While explaining to a group of medievalists his feelings on reading pieces that are older than a hundred years old, Daniel states
‘ I feel a profound sense of triumph and superiority over the author’ I said, ‘because they are foolish enough to be dead, while I am young and gloriously alive. Not because I think their ideas are outdated or anything like that. It has nothing to do with how they think, or how we see the world differently. It is visceral, it is personal, it is gleeful, and it is triumphant. I have the good sense to still be living, while they have very foolishly died, and it always takes me at least ten minutes to stop crowing over my own victory and pay attention to what I am reading.’ No one else at the table, it turned out, felt quite the same way when reading something by a dead author, but that does not mean that I am alone.
That was when I flung my hand into the air and yelled “yes, me too!”, startling the cats in the living room. It wasn’t my first outburst while reading Something That May Shock and Discredit You, nor was it my last. It was also a feeling that hit me several times throughout the essay collection; Daniel is absolutely brilliant and pulls so thoroughly and thoughtfully from mythology, scripture, medieval poetry that I frequently had to get out of my own way and pay true attention to the many excerpts of antiquity. I had to stop being excited about outliving Dante and you know, carefully read the Dante specifically chosen by Daniel to illustrate one of his many time, genre, and gender-busting essays.
Daniel speaks openly and candidly about his transition in a way that allows you to share his joys, fears, questions, and celebrations. He is, beyond all other things, honest with himself and others in a way that I find truly admirable. While I cannot, as a cis-gendered person, truly comment on his personal transitioning experiences, I can comment on how wonderful, brilliant, and hilarious I think that he is. This collection illustrates his journey, and the pieces that he illustrates with include Sappho as a Dirtbag, a pleasant retelling of Oedipus, Jacob wrestling with angels, and the “weird castle sex-games” of the Green Knight, his wife, and Sir Gawain.
My favorite piece centers on worries of accidental time travel. A worry that I am sure many of us share, and something that seemed while growing up (much like John Mulaney’s Quicksand fears) like a fairly probable occurrence. He usually worries about traveling to the time of Henry VIII- what a terrifying time to be a person- but don’t worry, he’s thought it all out:
The really nice thing about imagining yourself as a wife of Henry VIII is that you got to deal with every single male authority figure imaginable all at once, because he was everybody’s god and pope and dad and husband and boss, so if you wanted to fight or resent or betray or fuck or suck up to any one of them you could get it all done at once with the same very tall person. Moreover, I had the benefit of hindsight and knew that his daughter Elizabeth would later invent feminism, so I didn’t need to feel guilty about abandoning mine for her father, or for never imagining myself accidentally time-traveled to her court.
I came to be a fan of Daniel’s through his work in The Hairpin (RIP), which then led me to the site of his own creation, The Toast (even more RIP). All of his classic hallmarks are present in Something That May Shock and Discredit You, and some of the pieces within were already posted on his current project, The Shatner Chatner (which I cannot recommend enough). Yes, that Shatner. As Daniel puts it:
It should perhaps go without saying that unless you are Kevin Pollak, I do not want to hear your William Shatner impression, but I will say it nonetheless, in case you are ever tempted. You might practice your Shatner in the privacy of your own home until your speaking voice becomes indistinguishable from his and you baffle your own ears, and find strange new depths in your own throat. Call me then, but not before.