101 in 1001 {III}: 005 refinance the apartment [completed 04.15.13]

it's unfortunate that my not-entirely-unjustified fear of the co-op board caused me to delete all of the posts i wrote about how joe and i found and bought our apartment a few years ago; the ins and outs of that process (ten letters of recommendation! home visits from inspectors in two states! my father forced to sign an affidavit saying he would never have a dog!*) were much more interesting than this winter and spring's** clerical shenanigans in pursuit of a new and improved loan. that said, this dance of the seven tax forms has made me feel much more adult than becoming a homeowner did; like booking and keeping your own dental appointments, refinancing for a better interest rate is the quotidian TCB of a grown-ass woman. my teeth are clean.

*because new york city real estate nonlogic makes you crazy, joe and i thought at one point that we would be more attractive to the board if we included my dad as a non-resident co-applicant. actually it made no positive difference, and we have been tied together like freakish six-legged-race contestants ever since.

**it took four months, all told. just looking at a bank statement or a fax machine now makes me feel itchy.


art-sniffing at the hirshhorn

It is a wonderful book to have around in case of emergency. No one should ever set out in pursuit of unholy excitement without a special vest pocket edition dangling from a string around the neck.

For this book tells exactly, and with compelling lucidity, just what to do when cast off by a grandfather or when sitting around a station platform at 4 a.m., or when spilling champagne in a fashionable restaurant, or when told that one is too old for the movies. Any of these things might come into one's life at any minute.


I think the heroine is most amusing. I have an intense distaste for the melancholy aroused in the masculine mind by such characters as Jennie Gerhardt, √Āntonia and Tess (of the D'Urbervilles). Their tragedies, redolent of the soil, leave me unmoved. If they were capable of dramatizing themselves they would no longer be symbolic, and if they weren't—and they aren't—they would be dull, stupid, and boring, as they inevitably are in life.

(zelda fitzgerald, from "friend husband's latest," her review of the beautiful and damned for the new york tribune, april 2, 1922)


for poem in your pocket day 2013, i'm carrying two pieces by diane wood middlebrook, a favorite teacher.

Losing You

Winter, the woods
Empty; the axe
Sunk in a stump;
Its thud a sob
Startling the sleep
Of the dreamer
Waking, calling
Where am I? Who
Is there?

New Brunswick Station, 12:37 p.m.

Getting out of a habit of sadness—
It would be
Like climbing off a train
At a station which was, apparently,
Your destination—
You'd get off and watch it pull away, watch
The other people watch back
Watch it disappear, and then
Turn toward the street,
Take the first step.




atonement (book). i didn't love atonement nearly as much as paul did when he mentioned it here 11(!) years ago - cecilia's green dress is my favorite part of both the book and the film, it seems - but i do think ian mcewan nailed little briony tallis's sinister preadolescent mind and/or something sinister and preadolescent about a certain kind of writer (was i that awful when i was a tween writer? i like to think i was interested in making things rather than controlling things, but i also like to think that keeping a domino in my purse protects me when i travel). i brought a copy of amsterdam (winner of the '98 booker prize) home a week ago; if it wows me, i reserve the right to gush about mcewan as hungover twentysomething paul did.

beasts of the southern wild (film). little quvenzhané wallis earned her best actress academy award nomination; like katniss in the hunger games, hushpuppy (a girl who lives with her father in a postapocalyptic louisiana bayou) is hermetically sealed and must have been hell to play. happily, she's given the voiceovers katniss needed so badly to explain herself and her situation; unhappily, those voiceovers and the awkward beasts that (should have been a straight metaphor but actually, awkwardly) turn up at the end of the movie are its only sources of momentum. beasts is a beautiful film, but it stagnated in ways that didn't always feel deliberate. joe fell asleep for an hour of it, and when he woke up i...didn't really have to get him up to speed.

dead man down (film). joe and i needed a reason to go to nitehawk cinema in williamsburg on a friday afternoon a few weeks ago, and a new noomi rapace thriller directed by niels arden oplev (he of the original, swedish girl with the dragon tattoo films) worked for us. to our surprise, it also turned out to be the mysterious generic colin farrell thriller that filmed down the street from us last summer, so noomi and colin conduct their convoluted revenge plots and romances (plural, there, in both cases) in our local basketball courts, kosher delis, luncheonettes, and so on. (they do not go to doughnut plant, not even once, so realism this ain't.) it's really, really terrible, so unless you too live in co-op village or have a thing for fireflies in graveyards (there is one extremely cool scene of that sort, shot out near joe's office in queens, weirdly enough), it's probably safe to keep walking.

