I had my first humor piece with The Belladonna published today. They were great to work with and I am glad this goofy piece found a home with them. Hope you enjoy!
It’s been a while since I’ve done any humor writing. For six years, I wrote humorous (I think!) recaps of trash television shows for the now-defunct Previously.TV, but when I started focusing more on short fiction, I put humor writing aside. I missed making fun of the dummies on reality television, but I wasn’t being paid to do so anymore, so… you know. But recently, a weird (and very stupid!) idea for a short humor piece, inspired by the überdumm The Bachelor, came to me and I decided to bring it to fruition, and voila! I give you: I Am Your Bachelor, and I Am Also Running to Be Your Governor, published in Points in Case. Enjoy!
2020 was a YEAR, wasn’t it? I started off the year with the ambitious goal of reading 70 books. Cute of me, in retrospect. I ended the year having started 71 books, but only finishing 54. Womp-womp. In most years, I would have been disappointed in falling so short of a stated goal, even one as arbitrary as number of books read, but by the end of 2020, my attitude was, basically, “F*** it.” (Which has been a helpful overall life mantra as I’ve navigated through the flaming pile of chaos that was 2020!) I’m happy I read any books at all, this year, frankly.
Failing to meet my goal also forced me to reevaluate the wisdom of setting numbers-based reading goals. Yes, I only read 54 books in 2020, whereas in 2019, I read 66 books, but I read 20,151 pages in 2020, as opposed to a measly 17,837 pages in 2019. So, there. But you know what? I wish I hadn’t read so many pages or finished as many books as I did this year, because this year, more than other years, I forced myself to finish books (often quite long books) that just were not working for me. And I regret that! I should have taken my own advice about not finishing books, because I wasted time and brain-space in a year in which I had neither resource to spare. In 2021, I resolve to quit books earlier, and/or to skim more liberally when necessary. Onward!
Now, for some of my faves and not-so-faves. (Please note, as always, that only some, not all, of these books actually came out in 2020).
Best novel: tie between Trust Exercise, by Susan Choi, and Disappearing Earth, by Julia Phillips. (NB: I will talk your ear off about either of these books, if given the slightest chance. Please read them. They are both gorgeous and wonderful and precious and make me want to be a better writer/burn everything I’ve ever written in a bonfire).
Best memoir: Tie between Wild Game, by Adrienne Brodeur and Empty, by Susan Burton
Best journalistic non-fiction: Hidden Valley Road, by Robert Kolker
Best book about writing: How to Write an Autobiographical Novel, by Alexander Chee
Most eye-opening/life-changing: Quit Like a Woman, by Holly Whitaker
Most overhyped: Tie between The Vanishing Half, by Brit Bennett and Trick Mirror, by Jia Tolentino
Most enraging: 28 Summers, by Elin Hilderbrand (NB: I hated this book with such a fiery passion that I’m almost grateful to Hilderbrand for writing it and creating characters that were so gratifying to want the absolute worst for).
Best series: the Jackson Brodie mysteries, by Kate Atkinson
Long book I wish I hadn’t finished: SO MANY CONTENDERS, but tie between The Outsider, by Stephen King (577 pages), and The Shadow of the Wind, by Carlos Ruiz Zafon (506 pages)
Book I really am gonna finish in 2021: Alexander Hamilton, by Ron Chernow
For more of my thoughts and notes, feel free to check out my handy Google spreadsheet!
What were the best books you read in 2020? Any great ones I missed? Hit me up!
I have been a faithful watcher of The Bachelor (and all of its attendant spinoffs) for over nine years. NINE YEARS! The first season I watched all the way through was Jake Pavelka’s, way back in 2010 (and here’s proof! I covered that season and subsequent seasons on my old reality TV blog, TubeTopix, and later, for money, on Previously.tv). And boy, have these past nine years been a journey. But as we come out of this latest season of The Bachelor and gird our collective loins for the coming onslaught of The Bachelorette, featuring one of the least articulate candidates for marriage to have ever graced our television screens, I find myself wondering if I can keep watching this show.
