Gimme A Break!

by lizard

In what I think was her first featured piece at the Indy, Molly Laich outed herself as a weed-addicted slacker. The article personal essay (thanks, Erika ;), titled Forgetting Mary Jane, read like confessional journal writing.

I remember thinking it was strange that this stoner confessional was run as a feature piece. It must have been around this time (September, 2011) when the new editor, Robert Meyerowitz, was getting familiar with his new terrain.

I also remember thinking how unfortunate the timing of the “article” was with all the medical marijuana wrangling going down among fear-mongering legislators who would rather drive drunk than craft sane legislation.

Anyway, Robert Meyerowitz has once again subjected readers of the Missoula Independent to Molly Laich’s failure-to-launch journaling project, featured front and center in this week’s issue. I’m beginning to wonder if Meyerowitz is part of a grand conspiracy to make my generation look like whining, perpetually entitled adolescents incapable of growing up.

The title of the piece is “Gimme Shelter”. No, not this article about the Poverello Center written in April of 2007. This is an altogether different story about being without a home.

For many college graduates, home after college is often a parents home. Molly is no exception, enduring a crappy job that took 6 months to find.

I did a lot of cringing reading this story. Molly writes about her mother, who works long hours as a paralegal (who is providing her shelter), saying “Here’s what life looks like when you make all the wrong choices”. Then, a few paragraphs later, she writes about taking $500 in birthday gifted cash from her mother, and spending it all at REI in anticipation of her tenuous housing situation when she returns to Missoula:

A voice inside me says I should go to the REI in Troy, Mich., and spend all $500 of the birthday money my mom gave me on backpacking equipment. “How much for a hiking backpack, a sleeping bag and a tent?” I ask.

The floor salesman tells me he can get me into a pack, gladly. The people at REI are always trying to get you into a pack. Also, goose down sleeping bags.

“What’s the vegan position on goose down?” I ask. “Oh, they’re against it,” he says, so I go with synthetic.

There are all these questions:

“What kind of a trip are you planning on taking?”

“I don’t know.”

“How long will you be out?”

“I don’t know.”

“For your tent, are you looking to sleep one or two people?”

I tell him I’m planning for a moment in my future that I’ve seen in my dreams, when I won’t have a home. Luckily, he thinks I’m kidding and we’re spared the heaviness.

The night before I set out to leave Michigan forever, I have a breakdown. I have a few couches in Missoula to sleep on, but the housing situation is tentative at best. There’s the money I saved. Still, it will never be enough. I got blonde highlights in April, but who will love me in June when my roots start showing? Every morning I spit blood in the sink from my gums. It’s troubling. What if I fall off a mountain or get my foot caught in a trap?

The cringe factor here is at about an 8 for me. Then Molly returns to Missoula, and it hits 10.

Before getting to that, I should mention this is the first post I’ve ever been asked to write. I was asked to write about Molly’s story because in writing this story Molly has made some people pretty upset, and with just cause, which is this:

There’s a house on Missoula’s south side filled with radicals and secrets. A beautiful, frightening girl with strong arms and a septum piercing says I can rent the laundry room for $100 a month, under the condition that I never write about the house. It stings, but I agree.

Molly then proceeds to violate that one condition of her stay at this secret, radical place, seemingly without shame.

Shameless entitlement is too often a generational characteristic I see in my peers. With Molly, it reaches an almost comic level, like when she uses Facebook to beg for stuff:

In a gift economy, we work for the sake of work and we gain status the more we’re able to give away. I use Facebook to take the gift economy out for a spin. My status updates become a list of demands. I try to couch them in charming rhetoric, but I’m just a beggar: I need a yoga mat. I need a bike. I need a ride to and from the drop-off point to go tubing. I need a ride to the movies to see a terrible movie so I can write a review for the paper.

People are happy to help when they can, and I begin to think of myself as a good person for affording my friends the opportunity to be so generous. I have nothing to offer in return but my company. I can workshop your poem? I can write you a news article? I can wait here with the tubes while the car you put gas into powers you back to the drop-off point?

11?

At least Molly is honest when she finally admits she has never known want. But then she goes on to describe how she uses her food stamps, and I have to wonder if this is some kind of sick, twisted performance art:

To be clear: I don’t know anything about real want. If I run out of money, I can call my mother and she’ll deposit double whatever I ask for into my bank account. She still pays my cellphone bill, based on the shared lie that she needs to in order to keep in contact with me, like if I didn’t use my iPhone to call my mother I would have no need for such a device. She tells me that 30 is the new 19. She refers to this time in my life as an “adventure,” which I consider only a little condescending.

I apply for food stamps and they arrive in my post office box a week later. On the application, you can either put down a home address or just describe where you live. You’re supposed to feel bad about buying junk food with food stamps, but it’s the decadent salads and green smoothies I purchase every day at Good Food Store that rack me with guilt. Like, people on welfare don’t deserve to get a jump-start on the day? Before too long it flips and I start thinking, “Why can’t I pay my late fees at Hastings with my food stamps? This is bullshit.”

Wow.

Read the whole piece if you can stand it. It’s the cringe-iest example of entitlement I think I’ve ever read. Thanks Meyerowitz!

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to go buy a copy of today’s Missoulian so I can read me some George Ochenski.

