The Reason Foul Is Fair

I could claim that I’ve read all of Shakespeare’s plays, but inevitably I would be stone cold busted by someone asking me “So what is your favorite part of Cymbeline?” and responding with “The part where the scrappy underdog rocks it in her first cymbal solo.” So, NO, Shakespeare scholars, I haven’t read them all and I’ll immediately concede everyone’s superior knowledge on the Shakespeare catalog. I’ve read a few, though, and it’s not a contest but MACBETH WINS. I’m not just saying that because I am afraid Lady MacBeth will kill me in my sleep. This play just blows my hair back. I like Macbeth so much that I automatically love anything remotely Macbeth-related, including but not limited to getting blood on my hands and/or clothing, presidential election cycles, and haggis. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA just kidding I loathe presidential election cycles.

This story of an ambitious warrior who murders his way to the throne in ancient Scotland is ubiquitous. Even if you haven’t read Macbeth, you’ve bumped into it. You have, really. You can’t help it. It’s like pumpkin spice—it gets everywhere. “Something wicked this way comes”? From Macbeth. “Out, out, damned spot”? Macbeth. “Double, double, toil and trouble”, “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury” and I’ll spare you but there is much more. This play has provided some of the most fundamental ways in which we communicate in the English language and it’s an amazingly long list from a relatively short work.  Macbeth was written around 1606, is the shortest of Shakespeare’s tragedies, and is really, really murdery.

There is something so satisfying about a great ghost story, and that’s where my love affair with this work germinates. It’s so moody and dark I’m convinced Shakespeare was in his Goth teen phase when he wrote it, hanging out in his room practicing black eyeliner application and bingelistening to Morrissey. At its core, Macbeth is about how our choices and our decisions haunt us, about how consequence becomes our fate. Shakespeare illustrates the failings that result from arrogance and hubris with creepy, psychic elements like bloody visions and sleepwalking. Also trees come to life and ambush people. (The first draft had a Loch Ness Monster subplot. Probably. Because Scotland). It’s a big pile of kilt-wearing spooky greatness.

What Up, Witches Can we talk about the witches? Because they make me fangirl HARD. There are three of them. They live in a cave, they dance for hours around a cauldron (see? Shakespeare even invented raves), and they probably haven’t brushed their teeth ever. If they meet an endangered species? They’ll cut it up for spellcasting. If you won’t share your snacks with them? They’ll find your husband and screw him to death. THEY DO NOT CARE. I realize all the death and mangling is supposed to turn me off but I love them so much. For all the forwardness and enlightenment that was the Elizabethan age, women were still regulated to very specific roles, and didn’t get many chances to be in charge of their own destinies. Shakespeare wrote these weird sisters as profoundly, refreshingly powerful. They are not here for small talk, thanks. They are here to terrify people and chew bubblegum, and they are all out of bubblegum. Chief among their interests is career counseling, evidenced by telling Macbeth that they have prophesized that he seems destined to wear a crown. This is awesome because gold is SO his color. (Compliance tip: Your yearly performance review should not contain “Ensure throne appropriation via aggressive death blueprint” as a development item because regicide is a very serious HR violation.)
Witches: Dude we had a vision you will be King
Macbeth: ok gonna go kill someone so it’ll happen
Witches: well that escalated quickly

Real Housewives of Scotland If you ever get cast on any Real Housewife series, I would not look to New Jersey or California for tips on how to best conduct your privileged life of social climbing. I’d go straight to Scotland for that playbook. If any couple in the history of couples was made for reality TV, it’s the Macbeths. They’re ambitious, morally ambiguous, and fashion-forward. (Macbeth begins and ends the play in full battle armor and I don’t want to live in a world where that kind of bold choice doesn’t at least get you a shot at Vanity Fair’s Best Dressed.) Lady Macbeth is ride or die when it comes to helping her husband climb that career ladder. As soon as she hears he’s got witch juju on his side, she’s ready to take it to the mat. Some long-time married couples put some spice back in their relationship by investing in vacation real estate, and some do it by murdering a bunch of people to ensure ascension to the throne. Guess which track is more likely to land you on Bravo’s Watch What Happens Live?
Disclaimer: I don’t recommend political assassinations as a joint hobby. Or as a singular hobby. What is wrong with you? But if I did, I’d point you to the Macbeths and tell you that the number one indicator of success when you are trying to murder people to be King of Scotland is a supportive partner. One who shares your dreams. Someone who can pick you up when you are feeling down. Someone who can call on the gods to surgically excise all of her humanity so that stabbing someone doesn’t feel like a bad idea.
Macbeth: Some random women from the woods said I might be King someday
Lady Macbeth: seems legit, let’s kill people to make that happen
Macbeth: well that escalated quickly

