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Not dead; short on writing time even more so than always. Not that I think anybody reading this was worried, because as far as I know the only people who read this are people with whom I correspond either through e-mail or the occasional blog comment, and that part I still manage. My folks were in town for a few weeks, plus I'm editing a friend's novel and trying to wedge in some time when my husband and I are simultaneously awake, offline, and in the same room.

Even at the best of times, my schedule of the moment only allows me 20 hrs per week of writing/thinking time, in maximum 2-hr tranches. Not that I don't think and jot round the clock, but it's next to impossible to produce anything with a throughline if you can't count on at least 20 minutes until the next interruption. Basically I have to triage toward stuff that's going to make me money or that's artistically important. Usually it's not a full 20 hours, either; usually 5 to 10 of those go to other stuff like laundry and showers I can't put off anymore, or napping because I had to deal with something overnight.

That's not an excuse for not writing journal entries, because I don't need one. It's a journal entry. Add some kind of rotating mild ilness (at present, chest cold) and this is my life right now.
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Ate a rabbit liver yesterday, which felt sacred. There's no distance from death with organs thrown in a pan; bone and muscle and flesh can be old, but entrails don't last. Their unmistakable purpose is to sustain life. There's fat around the heart to keep it warm. It lets me understand, a little, the appeal of the ortolan. We have so little time here, and so much of what is beautiful is also cruel.

I ate the lungs as well, and only remembered afterward that they're illegal in the US. (Nope, no good reason.)

I bought a new toothbrush, and had to get a special orthodontic one that cost a euro extra, because all the other readily-available options were hard (or occasionally medium) bristled. Italians, how do you still have gum tissue?
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A Roman Catholic priest came by today to give the apartment an Easter blessing; they make the rounds this time of year, going door to door. (Italy's more than 75% Catholic. By some polls, 87%.) He was sweet and gentle and did his best to use (pretty good, honestly) English for my benefit even though his main languages are Italian, Latin, and French. He flung drops of holy water all over while making comradely small talk, and then he was on to the next house.

Because of Ciro's and my different though not-uncompatible views of religion, Ciro (who wasn't present) characterizes the visit: a wizard came and cast good luck spells on our house. I took it as: social workers have made a casual visit in case I am in distress but unable/afraid to contact anyone. Anyway, it was nice.

Otherwise I have mainly been doing laundry and dishes, and coughing.
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I can't remember whether I've already mentioned this, but one of my favorite movies as a kid was Watership Down, which is odd not only because it's terrifying but because it's slow. I didn't need constant stimulation, but for instance it took me until practically adulthood to agree that A New Hope was entertaining, even though I loved Star Wars, because Threepio wanders in the desert for maybe a minute.

I suspect a key element of my attachment to the movie was the song "Bright Eyes" by Art Garfunkel. It is a song that begins with an oboe solo. If you want me to listen to something, even tiny kid me, lead off with an oboe, and I'm probably going to follow you. (Presumably this was the instrument employed by the Pied Piper of Hamlen.) I mean, I probably would have liked the movie anyway and would have liked the song anyway, but the two together were potent.

And I mean little kid, here. I was watching that movie at a time before I can remember; I can't remember what the TV room of that house looked like because I was too little. It was my Frozen, I guess. (I also liked Superman II and Annie.)

In any case, without going into the question of whether that's an appropriate film for a three-year-old, the oddest thing about it is that since it's an animated movie and therefore nominally for children (because America), the song is therefore considered to be a kids' song by the kinds of people who put together songs-for-kids anthologies. Which is crazy. It's the bleakest confrontation with the baffling and painful inevitability of death that I've ever heard, and I am definitely someone who has spent hours listening to tragic music from a variety of genres and eras.

Remy Zero's cover is acceptable even though it cuts the oboe.

lotta blah

Mar. 18th, 2016 03:07 pm
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I've been doing a lot of writing for Atlas Obscura the last couple of months, and that's probably going to continue happening since every time I turn something in, they're like "hey, what are you writing next? Can it be even longer? Can we give you a raise?" and I even get nice "this one was so fun" notes from the accounting department. (Also it's a good thing I decided to write this blog entry because I forgot to invoice my last article until just now.) Plus fan letters from strangers and friends of friends?

I'm not exactly surprised that this is a good fit for me, because I have been reading the site since before it was Atlas Obscura, when it was an Athnasius Kircher fan blog. I've been with them since before they started. Plus, connecting disparate bits of historical trivia to tell a coherent story is what I do. I could say "what I do for fun," but I do it whether it's fun or not. (It's fun, though.) That I am currently being given a platform and money for it is something I almost don't want to talk about because I don't want to jinx it and have it go away. Especially since I have an editor whose "what do you mean here" doesn't indicate that something needs to be cut, but that I have more rope to follow an intereseting tangent, or just to vamp.

