Things I’m Genuinely Bad At, Part Two

Some time ago, I bared my soul to the world in the iconic post Things I’m Genuinely Bad At. That was the essay wherein I composed what may be my greatest line of all time: “You are probably never going to be a pop star and I am probably never going to be a neuroscientist, so it’s time to let certain dreams go so that we can focus on what’s truly important: making a lot of money while looking hot.”

O YOUNG TORI!!!!!

Anyway, today is not a day for nostalgia. Today is a day for self-reflection, for self-flagellation, for staring into the mirror and shrieking “WHY, CRUEL SELF, WHY?” And so I present you with Things I’m Genuinely Bad At, 2017 version.

Answering emails and texts in a timely fashion. It’s just too much stimulation, okay? Note that in 2013, I was also bad at this.

Maintaining a healthy level of skepticism about hippie remedies that I read about in comment sections. Now and then I find myself reading an article about Natural Ways to Remain Fabulous in Your 80s, and someone in the comment section says, apropos of nothing, “I eat a teaspoon of coconut oil mixed with lots of cayenne pepper every morning. It stimulates digestion and doubles as a preventative measure against common household pests! Also, I heat rocks in the oven and place them on my temples every time I have a hangover. I swear it works!” If I stumble across a comment like that, I cannot help but believe it. There’s something about the misspelled innocence of certain comment sections, the enthusiasm of crunchy oversharers, that instantly turns me into a disciple. “THIS PERSON IS FULL OF LIVED EXPERIENCE,” my brain shrieks. “HEAT UP ROCKS IN THE OVEN IMMEDIATELY.”

Getting MacArthur Genius Grants. This one’s pretty embarrassing, LOL!

Sitting still for long periods of time. Halfway through an hour-long phone interview the other day, I was leaping around my kitchen like a gnat, silently screaming into the phone. If a sermon is too long, I may sketch out story ideas in the margins of the bulletin. If you are in a band and your set is longer than 45 minutes, I can and will plot your death. How can we as a culture buy into the paleo diet but not understand that humans were not designed to sit in meetings, like, ever???

Longboarding. My fear of “going too fast” really bites me in the leg here.

Staying warm. Left to my own devices, I produce zero body heat. This is why you can occasionally find me sitting in my local gym’s steam room in full winter regalia, despite aggressive signage demanding that people steam in “shorts or bathing suit only.” Put on a bathing suit in January? Are you KIDDING?

 [Formerly] Fighting off fungus gnats. If you spoke to me during a certain few weeks in early December, you know that I was a woman possessed. Charlie and I have many, many houseplants in our apartment and they came down with a nasty fungus gnat infestation, for reasons that I cannot pretend to understand. I waged war against them for a couple of weeks, sobbing at my own futility (there are only so many gnats a lady can crush with her bare hands before going nearly insane!!!!) until finally, a few judicious insecticide purchases from Amazon killed most of the awful little beasts. I like to consider myself a compassionate person; I dislike eating meat for the obvious reasons, I would never crush a baby sparrow underfoot. But when it comes to fungus gnats, I turn into something else entirely—a thing without mercy. In the immortal words of James Cameron’s Terminator, “It can’t be bargained with; it can’t be reasoned with. It doesn’t feel pity or remorse or fear and it absolutely will not stop—ever—until you are dead!”

Brief, Impassioned Book Reviews in Capslock

BESTOFTIMES

Want to know my favorite thing in the world that I’ve loved since I was 12? Sleeping in on Saturday mornings, rolling over groggily, and picking up a book. O! for the days when that book was Harry Potter! I may never know such passionate investment in a world again. (I’m like 20% invested in this world.)

I’ve been watching a lot of TV lately (Charlie and I are trying to finish The Office and hoping that Jim and Pam die at the end), and the difference between zoning out in front of the TV and reading a book is just MIND-BLOWING. TV-watching doesn’t even relax you! It stresses you out more! My brain literally feels better when I’m reading—relaxed, aware, empathetic, intrigued. When I’m fully engaged in a novel (which is hard, as I now have an iPhone and my attention span is more gerbil-like than ever; have you seen how I use parentheticals?)—that is, when I’m experiencing la douleur exquise of wanting to know what happens next and needing the whole thing to be real, well, friends, that is absolutely the greatest thing about books and really the only thing I want to accomplish in my own writing. So here’s how I feel about my latest reads IN CAPSLOCK, BECAUSE THERE IS NO OTHER WAY.

