Down in the Hole

“Well I’ll tell you one thing that I know.
You don’t face your demons down, 
You gotta grapple ’em, Jack, and pin ’em to the ground.”
–Joe Strummer, “Long Shadow”
Every June, I go to a conference in the mesa country in northern New Mexico. There’s a couple hundred people of all ages, no cell phone signals, sleeping in rustic cabins that have spiders and occasionally rodents, bitey juniper gnats, no cars. It’s great.
The high school and college aged kids stay together in their own building, and most of the rest of us only see them at mealtimes or maybe for an hour or two a day. They do their thing, and their thing is good. In less than a week they assemble and foster a community so strong it carries them the rest of the year (or at least it did, when I was part of that group, and I see no signs that it’s changed with the passage of time. If anything, the creation of social media has helped them keep the community connected over the rest of the year). This year, even though I never saw the kids for more than an hour or two a day, I found myself buoyed up every time I was with them or thought about them. They are such a great and fantastic group of kids (they are not all kids, as the age group goes up to about 22, but I considered myself a kid when I was part of the group and the terminology stuck). Strong and funny, grappling with the world, struggling and dancing and listening to each other. They’re not angels, they’re just regular human teenagers, and they amaze me. I am in awe of them even though/because I know they struggle. I know some of them have mental health issues or substance abuse issues. General life-as-a-teenager issues. Some of them have lost dearly beloved family members, and that shreds you at any age. But they’re stunning people all the same.
It’s hard to even try to describe how happy they make me, partly because there’s no way to do it without sounding hokey, and partly because I’m afraid that if they knew how much someone was watching and enjoying them, it would make them feel self-conscious and weird and they would stop being so fabulous. But they’re the light of the world, okay? They’re great and amazing. I see differences in how I was as a teenager/young adult and how they are now and they are so far ahead of me and so wise. I can’t wait to see these kids run the world. That’s what I was thinking that week, six months ago, in June 2016.
And then on the drive home, still going in and out of cell service, I started checking Twitter and Reddit and found out about the shooting in Orlando that had happened the night before. And just like that, all my rosy and optimistic thoughts about The Youth, they all evaporated, replaced with dread and sorrow and regret.
Because I was supposed to make this world safe for the queer kids of the future, black kids of the future, Latino kids of the future, Muslim kids of the future. I was once The Youth, and I charged myself with changing the world. But I haven’t. We haven’t. Shit like Matt Shepherd’s murder and the shooting at Columbine, those were supposed to be the high water mark of shittery. Not the floor. Michael Brown’s death, Trayvon Martin’s—hell, Emmett Till’s—were supposed to be the cultural turning point. Not the beginning of a new season of violence on black men. And now we have these beautiful kids—queer and not—that are going out into a world that isn’t safe for them. And what do we do? What do I tell them?
So I’ve been carrying that around with me, trying to figure out how to write about it, trying to find some wisdom, and in the meantime 2016 carried on being the oozing Vogon of a year that it is, and now it’s December and some aged orange troll is going to be president and it’s so much worse. I admit that I was one of those who was just waiting for the election to be over, because I assumed that Clinton would win and we could all move on with our lives. I did not give one second of thought to what would happen if Trump won. (This is, incidentally, me showing off my White People Problems, because when I read post-election reactions of PoC on Twitter, I was reminded that African-Americans—particularly older African-Americans—have always known just how racist America is, and that white people still don’t know.) A bunch of old white people who will die before the world fully catches on fire have burdened us (and the world) with a 70-year-old man-baby who may very well destroy the country and/or the planet and/or all the civil rights gains we’ve spent the last 100 years trying to attain, and we’re going to be paying for that decision for decades. Now it feels like I have to fight the battles of my mother and grandmother all over again. And I still don’t know what to tell these kids, these kids who don’t even know how amazing they are.
In my worst moments, I think that maybe we should be raising our kids to be harder. If I had less of a “saving people thing” (as Hermione puts it), if I didn’t care so goddamn much, this wouldn’t be so hard to live through. I know there’s some that do that, that teach their kids to encase themselves behind walls so that the world can’t crush them. But then, I don’t know the difference between hiding your light and extinguishing it. Maybe there isn’t one. I don’t know. I don’t know what to tell you, you beautiful kids. I’m sorry. I wanted the world to be different. I assumed it was different. Getting bruised by the world is inevitable, and nobody can keep you safe from that. But now I’m worried that you might just get crushed, and that’s different.
I don’t know what to do to survive this, to fix it.
I had a conversation with a friend of mine when we were 17 or so. She’s social justice-y like me, and in our fabulous teenage naivete we both felt like the larger historical battles against injustice were done. Slavery had been abolished, Jim Crow was over, women could vote and have abortions. It seemed like the last big cultural battle left was gay civil rights, and then after that we’d just mop up some of the leftovers that hadn’t 100% gotten the message about how we do things now, places like Jasper, TX. But, we thought, we could relax. It was done. We just had to finish what had been started, tackle the totally surmountable problems of injustice in Palestine and famine in Africa, and we’d be good. The world would be good.
But progress isn’t inevitable. I learned that this year (more importantly, I learned that that was a thing that I thought was true). There is no moral arc of history, there’s nothing about our culture or species that says we can’t also go backwards, erase everything we did fifty years ago. There’s nothing in our culture or history that is assured. We are stuck in this shitshow for the duration. Water goes over the wheel and right straight back into the same fetid pond.
I don’t know if it’s a silver lining, precisely, but there is one small comfort in the whole “progress is not inevitable” truth: we need you. We won’t be okay without you showing up and demanding better of us. You can’t sit this one out because on some lower level you think it’ll happen with or without you. It won’t happen. We won’t move forward.
So do the thing.
Write the story. Go to the protest or the city council meeting. Start the band. Sign the petition. Plant the garden. There are millions of things that won’t get done unless we do them.
One of my favorite shows is The West Wing. And one of the most famous and quoted pieces of dialogue, from anywhere in the whole series, is in the second season, when Leo (the White House Chief of Staff) convinces Josh (the Deputy Chief of Staff) that it’s okay to need help. That it’s okay to not be okay. This is the story that Leo tells Josh:
This guy’s walking down a street when he falls in a hole. The walls are so steep, he can’t get out. A doctor passes by, and the guy shouts up, “Hey you, can you help me out?” The doctor writes a prescription, throws it down in the hole and moves on. Then a priest comes along, and the guy shouts up “Father, I’m down in this hole, can you help me out?” The priest writes out a prayer, throws it down in the hole and moves on. Then a friend walks by. “Hey Joe, it’s me, can you help me out?” And the friend jumps in the hole. Our guy says, “Are you stupid? Now we’re both down here.” The friend says, “Yeah, but I’ve been down here before, and I know the way out.”
I’ll be honest: I don’t know the way out of the hole. I don’t know if anyone really does. What the United States is trying to accomplish, has been trying to accomplish since our infancy, is knit together many disparate groups into one cohesive and just whole. It’s not something that’s ever been successfully done, on a large scale, in the history of the world.
But I’m in this hole with you. Because you’re my friend. The rest we’ll figure out together.

This is going to be one of those times when I type and post without a whole lot of “simmering time” in between to let my thoughts settle.

