Placed

In addition to my recent feature at Vela, I'm also now running a column there called Placed. Here's the general idea:

“Place,” writes the geographer Yi-Fu Tuan, “exists at different scales. At one extreme a favorite armchair is a place, at the other extreme the whole earth.”
 
Curated by Miranda Ward, Placed will address relationships to place, very broadly defined: the body is a place, the earth is a place, a favorite chair is a place, a city, a café, a corner shop, a cubicle, a lake, a mountain, a road. Placed is interested in work that addresses place on any scale, from the banal to the sublime, and that stretches beyond simple description to use place as a springboard to explore or weave together other ideas and stories.
 
Essays are likely to address, in various ways, certain kinds of questions: how do we form and maintain and describe relationships to places? How do we develop a sense of place? How do we shape places, and how do places shape us?

The first piece went up on Wednesday, and while I'll be contributing regularly as well, I'm actively seeking contributions by other women writers for future installments - so please do get in touch if you have something or know someone you think might fit the bill!

Recent Writing: Dream Body

I wrote an essay for Vela (which, by the way, has a beautiful new website) on exercise, discipline, control, and the body:

"Geographers write, too, about the idea of place as something fluid, processual, always-becoming, “not a given but something immanent, forever forming, and in progress.” The body is a place – the first place, the place we must make peace with – and like any other place, it is in a constant state of flux; it changes from moment to moment, year to year, gets older, bigger, smaller, more and less capable of performing certain tasks."

Read the full piece here.

 

Recent writing: The Billfold

In a recent piece for The Billfold, I added up how much it's cost me to settle in the UK. I was surprised to discover that the actual total feels low, I guess partly because it doesn't include more abstract or tangential things like the cost of international travel, the time I've spent doing research, filling out forms, on the phone, in appointments, that I could have been working, the money I spent shipping all of my books cross the Atlantic ($900, if you're wondering), and so on — but also because this whole ongoing process has been such a huge presence in my life for so long, such a source of deep and constant anxiety. The precise impact of that is hard to convey in numbers. On the other hand, it's still a hell of a lot of money to spend on paperwork.

Anyway, here's an excerpt:

"I always knew that living 5,000 miles away from where I grew up would mean that my life took on a slightly different shape than the lives of friends back home. I knew, too, that no matter where my partner and I ultimately chose to live, we would have to jump through a series of convoluted bureaucratic hoops. But, I didn’t have any sense of what the privilege of jumping through those hoops actually cost."

Here's the full piece...

I was also very pleased to find out that my essay 'The Purest Form of Play,' which originally appeared on Vela, earned an Honorable Mention for nonfiction in the Winning Writers 2014 Sports Fiction & Essay Contest.

Summer

Today while I was out running I noticed that the leaves are already falling from some of the keener trees. If I think about it, this is no surprise: it's early September, still warm, but sunsets come early and violently, the rose hips are bright on the bush, and I can hear pop music pumping out of the house next door, which means we have new neighbors. This is the true signal of Autumn here. I hear their footsteps and their doors slamming and yesterday they took a parcel for me while I was out, but my guess is I will probably never learn their names and I certainly wouldn't know them if I saw them on the street; we just share walls, that's all. It was a shitty run, which happens sometimes, and I felt very strange out there on my own. Usually when I'm having a good run the feeling I get is one of intense belonging, intimacy with the city. Things feel very close together. Oxford is round and bowl-like and it's actually quite difficult to run any distance here and not butt up against the ring road, not have to climb and descend hills. Today when things went wrong and I stopped running I felt very far from home, even though I was only a few miles away. I felt out of place. I think it's good to feel this sometimes. I noticed it the other day when I was out taking photos with my SLR, for work, and people were treating me - well, I was treating myself - like a tourist. I was waiting for things to line up in just the right way and meanwhile people were trying not to walk across my shot and maybe thinking well, it is a beautiful city, but god damn, will you get out of the way already? Which is a thing I often think when I'm in a hurry to get somewhere and people are stopped in the middle of the street with their cameras trained on something. But there I was, walking around with a camera hung around my neck, feeling intensely unlike myself. I'd thought maybe it would give me a sense of purpose, an excuse to behave in a way I don't often give myself permission to behave (lingering, looking, getting in the way) but I just couldn't wait to get back to being my usual self. I was practically dizzy after half an hour.

