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Courtney Barnett, “How to Boil an Egg”

Wed, 2017-05-24 18:10
“Every morning I feel more useless than before”

Is anyone better at songs with food titles than the witty, rambly Auswtroaeleeiyan Courtney Barnett? I submit the humble thesis: no. Last year she released “Three Packs a Day” (about ramen) and in 2013 she had “Pickles from the Jar” (about opposites). To say nothing of a double EP titled “A Sea of Split Peas,” with a special shoutout to “Canned Tomatoes (Whole).” Here is a good song that I have been listening to on repeat for at least eight hundred years, since it was released last Monday (eight hundred years ago). Rolling Stone calls it “a jangly new deadpan rocker.” Yes; enjoy.

Courtney Barnett, “How to Boil an Egg” was originally published in The Awl on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Who Goes Nazi: Bachelorette Edition

Wed, 2017-05-24 14:16
“His body is vigorous. His mind is childish. His soul has been almost completely neglected.”

Have you ever watched “The Bachelorette?” I had not, until this week’s premiere of the first season to have a black Bachelorette. I have a hard time watching reality TV. I watch pretty much any drama, sitcom or crime procedural I can find, but reality TV makes me uncomfortable. It seems mean? Like punching down? But I wanted to watch the Bachelorette because I saw some funny tweets about the contestants and I thought maybe it could be an enjoyable diversion in a dark time. As it turned out, it made me almost unbearably uncomfortable, but also somehow was enjoyable. It also is perfect for a delightful “parlor game” invented by Dorothy Thompson in 1941 called “Who Goes Nazi?”

Thompson, a journalist who covered Nazi Germany, wrote about the game for Harper’s (and Leah Finnegan wrote about it again recently for the Outline). Thompson says you can look around any dinner party and determine who would “go Nazi,” given the chance.

Now wait a second, you’re saying. Hold on just one second, Danielle. How are you going to play “Who Goes Nazi?” with the most ethnically and racially diverse pool of contestants in Bachelorette history? To which I say first that I’ve never watched “The Bachelorette” before so I have no idea how ethnically or racially diverse it has been previously and I don’t particularly care to look it up. And second, Thompson says that’s a “preposterous” objection:

It is preposterous to think that they are divided by any racial characteristics. Germans may be more susceptible to Nazism than most people, but I doubt it. Jews are barred out, but it is an arbitrary ruling. I know lots of Jews who are born Nazis and many others who would heil Hitler tomorrow morning if given a chance. There are Jews who have repudiated their own ancestors in order to become “Honorary Aryans and Nazis”; there are full-blooded Jews who have enthusiastically entered Hitler’s secret service. Nazism has nothing to do with race and nationality. It appeals to a certain type of mind.

So, hush. We’re playing.

“The Bachelorette” contestants were basically made for “Who Goes Nazi?” Thompson describes those inclined to “go Nazi” thusly:

Sometimes I think there are direct biological factors at work — a type of education, feeding, and physical training which has produced a new kind of human being with an imbalance in his nature. He has been fed vitamins and filled with energies that are beyond the capacity of his intellect to discipline. He has been treated to forms of education which have released him from inhibitions. His body is vigorous. His mind is childish. His soul has been almost completely neglected.

If you don’t think that describes this cohort of shiny, hairless, over-exercised Ken dolls eager to tell you how much they love The Rock and having threesomes, I don’t know what to do with you. You’d probably go Nazi, if you haven’t already.

I’m not going to go through all 31 contestants because that’s crazy and I honestly can’t fathom knowing all of their names until Bachelorette Rachel Lindsay has killed off, I mean sent home, at least half of them. A selection is adequate.

Adam, the schmuck who brought a doll — Would go Nazi. See Thompson: “I think young D over there is the only born Nazi in the room… He spends his time at the game of seeing what he can get away with.”

Alex, who relayed that his mom thinks he has an IQ of 180 — Alex. ALEX. IQs are determined by tests, not by mothers. “My mother said I graduated with honors.” What does your transcript say, Alex? See Thompson: “Young D is the spoiled only son of a doting mother. He has never been crossed in his life.” Alex would go Nazi.

Blake E. — First of all, there are two Blakes, proving the producers would definitely go Nazi, if they haven’t already. But we’ll come back to that. Blake E. is the one who bragged at considerable length about the “amazingness” of his penis and also indicated he can only have sex for 30 minutes every 24 hours. Blake. That is not amazing. See Thompson, quoted earlier: “His body is vigorous. His mind is childish. His soul has been almost completely neglected.” I’m disinclined to even allow that his body is vigorous. Would go Nazi.

Bryan, the eager Spanish speaker who claims to be “trouble” — After telling Bachelorette Rachel Lindsay he is “going to be trouble,” Bryan told her he’s “good with [his] hands,” made her speak Spanish back to him and then grabbed her face and forcibly kissed her. We don’t even need Thompson here. We can use that quote often attributed to Maya Angelou: “When someone shows you who they are, believe them.” Would go Nazi.

Dean — Dean is the putz who told Bachelorette Rachel Lindsay upon meeting her some months prior to this episode, “I’m ready to go black and never go back.” That alone had him in the “would go Nazi” column. But! A Bachelorette-savvy friend directed me to Vulture’s Bachelorette recapper, Ali Barthwell, whose recap of this episode made note of Dean’s preoccupation with finding out if Rachel thought it was okay that he said that. Barthwell speculates that a producer must have told him to say the inane statement because “if you’re the type of white guy who says that of your own free will, you don’t backpedal.” Good point, Barthwell. Producers would definitely go Nazi. Dean is still a question mark. For now.

Jonathan, who tickled Rachel without permission upon meeting her — There was so much unacceptable behavior in this television event. The doll. The guy who identifies as “whaboom.” Jonathan’s aggressive entrance was one of at least three times when Rachel could justifiably have yelled, “Security!” Thompson: “He spends his time at the game of seeing what he can get away with.” Would go Nazi.

Kenny — Kenny is a pro-wrestler who has a daughter. He seems nice, actually. And he wanted to burn the doll. Kenny maybe wouldn’t go Nazi. TBD.

Lucas, a.k.a. “Whaboom” — Lucas is a travesty. He’s an affront. He is an anthropomorphized gimmick. He is reality TV producer catnip and he loves it. Lucas would 100 percent go Nazi. Lucas would go Nazi multiple times if he could.

Milton — Milton kept growling at Rachel. Why, Milton? Apparently the doll, “Whaboom” and the tickler were acceptable, but Rachel drew the line at growling and sent Milt home at the end of the first episode. Milt cried about all the outfits he wanted to wear on TV. Milton would want to go Nazi, as long as there was no uniform. Whether the Nazis would have him is another question.

Mohit — Mohit visibly freaked out when what’s-his-name and Rachel made out. Mohit actually yelled, “No, back off!” aloud, giving voice to many of us watching at home. Mohit then got too drunk. Understandable. Mohit probably would not go Nazi. Unfortunately, Rachel sent him home. Sorry, Mohit.

The Producers — The producers (probably) made what’s-his-name say that inane comment, had Rachel sit down opposite that fucking doll and pretend to talk to it and, judging by the look that flashed across her face before she gave him the rose allowing him to stay, forced her to keep Whaboom on the show for at least one more episode. Entirely possible that this show is produced by Joseph Goebbels reincarnated.

Danielle Tcholakian is a writer in New York City.

Who Goes Nazi: Bachelorette Edition was originally published in The Awl on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Dear Highly Successful People: Stop Talking About Your Failures

Wed, 2017-05-24 13:28
Failure is a luxury.Image: yevkusa

I was warned to beware my thirties. I was told that this is when everything I took for granted as functioning well would begin to stop. Over a year ago, I mis-aimed a jump over a puddle and rolled my ankle, and it still clicks when I walk. It’s not that when I turned thirty things suddenly started breaking down, it’s that recovering from falls now takes longer, if it ever happens at all. The moment you realize that recovery is no longer a guarantee is scary as hell. But as disheartening as this realization is, failing to recover from injury is not nearly as harrowing as the prospect of failing to recover from failure.

