Sharlet's experiment

Jeff: This is a rough-and-ready example of curation.

  1. My former Chronicle of Higher Ed colleague Jeff Sharlet, now a professor of journalism at Dartmouth College, has been crafting what he calls "Instaessays"--vignettes combining a single Instagrammed image with short prose. It's a stretch for a long-form journalists who writes mostly about religion, but it's fascinating to watch him explore.
  2. “They churn these out, four pallets an hour,” says Jim Longacre, who I want to call Old Granite Hands. Strong man, gentle voice, lamenting the coming cold. “They can’t meet the demand,” he says. The pellet mills, hoovering up scrap and sawdust and compressing it into little wood turds for New Englanders to burn. “Anything to beat oil,” Jim says. He’s leaning on the two-ton delivery he brought us this morning. Last winter was special, night after night of double digits below zero. Minus ten, minus fifteen, minus twenty-five. Out at Jim’s, thirty below. The cold felt like a fist, squeezing old houses to see if they’d crack. I’d sit up at night, listening to our walls creak and our windows rattle, the boiler below in overdrive, telling myself, “This house has been here 180 years, it’s been through some winters.” Then our pipes froze. Everybody’s pipes froze. A good year for plumbers. We lived off our pellets, until our pellets were gone. There were no more to buy. Already this year there’s no more to sell. We’re one of Jim’s last deliveries. They say it’s going to be a rough one, he tells me. “Run through these”—he slaps the pallet—“and you’re gonna be cold.” #vermont #granite #wood #working #winteriscoming
    “They churn these out, four pallets an hour,” says Jim Longacre, who I want to call Old Granite Hands. Strong man, gentle voice, lamenting the coming cold. “They can’t meet the demand,” he says. The pellet mills, hoovering up scrap and sawdust and compressing it into little wood turds for New Englanders to burn. “Anything to beat oil,” Jim says. He’s leaning on the two-ton delivery he brought us this morning. Last winter was special, night after night of double digits below zero. Minus ten, minus fifteen, minus twenty-five. Out at Jim’s, thirty below. The cold felt like a fist, squeezing old houses to see if they’d crack. I’d sit up at night, listening to our walls creak and our windows rattle, the boiler below in overdrive, telling myself, “This house has been here 180 years, it’s been through some winters.” Then our pipes froze. Everybody’s pipes froze. A good year for plumbers. We lived off our pellets, until our pellets were gone. There were no more to buy. Already this year there’s no more to sell. We’re one of Jim’s last deliveries. They say it’s going to be a rough one, he tells me. “Run through these”—he slaps the pallet—“and you’re gonna be cold.” #vermont #granite #wood #working #winteriscoming
  3. Jasmine holds up her necklace. Number 10. “You can take a picture,” she says. Steve wraps his arm around her. His daughter? “No,” he says. Just, “no.” Jasmine poses. “She’s, uh, my friend,” he says. He used to be a baker here. Now he has a lawn business. Donuts were a transition. He used to be a trucker, too, and he drove a bus in Brooklyn, and he lived in Staten Island, where he’d lived his whole life, but then he got divorced, and—“my brother lives in Bradford.” Country life suits Steve. Can’t get used to the hours, though. He feels comfortable at night. “What brings you out ?” I ask. “Business,” he says. I don’t ask. “I’m a mother,” Jasmine says. She means that’s her job. She has a boy, 15-months-old, Joshua. “I named him for my cousin. He got killed in a car crash. In Queechee? He was in the service. That’s why I wear the number ten.” Steve squeezes her. Ten. The service? A football number? “That was the year he graduated,” she says. “He was a nice person.” Ten. “That’s my necklace! that’s my son!” Steve says, “You got your picture?” #photoessay 4 of 4, #nightshift #insomnia #countrylife #shesmyfriend #mother #truestories #blackandwhiteportrait
    Jasmine holds up her necklace. Number 10. “You can take a picture,” she says. Steve wraps his arm around her. His daughter? “No,” he says. Just, “no.” Jasmine poses. “She’s, uh, my friend,” he says. He used to be a baker here. Now he has a lawn business. Donuts were a transition. He used to be a trucker, too, and he drove a bus in Brooklyn, and he lived in Staten Island, where he’d lived his whole life, but then he got divorced, and—“my brother lives in Bradford.” Country life suits Steve. Can’t get used to the hours, though. He feels comfortable at night. “What brings you out ?” I ask. “Business,” he says. I don’t ask. “I’m a mother,” Jasmine says. She means that’s her job. She has a boy, 15-months-old, Joshua. “I named him for my cousin. He got killed in a car crash. In Queechee? He was in the service. That’s why I wear the number ten.” Steve squeezes her. Ten. The service? A football number? “That was the year he graduated,” she says. “He was a nice person.” Ten. “That’s my necklace! that’s my son!” Steve says, “You got your picture?” #photoessay 4 of 4, #nightshift #insomnia #countrylife #shesmyfriend #mother #truestories #blackandwhiteportrait
