The one rule of Kurt Vonnegut.

“There’s only one rule that I know of, babies—God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.”

In some ways, Kurt Vonnegut was a lovely, grumpy old man, but he was also as insightful in a way that most of us will never even hope to accomplish. Vonnegut was (and is, let’s be honest) one of my favorite authors, but this quote has always lingered in my mind. I love the juxtaposition of “God damn it” with “you’ve got to be kind.” His frustration and urgency cannot be neglected. We live in a frustrating, frantic world, and greed is the name of the game in the Western world. It’s all too easy to get caught up in our own feelings and curse those who stand in our way, particularly when they are powerless or faceless, someone you’ll never encounter again. It ems easier to vent those frustrations (and hopes) at infants who can’t understand rather than confront the adults who simply refuse to follow some damn good advice.

Part of my job involves answering phones. Most of the time people are polite, if a little confused. Occasionally, they’ll get condescending when they hear a woman answer the phone, because all we’re paid to do is file our nails and stand between the public and what they want, am I right, ladies? I happen to bite my nails, in no short part due to the stress caused by people like this, so I don’t even need a nail file, thank you very much. But there is one injustice so egregious, so deplorably uncalled for that I couldn’t resist ranting. That, my friends, is the indignant telemarketer.

I would estimate that my place of employment receives at least five sales calls a day. Of those, almost all involve someone saying, “Can I speak to the person who handles your phones?” No, no you cannot. Firstly, we are under contract for our phone services for years. Secondly, if your phone number comes up as “PRIVATE” on my caller ID, chances are that you are not contacting me from a reputable company. Third, unless you’re brand new, you generally don’t have to call people to solicit business. People don’t like that. They’re generally busy at work, or they’re worried that you could be pulling a scam. (At least three times a day, we get automated “THIS IS NOT A SALES CALL” messages that are, yes, fraudulent sales calls about cruises or Google listings.) I usually say sorry, we are not interested/are under contract, and I hang up. There is no need to prolong the conversation.

Only three have I had someone call me back. The first time, a telemarketer called me back just to hang up on me. Touche, brother, touche. The second time, a man was screaming that I didn’t know what I was fucking talking about because I’m not the fucking boss and he’ll fucking report me to the fucking Better Business Bureau, profanity profanity profanity, so I transferred him to my boss, who promptly put him in his place. And then there was today.

INT. OFFICE BUILDING

Casey settles in to sort out some issues after arriving to work twenty minutes late due to train delays. She is frazzled but preparing to make a cup of tea. The phone rings. Casey greets the caller with the firm’s name.

CALLER
Hi, how are you?

CASEY
I’m doing well. How can I help you?

CALLER
Could I speak to the person who handles your phones?

CASEY
I’m sorry, we’re not interested.

Casey hangs up the phone. A moment later, the phone rings again. She notes that the caller ID says “PRIVATE” and braces herself as she says the firm’s name.

CALLER
Can I speak to the person who handles your phones?

CASEY
I’m sorry, we’re not interested. We’re under a contract.

CALLER
You’re going to save money!

CASEY
Sorry.

Casey hangs up the phone again. When it rings, she dutifully repeats the firm’s name in her mind that it is the same person on the other end.

CALLER
You. Little. Bitch!

CASEY
Excuse me?

The caller does not respond. Casey hangs up. End scene.

The rational part of me says not to be offended. That woman probably has people hang up on her all day long, and some of them probably say particularly caustic things to her, just because of her job. On the other hand, what happened to self control? What happened to kindness? It’s easy to spew profanities at someone over the internet or on the phone. There’s no accountability when your only tag is “PRIVATE.” The fact is, we could all consider others more. We could all do better. God damn it, you’ve got to be kind!

I’m an emotional person, and I cannot always make myself feel less just because I know it’s silly to respond to senseless cruelty. I can’t undo the weight in my chest or that dread of what might be looming around the corner today. But I can be kind. I can make sure that the asshole behavior directed at me does not make being an asshole contagious. I will be a better person, not better than that woman on the phone, but better than who I was this morning. I challenge everyone to do the same.

Unless you weren’t a little bitch before, in which case carry on.

Top Ten of 2013: Foy Vance.

3. Foy Vance – Joy of Nothing

I’ve been a big fan of Foy Vance for years. I dragged friends to New York’s annual Craic Fest to see him, and when they were a little frightened by the first act, LaFaro (who rocked my face off, personally), I insisted they stay. Foy didn’t make it on the stage until about midnight, but wow. Worth the wait and then some. At this point, it had been years since his debut album had been released. It would be years until Joy of Nothing. He had nothing new to promote, no connections to shake down, and still he packed that room and sent people singing out into the streets in the middle of the night.

Joy of Nothing has a bit less of the overt soul and blues that Hope contained, but the tragedy and triumph have made their way into the lyrics instead. It’s almost strange to listen to this album because I’ve now seen the guy live a few times and have gotten used to the fantastic singalongs that mark his shows. (“Church without the boring shit,” as he once remarked.) “Guiding Light” in particular is a staple of his performances, lasting for minutes after he has left the stage and bid the audience goodnight. How could that possibly translate? Well, Ed Sheeran’s presence on the song gives it an air of audience participation, but his voice is also notably delicate. It’s clear he treats these words with respect. As should we all.

