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52 Cups of Coffee
February 16, 2011 7:12 AM   Subscribe

52 Cups of Coffee: one girl's year-long experiment with caffeine and conversation. "Each week for a year, I’m having coffee with someone I don’t know and writing about what I learn along the way."
posted by chunking express (94 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite

 
1 Girl 52 Cups [SFW]
posted by Fizz at 7:15 AM on February 16, 2011 [16 favorites]


Day #43:
Lesson for the day: Do *NOT* have coffee with people you don't know!
Day #57
Lesson for the day: OMFG! Why do I keep doing this to myself?!!
Day #82
Lesson for the day: STOP. Really, just stop.
posted by markkraft at 7:16 AM on February 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


Is it time for a SLTP (Single Link Tumblr Post) tag yet?
posted by tommasz at 7:18 AM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm glad she's doing this for her own personal growth, but I'm getting sick of year long projects turned into consumable media.

This has nothing to do with what she's doing though. How am I to talk shit about things like meeting new people and learning?
posted by josher71 at 7:18 AM on February 16, 2011 [14 favorites]


I'm glad she's doing this for her own personal growth, but I'm getting sick of year long projects turned into consumable media.

This.
posted by Fizz at 7:19 AM on February 16, 2011


Damn, people can read fast.
posted by chunking express at 7:22 AM on February 16, 2011 [6 favorites]


Yeah, Jesus, how dare people set interesting, ambitious goals for themselves, then go about achieving them in an organized and practical manner. It's just fucking tiresome, is what it is.
posted by pts at 7:23 AM on February 16, 2011 [24 favorites]


She starts out meeting new people and learning. By cup 32 she finds herself deeply immersed in the seedy world of underground snuff film.
posted by naju at 7:24 AM on February 16, 2011 [5 favorites]


There's something about her writing style that I'm not sure I like but I can't quite pinpoint what it is.

The people she 'interviews' seem to be quite interesting though and I love the idea. Thanks for the post.
posted by Memo at 7:26 AM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yeah, Jesus, how dare people set interesting, ambitious goals for themselves, then go about achieving them in an organized and practical manner. It's just fucking tiresome, is what it is.

I appreciate snark of this quality but there is something to be said about the number of 1 year projects that pop up on the web. 1 Year of eating right, 1 Year of only buying Made in USA products, 1 Year of capturing my feces and bottling it, 1 Year of posting on mefi...
posted by Fizz at 7:27 AM on February 16, 2011 [3 favorites]


Once a week—for an entire year—I am going to not read a single-serving tumblr blog.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 7:28 AM on February 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm glad she's doing this for her own personal growth, but I'm getting sick of year long projects turned into consumable media.

I like them, and I'll defend them. It's a good enough structure when the subject is worthwhile, and it's a direct product of, and a logical product, blogging and tumbling. In theory, it can serve the same sort of function as an episodic television series, when done well: We can track a story over a fairly long time, and see how the author is changed by the story they have engaged. Sure, it seems gimmicky, and some people do it in a way that seems desperate for a book deal. But so what? I am sure the essay format seemed gimmicky when it first arose, as with all established structures, and I have no problem with people trying to get book deals if its a good book idea. It's no more desperate than writing a genre book, and nobody sniffs, oh, you've written a book about a sasquatch? You're just desperate to get a book deal. Well, yes -- that's why you write a book.

If the content is good, the content is good. But we're in the middle part of history, where something is transitioning from novelty into common and accepted structure. And it has emerged from a fairly despised source -- in this case, Tumbl blogs.I'd say the case made a few days ago that sniffing dimissively at Hipstamatic is just an arbitrary aesthetic rejection applies here as well. And I think evidence of this is that the complains popping up here aren't about the content that she produced, but the form in which she chose to produce it.
posted by Astro Zombie at 7:28 AM on February 16, 2011 [14 favorites]


I actually read some of it and it is really really good. Thanks!
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:29 AM on February 16, 2011


AZ,

Fair enough. You've changed the way I think about this.
posted by josher71 at 7:31 AM on February 16, 2011 [4 favorites]


Yeah, Jesus, how dare people set interesting, ambitious goals for themselves, then go about achieving them in an organized and practical manner. It's just fucking tiresome, is what it is.

It's not that. It's just that it's a cliche now. I do not really care anymore what you can learn by doing a random thing for 365 days in a row, because there have been several books on the topic already; it's a literary fad that is ready to die and possibly even too overripe for parody.

Other fads I am tired of; attractive well-off white people doing good works for the downtrodden people of wherever; a woman's relationship ends but then she goes to Italy and finds happiness; cute things old(er) people say/do; anything at all about how X group communicates this way and Y group communicates that way.
posted by emjaybee at 7:31 AM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


If I had the stamina, I'd start a...no wait, I did it.
posted by DU at 7:33 AM on February 16, 2011 [3 favorites]


This is actually an interesting project in local journalism, disguised as a 52 week tumblr blog. Consider, for example, Cup #26, with the man who runs a local gas station.
Jim, who is in his late 60s, is in the store about 12 hours a day, five days a week, plus a handful of hours on the weekend. He told me his wife can’t figure out where he gets all his energy—I couldn’t figure out how anyone could look so happy after all that work.

