Shaken, not stirred.

Our power went out the other day. I used the unexpected day off to read a book. A whole book! Love it when that happens. I haven’t been reading as much as I’d like lately. It was Tibetan Peach Pie, Tom Robbins’ autobiography that was published last year. Interesting that such a reclusive guy would even write an autobiography. It’s a great book, as quirk-riddled and funny as his fiction, though arguably without the dark counterpoints that make his voice so distinctive. You can’t have light without darkness, but apparently you don’t have to air out all your darkness in a public forum. It’s fine, it worked out. The book is awesome.

I started reading Robbins in college, beginning with Jitterbug Perfume. Between it and Another Roadside Attraction and the obligatory eighteen-year-old-liberal-arts-student impulse to take a whackton of religion classes, I spent about a year and a half having insufferable stoned spiritual conversations with everyone who would sit still for five minutes. I’ve found that he’s one of those few fiction writers who provokes in-depth contemplation. Which turns into a vortex of quacking and comparing mysticisms when more than one of his fans are in a room together. Oddly, there aren’t that many of us. I’ve only ever run into a handful of folks who have read his stuff and even fewer who have read all of it. He’s only written nine books, not counting this newest one, and his certainly isn’t a household name. Maybe that close examination of the icky but necessary parts of life makes him an acquired taste. (Also, there’s lots of sexy time in his work. Lots. In sweaty, squishy detail. You’ve been warned.)

In my head I associate Robbins’ books with that weird college time, and maybe that contributes to some kind of bias when I go on and on about how amazing they are. Greatness by proximity. The fuzzy warmth of nostalgia (and a bad memory, and a lot of hangovers). Remember when your mind used to get blown all the time? Seems like there’s a certain age (which is probably slightly different for everyone) when there’s a rapid expansion of both interest and intellect, somewhere between your attention beginning to focus outward and your personality beginning to calcify. I’m sure there’s something to that effect in the technical psychobabble definition of adolescence. But my question is, do you remember what that felt like? Can you point to facts or experiences as clear demarcations in your timeline – before thing X vs after thing X – and describe exactly how those thing X’s changed you?

I’m not necessarily talking about huge events or universal rites of passage here. Obviously our lives are different after trauma or upheaval. No one is the same following the birth of a child or the death of a loved one or even one of those “where were you when…?” moments of social or political turmoil. What I’m talking about are those personal enlightenments which are often small or cumulative. Something you learned that altered your worldview just enough to change your mind about something important (your parents are just people). Something you did that made you confident or brave enough to do everything bold that came after (hitchhiking across the country). Or something you experienced that made you see every little thing in a new way (LSD, LSD, and then some more LSD). For me, and probably for many of you, a lot of these moments were directly connected to art. That first album that you played and repeat and identified with every word, no matter how absurd. Or that first poet who opened up the world for you, made you see how to turn image into word and back into image again. That first book or painting or movie that made you think “Holy shit! You can do that?” More importantly, the one that made you say “That can be done. I can do that. I’m going to do that. My way.”

Which is not to say that Tom Robbins alone changed my life, obviously, he was part of the soup, the perception gumbo. But he absolutely shook some shit loose. Without question. Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas is written in the second person, for fuck’s sake. (“You can do that?” “No, I can’t. But it can be done. What else can be done?”) This new book gives some great insight into all the old ones. It’s always interesting to see what shook loose the minds of those we admire, and that all admirable minds require having been shaken. I will admit to missing that constant mind blowing a little bit. It’s tempting to say that it’s because the ratio of things you know to things you don’t know changes as you age, but personally I’m humbled and thrilled at the vasty depths of things I have left to learn. Then, I suppose the next thing on the list would be the sandpaper of adult routine grinding off the edges of our experience, dulling our senses and preventing mind blowage via numbing tedium, if I may mix my metaphors. And that certainly plays a part, but I don’t think I can count grownupedness or a boring job as excuses in my own day-to-day. I don’t go to a 9-to-5 anymore and my childishness is both one of my worst and one of my best qualities. Next, I would perhaps contend that this is a numbers game. Maybe I’ve just absorbed so many books/movies/etc that it takes something truly outstanding to blow my mind. I’ve actually said that before about fiction, blaming the sheer volume of mediocre books that all sort of run together in my memory. In retrospect, that argument seems like a cop-out. I think I’ve lost something. Some connection between brain and feelings. The mind blowy gene seems to have shut down. I have cancer of the perception. My third eye is painted over.

