This Ish Just Isn’t Fun Anymore

“You’ll find more cheer in a graveyard.” – Gimli, The Two Towers


The thing about porn is that at some point––unless you’re an addict––you have to stop and say, okay, I’m done with this nonsense.

Last night I reached that point with what has become for many people a Sunday night ritual of torture porn, The Walking Dead.

It took me about five seasons to become a regular viewer of this show, and now that habit, I think, is purged. I’ve never been a fan of zombies; unlike vampires or werewolves, they’re just not my monsters. My husband has been with it from the beginning, and though I didn’t like it because inevitably there’d be zombie nightmares involving our children each night I’d watch it, I used to enjoy his humorous recaps of each episode’s highlights. When I first asked him what the show was about, back in the first season, he told me it was a zombie show, yes, but it was also, like most good stories, about the Human Condition.

“It’s about these survivors’ attempts to maintain their humanity in the face of the end of it all around them. It’s a story about whether they will stay human or become zombies, yes, but also about whether they will retain their goodness in the face of other survivors’ becoming monsters.”

Hey, an exploration of humanity in the face of an inhuman threat––sounds like some good science fiction, doesn’t it? It didn’t take long to realize that the true threat of the zombie apocalypse isn’t zombies, who can be stabbed or shot in the head by a kid with enough practice. (And the implications of that detail, in and of themselves, are horrifying to contemplate.) The true threat, of course, is the people who turn on each other. The ones who care about nothing other than power in whatever corner of the world they have left. The ones who aren’t really any better than the bad actors we have in real life, and who aren’t even any worse, they just have more clout in their respective spheres of influence.

This could have been a show about rebuilding society in a way that improved over the calamity of the past. But then I guess it wouldn’t have been horror.

I think one of the problems I have with certain movies and television shows is the lack of creative problem-solving. I’m not learning much if anything from a lot of these stories. I liked The Matrix and even the sequel, but the third movie made the whole trilogy worse. I just felt hollow after watching the end of that cycle, as if the people who had conceived of this fantastic science fiction plot and these engaging characters who could literally bend reality couldn’t come up with anything better than resolving their dilemmas with guns. I liked Daredevil really well until the characters couldn’t get along and everything was just ultra-violence: the first season was compelling; the second one, at times confusing and insensible. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was great for a while, but now it takes longer and longer for a season to get good while half the characters––the ones who get the most plot time––stagnate in a soup of poor choices. The Jason Bourne movies––which have devolved into a cast with only a couple of women (both of whom are caricatures), long masturbatory car chases, and a brooding spy who never answers the question of will he or won’t he––haven’t been good for a while now.

And the violence––good grief, the violence. Probably by now you’ve read a bunch of the commentary on why people are leaving The Walking Dead in droves after last night’s last straw. There was no real character development; no one did anything that wasn’t predictable. And Negan? Seriously? What the fuck is that guy? He delivered on the promise of the last season’s finale, but worse. I suppose, in retrospect, we couldn’t have expected that he wasn’t going to be this way. The episode last night was just a confirmation of our worst, stomach-turning dread, executed in the most unnecessarily assaultive ways. I’m not sure things could have been worse if Lucille had gone after Maggie in her stomach and then her face. I’m really tired of the cheap shock, of the tug on my heartstrings that doesn’t have any heart in it. If a story wants to upset me, it doesn’t have to attempt to be the most brutal, most bloody, most creatively grotesque gore we’ve seen yet. Believe me, I don’t find that stuff creative. Tedious? Yes, sometimes. Insulting? All too often. It’s like they don’t even care that human beings, people with thoughts and feelings and relationships, are in the audience watching. defines porn as “television shows, articles, photographs, etc., thought to cater to an irresistible desire for or interest in something.” Yes, we all know it first means this in a sexual context. But we now have food porn, disaster porn, and torture porn (among others, no doubt). I love food but don’t really care about seeing everyone’s dinner on Facebook. I used to love my superheroes and their big-budget action films, but I’m tired of the stakes always being world-calamity-high. I don’t feel connected to those stories anymore, because they no longer feel like they’re about people, not really.

