By: LJ Pemberton and Tye Pemberton

You do not have to be call-your-wife-mom good.
You do not have to walk on your knees in Guantanamo or
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting (as Weezer’s Africa cover
plays on repeat.)
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what Madison Avenue tells it to love.
Tell me about political despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on in a climate-denying march towards human extinction.
Meanwhile the sun and the acid pebbles of the rain
are moving across the dying landscapes,
over the fracked up prairies and the lost deep trees,
the mined mountains and the polluted rivers.
Meanwhile the last wild geese, high in the unclean, blue-ish air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how very lonely,
the ad world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like those last wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your temporary place
in the family of things.

Hang in There

This is a repost of a facebook status I shared with my friends and peers. Sharing here for the rest of my online community. —LJ

Little known fact: after I had applied to grad school, I found a little art deco theater for sale in Blackwell, Oklahoma for just $10K and I was considering purchasing it, renovating it, and running it. Dave was in on the idea. It would have been a small town, big art dream kind of thing. Then I found out I had been admitted to two of my top choice graduate schools for writing. I chose Columbia and my life took a very different turn.

I got divorced. I built a life in the Big Apple.

I keep thinking about how the last few years in New York gave me so much space to settle into my skin and get to know myself in a way I hadn’t previously been able. I chased another dream–starting StoryWoolf–and while that dream hasn’t died (if you could only see how far we’ve come!), it has attenuated to the point of my not being able to count on it launching on a specific timeline. I wrote a book that wasn’t very good. I’m working on another one that may or may not be very good. Victoria Davis and I started a podcast about love and sex and dating in the city and a bunch of people thought it was awesome. I fell in love with a lot of amazing people. I lived intensely and with great verve.

And then I left the city, because I no longer felt like I was using the city to achieve my goals. I felt like the city was using me. The end result of those years was not a culmination to great achievement, but the accumulation of a great deal of debt. I am living in a place now where I am working to pay down my financial obligations, while daily feeling like I have to navigate giving up everything I learned about myself, just so the wheels will grind a little easier.

It is hard. It is hard to stand on the other side of a decade and know, personally, that you have so much to show for it, but also know, superficially, it looks like you made all the wrong decisions. None of the things I began are what you could call “done.” I am still in media res. Whether those seeds I planted in StoryWoolf, in my writing, in the people I adore/adored, come to any fruition, won’t be evident for another ten years. I think some people in my life feel like I am back on track because I have a steady day job again, because I look more “settled” than I have in a while. But I feel very much like I am living a lie. Those things I do that look settled are an ill-fitting costume I wear so I can keep doing everything else I’ve already been doing.

It’s a long, slow grind. I have committed to my work and ambitions the way that I suspect other people commit to a person. I’m in this writing life, this wanting-to-create-something-that-never-existed life for the long haul. I have fellow travelers. Kevin is seeing StoryWoolf through. Tye is similarly oriented towards the long-game when it comes to art, writing, the creative life. The numerous women in my life (THERE ARE SO MANY OF YOU I CAN’T NAME YOU ALL — if you suspect you are one of these, know that you are) who are also grinding it out, building something new and great without recognition or thanks, are constant inspirations to me.

The point of this whole thing is that I wake up some mornings and I want to scream because I hate the costume I have to wear to get by SO MUCH. I feel disgusting. I feel demoralized. I feel like a drowning bird. I know there are a lot of people who feel similarly.

Facebook is a lot about milestones and excitement around happy news, but the reality is closer to this daily up and down. Everyone I know in comedy, in film, in writing, in acting, in any of the creative arts, has to endure years and decades of other people thinking they are a fuck-up, just so someday someone will finally acknowledge what they’ve been all along. It is weird. It’s like the longest hazing ritual of all time. Our culture only loves non-conformists after they’ve been brutalized and endured constant rejection and have the scars to show for it. Granted: years of constant brutalization and rejection will do something to you. Sometimes it makes you better, but sometimes it makes you worse. I am of the belief that going off and thinking hard, taking time outs and working on your craft with only select input from your mentors, is much more productive to getting “better” than going through all this hard-knock hurting. I dislike the way our cultural romanticizes abuse in the service of [name X goal]. That’s just a shill to keep the kids who aren’t rich or privileged from giving up. And so we don’t give up. But it doesn’t mean we like abuse.

