RIP, la femina

It was possible, in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century England, to die of Bleach and of Blasted, of Cramp and of Itch, of Sciatica and of Lethargy. You could be carried off by Cut of the Stone, or King's Evil, or Planet-struck, or Rising of the Lights. You could succumb to Overjoy, which sounds like a decent way to go, or be Devoured by Lice, which does not. You could die of Stopping of the Stomach, or Head-Ach, or Chin-cough, or Teeth. You could die of HorseshoeHead, though don't ask me how. You could die of being a Lunatick. You could die of, basically, death: "Suddenly"; "Killed by several Accidents"; "Found dead in the Streets," You could die of Frighted, and of Grief.

(kathryn schulz, from "final forms," new yorker 04.07.14)


the wildlife center's founder poked her head in the treatment room. "we have an eighty-nine-year-old volunteer. all she can do is chop vegetables. do you have something for her?" "sure," one of the rehabbers replied. "she can quarter fresh blueberries for the songbirds." we wiped down and disinfected the table on which we'd been feeding seeds and puppy chow to fledgling pigeons and assembled a station for the volunteer, who planted her feet and prepped enough blueberries for every little bird in our flyway and the tri-state area.


the dirty dozen {mystery train,* round VI}

how times change! i worried in the fifth installment of this guess-who's-reading-what series that the male reader was going extinct; in 2014 he is all up in my trains, and he is spending a lot of time on personal care (male reader all up in my trains, i salute you). he's still wildly outnumbered by the commuters playing candy crush on their smartphones, of course, but he's there, he's earnest, and at some point he'll make it to the second page of the pale king (sweet, bearded thirteenth reader who just missed my count this time, i salute you as well).

as in previous posts, i've linked the title of each book to descriptions and cover images, mostly from powell's.** when a book and its reader are paired correctly, i'll update the lists; if you need hints, i'll compose haiku on request. who's the urban farmer? what do the people in headphones play as they read? where were the schoolchildren headed? is all of this facial hair here to stay? if amazon were a buffy-the-vampire-slayer-universe monster of the week, what sort of monster would it be? i await your responses!

{the readers}

01 F, late 20s, long, straight brown hair under bumpy knitted cream beanie, black knee-length puffer with fur-edged hood, double gold ring on left middle finger, thick solid gold ring on right middle finger, short black nails, black tights, high-heeled buckled brown booties, black prada bucket bag in lap, B train

02 M, late 30s, smooth tan knit skullcap pulled low on forehead, heavy olive green hooded puffer over popped black denim collar and paisley silk scarf, slim black trousers, black socks, cap-toe black oxfords, B train

03 M, late 20s, floppy dark hair, trimmed beard, black pea coat with copious pockets over green hoodie, thick brown scarf, blue topo designs backpack bristling with pens worn on both shoulders, cuffed raw denim jeans, brown moccasins, D train

04 F, 20s, wavy black pixie cut with purple ombre bangs, high silver ear cuffs, blue puffer with white-fur-trimmed hood and antarctica patch, rust scarf, black slacks, two-tone brown leather oxfords, raw leather messenger bag, pen in hand, F train

05 F, late teens, two-tone rectangular glasses, pink-streaked light brown hair in folded bun, flowered scarf, brown coat with white polka dots fading into pink roses, dark jeans, high-heeled brown leather boots, B train

06 M, early 30s, teal rectangular glasses, black mustache and goatee, back-of-the-head black neoprene earmuffs, green army jacket, dark jeans, white pumas, F train

07 M, 20s, shiny black oversized headphones, floppy brown bangs, short beard, blue and rust plaid shirt buttoned over black tee, open khaki jacket, slim grey jeans, orange and blue lace-up vans, padded black backpack between legs, B train

08 M, late 60s, short, wild white hair, rectangular rimless glasses worn low on nose, open black puffer coat, sunglasses tucked into neck of black tee, black messenger bag around neck, legs splayed, black basketball shoes, D train [july 1914: countdown to war, sean mcmeekin - jacob spies the urban soldier]

09 M, about 8, short ash brown hair with magnificent cowlick, yellow P.S. 10 tee, cargo pants, blue-, orange-, and yellow-shark-patterned backpack with pikachu keychain resting on feet, F train [flat stanley, jeff brown - i imagine valya's boys have a copy as well]