________________

POEM FOR MOLLY

if sour is upon these words
by the air-flicking tongue of lizard
if some anonymous esophagus belches bitter breath
over food stamp smoothies
and exploiting anarchist housing
it is only because a hypocrite’s cartilage
bends his bones—
so what if demands for shelter echo from educated hallways
to be from there, maybe that carries
no responsibility at all
maybe trafficking words for a shady editor
is what it’s all about
competing in the shout arena
where we all sing the same song called
LOOK AT ME!
looking deeper you tried to put away the revelry, to abstain
and it is not easy
as you fashion for your readers a convenient spear
gleaming in the neon glow of the Golden Rose
among sad souls doing whatever to get by before sunrise
when the assholes of blogland rise to rant
pant-less with mushroom peckers in repose
carpal tunneling scrolls of blog upon small screens
and it is not easy
floating life’s shifting winds
call these trends of weather man-made or just heart-sick
who am I to say?
call every moment a sentence pretends to hold
the bursting of a star
like a car and its passengers the moment before
collision
the moment everything changes in an instant
and words fall like complex filaments
to an unreceptive
earth

—William Skink


  1. Wow! Is all I can say. I just posted a comment at Naked Capitalism about the Occupy gathering in Philly on July 4 and a great site called primitivetimes.com. In the video on “visioning” a gift society i.e. non-exchange based economy is mentioned. Then I read about this grifter. It’s pretty disgusting.

  2. Richard Fifield

    Lizard–I cringe because of your bitterness. Let it go. It’s unhealthy.

  3. Erika

    Hmmm. Somebody doesn’t get what a personal essay is… Try reading any other alt-weekly in the country and you’ll find confessional creative non-fiction similar to this story. This, like all of Molly’s other essays, isn’t meant to be an “article” or a story about the Poverello Center. It’s silly to criticize something for not being what it’s not meant to be in the first place. “At least Molly is honest when she finally admits she has never known want…” Uh yeah. That’s the way these stories usually work — the author lets you in on their flaws as the story unfolds. I’m puzzled that you apparently haven’t read enough essays to recognize this kind of story arc. Also, you missing George’s column is completely understandable. Different issue, though. Implying that Molly’s story—one that reflects writing trends in other alt-weekly markets–is part of some conspiracy going on at the paper is an illogical diversion. It’s an editor’s prerogative to add new voices. Don’t like the story? That’s cool–you’re not the only one. But plenty of people–including several renowned writers in the Missoula community–do like it. Go read some personal essays, take a literary criticism class or two and then write a real critical reaction to Molly’s piece. Finally, that would be relevant.

    • lizard19

      I get that alt-weeklies are trying to stay relevant by appealing to the demographic Molly’s “personal essay” represents. other alt-weeklies are trying different things as well, so there are options for how to adapt.

      I don’t agree with this particular editor’s prerogative to feature Molly’s personal creative non-fiction confessional essay pieces because the content of her writing has the potential for negative consequences.

      you may not consider this a “real” critical reaction to Molly’s piece, but I think the media surrounding issues being debated and legislated (like Medicinal Marijuana) can have significant impact on public opinion, which directly affects the shaping of our laws.

      Molly’s interpretation of what a gift society could be, for example, will affect someone who has never heard of the concept before. I wonder what they will think about a gift society if they think it means asking people for goods and services through facebook.

      and Molly’s use of her SNAP benefits is another example, describing a critical safety net service for tens of millions of people as a means of getting expensive salads and smoothies at the Good Food Store. the knives are out for foodstamps, and this kind of depiction won’t help advocates protect it from cuts.

      if you don’t find these concerns relevant, well, you are certainly entitled to your opinion, Erika. I do appreciate the feedback.

      oh, and that conspiracy comment was snark, by the way ;)

      • Erika

        @Lizard. I appreciate your response. One of the divisions here is simply taste: some people don’t like Molly’s writing style and some do. But you addressed something else interesting, and that has to do with social responsibility. I think especially with Molly’s marijuana piece there was some division amongst readers about if the subject matter of someone’s personal story actually impacts sensitive political arenas. And if it does, who’s responsible? At some point, as readers, shouldn’t we take responsibility for being critical thinkers? Or, if writers need to be more responsible in writing about their personal lives, at what cost to their writing?

        You are obviously a connoisseur of writing, so you know that personal essays, especially confessionals, often reveal the gray areas of human experience where integrity falls away, even just a little. Where people make mistakes or have feelings that maybe we don’t approve of. Should we tell people not to write about that in order to make sure those who might read it aren’t aping bad behavior, or in order to preserve an agenda (even if it’s a worthy agenda)? Again, we can differ on the quality of Molly’s writing. But if you’re debating whether a writer should feel free to be open about things that people do (and people definitely use food stamps to buy fancy smoothies or they take money from their parents or lie or break promises or feel existential despair…) it makes me, at least, uncomfortable. It seems like fearful suppression. I expect that from the far right, but I feel like in a progressive arena, people should be able to accommodate other ideas that might end up being challenging to their own sensibilities. I just worry when we start blaming writers and artists for other people’s behavior or people’s choices in, for instance, voting on marijuana legislation. I’m not saying writers can’t influence people, just saying that perhaps our focus should be on people learning to read thoughtfully rather than telling writers they shouldn’t be writing about an experience. Maybe I’m misunderstanding your concern…?

