Category Archives: linky

Two TPM Pieces and Two Reactions

Twice recently people have tried to post comments on my Bio page. They don’t really make sense there, though; what Bio page comes with reader comments? I’ve decided to post them here where hopefully they can live more in context.

This first one is from “meg” in response to my piece for Talking Points Memo, “The Abortion Tipping Point.”

I just want to say how much I appreciated your article, “the Abortion Tipping Point.” I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone talk about the fear of pregnancy in a way I could relate to before now. I also appreciated that you made a point of saying that maturity “may or may not include children”. So often when articles discuss ambivalence or rejection of motherhood, the message is that eventually every woman will realize what they’re missing. It’s very refreshing to hear the media acknowledge that some women will never come around and that it’s okay. So thank you.

The second is from Chip Zien (!), who originated the role of the Baker for the Broadway production of “Into the Woods,” and it came in response to my piece for Talking Points Memo about that show, the Disney reboot, and the AIDS crisis.

Dear Ms. Bloom,
I’m always fascinated by these thought pieces that seek to understand the “true meaning” of INTO THE WOODS. I’m also frequently annoyed by those who reduce the show to one enticingly narrow agenda. Particularly, those writers that never mention James Lapine  – who actually wrote the show and, yes, in close collaboration with Steven, decided what the music might be about and where it would be effective. You refer to “some institutions (?)” and “some critics” who have written what they thought was the show’s meaning and their dissatisfaction with Act 2. Personally, I have always thought the show is about lots of big things, but the show is also certainly open to various interpretations because, just like life, complexity is oddly accurate. I have also always loved Act 2.  I loved it in our original production and I loved in the movie.

Chip Zien


(I sent a TinyLetter! If you want to subscribe, you can do so here.)

Hello friends!

I hope you are enjoying this festive holiday season the way God intended, by drinking too much and watching terrible television:

The goyim had “Peter Pan Live!”; now the Jews get their turn at a televised hot mess with the two-part Lifetime Original miniseries “The Red Tent,” based on the Anita Diamant’s book of the same title, and starring Brody’s wife from “Homeland” as Rachel and Jorah Mormont from “Game of Thrones” as patriarch Jacob. Chaverim, it does not disappoint. Every element of this production is best taken with a grain—or even a pillar—of salt.

Besides writing snarky reviews of Lifetime movies, here is a glimpse at what I’ve been up to lately:

  • Joyland Magazine has published the beginning of my novel THE SEX LIVES OF OTHER PEOPLE on its website. The excerpt is titled “You Said ‘Always'” and can be read in its entirety here. Meanwhile I have collapsed from in excitement in this other corner over here.
  • Don’t you think supermarkets should set up “Serial” aisles so that we can have a place to gather and exchange theories about the podcast phenomenon? Until that happens, there’s always my weekly recaps for New York Magazine’s Vulture blog.
  • Speaking of “Serial” — and “Transparent,” “Broad City,” “Obvious Child” and many other high quality pop cultural properties — I declared 2014 the year of Jewish women at Flavorwire.
  • The most recent episode of NPR’s game show “Ask Me Another” featured a game that I wrote for them. Someday perhaps I will ascend to the level of Puzzle Guru and be able to break boards with my hands.

Encompassing late-career epics and ambitious debuts, they consider the after-effects of everything from apocalypse to adultery, and reckon with religion and war using dreams, magic, science fiction, and occasionally nothing but the power of prose. Sometimes, in the grand tradition of The Wizard of Oz, they take us no further than the Midwest, America’s own backyard, to teach us about ourselves: our desires, our secrets, and our fascination with what makes an enduring story.

I’m still an editor at the Billfold, where you can find me on a daily basis asking the tough questions like “How Much Do You Spend on Tattoos” and thinking deep thoughts about boots. We’re having our live event at Housing Works in NYC at the end of January! More specific info TK.

Other delightful things:

  • Happy Release Day, Tara Leigh!
  • My It’s The Real cousins hanging out with Annie
  • Last night Lara bit me on the leg and then spent five minutes crying while I hugged her and told her it would be okay. #parenthood
  • You all! You’re running marathons and selling books and getting pregnant on purpose. Please keep sharing your good news. The regular news is so appalling we need all the local cheer we can get.

