Thoughts on the Eve of Boston Comic Con: Down With Continuity

Heading  to Boston Comic Con on Saturday. If you see me, squeeze through the crowd and say hi! I'll be the one trying not to spend all my meager resources!

And now, in honor of said event, some deep thoughts about comics. 

I am proceeding from the POV that comics are an important and vital art form and a gateway drug for literacy and that comic stores are independent bookstores that also serve as de-facto community centers in a lot of places.  

I would like to see more people reading comics. In order for this to happen, though, Marvel and DC need to ditch continuity.

Continuity is something that is very appealing to the hardcore fans:  it is very appealing to feel like the story you like exists inside a universe of overlapping stories. It's also deeply pleasurable to master an entire mythology , to know all about the many faces of Hank Pym, to know why Robins are like Spinal Tap drummers...well, you get the idea.

But if we measure the modern era of comics from the first Marvel comics in the early 60's, we're now looking at almost 55 years of continuity to master.  Again, I get why it feels good to know all of this stuff, but it shuts new readers  out.  

It even shuts not-so-new readers out.  Most people I know specialize in either Marvel or DC, less because they have a distinct preference for one group of characters over the other than because trying to master two different universes of continuity is a bigger project than they're willing to take on.

And, ultimately, (see what I did there, true believers?), why does continuity matter?  If we accept that we have this group of characters, why can't we just have stories? Why can't we re-imagine something without having to explain why it's not like it used to be? 

Trying to shoehorn every idea  into the existing continuity, you wind up with corny plot twists and a universe that is necessarily written by committee, which, as anyone who's ever read a corporate mission statement knows, is a terrible way to write. 

The cynical annual "events" that both big publishers do, in which there's some mega-storyline that crosses through all kinds of different titles, probably help bring in some extra revenue from the hardcore fans as people buy all the Convergence of Crises issues or whatever, but this stuff also intimidates people who might otherwise be interested in picking up an issue of a comic they remember from a while back.

I guess what I'm asking is that Marvel and DC forego a little bit of short term revenue they might squeeze from the hardcore fans in order to build a bigger fanbase and make more money later.  They're probably as interested in that as any American business, but a guy can dream.

In the meantime, there are still lots of independent comics and small publishers to read, and there are many cool comics you can pick up without needing to master 50 years worth of background material. Ask the people at your local comic shop. With only a few exceptions, I have found them to be friendly and engaging and nothing short of delighted to help people find a comic that's right for them.  The Simpsons guy may have been an accurate stereotype in 1989; he's not anymore.  In Greater Boston, I can personally recommend JP Comics & Games, New England Comics in Brookline, and Comicopia. Further out in Bellingham, MA, Friendly Neighborhood Comics is probably the best comic store I've ever been to. Check 'em out, buy some comics, and enjoy!

 


Some Stuff I Like For a Change

Like a lot of people, I often feel moved to blog when something pisses me off.  Which is fine, but it has been pointed out to me on a few (thousand) occasions that I might be a bit too cranky. So I'd like to take a brief time out to talk about some stuff I like.  I have no monetary connection to anything I'm discussing here, except that I've spent money on all of it.  

My Chromebook:  Got this Acer Chromebook I'm writing on two years ago on a Groupon deal for 150 bucks.  It has been my primary computer ever since. And it has not slowed down at all. This as compared to the computer that the IT department at my job supplied me with at around the same time. That one, a Dell laptop, has grown almost unbearably sluggish in the two years I've had it. And I don't even have admin privileges, so I can't install anything.   The Chromebook won't really work for video editing or music creation, but I don't do any of those anyway. There are pretty robust, though not professional-quality, photo-editing tools available online, but I don't do a ton of photo editing anyway. I now do all my writing on Google Docs, which is pretty much the simple word processor I like that Microsoft Word hasn't been for decades.

Imagine No-Chicken Broth. Yeah, you can make your own vegetable stock, but ain't nobody got time for that.  This is great for all your vegetarian soup making needs and a lot of other uses as well--making really tasty rice, for example. 

