porcelainandporcupines

First, a bit of news: I recently discovered an NPR station that stays tuned in on my car radio the entire length of my commute, rather than switches over to country music 1/3 of the way to work. Which, as far as novelties go, was exceptionally short-lived. But, the point is, now that I can spend an entire car ride pretending I have people to talk with, I may have less to say on the subject of whatever good or terrible song I have just heard for the first time. I know you’re sad, but at least I leave you with this discussion of Shut Up and Dance, by the band Walk the Moon, which holds the distinction of there being no other song that makes me change the radio station faster. 

Which,  honestly, makes it hard to know how to start talking about this song and my deep feelings on it, since I’m really only familiar with about 17 seconds of it. But those 17 seconds stick with me, because the song raises a conundrum which I then spend several minutes considering, and that conundrum is whether the song is incredibly cynical, or am the cynical one for thinking this is the most cynical song I’ve every heard?

It seems like the easy answer is me, that I’m the cynic, since, on the face of it, Shut Up and Dance is nothing but an upbeat bit of fluff exhorting the audience to dance, albeit quite impolitely. It is instantly sing-along-able and has a retro vibe beyond the sample of Where the Streets Have No Name that opens the song.

But then that sample starts to trouble me. Not because of anything I have against sampling, but I think that to count as sampling, you have to alter the original in some way, use it in a different context or in some other way be unexpected. Like when Naughty By Nature sampled the Jackson Five for O.P.P, taking the hook from a schoolboy’s crush and reapplying it to the homies who betray both their bros and their hos by indulging in the titular,uh, property, that belongs to other people. Shut Up and Dance, on the other hand, doesn’t do anything with U2’s guitar chords other than just, you know, play them as they lay.

This is what makes me believe it’s the song that’s cynical, rather than me. Because I’ve never in my live heard a song more clearly designed to be a big hit song than this one. And I say “designed” because I don’t believe this was written by actual human beings, but instead is the result of an advanced algorithm designed by an away team  of undercover aliens this close to mastering our human ways.

As a very lazy person, I do respect that strategy. It’s hard to write a big hit song; U2 did it in 1987, so why reinvent the wheel? We all know that U2 approves of recycling, so if they’re cool with it, there’s no reason I shouldn’t be, too. On the other hand, if Walk the Moon isn’t going to bring any of itself to this endeavour, there’s no reason I shouldn’t just listen to the U2 song.

 

Of course, the U2 chords fade, to be replaced by generic ’80s guitar and synth, uh, things (you guys: I don’t know about music), as the focus shifts to the songs lyrics. Which isn’t an improvement, because I don’t understand at all what is the story this song is telling. 

The first verse goes as such:

Oh don’t you dare look back
Just keep your eyes on me
I said you’re holding back
She said shut up and dance with me
This woman is my destiny
She said oh oh oh
Shut up and dance with me

When did these two meet? I’m given the impression that they’re relationship starts with the song does- and, indeed, Google reports that in a subsequent verse the gentleman describes their relationship as “chemical physical kryptonite,” which is illusively evocative and entirely nonsensical but also gives a degree of urgency usually associated with the beginnings of things- which makes his “You’re holding back,” to be more than a little presumptuous. Yes, of course she’s holding back; that’s what people do with strangers, until they get to know them better. It’s probably supposed to be romantic, and maybe if I listened to the whole song I might end up rooting for this couple, but being familiar with only this one verse, I have to say it comes across as a little bit rapey.

Also, for a song so reliant on ’80s tropes, they missed a major opportunity in not having that woman be his density; that’s a song I probably could have gotten behind.

Finally, let’s talk about the band name for a second: Walk the Moon. I understand there are no official rules to naming a band, and thus no requirement that the name make sense. But I think we can all agree that, if a band name is going to nothing more than  string of random words, it shouldn’t include any verbs. Neutral Milk Hotel? Sure – sounds like a strange place to stay, but I’m along for the ride. Walk the Moon? No – fuck off and don’t tell me what to do.

