02.24.15

last week's axes were awfully obvious, if one can blog about emotional and cultural geometry (does one blog about anything else?). down on the fifth floor of our apartment building, a pair of our elderly neighbors were sitting shiva for her late mother. my morning training runs intersected with their visitors' arrivals and departures—we are all on the same secret schedule—and i'd share my vertical trips with a half-dozen mourners. on the way down in the elevator i would wish them well (i'm sorry), and on the way back up i'd squish myself into a corner and try to downplay my sweatiness (i'm sorry).

horizontally i crunched out to the bird hospital and the bookstore along grand street, a dragon's gullet of scarlet and gold awaiting the beginning of the year of the sheep. a flyer in the laundry room invited us to the annual lion dance at the restaurant down the block. the dancers wear strips of lights in their pants; it's outstanding. back and forth, trailing glitter and feeling the rustle of my nostrils freezing together.

i came up the stairs and across the bird hospital yesterday to help splint and re-bandage a crow. he's in terrible shape, with tendon-baring gashes across his legs and a grisly keel wound, and he's developed a respiratory infection. i realized when i entered the treatment room that i'd been called to replace J, one of my favorite staffers; her eyes above her surgical mask were fixed on nothing, up and away. in birds we call that stargazing, a symptom of anything from an awkward position in the egg to poisoning or a virus. for J it was the news that her beloved crow will probably be euthanized today. "he'll bite you," she murmured as she left the room, and he did, halfheartedly at first and then so hard that i forgot where i was for a second (who is stronger than death?). three serrated caws as i returned him to his carrier when we were finished. i went back downstairs.

02.18.15

vol de nuit

[Sarah Sophie] Flicker helps run a women's-rights campaign called Lady Parts Justice, "to keep women up to date on what's happening with their uteruses," and she sees the [Elizabeth] Warren movement "as a bit of political theatre." "I'm just interested in moving Hillary [Clinton] to the left," she said. But I'm Warren-curious—which I guess is like bi-curious."

That's what I am!" Kathleen Hanna, a musician, said, holding a veggie burger. (Also on offer: "Butterscotch Frozen Thing with Sour Apricot Sorbet.") In the nineties, Hanna helped to launch the riot-grrl movement; one of her songs features antiwar speeches by Al Sharpton and Susan Sarandon over a dance beat.

[...]

[Beastie Boy Adam] Horovitz was standing with Hanna—they're married—who says that she likes Warren, but that her primary concern is a Democratic victory in 2016. "I just want to make sure some weird fucking Nader thing doesn't happen." Horovitz looked down. "I might have been responsible for that one, too," he muttered. In 2000, the year Nader siphoned votes from Al Gore, Horovitz contributed a song to a Nader campaign compilation. "I mean, he had his moments!" Horovitz said defensively. "He just wouldn't go away." He shrugged and took another bite of the Frozen Thing.

(reeves wiedeman, from "the artist vote," new yorker 02.16.15)
nader had no moments.

01.24.15

grape syrup, cappadocia

FOOD. Sylvia [Plath] was earthy and welded to the sensual world. Toasted cream cheese and olive sandwiches. Late-summer feasts of steak, swiss chard, corn on the cob, and peaches with cream poured over them. Fanta. Sugar Babies.

GAMES. Go Fish.

HOT DOG. On Friday the 13, 1945, Sylvia had a nightmare that she was being chased by a marshmallow and a hot dog—which she illustrated in the margin of her diary the following day.

(elizabeth winder, from pain, parties, work: sylvia plath in new york, summer 1953)

01.19.15

THINGS YOUR CLOTHES SAY ABOUT YOU

You’re like the sister they never had.
Your too-animated conversation with Count Vronsky in Princess Betsy’s drawing room was peculiar and improper.
They’d never have expected you to have kids, but now that it’s happening it makes a crazy kind of sense.
Your husband made more than 5,000 edits to a pre-publication draft of Frankenstein.
You quietly removed the charitable-donation option from your online registry a month before your wedding.
You don’t reciprocate Bobby Kennedy’s feelings, though you care deeply for and maintain a sexual relationship with him; you imagine yourself as a future First Lady.
That summer of fancy sleepaway camp was just cover for your nose job.
You were able to get a doctorate in quantum chemistry in Berlin because you accommodated the East German system through active participation in the Free German Youth.
You’d be pretty if you stopped wearing so much makeup.
You and Anthony Babington are conspiring to assassinate Queen Elizabeth on your behalf and reestablish Catholicism in England.
You remind them of themselves at your age.
You abduct local peasant girls and perform unspeakable acts on them in your castle’s secret torture chamber because you believe that bathing in the blood of human virgins will keep you beautiful and gloriously strong.
You put out for college guys.

