And You Thought You Couldn't Read Music

Our 9 Favorite Feature Stories This Week: Astrology, Cruises, And Adventure Time

This week for BuzzReads, Amanda Petrusich explores why astrology is gaining popularity. Read that and these other great stories from around BuzzFeed and web.

1. Is It Time For Us To Take Astrology Seriously? — BuzzFeed

Illustration by Justine Zwiebel for BuzzFeed

In an April marked by angry eclipses portending unexpected change, the ancient, long-debunked practice of astrology and its preeminent ambassador might be weirdly suited for the 21st century. Read it at BuzzFeed.

2. The Ballad of Geeshie and ElvieNew York Times

A beautifully written and beautifully presented story by John Jeremiah Sullivan about about searching for two mysterious women who changed American music and then vanished without a trace. Read it at the New York Times.

3. The Confidence GapThe Atlantic

Edmon de Haro for The Atlantic

Katty Kay and Claire Shipman discuss the confidence gap that exists between men and women, about which they’ve written a book: “Compared with men, women don’t consider themselves as ready for promotions, they predict they’ll do worse on tests, and they generally underestimate their abilities. This disparity stems from factors ranging from upbringing to biology.” Read it at The Atlantic.

4. Station to Station — Pitchfork

An lengthy but outstanding piece by Eric Harvey examining the past, present and future of streaming music. He explores how the rise of sites like Spotify and Pandora are affecting the ideas of taste, access and ownership, and listeners and artists alike. Read it at Pitchfork.

5. A Star Player Accused, and a Flawed Rape InvestigationNew York Times

Leslye Davis / The New York Times

A must-read piece by Walt Bogdanich about the Florida State University freshman who was allegedly raped by Jameis Winston, the eventual Heisman Trophy winner — and the flawed investigation that followed. Read it at the New York Times.

6. Escape from Cuba: Yasiel Puig’s Untold Journey to the DodgersLos Angeles Magazine

Photograph by Joe Pugliese for Los Angeles Magazine

Baseball fans have seen the talents of Yasiel Puig, the Los Angeles Dodgers’ right fielder who crushed 19 homers and nearly won the Rookie of the Year award in 2013. What they haven’t heard is the story of his journey to the States — one that involves a boxer, a pinup girl, a Santeria priest, and a dangerous Mexican drug cartel. And a whole lot of money. Read it at Los Angeles Magazine.

7. Why Royal Caribbean’s Newest Ship Represents A Critical Test For The Cruise Industry — BuzzFeed

Via Royal Caribbean

Quantum of the Seas sets sail in November and could mark the beginning of boom times for the industry, Peter Lauria writes, or it could forever doom it. Read it at BuzzFeed.

8. It’s Adventure TimeThe Awl

Maria Bustillos on the kids (is it for kids?) show:Adventure Time is a smash hit cartoon aimed primarily at kids age six to eleven. It’s also a deeply serious work of moral philosophy, a rip-roaring comic masterpiece, and a meditation on gender politics and love in the modern world.” Read it at The Awl.

9. Gabriel García Márquez, The Art of Fiction No. 69The Paris Review

Edgard Garrido / Reuters

A 1981 interview with the Colombian writer, who died this week at age 87. “It always amuses me that the biggest praise for my work comes for the imagination, while the truth is that there’s not a single line in all my work that does not have a basis in reality. The problem is that Caribbean reality resembles the wildest imagination.” Read it at The Paris Review.

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Ezra Klein: ‘If you look at the numbers, the Romney campaign is in serious trouble’

The past few weeks have not been good for Ezra Klein. The Washington Post’s ace blogger botched the date of the Janesville, Wisc., auto plant closure. He falsely accused Mitt Romney of canceling an ABBA performance at Bain Capital because the band’s music is too angry. He claimed, absurdly, that Romney’s paeans to American opportunity amounted to a “You Didn’t Build That” moment.

Now, along with fellow hand-wringers David Frum and Erick Erickson, Klein insists that GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s campaign is in serious trouble:

On the presidential level, where everyone running campaigns is very, very good at their jobs, campaign infighting and incoherence tend to be the result of a candidate being behind in the polls, not the cause of it. Romney is behind and has been there for quite some time. According to the Real Clear Politics average of head-to-head polls, Romney hasn’t led the race since October 2011. The closest he came to a lead in the polls this year was during the Republican National Convention, when he managed to … tie Obama.

Romney is also behind in most election-forecasting models. Political scientist James Campbell rounded up 13 of the most credible efforts to predict the election outcome: Romney trails in eight of them. He’s also behind in Nate Silver’s election model, the Princeton Election Consortium’s meta-analysis, Drew Linzer’s Votamatic model and the Wonkblog election model.

Goodness, that sounds grim! Republicans may as well just pack their bags and go home.

Of course, as Klein knows (or ought to know), the Real Clear Politics average of head-to-head polls counts two-week-old polls just as much as new ones. It counts partisan polls just as much as non-partisan ones.

Why, if Romney is in such serious trouble, is he 2 points ahead of President Barack Obama in the Rasmussen national tracking poll, published earlier this morning? Why do the most recent non-partisan polls show Romney and Obama running essentially even in battleground states such as Florida, Ohio, Colorado, and Virginia?

Don’t believe the anti-Romney hype from Klein and his fellow travelers. This race is a dead heat.

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Fail: FLOTUS’ $6,800 jacket ‘princely’; The Romneys spun as out of touch

Ah, yes. Remember that? All the breathless barking by the lapdog media over Sarah Palin’s wardrobe. How dare she she need clothes? She’s just some hick from the sticks and all. But, when it is Michelle Obama? Also breathlessness from “real journalists,” but in this case it is breathless Squee-ing.

WashPost Hails 'Princely' $6,800 Jacket Michelle Obama Wears, While $990 Ann Romney Shirt Was 'Tone-deaf' #tcot #tlot

— Teodora Stanev (@KOSMOSNET) July 30, 2012

Fit for a queen? Michelle Obama wears $6,800 jacket to royal visit:

— Washington Post (@washingtonpost) July 30, 2012

Wait, what? We thought stylish was bad, according to the press. Just ask Ann Romney’s shirt.

More from NewsBusters:

On Monday morning, Washington Post gossips Roxanne Roberts and Amy Argetsinger hailed Michelle Obama the fashion plate with the headline “Fit For a Queen (Truly).” For a reception at Buckingham Palace for heads of state, Mrs. Obama wore a “very fancy” jacket priced at  a “princely $6,800.” Readers could exhale, the American now fits in.

The very same Washington Post greeted the GOP nominee’s wife with a much different spin online, despite a lower price tag. The headline was “Ann Romney’s $990 T-shirt is indicative of a tone-deaf campaign” and Suzi Parker began by asking “Does Ann Romney wear her $990 designer shirt while driving one of her two Cadillacs?”

Sigh. When Sarah Palin was announced as John McCain’s running mate, one of the first things that the always-biased MSNBC ran as a graphic was, “How many houses does Palin add to the Republican ticket?” Senator McCain and his wife own several houses, you see. Cue the super scary music!

Success and wealth are bad, unless it’s a Democrat’s success and wealth. Then it’s hunky-dory and only a  topic of discussion in order to Squee over how glamorous they are. Fancy pants is not considered “out of touch” if sweet, sweet liberal policy designed to keep the pesky masses feeding at the government trough is the result.

Those who don’t blindly accept what the media tell them, call out the press on the blatant hypocrisy and double standards.

Democrats blast Romney's wife for wearing $990 jacket.. What are they saying now that Michelle Obama wore a $6,800 jacket to the Olympics?

