The Didactic Interview: Adam Sherburne

For decades I’ve been a fan of the industrial music group Consoldiated. Their energetic music and political lyrics lit a fire in me at an early age, and I’ve benefited tremendously from their work.

Today I had the honor to spend an hour talking with Adam Sherburne, former front man of Consolidated and coordinator of a group in Portland called Free Music. We discussed music, capitalism, white supremacy, and a dozen other topics. Check it out.

DS Interview: Adam Sherburne

(I forgot to drop the level of my mic before recording, so the audio is a bit crummy. Apologies all around.)

I should have a full SynCast up before too long. Thanks for listening!

John Oliver on Ferguson

Comedy News vet John Oliver does a superb job breaking down the insanity in Ferguson.

Eyewitness Report of the Murder of Michael Brown

USA TodayWitness to Michael Brown shooting comes forward

Dorian Johnson said he was standing inches from Brown when the shooting occurred around 1:40 p.m. Saturday. [...] ”The officer is approaching us and as he pulled up on the side of us, he didn’t say freeze, halt or anything like we were committing a crime. He said, ‘Get the F on the sidewalk.’”

After Johnson said the officer thrust open the door of his patrol car, hitting the pair, Johnson said the officer grabbed Brown around the neck and tried to pull him through the window. He said Brown never tried to reach for the officer’s weapon.

According to Johnson, the officer pursued Brown and fired another shot. which struck Brown in the back. He said Brown turned and faced the officer with his hands raised.

My friend started to tell the officer that he was unarmed and that he could stop shooting (him),” Johnson said. “Before he could get his second sentence out, the officer fired several more shots into his head and chest area. He fell dramatically into the fatal position. I did not hear once he yell freeze, stop or halt. it was just horrible to watch.”

Why Jen Kirkman Is Awesome (And Why She’s Right To Be Mad At Me)

I’ve been a huge fan of comedian Jen Kirkman for years. Ever since I first heard her 2006 standup debut Self Help, I was hooked. Her immaculate timing, her wry self-deprecation, her feminist perspective. She followed it in 2011 with Hail to the Freaks, which took things to the next level. Funny and intelligent, she mixes pop culture with social politics and everything in between.

I devoured her 2013 book I Can Barely Take Care of Myself, especially since it humorously attacks the view that people must have children in order to fulfill their destiny as mature adults. My wife and I decided not to have kids, and it’s refreshing to see someone so succinctly reflect our beliefs on the issue.

When I found out she started a podcast called I Seem Fun, I raced to subscribe. Every week she mixes feminist perspectives, tales of oddballs on airplanes, and reflections from her life. She moves from DMX to Kurt Cobain to Dolly Parton, from #yesallwomen to the art of writing to dealing with stress. Along the way she uses funny voices to ridicule annoying people, especially those pestering her on social media. As usual, she jokes about herself as well, like when she gets the episode number wrong. It’s a fun hour-long show and it always jumps to the top of my queue when a new episode is released. (The only other shows that do this are The Dana Gould Show and My Brother, My Brother, and Me.)

Kirkman is very friendly with her fans, and I’ve used the opportunity to communicate on several occasions. I thanked her for her feminist response to the #notallmen trend, and sent her an email (which she read on the show, and found amusing) about a time someone showed me a bad movie. When I referred to her joke about the hapless librarian in It’s a Wonderful Life as “podcast gold”, she favorited my Tweet. As silly as it may sound, it’s quite rewarding when a comedian you respect and admire so much takes the time to respond.

Why She’s Mad At Me

Without intending to, I became one of those people pestering her online. One of the characters Kirkman uses occasionally on the show is “The Corrector”, a nasally doofus who takes great pride in disputing tiny technical details. She’ll say something in passing, and then acknowledge that perhaps there’s some tiny point that a pathetic jerk might quibble with (as people often do online): “Well, technically..” (As she points out, it’s usually men who engage in this nonsense, and they often target women as part of the mansplaining phenomenon.)

A week and a half ago, on Episode 60, she started by making fun of The Corrector, since she delivered the introduction flawlessly: “Hey, I said it right! ‘Well, technically…’ I don’t even know.. That guy had nothing to say. He stopped himself.” She sounded almost sad, like she wanted The Corrector to find some small thing to complain about.

So I thought it would be funny if I played the part. I wrote a series of Tweets (yes, more than one) pointing out that “right” is an adjective, and “correctly” is the proper grammatical term in that instance. I pointed out that I am an English teacher. I tried to be intentionally obnoxious so she would realize I was only playing an annoying character, instead of my charming, gracious self. But that’s not how it came through. (Perhaps I thought she might remember me from our past interactions, but that would have been ludicrous.)

She responded angrily on Twitter: “Are you kidding me?” Many of her followers sent me angry Tweets as well, and I felt really bad for days.

Then today she released the latest episode of her podcast, which includes a special “bug off” comment to me. (I’ve provided just the relevant 60-second slice.)

Jen Kirkman to me: “Get a life”

Needless to say, this made me feel sad all over again.

Why She’s Right to Be Mad

Everything Kirkman says in that sound clip is 100% correct. It’s obnoxious when people nitpick about grammar, especially in contexts where it doesn’t matter. As I tell my students all the time, all that really matters — except when you’re trying to get a job or impress your future in-laws — is that the other person understands what you’re saying. (This is the split between prescriptive and descriptive grammar.)