01.14.15

conversations with doctor omnibus* {better living through chemistry edition}

doc: anything new?
LMO: well, i got laid off!
doc: that's a good thing.
LMO: i mean, i think so.

[...]

doc: why wouldn't i be comfortable with xanax?
LMO: i have friends whose doctors are uncomfortable with prescribing it.
doc: are you comfortable with vulgarity?
LMO: sure.
doc: fuck 'em.

*he might be eighty now.

01.07.15

i spent the afternoon at ye olde charity bookstore cafe brodarting donated rare books—that is, sandwiching their dust jackets between trimmed clear plastic and acid-free paper as libraries do. it's even more satisfying than heat sealing, a process my borders coworkers and i loved so much c. 1999 that we shrink-wrapped a guy's head (he was into it; summer jobs, i salute you). i brodart thanks to V, a beautiful german arts journalist who walked me through the craftiness on one of our shifts in december. she's waiting to hear if she's been selected as a finalist in a memoir competition; her manuscript, now in the semifinals, is about her time as the owner of a cinema in the british virgin islands. as we worked our way down our stack today, i showed her a fancy second edition of gabriel garcía márquez stories. V went to mexico to interview him in the '80s, she said; "it was right after he won the nobel prize and he decided he wasn't in the mood to be interviewed after all. at the last minute, he said fine, he would speak to me, but only in french." not a problem; V speaks french. afterward he drew a flower for her in the copy of one hundred years of solitude she'd brought along: una flor por V. an hour later i started working on a joyce carol oates book with an outlandishly foxy, '60s-era ponytailed author photo: "joyce! who knew?" V interviewed her, too, at home beside her giant white piano. V worked for an art and architecture magazine and would spend three weeks at the chateau marmont developing story ideas and collecting polaroids of los angeles for her editors. she has yet to see juergen teller's photo of joan didion in giant céline sunglasses. "my friends and i worry about her when things like superstorm sandy happen," i said. "what if she just blew away?"

01.05.15

2015: THE YEAR IN REVIEW

i ate pizza at a chinese restaurant.
i finished the girls from corona del mar.
i poured fireball into a dunkin’ donuts coffee and drank it in front of the literature/needlecraft holiday window at bergdorf's.
i told my sister not to have a baby because the apocalypse is coming and it’s our fault.
my sister told me “the terrible ‘blank space’ song that’s always on at fine fare” is, in fact, taylor swift.
i ran 3.1 miles.
i bought 6 pouches of cat food.
i sneezed 8 times in under a minute.
i called my mom.

01.04.15

50 BOOKS I READ IN 2014, IN ORDER OF HOW INTERESTED I WAS IN SLEEPING WITH THEM BENEATH MY PILLOW (STRONGEST CANDIDATES FIRST), AND HAIKU DISCUSSION

