The Easiest Way to Travel : five tips to help you read more.

Reading is the cheapest journey you’ll ever be able to take. It’s an opportunity to visit cities you’ve never been to, try foods you’ve never heard of, and meet people you would never be able to meet otherwise. But like all travel, it can be daunting to undertake. It is a harder choice to go somewhere new than it is to stay at home, where things are familiar and easy.

Many of us used to take these trips all the time, as children. Unencumbered by anxiety or responsibilities or knowledge, we would pick up a book and instantly be transported somewhere else. It was easy to go and easy to return to those places again and again until the adventure was over, or until we tired of it.

But adulthood brings with it all sorts of excuses to stay home and avoid these excursions into fantastic worlds, both ordinary and otherworldly. It becomes difficult to reach for a story with all the noise of Real Life clamoring on the edges of our consciousness, threatening us with the spectre of “not enough time”.

Nevertheless, for those who wish to get back to it, I have five tips to make it easier to get back to traveling.

1. Audio books

Everyone is busy. Finding the time to get anything done can be a challenge. From obligations, to desires, to necessities, it can be difficult to fit it all in around the rush of chores and commutes and commitments.

There is an option for people who want to do two things at once; audio books leave your hands free. If you’re able to listen while you fold laundry, cook dinner, or drive to work, you have plenty of time that can be used to find out what happens next in any book of your choice.

For anyone who listens to podcasts, this is a great option. It’s just a matter of switching content, rather than form. This is not to say that you need never listen to a podcast again, but if you’re feeling starved for the experience of reading a book, you don’t have to rearrange your entire life to find a way to fit it in.

Even better, if you’re willing to read something a little bit older, plenty of people make use of works that are out of copyright to make audio books, and upload them for free on YouTube! Rather than signing up for a service like Audible right off the bat, try The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
or an Edgar Allen Poe story first.

2. Ebooks

Others, like me, might find the idea of someone reading to them grating. I grew up with my father reading me The Hobbit and Harry Potter and Alice in Wonderland, while I had a few Maurice Sendak stories on tape and an audio book of My Father’s Dragon I love my father’s reading voice best. I’m not willing to trade the experience in for anyone else. I’d rather hear the stories in my own head, than aloud in someone else’s voice. But that doesn’t mean I’m out of options.

Despite the fact that ebooks lack much of the tactile experience of book books, that doesn’t mean they must be dismissed entirely out of hand. If you’re trying to read something really thick, like David Graeber’s Debt, the first 5000 years which clocks in at a whopping 700-odd pages, you might not want to carry it around in your bag on the off chance you find some time to read a few pages.

Likewise, on a crowded commuter train or bus, you don’t necessarily want to pull out a book of any size, wrestling with your bag, finding a comfortable position to hold it, worrying that you’ll poke someone around you with the corners, or, perhaps worst of all, fearing someone might read the cover of the book and judge you or attempt a conversation with you about it. It’s a minefield. Ebooks provide a clever way around those problems.

I read most of Victor LaValle’s The Devil in Silver on my tablet going to and from campus during my last semester at school. However, I also read bits and piece of it, and Bruce Sterling’s Pirate Utopia on my phone when there wasn’t room to pull my tablet out, or I was running errands that didn’t require me to bring it along. Most ebook services, be they from Google, Amazon, Apple, or someone else, will let you sync your current page across devices, so you can pick up where you left off, regardless of which device you were reading on at the time.

3. Change your habits

Reading ebooks on you phone brings me to my most important point: don’t just change how you read, but what you read.

The average American spends approximately two hours a day on social media.1 That’s a lot of time. Most of the time you’re on social media, you’re reading something whether it is tweets, facebook statuses, or captions for cute cat pictures.

I’m not here to rail against social media. But if you put your ebook app next to Facebook, or Twitter, or Instagram, whichever app is your vice of choice, you’ll be giving yourself the option to choose whether you want to look at pictures of a vacation you didn’t take, food you haven’t eaten, or people you haven’t spoken to, or whether you want to take a trip somewhere you’ve never been, eat food you’ve never encountered, or meet people you’d never be able to meet.

You don’t have to replace social media with books completely, even if you just spent half as long on social media, you’d be reading seven more hours a week than before. That’s a lot of reading.

4. Start small

Maybe seven hours won’t let you read all of Umberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum (600+ pages), you might not even be able to get through all of Douglas Adams’ Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency — but you can probably finish three stories from Raymond Carver’s collection, Cathedral.

It can be daunting to face down an entire book or novel when you’ve been out of the reading game for a while. But that’s why we have poetry, short stories, and essays. There are plenty of stories which will transport you which can be read in seven hours. You might try Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities which will take you to a new city with every page turn. Or you could read the short stories of Robert W. Chambers (which are in the public domain), or discover the absolute genius of Victor LaValle’s The Ballad of Black Tom which is only 100 pages.

