Ulysses Podcast

Most readers who enjoy a good literary challenge have attempted to read Ulysses, James Joyce’s 1922 masterpiece. The text, while brilliant and representative of the 20th century shift into modernist thought, contains so many narrative cul-de-sacs and classical allusions that readers often turn to a guide to lead them through. Whether a college course or Twitter bot, Ulysses gurus abound, offering to light the path through the 265,222-word labyrinth Joyce built through Dublin.

For the centenary anniversary of the book’s publication on February 2, the Paris bookshop Shakespeare and Company began hosting an ensemble podcast reading. Spanning the four months between the publication anniversary and June 16, the day covered by the novel known as Bloomsday, each weekday brings a new episode of the novel, read aloud by a different literary luminary. Joyce’s fellow Irish wordsmiths Caoilinn Hughes and Paul Murray, authors Will Self and Jeanette Winterson, and even comedian Eddie Izzard have lent their voices to the podcast thus far.

Interspersed between readings of the text, the almost-weekly Bloomcast helps clarify the novel’s plot. Host Adam Biles, the literary director at Shakespeare and Company, is regularly joined by Alice McCrum of the American Library in Paris and Dr. Lex Paulson of the Université Mohammed VI Polytechnique in Morocco. Other guests have included Patrick Hastings, creator of UlyssesGuide.com, and Aggie, resident cat at Shakespeare and Company, whose vocal stylings are clearly audible throughout Episode Two.

While the bookstore encourages listeners to purchase a special Clothbound Classics centenary edition of Ulysses by publishing partner Penguin, complete with the shop’s Kilometer 0 hallmark stamp, Shakespeare and Company has more than just a bookselling connection to the novel. The original Parisian Shakespeare and Company, an English-language lending library run by American Sylvia Beach in the years between the world wars, also acted as publisher to the first edition of Ulysses.

Famously, Joyce was making edits to the proofs of the text even as the book was being printed in Dijon, but on February 2, 1922, Sylvia Beach met the morning train that carried the first two extant copies of Ulysses. One she gave to Joyce, and the other went on display in the window of her bookshop, but impatient customers forced her to hide the book until she could fulfill all pre-orders. The novel, which had already been banned in the States after excerpts in The Little Review brought the magazine’s editors up on obscenity charges, saw an initial print run of a thousand, some of which were smuggled into the U.S. over the Canadian border. Shakespeare and Company published eleven editions of Ulysses throughout the 1920s.

In 1964, another Parisian bookshop run by an American was rechristened from Le Mistral to Shakespeare and Company in honor of Sylvia Beach, who had died two years earlier. In fact, George Whitman was so taken with Beach’s legacy that he named his daughter Sylvia Beach Whitman. After taking over the bookstore in 2006, this Sylvia began introducing new initiatives, like podcasts, to the legendary bookshop.

The Worst Bookseller in the World

Currently playing on subtitled screens in the States after making a splash at Cannes last year, The Worst Person in the World opens on an effortlessly beautiful woman standing in profile against the Oslo skyline, smoking a cigarette outside a book launch. The film comprises such stunning visuals of the Scandinavian atmosphere, including a triptych of vignettes that pull focus from star Renate Reinsve’s beguilingly wholesome face toward a backdrop of moody skies, but also pays homage to Northern Europe’s literary traditions through its heroine’s day job.

The narrator explains how Julie went from medical student to trainee psychiatrist to amateur photographer in rapid succession, securing a temp job at a bookstore as her fallback. Borrowing the bookish structure of chapters, prologue, and epilogue, the film follows this thirty-ish woman adrift in central Oslo. Julie shrugs off a question about the temporal status of her employment, which seems to gain permanence as the plot unravels, becoming her most consistent attribute throughout the four years covered by the film.

The bookstore, Norli, is a real-life Norwegian chain with five locations in Oslo alone. Julie’s branch, “near the university,” is known as Universitetsgata (@norliuniversitetsgata). Her uniform is a navy polo with white letters on the back declaring “Jeg hjelper deg gjerne!” (“I’m happy to help you!”). The employee discount may be to blame for Julie’s accidental hoarding of books. “I have two copies of a book,” she incredulously tells her boyfriend, the wonderfully Nordic-named Aksel, as she rearranges a bookcase that also includes such English-language titles as The White Album and Portnoy’s Complaint. “Can I have two shelves?” she asks.

Within the context of her bookstore job, Julie is equally absentminded, knocking over multiple stacks of books and holding several life-changing personal conversations, all while on the clock. Yet a bookshop is the perfect setting for such chance encounters, the intersection of ideas and culture serving as a waystation where old friends and new loves can wander freely. This affection toward bricks-and-mortar stores gets grounded in practical commerce when Julie regretfully informs a customer that it will take two weeks to order a copy of Green Yoga.