dersu uzala (film). ian frazier's goddamn fantastic travels in siberia, a nonfictional tale of flamingos and forcible watermelon donations and weddings in the middle of the road (and the book that would've killed the long ships and emerged the champion of THUNDERTOME II, if i'd either finished it before the end of the year or managed to keep up on THUNDERTOME at all), led me to dersu uzala, the first movie kurosawa made after his 1971 suicide attempt. it's a very un-kurosawa kurosawa film, or perhaps his most characteristic film of all: in slow, dreamlike takes, it follows the russian explorer vladimir arseneyev and his yoda-like nanai guide, dersu uzala, as they chart the forests and tundra of eastern russia. it's a buddy movie with almost no dialogue, and it's possible dersu's longest conversation is with a tiger; that said, the relationship between the two men develops solidly enough that the scenes at arseneyev's home back in khabarovsk, when it's clear that dersu can't leave the hills to retire with his friend in the city, are genuinely wrenching. (truth be told, i usually have little patience for kurosawa - but this i liked.) come for the tigers; stay for the tigers, and stay some more for intercultural bromance.

the diviners (book). the television in front of my treadmill at our building's Old Folks' Gym was tuned to urban tarzan a few weeks ago. the episode began with an alligator amok in someone's backyard, then barreled into the tale of a bull that had escaped into a corn maze in encino. what more, i wondered as i zombie-ran the last of my daily miles, could urban tarzan (john brennan, a freelance wild-animal wrangler) possibly face? then he was called to tackle a chimpanzee in overalls who'd downed a few bottles of codeine ("it calms him down," his human 'mother' explained) and was menacing his caretakers with a gun. the diviners is kind of like the harrowing tale of buckaroo the gun-toting sizzurp-addled chimp: set in new york city in the roaring twenties, it's the story of a psychic flapper who has to prevent a demonic doomsday-cult-leadin' ghost-man called naughty john from initiating armageddon with a series of se7en-ish ritualistic murders. she does so with a team of period-appropriate x-men (including a mysteriously violent ziegfeld girl, an immigrant pickpocket who can go unseen, a dapper healer from harlem, and an old-timey cyborg) and catchphrases ("the cat's pajamas," "pos-i-tutely," "the bee's knees," "done-ski"). i wanted to hate the diviners, but just when i thought i'd had too much, the muchness itself became almost sublime. also naughty john was quite scary! i will read the sequel, and the sequel's sequel.

the flick (play). "i'm just trying to accurately portray the people who live in the movie theater inside my head," playwright annie baker says, "and i guess there's a lot of moments of not-talking in that movie theater inside my head." the flick is literally a (single-screen) theater (in western massachusetts); the fourth wall between baker's audience and her characters is the movie screen itself, and the flick takes place mostly in the spaces between films, when popcorn needs sweeping, reels need changing, seats need de-gumming. the silence in those spaces is so substantial that the play became a little notorious for driving people out at intermission, and playwrights horizons's* artistic director actually wrote his subscribers an email defending it. no need from where i was sitting: the play was long, sure, and a bit of a letdown after the impossibly tantalizing piece on baker in the new yorker a few months ago, but it was sweet, and sad, and it reminded me of the marvelous peoplewatching i got to do as a film festival volunteer last year. annie baker...curates...people? "i so much prefer confusion and mystery in both writing and theater-going," she says, but i don't think that's so. her stuff resists reduction, is how i would put it, and i think that's a fine thing.

*playwrights horizons, incidentally, is my new favorite (non-shakespeare-adjacent) theater. joe and i saw the whale there a few months ago (here's to you, MDF) and are settling in for a long-term relationship (are we those new yorkers now?).


votive candles, st. john the divine

A piece of fiction is a communication. You're sending an urgent message in a bottle from your desert island. You hope that somebody's going to find the bottle and open it and say, S...O...X? No. S...O...

But the message that is found cannot be exactly the message you've sent. Whatever bunch of words the writer transmits requires a person, a consciousness on the other end, to reassemble it. You know how it feels when you read something that opens up a little sealed envelope in your brain. It's a letter from yourself, but it's being delivered by somebody else, a writer.

Nothing is more fortifying than learning that you have a real reader, a reader who truly responds both accurately and actively. It gives you courage, and you feel, I can crawl out on the branch a little further. It's going to hold.

(deborah eisenberg to catherine steindler in "the art of fiction no. 218," the paris review spring 2013)


HEARD NY at grand central

on thursday night we stopped by vanderbilt hall to visit artist and fabric sculptor nick cave's* HEARD NY, a collection of handsome pantomime-horse-haystacks which was in town for the week as part of the station's centennial celebration. i tucked an itinerant little piece of crepe-hay in my pocket before we left, and i chewed it thoughtfully as we walked past the moon-luminous empire state building; i was up until three with terrible indigestion that night and was pretty sure i deserved it. we returned in the morning to watch the herd come alive with bellyfuls of dancers, each beast bending its glorious neck for the little hands at the edges of the crowd. i could tell you i stopped being sorry i'd eaten the bit of hay then, but you and i both know i'd never regretted it.

*not to be confused with nick "release the bats" cave, though i certainly did (he writes novels and collaborates with kylie minogue; why shouldn't he build pantomime horses?). the mixup was lucky, really: it led to my initial visit.