How do I fix that?

A whole bucket.

*Trigger warning: gnarly bad news shit ahead. Death and destruction, etc, etc.*

The technical term for these past couple of weeks is “a bucket of suck.” It’s frustrating because I know I’ve been something of a downer lately. I want to write about awesome things or things I’m excited about, but all I can think about are these terrible events. I’m preoccupied, distracted. So I figured I’d just write it all down and purge the system. Maybe then I can focus on writing about more happy slappy stuff. Pardon me if this seems like I’m writing lists again. Just humor me. Deep breath. Ready?

Thing the first: Leelah Alcorn

Alcorn was a transgender girl from Ohio who killed herself by walking in front of a truck. In her suicide note she said that she felt like she had no support. Her parents had sent her to one of those conversion therapy places and cut off all her ties to friends and social media. Now, I don’t believe in spiritual stuff, but I do believe in evil. Evil comes from people. This shit? This shit is evil. Bigotry is evil. Conversion therapy is evil. It’s particularly fucked up that they combined that practice with complete social isolation. That’s tantamount to sticking your child in a box and waiting for Stockholm Syndrome to fix the problem. A person being trans is not a problem. While I’m sure they thought they were doing something to help her, their idea of what help she needed was the actual problem. It makes me sick to think about. I’m sorry for their loss and their grief, obviously, but I sincerely hope they know this is their fault.

How do we still think like this about LGBT people? How are these conversion therapy idiots not laughed out of business by now? What fucking year is this? I just got an email this morning about legislation in Virginia, my home state, that proposes to allow doctors, lawyers, and government employees to openly discriminate against LGBT folks based on personal religious views. Can you imagine the damage this could do? We’re supposed to be moving away from this kind of backwards mindset. How many more children have to die? When can we all just be people? We don’t have to agree. We don’t have to condone or promote behavior we don’t approve of. But we have to stop actively trying to hurt each other. No good can come of us all being exactly the same.

Thing the second: Charlie Hebdo

Twelve innocent people dead over cartoons. Seriously? Fucking seriously? I think Jon Stewart had the best thing to say that I’ve heard so far: “Very few people go into comedy as an act of courage, mainly because it shouldn’t be that. It shouldn’t be an act of courage.” Comedy can be offensive. Lenny Bruce got arrested for saying the n-word in a roomful of white people, for fuck’s sake. Satire can bite, because its job is to point at the truth and laugh. To show the ridiculousness of a situation in an effort to bring about change is both noble and difficult. Which is not to say that it can’t be hurtful, but sometimes culture needs some growing pains.

Gunning people down over art is never the answer. Making people afraid to be artists is never the answer. Curtailing free speech, via either law or terrorism, is never the answer. If we don’t talk about things, they don’t change. Or, they change by violent revolution rather than informed discourse. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, even if it’s as they’re lining me up against the wall: I might hate the things you say but I will defend your right to say them. I will fight tooth and nail, no matter how much I disrespect you or disagree with your opinion. None of us should have to live with that kind of fear.

Thing the third: #FamilyDontEndWithBlood

On December 27th, a coordinated campaign of hate messages were sent by anonymous users to certain folks on a couple of tumblr fan sites for the show Supernatural. These fans had spoken up online about their various struggles with depression and mental illness and reached out to the fan community for support. Many of the messages were aimed at getting these people to kill themselves. Three of them did. Five more attempted it. Others were reported missing, and I don’t know how many of them were found unharmed. Later that evening, one of the people who had reportedly committed suicide turned back up perfectly fine. All of her social media and email accounts had been hacked. The hackers had posted a suicide note, a message claiming to be the friend who found her and called an ambulance, and another message claiming to be a different friend who was at the hospital with the girl’s mother when the doctor brought the news about her death. That still leaves two people dead.