Endless Love – Scott Spencer: AMAZING CULT NOVEL FROM THE 70S ABOUT OBSESSIVE TEENAGE LOVE.  JUST EXQUISITE AT THE SENTENCE LEVEL; SOME MIGHT THINK IT’S OVERWRITTEN BUT I FOUND IT IMPASSIONED, AS THE NARRATOR IS ONE OF THOSE GUYS WHO SORT OF CAN’T BEAR FINDING THINGS SO BEAUTIFUL. I’LL NEVER FORGET THE IMAGE OF WALKING DOWN A HALLWAY AND HEARING THE “SWEET WHITE NOISE” OF THE SHOWER RUNNING. THE PLOT IS CRAZY AND BY THE END YOU SORT OF FEEL LIKE NONE OF IT EVER HAPPENED. INTENSE EMOTIONAL EXPLORATION. NOT TO BE A TOTAL SEXIST BUT IMPRESSIVE TO SEE THIS SORT OF ACCURATE EMOTIONAL PITCH COMING FROM A MALE WRITER. THE ENDING MADE ME CRY.

Eat, Pray, Love – Elizabeth Gilbert. I FOUND THIS IN A THRIFT STORE AND I THOUGHT, “WHY NOT?”  A SMALL ACT OF REBELLION AGAINST THE LITERARY ESTABLISHMENT ON MY PART. DIDN’T EXPECT TO ABSOLUTELY LOVE THIS BOOK. THE WRITING IS SO MUCH BETTER THAN YOU’D THINK. IT’S A CLASSIC STORY OF BREAKDOWN AND REDEMPTION. ONCE SHE GETS TO INDONESIA I WAS KIND OF DONE WITH THE STORY BECAUSE EVERYTHING WAS SO PERFECT AND READING ABOUT PERFECTION GETS OLD. STILL, I JUDGE YOU IF YOU JUDGE THIS BOOK WITHOUT READING IT, BECAUSE THEN I KNOW YOU ARE A LITERARY SNOB WITH NO SOUL.

Amy and Isabelle – Elizabeth Strout. ELIZABETH STROUT IS MY HOMEGIRL. SHE’S BASICALLY THE NOVELIST VERSION OF ALICE MUNRO. AN INCREDIBLY SENSITIVE WRITER. ONE OF THOSE AMAZING AUTHORS WHO KNOWS WHAT EVERY CHARACTER IN THE ROOM IS FEELING AT ANY GIVEN TIME. THIS IS A HEARTBREAKING MOTHER/DAUGHTER STORY. A LITTLE SLOW AT FIRST, BUT PICKS UP QUICKLY. THE INTERNAL LIFE OF THE MOTHER IS JUST UNBELIEVABLY RENDERED. THE ENDING MADE ME CRY. ONE OF THE MOST BEAUTIFUL LAST SENTENCES I’VE EVER READ. SHE’S PROBABLY NEVER USED CAPSLOCK IN HER LIFE BUT DON’T GET ME WRONG, ELIZABETH STROUT IS NO PUSHOVER: SHE’S NOT AFRAID OF CHARACTERS WHO CURSE, YOUNG GIRLS WHO SEDUCE OLDER MEN, OR PUTTING DEAD BODIES IN CAR TRUNKS.

St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves – Karen Russell. THIS COLLECTION MIGHT BE BETTER THAN SWAMPLANDIA. THE MOST IMAGINATIVE STORIES ABOUT CREEPY CHILDREN YOU WILL EVER READ, ALL BRIMMING WITH THAT POIGNANT PAIN THAT’S SO PARTICULAR TO CHILDHOOD AND THAT I ALWAYS TRY TO WRITE ABOUT BUT SINCE KAREN RUSSELL IS THE MACARTHUR-WINNING QUEEN OF CREEPY EMOTIONALLY SENSITIVE CHILDREN I GUESS I SHOULD JUST BECOME A HEART SURGEON LIKE EVERYONE IS ALWAYS TELLING ME TO BE. ANYWAY, SOME OF THE ENDINGS HAD THAT DISTINCT WORKSHOP-ENDING FLAVOR, BUT OVERALL AN INCREDIBLY ENGAGING READ.