If you need further convincing, then here you go: Foy had the balls to ask Bonnie Raitt to be on his album. Singing backing vocals. Nicely done, sir.

Top Ten of 2013: The Strypes.

Hello, all. We’ve nearly reached the end of another year, which means that after scrambling to write a novel in November (I did it! I did!), I must now throw the fiction aside and pretend it doesn’t exist until I can critique it. Fortunately December is all about compiling lists, so I can distract myself accordingly.

2013 was a year that brought a lot of albums, a lot of great albums, but not a ton of them rocked me to my bones. I assume most of my blog readers are people who know me and my tastes pretty well, so you may be surprised that some established favorites did not make it on my list this year. That’s right, guys: work harder.

First, my simple standards. All of the albums I include are LPs, not singles or EPs. They were released in 2013, not pushed out at the end of 2012 and thus left off other people’s lists (as I was very much anti-year end list last year, but oh well, people change/get bored)/feel entitled to opinions). And that’s it. Ready?

10. The Strypes – Snapshot

You know that scene in Back to the Future at the dance when Marty takes the guitar and shreds the hell out of “Johnny B. Goode,” startling the entire audience into a thoroughly rocked stupor? That’s how I feel about The Strypes. They’re old-fashioned, blues infused rock…which is pretty impressive since I have about a decade on the band members. They have addictive guitar solos. They have catchy, fun lyrics. This is true talent surging forward without pretension or hype, and I hope these lads go far. Is this even out in America? I have no clue. Get an import if not, because these guys are destined to blow up.

 

Ten Tips for NaNoWriMo.

Oh blog, how I do neglect thee. I apologize humbly for this month of silence. As you may or may not know, I do some music blogging on the side, paid only in MP3s and tickets and the satisfaction of a job well done, except during CMJ when I also get paid in free drinks. So there was a lot of reviewing to be done, and those beers/vodka tonics/whatevers weren’t gonna drink themselves. And then I wound up at an Ed Sheeran afterparty for more free drinks. And then I went to LA to see one of my favorite bands. No regrets, just adventures!

But this brings us to the worst possible time to blog: NaNoWriMo. To writers, this name is like kryptonite. To others, it probably sounds like some arbitrary anime title. For those of you who are curious, or who can’t stand an acronym and can’t be bothered to Google, NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month. It’s actually an international project, so I don’t know why it’s not InNoWriMo. Nobody tells me nuffin’. Anyway, November (another “No”) is when writers across the globe decide to alienate their loved ones even more than usual to write 50,000 words in one month. This binge writing is supposed to swat away the cobwebs, blast away excuses and make it easier to get a very, very rough first draft out. In case that word count seems obscure to you, Wikiwrimo.org offers this list of novels roughly that length:

  • The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams (46,333 words)
  • The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks (52,000 words)
  • The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane (50,776 words)
  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (50,061 words)
  • Lost Horizon by James Hilton
  • Shattered by Dean Koontz
  • Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk
  • Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
  • Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
  • The Invisible Man by H. G. Wells
  • Gadsby: A Story of Over 50,000 Words Without Using the Letter “E” by Ernest Vincent Wright
  • As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner (56,695 words)

As repetitive as Chuck Palahniuk is, that word count probably drops to 40,000, but I digress. It’s long enough to tell a full story, and writing roughly 1,667 words a day to stay on task is not hard. Unless of course you fly to LA for a long weekend away from the computer, finding yourself four days behind around the first week. Which I did. But I caught up, and you can too! So, my writerly friends, if you have time to read (and since I took time out of my busy novel writing to share this), here are my ten tips to make it to the finish line.

1. Write every day. Duh, right? But sometimes you will not feel like it. You will hate every word you put down. It’s a rough draft, and everything accumulates. You’d much rather be ahead than behind come November 29th, trust me.

2. Don’t outline. I know some people who are meticulous planners. I am not one of them. I have no fucking clue what’s happening in my novel, and it’s already surprised me several times. Brainstorming all month is so much better than once at the beginning. Give your novel space to grow.

3. Binge when you can, but know your limits. Sometimes you’re inspired and want to write five thousand words in a day, which is awesome! Go team you! But sometimes you’re just really far behind and want to knock it out. Resist the urge to spend the whole day with an adult diaper and Dunkin’ Donuts as your only friends. If you hate it, it’s not worth doing. Pace yourself. There’s time yet.

4. Accept imperfections. Some things in my novel make little sense. I just haven’t had the time to research them fully. This month is about imagination. Let reality creep in after you’ve built your own world. One day, you will be able to breathe again and reread your novel. That is the time to get critical. Do not line edit, or you will never make it.

5. Stop with the frou-frou names. Something that can take me out of a novel immediately is the character names. If your story is set in Kansas, then your lead is probably not a girl named Katniss Palladium, unless of course you’re writing something dystopian, in which case I want a footnote crediting this blog entry. If your names are overly complicated, everything else is in peril.

6. Don’t be afraid of a little drama. If you’re writing something deeply intellectual but have the urge to do something terrible to a character (a cancer diagnosis, the death of a pet, alien abduction), explore that. This month is for you and what you want to write. Enjoy it, you horrible, sadistic shit.

