5-Stars: Amazing. It resonated with my soul, man. A keeper. I’ll loan it to friends but want it back and will get sad when they inevitably lose it. I will maintain delusions that I will one day reread this book. Certainly I’ll take it into the can with me and skim it to be reminded of my favorite bits on occasion.
4-Stars: Also did the resonate thing or was a ton of fun, but I don’t mind if you don’t give it back to me when I loan it to you. Really, I should declutter and downsize, rise above my attachment to material possessions and all that. Might also reread it on the can.
3-Stars: A decent afternoon or three spent on the couch. Greasy kid stuff and comfort reads.
2-Stars: Never use it. (I lie as this proves.) What the fuck is 2-stars?
1-Star: Used rarely, but for books I hated and which made me angry and question my relationship with the person who recommended it to me. Normally, I’ll quit reading a book and move on before giving it only a star. But it does happen. Most recently used for Anders Eschbach’s The Carpet Makers, a book that takes itself way too seriously even though it’s about a planet-sized toupee.
A theory of assholes:
You aren’t an asshole. You are being an asshole.
That’s an important distinction. Being an asshole isn’t a state inherent to your identity, it’s not who you are, but simply the state of being you are passing through at that moment. At some later moment, you may not be an asshole.
Now it’s possible you have a low resistance to being an asshole and the asshole path is so clearly blazed and marked it takes an act of extreme willpower not to go full asshole at the slightest provocation and your average state of being manifests asshole so often that it takes on the appearance of permanence. Or maybe you’re a performance artist and have decided that it’s much easier to perform being an asshole at all times as a mask to hide your social anxiety and feelings of inferiority and resentment than actually engage with people as people.
These are the easy paths, the lowest hanging fruit. You don’t have to take the easy way. Learn to read the road signs and get past that first off-ramp that takes you to asshole.
And if your identity and money stream requires you to maximize instances of being an asshole, well, I got nothing for you. Go eat shit.
But I’ll highlight that being an asshole isn’t such a horrible thing that being one must be viewed as a complete evil to be avoided entirely. In certain circumstances it’s advantageous to be an asshole. Or at least know a good one. I’d certainly want any lawyer I’d hire to be able to go full asshole on my behalf in court. And when setting and maintaining boundaries being an asshole helps – at least being thought an asshole, because those susceptible to assholery in your life will think you’re an asshole when you cut them and their nonsense out of your life. Good on you. Be that asshole. Make the filter work. Because you’re only being an asshole, it’s not who you are.
So to recap: if you’re accused of being an asshole, take heart because it’s not who you are, it’s just where you are at that moment, and if you have to be an asshole from time to time it’s okay because it’s what you’re being and not who you are. Unless you’re a lazy performance artist going for the low hanging fruit in which case, eat shit.
I leave tomorrow for a month long trip to the USA. As is always the case I’m stressed out and anxious, and one of the things that stresses me out the most is having the identical bullshit conversations with people about living in South Korea and Asia in general.
So, as one does, I made a bingo card of all my anxieties. This way even if I have a panic attack while listening to someone drone on I can still feel like a winner!
It’s rare that a book I’m reading flat out and out sucks. So what makes me quit reading a book? Read on and find out!
- It’s Not You. It’s Me: That thing your book does is a fine and good thing, it just doesn’t happen to be my thing. So you do you. I’ll do me, and move on without any ill feelings.
- That Window of Opportunity Has Closed: I subscribe to the view that we have a finite number of slots for certain stories, and once you fill up those slots you’re less likely to respond to new stories drawing from the same well. This is a normal thing and not something to be lamented, as long as you’re not a shitheel about it and crap on other people’s books for not being those same books you’re crazy about.
- The Ham Sandwich Problem: While that plot thing your characters are tracking down might be vitally important to them, I, the reader, am not quite convinced why it is. It may as well be a ham sandwich for all it matters to me.
