i decided to get tested for COVID at a mobile clinic on monday, though my peek-a-boo symptoms seemed to have more to do with generic winter-cold bullshit and being 43 than with a breakthrough infection. around ten in the morning i queued at the van on delancey street that's become a portable building and froze my ass for two and a half hours, along with a bunch of canadian teenagers who were sure their friends were sick, someone named alfonso whose results were handed to me along with my own, and someone smoking so, so much pot. i requested the rapid test and the PCR, and alfonso and i eventually got the all-clear. how about that! (i still haven't gotten the results of my PCR test.)

on christmas eve i woke up with phlegm and a sinus whatsit that burned off like marine haze over the course of the day, but as we were to head out to see licorice pizza at nitehawk before settling down for a long winter's nap, i took one of the at-home tests i almost accidentally snagged on wednesday en route to my bookstore shift.* it was so positive it was almost a little insulting: that pink line was downright lurid, like one of the savage primitive markings the cat is forever giving joe. (it's a lousy way to treat someone you like, steve!) i took a second test that was even more vivid than the first, our very last one indicated that joe was negative for the time being, and that was that. i got a gift-card refund from the movie theater, the bar we visited on wednesday told me they'd toss my FYI on their pile, an email to the bookstore's volunteer coordinator went unanswered. my debate with joe biden went ahead as planned, of course.

i had a quick and dirty stress-cry yesterday morning (or was it sometime on christmas eve?) about the idea of being trapped here while joe just ordered in wine and boozed through the boredom of quarantine, which is not something he would ever do but something he joked about when we'd talked about my getting tested last weekend. i do not find that funny at all, and he does not enjoy it when i joke about being a grown version of the kid with chickenpox who abruptly scores playdates with everyone in the neighborhood (did families in your town do this? did the ones in ours really do it?). i suppose we could have requested one of the hotel rooms the city is providing for people who need to isolate from their families, but the idea that joe could dodge exposure after having been holed up in this apartment with me is just laughable. god knows how long another PCR test for me would take, and i'm not interested in infecting a bunch of my neighbors while attempting to get one. we have a few weeks' worth of cat food, a respectable pile of clean underwear, one full carton of soymilk.

i used to open my eyes when i was lying on the ocean floor waiting for a wave to pass over me. the physical sensation itself is moderately uncomfortable, but the way i felt powerful and ever so subtly aquatic when i did it was addictive. science, diligence, and patience are a helluva cocktail.

*a woman at the duane reade register beside me asked for them while i was buying the diet dr pepper i'd been craving ever since i saw a fake trump elector carrying one at the wisconsin state house on a cable news segment. i bought two (boxes of tests; just one soda, though knowing what i know now–).


the seraph painted in red on the scrim that came down between acts at last night's tosca really did look like the she-wolf created for agrippina, the last Big Art we saw before entering lockdown last year, but we would have been reminded of it anyway, of course. i can't help feeling that our deciding to return to the met for opera caused the weird, dark turn new york city has taken this week–that would be very operatic–but epidemics probably don't strike poses like that.

last week i saw and scoffed at a few tweets about how the city was starting to feel as it felt last march, which is ridiculous: sirens howled all night every night, refrigerated trucks accumulated in front of the hospitals, i remember using bleach on our floor at one point, being unable to smell it, and collapsing into tears, sure that i was going to die. people were exiting like tosca, just stepping into air.

the man sitting beside me in the family circle was one of those operagoers who peers like a sniper through his opera glasses and volleys big, hearty BRAVO!s over the balcony as he claps for arias, and i loved him. i was the blue-haired lady with a passing tickle in her throat who coughed once, twice through her mask into her velvet cloak, and i didn't think until i woke up this morning with joint pain, a headache, and a proper soreness in that throat that anything truly tragic had happened. by the time i'd learned that all of the testing sites in the neighborhood had maxed out for the day and that PCR test results are taking at least three and more like five days to come back, the combined effects of my morning coffee, ibuprofen, a brisk walk around the lower east side and watery sunshine had somehow addressed all of those things: why, even the plantar fasciitis i've had since halloween disappeared for a few hours! i extended the walk as long as i could, grateful for a little more time.

it does feel like borrowed time. i got a booster shot a month ago and am eight lives away from crying on my bleachy floor, but the thought of having sidelined everyone's nana via the opera was a dreadful one. my sister and her family canceled travel plans to see us after christmas; i brushed my cloak and folded it into deep storage again. as i was telling friends today, i'm reminded of swimming in the pacific when i was a little girl–of watching a massive wave crest far too close, knowing it's too late to dive through it, and holding my breath and flattening myself on the ocean floor. send a body head over heels just once and it falls in step with the tide forever.


