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My writing appears in The Virginia Quarterly Review, Modern Farmer, SF Weekly, The Rumpus, Maura Magazine, The Magazine, Two Serious Ladies, The Airship, Shareable, Used Furniture Review, Post Road, Fugue, POZ Magazine, and on my archived music blog The Record Daily.
Musicians and recording geeks love to argue about which is the better process for recording and mixing music: digital, in which sound is converted into ones and zeros and stored in computers, or analog, in which sound waves are converted into electric signals and stored on magnetic tape (or engraved as physical markings on vinyl).
Gearheads will happily recite track quantities in multiples of four and intone various other letter/number combinations like they’re mantras. John Vanderslice can do this with the best of them, but when asked why he prefers the analog process, he keeps it simple: analog just sounds better.
“You know when you’re attracted to someone?” he asks. “It’s because they’re interesting, they’re confident, they’re filled with weird flaws. It’s not that they’re perfect.”
–John Vanderslice: Flaws and All, The Magazine
In the business of literature, the people who mind the store—from writers to editors to Tumblrs— often have other jobs, too. For writers and other creators of culture, the “day job”—a means of income for an artist that is not the production of her art (leaving the definition of art aside for the moment)—is viewed as a temporary step on the ladder to artistic success. Many young writers hold the conviction that a day will come when they don’t have to do anything but write. When we speak about our “Work,” we mean our writing. We treat this work with reverence and hold it up as the work that makes us who we are: Artists. But beneath the surface of our art is a life largely spent doing other work: basement shifts, rent gigs, and adjunct positions whose earnings shore up our literary work. Day jobs are a mechanism beneath the business of literature. As such, they don’t just pay our bills; they’re what we do with most of our lives. Is there value to be found in a day job beyond its paycheck? Why are writers so eager to leave work behind?
–The Best Work in Literature, Virginia Quarterly Review online
I co-write an organic gardening advice column with my dad for Modern Farmer. An excerpt:
MANJULA: Soil is like that guy you dated in college: you can’t change him. You can’t alter your soil’s texture, but you can amend the soil’s components over time to make it more conducive to plant growth. It’s like therapy, but for dirt.
ORIN: I sometimes feel like being a gardening teacher is sort of like being a therapist.
MANJULA: Except you got to skip grad school. So is your advice to Sandy really if her soil sucks, she should move?
ORIN: Well, lucky for Sandy, the panacea for any soil is always the same: Add organic matter (compost and green manure) and distribute it into the soil through cultivation (a.k.a. digging). That’s how organic growers do it and that’s how Big Ag did it until fertilizers were industrialized last century.
–Dear Modern Farmer: Is My Soil Hot or Not?, Modern Farmer
I mean, come on. It’s not like flapperism did anything for women, either. I mean, an entire subset of young women doing the things boys did and wearing short hair and showing their gams without fear certainly didn’t provide other young women with a vision of life beyond the oppressive gender and sexual norms of the past. I mean, people don’t even wear corsets anymore, so, like, what’s even the point of the so-called flapper rebellion?
My first revelation was in a car, a rusted but strong 1985 Toyota Camry I bought from a friend’s older brother for 500 bucks. One hot summer morning in 2002 in Portland, Oregon, I packed it to the windows with everything I owned and pointed it south.
I popped a CD into the Diskman I’d rigged up to play through the car’s cassette player. It was a recent country album, a gift I’d been hesitant to listen to because I was 26 and still thought that rock ‘n’ roll was the only music for me. But I liked the title: Time (The Revelator). A revelator is one that reveals. Messy truths and all.
It’s very common. People swear by it. You replace your old bones, aches, cartilage with artificial ones. Make a fresh structural start, gain motility, leave behind years of habitually living in pain. I can’t understand the reality of it, or of any act of surgery—replacing parts like we’re cars, cracking open skin. Because of something to do with my false perception of human frailty, I think it’s fucked up.
