10 Baby Naming Trends That Should Be Discontinued

Don’t worry, I’m not baby crazed or anything. But anyone who has known me for more than about a week knows that I am, for whatever reason, obsessed with names. Names for pets, names for babies, names for characters — it doesn’t matter. I keep a list of names that I like on my computer and I have a shockingly enormous collection of name books on my shelf at home.

When it comes to naming characters — because I am, after all, a fiction writer — nothing but the best will do. I spend hours picking out the most fitting name and won’t rest until it’s perfect. I’m sure I’ll do the same, if not to a more fanatical degree, should I ever have a pet of my own, or if I (god forbid) become a parent. But sometimes I feel other people don’t put in nearly enough thought into the names they give their children. As a huge name nerd, I have guilty pleasure names like Nero and Drusilla. Good names for characters. Bad names for children. Because remember — children are individuals themselves, and they grow up to be (gasp!) real people. And as bad as it is to be saddled with a boring-ass name, it’s definitely way worse to get a name like Dweezil or Pilot Inspektor or Peaches.

These are the trends that I hate the most for one reason or another in no particular order. It’s hard to rank the injustice

10. Giving your child a middle name … and then calling them by it.

I don’t know what the deal is with this. I don’t think I’ll ever really get it. Apparently it’s a thing that some Southern families do, maybe to differentiate two different family members named John, maybe for some other reason that I’m not exactly privy to. They’ll name a child John Robert … and instead of calling him John or  Johnny or even John Robert or J.R, they decide to call him Robert. And not only that — Robert then becomes this child’s given name for all intents and purposes. He might even be called Rob or Bobby. And the only time John comes up again is if his parents are really furious and he’s drawn on the walls or drunk all their good whiskey, and they yell “JOHN ROBERT SMITH, YOU GET YOUR LITTLE BUTT DOWN HERE.” So why is he not named Robert John? I can’t come up with any good reason for the confusion that’s definitely going to ensue in school when his teacher calls attendance and he has to explain to the entire class that he goes by Robert, not John, and that it’s his middle name. Why not just cut out all that tiresome explanation by just naming him Robert John? It’s just silly.

9.  Giving your child a “filler” middle name.

So let’s go the complete opposite route as above. I don’t understand why you would give your baby a first name that never gets used and a middle name that is used as a first name, but I also don’t understand why you’d even give someone a middle name if it doesn’t have any meaning to you. You can use the middle name slot to honour a family member or a friend, to put that really cool name in there that you’ve always loved, or to give your child the option of going by their middle name later on in life (in case your choice of first name wasn’t their cup of tea). I maintain that girls with the middle names Marie, Rose, and Ann were named by unimaginative parents, because you can use this name spot for anything you want. It can have meaning or it can be your opportunity to be creative and have fun without dooming your child to an embarrassing name situation for all eternity. So really — unless you have a great-aunt Marie or roses happen to be your favourite flower, leave the dull names at home. I personally take great pride in my “weird” middle name, though I know not everyone does. I like having a full name that nobody else in the world has. Because is it likely that there’s another Kendra Sidony Recht out there? Nope. It makes me feel like I truly am one of a kind. And I’m not saying you have to name your child Mary Prunella. But what about Mary Jacqueline, or Mary Sophia, or Mary Isabelle? Why does it always have to be Elizabeth, Claire, Rose, Ann, or Marie? And really, who wants to be one of four Sarah Anns or Emily Roses in their class? No one, that’s who.

8. Naming children after yourself, your spouse, or another friend or family member.

Many people might read this and get upset, because frankly, the reason most people name their children after other folks in their lives is to honour them. It’s a noble cause — I’m not bashing it. But as great as honouring family members or friends may be, is it necessary to have two (or more) people with the same name floating around in the same family? And unless it’s a name like Elizabeth that has a wide variety of nicknames (Liz, Beth, Betsy, Betty, Elle, Eliza, Libby, etc), confusion will be inevitable. But it’s more than confusion at stake. I feel that when people name their kids after themselves or another family member, they’re sort of robbing a child of his or her own identity. I know that sounds drastic, but hear me out: a name is a point of pride. It is the thing that is your own from the day you come into this world until the day you die. People remember you by this name, they define you by it, and if you happen to be Scott Junior — or heaven forbid Scott III — you instead get all these familial expectations pushed on you, whether your parents mean it or not. There is already a prescribed identity to the person or people carrying this name who have already lived and have already done many things, both good and bad. A “junior” starts off as a mini-me — and that’s the point, isn’t it? Thinking so highly of yourself that you name your child to honour … well, you? And with a junior or a III, there isn’t even the distinction of having your own middle name, which could at least help to set you apart. It’s especially bad when the poor thing is relegated to being called “junior” as a nickname. I mean … yikes. Look, guys, I get tradition — I understand that tradition, to many people, is a very important thing. But does it have to seep into naming practices like this? There are other ways to honour somebody. Off the top of my head I can think of quite a few. You can use a similar name, or a name with the same meaning, or choose that person’s birthstone or month or favourite flower or something else that’s in their interests. My mom hates her name, so it’s not like I’d ever saddle a child with it. But if I really wanted to honour her, maybe I’d call my daughter Cassandra, because it’s the name of a character in her favourite novel. Or maybe I’d let my mom choose a few names, and bring her into the naming conversation. That probably shows more love and respect than just choosing the name Barbara. So since you can honour people in fun and creative ways, is it really necessary to repeat names within a family? Especially because then you can avoid all the petty drama when Great Uncle Edgar finds out that he doesn’t get a baby named after him. Remember that no children want their parents’ heavy hopes and expectations weighing on them for all eternity, and they certainly shouldn’t have to be reminded of these lofty goals every time they hear their name called.

7. Naming your child the same name as another child in the family.

This kind of goes with the above quibble, but it’s less out of honour and more out of stupidity. At least, that’s what I get out of this sort of situation. I know that you may have a large extended family, and that you and your cousin might both adore the name Liam, but if your cousin uses Liam, do you really need to do it too? There are other fine names out there. There are, in fact, hundreds of thousands of them. Why must you decide to confuse your entire gaggle of friends and family by naming your child the same name as another child that you spend a lot of time with? Do you really need two cousin Liams? It’s especially weird if it’s not a family name. If it is, that’s not really my cup of tea but I can at least somewhat get behind the reasoning. But if it’s just a name two different people in the same family (or circle of close friends, even) just happen to like, you should probably let the person who has the child first (or at least announces their intention to use the name first) have the name. Because doesn’t everybody want their child to be special?

6. Names inspired by the place of conception.

Pro-tip here, parents: no kid wants to find out that his or her name’s meaning is the place in which you copulated. It doesn’t matter if the end result was little Brooklyn; it’s still sex, and it’s still probably not a thing your child wants to think about when finding out the origin of their name. I had this experience myself once when I was told — very tactlessly, I might add, over dinner — that my parents considered naming me Geneva. As in Switzerland. Let me tell you, there’s nothing that puts you off  a nice fancy dinner like the thought of your parental units doing it. And really — does any kid want to know that about their parents? Yes, of course intellectually we all know our parents had to do the deed otherwise we would not exist, but we don’t want to actually know any of the details. We like to keep it fuzzy, bleeped out like a censored rap song. And that’s just the good names that come out of this scenario. How else do you think we get names like Number 16 Bus Shelter? I’ll leave it to your imagination.

5. Names that put incredible expectations on children.

We’re talking, here, about names that confer a lot of meaning upon the child. It isn’t bad to give your child a name that means “wise” if you want him or her to be wise. But to actually name your child a virtue, particularly one that’s hard to follow, it could really backfire. I feel like sometimes by naming their daughter Chastity, parents are congratulating themselves on a job well done. “Brilliant,” says the mother, “Now she’ll have this constant reminder that SEX IS BAD.” Dad will agree. He’ll say, “She’ll be the most virtuous of them all.” Now, have you met any girls name Chastity? I haven’t, but I’ve got friends who have, and they all come to the same general consensus: all Chastitys are complete hoes. I feel like a name like that just begs to be rebelled against. Think about it. All her life, little Chastity has been told what her name means. She’s definitely been teased about it since the boys in middle school figured out the definition, and the girls probably all whispered behind her back, giggling that maybe Chastity isn’t living up to her name, or maybe that she’s a total prude like her name. And can anyone live up to it? Chastity has no choice but to either fully rebel and get the flak or go with it and still get teased. But it’s not just virtue names; there are names like Hercules and Beauty that nobody can live up to. Can a boy named Hercules really be that strong, that god-like, that attractive? What if Beauty’s just a homely little girl? It’s great if your kid can live up to names like this, but who are we kidding? It never works out quite the way you want it to.