For more, follow me on Twitter @shorterstory. Many thanks for paying attention! Wherever you are, may it only rain when you’re sleeping and may your rent never go up.

Free To Be … Me: Why Do Other People’s Choices Make Us So Cranky?

America is suffering from an epidemic. No, it has nothing to do with smoking or obesity; it doesn’t even have to do with gun violence.* It has to do with unwonted bitterness and anger toward other people’s choices. No one, it seems, can be comfortable with their own decisions without justifying them by judging and/or dismissing other people’s. The trend is exemplified by Amy Sohn, who, in her recent Awl piece, cheerfully and smugly skewers everyone she knows, saying “we” just enough to allow her to criticize her community while also making it clear that she’s the observant outsider — the Mark Twain of Park Slope, if you will. (“The stoners came back with smug grins and then talked about how good the pot was, like if they didn’t talk about it, it wasn’t quite as rebellious. I decided it was time to go home.”)

Amy Sohn must be an aberration, though, right? Not these days. Everyone, it seems, now has an ax to grind. This piece in Salon is ostensibly about how being single is a legitimate life path, but in actuality drips with scorn for the alternative:

[Married people] aren’t going to pathologize you [single people] for playing around for a protracted amount of time, but eventually you’re going to have to settle. And the marker of success, the end of the romantic story, is riding off into the sunset with that person. But you don’t get to see the next 30 years of boredom, or anxiety, or terror or concern.

Look at that word choice: “Settle,” “boredom,” “anxiety,” “terror,” “concern.” What a revolutionary attitude toward marriage! Freud would be bored out of his mind by this guy. Can’t the institution just not be for him without being, well, terrible?

Slate recently ran a series about women choosing to be “child-free” that was actually about how gross & exhausting babies are. The highlight was this entry, entitled, “No Kids For Me, Thanks: I Don’t Enjoy Alien Parasites“:

So now I cheerfully tell anyone who mentions it—friend, family, co-worker, overly friendly stranger—that no, thank you, I will not have kids/parasites for reasons that will probably insult you. These include eww, gross, I-have-better-things-to-do-with-my-time, and there-are-7-billion-people-in-the-world-why-add-more. But if I can suffer through your alien ultrasound photo on Facebook or grin at your crying kids without vomiting, then you can be grateful that women like me will always be around to organize an occasional girl’s night out and to keep the population in check.

I mean, jeez, “kids/parasites”? “Without vomiting”? For many years, I felt decidedly neutral/negative on the subject of children, and especially on the subject of having them myself, but I never patted myself on the back for not going all Exorcist on someone else’s offspring just because they were making an unpleasant noise.

In Amanda Marcotte’s entry “Children Make you Happier, If Someone Else Does Most of the Work,” Marcotte contributed this gem to the hall of fame: “Not to say people are bad people for having children, but …”

But! Ha. The putting down of people who do marry and/or have kids is a theme of Marcotte’s: See also The Real Reason More Women Are Childless and Two More Reasons to be a Curmudgeonly Childless Marriage Boycotter.

And I refuse to even enter the attachment parenting fray, which has everyone taking up arms against each other on the subject of their choices, except tangentially: in another unhappy man’s case, his wife’s choice to breastfeed (and breastfeed, and breastfeed …) upsets him so much that he has taken his complaints to the Gray Lady. Perhaps he means to raise an interesting point about how a mother’s breastfeeding can affect a family’s dynamic; what he actually does is castigate huge swaths of the population and whine about how his wife’s bond with his son has affected his sex life:

So to all nursing moms, except perhaps those who used a lab technician, I say that the foundation of the parent-child bond is the parent-parent bond. Unlike the baby chicken or the fertilized egg conundrum, partnership precedes parenthood. That’s how you got into this position to begin with: by attracting a man who liked what he saw, and wanted to see more of what even the scientists researching extended breast-feeding call mammaries, not Mommaries.

How furious would you be if you were this strident fool’s wife? I’d probably rather have my husband cheat on me discreetly than slam me in a public forum. Of course, what I’d actually want is for my husband to say to me, “Honey, I totally get that breastfeeding our children serves some important function for both you and them, but can we talk about why he still has your boobs in his mouth? He can’t bring them to school in his lunchbox, after all, so it might be time to start weaning him.”

