This weekend marked the end of the the New York Times Magazine’s Meh List, a feature for which I have been the chief columnist for the last two years. Writing The Meh List takes up approximately five minutes of my week. (My real job is as the magazine’s digital editor.) But The Meh List is in print. The Meh List has my byline. Therefore, for the purposes of my ninety-year-old grandmother, The Meh List was my job. When I told her last week during our family’s Rosh Hashanah gathering that the Meh List was about to end, she waited until we had parted ways to unload her concern onto my mother. “No more Meh List?” Grammy asked her. “Then how will her bosses be able to be judge how well Sam is doing her job?”
As a farewell to The Meh List, here are eight voicemails from my grandmother about my Big Important Job that is no more, to be published on a medium that she does not understand and does not care to.
March 30, 2013, when I handed over the reins to someone who cares about the Mets for our annual Mehts List Hi Sam, it’s your Grammy. The magazine has meh, but it doesn’t have Sam. I’m sure you know that. But you didn’t tell me. So tell me what it means. That’s it. Bye. Anything connected with my Sam I need to know. Bye. Love.
I don’t know what men are made of, though a song I love begins: “Some people say a man is made out of mud.” Perhaps the dust of Eden got wet with the kiss of the Lord and made mud, and from that Adam was made, but that’s not what Tennessee Ernie Ford meant when he sang “a poor man’s made out of muscle and blood.”
“Sixteen Tons” is the anthem of the working stiff. Ford didn’t write the song and he wasn’t the first to record it, but his version from 1955 has worked its way into the assembly-line-addled ears and labor-worn hearts of workers ever since. Whatever a man is actually made of, saying he’s made of “muscle and blood and skin and bones, a mind that’s weak a back that’s strong” is acknowledging that’s what the world has made him into, and that righteous lament is why the song’s still so popular.
I thought of “Sixteen Tons” the other day while listening to Lorde’s “Royals.”
People drop things on the Internet and run all the time. So we have to ask. In this edition, BuzzFeeᴅ Executive Editor Doree Shafrir tells us more about the pitfalls of packing and unpacking and constantly moving from one apartment to the next.
Just found a stuffed manila envelope labeled "2006 crap." Moving is so fun. pic.twitter.com/0Ob4GrstLM
— Doree Shafrir (@doreeshafrir) September 20, 2014
Doree! So what happened here?
When I moved out of the apartment I shared with my then-boyfriend in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, in 2009, I got rid of my huge file cabinet and threw everything that had been in there into two storage boxes. They sat in the back of the closet TB and I shared in Carroll Gardens; when TB and I broke up, they moved into a closet in a different apartment in Fort Greene; when New York and I broke up, they found a home in the back of a closet in my new apartment in Los Angeles. It wasn’t until last week, when I was packing up my apartment to move in with my current boyfriend, that I decided it was time to excavate whatever was in those boxes.
I was thirteen when I first saw a comic glance at his notes on stage, and I remember wondering why I was surprised to see this. Did you think he was making all this up on the spot? I asked myself. Well, I guess I did. Years later, when I began regularly attending comedy shows and would end up seeing the same set a dozen times a year, I began to have a similar feeling. What, I again asked myself, did you think comedians come up with a new routine for every show? Well, I guess I did. After all, isn’t that the rouse that so many standups employ in their act, that this is all a spontaneous, one-sided conversation?
Young fans of standup inevitably go through these revelations. At some point, we develop the moxie to learn that the character a comedian is on stage isn’t necessarily who they are off-stage (though sometimes they can be, for good or ill). Even though I’m a child of the indie-comedy generation, I still have no problem accepting a certain amount of theater and artifice in someone’s set.
Though if that’s the case, why do we get so punk-rock preachy at the idea of a standup comedian not writing their own jokes?
I was obsessed with movies and television as a child. So obsessed that I’d spend hours quoting dialogue, singing Wizard of Oz songs, trying to force a British accent (alone), all while telling myself—in the A&E Biography narrator’s voice—that I was the next Judy Garland.
Actually, I liked to tell myself that Harrison Ford or Tommy Lee Jones—who would obviously eventually come to see me as a daughter —would stumble upon me during one of my Broadway renditions and pluck me from my boring suburban life, casting me in every movie they signed on for.
The A&E Biography episode went a little something like this:
“And when Harrison Ford found himself on the mean streets of Cambridge, Ontario,” the narrator would say, “and he heard the sweet notes of ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow,’ he knew he had found the next Judy Garland.”
I have no idea why either actor would be in Ontario, or why out of every child actor they’d compare me to Judy Garland, but this meet cute was merely an indicator of my delusions of grandeur —delusions necessary in sustaining any career in the arts, but especially in fueling a burgeoning acting career. Which is why, ten years later, when I asked for an agent, my parents said told me I could spread my wings and fly.
Funny videos on the internet come from a plethora of sources, from established internet studios to TV networks to independent comedians. But how do comedy production studios fund their internet comedy videos? There’s no simple answer. In fact, one of the first answers I heard was “Our funding comes from everywhere.”
However, as I talked to representatives from CollegeHumor, Funny or Die, Jash, Above Average, UCB Comedy, and Comedy Central, a lot of common themes came forward. Branded content funds more than you think. YouTube revenue funds less than you think. Comedy studios, like everyone else, earn money so they can fund passion projects. Incubating new talent is also a huge part of comedy work, and that adds an extra line to the budget.
