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)

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

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.

What I Read This Week - 19th May

Warm and green here; time speeds up at this time of year and it feels like we're careening into summer. - Is a Baby a Luxury? (Mira Ptacin at Guernica)

I immediately called the department—surely they must have looked over the fact that I was carrying an unborn child who needed medical care, and couldn’t afford to purchase health insurance—but my explanation was greeted with a dry, breathy laugh, followed by, “Just because you’re pregnant doesn’t mean you get healthcare.”

If the United States truly prides itself on family values, why is it nearly impossible for so many of us to care for our family, starting with the most basic care of all?

When I first moved to England people on both sides of the Atlantic used to ask me what I liked best about living here, and I would respond, in a sort of joking voice, "the NHS!", but, really, that's my answer, or one of my answers, anyway.

- Everything in This City Must (Alexander Chee at The Morning News)

In both situations, Dustin’s status as my domestic partner, certified by the city of New York, counted toward his immigration status with the German government, and despite gay marriage per se not being legal here in Germany, I could include him; he could be with me. You could almost call it a small thing except that he is half of my life.

I think of it again as I sit on the Lufthansa flight lowering itself into Newark airport, and fill out the U.S. State Department visitor card. I sit beside him on the plane and next to the question “How many members of your family are you traveling with?” I write “0,” because our relationship isn’t recognized that way by federal law, and can’t be.

The legal protection the German government gave our American relationship is gone, now that we are back in America.

- On a Personality Trait (Jean Hannah Edelstein)

It reminds you that probably the reason you left, or the reason you’ve stayed away for so long, is that it can feel easier not to fit in to a place where you’re not from, than to feel that you didn’t fit in to the place that you are.

Short, but good - and very apropos of certain themes in the two articles highlighted above, too.

- Feels Blind (Emily Gould)

What made my first year of full-time freelancing so happy, besides not ever having to ride the subway during rush hour, wasn’t anything specific about what my workdays were like. I wasn’t accomplishing much, I was wasting a lot of time, and a lot of the time I was bored. Most days, my work did not go well and I felt dejected about my actual writing. But I still felt good and hopeful, because all these potential paths seemed possible. Everything seemed possible.

What I Read This Week - 5th May

More like "what I read over the last few weeks"... - On the Road (Maria Bustillos at Aeon)

Dropping into the Central Valley from the mountains surrounding the Tejon Pass is like breaking open a petit four, getting past the glossy, pretty exterior: inside is the cake. The urban surfaces of California are what we see in movies and on TV: slick, manufactured, shouting, cajoling, bamboozling, seducing, ready to sell you something. And then the confected beauty of the city gives way; now the land reaches far out to the sky. Your ears pop from the pressure change, and a sign advises you that the next gas station is 19 miles off.

- Dove "Real Beauty" Redux (Autumn Whitefield-Madrano at The New Inquiry)

The beauty industry has a stake in keeping women in the space between desperate unhappiness with our looks and bulletproof self-esteem. A consumer who simultaneously believes that she is beautiful and not-beautiful makes for a better consumer.

- The Impossible Decision (Joshua Rothman at The New Yorker)

But, talking to my students, I’m aware that there are too many unknowns. There are too many ways in which a person can be disappointed or fulfilled. It’s too unclear what happiness is. It’s too uncertain how the study of art, literature, and ideas fits into it all [...] And, finally, life is too variable, and subject to too many influences [...] I’ll give advice about grad school if you ask me to, and I’m happy to share my experiences. But these bigger mysteries make the grad-school decision harder. They take a career conundrum and elevate it into an existential quandary.

- The Amanda Palmer Problem: How Does a Cult Musician Become a Figure to Be Mocked? (Nitsuh Abebe at Vulture)

It’s damnably difficult to carve a private audience out of the open web, and the artist reaching out to fans is, ultimately, not necessarily any different from a commercial entity reaching out for sales, market share, and the kind of customer engagement that nets Applebee’s enthusiasts the occasional free appetizer coupon. It just depends on if you like Applebee’s or not.

- Waiting to Be (Sarah Menkedick at Vela)

It feels like waking up on Sunday morning and drinking your coffee and longing for something concrete even when you know that what you do will always operate in a liminal space of unknowing, unknowing if what seems like success will turn quickly into failure or vice versa, unknowing if what feels right to you is right, unknowing what you are searching for exactly, unknowing your next move, unknowing why you keep doing this when there are so many other things you could do.

- All Cozy Now (Christopher Kempf at The New Inquiry)

In the work of Hardt and Negri, the metropolis is the common body of the multitude. The city we live in, lives in us.

The same is true for the city we run in. What makes the marathon such a fundamental event in the life of a metropolis is that it takes place in the same public spaces we occupy every day, transfiguring those spaces into sites of generosity and of sudden, serendipitous friendship. Marathons don’t take place in exurban arenas or in locked-down, hyper-secure stadiums, but in the same streets on which we drive to work, the same parks in which we play, the same campuses where we attend classes together. This is the public sphere. This is what was attacked that day. And it was this— the love of the common— that, like thousands of runners trying to access a single, central server, became obstructed by an unanticipated glitch in the system.