Can’t See The Forest For The Treason Call it an Elizabethan special effect or an arboreal miracle. Either way, the witches’ prophecy about Macbeth staying King until “Birnam Wood do come to Dunsinane” isn’t the get out of jail free card that Macbeth thinks it is. TWIST: it’s a big Scottish loophole. Macbeth is assured by the witches that he’s King until the trees in a nearby Birnham forest can walk to his castle in Dunsinane. It never occurs to Macbeth to take this prophecy anything but literally, because Macbeth is an asshat. In fact, Macbeth’s exact line is (paraphrasing) “Pfft. Trees can’t walk. I’m hiring a contractor to renovate the throne room.” Meanwhile, back at the ranch, opposition leader MacDuff raises an army to attack Macbeth’s fortified castle. The army gets close enough to attack by disguising themselves with branches from Birnham forest. Think of it as the original manscaping. I love this scene. It’s so satisfying to see karma delivered in such a creative and decisive way. It’s also fun to imagine how the bagpipe player managed to look like a tree while playing his bagpipe. (In my version of this, there’s always a bagpipe player. Because Scotland. Sorry, Scotland.) MacDuff and his troops breach the castle, throw down some trash talk, and before you know it Macbeth’s been beheaded. Let that be a lesson-never piss off an armed tree. Malcolm, the rightful heir, takes the throne and we have our happy ending.
Malcolm: didst thou vanquish MacBeth, Thane Of Asshat?
MacDuff: totes!
Malcolm: I just can’t waaaaiiit to be King
MacDuff: I cut off his head, here ya go
Malcolm: well that…….EW.
MacDuff: not the line
Malcolm: kings make their own punchlines

Action Items
There is an interactive Macbeth HOW COOL:

The Reason I Told The Truth

In a rare moment of remarkable restraint, I recently answered a question in a single sentence. A short sentence. Nobody was more shocked than I was. Okay maybe EVERYONE who has ever asked me a question was as shocked as I was and to all of you I say, bite me. Miracles are real. Send your thank-you note to J.K. Rowling.

If you have never heard of J.K. Rowling I really don’t know what to say except, when you bought your house under that rock, did the listing say “1BR 1B 0windows”? Harry Potter rules pop culture, and J.K. Rowling made him up. 10 points for Gryffindor! This brilliant woman took the basic arc of puberty and reimagined it as terrifying marches through spider-infested woods, trolls hiding in school bathrooms, and battling evil wizards for world domination. Real adolescence is actually worse than that but nonetheless it’s a thrilling and incredibly relatable story. Harry has besties, stresses over homework, endures a gross cousin, and basically just feels all our feels for seven amazing books.

I was a recovering adolescent when Harry made his debut. It took me a while to discover the books—I think there were three of them by the time they came across my grownup radar. I spent a pleasant solo weekend catching up with what everyone else already knew bingereading all three. It got CRAZY up in there. I had a straight up reading buzz.
Car keys: What are our hot Saturday night plans
Car keys: FFS
Me: Turnt down for books

Harry Potter went rapidly from book series to world domination. Today, you can cosplay in awesome wizard robes, go to a Hogwarts theme park, or eat ear wax-flavored candy. It’s an immersive, escapist experience, the way the best entertainment truly is. It’s a lovely thing to know that your favorite book is something that you can bury yourself in, surround yourself with, and exult in with a huge community of like-minded fans. Harry Potter is so ubiquitous now that for a while I forgot that there was a day, a Saturday on a bingereading weekend, when I finished the first book  and thought, “Well, hell. THAT got all kinds of things right.” I was so engrossed I hadn’t moved in several hours.
Book: Don’t you have to pee?
Me: So bad but first let me compliment you
Book: Not worth a UTI
Me: Book two next! I’m ordering pizza!
Book: Party. Animal.

Young Adult is a tricky genre, mostly because it’s defined by Old Adults. Old Adults can’t stop themselves from telling current Young Adults how to be Young Adult. We got rules. We got advice. We got teachable moments. We got anecdotes and most of them start with “Well when I was your age” and don’t end for several hours. It’s a sincere desire to spare younguns pain and disappointment, I suppose, but it’s hard to remember that there’s a time when people really want to make their own mistakes and have new life experiences. Maybe as a result of this, the kid’s section has a lot of have-a-bad-experience-but-learn-a-great-lesson-and-we-all-get-ice-cream kind of books. They’re a little misleading, because there are a lot of life situations that take more than 100 pages to resolve. Sometimes, for example, it can take seven books.