Anyhow today, on my run, I walked for about five or ten minutes and I swear those five or ten minutes lasted far longer than any other five or ten minutes I experienced all day. And during this vast expanse of time I looked up and saw that the leaves were not just turning but falling. At a junction I waited for the light and there was a sea of papery yellow leaves at my feet.

So: it was a good summer, hot and busy, and it's pretty much over now. Here are some photos of it.

More lake swimming

Late summer light

Evening light

Lake swimming

Snowdonia

On the way to London

Clyro

Leaves

Recent writing: Leave to Remain

I have a new essay up at Vela. It's about the process of acquiring indefinite leave to remain in the UK, and becoming a permanent resident - though really it's more about the process of waiting for this to happen, and the sense of feeling somehow trapped during this extended period of application and not-quite-residency. It's also (perhaps as everything I write ends up being) partly about what I've called "the wild in the banal", the way everyday life can seem so strange if you look at it closely enough:

When I was younger I used to fantasize about having a button I could press that would pause the world around me while I caught my breath, had a nap, figured out a solution, came up with something witty to say. My current situation is the opposite of that fantasy – someone has pressed the pause button on my life, and I am suspended, watching the rest of the world go by.

The pause button on my life was pressed by the UK Border Agency. Three months ago I applied for indefinite leave to remain here in the UK, where I have lived with my British partner for the past seven years. I have held, over the course of these years, a student visa, a post-study work visa, and an unmarried partner visa, and I am now, at last, eligible to apply to settle permanently.

The application process is like taking a leap of faith into an abyss. You take the “Life in the UK” test (“Is the statement below TRUE or FALSE? Getting to know your neighbours can help you to become part of the community”). You fill out a 50-page application form. You send a large envelope containing bank statements and pay slips and utility bills and your passport and, for reasons I cannot quite fathom, a photocopy of every enclosed document. You pay a £1,051 fee. And then you wait.

Read the full piece...

Recent writing

My latest post for Vela went up last week. It's about running, fear (of failure, of limits), and exploration (of a sort):

In this way running is actually just an effort to do something new – or, rather, to see the same things from a slightly different perspective. What does this street feel like at the end of a 10k run? What does it do to my conception of the city to shorten the time it takes to get from here to there on my own two feet, to discover a new route, to think of that particular street corner as the place I had to walk for a bit, or that stretch of road as the place that everything felt effortless and good?

Read the whole thing...

Geographer-self

Over at the Landscape Surgery blog, I wrote a post about what being a cultural geographer means to me. This is part of great a series of posts by fellow students and researchers in the department of geography at Royal Holloway - "The Self Portrait series is a project designed to highlight the missing ‘I’ within geography." (And it was Freshly Pressed today!) Here's how it begins:

The truth? I’m still not sure I am a geographer.

Over the last year I’ve become more comfortable claiming to be one, or at least marginally less fearful of being exposed as a fraud. But at parties my go-to response to the dreaded question of “what do you do?” is: “oh, I’m a writer.” If the conversation survives this admission, and I happen to mention that I’m doing a PhD, and I happen to mention that the PhD is in cultural geography, I might make an attempt at explaining how these things are linked. I might say, “I write about geography.” This is not really an explanation, but if you say it confidently enough, it almost sounds like one.

Read the whole piece...

What I Read This Week - 1st December

Attempting to revive this particular practice; sometimes a bit of discipline is necessary to counter the stupefying influence of winter's short grey days and long dark nights. - Night Life (Amy Liptrot at Aeon)

I am obsessed, seeing the world through the prism of corncrakes. I read scientific papers and follow research on their migration routes. They’re all that people ever ask me about. I accidentally replace other words with ‘corncrake’ when I’m typing; I change my ringtone to a corncrake’s call; I set a Google alert for corncrake references in the world’s media. Somehow this bird, this creature I grew up with but never really noticed, has become my ‘thing’. It is what I do with myself.

- Tablescapes (Leanne Shapton)

I began to photograph and paint these tablescapes when I realized I navigated my week and work based on the topography of my desk or tabletop.

- Towards hope, new conversations, carrying on (Hannah Nicklin)

I told her to remember to love what she does. To acknowledge that it’s much easier to feel the scared and overwhelmed, but to know in those big empty spaces which feel difficult to hold open are ripe for filling with whatever you want to. It won’t be predictable. It will be difficult. It shouldn’t be in some ways, and in others that slippery, sticky difficulty is precisely what making a thing is. Why it’s good. Don’t be desperate, be angry. I told her to get political. I told her to remember to love herself and not lose herself to what she does. Remember to enjoy it, especially when it’s easier to feel the other things.

