Category: consumerism

What would you agree to for a writer’s residency?

Image of Denver Platform and Amtrak  Train

Denver Platform View, copyright Kathleen Crislip

There is a lot of chatter around the Amtrak Residency Program for writers. Free long-distance train ride with a sleeper car equipped with a bed, a desk and outlets. Countryside views unattainable from any other type of trip. Inspiration.

Writers flooded Amtrak with applications—8,500 in just the first week. Twitter is ablaze with the hashtag, #AmtrakResidency. This tells me that for many this opportunity is worth the cost. By cost, I don’t mean an application fee because there is none. The cost is giving up all rights to application materials, which includes a writing sample of up to 10 pages.

In legal-speak, the Official Terms of the program include provision 6, “Grant of Rights,” as quoted below.

In submitting an Application, Applicant hereby grants Sponsor the absolute, worldwide, and irrevocable right to use, modify, publish, publicly display, distribute, and copy Applicant’s Application, in whole or in part, for any purpose, including, but not limited to, advertising and marketing, and to sublicense such rights to any third parties. . . . Applicant grants Sponsor the absolute, worldwide, and irrevocable right to use, modify, publish, publicly display, distribute, and copy the name, image, and/or likeness of Applicant and the names of any such persons identified in the Application for any purpose, including, but not limited to, advertising and marketing. For the avoidance of doubt, one’s Application will NOT be kept confidential (and, for this reason, it is recommended that the writing sample and answers to questions not contain any personally identifiable information – e.g., name or e-mail address – of Applicant.)

Critics have come out against the program for this reason. Dan Zak calls it a sham in his Washington Post article. Mr. Zak points out the media coup this is for Amtrak, now getting crazy publicity for their long-distance trips, which are reportedly operating in the red by millions. Ben Cosman, writing for The Wire, shares parts of an email from Julia Quinn, Amtrak’s Social Media Director, written to The Wire, clarifying Amtrak’s intentions: Read more »

Anything Other Than Writing

My brain is a kind of synapse soup leaking out of my ears after two terrific conferences, one odyssey in Denver, a delivery of files to the printing press, and the mere suggestion of grading scientist profiles. So, in lieu of a thoughtful post, I will offer you several games.

1. Pick up the book nearest you.
Turn to page 45. The first complete sentence describes your love life.

Here’s mine:
“Rather than simplifying and unifying, he is revealing the complexity of the Japanese ‘natural’ world and opening a space in the cosmology for native yokai.”

from Pandemonium and Parade: Japanese Monsters and the Culture of Yokai by Michæl Dylan Foster

(Har har har, sounds supernatural, huh?)

2. Make a book spine poem by arranging books on your self.
Here’s mine:


The hummingbird’s daughter
falling up
in the wilderness
skinny legs and all.
Read more »

Publishing Bots on the Loose: David Publishing

This week I have been at the Southwest Popular American Culture Association Conference, which one of my students has called a “nerd extravaganza.” On Wednesday, I presented some of the X-Files poetry that I have been working on; the manuscript of the collection is called “Glitches in the FBI.” Last night, I received the following e-mail:

from emailThis note (which included some more specific information beneath the scroll), is my first encounter with David Publishing. Because I am human, I like to have my ego stroked, so my first thought was, “Cool.”

When I was younger, I kept a blog, in part to keep in touch with my family across the country, and in part (ok, a really big part), with the hope that I would be “discovered” by some publishing company and land a book deal.  The publishing process was very mysterious to me then (it still is, some days), so I had no idea how writers could be proactive about becoming authors.

Anyway, I saw this e-mail and, I have to admit, it satisfied some part of that “being found” desire I used to have. Even though I presented to a crowd of about seven poetry enthusiasts, in a ballroom staged for 200+ people, I believed my presentation went well. One of my students came, on assignment from the school paper. A poet in a gray suit shook my hand afterward. “Glitches in the FBI” had a lot of good energy around it; of course some one would want to publish some of the poems or a discussion of the process. Read more »

guilty as the nfl: an open letter response

melissa huggins

february 3, 2013


dear huggiebear,

thanks for your letter & let me begin with this: congrats.  your beloved seahawks made peyton manning’s record-setting broncos look completely ineffectual (even in denver’s best moments).  how do i know they did that?  cuz i watched the super bowl.  kinda.  steve almond was right in that this game has practically become a secular holiday.  friends of mine host a big party for it every year—and there are actually some friends of mine that i only see at that super bowl party (yes, their kids are fine & life is pretty good, in case you were wondering).  so, i did see that safety to start the game.  and then basically nothing else until the 2nd half.  but i was there, and i definitely stole glances at the tv screen (was that james franco with a fucking tiger?).  i even watched a good part of the 2nd half as more&more guests headed home (yes, those parents are responsible & their kids do have bedtimes, in case you were wondering).  but that does kinda prompt the question, wtf, jason?