- Rudeness as Resistance: Presence, Power, and Those Facebook Home Ads (Whitney Erin Boesel at Cyborgology)

What if we take the physical co-presence of all that Facebook content a little less metaphorically, such that the three characters are present (and joined by their friends) rather than “absent” when they take out their phones? It doesn’t fully hold up, of course, in part because much of what comes to life seems not to be the characters’ friends, but the document artifacts of the characters’ friends’ experiences. Still, consider each “like” a character taps out as turn-taking in an ongoing, asynchronous conversation that takes place both with and without words. Consider that, for each character, his or her friends really are present, even though they’re not physically co-present. Suddenly, these three scenes look a lot less like people getting sucked into demonic glowing rectangles that take them away from the real world, and look a lot more like people simply being rude as they fail to manage conversations with several people at once.

- The Privilege of Fucking Up (Sarah Nicole Prickett at Hazlitt)

A friend recently tried to console me by saying that I’ve failed at more things than most people have ever tried. Most people, I said, try more honestly. Most people do not owe so much to those who believe in them. That is another privilege we don’t discuss: The unrelenting luxury of high expectations, and with it, the chances to fail.

What I Read This Week - 7th April

The other day I stepped out of a café and got a face-full of snow. Yesterday the sun came out and we walked along the river and sat outside at sunset drinking cider, admiring the serenity of the slow evening rowers, pretending that it was warm enough to behave like this, and it almost was. - On Packing (Molly Beer at Vela)

This problem of weighty, freighted things terrifies me utterly. I do not want the burden of either the object or its implicit value. One I have to carry, the other I will inevitably lose: Crusoe’s knife, after the journey, won’t even look at him; it is a dull, dead thing. What objects, I wonder, will bear my history along some dusty, wrong-sided road? My grandfather’s compass? The leather-bound diary? A sarong (read: table cloth, dress, satchel, curtain, mosquito net, bed sheet, towel)? And what will I cast aside as dead weight?

- Cities of Sleep (Pico Iyer at The New York Review of Books)

The content of my dreams has long ceased to interest me; but their proportions, the way they rearrange the things I thought I cared about, the life I imagined I was leading, won’t go away. Why do I almost never see my mother in my dreams, although, alone in her eighties, she fills my waking thoughts so much? And why, conversely, do I return again and again in sleep to Paris, a city I haven’t visited often in life, as if under some warm compulsion?

- First Love: Memories of an Elusive Boyfriend (Lena Dunham at The New Yorker)

Here’s the thing, or at least a thing, about me—I hate offending people. Even though I love the feel of something vaguely offensive on my tongue, I guess I want to have my cake and tweet it, too.

- "Felicity" And The Joys Of Decent TV (Ben Dolnick at The Awl)

The things that I take pleasure in exhuming are the works of reasonable quality, created in at least relatively good faith. I'm talking about the books and movies and shows that did their job—causing some number of minutes of your life to pass with a minimum of fuss—with a certain soldierly sense of responsibility. Someone once took care to construct a plausible plot by which the character of Ben Covington could make the turn from an aimless slacker to an aspiring doctor. Some group of (deeply misguided) people once sat around a table and decided that, beginning with season three, "Felicity" needed a a new theme song and credit sequence. This care, this effort poured into something so soon forgotten, is oddly moving to me, in the way that watching monks work on a sand mandala is moving.

- Maps (Ben Lytal at The Paris Review)

What an act of love, I hoped, to have transposed these kinds of walks abroad back onto my hometown. As a teenager I guess I had sometimes half-wanted to slow down my car, to get out and walk around downtown Tulsa. But I never did. Tulsa was a table of facts, laden with buildings. I only got sentimental when I went way up in elevators and looked down. I couldn’t always quite understand what I was looking at; the topdown perspective didn’t match my experience driving through it.

What I Read This Week - 17th March

I've been struggling through a fog this week (and some of last week, too). A changing-of-the-seasons illness; a bright, mild fever, days spent oscillating between the couch and the bed, bouts of frustration and depression broken by periods of relative pleasure, as the rain came down outside and I was all wrapped up inside, with no obligation other than to myself, to make myself better. I've consumed innumerable kinds of soup, swallowed pills, kept my voice to a whisper. And I'd like to say that during all that down-time I read voraciously and smartly, made a dent in my ever-expanding list of things to "read later", but the truth is: yes, I read Jane Eyre for the first time, and I'm most of the way through Jonathan Franzen's Freedom, but I mostly lay around watching episodes of Grey's Anatomy, marveling at how well the women's lipstick seems to adhere to their lips, even during 12-hour surgeries or passionate trysts. Today a heavy snow is falling (or a snow is falling heavily), reminding me of a St. Patrick's day blizzard we had one year in Boston; the weather had just begun to warm up, so it was a great disappointment to wake and realize that we had taken one step forward but about a hundred steps backwards. That afternoon my roommate and I took a bottle of André up to our rooftop and made a snowman that more strongly resembled a bowling pin. Later some friends and I went to a bar on Boylston street and sat around feeling almost grown up, because we really were almost grown up, in the sense that we were approaching the end of our college education.

Anyhow are are a few things that reached me through the fog:

- On (Un)organized Consumption (Cheri Lucas)

at the end of the day, we’re all going to miss almost everything.

Cheri being timely and elegantly spot-on, as usual.

- Meaghan O'Connell answers a question from a college student

But also I will say that college is your last chance to not worry about making a living — not that that’s always the case, but if it *is* the case, then it’s your last chance (well, uh, unless you are independently wealthy or marry someone who is? in which case, you won’t have to worry about money but you will still worry about your life, believe me) — so if you like reading books and talking and thinking and writing about books, do it while you can! It’s very hard to find a way to do that and also be a person in the world at the same time (and when you’re in college you’re not quite yet a person in the world, except for the people who are activists in college, who i do not mean to offend).