That’s a lot of words to spill on a song that seems destined for the dust bins of history. I’d probably have more to say if I could listen to the whole song, but instead, let’s end with a nice list of 5 one-hit wonders I’d rather listen to than this hear this nonsense ever again:

  1. Mmmbop, by Hanson – I legitimately like this song. It seems peppy, but it’s actually a surprisingly dark discussion of aging. It’s not Death in Venice, certainly, but for a pop song by a bunch of teens, it’s unusual.
  2. Tubthumper, by Chumbawumba – now here is a song clearly written to achieve massive popularity, and nothing more. But, the almost angelic voice of the woman singing “Pissing the night away,” is a clever note. I’d hang out and chat with these guys for a little while.
  3. Breakfast at Tiffany’s, by Deep Blue Something – I feel bad for Deep Blue Something, because I am sure some record executive somewhere promised them they’d be the next Hootie and the Blowfish, but apparently none of them had the charisma of Darius Rucker even if I really like a redhead. As for their name, well, the ’90s was an experimental time in overt apathy, so I grade them on a curve. But, all that said, I’m okay with this song. I wouldn’t buy an album, but I’m pretty sure I have a perfectly legal download of the single.
  4. Inside Out, by Eve 6- Most likely the only reason this song is on the list is because I just found out the band’s name was inspired by the X-Files episode “Eve”, and I like the X-Files enough not to watch the reboot. This is a perfectly serviceable if unmemorable song. Oh, and look at that – another redhead!
  5. Come on Eileen, by Dexy’s Midnight Runners – This is maybe the granddaddy of one-hit wonders from the ’80s, and overall I have to say that after three decades I’m actually quite tired of it. But I feel like DMR is a great example of being born in the wrong time, and that with the current popularity of bluegrass and folk music, they might have had a shot at sustained popularity if they were coming up now. So I feel a little bad for them. I also feel like they’re ripe for a comic book adaptation about Dexy’s Midnight Runners, a courier service that handles the most urgent overnight deliveries, and the interesting and/or sinister characters they meet on the job. As long as it didn’t get too, like, super-hero-y, I would read that.

 

Although I had some grand plans for my first paid vacation in 2 years, I spent the majority of my week and a half vacation wearing pajamas, enjoying the luxuriously soft new sheets I received as a holiday gift, and watching an absurd amount of television on my laptop while Oola Belle slept on my legs. And while I am happy to watch an endless marathon of just about any procedural on USA, I was intrigued by all the passionate reviews of Netflix’s new series Making a Murderer, particularly the favorable comparisons to Serial, whose own second season just returned only to immediately and frustratingly take a holiday hiatus, as well as The Jinx, which I actually didn’t watch but enjoyed reading about. And so, on Sunday, when no other investigative shows seemed to be streaming, I decided to check it.

I did not love it. Not for the reasons that I’d read, because of a justice system that is grossly incompetent at best and deliberately obfuscating the truth at worst, and an innocent man railroaded by a corrupt system, although there was some of that at the outset. But the longer I watched, something nagged at me; it seemed small, almost trivial at first. And then Steven Avery – wrongly accused man who tragically spent 18 years of his life in prison – said he’d been arrested for setting a cat on fire, and I realized the problem is two-fold.

First, I don’t like Steven Avery. While others might find his circumstances to be extenuating, I am comfortable with my unwavering and inflexible belief that, like the waiter rule, an otherwise good person who is cruel to animals is not actually a good person. Steven Avery set a cat on fire, and that is his defining trait as a human being as far as I’m concerned.

That doesn’t mean that I don’t think he deserves to be treated fairly by the justice system. That I think he’s garbage for killing an animal doesn’t mean he should have served nearly 2 decades for a horrific crime he had absolutely no part in. Further I thought the show – in the form of one of Steven’s attorney’s – made an excellent point in that much of the reason Steven was in jail for so long is because of a justice system not constructed to investigate its own shortcomings; it is not designed to admit that it has made a mistake.

But what the show doesn’t do, and this is problem the second, is that it doesn’t question Steven’s explanation about what happened with the cat: that he and several friends were playing catch with the cat near a fire, and it unfortunately got burned. Which, even if this is true – and there is ample evidence that it’s not, that Steven very deliberately set a cat on fire and let it burn to death – is not reasonable or excusable behavior. But the show doesn’t question Steven’s explanation. They don’t investigate the contradictory evidence. They let his story pass, uncontested.

