A Quiet Cannonball Through The Canon: Practical Classics (A Review)

Practical Classics: 50 Reasons to Reread 50 Books You Haven't Touched Since High School by Kevin Smokler. Printed 2013. ISBN: 978-1-61614-656-6

Practical Classics: 50 Reasons to Reread 50 Books You Haven't Touched Since High School by Kevin Smokler. Printed 2013. ISBN: 978-1-61614-656-6

The first thing I read in any book is the dedication. Who is this book, with all of this labor devoted to researching and writing it, with all of the time and effort made pitching it, and marketing it, and selling it, with all of the resources used in designing it, and printing it, with all of the boxes and trucks utilized for its delivery, with all of the bookstores it is delivered to, with all of the employees who unpack it, and display it, and ring it out for you as you stand in front of them, cash in hand, waiting to carry the book inside its bookstore-branded shopping bag home with you, who is this book dedicated to? Oftentimes it is dedicated to loved ones, to family members, to the subjects of the books directly named or kept anonymous. 

Kevin Smokler has dedicated his book, Practical Classics: 50 Reasons to Reread 50 Books You Haven't Touched Since High School, to "readers, books, and the joy they bring."  

Note who he hasn't dedicated this book to. He hasn't dedicated it to humble reviewers, such as myself. He hasn't dedicated it to other writers. He hasn't dedicated it to the online social networking community, he hasn't dedicated it to libraries or librarians, he hasn't dedicated it to teachers, or to students, or to academic institutions, or to think tanks of higher literary thought.  He has dedicated it to the three most important things in publishing, the three things without which the publishing industry would cease to exist: readers; books, and the joy they bring.

How wonderful, and how wonderfully, quietly, insidiously radical. 

Smokler, who has written for the Los Angeles Times and the San Francisco Chronicle, does a competent job covering fifty of the hundreds of books you likely encountered during the course of high school and college, writing short reviews of titles ranging from To Kill A Mockingbird, to The Age of Innocence, to The Autobiography of Malcolm X. Thrown into the mix are essays on art and media philosophers like Walter Benjamin and Marshall McLuhan, a hilariously insightful take on Thomas Pynchon (noting that the classmate who recommended Pynchon to him, "...deliberately bit off the ch, just as he had punched out the first t in "Dostoyevsky"), and a cathartic rant on The Scarlet Letter, subtitled I Don't Like It Either.       

As I have mentioned, Smokler is a competent writer and the essays themselves are competently finished and assembled, arranged in the common themes of real life - Love and Pain, Working, Identity - as opposed to literary movements. If you're looking for a dry, scholarly analysis of Sturm und Drang or the Enlightenment, this is not the book for you. If you are looking not just for reading recommendations but unexpected, brilliant observations of books you've loved since youth, you'll likely find a few of them here (Smokler's observation that Kurt Vonnegut used the phrase "So it goes" 106 times in Slaughterhouse-Five, following "everything from the death of a soldier to the flattening of champagne," gave me an insight into this book that I'm still mulling over, right now, as I type this out, and one I'm likely still mulling over as you read this).     

The book does have one structural failing, and that is this: no book, no matter how competent, can be all things to all people. Taking on fifty titles means Smokler gave each title only a few pages of his attention before moving onto the next; this abruptly stops what could be even better analysis without the space constraints, while giving the reader the feeling that some titles are included in this list so it could reach the even number fifty. Some writers, such as Whitman and Dickinson, are reviewed less for their works than for their biographies (a missed opportunity), and devoting an entire section to We the Hero without including either the Iliad or the Odyssey is pretty hard to justify. 

This structural failing becomes most apparent when Smokler writes about writers writing stories that are focused on characters who are not white, male, and American or European. He includes an essay on Sherman Alexie, the Native American author of The Lone Ranger and the Tonto Fistfight in Heaven and Indian Killer, without a mention, anywhere, of N Scott Momaday, who won the Pulitzer Prize for House Made of Dawn , or Black Elk Speaks, the iconic book on the Lakota by John G. Neihardt. When he reviews books by other writers who write about the experience of race and gender in their stories, it is generally with the caveat that they are included in a list of classics because they are "more than" stories about race and gender. In the aforementioned essay on Alexie, Smokler calls Reservation Blues, "one of the most "American" novels of the last half century," but then adds, "that the characters are "Native American" is only a small part of the reason why." That he is addressing the obvious point that it is included on many high school required reading lists is both the point and more than that, that the defense of a book about the lives of Native American characters as "one of the most "American" novels of the last half century" without, seemingly, having much to do with the ethnicity of these characters reveals an ongoing debate in literary and publishing circles about what makes a book "mainstream," and it is a debate that, unfortunately, seems to occur only among writers who are themselves not white, and not male, and not American or European, writers whose works speak to the lives of people who do not fit into this narrowly defined racial and gender category, writers whose works are all too often categorized, and marketed, and presented to groups of readers based on the racial and ethnic makeup of their characters, or based on the insidious formula of woman + romance=chicklit.

