Lessons in Impermanence, Part 1


David Bowie singing his signature anthem of impermanence, “Changes.”

If there’s anything to learn from this recession is that nothing is permanent. Way before our economy tanked to where it is now, corporations adopted the layoff as a quick road to profits during the Clinton years. Downsizing, reducing redundancies, etc – it became the popular way for companies to slim down their expensive American workforce and seek cheaper labor abroad. Even when times appeared to be prosperous, such as the late Clinton years or the middle Bush years, the stable job was not as easily obtainable as it once was.

Continue reading “Lessons in Impermanence, Part 1”

I got my copy!

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White factors in this photo: Coffee, Apple computer (MacBook); ironic, self-deprecating humor book and website (displayed on the MacBook); independent cafe, neighborhood near the water (Pacific Beach or PB, San Diego).

Yesterday, I got my copy of Stuff White People Like. When I stopped by the Bookstar near UTC, the book was so new that it wasn’t even out on the shelves yet. I asked a salesperson for a copy and she got one for me. She also brought a few more copies so she wouldn’t have to make any more trips to the back room. I was just happy to get what I came for.

The question now arises, “Why buy the book when you can read the blog for free?” Here are some answers I’ll put out:

  • Don’t be so cheap! Support a writer who actually got a book published! Writers deserve to make money from their writing.
  • There are observations and charts exclusive to the book. I’m not revealing them, lest you accuse me of posting spoilers.*
  • For those of you who fit the profile of the book, you can show that you have a very good sense of humor and that you are hip enough to take a joke. In fact, you may even be moved to come up with some insights of your own.
  • For some others, everything you know gets confirmed by an insider.
  • The book is simply good humored, pop-culture fun!

Well, I’ll at least reveal that you can do a self-test on how white you are. You’ll just have to get the book to find the exact method and test scoring method. I did the test and the results were 71% white. That’s higher than my genetic percentage, which is 50%.**

*From Christian Lander’s entry on The Wire: If you attempt to talk about an episode they have not seen yet, they will scream and cover their ears. In white culture, giving away information about a film or TV series is considered as rude as spitting on your mothers grave. It is an unforgivable offense.
** From Christian Lander’s entry on Asian Girls: Should white guy / asian girl marry, they produce hybrids that are atheistically pleasing, but are very annoying. This practice is also a means by which white people can catch up to the asian peoples in the population race, as most of the hybrids often act white rather than asian.

Stuff White People Like – You know you want a copy!

I plan to get get my copy of Stuff White People Like this morning when I get the chance to go to a bookstore. I could have ordered in advance some time ago on some website, but I’m kinda tired of the online thing right now. Actually, I’m more tired of checking my mailbox everyday for my orders, only to have my hopes dashed.

The white thing to do is to try to buy it from an indie bookstore. Better yet, if I were in Portland, Oregon, buy it from Powells. By doing this, I establish my indie cred and I accomplish it in a city white people are so fond of.

Actually, I will most likely buy the book from some evil corporate bookstore such as Borders. How uncool is that?

For you Washingtonians: Christian Lander, author and blogger of Stuff White People Like, will appear at Politics and Prose Bookstore and Coffeehouse on July 23, 2008, at 7pm. Punctuality counts.

Books on ShindoTV: Punching In

What kind of people work at UPS, Starbucks, Gap, or the Apple Store? Alex Frankel finds out for sure as he joins these brand name retail environments in a one year period and chronicles his experiences in Punching In: The Unauthorized Adventures of a Front-Line Employee. Barbara Ehrenreich did this kind of undercover writing in Nickel and Dimed. While Ehrenreich’s aim was to expose the hardships of low wage jobs that fail to provide living wages, Frankel examines corporate culture and how it shapes the employees who sell the product directly to the customer.

Frankel’s jobs take place in the San Francisco Bay Area, though he flies to New York City to interview for Whole Foods. While more locations nationwide would have made for an interesting read, the ubiquitous nature of the corporations featured in the book is enough.

The companies that did not hire Frankel provide some insight about these employers and their hiring practices. Home Depot and Whole Foods, among many, use a computerized personality tests in their online applications. Unicru is one of those wonderful combinations of psychology, statistics, and programming that help employers find that perfect applicant. He tries to game it on several applications, but are his efforts foolproof?

