Wednesday, October 12, 2005

All's Right with the World

As I’ve mentioned in my blog, and just about every conversation I have with friends, I have a boring job. A really, really boring job. Basically I work in contracts and do paperwork all day. But I love it for three reasons:

  • There’s no service involved. Though I work for a fully customer-based business, thanks to a clever little program called Siebel, if a customer needs an amendment to or copy of their contract, they call our Client Support Center or their Account Executive, who then makes an activity for me. So when I get to work, I open up the activities tab in my Siebel program, and voila, all the work I have to do is listed as automated task, which I then mark “Done” when I’m finished. This basically means 1) I never have to talk to anyone, and 2) my phone almost never rings – unless it’s a personal call, so that means 3) little to no human contact, unless I seek it out. If you’re not getting how lovely this is, chances are you have never worked in customer service.
  • There’s cake for everyone’s birthday, and most importantly:
  • I’m allowed to wear headphones.

  • Now, you would think the most important thing on this list would be number one – especially if you’ve ever heard any of the stories from my days as a Payroll Administrator, which I tend to tell in a holocaustian “never again” tone.

    But as anyone who has ever had a very boring job will attest, the most important reason is actually number three. Because if religion is the opiate of the masses, NPR and audiobooks are the opiate of the Master’s degree holders in low-paying office jobs.

    The following are a few of the things that have kept my brain firm despite the mushifying radiation that is a job that involves heavy paperwork.

    Audiobooks: Now I know these are controversial, and I could give you arguments for both reading and listening to books, but for this blog I’ll just give you three for listening:

    1)      By listening, you really read a novel. You can’t skim. I’m not one to directly quote novels, but because I hear every single word that the author has written, it sometimes feels like they have more impact on me, stay with me longer and linger on my mind even after three jack n’ cokes, which allows me to reference books I listen to a little easier at parties.

    2)      It’s like being a kid again. Some of my best memories are of my mother reading to me. And as strange as my third-grade teacher, Mr. Ditmar, was, I remember him fondly. He lived in a trailer, had a long axe-murderish beard, often showed us anti-communist black-and-white propaganda films on the old projector in the school basement, and sometimes he would show up to school in full clown make-up and suit (though never on Halloween – “Because Halloween is a devil’s holiday” he would explain gravely to his mostly-black class of Lutheran School third graders). I swear, I’m not making any of this up. Still, I have extremely fond memories of him reading the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe to us, chapter by chapter during the last hour of each school day.

    3)      Audiobooks make dense doable. A dense book you can’t get through in real life becomes accessible and manageable on audiobook. In this age of mostly 300-page or less Booker, Nobel and Pulitzer prize winners, using the little free time and attention span I have on a hefty work of literature, just doesn’t happen for me. Here’s a list of very good books, that I would never know were very good if I hadn’t listened to them: Jeffrey Eugenides Middlesex, Salman Rushdie’s Ground Beneath Her Feet, Zadie Smith’s White Teeth, and Shay Youngblood’s Black Girl in Paris.

    That all said, here’s my list of Audiobooks worth listening to in no particular order:

    1.      Middlesex (Jeffrey Eugenides) – Amazing reader, amazing story.

    2.      Parable of the Talents(Octavia Butler) – This is a sequel, but you don’t have to read the first book to appreciate this one. Set in what feels like an uber-realistic future, in which the Christian right rules America, and debtors are enslaved to corporations. If you’ve ever worried about where this country is headed under our current administration, this one will make you worry more. A lot more.

    3.      Living Blood (Tananarive Due)  – This one’s got a terrible reader, so you know the story must have been amazing to make it onto this list. Black Southern gothic horror story. Anne Rice meets Stephen King in the Motherland. I was on the edge of my office chair.

    4.      Getting Mother’s Body (Suzan Lori Parks)  --  Okay, I know it’s cliché for a black female playwright to go on and on about another black female playwright, but hell, I’ve got to say this audiobook is just awesome. Suzan not only reads the thing, but also performs all the songs with her jazz musician husband – and that’s something you just can’t read.

    5.      The Dark Tower Series (Stephen King) – However I feel about King’s more commercial efforts, this series (7 really long books in all) reconvinced that the man is 1) brilliant and 2) can write like a muthafucka. The first one’s a little hard going, but once you get into the second one, you won’t be able to stop. Best ending of any multi-volume epic I have ever read.