Dorco Razors--O, I have thrown off the shackles of Gillette and gotten some great razors that work just as well at a fraction of the cost!  I curse the years I spent buying overpriced razor blades at CVS like a chump. 

Dr. Bronner's Peppermint Shaving Soap--I have searched for years for the perfect shaving cream. This is it. With a little water in your hand, it lathers up beautifully and really shields my embarrassingly sensitive skin from irritation. Plus it smells great.

Songza--Nearly everyone I know uses Pandora for their internet radio needs, and nearly everyone I know complains about the repetition and general shittiness of their Pandora stations and how they have to save up the skips and so wind up listening to songs they don't like.  Why, why do you suffer when Songza is available? Songza's playlists are assembled by actual humans rather than algorithms, so they're just much better. Imagine a playlist made by somebody who knows a shit ton about music; now imagine that for any kind of music you might be into.  They're really really good. They're so good that Google bought Songza for a ton of money just so they could have access to their playlists on Google Music. 

 Zojirushi Fuzzy Logic Rice Cooker  We eat a lot of rice since a member of our family was forced to go gluten free. We had one of those cheap rice cookers, and I just got used to uneven cooking and an occasional burned crust on the bottom.  I don't know what fuzzy logic is, and I don't care. I just know that I literally get perfect rice every time with this baby, and it does a great job on steel-cut oats as well.  

 

 


How Soccer Discriminates

One of my Twitter buddies (whom you should definitely not follow @nifmuhammad unless you like incisive and funny commentary on sports, music and culture) drew my attention to this piece about how the World Cup-winning US Women's Soccer team is pretty, um, white.

I've been thinking a lot about this. I know a lot of people--okay, okay, a lot of white people--believe that the USA is a meritocracy and that if you just work hard enough, you can do whatever you want.  Sports are often seen as a metaphor for this: put in the extra time to work hard, and you'll be rewarded with elite-level success! But soccer is a great example of how hard work isn't enough because systems have the effect of stacking the deck against certain kinds of people. So follow along as I explain why US soccer is so white.

In Boston, where I live, Black and Latino players, many of whom have roots in the Caribbean and Central and South America, are probably the most passionate and dedicated soccer players. At the high school level, there are a few schools that dominate: they are the school with the mostly-Central American roster, the school with the mostly-Haitian roster, and the school with the mostly-Cape Verdean roster.

So why aren't those kids winding up on our national teams? 

Because the best and most serious players don't play exclusively on their school teams (in fact, a lot of them don't play on school teams at all); they play on private club teams.

These teams cost a couple thousand dollars a season to play on (so that's a couple thousand bucks in the fall and again in the spring, plus extra to play on their futsal teams if you want to keep your skills sharp in the winter) and demand a pretty huge commitment on the part of both players and their parents.  

Since the clubs are regional rather than local, practices are usually at least a few towns away from most of the players on the team. So getting to practice requires not just a car, but also a free evening or two per week. Games, at least here in New England, are played all over Massachusetts and surrounding states.  These teams don't have buses, so you need a car and the willingness and ability to spend 6 to 8 hours on a Sunday driving to and from a game.

Club soccer players are the ones who get recruited for college teams and MLS academy teams and are therefore where US soccer's elite players come from. So getting to an elite level in soccer in the US requires an investment of many thousands of dollars and hours on the part of parents. Those first-generation American players who dominate Boston scholastic soccer tend to come from  low-income families. Please note that the hard work these families are putting in--working multiple jobs, pulling extra shifts, or working long hours at a small business, getting siblings to chip in with child care--are actually preventing their kids from becoming elite soccer players. 

Now, I have no idea why soccer works this way in this country; I kind of doubt it was done in a consciously racist (or classist, since poor white kids are excluded as well) way. But the effect of the policies is to favor people with extra money, extra time, and reliable transportation, and in this country, such people are more likely to be white.

Here's why this matters: because the sport that is accessible to everyone because of the minimal equipment requirements is not accessible at a high level to people who don't already have money. If the fairness issue doesn't bother you, maybe this will: USA soccer, especially on the men's side, is far weaker than it should be. We have tons of talented players who come from families with a deep and multi-generational love of soccer who aren't getting a shot to represent their country on the field. 

