my younger sister and her husband left the lower east side for the airport a few hours ago; their carrier decided to push their flight to los angeles forward half an hour, she tells me, so they just made it to the plane before the gate closed. surrounded by little piles of our now-crispy christmas tree's needles, i'm drinking coffee from a skull-shaped mug and planning my last few errands of 2015: a trip to the bank to replace the debit card i had to cancel after some year-end identity theft. a walk up to union square to look for my friend's just-published book. a few miles on the treadmill with my octogenarian neighbors. prep for tomorrow's polar bear plunge out at coney island. years don't mind ending, but my heart always goes out to them, whatever they are, anyway, since loving or hating them is much more straightforward than loving or hating myself. you did your best most of the time, 2015. here's the dreamless sleep.


san francisco, 0630: my old-timey alarm clock brayed at me to get out of the factory just as my sister and brother-in-law's sang them a futuristic awakening song in the next room. we pulled on an assortment of synthetic fabrics, took turns making coffee with their single-cup dripper, and set out across the bay bridge for a trail race down in alameda county. none of us had heard of the race before i found it on a california roundup calendar, and it was my first trail run; i imagined something like the mudder they'd done a year ago. in practice it was more civilized than my last half marathon had been: no more than a hundred runners at our distance, and they spread out over the first couple of miles. it felt a bit like we three were alone. we followed trail flags along a creek to the mouth of a shallow canyon, executing a little curlicue at the end. my hands sweltered in my skeleton gloves, so i passed them to my sister. a vulture hunched on a fence post around mile 4; a snow-white pelican paddled around down in the creek around mile 5. volunteers beneath a pavilion at the finish line covered picnic tables with paper plates of trail mix, torn peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, haphazard piles of pumpkin pie. a little bluetooth speaker played mid-'90s cure singles, and the late-morning sun burned away the fog.


best wishes from somewhere above the midwest, internets, where the air is pressurized, my rowmates are sleeping fitfully (left) and reading an old dutch mystery (right),* and the woman across the aisle a row ahead of us appears to be hand-sewing a heavy damask window treatment in shades of green. i don't know that i can get behind long transmissions from planes - writing on scraps from my purse feels more respectable, and we should all be unreachable every now and again - but i have let my fear of neglecting my new frankencareer guilt me away from my own blog. in truth it's a comparatively healthy frankencareer, with stupendous peoplewatching and bird-kissing and even an occasional check, but i need to build social writing back into my life. i've also been thinking about a short story, and some installation art. team, i might even finish my stag beetle needlepoint, or finally start drawing on the kitchen wall. the social writing comes first, though. wherever it is - minnesota, maybe - seat 20B loves you.

*i introduced joe to the old dutch mysteries - that is, janwillem van de wetering's 'amsterdam cops' books - but he has fixated on them because the younger cop has a siamese cat (oliver kwong). like joe, the cop squeezes purrs from said cat. "oliver sleeps between his feet, too," joe reports.


the woman sitting in front of us at the flick had a hairy-eared little dog, a salacious b. crumb, in an airport duffel in the seat beside her. when joe was in the bathroom, i leaned forward: "does he see a lot of theatre with you?" "to the ballet, to all kinds of shows, oh, he comes everywhere with me," she said. was he a papillon? "papillons are the second-smartest dogs; poodles are the smartest. when i heard i was going to get a service dog i expected something big, i had always had huskies, they sent me ace here and i thought, what am i going to do with this little thing?" he had been trained to alert her to the presence of kiwi; she was deathly, anaphylactically allergic, and she'd had a heart attack, so she couldn't handle epinephrine in the event of a kiwi sneak. ace had signaled at a salad of hers in a restaurant, a salad that hadn't had kiwi at all, and she asked the kitchen to look again, to be sure that he wasn't registering false positives. kiwi juice in the dressing! she told me he wanted to say hello—guide dogs for, say, the blind aren't supposed to interact with strangers, but some medical alert dogs can—and i offered him the back of my hand. we call steve salacious b. crumb because he has that high-pitched, mildly malevolent trill; ace was just a gentle licker, his little eyes bright under the house lights, down and up for the end of intermission.


venice is a half-drowned labyrinth, a noble pile of bones, a favorite piece of costume jewelry that turns your wrist green; in late autumn you feel like its only witness and it's the closest you've been to a waking dream, iceland, forgive me. venice is the only part of italy that has ever mattered to me (italy, forgive me); blame henry james for that, maybe, or the dragon asleep at the bottom of the grand canal. i knew for sure that i needed to go when i learned that it is sinking, the acqua alta more fearsome every year. look at that piazza and tell me you don't want to save san marco, or to wave, at least, as the siroccos sweep him under the winter sea.

i decided to give up on not having a tattoo for the black cat i lost and to have one instead. my sister drew him for me, and i sent the drawing to marco, another marco, whose partner spoke enough english to direct me to their gold plaque on an old door around the corner from the old opera house in campo san fantin—la fenice, the phoenix, which burned down in 1774, 1836, and 1996, because of course it did. marco asked if i wanted him to tattoo around a freckle on my back, since if he covered it with ink i wouldn't know if it changed shape and became cancerous one day; he was covering it with a cat who died of cancer, though, and things will happen where they will, now won't they. his english opened up when i complimented the jerry lee lewis he was playing: "he's better than elvis." we're both fans of black metal. "it doesn't matter what language it's in, it's all raaaaugh raaaaugh raaaaugh. i liked that word you used, freckle, it sounds like freak."

venice is a shared secret, dead quiet as you carry your weeping new tattoo over its bridges, down its alleys, like a cartoon character shot through with a cannonball. you always, always drink from the guttering fountains in the twilit squares. you sing old david bowie songs with a leathery regular at the other end of a bar. you visit your sister's handiwork at the biennale, resisting the urge to brag about the original on your back. you don't see a car for five days.


Meeting in the Piazza on the evening of my arrival a young American painter who told me that he had been spending the summer just where I found him, I could have assaulted him for very envy. He was painting forsooth the interior of St. Mark's. To be a young American painter unperplexed by the mocking, elusive soul of things and satisfied with their wholesome light-bathed surface and shape; keen of eye; fond of colour, of sea and sky and anything that may chance between them; of old lace and old brocade and old furniture (even when made to order); of time-mellowed harmonies on nameless canvases and happy contours in cheap old engravings; to spend one's mornings in still, productive analysis of the clustered shadows of the Basilica, one's afternoons anywhere, in church or campo, on canal or lagoon, and one's evenings in star-light gossip at Florian's, feeling the sea-breeze throb languidly between the two great pillars of the Piazzetta and over the low black domes of the church—this, I consider, is to be as happy as is consistent with the preservation of reason.

(henry james, from "from venice to strassburg," 1873)