  4. Used to work at Margaritas, out by the hospital. Nurses, pharma salesmen, maybe some doctors. Families staying in the hotel, the one out by the hospital. Didn’t like that job. What was wrong? What’s always wrong? Bosses. “They wouldn’t let me sleep,” says John. “Cinco de Mayo, I worked 65 hours in three days.” Prep cook. Now he’s a clerk. Night shift, seven to seven. Then he goes home, gets into bed, and tries to close his eyes. “Two, three days, I can’t sleep,” he says. “Maybe two hours.” Night shift, CVS, last seven years. I’m in tonight to buy deadline supplies: coffee and Red Bull. “I had a drink like that,” says John. Coffee, Red Bull, honey, sugar, and Mountain Dew, mixed together. “I don’t drink it anymore.” What’s better about the drug store? “I like the people,” he says. Store’s empty. #nightshift #insomnia #working #truestories
    Used to work at Margaritas, out by the hospital. Nurses, pharma salesmen, maybe some doctors. Families staying in the hotel, the one out by the hospital. Didn’t like that job. What was wrong? What’s always wrong? Bosses. “They wouldn’t let me sleep,” says John. “Cinco de Mayo, I worked 65 hours in three days.” Prep cook. Now he’s a clerk. Night shift, seven to seven. Then he goes home, gets into bed, and tries to close his eyes. “Two, three days, I can’t sleep,” he says. “Maybe two hours.” Night shift, CVS, last seven years. I’m in tonight to buy deadline supplies: coffee and Red Bull. “I had a drink like that,” says John. Coffee, Red Bull, honey, sugar, and Mountain Dew, mixed together. “I don’t drink it anymore.” What’s better about the drug store? “I like the people,” he says. Store’s empty. #nightshift #insomnia #working #truestories
  5. Larry LaRose and I stood together at midnight in Rutland, watching the hammer fall. A big hammer: 5000 lbs. of pressure, the excavator operator told me when he took a break to eat some pistachios. They were digging a hole to put in a water main, but they’d run into a ledge of rock. “What kind of rock?” I asked. “I dunno,” he said. “Mother Earth.” He cracked a pistachio and tossed the shell into the hole. “We’re going through.” LaRose stared, scowling. I said I liked his hat. Then he smiled. “You can take a picture if you want.” He leaned his cane against a bush and posed. “And I’ll show you something else.” He unzipped his fleece and then another fleece within and under that undid some buttons. A scar? But he withdrew a pendant and half a dozen lanyards. The pendant was a round transparent disc, a hologram of Jesus. Each of the lanyards held a card or a piece of paper in plastic: the names of his caregivers, a Kiwanis Club group for the mentally disabled, an invitation to a Halloween dance. He asked me to write down the numbers of his caregivers, so I could say hello. He told me I could come to the dance. (Continued, 1/2.) #nightshift #vermont #greathat #truestories
    Larry LaRose and I stood together at midnight in Rutland, watching the hammer fall. A big hammer: 5000 lbs. of pressure, the excavator operator told me when he took a break to eat some pistachios. They were digging a hole to put in a water main, but they’d run into a ledge of rock. “What kind of rock?” I asked. “I dunno,” he said. “Mother Earth.” He cracked a pistachio and tossed the shell into the hole. “We’re going through.” LaRose stared, scowling. I said I liked his hat. Then he smiled. “You can take a picture if you want.” He leaned his cane against a bush and posed. “And I’ll show you something else.” He unzipped his fleece and then another fleece within and under that undid some buttons. A scar? But he withdrew a pendant and half a dozen lanyards. The pendant was a round transparent disc, a hologram of Jesus. Each of the lanyards held a card or a piece of paper in plastic: the names of his caregivers, a Kiwanis Club group for the mentally disabled, an invitation to a Halloween dance. He asked me to write down the numbers of his caregivers, so I could say hello. He told me I could come to the dance. (Continued, 1/2.) #nightshift #vermont #greathat #truestories
