment and commitment). Intellectually I can wrap my brain around that, but I have no idea what that pain or confusion feels like. Then there are those who have lost their mom, biological or otherwise, late enough in life to have known and loved her. Mother’s Day is a sharp jab in the feels for these people. That I can relate to. I get all weepy on Father’s Day even though I don’t really remember it being a big deal for us when he was alive. And of course, let’s not forget the hordes of absolutely shitty moms that many, many people would rather never think about at all. Those creatures who are abusive or cruel to their kids, absentee or apathetic, drunk or strung out, who in some way make their kids feel unsafe, unloved, unhappy, doing the opposite of their jobs as moms. Again, I don’t know what any of that is like, but I can’t imagine that this is an easy holiday for those who do.

I don’t have a solution for you. If Mother’s Day makes you feel icky for any of these reasons I don’t know how to make it better. The advertising alone, putting aside the conversational blah blah, is ubiquitous and difficult to avoid, so just keeping your head down and soldiering on is probably hard. And isn’t that weird? I feel like Father’s Day is much easier to ignore. In a patriarchal and male-driven advertising culture, it’s strange that Mother’s Day is the bigger deal. Of course, we’ve also got a whackton of deadbeat dads, so maybe we’re trying to keep the focus off that issue? I don’t know. I do know that the money is different. Lunch specials don’t apply at most restaurants on Mother’s Day, for example. Because they know that you’re just going to take her out for a quick bite, rather than buying her the shiny new grill like Dad’s getting next month. Moms get dead hothouse flowers and some chocolate and maybe lunch, while dads get appliances and power tools. Weird.

So yeah, anyway. If you’re having a hard time with this holiday because of your mom situation, I send you hugs. Big, bosomy, matronly hugs.

Moving on. Thing the second: babies rabies. I am 32 years old. Honestly, it’s been at least five years since I last remember having zero pregnant people in my life. Just this past month friends and family have birthed four more babies, and I have one more buddy who’s due this fall. I expect this from my contemporaries at my age. It’s beautiful and I’m so happy for them all. However.

I also know plenty of people without children, and for some that can make Mother’s Day difficult. On the one hand there are those who want to have kids but can’t. Again, they’re getting poked in the feels by this holiday. But more than that, by our culture. It’s ingrained in them to feel as though they’ve failed in some way just because their bits don’t function properly. And to you ladies I say: Fuck. That. Noise. You’re a mom, even if you haven’t had a spawn of your own yet. You’re a mom in your mind and in your heart. You haven’t failed or done anything wrong. Keep up the boots-knockery, if it’s healthy and you’re able, and look into adopting or fostering if you’re up for it. There are thousands of kids who need a good, loving home. And, speaking of those kids, let’s all keep fighting the good fight so our LGBT brethren and sistren can provide those homes in every state. Our ratio of kids without homes to homes without kids could be so much better if we got our puritanical heads out of our asses in big parts of this country.

And then on the other hand there are those of us who are childless by choice. Some of us just don’t want kids right now (yes, I am aware of my age, thank you – no, that is not a factor in this decision, thank you). Some don’t want kids ever and that, too, is perfectly okay. I’ll say it again: there is nothing wrong with not wanting children. Nothing. Childless people aren’t weird or evil or wrong or pointless. They’re just people. With a lot more free time. I don’t feel like Mother’s Day in particular gets to me because I don’t have any kids, it’s more of an ongoing struggle. I get looks, you know? Those faces when people aren’t sure whether or not to ask me if I don’t have kids because I can’t or because I just don’t want to, like the answer to that inappropriate question could be followed up with inappropriate goading, like that goading would have any effect whatsoever on my very private lifestyle choices. Here’s a thought, you face-giving people: stop even thinking about asking. And if you can’t contain your overwhelming lack of social graces and you must ask, I very well may come up with an outlandish lie specifically designed to make you feel like shit for bringing up the subject. It’s been known to happen. When I say I don’t have kids the next appropriate question is not “Why not?”. The next appropriate response is not an “Ohhhhh” or an “Awwwww” laced with pity. When I am in any sort of proximity to a larval human, that is categorically not an invitation or an excuse to bring up the subject of my personal uterus. In fact, unless you are the bearer of the penis with which I have a legal binding contract or the doctor whom I hired for the care and upkeep of said uterus, I don’t think you should ever consider its current occupation or hostile takeover a possible topic of conversation without my provocation. Clear?