7. Have a buddy/bully. I used to try NaNoWriMo every year only to crash and burn. It was too close to finals, I was busy with college, blah blah blah. Now that I’m a real adult without a life, I have time! But more importantly, I have a friend also writing. She yells at me to get my writing done, and I yell back. We share plot points and drafts, then yell at each other for our “this sucks but…” disclaimers.

8. Talk about it. Often. People often don’t understand what the NaNoWriMo process is like because they’ve never forced themselves to sit in front of their computers living on carbs, coffee and the occasional booze for a whole month. After all, it doesn’t take that long to binge watch “Breaking Bad.” Remind them of your hobby. If you go out, mention your progress. Get some ideas, or at least be so obnoxious that nobody will invite you anywhere until December.

9. Keep your plot in mind. Don’t just fall back on dialogue because it’s quick and easy to write, as tempting as that may be. Every bit of action should go toward building your story in some minor or major way. This really is a short novel, barely more than a novella, so your scenes should have purpose. If you listened to me say not to outline, this will be no problem whatsoever since you may have no clue what you’re writing.

10. When in doubt, kill off a character. Look, this approach has always worked for me. That’s something, right? Right?!

International Day of the Girl Child.

When I moved to New York, I was desperate enough to be hopeful. I had been working for nearly a year at a newspaper job that paid me just over nine dollars an hour. One of my superiors harassed me on a daily basis, criticizing everything from my work to my shoes. She called me in the middle of the night to berate me and embarrassed me in front of my peers. When I reported her behavior, I was told that it wasn’t “personal” and that I should tolerate her attempts to sabotage my professional career, all for little more than minimum wage. I lived with my parents. I paid only the interest on my student loans. I saved and went out little and amassed enough to get me to New York City, the beacon of all things creative. The first month without a job was breathtaking. I went out often to breathe in this new place was that now my home, filled with so many parks and stores, colors and shadows, shores and claustrophobic roads.

The second month, I grew desperate. I applied to any job I could. I had no experience handling food, but I decided to go to an open call for Subway employees. It would be something, I told myself. It would only be temporary. I was embarrassed to walk into the narrow shop holding my resume with its useless Latin and Greek praises–summa cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa, Sigma Tau Delta. I sat down with the owner at one of his small tables, but he didn’t even glance at my (over)qualifications. “You should know I don’t hire girls,” he said.

I was stunned. “But that’s illegal.” My protest sounded weak even to my own ears. Why would I want to work for a man who would hate me for lacking a Y chromosome? Because I had to pay my rent and student loans. Because I had to eat.

“Girls cry whenever there’s a problem. They cried every day here. They do not work. Are you going to cry?”

I didn’t cry. I left the shop enraged that I had wasted $4 of my rapidly dwindling funds on the round trip. The worst part of this story? I’m one of the luckiest girls in the world.

Sexism comes in so many forms that we ladies have to harden ourselves to it because we do not have enough time, patience, or sanity to confront all of the issues we encounter on a daily basis. A man almost ran into me at a door two hours ago because he wasn’t paying attention. He apologized and quickly added, “I only look at the women I’m interested in.” Excuse me? As a white, arguably middle class American who isn’t exactly skinny or the conventional version of “beautiful,” I encounter sexism that is most frequently based on my looks or my so-called ability to do a job. This is unacceptable, and yet I’m fortunate for the privilege. We live in a world where some girls are considered property. Families sell their daughters into prostitution, into rape. Female babies are murdered because male children are more desirable. There isn’t enough time and there are not enough words to depict the atrocity that happens around the world every day to girls specifically due to their gender.

We do not deserve this. We were not born weak or lesser or lacking. We are beautiful in spirit and do not need to have perfectly symmetrical faces and white teeth and impossible hair in order to have worth. We are just as capable of being intelligent, productive, strong, creative, and remarkable as our male peers. Magazines should not be telling us how to wear skirts and get skinny enough to resemble a heavily manipulated impossibility; they should be teaching us empathy. We live in a society that makes a killing on fostering doubt and unhappiness. (Are we the Photoshop proletariat?)

Today is the second annual International Day of the Girl Child. This is not a Hallmark holiday created to make you buy a card. The United Nations came up with this. Girls around the world suffer due to lack of access to education, healthcare, and other opportunities for personal advancement. They are taught to marry, to reproduce, to obey. The laws and punishments that stand in the way of some of these obstacles are horrific. You may think it’s a world away and just too much drama to bring into your own life, but what you don’t have to imagine is someone’s brutal reality.

I’d recommend some charities here to help out, but honestly, to do the research on your own is an empowering and humbling process. If you can, please reach out and help out the girls and women of countries less fortunate than your own. If you don’t have any money to spare, as so many feel today, volunteer. Get involved. Just tell one girl around you how much she means to you. Strive for equality every day. Then maybe eventually I won’t have to write posts like this.

Fuck the Tea Party (yes, I’m mad and I swear).

Fuck the Tea Party.

Seriously, I have no kinder words for these people. Fuck them. If you think that’s harsh and unfair, I’m going to do my best to explain my opinion, but if you still disagree at the end, you should probably just roll your eyes and move on because I won’t be able to lift my jaw off the floor to even fight with you.