Recently a colleague forwarded me an article in the Washington Post about Johannes Haushofer, a professor of Psychology and Public Affairs at Princeton who wanted to add a shade of realism to the picture of his promising career. So he decided to post his own “CV of failures.” It includes all the jobs he didn’t get, all the articles that were rejected, as well as a hilarious nod to the “meta-failure” that crowns this masterwork: “This darn CV of Failures has received way more attention than my entire body of academic work.”

It also received its fair share of attention from my coworkers, all of whom are academics at the beginning of their careers. Their responses were unanimous: “Shit. This guy’s failure CV is more impressive than my real CV.” For a young scholar, reading a CV of failures by a faculty member at an Ivy League institution must be what it’s like for an off-Broadway actor to read about Leonardo DiCaprio’s unsuccessful auditions. As one friend put it, “He can publish that cause he’s at Princeton.”

It was just as I was entering my thirties and simultaneously beginning my life as a professional, a husband, and a father, racked with stress to find a job and support my family, that I started to notice successful people talking about failure. And boy, did I resent them for it. The most prominent example in recent years is probably Conan O’Brien’s 2011 Dartmouth commencement speech. It is a beautiful work of prose that ends with an account of how O’Brien dealt with the disappointment of almost getting to host “The Tonight Show.” And of how failing to achieve his lifelong dream liberated him from the requirements of success: “It is our failure to become our perceived ideal that ultimately defines us and makes us unique,” says O’Brien. “It’s not easy, but if you accept your misfortune and handle it right, your perceived failure can become a catalyst for profound re-invention.”

When I first heard O’Brien’s speech, I resented it for the obvious reasons. Re-invention sounds lovely when you’ve already achieved a level of success that most people only dream of, less so when you’re trying to begin a career. It wasn’t that O’Brien’s optimism sounded hollow, but that it sounded a lot like an outdated version of my own. As a college student, I focused less on grades than on self-discovery. As a professor, I gravitate to students who do the same. And I tell my undergraduates not to be afraid to take risks, because no matter how well you think you’ve prepared, adulthood will find its nefarious way of surprising you — and this is the best thing about it.

In 1982, Joyce Carol Oates published an article in The Hudson Review that examines the role failure will play in the lives of highly creative people. “The artist,” she says, “perhaps more than most people, inhabits failure.” Nothing is more demoralizing than scanning the work you struggled to create and realizing that you would have done better to keep quiet. Anything that’s ever any good only got that way if its maker realized what was once so bad about it. As Hemingway so delicately put it: “The first draft of anything is shit.”

But Oates has more worldly things to discuss than the value of revising. Her thesis is not just that great works of art begin as failures, but that great works of art are oftentimes created because artists begin as failures. She cites Henry James’s unsuccessful attempts at dramaturgy, William Faulkner’s inadequacies as a poet, all of which eventually spurred them to create masterpieces of American fiction. James Joyce began as both a mediocre poet — see his collection Chamber Music — and a pedestrian novelist. If his earliest attempt at a bildungsroman, Stephen Hero, had proven successful, Oates argues, he never would have taken its themes and rewritten them into A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, which is undoubtedly one of the great works of English prose. Oates is asking the same question Conan O’Brien’s speech is declaring:

“Is there, perhaps, a very literal advantage, now and then, to failure? — a way of turning even the most melancholy of experiences inside-out, until they resemble experiences of value, of growth, of profound significance.”

Yes. There is. But let’s not pretend that failing to achieve success in a career is the same thing as failing to make a masterpiece. Revising takes time and time costs money. “Whether you fear it or not,” O’Brien concludes, “disappointment will come. The beauty is that through disappointment you can gain clarity, and with clarity comes conviction and true originality.” True. But it’s success that grants you the money and the time necessary to gain the clarity and conviction to achieve that originality. As much as failure can lead us to wrangle and raze our mediocrities, failure can also force us to settle down into them. The clarity and conviction that comes with self-improvement happens on unpaid time. Only the lucky few who can afford these trials, or who are willing to make sacrifices for their wageless labor, can justify devoting so much effort to themselves.

Joyce’s unpopularity “protected” him, writes Oates. When I read this in my twenties, I found Oates’s argument inspirational. Today, I can’t help but think of Joyce’s wife Nora, as well as their two children who grew up in poverty because their father’s writing never paid the bills. It is all very heroic, this portrait of the artist laboring in penury, but the picture loses its glamor when you glance in the direction of the people affected by the artist’s dedication to his own originality.

Oates says a lot about authors whose careers might have been mediocre had they achieved success early on. But she doesn’t mention those writers whose triumphs granted them the time and money to spend their workdays focused on their careers. F. Scott Fitzgerald was a star early on and a flop later. His two greatest works, The Great Gatsby and Tender is the Night, appeared at the latter end of his writing life. They were such commercial failures that Fitzgerald wasted out his remaining days scrounging for screenwriting work in Hollywood.

However, it is doubtful that Fitzgerald would have had even these opportunities had his first novel not established his name. Had This Side of Paradise not done as well as it did, Fitzgerald would not have earned the kind of money he did over his career, and he might never have found the wherewithal to dedicate himself to his two later masterpieces. He might not have even married the woman who provided so much fodder for his work — after all, his first novel was written in part to convince a glamorous young socialite named Zelda Sayre that its author was successful enough to be considered marriage material. Who knows what fate might have awaited Fitzgerald had he been blessed early on with the freedom of failure. Perhaps America would have an even greater Gatsby. Or maybe just another advertising executive’s unwritten autobiography.

Failure is a luxury. It’s a luxury that some are born with and get to keep, while others never get to experience. It’s the luxury that many of us enjoy when we’re young, but learn that we’ve lost as the encroaching exigencies of adulthood take over. Anyone who is past a certain age and remains steadfast in their attempt to break into a cutthroat industry understands this. Anyone who has ever worked as a waiter in L.A. or New York knows this. What’s scarier than learning that the fifty-year-old server you work with was once a valedictorian at Duke, or a finalist for a film with De Niro? Sure, failure can keep you immured from a public’s expectations, allowing you to grow into maturity. But sometimes what you need to succeed isn’t more anonymity but a few more years of freedom from the responsibilities that come with maturity. There comes a time when, for whatever reason, you literally cannot afford to devote any more time to yourself. And this is the moment when one’s failures threaten to define themselves into one’s life as failure itself.

It feels so otherworldly then, to hear these successful people go on about the value of failure. All these Casanovas lamenting their loneliness — Could their realities really be the same as mine? In the same way I wonder: Can this person in his thirties really be the same guy who was so optimistic in his twenties? This is not to discount the struggles that even the successful undergo. Nor is it to discount how much I myself have learned from my own failures. But learning from your misfortunes is not the same thing as benefiting from them.

As much as any mature adult understands that even the most fêted have experienced disappointment, disappointments don’t count as failures. Once you’ve achieved a certain degree of success, I’m sorry, but those past failures no longer qualify. “The spectre of failure haunts us less than the spectre of failing,” writes Oates. I could not disagree more. I am not scared of failing and continuing to fail. I am scared of not having any more chances to fail.

Failure is only ever positive after you’ve achieved the kind of success that miraculously grants it the veneer of self-improvement. Whereas if you’ve reached your forties and you’re not being hailed as a genius, or being asked to deliver commencement speeches at important universities, or working at an important university, then you are probably wise enough to understand the truth no one tells people on graduation day — failure only counts as progress if you can afford the luxury of not having to look ahead.

A supposedly highly successful man once said: “I don’t like losers.” Of course not. No one does. After all, losers are losers for a reason. And the worst thing about them? They remind us of the truth we forget when we feel like we’re winning: All our triumphs, especially the ones we worked the hardest for, are very much based on inheritance.

