Who Cares?

The other day I had an utterly fascinating—to me, anyway—conversation with one of my co-workers. A group of us were talking about our childhood music lessons, and how basically all of us quit relatively quickly. I mentioned how I really wish I'd stuck with it, and that if I had more time I'd love to take piano lessons. I found it interesting that I was the only one who had those regrets to any degree, but I was particularly struck by one guy's attitude. "Who cares?" he said. "I mean, whatever—music, art, who really gives a shit? All that stuff just seems like a way to kill time." Later in the same conversation he said he'd like to learn a new language but it turned out that it was mainly due to how that could expand his career possibilities. Indeed, everything that he expressed interest in had to do with new ways to make money or otherwise materially improve his lifestyle, and being presented with a viewpoint so totally different from mine was, if nothing else, something that made me pause. Intellectually, I've known that there are people out there who think like this guy, but most of the people I know personally are like me in that they take it for granted that at least some aspects of culture and the arts have value—it's a little jarring to see the opposite opinion up close.

Now, at this point it would be easy for me to go on a tirade about how awful it is that people think art is a waste of time, or how our societal values or educational system are out of whack, or bemoan the direction in which we're headed as a civilization. But I think that it would be a mistake to draw too large a conclusion from one oddball co-worker, aside from which, I'm sure that people like this have always existed.

And, you know, I can't even really fault this guy too much for valuing things he can get paid for. After all, he enjoys what he does for a living, and thinks that it's important. I believe in hard work and being part of a team, and so I give my best effort to be good at what I do and to get the job done, but when you come right down to it, the only thing I get out of my career is money. So, really, who's the more mercenary between the two of us?

No, the thing that I keep coming back to as I think about this conversation is that I can't really disagree fundamentally that it's all just a way to kill time.

Don't get me wrong, I love art. I love creating it and I love being part of the audience. There aren't many things I value more highly or would rather spend my life doing. But when you come down to it, isn't everything we do just a way of passing the time, distracting ourselves from the fact that we're going to die some day? Perhaps we like to think we are creating a legacy, or doing some great work, but consider Shelley's Ozymandias: "Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!" the king proclaimed, intending his statue to last forever. And yet, "Round the decay / Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare / The lone and level sands stretch far away."

We talk about art in terms of expression and communication, of evoked emotions and shared experience. But what is any of that if not a way of making the time we have here a little more bearable? And, in the end, isn't that really the value of things like art and culture and entertainment? We have only a short time in the world, and for so many of us that time is full of injustice and hardship, loneliness, sadness, toil, or, if nothing else, at least inanity. If by making something and putting it out there for people to see, we can help someone feel a little less alone, make their time seem a little more fulfilling or even just fun, it's hard to for me to see what else could be a better use of your time.

Art, the Art World, and On Taking Pictures

I listen to a lot of podcasts, and one of my favorites is On Taking Pictures. For those of you who don't follow it, On Taking Pictures is a weekly podcast in which hosts Bill Wadman and Jeffery Saddoris—to use their own words—discuss the art, the science, and sometimes the philosophy of making images. They cover photo-related news, there's the occasional bit of gear talk, but what I really love about this podcast is the conversational tone. Listening to these guys talk about photography reminds me of the conversations I used to have back in college with Juliette's theater friends, an experience I miss.

One of the recent episodes included an exchange that got me to thinking a lot about my own struggles with making art, which I've excerpted below. To give a little background, Bill had recently been to an exhibition of photographs by Zoe Leonard, at which he found himself frustrated by what he perceived to be a lack of quality or substance to the photographs, as well as by what he considered to be a very pretentious artist's statement. (A somewhat frequent refrain on the show is Bill's dislike of what he terms "art-school pretense.")

BW: To your average person, this is crap! But to somebody this isn't crap, and I'm sure her pictures are very well regarded, I'm sure Zoe Leonard makes a good amount of money taking the pictures she takes. And more power to you. I don't get it. Now, somebody could say, well you know what? Maybe your work is far too pedestrian and too derivative and too boring and too commercial in a "lower C" sense.

JS: But you're also not waxing poetic about the significance of that.

BW: Exactly. I'm not writing labels that are 250 words long about how my photographs are objects of objects and the objectification…

JS: Yeah. "I'm creating a new movement, pedantic objectivism."

BW: Exactly. You just spent everyone's artistic pretense.