so let me also acknowledge this: i didn’t exactly maintain a strict ban on watching my beloved bears this past season.  i tried to stay away.  but then some guys would invite me to the bar to watch monday night football with them, and i’d want to hang out with them because i haven’t seen them in a while, and then i’d see alshon jeffery make an absolutely sick catch against dallas, and then i’ve fallen off the wagon, as it were.

Read more »

To Watch Or Not To Watch?

Jason Sommer

January 31, 2014

Dear Jason,

On Sunday, February 2, Super Bowl 48 will take place, between the Denver Broncos and the Seattle Seahawks. Some people look forward to the day with nervous excitement, while others think it sounds about as fun as a root canal with no anesthesia. I’m writing because you and others may be interested in some developments to our previous discussions about the NFL.

With the Super Bowl approaching, the public discourse has covered nearly every imaginable topic, from the most relevant to the most ridiculous. We’ve talked about race and class and privilege. We’ve talked about role models. We’ve talked about Skittles. We’ve talked about sexism. We’ve talked about marijuana (dude, like, the Super. Bowl. get it?) We’ve talked about the weather and security for the game and ticket prices and parties. But what we’ve been studiously avoiding is arguably the most important: player safety.

Back in October, you and I wrote open letters to each other regarding the problem of head injuries in the NFL. You wondered if the mountain of evidence demonstrating the NFL’s blatant disregard for player safety would finally be enough to convince us to turn off our televisions, and asserted that you yourself were willing to do so. This week, Steve Almond agreed with you, penning an essay for the New York Times Magazine, titled “Is it Immoral to Watch the Super Bowl?” Read more »

money & beats & art

this past tuesday, beats music debuted.  if you haven’t heard of it, it’s a new streaming service being offered by a collective of pretty d*mn impressive people, including dr. dre, trent reznor, and jimmy iovine.  i did some searching around the internets and, near as i can tell, most of the media coverage around this launch was focused on that music dream team & how their product is different from pandora, rdio, spotify, rhapsody, itunes radio, youtube, etc. (the main talking point being that beats is an actual service, one curated by real humans instead of robots or algorithms or whatever).

but rather than a summary of beats’ product model, what i hoped to find was some music journalist who had broken down beats’ business model.  on none of the articles i found (even with click-bait titles such as “7 things you should know about beats music“) was the topic of artists’ revenue ever seriously covered.  i was most disappointed to not find any mention of that from pitchfork or sound opinions—until i learned that pitchfork & sound opinions were both “curators” on beats.  it was especially disappointing to not hear from the sound opinions co-hosts, not least because i’m a huge fan of greg kot, but also because jim derogatis tried to take pitchfork founder ryan schreiber to the woodshed over journalistic ethics for curating an online music tv channel.

the closest i found to any reporting on the issue was a throwaway graf at the end of a rollingstone piece:

Beats Music is also focused on creating a service that is fair to the artists whose music it streams, and will pay the same royalty rate to all content owners. “Beats Music is based on the belief that all music has value and this concept was instilled in every step of its development. We want it to be just as meaningful for artists as it is for fans,” Reznor said in a statement. “We’re committed to providing revenue to artists, while helping to strengthen the connection with their fans.”

Read more »

Too Many Nuts: Fat Shaming Squirrels is the New Hate-Fueled Internet Phenomenon

Who could hate this face?

Who could hate this face? She’s a mother of three, asshole!

There is an epidemic that we all need to be aware of, especially this festive, sweet-filled, hibernating season. All over the Internet and Twitter, people  are again using the World Wide Web as a weapon against self-esteem and positive body image. Yes, dear friends, I’m talking about Fat Squirrel Shaming.

Here are just a few examples of the hate-spreading, vile tweets that are flooding Twitter recently:squirrel twitter 1

squirrel twitter 3squirrel twitter 2


Why are these people going so out of their way to hate on such beautiful, full-figured animals? And why does this guy think Jersey Shore references are still relevant?

