The Reason I Checked In

Marking the passage of our individual journeys around the sun is a lovely and meaningful tradition. With cake, presents, and flattering candlelight, we celebrate the passage of one more year and use fire to call for blessings for the next one to come. We surround ourselves with the people we love the most, or at least with the people who will give us the best presents. Milestone birthdays are particularly noteworthy, as we pause at the threshold of a new decade to reflect on how our perspectives change with age, how our life experiences reward and challenge us, and decide exactly what kind of stripper we want to show up at our 40th birthday party.

40th birthday party strippers come in every permutation you can imagine, but one of the most memorable ones I’ve ever seen was a large, leather-wearing, BDSM-themed dude named Larry who was hired as a surprise for a notoriously shy friend’s 40th. Larry was hilarious, expertly balancing the tightrope between birthday spankings and….um, birthday spankings. He put on a great show for all the party attendees, properly and expertly traumatizing the birthday boy so much that he swore he would celebrate his next milestone birthday in a cave by himself where nobody could applaud while a professional wearing nothing but a harness went after him with a cat-o’-nine-tails. FUN PARTY.

Fast forward. It’s been a couple of years since Larry dominated the birthday boy. A bunch of us, many of whom had been in attendance at a certain 40th birthday party, decide to take a field trip to a particular restaurant way out in the country because we’d heard that they had a great fried chicken buffet followed by an outstanding floor show that featured an Elvis impersonator. By the time the evening in question rolled around, word had spread and we had multiple cars caravaning out to a tiny town on the lake. Everyone had individual motivations for making the trek and we were evenly divided between Team Chicken and Team Elvis. Personally? I was there for both. There were so many of us that we took up about half of the tables in the place. After swarming the buffet (and it was GOOD chicken) and eating our fill, we settled in for the evening’s entertainment. The warm-up impersonators gave me time to digest and wonder if we’d be getting Young Elvis or Hawaii Elvis.

I didn’t have to wait long. Fake Patsy Cline wrapped up her act and a hybrid Young-Looking-But-White-Jumpsuit-Sized Elvis made his big entrance through the side door next to the dessert table. He was delivering a mean “Jailhouse Rock” when a wave of recognition washed over me. Elvis looked familiar, but that made no sense at all. Why on Earth would I know an Elvis impersonator? I am just not that cool. As I puzzled on the feeling, my friend sitting next to me – the one who had hired Larry Leather for her husband’s 40th birthday many moons before – grabbed my arm, moving so suddenly she knocked my empty chicken plate sideways, and said “OH MY GOD! THAT’S LARRY THE STRIPPER.”

It’s a uniquely twisted path that has the same guy taking you from a leather lap dance to “Love Me Tender”. I like a story that comes back on itself, so it makes sense that one of my favorite authors is Lyndsay Faye. There’s no author who can frame a twisted path like Lyndsay Faye, something she proves yet again in her latest book, The Paragon Hotel. The Paragon Hotel is the reading equivalent of a nonstop surprise birthday party-you think everyone’s forgotten it’s your special day, then you walk into a room full of people who can’t wait to see how you react when the stripper shows up. The book opens with speed and sparks as we meet Alice James, riding a train out of 1920s New York to get away from the guy who done her wrong. You think you’re getting a breakup story? Well, that girl’s got a gunshot wound she’s trying to hide from her nosy bunkmate. (That’s your cue. Yell Surpriiiiise! WE REHEARSED THIS.) As Alice’s train pulls into Portland, OR, and a sympathetic porter with a soft heart and a few secrets of his own gets her off the train and into hiding at Portland’s Paragon Hotel, Faye has teased more mysteries about our gun moll refugee than you think possible-that is, until you meet the residents of the Paragon Hotel.

Full disclosure: I have recommended Lyndsay Faye books before on this blog. And in person. And on Twitter. And I’ve given them as gifts. And once, on a trip to NYC, I made my friend Bryn walk with me for 1.5 miles to the Union Square Barnes & Noble because I wanted a signed copy of The Fatal Flame, a copy I knew would be there because I low-key stalk Lyndsay Faye across many social media platforms. I guess my point is I’m mostly harmless and nobody here needs to take out a restraining order, ha ha haaaaaaaaa, I’m just saying that everyone should have seen this recommendation coming from a mile away.

