Susan Merrell, Shirley Jackson, and The Traveling Wilburys walk into a bar…

susan                                                shirley

Earlier this year I reviewed Susan Scarf Merrell’s new novel Shirley. Confirming my credential as a connoisseur of cool, Shirley is receiving great reviews everywhere.

But I know what you’re thinking. It’s 2014. iPads, iPods, Androids, Tinder, Tumblr…it’s not enough. I need multisensory, multidimensional stimuli. I need something more from my literature than literature.
Well holy Singularity, Batman! Over at, authors like (and including) Aimee Bender, Bret Easton Ellis, and Hari Kunzru create playlists that connect to their recent published works and break down the relationship between the musics and the manuscript. The most recent guest is Merrell herself. Check out her eclectic playlist and analysis. You can even listen to the playlist on Spotify. Singularity indeed.


In March I visited my grandparents and uncle for a week. While there, I interviewed my grandparents about growing up in Puerto Rico in the 30’s and 40’s, about the move to the United States, about family and friends they knew, about stories and histories and details of their lives. It really was a mind-expanding experience. I asked questions I wanted their answers to that I could share with others once my grandparents are gone. I recorded hours and hours of material. And then, a couple of hours ago, my digital recorder erased it. All of it. Every last second.

I don’t have the heart to write about how that’s making feel. So instead, I’m going to write about my brief and disastrous fling with North Carolina.


In 2004 I flew from Buffalo to Wilmington, NC. This was my first plane flight in 10 years and also the last time I’ve been on a plane. There are a few things in life I dislike with abnormal intensity. Nickels. Raw tomatoes. The metal lids on containers of salt (special shout out to gymnast/novelist/biped extraordinaire Diana Gallagher for helping me with that terminology—one of the secret shames of the life of a writer is when you realize you don’t know what to call an everyday object you realize 99 people out of 100 can, while my ass is stumbling around wondering if “salt cylinder” cuts the mustard. Oh yeah. I also don’t like mustard. Devil seed.).

After 35 years on this spinning globe there are 2 people I’ve ever hated. I think that’s a pretty good ratio. There is one thing I’ve always hated, though, to the point that it dominated my nightmares for years. That thing is flying. Continue reading

Double Jeopardy

A couple of years ago, Jerry Sandusky, one of the most powerful football coaches at Penn State University, was convicted of raping a number of boys over a number of years. Some of the rapes occurred in the Penn State locker room, on-campus; despite being walked in on during the abuse on at least one occasion, and despite Sandusky’s boss, head coach Joe Paterno, being aware of the abuse, Sandusky was never reported to the police.

This week, Sandusky’s adopted son, Matthew, who earlier claimed Jerry had abused him but said he’d stopped short of engaging in certain acts, went on the air with Oprah Winfrey and said that his adopted father actually did engage in the acts he’d previously denied. The NY Daily News ran the story with a headline emphasizing the specific nature of the acts. Continue reading

Four ways you know you’re getting old

Stage 1) The only people who ever call you young anymore are all old.


Stage 2) One day an old person says to you, “You know, you’re not young anymore.”


Stage 3) You’re teaching a summer class, all upperclassmen but for one student still in high school, whose email address has a number in it that indicates they were born back when you were in college. This is a first for you. And just as you recall with fleeting detail those days-gone-by when people still told you “you’re young,” you realize this will be the last time teaching someone born after you were in college is a first-time thing. The world is a relentless onslaught of people who had the nerve to be born after the 1980s.


Step 4) You’ve asked your students to examine a series of photos and draw facts/inferences. Some photos have people in them. You ask what the people have in common. To prompt discussion, you ask, “Are they young? Or old?” A student looks at you, smiles apologetically, and says, “Depends. What do you mean by ‘young?'”

Only the young find nuance in philosophizing on what counts as “young.”



Why do we do that voodoo we do?

It’s 3:13 TIME in the morning and I can’t sleep. Haven’t been able to all week.

Some Israeli science wizards did a study that found sleep deprivation and interrupted sleep are both detrimental to one’s cognition. I’m not sure who’d find this newsworthy. If you’re getting solid sleep, your cognition’s unimpaired, so this finding’s about as revelatory as a study on how eating week-old sushi left out in the sun can suck; if, like me, you aren’t getting sleep, then you’re already aware of the negative side effects and don’t need some Tel Aviv wise-asses to clue you in. Continue reading


A short, trenchant poem by Nathan Biberdorf about illusions and ex lovers…

Mindless Productivity

I think it’s time I told you

All those times you told me about our first date
And I pretended I forgot the details

All those times you made fun of me
And I pretended I was too tough to have my feelings hurt

All those times you said something stupid
And I pretended not to notice

All those times you were scared
And I pretended I wasn’t worried at all

All those times you curled up next to me
And I pretended to be asleep

All those times you told me about your feelings
And I pretended I wasn’t listening

All those times

I wasn’t pretending.

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