Atonement – Ian McEwan. THIS IS THE FAVORITE NOVEL OF TWO OF MY VERY BEST FRIENDS SO I FEEL LIKE I PSYCHED MYSELF OUT BEFORE I EVEN STARTED IT, LIKE, “I NEED TO LOVE THIS I NEED TO LOVE THIS.” I ALSO THINK SEEING THE MOVIE FIRST MADE THE READING EXPERIENCE POORER. STILL, AN AMAZING BEAUTIFUL NOVEL AND I LOVED THE WAR SCENES. THEY MADE ME CRY.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane – Neil Gaiman. AMANDA PALMER WHO? I AM THE ONE WHO NEIL GAIMAIN WAS SUPPOSED TO MARRY. I HAVE LOVED HIM FOR A LONG TIME AND I THINK HE’S JUST THE BEST. INSANE IMAGINATION. HAS THAT LOVING SENSIBILITY THAT ONLY GOOD CHILDREN’S WRITERS HAVE, BUT ALL ADULTS SHOULD READ HIM TOO. HE DEFINITELY BELIEVES IN THE MAGIC HE WRITES ABOUT AND I BELIEVE, TOO. I FIND THAT OCCASIONALLY HIS BOOKS START FEELING A LITTLE FAIRY-TALE-DERIVATIVE, BUT THIS WAS A QUICK FUN READ. STILL, IF YOU HAVEN’T READ ANY GAIMAN, YOU ABSOLUTELY MUST READ “THE GRAVEYARD BOOK” NO QUESTIONS ASKED IT IS ONE OF MY FAVORITE BOOKS OF ALL TIME. AND SEE “CORALINE,” THE MOVIE, IT’S AMAZING.

 Where’d You Go, Bernadette? – Maria Semple. MY FAVORITE NOVEL RIGHT NOW. YOU WANT YOUR POP CULTURE-INFUSED, QUICK-PACED, FUNNY BUT STILL EMOTIONALLY RESONANT, MULTI-MEDIA-TYPE WRITING? PUT DOWN “A VISIT TO THE GOON SQUAD” AND PICK THIS UP.  I REALLY HOPE THIS WINS THE PULITZER ALTHOUGH THERE’S NO WAY IT WILL BECAUSE IT’S NOT “LITERARY.” EXCEPT IT IS LITERARY, IT IS QUINTESSENTIALLY LITERARY. RICH CHARACTERS THAT YOU DEEPLY CARE ABOUT DOING HILARIOUS, UNEXPECTED, BIZARRE THINGS WHILE FREAKING OUT ABOUT LIFE? WHAT’S MORE LITERARY THAN THAT? YOU CAN READ YOUR TAO LIN ALL DAY BUT I BELIEVE NOVELS WERE MEANT TO BE ENJOYED. YES, I’M BITTER, ONCE A SEMI-FAMOUS CHICAGO AUTHOR WAS REALLY RUDE TO ME AND MY FRIEND OUTSIDE A FALAFEL JOINT. IT CREATED A WOUND IN MY HEART THAT WILL ONLY BE FILLED BY POP PSYCHOLOGY AND FINDING THE TRUE GREATNESS IN SEEMINGLY SHALLOW ART FORMS. THIS IS WHY I LOVE MILEY CYRUS AND WILL DEFEND HER TO ZEUS HIMSELF. THIS IS SERIOUSLY AN AMAZING BOOK THOUGH, THE BEST BOOK I’VE READ ALL YEAR, READ IT, YOU’LL LAUGH YOU’LL CRY YOU WON’T BE ABLE TO PUT IT DOWN. JUST DO IT.

poundit

PS: HAS ANYONE NOTICED I’M HAVING A MOMENT WITH SEMICOLONS? NO? FINE.

The Work of Writing: Week One Update

photo-4

In case you missed it, I’m embarking on a month-long project of trying a different writing work style every week. If you’re a non-writer who’s wondering why I’m doing this, STOP READING MY BLOG AND GO BACK TO YOUR FINANCE JOB. Just kidding, I ADORE you. I’m doing this not-so-glamorous experiment because nobody really talks about the pros and cons of different writing styles–people just talk about how Hemingway drank daiquiris. Oh, really? Writers tend toward alcoholism? LOOK IN THE MIRROR, SOCIETY. IT’S YOU. 

