Apostrafe (v.)


The indiscriminate bombardment of apostrophes upon a sentence.


I loved a lot of things about being a teacher.

I loved the big stuff. I loved being in regular, workaday contact with profoundly great writing. I loved sharing 50 minutes a day, three days a week, with young people excited to learn something new and be taken seriously by someone as dedicatedly unserious as me. I loved coaxing a shy kid to risk embarrassment and express a half-understood thought, only to see their fellow students to sit up, lean forward, and rebel against their own ingrained indifference. And O! how I loved the occasional weirdo who’d come to my office to show me something they’d been writing, or talk about a concept they heard in another class, or confess that they fell in wild, sloppymouthkissing love with a centuries-old poem or play – a dusty old thing they never imagined they would care about. That didn’t happen all the time. But it happened enough.

It’s a hell of a thing to see a young person, instructed by our foamy, crooked culture to aspire toward little more than shallow, uncreative consumption, suddenly discover the thrill of actually thinking… of engaging with an idea and wandering around inside a question with no greater goal in mind but the going. It’s never lost on me that the essay – that punishing yardstick we slap against young minds to prove their accumulated and organized understanding – got its name from the Old French essai, which meant, simply, to attempt.To try. It’s a lovely thing to see someone essay. We don’t essay enough.

But those were the big things. There were little, silly, idiosyncratic things, too. And they are what I really miss most. I miss watching the seasons change on campus. I miss walking to my car after class, covered in chalk dust like a bookish Welshman from a coal mine. I miss passing kids luxuriating in the quad, like sun-drunk lemur Buddhas. I miss the nicknames I’d give to kids too teenaged to tell me their preferred diminutive. I once asked a sphinxlike Joseph if he preferred that, Joey, or Joe. Upon his smirking insistence that I could call him whatever I wanted, I informed him he’d be going by Dumptruck for the rest of the semester. The nickname stuck. Good ol’ Dumptruck. I miss the snippets of conversations they’d bring in from the hallways, the valence of all their young dramas, all juiced up with youth and lust and shame and anger. The fun stuff. I miss that invisible moment, midway through every semester, when students finally relented, shed the last layer of their vanity, and shambled to class in their knotty hair and pjs. And my god, I miss the corduroy. Let me sing to you of corduroy…

And, certainly, while I won’t claim to miss grading papers until 1 am (I’m not the best at sticking to schedule)… I DO miss the linguistic surrealism freshmen brought to their writing. The extemporaneous bebop slop of their paragraphs. The tense-shifting, comma-splicing, participle-dangling grammar. And, my god, the apostrophes… O! the pell mell, drive-by mob hit of indiscriminate apostrophes. My Dear Reader: You want to stare into a murmuring well of shame? Ask a half-stoned freshman at a private college to explain the difference between its and it’s. Not just the what… but why.

I don’t mean to mock them, of course. Not at all. No one knows what they don’t know until they know it. I don’t blame them, and I’m not being mean (any more than I ever am… which is to say: just a little bit; just for flavor). They were kids. Their teachers were likely (definitely) as overworked as they were underpaid. They were all products of an educational model that prioritized testing the memorization of facts over demonstrating their mesmerization with learning. I speak of the boys, of course. The girls somehow (patriarchy) always managed to be capable and studious. Boys, in my experience, don’t fully molt their downy dumdummery until their 30s (patriarchy). (For those inclined to yell at me: I apologize for trafficking in the soft violence of the binary (patriarchy)).

And shit… let’s be fair: I’m no knockout grammarian, myself. I flub my grammar all the time. My sentences are chubby and purple and ponderous (fortunately, I look old enough to get away with calling it “style”). The passive voice, has at times, been employed (see what I did there?). It’s easy to forget that to actually know something, you have to start by not knowing it. Mistakes are, by and large, a good thing. Mistakes are the warm glow of an engine that’s thinking. But still… it always shocked me when, as I explained not merely the what, but the why of a certain grammatical rule… my students would react with forehead-slaps and semicomic amazement. “Oh, thaaaaaat’s whyyyy….”