- What's the point of running? (Mark Rowlands at the Guardian)

This experience is found in other sports too: an absorption in the deed and not the goal; the activity and not the outcome. This is play in its purest form.

I don't run, or run much anymore - I have a mystery ailment that tends to prevent me getting more than a mile from the house before I have to limp back, and I'm too cheap (or, probably more accurately, too afraid) to see a physiotherapist - but I know this feeling anyhow, since it is, as Rowlands says, "found in other sports too". I like the idea that this feeling of absorption - absorption in the practice, not the result - is play. I've been writing about this sort of thing recently, and Rowlands' article seemed particularly apropos.

What I Read This Week - 3rd March

- John Lanchester Rides The London Underground (John Lanchester at the Guardian)

But Londoners do act out versions of themselves in public, and wear uniforms, and signal that they belong to particular tribes. Not all of this activity is conscious, but quite a lot of it is, and even when it isn't, a lot of it is easily legible. You can stand in a queue at a Starbucks and see in the line in front of you a City boy, a Sloane who has a job doing something arty, a guy working on a screenplay, a mother just back from the gym, three tourists and two policemen (mind you, they're the easy ones to spot, since they're literally wearing uniform). Everybody stays in character. The city spaces are performative spaces: people are acting out versions of themselves.

It isn't like that on the underground. Londoners treat the underground not as a stage set, a place where we're on display, but as a neutral space, one in which we don't overtly direct our attention at each other. People sneak glances at each other, of course they do, but the operative word is "sneak". They don't look openly, in the way they would elsewhere. The main focus of people's attention is inward. They go into themselves. Or they go into the world of whatever entertainment they're carrying.

- How Augmented-Reality Content Might Actually Work (Caterina Fake interviewed by Alexis Madrigal at The Atlantic)

I think we are gaining a new appreciation for the here and now, for the place we live, for the people in our neighborhood, for groundedness. [...] You see the early indications of a return to the local.

The computers people have are no longer on their desks, but in their hands, and that is probably the transformative feature of the technology. These computers are with you, in the world. So your location is known. It used to be that you would search for a florist in Bellingham, Washington, and get the most popular florist in the world. But now the computer knows where you are; it even knows what block you're on.

- Wes Anderson's Worlds (Michael Chabon at the New York Review of Books)

The box, to Cornell, is a gesture—it draws a boundary around the things it contains, and forces them into a defined relationship, not merely with one another, but with everything outside the box. The box sets out the scale of a ratio; it mediates the halves of a metaphor. It makes explicit, in plain, handcrafted wood and glass, the yearning of a model-maker to analogize the world, and at the same time it frankly emphasizes the limitations, the confines, of his or her ability to do so.

- Thom Yorke profiled by Tim Adams at The Observer

Sum up the music industry in five words:

"Hungry dog chasing its tail."

What I Read This Week - 24th February

There's a bit of snow floating aimlessly, but it won't settle. The evenings are a little lighter but the air is so cold it hurts my ears. I have pre-birthday anxiety (there's nothing useful or profound about thinking 'Oh God I will never be this age again when I'm no longer this age' but that never seems to stop me thinking it). A few stray green things have started to appear in the garden but they still look a little unsure. - This is How You Healthcare: American Death in London (Sarah C R Bee at NSFWCORP)

The main things that keep me sane are the airy beauty and peacefulness of the hospital building, messages from friends and family far away on earth, the mundane magnificence of the staff: and the knowledge that all of this is free and taken care of and I do not have to fill in a single fuckforsaken form or bust one precious braincell worrying about how I might have to find money to pay for the futile care of my dying deadbeat dad.

I return to this miraculous fact many times a day, in exactly the same way that I return often to the little visitors’ bedroom, lock the door and curl up on the bed. The knowledge soothes me like clean sheets and heat.

Imagine, I think in the middle of the night. Imagine if I had to worry about that stuff. With what, exactly, would I worry about it?

Usually paywalled, obviously, but evidently (and wisely) accessible for free at the moment. So very worth reading.

Review of Pondlife: A Swimmer's Journal by Al Alvarez (Kate Kellaway at the Observer)

Swimming is about living in the present and against the tide of age.

Carpet is a Class Issue (Meghan Daum, essay from My Misspent Youth reproduced at The Billfold)

The kind of class that I associate with wood floors is the kind of class that emerges out of an anxiety about being classy. People who must have wood floors are people who need to convey the message that they’re quite possibly better than most people. They’re people who leave The New York Review of Books on the coffee table but keep People in the bedroom. They’re people who say “I don’t need to read Time or Newsweek because I can get everything I need from the Times.” They’re people who would no sooner put the television set in the living room than hang their underwear to dry on the front porch. They buy whole-bean coffee and grind it in a Braun grinder. They listen to NPR, tell other people what they heard on it, and are amazed when the other people say they heard it too.

I am one of those people.

What I Read This Week - 17th February

Still winter, though sunny outside. I'm fed up with winter, so we stay inside, where it's warm and the light's collected in bright little pools. We have smoked salmon and bagels and bitter coffee for breakfast and I read Sophie Dahl's The Man With the Dancing Eyes, which makes me want to buy flowers for some reason, even though I usually find buying flowers frivolous.

- Letter from Berlin: In the Cut (Zeke Turner at The Paris Review)

I got the idea that being in your early twenties was a great time to do incongruous things with your body. I’d spend the whole morning at the gym and the rest of the day smoking cigarettes with a break to go running with Louisa in the afternoon. I’d go for a long swim before a long run before a long night out that turned into a full day dancing in a club.

