I'm really proud of my newsletter, guys

I've been working really hard on my TinyLetter recently and it's been making me really happy. I have nearly 200 subscribers! Which doesn't actually sound like that much. But considering I don't really promote it or anything, I don't know. It feels good. Last week my grad school friend Ryan Teitman mentioned my TinyLetter in his own TinyLetter, and I got six new subscribers. Two of them were mutual friends/acquaintances of ours from Indiana University. It felt good to see some familiar names, and know that they're interested in what I've got to say. 

I feel like my TinyLetter is a good way for me to keep track of what I've been thinking about, and sort of turn my thoughts inside-out. It's also a good way to keep track of what I've been doing in my classes. Most weeks at least one or two people unsubscribe. But often I also get really good responses. Sometimes people write and say that a certain letter meant a lot to them, and it fills me with pleasure and conviction.

Check it out here: http://tinyletter.com/rachellyon

Novel-Related Google Searches, Summer 2017

All right, so I'm writing a new novel. It's in its very early stages, so who knows if it will turn into anything long-term. But I had been missing these novel-related Google search posts, so as I work on it I think I'll revive them. I am hoping that continuing to blog about the process will help hold me accountable. 

kitty corner catty corner caddy corner

How many people live on Planet Earth?

Abraham and Sarah

When Will Climate Change Make the Earth Too Hot for Humans?

Rotary Telephone Construction

World's Largest Rotary Telephone Collection > Georgia Rural Telephone Museum

Categories of Dialogue

I taught my first class for the School of Making Thinking last week, and we came up with a bunch of categories for types of dialogue. Because there was no chalkboard in our classroom at the Abrons Art Center, I took notes on a big piece of butcher paper. If you are reading this, can you add any other categories to this list?

  • Advertisement
  • Affirmation
  • Babble
  • Banter
  • Bloviating
  • Boasting
  • Brainstorming
  • Bullying
  • Coaching
  • Commiseration
  • Competing
  • Complaint
  • Confession
  • Contradiction
  • Criticism
  • Debate
  • Deflecting
  • Deliberation
  • Demand
  • Description
  • Egging On
  • Encouragement
  • Exclamation
  • Free Association
  • Gossip
  • Guessing
  • Information-Seeking
  • Informing
  • Inquiry
  • Instruction
  • Insult
  • Introduction
  • Jab
  • Judgment
  • Kibitzing
  • Kvetching
  • Lying
  • Misleading
  • Negation
  • Negotiation
  • Nonsequitor
  • Oversharing
  • Oration
  • Performance
  • Persuasion
  • Pleasantry
  • Proving
  • Rambling
  • Recitation
  • Reference
  • Reporting
  • Scolding
  • Segue
  • Silence
  • Solicitation
  • Speculation
  • Spin
  • Spitballing
  • Suggestion
  • Testing
  • Threatening
  • Validation
  • Word Salad

43 Incidences of the Word "Water" in My Novel

As I work on edits to my book I've had to do a find-and-replace for the word "water" several times. Going through the left-hand panel on Microsoft Word I found that the incidences made their own sort of poetry.

An incomplete list:

  1. The uneven basement floor was flooded with puddles of stagnant water that seemed to be generating clouds of mosquitos.
  2. What I mean is have you heard the seagulls call at the water’s edge in a gray rain?
  3. Nude, I filled a pot of water and put it on the stove.
  4. I picked up the pot with two potholders and lugged it back into the studio, careful not to spill any boiling water on my naked skin.
  5. The water level rose.
  6. Hot water sloshed onto the floor.
  7. I hopped back from the scalding water, perspiring heavily.
  8. I held my dad’s old meat thermometer in the sink, took the temperature of the water, and waited.
  9. The rice and water came slowly to a boil, and I filled a short glass with ice and a shot of the cheap Polish vodka I kept in the freezer.
  10. My eyes watered as I tried not to cough.
  11. Water and snapdragons spilled all over the concrete floor.
  12. I washed my hands and splashed water on my face without thinking to take off my glasses. 
  13. A catalog from B&H, a water bill, a reminder from my optometrist’s office that it was time to get my eyes checked.
  14. When I turned around I saw she’d already wandered in, and was browsing the art books lined up on the raw two-by-four shelves I’d bolted into the walls, noting the pot in the sink, encrusted with burnt rice and full of cold soapy water.
  15. I could make coffee. Wait, no. I’m out of beans. Water, then.
  16. Water or vodka. Or tea.
  17. The penthouse was skylit and wood-paneled, and totally incongruous with the tar-topped skyscape of broken windows and water towers that surrounded it.
  18. Can I get you two anything? A beer? Soda water?
  19. Got down on my knees and cleaned deep in the cracks between the poured concrete floor, scrubbing with soapy water until they were mud.
  20. She said, My rent is five hundred. What? I said, laughing. Do you get, like, heat and hot water that the rest of us don’t have? She raised her eyebrows. My smile faded. That son of a bitch, I said.
  21. I went back in, leaving the front door open, and washed my face, brushed my teeth, and splashed some water in my hair.
  22. I’d look out at the glowing city as a ferry went by, its lit windows casting unsteady light on the water’s surface.
  23. The kitchen was clotted with dishes and pots and pans and glasses, the dining table with ten or twelve empty bottles and plates that held the remains of pie and empty ice cream cartons and scattered utensils and more glasses half-full of water or stained with wine.
  24. The water was frigid so I let it run.
  25. The water ran ten minutes and never got any warmer.
  26. She came back out with two glasses of water and set them on the table. I’m sorry, she said, that’s just not good enough.
  27. The Pontiac's axels whined and water sloshed in the tires as I eased it through the wide and shallow lake of saltwater between the reeds.
  28. In the rearview mirror, a stretch of wetlands reached out toward a horizon black and jagged with trees, the water afire with sunset sky.
  29. A cloud passed and clean white sun flooded the sand, refracted off the water.
  30. As the pharmacist went to work on her prescription she browsed the aisles, picking up and putting down water wings and sunglasses, vitamins and douches, with fidgety disinterest. 
  31. I flipped through the pages. Glossy color photos of young green forests and beaches at sunset. Waterfalls that had been photographed on a long exposure so that their cascades looked soft and blurred as mist. I said, I hope this didn’t cost you anything.
  32. But my mother. Jesus, my mother. Waterworks the whole fucking time. 
  33. I vomited until I had nothing left. My throat stung, my eyes watered, my hands trembled.
  34. He began talking very quickly: I was minding my own damn business—listening to a little music, heating up a little water to wash up—when I hear this fucking banging on the door.
  35. In the dark basement they stepped into a lake of inch-high, half-frozen, stagnant water and a thick layer of stinking smoke. 
  36. The day we had no more hot water, no more heat, that was bad. The day I found roaches in the kitchen, rats under the bed? That was worse.
  37. The East River is not actually a river at all, but a saltwater tidal strait, all quick dark current glistening under bridges and out to sea.
  38. In our little castle on a hill we are beholden to several simple guidelines: we must feed the children, of course, and keep them warm in the winter, and provide running water so that they may wash their grubby hands.
  39. I got as close as I could to the water and looked up and out, skin prickling. 
  40. I kept turning to go, then stopping myself—no, not yet—and turning back toward the water. 
  41. The waterfront property he wants to convert to luxury condos is, unfortunately, infested with tenants and other animals.
  42. I walked home in a daze, through the lush tree-lined streets of the Heights, down the hill, toward the water.
  43. They were all drawings and paintings on paper. Many had been done in simple charcoal, but some had been done in tender watercolor, or had wrestled with streaks or splashes of gouache. 

Some Thoughts on Flashback

At some point, after teaching creative writing for a few years, I decided that for many writers flashback is a crutch, and made a big stink about how I don't like it. I tried to be funny about this, and to roll my eyes at myself when I said so, but basically my message was: don't use flashback within the context of a scene unfolding in present action. It breaks up momentum, and short-circuits the story, telling us things we could fund out in a separate section or in exposition. 

Recently, though, I received this question from a student, quoted below with her permission…

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About My Writing Prompts Newsletter

One of my newest projects is this weekly newsletter, through which I send out writing prompts. I started it as a way to offer prompts to students and former students, and I've been gaining subscribers, albeit slowly.