Lyndsay Faye’s body of work is defined by meticulous historical research that manifests in wildly interesting, unpredictable characters, and The Paragon Hotel is no exception. There aren’t any sidebar tedious dry authorial subject matter lectures. Instead, the book is filled with people in all their glorious, fickle, human fallibility. The Paragon Hotel is fresh, frank, and brutal. It demands your attention but never wastes your time. Alice’s story expands organically as she bears witness to the heartbreaks and joys of the people who took chances by taking her in while she reconciles herself to her sudden and shocking departure from New York. The Paragon is the eye at the center of multiple hurricanes, and that stormy energy drives the story in unexpected directions. Faye wants you to trust her; in return, she will respect your reading experience. The Paragon Hotel will wreck you, but it will reward you, too.

This guy gets it.

One day, Lyndsay Faye is going to write a novel about Elvis, birthday party strippers, and an out-of-the-way country restaurant famous for its fried chicken, and I am going to slam the pre-order button so hard it’ll rocket me into a new decade. Join me! I’ll save a piece of cake for you.


Action Items

If reading this book puts you in a Pacific Northwest frame of mind, let the experts at Powell’s Books in Portland assist you.

If reading this book puts you in a Lyndsay Faye state of mind, start with Gods of Gotham and keep going.

The Reason We’ve Already Met

One of the best icebreaker questions is the one about choosing a superpower. Personally, I am Team Control Things With My Mind. Having ESP, or telekinesis, or the ability to speak to ghosts-those are some quality characteristics to have if you want to stand out at the next Justice League meeting. There is one mystical phenomenon, though, that’s so common everyone experiences it at one time or another: déjà vu. Translated from French, déjà vu means “already seen”, and people who experience it are overwhelmed with a sense of already having done something concurrently while doing that actual very same something. The sensation gives a bit of a rush that comes from feeling that you are in the past and the present at the same time. Déjà vu also causes anyone having déjà vu to announce “HA HA YOU GUYS OMG I AM TOTALLY HAVING DÉJÀ VU RIGHT NOW” to everyone in the general vu-cinity.

I, too, experience déjà vu, but not the sexy paranormal kind. For instance: every Labor Day weekend, I have dinner with a couple of out-of-town friends. Owing to circumstances and location, we always have dinner in the same restaurant, which oddly enough is a sports bar at a Marriott. It’s not that we’re really passionate about buffalo wings and giant nacho platters, it’s just what works. (OK FINE I LOVE NACHOS ARE YOU HAPPY) We’ve been meeting there every Labor Day for a few years now, and this year, as our meal was winding down and we were getting our check, I complimented our waitperson on her very pretty nail polish color. My compliment led to a very involved, ten minute avalanche conversation about why she’d painted her nails-she was going on vacation and she’d gotten her hair done for her trip too and she was going to a big Caribbean resort and she was afraid to scuba dive but the pool would be soooo fun and did we think she should parasail? This was followed by a detailed report on her bathing suit inventory.

Dazed as I was from the lighting quick speed at which our relationship had gone from distant but polite to besties who tell each other everything, I started to have that very strong “I have definitely lived through this before” feeling. I gloated for a minute, congratulating myself on being a super-spiritual empath who is open to vibes from dimensions that humans cannot even comprehend, and then I remembered: in that very same restaurant, a year to the day before, I had complimented our (different) waitperson on her very attractive (but different) nail polish color, a compliment that led to very involved, ten minute avalanche conversation about how her baby was just learning to walk and she was going to have to fire her babysitter and it’s so very difficult to decide when to have another baby but she thought she was ready but her husband didn’t think he was ready and WHAT THE HELL. I didn’t know that admiring someone’s manicure could inspire such catharsis. Can I please have some non-absurd déjà vu? Where’s my past life as Elizabeth I at?

