Brigid Daull Brockway is technically a writer

Brigid Daull Brockway is technically a writer

A blog about words, wordplay, and etymology, with slightly more than occasional political rants.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Manic Pixie Dream Girl

Zooey Deschanel, Winona Ryder, and Ellen Page, I've just learned, share something in common more than being nearly too adorable to exist. They've all played variations on me. Me. The Manic Pixie Dream Girl.
That's right, I've just learned that I'm a trope.* 
This weekend I learned that the Manic Pixie Dream Girl is, according to, is a "stunningly attractive, high on life, full of wacky quirks and idiosyncrasies (generally including childlike playfulness and a tendency towards petty crime), often with a touch of wild hair dye." Sound like anyone we know? Today I actually made Jeremy a lovely homemade greeting card that included Poop written in lovely flowered calligraphy

Examples of/variations on the Magic Pixie dream girl include Natalie Portman's character in The Garden State (which I liked better the first time I saw it, when it was called Elizabethtown and the MPDG was Kirsten Dunst). Ellen Page as Juno was a variation on the MPDG; Dharma of Dharma and Greg was the MPDG; Zooey Deschanel has played the MPFG in just about every role she's ever had.
Nathan Rabin coined the term Manic Pixie Dream Girl in his review of the aforementioned Elizabethtown, saying "The Manic Pixie Dream Girl exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures."
Hello, Nathan Rabin, I'm right over here. At church, when they call all the children to sit in front for story time, I sit with them - people look at me funny if I don't. I've been known to force Jeremy to tango with me in the soup aisle at Target. Sometimes, I have whole protracted conversations using my shoe or a banana as a telephone. And I promise you, I have taught my broodingly soulful young husband to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures.
Right Jeremy?

*trope, from the Latin word for figure of speech, is, according to, a device or convention "that a writer can reasonably rely on as being present in the audience members' minds and expectations." It's like a formula that shows up over and over in TV shows, movies, books and stuff.
(That's not the actual meaning of the word trope, by the way. But the Internet will do what the Internet will do.)

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Things that describe my love life

Seems the major news outlets have run out of ways to make Mitt Romney's presumptive primary win sound like news, which is why everybody's going crazy to talk about two cities on the verge of becoming sisters.
Seems that a Scottish woman passed through Boring, Oregon and thought it would be doss (Scottish slang for brilliant, good) if Boring, Oregon were to join forces with her friend's hometown, Dull, in Perthshire, Scotland. So now they're becoming sister cities. And it's a slow news week, because this is breaking news all over the place. 
And the big winners? Headline writers. Thinking up headlines can be a dull, boring (see what I did there?) task, but this week they had something to liven up their dull, boring lives (see what I did there again?)

  • A Dull and Boring Story, proclaims Apparently this is such big news that ABC had to run another story, this one titled, Dull and Boring Towns Seek New Relationship
  • Another twofer from, who heralded the news with the headlines Dull Embraces Boring and Dull and Boring: A Portlander Recalls His Own Dull Visit. It is interesting to note that news organizations have yet to find someone from Dull who has visited Boring.
  •, because apparently the business world is having a slow week too, reports Dull and Boring Come Together Across Continents
  • NPR has been having a field day, with headlines like Sister Community Project Excites Dull and Boring and 'Boring' and 'Dull,': Ho Hum Sister Cities At Last.
  • Fox News is far too respectable for clever titles (or far too un-cleaver); they say 'Dull' and 'Boring' to Become 'Sister Communities'? I didn't read the coverage, but I bet they've discovered a chilling link to the Obama presidency. Don't they have socialized medicine in Scotland? Dun dun DUN.
This was seriously the best video I could come up with for this song. 

It's because Jeremy's so close-minded about the midget porn. The dull and boring love life thing. 