There have been approximately 500 think-pieces written about why The Bachelor is bad, misogynist, hokey, ageist, white-washed, and just plain awful, and listen, I ONE-THOUSAND PERCENT AGREE with all of those assessments. This franchise is TERRIBLE. The values the show promotes are retrograde and sexist. (This season, for example, the lead, Colton, asked the fathers of the four grown women he was pursuing for “permission” to marry their daughters. Putting aside the fact that he was making the same request to four different men, what outmoded notion of “respect” does he subscribe to in which the desires and autonomy of the women he’s dating come second to the preferences of their fathers?). The storylines the show sells are fake to their core, and the idea of romance that it peddles is, frankly, creepy. (Rose petals scattered on beds, bubbling hot-tubs, slow-dancing on platforms while being ogled by strangers). Let’s be clear: I very deeply dislike and mistrust this show. However, I keep on watching it.
…But should I?
Here is the point where I could write my own lengthy think-piece about why I watch The Bachelor and any number of other “dating” reality shows. Apart from pure, unadulterated Schadenfreude, I think one of the main reasons I continue to watch is because these shows are fascinating anthropological experiments. It’s interesting seeing what people will do on camera when they’ve convinced themselves that “love” is a prize to be won, how people will contort themselves into their idea of what an ideal partner should be, how quickly people (read: women) will subvert their own desires and agency to “win” whatever man they’ve been told they’re supposed to want to marry. It’s not good, any of this, or admirable. But it is interesting, especially for a smug, married lady like me. But now that I no longer have the excuse of watching this “professionally” (since I no longer receive cash-money to recap the show), I find myself questioning more and more whether I should be continuing to support its popularity and, honestly, wasting my own time on what has become a sub-optimal viewing experience.
This coming season of The Bachelorette, in particular, is posing a real challenge for me. For those of you who haven’t been keeping up with the latest news out of Bachelor Nation, the newly crowned Bachelorette is one Hannah B., a 23-year-old pageant queen from Alabama who, God bless her, does not talk good. The woman cannot string a sentence together without flailing like a fish thrown onto the shore. She seems wild-eyed and unhinged in a way that could make for good television, but could also signal a lack of ability to carry a show like this.
But my biggest issue with the new Bachelorette is that Hannah B. is twenty-three years old. Serious question: how many twenty-three-year-olds do you know that are actually ready to get married? I’m willing to guess zero, unless you live in a religious community of some sort. And Hannah B., pardon me, does not strike me as a particularly “old soul.” Which is FINE. But, like, why are we watching this chick date a bunch of dudes when we all know that she’s not actually going to marry any of them? The entire premise of the show is that the lead is supposed to pick a life partner from among the contestants. And yes, the show’s track record at creating successful pairings is dismal. But the prospect of an engagement at the end of the season at least adds some sense of stakes to the endeavor, and an engagement, however ill-advised, is far more believable if the people involved are not fresh out of college, or pageant school, or whatever it is Hannah’s been doing for the last five years since she reached voting age. It’s just silly. Even as someone who actively hate-watches this show, I need there to be something I can hang my hat on. In past seasons, I have loathed various leads and contestants, but there was, crucially, a sense of mystery involved about the outcome.
But now, things in this franchise feel even more artificial than ever before (and that’s saying something). For one thing, the women on this past season of The Bachelor were so very young. The woman who ended up “winning” Colton in the end, Cassie, is also twenty-three. She expressed numerous times throughout the course of the show that she was not sure she was ready for a commitment. And, sure enough, in the end, she and Colton ended up just… agreeing to date. Which is sensible. But not that interesting. Also, many of the contestants on this past season were obviously on the show in a bid to launch careers as social media influencers. One of the final three women, Hannah G., actually IS an Instagram influencer. Like, that’s her job. It strains credulity to think she came on this show to “find love.”
What this past season made me realize is that earnestness among the contestants is a key component for a successful Bachelor season. They can be idiots, and delusional, and mean, and vapid, but as long as they’re mostly earnest, I’ll watch, because the show feeds into my anthropological curiosity. But if the contestants are just a bunch of pretty people trying to up their followers, I’m out. And I fear that this coming season of The Bachelorette is going to be more of the same.