- A Time-Lapse Detective: 25 Years of Agatha Christie’s "Poirot" (Molly McArdle at The Los Angeles Review of Books)

I think it has something to do with the competing forces of his ridiculousness — the spats, the mustache, the syntax inverted — and his brilliance. One would flatten him into a joke; the other, elevate him to inhuman heights. Together they make him human. The sheer volume of Christie’s writing, and now also a quarter century of Suchet’s performances, forces us to recognize in this dainty, dandied man a fundamental dignity. We want to protect him, just as he would protect us.

- Maps to Get Lost In: Visual Editions’ Where You Are (Shuan Pett at The Millions)

Dyer often performs autobiographical dissections in his essays, but rather than a contained whole this is a sprawling collage of youth filtered through forty years of hindsight. In mapping the homes and haunts, the sports, sex, trouble, and death of his youth, patterns emerge. For instance, there’s the link between geography and lust with Shane, an American girl that lived a few doors down – “First mouth kissed, breasts fondled, and (just once) first vagina touched.”

There is no single way to read this map – starting from the appendix or the grid or leaping through the cross-references – and as a consequence narrative time collapses. His mother is both dead in 2011 and alive playing badminton, while sex with Janice Adams unwinds to their original meeting at the model shop where they both worked. Maps contain all times: the past record, our present location, and future daydreams of movement.

What I Read This Week - 16th September

Or, more accurately: what I read last week, ish. - The day Harry Redknapp brought a fan on to play for West Ham (Jeff Maysh at the Guardian)

"Half-time I made five substitutions, and we only had the bare 11 out – I was running out of players. Then we got another injury, so I said to this guy in the crowd, 'Oi, can you play as good as you talk?'"

The rest of the tale is hallowed football folklore.

- You Can Do Anything: Must Every Kids' Movie Reinforce the Cult of Self-Esteem? (Luke Epplin at The Atlantic)

Through complicated plot machinations that involve a taco stand in Van Nuys, a quintet of sassy racing snails, and an arrogant French-Canadian racecar driver, Turbo qualifies for the Indianapolis 500. After a rocky start, Turbo surges to the lead in the last lap only to suffer a terrible crash that obstructs the other drivers and neutralizes Turbo's racing powers. Mere feet from the finish line, Turbo withdraws into his shell, uncertain that he has the inner strength to succeed. Now fully invested in his brother's quest, Chet yells at him: "It is in you! It's always been in you! ... My little brother never gives up. That's the best thing about you." Newly inspired, Turbo inches across the finish line, fulfilling his self-actualizing journey and proving that one needn't be human nor drive a car to win the country's most prestigious auto race.

- A job or a baby shouldn't be a choice (Lucy Mangan in Stylist)

One of the greatest marks, I think, of a civilised society is that it enables its members to make certain major life decisions free of external considerations. The NHS, for example, is a great and shining beacon on civilisation because it allows people to choose to go to the doctor, to maintain their health without having to worry about whether they can afford it or not. A society that has an NHS is saying, in essence, that some things are so important that a price cannot be put on them in the usual fashion. Instead, we will take collective responsibility for these things and together we will have something that makes life better for all.

Having children is one of those things. It’s not quite as clear-cut because, biology being what it is, only women give birth and it has been hard, historically, for us to keep in mind that a) men are involved at the beginning and, increasingly, after the labour bit, b) women are still people even when something is growing in their tum-tums and c) repopulation is quite important if you want your species and your sales to flourish

- On (not) growing up on Twitter (Sarah Wanenchak at Cyborgology)

My Twitter SN – dynamicsymmetry – is a name with a lot of personal meaning for me as well, and is my account name in a number of other places. Rather than establishing boundaries, I’m tearing down walls and letting everything mix. I’m drawing as many connections as I can. I’m trying to make it clear that this is all me.

