Advice from a Younger Sister: On Schoolwork

Dear everybody, welcome to the best part of your day. After much cajoling, bribery, and sheer brute force, I managed to wrangle my younger sister Anna into accepting the much-coveted position of contributing writer for toridotgov. Anna is a) a hilarious genius and b) currently conquering the world as a high school junior in gorgeous Southern California. When she’s not busy starring in musicals and running 30-second miles, she will deign to answer your most urgent questions with all the wisdom of her 16 years (and a lifetime of tutelage under the best: me). Got boy problems? Need career advice? Wondering what the square root of pi is? Like a Euripidean deus ex machina, Younger Sister is here to help.


All magic comes with a price, dearie.

Dear world of readers who should probably be at the gym or doing work rather than sitting, glued to their computer/iPhone/other-type-of-technology-that-I-can’t-afford-or-know-nothing-about, reading the increasingly interesting blog of Tori Telfer,

I am the unfortunate, misunderstood younger sister of said blogger, and I’m here to help you all with life’s most pressing problems, including how to cope with Chicago weather and how to start a business. I consider myself an expert on all things from aardvarks to zythum, and everything in between (except, of course, technology). Now before you all jump to judgments before getting to know the real me, I should begin by telling you a little bit about myself:

My favorite font is Century Gothic and I love all things Downton Abbey.

Anyways, a lot of my fans have been asking me for advice lately, so I thought I’d begin with my absolute favorite subject, SCHOOL.

WELL, I for one see no point in education. I came out of the womb reading Sophocles, and have found no use for anything else ever since. I see no reason for the tiring hours everyday one must devote to pursuing a “higher education.” The only thing high about this education is the teachers. WHEN WILL I EVER USE sinx= 1/cscx ?! Now you may be thinking, “I should stop reading now, this girl clearly isn’t an accountant or a triangle-activist.” And you’re right, I do not pride myself on either of those fine ambitions. All I’m saying is that cavemen survived without calculus, didn’t they?!

I advocate for a simpler world.

Concision is advisable, too.

If you have any questions, comments, or concerns, please keep them to yourself, because this is not a federally-run website and no one cares. Just kidding: if you feel the urge, go for it.

That is all.

Today the Sky is Gray: A Compendium of Scientific Theories


1. It is a direct reflection of Freud’s “melancholia,” from which I am currently suffering, and the grayness is actually emanating from me as I sit here, staring out the Megabus window, driving farther and farther away from a land where coffee is made with care and buses run down literally every street, although they do smell terrible (both the buses and the streets), but then again Chicago in the winter is not New York in the summer, odor-wise, not even in the same ballpark, so I rescind that last complaint.

2. All across the globe, fish are dying. Instead of reflecting the blue ocean, the sky is now forced to reflect the gray, scaly underbellies of dead fish as they float silently on the surfaces of rivers and ponds across America, reeking slightly, glimmering moistly. This is because of global warming and/or Obama’s presidency.

3. By referring to Borges as my soulmate, I have created some sort of space-time continuum rupture and, in a totally Borgesian turn of events, I am slowly becoming Borges–and losing my sight.

4. The entire globe is on fire and what I take to be “clouds” is actually “smoke.” Signifier/signified/what is reality/what is meaning/etc.

5. Someone has colored the sky gray with a crayon. Probably Mary Poppins. Did anyone actually read the book Mary Poppins? That biddy has some serious superpowers and sticks the stars onto the sky with glue. She is way creepier than in the Disney movie.

6. The heavens have grown so bored with everyone’s petty Tweeting that they refuse to be a color anymore. Or maybe it’s not Twitter that’s the problem, maybe the universe is still mad at Anne Hathaway for refusing to embrace her total smugness and instead pretending (note that I didn’t say acting) to be surprised at her Oscar win.

7. The lead singer of Counting Crows finally got that gray guitar and played.

8. The gray, leafless trees and the gray, foggy, slowly-descending sky are in some sort of agreement, possibly whispering to each other behind all of our backs. Trees know, okay? Trees know. If you’ve read Tolkien you know this; if not, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

9. Zombie apocalypse.

10. Someone is holding a large piece of fabric over this Megabus with cornfields, farmhouses, and very realistic semi-trucks painted on it in order to deceive me into thinking the day is cloudy. This seems the most plausible explanation, but WHY? I will muse on the motivations behind this horrible  simulacrum while looking for small tears in the fabric.

