Reading is good

For the record, by “reading” I mean “reading more than just the inflammatory headline and then sharing it to display your sense of moral outrage and to ‘prove’ your point.”

I came along at a particularly lucky time in American history. Despite the fact that i grew up in a small-to-medium city in a moderate-to-conservative region, I always had access to good reading material and usually took advantage of that fact. It’s what helped me survive my teen years and make it to my senior year in high school (1982), which was the point where I realized for the first time that I could successfully invent the person I wanted to be and that I deserved better than the losers I’d been hanging around with up to that point. By the semester I graduated, I’d finally seen that it was OK to be smart and to have friends who were smart too.

A decade or so later, when Borders and Barnes & Noble became major retail forces, to criticize the way these chain bookstores were destroying local, independent stores. I was very conflicted about this because I remembered growing up in a place that didn’t really even have viable independent stores that sold the kind of books i wanted to be reading. Most of the independent stores around here were either religious in nature or were of the “books and stationery” variety, which meant that they sold primarily inconsequential and uncontroversial titles.

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(Waldenbooks, Thomas Hawk, CC BY-NC 2.0)

In fact, it was the Waldenbooks branch at the mall where I found books about cities and about subcultures, and (gasp) books and magazines that told me it was OK to be the homosexual I was…ahem…practicing to be. Without the big chain store and its broader perspective, there’s no telling how long I would have had to wait to read messages that challenged the everyday bullshit of the early Reagan-era South. It’s all well and good to criticize the chain bookstores when you live in a big city located in a region with options. The chain were the only option here at the time, and I’d argue that stores like Borders and Barnes & Noble were extremely important in providing this function for the generation who came along in the pre-Internet 1990s.

Of course, the library was important as well. In the early 1980s, the Greensboro Public Library had a surprisingly large collection of titles from among the “gay liberation” classics of the early 1970s. When I look back at them now, I find a lot of this stuff sort of cringeworthy (though many of these books presented a much more open-minded and diverse notion of what a gay person could be than much pf the “gay culture” crap that followed) but it was precisely what I needed to be reading at the time. It goes without saying where this love for the library took me, although it was a rather long and circuitous route.

Reading (and realizing that doing so was a good thing) was also what prompted me to seek out used book stores like the original Browsery, which was on the second floor of a dumpy building near UNCG and only seemed to be open at night, and newsstands like the International in Charlotte, tucked away in the back of a mall hidden in an apartment complex off Providence Road. It was harder to find the things you needed then, but it was not impossible…assuming you cared enough to bother.

I’m sort of babbling and don’t really have much of a point here, I guess, other than to reiterate that I was luckier than a lot of people my age and older who grew up in less urban and bookish areas. My parents did not read a lot of books but did read a lot of everything else, so they were good role models. Being in a sort of college town (though not a college-dominated town) also helped. Having access, though, and the desire to seek things out, was the key.

There’s a lot of access now too, which is amazing and wonderful, but I wish there were more propensity to filter out the crap and be selective in a world with a major signal-to-noise deficit.

Today’s lesson

Today’s lessons from a very productive day that also involves a new dishwasher and getting these damned stitches out of my gums:

  1. Do not speed in or around Emporia, Virginia. It’s a pretty notorious speed trap, and a minor violation in Virginia can become a major one hack home in North Carolina.
  2. If you ignore rule #1, it apparently helps a lot not to have had any convictions for moving violations in the past 25 years. But you still probably need a lawyer.

Not that I’ve gained any of this knowledge firsthand or anything…

Ushering out the old

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This very nice girl was my New Year’s Eve date thirty-five years ago when I was a senior in high school. She holds the distinction of being the last date I had as a heterosexual impersonator.

I don’t think her heart was in it any more than mine was, really, as evidenced by the fact that the minor traffic accident we had earlier (not my fault and not alcohol-related) was the biggest excitement of the evening.

About 2016

A lot of people are celebrating the demise of 2016 as if an arbitrary calendar event were the root of all the world’s problems. I agree that it’s been a pretty rough year in many ways, but…

The fact that many well-known celebrities died this year is not really all that unusual. What is unusual is that a few of these deaths were perhaps more unexpected and higher profile than the norm, which resulted in very intense scrutiny not just of the “big and newsworthy” deaths but of all the celebrity deaths that took place this year. And the rock and roll generation is aging, which means that (surprise!) a lot of its members will be dying over the next few years. It’s sad, but it’s also statistically unavoidable.

All these deaths probably did not have anything to do with Brexit or the catastrophic shitshow that was the 2016 American election cycle. It’s tempting to believe this because of the current state of media in the U.S. and worldwide, where a 24-hour “news” cycle has led to a form of pseudojournalism that is more about hype and perceived outrage and “sharability” than about actual facts or (Great Pumpkin forbid) context.

All in all, was 2016 really any demonstrably “worse” than any other year?

For Americans and Brits, maybe (although it may pale in comparison with 2017), but for most of the rest of the world, probably not. Which is not to say that it was a good year (ask any Syrian you run across) but that it was maybe not all that much worse than its predecessors in most cases.

And for some of us, it was pretty good on a personal level–at least when we weren’t thinking about politics or dead people. I made tenure this year and accomplished quite a lot, both personally and professionally. I travelled a lot, read good books, and ate decent food. And 2016 marked for me the first time in many years that i really felt like I had my shit together pretty danged well. I like myself a lot better than I ever have before. And that’s what I plan to concentrate on.

A lot of things really sucked this year and will really suck next year. The task at hand is to do what you can about it. but also to find your happiness where you can. New Year’s resolutions are kind of stupid in my book, but if you have to have one, that might be a good example.

I guess it’s time…

This seems like the day to finally confess after all those years that the song (both times) was Careless Whisper.

I was not a big George Michael fan, but dang, that song sure did surface at some pivotal points for me.