These things aren’t as different as they seem anyway. To run far with someone is to change your body chemistry together (to push each other towards a distant high while honing the very sinews of your body!); it’s not so different from the chemical-induced intimacy that comes with taking drugs with a stranger. Because you share one experience together, you get the illusion that you share much more. Sometimes you actually do.

- The Cult of Donna Tartt (Hannah Rosefield at Prospect)

The novel’s narrator is Richard Papen: 19, gawky, insecure and anxious to fit in. He’s an Everyman, or at least an Everyteenager. Like Charles Ryder in Brideshead Revisited or Nick Carraway in The Great Gatsby, both obvious models, Richard is a vessel for the reader.

I'd already read The Secret History a few times before I realized it was a thing. Like Rosefield, the first time I read it I was 14. I very specifically remember that it was springtime in California, that I had acquired, or was in the process of acquiring, my first "boyfriend", that I was listening to an EP by The Get Up Kids a lot on repeat, particularly the last song, "A Newfound Interest in Massachusetts", and dreaming of an east coast life: of falling leaves, crisp air, sophisticated friends. My copy of The Secret History was borrowed from a friend. It looked a bit like a cheap airport paperback, and the cover had fallen off completely. I wouldn't read The Great Gatsby until the following year, or Brideshead Revisited until the year after that, so in a sense Richard Papen was my prototype vessel, not the other way round: but interesting that these are all books that I return to again and again, books I feel a particular affinity with or affection for. (Later I re-read The Secret History as an undergraduate in Boston; I'd just moved into my first off-campus apartment, it was early September, warm, and I spent a whole weekend with it, lying on my low futon bed, with the windows open to let the fresh paint smell escape, listening to the rustle of the still-green leaves on the trees outside. My east coast life was not at all east coasty, in the Secret History sense; my friends were no more or less sophisticated than I was, which is to say, we were all as foolish as each other, we knew where to buy fake IDs, we had sensible plans to grow up and graduate and start Real Life - which made the book even sweeter, in a way).

- Annals of Mobility: On Youth, Adventures, and the Territory of Adulthood (Sonya Chung at The Common)

Should the restlessness of adolescence necessarily be scorned by the intelligent, moral-minded adult? Is the impulse to be in motion, to seek change and renewal, at any age, an “irresponsible” one?

What I Read This Week - 10th February

Sunday again - sometimes the weeks seem so compressed... - Pics and It Didn’t Happen (Nathan Jurgenson at The New Inquiry)

Documenting the present as a future past, as conventional photographs do, asserts the facts of change, impermanence, and mortality. The temporary photograph does the opposite: It interrupts the traditional photographic fixation of the present as impending history by positing a present moment that’s not concerned with the past or the future. As such, the temporary photograph is necessarily less sentimental and nostalgic. By being quick, the temporary photograph is a tiny protest against time.

- Beautiful and Terrible: Aeriality and the Image of Suburbia (D. J. Waldie)

From the air, suburban Los Angeles appears to have no history, no boundary and no human dimension. When Garnett photographed Lakewood — the foundations in rows, the house frames casting skeletal shadows — pattern as a substitute for narrative was already a cliché of aerial photography.

- Theater of Pain (Tom Junod at Esquire)

Somewhere in every football player's career, pain offers a way out. The football player who makes it to the NFL is the one who understands from the start that what pain is really offering is a way in.

- On Travel, Time, and (Revisiting) Granada (Cheri Lucas)

But there’s something to be said about traveling and revisiting a physical place after some time: to experience the strange but pleasurable sensation of going back in time to a past self — naive and incomplete, longing and believing, in awe of the world — by simply sitting in the same exact spot you once did.

What I Read This Week - 3rd February

When we get to February it seems like summer is again possible, though not yet very likely. - How to Write Like a Mother#^@%*& (Elissa Bassist interviews Cheryl Strayed at Creative Nonfiction)

When I say, “Success is a pile of shit somebody stacked up real high,” I mean it’s folly to measure your success in money or fame. Success in the arts can be measured only by your ability to say yes to this question: “Did I do the work I needed to do, and did I do it like a motherfucker?”

- MLA 2013 (Alva Edwards at n+1)

I find, paper after paper, that the good ones, the ones I perceive to be good, are in fact incredibly difficult to follow. I tell people afterwards, “Good paper,” but I hope to God we don’t talk any more about it. I don’t want to reveal that I didn’t know what it was about.

Then I think that we might all just come out, just come clean, and say, “We didn’t understand.” We might get somewhere.

- Going Soft (Nathan Deuel at The Paris Review)

The world was so big! It could take a lifetime and no matter how hard you tried you’d never really know it all and yet you might pretend, in your small corner, as I did, to have had some idea of what really mattered.

- The Poetics of Football (Ariel Lewiton at The Paris Review)

I love the precision of language required to speak with any insight or depth about sports. When I figure skated I took pride in listing the jumps, not only because I could land most of them (sloppy, single versions of them) but for the sound of them and the sense that naming them made me an insider: lutz, toe-loop, flip, axel, salchow. In hockey we talked about face-offs, neutral zones, hat tricks, slap shots. My friends who play or watch tennis have their aces and deuces, their lets, sets, and rallies.

