That Friend of Yours, You Know the One

If you already know how a conversation ends, you’re giving a lecture or watching a rerun.

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When we say that reading an issue of Pipe Wrench should be like being at a great dinner party, that’s a deliberate description, not a glib tagline. Conversation isn’t planned, or linear. We carry our own experiences and sets of knowledge and opinions and moods into every conversation, and all of that influences what we respond to and how. Although every issue of Pipe Wrench centers on one core story, we’re not a thematic magazine.

I will explain.

When I talk to folks we’d like to commission for conversation pieces, I often use a green sofa as an example. As in: maybe the longform story is about climate change. Maybe the author interviewed a researcher, and the researcher was sitting on a green sofa, and that description ended up in the piece. Maybe you grew up with a green sofa and have a distinct memory of sitting and watching The Little Mermaid with your older brother when he gave you a noogie that made you cry so hard you puked, and that’s why you’ve never been able to eat flounder. Maybe that green sofa detail really stuck in your head.

You could write a conversation piece about climate change or you could write one about your green sofa, and either is totally fine and will still get you paid and published. Because part of using “conversation” as our model is accepting that we don’t always know where conversations are going to go.

But also! Not everyone’s a writer. And that’s a feature, not a bug. Maybe what someone can contribute is an illustration of their childhood sofa, or a photo essay of green furniture. Maybe a young person who understands these things will curate a collection of TikToks about climate change that all include a green sofa. Maybe someone will make a claymation reimagining of the green sofa interview, or a scientist will talk about what components of standard sofa are contributing most directly to climate change, or a mathematical modeler will figure out how many tons of landfill space are filled each year with discarded green sofas.

And then maybe someone ends up on Pipe Wrench because their TikTok friend mentioned it, and they come for the videos but then read the core story and are inspired to nag their parents about installing solar panels on the roof. (In this hypothetical, all the TikTokers are teenagers because that helps me feel less obsolete.) Maybe their parents never bother, but they eventually move out and do and 20 years from now their kids sit on a green couch watching The Little Mermaid (“a retro classic!”) on a solar-powered transdermal ocular projection system, and also climate change has been solved.

Point is, you never know where shit’s gonna go, and that’s what makes things interesting. “Maybe” is possibility. Possibility is infinite.

Here’s where you come in: we commission all our conversation pieces. To commission then, we need to know who to reach out to. So we want to meet the most interesting people you know — people of all backgrounds, and not just writers. Reply to this email and tell us about them! Or send them to our website where there’s a handy form they can fill out. Help us invite more people to the party; it’ll be more fun for everyone.

The week in Pipe Wrench.

  • The core story for our inaugural issue moved into fact-checking, which means we got to update a field in a spreadsheet, which was very fulfilling in the same way crossing a completed task off a to-do list is fulfilling.
  • A draft of the core story went out to all the conversation piece contributors, who are now in the depths of reading and reflection.
  • We had our first group video call with folks from our editorial partner publications to talk about how we want to collaborate. A second call happens this very day! And now there’s a Slack workspace for ongoing mutual support.

And now, a personal cry for help.

If all the people you know are dullards and/or you are a forest hermit, there’s still something you can do for us: help Michelle. Her region of Italy went back into full lockdown yesterday, which means she has to carry a form attesting that the dog needs to take a shit to legally go for a walk. She can’t (1) sleep or (2) concentrate on anything, so she needs recommendations for thoughtless media. The criteria:

  • Episodic programming only; movies are too heavy a lift.
  • Not about a global pandemic, or people trapped in a room.

Bonus points for trashy historical fiction about people other than 16th century Tudors, or about the Albigensian crusade. Please reply; she’s running out of old seasons of ER.