Are any of you watching this show? Do you agree that it’s gone downhill or has it always been boring and I’m just now cottoning on to it?
I’m not a sports-on-TV person. This fact, I’m sure, pains my father deeply, since he is the type of person who will watch almost any sport on TV, including wrestling and volleyball, as long as his beloved alma mater Penn State is involved. My mom, having been married to my dad for close to 46 years, has become a sports-on-TV fan through a combination of osmosis and Stockholm Syndrome. But despite my parents’ best efforts to inculcate me into the proud tradition of watching sports from one’s couch, I’ve remained anti-sports-on-TV.
There are a couple of exceptions to my no-sports-on-TV rule, of course. I always enjoy watching big-time marathons, especially the last couple of miles, because those athletes are super-humans and watching them run is a thing of beauty. Also, whenever the Olympics roll around, I, like all humans, will watch whatever random sport happens to be on TV and briefly become an expert in all of the technicalities of said random sport. Two weeks later, I will have forgotten all of it, as if the entire thing were but a fever dream.
For the most part, though, I don’t care about sports, like, at all. I don’t follow football, baseball, or hockey. I have no team affiliations. I am vaguely aware of when Stanford’s football team is doing well, but I’m never going to sit down and actually watch a game. I can’t name a single player for the Washington Nationals. I don’t understand how football works. I’m just not into it, any of it. (Lucky for me, I married a man who also couldn’t give a crap about sports, and we remain blissful in our shared ignorance.)
Until recently, I really didn’t get why anyone would ever care about watching sports. While I understood, theoretically, that other people gleaned enjoyment from watching, say, baseball on TV, I didn’t really get it. To me, watching an entire baseball game in all of its ponderous glory is the fun equivalent of watching five hours of CSPAN: that is to say, PRETTY GOSHDARN BORING. And the idea of keeping track of stats, joining fantasy leagues, reading articles, listening to sports radio? Frankly, it baffled me. “Who cares?” I’d think to myself. “There are no stakes here. These are grown men playing a game. None of this matters. Why would anyone waste time caring about these outcomes?” (I know, I’m fun).
But then, the other day, I had this epiphany: reality TV is my sports.
I was on a walk, listening to a podcast, when it hit me. The podcast I was listening to is hosted by a blogger (Reality Steve) who writes about (and spoils) all of the shows in the Bachelor franchise. His podcast mostly consists of interviews with past cast members of Bachelor-related shows, including people from many seasons ago. As I walked, I was listening to an interview with a woman, AshLee Frazier, who had been a contestant on Sean Lowe’s season of The Bachelor way back in 2011. (I blogged that season, by the way, in case you need a refresher.) As Reality Steve and AshLee discussed all of the drama that went down that season, including Tierra’s infamous (fake) fall down the stairs, I had this moment of lucidity in which I thought, “My God. This is how I’m choosing to spend my precious scraps of free time? By listening to two people I don’t know rehash something that happened on a reality show SIX YEARS AGO?! Shouldn’t I be listening to a TED talk or something?”
And this, it occurs to me, is how other people feel about sports. Diehard sports fans, like us reality TV fans, share a willingness to bury themselves in the minutiae of a particular brand of social entertainment, despite the fact that, in the grand scheme of things, none of it matters. In both cases, reality TV and sports, there are no real stakes: it’s entertainment. And yet, we get so involved as consumers, it feels like it matters. (Although one can certainly argue that both sports and reality TV hold up a mirror to our society and expose our collective strengths and weaknesses. But it’s mostly just for fun).
The more I thought about it, the more I realized how much sports and reality TV have in common. Both involve participating in a shared social experience by observing. Ethical quandaries arise in both arenas (with sports, see: drugs, violence, rape culture; with reality TV, see: same). Tempers run hot. Memes are generated. People trade predictions, run the numbers, argue. You have your people that you root for and your villains that you hate. Sometimes you root for people that you know are never going to win. It’s always more fun to watch in a group. Alcohol and snacks add to the viewing experience. And I could go on!