01 little failure (gary shteyngart). this memoir is boss: / it's funny, bitter, tender, / and features short pants.
02 mr. fox (helen oyeyemi). demure helen o. / has magnificent monsters / at her fingertips.
03 all creatures great and small (james herriot). i cried on the train / as i read this. why wasn't / i a vet, again?
04 the thin man (dashiell hammett). glorious old sots, / nick and nora. their new york's / got its own logic.
05 five came back: a story of hollywood and the second world war (mark harris). directors' wartime / experiences traced through / their careers. brilliant.
06 white is for witching (helen oyeyemi.) helen has nightmares / as she writes her books. that makes / a lot of sense here.
07 updike (adam begley). biographies this / good are dangerous: i went / on to read couples.
08 daughter of smoke & bone [daughter of smoke & bone trilogy #1] (laini taylor). art student collects / teeth for her foster demons. / YA at its best.
09 days of blood & starlight [daughter of smoke & bone trilogy #2] (laini taylor). taylor doubles down / on smoke & bone's heartbreak; i'll / save this for nieces.
10 dreams of gods & monsters [daughter of smoke & bone trilogy #3] (laini taylor). the romance...is, but / the rest of this finale / doesn't disappoint.
11 gone to new york (ian frazier). jamaica kincaid / loves frazier more than i do, / if that's possible.
12 the fault in our stars (john green). fine, i sniffle when / i see an "ok? ok." / shirt on the subway.
13 the secret history (donna tartt). this is why she's loved! / clean, confident, well-structured / fucked-up privilege.
14 the magician's land (lev grossman). atoned for book 2's / sins, sort of; quentin still bugs, / but this arc ends well.
15 on such a full sea (chang-rae lee). sly dystopian / fic narrated by a "we" / closer than most "i"s.
16 the art of fielding (chad harbach). an un-baseball book / lyricizes corpse-dumping. / i was deeply moved.
17 astonish me (maggie shipstead). black swan + freedom? / a strong, well-researched saga.
/ not canadian.
18 cooking with fernet branca (james hamilton-paterson). a goddamn brilliant / comedy of manners: take / note, ye food writers.
19 new jersey (betsy andrews). a book-length poem / of the turnpike, the city, / and their detritus.
20 NW (zadie smith). white teeth with veneers. / still waiting for zadie smith / to wow me again.
21 annihilation [southern reach trilogy #1] (jeff vandermeer). if lovecraft's your jam, / this trilogy's a great read / (NOT AT BEDTIME, CHRIST).
22 authority [southern reach trilogy #2] (jeff vandermeer). a mysterious / zone eats research teams, psyches, / and bureaucracies.
23 acceptance [southern reach trilogy #3] (jeff vandermeer). little is explained; / much is made permanently / creepy. no mean feat.
24 couples (john updike). updike terrifies / '60s america with / tales of his sex life.
25 california (edan lepucki). post-apocalypse, / siblings and spouses dirty / each other with fear.
26 the changeling (kenzaburo oe). i was with oe / 'til weird cannonball torture, / which lost me, sadly.
27 the goldfinch (donna tartt). this is highbrow doge: / much dickens...so overwrite... / drug reference; wow
28 all things bright and beautiful formulaic, but / a formula i'll read all / day. like a warm bath.
29 the dinner (herman koch). fancy dinners are / always rotten at the core, / right? i trust the cheap stuff.
30 adiós hemingway (leonardo padura fuentes). atmospheric noir / (hemingway in cuba!) with / an older man's pulse.
31 MFA vs. NYC (chad harbach ed.) not sure how it is / that i've no dog in that fight, / but here i, L, am.
32 happy all the time (laurie colwin). generous and twee / thirty years before twee was; / a calm, safe new york.
33 tender at the bone (ruth reichl). so much nicer than / RR's novel! personal / stuff i'll read all day.
34 comfort me with apples (ruth reichl). ruth r. the daughter / is as honest as ruth r. / the critic. lovely.
35 my misspent youth (meghan daum). she's great, but her more / recent essays pack more punch / for me. here's to...time?
36 friendship (emily gould). i prefer essays / from emily, but i liked / this, and wish it well.
37 the last days of california (mary miller). these teens are vivid, / this apocalypse well-drawn. / a good road trip book.
38 all things wise and wonderful (james herriot). i wish he'd written / more about his war service, / but i forgive him.
39 pretty in ink (lindsey palmer). former colleagues write / the most disturbing accounts / of our world! deep sigh. 40 what i talk about when i talk about running (haruki murakami). i started writing / an essay about running / that should surpass this.
41 the o'briens (peter behrens). CANADA SAGA / ALERT: trees will fall, hearts freeze. / reader lids will droop.
42 why have kids? (jessica valenti). when i pitch you my / tepid womb-related book, / sock me in the spleen.
43 delicious! (ruth reichl). the tale's pivotal / cake recipe is...not great, / which weirded me out.
44 a dangerous liaison: one woman's journey into a world of aristocracy, depravity, and obsessive love (sheri de borchgrave). most fascinating / memoirist i've crossed greenland / beside, for damn sure.
45 the bear went over the mountain (william kotzwinkle). this satire's targets / (publishing et al.) deserve / a better takedown.
46 joss whedon: the biography (amy pascale). a coronation / so bald i turned on whedon / for balance's sake.
47 subtle bodies (norman rush). middle-aged coitus / in smug, nightmarish detail. / what an awful book.
48 the book of life (deborah harkness). worst use of nazis / since frankenstein's army. oof, / deborah harkness. oof.
49 medium raw (anthony bourdain). bourdain's posturing / remains wheezy, unwinning, / and super-lazy.
50 half bad (sally green). YA's getting weird; / this race-y tale of witches / is somehow tone-deaf.

