i had a theory that no one would pay me to write things this summer—editors love their vacations—and that i should focus on pretending i'm bold enough to write and promote a book; to that end, i've been setting aside various instructive memoirs and conducting interviews with ben bird, who has nearly recovered from being stepped on at the hospital (and suffering a nasty broken shoulder) a couple of months ago. i can approximate his songs well enough to elicit responses—his full-fledged car-alarm routine, actually, which he hasn't been singing for anyone else—which is both exciting and a little terrifying (what if he's cursing? i might speak a bit of cardinal, but i can't hold substantive conversations yet). the staff assures me that it's his i haven't seen you in such a long time, friend song. i hope they're right.

i was wrong about no one paying me to write things! i mean, not dramatically wrong, but i file a piece or two each week. i'm getting better at interviewing doctors and researchers, though i'm still terrible at transcribing my conversations. a piece on ben (and a photo of us!) will be on newsstands this fall; a piece on thomas pynchon will be online in a week or two. the latter feels like a reported version of the writing i do here, which is very exciting; i'm hoping to ride that weird into more creative nonfiction.

i miss you.
Luke loves BHV for the music. All day long it plays excited, taped Christmas shopping announcements, backed with appropriate tunes. Some of the tunes we recognize—it plays the Looney Tunes theme, for instance—and some seem vaguely familiar but are hard to name, so we give our own names to them: "The Love Theme from BHV," "BHV's Victory at Sea," and the "BHV Christmas Anthem." His ears undimmed by fifteen years of the IRT, Luke can hear them all even over the din of appliance shopping, and when he notices a favorite, he rises from his stroller, a cobra in mittens, and sways solemnly back and forth.

(adam gopnik, from "the winter circus, christmas journal 1," in paris to the moon)


another film festival, another evening walk home in an official tee i probably should have washed at some point. i bartended at this one, sort of! i mean, i bar-backed for the guy in charge of the beer and wine. i took a social-darwinism liking to him, as i was otherwise the oldest person associated with the festival, at least as far as i could tell. when i asked him what he did when he wasn't bartending, he told me he'd retired in december, and that he'd lived in malaysia for 15 years before that. what did he do there? "i like to tell people i helped men have more sex," he said. "that...could mean almost anything, really," i said, busying myself with the pilsners. "i manufactured fine jewelry," said he. "think of the last time your husband bought you a really nice pair of earrings, or a necklace, or a ring. you had sex that night, right?" "i would never let my husband buy me jewelry," i replied.

it was a scrappy festival, a loose festival, a festival that felt a bit like zork; direction was minimal, but the work was there if i could find it.

You are at the top of an apparently four-story spiral staircase. To the west someone with a heavy Brooklyn accent mutters about shiraz. Your old friends, three dozen bottles of tepid pink lemonade, are at your feet.


You are carrying:
A comically large iPhone
A dusty white Tic Tac

>get ice cubes

There is no concession stand here.

and so on. when the lounge emptied out for screenings, the staffers danced for each other. i met a delightful 22-year-old who introduced me to his boyfriend and asked if he could friend me on facebook and ask me for writing advice. i thought about wearing my chandelier-print skirt for closing night and chickened out at the last minute. to be fair, it's too hot for tights.


conversations with doctor omnibus {love is like a bottle of gin}

in googling around for my psychiatrist's number—i see him twice a year and seem unable to keep his contact information handy—i found notes from other patients on his germophobia, stances on smoking and falling in love (both childish), curtness, and possible sociopathy. they endeared him to me, to be honest; we've been scowling at each other for something like eight years now. there's history.

LMO: remember the time you told me to volunteer at a hospital? i actually did—i mean, i volunteer at a hospital. a bird hospital.
doc: birds? birds are fantastic!
LMO: i know!

doc: people worry too much about their moods. it's like alcohol, you figure out the correct dose.

doc: moods are like skin. most people's are not perfect. it's an organ.

doc: moods are like shoes. they don't matter.