As a young, single woman who has spent much of her post-college life uninsured, I am a fan of the Affordable Care Act. I don’t think it goes far enough to correct the overwhelmingly awful health care model we have in America, but it’s a start. We are the only country of power and wealth that has this sort of backwards system. “But I don’t want to pay for the lazy to have health insurance!” you may cry. Are you saying I was lazy for the three years when I was working full time in a depressed economy? Under the ACA, I would have been covered by my parents’ health insurance until I found my current job, which finally gave me a break so I could see a doctor (but not a dentist, but that’s a rant I’ve already covered, methink). “But it’s hurting employers!” No, it’s not. That’s stupid. “But I don’t want to cover some slutty slut’s slut pills!” Look, if you’re not going to support programs to feed children in poverty or let ladies have the right to choose safe, legal abortions, you’re going to have to concede some free birth control. When individual aspects of the ACA are polled on their own, they get overwhelming support by the public. Call it “Obamacare,” and people freak out. Misinformation about the law is rampant, so educate yourself before you slam it.

You see how I called it a law? Because it’s a law. It was passed by both houses of Congress. The president signed it into law. The Supreme Court upheld it. Obama basically made his reelection campaign about it, and he won. Republicans have tried to repeal this law several times, and they’ve been defeated every time. I repeat, this is a law that will not be repealed under normal circumstances. To take the entire nation and, now for a sexy twist, WORLD economy hostage to try to repeal a law you can’t repeal through the proper legislative process is stupid, dangerous, and unprecedented. I’d call it childish, but that would be an insult to children, who have to take social studies/civics class and therefore have a firmer grasp of how the government is supposed to work.

Our country has basically been living paycheck to paycheck for a while now. Congress has been having debt ceiling fights for years, and yes, we spend an awful lot of money and don’t do a very good job with it. But that’s why liberal and conservative minds get together and hash out ideas that can please both sides to a certain degree. Obviously that should be a priority of government at all times, to be as efficient and good to your people as possible, but raising the debt ceiling was never controversial before Obama. There’s even an episode of The West Wing (RIP, one of the best shows on tv) where Democrats try to attach a minimum wage hike to the debt ceiling bill. The Republicans are scandalized that anyone would play political chess with the debt ceiling. It’s routine! How could you? The solution: the minimum wage amendment becomes its own bill, the debt ceiling is raised through a clean bill, and America gets a $10 minimum wage. Oh fictional world, I wish I lived in you.

We’ve been under sequester conditions for months. We never fixed that. Instead it’s all been about passing another CR and then getting to the debt limit. The fact that we even had to endure the sequester is bullshit since it was supposed to be so horrible that everyone would just give up and find a compromise. Apparently that was as successful as my great-grandmother’s hopes that I would eat some chicken last month because chicken is obviously vegetarian-friendly. So the government needed to pass a CR to keep paying its shit. Rather than do that like, I don’t know, representatives of the people who elected them and pay their salaries, one fraction of one party in one house of one branch of government decided the death of a law they didn’t like. This did not work out, so they tried to delay and castrate the law instead. This also didn’t work. If you don’t have permission to shoot a law point blank, then asking to merely poke it all over with a steely blade until it bleeds to death isn’t going to go over either. Just sayin’. And it didn’t. And now our government is almost entirely shut down. All the House had to do was pass a clean CR. Their stance is, “Well, all the Senate had to do was pass one of our ridiculous bills.” It’s like a bank robber blaming the police for a hostage getting hurt because they didn’t hand over a helicopter.

Let’s be perfectly clear here. House Republicans, or really the core Tea Party nutjobs puppeteering this shitshow, are the ones responsible. “But Obama and Democrats won’t negotiate!!!!” you might cry breathlessly between involuntary utterances of “Benghazi” (as Rand Paul has already linked the two, like the creative chap he is). How do you negotiate with someone who wants to give you nothing? Sane people want to keep the government running. Insane people think it’s okay to risk everything to get rid of a LAW. The only thing they’re open to negotiating is the form of execution and whether Obama would like to smoke one last cigarette while it happens since oh my god he used to smoke and he’s afraid of his wife and let’s misquote a joke! The only thing that Democrats stand to gain is the government reopening, which should not be an accomplishment since the government should be able to keep the fucking government running. Republicans have everything to gain, except they don’t because their demands are stupid and ridiculous. Even if you don’t care for the ACA, and you can have an opinion that doesn’t match mine, if you think this unprecedented political circus is worth saving us all from, gasp, better health coverage at almost universally lower rates, I feel really sad for you. Genuinely sad for your lack of empathy. How do you relate to other people? Because wow.

Now we’re approaching our country defaulting. This is unreal. Do you know what the Republican response is? Well, some people feel the heat and realize that this needs to get wrapped up to save some face since most Americans blame the Republicans for this mess (while blaming Democrats and Obama too, admittedly, but quite a bit less). Others just want to pass mini-bills to pick and choose which sections of government to open, because they only want to take social services hostage, not the parts of government to which they pander. And then there are those who have their heads so far up their own asses that their brains must not be getting any oxygenated blood, like Jim Sensenbrenner, Wisconsin Republican and one of the architects of this mess. Proving he has absolutely no clue what he’s done or how to fix it, he said this to The Guardian: “I don’t know if the drop dead date on the debt limit is going to be 17 October because the government is not spending any money now. This might get pushed back a little bit further.” This man knows fully well that parts of the government are open, that he and his peers will get paid in full, and that his party is trying to open even more bits of government to keep this crisis going. His response? To close his eyes, stomp his feet, and pretend that there’s nothing at risk but the freedom to die because you can’t afford health care coverage in this humiliating country.