I had been following the events on Twitter and tumblr all day, and as soon as she showed up saying that she’d been hacked, posts started streaming in saying that she and the others were just losers looking for attention, that it was sad that their only friends were online, that killing themselves was still an option and would have been better. The outpouring of love and support from other fans continued, but was soon peppered with vitriol. Now, think this through. Someone had to pick this person out, hack all of her accounts, fake three separate personalities, then just sit back and watch the fallout. That’s sick. What kind of mind does it take to do that? I really think that’s some serial killer behavior. And that’s just this one case. The anonymous messages that started all of this numbered in the thousands and all began at the same time. This was a planned barrage, not a slow accumulation. There were several tumblr pages dedicated to talking shit about Supernatural and its fans. They were full of celebratory posts about these deaths before they were shut down. I haven’t checked to see if they’re back up, nor will I.

I know I said I believe unconditionally in free speech. That’s not quite accurate. There’s a difference between “I think you’re dumb” or “I don’t like a thing you like” and “You should kill yourself.” Those are worlds apart. Just like there’s a difference between “I hate group X” and “We should kill anyone who belongs to group X.” I support free speech, not coordinated violence. And while no one actually touched anyone else in this situation, I do believe it to be a violent act. And over what? A television show, and a silly one at that. This is not Michael Moore getting a bomb threat at a movie premiere that we’re talking about here. These are regular people who used a fandom as common ground to make deeper connections with a community. You know, like human people do. I believe it’s referred to as “making friends.” What motives these assholes could possibly have in wanting to take that away from strangers is completely beyond me. I don’t care if one group of fans thinks their show is better than another show. These victims were delicate to begin with and I have zero sympathy for those who prey on the weak. Fuck those people. Tumblr turned their IP addresses over to the cops and I hope they all go in a deep, dark hole for a very long time.

So. Anyway. What else is new? How are you guys?

Yeah, there’s no way to segue out of this post. Sorry.

But, like I said, hopefully my brain can see this as a sort of reset button and get on with thinking about other things now. Nice things. Happy things. Fluffy bunnies and shit. Let’s all cross our fingers. And, you know, maybe try to make the world a better place. Just a little. For fuck’s sake, please, just a little.

Round and round and round we go…

Happy New Year, kids! I hope everyone’s festivities were sufficiently festive. And the holidays before that. Sorry I didn’t post anything last week. It was Christmas and I was busy making a few hundred cookies. I don’t know why I decided that would be my project for this year’s celebration, but it’s been a week and I’m beginning to regret it. When I was finally finished bringing the Cookiepocalypse upon mankind, I posted this photo on Facebook:

cookiepocalypse

The picture got a perfectly reasonable number of obligatory likes and a couple of comments. Nothing I wasn’t expecting. Except for one. It’s been rattling around in my head ever since. The back and forth between myself and my buddy Jess:

Jess: Pure, unadulterated awesomeness.

Me: I cookie like I have children, man.

Jess: It’s a good way to cookie. A good way.

Jess (one minute later): Wait and p.s. Cookieing like you have children would mean 2 batches of shitty shortbread/gingerbread with terrifying decorations and a hangover from how much you had to drink to get through it.

Me: A fair point.

First, I don’t know what cookieing like I have children even means. Like, make more? Because spawn have to eat? I don’t know. Secondly, let me be clear. Jess has two kids. They’re beautiful and smart and well-mannered little nibbles of awesome. Should either or both of them turn out to be the President or the King of Mars or that rock star who eliminates world hunger, I would not be shocked. I’m only issuing this disclaimer because that comment could be read as an outsider’s perspective on what it must be like to be burdened with kids while trying to make tasty holiday treats.

It sounds, basically, like something I would say.

