Category Archives: work


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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.

Writing Life Update #2, 7/31/14

Here is a quick round-up of exciting events in the writing life of Ester Bloom:
  • Last night I finished a series of four readings in four months. Thank you so much to everyone who came out! For one, in honor of Father’s Day, I read my essay about love, language, and whether we can ever really know our parents, “Papa-loshen.” For the others, I read the beginning, middle, and end of my award-winning (!) essay about Year 1 in New York City, “One Way to Shut Her Up.”
  • The New York Times feature Op-Talk is a curated selection of thought-provoking reads from the web. It has featured a piece I wrote for the Nation, my work on The Billfold, and most recently my advice column at the Toast, Aunt Acid. I wouldn’t say the Gray Lady has embraced me exactly, but she is allowing me to approach near enough these days to touch the hem of her garment. 
  • Speaking of Aunt Acid, her second column is now up! This one’s about sisters. I may not know anything about having a sister but luckily Aunt Acid knows all. Got a bellyache? Email
  • For Longreads, I recommend a couple of heartbreaking, fascinating New Yorker essays that are available to read for free for a limited time. Rachel Aviv, call me! Let’s get cannoli and watch something fun on Netflix.
  • Lastly, in the mood for some fiction? An excerpt from my novel Applebaum, Agent of God, is up at Zeek. It’s called “Angels Out of America” and includes a co-starring role for the Christmas Tree at Rockefeller Center.
More? You can find me at Barnes & Noble, where I have been reviewing some great literary debuts by female writers, or the Billfold, where I write at least three posts a day and recently summed up the costs and benefits of taking a year to DWYL (Do What You Love). The piece has been turned into an audio file, so that you can listen to it on the go, by the folks at

More feminism, she cried!

Have you read “Ask an Abortion Provider” on the Hairpin yet? This is for serious, and it is seriously amazing. Why did the author choose this path? “I figured the most direct way to ensure that there wasn’t a total asshole at the bottom of the table was to do it myself,” sayeth she. And she goes on:

I was with the doctor I train with doing the initial steps of an intake — an ultrasound to date the pregnancy and a full history.The patient says to the doctor, “I should not be here today. I agree with the people out there.” Gestures out window to street. The people at the bus stop???? “The people who are protesting. I think what you are doing is wrong. I think you should be killed.” Oh. Whoaaaa! …

So I told my patient what I truly believe, which is: “I’m so sorry that you feel that way because feeling that way has got to make this an even harder decision than it already is. I imagine it must really feel awful to think that you have to do something that goes against your own beliefs.” (Secret inspiration: my own feelings about the situation!)

“I know there is no way you’re going to go home feeling you did the absolute right thing no matter what happens today. We are not going to do any procedure until you are absolutely certain that this is what you want. I do not want you to have an abortion. The only that I want you to do is the thing that is most right for you, whether it’s continuing this pregnancy and becoming a parent, or adoption, or abortion.” Then we brought her with her boyfriend to the counselor who talked with them for hours about the spectrum of resources available for not just abortion but adoption and parenting. At my clinic, we joke that we turn away more patients than the protesters do.

And although she did end up terminating the pregnancy, the procedure went well, there were no complications, and she told the staff we had been the “most supportive!” I personally thanked her and told her it was an honor to be there for her and still get teary when I think about it. Ice burn, Lila Rose!

On Saturday I rallied for women’s health and Planned Parenthood and I was moderately proud of myself in a “Good girl! Look what you did instead of lolling on the couch watching old episodes of Buffy and eating packs of Trader Joe’s roasted seaweed” kind of way.

Reading this piece makes me think about soldiers. I didn’t grow up around military people and yet, when I met a Marine on New Years Eve in New Orleans, I knew exactly what to say: “Thank you for your service.” I rely on the men and women who join the Armed Forces to protect my freedoms. However you may feel about the Military Industrial Complex, you have to respect the individuals who commit to spending a year at a time in dusty, desert-y, Middle Eastern countries away from their families and friends and Netflix and Trader Joe’s, and much closer to death than we, in general, are.

But the men and women who choose to become abortion providers, and the fine folks at Planned Parenthood who support them, are protecting me too, and without anywhere near the same kind of societal recognition. Because I know that those doctors are there, I don’t have to choose between having a romantic life and a professional one. Because they are there, I can work — at my office, 9-5, as well as on my writing — and take that work, and myself, seriously. Because they are there, I don’t have to just be a woman; I can be a person too. They give me that freedom.