This is more than a financial crisis. People are not receiving the social services or incomes that they need. While you may think that it’s great that you’re not paying for the food of some lazy asshole who won’t get a job, what about the cancer patients who can’t get treatment? What about the children denied food? Not everyone with government assistance is lazy. Not everyone has the ability to lift himself or herself up by the bootstraps. We are punishing our citizens while the punishers get paid. I don’t care that some of them are giving their salaries to charity, even though one Congresswoman in favor of the shutdown, Renee Ellmer, refuses to surrender her pay because she needs it. Get that? She needs to get paid many times more than the average household wage in America. The people furloughed? Fuck ’em. Randy Neugebauer (Republican, Texas) told a park ranger she should be ashamed of herself for keeping veterans out of national parks that have been closed by the shutdown that he helped create. She had no say in that room, but he did. He is the one failing veterans (not just in access to parks, but inevitably other services soon if things don’t change), and no amount of stupid PR walking some veterans to memorials will change the facts. Congresspeople should be working on a clean CR and a raised debt ceiling and a resolution to a fuckton of political and economic issues. They should not be out taking photos and sucking up to veterans. Don’t get me wrong, it sucks that they can’t get to memorials for their fallen comrades, but the parks never should have been closed.

It boils down to sabotage, plain and simple. These delusional Tea Party assholes are putting us through all of this for one law. You may say the Democrats ought to cave since it’s one sticking point. But the Democrats have negotiated many, many times over debt ceiling crises, crises that are all manufactured since Congress refuses to operate the way it did under other presidencies, and it has only gotten them more crises. These few members of Congress are impeding the very nature of constitutional democracy, and they should be ashamed of themselves. They are no patriots, for if they loved their country, they would do their damn jobs and deal with changing laws during a normal session. Instead, they inflict this suffering upon us all and claim to represent their people. That is disgusting and embarrassing. Their behavior is nothing short of insane, and I truly hope my Republican friends will speak loudly within their party encouraging these shameful individuals to stop putting the world economy at risk.

But I stand by what I opened with. Fuck the Tea Party.

PS – Let me shoot down two things I’ve seen on Facebook. Amendment 28 to the Constitution? It doesn’t exist. Google is your friend, as are facts.

And as for this:

1) “Democrat” and “Republican” do not mean the same thing today that they did back then. 2) This is really irrelevant if you’re saying Democrats have a history of evil, since I would like to remind you that Donald Trump is a Republican. 3) If you think generations of forced labor, torture, poverty, rape, and murder is comparable to the possibility that maybe if you’re rich you’ll have to pay more so other people can have health care so maybe they won’t burden other social programs your taxes already pay for, you are beyond help. To put it in my best Jesse Pinkman way, check your privilege, bitch! This disgusts me. I give up and will now go back to writing funny things and praising music.

Why Is Everything Sexist?

It’s not easy having a unisex name. Roughly half of folks read my name and assume I’m a guy, and the other half responds with “Really? I’ve never known a guy Casey. I always think of it as a female name.” Then there are the few stragglers who assume that since I am denied a Y chromosome, my name must be manipulated into the more feminine “Cassie” or, worse yet, “Cassandra.” The occasional hopeful has asked me what my middle name is in order to establish firmer gender grounds. Alas, while “Jo” is the female spelling, it is also short for nothing. Said out loud, my name is pretty damn neutral. Simply presented, such as through writing, people assume what they will, and I’m sometimes met with surprise…even disappointment for not being a dude. I assure you, I’m bummed too, guys. Bras are really expensive, not to mention the other costs associated with being a woman.

Why am I leading in with that blurb? Because I’ve seen gender bias all my life. It’s everywhere, and it sucks. Sometimes I can suspend my disbelief and righteous fury in order to actually get through the day without blowing my lid. After all, I am a fan of horror films, and those can be notoriously sexist. But really, honestly, I have to ask: why is everything sexist now?

It’s not new that our lady popstars are critiqued mostly on how they look and how capably they can gyrate their bodies than how they can sing. That’s what autotune is for, right? It’s also not new that there’s a tendency for male lyrics to subjugate women in rather disturbing ways. But for the love of God, every time I hear “Blurred Lines” on the radio, my impulse to shake my shoulders along to the catchy beat is defeated by my absolute disgust. “I’ll give you something to tear your ass in two”?! I know I can’t speak for the entirety of womankind, but I personally like to be able to sit down from time to time, and I’m much more interested in someone who doesn’t serenade me with ‘sexy’ threats. If you haven’t seen the comparison of Robin Thicke lyrics to the words of rapists, please give that link a click. The overlap is beyond creepy because the song is too. Then you have the music video where topless women dance around fully clothed men who need balloons to tell the world that they have a big dick. They’ll claim that it’s all in good fun. To that I say: your penis is likely very small, and your brain smaller.