J.K. Rowling refuses to talk down to her audience. Life in Harry’s world is black and white, sure—there are good wizards, and bad wizards, and they are easy to tell apart because bad wizards tend to announce themselves by saying stuff like “I’M HERE TO MESS UP YOUR HAIR AND THE HAIR OF EVERYONE YOU CARE ABOUT”. But life is also gray and purple and squiggly. And squiggly isn’t even a color. J.K. Rowling isn’t lying to anyone about any of it. So, yes, you win (you get to go to a great wizard academy with goblin-guaranteed trust fund) but wins aren’t tidy (because your parents are dead and the dude that killed them considers you unfinished business). It’s truth in all its messy and emotional iterations, and beautiful things happen and terrible things happen and embracing all these things unflinchingly is courage, even when you’re knock-kneed with fear.

I know what you are thinking: I am clearly a superenlightened Old Adult who is a renowned Young Adult Whisperer!
Everyone: Yes, we think that
Me: *blushes modestly*
Me: not cool, everyone
I am just as in love with the sound of my own voice and just as convinced that my life wisdom is superior as anyone. In other words, I am full of shit. It’s not that I set out to be a boring blowhard, it’s just that it comes so naturally and we should all use our gifts. (In my defense I’m overtalky and boring with other Old Adults too because consistency is important.)But against all odds, I managed to get out of my own way recently. Here’s how it went down.

My favorite form of exercise is anything dance fitness because it’s a legit way to be a jackass in public. I walked into one of my regular classes a few weeks ago and greeted the instructor, a personal friend. She in turn introduced me to her 11-year-old niece, who was visiting from out of town. My friend asked her niece if she wanted to take the class and I invited her to come stand by me. NOPE. I tried to encourage her with allll the words, but NOPE NOPE NOPE. Not that I blamed her. Booty shake with a room full of strange adults? In the words of Sigmund Freud, “Hell naw”.

Dance fitness is lively-there’s lots of whooping and silliness and Pitbull. It’s hard to resist and about four songs in, I looked up to see my friend’s niece signaling me over. Thinking she was ready to dance, I made some room, but she shook her head. She had a question. Glancing at the sweaty crowd on the floor behind me gleefully doing the pony and airspanking, she looked at me and said:
“Aren’t you SHY?”
It stopped me. Cold. My first thought was “Damn, how did she know?” She was clearly self-conscious and anxious about looking like a fool in front of a lot of people. She needed to hear it would be okay to take a chance. It’s hard to be shy. I opened my mouth and took the big breath in so I could give her the 2 minute answer about how it didn’t matter if I was shy, and it’s fun, and you get used to it, and overcome adversity, and then High School Musical happens when you just try! that pause, I reminded myself that I’d been asked a question. And I just needed to fucking answer it. So I did.
“Yes, I am-but I do this anyway.”


A well-stocked workout bag includes water, extra socks, and emotional intelligence.

That was it. There were no follow-up questions. She came out on the floor with me and I had an awesome little partner for the rest of the class. I had truth and she had courage, and that made us wizards. It was fun on the shy side of the room. Sometimes, the angel on your shoulder looks just like J.K. Rowling, and then you do the Nae Nae.
Sofa: you read two books, what now
Me: gonna read another one
Sofa: yay! I got your ass groove ready
Me: be right with you
Car keys: y’all are LAME

Action Items:
Check out J.K. Rowling’s marvelous crime fiction, published under the name Robert Galbraith.

The Reason To Kiss The Cook

Y’all, I’ve got dinner tonight. Put your feet up, surf your Tumblr dashboard, and relax with a cold beverage while I pop into the kitchen and whip something up. I have a small, quirky collection of church and service club cookbooks, the kind that have the soft covers and titles like Serve It With Love or Feeding The Faithful. They represent the culinary passion and fundraising prowess of senior activity groups, Junior Leagues, and auxiliary clubs, and I have a particular fondness for ones published in the 1970s. These cookbooks are very handy because it takes all the pressure off everyone to remember stuff like if it’s okay to make chicken topped with chipped beef (it IS), how many casserole recipes have the word ‘supreme’ in the title (eleventy-hundred), and what should be on the shopping list for Coca-Cola salad (hint: lemon jello). It’s Library-Of-Congress important as a source of reference material. You can think of this meal as an historical education, like when you eat a turkey leg at the Renaissance Festival.
I’ve already hard-boiled and sliced three dozen eggs and purchased several hundred packets of saccharine, so I am prepared with 74% of the base ingredients of anything you want to make from the 1970s (the other 26% is Green Goddess dressing). Let’s get cookbookin’!

