Category Archives: Uncategorized

selections from my new podcast network

Extrabucks® Buddies: Just two friends sitting around and riffing on everything printed on their CVS receipts. (13 episodes)

Warranties and Peace: Just two friends sitting around and riffing on all the warranties for the various appliances in their shared apartment. Like, why does a Keurig need sixty pages of fine print, am I right? Some of them are even in Japanese! Seriously, if this thing ever broke, I’d just throw it out, probably. (22 episodes)

Hey, Remember When We All Played Neopets? Each week of this show will invite a different millennial-aged guest to sit around and riff on topics like “cheating the flash games to get enough NeoPoints for a faerie paintbrush,” “learning HTML to put glitter graphics in your user lookup,” and “forgetting the fake birthday you made up to get access to the 13-and-over chat boards.” (24 episodes)

My Favorite Municipal Zoning Dispute: Just two friends sitting around and riffing on the wacky ins and outs of local government snafus. (76 episodes)

What’s Going On At Eric’s House? This daily show provides a thorough rundown of everything that’s visible through the picture window at 324 McCallum Street Unit 1R from across the street and behind the azalea bush. Hosted in hushed tones by his ex-girlfriend, me! Ha ha, we have fun. (374 episodes and counting)

Finding Shari Lewis: Each installment revisits a classic episode of the brilliant work of America’s Favorite Puppetmaster, Shari Lewis. Seriously, she named her animal friends for food? And then she put your hands up their butt? I mean, whoa, lady! It’s supposed to be a show for KIDS!!!
This is just the kind of edgy snark and cracking wise you can expect from this podcast, hosted by two friends just sitting around. You’re gonna nostalgia so hard! (56 episodes)

The All-One Radio Hour: Just two friends sitting around and reading the label text on a bottle of Dr. Bronner’s Liquid Soap out loud. (1 episode)

The Enya Relisten Project: Sail away, sail away, sail away-y-y as we relisten to—and riff on—each of the mononymous chanteuse’s legendary albums, from her ethereal début to her ethereal mid-career work to her ethereal latest. (8 episodes)

N-P-Are You Kidding Me?: How come those public radio eggheads get all the listeners, huh? Just because they have “relevant topics” and “actual recording equipment that isn’t an iPhone 4 and a homemade papier-mache pop filter” and “no restraining orders against Eric Sandborn of 324 McCallum St. Unit 1R”? All I’m saying is I bet Terry Gross has a real “face for radio,” if you know what I mean. And is Terry Gross going to slip a gift card for Buca di Beppo under your door when it’s your birthday in three weeks, Eric?? I THINK NOT.
Each two-hour episode of this show is devoted to sitting around and making fun of a different NPR host name. (14 episodes)

The Power Bros: Not that this podcast network doesn’t have smart-people stuff, because we totally do, like this intellectually-rigorous show where two friends sit around and riff on each of the 1231 pages of Robert Caro’s sprawling, Pulitzer-prize-winning tome about Robert Moses’s quest to amass political influence and change the course of civic development in New York. (1231 episodes, available for syndication on NPR affiliate stations)

Extra-Extrabucks® Buddies: Just two friends sitting around and riffing on episodes of the soon-to-be-hit podcast Extrabucks® Buddies. Ha ha, we have fun, am I right?! (13 episodes)

a cover letter to become a 14th-century nun

To whom it may concern:

I am writing to submit myself for consideration as a postulant at Barking Abbey in Essex, sometime in the fourteenth century. Other than that, I am not especially picky about when, although it’d be nice to avoid the plague years and the Peasants’ Revolt if at all possible.

You may be asking yourself: why would a twenty-first century woman who enjoys comforts such as “the ability to own property” and “a toothbrush” want to enter a medieval nunnery? The answer is simple: because I’d be extremely good at being a nun. My qualifications are as follows.

I have gone to church my whole life and am pretty credulous about the whole God thing. Though raised a Presbyterian, I am definitely waffling on consubstantiation and could easily be convinced that Catholicism is the one true faith. I know the Paternoster, Ave Maria, and the Credo, although I will probably have to sing the Bach setting to remember all the words. Should you require a reference, I invite you to contact my former Youth Minister, who will attest that I was a welcome presence at all lock-ins, mission trips, and fellowships, even the fellowships where there was no pizza involved.