        (Also, I’m sorry I didn’t pick up on the snark, but writers on 4&20 (and not necessarily you) have been throwing around actual crazy conspiracy theories about the Indy in recent months– so, on this blog at least, it’s hard to discern.)

        • lizard19

          I think Molly’s writing style is part of the problem because it flits superficially across too much terrain. the subjects are nothing more than little curiosities toyed with by the author like a raccoon playing with scrap metal. I can see the appeal for those who don’t mind what our diminishing attention spans are capable of processing (or caring about), but it doesn’t work for me, which you’re right, is just a matter of taste.

          social responsibility, on the other hand, is certainly something to consider, and really in that area it’s not what Molly chooses to write about but what Robert Meyerowitz choose to print that bothers me.

          for example, I checked out Molly’s blog this morning, and found this line in her most recent post:

          My boss changed the number of cats but wouldn’t budge on the line that I worry makes it seem like I’m a hooker.

          nice. but for those who have read up a little on Robert Meyerowitz, it’s not surprising. if you follow the link in the post, you can read some of the nice condescending crap Robert had to say about some women in Homer, Alaska (where he was busy doing the same thing he’s now doing at the Indy) who were protesting the run-up to the US invasion of Iraq.

          maybe instead of social responsibility we should think about community responsibility. for newcomers to Missoula like Robert and Molly, I think that’s especially important. hell, I’ve lived here for 12 years, and I’m still very much a newcomer, which is why I’ve stepped in some piles of my own creation myself a few times.

          it happens. and sometimes we even learn from it.

    • Steve W

      Editorial choices are often perceived as good or as bad, Erika.

      Georges’ column going missing was an editorial choice just like the sticky cloying and unreal writing in Molly’s long rambling and ultimately boring story of a selfish person unfulfilled is an editorial choice.

      I just wish the Independent would pay Molly a living wage and put her out of her misery. They could run her a free “Connections” ad and help her find a boyfriend. If their classifieds worked, Molly could ask for free stuff there, but instead even she goes to Facebook.

      It’s really really sad. Whoever thought it would come to this?

      • Erika

        Editorial choices can definitely be perceived as good or bad, clearly. The interesting question is, who decides? You? Me?
        Here’s what I suggest as an example of a poor editorial decision: What if everyone hated Molly’s writing and the Indy kept printing her writing? THAT would be a poor editorial decision. But the truth is, while there might not be anyone in your circle of friends who likes her writing, there are plenty of people who strongly do—from random readers to people well-known in the community. So who’s right? The Indy could either continue running her stories or not, and some group out there would deem it either a good or bad editorial decision.

        Your critique of her lifestyle and faux concern for her getting a boyfriend are condescending in a way I imagine you hope is blow to her ego–but I think that’s just because you find her annoying and don’t identify with her. And your feelings are perfectly legitimate though yours and others’ anger about her lifestyle and viewpoint seem strangely out of proportion to any threat she poses to you or the Indy as a paper. Those who like her writing don’t feel compelled to judge her as a person, they’re just interested in the way she tells her story and some of the subculture she reveals about Missoula.

        • Steve W

          How are her gums, is what I want to know. Are they still bleeding? Cause if they are, she really ought to start flossing.

          Maybe Molly could do a flossing column for the Indy! Now that would be an editorial decision to love or to hate.

    • Just say NO to literary narcissism!

      I find troubling the line of reasoning that this ‘feature’ by Molly is being defended because it’s similar to what other alt weeklies in the country are doing. One, that’s not true, this would have gotten laughed out of any pitch session at a serious alt weekly. Second, this larger conformist notion of Missoula trying to look and feel like all these other places–Portland–gets at the dark underbelly of the town’s evolving self absorption and the extreme levels of poserdom that have consumed it. Molly’s story unconsciously documents the psychology at the heart of this destructive, phony phenomenon. When the only thing to defend a story like this from a literary viewpoint is that ‘well it emulates something cool going on somewhere else,’ it’s entire credibility rests on posing as something it’s not. It’s just literary narcissism.

      • Erika

        My defense of Molly’s stories wasn’t that there are other alt-weeklies doing personal essays. Nor did I claim that we should be emulating other alt-weeklies. I was merely saying that if the question is, Should a personal essay belong in an alt-weekly, it isn’t unheard of: there are examples of that being the case. (And there are plenty of alt weeklies that include personal essay–I read them.)

        Your choice to misconstrue my argument is so common in these comment threads, so I doubt you’ll hear me out. I think you heard what you wanted to hear. I have no interest in the Indy being anything but reflective of the place we live in, though sometimes updating how to approach that includes doing something new– and I believe Molly does that in her own way. I’m guessing you don’t agree, but that’s subjective.

        BTW, that reminds me: Here’s the argument that gets under MY skin that I keep hearing: When people say a personal essay doesn’t belong in the Indy because the Indy hasn’t run personal essays in the past. That, alone, is not a reason to be mad. That seems to be a very rigid idea of what a feature story can be. The very first Indys published are very different from the Independent 10 years ago, which are very different from how it was 5 years ago, and so on. The paper will probably continue to change depending on who’s on staff and who’s editing–that’s pretty natural and should be of no surprise. Critique of those changes is always important, but some reasons (“It hasn’t been done before,” for instance) don’t make logical sense.