The whole thing simultaneously feels like "well, yeah, of course you'd be doing this" and also like "except how is it this information is not already widely available in the way I'm presenting it." I realize "obscure" is right in the name of the site, but for the most part I'm writing about stuff that's already online, it's just that nobody has put it together or contextualized it or put it in front of this audience. Frankly I'm not the most obvious person to be a bridge between nerdy and pop. But I'm functioning somewhere between Bill Nye and James Burke.

I don't want to exaggerate the significance of this, because I'm not making a living off it, but I'm in an odd place right now, generally. I've never been a very ambitious person. I'm brave, which is sometimes mistaken for ambitious. I'm also a bit optimistic. But, for instance, I can't count how many of my friends in elementary school declared they wanted to be the first female president. My response was inevitably that (aside from hoping we'd already have had one by the time I turned 35, which alas) I'd much rather be vice president and not have to do anything except break tie votes in the Senate, which never happens. (It's happened 244 times in around 230 years. Fully 29 of those were John Adams. Biden has done it no times.) Or supreme court lifetime appointment. Neither of which I think is likely to happen to me or is something I'm interested in pursuing. I just want to sit under my cork tree, you know? (Sidebar, Ferdinand was burned by the Nazis? And rebutted by Hemmingway?)

But what I mean is, I'm puttering around writing bits of things and working on developing some film stuff, and generally what I'm doing is being well-receieved by publications I respect a lot. (For instance, The Toast ran not only that Yoko pice but some of my oddball humor stuff, and they're exactly who I'd want to publish that with; they're the people who make me laugh.) I'm also right on the verge of paying off my student loan, although we still need to knock out Ciro's and then start building some savings for retirement, or a downpayment, or who knows.

That's the sticking point: who knows. I'm doing pretty well by my non-ambitious standards, which means I need to figure out what the next level is. Because otherwise I just sit here watching a lot of just-ok youtube videos. And, ugh. Although I quite like the strategy of aiming for the moon so that even if you miss, you land among the stars, I can't even begin to pick a moon, partly because I'm pretty close to my limit now. Not necessarily in terms of skill, but in terms of free time. I have some, some which I could put toward a dream project, the one that makes me feel alive and gives me a sense that I'm moving forward. But do I honestly feel that any of my ideas can take that kind of pressure? No, not really. That's not how I do. More to the point, if I try to imagine what I'd do if money and time were no object, it's a big ol' blank, at least where homelife is concerned. (Professionally, I'd like to be running United Artists back in the 1930s, although yes this would also be a nightmare.)

It's so diffuse a complaint I don't even know how to make it. Or how to resolve it. It's embarassing. Potentially, I'm about to stop being up against the wall all the time. But, you know, the nice thing about being up against a wall is that although there's not much to look at, you have a wall to lean on.
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There are a lot of things I seem to do deliberately and cleverly that are complete accidents. For instance, I recently wrote a humor piece for The Toast in which one of the punchlines hinges on Zayn from One Direction having a plot-critical lower-back tattoo. I didn't find out until a month after I wrote it (remember, there's a lag between me writing a thing and it getting published) that Zayn from One Direction is heavily tattooed and is kind of well-known for that.

This is on my mind because one of the most formative "Romie accidentally looks extremely cool" moments took place when I was 18, when I was in a Barnes and Noble, and I saw a Pixies album - definitely not their most famous one, or even second most famous - and thought, "oh, yeah, I've heard them in the background of a movie and like them; I'll grab this." (I am one of those people who stays through the end of the end credits, which makes me respectfully nerdy but not exactly cool.) Except, no, I had not heard The Pixies. I'd heard The Martinis, and meant to pick up something by The Martinis.

My selection impressed the store clerk, and having that album on my shelf (which became one of my favorite albums, even though the first time listening, I spent the whole time wondering why they'd changed vocalists) has been a critical signal to a wide range of people that I am a member of some secret in-crowd. Literally, I have been present when people have said "hey, Romie knows what she's talking about when it comes to music; I mean, she's a Pixies fan." Nobody says this about me for liking Radiohead, or Lou Reed, or Elastica, or Gershwin. (I do get some cred for liking Erik Satie and Erykah Badu. I have not been able to decode what makes music "cool." Not that this has been a priority.)

