desk lunch – 2015-12-03

A very short desk lunch!

The Offing: Trans Issue 2015

The link above introduces the trans issue of The Offing, and the links below are some of the exceptional pieces published:

The girl in her nightdress the cold the girl
in her cold across the cliff
the cliff’s nightdress causing cold
the cold of the nightdress the girl walking
along the cliff the walk easing her cold across…
as its gusty               living/moved but its only by
forces          forces/laws/magic     chew/kiss
               living/result of a chain reaction     result of a chain
reaction/naught
A half-sunk ship offers its captain to the sea. The sea sneers at such gifts, but cannot resist. The lungs offer their resistance, but cannot last.
according to science we are all made of
strings. this is a theory that i often test
on myself. let’s see how many ties i can cut.
Just read them all, because they’re all strikingly beautiful.
Isn’t it nice that dim-witted humans in search of elaborate rationalizations for their vilest, most violently sociopathic selves can always find an evolutionary psychologist unintelligent enough to back their play? Forget that practitioners of this field of study have an unfortunate habit of analyzing a relative millisecond or two of modern human behavior as if it’d been slowly evolving over hundreds of thousands of years. No, just suspend your disbelief, and evolutionary psychology can explain every anecdotal observation that’s ever tumbled through your thrashing gray matter!
Heather Havrilesky of Ask Polly reviews a Tucker Max book and it is the most beautiful indictment of toxic masculinity, way better than the book itself deserves.

desk lunch – 2015-11-19

Brought to you this week by Thanksgiving.

Please. Please. Is it Thanksgiving yet. Is it my holiday of family and friends and complete and utter sloth. Please. Am I at my parents’ house yet, watching old seasons of Great British Bake Off and the new season of Masterchef Junior. All I want for Thanksgivingmas is to be home already.


Topography of Short Stories: Upright Beasts

Perhaps another way to put it is that as a writer who isn’t rich enough to not have a job or antisocial enough to not want friends, you have to be a master thief. You have to steal every ounce of time you can. Scribble notes on receipts; revise when the boss turns his back. Grab every speck of time you can until you have enough for a book to bloom in. That might take a year or a decade, but the little stolen moments will eventually add up.

A really good read about shaping a story collection. Now halfway into my NaNoWriMo project, the Frankenstein’s-monstering of a project is starting to show itself, the bumps of writing this one thing every day building into the texture of each story I finish. It’s interesting, and I only wonder if that idea of texture will survive into the revision stages, or how it’ll translate into something else. Hmm!


What if climate change was as scary as the 1950s-era Soviet Union, or terrorists? What would that look like?  Would we come up with something as ostentatious and awe-inspiring as the Apollo space program? Would we find ourselves fighting energy proxy wars in other countries — sneakily funding solar installations, sending renewable energy propaganda out over the airwaves, Voice of America style?

It’s a depressing and probably accurate theory presented here: that the only way to get funding for global warming would be by directing the DoD’s interests towards it and having them fund it. It’s depressing because sheer terror might be the only thing that could work in creating progressive climate policies.


Remember #IliadLive from this past summer? The Almeida Theatre spent another day performing Homer, this time recruiting a huge cast to perform the Odyssey. Almeida livetweet the performance and also made a Storify of viewers’ tweets throughout the day, highlighting the different performers and locations used throughout. STANLEY TUCCI READ ON A BOAT.

Listening to these amazing professional actors perform the Odyssey brought the work into a light that I haven’t seen in years. It’s easy to get lost in the Iliad because it’s such a character-driven story compared to the Odyssey—honestly, it’s amazingly character-driven compared to almost everything that’s survived from antiquity. The Odyssey, at least how I approach it, is just as important as the Iliad, but for totally different reasons; Odyssey is far more about the act of storytelling, the act of writing, the act of keeping track of plots and layers of presentation and the ten different things happening in any given moment. Odyssey is much more valuable for how it looks at the importance of telling stories. That’s all people do in the Odyssey: they do one thing, and tell five stories about it, to different audiences, in different times and places, and for different reasons. It’s wonderful. I could get used to these annual performances.


desk lunch – 2015-11-12

Short desk lunch today because my writing project has actually started to take root in my brain and that leaves very little left for literally anything else word-related. As always: check out what I shared on The Rumpus, where I was coherent for like, entire minutes at a time.