I realized this morning that my election hangover is looking a whole lot like how I remember my last major depressive episodes in New York (and that hangover from those is still ongoing). I keep having to remind myself what day it is, what my life expects me to get done. I’m easily frustrated, especially when I’m in transit. I don’t want to hear the news. I don’t want to talk to people. I want to eat sugar instead of actual nutrition. I fall asleep at 8:00 and wake up at 6:30 and don’t feel like I’ve slept (that might be partly the time change). I have Amazon open in another tab on my browser right now, but I don’t remember why I opened it or what I intended to buy (I totally intended to buy something.) I’m getting caught in little obsessive tasks that I have to get done or everything will suck but it won’t get done and I can’t think clearly enough to problem solve or take perspective so I keep doing and doing and doing while my train of thought unravels further.

So. I guess I’m still a little early in this processing game. I did not think that Trump would win. I didn’t even entertain the possibility. I woke up on Wednesday feeling wrung out and couldn’t remember why for a few seconds; then I remembered that I’d spent a lot of Tuesday night crying. And then I remembered why I was crying, and, well.

I just want to watch Chopped and re-read Harry Potter and cuddle my dog and not a whole lot else. But I’m not sure where the line is between self-care and wallowing. A lot of my friends (on social media and in real life) are gearing up to fight, to protect each other. And I love that. And I want to be that. But I fear that I’m just not a fighter, and never have been. I’ve never been a get-out-and-protest sort. So I’m struggling to find what I can do, without feeling like a cop-out, but I haven’t gotten there. I don’t want to be the lame unhelpful weepy white woman. I don’t want to be the person who agrees in spirit but then doesn’t step up when I’m needed. I want to be there for my friends. The line between self-care and privileged opting-out is a thin one. I’m also walking the line between chaotic over-exposure to news and hurtedness and hiding under my covers. I keep waiting for clarity, for impetus, but my sneaking suspicion is that I’m going to have to find it on my own and I’ve never been good at that.

So I don’t know if I can hit the streets. I can write, and I can talk online, but that feels so small and petty and useless. I don’t want to get used to this new world. I don’t want to keep fighting these fights. I don’t want to keep having the same discussions and arguments about privilege that I was having a month ago. (This is part of my perspective from my own privilege, I guess: I was having these conversations a month ago, and I’m still having them today, even though the world feels different, the world is the same. Nobody is surprised by the racism of white people except white people.)

I kinda like the fighter who’s telling himself to get up off the mat even though his head’s spinning and his vision is black at the edges and he can’t feel his limbs. But I have to get up because behind me are people who are hurting so so so much worse.

Okay. Onward. Might be back with something more coherent and less pathetic later.

Oh god, it’s been two months

babyotterSay hello to the random baby otter that I downloaded from somewhere on the internet and put into my pictures folder and then forgot about.

So, life has clearly been getting in the way a little bit, and I need to build my writing habit back up. This entry is partly a placeholder and a statement of intention, and partly a public service advisory, in case anyone reads this at all: This blog might suck for a little bit.

I’m remembering when I was good at updating my blog, and what’s going on in my life then–and when I’m bad at updating (or keeping up with life generally) and what that looks like. And one of the things that it looks like is general fear of failure, of being self-conscious, and of knowing that I can do better. There are times when I can’t do anything because the fear of doing something badly is worse than the fear of not doing anything at all.

So, this isn’t going to become like my old livejournal or anything, where I habitually made entries that were one or two sentences long (I have Twitter for that now). But I may make more entries that make you go, “Why did she think we’d be interested in this?” And the answer is, I don’t think you’re interested. I need to just…not worry about writing things that are interesting, and just write things. So, bear with me. And sorry about that.

The Inadequacy of Perception

booksOne of the things that is both bad and good about working at a library is that you get to see these little chunks of people’s lives. A piece of the whole. Since I mostly re-shelve books, for me that often looks like going through the bookdrop and finding a little pile of books on “parenting through divorce,” or “how to file for bankrupty,” or “understanding your autistic child.” When stuff like that happens, I typically say a little prayer for that person, hope that they’re finding the support that they need, and move on.
But sometimes, it’s more complicated. Sometimes, it’s a homeless guy trying to tell you about all of his problems getting housing assistance, and he’s asking about help applying for jobs and he has a resume and you look at his resume and you have this sinking feeling that nobody’s going to hire this guy, but you don’t say that, because you’re really not qualified to edit people’s resumes. Sometimes, it’s a guy who doesn’t even know how to use a mouse trying to figure out the internet enough to apply for jobs online, jobs that don’t require any computer skills, and you think, This. This is what the digital divide looks like it is a huge fucking problem and I don’t know any way around it except to teach what it is to double-click, one person at a time. And also indefinitely extend their computer time because they’ve never used a keyboard before and it takes them ten minutes to type a single sentence. Sometimes it’s that.
I heard most of this second hand, but we had a group of teenagers (like 13- and 14-year-olds) playing games on our public computers. They were a little loud, as teenagers tend to be. Our security guard talked to them, but they apparently didn’t get as whisper-quiet as another patron on the computers would have liked, because he went outside and called the police and told them that a kid was “talking about buying ammunition.” (The kid may have been talking about ammunition, but if so it was computer game ammunition, and I’m pretty confident that the surly customer knew exactly what the kids were actually talking about.) The customer didn’t tell anybody that he’d called the cops, so the first we knew of the whole situation was when four cops came in to the library, made a beeline for one of the kids (one of the only black kids, as it happens), hauled him out of his chair, and started searching him.
The kid looked fucking terrified. The cops hadn’t explained themselves to us, but more importantly didn’t explain what the hell was going on to the kid, just hauled him up and started putting their hands on him. He’s fourteen, and he’s got this look on his face like he’s sure he’s about to get shot.
They didn’t find weapons, obviously. The kid was playing a game. They didn’t really apologize either, just shook his hand like, “Haha, still friends, right?!” and left.
I assume that the cops were responding to the description that the customer gave them. Why the customer picked out the black kid, I don’t know (the disgruntled customer was also black). But to the kid, and to everyone watching, a bunch of cops just marched into a public building and beelined straight for the black kid.
To the cops, they were being prudent and cautious, and maybe trying to catch a suspect in the act of looking at ammunition online (which is a crime since when?), to the rest of us, they were grabbing and terrifying a kid who might be obnoxious but who is not (to the best of my knowledge) a criminal of any sort. I want everyone to feel safe in the library, and when cops march in and haul people out of their chairs at the public computers, that undermines that goal.
And as an employee of the library, I can’t really go up to the kid and say, “Dude, that totally sucked and was racist and I’m sorry,” because then I’m speaking for the library. And what black kid wants a random white woman to label his experience, library employee or not? What commiseration can a total stranger of any race offer? “Oh, so you saw this racist shit go down, recognized it as racist shit, and did nothing, but now you want cookies from me for recognizing it? I think not.”
I know a lot of white people with this problem. We’ve gotten better about seeing racism, maybe; we’ve gotten better at listening to our friends of color and at reading blogs about the experiences of people of color. We want to be compassionate and woke while also being cognizant of when we’re overstepping, when we’re taking up too much space, when we need to shut up and listen instead of taking over a situation. We want to help create safe spaces but are painfully conscious that sometimes our mere presence feels unsafe. The fear of doing the wrong thing leads to doing nothing–but that is also the wrong thing.
First world problems? Oh god, yes. I swear this is not some poor-me-white-girl sadness rant. I’m just trying to articulate the rock-and-hard place spot that some liberal progressive whites (or at least, this liberal progressive white person) can find themselves in. And trying to meditate on how to move past it (this is where the entry ends on a disappointing cliffhanger, because I don’t have the answer to that question). I’m not so bad on the internet, where we so often talk about things that happened instead of being asked to react in the moment. But reacting in the moment–not just to racist shit, but to all violent shit and not-okay shit and people-who-need-our-help shit–is part of what all of us humans need to get better at. I work in a library, I work in customer service, I work with the public, and part of being good at that is being able to recognize and talk to people about their own experience when they want me to.
Postscript: The incident I described above happened about a week ago, and I’ve seen the boys in the library since then, playing their game and talking to each other. So thankfully, they were at least not so badly scared/unwelcomed that they stopped coming to the library. 