So, right, whatever, that's a thing that happens to teenagers. However, the cherry on the cake is that today my friend Emily made some reference to the scene in Empire Records where a Martinis song plays, and I thought "you know, I meant to pick up an album by them 15 years ago and never got around to it." So I did a quick websearch to figure out which album, like you do. Turns out? Same guitarist as The Pixies. It was the band he formed when the Pixies broke up. Liking the catchiest Martinis song and thinking "I'll pick up the final Pixies album" seems as intentional as liking "Maybe I'm Amazed" and therefore buying Let it Be.

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That Nelson article I mentioned researching a few weeks back is now live at Atlas Obscura, and I posted some additional material over here if anybody's interested. If anybody's really interested, message me your e-mail and I can send over a copy of that Mary Grantham letter or scans of old newspapers. My transcript of the letter (stuff in brackets, I'm not sure about):

Newby Hall, Dec. [14?] 1805

Dear Mrs. Robinson

I have been conscious that I have let others write to you, when before my business, I had thanks to return for a kind letter; to pay my debts, I will begin by saying that along with a Note from Fanny yesterday declining further shares in an Opera Box, the same Post brought one from Monk to say they told him at the Office & at last he saw Jewell himself, that the Box ran was let immediately after they put the [Breadalbane?] on notice & a Clark believed it was to Lord Somersville; & there was no other unlet. There may be a Fib in all this, but it's his Breath to say that Mr B. has been guilty of the most careless incivility to me & my sister in not giving us the refusal of it, & the grandest folly in giving it up to the House if she ever meant to subscribe again to the Opera; in short, I am ragy & not predisposed to have given up the Opera entirely. I hope however we shall have no [connections] in our Play Box, & that during my Sister's present stay at [Putney], [Lady] Pembroke, with

[pg. 2]

whom she has exchanged letters will have the weekly form right for the friend who gives it to & that Mrs. M. [Gist?], tho' she cannot hear will see well enough to attend to my Sister's million directions about the Tickets & not lose any of them; what a rare such good host of people as you & my Sister would be in!! I certainly meant that whoever took all of my division of the Box should have it entirely to themselves, that night as an inducement to subscribe, but on the others think the two Lords should be admitted, unless requested to the contrary, from our lending the Box to any large party: however if the [Greffier?] subscribes to your division or indeed any other man I do not wish them to have it for mine because it lessens so much of my power of obliging any friends with places & is more than their share of subscription is entitled to; tho' yours Nephews are entitled to the accommedation. A few lines from the Secretary came Today, darted them off & merely written to make a neat & appropriate on the Day. a longer letter to me was the same Date as yrs & the same observations & lamentations on the present state of affairs on the Continent: To you, I suppose [he ways?] he scarcely expects to come over before [February?] & to no he adds that [B?] Hardnicke will not fail to befriend him if it is in his power & that [M. Long] continues very civil to him, but at present he saw no utility in any direct application to him

[pg. 3]

for more direct recommendation to the [Gromies?]; I shall add that might have more weight with that great man than [B?] Hardnickes, because, the latter will be despised because they don't fear his Opposing them, when he returns. The Continental news completely perplexes one, there is most certainly gross lies & infamous abuse in all the [2?] Charlemagne's Bulletins, but you know I once entirely agreed with old Mrs Box that bad stories were never told of people, when they did not in some degree deserve it; therefore I fear some further treacherous going away or shameful surrender & I shall lament over your old acquaintance the [Qusoians?] for they have fought with more effect than the Christians were let to do. The late Winds have made one fear poor [Ld?] Nelson's remains would find a Wattery grave at last, in a ship so crippled as the Victory must be, & it might have better to have landed his Body at Portsmouth & repaired the Ship there: Those windy days have been followed by a heavy fall of Snow Yesterday & Today: so that you may tell me I have [afaird till?] I may be snowed up some weeks & what is more, my son had an inspection ordered; not from Col. [Looch's?] wish, but from the wisdom [illegible] of superior orders: it is impossible they can do more than [coppe?]

[p. 4]

in the Market Place at [Dipon?] but it is a pity to appear at all in such weather

Early in [January?] I shall move Southwards rather ashamed at my long visit my son & [illegible] still mean to pass thro' London to Bath after the 20th of the month: if that season being at an Hotel is the worst of the plan they must be cold & uncomfortable.