So thank you to everyone at Planned Parenthood who were so kind to me when I went in, twice, while unemployed, because I didn’t know where else I could afford health care. Thanks to those of you who stand at the ready in case I need you for other reasons, and who have helped the women I know who needed you. Thank you, Gail Collins, for urging me to think about all these issues as I read When Everything Changed. And thank you, Dolores P., for your service, which, in so many ways, makes everything possible.

How to Offend Midwesterners in 3 Easy Steps

First, accidentally insult their taste in literature, like so:

SETTING: Airport bookstore.
PERSONAE: Two middle-aged blonde ladies, nicely blow-dried and made-up, browsing the mass-market paperbacks, and me, a compulsive know-it-all.

LADY 1: Is this any good? [holds up Girl with the Dragon Tattoo]
LADY 2: Oh, I don’t know! I was wondering that too!
ME: Yes! It’s great. I read all of them. They’re good! And I don’t even usually read that stuff!


LADY 1: Oh! … What do you read?

Next, get really flustered, look blank, and when you finally begin speaking again, use the lord’s name in vain.

ME [flailing pathetically]: Oh! … God, everything … books …

Finally, exacerbate the problem by continuing to babble and then running away. 

ME: I’m sorry, that sounded so snobby! I didn’t mean — uh —  I mean — bye! 

I am officially almost as bad as Sarah “Um, all of them” Palin

Otherwise, my first visit to the hot, beating heart of America, St. Louis, MO, went smoothly. Except for the fact that, five minutes into the first big group meeting, I dropped a pretzel down my shirt and couldn’t find it. I didn’t want to be caught staring into my own cleavage, but come on! A chunk of wheaty goodness covered in salt doesn’t just disappear.

Being that it was 100 degrees out there in flyover country, I had to worry what kind of radioactive effect my bosom would have on that pretzel — would it turn into Spider Man? or the delicious mutant equivalent? Worse, would it decide to stage a re-entrance by falling out of my clothes at an inopportune moment? 

Even went I ducked into a bathroom to fiddle around with my bra, I couldn’t find the offender, so I had to give up and live in fear. Luckily, the pretzel and I both emerged unscathed from the experience: it showed up later, looking all innocent, on my hotel room floor, and I managed to give away every business card I’d brought with me without being overtaken by a monstrous sweaty monster bursting out of my shirt. Win-win! 

The slow clap

Things aren’t objectively better around here. My dad is in the hospital after turning a toxic shade of yellow — they’re looking at his liver, which was possibly affected by the Tylenol 3 he was taking for the ribs he broke when he fell over a step in South Africa. (Phew!) He likes to pretend he was chased by an elephant, so if you talk to him please claim to admire his bravery.

Meanwhile, the economy remains precarious, which means I am holding onto my job with both hands. That time that I got let go right before Christmas during the Transit Strike — and while I was taking out the trash! — is, as they say, burned in my brain. As I walked home to Brooklyn in the twenty-five-degree cold, I knew I would never take employment through December for granted again.

Despite all this, though, my anxiety levels have actually decreased. Instead of feeling like I’m wobbling on the edge of a black hole all the time, I feel like I’m a safe yard or so away from the black hole. It’s right there, sure, but I’m not in immediate danger of falling in.

In honor of that improvement, here are two things that made me laugh so hard I made a spectacle of myself. First, Carolyn Hax’s annual Holiday Hootenanny, where readers compete to submit their funniest true Christmas horror story. One contender for my favorite:

On Grandmother gifts…: Several years ago, my grandmother gave my husband a welcome statue with frogs on it. The word “welcome” is written on this very elongated mushroom held sideways by the two frogs. The elongated mushroom looks very much like you would think an elongated mushroom would look like, which is to say, like a certain part of the male anatomy. There are even two smaller mushrooms sprouting out of the base. We all laughed about it, and my husband decided we would keep it, since it was so amusing. So the next year he gets… two more of the exact same statue. And last year, another one of the same statue. We have them all sitting out on our patio. And a few years ago, she gave my 6’5 brother a floral muumuu we’re desperately hoping was really intended for someone else. However, it has now become a family tradition to wrap the muumuu up and give it to another male member of the family on Christmas. Makes for some great Christmas pictures.