Arrow Episode 4: In Which Not-Chris-O’Donnell is Really Bad at Being a Masked Vigilante

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Episode Four: Not-Chris-O’Donnell’s cover is blown! Oh noes! His life mission to anonymously bring Justice(!) to Starling City lasted like a month. Peter Parker is making Judgment Face at you, not-Chris-O’Donnell. Be ashamed.

Okay, so actually, not-Chris-O’Donnell’s bodyguard got shot, and so not-Chris-O’Donnell brought him to his Secret Justice Lair to fix him (because Starling City doesn’t have hospitals?), and the bodyguard’s immediate reaction (even though he’s been shot and poisoned and is still metabolizing an antidote) is to try and hit Ollie. Because everyone in this universe is pissed off at Ollie.

I must also point out this excellent dialogue without comment:
Not-Chris-O’Donnell: I found a couple things along the way.
Mr. Diggle: Like what, archery classes?
Not-Chris-O’Donnell: Clarity. Starling City is dying.

Mr. Diggle (I’m just going to call him by his actual name because it’s amazing) calls not-Chris-O’Donnell a criminal and a murderer and leaves him. All alone. So. Very. Alone. So not-Chris-O’Donnell goes back to his big empty house and puts on a suit, and after some unknown period of time Laurel comes to “check on him,” because she has excellent boundaries and is totally on top of all of her shit.

Apparently Laurel has decided to be not-Chris-O’Donnell’s mommy since his actual mom is kind of an emotionally absent sociopath. She guilts him into not telling his family that he was okay after getting shot at, which is totally legit, but she also calls him selfish (and other synonyms) to make him feel guilty. Because guilt is the best way to encourage people to change their behavior. At this point, Laurel is just lashing out, and should probably move on, but she won’t, because…something.

Oh, and the sister saw it all! Lucky not-Chris-O’Donnell isn’t wearing his Arrow hoodie or he would’ve been outed twice tonight. She seems understanding and calm…she’s probably stoned. She dispenses with advice like a reasonable person.

Okay, next morning, Mr. Diggle has phoned in his resignation, apparently effective immediately. I hope he sells his story to the tabloids, because it’s a good one. Also I hope he got medical attention because he got shot. So not-Chris-O’Donnell’s mom called Bodyguards R Us and had them send over another one. Not-Chris-O’Donnell immediately ditches him.

Not-Chris-O’Donnell is investigating his own Making A Murderer-esque miscarriage of justice into a convicted murderer. The convicted murderer is not on Oliver’s list of people who are murdering Starling City, but the name of his employer is, so not-Chris-O’Donnell concludes is that the convicted murderer was framed. Obviously. So not-Chris-O’Donnell goes and talks to Laurel (who is a lawyer, remember) about proving his innocence. Can I just point out again here that a hoodie is actually a terrible disguise? And he walks right up to Laurel like she can’t see his face and recognize him. (Also, you can tell that his Batman voice was done in the studio post-production and it’s very annoying.)

Laurel is now investigating the murder, because apparently there is still a hope to get a new trial declared? Stay of execution? Commuted sentence? I’m totally unclear on the legal process here. Is she even his lawyer?

Okay. I got distracted. Not-Chris-O’Donnell went to talk to Mr. Diggle to try and enlist him, again, into joining Team Vigilante For Justice. Roommate wants me to point out how creepy not-Chris-O’Donnell is when talking to the waitress who is also Mr. Diggle’s family member (which not-Chris-O’Donnell knows, I’m assuming, because he went snooping through Mr. Diggle’s personal life. You know, like friends do). Mr Diggle is not amused, and does not want to join Team Vigilante for Justice, and so Oliver uses emotional blackmail by telling him that the assassin that he “stopped” the other night had murdered Mr. Diggle’s brother. This is a compelling argument because…reasons? I feel like people who are against vigilante justice feel that way because they believe in the legal process, and justice, and staying within the law. Not because they have a stake (personal or otherwise) in deciding whether the vigilante’s victims deserve to be targeted or not. But that’s just me. Maybe there’s people out there who think that vigilantes only kill innocent people and are fine when they find out that vigilantes only kill people who deserve it?

Not-Chris-O’Donnell seems to rely on force of will and non-sequiters to persuade people to his arguments. Mr. Diggle says he doesn’t respect him, and not-Chris-O’Donnell responds by pulling his dad’s journal out of his pocket and shows it to him because…I don’t even know. Not-Chris-O’Donnell makes a lot of anti-capitalist arguments, and portrays the plight of the underprivileged in shockingly bad Batman voice, and argues that the plight of the underprivileged can only be avenged by murder. (Also if, as Roommate argues, Starling City’s manifestation of a capitalist system is not unusual–that is, that exploitative capitalism is a feature and not a bug–not-Chris-O’Donnell is really just getting started at just getting started. I look forward to the Starling City/Gotham crossover, and after that…the world!) “People like my father, they see nothing wrong with raising themselves up while stepping on other people’s throats.” Was this kid reading Trotsky on his desert island?

OKAY NEW THEORY: The show so far hasn’t actually done a fantastic job of showing us the human cost of living under the heel of the evil Starling City capitalists/evil doers. Like, watching any number of Batman movies or reading Batman comics, I totally understand, really quickly, why Gotham is not a great city to live in. I totally understand the human cost that the corrupt police department and rampant crime has cost that city. I don’t have that sense with Arrow, so far, which leads me to the entirely reasonable conclusion that Ollie actually went mad on the island and is enacting some kind of insane murderous delusion that he thinks is saving the city. We only have his word and his dad’s that the city is being poisoned from the inside out, after all. (Also, poison? Has it gotten into the water supply?).

Okay. We need to pause and talk about torture…
….
…..


……So. Who wants to start?

Skipping over a couple of scenes of the B plot that don’t matter, Arrow has gotten information from Laurel about the murder victim’s boss, who testified at the husband’s trial that the victim had never reported fraud to him (or whatever she reported) (the husband was convicted of his wife’s murder; Arrow is attempting to prove that the murderer was actually the wife’s employer. Arrow says that they have to get him to testify (again, AT WHAT? The trial is done, the execution is scheduled, there are no more hearings to testify at.) Not-Chris-O’Donnell basically says that he’ll do whatever it takes to get the boss to confess to perjury, and then channels his inner Spider-Man and sort of…grapple-arrows his way across the downtown Starling City skyline.