Putting things on repeat happens in my reading life too. I’ve definitely picked up a book and gotten through the first chapter before figuring out that the reason it’s so familiar is that I’ve already read it. (Picture me slamming the book shut, tossing it over my shoulder, and grabbing the next one on the pile. Except since I’m practically married to my Kindle that doesn’t happen, but there is zero dramatic tension in poking a screen to download another book.) The other book déjà vu that’s all déjà too is reading a book that reminds me of another completely-unrelated-yet-completely-similar book, something that happened to me recently as I was reading a book about another one of my favorite icebreaker superpowers, reincarnation.

Casual Friday

Me inventing Casual Friday when I was Elizabeth I

The Forgetting Time The Forgetting Time is documentary producer Sharon Guskin’s debut novel. It’s an intriguing book that explores the question of reincarnation and past lives, specifically the phenomena of children speaking languages, reporting experiences, or describing places about which they could have had knowledge. Jerome Anderson, an academic who has made the study of such instances his career, meets Janie Zimmerman, a desperate mother who is at her wit’s end trying to manage the odd behaviors and intense phobias of her only child, four-year-old Noah. Hoping to parlay Noah’s case into a book that will justify his life’s work, Dr. Anderson works to unravel the mystery of Noah’s struggles. By turns suspenseful and emotionally raw, The Forgetting Time is made all the more interesting by Guskin’s inclusion of case studies from real-life researcher Dr. Jim Tucker’s work documenting children reporting past life memories. I enjoyed this book, but while I was reading it memories of another book kept popping up in my thoughts over and over, a book that I’d actually never read….

Audrey Rose Hahahaha just kidding. I was flinging some dramatic exposition there. I have, in fact, read Audrey Rose, the 1975 horror novel by Frank De Felitta. The book was inspired by De Felitta’s young son, who was so precocious that it was suggested that perhaps he was manifesting talents from a previous life. (Ok really? That is some extreme competitive parenting. “My Bobby is terribly smart but he’s not gifted. He’s reincarnated. We have him with a tutor that specializes in using past lives to get better standardized test scores because just ‘paranormal’ on your resume won’t get you into Harvard anymore. And of course, he goes to Mommy and Me once a week.”) In order to read Audrey Rose, I had to steal it from my dad’s Forbidden Grown-Up Book Stack, a stash of paperbacks that he thought he kept well hidden. I was attracted to the lurid cover, a depiction of a girl walking out of a grave through flames AND YET HER DRESS WAS NOT ON FIRE WHAT POWERFUL ADULT MAGIC WAS THIS? Audrey Rose introduces the Templeton family; they are super happy, except for the part where youngest daughter Ivy is tormented by nightmares of dying a violent death in a car accident. When the father of a child who died in a car accident shows up to share his theory that Ivy is actually his dead daughter, the regression hypnosis for Ivy starts, because the 70s. Spoiler alert: It does not go well.

I love the synchronicity of books existing in parallel, eventually intersecting in the hands of a passionate reader. (ME, I’M THE READER) I don’t think I can claim any kind of special psychic gifts here. It’s basic math. The more I read, the more likely it is that I’m going to get the feeling that I have been there before. It’s like putting my favorite song on repeat. No matter how many times I hear it, I am going to enjoy all over again, every time I press play.  I’ve definitely learned my lesson about complimenting someone’s manicure in a sports bar, though.

Action Items
Dr. Jim Tucker has written a book about his research into children and memories of past lives.

The Reason To Bring A Diva, Part Deux

I had a cross-country flight today–4.5 uninterrupted hours in the air, perfect for some quality time with a diva book. Sadly, no delays, so ONLY 4.5 hours. But still. SQUEEEE.

ICYMI, my very first diva book was Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood. For today’s flight, I brought along The Swans of Fifth Avenue by Melanie Benjamin.


Which, as it turns out, is about Truman Capote and his life with the social elite of New York City during the time that he wrote In Cold Blood. I was reading about Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood. ON A PLANE. It’s all so serendipitously meta that I giggled pretty much the whole flight, which I assure was you was not appropriate considering the subject matter of the book.

Anyway, I recommend The Swans of Fifth Avenue, and not just because I’m on a diva book buzz.

I got so worked up about the whole thing that I’m immediately re-reading In Cold Blood, so if you need me, you know where to find me.




