A Kind of Narcissism: Trigger Warnings Defining the Curriculum

A decade ago, a professor told me she was no longer able to teach Aristophanes’ Lysistrata without getting student complaints.

I was skeptical.

I doubted that any student at a Big Ten school would be shocked by the f-word in Lysistrata, a comedy in which the women protest war by refusing to have sex with their husbands.  This particular Big Ten school, of which I am very fond, has a reputation as a party school.  Trauma from reading Aristophanes doesn’t go with the Jell-O shots.

But I just read Jennifer Medina’s article in The New York Times, “Warning: The Literary Canon Could Make Students Squirm,” in which she says that students at The University of California in Santa Barbara, Oberlin, Rutgers, and other schools are demanding “trigger warnings” if books, movies, or other material in a classroom “might upset them or…cause symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder in victims of rape or in war veterans.”

On the trigger warning list are Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, and Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway.

My guess is that students who demand trigger warnings are not readers.  When I was an adjunct, students read very little, and when they did it tended to be violent thrillers or mysteries.  (Nowadays it might be Fifty Shades of Grey.) Presumably the Greek tragedians, the Roman poet Catullus, Dante, Christopher Marlowe, Rabelais, Henry Fielding, Dickens, Charlotte Bronte, James Joyce, Flannery O’Connor, Faulkner, Nadine Gordimer, Harold Pinter, and Doris Lessing are no more graphic than the students’ usual reading material, and yet these would doubtless come with trigger warnings.

Isn’t it narcissistic of students to assume that a novel or poem that deals with, say, war or rape will send them spiraling into trauma?  Literature challenges readers and illuminates subjects outside  their comfort zone, but can also be surprisingly therapeutic. Antigone has been taught to vets with great success, I understand, and Joydeep Roy-Bhattacharya’s The Watch, a contemporary version of Antigone, set in Afghanistan, would certainly fit on that syllabus.

A  group of my students in an elementary writing class appreciated Flannery O’Connor’s short story, “Parker’s Back,” in which a down-and-out man with a dishonorable discharge from the Navy gets a tattoo of a Byzantine Christ on his back to woo a Christian woman.  In retrospect, the grotesque details in this story would have required a trigger warning, but they actually sympathized with the bizarre main character.  And, honestly, they didn’t need a trigger warning.

Medina quotes Greg Lukianoff, president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a nonprofit group that advocates free speech, as saying,

Frankly it seems this is sort of an inevitable movement toward people increasingly expecting physical comfort and intellectual comfort in their lives. It is only going to get harder to teach people that there is a real important and serious value to being offended. Part of that is talking about deadly serious and uncomfortable subjects.”

The students’ demands are not, as they were in the ’60s and ’70s, to read the literature of war because they were protesting the war and wanted to understand the history of war, or to read more books by women because they wanted to read great literature about women’s experience.  “Trigger warnings” restrict the students’ universe rather than expand it. And one can’t help but cynically feel that if a student doesn’t want to be bothered with reading Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, he or she might protest.  (Of course, many of these students are sincere.)

We read literature for the style, craftsmanship,  content, and emotional satisfaction.  Studies show reading fiction helps people feel empathy.

Teaching is always hard, but I now understand why my friend said she couldn’t teach Lysistrata.

Mary Stewart, My Brother Michael, & Three Literary Links

Mary Stewart

Mary Stewart

On May 9, the novelist Mary Stewart, author of romantic suspense novels and an Arthur trilogy, died.

All my life I’ve enjoyed her elegant Gothic novels, as we called this genre when I was growing up in the ’60s: Stewart’s are probably the smartest Gothic mysteries ever written.   Her charming, witty, well-educated heroines quote Shakespeare, Milton, and Sophocles as they travel around Corfu, Austria, France, Greece, Crete, Damascus, and other exotic locations.  These intrepid narrator-heroines, who were my role models when I was a child, all have jobs: they are actresses, veterinarians, and Latin teachers on vacation. They stumble upon a mystery and fall in love with the hero or villain or both, and once they’ve distinguished which is which, they risk their lives to  find clues and solve the crime committed by the smugglers, thieves, or killers..  And they’re all so cool about it.

Mary Stewart My Brother MichaelAs an homage I decided to reread one of her early novels, My Brother Michael, not because it’s the best, but because the heroine, Camilla, is a Latin teacher.  Is it possible  Camilla inspired me to pursue classics?