As he works at the various jobs, Frankel finds that the companies hire different types of people, but there are some common denominators. The employees are joiners on some level and the companies work to create a culture of employee loyalty. Of all the places he works for, Frankel feels the most affinity for UPS. We get to learn what makes “the brown” so sexy along with the workplace subculture. He speaks very well of them, but the same can’t be said for Enterprise Car Rentals (spookily cult-like, bait and switch) or the Gap (mind-numbingly boring). Starbucks (inauthentic) and the Apple Store (true believers) provide the climax and denouement to the McJob narrative. While he’s never really a joiner to begin with, Frankel gains insight to these employees and roles they play in the theatre of retail.

Punching In is a fascinating read, hard to put down, and makes a excellent companion to Nickel and Dimed. I’m strongly considering using it in the classroom this coming semester.

Video trailer courtesy Alex Frankel’s website. Hear him talk about Punching In.

Books on ShindoTV: Richistan

During this break from teaching (especially after Xmas), I’ve been enjoying a few books. School is done for a while, and I normally have my students read works of non-fiction, essays in the anthologies and books such as Barbara Ehrenreich‘s Nickel and Dimed for example. To get away from school/work, have I been reading any good novels lately? Not yet (but hopefully soon) as the issues and real facts habit is hard to break. There are a few books that have my attention right now, but I’ll focus on Richistan by Robert Frank.

The book’s subtitle says it all: A Journey through the American Wealth Boom and the lives of the New Rich. Oh, and it is quite a journey that Wall Street Journal writer Robert Frank takes as he interviews, observes, and hangs out with the newly rich. He also defines Richistan as a culture that is developing apart from the American mainstream or any other culture as it becomes more and more international. The title, of course, is a play on Rich and istan, which seems to be the suffix for every newly minted Middle-Eastern/post-Soviet nation that keeps confounding American geographers, school children, and even temporary White House occupants.

While this nation doesn’t have any borders, it has strata. Here is the breakdown Frank gives on the three main ones and the general worth of average citizens:

  • Lower Richistan: $1 million to $10 million.
  • Middle Richistan: $10 million to $100 million.
  • Upper Richistan: $100 million to $1 billion (and upwards)

What will suprise you is which stratum votes primarily Republican and which one votes Democratic. I’m not giving it away. You’ll just have to buy the book and read it to find out. Nonetheless, the revelations are fascinating (but may or may not be a surprise to some).

Some of the not so surprising things in Richistan are the excessive consumption of luxury goods and services, a keeping up with an (albeit wealthy) Joneses, and the ways some of the newly rich try to emulate old money and/or buy acceptance though some traditional social vehicles (such as high donations to charities and fund-raisers). On the flipside, a suprise is that there are also many Richistanis who still think of themselves and middle class and mentally distance themselves from the “rich” label. Several of Frank’s interviewees are people who see themselves as such and have pride in their wealth as something they’ve earned.

All this newfound wealth creates a new market for services the new rich need. The butler, once a stuffy relic of the early 20th century and before, is back with a vengeance. While this butler brings back a high level of service, he or she is also savvy with their client’s 21st century needs. Frank explains the revival of the butler and their training, along with other members of the newly rich’s house staff that do things the Richistani have previously done for themselves when they had less money.

While the book’s title is humorous and he handles the issues with a light touch, Frank never treats his subjects with ridicule or malice. Instead, he allows the reader to see their humanity, especially when it comes to their problems: burnout, financial disaster, workaholism, and dealing with spoiled children. The chapter on children is interesting as it reveals the concerns Richistani parents have – that they will not have the same work ethic as their parents.

Frank provides much insight into the lives of the newly rich, but this is not a celebration of excess. He points out some that have taken philanthropy into their own hands to make sure their money has a direct impact on social ills, locally and worldwide, versus simply throwing money at charities. He also doesn’t fail to address that there is a growing inequality in our population as wealth grows. A definite must-read for sure.

In our popular culture, the Richistani are highly visible. Some are highly revered or equally reviled, such as Oprah or Bill Gates. Some have a love-hate relationship with the American public, such as Britney Spears and Paris Hilton. Some of them even put their lives on TV, such as Hulk Hogan and his family, the spoiled teenagers who throw Sweet 16 parties, and the Real Housewives of Orange County. The sweet 16’er’s definitely exemplify the chapter on children. It’s easy to spend mom and dad’s money, especially when they have no concept. My favorite episode is when a high maintenance girl is promised some time in France and gets a lovely surprise gift: a year of Parisian boarding school. As for those lovely housewives, it’s safe to say they are in lower or middle Richistan and at least one of them has politics to match. The display of wealth has become more and more common, which also has the adverse effects on the lower and middle classes, who also resort to excessive high end consumption to emulate the Richistani.