But the longer I was in the store, the more it made sense.
Also: I see your 52 week tumblr project of stranger coffee meetings and raise you one 52 week project of Burrito Dates.
posted by honest knave at 7:34 AM on February 16, 2011


Yeah, it's hard not to read this and append "...so I can get a book deal." to the end of the description.
posted by papercake at 7:36 AM on February 16, 2011


Yeah, Jesus, how dare people set interesting, ambitious goals for themselves, then go about achieving them in an organized and practical manner. It's just fucking tiresome, is what it is.

Goals and achieving are mentioned here but you didn't say anything about blogs or formulaic project names.
posted by DU at 7:36 AM on February 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


emjaybee: I see your point, but I feel like clichéedness is a particularly poor and and hollow reason to decide something isn't worth doing.

And I promise I'm not being deliberately obtuse when I ask: What is so very wrong about deliberately writing something that could be made into a book? "Book deal" seems to be synonymous with "disingenuous" here, and I can't for the life of me understand why.
posted by pts at 7:39 AM on February 16, 2011


I smell a TV series!
posted by T.D. Strange at 7:41 AM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


I have this idea for a blog... every week for a year I start a new blog in which I do something every week for a year.
posted by nathancaswell at 7:42 AM on February 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


To be clear, I'm all for achieving things. That being said, it does seem gimmicky. However, perhaps as AZ says, this is just the growing pains of this sort of device becoming absolutely unremarkable in the same way an essay is.

PTS, this isn't really germane to this blog, but clicheedness is something that shouldn't be a barrier to taking action, but it can be a barrier to other appreciating that action.
posted by josher71 at 7:43 AM on February 16, 2011


There's something about her writing style that I'm not sure I like but I can't quite pinpoint what it is.

Yes, it reads a very chitchatty with and inane writing style that makes me twitchy, along too much focus on her at times.

From Cup 25:
By the time I got to the Edmund’s, I was 15 minutes late and flustered from an unexpectedly hectic afternoon. I had let Betsy know of my delay, but that didn’t loosen the knot in my stomach knowing I potentially ruined the first impression.

I rushed into the restaurant and spotted Betsy immediately. She was patiently waiting at a booth, the sunlight streaming in from the tall windows facing Michigan Avenue, cup of coffee in hand.

“Betsy! I am so sorry for being late”

Her response was untroubled and lifted the worry off my shoulders, “I think there are worse things than having to sit and enjoy a cup of coffee for 15 minutes.” I knew immediately I was going to like Betsy, and with the mayhem of the day behind me, I was ready to slow down and enjoy good coffee in good company.
Good idea though and hopefully she'll grow stronger as a writer.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:44 AM on February 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


papercake: "Yeah, it's hard not to read this and append "...so I can get a book deal." to the end of the description"
The thing is... so what? It still is an interesting project to read about and no one is forcing you to buy the inevitable book or even read the blog.

That girl will have meet 52 interesting people at the end of the year, will have a written record of the experience and hey, who knows, maybe she'll get a book deal. I can't see anything negative about any of that.
posted by Memo at 7:44 AM on February 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


"LOL TRYINA GET A BOOK DEAL". Maybe she does want a book deal. A lot of people want book deals. And how convenient that in the 21st century, you can actually make your own blog and prove how good you are at writing, or creating "content", or making movies, or music, or sketch comedy, or graphic design. It's like meritocracy is slowly being brought back to the world of arts and entertainment. This is a good thing.
posted by windbox at 7:46 AM on February 16, 2011 [6 favorites]


If this were a weekly series in a local newspaper nobody would be bitching about it. Of course, it probably wouldn't be a FPP on MeFi either.
posted by COD at 7:48 AM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


A lot of people want book deals.

I want a movie deal.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:48 AM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


Now, about the content rather than the form, the little bromides that are part of each day are the thing that I don't care for. The fact that there is a one sentence lesson to be learned.
Maybe that's the point though.
posted by josher71 at 7:50 AM on February 16, 2011


Meritocracy? All of these blog-to-book things are found in the humor rack or in the bargain section. It has nothing to do with good writing. It's a way to make a quick buck selling books to people who don't read literature but still want to have something to browse while their sitting on the toilet.
posted by ReeMonster at 7:51 AM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


And I should preview my poorly spelled comments before hitting enter, but then again, I'm not trying to get a book deal.
posted by ReeMonster at 7:52 AM on February 16, 2011


It's a way to make a quick buck selling books to people who don't read literature but still want to have something to browse while their they're sitting on the toilet.

I commit a lot of typos myself, but I always try to remind myself that when I mock somebody else's literacy that I'm just about to make my own suspect.
posted by Astro Zombie at 7:54 AM on February 16, 2011


Still Astro that's why books have editors and my making a common mistake doesn't mean my point is invalid. My parents got me that "Stuff White People Like" as a gag gift and it sat on top of the toilet for a few minutes until it was thrown out with the rest of the crap.
posted by ReeMonster at 8:02 AM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


So... the fact that a project lasts one year makes it cliche?

The fact that you do something every day makes it cliche?

The fact that you give it an uncreative name makes it cliche? (OK, the *name* is cliche)

These attributes seem inoffensive. Putting them together in that particular combination might give your project a superficial resemblance to The Year of Living Biblically or whatever. You might not want that association.

