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Tonight, I was sitting on the curb drinking a glass of wine—AS WE DO HERE IN CYPRESS PARK, LOS ANGELES—and thinking about the city vs. the country. I’ve read a couple of things lately that have emphasized the difference. Don’t be impressed by my nocturnal musings, please. I was thinking about my immune system. And I was thinking about my skin.

Apparently kids who grow up in the country have stronger immune systems. They’re exposed to dirt, bugs, and swampy muck, and the result is an immune system that can withstand a lot of outside nastiness, unlike those milquetoast city kids who are running our financial centers of industry!!! But cities have their demons, too, and all the pollution of cities is really hard on your skin. Wrinkles. Cancer of the eyeballs. The usual suspects. Anyway, I was just sort of emptily musing about these different places and the various degrees of trouble/salvation they hold.

And then I just thought: whatever. The fact that we even have this dichotomy—city vs. country and all the nuances in between—is amazing. I don’t really care if I’m breathing in a little pollution right now. It’s so incredible that I’m sitting here with my feet—OKAY, MY BIRKENSTOCKS—planted on concrete that covers dirt that covers pipes and water and the army Beyoncé is slowly building underground. It’s pretty incredible that I can see the moon and a few sad stars and that there’s also an electric light over my head. I love that it’s dark out but I can see two teenage girls sitting on the stairs of the school across the street and gossiping. I love that I can see a few ants milling around. And I love that there is such a thing as the country, and it’s heartbreakingly beautiful, and I can see it whenever I want, because there are also things like Rental Cars and Airplanes and Jobs that Pay and Credit Cards For When You’re Really Desperate to Get Out.

AND THEN!!!!! (Never talk to a fiction writer if you want a short story, unless you’re talking to a flash fiction writer, in which case you may have to lean over to hear what they have to say because they will be laying on the ground because most flash fiction has no spine. YEAH, I WENT THERE.)

Then I reached down and touched the concrete.

About a year ago, maybe more, I wrote a flash fiction piece (I AM NOT IMMUNE TO SPINELESSNESS) about the end of the world. Fine, fine, I’ll link to it, go ahead, twist my arm. It was about a mother, in a space station, who watches the world split in half. I felt very emotional when I wrote it. I felt, deeply, how sad it would be if that actually happened. I know that sounds like an obvious thing to say, but just think about it. Ehhhhhh? Are you imagining it? The little grave you dug for your parakeet when you were 7? The name you scratched into that tree and then, embarrassed, tried to scratch out again? The last batch of recycling you threw away, thinking somewhat guiltily that recycling old birthday cards feels wrong but hey, are you supposed to save them all forever?? ALL OF THAT GONE.

And then a couple of weeks ago, I read a submission for Cicada (a hip cool teen mag I freelance for) about…a girl in space watching the world end. In both pieces, the world ends in flame. In both of them, humans watch it happen with a particular gaping nostalgia-tinged grief. And when I say “the world ending,” I mean the world LITERALLY BEING DESTROYED. No zombie apocalypse or global warming happening here. I mean the planet physically blowing up/burning up/cracking apart.

When I stroked the concrete I thought for a second that maybe I was stroking the spine of the planet. Like it was some big animal that we’ve all forgotten about. I actually whispered something to it. I wanted it to know that I remembered it. I just couldn’t bear the thought of Earth not existing anymore. I mean, it’s so amazing! And yes, it has been the unwilling—unwitting?—stage to so many horrors. And all we talk about are those horrors. And we should talk about them. But all this time, under us, has been this great sleeping animal. And I feel like me and this other writer were probably feeling the same way when we wrote those little pieces. Like, we really haven’t appreciated the Planet-ness, the Globe-ness of this earth enough. And the whole thing will probably split open someday. And won’t that be awful. Won’t that be the ultimate sadness.

Human Raising Her Head to the Universe


Oh, my little site, how I’ve neglected you! And if you think I’ve neglected tori dot gov dot com, you should see my actual journal—poor empty baby.

Like everyone else in the world, I have been very busy. I have been traveling so much, it’s like I think it’s tax-deductible or something! HA! HA! HA! IRS, YOU’RE NOT LISTENING, RIGHT? I’ve been struggling to stay on top of work while simultaneously moving forward with “work”—excuse me, MY LEGACY—which would be the most difficult and highly-ranked gymnastics move in the Olympics if I had anything to say about it. I’ve been editing a dissertation about Ecclesiastes (not mine). I’ve been reading a little book called The Grapes of Wrath which is a really great book to read in California, because you will end up watering the drought-ridden soil with your own unstoppable tears! Steinbeck, WHO KNEW YOU HAD IT IN YOU?! And I recently made a spreadsheet only to discover I have nine different sources of income. You say freelancer, I say TRUST FUND.