After I had this (much belated) epiphany, I felt a newfound synchronicity with the sports fans of the world. Sports watchers and reality TV watchers should unite in our shared desire to waste our own time with televised frivolity. Because it’s not actually a waste of time: it’s fun, and sometimes, that’s all that matters. The TED talks can wait.
This week, I was on the super-fun Extra Hot Great podcast as a guest for the fourth time! We talked OJ Simpson: Made in America and Happy Endings, among many other TV shows. Give it a listen!
Here’s a completely uninteresting fact about me: I love podcasts! I know, unique, right? Look, I realize that everyone and their mom listens to podcasts and you probably have a million and a half of them sitting on your iPhone right this very minute, but I am of the belief that one can never have too many podcast recommendations. Speaking for myself, a person who regularly cycles through podcasts — trying out new ones and rejecting old ones — I am always on the lookout for new recommendations. So, I thought I’d pass on some of my perennial favorite comedy podcasts, in case you, too, are looking to spice up your ear-waves.
- Stop Podcasting Yourself: Two Vancouver-based comedians, Graham Clark and Dave Shumka, chat weekly with a comedian (often also Canadian!). For me, SPY is true comfort listening. In fact, this podcast was the only thing that made me feel better when I had typhoid fever (yes, I’ve been listening to SPY for four years; NOT TO BRAG). Dave and Graham are hilarious and, if you’re a Canadophile/hono(u)rary Canadian like moi, you will appreciate the many and varied Canadian references.
- Ronna and Beverly: Ronna Glickman and Beverly Ginsburg are the alter-egos of comedians Jessica Chaffin and Jamie Denbo. R and B are fifty-something Jewish mothers who live in Marblehead, MA, yet somehow land big name comedians, actors, and other assorted creatives for their podcast. For a highly detailed back-story, check out their Wikipedia page. Or just start listening from the beginning and get lost in Ronna and Beverly’s world.
- Bitch Sesh: A Real Housewives Breakdown: I am a big fan of actor Casey Wilson, one of the stars of the dearly departed ABC comedy Happy Endings, so I was psyched when she started co-hosting a podcast about Bravo’s Real Housewives franchises. She and co-host Danielle Schneider bring on guests (including such gems as Adam Pally and Jerry O’Connell) to discuss the latest Housewives offerings, offer gentle critique on the ‘wives’ hair and clothes, and to complain about the filthy bathrooms at all of Lisa Vanderpump’s restaurants. Essential listening for any Housewives fan.
- Mike and Tom Eat Snacks: MATES was my first comedy podcast and will always hold a special place in my heart, even though I’m not holding out hope that its hosts will release a new episode any time within the next decade. Hosted by Michael Ian Black and Tom Cavanagh (DREAMY CANADIAN ALERT), MATES brings snacking to a science. Unfortunately, now that Cavanagh is on TV again and MIB is hosting, like, six other podcasts, the guys don’t have a lot of time to bring us new MATES episodes, and that is a crying shame. I recommend diving into the archives with snack in hand.
- Professor Blastoff: This now-defunct podcast was a true delight, and I’m so sad it’s no longer with us. Hosted by comedians Tig Notaro, Kyle Dunnigan, and David Huntsberger, Professor Blastoff was nominally about science and time travel, but that premise broke down steadily over the years. Anyway, it was hilarious. I made the mistake of listening to Professor Blastoff while running one time and I had to stop and turn it off because it was making me laugh too hard. Kyle Dunnigan, in particular, is a national treasure, and I will so miss hearing his characters in my earbuds (especially Del). Although Professor Blastoff ended last summer, you can still listen to the archives online.
- Extra Hot Great: Yes, I am shamelessly plugging the podcast on which I have thrice been a guest, but you know what? It’s funny. I suppose EHG is not technically a pure comedy podcast, since its main focus is on television, but whatever. Listen to it anyway!
What are your favorite comedy podcasts? Any good ones I’m missing? (Please don’t say WTF with Marc Maron, but all other suggestions welcome).