Equally you could read the essays of James Baldwin, or enjoy the desolate road trip in Sasha West’s poetry collection Failure and I Bury the Body. The worlds of poetry and short fiction are sterling examples of the adage “Less is more.” They have the added benefit of helping you get used to traveling. It’s a weekend in New York City or New Hampshire, rather than a week long stay in Paris. Once you’ve whet your palate with the more manageable reading lengths, you’ll be ready to launch yourself headfirst back into novels, biographies, and history books.

5. Set goals

Everyone has a bit of a competitive streak in them. Maybe you have a friend you challenge to seemingly impossible tasks (like who can read the longest book), maybe you have a coworker whom you look up to because they seem to be able to do it all — and then some, or maybe you like to push yourself to achieve new markers of success. Not everyone is up for the quantification of their lives, but humans love to watch numbers increase.

With that in mind, maybe you set yourself a goal of how many pages you want to read a day, or how many books you want to read a month, or you have a list of “Great Books” you’d like to read before you die. But give yourself something to work towards, because sometimes, the most satisfying part of a reading experience, is finishing the book. As someone with a tendency to read political and economic theory, there are lots of books I read with the goal of finishing them. The experience is always entertaining and illuminating, but there are stretches where I find myself thinking “just 10 more pages to the next section, just 5 more pages, just 3 more…” and then I put the book down and go do something else, like watch TV or take a walk while the information percolates.

Personally, I set myself a goal of finishing 50 books by the end of the year. I decided to exclude graphic novels, but I’ve allowed myself to include poetry collections. I look at my list and I’m proud to say that with 33 books read I’m over halfway through, although I can still see myself sliding in under the wire on December 31st, to get to that sought after fifty.

What I like about my arbitrary numeric goal is that it leaves me free to read whatever I want. I’ve also let myself include books I started reading years ago, but never finished. At the same time, I’m pushing myself to read more fiction, rather than only theoretical nonfiction.

Your goals don’t have to be immediately clear. You’ll find that the more reading you do, the more motivated you are to do certain types of reading. The loveliest part of coming back to reading is remembering the joy of the process. With every book you read, you learn something new about yourself, and you are reminded of the places you’ve always wanted to go; literary fiction, historical fiction, geopolitical analysis, science fiction, historic essays.

So, take what you will from these little tidbits. Get back to reading, and give yourself the time to get away from Real Life. Go somewhere you’ve never been, eat something you’ve never heard of, meet some people who you’d never be able to meet otherwise.

Ride share Profiles I

L.

08 October 2017, Lyft.

It’s dark, and I don’t notice what kind of car she drives. I think it’s silver, and I know it’s some kind of four door sedan. As always, I’m entranced by the weird little bulbous LED screen that Lyft provides its drivers. The tail end of my friend’s name scrolls across and I inform her that I’m not Eric, although I am the person who will be taking the ride. In the dark, I spot a flash of a tattoo on her arm; it’s the triforce from the Legend of Zelda games.

Driving through the greater Boston metro area at night is one of my favorite experiences. I say I’m trying to catch the last train to Providence, because I have work the next morning. She asks me what I do and I explain that it’s a part time gig working in a bookstore. I’m looking for work, I tell her. What do you hope to do? I studied journalism, I say.

I assume she doesn’t drive for Lyft full time and ask what she does outside of this work. She corrects me, kindly, and I apologize. It’s good money, she says.

I ask her what she would be doing if she could do anything, and she tells me she studied to be a jeweler. She had an agreement to take on an apprenticeship, but it fell through, because the jeweler she would have been apprentice to is moving into the holiday season and doesn’t have time to take her on.

I tell her I’m also hoping to get experience before moving into a more freelance position. We’re both newly graduated, although we both seem like non-traditional graduates. She tells me that she’s completed all her classes and walked in the spring, but that she couldn’t pay for the last two classes, so her degree is being held hostage by the university.

Without a degree, she can’t find work. The car is dark, and we’re both facing forward, and under the passing street lights we take confession. We share our fears about moving to a big city, without a job, merely because we know that’s where the jobs are. Even entry level positions require 3 years experience, she says. In the dark, I nod. As we’re getting on the freeway, Fall Out Boy’s Just One Yesterday starts playing on her radio, and I think about the time I spent away from school.

Making rent in Boston is scary, she tells me. I tell her that I think I’m going to have to find work in Idaho. Maybe it’s time to do things that scare me, she says. Maybe so, I think.