Oh, and it will give some people on the internet an excuse to snark about book deals. Book deals are bad!
posted by LogicalDash at 8:02 AM on February 16, 2011


What in the fuck is wrong with people? I know! Let's put skinny light gray text on a white background!
.postbody p, .postbody li, .postbody dl, .postbody blockquote {
    color: #000000;
    font-weight: bold;
    font-size: 1.6em;
    line-height: 1.33;
    margin: 0.66em 0;
}
Much better.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 8:05 AM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


This is a great idea, and a good post. Thanks for sharing it - and to the snarkers - why bother? You don't like it, don't read it. Jeez.
posted by dbiedny at 8:12 AM on February 16, 2011


Most days, for longer than an entire year, I'm going to discuss things that come up on the internet with a bunch of strangers, most of whom I have never met and never will meet.
posted by ob at 8:14 AM on February 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


I had no idea so many people would shit on this. I think this is cool, good post.
posted by hellslinger at 8:14 AM on February 16, 2011


emjaybee: I see your point, but I feel like clichéedness is a particularly poor and and hollow reason to decide something isn't worth doing.

I agree. I knew someone who ridiculed and criticized her sister for embracing a hippie/granola girl lifestyle: wearing tie dyed t-shirts and crinkly tiered skirts and handmade bead jewelry, growing her hair long and parting it in the middle, eating organic vegetarian food, seeing a naturopath, etc. And I felt like pointing out that wearing little black dresses and sweaters with cats on them and doing counted cross-stitch projects and making casseroles wasn't exactly orginal either — it's just that they are suburban clichés rather than "alternative" clichés. There is not much new under the sun and so not doing something solely because it's all been done to death is silly. Individuals can breathe new life into a set style of doing things by what they bring to it and how they do it, and the results always need to be assessed on a case by case basis.
posted by orange swan at 8:15 AM on February 16, 2011 [4 favorites]


We all live lives that are more or less off-the-rack. We just look for the racks that happen to seem to represent us best.
posted by Astro Zombie at 8:17 AM on February 16, 2011 [11 favorites]


All I'd say is the woman is a senior in college. Give her a break. She's 22 years old and she has an open mind and heart and is learning things about people she's never met before and writing about them. That's more than a lot of people twice her age would ever do.
posted by blucevalo at 8:21 AM on February 16, 2011 [7 favorites]


I had no idea so many people would shit on this. I think this is cool, good post.

This isn't even in the realm of shitting on things by MeFi standards.
posted by josher71 at 8:23 AM on February 16, 2011 [6 favorites]


I'm a bit tired of the "I'm going to do this for a year" approach myself, but I admire this woman for meeting 52 different people and going to have coffee with them. As someone who'd like to open up a bit socially, I think this is one of the most worthwhile "thing a day/week/month" ideas.
posted by misha at 8:26 AM on February 16, 2011


I've been trying to start a tumbrl where I discuss sandwiches I have eaten but I haven't even written one post yet so I admire her didication.
posted by Ad hominem at 8:26 AM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


This isn't even in the realm of shitting on things by MeFi standards.

I wonder if there'd be an audience for a picture of every stool I passed for a year?
posted by PeterMcDermott at 8:26 AM on February 16, 2011


From the blog: I couldn’t help but wonder what would happen if I continually tried to meet new people.... when you invite 52 new people into your life, it’s bound to change somehow.

I think the best possible outcome of this experiment would be this: she decides she really likes meeting new people and decides to extend the experiment, continually trying to meet new people for the rest of her life.
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 8:27 AM on February 16, 2011 [3 favorites]


would be more interesting if she drank 52 cups of coffee per conversation.
posted by Espoo2 at 8:27 AM on February 16, 2011 [7 favorites]


I like the idea, but the lack of contrast (font) is killing me.
posted by cashman at 8:28 AM on February 16, 2011


I've met alot of people, but none of them were new.
posted by Ad hominem at 8:29 AM on February 16, 2011


I'm with Memo. I think this is a fantastic idea, but her writing irritates and bores me so much that I started reading 5 different posts and couldn't bring myself to finish a single one. But I guess that's why she's doing it - to improve.
posted by MexicanYenta at 8:30 AM on February 16, 2011


There's something about her writing style that I'm not sure I like but I can't quite pinpoint what it is.

Agreed. I read a few, but don't really care enough to read more, I guess.

I don't think she should include the emails. Distracting and kinda pointless.

I think evidence of this is that the complains popping up here aren't about the content that she produced, but the form in which she chose to produce it.

Agreed. I try not to let "for a year" or source affect my judgment of quality. I just don't see it here.

I think, for me, the biggest problem is that these interviews are BORING. I think it's because the conversations are so one-sided, at least the ones I read. It was all about the other person. It seems like she was interviewing them, not having a conversation. She doesn't seem to talk about herself with her guest.

Anyway, honestly, I think this writer is too young and doesn't have a lot to say, nor have a very interesting voice. I certainly didn't when I was in college.

It's a great exercise for her. It's just not very interesting for me. (If I missed a particularly good write-up, add a link.) It's great she's writing and publishing. It's not really a MeFi-quality site, though, imo. Ephemeral.
posted by mrgrimm at 8:31 AM on February 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


would be more interesting if she drank 52 cups of coffee per conversation

It would be more interesting if the coffee was replaced with LSD.
posted by mrgrimm at 8:32 AM on February 16, 2011


Full Circle: I would like to see a project that recorded 52 shits on mefi posts a day for a year.
posted by hellslinger at 8:35 AM on February 16, 2011


nathancaswell: I have this idea for a blog... every week for a year I start a new blog in which I do something every week for a year.