I can read, write, and speak Latin and French. I am also an accomplished translatrix, having once rendered the lyrics to The Talking Heads’ “Uh Oh, Love Comes to Town” into Latin for a high school Classics Day project. My Middle English is admittedly weaker, but give me like two weeks with this facing-page edition of the Canterbury tales and I can figure it out. Furthermore, I believe my experience in the publishing industry would also be well-suited to Barking Abbey’s impressive library, where I would be more than happy to write back cover copy for De doctrina christiana. Likewise, the three hours of mandatory silent reading expected of every nun at Barking are well within my skill set.

Musically, I am more than prepared to chant the offices of the Opus Dei “entuned in my nose full seemly” (Chaucer joke, ha ha!), having attended three summer sessions of the the Royal School for Church Music camp in Wilkes-Barre, PA, where I only got in trouble for doodling on my music once. I have been told I have a pleasing alto and a decent sight-reading ability, although someone is probably going to have to bring me up to speed on how numes work.

As far as denouncing all earthly vanity goes, I’m completely on board with that, too: I hate picking out clothes every day, so taking the veil would be a welcome step up in practicality, and I’ve already shorn my hair into a pixie cut, which is basically the modern version of a nun’s tonsure. I would probably need some time to get used to the natural shape of my eyebrows once I give up getting them threaded, but it’s an adjustment I will bear gamely. All my worldly possessions, too, I’m down with giving up and donating to the poor, especially if the poor will have good use for these three thousand or so back issues of the New Yorker. I am also more than willing to change my Christian name to something more olde-timey like Joan or Agnes or Margaret, since “Blair” is awfully Scottish-sounding. (“Thornburgh,” I think you will agree, can stay.)

In conclusion, please accept this enclosure of me dressed as Mother Superior in a high-school production of The Sound of Music. 
in nomine patris et filii et spiritui sancti,
Blair “Agnes” Thornburgh

A Visit to the Thornburgh Galleries

Welcome! As curator of one of the “scrappiest” and “most random” collections of artwork in this entire apartment building, it is my pleasure to invite you within to peruse the prints, paintings, and other objets d’art that I have collected throughout my vast and varied travels to exotic locations like St. Paul, Minnesota, and the Episcopal Church near my parents’ house. Please, enjoy—and no flash photography.



Unicorn Tapestries poster
Source: The Cloisters gift shop
Obtained during an eagerly-anticipated fifth grade field trip to the Cloisters, this piece has been in the collection an impressive fifteen years. The pure white unicorn might symbolize Christ, maybe, or virginity, or something; fifth grade was a long time ago and nobody took notes. Wait, the pomegranate bursting with seeds onto the unicorn’s butt might ALSO symbolize Christ. We will get back to you on this.
Estimated value: Priceless



Source: Sara, friend of the gallery
A birthday present for the curator’s fourteenth birthday, this striking portrait of Thornburgh’s goth alter ego Portia has adorned everything from the lime-green walls of her teenage bedroom to the “I can’t be bothered to paint over the white” walls of her adult bedroom. The artist would probably be really embarrassed if she knew it was still on display, and as such it is a permanent fixture in the gallery, never to be moved.
Estimated value: Extremely sentimental



Old medieval music
Source: Aunt (and eBay)
Probably the most “legitimate” piece of “art,” in the Thornburgh Gallery, this dried-up piece of medieval sheepskin features neumes (like old-timey notes), a big red letter, and words that the curator has not bothered to figure out yet.
Estimated value: Fifty gold florins



Print of the temple at Carthage
Source: Episcopal church tag sale
It’s a temple! It’s in Carthage! It’s got a weird glob of something sticky on the back that melts into a suspicious ectoplasm-like trail when it gets too hot inside!
Estimated value: $2



Art Nouveau Bach evangelists poster
Source: It used to hang in the curator’s parents’ house until she made them give it to her
Both Bach and Art Nouveau are favorites of the gallery curator; she would like you to know that she is VERY CULTURED. Although the curator’s mother insisted in 2015 that the piece should “really be in a less crappy frame,” it has remained in its original arrangement. This print has provoked much scholarly inquiry on the part of the curator. Specifically, like, do you ever feel like Matthew got ripped off when they were assigning Evangelist Symbols™?
“Okay, cool, so Mark’s gonna be a lion, Luke’s gonna be a bull, John’s gonna be an eagle, and Matthew…uh, you can be a man?”
“Nah, but like, a really COOL man.”
Estimated value: 30 pieces of silver



