I’d been in Paris less than twelve hours, arriving for a job interview, when I was invited to my first French dinner party. The job I wanted was at a Parisian advertising agency. My would-be boss, Pierre, said after the meeting that he had an older sister, Paulette, who’d invited me for dinner. Very charitable of her, I thought, but did she know I barely spoke French? I spent the afternoon drinking, worrying in a café on the Champs-Elysées—springtime in Paris, many happy lovers walking by, and I wished on them all gonorrhea. That night, Pierre and I took a cab to the 2nd arrondissement, and rode upstairs in a [...]
Paul Newman’s egg-gorging feat in Cool Hand Luke certainly inspires wonder (along with a tinge of disgust). And yet each time I watch the film, I struggle with a nagging question raised by that stomach-swelling exploit: Which came first, our appetite, or our drive for competitive eating? Owing to the glut of cooking competitions, food trucks racing across town serving up sliders and duck-fat tots, foodies one-upping each other on Instagram and restaurants aggressively advertising their farm-to-table bona fides (as brilliantly satirized on "Portlandia"), food culture feels increasingly competitive in the broader, non-Kobayashi sense.
As the battles unfold to perform more impressive culinary feats, whether inhaling hot dogs [...]
I tried uniformly applying a variety of “systems” — note cards, wall-sized outlines, all kinds of things. Color-coding and cross-referencing may or may not have been involved. I may or may not own a triple hole-punch. Ultimately, though, I felt I was spending more time playing reporter/writer than being reporter/writer—the systems search, I realized, was a form of procrastination. Here’s what I do now, and it’s very basic: Bring the scraps back to the nest, arrange them chronologically, develop a timeline that shows everything more clearly, and then build out from there, hewing to that backbone yet following each thread to its known end. That’s just an organizing principle, [...]
I'm torn on advice. Sometimes you're given some and it matters right there on the spot. Then there's the advice that sits alongside pathetic life-as-lit, lit-as-life devices—think fantasies of watching your own funeral or accurately narrating your life as it unfolds. This is the kind of advice that, either in the moment or as memory, arrives perfectly formed and quotable, a single well-turned line that turns your life into a teaching tool for all humanity. And then there's the advice that slips by unnoticed at the time, that you cull meaning from only in retrospect, out of metaphysical necessity. How did I get here, anyway? Someone must have told me [...]
As National Novel Writing Month slogs on, the next in our series about the novels that we started writing but, for whatever reason, never finished.
Do you remember the episode of "The Simpsons" where Marge scores the fake Chanel suit? She looks incredible in it, straight-up incredible, and then this rich bitch she went to high school with spots her and briefly ushers her into Springfield high society? Anyway, she has only the one fake Chanel suit, so she has to transform it into culottes and an evening gown, etc. in order to keep the illusion afloat, but ultimately she stays true to herself because of Homer and [...]
Jami Attenberg's The Middlesteins, which hits bookstores today, tells the story of a Midwestern family whose matriarch is binge-eating herself to death. There's a lot of talk about the obesity crisis in the country, but it tends to happen along one of two set tracks: either accompanying stock footage of headless fat people, or else coming from sinewy trainers barking at the imagined laziness of their frightened charges. It's fair to say that people are ready for another kind of story, and The Middlesteins has the potential to fill that gap. It isn't a polemic about the sagacity of good nutrition, or about personal foolishness. It's about how and [...]
For Frank O'Hara, L was definitely for Lunch. He wrote most of Lunch Poems during his lunch hours—pausing, as he put it, "for a liver sausage sandwich in the Mayflower Shoppe" and taking notes on what he'd seen while roaming Manhattan. Eating and writing, eating and writing. I adore the book's title, not just for its banal literality, but for its figurative (ahem, poetic) potential as well: The volume of poems, small as a subway map, tucks easily into one's pocket. Like a snack. And the poems, too, can be consumed that way. As O'Hara's famous "A Step Away from Them" suggestively ends: "A glass of papaya juice / [...]
I didn't know what I would get paid to write this article. I didn't ask. It doesn't matter. It won't make a tangible dent in paying the rent on my apartment in Brooklyn, or, for that matter, rent on an apartment in any other city. By the time I finish the research, the interviews, the writing, and the editing, whatever small sum—$30, $125, $200—this site pays me will pale in comparison to the effort. It's not "worth it" in a traditional monetary sense. I'm doing it for exposure (maybe hire me?), because I'm interested in the topic, and because it's immediately relevant to my so-called career as a [...]
American Student Loan Debt Delinquencies has overtaken American Credit Card Debt for the first time on the spectrum of Debts. Students pay more to go to college and graduate school and get less from their buck than ever before. And now you can’t even pay it back! You used to get a job, now you get a ham sandwich, maybe. It's not necessarily the fault of colleges and universities. They have to make big bucks to keep all that marble buffed and ivy trimmed. I'd much rather blame the heads of departments. The myth was once that if you got a Liberal Arts education in some worthless degree field you'd [...]
Since 2002, Jason Ross (@jasonjross on Twitter) has been a writer for "The Daily Show With Jon Stewart," where his team has won a half-dozen Emmy Awards for outstanding writing and produced the best-selling America: The Book and Earth: The Book.
Jason Ross: Here I am.
