If X Were Your Y

If X were your Y

For your reading list

If you’re prone to binge reading, close this tab right now.

Think you can handle it? Here it comes: Check out the Toast’s If X Were Your Y. This section caught my eye with If LaVar Burton and Yo-Yo Ma Were Your Dads by Nicole Chung and Karissa Chen. Then I read another piece. And another. You could say it’s my latest obsession.

The premise is as simple as one phrase: “If ___ were your ___.” Writers fill out that phrase, and then take it to its logical – and then far beyond logical – conclusions. With that Chung-Chen piece, the idea led to passages like:

If LeVar Burton and Yo-Yo Ma were your dads, when you were a kid, every time you had a question about anything (“How do you spell ‘loquacious’?” “Do sharks sleep with their eyes closed?”), LeVar Burton would tell you to take a look, it’s in a book. And when you complained about how annoying Dad was being, Yo-Yo Ma would play a slow, sad song on the cello, and they’d laugh at you (never unkindly) as you stomped away.

Logical enough. But did you know “if LeVar Burton and Yo-Yo Ma were your dads, your orchids would never die, no matter how much you overwatered them”? That one waves to logical as it passes, keeps going, and ends up three galaxies away. Another great one: If Justin Bieber Were My Terrible, Golden Son.

Why can’t I stop reading these? Maybe because the “if X Were Your Y” conceit mines our “if, then” daydreams. It slices open that type of wish you make every day: “If I press the snooze button one more time, I’ll be ready for the most productive day ever”; “If my boss didn’t micro-manage, I’d rocket to sales rep stardom.” Once you expose your puffed-up reverie, you see its insides. And those insides are full of delusional packing peanuts – filler, mostly air, dissolving when exposed to a few drops of reality.

No matter. That moment of imagining is worth it. Creative gold. Much-needed play. So take a look.

Writer pro tip: Use the “if X were your Y” format as a writing prompt


  • if Lance Armstrong were your triathlon coach
  • if your best friend were your CPA
  • if Malia Obama were your NGO’s intern
  • if that toddler making a ruckus at the restaurant were your city mayor
  • if your city mayor were your pot dealer
  • if your pot dealer were Hillary Clinton
  • if Hillary Clinton were your president


Write a few paragraphs or a one-page list of how that would be.


More reading

Other themed sections for reading and writing prompts:

It Happened to Me on XO Jane

Open Letters To People Or Entities Who Are Unlikely To Respond on McSweeneys


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