One fitness guru named Mabel Oak has been particularly coldhearted toward the chubby squirrels out there, calling them, “. . . lazy, bad examples to their children, their neighborhoods, and their squirrel community. How can we help them when they won’t help themselves? I just don’t understand why they all can’t have the discipline to look as hot as me!”

Mable Oak: Flexible and Full of Hate

Mable Oak: flexible and full of hate (Taken from her Peanut Pilates video series)

Fortunately, there has been a public outcry calling for the boycott of all Mable Oak videos, books, yoga mats, and other fitness-related merchandise.

Friends, we need to be open minded, loving, empathetic creatures this season and all seasons. These gorgeous squirrels are just fending for themselves in the cold, cruel, nut-filled world that we all inhabit. We need to take the time to see the problem, recognize it, and stop ourselves before we click, comment, and ruin some squirrel’s day.

Free Holiday Gifts for Your Love/Hate Midwestern Relationships

DSC_4244It’s that time of year again. The time of year when we say, “It’s that time of year again.” And that means it’s time to find gifts for all of the special people in your life. Gift giving can be difficult, especially when you’re low on money and hang out with freaks. That’s why I’ve come up with a list of 10 free gifts for the hard-to-shop-for loved ones on your list.


1. For the person who keeps telling you about the benefits of exercise and healthy eating: Exercising and eating well are important habits. We all know the benefits, but sometimes—Actually, no, let’s go back for a second. We all know the benefits. We all. Know. Sometimes it’s good to get a friendly reminder that a quick round of jumping jacks is good stress relief. And sometimes it isn’t. You probably have that one friend who always cheers you up by making you dance like an idiot when you’re in an endurance competition with yourself to see who can scowl the longest. But you probably also have that one friend who asks “How’s your diet?” when you tell them you’re about to file bankruptcy and can’t stop worrying. This gift is for that friend. You’re finally going to do what they’ve been insisting you do for months, and you’re going to film it. Read more »

Amazon Prime Air: Way of The Future or Pure Craziness?

Amazon’s new venture aims to have products in customers’ hands in thirty minutes or less by using unmanned air crafts. Here’s some footage from one of their test flights:

YouTube Preview Image

The company says it needs a few years to improve the technology and to work out FAA regulations before one of these drones will land on your doorstep. This morning, a friend from the UK Tweeted a suggested missed delivery slip.



For more thoughts on the Amazon Prime Air, read Mother Jones’  Why America Isn’t Ready for Delivery Drones, if only for the pleasure of paragraphs such as:

“Administration (FAA) is expected to open up US airspace to unmanned aerial vehicles in 2015. But after that date, Amazon’s blender-delivering drones will still face big obstacles, such as the states and cities that are hostile towards drone-use; potential accidents with passenger planes; GPS and privacy concerns; and roving bands of laser-wielding package bandits.”

How do you feel about drones landing at your house? Any additional check boxes that should be added to the delivery slip?

Used, but Infinitely More Interesting

On their way to make s'mores.

On their way to make s’mores.

In the romantic comedy Serendipity, Kate Beckinsale’s character writes her phone number in a used book and tells John Cusack’s character that if faith wants them to meet again, the novel will find its way back to him. The movie isn’t very interesting after that, but that scene outside the bookstore made me think about the treasures I’ve found in used books.

In a copy of Drowning Ruth, by Christina Schwarz, a picture of two young women had been used as a bookmark by a previous owner. I bought the book because it was an Oprah’s Book Club pick, but never finished it. Maybe because the unknown people in the picture were more intriguing than the plot. They’re wearing summer dresses, smiling, and posing in front of a pine tree. I like to think they’re at a gathering of good friends in a back yard somewhere in the Pacific Northwest. After the picture was taken, they lit the outdoor fire pit we can’t see, and sat down to drink wine and make s’mores.

A friend of mine lent me her copy of The Magic Circle by Katherine Neville. My memory of the plot is hazy, I confuse it with The Eight by the same author, but I do remember how much I enjoyed the process of reading the book. My friend comments and underlines while she reads. I’d find “Who’s this guy again?” or “How much more must she endure?” in the margins. Plot twists were underlined and “Whaaaat?!” written above. Reading her book was like having our own private book discussion, or maybe more like a private peep-hole into my friend’s mind. Read more »

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