— Blake Sandquist (@BSandquist) July 30, 2012

Ann romney wears a $1000 shirt = BAD. Michelle Obama wears a $7000 jacket = She cares about you & feels your pain! #p2

— Illegal Alien (@rovibe71) July 29, 2012

And people gave @AnnDRomney flak for her $900 shirt…: Michelle Obama wows Buckingham Palace in $6,800 jacket

— Laura Donovan (@LauraDonovanUA) July 30, 2012

Michelle Obama spends $6,800 on a jacket, but we're told to believe the Romneys are out-of-touch with middle America. LOL

— Kevin Eder (@keder) July 30, 2012

Yep! The media, in collusion with the Left, are desperately trying to spin The Romneys as out of touch. As we saw last month, they are sinking so low as to deceptively edit video and promote utter lies about Mr. Romney. Remember the great WaWa debate that the media  tried to create out of utter lies? Oh, look at Romney! He doesn’t even know about Wawa! Totally out of touch.

Only, you know, they totally made it up.

This month, they tried to create yet another false narrative based totally on outright lies when they accused Ann Romney of saying “you people”; rage against the pronoun! Also completely not true.

They tried the same thing with jet skiing and by mocking Ann Romney for being into dressage, which is physical therapy for her Multiple Sclerosis. And even if it wasn’t, who cares? Desperate attempts at spin by desperate people.

Your daily reminder that the Obamas are INSANELY WEALTHY. But, you know, dressage!

— Sonny Bunch (@SonnyBunch) July 30, 2012

The real “out of touch” people are The Obamas. Or should we say the poor little rich Obamas, who have admitted they were worried about their own finances and their own “fearsomely expensive lifestyle.” President Obama also hobnobs with his Hollywood buddies constantly, calls Hollywood starlets “typical young Americans,” holds swanky fundraisers left and right and pooh-poohs the fact that most Americans are hurting economically. Let them eat cake; they are “doing just fine.

This Twitter user finds one glimmer of light in Michelle’s swanky jacket, though.

I don't care that the jacket cost more than I make in a month. At least Michelle Obama looked presentable this time.

— Emily Zanotti (@emzanotti) July 30, 2012

Heh. Truth.

Yes, please do! Out of touch? Look in your mirrors, media … and President Obama.

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What China Is Punishing People For Is Unfathomable. You Would Likely Be One Of Them.

Being online for most of your free time probably doesn’t seem like a problem… but is it? The Chinese government has officially labeled “Internet addiction” as a clincal disorder and feels that it poses a major threat to its teenagers. Checking Instagram or Facebook as you stand in line might be more serious than you think (at least in China). The government has taken an aggressive approach to fixing the problem. Their solution to overuse of the Internet? Boot camps.

Teens in China like gaming and the Internet, like teens the world over.

Business Insider

But the country has built over 250 boot camps to help eradicate “Internet addiction.”

Business Insider

An instructor and former soldier are escorting this young girl to Qide Education Center, an Internet addiction treatment facility in Beijing.

Business Insider

Parents can send their children to these camps.

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There, they undergo psychological examinations.

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They are also subject to military-style physical training.

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The training is meant to cure their addiction.

Business Insider

The kids are also given lessons in Chinese ethics and culture. Instructors and ex-soldiers teach them.

Business Insider

They also take music and dance lessons.

Business Insider

Spending the majority of your free time online isn’t healthy…

Business Insider

And most of these children are physically weak.

Business Insider

However, it’s hard to see this as an acceptable solution.

Business Insider

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Teens should learn the importance of lessening Internet usage.

Business Insider

It’s believed that the pressures of life in China is why so many of their teens turn to the Internet for happiness.

Business Insider

But this style of “rehab” probably wouldn’t fly in the United States.

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So the next time you see a child too focused on their cell phone…

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Make sure to tell them about these boot camps.

Business Insider

“Internet Addiction Disorder” may indeed be a real disorder, however it’s hard to tell if extreme boot camps and chemical treatments are necessary. Although, I could see why the government would want to build these treatment camps: fewer people would be taking pictures of their food at dinner or taking selfies in bathrooms.

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Jay-Z announces ‘Made in America’ corporate-sponsored music festival!/jbieberboy94/status/202049373155246081

Rapper Jay-Z is way too big to join any existing Summer music festivals like Lollapalooza or Bonnaroo. If he feels like putting on a show for his die-hard fans, he’ll just start up his own festival from scratch!

Jay-Z will headline the Budweiser Made in America festival in Philadelphia this Labor Day weekend. The festival, curated by Jay-Z himself, will feature a roster of nearly 30 acts from many different genres on three stages at Fairmount Park on September 1st and 2nd.

Jay-Z knows how to stay wealthy.

— nef (@Nef_Film) May 14, 2012

I thought jay z was going to tell the world he was moving to space to a section of a planet he bought. I guess a festival is cool too.

— ɐɯnɾ ɐʇıǝʞ (@kjforshort) May 14, 2012

That Jay-Z sure does like to change the game.

— JasFly (@JasFly) May 14, 2012

Considering Jay-Z’s popularity, it’s safe to say tickets will sell out with or without other great performers. The full list of acts won’t be released until later this month, but we know the name of at least one other rapper who plans to take part in the festival…

Some dude named “Freeway” was present with Jay-Z at the official press conference, but you’re not supposed to know that! In fact, Jay-Z pushed him aside when it came time to take photographs.

Damn Freeway! He got pushed out the picture during the press conference w/ Jay Z!

— K.Foxx (@KayFoxx) May 14, 2012

SMFH! RT @PhillyCustoms: Video Of Jay-Z Telling Freeway To Slide Off To The Side -> –

— Ralph B. (@RMB215) May 14, 2012

Freeway's so close to the edge of the stage he's about to fall off. He doesn't own anything business casual so he couldn't take pictures.

— PJ (@pjhoody) May 14, 2012

Freeway couldn't even cop a suit.

— R (@TheRealMe_23) May 14, 2012

Freeway looking like "these crackers think I'm his security"

— lil duval (@lilduval) May 14, 2012

All y'all slandering Jay for supposedly mistreating Freeway must've forgotten why you even know who Freeway is in the first place.

— Craig Jenkins (@CraigSJ) May 14, 2012

Even though Freeway has had me blocked for awhile and I never knew it until like 2 months ago, Jay-Z was still wrong for that selfish shit.

— Ralph B. (@RMB215) May 14, 2012!/EyMrCarter/status/202062256417144832

We agree! Poor, poor Freeway. By the way, does anyone know who the heck he even is??

Either way, Philadelphia has mixed reviews on the festival. Some people can’t wait to go. Others think it’s going to bring nothing but chaos to the city.

Jay z look goooood as shit!!! I'm gettin my tickets! Philly going b popping on labor day an that's my bday month!!!!!

— Rob's wife❤️ (@Lil_tash_28) May 14, 2012

ok so i would without question go to the jay-z music fest in philly. but i like living so much that i dont want to gamble with my life.

— justin turner (@mr_jt412) May 14, 2012

I'm definately going to the Jay-Z 2 day music festival in Philly

— Dre' (@IRapSports) May 14, 2012

last time I saw Jay-Z perform was at Live 8.. unreal. can't wait to see him perform again this summer! #philly #madeinamerica

— Mrs Miller (@geminikk) May 14, 2012!/Rbeeski/status/202056442184867840

That concert in fairmount park gonna be fuckin crazzzzy lol idk wtf Jay Z was thinkin doin that shit in Philly.