Anyway, shout-out to everyone else who is first, and foremost, in love with their dreams. I see you. I see you succeeding and I am so happy for you. And I see you reaching for more. I am preaching to myself as much as anyone. This is not the end. This is probably not even the middle. I have a feeling most of us are still at the beginning, and I am telling myself as much as you: that’s okay.

Image credit = Yvonne Woon (cropped out for privacy!) took this picture of me/us.
Pro-tip: email subscribers click headline for pic of me winking and generally trying to convey a sentiment of “you got this.”


Yesterday I was alerted to this article on The Rumpus exploring Kim Kardashian West as a self-portrait artist situated in the intellectual and cultural history of such feminist icons as Frida Kahlo.  Tye, who has written for The Rumpus in the past, pointed out that the structure and certain turns of phrase were eerily similar to an article I wrote for VICE last year. After I posted about the similarities on Facebook, several dear writer friends came to my defense by posting Facebook comments on The Rumpus’s link to their piece. (image below)

So I emailed The Rumpus with my concerns and they responded. The correspondence went as follows:

From: Laura Jean Moore
Date: Thu, Sep 29, 2016 at 11:33 PM
Subject: Regarding the Kahlo / Kardashian piece
To: xxxx@therumpus.net

Dear xxxxxx,

Although I am aware of the possibility that such intellectual arguments can emerge independently of one another, the similarities in structure and certain turns of phrase to my VICE article (http://www.vice.com/read/kim-kardashian-west-is-the-outsider-artist-america-deserves-848) are striking.

While it is obvious that the author did her own research and contributed further supporting points to my original argument, my concern is that my work was not cited or acknowledged. This would not bother me, so much, except that the main thesis of the article is practically identical to my own and without divergence.

I would appreciate it if you would read my article and make your own determination. If you find that the similarities are too striking to ignore, a simple cross-posting or linking of my article to acknowledge precedent would satisfy.

Thank you for your swift response and consideration.

Best regards,
Laura Jean

Laura Jean Moore

From: xxxxxxxx <xxxxx@therumpus.net>
Date: Fri, Sep 30, 2016 at 9:11 AM
Subject: Re: Regarding the Kahlo / Kardashian piece
To: Laura Jean Moore

Hi Laura,

Thanks for reaching out. Our editorial team is looking into this, and the editor who worked with Sarah on the piece is trying to get in touch so they can discuss how Sarah and The Rumpus might want to address this issue.

That said, can you help us understand the specific similarities and turns of phrase? I see why you might feel that your article could have been cited, but certainly don’t think this was plagiarism (there seems to be no lifted text) and I am now finding that this a topic frequently explored:


And that’s just a quick Google search and the first few results. I do believe that Sarah wrote this piece without being aware of your piece, and other pieces she did not cite. So while she may choose to add a note about this (that is what our Film/TV/Media Editor is exploring with her), I don’t think that the piece that ran yesterday is identical in thesis or execution to your piece (also a valid, well-done take on Kardashian and selfies).

But as a writer, I understand your feelings completely and don’t want to minimize them. Again, if you could point me to specific examples that make you feel suspicious that this was taken from your article that would be helpful. And please know that we are a small, volunteer-run literary site and of course we did not know of your article when this piece went up. As I said, I’m taking this very seriously and we will continue to look into it. Plagiarism is a serious word to use and we treat it as such.

Again, thanks for reaching out to me directly. I really do hope we can work this out in a way that leaves everyone feeling okay about the situation.

With thanks,

While formulating my response. I received additional correspondence from another editor at The Rumpus.

