in a recent attempt to develop a substantial team lead in imaginary-zombie-related competitive step counting i headed north on the promenade along east river park this sunday and realized pretty quickly that i wanted to take a long, long walk. in fact, i wanted to walk all the way up to central park and see barry, the goddamn adorable barred owl who's been appearing around the park and charming people off and on since october. i follow a not-insubstantial number of bird enthusiasts on twitter, so barry pops up in my feed several times a week, at which point i pump my fist at my laptop and chant BA-RRY! BA-RRY!, frightening the cats. as far as i can remember i've never seen an owl in the wild, you see; we didn't really have owls in our especially-paved part of orange county when i was growing up (unless you count david bowie in labyrinth, and, okay, that's fair). to me barry is even more exciting than the unnamed(?) snowy owl folks have been seeing in the park since last month, even though she's the first snowy spotted there in 130 years — i saw a snowy up close and at length when we tended her at my bird hospital a couple of years ago.

anyway, i walked and walked (and walked and walked — per social media barry was up around the loch, which is at the north end of the park around 103rd street) and tried to leave my phone alone so that it wouldn't die before i had a chance to take shitty faraway pictures. i approached a few hikers on a random icy path in the park: have you seen...the barred owl? "there are a bunch of people back thataway who seem excited, i don't know." i passed a partial sparrow, pink and chunky. i passed a whole northern cardinal, ten feet away and puffed up like a durian. then i totally saw barry, and it was just like when joe spotted david bowie in the mezzanine at a pixies show, though barry wasn't wearing a hoodie and sneakers. respectable jareth cosplay, though.

manhattan bird alert (hush) tweeted yesterday that barry is likely a female, given the pitch of her hoots. after hearing that i dove into Bird Internet like a fox after a mouse beneath the snow and spent the next hour listening to barred owl recordings; i learned to my delight that ornithologists transliterate their calls as "who cooks for you? who cooks for you-all?" and that barred owls are also called hoot owls because their hoots are characteristic in the same way that concord grapes are definitively grape. matty and steve were reasonably tolerant of my attempts to who-cooks-for-YOU? like barry at them all night, which does sound much better than BA-RRY! BA-RRY!, i would imagine.


since the beginning of the year i've been doing team-based escape-from-zombies fitness-tracker challenges with my college roommate jen and her various social and professional circles; it's been a delightful way to fold check-ins with a dear friend into my daily life and has also turned me into an aaron sorkin character. removing old green nail polish? can totally happen while i'm racewalking around the apartment. emailing a dermatologist for a story follow-up? can totally happen while i'm racewalking around the apartment. worrying about what's going on in the bartlet biden administration? fooled you, i stopped doing that at the end of january. okay, i mostly stopped doing that at the end of january.

it turns out that motivation is a much bigger problem for me when the world is just mostly on fire instead of completely on fire. i've been so frayed and overcommitted for most of the pandemic that i didn't think about the fact that i was doing too much; now that, i don't know, we're watching two hours of news a night instead of three and i'm quilting at the coffee table instead of writing letters to georgia voters as we watch, i've started to shy away from the work that wasn't a problem a few months ago, or wasn't a problem i could avoid. that's where the racewalking out of the zombies' clutches comes in: you're not really procrastinating if you're getting steps en route to returning a library book (for which you won't even get late-fined until june) to help friends bust through a roadblock of undead wolves. the work is still happening, but i've started asking for the leeway that social media assures me i've deserved all this time. i think i ruined my sneakers on a walk up to midtown that got us to the next safe house just as some bar television played the national anthem at the beginning of the super bowl and it was totally worth it (also they had started to smell, a bit).


four years ago i helped a woman at penn station get to her train, which was also my train. we were both going to washington for the inauguration; i told her i was going to protest. "oh," she said, looking me up and down. "are you going to hurt me?" i stayed with my dear friend jacob's family, and his elder daughter pulled out an impressive array of craft supplies to help us make our signs. on the morning of the march, when the streets were so crowded we didn't get anywhere near the main gathering area and its speakers, the biggest roar that rippled through the people around me was for john kerry as he strolled with us for a bit. i imagined that i would be in washington again today, no matter who topped the platform.


my grandmother died on monday, which was both unsurprising (as she was 99) and a bit unexpected (as she had developed COVID though she lived in a nursing home in los angeles that has been locked down for a long, long time). the first week or so after her positive test was a comparatively good one — she was sleepy and sniffly, the staff reported via my aunt via my mother — but her blood oxygen levels began to plunge, and you have probably heard about access to ventilators and oxygen in los angeles, to say nothing of hospital beds. a catholic priest came by to perform last rites on monday morning, my aunt arranged for someone to play "la vie en rose" (which she loved, loved, loved) in the afternoon, and she died in the early evening. she'll be buried in her mink (which she also loved), gloves, and a black beret. if our family had been interested in trying to have a funeral, we would have had to jostle for a slot in march.

