Author Archive

It’s Not Just a Bathroom, It’s a Blank Slate

Wednesday, February 21st, 2007

tx_bathroom.jpgIs there any kind of human creative, ah…output that doesn’t have its own website these days? Jonathan Horak’s anthropological archive, The Writings on the Stall, has collected 359-and-counting user-submitted pieces of transcribed bathroom-stall graffiti. Like bathroom-writing in general, the pieces are tripe-y (and repetitive), but that may be the point. One of my favorites:

“Writing 322, via Rick

Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Stratton Student Center
Cambridge, Massachusetts USA 02139
Men’s restroom, ground floor

America lost its viginity in Viet Nam.
… and got the clap too.
hey, I got the clap in Viet Nam.
You should watch who you go out with.

Circa 1972. Each line in a different hand. Took several weeks to complete.”

Seriously, I’m just wondering what other kinds of vernacular word- or picture-objects people out there are collecting. Funny answering-maching messages? Someone has to be. Right?

What’s That Book?

Thursday, February 15th, 2007

picture-2.pngOh, this was so necessary. What’s That Book is a website “founded by former Google Answers Researcher ‘Juggler,’” at which you, dear readers, can get real people to sleuth around for the identity of that book you almost-kind-of-sort-of remember from way back. You provide all the details you can muster, and the What’s That Book people do the rest. For free.

It’s also pretty fascinating to read about what other people are looking for, and the details they remember.

Why Some Ideas Stick

Wednesday, February 7th, 2007


The Christian Science Monitor has a review of a book by Chip and Dan Heath entitled “Made to Stick…”

Says the article:

“It didn’t matter whether the ideas themselves were good or bad, just that they’d ’stuck.’ (Not only is the Great Wall of China not the sole man-made structure visible from space; it isn’t visible from space at all. And still…)

What the Heaths discovered was that the stickiest ideas, regardless of intrinsic merit, had a lot in common. Or, more accurately, the ways they were presented had a lot in common.

Each of these ideas, as conveyed, could be described using one or more of just these six à la carte attributes: simple, unexpected, concrete, credible, emotional, and story-containing. Line up the first letters of those characteristics, add a lower-case “s” (poetic license), and you’ve got the handy acronym SUCCESs.”

Story-containing. Why am I a wee bit gratified, and not too surprised?

I’d argue, too, that the five adjectives besides “story-containing” might properly be thought of as elements of a good story, themselves.

Image: Christian Science Monitor

Elizabeth Gilbert on Leonard Lopate

Tuesday, February 6th, 2007

This bracingly cold day in New York City just got a little less chilly (well, a little brighter, at least)—Elizabeth Gilbert, beloved of SMITH, has appeared on the Leonard Lopate Show on WNYC, discussing Eat, Pray, Love, her memoir of a post-divorce journey across Europe and Asia. SMITH excerpted it back in June.

If you’re looking for an excuse to get out into the cold this evening—or trying to stave off cabin fever—Elizabeth Gilbert will be signing books tonight, February 6 at 7pm, at Temple Israel, on 112 East 75th Street (between Park and Lexington Avenues).

Cool Project Alert

Wednesday, January 31st, 2007

So imagine, if you will, a scenario:

“The machine had been invented a few years ago: a machine that could tell, from just a sample of your blood, how you were going to die. It didn’t give you the date and it didn’t give you specifics. It just spat out a sliver of paper upon which were printed, in careful block letters, the words “DROWNED” or “CANCER” or “OLD AGE” or “CHOKED ON A HANDFUL OF POPCORN”. It let people know how they were going to die.”

fialka-front-2-250px.jpgExcept the machine’s predictions didn’t always shake out the way people thought they might. “OLD AGE” sometimes meant ‘died in her sleep after a long life’; other times, it meant ‘gunned down on the street by a homicidal nonagenerian.’

In other respects, the world in which this machine exists is just like ours.

This scenario is the premise for a short-story contest called Machine of Death, inspired by one of Ryan North’s ever-amusing Dinosaur Comics.

Ryan, Matthew Bennardo, and David Malki were so taken by the premise that they’re using it as the basis of a short-story anthology for which they’re accepting entries through the end of March, ‘07.

Each story has to be titled after the name of a mode of death predicted by the machine. So if you think you might have something to say about TICKLED TO DEATH BY FEATHERS or SHELLFISH POISONING or maybe something cryptic like DROPPED, you’ll want to check out the official contest rules.

Because People Will Believe Anything They Read in the Papers

Monday, January 22nd, 2007

“Trust me, Wilbur. People are very gullible. They’ll believe anything they see in print.”
Charlotte’s Web


Silly, but fun: the Newspaper Clipping Generator allows you to say it in faded gray newsprint.