The conversation spoke to some of the frustrations I've had with the art world, both as a member of the audience and as someone who's trying to do something with my own work, and I couldn't help but want to respond. So I ended up writing a somewhat embarrassingly lengthy and rambling email to Bill and Jeffery, which they were very gracious about. But once I had gotten the whole thing written out, I realized that I wanted to broaden the conversation and include the people in my own life. So, with Bill and Jefferey's blessing, I've taken what I wrote to them and adapted it for this blog. I hope you'll bear with me while I meander.

Now, I think it's useful here to distinguish between "art" and "the art world," the latter being a community of gallerists, curators, and critics, and to some extent the artists who are supported by that community—largely the kind of MFA-holding elites that get Bill so hot under the collar. From both my own observations and from what I've read, contemporary art is kind of all over the place, encompassing a huge range of styles and themes and techniques, but the art world has more or less decided on a particular sort of conceptual and intellectual approach to creating and understanding art that it will embrace, and it rejects everything else.

The art world tends to reject beauty and sentimentality—in fact, art that engages directly with most emotions seems to be something that the art world has difficulty with. Art that deals with or springs from sociopolitical concepts tends to do well, especially if it's shocking or ugly. Especially in photography, work that is exalted tends to be project-based and conceptually driven, rather than "grown" in a more organic way.

All of this has been tough for me, since the focus of my own photography is finding and engaging with the narratives of my own family life and the places I live and have lived. I know what it is that I'm trying to do with my work and although I know I haven't gotten to where I want to go just yet, I think I'm good at what I do, photographically speaking. The stuff I show at portfolio reviews and local crit groups tends to get good reactions, but when it comes to submissions I deal with a lot of rejection. I've had gallerists tell me that my stuff is good but that they probably couldn't sell it. I've had art competitions and photo magazines reject my work with comments that the pictures are well done but aren't really "fine art."

So on the one hand, I often find myself shaking my head at what does get embraced by the art world. I often find myself being able to appreciate contemporary art on an intellectual level—saying to myself, "OK, I see what you were trying to do here"—but a lot of it utterly fails to move me. I think I feel some of the same frustrations that Bill does, in that way.

But when I step back and think about it, I can't really see why intellectualism is necessarily an invalid way of approaching art. It frustrates me that there doesn't seem to be room for other kinds of work in the art world, but, really, what's wrong with this kind of conceptually driven art?

Back in April, a writer acquaintance of mine—Daniel Abraham—posted the following quotation to his blog with the instructions to discuss it: "Inaccessibility in a work of art is either a failure of craft or a statement of contempt." The comment thread produced some interesting conversation, I thought. My response was that that presented a false dichotomy—while inaccessibility could be a mark of failure or contempt, it could also be due to the fact that not everyone is equipped to hear what you are trying to say. From the standpoint of literature, the point of a book is the experience one gets from reading it, and some experiences that are worth having cannot be had if the book is easy to understand. The act of working to understand the book is in itself an integral part of the experience. That doesn't mean that this is the only valuable kind of experience you can or should get from a book, but there's room for lots of different kinds of books and lots of different kinds of experiences, and accessibility is not a virtue unto itself, only a means to an end.

And, of course, the reverse is also true: difficulty and opacity are also not virtues unto themselves, and just because a book is an easy read doesn't mean that it can't be a profoundly valuable experience. And it's also certainly true that some work is simply pretentious or contemptuous and has no substance, and can't provide a worthwhile experience no matter how hard you work at it.

What this says to me is that art need not be universal. That some experiences—valid, even important experiences—are simply not going to be accessible to every potential audience member. And that's not necessarily a bad thing. Or rather, if it's bad, it's bad in a way that's tragic for the artist rather than condemnatory of him. But just because some people—or even most people—won't get it, doesn't mean that a work of art is bad or shouldn't have been made, or that the approach used in creating it is invalid, or that the people who do get it are wrong for celebrating it.

Bringing this back to contemporary photography, I think that the problem with the art world is not that "art-school pretense" is a bad thing, or that 250-word artist statements are ruining art. I think it must be the case that some contemporary art is a load of bullshit, but I think it must also be the case that some of it is merely designed to elicit reactions that I either miss or that I don't value, and that has to be OK. The problem isn't with conceptual roots or an intellect-only approach or "pedantic objectivism," or any of those things in and of themselves, but rather the problem is that so many other valid approaches to art are shunned.

