Let’s abolish this phrase once and for all.
I always cringe when I hear the phrase guilty pleasure. I hate it most when it’s in a review of popular entertainment. Cultural critics apply it to catchy pop songs, big action movies, and engrossing books. As if the critics—whose job it is to tell us what’s entertaining—can’t admit they actually like something. Or can only admit it if they also claim to be above it.
But it’s not just critics. I hear this phrase everywhere. People use “guilty pleasure” as a shield, putting things down before others do it for them. I hear it a lot from fans of manga or romance novels or YA novels. Like they know they’re supposed to be reading Proust or Faulkner, but they just couldn’t help themselves.
But here’s what really bothers me. The phrase “guilty pleasure” is always, always applied to entertainment that appeals to the emotion rather than the intellect. It’s as if we’re afraid to have an emotional experience unless we kind of hate ourselves for doing so.
No, people. Just no.
Life is too short to worry about what your entertainment choices say about you as a person. And life is way too short to mock the things you love just because they bring you big laughs or big tears.
You know what I love? I love Pippin the musical. I love Star Trek, Mad Max, and any movie that has Jackie Chan in it. I love the Bernie Rhodenbarr books by Lawrence Block and the Goblin books by Jim C. Hines. And I will watch anything on HGTV. My favorite are those home makeover shows where the people cry at the end. Sometimes I cry too.
All these things are awesome. These stories feed my mind and my heart. and I refuse to label them guilty pleasures. I don’t have to justify the feelings I have toward them—or the feelings I get from experiencing them.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some friends coming over in a few minutes to watch Mad Max Fury Road. But first, I think I’ll queue up the Pippin soundtrack and dance around my house while singing “Corner of the Sky.”
And if my friends catch me doing it, I won’t be embarrassed.
I’ll invite them to sing along.
About the author: Alex Kourvo is a freelance editor who never feels guilty about enjoying the books she’s reading.
When you go to a school that worships football, creative writing can be a rebellious act.
When I was in high school, my friends and I started a literary magazine. Our sports-oriented, Catholic school didn’t have a literary magazine, and our principal didn’t want one, so my friends and I made one on our own time. It had our names on it, and was clearly an independent project.
There was nothing anti-school or anti-faculty or anti-religion in the magazine. It was all angsty teenage poems and one really cool science fiction story about a superhero who controls the weather.
We put a ridiculously low price on the cover, something like fifty cents. We weren’t trying to make money. We simply wanted to repay my friend’s dad, who had bought the paper for us and helped us with photocopying. We openly sold the magazine at school, the same way kids sold candy bars for their church trips or raffle tickets for YMCA fundraisers.
We were proud of our little magazine. And that pride is what got us in trouble. We put a copy into the mailbox of each of the English department faculty and gave one to our principal. We thought they’d like to see what their students had achieved.
The principal was livid. How dare we publish a literary magazine? How dare we do it without faculty approval? We were threatened with suspension. Our crime was selling a non school-sponsored magazine on school property. It was a flimsy excuse and he knew it, but he also knew he could make it stick. If he caught us trying to sell our magazine at school, he might have to kick us out.
For writing a literary magazine. On our own time. And selling it to our friends.
This was in the pre-internet era, otherwise our story would be all over social media. We’d probably have Facebook groups and IndieGoGo campaigns to raise money for our next issue and petitions calling for a public apology. But this was the digital dark ages. We had no voice. We had no power. The principal shut us down. We never published a second issue.
I spent the rest of high school—and many years after that—terrified that I’d be punished for writing.
I didn’t realize at the time that it was the principal who was truly terrified. We were writing, we were publishing, and other kids were paying for our words. We had better things to write about than our crappy redneck football school. We hadn’t mentioned it at all. But we could have. Oh, we could have.
We could have written about the drunk assistant principal or the abusive religion teacher or the inequitable funding between sports and the arts. We could have written about corruption and scandal. And we could have written reams about hypocrisy—about the ways Christianity was used against students on a daily basis.
It’s not often that I’d like to go back in time. Overall, I much prefer being a grown-up to being a kid. But if I could live one day of my life over, I might pick the day that my high school principal tried to bully me out of writing.
Because if I could go back to that day, knowing what I know now, I wouldn’t apologize. I wouldn’t ask for forgiveness. And I certainly wouldn’t promise to never do it again.
I would tell the principal that he could have what he wanted. I would tell him that we were done selling our literary magazine at school.
I’d tell him that a second issue was coming, and this one would be distributed for free.
Because my words—and those of my friends—are priceless.
About the author: Alex Kourvo is a freelance editor who knows what should be changed and what can’t be–in fiction and in life.
Americans spend 37 billion hours a year waiting in line. Sometimes I think I’ve personally waited all of them.
My life is not that challenging if the worst thing I do is stand in line. So why do I hate it so much?