What you need to understand about this is that it’s as much intentional as it is accidental – and yes, it is both of those things at once. Realizing early on what was happening with my Twitter account – which, incidentally, I only signed up for in order to play Spymaster – I elected to continue to erode borderlines as I saw more of my colleagues establishing them. I felt jumbled and confused, especially as my graduate school career careened along, and I decided to make my Twitter an experiment in owned unprofessionalism. When I have a opinion on pop culture or fandom, it goes there. When I have something to say related to academia, it goes there. When I attend writing conferences and academic conferences, livetweets go there. When I suffered a mental health crisis last summer – which, incidentally, was profoundly influenced by issues in my academic life – I tweeted about it relentlessly. Twitter became a confessional space, and then a supportive one. And because by then it was at least in part an account that I used to maintain professional academic connections, it felt like a political act as much as a personal one. I wanted to fight stigma. I wanted to talk openly about what happens to graduate students when things go badly awry.

- PLUS: Women We Read This Week at Vela (including Jenny Diski's "Learning How To Live", one of my favorite recent reads)

Recently

I can't get enough summer this year. I'm trying a new thing and swimming in the mornings, instead of the evenings, and the warm sun on my back as I cycle home in flipflops and a t-shirt, towards coffee, breakfast, a view of the leafy garden, is too nice. I love Autumn, but I don't want it yet - itchy jumpers, the crisp cold, the smell of tea and smoke, the leaves flapping and falling like fish. I have dresses that still need wearing. But the rose hips in the garden and the influx of new, impossibly young neighbors tell me that I better hurry up and get my coats mended and start wearing socks, so I'm attempting to adjust gracefully, to enjoy the fresh air on my evening walk down the Iffley Road and the golden light on the buildings just before dusk and the infectious sense of excitement that spreads through a university town in September.

As summers go, this one has been good, and not just weather-wise ("The best in years!" everyone keeps saying, which is true: certainly the warmest, driest summer I've seen in six years of living here). In retrospect it feels full of moments and feelings that I want to remember but can't find a home for, writing-wise, which is maybe how summer should be: bricolage, a series of discrete memories strung together by an imaginary thread. We went to California, New York, Wales. We went surfing, climbed peaks, drove for miles and miles, ate hot dogs in Manhattan and Vietnamese sandwiches in Brooklyn, stayed up late drinking too much port with friends, spent time with family, watched films. That sort of thing.

What I've Read Recently

I figured "what I've read recently" is more accurate than "what I read this week". I'm in California, and even though I'm basically working as usual, time has turned a bit funny. The other day (yesterday!) we drove into town, timing it so that I could avoid the two-hour period on weekday afternoons when the pool is occupied by kids, and it was only when we were at the gym, and I was about to get out of the car, that I realized it was Saturday, not Friday. I have written a bit though - here and here and here, if you're interested.

- Too much talk for one planet: why I'm reducing my word emissions (Charlie Brooker at the Guardian)

When it comes to comments, despite not being as funny as I never was in the first place, I get an incredibly easy ride from passing wellwishers compared with any woman who dares write anything on the internet anywhere about anything at all, the ugly bitch, boo, go home bitch go home.

- Field notes from Colombia, Part 6: Learning to need and needing to learn (Roxanne Krystalli)

With apologies to Ralph Waldo Emerson and his ode to self-reliance, there is beauty to needing others. It is in those moments that I realize the world is connected in ways that I cannot deny and in which I experience my own smallness not as a handicap, but as an opportunity to marvel.

- Yes, you have to choose. But can’t you choose everything? (Julie Schwietert Collazo)

Hastings’ advice makes me crazy because it reinforces the erroneous idea that writers have to be of the world yet never quite fully in it. That they don’t have to figure out how to make it all work because, well, writing’s just more important than anything: a healthy relationship, other hobbies and interests, and, possibly, the joys and, yes, the frustrations, of having kids.

- On Writing (and Evolving) Online (Cheri Lucas Rowlands)

So I wondered: What’s the point of setting up an account on another publishing platform? Am I saying anything new? Does this space offer a different angle of me — an extension of the Cheri you encounter here — or am I just repackaging my thoughts?

A writer who publishes on various platforms on the web is like an animal peeing in different places. I’m simply marking my territory — expanding the Cheri Lucas Rowlands brand far and wide. While this analogy makes me laugh, it also makes me feel rather dirty, but I get that that’s what we do these days.

- The Walls We Build Around Us (Nick Rowlands)

Writing, for me, was therefore a public act, and the words came into existence only so they could be released into the wild. I knew my mum kept a diary, but the idea of writing solely for myself had never crossed my mind. I had no real concept of the transformative power that the process of writing itself holds. Looking back now, this seems laughable: I have always been an avid reader, and if reading the words of others can be so moving as to elicit a strong emotional and intellectual response, it stands to reason that producing such words yourself could have a similar effect.

