I’ve Been Researching 1995

And if you have the login credentials, I recommend reading Anthony Lane’s review of “Before Sunset.” It’s like reading a diary entry about someone’s first date with their future spouse. 

'I'll Ruin You'

You know when you go to bed too early, intent on getting a good night’s sleep, and then you wake up at 12:30, and your body is like, awesome nap, let’s party! 

That happened to me the other night, and with that time, which is not stolen time, but credit card debt time because the exhaustion comes back at a high interest rate, I read the William Finnegan article about fast food laborers. 

Arisleyda Tapia, the subject of Finnegan’s piece, is making $8.35 an hour at McDonald’s and works 30 hours a week. Somehow, she is supporting herself and her daughter in New York and her family back in the DR. I imagine she’s already cut out the lattes.

What struck me about her plight was how far removed she was from the wealth in New York. Not just far from the economy of $70 million apartments, but far from the economy of people serving those people, where the real menial wages are. I’ve been part of that economy, tutoring and babysitting for kids whose careers could be renting out their childhood homes. 

People are willing to pay more for a babysitter who can talk books or a maid who can speak English. Which is fair enough. The service industry is another free market. But I feel like for all the liberal handwringing over how the lowest class is treated, there’s not enough effort to make better service jobs available to them. Where is the dog walking service that employees immigrants instead of hipsters?  

I’m also reading Those Who Stay and Those Who Leave right now, which for a book set in Italy in the 60s, felt very relevant to Finnegan’s piece. I kind of wish Finnegan had included this excerpt from the book in his article:

Can you imagine, she asked, what it means to spend eight hours a day standing up to your waist in the mortadella cooking water? Can you imagine what it means to have your fingers covered with cuts from slicing the meat off animal bones? Can you imagine what it means to go in and out of the refrigerated rooms at twenty degrees below zero, and get ten lire more an hour—ten lire—for cold compensation? If you imagined this, what do you think you can learn from people who are forced to live like that? … The union has never gone in and the workers are nothing but poor victims of blackmail, dependent on the law of the owner, that is: I pay you and so I possess you and I possess your life, your family, and everything that surrounds you, and if you don’t do as I say, I’ll ruin you. 


I want to qualify this post, and acknowledge that this one is extra narcissistic. But I think that might be a little redundant for a blog.

Right now, I’m waiting until September 13 to start working on my story again. September 13 is the next time my writing group meets, and the date has become an arbitrary marker of time in the way of all far off dates.

It’s weird to be waiting for feedback right now because I know my story isn’t perfect. I agree with what a lot of my other readers have been saying. The story is there, but there are like 18 sentences missing that would help solidify the characters. Eighteen is not a large or small number, but it’s a number that could make a difference. Think of how 18 home improvements or 18 pieces of clothes could change a house or wardrobe.

When I realized over the weekend that I needed about 360 more words to transform my story, I felt like my goal was closer or more tangible. But the more I think about it, the more I realize coming up with those sentences is the whole challenge.

In general, small things separate the good from the great. Even if it’s only one missing sentence, when it’s gone, its absence is the only thing that matters.

Tags: writing 18

Fight For This Love

(Until about 20 minutes ago, I had never heard the original version of this song. I imagined it was by a Fleetwood Mac-like band, not the star of Popstars: the Rivals.)

I emailed the second official, and 11th unofficial, draft of my new story around to friends on Saturday, and since then, I’ve been spending my mornings cleaning, reading, and managing the email list for Making the Mountain. I’ve been productive, but I still feel pretty empty. It’s not like I think my writing is so great or could change any lives. It’s just that writing, for me anyway, is the only thing that makes life seem more than a variation of waiting on lines, looking for misplaced keys, and cleaning the bathroom mirror. This sounds self-important and melodramatic, but if I’m not writing, I don’t really know what this whole thing is about.

At the same time, work, which pays for whatever I’m waiting on line to purchase, all of the things my various keys open, and the cleaning solution for the bathroom mirror—along with summer fruit, weekend trips, and novelty yarmulkes—has been asking more of me, which is only fair, because it is my job.

This week, I’ve been fighting for my love, which means insisting on a schedule that gives me time to write, even if I don’t have anything to write right now.

When I was writing my novel, I thought I’d rather fail at it than not try, which is still true. My novel only exists in a drawer and my collection of short stories might have a similar fate. I’ve sent around five of stories, and all I have to show for it is a spreadsheet of rejection and one memento of kindness. There’s no guarantee that I’ll get anything published. The only thing that’s for sure is that my writing won’t get better if I don’t write, and that’s worth fighting for.

Tags: writing


"If you could give one piece of advice to a large group of people, what would it be?""Change your mind about something significant every day."

Classic Gladwell: counter-intuitive, intriguing, incorrect. 


"If you could give one piece of advice to a large group of people, what would it be?"
"Change your mind about something significant every day."

Classic Gladwell: counter-intuitive, intriguing, incorrect. 

The Best Easy Hipster Listening on YouTube

Though I prefer to think of myself as Gen Y, I’m a millennial when it comes to my music habits. I listen to about half of my music on YouTube. Occasionally pop songs, but mainly live shows of my favorite bands.  

Here’s what I can recommend: 

Beirut, Brussels

Beirut is a great live band, but this video has Zach Condon saying, “I’ve given up speaking French in this city.”

