04.10.19

we were chatting about werner herzog's nosferatu the vampyre at ye olde charity bookstore today. "did you know V found him in her bed once?" B asked me. nosferatu?! "no, werner herzog." i made a beeline for V. "well, yes, but he wasn't there for me," she said. "i had an assistant back then, and i came home one day and just found them both in there. i shouted for them to get out, and she whispered to me, 'but V, it's werner herzog.' 'i don't give a shit who it is,' i said." she knows that i'm heading overseas tomorrow, and she asked me to report back on mayhem in the UK this weekend. i, in turn, made her promise to rule the store with an iron fist in my absence. "yes, the corrupt republic of V!" she exclaimed.

03.19.19

i don't tend to read during the day, unless i'm in transit or it's saturday or sunday. though the sort of work i do certainly benefits from my sucking up books, i tend to feel like anything i do during the week that isn't directly related to pitching or writing (or, you know, chores) is stealing from myself, o freelancing (one of the few reasons i miss office work). the reading i allow myself before bed, then, can get ridiculous: i try to set a cutoff of three or even four o’clock if something is really marvelous, but i don't always honor it, since i know i won't have more time for a whole day. joe doesn't usually wake up as i read, unless i'm being really theatrical about sitting up to pet the cat sleeping on his feet, but he's been stirring lately, mumbling that it's time for me to go to sleep. when i was little, i was under the impression that growing up meant never having to turn out the light.

so i'm reading this space opera, and while i'm not at all sure that it's any good, it is propulsive, and i knew at some point last week that i would only have a bit left when i turned in for the night (and that the next installment was still in transit from a remote library branch). that was unacceptable, and i hadn't bought anything from our local indie bookstore (which is only about a mile away) in a few weeks, so i laced up my running shoes and headed out. i called my dad en route, as is our tradition: he's a different kind of freelancer, and we've discovered that the best way to talk is to rattle each other's cages as we're in transit. when i reached the store i told him i'd phone him back in five minutes, and when the store didn't have book two and it looked like the strand would be open for another hour or so, i dialed again and headed uptown. success! all of the books, and i called him one more time as i turned south from union square. joe was nearly asleep when i got home, and i told him that dad and i had made a formal pact to reconvene at our family's little cabin in big bear for his seventieth birthday in a few years. my phone informed me that i'd walked eight miles, then illuminated my pages for a few hours as i read, sat up to scratch the cat, read. this adulthood is alright.

02.22.19

i've been reading advice for future corpses (and those who love them), a book on death and dying by a writer who's (among other things) a buddhist and a palliative-care nurse.
The lovely Japanese film After Life is a fable about where people go right after they die; it turns out to be a run-down hotel in the country. People arrive one by one, a little disoriented. Each person is given a room and told they can stay until they pick a single memory in which to live forever. Once they pick the memory, the staff re-creates it and the person settles in and disappears. Some people choose immediately and happily fade away. Another person spends days reviewing the jerky black-and-white films of his life, trying to pick one. A few people have no happy memories and just sit on their beds, lost. A few others find it impossible to decide: their lives are full. (One of the key parts of the plot is what happens to the ones who can't decide.)

When I showed After Life to a group of people, we did what every viewer will do, and thought about which memory we would choose. I was struck by the common thread, for me and for many people: it was the moment after. Not the adventure, the experience, the unfulfilled desire, but afterward. The moment at the end of a good day when you are going home and are a little sore and sweaty, you are getting hungry, your feet are dirty, and you are going home to rest.
i turned to joe in bed. "hey, can i tell you something?" he was almost asleep. "no, no! well...okay." "my book is talking about a movie where dead people have to choose the one memory they'll live in forever, and mine would be when we were standing in the rain in the garden in oxford." "oh. that's really nice. i thought you were going to tell me about a dead duck."

02.12.19

the dirty baker's dozen {excerpts from comments on jim lahey's no-knead bread recipe}


01 I used to enjoy this recipe. It's a decent recipe for beginners. But as all things Bittman, and Clark go, you sacrifice a great deal by being lazy and knowing nothing.