- Antidote for Personal Narrative (Lauren Quinn at Vela)

If my life as a writer sounds anticlimactic, it’s because it was. Sure, it gave me an excuse to get into adventures and to immerse myself in sketchy situations in the name of having a “cultural experience,” but in Cambodia those experiences grew increasingly unsettling. I got spooked. So I spent a lot of time alone in my apartment, with the AC off to save money, repeatedly checking my email to see if some editor had written me back. I did a lot of writing, but I also did a lot asking—asking to be heard, asking to be let in, asking for validation. I did a lot of reading, examining websites to determine what was publishable, and I did a lot of rewriting, trying to mold my voice into something publishable.

There was not, I should say, a lot of money involved in this scenario, but there was some. There were not a ton of clips garnered, but there were some. I wasn’t a dismal failure as a writer. I just wasn’t happy.

- The Startup as Manifesto (Alexis Madrigal at The Atlantic)

What I love about all this is that it's so explicit: this is a hypothesis about people's relationship to their phones and the places around them. Is it a good hypothesis? Do people want to sketch-and-extend, rather than Instagramming or what have you? I don't know. But I'm glad someone is trying to find out.

- PLUS - Women We Read This Week at Vela

"Where does your writing live?"

[A]t least to the more mobile and networked of us, place has become less about our origins on some singular piece of blood soil, and more about forming connections with the many sites in our lives. We belong to several places and communities, partially by degree, and in ways that are mediated(Malcolm McCullough)

I keep imagining a kind of perfect online mobility: not having a website or a singular blog and trying to keep this one plot of web-land mine, but taking all of my content, all of my stuff, with me wherever I go. Finding a way of being on the Internet that better respects the fluidity of self.

I've been thinking about this, thinking that really the closest thing I have to a website that accurately reflects my online presence is my Twitter feed. It's where I post links to my own writing, to others' writing, where I post photos, thoughts, quotes. It's temporary, in a way that seems apt - because let's be honest, most of the stuff I post on Twitter won't matter in a few years or a few weeks or even a few days, and that which does will find a way of living on anyway; it will become part of memory, or conversation, or new work.

And then I was thinking about this: I was thinking about Medium, and Hi, and my continual struggle to find a home for my writing online that feels right (feels write?). The question is, as Nick Rowlands puts it: "How, exactly, do you organize your online presence? Where does your writing live; how is it compartmentalized; to what extent should you strive for an overarching coherence?" My own blog has become a wasteland, a weekly-when-I-can-be-arsed depository for other people's words, and at first I thought this was because I just didn't like the design or the name or the promises it made anymore - that design and that name and those promises belonged to a different, older version of me. When I started my blog I was about to graduate from college, about to move to a new country, about to try to get a job, or into grad school, or something. I was newly in love, and I couldn't see past the next six months of my life: I would graduate, I would move to England, I would move in with him, but then what? We were from different places, and logistics might at any moment demand that we live an ocean apart, and maybe I was too young to be in this kind of love, and... And I knew I wanted to write, but I didn't know what that meant, or would mean. And I read blogs to try to situate myself in the world, to try to find my place, and I posted things on my own blog for similar reasons.

Now, though, if I've written something polished enough to be publishable, it goes somewhere else. I've recently become a staff writer at Vela, which means I get to be part of something bigger than myself on my own. And my thinking goes: if it's not good enough to live somewhere else, somewhere other than this controlled blog-habitat that I've created, then it's just not good enough. In some ways that feels freeing - it's streamlined, simple - but in other ways it's worrying: what does "good enough" mean? Who gets to decide that? Where's the space to write without the pressure of an imagined audience or editor? (Should there even be one? Or is that what the scribbled-in-late-at-night notebook is for? If only I could read my own handwriting.)

So I've been trying to figure out what to do about this - whether to try to change my blog somehow, to redesign it and restructure it in a way that fits now but will probably feel uncomfortable later, or to start (yet another) Tumblr, or to just give up, or what. I don't have that much time to worry about this, to be honest, because there are all these other things vying for my attention: Book! and PhD! and Oh, I Want to Write Another Book! and Holy Crap That Gas Bill is Big! and Other Stuff! So it sort of occupies my thoughts late at night after a few beers as I'm sitting on the couch watching an episode of Criminal Minds or whatever other mindless good-guys-catch-bad-guys thing I can find on Netflix, and I think: I should figure this out. I'll figure it out tomorrow.