What I haven't really settled on for myself is whether the kind of egalitarian, inclusive approach to understanding art that I seem to be in favor of has any limits, and, if so, what those limits are. Am I really saying that anything goes when it comes to art? I don't know, maybe. I don't like the idea of art that's mean or intentionally condescending. I have a lot of trouble with "appropriation art." And I haven't really settled for myself whether art has to be about something, whether it has to be trying to say something. I don't really like the idea of saying that it does, but whenever I run into an artist who claims he's not trying to say anything—I find this happens most often with painters, for some reason—my first reaction is always to wonder why he's bothering to make anything, then.

And, of course, almost all of the art that has really spoken to me, especially recently, has all been about something. Judith Fox's book about her husband's Alzheimer's—which is about Alzheimer's, of course, but is really about aging and loss and enduring love. Elizabeth Fleming, whose take on parenthood has been a big inspiration for me, and whose recent work about family and place and loss I really enjoyed. Deborah Parkin, who makes pictures about memory and childhood and depression. Even Alec Soth, who I've always seen as making work about manhood and loneliness and, in some ways, immaturity.

As always, I'm interested to know what other people think about all of this. Does art have to be about something? I was particularly interested in Bill and Jefferey's thoughts because they both enjoy portraiture a lot—Bill is, in fact, a professional portrait and editorial photographer—and that's a genre I've always had trouble connecting with. I tend to feel about portraiture the same way I feel about ballet—I appreciate the technique, but it rarely moves me. When it does really work for me it tends to be portraiture that's more project-based and conceptual, in which case what it's "about" is more obvious.

The OTP guys were kind enough to respond on the show, so if you're interested you can have a listen. There aren't clean answers to these questions, but in spite of that—or perhaps because of it—it's important, I think, to ask them and think about them. If you have any thoughts on any of it, I'd love to hear them.


Beeswax. It makes a great lip balm. It's also something you should mind--but only your own.

You have probably seen this week's "Are You Mom Enough?" cover of Time. At least, judging from my Facebook feed and the blog buzz about it you have. I have no doubt that the photographer, Martin Schoeller, and Time's cover editors were fully aware of how riled up that cover would get people. It is, after all, exactly the kind of thing about which people these days feel a need to opine. You know what, though? This is not something that falls into the category of "your beeswax."

"But! But!" I can hear the objection coming already. "Don't you think she's screwing up her kid by keeping him on the breast so long? My God, don't you think it's weird?"

Yes, of course I think it's weird. You know what else I think is weird? Something you do in your family. Yes, you--all of you. And of course I think she's screwing up her kid, not because she's extending breastfeeding or following attachment practices but because she's a parent. You are screwing up your kids too. So am I.

Look, every single one of us is going to get it wrong with our kids. The best we can hope to do is to minimize the damage we cause and give our kids the means to cope with the rest.

And aren't there enough real problems in the world without having to find new things to get upset about? On the scale of things for me to care about, this is somewhere between how other people make their hot dogs and whether or not they put sweaters on their pets. Are they doing something I wouldn't do? Sure. Does it affect me? No, not really.

So, sure, maybe I think it's weird if some family wants to breastfeed their kids until they're twelve. But odds are, their kids are going to be fine, and parenting is hard enough on a good day; the last thing most of us need is some nosy blowhard butting into our lives to tell us what we're doing wrong.

It does cut both ways, of course. That other family over there? The one that bottle fed from day one and Ferberized their kids? Those kids are going to be fine, too. Maybe that's not how you would raise your own children, but it's none of your business.

None of us are perfect. We're all doing the best we can. Let's all just take a deep breath and get back to minding our own beeswax.

My Latest at Life As A Human: The Popculturist Hears WTF

"The Popculturist Hears WTF":

There’s something about funny people that has always been fascinating to me. A truly funny person has that combination of intelligence, insight, and charisma that is immediately recognizable and impossible to ignore. I think, too, part of the allure is the recognition of a skill or talent that I don’t have, myself, but that I respect and admire in others.

My Latest at Life As A Human: Credibility Vs. Transparency

"Credibility Vs. Transparency: A Closer Look at NPR and Its Ethics Code":

Twice in the past month, NPR (National Public Radio) has found itself in hot water over the application of its ethics policy. Two weeks ago, they drew criticism over a memo sent from the news department to staffers reminding them, among other things, that they were not allowed to attend Jon Stewart’s and Stephen Colbert’s upcoming rallies. Then, last week, they fired long-time news analyst Juan Williams after some remarks he made on Fox News’ The O’Reilly Factor. In both cases, the network came under fire for political bias and for stifling free speech.