    Honorable Mention:

    What You Owe Me (Bebe Moore Campbell).

    *A lot of these aren't available as audiobooks at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. But you can always order them from your local library.

    But in the morning, I often find it hard to wrap my head around plot and such, and these are the podcasts I most look forward to finding on my newly downloaded menu:

    1. Pacific Drift: The California, lite version of This American Life. I was a little in love with host Ben Adair, but then they started rebroadcasting the same first season episodes all summer, and keep on doing so though it’s seriously like Fall. Now I hate him for not giving me what I want, while an angry black woman with a smoky voice sings in the background, “It’s a thin line . . .”
    2. The Business: I hate the business-side of Hollywood. And I hate most of people associated with it. But somehow I love this show about L.A.’s main business and the people who keep it greasy. Though I’m still reeling over this quote from fellow C.M.U. alum and generally awesome person, Stephanie Palmer, who was on the show last week: “[Writers] have a better chance of winning the lottery, than selling a script to a studio.”  Yep. It’s painful, because it’s probably true.
    3. Martini Shot: Rob Thomas (of Veronica Mars fame – I think…) tells really neurotic and cynical stories about the TV business. And as a neurotic and cynical human being, I really appreciate this.
    4. Left, Right, and Center: I always tell people that I have no aggro when I’m doing roller derby regularly, because really, what do you have left after you smashed into a bunch of other chycks on a banked track? This show works in much the same way. Every Monday I get my political anger over everything that’s happened in the past week out by listening to this show.
    5. Music Exchange: “Eclectic” Nic Harcourt talks with Radio One Brit, Steve Lamett about what’s going on in the English music scene, and then they play one full song from a band that’s worth listening, too. Often, it’s stuff so obscure, the bands not even signed. But warning: Your going be upset when I-Tunes doesn’t have it.
    6. NPR’s Most Emailed Stories: I’ve noticed amongst my friends a tendency to quote almost exclusively from stories that appear on the New York Times “Most Emailed List.” And I wonder if they, like me only read stories from this list – and the movie reviews. So how happy was I, when NPR released this daily podcast, allowing me to do the same thing with public radio that I do with my favorite newspaper? Dude, I’m going to be ADD forever. Thanks NPR!
    7. Answer Bitch: The only non-public radio podcast on my list. This woman is so full of hate, but I have a soft spot in my heart for her, because she reminds me so very much of my good friend, Anika: So funny and so mean.
    8. The Treatment: This is like listening to the Actor’s Studio, but with random guests like David Cronenberg and Hugh Laurie and Todd Solondz that actually deserve this much love festing from former NYT film critic, Elvis Mitchell.
    9. The Score: I didn’t even know who former Olympic swimmer, Diane Nyad was until I started listening to this podcast, but man, does she make you love sports as much as she does during the four minutes of her podcast.

    Why oh why haven’t "This American Life" and "Car Talk" been released as podcasts?

    On another note, dudes, I, who never wins anything, won 4 VIP tickets to tonight’s Clippers game.

    And if that’s not enough, my new play, Grown-Ups on the Playground got a really good review in this week’s Backstage West (it’s not online yet, but keep on checking back). Anyway, Wenzel Jones called it “consistently enjoyable,” which isn’t sexy, but does the job. He also commended Kalimba Bennett, the brilliant star of “First Sex,” as “far more committed to staging a climax than Meg Ryan ever thought about being.” And he creamed all over the director, too. Dudes, if you haven't already, please come out and see the show. We're only running for two more weekends and it's so worth it. You can buy tickets online at

    Man, I feel like that episode of Jem and the Holograms where they sing “All’s Right With the World,” when brown-skinned and purple-haired Shana rejoins the band after a failed stint in the fashion world.

    Maybe, I’ll move to L.A. – oh wait, I’m already here. Well, I guess there’s no place like home.


    frank's wild lunch said...

    Congrats! And Middlesex is a great book, isn't it? I loved The Ground Beneath Her Feet, too.

    Unfortunately, I can't wear headphones, but my Yahoo LAUNCHcast helps a little.

    RB Ripley said...

    Congratulations my friend. You deserve to revel in all those feelings of goodness.

    Stephanie Palmer said...

    Great site Ernessa and thanks for the mention!