But the thing I keep coming back to is this: you know how you take the Internet with you now, on your phone? How you're just walking around with this thing in your pocket, interacting with it when you want to, and that interaction is often rooted in the place you're standing, but not tied to it? That's sort of how I want to be online, too: living in my imaginary Volkswagen bus, taking my possessions (my links, my pieces of writing, my faux-nostalgic photos) with me from place to place.

So maybe this is what Medium is, or what Hi is. This is where we write. This is where we write about place. And what we create here is tied to us, wherever we are. Maybe it's easier to be in the world, and to write about the world, when the tools for doing so are as mobile and networked as we are. "This is a hypothesis about people's relationship to their phones and the places around them," Alexis Madrigal writes. This is a hypothesis about people's relationship to the many sites in their lives, the multitude of polyvocal, perpetually in-process places and communities we belong to -

"World is crazier and more of it than we think, Incorrigibly plural."

Or - I don't know. Maybe I'll figure it out tomorrow.

What I Read This Week - 30th June

A very light list this week; I'm trying to finish a rough draft of something and have reached that stage of semi-productivivity whereby the hours of sitting uncomfortably, staring out the window, wondering why I can't focus my eyes on the screen, are punctuated every so often by an hour of good, solid work which seems to make the idleness and frustration worth it. But really, who am I kidding: I've mainly been watching Wimbledon, which (at times) is poetry enough. Anyway, two interviews:

- Rebecca Solnit profiled by Susanna Rustin in the Guardian:

For 25 years, Solnit has supported herself as, what her website styles, an "independent writer", unattached to any magazine or university and without a salary. She laughs as she says she is thinking of throwing a party to mark the anniversary. "In the early days I would measure my success by how many weeks or months it was since I had to do office temp work, and then the office temp work fell by the wayside. I was always making a very modest income, but I was thrilled to be doing the work – or thrilled when I wasn't cursing under my breath. But I would end by saying, 'These are the problems I wanted to have. If your editor is driving you nuts, then you have an editor and you're being published.'"

- Leanne Shapton interviewed by Kate Kellaway in the Guardian:

The ex has the power of Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca – a woman you could never be. Even now, I am not entirely over my jealousies, but the book has helped me laugh at them.

Bit old, this, and quite short, but I have such a crush on Leanne Shapton, I couldn't resist.

What I Read This Week - 23rd June

Bit under the weather this week - literally, I think: my hay fever has gone haywire, and the (relative!) heat and humidity has thrown me off. The other day I walked home from the pool (where I'd felt a bit like a floundering idiot, struggling against an invisible tide: sometimes that's how it goes) and I sneezed at regular 60-180 second intervals all the way from the bottom of Jackdaw Lane to my front door. It was a hot evening, hot enough for shorts and sandals, and on Aston Street someone in a ground floor flat leaned out of their wide-open window as I sneezed past and yelled, "Bless you!" But it's been a good time for reading, at least. - The Ghost Writes Back (Amy Boesky at the Kenyon Review)

I read alone, I wrote alone. Sometimes I ate dinner alone at a vegan restaurant I liked and I’d look at people—other people, laughing and sitting together—and wondered if they could even see me. I suspected not. Maybe it was because I was an American, living in Oxford. I wasn’t sure. The “real world,” with its innovations and complexities, whorled around somewhere above or below me, and I felt (at times) like I had no part in it.

Sometimes, as a graduate student, I felt like a kind of ghost.

People—other people—had histories they talked about, outside of books. Courtyards I could half-see where people were dancing. Lives formed, marked by things I didn’t know. In Oxford, living near sweet-faced boys in black gowns who hinted of public schools I didn’t know and joined secret societies and vanished up into stairwells, laughing, I realized there were spaces that opened up somewhere—into big rooms, filled with light and people—that I couldn’t see. Had never seen. I floated at the rims of things. I was the eye, the ear, the pen. In high school, I had kept a journal, entry after entry, of isolation, of disquiet. The scratchings and yearnings of a ghost.

