And The Millennials Said, “Let There Be Wine Delivery . . .”

IMG_6880If you’ve ever posted on Facebook something about wine (maybe “dying for a glass of wine RN,” for example), then you’ve probably seen an ad pop up, for one of the many new wine delivery services vying for a slice of the market.

Wine delivery isn’t exactly new; for a long time wineries, especially smaller-production ones, have relied on customers subscribing to regular shipments of whatever they are sending out. These wine clubs have typically not been very cheap; they were more oriented toward connoisseurs than everyday drinkers. But in recent years, we’ve seen start-ups forming more updated, Millennial-focused versions of these wine clubs, offering consumers a confluence of good value, good wine, and something to satisfy everyone’s palate. These new delivery services exist on the basis of two important facts: one, that Millennials all over the country have an insatiable thirst for wine, and two, that those same Gen-Yers also love buying stuff online and having it show up in the mail, and have become accustomed to this lifestyle ever since the rise of Amazon and similar businesses.

Read the rest of my article on wine delivery subscriptions, on Vine Pair.

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Sentence Level, thoughts during the editing process

I’m nearly done editing the first draft of a novel, and it’s a very engrossing process. I think I agree with Verlyn Klinkenborg that the most important task of a writer is to work at the level of the sentence. You can worry about plot and character and POV as much as you want but it won’t matter if the sentences aren’t works of art – ideally, every single one of them. I credit poets in particular with an understanding of the import of sentences. They can distill a thought down to a few words, or evoke an entire landscape with a phrase. One of my writing teachers at The Writers Institute, Harper’s editor Chris Cox, quoted someone saying that a short story should read like a poem, and a novel should read like a short story. This may be true and applicable in terms of structure. But in terms of voice, the ways that one can write a novel are infinite. There is no determinate on what makes fiction a work of high art. Read more

Hello to All This

“In an era when rents are spiking, book advances shrinking and magazines shuttering, New York may no longer be a necessary destination for the young writer, she acknowledged. It may not even be a feasible one.” – NYT

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Growing up, my theater arts teacher was my mentor. She was a beautiful, hardworking woman, a single mother and creative genius, and role model to us all. Her theater was a haven for those of us who didn’t fit in: the freaks, the homos, the artsy types. We found ourselves in her rehearsal space, in the scripts we wrote.

Although our teacher knew that she did so much for us, gave us a place to come out of our shell and use our talents, she resented her position in life as a mere public high school teacher. She always wished she’d tried harder, been more. She definitely had the talent. So what was it that she’d done wrong?

I remember so clearly: the look in her eyes when she talked about living in New York City, taking workshops with Uta Hagen and trying to get professional acting gigs. And when she said that she’d always regretted leaving New York City too early. That if she’d just stayed longer . . . who knew what her life might have become?

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I could leave. Read more

“City,” a short story

Check out my short story “City” in the online Construction magazine, a NYC-based publication founded by graduates of the City College Fiction MFA. Thanks for reading.

“‘Do you want to go to some amazing galleries?’ she asked me. I said yes. I had to go to the bathroom, first, because of the beer. In the bathroom I looked in the mirror and I had literally the hugest pimple you can possibly imagine right in the middle of my forehead. I was like, shit, this is so embarrassing, and so I started trying to pop it even though I know you’re not supposed to do that, especially when your skin is dirty, but I couldn’t help it. I couldn’t believe that Talia was looking at me that whole time with that pimple on my face. Suddenly the door opened and Talia came in. I tried to pretend I wasn’t doing anything and grabbed a paper towel and put it on my forehead and said something about sweat. She went and stood by the window and lit a cigarette.”

All the Single, Scrappy, Ambitious Ladies…

437285_024Last night, I finally saw the movie of the summer, a black-and-white pic about an anti-heroic, sterotypically-unfeminine woman in her late twenties, living basically hand-to-mouth in New York City (but not abstaining from $14-packs of American Spirit) while pursuing her artistic dream, to be a professional modern dancer.

No, it’s not “GIRLS: The Movie,” although at first glance one is struck by the parallels between the world of Frances, the aforementioned protagonist, and Hannah Horvath of Lena Dunham’s “GIRLS”: both are frumpy but somehow quite homely, both are talented yet not sure how to achieve success, both are obsessively reliant on one or more female best friends for camraderie and security, and both seem relatively indifferent to normative ideas of middle-class American romance such as steady relationships or marriage and parenthood. Rather, these women more or less stumble through life, operating on a short-term basis instead of a five-year plan, and magically making a good impression on people despite their essential lack of social graces or nepotistic connections.