(previous list here.)


imaginary reading group discussion questions

01 what was the best book you read last year?
02 would you be willing to help exhume a corpse, if circumstances called for it?
03 could you recommend a sweeping canadian saga that won't bore the crap out of me?
04 do you enjoy nonfiction about whether one should or shouldn't have children?
05 if you were to write a post-apocalyptic novel, what would cause the apocalypse in your story?
06 who's the most interesting stranger you've ever sat beside on a plane?

12.29.14

we played "bowl of nouns," as we do every year, when we had family over for post-christmas christmas on saturday night. my dad chose a slip of paper from the bowl, read the word on it, clutched his chest, and slumped to the floor. "dead, dead!" his team shouted, an adjective that doesn't even begin with P, the first letter for that round's words. it turned out that he'd read PROP upside down, which looked for all the world like DEAD in my handwriting, so we gave him the point (i wanted to give him bonus points, really). he and my stepfamily stayed for a second round before retiring to the upper east side, and the seven of us who remained arranged ourselves around the apartment: my sister, brother-in-law, and baby niece in the bedroom, my other sister and brother-in-law on an air mattress in the hall, me and the cat on a busted air mattress in the living room, joe and the other cat on the sofa. the idea of a hotel room to supplement our square footage had been suggested many times, but my sisters and i scorned the idea, as we get just a single night together each year. you guys can get a brotel room if you want. it feels like we spent half our childhood in sleeping bags on the family room floor, in front of the fireplace. why did the houses in our suburban-southern-california development have fireplaces? off-white stucco walls, curved terra cotta roof tiles that'd grind together like teeth when i climbed across them, fireplaces called into service as often as the national guard.

it's been a year of letting things in, of new and exotic arrangements, of trying to do what twelve-year-old me would've done in similar circumstances. the single, humble press trip i took in 2013 begat trips to hawaii, iceland, and turkey; my job wandered off from beneath me, and i became a freelancer; i took on weekly shifts at a wildlife rehab center and a charity bookstore cafe; i started training for a half marathon. my sister had a baby. joe's job mutated into something unrecognizable, and he found a new one.

a shard of anger will turn up in my foot when i hear news of my old magazine, though i left them with the widest smile that would adhere to my face. a decade of my life i gave them! a former freelancer of mine announced to me and the rest of her facebook friends that she'd accepted the new version of my job. Like, i clicked. my sister is designing a monogram for the pro writing site my dearest friend built me; my old mentor is publishing my first piece in the new year, an essay on calling my mother every day for a month. PROP or DEAD? hand me a pillow case and a couch cushion. let's do this.

12.12.14

a mattress, the missus

CONSUMED: A PARTIAL LIST.

the bear went over the mountain (book). william kotzwinkle, national magazine award winner and author of the novelization of E.T., was recommended to me by a lovely british writer and frank zappa enthusiast i met in turkey. i wish i could tell that writer (who followed up via twitter to see if i read the book as promised) i found kotzwinkle as witty as he does, but he...reminds me of thomas pynchon at his slapstickiest? the bear went over the mountain is intentionally ridiculous—it's about a bear who finds fame and fortune in the '90s publishing world posing as the author of a novel he finds in a suitcase under a tree in maine—but the sometimes-inspired absurdity is studded with weird little laddish details i found alienating. is it fair to wonder if a bear posing as a bestselling human author would fixate on women in thongs? in semi-related news, i will probably be alone in hating paul thomas anderson's film version of pynchon's inherent vice.

hammam al ándalus madrid (public baths). the beauty editors on my turkey trip came back raving about the scrubbings they'd received at a hammam near the hippodrome in istanbul; i'd opted to visit sultan ahmed's mosque instead, so i could but imagine what mysterious cleansing rituals went down in the baths beneath the city. madrid's restored arabic baths were in a cistern just a few blocks from our little apartment on the plaza mayor; alors, they seemed like the perfect prelude to our mid-week football match. i had the kessa, a scrub on heated stone with a textured cloth and foam from red grape soap, and joe had a massage; for the rest of our ninety minutes under the street, i swam from room to room glowering and pretending to be a man-eating carp. there were maybe...ten other people in the facility with us for the session? the mint tea flowed freely, the waters smelled fantastic, and i hardly had to get naked at all. this bath ritual stuff is A-OK.