4. “Youneek” Spellings.

I spell “unique” this way because sometimes it’s the only way to properly express the injustice being done to normal names everywhere. Every parent wants his or her child to be one of a kind, and they want their child’s name to reflect this. That’s nothing new. But there are heaps of interesting names that aren’t in the top 100 or even the top 1000 that you could use to make your baby stand out and not look like they went to a white trash convention in Appalachia. Instead of looking for these hidden gems, many parents decide that they want to name their child something very mundane, very run-of-the-mill, but because they feel there are too many little girls named Emily bopping around in their neighbourhood, they decide the best way to deal with this is to use the name but spell it Emmy-Lee or Emmaleigh. Newsflash, parents: it still sounds exactly the same, so your dumb kid is still going to be one of six Emilys in her class, plus it looks like you had an aneurysm while choosing her name. Is Katelynne really all that different from Caitlin? Doesn’t Jaxson look way stupider than Jackson?. And does anyone actually think the spelling Lyndsie looks cute? Really, guys, it’s not unique, you’ve just spelt it wrong. And imagine the confusion when the poor thing is trying to first write its name, or correct teachers at school! There’s also this brand new thing with the letter “y.” Everyone loves the letter “y.” I can’t tell you the reason, except for the fact that many new parents seem to believe that the letter “y” makes a different noise than it actually does. Trashy people like to stuff as many “ys” in their kid’s names as they can handle. Fynn. Jasmyne. Addisyn. Krystyna. THE LETTER DOESN’T SOUND LIKE THESE THINGS. USE OTHER VOWELS.  And hey, boy-names-on-girls lovers (we’ll be getting to that soon) — it doesn’t make a name more feminine when you replace other respectable vowels with their shabby cousin “y.”

3. Boys Names On Girls.

For a very long time, I’ve had a thing against boys names on girls. I’m aware that names like Lindsey and Jocelyn used to be boy names long ago, but I’ve made my peace with those. It’s inevitable that every now and again, over time, names will migrate from one sex to the other. But that isn’t the trend I’m talking about. I’m talking about the trend where parents feel that to be cool or edgy, they have to name their daughter Kennedy or Killian or Bryce. They do this to be unique and interesting. They see actresses like Blake Lively and they say “see, it worked for her!” But Blake Lively is beautiful and can pull off a masculine name. What if your daughter is a fugly as? What if she hates that her name is Maxwell? This is where feminine middle names come in, of course, because then if she’s Maxwell Louise, she can always go by Louise. And boys might think it’s cool, but they also might tease her incessantly for it. It’s a toss-up. Plus, you’ve got to gauge how popular this boy name is going to be. In Bergen County, New Jersey, you’d better bet that there will be about ten male Michaels per grade, so you probably shouldn’t name your little girl that. And can we talk about the repercussions of using boy names for girls? Because I’m pretty sure these days Madison and Riley and even Elliot are listed as unisex names. Hell, on babynames.com even James, a classic biblical name, is classified that way. Supporters of this trend will say that it’s a move towards equality, in which no name is gendered — but is that actually true? Nuh uh. The second a name moves from masculine territory to feminine territory, the boys lose another name. It may not be fair, but it works the same as when we judge men for wearing makeup but not women for wearing jeans. As soon as Ashley became a popular moniker for baby girls all across America, the name went out of vogue for boys. A boy named Laura would be beaten up every day in the schoolyard for the rest of his young life. The parents who think boy names fit girls well do not also believe the opposite, which makes it annoying and hypocritical, because then they are stealing names from the boys and giving them all to the girls — and once a name swaps sides, it doesn’t often swing back around.

 2. Themed family names.

Very few things are tackier than sibling sets with themes. Or shall I say overt themes, because some are clever. You can get away with some. You may not realise at first that a sibset named Juliet, Tamora, and Sebastian are all named after Shakespearean characters, but you’re sure as hell going to figure it out right away when they’re named Luna, Hermione, and Sirius. It’s too much. Way too cutesy. Don’t name all your girls after flowers, and certainly try to avoid things like having the same endings (i.e. Hunter, Jasper, Tyler). And while it may be cute and tempting to follow in the Kardashians’ footsteps, it’s probably not the brightest idea to name all your children starting with the same letter. Now, I should preface this by saying I’m not terribly bothered by siblings both having names with the same letter. My sister and I are Kendra and Kerry. However, this was incidental — it just happened that my parents liked the way the names sounded together as a set, and they really liked the name “Kerry” — so what if it started with the same letter as mine? But the problem arises when families set out to do a sibling set with just one letter. Let’s say it’s the letter O. They love Olivia for a girl and Otto and Owen for a boy — but then god forbid, what happens if they have another girl? They don’t care for Octavia or Ophelia or Opal, but they’re afraid to go against the pattern they’ve already set up for themselves. How can you have three children with O names and one without? See, now they’ve backed themselves into a corner and there’s not terribly much they can do about it aside from suck it up and scour the interwebs for an O name they don’t despise, or they break the pattern and little Amy is forever asking questions about why she is the one with the different name, and when you tell her it’s because she’s special, your little O crowd gets upset because then they aren’t special. Man, aren’t kids great.

1. Matchy Twin Names.

This is like above but worse. I feel as though some people think twins are the same person split into different bodies. But to be clear, a twin’s identity isn’t defined by the fact that he or she is a twin. They just happen to come out of the womb with another person who may or may not look exactly like them. They’re separate people. Not one person multiplied by two or divided in two, depending on the way you look at it. This misconception is going to plague your twins for the rest of their lives, so you probably might not want to give people any more fodder. Don’t give them names that rhyme, or names that are boy-girl variations of each other (like Luke and Lucy or Nicholas and Nicole). Don’t give them any names that might have the same nicknames, like that one MTV Teen Mom did with Aliannah and Aleeah — you can’t control what other people call them, so they could both end up as “Ali.”. Because come on, it’s confusing for everyone involved, including the twins. And you. Remember that you need to remember who is who, too. I sometimes think people forget that for approximately eighteen years, they will be calling their children to dinner, yelling at them for running into traffic, or asking them to do chores — all of which will require you to recall who got what name. And believe you me, no one likes getting called by the wrong name. Sometimes my dad calls me by my sister’s name by accident and I give him the stink eye. And sometimes he calls my sister Paul after his brother. No one really knows why. But that’s another story entirely.

I think the worst possible “matchy” sets, though, are the really strange ones, where people forget that their children are siblings. Some twins are called Adam and Eve. Or Edward and Bella. Or Romeo and Juliet. Please, readers, enlighten me. Why would you want to name your twin son and daughter after tragic lovers? Or any lovers for that matter? Isn’t it going to be very uncomfortable and weird when they realise the inspiration behind their names? It would give me the fucking creeps.

There are heaps more terrible trends out there, but I don’t have the time or energy to recount them all. There’s the “-Ayden” trend, in which half the names in the top one hundred are Brayden, Aiden, Caden, Jayden, et al. There’s the trend of naming kids word names like Apple and Story, and the the trend of putting random apostrophes into random spots in the name. There’s the trend of poor folks naming their children Bentley and Tiffany after things they could never afford in a million years, and the list goes on and on and on and on and on. And hey — if you happen to have children you’ve named with these trends, please feel free to bash me until the cows come home, because after all, enough people do this shit that I wrote a post to complain about it.

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Why You Shouldn’t Hate Me For Being a “Grammar Nazi”

I take a lot of crap for liking my grammar to be clean and precise. A metric fuck-ton of crap. Many people tell me to lighten up, or shut up. Either way. Give or take a groan or colorful expletive, those are the most common reactions I get when I mention anything in the realm of grammar. Another classic all time favorite: severe eye rolling.