- Your Plot Only Works Because You Have Shitheels in It: This is akin to that frustration you feel when you watch a movie where the plot centers around miscommunication, and you want to scream, “Holy Hell, people! Can you all stop and just call each other for two seconds and clear up this mess?!?” It’s a fine line, because some shitheels in a book might be necessary, but not so many that they strain plausibility.
- Your Book Actually Sucks: Somehow it happened. A book with all the thrills and charisma of a plank of particle board got published and ended up in my hands. Meanwhile, someone somewhere said it’s not so bad, so I gave it a shot. AND IT WAS AWFUL. But even now I’m less angry at the book, than at all the folks that said it was good. What were they thinking those awful wrong people?
The Victorian Thriller that out sold Dracula!
And which time then subsequently, and rightfully, forgot!
This is an awful book, written in the Victorian era’s worst style, although this last bit isn’t what makes it awful. It’s awful parts come from its Victorian preoccupations and assumptions (and its habit of dipping into aspirated dialect to provide local color). I read it hoping it would be better than it was, a bit of a lost gem, but really it’s your bog standard Victorian racism and obsessions set down on the page: evil gender ambiguous foreigners and their diabolical rites to ancient gods that sacrifice white English women and sap the vitality from virile young men by loathsome ways.
In it’s day The Beetle was a best-seller and its preoccupations obviously touched upon something warm and throbbing within the Victorian psyche (“gender ambiguity and foreigners are bad”), but reading it now it’s all one long, badly written tease to a hysterical denouement populated by wooden characters, the liveliest of which can’t seem to meet an invalid or a woman without wanting to thrash and shake them.
Lovecraft has rightly earned his epitaph as a racist. There’s no arguing that, but I’ve seen it argued that he unconsciously freed the English horror story from being solely obsessed with racial degradation (scare quotes all over that shit), and gave it something else to be horrified by with stories about humanity’s insignificance on the cosmic scale. If The Beetle is any indication of what the English language horror genre looked like at its widest reaching before Lovecraft, then there’s a debt owed to him for unwittingly shaking it free from its tiresome preoccupations.
Did I mention I more or less quit my job?
“More or less” because when the time came to renew my teaching contract for another year, I chose not to so now I’m just wiling away the days until my last one, which will be Friday.
I’ve been at my main school since 2011. It was great teaching these kids. I even liked most of them, in particular the current crop who will be starting 6th grade next week. But I also need a break. Which I realize is such a luxurious, privileged thing to say. And I feel both those things and not necessarily in a bad way, but in a fortunate and thankful way. It’s been a privilege to work with and know everyone I met students and teachers. I worked for years. I saved money. Now I can take a few months off to do as I please. Savings along with my wife’s income should hold us and once my visa gets sorted out I’ll be able to freelance and teach private students. We’ll see what happens.
I’d be lying if I didn’t say I’m a little stressed out. Having no schedule, no time when I need to be up, no place I need to be, that’s spooky. I fear I’m either going to become completely indolent, or worse, and this is actually more likely, I’ll become so utterly fussy that I’ll be vacuuming the ceiling every day at 3 o’clock sharp and other somewhat OCD compulsions and more or less driving people crazy.
Did I mention I graduated grad school and am now a “Master of Education”?
I’m glad it’s done. Now I can read all the books. All the books. But the degree might prove useful later on, especially when it comes time to find a new job. You’d think right?
One thing that always got me was when folks would say how they wanted to take a grad course while in Korea, but when I told them the time to enroll for my program they’d give me some long blahblahblah about how my school was a bad school and there are online programs and yaddayadda – and yes, fine, my school isn’t the greatest. It’s basically a local community college, but it really bugs me when I see people want to do a thing, talk about doing it, then when you point them to an opportunity to do it, they tell you how the opportunity is somehow wrong, and so they won’t do it. Meanwhile I got my degree and they’re still talking about getting theirs.
In other facets of my life I should apply that insight, instead of waiting for right conditions.
Did I mention our cat died?
