Dear Secretary Kerry:

Just a quick note to thank you for being matchy-matchy with Prime Minister Netanyahu yesterday and for showing the world that more stuff would get done if we just all wore uniforms.

Can’t wait to see what you wore to visit with President Abbas.

Oh wait:

John Kerry, Mahmoud Abbas

Can’t wait to see what you wear to meet with Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Oh wait:


(You got the pants close.  Looks like somebody’s staff missed the purple memo or the pink memo.  Hard to say who’s at fault here . . .)

Can’t wait until you meet with President Cristina Kirchner:


Yep.  Definitely looking forward to this one.

Best of luck to your stylist and let’s keep this streak going,

A. Olson


How Does She Do It?


Dear Clair Huxtable:

You are my pretend mom idol.

How do you do it?

You are a parent and a lawyer.  You also do laundry, cook, and meet with your children’s teachers.  Your house is not a mess.  You get mad at your kids (I believe you once told Vanessa to “get your raggedy self out of my sight”) without histrionics or abuse, yet they realize the full weight of their lameness and want to improve.  You dress impeccably (also, you accessorize), even while cooking or getting mad at your kids.  No ill fitting, scroungy stuff unless you’re working in your garden.  You have a garden!

How do you do it?

You’re smooth with Dr. Huxtable, but you also argue healthily with him.  You coordinate lip synchs to Ray Charles.  You speak your mind, but you still manage to have a civil relationship with Denise after she drops out of college.  You play bridge.  You tell everybody when you need to be left alone, and then you stay in the central area of the house and successfully achieve this state.

How do you do it?

Your children watch television.  They like fake wrestling.  They fight.  They also help each other with their algebra homework and sew stuff. Everybody seems to share one bathroom and nobody seems to have maimed another in the process.  This has got to be your doing.

How do you do it?

You get frustrated, get scared, get annoyed, get complacent, get upset, get silly.  You act like I feel. Only you do it with total aplomb, and I applaud you for it.  If you ever decide to share your secrets, I promise to purchase your book full price, not at Costco.

Your #1 Fan,

A. Olson

One for One

Dear Fashion World:

You can give and you can take away, right?

So I’m willing to concede the flip flop (and even before reading this archived gem:, if you’ll use your power to keep athletic shorts out of societal circulation.

Fair is fair,

A. Olson

Mind Games


Dear POOF-Slinky Company:

I have a marketing suggestion for your product.

What you have here is so much more than a bendable springy toy. What you have here is a competitor to Rubix Cube, equal in mystery and frustration. I discovered this yesterday as I spent over thirty minutes trying to untangle my daughter’s new Slinky Jr, an item we couldn’t just throw away (although that was my Plan B) because my daughter had just purchased it that day with her not-easily-parted-with allowance.

A jumbled Slinky is far more challenging than a Rubix Cube:  no colors, no patterns, no algorithm for its solution.  It can also be stretched out of shape, rendering it impossible to return to its original form.  This is fun.  For both kids and parents.  In fact, just this morning, my daughter awakened me with a new giant Slinky mess, asking me to “please fix it.”  I cracked open one eye and began hitting myself in the temple while responding that I’d love to.

Perhaps you could even manufacture a double-helix one to increase the tangling tendencies exponentially.  All in the name of good times and learning more about DNA.

Hope this gives you the competitive edge you need to dominate the challenging genre of “World’s Most Exasperating Toy,”

A. Olson

Being Prepared


Dear FitBit:

Thank you for your step counter tool.  It makes my husband look like he’s in the drumline of a marching band each night while he’s trying to achieve some sort of mysterious and marginally arbitrary goal.  He has become good at pacing, and for a while there I thought it was because he was working out something mentally. Now, I discover it’s because he’s actually working on achieving virtual badges through your online boy-scouts-for-grown-ups fitness model.

So now, actually, let me thank you for your whole program because I am absolutely looking forward to any boondoggle, neckerchiefs, and potential day camps your tracking approach includes.  If my spouse can elevate his heart rate while somehow earning back the totin’ chip he lost in junior high, I know we’ll all be sleeping a lot better around here.

At ease,

A. Olson

In the Ghetto


Dear Kids Who Stole the GPS Out of Our Car Last Night at 2AM:

A few things:

1.  You failed to grab the dashboard mount.  Frankly, that’s the only thing that makes it usable, so I appreciate your oversight.

2.  The cord has a short in it that significantly affects the battery life.  You have to jimmy rig it to stop clicking on and off.  I can show you how to do this if you’d like.

3.  Its name is Shirley, as in “Recalculate faster, Shirley, I’m in a bad neighborhood.”


A. Olson

How Do You Do It?


Dear People Who Take Successful Selfies:

I am confused about how you are doing this.  Taking photos with my phone is not my favorite thing anyway, but somehow you are ending up with these awfully glamorous photos of yourselves shot with a telephone.  A telephone.