Katrina Corps: Spring Break ‘07

Sunday, January 14th, 2007

Thousands of the families whose lives and life stories were siezed and shaken violently by Hurricane Katrina are still waiting to go back home. House rebuilding hasn’t proceeded as katrina.jpgquickly as it should have. A new grassroots group called Katrina Corps aims to do something to change that by sending 25,000 college-aged people to New Orleans during spring ‘07, to gut 5,000 of the 10,000 houses that are wait-listed for it.

The project is in start-up mode now; their place-holder web page, with a prospectus and an email address to write to for more information, is here.

Right now, the project can benefit from emailing, blogging, and general spreading the word: ultimately the organizers look forward to the challenge, and the pleasure, of “recruiting people open to both an adventure and a down-and-dirty task.”

Shrinks Get All the Good Stories

Wednesday, January 10th, 2007

julavits-1.jpgOver at The Morning News, Robert Birnbaum has an extended interview with Believer editor and novelist Heidi Julavits, about therapy and her book The Uses of Enchantment.

In the conversation, Julavits opines that therapy is the premier locus for storytelling (at least when it comes to stories about ourselves) in the modern age. She says that The Uses of Enchantment grew, for her, out of

…the intersection for me of psychoanalysis or therapy as it’s usually practiced and story telling. And how to me that act of going to therapy has become our mode of oral story telling. But I also think that mode—as much as you are hearkening back to these old story templates, and you make yourself—you are the bedraggled Cinderella heroine who is being mistreated by everyone but you emerge in the end victorious and I feel as though it’s obviously a very hermetic experience now. It’s not as at all this cultural sharing kind of thing, so that we do kind of all walk around with our own kind of story bubble, you know?

RB: Because it’s been superseded by other kinds of self-help strategies and gimmicks?

HJ: More I mean the act of entertaining somebody with a story that used to be a story that had to have deep cultural significance and everybody could relate to, and now it’s just a story about you.

So we tell stories about ourselves to our therapists (and, I’d argue, to our friends and intimates) all the time–to the exclusion, Julavits argues, of broader narratives. All our stories are personal stories, now, she says. And none of them are universal?

Are there any grand narratives that still apply, culture-wide? Or just a million voices stammering similar but ultimately disparate tales into the ears of a million kindly, well-paid listeners?

America the Beardiful

Thursday, December 28th, 2006

So if I were a journalist looking to pen the next quirky documentary-style book about an obsession (think Word Freak, say), or a photographer in search of a subculture to take a suite of photographs of, I’d book my ticket for Brighton, England, today. That’s where the World Beard and Moustache Championships will be held this coming September.


From Beard Team USA’s website:

Beard Team USA competes for the United States at the bi-annual World Beard and Moustache Championships. Our primary goal is to promote the worldwide appreciation of beards and moustaches. Other goals include making the United States competitive in the WBMC, promoting and publicizing the WBMC, and facilitating the attendance of members and others at the championships…The team is actively recruiting new members in the hope of fielding the strongest possible squad for the next championships, which will take place in Brighton, England, on September 1, 2007.

The site continues:


Unlike the Olympics, with its highly-competitive qualifying tournaments, strict drug regulations, and gender testing, this truly unique, off-beat public event is open to everyone willing to support his or her country. Well, at least everyone with a beard or moustache. In fact, it is almost unpatriotic not to grow a beard or moustache and enter the competition. The German beard clubs who started the WBMC have long dominated the competition. The Germans’ domination can be attributed to their superior organization and the large number of active and enthusiastic participants.

Hell, if I were hormonally and chromosomally enabled, maybe I’d grow a beard myself and document the competition from the inside. I always wanted to stay in the Olympic Village…maybe it’s like that, but with more hair, less muscles? Or something. I’m calling on the men of America: someone go, and tell me what it’s like.

Images: Beard Team USA.

Hat tip: Dr. Charles

Utopia For Book-Lovers

Wednesday, December 27th, 2006


Today’s Very Good Idea award goes to BookMooch, a site where book lovers can unload titles they no longer need, and search to see whether anyone else is getting rid of something they’re looking for. In its frugality and community-mindedness, the BookMooch model is like freecycling, but with a luscious interface and a stylishly geeky persona all its own.

The perfect way to find the things I didn’t get for Christmas, I say, while rinsing the greasy film of holiday consumerism off to boot!

SMITH Magazine

SMITH Magazine is a home for storytelling.
We believe everyone has a story, and everyone
should have a place to tell it.
We're the creators and home of the
Six-Word Memoir® project.