As the novel opens, Camilla is alone in Athens in a cafe writing a letter to the woman who was supposed to travel with her (she broke a limb).  She writes,

“Nothing ever happens to me.”

That said, things begin to happen.

At the cafe, a strange man approaches her,  insisting she is “Simon’s girl.” He is delivering keys for the car she hired to drive to Simon in Delphi.” Camilla explains she doesn’t know Simon and she did not hire the car, but the man insists on leaving the key anyway.  So she pluckily decides to drive the car herself, since she had planned to go to Delphi anyway.  She will deliver the car to Simon and go back on the tour bus.

She has some difficulties:   along the way she gets stuck behind a bus which accelerates every time she tries to pass, denudes a cockerel of his tail-feathers, and cannot reverse her car.

At Arachiva, Simon, who is English, takes over: he insists he is not the Simon she is looking for, but he, too, is staying in Delphi, and will drive her there, and find her a hotel.

It turns out that Simon is a classics teacher at a boys’ school (small world) but is here not for the antiquities but to learn what happened to his brother Michael during  World War II when he was working with a guerilla group.

Camilla visits various Greeks with him. Who were Michael’s friends or enemies?   The novel proceeds quickly, with its glimmer of glamour and sex.

My favorite book by Stewart is This Rough Magic, which, as you will guess, plays with the theme of Shakespeare’s  The Tempest.  Among Stewart’s best mysteries are The Moon-Spinners, This Rough Magic, The Gabriel Hounds, and Airs Above the Ground.

If you like Daphne du Maurier, you are likely to enjoy Stewart.

Stewart also wrote a King Arthur trilogy, The Crystal Cave, The Hollow Hills, and The Last Enchantment.

You can read her obituary in The New York Times.

2.  In The Wall Street Journal, John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces is recommended as a commencement gift.

A Confederacy of Dunces” draws so heavily on its locale, in fact, that Louisianans have wondered how—or if—the novel’s peculiar charms might appeal to readers in other places. They needn’t have worried. The book won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1981, and more than 3.5 million copies of the novel have been sold around the world. It’s been translated into more than two dozen languages. A stage version of the book is reportedly in the works.

3.  Ron Charles writes in The Washington Post Style Blog about Karen Joy Fowler’s acceptance speech for The PEN/Faulkner Award for her stunning novel, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, which I wrote about here.

4.  If you’re in Chicago June 7-8, you can attend The Printers Row Book Fest.   The line-up includes James Patterson, Lidia Bastianich, Stuart Dybek, Barbara Ehrenreich, Joseph J. Ellis, Bill and Willie Geist, Jon Langford, Lorrie Moore, Walter Mosley, Justin Roberts, Mavis Staples, Cal Thomas, Marlo Thomas, Colson Whitehead and Andrew Zimmern.

Edgy on Pop & Reviews of Julia MacDonnell’s Mimi Malloy, At Last! & Tarashea Nesbit’s The Wives of Alamos

I recently concluded after reading several articles by literary journalists that women have to be edgy to get attention. Do women write even more about pop culture now than they did in the days of the Women’s Page?  In The Guardian, Elizabeth Edmondson, an author of historical novels and historical and contemporary romantic comedies, recently claimed it is nonsense to say Jane Austen wrote literary fiction.  In the entertaining but also very literary Washington Post Book World, Sarah MacLean, a romance writer, picked the best romance novels for May.  (Is this a Post  first?)  And Rebecca Mead, a New Yorker staff writer and author of My Life in Middlemarch,  wrote a long feature in The New Yorker on Jennifer Weiner, an author of pop women’s fiction who has urged book review publications to review more fiction by women.  (Weiner also wants her own books to be reviewed, but she is not a very good writer.)

Although I am edgier than some bloggers, I truly am not trying to be edgy here:   I am not the only reader who believes it is a waste of time to write such articles let alone read them; is this the only way women can get published?  (Probably.)  Why should we waste time pretending Jane Austen is pop–is it so more will read her?–or give space to a long article about Jennifer Weiner instead of, say, Elizabeth Spencer?

