“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.”

The imps of Satan are off their game.

We won, you guys! This morning the FCC voted to categorize the internet as a public utility and maintain net neutrality. It’s a major victory against corporate fuckery and a landmark moment in technological history. I want to thank the FCC for doing the right thing. I also want to thank John Oliver for rallying the trolls and getting them to use their powers for good instead of for evil. You remember. I wrote a whole blog about it.

John Oliver and his research team are a bunch of badasses. If you haven’t watched anything from Last Week Tonight, get thee to a YouTube immediately. Oliver is able to go on at great length about things that aren’t being discussed for more than a couple of minutes on the news. I figure that’s because it’s a weekly show and they’re not bound by the constraints of the twenty-four-hour infotainment cycle. This FCC thing is just one example of the rabble-rousing his rants have caused. Time magazine calls it “The John Oliver Effect” (and you should really click on that link and watch all the videos from the article, they’re three of my favorites). One thing I’ve noticed he tends to take on in particular is marketing and advertising (is there really a difference between those two things? I use them synonymously, but I might be wrong). Maybe it’s because he’s a comedian. A comedian’s job is to be precise with language, and those advertising fucks are expertly sneaky with their language, not only in actual ads but also in statements on behalf of the corporations for which they create public images. The episodes about marketing for sugar, herbal supplements, and prescription drugs are all keen dissections of the differences between what they say and what we hear. Probably the best example, though, is the recent episode about tobacco. Oliver tears the tobacco industry to shreds, calling them “open sores on Satan’s dick,” and walking the viewer through a litany of sketchy lawsuits in which tobacco companies have bullied and intimidated governments trying to implement stricter public health policies. What a fucking bunch of demons they are. And yes, I understand that this country was largely built on the funds generated by tobacco. And yes, I am painfully aware of the slow demise of the American family farm. I am from Virginia. I get it. But I’m not talking about farmers here. I’m talking about the lawyers and white collar executives who push death for a living.

Let’s think back, shall we? We don’t even have to think back that far. Just one or two generations ago there were doctors telling people which cigarettes to smoke. What the actual fuck? Were people dumber back then? Did they not feel their cancer or their emphysema? Did they somehow make stairs and hills more smoker-friendly until the 1980s? How have we so changed as a culture that we recognize false advertising as a problem, but we completely accepted it fifty years ago? Why did they buy those lies? I honestly don’t understand how tobacco advertisements ever worked. I am a smoker (yes, still, shut up). But with all the self-examination I can muster without professional help, I don’t think I’ve ever been swayed by cigarette advertising. My generation was the first to have never been inundated with that sort of marketing, coming of smoking age after those ads were banned from television and most magazines. We barely even saw smokers in tv or movies who weren’t cowboys in a period piece, thoroughly despicable villains, or regular people being yelled at for smoking by their friends. I do remember people being able to smoke freely in airports and shopping malls, though, and my dad bitching when he couldn’t anymore. When I was little there were cigarette butts all over the floor of our local grocery store every time we went in there. Fucking gross, right? I’m glad that’s over. On the other hand, I think I should still be able to smoke in a bar. It’s a bar. There is nothing healthy going on there. Let me smoke and I’ll drink more and you’ll make more money off of me. Truth. I have done the research. And really, my cigarette is the least of your concerns if you’re hanging out in a bar, drinking, and probably eating some kind of deep-fried cheese. Booze and fast food are two of the other most evil things in the world, and their ads are all still legal and ubiquitous.

So why does that work? We know alcohol is really, really bad for us. But it’s socially acceptable, and there are beer and liquor ads everywhere. They don’t feel icky the way those old cigarette ads do. They don’t feel likes lies. We’re satisfied with some whispery voice speed-reading “Please drink responsibly” at the end of a beer commercial full of hot girls and buff bros having fun and watching football. ‘Mericuh! Who wants to hear a bunch of shit like “car crash” or “liver failure” or “brain damage” or “life completely destroyed” when you’re trying to make an informed decision as a consumer? And let’s be real. Nothing rhymes with “homeless alcoholic whose family hates him.” It’s bad for jingles. I’m dumbfounded that we’re so staunch about truth in advertising for tobacco but not for alcohol. It is the weirdest blind spot in our outrage. Don’t even get me started on ads for fast food and chemical-laden snacks. Basically, they’re allowed to make us feel happy about any sort of product we can use to kill ourselves as long as we don’t smoke it.