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Reasons vampires aren't sexy

  1. Have you ever touched a dead person? If you haven't, it's wrong; that's the best way to describe it. Trust me on this one - say goodbye to Grandma by giving her a firm pat on the coffin. Maybe one could get accustomed to the feel if one had to work with dead things, but unless you've got some kind of very special fetish, I don't think you're ever going to touch a dead thing and feel happy in your pants. Ever had your significant other put his or her icy feet on you while you're trying to sleep? Try all night every night, and it's not just their feet, yo.
  2. Take it from a woman who has worked with people with disabilities for much of her life. Being bitten hard enough to break the skin is not pleasant, ever. I don't care how hot Bill Compton looks when he's doing it, girls, it hurts so much. On a scale where massages are a 0 and dental pain is a 10, I'd put skin-breaking bite wounds from adults somewhere above ankle tattoos. Not that I have an ankle tattoo, mom. That is something that I most decidedly do not have.
  3. If your mate is not doing some heavy huffing and puffing during sexy time, you've got something to worry about. I mean, how do you know you're not doing something wrong, for the love of God?
  4. Maybe I'm too much of a worrier, but I'm pretty sure that if Jeremy didn't breathe or have a heartbeat, I'd probably have to wake him up like, once a minute to make sure he wasn't for-real dead. And as bad as it would be to have to deal with Jeremy being angry that I was waking him up, imagine how much worse it would be to deal with a tired vampire being angry that you're waking him up. Okay, I'd take the angry tired vampire. Jeremy's not pleasant upon awakening. 
  5. Oh, sure, the old-timey chivalry is nice when he's opening doors for you, but wait until he comes home and you don't have dinner on the table. And then there's the spittoons, and the chamber pots, and the pre-20th century hygiene...
  6. Forget the candle-lit Italian dinner. Fire, garlic, checkered tablecloths, cheesy violin music - all toxic to vampires.
QED. Vampires=not sexy.
Too fangirl?

Sunday, April 22, 2012

[Insert Stooge sound effect here]

I'm not exactly a girly girl, never have been. I'm not sure if it's biological, or just the fact that the things that society tells girls to like are lame. Romantic comedies? Lame. Boy bands? Lame. Lifetime, Television for Women? This is an entire channel of made-for-TV movies about kidnappings and breast cancer. Why? Why? Who finds this entertaining?
There is one thing in this world, that inexorably distinguishes me from men, one thing that makes me know I was born to be a woman. The Three Stooges. I will never be man enough for The Three Stooges
On NPR's Fresh Air, I learned that the Three Stooges began when Larry Fine (Louis Fienberg), Moe Howard (Moses Horowitz), and Shemp Howard (Samuel Horowitz), three well-known vaudeville performers, appeared together in 1930 in the film Soup to Nuts as "Ted Healy and his Southern Gentlemen." After that film, Shemp went off to do his own thing, leaving his younger brother Curly Howard (Jerome Horowitz) to fill out the trio. 
According to The Intellectual Devotional, it wasn't until 1934 that Columbia studios signed Larry, Curly, and Moe to create a series of 20-minute shorts that the Stooges really hit the big time. They made their pie-throwing, prat-falling shtick pay off until 1947, when Curly had a career-ending stroke. It was then that Shemp rejoined the group, and remained until his death eight years later. After that, Joe Besser filled the role of Shemp, followed by Curly Joe (Joseph Wardell).

Writing this post, I suddenly realized that I had no idea why vaudeville is called vaudeville. As it turns out, nobody's quite sure, so I don't feel too bad. Wikipedia has several possible etymologies, but the one I find most convincing is that it comes from voix de ville, meaning "songs of the town" or "voice of the city."
When I wrote the word pratfall above, it occurred to me to wonder from whence that term came. The Online Etymology Dictionary tells me that the term comes from around 1939 from prat, meaning bottom, and fall meaning, well, fall. So to pratfall, literally speaking is to fall on one's ass. Something I have done unintentionally in almost every play I've ever been in.
The shtick I mentioned before comes from the Yiddish shtik, for piece or slice, from Middle High German stücke, for piece or play. This word is unrelated to slapstick.
Slapstick is a reference to an object made up of two sticks that slap together when they hit something, making the slapping sound effect that characterized this type of routine.
Slapstick comedy is not to be confused with the Marvel superhero Slapstick, who has the power of "cartoon physics." This is not, sadly, even remotely the stupidest superhero Marvel has ever forced upon us. 
By the way, stooge, according to the Online Etymology Dictionary, used to be a word for a stage assistant, and didn't come to mean lackey until after The Stooges hit it big.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Nothing new two