It’s not that this video is worse than decades of hip hop, pop, and rock videos with women dancing in little or no clothing. It’s just that we’ve made so little progress that this can be crowned “The Song of the Summer” with uncensored nudity on YouTube (because ART), but parodies that subvert men in similar ways are decried as being sexist, going too far, hating men. If you tell a woman that she wants to have sex with you when she doesn’t, and you act on that impulse no matter what her opinion is, she is an object to you, not a person. You are the problem. You can laugh off how “charming” and flippant Robin Thicke is, but the guy has appeared with naked women on multiple occasions for press, claimed his wife insisted, put his hand on another woman’s ass (and likely did much more), and gets away with it because he’s a guy. When Miley twerked all over his body, she was the one crucified, even though his Beetlejuice outfit was arguably more garish than her PVC flesh colored bikini…thing. If it sings like a creep, leers like a creep, and fondles like a creep, it’s a creep.

But let’s move away from music before my brain explodes. I never had a vested interest in Robin Thicke’s music anyway, so of course I can roll my eyes and shake my fist. What about something I enjoy? Well, folks, I have an example for you there as well. When I moved to New York City all by my lonesome, it took me a while to find a job. In the midst of the depression that came from all my rejected applications, I had only Netflix to keep me company. That was when I first binge-watched Dexter. As I’ve said, I love horror, so I’m used to separating my lady senses from the rest of my brain to enjoy a bit of gore. There are some spoilers from here, so tread lightly.

Dexter’s appeal is its emotional manipulation: the coldhearted serial killer trying to pass as normal while doling out his moral justice to more heinous criminals. We want to see him defeat the Big Bads and take out some other guys on the way. Dexter was driven to kill by seeing his own mother hacked to pieces when he was just a baby, and he tends to take a firm stand when women are raped and/or murdered. What could be more feminist than that?

Well, a lot. Women on the show only exist to be victims, nags, or love interests, often occupying more than one box. Even when women are a threat to Dexter, they inevitably meet their doom in a rather convenient way. The show was even gracious enough to give Dexter’s adoptive sister Deb some super incesty feelings toward her brother-from-another-mother, because the poor girl didn’t have a bad enough time falling in love with pretty much anyone who would die a horrible death anyway. For the record, the incest thing doesn’t work as well on a modern show as it does on Game of Thrones.

So this is the last season of Dexter. I believe it ends Sunday or the week after. I’m not sure since I stopped watching. I’ve made it through the incest, the women who die for Dexter, the rape victim who physically throws herself at Dexter for saving her, the serial killer he couldn’t dispatch because she was just too damn sexy. Now? I’m just over it. Of course when a long-lost daughter turns up to give Masuka a bit of well-deserved back story, she works in a topless restaurant. (The actress who plays her, by the way, is 21. Gotta get those barely legal tits in there!) I’m not going to moralize and tell women what to do with their own agency, but as the show winds down, it’s apparent that women only exist to fall in love with Dexter (the equivalent of falling in love with a monotonous piece of cardboard that is a really shitty father who’s never around) or stand in his way. It doesn’t matter how many women appear to save Dexter only to be murdered in a terrible fashion. All we’re supposed to care about is Dexter getting away with it, preferably with his leggy blonde who returns to him even though she’s wanted for murder and really ought to avoid the city where she committed her crimes. It makes no sense, and I’m sick of women only existing as accessories on an increasingly poorly written and plotted show. Don’t tell me the ending; I’ll roll my eyes at Wikipedia instead.

So Modern Culture, yes, we’re free to take off our clothes and be free, but could you please, please give us an option between being sexy or being utterly ignored? We can take things in stride–we have to every day just to avoid having strokes on a biweekly basis–but give us a fucking break. Not all of us want to hump wrecking balls naked to get attention.

To the woman who tried to publicly shame me.

To the woman who tried to publicly shame me,

Good morning. We didn’t get to say good morning to one another on the elevator this morning. I know it’s frustrating that it’s only Thursday, that it’s gloomy out, that the building always has so much air conditioning that you have to wonder if Hell may have frozen over.

I’m sorry I didn’t get a chance to introduce myself. I was already in the elevator when you stepped on, and my floor’s subtenant was also already in the lift. We have common interests such as Shark Week, so we were already deep into a conversation about the dead shark that was found on an N train recently. (Did you hear about that? Someone gave it a Red Bull, a Metrocard, and a cigarette! Hipsters!) I can only assume you were leaning in to eavesdrop on this conversation, looking for your moment to strike, when you heard it. Your entry point.

My knuckle cracked.

Now, I hadn’t twisted my fingers together to let loose a cracking avalanche inflicting such auricular torment that is usually only reserved for Mariah Carey during her most divalicious moments. I think I had my hand on the railing of the elevator, and the lift wiggled. Body parts move. Sometimes they make noises. Rest assured that I was not trying to get your attention when my knuckle committed sonic mutiny. I’m a good girl. My family didn’t raise me like that.

“Stop THAT,” you snapped, barely turning to look at me.

“Stop what?” I asked, since I could not tell if you had a shark phobia and wished for us to end our conversation. Maybe you didn’t believe in talking on elevators. I didn’t know.