  4. JC

    Well, this week’s Indy featured 2 Opinion pieces by Writers on the Range, and only one Up-Front piece. Pre Ochenski-ouster, there were 4 articles — a couple of Up Fronts, Opinion and News pieces, usually only one of which was the syndicated Writers on the Range. So they’re definitely skimping on the word count budget.

    If I wanted to read Writers on the Range regularly, I’d just move High Country News up higher on my browser bookmarks list.

    And let’s just hope that Ari LeVaux’s space doesn’t get farmed out to some other syndicated rubbish.

    As far as Molly Laich’s piece, it is an interesting editorial choice that Indy Editor Robert Meyerowitz is making here. As critical as I’ve been of Meyerowitz, last week’s article on “Apologies Accepted: Making Amends Among the Northern Cheyenne” was more in the vein of articles that made the Indy what it was — so Kudos to Jessica Mayrer for a fine piece. And finally, the Indy under Meyerowitz puts a woman on the cover — enough of the animals and white men that have dominated its design lately.

    Laich’s “personal essay” while admirably a stretch for the Indy, is hardly the material for the featured article space. Maybe the cringe-inducing part of Laich’s essay is that we are used to the Indy doing some dirt digging, and muck-raking, and not delving into personal diary materials of its authors.

    And speaking of making amends, Laich’s article reads like a 5th step to me, (random link on 5th step for those who aren’t versed in 12-step speak) done in the droll self-effacing style that she seems to be embracing, but whatever.

    If she were to tie this piece into her personal recovery story, that would be fine. Few authors are able to translate their recovery experience into a form that non-addicts/alcoholics can stomach.

  5. Jen

    I’m confused about whether we’re mad at Molly because she decided not to get a job for the summer or because she pissed off her housemates or because she previously wrote another personal essay that was twisted into something that pissed off the entire pot smoking community in Missoula. The author of this post mentions all three reasons but focuses mostly on Molly being entitled, lazy, and greedy. I think there’s a little more to it than that. I loved this Indy feature mainly because in certain ways Molly’s situation is similar to mine (so maybe I’m also a terrible person, but whatever). I’ve spent the past 4 months on unemployment (and did I buy myself the equivalent of an overpriced GFS smoothie with my government aid? Sure I did). I just took a position that pays half what I used to make and will probably leave me somewhat reliant on my partner and/or family because I don’t feel like it’d be productive for me or my potential employers for me to take a job that has nothing to do with my field of study. That’s what the social safety net is for, and if Molly would rather rely on help from family, friends and food stamps while she plans her next move (and finishes her novel!) then why judge? I don’t get it. She’s not scamming anybody–she legitimately qualifies for food stamps. She isn’t stealing anything–her friends have things they’re not using; they give them to her. If you don’t like her story, fine–write a letter to the Indy and demand more “muckraking”. Clearly though, this is about something else: you were “asked” to write this post (from what I gather you were asked by her former housemates) and you mention the political ramifications of her first Indy feature. So people have a grudge against Molly and want to discredit her as a writer, that’s clear…I’m just not sure it’s warranted. Seems like there are far better targets for your anger.

  6. Just a few questions. They’re rhetorical.

    What the hell are any of you ever talking about ever?

    JC, why would you think it’s a valuable use of your time to tell an author what you think their essay *should* have been about? And why do you keep putting “personal essay” in quotations? That’s what they are.

    Why would any of you think you have a say in what the Indy chooses to publish?

    How is it you have no familiarity with genres other than blog entries and hard-hitting investigative reporting? Have you considered that it might be a little lazy to reduce any form of memoir to journaling? Do you think Robert and I spend 12 seconds on these things and then we just dump them into the paper as some malevolent afterthought?

    How has it never occurred to any of you that a columnist at a newspaper might be let go for any thousands of reasons not having to do with censorship?

    You believe that my pot essay could have a negative impact on public opinion regarding marijuana laws and therefor it shouldn’t have been published, yes? Do you believe any contrary ideas to your own should be suppressed for the greater good of the movement? Or is it just some ideas.

    Are you under the impression that my mother is rich? She’s a single parent of three kids with a second mortgage and many thousands of dollars of debt, just like everybody else. She sends me money because she loves me, not because she can afford it. With that in mind, I agree that whether or not I should be entitled to SNAP benefits is a valid question worthy of civilized discussion. Should someone who only wants part-time work so she can pursue art be allowed to receive benefits? That would be interesting to talk about.

    I don’t know. You guys seem really angry! Why are you like that?

    • JC

      Nothing rhetorical about many of your questions at all. But you can treat my answers, and reply questions as if they were, though…

      JC, why would you think it’s a valuable use of your time to tell an author what you think their essay *should* have been about? And why do you keep putting “personal essay” in quotations? That’s what they are.”

      Valuable use of my time? This is a blog, Molly. This is where I spend time that isn’t so valuable [/snark].

      As to what I wrote, it was in the vein of a review, hence I feel the liberty to critique as I see fit, including where an author could go with their material. The quotes were for “personal essay” were because I’m not exactly sure that was the intent of the author or the Indy in what is usually a more third person feature space dealing with issues. Other than yourself, I didn’t know that the Indy had begun regularly publishing personal essays as features.

      “Why would any of you think you have a say in what the Indy chooses to publish?”

