My sister’s house, Sunday afternoon.

“'There's always a bit of a melancholic undertone. It's like if YOLO grew from a reckless teen to an overly pensive twenty-something,' Eisenmann said. 'The reason it works so well to convey bemused resignation must be some combination of the little half-smile and the wide arm-spread,' Wordnik founder Erin McKean explained. 'PURE RESIGNATION, that’s my definition, caps included,' Jezebel contributor Phoenix Tso told me.”
“The fact that everyone else here has VIP status grimly similar to mine is the lone saving grace; the prospect of experiencing this stroll down waking nightmare lane with tuned-out schoolkids or spectacle-seekers would be too much. There are FDNY T-shirts and search-and-rescue sweatshirts and no one quite makes eye contact with anyone else, and that’s just fine. I think now of every war memorial I ever yawned through on a class trip, how someone else’s past horror was my vacant diversion and maybe I learned something but I didn’t feel anything. Everyone should have a museum dedicated to the worst day of their life and be forced to attend it with a bunch of tourists from Denmark. Annotated divorce papers blown up and mounted, interactive exhibits detailing how your mom’s last round of chemo didn’t take, souvenir T-shirts emblazoned with your best friend’s last words before the car crash. And you should have to see for yourself how little your pain matters to a family of five who need to get some food before the kids melt down. Or maybe worse, watch it be co-opted by people who want, for whatever reason, to feel that connection so acutely.”


One of my favorite Wikipedia pages concerns a passage from Dante’s Inferno that has no clear translation. The demon Plutus screams at Dante and Virgil: “Pape Satan, pape Satan aleppe!” What does it mean?

The most charming explanation (though probably not the most plausible) is that it is a bad phonetic transcription of the French: ”Pas paix Satan, pas paix Satan, à l’épée” (“No peace Satan, no peace Satan, to the sword”).

I think perhaps the most sensible is that it is a bad phonetic transcription of the common English saying, “Poppy Satan, poppy Satan jalopy.”

In which my husband parties like it’s 2008 and gets himself a Tumblr. Well worth the wait, far as I’m concerned.

These wants aren’t exceptional, of course, but that didn’t make them any easier to name. It took an episode of The Simpsons to explain me to myself. Unshockingly, I identify deeply with Lisa—the goody two shoes, the overachiever, the little savant in the world of morons. In one of my favorite episodes, season six’s “The PTA Disbands,” a teachers’ strike shuts the elementary school down and Lisa goes into a tailspin. After days of exile from the classroom, she is bedraggled, weak, drained of her life force. She staggers to her mother. “Look at me!” she pleads. “Grade me! Evaluate and rank me! I’m good, good, good, and oh so smart!” Marge grumbles, scribbles an A on a scrap of paper, and Lisa stumbles away as if from a methadone clinic. The experience of seeing yourself so fully in another person is uncanny, particularly when that person is a yellow, unaging cartoon.

The essay I wrote for Scratch Magazine’s Q1 2014 issue on the terrible career advice that is “stay hungry” has been sprung from its paywall and now lives over here. I am hugely appreciative of Manjula Martin for asking me to write this (or at least something that became this) in the first place. If you don’t already know Scratch, I suggest you fix that post-haste. Manjula’s interview with Cheryl Strayed in the new issue is especially great.



I’m releasing a zine of Flannery O’Connor portraits at the Atlanta Zine Fest next month! And we’re having a release party on June 12 at Mint Gallery!

“Scale Highly Eccentric: A Zine of Flannery O’Connor Portraits” consists of portraits by 14 artists, whose mediums include everything from acrylic to cross stitch to custard. Basically, this is the Ocean’s 11 of Flannery O’Connor portrait zines, and a portion of the profits will benefit the Flannery O’Connor – Andalusia Foundation, Inc.

Ashley Anderson
Rebecca Bowen
Jenifer Carter
Alvin Diec
Travis Ekmark
Christine Ernest
Brooke Hatfield
Yoonhwa Jang
Tori LaConsay 
Elisabeth McNair
Dan Murdoch
Natalie Nelson
Emily Wallace
Lydia Walls

We’re celebrating with a profoundly excellent group of readers who will fill your ears with tales of ladies and toughness as we celebrate a Georgia girl who remains one of literature’s most acclaimed writers.

Jolisa Brown
Carleigh Knight
Rachael Maddux
Kay Powell
Bobbin Wages

Admission is FREE. Doors are at 7:30 p.m, and the show starts promptly at 8 p.m. This is going to be the Flannery O’Connor portrait zine event of the season! 

This is such a great thing my great friend Brooke has put together and I am so excited to be reading at the release party. Y’all come out and see us!

Upside of putting off spring yardwork for a month: no chance to rip up what I thought was a weed but turns out to be peonies! Big ones. Found these face-planted in the dirt last night. Unfortunately everything else I thought was a weed is, in fact, a weed.

“Harris was taught to read and write (illegal for slaves at the time), so that he could monitor the local funeral announcements, and trained his memory to mentally capture the flower arrangements on a grave so that he could recreate them perfectly after his midnight expeditions. He preferred to work in Cedar Grove cemetery, reserved for Augusta’s impoverished and black residents, where there was no fence, and where poor blacks were buried in plain pine coffins sometimes called “toothpicks.” His routine at Cedar Grove was simple: entering late at night, he would dig down to the upper end of a fresh grave, smash the surface of the coffin with an ax, reach in, and haul the body out. Then he would toss the body into a sack and a waiting wagon and cover up his work before setting off for the school, the corpse destined for vats of whiskey and, later, the student’s knives.”


