Palimpsest (September 18 – 24, 2022)

Things I read, heard and saw this week that inspired me.

“Best of: A Life-Changing Philosophy of Games.” The Ezra Klein Show. [podcast] 2022aug19.

A view of our quantified lives as point scoring games where the points shape our values and tell us what to want. This one touches a lot on the point scoring nature of social media and why Twitter's gamification of conversation warps our political and social discourse.

“Elaine Castillo : How to Read Now.” Between The Covers : Conversations with Writers in Fiction, Nonfiction & Poetry. [podcast] 2022sep18.

This is a huge conversation spanning almost three hours about reading, what reading is and how reading is always placed inside political space. This long episode has so many threads and so many insights packed in, it is like a microdose of many, many episodes in one. Always a pleasure to listen to brilliant readers talk about reading. This one is a pleasure and a challenge.

“The Office is Dying. It’s Time to Rethink How We Work.” The Ezra Klein Show. [podcast] 2022aug16.

Pandemic lockdown of 2020 gave us an unplanned experiment in new ways of working. The pressure cooker of necessity caused a hugely innovative period of adjustment and recalibration. As things settle toward the new normal, workers are left wanting to retain some of the benefits of flexible work from the online/hybrid experiment. Unfortunately, most work places learned the wrong lessons. Workers wanted the best of flexible work but are mostly now getting the worst. Rethinking how we work requires us to rethink why we work, starting with the office as a space. What is it actually for? This conversation touches on the trends of social atomization. What does it mean when work is the last place left for people to relate directly as human communities? There has to be a better way. Right?

What I’m Reading

  • Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. My wife is worried because now I want to make cheese in our kitchen.

What I’m Watching

  • The Sandman. We finished Season 1 this week. It was interesting to see how they reorganized the pieces of the original story to build toward narrative arc for Season 2. The last episode is basically bonus material that didn’t sit well inside the storyline for Season 1. As much as I enjoyed the build of the second half of the season, I enjoyed this last episode as an example of what the show might have been if told more as pastiche, which was my experience of the graphic novel.
  • The Patient. A psychologist is captured by his patient and locked in the basement for ongoing personal therapy sessions. I won’t say more because the pleasure of this show is letting each short (20ish minutes) episode deliver a quick gut punch. This series works in the way the best horror/thriller short story works. Keep it tight, compressed and deliver the gut punch right at the end. Also fun to see Steve Carrell play a serious role. It took me a while to get myself out of Office mode, looking for that Michael Scott smirk. Carrell grows into the role as the episodes progress.

Palimpsest (September 11 – 17, 2022)

Things I read, heard and saw this week that inspired me.

Hill, Joe. “Abraham’s Boys.” from 20th Century Ghosts. William Morrow. 2008.

Well-made story about the sons of Abraham Van Helsing growing up in the shadow of their father’s vampire-mania. There is a real question about whether this Van Helsing is the hero from Dracula or a demented monster in his own right or, possibly, both at once. The tension climbs as we get to know the brothers and the dynamics of older brother/younger brother. The mounting dread and awfulness builds wonderfully and ends with a satisfying crash. 

“His mother had already been weak and ill when the scandal drove their family from Amsterdam. They lived for a while in England, but word of the terrible thing their father had done (whatever it was — Max doubted he would ever know) followed them.”

Hill, Joe. “My Father’s Mask.” from 20th Century Ghosts. William Morrow. 2008.

This is a weird, erotic story that I don't know how to describe. It says something about the journey from adolescence into adulthood and there are games within games. This one strikes chords I don’t understand. It deserves several rereads to unpack.

“I couldn’t be angry at my parents for not letting me in on their plans in advance, because they probably hadn’t made plans in advance. It was very likely they had decided to go up to Big Cat Lake over lunch. My parents didn’t have plans. They had impulses and a thirteen-year-old son and they saw no reason to ever let the latter upset the former.”

Thompson, Derek. “Your Career is Just One-Eighth of Your Life.” Atlantic. September 2022.

