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 – 2015-10-29

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.)


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 – 2015-09-17

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.

desk lunch – 2015-05-14

Brought to you this week by Anna Chlumsky’s beautiful long-overdue freakout on Veep. 10,000 Emmys to both her and Ianucci for crystallizing in 100 seconds the life of almost every woman on the planet: we can’t have nice things because we tried one and it sucked.

Because what if Iago’s motivational difficulties, and his definitional rhetoric, really do not operate at cross purposes at all? What if Iago’s inability to describe his own motives without contradicting himself, and his diagnostic rhetoric, which scorns any opinions about the world that are not useful to him—what if these two monsters give birth to one another?

First: this essay is long. It is long, it’s funny, it’s engaging, but it takes a while to reach the point it’s trying to make: that the tragedy in Othello, and specifically what motivates Iago to bring the world down around their ears, tries to portray the limitations of a systematic, or hyper-rational, mind. Think of it as Spock’s dilemma in “Amok Time”: the hyper-rational person with unbreakable rules of conduct realizes something is wrong, but the way they run their life doesn’t allow them to identify the cause or the cure. In any case, I found it interesting to read a theory of how an unforgiving system could eventually collapse under the weight of its own mechanism.

I was never the best. I’m still not. I don’t say that because I’m trying to be deep or grab sympathy from the world, I say it because the past year of job searching has dug that fact into my cranium. From countless unanswered applications, to the countless “We regret to inform you…,” job hunting becomes a game of how confident can I be before I break.

I loved this for its relentless optimism. If I had to walk away from my 20s with only one thing, I would take this newfound ability to shrug off failure and continue to ram my head against a wall until it gives. I don’t know that it would have done much good to learn it earlier. I’m glad I have it now.

The act of explaining: It’s as if, before you speak, you have to relight the room you’re standing in. Dim this, walk in a lamp or two, replace a bulb. Can you see me now?

Another long essay, this one a review of Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts using a memoir-through-vignettes format that made it such a weird and captivating read.

Solgangsbris, a poem by Kenzie Allen
It’s this life I want, this valley
between the hills and high places,
the steppes of what, so far,
I have known.

You should follow The Offing and we should move to Norway.


If I bought this for my mom, she would literally weep for joy and I would never hear the end of it. I would hear stories, daily, about her and Robert, so I need to link this here and remember it for the next important gift-giving occasion. Then I can visit my parents’ house and look upon A PORTRAIT OF ROBERT DOWNEY JR IN 19TH CENTURY RUSSIAN REGALIA.

desk lunch – 2015-04-30

Brought to you this week by #BaltimoreUprising.
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Historical romance is often (though not always) shorthand for a romance set in England, with the Regency era being the most popular setting. In these books, the duke/earl/viscount hero is usually white (with bronzed or golden skin—because the British Isles are known for their great tanning weather and tawny-skinned inhabitants). The heroines are usually fair—like, really fair—with milky, lily-white skin mentioned often enough to cause concern about their health.

So, you read romance novels or you sometimes think of reading historical romance novels, but the optics of said novels don’t hold much appeal for you: everyone is white; they’re probably rich and if not rich then privileged and literate enough to pass for rich; they claw at each other for titles; and the plot follows the attempts of an emotionally repressed people trying to process an insult hissed at them during a slow dance with a lot of pressing of hands. So, that doesn’t sound like Your Thing. Consider The Toast‘s roundtable featuring black authors of historical romance as they discuss the flawed optics of historical romance and how they’re working to change that. I’ve already preordered out their upcoming anthology of historical romance novellas, The Brightest Day.

Narrative can be oppressive. We fall straight from the womb onto a plotline: the world ushers us to see ourselves as protagonists and map out a lifelong plan…. I’ve always treated the imperative of a trajectory with anxious reverence; this is how an identity is made. But I feared the ambiguity of the process, the impossibility of knowing what narrative would be “correct.”