I’m only here tonight to make a brief point and also to ease my soul of the burden of having an un-updated website (NOT BLOG). Ahem. Tonight, a favorite album reminded me that it’s so easy to go through life with your head down: focused on your work, your friends, your love, your goals. But one of the things I like best about the world is, well, it’s a WORLD. In a UNIVERSE. And there are certain—shall we say—pieces of art that, I find, have the effect of gently opening me up to the world around me. And it feels insane. It’s the best type of vertigo. These particular books/albums/government secrets thrill me in a very specific way, reminding me that there are so many places to go and so much gorgeous unknown stuff in the world. And it’s not just about geography, but about time, too—people in the past! Can’t forget about them! And speaking of time, what about tesseracts? Which reminds me, I really need to re-read all of Madeline L’Engle— who was one of my favorite authors as a child—because I suspect that going back to her novels would feel like a little personal time-traveling of my own.

I can’t tell you what exactly I’m listening to right now that’s opening up my world/memories/perceptions like this. Because it’s cliché, and because you have to find your own stuff. But only a handful of art gives me this feeling. It’s worth seeking it out. And in my experience, that sort of perception-opening-up, human-raising-her-head-to-the-universe experience mostly only happens after midnight—or if you find yourself so lucky as to be sitting outside somewhere in Europe. Or when you’re counting your millions, but that’s a story for another night.

16 Things That Probably Won’t Make You Feel Better About the Work You’re Doing Right Now


Some days you like your job. Some days you don’t. Here are 16 things that probably won’t have any noticeable effect on how you feel about your life’s work.

  1. Making to-do lists on subpar stationary.
  2. Reading stories about Florida teenagers who murdered their parents. Yikes, bro. Yikes.
  3. Loudly attempting to clarify your order to a distraught barista who has fled halfway across the room because the toaster just caught fire. “Sir, I meant half whole milk, not half-and-half,” you wail, but he has fled, and he hears you not.
  4. Mosquito nets, even though I’ll be the first to admit that they are pretty.
  5. Finding typos in online New Yorker articles. I see you, double space. I see you.
  6. Biking up very low but very long hills, the worst activity in the free world.
  7. Stretching in public.
  8. Getting bitten by rabid dogs.
  9. Glaring back at the dude who glared at you because you mildly bumped his table at the coffee shop, thus creating a tiny wave in his coffee and APPARENTLY HE CAN’T GO ON LIVING LIKE THIS.
  10. LEPROSY.
  11. When the coat of the person sitting next to you on a plane is just barely touching your elbow and you know they’re doing it on purpose to encroach on your personal space but what can you do? You’d sound like a psychopath if you accused them of anything. So you nudge the coat slightly with your elbow. They notice nothing.
  12. A Yogi Tea bag that says “I am beautiful, I am bountiful, I am blissful.”
  13. A well-timed fax.
  14. Counting your blessings.
  15. Murals.
  16. Books that literary people “enjoy.”

Writing As: An Introduction

A young Tori fresh out of college, considering a career as an oil painter.

A young Tori, fresh out of college and considering a career as an oil painter.

I’ve tried to update this blog—this PORTFOLIO, sorry, this portfolio—a million times this summer and fall, but I’ve been wracked with that weird form of writer’s block that comes from having too much to say and too much money to be bothered to write it down and too many conflicting celebrity birthday party invitations to attend them all which has resulted in a lot of very hurt, very famous feelings, as you can imagine.

The past twelve months have been full of so many changes. For example, I lost some skin cells and grew new ones. I also started washing my hair with yarrow root and researched video games. Exciting statistic: I’ve officially been a full-time freelance writer for a year! Yeah, it was right around the start of football season that I quit my hilariously lucrative, moonshine-soaked waitressing job so that I could write full-time, and by “write full-time” I mean “write fashion news blurbs for almost no money full-time.” But the journey of a thousand miles starts with one underpaid gig, compatriots.

So it’s been a year of thinking about writing in a much more tangible, practical way than I ever thought about writing before. It’s not so much, “Ooh I like writing OOH HERE’S A GOOD TITLE FOR A POEM: EARL GREY RAINWATER,” it’s much more, “What do I want to write? What am I good at writing? What role do I want writing to play in my life? How do I want to write? Is there a void in the world that only my writing can fill?” (Yes there is, and it’s called TARANTINO’S GHOSTWRITER.)

In short, it’s been a year of thinking about my calling, which is sensitive term that I used once in an awkward meeting with an Indiana University administrator. I told him I didn’t want to be a teacher because being a teacher wasn’t “my calling.” He actually laughed at me.

“You believe in callings?” he asked. I didn’t say anything, but what I should have told that sad, incredulous man is, “How can you not?”

