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.
  • 0:52– Javert SLAPS DOWN THE CHAINS. YOU’RE NOT GOING ANYWHERE, 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.


desk lunch – 2015-04-16

This week brought to you by a random trip to the Rosenbach Museum and Library and their extraordinary rare book collection. There’s a lot to love about their current Oscar Wilde exhibit, like a notebook draft of Salome that includes Wilde stopping a scene short to sketch the staging for a particular moment. The exhibit also has a lot of Philadelphia-specific content, like reviews and satire from women who hated Wilde’s lectures on Aestheticism and published their mocking hearts out. (Also on display: Rafal Olbinski’s poster for Salome, which is just about the only poster we will ever need for Salome.)


How My Employer Put the “FML” in FMLA (and followup)
Here’s a two-parter on an employee who followed corporate policy when she saved up her sick leave to use as maternity leave and then had her employer deny it! And then they gaslit her by secretly revising their policies while she was on maternity leave! My personal hell exists on earth and it’s a situation where a paper trail can’t save me.

I know other people are critiquing this already, but this bothers me on a basic level because eight of those 16 items are not calorically significant. Nutritionally speaking, this is a vitamin bonanza. But people who live on SNAP benefits don’t just have to get nutrients, they have to get actual calories, because they tend to have very physical lives, doing service labor and taking care of children and not necessarily being able to afford a car and so forth.

Bless Gwyneth for trying the celebrity SNAP challenge, but this is the only piece that articulates why her initial offering seemed so absurd: it’s not enough calories to live. Rather, it’s enough calories to fuel a goop life, which doesn’t involve manual labor, hours on one’s feet, hours on public transportation, all endured before getting home and putting your house in order. I can’t do that on 1000 calories and the touch of one lime per day of the week. It’s enough calories when your business means staying stick-thin and glowing with the light of seven limes, but that’s not my business. (Girl. Seriously. Seven limes. Please why?) EDIT: Because limes a very affordable way to flavor food and they’re really cheap in Southern California! Thanks, internet!

People liked my plays. They told me so. To my face. Often. Some people did (and maybe even still do) love my plays. But very few people wanted to produce the plays I wrote. Very, very few. I’d do readings and workshops and it always felt like the play was a draft away, or some specific rewrite away. But that draft never seemed to happen, or the rewrite never seemed to do the trick. The perfect play just receded into the distance, always around another corner.

Save this for when that mood strikes- the one where you must wallow at the edge of an existential crisis and wonder whether anything you love actually matters. It’s a pragmatic answer to this hilarious word problem: If you continue to produce work at a rate of EVERYTHING YOU’VE GOT and shoot it into a black hole that provides only a hint of return or validation, how long before you attempt the impossible and swing yourself out of its orbit with the last remnants of what defines you as anything at all? (Note: of course you [probably] can’t survive the event horizon of a black hole, but recently some astronomers noticed that A Thing skittered around the edge of one and wasn’t consumed by it? Whatever it is?? Can you be THAT THING?)

The brands try to talk like the teens. The brands fail.
Teens only care about the immediate culture. They are not stuck in dead-time nostalgia. They have never heard of Missy Elliot. They do not care. That is OK. Teens plow their carts over the bones of the dead.

#CoolTeenz know what matters and what matters is nothing.

In conclusion:
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