From: YYYYYYYY <YYYYYYY@wustl.edu>
Date: Fri, Sep 30, 2016 at 10:33 AM
Subject: Re: Regarding the Kahlo / Kardashian piece
To: XXXXXXXX <xxxxx@therumpus.net>, Laura Jean Moore
Hi XXXXX and Laura,

I want to reaffirm that I, too, take this extremely seriously. As a writer myself for whom ideas are the main form of currency, and as someone who has for over a decade vetted plagiarism cases at a university level, few issues mean more to me. Since I was apprised of the VICE piece last night, I have contacted the author, Sarah Murray, and conveyed that she needs to acknowledge Moore’s piece from 2015 and make clear how she is building on it. The author indicated that she had not seen this essay before in her research, and would be happy to acknowledge it in a new paragraph she drafted early this morning:

“The claim that Kardashian West is an “artist” has already been made by authors such as Laura Jean Moore for Vice; her 2015 article “Kim Kardashian West Is The Outsider Artist America Deserves” outlines the ways that Kardashian West has pursued a traditionally male genre, the self portrait (aka the selfie), to break free from gendered stereotypes of what it means to be a woman—essentially beating them at their own game. While Moore believes that America itself is well suited for Kardashian West’s creative reception, I would argue that she is especially improving the landscape for women artists and entrepreneurial creatives for those to follow.”

To clarify, when Murray’s piece was first submitted to me, it was only 600 words and its basic premise was pretty simple: Kardashian West should be considered a self-portrait artist. Given how many articles, including Moore’s, have orbited this general claim, that on its own doesn’t seem to be plagiarism. I was admittedly surprised by the syntactic crossover of “Enter Kim Kardashian West” and “Enter the female self-portrait artist.”, and I do feel adamantly that Moore’s work should be acknowledged. But given that Murray’s work is nearly 2500 words and focused more in depth on the art historical context of both Kardashian West and Kahlo (something that I encouraged her to do in my feedback), so long as Moore’s idea is cited, I don’t think the Rumpus essay should be pulled.

Please let me know if this solution is amenable to you. The author–a new author for The Rumpus–is understandably troubled by this turn of events, and eager to make things right. So am I–and I also completely understand why Laura has every right to be concerned about her ideas not being cited. At this point I’d like to come to a resolution that satisfies all parties involved to the fullest extent possible. I welcome your feedback.


Rumpus Film & Media Editor

And then the original editor responded:

From: XXXXXXX <XXXXXX@therumpus.net>
Date: Fri, Sep 30, 2016 at 10:36 AM
Subject: Re: Regarding the Kahlo / Kardashian piece
Cc: Laura Jean Moore

I will share with both of you my concern in adding that paragraph—there are at least 3-4 other essays that exist that also touch on this. Laura, I’m curious to know how you feel about this as a solution. If this works, and Sarah is comfortable with it, we can add that paragraph. But I also want to be careful about setting a precedent. Because Sarah didn’t know about your article, citing it seems a little unusual.

For now, I’m going to wait to hear back from you, Laura, before making any changes.

And finally I was able to articulate myself:

From: Laura Jean Moore
Date: Fri, Sep 30, 2016 at 10:41 AM
Subject: Re: Regarding the Kahlo / Kardashian piece
To: XXXXXXX <XXXXXX@therumpus.net>, YYYYYY <YYYYYY@wustl.edu>

Hello all,

Please see the attached document for a side by side comparison of similarities in the article published yesterday on the Rumpus and my piece from VICE. Examples include thematic / content similarities and odd “coincidences” in certain turns of phrase.

The links that XXXXX provided do not share the same similarities.

The point here, and my concern, was never plagiarism of the copy-paste variety, but a stealing of argument and idea without acknowledging source. I would prefer a publishing landscape in which we, as writers and cultural commentators, were in dialogue with each other rather than tearing each other down. I feel as though my piece was used as a structural guide for Murray’s. While hers adds even more supporting evidence for the larger point of the selfie as art, and Kardashian as its expert non grata, it does little (in my opinion) to present a new perspective beyond that (or even a complication of my original argument).

If my piece had even received a minimal nod, I would not be bothered. She clearly did a lot of work to cite additional sources here.

I am perfectly satisfied by the author’s new paragraph.

I appreciate all of you taking this seriously. Thank you for your swift response.

Best Regards,
Laura Jean

Attached document: (link below)


And so the resolution was found. The point of all of this, and the reason I am sharing, is two-fold.