Not-Chris-O’Donnell then kidnaps the boss and chains him to a train track and threatens to put Boss on the 10:15 to “Bloodhaven” (is that an actual city that exists in comics or was not-Chris-O’Donnell making a funny?). Boss confesses to keeping evidence of corporate wrongdoing and murder in his desk. At work. His corporate bosses, who had his subordinate murdered, are working in the same building where he keeps evidence of her murder and their corporate wrongdoing. Also this evidence is three years old, and just hanging out in his desk.

Oh, and torture. If there’s anything that I’ve learned from the last 15 years of the existence of Guantanamo Bay, it’s that torture works. As not-Chris-O’Donnell is demonstrating here with his murder train.

We detour to a bad wig flashback. A random man is rescuing not-Chris-O’Donnell, sort of, except his method of rescue is to give not-Chris-O’Donnell a caged live bird for him to kill and eat himself. Not-Chris-O’Donnell does not want to kill the bird, and it’s the saddest thing in the world. Poor sad, uncorrupted, innocent not-Chris-O’Donnell. Also the kid who is shipwrecked on a desert island has his shirt buttoned all the way up to his neck and it’s making me really uncomfortable.

Roommate wants to talk about the awesomely-written dialogue for a moment. Specifically the line, when Arrow hands her evidence that he stole after committing a violent felony that nearly ended in train murder, that, “as a lawyer, [she] never would have gotten a file like this.” Minds are changing as we watch, guys. You can see her opinions changing right in front of her eyes and it’s clearly a confusing experience for her. Like, of course you never would have gotten a file like this as a lawyer. Know why? Because it’s ILLEGAL AS FUCK AND NOT ADMISSABLE IN COURT. Laurel. Come on. You’re supposed to be the smart, down-to-earth one here.

I’m derailing talk of the amazing dialogue to talk about the legal system: We have illegally obtained files that are about corporate wrongdoing (not murder!) that Laurel can apparently use in the execution hearing that doesn’t exist to get a convicted murderer freed. Also she’s not even his lawyer. Also the files were stolen! From a guy who almost got murdered by a train! What is this justice system that exists!

You guys there’s still 17 minutes left in the episode and I’m getting really exhausted by this whole thing. Things are happening and half an hour ago I would’ve told you about them but I just can’t. Not-Chris-O’Donnell has frolicked off to torture a confession out of a corporate magnate and I just don’t care. Torture. Meh.

Final fight scene is the worst ever. I can’t even. There’s still ten minutes left in the episode but I’m done. Guy in prison gets magically released. Laurel is falling in love with the masked vigilante. The end.

Roommate says: “If I could fart right now, I would.”

All I know is that I don’t know, All I know is that I don’t know nothing.

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I met some people along the way,
Some of them split, some of them stay,
Some of them walk, some walk on by,
I’ve got a few friends I’ll love till I die.
From all of these people I’ve tried to learn,
Some of them shine, some of them burn,
Some of them rise, some of them fall,
But good or bad, I’ve known them all.
–Bouncing Souls, “True Believers”

A bit over a year ago, a friend of mine fell down a flight of concrete steps and cracked his skull, and ended up in a coma in the hospital for a couple of weeks. I live 1500 miles away and am not close with his family, so I had to wait on infrequent facebook updates to get shared around mutual friends and eventually show up in my timeline to follow how he was doing. The exact ins and outs of what happened, I still don’t know.

It’s weird, being deeply worried about a friend that nobody else in your local area knows. There was an extra layer of inexplicability with Bill, because one of the defining struggles of his life thus far has been drug addiction, and it’s almost impossible to talk about him without it coming up (for example, in this situation, I don’t know the answer to what made him fall, but alcohol would be a reasonable guess at an aggravating factor). It’s effected his employment, his criminal record, his education and who he hangs out with. But even though I’m friends with this addict, somehow, his using has never come between us. We don’t talk about it, and on the rare occasions when we do, he’s the one to bring it up. I’m sure the distance helps. And (either by his choice or by virtue of said distance), I’ve never caught the fallout of addict behavior that makes loving addicts so hard and complicated. He’s never borrowed money from me he didn’t return, never stolen from me, never shown up blasted on my porch at 2am needing a place to crash, never tried to store illegal materials in my home. The only thing that’s happened is that once his PO made him take a surprise drug test at the same time that he was supposed to be getting me into a show, and when that happened, he scrambled around until he found a band member to get me in instead. Our friendship has managed to be remarkably uncomplicated over the years, and it’s all the more valuable to me for that. Bill has always been stand up with me. Maybe he’s not with everyone, but he is with me. And it bothers me that, if he dies, I won’t know how to explain how important he is to me–even though he is an addict, even though we only talk once a year or so. His official obituary will probably be something like, “Bill died from complications/got jumped in a bad neighborhood/succumbed to alcohol poisoning. He worked as a cafeteria worker at a local school, and has no wife or kids.” And nobody will miss him, because nobody will know the first thing about him that makes him important to me. That make him worth knowing. Nobody else cares that when I was just a random kid standing next to him in line at a show, he made friends with me. Nobody will write about his generosity, or his general good heart, or how I always feel like he’d be willing to protect me from all comers. Nobody will write about how goddamn funny he is (sometimes unintentionally so) or how he’s one of those guys that always has a story to tell. He’ll just be another dead junkie in the gutter, and his obituary another article on which I should not read the comments, because they’ll be full of people who think they know what they’re talking about but really don’t know the first thing.

I had exactly that experience about a month later, actually, when a girl I know got murdered in Phoenix. She was 17 years old and (as news articles noted at the time) had a history of mental illness and runaway behavior. She was adopted out of an abusive situation as a toddler, along with her older brother and sister, but was never really able to leave it behind, and yeah, grew up to exhibit a lot of behaviors that are really common in at-risk teenagers. The troubles that threatened to swallow her were really obvious to anyone who knew her for more than ten minutes. I wasn’t involved in her day-to-day life, but I remember thinking, if we can just get her past puberty, and her body hormones and chemicals settle a little, she’ll be able to tackle the really hard stuff. She can do that. She was a stubborn fucking kid, and I thought that, in a few years and with her stubborn pointed in the right direction, it would’ve started to serve her, instead of getting in her way. There were so many people hoping for that kid, and pulling for that kid. I said that if you knew her for ten minutes, you could see some of her problematic behaviors. But if you knew her for five, you could also see the things that would get her through: how fiercely protective she was of herself and her siblings. The way her whole face softened when she smiled. The way she’d hang out on the edges of groups, assessing them before slowly wading in. The line she walked between being utterly guarded and surprisingly trusting. The steps she was taking towards self-care and self-awareness. This was a special fucking kid, you guys. And one person (or small group of people) decided he could ruin it, had it in his power to cancel all that out, wrecked our hopeful house of cards and left her beaten in an alley. He thought he knew better than us what mattered, and Brianna wasn’t anywhere on his list. Afterwards, trying to find information, I made the mistake of reading the comments (local news did several articles about her, because the police were in need of leads or information), which were full of people who always knew exactly how Brianna would end up, even though they never knew her, because the label “adopted out of foster care” or “runaway” told them everything that they thought they needed to know.