  6. Peri likes her curves. When she visits Dunkin Donuts, she finds she needs to do a lot of stretching. Lean, arch, twist. She smiles and she flirts a little with Mike even though her boyfriend is out in the truck. I wanted to show a picture of her pretty like that, happy, but then this. It’s 1:15 and she’s in for her last cup of coffee. She’s night manager at the Taco Bell next door. She trades Taco Bell for Dunkin, two or three cups a night. Quesadillas for Mike, mashed potatoes for Kelly. She used to manage a Wendy’s, down in Dover, New Hampshire. “I’m a city girl,” she says. Concord, then New Jersey, then Dover, then here, which is the least like a city of all. She was at Wendy’s eight years. One night, smoke break, Peri got robbed. “2:38 am,” she says, wrapping herself in her arms. A man with a gun and zip ties, more men outside. Peri screamed. He took $3,000. Took somebody’s truck. Peri waited. “I could smoke,” she says. She’d held on to her cigarette. “I thought about my daughter.” One-years-old. Peri decided to move. That’s how she got here. “I miss the city,” she says. They caught the stick up man. “He said he did it for his family.” #photoessay 3 of 4, #nightshift #insomnia #citygirl #stickup #truestories #blackandwhiteportrait
    Peri likes her curves. When she visits Dunkin Donuts, she finds she needs to do a lot of stretching. Lean, arch, twist. She smiles and she flirts a little with Mike even though her boyfriend is out in the truck. I wanted to show a picture of her pretty like that, happy, but then this. It’s 1:15 and she’s in for her last cup of coffee. She’s night manager at the Taco Bell next door. She trades Taco Bell for Dunkin, two or three cups a night. Quesadillas for Mike, mashed potatoes for Kelly. She used to manage a Wendy’s, down in Dover, New Hampshire. “I’m a city girl,” she says. Concord, then New Jersey, then Dover, then here, which is the least like a city of all. She was at Wendy’s eight years. One night, smoke break, Peri got robbed. “2:38 am,” she says, wrapping herself in her arms. A man with a gun and zip ties, more men outside. Peri screamed. He took $3,000. Took somebody’s truck. Peri waited. “I could smoke,” she says. She’d held on to her cigarette. “I thought about my daughter.” One-years-old. Peri decided to move. That’s how she got here. “I miss the city,” she says. They caught the stick up man. “He said he did it for his family.” #photoessay 3 of 4, #nightshift #insomnia #citygirl #stickup #truestories #blackandwhiteportrait
  7. He's begun to get some attention for them:
  8. The wonderful Longreads.com asked for a selection of these #instaessays I've been making. Now it's published, along with a short essay -- plain ol', no pictures -- about words+pictures on @instagram. #nightshift #truestories #wordsandpictures
    The wonderful Longreads.com asked for a selection of these #instaessays I've been making. Now it's published, along with a short essay -- plain ol', no pictures -- about words+pictures on @instagram. #nightshift #truestories #wordsandpictures
  9. ...work. (That's the word you can't see in this screenshot. Thanks to @gq & @ericsull, my brilliant editor there, for featuring some of my @instagram essays along with this very kind write-up,)
    ...work. (That's the word you can't see in this screenshot. Thanks to @gq & @ericsull, my brilliant editor there, for featuring some of my @instagram essays along with this very kind write-up,)
  10. I mentioned this in my magazine-writing class at UGA today and my students compared it to Humans of New York.
  11. "I want to be a visual artist, but the art world seems to be much more about politics than it is about talent. You have to continually go to galleries and events, so that you can shake the right hands and meet influential people. Extroverted artists seem to have a big advantage."
(Mexico City, Mexico).
    "I want to be a visual artist, but the art world seems to be much more about politics than it is about talent. You have to continually go to galleries and events, so that you can shake the right hands and meet influential people. Extroverted artists seem to have a big advantage." (Mexico City, Mexico).
  12. "People waste too much energy taking things personally. That Facebook post is probably not about you. It was probably an accident that you weren't tagged in that picture. And the person you're dating is probably acting sad because that's how they respond to setbacks at work, not because of anything you did."
    "People waste too much energy taking things personally. That Facebook post is probably not about you. It was probably an accident that you weren't tagged in that picture. And the person you're dating is probably acting sad because that's how they respond to setbacks at work, not because of anything you did."
  13. "I knew you’d stop me one day."
    "I knew you’d stop me one day."
  14. The short-form conversation went on from there:
  15. He's referring to Joseph Mitchell:
  16. And specifically to his piece on Joe Gould:
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