[addressed to the Honorable Mrs Robinson]

As I have answered Fanny's letter, I will enclose this to [S?] Malbesbury for once. As always Dear Mrs Robinson am yrs most Affectionately
M. Grantham
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A man in a suit from the gas company just showed up to tell us we've been paying too much per kW/hr because they didn't realize this was our primary residence; I don't know whether they're doing a general survey, or whether they just got paperwork from the Anagrafe to that effect. (The Anagrafe is an Italian government office that's like the census bureau crossed with the voter registry.) That's not what I expect when a lawyer shows up in the middle of the day about a bill, you know? He has just walked us through a lot of paperwork in order to be allowed to give us what amounts to a tax refund. I'm used to tax refunds, but I'm used to having to go get them. Also, our gas bill already seemed reasonable.

A lot of chatting about Sicily versus Texas, and general agreement that people make too much of a fuss about wanting bottled water. Also, I'm going to have to get used to signing my signature legibly instead of stylishly. (I can do both, but it's slower.) It's less common here to have a second line where you print your name, so your signature has to be readable.
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I'm rooting for Bernie Sanders at the moment purely because I'm tired of seeing people who make three times my income talk about how they're "poor" because they "don't make finance money." I'm all about class solidarity and am troubled that median income has remained flat for the last 15 years while inflation has not. I get feeling squeezed when you feel you work very hard and bring a lot of value to a company but aren't adequately compensated. I understand how exhausting it is to constantly fall short of financial milestones you set for yourself, even though you have all the advantages.

But you're not poor. I'm tired ot hearing from all these poor people in the top 15% of incomes whining to me that "finance money" is what it takes to be not poor, and patting themselves on the back for having saved a little something for retirement by taking more affordable vacations, unlike the other irresponsible poors (aka the actual poor).

Finance money shouldn't exist. It's undeserved. Farmers don't eat 300 times more than anybody else, and mattress makers don't sleep 100 hours more than anyone else. But I'm not even mad at the finance guys at this point, even though I want to take allllll their money. I'm mad at these ridiculous high-paid non-finance 30-year-olds who call themselves poor (because they're not made men) and lecture the rest of us about how we need to learn better money management skills and put more into the employer-matched 401Ks we obviously all have impoverished access to, plus magically find high-quality affordable housing and funding for the initial deposits and moving costs.

So Bernie, I am with you. I already was, even though I think you need to get behind reparations plus immigration reform. But now I am with you for a new reason, which is the hope I will never have to read another of these "poor non-finance me" essays. In the meantime, I'll go over my budget again to find the money I'm "leaving on the table" which doesn't exist. Pretty sure it's going into high-interest student loan payments I can't refinance because my income's not high enough even though I have a perfect credit score and haven't ever missed a payment, going on 6 years. I probably haven't read the right guru.

Don't get me wrong: I'm fine. Yet tired of that fiction where we pretend that everything under $250,000 a year is the same income bracket.

Tu e Lei

Feb. 1st, 2016 01:44 pm
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I think I'm finally getting the hang of Italian formal-versus-friendly address. It took me a while, because it's not really similar to French, where all you do for formality is flip to the plural you (analogous to thee versus you before English dropped that whole thing).

In Italian, when you're talking to someone respectfully, you use Lei, which is "she" except capitalized (obviously you can't hear the capital letter). Essentially, you are addressing them as "Milady" regardless of gender. ("Milady may do as Milady wishes" instead of "you can do what you want.") I've been around it enough now that it's normal, but when I first came over, it was confusing when a waiter would address my dad as Lei. What was going on? Were they asking him to answer for me? (No.)

That's not the hard bit, though. The hard bit is that when you're telling someone to do something, using third person singular (the Lei one) seems to mean maybe you're pissed off, or at the very least you feel you have a right to boss them around. Using second person singular, on the other hand, is polite. This is the reverse of what you're doing the entire rest of the time, where you talk to your buddies using "you" and maintain a formal distance with "Milady."

As far as I can tell, it's because when I'm telling you to do something, if we're not close, I need to be clear that I'm asking "as a friend" and it's totally your discretion. Scusi, excuse me my friend I bumped into on the sidewalk, friendly friendly, of course it's up to you whether you mind or not, but since we are both friends even though we're total strangers probably it's fine. There's a "please" implied, I guess.

Whereas if I'm your spouse or parent or something, fkin do the thing. Lady clean your room I am not telling you again.

That's how it seems to me, anyway. I may still be getting it wrong.
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I'm an avid board gamer, but I never cared about chess, probably because other people took it way too seriously. However, one thing I do like about chess, really the only thing, is castling, that move where the king and rook get to swap places. I love that move. I don't care about your king, and whether he lives or dies. The only time I feel I "lose" is if I am somehow prevented from making myself a little fortress with pawn walls.