      Why would you think that we don’t? Actually, we don’t… the Editor can do as he likes, within the discretion of the publisher and owner, damn the opinion of the reading and ad-paying public. Many of us who are criticizing the Indy do so because it is a community asset that many of us have contributed (paid and unpaid) content to, have paid and/or created advertising for, and/or used its services or attended its events. The Indy does not operate in a vacuum. It is a business like any other — subject to the same sorts of critiques as any other.

      If the management of the Indy is at all interested in what the community thinks, then this blog has some information for them. If they aren’t interested, then why do you and other authors and your president bother to come here and comment?

      “I don’t know. You guys seem really angry! Why are you like that?”

      I’m not angry at you Molly. Actually I like your writing. And I believe it has a place in the Indy. What many people are angry about with the Indy as a business, and as a community asset is a series of actions, opinions and beliefs that the management has. If you and/or the INdy wanted to raise the issue of poverty and social safety nets, that would be great. Can’t remember the Indy having done so lateley, though…

      What I am angry with, for instance, is Indy President Matt Gibson’s take on Citizen’s United and corporate first amendment rights. He has come to this blog and argued with me and others about how he thinks that a constitutional amendment denying corporate personhood and first amendment rights is would destroy freedom of the press. I have used the Indy for advertising purposes for myself and many others over the years (and the INdy has used my works or derivatives without attribution or asking for permission over the years — which I’ve mostly been fine with). Now I have to make a decision to forgo that venue, as I don’t want my and others’ ad dollars profiting an individual who may be using them to fight the anti-corporate personhood advocates.

      I’m angry that Editor Robert Meyerowitz has “run off” (not going to get into your rhetorical “thousands of reasons” remark, as many of us in the community probably know a whole ‘nother slew of reasons than those which come from remaining INdy staffers and management) very talented people and seems to be moving the Indy in a direction that much of Missoula finds odd and disconcerting.

      What’s your take on the loss of long time superb photographer Chad Harder? Is Ari LeVaux next, as the Indy seems to be sweeping out its legacy personnel? More syndicated content?

      People are angry with the Indy because they care. Be that as it may, if the Indy ceases to be relevant to a significant segment of Missoula’s residents, alternatives will arise — which was how the Indy arose when the Missoulian began its purge of independent-thinking writers, and did a titanic shift in editorial direction.

    • lizard19

      thanks for stopping by, Molly. I will do my best to address your rhetorical questions.

      regarding what the hell we are ever talking about ever, if you go to the top of the page you will find the answer.

      JC did a good job addressing why people care enough to express opinions about the content of a community resource like the Indy.

      regarding your pot essay, I never said it shouldn’t be published, but I am critical of the editorial decision on how and when to publish it, just like I was critical of the Missoulian’s bizarre obsession with Jason Christ.

      speaking of that pot essay, you really shouldn’t be surprised to discover writing about your illegal drug use under your real name is going to have negative consequences for your job prospects.

      are consequences something you have difficulty understanding, because you seem willfully oblivious to the consequence of angering the people you agreed not to write about.

      we all have to live with the results of the decisions we make. you made a decision to make yourself the subject of a fragmented personal essay chronicling your Missoula summer of toughing it with government subsidized smoothies and clownish anarchists. you made a decision to agree as a condition of your housing not to write about the residents, and then you decided to violate that agreement.

      you are not in a poetry workshop anymore, Molly. you are a struggling writer beginning the well-known process of stepping on others to get ahead. I can’t say I wouldn’t be tempted to do the same if I was in your position. best of luck to you.

      • Jen

        Wow. I’m not entirely sure how you became the “roommate verbal contract police”, or the “teaching Molly about consequences” brigade or the “making sure people only receive food stamps once they’re near starvation and then only buy beans and rice with them” patrol or whatever you think you’re doing with this incredibly condescending response, but hopefully you’ve gotten it out of your system. In my experience, talking to people like willfully disobedient children generally isn’t the best way to get your point across.
        You’re clearly upset about several local issues in Missoula, and it’s a bummer that you’ve chosen to take it out on Molly. I would again posit that there are much more productive outlets for your anger. It comes off as misdirected, strange, and petty here.
        best of luck to you.

  7. Michael

    It seems peculiar to me that someone posting blog entries under the moniker lizard would find themselves qualified to make negative comments on any other writer’s work, with the possible exception of ’50 Shades of Grey.’

    For someone concerned about a generation sounding like “whining, perpetually entitled adolescents incapable of growing up” you have taken well to playing the pot, with Molly as your kettle.

    From what source could you be drawing such vitriol? You sound frustrated, and yet after forcing my way though this “blog” (I thought I would use the unnecessary quotation marks, you made it look so fun), I still can’t grasp why I should care that you’re frustrated. You seem to be going for the role of the aggressor – trying to be mean for the sake of being mean – but it just comes up empty.

    You wear your lack of experience and manners on your sleeve. It would serve you well to do some more reading before doing more writing. It wouldn’t hurt to learn how to be critical of writing without resorting to the basic personal attacks so often found in these kinds of blog posts. Way to fight the stereotype.

    And in conclusion: whatever. I mean, it’s just a stupid blog post. So, good luck to you in the future, um… lizard.