—Two Serious Ladies, Bones
The customs agent at Heathrow airport stared us down, sucking in his breath. My sweetheart, Max, obeyed the agent’s request to remove his hat, revealing a hot-pink fauxhawk.
I took a seat on the spare folding chair behind me. This was going to take a while.
“You’re unemployed?” the agent asked sternly, his eyes moving back and forth between Max’s hair and our papers.
Young: It’s two completely different jobs and skill sets. Directing is cerebral and visionary; performing is much more visceral and primal, like the creation of dance, theater, or art. As a director, my key responsibility is to truly listen to my performers. As a performer, my main goals are authenticity, pleasure, connection, and communication. I love them both, although sometimes when I’m performing in my own productions it can be challenging. Have you ever tried to direct a film while hanging suspended upside down with a ball gag in your mouth?
Rumpus: No, no I have not.
Critics want it both ways: we want something to be pure and essential, but we also tend to retrospectively see events based solely on their context/reaction. Particularly in social media, context develops at an increasing pace: we condense the critical cycle into a series of quick “sharing” actions and move straight from “something happens” into criticizing ourselves and each other for liking things.
—The Rumpus, The Week Social Media Broke My Heart
Everybody loves a good infographic. Need to summarize a complex set of statistics (like, say, alternate band names for Pussy Riot)? Try a pie chart. When scientists have trouble understanding data, they use 3-D imaging to map the invisible patterns of airplane turbulence or visualize how a woman’s hair might rumple if she uses X Brand of shampoo.
But how do you portray invisible occurrences that are not data-driven? What are my options if I want to visualize the emotional ups and downs of my new favorite song, or understand the subjective history of a public space? Can I get an infographic of some feelings over here?
—The Airship, from Black Balloon Publishing — regular blog posts on culture and West Coast lit
She huddles in a bundle of teen flexibility against the wall of the living room floor, knees close to her chest, writing in the journal with a pink fluffy-tipped pen. I ask her questions in French about school and other nouns I know. Do you like music? What is the artist you like? Girls your age, do you like … le rock-and-roll? Pop?
She puts down the pen and looks at the floor and replies with slow confidence, her large brown eyes weighing the import of being a cultural ambassador to an American adult: Some girls, all the girls, they like the Bieber. Baby baby. But she, she does not like the Bieber. Et pourquoi pas? I ask. Because he is not sexy. He has not … sadness.
—Used Furniture Review, Great Moments in Popular Music, in Motion
In New York, and in Harlem especially, there was a sense of public life I had not previously encountered. On these sticky summer days and nights we all had transparent lives, whether we were standing outside or in hot apartments with the windows opened wide to the passing city. We all listened to the same songs, heard the neighbors’ drama, knew the same sound and vibration of the train rattling overhead every few minutes. This was and is still one of my favorite things about New York City – everybody there (and especially the not-rich) lives in public. That’s why they always give you a paper bag when you buy something at the corner store, even just a soda or something as small as gum, or cigarettes. Because in a city packed tight vertically and horizontally, privacy is a luxury. Most people just live our lives in view of everyone else. A paper bag with every purchase is the New York economy’s way of saying, Hey, here’s added luxury value to your day: no one can see what you’ve got in there. Come again soon.
Just weeks later I’d be walking down 125th street to the strains of “No Diggity,” the BLACKstreet song that samples Bill Withers’ “Grandma’s Hands” and features Dr. Dre and Queen Pen.
—The Record Daily, Best of Bill Withers
Jerry Herman, the songwriter behind the Broadway smashes Hello, Dolly!, Mame and La Cage aux Folles … speaks confidently, with the air of an artist satisfied with his work—one part satisfaction, one part glory and one part sheer delight that he has succeeded in entertaining millions.
This peace was hard won. In 1992, after Herman’s HIV diagnosis was broadcast by loose-lipped New York Post gossip maven Cindy Adams, Herman’s fear of falling ill made him seriously consider packing it all in. He fled to the posh California hills, far from the Great White Way. But due to what he calls miraculous success on protease inhibitors, Herman changed his tune and returned to the bright lights of the big city.