Scenes from Shakespeare
Source: Etsy
These rosebud-mouthed vaguely pre-Raphaelite book illustrations depict various scenes from the plays of William Shakespeare. Originally from children’s storybooks, they were carefully hand-framed in artisanal plastic frames from the craft supplies store. Uneven margins indicate that scissors may have been used to trim them to size; the viewer is invited to withhold his or her judgment because do you know how annoying it is to pop these suckers back together.
Estimated value: $30 plus the shipping from Australia



Stan Rogers Memorial Maritime Wall
Source: Episcopal church tag sale
Though the specific provenance of these majestic prints is unknown, historians theorize that they once graced the walls of a cigar-scented study where red-cheeked old-money Chestnut Hillers got together and talked about “the party of Lincoln.” Added to the collection in late 2014, they take their name in honor of Canadian’s premier latter-day music-of-the-sea chanteur.
Estimated value: Maybe five bucks for both


“Frog and Toadstool” by Rebecca McKillip Thornburgh (above); “Cicada” by David Wiesner (below)
It would be unseemly for an information plaque to brag, but nonetheless: the Thornburgh gallery is in possession of not one but TWO pieces of original art by prolific illustrators of children’s books, only one of whom happens to be the curator’s mother. The Cicada was a to commemorate the curator’s first published writing, a book review in Cicada magazine (get it?). The delightful frog and toadstool was a high school graduation present whose fairy-tale like imagery and sensitive watercolor treatment is said to have provided great comfort in the super-depressed first months of college.
Estimated value: You can take these from my cold dead hands


Giant Tristan & Isolde
Source: John William Waterhouse by way of the curator’s mother
The Tristian myth is a common leitmotif throughout the gallery. This reproduction, added to the collection after Christmas 2013, is “rapturously pre-Raphaelite”; notice Isolde’s giant jaw and straight nose and peaches-and-cream complexion, Tristan’s completely anachronistic full plate armor (because, you know, that’s what you wear to go sailing), the storm-tossed seas behind them, and the general LIEBESTODiness of it all.
Estimated value: The entire dowry of an Irish princess



Lil Tristan & Isolde
Source: Etsy
This smaller portrait of the doomed lovers is from “The Boy’s King Arthur” by NC Wyeth. Notable for Tristan’s Prince Valiant haircut and the crack in the frame, which, rather than an intentional expression of wabi sabi, resulted from a tragic incident from wherein the curator got very mad about something and slammed her bedroom door really hard.
Estimated value: The frame is not real gold



Tiny animals
Source: Paternal grandmother
This petite menagerie lend a cheeky playfulness to the dust bunnies clumping on the buffet and bar area.
Estimated value: How dare you



“It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere”
Source: Aimee, friend of the gallery
Having established a reputation for a persona she called “Facebook wine mom,” the curator was given this quaint cross-stitched plaque by her friend Aimee in January 2016. Today it rests behind the bottle of brandy bought to make sangria one time last summer, serving as a cheeky reminder to carpe diem and live life to the fullest.
Estimated value: [hiccup]



Tiny books
Source: Blair Thornburgh herself
As a reprieve from her job editing books, her other job writing books, and her schoolwork writing about books, the curator participated in a class on bookmaking and book arts in the fall of 2014. Bookmaking is a delicate and ancient art involving things called “bone folder” and a “kettle stitch.” The hobby was abandoned soon after the class was completed, archival-quality book glue being prohibitively expensive.
Estimated value: At least $27 worth of book glue


“Christmas chains”
Source: Blair again
The bookbinding class left a lot of leftover paper lying around, which was repurposed in a fit of decorative Yuletide inspiration into a bunch of festive chains. Astute viewers will not that there’s not really anything particularly Christmassy about them, which is good because they will probably never come down until the painter’s tape wears off or a landlord insists on their removal. Nevertheless, their presence invites visitors to consider art as omnipresent in all dimensions of the gallery.
Estimated value: $1.50

Thank you and come again! Be sure to grab a postcard on your way out!

A Guide to Getting A Job in Publishing for the Innocent, the Eager, and the Doomed


Pictured: The publishing industry

(titled with apologies to Karen Elizabeth Gordon)

Spring: that magical time of year when a young graduate’s mind turns to gainful employment. And if you’re of a bookish bent, that means hustling hard to become an entry-level cog in the publishing machine.