pocatello (play). years after MDF pointed me at the whale, the missus and i are still samuel d. hunter superfans. we saw the few this spring, and i finally caved and got us kiddie-pool memberships to playwrights horizons so that we could book fancy early seats for pocatello this fall. i'm glad we did; t.r. knight is wonderful as eddie, the soft-spoken manager of a dying olive garden in the middle of nowhere. the story that surrounds him isn't especially exciting, but i'm not sure that it needs to be; like the whale, this is a play with a sinkhole of anguish at its center. i'm man enough to admit that i felt nearly as much for the crappy old olive garden as i did for eddie; that's where we went for Special Occasions when i was a kid, and my heart broke a little every time someone at college sneered at it (we had dinner there when i got accepted to college, assholes).

the secret history (book). a donna tartt book i can sort of get behind, internets! the secret history's formal whydunnit structure (the main characters commit murder in the prologue, and the majority of the book flashes back to what led them to it; tartt likens her plot to a classical tragedy in which the details, not the well-known denouement, provide the tension) suits the material and the narrator, though i'd have liked to hear from him at a more advanced age (he's a twenty-eight-year-old, roughly tartt's age when she published the book, remembering his college years). like the goldfinch, the secret history is a page-turner with weird flaws (would a narrator who lays down ancient greek without providing its equivalent in english for the reader also refer to "charles baudelaire" by his first and last name?), but there's more at stake here; i appreciate that, even though i went on to have gory, shouty dreams as a result.

slowdive @ terminal 5 (concert). i risked losing out on my stay at a cappadocian cave hotel to rush home for slowdive's only NYC show—probably my sexiest saturday night ever, there, rolling straight from istanbul to a slowdive concert—and am ever so glad i did; this was my equivalent of the soul-bending my bloody valentine reunion shows at roseland ballroom in 2008. like MBV, slowdive blossoms live; unlike any other band i've seen, they actually make terminal 5 (a cavernous concrete box) sound good. rachel goswell's venusian choirgirl voice is as pure now as it was when my friends and i wore flannel boxer shorts in mixed company; i'd always assumed her vocals were forced and looped like tulips on a turntable, but that's all rachel, internets. neil halstead still sounds like a thick pair of socks, but when one is in new york rather than san francisco (looking at you, slim's) and neil has a kick-ass band at his back, that's actually a fine thing. i didn't mean to cry when they played "blue skied an' clear," but it couldn't be helped; that performance was one of the loveliest things i've ever experienced. fuck yeah, slowdive.

suzanne vega @ joe's pub (concert). erin agreed to be my date for the suzanne vega show last month, which was good of her; she also agreed to eat at korilla beforehand, which was downright heroic of her (i'm willing to believe their korean burritos are great served from a truck, but they were weirdly joyless eats in a brick-and-mortar setting). like slowdive's rachel goswell, la vega seems to have been spending time in a hyperbaric chamber; i'd go so far as to say her voice made my ears feel minty. her pretty young backup singer turned out to be her daughter, ruby froom (the "beautiful child" who gave soul coughing's ruby vroom its name); if i may echo my boyfriend anthony lane in his babadook review, let a law be passed, requiring all comeback tours to be made by female singers who harmonize with their daughters. it happens that there are in fact bad-ish seats in joe's pub, as we were squished with another pair of ladies at a two-top, but the sazeracs were plausible and suzanne vega had a top hat, so i can hardly complain.


imaginary reading group discussion questions

01 would a bear be as interested in posing as a bestselling author today as william kotzwinkle posited he would have been in 1996?
02 does john irving find his novels in suitcases beneath trees?
03 have you ever been to public baths? did you feel like a carp?
04 if you've read both the secret history and the goldfinch, which did you prefer?
05 what ranks as your sexiest saturday night ever?
06 how do you feel about korean burritos?

12.05.14

gallipoli souvenirs

we made a beeline for the prado when we arrived in madrid two weeks ago. bosch is one of my favorite painters, and i wanted to see the garden of earthly delights as soon as possible. goya's black paintings were high on my list as well; lots of morbid art majors in my family. we were on our way to the bosch, i think—i have a terrible sense of direction at the best of times, and we'd had an hour of sleep in the last thirty-six—when we stumbled into goya's third of may. i had been prepared for hellscapes, for the gut-punch of guernica when we got to the reina sofia, but—

i thought of gallipoli, and the long, solitary walks my colleagues from australia and new zealand took at anzac cove. i thought of our turkish guide, and how his face dented subtly, like a can just past its date, as he pointed out the ridges where his people had waited for theirs.