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.


Advertisements

desk lunch – 2015-08-06

Brought to you this week by the Wet Hot American Summer prequel. I’ve allowed it to consume my entire life this week and I’m pretty okay with that! Why does Bradley Cooper only seem truly happy when he’s falling in love with Michael Ian Black? IS IT… ACTING?

Speaking of Bradley Cooper, you can read my short fiction about Bradley Cooper at Atlas and Alice. (SMOOTH)


My Where We Are viewing experience was transformative, but not in the way I expected. I didn’t start a 1D Tumblr or troll Twitter for band rumours…. I did stop policing myself and other girls, both onscreen and off. I relaxed, and I had fun. I didn’t care about being the coolest girl in the room, because the coolest girls in the room were the ones not thinking about male critics. They were just having fun.

I’ll probably never tire of articles about fandom, but this one has a strong section specifically about the gendered language to describe stadium-sized events. Sports events vs boyband concerts: WHICH IS THE GREATER THREAT? All that and more blood-boiling sexism that permeates our every waking moment!

No, the Atlantic, your very detailed photo essay isn’t like a trip to Antarctica, but it does very much make me want to go to Antarctica. Caption for this photo: A whale fossil is seen near Brazil’s Commandante Ferraz Antarctic Station, located in Admiralty Bay, King George Island, Antarctica, on November 25, 2008.

Right, right, right. I talk about that as the logic of homosexual necessity in the book and that comes up a lot, this claim that, well, men have to do this for X or Y reason. There’s simply no other choice. I think people are really committed to that idea because it means that men are not agentically choosing homosexuality as something that is happening to them, so it’s what keeps their heterosexual identity intact, when that’s the logic that applies.

This Science of Us interview runs along similar lines to the “Born This Way” piece I linked to last week, but this one explores the way that self-identified straight men justify homosexual acts in the frame of their suffocatingly rigid masculinity. Homosexuality and homosexual acts could never be choices; they have to be explained away or, I don’t know, the ice caps would melt and poison the oceans and drown every coastal metropolis in the world and drive civilization into a frenzied competition for the last of our natural resources!

On July 20th, James Hansen, the former NASA climatologist who brought climate change to the public’s attention in the summer of 1988, issued a bombshell: He and a team of climate scientists had identified a newly important feedback mechanism off the coast of Antarctica that suggests mean sea levels could rise 10 times faster than previously predicted: 10 feet by 2065.

Speaking of our dwindling natural resources, here’s a piece in Rolling Stone letting us know that within 50 years our ecosystem will very likely drop a brick on the accelerator and destroy our precarious grip on order and civilization. Ecosystem will then heave our screaming, flaming corpse out of the car and drive us into the ocean, so… I guess I’ll keep contributing to that 403(b).


desk lunch – 2015-07-30

Brought to you this week by VACATION, so this will be short because the ocean is calling.


The position I offer, then, is a subtle one. ‘Born that way’ is a simple mantra, one that cuts through the concepts and challenges I have outlined. But it is also dangerous. For embracing the fiction of biological determinism risks consistently misunderstanding the most important part of our lives – our intimate relationships. We invented romantic love. And homosexuality. And just about every other kind of relationship. That doesn’t make any of these things less important or less real. But our inventions are not part of a biological nature: they are part of a conversation between a biological and social order of life.

~4000 words on the damning compromise LGBT rhetoric has made in order to achieve the thinnest veneer of acceptance in the 21st century.



“What about Remember the Time?” asked one of the friends I’m staying with at the beach. “Remember how it was a MAJOR TELEVISION EVENT that interrupted whatever we were watching and Eddie Murphy played a PHARAOH and it was AMAZING?”

“No,” I said, like a JERK.

And then my life changed and I’ve put the song on loop and my life is Better Now.


desk lunch – 2015-07-16

Brought to you this week by SPACE i love space.

with a still, restrained, almost annoyed sigh, what voice in what 
wilderness, minutest cricket, most unworthy flower I will never be tired — I will never be noisy I will be your best little girl — 
nobody else will see me, but you — but that is enough — limitlessness, wilt thou say,

ah, ladies, good night, good night, good night ladies —
and who therefore know the biology of the soft matter and the cluster of creation in its salty stellar lonely archive is matched by the sweet violence of thought,
who transubstantiated across the desert with both of them finally under the deep clear her blonde beauty and the celestial betrayals arrayed stellar, Andromeda chained naked to a rock, the Pleiades shedding to doves to stars,

The reinterpretation of Ginsberg’s “Howl” that I absolutely wanted forever and ever.