The show takes a similarly interesting approach to another of Steven’s prior arrests, mentioned in that first episode, that he ran a woman off the road and pointed a shotgun at her. This was part of an ongoing feud between Steven and his neighbor, who was also a relative, as well as dating a member of the local law enforcement. And while much is made of the fact that Steven had a feud with someone involved with a member of the law enforcement, much less is made of the fact that he ran a woman off the road and pointed a shotgun at her.

In fact, one lawyer while questioning the woman about the incident asks if she had started a rumor about Steven having sex with his (Steven’s) wife on their front lawn. Although it’s not stated outright, it seems to me very heavily to imply that Steven’s violent behavior was somewhat understandable; that perhaps in this case, turnabout was fair play.

And this is what I objected to in the 1.5 episodes that I watched: Steven Avery was unjustly incarcerated, but that doesn’t mean he’s never committed a crime. He has, and serious ones at that. These crimes certainly don’t justify him spending 18 years in prison for something he didn’t do. But, the other side of that coin is that, just because he spent 18 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit doesn’t automatically mean he couldn’t possibly also have killed someone. The effort to portray his as an innocent, simple man in my mind betrays the very serious bias of the makers of this project.

I would like to know what happened to Theresa Halbach. But Making a Murderer is not an investigation into the murder of Theresa Halbach. It is not an unbiased presentation of evidence, but someone else’s interpretation of events. Clearly, the filmmakers believe in Avery’s innocence, and judging by the reviews online, the make a compelling case. But they are ignoring key pieces of evidence that don’t support their theory of the crime(s). They’ve presented a plausible alternate theory by going after an easy target in the prosecution that so seriously botched their investigation of the first crime. But there are holes in their own case, too, just as there are holes in the prosecution’s. I can’t overlook them. And their efforts to wave their hands and make them go away just make me not trust them.

I will repeat that I would like to know what happened to Theresa Halbach. It seems unlikely at this late date, with both sides so deeply entrenched in their own stance, that there will ever be a judgement that is accepted as definitive proof. And the real shame of this case (which I must admit I read elsewhere online, although I read so many different articles I can not give proper credit) is that Ms. Halbach has become a footnote in her own story. She, like Steven Avery, deserves justice.

 

 

As mentioned in a previous post, I spend a lot more time listening to the radio these days, now that I have a car. Two of the local radio stations switched to an all-Christmas music format early in November; consequently, I have listened to a lot more Christmas music in the past week than in all the years since I stopped working retail.

It’s only been a week because, as the owner of a brand-new car, I also have a temporary free subscription to satellite radio. And while I have every intention of talking to you about that, and two infuriatingly dreadful songs I’ve been subjected to, in keeping with the season I’m cutting my own line to discuss a holiday song I heard yesterday, The Christmas Shoes.

Although I only heard it for the first time yesterday, I’ve been aware of the song for quite some time. After having been released in 2000, it became a tv-movie in 2002 starring Rob Lowe, slumming in those dark years before Chris Traeger came along to make all of our lives better. So I was generally familiar with the plot of the song – it’s Christmas, there are shoes – but not until yesterday did I realize how truly magnificent a tale this really is.

In the unlikely event you’ve not had the pleasure, let’s start, as the song does, at the beginning:

It was almost Christmas time
There I stood in another line
Tryin’ to buy that last gift or two
Not really in the Christmas mood

So we have some pretty standard scene setting there. We can infer that the vague “Christmas time” is telling us that the actual Christmas Day is not too far away. And after a season of presumably intensive shopping, he’s not feeling terribly generous. Nor terribly patient, as he passive-aggressively waits in another line to buy the gifts he’s not excited to give to people he probably hates.

Yet, on this night, we ask, what makes this line different from all other lines? It was the person waiting in front of him – “a little boy waiting anxiously, pacing around like little boys do.” You know how little boys are always pacing; they’re famous for it. Snips and snails and pacing in the mall to get the best deal on holiday sales; that is what little boys are made of.

