relationships

Tough Questions: What’s the Worst Advice You’ve Ever Been Given?

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Every week we ask everyone who hangs out around here to answer a tough question. This week:

What’s the worst advice you’ve ever been given?

Rules are simple: no one can tell you what to do, not even your dad or a cop. They can only advise you. Who has done the worst job of it in your life?

Alex Russell

I’m terrible about unsolicited advice, so I’m usually the other end of this one. As for advice someone’s given me, I’ve got to go with something I was taught in college. Have everyone write down their feelings. I was in training to be a high school teacher, but a series of my education classes were “general” classes for teachers from preschool through high school. When you need something to apply to a six year old and an eighteen year old, you have to be pretty broad. When you have to be pretty broad, you end up saying a lot of really silly stuff. The moment the shine came off the apple for me was when a person looked me straight in the eye and told me that the way to handle a teenager that wouldn’t listen in class was to have them write down their feelings about class and to take away their recess.

Brent Hopkins

The worst advice I have ever received was to be brashly honest in relationships. This just straight up does not work and causes so much stress and pain on both ends that it kinda is a self-sabotaging mindset to be in. I am not saying I am a consistent liar or anything now, but I have grown to appreciate the little lies and the withholding of information to keep the peace. There are times where lying IS actually the best option, not just Eagle Scout levels of honesty. That being the case I am regularly told I am still too honest, but I have figured out when that extra push is too much and to just keep it to myself.

Andrew Findlay

I am fortunate enough to have trouble remembering advice that has landed me in a laughably compromising position. People who feel qualified to give it out in my life generally give it soundly, and most problems arise from me not following it. That being said, one general piece of “advice” that really annoys me is “Beer before liquor, never been sicker. Liquor before beer, you’re in the clear.” There is no, zero, nada physiological reason the order in which you ingest poison will make you feel worse or better. It’s like having a rhyme that starts “strychnine before arsenic…” Alcohol is a poison. You feel bad because you drank poison. If you drink so much you find yourself muttering useless, rhyming rules about it, you need to take a long, hard look in the mirror.

Gardner Mounce

A youth pastor once told me that it is a wife’s marital duty to sexually submit to her husband whenever her husband asks for it. He said that since two people become “one spirit and one flesh” when they are married, and since someone can’t rape themselves, then a man can’t be said to rape his wife.

Jonathan May

“Write what you know”–an often espoused platitude in creative writing programs. If people only wrote what they knew, then science fiction and fantasy, as genres, wouldn’t exist. If people only wrote what they knew, there would be only autobiography, which (unfortunately) so much of “today’s” writing is inherently. With the rise of the personal essay and proliferation of creative writing programs, I heard this advice often from writers at all levels, and I wanted to ask them, “Do you ever write outside of yourself?” So yeah, “write what you know” is horrible advice. All you writers out there–do whatever the hell you want.

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Life Lessons from Episodes of Louie: “Pamela 2” and “Pamela 3”

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Alex Russell

Louis C.K.’s critically acclaimed show Louie’s fourth season runs as two episodes every Monday night. Rather than just answering the question of “are these episodes good,” (because the answer is always yes) we’ll talk about the big lessons imparted in each episode. This week: the season ends.

Episode 13: “Pamela 2”

Whenever you see someone on television wake up after they’ve had sex, they look like no real person ever looks after sex. It’s just the way sex is always shot, it seems even more unrealistic than it does in, well, real life. Real sex is awkward and full of absurd, funny moments.

In Louie, when people have sex, they have to think about taking their shoes off. They have to have their pants taken off both legs at the same time. They have to figure out how to get to the bed, because no one just sits on a bed. They sit on a couch. The bed is later.

This may seem overly simplistic to point out. Louie is a show obsessed with the “what is real” question in a narrative sense, but it’s also a show fascinated by the mundane. Louis C.K. became one of the most famous comics in America on the strength of the mundane as a comedic source. His show is less about how it’s all funny and more about how it all is consistent. Everyone takes their shoes off before they have sex and no one knows how to do it. There’s no sexy — or even practical — way to take off your shoes in a hurry.

It’s not all sex, but everything is that moment. Everything is taking your shoes off quickly to not let a moment pass or convincing someone to do something spontaneous before they make a joke. Everything in life is making the moment what it can be before it passes. When Louie is a sad show, it’s about missing those moments. Sometimes it’s something else, and this one is mostly something else. Just go out there and try, dummy. That’s all you can do.

Episode 14: “Pamela 3”

The choice to run all 14 of these episodes over seven weeks seemed weird when this all started. But now, after all of the “Elevator” saga and “Pamela,” it’s clear that this was the only way to run this. It could have just as easily been a one-night binge, I guess, but then I’d be dead. This was all rough.

I don’t want to spend too much time on recapping the season, but let’s review for a very short paragraph. This is the season of a show on television where Louis C.K. rescued an old woman from a stuck elevator, went on dates with three women (four women, maybe, hard to say with the model), and opened for Jerry Seinfeld. That’s what happened. Oh, and he also went back in time to show the breakdown of his marriage and his childhood and his family and his psyche and…

…back to “Pamela 3.” Long-time viewers of Louie (hello, all 13 of you) know that Louie and Pamela have an aggressive — but familiar — relationship. They rag on each other and riff and talk in dumb voices. Even one of the most romantic moments in Louie history was Pamela getting on a plane as she yelled “wave to me, dummy,” which was mistaken for “wait for me.” Pamela and Louie have had chances, but they’ve always been caught up in the armor of acting like you don’t give a damn.