It’s as if these kids – highschool graduates, all – were taught to drive a sentence, but with little time to contemplate the machinery that made it go. All driver’s ed. No auto repair. No time spent fiddling under the hood to see how a sentence runs while you’re using it, and why. Maybe I’m just a prattling old twit (I am), but I wish they (and I) had been instructed to appreciate the full breadth of language’s wit and utility: How with a mere fleck of ink an apostrophe can reorient the physical laws that govern a sentence. How they demonstrate the pliancy and playfulness of language. How subtly they denote possession, like a crooked eyebrow. How they stitch the severed halves of a contraction, and mend a sentence’s tone and feel and cadence. Oh it is pure magic, is it not? But alas, it seemed these muggle academies never taught the admiration for the swish and flick of it all. It was somehow enough for a student to remember that apostrophes were. Not where they go. And never why.

And so, no doubt, the night before the paper was due, scanning their essays for their apostrophe-shaped-holes, they’d err on the side of errything, and apply them with a flocking gun. Just hurl them into sentences by the heavy-handed hundredfold, as if flinging breadcrumbs at a flap of belligerent geese.

Am I ranting? Very well, I am ranting. I am given over to words, as is my way. But in my guts I long to feel this way about everything again. About what we say, and how we say it, and why.

Oh dear, I miss school today.

Doubtbreak: (n.)


The spread of disease caused by people’s irrational and baseless skepticism over vaccination.


I wrote and published this word years ago. At the time it was a response to a generation of gauzy, wealthy, suburban moms refusing to vaccinate their children against preventable diseases, because of their belief in the widely-disproven link between vaccines and autism. At the time, it was a pet peeve… a baffled lamentation that privileged people with no critical thinking skills would imperil their neighbors because of some idiot information on the internet.

My god. I had no idea what was coming.

Today things are terrifyingly different… and infuriatingly the same. We’re two years into a pandemic that’s killed over 5.5 million people around the world. Vaccination, like everything in this star spangled toilet, has become politicized. Figures on the right have cynically stood against vaccination to appease their paranoid, imbecilic base. And figures on the left (myself included) have become haughtily embittered toward them all.

I just read a news update that Glenn Beck – remember that toad? – has reacquired Covid. It’s in his lungs now. He’s been a steadfast anti-vaxxer. And I now must waste the brainspace on the moral calculus over whether or not I should feel sorry for him. I feel like I should. I think it’s right for me to feel sorry for him. But the truth is: I don’t. I don’t care about him or his life. I think he’s a cynical monster whose hubris and nihilism got other people killed. It’s only fair it kill him too.

Being alive is fucking exhausting.

Gloatation: (n.)


A reference or allusion made purely to draw attention to the intelligence of the speaker.


The worst thing about not being an English teacher anymore is that it’s now near-impossible to quote a poem without sounding like a complete asshole.

I taught lit classes for years. I recited, discussed, debated, analyzed, and harangued my students with some of the most lush, complex, and wonderful language ever written. And as a result, I now associate certain feelings or events with lines from Tennyson, Eliot, or Mary Oliver. It’s a bookish reflex.

It’s not meant to sound haughty. It’s not meant to seem intelligent. No more than a person quoting some sitcom catch-phrase means to sound commonplace or dopey. Those are just the words I like the most.

And yet… I see the inescapable truth:

I’m kindof a supercilious putz.


Quid Pro Code: (n.)


The reciprocal exchange of streaming passwords.


Look. We all do it. And they know we do it. And we know they know we do it. And they know we know they know we do it…

If this is how we’re going to spend out time, can we at least have a little fun with it? Go all Deep Throat on it?Wait on a park bench until your friend shows up in big fuckoff, Sophia Loren sunglasses and say some baffling passcode sentence? “It is a cold day for water polo.” “I’m sorry, Mr. Terwilliger couldn’t come.” Or hell, you could be even more surreptitious! Don a trenchcoat and a trilby and kick your AppleTV+ password to a friend in the gloom of an overnight parking lot! Comeon! The world is ending! Nothing means anything! Let’s be referential and have some fun with it!

I wish I lived in the 70s…

Ohwellian (adj.)


The feeling that you’re living in a dystopia and nobody seems to mind.