- Diary: Google Invades (Rebecca Solnit at the London Review of Books)

The whole of the US sometimes seems to be a checkerboard of these low-pressure zones with lots of time and space but no money, and the boomtowns with lots of money, a frenzied pace and chronic housing scarcity. Neither version is very liveable.

- Post These Letters, Jeeves. Thanks, Old Bean. (Dwight Garner reviews ‘P. G. Wodehouse: A Life in Letters’ in The New York Times)

His portraits of the famous are sometimes terrific. H. G. Wells, at a lunch, “sat looking like a crushed rabbit.” Wodehouse groaned at the enormous fireplace in Wells’s house, with letters carved around it that spelled: “TWO LOVERS BUILT THIS HOUSE.” He later, mockingly, put a similar fireplace in one of his Wooster novels.

What I Read This Week - 27th January

The familiar midwinter slump: when will it be warm again? When will it be light again? (As I write the sun is shining, but it's a deceptive, cold sun, and the garden is covered with shadows, and my feet are pressed against the radiator). - The Booger in the Pool: An Interview with Leanne Shapton (Rachel Hurn at the Los Angeles Review of Books)

At least with athletics you actually can prove something. You can go to the Olympics. You can say, “I’m the fastest; I’m the best.” Whereas with art you can’t say you’re the best.

I watched a Woody Allen documentary on the plane to London, and he was talking about how he doesn’t go to the Academy Awards because he says, “Who is to say I’m the best? If I win a race, yeah, but I’m not in a race.” So proof is funny.

Swimming Studies is one of the books I've most enjoyed reading in a long, long time. It's everything I think a book should be - or, more precisely, everything I'd want a book that I wrote to be: uncategorizable, unusual, completely a product of the author's vision and hard graft. The narrative drive is mostly private, but that makes it no less compelling than a Dan Brown plot. Weird moments are remembered lovingly; big events are hazily, lazily recalled only in relation to other, smaller details; paintings and photographs pepper the textual landscape. It's a book to be re-read, which not every book is. Yes, I'm interested in it because I'm very particularly interested in the the act of swimming: the performance, the pool as setting, the costume, the body in water, the limits, rules, language, the rituals, superstitions, repetitions. But I'm also interested in this idea of measurement, proof, practice; about the relationship between athletic discipline and artistic discipline (Shapton calls them "kissing cousins"). I actually started to write out my thoughts on this here and then I realised there was too much: it's an essay or a blog post in itself. That happens sometimes.

- Lena Dunham interviewed by Alec Baldwin

Lena Dunham: We’re starting at the end of March. I’m so excited.

Alec Baldwin: Great. I’ll be available.

Lena Dunham: Yay!

Alec Baldwin: I’ll come and play your therapist.

Lena Dunham: That would be the most fun thing in the world.

Alec Baldwin: You need a therapist.

Lena Dunham: Bad.

Alec Baldwin: Bad.

Lena Dunham: Bad. But I forget what I was saying, but I’m glad you don’t think I’m mean. I get too guilty. If I ever make a mean joke, it’s like –

Part of me cringed through this entire interview, but the other part of me was inexplicably charmed by the weird sort of chemistry between Baldwin and Dunham (I read the transcript, by the way - maybe it feels different if you listen). I also kept thinking that whatever we say about Dunham and Girls and feminism and racism and twentysomethings and blah blah blah, isn't it worth remembering that this is a girl who got her break early - stupidly, incredibly early? She's 26 and she's hanging out with Alec Baldwin and being granted a kind of creative freedom rarely afforded anyone, let alone people her age. Meanwhile I'm eating baked beans for dinner and being ritually ignored by editors, which I think is a much more common story. So on the one hand it's great that someone in Dunham's position still retains enough residual anxiety to be able to write about what it's like to be professionally and financially adrift (so much television tends to presuppose a rare kind of economic stability in order to focus on romantic instability). But on the other hand I wonder what gets lost when someone goes from 22 to famous in 60 seconds.

- Keyhole (Anna Keesey at Bloom)

All this took about five years. In five years, I did what I’d wanted to do for twenty. It’s tempting to say, it was all the medicine. I was depressed, I had a quaff of SSRI, and I found my lost self where she was hiding, and brought her out. Yet that interpretation may obscure other truths. That is, perhaps I couldn’t write the book because being a teacher and being a mother were in fact more important to me than writing a book. In this model, my sadness was the molasses I crawled through, but the direction was right. If not successful, I was at least wise.

I read this right before I read the Dunham interview, which maybe coloured my view of the interview a little. I like the keyhole analogy.

- Geographer's Revenge (Jason Dittmer at The New Inquiry)

We see geography as neither static nor overwhelming; rather geographies are lively and always in flux—simultaneously shaping our actions and being produced through them.

- Topographies of Desire: The Millions Interviews Megan Kaminski

Along with that exploration of human possibility in nature came questions of subjectivity in the questioning of the lyric “I.” This questioning played out in the form of a slippery subject, an “I” that is fixed momentarily in a time/space, but then becomes quickly dislodged. I’m not willing, or perhaps even able, to abandon the lyric “I” in my poems — at least without taking on a subject voice that has its own equally problematic implications — but I am very interested in challenging and chipping away at the “I”’s authority. It’s this beautiful thing, the way pronouns work — the ease in which a person can slip into and out of the subject position. The “I” in my work that isn’t necessarily the “I” of Megan Kaminski/poet.

- Writing, Academic and Otherwise (Michael Sacasas)

Anyone who cares to think about how to navigate these technologies as wisely as possible should be able to encounter the best thinking on such matters in an accessible manner.