What’s the obsession with babies? Not just with having babies, but with other people’s babies? The new little princess of England, for example. Everyone lost their shit over her and all I could think was that if I live to be a hundred she might end up the Queen. I know more about Beyonce’s kid than I do quite a few members of my own family. I’m super stoked that Amanda Palmer and Neil Gaiman are having a kid and actually teared up the other night when I realized I’d get to watch these icons raise this kid and send it off to college to do awesomeness upon the world. I would dote endlessly upon my friends’ kids and be that weird auntie if I didn’t live a half a world away. But maybe I am damaged in some small, irrelevant way, because I do not yearn to spawn. Apparently there’s some ache I’m supposed to have by now, some jealous drooling I’m expected to do over other people’s motherhood. Frankly, it’s the last thing on my mind. And when I do picture myself with kids, they’re big kids, not babies. I’d be happy to skip that exhausted, shit on everything I own, waking up to someone screaming part of this adventure. The Husband wants to do all that stuff, and I will let him. If only he had functional boobs.

Sorry, I got way off track there. Lots of twists and turns in the shadier parts of Rantytown. I guess my bigger point is that we should all lavish appreciation and affection on our mothers (or mother-like figures) all the time and not buy into this idea that we can set it aside for later. There may not be a later, you guys. Call your mom when you think about her. If you don’t have one, or you hate yours, call someone else’s mom and tell them what a good job they did. Send your mother-in-law something awesome and fun (not dead flowers!) on your spouse’s birthday. Donate to your local kid’s home or youth center or mentoring program. Open doors for parents with strollers. Keep your fucking mouth shut when you see someone breastfeeding. Babysit for your buddies who are tired. People raising people, man, that’s a noble job. They deserve more than some cheap trinkets on one day a year.

Please don’t show my past to me.

I have more than once been accused of being a nostalgia junkie. Nostalgia literally means “pain of returning home.” Very specific in their descriptions, those Latins. It’s not that I’m into causing myself pain, not even in the more modern, wistful sense of the word. But I am into comfort: comfy jammies, comfort foods, songs I know all the words to. I think we all know that particular warm fuzzy that we get from telling old stories or looking through a photo album.

However. (And, fair warning, it’s a big one this time – some of you are not going to be on my side at the end of this.)

In the past couple of months both Facebook and Twitter have added a feature that annoys the ever-living shit out of me. For some reason they’ve found it necessary to show me things I posted “on this day X number of years ago.” You would think that, being an alleged nostalgia junkie, this would appeal to me. It does not. Because frankly, my life is not worthy of any sort of “on this day in rock history” treatment. I frequently post online when drunk or angry. As much as I bitch about social media (and its effects on the bigger media machine) making important events ephemeral, I would also love to forget some shit, you know? And I don’t have children, so I don’t get those squidgy “look how much things have changed since then” feelings over anything that’s happened in just the past few years.

Don’t get me wrong. I like those feelings. It’s not Throwback Thursday that I take issue with. Occasionally someone puts up an old photo of me or my friends or family, and of course they make me smile. But I have actual photo albums and old home movies. I can do that shit whenever I want. This new thing feels contrived, forced, a manufactured nostalgia used to cover up the fact that we’ve made moments more about the picture you get rather than the memory you keep. Everything is ephemeral because we’re using social media as an external brain hard drive so we can fill our real brains with listicles and cat videos. And we’re not even doing it for ourselves, we’re doing it for others. When was the last time you took a photo just to have it and not with the express intention of posting it somewhere? There’s a little bit of a toddler-ish “Look Mom! Look at me! You’re not looking!” feeling here. Furthermore, when was the last time you held a physical photograph in your hand? A new one? Obviously some people still do this, I am aware that I’m overgeneralizing here. But I will point out that the people I know personally who still deal in printed photos are all either older folks, photographers, or the parents of small children (or some combination thereof).