A wry reflection on the terrible advice we give ourselves about how to build a satisfying career.

“Autobiography is not advice. Given how poorly most people understand themselves, it’s barely even autobiography.”

and this

“Telling young people who just graduated from college that a satisfying career is hopeless until we dismantle capitalism is about as helpful as telling somebody asking for directions to the bathroom that no true relief will visit humankind until death.”

“Name. Age. Detail.” This American Life. [podcast] Episode 777.

Obituaries for victims of mass shootings often collapse entire lives into a rote recitation of a few minor facts. This episode of This American Life offers a full story for each of the ten victims of the May 14 massacre at TOPS Market in Buffalo. This episode pays respect by offering a fuller picture of the lives that were lost and helps reclaim from the typical rhetoric a true sense of what was stolen on that day.

What I’m Reading

  • All the Names by Jose Saramago. I gave this 100 pages but reluctantly set it aside unfinished. Gorgeous writing but I couldn’t follow the story and couldn’t connect. Life is short. We don’t have to read everything all the way to the end.
  • Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. Just started but a strong read so far. Compelling non-fiction narrative full of anecdote and personal stories about food.

What I’m Watching

  • The Sandman. Still making our way through. It gets better and better and better. One episode to go. They take a lot of liberties with the original story which makes this its own thing.
  • Devil in Suburbia. I dipped into a few episodes of this true crime documentary. A bit like candy. Nothing compelling or sustaining but a quick sugar rush for the late evening brain.

Palimpsest (September 4 – 10, 2022)

Things I read, heard and saw this week that inspired me.

Cohen, Rich. “The Ballad of Downward Mobility.” Atlantic. August 2022.

“If America were a person, I’d hug them and say, ‘Sit down. You look exhausted.’”

The story of limitless prosperity has been America's favorite narrative. When the party's over, someone(s) get stuck with the check.

“How Do We Face Loss with Dignity?” The Ezra Klein Show. [podcast] 2022aug12.

“If we build a society run on self-interest, then we’re vulnerable to the fact that the self ends. And so you build a society unbelievably terrified of ending.”

Ezra Klein interviews author Mohsin Hamid. Their wide-ranging conversation covers a lot of interesting ground. Hamid talks about the concept of "whiteness" as being assumed a default condition and what it felt like for him as a Muslim-American to navigate sudden changes in how he moved through society after 9/11. The experience, in part, informs his novel The Last White Man which centers on Anders, a white man who wakes up to find he is no longer "white".

Comparison is made between the transformation of Anders in Hamid's novel and the transformation in Kafka's The Metamorphosis. Kafka's novel being a response to the sense of alienation that arose from industrialization, Hamid poses his novel as a response to the dominant technologies of our time, which are sorting technologies that lead us to think of our friends, family, entertainments and lives as acts of sorting (I like this; I don't like that) and how algorithms function behind the scenes not to serve us more of what we actually want but to make us want more of what's available.

They talk about Hamid's belief that future humans will look back on our fear of migration as a moral failing somewhat akin to slave-owning in the way that is warps moral codes and forces societies to shape themselves into prison states as a way to preserve arbitrary borders.

There is also a lovely discussion of what Toni Morrison offered Hamid as a mentor.

Most profound for me was the discussion of how fear of death is an organizing fact of American society and imagines ways to organize society with a more generous, less fearful experience of aging and death.

What I’m Reading

  • 20th Century Ghosts by Joe Hill

What I’m Watching

  • American Horror Stories (Season 2)
  • The Sandman

And Then: An Account of the Last Three Years

I forgot how to write in 2019. I was still doing it to some extent, nouns and verbs here and there, publishing the odd post and scribbling notes to myself in the various places I stash ideas, but I had become confused. The internet soured. Each time I logged on, I felt myself permeated by incoherence, as if each day’s assault of random interestingness was a kind of cosmic radiation, weakening my bones, shredding DNA, mutating my sense of self, place and purpose.