These reactions give me a heavy heart, because I feel as though I am oft misunderstood. I don’t prance around expecting everyone to constantly be aware of using “who” vs “whom” or even knowing what the subjunctive case is. And as much as I love them, I don’t expect everyone to know when to use a semicolon; the rules regarding these beauteous punctuation marks can be quite complicated. And, in fact, I myself am known to say “like” many a-time in casual conversation, correct syntax be damned.

In a text or a tweet, I accept that not everyone will properly punctuate, and I definitely don’t do so when I’m in a hurry, or angry, or half asleep or half tipsy. However, and this is an enormous however, I still think grammar is important. Casually scrolling through the facebook statuses present in my news feed, I am struck repeatedly in the eyeballs by one horrible travesty after another and I start to wonder, where does it stop?

Though I cringe every time “your” incorrectly replaces “you’re” on facebook, I usually don’t raise complaint. However, after sending and receiving hundreds of emails in the professional world, and proofreading many classmates’ papers during school, sometimes I want to throw up on my keyboard (Once, someone used a construction known commonly in the world of AIM as “action stars” in a legitimate draft for a class paper. *hits forehead with palm*).

I repeat my prior question: where does it stop? I know that language is constantly changing and evolving, and sure, no one uses the word “t’wixt” anymore, but still. When I read something that is clearly meant for public display, discussion and/or scrutiny—something more formal than a tweet or status update, like a blog post or email message—and it’s written in woefully poor grammar, I immediately undervalue the person’s point and opinion. And again, I mean to stress, I’m not talking about the occasional typo or comma splice. I am talking about a solid block of rambling text that suggests English as a second or perhaps even fifth language. As a writing major, I feel like I’m more aware of grammatical snafus than the average layperson, but you cantt tell me youdont notice when a person goes on and on withouta lick f even basic spellchcker or making sure he throw in a comma or 2 or maybe even if they was seperating there sentence into more than 1 and sometimes helping correct verbs and verb agreement to help your comprehension especially with a capitol that is RANDOM in the middle of a paragraph even they dont even seem to making a point that is a point to help.

Some people seriously write like this in one hundred percent serious scenarios. On and on and on they go. I have seen this type of writing everywhere from serious emails regarding highly interpersonal emotional issues, professional emails, job applications, or blog posts that have an ultimate goal of sounding quasi-professional, smart or deep. It doesn’t fall to natural intelligence, or college level education, or socio-economic class. It falls to pure, damn laziness. If you don’t care enough to spell check, why should I care enough to read your moronic drivel? These days every word processing program and nearly every browser has a basic spell check. Even if your natural spelling is abysmal, are you seriously so lazy that, before you hit the publish button, you can’t take a quick scan and right click on those words with red squiggles under them? Really? The only excuse for use of that type of language in anything except a text or facebook status—and maybe even then—is after some sort of very, very serious head injury. I can make an exception for children younger than the age of 14, but it’s kind of unclear as to why they would be drafting professional emails or college essays.

It doesn’t make you funny or cool when you don’t care about how you present yourself, it makes you seem like an idiot. I know plenty of smart people who simply don’t communicate well, but this goes beyond that. It goes beyond style, or opinion, or especially eloquent prose. It goes to the very heart of professionalism. If I were an employer and I got a cover letter busting at the seams with grammatical errors, I would throw it in the garbage. It really doesn’t take that much effort to give your letter, email, or blog post a once over. Read it out loud to yourself. Literally read it exactly as you have written it. I can guarantee that even the laziest, humanities hating-est among you could pick up on about 80% of your mistakes. Also, these days, we have this magical little thing called google, and taking about ten seconds to type “when to use a comma” or “when should I use who vs whom” will blow your frickin lazy-ass mind. Most of what I’m talking about doesn’t come down to knowledge of mechanics though, it comes down to not being bothered.
When I read garbage like this, it actually makes me see red. For several moments the other night, I went blind with rage when I saw a facebook status that was specifically insulting every person in the poster’s age group’s intelligence. And it was written in such a manner that it should have been written in crayon, or potentially finger paint. If you’re going to go around saying everyone is stupid except you, you damn sure better make sure that status is flawless. Adding to my horror are plenty of people who write like this and then proclaim that they want to teach school children. Teach them what? How to behave like lazy assholes? Well, mission accomplished. You could get a PHD in that, be called Professor McSackofShit and be qualified to teach AP classes in it.

Really though, I return once again to my main question: where does it stop? If you’re so damn lazy that you can’t even be bothered to ask a friend to give you a quick proofread, you really need to re-examine what kind of person you are. Have some pride, dammit. The structures of our languages are what make humanity great. It separates us from animals who can only communicate with twitches of antennae or grunts that only express the most basic needs and fears. If we lose all pretense of caring or structure in even instances like cover letters or school papers, what next? Is that really the foot we want to put forward? That we can’t even be bothered to try to express ourselves with even a modicum of correctness?

Reading a piece written like that is an emotional roller coaster for me, because at first I find it completely hilarious, and then I get angry, and then I pretty much just weep for the species. I’m not saying you have to be perfect; lord knows I’m not, and it would be foolish to expect anyone to live up to standards of grammatical perfection. I’m not saying you have to transform yourself into a walking Strunk & White, though if I ever came across a humanoid version of this book I would marry him or her on the spot. I’m not even saying you have to be especially knowledgeable on the subject. I’m just saying you should give your words, thoughts, opinions, and feelings the effort they deserve. I am (clearly) of the opinion that everyone has something of value to say, or to share, but if you’re going to go through the effort of sharing it, please reward the effort we all have to put into reading it.

As a very wise, and beautiful Australian woman once said, “Good grammar is the difference between knowing your shit, and knowing you’re shit.”

10 Songs That Make Me Want to Kill Myself

Obviously there is no shortage of bad music in the world. There are people who, like Paris Hilton, have no talent to speak of and can get away with making (or at least singing) less than stellar songs just based on their reputations and the fact that sometimes audiences are too stupid to understand that music is supposed to be an art. A lot of the drivel that’s out there certainly doesn’t live up to that name.

In the same way that I feel all people think they can write well just because they have a decent story in them, I also feel many people believe that making music is easy; that if they insert a couple of key lyrical concepts (mainly revolving around love) and a reasonably danceable beat, they’re golden. And being able to sing doesn’t make you good at making music. American Idol and The Voice have long since been the bane of my existence because it has nothing to do with the creative process of writing songs and feeling it from the heart. Instead, it’s pretty much glorified karaoke that gets the best or most popular (the latter of which has never been a great measurement of talent) singer a recording contract worth millions. And real artists get left in the dust.

That said, this is not a blog post about songs that I think are awful. That would take me probably ten years to write and would result in a book the size of the Oxford English Dictionary. This is a blog post about the songs that make me want to hurl myself out the window every time I hear them — and here they are from least heinous to most.

10. “Lucky” by Jason Mraz & Colbie Caillat.

“Lucky” is everything a bad love song could possibly be. The lyrics manage to reach new astounding levels of insipid sappiness. It’s number ten on the list because it’s not quite as offensive as some of the others, but the lyrics actually make me want to puke. “Lucky to be in love with my best friend”? “Lucky we’re in love in every way”? My gag reflex just went haywire writing that. And that’s without having listened to the actual tune. The sparse instrumentals are reminiscent of a bad Jack Johnson song, and I really hate Jack Johnson. It’s the kind of song you might serenade your lover with on a ukelele if you hated them and wanted them to leave you. It’s the dopey surfer version of “Hey There Delilah.” And it probably doesn’t help that I think Colbie Caillat has a vocal style equivalent to Pac-Sun — a store, which for my friends on this side of the world, specialises in faux-surfer duds and is found almost exclusively in malls. She has a voice made for elevator music. And no one likes elevator music.

9. “American Boy” by Estelle featuring Kanye West

I can’t pinpoint exactly why I detest this song. I think it’s probably because the tune is just so grating. Estelle has the flimsiest voice ever, and although I generally really like Kanye, his rapping style in this song just went down the drain. It’s more singing along with the tune, which, if you remember from about two lines ago, is not good. It’s like a hip-hop easy listening song, and those two things should not mix. Not now, not ever. You will probably notice that in this list, there are a few recurring themes within the songs chosen. One of them is monotone vocals. Or at least vocalists that fluctuate between two or three notes like a retarded child playing a butchered rendition of chopsticks. “American Boy” is very guilty of doing this and it makes me die. Everywhere.