My fabulous Maya mentioned on Tuesday that she'd read an article complaining of the evils fanfiction - how it's plagiarism, and worse than that, it's just a bunch of sick grown-ups turning youth literature - Twilight, for example - into pornography. 
Now I have to be real, I've always found fanfic kinda pathetic. Even more so after trying to read some of it. But then I read some more. I still didn't like it, for the record, but I'm starting to realize it's not as pathetic, or illegitimate, as some of us think. Much of it isn't even porn (for reasons I'm not quite clear on).
Let's take Twilight. I haven't read Twilight, but a lot of folks I know who have read the books say that they're kind of a lot like the Sookie Stackhouse (True Blood) books without the sex. Both books have a girl who considers herself pretty average pursued by dark and paternalistic vampire. In Twilight, Edward is fascinated by Bella because he can read minds but can't read hers (which my friend Nick states is proof she's "brick stupid"); Sookie Stackhouse is fascinated by Bill because she can read minds and can't read his. In both series, the "good guy" vampires have given up human blood (sorta). In later books, Bella and Sookie are both befriended by loving and supportive werewolf who is so clearly much better for her than that stupid uptight prig of a vampire.
So there. Twilight's a total ripoff of the Sookie Stackhouse books. Twilight is basically fanfiction. Right?
But aren't the Sookie Stackhouse novels suspiciously similar to Buffy the Vampire Slayer? In both, the young, pretty, blond heroine is separated from everyone else by an extraordinary and very unwanted ability. Both women struggle with work, school, and relationships because of their ability. Both fall in love with annoyingly penitent reformed vampires, but later become interested in a sexy bad boy vampire (who is tamed by some mysterious force). 
So Sookie Stackhouse is really Buffy? So the Twilight books are just Sookie Stackhouse fanfiction, and Sookie Stackhouse books are Buffy fanfiction?
But wait. Buffy the Vampire Slayer, while infinitely more awesome and original than the aforementioned vamp stories, is basically fanfiction of every other vampire thing ever. The vampires, their personalities and hierarchies and such, are pretty heavily influenced by Anne Rice's vampires. One Buffy season features Count Dracula himself, and the "uber-vamps" from the last season are pretty clearly the bastard children of Nosferatu. 
Anne Rice could totally be writing Bram Stoker fanfic, but Bram Stoker was pretty much Varney the Vampire fanfic and Varney was pretty much mythology fanfic. 

Then there are the similarities between Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings... Frodo and Harry are orphans raised by their uncles; they're led by wise old wizards, they've inherited a magical item that makes them invisible, are helped by a pathetic toad looking creature who speaks of himself in the third person, and so on. 

In high school, we had to read The Wide Sargasso Sea, which is a prequel to Jane Eyre written much later by another author. Fanfic. 
Stephan King's Wolves of the Calla is The Magnificent 7 is 7 Samurai. Fanfic.
West Side Story is Romeo and Juliet is Pyramus and Thisbe. Fanfic. 
Wicked is another take on The Wizard of Oz. Fanfic. 
Think of how many permutations of Batman we've seen between the comics, books, movies, cartoons, and so on. Fanfic?
The Flintstones are The Honeymooners. Fanfic.