And yet, in “Frances Ha,” as opposed to in “GIRLS,” we have a character whose stoicism is remarkable: she is unemotional almost to the point where she seems stereotypically masculine rather than feminine; not once in the film does Frances weep, break down, or consult a therapist when the going gets really, really tough. Nor does she, as does Hannah Horvath, beg her parents for money–in fact, her pride prohibits her from admitting to them, or her best friend, when her career has hit the gutter and nothing seems to be going right in life, at all. And very unlike Hannah, Frances does not once grab the nearest decent-looking man and drag him into bed (perhaps because, at points in the film, she doesn’t actually have a place to live). In other words, Frances is slightly more grown-up, stronger, more adept than Hannah.

But these differences are rather slight; what is important is the similar territory they cover–young women from undistinguished backgrounds and of imperfect character, trying to make it as artists in the big city–and the novelty of this subject matter appearing in mainstream cultural production. And I would piggy-back on recent writing by Emily Nussbaum, the New Yorker‘s television critic, which points out the huge impact made by the HBO series “Sex and the City,” by saying that that show opened up space for this new, incredibly important genre of young women who unapologetically pursue their individual visions of a successful life, whatever that may be and by whatever means. Throughout “Sex and the City,” Carrie Bradshaw wrestles with changing career goals and romantic needs in a way that no previous female character had. In fact, the only work coming to mind that, prior to “SATC” addressed these issues is “Annie Hall,” in which Diane Keaton is a woman motivated by writing and effectively unconvinced of the need to devote herself to a male partner, to Woody Allen’s character’s dismay. (As a side note, my film-viewing partner and I last night both noticed Allen’s influence in Noah Baumbach’s directing style, with approval.) But “Annie Hall” depicts this kind of femininity ultimately from a male perspective, whereas now we have women writing (the actress who played Frances co-wrote the film), directing, and producing these shows and movies.

It’s infinitely invaluable to young women to have these cultural products, whether or not we find them to be “accurate” representations of our lives (notably, the criticisms abound that the women portrayed in these instances are white and middle-class or upper-middle-class, or living in “privileged poverty”). They are fodder for self-analysis and critical discussion, as I have written before about “GIRLS.” And they also prod us, as writer Kate Mooney has done excellently for Brokelyn, to examine the numerous success stories that come out of this post-third-wave-feminist ethos of pursuing art and career goals at any cost. In Frances, Hannah, and Carrie, we see the challenges and mistakes that appear in our own personal and professional lives, and we can’t help but use these reflections to become stronger, better versions of ourselves–and we become writers of our own series, crafting our imperfect yet admirable selves into the protagonists we really want to be.

Integration and Social Enterprise: A Talk for NYWSE #PSEItrip

Tomorrow I’m giving a talk to fifteen Princeton students on a tour of social entrepreneurship in New York City, which was organized by the New York Women Social Entrepreneurs group. I’m on a panel about media, tech, and other topics.

To collect my thoughts, I’ll outline my presentation here.

I. INTEGRATION: My person vision is about integrating interests/expertise areas that might seem divergent because of the way we are trained in Academia. For example, you might tell me that my interest in food and yoga belongs in a nutrition career, whereas my writing and  journalism form a separate career path, and my focus on social entrepreneurship is a business thing. But they all intersect, and furthermore, where one is lacking in something, the other offers that. I’ll explain.

These are my main interests:

  • FOOD/WELLNESS/YOGA
  • WRITING/COMMUNICATIONS/CRITICAL THINKING
  • INNOVATION/SOCIAL CHANGE/ECONOMIC BETTERMENT

These are presumably separate worlds, but they don’t have to be. In one week, I go from moderating a panel discussion between grass-fed meat farmers, to writing an article about real estate’s impact on the local food world, to teaching a yoga class, to attending a reading for a new novel at a bookstore (and working on my own manuscript). True, this is not a full-time job with benefits; however I am creating my own full-time career where I am integrating knowledge, social networks, and resources from each of these three main interests.

Whether I’m engaged in something focused on agriculture, journalism, or yoga, I’m always looking at how it can bleed into the other categories. The food world, yoga world, writing world, and social enterprise world can all be too insular and introspective, but if we can take one thing and bring it into the other spaces, new potentials open up.