At the same time, my twenty year career as a college librarian was unraveling. I lost connection to the work I was doing, had done and had felt to be important. The place I was working became poisonous, a place that celebrated mediocrity and prized uncritical conformity. The feel-good phraseology of employment as “work family” took hold, and directionless “innovation” masked an institutional rot that still breaks my heart.

The larger world seemed no better. Everywhere I looked, I saw once-trusted systems breaking. “We can’t keep living like this”: the mantra circling like smoke in my mind.

I started talk therapy (again) with an affable, but himself exhausted, therapist who helped me understand the turn a mind often takes in midlife. We talked a lot about the physical experience I had of staring into woods at night and feeling myself being swallowed by darkness, which seemed the inescapable fact of death — mine, yours, everyone and everything. It was, in psychological terms, a depression. It was, in spiritual terms, liberation. He helped me see that I didn’t have to do the things I had been doing. I didn’t have to continue thinking myself a plaything of what others deemed important or useful or vital. I could define these things for myself. He prescribed James Hollis and Robert Bly and poetry and writing and running and meditation. He prescribed family and friends and community.

And then: the pandemic.

My sense of darkness and the inescapability of death came to seem prescient. I felt also a kind of global kinship as we all moved our lives onto the internet to keep ourselves physically apart to help “bend the curve” of hospitalizations and death around the world. There was a brief moment of togetherness, beauty and wonder as my feed filled with video of people all around the world leaning from balconies to clamor and praise the work of nurses, doctors and emergency responders daily placing themselves in harm’s way. I saw cellists and opera singers perform in empty town squares for people who needed the courage that music and art bring. We stopped driving cars so much and air quality got better. And the thought “we can’t keep living like this” became “Oh. This is how it can feel to be a human.”

And also, then, the “work from home” experience which, for me, dovetailed with remote onboarding into a new job inside a completely different profession. I made my escape from the broken place that had been my professional home, a place that had been making me physically sick. Painful as it was to leave behind my own team and friends via web conferences, I found a new opportunity to do meaningful work in a place I respected and that respected me.

I turned my mind again to the possibilities of writing but my mind was worn with constant thought of pandemic, the gathering strength of anti-democractic politics, economic stress and the inescapable fact of climate crisis. I didn’t know what to write, where to start. And then, the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd. My feeds were full of protests, the swell of pent up people coming together to demand accountability for the unaccountable. And then, tear gas and billy clubs as the state’s answer to the gathered people. And then, the gassing of Lafayette Square to make the way safe for the vainglorious president and his ego handlers to strike sanctimonious poses in the borrowed shine of St. John’s Episcopal Church.

And then, a white teenage gun nut became a Fox News hero for carrying his AR-15 into the midst of chaos so he could feel like a bad ass. And later, America went full Watchmen when Texas deputized all citizens to enforce its heinous forced birth law. Everywhere I looked, the people saying “America First” most loudly were actively putting American values last. Metastatic dumbness grew rampant, aggressive and violent. 

In the midst of all this, I lost my words entirely. As a white, professional, affluent male, I had no idea what to say. Everything that seemed possible to say also felt like a gross exertion of privilege. Who should care what I had to say? What could it possibly matter?

I am not proud of this reflex. In the moment, I could have used my voice to elevate the voices of Black lives, female lives and queer lives — people who already understand the violence and chaos I was feeling as a more or less normal part of their whole lives. I didn’t. I let myself vacillate too long trying to decide if using my voice was an act of aggression or an act of hubris. I couldn’t discern which. My silence became an exertion of my privilege. I spoke quietly to those people who already agreed with me, who saw what I saw and felt what I felt and tried to ignore the stupids and crazies.

Except, the stupids and crazies were everywhere. People I knew. People I had worked with. People I once had liked. People I had invited into my home. They were all on social media saying outrageously dumb things with a galling lack of shame.