Also, of course his conclusion starts, “To all nursing moms.” Because sure, why not lump those women in who are struggling with breastfeeding, despite the numerous hurdles, for the suggested minimum 6 months, with women whose founts overflow until the kid is old enough to choose Sunny D from the fridge himself? Our society makes it difficult enough for women to nurse their children without this doofus weighing in that we’re grossing out our husbands, too.

Why the overheated self-justification? Why can’t we say, “You do what’s cool for you, and I’ll do what’s cool for me?” Why the rancor, which is just guaranteed to get everyone else reaching for their rhetorical Uzis? Isn’t it kind of exhausting?

The triggering event for this round up was my seeing, this past Sunday in the New York Times, a bitter troll complaining about how, now that his gay friends can finally get married locally, he’s being invited to too many weddings:

Same-sex weddings can also make us wince as stereotypes go on display in mixed company. Exhibit A: lesbians plodding down the aisle to the Judds. … I’m talking about one bride in a frilly Vera Wang and one in a butch pantsuit. You’re a better person than I am if that attire doesn’t make your mind wander into areas of their relationship it doesn’t belong.

In other words, “Gay people, stop enjoying your long-sought and hard-fought freedoms! They’re interfering with my weekend plans. Also, lesbians, would you please just go away? Ironically, though I am wincing at your displays of stereotypes, I am contributing to one of the more vicious stereotypes about gay men myself: that we are shallow, judgmental snobs who hate women and queer women in particular.”

A lot of this vitriol can be understood as people getting prickly because they are choosing less conventional paths: specifically not coupling up or not procreating. But is the defensiveness justified? Being single is a fully legitimate life-path, and our society has never been more accepting of it. Record numbers of people live by themselves:

Only 51% of adults today are married, according to census data. And 28% of all households now consist of just one person — the highest level in U.S. history. That second statistic may appear less dramatic than the first, but it’s actually changing much faster: The percentage of Americans living by themselves has doubled since 1960.

Singleness is, increasingly, the (or at least “a”) new norm. And single people aren’t ostracized. Look at two of the most powerful women of recent times: Condi Rice and Oprah. Not having a spouse doesn’t hold them back. We don’t burn older, unmarried ladies at the stake for being witches anymore; we appoint them to the Supreme Court.

Besides, our pop culture consistently reinforces the notion that “settling down” is for wimps, marriage is a sexless drag, and the goal is to remain young, hot, and unencumbered forever:

So what if some of your annoying relatives give you a hard time for not making it to the altar yet? That’s what annoying relatives are for. If they didn’t have your relationship status to needle you about, they’d be on you about your weight  or your mortgage payments or whether you’re going to scar your son for life if you do or don’t circumcise him.

Friends, this is very simple. If you don’t want to go to other people’s joyous ceremonies, don’t go. If you don’t want children, don’t have them. If you don’t want to get married, great! Save your money for retirement. I’m not judging you, so please do me the courtesy of not judging me. There’s no need to for all of us to turn into Katie Roiphe, is there? That’s what I thought.


*Sidenote: I liked Batman’s own statement on the issue of gun violence from within the universe of The Dark Knight Rises: “No guns,” he tells Selena Kyle sternly. “No guns, no killing.” My own favorite superhero Buffy feels the same way. One could argue that it may be easier for the extremely nimble, powerful, and quick to heal among us to eschew weaponry, but these avengers also live in even more dangerous times and places than we do. Besides, they’re still mortal and they face the prospect of dying on a near-daily basis. If they can choose not to pack heat, can’t the rest of us?

Cross-posted on The Huffington Post here.

How to Look Pretty

I am the beautiful reflection / Of my love's affection ...

The Gray Lady has been full of useful advice for the ladies the past couple of weeks! Here are some of her thoughtful suggestions:

Feeding tubes for brides. Looking to fit into that too-small wedding dress in a too-short amount of time? Why not go the Terri Schiavo route? Members of Congress might not judge you brain dead but I certainly might.

Get your husband to sponsor your waxing and obscenely-expensive footwear.