Vampire Weekend, Seoul

I’ve seen, or heard while writing press releases, a lot of Vampire Weekend shows. At under 50 minutes, this one is lean, features interviews, a Korean cartoon, and screaming teenages. 

Wilco, Barcelona 

When Jeff Tweedy says, “You guys are the best audience in the world and I’m not just saying that” Catalons should believe him. He doesn’t really care about most other audiences. 

The National, Sydney 

In an interview with Bret Easton Ellis, Matt Berninger, the lead singer of the National, says he drinks too much at shows. That’s evident in this show. 


“The shadow life. He saw it everywhere—it was a kind of second sight—but what use was it? He looked back at his passenger, her face anxious, turned away. Her window misted, a single cloud. What could she possibly see?”
Read Zadie Smith’s new story “Big Week,” available, for free, through the summer.
Photo via.

Good news for people who like big weeks. 


“The shadow life. He saw it everywhere—it was a kind of second sight—but what use was it? He looked back at his passenger, her face anxious, turned away. Her window misted, a single cloud. What could she possibly see?”

Read Zadie Smith’s new story “Big Week,” available, for free, through the summer.

Photo via.

Good news for people who like big weeks. 

I’m a Time Study Man

I used to hate when people complained about not having time to do something. It seemed like an excuse: no one has trouble making time to dick around on Facebook, but suddenly there’s no time to read or go to the grocery store? 

But as I get older and collect responsibilities that I can’t shift around as easily, I’ve become more empathetic. Lately, with a puppy and more professional obligations, finding the time on weekday mornings to write—without the pressure to do more than stare at my computer and be in the space of whatever it is I’m working on—has been challenging.

To compensate, I’ve resigned myself to missing out on early morning weekend adventures. I can only seem to write before lunch, and it’s become a weird truth that I’d rather write one perfect paragraph before noon than do just about anything else. When I miss out on these outings, it’s not because I don’t have time, it’s because I’d rather be writing.

Even if I won’t be going on a day hike tomorrow, I realize this is one of the least obligated times of my life. Which is why I had some compassion for a woman I came across on my run yesterday. The track near my apartment was empty except for two women, probably in their 40s, and a bored nine year-old girl looking on. The track is the most pleasant way for me to exercise with my dog, Rex. She can race around and sniff, and I can run without worrying about her racing around and sniffing.

I did my first lap between the women’s 400s, but once they started again, Rex began running alongside them. One of the women, I like to think the mom, said in the loud, under the breath way of a passive aggressive without any power, “A dog shouldn’t be on the track.” Fair enough, and I left because in her tone, she was saying, “This is my moment not to worry about emails, or my husband, or the laundry, and even then, I had to bring my child, and you and your dog are ruining this.” 

I felt bad, not for her disrupted 400, which to be nasty, wasn’t that fast, but for how little time she felt she had. Maybe I just felt bad for my future self, who one day will have a fuller life that I will try to escape in regular 90-minute increments to write. I hope that in those flights, I can be more at peace than that woman, but I’ll probably be just as anxious to do something with my bursts of freedom.

After the track incident, I took Rex to the park, and thought about the opening of “Pretty Hurts.” Like Beyonce, or her songwriter Sia Furler, my aspiration in life is to be happy. But more specifically, it’s not to worry about time or money. 

On Pride and High School Mix Tapes

“School’s Out for Summer” – Alice Cooper
“American Music” – Violent Femmes
“Goodbye Stranger” – Super Tramp
“Omaha” – Counting Crows
“Beautiful Girl – Pete Droge & The Sinners
“When I Come Around” – Green Day
“Radio, Radio” – Elvis Costello
“At My Most Beautiful” – REM
“Walk Away” – Ben Harper
“I’ll Miss You” – Ween
“Sweet Caroline” – Neil Diamond
“Another Brick in the Wall” – Pink Floyd
“Underground” – Ben Folds Five

I recently found the high school graduation mix I made in 2001 (track list above), and 13 years later, it holds up. “American Music” for instance: still a great song. I did so much math homework listening to that song, and hearing it again, I felt a twinge of that sadness from “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love”: where did my love for that song go?

It was nice to listen to something I made, or curated, a Bar Mitzvah boy ago, and still enjoy it. At the time, I was very self-conscious when I handed the mix out through the halls of my high school. I didn’t feel proud of it, or like I had done something cool. I felt like I was trying to do something cool, and in the trying, I had some shame.

In general, it’s hard for me to feel completely proud of things. There’s always a caveat, a clause I add to put things in perspective and diminish whatever I’ve done. But recently, things have been going well. Specifically, I adopted a dog and Making the Mountain, the artist night I put together, is heading in a good direction. Catching up with a friend, I said about Making the Mountain, though I could have been talking about the dog, “I’m trying to just be proud of this. It’s something I wanted and I’ve made it happen.”

She reminded me that I had said something similar after running my first marathon, which I completed a few minutes faster than my goal. I had forgotten that I had said that. Even the sentiment felt distant, like a memory based on a photograph. Which is too bad, because I have a great memory for not feeling proud. I could chart the days I’ve felt embarrassed or silly, many of which were in high school.

I’m not one to advocate the ego, but it seems unproductive to be able to hold onto disappointment so tightly and not be able to remember pride.