Advertising is changing a bit, though, in other ways. Technology is pushing a lot of changes. DVR is killing tv ads, and pop-up blocking software is the first thing any smart person puts on their new computer. I think marketing people are just finding new ways to think around corners in order to oppress us with their psychological fuckery. For example, the “Skip Ad” button. It gives us a false sense that we’re only seeing the ads we want to see, and you know they’re keeping track of which ones we skip and which we don’t. Data mining bastards. But why give me the option to skip any ad in the first place? Why the hell would I watch an ad if I don’t have to? What’s the logic there? They spent millions of dollars to make a thirty or sixty second ad, but expect me to only watch the first five seconds. How better could that money have been spent? There are people starving to death somewhere who could probably answer that better than I could, but I’m busy being pissed that I have to wait five seconds to get to my YouTube video. It’s unnerving. And they’re getting smarter. I’ve seen several recently that have a five-second ad before the skip button pops up, and then a different ad for the remaining twenty-five seconds. I only know this because I couldn’t get to the button fast enough. So there’s more money wasted. Oh, and then there’s the one with two guys talking and one of them says “Make it quick, the skip button is coming up.” Clever, but really fucking annoying.

I don’t know why this bothers me so much. I’ll be the first to admit that it could be worse. I live in the forest. No tv or radio. No billboards. I don’t read magazines. I don’t get a lot of junk mail with ads or coupons. I’m only in anything resembling civilization one or two days a month. My agro is very internet-centric. Take the freemium business model, for example. There are very few places outside the internet where freemium works. So few that I can’t think of any off the top of my head. But online, you can have something for free very easily. It’s no problem to deliver audio or video directly to your eye and ear holes for the low, low price of having to sit through an advertisement first. But if you want to get rid of the ads, you can pay a small fee. Simple! Unobtrusive! Diabolical! On services like Pandora, the longer you listen, the more ads you have to hear until eventually you want to throttle that breathy bitch that says “Hey, Pandora listener!” and proceeds to ask you how annoying you think the ads are. It’s like that frog who gets slowly boiled to death because he doesn’t notice you gradually raising the temperature. Or, there’s the other kind of freemium, where you can receive service X for free, and services X,Y, and bonus, Z, if you pay. The only problem I have with that is that those companies usually give exactly zero shits about the people who don’t (or can’t) pay. “Have a customer service issue? Too bad. What do you want from us? We’re giving you this for free out of the goodness of our little black hearts. Should have coughed up the money, this is really your own fault. Just don’t be poor, it’s easy.”

I don’t have a solution. I’m not sure that there’s a way around advertising at this point. It pays for the things we like. The whole system just makes me feel like a stupid monkey, though, and for that I am cranky. Capitalist assholes, using my brain against me. I think Bill Hicks summed it up best. I can’t do righteous indignation the way he did, so I’ll just leave this here. Enjoy.

“A thinking animal”

Oliver Sacks is dying. I know, I know, we’re all dying. But Dr. Sacks just announced that he has terminal cancer and only months to live, if that. This makes me sad. Inexplicably sad, really. I’m sure I would have been sad if I had heard instead that he had passed away already, but somehow the news that it’s coming soon makes me even sadder.

Dr. Sacks is an interesting gentleman. You’ve probably heard of his work even if you’re not one to follow sciencey things. Robin Williams played a version of him in Awakenings, and apparently did a pretty spot-on job except for the accent. He was also one of the first neurologists to study autism as a medical disorder rather than a behavioral one, and brought the achievements of Dr. Temple Grandin to the public eye in his book An Anthropologist on Mars. It’s a fascinating read. I recommend you read as much of his stuff as you can get your hands on. Also, the episodes of Radiolab that he’s been on are some of my favorites. Just a phenomenal mind. I could listen to him talk about brains for hours.