This has been on my "Read Later" list for quite some time now, but last night, in bed, I finally read it, and boy am I glad I did. If I had to - if someone walked up and put a gun to my head and said pick! - I'd probably say that this is my favorite of all the articles and essays I've read this year. Mainly because it's freshest in my mind, of course, but also because there are so many levels on which it appeals to me. I wouldn't have guessed that before I read it. For six years Boesky was a ghostwriter for the Sweet Valley High series - books I never read, though as a young child I remember seeing them in the library and yearning to be old enough emotionally to understand them: I could read them, I understood the words, but adolescent yearning and adventure was still a pretty long way off, and the books represented a sort of maturity. (By the time I reached that maturity, of course, I had no interest in Sweet Valley High anymore.) So the essay is about Boesky negotiating a kind of doubled self: the academic, mired in the words of dead British writers, and the ghostwriter, creator of adjective-laden prose about a pair of blonde, Barbie-thin twins living eternally in a glossy teenage world. That Boesky - having struggled through the loneliness of grad school, the uncertainty of postdoc life, to arrive at the holy grail of tenure - eventually reclaims her right of authorship, starts writing her own work under her own name, is no surprise. But the poignancy with which she remembers her happy time as a ghostwriter is affecting, and this essay as a whole is somehow deeply comforting.

- Bait And Twitch: 'Vice' Magazine, Suicide Glamour, And Not Staying Quiet (Linda Holmes at NPR)

It's insidious and frustrating, the idea that the more blatant an effort to offend for attention, the more the offended are to blame if they react. It imposes a sort of duty of measured inertness, as if you owe it to the greater good not to challenge something if the people who dumped it out into the world don't really believe in it but only want a reaction. It rewards anything you believe to be craven exploitation by suggesting that the more you believe it's just craven exploitation, the more you owe it to the world to sit silently, roll your eyes, and be quiet. It makes craven exploitation bulletproof.

Good, sober consideration of the reaction to reactions to, for example, Vice's recent "suicide fashion" feature.

- Michael Hann interviews Stornoway's Brian Briggs for the Guardian

Isn't twitcher a pejorative term?

It's very insulting to be called a twitcher if you're a birder. It's very, very different, and I'm almost feeling myself getting riled up. I'm definitely in the birder category. I just went to Skomer Island (5) this week, which is where I was first trained how to ring seabirds. The approach to gulls is rugby tackling, basically – you have to charge after them and grab them because they're big. Puffins live in burrows and I was trained how to get them out – with a something like a shepherd's crook, but for puffin legs.

You can't just send ferrets down to flush them out?

No ferrets are allowed on the island. They're strict about that.

Reason number I've-lost-count why these guys are one of the best bands around. Also, more music-related interviews should include questions that aren't about music. Musicians are people too, man!

- Unmastered: On Writing for Myself (Katherine Angel at FSG's Work in Progress)

Whenever I tried to explain what the book was about, to formulate it in the language of the elevator pitch, I felt it fall apart before my very eyes. At first this unsettled me. But then I realized it was important; in fact, it was a crucial part of what I was trying to do.

Sorry, but I do find writers on their process fascinating, and this is particularly good. (Plus there's a nice bit on the difference between writing as an academic and writing as a - well, writer - in here).

- I Was Paid $12.50 An Hour To Write This Story (Noah Davis at The Awl)

The Internet democratized writing. Obviously. Nearly anyone can string together a few sentences and try to find an audience. Writing seems like an easy gig, or at least one for which no additional knowledge base is required. There's a reason Will Hunting's intelligence is shown through his math prowess, not his ability to pen a paragraph.

Oh, you guys. This article. Fascinating and depressing in equal measure. I have a bit of a thing about writers and their fixation on their own finances, and I certainly appreciate the transparency here (and I wish more writing about - or around - money was this straightforward). But, I mean. There are so many things about this that make me want to pack up and launch a career as a Starbucks barista. I'm really happy, on one level, that Davis has eventually found a way to make a fair amount of money ("a little more than $50,000 in the last six months of 2012 and around $45,000 during the first half of this year") doing something he loves and is good at: it gives me hope. But the dependence of online publications on pageviews makes my heart sink a little:

Nicholas Jackson worked as an editor at TheAtlantic.com and saw the math first-hand. [...] he had a monthly freelance budget to use at his disposal, but pieces pitched by the random freelancer rarely made a positive impact on the bottom line. "I can look at it and say that the piece wasn't worth the $100 we paid," he said. "These littler freelance pieces are being subsidized by the James Fallows of the world. There's a small handful of people who can make money online. The hope is that you balance all of that out."