But they do. It’s just hard to tell someone else that you’re going to finally drop the cynicism or the sarcasm or whatever your deal is and engage with them. It’s hard to actually be a person, because jokes are easier a lot of the time. We make jokes at funerals because funerals suck. We’d rather not engage.

It’s an old lesson, far older than most of the ones in this season of Louie. “Pamela 3” is about not getting what you want, but it’s about something even better than that. It will make you more kind, and it’s something that I struggle with all the time. The lesson in the finale of this season of Louie has to be that you have to let other people be themselves, because that’s all anyone should ever be. If you do that, and you still like them, then that’s what love is. Not anything else.

We’ll be back next week with a different show. If you have suggestions, leave a comment.

Alex Russell lives in Chicago and is set in his ways. Disagree with him about anything at readingatrecess@gmail.com or on Twitter at @alexbad.

What the Story of Two Women and a Cheating Bastard Says About Video Games as Literature

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Alex Russell

You are a real bastard.

Well, you are when you’re Vincent Brooks in Catherine, a 2011 multi-platform release that shocked the video game world. It’s a unique part-puzzle part-simulation game based on the morality of choice and what people do when no one is watching.

You play Vincent, a 30-something guy drifting through both life and an aimless relationship with a woman named Katherine. Katherine wants to get married and start a life, Vincent wants to avoid making any big decisions. Katherine wants to have long lunch dates about the future, Vincent wants to get drunk with his friends at the corner tap.

Depending on how stereotypical your life is, this may be hitting pretty close to home.

The story unfolds through cinematics where you watch Vincent and Katherine try to reach an understanding on various issues. It feels very real, even if the relationship itself feels flimsy. People really are scared to commit. In most narratives this would be where there would need to be a discussion of gender roles, but dear Vince has to be the nervous manchild here, because of what happens when he goes to sleep.

When Vincent sleeps he is forced to climb towers. These play out as incredibly hard puzzle elements which start unforgiving and somehow get even more brutal as the game goes on. Vincent must climb to escape something he fears — always something Katherine mentioned during the day — and reach the top of the tower to run away rather than facing adulthood, children, marriage, or whatever it may be that night. A good example: one is a horrific, monstrous baby that knows Vincent is the father.

It’s a strange game. Every night ends in the same bar, where Vincent recaps his day with Katherine to his buddies who are also in various states of arrested development. It gets extra complicated when Vincent wakes up with a (younger, blonder) woman also named Catherine, spelled with a C. Everything goes full cliche with the entrance of a younger temptress, but the world of Catherine the game needs these cliches to make choice seem as stark as possible.

It’s important to note that both Catherine and Katherine are full characters, and Vincent’s actions constantly reveal him to be a dipshit. “Competent woman/incompetent man” is a stock relationship in a lot of forms of narrative, but Catherine is interested in more complex interactions. If Vincent’s choices make him act like an asshole to either woman, that woman will respond in a full way. Neither of their lives revolve around Vincent, and even though the story plays out through his eyes, it isn’t a story of two damsels hoping that their prince will pick them.

Every decision made in the game influences a meter that tilts between good and evil. If you’re connected online, the game also tells you what percentage of people around the world made the same choice. This allows for a certain molding of Vincent – he can either accept Katherine and all of the joys that come with adulthood, or he can hide in youth with Catherine and escape for a little longer. The meter is clear which is the “good” choice, and to borrow a line one of the monsters you escape from screams at you: take responsibility.

These choices influence the ending. There are nine options, which mostly follow the traditional Dungeons and Dragons school of morality: neutral good, lawful good, chaotic evil, etc. Can a game with multiple endings still be literature? It’s a fair criticism that there isn’t “one” story since you can end up in a multitude of different situations with Katherine and Catherine. Without giving it away, though the game has nine endings it has but one lesson. There are variations, but the game constantly reminds you that escaping your future is only temporary. Not taking the phone call from Katherine because you think she has bad news only delays it. You have to deal with the people in your life – including yourself. Even if a sadistic otherworldly being won’t throw you in a tower with a bunch of sheep to enact metaphors every night as you fight for your life, the bell will still find a way to toll for thee.

It’s a solid narrative that is shaped by the world it exists in. It feels very Japanese at times, but it generally just feels like a world we’ve all definitely been in before. It also “reads” well because all of the gameplay is separate from the narrative structure in the bar. It’s a nice companion piece to the type of literature that people read when they first realize they aren’t a teenager. Catherine is the story of someone’s 20s. It’s about realizing that interactions with other people matter — to others and to ourselves — and it tells the tale of what happens when that falls by the wayside as well as anything could.

Alex Russell lives in Chicago and is set in his ways. Disagree with him about anything at readingatrecess@gmail.com or on Twitter at @alexbad.

 Image source: Destructoid