I’m not just talking about pictures, though. Things like those insipid yearly recap videos that Facebook foists upon us can be really horrible. Consider The Husband’s aunt (who I wrote about here). This past New Year her video was made up entirely of her posts and pictures documenting her dead husband’s cancer and her ensuing grief. Now, I understand that this wouldn’t be the case for most of us, but it’s pretty heartless to assume that it couldn’t be and then aggregate all that shit with a happy song and fireworks graphics. Straight to the gut. Fuck you, Facebook.

All this constant documentation, it feels like we’re writing our own eulogies. And, as a weirdo who has actually written her own eulogy (don’t ask), I can categorically say that photos of my dinner are not how I wish to be remembered. When I die and someone has to go shut down my social media accounts, I sincerely hope they’re not bored to fucking death with the minutiae of my day-to-day life. That’s the shit we should forget, frankly, while remembering or memorializing, if we must, the big things or the good things or the beautiful things. Not that a meal can’t be that big, good, beautiful event, but I assure you, not every meal is.

I heard an interview recently with Jack White, who’s become notorious for being a little weird and old-fashioned. He has instituted a no filming policy at his shows (although I’m not sure if it’s just for his solo shows, or for all of his other bands as well). The venue takes high quality video and makes it available, but if you’re caught filming the concert on a small screen rather than watching and enjoying it, security will boot you. Personally, I applaud White’s efforts. I think this is a fantastic policy and should be more widely embraced by performing musicians. Particularly in small venues where a forest of arms holding up cell phones would be much more disruptive. Just enjoy the fucking concert. If you want to watch it on a screen stay home and out of my way.

Have you guys seen The Final Cut? It’s a weird little scifi movie from Robin Williams’ dark period. Everyone has a chip in their head that records their entire life, the whole point of which is to edit the footage together for a memorial film at death. At the time, this seemed hyperbolic, but now I’m not so sure. With Google putting out products like Google Glass and great strides being made to correct blindness with robotics, I feel confident saying that it’s just a matter of time before we can use cybernetic eyes not just to see but to record. And why wouldn’t we? The applications are endless. The singularity is coming, but I’m terrified that it might start with Instagram.

I have one friend who isn’t on any kind of social media (that’s right, count ’em – one). The last couple of times we’ve hung out she’s gone to tell me a story or a tidbit of news or whatever about a mutual friend and repeatedly I’ve said “Yeah, I saw it on Facebook.” And I feel really bad about that. Not only did I take the wind out of her sails, but I stopped the conversation cold, which is the last thing I ever want to do when catching up with a dear friend. Had it been anyone else I could have steered the conversation elsewhere with something like “Oh, but did you see the other thing she posted, that was so cool, blah blah blah.” Which is, in a way, equally fucked up. We’ve all become voyeurs in each other’s lives, and that voyeurism is expected and assumed to be both mutual and extensive. That’s weird, right? It’s not just me?

But it’s not just us watching each other. Not to sound like a conspiracy nutjob here, but if you think that shit isn’t being datamined like crazy by corporations and governments you are fucking delusional. I have watched an embarrassing number of police procedurals. More and more they show law enforcement using social media either to gather evidence about suspects or information about victims, because it is such a huge part of everyone’s life (or death, as the case may be). Obviously, it’s television so I’m sure it’s a far cry from how they really use these things as tools, but the point remains that they can watch us and we let them. It is interesting, though, how often in those scenes they use social media to illustrate a generation gap. The grizzled veteran cop is stumped and the quirky upstart techie guy saves the day with two mouse clicks and a Twitter feed. As much as I don’t want my Tweets in my eulogy, I also don’t want them in my FBI file.

I’m not trying to say social media is bad. I use it and enjoy it every single day. All I’m saying is let’s stop with the fake bullshit nostalgia over a duckfaced bathroom selfie taken a year ago. Not every moment is worth public comment or server space. Save some things for yourself, of your own volition, with your own brain. Watch the concert. Eat your beautiful dinner. Play with your kids. Talk to your friends. Read a book. Take a walk without your phone in your pocket. Write your own eulogy. Like, with a pencil. If we keep documenting everything, we’re going to be just walking, fleshy camerabots and that scares the hell out of me.

To Blog, from Brain, with love.