I am not a hopeful person by nature. Nor am I a pessimist (despite popular opinions to the contrary). Rather, I see myself as human neutron. A particle of neither positive nor negative charge… just sitting around in a nucleus… being heavy. Or, if you’d prefer a geopolitical analogy, I’m Switzerland. Unaffiliated. Unbothered. Cooly nibbling my chocolate and winding my watch while everyone debates whether we should feel good about ourselves.

It’s not that I don’t see hope’s value. Far from it. Hope has a place, for sure. But when it’s put to words… something about it gets my hackles up. I feel about hope the same way that I feel about Neutral Milk Hotel: I respect it in theory, but I’d rather not have to listen to it.

But, all that crankiness aside – I think we might need to start actually caring about things again. Maybe just a little. Because literally everything is breaking down – the government, civil order, the environment, fucking movie theaters are dying – and we stand by and watch like it’s normal.

How did a life of endless rupture, dysfunction, violence, and cynicism become as ordinary as a fucking Wednesday? Did I sleep through some meeting? Are we too entertained? Too tired? Hopeless? Look, I find activists just as obnoxious, simplistic, and annoying as the next guy… but maybe we need to throw in with them a little bit? Help those Gen Z kids (I know, they’re exhausting, but still) forestall complete environmental and civil catastrophe? Because this… all of this… this can’t hold forever.

Eventually, whatever uneasy, liminal peace we’re in… it’s gonna crack. I just hope it happens while I’m still young enough to either fight against it, or run away from it. I’ve run the numbers, and I hate to say: It’s not looking good for me. I’m 40 years old right now. If things continue as they’ve been… when it all goes to shit – when the cannibal hordes are burning down the cities and the tidal waves blot out the sky, I’ll be the sweet old man in a wheelchair who the young people have to leave behind.

I’m tired, man.

Indeference: (n.)


The rote and meaningless portrayal of solemnity.


One of the hardest things about getting older is understanding that the moments that are clearest for you, that have such resonance and meaning, mean nothing to the young. As someone who was 20 years old on 9/11, I’m always a little shocked to remember that for teenagers and even some 20-somethings, 9/11 has very little personal resonance. Or at least, an ever diminishing return on significance.

Never was this concept more clear than when I was a teacher.

Every year I’d assign my students an essay or article about 9/11 – most often Tom Junod’s Falling Man which I recommend, nay demand, you read – then spend the entire class discussing it, their own experience of 9/11, and what those experiences have come to mean now. In the beginning the assignment was a hit. But as years and semesters wore on, my students’ memories grew fuzzier around the edges, their experiences less immediate… not so much recalling an experience as estimating it from an optometrist’s chart.

I was in bed when the first plane hit. It was right at the start of my sophomore year of college. I was living in my first apartment. Very adult. Very exciting. My roommate woke me up to tell me there’d been some accident in New York; I should come see. We spent the next thirty minutes watching the tower smolder in the background as we gathered our things for class. Then the second plane hit. At some point we sat down and watched the towers collapse on television. We watched it all in near silence. And then, knowing no other alternative, we grabbed our bags and went to class.

It’s bonkers in retrospect, but then everything is bonkers in retrospect. Absolutely nothing had prepared us for something so upending and uncanny. On campus, our fellow students drifted dutifully from class to class; teachers half-taught their lessons, half-counseled their kids; classmates sat in silence, entranced by the dream of it all, until their cellphones rang, and they exploded from the room to answer it. My university would cancel classes later in the day, of course. But for a few hours that morning, we all drifted together.

Eight years later, I took a job teaching at that same university… and every September the sights and smells of campus autumn did their Proust thing. Threw me right back to that morning. Only now, when I’d drift into class on 9/11… I’d have to teach something. Chaucer, most likely… September is always time for Chaucer. I wanted to understand 9/11 as the social metaphor it was becoming. We were already two wars and countless atrocities in… 9/11 had come to mean so much already that I wanted to know what my students made of it – the remembrances, the rhetoric, the vinyl towers silhouetted on windshields, the magnetic American flag bumper stickers, the anthems and the bonfires… and always the thrumming, insistent creed that we Never Forget. That’s the one that always got me. 

I assigned a short essay on the meaning of that phrase – Never Forget. Something like, “Why do we say never forget, and not always remember?” The answers I got were varied and vivid. Conversation lasted all class long. At least in the early years. 