On The Lighter Side of Things…

Since the blogosphere seems to have developed this fixation on Dumbledore’s gayness, I guess I should weigh in on this. I have never read the Harry Potter books and I’ve only seen the movies. There isn’t much to characterize the mysterious Albus Dumbledore except that he’s asexual, fond of wearing glittery, floor length dresses, and doles out blessings to children. In other words, he’s fiction’s good version of the Pope.

I started reading The Sorcerer’s Stone, and where Harry Potter gets a Dumbledore trading card gives some brief biographical info:

Considered by many to be the greatest wizard of all time, Dumbledore is particularly famous for his defeat of the dark wizard Grindelwald in 1945, for the discovery of the twelve uses of dragon’s blood, and his work on alchemy with his partner, Nicholas Flamel. Professor Dumbledore enjoys chamber music and tenpin bowling. pg 103

Partner seems to be the key word in this intro to J.K. Rowling‘s addition to fictional gay sainthood. Arguably, partner is one of those open ended words. It could mean anything. If Rowling knew he was gay the whole time, she put it in early on.

I’m not done with the book, so I don’t know what other clues exist. Then there are the six other volumes. I’m sure the major Harry Potter geeks who have pored over every word can weigh on on this issue in more detail. As for those who only have to movies to go on, don’t you know they’re not canon? They’re simply expensive fanfics with Rowling’s blessing.

Weekend Reading

I didn’t go anywhere on Friday and television didn’t appeal to me. Even What Not To Wear failed to get my attention (and I love to watch Clinton and Stacy cattily tear people down before they build them and their wardrobes up). There’s also a new show on TLC about a wedding dress shop, to which I utter the Valley Girl phrase “Gag me with a spoon.” There must be something missing in my gay genome, but how much of the bridezillas and their mothers can any sane person take? Instead of giving this unreality show and much more episodes of What Not To Wear any more ratings, I read a few a couple of books this weekend.1

Barbara Ehrenreich, Bait and Switch
I’ve been going over Nickel and Dimed with my students in two of my classes this sememster. Anyone familiar with the premise of Barbara Ehrenreich’s best selling work knows about her undercover, first hand look at low paying blue and pink collar labor. In Nickel and Dimed, she actually worked at the jobs she covers in the book and she also discusses her co-workers and her bosses. In Bait and Switch, Ehrenreich takes the same approach with white collar professionals looking for work. The prospects, as Ehrenreich finds through empirical research (the same kind employed in Nickel and Dimed), are grim for those who “did everything right.”

A job search in What Color Is Your Parachute is described as a “full time job,” and this is the job Ehrenreich takes on for a few months (along with a negative cashflow). She observes that the out of work are encouraged to think of their job search in this manner, and she also points out the absurdity of this mentality.

As Bait and Switch progresses, the author meets various people in her research. Ehrenreich skewers those who prey on the hapless jobseekers (career coaches/motivational speakers, resume editors, and ministries seeking to give hapless job seekers Jesus instead of better job leads). One of the more entertaining parts of the books is when she tries to turn the tables on a career guru. On the other hand, she is more sympathetic to the professionals having difficulty finding the jobs they’re qualified for, only to get caught up in self blame.2

That insightful documentary The Corporation characterizes the typical corporation as a psychopath. The way that they have routinely reduced redundancies over the years (cutting jobs to maintain profits) is one example of psychotic behavior. Bait and Switch also provides insights into the how irrational companies have become with the pop psychologies and philosophies they couple with their hiring practices.

Bait and Switch is a definite must read for our economically troubled times. Barbara Ehrenreich continues to follow up on labor issues on her blog. Since some of her recent posts have covered topics such as law temp agencies and adjunct teaching, I can only hope for such a book from her in the future.3

Mike Jones, I had To Say Something
My cue was not to say anything, unless I had to, and I never had to.
Mike Jones, pg. 88

Of course, we all know the story of how Ted Haggard, that great megachurch evangelist who was brought down by Mike Jones, a Denver based masseur and escort.4 Jones’ revelation seemed so quick and sudden when it hit the news, but the recently published I Had To Say Something shows it was anything but. The decision to reveal cost Jones in many ways, a highly emotional process chronicled in his very fresh memoir.