All of these things (aside from Twilight, of course) are really good in their own right; influenced by but not imitations of their predecessors, and proof that a good story is timeless. And you know what's kind of wild about the sort of fanfic littered all over the Internet? Nobody's getting paid to do this. Many or most of these folks probably don't admit to people that they do it. They certainly don't do it to put on a resume. They write to write, because they love the stories, they love the characters, and they love to write. There's something to be said for people who are willing to work that hard with no reward other than the compliments of strangers. And maybe three best-selling books and a movie deal.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012


I got a man and you don't got one.
I have a confession to make. I can't smile. Well, I can't pretend to smile anyway. When I try, I look deranged. I mean straight-up don't-leave-your-kids-alone-with-this-lady deranged. I can't do it while I'm looking in the mirror, I can't do it when I'm trying to be polite, I certainly can't do it in photos. The best I can manage is a kind of smug smirk. I'm doing the smirk thing in all of my wedding pictures - to look at my wedding album, you'd think I spent the whole day thinking "I got a man and you don't got one," or possibly, "you wish you were as awesome as me."
Moral of the story: If I'm smiling at you, I'm not faking. Unless my smile gives you the unsettling feeling that I plan to make a meal of you, in which case, I am faking. Or planning to make a meal out of you.
Bill Casselmen, author of the supremely snooty Where a Dobdob meets a Dikdik tells me that most people, when they attempt to fake a smile, use only their mouth muscles. That would probably explain why some people look like they want to eat you when they're faking a smile - they're showing their teeth, but not expressing any warmth. Or is that just me? Or maybe they look like they want to eat you because they're thinking of cheese and they're hungry. According to Casselmen, "a genuine smile requires the eyes to crinkle with oogly-woogly warmth." For the record, I've tried making my eyes crinkle with oogly-woogly warmth. When I do, it just looks like I want to eat you, but I have to squint to see you.
Tyra Banks, host of America's Next Top Model has coined an exceptionally annoying word for smiling with one's eyes - smize, and since then, according to, it has become part of the "daily lexicon of Tyra and her minions." Smizing is important in modeling, Tyra often says, because sometimes your whole face isn't visible. Or sometimes, you need your mouth not to smile, but you still need to look happy.
I once read that Marilyn Monroe's famous smile wasn't really a smile at all. She knew that smiling made your face wrinkle, and so to affect a smile, she'd lower her eyelids, open her mouth, and put her head back so that her mouth appeared to be turned up. If you do a Google image search, you'll see it's true. Most of her smiles are variations on this one, and none of her smiles involve wrinkling or crinkling around the eyes or mouth. Ever since I read that, her smiles stopped looking like smiles to me; they look like a woman so terrified of being imperfect that she refused to let herself be happy. And it makes me so sad that she didn't live long enough for it to matter. She could have smiled a hundred times a day and died without so much as a crow's toe.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

On things that really hurt

I have managed two rather painful and absurd injuries today. One, at church this morning I hurt my foot and ankle doing cartwheels. Inside the church. Because one of the other kids was doing it and it looked like fun. Because I am in no way an adult who discourages children from doing cartwheels in church.
Also, I just smacked Jeremy and hurt my arm in the process. And then he apologized for my having hurt myself smacking him. Believe me, he deserved it. I think. The pain has made me forget what it is he did.
Neither of which has anything to do with Ellis Island and the things that didn't go on there. What didn't go on there, you ask? Name-changing, according to David Wilton's Word Myths. Immigration officials were forbidden from changing anybody's name because it presented a security risk, letting people into the country under assumed names. Immigration officials looked at a ship's manifest, then confirmed the names with the passengers who came ashore.
Not Ellis, or any other island