I’ve always found Never Forget a troubling phrase. It always rang hollow to me – to expect a unified response to something we all experienced together, sure… but ultimately, terribly alone. We commemorate as a society, sure. But we remember alone. We mourn alone. We look for meaning alone. It’s a lonely business, being a person.

There’s something tiresome, and to me deeply disrespectful, about how quickly we commodified 9/11 – the bumper stickers, t-shirts, and decals, the syrupy gifs and memes and schlocky slogans all insisting upon a certain tone of how to remember. Or, rather, how we must refuse to forget. Never Forget was just branding. And a brand is just an empty promise, written in the language of sincerity, to sell you something you don’t need. Because if you really needed it… no one would have to tell you to buy it. 

Never Forget has always been too easy to say, and too cheap to deliver. It requires nothing more of us than obeisance. It calls upon no action. Demands no reflection. Summons no change. It urges no understanding of what caused it, nor wisdom for how best to prevent another moment like it. “Never Forget” demands nothing but our static, silent, horrified appraisal. It’s a symbol, sacred in the public imagination… yet entirely devoid of meaning. It’s content.

For those too young to remember 9/11, it will no doubt vanish into the horizon soon enough. You can’t forget something you couldn’t remember in the first place. But for the rest of us? What will we do with these two decades of perspective? What do we do with all of… this?

If the last 20 years of history are any indication… we’ll do nothing. Nothing at all.

Provocatourism (n.)


Engaging in political incitement and violence on behalf of another’s cause without purpose, understanding or repercussion.


If you are white, and you are inciting violence at a protest, you are putting black lives at risk.

If you are white, and you are rioting, you are putting black lives at risk.

If you are white, and you are looting, you are putting black lives at rick.

If you are white, and you are not listening, you are putting black lives at risk.

If you are white, and you hurl a brick, deface a building, shatter a window, push a cop… you aren’t doing it for anyone other than yourself. Any violence you bring will not be revisited on you – but on the black lives you claim to value and support.

You want to throw something? Throw your fucking money.

Donate to the Black Visions Collective.

Donate to the George Floyd Memorial Fund.

Donate to The Bail Project.

Donate to Black Lives Matter.

Our job is not to throw punches. It’s to listen, support, and protect. Shut the fuck up, get in line, and if necessary take the hit for your neighbors.

Schrödinger’s Carte: (n.)


The physical principle wherein a diner’s choice of entree will remain uncertain until the moment the waiter asks them what they’d like to eat.


It starts so simply.

“I’m going to have the chicken.”

And then.

“Or maybe the fish?”

And with that, I hurl into into the labyrinth. With that, I go quite mad.

Am I the Andrew who orders chicken? Or the Andrew who orders fish?

Maybe I am both. Perhaps neither.

I dither in silence – chicken or fish, chicken or fish – while my dining companions continue on in time. They raise their wine glasses. Toast to life and spacetime.

A whiff of oblivion curls through the air.

No! No, I have ordered before. I have eaten. I shall eat once more.

O! But to decide? Do I want chicken? Do I want fish? Couldn’t I have both?! I can be the kind of man who orders two entrees at dinner. I wouldn’t even need two plates. Just spoon the one onto the other in a pile before I go mad. Oh no. Oh god. I will remain at this table forever – trapped and starving at the crossroads of chicken and fish – I am the parched and brutal horizon twixt sky and sea that stretches on, and is nowhere, and is endless.

Nothing to be done.

The universe has cracked. Time rolls over my eyes like a stone.

Where is the waiter? Where is the waiter? Only the waiter can pull me from this oblivion. WAITIER. WAITER. WHERE IS THE WAITER.

And then, like a gasp, I realize the horrible truth.

I have waited. I am waiting. I shall wait.

The waiter.

The waiter is me. 

Esoterror: (n.)


The fear that the obscure name or reference you just dropped was either incorrect or mispronounced.


When I was a sophomore in college, I spent an entire class period pronouncing, “Goethe” phonetically.

I found out later when I said “Go-thhhh” to my father who, in his characteristic charm informed me, “It’s pronounced ‘Gher-teh,’ you dickhead.”

I still crumple from the shame.