To be honest, that would be all kinds of impressive. Sure, it's easy to start, with doodling and taking pictures, interviewing strangers and commenting on comics, but at 30 weeks in, you're maintaining 30 blogs, and doing 30 different things each week, and you realize next week will only get more complex, if just by adding another project and another blog.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:39 AM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


I like the idea, but the lack of contrast (font) is killing me.

zap

to the snarkers - why bother? You don't like it, don't read it. Jeez

Because we didn't know that we wouldn't like it until we read it. I wanted it to be good. It wasn't and now I'm MAD!

I want a movie deal.

Seriously. The only point of selling a book is to make a movie.
posted by mrgrimm at 8:40 AM on February 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


So... the fact that a project lasts one year makes it cliche?

The fact that you do something every day makes it cliche?


Yes. Yes. You are correct.

Yes, it is a big cliche these days to do a personal project where you do the same thing every day for a year, and then broadcast the results to mass audiences (which generally means blogging about it and then turning the blog into a book).

What gets attention often seems to be not any genuine merit or specific insights in the content, but simply the fact that it's presented as a do-this-every-day-for-a-year project.

Yeah, Jesus, how dare people set interesting, ambitious goals for themselves, then go about achieving them in an organized and practical manner.

OK, but do you realize that when you say they do it "for themselves," you can't assume they generally wanted to do the activities they're writing about for their own personal growth, and that what's much more likely is that they decided the do-this-every-day-for-a-year stunt would be an effective way to increase their name recognition and advance their career?
posted by John Cohen at 8:41 AM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


honest knave: Also: I see your 52 week tumblr project of stranger coffee meetings and raise you one 52 week project of Burrito Dates.

I'm not sure if that's raised or lowered. In his own words:
I’ve hit the wall. There is a stage marathon runners go through that this phrase makes reference to. It can happen around mile 21 of 26 (or date 41 of 52) and has some scientific explanation. But really it’s when you’re body doesn’t want to be there anymore. You are going through the motions. And those repetitive motions are painful. It becomes a mental battle. Mind over matter. Stay going. The end is in sight. There will be better miles than this.
At least the 52 cups of coffee + conversation is about talking with new people, not trying to date a new girl each week, which you then post about online.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:42 AM on February 16, 2011


Grabbing a stranger and making them important to you is probably my favorite writing exercise. Sitting down with someone and becoming invested in their story, the way they personally see the world, without them having to ask you to listen, is in my opinion a radical act of humanity and makes for compelling impromptu biographical pieces.

oh it's tumblr fuck that.
posted by Taft at 8:43 AM on February 16, 2011


In one of these coffee meetings, she finds the true love of her life. But it turns he's also obsessed with meeting new people, and she suspects he's a player. 52 Cups. Get at me, Hollywood, let's make some money.
posted by naju at 8:44 AM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


oh it's tumblr fuck that.

Well, Metafilter has a bias toward posting thematic Tumblr blogs as FPPs. Naturally there's going to be a pushback, i.e. a bias toward criticizing Metafilter FPPs for being about thematic Tumblr blogs. You can criticize the latter bias, but realize it wouldn't exist without the former bias.
posted by John Cohen at 8:56 AM on February 16, 2011


At least the 52 cups of coffee + conversation is about talking with new people, not trying to date a new girl each week, which you then post about online.

What's the difference? The potential sex?

The burrito dates site is more interesting to me. I've read a few of them and he seems OK. The women who requested it were anonymized. The posts are more interesting in general.

Still, I won't be coming back to either one.
posted by mrgrimm at 8:56 AM on February 16, 2011


I wonder if there'd be an audience for a picture of every stool I passed for a year?

William Shatner as PeterMcDermott in "Sh@# My Dad Sh$#s"
posted by T.D. Strange at 8:59 AM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


AZ, I think you make a couple of good points, and it is important not to dismiss something out of hand just because of its format or structure.

That said, we part ways at this point:

It's a good enough structure when the subject is worthwhile

I'd argue that "Do X At A Regular Interval For A Year" or "Immerse Totally In X For A Year" is actually a pretty awful structure, if the goal is to emerge with any new information or insight other than that doing anything repetitively or immersively leads to logistical hurdles and ruminations on the strangeness of doing anything that regularly or that fully. It's a lousy structure, in other words, if the goal is to write a good book.

My problem is not that these people want book deals of a certain structure but that they aren't actually interested in anything but the structure. The structure actually dictates a sort of shallowness. It truncates meandering curiosity, the rabbit holes of research and inquiry that lead to good nonfiction. It says that the structure is the narrative. Guy lives the literal rules of the Bible for a year, discovers that's sort of absurd. Woman tries to live without using plastic for a year, discovers that's almost impossible to do in a modern consumer society nowadays. Girl has 52 consecutive coffee meetings with strangers, discovers that people you don't already know can be quite interesting to get to know and that it becomes a lot about the logistics of arranging 52 meetings with strangers.