the exotic personal weather and promise i made to myself when i tearily high-fived a tree after a thunderstorm this summer related to the fact that i had very recently and suddenly decided to stop drinking; the promise was that i was really going to do it, that i was going to level up. and i have! or i have really done it, anyway. i don't drink now. i think i am probably an alcoholic.

the question of whether or not i am an alcoholic—or, more precisely, whether or not i tell anyone that i am an alcoholic—has felt weirdly important to me. it's shorthand for the fact that i have a problematic relationship with drinking, and dropping a few strategic a-bombs with people i love and respect felt like a way to force a decisive end to a war with myself. if i disclosed that and then any of those people ever saw me drink again, oh, i would be so ashamed. shame has always been a big motivator for me, which is ironic, given that several of what i consider the most shameful things i've ever done are things i did when i had been drinking.

i don't know whether or not it matters that i didn't have any big, dramatic bottoming-out moment. given that i work from home on my own schedule and don't have children, it's conceivable that my life could have tootled on in a nominally functional, undramatic way for quite some time, or forever. but i felt like the color was draining out of it, and i hated waking up with the panicky feeling that i might have said or done something foolish or hurtful; i worry about that all of the time anyway, and drinking, or being hung over, eroded whatever assurances or confidence i managed to cobble together. my friend sarah once joked that my memoir would be called i just don't want anyone to feel bad, and i believed everyone felt bad.

for a while, the only people who knew i'd come to this realization/decision were joe and a few friends who are sober; i didn't want a sponsor or anything (i don't think aa or meetings are for me?), but they had inspired me, and i wanted them to know that. (some of them check in with me even though i don't ask, which is both predictable and shockingly touching.) i didn't know what i would say to my parents, and i worried about it, even though i knew i wanted them to know. i have a mica-flaky memory of sitting at the dining table with my mother and sisters on my twelfth birthday and my father telling me over the phone that he was in recovery and couldn't be with me and that was a gift to me, or something. it turns out that it's pretty easy to talk to my mother about drinking and our family; we did it a lot in september when we hiked across hampstead heath and swam in the kenwood ladies' pond together. it seems that my dad doesn't want to talk about it, and i learned twenty years ago when he left my mother that learning too much about the dissolution of a relationship is one of the costliest experiences you can have, even if offering boundary-free adult friendship and support to the people who created you feels like the only way you could ever hope to repay them, so that's fine.

realizing that all of this is the course for me was/is something like watching a time lord regenerate on doctor who in that i'm mourning and excited all at once, and if i end up becoming david tennant i'll know for sure that i did the right thing. occasionally i wish the realization hadn't been so sudden, but i have always felt that it's best not to know when you're doing something for the last time.


i spent the morning stacking and scattering little piles of fractured CD cases and orphaned discs on the living room floor. after promising ourselves we'd do something about the wall of obsolete music between our swaybacked grey sectional and my nineteen eighty-four collection for like a decade, i finally built some banker boxes and got to sorting them for banishment in the top of the hall closet. there were so very many mixes: the ones my stanford roommates made for me, the several one of joe's congressional coworkers made for him, the gems from pauline, the mix-portraits from stewart, the dauntingly obscure 2009 former-college-DJ monthlies from our friends' friends. there were a shitload of foraged shoegaze singles with prices in pounds, a zillion used albums with stickers from amoeba music. at least two copies of beth orton's daybreaker, three copies of ryan adams's gold, and a bunch of bowie rarities i'd hoarded without opening. david foster wallace reading a selection of his own pieces? it seems my taste isn't nearly as bad as i'd figured i'd be forced to acknowledge it is, which leads me to suspect i've been quietly weeding our CD stacks all this time. i also didn't start acquiring CDs until my parents gave me a player for my 16th birthday, which meant my first disc was pisces iscariot and not a "we didn't start the fire" single or something.

i unkinked my back after hours crouching over old pulp albums in time to head up to midtown for a thundercat concert, the one we were supposed to see at cozy, iconic webster hall in march of 2020 that became a show at nasty, thunderdome-y terminal 5 tonight. did you know everyone wears sneakers and smokes indoors (not even just pot!) at shows now? it's true! we weren't the oldest people there, but we were close, and we were definitely older than thundercat. i felt significantly less hip than i felt when we saw slowdive at that same dreadful venue in 2014, and they and we were already old then.


