Marissa Explains It All #4 – “Time to Lean, Time To Clean”

“Time to lean, time to clean.”

I remember hearing that at my very first job at fourteen-years-old. It was something the managers said whenever anyone had the nerve to not be doing something 100 percent of the time, even if things were slow. Don’t you dare rest your cranky back or anything, you should be scrubbing during a few second reprieve of bullshit.

I can’t help but notice that’s a common theme in certain kinds of jobs. It doesn’t just stem from idle time, but an overall lack of humanity and agency for the workers in jobs that society as a whole views as “lesser.” Here are some more examples.

-Restaurants that make you take off your work uniform during a lunch break. Because if the guests find out something ridiculous, like that the workers are also human you need to eat, they might not come back or something.

-Eating in a closet-sized breakroom for the same reason, because not only are you a robot that doesn’t eat, but if you’re seen doing so, it might reflect laziness upon the staff. Yes, actual excuse I’ve heard.

-Don’t show up to eat if you’re not scheduled that day. If they find out employees also have days off, the apocalypse might happen.

-If you can be making commission on the sales floor, you really should be doing it. I know we technically have to offer you a break, but we’ll look down on you if you take it, and maybe not keep you on because you might like to eat during your twelve-hour holiday shift. We’ve already established from restaurants that eating is a sign of laziness.

-Even if your sales environment is slow, don’t you dare get caught sitting down or glancing at your phone. Sure, a customer hasn’t come in in two hours due to the blizzard, but if you have to stand up to greet a customer, they might think you did something outlandish like eat a snack or acknowledge your existence outside of the business. I know you have injuries that make standing for eight straight hours difficult, but you should’ve thought of that before thinking you should eat this week.

-You want to spend part of a holiday with your family? Hah! We’re your family. So what if you have to work from 11pm Thanksgiving night to 1pm Black Friday afternoon? We black out holidays for requests off, working those days is mandatory. Anyone who calls off will be fired on the spot. Spend time with your family in March.

-I know you already have two jobs, but you don’t have literally completely open availability so we won’t even look at your application. I know we’re only offering 15 hours a week but you need to be available 24/7 so management doesn’t have to work evenings.

-If you have the nerve to actually be off on your day off and not be on-call or accepting of any extra shifts, you’re probably just a lazy bum who doesn’t really care about your work and you don’t have what it takes. People should always want to work all the time no matter what.

-You spend too much time in the bathroom. Get back to work. Nobody has to go that often, you’re probably just sitting on your phone.


So when I read stories about companies inventing toilets slanted 13 degrees, or workplaces with a policy of “if you’re in the bathroom longer than ten minutes, a smell check will be administered,” or that Amazon workers have to piss in bottles because their rates might slip into firing range if they dare go to the bathroom, all I hear in my head is:

“Time to lean, time to clean.”

Marissa Explains It All #3 – 3 Professors

I attended the University of Pennsylvania from 2013-17.

The Ivy League schools have particular programs for community college transfers, or “working professionals” as they like to call them. UPenn is the only one that gives the same degree to their token poor… I mean, working professionals… That the traditional students get. Let me back up a bit to explain how I got there.

I grew up in a deep red area of central Pennsylvania that was somehow both conservative and elitist. In the early 90s when I moved there at the age of six, there was testing for autism, but nothing like it is now, or I may have gotten the help I needed at the time.

I was bored within a few weeks of first grade, and because of this, the teacher put me on independent assignments that let me not participate in most of the classes. This continued through fifth grade, so I spent five formative years basically working independently and doing whatever I wanted.

This didn’t turn out so well when I hit junior high, both socially and academically. I never learned study skills, how to be a part of a class, or that I had to participate with everyone else. To make an extremely long story short, I was politely asked to leave high school after my tenth grade year when I had long since checked out of caring about anything.

I got my GED at 16 by going to Florida where my grandmother lived, because unlike in Pennsylvania, you could take it at that age instead of having to wait until your class graduated like in Pennsylvania. I aced it, which surprised people, considering my track record in school. Therefore, the idea was to try to go to community college where my mom worked. This didn’t go well. I was 17, and struggled even more with classes that seemed like they were optional to attend. I tried again at 20, and I just wasn’t fit for it at the time.