Me: Need a salad
Cookbook: Here’s some whipped cream
Me: No, I need salad
Cookbook: Duh that is why I gave you whipped cream
If you suspect something has nutritional benefits in it, do NOT put it in your salad. Health will just ruin the taste. A good strategy is to substitute mayonnaise for anything in your recipe that is not already mayonnaise. My favorite salad in my collection is from a Methodist church cookbook that lists lettuce as an optional ingredient. Finally, someone brave enough to take on the powerful Leafy Greens lobby.

Me: Why is this shrimp in Jello?!?
Cookbook: It’s aspic
Me: Ugh that is not better
Cookbook: IT’S SO SHINY
Gelatin recipes are judged on three criteria: creative flavoring, sour cream to gelatin ratio, and interview. Do not be afraid to add Parmesan cheese, julienned ham, and miniature marshmallows. Also, freeze that shit up. Nobody wants to chew room-temperature fish-shaped layered gelatin towers. My Hall Of Fame entry in this category is in a cookbook from a Junior League in Florida. The recipe calls for raspberry gelatin, a can of stewed tomatoes, and hot sauce. On the side, I suggest serving anything edible.

Me: Why do I need all these hot dog buns?
Cookbook: You like garlic bread right?
Me: Aw hell no
Cookbook: Get the margarine
You are not going to win fans with your cooking if you’re not willing to take culinary chances with your side dishes. That’s right, bitches—time to souffle. Everybody loves souffle. Also, everyone loves vegetables covered with butter crackers. And chow mein noodles. And potato sticks. The point here is you should be making mushy stuff so you can top it with crunchy stuff. I am going with a delightful dish from a Baptist church cookbook for spinach with peanut butter.

Me: I have a question
Cookbook: put Velveeta on it
Me: It’s a cake though
Cookbook: Put Velveeta on all the things
Future generations might look at the 70s as the Golden Age Of Processed Cheese. I’m not a hater here—heat that block up with some jalapenos, put out some chips, and I am going to fight you for it. A case can be made for macaroni and cheese, too. But I am telling you, if I bring you a dessert made with Velveeta, I am mad at you. Or I am mad at fudge. Either way I was hate-baking.

FullSizeRender (2)

Not pictured: potato chip tongs

Soup’s on! And by that, I mean the delivery guy is here with the pizza I ordered. Let me sprinkle on the crushed cornflakes and it’s chow time.

Action Items
Buy some Tums

The Reasons You Know You’re As Amazing As Tobias Menzies Probably Is

The reason you know that you, without any doubt at all, are amazing is because I am ignoring you. I’ll prove it—right now, look at me. See? I won’t make eye contact with you. In fact I am planning my exit because your sheer fabulousness is overwhelming. Don’t feel badly about it, because I will do that exact same thing to Tobias Menzies when and if I ever cross paths with him and don’t you feel special being in the same boat as Tobias Menzies? When is the last time you could ever say, “I was treated exactly the way Tobias is treated”? Now you can. You’re fucking WELCOME.

Speaking on behalf of the functionally shy: interacting with people makes us nervous. Not as nervous as tree full of machete-wielding spiders, but absolutely not remotely as relaxing as a baby sloth holding a winning lottery ticket. I am a hot mess at any gathering of two or more people. My inability to navigate social situations with grace and my tendency to confuse charming with loud guarantee that I leave a lot of people wondering “WTF? Was I talking to a T-Rex wearing false eyelashes? How the hell does a T-Rex even put ON false eyelashes?” It’s not entirely my fault. I have to talk that loudly to hear myself over my inner monologue. “Is this how people talk to each other? Did I say that correctly? Have I already told this story? OMG SHUT UP SHUT UP YOU ARE SCARING PEOPLE. I wonder if I have food on my boobs. How can I check without looking like I’m checking for food on my boobs?*” Needless to say, maintaining narcissism at this advanced level takes dedication and training, and you should not attempt it without stretching first and consulting with a stunt coordinator. I’m a professional. Ignoring you is just easier. For both of us.
*For the record there is no way to check for food on your boobs without looking exactly like you are checking for food on your boobs. Doing this brings everyone’s attention to the fact that you’re the kind of person who cannot get through a meal without getting food on her boobs. I don’t really mind boob attention, but not the attention where people are wondering “Is that a chunk of fish or is she wearing a nametag? I can’t tell.” It’s likely a fish chunk, particularly if the special was mahi.