He put a piece about his prognosis in the New York Times today, and I must say that it’s a little tough to read. A beautiful goodbye letter, basically. There were tears. I like to think that I’m sanguine about the inevitability of death, but I doubt I could write about it like that if it were staring me in the face. A snippet:

I cannot pretend I am without fear. But my predominant feeling is one of gratitude. I have loved and been loved; I have been given much and have given something in return; I have read and traveled and thought and written. I have had an intercourse with the world, the special intercourse of writers and readers. Above all, I have been a sentient being, a thinking animal, on this beautiful planet, and that in itself has been an enormous privilege and adventure.

And isn’t that the point? The point I think a lot of us miss in our time here? To adventure with gratitude. It sounds a bit reductionist, but I feel that my pessimism has morphed into pragmatism as I age, and I’ve begun to see even the most difficult struggles as opportunities to learn something new. Now it’s just a short hop from “opportunity” to “adventure.” I’ll work on it. What fun it could be.

That’s one of the things I so enjoy about Dr. Sacks. When you read his books or listen to him speak, you really get the sense that he approaches every problem or mystery with a genuinely childlike enthusiasm. He giggles a lot. He seems delighted that he can put his efforts toward the question at hand, even knowing that he may not get a satisfactory answer. Because that’s how science works. To dedicate one’s self wholeheartedly to uncertainty is a beautiful way to spend a life.

When I read Dr. Sacks’ books, I’m always impressed at how he doesn’t separate the person from their brain or from their disorder. I like brains, and have read many, many books on their myriad dysfunctions (admittedly, all of the “approachable for laymen” variety). So many of these writers get tunnel vision about their specialty, they don’t seem to consider the human factors in the stories they’re telling. Or if they do, that consideration doesn’t make it onto the page. Often they sound like robots discussing computer parts, rather than people discussing people. Which is unfortunate in any science, but I think is particularly dangerous when talking about brains. Obviously.

Dr. Sacks’ time is limited now in a tangible, quantifiable way that most of us will be lucky to never experience. On the other hand, perhaps that’s a benefit. At 81, maybe it’s better to know than to just wait around, watching your peers drop one by one. I imagine that waiting brings with it a degree of fear. But I’m relatively young and in passable health, so what the hell do I know? I will say this: I’ve been bored a lot lately. Several times just in recent days I’ve caught myself wandering around aimlessly or staring into space. Almost immediately, I have a moment of panic about my mental health, then proceed directly to beating myself up about wasting time. Hours fly by, tick tock tick tock, and I go to bed at night thinking about how I can’t get that day back. Every life is short, every death assured. And yet I sit on my porch and chain smoke and brood like it’s ever going to change anything. What an asshole. We could all be gone at any moment. And while I don’t want to be one of those “be here now” hippies with no long-term goals who just tra-la-las their way through life doing whatever makes their little hedonistic hearts happy, I do think it would be in my best interest to stop assuming that I’ll make it to “someday.” It’s a hubristic assumption, one easily proven wrong. What’s that James Dean quote? “Dream as if you’ll live forever; live as if you’ll die tomorrow.” I’ll shoot for somewhere in the middle.

Meanwhile, go read Dr. Sacks’ books or check out some of his lectures. He really is an amazing guy. I truly hope that these last months of his life are wonderful, and I will be sad when he goes. May you walk out with your head up and your heart full, sir. You will be missed.

Better living through fried sandwiches

You know how sometimes you watch a movie and you just can’t stop thinking about it? Even if it’s not a particularly great movie? I watched Chef the other day and I’ve had it stuck in my head ever since. I heard about this project a while ago on a podcast and actually kind of wrinkled my nose at the premise, but it was written and directed by John Favreau and I applauded his efforts to do it all himself and get it released in just a few theaters nationwide. I’m a child of the 90s and hold indie movies in high regard, especially when a big-name director could easily get more funding but didn’t. Also, I loved Swingers. I was leery going in that Chef would be a lot of blah blah commentary on celebrity chefs and foodie culture. While there are a couple of subtle nods to the evils of reality tv chefs, Favreau made a gorgeously-shot film about struggling to do what you love.