Even one of the very best of these experiments - The 100-Mile Diet - is ultimately a sort of green living circus stunt, since trade in spices and grains and tea and booze and much else predates the industrial economy the book's intending to demonstrate the limits of. (On the plus side - huge plus side - The 100-Mile Diet has been remarkably effective at shocking certain types of people out of their complacent ignorance about the provenance of their food.)

This stuff usually says very, very little about what it's like to be alive and awake and wondering right now. What insights into the human condition emerge are often incidental to the exercise. Meet 52 random strangers with the idea of interrogating them and you'd have to be a lousy writer indeed to not uncover something or other of interest. The stuff of great nonfiction, though, is finding the one story in those 52 that's compelling and telling it in some way that speaks to universal human truths, or finding connections between such stories that merge into a theme other than the one of the writer having met all of them under the same circumstances. I meet a great many of the people I interview for my work in nondescript corporate boardrooms; a blog-cum-book about the exercise of meeting them all in corporate boardrooms is the least interesting thing I could say about all those meetings.

What's worse - and this is the rudderless publishing industry's fault, not this woman's - is that this trivial journal-exercise stuff is eating up the resources that could be going to hyping what books do that blogs can't. It's not quite entirely zero-sum, but publishers do have hugely limited publicity budgets and there are only so many spaces on the high-rent shelves at the big-box store, and blog-to-book drivel is taking up entirely too much of those resources right now.

TL;DR goes something like this: I don't dismiss these exercises because of their structure but because the vast majority of them don't try to talk to me about anything other than how they are structured. Which I find sort of pointless.
posted by gompa at 9:03 AM on February 16, 2011 [13 favorites]


One of the nice things about blogging/microblogging/writing your thoughts down for the public, is that anybody can do it. Some will do it well and in a compelling way that sparks something in somebody somewhere. Some will do it poorly. It doesn't matter. A platform that encourages and facilitates the goal of actually DOING something is a good thing, regardless of the content that ends up there.

"Original," or "not-cliche" are lame standards. People that use these often make the mistake of confusing quality with novelty, and novelty with creativity, and creativity with art.

When you criticize someone's effort at a project based on your own over-exposure to a format, you are perhaps ultimately saying more about yourself than you are about the project. "Laugh-track comedies are the lamest thing in the world. I'm tired of them. Because I have watched so many of them."

When you criticize this way, with nothing to ADD, you risk the chance of exposing yourself as the bottom feeder of another's efforts. Habitual critique does not reflect a finer sensibility.

I'm glad people try this stuff. Goals are good. The difference between art and ideas is sometimes only in the actual DOING of it. Suggesting that a writer is writing for a book deal is like suggesting that a musician is playing in hopes of a record contract. Stupid. Sometimes people making an effort at creativity are simply trying to be heard. Being heard, a willingness to expose yourself and your ideas is a necessary first step.

When you mock these efforts, you reveal yourself as someone genuinely removed from the creative process, and consequently, unqualified to be taken seriously as a critic.

Perhaps "I'm so completely over..x.." should be seen as a comment about yourself, not the subject at hand. And really, is there anything more boring than listening to someone go on about how bored they are?
posted by nickjadlowe at 9:07 AM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


Also: I see your 52 week tumblr project of stranger coffee meetings and raise you one 52 week project of Burrito Dates.

I see that and raise you with 'Between the Stalls: 52 weeks of Awkward Conversations in Public Restrooms soon after 52 Burrito Dates'.
posted by chambers at 9:08 AM on February 16, 2011


Wow, Gompa's comment started with a quote and a concession and what followed was at least 5 paragrahs. He's clearly just trying to get on the sideblog of the frontpage. How cliche...
posted by hellslinger at 9:08 AM on February 16, 2011


Thank you, gompa. I'm bookmarking your comment for future reference in threads like this where people don't seem to understand why anyone would criticize the x-a-day-for-a-year fad.
posted by John Cohen at 9:10 AM on February 16, 2011


Wow, Gompa's comment started with a quote and a concession and what followed was at least 5 paragrahs. He's clearly just trying to get on the sideblog of the frontpage. How cliche...

No, if that was my goal, I'd have gone off on a meticulously detailed memoirish thing about my own experiences in the blog-cum-book-deal world that ended with me meeting Steve Wozniak or someone from Pixar.
posted by gompa at 9:10 AM on February 16, 2011 [5 favorites]


The structure actually dictates a sort of shallowness.

That's an interesting point, but I don't think it's an inevitable outcome. In fact, I'd say almost everything created begins with a superimposed structure. I mean, I write a daily arts column, and, were I to call it, 10 pieces of art every day for a year, it wouldn't be an imposition of shallowness on my writing. It would, instead, be an accurate description.

I mean, sure, my work is shallow. But it's because I am a flibbertigibbet, not because of the structure I choose.
posted by Astro Zombie at 9:11 AM on February 16, 2011


Wow, Gompa's comment started with a quote and a concession and what followed was at least 5 paragrahs. He's clearly just trying to get on the sideblog of the frontpage. How cliche...