These categories exist, and this artificial corralling of books occurs, because of the perception publishers have about readers, because of the expectation that publishers have that certain readers will gravitate toward certain books on certain subjects, because of an ancient flaw in the world of letters that continues to allow white, male voices to speak expansively as if they were not speaking of the experience of being white, and male, even though that is the racial makeup of the characters they are writing. The best way to change this dynamic, to stop the process of publishers and educators matching books and readers because of these expectations, is to talk directly to the readers, themselves, about books, to share the joy of books in essays that are not intimidating, or scholarly, or prattle on about canons, and movements, and the great works therein. Smokler's book is important because it is an attempt to do this, it is a hand reaching out to any other and suggesting, with humor and empathy, that there are great works, yes, but you should enjoy them, because they are enjoyable; you should learn from them, because they are valuable, and you should read them because they are relevant to your life, right now, as you're living it. It is that quiet way of dismissing the academic in favor of the urgent and practical that makes this a very good, and a very important book. It is a book that makes you think about books, and about life, and about joy; agreements and disagreements aside, publishers and scholars aside, institutions and movements aside, that is the point.

Afternote: Kevin Smokler and I are twitter friends, and you can follow our occasional back-and-forth on @Weegee for Smokler and @mselephantgun for myself.


Edith Wharton Eviscerates Modern Publishing Models: Fun Facts from "The Writing of Fiction"

Edith Wharton, author of the Pulitzer Prize winning novel "The Age of Innocence", seated at her desk in her library at The Mount, circa 1905

Edith Wharton, author of the Pulitzer Prize winning novel "The Age of Innocence", seated at her desk in her library at The Mount, circa 1905

"...the seemingly simplest sauces are those that have been most cunningly combined and then most completely blent, the simplest-looking dresses those that require most study to design." - Edith Wharton, "The Writing of Fiction" 


Attention, men, yes you, you singular, literary man multiplied multiple times over, sitting there in your literary world, attempting to tell literary women how to write like "real" artists, how to define for women what "serious" (read: tragic, boring and angry) stories women writers should write if they are to be taken seriously, guess what? 

You're doing it wrong.

You've been doing it so wrong for so long that you don't even recognize what it is that you're doing, you haven't taken an historical step back to look at the hundreds of years of your male ancestors committing this crime of letters against women of letters, of creating the conditions where women wrote (and continue to write) their romances under male pen names, of telling important women writers the impropriety of writing on subjects like sex, like slavery, like anything having to do with that third rail of when and how potential procreation happens unless it happens in literature on your terms, and, when it doesn't, of denigrating same as "chick lit," or "romance," or any other number of eye-rolling euphemisms to say what you really mean: this book isn't for me, and I'm a guy, therefore it isn't "serious," and therefore, it isn't "art." 

Did you know, for instance, that there's a Pulitzer Prize winning novelist who would take issue with your denigration of "romance" as "not serious" by pointing out to you that most novels are grouped under three types, manners, character (or psychology) and adventure, and that these types include the subdivisions of "the farcical novel of manners, the romance and the philosophical romance?" That yes, what this means is that, by definition, most of the serious novels of classical literature are ones that tread in those fearful waters of romance, that ones that you, yourself, are so seemingly fearful of women using as the basis for their own, serious writing?   

That is exactly who Edith Wharton was, and what Edith Wharton does, in her book, "The Writing of Fiction," published in 1924, published consecutively and still available at your local bookstore, published with a life longer in years than the one most of you have lived. Wharton writes other myth-busting truths about writing and writers in this book, and to list all of them would be a Herculean task far too taxing for the time and attention of riveting blog writing. To that end, I'll elucidate some of her most important points, the ones that will open your eyes and hopefully your ears, and encourage you to go and source the book yourself (ISBN: 978-0-6848-4531-9). It is an important book, and your soul is, indeed, impoverished if you haven't read it. 