On Shining and Staring / On Ruin

No Wine
This is why I believe in intoxication — because it is true to say I believe in it, though I have given it up: drunk, none of us is any better than any other. When drunk we are not trying to be great. When drunk we are fine with the abject instead. I like the way that everyone turns for now toward the abject, as if it is a home.

That book I mentioned last week continues to pay for itself over and over again.



desk lunch – 2015-11-05

A short desk lunch because things are busy, between my day job and my month-long NaNoWriMo project (not a novel, but just a time when I write and complete something every day for 30 days). Fun times! Is it Thanksgiving yet!


From Vaudeville To Hamilton: Racial Minorities In Musicals

The runaway success of Hamilton has shown that this sort of “race-blind” casting can become an astounding success—and also how far we’ve come from the musicals of the 1940s.

Two things: ONE: I appreciate this piece because it makes the point that the days of Old Hollywood were lose-lose in their portrayals of POC and how they utilized non-white actors once they had them. Roles for minorities offered either deeply uncomfortable stereotypical portrayals, or POCs (and the roles they played) were whitewashed, such as my honorary grandmother Rita Moreno. I didn’t realize she was Zelda in Singin’ in the Rain until I had seen the movie roughly 16,000 times because she looked nooooooothiiiiiing like the way she’s looked the rest of her life. TWO: Hamilton is NOT a RACE-BLIND or COLOR-BLIND musical, and people need to stop calling it that. Race/color-blind implies (“implies”)* that the performers were chosen without considering their ethnic backgrounds, and this is not the case w/r/t Hamilton, where casting POC in every role (except King George) was an active priority because, in the writer’s words: “This is a story about America then, told by America now, and we want to eliminate any distance — our story should look the way our country looks.” The word you’re looking for (actively casting POCs in historically/traditionally white roles to create a double conscious performance) might be racebending, but to the best of my knowledge, there’s no theater-specific term for this sort of thing. However: the term is NOT “race-blind” or “color-blind.”

*Ironic quotation marks because I doubt anyone, literally anyone’s ability to conduct truly “blind” evaluations of any work. For more on this issue (but from a different field) see this piece from Apogee Journal about blind submissions at literary magazines. Readers, especially, often think that “the work” will speak for itself in a pure and objective manner, and that taking the name off a submission will also rid their own brains of implicit bias, and that’s absolutely not the case, ever.

Oh, MAN, do I love anything more than giant compilations of primary sources? NO, I DON’T. I got this book used for about $10 and so far it’s WONDERFUL. It works from the compelling, strangely radical thesis: maybe people have always been people, and maybe same-sex attraction/romance/intimacy/sexuality isn’t an invention of the past 10 minutes, and here are 400 pages of historical documents that can be viewed in that light! Maybe we, the inheritors of this legacy, can take people of the past at their word when they wrote things like: “I have certainly never loved [a] man as I love you—and never shall” and “If I could have lived along side of you all the days of my life, I should have been happier.” (full excerpt) It’s a better solution than superimposing a century of institutionalized homophobia on legitimate emotional relationships that don’t suit an “idealized” concept of the past. (Ironic quotations ABOUND today—no regrets!)

Have you ever heard of the Omura whale? ….There’s a pretty simple explanation for why you probably haven’t; they didn’t technically exist until 2003. You see, until then they were not thought to be a distinct spacies of whale, merely a dwarf version of another species. But in 2003, after a team of Japanese researchers spent a good deal of time studying their DNA and bodily chracteristics decided they were distinct enough to be their own species, and named them after the deceased cetologist Hideo Omura.

THERE’S A NEW WHALE? THERE’S A NEW WHALE!


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?


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.


desk lunch – 2015-09-24

Brought to you this week by THE POPE, who has been on Philadelphia’s civic backburner for like, at least a year now, the knob on the flame slowly turning every week and he’s gonna be here soon!!!! The city is shutting down on Friday and Monday! I can’t wait for this four-day weekend and all the places I won’t go because of traffic boxes and special pope passes for the suburban rail and NO TRAINS OR BUSES GOING ANYWHERE. Great times. I am rationing my chicken nuggets.


Threesome with Ambivalence by Jameson Fitzpatrick

To make room in the bed then,
slow evacuation of the self: who was I before I
was yours? what did I want

Poetry featuring sex and architecture! YES, AWL, MAKE ME SAD.


