I’ve struggled with what to say/think in the wake of yet another horrific mass shooting, referring, of course, to the events that unfolded Sunday night in Las Vegas. I’m sure I’m not alone in my growing frustration with the vacuous choruses of “thoughts and prayers” that seem to ripple through social media. While it’s useful on some level to participate in the collective mourning, “thoughts and prayers” really only beget more “thoughts and prayers,” or maybe worse just a crying/angry emoticon. Fortunately I am not the only one to experience this burgeoning awareness; as I was sitting here pecking this out, my phone burped a news alert at me from Slate with the headline “Guns vs. Thoughts and Prayers.”
The following is a live stream of my thoughts in an attempt to document the torture that can be the last hour of the work day. Time tends to get inversely slow as the day progresses, and much like water heating to boil, tends to stall even further with each glance at the clock. This post is better than ingesting an irresponsible dose of caffeine.
I just found some gum in the back of my desk, which feels like manna from heaven. I’m hoping it keeps me awake for the next 61 minutes, and is a nice distraction from the utter exhaustion I’m feeling today. I’ve spent a lot of time today pondering the history of shampoo, namely the logistics of using shampoo before the invent of the plastic bottle. My brief research has led me to conclude that chemists and Farrah Fawcett conspired to make it a daily necessity.
Five days a week I come to this physical place called work, where I do non-physical work that works out into a paycheck. The environment I work in is a typical office layout, though it is strikingly different from the set-up I was in previously. I have a cubicle, a fairly large space sectioned off with lovely fabric-covered, temporary walls. I have a large desk space which allows me to spread out my belongings, which mostly are comprised of the various containers I use to truck my food here daily. My cubicle is in a small sea of other cubicles, probably 15 in total, in the middle of an office surrounded by actual offices, i.e. spaces delimited by drywall that reaches the ceiling and doors that close. Prior to coming here, I was working in a building that was once a hotel, among other things, and there was no attempt to revamp the space for office culture. My office was fashioned out of a former hotel room, though nothing that would come close to being billed as a “suite.” I shared this space with someone else, and there was a bathroom adjoining our office to the one next door. This was, well, an interesting arrangement to say the least.
The recommendation to read Laurie Frankel’s This Is How It Always Is came with a caveat: don’t ready anything about the book, not even the description on the book jacket, just start reading it. So, this is precisely how I proceeded, and having since gone back and read all these previously banned descriptions, I’m glad I avoided them. I don’t think they gave too much away, but I think they framed the story in a way that I wouldn’t have wanted to accept going into it. This post will more than likely contain spoilers, so if you too want to go into the book with a completely clean slate, now is the time to jump off this post, read the book, and pop back in to see how you felt about the book and its imposed framework.
Eden Collinsworth’s book, Behaving Badly, somehow made it onto my radar, i.e. my library holds list, and while I’m hard pressed to recall the prompt to read it, I enjoyed its company. Behaving Badly felt like a philosophical tour of, or perhaps a decent introduction to, morality as it applies to relationships, money, business, sex, and technology. While Collinsworth leaves her initial question regarding how we determine morals in the context of morally questionable politicians, corporations, etc. largely open ended, I appreciated that the book remained curious and exploratory. It was neither too heavy, nor too light, and if nothing else the referenced materials listed in the back of the book provide an excellent springboard for future, more substantive, reading.
As someone whose professional life exists in the almighty digital world, reading Doree Shafrir’s Startup felt a little too familiar. While I’ve never worked for a bona fide startup, I have dabbled in the agency world where terms like “gamification” and “market disrupter” were part of the daily buzz. If a company has to heavily promote a certain culture of free food, alcoholic beverages, and a jeans-inclusive dress code, I’ve learned to run the other way. There’s a reason these places have to promote their perks so heavily. When you get a call at 10 o’clock on a Friday night from a client with outrageous expectations, you will happily trade the jeans and the beer for, say, boundaries and a personal life.
In preparation for reading Sarah Shoemaker’s Mr. Rochester, I did my due diligence and put in the time to reread Jane Eyre. I honestly wasn’t expecting to get as much out of it as I did, and as someone who has been reluctant to reread in the past in the name of an ever growing wishlist of new things to explore, I severely underestimated the wealth to be found in studying a familiar story. I was more capable of picking up on nuances and subtleties that would have otherwise been lost on me if I hadn’t had a loose recollection of where the story was going, and I felt like I heard Bronte’s voice more strongly than I did in my first pass. I also realized how little of the actual story I did, in fact, remember, so it wasn’t nearly as repetitive as I had anticipated.
After taking a week to reread Jane Eyre, I immediately dove into Sarah Shoemaker’s soon to be released (May 9th) book Mr. Rochester. As the title implies, Mr. Rochester aims to give voice to Jane’s difficult, and notably ugly, love interest, Edward Rochester. Mr. Rochester takes us through Edward’s childhood, from boarding school as a young boy, through an apprenticeship with a mill owner, to the West Indies, and then back to England and through the time period we are already familiar with in Jane Eyre. This historical span felt quite ambitious, and as I had just read Jane Eyre itself, the most pressing question seemed to be how well Mr. Rochester succeeded in creating a viable voice for Mr. Rochester, and furthermore how Shoemaker’s imagined history enhanced Mr. Rochester’s story.
Every once in a blue moon you stumble upon a book that is so absorbing, so rich, you feel its aftershock long after you put it down. Life feels a little deeper, a little more illuminated, and your bar for exceptional writing is raised a few notches. Yan Lianke’s The Explosion Chronicles was one of these experiences for me. The Explosion Chronicles is a satirical history of Explosion, a burgeoning municipality, written by a not so fictional chronicler named Yan Lianke, who documents Explosion’s growth from village to metropolis. The story is both big and small; Explosion’s history is sweeping, but the novel itself is full of fascinating moments, illustrated by a force that feels mythical in its ability to pull in the natural world. Flowers bloom or die in response to events, weather is subject to persuasion. Explosion’s rapid growth lies at the hands of the Kong family, namely its second oldest son, Kong Mingliang, who will stop at nothing to see Explosion rise to its urban peak.
Sometimes when I’m in a stressful situation or a difficult conversation, I catch myself playing strange little mind games. I’m sure they’re some type of coping mechanism, and hey, they’re a lot healthier than, I don’t know, drinking. (In case I need to clarify this in a public forum, I don’t drink as a coping mechanism.) I might hone in on a pattern, like the fiber striations on my pants, and find myself tracing it with my finger, or I might start creating constellations with the veins in my hand. If I’m holding something in my hands I might start to build something. I’ve been known to create various temporary works of art, for example, with hair bands and my fingers. Yesterday, however, took the cake. I was facing an uncomfortable chat with a glass of water on the table in front of me. The way the light was filtering through the glass created a really intriguing hydro shadow on the table, and after a few minutes of blank staring, I realized I was pondering how I would screw the glass to the table with a power drill.