Thursday, April 15, 2010

Long, Rambly, Stream-of-Conscious Thought

I'm not the hugest fan of J.K. Rowling. Don't get me wrong - I've read all of Harry Potter. I've read all of Harry Potter several times. One of the sweetest gifts my sister has ever given me was, using her own money, preordering Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, so I could have it The Day it came out. I got it, and read it all in about 8 or so hours. Straight. And bawled like a little baby.

Which, actually, brings me to what made me not the hugest Rowling fan. She kills so many of her damn characters! Which, yes, ironic, coming from a Whedonite. But Whedon always makes me feel like that character just *poof* died, and there was nothing anyone could ever do about it, seriously, it wasn't even his idea - it totally just happened, just like in life, ya know?Rowling's deaths always seemed a little... forced. And then, I started recognizing some bad gender themes, plus the whole "Dumbledore was always gay!" thing with little going on in the text to truly back that up, going down and I was less of a fan.

That being said, maybe I am a huge fan of Rowling as a person. Maybe I'm just not the hugest fan of her authorship of children's books. Which, you know, is always possible. Why? Because I am in love with this piece written by her, especially this part:
I had become a single mother when my first marriage split up in 1993. In one devastating stroke, I became a hate figure to a certain section of the press, and a bogeyman to the Tory Government. Peter Lilley, then Secretary of State at the DSS, had recently entertained the Conservative Party conference with a spoof Gilbert and Sullivan number, in which he decried “young ladies who get pregnant just to jump the housing list”. The Secretary of State for Wales, John Redwood, castigated single-parent families from St Mellons, Cardiff, as “one of the biggest social problems of our day”. (John Redwood has since divorced the mother of his children.) Women like me (for it is a curious fact that lone male parents are generally portrayed as heroes, whereas women left holding the baby are vilified) were, according to popular myth, a prime cause of social breakdown, and in it for all we could get: free money, state-funded accommodation, an easy life.

An easy life. Between 1993 and 1997 I did the job of two parents, qualified and then worked as a secondary school teacher, wrote one and a half novels and did the planning for a further five. For a while, I was clinically depressed. To be told, over and over again, that I was feckless, lazy — even immoral — did not help.
It isn't that I think everyone on any country's welfare is automatically someone who could become Rowling, or that we should have a welfare state because Rowlings are possible from it - that if only we support the poor, they could become multibillionaires themselves. Instead, it is about worth. It is about what we think we owe the most vulnerable in our societies. It is a "there but for the grace of the mysteries of capitalism go I" thing, too, but it is also something else.

The poor are easily knocked down. I don't mean, you can easily knock a randomly specific poor person down. I mean that, good economy or bad economy, the poor are easy targets of anger and derision. Because, well, it is the easiest way to separate the poor from us. If the poor are poor because they are lazy, they are not like us. If the poor are poor because they are shiftless, they are not like us. If the poor are poor because they choose to be uneducated, they are not like us.

Here in America, there's an awful lot of race baggage that gets mixed in with the class and - yes - gender baggage. There's the "welfare queen" stereotype, for one, and that is one that still holds strong today. As in, a woman where I work, just today, told me that there were women out there who were popping out kids in order to get state assistance and were "working the system instead of just working". My response? There have got to be easier ways to game the system. And, the women my co-worker was describing are almost assuredly minorities, because she did the "Those (Name of City) people" thing that the less uncouth people in my office do when they are saying something with racist undertones that they don't want to just say with racist tone-tones. Which I, on one hand, appreciate because, hey, it means that these people understand that saying "all (blank) people are like X" is unacceptable. But on the other hand, it makes it harder to say, "whatever do you mean, 'those (Name of City) people?" Because the only answer to that seems to be, "You know...."

Sorry, tangent there. Anywho. What I'm saying is this: those on the edges of our society - and that society over there across the pond where Rowling lives and is commenting on - are generally the ones pushed totally off the grid when someone decides we need to tighten our government's financial belt. And it makes short-term political sense. You don't want to do anything that could anger people who actually have money and power, because those people with money and power can come back and make your political career a living hell. Because they have money and power. I mean, look at what happens when you decide to not make an expensive, unnecessary, and unwanted military plane! It riles up a whole bunch of powerful people. Including one Chris Dodd! Who should know better!