And, the runner up:

X-mas entertainment: We always saved my uncle’s gifts for last. Over the years they have included:

1) a duck decoy missing its head 2) an ink drawing of a head of lettuce and some celery, with “salad” written in large font underneath 3) a Christmas ornament made out of a lightbulb painted lavender and with sparkles glued on 4) a stuffed plant — as in, made of fabric, stuffed with whatever goes in stuffed animals.

For a while we assumed these gifts were expressions of hostility (in particular, the headless duck) but in fact, I think his taste just runs to the extremely odd. Turns out bathroom is tiled with the image of the Statue of Liberty, and the walkway to his house is lined with bowling pins.

I never had a holiday (or relatives) that crazy. Perhaps Hannukah doesn’t inspire people to go to reach such dizzying heights? Regardless, if that’s not enough giggling, check out this montage of 40 Inspirational Movie Speeches. Witness every heavy-handed cinema cliche knit together into a master quilt!:

Amazingly, it even gets better as it goes along, hitting a peak at “They’ll take our lives but they’ll never take our Independence Day!” It’s also amusing to think of how most of these moments can be traced back to / blamed on Shakespeare, who popularized, if not created, the St. Crispin’s Day speech intended to get soliders’ adrenaline pumping so hard they can’t hear themselves think rational things like “But we don’t *want* to die.”

Who Do You Root For?

The radical Islamist Saudi state or the radical Islamist Somali pirates?

Karl Rove or Deborah Solomon?

Hillary Clinton?

These are tough questions, but we are living in tough times. In trying to do my part for the economy, I spent $115 on clothes on Sunday! That may be a pittance to some of you but my money prefers to stay in the warm safety of my wallet, like a creature that hibernates year-round. Still, for the country’s sake, I’m making an effort, and if I win this contest at work I promised my brother I’d buy these. (They’re on sale!)

That led to a conversation about how I don’t understand the stock market and what’s going to happen now:

Adam: no one does!
kalloo kalay!
literally no one knows
it’s like if you were a caveman kindergartener and you said, “what time is it?” someone would hit you on the head with a wooden club and tell you not to ask stupid questions
because no one KNEW what time it was!

me: 🙂
i like how they wouldn’t have time yet but they would have kindergarten
cuz, of course

Adam: i think maybe kindergarten was all they had — i mean, fingerpainting was the most advanced art form

me: the rules must have been totally different though
they were pro playing with fire

Adam: you could run with scissors but you had to invent them first

Welcome to the Team, Condi!

Everyone’s letting the masks slip these days! Is it the August heat? First Paris Hilton reveals that she’s actually shrewd and funny. Then Morgan Freeman decides to stop pretending his marriage is working (he and his wife have been secretly separated since December!). Now Condoleeza Rice has admitted she’s an Obamaniac:

“Look, I’m a Republican, all right? Senator McCain is a fine patriot and he would be a great president. But there’s something to be said for fresh blood.” … Rice was also asked “Would you feel safe with a President Obama?” to which she responded, “Oh, the United States will be fine.”

Check out that future tense! Very sly.

I’m going to try to move away from thinking about politics and polls all the time, the ridiculousness of which this New Yorker piece captures nicely. If only there were more distractions. At work, we’re grinding through the last month before we go live — exciting but stressful — and mourning the sudden loss of our CTO. The office feels a bit like a bachelor pad these days, lacking necessities like toiletries and water (not to mention an HR department and an Office Manager) but boasting a big-ass flatscreen TV and an X-Box to go with it.

When I told a friend about the X-Box, she replied, impressed, “Are you guys like Google now?” The answer is, Absolutely, if the employees at Google have to fish used paper towels out of the trash can to wipe their hands.

Largely, the boys in the office are thrilled to get to play Rock Band and Avatars Play Soccer and Shoot That! And That Too! Get Him!. But I’m past the point in my life where I can enjoy watching other people work a controller. At least you can use the X-Box to play DVDs. Chipper McCheerful and I are staying after work to watch Season 3, Disc 3 of The Wire.

Everybody wins!