1. Racial difference makes the writer see life at its most universal.  

This is Wharton's exact quote, and I'll add that she's using an early 20th century social construct of "race" to mean non-English, continental novelists, but I think the wider point is clear: "The artist of other races has always been not only permitted but enjoined to see life whole; and it is this, far more than any superiority of genius, that lifts Balzac, Stendhal and Tolstoy so high above even Thackeray when the universal values are to be appreciated." What she means here is that Thackeray, and many English novelists of his time, were "cramped by the hazard of a social convention," one which contained a "sudden fear of touching on any of the real issues of the human comedy and tragedy," and that the works of the great, non-English novelists were that much more transcendent and universal because they weren't constrained by these literary rules. 

Note to contemporary publishers: perhaps, instead of viewing African American literature, and Latino literature, and Asian American literature, and "chick lit" as separate, small genres that speak to separate, small groups, perhaps you might consider that these are the works that contain the seeds of that money-laden "mainstream" that is constantly being pursued. Perhaps these works are, actually, far more "mainstream," far more universal, than the ones currently given that moniker.

Just a thought. 

2. Galloping plot points just makes bad art. 

In the age of the largest praise of a book being that you "just couldn't put it down," creating the impression that a book must be read at a frenetic pace, must then be written as frenetically as that reader drummed up into a frenzy will read it, Wharton's praise of the art of the novel conveying the effect of the gradual passage of time is a comforting reminder of how good, long form writing actually happens: "To its making go patience, meditation, concentration, all the quiet habits of mind now so little practised, so seldom inculcated; and to these must be added the final, imponderable, genius, without which the rest is useless, and which, conversely, would be unusable without the rest."

3. Each subject has its own length.

Yes, this is a radical. Wharton might as well be burning her literary bra whilst writing it. Too often in the world of "what people want to read" and "what will sell" and "what books will start a conversation," subject is seen as paramount to a novel. The business reason for this is clear: novels have their own oompf, their own kinetic energy of book tours and book shows, of spin-offs, and serials, and movie deals, and this multi-layered licensing and distribution treasure trove just isn't as rich for the short story, because the commercial world has put more emphasis on marketing long-form books than short stories. Therefore, the temptation for writers and publishers is to think first of the topic that will look good on the sell sheet, that will buzz well over radio airwaves, and then sit down and try to think of the art around that, develop the characters around that, and around that presto, boom, shazzam, out pops a novel. Wharton douses cold water on all of this, proclaiming that, "The novelist should not concern himself beforehand with the abstract question of length, should not decide in advance whether he is going to write a long or a short novel," that a successful writer has, "an unerring sense for the amount of sail his subjects could carry," that the writer, "should always be able to say of a novel: "It might have been longer," never: "It need not have been so long."  

Good novel writing starts with well-developed characters, has as its own energy the need to entertain (both one's self and others). As Wharton notes, "...its modern tellers have introduced few innovations in what was already a perfect formula, created in the dawn of time by the world-old appeal: "Tell us another story."

That wish, expressed so young and expressed throughout one's life, of wanting another story, is universal, and the best stories, the best and most "serious" writing, is the writing that answers that request, simply and honestly, keeping the reader so entertained that he forgets he is reading a book classified as "chick lit," or "romance," or "gay and lesbian," or "African American," or any other demographic category a book marketer labels it, he forgets all of the radio shows, and book shows, and book blurbs about the "important conversation" the book has started; to the reader, in the act of reading, it is a story, the merits of which are judged by his allegiance to it, to her remembrance of its scenes and its moments, the ones that stay with him, and help her realize, again, what it is to be human.


"Because the VICTIMS ARE BLACK": William Lloyd Garrison on Racism, Double Standards and Harriet Beecher Stowe

"The Liberator", William Lloyd Garrison's journal, established 1831

"The Liberator", William Lloyd Garrison's journal, established 1831

"...We are curious to know whether Mrs. Stowe is a believer in the duty of non-resistance for the white man, under all possible outrage and peril, as well as for the black man; whether she is for self-defense on her own part, or that of her husband or friends or country, in case of malignant assault, or whether she impartially disarms all mankind in the name of Christ, be the danger or suffering what it may...That all the slaves at the South ought, "if smitten on the one cheek, to turn the other also"—to repudiate all carnal weapons, shed no blood, "be obedient to their masters," wait for a peaceful deliverance, and abstain for all insurrectionary movements—is every where taken for granted, because the VICTIMS ARE BLACK."-William Lloyd Garrison reviewing Harriet Beecher Stowe's "Uncle Tom's Cabin" in The Liberator, March, 1852.