Mike Jones gives much insight into what is was like for him to be an escort. Without giving away much of what’s in the book, Jones gives us a compassionate look at clients such as Art, a conservative Mid-western religious type who comes to him out of desperation. We do know who Art turns out to be, but Jones effectively keeps the secret until it is time to reveal the surprise.

Jones also shows us his family life and how that shaped him growing up. He does it without resorting to blame (a religious right ex-gay writer, on the other hand, would blame being a homosexual and being anything else deviant on their families). If you want more, read about it in the book.

You’ll definitely laugh, cry, and feel righteous anger when reading I Had To Say Something. As for the question of Ted Haggard being “completely heterosexual”5, I think Mike Jones provides a very definitive answer for that.


Footnotes

  1. I did log in an hour to watch Property Ladder on Saturday, but watching house flippers make tragic mistakes never fails to entertain me.
  2. I already hate Dr. Phil and those of the “blame the victim” ilk, but Bait and Switch made me hate them even more.
  3. I should be careful of such suggestions. In making a suggestion to the editor of Harper’s that someone should investigate low wage working conditions, Barbara Ehrenreich wound taking on the article about Merry Maids.
  4. The news media called him a male prostitute. I agree with Mike Jones. It’s a dirty term and I’d rather not use it.
  5. Ted Haggard claimed to have discovered he was straight after three weeks of reparative therapy.

The Milky Way and the Galaxy Girls Booth

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Milky Way Galaxy Girls Booth, originally uploaded by shindohd.

This was a happy accident right before I left Comic-Con. This booth caught my eye, I had to take a picture of it, and I was soon having a conversation with Lauren Faust, the artist and writer behind the Milky Way and the Galaxy Girls. She happily explained to what they were all about. While they are superficially reminiscent of the Power Puff Girls (on which Faust was an animator), the Milky Way and the Galaxy Girls are older, hipper, more individualistic, and definitely more fun. Each girl personifies a celestial body with the style and flair to go with their names. For example, the Sun is definitely a heliocentric diva who believes the universe revolves around her, the silver-clad Mercury is the fastest athlete in the universe, and the lovely but solitary Moon expresses her being in poetry. Best of all, these girls traverse outer space in roller skates that go with their unique outfits.

Faust has created a visually fantastic book which tells the reader all about the Galaxy Girls and asks the question, “Which planet are you from?” The book and other merchandise are a lot of fun (and thoughtfully done), and I will definitely tune in when Galaxy Girls enter the world of animation.

Stay tuned… And check out the Milky Way and the Galaxy Girls.

Here are some pics to show what they’re all about:

The Gothgirl rocker Pluto, the center of the Universe herself the Sun, and the Starry Eyed Space Girl.

The lyrically poetic Moon, the artsy Mars, and the sweetly caring Jupiter.

Michael Tolliver Lives – A Tale of the City

I rarely get emotional over a book purchase, but I did on Friday when I bought a copy of Armistead Maupin‘s Michael Tolliver Lives. When I got caught up in fundamentalist BS in my mid twenties, Tales of the City helped me come out a second time (I first came out in my late teens). First, I discovered him by accident in the library and would steal time to read his books. When I was in the process of leaving fundamentalism in the late 1990’s, I caught a re-run of the miniseries on Bravo. I then had to read the books properly and devoured them. I hate to sound maudlin about it, but those books saved my life. I continue to see those books as old friends, even to this day.

Some twenty odd years later is where Michael Tolliver Lives picks up where Sure of You left off. By Significant Others, Michael Tolliver was HIV positive and only thought he had a few years of life left. However, like the title of the new novel suggests, Mouse is alive and well. Having experienced almost every kind of gay relationship imaginable (boyfriends, tricks, bath house encounters, fuck buddies, tricks turned lovers, and domestic partners), a fifty-ish Michael finds a new soulmate in a thirty something man. Mouse has gone from being a landscape shop owner to a gardener, having sold the shop to Brian, now in his mid-sixties. Brian’s daughter’s now a wild sex blogger, and his ex-wife Mary Ann has moved on to become a Stepford wife on the other side of the country, interestingly in the town where the movies were filmed. The octogenarian Mrs. Madrigal is the godmother to a new generation of trannies including Jake, Tolliver’s trusty right hand man in the gardening business.

