Monday, May 16, 2011

On Reading Trash for Fun and... Fun

Sometimes, you gotta do what you gotta do. You know -- like use toilet paper in place of coffee filters because you've run out and it's 6:30am and there's no way you're capable of getting ready for work without that first cup of the morning.

I don't drink coffee, but I've seen this in a movie, so I know it's real.

Along those same lines, sometimes you just gotta read what you gotta read.

The summer before my senior year of college, I remained at school in order to take a couple of requirements I'd put off during the school years. Sometimes it was easier to do the more difficult classes during summer term, since you went to the class every single day and the information tended to stick better in your brain for what was usually a weekly test. I think this particular summer I took a class called "Math in the Social Sciences," which was math for idiots who couldn't handle normal math (you know -- English and History majors, and maybe the occasional Art major) -- mostly we did things like "map the optimal route for the postal worker," but there was one section on probability that the entire class of 60 collectively failed. I also took Grammar. Not like the grammar shit you learned in elementary school and your junior year of high school, but Grammar for senior level English majors -- people who might actually become professors of Grammar someday. That shit was difficult. I barely scraped a B. That class brought down my 4.0 in-major GPA. I was pissed.

But not as pissed as I was about the third class I took that summer: American Literature of the Early 20th Century. Or something like that -- it was all Dos Passos, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Faulkner, with a dash of Willa Cather and a light dusting of Gertrude Stein. The professor we got stuck with for this class was a classic professorial douchebag: over 70, drunk, hated women (except, you know, Willa Cather and Gertrude Stein), hated students in general and teaching in particular. My classmates were half fellow English majors, and half not -- the second half consisted of three perpetually confused but game Sigma Alpha Epsilon brothers; a bitter, argumentative girl named Willow who seemed to own a week's worth of orange shirts; and some other quiet people who mostly sat in the back and tried not to fail. The professor was, yes, a douchebag, but he did end up grudgingly liking me and the frat boys because we four always, without fail, picked up on the sexual euphemisms in the books. English lit professors appreciate that sort of thing, but sadly never test on it.

There was a shitload of reading to be done.

I don't even know how to define "shitload" as it pertained to that class, but the term was 10 weeks long, and we read about 12 books. So I guess that's the definition. 12 books, 8 of them really difficult, only half of them really enjoyable -- it was through this class that I learned to loathe with every fibre of my being the hell that is a William Faulkner novel (and don't let Oprah trick you! Faulkner sucks!). I did learn to love Hemingway, though, and that love endures, so I guess that's something. It was a lot of reading, and a lot of work.

This particular summer was not really about having a good time. Not reallyat all. I can count on one finger the number of parties we went to.

I was sharing a house with four other friends that we sublet from one of my Sigma Kappa besties, and since there were five women in their early twenties living in one small house, one could always find one of the following three things if one needed them: expensive shampoo and conditioner in the shower; Ben & Jerry's ice cream in the freezer; and multiple copies of Vogue, Elle, and Cosmopolitan magazines lying around in the living area. And I don't know about now, because Cosmo is trash, but back then, they used to publish excerpts from romance novels every month. And one day, I picked up the latest Cosmo (brought into the house by someone else - I suspect the other Shannon but it might have been Tish) just to rest my brain for twenty minutes or so. And came upon the most delightful book excerpt I've ever read in a magazine: the third chapter of Judith McNaught's Paradise.

Now, up to that point in my life (I was 21 years old), I had actually never voluntarily read a romance novel. Period. End of story. I had been forced by my older sister to read the ever-so smutty book Lace when I was a mere sixth grader, but I barely understood a third of what went on, and I'm not sure it qualifies as a romance novel -- it doesn't really seem to follow the proper conventions. But this excerpt from Paradise -- oh, it gripped me. It just sucked me right in with its promises of drama and romance and sex. And I did what I had to do: I drove to the mall, marched straight to the bookstore, and picked up a copy of the book. In hardcover. I was a broke college student and I bought it new, in hardcover. In order for this book purchase to appear less embarrassing, I purchased A.S. Byatt's Possession and a Star Wars novel, Heir to the Empire, at the same time (also in hardcover, and I'm not sure how I thought that was less embarrassing than the romance novel, but whatever, right?).