Mind you, I used to be a pop culture writer, and I am all about taking chances.  Yes, Julia Louis-Dreyfuss is brilliantly funny and even vulnerable as the vice president in Veep, especially in an episode that gently satirizes Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! program.  (Turns out Selena hates fat people, and she might be pregnant.)  I would rather watch Battlestar Galactica than go to Le Weekend, though I do like Jeff Goldblum, or The Railway Man (God, no, nothing to do with World War II, please), even though Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman doubtless are wonderful.  Am I pop enough for ya? Sometimes pop and art overlap, I know.

There also appears to be a bit of a literary-pop overlap going on in book publishing.  “Doesn’t this look good?”  I’ll say about a book I picked up by chance, and then before I know it I’m curled up in chair reading TaraShea Nesbit’s debut, and 70 pages later wondering simply if I should bother to finish it.

Mimi MalloyI recently read Julia MacDonnell’s Mimi Malloy, At Last!  Although it is pop fiction, it is more successful in its genre than some literary fiction is in its “genre.” It borders on literary fiction.

I picked up Julia MacDonnell’s book because I am interested in reading about older heroines: Mimi, 67, has lost her job, and is now at home in the apartment all day, smoking. One of her daughters wants to put her in an assisted living facility, but Mimi, even though an MRI shows black spots in her brain,  is  humorous,  sensible, and damned if she is going to let her six daughters take over her life.

Mimi has had a tough life–divorced after she lost her looks–and I love her observations about her hysterectomy.

All women lose their looks.  Sooner or later.  It’s inevitable, like sun in morning, moon at night.  No female escapes, no matter how much time or money she’s got to spend on herself.  Most women, though, lose their looks in bits and pieces, a wrinkle here, an extra pound or two there, then the drooping boobs, the sagging bottom, the thinning hair and thickening waist.  But me, I lost them all at once–here today, gone tomorrow–the same way I once lost a good watch and then a pair of rosary beds Jack had given me, no clue about their worth until I realized they were gone for good.

Her six daughters are pretty much alienated from her, but when they get together with Mimi and  her sisters, and explore their Irish-American past , they solve the problem of what happened to their sister, Fagan, who was sent away by their violent stepmother.

It   brings them together.  Mimi also gets a boyfriend.  And they no longer try to pull them apart.

The Wives of Los AlamosOn the other hand, Tarashea Nesbit’s debut, The Wives of Los Alamos, is a big disappointment.  I’m fascinated by the history of Los Alamos, the town where families had to be secretive about their location, and Nesbit tells the story of the wives of the scientists and engineers who developed the atom bomb.  Nesbit writes from the first person plural perspective (“we” did this; “we” did that), but she certainly doesn’t do this as  well as Joan Chase in During the Reign of the Queen of Persia.  The first 70 pages  of The Wives of Los Alamos are very moving,  but then it becomes wildly uneven, and I never could keep the characters straight.  There is not much text on the page, and a space between almost every very short paragraph, and there are lots of pedestrian, trying-to-be-poetic statements like:

Like many moving toward an unknown future, we clung to the beliefs that had carried us this far–about people, the world, our husbands, the war–until that strategy could no longer assuage our fears.”

Not very good poetry, and quite repetititive.  This could be a book club selection, but would the average book club put up with first-person plural?  We’ll see.

Friends on the Internet

The internet is is here, it can be addictive, and people are idle.

Old friends you hope to hear from don’t contact you.

Few of my “real-life” friends have Facebook pages or Twitter accounts.

Their names barely show up on Google.

My name barely shows up on Google.

It is a relief.

For years my name was out there.  If you write, and I used to write, some of your old articles are published on the internet.  As the years go by, fewer of your articles show up.  My worst essay has finally vanished.

Thank God.

There’s something about the internet.

Old friends you hope to hear from never contact you.  The people you barely knew and never think of track you down .  Troubled people email you.  People who dated you when you were thin and blonde email you.  Very occasionally someone you really liked sends a greeting.

Some people want you to write articles about them.

You write, “I’m so glad you’re doing well;  lovely to hear from you; but sorry, I don’t write anymore.”

The internet is there, it can be addictive, and people are idle.

All right, I Googled some people tonight.  I am idle.

Google can be like surveillance. Even the name of a friend who obviously didn’t want to be found–in 20 years online, her name has never appeared–recently showed up in a Google search.  Her photo and a short resume appear, probably to her annoyance, in conjunction with her workplace.   Oh, I’m relieved she’s alive.  I was afraid she’d committed suicide.  She has impressive liberal arts degrees, and I am proud of her.  She dropped out for a while, as we all did, but she survived.