Ugh times ten thousand. This week was not only sickeningly hot, it was a study in everything that is frustrating about writing. If you recall, I was planning to write only new content for an hour a day at the same time each day. Some lowlights:

1. I couldn’t write at the same time every day because my schedule is different every day. Where’s the genius who thought up that parameter?

2. I didn’t write at all on Thursday because I was so sleep-deprived that I had to choose a nap over writing during the sliver of free time I had between jobs. I don’t regret it because I was near death, but I feel guilty about skipping a day.

3. On Friday, I began to get frustrated with the sloppiness of the story. The trajectory seemed off–as though I’d taken a wrong turn circa page 15 and was now careening down a terrible highway. As you may recall, I set a goal for myself to only produce new content–and I did, 20 pages of it, girrrrrl–but once things started feeling off-balance, I just wanted to go back and edit. Or drink myself to death.

4. Yesterday’s “writing” was just awful. I’d-rather-be-anything-but-a-writer-level awful. I was at Intelligentsia, it was packed with loud tourists, I have never felt less inspired. I left in a rage and stalked down Michigan Avenue with my best I’m-a-serial-killer-get-out-of-my-way-you-plebeian-scum face on and bought some expensive honey at Whole Foods.

Some highlights:

1. Despite the fact that I am now on the Chicago serial killer registry for kickstarting the Great Fruit Fly Massacre of 2013, I have 20 pages of a brand-new story that simply did not exist a week ago! I want to fling the pages around an Egyptian temple and make my acolytes strew herbs on them. WRITING A NEW STORY IS THE GREATEST FEELING IN THE WORLD. I KNOW YOU FEEL ME! Earlier in the week when I was young and the world was mine, I was feeling pretty high on the whole concept of creation. Coming up with something new can make you feel like you’re that elusive autopoietic machine or whatever it’s called. FREAKING COOL, RIGHT?!

2. I remembered that stories need to have an “inciting incident.” OH, RIGHT. As I wrote, I started asking myself questions as though I was in a bad relationship: where is this thing going? What’s the point? What am I doing here? Why is that man talking LOUDLY ON HIS CELL PHONE CAN’T HE SEE I’M TRYING TO WRITE?

The takeaway:

If you decide that writing every day is your thing, it’s probably going to feel like what it is: a grind. You won’t always feel like an autopoietic genius. There are a thousand things waiting to burst through the seams of your structured day and just overwhelm you. It’s hard to get enough sleep and make enough money for rent. It’s even harder to carve out time in the day to work on your own stuff when you’re constantly getting new emails, tweets, and texts, and the dishes are piling up, and you remember guiltily that you haven’t eaten a vegetable in days, and also you now have cholera and are skidding towards the grave.

Don’t let the frustration of general existence tear you away from putting in a little time to write. Some of what I wrote this week was awesome, since I am a MacArthur fellow. Some of it was stupid, since my brain is 40% 15-year-old boy. It wasn’t the greatest week of my life, but I put in a little time and I got results: a Frankensteinian baby of a story that needs drastic plastic surgery. Nobody ever said fiction was going to look beautiful without a few stitches.

Register Now for "Unbelievable Failures! The True Stories of Young People Who Suck at Life."

My alma mater just sent me a charming email, encouraging me to register for an event called Successful Startups: The Back Stories of Forward Thinkers. “Hell to the no!” I cried in a voice that resonated throughout seven states. In the spirit of protest upon which this great country was founded, I have started my OWN event, celebrating that wondrous tie that binds us all together: UNBELIEVABLE FAILURE. I hope all of you who have not founded an internet empire by the age of 23 will join me.

Join the Macarthur Foundation and Tori Dot Gov for a panel discussion of incredible losers and jaw-dropping idiots who have failed to make a name for themselves and sometimes avoid paying taxes! Whether you’re a waitress, a homeless person, or a rich kid who simply doesn’t see the need to work a 9-5 and is thisclose to being disowned by your family, this dynamic panel of hopeless failures is sure to make you feel better about yourself! Continue reading