In the Tales of the City milieu, there’s no time like the present. These older versions of the characters readers (and viewers of the miniseries) have come to love are dealing with the quirks of living in the 21st century, such as cell phones, Googling, and the aftermath of 9/11. This novel also brings closure, as Michael Tolliver must deal with the impending death of not one, but two mother figures. His mother in Florida is dying in a convalescent home and summons him home one last time. He learns a dirty family secret which strangely enough provides a key in healing his relationship with his brother. The timing’s never good, as Anna Madrigal is close to leaving this world as well, bringing the children of Barbary Lane together for one last time.

Missing from The Night Listener and Maybe the Moon was Maupin’s wicked sense of humor, which is present throughout Michael Tolliver Lives. Even when things are bad, I was laughing my ass off about something, especially the interaction between Michael and his young husband.

There is room for Michael and his new husband Ben to tell their stories after this recent installment; however, this Tale of the City brings closure to four decade long story arc. Buy it, read, laugh and cry.

The Best Way To Not Read A Book Is To Buy It

My friend Sharon said that the best way to not read a book is to buy it.

Oh God, I think she is right. Over the years, I have developed the classic problem that creative writing students, English majors, classicists, writers, and book lovers in general have—I have accumulated too many books. As an English major and an MFA creative writing student, I have kept many of the books purchased for coursework. I have gone to Barnes & Noble and Borders, perused their shelves, and given them my money. I have also scoured used and abused bookstores with an agenda or have left things to chance and found that perfect book way too many times. Library books sales have yielded interesting choices. Some friends would occasionally give me books as gifts, and others leaving town have bequeathed me theirs. This left me with a constant bookshelf and space problem.

If clutter is a sign of unfulfilled potential, then the overflow in the bookshelves represented it in my life as a writer and a reader. I was very catholic in my interests, and there were always recommendations and ideas of novels that would help me model my own writing or books that seemed fun to read. Work, studies, and a personal life all have their demands, and as the books piled up, so did the procrastination. With every book, the collection became a daunting to-do list.

It was too easy to look at the shelves and feel overwhelmed. I hadn’t read this book nor this one, and I felt like it never was going to happen. Plus, I was crowded out by the things I once loved. The bookshelves took up too much room, and there was not enough space for all my books.

I needed to get rid of them. Taking them to used book sellers would be a full-time job because they can be picky. As someone who has worked in a used bookstore, I can say they won’t take any book. They have to know they can sell it. I could have gone the Amazon.Com route, but I didn’t want to deal running books to the post office. So, I simply donated them.

Eliminating them was easy. Deciding what to keep was hard. One rule was that they have to be able to fit on one shelf. Books on writing (such as John Gardner’s The Art of Fiction), grammar, and the Norton Anthologies on British literature remained, though I bid farewell to both Janet Burroway’s staidly conventional book* and Lance Olsen’s crazy one on creative writing. Ursula K. le Guin, Jonathan Lethem, and Neil Gaiman and a few other novelists are still here, but I said goodbye to much of my C.S. Lewis and Toni Morrison. There were tons of books I can’t even remember; however, I am pleased that I kept Walt Whitman, Frank O’Hara, American Splendor, and Tom Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles. I did happily get rid of Hardy’s Jude. I’ll probably mention other items in the remaining inventory sometime later.

Instead of building up a library, I’ll simply use the library. I can check out books, read them, and return them. It’s simple logic any child can understand. I read some books for free and I won’t have them to weigh me down. If I buy a book, I should put it back in circulation after I’m done reading it. I could either donate it (library, thrift shop, etc) or take it to a used bookstore to see if I could get some change for some coffee and a scone. The main idea is to get what I need from the book.

Here’s to reading and not having an attachment to books!


*This is one of those books that constantly appears in a new edition almost every year, though the first edition is absolutely fine. Unlike my response to John Gardner’s The Art of Fiction, I was not in a hurry to seek out the wonderful literary accomplishments of Ms. Burroway. I get the idea she’s now a one note writer who does creative writing books, especially revisions to the one that sells so well.