02 We decided the dog loved it even more than caribou!

03 Rocky Mountain Help!

04 450 degrees of what? Sorry for asking just does not seem to be clear to me.

05 Whoever said that one should place the bread on a tea towel for the second rise should be shot.

06 Help! I have attempted to make this bread recipe 3 times. I even bought a metal bowl and watched the video.

07 I am a beginner baker and I felt triumphal as my husband inhaled a whole loaf in one seating; and, he supposedly watches his figure. This recipe opened the joy of baking for me.

08 This might be very good bread, but you are making a completely different recipe. Not helpful for this project.

09 I personally love messing about with bread dough and handling it, but I recognize from my classes that many Americans just don't want to get involved with their food or "get messy."

10 Baby blankets from the hospital,the ones with pink and blue stripes, work great for bread.

11 The best bread is the bread that you like and if you like the bread that comes out of your bread machine that's the best bread for you and you have absolutely nothing to apologize for.

12 The last time I attempted to bake bread, my husband (now ex) threw it across the room and it made a dent in the plaster. Enough said. This recipe is nothing short of amazing. My dough did not look sticky after mixing, so I threw in about a 1/4 cup of Prosecco (I was drinking the dregs of it anyway...) and tossed the dough around.

13 Bought the book, My Bread, for several friends and have taught some including men at age 86 and 94 the technique for this simple but excellent bread. The 94-year-old German recently experimented with using soy milk for half or more of the liquid and he and I think it improves the bread.

01.20.19

23 years (more than three quarters of sylvia plath's life) after ted hughes published "the rag rug," i am making one of my own. i hacked up an old dress, a tee shirt joe has never worn, and a tee he conceded to me.
I remember
Those long, crimson-shadowed evenings of ours
More like the breath-held camera moments
Of reaching to touch a falcon that does not fly off.
As if I held your hand to stroke a falcon
With your hand.
did ted hughes ever handle raptors? i buried myself in my "plath and hughes" seminar at the end of college—my professor, diane middlebrook, would have written me the only letter of recommendation i ever earned—and i don't know. i feel confident that he didn't experience raptors the way i do at my wildlife hospital, but that is probably neither here nor there. i know that sylvia and ted did not have cats, and i imagine that she did not have to shut herself in her bathroom to weave (they love a strip of tee).
Later (not much later)
Your diary confided to whoever
What furies you bled into that rug.
As if you had dragged, like your own entrails,
Out through your navel.
a charity bookstore friend of mine, the dear fellow who found me my latest copy of nineteen eighty-four (a title i have been collecting for the last six months), has a new wildflower tattoo on his wrist; i complimented him and he told me it was a drawing of sylvia's. half an hour later, he asked me to help him display a ten-volume collection of shakespeare in german at the back of the store. i balanced the last five against my hips as he teetered on a ladder: "achtung, K, achtung!" "i don't know german," he said. "i am not as cultured as you are."
Played on by lightnings
You needed an earth. Maybe. Or needed
To pull something out of yourself -
Some tapeworm of the psyche. I was simply
Happy to watch your scissors being fearless
As you sliced your old wool dresses,
Your cast-offs, once so costly,
Into bandages.
a boyfriend who had a penchant for wearing my clothes gave me a copy of ariel. he inscribed it with a gregory corso quote: "standing on a street corner waiting for no one is power." the green brocade pants i wore in paris after another teenager spurned me were so much lovelier stretched across his hips than they ever were on mine.

my material is black, and the pale cotton butcher's twine i wound around the cardboard i found in my neighbors' recycling pile looks like the stitches in a kantha quilt. joe requested a shot of fluorescent color in my rug, so i'll snip a few strips out of the pink turban he wore at our friends' wedding in delhi this november. i do not think he thinks of raptors as i sway at my loom, but you would have to ask him about that.

