‘The Muse Only Shows Up When You Put Your Ass in the Chair’


In my twenties I realized that the muse is a bum. The muse only shows up when you bait her by putting your ass in the chair. She can only be lured to your side by the sound of pounding keys, the smell of paper and ink. At some point (I imagine it was when the telephone company cut off our service) I realized it was time for me to start taking my life and my writing seriously. People who are serious about their work show up to work, day or night. So I started setting myself little goals and deadlines. That helped. When I had a project I was excited about, I was manic. I worked mornings, afternoons, nights—whenever I could steal the time. I became infatuated with my writing, obsessed, in love. Perfection was writing all day in bed until I was spent. When it was going exceptionally well, any time I wasn’t writing I was thinking about writing. It was bliss. Until, of course, it burned out, or blew up sometimes with the same degree of passion with which it had begun. All it took was time and distance, some sleep and a few square meals, and suddenly I couldn’t stand it.

My writing was so tedious, so phony, so wrongheaded and stupid. I couldn’t stand to be in the same room with it. I wanted it gone. It was just a reminder of how tedious, phony and wrongheaded and stupid I was. And then I wouldn’t write for weeks and weeks. There is nothing like having a baby to enforce routine. It quickly became clear that the only way I could get time to write was to ask for it. The only way that worked was for other people—my husband, babysitters, friends—to know when I was going to work so there would be someone to care for the baby. I found that when I told people that I was going to write, and then actually did it, they made space for me to do it. (Here I must say that I am married to an extraordinarily generous, supportive man and blessed with great family, friends, and babysitters. Also it should be said that I am not particularly pleasant to live with when I’m not writing.) In order to get that time alone—which I craved and needed—I had to keep writing. So I got into a routine.

-Elissa Schappell, author of Blueprints for Building Better Girls, in an interview with Slice.

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Photo: YouTube

Virginia’s Unregulated Day Care Industry


Of the 43 deaths in unregulated homes, The Post’s review found that 22 were sleep-related, 10 involved physical abuse, three were accidental and one was natural. In seven cases, the causes were unclear in the available records. All but one of the sleep-related deaths involved risky actions taken by caretakers, records show. These included leaving infants to sleep in an unsafe setting or failing to check on them for extended periods.

In 2010, 7-month-old Finnigan Bales was found unresponsive in an upstairs bedroom in a Virginia Beach townhouse where Deborah Blaney ran an unregulated day-care operation. He had not been “checked on or fed for hours,” according to an investigation by the local branch of Child Protective Services.

Blaney had too many children in her care — seven — and eventually was convicted of operating a day-care program without a license, a misdemeanor. She was sentenced to serve 10 days in jail.

Finnigan’s mother, Megan Bales, said she and her husband interviewed Blaney and checked her references, but they learned that Blaney had no license only after Finnigan died.

“They don’t even know what time Finn passed away,” Bales said.

— A two-part investigation by The Washington Post looks into unregulated day care providers in Virginia. Since there is a the shortage of licensed day care providers in the state, unregulated day care providers—who don’t need to have any child care licenses or CPR training as long as they are caring for five children or fewer—fill in the gaps, especially for families who are unable to afford to place their children in licensed centers.

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Photo: U.S. Army

Tamar Adler, in Praise of Small Decisions


I always give people this advice when people ask me how to do things—and it’s not like I’m in a position to advise people on how to do anything. But I feel like we try to make these big decisions, and really we only have to make small decisions, in all moments. I don’t understand the big decision thing. What are you deciding? In fact, you can’t make the big decisions. You do not have the power to. And so it’s hilarious. I really hope that satellite out there orbits one degree to the left! Well, great, you know? There is a chance that your desire for that, depending on the course of your night, could possibly have an effect on that—but it’s unlikely. Maybe that’s where sensitivity and the Long Now match up, because I only make small decisions. But what that means is that I’m making actual decisions, not imaginary decisions. I think that probably what happens is we make a lot of imaginary decisions, and then because we’re distracted making those, we don’t make the small ones—the real ones. And we find ourselves, like, “Wait – I don’t understand how I got here!” It’s like, “Well, you didn’t make any decisions.”“But I did. I went to law school, and I picked a firm, and I decided to go to Geneva that summer,” and it’s like—but you didn’t choose what you were going to buy at the market, you didn’t chose what you were going to do the next day. So right, I never chose what I wanted to do in life because I didn’t know, and I was so angry when people asked me what I wanted to do. It was like, “Right now? I want to stop having this conversation.”