— Alyssa (@Alys_ToHisHeart) May 14, 2012

#TRUTH RT @PhillyTheBoss So Jay-Z gonna single handed-ly kill Block Parties in Philly by having a labor day weekend festival..

— ® (@RyanRstar) May 14, 2012

I appreciate Jay-Z for picking Philly city for this first time Event…*Salutes*

— Lakshmi Tata Devi (@Passport_Vixen) May 14, 2012

Jay-Z, a vocal Occupy Wall Street supporter, has no problems with corporatized music events. An unspecified portion of ticket sales will go to local Philly charities.

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How I Grew Up On The Internet

The internet is IRL. It always has been.

I started navigating the internet — really, the earliest versions of social media — early in my life, and before most people even really knew what the internet was. I was 11 when I first logged on in 1993 — I’m 32 now — and I’ve spent the ensuing years invested in online communities at least as much as I’m invested in offline ones. I never understood there to be a clear line between the two. Before I ever even had a cell phone, I used the social web to document and reflect on my offline life. I’ve met wonderful people online, connected in much deeper ways to the friends I had, and I’ve used dozens of networks and platforms to figure myself out. The internet hasn’t been a way to escape, it’s been a creative outlet, a friend, a documentarian, and a tool that has made my real life better, cooler, weirder, and more fun. For me, the internet isn’t some distinct virtual universe, it’s just one part of the real world.

This is the history of my first 20 years online. It’s a happy story.

When I was 9, my parents chose to homeschool my older brother, Mitch, and me out of frustration with public school. I had just finished third grade and he, fifth. We were both doing fine academically, but my mom felt like our personalities were changing. My brother often came home from school depressed, and we started to complain about things like reading that we had loved before. Mom and Dad hated the focus on standardized testing, and felt that our teachers didn’t appreciate the creative curiosity they treasured.

A couple years into the great homeschooling experiment, we moved temporarily from Austin, Texas, a hippie college town with a growing secular homeschooling community, to Arlington, Virginia. I missed home and I had trouble making new friends in the Christian homeschool group there.

My brother Mitch on our Macintosh computer in the mid-’80s.

That was when Mitch told me about BBSes (Bulletin Board Systems) and saved me from my boredom and social isolation. BBSes were local networks where we could read and write on message boards, chat live, and play games. We were lucky enough to have the magic formula: a PC, a 2400-baud modem, and a second phone line. My dad had always been fascinated by gadgets — he’d bought us our (and the!) first Macintosh in 1984, when I was just two years old. The iconic modem sound that began any trip to my favorite BBSes still makes me feel urgently stoked. That sound means I’m about to arrive at the best party ever, and I still get to wear my pajamas.

I tried a few BBSes, but I quickly became devoted to one in particular called “International House of Kumquats.” IHOK was run by a chill teenager who went by the handle Surrealistic Pickle. I felt at home there. Everyone was young and smart and cool and they immediately became my friends. (Since the BBS was on a local phone number, I knew we all lived in the D.C. area.) I never really thought much about the fact that we had “met online” — the concept was too new to feel dorky or taboo yet.

The average age of people on the board was probably about 16, while I was only 12. “Star Shadow,” my earnest choice of an alias, was a dead giveaway that I was the youngest person on the board. Still, I fit in fine. The kids on IHOK shared my enthusiasm for the band They Might Be Giants and we discussed them constantly, dissecting lyrics and debating best songs. We also talked about our lives and anxieties, we made up recurring inside jokes, we quoted our favorite movies and TV shows, and recommended books. We developed real friendships.

Within a few months, Surrealistic Pickle made me a co-sysop (system operator), the official duties of which were slight enough that I don’t actually remember what they were, but I still listed it on all of my teenage resumes. It was the first time that anyone had put semiprofessional faith in me, and it was done purely because of the value of my contributions, without a thought given to my being a girl, a weird homeschooler, or an actual child.

When my mom first agreed to let me meet my friends in person, she dropped me off at the National Mall but then parked a few blocks away with a stack of books and an eye on our activities. Looking back, I’m amazed that the teenagers from the board didn’t tease me for my mom literally watching over us, and I’m equally grateful she was open to the idea at all. We couldn’t share photos on the BBS, so the first time I met my board mates IRL was the first time I saw them at all. That part seems weird now, but it didn’t feel strange at the time. We already knew each other’s sense of humor, feelings, opinions, and personalities — the rest was just wrapping paper.

A few months later, I went to my first ever show with my BBS buddies: NRBQ and They Might Be Giants (obviously) at Wolf Trap in Virginia. The Kumquat crew were splayed out on picnic blankets on the grassy hills. They were Manic Panic-ed, glasses-wearing, and trench-coated teenagers who probably didn’t fit in at high school. They were all, more than any other quality, ridiculously nice. I thought they were the coolest people in the world.

Cool “Lion King” button + Slurpee T-shirt.

I was having an awkward adolescence. I liked talking to my parents way more than I liked anyone my own age. I wanted to have deep, intelligent conversations about my interests, which were Disney animated movies (I collected Lion King merchandise), horses, and cute boys. Not, for the most part, things that grown-ups actually wanted to talk to me about.

Luckily, Prodigy existed. Prodigy was a dialup service that predated widespread use of the World Wide Web. Like its competitor, America Online, Prodigy contained multitudes: shopping, news, weather, games, advice columns, and more. I was only interested in connecting with people, so I used the live chat, email, and discussion boards.

I joined a message board where other girls like me had invented an elaborate role playing game for made-up horses — we each “owned” dozens of fake horses, gave them names and attributes, and pitted them against each other in entirely arbitrary competitions that were just decided by whoever was running them. I kept my horse files in a giant binder full of descriptions like this:

People who I tried to explain the game to didn’t understand it at all. It wasn’t until I was introduced to the concept of fantasy sports a decade later that I thought maybe this all wasn’t as strange as I feared.

I was even more involved with the Disney Fans Bulletin Board, which was populated mostly by grown men and women who retained their interest in all things Disney well past the age when most people grow out of it. I loved them. Many of my DFBB cohorts lived and worked in Orlando, just because it meant that they got to go to Disney World whenever they wanted. To me, they were living the ultimate adulthood dream.

I got so involved with the Disney board that I was eventually given a “job.” The job paid me in a free Prodigy subscription and one free t-shirt. My title was “Teens Liaison,” and I did just that: liaised with other teens. Although most of the community was much older , I developed raging crushes on the handful of boys my age. I can still remember, in fine detail, a photo one of them sent me of himself dressed up as Prince Eric for Halloween. I had several Prodigy flirtations before I had figured out the slightest thing about talking to boys I knew offline. We talked about our feelings, which was impossible with the teenage boys I knew in “real” life. I was myself with the dudes of Prodigy — open and honest and weird — and they liked me for it.

I eventually met my Prodigy friends in real life too. My parents planned a trip to Disney World, mostly for my obsessive benefit, and let me bring my best friend, another homeschooler named Kate. I dragged Kate and my mom to a meetup dinner with the DFBB group at a fancy Disney-themed restaurant. Almost all of the attendees were closer to my mom’s age than to mine, but we had fun anyway. I got a purple tie-dyed DFBB staff T-shirt that I wore proudly to the park the next day. Soon after our meeting, people started to leave Prodigy for the wider world of the web, and I followed.

Editing my “Lady and the Tramp” fan site with a stack of Disney encyclopedias, 1995.