8. “You’re Beautiful” by James Blunt

Oh god do I hate this song. It bothers me in the same way that “Lucky” bothers me, but worse. His voice disgusts me — it kind of sounds like the guy from Five for Fighting and a wild turkey mated and their unfortunate child started subscribing to the emo lifestyle. The video’s emo as fuck, too. He just strips awkwardly, looking all soulful and shit, and then jumps into the ocean because this beautiful girl doesn’t love him back. Get with the program, James Blunt, you’re not the only person who has wanted to date someone miles out of their league and has been spurned. This happens to me very frequently. But do I write bad songs and then strip and jump off a cliff? No. You know why? Because I’m not desperate. And Blunt sounds like a desperate guy, even though he’s famous and could easily snag a pretty lady if he wrote better music. Between his “soulful” caterwauling and inspired words, it’s no wonder he hasn’t got the girl. “My life is brilliant, my love is pure”? Sure, Blunt, we’ll be the judge of that.

7. “Fireflies” by Owl City.

Have you heard this guy’s voice? If you look up the term “whiny” in the dictionary, this asshole’s name would be the entire definition. Back in the day when emo groups were all the rage, Owl City may have fit in. He certainly sounds like someone’s been pounding him with a brick since he entered middle school. He was probably the kid who went home, cried about being bullied, and made “music” a la Ross Geller on his snazzy keyboard and computer. Every time he attempts to sing a vowel it’s like he’s trying to emulate a flock of Canadian Geese, both in timbre and volume, something not helped by the bad audio effects. And then we hear the tones he’s so carefully crafted into a song. It’s boring. He’s boring. And I swear to god he’s just a thirteen year old boy who did this instead of masturbating one day and he should have just stuck with the good old right hand. I could write a better song than this and I can’t write music for shit. I remember hearing this song once while skiing back home. I’d decided to take a rest because my legs were killing me. But Owl City’s wailing drove me from the beautiful cold bench to the slopes once more. And I preferred the ache in my legs heaps better than the brain aneurysm “Fireflies” would have soon caused me.

6. “Judas” by Lady Gaga

So I used to like Lady Gaga’s music a little bit back when it first came out. It wasn’t that it was anything that fresh; she borrows all of her material from Madonna and Bowie and Marilyn Manson, after all. But back in the day she wasn’t trying too hard. She just made danceable music that had weird lyrics. Then she got popular for her crazy antics and released Born This Way. This album itself isn’t exactly the most cohesive or coherent record that’s ever been made, but the track “Judas” takes the cake. First off, I’m sick of Lady Gaga’s “style” where she repeats vowels and then says her name. Like “Juda-a-a-a-as Gaga”. You know. That. I think the song started out okay — but then it just goes haywire after the first minute. “Judas” starts off like a dark rock song and then, without any warning, slips right into upbeat pop territory. Her little “oh oh oh ohs” in the background don’t seem to fit, either. And then have you heard around halfway through the song? If you haven’t, listen now — around 3:25 in this video. It’s like Gaga forgot what sort of song she was writing … again. I won’t even go into the fact that the instrumentals need some heavy work; they sound like that odd keyboard effect from way back in the day that made me think of a gorilla in a weird, synthesized jungle. Or a really bad fake bass riff. But then from that very weird departure into electro-land, she goes back to the pop song without any reasonable or logical transition. It’s as though she took all the scraps of melodies she recorded in studio, realised she needed one more song to flesh out the rest of her CD, and then hurriedly mixed and matched these little musical tidbits to create a bad song. Plus, can we just talk about how Lady Gaga is just totally trying to shock the general public? No one writes a song in which they state their undying love for Judas if they’re not gagging for attention.

5. “My Humps” by The Black Eyed Peas.

….There is really nothing good to say about this song. Honestly. Give me one good thing to say about it and I’ll punch you in the nose. Let’s start with the fact that I don’t like The Black Eyed Peas. They have no substance aside from singing about going to clubs and having sex and partying and whenever they do have a “deep” song, like “Where is the Love” (that was going to go on here, too, but I didn’t want to put two songs by the same artist on it. That would be cheap), it comes out as disingenuous. But while I really hate “Pump It” and “I Got a Feeling,” this song is leagues below their usual low standards in terms of maturity, lyrical sophistication, and melodic virtues. There is no acceptable lyric in this entire song. Not a single one. “What you gon do wit all that breast, all that breast inside that shirt?” is actually a line. No lie. And the most frequently repeated phrase in the entire track is “My humps,” followed closely by “My lump.” Not only are these horrendously unsexy terms for a lady’s parts, they’re completely nonsensical. And “milky milky cocoa puff”? Look, dude, we get it, you like sexytimes. Get over it. Plus, Fergie’s got a halfway decent voice (when she doesn’t sing notes that are way too high for her to hit), and to hear her just sing in the breathiest, whiniest voice known to man is somehow even almost as offensive as the rest of the song. There is no reasonable explanation for why this song was made or how it became so bloody popular, and I’d pay good money for it to disappear off the playlist of every bad bar mitzvah/wedding/sweet sixteen/prom DJ in America.

4. “Tear You Apart” by She Wants Revenge.

First of all, I want to preface this one by saying how damn much I wanted to like this song and band. The video is deliciously eerie, their style’s a hundred percent my aesthetic, and the background music’s got a lot of potential. But then the singer. Oh, the singer. Most people know that nothing will ruin a song for me like a bad vocalist, and the lead singer of She Wants Revenge is one of the worst I’ve ever heard. This asshole sings in a complete monotone but he doesn’t even manage to be dull. It’s like a cheese grater to the head. It’s like the worst rapper and the worst rock crooner came together and forgot how to do everything. Even when She Wants Revenge’s singer does attempt other notes they somehow — magically — sound the same as all the other notes. It would fuck with my dad’s ear, and he’s got perfect pitch.

3. “The Beautiful People” by Christina Aguilera

Holy fuck. Holy fuck. The first time I ever heard this song I was at work, minding my own business, probably restocking some bath bombs or something … and this song came on. My head snapped up in awe when I heard the intro. Was it possible that Lush was playing Marilyn Manson in store? And then all my hopes and dreams were shattered when I heard Christina Aguilera’s voice soaring over the stolen beat. Now, look, I like covers. I have no problem with people covering songs. I really don’t. But this isn’t a cover. This is a bastardization. It’s cruel and unusual punishment to the ear. Aguilera — or whoever wrote this, because it is from the film Burlesque — changed all the lyrics to the song except the words “the beautiful people,” undermined the entire meaning, and made it shallow. She took one of the most iconic drum sequences and put this bizarre tune over it. It’s totally incongruous — the lyrics, the music, everything about it. It just does not make any fucking sense and it makes me want to slit open my eyeballs with scissors, to borrow a phrase from my sister. Like where did they get the idea to put that set of notes with this drum beat? Tell me. I must know. And who is responsible for this mess? How did this happen? What did Marilyn Manson do to deserve this absolute destruction of his song? I mean, granted, “The Beautiful People” is one of my favourite songs by him, and probably one of my favourite songs of all time, and this is most likely why this track horrifies me so fucking much, but … it’s not just because I like the original. It’s because Christina Aguilera did not do a very good job covering it. Or, you know, making it listenable. Or anything. I need to stop ranting about this one now because I could actually go on forever about it, it makes me that furious. So, next!

2. “Friday” by Rebecca Black

Yeah, yeah, picking on Rebecca Black might be too easy. But this is a list of the songs that make me want to kill myself, and “Friday” is … dear lord. I can’t express how much I hate it. I know she didn’t write it and that annoying black dude did, and I don’t necessarily blame Rebecca Black for this travesty, but let’s call a spade a spade: this song is easily one of the most aggravating pieces of shit ever. There are too many elements to trash here, but let’s start with the words. There has never been anything more stupid written, except maybe all the other songs this same dude made happen in his artistic ability. The depth is astounding. “Which seat do I take” is a classic existential question that everybody faces. I know every time I get into Craig and Lil’s Waka, I’m paralysed for a moment about the implications of the seat that I take — how will this choice affect the rest of my life? And then the spell is broken because I realise that in my few seconds of indecision, Ali has already called shotgun and I’m relegated to the back. Again. But I digress. “Yesterday was Thursday. Today it is Friday. We we we we so excited … Tomorrow is Saturday and Sunday comes afterwards.” Really mind-blowing stuff there. But I guess aside from the stupid lyrics, there’s Black’s voice. I’ve heard she’s not actually half bad at singing, but this remains to be seen. The autotune on “Friday” is atrocious. And god, the way she actually says the title word is like an audio kick to the genitals. FRAWIIIIIIIIIIIDAAAAY. Just. Like. That.