Do you believe me about this?  If so, perhaps you can also start to believe that soccer is nowhere near the only part of American life where the odds are against you if you happen to be born into a family without a lot of extra money and time. 

We'll have a better soccer team if we fix this problem in our soccer culture; we'll have a better country if we fix it everywhere else.

 


Shonen Knife, CJ Ramone, Petty Morals (Plus Free Stuff!)

Well, I was dragging a lot yesterday, and I don't feel too shit hot today, because I went out to a rock and roll show on Wednesday. Like the young folks do! Like I used to, when I was young! 

Of course, when I was young, I could go to a rock and roll show, get up early for work the next day, and not have every cell in my body screaming for a nap by 12:30 PM. But those days are gone.

I haven't been to a club show since 2003, when I saw Frank Black and the Catholics, with David Lovering's magic science show opening. But I've never seen Shonen Knife live, and, as anyone who follows me on Twitter knows, I have enormous love and respect for this band. 

Here's the thing I always drag out about Shonen Knife: they put out a string of top-notch records that I really think are the best of their career 25 years after their first record. Name me one other band that has three great records in a row that far into their career. I can't think of one.

It was bittersweet going to a gentrified Central Square for a show, since I used to go there for shows in the early 90's when the entire area had that dangerous, unpredictable vibe, like you might be on your way to a show at TTs and wake up in the cargo hold of a freighter two days later wondering what happened.  It's better not to be afraid walking from the T. But I did feel significantly less badass when I arrived at the door of the club than I used to. 

Once inside, I felt completely at home. The place was full of old punks. There's always something reassuring about connecting with a group of people you share something important with. Even though (of course) I didn't speak to anyone, it just felt comfortable being around a bunch of people with an inherent understanding of something important about me.

The opening band was a fantastic garage rock/pop band called Petty Morals. They had 2 lead singers and all their members were women and their songs were catchy and kickass and they closed with a Go-Go's cover, so I was an instant fan. If you like garage rock and you live in Greater Boston, I recommend putting this band on your list. My only critical note is that I would have enjoyed a little more showmanship (showwomanship?showpersonship?) from the non-singing members of the band--they were slaying, & I thought some swagger was called for.

CJ Ramone was next. I wasn't expecting much. I was wrong. I had CJ all wrong. He was never more than The Guy Who's Not Dee Dee to me. But what became clear through last night's show is that CJ deserves way more love because he's essentially one of us. Which is to say, he was a huge Ramones fan who actually got to be a Ramone. And so the love he has for the music came through in a way it didn't when I saw him with the Ramones. Johnny ran a very tight ship, and Ramones shows were always professional and very clean, and, when I saw them in 1990, a little bit rote. CJ on his own was fast and loose and fun. He opened with a bunch of his original material, which is actually quite good (I especially liked "Three Angels"), and closed with a bunch of Ramones songs, which he gets to play because he was a fucking Ramone. It was fantastic. 

0624152108b

Not, however, as fantastic as Shonen Knife. Here is how awesome the Shonen Knife show was: they played almost none of my favorite songs, and I loved every minute of it. 0624152210
I guess any time a band is artistically viable for 30 years, they can't possibly play every song you want to hear. I could make up a set as long as the one they played of songs I wanted to hear but didn't. And it didn't matter.  They were just ridiculously good, powering through a ton of songs, throwing up the metal horns while playing an obviously Sabbath-inspired song (Sadly, it wasn't "I Wanna Eat Cookies," which is my favorite of their metal-ish songs), doing tongue-in-cheek (I think) choreography, and generally bringing joyful melodic punk rock to the masses while dressed in matching Mondrian-style minidresses. 0624152213This band and their music has meant a lot to me over the years (See the Powerpuff chapter in It Takes a Worried Man), and it felt good to be able to support them with my ticket and t-shirt purchase.