01.02.19(ii)

a large box of books crushed my foot at ye olde charity bookstore just before christmas, which made me feel very sorry for myself (who stacks boxes like that?!) and left me with a bruise like a venusian moonrise. "you should wear closed-toe shoes," joe noted. i was wearing closed-toe shoes, is the thing, and anyway, how often does one end up under a bunch of books?

i was dismantling a ramshackle fort of donations in front of the store this afternoon and a six-foot stack of novels i'd piled on the counter tipped over on my head and shoulders as i squatted on the floor below. i felt terribly sorry for myself—my back felt lousy before the book avalanche, i'd underdressed for the weather, and my mean old psychiatrist had just yelled at me for showing vulnerability for the first time in our decade-long adversarial relationship—so i joined a couple of fellow volunteers for a tea and snack break in the cafe. one of them was reeling from the unexpected death of her dog, and she showed the rest of us images of the fancy pet cemetery where she and her family had buried him. i confessed that i had a couple of cats' cremains in my closet because i've never felt like i found the right place for them. "i have a person in my closet," my friend V said in a husky, german-accented sigh. "one of these days i'm going to die and someone will find that salt shaker and then there will be bruno on their food."

01.02.19

2019: THE YEAR IN REVIEW

I heated some Trader Joe's spinach-and-artichoke dip.
I read a book.
I cut some baby carrots in half.
I napped with the cat.
I took a bubble bath.
I finished the Wednesday crossword puzzle.

12.06.18

india has a transformation in mind for each of us. our dear traveling companion, A, underwent such gastrointestinal tribulation that she's back in the states with an ongoing inability to excrete in a manner of her choosing (overcorrection means that she now shits like a rabbit, poor thing). joe has either bronchitis or pneumonia—we're not quite sure, as the x-ray machine was down at the doctor's office—and is home with antibiotics, trying to shake the infamous grey air (a combination of car emissions, industrial pollution, and seasonal stubble burning after crops were harvested) we breathed for a week and change with antibiotics and recorded soccer matches. by comparison i got off easy: i've lost my talent for sleeping and become a reluctant lark. in delhi i clocked an average of three or four hours of rest at a stretch, and while i made up for some of that when we headed south to goa, the sunrise and i became and are still awkward new pals. there i greeted the day with squabbling parakeets and tentative monkeys; here the cats are sure it's already time for me to feed them. probably it is always time for me to feed them.

i should have been the one negotiating with bathrooms in a sari with henna-covered hands, since i have a childish fascination with tap water. our guide books made casual drinking sound like eating pomegranate seeds in the underworld, but listen, fancy hotels and restaurants quite literally had more to lose than i did if i went down with delhi belly: apocalyptic diarrhea is bad, but trip advisor is forever. if someone swears up and down that their water is filtered, by god, i'll believe them. I LOVE ICE.*

i probably should be with joe on the couch as well, since pneumonia is one of my lungs' favorite tricks (i had it twice while i worked for the ladymag). after a few hours on our delhi hotel's rooftop i felt an old, familiar knife in my chest, the one that settled there when i'd play soccer games in southern california in the bad old days of los angeles smog in the '80s.

no, sleep's the thing. i've had a lot of time for reading: i just started n.k. jemisin's dreamblood series, a weird cycle to slip into when one's ability to conk out is compromised.** this weekend i styled frantically for a couple of DIY stories i'm turning in this week; i run a few miles as the sun rises. i wandered into the bird hospital on my second day home, early for the first time in four years, to tire myself out with grunt work. i imagine all three of us will return to ourselves sooner or later? india should linger, i think, both psychically—a post for another sleepless morning—and physically. i held my hands just so as joe photographed them for my DIY shoot so that their fading henna, still visible two weeks after our friends' wedding, was out of sight. i wanted it to sneak in, really, but i am trying to work on my timing. stories needn't tumble over each other all at once.


*a guy sitting next to me on the flight from delhi down to goa rejected a bottle of water from our flight attendant because it was "too cold." i should have taken it.