Which is why J.K. Rowling wrote this piece. Because there are a ton of people on that edge. And she has been there. And they are routinely made to be less important, the dredges of society really; and because of that, cuts to the very social net that keeps them afloat are seen as being perfectly reasonable.

Other parts of the budget - the military budget, for one, or Medicare and Social Security - are more sacrosanct. Not saying they'll never be touched, but one is seen as the way to prove you are a tough politician who would never, ever endanger the country and the others are services used by huge swaths of the country, swaths of the country who have money and power. This is true to the point where Republicans (Republicans!) were defending Medicare last summer in an effort to derail health reform.

And what does that mean? Well, it means that I think we need to stand up by our poor. I think it means we need more people like J.K. Rowling - people who those regular folks respect and like and admire - to stand up and talk about what it is like to be poor. What it is like to need those government programs, and how much it can hurt when they are not there. It means we may have to reevaluate who matters, and who should be taken care of.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Who Is Like The Beast?

Remember when Speaker Pelosi walked arm and arm in a Civil Rights March across Independence Avenue, from the House buildings over to the Capitol. In three years, I have never seen Nancy Pelosi cross the street the way that you saw in that picture. They deliberately went through that crowd, perhaps to try and incite something.

If she was really worried about violence and she thought these people were violent, why would you grab a big hammer and walk into a sea of people?

Did anyone say to Nancy Pelosi, "You're inciting violence. You're slapping them across the face"?

They faked - they were trying to provoke an incident. There's no reason to walk above ground to get to the Capitol building from their offices. There's tunnels underneath with trains, subways, and so forth. They're purpose - send the Congressional Black Caucus to walk over, send Pelosi over there with a big gavel, trying to provoke an incident.
Listen, I know the three people listed above can in no way really be described as serious people in search of an honest debate on the issues. But one of the things I found so interesting in their various statements was how close these come to some classic rape apologia statements - you know, the ones that go, "She shouldn't have been there", "Did you see how she was dressed?" "She obviously wanted it", etc.

I especially find it interesting how the act of crossing the street, whether or not Speaker Pelosi does so often, is deemed indefensible here.

There is something happening in this vision of reality that seems to claim any and all negative actions taken against a person should be that person's responsibility. Even if all she did was cross a street when a bunch of protesters were out there showing their might.

There is something else that I find strange here as well, and that is this idea that not allowing a protest to effect your actions - or to not respond in the manner desired by the protesters - is suddenly a call to incite violence.

If Michelle Bachmann is right and Nancy Pelosi truly never has "cross[ed] the street the way that you saw" before, then what she seems to have been doing is creating a demonstration of her own. Not a show of force, no matter what Limbaugh and Beck think about her big gavel. But a demonstration of determination, a demonstration that she and those with her were not going to be bullied or be shamed for what they saw as a necessary vote for needed legislation - no matter how much they wanted/didn't want that was left out/put in the bill.

In effect, Nancy Pelosi seemed to be giving a clear message to the protesters, and to those people like Beck and Bachmann. That message was that she was proud of her accomplishments and her vote, and she was not going to be scared underground because there were people above ground who didn't like it and who didn't want to see her walk to the Capitol Building.

Frankly, it was a message that she deserved to walk up to that particular building in the light of day just as much as they deserved to demonstrate outside that building in the light of day. That she and her rights weren't dissolved simply because this group didn't like her and her ilk very much.

And if that very action was seen as a provocation, if hanging onto a giant gavel that was first used when Medicare was passed while walking was a horrible indignity those protesting and those commenting favorably on the protests, then the problem lies more with them than with her.

She was just, you know, doing her thing. Walking along. Being proud.

Too often, doing your thing, walking along, being proud, carrying a giant gavel is used as an explanation for someone else's actions.