In one poignant scene with Aksel, Julie listens patiently as he laments the loss of Gen-X tactility: “I grew up in a time when culture was passed along through objects,” he says. A dozen years older than Julie, Aksel is a comic book artist with fond memories of hanging out in record stores, an experience he implies her generation will never understand. “They were interesting because we could live among them. We could pick them up, hold them in our hands, compare them.”

In his waxing nostalgic about the digital shift, Aksel has forgotten that Julie can relate through that timeless artifact that constructs her workaday life. Now an aspiring writer who has had some success with a viral article, she nevertheless knows a little something about object permanence within a culture. Julie smiles dolefully, but not without sympathy, and asks: “A bit like books?”

SJP Sample Sale

This happened exactly one year ago…


I’d probably just started my drive to Houston in earnest when the Notre-Dame fire started. Blissfully unaware, I drove for three hours, listening to Spotify and Audible and occasionally stopping for a bite to eat or a bathroom break. I was in a Mediterranean grocery store near my motel, standing around for 20 minutes as the in-store deli worker fired up my falafel, apparently from scratch, and scrolling through Instagram on my phone.

The reactions were of the breast-beating, teeth-gnashing, hair-pulling variety, and I braced myself to dig into the news of the latest terrorist attack. A fire. Notre-Dame was on fire. No one was dead, but a firefighter was seriously injured. Centuries worth of art and relickery might or might not have survived.


My reaction was one of anger—anger at the self-absorbed nature of the “global” citizenry. I don’t remember anyone having this reaction when artifacts in Syria were destroyed, and that wasn’t an accident. I was sick of basic bitches, which was unfortunate, considering where I was headed.

It was in this state that I arrived at the Bayou City Events Center on Tuesday morning. I had left the motel around 7:35, passing the events center around 7:45. From my vantage point on the bridge, I could see people were already lining up outside. I knew that would be the smart play, the fangirl solidarity and priority admission worth the killed hour. I could even bring a book. #butfirstcoffee

I found the nearest Starbucks, a corner lot on Buffalo Bayou and Main Street so congested that the drive-through backed two cars deep into the road. It was the scariest thing I had seen in Houston on this trip. I made it back to the event center by 8:20 and sat in the car, refusing to take part in the queue. So basic. I lasted until about 8:30 before I joined the growing line out front. These were, after all, my sisters.


My segment of the line shared some self-aware laughter as we converged on the end of the line and took our respective places in an orderly fashion. A woman wearing yoga pants explained how sample sales worked (she lived in New York). I gave a pair of the pantyhose booties I’d brought to the woman behind me, Size Ten. Occasionally an overdressed, painstakingly coiffed basic bitch would roll through and have to join the line just like the rest of us. A young mother approached with a baby in a pouch, and someone sniped “That’s ambitious.” But mostly, we were a diverse, normal group of women (with about three men sprinkled in).


I’d joined the line just in time, as SJP staff in MD Anderson t-shirts began handing out tickets for admission. It turned out I was the second person to receive a number 3. A Wendy Davis lookalike walked up in jeans and a starched white button-down, and the SJP girls started cooing, “It’s Gina! She’s wearing Gina!” They were, of course, talking about the shoes, a pair of ridiculously impractical black strappy stiletto booties.


The SJP girls walked back in, assuring us we would be in the first wave. One resembled SJP in stature but wore hipster glasses and painstakingly effortless waves. The other was fresh-faced and ponytailed, giving off the vibe if not the exact resemblance of Sutton from The Bold Type.

About this time, the media started showing up, walking the line while filming and extolling us to chant SJP! SJP! My segment of the line hid our faces behind sunglasses and a white Dodge van parked at the curb. “Come on, again? Some of us our supposed to be at work…”

Finally, we were in. At almost nine o’clock sharp, we walked through the doors. Find your size, find your table, prices on the projected screens at either end of the back wall.


Almost immediately, I found what I’d come for: Ursula, a d’Orsay stiletto in a sparkling green labeled Meteor. Ursula had launched in the Summer of 2017, when I was reading One Hundred Years of Solitude at rehearsals for a community theatre production of The Little Mermaid. Ursula was, of course, the villain of the musical, but Úrsula was also the name of the matriarch of the Buendía family. It felt like fate, back in the summer of 2017. I’d gotten so far as to place SJP’s Ursula in the website’s digital shopping cart, but ultimately couldn’t justify the price tag.




Today, though, was different. The prices were ridiculously low. A woman next to me asked how we were supposed to know the price, and when I pointed to the screen where the price list was cycling through promo photos of SJP with the shoes, she spoke into her phone: “Yeah, nothing is more than $125.” Not only were the discounts impressive, but the cause was altruistic.

It was about that time that I overheard a woman tell a reporter that she was not only picking up some things for herself but buying for her mother and sister as well.

Ah, shit.