Now, because I’m an adult—somehow??—I find myself in the position of getting a flood of requests for informational interviews come April/May-ish, and while I sincerely wish I could take every last starry-eyed hopeful out for a cappuccino and a hearty dose of advice, the fact is that if I did that for everyone I’d die of caffeine-related palpitations in, like, two days.

So instead I am putting together this guide of best practices, FAQs, and other Hot Tipz on How To Begin To Live The Dream. Please bear in mind that I have gotten exactly one (1) job in publishing myself, and that your mileage may vary, one size does not fit all, and no two publishers are alike. Anyway, onward.

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How to Take the Best Author Photo This Miserable World Has Ever Seen

When you write a book, people will want to know what your face looks like. I don’t know why, but it’s true. Maybe the reading public has been burned one too many times by the Carolyn Keenes of the world and needs reassurance that you’re not secretly a conglomerate of underpaid ghostwriters, or maybe they want to scan your forehead for telltale talent bumps in a kind of 2-D phrenological exam. Either way, a headshot must be taken.

Step 0: Eliminate all the pictures of your face that you CANNOT use.
It’s the new millennium, which means that in addition to wearing unisex silver leotards and commuting to work in pneumatic tubes, every person on earth has a digital repository of face-photos somewhere. Don’t believe me? Just tap into your phone’s “Selfies” folder:

File Feb 22, 3 09 52 PM

In a word: barf city!!! (Okay, that’s two words.) Still–these are all terrible and will not do. A snapshot of yourself with stick-uppy purple hair and sunglasses you took in the front seat of your Volvo 240 while stuck in traffic on the way to a Christopher Moore signing does NOT a professional headshot make.


Step 1: Identify all of your flaws.
This should be very easy. In my case, we have the following issues:


Intractable hairline cowlick (A)
Bald eyebrow spot, here filled in with makeup (B)
Nose that appears strangely flat in profile (C)

Gross! Now, short of a head transplant, there’s really nothing you can do to FIX these, but you CAN dwell upon them obsessively and try to hold your face in a strange rictus that obscures all flaws from view at once. Practice in the mirror.

Step 2: Know somebody who owns a camera.
Ideally this is a friend of yours. If you do not have a friend with a camera, you will have to pay someone with a camera to be your friend for the afternoon. No, I don’t know how much it should cost—three thousand dollars? That sounds about right, right? All that flash powder and developing fluid adds up, surely.

Step 3: Pick an authoritative background.
Put the “author” in “authoritative” by insisting on posing in front of bookshelves. If there is no bookshelf in your photo, people will forget that you are a writer or even that they are holding a book at all! Don’t let this happen. Even if the shelf is full of something like the complete 1982 Encyclopedia Britannica or a bunch of Goosebumps books, it will lend you gravitas. “Yes,” a full bookshelf says. “She has scanned her authorly eyeballs over all of us, and drunk in the knowledge imparted on our pages. She is therefore wise, and her book is sure to be a good one worth at least $17.99 plus tax where applicable.”

Step 4: Dress appropriately.
Pick a power outfit that says something like “I’m sexily intelligent, or intelligently sexy, but I could also kill you with my bare hands OR go onstage to accept my National Book Award, all in this same multipurpose sensible ensemble.” Also no loud prints or pastels.

Step 5: Have somebody else paint your face normal colors.
Your face probably has a lot of problems (see step 1) so this is a good opportunity to pay someone to lacquer it up with skin-colored goop so that no one can see your pores or even your nose-holes. Unsure of what to ask of your maquillagiste*? Ask for “the regular human face.” She’ll know what it means.

*Not a real French word

Step 6: Drench yourself in glorious light.
The sun doesn’t count, and neither does your novelty leg lamp. If your camera-friend is worth his or her salt, he or she should have one of those upside-down umbrellas with a light in it and also something called a “B light.” Also, if you’re a woman, you should be backlit so that your hair lights up around your head like a nimbus of gold.

Step 7: Pose.
Under no circumstances should you hold your body the way your ordinarily do, you slob. Pretend an invisible string is pulling up the top of your head. Pretend another invisible string is pulling up each of your shoulders and elbows. Now dance! Ha ha, I made you a marionette.