Well, some formulas are so basic and useful that they deserve to be formulas. Other formulas get attention mostly because of how audacious and gimmicky they are, so that the formula distracts from content. Conceding a point and then adding your own commentary that goes against that point? That's a basic, useful formula that deserves to be a cliche. Doing the exact same thing every day for a year and turning it into a blog-that's-practically-begging-for-a-book-deal? Clearly, many of us think this would fall into that other category.
posted by John Cohen at 9:13 AM on February 16, 2011


She's 22 years old and she has an open mind and heart and is learning things about people she's never met before and writing about them. That's more than a lot of people twice her age would ever do.

True. But to be fair, Metafilter has taught me that I'm not allowed to do this because I might be a rapist.
posted by LordSludge at 9:16 AM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


Is that really what people do to get book deals (serious question)? I'm not a writer or at all familiar with that industry so I don't know. Could it be that people have attached that motivation in order to shit on the work because now it has the slight stench of prostitution on it?
posted by hellslinger at 9:17 AM on February 16, 2011


Interesting post, thanks for sharing.
Awhile back I considered something similar. I wanted to run for city council in my "small" 80,000 population city, but really didn't have much of a connection to the community. I planned to go to the local mall at least once a week and sit down in the food court or coffee shops and have lunch with someone I didn't know, and find out from them what their concerns were about their community. Never had the nerve to actually do it though. Good for Megan that she is actually sticking with it.
posted by kevdog at 9:18 AM on February 16, 2011


Yes, it is a big cliche these days to do a personal project where you do the same thing every day for a year, and then broadcast the results to mass audiences (which generally means blogging about it and then turning the blog into a book).
posted by John Cohen at 8:41 AM on February 16


Not a personal attack, but I think we should all realize that brick and mortar bookstores are not overrun with blog to book offerings. They are not unavoidable. Because a few get disproportionate attention should not lead one to believe that it is the norm.

There are MANY MANY more good books, classic, seminal works, in bookstores than there are blog-to-book books. That people only pay attention to the books that pander to the least common denominator says something about the average book shopper. That publishers feed this lout, says something about the state and priorities of the publishing industry. All of this has the least to say about the writers themselves, or their motivations. I don't have statistics to back this up (surely someone will correct me if I'm wrong), but I would be willing to guess that the combined lifetime sales of contemporary master novelists pales in comparison to the Dan Brown's sales over his career. Whose fault is that?
posted by nickjadlowe at 9:23 AM on February 16, 2011


Is that really what people do to get book deals (serious question)?

Damn, hellslinger, you're just about begging me to do the memoirish sideblog-whoring confessional now . . .

Anyway, people get book deals in a great many ways, but the publishing industry, particularly the US publishing industry, is on the cusp of a crisis that leads to the sort of wholesale restructuring we've seen in the music business as a result of digital media, e-books etc. And it is, in the main, scared shitless, bunkering down and acting like pathological risk aversion is business strategy in and of itself.

Talk to an agent or publisher in New York today, and all they want to talk about is "platform." Do you have a platform? How big? Who's on it?

What do they mean by platform? A column in the NY Times. A million followers on Twitter. A reality TV show. Oprah. Or, yes, several months of stunt blogging that got you a bit of notice in the places where NYC publishing types pass the time between making offers on blog-to-book deals.

A platform is believed to be insurance against failure, because it implies a built-in readership. To some degree, it's true - that Shit My Dad Says book sold like crazy - but it's also ass-covering. Commission a book with a big platform, and if it fails you can just shrug and say, well, it had that great platform, so what can you do? Whereas if you commission something truly unique and insightful and it fails, there must've been something wrong with it, it was a bad risk, a lousy deal, and when the ax falls in the boardroom - and it's just hanging there, everyone can see it - you'll be first on the block.

On preview: Fair enough, nick. I was actually speaking more to this platform obsession in the industry at the moment - blog-to-book deals are only one kind of platform.
posted by gompa at 9:30 AM on February 16, 2011 [3 favorites]


Yes, it is a big cliche these days to do a personal project where you do the same thing every day for a year, and then broadcast the results to mass audiences (which generally means blogging about it and then turning the blog into a book).
posted by John Cohen at 8:41 AM on February 16

Not a personal attack, but I think we should all realize that brick and mortar bookstores are not overrun with blog to book offerings.


You're right, I was oversimplifying. I actually don't know how common blog-to-book deals are. (But it clearly happens: Stuff White People Like, Shit My Dad Says, etc.)

However, there's a reason I was oversimplifying, which is that several people in this thread didn't seem to understand why anyone is criticizing the x-every-day-for-a-year trend. And I literally mean "understand" -- it's not that people just disagree (i.e. they happen to enjoy the x-a-day-for-a-year thing more than others enjoy it), but they're acting like it's incomprehensible why anyone would criticize the fad for these projects. I do understand the criticism, so I was trying to explain it.
posted by John Cohen at 9:30 AM on February 16, 2011




ARgghhhH!!!! Just go play in traffic already. It's quicker and we don't have to see an FPP about it.

posted by IvoShandor at 9:39 AM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oh, and fuck. I missed the memo tumbling is a verb!!? Fuck all.
posted by IvoShandor at 9:41 AM on February 16, 2011


Oh, and fuck. I missed the memo tumbling is a verb!!? Fuck all.