One of my dad’s favorite stories to tell of my childhood involves a trip to the candy store. I assume it was the 7-11 near the house we lived in while I was growing up, but in reality it could have been any convenience store in North Austin, as “candy store” served as a generic name for all gas stations until we were old enough to care about the other provisions on offer. One of Dad’s old roughneck/wildcatter/poker buddies was with us, and when I panicked, exclaimed “I have to get something for Megan!” and ran back to the candy aisle, my dad swears he saw a tear roll down his friend’s weathered face while he declared it the sweetest thing he had ever seen.

Family myths are chimeric, and this story manifests new details every time my dad tells it. I, for one, have no memory of the alleged incident, but since I don’t believe in pure, selfless altruism, I know something else motivated me to run back to the candy aisle that day. There’s no telling. Regardless, Megan got candy that day, and she would get a pair of shoes on this day. I texted for size and if she even wore heels (she’s about 5’9”, introduced in my high school Spanish video project as “mas alta que me”). I plucked, I gathered, and, on a whim, I picked up another pair of the meteor-green Ursulas.

Clearly, I’d stacked the deck, but when the response came, it was, “Omg, I love the green!”

I kept going back, looking for Cherry in a size 6. The size 5 was way too small, the 7 wearable but not worth the expense for an ill-fitting shoe. I was pushing my time limit and knew I would eventually have to go, so I did one more pass of the tables and found another pair of Ursulas. Except, something was different. These Ursulas had no heel. She looked more like a ballet flat with a peep toe. I checked the sole, and there seemed to be some sort of trial fitting. A prototype? They broke the mold when they made her? Regardless, she was perfect for my mom.


So now I had three pairs of Ursulas, an emerald-green ballet flat, and a fierce pair of gold booties. It was time to go. I got in line, which only stretched three-quarters of the way to the back of the room. Shortly after I joined the line, a lone gentleman queued behind me, and as we got to talking, I learned that Brandon was shopping for his wife, who worked at MD Anderson, and his mother. I approved of his purchases, including a handbag for his mother that still sported an original price tag for $1790!!! “Normally, you should remove the price tag from a gift, but you want to leave that one because your mother is going to be so proud of you,” I told him.


For my part, I was going back and forth about the bag, and here Brandon was extremely helpful. He pointed out the canvas SJP bags, which were only $50 and, better yet, matched the pencil bag I’d received as a pre-order gift from SJP’s publishing imprint. They were also plentiful, piled high on folding tables around the room, all of which I had some how missed in my beeline for the shoes. I left Brandon holding my place in line and walked toward what I thought was the closest table of canvas bags.

And there she was.

SJP walked out of a side door, then started the way I had just come. I ran back to Brandon, his phone already aimed and ready, and took my place in the screaming mob.


She stood behind a table piled high with canvas bags (yet another table I had somehow not seen, closer than the one I had been heading toward) and giggled at the crowd. She thanked us for helping to fight cancer, then emphatically shouted: “Now go shop more!” As much as I love SJP, I was too shopped-out to obey, so I stayed in line with Brandon as SJP worked the floor.


This is before I put back the purse and the Cherry flip flops, which would have perfectly matched my black-and-white-with-cherries Bitten by SJP top, unlike the Bitten by SJP brown linen blazer I wore so as to meet SJP whilst draped head to toe in Bitten by SJP (her previous fashion line).

It was like watching a school of fish avoiding a predator, except the opposite. Everywhere she went, a sea of women followed, ebbing and flowing around her tiny person. We couldn’t even see her, just the effect she was having on the room. I learned later that she had declined to talk to media, so the TV cameras and reporters were swept along with the tide.

From where we stood, Brandon and I watched the crowd and compared SJP photos, texting each other copies of the best. “She’s still here,” he said, seeing my obvious anxiety. “She’s waiting for Mandy.”


One of my favorite visuals of the day–if only the photo were clearer.

I arrived at the register and paid for my shoes, requesting a few extra SJP shoe bags for good measure. I will never tell anyone how much I spent, but I can reveal the amount was exactly $100 higher than the absolute limit I had given myself before walking in the door. And this was after I traded the leather handbag for the canvas tote! I still spent less than the cost of golf clubs, anything with a motor, and, honestly, the original cost of the trenchcoat (if we include tax, which we did not as all the money was going to MD Anderson).

I took my giant white shopping bag, which was marked PAID in red Sharpie, and stood in the middle of the ballroom. I am pleased to report that, although it would have been terribly easy to slip another pair or five in my bag, the thought did not occur to me until a full 24 hours later. Besides, who steals from a charity sale? I was late, so late, and needed to leave…but I wanted to meet SJP. Brandon walked up behind me and said, “C’mon.” So I blame him for what happened next.