After spending eight years scraping by and working retail, I decided to give it another shot. This time, at age 26, I went back to school and started getting A’s in everything. The years of working and the age difference had given me a greater appreciation for education, and even though I had the same struggles I did the first time around (sitting still, focusing, being distracted by sounds), I excelled. After three semesters, I was offered a membership into Phi Theta Kappa, the community college equivalent of Phi Beta Kappa, and the offers for four-year transfers started rolling in.

Penn, being accessible from where I lived near Harrisburg by Turnpike and Amtrak, was the only one I applied to, and I got in almost immediately. I’ll save the story for that four-year, 100-mile daily commute for another time, this isn’t about that.

I got to be immersed in a completely different world for four years, where students with relatives like Trump and Biden had been preparing for their Ivy League admission their entire lives. Here I was, still working as an assistant manager at a retail store, and to say I felt some economic disparity would be an understatement. However, that was mostly with other students.

I had some of the most amazing professors and grad student mentors I could’ve ever wished for. I didn’t start getting treated for autism and other issues until my junior year, which made such a world of difference that I only wish I’d known about it sooner, but even before that, I was pulling honors grades.

Since I don’t really celebrate anything involving holidays, reflecting on three professors who made a difference in my life seemed appropriate. If you’re ever fortunate enough to attend Penn, the traditional method or the lucky alternate way into the school like I did, regardless of your major, I highly recommend taking a class from these three amazing women.

Professor Meta Mazaj

One of my majors was cinema and media studies. While I started off being interested in screenwriting, which I’ll get to with the next professor, what ended up drawing my greatest passion was theory. Film theory, media theory, analysis of such, and philosophical implication. Some of this had been started through the journalism major I was attending community college through, but it really stepped up here.

Professor Mazaj was the biggest reason I dove so deep into these ideas.

I took five classes from Professor Mazaj over a few years, including Film Theory, History in Film, and World Cinema. While I didn’t end up pursuing film, the practice of analyzing film from a theoretical and cultural perspective taught me so much about modern media and interpretation thereof.

Professor Mazaj was an absolute delight, never making anyone feel unwelcome or out of their league. Her lectures were always engrossing and entertaining, and the papers she assigned always brought out the best in me. I’d still be grateful for taking her classes if I never saw another movie in my life.


Professor Kathy Van Cleve

As I mentioned before, I initially wanted to go into screenwriting. These skills came in handy after graduation when I started writing skits for podcasts, and eventually two full-length radio plays. However, it isn’t just film that I learned from Professor Van Cleve. Story structure, being relatable, writing characters that have clear motivations, stories that make sense and appeal to more than just my own ideas, Professor Van Cleve’s workshop-style class taught me more than I’d ever learned before.

I took three classes with Professor Van Cleve, including one with her partner, Professor Emory Van Cleve which was called the Art and Business of Cinema. These classes were so unique and innovative that they broke the mold for what I thought creative classes could be in multiple aspects.

The objective of the Advanced Screenwriting class I took with Professor Van Cleve twice was probably pretty obvious: write a screenplay. While that may not sound like the most appealing idea to many, it was the method by which we learned and feedback was achieved that made this class legendary.

By certain deadlines, we needed to have at least 30 pages of a draft ready to go. Three people would be workshopped in the three hour class period. The writer of the draft would then pick all the characters in the work and assign roles to the rest of the class, who would be reading along. Professor Van Cleve would narrate all the direction and action, while the rest of the class read the pieces out loud. Given the creative types that took classes like this, I had the privilege of being in classes with people who are now working in Hollywood. I even interviewed one of them on my former podcast.

Nick Marini, a class act and a really talented actor, was the one who always got the best roles in reading, and who can blame them? When you write a piece to be performed, you want the best voices to bring your characters to life, for better or worse. Hearing people read what you’ve written gives you an idea of how your words sound outside your head, but instead of reading them out loud yourself, which has its own merit, a class full of contemporaries reading your work and then offering extensive feedback was extremely useful.