In addition to pacing in line, while waiting to buy the titular shoes I should mention, there are several notable things about this boy:

And his clothes were worn and old
He was dirty from head to toe

Just as a reminder, this song was written in 2000, and not by Charles Dickens.

So the filthy urchin finally gets to the front of the line and, as little boys also do, unspools this tale of woe to the shopkeeper:

Sir, I want to buy these shoes for my mama, please
It’s Christmas eve and these shoes are just her size
Could you hurry, sir, daddy says there’s not much time
You see she’s been sick for quite a while
And I know these shoes would make her smile
And I want her to look beautiful, if mama meets Jesus tonight

Heart-wrenching, to be sure. But it also raises a lot of questions for me. For starters, if the mother has been dying for quite a while, why is he waiting until the last minute to buy her a pair of shoes? I mean, I’m sure his job as a chimney sweep keeps him very busy, but still; procrastination is not the way out of poverty.

Also, has his mother been shoe-less the entire time she’s been dying? That seems extreme, even on top of leaving behind a motherless child who doesn’t know how to wash. And if she is shoe-less, is it because her feet are a weird size? Why else would it be worthy of note that the shoes, which probably are not custom-made, are just her size? Are they really big? Have her feet been bound and she’s dying from a related infection?

I’m also very confused about the stated purpose of these shoes. Is she going to be wearing the shoes when she meets Jesus? This is maybe because I’m Jewish, but I didn’t think souls had to wear shoes, what with being insubstantial and all. Plus, even if you did step on, say, a rusty nail, what’s it gonna do? You’re already dead; don’t waste your time worrying about tetanus.

On the other hand, if a soul does wear shoes, would they necessarily have to be shoes they owned during their lifetime? Unless you’re a Pharoah, who gets buried with all of his possessions to be prepared for anything in the afterlife, that seems unnecessarily limiting, and not at all like a reward for living a good life.

Or maybe it’s just that the shoes will make her smile, and she’ll wear the smile her one-on-one with Jesus. But isn’t Jesus supposed to believe everyone is beautiful? Again, my history with Judaism is affecting my understanding of this parable, but I would expect that a guy who could cure a leper would be able to love all kinds of women. If Dionisio Vivo could do it, I’m sure the son of the Lord could also manage it.

Of course, this is the plan of a child, and children are notoriously stupid so it’s not such a surprise that it doesn’t make much sense. And it really falls apart when he attempt to pay for the shoes.

He counted pennies for what seemed like years
Then the cashier said, “Son, there’s not enough here”
He searched his pockets frantically
Then he turned and he looked at me

Are they paying underage coal miners in pennies these days? He couldn’t stop by a CoinStar to change some of that for bills? He is on kind of a tight deadline, literally, with his mother’s situation and all. I would guess that maybe he pulled a Claudia & Jaime Kincaid and fished all the coin wishes out of the store’s fountain if it weren’t already established that he’s covered in dirt and clearly hasn’t had any contact with water in several weeks.

And yet, despite the dirt and his own impatience, our jaded narrator is swayed by the child’s plight, pitching in his own money to help pay for the shoes. Conveniently, this addresses not just the issue of a woman dying barefoot, but also helps salve the narrator’s spiritual torpor. Almost as if it was meant to all along. . .

I knew I’d caught a glimpse of heaven’s love
As he thanked me and ran out
I knew that God had sent that little boy
To remind me what Christmas is all about

I have to admit that, before this verse, I was a little bit bored by the song. If I’m being honest, I have to admit that, musically, it’s not fully pleasing to one’s ear holes. And it’s long. But this declaration? That God is killing the mother’s of poor children so that this man will not be so pissy about standing in line? It’s amazing. Because that does seem like the most efficient way for an omnipotent being to deliver a message – why disguise yourself as a burning bush when there are strangers who can die tragically? – and not at all like astonishing levels of self -delusion and -grandeur. It is so sincerely self-involved and lacking in any sort of self-awareness that it’s nearly perfect.

And then a children’s choir joins in for the final chorus.