Hopefully, enough people will see how silly this line of thinking is when it comes to someone like Nancy Pelosi and the passage of healthcare, and think back on that giant gavel. Hopefully, enough people will see how silly this line of thinking is when someone is walking down a street, and recognize that simply the act of living is in no way something that prompts an angry, violent response.

There are the things Nancy Pelosi talks about, when she brought up her experiences in 1970s San Francisco, that could be used, by some, as a balance, a sort of, "You're all hypocrites" and "the Left talks about provocations to violence too, so she shouldn't have walked there".

For the record, Pelosi has said, "I think we all have to take responsibility for our actions and our words. We are a free country and this balance between freedom and safety is one that we have to carefully balance... ...But again, our country is great because people can say what they think and believe. But I also think they have to take responsibility for any incitement they may cause."

And a person could claim that Pelosi is simply getting hit from the Right with essentially the same stick she advocates for here. I don't think so, though. Because there is a difference between walking to a place you have to go anyway, and speaking in such a way that could incite violence. There is a difference between carrying a comically large gavel, and, say, a blogger who urges his readership to break DNC office windows in an attempt to avoid a larger - armed - conflict.

I happen to agree with Pelosi's statement. I'm a free speech advocate, but I also believe in a speaker's responsibility - along with the responsibility of the rest of us to call out speech we find to be unsavory. I am a fan of verbal self-restraint, though that may astonish anyone who has heard me babble for any length of time. I'm a fan of recognizing the power your words hold, and realizing the effect those words may have on an audience. I'm not a fan of the government making that line, and forming those distinctions.

I started this out by making allusions between rape apologia and what these three right-wing people said about Speaker Pelosi's march on the Capitol Building. But what I find interesting is that in these cases, it isn't merely that there are more often than not marginalized bodies involved. It is the weirdly fatalistic viewpoint. In rape apologia, a lot of the criticism comes down to Doing Something While Female. And in this, there may be more than a little of Being Speaker While Female.

But there is also this idea that we should beware of waking the foul Beast. Because the Beast cannot be controlled, should not be expected to control the urge compelling violence. All we can hope to do is not anger the Beast, to not draw the Beast's attention to us, to creep around as quietly as we possibly can and make as few waves as possible, lest we attract the Beast's attention. And if you do? If you awaken the Beast, if you are attacked or hurt or raped? It is obviously your fault. Because the Beast is nothing but a force compelled to action. To hold the Beast accountable would be foolhardy, and besides, only those people stupid enough to not follow Teh Rules get attacked. There's never this compulsion that maybe, just maybe, we should do something about the Beast itself. That maybe walking to work, even if there are angry people afoot, shouldn't be something that can be used to scold someone for provoking some sort of negative action, should that negative action arise. But no.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Oh, Women and Their Emotionality!

"Look at Rachel Maddow. She comes at me on the basis of emotion. She demonizes me. I don't want conservatives to win on the basis of emotion. If we lower ourselves to the level they operate on, we hurt ourselves and our arguments."

I happen to think Rachel Maddow's initial response to this is top notch, that being:
I was trying to do my work. But then that pops up in my Google Alert, then I read it and I become alternately so blindingly enraged and then hysterically upset and then inconsolably morose and then hyperactively giddy and then happy and then sad and then mad and then happy again that I couldn't make sense of any of the facts that I was gathering. All of which I was trying to read through the tears of joy and anger and anxiety that I just can't control! Can't you tell I'm falling apart right now? So I promise - hold on, I'm getting emotional about this promise. I promise that tomorrow, I will gather myself and offer a full analysis of today's Tom Coburn news.
But, probably given that Rachel Maddow runs a newsish show where she discusses things that are actually happening out there in the world and then giving her opinion about that stuff, she didn't really delve into what the fuck just happened there. So, being that I don't have a newsish show and just this little blog, I'll do that.

First things first: there is the belief out there that women are emotional. I know, shocker. There is the belief out there that being emotional makes women less capable. Double shocker! There is this belief that by being emotional, women are therefore also irrational. Crazy, right? Who'd ever think that?!