I made my first website in 1995, when I was 13, and it was dedicated to my favorite movie, Lady and the Tramp. It started with a short introduction: “I’m here to provide the major source of Lady information on the World Wide Web.” The page included an archive of tiny photos I’d been able to dig up or scan, random facts I’d strung together from my collection of Disney books, the title of the movie translated into several other languages, a character list, quotes, and the movie’s credits, transcribed from my own VHS copy.

I taught myself HTML to make the page, borrowing books from the library and reading tutorials online. Once I made the Lady and the Tramp page, I was hooked. I started expanding my website to include biographical information about me, terrible things I’d written, pictures of my friends, and more.

By 1999, the earliest date that the web archive has for my site, it was basically a magazine. It included:

  • A 14-part “about me” section

  • Thousands of words devoted to describing each of my friends. Example: “Lots of people will tell you that I’m obsessed with Dorothy and you might say that’s true — I just happen to think she’s one of tha most beautiful, funniest girlies in that whole wide world. :-)”

  • Pages devoted to my opinions on religion, animal rights, curfews, Bill Clinton, and legalizing marijuana

  • A list of reasons that you should go vegetarian

  • A description of my imaginary perfect boyfriend, Jimmy Tony

  • Dozens of poems I’d written

  • My “future encyclopedia entry,” including the career description “writer, artist, entrepreneur, animal handler, actress, philosopher”; the titles of several of my future books about Shakespeare and hip-hop; details of the company I would found someday; the many books I would write; and my partnership with my imaginary husband Jimmy

  • A daily journal cataloguing the mundane details of my life

  • Book reviews

  • Comics I made with Photoshop

  • “Summer’s Spiffy Sendable Celebs,” a collection of about 30 e-postcards I made of my favorite celebrities

  • Capsule reviews of every episode of Dawson’s Creek

  • Commentary on my favorite songs and a list of my favorite CDs

  • A “shrine” celebrating Ani DiFranco

  • A collection of my favorite jokes

  • Desktop photos of celebrities and animals that I’d edited and made available to my “public”

  • An elaborate, multisectioned fan page for the character Ophelia from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, including artwork, personal essays, historical information, and more

  • A lengthy acknowledgments section that thanked AltaVista, my scanner, my entire extended family, friends, and all of my pets

Making websites was my primary mode of self-expression throughout my teens, and it was also a huge part of my mostly autodidactic education. Over the years, my family’s approach to our education had grown increasingly radical, buoyed by the writings of “unschooling” proponents such as John Holt and Grace Llewellyn. I chose what to focus on and how to spend my time based on my goals, with fairly minimal oversight from my parents. My website became an obsession, and I had all the time in the world to devote to it. Most of the other creative things I did — drawing pictures, writing bad poems, and composing essays — were in the service of making a cool-as-hell website.

A version of my website layout, featuring a dog I found on the street and kept for two days.

Although my site wasn’t part of any specific social platform, there was an informal but intense network of teenage and young adult women doing the same thing I was, and we joined web rings, made link lists, and sent each other fan mail. I kept up with tons of other website makers, almost all of them women: from JenniCam to one gothy girl who I only remember as “Calliope.” I learned from them. I studied their source codes for HTML tips, copied their brooding photography styles, listened to bands they mentioned in passing, started taking moody selfies like theirs, and tried hard to impress them with endless tweaks and new features on my website. To some extent, I lived my life with my website in mind — do it for the dot-com! — but this was a good thing: It made me more creative, thoughtful, and adventurous.

Creating my own elaborate websites about myself was outrageously, hilariously narcissistic in hindsight. But building my own sites gave me the ability to tell people who I was in a way that I could control. It also allowed me to look at myself in a positive way, something that was missing when I looked in the mirror. I liked the me I was on the web. I still do.

I’ve always wondered about the assumption that our online personas are more fake than our physical ones. I often feel awkward and nervous in real-life situations; I almost always feel like I’m saying the wrong thing and am unable to articulate what I really think and feel. Online, I have plenty of time and unlimited space to consider what to say and how to express myself. It’s an advantage that makes me feel more like myself, not less so.

On Dec. 7, 2000, the day I joined LiveJournal, I was 18 years old, living with my parents in Austin, jobless, ecstatically in love with my first boyfriend, and spending almost every waking second with as many of my friends as possible. My crew was comprised of other homeschooled teenagers with the same excess of free time that I had, resulting in us spending so much time together that we complained about missing each other when we were apart for two days. I documented every mundane moment of that life and the years that followed on my LiveJournal, eventually falling off but still occasionally updating until 2007.

My journal is still up, hundreds of thousands of words detailing the first seven years of my adult life, and it’s full of hilarious contradictions. I was clearly leading a blissful adventure, experiencing a new “first” practically every week — my first relationship, my first apartment, my first road trip with friends, my first full-time job — but I constantly write as if the weight of the world is on my shoulders: “Life has gotten so misplaced. I don’t even know what I’m doing, just that it can’t be like this forever.”

I was also so unaware of how dang corny I was being all the time. I would write about “candy magic” and my “yummy” days and being “so full of joy.” I think I’m a pretty earnest and even cheesy person now, but I’ve got nothing on my 18-year-old self waxing poetic about every single silly thing under the sun that day. Some parts of it make me wish I still had the ability to be so sincere, but other parts make me think I must have been the most annoying person on earth.

I shared more on my LiveJournal about my thoughts and emotions than I ever did in verbal conversations. I masked my feelings with humor and being loud in “real” life, but I was able to share my neuroses on my LJ. My best friends were reading my journal, and writing in their own too, so it wasn’t like it was a secret — when we weren’t busy hanging out and having fun in my room, we were talking and fighting and sharing our lives, all through words upon words upon words on our computer screens.

I’d write about politics or religion, about trying to understand people who disagreed with me, about the anxieties and delights of my first relationship, about the bands I was discovering and falling in love with. Most of all, I wrote about spending time with my friends, and about how much I loved them.

“I’ve just had one of the most fun-packed days of my life! This will be a long entry but it may actually be worth reading becuz there was so much weirdness today:

“Rachel and Dorothy and I stayed up ALL night last night, being goofy and bitchy and farting and just being completely delirious and silly. At 8:00 we went to Flips, and soon thereafter down to soccer.

I went to soccer and was loud and delirious and singing, and then we went to Schlotsky’s and had great conversation. Then Rachel left and I almost cried cuz she was so fun and I’m gunna miss her so much. But then I went to Flips and they were funny over there. And then I went to meet Isaac after work! And I was dressed so cool and in such a good mood, and we walked around.”

My friends’ journals have largely the same tone: documenting our lives in incredible, mundane, ecstatic detail. This is mostly a practice that seems to have been left behind on the present web, where at least most people are self-aware enough to know that others aren’t interested in an outline of their everyday lives. I guess this is a good thing — I’ve naturally grown up and become smarter and more self-aware since my LiveJournal days, and reading my writing from that era causes my entire body to seize up in embarrassment. I’m also so incredibly jealous. I look back at these entries and I read someone who was completely, 100% unafraid of being herself. I can’t think of anything more remarkable in a teenage girl, and I’m grateful that LiveJournal was a place where I could be me: purely, ridiculously, perfectly.

I was still blogging when I first joined in August 2004. For five years when everything else was changing — I left jobs, moved four times, broke up and restarted relationships, got a cat, and met my best friend — Flickr was a stable and integral part of my life. Flickr was focused entirely on photographs, and those pictures were all there was to it. You were judged not by your cool list of interests or your clever status updates, but by the glimpse into your actual life that photos provide. The present analogue is Instagram.