Everyone has a flatscreen today these days. I was thinking that as I sat on a wooden bench in the DMV this morning, clutching a see-through bag which contained everything anyone would need to steal my identity and take it to Bolivia without first making sure it has its shots. The DMV has no TV, flatscreen or otherwise; it doesn’t even have a clock. I was looking around for a telegraph machine, whose clicks could perhaps be pleasantly distracting, but all I saw was a small fuzzy scrolling marquis comme ca:

In between text ads for the jewelry store next door and jobs in the police department, the marquis informed me, in its Lite Brite way, that there would be a TOTAL SOLAR ECLIPSE tomorrow but that no one would be able to see it but NASA. This struck me as a little bit unfair. Then again, anything seems unfair when you’re shuttling from window to window only to pause and smile hopefully at a machine that decides whether bouncers will smirk at you for the next five years.

They took my DC license — goodbye, friend! — and gave me in exchange a woeful slip of paper that functions as both a temporary ID and a receipt. Thanks a lot, fellas.

The office now has a flatscreen, which makes it that much more pleasant than the DMV. Right now it’s leaning up against the wall, but some point it will hang gloriously above us, attached to cable and everything and maybe an X-Box. This led my coworker, Chipper McCheerful, to say: “I’ve been looking for a game for our conference room, but it’s difficult. It has to be a game that everyone can play and a game that nobody loses.”

it gives a lovely light

After that moment of dithering on Saturday, I decided to Go With Things. One can really only make choices and Go With them, can’t one? There’s no point whining about being pulled in two directions.

So! Up at 5:15 on Sunday and off to Central Park to wait in line for tickets for the last show of Romeo and Juliet, armed with a blanket, a novel, a crossword puzzle, a water bottle, morning rations, and a determined Mr. Ben. When we arrived, however, we found to our dismay that people had preceded us. Several hundred people, to be exact. Damned Manhattanites and their home court advantage! Some even showed signs of having spent the night.

It didn’t seem likely that there would even be a point in waiting, but remembering that life’s a journey, not a destination, or something, and it being a lovely morning, we settled in.

From 6:20 to 1:00 we guarded our place with the zealousness of gold rush prospectors. (I was Humphrey Bogart; Ben was the other guy.) A friend came with three dogs to keep us company — and luckily she brought us breakfast, as leaving the park to acquire food is strictly prohibited by the Laws of the Line. By 1:00 we had been pre-heated to 350 degrees and well broiled and I was beginning to get irritable; just then we were all motioned onto our feet and forward, in slow-motion single-file, to the box office. At 1:45 we arrived at that hallowed spot, the Jerusalem to our Crusade, and managed to snatch two of the very last standby tickets available.

Standby tickets being, of course, no sure thing, we then had to return at 6:30 and remain rooted in place from 6:30 to 8:00 to see if we — and the cadre of friends we had assembled — could all get in. They kept us waiting to the very last moment and then! oh, glory be to Heaven: they handed us tickets.

All that sunshine and heat and sitting around and anxiety were worth it. The play was wonderful. Lauren Ambrose was a fantastically fidgety, physical, giddy Juliet — you actually believed that she was 14 and moreover *understood* the world from her point of view. This was also the first time I got how smart she was, how much respect Shakespeare has for her, how true the last line is, that this is the tale of Juliet, and her Romeo.

Romeo meanwhile was also striking. The whole supporting cast was, in fact, I thought — they deserve an apology from The New Yorker. Hilton Als apparently couldn’t stand Camryn Manheim as the nurse, whereas I thought I’d never seen that character so fully realized. Als was put off by Mercutio too. He has something against actors who emote, perhaps? Those *characters* are annoying, but you can’t really pin that on their portrayers. I agreed much more with the enchanted NYT review.

In any event, it was a worthwhile if exhausting day and I considered sleeping in the next morning to let myself recover a bit. In the end I didn’t and it’s a good thing too: I had thought I was to travel to Boston for work on Wednesday; actually I was to go Tuesday. Glad I got that straightened out! And so yesterday I had Baby’s First Business Trip (TM). I kept thinking of my mother, who travelled for work a lot when I was younger, although of course I was just flying in and out of Boston, whereas she was hopping off to the Marshall Islands. Even with my numerous and lengthy flight delays, I can’t match that.

Today I rewarded myself for that second worthwhile if exhausting day by seeing Harry Potter V: The Best of the Bunch So Far. Whee! I had never been so excited to be at Hogwarts, and no matter how big a dork it makes me, I can’t wait to be back.