desk lunch – 2015-07-30

Brought to you this week by VACATION, so this will be short because the ocean is calling.

The position I offer, then, is a subtle one. ‘Born that way’ is a simple mantra, one that cuts through the concepts and challenges I have outlined. But it is also dangerous. For embracing the fiction of biological determinism risks consistently misunderstanding the most important part of our lives – our intimate relationships. We invented romantic love. And homosexuality. And just about every other kind of relationship. That doesn’t make any of these things less important or less real. But our inventions are not part of a biological nature: they are part of a conversation between a biological and social order of life.

~4000 words on the damning compromise LGBT rhetoric has made in order to achieve the thinnest veneer of acceptance in the 21st century.

“What about Remember the Time?” asked one of the friends I’m staying with at the beach. “Remember how it was a MAJOR TELEVISION EVENT that interrupted whatever we were watching and Eddie Murphy played a PHARAOH and it was AMAZING?”

“No,” I said, like a JERK.

And then my life changed and I’ve put the song on loop and my life is Better Now.

desk lunch – 2015-07-23

Brought to you this week by our theme: working writer’s block, which I contend is different from writer’s block because it’s not lack of ideas here, but literal lack of time between reading projects, work projects, and a week-long vacation “project” (read: vacation) that will see me reading comic books and Station Eleven and eating enough lobster rolls to make the ocean rise against me and take its revenge. I plan on befriending five sharks. If I happen to write, then well done, fantastic, but I’m off to see the ocean and nothing else.

So on this vacation eve, I’ll link to these two essays about the total unworkingness and unworkability of ~the writing life~ because 1) could be worse and 2) certainly feels as bad as all that on some days.

(If you scroll past the quotes, I talk about musicals.)

What does a middle-aged, post mid-career, multi-genre writer do when she moves to a new community where she knows no one? Firstly, she hits the woods to walk out the demons. Then, she integrates: joins jam sessions, plays guitar or reads from her work at open stages, befriends neighbours, plays cribbage at the Legion, talks to strangers. She brashly calls the local newspaper editor and lands a full-page spread: accomplished new author in town. She hands out business cards: name, address, and TWUC (Writers Union of Canada) web-link on one side, titles on the other. She sells books at yard sales and craft fairs.
Then, she loses her radio job: the company sells, there are cutbacks. Then, she panics.
This may well be where my nervous breakdown will come: here, in this IKEA. Today I am a fake writer writing in a fake office at a real desk, model name KLIMPEN/LALLE. Its main characteristics are whiteness and modesty. Its chair is rather uncomfortable, but IKEA isn’t paying me to be here, so I don’t have to be anything but honest. The Amtrak residency, this ain’t.

If there’s one show I absolutely never need to see again because I saw it like four or five times on Broadway when I was in high school, and because I still have the CDs of the original Broadway cast and the complete symphonic recording despite having no way of playing said CDs anymore, it’s Les Mis. (Don’t worry, they’re in iTunes. Oh, don’t you worry.)(I read the brick when I was 14. Where did I find that kind of fortitude?) I’m definitely inoculated from ever seeing a production of Les Mis ever again. Maybe forbidden. Is forbidden the word I’m looking for?

AND YET!!!!!!!!!!!! When did Les Mis embrace its own true heart and become charged with a transcendent homoerotic SUBTEXT-MADE-TEXT. Let’s look at the tape!!!

  • 0:19– Javert steps out of the shadows, reveals the LITERAL CHAINS he’s holding, waiting for Valjean.
  • 1:10– Second most important action of this movement: Javert climbs on Valjean, gets one cuff on, spends critical moments not restraining the other hand but really getting a hold on him, while singing, because musicals. Because isn’t it wonderful to hold your own true convict against you, both of you sing-fighting for your lives.
  • 1:30– VALJEAN GETS LOOSE and (first most important action) immediately wraps the chain around Javert, brings Javert to his knees, chokes him a little. While singing. Is there anything better than a musical.
  • 1:45– Valjean remembers there’s a dead lady in the room and Javert pants on the floor, half agony, half hope.

I suppose this is what happens when Ramin Karimloo and Will Swenson, Young Fit People who are able to throw each other around, are cast as Valjean and Javert? (God knows Ramin and his long-time MUSICAL GUY PAL Hadley Fraser have had their moments. Moments. Hadley Fraser has moments. WHAT.)

Anyway, which came first: this Broadway throw down or Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe’s ridiculous swordfight from the terrible 2012 movie? Someone pay me to write a performance history on the evolution of homoerotic physicality in Les Mis’s “Confrontation” across the ages. THERE’S SOMETHING THERE.