1. “That’s Not My Name” by The Ting Tings.

The second this beat comes over the loudspeaker I want to run very, very far away. My brain shuts off. Or it tries to, but the horrible screeching of The Ting Ting’s lead singer permeates my brain and drills little tiny holes into it. Instead of singing — and the girl does know how to sing, as I’ve heard her on rare occasions actually hit some real notes — she yells like a cheerleader on crack. But the screeching … it haunts my dreams. It’s the Boylston Screech of music, and the Boylston Screech, for those non-Bostonians reading, sounds exactly like this:

And then there’s the clapping. Clapping plus high-pitched shouting equals more cheerleading. And who wants a song to sound like it belongs on the sidelines of a bad high school football game? Not me. I can’t stand anything put out by this band, but this song in particular is the one I’d describe as being my personal hell. In my version of hell, The Ting Tings are dancing around me, shouting this song over and over and over again until my skull explodes. Then my head reassembles and we go through the process again until the universe ends.

Black Friday.

Retail. It may not be a four letter word, but sometimes it comes out like one. I have worked in the realm of the retail and food service industry pretty much since I was legally able. I accept that as my lot in life, and I don’t complain (much) about the fact I have always had to work in very un-glamorous positions.

However, being in New Zealand has made me really examine the culture of retail in the United States compared to that of other countries, and there is one big thing that stands out to me: Black Friday. Never has a day been so aptly named, and so completely loathed. For my new Kiwi friends, let me give you a brief overview of what Black Friday means to every retail employee in the United States.

Black Friday is the name given to the day after Thanksgiving, which is always a friday, because, well, Thanksgiving always falls on a Thursday.  The short explanation of this day is that it is known as the biggest day for blowout sales in all major retailers all over the United States. It officially marks the beginning of the “Christmas Shopping Season,” and there are some retail giants (Wal Mart, Macy’s, Gap, Best Buy, what have you) who like to celebrate by offering absurd sales.

As a little kid, I had a vague notion of the day as being when my aunts would all wake up “early”–I say “early” in sarcastic quotation marks because now, as a world-weary ex-Best Buy employee, I now no longer consider 7AM on Black Friday early–and hit the mall. We cousins were never invited because A) they were probably buying heaps of Christmas gifts we weren’t meant to see and B) This wasn’t strolling through the mall drinking an orange Julius shopping. This was serious Running of the Brides style shopping.

There are many things that are sick and disturbing about Black Friday. I will try to hit on them all without descending into a blubbering mass of rage spit, but I can’t really make any promises. The first thing that is wrong with Black Friday is that people camp our for it. They train for this shit like it is an olympic event. Shoppers go to their chosen store days before BF-Day and set up tents, grills, and lawn chairs. It’s like the bastard love child of a refugee camp and the worst kind of tailgaters at a football game.

This is a person who was camped out in front of my friendly neighborhood Best Buy on Monday. Let me remind you that Thanksgiving takes place on Thursday and Black Friday, obviously, is not until Friday. As I was leaving work that night, I actually was really tempted to throw heavy bricks at this person’s tent. First of all, I hail from Bean Town, also known as Freeze-Your-Beans-Off Town. On 2011, November 21 (the Monday before Thanksgiving), it was 35.6 degrees Fahrenheit  or for my kiwi friends, a brisk 2 degrees Celsius, a mere hair’s breadth above the temperature that is cold enough for water to transform into ice.  What on God’s Green earth could possibly be important enough for you to buy at a slightly lower cost that is worth the risk of dangerous hypothermia, death by exposure, or frostbite? And if any of you say an Apple iPad, I’ll break your nose.  The correct answer is NOTHING. If your loved ones demand this of you during gift buying season, you need some new loved ones.

Speaking of loved ones, it’s about time I leave temperature behind (because hey, maybe you have just enough of that good, all-American, McDonald’s induced blubber to keep you nice and toasty) and discuss something much more important. Thanksgiving is a holiday unique to America in a way that no other Holiday is. And I know the puritans were actually the worst and took advantage of their friendly Native American hosts by spreading blood and disease and claiming their land for themselves, blah blah blah, but for the purposes of this post, I don’t care about the gross, colonial, terrible roots of Thanksgiving. It has actually done the opposite of nearly every holiday: it has turned something terrible into something beautiful (unlike christmas and valentines day and every other commercial holiday): families. Families that normally fight or don’t talk or get wrapped up in petty interpersonal drama bullshit sit down, share a beautiful meal, and appreciate the good things in life. Since my parents are divorced, for me, Thanksgiving weekend always represented a magical four day slumber party with my cousins on my dad’s side, whom I grew up with and love like siblings. No matter where all the cousins were in stages of their lives, we all reunited for four days to not sleep, play video games, watch Mulan (still), play Risk, drink unhealthy amounts of coca cola and laugh endlessly. This brings me to the main reason I hate Black Friday. It eclipses the magic of Thanksgiving with its greedy corporate awfulness.  The people camping out days before are forgoing one of the most beautiful days known to man. You may be saying, “But Ali, not everyone has such a fabulous family life! Some people are alone in the world!” It’s a paradox; if any of those people don’t have anyone to spend thanksgiving with, then who the fuck are they buying all this shit for? Is getting 250$ off a 1400$ DSLR camera really worth forgoing a relaxing day spent eating and laughing and reminiscing with your extended family, or sometimes very close friends? No. It’s not. I would accept Black Friday if it was only “celebrated” by immigrants to the US who don’t give a rat’s patoot about Thanksgiving–much like jewish families flocking to the cinemas on Christmas day–but it’s not. Blue blooded ‘murricans forgoe spending time with their loved ones to huddle on curbs for days on end. It’s so backwards and kind of shows what’s wrong with our culture. It’s like, “I’d rather spend my money on my family to show how much I care than actually sit down and spend time with them.” I would like to call shenanigans on this nonsense.  Any person who buys me a gift on black friday should just save their money and come hang out with me for a beautiful meal instead.

Now, in case it isn’t clear by the fact that I’ve spent 1000 words on this already, but I fucking love Thanksgiving. I love it. I love the food, I love the atmosphere, I love hanging around the kitchen all day. I love the motherfucking shit out of this holiday. That being said, I come to my final point on my “why Black Friday should be completely abolished” tirade. Shoppers really don’t think at all about the effect that their (literally) buying in to this ridiculousness has on all of the store employees. In my three black fridays working with Best Buy, I sacrificed my long Thanksgiving weekend with my family because if you work retail, you cannot ask for that shit off. It is all hands on deck, motherfuckers, and don’t you forget it. I still got to eat Thanksgiving Dinner with them, but I always had to skip out right after dinner and go to bed by 8pm at the latest. And why is that you ask? Because to be on time for my shift on Black Friday I had to wake up somewhere in the vicinity of 3AM. I then went to work in the dark, before Dunkin Donuts was even open. That’s seriously early as. I then proceeded to work for 12 hours essentially non stop, ringing out countless people whose sense of satisfaction at cashing in their “tickets” (we handed out tickets before the doors open for items we had limited quanities of that were sure to be big sellers, or tickets for especially good bundle deals that we were only offering a limited quantity of) was nearly sickening. This past year, the first person i rang out (at 4 AM) was buying nothing but an xBox kinect THAT WASN’T EVEN ON SALE. It also had been released two weeks previously. And I was so tempted to ask, “Why are you here? Not just in Best Buy at 4AM, but seriously, like why are you even on this earth? How can you possibly be a real person that walks among decent people?” My boyfriend worked about 18 hours this year. On one day. He was at Best Buy counting down the safe until well past 1AM after the doors had finally closed. This makes me feel ill. In no universe should this poor guy, who has been up since the ass crack of dawn, been yelled at constantly about stuff being out of stock, or stuff being the wrong price, or by people who feel the need to come in and do errands like returns and sending their computers out for repair ON BLACK FUCKING FRIDAY, then have to stay in the office, alone, and count dirty smelly money until almost two in the morning.