**In the ancient city-state of Gujaareh, peace is the only law. Upon its rooftops and amongst the shadows of its cobbled streets wait the Gatherers – the keepers of this peace. Priests of the dream-goddess, their duty is to harvest the magic of the sleeping mind and use it to heal, soothe . . . and kill those judged corrupt.

11.04.18(ii)

when we decided to go to rome this fall, i dove into a search for local tattoo artists. i found a glorious one almost immediately, but it was clear that her style would make my back look funky: the blackwork i have is woodcut-inspired, ill-suited to share space with goddesses. i settled into following her on instagram and figured that would be it.

my beloved—yes, beloved—ladymag announced that it would be departing from print a few weeks ago. i sat with that news for a long time, and it hurt much more than i imagined it would; publishing has made me tremble for more than a decade now, but motherfucker, i thought the old girl would survive. i was its research chief for a long time, so i used to field the calls that had nowhere else to go: could you tell some more stories, the elderly readers said, i don't know where to go for stories anymore. my ladymag was no longer the one that published prestige fiction decades ago, but it remained, in These Modern Times, one that gave women a place to convene.

i stayed up for a long time and thought about that, and about a departing editor-in-chief's comment about how what she would carry with her from our office was the sound of women laughing. the sun started clawing its way over long island, and i wrote a note to the artist who was too intricate for me: hey, i have the good fortune to be in rome next week and, while i imagine you have no time, might you be able to tattoo a moth on my wrist? so many things happen to our bodies that we can't control, and fuck it, i wanted a beautiful insect on me. i wanted gorgeous vermin, i wanted to feel like myself. her first note came back the next morning, so i decoupaged a google image printout on my arm. three days later, just before we saw the magic flute for my birthday, she said she had time for me later in the week; a two-day job had taken her just one day.

joe dislikes tattoos—unfortunate, given that i had two when we met and have acquired several more in the decades we've been together—and told me, you don't have to go through with this if you don't want it. at that point we had been in rome for nearly a week, and a hummingbird hawk moth had visited our terrace's flowers for five nights. it's been three weeks, now, and the antennae peek out of my sleeve every day.

11.04.18

yesterday i swallowed the third of my four live typhoid caplets for our trip to india next weekend. i have developed a sort of affection for the weakened bacteria i've been consuming: it feels unfair, this bolstering of my immune system with little microbes that can't fight back. i am not interested in illness as a memento, though i have accepted scars and the detritus of fair-to-middling infections, but i find in the hour between ingestion and a meal that i have tender feelings for my monocellular fellow-travelers. we saw california-based friends for drinks and snacks this evening and i found myself wondering if the little guys were getting what they needed. do you want mashed potatoes? how about macaroni and cheese? joe warns me that my habit of drinking tap water as i please will not fly when we are in delhi and goa, and i know he is right. i hit the drugstore like a ton of bricks the other day, and i have blister packs to address any if not all modern conditions (election angst? let me dig, i feel that i have a scorching antibiotic for that).

i have spent more on fripperies for my dear friends' overseas wedding than i did for my own—to be fair, i bought my dress for the latter at the mall—and i am looking forward to being a semi-granny at the sangeet, and the mehndi, and the final ceremony.*

on infection, i have been surprisingly conservative about the tattoo i acquired in rome a few weeks ago. it is the first one i can see, you see, as it is on my wrist (the others are all on my spine), and i am experiencing the healing process in a heretofore-unplumbed way. he swelled a bit in the first few days and i sent a panicked note to my artist—i've abandoned my boy!—but i have settled into acceptance. the cilia on his antennae might not have survived the jazz club in rome, or the colosseum and the palatine hill, or the fact that i sleep with my left hand beneath my pillow and write with it as if someone on the other side of the world might need to feel my pen's pressure in order to keep going, but this old body might need to acknowledge wear and tear, and that my choices leave marks. jeremy dennis—not his name, not necessarily, but the names my artist and joe gave him—might be the product of his experiences.

i don't want to make too much of the fact that my latest tattoo artist was my first female tattoo artist, but i would be lying if i said the experience didn't feel different. no previous artist has asked me to be sure to have a proper meal before my appointment, or to bring something to drink while i was being tattooed. we spoke for our three hours together about freelancing, and companion animals, and bodily autonomy, and i think we meant it when we hugged as we parted.