“Why don’t you email her?” my husband asked.

“I couldn’t possibly.”

Often I Google an old friend and the news is sad.  He or she has died:  my best friend from high school; the first boy who ever told me I was pretty; and my favorite professor.

One of my former professors, not much older than I am, actually has a Facebook page.  I enjoyed her list of favorite movies and music, but I will not email her.  I took one class from her years ago, and she would not remember me.  It was a large class.

Famous people are often Googled or even cyberstalked.

Oh, dear, maybe I shouldn’t have sent a fan email to So-and-So?

Is that okay?

I have made some real friendships on the net,  and cyberfriends often know how to behave on the internet better than these new-old friends.

No, it is past acquaintances who are sometimes inappropriate.    Does he or she really think I would believe a lie or two or three I’ve caught?   Do I need these outpourings?  Who is he or she again?

“Honey, do we know this person who says he’s from X and knew us in So-and-So’s class?”  I call.

“Don’t open it.”

And now you know what it is to be cyberstalked.

Joan Chase’s During the Reign of the Queen of Persia

Joan Chase during-the-reign-of-the-queen-of-persia-421Lately I’ve read voraciously.  I’ve read everything from classics to superb literary fiction to junk disguised as literary fiction.

Tonight I’m writing about Joan Chase’s 1983 classic, During the Reign of the Queen of Persia, reissued by NYRB.

First, let me say that Chase’s During the Reign of the Queen of Persia is magnificent.  Set on an Ohio farm in the 1950s, it tells the story of three generations of women: Gram, also referred to as the Queen of Persia, is a sharp, often rude, old woman who rose from poverty and purchased the farm when an uncle took an interest in her and gave her money.  Gram has had a hard life:  she scorns her alcoholic husband.  After she does her housework, she dismisses the demands of family and goes out with her friends to the races or Bingo.  The women  dominate:  Gram and her five daughters and four granddaughters are the stars.

Chase daringly narrates the story from the first-person plural point of view (“we” did this, “we” did that); it is told by Lil’s four granddaughters, Celia, Jenny, Anne, and Katie.  This unusual literary voice can seem excessive and fail in lesser hands (and, alas, is not quite successful in a first novel I recently read, Tarashea Nesbit’s The Wives of Los Alamos), but Chase is always in control of her pitch-perfect, lyrical storytelling. The only other writer I can think of who holds the reins so tightly in a first-person-plural narrative is Margaret Drabble in her recent graceful novel, The Pure Gold Baby.

Gradually, we unravel the relationships between the women in Gram’s tight-knit, outspoken family.  They are constantly fighting and abusive, then turn suddenly laughing and supportive.  Three of Gram’s daughters, always referred to in the narrative as the aunts, live on the farm at least part of the time:  Aunt Libby with her kind husband, Uncle Dan, a butcher, and two daughters, Celia and Jenny (two of the narrators); Aunt Grace, a former schoolteacher who often leaves her husband to return home with her two daughters, Anne and Katie (the other two narrators);  Aunt Rachel and her son, Rossie, live there until Granddad dies; Aunt Elinor, a Christian Scientist and unsuccessful actress-singer, lives in New York; and Aunt May runs a hotel.

The novel opens with a vivid description of the “arable acres” that extend from the flat Lake Erie region of northern Ohio; and  from that description of the farms on gently rolling hills the story gradually rolls into the story of family life.

We get a picture of the small town near the farm.

Our Uncle Dan had his butcher shop on that town square.  It was on the backside, beside the newsstand, beyond which the city buses loaded.  When we went inside after the picture show or from shopping at Fitchberg’s Dry Goods, we’d finger pennies out of the cup he kept on the shelf and have a round pop of colored gum from the machine while we waited for Aunt Libby to drive from our farm to pick us up.  If Uncle Dan was busy with a customer he wouldn’t say a word to us, wouldn’t seem even to recognize us, going on with his practical and patient advice to any of his familiar clientele.