We approached what appeared to be an SJP fashion consultation, and in a shocking turn of events, got there just in time to hear her tell a woman: “I’m not a stylist; I can’t tell you what to buy.” SJP! Refusing to give fashion advice! It was refreshing. The crowd tightened, and the woman with the baby somehow got between me and SJP. Well, great, I thought, there goes any chance of meeting my hero…this woman clearly has the trump card.

SJP had been “working the floor” for a full ten minutes before Brandon and I followed her out there, but the moment we arrived seemed to be the moment she’d had enough. She ducked and dodged, I swear looking right at me once, and said something to one of the TV cameramen and then something to Sutton. Sutton politely asked me to stop taking photos because SJP was feeling a little overwhelmed. She quickly made her exit.


Her shoes.

I did learn later that the problem was the news camera—it wasn’t supposed to be on her. You can see the moment at the 1:50 mark in this news clip. She’d asked not to be filmed.


Possibly my sister’s greatest one-liner ever.

But in the moment, it felt dirty, like we’d failed to treat her like a human. Oh, God, it was my outfit, wasn’t it—I looked like a stalker in ill-fitting celebrity skin. I’d completely forgotten about the pencil bag I’d wanted her to sign, so it may be for the best that it was still in my purse. Maybe it was my giant shopping bag. Or any of the fifty people in her immediate vicinity. That had to have been terrifying. Disappointed and a bit shamed, Brandon and I parted ways in the parking lot.

That night, I met some friends at a booksigning. Of course I wore my new booties, golden trophies of my conquest. One of my friends, not understanding the difference between a designer sample sale and the end-of-year clearance at the local department store, scoffed at my adventure: “That is the most basic shit.”

Worth it.


Stories About Tigers

I finished Tiger King over the weekend, despite initial misgivings about getting sucked into even more TV that makes fun of white trash. I was compelled by the way we as viewers kept sinking through deeper layers of muck—it’s an impressive feat of storytelling. This isn’t a dissection of Tiger King as art, a diatribe on what it says about our socially distant society, or a theory about what actually happened (though I have taken my own cheap shots elsewhere). Instead, I want to look at the story that kept pacing the periphery of the cage that is my mind while I watched those big cats in captivity.

The Lifeguard is a terrible movie. Let’s get that out of the way right now. I do not recommend that you watch it, ever, and the 16% rating on Rotten Tomatoes will back me up. Do not get this movie confused with Sam Elliott’s star-making turn in 1976’s Lifeguard, which I’m told is sex on a stick and have added to my “To Watch” list. which I watched last night and now must admit has a VERY similar and, as much as I hate this word, problematic plot. Mea culpa. No, the lifeguard I’m talking about is the 2013 indie film starring Kristen Bell.

Look, I worship Kristen Bell. One of my biggest worries during quarantine is that the Veronica Mars Kickstarter poster of her oversized face that hangs in my office resembles what we in the trade call “a crazy-ass murderer wall,” looming over my shoulder in all Zoom meetings and online yoga classes. After falling in love with Bell as a “teen” through three seasons of network-television-appropriate pixie spy magic, her very human and completely natural sexuality was an adjustment. On top of the scenes with Russell Brand in Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Season Four’s romp with Max Greenfield, her sex positivity in husband Dax Shepherd’s podcast and their shared social media presence have forced me to view her as a grown woman.

Still, the sex depicted in The Lifeguard is so bad, I think it might be illegal to watch. The premise of the film is that an overachiever has a quarter-life crisis, moves back home to resume her old summer job, and has a tryst with a teenage boy. It’s as bad as it sounds. I get what the movie was trying to do, a la Blanche duBois, but it just doesn’t work. It reminded me of Notes on a Scandal, which I thought was a pretty good book, but even Cate Blanchett and Dame Judy couldn’t save the movie. It’s one thing to read about statutory rape involving female predators; it’s quite another to see it simulated on screen. I honestly believe this film could have tanked the career of lesser actresses, and the fact that K. Bell signed on for this project—released the same year as Frozen—is the only reason it 1) showed up on my radar and 2) keeps crossing my mind.

This is difficult to write about without going back to watch the movie, which I refuse to do, even in the name of research (it’s that bad), but I distinctly remember the metaphor that threaded throughout the film. Leigh leaves her job as a journalist in New York because the article she had worked so hard on, the one that was supposed to be her big break, had been killed. That story was about a pet tiger kept captive in an NYC apartment. I don’t remember what happened to the tiger, but there’s a scene about midway through when Leigh is showing her underage loverboy the photos of the clawmarks the tiger had left on the windowsill. It’s heart-wrenching, but the urban tiger as a metaphor for the primal urges of a gifted child going off the rails as an adult is a bit ham-fisted.