“Most of what I try fails,” writes Professor Haushofer in his introduction to his parvum opus, “but these failures are often invisible, while the successes are visible.” As a result, he says, people “are more likely to attribute their own failures to themselves, rather than the fact that the world is stochastic.”

In probability theory, that which is stochastic may be analyzed but not necessarily predicted. The word entered into English in the seventeenth century from the Greek stokhazesthai ‘aim at, guess,’ from stokhos ‘aim.’

Which is exactly what I tell people when they ask me how I hurt my ankle that one night way back when: I aimed wrong, that’s all. There was no way to predict in which direction the ground would be moving.

James Nikopoulos teaches literature at Nazarbayev University.

Dear Highly Successful People: Stop Talking About Your Failures was originally published in The Awl on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

The Men of Hammacher Schlemmer

Wed, 2017-05-24 12:50
Are they really happy?

From its founding as a hardware store on the Bowery in 1848, through its underground days as a minter of “copperhead” tokens during the Civil War coin shortage, through its twentieth-century expansion into gadgets and novelties, Hammacher Schlemmer has never stood still. The company’s “brand” is its very lack of one, the laughable variety and incongruity of its thousands of products. Along with its downmarket cousins SkyMall and the Sharper Image, its name has become a byword for the ludicrous contraption, the elaborate gadget posing as a basic necessity.

Yet for all its reputation as an emporium of the ridiculous, the images in the Hammacher Schlemmer online catalog are often dully direct, unadorned shots of the product for sale. Even when the items are as odd as the Golf Cart Hovercraft or the Levitating Lamp, in situ, they blend in with other, ordinary objects of home and office.

But when depicting products that require human interaction, these photographs burst into life. And usually, that life comes in the form of lone men, operating or holding or transporting the product, displaying its uses with evident joy. Here is the man piloting his Voice Controlled Drone; the man hefting the Pepperphile’s Peppermill; the man reclining blissfully with his Stress Reducing Mind Spa. Men, it seems, are the heroes of the Hammacher Schlemmer story of invention and discovery, the dreamers of its dreams. Women also appear in the company’s catalog, of course. But all too expectedly, their wares tend toward the personal and domestic: see the Cordless Neck and Shoulder Heat Wrap or the Planter and Birdfeeder Pulley System. The crazed thrill of discovery, the spark of obsession, the delight in the new, are, at least in the Hammacher Schlemmer imaginary, male properties.

And specifically, dad properties: so-called dad music, dad bods, and dad humor have become cheap memes, but the men of Hammacher Schlemmer make vivid the socially specific reality implied but obscured by this prevailing idea of the “dad.” These men are uniformly and unmistakably suburban, white, middle-aged, middle-class. From their backyard pools to their khaki slacks, they embody the frumpy maturity and modest affluence that, probably not for better, have become synonymous with contemporary fatherhood.

And true to this archetype of “dad” as lovingly goofy and corny, the men seem to know only one emotion: delight. People in advertisements are always happy, but these men’s wide smiles and warm eyes speak to a deeper dad satisfaction — the pleasure of the sound purchase. The wise investment. Planning, providing, and prospering. But are they really happy?

Looked at more closely, the men of Hammacher Schlemmer seem out of time and place, unmoored from physical reality. In maybe half of these images, the men inhabit no place at all: the setting is an empty white expanse, an abyss that blends into the surrounding blankness of the webpage or catalog spread. Despite his boyish grin, the man in the navy polo shirt and chino shorts cruises his 12 MPH Cooler into nothingness; the man in the light pink button-down and khaki pants sharing a laugh with his Celebrity Robotic Avatar seems suspended in a Beckettian vacuum. And even when the photographs depict “real” places, their details often look flattened or fake — oversaturated, blurred, subtly unconvincing. In a scene showing the Giant Rubber Duckie, man and duck have been pasted onto a too-blue pool in a too-perfect McMansion backyard. Rather than reality, it’s like we’re seeing the man’s duckie dream, the vision that moved him to pay $229.95 plus shipping (“We regret,” the product page announces, “that this item is no longer available”).

The more poignant motif uniting these men, though, is their solitude. Though real fathers would be eager to share their zany purchases with their family, the men of Hammacher Schlemmer are almost invariably alone with their toys. Scrabble is a game few people would enjoy alone, but the man absorbed in the World’s Largest Scrabble Game — at $12,000, surely an investment worth sharing — appears only to be playing himself. Even a rare exception to this isolation, the two men leaping and bouncing in the Human Pinball Suits, seem to enact an almost too-blunt allegory of the greater barriers that separate them: though their bulbous encasements collide, their truer selves remain trapped under layers of air and plastic. (The symbolism darkens further when we notice the men look nearly identical: twins, maybe — or two sides of the same man, slamming into himself.)

Of these men, only one makes no effort to smile: seated on a plane, with the Rechargeable Personal Air Purifier looped like a bolo tie around the collar of his beige Oxford shirt, he gazes quietly and pensively out the window, into the beyond. That he appears to be one of only two passengers — a shadowy figure (death?) lurks several rows behind him — on an otherwise empty commercial airliner only deepens this meditative mood. Far above and away from home, family, and work, he seems readier than the rest to confront and contemplate the abyss, albeit in the security of a private cloud of purified air.

We can guess what he might be thinking about. All of these products are profoundly useless. They meet unfelt needs, satisfy unknown desires. They require an alternate existence, another medium of being, for their pointless features to look purposeful. The drama — if you’ll let me call it that — of these images is the men’s lonely struggle for utility, for necessity, for purpose. It’s easy to see in their crinkled eyes and glinting smiles the burden of middle-age ennui, the toll taken by years of work, childrearing, mortgage payments, lawncare.

In the white voids, beige beds, and green backyards of this universe, the men of Hammacher Schlemmer confront not just their purchases, but themselves. (Sometimes, in the case of the Best Fog Free Mirror, literally.) Their private terror is the struggle to prove that they are not similarly useless, that they endure disappointment and insecurity, shell out $9,950 for the Climbing Wall Treadmill, in the name of a worthy and manly fight for fulfillment, family, fatherhood. The catalog copy only reinforces the masculine anxiety in these images: the Pepperphile’s Peppermill, for instance, “holds over 2-lbs. of peppercorns and towers over table centerpieces or double magnums of wine, conveying the peppercorn’s dominance over all other spices in your pantry.”

The Hammacher Schlemmer website includes an entire section labeled “The Only,” featuring products unavailable anywhere else: the Only Unkinkable Garden Hose, the Only Music Box Espresso Machine, the Only Seven Person Tricycle. Let’s take this all the way: these men live in the realm of The Only. Theirs is the soul-consuming masculinity of allegiance to self-control and self-invention, a drive for purpose, a search for an imagined utility, as infinite in possibility as it is empty of meaning. They are the Only Men.

Colin Vanderburg is a Brooklyn-based writer and an assistant editor at Monthly Review.

The Men of Hammacher Schlemmer was originally published in The Awl on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

[“Anyway, Here’s Wonderwall” Voice] Anyway, Here’s Beethoven’s 9th

Wed, 2017-05-24 11:50
Classical Music Hour with FranImage: Andrew Gustar

I took a Classical and Romantic Music History class when I was in college. Like, first of all, can you tell? Is it not the most obvious thing about me, beyond even writing this column? Anyway. One time, during one of my Classical and Romantic Music History classes on a sunny Friday afternoon, our professor opened up all of the windows in the classroom and put on the Leonard Bernstein 1969 recording of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony and we listened to it in silence. That was it. The entire class. When it was done after about 50 minutes, he gave us a nod and we left.

It ought to be clear that I cannot file a one paragraph column that says “listen to Beethoven’s 9th and then you can close this tab,” but I can do my best to walk you through what is one of the greatest achievements in this history of culture without so much as fully ruining the integrity of the piece by over-explaining it. Does this include a brief overview of the achingly sentimental and sad short story I wrote about Beethoven in my sophomore year fiction class called “9th” that was ultimately REJECTED from my college’s literary magazine? We’ll see.