What I’m saying is, I’m ignoring you because I have a complicated relationship with one of my favorite books, A Wrinkle In Time. “It was a dark and stormy night.” With that borrowed, sly sentence, Madeline L’Engle busts out a mindbender of a book that I first read when I was six and have read since then (according to math) a whole bunch of times. The story introduces the adventures of the extraordinary Murry family. The Murry parents are brilliant scientists, and the father’s experiments in physics have imprisoned him on a hostile planet. Sister and brother dream team Meg Murry and Charles Wallace Murry -along with their friend Calvin- work to save him and the Earth from evil forces while establishing interplanetary diplomatic relationships and learning to time travel. And they get their homework done and make it back in time for dinner. It was all stuff that looked great on their college applications.
Me: I’m here about the Murry family opening?
Recruiter: Great! Skillset is assertive, bold, and confident
Me: Butterflies startle me
Recruiter: Thanks for coming in

As much as I wanted to be, I just wasn’t Team Murry material. The core competencies I brought to the table were ‘awkward’, ‘jumpy’, and ‘big vocabulary’, but damned if Madeline L’Engle hadn’t covered that too. Mrs. Who, Mrs. Which, and Mrs. Whatsit are the book’s friendly space warrior versions of MacBeth’s three witches. Non-Earthling veterans of the ongoing war against darkness, they manifest in absurd physical personas to recruit the intrepid Meg, Charles Wallace, and Calvin into battle. The ladies are depicted as having as great fun choosing their human characteristics-wacky clothes, crazy hats. I had a particular affinity for the bookish, quiet Mrs. Who. She prefers hanging back from the crowd, carefully observing the people around her, and communicates in quotations because she finds it a challenge to articulate her thoughts. YUP. You go, gurl. More accurately, shrink into the background and never directly approach people you really want to get to know but can’t bring yourself to talk to, gurl.
Me: Do you have any other openings?
Recruiter: Are you good at math?
Me: (tap dances)
Recruiter: I hate this job

I’d never read a book that legitimizes quirky characters the way A Wrinkle In Time does. Madeline L’Engle is incredibly nurturing of eccentricities. Mrs. Who isn’t flashy, and she isn’t spunky, the way most of the female protagonists I was familiar with from kid’s books were. Nancy Drew? I’m looking at you with your shiny convertible and your hair that was always perfect EVEN THOUGH YOU DROVE A FUCKING CONVERTIBLE. Laura Ingalls Wilder, I’m looking at you too. Way to conquer the frontier and all but if you’d dropped me on the prairie with nothing more than a wagon and a calico apron I’d be dead in a week. Mrs Who doesn’t fit the mold, any mold. She’s very much her own being, but it’s her insight and advice-and that classic smart nerd accessory, her gleaming, glinting spectacles-that allow Meg to retrieve her father from his prison on the evil planet Camazotz. She makes her contribution because of who (GET IT) she is, not in spite of it. (DID YOU SEE THAT SUBTLE PRONOUN JOKE)
Me: I can make pronoun jokes
Recruiter: Um, thanks
Me: I do observational humor on all parts of speech
Recruiter: We’ll keep your resume on file

As a now fully formed adult introvert, I recognize that 1. I don’t have alien time-travel powers that allow escape from social interactions and 2. Cave dwelling as a hermit isn’t a good option for me because I prefer indoor plumbing and indirect rock lighting does not flatter my complexion. Therefore, I occasionally have to do an impression of a person with good social skills. I do my best, but usually I end up in a corner, propping up a wall like a well-accessorized load-bearing column, watching all the people I’d love to meet and talk to in conversation circles that appear both Alqonquin-y and Round Table-y. Trying to keep it cool makes me a little twitchy, and I know I’m prone to conversational blunders. I’m just trying to figure out the rules on this planet. It takes me a while to work up my nerve. When that happens, I’m likely to appear in front of you, quote something obscure, hand you something shiny, and leave before you have chance to respond. Honestly, it’s all I can manage. It means you’re totally fucking amazing.

As talented as I am at making up shit to worry about, I’m not worried that I will ever have to avoid Tobias Menzies in person. He doesn’t follow me on Twitter, we live in different countries, and he’s not invited to Thanksgiving at my sister’s this year. Frankly, it’s a relief. He’s clearly smart, funny, and British, and that is too much for me to process coherently in public. But I swear, if by chance I ever sit next to him on a plane, I am going to ignore him. I am going to ignore him so hard.