I left Facebook because it was making me hate people I was meant to love. And then, I left Twitter because the richest man in the world decided he could fix America’s so-called “free speech problems” by buying the speech platform. Nothing to see here. Just one more self-righteous billionaire writing a check to feel like they are actively solving problems they daily help make worse.

And also the failed January 6 coup which was broadcast live for all the world to see, but for which the right people will never pay.

And then, the week the Supreme Court declared war on all of us. States cannot enforce hundred year old gun restriction laws but can force women to give birth against their will.

It is all too much. It has been too much. It will be too much.

And now, I am here, with you, to tell you that I never meant to leave this place and I never wanted to stop writing. For a while, I thought it hurt too much to try and now I find it is hurting too much to not be trying. Silence is making me sick. All of this not writing has become a thing I feel in the viscera of my body, in the hot reach of my soul.

And so, I am trying to return. I am trying to return with a new sense of what’s actually possible. Reading back on so much of my writing, I find a person struggling to declare what he believes he knows and understands. I stopped writing when I realized I know nothing. I understand nothing.

It takes a while to find humility, to accept your limits and realize that what you have to offer isn’t your certainty about things. It is your curiosity, your courage in uncertainty, your willingness to show your doubts to others in hopes they might recognize some of it as familiar, that some piece of your confusion about the world and these lives we are making can resonate and be helpful.

So I am trying to find a new way into my writing. Not as a declaration of what I know but, rather, as a joyful celebration of everything I don’t know, what I cannot perhaps ever understand. I still like the title Ubiquitous Quotidian but the meaning has changed. It is a journey of thought, feeling and community through what I am encountering everywhere (ubiquitous) everyday (quotidian).

I can only promise to show up in my writing. What we might do together with any of this remains to be seen.

Celebrity Stream of Conciousness

So, stop me if you’ve heard this one. Will Smith walks onto a stage and slaps Chris Rock for telling a joke about Jada Pinkett-Smith.

That’s it. That’s the joke.

I guess you had to be there.

I wasn’t there, except I heard about it in my morning “news” feed, delivered top line from both The Washington Post and The Guardian which is how I knew this was an important happening. There are, of course, other important happenings, like a war in Europe and the spouse of a Supreme Court justice encouraging the former White House Chief of Staff to do a coup. But, then, one has come to expect news about war and also Republican subversion of American democracy. One does not, however, expect the guy who played the Fresh Prince of Bel Air to physically assault a ridiculous guy doing his ridiculous job on live TV.

When I have to think about Will Smith, I tend think about him as the Fresh Prince which is why the whole thing doesn’t really make sense to me because the Fresh Prince would just joke his way out of the very tense situation until Uncle Philip came around to set things right. Of course, Will Smith also played that guy on Suicide Squad so I’m not completely sure if Will Smith is an actual nice guy or if he just plays one on TV.

None of this really matters to me, except that now I do find myself thinking I should probably watch that King Richard movie and, also, does anybody know when Chris Rock’s new special is getting released and on which platform?

All of this recalls to mind the very excellent article by George Monbiot, “Celebrity Isn’t Just Harmless Fun — It’s the Smiling Face of Corporate Machine.” (Guardian. 2016dec20). You should read the whole thing but, if you don’t, here are my favorite bits:

“The machine needs a mask. It must wear the face of someone we see as often as we see our next-door neighbours. It is pointless to ask what Kim Kardashian does to earn her living: her role is to exist in our minds.”


“The blander and more homogenised the product, the more distinctive the mask it needs to wear. This is why Iggy Pop was used to promote motor insurance and Benicio del Toro is used to sell Heineken.”


“You don’t have to read or watch many interviews to see that the principal qualities now sought in a celebrity are vapidity, vacuity and physical beauty. They can be used as a blank screen on to which anything can be projected. With a few exceptions, those who have least to say are granted the greatest number of platforms on which to say it.”