It's a gerund. And has been since at least the 14th century.
posted by Astro Zombie at 9:45 AM on February 16, 2011 [5 favorites]


I find the reaction interesting because my first thought seeing this was holy crap here's another version of the I'm going to do X thing for Y duration and produce artwork Z thing, which is rapidly becoming the primarily DIY artistic trope of the nineties beyond endless revisions of Star Wars iconography and arguing about whether McDonalds hamburgers stay intact for a year because they're (a) dry, small burgers, or (b) products of Satan's chemistry set. I started to respond, then stopped myself, largely because the first instinct is genuine, but not entirely helpful, meaningful, or interesting in the larger scheme of things.

I thought maybe I was just being a rake-waver, but when I think about it, it's not the actual act of the thing that's bothering me. It's really down to the obsessive need of our current realm to reveal and exalt our methods as some sort of meta street cred (Using "meta" in the more traditional sense here, not a response to mefi.). I've actually not got much of a leg to stand on, myself, because I adore oracle systems, arbitrary structures in artwork, and well-framed composition matrices, but I think where I part company here is in the need to publish the system itself instead of the result.

Almost every day, I pull a card from one of three decks of cards I keep at my desk: an Oblique Strategies deck, a card-version of the Tao Te Ching, and a set of the Dhammapada in card form. As I'm pulling on my shoes, I read each, let 'em brew in my head, and set off on my day. Sometimes these arbitrary inputs break impasses, start new lines of thinking, or otherwise add to my day, whether creatively or just in how I see the day. Other times, I forget them as soon as I'm on the train to work, looking out the window and watching the world pass by. Even my own mileage may vary.

When they work, I write in my journal, flesh out an essay for an unfinished manuscript, work on some music, or post an endless rambling comment on mefi, but I don't know what would be gained in writing about those arbitrary inputs themselves, except to make some clumsy point about what's involved in creative work. I don't know that we really need to evangelize the artistic potential of the random encounter, though, because the result seems to just produce more artwork that's about the process of making artwork.

What I'd like to see Megan do, instead of just doing this as a mediocre stunt, is to carry on with her project, but do it as research, and to spend those fifty-two cups of coffee studying other people instead of studying either the process of studying other people, or studying herself in this process. Fifty-two cups of coffee with fifty-two strangers will give one a grasp of personality, of dialect, and of the mechanics of conversation, and could feed a piece of writing that stands on its own as a piece of writing instead of as a stunt of studied repetition.

That said, I have to cut her some slack, as I've been told for years that keeping my online journal was some sort of ego trip instead of just a place where I could hone my skills as a writer with enough of an audience to prod me out of inaction or point out when I was going wildly astray. Ten years and thousands of pages of writing later, it's worked out pretty well for me. I've pulled a number of performance pieces out of that writing, reworked it for the stage, and won a few awards. I've sketched out two book-length manuscripts from serial essays on there, too. At the same time, I'm not sure that the whole thing itself is really worthy of watching, because I spend a fair time in there bitching about my plumbing, complaining about my car, and otherwise venting random stuff and celebrating my various fixations.

The tool is not the product, at least in my case, except in some highly reflexive sense. When the books get published and the performances are performed, the whole thing will be neatly folded up like a rickety old ladder, stored on a disk somewhere, and put out of sight, to make room for something new. That's my bias, of course. I generally abhor books of writers writing about being writers, or films about being filmmakers, which just seem exhibitionist in the least pleasurable sense of the term, but to each their own.

BTW, I was running late this morning and pulled no cards. This particular rambling comment comes from somewhere else entirely, alas.
posted by sonascope at 9:52 AM on February 16, 2011 [8 favorites]


For whatever reason this conceit makes me sad. Not because it is a cliche but because I think it would be much harder, and more worthwhile, to have a cup of coffee each day with one of her friends or relatives rather than a stranger, and write about that. I wish I could do it.
posted by mai at 10:29 AM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


> [Y]ou can't assume they generally wanted to do the activities they're writing about for their own personal growth, and that what's much more likely is that they decided the do-this-every-day-for-a-year stunt would be an effective way to increase their name recognition and advance their career[.]

Uh, okay. I guess ambition to advance in one's trade or career is a bad thing, now? I... guess?

Yeah, no, actually I have no idea what you're suggesting here, except maybe that you're uncomfortable with the disguising of professional/mercantile ambition as personal growth, which is a really fuzzy grey area kind of problem, and even if we allow as how it's a bad thing (which I'm not ready to do, but let's just go with it for now) then this harmless blog isn't remotely the worst example of this genre of endeavor.

I guess what's making people uncomfortable here is that there is a way to cynically view this as being more self-interested than the girl is maybe copping to, but you can say that about practically every interaction we have every day, and if you're constantly hunting for the ways in which people act in their own self-interest as evidence of, I don't know, the basic emptiness of altruism, well...

...there is plenty of grist for that mill, I guess, but damn, son.
posted by pts at 10:40 AM on February 16, 2011


Look out for my extremely well written and in no way drunkenly rambling companion project, 52 Pints of Beer.
posted by defenestration at 11:34 AM on February 16, 2011


Why, oh why, does she put that giant initial letter in that orange circle? And then that large yellow rectangle? For me I believe, the design is what's most infuriating here. It tries, and it fails.

I'm siding with the snarkers.
posted by taltalim at 12:04 PM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's a gerund. And has been since at least the 14th century.

Aha! NIce, I like.