Recently, after the desperately dispiriting election, like so many artists I'd been trying to come up with ways I might engage more seriously with political resistance. Over the weekend I had a conversation with a friend about how freedom of speech and freedom of the press are integral to democracy. Today, after reading about the crackdown on the free press in Turkey, I posed this question to my newsletter subscribers: What would your own act of political resistance be? How, in a country without first amendment protection, would you be punished for it?

I have no real answers to the question of how artists today can or should join our national political conversation. But writing this prompt, though it was a very small act, felt like a start.

Source: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/21/nyregion...

TFW After a Thousand Attempts, You Finally Hit on the Right Metaphor

I've been working on another round of edits to my manuscript. Most of them are mechanical, but today I hit on a meaningful one. For context, here's what precedes the relevant lines:

She lowered herself clumsily to the floor and sat with her knees pulled up to her chest, her back against a kitchen cabinet. I sat down beside her. The rubber floor covering was shaped like honeycomb, and though the rest of the kitchen was Ajax clean, in all its hexagonal reticula there were accumulations of dust and hair and crumbs and onionskins. Pressing her fingers to her eyes and face, Kate began to shake. When she spoke her words were warped by sobs. I want to die, she said. I want to die.

I felt almost physically ill. I felt unprepared and wrong for the occasion. I was a baseball glove at a black tie dinner. A floor-length gown on a boy scout.

Those last metaphors hadn't ever been right, and I knew it. This morning I came up with a couple of replacements. Now it reads:

I was a bicycle helmet at a football game. A book of knock-knock jokes shelved among memoirs.

So. Much. Better. Am literally sighing with relief.

Novel-Related Google Searches, August '16 (Last Installment)

Several months ago on this island I love, I wandered into a windy chapel on top of a rock surrounded by ocean. It was not long after sunrise and harsh winds shook the windowpanes. I opened a book at random and read the following prayer:

May all that is unlived in you blossom into a future graced with love.

With that in mind, and with my fingers crossed, I write the following: This is the last installment of my novel-related Google searches, because I have finally finished my novel. (Again.)



Saint John the Divine peacocks

fox and hedgehog

Turing test

police precinct DUMBO Brooklyn

when did high schoolers start using pagers / beepers



hair bands, the Melvins

David Dinkins

ArtExpo New York

Diane Arbus TLR Rolleiflex

Lanthanum glass

Pentax camera models


A Short Essay in the Baltimore Review

To celebrate 20 years of publishing, the Baltimore Review has launched a series on its blog called Milestones, and they're asking previous contributors to write short (no more than 750-word) essays on the theme. As a previous contributor (they published my short story "The Installation" in 2013), I was eligible to offer something. I am happy to say that they published my post, a meditation on writing, the body, and tugboats. Take a read.

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Novel-Related Google Searches, July '16

Hoppin' John

Coffee & Cigarettes, Jim Jarmusch

Kids in the Hall VHS tapes

Susan Lori-Parks

rats' nest; shirt cardboard 

burning a photograph (video)

Burning a Photograph (Video)

Burning a Photograph (Video)

minimum wage 1992

popular perfumes 1992

luxury apartment NYC 1990s rent 

price of a Richard Avedon photograph 1992

by what margin did Bill Clinton defeat George H. W. Bush?

nickname for George Washington

Dutch surnames

common small animals Netherlands

Dutch diminutive ending

Dutch folklore ghosts

moss maidens

legal requirements taking a student off school grounds

memory retrieval alters

children's toy wire beads

My Self-Imposed Writing Residency: A (B)log

My cousins, who live in a beautiful house down the street from my own, asked me to house-sit while they were on vacation. I decided to take the opportunity to take the week off from work, and make some serious progress on my book. I'm calling it my self-imposed writing residency. The conditions:

  • Primary activity must be writing.
  • Each morning must consist of work on the novel (afternoons may consist of other writing projects).
  • Secondary activities lasting more than 10 minutes must be related to writing (e.g. submissions, outlining, free-writing, reading/research).
  • No Gchat, no more than 10 minutes of social media per day, no texting for fun (only for logistics purposes).
  • Daily activities must be (b)logged here, for the sake of accountability. 
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