Yeah, that sucked. But it was months ago. She was a big annoying cat who had like four owners by the time she was 4 years old – and I loved every fat ounce of her, but it turned out she had a heart problem. I like to think she had a decent three years with us. We still have another cat. Her name is Mona Lisa Overdrive. She’s also annoying. And I love her to pieces.
I read a thing. I didn’t like it. Now I need to tell you how much I didn’t like it, because these other people, they liked it. And I can’t stand that, because I REALLY DIDN’T LIKE IT. And because I didn’t like it that means it’s bad. It’s a bad thing. It’s awful. So there’s something wrong with those people that like that thing. How could they like that thing? Wasn’t it clear that it was bad? Wasn’t that obvious? If the thing was good, I’d know. I’d be able to tell. It would be clearly a good thing. No doubt at all. But that thing? That thing wasn’t a good thing, because I didn’t like it and I know good things. Never mind that it might not have been made for me, never mind that I might not have the life experience it speaks to, or the simple matter of it coming down to taste. If it’s good, it’s good. If it’s bad, I know. And that thing was bad, because I didn’t like it, and I only like good things. Those people who liked that thing, they’re wrong. They’re dumb. They have problems. Isn’t that obvious? It’s a bad thing because I didn’t like it.
And you’ll find yourself standing beside people you don’t know listening to people you don’t like and one of them will call someone else “straight-edge” and there will be this silence before someone else asks how anyone could possibly quit drinking, and the original speaker will backtrack and say, “She still drinks, she just doesn’t get black-out drunk anymore. Same thing.” And you’ll wonder how long it’ll be before your friends show up and you can say goodbye to them, because you’ll have discovered once again that you should have stayed home.
After that it was a quick slide into dangerous work, into moving away and being moved. It was a quick switch painless and unnoticeable. One day the world was wide open, full of endless possibilities. The next she knew it had passed and left her behind. Left her behind wandering without any hope of reaching any place she might make into a home. Her promise and potential gone – eroded away one burn after the other. Each layer stripped away until she had nothing left but a dubious talent that was guaranteed to either kill her or drive her to sand and translation. A long series of compromises and retreats. Episodes of loss, pushed down point by point. Concessions taken. Concessions given. You start to see signs and there’s no way back no matter how hard you search. You’re already on it, losing yourself, losing your way, retreating from where you believed you should have been. But even then you have to wonder if maybe you were wrong to begin with.
You can probably spare yourself a lot of trouble when you join a community by determining as soon as possible what kind of community you’ve joined. I can think of three types of communities and each has their value, but each also breaks in a way peculiar to itself.*
Community of Interests: “You like dinosaurs. I like dinosaurs. Let’s form a dinosaur club!”
This is probably the most common type of community, and you’d probably think it wouldn’t suffer from any problems, but there’s always going to be that asshole judging your love of dinosaurs and whether it’s “correct” or not, so when the gatekeepers exceed the members and every week brings a new test of devotion, you can be certain this community is sliding into dysfunction.
Community of Purposes: “You like dinosaurs! I like dinosaurs… and have access to cloning technology and an intact velociraptor genome! Let’s make dinosaurs!”
Beyond the shared interest, this community has an agenda it hopes to implement. It wants to do a thing, and everyone’s on-board to do it. Solidarity and intention become more important than interest. Often this type of community and the one above will exist within one community with members pushing it one way or the other. Of course when this one breaks, the assholes come out to test your devotion to the cause and see if you’re really about cloning woolly mammoths or are just so much talk.
Community of Circumstances: This is the community for people circumstance has thrown together. English teachers in South Korea, Pakistani Law Students at the University of Wisconsin, etc. Normally these people would have nothing to do with each other, but circumstance has thrown them together and so they’re now part of community. On the plus side, they meet people outside their comfort zone and become friends with them. On the downside once the circumstances change, people move on without looking back.
* Barring active trolls who delight in destroying/undermining communities.