There is much humor, much of it about sex.  All of the aunts have been attractive and sexy, but Aunt Libby cannot adjust to her daughter Celia’s lasciviousness.  Celia is wild, dating several boys, going too far; Aunt Libby stays up late, flicking the lights, and fights with her daughter about the low-class boys she dates.  She only approves, ironically, of the one who turns out to be bad, though perhaps not as bad as she thinks.

The younger girls spy on Celia with boys, and want what she has for themselves, and know they will have “it,” because all the women in their family do.  But family comes first.

The men in the family are weak.  Granddad, an abusive alcoholic, is loved by his daughters and granddaughters, but hated by Gram.  Escaped or probably expelled from the Amish, he courted her and won her, then was violent.  Because of the money, Gram now has complete control.  But she despises her daughters’ husbands, with the exception of Uncle Dan, and loathes Aunt Grace’s husband, Neil, a weak, hard-drinking writer.

Much of the novel revolves around Aunt Grace’s tragic dying of cancer.  Gram rages, and the rest of the family, with the exception of Aunt Elinor, a Christian scientist, have trouble understanding the point of life and death.  Grace’s suffering is terrifying.

Gram is furious.

I should have strangled her with my own hands,” she cried out once, one of the outbursts which came seemingly from nowhere and left her momentarily crushed.

There is much talk of strangling in the novel:  “Now Anne was steaming, holding back but poised, so that we thought one more thing and she would leap on her sister and strangle her to death”;  Granddad once “glared as if he wanted to strangle the horse”; and after Aunt Grace’s death Anne and Katie fight and “Anne’s hands had strangled and at first she couldn’t get her breath.”

This is not a book about an ideal family.  It is about the kind of farm family so many of us knew in the Midwest when we were growing up in the 20th century.  These farms are gone.  These people are not and were never the sanitized farmers on television.

A fascinating novel, and with a fascinating introduction by Meghan O’Rourke.  This is one of best novels I’ve read this year.

Classics We Haven’t Read & Why You Should Read Anna Karenina

Not chatting about books, are they?

These bicyclists aren’t chatting about books, are they?

Bicyclists on a long ride are usually too busy pedaling to chat about books, but during the third hour of a mind-numbing ride into a fierce Nebraska wind, we were so bored that we actually considered the question, “What classics haven’t you read?”

What haven’t I read?  Moby Dick.  I once made it as far as Chapter 42, “The Whiteness of the Whale.” Beautiful writing, but was I just a tad bored?  A tad or two.  My husband’s laudation of Melville’s style, and even the critic Michael Dirda’s contention that Moby Dick is the Great American Novel cannot persuade me to read it.

My favorite book.

My favorite book.

My husband admits he has not read Anna Karenina.   It is one of my favorite books.

Possibly the opening lines of Anna Karenina terrify men.  He denies it.

All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

All was confusion in the Oblonskys’ house.  The wife had found out that the husband was having an affair with their former French governess, and had announced to the husband that she could not live in the same house with him.

Marriage, families, confusion, adultery.

In addition to exploring the consequences of men’s and women’s infidelities, Tolstoy’s novel is filled with extraordinary scenes that make this a dramatic pageturner (and, yes, I just reread it, in the wonderful award-winning Pevear and Volokhonsky translation).


1.  BEST ICE-SKATING SCENE.   Levin, a landowner, comes to Moscow to propose to Kitty.  He ice-skates with her and endearingly learns a new trick.

Just then one of the young men, the best of the new skaters, with skates on and a cigarette in his mouth, came out of the coffee room and, taking a short run, went down the steps on his skates, clattering and jumping.  He flew down and, not even changing the free position of his arms, glided away over the ice….

“Ah, that’s a new stunt!” said Levin, and immediately ran up to try it.

Although he stumbles, he skates away laughing, reminding Kitty of what a dear man he is.  Unfortunately, she thinks of him as a brother.

2.  3.  BEST ILLICIT ATTRACTION SCENE AT A BALL (OH, JANE AUSTEN, IF ONLY YOU’D KNOWN…).   Anna Karenina comes to Moscow to heal the rift between her brother Stiva and his wife, Dolly:  by chance she meets Kitty’s new boyfriend, Vronsky, at the train station. He is very attracted.  At the ball at which Kitty expects him to propose, he dances almost exclusively with Anna.