As long as scholars think of consciousness as a magic essence floating inside the brain, it won’t be very interesting to engineers. But if it’s a crucial set of information, a kind of map that allows the brain to function correctly, then engineers may want to know about it. And that brings us back to artificial intelligence. Gone are the days of waiting for computers to get so complicated that they spontaneously become conscious. And gone are the days of dismissing consciousness as an airy-fairy essence that would bring no obvious practical benefit to a computer anyway. Suddenly it becomes an incredibly useful tool for the machine.

I sent this to my brother. Him: “Ok but has someone invented the app that will care about this for me?” THANKS BRO.

Really, though, I fell into this headfirst, start to finish, because that concept of the singularity always bothered me- that there was no solution to making machines and software self-aware, just that if we made them fast enough, it would happen, and that sounds too much like irrationality and magic. The piece from Aeon argues that creating an artificial consciousness means treating consciousness not as a spark lit only within humans, but as a property of our supercomputing brains’ processors that allows us to filter and focus in a way that we’re just barely getting computers to do.

Next pointless research excursion: how did people describe the human brain before computers?


Remember analogue photography? What a nightmare.


Speaking of technology, because it’s that kind of week: PLUTO.

Emily Lakadawalla has written and tweeted about everything going on with Pluto and New Horizons this week. I’ve read so much of her work this week that when I finally saw her at the NASA press conference livestream SPEAK WITH HER HUMAN VOICE AND ASK A QUESTION I got weirdly emotional like meeting an internet friend for the first time. Anyway. Highlights:

Next press conference with the first lossless images will be 1PM EST Friday! SCREAMING.


desk lunch – 2015-06-11

Brought to you this week by several days of being outside and seeing people while also rounding up all the cats in Neko Atsume. (It’s free to download, but it will cost you minutes of your life every day, and you will seriously consider the economics of this planet of stray cats, and it will all make perfect sense.) And then Alexander wept, etc. Also!! Keep an eye on the blog at The Rumpus, as I’ll occasionally contribute more literary-minded links over there.

RIP Christopher Lee and all the great old dudes 2015 has claimed this year.


In case you couldn’t tell from my brief journey into the world of dinosaur romance: I love Jurassic Park. I look forward to Jurassic World this week because big screen dinosaur spectacles are so few and far between!! So prime yourself with this wonderfully earnest movie-and-book-canon love letter to Ian Malcolm.

Also, here’s my Jurassic World dream cameo: it’s during this scene full of chaos in the streets of the park, etc. Run, scream, run, scream: CUT TO A SIDEWALK CAFE WHERE DR. IAN MALCOLM SITS AT AN UNDISTURBED TABLE, SIPPING AN ESPRESSO, LAUGHING TO HIMSELF. I can’t ask for the filmmakers to dedicate five or ten or maybe 30 minutes of a film to Jeff Goldblum laughing to himself (remixed), but I can dream.


But despite our toxic relationship and his abusive nature, I pen this letter under a cloak of anonymity because my father, from what I have recently learned, is queer but not proud. And by no means is he out.

O’Rei, the author, draws a striking line between deferment and displacement- it’s a law of physics, that for every action there is an opposite and equal reaction, and displacement will be the other side of deferment. Something deferred can fester or explode, but much more likely it’ll shift its power and weight in some other direction, a sustained force replenished as long as (in this case) there’s desire deferred to fuel it.


Like all such testaments, the Embroidery is both repository and maker of memory: source of the facts we resolve into histories, participant in the worlds that designed it and inherited it, tribute to and bearer of war.

