2018 Book Report 1: Cameron Post, Everybody Lies, Party of One

[Image description: A San Pedro cactus points jauntily to stage right]
One of my 2018 Q1 Goals is to read 10 books. I’m well on my way averaging a book a week so far in January. I thought it might be fun to do a little book report here on the blog (even though you’d have gotten a sneak preview if you scoped my Goodreads!)

The Miseducation of Cameron Post

by emily m. danforth
Genres: Fiction / YA / LGBT

I’d been wanting to read this one for awhile. It came out in 2013 but it’s recently had a resurgence in popularity due to a planned movie. I knew going in that it would be a lesbian coming-of-age novel in which the protagonist is sent to a religious ex-gay school. It delivers on that for sure. I wasn’t prepared for it to be so long (the ex-gay school doesn’t appear until over halfway through), or so highbrow; it’s written like an adult literary novel, which can be good (vivid, expressive descriptions of Montana nature and small town Americana and specific emotions), and bad (highfalutin language, everybody is just a little too witty and Frasieresque).

Inspiration Level: 7/10. Reading LGBT YA always makes me feel like “Hey, I could do that. I know what it’s like to be gay and a teen. I got plennya queer angst to bleed on the page.” And of course I have written a LGBT YA novel but I could write MORE.

Everybody Lies: Big Data, New Data, and What the Internet Can Tell Us About Who We Really Are

by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz
Genres: Non-fiction / social science

The problem: Asking people isn’t the best way to answer questions about sensitive topics, like sex, violence, and antisocial behavior. Because “everybody lies” (cue the title!!), you can’t really trust what people say to sensitive questions such as “What kind of weird sex are you into?” They lie, even on anonymous surveys. There’s just no incentive for them to tell the truth. But there is plenty of incentive for people to tell the truth to Ma Google: information about the topic. You may not admit to a stapler fetish in a survey, but you’ll Google “stapler porn.”

The author describes various ways he has used Google searches and other anonymous Internet use data to help explain gaps and contradictions in answers from conventional research methods. He stresses that this is just scratching the surface - this is a wide open new direction for social science research.

Inspiration Level: 5 / 10. You finish the book all jazzed thinking “Yeah! Maybe I’ll download that Google search data and use it to answer MY research questions!” Then you realize you don’t have any research questions because you’re not a grad student, and you never, never will be. Then you realize that independent social science research would really cut into your TV time.

It’s not outlandish for me to do my own research in my spare time - I am ostensibly a data analyst - but that’s still not how I want to spend my evenings & weekends. I like my day job fine, and I’m pretty darn good at it if I do say so myself, but I’m not raring to do it when I get home. Sometimes I feel like this makes me a bad worker because I know that several of my colleagues would and do definitely analyze data for fun in their free time. There are ways that this makes them better at their job (even if their personal explorations aren’t directly work related), because they just get more practice with the skills and have more tangentially related ideas at the front of their mind to make connections to. There’s not a lot of ways that my extensive knowledge of Boy Meets World can bring any value-add to my work.

I have in the past tried to become the kind of person who does work outside of work, but it always ends with burnout and resentment. I think I’m just not wired that way. I’m a 40-hours-a-week kind of worker, not a my-job-is-my-life kind of worker.

Party of One: A Memoir in 21 Songs

by Dave Holmes
Genres: Memoir / pop culture / LGBT

I waitlisted this late last year after Dave Holmes went on the podcast “Throwing Shade.” All I knew about him was that he was a funny podcast guy and his memoir would talk about his struggles with internalized homophobia. I was surprised to learn, reading his book, that he’s famous for a totally different reason - most people who are interested in him probably know him as a personality from an early MTV reality show, “I Wanna Be a VJ,” and from subsequently being a VJ even though he was a runner up. I’ve barely watched MTV ever, but it was still fun to get that late 90s/early 00’s nostalgia as he talks about the bands and pop culture of the time.

I was surprisingly affected by a funny story near the end where Dave decides to be the type of person who's up for anything, and takes a hallucinogen as part of a group healing/self-discovery ritual. Afterward, he laments to his friend that he thinks he did it wrong. Everyone else seemed to be having these profound experiences and connecting with each other, he just wanted to get out of there and be alone and listen to music on his car stereo. His friend says, "What if that's your answer?" Dave’s mind is blown, and so is mine: it’s okay to like what you genuinely, actually like. It’s okay to want what you want.

What starts out as a goofy story ends up being a great capper on the memoir, because the rest of his life story illustrates the same point - Dave consistently failed when he tried to fit in with what he thought were the right things to want and right people to emulate (straight guys, ad execs), and he succeeded when he embraced being a gay, loner, pop culture obsessive, all the things that made him weird growing up, and went after what he truly wanted.

Inspiration Level: 10/10 weirdly enough! Mostly because of that last story.

As much self-acceptance progress as I’ve made in the last year, there is still clearly a part of me that thinks I have to try to be a certain type of acceptable person (the kind of data analyst who does data analysis at home for fun, for example), and tamp down on the dreams that are weird or risky or not fiscally prudent (like writing LGBT YA novels).

I think it’s time to stop trying to convince myself to have different dreams - easier, more socially acceptable ones. It just reminds me too much of trying to convince myself that I’m fine being a girl and I don’t want to transition, because I believe that my future would be simpler and happier and more convenient and less expensive if that were true - not because it wasn’t, in fact, true. I am who I am, I want what I want.

Let me be clear: there are so, so many things to like about my current life and job. I like my job, I take pride in my work and in doing a good job, the work I'm contributing to is prosocial and important, I have an under-30-minute train commute and an office (!!), my health insurance covers my ongoing transition, I can a pretty comfortable middle class city life. I’m not saying that self-acceptance demands a big, immediate, splashy career risk, like Dave Holmes made when he left his ad agency job to audition for an MTV reality show. (Nor, for that matter, does gender acceptance demand a big, immediate, splashy transition, despite what my behavior would make you think.) The kind of change I’m talking about is more of a subtle, mental thing. It’s letting go of that constant internal self-pressure to be a different kind of person, the kind of person I “should” be. It’s letting myself be honest about what I actually like and want, and not pretending or convincing myself that I like and want different things, more socially acceptable things.

I think I’ve figured out what my FIRE goal is for. I always knew I didn’t want to be in the “rat race” forever, that I wanted to retire early if I could, but I didn’t have a clear idea of how I would spend my days. “I’ll probably keep working,” I’d say vaguely, “but it would be nice to know that I don’t have to.” And that’s true, I probably will keep working; but I won’t work in an office, and I won’t work for a paycheck. I’ll write. Whether anyone wants to read it or not, I gotta write. I gotta be me.

To sum up: the most inspiring thing I’ve read so far this year has been a former MTV VJ’s San Pedro Cactus jungle healing ceremony hallucination story.


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