desk lunch – 2015-10-01

Brought to you this week by Hamilton, currently devouring the brain of every person I know. If you’re looking for something linking this week’s three essays together, it’s something thematically similar: stories about how artists make their work and their careers happen.


This Is How You Become an Editor

They didn’t know about Mensah, the name I gave myself when I was eighteen, and if they knew the name, they could search for me online and know everything. Know about my messy relationships, know about my politics. To be unknown by everybody, or half-known, and to have to decide who should know which half of me, but never giving all of me, not even to someone I’d share a bed with, is to be constantly half-powered, half-committed, half-ready to leave it all behind. So I would joke with my coworkers, and we would swap stories over beers or Italian at a local spot for lunch, but I lied to them. I lied to everyone. I presented one man, but I was another man.

This is just a very good, winding story about going from a day job to a writing/editorial job, but I’m linking it for the passage above—finally able to own what you want to do and who you want to be. The day job/writer job split feels like Voldemort and his horcruxes a lot of the time.


“Make sure you value us. …Your students of color have worked twice as hard to get to where your white students are. Appreciate the work it took for them to get there.”

Really interesting quotes from students in MFA programs, but I’m particularly glad they interviewed comparatively a lot of Sarah Lawrence grads. I attended undergrad at SLC and ended up furious/uninspired by all of my writing workshops for the reasons listed in this piece.

LMM: I was like, Don’t look at Busta, don’t look at Busta. Then I look into the second row and Mandy Patinkin is sitting above Busta Rhymes. If there is a Busta Rhymes of musical theater, it probably is Mandy Patinkin. And it was just fucking crazy, when the people you’ve emptied your pockets to see are seeing you.

Lin-Manuel Miranda, the composer of Hamilton and In the Heights, is like an actual ray of sunshine come to life. (See what he said about donating some of his grant money. UGH. ARE YOU REAL.) Every interview with him contains some moment or some line that strikes a little too close, and this interview in particular has a lot of good stuff about being Latin@ at a mostly white school, and working while also working, and. It’s a lot.


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desk lunch – 2015-09-10

My husband and I study history, specifically the late Victorian era of the 1880s and ’90s.  Our methods are quite different from those of academics. Everything in our daily life is connected to our period of study, from the technologies we use to the ways we interact with the world.

Earlier in the week, The Big Story that caught my eye was on The Awl about what freelance writers are paid, but then these pseudo-Victorians rolled into Vox and everything went out the window, mostly because 1) VICTORIANS! and 2) I write fiction and very short essays, not longreads based on hours of research and reporting, as almost every writer quoted in that piece. So it was like a quick glance into a place that didn’t hold much interest for me.

Anyway! The pseudo-Victorians are way more interesting because wow they fueled fascinating discussions on my timeline all day from all the historians and academics RISING FROM THE DEEP to provide their take on this complete nonsense.

I’m not a person to harp on about the importance of historical accuracy; we should think of historical accuracy as a thousand facets of the same stone. There’s no way to create one all-encompassing narrative of one life, let alone one narrative out of the lives of millions of people across decades, across a country and an empire. What I find more depressing are people who take their privileged arts-and-crafts 21st century “””organic””” approach to recreating life in the 19th century. The author of the piece takes the path of reconstructive nostalgia, where people of the past and their “simpler” technology are more virtuous than we parasitic Twitter addicts who don’t bake their own bread with homegrown sourdough cultures.

Like, I just washed and dried two loads of laundry in 80 minutes without leaving my apartment building!!! After a full day of work where I didn’t inhale poison chemicals or brutally die due to safety hazards!! I’ll keep glancing into the past through novels, primary sources, essays, whatever else I can get my hands on, but trading Wendy’s for debtors’ prison and the worst pies in London? Hard pass.

(I’d include colonialism, but I don’t think colonialism is the far-off fantasy we’d like it to be.)

Three excellent microfictions at The Offing, but the last piece is tremendous.

Yo, speaking of history and the rich tapestry of space-time that we wrap ourselves in every day of our lives.

And on other days, I didn’t write a single word. Yes, it’s true. Why? Sometimes, it’s because I was busy being alive. Other times, it’s because the story I was working on simply wasn’t ready to be written yet.

Just one more weapon in my arsenal of patience for myself and my self-loathing. I had a writing project I meant to draft over Labor Day weekend, but instead I outlined it, submitted work to a lot of places, and spent three days seeing friends and enjoying hot dogs and central air conditioning. That’s okay.


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?