Her degree was more theoretical, than practical. Though she studied jewelry, her program had no prerequisites, and so she would find herself in advanced classes with a bunch of beginner students, which would stymie her opportunity to learn more technical aspects. She spent her education making fashion jewelry, the showy, and sometimes cumbersome, pieces that we’re might be familiar with from the runway, or in galleries. It’s not the sort of thing one would wear in a regular situation.

She had hoped to start her apprenticeship while still in school. But at the time she was working part time, going to school, and driving for Lyft, which was already difficult to manage, adding the apprenticeship would have been impossible.

If she can’t get an apprenticeship, there’s a school in San Francisco she is interested in. Without the apprenticeship, she can’t get a job. If she can’t get the apprenticeship, more school will have to do.

When we pull up to south station, we wish each other luck.

The name for the doing : a moment of narrative silence in Lucha Underground

In “Pops and Promos: speech and silence in Professional Wrestling,” Claire Warden1 examines the ways in which narrative context is established or disrupted, and power is negotiated through the inclusion or exclusion of speech.

In episode thirty-three of season one of Lucha Underground, we see another moment for the record books. Following an interruption of action weeks earlier, where Vampiro left his post at the commentary desk and entered the ring to keep Pentagon, Jr from breaking Sexy Star’s arm, Pentagon returns in this episode to call Vampiro out and challenge him to enter the ring again, to face him.

Vampiro stands up and while the crowd is going wild, chanting “Vampiro” and “Lucha! Lucha!” the usual steady presence for the audience at home from the commentary desk is silent. Obviously, Vampiro is not in a position to provide commentary, but Matt Striker is completely silent.

The experience is completely disorienting for the viewer once-removed from the action. As Warden says of the moment when Nexus embroiled themselves in a match between John Cena and CM Punk in a 2010 Viewer’s Choice match of Raw, “The absence of commentary is obvious and disconcerting. In fact, the silence compels the television spectator to heed sounds often masked by the narration – bodies slamming on the mat, incredulous boos from the crowd, wrestlers talking.”2 Between the two commentators, Striker is the one to provide a balanced perspective. He is the voice of (relative) calm and reason, and most committed to providing a play-by-play of the action, and grounding the visual in a coherent narrative sequence. Without Striker’s descriptive structure, the television viewer is left at the mercy of the tension between Vampiro and Pentagon, Jr and the crowd of “believers” in the Temple.

The question of kayfabe is largely at rest,  even interruptions are recognized as scripted; the commentators, even when surprised, are quick to adapt to them.

With Vampiro standing head-to-head (literally) with Pentagon, Jr, and Matt Striker completely silent, there is real uncertainty about what is going to happen next. The crowd suddenly seems to have real power: their chants of “Vampiro” move the commentator forward, bringing him closer to Pentagon, and to the ring.

The power structures of the league are suddenly thrown into question as the mediating force of commentary is made visible through its absence. Usually, Vampiro, through his excitement of the moment, parallels the fans, and Matt Striker’s narrative commentary creates expectations within the audience and guides their attention to various parts of the action.

Without those that guidance, suddenly it is the will of the crowd versus the management provided by referee. The silence makes it impossible to guess which of the two will win out.

In Warden’s description of the aftermath of the Nexus invasion of the Cena-CM Punk match, which saw the commentators become victims of the violence, she says, “The silence not only brings a distinct feeling of realism to the segment, but it also leaves the audience unanchored in a sea of violent, destructive images.”3 The destruction is absent in the (apparently) narrowly avoided clash between Vampiro and Pentagon, Jr. But when Vampiro sits backdown, and Matt Striker’s voice finally returns, he sounds shaken, calling for a cut to commercial – cutting the television audience out, forcing the gaze away from the action – and his final words before he pulls his headset off (the last image before the cut to commercial) is him asking Vampiro if he’s alright.

The sequence effectively creates that same “distinct feeling of realism” that Warden described. It underscores the real emotional engagement that can be generated for an audience removed from the spectacle, and the importance of the narrative commentary in shaping the action in (and out) of the squared circle.



  1. Broderick Chow, EEero Laine, and Claire Warden, Performance and professional wrestling (Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge, 2017), 17-25. 
  2. Ibid. 24. 
  3. Ibid. 24. 

2017.03.23: “THIS IS AWESOME”

Last night I watched 6 or so episodes of El Rey Network’s Lucha Underground. I have never watched wrestling before. l pretty much decided to give Lucha Underground a shot because of my intense respect and love for Robert Rodriguez .

I’m still trying to decide what I think of the show. I have no idea how it compares to wrestling generally, but even as a contained entity I am struggling to identify and categorize my opinions.