I wish I could say it didn’t bother me, these people not knowing but passing judgment anyway. But it does. I want them to know how she smiled and how she loved her brother and sister. I want them to know how much she cared for the family dogs. Or, at least, I want the peanut gallery to be aware that it knows nothing. But there’s no way to accomplish this, so, best just not read the comments.

Have you been listening to the second season of Serial? I’ve been listening to the second season of Serial, which this year is covering Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl and his imprisonment (and eventual release) by the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan. I didn’t follow his story closely when he was released and all the media kerfuffle happened about whether or not he was a traitor and whether he should’ve been rescued at all, or left to rot in a cage in Pakistan. I didn’t follow it closely, but I remember every talking head on cable news and Twitter having an opinion (as they are paid to do, admittedly). And I wonder, did they follow it more closely than me? Did they know he was kept in a cage, beaten? Did they know he escaped? Did they know he had diarrhea for months, and no toilet, and no toilet paper? Did they know he was kept in solitary confinement for years, surrounded by people that he couldn’t talk to because they didn’t speak English? Maybe they did; maybe I’m the last one aboard this knowledge train. And maybe knowing the details of his capture shouldn’t be allowed to muddy the waters of judging whether or not he committed treason (or something) when he walked off his army base. Maybe it shouldn’t, but it does for me. It complicates things. There’s a difference between some guy I don’t know walking off an army base and Bowe Bergdahl, Person. It at least makes me less likely to expend my energy on trying to figure out what the army should do with him (there are many good reasons why that is not my job, and why I should not pretend that it is by voicing an opinion on the internet or anywhere else). I would be a terrible criminal court judge, never feeling like I have enough information about a person to be able to, in good conscience, send them to prison and blow up their lives (I know, I know. They blew up their own lives. This, again, is why I’m not a criminal lawyer).

One of the great lies about the information age is that we can know everything. And we can, most assuredly, know many many things. We have recorded an astronomical, mind-boggling amount of information and facts and reflections and thoughts into our many data-holding mechanisms. Our species’ ability to store information outside of the currently living, single generation is perhaps our single greatest evolutionary gift. But the thing that we forget, while we’re drowning under all this information, is how little we know. About ourselves, about each other. About people on the internet whose names we barely know, and whose existence we’re only aware of because we scanned their obituaries. I just think we need to be careful about thinking we know anything about anyone. For years, I’ve thought of people’s lives and their effect on the world as constellations. Sparkling ephemera of connections and people and jobs and hugs and attitudes and feelings, which aren’t patterns in and of themselves, but where patterns can be inferred without much trouble. We can never know the true shape of our constellation that other people see. But there’s another, even better way of looking at it. Earlier today, I was listening to the Moth podcast, and one of the storytellers was Ishmael Beah, a former child soldier and author of the memoir A Long Way Gone and the novel Radiance of Tomorrow, and he said this about his transition from child to child soldier:

“I did not realize that a year later, I would be one of those same people, one of these same young men that I was seeing; that I would be one of these people going around and starting a different kind of narrative in the library of my own mind. But not only that, I grew up in a place where we also believe that when an older person dies, a library is destroyed, or burned. And now we were going around, destroying the very same knowledge, the source of knowledge, that could add to our narratives. And we didn’t know what kind of library we were creating. And worst of all, we were destroying a source of knowledge that, perhaps, could help us understand how our narratives could actually pan out.”

Reasons To Not Move to Starling City (Episode One)

arrowPeople keep telling me and my friend (henceforth referred to as Roommate) that the WB* show Arrow gets good. People whose tastes I want to respect tell me this. I got about eight episodes through season one and couldn’t take the emo angsty-ness anymore, and quit apparently “just before it gets good.”

So. I’m trying to suffer through season one and to make it to season two (which is good?). TRYING SO HARD, INTERNET. (Except now the people who tell me that season two is really good are telling me that season three is not so much. Dammit.) Blogging makes suffering bearable.

Also I want to say this disclaimer at the outset: If you like Arrow (even from the very first episode), that is all well and good and fine. I do not judge people who like the things they like. I want to say this now, and directly, because I know that when somebody is insulting and laughing at a show that you like, it’s easy to take that personally. Hell, I like Supernatural. We all like shows that other people think are dumb. I (so far at least) don’t like this show, and I’m not hiding that I don’t like the show; that doesn’t mean the show doesn’t deserve to be liked by other people. Okay? Okay.

Episode One: The Mighty Ragamuffin.

We open with Oliver Queen, who looks suspiciously like Chris O’Donnell, getting rescued from a desert island that he’s been stranded on. The mighty ragamuffin’s body is very (20%!) scarred, but otherwise not-Chris-O’Donnell is totally healthy and well-toned and not malnourished at all. He’s taken to a hospital somewhere, and his family is flown in, and his mom has a weird lack of urgency about needing to greet or hug her son, instead spending the bulk of the scene talking to the doctor in the hallway and not to her long-lost, presumed-dead son. There’s also a younger sister who I’m sure will become annoying in true WB fashion in short order.

New scene! We meet Laurel, an assistant district attorney (?) who is working in the law firm that Matthew Murdock probably should have joined rather than starting his own law firm in Hell’s Kitchen. She’s upset that not-Chris-O’Donnell has been found. Why? I’m sure it will be explained. At length. In greater depth than necessary.

Also, I will spend at least the next four episodes confusing Laurel and the sister, because we can only cast willowy female brunettes in this show and all white people look the same.

“After five years, everything that was once familiar is now unrecognizable.” That is some brilliant fucking voiceover script right there. Well done, writing staff. Not-Chris-O’Donnell is checking out his awesome hot body that is covered in scars. Awesome hotness that is covered in scars? POOR WOUNDED BOY. ME AND MY INNER EMO TEENAGE GIRL WILL FIX YOU.

Awkward family dinner time! The sister (or maybe Laurel, though I think Laurel doesn’t talk to anyone from the Queen family) asks what it was like on the island, which is apparently an inappropriate question and leads to awkward silence. Not-Chris-O’Donnell guesses that Walter is sleeping with his mom, at which point she tells him that she married Walter, and HOW IS THIS NOT THE FIRST THING YOU TELL YOUR SON WHEN YOU SAW HIM IN THE HOSPITAL THREE SCENES AGO. He found out about the past five years of Superbowl winners before he found out his mom remarried. That’s fucked up.

Not-Chris-O’Donnell’s friend wants to plan a party. Instead (in addition?) not-Chris-O’Donnell visits Laurel, who it turns out is upset because not-Chris-O’Donnell was her boyfriend until he took her sister on a yacht to screw her and then the yacht crash and her sister died and so did not-Chris-O’Donnell (except he didn’t). Okay. That’s actually a totally solid reason to not want to see a person ever again. I’m sure she will remain in this state of totally understandable aversion to his existence for at least three episodes.