In the end, and I’m going to spoil the movie (you weren’t seriously planning to watch it, were you?) Leigh’s story about the tiger gets resurrected and published to great acclaim. She leaves town after apologizing to everyone, including her childhood friend WHO IS PRINCIPAL OF THE LOCAL HIGH SCHOOL AND WAS COMPLICIT IN THE STATUTORY RAPE. The funniest line in the whole movie (probably unintentionally so) comes when Leigh apologizes to the single father of her underage boyfriend, into whose house she had been sneaking at night to crawl into bed with a teenager. He says something like: “My son was getting laid; I don’t give a shit.” And that, really and truly, is the moral of that story.

Here’s a palate cleanser. You’re welcome.

Update: OK, now I have to address the double standard because I watched the Sam Elliott Lifeguard last night, and it also contains “illegal sex” with a minor (although off-screen). To bring balance back to the force, here is the tiger-in-captivity scene I’m thinking of, in which Kristen Bell is very good. It also shows the different attitudes toward tiger ownership and how I misremembered a few details:

Pronto Toronto!

Last month, Hulu threatened to expire Being Erica, so I used the inversion ritual of Leap Day to binge as many episodes as I could and…nothing happened. March 1 came and went, and Being Erica was still available. Is still available—lucky you!

For the day that’s in it, we’ll start with the Irish influence. Erica’s Season Three foil and—spoiler—Season Four boyfriend is an honest-to-goodness Irishman. He eats blood pudding and colcannon (even if the “Dublin” scene is clearly just Toronto with cars driving on the wrong side of the road) and beats people up for a living…or used to. He refers to Dublin as home and has the accent, although his flashback scenes all take place in Toronto, and we never learn at which point in his life he moved.

If I had my druthers, Being Erica would be only three seasons, with each of her three love interests corresponding to a single season (with some overlap, of course, to keep things spicy) and none of the product placement or barrel-scraping soap-operatic storylines (the baby Barb gave up before Leo). In a way, though, its unpolished, imperfectly Canadian sensibilities make it more lovable and accessible, like star Erin Karpluk’s crooked smile.

A few delightful details about Erica. Her collection of five short stories, Streams of Consciousness, and her poem, “Snowflakes,” are both destined for the—heh—slush pile. Her novel in progress is called Little Feats. She has a Dirty Dancing-themed bat mitzvah, with her Uncle Ruby dressed as Patrick Swayze, and nobody puts Baby in a corner…because she is now a woman. She screams at a thug, “Don’t mess with the babysitter,” (a classic line from Adventures in Babysitting with the swear word substituted), though she’s not actually babysitting in that episode. In an alternate reality, she gets fired by sticky note, like Carrie Bradshaw getting dumped by Post-it. At the end of Season Two, she has a panic attack in Camel Pose, and it is a terrifying performance. Camel pose is a heart-opener, and this scene still haunts me. Her lesson in that episode’s time-travel therapy session takes her back to grad school: “It is your thesis, your degree, your life. Figure it out, Ms. Strange.” That one haunts me, too.

As with this year’s 30 Day Yoga Journey by Yoga With Adriene, I was apologizing to my boyfriend every time he came in the room because the theme music is so grating. The soundtrack songs aren’t great either, including the very prominent placement of a Canadian cover of Britney Spears’ “…Baby One More Time.” The music does improve once Sebastian Pigott (a Canadian Idol 7th runner-up) joins the cast. “Alien Like You” justifies how Erica speaks for all of us when she admits: “I have a crush on a damaged rock star from the future.” Girl. His name is Kai Booker, and in one alternate reality, best friend Judith reminds Erica that she used to want to want to “win a Booker [Prize].” Heh.

Erica makes a list of her regrets, so I jotted down a list as well. “There’s more, of course, but these are the ones that keep me up at night.” I got 21 without even trying. When I began my rewatch, I had also just started seeing a life coach and was in a cycle/return that has me reliving the lessons from 2003-2005. Erica doesn’t begin group therapy until Season Three, which was about how far I had gotten when my own life coaching moved into a group context. (Really, it’s a Brené Brown Daring Greatly reading group, but I’m getting the same level of inspiration out of it.) The group model is useful in therapy, creative structure, and life: start off solo, work to encompass others and their stories, then finally grow to a place of helping others. I’m currently audiobooking Postscript, the sequel to PS I Love You, and it uses the group model to add more stories and diversity to the same theme.

Since Canada seems to only have a total of six actors, there’s some overlap between Being Erica and a current favorite, Letterkenny. Mrs. McMurray is one of the therapy group members (a sex-crazed drug addict, if I remember correctly) and, the biggest shocker of all, Gae is Katie Atkins. (Sarah Gadon is one of the few actors I have seen outside of the context of the show; she was Robert Pattison’s girlfriend in Cosmopolis in 2012). Julianne once popped up as a ho in some shoot-em-up, prompting me to yell “Julianne, get your clothes on” at the screen while my boyfriend was trying to watch a movie, and she showed up again in Sharp Objects as one of Camille’s prissy high school buddies. As with all things Canadian, Drake manifests, and Erica gets to bury him alive in the second episode. There is also some time-traveling joke about Jenny (Paula Brancati) appearing on Degrassi, but I don’t know the show well enough to track it. At the start of Season Two, we are introduced to Tatiana Maslany, a few years before she gifted us the acting masterclass that is Orphan Black. Toward the end of that season is also when I realized Zach is the Dick Casablancas of the show—he starts off as a total creep in a small role, but after a while, you kind of enjoy the lightness his knuckle-dragging comedy brings.