LMO: [halfway out the door] are your dogs...related to each other?
doc: i don't know. [pause] i give them all...mafia names. tony and dominic and vinnie. well, vinnie died.
LMO: i'm so sorry. [pause] i had a cat called charles bronson.
doc: there you go!


at ye olde charity bookstore cafe, V and i discussed the woman who came in last week and wanted to haggle down the prices of the two mildly shopworn donated paperbacks she wanted to purchase (which she did, by $1.50, after i conferred with an actual employee). she turned to her friend, who had just joined her at the counter, and smiled: "every little bit helps." she circulated in the store for a few more minutes and came back to ask what the building had been before we turned it into a bookstore. i didn't know; none of the other volunteers or the staffer with us did, either. "you should know that," she hissed. "that and books are what people want." V hadn't known about the haggling until this afternoon. "hausverbot! she is banned from entering this place."

when V left to rearrange a display i got to talking with P, an artist, as he replaced rare books in the glass cases near the front door. i made a somewhat disparaging comment about jeff koons and he mentioned that they shared an ex; "cicciolina, actually." he had been involved with her after koons was. "are you telling me you have koons cooties?" "yeah, i guess so." i asked about made in heaven; he said it was absolutely not weird that he'd seen it before they met. "it's just like anything someone did before you were dating them." i mean, visual artists, but i disagreed. "if jeff koons can make a living painting, why can't you?" she used to say to him. that sounded so cold to me that i misinterpreted P at first and thought he meant a living painting, like pageant of the masters (do you, southern california). no, a living painting, and P quoted her to koons when they met years later. they had a good laugh.


the dirty dozen {twelve of my favorite passages from martin millar's lonely werewolf girl}

01 "The flat remained exactly as the Guild provided it. He didn't rearrange the furniture, buy himself a new set of sheets, or hang a calendar on the wall. Such things were inconsequential to him. The only thing he cared about was hunting werewolves."

02 "It was the room she used for her private conferences and in homage to this there was a painting on the wall by Velasquez of two ambassadors. This was one of the finest pictures by Velasquez in private hands, and did not appear in any of the standard lists of the painter's works."*

03 "'Doesn't Apthalia the Grim spend her time waiting on quiet roads, trying to ambush lonely travellers?' asked Thrix.
'Not so much now,' replied Malveria. 'These days she's more interested in fashion. And since she had her warts removed and her nose done, and started buying her clothes from Dior, rather than simply robbing the corpses of her victims, she is not so bad looking, I admit.'"

04 "The Enchantress noticed Dominil's T-shirt under her open coat.
'What's the writing?'
'The band's set list.'
Thrix read it with interest.
'Stupid Werewolf Bitch? Evil White-Haired Slut?' She laughed. 'They wrote two songs about you.'
'Three,' said Dominil. 'They encore with Vile Werewolf Whore.'

05 "'You seem uncomfortable,' said Dominil. 'Is there some problem with the sorcery?'
'None at all,' replied Thrix. 'I'm uncomfortable because I'm in a bar in Camden with a lot of nineteen year old boys gawking at me.'"

06 "'This daughter will now attempt to see what label is on the clothes when the Princess disports her unpleasant figure at the Empress Asaratanti's party celebrating the one thousandth anniversary of her victory over the ice dwarves from the north.'"

07 "'I would so much like to kill that Princess. Do you know she had the effrontery to insinuate that I was generously proportioned? She accused me of hiding my excess weight! Which is absurd. Of course it can be done—I believe her mother the Empress Asaratanti has long concealed several hundred pounds of ugly fat in another dimension—but such tactics are not necessary for the extremely slim Queen Malveria. Last year my devotees added the title Slenderest of Queens to my many existing names, quite unbidden by myself.'"

08 "'Where's the Vermeer?'
'I lent it to the National Gallery.'
Markus was surprised.
'Just because I'm Mistress of the Werewolves doesn't mean I have no sense of duty to the wider public. It's the modern world dear, we all have to make a contribution.'"

09 "Moonglow was such a kind soul. It was one of the things Daniel liked about her. That and her pretty face, her long black hair and the really attractive nose stud."

10 "Kalix wrote a new entry in her journal. The Runaways are the Queens of Noise. Today I killed two hunters. Or yesterday."

11 "'Well, Malveria, these are clearly intended as dresswear only. You can't expect a fashion item to stand up to ritual sacrifice on the volcano. I've told you before about choosing the right footwear for the right occasion.'"