Ken Layne: Hello, sir! I'm in the middle of the greatest consumer survey in human history.
Jason: That is a fairly low bar to clear.
Ken: Disneyland is building Star Wars Land. This will make Disneyland much more tolerable for me:
Which of the following Star Wars locations would you be especially interested in visiting at the Disneyland Resort? [...]
National Novel Writing Month comes to an end tonight—at midnight! But our series about the novels that we started writing but, for whatever reason, never finished will carry on. Here's the next entry.
Where are all my End of the World Party invitations? The characters in the novel I never finished—the promotion for which I foresaw myself being very busy with this month, incidentally, the timing of the book's publication being part of my brilliant meta marketing concept—were buried in End of the World Party invitations by now. In the mid-pre-post-apocalyptic world I imagined, December 23, 2012 was the new New Year's.
These parties would be taking [...]
As National Novel Writing Month gets underway, here's the first in a month-long series about the novels that we started writing but, for whatever reason, never finished.
In the fall of 1998, I was at UC Berkeley, mired in the early stages of a history Ph.D. program that, even in a best-case scenario, would last until 2003 and then spit me out into an increasingly tenuous academic job market—and my performance in grad school so far didn't necessarily promise a best-case scenario. I had few friends and had just had my heart broken rather badly; the latter, thankfully, served as a catalyst for some life reforms. 18 months later, [...]
So you didn't win a Nobel Prize in Literature this week. Unless your name is Mr. Mo. Although, if you live in Europe, you did win a consolation Nobel Peace Prize at least. (Giving the Nobel Peace Prize to the European Union is like giving an Oscar to Alf.) Anyway, I know, it’s total bullshit. You totally deserved it. But you might just be a calendar year away from getting the recognition you so obviously deserve. Let me show you the way.
I waited by the phone all week for that congratulatory call from overseas myself! Not for the stuff I’ve already written, which, let’s admit, is pretty amazing. But [...]
Jennifer Egan's "recent sci-fi excursions expose her not as a writer resigned to the waning importance of literature, but as a literary 'luddite' willing to take things to the next level, to begin a sabotage." —I'm not buying all of this but I like this as an idea.
I congratulate you, my dear Cornelia, on having acquired the valuable art of writing. How delightful to be enabled by it to converse with an absent friend, as if present! —Thomas Jefferson
She hesitated, and then, impulsively, "I wonder if it would be too much to ask you for your autograph?"
Ralph then attached the Telautograph to his Telephot while the girl did the same. When both instruments were connected he signed his name and he saw his signature appear simultaneously on the machine in Switzerland. —Hugo Gernsback, Ralph 124C 41+ (1911)
On February 27th, Toni Morrison took part in an [...]
When editors and sponsors demanded changes to his copy, the legendary absurdist comedian and radio star Fred Allen used to reply: "Where were you bastards when the pages were blank?"
This joke is about the common misconception about what really happens between writers and editors, which is a kind of alchemical collaboration, provided that the collaborators in question are in sympathy and closely attending to the matter at hand. Granted, that doesn't happen every time, on either side, but at its best there is no hostility, and no jockeying for an advantage in this symbiosis: no ego, no performance, just an intent shared focus on making something good together for [...]
Appearing here Wednesdays, Turning The Screw provides existential crisis counseling for the faint of heart. "Eat two custard-filled doughnuts and call me in the morning."
So, this is going to sound so dramatic and stupid and of-course-you-already-know-the-answer-to-this-why-are-you-even-asking? But I'm confused and I want to talk about this with someone. I moved to this cold, Midwestern state from the South (which I loved, but didn't want to stay in for career reasons) two and a half years ago for law school. I left partially to get away from a bad relationship. A couple months in, I met someone else in law school. Things moved very quickly. I'd [...]
As National Novel Writing Month enters its final days, the next in our series about the novels that we started writing but, for whatever reason, never finished.
There's a novel I didn't write, and another novel that I did. I'll tell you about the second one first. It's finished—or notionally finished and objectively un-sold, although my agent tells me it received several posi-polite notes of no-thanks—and still here with me. It's in my head, and at least virtually is right there on this laptop's desktop, where it is both ostensibly complete and current through my last idle tinkerings with it, which I made on a slow and stop-full [...]
Appearing here Wednesdays, Turning The Screw provides existential crisis counseling for the faint of heart. "Because your butt does look fat in that personality disorder!"
To continue your dialogue with letter writer #1 a few weeks ago ( "don't quit your day job," etc.) and with a dude who wrote to you as "rabbit" way back when about his jealousy of his ex's new musician boyfriend: I'm an editor at a little-read academic publication; the job is well-paying and provides excellent health insurance, I'm (very) good at it, and my boss is an awesome mentor who respects me and allows me autonomy—basically the jackpot.
1. Underwear is definitely pants.
This has been an issue, I believe, ever since the first writer ever worked at home.
A general guideline: underwear isn’t pants. That is, you can’t tell yourself, “At least I put on pants today,” if it was just underwear—and no, you shouldn’t sign for a delivery like that.
There's no shame in working in your skivvies, though. Victor Hugo used to get undressed and have his valet take his clothes away. Be proud; just know that it's not pants you've got on. Now go back to work.
2. All you need to be a writer is talent.
Despite the success of [...]