Empathy isn’t just something that happens to us—a meteor shower of synapses firing across the brain—it’s also a choice we make: to pay attention, to extend ourselves. It’s made of exertion, that dowdier cousin of impulse. Sometimes we care for another because we know we should, or because it’s asked for, but this doesn’t make our caring hollow. The act of choosing simply means we’ve committed ourselves to a set of behaviors greater than the sum of our individual inclinations: I will listen to his sadness, even when I’m deep in my own. To say “going through the motions”—this isn’t reduction so much as acknowledgment of the effort—the labor, the motions, the dance—of getting inside another person’s state of heart or mind.

This confession of effort chafes against the notion that empathy should always arise unbidden, that genuine means the same thing as unwilled, that intentionality is the enemy of love. But I believe in intention and I believe in work. I believe in waking up in the middle of the night and packing our bags and leaving our worst selves for our better ones.

—  Leslie Jamison, “The Empathy Exams” (via The Believer)

The News:

When big news breaks, readers clamor for updates — but they also yearn for context. For example, when word got out Monday afternoon that Jeff Bezos had spent $250 million to become the new owner of The Washington Post, there was suddenly a demand for all kinds of information. Who are the Grahams? How long have they owned the paper? What kind of leader has Bezos been at Amazon? What’s the status of other historic newspapers — have any others been purchased recently?

Some of this information would have been clear after a quick Google search, but piecing together a full portrait of the significance of what happened would likely have taken a combination of queries and resources — maybe a Wikipedia article, some breaking blog posts, a couple of company biographies — to put it all together.

Google wants to change that. Today, they announced a new search feature that aims to put in-depth and longform coverage of people, places, events and themes at your fingertips.

Why It Matters:

One possible result of the new search might be that more eyes are turned toward content produced by journalists in newsrooms rather than the aggregators we have come to rely on when looking for background information — Wikipedia, IMDb, or WebMD. It also suggests that Google is aware of an information gap that others are also trying to fill, a centralized hub for background and context on an issue. 

Thoughts on the potential of this sort of search engine:

As a journalist and seeker of content-specific longform, this is a dream come true. When writing a story, you want to know what’s come before, you want to know what excellent journalists have grappled with in executing stories before yours. Digging through the archives of publications and asking people for recommendations should not be the only way to discover this content.

As a news consumer and citizen of the world, my relationship with literary and longer form stories has been entirely serendipitous; I’ve relied on the magazines and journals I love to read great stories, and more recently, on apps like the one by Longform to find writing and writers I don’t know of. But if one is looking to learn about a topic, get lost on the internet, or deep dive into the life and times of their favorite celebrity, search engines pointing to great writing (as opposed to say, the Wikipedias of the world), has the potential to change consumption culture. Granted the content isn’t guaranteed to be great, but it could help us discover more “writing” as opposed to more “content,” which has the potential to get us used to reading and experiencing longer, well-thought-out, well-researched stories again. And that is something that really excites me, because that’s the sort of world I want my kids to grow up in.—Jihii


Oh, speaking of dust, I am pretty sure I have a dust allergy. A debilitating, truly severe dust allergy. But I can’t dust this place, because I have to leave everything as it was that fateful day, untouched, preserved, still, because I am crazy and should be on disability. Also, between us, you see this place? It has like 30 rooms. I mean, who can clean that?
—  Miss Havisham (of Great Expectations) has issues with the denial of her disability claim.

6 Tips for Writing Longform on Tumblr:
"If blogs are journals," proposed a Tumblr FAQ from 2007, "tumblelogs are scrapbooks." Yes, images and text scraps dominate the Dashboard, but longform writing has a place on Tumblr. Longform.org qualifies longform as writing that exceeds 2,000 words. That’s definitely long on Tumblr. The key is to respect your Tumblr followers by not overwhelming the Dashboard.

  1. Use the read more break.
    For lengthy text posts, write a title and intro that captivates. Then add a read more break after that intro. Tumblr will show that brief teaser on the Dashboard, linking readers to the longform version on your blog.

  2. Consider visuals.
    Try leading with an image. Make a photo post and use the caption for your longform text. Then insert a read more break in the caption. Or stick with a text post and read more break — but add an image.

  3. Pick the right blog theme.
    The read more break sends readers to your blog for the whole story. So choose a readable theme that caters to longform. Tumblr offers a "write long things" collection, and I list some text-friendly theme favorites.

  4. Break it up, then link it up.
    Chunk your work into separate posts using parts, sections or chapters. Then link the parts. Also, assign tags to chapter posts and use a “tagged/keyword/chrono” link (like this) to chronologically order posts.

  5. Formatting matters.
    Writing fiction? Insert a paragraph break each time a new character speaks. To mark a scene break, use *** (set off with paragraph breaks). Writing non-fiction? Apply bold subheads to outline your key themes and use lists to make several points.