12 "Everyone of importance would be there, even the ladies from the court of the iron elementals, and they hardly ever went out to social events."

imaginary reading group discussion questions

01 if you were supernatural, would you share your secret masterpieces with the mortal public?
02 donald trump, hillary clinton, and bernie sanders: who's the vampire, who's the cyborg, and who's the alien?
03 what would you conceal in another dimension?
04 there are apparently two sequels to this scottish werewolf novel. should i read them?
05 on non-werewolf novels, how unlike graham greene's other stuff is travels with my aunt?

*secret masterpieces are one of my favorite supernatural fiction subthemes. our friend lesley has a salvador dalí portrait of her grandmother hanging in her hallway, which is why it's so easy to play "vampire, cyborg, or alien?" with her.


a favorite story from obit, vanessa gould's glorious documentary on the new york times's obituary team (which premiered at tribeca on sunday the 17th): like many news organizations, the times maintains an archive of advance obituaries for noteworthy men and women. as margalit fox, a member of the team, put it a few years ago, "As a general rule, when lives are long enough, accomplished enough and complex enough that we would just as soon not get caught short writing them on deadline, advances are assigned."). it's an offshoot of 'the morgue,' the times's almost unfathomably large collection of biographical data related to prospective obit subjects (it's composed almost entirely of yellowing clippings from, as i recall, 28 daily sources; to digitize the morgue [which lives in a flood-prone basement in midtown; even moving it to the times's new building is prohibitively expensive] would cost an army of flesh-and-blood scanners years of their lives). "If an advance has gone according to plan," fox says, "it has been researched, written, fact-checked, filed, edited and copy-edited, laid out on a page and sometimes even supplied with accompanying videos for online viewing, all well ahead of the game."

elinor smith, the 'flying flapper of freeport'—in 1928, she became the youngest licensed pilot in the world (at age 16; orville wright signed her license)—died at a nursing home in palo alto in march of 2010. a times staffer in the morgue shuffled through the card catalog that would tell him where to find the folder of her life's news clippings and discovered a red stamp indicating that an advance obituary had been filed for her—in the early '30s, when she was still a teenager, as what she did was considered so dangerous that she was expected to meet an exceedingly untimely end. (when elinor was 17, someone dared her to fly under all four bridges on the east river; according to the cradle of aviation museum on long island, she's still the only person ever to have done it.) elinor smith outlived her obituary by seven decades! (as you would imagine, she outlived her obituarist as well; as one of the times staffers mentioned in obit, one of the most contemporary news sources in the world regularly publishes articles about dead people written by other dead people.) she quit flying in her late twenties to focus on her family but took back to the air after her husband's death in 1959; in 2000, when she was 88, she became the oldest pilot to complete a simulated space shuttle landing (with an all-female crew). elinor motherfucking smith, ladies and gentlemen. may we all outlive our obituarists.


one of my film festivals, the one where i wonder if i can get away with wearing a black tee four times before washing it and barrel around the city arguing with twenty-year-olds about terrence malick, is almost over. this year i bowed out of the front-of-the-house crew and joined a smaller, lonelier team of rats; i've been clambering up into theater bowels all over town. it's a hurry-up-and-wait job, and i spent half of my first shift suspecting i'd made a terrible mistake; then i got to crawl up to the projectionist's booth at the beacon, a week to the day after liz phair and billy corgan sang me back to high school there. the humbler venues are somehow even better: the velvety dust! the ankle-mangling stairs! in a dark tech corridor in chelsea i turned from photographing a strip of old celluloid to see a senior staffer wrinkling her mouth at me. "it just looked really cool," i said. "it is a crumpled piece of film," she replied.

the other film festival, the one where i'm a moviegoer who exchanges an occasional secret wink with ushers and security staff, picks up this afternoon. i'm considering a late thriller tonight, meeting an old front-of-house friend tomorrow afternoon, and dragging joe to a collection of horror shorts tomorrow night. horror shorts! i tried them for the first time last year; the ebb and flow of brain chemicals is a bit like when joe handed me a nominally roasted scotch bonnet pepper in the dominican republic in march. "hey, you want to do something really stupid?" we each ate one whole and felt our eardrums vibrate for the next half hour. i had to sit down. a documentary saturday afternoon, and one last documentary, maybe two, on sunday.


on my first afternoon at the film festival, i arrived at an office bristling with reporters and photographers and silently cursed robert de niro for making asinine comments about vaccines 24 hours before i had to spend two weeks wearing a tee with his insignia. i flashed my badge and shouldered past security to a tiny elevator bank, where jane fonda and lily tomlin beamed at me like a three-dimensional ad for their netflix series. ah. really good hair. i stepped between them and into the elevator.