Still, before I even had an iPhone, Flickr flipped the tables for me. Instead of the internet being a thing I did when I wasn’t ~living~, Flickr became a way to keep track of all the cool stuff I was doing with my time. And there was plenty to keep track of — the time when I started using it a lot was also when I started drinking, dating, and traveling, and met most of the friends who are still my crew today. My Flickr photos are packed with boys I had flings with or unrequited crushes on, parties, late night video game sessions at my ex-boyfriend’s house, my new best friend’s hands folded around a beer at our favorite bar, and lots and lots of elaborately artistic selfies taken with my DSLR’s timer function.

Cute boys with cats uploaded to my Flickr, 2004-2005.

I looked at Flickr a lot. My friends who were on it uploaded all of their photos too, and it was a way to reflect and reinforce all of the things we were going through together. Looking back at my early uploads or my favorites list is as evocative as listening to an old favorite song. It’s easier to remember things that you regularly look at photos from, and as a result, the years after I joined Flickr are genuinely much clearer to me than all of the ones that came before.

When I browse Flickr now — it still exists, but active users have dwindled away since Yahoo started making changes after it acquired the service in 2005 — I’ll come across a photo of an ex-boyfriend hugging a cat or a good friend drinking coffee or a bunch of co-workers dancing in someone’s apartment, and I can hear and smell and feel everything in that frame. Flickr isn’t a window into my “internet life” of yore, it’s a window into my life-life. Maybe they are the same thing.

Typical Myspace selfie.

Although it was preceded by Friendster, which was used by me and a handful of my friends, for me Myspace marks when the concept of “social networking” became mainstream. It was the first time that the energy and excitement I felt for the internet was shared by almost everyone else my age.

There were so many Myspace things that came and went with the platform. The entire concept of having a “top eight” friends will always haunt people of a very specific age and remain completely meaningless to everyone five years older or younger than us.

And the Myspace selfies! I used Myspace photos to exert a control over my appearance that I’ve never quite felt like I had in real life. I’d carefully apply makeup I never wore in public, borrow my roommate’s jewelry, and have an entire selfie session in the sunshine just to achieve the perfect new profile picture.

Most notably, we made music for each other on Myspace. Getting musicians and their fanbases online must have been a strategic push for the company, but it felt completely organic. It felt like one day some band got on Myspace and made it big, and then the next day everyone on earth opened GarageBand for the first time.

Countless friends put music up on Myspace, so after joking that if I had a band I’d call it Premade Bears, I made a profile and I made some songs. For one of them, I borrowed my roommate’s 5-year-old son’s tiny miniature guitar and locked myself in the bathroom, strumming along to my imperfect country-ass voice singing about having a thing for a younger dude. For others, like “Stay Sweet; Don’t Ever Change,” I arranged some generic beats and played some keys on my laptop while sort of lackadaisically rapping about having a crush in the summertime.

There was no future for me in these weirdo amateur tunes, no shows to book or albums to release. Lily Allen made it big on Myspace, but most of us weren’t thinking about scale. I worked at a bookstore, doing events and making displays. I had designs to do something more with my life, but I wasn’t ever going to be a famous musician. Still, I made something I’d always wanted to, and I shared it with my friends. That was cool. Before Myspace, making music and getting people to listen to it seemed hard and complicated. During Myspace, it was the easiest thing in the world. Our old Myspace photos and cliquey top eights were a little silly, but making tunes for each other was a truly sweet, cool thing we got to do and I am grateful.

When I joined Facebook in 2006, it felt at first like the other social networks — a secret club for me and a select few to share our lives together. I didn’t quite get the point — most of the action was still on Myspace for the first couple years, and the wonkiness of Myspace’s customizable color scheme felt way more me than the clean, boring blue and gray on Facebook. And then Facebook grew. And kept growing. And now it remains the only network mentioned here that’s frequented by my entire extended family.

As evidenced by the teens who’ve left Facebook for other less mom-supervised networks and apps over the last couple years, being on a social network with everyone you’ve ever known is sometimes less fun than the alternatives. I mean, it makes sense: The last thing I want to do in real life is gather every friend, former co-worker, family member, and ex-boyfriend in one giant room together.

That said, my own mom is by far the coolest part of my Facebook experience. My mom uses Facebook with the same delightful, contagious joy that I used early BBSes with. Every Friday, she posts nature photos from the ranch where she lives with the hashtag #FieldNotesFriday. Rumor of her excellence on Facebook has spread among my group of friends, and I occasionally get a text from another pal asking if it’s cool if they request her.

A typical Facebook update from my mom.

Social networking is associated with youth — naturally, kids who grew up with the internet are more comfortable adapting to new social networks. But in the next couple decades, those same kids will be the parents crashing the party. If my mom is any indication, that could actually be pretty great.

I joined Twitter just about as soon as I heard about it, in early 2008; by that time, I was joining pretty much any social network that came onto my radar. When I first joined, my tweets were approximations of Facebook statuses.

It took months before I started using the actual functionality of Twitter, like to find out I had missed events or, er, comment on the news:

checking twitter for the first time in a day & like a nightmare, last night: “secret okkervil river show RIGHT NOW @ the compound”… Sigh.

— summeranne (@Summer Anne Burton)

david foster wallace is dead. wtf.

— summeranne (@Summer Anne Burton)

I felt like I was talking to a wall, because no one I knew was on Twitter, so I gave up on it for a while. I got the sense that Twitter was never going to catch on, but when a few of my coolest real-life friends started accounts, I quickly returned:

people keep joining twitter. so i’ll try to start updating again. i need an omelette.

— summeranne (@Summer Anne Burton)

But I used the platform for desolate personal revelations and song lyrics cryptically referencing my complicated personal life:

We are the challengers of the unknown.

— summeranne (@Summer Anne Burton)

Whiskey, i love you with a depth of feeling that scares the shit out of you.

— summeranne (@Summer Anne Burton)

When I first started at BuzzFeed almost three years ago, I stopped using Twitter as a constant stream of my brain and started using it more professionally and strategically to share my articles, comment on other sites’ posts, and interact with writers and editors I worked with or admired.

It felt like Twitter was something I did for work and Facebook was something I did for my “real” friends. Living in New York City, I have now met many of the people whose faces light up my TweetDeck window every day, but my pals back home mostly remain holdouts.

Still, lately my Twitter experience has reverted 360 degrees back to the personal, flirty, ~relatable~ vibe of my early tweets, except people are actually listening. I like to tweet about songs I like, and having crushes, and being up too late at night. I like to post selfies, and look at the selfies of cute dudes and ladies I follow. I like Twitter on the nights and weekends as much as I like it during the day at work. I like to wonder about whether a fav is a flirty fav or just a fav. I try to make people smile, or laugh, or, at the very least, think I am charming. I follow people who I find nice, warm, and smart.

life goal: be more like this dog

— summeranne (@Summer Anne Burton)

I often describe Twitter these days as the cool room where I hang out with my internet friends all day. Most of my closest “IRL” friends back in Texas still don’t use it, so Twitter still feels in some ways like a throwback to the internet of yore. It’s insurance that my thoughts won’t just disappear inside my brain. It’s a place to test my own ideas and jokes and cute pictures before unleashing them on a wider audience. And it’s an amazing way to maintain mild crushes on the brains of a few hundred other people, a true dream come true for my giant, fickle heart.

In January 2011, I had been using Tumblr for a couple years. I’d given up on maintaining my personal domain name and redirected it to my tumblog, where I posted photos, wrote about songs I liked, and shared links to things on the internet I was into. I had, around this same time, gotten super into drawing again. Art was something I’d been into consistently as a kid and a teenager, but I’d been focusing on writing, kissing boys, and working shitty retail jobs for most of my twenties. I started posting drawings on my blog in 2010 and found that my friends responded super positively to them. There’s so much reblogging and reposting and sharing on the social web that putting something truly new into the world again felt like I was doing something special.