But mostly it just felt good to be in the audience hearing them play. My face was sore from smiling for over an hour straight. (Really!). 

A note to you young folks, and some older folks as well: I can see the temptation to dismiss a bunch of people in their 40's and 50's in a dark basement club playing and listening to the music of their youth as pathetic. Perhaps this view is influenced by your having witnessed one of the Beach Boys' tepid State Fair performances in the 80's or 90's. But this wasn't about trying to reclaim our lost youth. It was a celebration of still being alive. 0624152229a

We're still here. Not everyone is. 

I wrote a novel about love and death and punk rock. It features a thinly fictionalized version of my first Ramones concert at the Jockey Club in Newport, KY, when I touched the hem of Dee Dee's garment. (Actually I touched the toe of his Chuck Taylors, lightly enough that he would not feel it and possibly kick me as he had kicked the guy who tried to twiddle the knobs on his bass). It has the best ending of any book I ever wrote. It is newly available as an audiobook,
and I've got some free download codes. First three commenters get 'em. LWB

 

 


If It Feels Creepy

I am  a little uncomfortable with something that transpired on the internet this week.

So I just want to say this:

If you work with teens in any capacity and someone, especially a teen, says you appear creepy, I think it's worth doing a little reflection about why you might be coming off that way.  You may have only the purest of motives and actions. But something looks off to someone.  And you might need to correct it. 

You may, after some reflection, be able to dismiss the assertion as just a couple of people being mean. This is possible. People are mean. Sometimes they are groundlessly mean and they pull out terrible accusations just to throw verbal bombs.

Still, I am a bit uncomfortable with calling down the big internet shame machine on the people who said this. 

Not because you are creepy.

But because it's important for teens to be able to recognize and trust and share their feelings when an adult's interactions with teens feel off in some way. And the importance of preserving and even nurturing this response may actually trump your hurt feelings.

In the high school I attended, at least two teachers had sexual relationships with students.  In three of the four high schools where I worked, there was at least one teacher who had sexual a relationship with a student. Maybe my group of friends is unusual, but without even trying, I can think of five people I know as adults who were sexually harassed by teachers as teens.

As a parent and a career teacher, I have a special hatred for people who abuse their positions and the trust of the young people they are supposed to serve in this way. Many of them get away with it for years. Decades even. Because they are not dirty, disheveled, socially-awkward corner-lurkers. They are charismatic, attractive, and popular. They often win awards. And their popularity insulates them from the truth about them.  Their victims don't speak up and their victims' friends don't speak up because these adults wield tremendous social power. So they keep doing it again and again for years.

So do you see why I'm a little uncomfortable with the events of last week? Many powerful people reminded us that there are real humans behind all these keyboards and that we should be careful what we say. I second that. There are real people behind all the keyboards. And so I ask you to think what you might have been teaching teens about what happens when you speak up  against someone with more power than you. 

[Thanks to a person I follow on Twitter for raising these issues in a way that helped crystallize my thinking. I'm not going to use her name or handle because she, like me, was deliberately vague  in order to avoid a lot of abuse. But thanks.]


More Writing. Less Magical Thinking

I read this post from author Victoria Schwab. In it, she advises writers to just keep writing no matter what's going on with the business side of the writing business. This is absolutely rock-solid advice.

But the end of the post veers off into the kind of triumphal narrative that we Americans in particular seem to love. After facing hard times, Ms. Schwab finds her career turning around, to the point where her middle grade series sells half a million copies.

This is great (no, really: it's amazingly great), but it feeds into the lie that our entire country seems to buy into (and that we may be infecting the rest of the world with through our pop culture hegemony): that life is somehow fair. The implication here (or at least the inference that people on Twitter were drawing from the piece, which may not be the same thing) is that if you keep putting in hard work, your hard work will eventually be rewarded. 

There are a lot of problems with this. One is that, as everyone knows but nobody likes to think about, life is profoundly unfair. Being a good person, doing the right thing and working hard do not guarantee that you'll get what you want. Want to sell half a million copies? Line up. But I can tell you that you almost certainly won't.  Because almost nobody does. Yes, we can find examples, just as we can find examples of people who have won the lottery. It can happen. It just almost never does. 