Guest Post: Breasts & the Oscars (or, Because I Don’t Have Tina Fey’s Address, I Sent This to Toridotgov)



Letter of Interest
1051 Cyberspace Ave
This Laptop, IN, 00000

Feb 25, 2013

Dear toridogov,

As I read through this morning’s feminist ragings against the unabashedly lowbrow Seth MacFarlane, I began to question the very nature of my femininity (which is to say, the state of my breasts). Am I being gazed at enough? Perversely enough? Called “the lovely–” or “the beautiful–” enough? No. Of course not. I am neither dating anyone (yes, that’s right, let the gazing begin), nor am I friends with the cast of Jersey Shore. Who, then, will sing odes to my boobs (even when they are in dire situations cough cough The Accused)?

Blog after blog, live tweet after live tweet, I saw feminist movements being revived—the first-wavers getting huffy, the second-wavers reminding me that singing about boobs is really just a glaring denial of vaginas in and of themselves, and the third-wavers irate that women of many colors and ethnicities were left out of the misogynist gaze altogether. Don’t get me wrong: I love to get mad at misogynist men. Sometimes I make out with biddies to BOTH spite them AND arouse them (and from a pure love of making out with biddies). And as a budding (get it—it’s a flower word, so I’m relating to my gender, sexuality, and youth all at once!) filmmaker myself, shouldn’t I be upset that the only female directors invited to the club are daughters of the most valuable film estate (cough cough Coppola) or ex-wives of douchebag directors who we want to stick it to (cough cough when are we going to start making jokes about James Cameron instead of Kathryn Bigelow)?

But mostly, I’m just offended that Seth MacFarlane’s presence was so boring—so absolutely two-dimensional. After all, what high school bro hasn’t made up a song about boobs? Or been so desperately out of ideas that he has to make fat jokes about Adele? Or come up with self-incriminating homophobic jokes when Captain Kirk was around? I mean, isn’t this just like a shitty open mic night at the local townie bar–only at the Kodak, it’s not even ironic? If we really want to nab Seth MacFarlane right in the babymaker, the response needs to be exactly what his humor is not: sophisticated.

And so, toridotgov, I’m hoping you might help give us a new feminism—a feminism that listens to songs about our boobs and responds, “Hey boys, ever wonder why we aren’t singing about you?”

Your faithful, sexually-confused gal pal,

L. Hiton


Lisa Hiton is a current nominee for the Pushcart Prize and a master’s candidate in Arts in Education at Harvard University. She single-handedly introduced the word “biddies” into the lexicon of the Midwest.

A Playlist for Your Creepster Writing Sessions

California etc 198

Hi there! Want to be more like me? OF COURSE YOU DO. Why? Um, because I have $16 in my bank account. This makes me bohemian and spontaneous, right? And prone to kleptomania.

I have decided to bequeath upon you a FREE GIFT. It is not only free for you to receive, it was free for me to give. I would gladly spend thousands of dollars on each of your glowing anonymous faces, but I no longer believe in material things (half out of necessity, half because Joyce Carol Oates told me that Marilyn Monroe was a Christian Scientist). So instead of Chanel, I give you the gift of INTANGIBLE SONG.

When I am writing a particularly creepy scene, I need a particularly creepy playlist. Show me the author who can write to Ke$ha and I will show you a fraud. It takes a certain mindset to write a fight scene in a storage unit, a mother nursing a plastic doll, or The Shining, and sometimes I require outside influences to achieve said mindset. I also have to pump myself up like an athlete if I want to get my creep on, but I rarely do that anymore, because I spend most of my days in a SATC-induced lethargy while lying in a pool of sunlight. I’m not really a February person. Or a small-town person. Or a person. (WENT THERE. #zombieapocolypse)

Get in the zone, Auto Zone, with this chill-inducing playlist that will remind you and your characters of their own looming mortality. It ends with a pair of pump-up semi-cliche spooky jamz to celebrate the fact that the scene is ending (whoo! you done good!). And yes, it opens with some old English opera. Trust me on this one. I wrote one of my first college stories with this song on infinite loop. The story itself was terrible, the writing experience was awesome.