THAT.” If words could gesture, yours would have been stabbing its serifs at my digits. “THAT will give you arthritis.”

Do you have a traumatic history with the words “cracking your knuckles?” Are you allergic? If you say it three times, will it happen again? Did you mistake me for Beetlejuice? If so, I understand your confusion since I am wearing a striped shirt, but my top is grey and black horizontal stripes, whereas he favored black and white vertical stripes. If only you’d introduced yourself, we could have cleared that up easily!

I’m sorry I laughed at your intensity. Arthritis is hardly infrequent in my family, and I myself have been treated for “arthritis-like” pain in the past. I was in 4th grade and could hardly stand from the pain. Though all the symptoms I described sounded like arthritis, I did not have the joint damage or physical signs that would lead to a diagnosis. I was afraid my cracking bones had led to me being bed-bound for days. The doctor told me this simply wasn’t true. Based on my firsthand knowledge and continued research, I asserted, “That’s not true.”

“It is,” you insisted. “I’ve read research.”

“So have I,” I said. You were older than me, perhaps in your forties or fifties, and this is a respectable skyscraper. I felt my confidence begin to drain because it was entirely possible you worked in or with medicine. Maybe you knew more recent research than I did.

“You’ll see,” you pressed smugly. “Come see me in twenty years!” You paused dramatically, then added, “YOU WILL REMEMBER THIS CONVERSATION!”

Mostly I remember the awkward silence that followed since we were still several stops from your floor. Skyscrapers, what a bitch.

I’ll admit that you made me feel bad, stranger. You belittled me in front of a colleague. You treated me like a child and assumed I knew nothing. You spoke with such indignation and anger that you created doubt within me. I doubted myself and let your negativity in, and even when my companion said, “That was really rude” and “I bet her face will still look the same in twenty years, eesh,” I only took minimal relief.

But I want to thank you. Because of you, I’ve been doing some research. Maybe I don’t have access to unreleased medical studies yet, but the BBC, MSN, WebMD, Discovery Health, Medical News Today, and The Johns Hopkins Arthritis Center all agree with me that your arthritis claims are bogus. Doctor Donald Unger cracked the knuckles in one hand for over sixty years without doing so to the other, and he developed no problems in either hand. I could be wrong, even with all of this evidence (or lack thereof) to back me up. I’m open to it. If you would like to correct me should we meet again, please do, but perhaps you could exercise a bit more kindness. Maybe you’d be happier if you watched Sharknado. It worked for us.

Also, I’m going to crack my knuckles in front of you deliberately next time. Because you’re a bitch.

Dear Musicians: Just Stop. Please.

Hello! I’m certain that I have now claimed the attention of all the prominent musicians on the scene, so I’d hate to waste your time fumbling around verbally. I write to you today to address one key issue: some of you have just lost the fucking plot.

Obviously the music industry is a big, muddled mess right now, with the people on the top wanting to keep their profits while technology makes it easier and faster to discover new talent and consume music, whether you pay for it directly or not. I won’t even go into the streaming services and how many of them don’t give artists their fair share. I’m here to talk about the art itself. Kanye West’s latest release, the insanely hyped Yeezus, seemed to build hype by simply refusing to play the game. This supposedly wouldn’t be about dropping singles for the radio, though a video leaked for “Black Skinhead” demonstrates that West does care about gaining and keeping an audience, rather than creating art in a vacuum and then isolating himself from response. I even saw a Buzzfeed article about why Yeezus as an album was unleakable; I believe it hit the Internet the very next day. If Kanye’s not even immune, how the hell do you create buzz?

Well, if you’re Jay-Z, you get some time during a big basketball game to announce your upcoming record, available for free early to one million people if you used a certain phone with a certain app. I’m an Apple user with an iPhone and a Macbook Pro, and I’m not even mad that I couldn’t get my hands on this for free, especially since the app itself has been widely criticized for data mining. Yes, a lot of apps do that anyway, but it’s a fucking album. If I go to buy a physical CD, I’m pretty sure there isn’t a tracking device in the jewel case to study where I’m going and to bug my apartment to listen to all the phone calls I don’t make (except to my mom at least once a week; hi, Mom). A music release is about what a musician does in the studio to capture that moment in his or her career. It is not about collecting your audience’s personal information in order to know your demographic and then react accordingly. Make the music you want to make, not what you think people will want to hear! Incidentally, I don’t like his other publicity stunts, including putting Magna Carta…Holy Grail on display next to an original of the Magna Carta, trivializing the importance of the document while NOT granting Jay-Z an unlikely audience since let’s face it, nobody going to check out the Magna Carta is going to feel compelled to go buy an album because they saw the cover art. It’s just endless article fodder for free because a rich, popular person has the means of being that cocky.

I’m also not thrilled by his six-hour rap performance for his “Picasso Baby” music video. Whether a tongue-in-cheek approach to the art world or a sincere attempt at performance art, such stunts have been done recently, even in New York. In collaboration with Ragnar Kjartansson, an actual artist, The National performed at the Museum of Modern Art for, yes, you guessed it, six hours. Unlike Jay-Z’s exclusive event, again more about press and a video than actually giving to fans, The National’s performance was open to the public, announced in advance, and not a song from their latest album anyway. The National’s performance feels to me like actual performance and art, particularly given the venue and the individuals involved. Jay-Z’s feels like a means to an end, even if he is a talented person.