And here’s the thing: Jess is amazing. She’s one of those people who makes it all look so easy. She’s an attorney who specializes in environmental law, saving the world by shutting down one gross factory farm at a time. She’s got great kids, her husband is a dedicated minister and a freaking adorable gentleman (full disclosure: also my best friend from high school). She’s hilarious and gets all my geeky jokes. Remember my post a while ago about being intimidated by badass women? I was thinking a lot of my mom and Jess while I was writing that. So when she said that about the cookieing and the kids, it rocked me a little. I never in a million years would have expected that comment from this particular woman. I’ve always had this Norman Rockwell-ish (Rockwellian?) version in my head of her doing Christmasy things. Everything turning out beautifully, with ease, and if it doesn’t everyone has a good laugh and a beer over it, no face covered in flour and butter and sweat, great house flawlessly decorated, except for the adorably lopsided knick-knacks made by the awesome fruit of her attractive loins.

Now, we can all agree that this is an unrealistic depiction of anyone’s life in the long term, superhero or no. Anyone can manage it for a day, that perfection, but it’s impossible to do it all the time. Unless you’re Martha Stewart, and I feel like she may snap one day and blow up a bunch of craft stores or something. We never see the icky bits of other people’s day, do we? The spats with the partner, the piles of dirty laundry, the monumental effort it takes not to scream at the kids, the headaches, the dog shitting on the rug, the leak in the basement. Social media has made these blind spots bigger. Because we don’t have to post anything but the best pictures and the cutest stories. I read an article last summer sometime, I think, about psychologists identifying a new type of depression that’s specifically tied to envying other people’s lives on social media and, conversely, trying to depict one’s own life in a certain way on social media and not feeling that it’s good enough. Oh, how far we’ve come.

Thinking about Jess’s cookie comment for the last few days has made me feel like a pretty tremendous asshole. Not because of what she said, but because of my own assumptions about what her life must be like. Wonderful, sure, but in my head I edited out all the realism, cleaned it up, took out the hard parts and the tears. This could be dangerous. What if she, or any other friend, came to me because they were having a hard time or a going through a rough situation? Just hypothetically? Because I’ve got this idealistic nonsense bumping around masquerading as reality, I might proceed as though whatever problem is less than it actually is because either A) all the other awesome in her life will balance it out or B) she’s awesome enough to handle it well and doesn’t really need my help because I am, provably, a loser. Both of these are unfounded, dismissive, asshole maneuvers. Am I less likely to think those things because I’ve gone through all of this in my head already? Sure, but it scares me that it’s something I may do without thinking, or that I could have ever done it in the first place. And these are people I’ve known for years and love dearly. I fucking know better. What assumptions and preconceived notions do I have about other people? Groups of people? Anonymous or faceless or voiceless people?

I bring all this up for a reason. I’m not just kissing my friend’s ass or airing my latent jealousy. As you know, I don’t do New Year’s resolutions. I do not need yet another vector for failure. But this week is my three-year Blogiversary so I figure it’s as good an excuse as any to set myself a new writing goal. If it carries over into my real life, all the better, we all win.

I’d like to rely less on assumptions. I’d like to learn how and when to ask the right questions, rather than jumping ahead based on what I think the answer is. I’d like to get better at recognizing when my arguments are fallacious or unfounded or circular. I’d like to make fewer overgeneralizations. I’d like to stop lumping things together and pigeonholing without evidence. I’d like to be more careful when I’m being critical, more considerate when being analytical.

I’ve been writing these posts for three years. Sometimes I feel like I’ve done excellent work and sometimes I feel like the hackiest hack to ever hack. I think both are true, but I think I can do better. We can always do better. I’ve spent a lot of my life trying to figure people out because I genuinely do not understand their behavior. I can’t grok quite a bit of what is considered “normal.” I have these questions that seem unanswerable because I don’t get the basic mechanics of how a lot of people think. Sometimes I feel like I’m stumbling along with bad directions, a colorblind kid trying to solve a Rubik’s Cube.