i'm working on a piece about the mental health benefits of various outdoor activities—have been all summer, actually, as the book that led my editor to assign it to me was pushed back, and i'm only marginally better at juggling stories than i was around this time last year—and was invited to a guided meditation and walk across the brooklyn bridge, my first in-person Work Thing since last february. (there have been other invitations, but i remain awkward and picky.) i walked down to a fountain near city hall, signed a waiver, took a pair of glowing blue headphones, and wondered if i was being invited to join a cult. (i had just watched the "moira rosé" episode of schitt's creek.)* i had intended to secret-shop the session, but i ended up introducing myself to the program's creator and leader and interviewing him with my phone while my commuter sweat dried. a hundred other people showed up, we all fired up our tech and formed a circle around the fountain to set our intentions, and atmospheric piano music tinkled into my ears.

thunderheads boiled across the river almost immediately and our leader encouraged us to "choose the rain" ("it's only water"). in a low, smooth masseur's voice, he talked us across the bridge and through the downpour; i both love summer storms and have been contending with exotic personal weather, so i was all for the walk's spontaneous metal subtheme. water cascaded down a concrete staircase with us and fizzled against a halal cart that emerged from the steam at its foot. we huddled under the brooklyn side of the bridge like an aspiring new-age rat king, and a handful of participants accepted the invitation to return their headsets and walk some other time; the rest of us funneled into the park. i believed our leader when he said he was impressed with the rest of us.

i probably don't need to say that the walk felt like a third installment in this summer's Lauren Learns and Grows Through Kooky Participatory Events. i made a silent promise to myself and tearily high-fived a tree in a walled garden; i joined a final circle at the edge of the river and, when invited to share my name and a word, leaned into a bean-sized microphone and said i'm lauren and i'm regenerating.

*two high school friends and i went to a house party in oxford that turned out to be a cult recruitment session, complete with weird crackers, a long-haired, moon-faced guru who ostensibly didn't speak english, and a mysterious assistant who refused to give us back our shoes when we realized what was going on and said we wanted to leave.


so this comparatively-unknown literary magazine just published this creepy sexual poem named for and about a very well known writer whose bestselling essay collection i read a year or two ago and whose parents, i read last night when i was struggling to fall asleep, were once investigated for human trafficking, as someone discovered last year? (lit twitter and weird twitter and weird lit twitter are all over this, the poem, because it's both unsporting clickbait and because the writing is so bad that it's typically referred to as "the poem," the loose consensus is that one should avoid it if possible, for both reasons).*

when i finally went down around five this morning i dreamed that i went to a new, fancy salon-retail-organic-garden** hybrid place, for i needed a haircut, and my stylist was the writer. i explained to her that i envisioned bangs, but she would have to come up with some way to texturize them because i have a cowlick at my right temple and my hair has always parted like curtains right there. i also wanted a pretty short pixie cut, but skewing femme, please, so go soft at the edges and follow a rounded shape at the back of my head, but otherwise i trusted her to do whatever she thought was right. things started off badly, as she accused me of leaving bleach on for far too long when i prepped for dyeing my hair blue at home (true, i ended up with some little scabs last time after frying myself), and then she kept wandering off. the appointment began in the early afternoon, but by early evening we were under a scraggly live oak in the organic garden and the writer still hadn't gotten to work. i knelt before her as though we were gawain and the green knight*** as she finally, finally, started to razor the back of my neck. "if you had a boob**** that was floating in a vat of fluid, what would you do to make it float higher or lower? that's what you can think about while i do this," she said. one of the dickensian orphans gathered around us piped up: one should add stones to the vat, which would increase the volume of its contents and elevate the boob. that's stupid, i said. i would add a fluid with lower specific gravity than that of the boob-fluid if i wanted the boob to sink, and a fluid with higher specific gravity if i wanted it to rise.

*i immediately found and read it, and i'm now sorry to have given it a click and to have those lines in my head, but here we are.

**i'm on a nordic-authors kick and halfway through auður ava ólafsdóttir's the greenhouse, which i'm enjoying; her miss iceland is a fascinating look at her country's bro-centric midcentury literary culture.

***we saw that movie yesterday; i thought it was quite grand, particularly alicia vikander's green speech, though the CGI fox wasn't animated very realistically.