Fiction: “For Me, Seek the Sun”

lcrw33_big– yesterday I couldn’t leave my bed till like. after 2pm. and that was a struggle. and I wasn’t asleep, I just. couldn’t be outside the bed
– also I’m gonna be tmi for a minute SORRY….

Read the rest in Lady Churchill‘s Rosebud Wristlet #33, guest edited by Michael J. DeLuca:

LCRW #33 approaches its theme of humanity’s relationship with the earth with a little humor, a touch of horror, and seventeen different kinds of understanding. Includes multiple award winner Sofia Samatar, Nebula and Shirley Jackson award nominee Carmen Maria Machado, and World Fantasy Award nominee Christopher Brown among others.

Available now as a zine and an ebook (epub/mobi/pdf).

desk lunch – 2015-07-16

Brought to you this week by SPACE i love space.

with a still, restrained, almost annoyed sigh, what voice in what 
wilderness, minutest cricket, most unworthy flower I will never be tired — I will never be noisy I will be your best little girl — 
nobody else will see me, but you — but that is enough — limitlessness, wilt thou say,

ah, ladies, good night, good night, good night ladies —
and who therefore know the biology of the soft matter and the cluster of creation in its salty stellar lonely archive is matched by the sweet violence of thought,
who transubstantiated across the desert with both of them finally under the deep clear her blonde beauty and the celestial betrayals arrayed stellar, Andromeda chained naked to a rock, the Pleiades shedding to doves to stars,

The reinterpretation of Ginsberg’s “Howl” that I absolutely wanted forever and ever.

As long as scholars think of consciousness as a magic essence floating inside the brain, it won’t be very interesting to engineers. But if it’s a crucial set of information, a kind of map that allows the brain to function correctly, then engineers may want to know about it. And that brings us back to artificial intelligence. Gone are the days of waiting for computers to get so complicated that they spontaneously become conscious. And gone are the days of dismissing consciousness as an airy-fairy essence that would bring no obvious practical benefit to a computer anyway. Suddenly it becomes an incredibly useful tool for the machine.

I sent this to my brother. Him: “Ok but has someone invented the app that will care about this for me?” THANKS BRO.

Really, though, I fell into this headfirst, start to finish, because that concept of the singularity always bothered me- that there was no solution to making machines and software self-aware, just that if we made them fast enough, it would happen, and that sounds too much like irrationality and magic. The piece from Aeon argues that creating an artificial consciousness means treating consciousness not as a spark lit only within humans, but as a property of our supercomputing brains’ processors that allows us to filter and focus in a way that we’re just barely getting computers to do.

Next pointless research excursion: how did people describe the human brain before computers?

Remember analogue photography? What a nightmare.

Speaking of technology, because it’s that kind of week: PLUTO.

Emily Lakadawalla has written and tweeted about everything going on with Pluto and New Horizons this week. I’ve read so much of her work this week that when I finally saw her at the NASA press conference livestream SPEAK WITH HER HUMAN VOICE AND ASK A QUESTION I got weirdly emotional like meeting an internet friend for the first time. Anyway. Highlights:

Next press conference with the first lossless images will be 1PM EST Friday! SCREAMING.

desk lunch – 2015-07-09

Brought to you this week by this chicken sandwich I had last Friday. It gave me strength.

One by one, the elements of the Europe story have fallen away. Democracy? European leaders, especially the Germans, have been openly canvassing the idea of “regime change” in Athens. The free movement of people? Hungary is planning to build a fence along its border with Serbia and David Cameron is hoping to build a metaphorical fence around Britain. The welfare state? The recent elections in both Finland and Denmark suggest that even in its Nordic heartland, it is no longer seen as a European value but as a national, even an ethnic, possession, to be kept for “our people” alone.
Solidarity? Who now believes that the average person in Frankfurt or Helsinki sees the pensioner rummaging in a bin in Thessaloniki as a fellow citizen? Thresholds of decency?

As I told the friend who shared this with me: not to make it “all about America,” but this article from an Irish writer/editor about mid-late 20th century Europe reflected a lot of wide trends we can see in American history and self-perception, too. This is a wider trend. This piece makes the argument that the post-WW2 vision of the world, developed after cataclysmic death and destruction, has slowly eroded away in the decades since. That vision included the myth of our benevolent, progressive nationalism, and social responsibilities people had towards each other as citizens of the same nation, but now we’re seeing the downward slope of that story. That other side involves a conservative policymaking rooted in this completely false idea of hyper-rationality- that the social nets and responsibilities developed after disastrous, world-ending war are immature fairytales that never “really” existed in the first place.

tl;dr: we’re choosing the grimdark, Game of Thrones brutality-oriented reboot for the next phase in our evolution and we’re too stupid to realize it. It’s going to be terrible.

locwpaposter2From Camera Clubs to Syphilis: The WPA’s Practical, Modernist Posters

The posters for the Federal Theater program, United States Travel Bureau, and other State Departments hold up surprisingly well with their direct messages and simple designs. At a time when unemployment was at almost 20%, these posters encouraged people to get out and explore their country and participate in local life in defiance of the hardships of the Great Depression.