One part of me wants immediately to write about the folding chair as an image of betrayal, unconstrained violence, and evidence of a lack of honor. At the same time, I am not familiar with the role of props in the unfolding of narrative morality in wrestling in general. I am vaguely aware that prop usage is a part of wrestling, because of the way it is lampooned in other cultural documents. There is also a continuity of wrestling history and character evolution which I can only be aware of missing; the color commentary is designed to compensate for audience ignorance but I get the sense that some of the narrative is intended to recast familiar actors / characters in new ways.

Another part of me wonders if something can be understood about the American psyche – especially politically – from this popular pageantry. Much is being made of the difference between performance action and real intent currently in politics. Wrestling is a crash course in per formative action. No one is supposed to be seriously injured, people aren’t necessarily even really being hit in to face. Not to mention that a good bad guy is as necessary as an honorable hero. Rehashing old grudge matches and communicating a continuity of character and personality through opposition and through one’s opponents is an integral part of generating and maintaining narrative in the ring.

Finally, I wonder about how the Mexican aspect of Lucha Underground creates a complex politics within a medium known for its popularity, on American television, with white, rural and working class people. Here, mistrust is built through ceceo and honor is conveyed and conferred through machismo and everything pays respect to the tradition of lucha which goes back to the Aztecs. Not to mention the luchadores hailing from outside the United states introduced with the full description of their cities and states in Mexico. Every thing is made bilingual, multicultural, and political. Will the Mexican fighters get their visas to enter the country legally to compete? What about the barriers of wrestling as a historic and cultural institution and the lucha that so many people fight every day in the streets? How should women be treated when they step into the ring?

I don’t know if my new engagement with this is the first step on the road to matching the WWE or if this is another blip in the long list of new media artefacts that I have explored in the past year. Mostly, I hope that Prince Puma makes it through and that Chavo Guerrero Jr gets knocked down hard – preferably with a folding chair.

Is 80% “good enough”? Thoughts on Internet Penetration is Franklin County

Yesterday in the car, driving along Route 47, my friend said, “Wow, Sunderland really is just a lot of land.”

As a student at a large state university, it is strange to think about my current home as being “rural”. Nevertheless, that is exactly what it is, don’t let the pizza place or the laundromat fool you. The stretch of land between routes 116 and 47 is farmland, when it’s been cultivated or put to use at all.

The definition is elusive for the reason that many things are in New England, unless you’re overlooking the ocean; it’s hard to see much of anything at all with all the hills and trees interrupting your vision. The university helps hide it as well. The migrant population of tens of thousands of young bodies is reason enough for a reasonably extensive public transit system and provides more than enough indenture to build and maintain any number of housing complexes, which cause little related businesses to sprout up to attend to the needs they create (like pizza and laundry).

Without thinking about the landscape at all I’ve been contemplating what it means to be a rural area. In a fit of frustration about the cost of our telecoms utilities, I started looking to see if there were alternatives to our current subscription.

In the process, I visited BroadbandNow, a site which bills itself as a consumer interest group, looking to provide information on the services and available to a person in every county in every state in the US. Of the three options in Franklin County, in Western MA, only  one provider achieves the minimum download speed necessary for “broadband internet”. The FCC has set “broadband” speed as a minimum of 25 Mbps (megabits per second) download speed and a 3 Mbps upload speed. Xfinity by Comcast is your only choice if you want broadband internet. Their promotional first year rate is approximately $35/mo. if you keep their service for over a year, it goes up to nearly $90/mo.

comcast pricing-Recovered
Graphic displaying promotional vs. actual internet subscription rates from Comcast.

The thing that got me stuck on this issue is from the little factoids that run along the side of the BroadbandNow website when you look up a particular region. There’s a little box there that reads, “Approximately 5,000 people in Franklin County don’t have access to any wired internet.” It’s unclear if the other number, 14,000, which is the number of people who don’t have access to internet with a speed of 25 Mbps or higher, is inclusive of the 5,000 who don’t have any wired internet at all. To a degree, I’m not entirely sure that it matters. What I can tell you, from looking at the maps of “underserved” or “unserved” towns, is that Wendell, MA, 33 minutes away from the University by car, has no cable or DSL at all. Leverett, 13 minutes away, and Shutesbury, 19 minutes away, have only partial DSL, and no cable internet at all.

If you overlay the maps of the underserved towns, over the map of wireless broadband access, you’ll see that most of Franklin County only has mobile wireless.

I don’t know for absolutely sure, but I imagine that this is what it means to feel left out of the political conversation. The Internet was supposed to be the wave of the future; this was going to connect everyone to everyone else, make us all equals in a massive interconnected conversation. But, in this, as in most things, it seems that some are more connected, and more equal, than others.