Truth is, I think most people believe that. Maybe not consciously. Maybe not full on, full frontal "woman=emotional=irrational=unreliable=bad! men=logical=rational=reliable=good! men≠women!"

But it is there. And it is there because it is all around us. It is there when we talk about hiring a good worker, or hiring a woman. It was there during the Sonia Sotomayor confirmation hearings, when someone made the comparison between having a heart surgeon who'd had to struggle to get where he is, or the best surgeon one could find, even if that surgeon had been born with a silver spoon in his mouth. The idea that the first (the guy (or girl) who had to work really hard) could beget the second (that guy could be the best because he had to work so hard) is missing.

There's this thing with prejudice - all kinds - that make it hard for those of us who consider ourselves to be good people to recognize it within ourselves. It isn't just that we cognitively know that prejudice is bad and we are good, and thus we can't be prejudiced, though that's definitely a part of it. It is that in order for us to recognize our own prejudices, we have to be able to recognize when our most reflexive thoughts contain prejudice. That's extraordinarily difficult to do. It is incredibly difficult to puzzle out if you find some woman emotional because she is, in fact, being overly emotional - or if it is because we are conditioned to see women as emotional, as attacking on the basis of emotion alone. And when we're confronted about our underlying assumptions, whether by friends or by articles or by blog posts, it is essentially difficult to accept that what this other person is saying may be correct. Because what we thought felt so natural and so right, and what that other person is saying - that calling women you don't know emotional and attacking on the basis of emotion - is both historically and inherently sexist - is so foreign and so obviously wrong. Plus, it probably feels like a personal attack, because you, good person that you are, would never say something prejudiced. Because doesn't that other person know this is just how the world is?

Because of that, I don't think Tom Coburn is consciously eliciting the dog whistle of "women, crazy, huh?" But that doesn't mean his remarks aren't fused with the premise that a woman's actions are borne out of emotionality, and that emotionality is bad. It doesn't mean that he is playing a really old hand of sexism, and it doesn't mean that because he's ignorant of that (because to him it is just true), his remark isn't sexist. It doesn't mean it doesn't play into the grander metanarrative about women, and their intellectual oomph.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

How I Became Who I Am: My Most Influential Reading List

I'm totally stealing this from a friend of mine, but I'm going to do that whole shebang ten thing. I'm doing it because at first I wondered what books, if any, helped influence who I became - how I became who I am. As much of a bibliophile as I am (and I am), the writers who most influence my actual perceptions of reality tend to be on that TV machine. Books tend to be an enjoyable escape, because as much as I love Pride and Prejudice and James Thurber, I'm pretty sure they have not formed the very backbone of who I am. But then, I thought about the books I've read. And then I wondered how I would whittle that list down to ten. So, away we go:
  1. Waiting for Godot - Samuel Beckett. I found Waiting for Godot in high school. It was my first, aside from Whedony works, exposure to that wide world of existentialism. I loved it. There are lines in works, moments, that blow your mind. In the first act of the play, Vladimir's ponderings about the two thieves mentioned in the Gospels was that moment for me:
    VLADIMIR: But all four were there. And only one speaks of a thief being saved. Why believe him rather than the others?
    ESTRAGON: Who believes him?
    VLADIMIR: Everybody. It's the only version they know.
    The play wasn't necessarily introducing anything new to my life: I was already an atheist, I already was suspicious of metanarratives, I was already bemused and intrigued by the absurd. But it was the dream-like quality of the play, and the follies of the various participants, the obvious allusion to an absent, if not outright fictional, god, that really struck me.