- Writers and the Optimal-Child-Count Spectrum (Rebecca Mead at The New Yorker)

As both Smiley and Smith point out, the key—nothing so occult as a secret—to their ability to marry motherhood and writing has been adequate child care, which remains the desideratum of every working mother, whether she’s a writer or something else. [...] Meanwhile, a writer’s true success—in the sense of her ability to write something original and meaningful—also depends upon the range of her imagination, the precision of her critical faculties, and, crucially, the extent of her capacity for empathy. And this last characteristic would include the ability to recognize that familial configurations, be they chosen or imposed, cannot be reduced to winning formulae.

I think we're done with this debate now, yes?

- Rafa vs. Everybody (Brian Phillips at Grantland)

Federer has 17 majors; Nadal has 12. Nadal is 27 and has a frowny-face emoticon in place of a left knee. He's probably not going to win six more French Opens, and even if he does, a résumé with 14 majors on clay and four on grass and hard courts feels more like a gigantized case of clay-court-specialitis than the CV of the greatest player to pick up a racket. But what if he were to win, say, three more titles in Paris, two in London, and one in New York?

I'm not and never have been much of a fan of Rafael Nadal - as Phillips points out, "Nadal is divisive among tennis fans," and I'm not even sure you can count me as a true tennis fan: I like it, it's among my favorite sports to watch, but that's basically it: I dip in and out, basking in the glow of televised competitions without investing much serious energy in keeping track of players, rankings, odds, injuries. Still, I have big respect for athletes (maybe sometimes bigger than they deserve), and I love a bit of even vaguely interesting sports writing (if I could choose an alternative career...?).

- Imaginary Outfit: Lap Swimming (even*cleveland)

So now I swim laps, but I pretend I'm a crocodile. I rest my chin on the kickboard, with my eyes just above the water. The board protrudes like a snout, and I kick with reptilian smoothness, slow and steady, observing and thinking. Are the other people just counting laps and watching the clock? Or, like me, are they playing a game? Half the fun of swimming is pretending. In the water, I'm never just myself - I am a long-distance champion, a mermaid or whale or castaway or otter.

I think it's a few years old, and the focus is meant to be on the imaginary outfit, but I was really, really delighted to discover this little insight into the swimmer's mind.

What I Read This Week - 16th June

Yep. - Glass Menagerie: Poetry (Virginia Heffernan at Yahoo)

Having savored for years the smooth petals of the Canon/iPhone image, and then the grin-inducing nostalgia of the Instagram filters, I have now landed happily on the fleck of Glass. I adore it—it adds, seemingly, a third dimension to the way things look: more surfaces to be marked, to be legible, to be partly-opaque, to call attention to themselves.

- In Defense of Rural (Tim Kreider at Modern Farmer)

Perhaps most importantly, I had the rare luxury of taking beauty for granted. I grew up eating Pop-Tarts and Cookie Crisp while looking out the kitchen window at rolling hills and woods, a stream, autumn colors and morning mists.

- I'm an everythingist – craving new experiences, but unwilling to put the work in (Sophie Heawood at the Guardian)

The everythingist works from home, revelling in their freedom to go for a walk in the sunshine while other sad jobsworthy losers are stuck at their desks with not so much as a freelancer's liedown to look forward to. The everythingist has been planning this walk in the sunshine for 17 days now, having been quite distracted by all the freelancer's liedowns that it is their right and freedom to enjoy. In their lunch hour. I mean, why not? It's not as if there's any lunch.

- On going to the airport to catch a bus (Jean Hannah Edelstein)

When people learn how long I’ve lived on another continent from my parents, I think sometimes they think it means that we’re not close. How often do you see them? people ask, sometimes with a note of something like concern. I can understand that.

But this is the truth: of all of the reasons that I have lived so long so far from where I got my start, one of the most significant is that I do have a close relationship with my parents. It’s our closeness that made me a person who is independent and curious, to take opportunities to veer a little bit off the course of what’s expected.

- Pastime (xkcd)

"What've you been up to?" "Definitely not spending every day consumed with worry over stupid things I never talk to anyone about." "Oh, yeah. Me neither.

- Don't unpack the coffee-maker yet (Roxanne Krystalli at Equals)

Memories of homes in which I have lived are attached to patterns of light. The early Saturday light hitting our bed in Somerville, the Jerusalem light flooding the window seat in the afternoon, the light on the tin roof in Bogotá, reflecting onto my face as I sit at the kitchen table. Watching the light move through this new home, finding its sunny corners and cozier coves, is how memories start.