  8. Benji

    This review is kind of terrible. It’s a personal attack, vacillating between general and specific targets, only superficially oriented to address the actual writing and at times nakedly political. (And nobody cares if she writes vague and elliptical descriptions about some quasi-radical flophouse that’s apparently no longer in existence. Except maybe the tenants of selfsame flophouse, or those who wish they were, and who may or may not depend upon an artificial, self-produced gravitas to justify their day-to-day existence. But I digress.) Do we really need to see “I’m-less-privileged-than-you” (Holier than Thou 2.0) journalism? Will Skink needs to further contemplate the difference between a response piece and a thoughtful critical review.

    At least Laich’s stuff is honest.

  9. AB

    @ JC, the asker gets to decide whether a question is hypothetical, fyi.

    You use the word “entitled” over and over–what do you mean by it? That Molly is privileged, that she’s not contributing to society, that she’s taking things that aren’t rightly hers? It’s a lazy buzzword. If you’re going to attack both someone’s writing and their character, the least you can do is be precise.

    Saying Molly’s essay reads like “confessional journaling” is a clever and insidious way of demeaning both her writing ability and the work she put into this piece–kudos! But I think you know better. You may abhor the contents of Molly’s piece, but it’s clear she’s a smarter and more careful writer than you are.

    • JC

      Sure, the commenter gets to ask whatever she wants. It’s our blog, I get to answer however I want. Commenters don’t get to write the rules here.

      As to the rest of your comment, I don’t think it was directed at me, so I won’t reply to it unless you were (mis)directing it at me.

  10. Whatever happened to who, what, where and when journalism? This is just another example of why the Indy is free. No one would pay for it. Also, it doesn’t live up to its name.

  11. C. Johnson

    Congratulations, guys. You figured out reality.

  12. Jesse Casado

    Oh my! how silly. I can’t help be amused by people (persons) that have such a great interest in “our” community. Twelve years must seem like an eternity for someone so blatantly ignorant. Molly Laich, congratulations on what seems to be a great “provocative” essay. Look at the upside; had you written something this “upsetting” back in olden times, you would have been exiled to Siberia for ten to thirty years, (instead of having only hear ridiculous people rant about your writing).

    • Jesse Casado

      But hell, clearly I can’t type ; ) And I only put flowers on four generations of relatives in the local cemetery, so what the hell do I know? Maybe I’m the ignorant one.

      Ignorance is bliss. . . : )

  13. I think that as I read the article, I had essentially the same response as lizard. I think part of it is a personality difference, and only a part of it is really a philosophical problem. I can’t keep away from jobs and it’s been some time since I was unemployed while I could legally work. I imagine, given the response, a lot of Molly’s critics are more like that. I’m not saying one personality type is inherently better, just that its hard to relate between them.

    The real problem, I think, comes with a philosophical difference of opinion, perhaps bred of differing experience. It comes from thinking about those people who have to work the awful jobs so they can give rides, lend bikes, and pay their taxes to pay for the SNAP benefits of those who would rather hold out for a dream job. When employable people apply for SNAP because they are sick of their jobs, it makes it harder to justify to those whose terrible jobs are paying for the program. I couldn’t help wondering why Molly didn’t re-join a summer cleaning crew – the school district would rather hire an experienced cleaner than a newbie, and at least in this district they pay 10 bucks an hour and you’re done by 2 PM!

    What really made me cringe, however, was comparing Molly my own (extended) family members going through the same thing without the safety net. When your unemployment is born of injury or disease or lack of education, or living in a country with 15% unemployment, it’s a lot less exciting to try to live for free.

    On some point, I think it comes down to the hazards of all media that focus on exceptional cases – it’s interesting, for sure, to read about people who are living lives very different from your own. The hazard is generalizing the lifestyle – we can’t all live like that (there has to be someone still gifting), and we don’t all live like that. The trouble comes if people assume either that we can, and they decide to stop working until they get their dream job (then who will make and serve those smoothies, or run the cash register at Hastings), or that everyone who uses government assistance or has a very low income is in that situation because they chose it, because they passed up actual careers, which a key assumption of those who think that starving and shaming the poor will make them middle class.

  14. JC

    Here’s Meyerowitz’s rebuttal on his FaceBook page.

    • lizard19

      for someone who claims to hate intellectual dishonesty, Robert Meyerowitz is full of it.

      here is his initial comment:

      Here’s a Missoula blog that thinks personal essays don’t belong in a newspaper and that I’m part of a conspiracy to make people look bad. What do you think?

      first, this blog is comprised of individuals who all have their own opinions, so it’s not the blog “that thinks” but me, a blogger.

      second, I had to be schooled by Erika (also from the Indy, I believe) about the fact Molly’s pieces were considered part of the “personal essay” genre, and I thought I had it figured out, but now I’m confused again after reading Robert’s subsequent comments from that FB thread, because he’s calling it news.

      here’s the exchange:

      C.J.: I don’t see why it shouldn’t be in a newspaper. IMO, all literary arts should be represented in newspapers. And the writing is certainly crisp enough.

      R.M.: I think it’s news, CJ. Not in place of any other news necessarily, but certainly in addition to it.

      hmmm…

      anyway, I never said personal essays don’t belong in newspapers. if Robert is willing to misrepresent a silly blogger like me, I think that calls to question his integrity as an editor.

      hey Matt, if truth is valuable, does that mean you got this guy cheap?