Do they still offer tours of America’s Natural Dick Caverns? I WOULD LIKE TO BE IMPRESSED.

Screen Addiction is a new way for kids to be blithe and oblivious; in this sense, it is empowering to the children, who have been terrible all along. The new grandparent’s dilemma, then, is both real and horribly modern. How, without coming out and saying it, do you tell that kid that you have things you want to say to them, or to give them, and that you’re going to die someday, and that they’re going to wish they’d gotten to know you better?

I rarely have comments to add when I link to things from the Awl because everything on that site speaks for itself with such sadness and anger that I don’t want to get in its way. The Awl is a strange site that 1) has a mood and 2) that mood reads “the sad fury that I must be alive in a terrible city in order to accomplish all this nothing.” How do you curate and edit that?? I’m impressed. Or maybe it’s the font that makes me sad.

When the waiter comes over, Zac Efron orders a sandwich with the exuberant joy of a beautiful, thin woman freed by pregnancy. “A Reuben, please,” he says, “with extra corned beef. No, wait! And extra Swiss. You know what? Extra dressing, too.” He giggles and hands the menu to the waiter. “I’m so bad! But I can FINALLY eat whatever I want.”

Did you know Zac Efron has a brother? Did you know Zac Efron swims with sharks? Like, we discovered in an embarrassing way that Zac Efron has a brother (and a puppy) but now we know he has a brother. Interesting. Interesting.

desk lunch – 2015-07-02

Brought to you this week by Gilmore Girls on Netflix. It’s fascinating; I missed it during its original run and I think my excuse for not watching women talking loud and fast for 45 minutes every week was something like it’s too fluffy and unrealistic, blah blah blah #smalltownlife. NOW, I’m nearing the end of season 4 and texting my friend every 10 minutes THIS IS TOO REAL PLEASE LORELEAI PLEASE WHY WON’T ANYONE LET YOU BE HAPPY. Did you know everyone hates Scott Patterson (Luke)? This hasn’t stopped me from shipping Luke/Lorelai like a house I’ve set on fire with my mind.

For The Rumpus this week, I wrote a roundup about the SCOTUS marriage equality decision last Friday. Worth checking out are the historians in the wake of this decision literally rewriting the history of same-sex relationships. Specifically, I came across a lot of essays right now that focus on why some cultures did or didn’t “okay” these unions into their laws and customs. (Short answer: they did! but we ignored it! because history!) I’ve included links to the most interesting essays at the Rumpus link.

Also!! I have a story (“For Me, Seek the Sun”) in the new issue of Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet. It’s available to order in print, and the ebook is available to pre-order (avail 7/9).


Isn’t It Romantic (Jameson Fitzpatrick at The Offing)


Poetry is text, and we’re still very attached to the idea that language is supposed to communicate something clearly. But I do think all good poetry does communicate something clearly, it’s just that, for me—and there’s some narrative, very straightforward poetry that I really enjoy, but there’s a lot of poetry that I really enjoy because what it’s communicating to me very clearly is either an atmosphere, or a state of consciousness. A different degree of awake-ness to experience. And that can mean so many different things.

A long interview about poetry, the reading and writing and mechanics and teaching of it. It’s long, but if you know poetry well, it’s interesting to approach it from someone’s completely new point-of-view and think about this thing and how it looks in its broadest strokes.

All I want to know is if everyone else is really having a good time in our nation’s checkout lines. Because maybe that explains why none of you seem in any particular hurry to have your money or cards ready to go when your turn finally comes with the cashier.

I don’t get this, exactly, since it starts with an anecdote about David Foster Wallace despairing in a supermarket and how That Was a Sign He Was Unwell, but man, after the anecdote? The vitriol makes my heart sing. Bless The Awl.

Reading 2015 (1)

I’m writing a mid-year reading post (like my end-of-year reading post) because I added it to my calendar back in January and I couldn’t very well tell my past self UGH I’M BUSY LEAVE ME ALONE, even though ugh I’m busy leave me alone.

Actually, I could, and I would have, but the first half of this year has been weirdly amazing for books, so I should mark this brief and shockingly positive outlook with some words.

Continue reading Reading 2015 (1)