The story is that the officials at Ellis Island often didn't speak the language of the immigrants and couldn't understand what they said, so they'd just write down whatever they felt like. The reality is that these officials were often immigrants themselves, selected for their positions because they were fluent in both English and the language of whatever group of immigrants they were charged with processing.
That seems impossible; everybody knows somebody whose names were changed at Ellis Island. O'Rourkes became Roaches. Goldsteins became Golds. Schwartzs became Blacks, and so on. Often, it was the immigrant family themselves who changed the name - to better fit in, to make it easier to spell, to make it easier to pronounce, to hide their true ethnicity. 
So how did Ellis Island get the blame? According to Wilton, people often used "at Ellis Island" to mean "when our family first came to America"; sort of like how we say "at the turn of the century" even when we aren't referring to something that happened at midnight in the year 1900. Or 1901, depending how touchy you are about the technicality. Because have you noticed that when we use the expression "turn of the century," we're nearly always referring to the turn of the last century? Nobody says "turn of the century" to refer to things that happened around Y2K. But I digress. 
In Made in America, Bill Bryson tells us that Hollywood was very fond of changing the names of their stars "because they were too dull, to exotic, not exotic enough, too long, too short, too ethnic, or too Jewish." 
For example, John Wayne was born Marion Morrison. For his first Western, the director wanted to give him a more rugged name and suggested Anthony Wayne. The studio, however, thought Anthony sounded too Italian, so the director and studio exec agreed on John Wayne. According to Wikipedia, John Wayne wasn't even present for his renaming. 
Judy Garland was born Frances Gumm, which sounds like the name of a particularly dull Hufflepuff at Hogwarts, or perhaps some faceless bureaucrat at the Ministry of Magic. And it was a lot less acceptable to be a wizard at the time, so studio execs decided to pass her off as a mere Muggle.
Bill Bryson says that the first actress known to have changed her name to better fit her image was Theodosia Goodman. Back in 1914, the studio thought she needed an exotic name to fit her exotic looks, so they came up with Theda Bara, an anagram for the words Arab and death
Boris Karloff would likely have been a bit less intimidating had he not changed his name from William Pratt. It may have been difficult to sell Veronica Lake as a sex symbol if she'd stuck with Constance Ockleman. Clifton Webb fits a lot better on a marquee than does Webb Parmelee Hollenbeck. And Walter Matthau might not have been such a household name if people had to try and pronounce Walter Mattaschanskayasky. Of course, tell that last bit to Zach  Galifianakis (who introduced himself at the Oscars as Zach Gabisivinathis, which is the name that always comes out of my mouth when I try to say Galifianakis).
Incidentally, Britney Spears was born Britney Spears, but her name is an anagram for Presbyterian, which are both anagrams for best in prayer.
My name is an anagram for Bard Cyborg Kiwi, for what it's worth. I do not think I will use that as my stage name.
So what's your stage name?

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Big Bad

As I may have mentioned, I have recently discovered a love for crap novels. It's the weirdest thing. I've been reading a perfectly decent horror book, Heart Shaped Box for months. 
I got a history book on my Kindle about the Triangle Shirtwaist fire that I was quite excited about (because I get excited about shirtwaist fires) around Christmas and have barely made it through the first chapter. 
I'm only halfway through Tess of the D'urbervilles, though I started it a month ago (although to be fair, I kind of stopped reading after Tess didn't tell Angel Clare her secret when she had the chance and I just didn't have the heart to go on - because I've loved Stephen King at his most ghastly, yet I'm terrified about the moment when Clare finds out about Tess' rape baby). Also, yes, I did pick up Tess because it's mentioned in Fifty Shades, so at least some good came of my obsession with it. Also, even though Christian sees Ana as the Tess character, it's clear that it is really Christian who is Tess - neglectful parents, terrible secret, taken advantage of at a young age, falls for an impossibly virtuous woman but tries to push her away because of his horrible past...). But I digress so much more than usual. It's entirely possible I'm not even get to my point.
My point being, I'm unable to choke down all this totally decent literature, yet I'm gobbling up smut and crap like McDonald's french fries. All of which is to explain why I'm in the middle of yet another Sookie Stackhouse novel when I should be reading this perfectly digestible book about the real life explosion that's serving as a partial model for the explosion at the center of the book I'm writing. Again, digressing.
So I'm reading Club Dead, the third of about one billion books in the Sookie Stackhouse series that served as the basis of the soft-core vampire porn series True Blood, and the narrator uses the expression the Big Bad.