And this next isn’t a recommendation. It’s from an article I read about Megan Fox and Machine Gun Kelly. I read it so you don’t have to. You can get everything you need from this one delicious line:

“People get a hard time for “being famous for being famous” but if celebrities aren’t going to do anything actually useful like redistributing their wealth let them at least keep us entertained by wearing vials of each other’s blood.”

Haidari, Niloufar. “‘Then we drank each other’s blood’: Megan Fox’s engagement is the return of the rockstar relationship.” The Guardian. 2022jan17.


Bread. Even after all the preparations were complete, the pantry stocked, the doors braced with industrial hinges and locks, the windows battoned tight, it was the work of making bread to which his hands immediately went. Like birds, anxious and thrumming with attention, Jon’s hands needed to stay busy. They needed to knead.

Caroline hadn’t minded at first. Who minds bread? And it helped take the edge off for Jon to keep his hands busy. He’s always making, fixing, baking. So, if he can’t be in his shop right now or hauling goods to market, what’s the downside of making bread?

Except she had not anticipated quite so much bread, a shocking abundance, a torrent of gluten, rye and barley. Clouds of flour.

She usually enjoyed watching him work, the happy gusto, the enthusiastic pursuit of perfection. But after the first few hours, she had had all she could take. There was a manic edge in his punishment of the dough, the aggressive press of dough into dough.

And the loaves went into the oven in ones, twos, threes but after a few hours of unabated effort, they seemed to exit in multiplied multitudes. Droves. Flocks. Absolute mobs. There was bread cooling on every counter, every surface of the kitchen. And when every available spot was filled, the bread stacked two, three, five loaves high. Jon had gone mad. He wasn’t baking a meal. He was baking a wall, a shelter, an impromptu bunker of bread loaves.

Caroline entered the kitchen carefully, certain the abundance was pressing at the windows, pushing out the doors. She thought she had prepared herself for the sight but seeing it in actual fact was overwhelming. “Jesus, Jon.” Caroline whistled in appreciation or was that fear. “What will you do with all this bread?” she asked.

Jon looked up from his work, surprised to find her standing there. “Oh, hi. What?”

Only then did he seem to begin to realize the extent of his efforts, the mountain of bread he had pulled from the fire, cooling on every surface of their kitchen.

Momentarily astonished as he seemed to take it all in. “I guess I’ve overdone it,” he said.

“Maybe a little.”

“You could feed an army with this,” Caroline said.

“I wanted to be sure.”

“Sure of what?”

“That there was enough.”

Caroline crossed the kitchen to her husband, wrapped her arms around him, kissed his face. “There’s enough.”

Even now, his hands were working, his fingers flexing as if eager to get this interruption over and back into work.

“We won’t eat it all ourselves,” he told her.

“We couldn’t eat all of this ourselves in many months. There’s maybe a year’s worth of bread happening in here.”

“We’ll give some to the neighbors,” he said.

“And the neighbor’s neighbors,” she said.

“Yes. And the neighbors of our neighbors’ neighbors.”

She studied her husband for a long moment, looking for signs of whatever has happening on the inside.

“It is going to be okay. We are going to be okay,” she said at last.

Jon looked to his mixing bowls, over to the oven, down to the floor which was absolutely dusted in flour.

“You know that, don’t you, Jon? That we are going to be okay?”

There was a long pause. One of the things she loved about her husband was his inability to tell a lie. Which meant he thought about everything a bit deeper and more carefully than most before answering.

“Yes,” he said at last. “We’ll be okay. But what about everybody else?”

And that was the question that pressed upon them both. They would be okay. They were always okay. They had each other. But the others? What about everybody else? Not everyone has someone. So many have no one. It was, Caroline knew, for them her husband toiled and baked. A loaf of bread to keep someone from being hungry. The same loaf to help them know they were not alone. Impossible to feel alone when you were eating a loaf of bread someone had made for you by hand.


Action Guys | Flash Fiction

Wake up.

Mother’s voice, hot on his face. Tickling his ear.

Wake up. Its time to get dressed. We got to go.

Jimmy blinks the sleep from his eyes, letting the room wash in. Stretching.