I was thinking about that because I got a message from a friend apologizing for things a relative of hers said in a facebook comment thread. It took me a while to figure out what she was alluding to, because of course I blocked that user well before the offensive comments happened. In general, if I'm friends with you and you have an obnoxious relative who lives in a different timezone, that relative doesn't exist to me any more than she would in meatspace. To put it in a more Jay-Z way, I brush that dirt off my shoulder. I have enough people who like me, and enough demands on my attention; I don't lose anything by putting up the velvet rope. I recommend it.

I forget aggressive comment moderation isn't everybody's default. And by all means, it was appropriate of my friend to make sure I was ok. But, you know, of course I was. I castled. It's a way better game than whatever it is other people are playing.
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Still feeling spacy; I have a head cold that just won't quit, and though I'm getting 7 hours of sleep a night, for at least a week they've been interrupted by either my coughs or by Ciro getting in or out of bed to leave early for work or stay up late to finish a podcast, or last night it was tooth pain. January is generally my least favorite month, even though I like its name; it's the month that's cold and dark and has no holidays, plus everyone's dieting or budgeting carefully or staying home to finish up things they neglected in December. I'm not exactly an exception to this; both Ciro and I are working like crazy to get our savings back to a "safe" level. (I say "no holidays" but our wedding anniversary was two days ago. We were not in a position to do much, but we did eat a fancy pastry with lots of rum in it.)

My current doomed quest is, I'm working on an article for Atlas Obscura about William Beatty, the surgeon responsible for transporting Admiral Horatio Nelson's body back to London from Trafalgar. He's a dead interesting guy, and to a certain extent this is an essay I could write in my sleep. I've been fascinated with Nelson since I visited the H.M.S. Victory when I was 8, and I've been obsessed with funerary preservation practices for a lot longer than that. (I saw a dumb meme on Tumblr that asked "were you a space kid or a dinosaur kid?" First of all, both. [That's why it's stupid.] But secondly, has everyone forgotten about pyramids suddenly?) However...

However, there is a contention I've seen in several secondary sources and Beatty's own autobiography, which claims he was roundly (and wrongly) criticized by the British press for his choice of preservatory liquid. However, nobody quotes one of these alleged criticisms directly. It has the air of a cross between "my nan told me" and "I felt underpraised." I want it to be true. It may be true. But I don't feel I can say absolutely that it was true until I see it in print in a newspaper that was issued in November or December of 1805. And really, in order to figure out how widespread this attitude was (if it did exist), I'd need to check all the major newspapers.

So basically to do this properly involves original research that would take about a year, during which I'd need to live in London and Portsmouth and maybe Norwitch so I could access a lot of non-digital archives, and afterward I'd be the sole living expert on the subject and would probably be issued a doctorate in media studies. It's not an appropriate level of effort for one sentence in a 1500-word pop history piece.

Nevetheless, I've sent lots of e-mails to lots of archivists at lots of British libraries, some of whom have been very polite and helpful (special shout-out to the National Maritime History Museum in Greenwitch), as well as my relevant connections in academia and the library field. I've promised myself I'll settle for simply filling in the variable x in the sentence "In those two months, there were X items in The Times of London concerning the Victory's progress toward home." It's not really what I'm looking for, but it seems achievable since I can probably (for a fee) get online access to the relevant archive, and it would contextualize the sense of pressure and attendant performance anxiety one might expect from Beatty.

I have sensibly agreed to a file date that's two weeks out so that I can't let the research take over my life. Not that I necessarily use my time that well otherwise; my main focus over the weekend was Absurdist yet literary fanfiction about Yoko Ono. But this is the reason I can't manage longform historical fiction; I get hung up on figuring out the mineral content of the drinking water in Manchester in 1915 and how that influenced the taste of different tea blends.
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I've written mostly nonfiction the last few months; I'm short on both time and money, so it's valuable to know whether I'll get paid for a thing before I put in several hours writing it. Fiction editors want to see a completed piece. Nonfiction editors want a query. Selling fiction is like trying to pick someone up at a bar. I can be at my most gorgeous and still get turned down, or I might find somebody who wants to take me home even though I have a pimple on my forehead and won't stop talking about Napoleon. Selling nonfiction is like being the bartender. We may disagree over whether I'm a genius mixologist or a pleb who puts liquid in glasses, but as long as I'm serving alcohol and the glasses are clean, we're going to make a deal.