Sometimes the written word can fail to fully capture an experience. But know that, once those angelic little voices lifted in song, I immediately abandoned my secret hope that the dirt-coated boy with the dying mom was just the front man for a complicated scheme involving reselling ill-gotten designer shoes; my heart filled with glee at the unparalled achievement, and unabashed heart-string-tugging, of this song. The lack of subtlety combined with the aforementioned sincerity; someone wanted to be sure that everyone understood the moral of this song. I wouldn’t be so bold as to suggest who, but I think I, like that man in the store, can recognize a miracle intended just for me when I hear it.

The only other time I’ve ever noticed anyone’s eyelashes was in college. It was a guy in one of my European literature classes, I believe; the only class remaining in that room where, at the beginning of the semester all of my classes were scheduled to be held in that same room. A situation I found unacceptable; I didn’t think it would be very inspiring to spend what amounted to a whopping 12 hours a week in just one space, so I clearly had no choice but to switch all of the classes I could.

And such is inspiration that the only thing worth remembering from the only class that actually ended up being held in that room  are the eyelashes on a young man who always sat at the foot of the table in the center of the room. He may very well have been striking even with less exceptional eyelashes. He seemed tall, even though I only ever saw him seated; his torso was long andhis hairwas full in a way appropriate to the ‘90s and added to the impression of height. His hair also gave him a European air along with his features, vaguely pointy in an appealing and intellectual way, which he may well have been as well, but which I cannot confirm because I have no recollection of ever hearing him speak. Just the eyelashes.

Their length was amazing; they were easily the most glorious eyelashes I have ever seen.I didn’t wear glasses then, although I did need them, and still, even all the way across the room, I could see the length of those lashes, thick and full as they hovered above his indeterminate colored eyes.

Did he know? Did he, prepping for that 10am class that seemed so early, stand in front of his mirror thinking “By god, I really do have the most splendid pair of eyelashes. They’re impressive, and I’m impressive because of them,”? Probably not.

More than the lashes themselves, or Dada and Surrealism, what really consumed me during that class was that, the tremendous lack of justice implicit in those glorious lashes. I thought of women primping in front of mirrors, wielding curlers and mascara in the hopes of artificially extending their own perfectly reasonable eyelashes,a feat which,if anyone actually noticed, would be an easy and acceptable target for mockery. Thus, the whole goal of eyelash enhancement is to have it go unnoticed by the very people who would never have noticed them in their natural state. Worse, these insensitive bastards are endowed with the very lashes we aspire to, never noticing what is literally right in front of their own eyes; nothing seemed more unfair.

Until about three weeks ago, that is, when my own eyelashes went missing. Truly early in the morning this time, I stood in the bathroom gazing into the mirror, wondering why my eyes suddenly seemed so drab. The anwser, it turned out, is in the lashes; they’re thinner than they used to be, and shorter; potentially, there are less of them now too. Definitely, they’re different than they were before, and worse.

It’s an easy enough problem to fix, of course,  with a little mascara, on the upper lashes only to avoid the spidery effect. It’s part of my morning routine now, and not a particularly time-consuming part at that, and once done my eyes pop again and it’s impossible to tell the eyelashes weren’t there in the first place. Until the end of the day, when the mascara comes off and they vanish again. It’s such a slight change, unimportant, but at the same time, it’s impossible to ignore. Every day I see it, and for a moment I think of that guy in my literature class, of his eyelashes, forever perfect in my memory. I wonder what kind of shape they’re in now. And I wonder if, they too have started to fade under the relentless march of time, he’s even noticed.

 

It’s amazing to me how many people want immediately to get in a car with you when, as a grown person, you get behind the wheel for the first time over two decades. Granted, it was actually only 2 people, one of whom was my niece who, as I surely did at 13, probably understands driving as an automatically successful undertaking for every adult, rather than a strangely unnatural thing that has to be learned and practiced. The other was a new coworker, whose enthusiasm for a potential carpool is unflagging even after the short test drive around campus that I insisted upon, and during which she remained vocally supportive even though, by the clench of her fists around the door handle, she seemed maybe a little bit terrified.