I was also becoming completely obsessed with baseball, thanks to a fortuitous series of events. I’d started dating an obsessive sports fanatic named Brian and we visited the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown together for his birthday. I’d also recently switched from cheerleading to playing in my devoted local co-ed softball league. I’d just binge-watched all of the Ken Burns baseball documentary series. I joined a fantasy league. I had always liked baseball — it was the only sport I remember my dad being really into when I was a kid, and my grandmother was a devoted Astros fan — but this time, I got serious about it. I devoured books about baseball statistics and history, got an MLB season pass for my phone and computer so I could watch all the games I wanted, learned how to keep score, and started reading baseball websites and following baseball writers online.

So, in 2011, I started something that seemed totally natural: I decided to draw every member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame (there are currently 306) and put the drawings up on Tumblr. I thought maybe I could do it in a year. Four years later, I’m up to 258 drawings done. The project wasn’t designed to go viral; I just thought it would get me into the practice of drawing regularly, and that I’d get to learn more about baseball history in the process.

One of the inaugural five Hall of Famers and one of my first drawings for the blog.

A few months in, an editor for ESPN: The Magazine called my cell phone. I was at my part-time waitressing job when he told me the magazine wanted to pay me to draw some pictures of players who won’t make it into the Hall despite impressive resumes (such as banned baseball player Pete Rose). It was the first time someone offered to pay me to do something freelance, and it blew my mind. After the magazine, I did an interview with ESPN online, Emma Carmichael asked if she could feature some of the drawings on Deadspin, and the project was written up in my hometown alt-weekly, the Austin Chronicle.

I started to become known, not just as an illustrator but also among baseball writers online. I applied for and, miraculously, got a regular paying freelance gig at Fangraphs, a baseball website for mega-nerds like the one I’d become. I didn’t write about stats in any traditional sense, though — I wrote about female pop stars as if they were players, researched the GOP presidential candidates’ relationships with America’s pastime, and crafted a T-shirt with the win probability graph of a crazy playoff game embroidered on it (the latter led my wonderful editor, Carson Cistulli, to email me with an apology for, well, all men).

Writing about baseball on Fangraphs opened up a world for me that I hadn’t fully realized existed, where people got paid to do what I’d been doing for fun my entire life: make stuff for the internet. I did some posts for The Hairpin and started drawing a comic for the newly kickstarted The Classical. I started applying for jobs at websites. And, 16 months after starting Every Hall of Famer, I got an email from a woman at BuzzFeed asking if I could chat with two editors about the part-time weekend editor position I’d applied for. By September of that year, I moved to New York for a full-time position at BuzzFeed.

Though I don’t typically write about baseball for the site, I’m sure I wouldn’t be here without Every Hall of Famer, which I’m hoping to finally finish sometime during the 2015 baseball season. I sometimes miss writing about baseball, but I figure I was never meant to be a specialist.

My latest position at BuzzFeed, Editorial Director of BFF, entails running a new team that makes original content for emerging social web platforms. It’s better than I ever imagined a job could be. It’s also the job I’ve been in training for without knowing it since I first dialed into a BBS at age 12. It reinforces my dad’s decision to introduce technology to me and my brother when we were so young, and it validates my mom’s loose, organic view of education and willingness to let me self-direct in front of a computer screen. I’m grateful for this life, online and off.

One of my first posts on Vine, starring Bobby Sneakers.

I’ve focused here on the social networks that have had the biggest impact on my life, but there was also the ego-stroking delight of Friendster testimonials, the thrill of experimenting with online dating — or, more accurately, online flirting — on, my brief foray into anonymous message boards on, and countless music message boards and email lists. These days, I use Instagram, Vine, and Facebook daily, in addition to Twitter and Tumblr.

“Social networking” is what I think about all day at my job, but it’s also how I stay connected to my friends back home, make new friends, develop crushes, document my life, and entertain myself. So about this tension between the internet and real life: Maybe while they’re melting together, they can bring out the best in one another.

There are plenty of people who seem to have an easy time being cruel on the web who would crumble if they were face to face with the victims of their abuse. It would be nice if those bullies and trolls could take whatever it is that keeps most of them from being horrible every day in the streets, and bring it with them to online forums.

On the flip side, I often yearn for the texture of my internet life in my “real” life. Sometimes when I’m at a bar or a party these days, I try to summon internet-me so that I can be more open, generous, flirtatious, confident, and tender. A better listener and a nicer person.

Most days I spend a lot of time watching people — some of them friends and some of them strangers — post on Instagram and Facebook and Twitter and Vine and Tumblr and TinyLetter and Medium. They are so often honest and vulnerable and breaking my heart, or funny, or creative, or incisive. I heart their selfies, I share their writing, I fav their tweets, and I read about their experiences. I tell them I love and appreciate them in tiny, easy ways, and they do the same for me.

Those moments usually feel like the realest part of my day.

Read more:

Why Is Bill Cosby’s Career Over, But Terry Richardson’s Isn’t?

The power of outcry momentum — and having a famous accuser.

Cosby in Philadelphia in November 2014. AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File

Though at first glance, the two men couldn’t seem more different — Jell-O commercials vs. sex-party book different — there are remarkable similarities between the scandals surrounding Bill Cosby and fashion photographer Terry Richardson, who’ve separately been accused of predatory behavior by more than a dozen women.

Richardson has never been accused of drugging and raping women, as Cosby repeatedly has, but the photographer’s alleged victims often say “Uncle Terry” used his industry influence and acclaim to coerce them into performing sexual acts. In many cases, as with Cosby’s alleged victims, there was the promise of a future job. Some of these women said Cosby and Richardson’s staff facilitated or otherwise witnessed the encounters. Many said they were aspiring models at the time. These allegations have been reported in the media for years — Cosby since 2005, Richardson since about 2010.

But the way in which Cosby’s and Richardson’s respective employers have responded to public outcry this year provides a new barometer for how long powerful men can maintain their reputations after the first whisper of misconduct. And both cases reinforce the ways in which these men are able to sidestep accusations until a crucial tipping point occurs.

Neither Cosby nor Richardson has been charged with a crime. They have both settled lawsuits related to their alleged misconduct. They’ve also both publicly denied wrongdoing. But they’ve remained beloved and defended by fans and industry peers alike, allowing them to continue getting work.

Until Tuesday, when Janice Dickinson changed everything for Bill Cosby.

Nearly five hours after the former supermodel and reality-TV star revealed she’d allegedly been raped by Cosby, Netflix announced it was postponing Cosby’s stand-up special. Eighteen hours later, NBC confirmed that it too was shelving a new Cosby sitcom. Almost 24 hours later, TV Land pulled reruns of The Cosby Show. On Friday, Cosby’s Nov. 28 stand-up show in Las Vegas was also canceled.

None of these companies made statements naming Dickinson or even referencing the allegations against Cosby. But for those watching the Cosby story unfold over the last decade, the cascade of cancellations following Dickinson’s revelations seemed like a definitive moment: the first acknowledgment by Cosby’s industry that it would no longer ignore his alleged misdeeds.