A while ago, my mother-in-law told The Husband that she thought she made a mistake in not teaching him to want stuff enough. That it made it hard for him to relate to people. I disagree that it was a mistake, but agree that he has a hard time understanding other humans. But I feel like that’s an advantage in a lot of ways. Similarly, I was never really taught how to fit in with people, how to adapt or camouflage myself. And while I try to be a strict follower of Wheaton’s Law and strive to solve every problem first with kindness, I tend to ignore things I don’t understand which has made me dismissive at times. I have a history of running roughshod over people’s feelings and not realizing until it’s too late. I can be harsh, inconsiderate, selfish.

Some of you are going to read this and tell me not to be so tough on myself. I will take that under advisement. Meanwhile, I hope that I can improve both my writing and my brain function, and possibly my limited interpersonal skills, by making these small changes in how I approach the world. I predict that I will often come across as befuddled, if I don’t already. I don’t really know.

Anyway. Happy New Year. Happy Blogiversary. Happy Everything, to all of you. Now someone come help me eat the rest of these goddamn cookies.

Schadenfreude is bad for your health.

*WARNING: I was wearing my rantypants when I wrote this. Many, many gross overgeneralizations contained herein. Proceed with caution.*

It’s been a rough few weeks to be a person who gives a shit about the world. Every news story seems to be about something horrible, and half the uplifting things I see are, upon further inspection, false. I wonder if we spread the happy stories because we’re too dumb to fact check or because we’re too desperate for positivity to care that we’re believing bullshit. Here at the end of a year of constant turmoil and upheaval, it’s hard to rally anything other than anger towards my fellow man. It all kind of makes me want to bury my head in the sand and ignore the news forever.

But I shan’t. That would be…what? Pitiful? Irresponsible? Certainly despicable. While I’m not as up on my current events as I could be or would like to be, I can’t bring myself to just stop caring altogether. Try as I might. Even if caring, on its own, doesn’t change anything. I’d hate to think I have it in me to become one of those willfully ignorant fucks who can’t be bothered to pick up a newspaper but finds the time and energy to get worked up over American Idol or whatever dumb shit that stupid people waste brain cells and precious hours of their short lives on.

Do I sound angry? I’m feeling a little bit angry.

Thing is, I’m not sure that anger is the appropriate response. I’m a little long in the tooth for idealistic indignation, and I know that being one of those stick-a-flower-in-the-soldier’s-gun type of hippies is often ineffective, anyway. On the other hand, blind rage doesn’t help, after the initial emotional release of smashing things wears off. I do like to smash things on occasion, and agree that it’s therapeutic. Well, if I’m being perfectly honest, I’m more likely to set things on fire. I’m a Leo.

I see all these stories about things that seem catastrophic – Ferguson, ISIS, the Eric Garner case, this asshole, Ebola, government corruption, wage slavery, and this one that just breaks my fucking heart all to tiny pieces. They’re all catastrophes to someone, but I’m not directly affected by any of them. There is wiggle room where I could worm my way into not caring. But I’m outraged at how people are treating other human people. I’m outraged that we’ve come so far as an allegedly advanced culture, and these things still happen because we are fundamentally scared shitless of each other. And scared of change. It seems like the world is falling apart.

I have to keep reminding myself that revolution and evolution look a lot like entropy.

We are not falling apart. We are hurtling forward. And we are desperately unprepared.

The real, rock bottom, central problem with us right now? The absolute end of the line reason that I think we fight and hate and war so hard? People are living longer than they ever have before. These old fuckers with their old school worldviews are cranky and confused and want things to just keep going on like they always have. They won’t die and get out of our way like they would have by now, if this were fifty or a hundred years ago. I’m not wishing anyone’s grandpa dead here, guys, don’t send me an email. But grandpa grew up in an era when it was perfectly fine to be a racist homophobe and now that it’s not, he’s mad and he yells a lot. This is not a problem unless you have to, you know, talk to him ever. Or let him teach your children anything about the world. Or if he happens to hold public office.

