- A certain Gen-X urtext is now twenty years old and all the more interesting for it: “I discovered that Reality Bites, weirdly, provides interesting commentary about the economy. In fact, it’s a film about money. To be a little more specific, the movie explores a deep, complicated ambivalence about work, freedom, capitalist impulses, and authenticity … Their story looks a lot less romantic from the vantage point of middle age. Generation X has turned out to be not so much indifferent to money as screwed by it.”
- In praise of finishing every book you start: “The most common defense of book-dropping I hear is that because there are more good books than any one person could possibly read, it’s stupid to waste time on a dull or otherwise unsatisfactory novel. That argument makes sense if the novel is utter trash—if it’s so bad that the reader needn’t respect the author and would possibly get dumber by going forward. But if a novel starts well and descends into trash, then it seems to me that it’s worth continuing to see if it gets better, or to see where the writer went wrong.”
- Your bladder is more than just an organ. It affects your stance on one of the most knotted, hotly debated questions in philosophical history. “Even healthy subjects have less belief in free will when they’re subtly reminded of their own physical limitations. [Two scientists] had people respond to a battery of questions not just about free will, but also about their current corporal desires. The desires that negatively correlated most strongly to belief in freedom were: a) the desire to urinate, b) the desire to sleep, and c) the desire to have sex.”
- In 1985—years before Cops had proven that America loves to watch its enforcers in action—a photography major at Arizona State went on spring break and began to photograph the Pasadena Police Department. Now he’s published the photos: “Welcome to hell.”
- Total number of kisses in Jane Austen novels: fourteen. Total number of speeches in Shakespeare: 34,895. And other statistics that won’t do much to improve your enjoyment of literature.
Precarity and creativity in other people’s homes.
When I moved back to Portland, Oregon, in 2010, after four years away in New York and Arizona, no one would hire me. Not Whole Foods, not the local New Seasons market, not the upscale Zupan’s chains. “Thanks for your interest in the Deli Service Clerk/Courtesy Clerk/Cashier/Meat Cutter – Back up position,” an automated email said. “If your skills match up with the requirements of the job, we’ll be in touch to arrange an interview.” No one got in touch. Trader Joe’s wouldn’t even respond to my inquiries. If I, a thirty-six year old with college degrees and retail experience, couldn’t get hired to work a register, what hope could I feel in anything?
I subsisted on egg dishes and microwavable food. Whatever canned soups were on sale I bought by the armful. In lieu of a “real” job, I made it my job to spend very little money. Portland is a tough town for good employment. It has a glut of eager applicants and limited industry. Our main commercial offerings are arguably food, advertising, and stylishness. Combined with our large artist population, that means that countless musicians, writers, and painters are cooking and serving your meals.
Hope came from a local landmark, Powell’s Books, which hired me as a temp cashier in the summer of 2011. I’d worked at the flagship store full-time between 2000 and 2006, and the intervening years seem to have erased my employer’s memories of my often gruff customer service, my habit of sleeping on the lunchroom couch, and my tendency to use the company Xerox machine to photocopy material for whatever I was writing. That summer, by the large windows along Burnside Street, I stood at the cash register and pushed keys for four to nine hours a day. But when the season ended, the store created a few permanent part-time cashier positions, and I didn’t land one. “We’re sorry to say we’ve found somebody else,” my manager said weeks after my interview. He wasn’t as sorry as I was—he, with a job to cover his mortgage and health insurance.
I was back where I started. I struck out on my own and became a house sitter. Read More