We have a responsibility as writers and cultural commentators to do our due diligence and acknowledge the thinkers who have come before us. They are asking that we stand on their shoulders. We can only build upwards with a solid foundation of intellectual history behind us.

And secondly, in a media landscape where writers get paid so little, and the editors who even work for The Rumpus and other literary publications do so out of a love and commitment to good writing, rather than because of any monetary renumeration, it is worth it to consider that the only currency we have as writers is the ownership of our ideas.

When Tye first alerted me to the similarities in the two pieces, I did not know if I should even say anything. I am so accustomed to the melt and churn of content creation that I had an attitude of learned helplessness, even when confronted with what appeared to be someone using my piece as the structural backbone of their own. However, thanks to my dear community, and the love and respect of my peers, I got to stand up for myself and for my work and original thinking. My hope is for most such potential controversies to end with the same dialogue and acknowledgement. We do ourselves no favors when we vilify fellow wordsmiths.

I suppose I still believe in an olive branch before the guillotine.

Thank you to everyone who defended me, to the editors at The Rumpus for being so professional, and to Murray for her ultimate compromise.  — LJ

Image Credit: Detail of the cover of ‘Selfish’ (2015) by Kim Kardashian West
Pro-tip: email subscribers, click title to see embedded images and a hot pic of Ms. West


Anna Nolan and The Syria Campaign’s White Helmets documentary will be out on Netflix Sept. 16
The Scofield (literary magazine) features an excerpt of D. Foy’s new book
Daniel Miller goes “Full Jew”
Livin’ and Lovin’ in NYC talks about “when we don’t wanna bang”
My latest column on the limits of self-love and how to cope with the on-and-on
Jessica Pishko profiles an autistic kid accused of terrorism by the FBI
Jonathan Russell Clark on why any story worth telling doesn’t need spoiler alerts

Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale profiled on the Guardian
No, Alan Moore isn’t a recluse
The long, steady decline of literary reading (NOOOOOOOO!!!)

12 writers reflect on the high school English teacher that changed their lives
Things native English speakers know and don’t know they know
Why grammar snobbery has no place in social justice movements
Inescapably, you’re judged by your language
On literacy privilege

8 lady surrealists who are not Frida Kahlo
Artist in Residence stranded at sea

Test your knowledge of city populations in the U.S. (interactive bracket game by census.gov)
Dancing pig

Image Credit: click to support the Syria Campaign
(Pro-tip: email subscribers click title for image of Syrian refugees safe in Kos, Greece)

Knowledge is Power

Links to live by. 

Ursula K. Leguin, A Non-Euclidean View of California As a Cold Place To Be
Joan Didion, Holy Water
The California couple that uses more water than the entire city of Los Angeles
Chinatown, the film, as Hollywood Baroque

43 things I have learnt while working in an art museum
Why teach business to artists

Flat Earth truthers, omgawd
Some approaches to the question of chewing gum litter

Play brand-new New York Subway

The duck penis, an existential quandary
Darwin’s kids doodled all over his Origin of Species manuscript
On the cultural lives of plants, i.e., exploring the intersection between science and mysticism in the evolution of organic chemistry, and other considerations

But why?
Stock video footage of squid
Birdyonce (listen with sound)
Rollie, a southern armadillo, playing
The haunting last birdsong of an extinct species
Reagan tells Soviet Jokes
Thanks, Obama
A secretary is not a toy

Image credit
(Pro-tip: Email subscribers, click title for gorgeous Faye Dunaway pic)

That’s a Wrap

LJ email, Circa 2010
Subject: exchange of possessions

I would like to figure out when I can get my stuff back from you. I will return your shirt and jeans and boxers. I hope you found my underwear and argyle tights? My hat? Are any of the above items still missing?

If so, I will live, unless my hat has disappeared, in which case I will have a conniption fit.    ―LJ

How shade is done
Hillary Clinton dressed as Dolly Parton
Herblock Collection of Political Cartoons at the Library of Congress

19 Maps that will help you put the United States in perspective
Money art, aka defaced Presidents

Classic cinema online
La maman et la putain

Podcast: On being lesbian in a straight marriage
Lesbian pulp book covers 1935-1965

Otters chase a butterfly

Image credit