Professor Van Cleve made learning about writing and story structure not only accessible, but the class format was interactive, unique, and worth every second of attending every class. The Art and Business of Cinema class was almost like a semester-long roleplay, in which through groups, you would imitate the process of making a movie, from pitching the idea to selecting roles, and by the end, one scene would be acted out and submitted for a semester-end Oscar ceremony. There was nothing like it I’d ever seen, and I learned so much about the business aspect of cinema, which is what conversely made me not want to go into it. No regrets, however. I learned a lot, and drew the inspiration for my first novel in the process. That project showed me that I preferred to write in that form rather than screenplay.


Professor Marion Kant

I owe Professor Marion Kant a dinner every week for several years for how much she taught me in one critical semester of travel writing. The class just so happened to be in the midst of the 2016 election, and that made writing in context significantly higher in the stakes than it might’ve normally been.

For an autistic person, I cannot stress enough how knowing exactly what someone wants from you can make us thrive. Obviously, your mileage may vary, but I’ve never been good at navigating the language of “what shouldn’t need saying” or “this isn’t what I want, but you figure out what it is I want.” Professor Kant had no issue telling you exactly what she wanted, and what she thought of it when you gave it to her.

First, we picked a location in Philadelphia that we would be able to travel to frequently. In my case, I chose Franklin Field, the football stadium, since I was working for the football team at the time. Every week, we would read assignments that fit within some aspect of travel writing, whether it be sound, silence, history, danger, and many others, and then write a piece fitting within that idea.

Every essay would be exactly 500 words; no more, no less. Given the brevity of these pieces, all of them would be read and commented on in the class, and since there were only nine total students, this was not difficult to do. I’d never even considered creative travel writing until this class unlocked that within me, and with the therapy I’d been getting with learning how to be a human again through understanding autism, my writing powers were unleashed. I ended up writing an entire book during this class, in addition to my scheduled classwork.

Furthermore, the style and ideas implemented in this class provided a basis for my future in writing. Not only did what I learned in her class help me decide how I was going to write and what I was going to write, but the methods through which I tapped inspiration in order to write and why I needed to. Granted, the circumstances were unusual, given one of our more infamous alum at UPenn was elected President that semester, but I’d like to think Professor Kant’s class would’ve unlocked this regardless.

My master’s thesis at this point is a huge homage to this class and what it meant to me, as I now write 500-word travel essays and categorize them within some of the ideas from that class. That has been the project I’ve devoted the most amount of time to by far, and I think it’s fair to say that I may not be who I am today if it wasn’t for her and that class. She inspired me in a way that I can’t even explain to this day, but the limitations and expectations of that class made writing simple and explosive in a way that I’d never known before, and haven’t stopped using since.


I’m sure all of you have had teachers or professors who have affected your lives. I encourage you to reach out to them and let them know that. You never want to wait too long to tell someone you’re grateful. Two different teachers visited me at the store I was working at when I was still in Pennsylvania, and I was able to thank them for reaching me at one of the most difficult times in my life. Unfortunately, within a year, both of them had passed away. While I’m sure I’m just a blip on the radar in comparison to years of teaching and thousands of students, being able to thank someone for positively influencing your life is never time that is wasted.

Marissa Explains It All #2 – Overheard at the Zoo

There are two zoos near me, and I frequent both of them, sometimes in the same day.

It’s odd to me how many people think that you should stop going to the zoo after age six or so, unless you’re taking children aged six or under.

Complicated feelings about animals in captivity aside, so please save those, I absolutely love the zoo. Not only have I learned so much about animals, but I feel a deeper empathy with them. I care about the ones I see on a regular basis, and I’m way more inclined to step up and try to help when I can in terms of conservation and preservation.

I have no idea why this is strictly a straight-parents-with-young-kids-only space.

My partner and I are #flanneldyke gay with matching purple hair, and the stares we get are pretty indicative that we’re not supposed to be there. The amount of strollers from which these stares come from above… It’s like they’re saying “how dare you also like cute animals?” I had no idea straight cis young parents had that market cornered.