Oh, man, Season Three. Let’s start with what’s problematic: Ivan and David, cutely named after the co-creators of the show, are a gay couple and co-owners of Goblins. Sadly, they seem to exist only as props. In the Pride episode, Ivan goes “10% straight” for long enough to feel up Julianne, while Erica takes centre stage during the parade as she dons a RAINBOW HEADDRESS AND GETS PULLED UP TO DANCE ON A FLOAT by a fairy who calls her Pocahontas. Yeah, no. And the product placement: a Ford Fiesta in magenta. Erica buys her own Ford in Season Four, so she no longer has to awkwardly borrow Julianne’s to shoehorn the product into scenes where it doesn’t belong. The car is joined by Tetley Infusions when Julianne decides to switch from her 9, 10:30, and 3 o’clock lattes.

Halfway through Season Three, future-Kai warns present-Erica that something happens in 2019 that makes it impossible for him to find her in the future. Um, internet archives? We learn in Season Four that the 2019 incident is a bombing at Union Station during which hundreds of people die. Erica, mid-existential freak-out, receives a visit from her 43-year-old self (2020 Erica, that is) to explain how in this new timeline, she knows about the bombing and avoids it. NEITHER ERICA MAKES ANY MENTION OF TRYING TO STOP IT ALTOGETHER because fuck everybody else, right? [Insert COVID-19 reference here.]

Also, future-Kai tells present-Adam that Ireland wins the World Cup in 2018. Why???

Finally, a moment to honor the most consistent presence in Erica’s life: lattes. Pronounced Canadianly: leah-tays. From the hazelnut-mocha-mint latte sample that sends Erica into anaphylactic shock and gets this whole time-travel therapy ball rolling to the sub-par lattes she makes as Julianne’s assistant to the latte Dr. Fred spills on the street to the endless vanilla lattes she orders from Kai to the free lattes Ivan and David offer to sweeten the rental agreement to, finally, the wedding dress in the precise color of Cosmic Latte…we enjoyed every single one of them with her.

I love this weird little show. A show somehow structured around time-travel therapy, set in the publishing industry, and flavored with two identities I got to understand a little better: Canadianism and Judaism. And thanks to the Hulu algorithm, we get to revisit our girl in 2020 to make sure she’s doing OK.

How Messed-up am I?

A few months ago, I took three friends to see Heathers: the Musical. I was really excited because I loved the movie and wanted to see how the dark humor would translate into song form. It wasn’t until we arrived at the theatre, with the movie playing in the foyer, that I learned that none of the people I had invited had ever seen the movie. It went downhill from there, and I was lucky to get them to even come back to our seats after intermission. At our wine bar postmortem, I agreed that perhaps the black comedy did not translate into singing and dancing, then found myself reading articles about how the movie itself is more than problematic. It led to me to wonder…is there something wrong with me that I love movies like Heathers, Drop Dead Gorgeous, and Jawbreaker?

Because I genuinely thought we were all in on the joke. It was Mean Girls ad absurdum, right? If the popular girls at Westerburg High are murdering each other with Drano and Regina George runs out in front of a bus, then surely the petty dramas happening at my school couldn’t be taken seriously. We actually had one of those “all sophomore girls report to the gymnasium for an intervention” meetings at my school, except it took place in the counselor’s office and only included the mean and popular girls, so there was none of the democratic, kumbaya equality of “look, the field hockey girls have problems too!”

When I read Jia Tolentino’s New Yorker piece on how Drop Dead Gorgeous bombed critically but is possibly her favorite movie, I felt so validated. I’d loved it too, and I can remember watching it in my freshman dorm with a bunch of other girls. I’m going to have to bow to Jia here, because she’s just that good: “The black comedy of Drop Dead Gorgeous is guided by a deranged value system that’s particular to the world of teen-age girls…But what Drop Dead Gorgeous understands so well is that being a teen-age girl is, in fact, deranged and dehumanizing and frequently unsubtle.” See?

Finally, Jawbreaker, with it’s breakout role for Judy Greer, one of our most consistently underrated comedic actresses. And let us not forget the Noxzema Girl! Her very existence on magazine pages throughout the 90s was probably the single worst contributing factor to my insecurities about my skin. And hair. Jawbreaker is arguably the most messed up of the three (Marilyn Manson’s cameo), but it also has Pam Grier.