What I Read This Week - 20th January

Outside, snow's falling on the garden, so it's a good day for reading. - In House (Sonya Chung at The Common)

And yet, the idea of pilgrimage—of seeking your artistic development, your peak, in a place—is irresistible. If I go there, something will happen. If I leave here, I will create something that I have not been able to create before. Or, there, I will have more money. Or, there, I will have less money but more time. Or, if only I was surrounded by other artists, by people who understand me.

-My Misspent Youth (Meghan Daum)

It was around this time that I started having trouble thinking about anything other than how to make a payment on whatever bill was sitting on my desk, most likely weeks overdue, at any given time. I started getting collection calls from Visa, final disconnection notices from the phone company, letters from the gas company saying "Have you forgotten us?" I noticed that I was drinking more than I had in the past, often alone at home where I would sip Sauvignon Blanc at my desk and pretend to write when in fact I'd be working out some kind of desperate math equation on the toolbar calculator, making wild guesses as to when I'd receive some random $800 check from some unreliable accounting department of some slow-paying publication, how long it would take the money to clear into my account, what would be left after I set aside a third of it for taxes and, finally, which lucky creditor would be the recipient of the cash award. There's nothing like completing one of these calculations, realizing that you've drunk half a bottle of $7.99 wine, and feeling more guilt about having spent $7.99 than the fact that you're now too tipsy to work.

This was written in 1999, when Daum was 29, saddled with great debt, and about to leave New York City for the cheaper pastures of Nebraska. It is, I think, one of the best (or at least the most honest-like-a-slap-in-the-face) things I've read in a long while. Though take that with this very large grain of salt: I have an unhealthy obsession with reading about writers' finances, if only because writers, or a certain breed of them, have an equal obsession with their own finances. (I'm inadvertently working on collecting enough material for a book on this. See, to begin: the letters of P.G. Wodehouse, Geoff Dyer on D.H. Lawrence, every article in ten on sites like The Millions or Full Stop, etc etc. Even Sherwood Anderson, below, advising his teenage son that "The best thing, I dare say, is first to learn something well so you can always make a living.")

- Sherwood Anderson's advice to his teenage son, 1927 (Brain Pickings)

Above all avoid taking the advice of men who have no brains and do not know what they are talking about. Most small businessmen say simply — ‘Look at me.’ They fancy that if they have accumulated a little money and have got a position in a small circle they are competent to give advice to anyone.

In which Anderson reflects on some of my favorite themes: deciding what (and how) to be, the tricky business of making a living, especially in the arts, the compulsion to make with one's hands, and so on.

- Turns Out I Feel Like Print is More Real and I Can’t Stop It ( Sarah Wanenchak at Cyborgology)

I think this highlights something interesting about not only the deep cultural assumptions we still make about the nature of reality and about the relationship of the digital and physical, but also about how we as artists understand our creations to accumulate value. When I write a manuscript, it should be real to me; I brought it into being, shaped and manipulated it until I was happy with it, put it into the words that I chose. And yet it’s not really real to me until someone has paid me money to publish it, and it’s still not as real as it could be until it’s in physical, tactile form. A lot of this, again, is about external validation, but most of it is how I personally navigate what I perceive as different orders of real. Not necessarily physical/digital and real/unreal, but rather a spectrum along which this thing that I made moves.

Funny thing. I've held my book. It exists as a hardback, but not yet as an ebook, so I've nothing to compare it to, but I'd say that holding it is pretty special, and that if all I'd done was see it on the screen of my iPad I'd be thinking, but it isn't A Book yet. But this spectrum, it's a dangerous thing. I might be tempted, for instance, to say that although I've held my book, and smelled it to make sure it smells properly of book (it does), it's not as real to me as it could be until it's in bookshops, which it won't be for another few months. And so on.

On the other hand, I spent a large part of yesterday reading Jane Eyre on my iPad. I've never read Jane Eyre before and I've never read a book on an iPad before, so it was a day of pleasurable firsts, and I can't claim that I ever wished that I was holding a paperback. I enjoyed my day of reading Jane Eyre on the iPad. I'll never give up buying and owning books but I don't reject the idea that it's perfectly possible to read something on a screen and gain as much from it as you might if you read a leatherbound copy of it. When it comes to consuming books, it's fairly simple, because it's all circumstantial. There are some books I need to hold, or write in the margins of, or read in the bath, and some I don't. The tricky bit is making; the tricky bit is trying to understand what it is you've made.

- No One Knows (Jeremy Gordon at The Classical)

The opiatic comfort of believing in something, and wanting to believe in something, is at the heart of what can make sports so powerful. "We Believe," the shirts announce come the postseason, and even non-fans do—if not in a given team than in something transformative and elevating and occasionally transcendent at work. Sports are a distraction, or a type of popular art, but the way they play with belief can make the stories they tell so slippery, so fast-growing: belief metastasizes, need and want are conflated, and we wind up someplace weird.

Most of what I've read about the Manti Te'o girlfriend hoax (and admittedly, it's not a lot) has been couched in weird digital-dualist language (oh God the internet has destroyed everything sacred!) and this piece is not like that (with exception, perhaps, of the last sentence, which I'm still not sure how to read: it's gentler, but it could be construed as an urging to get offline and into the 'real world' once in awhile, but I'm choosing to think that's not really what it means). Anyway the thing I'm interested in here is nothing at all to do with Te'o specifically - it's to do with the way Gordon writes about sports, about the power of sport even when it's ugly (and sometimes it's very, very ugly), the way we interact with it.

