An Occupy Writers Update: 13 Observations by Lemony Snicket & More

Author Daniel Handler, also known as Lemony Snicket, shared "13 Observations" about Occupy Wall Street today: "Money is like a child—rarely unaccompanied. When it disappears, look to those who were supposed to be keeping an eye on it while you were at the grocery store. You might also look for someone who has a lot of extra children sitting around, with long, suspicious explanations for how they got there." (Photo by Meredith Heuer)

I’ve had a few emails from readers asking for an update on the Occupy Writers project, which was unveiled on Friday.

The list, which was the brainstorm of writers Jeff Sharlet and Kiera Feldman, began with almost 200 signatures, but has burgeoned to over 800. News of the project has spread quickly. This piece, “The Zuccotti Literatti: Slumbering Prolixariat Awakes,” ran in the New York Observer on Friday, and the story was also picked up by the Associated Press. Traffic at Occupy Writers has been so heavy that the site’s server has experienced periodic crashes. (Organizers are ironing out these technical glitches as we speak.)

As I reported Friday, the original list included writers as diverse as Jonathan Lethem, Lemony Snicket, Mary Karr, Neil Gaiman, Salman Rushdie, Jane Brox, Barbara Ehrenreich, Sasha Frere-Jones, Jane Hirshfield, Honor Moore, Luc Sante, Meghan O’Rourke, Ann Patchett, Sam Lipsyte, Young Jean Lee, Lewis Hyde, Jennifer Egan, Bill McKibben, Sarah Jones, Ayelet Waldman, and Lynne Tillman.

Some new names were added over the weekend: Alice Walker, Margaret Atwood, Noam Chomsky, William Gibson, Maxine Kumin, Patrick McGrath, Rose Styron, Jayne Anne Phillips, Cathleen Schine, Gloria Steinem, and over 800 other novelists, non-fiction writers, poets, playwrights, and editors. The list is striking for its range.

As well as offering a petition (which reads, “We, the undersigned writers and all who will join us, support Occupy Wall Street and the Occupy Movement around the world”), Jeff, Kiera, and the other organizers of the site are now asking authors to write about their experiences and thoughts about the protests.

Today, Daniel Handler (a.k.a. Lemony Snicket), Francine Prose, and D.A. Powell added their voices to the conversation.

Here are “13 Observations Made by Lemony Snicket while Watching Occupy Wall Street from a Discreet Distance” as posted on the Occupy Writers site:

1. If you work hard, and become successful, it does not necessarily mean you are successful because you worked hard, just as if you are tall with long hair it doesn’t mean you would be a midget if you were bald.

2. “Fortune” is a word for having a lot of money and for having a lot of luck, but that does not mean the word has two definitions.

3. Money is like a child—rarely unaccompanied. When it disappears, look to those who were supposed to be keeping an eye on it while you were at the grocery store. You might also look for someone who has a lot of extra children sitting around, with long, suspicious explanations for how they got there.

4. People who say money doesn’t matter are like people who say cake doesn’t matter—it’s probably because they’ve already had a few slices.

5. There may not be a reason to share your cake. It is, after all, yours. You probably baked it yourself, in an oven of your own construction with ingredients you harvested yourself. It may be possible to keep your entire cake while explaining to any nearby hungry people just how reasonable you are.

6. Nobody wants to fall into a safety net, because it means the structure in which they’ve been living is in a state of collapse and they have no choice but to tumble downwards. However, it beats the alternative.

7. Someone feeling wronged is like someone feeling thirsty. Don’t tell them they aren’t. Sit with them and have a drink.

8. Don’t ask yourself if something is fair. Ask someone else—a stranger in the street, for example.

9. People gathering in the streets feeling wronged tend to be loud, as it is difficult to make oneself heard on the other side of an impressive edifice.

10. It is not always the job of people shouting outside impressive buildings to solve problems. It is often the job of the people inside, who have paper, pens, desks, and an impressive view.

11. Historically, a story about people inside impressive buildings ignoring or even taunting people standing outside shouting at them turns out to be a story with an unhappy ending.

12. If you have a large crowd shouting outside your building, there might not be room for a safety net if you’re the one tumbling down when it collapses.

13. 99 percent is a very large percentage. For instance, easily 99 percent of people want a roof over their heads, food on their tables, and the occasional slice of cake for dessert. Surely an arrangement can be made with that niggling 1 percent who disagree.