William Lloyd Garrison, an abolitionist's abolitionist, was fierce and fiery in his rhetoric, absolute in his stance against slavery, and he was, as all good critics are, first and foremost a self-critic, calling out his own decision to support colonization and gradual emancipation in the first issue of The Liberator, pledging that in the cause of emancipation, "I will be as harsh as truth, and as uncompromising as justice." Garrison had endorsed colonization while a member of Lyman Beecher's church in Boston and, human beings being what we are, human, I think some of this must have been on his mind when reading "Uncle Tom's Cabin", Reverend Beecher's daughter's book. His review of Stowe's best selling novel in The Liberator is not personal, nor does Garrison attack her as a "sentimentalist" or question whether it is appropriate for a woman to write on controversial subjects like slavery (criticisms based in a nineteenth century sexism that followed Stowe for the rest of her career). Rather, what Garrison is asking Stowe to do is to defend her novel, to defend her character Tom as the embodiment of nonviolence, to defend her implicit endorsement of colonization by ending her novel with her characters leaving for Africa via Canada.   

And, he is calling her out on a double standard, really, one of the well known family traits of the Beechers to pull back from endorsing anything as "radical" as immediate and full emancipation for enslaved Africans or full integration with free blacks (as Joan Hedrick references in her Pulitzer Prize winning book, "Harriet Beecher Stowe: A Life", Lyman Beecher, while President of Lane Seminary, told his students that, "If you want to teach colored schools I can fill your pockets with money; but if you will visit in colored families, and walk with them in the streets, you will be overwhelmed"). At the same time he is also addressing well-known white fears of a massive slave revolt in the South, one which lingered behind the visceral brutality of the slave system, and not just in the South but also in places like New York City which had seen - and brutally punished - several slave revolts during the time slavery was legal in the North. 

All of this history was well known to Garrison's audience, and it was equally well known to Stowe, herself, who declined to publicly debate the matter with him.


Henry Ward Beecher, New York Public Library Archives

Henry Ward Beecher, New York Public Library Archives

Garrison's question to Stowe in this 1852 review is ironically prescient: "When it is the whites who are trodden in the dust, does Christ justify them in taking up arms to vindicate their rights?" In 1856, months before John Brown and his sons murdered pro-slavery settlers in Pottawatomie Creek, Kansas, Stowe's brother, the famous Henry Ward Beecher, is quoted in the New York Tribune endorsing the use of guns by individual, anti-slavery settlers: 

 "...He (Henry W. Beecher) believed that the Sharps Rifle was a truly moral agency, and that there was more moral power in one of those instruments, so far as the slaveholders of Kansas were concerned, than in a hundred Bibles. You might just as well. . . read the Bible to Buffaloes as to those fellows who follow Atchison and Stringfellow; but they have a supreme respect for the logic that is embodied in Sharp's rifle. "

This endorsement led to the Sharps Rifle being nicknamed "Beecher's Bible", and it gave a moral argument to men like John Brown who believed in arming the growing conflict over slavery on a grassroots level.

One of the tragedies of history is that Harriet Beecher Stowe, herself, for whatever reason, never had this public debate with Garrison over violent and nonviolent resistance to slavery. Stowe became an overnight celebrity after the publication of "Uncle Tom's Cabin"  and, although she used that celebrity wisely in many ways to further the cause of anti-slavery, she declined to set the tone at this critical moment as far as the question of nonviolence was concerned, she declined to clarify whether nonviolence was to be equally embraced by both whites and blacks, by both free and enslaved people, she declined, right then, to publicly reply to an insightful, critical review of her work, and one cannot help but wonder what she would have said if she did. It remains a large, missed opportunity in the life of a remarkable, important woman writer. 