When I think about The Walking Dead––and I’ve thought about this for a while now––I don’t know how much longer the series can go on. At this point the zombies are hardly even a character anymore. The cycle of find a place, meet another group who are assholes, fight that group, find another place, meet another group who are bigger assholes, fight them in an uglier way, lather, rinse, repeat––I just can’t. I no longer care whether that world survives; I’m no longer sure it should. And the thing is, I don’t know what disturbs me more: the content of last night’s episode or the show’s enduring popularity.

Have you been paying attention to what’s going on in our culture right now? If so, then you are probably aware that real life is pretty badly screwed up in a lot of ways. It’s –isms as far as the eye can see. I’m not looking to escape into worse violence when I turn on the television. It doesn’t make me feel better about my own situation; it makes me feel worse about the human race. What’s happening on some of these shows we’ve been watching turns my stomach, but what bothers me more is that I’m not having the zombie nightmares anymore. Even after last night’s episode, which literally nauseated me––and by the way, blood does not make me squeamish––I didn’t have those dreams. This tells me I’m becoming desensitized to it, even if only a little. And that tells me it’s time to pull out while I can.

Game of Thrones, you’re officially on notice. You’ve still got Peter Dinklage and amazing costume design going for you, and I’m genuinely curious to see how a world full of matriarchies plays out, especially since only two of the leaders of the various regions or clans appear to be psychotic––a significant improvement over the life art purports to imitate.

But pull any more sensationally cruel and insulting stunts like the Red Wedding, Sansa’s wedding night with Theon and Bolton’s bastard, and Princess Shireen, and you and your lack of taste and storytelling prowess will probably lose me, too.


For another really interesting post about giving up on The Walking Dead, check this out.

Forbidden Cookbook: Can’t Complain Beef Stew

This rich stew goes well with baguettes or another crusty bread and a nice cabernet sauvignon. To lighten the meal with a refreshing side dish, add your favorite green salad.

2 lbs. stew beef
salt pepper
olive oil
2 envelopes dry onion mushroom soup mix
1 envelope dry Ranch dip mix
1 16 oz. bag frozen peas and carrots
2 15 oz. cans whole potatoes (drained)
3 cloves garlic, minced
pearl onions (peeled) — cipollines have a rich taste
2 envelopes dry brown mushroom gravy mix

Combine flour with salt and pepper (to taste) in mixing bowl. Coat chunks of beef in this mixture while heating large skillet with thin coat of olive oil on the bottom.

In skillet, brown the beef in olive oil. Transfer the beef to a pressure cooker. Empty two envelopes of dry onion mushroom soup mix and one envelope of Ranch dip mix over the beef.

Deglaze the skillet with water and then empty water onto the beef. Add more water until beef is covered and stir until everything is well mixed. Bring to boil, stirring now and then to prevent burning on the bottom of the pot.

Reduce heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes. Stir now and then to avoid scorching on the bottom of the pot. Then cover pot with pressurizing lid and simmer for another 20 minutes. (The pressure cooker helps make the stew beef, an inexpensive cut of meat, more tender.)

Remove pressure cooker from heat and release pressure with cool running water before opening it.

Add peas and carrots, potatoes, garlic, pearl onions, and brown mushroom gravy mix to pot and stir. If you’ve lost a lot of steam, you’ll want to add another couple of cups of water.

Pressurize pot again and cook on medium high heat until steam begins to escape the valve, and then reduce heat to low and cook for another 10 minutes. Remember to depressurize with cool running water before opening lid. Stir and let stand 5 minutes before serving.

Can't Complain Beef Stew with whole wheat French roll
Can’t Complain Beef Stew with whole wheat French roll

You can increase the recipe for larger groups: for 8 people (for example), add another pound of stew beef and another can of potatoes.

