Fresh Is a Meaningless Word

I’ve been staying at a hotel for work all week. It’s a boutique hotel, so there’s no restaurant downstairs — just a cafe and bar that serves simple breakfast stuff in the mornings. I was there before the server this morning, and watched as she rolled up the cover to reveal all the baked items and juice and fruit underneath. They’d been there overnight.

“When were these muffins made?” I asked.

“Yesterday. They’re all fresh.”

The oxymoron sirens sounded in my head, though the server did not hear them. I’m not sure what others’ definition of fresh is, but mine firmly disallows muffins made the previous day. And orange juice squeezed more than 12 hours prior. To me, recent means, at the earliest, today. Many bakeries sell day-old baked goods at a discount precisely because they don’t taste as good as the stuff made that morning. Krispy Kreme has made millions by putting up signs advertising donuts straight out of the oven.

But the f-word has been on a precipitous decline anyway (my use of it in other articles notwithstanding), at least since Subway trademarked “Eat Fresh”. Does fresh mean that the lettuce was removed from the package that morning? That the meat was recently thawed? Was it fresh out of the bag? And then there’s farm fresh, factory fresh. Fresh, fresh, fresh. The word is meant to make something sound healthy or new, but it’s used in so many situations in which it is neither that it’s lost its meaning.

We may need a fresh word to replace it.


Making Assumptions from Behind the Steering Wheel

Last week, somebody driving by our house called Animal Control on us. They reported that our dog was outside without any water in his water bowl. Animal Control came out to find not only a full water dish but also my family playing with him. Clearly, our adopted dog, who we took with us all the way from Florida, is not neglected.

But someone assumed he was. They couldn’t see a water bowl so assumed it wasn’t there. They didn’t know we work from home and have an open-door policy with our dog, allowing him to come inside or go outside as he pleases (just a bark is all we need), so they assumed he was outside by his lonesome all day.

We often assume the worst about other people in daily life. We don’t have the facts, so we make them up to form a narrative that makes sense to us. And our narratives, like our television and movie plot lines, veer into dark territory. The guy in the car accident was probably drunk. The married coworker without the wedding ring is probably having an affair. And the dog outside in the daytime is probably neglected.

It’s impossible to understand others’ lives — the ones they live 24/7 — by observing for a few moments as we drive on by.


A Review of (Insert Film Name Here)

I was going to write about this awful movie I saw this week. I wanted to share how dreadful the lead performance was, to decry its syncopated plotting, to shake my fists at its ham-fisted ending.

But then I decided against it, not because my opinion changed, nor because I think people should watch it.

I decided against panning the film publicly because all of these people — the actors and writers and director — were trying to come together to make something fresh and thoughtful and entertaining. They didn’t play it safe, but went for something unique. It just didn’t work out as they planned.

On social media, we love to criticize others’ efforts because it makes it easier to push down our own creative impulses — to never try. It’s much harder to be generous to the artist(s) and say, “I see what you were going for” — even if it doesn’t get there. And while there’s plenty of room for art criticism, it doesn’t need to come from all corners of the internet. More feedback is just adding another body to the dog pile…and I’d like these artists to be able to get back up, shake themselves off, and try to make something fresh again.

Commentary, Tips for Writers

Writing Is Hard

If given the choice, I’d rather not write. It’s hard, day after day, to come up with something out of nothing. Better to edit — that way, there’s a starting point. You can take something that’s already on paper and make it better or even completely change it. There’s a catch, though: To edit, you have to write something first.


The Trouble with Inheritance

There’s a good show on Netflix called The Crown, which I’ve written about on my long-form blog, Serial Monography.

The Crown‘s themes of birthright and hereditary duty cut against the American sensibility of egalitarianism. In the U.S., we like to pretend that every individual has an equal shot at becoming a political leader, getting rich, achieving fame and glory. The only problem is it’s just not true. While there are plenty of rags-to-riches stories to fuel young strivers, the playing field is far from level. People still inherit money and property from their parents, as well as their good name. Or they don’t. In this way, wealth and status gaps get perpetuated.

For all its silliness, it might be better to have a constitutional monarchy as the UK does. The presence of a queen or king would remind everyone that life isn’t fair — some people get higher status because of the lottery of birth — and that we shouldn’t pretend things are egalitarian. But until everyone acknowledges the problem, there’s not much we can do to correct it.