Because I’m tired and struggling to finish here, I just followed the Wiki links and confirmed another name for what I’m talking about is “gallows humor.” One of the oldest and best examples finds Mercutio making a bad-pun dad joke after he is mortally wounded by Tybalt (setting into effect the entire tragic chain of events):

“…ask for me tomorrow, and you shall find me a grave man.
[He dies, offstage, but not before cursing everyone.]

The Editor in Sharp Objects

On Sunday, I wrote about writing in my reading journal, which I still think is a good habit to have, even at the age of 37. It helps me keep track of my reading (my post about Goodreads is coming tomorrow) and to process the things I have read. I consume so much longform nonfiction now that I struggle to remember when and where I came across a certain idea, so the journal has been a lifesaver when it comes to research. I have also noticed some patterns in my own life and career.

The stories from last week that inspired me included:

  1. Judy Maggio on Austin homelessness in a Decibel Facebook post and the actual airing on KLRU.
  2. A New York Times Instagram post about the Port Authority ladies’ room.
  3. A book review of The Grammarians, also in the New York Times, from which I receive biweekly email newsletters.

Sometime during my transcription of quotes I liked from the third article, when I was sated but still refusing to stop, I hit on a connected topic I had wanted to write about several months ago but forgotten. All the truly good story ideas by/for/about women inspired me to remember how dearly I loved the male editor in Sharp Objects, and how desperately I want one of my own.

I have not read the Sharp Objects book but did read Gone Girl and am familiar with Gillian Flynn’s journalistic background and Missouri upbringing. A friend had recommended the HBO series to me when it first came out a year ago; when I did finally get around to watching it, the delightful creepiness gave me all the right kinds of chills. Details like the hand-painted silk wallpaper (not to mention the ivory floor) are still haunting me. I think the French director’s postmortem recaps helped, too. Without posting too many spoilers: the male editor’s unwavering support of the main character, an alcoholic journalist, elicited an audible sob from me at one point during the finale.

In real life, I have lost yet another editor; this time, however, it was through no fault of my own. I am possibly about to get a male editor, and I’m apprehensive, to say the least; I have not had the best luck with them. I did some reminiscing, and I realized that I have not had a male editor in over a decade. As a result, I have been replaying a lot of the “learning opportunities” they provided at the start of my career. (This is not a Shitty Media Men type of thing; I just learned early on that I work better with women.)

The male editor in Sharp Objects, however, is a truly good, kind-hearted male editor who provides professional and emotional support to his protégé, even while he undergoes a round of chemotherapy. Near the end of the series, when Camille has written the piece that sums up the emotional journey she has taken, he praises: “That’s beautiful copy.”

References Available Upon Request

I no longer provide references on generic job applications. Even if the application is a form I have to fill out that specifically asks for one to three professional references, I simply write “Available Upon Request” in every blank until it lets me move on. Is it costing me job opportunities? Maybe. But my new “references available upon request” policy saves me heartache and humiliation, and credit must go to a local business.

I have been looking for a part-time job since I left the brewery taproom at the end of 2018. I need something to supplement the teaching and writing that pays steadily but doesn’t keep me out all hours of the night. Beertending was great money and a lot of fun, but it had slowly begun to take over the parts of my life that matter more. I needed to carve out more time for books and reading, so I started looking at returning to a bookstore environment. I have a fair amount of experience and have even written a master’s thesis that explores the industry. I am, in a word, qualified, yet have not been able to get a job in this particular field–stateside–since 2006.

It is possible that I am overqualified. The local chain store has rejected my application multiple times over the past ten years, the famous one in the closest big city has been doing it for even longer, and two new! local! independent! bookstores have rejected me more recently. In fact, this summer, after a five-page application (not including the personal essay I wrote for the “Get creative!” attachment), an hour-long interview that had to be rescheduled when the interviewees could not get organized (that should have been a red flag), and a solid month of wondering, I got rejected from yet another bookstore. (The other did not even acknowledge my application).

This is nothing new, but what makes me extremely angry is that they called at least two of my references. I know, for a fact, that these two references gave me positive referrals during what have been reported as quite lengthy conversations that took place before I had even been asked to come in for an interview. Yet I got to be the one to explain, when these references naturally inquired, that I did not get the job. I have been a hiring manager and never wasted someone’s time with references until I was ready to hire someone. Now, I am making sure that it never again happens in my name.

Most of us have learned that dream jobs do not arrive in the form of fillable PDFs. I finally read Designing Your Life during this summer of self-improvement, after hearing about it for years and unexpectedly meeting the authors at a conference last October. Bill Burnett and Dave Evans write: “Most great jobs–those that fall into the dream job category–are never publicly listed…Using the Internet as your only job-finding method is nothing short of masochistic.” Accurate.