I have been neglecting my bloggenings here lately, friends. For that, I apologize. I have a few reasonable excuses, mostly to do with time management, but it’s a lot of blah blah that you don’t want to read and I don’t want to write. I spent most of today working on a very weird post that I’m not going to put up. It was a love letter from my brain to my blog, a sappy sort of “please don’t leave me/I’m so sorry” thing. But then I realized that I’ve never had to write or say anything like that in real life and what I had written was very much out of the playbook of a bad chickflick dramedy. The kind of rant one might hear on a show and change the channel if no one killed themselves at the end of it. Also, my blog is never going to write back, so it’s an unrequited love anyway.

The fact remains that I’m having a hard time focusing. I can’t seem to effectively string words together these days, much less make a cohesive point or find the deeper meaning in the silly things I so enjoy. I often misspeak or use the wrong word for things. I’ve been having a hard time remembering words at all. I lose my train of thought, lose track of time, lose people’s names while I’m talking to them, write pages and pages of crap and then throw it away. All of which, of course, terrifies me. More than that, though, it pisses me off. Fucking immensely, irrationally, outlandishly pisses me off. I nearly kicked a whole case of beer through a window the other day because I couldn’t remember the word “defenestration.” Irony, that. True story. Not funny.

Well, maybe a little funny in hindsight. But not fun.

What bothers me more than my writing suffering is the real-world consequence of word choice. Particularly the written word, with its lack of inflection and physical cues. Better to say nothing at all than to risk saying something stupid or mean or easily misinterpreted in the service of making a point I would gladly defend. Recently, this blundering (admittedly, while angry) may have cost me one of my most important friendships. Maybe not, but I honestly don’t know and I’m gutted by it. I’ve been completely frazzled ever since. You know those friends who are like your big toe? You don’t think about them every day, but when you hurt them your whole body hurts and without them you couldn’t stand up? Maybe that’s a bad analogy. Well, yeah, actually that’s a terrible analogy, but you see what I’m saying.

Stupid. Fucking. Words.

Problem is, words are all I have. I’m pretty tough, fairly resourceful, and a hard worker, but at the end of the day I don’t have a hell of a lot of skills. I’m good at words. I’m a decent writer and a ninja editor. More to the point, I love words. I read books about them, about linguistic history, Broca’s area, the Great Vowel Shift, the cultural impact of people learning Klingon. Nothing makes me happier than turning a sloppy soup of words into a clean, sturdy paragraph. No drink or pill or powder has ever held up in comparison to grinding out thousands of words and then starting over at the beginning to put them all in their proper places. I’m dead serious, it is literally my drug of choice.

My whole goal here from the beginning has been to find big ideas inside small ones. They’re not always there, but when they are, they can change the way one looks at everything. Sometimes they’re hard to explain (like how colors smell on LSD). Other times a bunch of them need to be stitched together (like my buddy’s recent thesis comparing the work of Sartre to The Matrix). We need wordsmiths. That moment when a writer makes us laugh or cry or think, across countries and cultures and centuries, bridging even the gap of life and death. That can be a huge moment. I don’t know that I’ve ever provided that moment for someone (and, for the record, I am still alive), but the idea of it is important to me. Language is the glue of the world, if I may borrow a phrase. I hate to think I have, or will someday soon, fail that tradition by being quiet or overly cautious. But perhaps I should be. Or, maybe I just write my ass off about whatever nonsense I want until I lose my damn mind. Which is the lesser sin? Right now I couldn’t say. But I’ll let you know if I figure it out.

What’s with TODAY today?

Rex Manning Day is coming up, you guys. I can’t tell you how happy, albeit slightly confused, I am that this is a thing. It’s on April 8th, for anyone who was unaware and would like to celebrate. And for anyone who has no idea what the hell I’m talking about, allow me to ramble on and on about it. Like I do.

Empire Records is one of my all-time favorite movies. Which, as usual, does not mean that I’m endorsing it as a particularly good movie. Basic rundown: the night manager at a small, locally owned record store finds out that there is a scheme afoot to turn the place into one of those faceless corporate chain stores. So, of course, he steals the day’s earnings and goes to Atlantic City to try to make enough money to buy the store from the current owner, the guy who made this deal with the corporate scumfucks. Or maybe just to spite the guy and steal his money. Either way, he loses it all. The rest of the movie takes place the next day, on Rex Manning Day. Rex is a washed up crooner making an appearance at the store because his new (horrible) album has just been released, and he spends the day stressing everyone out while they have to deal with both the previous night’s crime and the news of their beloved store’s impending doom, among other ridiculous issues. Ensemble cast shenanigans ensue.