Not only that, but since Black Friday is, quite obviously, the single most profitable day for retail stores of the entire year, stores are changing their strategies to maximize sales potential. Last year, Wal-Mart stores in MA defied labor laws by trying to open at midnight (meaning employees actually had to be at work on a day that is technically still Thanksgiving). Thanksgiving is a national holiday. SHIT IS NOT SUPPOSED TO BE OPEN ON THIS DAY. Best Buy opened at 1AM, meaning employees were not required to arrive until it was technically not Thanksgiving any more. However, a quick look at wikipedia tells me that stores are further pushing the limits of labor laws by trying to remain open for 24 hours, or open at 8PM on thanksgiving. THIS IS NOT RIGHT. It makes me so goddamn furious that I can’t even handle it. I started this post in a half joking tone and by this point in typing it I’m actually quite worked up. The fact that all these shoppers are actually making it seem like requiring employees to forgo Thanksgiving with their families as a viable business strategy is actually nauseating.

Don’t any of them care? The answer is a resounding “FUCK NO!” If these people can’t be bothered to care about their own families enough to spend thanksgiving with them, how can they be expected to care about lowly walmart, macy’s, and best buy employees? (And by employees I OF COURSE mean “iPad dispensers,” because lets be real, many of these people don’t even see retail workers as human, it’s very obvious by the way they often treat us)

If I were less emotional about this I would actually crunch some rough numbers based on money saved on gifts vs money spent on camping equipment,  gas burned up driving around parking lots for hours trying to find a space or trying to fight your way out once your shopping is done, and the priceless (and I know that word is heavy handed and cheesey, but just go with it) cost of missing moments with loved ones.

The bottom line is, it’s not worth it, and if you think it is, you really need to examine your priorities, morals and personal values. I would like to challenge everyone I know not to buy into this Black Friday nonsense. Show up at stores at a leisurely 10AM, and make these retail giants hemorrhage money on labor staffing stores at midnight so that the following year, we can all sit down, tuck into some turkey, and do what we’re meant to do afterwards: go out and get drunk, just like the Pilgrims.

Why 50 Shades of Grey is the Bane of The Universe

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Let’s face it: there are a lot of bad books out in the world. For every masterfully crafted novel there’s one filled with lusty wereotters or heaving bosoms or whatever the fuck else is in bad books these days. The ratio of shitty books to those with standards has, of course, become skewed due to the advent of self-publishing, but most of these books are just shoddily crafted and poorly edited. They are not dangerous. They’re just bad. 50 Shades of Grey, though — it’s both.

50 Shades of Grey is — and I fully believe this — the worst piece of literature to come out in the past decade. Back in the day when Twilight was becoming all the rage, I was convinced that I would never find anything I hated more. I was wrong. Twilight is a comparative masterpiece. Now, I’ll say right off the bat that I’ve read the first book of Twilight and none of the others. And I’ve certainly never actually read 50 Shades of Grey. I’ve read excerpts and that’s more than enough for me. I know it’s a bit of a faux pas to lambast something you’ve never actually read yourself, but I think I should mention that I don’t hate 50 Shades of Grey because it’s a shitty book. That’s only part of the reason.

So let’s start off with the fact that it’s terribly written. As a writer, I find it incredibly upsetting that Time magazine included E.L James as one of the most influential people in the world, because her writing style is just that awful. The main character, in the midst of sexy times, will say “Holy cow!” or spin long-winded metaphors about how her inner goddess enjoys sunning herself on the back porch sipping lemonade while — wait what’s happening in the book again? The  passage “I’ll agree to the fisting, but I’d really like to claim your ass, Anastasia…. Besides, it’s not something we can dive into. Your ass will need training.” is actually present. Some other gems include:

“‘His voice is warm and husky like dark melted chocolate fudge caramel… or something.”

and

“I feel the color in my cheeks rising again. I must be the color of the communist manifesto.

These sorts of lines are cringe-worthy. The relationship is cringe-worthy. Everything about this book is cringe-worthy.

“But Kendra,” you may say, “What makes this terrible erotica/romance novel so much worse than every other terrible erotica/romance novel?”

I’m getting to that.

The reason I hate 50 Shades of Grey more than probably every other bad novel out there is because originally, it was a fanfiction. And let it be known that I think fanfiction is a glorious thing. I think it allows young writers to find their voices, and I think it helps people hone their craft while not worrying so much about worldbuilding. There’s still imagination, there’s still characterisation — but it’s an easier way to improve than just starting everything from scratch. But fanfiction is still only fanfiction. It stops being okay to write fanfiction when you start making money off it and when, god forbid, you start passing it off as your own.  And that’s what E.L James did.

Let me tell you a little story: way back before 50 Shades of Grey was a thing, there was a Twilight fanfic writer (known hilariously as “Snowqueen’s Icedragon”) who wrote a highly praised alternate-universe erotic trilogy called Master of the Universe.  This series featured the familiar characters of Edward Cullen and Bella Swan in a universe where supernatural creatures did not exist. Instead, Edward was a high-powered, sexually deviant millionaire who tempted Bella, a naive college student, into joining him in his world.

Fast forward a few years. Master of the Universe has done brilliantly among the sexually repressed housewives and horny teenagers who read Twilight but were disappointed with the lack of sexytimes, so good old Snowqueen Icedragon, high on anonymous praise from reviewers on The Interweb, decides to take the next step. She has put so much time and effort into crafting this series that, gosh darn it, why shouldn’t she get some kind of reward for all her hard work? So what if she didn’t create the characters or the relationship — she came up with the “plot,” right? So she changed the names from Bella Swan to Anastasia Steele and Edward Cullen to Christian Grey and published her reworked version of Master of the Universe (split into a three-part series) with a virtual publisher based in Australia, choosing the much more sophisticated pen name E.L. James. And eventually this heinous plague was unleashed on the rest of humanity.

Up until this point, the moral responsibility of stealing someone else’s characters and passing them off as  original creations lay solely on E.L. James’s shoulders. But that all changed when Vintage Books (a Big Six imprint) decided that this trilogy would make them heaps and heaps and heaps of money and offered her an incredibly enormous book deal. And here’s where I start to hate pretty much everything about the book series, its author, its situation, and its publisher: it does not matter one bit whether it’s a brilliant masterpiece or a deformed dog turd — what matters is that no one saw the slightest thing wrong with publishing fanfiction as a real work of art.

I know the characters names have been changed. I’m also aware that the selling point has nothing to do with vampires. But my point still remains: the characters, which the entire trilogy depends on, are complete and utter ripoffs of Stephenie Meyer’s characters. And while I know I wrote earlier that I find Twilight a literary abomination, I still feel that every author, regardless of how talentless he or she may be, deserves at least a little bit of credit for coming up with something in its entirety and seeing it through to the bitter end. Twilight may be a series filled with terrible role models for young girls, unrealistic (and dangerous) standards for relationships, and mediocre turns of phrase, but at least Stephenie Meyer didn’t rip anybody off to write it. No matter how much I dislike her books, I have to give the lady props. She dreamed up characters, she loved them, she wrote them, and she happened to make millions off them. And what I find terribly unjust is that now, someone else is taking these characters she loved and (presumably) put a lot of work into. She’s changed their names and stuck them in a slightly different plot — which, if you remove the supernatural creatures from one and the BDSM from the other, really isn’t all that different — and Stephenie Meyer gets no credit. Instead, James is making bank. Lots of bank.

A publishing house should know better than this — especially one that’s so influential, especially after all the book scandals of the past few years (James Frey, I’m looking at you, you big worst). Vintage shouldn’t sit there and say “oh, it’s okay” — they should be outraged! No work is, of course, wholly original, as it’s all been said and done before — but this is conceptual plagiarism. Without Twilight, this novel would not exist — and Twilight, unlike Jane Eyre, is not exactly in the public domain just yet. Without Edward Cullen, Christian Grey would not be a character — and Christian Grey is Edward, just as Anastasia is Bella. A rose by any other name, in this instance, smells exactly the fucking same.