Also new today, poet D.A. Powell shared his poem called “The Great Unrest” on the Occupy Writers site and Francine Prose contributed a short piece detailing her own experience while visiting Lower Manhattan (partly excerpted here):

I was moved, first of all, by what everyone notices first: the variety of people involved, the range of ages, races, classes, colors, cultures. In other words, the 99 per cent. I saw conversations taking place between people and groups of people whom I’ve never seen talking with such openness and sympathy in all the years (which is to say, my entire life) I’ve spent in New York: grannies talking to goths, a biker with piercings and tattoos talking to a woman in a Hermes scarf…I kept thinking about how, since this movement started, I’ve been waking up in the morning without the dread (or at least without the total dread) with which I’ve woken every morning for so long, the vertiginous sense that we’re all falling off a cliff and no one (or almost no one) is saying anything about it.

More contributions will be posted on the Occupy Writers site on a regular basis. My sources tell me that we’ll be hearing from poet Anne Waldman, National Book Award winner Larry Heinemann, novelist Jonathan Lethem, journalist Joe Conason, and playwright Sarah Schulman very soon, so keep checking the site for new additions. I will also pass along updates as I receive them.

The entire Occupy movement has been full of surprises. Who could have guessed that one of the sanest pieces of writing about the protests would come from Lemony Snicket? I’d like to suggest that the author consider writing a new book for his “Unfortunate Events” series–the unfortunate, true story of how America’s financial meltdown took place. I’d be happy to recommend a few excellent candidates for Count Olaf.


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By | 2016-11-11T21:54:02+00:00 10.18.11|Events, Greatest Hits, Words|2 Comments

About the Author:

I’ve spent almost 20 years helping thousands of successful artists of all disciplines and working to make the arts more accessible. (One friend likes to call me “the arts enabler.”) From 1999-2012 I worked at The MacDowell Colony, the nation’s oldest artist colony, but I've also done time at an arts magazine, a library, an art museum, and a raptor rehabilitation center. In May of 2012 I left MacDowell to pursue writing, speaking, curating, and creative projects full-time. In 2015 I was named a “Top 100 Artist, Innovator, Creative” by Origin magazine. I've appeared as an arts and culture commentator on New Hampshire Public Radio, and in 2017 I was the recipient of the Wampler Art Professorship at James Madison University. I am the founder of the Gwarlingo Salon series, which connects artists like DJ Spooky with rural audiences in the Monadnock region. In 2017 my collaborator Corwin Levi and I will publish our first book, Mirror Mirrored, which combines Grimms’ fairy tales with vintage illustration remixes and the work of contemporary artists like Kiki Smith, Carrie Mae Weems, and Amy Cutler. I grew up in Atlanta, Georgia, but have called New Hampshire home since 1999. My studio is located in the historic, mill village of Harrisville. I miss fried okra, the early southern spring, and restaurants that stay open past 9:00 p.m., but rural life agrees with me. In New Hampshire I can see the stars, go kayaking or snowshoeing, watch bald eagles fish in the lake, and focus on my creative work in silence. I no longer have to worry about traffic jams; deer, wild turkeys, and frost heaves are the primary road hazards here. Although I live in the country, I’m fortunate enough to be part of a vibrant arts community that extends beyond this small New England village. The quiet days are punctuated by regular travel and frequent visits to museums, theaters, readings, arts events, lectures, and open studios around the country. (You can read my full CV here.) Thanks for visiting Gwarlingo. I hope you'll be in touch.


  1. Jeffrey Gross October 18, 2011 at 4:07 pm

    Before we shroud ourselves complacently in the certainty of our own virtue, we might perhaps consider some contrasting POVs:

    1) the whole 99% thing is a red herring

    2) there is no ONE cause of the crisis

    3) as a corollary to 2, the demonstrations, well meaning as they may be, float the idea that the crisis is monocausal, thus distracting us from OTHER causes, and thus from attempting to address THOSE causes. Yes, one problem can have multiple roots.

    4) blame is being doled out unfairly. Lloyd Blankfein makes a lot of money. But so do A-Rod and Tom Cruise – I don’t hear anyone complaining about them. And Blankfein gives a lot of dough to charity – do the other two?

    If my tone sounds acerbic, it’s because I’m tired of the partisan simplifications of both sides of the debate. I certainly understand the temptation to seek the comfort of a simple solution that puts all the blame on one party. And there’s plenty of blame to go around. But the left is all, “the private sector sucks, more government,” while the right says “government sucks, the private sector rocks.” Over-simplifications don’t suffice to address complicated problems – which is what we have.

    Jeffrey Gross

  2. Ryan Wilson October 18, 2011 at 8:30 pm

    Thanks for the update Michelle, a few of Mr. Handler’s points are classic. They seem simple, but once unpacked they fill the room, just as only a good writer for children knows how to do. I think protests should get kid’s book writers to create their signs.

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