But, why now? NBC, which announced a new Cosby project in January of this year, did not sever ties in February, when Gawker resurfaced the allegations and Newsweek interviewed former model Tamara Green, who first came forward in 2005 with claims that Cosby raped her in the ’70s. Netflix did not sever ties on Nov. 13, when two million people read a Washington Post essay by former model Barbara Bowman, who also came forward in 2005, claiming Cosby raped her in 1985. In her column, Bowman wrote about the renewed interest in Cosby’s allegations that began in late October, after a six-month-old joke by comedian Hannibal Buress went viral, sparking another round of awareness — for those who missed the last one — and a Twitter meme-gone-wrong.

“Only after a man, Hannibal Buress, called Bill Cosby a rapist … did the public outcry begin in earnest,” Bowman wrote. “The women victimized by Bill Cosby have been talking about his crimes for more than a decade. Why didn’t our stories go viral?”

Even after Bowman’s column, the renewed scrutiny seemed no different from the flickering rounds of bad Cosby press that came before it: The public would be reminded of the allegations, Cosby would stay silent, and after some indeterminate amount of time, everyone would mostly stop paying attention. This trajectory is familiar — just ask Richardson or R. Kelly. The allegations of these unknown women always resurface, and the careers of these men never suffer for very long.

Then Dickinson became the latest Cosby accuser, alleging he assaulted her — possibly even drugged her — in 1982. But Dickinson is not like the other Cosby accusers in one critical way: She’s famous. Her story may not have made much of a difference if it stood alone 30 years ago — a tragedy in itself, as Roxane Gay pointed out Friday — but with renewed public interest in the allegations against Cosby, she was the backbreaking straw.

Dickinson came forward, and three major Cosby employers killed his projects within a day. A woman with a name came forward, and Cosby’s career may never be the same.

Richardson in Hollywood in March 2014. Danny Moloshok / Reuters

It took 10 years, sure, but it happened so quickly. After TV Land’s abrupt suspension of Cosby Show reruns, the Associated Press released weeks-old footage of Cosby convincing a reporter to “scuttle” questions about the resurfaced allegations. TMZ published Polaroids Dickinson took of Cosby before she allegedly blacked out. And in the aftermath, the speed at which Cosby’s public image fell apart within days stands in glaring contrast to the pace at which employers distanced themselves from Richardson earlier this year, when new allegations about his past behavior came to light.

In March, a former art student told Vocativ that Richardson “groped her and defiled her face” in 2009. In April, a young model tweeted screenshots of Richardson allegedly propositioning her over Facebook messages — it’s now believed these messages were faked, but at the time they spurred Vogue, which (quietly) hadn’t worked with Richardson since 2010, to make its first statement on its severed relationship with the photographer.

Over the next few months, more brands said they had no plans to work with Richardson — six made distancing statements to BuzzFeed News. Twenty-eight remained silent. For all the similarities in the outcry against them, there was no tipping point for Richardson — no Hannibal Buress, no Janice Dickinson. He continues getting high-profile work, including a campaign starring Miley Cyrus for an Italian hosiery brand and the fall 2014 campaigns for Yves Saint Laurent and Zadig & Voltaire. In July, Playboy announced it would release an entire Terry-tinted issue.

While Richardson’s career moves ahead, it’s hard to imagine that Cosby’s ever will — though these careers, unlike the scandals, are not exactly comparable. Cosby was a comedian first, but he built his image on wholesome values dressed up in dad sweaters, becoming a symbol of black professional class striving. Richardson, with his full-sleeve tattoos and flannel shirts, built his image on deliberate sleaze, inserting celebrities and himself in the Venn diagram of pornography and art. Maybe Richardson’s big-name employers — like Valentino and GQ — would publicly drop him if a famous woman joined the unknown accusers, as Dickinson did. But then again, Richardson has made raw, boundary-pushing sex part of his brand. The unspoken defense against his allegations has always been that his employers should have known what they signed up for.

The most famous woman to hint at Richardson’s alleged behavior is the model Coco Rocha, who told Canada’s Fashion in 2010, “I’ve shot with him, but I didn’t feel comfortable and I won’t do it again.”

It’s not clear that Rocha was referring to sexual advances — she’s never elaborated on them, and Richardson’s team later told New York her comments were related to the theme of a photo shoot. But if Rocha was hinting at sexual abuse, speaking in any more detail could have hurt her in the fashion industry, where Richardson still had more power than her. It’s no coincidence that Dickinson told her full story now, decades after her encounter with Cosby and years since her career has drawn any real attention — years too since she made hinting comments not unlike Rocha’s to Howard Stern. Dickinson doesn’t have to worry about making professional enemies anymore.

Tamara Green was a trial attorney in 2005 when she came forward — even in an industry that Cosby couldn’t touch, speaking out was a “career-ender,” she told Newsweek earlier this year.

“It casts a shadow on your character,” she said, “if you dare to attack one of these icons.”

Since Dickinson’s revelations, more alleged Cosby victims have emerged, emboldened to tell their stories now that more people are listening. Thanks to the swift public departure of Cosby’s employers, the shadow may have been lifted. But Richardson’s accusers are still living in it.

Read more:

Tom Hanks and Glenn Frey were in a blackface comedy routine

From the Daily Caller:

Video footage obtained by The Daily Caller shows Hollywood screen legend Tom Hanks and Eagles musician Glenn Frey at a 2004 fundraising auction, playfully interacting with a white man dressed as an African native, complete with blackface makeup and a giant Afro wig.

In response to the video, Congress of Racial Equality national spokesperson  Niger Innis has called on President Obama to remove Hanks’ narration from his  campaign film. Innis called the incident “an orchestrated, heinous, and racist ‘Stepin Fetchit’ routine that Mr. Hanks was a part of.”

Don’t worry, gentlemen, Hollywood stars get a pass for this sort of thing. Republicans and white college kids, on the other hand . . . .

Read more:

Books, New York, And The Internet: A Love Story

A tale of life in the city, 14 years in publishing, and embracing technology to save the culture you love.

Jenny Chang / BuzzFeed

There was a time in the predigital age, a time before e-readers and tablets and mobile phone apps, when taking an entry-level publishing job was like signing on to fight a war against paper. Back in the days when book publishers killed trees and prospective authors’ dreams with equal abandon, there would be territory battles for access to that one Xerox machine on the 11th floor that jammed less frequently than the other ones. There were “It’s not you, it’s me” letters to be written and mailed back to literary agents along with scads of rejected book proposals. There were faxes to be sent and received, legal-size contracts to be filed, and pink perforated phone messages to be recorded and disbursed. There were copyedits to shepherd, reams of marked-up pages that smelled of coffee or whiskey or baby vomit, depending on the current life stages of both author and editor. There was so much mail. There were piles upon piles of manuscript pages to be collated and read and evaluated beneath unforgiving fluorescent lights, and ensuing headaches caused by eye strain and recycled air and too much Diet Coke.

I grew up in the suburbs of New Jersey, the area Springsteen sang so many songs about leaving, but I never felt an urgency to flee my hometown. I certainly never had my heart set on becoming a New Yorker. It was those damn headaches that felt like they were my birthright. Like most New Yorkers I know, I am happiest when things are awful. I find joy in seeking out wonderful ways to be miserable, so it only made sense that I was drawn to the glamorous world of book publishing. Those headaches, and all the crazy hours and adorable little paychecks that accompanied them, made me feel alive. I loved those headaches. I was privileged — literally — to be able to experience those headaches (thanks for the safety net, Mom and Dad!). Those headaches meant that I had found my place in the world, alongside equally masochistic and idealistic people who loved to read as much as I did and who were prepared to sacrifice emotional and financial stability in order to turn their love of reading into a career. In other words, my colleagues were as crazy as I was, in the best possible way.