So why does this bother me so much? Two reasons. The first is the implication this has in the publishing and writing world. I know the publishing industry is struggling in some respects. But is it really that far gone that we have to resort to skirting around copyright issues just to make a buck? Does it mean I can publish my novel and four or five years down the road find someone else making money off characters that resemble mine in every way but name? I know imitation is a form of flattery, but that is taking things too damn far.

James wrote fanfiction about a series she enjoyed by an author she liked. She liked it so much she used Meyer’s characters and wrote her own little stories about them. And then she turned around and slapped Meyer in the face wearing a shit-eating grin that said, “Hey! You’re great but I’m going to make ALL the benjamins and I’m not going to give you any credit at all for making my work what it was.” Now what kind of person does that make her?

The worst part about all of this is that, unlike the James Frey situation (in which he lied and the publishing house got slammed for not checking into things sooner), Vintage was well aware right from the beginning that 50 Shades of Grey originated as a Twilight fic. In an article I read long ago, a spokesperson from Vintage stated that the book barely resembled its fanfiction roots — and just a few paragraphs later claimed that 50 Shades of Grey had been left virtually untouched. And I know that they’re trying to cash in on the Twilight craze; they even vaguely referenced Twilight in the similar cover art styles! But there are other ways to make money that don’t infringe on other writers’ rights.

The other scary implication for me is what this will do to the fanfiction community. Yeah, fanfiction isn’t the most glamourous thing, but as I said above, it really can help young writers. It gives them a sense of community, a place where they can get feedback on whatever they’ve done, and this can really help boost their confidence. Certain authors, such as Anne Rice, have already expressed a dislike for fanfiction, and will not permit it written about their book. Many more authors are okay with fanfiction — so long as the writers adhere to the stipulations that A) they write a disclaimer that explains that the characters and world are someone else’s brainchild and B) they make no profit. 50 Shades of Grey crosses both lines. It claims to be a standalone work, derived from nothing (though paradoxically James freely talks about the books’ beginnings as a fanfic) and is making millions upon millions of dollars. Will this set a bad precedent and make other authors more leery of allowing an otherwise harmless hobby? And will it teach aspiring writers that it’s okay to cheat and to steal so long as your work makes it big?

I won’t tell you not to read the books. If you feel the need to lower your IQ and turn your retinas into goo, please, by all means, read them. But don’t buy them. Pirate them, get them from your local library, read snippets online — because after all, it’s a book and it is meant to be read. But by giving this harpy your hard-earned cash, you’re telling her — and the rest of the world — that creativity and respect mean nothing.

The Ten Most Useless Kitchen Tools that People Actually Buy

As a fledgling cook, I definitely worship at the Altar of Brown: Alton Brown. One of my favorite Brown psalms is that you should 86 anything from your kitchen that only has one use. He doesn’t mean items like knives, that can only chop, he means things like a Strawberry Huller, that ONLY hull strawberries. There are so many gadgets out there for convenience that just end up being expensive clutter. After working at a home electronics store, I have witnessed with my own eyes as the heathen non believers have shelled out money for these items. Here are the worst ones.

Breadmakers

This is potentially the most controversial one on the list, so I figured I’d list it right up front and get everyone all good and pissed off. Many people swear by bread makers. These people are the worst. Basic bread is approximately three ingredients. If you can’t figure out how to put flour, water and instant yeast in a bowl, you shouldn’t even really be in the kitchen. Plus, bread maker bread often tastes like oasis foam. As far as I can see, bread makers are for people who want to give the illusion of being able to bake*. You can make beautiful sourdough bread easily in your regular old oven with a cast iron pot. Instead of spending 80 bucks on a bread maker, spend 20 on any of Peter Reinhart’s books and you’ll be much, much happier.

*Side note: Kendra did bring up a good point that bread makers ARE a huge time saver, whereas many of these items really don’t save you much time at all. So I will give that kudos to breadmakers: they ARE fast, and the bread is better than buying wonder bread. And mixing and matching ingredients can be fun.But if you’re short on cash, and space, in your tiny apartment kitchen, and you buy a bread maker, you’re a damn fool.

Any “Slicer” That Can Only Be Used for One Food

How fucking lazy are you? You seriously can’t use a knife? Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t realize you liked having no room left in your kitchen drawers and having to make deals with God every time you try to open or close one, because you have plastic handles and metal springs sticking up every which way to block the sliding mechanism. Yes, having slices that are uniform in thickness is better for cooking and baking, but how much are you cooking or baking with slices of bananas or strawberries? You’re probably throwing these in a fruit salad or lunch box snack. Just use a knife you waste of space.

Cupcake Maker

I love cupcakes as much as the next gal, but if you are shelling out money for a cupcake maker, you have some serious, serious mental problems. It saves no time, no mess, and instead of soaking a cupcake pan in the sink for 20 minutes after baking, you have to gingerly and carefully clean an electronic device. The only conceivable excuse for this purchase would be if you actually don’t own an oven. And then, I think you really need to re-examine if your priorities. Should you be figuring out how to make cupcakes or instead finding a way to be a little less homeless? It just seems like utter nonsense to me. I’m not even sure what the point of this is actually supposed to be, since unlike even the breadmaker which saves tons of time and effort, you still have to fall all of the same friggin steps as you would when you put them in the oven. The sole purpose this is sold is because cupcakes are so god damn trendy right now (and don’t even get me started on that).

Yogurt Maker

A Yoplait costs like 60 cents at the grocery store. It’s honestly most likely not going to save you like, any money to make your own yogurt in a yogurt maker, especially because you have to buy certain size jars and little packets of mix. I understand the desire to make things from scratch that you probably shouldn’t be bothered to try making, believe me (true story: I am looking into how to make my own tofu), but guess what? You know what you really need to make yogurt? A bowl, a spoonful of existing yogurt, some milk, and a slightly warm oven. That’s it. Seriously. Google it. It’s like, science or something. If you are curious enough in the kitchen (and I commend you if you are!) to want to make your own yogurt, you really shouldn’t be lazy or foolish enough to buy a yogurt maker.

Automatic Whip Cream Whipping Can

If you are at a point where you even desire homemade whipped cream, I think it’s safe to assume that you bake on the regular enough to own a fucking electric hand mixer. They cost the same amount and you can use the hand mixer for many other delight full things like mixing cake batter, or cookie dough. It takes about four minutes of whipping to whip cream with a hand mixer. You can even do it with a regular whisk if you’re really hard core and you have the forearm strength of a Swedish shot put. If anyone came up to me and said, “Check out my new whip cream whipper!” I’d roll up a news paper and smack them on the nose.

Egg Cooker

What that phrase should mean is a pot full of water, or a frying pan. Tragically, what it actually means is a huge dome shaped electrical device that you rest some eggs in, and it cooks them for you. Seriously. I’m not sure who looked at the kitchen supply market and though, “I see a need, so I will fill it!” I eat eggs almost every day for breakfast. I really don’t want to have to haul out a specific machine, plug it in, heat it up, and go through an involved cleaning process, especially before I’ve had my coffee.

Pie Maker

Don’t get me wrong, if I could buy Lee Pace at William’s Sonoma I would be lining up to sell my remaining Ova to afford it. Sadly, this is not what they’re charging about two hundred bucks for. Much like the cupcake maker, this is a very pricey, very cumbersome device that takes up precious room in your cabinet. It has four little cups in it for making adorable teensy pies. Believe you me, I am a sucker for anything mini. Or adorable. Or made by Breville. But this is…ugh. How often do you honestly have a craving for tiny pies!? At least eggs are something people often eat almost daily. If you were packing away mini pies on the daily you would…be fat. Period. And, if you were good enough at making pies that you could successfully make them every day, you should be man enough to just make the teeny ones in a cupcke tin. You can also buy mini cake pans. That are small, and cheap. And probably dishwasher safe AND NOT TWO HUNDRED DOLLARS.