What is there to know about our old friend Ludwig van at this point in his life? Well, the composer had been completely deaf for nearly eight years by the time his 9th premiered in Vienna in 1824. The anecdote that always struck me about the premiere of this piece was that Beethoven had conducted the piece himself, sort of. The composer ultimately shared the stage the resident conductor Michael Umlauf (good name), who had instructed the orchestra to respect but ultimately ignore any of Beethoven’s gestures throughout the night. It was a combination of age and deafness and being totally absorbed in his own music that led Beethoven to conduct well past the finale of the symphony, forcing one of the singers to turn the man around so he could see but not hear the standing ovation given to him.


Because it is one of the most famous pieces of music of all time, it’s likely that at least the very beginning of every movement is going to sound familiar to you. The opening quiet refrain of the first movement, Allegro ma non troppo, un poco maestoso (quickly but not too quickly, and a little majestic), and sounds not unlike an orchestra warming up before the first big blast of sound comes through. To me, the 9th has always been about the relationship between struggle and joy, the struggle for joy. No doubt this piece, as well as many others, had been an immense struggle for Beethoven; how do you compose something — let alone something as iconic and wondrous as this — once deaf? Similarly, is that feeling of perseverance in the face of struggle not one of the greatest feelings of all time? (This is what I tell myself as I’m cleaning my apartment.) This movement itself is in sonata form (the way a full symphony often is), but when the original theme returns, it’s a major key versus a minor key. You’ve persevered!

You 100% know the opening refrain to the second movement, Molto vivace — Presto, a quick and frantic dance of joy. This is one of the most hummable themes in the history of music (except, of course, well, we’ll get there). I do not think Beethoven’s 9th is aggressively easy to listen to — not because of its sound but more because of its length and scope, but this second movement is perhaps the easiest to latch onto. By the second minute of it, you know the essential beats and themes.

The Adagio molto e cantabile is reverent (not to be confused with the BAD MOVIE that Leo DiCaprio UNDESERVED won a BEST ACTOR OSCAR for), sincere, and peaceful. Beethoven takes his time lulling you into a sense of comfort before his big finale. The 9th is widely praised for its finale, but I often feel like the Adagio is the real MVP. It gets at the real heart of what set Beethoven apart, which was his ability to create these immensely worthy and noble pieces of music that almost burst out of thin air. The Adagio barely feels like it was written so much as it already just existed, merely crafted and shaped at the hands of someone who loved it dearly.

The duration of the fourth movement (with so many musical directions it’d be ludicrous to name them all here), is 24 minutes: a symphony in and of itself. Its first seven or so minutes are like a prologue to the rest of the piece. It starts in a relatively dark and foreboding place, but quickly reveals itself to be something else entirely. Bursting through a dialogue between the low strings and the woodwinds, at around the 2:48 mark, is the part literally the whole world knows, Ode To Joy. This is Ode To Joy, the origin of it, the famous piece, the thing that every kid who learns piano knows how to play, and one of the most joyous (I’m not sorry!!!!!!) melodies of all time. After the prologue, however, Beethoven does something literally insane which is bring in a full choir and four soloists. The text of Ode To Joy is from a poem of the same name by German poet Friedrich Schiller, and for the remaining twenty minutes of the symphony, it becomes something of an opera. This was lunacy at the time. It was fucked up and weird. Of course now you’re just like, oh, this is why Wagner exists.

This final movement is so enormously grandiose it’s hard to even wrap your head around it. My best advice: listen to it. And by the time you reach that final minute and a half with its timpani and crash cymbals, it’ll just all crystalize for you. It practically flails with self-importance, but hey, it’s deserved. Can you think of something else like this? It’s impossible, because… the 9th is it, in every sense. It’s the peak of a movement, truly, as well as Beethoven’s statement on why he persevered through his own struggle. It’s why it still resonates, why your brain knows it even if you think it doesn’t, because the feeling of it is so universally known, as if he conjured it out of happiness itself.

Fran Hoepfner is a writer from Chicago. You can find a corresponding playlist for all of the pieces discussed in this column here.

[“Anyway, Here’s Wonderwall” Voice] Anyway, Here’s Beethoven’s 9th was originally published in The Awl on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

A Dog’s Perspective

Wed, 2017-05-24 11:05
Notes on life

by Liana Finck

A Dog’s Perspective was originally published in The Awl on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Superpitcher, “Burkina”

Wed, 2017-05-24 10:23
Confused? You’re not the only one.Photo: Billie Grace Ward

What are the questions you ask yourself these days when you’re so stunned that all you can do is wonder about why we are where we are and how we got here? Mine are usually, “Where am I? Why am I here? How did I get here?” but sometimes I allow myself a, “How long can this go on?” Well, never ask yourself a question you already know the answer to. It just doesn’t work out well. In all cases I think I would prefer to remain confused, but life just isn’t that sweet. Anyway, here’s something new from Superpitcher, which is. Enjoy.

Superpitcher, “Burkina” was originally published in The Awl on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

New York City, May 22, 2017

Tue, 2017-05-23 17:51

★★ The rain had paused for the walk to school. The cool air was agreeable; the sidewalks were drying out but the trees still held in the dampness on the schoolyard. A mat of shredded green leaves lay at the foot of the fence. When it did return, the rain was moderate, with drizzle in it, not heavy enough to create problem puddles even in the bad drainage of Union Square. After a day of excessive air conditioning and dim light through the window, the dense and wet atmosphere in the streets had come to seem warm and welcoming.

New York City, May 22, 2017 was originally published in The Awl on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Why You Should Watch “Bite of China” Instead of “Chef’s Table”

Tue, 2017-05-23 12:49
It’s a better show about food.

While all of humanity and Hollywood are busy mining British television for the next obscure detective series hit starring a skinny white guy with a sharp nose, China’s CCTV has made the best show on the small screen. “China Central Television?” you may ask, doubtfully, if you, like me, were first introduced to the channel (channels, really — there’s like 30 of them) in a Beijing hotel room, watching the same three shows over and over again: pandas, soap operas, potentially biased state-run news. Yes, because they also produced “Bite of China.” Even The Guardian called it “the best television show about food ever made.”

You might not think that you need to understand why Siberian elm flowers and green field snails are part of China’s culinary culture, but that’s because you haven’t watched this show yet. You might be too busy watching “Chef’s Table,” which I’m happy to admit might be the pinnacle of American food television, but that’s a dubious honor, like being at the pinnacle of American maternity leave policy.

But here’s the thing about “Chef’s Table”: The Emmy Awards and Netflix watchers alike have heaped praise upon this show that glorifies the work of top chefs around the world. The dramatic, documentary-style, food-porny shots keep diners drooling. But they’re drooling over people making incredible food with every resource imaginable — astronomically expensive meals that wealthy diners fly around the world to eat. If you want to understand the most truly amazing things people do with food, you need to look low, not high.

“Bite of China” is the poor man’s “Chef’s Table.” Not that the production values are low-grade or the cinematography hokey — in fact, it’s chock-full of absurdly sexy shots of temptingly delectable food with visuals and narration that both recall the BBC’s “Planet Earth” — but in that it profiles the little guy, the family selling five-cent buns, not three hundred-dollar dinners. It focuses on the people who make food in rural and urban China, carrying on regional food traditions and biking their products two hours to the nearest town to sell, foraging for rare mushrooms in the high mountains of Tibet, picking lotus roots in knee-deep water. It’s “Planet Earth” for the food-lover, “Chef’s Table” for the proletariat, Jiro Dreams of Sushi for all of China’s vast cuisine.