Our First Home


The first home my husband, Aaron, and I shared, before we were married, was the top floor of a charming but tiny 1930s duplex in the Montrose. It was the kind of apartment that let you appreciate Craftsman style and the fact that back then no one cared too much about kitchens and bathrooms or closets or privacy. We lived there because it was cuter and nicer and in a more artsy part of town than my generic mass-produced mass-populated complex, and because the rent was a better value when it came right down to what we were getting, and because Aaron had already been living there a couple of years.

But he hadn’t lived there alone. He’d shared this place with his girlfriend before me, a woman named Debra who’d suddenly died of an undetected brain aneurysm when she was twenty-seven. I’d met Debra a couple of times. I’d gone to college with Aaron, and we’d been friends for years, always in intersecting social circles, but I hadn’t known him well enough to have been chummy with any of his girlfriends. The third time I saw Debra was at her wake.

Five months of extraordinary personal growth later, Aaron and I began dating. Five weeks after that, we became engaged. The next year, I moved in. We had a house blessing, and though the space was never big enough, we were happy. We looked forward to buying our own house — one day. After we were married and out of debt. And in the meantime, we had a cute, historical-feeling place in a fabulous part of town. We were cool kids.

The apartment we lived in wasn’t perfect, though. The galley kitchen was definitely meant for one person, so we didn’t get to cook together or even clean up together that often. And our cats didn’t get along so well when we merged the two households. One of his, a black and white long-hair crazy kitty, liked to run through the house at high speeds for no apparent reason, meowing her head off, a lot of the time. (This cat, named Bubastis — Bubu for short — had seen some trauma. Her first owner had killed himself when she was barely weaned, and then she’d been close to Debra, too.) None of my husband’s cats particularly liked my own kitten, and turf wars in our cramped home were de rigeur. The amount of closet space in the whole house wouldn’t fit my clothes, much less both of ours and storage. We could hear the lumbering footsteps of the large dog downstairs echoing from the wood floors every day and night. The windows, original to the house, rattled in the wind, and the neighborhood lay under a major flight path, so airplanes flew loud and low overhead day and night. In the humid quiet hours of the middle of the night, distant train whistles echoed from all around us, and the mercury vapor lamp perched above the next-door neighbor’s driveway lit our bedroom orange. Even in our intimate newlywed moments, I felt safe only with the bedroom doors closed.

One night I woke from a dream, my eyes opening to stare at the bathroom in front of me. Unusually, the light was on in there, and backlit in the doorway stood Debra’s silhouette, dark and unfeatured, though I knew it must have been her; I could see the red edges of her hair. She stood still and silent, watching me. Frozen in sleep paralysis, I drifted back down, my eyes closing on the dream as her image disappeared and my slumber deepened. I woke the next morning without a care in the world. It has never been unusual for me to dream of the dead; it’s just another way my subconscious mind finds closure, and it usually gives me peace.

Fast forward ten years. Aaron and I have children and are living elsewhere, having graduated from that tiny duplex less than two years into our marriage. We’ve come into town to have dinner with some married friends, Roger and Celeste. Roger had lived in the garage apartment of that duplex Aaron and I had shared, and Celeste and I had gone to college together. They’d known Debra, of course.

After dinner, we’re sitting at their house telling stories, calculating in the lulls how much time we have until the babysitter needs us back in the suburbs. Celeste tells us about the ghosts in the Heights, where they live, how their house is like Grand Central Station for this spirit or that one. We speak of how much we like our house now, of how much space we have, even if it’s far away, and how I seem to have lost my fear of the dark. “I think it’s because the house we’re in now is mine, it’s my own. I’ve bought it, there’s a mortgage.” I’m an adult now, with children to set an example for, and have no need to fear the dark.

Then I admit I’d never really felt comfortable in that old apartment in the Montrose, how it’d been six months before I could even really go into the kitchen. How even the cats like each other in the new house, too, how Bubu has calmed down considerably since the move.