I think this is the first entry I’ve read in Jezebel’s Fake Friends series, but wow. Wow. This essay on the Frances/Sophie friendship in Frances Ha hits the movie’s points better than the movie did. Ultimately, I’m not sure how much I appreciate Frances Ha on its own terms. While I love Rachel Vorona Cote’s look at friendship/identification in this piece, I don’t know how to feel about the conclusion: that the best a Mature Adult Friendship can offer—should offer, if they want to remain Mature Adult Friends—is a lingering glance across the room.

There are some big debates still underway, not least of all what one might caricature as the battle between Dante and Gladiator, or the question of what makes a cultural artefact worth studying; those classicists who work on SF are usually of the opinion that both ‘high art’ and popular culture are equally worthy of examination. However, this division hints at the second possible reason behind the rise of theory in classical reception generally: in order to defend looking at things like film or SF, it helps to have a really intimidating theoretical justification to back you up.

Hey! It’s an overview of the recent scholarship surrounding recent interpretations of classical influences into science fiction! It’s a general overview with a good, recent reading list of sources, if this sort of thing appeals to your interests (how could it not!!!)

And if you haven’t read Ta-Nehisi Coates on Baltimore, here’s an excerpt and a link:
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desk lunch – 2015-04-23

Brought to you this week by the ENDLESS RAIN on the East Coast. I learned that printer paper crumpled into wet leather boots will soak up the damp caused by sloshing through three or four literal rivers to catch a trolley. As I write this, the rain’s taking a break, probably until I have to step outside again.

We either have to make spaces for ourselves – often unsustainable and without funding – or push past one another to get into positions of opportunity. And even our victories face outward. The acknowledgment serves to prove that we matter to people in power, even if we know that these are our stolen resources handed back to us. I’m not ignorant of the ways oppression sets us against our own, but how do we work against the impulse to covet and tear each other down?
The problem with letting capitalism dissolve the social contract between worker and employer, though, is that social relationships more generally suffer as well. In a precarious environment, where you can only rely on yourself, independence becomes the only virtue.. this means treating personal relationships with the same logic that employers treat workers—i.e., abandoning them when they are no longer useful.

Surprise! The two essays above are about the ways to measure how money changes you. Thinking back on tons of old stories, so many of them are about money, but money portrayed as this hilarious, overblown, written-from-privilege caricature; an awful character, like an Agamemnon, Judas, Wickham, Karenin, any dude in a Henry James novel, wanders onto the scene and flaunts their obsession with money, how their greed for material wealth transforms them into soul-sucking voids that pull at the Good Decent People around them. Greed (a deadly sin, guys) pulls and pulls until the GDP (OH! I AM CLEVER!) find the strength to overcome that pull and, I don’t know, die and retreat to the great agrarian commune in the sky. Money Equaled Greed, and I accepted that narrative because money made my life possible and I didn’t understand the cost of obtaining it, being all of like, 20 years old and comfortably middle class. Now I’m a self-sufficient adult who quantifies every transaction, commercial and personal, because I’ve learned no other way to exist! Remember: there’s no one in your life who wouldn’t fight you to the death in a cage match for $10,000. A Happy Thursday to us all!


“It’s not for you to relate to!” Write that in the sky. And it’s true – often, as writers of color, to portray our stories in all their vibrant authenticity, all their difficult truth means we’re not writing for editors and agents, we’re writing past them. We’re writing for us, for each other.
Setting as crisis — the street and its many offerings of knowledge and myth, the politics hidden in daily happenstance – is really a question of context. This is what we sci-fi/fantasy people call worldbuilding, but every genre has work to do in constructing layers of universe around a narrative.

I’m the idiot who wasn’t following Daniel José Older on twitter until this week. In these two pieces, he takes two different angles on the same issue: how do you portray the world? For writers, it’s worldbuilding- not the naming of places and sketching of maps, but how to make the world you live in (and by extension, worlds of your invention) authentic places. These authentic places are shaped by history, circumstance, every instance of force that constitutes the fabric of reality itself. Are you good enough at reading the world to understand the texture of where you live?