i am sorely tempted to exaggerate the immediate emotional impact of grandma's passing to make other people feel shitty about their life choices. i have, or had, a travel-writer friend who seems constitutionally incapable of not skipping off to europe and mexico;* my feeds deliver me a much closer friend holding babies and making cameos with family in other cities; friends' friends flew down to disney world in the fall. in middle age i've gotten better at recognizing when i'm making an honest effort to effect change and when i'm inflicting pain as a hobbyist. is stitching away at my ongoing quilt in front of cable news for a couple of hours each evening a bit madame-defarge-in-a-tale-of-two-cities-adjacent? oh, maybe.

my mother doesn't want my sisters and me talking about her mother's death on social media, as it would increase the likelihood of my late uncle's terrible wife parachuting in to cultivate drama. (she's impressive, this wife: when my mom's dad died in the early aughts, she spent most of the funeral reception sidling up to my father in an attempt to starfuck her way to a relationship with his second wife.**) i don't think mentioning it in this context is problematic; we all have a fairly good idea of what we're doing here.

*i feel for writers who haven't been able to pivot to other beats as neatly as i did last year, and i know how lucky i am. said friend is so well-traveled that she could spend the next decade writing about trips she's already taken; she also top-edits guides. this is not about work.

**she actually slipped a wheedling letter and a packet of instant grits into his blazer's interior pocket.


i bought razor blades, soap, and kitty litter.
i arranged the second row of the quilt i started sewing together last night, then cut and basted fabric for a bunch of new pieces.
i went for a walk and picked up a prescription for joe.
i listened to a baxter dury record.
i switched pokémon go buddies.
i took some recycling downstairs.


i took a magnificent nap today, the sort of nap one idealizes in attempting relaxation for the rest of one's life. the relaxation was not complete, but it was winning in its specificity: the little cat trilled a greeting at the hem of my blanket and crawled beneath it to prawn, snoring, against my stomach (reaching out to place his paw across my wrist in his sleep), i got to hear joe clatter and bang his way through bolognese in the kitchen (for the first time in a decade?) as i fell away from my book, and i did not have a jolting pandemic dream. i have decided to pretend that i am at a big house with my family for the next few days and so far it is just as therapeutic as i'd hoped it would be. the doomsday(?) preachers in union square were unusually equivocal this afternoon: "if you're okay with people lying to you...that's fine!"


J and O, the neighbors on the other side of the door to our stairwell, have kept a low profile since the before times. we didn't bump into each other so often then anyway, but since march i could count our meetings on one hand, though if you stand in a certain corner of either of our kitchens you should almost certainly be wearing pants. J is also a writer and has worked from home for many years; when we crossed paths in front of our bodega a month ago i mentioned how much i'd loved a piece he'd had in the best american travel writing. he thanked me for reading it and asked about how my work was going; i told him i'd been in a steady and supportive but maybe a bit opiate freelancing cul de sac for most of 2020. give me six pitches, stick a note on my door and i'll put it in front of the right people, he said — he's a decade and change older than i am and a writer at large for a fantastic magazine — and i thought that was a thing i would put together as a reward for hacking through the rest of this year's work. i ran into him again monday; he lacked his/my half-dozen, he said, and i mentioned the reward theory. it would be a reward for us to read them. wait, what i thought was small talk was J mentoring me? (i'd figured i'd always be feral.)

i taped a walter johnson postcard with a note and my email address on J's door, per his singular pitch instructions — J's a sports writer, among other things — and when he wrote, i sent him all the things today. at its best, my work is diligent, unexpected, and a bit creepy, i said in my janky formal note, and if all of this eddies down into Esoteric Ballads For The People, 2020 will have departed with a shred of honor.


i have developed my brand successfully enough that a friend sent me a link to a times piece about a rescued swan that was spirited to the bird hospital via bike, subway, ikea bag, and so on by another friend. longtime readers, and that would be all of you, i imagine, might remember my mentioning a favorite from said hospital a while back; that would be her, the teal-plumed virago i've known for most of the years i've headed uptown to my pigeon basement. since i haven't been there since february, i didn't know until reading that piece that she's left the staff to do something else (officially, at least, since she's clearly still muscling birds across town); that's the kind of news you end up acknowledging you're glad to have received at a distance, as you can't say with any confidence what your face might have done if you'd heard it in person.