  2. The Fountainhead - Ayn Rand. Now, years later (YEARS), I've come to the conclusion that I've read this book all wrong, that the philosophy Ayn Rand was expounding probably wasn't what I took out of it, and that all those people who were like, "Oh, The Fountainhead is awesome!" probably got the wrong idea about what I'm about, politically, ethically, and philosophically. And plus, there's that whole rape apologia thing surrounding Roarke and Dominique that makes the book fairly unsavory for me. Don't get me wrong, after reading The Fountainhead I had a period where I read up a lot on Ayn Rand. I knew she was a dogmatic free market capitalist, I knew she was all about the individual. I knew she was if not the than pretty close to it quintessential "pull yourself up by your bootstraps, cuz I'm not giving you one of my dimes" person. And yet. When I read The Fountainhead, I... ...not missed, but pretty much overlooked a lot of that. What I took from the book was, in no particular order, architecture=cool, selfishness=awesome, looking to society for vindication=stupid idea. All of that? I was totally down with. And then, no more than a couple of weeks ago, it occurred to me that the scene I'd always thought meant "to do charity work for society's praise is just stupid" probably was meant to be expanded to "to do charity work at all is just stupid". So, The Fountainhead influenced me greatly. But I took from the book, "Act selfishly. Actions solely to please others will end up, in the long run, being unworthy of your time and energy, and will get you down in the process". I took, "Do the right thing, even if others look down on you for it, even if doing the easy thing will bring you short term praise and success". But, for me, doing the right thing isn't really about a totally free market capitalist system. It may be about making pretty buildings. I'm not totally sure yet.

  3. Wide Sargasso Sea - Jean Rhys. I was going to put The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir here, because I love that book, because it intersected my feminism and my existentialism well, and because it was a lightbulb moment for me, a moment where what I had previously felt was brought into sharp relief via words on the page. But. The Second Sex, although I love it for articulating a matter that had long danced at the back of my skull, didn't really change who I am. It simply gave me another tool to utilize when I myself already knew and tried to explain to other people. Wide Sargasso Sea did something else. One, it made Jane Eyre, a book I have always despised, palatable. Two, did something The Second Sex did not. It took me beyond myself. It was like "The Yellow Wallpaper" in its gradual destruction of its protagonist. It taught me a new way to critique existing works. And, pathetically enough, it brought the issue of race in Jane Eyre into the equation. It was a book that was (I think) better written than the book it was inspired by, and it made me recognize other ways that original text failed, by fixing that failure. By illustrating the other voices in the world we would never recognize if we merely stuck to what is in the accepted literary canon.

  4. A Wrinkle in Time (series) - Madeline L'Engle. I would be remiss if I were to leave this book, and the subsequent books, off my list. Much like The Fountainhead, it occurs to me years later that I again culled something from its pages the writer did not intend, though in this instance it was a bulwark for my atheism. A Wrinkle in Time, having reread it, is an extremely spiritual - and outwardly religious - book. You'd think I would have gotten that from Many Waters being about two characters meeting Noah and interacting with Seraphim, but my obliviousness (and the fact that a majority of my religious education comes from musicals) blocked that reading entirely. Instead, I took from it themes of interdependence, of looking at problems and people through love and not hate and fear, and that being weird was a pretty cool thing to be. That, and the knowledge and the first dimension is a straight line, and the second dimension is a square. Beyond that, Meg Murray was (and is) one of my favorite girl/women characters. She preceded Buffy by about a year. She was so awesomely real, strong and yet flawed, it was incredible. I should also mention that I could recite the entirety of the book A Wrinkle in Time until a couple of years ago, and I could still probably do a couple of the more major passages.

  5. West With the Night - Beryl Markham. My father gave me this book when I was in 6th grade. My copy has the note he wrote to me, explaining why he was gifting it to me specifically, on the inside cover. That alone may explain why this book makes the list. My father introduced me to a lot of books - among those, The Fountainhead. And those all had personal reasons behind his love of them, and wanting to share them with me. But Beryl Markham and her story captured my dad, and made him think of me. So, I read it. And if this were merely a list about books that influenced me because of how well they were written, West With the Night would also make that list:
    How is it possible to bring order out of memory? I should like to begin at the beginning, patiently, like a weaver at his loom. I should like to say, 'This is the place to start; there can be no other.'
    But there are a hundred places to star for there are a hundred names - Mwanza, Serengetti, Nungwe, Molo, Nakuru. There are easily a hundred names and I can begin best by choosing one of them - not because it is first no of any importance in a wildly adventurous sense but because here it happens to be, turned uppermost in my logbook. After all, I am no weaver. Weavers create. This is a remembrance - revisitation; and names are keys that open corridors no longer fresh in the mind, but nonetheless familiar in the heart.
    This book, and Markham, however, make the list because she is an inspiration. The first woman to fly east to west, from England to Nova Scotia. She is attacked by a lion as a girl. She is a one time (literally, one time) horse racer. She is the first licensed woman horse trainer in Kenya. And although I still have that note in the book, I'm in awe that she made him think of me, still strive to be as cool, as confident, as ground-breaking as Markham herself was.