But the most immediately striking thing about driving after such a long time, apart from the shocking lack of care supportive people can have for their own safety, is how boring it is. This, apparently, is not a fully appropriate response to share with more experienced drivers who text you, on your second day of driving in 2 decades, to find out how it’s going; as each immediately replied that, sure, driving is rather dull, but there are enough benefits to make the boredom worthwhile.

With this, I can not argue. The immediate convenience of driving is irrefutable. In less than 24 hours of car ownership, I went from someone who would happily walk upwards of 30 minutes to get to the store, to a person who drove from one store to another within the same parking lot because it suddenly made sense to do so. Whereas I had always understood the thrill of finding a parking spot under challenging circumstances, getting the closest spot possible had always struck me as some petty concern, unless it was raining; but now, its utmost importance in all weather is perfectly clear.

I also, in those same 24 hours, went from someone who spent 2 hours getting home from work and had to order prescription cat food online to a person who could stop at the vet along the way and still get home in about 35 minutes. The apparently primal need to get the closest parking spot possible is indeed a small price to pay to be able to reliably and efficiently feed one’s kitten.

So of course, there are benefits to driving. But after so many years being chauffeured by the MBTA, it is a difficult adjustment to realize that, even though I’ll always get a seat, I cannot as a driver just sit back and read while I cruise effortlessly to work. I mean, I could technically do that, but I probably wouldn’t be able to finish as much as a chapter before my ride came to an abrupt and radically unscheduled stop. Similarly, as much as I might like to lean my head against the window and watch the scenery whiz by in this strange new place I live in, or close my eyes at the end of a long day, I instead have kept my eyes on the road itself, which is remarkable only in its similarity to the road in every other place I’ve ever been.

However, while I don’t get to enjoy the scenery as much as I had hoped, one unexpected pleasure of driving is the confident self-righteousness that comes from being the person everyone passes on the highway. The conviction that comes from traveling at the speed at which I am comfortable while you, all of you, are speeding is very satisfying. Not that I’m judging other drivers, mind you; unless they’re passing on a curve – that’s unsafe for me, too. Overall, though, I’d much prefer everyone hurry on toward their destination and leave me all the road to myself.

But what has stood out the most since beginning driving is not just how boring it is, nor how, and this is surely old news to everyone but me,  Taylor Swift is literally always playing somewhere on the radio; I’m  sure her ubiquity is well-earned, but, even at this very late date, I have to point out that t-shirts and short skirts are not mutually exclusive garments and thus are not drawing as clear a distinction as Ms. Swift imagines. Unless maybe it’s some issue with waxing she’s obliquely referring to? Probably not, though.

Wait, what was I talking about? Oh, right – the most startling lesson of driving is that driving, it turns out, is very lonely.

It’s not like, in the past 20 of not driving, I haven’t been in a car at all; I have, been in many cars in that time. Which sounds like the sort of thing an alien might say to convince you of his humanity, but that doesn’t make any less true. But the point is that for 2 decades, cars meant something social; getting into a car was the beginning of an adventurous undertaking to a greater or lesser degree; whereas now, the car is merely a means to perform errands – go to store, go to the work, go home.

I’m sure as I get more comfortable driving and more used to exploring all of the places that are out of walking distances, the car will feel less like a chore and will begin again to fill its old role as conduit for adventure. But, even as the stress of driving has withered a bit over the past two weeks, the car right now is primarily a reminder that, Ms. Swift’s crooning aside, that I’m going to be the only one in it for a while. And while that’s certainly safer and less stressful for everyone, it’s different than what I’m used to; different, and not really an improvement.

There are a lot of different ways to think about Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman, released last week. The most obvious would be as a novel, and, as a novel, it must be said: it is not very good.

I avoided reviews of GSaW before reading it, but since the headlines were inescapable I knew the general consensus was negative. This was very much a surprise as I was reading it. It was imperfect, certainly, but things would have to go off the rails pretty spectacularly to deserve being called a “mess”. You can imagine my disappointment, then, when things did go utterly off the rails in the final sections of the book.