Kidnapping! Guns! Guys in scary masks! Not-Chris-O’Donnell kicks their asses all on his own, then tells the detective (who is being all kinds of victim-blamey to a guy who just got kidnapped. But it’s fine because not-Chris-O’Donnell’s pre-desert island self was apparently a jerk, and the detective is just being a professional. Also this town only has twelve people in it) that a man in a hood rescued him. Sneaky devil. I assume his mom called the cops but that isn’t really explained. Also how long was he gone for? Did they realize he’d been kidnapped before he got back to his house? Maybe his friend (who also got kidnapped) insisted on calling the cops?

Best not to think about it. Not-Chris-O’Donnell is unfazed by being kidnapped, and so are we. He ducks away from the personal security his mom has hired and escapes to an abandoned factory that belongs to his family and builds himself a secret lair/personal home gym in the space of two hours and with only a band saw to assist him. I admit to being totally jealous of the pull-up ladder thing he can do. Also, building your secret lair in your family’s abandoned factory is the best idea that can have no potential for unforeseen consequences and will definitely never be discovered. We also learn that not-Chris-O’Donnell is really good with arrows, and has a green hoodie that totally disguises his identity. And that he is after justice. JUSTICE.

Onward to the welcome home party for not-Chris-O’Donnell. He is trying to be the sexy playboy when people are looking at him and dark and emo when people look away. Good luck with that. He spots his sister (at least I’m pretty sure it’s his sister and not Laurel) and OH NO DRAMA. She’s angry. Angry at him for being dead? But he’s not dead. She’s angry that he’s still alive? She’s angry that he left her all alone, like he had some choice in the matter? Also she’s accusing him of “acting like the last five years didn’t happen,” or that everything’s hunky-dory now. Girl, I know you don’t know this, but your brother spent most of the day getting kidnapped and then building himself a secret lair to capture criminals with. Your brother is not fine. He thinks he’s the goddamn Batman. Are you mad that he’s acting like a protective older brother? Is that not what older brothers do? Did you expect him to hand you some Grey Goose and a gram of coke and tell you to have fun?

Oh good, Laurel’s at the party too. This is the best party, you guys.

Laurel offers to be a sympathetic ear if he needs to talk about what he’s been through. Well, I’m glad somebody has offered to be this person, because damn does this guy need some therapy, but Laurel, you should not be that person. You should be mad at him forever, or at least for like a week. You know what’s great, Laurel? Boundaries. I advise you to get you some.

Climactic fight scene. The corrupt business owner that not-Chris-O’Donnell was trying to blackmail (because JUSTICE) refuses to send the money to the place, so not-Chris-O’Donnell arrives to beat it out of him with arrows. A fight scene ensues, with lots of machine guns and breaking glass and not-Chris-O’Donnell hitting people and stuff, and it’s actually going pretty well (in terms of being just absolutely fun to watch, well-choreographed and well-edited) until not-Chris-O’Donnell throws an arrow into the barrel of the bad guy’s gun and makes it misfire while simultaneously leaping backwards over a couch. Roommate and I watched it twice to revel in the breaking of reality–both of the laws of physics allowing this farce and of the terrible CGI special effects that are supposed to lead us to believe that such a thing happened. This is no Legolas-surfing-down-the-stairs-on-a-shield-while-slaying-orcs, guys. This is just plain ridiculous.

Also, I gotta say, having a hood pulled down over your eyes while you’re trying to fight crime seems like putting yourself at a disadvantage. Maybe it’s okay though because he’s impervious to bullets. It’s his superpower.

Turns out that not-Chris-O’Donnell did somehow get the money he was after (“via an arrow” is the explanation that Roommate offers) and Robin Hoods it to the people who deserve it, because while stuck on the desert island becoming an expert in archery and hand-to-hand fighting he also learned all about hacking secure banking systems.

…Does anyone ever realize that the arrival of the vigilante in the hood on the scene exactly coincides with not-Chris-O’Donnell’s return to Starling City? I mean, seriously.

*I know it’s been the CW for like 20 years now. I don’t care. It’ll always be the Dawson’s Creek network to me.

Subterranean Job Search Blues

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“What you need to do is open a retirement account and put money in your 401(k).”

I raised my eyebrows. “Find me a full-time job that offers me even a possibility of that, and I’d be more than happy to.”

This happens, so much, when I’m talking to people over the age of fifty. They just don’t seem to get how much the job market has changed. How much jobs have changed. How much less training employers are willing to provide, how much less they’re willing to pay, how much more expensive health insurance is. I know so many people who work more than forty hours a week on a regular basis and still barely get by. And I admit I feel so unprepared for all of it. To change where I am now, I would’ve had to go to a different college when I was 18. I would’ve had to go to a different college completely. And 15 years ago (when I was 18), I didn’t have the wherewithal to make that choice. And even since I was 18, the world has changed so much.

I’ve never had a job that would allow me to make plans, either. Through college I worked at a series of coffee shops, a habit that carried on after college. I worked in a public library as a shelver, but never for more than 20 hours a week. I majored in what I thought would be a practical major in college (audio engineering), but all I could find after that would pay me was a part-time job on the A/V crew at a hotel setting up projectors for clients, most of whom were fine but a few of whom were rich spoiled brats, paying me $15/hr and no benefits. Frustrated and bored, I went back to school for something impractical but more emotionally rewarding: sociology. But before I could graduate, I fell down an emotional hole and couldn’t claw my way out. I slunk back to Denver, tail between my legs, heart crushed, no job, credit card debt, personal debt, and student loans all weighing me down. I’m back to shelving at a library for $10/hr, 40 hours a week. I’ve been applying for jobs to get something better-paying and more interesting for two years now. The transition from college-era, hourly-wage, dead-end jobs to something with benefits and potential and long-term upward mobility and interest is still a mystery to me. I don’t know how people do it. I don’t know how to make it happen for myself. At some point in the last six months, I feel like I passed some invisible line from “still growing and transitioning into what I want to be” to “well, now I’m stuck here,” and feeling like my resume sucks and nobody will ever hire me for anything other than boring, stupid, unchallenging stuff.

I don’t have a good conclusion here or even really any cogent observations here right now. Just…it kind of sucks out there, guys. Hey, job creators? The market you’ve created sucks.

Nyctophobia

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I originally wrote this in like 2006. It was published in one of my Spandrel zines, but I decided not to include it in my e-book because it’s really short and kinda doesn’t go anywhere, so I’m posting it here for posterity’s sake.

When I was a kid, I had a nightlight. Which probably actually aggravated the problem. I also had, on the wall directly across from my bed, a bulletin board with school papers and photos of family and pictures from magazines on it. The yellow light from the nightlight (which was shaped like Pooh Bear with a jar of honey) shone from underneath the bulletin board, casting warped shadows of the papers on the top part of my wall and ceiling. I used to stare at the shadows instead of going to sleep. If a car drove by the house, the shadows would travel, look like they were moving, and I was always partly waiting for them to move without external stimulus. To me, it looked like a canoe with about a dozen people in it. To this day, I don’t know how I knew what a canoe of people looked like, nor do I know why a canoe of people on my wall was scary, but there you go.

Also, the closet door had to be closed. Obviously.

Also, I couldn’t go to the bathroom (which was at the top of a very dark flight of stairs) unless I absolutely had to.