But seriously. Here are some classic looks for an author:
Crossed arms
Crossed arms with chin on fist
Crossed arms with chin on fist and one finger delicately raised against one’s cheek, as if to say “tee hee, what a fascinatingly bestsellery book idea I’ve just had”
Hands on hips
Whoa, not so aggressive! Hands GENTLY on hips
Fingers hooked weirdly into front pockets
Casually leaning against brick wall
Lying on chaise longue, one arm flung over eyes
Aggressively pointing at camera while mouthing “YOU, YES YOU, BUY MY BOOK”
Exaggerated wink/thumbs-up combo

Step 8: Shoot!
Once you’ve picked some poses, just sit back*, relax**, and let the camera do its magic!

*Do not sit back.
**Do not relax.

Soon you will have a bevy of appropriate and flattering shots to choose from, such as:

Outtakes and Dog Photos 8


Outtakes and Dog Photos 12


Outtakes and Dog Photos 15

what are you doing DON’T DO THAT

Step 9: Despair.
God, what were you THINKING, trying to take a photo of your face? This is worse than school picture day and a dentist’s appointment mashed together! Brainstorm alternatives: maybe your publisher will accept an oil painting of your face, or that caricature of you and your dog you paid $20 for in the seventh grade? Maybe you can claim you’re in the witness protection program, except then what if your publisher calls your bluff by offering to pay for plastic surgery to distance you and your young adult romantic comedy from your crime-filled past as a bookie? Look enviously at your dog, who is lying on the ground, dead asleep, and does not have to worry about things like getting his picture taken, because he barely understands how a mirror works, let alone a three-jillion gigapixel DSLR with wide-angle lens.

Step 10: Take a picture of your dog instead.


Perfect. They’ll never know the difference.

How to Survive February

This weekend, I attended my friend Eli’s annual Christmas in February party. Why Christmas in February? Because whoever planned Christmas Classic™ severely underestimated when humanity would need its ultra-dose of cheer and goodwill to get through the winter. It’s like when everyone was calling the Lindbergh babynapping the “crime of the century”even though it only happened less than a third of the way through said century. The hubris! Save some crime for the remaining 68 years!

Anyway, Christmas should be in February, because February is an endless grind of shuffling days and toss-turning nights and waking up thinking “well, I guess I’m alive.” February is so bleak that merely existing causes a deep ache in your body and/or soul. Snow has lost its luster. Boots have lost their tread. You, perhaps, have lost your will to persevere into March.


Pictured: your state of mind

But February can be endured. Even in a year like 2016 where some wily trickster has snuck in an extra day of bluster and misery, you are equal to the task of not succumbing to it. How? With these tried-and-true lifestyle tips from me, a person who has made it through 26 and a half of these bad boys.

Light some candles and draw a hot bath with calming essential oils like lavender or peppermint. Get in the tub, then submerge your whole head. The water will muffle your screams of desperation.

Get some exercise. Exercise is terrible and ordinarily you should never have to do it, but in February I give you permission to do like many a women’s magazine has suggested and “work exercise into your everyday activities.” For example: when you tumble off the couch in a post-nap fog of despair, do a push-up before righting yourself.

Touch a living thing. It CAN be something like your Christmas Amaryllis or the pantry moth you finally manage to squash between your palms, but best practice is something with fur, like a dog or cat or friendly opossum. This will produce a hormone called “oxycontin” or something and your synapses will explode with pleasure and optimism. Besides, that Christmas Amaryllis is never going to bloom anyway.

Blind yourself with light. Experts will say that you need a special lamp to alleviate cruddy February feelings, but I say just stare at a bare fluorescent bulb until you get multicolored floaters so fascinating you can’t take your eyes off of them, or vice versa! Short-term distraction from existential lethargy is worth long-term retinal damage, I always say.

Eat foods that are hot. I don’t know why, but something about the thermogenic effect of freshly roasted brussels sprouts or freshly-microwaved frozen burrito will cause a concomitant warming of your soul. Salad in February will make you want to die. If you’re the sort of person who regularly drinks smoothies, you are likely too self-satisfied about being flush with nutrients to need these tips anyway.
—Corollary: drink some tea. Tea is practically water and water is good for you, but drinking hot water alone is the kind of thing only people on juice cleanses do. Use tea bags if you have them, you freakin’ ROCKEFELLER, but if you’re an ordinary plebe like me you can just dump whatever stuff you’ve got (like sliced-up ginger root or turmeric powder or chunks of lemon) into a mug and pour boiling water on it.
—Exception: eat as much citrus fruit as you can possibly stomach. Clementines are like chewing on wedges of pure sunshine. Blood oranges are like EATING BLOOD. Grapefruits are fine if you have one of those jagged-edged spoons.