The problem here is, as you are no doubt aware even if you too have only read headlines, that the Atticus Finch of Go Set a Watchman is racist. Rather, the problem with the story is not that he is racist, but in the discussion of how Jean Louise – who we all remember fondly as Scout Finch, and who is the actual protagonist of this book, despite getting fewer headlines – tries to come to terms with her discovery of this great failing in her father. We all were Jean Louise Finch last week, as we, too, tried to understand what could have happened to so drastically alter the most upstanding and moral figure of our childhood, who helped shape our understanding of right and wrong, who we all looked up to.

Unfortunately, though recognizing your parents as the flawed human beings they are could be a very rich topic, it is not presented well here. It takes the form of a couple of debates between characters – Jean Louise and her uncle, then Jean Louise and Atticus, and then she and her uncle again – spanning several pages, of just individual characters talking about their ideas. Even with the best of writing, this kind of philosophical argument is generally not terribly interesting to me. But these chapters of Go Set a Watchmen are not even close to the best of writing. The ideas presented are, generously, half-formed; it’s sort of like sitting too close to college freshman who are talking, about anything really. They’re also, frankly, pretty offensive; while much ink has been spilled about Atticus’ racism, Jean Louise does not come across any better; certainly not by today’s standards, anyway, although I’m certain that at the time, you could be progressive and in favor of equality while still being pretty racist. Seriously; it’s bad, you guys.

But the debate about race in Watchman, too long and poorly formed as it is, is incidental to the plot, really. Because the true struggle of the book is how Jean Louise will come out of this crisis still loving her father. And that, I think, is where Watchman actually becomes pretty interesting; it’s not successful as a novel, but it is a great case study for the writing process, and, particularly in this time of self-publishing, the importance of editors. Because, up until the end, there is a lot to like in Watchman. The talent and joy Harper Lee has in writing is impossible to ignore through most of it. And a talented editor was able to steer the book away from the thornier issues Lee was not properly addressing, to focus on the vivid recollections of Scout’s childhood, and her adventures with Jem and Dill; to enable Scout to love Atticus in the way that Jean Louise clearly wanted to, even though she couldn’t.

In the end, if you’re looking for a good book, I would not recommend Go Set a Watchman. But, if you’re interested in writing, in watching the development of a creative project, I’d say it’s a worthwhile read. I’ve got a copy you can borrow, but, even with all of it’s flaws, I’ll definitely be wanting it back.

I like just about everything on This American Life except for Ira Glass, and the reason I don’t like Ira Glass is the way he says “Of course.” He says it every episode, not to express agreement with a guest, although he may do that too; the particular “of course,” to which I’m referring comes when the show returns from commercial (or so I imagine; I, of course, listen to it online) and Ira explains what TAL is all about: “Each week on our show, of course, we choose a theme, and bring you different kinds of stories on that theme.” Although I did confirm the wording against a transcript of the most recent podcast, I was able to write that from memory; I am not kidding that he says it every week.

What makes the “of course,” so annoying is that, in confirming that everyone already knows the set-up of This American Life, it calls into question why they’ve included this little mid-show introduction in the first place. I mean, I get that you want to offer a little orienting for your listeners rather than just plunge them back into the middle of the story, or, more often, the beginning of a new story. And I have, theoretically, no objection to restating the This American Life thesis statement during each episode – you never know when a new listener is going to tune in. But in saying “of course,”, Ira is implying that even the newest of listeners is already familiar with the TAL mission. It’s certainly possible that This American Life has achieved the sort of cultural saturation where everyone does, in fact, know what it is even if they haven’t actually been exposed to it themselves; but there’s no need to be smug about it, Ira. And frankly, if everyone already know what you’re going to say, maybe use the time to say something else. Just imagine how much more exciting weddings would be if that happened.

It seems like a lot, I know, to dislike Ira Glass entirely on the basis of two words, even if they are two words he says over and over again. But, of course, my judgement does not rest solely on those two words; instead, for me, those two words perfectly encapsulate the sense of smugness that pervades every episode of This American Life. A show, I should probably mention, of which I would consider myself a big fan: their stories are often interesting and always well told, even as it seems like the radio counterpart of The Daily Show in its reassurance that the universal japes and ridiculous straights of life it wryly observes do not impact its audience; we, the listeners, are above all that foolishness.