My queries have tended to be pretty successful; my fiction might be an acquired taste, but my essays usually hit a sweet spot that bridges "relatable" and "weirdly specific." I'm close enough to the mainstream that readers can identify with my experiences, but I'm oddball enough I can give things a mutch-coveted edge, point of view, fresh perspective, whatever you want to call it. My ideal for a nonfiction piece is that a reader will think "this is exactly the thing I'm obsessed with! Yet I've somehow never heard of this particular aspect or looked at it this specific way! How?"

Anyway, I decided to give pitching Cracked a try, because I like some of the stuff they run, and it seemed like our interests might overlap. I've heard people I don't know complain about their editorial process, but I've also known people who've published articles with them, and they aren't people I think of as willing to put up with a lot of nonsense. So I figured, try it myself, see what I think.

Cracked uses a pitching system that's unique to them. Instead of shooting a quick e-mail, it all happens on a proprietary bulletin board system that's pretty clunky. (Less clunky than sending things back and forth through the postal mail, though.) They also want you to fact check your piece before you write it; maybe half your pitch is your bibliography, although they don't say that in as many words. That's an annoying amount of on-spec work for a concept they might pass on as soon as they read the title, but it also makes sense in that you don't want to greenlight "6 Golden Age Hollywood Stars You Didn't Know Were Secretly Lesbian" and come to find out none of them were. Ditto "5 World War II Dogfights You Wouldn't Believe [because we didn't discover until very late in the editorial process that the author made them up]."

One of the plusses is that they reply quickly, typically within a week. Another plus if you don't like rejection is that they don't seem to say no to things as long as they're properly formatted and you show respect; as far as I can tell, their rejections are more like rewrite requests. If I pitched them something totally inappropriate, like "6 Best Annuals For Your Winter Garden," they'd probably come back to me with a nice note about how maybe I could redevelop the pitch to make it about weird unsolved murders that have happened on camping trips, some of which might involve plants. Note the "maybe." They haven't agreed at that point to buy a piece about camping trips, and if I revised my pitch in that direction, they might leave me a nice note about how camping isn't really interesting to their readers and maybe I should switch to murders that happen in videogames.

I pitched them a piece on famous pickled corpses, and a piece on world-renowned art that accidentally self-destructed. On both pieces, the feedback was contradictory in a way that feedback sometimes is. (I.e. This piece is too focused on materials science; why not make it about videotape preservation, which is entirely materials science?) I can find a way through that. But ultimately, it seemed like there was a more existential disconnect on whether it's inherently interesting that one of Queen Victoria's dead relatives was brought home in a casket made from kludged-together biscuit tins. And although I'm fully willing to engage with other contemporary art fans in a debate over whether Damien Hirst's work is dumb, I don't think the burden of proof is on me to prove his shark is an influential art installation. It factually is. I can't guess what counts as "really famous" if it's not audience sizes or press coverage or references and citations in other work.

Probably the most useful thing my (standup comedian) Uncle Rex taught me was the concept of "Wrong Room." Sometimes, your material is damn funny but you're not going to get a laugh because you're in the wrong room. For whatever reason, there is something about you that means the people in that room are not going to laugh. You could give the best set of your life and not win them over. Your sensibilities just don't overlap.

It's a shame, because I really feel like Cracked and I should. But I don't have enough spare hours to chase "famous enough that everybody in the world already knows this story; but simultaneously you've never heard of it before" crossed with "all these list items are the same thing, but also totally different." It's clearly a needle that can be threaded, because plenty of pieces make it through to publication and some of them connect with me. I just don't know that figuring out what "everybody" knows plays to my strengths. (Maybe something to do with Yoko Ono, who is very famous, but largely not for the reasons she's actually interesting?)

So I've withdrawn the pitches. I think it will be easier and more lucrative to spin individual items off into articles for other people. After all, I've already done the research.

I don't think I'll go through this process again any time soon; I suspect anything I could sell to Cracked I could sell in its component parts to somebody else for more money and less hassle, and retain more editorial control. I don't hate the Cracked system, and the editors seem like nice hardworking people, but they remind me of my experience at ComedySportz - oil and water "we're both funny so why don't we agree on what counts as a joke" exasperation.
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Ciro is pretty broken up about the death of David Bowie, who has been an important part of his autobiography, and particularly his relationship with his father, who died two years ago. David Bowie was to some extent the part of his father that was still on Earth, if that makes sense.

Ciro's not good about updating any of his several blogs anymore (writing time goes to other places and other sorts of writing), but I thought that what he's said on the subject was significant enough to rescue from facebook and put someplace less ephemeral.