Saturday Love List #1


My name is Tori Telfer, and I’m a fatalist.

I just finished writing an extremely inflammatory blog post about Girls, Django Unchained, and Silver Linings Playbook, which I’m pretty sure would have lost me 90% of my friends (whatever, I’m right, ART IS NOT OBLIGATED TO REFLECT THE REAL WORLD OR TAKE THE MORAL HIGHGROUND ABOUT ANY ISSUE WHATSOEVER, BE IT GENDER, INCOME, RACE, PRIVILEGE, OR MENTAL ILLNESS–AND YOU’RE DELUSIONAL IF YOU THINK IT SHOULD. L’ART POUR L’ART! L’ART POUR L’ART!).

But then I stopped yelling for two seconds and skipped on over to my dear friend Rose’s sunny, adorable, quirky blog (check it out now or I’ll knife you) and I thought to myself: IS TORIDOTGOV TURNING INTO A WASTELAND OF DEPRESSION AND RAGE, HAUNTED BY THE ARCHETYPE OF THE SHADOW? (I’m really into Carl Jung right now.)

And then I thought: Tori, you are a nice young girl of considerable talent (capslock, making simple syrups, adding gin to things). Why are you giving yourself wrinkles by slouching around the wilds of the Midwest, scowling like an old Norse god?

So–hells bells, this is hard–I have decided to be positive for five seconds and write a love list like Rose does. Ahem. Here goes. Okay. Here are some things that I’m not totally bummed about:

1. My amazing morning.

This Saturday morning has been so blissfully lazy that it may have catapulted me into early retirement. My bed has been drowning in a patch of sunlight and I have been lounging in it like a cat for hours, drinking a cafe au lait from Feast and alternately reading The Writer’s Journey and re-reading Blonde (it honestly should have gotten the Pulitzer, Joyce Carol Oates is never going to get nominated again, it’s a total shame, the book is utterly heartbreaking and exquisitely crafted). I stayed off the computer for a few hours and was reminded of how amazing books and coffee and zebra pillows and white sheets are when you pile them all in the same place at the same time and dive into them like a salmon leaping upstream.

2. Certain hysterical girlfriends.

This is both a boon and a curse, because missing my girlfriends is like being in a SECOND long-distance relationship. But today on Facebook I was reminded of a sleepover that we had in Geneva, Illinois, and it gave me a serious nostalgia buzz (it’s at thing, trust me). This sleepover involved way too much wine, movies about sex cults, wandering through adorable antique stores, and being yelled at on trains. We attempted to get over our hangovers by throwing a FASCIST PROM-themed party the very next night (no joke) and drinking gin-spiked champagne while crying about our futures (guilty). We danced to “Bitch” and they hugged me and pretended like I wasn’t a total maniac. Every day is a Girls episode but cooler with these ladies.

3. My camera.

Yes, my parents don’t understand me in a lot of ways. But this Christmas, they patiently waited as I returned presents like a spoiled child, stalked Craigslist, analyzed and deconstructed the cameras therein–and then they drove me to a really creepy area of San Diego so I could buy my first DSLR Camera. And then my dad took me to a photography museum so I could be inspired. That was really nice of them and it’s so easy to forget the nice things that parents do when you have psychologically never left your teenage years behind.

4. Knowing actual poets.

I feel bad for people who aren’t friends with actual working publishing poets. I mean, nothing is cooler cuz people are like, Keats and Shelly are long dead!!! and then you rip off your jacket and you’re wearing a Poetry Lives t-shirt (that was an extended metaphor, something my poet friends taught me how to wield like a sword at long mojito-fueled picnics, and that sword thing was called a SIMILE). Check it:

Gulls by Lisa Hiton (Guernica)
Lion Orders a Frisco Melt at Steak ‘n Shake by Doug Paul Case (Vinyl Poetry)
Thirty by Leslie Marie Aguilar (Emerge Literary Journal)

5. My boyfriend (awwwww).

First of all, he secretly has the greatest comedic timing of anyone I’ve ever met. Second of all, his hair looks great at any length (yes, ladies, we sort of hate him because of it). Third of all, I’m not saying tomorrow is our anniversary or anything, BUT MAYBE IT IS. xoxo


(Notice that “writing” is not on this list today. We’re at a very tempestuous stage in our relationship now.)