What time is it?

Sshh. Quiet, sweetie. We got to be so quiet. We don’t want to wake daddy.

Daddy’s sleeping, then?

Yes, love. Daddy’s sleepy. We’ve got to go. We have to be fast. And quiet.

A hitch in her voice that sounds like she is choking.

Fast and quiet, she says again. Which is unnecessary. Jimmy knows what is needed. He knows what is at stake. He understands very well the hammering pain of his daddy’s punishing fists if they are caught. The fists that would find mommy but would make him watch, would blame him, incriminate him with guilt.

Look what you made me do, daddy would tell him. Which was worse than the fists. The fists were bad but the guilt was worse. No, thank you. Not today. Fast and quiet was needed. Fast and quiet he would be.

Jimmy sits up in bed and looks around the room at his clothes, his toys. His dresser top full of treasures.

My stuff.

I know, kiddo. I’m sorry. We can’t take any of it. We’ve got to travel light. Fast.

And quiet, he tells her.

Yes. I’ve packed you a backpack with clothes. Don’t even get changed. Let’s just go.

She is getting frantic and it is unnerving to think that mommy was telling him to go outside in his Spiderman pajamas.

Can I wear shoes?

Yes. Of course.

She hands him his shoes. They are already laced so all he has to do is pull them on.

Did you get my action figures?

She nods. They’re in the bag.

All of them?

As many as I could find.

This does not reassure him, but what choice does he have? Jimmy does a mental sweep of the last few days. All the places he might have left his action guys. Under the couch. In the bathroom vanity. Behind the desk in the study. All the places through the house where battles had been fought. Imagined but fierce. All those bloody battalions blown to smithereens.

Let’s go.

Jimmy shrugs. There’s nothing for it but to go so he trusts that his mom has packed all the action guys she could find. He trusts she found all the good ones, the ones that matter most.

Shoes on, he lets her lift him out of bed and set his feet gently on the floor.

She takes a deep breath and he realizes she has a bag just like his, one bag draped over her shoulder. So she is leaving stuff behind too. Stuff she probably loves. Stuff that matters.

So it is just the two of them, creeping through the house, quiet as bandits, fast as thieves. Except they are not stealing their way into the house. They are stealing their way out.

And they are almost to the kitchen door, when Jimmy realizes there’s an action guy mom doesn’t know about, couldn’t know about. Hiding in the pencil jar on the desk in his room.

I forgot something, he tells her, freezing up. I forgot one of my guys.

Don’t worry, she tells him. He’ll be okay. We’ve got to go.

I’ve got to get him.

Jimmy, we don’t have time. She is whispering but it is the loudest whisper in the history of the world. It fills the whole world like a balloon loosing all of its air and she is physically shrinking which is weird thing and the door that had been right there now seems terribly far away.

We can’t. We don’t have time.

And now he is wondering if his action guy is actually still in the pencil jar on the desk at all or if maybe he moved him under his pillow last night before bed without remembering.

Time for what? It is daddy’s voice. More quiet than mommy’s whisper but now it fills the whole world. And Jimmy hears his mother swallow, like she is eating a whole disgusting plateful of brussel sprouts except not one by one but all at the same time.

And Jimmy isn’t thinking about his action guy anymore, who is just another lost solider stranded behind enemy lines. Just the first casualty in the latest war.

Other Narrative Forms

I haven’t read any books yet this year. Don’t worry. I am okay. I haven’t torched my To Be Read piles. I have been reading other forms of narrative. I didn’t mean to set about on the experiment but now that I find myself a month into it, I find myself interested.