Immerse yourself in the kind of thick non-fiction books with no pictures that are gathering dust on your father’s bookshelves. You know the ones I mean: small print and titles like “America in the Depression,” “The Grimmest Hour of the Storming of Normandy,” and “They Died Screaming in Their Beds: The 1915 Bloodboil Epidemic in San Diego.” They will not make you feel better, per se, but you might gain some perspective.

Don’t drink alcohol. It’s so counterintuitive, I know! But alcohol is technically a depressant, and it’s also expensive. It really is not going to make you feel any better. Here: pretend you’re in the Union Army, and they have to saw your leg off, but the last brandy ration has gone to your comrade in arms Jebediah Wagonwheel to help him endure an experimental eye-gouging procedure after he caught a musketball to the face. In other words, grit your teeth, valiantly, and maybe bite down on a leather strap.

Sleep a lot. Not just at night. Work sporadic sleep-snacks into your daily schedule. Use the Pomodoro technique: for every 25 minutes of sleep, do 5 minutes of work.

Don’t take your Christmas tree down, if applicable. Look, I know it’s already Lent (Christ, Lent AND February? This is a Puritan time indeed), but every sight of those crispy brown needles and wanly-winking lights will jolt you—albeit briefly—out of your melancholy. At least until you realize how embarrassing it’ll be to toss the thing on the curb in March.

Watch the thing that you like. You know the one. It’s okay that you’re not reading a book or composing a symphony or curing cancer with your record-breaking marathon time. Just pile on the blankets and watch the thing.

Skip it. Just skip all of February. Fake your own death and go to Florida or California or, I dunno, Monaco. Failing that, just do the stuff that you have to, like your job, and your deadline-y projects, and all relevant caretakery of yourself and others, but don’t pick this month to launch the ambitious stuff. Just maintain your pace for 29 days, like a shark swimming ever-forward. Then fake your own death, and get to work.

The Only Christmas Carols That Are Any Good, A Definitive and Absolute List, Fight Me


I love Christmas carols. HOWEVER: I do NOT love what most of the idiot world considers to be a Christmas carol. Songs about sleighs, Santa, sugarplums, etc., are NOT carols, they are garbage that deserves to rot on the side of the street like so much crumpled wrapping paper.

No, the truly best Christmas carols fall into at least one of the following categories:
1. Songs in Latin
2. Songs about food
3. Songs about Hell and/or avoidance thereof
4. Songs about decidedly non-canonical adventures of Jesus, Mary, and/or Joseph
5. Songs that use the word “flesh”
6. Good King Wenceslas

Bonus points are awarded if the song was clearly hastily Christianized with a few macaronic verses or if it sounds good played on the bagpipe.

There are only approximately 30 days of the unofficial Christmas carol listening season, and I would hate for you to waste one second of them letting an INFERIOR Christmas carol bleat through your earbuds. Therefore, I have taken it upon myself to let you know what the good ones are. This is my final decision and I will brook no dissent.

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the secrets to my success


Pictured: me, toiling

I have always wanted to be asked about the secrets to my success, because such a question presumes that I HAVE success, and that is very flattering. I also love that profiles of famous people dig so deeply into the mundane details of the Famous Person’s life, as if starting every morning by eating half a tree-ripened avocado spritzed with lemon juice will immediately transmogrify you into Reese Witherspoon. It won’t! I tried!

Anyway, until I have the kind of glamorous, sophisticated-but-youthful life that the readers of PARADE magazine are desperate to emulate, I will content myself with this inventory of low-stakes lifestyle “hacks” that I have employed to fashion myself the into gainfully employed gangling twenty-something that I am.

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Women who love sea chanties too much

One of the great perks of having a Spotify-equipped smartphone is that I can listen to my playlist of sea chanties wherever I go. With the tap of a touchscreen, I can turn mundane commuter purgatories like the subway and the one tunnel outside Suburban station where the train always goes realllly sloooowly into a vessel drunkenly bobbing on the whitecaps of the high seas!