I was sitting at a banquet table in Hangzhou with my husband and his Chinese co-workers when I first learned of the show. “You’re a food writer, you order,” they said, shoving a menu in my hand, which was how we had ended up with the still-moving drunken shrimp on the table, splashing red wine sauce across the white plates as they flapped their tails, and a dozen people looking at each other nervously wondering who would take the first bite. This is a common expectation: that food writers know about all foods everywhere. But more shocking to them than the fact that I couldn’t order us a decent banquet from the photo menu was that I had never seen “Bite of China” — or as the Chinese name translates literally, “China on the tip of the tongue.”

When the stunned silence ended and somebody finally bit into the (surprisingly delicious) shrimp, a ripple of conversation started. First thing tomorrow, we would be escorted to a restaurant across town that had been featured on the show. By the time we arrived at our hotel in Shanghai the next afternoon, they had Taobao-ed (think Chinese Amazon, but bigger and better) the box set of both seasons — the entire series, plus a companion recipe book (sadly only available in Chinese) — directly to our hotel, which just happened to have a DVD player. (Lest you criticize me for spending my time in Shanghai watching movies instead of exploring: I was traveling with a four-month-old. There was a lot of indoor time.)

We watched as chefs made longevity noodles in Shanxi and artisans cured giant hams in Jinhua, sat riveted by the process of picking bamboo shoots and by the intricate multi-tiered preparation of nine-layer cakes. The foods that danced across the screen to the stilted accent of the English dubbing ranged from cobweb-like hairy tofu to simple handmade dumplings, the shots from sprawling overheads of entire waterways to the tiny water droplets cascading from a single garlic sprout.

The stories, like the camera work, pan from micro to macro to give a full picture of the country’s varied and disparate styles of cooking. Even though “Bite” is limited to a single country, it manages to include more diversity in single episodes than the entire “Chef’s Table” series. In a Wall Street Journal story on comments posted to Weibo (think Chinese Twitter), a common complaint was that it focused too much on minority and border cuisines, and not enough on the majority Han.

To me, that’s part of the appeal: a deeper exploration of sides of the cuisine that even the most aggressive and adventurous traveler would have trouble digging up. It doesn’t just show off the food: it bores to its center, looking at the people who make it, eating with them, following them on the job, and seeing how a lifetime devoted to the food affects them. It demonstrates the “why” behind the traditions — like how lamb fat in a Xinjiang polo (pilaf) dish pulls vitamins from the carrots — and then illustrates it with the kind of intensely appetizing shots that make your stomach rumble and your brain immediately contemplate booking flights to Kashgar.

In some ways, “Bite” shares the element of out-of-reach temptation with “Chef’s Table”: with the former, it’s solely geographical, with the latter, also financial. But where the focus of “Chef’s Table” is on the singular achievement of an individual in each episode — “this guy [or occasionally gal] is special” — “Bite” comes across with a more general message: Chinese food is diverse and incredible. So, while I can’t go out tonight and buy intricately carved jujube pastries in the shape of flowers any more than I can fly to France to sit at Alain Passard’s table, I can order in some noodles and dumplings and at least eat one tiny piece of the same giant tradition displayed as part of the best food television ever made.

While CCTV has Bite of China on their website for viewing, it is finicky, and I’ve found that I have better luck on YouTube: Season One, Season Two. Amazon also has the first season free for Prime members or for purchase, but it’s a subtitled version, and this is one of the few cases where the dubbed version is better. They also have the box set for sale.

Naomi Tomky is a Seattle-based freelance food and travel writer and the world’s most enthusiastic eater of everything.

Why You Should Watch “Bite of China” Instead of “Chef’s Table” was originally published in The Awl on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Guess The Expletive

Tue, 2017-05-23 12:12
Jared Kushner in the ‘Times’ editionImage: Jonathan Rolande

The best game to play in the New York Times is not, as many people might think, the daily crossword puzzle. It’s “guess which swear word the squeamish editors at the Times decided we couldn’t handle.” Today’s puzzle comes in a very good piece of reporting by Alec MacGillis on the “distress-ridden, Class B” apartment complexes owned by Kushner Companies.

Cox stopped cooking for herself and her son, not wanting food near the sink. A judge allowed her reduced rent for one month. When she moved out soon afterward, Westminster Management sent her a $600 invoice for a new carpet and other repairs. Cox, who is now working as a battery-test engineer and about to buy her first home, was unaware who was behind the company that had put her through such an ordeal. When I told her of Kushner’s involvement, there was a silence as she took it in.“Get that [expletive] out of here,” she said.

Jared Kushner's Other Real Estate Empire

“Fucker?” “Motherfucker?” “Asshole?” It has to be a noun, right? One word. “Asshat?” “Fuckface?” “Shithead?” Maybe “dickwad.” Or the less popular “dickweed.” Portmanteau or not? It couldn’t be “son of a bitch” because they print that and it’s a lot of words—the way Cox says it it sounds like it just sort of rolled off the tongue. “Fucko?” You can really pick your own word. I’m going to go with “fucklord.” Choose your own adventure.

Guess The Expletive was originally published in The Awl on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Never Write a Novel With an En-dash in the Title

Tue, 2017-05-23 12:11
Lessons from a literary debut.

Never write a novel with an en-dash in the title. You’ll finally learn the alt code, after months of searching “en-dash” in another tab and copying the result every time you type your own novel’s name, but the real issue is that you’re going to be filling out a lot of forms, on Kirkus and Indiebound and Amazon, and half the forms will automatically convert your en-dash into a hyphen, and you’ll wonder if everyone who reads your title on one of those websites with one of those forms will assume you don’t know how to appropriately punctuate a date range.

You probably shouldn’t have a title with two sets of colons, either. You hadn’t planned to have to type The Biographies of Ordinary People: Volume 1: 1989–2000 into all of those forms, because you always visualized it the way it would look on your novel’s cover. Only one colon, and a hard return. (Some of the forms let you submit the post-hard-return half of your title as a subtitle, and you wonder if splitting the title in some instances but not others will mess up your SEO.)

Mention the title as soon as you can, though, and give a link. Editors can swap your link for one that includes their publication’s Amazon affiliate code, you’re all for everyone making money, but the link has to be there. Nobody’s going to run their finger over the title of your novel, all nine words and two colons, and tap Copy. New Tab. Paste.

Readers will wonder what your book is about and you will have to figure out a way to tell them. Most books are about how to live; that’s why you wrote this one, anyway, to ask yourself the question of how to live and see if you can answer it by imagining characters living in a variety of ways. But you can’t say that. Saying your book is about how to live is even more pretentious than putting an en-dash and two colons in the title.

You could say it is a Millennial novel, which is true, but that will make some people presume that it’s all about tech and selfies and not buying paper napkins. Douglas Coupland but pink. You could also say it is a contemporary Little Women, which is what you say most often, because that is the other reason why you wrote it. “I wanted that type of story to exist,” you say again and again, “in our own time period.”

Some people will automatically assume you’re writing “domestic fiction,” while you think of it as “a look into the different paths young women choose for themselves as they move from childhood to adulthood.” There used to be stacks of those types of novels, Wilder and Lovelace and Montgomery and Alcott side-by-side in boxed sets, and then women stopped writing them—until Ferrante, whose Neapolitan Novels become popular while you are in the middle of your first draft. You avoid even looking at them until you’re done with your revisions, and then you read all four in two weeks.

You’ll do an interview in which your first volume is compared to Ferrante’s, and you will wonder how to feel about that. More specifically, you’ll wonder if you should feel bad for feeling so happy. This is exactly what you want, which means it feels shameful. To be worth the comparison. Or worse—to have your novel’s merits inflated, which would mean your happiness would be about something that isn’t even true.

After all, not all of the reviewers were so complimentary. Kirkus will give your writing a respectable amount of praise but will also ask why everyone in your novel is “so polite.” Like Wilder and Lovelace and Montgomery and Alcott and (assumedly) Ferrante, you set your novel where you grew up: in the rural Midwest, where politeness is as stifling as humidity. You will learn there is at least one part of your novel that readers and reviewers may not understand. You wonder if that means you have written it poorly.