Blenders Marketed as Alcoholic Drink Makers

Again, I want to be clear that it’s not the end product I have a problem with. Pina Coladas are some of the tastiest things ever. However, I really don’t think even the most boozy of folks need a two hundred dollar monstrosity (note: the one in the picture is 500 bucks) of a blender that looks about as tacky as a chipped plastic Santa on your neighbor’s lawn that’s still out in February. A regular blender would really do just fine, I promise. I have used one of these blenders before, and they are kind of fun. They do shave the ice in a very efficient way, but there’s really no way I would ever justify even just the space it takes up. This thing is about two feet high and has about 8 million removable parts. What owning this item really says about you: “I don’t need a real blender because I drink all my meals.”

Electric Salt and Pepper Mills

“Don’t you just hate when you can’t summon the energy to grind black pepper after a long day’s work?” Said no one ever. I think this might win as most useless out of all of these, even though it is not the most expensive, or the most cumbersome. It wins because … is anyone looking at their meals saying, “You know, this could really use some ground black pepper…but that grinder is just so hard to use!” No. So how can you justify shelling out forty dollars on it? ….It’s rechargeable?

Pasta Maker

Let’s get something straight here: fresh, homemade pasta is incomparable. On lasagne, for ravioli, you really can’t go wrong. However, this beauty costs over 500 dollars. Do you know how many ingredients pasta is? Two. Flour, and eggs. The only cool thing about this is that it can make ziti, where rolling zitis by hand would probably make you want to kill yourself. The thing is, unlike lasagne or ravioli, any dish that features ziti really doesn’t showcase the quality of the pasta you use. When you think Baked Mac and Cheese, are you thinking about the Mac, or are you thinking about the cheese? I rest my case.

Salad Spinner

I saved this one for last because I feel like the salad spinner is like, the original useless kitchen supply. I’m not really basing this on any knowledge of kitchen utensil history, except that salad spinners to me SCREAM cheesy 70s wedding gift. You cant use a tongs to mix your salad? Seriously? You have to buy a device to use centripetal force to move your damn vegetables around? Now, readers, tell me honestly. Have you ever either as a dinner guest, or had a dinner guest who, complained about your salad portion not having the perfect ratio of tomatoes to onions to lettuce? I mean come on people, barely anyone cares enough about salad to actually eat it, and those who do only pick out the shit they like anyway. Unless all of your dinner guests are obsessive compulsive who will lose their shit if their salad components are not perfectly and completely 100% coated with dressing, you can probably just “jeuje” it around and call it a day. Apparently, according to my dear friend Jesse, salad spinners are actually used to spin the excess moisture off of salad ingredients. Embarrassed though I was to be corrected, I think this actually makes it even better! getting rid of minuscule water droplets is even more useless than mixing. I have never once sent back a salad, or refused to eat one, because it was too moist. If you need your salad to be that perfectly dry…well, I actually wouldn’t even know how to react to that.

In conclusion: Don’t invite me over for dinner because I will probably just scowl at all the stuff in your kitchen and make everyone super uncomfortable.

Why I Won’t Date Someone Who Hates Board Games.

The Recht family does not have many traditions. We don’t go on holiday to any specific place. We don’t do movie nights or Friday night pizza dinners or whatever the fuck most “All-American families” are supposed to do. But if the Recht family has one thing, it is a great passion for games of all sorts, particularly Setback.

Setback is the most addictive game you’ll ever play. I challenge anyone to dislike it after learning — which so far, no one has. This game is the glue that binds my family together. It’s kind of like a rite of passage: you fully become an adult member of the Recht family when you are indoctrinated into the realm of Setback. Other families have heirlooms that they hand down to their children — an old engagement ring, a scarf, what-have-you — but we have this game and it’s our game and it’s the best game in the entire bloody world. When I was a kid, my parents and aunts and uncles would shoo us out of the kitchen, make us go to bed, and then play this game until two in the morning. Now I am one of them, a member of the cult of Setback, and I’m spreading my teachings to the general public.

But this post isn’t about Setback. It’s in defense of every game that has ever existed. It’s about Monopoly and Scattergories and Balderdash and May I and Taboo because oh yes, board — and card! — games are exceptionally fun and that’s why they are called games. I know that not every board game is every person’s cup of tea. But dear god how can a single person dislike every board game that has ever existed? I do not trust people who don’t play board games. As soon as I hear a phrase like “Board games are lame/stupid/boring/[insert negative or derogatory comment here]” my interest in that person screeches to a grinding halt and fizzles out like a poorly made sparkler. I become very concerned about their character, because seriously, how can you hate board games? Do you hate fun? Granted, I could probably be friends with someone who hated board games — okay, maybe just friendly acquaintances — but when it comes to someone who is, at some point, supposed to join up with the rest of the Recht clan, a disdain for board games is a big no-no. Because, really, how can you hate all board games? Is it even possible? If you don’t like word games, there are mystery games. If you don’t like those, you can play strategy games or cards or trivia or party games or anything, because let’s be real: there is a board game for every occasion, for every kind of brain.

There are two kinds of people who hate playing games. The first kind of person is bland, beige, and wholly sans personality. If you ask Bland about anything, they give monosyllabic, monotonous answers. They have no real interests, no concept of the word “fun,” and because of this tend to stick together like an enormous flock of dull-eyed pigeons or latch onto more vibrant, dynamic people, leeching their heart and soul from them bit by teeny tiny bit. The Blands don’t like board games because board games, while not nearly as exciting as white-water rafting or dancing, are inherently fun and interesting and require a person to also be fun and interesting. Have you ever tried to play a board game with a Bland? They suck out all the enthusiasm you may have once had and leave you either irritated beyond belief (best case scenario) or soulless and beige just like them (worst case scenario). These are the people who forget that Apples to Apples is not supposed to be literal and play the word “Chocolate” for “Sweet” and get all offended when you happen to play “Helen Keller” for “Senseless.” Everyone else gets it. Everyone else falls off their seats laughing and Bland sits there, rigid as stone, and says “That’s not even accurate” and then all the joy is gone and Bland becomes The Board Game Grinch who no one ever wants to play with or even be around.

Let it be known that Bland is a person no one ever wants to date, even outside of the board game scenario. They’re awful no matter what, and I’d say (thank god) that they are far less prevalent than the other type of person: the Cool Dude. The Cool Dude is just way too bloody hip for board games. Cool Dude is busy smoking weed or hiking or writing slam poetry or whatever else he finds to be the most respectable (because Cool Dudes come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and ages, ranging from bro to hipster to suave businessman). He’s not interested in your silly playtime because board games are for children. And Cool Dude is not a child. Cool Dude is the coolest of the cool, and board games don’t fit under the list of acceptable activities he’s allowed to engage in. The only way he’ll ever join in is if it’s maaaybe poker, and even then only if all his other Cool Dude friends are into it. He thinks that there is nothing more geeky, more silly, and more stupid than playing Clue. This is the kind of person who, even if he thinks Cards Against Humanity may be the most intriguing specimen of game he’s ever encountered, will stick his nose up in the air and say, “No thanks. I’d rather be doing something more my age.” The Cool Dude is worse than the Bland, because Cool Dude is a fucking fake. Crying inside is this little tiny child that wants to get out and play Charades but can’t because some big old mental bully is pinning him down — all because Cool Dude is trying so hard to look impressive.

If there’s anything I can’t stand, it’s people who aren’t honest, and Cool Dude is dishonest, which probably makes him the worse of the two. Bland is just Bland, but who likes Bland anyway? They can stick together and create awful beige babies and maybe claim a patch of land that no one cares about, like Arkansas or Oklahoma, and no one will ever have to deal with them again. But Cool Dudes are everywhere. Although there’s nothing wrong with preferring other activities, playing cards or board games every once in a while allows you to take a breather and have some good old-fashioned fun without overexerting yourself mentally or physically. It’s a good bonding experience with friends and family, and a great way to save what could be a dull, rainy day — or worse. Because of Hurricane Sandy, my family was without power for over a week, and when I got brief, emailed updates from them, my Dad wrote, “We still don’t have power, but we’ve been playing card games all weekend. We’re making the best of it.” And while I understand that maybe Cool Dude’s time is better spent taking foreign language classes or writing the next great novel, every once in a while it is nice to take a breather.

So please, people, stop and think long and hard about who you want to be: a Bland, a Cool Dude, or Just A Regular Human Being. Before you proclaim loudly to the world, “Board games? I hate board games!” you should first consider your happiness, your mental health, and most of all my mental health, and then maybe find something less retarded to say instead.