In 1999, just a few months after The Orchid Thief was published, Susan Orlean had another book come out—this one about dieting, co-written with fellow New Yorker writer Patricia Marx. She used a pen name, Susan Sistrom, which may be why you’ve never heard of The Skinny: What Every Skinny Woman Knows About Dieting (And Won’t Tell You!).You may have also never heard of it because it was weirdly marketed, and indeed weirdly written; this is the sort of book in which a suggestion that you sprinkle bleach on food you don’t want to eat is made not entirely in jest.

I stumbled on The Skinny earlier this year during a late-night Google fugue—or rather, I stumbled on this also-wacky New York Times story from 1999 about Orlean and Marx’s “skinny lunch” group going to a beefity beefman steakhouse and nibbling on rolls. I had a lot of questions about the whole thing. Fortunately Orlean was down to answer them.

She was super gracious about the whole thing and less weirded out than I would have expected by my relative rando self popping out of nowhere and asking to ask her many questions about a poorly-received book she wrote nearly 20 years ago. We wound up having a really nice talk about social expectations and evolutionary impulses and the privileging of certain obsessions over others.

The way we rank obsessions is really interesting. On the one hand, you’ve got dudes going deep into a jungle to get a flower, and they’re these heroic adventurers. And then there’s someone being like, “I want to lose 10 pounds.” Maybe neither of them are that healthy, but one of them’s a hero and one of them’s a sad woman.

Right. That’s why I do feel that it’s sort of in its own way liberating to say to women, “You don’t need to feel guilty if you actually think about this stuff. It’s natural.” When does it ever end, that women aren’t made to feel bad about things that they think about and feel? I’d like to look great and make no effort. But then you feel guilty that you care about it, and then you feel bad that you care about feeling bad about it, and then you just think, “Wow, it never ends.”

I remain pretty baffled by the book but it was really great talking with her. You can read the rest of our conversation over at Slate.

“On the one hand, I have this very abstract intellectual interest in death. You know, “I think that it’s ridiculous to spend thousands of dollars on a funeral when you could just bury somebody in a burlap sack in the backyard and that could be just as meaningful!” I’ll occasionally get on a high-horse about something like that. And then something will happen, a friend of a friend will die, and it will become very real and it will suddenly change the stakes. What I have come to learn and take away from it is, the way that we all handle death is really stubbornly personal. I try my best to be sympathetic to that and respectful of that and to see that as part of the human condition, the variety of mourning [rituals]. So despite what one can concoct intellectually, I think it remains a personal relationship that you have with your own mortality and with the people around you.”
Colin Dickey, writer and managing director of the Morbid Anatomy Museum, in the second installment of Can’t Take It With You, my column about money and death over at The Billfold. (If you know someone, or are someone, who might be good to talk to for a future installment, I’d love to hear from you.)


Carry On

Or, a detailed account of an obsession with/personal experience of death and life and stuff.

A comic strip of a very personal nature by Esme.

This is very good and sad and angry and sweet.

(via ljm)


Money! Death! Death! Money! I’m excited to be writing a column over at The Billfold about everyone’s two most favorite subjects of conversation. First up, a really long chat with Sarah Wambold, an Austin, Texas-based writer and funeral director who’s working to start her own funeral home (or, rather, a mixed-use gallery-space-type-thing that would also be licensed for funerals). If that strikes you as something that is either cheap or easy to do, you are very wrong.

I’ll admit that my main reason for wanting to do this column—to get more cool with my own mortality, basically—is pretty selfish. But when it comes to something this universal, maybe “selfish” isn’t really a thing. It’s true, what we say about death and taxes. They’re both very stupidly certain. It’s a mess, but we’re all in it together. So whatever scrap of wisdom one of us might have pulled out of the tangle seems worth holding up for everyone else to take a look at. Maybe it’s not what you need. Or maybe it’s just the thing.

Anyway, I hope these conversations can be a starting point for many more. If you know someone who might be a good subject for a future installment, or if you think you are that someone, please get in touch. I’d love to hear from you.

(image via)

“I don’t ascribe to the idea that we have on-going souls or spirits, and therefore I don’t think the body is sacred for the reason that it once functioned as that kind of vessel. Culturally speaking, I think the body is sacred because it can reveal itself as a site to engage mortality. In fact, it’s the most apparent site for that engagement that I’ve come across. As I’ve said, Brent Marsh didn’t take that occasion away from me, and so on a personal level maybe that’s why I’ve found it easier to forgive him. And, in gauging the question of forgiveness, I can’t help but think of all the horrible events that occur each day—all the violence by humans against each other and against other living things—that seems to dim the extravagance of a confused crime against the dead.”

Back in December at Write Club Atlanta I told a roomful of mostly-strangers about the time my husband had my briefly convinced that erect grizzly bear penises make a hissing noise. Also about the time I came very very close to calling and asking to speak with “Oskar Grauch” at what turned out to be the Sesame Street Workshop. Why? Narwhals. You can listen to the bout, also featuring the ultimately triumphant Sheronda Gipson, on this week’s episode of the Write Club Atlanta podcast.