My Latest at Life As A Human: Old Books

"Old Books: Don't Judge a Book By Its Megabytes":

The first time I ever had a writing piece published was in my senior year of high school when an essay I wrote for my English class made it into the local paper. My teacher had assigned us to answer the question, “Will computers ever replace books?” Being the book-lover that I am, I said no.

In Which I Reluctantly Get a Bit Political

Last night I went out for dinner with Juliette, Jason, and her parents and brother. It was a pretty nice restaurant, not particularly fancy and not outrageously expensive, but with pleasant, dark-wood decor; a relaxed, sophisticated ambience; and a menu that neither pedestrian nor pretentious. Most importantly for me, the ambient noise level was high enough that Jason's outbursts went mostly (but not completely) unnoticed by the tables around us. (They were all very understanding and forgiving, thankfully.)

So there we are, conversing and trying to keep Jason entertained while we wait for the food to arrive, when from the next table, I overhear someone loudly declare "Democrat means you want to pay people to sit around and do nothing." I look up, and I see this teenager--probably 18 or 19--passionately denouncing Democrats, unemployment, and the lazy people that rely on the welfare system instead of getting jobs like they ought to.

The first thought that popped into my head was "Has this kid ever even met a Democrat?" Because, honestly, I've never met anyone who actually wants to pay people to sit around and do nothing. But it's really none of my business what some kid says to his parents about welfare and I don't like to be nosy. Aside from which, right about then Jason was demanding that he be allowed to have all of the bread at the table, so I had more pressing things to occupy my attention.

I really wanted to mind my own business, but the kid had a strong voice and he was pointed right at me. So after he was done telling his parents and grandmother all of his thoughts on what was wrong with the unemployment system, he went on to talk about how awesome it is to have a fridge in his dorm room and how much fun he's having this summer and so on, and I found myself getting angry at him.

Now, look, that kid--whoever he is--is just as entitled to his opinion about unemployment benefits (or anything else, for that matter) as every other person is. If he wants to shout in a crowded restaurant about how Democrats facilitate laziness, it's certainly his right to be able to do so. Furthermore, I agree that the system as it exists now has flaws, and I've heard a lot of sound arguments from some very intelligent people that were substantively not much different from what this kid was saying.

Even so, sitting there in that nice restaurant in that nice strip mall in that nice, upper-middle-class neighborhood, listening to that nice-looking, clean-cut college freshman rant about Democrats and welfare, making his parents laugh about the misguided liberals, it just rubbed me the wrong way. I don't know that kid; I don't know what the sum of his life experience has been and how that's colored his opinions. But from where I was sitting, it didn't look like that kid had ever been poor, or had ever even known someone in any meaningful way who was poor. Or who was a Democrat, for that matter. He almost certainly has never had to financially support himself or anyone else. And I highly doubt he's ever had a family to support or a mortgage to pay, and it didn't sound like he knew anyone who'd ever been laid off.

Do you have to have been poor to be allowed an opinion on welfare? Is it required that you be financially responsible for others before you can talk about unemployment benefits? Of course not. Poor (or formerly poor) people do not and should not have the monopoly on discourse about that aspect of public policy. Nor does that having that kind of experience mean that your opinions are more valid, or that your ideas and observations are necessarily more astute.

In fact, there is no limitation on ignorance or insensitivity at all before we are qualified and entitled to our opinions. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't try not to be ignorant or insensitive when we're spouting off about something, especially if we're doing so in public. And I've just known too many intelligent, hard-working, honest people who have had to deal with hard times through no fault of their own to be able to paint unemployment recipients as lazy or useless.

One of my best friends, for example, is a highly skilled and talented engineer who puts in long hours and genuinely enjoys the challenge and technical knowledge involved in his job. The company he was working for happened to be losing money in certain areas, and decided to cut its losses by closing down his division. So he found himself with a mortgage and a baby on the way, and short the major portion of his household income. What would you do in that situation? I'll tell you what he did: he spent eight hours every day finding companies with open hiring reqs, sending out applications, and lining up interviews, and he did that for weeks until he landed another job. And he collected unemployment benefits to help tide him over until he got that job. Is that irresponsible or lazy? Try telling him that to his face.

Fortunately, my friend and his wife are sensible about money and between their savings, unemployment, and tightening their belts a little, they were able to get through that rough patch. Even more fortunately, there were actually jobs to be had. Not everybody is that fortunate.