This was a very important thing I kept up for MULTIPLE WEEKS

I hate to call myself a trendsetter, mostly because sea chanties are not actually trendy, but suffice to say that if they DO ever enjoy a resurgence I want at least a footnote on Wikipedia. Because I love ’em! It’s weird! Whatever! Sea chanties possess two different but not wholly incompatible aesthetics for me: the jolly, rum-soaked “hey ho” type songs about sweet Roseanna or getting shipped to South Australia, and the wrenchingly poignant ballads of lands and love lost to the LIFE OF THE SEA. I start to get REALLY emotional about the plight of cod-fishermen in Newfoundland. They had to work so HARD and the sea was CHILLY and FULL OF DEATH and England was VERY VERY FAR AWAY >:(

And why should I care? I’m not from Newfoundland, I think fish is disgusting, and I don’t even like being on boats, especially! But there you go. Le coeur a ses raisons que la raison ne connait pas. Le bon vin m’endort, l’amour me reveille. Maybe it’s like how country music is really popular in South Africa, or maybe I’m an 18th-century fisherman stuck in a 21st-century girl’s body, or maybe songs of the sea are so transcendent and universal that they can set even the stoniest heart (i.e., mine) aflame with longing.

Anyway, I don’t know what to make of this obsession except that maybe I should learn how to play one of those little Mr. Smee accordions. But if you’re looking to start a sea-chanty obsession of your very own, I present you with the following primer.

(NOTE: If you are a jerk and just went to look up “sea chanty” on Wikipedia, you will notice that there is a very technical definition. How technical? THIS technical:

A sea shanty, chantey, or chanty is a type of work song that was once commonly sung to accompany labor on board large merchant sailing vessels. The term shanty most accurately refers to a specific style of work song belonging to this historical repertoire.

I am going to be much more generous with my criteria and define sea chanty as “song about some aspect of maritime life, or maybe just about drinking, or maybe that just SOUNDS like it could’ve been sung by sailors at some point, okay.”)

Barrett’s Privateers

This is it, the ultimate song of seabound camaraderie by the ultimate Canadian latter-day sea chanteur. I probably shouldn’t put it first because it’s so definitively good, but I also can’t NOT start with it—particularly because this video is SO GOOD. Just a bunch of 70s-era guys in wide collars and neckerchiefs singing their hearts out and thumping a rhythm on a Nova Scotian kitchen table.

I have taught my entire family this song, including my favorite 8-year-old child, who can sing the whole thing from memory and does the “God DAMN THEM ALL” with particular gusto. We sing it every Thanksgiving.

Northwest Passage

On the “unhappy songs about longing” side of chanties, though, this one is probably your apotheosis. It works on a literal sadness level (the Franklin expedition was so tragically doomed!) and a metaphorical sadness level (because what is LIFE if not “tracing one warm line through a land so wide and savage”). All is vanity, Canada is very cold, and the harmonies on this are hard to sing. The end.

Le Bon Vin

It’s a drinking song, but the French makes it classy. “Good wine puts me to sleep but love wakes me up again,” innit that cute. These guys are also Canadian and do a mean bodhran.

South Australia

Back in the day, Australia was not a good place to go! It meant you were a criminal and likely to die being stung to death by killer spiders the size of Uluru. This one could feasibly work as an actual work song because it name-drops heaving and hauling, which are very important.


By contrast, England was a place that seamen (heh) missed a lot. They were stuck in Newfoundland, far from children and wives, and for WHAT—cod? Gross!

Black Sails Theme and Variations

Not even really a chanty! Whatever! This is the theme song to a show I have never seen and know pretty much nothing about except that it has some SICK hurdy-gurdy riffs in its opening number. I hear this and I’m like “lace up my corset extra tight and GRAB MY CUTLASS because we are TAKING TO THE SEAS.”

Le reel à bouche

Just a lot of guys going “hey dum de dum” a lot, but in a rhythmic and exciting and French way.

The River Driver

I maintain that sea chanties do not forcément have to involve the sea—any body of water will do, even a river. Et voilà! A song of toil and wasted life aboard a fluvial vessel.

The Parting Glass

A good song about leaving, or dying, or both. I have been known to sing this a cappella around bonfires when the mood strikes.

i went on a writing retreat and i imagine you have some questions


Wait, who were all these people?
My internet friends. My friends, from the internet. Yes, I’m a total #Millennial—I fly halfway across the country to hang out with strangers I’ve only ever seen before in a Twitter avatar, and it worked out great.

Why were you there?
My friend Kate Brauning—writer, editor, intelligent and magnificent human being—invited me to celebrate the launch of her debut novel, How We Fall, and her friend Nikki Urang’s debut novel, The Hit List. She hosted ten of us for a retreat and then a Big Ol’ Party which her staff videographer/husband livestreamed to the Internet™.