Each time he spoke with Anna, her eyes flashed with a joyful light and a smile of happiness curved her red lips.  She seemed to be struggling with herself to keep these signs of joy from showing, yet they appeared on her face of themselves.  “‘But what about him?’ Kitty looked at him and was horrified.  What portrayed itself so clearly in the mirror of Anna’s face, she also saw in him.

3. SOLACE WHEN YOU’RE DUMPED.  Kitty has a nervous breakdown when Vronsky leaves Moscow to pursue Anna Karenina to Petersburg.

Her sister Dolly tries to comfort Kitty.

Come now, Kitty.   Can you really think I don’t know?  I know everything.  And believe me, it’s nothing…  We’ve all gone through it.”

But poor Kitty has not gone through it yet.

4.  MOST TRAGIC HORSE-RACING SCENE.  Before Vronsky rides in a steeplechase race, his mother and brother object to his scandalous passion for the married Anna (they would prefer him to have a chic, light affair), and Anna tells him she is pregnant.  During the race, his mistreatment of the horse, Frou-Frou, leads to her death, and foreshadows Anna’s fate.

5.  MOST AGONIZING FALLEN-WOMAN-REJECTED SCENE.  After Anna and Vronsky live together in Europe, she refuses to believe that Petersburg society will ostracize her.  She goes to the theater, and is publicly humiliated.

He knew she had gathered her last forces in order to maintain the role she had taken upon herself.  And in this role of ostensible calm she succeeded fully.  People who did not know her and her circle, and who had not heard all the expressions of commiseration, indignation and astonishment from women that she should allow herself to appear in society and to appear so conspicuously in her lace attire and in all her beauty, admired the calm and beauty of this woman and did not suspect that she was experiencing the feelings of a person in the pillory.

A brilliant book, a tragedy, but also with many joyous scenes of love and family life (which I haven’t included here).  No one wrote better than Tolstoy.

Dancing with the Stars

Meryl Davis & Maksim Chmerkovskiy

Meryl Davis & Maksim Chmerkovskiy on Dancing with the Stars

I watched Dancing with the Stars tonight.

“That is truly a trashy show,” my husband says.

No, it isn’t.  It is one of the most charming shows on TV.  I sit down and watch it for two hours every Monday and am  fascinated by the drama–well, it’s a fake drama, but I still enjoy it– as well as the dancing.

You get to know the characters.

You get to know the dancers.

You get to know the judges.

Most of the dancers dramatically improve.

It’s not just about the dance:  there is also narrative.  Short clips of the sweaty practice sessions are shown before each dance routine. Dancers temporarily defeated by the demands of the dance let off steam by crying, leaving the room, or punching the wall. Those first steps are so clumsy that it  seems impossible that a polished dance routine will emerge.  Then it does.

I started watching the show because Meryl Davis and Charlie White, Olympic Gold Medalist ice dancers, are two of the competitors this season.  They do not, however, dance together.  The “stars” are paired with professional dancers.

The stars?  Well, yes, that part is a joke, except for the Olympians.  Quite a few of them are has-beens–this season, there are/were two washed-up sitcom  stars from the ’80s-90s, Candace Cameron Bure from Full House and Danica McKellar from the Wonder Years.  At first I thought Candace Cameron Bure was a barracuda.  (Now I think she was just anxious.)  The one who MAY have been a barracuda was Danica McKellar, a slightly better dancer who reminded me of a cheerleader.  I disliked her girl-next-door widening of eyes and jumping up and down; beneath it she seemed arrogant. She was voted off the show, and  I’m not sure it had anything to do with her dancing.

Then there’s Amy Purdy, a double-amputee who won a  Paralympic Bronze Medal in snowboarding at Sochi this year.  She dances elegantly on prosthetic legs.

The judges give their scores, but viewers also phone in their “votes.”  Sometimes the bad dancers are voted off; sometimes the good dancers.  Although Charlie White got 40 out of 40 last week and 40 out of 40 this week for one of his two dances, he was eliminated.

And this is why it is is absurd to give viewers a voice and let them call a 1-800 number and vote on who stays and who goes.  Far better to let the judges decide, as they do on Master Chef.

Next week we have the finals, and I certainly hope Meryl and Maks win.  How my vote fits in I don’t know, but that’s the way we live in America now.  Yup, I dialed that number.  That’s one vote from flyover country.  I’m voting to back up the judges’ scores, and because Meryl and Maks are the best dancers.