"i've seen your trailers all over soho today," said the kid at the drugstore who sold me a can of tile cleaner six hours later. "i took some acting classes a few years ago, myself." i told him the story of jane and lily and the elevator. "i think i'm more familiar with...lily...but not the other guy," he said. i gazed across an aisle of old easter candy. "jane fonda was..." (against vietnam?) "...barbarella?" he blinked. i tucked my receipt into my messenger bag and slunk away.


three years ago, matty was born; three years ago today, chuck died in my arms. happy birthday, my coconut cat. every day and more than ever, my shadow.


the dirty dozen {packed for a week in the dominican republic}

01 the queen of the night (alexander chee)
02 wolf hall (hilary mantel)
03 death of a red heroine (qiu xiaolong)
04 hand-eye supply safety glasses
05 a ratty old iron maiden fear of the dark tour tee
06 a pineapple corer
07 two running tanks
08 a tagless black bathing suit i found at a fashion giveaway at the office four years ago
09 stink
10 a charley harper puzzle
11 purple shampoo
12 pimentón


a personal essay i wrote about the bird hospital went live on a massive lifestyle website a few fridays ago. i'd pitched it as a service-y health piece with personal details, something to the effect of how i work with filthy animals and it's perfectly safe and actually quite delightful; the angle my editor and i settled on was more introspective than that, and i worried that i would sound self-involved. (what are blogs for, mmm?) i also worried that i might have misrepresented the center's feelings about rats by opening with a story about one; i love rats very nearly across the board, but they aren't especially welcome among the birds. (a healthy rat got into the songbird flyway last year and came dangerously close to biting bird ben, my beloved northern cardinal pal, prompting the—and here's some trivia—one and only oh fuck that rat that's ever escaped my lips.)

one of the center's interns came downstairs this afternoon: "we've got a rat." everyone cringed. "no, like a lady brought it in. it's in intake." wait, like a pet rat? or a lab rat? what did it look like? "brown." i crept up from the basement an hour later, and there she was in a little pet carrier on the floor, cage card and all. VIRGINIA (RAT). DEHYDRATED, DISORIENTED, WOUND ON ARM. i hadn't noticed R behind me, and i jumped when she spoke: "cute, isn't she?" a black-eyed cinnamon mound, just visible in the gloom. yes, she was. subway-colored, street-colored, like the rats people trap and poison and abhor. we don't usually take rats, R said, but we'd hold on to her for a rat expert who'd agreed to come for her in the evening. virginia! wound on arm! how lovely it would be if she made it to that cage because someone misunderstood me; how lovely it would be if she made it to that cage because someone understood me.


phyllis rose's the shelf (in which she reads her way through the LEQ-LES shelf at the new york society library, a subscription library on the upper east side i'm ashamed to have never visited) has been sizzling across my synapses for the last few weeks. her curiosity is a thing of beauty—i adore how she develops extratextual relationships with some of her authors, hunts down answers about cover art from a designer, and watches and rewatches footage from one author's funeral on youtube—and i thrill to the way she accepts responsibility for keeping literary culture alive (and urges other readers to do the same). i'd love to curl up and make myself inconspicuous in a wrinkle in her brain for a day. a smattering of favorite passages:
A friend of [Rose's daughter-in-law] attended high school where the drama teacher was a megalomaniac control freak. Although everyone knows that musicals for amateur performance should be chosen to provide the maximum number of easy singing roles, he chose to do Phantom of the Opera, which has relatively few parts and difficult music. The drama teacher himself played the Phantom, and the best singer in the school played Christine. All the other kids played candlesticks in the chandelier.


I remember taking a ship from Naples to Istanbul in the summer of 1974 and seeing a man reading Fear of Flying in Spanish, laughing out loud. I never saw such universal appeal again until a Samburu warrior in Kenya asked me to send him tapes of the Harry Potter movies.