And after dark but before bed, if I had to go to the basement, I brought the dog with me. The fourteen-pound Shetland Sheepdog. She wasn’t exactly Bowser, but she was better than nothing.

Sometimes I slept with my little sister, who at the time would’ve been three or four. Her bed was against the wall. I slept against the wall—if anything came in to grab us, it would grab her first. Self-preservation before all else was kinda my slogan at this time.

In fourth grade, we had a fire safety unit. I’m sure it was planned with the general principle that knowledge is power, and with the idea that we would be less likely to burn to death if we knew to not run around in circles while on fire, but all it did was rob me of sleep. I’d lie there, watching my canoe people, making an inventory in my head of stuff of mine I’d have to grab when there was a fire (yes, my teacher told me you left everything behind, but no way was I losing my photo albums, or my bell bracelet. Or my dog, for that matter). If it got really bad, I went to my parents’ room—they were usually still awake, and if they weren’t, I woke them—and tell my parents I was worried about fire. My dad used to be a volunteer fireman, but somehow, this wasn’t reassuring.

When I was seven or so, I watched some of a movie that my brother was watching one sunny summer evening when we were having a barbecue. I remember very, very little of it—there was a boogeyman. The father of a family became possessed by the boogeyman, and floated on his back down a hallway chanting “boogedyboogedybooooooooooooo!” There was something about a carousel and a lightning storm. The evil demon thing was a laughing, cavorting sort of evil. Like the Joker in Batman—he knows he’s evil and he enjoys it. In retrospect, it might not have been a scary movie at all, it might have been a comedy that I misunderstood (I thought The Naked Gun was a drama until I was fourteen, because when I saw it as a small kid, my satire brain hadn’t grown in yet). I have searched imdb.com and my fear is no closer to having a name, but soon after watching however much of that movie I watched, I woke up late one night—I am certain of this even today, that I was awake, even though logically I must have still been asleep—that there was a blue hand at the end of my bed, reaching up, groping for my feet—as if someone was under my bed and reaching around to the top of it. I started screaming bloody murder, I must’ve woken the whole house. I made my mom sleep the rest of the night with me, and I slept with my light on—not the nightlight, but the ceiling lamp—for months after that.

I think it was about that time that I had a dream that I couldn’t breathe. I woke up and it wasn’t true, but still, it didn’t make falling asleep again seem advisable. All of this also roughly coincides with the time I got sexually assaulted, but I don’t recall ever making a connection to it then, so I don’t know if it’s connected at all. I didn’t imagine that the guy who hurt me was the one living under my bed, for example. But I do know that I didn’t have any words to describe what happened, and my fear of sleeping was similar. Why be afraid of the dark? Because I don’t know what’s there. If there’s a car coming at me, I can get out of the way. Danger I can see is danger I can react to. I’m fine with danger if I know it’s there. It’s the danger that hides, that you can’t get out of the way from until it drops on your head, that’s the danger that scares me. That’s what, in my head, looks like that dark staircase in my parents’ house, the one right by the bathroom, the one that kept me from peeing at night.

Book Review: Fifty Shades of Grey

fiftyshadesI first posted this review on my Goodreads account over here.

I try to be fair with reviews. I really do. If I don’t like something, I tell you why I don’t like it, and/or what I typically DO like, so that you (Gentle Reader) can evaluate my judgments, and decide for yourself if the things that bother me about a book are also likely to bother you. I’m not the arbiter of taste. I understand that.

And it’s not like I have super high standards. I don’t need my books (or any of my entertainment, really) to be High Art. I don’t hold a lot of truck with high falootin’ lit’ry achievements. I’ve given positive reviews to Stephen King. I find Tom Clancy and John Grisham entertaining. I enjoy Jodi Picoult. I watch more CSI and Law and Order than any self-respecting human should. I don’t need my stories to change my world. I don’t need them to be soaring artistic achievements. I just need solid tales, decently told.

All that said: I cannot even with this book. 50 Shades of Grey is bad, Gentle Readers. Infuriatingly bad. I know it’s popular (it’s outsold Harry Potter in the UK), but if ever there was an exemplar for the idea that popularity and quality do not necessarily overlap, this is it. I’m sorry if you like it. Not just sorry that I’m about to spend the next 2000 words offending and angering you (though I am), but also sorry that you apparently haven’t been exposed to more good stories, the better to compare this to. I suggest you branch out and read other things and expand your tastes, because this is bad.

As I read the book, I was so annoyed and frustrated that I started taking notes on the things that annoyed me. To whit:

  • It’s in present tense. Gah.(This actually works in the book’s favor during the sexy scenes, but for the rest of the time, it’s just jarring and annoying. There’s a reason why 98% of novels are written in the past tense).
  • In the opening scene, Ana is preparing to interview some tycoon (Christian Grey, who becomes her sexual partner) for the school paper because her roommate, the newspaper’s editor, can’t make it. I can tell you as a veteran of a school newspaper: This would not happen. First of all, in an interview as important as this one, more than one student reporter would go (and the photographer would go as well, making the whole scene in the other chapter with the photographer moot). If Kate (the roommate) couldn’t go, she’d call another editor on the paper (there are likely several), not rope her roommate into pinch hitting. Second of all, the interview is apparently a three hour drive away. Does this school not have Internet access? Skype is not a thing? Phone calls? The interview has to be in person?
  • Ana describes an elevator as “whisk[ing her] at terminal velocity.” Elevators do not do that, not even super fancy modern ones.You would be dead. The elevator would stop at the top floor and your body would continue to fly upward and would splatter you into pieces against the elevator ceiling.
  • A conference room in the office is described as having “at least 20 chairs.” Seriously? Pick a number. She’s sitting there waiting for her interviewee to become available, it’s entirely plausible for her to count them. Also, it’s a work of fiction, there’s no reason to be vague about the number of chairs.
  • In the interview, Christian Grey says he employs over 40,000 people. That makes his company twice as big as Enron. And he seems to have founded the company, not inherited it (though EL James is not specific on this point). This makes the company maybe five years old at the outside. Enron existed for 15 years before it folded. I’ve heard of fast growing companies and all, but this stretches credulity.
  • During the farcical school newspaper interview, Ana asks Christian if he’s gay. She, at least, is horrified and embarrassed (as she should be), but this comes out of nowhere, with no lead in, and at no time is Ana’s roommate (who came up with the question) challenged on her ridiculous premise that Christian must be gay because he’s never photographed in the society pages with a woman. (He’s spent the last five years building a company that’s become twice as big as Enron. I think a much more logical assumption is he’s never photographed with women because HE’S WORKING.)
  • Christian Grey is the CEO of his company, but he says he doesn’t have a board. Now, apparently, this is not a contradiction: The only companies that must have boards are ones that are publicly traded (something I’m sure Grey, control freak that he is, wouldn’t do). Most companies past a certain size have boards whether they’re publicly traded or not, but they don’t have to. And while a CEO is a common board position, there’s nothing that says that a company can’t have a CEO on his own. But still: It took me like fifteen minutes and asking four people about this before I came to the conclusion that EL James wasn’t actually wrong about this. 15 minutes that I could’ve spent reading the book. Fiction isn’t supposed to send you on fact-checking hunts, especially not this early in the game. I already distrust this author and that’s not a good sign.
  • Ana drives three hours, asks seven questions that were written for her and maybe another seven that she thought up herself in the moment. That is an extremely crappy interview, maybe half an hour long (I would read the conversation out loud to see, but I can’t bear to open the book again). It took 9 months to convince Grey to schedule the interview, and this is supposed to be an in-depth profile, and you ask seven questions? I’ve had interviews over an hour long for a 500 word article. I couldn’t even tell you how many questions I asked–I started out with a list that was maybe a page long, that I used as a guide when the conversation needed steering. Also, Christian Grey asks Ana if she wants to be shown around, and she says no. WHAT ARE YOU DOING. YOU ALWAYS SAY YES TO THAT. Even somebody with no journalistic instincts whatsoever says yes to that. Again with the “Why is Kate sending her roommate on these shenanigans and not calling another editor on the newspaper staff, especially since this is so important, and Ana is so clearly bad at it.”
  • EL James explains characters’ jokes for us after they say them: “Obviously, he’s referring to my earlier less-than-elegant entry into his office.” Yes. Obviously. So obviously you don’t need to tell us that, Ms James. Your readership is not stupid.
  • Ana goes home and offers to make her roommate a sandwich, and her roommate accepts. Even though she just had the flu a few hours ago. If the roommate–driven, tenacious roommate–was too sick to do the interview, she’s too sick to be eating a sandwich now. And yet here she is, eating a sandwich.