The Dullness of Painted Hands

"Painted Hands: A Novel" by Jennifer Zobair, to be published June 11, 2013 by Thomas Dunne Books. ISBN-13: 978-1250027009

"Painted Hands: A Novel" by Jennifer Zobair, to be published June 11, 2013 by Thomas Dunne Books. ISBN-13: 978-1250027009

When I was a student living in Germany, I clearly remember sitting in a dormitory for Eastern European asylum seekers, sitting on a friend's bed, reading a paperback book of Camus essays and being so incensed that I ended up literally throwing it across the room with so much force that it smacked the opposing cinder block. I have also loved books so much I've started re-reading them immediately upon finishing them, I have carried them around with me like so many lucky talismans; I have folded their pages, and written in their margins, and treated them like a beloved thing from childhood that shows the affection lavished upon it by its own wear and tear. 

Unfortunately, when I finished Jennifer Zobair's "Painted Hands: A Novel", I was bored.

Before continuing, I should note that Jennifer Zobair and I are friends, and even though reviewers ideally shouldn't let their personal feelings peek through when evaluating another friend's art, I was, genuinely, rooting for this book. I wanted to like it. It addresses issues of feminism and multiculturalism in the text, and these are issues I am passionate about. The problem with the book is that it does it in a way that is unsubtle, inserting multiple debates on Islam in the text and sacrificing good story telling along the way. For instance, Zobair has written into her story an Ivy League debate at Harvard between Chase, a right-wing talk radio personality, and Taj Fareed, an academic, on the subject of Islam, but instead of transporting us there, instead of making us feel like we are in the room listening in, we are told, "The debate, or at least the first three quarters of it, was a civilized affair." The lack of a sense of place is a consistent problem throughout the text: we are taken to the Correspondents' Dinner and the most evocative thing we are told is that it, "was a blur of red-carpet frenzy, tame Rich Little jokes, carnivore-friendly food, and the pretense of not being completely starstruck"; we are told we are at "Porter Square Books" without any sense of what this place is or why it is important as a setting, and - most egregiously - we are taken to "Peet's on Labor Day weekend" without knowing, from the story, that Peet's is an iconic coffee shop in Harvard Square. To get any sense of Greater Boston in this book, the reader needs to have gone there first, experienced it first, in real life, before picking up on these brief mentions of location. Needless to say, this is not how good story telling happens. 

In addition to rushing from one scene to another, Zobair has written one of three main characters with such an implausible story line and such inexplicable motives that I found myself laughing out loud when confronted with her chapters. "Hayden" is a white, female lawyer from Colorado who falls in love with "Fadi", a man she meets at an abruptly cancelled wedding, who is engaged to a friend of her close friend, Amra (Amra meets Fadi through Hayden before meeting him later at Amra's friend's engagement party - unfortunately no hijinks ensue). 

Hayden, then, converts to Islam.

A (conveniently, from the point Zobair is hitting us over the head with) conservative strain of Islam that creates an arranged marriage for her with the female leader's son, who she eventually walks out on while he is asleep. While journeying through these implausible plot points we are treated to contrived moments of experiencing Islam for the first time as a convert ("But there were even more rules than she had imagined"), and tedious lectures on the evils of feminism ("Well, of course, I am just suggesting that perhaps women don't need to insinuate themselves into everything"). The point is clear: as a reader, you are supposed to empathize with Hayden and see through her eyes the extremes of Islam, so that you may safely fall back into the arms of self-determined feminism. 

The point is clear, it is so very, very clear that you have to thrust your feet in waders as you slog through the scenes with her character, navigating your way between dress codes and conservative talking points toward some high moment of plot resolution that never comes, because Hayden just sneaks out the back door.

Zobair's other main characters, Zainab and Amra, also have some moments of grappling with being contrived (Zainab, a campaign operative for a female, Republican candidate, inevitably has a relationship with Chase, the aforementioned, right wing talk radio host, while Amra navigates her parents' efforts to marry her off). However, there are moments when Zobair allows these two characters to deal with real problems as real women, and this is when the book shines. Amra's working-woman-while-pregnant stress is poignant and real, and the section where she gives birth to her daughter via an emergency C-section is written with care and compassion. Zainab also has a strong moment when, after a bombing attempt by two American converts to Islam, she refuses to issue her own statement condemning the bombing, a statement which would have been, as Amra puts it, "public and infantilizing and worse."