It helps if the time spent waiting is proportional to what I’m waiting for. It has to be “worth it.” Thirty minute wait for a table at my favorite restaurant? No problem. Forty minutes for a roller coaster at a theme park? Sure. But make me wait behind two people at the drug store when all I need is a bottle of shampoo and I’m thinking OMG my life is so terrible lines are the literal worst.
It’s not because I’m an impatient person. I am very patient with my family and friends. Even strangers. I don’t mind when a pal is late for a coffee date or my sister doesn’t text back right away or someone zooms ahead of me in traffic.
Nor is it because we live in such a fast-paced world and we’re all impatient nowadays. Other studies have shown that the elderly are just as unforgiving of a long line as youngsters.
My big problem with lines is the theft.
I feel it most when I’m waiting to pay for something. When I have to wait in line, I’m paying twice: once in money and once in time. And the stores know it, too. They’re perfectly willing to hire a smaller staff, saving themselves a lot of money by costing each customer a sliver of time.
But time is a commodity and the older I get the more valuable my time is to me. Which is one of the reasons I’ve moved most of my shopping online. I use Amazon Prime because heck yes I’ll pay extra for two-day shipping and other perks. Come to think of it, I’ve never waited in line at Costco either—another pay-to-shop establishment.
It sounds ridiculous on the surface. Why pay to buy things? But that’s not what I’m paying for. I’m paying for extra staff to quickly ring up my purchases and get me on my way.
And I’m getting a bargain by no longer paying the hidden cost of stolen time.
About the author: Alex Kourvo is a freelance editor who never makes her clients wait in line.
Real estate signs in fancy neighborhoods promise “luxury living,” but I know better. True luxury is actually owning a house rather than being owned by one.
My family used to live in a fancy neighborhood.
It was a planned subdivision as flawless as a movie set. A hundred houses sat on wide, curving streets featuring cul-de-sac islands filled with trees and flowers. Houses were big. Yards were weed-free.
The neighborhood association cost $550 a year. Membership was mandatory.
For that price, we got private garbage pickup and the streets were plowed in winter. And we got rules. Lots of rules. The association told us what color we could paint our house and mailbox. It inspected our sidewalks for cracks and our trees for low-hanging branches. It didn’t allow basketball hoops or boats-on-trailers or RVs in the driveway, even for one night.
When the streets got potholes and the township wouldn’t repave, the neighborhood association charged each household in our subdivision three thousand dollars and hired a contractor to completely resurface the roads.
How the neighborhood looked was the most important thing.
And our house? It was freaking gorgeous. It was 3200 square feet with three bathrooms and a two-story great room and one of those curving staircases made for a girl to flounce down in her prom dress. It had a kitchen with endless counter space and a cooktop island and a white tile floor. It had a walk-in closet ten feet by twenty feet and a bathtub so big we could never fill it properly because our hot water heater didn’t hold that much.
Our beautiful house was also a shoddily constructed money pit.
The siding was glorified particleboard and the roof shingles were the thinnest kind made. The furnace was a builder’s special, meant to last five years or so. Ditto the hot water heater and the kitchen appliances. There were carpenter ants in the walls and mice in the attic. When we weren’t fixing things, we were cleaning. (Actually, I was the one doing the cleaning. Constantly. Did I mention the white floor?)
In the end, I didn’t care how my house looked. I cared how it felt. And it felt very, very bad. Our family could sprawl all over our huge house, but we could never fit in it. When my husband left me, he said, “I’ve never felt at home here.” Gee, me neither, hon. And even though he hated that damned house as much as I did, he urged me to stay in it anyway. I don’t know why. Some kind of punishment, maybe.
But I was done being punished by that house. I sold it at a loss and got out.
Now my kids and I live in town, in a neighborhood of tiny ranches. My street is a little less showy, a little less uniform. I no longer live in the sanitized Hollywood version of a neighborhood. I live in an authentic place. We don’t need a neighborhood association to tell us what to do. We all take great care of our homes because we live here.
My new house is the classic 1950s style with three small bedrooms and one bathroom. They don’t build them like they used to, but thank goodness they once did. My house is brick outside with plaster walls inside and a real wood floor. Every part of it was built to last. The previous owners did renovations with integrity, using high-quality finishes while matching the period style. My house might not be new, but it has more strength and character than houses half its age.
I can clean the entire thing, top to bottom, in half an hour. I’ve got a sixty year old maple tree in the front yard that drops an infinite number of leaves and yet my kids and I can rake them all up during the halftime break of a single football game.
I have less than a third of the physical space I had in my old house but my mental and emotional and spiritual space has increased a hundredfold. My kids and I love our new house, and a part of me thinks it loves having us live in it, too.
I call my new house Darling. When I walk in the door I always say, “Darling, I’m home!”
Because I am.
For the first time ever, I am home.
About the author: Alex Kourvo is an editor-for-hire who lives in the perfect house on the perfect street in the perfect town.