So, as I’ve mentioned more than once, I really love movies of a particular format which I have dubbed “day in the life” movies. I don’t know if there’s a real industry term for these. They span almost every genre, but I clump them all together in my head: Clerks, Airheads, SubUrbia, From Dusk ’til Dawn, Friday, Night of the Living Dead, Die Hard, Rebel Without a Cause, Dazed and Confused, and Rocky Horror Picture Show (and if we’re not being nitpicky about time itself: Groundhog Day, Run Lola Run, and 25th Hour). Indie directors and writers use this format a lot because these movies can be cheap to make, having few sets and no costume changes. They lend themselves easily to both large or tiny casts, so that many stories can be squeezed out of a brief period of realtime or one small story can be followed in excruciating detail. These kinds of movies were huge in the 80s, thanks largely to John Hughes (Sixteen Candles, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, etc, etc). I feel like they’ve fallen out of vogue since the 90s as far as blockbusters go, but there are a substantial handful of small arty ones (Jeff Who Lives at Home was great). I can’t really think of any big budget ones in recent years that aren’t cartoonish slapstick comedies (the first Harold and Kumar, for example) or shoot-em-up-type capers (Crank). Why is that? Why has this format lost its appeal for normal human storytelling? Or has it, even? Am I just watching the wrong movies?

When I say that Empire Records is one of my favorite movies, I want to make myself clear. When I was in ninth grade, I had a friend who worked at the video rental place in my town, and when they were supposed to destroy their screener copies, he would let me go through them and pick out what I wanted. Completely illegal, but I got my hands on a ton of really obscure, weird films that way, some of which I’ve tried so hard to find again that I’m starting to think they’re figments of my imagination (Nowhere, for example, and The Young Poisoner’s Handbook). Anyway, that’s how I got Empire Records, Pulp Fiction, and Trainspotting, and proceeded to watch all of them almost every day for the next few years. Those three movies are the soundtrack of my high school experience. I can recite them word for word (and I will, at great length, much to the annoyance of my comrades). They’re in my DNA, in my neurological pathways. They’re all very distinctly 90s movies, also, which is part of why I’m so fascinated that Empire has gained a kind of cult following with younger people.

I guess it’s just our turn to be retro, now that we’re done with that neon stripes and side ponytail nonsense, thank Krishna. It is weird to see kids wearing flannel and post-buyout Doc Martens, admittedly. But I wore bellbottoms in 1998, so I don’t suppose I have much of a leg to stand on here. They’re discovering Nirvana and Pearl Jam the way my generation figured out that we loved Zeppelin and The Grateful Dead, so they’ve got that on their side, and without having to tape anything off the radio, the little bastards. But it’s weird that such a cult movie would suddenly become cool, and I wonder how much of it is immediately relatable or universal, and how much of it is just kitsch. How many of those jokes are young people not getting because the times they are a-changing? What questions do they have? (The obvious first one is “Why would anyone steal CDs?”) Is it like when my generation watched The Breakfast Club? Or Ferris Bueller? I will admit to not completely understanding both of those films when I first watched them. Like, what the fuck is Saturday detention? Was that ever a real thing? And how the hell did Ferris just walk up in a topcoat and a fedora and the school let his girlfriend leave with him? Did they not have security? It’s ridiculous.

On a similar note, though, Empire is an outlandish representation of what happens when people who work together become friends – those work relationships become really important because you spend almost all of your time with those people. While all white and evidently straight, this group is a representational cross-section of 90s stereotypes (the prep, the goth, etc), very much like The Breakfast Club (the jock, the brain, etc). The difference being that in Breakfast Club, they were all from different cliques and forced to spend one day together, and in Empire Records, the employees are the clique. I feel like that cliquishness is less common now, in the way that kids interact. At least, that’s how it seems to me, an outside observer with very few teens in my immediate life. But good on you, younger generations. You whippersnappers seem to self-identify more by what you’re into than who you hang out with. I call that progress.