But I know, you know what I meant. A verb that has become a synonym for blogging. Ick.
posted by IvoShandor at 12:33 PM on February 16, 2011


papercake: "Yeah, it's hard not to read this and append "...so I can get a book deal." to the end of the description"

The thing is... so what? It still is an interesting project to read about and no one is forcing you to buy the inevitable book or even read the blog.

That girl will have meet 52 interesting people at the end of the year, will have a written record of the experience and hey, who knows, maybe she'll get a book deal. I can't see anything negative about any of that.


When I look at her blog I see a blatant attempt to cash in on a popular format. I don't believe for a minute that she's actually interested in getting to know 52 people. She's interested in how to frame 52 silly blog entries so she can best market her book. The project is shallow and insincere. Reading what she's written so far only reinforces my opinion.

And you're right — I have no intention of reading her blog any longer. Or buying her book. Or seeing the stale romcom they'll spin out of it with one of the hotties from Glee. But I'm still entitled to my reaction and opinion. YMWV.
posted by papercake at 12:43 PM on February 16, 2011


I'm doing a photo a week project, but in my livejournal, which is decidedly even more hated than tumblr here on the blue. The reason why I'm doing it is that 1. It reminds me to take more pictures of things I'm doing and 2. It forces me to do things to take pictures of. (It was also designed to get me to use my camera more, but then I upgraded my iPhone and got Instagram, which solved a lot of my "didn't take enough pictures" problem.) I'm also doing a 101 in 1001 list because I want to do a bunch of things and this is my way of giving myself deadlines and structure to do them. Publicly posting things is my way of keeping myself honest. That's probably why I think the 52 cups of coffee with a stranger project is a great idea, although one not suited to my temperament.

Sure, she's probably angling for a book project, or a job as an opinion/style writer somewhere, and this is her audition. It's commercial-type essay writing by a woman, which means it's doomed to be considered shallow by some (not high art, not important because it's a woman talking about social stuff, etc.). The "how dare a blogger write for commercial consumption?" (i.e., money and/or portfolio for future jobs) outrage seems a bit misplaced.
posted by immlass at 1:37 PM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


Someone could email her, and be all, "Hey asshole, are you trying to get a book deal? Motherfucker." Then we would know for sure. Or we can just make assumptions about her and her project. That's probably easier.
posted by chunking express at 1:39 PM on February 16, 2011


I liked cup 22, the one with the six-year-old girl. It felt like her reactions to the person and the situation get a little bit in the way of me getting a better feel of who the new person she's meeting is. But I don't mean it as a complaint. Just seems part of the diary-style format, I guess.
posted by PY at 2:15 PM on February 16, 2011


Thanks, PY, for honestly responding, but I must respectfully disagree.

1: "52 Cups of Coffee: one girl's year-long experiment with caffeine and conversation" - a playdate with a 6 y.o. fails the initial criteria: coffee (admittedly, the girl did have caffeine)

2. (and I did read the whole thing): "Just when you think you know someone, you learn something new."

...

"I didn’t know how to respond. I wanted to say it wasn’t her fault people are ignorant, but that’s not something you tell a six year old."

...

"If people took time to ask questions and get to know each other, there would be less ignorance and discrimination."

...

"I say metaphorical, because I could never squeeze my feet into Abby’s little shoes."

dunno. i won't be mean, b/c this woman didn't ask for our criticism. it's just not doing it for me. ymmv.

If this was my niece/nephew or someone I knew, yeah, I'd probably read it. But no. I don't know why I'm taking so much time to comment. Apologies.
posted by mrgrimm at 2:38 PM on February 16, 2011


But to be fair, Metafilter has taught me that I'm not allowed to do this because I might be a rapist.

Point taken, I guess. I'm not likely to wander up to a stranger at my age and do what she's doing. Part of it may be that I'm afraid I'll be taken as a lunatic. Part of it may also be that I'm too cynical for my own good and have put on the armor of believing that too many things in life anymore "just don't do it for me." There's a lot to be said for being 22 years old.
posted by blucevalo at 3:21 PM on February 16, 2011


True. But to be fair, Metafilter has taught me that I'm not allowed to do this because I might be a rapist.

You're not allow to email people, ask them to meet you in public for coffee, and then go home afterwards and write about your experience? I'm not quite sure how that leads to rape. Well, maybe if you have some Flunitrazepam.
posted by chunking express at 3:24 PM on February 16, 2011


Wow, there's a lot of hatred in this thread, and I've only skimmed. I don't really get it, but I don't care, either...

The fact that she started this after a visit to her college career center caught my attention, because I work at one. Other than her typos (Mobile Oil, a "to/too" error, I'm sure there are others), I'm happy to have found this, and I'll be promoting it to my students. Her stated motivation is sincere and relevant, and if she gets a book deal out of this? Good. For. Her. She "admits" right off the bat that she has an entrepreneurial streak.
posted by yiftach at 3:31 PM on February 16, 2011


I'm not sure what the comment after mine was respectfully disagreeing with--that I liked that particular post? (I'm pretty sure I did.) that the writing style got in the way of getting to know the subjects? that there was a personal diary-style feel to the whole thing? (actually the excerpts quoted seem to support the last two points). anyway, I didn't read it all, just scanned down the page until I found one post that caught my interest a bit.
posted by PY at 1:44 AM on February 17, 2011


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