“Did the kitchen still have all those little cows in it?” Celeste asks.

Yes, it had — Aaron had forgotten that, when he and Debra had moved in, she’d decorated that room with little cow heads for cabinet doorknobs, with Holstein-spotted contact paper on the shelves. I’d always thought it was odd but hadn’t ever said anything; it hadn’t been my place to criticize the design choices of someone else’s home.

And then I tell them about the dream I’d had, the strange one when I’d half-woken to see Debra standing in the doorway of the room where she’d first collapsed, looking at me asleep next to my husband in our bed.

Aaron looks hesitant for a moment, then says he remembers that dream.

“But I never mentioned it to you,” I say. “It was nothing.”

“It wasn’t nothing,” he says slowly. “I had it, too — or rather, I didn’t. I wasn’t asleep. I didn’t tell you in the morning because I didn’t want to scare you.”

More talking, more triangulating, more uncovering the details to find it was the same middle of the same night.

It wasn’t a dream.

More putting the pieces together, more realizing I’d never felt at home in that apartment because I wasn’t the only woman there.


It’s Time

Okay, I just sent my daughter off to camp on a school trip. It’s her first time away from home for an extended period without any family members. She’s excited! So am I.

But, oh.

When she first got on the bus, it looked like she didn’t have anyone to sit with, and she started to get sad, and suddenly every ounce of my childhood came back to me in one long sigh of pain. And then one of her friends started waving frantically at her from toward the back. She had cleared the seat next to her so my daughter could sit there!

My girl ran up and hugged me fast and then ran back and sat down and didn’t give me another look, all smiles and relief. So I went back to my classroom, wondering whether I should have stayed to watch the buses leave.

But no, it’s time for her to go on this trip and have her own fun time, and it’s time for me to have my normal work day. As I was walking to breakfast a little while later, she called me to say the buses had left, and she loved me, and would see me in four days.

Time to go grade papers. *le sigh*

What I’ve Been Reading: Student Edition

I asked all the students in my sophomore English classes to recommend a book they’d read for pleasure — one not assigned for school — in the last five years. It had to be a book they liked enough to recommend it to someone — in particular, their classmates, as we embarked on the new free choice reading unit in my curriculum.

Here’s what they came up with! Any books here you’re interested in? Any you’ve read? Please leave a comment below.


sophomore recommendations 2016


P.S. — The subtext of this post (and its chronological distance from the last one) should indicate to you I’ve been really busy getting the new school year off the ground. You would be correct in that assumption.

P.P.S. — I shamelessly gathered the inspiration for this post from John Scalzi’s New Books and ARCs posts, which I find interesting, that he puts on his own blog Whatever, which I find marvelous. I hope he doesn’t mind.

Rainy Day Sale

So this morning, as I was packing up to leave for the Sawyer Yards Arts Market, I received a text and an email from the show’s organizer saying it was cancelled. Bummer! But we’re having some rough weather in Houston, so this is probably for the best. Alas.

Never fret, though — I’ve decided to have a Rainy Day Sale here on my social media instead! It will go this whole weekend, starting now, until 8 p.m. central US time Sunday (tomorrow) evening. Here’s what available:

I’m offering 10% off all of these items if you buy them from me directly. (I’m happy to ship them to you for the cost of whatever the postage and insurance you choose will be.) If you buy the books from Amazon or any other bookstore, you’ll pay their price, since they’re not participating in this impromptu Rainy Day Sale. Just post in the comments here or send me a direct email to with “Rainy Day Sale” in the subject line to tell me what you want. Let me know, too, if you want the books signed.

I’ll update here when I know more about the rescheduling of the arts market. Thank you for your support!