  6. On the Road - Jack Kerouac. Yes, it is enormously cliche. And yet. I loved the book. It probably helps that I read it on a long train ride, so it felt like I was actually a part of Kerouac's philosophy and adventure. On the Road is why I spent the summer and the semester of my '50s class obsessed with the Beat and the Beat Generation.

  7. Redesigning the American Dream: Gender, Housing, and Family Life - Dolores Hayden. Every so often, a book comes along that makes me think, a la Chicken Run, "But we've always been egg farmers. My father, and his father, and all their fathers, and they was all..." And then the author fairly hits me on the head and says, "And wouldn't it be so much better if we looked at why, and what that's done for us, and maybe try to do X?" This book is that. This book is when I started thinking about how the structure of our lives and our environments shape our lives and our expectations. How we are, essentially, coveting little boxes on the hillside that are all the same. And how we can maybe go along making a different world, if we'd just change our expectations regarding neighborhoods and soccer moms and mini vans.

  8. The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge - Jean-Francois Lyotard. I don't mean to sound like a braggart, but I have an exceptional memory for words. Not names, and not faces, and definitely not tasks I was assigned two minutes ago, but words. Sometimes, that means I can quote what I want out of a book or television episode from memory alone. Sometimes that means I know exactly where to find the exact line I'm looking for in the book or episode. Believe me when I say, I can give you none of this work back. I couldn't even really remember the name of the book, just the author. Maybe it's because it was originally written in French. All I can say is that it has deepened my personal understanding of the world. Lyotard writes about the totalitarian nature of the metanarrative, and about the worth of the more democratic micronarrative. And, as I discovered in my quest to discover which book made the micronarrative something I believe in and agree with, I discovered something else. Before college, I was someone who believed in a reachable, objective truth. I hated anything that touched upon relativism with a passion (that may have been due to all of the moral arguments against my atheism starting with, "If you don't believe in God, there is no moral structure. And if there is no moral structure, then nothing can be immoral"; I'm just saying, those religious zealots trying to convert me kind of fucked me up). And yet, now I still despise moral relativism, and am passionately for micronarratives. Wha?! The answer, as I discovered, also lies with Lyotard. He postulated that there is an objective truth that we humans shall never fully understand. Which is basically my position. High five to Lyotard.

  9. Full Frontal Feminism - Jessica Valenti. I was thinking about putting one of my favorite authors of all time, a Mr. John Steinbeck, on this list. But then I decided he is more of a Jane Austen type of person in my life: a writer I would not willingly live without, but one who has not had a profound influence on my being - aside from making me more of a snobbish reader than I was prior to picking up Cannery Row in high school. Instead, this spot goes to Jessica Valenti. It's like this: I was raised in a feminist household, so Full Frontal Feminism wasn't introducing me to anything I hadn't heard of before. But it was witty and well-written, and so not academic. And since I was reading Lyotard, I deserved some not quite academic-but-progressive reading. And if it had just been that, this book would not be on this list. But Jessica Valenti is the founder and an editor of And feministing led me to other, more substantial feminist sites, which then led me to womanist sites, which then led me to reading multiple blogs daily. And eventually, that led us all here. Without Full Frontal Feminism, I may never have gotten to this particular place.

