Individualism is just fine if you live on an island in the middle of nowhere

Photo by Jason Jarrach on Unsplash

The other day, I came to a stop at an intersection a few miles from my house. The intersection is a whopper, with four wide, divided streets crossing, creating a huge starburst of concrete. As far as I know, there has never been a stoplight at this intersection. It’s controlled only by stop signs. Drivers proceed through it in an orderly, civilized way. You might have to sit a while, since there are often as many as eight cars waiting to work their way across, but I’ve never seen anyone jump their place in the commonly understood first-in-first-out process. By…


These will be my office companions until they fall apart (or I do)

Photo by Gülfer ERGİN on Unsplash

I used to be friends with a writer who could only work if she was wearing her father’s plaid wool hunting shirt. I don’t know she could stand it in the middle of the summer, but that shirt was her rabbit’s foot, her lucky charm, and it somehow got her brain up and running. I’ve always considered myself fortunate that I don’t have any rituals or talismans that are necessary for me to be productive. In fact, I’m pretty agnostic about where and how I work. …


It’s hard to tell when you’re living in it

Photo by Kevin Butz on Unsplash

Last week, I became convinced that I was living in the worst time in history. The Texas anti-abortion law; Covid and the new variants; Afghanistan; income inequality; the January 6th insurrection; the mad QAnon surfer dad who spear-gunned his children; fires in the Southwest; Andrew Cuomo; climate change; Hurricane Ida. I could go on but I won’t. Could things be worse? It certainly doesn’t seem so.

For fun, I started thinking about my childhood, which for a brief moment seemed idyllic compared to the current state of life. Ah, well, for a moment, anyway. And then I started to remember…


Tweet, post, gram, rinse, repeat

Photo by Firmbee.com on Unsplash

Social media is a modern-day octopus, its long suckery arms tangled up in everyday life in a way almost unimaginable just a decade ago. I noticed today that I’ve posted more than 45,000 tweets, so while I make no claims to be an expert, I am obviously a heavy user. Here’s my current assessment of what social media can do — and can’t do — for you.

  • Social media can keep you company. I joined Twitter in 2007. At that time I was living in a rural area, working at home. I had plenty of friends, but we lived so…


There’s great value in being a little ignorant

Photo by Nick Seagrave on Unsplash

The piece of advice I most often give to journalism students— which also happens to be the piece of advice that makes most journalism professors regret that they invited me to speak to their classes — is to commit yourself to being unprepared.

Allow me to explain myself. I would argue that the most important stage of writing takes place early on, while you’re researching and reporting, rather than when you’re putting pen to paper. What you need most during that research stage is the capacity for noticing. …


Why Covid Part 2 is exhausting

Alex Liew / Getty Images

Obviously, there are the epic defeats that Covid has delivered— thousands dead, many more thousands seriously ill, economic devastation for countless others. Covid has been unusually cruel in that way. But for many of us, who have been fortunate in having stayed healthy and gainfully employed, it’s also been crushing in quieter, subtler ways.

The defeats for the lucky among us have been small, but each one has delivered a hard punch of realization that things are not normal, not at all. For instance, I often occupy myself — or rather, I often used to occupy myself — fantasizing about…


The great bacon shortage ahead and why it’s a good thing

My son with our herd of Black Angus

Beware, news stories are warning, this bacon-and-egg sandwich or these baby back ribs might be your last if you live in California. The reason? In 2018, California voters passed animal welfare laws that required chicken, veal, and pork sold in the state to be raised humanely by the beginning of 2022. Chicken and veal producers say that they’ve complied with the standards and will be allowed to continue selling in the state without interruption. …


It’s the one you probably forget about all the time

Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

I’ve moaned and groaned here about how I sometimes wish writers needed more gear, just because I think it would be fun to have equipment and tools and stuff related to my job. Instead, all I really need is a computer, some reporters’ notebooks, pens, and index cards (the praises of which I’ve sung here previously) and that’s about it. No fun shopping for work gear for me, I’m afraid; no cool catalogues with writer stuff to browse through.

Ah, not quite so fast. I actually forgot the most important gear that writers need: Words. I’m not being facetious. Obviously…


As a native Clevelander, I feel duty-bound to comment on the renaming of the Cleveland Indians to the Cleveland Guardians.

  1. It’s about time.
  2. Sports teams’ names are not precious, legacy commodities. They are names of groups of people who are playing games. They are made up by humans and can be changed by humans. They do not arise naturally, organically; they are assigned and can be reassigned. So get over it.
  3. Brilliant move to preserve the “ians” part of the name. I am wondering if some merch can be reused. I, personally, would love a T-shirt that had the “In” of “Indians” crossed out and having a “Guar” scrawled above it.
  4. I grew up with Chief Wahoo, the ridiculous, bucktoothed…


The terrible truth about pets aging faster than you

I realized the other day, with a shock, that as of her last birthday, my dog is now older than I am. Obviously, I don’t mean in human years; if I did, this post would be headlined something like “Welsh Springer Spaniel is Miracle of Veterinary Science!” I mean that she is now, in dog years, a bit older than me.

The worst part of having a pet is the incontrovertible fact that unless you acquire a young animal when you’re in your twilight years, you will certainly outlive them. It’s a cosmic cruelty. Watching a lifespan unfurl in a…

Susan Orlean

Staff writer, The New Yorker. Author of The Library Book, The Orchid Thief, and more…Head of my very own Literati.com book club (join me!)

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