And then I went home and immediately started reading Paradise.

Now, this was not a short book. And I did have other shit I needed to do. So I really couldn't allow myself to read it the way I normally do: give up all other responsibilities or interests for the next several hours and read it straight through in one sitting, maybe two if I exhibited some sort of self-control. No, I had to treat myself to it, a chapter or two at a time. You know -- get x amount of work done, and then you can read a chapter. If you're really good, you can read two. So I took to carrying it around in my backpack so I could bust it out on campus if I had spare time. And one day, I got to the American lit class early and had some time to read, so I took it out and read a few pages before others began to show up, then closed it when someone engaged me in conversation.

And then this one quiet bookish girl I'd been in classes with all through college looked over at the book sitting on my desk and asked, "What's that book?"

And I got all embarrassed -- I mean, it has flowers and a string of pearls on the cover -- and said, "Oh. It's just this romance novel I'm reading."

And she looked all envious and said, "You mean for fun?"

Other people had begun to pay attention to our conversation by this point. I nodded. "Yes. For fun. I needed some light reading." And everyone nodded. They could, of course, relate.

And then she asked, "What's it about?"

We still had ten or fifteen minutes before class began. So I gave them a synopsis of what I'd read so far. And let me just tell you: they too were gripped by the tale of the Chicago socialite who falls in love at the age of 18 with a dashing oil rig worker ten years her senior, gets her heart broken, and then has the opportunity for a second chance several years later (in fact, as she's turning 30, which is a romance novel convention, apparently -- not too old, but not too young, I assume is the thinking).

And so it was that a strange thing happened: By unspoken mutual agreement, almost everyone started showing up to class twenty minutes early, and the book got passed around and read aloud over the next several weeks. Even the frat boys joined in. It was crazy -- I mean, English majors had never exactly been known for our camraderie. But here we were, practically friends. We were all addicted to this book. We needed it. We needed it as a break from the serious, difficult and sometimes tortuous required reading. Yeah, we all laughed at it, and snickered our way through the only-slightly steamy sex scenes. But we did love it. Every single word. As much as we loved Hemingway or Fitzgerald.

Because sometimes, you gotta read what you gotta read.

I've been going through this a little bit lately. I'm working really hard, writing a novel, and already making outlines for a sequel. It's difficult. Rewarding, because I know I'm going to finish, and I know it's good, but still really difficult. And you know how much I read -- three or four books a week, usually, depending on length. And I just can't read anything serious right now. God knows I've tried. I have four books with bookmarks sitting anywhere from 1/4 to 1/3 of the way through and I just can't pick them up again right now. I don't plan to abandon any of them completely, but they're just going to have to wait.

They're going to have to wait, because I've been really busy reading Rachel Gibson's romance series about a fictional Seattle NHL team called the Chinooks. I even bought one at the Tattered Cover on Saturday, because it's not available on Kindle, and I actually apologized to the woman working the register. But the fact is, these books are awesome. And the biggest question they leave me with is, are there really this many uber-hot guys on any one hockey team?

And sometimes, that's all you want to know.

Monday, May 02, 2011

In Which I Pick Apart The Most Awesomely Moronic Facebook Status Update EVER

Okay, so you know how President Obama gave the go ahead for a military strike to take out Osama Bin Laden, and now Osama Bin Laden is dead, and buried at sea, and they got DNA samples to verify it was him and everything?

No? I mean, it was totally in the news.

Anyway, on Facebook, everyone's talking about it. And one of my friends posted this status update:

They probably killed Bin Laden months ago and have him frozen somewhere. Obama saved this story along with his birth certificate fake to be brought out at the time of his announcing his intention to run again. Announcing this on such an auspicuous day was planned. Obama saying all this is to his credit? Where does the military get credit?

And I would like to take this opportunity to respond to these comments.