This is very much a music movie, for a number of reasons. First of all, Gwar is in this movie. Fucking Gwar, you guys. That’s kind of beside the point, but definitely worth mentioning. Empire Records has a badass 90s-tastic soundtrack. You know, if you’re into very boring mainstream alternative 90s music. Which I am. Some of my favorite albums are soundtracks. The Crow, Kids, Spawn, Singles, Reality Bites, The Big Lebowski, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas – all awesome. More importantly, music is essential to the plot. The crux of this whole thing is Rex Manning. He’s a has-been, an artifact from a bygone era. Those tv shows with music in them (The Monkees, The Partridge Family) were already a thing of the past when Empire came out. Our generation only understands them in reruns. They’re campy and silly, and so is Rex. Consider, also, that this movie is about trying to save a record store in 1995. It doesn’t matter that Rex is a has-been, because he’s a metaphor. Almost all record stores were about to go belly up. Even if Joe, the manager, had been able to buy the store and keep it indie, unless they focused sales more on vinyl ahead of this hipster curve, the odds are good they would have closed within ten years anyway. 1995 is a weird point on the music industry timeline. Just barely pre-digital revolution (Napster started in 1999), but people were still buying cassettes. (By the way, did you know that people are releasing cassettes again? What the actual fuck, you guys? Take it down a notch, hmm? If I see a band with clapping instead of drums release a goddamn eight track, my head might explode.) To Joe’s credit, he was finding a way to do what he wanted to do. Pretty much all the characters in this film have some sort of specific ambition, except for one or two. Which means that they all have the potential to end up like Rex, sad and obsolete. As do we all. Such is life, I suppose. Like Eddie, the stoner guy who sells the vinyl, says: “A record is like a life, it goes around and around. You have to take care of it.”

So, anyway. Rex Manning Day is April 8th, and if you need an excuse to watch Empire Records, this silly holiday is as good as any. I didn’t understand why it’s April 8th, but apparently there’s a Rex Manning poster in the window with the date on it. I’ve never been able to spot it, but whatever. It does bother me that they’re somewhere close to Atlantic City in the first week of April and nobody’s even wearing a jacket. That doesn’t make sense. It’s fine, I guess. Just bugs me. Details, you know? They’re important. And if you see me posting unintelligible stuff online on that day, I have not had a stroke (probably), I’m just quoting the movie in a Tourette’s-esque fugue. “Shock me, shock me, shock me with that deviant behavior.” “I don’t feel I need to explain my art to you, Warren.” “Rap. Metal. Rap. Metal. Whitney Houston.” “So, I spoke to god, and she says ‘yo, whassup?’” “The fat man walks alone.” I could go on. But I won’t. You’re welcome.

They alive, dammit!

Netflix can be a fickle mistress. So often, the things it wants me to watch are awful, even if logically I can see how they might be up my alley. But man, Netflix nailed it when Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt popped up in my “you might like” menu. It probably noticed that I just finished watching 30 Rock for the third time. My algorithm loves me.

This show can be summed up really quickly: a woman got kidnapped and locked in a doomsday cult bunker for fifteen years. Upon her rescue, she moves to New York City for the sake of anonymity. She’s unabashedly and unapologetically optimistic, because the worst thing that could happen to someone has already happened to her, by non-Criminal Minds standards. Did you ever see that movie Blast From the Past? It’s awful. This is like that, only smart and actually funny and blessedly lacking Brendan Frasier making an ass of himself.

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is a Tina Fey show. She’s an executive producer and one of the writers, and you can feel the Fey all over this whole situation. It resembles 30 Rock quite a bit. It has a handful of actors in common, the music is familiar, the cadence of the dialogue is similar, and there are even a number of jokes that are callbacks. I’m fine with that, but some reviewers insistent on sucking all the joy out of the world have used it as a criticism, saying that Fey’s comedy has become one-note. I say to those folks: give it a damn minute. Kimmy Schmidt’s only had thirteen sitcom-length episodes. That’s less than five hours we’ve spent with these characters. Just cool your agro for a second.