Puppybait me all  you want, I’m not making eye contact



Action Items
Explore the ways Tobias Menzies can entertain you here.

The Reason For Witness Protection

Deep dark secrets are great until you confess them and risk of being held accountable. Who wouldn’t rather be ‘mysterious with a dangerous streak’ instead of ‘on parole’? But it’s time for me to come clean about bad choices made in my impulsive, reckless youth. I did things. I did bad things. I’ll tell you about it here but I am changing some details to protect the innocent (innocent = way super guilty).

I stole a book from a library.
In my defense, I really wanted the book and I was going to take it. Just hear me out before you throw away the metaphorical key to my imaginary cell. You’ll never take me alive, copper.

But first…some words about libraries. I love libraries. ALL OF THEM. The smell, the reverent hush, the solid reassurance of a multitude of filled shelves. The swagger in your step approaching the card catalog because your Dewey brings the decimals to the yard. Libraries-hands down-have always been my favorite places to go. I could, and did, spend hours in the stacks, letting looking for one book lead me to another book, another topic, another place. Sadly there was always a point at which the adult in charge would announce “Last call! You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here!” (to which my panicked reply was always “BUT MOM! I HAVE TO GO HOME WITH YOU!”)Libraries made sense to me. They were orderly. I never had to figure out which table had the cool kids, or get side-eye at how many books I was taking home. I don’t even know how many books it would take to get a librarian to give side-eye. Dude, don’t even try. You cannot flap the unflappable.

While it was deliriously thrilling to assemble a check-out pile, I also loved pulling random books off the shelf and finding a comfy chair for some reading time. (It’s VERY grown-up to read at a library. People like Katharine Hepburn did it in black and white movies so…)I would find a section I didn’t have a reason to be in and just peruse. I would grab intriguing titles and do a lap in the pages to see if I wanted to commit. My favorite place to do this was in the 800s/Literature and on the particular day that I found this particular book, I was in the 811s, American Drama. I was 9ish years old.

American Drama was always yummy and juicy and a good way to pass some time holed up in the stacks. I read plays by Arthur Miller and Edward Albee and Tennessee Williams. I’d never heard of Kaufman and Hart, but there was this little blue book with an understated title: Six Plays by Kaufman and Hart, from Random House’s Modern Library, published in 1942. There were some introductory essays that I skipped (whatever, you don’t look at them either) and I thumbed through, looking at the play titles. I settled on one in the middle of the book called “You Can’t Take It With You” and looked at the character’s names. Penelope Sycamore. HA. I was sold. Best first character name everrrrrr. That name was like a warm hug from your eccentric aunt, your dad’s sister that your mom didn’t like. I added it to my stack to go home with me.

I had strict rules for reading-can look at the description on the back, must read in order without looking ahead, never cheat by looking at the last page, always finish the book no matter what (anyone wanna hang out with me yet? Don’t I sound superfun?) but these rules didn’t apply to play collections. I started Six Plays in the middle, with the play that had so effectively grabbed my attention. To my pleasant surprise, I had me a book of comedies. “You Can’t Take It With You” was a little strange, a lot energetic, and very, very funny. Kaufman and Hart made every character interesting and dimensional and necessary-even the ingenue was more than a pretty face driving the romance plot. I read it through, then turned back to the beginning and read it again, saying random lines out loud just to delight in how they rolled off my tongue. Kaufman and Hart’s inherent genius is supporting a myriad of active, varied, explosive characters—putting SO MUCH into the script—with staccato, cascading dialogue that drives manic pace of the play with comparatively spare language. The resulting buoyancy is infectiously joyful and did I mention funny? Funny to read, fun to say out loud, fun to hear. I had to pay attention, because the good stuff flew fast and nonstop and it was all gold. (Yes, it won a Pulitzer Prize, so, you know, I’m aware that saying “This play is good!” is like saying “Water is wet!”)

When I found this book, I was unaware that George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart were kind of big deals. Like, the biggest American theater deals. George S. Kaufman was a member of the Algonquin Round Table. Moss Hart was younger than Kaufman by 15 years and was a natural storyteller encouraged into the theater by a beloved aunt. Apart, their accomplishments are mind-boggling but together they flat owned the 1930s when it came to American theatrical comedy. Six Plays spans that decade’s body of work.

I read “You Can’t Take It With You” four times in a row and finally moved on to another play. “Once In A Lifetime” was fun, but I met my new best friend, the sly and self-involved Sheridan Whiteside, in “The Man Who Came To Dinner”. I would give my right arm to play Sheridan Whiteside. (Hello, casting directors, the ultimate in stunt casting! A complete unknown with limited experience genderbending a beloved, iconic role! I’ll just sit here and wait for the avalanche of offers). The breathtaking wit, glamour, and flat hilarious intelligence of this play did me in. I knew that I could not live without this book.