This doesn't mean you shouldn't try. But just be aware that Victoria Schwab's experience will probably not be yours, just as E.L. James' success doesn't imply that your fanfic is going to sell a gazillion copies.

But we love these stories of hard work paying off; they provide the comforting illusion that life makes sense. It's scary to think about how chaotic and unfair the world is. But Victoria Schwab does not deserve her success; nobody does. Or, to put it another way, Victoria Schwab deserves her success, and so does everybody else. Some people are just lucky enough to get it.

Poe died broke. Gatsby was out of print when Fitzgerald died. Talent and hard work are neither necessary nor sufficient for success. 

I guess this might sound like a terrible bummer, but for me, 20 years older than Victoria Schwab and far less commercially successful, it's actually very comforting. Because there's a really dark side to the magical thinking that dominates this country.

If success is possible for everyone, if hard work and determination bring success, then if you don't succeed, it's fundamentally your fault. You must not have visioned it properly, you must not have worked hard enough, you must not deserve it. So not only do you have do deal with disappointment and frustration, you also have to carry around the guilt of knowing that if you're not rich, if your art isn't reaching the audience you think it should, you only have yourself to blame.

But that's not true. Some of us will get lucky; most of us won't. (and I know that, having had a bunch of books published, I count as someone who got lucky. It's another national curse that no matter how much success we've achieved, we spend our time looking up at people with more.) Magical thinking is so deep in our national character that it's hard to escape. And it's exhausting to have to carry around the responsibility for your lot in life.

But any artistic career is a crapshoot. No. Way worse odds than that: it's a powerball ticket. You don't earn your good fortune, and you don't deserve your bad fortune. Shit just happens.

Which means you need to stop waiting on your happy ending. Make your happy now instead.

 

Note: some of this post is probably unconsciously plagiarized from Barbara Ehrenreich's amazing book Bright Sided, which explores these ideas better and in more depth and which you should probably read.

 


Charter School Mythbusters!

I am pretty consistently amazed at how little people know about charter schools. Most people I meet who are not deeply immersed in this issue basically believe the charter school mythology.

It's frustrating to me that most people's understanding of charter schools is governed by the myths that charter proponents have carefully cultivated, rather than by, you know, facts.

So, in an almost-certainly futile effort to debunk some of the charter school mythology, here's my episode of Charter School Mythbusters!

Myth: Charter schools are more accountable than regular public schools.

BUSTED! In Massachusetts, anyway, charter schools are governed by self-appointing boards, most of which have no parent representation.  Don't like what your charter school is doing?  Well, you can appeal to the board members, but since they're all appointed by each other and they hired the administration, good luck with that. But don't worry, the state does a cursory charter renewal process every five years that has resulted in five charter schools out of a hundred and five in Massachusetts losing their charters in the last twenty years. 

Myth: Charter schools send all their students to college.

BUSTED!  Charter schools send almost all of their graduates to college. And in most Massachusetts charter high schools, that's between 50% and 60% of the number of students who start there in the ninth grade.  So, yeah, they're actually failing to graduate a pretty significant number of students who go there.

Myth: Charter schools draw from the same population as regular public schools. They've got those lotteries! 

BUSTED! The charters quite intentionally don't educate all comers. They do this in a number of ways while appearing not to do it. Want to register your child for Boston Public Schools? Here's a page with helpful information in English, Spanish, Portuguese, Somali,  Haitian and Cape Verdean Creole, Chinese, and Vietnamese. Here's a page from one of Boston's charter schools telling you how to register for their lottery.  There's a helpful parenthetical note at the very bottom that says they can speak Spanish to you if you call them. So you're a new arrival to the country whose kids probably won't test well on the language portion of the standardized tests, where are you gonna send your kids?

Or, take this one: you're a single mom with two kids and you work in an hourly job. You depend on your high school child to take care of your elementary school child in the after school hours.  Are you going to sign your high schooler up for a school that gets out two hours after your other kid's elementary school?  Nope! You can't afford that. Guess those long hours are going to work out better for kids from financially secure two-parent households. And those kids just happen to score better on standardized tests! Weird!