An ability to pinpoint a meaningful phrase in a work came in very handy as a literature major. However, as the years have passed and I’ve grown too stupid to read a book, I’ve had to find another outlet for my critical skills. And, while television would be the most obvious target, since I spend so much time with it, it’s actually people that really allow my literature-comparing skills to shine. For example, I recently had the following conversation with a co-worker:

Me: Yeah, I have to put in my air conditioners this weekend.

Coworker: Oh, do you have someone to do that for you?

Me: [?] Uh, no? I do it myself.

Coworker: Are your air conditioners not very heavy?

Me: [??? + irritation/need to suppress ire] No, the ARE very heavy, it’s just that I’m strong enough to lift them.

Coworker: [dumb expression on her face]

We here on the blog, of course, came into this conversation already in progress; while I’ve embraced the necessity of having tedious conversations with coworkers, I make a real effort never to initiate a conversation with this particular one. Because I just can’t stand her.

To you, of course, giving the credit to the air conditioners rather than to me probably does not seem like a terrible crime against my person, certainly not worth wasting your time reading about, especially since I did in the above conversation get the implied credit for having somehow gotten ahold of the world’s only light window-unit air conditioners. In fact, you may not  consider it even remotely egregious that her initial response was to utterly disregard my active statement of installation in favor of automatically assuming my incapability of said action.

I, of course, understand your point. In fact, after tamping down my rage to neutrally yet extremely informatively reset the conversation to its proper subject, I wondered if I was, perhaps, somehow overreacting to the blank stare I received in response by thinking my coworker was a dumb, stupid cow. Which then, of course, made me consider whether the overreaction hadn’t happened sooner. I mean, this a woman who once “complimented” another female coworker by telling her she looked like a secretary, and there again seemed uncomprehending when this was not greeted with thanks. I should not have been surprised by her belief that I, as a woman, am probably useless.

And that, of course, is the actual issue. Not the isolated (and, it must be remembered, very, very stupid) comment about air conditioners, but that this is only the most recent, and surely not the last, in a long line of comments betraying her weird attitude toward women. Which I initially was willing to believe due to her advanced age and being raised in a time when feminism was a new concept and something a woman wouldn’t necessarily want to be known as, until I noticed that, like a high school mean girl, none of her insensitive remarks are ever self-directed. Additionally, the negging is only a subset of her larger personality issues, which I won’t detail extensively here now at this time, but will return to later.

The point, of course, is that, as with Ira Glass, while I may be overreacting to an individual comment here or there, the much larger issue is that I just do not like this person. I don’t. And no matter how much I might try to focus on the positive or let these comments go, there will always be another one. It’s an endless if irregular flow of reminders that,the reason I don’t like her is because she sucks. And it has become unbelievably tiresome to pretend otherwise.

You, of course, are maybe wondering when this pretending took place? After all, if you are reading this, we’ve probably spent time together, and anyone who’s spent a significant amount of time with me over the past entirety of my life knows that I will eventually turn any conversation to how much I don’t like someone or something about work. Here online, though, I have actually tried to avoid the topic. For one thing, it undoubtedly does not look good during a job search for a prospective employer to find an archive demonstrating an inability to get along with one’s coworkers. For a girl, I mean; a guy can write anything he wants and it’ll be fine. For another thing, I’m sure the 6 of you reading this would tire quickly of reading the very same story over and over again, even if a few of the identifying details have been changed.

But what I realized as I sat wondering whether I was overreacting to be so bothered by this very irritating conversation about air conditioners is that I don’t actually care if I am. And that I like to complain; in fact, it makes me happy to detail an excessively minor thing and say “Look, look! Look at the nonsense that exists in the world, that I have to deal with almost every day.” Because even if I didn’t, it would still happen; in fact, there have been 3 more incidences since I started writing this. If I have to bear witness to this, then my reward is that I get to talk about it. So get ready: there will be plenty more where this came from.

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