  6. Save as a draft.
    Writing well means rewriting. Save your post as a draft and revisit it to revise. You can also share a saved draft with someone for feedback.

It’s it ok that magazines are disappearing because we’ll still have #longform style articles. Longform becoming only meaning “a lot of words” when quality and empathy aren’t a part of it and the “subject becomes secondary.” I love participatory/immersive journalism, but there’s no shortcut to being good at writing it and Mr. Hannan made a mistake in his journey towards it by not acknowledging his part in his subject’s suicide and how that becomes the story he had promised at the beginning not to tell. Hopefully we’d always have #longreads but it needs to be more than just out of nostalgia for mazaginzes - it needs to stay worth reading (and reporting to a higher level). #nyt Mahler piece has me questioning why I love online longreads so much and it’s more than how comfortable things like Instapaper & iPads make the experience. But it can’t turn into the TED talk of reading, please.

Combat is imminent at Caerphilly Castle. It’s a bright, chilly morning at the imposing 13th century fortification in South Wales, and we’re about to witness the kind of brutal violence this historic site hasn’t seen for half a millennium.

Huge, hulking men covered head to toe in glistening steel are sizing each other up, slicing immense swords through the air, or reacquainting themselves with the heft of their favorite axe. Visors are dropped with menace. We hear the fighters emerge before we see them, rattling sheets of chain mail echoing through the castle’s Great Hall before a long shadow announces another arrival. The courtyard shivers with anticipation as the arena fills with around 25 brutes.

A flag goes up, swords are raised, and any last prayers uttered before — wait. Someone’s missing. “He went to Morrison’s for food,” a voice ventures. “He doesn’t have time to go to Morrison’s,” another retorts. “Well, we can’t start without him,” a third decides.

And so the latest battle of Caerphilly is delayed while the missing fighter picks up provisions. There are a few more delays: Crowd barriers need readjusting; one warrior has a broken visor; another’s not wearing his helmet. But when war finally commences, it’s sudden and chaotic and instantly the stuff of George R. R. Martin’s most bloodlusty prose.

Steel kisses steel. Actual sparks fly. An axe snaps in half as it dents a helmet. A municipal garbage bin, carelessly left at the fringes of the fight, implodes in a sorry mess of dented plastic as four armored men collapse onto it.

I’m witnessing, from the far side of a flimsy rope, something much more violent than your average historical battle reenactment. These men are engaging in full-contact medieval combat in an open training session for Battle Heritage GB, one of two UK-based national teams that are part of a growing, if fractious, global society. More GBH than LARP, it substitutes foam weaponry for real steel and scripted acting for unpredictable scuffling, and despite the mayhem, operates under tightly controlled rules and regulations.

BUZZFEED: Inside The Violent, Geeky World Of Hardcore International Medieval Combat)

Let Me Femsplain

A while back, a few friends and I had the big idea of what’s now known as Femsplain, but only recently it became a project I was ready to emotionally and physically invest in. Good friends, countless cups of coffee and many many iMessages of encouragement have attributed to gathering the courage to make Femsplain exist. It’s overwhelmingly a huge “first” for me, and I’m really fucking proud of it.

Publishing sites which are solely fem-powered are scarce. They shouldn’t be, and we all know this. Femsplain wants to feature all different types of content coming from anyone who identifies as a woman. Femsplain has zero intention of excluding voices, but rather highlight women in the online community who might have less visibility. We’re welcoming everyone to give their opinions on all topics to be discussed.

From experience; communities aren’t built in a day, and I don’t expect ours to either. What I do wish is for anyone who finds our little website to feel welcomed and inspired. We’ve had over 100 talented women reach out to inquire about contributing content for our launch. In addition, I’ve received over 200 emails of encouragement from both women and men. As a good friend of mine often says, “What? That’s amazing!!!!!”

Yeah, it really is.

You are invited to shape and participate in important conversations and to support one another’s contributions. So hi, hey, hello let’s talk, but more importantly listen to each other. Who will if we won’t? Literally nobody.

Let’s build Femsplain, together.

This feature was originally an assignment for a major publication. At the eleventh hour, they pulled the plug on the piece. They were nice enough to still pay the entire freelance fee. I’m explaining all this because the piece doesn’t really fit the usual voice of this blog, but I thought people might enjoy it. So…enjoy it.

Read More

Lord Byron is perhaps our most prominent example of an extravagant writer in a bygone age. There’s a reason his antics earned him a popular adjective. However, he’s not the only writer from long ago to live large, as made clear in this New Yorker piece by Elizabeth Kolbert – inspired by the release of two new biographies — that deals with the up-and-down life and reputation of Seneca. Sample quote: “Seneca’s fortune made possible a life style that was lavish by Roman or, for that matter, Hollywood standards.”