These exceptional moments are unfortunately few and far between, and by the end of the book the reappearance of another friend, Rukan, and a second boyfriend, and a wedding to make up for the one that was previously cancelled, hardly makes the journey to get there worthwhile. When I did get there, when I ended this book, I felt neither enlightened nor enraged, neither inspired nor in the throws of torrential sorrow, I was just bored, which is a terrible way to end what should have been a much more transportive and transformative book.

Being Smart, and a Size Zero, In a Dove Ad World

My first job after college was student teaching in the inner city in Los Angeles, and my first experience of Los Angeles was staying at the dorms at UCLA, during the first year of Teach for America, when they, and me, and all of us flown in together, were all just trying to figure things out. This was, and likely still is, a great metaphor for LA as a city, a place that is always just on the cusp of figuring things out, just on the edge of leading the rest of the country into some unknown territory of "pure air bars", botox, and the next concoction of tweaked, "natural" health and beauty tips that will somehow ensure that we all live longer, stay healthier, and, as an unspoken consequence, reach the end of that great pursuit of happiness that our country has promised us, complete with cake, and ice cream, and a chocolate egg to celebrate.

None of which, of course, will add to our waistline (see Albert Brooks' "Defending Your Life" for the LA ideal of heavenly, guilt-free, indulgent eating).

LA was also the first place that I heard stories of sorority hazing that involved each woman dressing in a bikini, standing up on a table in front of her peers armed with permanent markers, and allowing them to draw circles around her "problem areas", bumps of cellulite on the hips, arms that weren't perfectly toned, etc. etc. LA was the first place where I recall walking along the beach, on a paved, public, pedestrian pathway and glancing into un-curtained windows opened to the sea, one of which contained a woman, fully naked, surrounded by people who looked dressed for a dinner party (I didn't linger long enough to see what all of them were doing, and why - one learns to quickly walk past these things living in LA).  

LA is a city of commercial beauty, one that praises youth and money, never accepting the simple fact of life that, for most of us, these two things don't occur simultaneously. As a young woman, I girded myself against most of it, most of its cynicism, by thrusting my intelligence before me as some nerdy sword and shield, using the armor of the drumbeat of my childhood, when I was labeled ugly, and a loser, as the defensive definition of who I was, and trying my best to ignore the passes, personal, professional, and in passing, that were thrust upon me almost daily.

The real me, un-made-up, sweaty, hiking Toadstool Geologic Park last summer

The real me, un-made-up, sweaty, hiking Toadstool Geologic Park last summer

Since my time in Los Angeles, I've been a size 6, a size 16, and everything else in between. I am now a size 0. I've seen the features of my face fluctuate in the mirror with my changing weight and age, I've added a smallish amount of looseness around my stomach that most women who have had children have (and camouflage), and I've acquired an addiction to anti-aging eye cream that makes me blush just admitting that it exists.

The one thing that has remained a constant throughout all of this is the predictability of society's reactions to me based on the shape of my body. When I am thin (as I am now), I have to, seemingly, want the attention of anonymous men, I have to, seemingly, want to have a champers and hampers lifestyle, full of all of the frivolity that entails. When I was not thin, I was "real", "interesting", "quiet" and a "good mother".

To riff on that line from Sunset Boulevard, I am real, it's society that has gotten fictional.

That's what bothers me the most about this controversial ad Dove has put out there, one that's already been criticized for praising thinness, and a haltingly coy lack of ownership of one's own beauty. One's own sexiness.  It engages in this same fictionalization of beauty equaling happiness, equaling thinness, equaling something resembling enlightenment. I have yet to see a similar ad featuring a man looking at the representation of his features and talking about how important his personal beauty is to him as a parent, how much it will help him professionally, how it "couldn't be more critical to his happiness." This is what this is really about, after all, not beauty, or body perception, but happiness, that ethereal thing floating just outside our fingertips, promised to us in small packages beautifully wrapped, seen in others but not in ourselves, and seen in ourselves by others, because of what we look like, because of the assumptions made about the totality of one's life based on a dress size. 

To fix that, to fix the disease of expectations, internal and external, requires more than a few pencil sketches and some self-help books. It requires unflinching honesty, about who we are, and what we are, and what we want, and what sort of society all of us want to see, without mythologizing, without carefully crafted branding, and with the courage to just live, as we are, and accept others, as we encounter them. This is beyond the scope of a soap ad, granted, but talking about something as silly as a soap ad, with honesty, is a start.