How to Behave on Valentine’s Day


It’s a special day, dear little snowflake. It’s a day when most people are just trying to take a few minutes to literally smell the roses, so this means it’s prime time for you to act like the total asshole you are. Because never forget: it’s always all about you.

1. Overuse the phrase “Hallmark holiday.” After all, Hallmark invented love (along with fascism, wild animal sanctuaries, and guacamole). The nerve!

2. Be lame. Today of all days, make sure you don’t put any extra effort into the act of being a human being. Flake on plans, act socially awkward, and don’t wash your face.

3. Concentrate on your diet. Why eat chocolate and pink cupcakes when you can loudly complain about how you can’t afford to eat chocolate and pink cupcakes?

4. Be bitter about your single status. That’s how to ketch ’em!

5. Don’t tell your parents you love them. Love is hot air balloon rides and champagne, love isn’t raising, feeding, funding, and listening to your bratty ass for 20+ years.

6. Better forget your friends, too. Screw ’em!

7. Lucky enough to have a significant other? Time to get cliche. Did you know they make roses that come with a chocolate bar? Your catchphrase for today is “two birds, one stone.”

8. Passive-aggression looks good on everyone.

9. Wear black. Look, you’re a cutting-edge social critic!

10. Creep on people with boyfriends/girlfriends/spouses. If they don’t go for it, you can roll your eyes and blame Hallmark. No one understands you, baby. Take a shot.

Making Things Happen


Friends, Romans, countrymen:

I just had a storytelling revelation. It may not mean much to you, but it’s big for me. If you all give me five bucks, I’ll share. By reading this far you have already agreed. Awesome. I’ll send my accountant around to collect. Isn’t it great how the Internet lets us make up our own rules?

Right now, I’m trying to write something long. Writing a 100+-page piece is so, so different than writing a short story. And it’s freaking hard, since I don’t exactly have my long-form muscles developed: over the course of my long and illustrious writing career I’ve written two novellas (both featuring nightmares and ghosts, obv) and a couple 30-page stories. Everything else has hovered around the 10-20 page range. I’m pretty sure all the non-writers in the audience just fell asleep. PAGE LENGTH IS REALLY INTERESTING TO WRITERS, OKAY? I could talk about the difference in tension between a 10-page story and a 15-page story all day, and maybe I will if you all don’t stop being so mean!

In short-form literary fiction, we’re encouraged to be so delicate. We have to handle huge issues with grace and extreme minimalism, with subtlety and poignant images that mean so much more than they say. So when I describe a grandfather clock that’s no longer ticking, you know immediately that I’m talking about MORTALITY. A salty little wave gently creeping up on the beach? EVERYTHING WILL BE OKAY AFTER SOME BAD THINGS HAPPEN. &tc. &tc. &tc. (By the way, for people who get confused when I write “&tc.”, I’m 70% sure I once saw David Foster Wallace write “etc.” that way and I have appropriated it for my very own, like someone stealing a small kitten with one missing eye.)

But then it hit me like a ton of bad similes: in this longer piece, I simply have to make things happen. Real things! People can die, babies can be born, people can marry and divorce and fight viciously with both guns and something worse than guns (HURTFUL WORDS), people can change their mind not once not twice but THREE OR MORE times, dishes can fall crashing from the shelves because of dinosaurs walking by, bad weather can reverse the entire plot trajectory, and so on and so forth. In a 10-page story, there’s only so much that can actually occur if you’re trying to avoid a rompy melodrama. But in a longer piece, if not much happens, you’re left with a snoozefest like Melancholia (oh!).

So I need to abandon grace and delicacy for the moment (I’ll pick up those valuable tools during the revision stage) in favor of one thing and one thing only: ACTION. Plot action and character change and inexorable forward movement. There will be no new spring leaves softly scraping against the windowpane in this draft, baby. No nubile young girls singing nursery rhymes to contrast with the protagonist’s slow acceptance of death. No no no. There will be car chases and people exploding out of dark closets and terrible, terrible screaming matches. I need to let go of my crippling fear of melodrama. I don’t know if I can. It’s too ingrained in me. This is what happens when your parents give you a good education. (Thank you, Mommy and Papi! I love you!) But this is really important right now—it’s time to smash down whatever imaginary dam is keeping the movement out, and let the flood roar in.


