desk lunch – 2015-05-21

Brought to you this week by EXHAUSTION. I moved into my fifth apartment in Philadelphia this weekend. I only have to unpack the kitchen and then I can finish putting everything in the places they’ll stay until I move again in 2-3 years. I have a makeup mirror that I can’t hang up in my bedroom anymore and it’s resting on my desk so I can better embrace my Lady of Shalott aesthetic. Tirra lirra by the train tracks seriously will someone organize my kitchen for me.

How do you not understand that a vigorous and generous financial aid system is relevant for ALL students, because it ensures your kid will be going to school with people from vastly different class and income backgrounds?
I guess that did not necessarily seem like a plus to some people.

The Nicoles at The Toast are the college counselors I wish I had at my tiny Catholic high school way back when. The link above has much better advice than such stunning observations from my high school’s counselor, like: well, with those PSAT scores you won’t get into an Ivy League school, so just go to [state school everyone in my class attended, like in SAVED BY THE BELL: THE COLLEGE YEARS, a show that NO ONE enjoyed. And didn’t Kelly DATE HER PROFESSOR?]. I never went back to said counselor’s office, and I didn’t bother asking for useful advice like how I could get application fees waived or whether it was even possible to negotiate a financial aid package.

I can’t be too bitter because in the end, my chosen school came through with an aid package that covered the sizable tuition bill. However, I’m still paying off four years’ worth of expensive room and board. It’s these really boring, common, money-related considerations that make me the worst person to play if you could change one thing about your life: the answer is always GO BACK IN TIME, GET TO COLLEGE FOR LESS.


On Monday I saw Taylor Swift’s Bad Blood video about 15 minutes before Nicki Minaj and Beyonce released Feeling Myself and… I LOVE THEM BOTH. SO MUCH.

Look at these two complementary celebrations of female wish fulfillment!!! First there’s the hyperfashionable desert meetup where you eat burgers and tick off the benchmarks of your incredible professional success. Neither person begrudges the other their success and the burgers are incredible, as is your hair and makeup and everything about you.

Then there’s the other side of The Dream, where you have so much money you invite your squad to shoot a four-minute action movie. You celebrate your success by creating this lavish piece of work. You get ZENDAYA TO THROW KNIVES. You engage your supermodel bff in Xena-level kickboxing that would make Sappho throw down her lyre to watch. Top all that off with a sci-fi aesthetic more interesting than the $250m blockbuster with a robot in the title and I’m here for every second of it. (Except for the music. Oops.)


I talked to my agent about it, who was really supportive, but referred to me as “powerless” in the situation. I understood what he meant—that I had no leverage with which to make this editor respond to me—but the word struck me, because I don’t feel powerless at all. I feel exactly the opposite: that they need voices like mine. That if they don’t take them, it’s their loss, not only morally and aesthetically but (in the long run) financially, and no one will wait for them to catch up with the new culture we’re creating. We’ll just go ahead and create it.

It’s worth reading the above from Monica Byrne, a writer with an offer from WIRED to write a pop culture column. Her first batch of interesting pitches were rejected, and the second batch never acknowledged. It’s an awful thing to have the offer of a steady gig slowly drop out from under you, but this excerpt struck me for the truth of its optimism. Work that grows from where you are, from your experiences, from the life you’ve lived, can’t be ignored. (She said, more to herself than anyone else, because there’s nothing more difficult to convey than GENUINE HONESTY. Typing those two earnest sentences was the most painful thing I’ve done all day.)

Related: Byrne also published her anti-resume last year, a detailed spreadsheet of every lit mag submission, fellowship/residency application, or query to an agent sent since 2007. That’s almost 600 submissions with a success rate of 3%. It’s both humbling and reassuring that my own acceptance rate can dream to aspire all the way to 3%!! (We’re currently at better than nothing!!! percent.)

In fact, I think that sick girls will outlive everyone in the coming zombie apocalypse. You will never meet better tactical thinkers; we know which hours of the day we can go to the grocery store without running into a teeming horde of toddlers who’ll try to kick our canes out from under us (a weekend foray to Trader Joe’s is frankly excellent supply-run preparation in this regard). We know with eerie precision how many steps it’ll take to get to any marker in a room, and we can plot the best courses to conserve our energy.
where is the lie

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.