All that to be said, the animals are not the only source of entertainment at the zoo.

As much as I try to recognize societally-embedded feelings of classism and ableism, there are also times where I have to wonder out loud or to my partner, “what the hell did you just say?”

Yesterday while near the arctic fox area, I listened as three people tried to point out to a middle-aged woman where the cuddly little bug was. Pointing didn’t help, saying what it was near didn’t help, but finally, when she saw it, she followed up with “oh, I didn’t realize it was white.”

Maybe I’d have been more surprised if the same thing was said near the polar bear, or she didn’t know what it was she was looking for, but that was still one of those… ::pause:: moments. Similar to the discussion on the previous post about drunk middle-aged hockey parents in my hotel about “chicken of the sea” vs. “chicken of the woods.”

It’s hard not to categorize some of the comments I hear to reflect upon the state of education in this country, even as I recognize some of the problematic nature of those presumptions.

This is, of course, when screaming kids aren’t being set free to do whatever they want, including banging on the windows or trying to touch the animals. It was actually a shock to hear a parent tell her kid to stop yelling on the outdoor trail recently, as that is usually something wished for but never heard. That’s often why I try to go close to closing or during the weekday when it’s cold or cloudy. Given that this is Minnesota, that is a frequent occurrence this time of year.

The zoo is a great place to hear the calls of the animals. My favorite sound in nature is the call of the loon, a northern bird similar to a duck in shape or penguin in its diving. But due to the space they would require and the laws protecting them, they couldn’t be kept in a zoo unless it was a sanctuary with a lot of space, as their need for 500 feet of water to take off flying alone would require.

But if you visit some primates from the tropics, and you’re not prepared for the yelping of the gibbon, you might think that either someone left the car alarm on or Pyramidhead is about to come mess some shit up. The gibbons, arboreal New World apes that swing around the trees and have no prehensile tail, occasionally let loose with a whooping noise that is unlike anything I’ve ever heard.

Now, why have my first two blog posts been mostly musings about inconsequential topics?

Fair question. In such turbulent times, it’s easy to get caught up in political malaise and passive nihilism. Or aggressive shitposting, depending on how passionate you are about hating certain kinds of people… can’t imagine why I don’t have comments on… But for those of us who don’t really get into holidays, or need a break from the beaver dam of the bureaucratic portajohn, sometimes it’s easier to take amusement in the audio equivalent of people-watching while also seeing cute animals do stuff.

That’s also why I love TikTok, even though I’m apparently twice the age needed to not yell “get off my lawn” about it. Mostly I post zoo videos there, such as the one I included for an example of the gibbon yell. At a time where hatred, trolling, and constant fighting transpire on a second-to-second basis, sometimes I’d rather just watch a snow leopard spaz out over a branch or hear this very real thing I once overheard at the zoo, word-for-word, after this closing paragraph. That, I hope, is a welcome reprieve from the cavalcade of dipshittery that is our daily existence right now. I’ll post about more important things once I get the hang of this blogging thing once again. I now leave you with my favorite #OverheardAtTheZoo quote. Enjoy your day, whether you celebrate something or not.

“That’s not a basketball, that’s a giraffe.”

You’re welcome.

Marissa Explains It All #1 – The Night’s Watch

It’s odd to have a blog again.

Not because of any societal progression or technological advancement reason, but because I feel like I never stopped writing blogs, more or less.

I’m in the tail end of graduate school, in what’s called a low-res program. In essence, I attend school for ten days during the summer, and the rest is online. With weekly journals (daily during the summer) and other writing exercises where we’re basically blogging our thoughts, I suppose the only difference is that I’ll be graded by trolls finding my existence repulsive instead of professors dealing with my thoughts on their extensive reading assignments. Not a huge difference, but a difference nonetheless. Though, with at least with one I have to, at minimum, feign giving a shit.

I should wrap up my MFA by the end of the summer and hopefully move on to something on the other side of the post-secondary educational equation. Until then, my job keeping the night’s watch is what pays the bills.

