Shenny: An Inbox Magazine

Back when I was doing The New Yinzer, my fellow editors and I threw a 10th-Issue Anniversary Party, because we wanted to throw a party, because we were in our 20s with private grant money and a dubiously achieved sponsorship with the Pittsburgh Brewing Company. (I stole the extra cases the art gallery I worked for didn’t consume at its own parties.) We thought it’d be funny to celebrate a 10th anniversary after only 5 months of publication, but celebrating milestones just depends on what you count.

This is the 10th issue of Shenny. I’m celebrating by not quitting. I’m celebrating by saying hello to this week’s start of the semester but not goodbye to my mornings of pushing the boulder of my memoir up the hill another inch. I’m celebrating by looking once again at this quote from Hilton Als I’ve got taped on the wall of my office here on campus:

What we imagine is so much more powerful than the literal. I think that ideological art can involve the literalization of facts that we already know. What Arbus gives us is the poetry of the soul. Stormé DeLarverie was a real person, and Arbus also makes her a figment of our imagination. If I have any kind of credo or ethos as a writer it’s, Don’t condescend to your audience. Let them have their imagination. And by doing so, you’re feeding your own.

It’s a week of looking backward—on Shenny, on the gone summer—and forward. Here’s to everybody feeding our onward imaginations.



1. Hitching Up Your Pants Before You Sit, Squat, or Bend Over
I mean that thing where you pinch up the fronts of your pant legs at the thigh before sitting. It’s classically a move seen in Men Of A Certain Age, but as I explain in a blog post about discovering the maneuver, it’s an equal opportunity for anyone who wears pants, the 100% best way to ensure your waistband doesn’t slide down your ass as you bend at the hip. The comfort that ensues is immeasurable. And I mean ‘discover’ above. While I watched men do this time and again growing up, no one ever taught me what they were up to. (Maybe no one’s ever been taught it, and it’s something that’s magically acquired in middle-age, like thinning hair or regrets.) Anyway, here I am teaching you: this may literally save your ass.

2. Minecraft Builds of Cartoon Houses
Watching a lot of TV, you come to wonder what it’s like in the house that some ‘family’ ‘lives’ in. Spatially, I mean. Live action houses are rarely houses, more like rooms situated around a studio, and so there’s always some improbable guesswork on how it all fits together. (Witness the different floorplans of The Golden Girls‘ house viewers have tried to draw.) But cartoon houses could be, one would assume, fully rendered, down to the square foot, and yet we always see them in pieces. Much has been written about the Simpsons’ house (yes, it’s got a Wikipedia page), but the cartoon house I’m most enamored with is this beauty from The Cleveland Show:

Happily, I found the YouTube account of Enderwarp, a Minecraft build team that replicates cartoon houses in glorious intact 3D. They’ve got maybe every building in Springfield, but their rendering of Cleveland’s house is just expert—considering there’s maybe only 1 episode with a scene in the basement. 

A Career Change in Your 40s

My sisters both accomplished it. Jenny since high school worked retail, chiefly in mall apparel shops like Express and Victoria’s Secret and Talbot’s and White House Black Market. For 20+ years she worked every Black Friday. She made far more money as a store manager than I did as a college professor with two advanced degrees, but the irregular hours, working always over Christmas, eventually she gave it up and now manages the front office of a medical center—a funny career change to make, as I’ve heard, one year before the COVID outbreak.

For 20+ years, Shani sold ads, real estate mostly, for weekly print newspapers—a not-thrilling career to have, still, in the first decade of the 21st century. She smartly saw the writing on the wall, and in 2015 left to get her real estate license. She now sells homes in the D.C. metro area

I love being a college professor as much as I dislike being a college administrator, so I’m unlikely to follow in my sisters’ footsteps this time. But given how much I loathe being a college administrator, I do indulge in fantasy jobs. One is California driver’s ed teacher, so I can do my part to raise smart drivers in this state full of slow and nervous ones. Another is San Francisco ‘manny’. (I have this notion that, by not really liking children, I’d be better at raising them than others who felt like kids are the future or whatever.)

A more satisfying fantasy job is high school sex ed teacher. Or maybe even middle school. The facts around sex education in the U.S., you might know, are grim:

  • Fewer than 50 percent of adolescents learned how to get birth control before they first had sex.
  • More than 90 percent of teens get instruction on STIs—which, while good news, combined with the above helps make sex seem dangerous and scary.
  • Despite findings that having sex and orgasms earlier in life leads to fewer sexual problems later, 28 states still stress abstinence education.

Every time I read about the state of sex education, my blood boils. I picture confused kids, horny as hell and hating themselves for it, convinced—as I was—that if they ever allowed themselves to have sex, they’ll get a disease. Add to this sorry state of affairs the overturning of Roe—and the general idea that sex outside of marriage is something we shoud punish women for having, but not men—and I start to feel like I have a calling.

Likely this means it’s time to volunteer. If I could get just 1 heterosexual boy to understand he’s equally responsible for birth control, or 1 heterosexual boy to understand that if he wants to get oral sex he needs to give oral sex, I could feel like a hero. 

I do feel like a hero. Tonight is the first night of my fall seminar, on the history of humor in nonfiction. We’ll be reading this Fanny Fern essay and talking about punchlines. Not all heroes wear capes.