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.)


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desk lunch – 2015-08-27

Brought to you this week by books. James Nestor’s nonfiction book on freediving and the ocean took longer to read than I expected, but then I devoured Nora Ephron’s Heartburn literally Saturday into Sunday. There’s a movie based on Heartburn, but it’s one of those books that is such a book that I can’t bring myself to watch it right now. Also, Meryl Streep as Nora Ephron and Jack Nicholson as Carl Bernstein? Let’s… not. (This has nothing to do with imagining the wrong actor from All the President’s Men as Carl Bernstein throughout the entire novel. Nope. Totally unrelated.)

Now I’m on Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey, and with that I will have finished all of Jane Austen! Now that I’m reading it, I’m glad I wasn’t in a rush to get through with Northanger Abbey– it’s so much more ironic and absurd than every other Austen, starting with the author’s note and sinking all the way through into every sentence. I don’t want it to end.


One of the more subtle underlying issues with the rise of Uber is the company’s slow siphoning of the political will to fix existing—or build new—public transit infrastructure in major cities…. As the wealthy—and, as the prices of Uber and Lyft fall, the slightly less so—essentially remove themselves from the problems of existing mass transit infrastructure with Uber and other services, the urgency to improve or add to it diminishes. The people left riding public transit become, increasingly, the ones with little or no political weight to demand improvements to the system.

I chose a particularly cynical quote to excerpt from this piece on the future of Uber/the privatization of the public transport infrastructure, and I made that choice because this is where Uber hits me, right now, in 2015. Fortunately, Philadelphia’s cab system has an app that’s just as convenient as Uber, and it’s still providing regular maintenance to its public transit system, but for how long? That’s really what this piece on The Awl gets at: if Uber is the future of public transit in urban areas, what will it look like in the very near future as public transit collapses but Uber still isn’t any more affordable for those who can only afford public transit?


There’s always been a link between privilege and mobility within the arts. If you are an artist, you are lucky if you can afford the time to work on your craft, and even luckier if you can afford the supplies required of your craft, and even luckier still if you are able to afford to respond to calls for conferences, residencies, and colonies.

This excellent essay from The Rumpus on the cost (financially, day-job-professionally, personally) of attending writers’ residencies. It articulates each of the thousand human complications that ensure I’ve never applied for a residency: what would happen to my job in the meantime? My apartment? My friends? Where would I get the money to pay for it? For expenses there? As prestigious as something like Bread Loaf has always sounded, the odds of being in the 5% who qualify for financial aid has never seemed worth the effort of applying.


It’s been a week and 26 million views, but seriously: have you watched One Direction’s video for Drag Me Down? It’s not news that the song itself is a jam and a half, but when the video premiered last Friday, I was shrieking way more intensely about the gratuitous use of NASA all over the place.

Best of all, this wasn’t a one-way arrangement! Official NASA twitter seemed to have tons of fun promoting their toys and the video all morning. I adored our anthropomorphized space program enough to Storify the moment.


desk lunch – 2015-05-07

Brought to you this week by One Direction’s “Fireproof,” a very fine musical sedative that gets me to stop thinking/panicking for almost three whole minutes at a time!!!

This starts another argument between husband and wife, mild at first, but then it peppers and there is this thing that distance does where it subtracts warmth and context and history and each finds that they’re arguing with a stranger.

A phenomenal short story by Lesley Nneka Arimah, published in Granta and a winner of Commonwealth Writers’s short story regional prize. This was distractingly good, like I have to leave the house ten minutes ago but NO I DON’T NO I CAN’T I WILL FINISH THIS. So load it on Pocket or- just be late. It’ll be worth it.


REALLY PERSONAL OPINION: I’m over Avengers: Age of Ultron, the ~theatrical cut in theaters right now. I saw it opening night and I had fun! I had my friends, my bucket of soda, purse candy, and a long-term solid affection for the MCU that even casting Baskingshark Crumbsbucket as Doctor Strange couldn’t totally smother. Then the movie happened and, for various reasons, I found it disappointing and forgettable. Literally- apparently Chris Evans had 50 minutes of screentime and I can only account for maybe 12 of them. Forgettable. I’m over it.
 

LESS PERSONAL OPINION: While I’m over AOU, I’m not over discussing AOU because I’m fascinated by the conversations that surround every aspect of this movie. See, the conversations around last year’s The Winter Soldier centered on the themes of its story (contemporary “preventative” warfare; the surveillance state that makes it possible; every single thing about the dual figure of Steve Rogers/Captain America in the real/fictional American psyche). In conversations about AOU, story barely figures because the plot points were sloppy and forgettable. So far the best takeaway from AOU has been the way it made every writer I know leave their theater with a loud and firm I NEED TO WRITE ABOUT THIS. Here are two essays very much worth reading:

I’m not here to bury or praise Whedon, or the larger Marvel universe, or even Avengers: Age of Ultron;
I’m just a girl, standing in front of a movie universe, asking it to give her narrative and emotional consistency.

I went with the cheeky excerpt because to quote any one part of this first part is to end up quoting the rest. This piece uses the concept of “points of care” as a straightforward way to describe how you can lay out the stakes for any given character in a story. For the Avengers in AOU (the central Avengers with 3-5 appearances in the MCU each), those points were developed throughout Phases 1 and 2, and AOU the Phase 2 finale meant to cash in on that prior development. My main disappointment with AOU came from this fundamental difference between the movie promised and the one delivered. Marvel invested in characters over the course of years, and their big return to this reluctantly-formed team completely ignores that they’re wildly different characters from the characters who teamed up three years ago. This essay does a great job of articulating the storytelling failures that characterized the movie.

Once the movie came out, there were a metric ton of problems with how the character’s story arc was presented. And after everyone digested all that, the backlash started. A backlash that seemed centered on Joss Whedon as a person, and not on having a real discussion about the movie.

This io9 piece takes a look at Black Widow’s AOU context- not in-universe context, but an overview of our talk around her role. This reviews the buildup to Black Widow’s role in AOU/the MCU in general, the reception of her story in AOU once the movie came out, and the backlash/fallout directed at Joss Whedon when it turned out that his take on Black Widow was out of tune not just with Phase 2 but also with his own characterization in the first Avengers movie. Also, for this piece in particular: don’t read the comments.


To keep the diary was to defend against memory loss; the prospect of forgetting seemed to Manguso a fate worse than death. But her fixation on capturing every detail didn’t feel quite right either.

I think I’ve kept a journal almost my entire life, from the cute hot pink ones still buried somewhere in my parents’ house to the dark green moleskine in my bedside table right now. It’s difficult to keep a journal and this piece from Vela has stuck in my mind for just that reason. I’ve kept a journal for so long, I don’t know why I keep it, what I hope to get from it, or how it affects my writing. Questions that need evaluating, maybe in… my journal?!


That night, my wife and I began scouring real estate listings, and almost immediately warmed to Satchel-on-Hudson, a lovely village two hours north of the city…. Life out here is placid and wonderful, and has afforded me the time and space for things I could never do in the city, like jarring my own salsa and not living in New York.