I like to think that Mr. Whiteside, petty thief that he is, would approve of my next move. When it came time to return my most recent stack to the library (pay attention here because CRIMINAL MASTERMIND) , I hid Six Plays under my bed. At the library, instead of handing the books over the counter to the librarian to get checked back in, I put them in the book drop so as to not draw attention to The Missing Book. Then I constructed an underground lair and hired a bunch of henchmen.

You (not YOU, I’m sure) probably hid porn under your bed. I hid a book of comedic plays written in the 1930s. Can we agree that I’ve always been a sad, sad nerd? It took a few years, but in time I gained some maturity and a moral compass and my illegal gain started to nag at me. I possessed My Precious but I had victimized a library and thwarted who knows how many research papers. My relationship with libraries had been one way, my perspective one of “how can I be served”? When I stole the book, it was because I wanted to keep that delirious riot of an experience for myself. I had it wrong. One person does not make a riot. Riots are communal. You gotta invite everybody and make sure you have lots of confetti and silly string on hand.

I know you’re waiting for the happy ending punchline where I make good and return the book all those years later. HAHAHAHAHAHA nope. I never got found out and I still have that copy of Six Plays. I read it about once a year. The experience of finding a book that so envelops you that it becomes part of who you are, that it colors how you see the world, is an experience that I was afforded because I got to go to a library. Kaufman and Hart were there, just waiting to be found.Every so often, I’ll find a good copy of Six Plays in a used bookstore. I always buy it and take it to my local library to donate. It’s the most peaceful way I know to start a riot. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to field all those “The Man Who Came To Dinner” casting offers.

Action Items
Check out local theater companies in November/December-chances are there’s a staging of “The Man Who Came To Dinner”. You can also spend some quality time in your living rooms with the movie versions of all of the plays in this book. They will usually be in the classic movie sections of your favorite movie-obtaining service.
Support your library.

The Reason I’m Annoyed

Elevator Repair Service is an experimental theater company based out of New York City. Recently, they annoyed me. They likely weren’t trying to annoy me. Probably. But they did, and then they insulted my injury by being incredibly original and talented and entertaining. OMG JERKS.

I am going to go into exhausting detail about my hurt feelings, but first, do you have a few moments to talk about Ernest Hemingway? Let’s sit down with a large glass of straight rum lemonade and I’ll give you some tracts. Like many Earthlings, I first read Hemingway in high school. It was that time in a young woman’s life where she does what it takes to make her a woman. That’s right-I was studying the short story in an American Lit class. It was marvelous. Short stories are juicy, intense, concentrated—everything that makes reading fun but on steroids. Minimal time investment, maximum wallop.

I read Poe, and Hawthorne, and the sublime Flannery O’Connor. It was fun! “Isn’t this fun?” I said to absolutely no one because even I knew there were limits to the amount of literary nerdiness I could externalize without being scary. “A Rose For Emily” by William Faulkner. “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson. Dayum, y’all. It was good stuff. Then the day came when the textbook served up Hemingway.
Textbook: Here—”The Snows Of Kilimanjaro”. Go.
Me: What the hell, textbook? What WAS that?
Textbook: A classic by an American literary giant. Why?
Me: WTAF. Stahp.
Textbook: Hmm. Not your thing? Try “Hills Like White Elephants”. Everybody loves elephants!

We read two Hemingway stories, the two that are often considered his best – “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” and “Hills Like White Elephants”. I had not made it halfway through “The Snows Of Kilimanjaro” when I realized the fun story party was over because HEMINGWAY. Apparently, Papa was not aware that he owed me a good time. My immediate reaction to both stories was strong and definite and it boiled down to one non-judgmental reaction: These characters are a bunch of douchebags. When it came time to discuss these stories in class, I folded my arms, exuded annoyance, and maintained radio silence. The sooner we moved past it, the better.

In “Snows of Kilimanjaro”, narrator Harry is trapped in a tent in Africa, reflecting upon the meaning of his life while dying from self-inflicted gangrene. In “Hills Like White Elephants”, a man puts all his glib charm behind an effort to manipulate his reluctant girlfriend into thinking that not only does she really want the abortion she’s on her way to have, it’s a risk-free operation that is really her idea. I rolled my eyes so much through both of these stories I lost eyelashes. They could not take the pressure and popped off like tiny champagne corks.

