Titles Are Hard—But We Can Make Them Easier

Over the past few years, I’ve participated and had my work critiqued in countless writing workshops, each one varying in both content and usefulness. After all, there’s only so much that university students, most of them amateur or beginning writers, can comment on in half an hour. Yet, if there’s one thing that’s been constant in every workshop I’ve attended, it’s this: when the time comes to comment on the workshopped piece’s title, everyone goes silent. Or, if they do speak up, it’s just to give a non-specific “I liked the title” or “I didn’t like the title.”

No one knows how to write a good title, it seems. We know when a title is good, but not what makes it good, or how to take those qualities and use them in their own work. And this isn’t just a university problem; every writer struggles with this. Anyone here who’s published a story or poem or song or play can speak to this.

The past few weeks, I’ve been thinking about titles a lot. And although I don’t claim to be the best at titling stuff myself—hell, I struggled with the title to this blog—I think that I’ve come up with three key rules that the majority of good titles share.

In this blog, I’ll share those rules, and give a few examples of titles that I love that abide by them.

Continue reading “Titles Are Hard—But We Can Make Them Easier”

This Blog is Problematic

I’ve been thinking about this for three months now, and when we had the conversation in class about Sorbello’s transphobia, thought of it again.

To spare you the entire tweet thread, queer historian Morgan Page argues that controversial, iconoclastic, and thought-provoking queer art is being pushed out of the contemporary art community due to artists harboring a fear of their being labeled as “problematic,” and rejected on political grounds. She chalks this up to social media’s “immediacy” and accessibility; on the internet, everyone and anyone can be a critic, and those critiques—which are often framed around a moral viewpoint—can be shared with ease. However, on sites like Twitter and Tumblr, there’s a tendency for critiques to become mobs. As Page recalls, there’s always been provocative art. However, she also says:

…in the 80s what was someone going to do? Write a nasty letter to the editor? Now they can send hundreds of messages directly, dox you.

This creates the danger of art becoming stagnant, as artists focus their efforts only on work that’s considered socially acceptable, in fear of that mobbing.

Certainly, at times, heavy backlash is appropriate—as Page notes, when we dismiss social media criticism, we also “run the risk of dismissing legitimate critique, particularly of racism” (which is particularly pervasive in white gay communities). (Or of transphobia, as demonstrated here on campus.) But it can also pose a threat to beginning or otherwise vulnerable artists, as critics, convinced they have the moral high ground, take it upon themselves to diminish and belittle an artist’s lived experiences.

Take Glip, a comic artist better known by the name “Glitched Puppet,” who produces the comic “Floraverse.” Earlier this year, a large group of ex-readers grouped up to accuse Glip and their partner of a number of “problematic” things, one of which was asexual erasure in Floraverse. According to these critics, Glip had claimed a character, Beleth, was asexual, then shown her having sex as a way to invalidate asexuality and cater to a homophobic audience.

Glip’s response was to remind their critics of a simple fact: Glip themself is asexual. And showing Beleth having sex was a way for them to convey their own experiences with sex as an asexual person in their art. In response to these critics, however, Glip made the decision to stop calling Beleth ace—Glip would rather stop telling their story than deal with what they call “gatekeepers.”

Elsewhere in the art world, gay artist David Wynne has argued that many “younger people” involved in queer discourse take too narrow a moral view when discussing how LGBTQ+ people live today. In a short Twitter thread discussing the 50th anniversary of the legalization of homosexuality in Britain, Wynne notes that growing up as a gay man in England, queerness was considered “an unspeakable thing” in many areas. As such, he was forced to hide his sexuality, and adopt a heteronormative and at-times-homophobic view of the world, as a way of keeping himself safe—an act that, he claims, has received criticism from younger artists. In his thread, he lashes out, stating:

…when we tell our stories in fiction, they are messy, they are complicated, they do not conform to an idealised narrative. It’s become a thing now, where I see one of my peers tell their story, then get dogpiled by 22yr olds for furthering problematic narratives. Well, I’m sorry, but our lives have been fucking problematic.

On an unrelated but still-kinda-related note, we also have to think about what the proper reaction should be when we find content that is offensive… but is being produced by artists who belong to the group that should be offended (for lack of a better term).

Consider Larry David’s monologue on Saturday Night Live this past weekend, which came under heavy criticism for some of the jokes he made, which included pointing out that many of the Hollywood executives recently accused of sexual assault are Jewish, and an extended bit about romance in Nazi Germany:

I often wonder: if I grew up in Poland during the time that Hitler came to power, and got sent to a concentration camp, would I still be checking out the women in the camp? I think I would!

A number of critics decried David’s monologue as anti-semitic and offensive. Yet, as David points out himself in the monologue, he himself is Jewish, and has built a career off of making jokes about his heritage. Do critics have a right to criticize David for making such jokes on moral grounds?

This is a lot of words to say that as the world continues to evolve, we need to consider how our art and our critiques will evolve with it. Nuance is key.

Full Stop Therapy for Disaffected Teens

Why is everyone on this blog always starting their comments with “Hey [author of post],” or “Hi [author of post]!”??? It gives every comment such a stilted and formal vibe, like we’re baby boomers on Facebook replying to a Happy Birthday from our second cousins. Why do we do it? Because we wanna buffer our scathing comments with polite formalities? I suppose it’s easier to tell someone to piss off when you address them very kindly by their name first

It’s always amazing how such small additions to a comment can add such an emotional impact. Anyone who texts or chats on the internet often can tell you what a misplaced full stop/period can do to the emotional tone of your message. Consider:

“It’s fine”


“It’s fine.”

Doesn’t that second example carry so much more passive-aggression?

Chrissy Montelli once called the millennial penchant for removing punctuation in order to seem less intense a sign that we’re all “disaffected teens.”

We talk about this all the time in poetry, don’t we? Maybe not about the emotional impact that punctuation carries, but its sonic and rhythmic impact. A poem in which every line ends in a full stop reads much differently than a poem in which there’s no punctuation—the full stop version will come off as slower, stiffer, less breezy. Emdashes carry a different length of pause than semi-colons and colons and commas, which carry a different length of pause than periods. The smallest additions to a poem can drastically alter the way we read it. English is scary, and we should ban it from our schools.

…and that’s all I got. Did I tie my complaint about commenting into poetry well enough to get away with it?


P.S.: If anyone comments on this with “Hi Will!”, we’re gonna fight in the parking dock behind Letch

Bury Me in Bath

Last year, I took Dean Celia Easton’s evening course, Major Authors: Jane Austen. And although now I can speak about Austen’s writing with a respectable amount of grace and poise, the class also drove me near the breaking point of my sanity. To that point, half an hour before the final exam, I wasn’t studying—I was writing poetry.

A Lady Wants Me Dead

Elizabeth Bennett once broke down
my bedroom door and shot me,
sending me straight to hell.

Elinor Dashwood twisted on my ankles
until my feet snapped off at the joints.

Fanny Price sent me into a storm
without an umbrella
and with no horse,
dooming me to a life of pneumonia.

Catherine Morland walked about me in a circle,
slowly slicing my skin
with reams of fresh paper.

Lady Susan sent me a letter
luring me to a pit of sharks.

Anne Elliot took my money for her father’s estate,
forcing me into poverty.

Emma Woodhouse married me
to a a vat of cyanide.