I blame George Plimpton. I met him at the very first swanky publishing party I ever attended, at a townhouse on the Upper East Side. I was drinking wine that didn’t come from a box and was feeling very optimistic about my future prospects. And then there he was, the New York literary legend. I bravely approached Mr. Plimpton to introduce myself, and he said he was delighted to meet me, and perhaps he was more focused on checking out my breasts than on our conversation. Talking to him was so exciting! Degrading too, of course, but also very exciting. Just like the publishing industry!

I blame Chloë Sevigny too. I look back now on The Last Days of Disco and realize that the film finds many uncomfy parallels between an outmoded style of music and nightlife and the book publishing industry. Dinosaurs, both. But gosh, Chloë made it all look so fun and stylish.

I especially blame Margaret Atwood and Lorrie Moore and Susan Sontag and Charles freaking Dickens. I blame Toni Morrison and Roald Dahl and all the uncelebrated ghostwriters known collectively as “Francine Pascal” for the Sweet Valley High series. And yes, I blame Joan Didion. It was the idea of eventually working with writers like those that made me feel OK about the countless hours I spent, in the meantime, editing books that weren’t uniformly thrilling. I relished the thankless coordinating I did for ghostwritten celebrity tell-alls, and I didn’t mind babysitting a bunch of self-help authors, who were notoriously the least self-actualized nutcases on the planet. Those books were the reality TV shows of the book biz, the ones that would appeal to the masses and thereby finance the riskier, more thought-provoking books that I might one day publish to great acclaim. Because there was always the chance that somewhere buried in the slush pile, I’d find… blah blah blah. You get it, no need for me to fill in the details. Let’s just say I had visions of National Book Awards, lifelong friendships with authors I’d edited, and stimulating parties filled with people who’d engage in watercooler talk about a newly published literary novel like it was the latest greatest show on HBO. I remember that when I acquired my first book as an assistant editor — a subversively funny story collection by an up-and-coming superstar — I received a congratulatory email from a senior editor I’d been crushing on. I think I skipped down Sixth Avenue that day.

I chose to make a life for myself in the epicenter of the book publishing world, the one place in the United States where performing menial tasks every day ultimately gave me a great sense of purpose. By choosing publishing, I also chose New York City. I chose to share a railroad-style apartment with three other women, scurrying like a mouse through our connected rooms alongside the actual mice that were scurrying through them. I chose to live in a location where mundane items became unimaginable luxuries: a dishwasher, a porch, a yard, a car, a washer/dryer in one’s home. A supermarket. A Target where the women’s apparel hasn’t been thoroughly picked over. I chose summers that smelled of hot garbage and winters so icy that it was barely possible to slink over to the corner bodega without falling on your ass numerous times.

But New York was like the free bookshelf by the ladies’ room at the office: There was a lot of unwanted crap stacked on those shelves, but there was often a gem or two to be found if you were motivated enough to dig around. There were endless possibilities. Dinner might be a rubber-banded container from the deli across the street where the entire salad bar was 50 percent off after 5 p.m., but then dessert could be a glass of champagne at a debut novelist’s launch party. An acrid-smelling misogynist could proselytize about the impropriety of your attire on the subway, but the train itself would be speeding toward some moment of transcendent beauty, even if it was just a publishing assistant sing-along at some Koreatown karaoke bar.

The problem with choosing an identity and a lifestyle that’s tied to a particular profession is, of course, that you must rely on job security for a sense of self-worth. In 2008 I left the corporation where I’d slowly but surely been making a name for myself for five years in order to take a job at a smaller publisher where ideally I’d have more authority — or at least fewer phones to answer. Four months into the job, my division was sold, and I lost my job. It was the worst breakup I’d ever experienced. I was a spurned lover, frantically trying to figure out what was left of me if my beloved had rejected me. What made me me if I wasn’t a book editor? Being unemployed in New York City in the springtime should’ve been somewhat enjoyable. The city was alive and I had the time to take it all in! I was receiving unemployment checks, after all, and poverty wasn’t imminent. But that season felt like one long panic attack, made worse by the fact that I felt overwhelmingly stressed about not being able to just relax and enjoy myself. This, as many neurotic and/or driven people know, is a vicious cycle.

After a string of desperate dates (informational interviews, really — it turned out my layoff coincided with an economic crisis that led to mass consolidation in the publishing world), I found a vaguely book-related position at a startup and I snapped it up. I spent years at that damn job, watching from afar as former contemporaries climbed their respective corporate ladders and became forces in the publishing field. I was jealous and frustrated, and so, as many others have done before and will continue to do, I took to the internet.

I had spent years trying to help others find their own distinctive voices, and I was amazed to find that I could help myself in the same way. It turned out I didn’t need stationery or a corporate card or a fancy job title in order to take part in New York book culture. And I didn’t need a book deal in order to be a writer. I didn’t even need to consider myself to be a writer in order to be a writer. “Serious” writerly types might bemoan the detrimental effect that social media have on productivity or creativity, but one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done was to start a silly Tumblr blog called Slaughterhouse 90210 on a whim. I was bored at work and a friend suggested that I create a blog featuring some of my favorite quotes from literature — I had thousands. But quotes alone weren’t fun. I realized that if I juxtaposed quotes from books I loved with images from TV shows, my blog posts would be entertaining and provide unique commentary.

Slaughterhouse 90210 was singularly mine. I could never be fired from it! My blog gave me a platform to become a writer and critic and performer, encouraged by the literary community I found on Tumblr. I was inspired by all my newfound Bookternet friends — readers, writers, bloggers, booksellers, publishing world types, and fellow refugees. You certainly didn’t have to live in New York City to take part in the discussion. But it sure was fun getting to know some of these new friends in real life. There are an abundance in this city.

A fundamental tenet of society at large is that book readings are supposed to be boring. Why would anyone want to spend an evening glistening to some pretentious twerp drone on and on? How many tiny plastic cups of cheap chardonnay would one have to drink not to mind when a creep in the back row asks the reader intensive questions about the creative process? Or if he has more of a comment than a question? One of the most magical things about New York is that readings are not boring here. On any given night, there are at least three or four literary events taking place in New York, and thanks to great curation and a high level of passion among event planners, at least two or three of them will be delightful. I can walk into any one of an amazing collection of local bookstores and know that I’ll be inspired and entertained, and that I’ll have a friend or two in the audience. I love that. As highly esteemed experts have been saying for many years, book publishing is undergoing many technological shifts. It’s in a constant state of flux. But literary culture, especially in New York City, is alive and well and essential.

Life is sometimes shitty. I don’t ascribe the shittiness of life to New York, maybe because I don’t really know any other way of adult life, so I have little to compare it to. I ascribe my bouts of unhappiness to being a person who sometimes has difficulty relaxing and taking it all in. Betrayals and heartache and injustices take place everywhere, and loneliness is pervasive. But reading and being on the internet and living in New York City are simultaneously solitary and intensely social activities. Somehow sitting on the couch in my apartment in Greenpoint, all alone with a book, I feel surrounded by friends.


Maris Kreizman is the creator of Slaughterhouse 90210, a blog and soon-to-be book (Flatiron Books, 2015) that celebrates the intersection of her two great loves–literature and TV. She’s currently a publishing community manager at Kickstarter. A former book editor, Maris cannot get enough of critiquing her own writing.

Excerpted from Never Can Say Goodbye: Writers on Their Unshakable Love for New York edited by Sari Botton, published by Touchstone, a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc. Copyright © 2014 by Sari Botton. Reprinted with permission.

For more information about Never Can Say Goodbye, click here.

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