Furthermore, almost every review I could find had some nugget about the show being racist. Now, I will concede that there are racist jokes. However, what all those reviews fail to mention is that they always point out that the joke is racist and then make fun of the joke and/or the person telling it. The same thing happened in almost every episode of 30 Rock, and nobody lost their shit then, did they? No. (My working theory? Network money preventing bad press. But I have no way to prove that.) But again, I’m white and my sense of humor is somewhat questionable. I’d rather make fun of racist jokes because they’re fucking stupid, and use racists as comedic fodder so as to take the teeth out of any of the ignorant shit they say, than create a fake world where they don’t exist at all because that’s completely unrealistic. Honestly, I’m more concerned that neither of Fey’s shows have a single normal gay person. They’re always overblown and cartoonish and might as well have a caption every time they’re onscreen saying “Hey, look! It’s a gay!” Get on that, Tina Fey. It’s kind of fucked up.

There’s a weird time-machine feel to this show. Kimmy was locked in the bunker for fifteen years, having been put in there at age fourteen in 2000. And behold! All her jokes and references are 90s-era vintage. It’s a thing of beauty. Although, it must be said that the writers were clearly not fourteen in 2000. I was seventeen for most of that year and I don’t get a lot of those jokes. I’m thinking they were probably fourteen closer to 1990. But whatever, the ones that work work well. And I don’t understand most of what the teenage girl character says, either, so let’s just assume that I’m trapped in a bubble somewhere around 1998 forever. Comedy brings out our generation gaps.

The doomsday cult itself is pretty interesting. I’ve often wondered how cult survivors and their families react to America’s attitudes toward these groups. We’re pretty fucking flip about things that have ruined a shocking number of lives. How often do I say “drink the Kool-aid,” for example? Over nine hundred people who were simply looking for a better life (while, yes, totally brainwashed) got murder/suicided at Jonestown. It’s horrifying and now they’re just a figure of speech. I think there’s a tendency to assume that cult members are dumb or lonely or so lacking in something that they’re desperate to fill a void in their lives and that’s why they’re easily swayed by these charismatic whackadoos. I’m sure that’s untrue to some degree, but the fact remains that when I hear “cult” I think of Charles Manson or David Koresh or Marshall Applewhite, all of whom are so insane that one would almost have to be an idiot to believe their bullshit. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt does a pretty good job of addressing this by making the cult leader a raving moron who is so charming that people just smile and nod and agree with whatever nonsense comes out of his mouth. One point that stuck in my craw, though, is that Kimmy says “Yes, weird sex stuff happened in the bunker,” as an answer to someone asking an unrelated question. First, that’s not funny. And second, if Reverend Crazypants was keeping a stable of fertile women captive for fifteen years and having sex with them, they would have come out of there with a gaggle of bunker babies. Obviously that would step on our single-woman-set-loose-in-New-York story, though, so I’m just going to skip on past it. Like the writers did.

I will say that it’s refreshing to see a lead character in a sitcom who is upbeat and optimistic while not being stupid. She may be a little dingy because she’s sort of lost in what is, to her, a weird future and she’s mentally still a teenager. But she’s not dumb. I don’t know if it was intentional, but I think that’s some sly social commentary. We’ve turned into some cynical assholes since the 90s, haven’t we? While Kimmy was stuck in the bunker trying to maintain the brightness and bounciness that she brought in with her, the rest of the world pretty much said, “Fuck it, this shit is bleak.” And then we invented social media so we could infect others with our bad attitudes. How exciting, this future we’ve built.

Anyway, if your relationship with Netflix isn’t such that you’ve been lured into Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’s timesuck trap already, you should really go do that. You can binge watch all of it in an afternoon, and there’s a second season in the works, but no word yet on when it will be released. So once you’re hooked we can all wait together. It’ll be great. It’ll be the best torture ever.

Grief is highly illogical.

Alright, I’m going to level with you guys. I did not want to write this post. I wasn’t sure how to get everything I have to say in any kind of sensible order. I even used the entire front of my fridge as a whiteboard and made a multicolored flowchart. It did not help, so I scrapped all those ideas. I’ve written about five pages worth of false starts. But, as with most things I’m loathe to do, I will take a breath and jump in with both feet and try not to make too big a mess of things. I’ll do my best and keep it simple.