People who use their knowledge to annoy other people are insufferable and pathetic. They are quick to say “I’m just joking” or use some other smug excuse, but that doesn’t change the fact that their comments are obnoxious and pointless. It’s like lame white guys rapping badly; even when you’re doing it ironically, you’re still a lame white guy rapping badly. (Learn how to spit with a flow like The Rhymenoceros and The Hiphopopotamus, and then it can become something else.)

So while I thought I was being clever and insouciant, in effect I was just being a jackass. As with other forms of harassment, intention doesn’t matter. I should have realized how irritating my comments were, and prevented myself from sending them. (I try to be extremely conscious about my gendered interactions, and I think I’ve got a good track record as a male feminist. Still, as she points out, it’s important for all of us guys to check ourselves when communicating, especially online.)

I know what I meant, but it’s irrelevant, and I respect people who call me on my nonsense. (It’s one of the things I love most about my wife.) More to the point, I shouldn’t wait for other people to point out when I’m being dumb. As I Tweeted the day after the original debacle, I should get a tattoo on my forearm that reads: “You are NOT FUNNY when you’re being pedantic about grammar.” I can’t beat myself up about this stuff, but there’s a fine line between doing that and failing to learn from my mistakes.

The Bizarre Intimacy of Social Media

When politicians first began appearing on call-in TV shows, the political cartoonist Tom Tomorrow made fun of the idea that we can feel close to the people on The Box With Colors. Facebook and Twitter have only made this phenomenon more surreal, with our favorite celebrities in such easy reach. (Kirkman points out that she’s far from the level of celebrity most people expect, but she has 139,000 followers and she appears regularly on a popular TV show.)

This proximity brings a bizarre paradox: We feel like we’re becoming friends with the people we talk to on Twitter, even though we exchange only brief slices of words in the midst of lots of other activity. I know that I shouldn’t really be hurt by Kirkman’s comments, just as I shouldn’t get filled with excitement when she likes something I say. But I am, and I do. I suppose these things are all part of the irrational complex casserole that is human emotion.

Through the video game podcast I co-host (and my own politics/economics podcast), I’ve gotten to know some people over social media, and I’m always amused when I find myself on the other end of this exchange. Sometimes people will thank me for providing something fun for them to listen to on the commute, for example. Our audience is relatively small, and we don’t get annoying stuff on social media. I can only imagine how annoying it would be — especially for women in a world where so many guys are oblivious to both their privilege and their potential to be irritating — to deal with random yahoos online all the time.

So while (of course) I’d rather not be blocked from Kirkman’s Twitter feed, I don’t blame her. If you’re reading this, Jen, please accept my apology. I thank you for calling me out on my obnoxious idiocy, and I hope we can still be friends. (Well, technically, we’ve never been friends. Dammit, I’m doing it again.)

The Worst Part of Writing

I have started the most frustrating, demoralizing, and tedious activity every writer has to endure: I have begun begging agents and publishers to promote my work.

I’m a damn good writer. I’ve been doing it for decades, and I know I’ve got skills. When I took a writing class this summer, the instructor (a nationally known writer with years of experience in the industry) said: “I can’t help you with the writing.” Fortunately she offered plenty of assistance with the publishing process, which has been a great benefit.

I can’t stand this stuff. A 2012 article by Michael Bourne explains — with an insider’s perspective — what I despise about the business of publishing:

If that sounds like I’m saying, “It’s all about who you know,” that’s because that is exactly what I’m saying. You can rail about how unfair that is, and how it makes publishing into an incestuous little club, and to a degree you would be right: a lot of very dumb books get published because somebody knew somebody. But that’s the way the machine is built, people.

He says if you want to get published “you have to immerse yourself in the literary community”. He explains his own poor results with “cold-calling” submissions to agents and publishers, and how the response rate skyrocketed after he “went to a couple writing conferences” and “met agents in person and told them about [his] book”.

Well, there’s a problem here: Those conferences cost a lot of money — money most schoolteachers don’t have. They also require lots of time, which is also in desperately short supply for someone like me. Meanwhile, spending hundreds of dollars to attend these things is no guarantee, and the chances are slim that agents I do meet will have any interests that align with my book. I hate the thought of turning myself into a sniveling self-important toady, following agents around and begging them to consider my writing.

Yesterday I got a very nice rejection email which included the sentence: “You seem like a really cool person and an amazing teacher.” It went on to explain that, given the woeful market for books today, most publishers simply will not take a chance on a first-time nobody.

In other words: It doesn’t matter how good my book is. It doesn’t matter if I’ve got important things to say to the world, or how well I can say them. It doesn’t matter how much skill I have in writing about video games and education — I’m nobody, and therefore no one cares about my writing.

Dead Prez said it best in their song “It’s Bigger than Hip Hop”:

This fake a** industry — gotta pay to get a song on the radio
Really though, DP’s gon’ let you know
It’s just a game of pimps and hoes
And it’s all ’bout who you know
Not who we are, or how we grow

 I can’t imagine my favorite writers — Nelson Algren, Stanislaw Lem, Marge Piercy — paying hundreds of dollars to shmooze with industry folk in the scant hope of scoring a few seconds of one-on-one time to bloviate about their writing. The whole thing turns my stomach.

As I’ve often said, the only alternative is for some well-connected individual to stumble upon my writing and make it a personal mission to link me with an agent or publisher. And obviously that ain’t happening, so I gotta just keep at it.

Vomit.