The Reason You Can Stop Looking

Major, important scientific research has been done to examine why people fall in and out of love. Committed relationships are complicated. What makes people choose each other and stay together? Science tells us that the reasons people split apart are layered and complex. Adultery. Financial infidelity. Values incompatibility. I’m not a trained researcher with expertise in data analysis, but I can tell you with 100% certainty that science is dead wrong about why people break up. You know why couples break up? Because one person in the couple will give directions using the words “east, west, north, south” and the other person will give directions using “left and right”. That shit right there will DOOM a relationship. You’d think the ubiquitousness of navigational technology would level out this problem, but it doesn’t, something I am reminded of every time I fire up my smartphone to make it tell me how to get places. That damn woman who lives in there always starts by telling me to go southeast or west and it’s infuriating because I can’t break up with HER.

The point here is, words matter. Choosing the wrong words dooms your attempt at communication, or at least your attempt to get directions to the nearest liquor store. Choosing the correct words opens doors and opens minds, building bridges between you and your goal, important bridges that keep you from falling into a chasm and being eaten by dragons. And, really, it’s dragons that we are here to talk about today. More precisely, my indifference to books about dragons that live in the bottom of chasms. Or robots. Or complex fictional worlds that cross planets or are accessed through tunnels. I am here to confess: I have tried, I really have, but I don’t read science fiction.



Like a Bat Signal, but opposite.


I like the word science. I like the word fiction. I like both of those things a whole damn bunch but when you put them together you get a genre that I avoid like it’s going to sting me and I don’t have my EpiPen. Merriam-Webster says science fiction is “fiction dealing principally with the impact of actual or imagined science on society or individuals or having a scientific factor as an essential orienting component”. Seems simple enough and appealing in theory. In practice, it is a mighty struggle. I think I can count on one hand the number of science fiction books I’ve read. I got through The Hobbit, but I didn’t make it ten pages into The Fellowship of The Ring and really it was more like five pages. Um…let’s see. The Time Traveler’s Wife? Does that count? (Especially if I didn’t like it?) Slaughterhouse Five. Yup…still on one hand, even if I eventually remember I accidentally read anything by Isaac Asimov. Which I can assure you, I haven’t. No Phillip K. Dick. No Ursula K. LeGuin. I’m admitting it right now, there is a lot of great writing that I’m leaving on the table. I have no good reason for it. Let’s all agree that I’m deficient in some way.
Science Fiction: Agreed
Me: Thanks for the pile-on

Whenever anyone talks about their deep and abiding love for The Game Of Thrones or Lord Of The Rings, I feel a little twinge that combines bafflement, jealousy, and sadness. People LOVE these books, and I want to love them too because loving books is my favorite. J.R.R. Tolkein and George R.R. Martin have legions of fans (and a love for the letter R) who embrace the full absorption into the worldbuilding that science fiction and fantasy offer. I’m so left out. It feels like a big party that I am invited to, but can’t muster the interest in attending, so instead of going to the big fun party I’m just going to stay at home and not read any books that require I memorize made-up world names. Or made-up dragon species names. Or made-up languages.
Science Fiction: so you’re just lazy
Me: No I just don’t want to work hard to read those books
Science Fiction: …..
Me: Oh ok. YES.

It’s not possible to like everything, I guess, but how I continually walk away from clearly well-written, epic stuff just makes me roll my eyes at myself. I suppose I’m a more frivolous reader than I’d like to admit, but every once in a while I’ll try. The book Outlander was suggested to me for the first time a few years back. The person recommending told me it was about time travel through magic stones. She lost me at “time travel” and I fled the room at “magic stones” because the only thing that makes time travel less interesting to me is when it’s not done in a spaceship or a tesseract. (A Wrinkle In Time! That’s science fiction right??? Make that list FOUR books!) And magic stones? Just, NO. Her enthusiasm for the book was evident but couldn’t overcome magic stones. Hard pass.

