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.


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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.

Reading 2015 (1)

I’m writing a mid-year reading post (like my end-of-year reading post) because I added it to my calendar back in January and I couldn’t very well tell my past self UGH I’M BUSY LEAVE ME ALONE, even though ugh I’m busy leave me alone.

Actually, I could, and I would have, but the first half of this year has been weirdly amazing for books, so I should mark this brief and shockingly positive outlook with some words.

Continue reading Reading 2015 (1)

Reading 2014

On Reading Promptly

I don’t read in a timely fashion. I have a long commute so I can finish books quickly, but my choices aren’t timely. Every 2014 release on this list I grandfathered in through some prior care: the latest trade of a comic, a friend’s chapbook (Clever Little Gang), the concluding book in a series (Grossman’s Magicians, the third volume of Stephen Fry’s autobiography), or writers I already read daily (Patricia Lockwood, Anne Helen Petersen, Mallory Ortberg). Here’s the full list of books I read in 2014.

It’s funny: when I was a lit student and researching a book or translation’s publication history, I’d want to reach into past centuries and throw book reviewers into a sewer because their first review of a book was like, four years after its publication and I needed your thoughts on this book PROMPTLY, dead person!! As is the way, I’ve become that which I despise. You can expect my thoughts on 2014 releases in three to seven years minimum. Cut me some slack, undergrad Michelle. Life is hard. I want to read about dragons.

Continue reading Reading 2014