At this point you should mention that Foreword Clarion Reviews gave your novel five stars. “The Biographies of Ordinary People contains artful writing and delicately drawn characters who navigate through the universal tragedies and triumphs of everyday life. This first volume is deeply satisfying.” You can breathe in and out on those two words, like a meditation. Deeply satisfying.

You should never lead with the fact that you’re self-published. You can get really far without mentioning it at all. When you’re sending out ARCs or setting up readings at bookstores, just give them the title and the link and your five-star review. Or write that you’re published via Pronoun, and let them click the link and learn that Pronoun is a publishing service for independent authors. (Which, by the way, you will recommend thoroughly.)

You can, however, use the self-publishing factor as a marketing tool—plus the fact that you funded the draft of your novel through Patreon. Plenty of people want to know how to write a novel and plenty of people want to know how to earn money by writing a novel, and you’ve done both. This means you can frame your novel as a success before it is even published.

Whether your novel will be a success is still to be determined—though you can guess already that it might not, five-star reviews and Ferrante comparisons aside. It is successful because you did it. It is financially successful because you have not yet spent more, to publish and promote the novel, than you earned from the Patreon project. You can say all of these things but you know there is another marker of success out there—well, multiple markers, because you know that the trad publishing world counts a “successful” literary fiction novel as one that sells 3,000–5,000 copies, and you also know that there’s the type of success that derives from momentum; from being good and having everyone talk about you at the same time.

You do not think you will have that kind of momentum, for the same reasons you weren’t ever popular in high school.

You will eventually type “how does novel win Pulitzer” into Google and learn that anyone can submit their novel to be considered for the Pulitzer Prize, they don’t care if you’re self-published or not, all you need is $50 and enough faith in your own work. You do not think you will win the Pulitzer, but you know that you won’t win unless you enter. Plus, it’ll ensure your novel is read by at least one more person who cares about literary fiction from both a narrative and structural standpoint, and that’s worth the entry fee.

You can imagine winning, but you can’t imagine winning, to turn the phrase. You didn’t even know that what you had written was technically called a bildungsroman until after you had written it, and the one time you tried to say “bildungsroman” during a podcast interview you realized you didn’t know how to pronounce it. You thought you were writing a novel about how to live. Or how to become the person you want to be despite your circumstances, which is the other thing novels are always about, this is why we have so many books about teens fighting evil empires and adults fighting either fidelity or infidelity, depending on the author’s point of view vis-à-vis marriage.

(You do know how to pronounce vis-à-vis.)

But the thing is that you were always this person regardless of your circumstances, you were writing novels on the back sides of printer paper since you were five. You were going to end up here eventually, scrap paper turning into Lisa Frank notebooks and then the glowing light of the word processor, writing and failing and literally processing until you get to today, your literary fiction debut and a book launch this evening at a local bookstore.

So you can say authoritatively—pun intended—that your book is not autobiography, because someone will ask that tonight at the Q&A.

You shouldn’t have paid $75.24 to print promotional cards asking people to preorder your book, because you barely handed any of them out. You shouldn’t have bought the $250 pack of ISBNs from Bowker because Pronoun gives you an ISBN for free. (You should mention at some point that you also write for Pronoun’s blog The Verbs, but they asked after you published your book with them, so it isn’t a conflict of interest when you recommended Pronoun earlier because you would have recommended them anyway.)

There are things you’ll do differently when you publish The Biographies of Ordinary People: Volume 2: 2004–2016 next year, you’ve made lists, but you’re stuck with your structure and your setting and your characters who might be too polite, and your presumptuous goal to write a two-volume series about how to live, and your title with its en-dash and two colons.

Which is fine, because these are exactly the books you’ve always wanted. You can lose yourself in them—which is a strange phrase to use regarding something you’ve written that was at least 20 percent based on your own childhood, but it’s true. To forget oneself completely is an extraordinary thing. You barely need to add—but you will—that pausing whatever track the mind is currently autoplaying to be fully present and/or fully absorbed is one of the reoccurring themes of how to live. It is also deeply satisfying.

That’s the lesson you’ll end with, the one you didn’t expect: that you can write something that is both from you and separate from you. You’ve written enough sentences that some of them still surprise you. You’ve heard enough reader response to be impressed by both the similarity and the variety. In a few hours you will go to a bookstore and eat cake and answer a few questions and read a few pages and then—you hope—everyone else will read the book on their own.

Never Write a Novel With an En-dash in the Title was originally published in The Awl on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Speech Good

Tue, 2017-05-23 11:09
New Orleans mayor Mitch Landrieu’s address on the now-removed Confederate monumentsImage: Infrogmation of New OrleansTo literally put the confederacy on a pedestal in our most prominent places of honor is an inaccurate recitation of our full past, it is an affront to our present, and it is a bad prescription for our future.History cannot be changed. It cannot be moved like a statue. What is done is done. The Civil War is over, and the Confederacy lost and we are better for it. Surely we are far enough removed from this dark time to acknowledge that the cause of the Confederacy was wrong.And in the second decade of the 21st century, asking African Americans — or anyone else — to drive by property that they own; occupied by reverential statues of men who fought to destroy the country and deny that person’s humanity seems perverse and absurd.

Read the whole thing here.

Speech Good was originally published in The Awl on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Chromatics, “Shadow”

Tue, 2017-05-23 09:26
How long will you wait?Photo: Ralph Hockens

This Chromatics video is a “Tribute To David Lynch’s ‘Blue Velvet’ & The Legendary Julee Cruise,” which are for sure two things that deserve tribute. If you are not familiar with Chromatics, it’s an art project dedicated to teasing a new record but never putting it out. Enjoy.

Chromatics, “Shadow” was originally published in The Awl on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

New York City, May 21, 2017

Mon, 2017-05-22 18:01

★★★★★ The nearest and most forceful of the birds singing in the morning sounded one staccato note, with well spaced pauses between each one. The slightest parting of the blinds let the full light-flooded scene below come through. The sidewalks were active early. There was already a line outside the bakery, not a bad one by the bakery’s standards, but the day had gone past being nice enough to wait around in. It now demanded motion and activity. A glance over the shoulder to check the time found treetops blocking the clock atop the bank building. A passing neighbor’s face was unrecognizable till the last second in the deep shade of a wide-brimmed hat. A building worker chased pigeons out of the fountain with the spray of a hose. The five-year-0ld was surly about going outside again, after he’d been to the playground already, but once he was on the move he began happily barking orders into a toy flip phone. Petals blew through the trees onto the path into the northern end of the Park. Great Hill was strewn with blankets and people, and a kite was struggling to get aloft. Chipmunks scattered in the leaves and a catbird hopped by the path. The greenery was thick enough to briefly achieve seclusion. Mugwort was up amid the trees and in the open, in sun and shade, with the woodland animals and the old city birds around it. The walkways obeyed the terms of the flat geometric map on the phone while rising and falling in and out of view on the swells and troughs of rock and land. Matte ripples ran over the surface of the Harlem Meer. The northmost part of the Conservatory Garden was dense with withered standing tulips, crowded and still straight. A couple in immaculate white chased with gold posed by the Untermyer Fountain, crystals glittering in the woman’s hair clip and clutch purse. Another couple was posing on the lawn of the middle garden, their embracing coached and tracked by a photographer yards and yards away on the grass with a long lens. More dressed-up people attended by more photographers waited their turns. The breeze tossed the plume of the fountain there like a horse’s tail. Up on the overlook new wisteria vines thrust and coiled into space, feeling for something new to grasp. The couple from the lawn had made their way up to the shaded pergola. “Kiss!” the photographer called to them, from the far end of the row of benches. Two people with a pair of binoculars peered up into the dark of the ceiling of vines, making pishing sounds to rouse birds. Down in the final garden, the flowers were trembling bells or immense creamy clusters or purple metal geodesic domes. Sparrows flew down to join the bronze bird in the dish lifted by the statue in the Frances Hodgson Burnett fountain. The sun through the leaves of the Japanese crabapple made pennies at the bottom of the darkened pool shine. In among them was one dime. A pink colored pencil floated on the water with the leaves and petals.