First of all -- really?? Someone I am friends with actually believes these sorts of ludicrous conspiracy theories? I honestly question the sanity of people who believe that sort of thing. I think it's pretty out of touch with reality. So I find the suggestion that his body is on ice someplace and has been for months to be a bit 1950s B-movie, truth be told.

And just FYI, President Obama announced his intention to run a month ago. A month ago. So how exactly is the successful military operation taking out Bin Laden meant to coincide with that?

And okay, this: "birth certificate fake"?? For chrissakes. President Obama showed his goddamn birth certificate to the proper authorities back in 2007 when he announced his intention to run for president. End of fucking story. He only brought out the long form version last week to make people like you and Donald fucking Trump look like an asshole. Which, guess what?? Totally worked, no matter how Klansman Trump wants to spin it. And yes -- the Birther movement is rooted deeply in racism. They cannot cope with the fact that a man who doesn't look like them got elected President of the United States. That's all it is. How can a man who looks like that and has such a funny name have been born in the United States?

I'm not sure what is meant by "such an auspicuous day." I've never heard the word "auspicuous" before. So I'll just let you have that one, I guess.

But the most moronic bit was saved for last: "Obama saying all this is to his credit? Where does the military get credit?" ARE YOU INSANE??? All he did was give the military, and everyone else involved, credit. Herewith, a transcript of his speech:

THE PRESIDENT: Good evening. Tonight, I can report to the American people and to the world that the United States has conducted an operation that killed Osama bin Laden, the leader of al Qaeda, and a terrorist who’s responsible for the murder of thousands of innocent men, women, and children.

It was nearly 10 years ago that a bright September day was darkened by the worst attack on the American people in our history. The images of 9/11 are seared into our national memory -- hijacked planes cutting through a cloudless September sky; the Twin Towers collapsing to the ground; black smoke billowing up from the Pentagon; the wreckage of Flight 93 in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where the actions of heroic citizens saved even more heartbreak and destruction.

And yet we know that the worst images are those that were unseen to the world. The empty seat at the dinner table. Children who were forced to grow up without their mother or their father. Parents who would never know the feeling of their child’s embrace. Nearly 3,000 citizens taken from us, leaving a gaping hole in our hearts.

On September 11, 2001, in our time of grief, the American people came together. We offered our neighbors a hand, and we offered the wounded our blood. We reaffirmed our ties to each other, and our love of community and country. On that day, no matter where we came from, what God we prayed to, or what race or ethnicity we were, we were united as one American family.

We were also united in our resolve to protect our nation and to bring those who committed this vicious attack to justice. We quickly learned that the 9/11 attacks were carried out by al Qaeda -- an organization headed by Osama bin Laden, which had openly declared war on the United States and was committed to killing innocents in our country and around the globe. And so we went to war against al Qaeda to protect our citizens, our friends, and our allies.

Over the last 10 years, thanks to the tireless and heroic work of our military and our counterterrorism professionals, we’ve made great strides in that effort. We’ve disrupted terrorist attacks and strengthened our homeland defense. In Afghanistan, we removed the Taliban government, which had given bin Laden and al Qaeda safe haven and support. And around the globe, we worked with our friends and allies to capture or kill scores of al Qaeda terrorists, including several who were a part of the 9/11 plot.

Yet Osama bin Laden avoided capture and escaped across the Afghan border into Pakistan. Meanwhile, al Qaeda continued to operate from along that border and operate through its affiliates across the world.

And so shortly after taking office, I directed Leon Panetta, the director of the CIA, to make the killing or capture of bin Laden the top priority of our war against al Qaeda, even as we continued our broader efforts to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat his network.

Then, last August, after years of painstaking work by our intelligence community, I was briefed on a possible lead to bin Laden. It was far from certain, and it took many months to run this thread to ground. I met repeatedly with my national security team as we developed more information about the possibility that we had located bin Laden hiding within a compound deep inside of Pakistan. And finally, last week, I determined that we had enough intelligence to take action, and authorized an operation to get Osama bin Laden and bring him to justice.