Poetry Art Card #1; text copyright Angélique Jamail, 2004
Poetry Art Card #1; text copyright Angélique Jamail, 2004


Poetry Art Card #2; text copyright Angélique Jamail, 2014
Poetry Art Card #2; text copyright Angélique Jamail, 2014


Poetry Art Card #3; text copyright Angélique Jamail, 2016
Poetry Art Card #3; text copyright Angélique Jamail, 2016


Poetry Art Card #4; text copyright Angélique Jamail, 2014
Poetry Art Card #4; text copyright Angélique Jamail, 2014


Poetry Art Card #5; text copyright Angélique Jamail, 2016
Poetry Art Card #5; text copyright Angélique Jamail, 2016


Poetry Art Card #6; text copyright Angélique Jamail, 2016
Poetry Art Card #6; text copyright Angélique Jamail, 2016


Poetry Art Card #7; text copyright Angélique Jamail, 2003
Poetry Art Card #7; text copyright Angélique Jamail, 2003


Poetry Art Card #8; text copyright Angélique Jamail, 2013
Poetry Art Card #8; text copyright Angélique Jamail, 2013


Poetry Art Card #9; text copyright Angélique Jamail, 2014
Poetry Art Card #9; text copyright Angélique Jamail, 2014


Poetry Art Card #10; text copyright Angélique Jamail, 2016
Poetry Art Card #10; text copyright Angélique Jamail, 2016


Poetry Art Card #11; text copyright Angélique Jamail, 2016
Poetry Art Card #11; text copyright Angélique Jamail, 2016


Poetry Art Card #12; text copyright Angélique Jamail, 2016
Poetry Art Card #12; text copyright Angélique Jamail, 2016


Poetry Art Card #13; text copyright Angélique Jamail, 2016
Poetry Art Card #13; text copyright Angélique Jamail, 2016


Is It August Already?

I go back to school this Friday. After the last five weeks, I am more than ready. I’ve been on three trips, yes, but we’ve also had quite a few crazy things happen in between them, and I’m eager to get back to a consistent routine which includes my children being in school.

I have not done enough writing, or reading, to satisfy myself, though I concede I’ve done quite a lot of both. And with the way I’m revamping my curriculum this year, I’m hoping to have more time to do both even when the semester is in session. We shall see. (More on that later, perhaps.)

Last week, a short piece I wrote about how what I do in my personal time informs my teaching career came out in my school’s magazine. I was thrilled to be asked to contribute it in the first place, but even more so when I saw the illustrious company I was somehow included in — which was comprised of some of the most talented colleagues I’ve ever worked with.

Because I’m headed back into my classroom at the end of this week, I thought I’d repost (with permission) the piece I wrote for the school’s magazine. I hope you enjoy it, but even more, I hope you enjoy what’s left of your summer (if you still have some).


The first time I ever read one of my short stories to an audience, I was in fourth grade. It was a character-building experience.

Even though very few of my classmates had gone on that fantastical narrative journey with me — and my teacher looked at me sideways while trying to figure the story, and probably me, out — my love of writing could not be dampened. By the time I hit middle school, my path to becoming a writer had been paved.

From there, teaching was an easy choice. The ability to share my love of writing with others, to teach them how to do it and to appreciate its value, contributes to my sense of purpose. Through literature we more clearly understand our humanity and our place in the world. The enjoyment and creation of literature is something I hope to instill in my students, and it’s one way I spend my personal time as well.

How can one teach something that one does not also do? If I didn’t need sleep, I would keep reading past my bedtime all through the quiet hours every night. And each break from school finds me writing, writing, writing. This pursuit feeds my creative, thinking self, yes, but also feeds my teaching self. The more I explore different forms and genres in my own work, the better I’m able to teach my students how to do it — and hopefully how to love it as much as I do (though I’ll settle for mastery of skills).

Literature — reading it, creating it, teaching it — guides me always. It gets me out of bed way too early on Saturday mornings to meet other writers and stay on word count. It makes my summer breaks a little hectic, heavy with deadlines. And when school starts up again each August, it motivates me to share with my students everything I’ve learned, too.