Sometime late 2020, I switched my digital subscriptions for both The Atlantic and Wired over to print. They now arrive in the mail which I find tremendously exciting. I adore the writing, ideas and design of both publications but realized that something important was missing from the experience of reading them on the iPad. I enjoyed the magical convenience of reading on the iPad, but finally conceded reading that way had become a sterile experience, a sacrifice of the senses in exchange for digital gluttony. Reading magazines on screen, I gorged myself on the lines of words, all laid out in digital rows of neatly flowable text, but never really tasting any of it. When I introduced the habit of commonplacing, the situation was made worse by the need to copy and paste passages from one digital document into another. Now, I am reading gorgeous, interesting, varied essays with both page and pen in hand. I directly mark the text to flag passages for rescue into my commonplace keeper and when I am done I type out the passages or notes and then recycle the magazine. I bend, fold and flag the pages and when I am done I drop the issue into recycle, an act of grateful finality akin to wiping one’s face with a nice cloth napkin.

My reading of print magazines brought something important back into my reading life. Also, print magazines do not hide. They make themselves seen. They are a house guest that insist on hospitality. They do not disappear when the iPad light goes off. They demand active reading or active ignoring. Like bratty, delightful children.

And so, late last year I found myself splitting time between the reading of books and the reading of magazine articles. In December, I discovered my local public library offers a digital reading app called Hoopla. Having just extolled the pleasures of reading my magazines in print, you may wonder why a new digital reading app would pull me off the bookly path. Hoopla is a platform offering together eBooks, eAudiobooks, and also graphic novels.

I started listening to audiobooks. At first, it was Esther Perel soon followed by similar authors who write on topics of deep interest but for which I do not necessarily want to be seen carrying around the titles in hard cover. Also, audiobooks fit into my ears which mean they fit into the uncrowded spaces of my life — while driving, walking, working out. Listening to books is a different way of engagement. With the right narrator (Esther Perel reads her own) listening is its own kind of bookish intimacy. And so down the audiobook rabbit hole, I go.

But the main draw of Hoopla for me is the availability of graphic novels. Many thousands of them, entire series, lushly illustrated and easy to carry and read on iPad. Being a nerd with mostly nerd friends, you might have assumed I have been reading graphic novels since I was a kid. Not so. I could never allow myself to explore them because of the cost. Comics and graphic novels are expensive. When you fall into love with a series, you are trapped. There is no escaping. When this happens as a kid, you just accept that all your discretionary income belongs to Marvel and DC and Vertigo and Dark Horse. When you are an adult, giving them your money means you might not eat or wear clothes. You are likely to get wet when it rains.

With the discovery of Hoopla, I have become a 47 year old catching up on a lifetime of missed stories. There is no end to the paths I may wander.

And so, last week I realized what’s actually happening for me isn’t really about print versus digital. It is about variety of narrative form. There are many ways to tell a story. Book length stories are only one.

This isn’t about attention span. I still adore book length stories but I wonder how that mode of reading became my sole focus. As I try to make my way back into the habits of writing, I find myself unclear how to write a short story. This is likely because I read so few short stories.

Thus, the realization that the ability to write widely comes from the experience of reading widely. And so, I find myself curious about the many forms narrative takes and how each allows something different from the other forms. I find myself curious to know if my stuckness has been an actual stuckness of ideas or if, instead, it has been self-imposed limits on what I assume to be the shape of narrative.

I have decided to lean into this experience a bit, make an experiment of it. Not necessarily stopping to read the book length stories. That thought makes me sad. But to mix in a heavy amount of articles, essays, audio, graphic novel and short story. Let it all mix in a pastiche. See where it takes me.

Photo by Erik Mclean on

How to Write a Poem

First, write the story that is your life.
Read that story aloud, then, set it aside.

Next, write a different story that is also your life but
make it much shorter, allowing fewer adjectives. No adverbs.

Press the story that is your life into a page
and then press it again into
a paragraph.

Undress that paragraph.
Take it down to bone.

From the marrow of this paragraph, make one sentence.
Set this aside.

Later, much later, read this one sentence
when you have had too much to drink
or when
the moon is spilling out its light
or when
the person you most love has just left
or when
the person you love most has just returned.

Speak that sentence — that noun, that verb —
knowing they are your life.

Say it again. This time
using no words at all.