  10. The Short Stories of J.D. Salinger. I am one of the few people I know who did not appreciate the angst of Holden Caulfield in their own teenage years. One of those other souls is one of my 17 year old sisters, so maybe that inability to be charmed by him is genetic. Because of that, I avoided Salinger's short stories like the plague. I was wrong to (incidentally, my mother was the person who told me I would enjoy them). The first one I ever read was "A Perfect Day for Bananafish". From there, I was hooked. I quickly gobbled up "Franny and Zooey", and then moved on to the rest of "Nine Stories", and then to "Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction". I loved the style of writing, the restless and unsatisfied nature of it, the people populating these stories being genuine in a way I'd never felt was true for Holden, and yet all quietly broken. Perhaps more than the short stories and the people yearning to live a life of meaning within them, it was Salinger's ability to retreat from public life that makes these stories precious to me. Salinger managed to both give me, in all, 13 stories I prize. And then, he articulated my belief about writing when he said, "I like to write. I love to write. But I write just for myself and my own pleasure." I write, a lot. Some of that writing is here, the nonfiction stuff, the stuff that is separate enough from myself to share with both the people I know and potentially the people I don't who manage to stumble upon it. But my fiction is all my own.
And there it is: my list. Hopefully, in ten to twenty years, some of those books will have been bumped down the influence chain, with other books taking their place. I'm looking forward to the John Kenneth Galbraith memoirs possibly doing that.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

James Thurber

I have a horrible habit of not listening to my mother's recommendations, of avoiding reading the things she says to read or watching the things she says to watch or listening to the things she says to listen to until I'm driven to doing it simply because I've gotten bored with the things I've been reading or watching or listening to over and over again. She is the person who first thrust The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler into my hands, the person who gave me The Secret of NIMH, the person who insisted I watch The Sound of Music and Dirty Dancing, the person who told me I'd really like Elton John and The Band, the person who introduced me to Simon and Garfunkel and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.

And yet, with all of that, it still took me months before I read A Wrinkle in Time after she gave it to me and told me I'd love it. She gave it to me along with The Mixed Up Files and NIMH, in fourth grade, and it took me until midway through fifth to bother with it. It, and the other three books in the series, became my veritable Bible from fifth to eighth grade. It, among other things, gave my shop teacher a reason to not let me actually participate in shop class after a fairly harrowing experience with a drill, because he'd lived next to the author, Madeline L'Engle, while growing up and talked to me about this worn out book I insisted on carrying everywhere with me.

In eighth grade, I was spending the day with my father. We were driving around the state, visiting his various clients, talking, and listening to this book on tape he'd gotten out of the library, My Life and Hard Times. I knew of the book. A chapter had been in a compilation book series my parents owned and I'd poured over. Another chapter had been in my seventh grade Lit book, and I'd poured over that one as well. Listening to My Life and Hard Times with my father made me appreciate it, and the author, all the more. It was hilarious. And when I acquired the book-book, it took the place of A Wrinkle in Time as my new Bible.

I've been to the Thurber House in Columbus, OH several times. One time, my father got them to open the house early for us, because I loved it so much and because at some point we were going to have to leave Ohio, and he preferred that to be sooner rather than later. I have several James Thurber tee shirts, a lot of his books, and I still read portions of My Life and Hard Times on a weekly basis. James Thurber's Is Sex Necessary? is the book that I took out with my best friend and roomie's library card whilst in college, and then failed to return promptly (or rather, at all), and ran up a significant (around $200 or so dollars) late fee/replacement cost.

There are problems with James Thurber, as there would be with any white, straight, middle-class male author born in 1894. There are problems I've only begun to assess in my continued and continual rereading of My Life and Hard Times, with regard to race and gender and where the two meet. But his humor oftentimes comes from the ridiculousness of people, and more often than not from himself. And so, I was abso-freaking-lutely thrilled when Keith Olbermann professed to reading James Thurber to his father, because James Thurber is one of those authors who helped shape my life (and this whole beginning part is at least in partial reference to this meme), and who I feel is underappreciated - or at the very least, too much of an unknown. My happiness increased exponentially when the final segment on friday's Countdown was, in point of fact, Keith Olbermann reading a short story of James Thurber's, "A Box to Hide In". And because I love Thurber more than possibly any other author, I had to share. This story doesn't come from my personal Thurber Bible, but I do love it:

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