What's interesting about that? Well, I was pretty sure, and now I've verified through Wikipedia and, that the Big Bad was one of the many terms popularized or coined on the TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Buffy was a series created by Joss Whedon, a TV and film writer whose credits include the upcoming Avengers movie, the TV series Firefly (which, if you have not seen, you should stop reading this post, run over to Netflix, watch the series in its entirety. Now.), Dollhouse, and bunches of other shows and movies that have inspired a cult following that makes Rocky Horror look like Mars Attacks
Joss is a lover of words, both old and new, as you find in the neat literary references throughout the series. Buffy once remarks "this guy makes Godot look punctual." One episodes contains three minor characters, soldiers whose names are Young, Goodman, and Brown. At one point, Buffy asks a nun about how she likes "abjuring the sight of men," a reference to Twelfth Night, my favorite of Shakespeare's comedies.
But Joss does more than pay homage to master word crafters, he crafts some neat words and expressions of his own. According to the article Slayer Slang by Michael Adams found in Verbatim magazine, Buffy coinages include terms like sitch; mootville; and unh, a not-so-euphemistic euphemism for doing the diddy (also a Buffy coinage), a more euphemistic euphemism for sex.
He also introduces some fun portmanteaus, according to Slayer Slang by Michael Adams, like vamp-nap - to kidnap a vampire; Spuffy - the romantic pairing of characters Spike and Buffy; and slayground - a slayer's playground. 
My favorite, by far, though, are what Adams refers to as CBSs, or Cute Buffy Sayings. Like when character Willow, angry at finding out about her friend Xander's new secret girlfriend, says "I'm going to call him. What's his number? Oh yeah, 1-800-I'm-Dating-A-Skanky-Ho." Or when Buffy, rejecting her role as the slayer says "I don't have a destiny. I'm destiny-free." 
Oogly-booglies, a coinage and a CBS in one are monsters. 
To "Hulk out" is to go into an uncontrollable rage. In a slightly more obscure reference, the "guestage" (hostage/houseguest) Andrew says of a character who had suddenly turned evil "she went all Dark Phoenix" (an X-Men reference). Note to Whedonites, that may not be a direct quote. It's late and I don't want to look it up.
Character Giles refers to the British as "the Nancy tribe."
After Willow comes out of the closet, she often repeats that she's "kinda gay." 
Sexy ginger werewolf Oz, insults a guy's vocabulary by saying he's a "master of the single entendre."
And at one point, Buffy refers to a bunch of people who are trying to offer themselves to be eaten by vampires as an "all you can eat moron bar."

Neat stuff for what started as a teen drama with vampires.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Oh, the humanity!

The origins of some phrases:

Oh the humanity: This expression was first uttered by radio reporter Herbert Morrison as he witnessed the fiery crash of the Hindenburg airship in May of 1937. I cannot remember where I read that Morrison was an excitable fellow who was known for reacting very emotionally to stories, as was certainly the case here. The quotation with some of the context:
It's burst into flames! It's burst into flames and it's falling it's crashing! Watch it; watch it! Get out of the way! It's crashing terrible! Oh, my! Get out of the way, please! ... And all the folks agree that this is terrible; this is the one of the worst catastrophes in the world... Oh, the humanity! And all the passengers screaming around here. I told you; it—I can't even talk to people, their friends are out there! ... Honest: I can hardly breathe. I... I'm going to step inside, where I cannot see it... This is the worst thing I've ever witnessed.
Nowadays, newscasters and reporters are expected to remain so calm and detached. I remember watching news coverage of the Twin Towers as they fell. I remember how disturbing it was to hear the calm, steady voice of Tom Brokaw breaking with emotion and fear. I cannot imagine how poor Herbert Morrison would have responded.
~ Quotation courtesy of Wikipedia