Finally: you've got a child with special needs. All public schools are required to take and educate your child, but charters will sometimes illegally refuse to do it. I worked in a charter school and sat in the meetings where it happened.  They'd tell the parents how much we liked their kid, but we really just couldn't serve their needs. Guess where they wound up? Back in the regular public school system! Most charter schools don't serve anywhere near the number of special needs students that regular public schools do, and even those that do tend not to serve students with severe special needs. And those get served by the regular public schools. Or, if the regular public schools feel they can't serve those kids, they send them to a private setting at district expense. How many of those private placements are charter schools paying for? (Hint: none!)

Myth: Charter Schools are free from union constraints and can innovate!

CONFIRMED! They are free from union "constraints," like "due process," "paying employees more for working more," and "transparent salary scales." When I worked in a charter school, I worked  with a handful of idiots and a great majority of incredibly smart, caring, competent people. And when an incompetent administrator came in, we all got fired.  I mean literally every teacher in the building was fired. Charter school teachers serve at the whim of administrators, many of whom are TFA grads who've been promoted beyond their competence. They're not insulated from the favoritism and politics and exploitation of salaried employees that happens at most other workplaces. A lot of people seem to think this is a good thing, but I don't know why. It certainly leads to a great deal of teacher turnover, which I guess helps keep costs down, since teachers leave before they get expensive and mouthy. 

Charter schools around here have also come up with some rather innovative ways to exploit recent college graduates!

As far as educational innovation: nah. Longer school day. Lots of testing. That's pretty much what they've come up with.   Of all the myriad failures of education reform, this is the one that feels like the biggest lost opportunity to me.  Given the freedom to re-think high school, they arrived at this: the same thing, only more of it! Sigh.

Oh yeah. I also signed a non-disclosure agreement that told me not to share anything from the "laboratory of innovation" where I worked.

Myth: Charter schools are all about giving poor kids better opportunities.

BUSTED! KIND OF! I suppose what any institution is "all about" is always up for debate. It is true that a very small number of students benefit from their charter school experience. It is also true that a lot of charter school students suffer under unnecessarily punitive and inflexible discipline procedures. We've got charter schools in Boston that are suspending half their student body every year. Here's a piece about what that feels like from the student position. 

Suspensions and expulsions are typically higher at charter schools than district schools. This makes charter schools enthusiastic participants in the school to prison pipeline. Turns out that charters' draconian discipline policies disproportionately affect young men of color. So though charter advocates like to pretend like they're big civil rights warriors, they're really active participants in the wholesale abandonment and imprisonment of our most vulnerable young people. Now that's innovation!

I could go on, but I think, or anyway, hope you've got the idea. Because the idea of brave entrepreneurs transforming education is such an attractive one, the media keeps repeating it despite its not being true.  So maybe the next time you hear someone say something along those lines, you can ask them some tough questions and watch 'em squirm.

If you'd like to read about my experience working for three years in an urban charter school, you can find it all in my memoir Losing My Faculties, which is currently available in a shiny new ebook edition. Buy it for Kindle, Nook, or Kobo!  And thanks!


Blended Family Blues

So it turns out that my family is pretty threatening.

And not just because two of us are very tall, two of us are master manipulators, all five of us are snarky as fuck, and one of us has elevated profanity to performance art. (That's not me, btw. I live with the Mozart of swearing, and I'm not even Salieri.)

No. It turns out that it's not the bad attitudes, the tattoos, or the incredible improvisational profanity that bugs people. 

It's just the fact that we exist.

Okay, that's a bit melodramatic. I guess what I should say is that the fact that we're not all bound by the same DNA and we identify as a family anyway seems to really get under people's skin. It doesn't seem all that outrageous to me, but people can't fucking wait to separate us out by our last names (we have three) or who we're connected to biologically, and they find all kinds of ways to insist that we're not what we say we are. 