New York City, May 21, 2017 was originally published in The Awl on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Somebody Is Hiring A “Millennials Investigator”

Mon, 2017-05-22 14:33
Whatever that is.Image: Adi Korndöfer

Is this the best job posting you’ve ever seen? Yes.

Millennial-focused Investigation series. Aggressive, passionate, tireless, proven boundary breaker with an intense work ethic and a millennial POV. With resume, please provide a link to video materials and a 2 -3 paragraph (max) cover letter stating A) your research and investigation background and B) any prior-century news event you have done an extraordinary deep dive into. No prior experience or completed degree required. Location flexible. Military background a plus, not required.Please send portfolio to:

Uhh, what is Studio City? Besides desperately in need of a millennial? A media agency? I dunno, you tell me.

Somebody Is Hiring A “Millennials Investigator” was originally published in The Awl on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

You Ought To Know Frank Eaton

Mon, 2017-05-22 13:03
Old-School Show-Off: “Pistol Pete,” Gunslinger and Father-Avenger

Centuries after Hamlet but decades before Inigo Montoya, an American boy set out to avenge the death of his father. His name was Frank Eaton. Some called him Pistol Pete because of his unparalleled trigger finger. He was not a fictional character, but he seemed to know that his story sounded like literature, that there was something trope-like and near-allegorical about his mission. He had a fine sense for the drama of it, and stretched the truth when it served his story. He called his revenge “the great task of my life.”

Across the Atlantic, existentialism, nihilism, and absurdism had already taken root in the minds of European sons, and in their literature, father-son relationships were messy things whose dissolution pointed to man’s alienation from God himself. But frontier narratives like Frank’s never bothered with any of that agonized existential stuff. In Frank’s memoir, good is rewarded, evil is punished, and God smiles down upon him as he gallops across the plains of America, guns smoking in his holsters.

Frank Eaton was born in Hartford, Connecticut on October 26, 1860. His father, also named Frank, was a soft-spoken Civil War veteran who bought a homestead in Osage County, Kansas for his wife and three kids. Both Union and Confederate veterans were settling down in Kansas then, so the atmosphere was tense, bitter, and undercut with violence. Young Frank first witnessed the violence up close at age seven, when his father brought him along to a vigilante meetup that culminated with someone beating a judge to death.

Before long, the violence touched home. When Frank was only eight, a group of six ex-Confederate raiders — the Campsey-Ferber gang — came riding up in the black of night and yelled for Frank Sr. to come to the door, convinced that he had ratted them out to the local sheriff. When little Frank opened the door instead, they burst past him and gunned down his father in sight of the entire family, yelling, “Take that, you goddamn Yankee!”

After his father’s funeral, a family friend took Frank aside.

“My boy,” he croaked, “may an old man’s curse rest upon you if you do not try to avenge your father!”

The next day, the man brought over an old Navy revolver for Frank, and the kid began to practice shooting. Like a Western Hamlet, Frank was forever haunted by the murder of his father, except he spent no time agonizing over what to do next. He knew that he needed to learn to shoot, and shoot well, because the difference between a fast draw and a lightning-fast draw was the difference between life and death. His mission was straightforward, practically Biblical: an eye for an eye, six lives for the irreplaceable life of a father.

From the ages of eight to fifteen, Frank learned to use his gun. There was a purity to his behavior during this time: he rarely shot an animal that he wasn’t planning to eat, he swore he wouldn’t touch a drop of whiskey until he was 40 years old, and he didn’t mess around with girls. (His first kiss was a chaste one, coming from the lips of a devout Catholic girl named Jennie who later gifted him a massive crucifix.) As he grew into a crack shot, his mother remarried, and the family moved to Oklahoma, within the boundaries of the Cherokee Nation. When a teenage Frank stopped by Oklahoma’s Fort Gibson to train with the cavalry there, he found out he was already a better shot than the troops were. “Pistol Pete,” their commanding officer called him, impressed.

He was fifteen when he found out where the first of his father’s killers, Shannon Campsey, was hiding. Shannon had holed up in a creepy little one-room cabin near Oklahoman town of Webbers Falls, also located in the Cherokee Nation. Criminals of all stripes loved to hide out in the Nation — avoiding the US government and filching horses and cattle while they were at it — and so the Cherokee were pleased to hear that this scrappy little teenager had big plans to kill Shannon, who’d been stealing their cattle for years. Frank rode up and spotted the murderer sitting on his porch, a Winchester rifle across his lap. “Hello, Shan, don’t you know me?” called Frank, and at the sound of his voice, Shannon leapt to his feet. “I knew he was fast and a dead shot,” says Frank, “but I had been trained for this since I was eight years old.” Frank emptied two shots into Shannon’s chest before the Winchester ever fired.

Two years later, Frank nabbed the second killer, Doc Ferber, riding up to him and yelling, “I am Frank Eaton and I ought to know you, Doc Ferber, for you are one of the men who killed my father. Fill your hand, you son of a bitch!” The third killer, another Ferber brother, had just been murdered in a poker game (“Somebody else beat me to him!”) and when Frank attended his funeral in an attempt to find the remaining Campseys, a deputy US marshal came up, expressed admiration for Frank’s sharpshooter skills, and offered him a marshal position, even though he was technically too young for the dangerous role. Frank accepted, but insisted on finishing up a few more revenge killings first. Before long, he’d nailed two more Campseys in a single bloody shootout. There was only one killer left.

If Frank’s go-to line — “Fill your hand, you son of a bitch!” — sounds familiar, it’s because that line was made famous by the novelist Charles Portis in his 1968 book True Grit (and in the two subsequent movie versions). Portis borrows liberally from Frank’s life — the unfair death of a father, the killer who joins an unsavory gang, the child-avenger — and though the protagonist of the novel is a 14-year-old girl, she shares many traits with Frank, like an obsessively single-minded purpose and lashings of “frontier virtues.” Sure, Frank kills a lot of people, throws around the word “hell,” and eventually dares to take a swig of whiskey, but he trains for murdering his father’s murderers like some sort of cowboy monk. At the end of his life, he recalls his youth with artless nostalgia, firmly convinced that the wild and bloody life on those plains was, indeed, more virtuous than the “modern” life of the 1950s. He notes, for example, that justice was fairer when it was meted out in the open, man to man, rather than taken into a courtroom.

At the tail end of summer 1881, when Frank was almost 21 years old, he learned that the last Campsey brother, Wyley was out in West Texas. Frank saddled up a horse called Bowlegs and struck off, sleeping under the stars on the way. In Texas, he found that Wyley had skittered off to Albuquerque, and so he rode on. When he galloped into town, the sheriff invited him into the bar for a drink—and who was behind the bar, slinging whiskeys? Wyley, of course. Frank strode in, guns loosened in his holsters, and confronted the killer and his two bodyguards.

“Don’t you remember me, Wyley?” he taunted.

“I never saw you before,” said Wyley.

“Oh yes, you have. It was the night you killed my father! I am Frank Eaton, remember? Fill your hand, you son of a bitch!”

All four of them went for their guns, but Frank, as always, was quickest. He took a bullet in the leg and arm from one of the bodyguards, but all three of his opponents ended up dead. “The great task of my life was finished,” he thought to himself, and rode home.

Though Frank continued to lead an extremely colorful life — more gunfights, a lot of wrangling cattle, and his first taste of whiskey — he was on his way to settling down. He bought a claim in Oklahoma in 1889 and married a girl named Orpha under a big oak tree just before she turned 16. They had two girls, and for seven years, he “knew what heaven must be like.” Then Orpha took sick and died, but eventually Frank met his second wife Anna, had eight more children, put down his guns (for the most part), and took up the fiddle. Finally, he opened up a blacksmith shop in the town of Perkins, Oklahoma.

