desk lunch – 2015-10-29

Brought to you this week by the new One Direction song, Perfect, and its beautifully strange music video. Wait, by strange I don’t mean weird, I mean completely perfect in embracing this very particular adult life that only appears in romcoms as the Goofus to the Gallant happy ending?? Like: right here right now this is all I can give and if that’s all you want then that’s great and if it’s not well then I’ll be here kicking soccer balls and killing time between interviews and living my life instead of having sex with you. Also I love that it responds to Taylor Swift’s Style, of all songs.

In like, actual news, Atlas and Alice has just released their spring/fall issue 4 and it’s BEAUTIFUL. My flash fiction, Me and Bradley Cooper and the True Dimensions of a Love Triangle, appears in this issue and I’m so glad to be in such good company.

This comprehensive arrogance is captured in one of Thoreau’s most famous lines: “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” It is a mystery to me how a claim so simultaneously insufferable and absurd ever entered the canon of popular quotations. Had Thoreau broadened it to include himself, it would be less obnoxious; had he broadened it to include everyone (à la Sartre), it would be more defensible. As it stands, however, Thoreau’s declaration is at once off-putting and empirically dubious. By what method, one wonders, could a man so disinclined to get to know other people substantiate an allegation about the majority of humanity?

Kathryn Schulz went after Thoreau and his legacy and I WEEP that it has taken this long. On the upside, it’s very long and detailed and persuasive as hell, so it was well worth waiting my entire life.

Public Domain Review doing that amazing Public Domain work by presenting us with illustrations of comets from throughout history, throughout the world. Did you know Halley’s Comet is on the Bayeaux Tapestry?? COMETS ARE AWESOME.
And this, argues Illouz, is precisely why 21st-century love still hurts. First, we lack the legitimacy of those love-torn duelists and suicides of the previous centuries. They at least enjoyed social recognition based on the general understanding of love as a mad, inexplicable force that not even the strongest minds can resist. Nowadays, yearning for a specific pair of eyes (or legs, for that matter) is no longer a valid occupation, and so one’s love pangs are exacerbated by the consciousness of one’s social and psychological inadequacy. From the perspective of the Regime of Choice, the heart-broken Emmas, Werthers and Annas of the 19th century are not simply inept lovers – they are psychologically illiterate, if not evolutionarily passé.

I also blogged about this Aeon article briefly for The Rumpus. It does such an excellent job exploring romantic love in other cultures, specifically in Russia where so much of how romance is portrayed/perceived still comes out of Tolstoy and the 19th century. I would read a book-length version of this, really.

Does it matter that she always seems to be thinking and laughing and envisioning internally, but carries herself like the protagonist of a book we’re all just living in? The answer to that depends on whether or not you think that being a tough-girl is complicated and important, or not. I think it is, and never more so than now.

Full Stop published this piece on performances of gender with HarperCollins republishing Eileen Myles’s Chelsea Girls. (Which I am STILL WAITING to read because the Free Library of Philadelphia only has ONE COPY.)


desk lunch – 2015-10-22

I don’t experience writer’s block often because I’ve spent my whole life online, expressing myself through text-based mediums. I’m always reading. I’m always writing. But there come days when the actual act of crafting a story in any form just seems like it’s never going to happen again, not in any sort of viable way (read: publishable- I can’t think like that!) So, I end up writing ridiculously long emails to friends, or really long tag commentary on tumblr, or tweeting too many jokes, because block doesn’t mean there are no words, just- there are no stories. Anyway, that’s why this desk lunch is wordier than usual- I can’t pin down my next project just yet, so I’m reading and processing everything in hopes something will come of it.


“Don’t Go Into The Basement And You’ll Be Safe” And Other Lies Men Tell

A man with a secret is never a good thing, in literature or film (or life, lol). Rarely do those brooding depths hold anything nice: he’s quiet because he’s thinking about me so much! He’s hiding something in that room and it’s a shrine to how much he loves me!, wrote no one ever. The sense of dread that comes from being forbidden to go somewhere, or ask about something, by the person who is supposed to be the love of your life, is, again, one that comes from a deep need to save yourself.

I love how The Hairpin drops these short essays in the middle of an afternoon and I end up thinking about a little one-shot for days afterwards. This one in particular revisits the folktale of Bluebeard’s wife, one that as a kid I never paid attention to because it sounds pointless from the first: women keep marrying this creep and then being surprised when he murders them, wow, how could one avoid that, I wonder. Haley Mlotek nails why, all of a sudden, the tale of Bluebeard’s wife doesn’t seem so ridiculous at all: girl walks with eyes wide open into a bad decision- how will she survive this?


Then, often, we go back to a novel after it’s sat on the shelf for a few months, waiting its turn.
And then we go back again the next night if the first twenty pages are good, and again if the next forty are good.
Pretty soon we have to go back to the beginning if we’re ever going to spend any more quality time with that book….
With most plays, the best you can hope for is heartbreak. You fall in love on the last night of summer camp and never see each other again. Plays, by and large, don’t come home with you.

This piece at LitHub is about how plays and novels are presented and how we take them in; more than that, it makes me think about revisiting media. My habits on this sort of thing are on either side of a very blunt spectrum: watch once then never again, or watch obsessively and ritualistically until something else takes its place. See: HAMILTON. See: TOLKIEN, HARRY POTTER. See: every song, movie, poem, book, fandom that has dug its talons into my back and fused a part of itself into my spinal cord. This piece articulated with spectacular accuracy the appeal of revisiting or not revisiting something: why I spent the summer of 2007 entering the Spring Awakening Broadway lottery so I could see the original run three times; why Thanksgiving means watching The Lion in Winter once every weekend until the New Year; why I highlight and bookmark paths through books/ebooks. It’s all so I can find my way back to something I love.