All of that applies to publishing. The industry of publishing is itself the disseminating of stories: this is an industry we made to get stories out further, faster than anyone could have dreamed centuries ago. Older’s BuzzFeed essay draws up the most basic ethics of publishing: get different stories out there. We’re too smart with too many resources and too long of a reach to keep publishing and buying the same ten novels every year. We need stories from everyone and everywhere, and if there isn’t 1:1 cultural correlation between writer and reader? That’s the point. See someone and understand them on their own terms. Do you really think teens extorting their community for money to watch their kids was a universal experience? I still loved it.


The study also found that these women experienced “similar themes to ‘traditional’ intimate relationships, such as emotional growth and identity development fostered by friendship, jealousy, break-ups, and shifts and changes in the relationship.”

There isn’t enough writing about nonconventional relationships. There isn’t enough straightforward discussion about all the ways that people fit together. Here’s a start.


Once per calendar year, I have to watch Will Smith’s video for Wild Wild West. This year, the original video was taken off youtube- the original seven-minute masterpiece featuring Salma Hayek, Will Smith in longjohns, a giant flaming W (for THE WEST, as you know), cameos by STEVIE WONDER and ALFONSO RIBEIRO (3:00 mark), and a thorough rapped synopsis of the Will Smith/Kevin Kline steampunk western I’m too afraid to rewatch for the first time since 1999. Instead, I found the live awards show performance above. It opens with Will Smith in a violet three-piece suit riding a horse into an auditorium. Then it gets… weirdly forced, almost hollow, as if Kenneth Branagh (WHO PLAYED THE VILLAIN IN THIS FILM) found the magic mirror that made Wild Wild West possible and destroyed the dream world where they all existed. TL;DR – THE MUSIC VIDEO IS TREMENDOUS.

desk lunch – 2015-04-09

Brought to you during a binge-watch of Madam Secretary. If The Good Wife was CBS’s first arrow into my Smaug armor, this show is Bard’s arrow. I will fall into the lake at Esgaroth, clawing helplessly at the dream of Téa Leoni and Tim Daly’s sweaters and blazers collection.

The obvious thing that has happened is that the technology has become more central in the students’ experience…. These classroom technologies become more conspicuous as things that separate the students from the class and what I suspect they understand as the “real” me.

It still shocks and humbles me to see how deeply we feel our connection with technology. We’re long past taking the Office Space printer to a field with baseball bats. When a site or drive crashes at the worst possible time, when something blows up on Twitter without us, when we just can’t parse the tech in front of us, it hits us where we breathe. I appreciate the piece above, written by a grad student teaching his composition classes online, on the difficulties that his students encounter as they learn solely through an online presence. A simplified workflow doesn’t offer a substitute for vision, intention, and communication. It’s something I should have etched into the back of my hand so I don’t forget.

The temptation I’ve wrestled with is to simply dismiss this silly thing, New Yorker or no, as the sad ravings of a man trying to escape his guilt-ridden Protestant Puritan heritage and justify his consumerist lifestyle. But I can’t. It’s not about defending Audubon’s honor against this weird ad hominem assault—or not primarily that, anyway. It’s about defending an idea against the false dichotomy Franzen tries to advance in his essay.

No, you didn’t ask and no, I’m not over the Audubon Society’s beef with Jonathan Franzen over ethics in avian journalism. I read this from a fainting couch with my phone in one hand and smelling salts in the other. I hope, for Franzen’s sake, someone will bind this scathing takedown from the Audubon Society in a life-sized illustrated folio, with birds of America shrieking throughout AND ANOTHER THING.

The character of Cromwell as drawn by Mantel fascinates me because he does nothing without a purpose, and yet it’s not clear what drives him. He accumulates wealth, but gives much of it away, so greed  isn’t his motive. He cultivates safe spaces for Protestant religious practice but retains a lifelong loyalty to a Catholic cardinal. He rises in court and in authority, but doesn’t get drunk on power; his inner monologue reveals a man who never believes he is completely safe.