Have you no sense of decency, sir? Back in 1953, Joseph McCarthy began his famous quest to sniff out communist sympathizers in the government and military. McCarthy's mission was very popular with both Democrats and Republicans early on, but his tactics soon became unpopular when people realized that the man was completely insane. What started as a legitimate investigation became a paranoid zealotry, and McCarthy soon stopped bothering with little details like facts and evidence when accusing people. During a hearing in 1954, it was Joseph Welch, a lawyer for the army, who famously asked this question. The hearings lasted only until 1954, when McCarthy was stopped and censured. 
~Info courtesy of The Intellectual Devotional: Modern Culture

I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!: This comes from the star-studded film Network, in which a news anchor Howard Beale, played by Peter Finch, learns he's going to be fired from his job. The news wakes something up in Beale, and he begins to rant and rave and speak his mind on the air. In one episode, he delivers the following monologue: 
We sit in the house, and slowly the world we are living in is getting smaller, and all we say is, 'Please, at least leave us alone in our living rooms. Let me have my toaster and my TV and my steel-belted radials and I won't say anything. Just leave us alone.' Well, I'm not gonna leave you alone. I want you to get mad! I don't want you to protest. I don't want you to riot - I don't want you to write to your congressman because I wouldn't know what to tell you to write. I don't know what to do about the depression and the inflation and the Russians and the crime in the street. All I know is that first you've got to get mad. You've got to say, 'I'm a HUMAN BEING, God damn it! My life has Value!' So I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window. Open it, and stick your head out, and yell, 'I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take this anymore.'
~Quotation courtesy of 

I was a fired newscaster once. Or news writer anyway. Back when I was at Baldwin Wallace, the newspaper staff got just a little to mouthy for the comfort of some of the members of the Student Senate, and the entire editorial staff was sent packing. Apparently, the people who shut us down hadn't seen Network, though, because they let us put out one final issue. We didn't manage anything quite so artful as the monologue above, but one of our reporters did manage to get one of the people who shut us down to snap "It's not pure censorship" in a recorded interview. We ran with that as the headline. It was pretty epic.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Jam Don't Shake

A couple of days ago, I posted on Facebook that I was looking for mindless fiction to read. Among the many answers came from my friend Nicholas J. Carter, who recommended I read Jam Don't Shake by Nicholas J Carter. 

Hey, I thought, I have a friend named Nicholas J. Carter... When I finally put the bits together, I demanded that Nicholas J. Carter was just telling me about this. Nicholas J. Carter replied that he guessed he just wasn't very good at self-promotion.

Well now that I've read it, I'll do some promotion for him. Jam Don't Shake is a fantastically clever, fun read about a town taken over by vicious jam fiends. It's sort of a 28 Days Later meets Dead Alive meets a nightmare version of Burger Time, but with jam. And funny. Did I mention funny?

Monday, April 2, 2012

Hold tight to your anger, don't fall to your fears

As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, I find it nearly impossible to communicate in any sort of coherent way what Bruce Springsteen means to me. 
Which I'm going to prove true again by trying to tell you about last night's concert.
In one of the reviews I read for this post on Bruce's newest album, Wrecking Ball, CNN reviewer Melissa Maerz writes that "whenever there's a moment in need of an anthem, it turns out Springsteen has already written one." She speaks cynically, but she also speaks the truth.
She points out that while Springsteen wrote much of Wrecking Ball before the Occupy folks began taking to the streets, the album seems to speak directly to, or even for, the movement. While Springsteen wrote the title track from this album in 2009 about the demolition of Giants Stadium in New Jersey, it could just as easily apply to the financial collapse and the devastating times that followed for so many; about our new national disillusionment and the cold war between the classes that began cooking long before occupiers took to the streets and doesn't seem to be getting any better. 
I can't tell you how often I've felt, and even tried to write what Bruce expresses when he says:

Now when all this steel and these stories, they drift away to rust
And all our youth and beauty, it's been given to the dust
When the game has been decided and we're burning down the clock
And all our little victories and glories have turned into parking lots
When your best hopes and desires are scattered through the wind
And hard times come, and hard times go

Yeah just to come again

Similarly, even though Springsteen had already written much of 2002's The Rising before the towers fell, the album became a beautiful requiem for all we'd lost that day. The song from the album most closely associated with the tragedy, My City of Ruins was actually written before the attacks about the fall of Asbury Park, New Jersey. He first performed these words in December of 2000, but it's so hard to imagine he was writing about anything but the attacks. 