Change come in waves. This one has a distinctly tsunami-ish feel to it. Maybe it’s the proliferation of technology since our last big cultural growth spurt. In the 1960s and 70s, no one knew about anything until it was over. There were only four channels on tv and if you were in a smaller town the newspaper coverage of big issues was unreliable and probably biased. Can you imagine what the world would be like right now if Dr. King had had Twitter and Instagram? Neither can I.

Also, I feel like there’s too much blah blah going on right now. Too much punditry. Too much getting agro at each other and at heads in boxes on the news. We could be out changing shit, making things better. Frankly, if I’m going to watch people fight, there will be punching and a referee and at the end one guy will get rich. All this infotainment. It’s boring. It lacks class. It’s made us lose our patience with real debate. And it’s dangerous. Because folks would rather stay at home and watch the guy in the red box yell at the guy in the blue box than go out and vote or volunteer. We’re turning into a nation of fat, dumb, angry people. No wonder the rate of heart attacks is going up.

This obsession with the yelling really bothers me. I think it speaks to our general willingness, eagerness even, to watch people be mean to each other. It’s a small scale version of something. Political theater, hate crimes, war. Something. I don’t know. But it makes me feel icky. It makes me feel like people assume that screaming is all you have to do to make a point, that action is unnecessary. That buzzwords are the only vocabulary we need. That you can spout bullshit and unsupported opinion and if you’re red in the face enough some producer will call it “news.” It’s pathetic. Makes me feel like I’m in an abusive relationship with my government.

Which, I suppose, is not that far from the truth. I think we’re getting to the “putting ground glass in his dinner” point in the relationship, though. This wave won’t last forever. This friction has to give. We’re never going to all agree on the big issues. Nor should we. That’s not a culture, it’s a cult. But I think in ten years we’ll be through the worst of it, hopefully with some progress under our belts, some helpful, constructive change. We all just need to mellow out. Not distract ourselves with shallow, mindless bullshit. Not ignore the problems. But take a collective breath, close our eyes and count to five, then start again. Learn how to properly and dispassionately debate. Learn argumentation. Read Aristotle. Fact check. Do not spread buzzword memes on social media. Especially if you’re only doing it to get a rise out of someone (that’s called being a troll, and it’s a whole other category of dickery). Learn how the political system actually functions. Follow your local government as closely as you follow national or global politics. Those folks are getting a lot more done and it could affect your life more immediately. More to the point: stop yelling.

My father rarely yelled at me. Maybe two or three times ever. When he was angry, he got quieter and quieter. I don’t actually know if he planned it or if it just happened that way. But when you have to come close and lean in to hear someone speak, you forget that you’re voluntarily putting yourself within arm’s reach. I learned that lesson very quickly, that when you scream, people back away. They stop listening. I think about that a lot when I talk about the sorts of things that make people want to yell. I keep my voice low and calm. I try to maintain my face and my snarky tone (that’s the really hard bit). I keep them close to me, so as to hang on to both my options: slapping or hugging. Let’s all try to do less screaming. Less backing away from each other. The world is round. You can’t back away forever. Something worse might sneak up from behind and bite you in the ass.

Tired writer is tired.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anyway.

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

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

Objects in space.

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

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

Good? Okay. Moving on.

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

Except…

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

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

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

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

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

Holiday feelgoods have been postponed due to technical difficulties.

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

Consuming tiny dinosaurs never gets old.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UPDATE, from post-Thanksgiving Vanessa:

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

A is for Alibi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My brain is an idiot.

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

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

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

I hereby retract my apology.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Me: Little harsh there, buddy.

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

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

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

Me: I will not!

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

Me: Not worth the money.

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

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

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

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

Me: But I have a whole plan…

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

Me: No one says that…

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

Me: Do we have any beer?

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

Me: Let’s drink eight beers first.

Brain: Agreed.

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

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

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

Brain: Yesssssss…

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

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

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

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

Me: Right?

Brain: Beer?

Me: Yeah, thanks.

Brain: Necco wafer?

Me: You’re a monster.

Aaaaaaand, scene.

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

It has to be.

Doesn’t it?

It’ll be worth it to have tried.

Won’t it?

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

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

Let them eat cake.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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