As many of you know, I’m a contributor to the fantastic TV humor and criticism website, Previously.TV, which is home to the Extra Hot Great podcast. I was honored to be this week’s guest on the podcast, in which we discussed important topics such as The Bachelorette finale, the nineties-ness of Felicity, Season 1, what’s good on TV right now (my pick was PBS’s gross and fascinating Sex in the Wild), and much more!
It was so fun being on the podcast, and once I got over the revulsion of listening to the sound of my own voice, I was even able to listen to it and enjoy it!
If you’d like to check it out, it’s available for streaming and/or download here.
October is one of my favorite months, and not only because it’s the month of my birth. Actually, I used to think that my birthday subsumed the entire month of October. I have a really specific memory from when I was four or five years old of waking up on October 1, running downstairs, and announcing to my mom that it was MY BIRTHDAY. She gently disabused me of that notion and eventually I figured out how calendars work. But I still kinda think of October as “my” month.
No, but really, I like October for a lot of reasons that have nothing to do with the fact that I have, for the last thirty years, stuffed myself silly with cake on the 27th of the month. For one thing, my husband was also born in October. He is exactly three weeks and one day older than me, which, in his book, automatically makes him far more worldly and experienced than I. “My eyes were already starting to focus when you were born!” he likes to reminds me. So, we’re both October babies, although my husband is a Libra and I’m a Scorpio, technically, although I am the most atypical Scorpio in the world, except for the possessiveness part, I guess? I’m really more of an uptight Virgo at heart, but what are you gonna do? The planets are aligned how the planets are aligned and thus, I must be, by definition, “jealous, obsessive, suspicious, manipulative, and unyielding.” Flattering!
Another thing I’ve always loved about October is that it’s the first month of the year that’s fully FALL. September, if we’re being real, is mostly summer. Sure, in September you go back to school and maybe a leaf or two turns orange, but only the last week of the month is officially fall. In October, though, there’s no pussyfooting around: fall is HERE. Leaves turn colors, the wind gets all blustery, it’s acceptable to wear cable-knit sweaters and boots, it’s time to start thinking about your Halloween costume that probably won’t happen, and, as if by magic, pumpkin-flavored stuff appears everywhere. Pumpkin spice lattes are to fall what crocuses are to spring: when they start popping up, you know the seasons have really changed.
The thing is, fall isn’t even my favorite season. Someone with my circulation can’t really afford to get behind a season that includes November, I’m sorry. I’m much more of a spring fan, personally. But fall has a lot to offer, and October itself is the best month of fall. Here’s why:
- I have a real excuse to knit now. My compulsive knitting looks weird in the summer, but no one blinks an eye come October.
- My birthday + my husband’s birthday –> plenty of excuses to overindulge. Like we needed them.
- Pumpkin stuff.
- Halloween. Even though by the time Halloween rolls around this year, I’ll be 31 and probably in a country where people don’t care about Halloween, I’ll still celebrate it in my heart.
- It’s acceptable to watch It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown any day this month.
- Best birthstone ever: opal. (And tourmaline, I guess). Suck it, November (topaz? Pshaw)!
- Speaking of birth things, did you know that every month has a “birth flower,” as well? Actually, each month is assigned not one, but two flowers, since there is a British system and an American system. I smell a sinister, worldwide flower conspiracy afoot. Anyway, October’s flower is the Misty Blue Limonium under the British system, and the Calendula/Marigold under the US system. I had never heard of either the Misty Blue Limonium (which sounds like a kind of fancy floor tiling) or the Calendula (which sounds like an unsightly growth you’d get removed at the dermatologist’s), so I googled both. The Misty Blue Limonium is okay, and it’s actually purple. The Calendula, if nothing else, is fall-like.
- It’s National Pizza Month. In America. In case I needed to specify where else one would celebrate National Pizza Month.
- It’s also Breast Cancer Awareness Month and Adopt a Shelter Dog Month.
- And Apple Jack month, whatever that is.
Okay, that’s enough reasons. If I haven’t convinced you that October is awesome yet, you’re unconvinceable. And so, on that note, I bid you all a Happy October (Merry October?) and hope that if you’re in a place with sweaters, leaves, pumpkins, and animals in adorable Halloween costumes, you take some time to appreciate it today and every day this month.