Please share your secrets.  Do you drive by braille?  Do you have extraordinarily long arms?  Do you plan it out beforehand (like writers using an outline)?  Do you take a lot of photos and then edit (like writers drafting)?  Do you have helpers (a styling team, extra lighting, a–gasp–photographer)?

Perhaps it’s just that I don’t feel confident enough about myself to assume that the world needs an endless supply of photos of me in action.  Shot by myself.  In action.

I’ve taken some comfort, however, in this selfie:


They look okay but still awkward.  They have the weird outstretched arm thing and somebody’s head partially lopped off.  And bad lighting.  Just like every selfie I’ve ever taken.  (And that number’s around three.)

How’s this for a better selfie goal?


Nobody in a bathing suit, nobody looking surly or angry or hungry or rumpled, no cleavage, no tattoos, no food you’re about to eat.  But definitely the requisite bragginess.

Looks like the Clintons and I have some work to do.

Any tips you can offer will be greatly appreciated,

A. Olson

Close, but No Cigar


Dear Members of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences:

I have a MA in Twentieth Century literature.  I spend my professional minutes teaching undergraduates who are training to become engineers, scientists, economists, and physicians.  When I tell my students at the beginning of each new semester that what I studied is not at all what we’ll be doing in our class, all of them smile / giggle / sigh in relief.

As a result of this, I have spent the better part of a decade wondering about the value of my knowledge.  My students graduate from college with a practical skill and a clear career path.  Most, if not all, of them have had the experience of several internships prior to graduation–all of these internships are paid–and all of them lead to jobs after graduation with starting salaries that surpass my current one.  I loved my literature training–loved it so much that I forewent other majors in which I had the talent to be successful; however, when twenty-two year olds who cannot shape a paragraph well are landing jobs more lucrative than what I earn with my MA, it’s fairly disheartening.

And then there’s the practical piece.  These students make stuff.  They design bridges and green buildings and artificial hips.  They study AIDS treatments and problematic antibiotic use amongst livestock.  They write code in their sleep and create apps that keep children quiet on airplanes.  Whatever it is that my training allows me to contribute to the world is a lens that’s become fairly cloudy as my years away from my academic pursuits stretch on.

Your study, then, came at a good time.  But I was disappointed to find that it’s resulting in mostly lip service.  I’m unsure if the problem lies in the actual study or in the politicians who somehow get involved in discussing it.  I think it’s both.

Let me be clear.

We in the humanities aren’t just offering the American economy and society “well roundedness.”  We bring critical thought, synthesis, and the absolutely underrated ability to translate that thought and synthesis into writing.  While my knowledge of the Modernist poets makes me a veritable delight at a dinner party, it’s the paper I wrote analyzing Marianne Moore’s “The Fish” that actually makes me good for American innovation.  It’s me taking something excellent and offering a new way of making it useful.  Isolating something tiny and illuminating it as something integral.  As it turns out, this matters, because if I can do this with Robert Frost or Wallace Stevens, I can do it with non-literary things too.

My set-up STEM students cannot do this.  And also, they don’t want to do this.

Lynh Bui makes this point in a Washington Post article:

“[E]ngineers are paying more attention to the humanities to better understand the social and cultural context of the communities for which they design products.”

That’s fine, and I agree.  But to me this also implies that America doesn’t need humanities students, it just needs STEM students who dabble in the humanities.  And that is absolutely untrue.

So, members of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, let’s do the study we really need–the hard one where we measure the value of what humanities students bring to America and US innovation.  It’s going to be tricky, because our output is harder to quantify than output from those in STEM.  But you’re a smart group; you can make it happen.  Let’s help students of all disciplines understand that studying Kipling, Dickens, and Kerouac makes one just as vital as studying chemistry and concrete.  And I’d like the rest of the GDP concerned world (and those summer internship people, and everybody who works in the banking industry–but that’s a different story for a different day) to factor this into their algorithms as well.


A. Olson

A Fine Innovation


Dear GUM Brand:

Many thanks for improving upon the toothpick.  This plastic pick you have created with its helpful bristled end is like an absolute dream come true for thorough people like me.  Would I ever shove a toothpick through the unfortunate gap in my back upper tooth?  No way.  Slivers.  But this thing?  It lets me do a veritable oral spring cleaning every night before I go to sleep.  I love it.

Now I can use my toothpicks for far more effective purposes:


Can’t wait to see what you come up with next,

A. Olson

Really Russia?


Dear President Putin:

I just received word of your Super Bowl ring situation with New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft.  It was the hands down highlight of my morning paper read.  I am thrilled to learn about your delightful sense of humor.

While I acknowledge that you have the extraordinarily competent KGB, I did want to remind you of that Irish mob over there in Boston.  They’re a scrappy group.  They’re so tricky, they can even eventually blend in with their surroundings and virtually disappear:

Whitey Bulger Arrested.JPEG-012ee

See? This Boston mob boss moved to southern California and fooled US authorities for years by looking like a new agey yoga instructor. They’re like chameleons, I tell you.


Please be careful, in case Mr. Kraft recants his story.  Again.

Hoping you find this little tidbit to be helpful,

A. Olson