Today, at my direction, the United States launched a targeted operation against that compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. A small team of Americans carried out the operation with extraordinary courage and capability. No Americans were harmed. They took care to avoid civilian casualties. After a firefight, they killed Osama bin Laden and took custody of his body.

For over two decades, bin Laden has been al Qaeda’s leader and symbol, and has continued to plot attacks against our country and our friends and allies. The death of bin Laden marks the most significant achievement to date in our nation’s effort to defeat al Qaeda.

Yet his death does not mark the end of our effort. There’s no doubt that al Qaeda will continue to pursue attacks against us. We must –- and we will -- remain vigilant at home and abroad.

As we do, we must also reaffirm that the United States is not –- and never will be -– at war with Islam. I’ve made clear, just as President Bush did shortly after 9/11, that our war is not against Islam. Bin Laden was not a Muslim leader; he was a mass murderer of Muslims. Indeed, al Qaeda has slaughtered scores of Muslims in many countries, including our own. So his demise should be welcomed by all who believe in peace and human dignity.

Over the years, I’ve repeatedly made clear that we would take action within Pakistan if we knew where bin Laden was. That is what we’ve done. But it’s important to note that our counterterrorism cooperation with Pakistan helped lead us to bin Laden and the compound where he was hiding. Indeed, bin Laden had declared war against Pakistan as well, and ordered attacks against the Pakistani people.

Tonight, I called President Zardari, and my team has also spoken with their Pakistani counterparts. They agree that this is a good and historic day for both of our nations. And going forward, it is essential that Pakistan continue to join us in the fight against al Qaeda and its affiliates.

The American people did not choose this fight. It came to our shores, and started with the senseless slaughter of our citizens. After nearly 10 years of service, struggle, and sacrifice, we know well the costs of war. These efforts weigh on me every time I, as Commander-in-Chief, have to sign a letter to a family that has lost a loved one, or look into the eyes of a service member who’s been gravely wounded.

So Americans understand the costs of war. Yet as a country, we will never tolerate our security being threatened, nor stand idly by when our people have been killed. We will be relentless in defense of our citizens and our friends and allies. We will be true to the values that make us who we are. And on nights like this one, we can say to those families who have lost loved ones to al Qaeda’s terror: Justice has been done.

Tonight, we give thanks to the countless intelligence and counterterrorism professionals who’ve worked tirelessly to achieve this outcome. The American people do not see their work, nor know their names. But tonight, they feel the satisfaction of their work and the result of their pursuit of justice.

We give thanks for the men who carried out this operation, for they exemplify the professionalism, patriotism, and unparalleled courage of those who serve our country. And they are part of a generation that has borne the heaviest share of the burden since that September day.

Finally, let me say to the families who lost loved ones on 9/11 that we have never forgotten your loss, nor wavered in our commitment to see that we do whatever it takes to prevent another attack on our shores.

And tonight, let us think back to the sense of unity that prevailed on 9/11. I know that it has, at times, frayed. Yet today’s achievement is a testament to the greatness of our country and the determination of the American people.

The cause of securing our country is not complete. But tonight, we are once again reminded that America can do whatever we set our mind to. That is the story of our history, whether it’s the pursuit of prosperity for our people, or the struggle for equality for all our citizens; our commitment to stand up for our values abroad, and our sacrifices to make the world a safer place.

Let us remember that we can do these things not just because of wealth or power, but because of who we are: one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

Thank you. May God bless you. And may God bless the United States of America.

If that's just too much reading for your ignorance to deal with, here's a link to a video of the speech. Maybe you should actually, I don't know, watch it and listen to it and allow it to sink in instead of making uninformed, ignorant statements that you mistakenly think are clever.

I know what the argument is for this type of behavior: You're going to say, "Well, I'm entitled to my opinion." Yes. Yes you are entitled to your opinion. What you AREN'T entitled to is to perpetuate lies and half-truths and ludicrous accusations. Lies are only lies. They aren't opinions, and you aren't entitled to them. If you can't participate in the discourse like a grown up, then step away from the table and find something else to talk about, like boys or movies or adult contemporary music.