- Semi-Charmed Life (Nathan Heller at The New Yorker)

Well, whose twenties? Few decades of experience command such dazzled interest (the teen-age years are usually written up in a spirit of damage control; the literature of fiftysomethings is a grim conspectus of temperate gatherings and winded adultery), and yet few comprise such varied kinds of life. Twentysomethings spend their days rearing children, living hand to mouth in Asia, and working sixty-hour weeks on Wall Street. They are moved by dreams of adult happiness, but the form of those dreams is as serendipitous as ripples in a dune of sand. Maybe your life gained its focus in college. Maybe a Wisconsin factory is where the route took shape. Or maybe your idea of adulthood got its polish on a feckless trip to Iceland. Where you start out—rich or poor, rustic or urbane—won’t determine where you end up, perhaps, but it will determine how you get there. The twenties are when we turn what Frank O’Hara called “sharp corners.”

I haven't read any of the "Fuck, I'm in my 20s!" literature Heller mentions here, nor have I read any of the accompanying guidebooks (for which I'm very grateful - “Late bloomers will likely never close the gap between themselves and those who got started earlier,” apparently, is one piece of advice (?) proffered in the uninvitingly titled The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter—And How to Make the Most of Them Now, for instance). But Heller's a good guide anyhow. It's a good piece, if one that made me feel a touch uncomfortable, like maybe I wanted to tell everyone to shut up about being in their twenties, or not being in their twenties anymore but knowing how we feel and how we should live, and to remember that we're all just a bunch of messy humans muddling along.

- Drawings of Five Writers’ Photos (Joanna Walsh at berfrois)

Miranda July takes a good photo. She’s made for other women to hate. I think it’s something to do with her refusal to encounter her beauty. It annoys me, but I feel badly about it. A film maker, she knows the photographer is there, but she acts like she never expected it to be. Camera-shy, the lens transfixes her: she looks terrified, or she looks away, her avoidance of the camera perfectly posed. If it wasn’t such a way to look I’d almost believe her.

This is mainly for the pictures, though the words are very good, too.

What I Read This Week: 13th January

Happy new year; the hiatus is over. This morning, seized by an unusually strong desire to leap out of bed and see the world before afternoon descended, I leapt out of bed and went for a run along the river. I like the camaraderie of running along the river, especially in the morning or at dusk, when the air is full of the sound of heavy breaths and rhythmic footsteps. The river is still high at the moment, but men sat at regular intervals along the towpath, fishing and smoking. I cut through Iffley Village, which really does seem like a little village, very remote - but not five minutes later I was back on a bustling suburban road, running past a car dealership, where a man in a cheap grey suit held a clipboard, checking his merchandise, preparing for an imaginary onslaught of Sunday customers.

There's a lot on writing this week, I guess. Maybe because I've been thinking, since they say January is the time to think about this sort of thing, about how to be a more active writer this year, how to make sure I remember to pay attention to that aspect of who I am and what I do. But then again, January is also the time for guilt to manifest as smugness, for extreme measures, purging, forgetting. The swimming pool is chock full of people who won't be quite so gung-ho in February, and everyone is on a diet, everyone is giving up drinking or smoking or Twitter, everyone is perfect, just for a month; everyone becomes the thing they think they want to be. I can never seem to give anything up (or, more precisely, I can never seem to see the need to give anything up, to force change for change's sake), and I always wonder if everything after is not a bit disappointing - or maybe it's a relief to be able to gradually slide back into the comfortable self, to reaffirm the rightness of certain habits and rituals, certain ways of being.

- The Writing Life, The Agonies of Process, and A New Year’s Resolution (Sarah Menkedick at Vela)

I am seized now and then by the notion that if I move to…Senegal! The Oaxacan Sierra! India! and seclude myself in some rustic abode with nothing but books and time and basic food it will be simpler and easier, but when it’s not 11 p.m. and I haven’t had several potent microbrews I am too wise to believe this. There is a difference between the need to hew to a particular lifestyle, ascetic or frenetic, and the hope that all the complications of writing can be solved by setting. We can read about writers’ mornings, noons, and nights until the end of time, can eat talismanic greens or sip whisky at precisely the golden hour or chant incantatory phrases but ultimately we will be making it up moment by moment, page by page. This is, in the end, why this is worth doing: because it is so hard.

Is it selfish to say that reading this made me feel better about my own writing practice, my own struggle with my own book? I wasn't very nice to be around all the time when I was working on it - I was snappy, shifty, mean, which was really just a way of being insecure that didn't seem so needy. I felt intensely that it shouldn't be so difficult, that most people don't find it so difficult, most people would have breezed through the task I'd set myself in half the time with twice the enthusiasm and conviction. Which I guess is why it's comforting - in a sort of uncomfortable way - to know that other people do find it difficult.

- Three Semi-Related Thoughts Upon the Occasion of Getting Very, Very Old (Lindsay Zoladz)

Earlier this year, Nathan Jurgenson wrote something that stuck with me, about how Facebook (but also, I think the Social Internet writ large) “fixates the present always as a future past.” There is this pressure to make sense of everything in the moment, to accelerate the creation of the meaning we derive from an experience. I think — and I already told you I am 26 so maybe this is just an old lady talking, right — the overwhelming deluge of all this “Fuck! I’m in My Twenties!” stuff written and liked and reblogged by people who are actually in their twenties accelerates this unnecessarily, and creates these self-defined, self-fulfilling norms. So I wonder if, the way I could only separate the universal and particular shittyness of public transportation only after I left DC, I won’t know what it meant to be in my 20s until I they’re behind me. Maybe the stuff we’re saying “fuck!” about is just what it’s like to be a conscious adult in this moment of history; maybe this is just the way we live now.