Fast forward to a few years later and my social media newsfeeds are filled with people discussing a book about time travel through magic stones. It rang a dim, distant bell, and I eventually unearth the memory of rejecting this same book. In the intervening time, Outlander built a passionate, dedicated fan base and the author had written eleventy-billion more books. Yup-another science fiction/fantasy epic series that I wasn’t reading. This time, though, I was going to figure out what people were talking about. I was not going to leave myself out in the cold, clutching my tattered copy of In Cold Blood. I got a copy of Outlander and read it, cover to cover. (Wait! FIVE sci-fi books!)
Science Fiction: So you loved Outlander?
Me: I did not say that. I said I read it and tried not to be a dick about it.
Science Fiction: Well, at least you tried
Me: I really did
Science Fiction: Let’s keep this open dialogue going
Me: as long as we don’t have to open it with magic stones
Science Fiction: we’ll just google directions

I guess you can stop looking for me to recap science fiction, but, if I ever run into an actual dragon, I will let you know about it immediately.


Action Items
Does Watership Down count as science fiction?


The Reason This Bag Is So Heavy

Graduations, weddings, bail hearings-spring always brings with it a plethora of occasions appropriately marked with a gift. I have a long list of presents to get and since I solve all my problems with books I am headed to the bookstore. The road to hell may be paved with good intentions, but my road to the bookstore is paved with printed, notarized statements promising myself I will not buy one more book. My picture hangs, poster-sized, in every marketing department of every bookstore in America. “Make her happy”, the head of marketing tells interns at orientation while pointing towards me, “and we’ll always make our stretch sales goals.” But today, I am not shopping for me. I won’t buy myself ANYTHING. It’s about willpower and…um…just willpower, I guess. And iron will. Which I have in spades! It will all be GREAT.

Mystery/Crime Fiction section first! Because nothing says “Congratulations and Best Of Luck!” like a book about a serial killer who psychologically terrorizes people by using psychology.
Me: oooh new thrillers
Book: Pick me!
Me: “This year’s Gone Girl”
Book: But I am way stabbier
Me: chill out book
Me: I’ll take it

Ok, one book for me, but hey- I’m not going to give a murdery book as a gift. That is tacky. Let’s hit up Contemporary Fiction because you know what makes a great gift? What everyone loved at your last book club gathering. Even if it was Fifty Shades Of Grey.
Me: The Lifeguard’s Wife’s Cousin’s Goddaughter’s Female Friend
Book: Oprah loves me
Me: I’m out
Book: But I have angst and hairstyles
Me: No more books where the title defines the female protagonist by her relationship with someone else
Book: Judgy much?
Me: Does David Sedaris have a new book?
Book: He does. It’s called Amy Sedaris’ Brother
Me: Touché.

I really love humorous books and I have a collection of them so I’m going to keep this one too. It’s important to add to collections. It’s called collecting and it’s a real thing LOOK IT UP. Maybe I’ll find some good gifts in History. Something ponderous and weighty about the world and how it turns or something.
Me: Oooooh things happened before
Book: Yes, for many years
Me: I want all the history
Book: Be more specific
Me: Speculative medical practices in ancient Babylonia
Book: TOO specific
Me: Ok anything with Teddy Roosevelt on the cover

History is important, so Teddy is coming with me. I’m working my way over to Science and Nature. Inspiration is going to hit me any time now.
Me: …..
Book: A Brief History Of Time?
Me: I’ve already not read that twice
Books: Cosmos?
Me: Haven’t read that one at least three times
Books: Here’s one about how science proves introverts are awesome
Me: I’ll take one for every room

Cookbooks! Everyone likes snacks! Cookbooks are super gifty.
Me: ooohhh provincial Portuguese farm to table
Book: ok really?
Book: NO. Put me down.
Me: I will totally make my own cheese
Book: no you won’t
Me: It’s Portu-CHEESE get it bwaaahahahahaha

Geography and Travel
Me: (gets tackled and restrained by store employees until I calm down)

One more chance to check off my list – I’m sure I’ll find everything I need in all the fun stuff merchandised by the register.
Me: Origami stationery?
Bookstore: Send a letter that looks like ninja stars!
Me: …send mail that looks like a weapon?
Bookstore: yeah ok that this is not well-thought out

As I stack my books up to pay for them, I swear I hear the tinkling of a bell. I think an intern just got his wings.



Thank you for asking! I do need assistance getting my purchases to my car.


Action Items
Go shopping.


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 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.