By the time a 92-year-old (!) Frank sat down to write his memoirs in 1952, the frontier was no more. It had been officially “closed” in 1890. Frank was, distinctly, a product of another time — the child of an America that had vanished.

A decade after Frank’s memoir was published, philosopher Maurice Friedman wrote a book called Problematic Rebel: An Image of Modern Man, which described precisely who Frank was not. Modern Man, after all, is characterized by fragmentation and alienation — often, a fragmentation from his own father. “The inner division which results from the alienation between fathers and sons is as much a commentary on the absence of a modern image of man as on the breakdown of the specific father-son relationship,” noted Friedman. “At the heart of this breakdown, in fact, is the inability of the father to give his son a direction-giving image of meaningful and authentic human existence.” This alienation from the father leads to an alienation from God and an alienation from the self, resulting in the splintered, anguished heroes of Sartre and Dostoevsky and Camus. Even Hamlet fits under this “modern” paradox, lost in a world where the only direction he gets from his father is the howling of a ghost.

But that’s not Frank. His father, by dying in front of his son in a puddle of blood, gave Frank precisely what Modern Man never got: a “direction-giving image of meaningful and authentic human existence.” The death of the father gave his son purpose, a sense of right and wrong, a place in the moral order of the chaotic frontier, a reason to move through the West with confidence. Dying in front of his son was a great gift. And it marked him as a product of a past that — like the frontier — is closed forever. Revenge stories like Frank’s are told, now, mostly as fiction.

You Ought To Know Frank Eaton was originally published in The Awl on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Slow Your Impeachment Roll, This Shit is Going to Take Forever

Mon, 2017-05-22 12:26
And other unsolicited advice.Image: Michael Sobota“I’m getting psyched about all this Trump/Russia Stuff! Is Trump gonna be gone soon?” — Impeachment Izzy

Yes. The Marshal of the Supreme Court has already burned a Scarlet ‘I’ into the President’s manboob. Once the 13th Seal is opened by the Congressional Minotaur the Doctor from “Doctor Who” will select the next President based on Midichlorian Count. No. While it may be fun to get naked and drunk in front of the TV every night waiting for the President to be beheaded on the National Mall, it’s going to take forever. And his head isn’t rolling anywhere any time soon.

Trump’s has been an historic administration. Historically crazy. And potentially historically crooked. Like the NHL Playoffs, however, these things take a really long time to get over with. And by the end of it you will be sick of it. You may get the sense that we’re already in the 5th Act of this tragedy. In fact we’re still in the Cold Open. By the time we’re really to the point where Trump is getting on the helicopter out of Washington we might want him to stay. Because President Pence and a lot of Republicans on Capitol Hill would actually be able to get a lot of terrible things done.

But, no, Jim! We’re going to skip directly to Orrin Hatch as president because Trump, Pence and Ryan are all going to be in the same prison cell in Leavenworth. Probably not. That would be more like a coup. Generals taking over does sound much more pleasant than it probably is. And they don’t put people in federal lockup for lying to journalists. They put them on CNN. Over and over and over again.

But acting like Pizzagate tweeters is not going to make you feel better. The U.S. Marshals are not walking through that door. They’re not drafting articles of impeachment at a D.C. Kinko’s. You will not get rid of this presidency via favorite or retweet. Elections do have consequences. And most of those consequences are felt by people who have brains. It’s gonna be a tough couple of years if your intelligence can be insulted. There’s so much bliss to be had by those simply not following along. I’ve never read Proust, but I’ve spent at least 500 hours watching Lawrence O’Donnell. Isn’t that slightly upside-down?

I like to avoid disappointment later like most Gen Xers do. So I figure that everything sucks, nothing will ever work out and I plan accordingly. This so obviously feels like the end of the Comrade Trump era that it’s almost too good to be true. Can you imagine what it would feel like to have literally almost any other human being be president? That’s a tasty egg roll. If you imagine that you will never get to eat that egg roll, if you abandon all of your dreams, you will never feel disappointed. Your life will be hollow and meaningless, you will be an empty husk, but you won’t feel disappointment.

Don’t get out over your skis, people. There’s a long way to go before we’re out of the Black Lodge. It does feel nice to feel the sun on our faces, though. Even just for a minute. To think that this is all something we can survive. That down the road we might once again have a president who isn’t a horrible international embarrassment. We just have to wait for the Marshal of the Supreme Court to put all Republicans in Azkaban. It will take a while. But it is coming.

Jim Behrle lives in Jersey City, NJ and works at a bookstore.

Slow Your Impeachment Roll, This Shit is Going to Take Forever was originally published in The Awl on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

A Better Bullfight

Mon, 2017-05-22 12:15
Notes on life.

By Liana Finck

A Better Bullfight was originally published in The Awl on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

The “Too Troll” Of ISIS

Mon, 2017-05-22 10:54
Donald Trump’s speech flubsImage: John Keogh

Look, people in political power making verbal errors is nothing new (NUKE-YA-LUR), and I’m not here to be gleeful about errors of speech everyone makes from time to time, usually when drunk, but there is something genuinely interesting about language errors. Usually linguists focus on “language acquisition errors”—the kinds of mistakes you make when you’re either a kid learning your first language or a person of any age learning a second language. My friend’s kid speaks in Spoonerisms all the time (“copping shart,” “can you eel this pegg for me?”). My friend’s kid is also three years old. But many of us fall prey to these consonantal flubs when we’re incapacitated (“I’ve only had moo targaritas!”) or tired/old/talking a lot on Television (“Obama Bin Laden”).

During a speech he gave in Riyadh, he spoke of “Islamic” terrorism, rather than “Islamist.” White House officials cried exhaustion:

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At a briefing with reporters a WH official said POTUS is "exhausted."

 — @Acosta

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Official: Trump's 'radical Islamic terrorism' wording changed because he's 'exhausted'

However, Trump has made this error before, which may qualify it as more of a verbal tic (a la “nucular”). But there was also a lot more going on in that speech that we should be talking about. Here comes Mark Liberman at Language Log to give you to full run-down:

  • He also said “Islamicists,” which is the word of Islamic scholarship
  • He said “Druz” and then corrected it to “Jews”
  • He used his signature “interpolated intensifications”—“leadership” became “absolutely incredible and powerful leadership”
  • He said “the [tu trol] of ISIS” instead of “the true toll.”
  • He mispronounced “leaving” as “living” and tried to spin the flub into an aside about “living so poorly they’re forced to leave”
  • He gave “ethnicity” an extra syllable, somehow

-ist vs. -ic in Riyadh

The real story here is not the Islamic/Islamist error, but the sheer number of errors in one speech. As much as I would like to accuse Donald Trump of falling into the “language skills of a three-year-old” category I think it’s pretty clear he’s in the “old/tired/on TV a lot/Bob Schieffer” one. Is that an excuse? Not really. Speaking in public is one of the demands of the job, and some people do it better than others to begin with. But the real test is how you do it under duress. For Trump the answer is: not so great. But there’s not really anything we can do about it, because you can bet he’s not going to take the time to work with an executive speaking coach. So get used to it, this cringing. He may be exhausted, but this is exhausting, so try to find the fun language angle? You have to laugh to keep from crying. Hey, I tried.

The “Too Troll” Of ISIS was originally published in The Awl on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Indian Wells, “Cascades”

Mon, 2017-05-22 09:47
Why does this keep happening?Photo: YJ Khaw

Weren’t we just here? Wasn’t it moments ago that we were waking up to a new week, full of dread and barely able to drag ourselves to the starting line? Didn’t we just complain about how exhausted we were and wonder how much more we could take? I guess the good news is I can copy and paste this exact block of text over and over again until it finally all comes down, because we live in a world where it’s always like this now. Here’s some music. Enjoy.

Indian Wells, “Cascades” was originally published in The Awl on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.