Ciro wrote:

"I feel disgusting having all this grief over someone I never met, like some kind of fame vampire, but there's no way around it -- the work and the man are like cornerstones of my own identity, and they have given me so much hope for myself and for the world. My father used to sing me to sleep with Space Oddity. It's a terrible thing to lose him. I have to work today, but I'd rather just stay home, listen to music, and cry.

The contemporary obsession with demographics obscures how out of step and lost I feel (and grew up feeling) in the world of sensible people, and how much I learned about real worth from a small-town Italian who left an unspeakable childhood for big bad America, but always carried the small town inside him.

Both of us learned some of how to survive our difference, and to value it, from David Bowie. A loss that unfolds and unfolds and I can't see the end of it, but it still doesn't equal what he gave to us.

I gladly give thanks with all my heart."
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This week I:
- pitched 2 heavily-researched listicles to Cracked
- wrote an (already accepted) heavily-researched article for Atlas Obscura, which I turned in early, but that didn't matter because my editor's on vacation
- wrote the first draft of an on-spec essay for The Billfold
- wrote and sent an on-spec essay to BuzzFeed Life, where an editor likes me
- outlined another essay for I haven't decided who
- queried a book agent
- wrote the usual number of postorbitals
- worked on an unfinished short story
- subbed another short story
- subbed 10 poems
- advised on a pitch of a TV show I helped develop
- plus all the usual stuff in my life that is necessary to keep the household running, continued to study Italian pretty intensively, and researched what tax preparation is available to me as an American citizen living in Italy

Since I only have 20 hours a week in which to write, I should feel pretty good and accomplished except none of these things involved somebody saying to me "hey great job" (except the tv pitch, and it was my co-creator who was was the main one who did the work this week, which all right was still nice to hear) and then handing me money or promising to soon hand me money. Which is awful because I'm working very hard right now to write things which make money; I need dollar money to hit my U.S. bank account as soon as yesterday. (For complicated reasons I don't want to get into here, I can't use Euros to pay U.S. bills at the moment.)

These are not the conditions under which I do my best work, although I'm still doing good work. I get nervous that my writing sounds desperate, even though it probably doesn't, or that I'm wasting time writing stuff when I should be writing other stuff (this motivates me to add more jokes, which tends to be a good idea). I'm sleeping very badly. Maybe not even because of the writing; maybe because I'm congested.

Basically, I think freelance writing is a lot like dating, where if you're perfectly happy to not go home with someone, it's much easier to be sexy confident and relaxed. Even though I think a slight edge of neuroticism is appealing in an essayist, flop sweat isn't. Normally, I'm not desperate, and I enjoy working on stuff because even if it takes a while to sell, I have a good time with the stuff itself. This month, I'm desperate, and will remain desperate until I know I have at least four sales in the can. I'm so tired. I can't tell right now whether it's the money pressure or the congestion or the sleeplessness or the decongestants. (I hate being on decongestants.)

It was a pretty day, though, warm enough I opened the windows. In January.
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1. What did you do in 2015 that you'd never done before?

I started tying my shoelaces with a surgeon's knot; up to this point, I've used granny knots and double knots, and they came untied at least once an hour. I knew there had to be a better way, but since I mostly wear slip-on or buckle shoes, I wasn't highly motivated to learn it. However, I finally sat down with a video and practiced, and now my shoes stay sorted. Like magic.

24. Do you hate anyone now that you didn't hate this time last year?

More notable is who/what fell off the hate list: IKEA. It's still not my favorite place in the world, but I don't mind it any more. I'm even a bit fond. It's probably a combination of exposure (I have by now been to enough IKEAs in enough places that I find them easy to navigate) and my preference for Italian crowds instead of American crowds. Italians are better at sharing communal space than Americans, but more importantly, they're physically smaller. In the U.S., I fall smack in the middle of the height distribution, which means half of the people around me are taller than I am. In Abruzzo, I'm as tall or taller than at least 80% of the people I run across. When a crowd doesn't block your sightlines at all, it's much less intimidating.

I still find the commissary mostly unpalatable. But I like the broad selection of LED lights, a technology I find wondrous.
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Some mornings, and some evenings, I'm kind of bleary, and when those line up, I walk into the kitchen and am delighted to find someone did the dishes for me. Actual thing that's going on there is that I did the dishes last night but failed to form or retrieve a memory of it happening.
rinue: (inception train)
Tomorrow is the Feast of the Epiphany, which means the holiday season is finally nearly over. I read something circulating around the internet, a personal essay along the lines of "since I have Asperger's, Christmastime is hard on me; all my routines are disrupted, and none of the television programs run at their right times." I feel something similar; not a dislike of novelty, but, well - I like my regular life. It's new for me, and I've fought hard for it. It barely even had three weeks to be "normal" before the holidays sent it careening.