And that’s just Chapter One, Gentle Readers. It goes on like this. I tried to stop taking notes, I really did, but I couldn’t because this nonsense is just so frustrating:

  • Everyone mind’s everyone else’s business whether it’s needed or wanted. At a bar, Ana’s roommate Kate is about to leave the bar with a guy she just met. Ana tries to follow her on the grounds that she needs to give Kate “a safe sex lecture.” Kate is 22, and Ana is not her mother. I really hope that Kate’s learned about safe sex by now. Also, Ana is drunk, making her impulse to be the responsible mom figure somewhat laughable. Leave Kate alone, Ana. (This is outweighed by my total annoyance at Kate generally, who keeps going out of her way to make Christian angry/jealous on purpose. Interference of Roommate into Ana’s relationship aside, playing stupid high school games with guys is just….stupid, immature, and high school.)
  • At some point, Christian scolds Ana about her hair being damp. Of course it is. She just got out of the shower, Christian. Which you know because she’s in your hotel room. And you’re the one who told her to take the shower. Shut up.
  • Ana has apparently gotten through four years of college, from 2007-2011, without an email account. I refuse to believe that a middle class American girl born in 1989 did not have an email account before now. (On the other hand, I was so relieved when they started emailing each other, because James included header and signature text from all the emails, which made turning the pages that much faster.)
  • Christian has told her to start her BDSM research on Wikipedia. Sigh.
  • The narrative voice is inconsistent. Ana is the narrator, yet halfway through the book I still don’t feel like I know her. At the beginning of one chapter, she takes a moment to “admire the pretty” that is Christian standing in front of her. Later on, she says,”His gaze is impassive; his eyes cold shards of smoky glass.” It’s jarring to just switch tone and mood this way. Either Ana is Hannah Montana, or she is Jane Eyre. She cannot be both.
  • For someone who says she’s never been drunk before, she drinks a lot of wine, with almost every meal, whether she’s with Christian or not. She also never eats.
  • And this is without even getting into the assumption, which goes completely unchallenged here, that everyone who gets into BDSM is messed up or damaged. Or Ana’s assumption, also completely unchallenged, that Christian just needs to be shown what true love and acceptance are to mend his ways, and thinks that that fixer mission makes it okay to completely disrespect his needs and desires–which he went out of his way to state to her, clearly and honestly.

A few chapters into the book, I started thinking of John Laroquette’s rant from his appearance on the West Wing about hitting people with cricket bats, and couldn’t stop. And I hadn’t even gotten to the sexy tying up parts yet. (I also started sending angry texts to my friend Skippy, who doesn’t want to read this book, and didn’t want to hear about it, and now knows more about it than he ever wanted to. But he didn’t tell me to shut up once. Patient man, is Skippy.)

And yes. Most of these are petty details that I should overlook. I know. People read this book because they want to read the sexy tying up parts. They don’t care about Ana’s graduation ceremony, or the length of the interview with Christian, or the fact that EL James doesn’t seem to know that “army” should be capitalized when you are referring to someone’s employer or profession, ie, “ex-Army.” But you know what? The little details irk me. They pull me out of the story. By the time I get to the sexy tying up parts, I’m angry and frustrated and I don’t care anymore. And frankly, it’s insulting. Because if EL James doesn’t have the barest minimum of respect for me as a reader–if she did, she’d notice that she said “besieged” twice in two sentences, or think for three seconds about whether Ana can see Christian’s feet and tell us about the shoes he’s wearing when there’s a desk between them–she’d care enough to get this stuff right. I can’t tell you how aggravating it is when I just want to fall into a story, but I keep getting knocked out of it by these stupid little details. I respect you enough as an author that I spent a week reading your story. The least you can do is not treat me like I’m stupid.

We deserve better than this, Gentle Readers. We deserve solid tales decently told. Even if all you want is a story that, in the words of James, “makes desire pool in your belly,” you can do better than this (or you can search on the internet for files put together by helpful people who excerpted all the sexy bits of the 50 Shades series and put them in a single document, so you don’t even have to bother with the story). The internet has entire terabytes of bandwidth devoted to better erotic and/or BDSM tales than this. (And if this book has made you curious about BDSM and/or you want to try this with your partner, for the love of god, use something besides this book and ever-loving Wikipedia as sources/inspiration/guides.)

To make matter worse, (though it was, in retrospect, a really useful juxtaposition for reviewing purposes), I read 50 Shades of Grey the same week that I listened to Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass on audiobook, specifically the part where Whitman is recounting his experiences as a nurse in a Union Army hospital, dressing the wounds of injured Civil War soldiers. One is a story about a silly girl whose biggest problem is that there’s a disconnect between what her brain is telling her she should want and what is actually giving her orgasms. The other is about the indomitable human spirit and the sacrifices that men make, about pain and courage and friendship and humanity. I don’t understand half of what Whitman wrote, but I feel like a better person for having read it. 50 Shades just made me want to hit things, and not in a fun sexy way, either.

I think if I was offered a choice between reading this book again, watching The Human Centipede (a movie which is, I’m pretty sure, the absolute nadir of creative human output), or getting punched in the face, I’d have to think about it. And then I’d probably choose getting punched in the face. Immediately after reading this book, I started listening to the audiobook for Stiff by Mary Roach, about human decomposition and what cadavers donated to science are subjected to. It’s gooey and mushy and contains phrases like “intracranial steam,” which is what happens when the inside of your skull gets so hot that your brains literally melt out of your ears (don’t worry, you’re dead by the time this happens)–and it’s so much more entertaining and less disturbing than 50 Shades of Grey.

Approach this book with extreme caution, Gentle Readers. I wouldn’t have given it even one star but the computer didn’t give me the option of negative numbers.