Take multiple exercise classes per day.  Take so many, in fact, that you have no time for men and totally lose sight of why you’re trying to get thin in the first place: “Ms. Greisman, who is single, said she often forfeits other social events for her workouts — ‘the gym is where my friends are,’ she said — and does not make plans on Saturday apart from three of her favorite classes, which run from 11:45 a.m. to nearly 5 p.m. Dating, she mused, ‘would be challenging.'”

* Last but not least, corsets! “Getting the look requires some grit. Tugging on a faja can become a desperate bout of woman versus fabric. Flesh must be coaxed inside, battened down by hooks and, finally, sealed with a zipper that can force the air out of your lungs. ‘The first day you can’t stand it,’ Ms. Murillo said. ‘But then it loosens it up.'”

The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Time Travel

A new piece of mine is up on ThoughtCatalog: “The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Time Travel,” which offers some really useful advice. (“Bring condoms!”)

It occurs to me that it would be fun to put together a collection of these, called “The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Everything: Practical Advice for Improbable Situations.” Like:

— Staging a coup

— Running for President

— Running a country

— Winning a Nobel prize

— Space travel

All ideas welcome.

The Author According to Her Browser

Me in an alphabetical nutshell, according to my browser:

A is for AstrologyZone. I’m still a Cancer, thank god, since I’m told Geminis are “confusing.”

B is for Babblebook (RIP!), and then, less narcissistic-ally, Brooklyn Public Library

E is myself again.

F is for Facebook, then Flickr. Also “Fake.” How apropos.

G is for Gallup. Obama broke 50% approval again yesterday! Today he was back down to 49%. Still, we’re doing better, guys. Doing better.

H is for Huffington Post. Really? I guess not a lot of sites begin with H.

I is for IMDB

K is for Kickstarter, where Tara Leigh showed us all how it’s done.

M is for Modcloth, where I go to “love” items of clothing I will never buy: 107 of them so far! I can’t help it. How could you not “love” this dress? You’d have to be inhuman, or perhaps allergic to polka dots.

N is for the NYT

O is for OpenSalon, where I had a blog for about five minutes.

P is Pandora and Pajiba, two sites that I think could be friends if they hung out.

Q and R are for nothing and nothing, respectively (fascinating!).

S is for Slate & Salon. Slate is the daddy and Salon is the mommy. Their child would be some kind of hipster who reads The Awl.

T is for Twitter. U and V are disappointments.

W is for Washington Post and Wikipedia, the past and the future.

X takes me to Pajiba again for some reason.

Y is for Yelp. No, there are no good restaurants where I work, but I keep looking anyway.

And Z is for Zappos! Of course it is.

My favorite writers are middle-aged

I came to a strange but inescapable conclusion when I found myself largely unmoved by the New Yorker‘s “20 Under 40“: the writers that thrill me most tend to be of a different generation than me. Rivka Galchen, off of the New Yorker list, is brilliant both in person and on the page (as I discovered at the Brooklyn Literary Festival and in reading Atmospheric Disturbances, respectively); and, before this, I felt bad that Sarah Shun-lien Bynum hadn’t gotten more attention for her rendition of the same song that won Olive Kitteridge the Pulitzer Prize. put together a good alternate list which includes Myla Goldberg, whose Bee Season finally taught me, at the age of 20, not to judge books by covers, and which inspired me to aim big in writing my own first novel.

Still, I realize, my favorites — and the authors of some of the #BooksThatChangedMyWorld, as Susan Orlean put it yesterday — are not the bright young things, or at least, not anymore. They are, in fact, either Middle-Aged, British, or Dead (though rarely all three at once):

  • Jonathan Franzen (middle-aged)
  • David Mitchell (British)
  • Ann Patchett (buying a Corvette as we speak)
  • Susanna Clarke (Limey)
  • Jane Austen (dead)
  • Dorothy Sayers (as-a-doornail)
  • Michael Chabon (menopausal)
  • Anne Lamott (grandmother!)
  • Marilynne Robinson (virtually a crone)
  • Dorothy Parker (worm-meat, but hopefully happy at last)

Some books #ChangedMyWorld at the time but have since faded comfortably into the ether:

  • Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City and Tom Robbins’s Still Life with Woodpecker taught me that there was life outside my Jewish Day School. WAY outside.
  • Bridge to Terebithia — Wait, you mean people you love can *die*?
  • The Princess Bride — And life isn’t fair?
  • Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry — And there’s serious, endemic injustice built into the system? (This series affected me even more strongly than To Kill a Mockingbird. Though I loved them both.)
  • Midnight’s Children — And other countries have stories worth hearing?
  • Gone With the Wind — And the South was a victim in the Civil War? (I believed this for about five minutes, until my father sat me down to have a chat. Still, that was a very disorienting five minutes.)
  • The Mists of Avalon — And patriarchy has not always been the default operating system of every functioning society in the world?
  • The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy — And something really funny can still be profound?
  • Slaughterhouse Five and Vonnegut in general — ditto. That’s a lesson I never stop learning.

NOTE: If you want to complain about the “20 Under 40” list, Gawker has created a handy-dandy How To guide. Have at it!

Contents are (marginally less) fragile

I knew Friday was going to be rough when I started off the morning by almost stepping on a cockroach in my bare feet.

Friday *was* rough, as expected. Even by the evening, when I abandoned all attempts to feign normalcy and instead went to the gym for an hour, I was faced with a Very Special Episode of “What Not to Wear” starring a cancer survivor who had lost both her breasts as well as ninety pounds. “Now that she has beaten cancer through sheer determination,” said the voiceover, “she faces another challenge: how to dress her new body.”

Luckily all my energy was going into propelling my body forward on the treadmill, so I had no strength with which to pummel the screen.

Yeah, Friday sucked, as did Saturday, Sunday, and Monday. There were bright spots! If you were with me on any of those days, you made them bearable, so thank you. Overall, though, I felt like a plucked chicken, and not even a tasty one.

Then, this morning, I woke up to a brilliant, sparkling sky. Suddenly I am sympathetic to all of God’s children. I am nodding and smiling. I am identifying with everything I read, like this, via Finslippy:

I’ve been feeling ever since like I should wear a shirt that reads, “CONTENTS ARE FRAGILE,” and actually that we should all wear that shirt, so that we can all remember to be kind to each other, because life can be so hard, and we’re only here for a little while.

Yes, Alice, goddammit! Yes. I embrace you! Mwah!

And you, Morning News Tournament of Books! Come over here, you old so-and-so. You are almost making me weep with happiness. (At least so far. I cannot vouch for what will happen if Wolf Hall and other favorites of mine from 09 don’t keep advancing.) Quotes like these made my morning:

Let’s say that the standards that apply to people-—the basic character-defining requirements—=are that a person be funny, smart, and kind. This is my rubric and possibly yours. If a person is funny, smart, and kind (or two out of the three) any other flaw can be forgiven.

It has never occurred to me to apply the same standard to books, which have an aesthetic dimension not even touched in the funny-smart-kind paradigm. And yet …

Yes, TOB! That is exactly right! Thank you.

You know what else is sublimely right? This chart matching famous writers with their day jobs. YES. I cheer for you, Lapham Quarterly. Hurrah!

Maybe Mr. Ben sprinkled MDMA on my Oatmeal Flakes this morning. After four days of Fester Gloom walking around (who has, to be honest, been making guest appearances in our apartment all month) I couldn’t blame him.

links that make you think "so true!"

Via NYMag, a handy-dandy graphical guide to the depressing movies to choose from this holiday season!

Via People for the American Way, the hilarious parody Right Wing Facebook!

It’s my last day in this office and I can’t concentrate properly. Last night I went to a Mountain Goats concert at NYU and was distracted nearly the whole time by this kid making out with his girlfriend in front of me. There was something so mesmerizingly wrong about the pair of them: she was a normal looking 18-22 year old; he looked like a serial killer. Pale skin, old-fashioned nerd glasses, the kind of haircut you give your middle-schooler before he learns to rebel, and clothes to match. Why on earth were they sucking face for the length of the show? Was the girl under some kind of spell?

Then the Goats played The Best Ever Death Metal Band out of Denton as their final encore. There’s nothing like a packed auditorium of undergraduates screaming, “Hail Satan!” to shake one out of a reverie.