      • lizard19

        I should also add I agree with another comment from that link about referring to Molly as Molly instead of Laich. it was disrespectful, and part of an emotional response to a personal essay I took personally for a number of reasons.

        writers can be really awful to each other, especially cranky unpublished writers squeezing in time to write amidst the exhaustion of kids and difficult work with people who really don’t have it very good at all.

        but I do still turn out some verses on occasion, and I’m debating whether or not to put out a poem inspired by this whole snippy fiasco. I dunno.

        • I’m going to go ahead and take this as an apology. And for hurting your feelings, I am sorry as well.

          This might sound sarcastic, but I’m being more or less sincere. Lizard, I hope you choose to share your poem.

          • lizard19

            no hard feelings. you are taking a much bigger risk putting yourself out there the way you have than some anonymous blogger criticizing it, and that deserves respect.

            I’ll probably post the poem tonight.

  15. Molly directed me here via Twitter. Good piece. I can see why you’d be upset. She gave conservative guys like me something to write about. I hope she listens to your advice.

    http://douglasernstblog.com/2012/08/22/liberal-asks-for-shelter-when-she-needs-to-grow-up/

    • lizard19

      Doug, the first word in the title of your post is “Liberal”, which IMHO is an unnecessary imposition of ideology.

      there’s more cultural and generational factors at play in this essay than there are any overt political statements.

      anyway, it wasn’t rocket science predicting the eventuality of a response like yours.

      • You can’t really separate ideology from culture. Liberalism produces the kind of mentality Molly has. I suppose I could now make little digs at what constitutes “rocket science” on the left … but I won’t.

        Cheers.

        • lizard19

          culture is more varied and complicated than the left/right binary you seem constrained by.

          if you are dedicated to the left/right game, I suppose I could make little digs about conservatives and their troubled relationship to science, but that sounds tedious, and it’s Labor Day.

          so cheers back at ya, Doug!

          • Sorry, the left/right binary game isn’t me. Wrong conservative. And I’m a big fan of science, as well.

            http://douglasernstblog.com/2012/08/25/when-we-can-see-through-walls-but-not-the-debt-in-our-face/

            • lizard19

              Douglas Ernst, a dude who does youth outreach for the Heritage Foundation, wants me to think he’s not playing the left/right binary game. priceless.

              • I came to your blog and said you wrote a nice piece. You respond with digs and red herrings. I worked for a conservative organization. I’m conservative. So what?

                Anyone who comes to my blog and wants to have an honest debate gets one (that would not include the person who I believe came from yours, made a sarcastic comment about “men,” and left).

                You have no clue on what I believe on any number of issues. The answers might surprise you. But instead you assume because I worked at Heritage I can’t think for myself. Bravo.

              • lizard19

                and I went to your blog, read your piece, and don’t agree with your base assertion that the essay can be reduced to a mere product of Liberalism.

              • Your affix an assertion to me that I never made. I read her piece through a political lens — one that teased out the liberalism that begs to be talked about — but I’m more than capable of having a nuanced discussion on other factors that have contributed to her living situation. I said as much to the author over Twitter. We had a rather civil back and forth. And not once did she refer to my past employment when we were discussing the issue.

                Likewise, I didn’t do a Google search on you to see what I could talk about instead of the issue at hand.

                Anyway, my shift at work is about to start. At least I can work remotely today.

  16. lizard19

    Doug, in evaluating your claim that you don’t play the left/right binary game, I think it’s more than fair to look at past stuff you’ve written, and for whom. as a self-described bareknuckled conservative, you should be able to handle that.

    I never said you couldn’t think for yourself, nor is that what I was trying to imply. from my very limited perusal of your blog (which you chose to bring attention to here) you seem more than capable of having an intelligent conversation.

    and while I appreciate the initial compliment, that doesn’t get you off the hook for seeing this essay as political fodder for you to score ideological points. that is one of the reasons I cringed when reading first reading it, because I knew a post like yours was inevitable.

    for example, you write this:

    There’s nothing more fascinating than the liberal college kid who takes out tens of thousands of dollars in student loans, and then when the bill comes due they say they “don’t care about money.” Politicians cut from the same cloth have occupied Washington, DC, running up bills they have no intention of ever paying. And why not? In Ms. Laich’s case her mom will pay the bills. A friend will drive her around or let her sleep on the couch. Defaulting on loans means nothing to the modern day liberal, because the costs will be shifted to someone else who “deserves” to be shouldered with the bill (e.g., “the rich”).

    yeah, because only liberals run up bills in DC, not conservatives like a former president who launched two wars on the national credit card while making irresponsible tax cuts, right?

    • See, now we can have a discussion — and I wouldn’t hold your bio against you, were you claim to be a “political radical of sorts.

      Note that I talked about the liberal college kid who says they “don’t care about money” after running up the bill. I saw the Occupy DC kids who wanted “loan forgiveness,” etc. I too have, oh … about another 65,000 in loans to pay off and I used to work in a non-profit (not profitable unless you’re one of the head honchos). I now work for a paper and the pay is roughly the same. But if I worked for the federal government like my buddy on Ways and Means I’d get an extra $800 a month of taxpayer dollars to pay off loans. Not sure what makes that job so special, but okay.

      We can talk about things like the main drivers of debt (Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid) and how those commitments dwarf military spending.