No, this isn’t yet another Game of Thrones hot-take, but rather a fancy way of describing my day (night?) job: working third shift at a hotel. Technically it’s called the night audit, but given that the extent of my auditing is printing out reports and putting them in a folder, I prefer calling it the night’s watch. Mostly because “glorified babysitting” could be taken the wrong way.

Some night auditors have very busy shifts, especially those who:

A. Work in a hotel downtown of a city.

B. Have a bar/restaurant for which they’re also running audit.

Fortunately, I do not have either. I say fortunately because my capacity to deal with people is significantly lower than it used to be. Years of retail and the worst of humanity this time of year took care of most of that. That and the same twelve songs on repeat for hours at a time for two straight months, let’s just say I’m glad that the now-former assistant manager showed me how to shut off the ambient music.

And why shouldn’t I? For the most part, I don’t talk to anyone until 6am when people start coming down for breakfast and/or coffee, and by then, there’s only an hour left. Those other seven hours are where I get most of my homework and writing done, because it’s seldom-interrupted silence, except for the television by the breakfast area if I decide to have it on. Did you know that back-to-back reruns of Bob’s Burgers play at three different times during the night on cable? Also the music channels (MTV, MTV2, VHI, CMT, and BET) mostly play 90s sitcoms like The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Martin, Living Single, etc. Except for CMT, that plays four minutes of a movie between every commercial break.

This is also where I learned that commercials from when I was a teenager are still a thing. Remember LiveLinks? Anyone who stayed up watching Comedy Central or other channels back in the early 2000s might. They still exist. LiveLinks was (totally not phone sex) voicemail dating, I think, and I’m impressed they’ve managed to stay around this long. I was expecting to see one of those Girls Gone Wild ads with the island music any time. They still run ads for 1800-PHONE-SEX or some equivalent of that too.

The TV is normally on one of the ESPN networks, so when I don’t find anything of interest (or neutral background noise), I’ll flip back to that, and those ads are pretty reflective of what demographic they’re trying to market.

“This generation of men is weak, buy this pill so you’ll get your testosterone back up to MANLY levels! It’s definitely not a boner pill, it’s a MAN pill!”

“Wear these sunglasses so you can see better. See how this guy is in fatigues? That’s because they’re MILITARY-grade sunglasses! It’s like Modern Warfare, but for real, and you’re looking for BALD EAGLES!”

“Use this camera to stop your cleaning lady from stealing. I’m a cop, it’s a cop cam, be a MAN and catch people stealing!”

“Our dads had more testosterone than we do. What are you doing right now? Drinking craft beer? Watching a movie? Caring about something? MAN UP! Take this powder and be a MAN!”

Essentially, do all this stuff so you’re horny enough to change the channel back and call LiveLinks already? Who knows. It’s amusing though. They’re Powerthirst ads without the irony.

On some occasions, there might still be one or two check-ins yet to arrive. A good bit of the time, they’ve just flown in. It’s Minnesota in the winter, so if they’ve come from anywhere to the south, a comment about the cold or snow is almost guaranteed. During a particularly hellacious storm recently, a guest complained to me about the snow, I suppose as if I was supposed to give her a discount or something for my inability to tailor the weather to her needs.

On rarer but notable nights, though, a particular kind of couple will come in. One will be a woman I recognize, because she’s been here before with someone else, and the other will be a nervous man barely speaking above a whisper while looking down, like he’s at a porn store trying to pass off something he’s buying as being for a friend, like the people working there don’t hear that excuse every day.

Apparently they think we don’t know what’s going on, but… We do. As long as they’re not hurting anyone and they’re paying the person they’ve hired, we couldn’t care less. When they leave an hour and a half later after checking in at 11:30pm, that’s also usually a pretty good sign, but once again, we don’t care. At all.

That’s also to say we know the difference between someone hiring a sex worker and someone being trafficked, so don’t come at me with that.

Maybe this was a weird introductory first blog, but the quietness of the night and the particular behavior of advertising and customers is an interesting snapshot of the mindset of certain people. Also a canvas from which most future posts will be written, so all that to say, it’s a pleasure to be here, and I look forward to getting to know some of you.