10 F, about 8, dark brown hair in braided ponytail with glittery silver rubber band, black pea coat and magenta cardigan over yellow P.S. 10 tee, light blue jeggings, black-and-grey paisley backpack between knees, F train [the field day from the black lagoon, mike thaler - per lisa, who's known me since we were both about that tall]

11 M, late 20s, long brown hair in high folded bun, mustache and narrow goatee, black collarless leather jacket zipped to chin, red chinos, white ankle socks, red slip-on vans, A train

12 M, late 20s, black headphones over pomaded hair, mustache waxed into curls, kelly green hooded down coat over tails-out striped oxford shirt, black slacks, maroon canvas sneakers, black backpack, holding stainless black antelope thermos, B train [ham on rye, charles bukowski - anon, greasespotting]

{the books}

ham on rye, charles bukowski
the administration of fear, paul virilio
delirious new york: a retroactive manifesto for manhattan, rem koolhaas
dune, frank herbert
flat stanley, jeff brown
flu: the story of the great influenza pandemic of 1918 and the search for the virus that caused it, gina kolata
sharp objects, gillian flynn
july 1914: countdown to war, sean mcmeekin
greenhorns: 50 dispatches from the new farmers' movement, zoe ida bradbury
salt sugar fat: how the food giants hooked us, michael moss
the field day from the black lagoon, mike thaler
the double helix, james d. watson

*tip of the hat, as always, to coverspy.

**we'll be making a pilgrimage to the pearl district mothership this july, and i am already weeks into hemming and hawing over which pair of underwear to throw at the rare books section.


AP: Analysis should do two things that are linked together. It should be about the recovery of appetite, and the need not to know yourself. And these two things—

PH: The need not to know yourself?

AP: The need not to know yourself. Symptoms are a form of self-knowledge. When you think, I'm agoraphobic, I'm a shy person, whatever it may be, these are forms of self-knowledge. What psychoanalysis, at its best, does is cure you of your self-knowledge. And of your wish to know yourself in that coherent, narrative way. You can only recover your appetite, and appetites, if you can allow yourself to be unknown to yourself. Because the point of knowing oneself is to contain one's anxieties about appetite. It's only worth knowing about the things that make one's life worth living, and whether there are in fact things that make it worth living.

(adam phillips to paul holdengräber, from "the art of nonfiction no. 7," the paris review spring 2014)



dave eggers / mowing down pedestrians
david lynch / climbing into a dumpster
helen oyeyemi / napping

*esb feels that using "artist" as a standalone term (without a qualifier such as "visual" or "fondant") for, say, writers and breakdancers as opposed to painters and sculptors is douchey; i think i'm alright with it in some contexts. we agree that it's better in any case when one says it with a phony french accent.


autumn loaf

every day, and more than ever.


birthdaycakesforanimals.tumblr.com, 2013-2014

how doth the little [sic] crocodile improve his shining tail?

the owner of one of the photos i'd posted on my tumblr contacted me today and asked me to remove her content from my site. i apologized and did, and then i fell down a copyright-law-commentary-lined hole in the internet; at the bottom of it i concluded that though i'd thought i was doing right by photographers and writers by citing and linking to my sources—i'd thought i was doing some good, even, by highlighting conservation efforts—that might not have been so. i just wanted to fête old crocodiles. so long, hairy, feathered, pungent, dead-rat-covered site; i was fond of you.

administrative update: when i deleted my tumblr account, the URL was released back into the wild. while it probably goes without saying that i'm not its new caretaker (edris muff the entertainer), let me be clear: i'm not edris muff the entertainer.