Clean Living

I missed a few days writing, but with good reason: not only did class start Friday, but I had two articles due for my freelance magazine gig. I have been writing and thinking about writing plenty; I do not have anything to prove. (I did draft one angry essay, but it was mean-spirited and petty–so I reworked it and have scheduled it to publish tomorrow!) Still, the ideas and stories were swirling; I just needed a quiet moment to collect my thoughts into the five-paragraph format.

On Friday, after meeting my class, writing encouraging comments about their introductory assignments, submitting my articles, and turning down an emergency request to write another (well, not so much turning down as politely setting firm boundaries), I dozed off in the living room armchair from 5:15 to 5:40 p.m. BECAUSE I AM YOUR DAD. I finally regained the will to live and started reading wonderful, inspiring articles on my phone and enthusiastically celebrating them in my reading journal (a holdover from my own student days). I then watched the public television report on homelessness in Austin while eating a salad. This was my Friday night.

As we moved into Virgo Season last week, Madame Clairvoyant had this to say: “Virgo is focused on health and care and living a good life inside this human form.” Her advice paired nicely with Jia Tolentino’s essay about chopped salads in the the Guardian (also in her new book of essays, Trick Mirror, though I have not procured a copy), which I have been pushing on damn near every female in my life. All of that paired nicely with the final episode of a beloved, bingeable Netflix show to form a clean-living philosophy that carried me through the last week and into that armchair to kick off my mild-not-wild Friday night at home with a kickass early-evening nap.

The seventh season of Orange is the New Black was released back on July 26, the start of Leo Season, not Virgo. However, since this was a show that himself and I shared (he hooked me by asking about one of the books in the prison library), we only got organized enough to finish the show together in the week before last. I actually watched the last two episodes without him (Something came up! He insisted!), which worked out well because I cried like a baby. In addition, without spoiling too much, Piper has a line about clean living, voiced over a shot of her hand-washing dishes and placing them in a counter-top rack to dry. The visual of such a simple ritual stuck with me.

On Saturday, after a date night that included a trip to the planetarium and some frozen yogurt, we were home by 9:30 p.m. I dozed off on the couch, phone-scrolling while the start of college football season continued on the TV. I swear I heard one of the color commentators, after a player eked out a touchdown from underneath a dog pile, declare: “That’s clean living right there.”

That One Night

The first essay I assign to English Comp students is descriptive, which is supposed to be the most accessible rhetorical mode, though the restraints can be frustrating. Description is usually best when blended with something else, the way a bottle of inexpensive merlot can be used to cook an exotic dish. I tell students to fall back on the five senses when writing description, and last night, I explored the sense of smell.

My first foray into scented TV occurred in 1994 with the aromavision episode of Living Single. Evidently, May 8 marked the “interactive entertainment” event on Fox, featuring a 3D Married With Children and much more subdued, sustainable fan interaction from Martin Lawrence and George Carlin. I vividly recall one Living Single character (either Sinclair or Max) dumping half a bottle of maple syrup on her breakfast (either waffles or pancakes).

I could get lost in a web dive of archived articles and 90s nostalgia collectibles, but what they cannot tell me is if I am actually remembering the smell of the cards, or if I even had them in the first place. There is a very real chance I simply watched show, saw the scratch-and-sniff prompt on the screen, and conjured the scent of maple syrup. I felt a similar sensation last week, when I realized I had waited too long to order my Office smell-a-vision card, and yesterday morning, when I got a reminder email (strange, because I had never gotten an email from Cozi TV before, but I just live with the assumption that social media algorithms have infiltrated my entire life). I mentioned to my boyfriend, who has lost patience with my Office viewing habit, how bummed I was to miss it.

A few hours later, he found some of my mail in his truck: “I’m sorry; this has probably been in here for a week.” I was too overjoyed to be annoyed, because he had made it just in time. I opened the envelope from Cozi TV, 30 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10112, and read the warning slipped in with the card: “This thing stinks…pungent…oppressive odor…smell ya later!” The card did indeed emit odors without provocation. As 9 p.m. approached, I made popcorn and hoped the smell would not interfere.

The smell-a-vision episode, entitled “The Dinner Party,” is a cringe-worthy social gathering set in Michael’s condo. The first sniff, Serenity by Jan’s Bonfire candle, was essentially liquid smoke. It filled the air and all nostrils, dominating the rest of the evening, in fiction and real life. Andy’s floral bouquet was barely detectable, and the red wine blended with Bonfire to produce a peaty whiskey finish on the nose. Host Melora Hardin told us the scratch-n-sniff company did not manufacture an Osso Buco flavor, so their work-around mixed beef with onions. The cheeseburger smelled similar, but with pickles, babe. Scents of Bonfire and Osso Buco fought it out until I put the card into a Ziploc bag—it is a collectible, after all.