People who are otherwise open-minded and tolerant get all weird when confronted with the reality of our family.  They want to insist on DNA as the definition of family and go out of their way to use language that negates us, leaving two or three of us out in sentences about families or who belongs to who. Fuck that shit. Don't act like my kids don't each have two siblings. Don't act like my wife and I don't each have three kids. You don't get to decide that. 

I can usually get a handle on where people's asshole behavior comes from: most of it is rooted in fear and greed. But this particular asshole behavior leaves me completely flummoxed.  I guess it's probably rooted in fear, but what exactly are you afraid of? 

I guess you probably think my family implies something about your family that doesn't sit too well with you.

But you know what? That has nothing to do with us.

Five people. Three last names. We're a family. And if that makes you uncomfortable, I don't give a shit. Maybe you could think about talking about us like we're a real and complete family. Because we are, whether you like it or not. And if you can't talk to and about us like that, please don't talk to or about us at all. Many thanks.


Is Goodreads Ruining Reading?

Sorry-not-sorry for the clickbait headline.

I'm addressing Goodreads here purely as a reader, not as an author, so if you're looking for delicious author vs. reviewer drama, wait about 12 minutes, and I'm sure some will come up.

In the meantime, I'd like to consider what Goodreads means to me as a reader.  

First, and foremost, it's the book journal I always meant to start and never did. I really enjoy the fact that I can keep track of what I've read (especially handy for "I know I read one in this series...was it this one? I mean, it was five years ago..."), and that I can look back and see what I thought about what I read. For me, it's a very nice record of my reading life.

And yet. I do feel a certain dark side. Like when it's taking me three weeks to get through a book, and I'm thinking, "Oh God! People on Goodreads are judging me!" even though I know that NOBODY is following my updates that closely, and fundamentally nobody but me cares about what I read. The "social" aspect kind of makes me put pressure on myself.

This isn't entirely bad. It does encourage me to choose reading among my many entertainment options. But it also leads to something else I have mixed feelings about: reading a book just to say you've finished it. Maybe that's too strong. It's not just to say I've finished it, but I sometimes find that I crave moving the book to the "read" shelf in the same way I once craved pointless "achievements" on the Xbox. Finishing books is awesome, of course, but what's really awesome is reading books. Am I rushing through books in an effort to declare them finished? Is that what I want out of reading?

Ultimately, I suppose this is more about me than Goodreads. Though Goodreads does encourage this kind of thinking with their "read x number of books" challenges.  I guess my advice to myself is to read lots of books at whatever pace suits me and not worry about unlocking the "finished 800 page epic fantasy novel!" achievement.


If Car Commuting Tips Were Written Like Bike Commuting Tips

So you've decided to commute in a car! What a great choice! Just follow these helpful safety tips to make sure you arrive safely at work!

1. Remember, when you are on the road, you are required to follow the same rules as everyone else.  This means always using your turn signal, yielding to pedestrians in a crosswalk, stopping for three seconds at a stop sign, never exceeding the speed limit, and never accelerating through a yellow light, or a light that just turned red.

2. Your car should be equipped with a roll cage. This cage of steel tubes can be welded to the frame of your vehicle and will provide invaluable protection in the event of a rollover accident.

3. Your car should be bright yellow or neon green. Dark-colored cars are harder to see at night. Better yet, paint your entire vehicle with reflective paint so it will really pop in the headlights of an oncoming truck.

4. Sure, you've got headlights and tail lights, but your car should really be festooned with extra lighting. Undercarriage neon is a great choice to make your car more visible.

5. Avoid driving on interstate highways, which carry a great deal of truck traffic.

6. Avoid driving during times when other drivers are likely to be distracted, such as rush hour, when everyone's on their phones.  Also after bars close, when everyone's drunk.

7. When you're sharing the road with a bus or truck, try to drive as close to parked cars as possible so that the people driving those big vehicles can squeeze by you with as many as six inches clearance!

8. Remember: the road belongs to the drunk and the distracted. If they kill you, it's almost certainly your fault!

That's it. Have fun!