-An Everlasting Meal author Tamar Adler, in The Believer (2014).

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Photo: Vimeo

David Sedaris on the Dangerous Business of Naming a Cat


About seven years ago I wrote a story about a cat in a bad mood. And then the next fall another one. So I tried to write a few every year, but for every one that worked, there were two that didn’t. And then, obviously, I stepped it up over the past year and a half, once I got the actual deadline. I set up a few rules for myself. I didn’t want any animal to have a name. If you say that a rabbit’s name was, oh I don’t know, sometimes someone will have a cat, and you ask, “What’s your cat’s name?” And they say, “Critter!” And you think, Oh, I hate your cat. And they say, “Diane.” And you think, I like your cat. So even giving anything a name would invite judgment that I didn’t want. And that made it hard to write sometimes. It’s like the chipmunk and the chipmunk sister. I could see a reader saying, “Which goddamn chipmunk is talking!” But I worked my best, my hardest. You get into that kind of writing that is math. You don’t want to repeat the word too often, but you don’t want to substitute. Instead of saying chipmunk, you don’t want to say spotted rodent. You just can’t do that.

-David Sedaris, in a 2010 Vulture interview with Aileen Gallagher.

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Photo: ncbrian, Flickr

‘Must Be Hard to Live on That': A Labor Day Reading List


According the the U.S. Department of Labor, the first Labor Day was celebrated in 1882 in New York City, and is now “dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.” Here, five stories from the labor movement, and from workers just looking for a better opportunity for themselves.

1. “Temp Land: Working in the New Economy.” (Michael Grabell, ProPublica)

ProPublica’s Michael Grabell has been looking at the blue collar temp industry over the course of a year. His stories have included a look at the underworld of labor brokers, the lack of U.S. protections for temp workers, and the “temp towns” that dot America.

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David Foster Wallace on the Costs of Becoming a Professional Tennis Player


It’s better for us not to know the kinds of sacrifices the professional-grade athlete has made to get so very good at one particular thing. Oh, we’ll invoke lush clichés about the lonely heroism of Olympic athletes, the pain and analgesia of football, the early rising and hours of practice and restricted diets, the preflight celibacy, et cetera. But the actual facts of the sacrifices repel us when we see them: basketball geniuses who cannot read, sprinters who dope themselves, defensive tackles who shoot up with bovine hormones until they collapse or explode. We prefer not to consider closely the shockingly vapid and primitive comments uttered by athletes in postcontest interviews or to consider what impoverishments in one’s mental life would allow people actually to think the way great athletes seem to think. Note the way ‘up close and personal’ profiles of professional athletes strain so hard to find evidence of a rounded human life – outside interests and activities, values beyond the sport. We ignore what’s obvious, that most of this straining is farce. It’s farce because the realities of top-level athletics today require an early and total commitment to one area of excellence. An ascetic focus. A subsumption of almost all other features of human life to one chosen talent and pursuit. A consent to live in a world that, like a child’s world, is very small.

-From David Foster Wallace’s “The String Theory,” published in Esquire in July 1996.

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Photo: jpellgen, Flickr

Stories From Writers From the National Book Festival: A Reading List


Surrounded by thousands of people at the Washington Convention Center buying books from the Politics & Prose pavilion, taking pictures with Clifford, moving downstairs to sneak into a panel by Dav Pilkey or Louisa Lim or Cokie Roberts, and waiting in line to meet their literary heroes, I felt like I could levitate. I thought: These are My People—these people shoving through well-carpeted hallways to get coffee before sneaking into the back of a panel on books in translation or patiently sitting with their enthralled kids at a packed storytime session. We went to the National Book Festival for different things, but also the same thing: books and our love of them. Here are four essays and excerpts written by the authors I was lucky enough to see.

1. “No-Man’s-Land.” (Eula Biss, The Believer, February 2008)

I screamed when I saw the “Creative Nonfiction Panel” on the Library of Congress website. Eula Biss and Paisley Rekdal: what a pair. I quaked with excitement as Eula said, “We don’t have a great vocabulary around truth. We need about 27 more words there.” I nodded and mmhmmed like I was in church, because, well, I was. This is Eula’s titular essay from her first collection. It’s about Chicago’s Rogers Park Neighborhood and the dangers of buying into the pioneer narrative. It is beautiful. (Oh, here is a picture of me meeting Eula and Paisley. I am the excited one.)

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