volunteer friends at my bookstore, in turn, had been making noise about getting together for the past several weeks (the store has been closed since mid-march and shows ominous signs of being closed for good; that's another story), and none of us had contact information for A, a septuagenarian english UN lifer who lives out on roosevelt island and feeds me books like siegfried sassoon's memoirs of a fox-hunting man. no one was sure of his last name, even; why would we need to be sure of each other's last names when we all knew precisely where we'd coincide every week? someone had the vague idea that another former fellow volunteer might have his email address, but i decided that wasn't good enough and started digging around in old gothamist threads on posts about roosevelt island for commenters who sounded like him and shared his name. eventually i found one that began with Bunk! and sounded appropriately tetchy, so i cross-referenced the last name i found there with some neighborhood directories i found at another site, found a couple of phone numbers listed with an address on the island, then called one: alors, there was A's unmistakable accent in my ear! it's so lovely to catch up with you, i sang, i've read so many dreadful books since we saw each other last! (talking about books you've cherished is marvelous, but talking about the rotters is even better.) A and his wife have mostly retreated to their home up in ulster county and he wasn't able to come down for the first confluence of volunteers at a garden near nyu last week, but i did see V, who brought along the just-published german hardcover of her memoir about running a cinema on virgin gorda in the '70s and was very patient when we all insisted she pose at length with it. we'll coincide again soon, though we're going to have to do it at someplace like a museum; while it's temperate to the point of being uncomfortably warm indoors today, the city is conceding the season soon.


my friend F, a restaurant critic i met at a chef's dinner on a press trip in orlando years ago who told me that same night that his daughter had just been diagnosed with cancer and a car had crashed through the front wall of his house, just texted and said he'd been assigned to be my emotional support canadian and i cried all over my big stupid phone.


i'll be getting up in about five hours to shower and head across the street for my day of work at the polls. i was assigned a "relief" position, which...means i get there first thing and then wait for people to get tired, i guess? i am imagining and hoping that i'll just get sent out to keep an eye on the line outside until someone needs me, as this shift is something like 250% as long as the tribeca film festival volunteer stints that occasionally made me feel like i had actually left my idling body, but we will see what we will see. i have already voted, and i feel good about running back across the street to grab extra clothing and, like, a sandwich, so i'm not going to pack my old tote like i'm heading off to summer camp.

i finished as much of the work-work i have to do for the next few days as i could, at least for tonight, so that anxiety has receded and let the naked moonlit political fear roll up my shore like a dead leviathan. god, how it smells.


a silly twitter joke inspired me to read dune and: now i've read dune! i don't know that the experience was especially life-changing, but i do have a strong, halloween-adjacent urge to make myself look like a massive worm that the pandemic both enables and complicates. i promise that i'll stop talking about dune and dune-related program activities soon, but in the interim,

- a friend of a friend is translating dune into icelandic for the first time: he made a great point about there being no easy translation for the word "dune" / bc they don't have fucking deserts / it's like "hot hill of sand[.]"

- my best friend in the whole world fed paper towels into his typewriter and wrote me a letter on them while watching and narrating dune when we were undergrads; i hung that letter on my wall in england as an exchange student and wonder still what i might have done to deserve him.

- is dune the purest narrative? the big reveal is, obviously, a worm, and when one finally rolls up the reveal is literally "Then they saw it!"

- please help me actualize this worm costume / agenda.


i snuck a photo of a fabulous tagged van as i was scrambling to meet E in a hard-to-reach corner of brooklyn this afternoon, and joe snuck a photo of the moon caught in the williamsburg bridge as i butchered an avocado this evening; balance is satisfying. here they are in my phone, punctuating shots of the cats slinking into the hall to huff the elevator.

i would like to say that i blundered through the navy yard as gracefully as steve and matty intimidated the neighbors' welcome mat, but i've left manhattan just four times since the spring and am no longer accustomed to interiors in which i shouldn't be naked. E and i talked about traveling in the After Times - we met in tasmania in january - and lifted our mouth-drapes at each other re: how very few people would get how our work has changed. it was strange a year ago; now it's unimaginable, from where i'm sitting, though some of our mutual friends continue to happy-talk about meeting in, like, istanbul next year. she's planning to go for an MFA this fall, and i have saurian memories of the essays i pitched before i decided to bank coals and say yes to a season of simple carbs.

i confessed to E that i think i just read a dozen books by women, no breaks for dudes, for the first time since i was a tween. that wasn't especially intentional, but i do notice that my reading list is evolving: prior to this spring i grabbed anything that caught my eye, a not-insubstantial portion of my reads came from my used bookstore volunteer gig, hey, it's all easy and usually cheap. now literary social media is my weekly booster shot; i feel like a baby grad, an ickle neonate in a mortarboard. am i better?