Also, happy Saturday and much love to everyone reading this, even the bad ones! This post may come across as slightly aggressive, but it’s just the breve, I swear.


PS: I’m usually all, I don’t care what people think! But in this case I actually do. Thoughts on creating something lengthy? Am I missing some important mark?

Unnecessary Things #4: An Informative Guide to Raising Your Ego

Unnecessary Things is a column by Meriwether Clarke.


Anyone who’s anyone knows the real reason millenials keep putting off kids. Careers? The economy? The dwindling existence of eligible men? YEAH RIGHT.We’re all too busy raising something else besides jam-handed toddlers: OUR EGOS.

That’s right, forget the traditional days of ten years past, when late twenty-something hipster couples strolled down cobbled Williamsburg streets, a fat newborn named Jeremizekiah strapped to the bearded father’s chest. Why bother with progeny when the real gift you want to leave to the world is something that will last forever? No, not a diamond…your Facebook account!

In fact, I can barely stay still long enough to type this informative guide. There are Instagram photos to be taken! A Goodreads account to update (5 out of 5 stars for Rilke…IN GERMAN)! A SELF-PRODUCED AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL DRAMA TO ACCIDENTALLY SEND TO ALL MY FRIENDS! But I’m getting carried away. Tori of has promised to monstrously inflate my ego for all this incredibly difficult typing. So here it goes–some small snippets of advice for raising your ego, today. Simply identify your ego-type and follow my fail-proof inflation guide:

 The Intellectual Ego

It’s hard to be a young intellectual. So misunderstood. So convinced of your own mind’s infinite gifts. So sure that debates about postwar linguistic power structures have a place at the dinner table. That Christmas tree ornaments are a representation of bourgeois Nazi values. Fear not! To be an intellectual is to feel alone! Don’t shave off your beard because it itches! You–upper middle class, young, white, vaguely educated–must understand true suffering. How else will you save all the uneducated human slobs you’re forced to interact with every day from themselves? We need you, intellectuals, we need you!!! Power on! Buy that limited edition of Madness and Civilization printed on paper made from recycled straitjackets. Share it with all your friends over nutmeg and absinthe lattes, brewed by your local street vendor as you stared into the chilly winter abyss, pondering…everything.

The Beautiful Ego

Linda Evangelista once famously said she doesn’t get out of bed for more than $10000 a day. YOU SHOULDN’T EITHER (plus inflation). We peasants don’t deserve to see your flawless face and snake-venom tinted eyelids unless you’re being properly compensated for your good genes. You worked hard for those genes! You DESERVE it! And if you DO get out of bed, make sure to spend at least seven hours plucking your eyebrows into perfect half circles and dusting your cheeks with upcycled tinted chalk dust. Then tweet about it. Let us know the secrets to your beauty! WE WANT TO BE BEAUTIFUL TOO.

The Artist Ego

We live in a world that values money over knowledge, sexuality over inner beauty, Justin Timberlake over Bach. What’s a young Artiste to do, burdened by soulful emotions and gratuitous self-loathing? Where should the young James Joyces and Elizabeth Bishops of the twenty-first century go to feel appreciated? To be told that html poetry written at 3 AM outside of your ex boyfriend’s apartment will SOMEDAY BE RELEVANT?!?! Easy! To ungentrified hipster neighborhoods in big cities! To Portland, where you can meet other people just like you! TO MFA PROGRAMS! Who cares if the homeless man on the corner doesn’t realize that your three-dimensional collage made out of beer caps and egg shells represents capitalism’s failure to sustain an educated and cultured populace? Knock on your neighbor’s door, invite them to the coffee shop across the street, and force everyone around you to listen as you explain your art to someone who actually understands it. Someone just like you.

Meriwether Clarke is a rage-filled poet who deigns, every day, to grace the streets of Irvine, CA with her Medusa-like hair and fabulous wardrobe. She thinks the five most terrifying words in the English language are “I agree with Jonathan Franzen.” She simply doesn’t have time to tell the rest of you what’s wrong with your life choices.