      My blog doesn’t let Republicans off the hook for their spending, but the problem is that a lot of these programs are on autopilot. It doesn’t matter who is in office, they will keep going up unless someone has the political courage to make necessary reforms. You can only pull accounting gimmicks for so long… Ask Greece and Spain about that. They’re still trying.

      These problems didn’t start with Bush or Obama. They’re decades in the making. Both men just made the situation worse. And electing Mitt Romney won’t solve the problem, either. Until we come to grips with the numbers and what they mean … we’re doomed.

      Looks like the Fed will try to burn off the debt through inflation. I hope your parents saved a lot of money for retirement, because that’s a lot of wealth vanishing overnight. Bastards.

      • lizard19

        yes, college kids are graduating with massive debt. the main reason I won’t go back anytime soon is because I can’t justify the expense as a smart investment, meaning I don’t expect a M.F.A. to translate into a better paying job. and why is that?

        well, if you look at the University system, what I see is a microcosm of exploitive economic attitudes that includes increasing administrative compensation, raising fees and tuition every fucking semester, all while squeezing workers, like adjuncts; so we pay more for less.

        Doug, you should read my fellow bloggers post about where we were 4 years ago, because it’s easy to forget the economic context of our last election. there was nearly a global economic crash that required over a trillion dollars in bailouts to “save” the financial sector from the consequences of their speculative ponzi-derivative shenanigans. the recovery has been to juice wall street, pump up corporate earnings and productivity, and hope that it will trickle down. since then we’ve had too big to fail enshrined by shitty legislation, and the continued core corruption exposed with the LIBOR scandal. I have absolutely no confidence in either party’s ability to rectify what they have both had a hand in creating, and they both are now totally dependent on wealth accumulators to fund their campaigns.

        instead of holding the crony capitalists accountable for destroying the economy’s ability to sustain employment, and instead of addressing decades of wage stagnation, off-shoring of jobs, and attacks on organized labor, people like you want to attack the safety net; the entitlement programs tens of millions of people desperately rely on to stay above water, to survive.

        why carry the messaging of the criminal capitalist class, Doug? we’ve seen an obscene transfer of wealth as wall street has socialized risk and privatized profit, and they’re still up to the same shit, gaming the system.

        you want to talk about entitlements, why does wall street feel entitled to bonuses from bailouts?

        • Interesting points, all. I’ll make sure to read your posts in the future, and I’m sure all of them will be discussed.

          The one thing I will say is that I don’t want to attack any safety net. I believe there needs to be one. But then the question becomes, who is placed in it? How long do they get it? How do we have public policy that doesn’t encourage people to use it like a swaddling blanket? And if crony capitalism is the problem, why would we want to expand the federal government? The bigger the government gets, the more likely you are to have the kind of backroom deals we both detest.

          Again, I’m sure we’ll discuss all of this along the way.

      • JC

        “You can only pull accounting gimmicks for so long… Ask Greece and Spain about that. ”

        You’re really trying to compare the U.S. economy and recession to what’s going on in Greece and Spain with statements like that??? Leads me to believe you really know nothing about the Euro, the ECB, and how Germany’s quest for economic empire in Europe has dominated the equation.

        Of course if you love Merkel, I get why you’d try to pull the wool over folks’ eyes over here. But it brings into question any other statements you might make about political economy. You’re going to have to do a better job of shoring up your arguments, or just become another purveyor of FauxNews-speak.

        • Yes. Yes. It’s all the fault of the evvvvvil Germans. You know my last name is “Ernst”, right? And that I lived in Germany? What does it mean? What … does … it … mean?

          Like I said, I’ll discuss this stuff with lizard19. Someone who refers to “FauxNews” as their knee jerk response when they don’t like a statement, probably not.

          • JC

            You don’t have to discuss anything with anybody. But I’ll still call B.S. when I see it. As to your last name, it doesn’t mean a thing to me — we’re a nation of immigrants, right? Mostly European. My S.O. is a “Dieterle”. What… does… that… mean???

            And the FauxNews bit was just to get a response — and it seems like I got a “knee-jerk” one at that.

            Cheers.

            • You get an ‘A’ for effort for trying to flip my causal dismissal of you into some weird plan to get my goat.

              Kudos.

  17. lizard19

    I updated the post to include a poetic addendum, POEM FOR MOLLY.

    • Do I fall into this category?:

      “when the assholes of blogland rise to rant
      pant-less with mushroom peckers in repose”

      You like me. You really like me!

      • lizard19

        those lines are self-referential, written before I knew you existed.

        • You should have linked to the song “You’re so vain” in reply. I did that to a guy who comments on my blog when he asked if it was about him. :)

          • lizard19

            how about something from Paul Ryan’s iPod…sleep now in the fire, by Rage Against the Machine.

            • That’s another issue. I’m not sure why these artists take offense that a conservative likes their work. I don’t agree with Pearl Jam’s politics, but I acknowledge that they’re a great band and Eddie Vedder is an amazing songwriter… They go out of their way to alienate people who are loyal fans.

              Pearl Jam can sell hoodies and socks and t-shirts band baby tees on their website, but anyone else who tries to make money … eh, nevermind. More later.

  1. 1 The Pentagon’s Unfair Treatment of Healthy, Heterosexual, Christian White Men | 4&20 blackbirds

    […] a personal essay by Molly Laich called Gimme Shelter got featured in the Indy. I won’t rehash the problems many had with the editorial leadership […]




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