So I've had a fun Thanksgiving, a fun Christmas, and my best New Year's Even in years, one of my best ever - but I want my friends to be in town and not traveling. I want to work my usual work hours. I want to read my websites and listen to my podcasts and watch my TV shows, all of which have been on at-least-semi hiatus.

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Drank and ate a lot with Ciro's cousins. Wrote and turned in article about Tintoretto. Not in that order. Sleepy. Pimple on nose bridge.
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2014. 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007

1. What did you do in 2015 that you'd never done before?

We moved to Italy; specifically to Pescara, in Abruzzo. I'd never been to Abruzzo before, and hadn't been to Italy since I was 9. It's the first year I've been remotely functional in a language that isn't English, although I still have a long way to go to reach the kind of fluency that lets you hold a normal conversation.

I also made forays into a visual language: emoticon. I got my first smartphone almost exclusively so I could engage in the long text conversations tnat are today's main long-distance communication, and sometimes the messages I send go [confetti] [wine glass] [big smile].

I became a regular contributor to The Billfold; one piece I wrote for them (futurist guide to retirement planning) was favorably discussed in the New York Times editorial blog, and another (value of a stamp) was recommended by the editors of Medium. I also started writing for Atlas Obscura, which I've been reading since before internet 2.0 existed. I'm still not making much money through writing, if you're curious, partly because I've been focusing on prestige stuff and/or magazines for which I have a personal affection. This year, around $600, although I'm owed another $200 that hasn't come in yet.

My publications:
Every Hand A Winner (Farrago's Wainscot)
The Eggshell Curtain (reprint, Daughters of Frankenstein, ed. Steve Berman)
Unattached Metaphors (The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts)
Counter Rant and People Yelling In German (Punchnel's)
Splinter Song (Liminality)
The $500 Wedding: An Assessment (The Billfold)
A Futurist Vision of Retirement Planning (The Billfold)
DIYing a Second Language (The Billfold)
The Trouble With Being Scrooge (The Billfold)
The Sex-Obsessed Poet Who Invented Fascism (Atlas Obscura)
The Complicated Costs of Marrying a Dual Citizen (The Billfold)
The Value of Having a Piece of Paper with an Official Stamp (The Billfold)
Enough Tacos to Get a Spaceship Past Neptune: Small-Time Dreams for 2016 (The Billfold)

My SF microfiction concern postorbital is up to 234 followers, and occasionally has influence disproportionate to its size. Somebody (I think an undergrad) wrote an academic paper about it.

With filmmaking, nothing's been in production, but I pitched a TV show to a German production company, which I definitely haven't done before. (They passed, but my collaborator and I are going to try shopping it around a little more.) I'm in talks to screenwrite something for another director, which is also new. And I've hooked up with a small Italian production company that mostly makes animated ads (to pay the rent); I'm helping them with English translations.

I started tying my shoelaces with a surgeon's knot; up to this point, I've used granny knots and double knots, and they came untied at least once an hour. I knew there had to be a better way, but since I mostly wear slip-on or buckle shoes, I wasn't highly motivated to learn it. However, I finally sat down with a video and practiced, and now my shoes stay sorted. Like magic.

2. Did you keep your new year's resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

I didn't make any resolutions, unless you count that I intended to move to Italy and then did. This year, I have a lot of pre-sold writing stuff that I need to actually write, and some fiction which I've let fall by the wayside that I need to wrap up. I'd like to have another feature script (about a castle siege) finished by summer, and hopefully be in a position to start pitching it to investors.

But my major goal is that by the end of the year I'd like to be making $400/month from writing. Presumably, this will happen a lot sooner than before the end of the year, since I'm already halfway there and the only thing that's been stopping me is lack of time, not lack of buyers. The dream is that I make closer to $7000 in 2016 and can pay off my student loans once and for all - which doesn't seem impossible, but doesn't seem certain either, partly because I'm figuring out how to balance the stuff that isn't guaranteed to pay (my weirdo fiction projects) with stuff that pays but I don't take seriously as art (comedic personal essays which plenty of people like, but which feel like cheating because I'm not making them up and will therefore presumably run out of material).

And obviously I have to get better at Italian and pass various citizenship exams. Which means I need to know a lot more about Italian civics and history than I currently know. (I know a lot for an American, but not much for an Italian.)

Read more... )
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