Where at?
Omaha, City of Dreams!

Did you—
Yes, I ate a steak, duh. I also saw the Mutual of Omaha building.

Did you guys, like, drink and stuff?
You tell me.


What did you do?
Sat around and typed. Mostly, we took over the little high-top bar-table in the lobby and clear away the weird centerpiece baskets of grass ball-things so that all eight seats could be filled with writers writing (in Alex’s case, VERY AGGRESSIVELY. Girl types like a machine gun).

What did you do?
I was working on the twenty-fifth version of the first day of school scene in the book I’ve been writing for two and a half years. I worked pretty hard on Saturday and really hard on Sunday and by the time we were loading up the car on Monday to get to Sioux Center for the #official #YALaunch party I decided that I had to scrap it all, again.

Oh. So then what did you do?
Alex and I sat in the backseat of Kate’s car and I read aloud a book about Chardonnay grapes and switched accents every paragraph. French was my best and Irish was probably my worst (I think I got about 12 accents in, total).

No, I mean about your book.
Right, so, when I was out of accents, Alex and I sat down and plotted out what my three main characters Wanted and Needed and how that could manifest through every scene in the first third of the book. I made a lot of useful notes and Alex got a little carsick from the smell of beef jerky (sorry!) Then I talked a lot with Bethany about retellings, and points of view, and characters, and it was useful and she was smart.


(This was directed at the book, not Alex)

My solution came on Tuesday morning when I sat down to write an edit letter to myself. It’s the best idea I’ve had so far and I think it’s gonna work.

What else did you do?
Laugh like a crazy person. Drink like a fish. Put really nifty scribbly nail decals on my fingers (poorly) and make my hair do that thing. Sleep too late EVERY DAY and then have to awkwardly launch myself from bed when the maid knocked on the door so I could politely explain that, no, sorry, I’m not yet awake at nine in the AM, could she um please sorry come back thanks? Go around the room and read from our writing—every person, and every person was good. Answer interview questions ON CAMERA like a REAL FAMOUS PERSON and wonder if I should really write that book about centaurs. Make this gif, I don’t even know:

output_KNSBEp Get gas at a Kum-and-Go (cultural touchstone of the Midwest). Watch the swirling midnight Iowa snow outside the car windows on the way home and feel suddenly very, very sad in the pit of my chest. Make friends. Gossip (a little). Leave my EpiPen in a restaurant like a dingus only to have our very kind waitress return it to me the moment I recrossed the threshold. Fly home, optimistic, laden with ideas, and sleepy.

Please list all the inside jokes.

  1. Omaha, City of Dreams!
  2. This version of the Jurassic Park theme song
  3. This version of “Wrecking Ball”
  4. This version of “My Heart Will Go On”
  5. Okay, really just anything involving recorders
  6. “Just use another cheese as the cracker for the cheese.”
  7. Cake Brauning, Éclair Thornburgh, Alex Yuschip (or Yuscheese)
  8. That one time I made Alex cry with laughter when I brought up the Chicken Bone Incident of ’13 at dinner
  9. Geckos
  10. BLOODBEARD, my as-yet-nonexistent feminist heavy metal collective

Please list all the snacks, sparing no detail.
Triscuits, Wheat Thins, microwaveable cakes, pumpkin bread, baby carrots, snap peas, sharp cheddar, another block of cheese that I think was Monterey Jack?, herb brie, Cheetos, beef jerky, Fritos, Cheese-Its Snack Mix, almonds (not for me), KitKats, Reese’s Cups (also not for me), Starbursts, M&Ms, Dove chocolates (the kind with inspirational messages on the wrapper), smoothie shots, fruit-flavored water, Goldfish (crackers), apples, the good kind of very dark purple grapes, smoked Gouda, mini cupcakes.

What was the best part?
Nearly everything.

I admire Kate so much: she is driven, smart, inventive, generous, kind, articulate, and a fantastic writer. She is just on, man. And what a thing to do for so many people. I suggest you go Buy! Her! Book!

What was the worst part?
When I came downstairs at 9:15 and the hotel breakfast was already out of egg-and-spinach sandwiches even though breakfast was not officially over until 9:30, dammit.

Oh God!!!! What did you do?
Ate two instant oatmealz and listened to Daft Punk. U no how I do.

Let’s get one more gif of you and Alex, please.