The point here isn't to say that we do or don't need unemployment benefits or other kinds of social welfare programs, nor to say what forms those benefits should take. There is a lot of room for discussion there, and I'm certain that there are many valid points of view and many good solutions to the underlying problems. No, the point is that I'm sick and tired of hearing ignorant people say things like "Democrats want people to be lazy" and "Republicans hate black people."

We're all entitled to our opinions. But sometimes your opinion makes you an asshole, damn it.

Appreciate Your Waiter

In the past week or so, Juliette and I have been out to nice restaurants twice: last week we went to the Farm House Cafe for my birthday, and last night it was Morton's for our anniversary. Since Jason still isn't up to the task of sitting quietly for long periods, we don't get much chance to go to fancy restaurants much these days, and so these outings were a fun change of pace.

The two restaurants we went to are very different in both atmosphere and food, but what they have in common are both high quality and excellent service. And it's really the latter that impresses us most. Good food is a must, of course, for us to put a restaurant in the top tier, but in a city like San Diego there are plenty of people who can cook. Good service, though, is what really keeps us coming back.

One thing I've never understood is how disdainful people can be of waiters. I've had a fair number of different jobs over the years--I'm an engineer now, of course, but in the past I've been a film festival projectionist, worked the register at my mom's store, tutored underprivileged high school kids, and worked in visitor presentations at the Montery Bay Aquarium. I've also been a busser, a bartender, and a waiter. And let me tell you, waiting tables was by far the hardest job I've ever had.

Yes, yes, I know: different jobs are difficult in different ways, and there are a lot of people out there who would find waiting tables to be much easier than what I do now. Certainly, my difficulties as a waiter have a lot to do with my own personal limitations.

Still, I can't even remember how many times I've overheard people saying something snotty along the lines of "How hard can your job possibly be?" I'd be willing to bet that nearly all of those people would be terrible waiters.

It's not just the physical aspects: the lifting, the balancing, the squeezing through a crowded dining room, dodging bussers and other waiters as they fly by, the aching feet and wrists. Though, those are certainly things I'm glad not to have to deal with anymore. And it's not just the mental gymnastics of having to keep multiple tables and their orders straight, each one having come in at a different time, each being at a different stage of their meal and having different particular requests. Though, again, that's also more than I can handle. (As I was telling Juliette last night, I can't really deal with more than three tables at a time.)

The real difficulty lies in the fact that each customer has a different expectation of how the meal should go, and what the waiter should do and when. You simply can't treat every table the same way. Some people will get angry if you don't check back every five minutes, others want to be left alone. Some people want you to be chummy, others want you to be formal. And first impressions make a huge difference, so you need to have all of it figured out before you even start talking, which gives you maybe thirty seconds to try to pick up any signs as you walk up to the table.

A good waiter is a master of reading the subtle psychological cues each customer provides. He will juggle ten tables, each with their own demands and special requests, all the while making everyone feel like he's there just for them. It's an incredibly difficult skill to master, and to me, seeing someone pull off perfect service is every bit as impressive as watching a master musician or actor give a great performance.

Of course, not every waiter is a master of his profession. Most aren't. But they all have a challenging job, and nearly all work hard to do it well. So try to cut them a little slack.

Mind you, I'm not saying you should ignore bad service. Not at all. As former waiters, both Juliette and I are quite forgiving of honest mistakes, but the same experience that gave us empathy for waiters who try left us with no patience at all for lazy waiters or those that don't care. I've stiffed waiters for bad service before and not felt the least bit bad about it. And I say this as a person who routinely tips over 20% on the total after tax.

No, I'm just saying, maybe take a look around and see what's going on. If you've been waiting a few extra minutes for your check to show up or for your plate to be cleared, take a look and see how crowded the room is. If it's wall-to-wall in there, very likely your waiter is slammed and simply can't get from table to table fast enough. Yes, in situations like that the management probably should have brought in extra staff to help out, but your waiter likely has no input at all into the scheduling process, so don't take it out on him that there's more to do than people to do it. Just try to have a little patience and remember that your waiter is a human being with feelings, and who has a very difficult job.