By now you’ve all heard that Leonard Nimoy died. I feel obligated to write something about that. There’s no disrespect intended in my using the word “obligated.” It feels like I need to find a way to pay my respects or say goodbye. Because he wasn’t just a man, he was an icon, an institution. I doubt my little screaming-into-the-void blog can do him justice, but I think I should say something.

The obvious starting point here is Spock. That might be why this is so hard for me. I’m honestly not that big a fan of Original Series Trek. I do enjoy it, but I love it only in the vague way one loves Shakespeare or Greek democracy or concrete: it is the foundation on which everything I love firmly stands, yet I haven’t dedicated nearly enough time to studying its mechanics. That’s my personal shortcoming. But I will say that there would be no modern scifi fandom as we know it without that show. There was scifi for a century before it and I may live to see the state of it a century after. Nothing, and I say this without hyperbole, nothing has made more ripples through pop culture since pop culture was separated from culture culture by the people who decide what’s high art and what’s not (we could spend a lifetime parsing that last sentence, but you know what I mean – let’s just skip it).

Trek doesn’t work without Spock. If that character weren’t there it would just be Kirk having cowboy adventures in space with a shockingly coed and multiracial cast. No offense to Kirk, his frontier spirit, or, for that matter, William Shatner or any of the other great actors on that show. But think about it. Spock was coldly logical, yet empathetic and loyal. He brings Kirk back to reality and keeps his hot temper in check. More to my current point, he’s also the reason that show is so beloved by the scientists and artists and other weirdos who have changed the world. He was an alien in a human crew and, for lack of a better term, biracial. He was funny-looking on purpose, with those ears that made him immediately identifiable as non-human. He stood, sometimes too firmly, on principle (making his relationship with Kirk reciprocal, as Kirk talked him into doing things he would normally deem impulsive or rash). He was delightfully dumbfounded by human behavior a lot of the time, but always questioning, curious, open to new ideas. These are the qualities that have struck a chord with fans for almost fifty years. He made it okay to be strange, to be “other.” He gave three generations of nerds the go-ahead to be forward thinking and innovative and to go against mob mentality. Many of us would do better to be more like him, and to always remember that “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few or the one.”

But that’s all Spock (and the writers, obviously). His work will live on. Nimoy himself is who we’re mourning here, as difficult as it may be to separate them in our minds. He seemed like a genuinely upstanding gentleman. Quietly devout, a good father and grandfather, a good friend, patient and loving with even the most rabid of his fans, a musician, an artist. He fought with Roddenberry to get Nichelle Nichols equal pay on the show, an important statement in 1966. When he was diagnosed with COPD, he asked his Twitter followers to please stop smoking. He seemed to genuinely give a shit about us, about our well-being. A while back, he volunteered to be an honorary grandpa for anybody who needed one. I never had a grandfather. I don’t know what that’s like. I gather that it’s a very special relationship when done properly. How sweet of him, to offer that to us, even if in a limited 140-character capacity. Especially for the folks who never had it, or, maybe more importantly, for those who had lost it.

Here’s the thing: I cried when Nimoy died, but I couldn’t tell you why. I cried when Hunter Thompson died. I cried when I thought Stephen King had died. I cried when Robin Williams died. Those all make sense to me. But when Nimoy died it was different. William Shatner couldn’t make it to Los Angeles for the funeral and a lot of assholes were mean to him on Twitter about it (completely disregarding the fact that Jews sit shiva for a week and he had plenty of time to make it back for that, those ignorant jerks). In response to these heartless assholes, Wil Wheaton said that he could mourn any way he wanted, it was none of their business, and that “we had a death in the family.” I think that really summed up best how I was feeling. Obviously, I didn’t know the man, but his mythos runs deep through my community, and I was sad that my brethren were sad. I imagine this is a small percentage of what it felt like when the nation wept together over the loss of JFK. They didn’t have a personal relationship with him, but he was important to them, to their way of life, he was their leader and their example of greatness.

I had a list of my favorite Spock quotes that I was going to sum up with but, again, those credits should go to the writers. So, I’ll leave off with his last tweet instead. It’s more relevant anyway: “A life is like a garden. Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory. LLAP.”