Facing into the writing of a piece of fiction, I always feel a lot like Cheever’s Neddy: at once hungover and amped up on a self-congratulatory buzz, at once sure of the strokes I need to make and slowed down by the residue of all the messes I have made before. There is a story, I know; there is a story I can write, a story I want and maybe even need to write, but it is so far away…. There is such a way to go, setting out on a new piece of writing.

There’s this and something Lin-Manuel Miranda tweet about his process for musicals:

And this is something I’ve learned and something I hate that I’ve learned: I can’t develop every idea, because some aren’t right right now, and some aren’t right ever, and I don’t have the time for every idea. So for something to make it out of a note in my drafts folder or grow from one line in scrivener, it has to be good and we have to be right for each other. That requires patience and I have very little patience for myself and the fact that good things need time. Process! It’s dearly miserable fun! No regrets!


Rita Moreno quietly tears Animal and his drumming apart on The Muppet Show. IN SPANISH. I gasped and rewatched like five times because SHE’S SPEAKING MY LANGUAGE. How many times did my grandmother pull this exact stunt on me growing up!!! Like a MILLION.

Related: The Muppets‘ reboot premiered this week and it had one great line:

Miss Piggy: I hate the smell of lilacs in my dressing room. Fix it.

Kermit: Yes, I’ll talk to god about lilacs.


Harold’s Chicken Shack #35
fried gizzards w/ fries
your dad orders it for you
& you are too young
to know what you’ll have
to swallow &
too old to refuse food.

For one of my posts at The Rumpus this week, I included a link to an interview with poet Nate Marshall because I fell into it and his poetry headfirst and it’s tremendous. Link has the interview, but here’s the poetry. There’s more at the excerpt from his new collection, Wild Hundreds.


desk lunch – 2015-09-17

Brought to you this week by almost, almooooost, meeting my 50-book reading challenge for this year! When this posts, I’ll be at 49 books thanks to Vol. 1 of The Wicked and the Divine, and I’ll hit 50 with either Vol. 2 of same or Mindy Kaling’s Why Not Me. Or Saga Vol. 5, which I have to like, actually pick up from my local comics shop and read. I was daunted by reading 50 books in a year, and then I realized (with Goodreads’s help) that the 150 pages of comics I mainlined every month absolutely count, so now it’s less daunting. Ok, it’s not daunting at all, really, since I spend almost every waking moment reading in one form or another. I’m exhausted just thinking about how terribly well-read and well-rounded I am.

My birthday is a month away and I need to start reassuring myself now that I’m worth it.


The realization that turtle shells are ribs bones led Owen and colleagues to the most bizarre aspect of turtle anatomy. Picture a turtle: where do its legs attach? (Under the shell.) Owen quickly realized the implications; a turtle’s shoulders and scapulas are located underneath its ribcage. Yes, turtles are effectively inside out.
Did you know turtles are inside out?
Did you know turtles are inside out?
Did you know turtles are inside out?
Did you know turtles are inside out?
Did you know turtles are inside out?
Did you know turtles are inside out?
DID YOU KNOW TURTLES ARE INSIDE OUT?
This was the first thing I read when I woke up last Saturday and I can’t stop thinking about it.
Did you know turtles are inside out?
A neighbor of mine, Mitch Tropin, teaches at six different colleges in the D.C. area. Through a combination of perseverance and good karma, he has been able to align his three Baltimore schools so he teaches there on the same days, allowing him to minimize commuting time. He always aims for employment at six schools because, he says, “You never know when a class will be cancelled or a full-time professor will bump you at the last minute. Sometimes classes just disappear.”
Published in The Atlantic this week, but this very long, well-researched piece doesn’t say anything new about the adjunct plight. I’m linking it because it’s a reminder that maybe a handful of schools mentioned in the piece have agreed to meet with adjunct unions, but nothing of substance has changed. In Philadelphia, my former grad program at Temple University periodically holds hearings (#tuhearing) to discredit the work adjuncts put into their classes every day, every semester, every year. So, consider this a timely reminder that higher ed continues to collapse itself from the top down.
Thus though, the gap in quality between Wharton’s best books and her worst is substantial, the gap in pleasure is mostly nonexistent. Wharton’s smaller novels are like better, meatier Gossip Girl books, and I tend to read them when I’m looking for something junky but also excellently, precisely written. They hover close to the realm of classic trash, but are slightly better; the perfect pleasure read.