Wolf Hall finally arrived on PBS this past Sunday. Here Sara covers a lot of what I appreciated about Mantel’s books and the miniseries. Mostly, I love Wolf Hall because it’s so weird compared to every other version we’ve seen of the story of Henry VIII. Sex exists in whispers and contracts; everyone hustles for a spot in the room with Henry, the room where everything happens but no one can reveal the cost and effort it took to get there. Wolf Hall captures this temporality so often absent from historical fiction: no one knows they’re in a story, no one knows there will be one accepted version of how their lives shook out. Cromwell’s story is about the story, the steps taken to unfold and shape a life. Who cares about how it ends when everyone dies anyway?

NASA’s Dawn Mission twitter account linked to their video animating the planned trajectory of the craft around Ceres, a dwarf planet in the asteroid belt. It came up again after more than a month without an update about those bright spots on Ceres’s surface, and the animation shows that Dawn still hasn’t made it into the close approach phase of its journey yet. I just want to note for the record that we (as a species!!) regularly shoot robots into space and MAKE THEM OUR EYES. There’s a robot on a comet, there are robots on and around Mercury, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, and Pluto, and a robot has left our star system for interstellar space. PEOPLE WALKED ON OUR MOON’S FACE.

Look: just because Bronotsaurus can rejoin the land of valid dinosaur taxonomy does not mean that Pluto gets to be a planet again. Have scientists re-evaluated fossil records and revised their 25-year-old conclusions? Yes! Has Pluto gained the mass necessary to meet the IAU’s standards for planet status? No! Did the IAU cave a little and designate objects in Pluto’s neighborhood PLUTOIDS to appease people? Yeah, like seven years ago. When it comes to science, these developments are a feature, not a bug.

desk lunch – 2015-04-03

I used to “take lunch” by literally taking my lunch into an empty conference room with my kindle for 30 glorious minutes a day. NO LONGER. MY DESK IS MY HOME NOW. Here’s what I’ve been reading since last Thursday. Future installments on Thursdays. This Friday’s special.


They’re not raunchy “bodice rippers,” a dismissive term that more properly refers to the historical romances of the 1970s, which were never Harlequin specialties, anyway. They’re not “pornography for women,” either—Harlequins were long quite prim, holding the line against premarital sex until the 1980s, and to this day, the company’s offerings are often mild in comparison to the gloriously filthy stuff that’s readily available on Amazon. To dismiss them as “trash” is lazy and intellectually incurious.

I spent several lunches and commutes home imagining #Harlequin as a Harlequin heroine, standing on a mountain or in some tall grass, her hair windswept as she outsold traditional publishing with frightening determination. If she meets your eyes, an Elle Woods What, like it’s hard? slips past her lips and you realize how little conviction for anything you hold in your bones.

Furthermore, is it fair to say that “technology” writ large has truncated our discourse or diminished textual engagement, when more platforms are enabling more people to say more things on a scale never previously imagined? It makes you wonder if maybe the whole character limit thing is a red herring. Maybe Twitter is unsavory because its users are too wayward, irreverent, and defiant of the “rules.” After all, what kind of despicable person omits the first two letters from the word you?

I like this piece’s take on the changing language of literature, which isn’t changing nearly quickly enough. It’s humbling to step back and realize that writing in the 21st century requires literacy and fluency in a dozen kinds of discourse and you either get that and run with it or you don’t and I mock you relentlessly behind your back. (Also recommended from sevenscribesthis cultural-environmental history from fivefifths.)

Furthermore, the overall demographic of LGBTQs doesn’t jive with the demographics of the areas where we allegedly live. LGBTQs are more likely to be of color, but the neighborhoods cited as gayborhoods are overwhelmingly white. Queer women and trans people are more likely to be poor, but the neighborhoods cited as gayborhoods are overwhelmingly rich.

This raises more questions than it answers and that’s good. There’s no one answer as to what part of the country is More Queer Friendly than any other; there’s so many permutations of so many answers that there’s not even one question. 

Chill takes and never gives. Chill is pathologically unfeeling but not even interesting enough to kill anyone. Chill is a garbage virtue that will destroy the species.

A sip of vitriol for the road.


lmm

Precious cinnamon bun, don’t let the world change you.