*i apparently kept reaching for golden girls-esque wedding outfits. THAT IS FOR AN AUNTIE, the shopkeeper said. YOU ARE YOUNG. i disagree, but i bought a crop top, god help me.

10.16.18 {in italy}

roma! it's just before seven, and the lip of morning light beneath the cloud cover is a shade that is only for sophia loren. i sealed my fate when i said we were not traveling in the direction of my proclivities, sort of: no matter when i turn in, i pop up at, say, four to consume weird quantities of gorgonzola (Night Cheese has become a thing, we've expanded the lyrics). we aren't due at the vatican until half past two, but i hoped i might catch an early dawn glimpse of the hawk moth that visits our rooftop garden at dusk each evening. his proboscis is so impressive and his darting-and-hovering so precise that i was sure we were seeing the world's tiniest hummingbird, but he is merely a comely example of convergent evolution, it seems. the internet tells me that on d-day in normandy, the armada saw a swarm of his fellows flying across the english channel, and they're considered a good omen. he certainly augured a glorious night of opera on saturday. opera! the things we begin to love as our beards grow long.

we visited the cats that live in the ruins where caesar was murdered across the river. they are trapped and spayed or neutered when they first materialize among the columns, and the littler and more adoptable ones are brought inside to meet potential guardians (not americans or canadians, alas, for the sanctuary staff are wary of countries with a lot of kill shelters). many others are free to roam the archaeological site and bask like the turkish cats i met in ephesus a few years ago. an australian reporter on that press trip with me would scream in terror each time a calico arranged herself beneath our cafe table to make eyes at her kebab. still no sign of the black cat our host mentioned, one who lives with neighbors and likes to visit the folks at our place. ("he has a collar and is friendly. do not hurt him?") i have night cheese for you, black cat! so much night cheese to give!

gulls and those devastatingly handsome eurasian magpies one meets in cities like this one perch on the television aerials that sprout like century plants and queen anne's lace from the rooftops around st. peter's basilica, and they seem to have a long-standing beef with the church bells next door. it's understandable, really: the bells don't seem to announce anything in particular, so their calls don't sound especially clever. i think of the "flirtatious starling" mozart met in vienna a few centuries ago that sang him a variation on the piano concerto he had been whistling (no. 17 in g major)—one he preferred to his own version, they say, and he held a funeral for it when it died three years later (he did not arrange a funeral for his father). a tame starling lived at my bird hospital for a few months before relocating to a sanctuary upstate and developed the charming/unnerving habit of trying to clean our teeth as we tried to clean his recovery room. it could be that i will never develop a winter cold again, as i suppose i swapped spit with every bird lover on the upper west over those months, or i might start eating meal worms? insects are the future of protein, they say, but i tend to give meal worms to chickens. when chapulines turn up in oaxacan food i make joe eat them. he will fare better in the end times than i will, i suspect, though i am better at making myself understood in languages i don't speak. i have chapulines for you, ragtag bands of survivors! so many chapulines to give!

10.08.18

if i fly to try and settle in a time zone appropriate to my waking and sleeping hours, i am flying in the wrong direction, again: we leave on thursday for a little over a week in rome, and i watched the sun break over the east river yesterday morning before turning in. the missus's city office is closed for the holiday, as it always is, and he is asleep; i am hustling through the last assignments i need to file before heading to the airport, as i always do. the rule is that i can take breaks if i like, but i have to run. i have been doing a lot of running, in front of the news, which has been unpleasant.

on friday i took a train up to the local magic shop to buy materials for an open-source trump-binding spell. the woman at the counter explained that tarot cards were like a phone book, with numbers for The Other Side, rather than active components. two glossy black cats were draped on the glass in front of her, and i stroked them as i chose between decks. "look at those poor cats, they are so overstimulated and stressed out," an older woman whispered to her companion. "i know, i know." he murmured.