Will's Coffee House

John Dryden, Dramatist, Critic, Poet Laureate, and my ancestor, frequented a coffee house called Will's almost daily, where he would hold forth on sundry subjects with great wit and aplomb. Same deal here, only without the wit or aplomb.

Location: Large Midwestern City, Midwestern State, United States

I am a stranger in a sane land...

Monday, April 17, 2006

Top Ten List--Redux

OK, OK, I'm bored and trapped at school, and while I could be spending this time finishing reading Cold Mountain (which I'm not hating nearly as much as I thought I would), I instead choose to foist off on you a once-promised Top Ten list.

The Top Ten Things You're Probably Embarassed About Enjoying, But Shouldn't Be:

10. Reading Complete And Total Crap Fiction.

Obviously, I have The DaVinci Code in mind here, which is, in fact, as dreadful a piece of 'imaginative' sludge to ever slop out of the New York Times Best Sellers list. But a line from (forgive me) an episode of The X-Files kind of resonates: "The worst book ever written is better than the best movie ever filmed." It's not true, but the act of reading in and of itself sets you above the slack-jawed majority who can't even be bothered to do that much. It's one of the few genuinely healthy mental activities, working the imagination (despite what Cervantes might have thought), and reading even the worst of the worst is vastly better than reading nothing at all. When I worked in a book store, there was a woman who came in every week to buy a new Harlequin romance. I sneered at her at first, until I realized--this woman was reading a book a week. No matter if it was crap, it was still time she spent turning pages, understanding language, and not watching television. Good for her--and for you.

9. Science Fiction and Fantasy.

I'm serious. I used to be a major geek in this respect--I've essentially grown out of it--still have a penchant for "Horror" as a genre, but that's another topic for another time--but I know people my own age and older who are still way, way into this stuff. But you know what? Speaking of Cervantes--generally speaking, these folks are like lesser, sadder versions of Don Quixote. They read and watch and 'convention' (is that verb-able?) this stuff because they're idealists at heart--they believe in a better world with finer ideals--a world that rewards the virtuous and punishes the wicked and they believe in it enough to give themselves over to the fantasy that such worlds can exist. Let 'em, I say. It prevents them from getting bored and turning into computer hackers and virus-makers. They're good people, oddly oriented. Leave them alone.

8. Masturbation.

Too obvious for words, but OK--everyone does it, nobody wants to admit it, because it seems as though it's a substitute for real sex, and if you spank/pet it, it means you can't get someone else to do it for you. Crap. As anyone will tell you who's been in a long-term relationship. And it beats the hell out of pretending to love someone so he/she will sleep with you. (OK, that's mostly a guy thing. Women, in my experience, delude themselves into thinking they're in love so they can have sex with the guy. Sad little gendered world, isn't it?) So do it freely, happily, unashamedly. Just not, you know, on the bus or in church.

7. Desperate Housewives.

I have no idea why this is on the list, but someone whose taste and intelligence I trust is utterly addicted to the show, and I just want to tell her that, Hey, It's OK. Like all soap operas, it has the redeeming feature of demanding a sustained attention span (got to remember one episode to the next--and there's a week in-between!) and it doesn't take itself too seriously, like, oh, say, Lost. I understand this season sucks, though. And it does mean that you can't make fun of people who watch The O.C. or Veronica Mars. If any such people still exist.

6. Being A Lawyer.

Fact is, it's a miserable job--long hours, abusive clients/bosses, competition as the bitter milieu of every day. It sucks as a job, and while it may (and does) turn many of its practitioners into monsters, it's still a job that needs to be done, and just thank God that you're not the one who has to do it.

5. Knowing A Lot.

I've never known a person who was enormously well-educated not to be constantly apologizing for this fact in conversation. "Oh, yeah, it's just like what Charlemagne was trying to do in Flanders," he/she will say in casual reference to the Iraq situation, and people will look at him/her with resentment for knowing what the hell he's talking about. "Sorry," he/she will say, "I just, you know, read a lot." And then change the subject to something related to NASCAR. Stop apologizing. When you're sneered at for knowing a thing or two, sneer back and say, "Just because I crack a book now and then, and retain what I discover, and want to share it, how exactly does that make me morally deficient? Read a book." (Author's note: I have no idea what, if anything, Charlemagne tried to accomplish in Flanders. Just made it up. So stop staring at me resentfully.)

4. Listening to Horrible Music. Yes, even Boy Bands.

Again, this falls into the category, of "At least it's music." Granted, it is emetic, cloying, vacuous, and 'catchy' in the worst possible way (as in, "I can't get this crap out of my head!!!") but it's ultimately innocuous--the lyrics (apart from most of rap, alas) are pacifistic, idealize love (admitted, this sets up a false ideal of what love is, but one can't have everything), and generally extol a fairly gentle way of living/being. Yeah, it's stupid--but it's nice stupidity--and, again, at least you're listening to music. Which in itself is good for the soul. The Greeks knew this, and we've never forgotten it.

3. Eating Junk Food.

Moderation makes this completely acceptable behavior. So you went and ate the whole freaking bag of Cool Ranch Flavor Doritos (c). Don't berate yourself--just don't do it again tomorrow. Junk Food isn't good for you, God knows, but in reasonable doses, it isn't really bad for you, either. Exercise, drink lots of water, eat lots of fruits and green vegetables, and then you don't have to sneak the Oreos crumbled into the Ben & Jerry's--you can snarf it down with zest and pride--you've earned your treat.

2. Being Unable to Come Up With Ten Really Good Entries to a Top Ten List.

I mean, seriously, it's not as if you're getting paid to write this. So if you have to fudge a bit by throwing in a meta-literary moment that causes the reader to be 'aware' of the author and his/her own experience of reading--that creates a moment of abstraction--objection that questions the organicism of the moment, go right ahead. Just be sure to justify it in academic jargon that no one will understand.

1. Xbox.

Because I said so, that's why. Yes, I'm biased beyond belief--yes, it's immature--yes, there are billions of ways I could be better spending my time--but it keeps me quiet, indoors, and venting my frustration at something utterly incapable of being offended or injured. Trust me, I'm a better person because of it--look, my life is so tediously dreadful that I've got to escape from it to an absolute degree, so it's either Xbox or heroin--I think I've made the right call. And if your life is dreadful, too--and it must be, since you're reading this--then by all means, jack in and let the pain wash away...

You'll notice that I didn't include 'watching professional sports with an obsession bordering on mental illness' or 'voting Republican.' That's because nobody who does this is, in fact, ashamed of it. Which is a problem all its own, but that's for another time...


Blogger phd me said...

What about watching movies with no redeeming intellectual value? I realize I'm supposed to watch foreign and/or art-house films only, being an "intellectual" and all, but I'd rather sit slack-jawed and mesmerized by X-Men or Mission Impossible, quite honestly.

6:08 PM  
Blogger ArticulateDad said...

Couldn't have said it better.

9:42 PM  

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