A woman who was hired as an editorial assistant at a major publisher in New York in the early 1960s recalls how, on the first day of work, the twelve new assistants were separated into male and female groups, the men set to reading manuscripts, the women to typing. Another woman recalls learning that she had scored the highest on a chemistry final in college, asking if that meant she was getting an A, and being told that only one A could be given and a boy needed it more than she did. Others recall days when Yale, Harvard, Princeton, and Dartmouth didn't admit women, to say nothing of the Century Association in New York and Mory's in New Haven.* Someone else reminds us that in France, women could not vote until after World War II.**


I asked a friend who works for a small public library how they choose books to get rid of. Is there a formula? Who makes the decision, a person or a committee? She told me that there was a formula based on the recommendations of the industry-standard CREW model.

CREW stands for Continuous Review Evaluation and Weeding, and the manual uses "crew" as a transitive verb, so one can talk about a library "crewing" its collection. It means weeding but doesn't sound so harsh. At the heart of the CREW method is a formula consisting of three factors—the number of years since its last copyright, the number of years since the book was last checked out, and a collection of six negative factors given the acronym MUSTIE, to help decide if a book has outlived its usefulness. M. Is it Misleading or inaccurate? Is its information, as so quickly happens with medical and legal texts or travel books, for example, outdated?*** U. Is it Ugly? Worn beyond repair? S. Has it been Superseded by a new edition or a better account of the subject? T. Is it Trivial, of no discernible literary or scientific merit? I. Is it Irrelevant to the needs and interests of the community the library serves? E. Can it be found Elsewhere, through interlibrary loan or on the Web?


Since every system of elimination is based, no matter what they say, on circulation counts, the number of years that have elapsed since a book was last checked out, or the number of times it has been checked out overall, if you feel strongly about a book, you should go to every library you have access to and check out the volume you care about. Take it home awhile. Read it or don't. Keep it beside you as you read the same book on a Kindle, Nook, or iPad.**** Let it breathe the air of your home, and then take it back to the library, knowing you have fought the guerrilla war for physical books.


Traditionally, fiction assumes that an event like the death of a wife and child should be dramatized at a length appropriate to its gravity. [Alain-René Le Sage, author of Gil Blas] pivots from one state to another with no more than "But, alas!" and although Gil Blas tells us he couldn't eat, fell into a deep depression, and might have died if Scipio had not forced him to sustain himself, there is no plumbing the depths of his soul. We are left to imagine his anguish: "Let the reader conceive...the sorrow with which I was seized."

There is a certain wisdom to this approach in fiction, as in life. When a child dies, when a spouse dies, one feels the grief that one feels when a child dies or a spouse dies. There's no point in trying to describe it. How much does it hurt to have your arm pulled from the socket? It hurts as much as having your arm pulled from the socket.
rose writes that she enjoys hearing from readers of her books when they contact her to offer praise and is rather displeased when they pepper her with inquiries, which makes sense; i'd be pretty displeased if someone wrote me just to ask me to prep for their book club on their behalf. it has been brought to my attention that i tend to ask a lot of questions when i meet people, so it's probably not a good idea for me to reach out to rose—but i might not be able to resist a fan letter. the shelf has wound me up.

it's been a good year for reading thus far, so good that i have yet to make much progress in 2015's version of BOOKS I READ, IN ORDER OF HOW INTERESTED I WAS IN SLEEPING WITH THEM BENEATH MY PILLOW (STRONGEST CANDIDATES FIRST), AND HAIKU DISCUSSION. i forced my sister to take the first of elena ferrante's neapolitan novels back to california with her last week; i'd have insisted on all four, really, but it's impolite to inflict that much ballast on air travelers. if you, dear internets, have yet to read them and can endure the phase shift they could precipitate (i found myself reading for an extra three or four hours a night, which meant that for most of january i turned off my light and rose again in the morning with the people of hawaii rather than my neighbors in new york city), get on that.

i'll be turning in a piece on my third half marathon this friday. how did i get here?

*stanford has been thoroughly coed since it admitted its first students in 1891, by the by.

**a full timeline of women's suffrage is here. in 1919, belgium extended the right to vote in national elections to "the widows and mothers of servicemen killed in World War I, to the widows and mothers of citizens shot or killed by the enemy, and to female political prisoners who had been held by the enemy." other gals weren't welcome at the polls until 1948.

***similarly, ye olde charity bookstore cafe doesn't accept donations of textbooks, tech manuals, or travel guides.

****don't read it on a kindle. fuck amazon, now and always.