II. SOCIAL ENTERPRISE JOURNALISM: For over a year, I wrote for a website called Dowser.org. Unless you are involved in the social enterprise sector, you probably haven’t heard of it–which is the main issue I had with the site. I found it to be too insular and unable to appeal to wider audiences. And this is not the only case where I’ve seen this. Social enterprise journalism needs to be tied to broader interest stories in order to reach more people who don’t see themselves as social entrepreneurs. In fact, the words “social enterprise” are overused and becoming a catch phrase to symbolize a new kind of non-profit organization that’s just more cool-looking than its older counterparts. We need journalism that looks at social change and innovation from a public interest perspective, giving everyday readers a reason to read these stories about the small start-ups that are popping up everyday with the help of organizations like Echoing Green, as well as more established ones like Acumen Fund.

III. SOCIAL ENTERPRISE COMMUNICATIONS: It’s all about storytelling. Look to companies like IDEO to learn about how to apply storytelling to business-building. The current president of NYWSE, Kari Litzmann, has a web magazine as an integral part of her company, Rubina Design. Consumers want to learn about products and the people behind them, be entertained, and find ways to be engaged beyond giving up their dollars.

IV. THE FUTURE: I would like to see the concept of integration replacing the notion of social enterprise to some extent. How can individuals and organizations break down the barriers between academic disciplines, career goals, and ways of impacting the world?

Bathtub Theory

I’m writing this in the bathtub after a very long day. Why not write in the tub? Steam is rising around the sides of the laptop; it’s romantic. Maybe afterward my laptop and I will have a light supper with roses on the table, then we’ll read Walt Whitman in bed.

I’ve been thinking about this n+1 panel I attended last night at St. Mark’s Bookshop. The panel was on “theory” and its current role in intellectual culture, and the setting was quite appropriate, since St. Mark’s is the spot to shop for Derrida. But I didn’t realize what I wanted to ask until the panel was over. I wanted to ask whether theory’s changes through time aren’t directly related to the flows of capitalism? Capitalism moves one way or the other–it closes, it widens, it morphs completely–and it affects the way we value thinking. It should be of no surprise that we are, at the same time, intellectually and physically obsessed with science and technology, and in a “post-theory” moment in Academia. Base and superstructure, I think one wise man once called it.

Why couldn’t I ask my question during the panel? When I was in graduate school, it terrified me to ask questions at our intimate monthly departmental seminars with eminent guest speakers. A feeling of deep panic rose up in me, from my pelvis to my throat, with the formulation of a question in my head. Would my professors role their eyes at me (overtly or no)? Would my classmates stiffen, thinking, “How elementary/showy/old-fashioned/naive.” Would the presenter be stumped, annoyed, angered at my inquiry? My sense of privilege at being in a private graduate program, and my hyper-awareness of the vicious, competitive careerism of Academia made every question a bearer of guilt, of doubt, and an impediment to really learning anything.

I barely remember panels and talks from graduate school; I was too concerned about whether my question would reveal something unlikeable about me, or I’d say it the wrong way.

We called the anthropology M.A. at The New School for Social Research a “two-year interview.” Who would get into our small, mostly unfunded PhD program? It’s not theory that’s in jeopardy so much as the ability to do anything with it. We devoured theory in a buffet, Deleuze alongside Nietzsche alongside Haraway alongside Lacan. The only rule was you were not allowed to truly love it; you had to gulp it all down and then shit it out. It was the past. It was what made us the neoliberal Academy, bloated with overpaid administrators and debt-funded students, and unable to formulate a single proclamation about how to be and act politically at a time when wars were being waged, the environment was crumbling, our American Dream was fading like the end of a bad movie. The politics in Academic thinking today are buried so deeply in the minutia, in the interstices of meaning, that to acknowledge their existence at all is a sin, reveals you as naive, and likely ends your career.

If we are living in the end times of any epoch, it may be the end of the Enlightenment as we knew it. The privatization of universities in the Eighties under Reagan marked a shift toward an Academy that was inextricable from the whims of capitalism in a way it had never been before, and the impact on thinking has been tremendous. Anthropologists now are studying stock markets and the Fed; sociologists specialize in “expertise.” Theory has marked a spiral into this moment, a movement away from empiricism into abstraction, from the gold standard into derivatives, from dialectics to rhizomes. In this spiral our questions float helplessly like clouds, ungrounded and quick to evaporate, like steam rising from a hot bath.