Now there's tears on the pillow
Darlin' where we slept
And you took my heart when you left
Without your sweet kiss
My soul is lost, my friend
Tell me how do I begin again?
My city's in ruins.
My city's in ruins.

Events unfolding right around the time Melissa Maerz wrote her review would prove her right again. Springsteen wrote these words in response to the 1999 shooting of Amadou Diallo by four NYPD officers - the unarmed man was shot 41 times while attempting to offer the plainclothes officers his wallet. Yet he might just as well have written them for Treyvon Martin.

41 shots, Lena gets her son ready for school
She says, "On these streets, Charles
You've got to understand the rules
If an officer stops you, promise me you'll always be polite
And that you'll never ever run away
Promise Mama you'll keep your hands in sight"
Is it a gun, is it a knife
Is it a wallet, this is your life
It ain't no secret (it ain't no secret)
It ain't no secret (it ain't no secret)
No secret my friend
You can get killed just for living in your American skin

One thing Springsteen and I share is that we love our country so passionately; believe so passionately in its potential. If we didn't love it so much, maybe we wouldn't be so devastated when our bloody history of hate rears its head. And I think, really, that the senseless slaughter of Treyvon Martin at the hands of another asshole cowboy is a symptom of this disease America can't seem to shake. This disease where we see everybody who isn't like us as a threat. This disease where we think a boy with a pack of Skittles is a deadly danger. This disease that makes us shoot first and blame the wardrobe later. 
I'm sorry ma'm, we understand your son probably didn't know that we were police officers and not muggers; we had to shoot him 41 times in our own defense. 
I'm sorry officer, but a teenage boy seemed suspicious and then hit me. I think it's obvious I had no choice but to gun him down.

I want to write other things. I want to write, for instance, that I never believed the band could perform with such joy and exuberance so soon after losing the heart of the band, Clarence Clemens. I was afraid that the spaces in the music where Clarence used to be would sound like broken glass if anyone else tried to fill them. I couldn't have been more wrong. Clemons' nephew, Jake Clemons, felt more like a medium for Clarence than a replacement. I'm not a particularly spiritual person, but it barely felt like the big man was gone. 
For as long as I've been going to shows, Springsteen has introduced each of the members of the band as they play a song; and after he has introduced everyone else, he says, "Am I missing anybody? Do I even have to say his name?" At which point the audience stands up, holds up its hands as one, and begins screaming the big man's name. I didn't expect to hear that introduction this time around; I don't think anyone else did either, because when Bruce asked, "Am I missing anyone," the audience went quiet. Well, as quiet as a giant sports arena full of Bruce fans gets anyway. I was not the only one crying when Bruce asked, "Do I even have to say his name?" And then he said "I know it seems like he's missing, but he's not. As long as you're here, and we're here, then he's here. Now let him hear you."
Later, the band closed out the show with Tenth Avenue Freeze Out, the song I think most people associate most closely with Clarence. After they sang the line, "The change was made uptown and the big man joined the band," the music stopped and the audience got to its feet. An arena full of exhausted fans who had been clapping and screaming for three hours clapped and screamed some more, with aching hands and sore voices, for maybe five minutes without ever tapering off. 
You could barely hear the music when it started again, and man, I remembered that this is so much more than a band, so much more than a show, so much more than an aging pop act. This was a religious experience, pure and simple. If you don't know Bruce, please do me a solid and give him a chance. Pick up Wrecking Ball or Born to Run or The Seeger Sessions or The Wild, the Innocent, and the E Street Shuffle. Even though I'm always hearing otherwise, I've got a really hard time believing that people who don't love Bruce just haven't given him enough of a chance.