So I’ve decided to write down my thoughts on the subject of writing like a bored housewife keeping a diary on the back of her grocery receipts during the awful summer heat of Arizona, 1964. I’ll make it a series: writing as all sorts of different things. I’m sure you’ll disagree with some of them, but this is what writing means to me at this moment in time as I sit in my air-conditioned mansion and count my millions and, well, I could write about it all day.

Busy Creatures

HELLO, COUNTRYMEN. The last time I posted something here, I was in Spain, but the second I got home from Europe, normal life swallowed me whole—except you can’t un-see “Guernica” and you can’t undo moments spent alone in Istanbul’s Basilica Cistern and thank God for that. I do have big plans for this little blog, I do—odd series and introspective think pieces and enough Charlie’s Opinions to keep you stressed out for weeks. But I’ve just been so busy trying to become a tiny bit legit that I haven’t had the time to write anything that doesn’t immediately pay ten million dollars.

Here’s what I’ve been up to for the past few months. I currently have a terrible head cold, so I’m busy feeling sorry for myself, but in the grand scheme of things, I am so, so grateful.

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1. I scrambled around Paris/Spain/Portugual/Turkey on a writer’s budget, with a writer’s slightly cracked camera.


2. I flew to LA to see my amazing baby sister play Jo from Little Women. She was TRULY GREAT.

3. I published some fiction: a story about Marilyn Monroe and a story about the apocalypse.

DAKOTA4. I wrote and directed a play.

5. I interviewed someone who interviewed Tom Robbins.

6. I reviewed Michael Cunningham’s latest novel.

IMG_64767. I dreamed and dreamed about abandoned motels.

8. I wrote a list of the 13 most annoying writers you’ll ever meet. It sorta went viral. The Pen/Faulkner award mentioned it on Facebook.

IMG_6589 IMG_66069. I went to the family farm(s).

IMG_649810. I was gone most weekends.

11. I started my greatest writing project to date, a series called Lady Killers on the Hairpin about…female serial killers. It was featured on Longform twice.

12. I interviewed the Editor-in-Chief of Guernica (the magazine, not the painting, bro). The interview isn’t up yet but you’ll definitely hear about it when it is.

IMG_7075IMG_694613. I went on a press trip to Bermuda, confirming my long-held suspicion that being a writer—no matter how humble your gigs—is the greatest job of all time, second only to being a poet.

This may be the most self-aggrandizing post of all time, but if I think it’s cool to be a little bit proud of your achievements, isn’t it? Especially when everyone says the thing you want to do for a living isn’t anything you could do, you know, in real life, and you’re like, Just let me try for two seconds?


I don’t even know where to begin. Here’s how I’ve been feeling lately: ecstatic, dopamine-fueled, like everything is happening at once, and full of that subtle but deep underlying sadness that I don’t think any thinking woman will ever be able to shake. Example: today, I saw Picasso’s “Guernica” in person. I started crying. I stood close to it for ten minutes. I stopped myself from even thinking about taking a picture. My vision was blurry. I’d had so much coffee, and so little food. I felt: so moved to be in the presence of legend, so moved to be in the presence of great art, so envious of every artist and ex-pat who’s ever lived in Europe among this deep deep artistic history that we will never be able to approximate in the US, so sad about the bombing of Guernica, so intimidated by how perfectly Picasso channeled real human suffering into art, so restless about the fact that I don’t live in a city with Guernica in it, so dreamy at the thought that I was standing in an art museum by myself in Madrid, so confused.

I walked back, buzzing with caffeine and Guernica and work, listening to something just as blood-pumping and confusing as anything: a song that my brother recommended to me for a road trip with my sister but that has come to represent, for me, my first solo trip to Europe. Buzzing is the best word for what I’ve been feeling lately. Sometimes it’s literal (wayyyyy too many gin and tonics in Portugal), sometimes it’s because I’m listening to a great song and walking extra fast, sometimes it’s because I’m angry (I recently got an EMAIL criticizing one of my articles for having a TYPO), sometimes it’s because I’m thrilled, sometimes it’s because I’m making eyes at everyone on the street and I can’t stop. I’m too obsessed with burning imagery, stigmata, flash fiction. I just stopped writing and reached for the screen. See—the big gesture of my life right now is me holding my hands out in front of me and shaking, fingers poised in a gesture that’s half-claws, half-reaching. With joy? With fear? Even I, the trembling mind inside my only body, couldn’t tell you.

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13 Nightmares

A strange thing I was working on last year. What is it? Visual nonfiction? All dreams are technically nonfiction, aren’t they?

I wasn’t going to do anything with it, but recently I’ve been extra inspired by Andy Warhol’s idea of just cranking stuff out, letting the world deal with it as they will, and getting along to the next project. I really want to be some sort of Warhol-Zelda Fitzgerald hybrid rather than, say, a Flaubert in search of le mot juste. A fabulous hack with a quick wit.