101 in 1001 {III}: 022 see at least 6 more of shakespeare's plays for the first time [completed 02.21.14]

bank of the thames, gulls, london

at some point in the '80s a community theatre company came to my elementary school and performed the pyramus-and-thisbe scene from a midsummer night's dream; i tingled both with the dead leg i always got from wearing a skirt on assembly day and having to sit sidesaddle on the carpeted multi-purpose-room floor and with the first stirrings of a serious and lifelong shakespeare jones. for the next decade i tended to scratch the itch with rental movies and questionable summer stock productions, but things got and stayed serious when i went away to college and discovered that no one would prevent me from registering for every shakespeare and shakespeare-adjacent class i could find. joe and i turned into a couple when our overseas program sent us to stratford for shakespeare's birthday and a few dozen royal shakespeare company productions; our friend jacob read sonnet 116 at our wedding. i'll fold in another playwright every now and again if i must—we roll out for shakespeare in the park twice every summer whether the second show is more shakespeare or, like, into the woods (eh) or hair (FAH), and we're turning into regulars at playwrights horizons—but i have weathered a lot of midsummers at this point, is what i'm saying. i wondered if six "new" plays could really be new to me.

happily, they can; having to chase down happenings like a matinee performance of the national theatre's fantastic post-financial-crash timon of athens when we were in london for a wedding and a crazily-edited international-collaboration version of antony and cleopatra set in colonial haiti* has been good for me. i now know, for example, that "timon" rhymes with "simon" and not "limón," and that london retirees love eating ice cream super-loudly more than i have ever loved anything. i have new favorite language on stoicism (from antony and cleopatra, act IV, scene 14)...
Nay, good my fellows, do not please sharp fate
To grace it with your sorrows: bid that welcome
Which comes to punish us, and we punish it
Seeming to bear it lightly. Take me up:
I have led you oft: carry me now, good friends,
And have my thanks for all.
...and i know never to cast a semi-mechanical water snake in a death scene (so distracting!). i have enjoyed myself immensely.

imaginary reading group discussion questions

01 how many of shakespeare's plays have you seen performed live?
02 the worst theatrical production you've ever seen?** the best?
03 would you be more likely to eat at a matinee performance than at an evening performance? (yes, i'm asking about eating in theaters again.)

*that one was just down the street at the public's snazzy new HQ on lafayette, but you get my drift.

**one of my shakespeare profs, the inimitable charles lyons, told a wonderful story about a production in which the beleaguered actor playing hamlet was unable to stab through gertrude's bedroom draperies in order to kill polonius and was finally encouraged by the audience to beat him to death.


conversations on the D train

1: so you stopped dating him because he played minecraft.
2: yeah.
1: did he play minecraft on the date?
2: no, he just...played minecraft.
1: so if i grow up i won't be able to date anyone.
2: well, you won't be able to date me.
1: i don't want to date you! you're -
2: careful!
1: - twenty-seven -
2: okay, that's alright.
1: - and i'm twelve. and on weekends you're amanda poupon.
3: amanda poupon?
2: it's my drag name.
1: do you throw mustard at people?


i'm half a subway commute, maybe fifteen minutes, into roger angell's "this old man" (a new yorker piece from a few weeks ago on life at 93). it's already the best thing i've read this year, what peter hay might have called "a charm against the jackals."
I’ve endured a few knocks but missed worse. I know how lucky I am, and secretly tap wood, greet the day, and grab a sneaky pleasure from my survival at long odds. The pains and insults are bearable. My conversation may be full of holes and pauses, but I’ve learned to dispatch a private Apache scout ahead into the next sentence, the one coming up, to see if there are any vacant names or verbs in the landscape up there. If he sends back a warning, I’ll pause meaningfully, duh, until something else comes to mind.

On the other hand, I’ve not yet forgotten Keats or Dick Cheney or what’s waiting for me at the dry cleaner’s today. As of right now, I’m not Christopher Hitchens or Tony Judt or Nora Ephron; I’m not dead and not yet mindless in a reliable upstate facility. Decline and disaster impend, but my thoughts don’t linger there. It shouldn’t surprise me if at this time next week I’m surrounded by family, gathered on short notice—they’re sad and shocked but also a little pissed off to be here—to help decide, after what’s happened, what’s to be done with me now. It must be this hovering knowledge, that two-ton safe swaying on a frayed rope just over my head, that makes everyone so glad to see me again. “How great you’re looking! Wow, tell me your secret!” they kindly cry when they happen upon me crossing the street or exiting a dinghy or departing an X-ray room, while the little balloon over their heads reads, “Holy shit—he’s still vertical!”