So I don’t want you to strut your stuff in the art world for six hours. What’s left? Well, Justin Timberlake and Robin Thicke have recently taken the creepy sexist approach. Music videos are nothing new, and even Whitesnake were sure to have a scantily clad woman roll around on the hood of a car just to get some attention. But since when do women have to get naked while a man remains fully clothed? There’s enough sexual harassment to go around in many artists’ lyrics these days; you don’t have to generate buzz by making women into objects. And while we’re on the subject: Miley, girl, no. I’m all for you doing your own thing and reinventing yourself, but you’ve taken cultural appropriation a step too far. Own your sexuality, whatever, but when your music video involves a man seemingly to achieve orgasm while eating bread, you cease to be someone that an audience can take seriously.

One final thing you should stop doing: apps. I already aired my grievances about Jay-Z’s app. Bjork’s endeavor I do consider interesting because she’s Bjork, but I never got the app and feel no need to see it. If you launch an app to keep up with news, images, videos, then that’s cool. If you’re doing it to create games, chats, and a Whole New World (©Aladdin, of course) for your fans, then just slow down a bit, buddy. Lady Gaga has gone and finally announced release dates for her new album, new single, and new app. I’m not a fan of Lady Gaga’s anyway, but this is just indulgent tripe. It makes it so the best fans are the ones who have the devices necessary to access the “full package.” If you don’t have an iPhone, or a certain Samsung device, or constant Internet access, then you’re just not good enough to be the target audience. When big artists want to make big waves, they have the money to get up in your faces, and they want a return on that investment.

So, dear musicians, how do you get an audience for your music? Make a good album. That’s it. You consume music with your ears. Most of the rest is optional. Start there, and please don’t treat your fans as customers or broken souls who need you to connect them to mend and become something greater. You’re human, we’re human. Let’s dig some tunes.

10 Reasons to Respect West Virginia

On this day in 1863, West Virginia became its own state. Since then, it has endured jokes about incest, dirtiness, redneck shenanigans, moonshine, NASCAR, stupidity, and much more. As my friends know, I grew up in West Virginia, and while I don’t love everything about the state, I can honestly say that it gets a far worse reputation than it deserves. Buckle in, do some reading, and have a little goddamn respect. You can make fun of Kentucky instead. (Just kidding.)

1. It’s the only state to carve itself out of the territory of another state…without that state’s permission. John McCain only wishes he could be this much of a maverick.

2. It’s also the only state to be created by Presidential Decree. Lincoln had our backs. Oh, and this was the Civil War, so we became part of the Union, and the rest of Virginia went on to lose. Because they were losers. Unlike us. Good timing.

3. We’ve spawned celebrities and major figures too. Do you like “The Andy Griffith Show?” We had Don Knotts, who played Barney Fife. Prefer drama? John Corbett, Brad Dourif. Comedy? Steve Harvey. Music? Brad Paisley. Books? Pearl S. Buck. Gymnastics? Mary Lou Retton. Tim Burton? He’s not from West Virginia, but Jack Skellington himself, Chris Sarandon, is. Breaking the sound barrier? CHUCK YEAGER.

Hell, even if your only interest in life is One Direction, we brought forth Morgan Spurlock, director of the upcoming One Direction documentary and previous writer/creator/director of…you know, much better things.

4. You can legally purchase 153-proof Everclear. The 190-proof stuff is illegal, much like owning semiautomatic weapons, because people are stupid and prone to killing themselves and one another with that much power. Basically, we’ve got your back in the booze department, and if you’re that dumb, you can find moonshine.

5. Do you like Golden Delicious apples? We made them, motherfucker. This helped bring about my favorite apple, Cripps Pink, so I approve.

6. West Virginia is Jay Gatsby approved. Raise a glass, old sport, and check out Leonardo DiCaprio wearing a West Virginia hat (with bonus, jealous Mick Jagger). Here he is again. Here he is doing so with a vuvuzela. He isn’t the only celebrity, but this should persuade a great many people.

7. It’s the only state completely nestled in Appalachia. That means we have awesome music from folk origins and aren’t afraid of a little fiddle, banjo, dulcimer, mandolin, and autoharp to go with our guitar. You might think Appalachia is lame. Tell that to Kevin Cosner after his career finally got a shiny new Emmy for “Hatfields & McCoys.” We’re a musical, storytelling culture set in some natural beauty you wish you had.

8. The Greenbrier Resort held more than a thousand foreign prisoners during World War II. This hotel was turned into an army hospital and place to keep diplomats and their families until they could be traded back to hostile countries. Later, the resort put prisoners to work around the grounds.

9. Speaking of the Greenbrier, there was a secret bunker built beneath it to shelter Congress in the case of nuclear attack. Is that James Bond enough for you? This was called Project Greek Island, and I’d recommend reading up on it. It was exposed by none other than my brilliant journalism professor Ted Gup, and you can read the article here.

10. You already get drunk and sing “Country Roads.” Admit it, you know all the words. It’s catchier than Rihanna. So kick off your shoes, pour yourself a bourbon (or all the bourbon), and let John Denver take you away.