So let’s take a closer look at how some of the major comedy production studios fund their internet comedy videos, as well as how a few indie comedy teams gets work done.
I might lose my job. Might. For the most part the decision is up to me. I took a risk and accepted a nine-month limited term position with a governmental organization for a huge pay raise, amazing benefits, and “experience”. It’s flexible, and there are a lot of young professionals (outside my department) that have become my friends. BUT. But. The job blows. Blows so hard it’s making me re-think my career choice in general. It’s nothing like the job description I interviewed for. Plus the management is awful (awful!), there’s a big language barrier and potential for the project I’m working on to fail (due to unrealistic timeframe on the consultant side). I have little work to do and most is secretarial. I’m a little distracted, maybe unmotivated, and tired. The position is coming to an end and I’m not sure how much I want to fight for it. After speaking with HR, it appears that management is looking to me for an answer but it needs to be more than just a “yea, sure… staying sounds good.” I have two months left.
“Pesto is the quiche of the eighties.” Haha, that’s a line from a movie I just saw for the first time. The pesto of this decade is…other kinds of pesto.
Pesto originally comes from Genoa, in northern Italy, where the specific ingredients and preparation were codified sometime in the sixteenth century. That kind of pesto—made with basil leaves, garlic cloves, pine nuts, Parmigiano Reggiano and Pecorino sardo, along with a fair amount of olive oil—is still by far the most popular, though its proper name now, in a world of many types of pesto, would be pesto alla genovese.
Most Italian dishes have, like, four ingredients max, but if one of them is even the tiniest bit different from the way Caesar liked his, it is no longer correct. For example, the Pecorino sardo in pesto alla genovese is not the same as Pecorino Romano, and only a fool would use Romano in place of sardo *shakes fingers as if trying to fling drops of water onto whoever is in front of me*. Anyway, pesto is made in a mortar and pestle, traditionally. (“Pesto” comes from the same root as pestle, as does the word “paste.”) The Italian mortar and pestle, like the French, is typically marble, and the ingredients are crushed in a circular grinding pattern, unlike, say, the “pok pok” smashing method of Thailand.
Now that you’re up to date on the true history of authentic pesto, let’s cheerfully cast that all aside. Pesto, to my modern, non-Italian mind, means nothing more than a paste of herbs and oil, sometimes with other things added, and I always have at least three or four kinds in my freezer; I rarely cook anything without some form of it. Right now, as the summer turns to fall, we are in the dying throes of herb season. Herbs are summer to me, and their aromatic compounds are most potent when they are fresh—not grown in a greenhouse in Argentina, not after a few days of wilting in your fridge. Raw leaves do not normally freeze well (they become soggy and gross when defrosted). But, when mashed into a pesto, they freeze SPECTACULARLY. So now is the time to get out the food processor (or mortar and pestle if you want, but I certainly don’t) and make enormous batches of several kinds of pesto, which you can use to add a hit of summer freshness to food all through the shitty awful nigh-endless winter we’re sure to have, again.
“You don’t have to speak Italian, it’s completely fine. Non ti preoccupare.”
The fact that my boss couldn’t get through the entire reassurance in English should have been a tip off. But it wasn’t. I accepted the job, an offer almost too good to be true: myself and my first-ever Serious Boyfriend would be working in Italy for a now-defunct government program that sent Italian government officials’ children away from them for a few weeks every summer.
A regular summer camp in most of its programming, we would teach English for three hours total each day. In return, we would be housed, fed, paid, and free to roam the Italian national park where the camp was located. “If you’re working, try to keep it professional, you know. No more than three glasses of wine with lunch,” my future boss—a British man named Peter who sounded like he was kind and handsome—had said on the phone. It was really and truly too much.
Kara Stone makes the games she wants to play. A Toronto-based artist, her primary mediums are interactive films and video games; her first game, Medication, Meditation was a Kill Screen Playlist Pick. Her latest, Sext Adventure, was recently chosen to be showcased at Indiecade.
Users playing Sext Adventure will find themselves sexting with an automated bot. The results of your sexting adventure are entirely up to you—the bot’s responses vary wildly. There is no way to predict the outcome of the game. Sext Adventure was designed to give the bot its own consciousness, personality, and sexuality as players progress. The bot can even reject its sexuality altogether, if it so chooses.
I first played Sext Adventure at a Dames Making Games event, where I was working on my own project. Together with Nadine Lessio, who coded the txtr engine Sext Adventure was built on, Kara had been working on her project all weekend, and everyone was excited to try the demo. When we finally got to test it for ourselves, the room went silent as we hunched over our phones, sexting a bot, the only sounds a few nervous giggles.
Kara aimed to make a game that explores issues of technology, gender, and digital intimacy. She’s part of a growing number of female developers, such as anna anthropy, Zoe Quinn, and merritt kopas, amongst others, who are making video games on their own terms. Their games explore depression and illness, gender and sexuality, feminist issues like objectification and harassment.
Often, these games are maligned by mainstream game press and players as “not-games.” I have no use for that bullshit. These are all video games, and all the more important because people don’t want to see them as such.
I had the chance to speak with Kara at Bento Miso earlier this month. We talked about gaming, gender, sex, mental health, and exactly what qualifies as a game.