Let’s move on. A smooth fox terrier of ours named Harry was full of surprises. Wildly sociable, like others of his breed, he grew a fraction more reserved in maturity, and learned to cultivate a separate wagging acquaintance with each fresh visitor or old pal he came upon in the living room. If friends had come for dinner, he’d arise from an evening nap and leisurely tour the table in imitation of a three-star headwaiter: Everything O.K. here? Is there anything we could bring you? How was the crème brûlée? Terriers aren’t water dogs, but Harry enjoyed kayaking in Maine, sitting like a figurehead between my knees for an hour or more and scoping out the passing cormorant or yachtsman. Back in the city, he established his personality and dashing good looks on the neighborhood to the extent that a local artist executed a striking head-on portrait in pointillist oils, based on a snapshot of him she’d sneaked in Central Park. Harry took his leave (another surprise) on a June afternoon three years ago, a few days after his eighth birthday. Alone in our fifth-floor apartment, as was usual during working hours, he became unhinged by a noisy thunderstorm and went out a front window left a quarter open on a muggy day. I knew him well and could summon up his feelings during the brief moments of that leap: the welcome coolness of rain on his muzzle and shoulders, the excitement of air and space around his outstretched body.
i'm scaling back on crying at my desk on my lunch break and won't unpack why angell undoes me, but i do suggest clasping his essay to you before going underground.


anne patterson's 'graced with light' installation

i sing of northern california, where blanket coats lie dreaming in under-bed storage and the locals apologize for 60-degree evenings! i was inconsolable when what many called the prettiest snowstorm of the season hit new york city just as i made my first trip across the fog-swaddled new bay bridge (predictably, i prefer the clunky old bay bridge - this latest tech boom can suck it). nearly inconsolable, really, as it's hard to fixate on the weather when one's little sister is about to bring one's niece into the world. it's terrible to have to concede that a little sister has had sex, but it's wonderful to help throw a shower for her and her baby.

i sing of adolescence that echoes down through the decades! i turned into a snarling teenager on friday after my mother and i blew our last chance to gather shower supplies at the san francisco flower mart and i had to scavenge for arrangement components in the mylar wasteland that is sacramento-area grocery stores on valentine's day (when whole foods said they'd have "plenty of flowers," they meant they'd have "plenty of pre-arranged roses"). i knew even as i sniped that i was being cruel, but i couldn't hide how bitter i was that she didn't know what i needed. a few days later we wept in each other's arms on the curb at the airport, and i asked her to forgive me for moving so far away. it's been a week of strange demonstrations.

i sing of things we can't know. my sister's baby is tiny, and though her doctors' tests haven't revealed anything sinister, they can't reassure us that the little one will be alright in there until her due date next month; if today's sonogram indicates that she's slipped into the fifth percentile for weight, they will take her out this weekend. little one, you don't have to see the blooms i brought for your mother. i want them long dead by the time you come to us.

we climbed the hill to grace cathedral on thursday afternoon and walked beneath anne patterson's 'graced with light,' an installation of nearly 20 miles of ribbon that "carry our prayers, dreams and wishes skyward, and, in turn, grace streams down the ribbons to us." i watched rainbows creep across the indoor labyrinth and wondered what it would mean if i lit a candle in the chapel. i decided to fill my sister's house with flowers.


textile detail at OCMA

I'd practise translation so much that I could say many things, at least the sort of things that typically I'd say in my own language. Comprehension, however, was another thing altogether. After I'd presented my own carefully displayed sentence like a diamond necklace on black velvet, the other speaker, the French person, would throw his sentence at me like a handful of wet sand. It would sting so badly that I'd wince, and an instant later I would wonder what had just happened to me.


At Marie-Claude's dinners no one spoke in any predictable way. They were all intellectuals and writers who I learned had to show how ironic they could be, how droll, how quickly and easily they could anticipate every objection their interlocutors might make. The advancement of a simple idea or piece of information was not the object. The task was to show they were civilized beings who caught every allusion. They were capable of enclosing linguistic brackets inside conversational parentheses.

Moreover, they interrupted constantly which, it amazed me to learn, was not considered rude in Paris. Madame de Staël in her book about Germany had written that German was not a proper language for intelligent conversation since you had to wait till the end of the sentence to hear the verb and couldn't interrupt.

(edmund white, from "american vogue," granta 126)