In their suspended states of animation, microbes exist in a realm completely apart from most other organisms. They are neither living nor dead. Without growth, reproduction, and (in the case of endospores) metabolism, they lack many features that seem inherently tied to being alive on Earth. Indeed, they are just one borderline case that makes a sweeping definition for life nigh‑on impossible. Writing last year in New York Times Magazine, Ferris Jabr commented that the problem comes about because scientists ‘have been trying to define something that never existed in the first place’. He concluded that ‘Life is a concept, not a reality.’

Meanwhile, nothing is real.


desk lunch – 2015-10-15

Brought to you this week by… oh it’s still Hamilton. It’s always Hamilton, and falling head over heels for Hamilton reminds me of the last (pre-Hamilton) new musical I loved, Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812. I love this gorgeous, weird little show (and I was lucky enough to see at Kazino in 2013), and the music and story are amazing. Not as epic in scale as Hamilton, but perfect in its way.

I just want people to love Natasha and the Comet as much as I do, okay!!!!


The Shoes Under the Art World

They didn’t have to worry or marry their way into support; and they didn’t have another project, always waiting outside the studio for them to put down the staple gun and canvas. That’s what Virginia Woolf meant: a woman who wants to write (or paint) must have an income. The room of your own is the room you’ve paid for with your own money, with no one needing you—the tug on your body—outside. You need that room, with money left over for art supplies.

Really interesting longread by Pat Lipsky, a visual artist working since the 70s, and the deep-seated sexism still found in the art world. The quote above stands out, as well as the repeated imagery of “whose shoes are under the bed”, i.e., who is the man every female artist must attach herself to in order to make her living?


So, the first Democratic Presidential Debate happened. I highly recommend Alexandra Petri’s rich Maryland/granite mythos developed through the night after a couple of strange comments from the Not-Berns. I kind of love and fear the circus social media becomes during Serious Political Events like these- love for the hilarious running gags and fear because, obviously, we can’t live in the circus.

…Syria is just one of many places across the globe where warlords, separatists, drug cartels, or terror groups have seized territory within a sovereign nation, leaving the government with little or no power—and the people to fend for themselves.

Not quite an interactive feature, but a great visualization of the long-term conflicts happening around the world, the ones intense enough to have destabilized the established government. It’s an awful portrayal of the daily violence happening all over the world, but also this strangely sobering reminder that history isn’t finished. Very often it feels like America officially stopped writing history with the end of WWII, and everything after doesn’t belong with our National Mythology; the same very much applies to our conception of the rest of the world. There’s no forever in empire. HAS NO ONE READ OZYMANDIAS?


Last Book I Loved: Station Eleven

Station-ElevenFor weeks after reading Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven, I couldn’t get it out of my head. So, for The Rumpus’s The Last Book I Loved series, I wrote an essay that tries to explain why it has the best portrayal of life-after-the-apocalypse. It showed how delicate and human our technology is, how they are extensions of ourselves, and how much we would miss them when they were gone. It captures so well the element of civilization’s collapse, people longing to have everything they once had, all while moving on to make new lives for themselves.

Station Eleven is a love letter to technology, one I never could have written myself.

Love letters require distance, and when it comes to me and technology, I can’t put any distance between us. I learned to type as I learned how to read and write. I’ve had computers and the Internet almost as long as I can remember, and a cell phone a little less than that. I’ve memorized three phone numbers, some Latin conjugations and declensions, the complete scripts to five or six movies from the late 1990s, and probably nothing else. When almost every fact available in all of human knowledge has been stored somewhere online, why would I bother storing anything but the most important things I’ll need to access over and over again?

Read the rest at The Rumpus.

desk lunch – 2015-10-01

Brought to you this week by Hamilton, currently devouring the brain of every person I know. If you’re looking for something linking this week’s three essays together, it’s something thematically similar: stories about how artists make their work and their careers happen.


This Is How You Become an Editor

They didn’t know about Mensah, the name I gave myself when I was eighteen, and if they knew the name, they could search for me online and know everything. Know about my messy relationships, know about my politics. To be unknown by everybody, or half-known, and to have to decide who should know which half of me, but never giving all of me, not even to someone I’d share a bed with, is to be constantly half-powered, half-committed, half-ready to leave it all behind. So I would joke with my coworkers, and we would swap stories over beers or Italian at a local spot for lunch, but I lied to them. I lied to everyone. I presented one man, but I was another man.

This is just a very good, winding story about going from a day job to a writing/editorial job, but I’m linking it for the passage above—finally able to own what you want to do and who you want to be. The day job/writer job split feels like Voldemort and his horcruxes a lot of the time.


“Make sure you value us. …Your students of color have worked twice as hard to get to where your white students are. Appreciate the work it took for them to get there.”

Really interesting quotes from students in MFA programs, but I’m particularly glad they interviewed comparatively a lot of Sarah Lawrence grads. I attended undergrad at SLC and ended up furious/uninspired by all of my writing workshops for the reasons listed in this piece.

LMM: I was like, Don’t look at Busta, don’t look at Busta. Then I look into the second row and Mandy Patinkin is sitting above Busta Rhymes. If there is a Busta Rhymes of musical theater, it probably is Mandy Patinkin. And it was just fucking crazy, when the people you’ve emptied your pockets to see are seeing you.

Lin-Manuel Miranda, the composer of Hamilton and In the Heights, is like an actual ray of sunshine come to life. (See what he said about donating some of his grant money. UGH. ARE YOU REAL.) Every interview with him contains some moment or some line that strikes a little too close, and this interview in particular has a lot of good stuff about being Latin@ at a mostly white school, and working while also working, and. It’s a lot.