And for crying out loud, people: tip. As I mentioned before, I usually tip at 20% to 25% after tax, and I've been known to give tips as high as 50% when the service is truly outstanding. (Though, admittedly, I usually can't afford to tip that high at really expensive places.) I recognize, though, that most people don't or can't tip as much as I do. You don't have to be a big tipper to be a good customer, and I don't think any waiter should expect big tips. The standard is 15% of the pre-tax total. If you can't afford that much, you should probably be eating in cheaper places, or not eating out at all.

In my book if your waiter was trying, didn't make any unforgiveable mistakes, and you didn't tip when you could have, well, you're a cheapskate. And I don't want to eat at a restaurant with you.

My Latest at Life As A Human: Raising Respectful Sons

"Raising Respectful Sons: A Father's Reaction to the 'Slampigs' Scandal":


Back in the early stages of my wife’s pregnancy, before we knew we would be having a son, people often asked me whether I wanted a boy or a girl. My response usually went something like this: “Well, I’d be happy either way, I think, and I don’t have a preference, really. I don’t want one more than the other. Honestly, though, the idea of having a daughter kind of terrifies me.” That’s the thought that occurred to me again Monday morning when I ran across this article in fellow Life As A Human author Schmutzie’s Twitter feed.


A Letter to Amy Alkon In Response to Her Recent L.A. Times Editorial

Dear Ms. Alkon,

I had the pleasure of reading your op-ed piece "Screaming kids and airplanes: Mayday! Mayday!" last week and I just wanted to write and let you know how refreshing it was to finally hear from a kindred spirit. This country has been overtaken by rude and selfish people and seeing someone tell it like it is was a welcome breath of fresh air.

Like you, I have never been loud in a public place. Just as you described for yourself, my parents instilled in me a strong sense of propriety, which is why the occasion of my birth was an calm, orderly affair, without any of that obnoxious crying and mewling that you so often hear about. I have no idea why newborns these days are so self-centered and ignorant of our vital social conventions but it is simply unacceptable. Parents, take note: just because your child doesn't have the ability to speak or understand language or control their limbs or bodily functions is no excuse for them not to know and follow the rules of polite society. And don't bother trying to tell me about cognitive development or any of that nonsense--we both know it's just a ruse to try to distract from the obvious fact that you're a failure as a parent. Am I right, Amy? (May I call you Amy? I don't want to presume.)

I also applaud your exhortation of people to take responsibility for their own life choices. If you are thinking about having a child then you need to consider the possibility that your little Johnny might inconvenience other people for a few hours. And if there's even the slightest possibility that that could happen, you had damn well better keep little Johnny away from them, even if that means that he doesn't get to meet Granny until he's 17. I don't care if Granny can't get the time off work to come to you, or if you don't have the money to fly your whole family across the country for the holidays, you should have thought of that beforehand.

I am a bit concerned, though, Amy, that you might be bowing to pressure from the unwashed masses in limiting the scope of your article. Don't get me wrong, I'm glad that you're willing to put Mr. Cell Phone and Ms. Unruly Child in their places, but there is so much that you've left out. I mean, I can hardly go into a Starbucks or Panera Bread or even the grocery store without having to hear people talking. And I don't mean on the phone--thankfully, you already covered that. No, I'm talking about those oblivious, obnoxious jerks who have the audacity to have face-to-face conversations in public places. Don't they know that every time they open their mouths, I have to hear them? If their parents had done their jobs, maybe, but that must not have happened because it's getting to where I can't go anywhere without having my ears raped by their noise-pollutive talking. (People have told me before that I shouldn't used the term "rape" that way because it's hyperbolic and downplays the seriousness of the crime, but fortunately I know you haven't been infected by that ridiculous PC nonsense. I bet you even had people complaining about your having used phrases like "social thuggery" and "stealing" and "victims" in your piece. The nerve of those people...)

Along those lines, why do people think it's OK to wear ugly clothing in public? For that matter, why do they think it's OK to be ugly? I shouldn't have to pay the cost just because someone chooses not to have plastic surgery. Ugly people should stop being so selfish and keep themselves in the basement where they belong. And I don't want to hear "Oh, but plastic surgery is so expensive." Well, maybe you should have thought of that before you decided to be poor.

Anyway, I just wanted to let you know as a like-minded individual how much I much I value your writing. People are always telling me that what we really need is patience and tolerance, and that if these are the worst of my problems that I'm pretty well off. You and I know, of course, that all that is a bunch of nonsense. Because, after all, it really does come down to this: I should never have to experience anything that I dislike in the slightest, and anyone who makes me do so is nothing better than a terrorist.

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