Monday, July 18, 2011

Summertime Blahs

More than halfway through July already? Really?

Time flies when you are bored into a semi-comatose state.

All that stuff I was going to do this summer---running, an African reading challenge, working on my dissertation---none of it has actually happened.


One thing I did do: I auditioned for “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?”

For years, my mother has told me that I should try out for the show. When she saw that they were holding auditions in Harrisburg, she said, “That’s it. No more excuses.” So I got up at 5:00 a.m. to drive the hour north to Harrisburg and be in line at 7:00 a.m., along with several hundred other hopefuls.

The audition consisted of a multiple-choice quiz and an interview (if you passed the quiz). I have to admit that I went into the audition feeling rather cocky about the quiz. In preparation for the audition, I watched the show for a week, and although the questions were harder than they used to be, the people were just as stupid. Really. Some of the people who get on the show are truly, truly some of God’s dumber children. So how hard could the quiz be?

I was much less sure about my chances with the interview.

I’ve also been watching “The Next Food Network Star.” My favorites are Jyll and Whitney. I like their low-key, friendly, real-life attitudes. They are the kind of girls with whom I’d like to crack open a bottle of wine and make dinner. But I know nothing about what makes good television, because every week the judges ding them for being too reserved and “not authentic,” while praising the ones I find insipid and tiresome. (As an aside, I was seriously unhappy with the judges this week when they criticized Jyll for keeping her composure during a truly embarrassing moment. And you know they would have reamed her for being unprofessional if she hadn’t stayed composed. I think they just have it in for her. Boo. On Wisconsin!)

And, so, back to my point: Those truly dumb people who get on game shows are also truly crazy and over-the-top and way more willing to embarrass themselves than I am. Which is apparently what makes for good television. So I didn’t think I would have much of a chance with the interview.

I needn’t have worried about the interview. I failed the quiz.

Y’all, it was HARD. It was 30 multiple-choice questions, and we had 10 minutes to complete it. Which means we had 20 seconds per question---no time at all to think about or reason through the answers. Strictly gut reactions. And the questions were really esoteric. Like, Who did Oprah date in the 80s? And what board game’s national championship has a prize of $20,580? I was sure of my answers to about a third; another third I could make an educated guess on; the final third was straight-up random answers.

I did feel a little better that I was hardly alone in my failure. Out of about 200 people in the room, only about 15 passed---mostly middle-age or older white men.

Guess I won’t be quitting my day job any time soon.


In the plus column of Things I Actually Have Done: Knitting!

I finished a blanket for my new niece. And, yes, I totally gave in to gender norms and made her a pink-and-white striped blanket. See:

I’ve spent every weekend with my niece and nephew, and I’m loving getting to know my nephew and seeing my niece grow and change over the past month from a sleepy newborn to an awake, alert, smiling infant.

Now I’m working on a scarf with some super-soft, super-beautiful yarn that my friends (J, C, and K) sent to me while I was in Malawi.


I have been reading a lot---just not the books I meant to. Most recently I finished Once Upon a River by Bonnie Jo Campbell. I had been eagerly waiting for this one; I read Campbell’s short-story collection, American Salvage, last year and loved it. Bleak, despondent, poignant realism set among the economically and socially marginalized in middle America.

Once Upon a River expands on one of the stories from the collection. In a (slightly spoilerish) nutshell: Margo is fifteen when she is sexually abused by her uncle (she contests the idea that she was raped). Her attempt to reconcile what happened goes terribly awry and leads to the violent death of her father. Margo then takes to the river to find her mother, who had run off a few years before. Margo is determined to shape a different life for herself, one of self-sufficiency on the river, although she repeatedly finds that she has to rely on help from others, often men, with mixed results.

Once again, I’m not sure how I feel about the book. The writing is effortlessly lyrical, beautifully rendering both the mundane and the grotesque. I’m a big fan of the brutal realism sans pity at which Campbell excels. And I appreciate that Campbell is attempting to create a strong, self-realized, “real” teenage girl who owns her strength and her sexuality.

But . . . Margo is a teenage runaway, who drops out of high school, has sexual relations with multiple men twice her age (and sometimes older), spends much of her time homeless, and generally lacks positive adult role models. Although she certainly has pluck (and I disagree with some LT reviewers who see her as dim), I see her less as strong and self-realized and more as naïve and exploited. She’s much too young to appreciate the consequences of her choices---as evidenced by her evolving reaction to two violent crimes she herself commits.

Of course, this confusion just makes me like the novel more. I like books that challenge my preconceived notions, that force me to think about issues of sexuality and consent; social ideas of age and adulthood; life and death; concepts of justice; and so on.

So although I don’t agree with what I think was the author’s intent---to present Margo as a strong, self-realized heroine---I admire Campbell’s ability to evince a world where social ideals and clear-cut values become muddied by social and economic realities. And to show it with an unflinching respect for the people who inhabit that world.

Currently I’m reading more cheerful fare: The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin, A Circle of Quiet by Madeleine L’Engle (my security blanket in book form), and Unfamiliar Fishes by Sarah Vowell (who writes the stuff I wish I could).