IT’S A #LONGREAD. SAVE THIS TO POCKET. Alison Kinney writes a richly researched essay on war memorials, starting with the Bayeux Tapestry (EMBROIDERY). I read so much history and read more than my share of war narratives, and that’s just it: wars are often presented as narratives that have to be told and retold, from as many different angles as possible, the better to understand this chaotic rupture of life and the social order. It’s interesting to consider the temporality of war memorials, the way they don’t evolve as our stories or understanding of a war or battle does. That’s the surface fact of a memorial, but Kinney brings this into a new light: that these memorials capture a raw feeling of war that we, the survivors and inheritors, can’t narrativize out of the way.

We launch our memorials, as time capsules—ravens or doves—or bombs—into unknown futures, bearing our faults and stories, not knowing which will crumble or rot, be swallowed by weeds, mounted in museums, or blasted. We can’t predict whether, freshly restored, they’ll urge future soldiers to kill, or mourn another war intended to end all wars.

Remember NASA’s Dawn Mission, whose trajectory and bright spots I babbled about almost exactly two months ago? GUESS WHAT. THERE’S PHOTOS OF CERES. In fact, there are enough photos of dwarf planet Ceres for NASA to create this video showing us its topography. FULL SCREEN. VOLUME UP. The star field was added after the fact to provide visual relief from a dark background and the illusion of distance, don’t worry about it, ok? Here’s the full post from NASA and the twitter link to the video for your retweeting pleasure.


It’s real.

desk lunch – 2015-06-04

Brought to you this week by the weather in the northeast, in June, when I wore leggings to work and needed a light jacket!!!!!!!! Also, I’ve had short fiction pieces accepted for future issues of Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet and Atlas and Alice. I don’t want to see the day when an acceptance doesn’t send me into a swoon at my desk.


The ripples carried the head further up the river. Gently it drifted, impeded here and there by the side of some stone, only to be pushed along again by the rush of the flow. It finally found a resting place on the shore where the water ran quiet into a brown muddy clay.

Terraform is a new short fiction series at Vice. Every story so far has been captivating and accompanied by incredible artwork. “A Song For You” stands out with its pacing and its patience. I mention patience because the language captured the protagonist: an AI with literally too much time in the world. I also recommend “The Judge” for its structure and humor.

It’s a complicated comfort, isn’t it? The endless distance, the hidden and isolated nature of the individual, but also the lights, far and small as they might be, where the voice in the back of the head resides along with the body. If there is anything spiritually nourishing in the world, it feels very far away, and yet it persists, trying for companionship through the darkness.

May’s entry for the advice-through-poetry column at The Toast haunted me with its descriptions on walking outside at night. Come for that and stay for the thoughtful reflection on Franz Wright’s “To Myself.”

That school secretary who threw out my book? She might as well have been telling me—and within a week of my husband’s losing his job—that my kind didn’t belong in her nice suburban school district. That my politics and my mouthiness and my checkered past would forever preclude me from finding a nice classroom somewhere to call my own.

Oh hey, it’s an essay on the friction between one’s artistic persona and their professional money-earning day-job persona. How interesting.

It doesn’t make sense to make blanket statements like “content on the web should be persistent” or “content on the web should be ephemeral”. Instead, we need to recognize that this “web” thing is conflating two very different forms of discourse, forms that used to be clearly and deliberately distinct.

The “web” is not a part of nature. It was not discovered; we don’t have to just accept it. The “web” is an infrastructural system that was built by people, and it was built very recently and very sloppily. It currently has the property that it forgets what must be remembered, and remembers what must be forgotten. It manages to screw up both the sacredness of the common record and the sacredness of private interaction.

These two short pieces discuss the central problem of the internet as the medium we know now. We’ve created the largest storehouse of knowledge known to the world so far, but the infrastructure of the web itself doesn’t prioritize one kind of knowledge over another: every bit of data, once it exists, is left out there exposed to the elements. “The elements” on the web have the same effect as they would on earth: neglect, avoidance, ignorance, all that leads to significant knowledge lost.

It’s a similar issue that came up a few weeks ago when talking about hypercomplex systems that collapse under their own weight because they can’t identify their own flaws. With the volume of information we see every day, how can we ever hope to identify the information we’re not seeing? How can we remember what we’ve already forgotten? Have we Fahrenheit 451‘d ourselves?


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.