The people in these stories made me want to throatpunch kittens. I had not lived enough life to acknowledge grey areas, and the nuances of a confronting crisis in a less-than-solid relationship, and making the least awful choice out of an array of awful choices. Accordingly, the subtlety and subtext that are the structure and strength of these stories was lost on me. I wanted these drips* to have behavioral insight…and they didn’t. (*flagged as potentially judgmental)These stories were an incredibly frustrating reading experience that seemed rooted in passivity and indirectness. I just wanted someone to do something other than drink. Or talk about drinking. Or drink while talking. Or die slowly from gangrene. GAH.

Given my vast knowledge of everything about life and of course knowing that I was always right about everything always but most especially matters literary, I tossed Hemingway over my shoulder into the pile of Book Laundry That I Will Never Get Around To Washing. If a Hemingway book came up on a recommended list, I shrugged my shoulder in dismissal. If someone mentioned Hemingway as a personal favorite author, I sneered. (I mean, I was self-important AND smug.) (AND SMUG, you say? PLEASE COME OVER HERE AND MAKE OUT WITH ME. Stand down. I’m in the middle of something.)

In the meantime, I read other stuff. It’s not that hard to avoid Hemingway, if you have a good alarm system and take some basic self-defense training. I geeked out on popular crime novels. I comfortably read comfortable history and comfortable contemporary fiction and, God forgive me, The Bridges Of Madison County. I only read stuff I knew I would like and I was very happy thank you very much. Put brutally? I was a boring reader.

The universe, or possibly Hemingway’s ghost, was looking for a chance to knock me off my tower of Books That I Know Are Better and the perfect opportunity presented in 2012. I had to go to New York on business and realized that my trip would overlap during a time that Elevator Repair Service was appearing at The Public Theater. I was thrilled that I could adjust my trip to include seeing one of their productions. I barely paid attention to what the show was when I bought the tickets. “It doesn’t matter!” I said to myself. “I’d go see them read the phone book! And it would be brilliant! It literally DOES NOT MATTER WHAT THE SHOW IS! Also nobody makes phone books any more!” (I talk to myself in simple declarative sentences mostly.) About a month before the show, getting my calendar together, I pulled out my ticket to check what I was going to see. The show was entitled “The Select (The Sun Also Rises)”.
Me: Wait, what?
Ticket: YOU are going to see a Hemingway show.
Me: Are you fucking kidding me?
Me: This is not funny.
Ticket: No, it really is. You’re the worst.
Me: That was way harsh, ticket.

So, there I was, ticket in hand, cussing an innocent performance ensemble. The show had a running time of 3.5 hours or so. Clearly, I would benefit as an audience member if I had some familiarity with the source material. I was going to have to read this shit. “Let me recap this!” I said to myself. “I am going to go see a Hemingway show THAT IS GIVING ME HOMEWORK!” I reluctantly cracked open the book, resigned to suffering through an overrated classic. I was going to read it, but I wasn’t going to like it. Poor me.
Here is what happened when I read The Sun Also Rises:
1. I could not put it down
2. I was moved to tears
3. I made a list of my reactions

The Sun Also Rises is both breathtakingly original and utterly familiar. Hemingway’s spare, direct style is devastatingly precise. Nick and Brett are unflinchingly human. Their struggles, their disconnectedness, their isolation, are raw and real. While their story arcs are informed by the Continental post-Great War vacantness, their flaws and foibles make them timeless. This book is the DNA for so much modern American literature. Hemingway built a better mousetrap. It was so good.
I could not believe I had to put up with this crap.

It had been so easy, too easy, to build a reading world that reflected back to me exactly what I wanted to have reflected. In my complacency, I had forgotten what it was like to be challenged and to work through narratives, or ideas, or styles, that made me a little uncomfortable. The Sun Also Rises reminded me that “well-read” isn’t the same thing as “reading”. This kind of literary bitch-slap is henceforth dubbed ‘being Hemingwayed’.
Thank you, Elevator Repair Service. Point taken. I’m trying to ensure that my natural tendency to the opinionated (ahem, cough) does not prevent me from missing amazing things. Since I read The Sun Also Rises, I’ve pulled in some extraordinary reading because I went looking for it. It’s more demanding, and it’s sometimes uncomfortable, and I hope it’s made my world bigger and me less insufferable.

And for those of you wondering, yes, the show was incredible. If you ever get the chance to see it – or anything staged by this wonderful group – I can’t recommend it enough. The bullfight scene was the bomb.
I still hate being wrong though.

Action Items
If you’d like to go see Elevator Repair Service, start here.