Brief rundown: Favreau plays chef Carl Casper, who works at a fancypants restaurant in Los Angeles. Anticipating a visit from an important critic (played by Oliver Platt and hilariously named Ramsey), he works up a whole new menu which is immediately shot down by the owner. Obviously since the food is boring, the review is bad and Casper gets angry. He rage Tweets at the critic to give him another shot, causing a fight with the bumbling owner, which makes him walk out on his job. The critic doesn’t know that Casper’s not in the kitchen when he accepts the challenge and returns, only to be served the exact same meal. Following the progress of the critic’s evening on Twitter, Casper gets pissed, storms the restaurant, loses his shit, and gives the critic a very screamy lesson in how food works. Everyone in the place is filming it, of course, so Casper gets internet famous. Because he’s now unemployed and seemingly unemployable, he agrees to accompany his ex-wife and son on a trip to Miami, where he first started to make a name for himself as a chef. Feeling reckless and desperate, he buys a food truck and decides to drive it back to L.A. with his kid, all the way cooking the kind of food he really loves and teaching his son how a kitchen works. It’s like a food porn/road trip/buddy movie with bonus daddy issue feelings.

On its face, this doesn’t sound like all that interesting a movie. A review on the late Roger Ebert’s website even called it “comfort comedy.” But I’ve tried to figure out why I can’t stop thinking about it and I’ve narrowed it down to just a couple of things. First: food, music, and America are really important characters. Miami, New Orleans, and Austin feature prominently, and they all bring their own flavors of both food and music to the screen. As he’s teaching his son to cook, he’s also showing him that appreciating taste and local foods are an essential part of traveling. Teaching a kid to travel well is a vital life skill, probably more so for people who love and create food. The menu changes as they move through the South, making beignets and adding Texas barbeque to a Cuban sandwich, for example. Drool. So much drool. And the soundtrack is badass. I particularly liked the New Orleans-style brass band version of Sexual Healing, and I fucking hate that song.

Secondly, there’s the whole “finding a way to do what you love on your own terms” thing. Clearly this mirrors Favreau’s own career, his leaving the Marvel machine and going back to his indie roots. There’s a lot of freedom and joy to be had in that decision, and I think a road trip is the perfect way to couch that story. As a culture, we’re coming to accept the starving artist business model more and more. Kickstarter, Patreon, and even food trucks – all vehicles for folks to make a living exactly how they want and for consumers to support them directly. The machinery of business is changing, making room for passion and money to happily coexist. I love that. Which brings me neatly to the third thing.

This movie could not have existed without Twitter. Ten, maybe even five years ago, it would have been impossible. That bit when Casper gets the bad review? He only found out that lots of people had heard about it because his son saw it going viral on Twitter. He wasn’t on Twitter, so his kid signs him up and shows him how to use it. When he asks the critic back to the restaurant, he had no idea it was a public post, a thrown gauntlet that thousands of people saw. He also didn’t understand the gravity of a roomful of people filming and uploading his public freakout, later asking a publicist to “just take it off the internet.” Noob. After they acquire the food truck, the kid tweets their photos, menus, and upcoming locations and turns it from a dangerous career move into a thriving business. More to the point, as his kid is teaching him how to use technology to save his ass, he’s teaching the kid about working in a kitchen and loving food. They’re learning from each other and bonding. Also, this was a super low-budget movie. It couldn’t have been distributed without the word-of-mouth marketing that Twitter enables us to have so easily these days. Another mirror for Favreau’s career, although I wonder if this one was planned or not.

So, yeah. Go check out Chef. It’s on Netflix. Eat before you watch it. And here’s an idea, tell me what you think: booktruck? Instead of bookstore? Huh? Eh? It might work.