- My Heroes. Your Stamps. (Ta-Nehisi Coates at The Atlantic)

One of the problems with a title like "senior editor" or with working at a place like The Atlantic or with assuming mantles like "writer" or "public intellectual" is people expect those kinds of credentials to mean that the bearer is in possession of a super-abundance of information about great thinkers and great writers.

- On Writing in the Morning (Roxana Robinson at The New Yorker)

I am not yet in the world, and there is a certain risk involved in talking: the night spins a fine membrane, like the film inside an eggshell. It seals you off from the world, but it’s fragile, easily pierced.

Someone - one of my parents, I think - emailed me a link to this piece a week or so ago, and I finally got round to reading it. It's pretty, but it makes me uncomfortable, too: something about the preciousness of it, the sacred-ness. I'm not that sort of person; I don't operate that way. I'd like to be able to write in the mornings, for instance, but I wake too full of anxiety: I can't write until I've made sure that other things are taken care of, until I've cleared a space. Maybe this doesn't happen until afternoon, evening, midnight. But I wonder about writing from within a membrane, about being secure enough in your sense of self and work to cordon off a period of time and say that nothing else can come in but the art and the instant coffee. That takes a certain kind of confidence, don't you think?

What I Read This Week - 11th November

Time, ruin. Slowing down in a sped-up world. - The Long Run (Laura Sewell Matter at Vela)

It was time to take stock of what we had done to ourselves, and why.

- Confessions of an Analogian Writing for the Webs (Sonya Chung at The Millions)

It took me about a month, however, to get some thoughts together; which was, and still is, typical of me, i.e., I may have joined the digital commentariat, but no form of technology was going to make me a faster thinker.

- “A World Full of People Just Livin’ To Be Heard” (Michael Sacasas)

Often listening depends on silence and deep, unbroken attentiveness.

- The Malleability of Now (Cheri Lucas)

When I see ruins, I see then. I see now. I see what’s to come. I take in all of it, blended and coexisting. A different kind of now, where lines and boundaries are fuzzy.

- And! I wrote a guest post for Cyborgology: On Technology, Memory and Place. It's cheating to list it here, I guess, but oh well. Also see Michael Sacasas's response/riff on similar themes: Conjuring Ghosts: Digital Technology and the Past

What I Read This Week - 4th November

Keats' season of mists and mellow fruitfulness has become, as it always does, the season of fireworks and rain, cheek-stingingly cold nights, smokey dusks, an air of unmistakable, inexplicable excitement. The house parties get louder, more urgent, and the river turns silver. Yesterday afternoon we sat drinking cider in a poorly-lit pub, the windows fogged up, the wood burning stove full of fire. Florence Welch's tortured cries came through the speakers; outside the rowers raced home, trying to beat the dark, and I was actually quite pleased for it to be almost winter. - You Want to Say No (Sarah Menkedick at Vela)

But I think I’m tired of all the palliatives, all those “how to be a writer!” articles full of advice that at first may seem comforting but after a while becomes grating, belittling. We don’t see “How to be a lawyer!” articles including ten platitudes about realizing you’re neither as good nor as bad as you think. There isn’t a constant stream of inspirational or tell-it-like-it-is “How I practice medicine!” and “Why I practice medicine!” essays full of advice on when to drink one’s coffee. So why writing? Is it in part because we hope that if we just understand it enough, if we understand these ten things on this list, and obey them, if we follow these rules and imitate the masters, we have a chance? We’ll make it? Maybe we won’t. And this is what I thought this week for the first time in a long time, hard, unflinching: maybe I won’t.

Best thing I've read about writing in a long time.

- Like: Facebook and Schadenfreude (Francesca Mari at The Paris Review)

Facebook was something you were to outgrow, like Tommy Girl perfume or AOL Instant Messenger. Five years since graduation, I use it more now than ever.

- Cold Facts (Lindsay Zoladz at Pitchfork)

As I checked out other people's profiles, I observed an unspoken, enduring rule about listing your musical interests on the internet: curate, don't index. Paint a picture of yourself in sparse, broad strokes. Listing one or two guilty pleasures makes you seem approachable; more than that makes it seem like you have bad taste. Do not be that person who lists every artist on their iPod in alphabetical order under "Favorite Music;" err on the side of omission and mystery.

The two pieces above are interesting in their own rights, but read in quick succession they also (perhaps) reveal a particularly 20-something tendency to try to stretch time and convert it to authority: five years ago, or even ten years ago, seems like a lifetime, and we recount that fateful night in 2004 when we created a Facebook profile with a precocious mixture of self-deprecation and nostalgia that would be more fitting if we were 40-somethings. But of course, in the context of technology, in the context of Facebook, five years or ten years is a lifetime. We are, as Francesca Mari puts it, "longtime users" - it's just that longtime is not, necessarily, the same as long time.

- Places Designed to Profit People? Shipley Pool as “Secular Cathedral” (Hannah Nicklin)

Emma describes these communal, municipal spaces as ‘secular cathedrals’ – spaces of purpose but also meeting; communion.

Will be really interested to see what comes out of this project; I like the idea of the community swimming pool as 'secular cathedral'.