****ólafsdóttir's hotel silence, also good, concludes with the recovery of three disembodied breasts. like japanese in translation, icelandic in translation has, i find, a very distinctive/characteristic(?) cadence, and it's soothing.


i might as well admit that i got my hair cut yesterday so that it would behave when i walked up to the public tonight for the second installment of the experimental theatre thing i did over the phone last month. this time i was to arrive at the public's physical space on lafayette at 8:20, and lurk until someone told me what to do next. i knew that i would be sitting at a table bisected with a piece of glass and interacting with another participant through a deck of cards with written instructions, and that's about it. i was told to turn my phone off and drop my bag at my feet when i sat down at the table. a few other people trickled into the lobby after i did, and i tried to avoid checking them out until i was escorted to an empty theater, which didn't prevent me from getting a glimpse of the guy who would end up across from me a few minutes later. the staffer who'd checked me in and told me the phone stuff led me a black curtain and told me to make a left, and that was it.

the table's spotlight was so focused that i couldn't really tell how large the space we shared was, though i looked around a few times and caught the glint of gilded plaster pillars a dozen feet away. 20 feet away? i took a seat across from a man who looked younger than i am (a card would eventually ask me to think about the decade in which he was born; the '80s, i figured), with a short-sleeved, black-and-white-patterned button-down shirt. a black-on-white mask that paired nicely with it. short hair with soft curls. large, expressive eyes. a silver band on his right ring finger, big, nice-looking headphones around his neck. a white card in front of each of us told us to turn over cards from the stack between us, in a little slot in the partition, according to the direction in which the black arrow on their faces pointed. we were to say the things in regular type and silently do the boldface things.

i'm terrible at hearing things people say through masks (and am probably also losing my hearing a bit), so i panicked at first at the thought of missing something he said and having to deviate from our strict instructions in order to catch up; eventually i started cupping my ear when i needed him to repeat something. this encounter was described as your chance to reconsider what you think you know about a person – including yourself. we didn't choose a person A or B tonight, as i did in my phone call with a different stranger for the first part of the triptych; the questions i would ask and answer landed on me as soon as i sat down across from him. i might have been imagining things, but i feel like they got more intense more quickly this time. was anyone proud of him? no. (we were to answer yes or no unless explicitly instructed to do otherwise, and we stuck to that, for the most part.) did he know how an engine worked? no. could he remember the last time he was drunk? his eyes crinkled in a laugh: yes. he can read music, and he's been to the opera. he doesn't like the way he looks. he can't remember the last time he felt joy. he can't talk about that. he has fallen asleep next to a weapon. he showed me one side of his face: "this is my face." he turned: "this is the other side of my face."

a card instructed me to trace the route to my home on the glass, and to instruct him to follow my finger on his side; i pulled us both down and along the side of the partition until our hands fell off (the partition was manhattan, i reckoned, and i live on the east river.) the cards led us into pantomimes: make an S. make a bowl. make a mountain. make a family. make a forest. we planted our elbows on the table, scraggled our fingers at each other like branches, and laughed. we made fists and unclenched them, bit by bit, for what we imagined was thirty seconds. i was told to imagine his mouth. he was told to imagine my mouth.

one of us should shout as loudly as we could, a card said, so i waggled my eyebrows, took a deep breath, and bellowed until my voice gave out. do you think anyone heard that? the pillars glinted at the edge of our vision. we sat silently and listened to the space. another card asked us to come up with a not-happy-birthday song we both knew ("the national anthem?" "i don't know all of it," he whispered, but neither of us said anything else, so i pulled the next card and tonight was the night i sang all of "the star-spangled banner" to a stranger and buried my head in my hands; he laughed with delight). i have not broken a bone. i have broken a heart. he told me he was on a boat, and we swayed back and forth in time with one another. i don't like dancing. i imagined something that keeps him awake at night. i imagined him arriving home and someone greeting him at the door, i imagined that someone embracing him. i imagined the person he knows best in the world.

the partygoers have gone outside to watch the end of the meteor shower, i told him. no, we are gazing at the full moon. we are in our party shoes, i am slipping and he is putting out his arm to catch me. thank you, i say. do i think we have a mutual friend? i do. do i think there is music both of us would like? i do. what would happen if we saw each other again somewhere else? what happens to the him that has developed in my mind tonight? those are things i wondered, but they are more explicitly things i wondered aloud to him, cards in my hand. i was to quietly imagine a question i would ask him if i could. would you want to be my friend? my side of the partition had a pencil and a tape dispenser, and i was to write my name, or a made-up name, on the back of a card, and i taped it to the glass.

a quarter of the cards remained between us when i turned over the one that told me, in bold print, that the encounter was over. i was to gather my things, turn around, and walk out of the room without looking back, and a fat tear slipped into my mask. i thought of a mentor's lines, abrasion, absence:
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?


i try not to reference morrissey often even though i have an actual scar-continent on my upper arm where my dreadful laptop burned me after i watched one too many smiths videos while balancing it on my chest at magdalen college long ago, but: now my heart is full. now my heart is full! and i just can't explain, so i won't even try to—*

i turned in late for a zoom with my friends dave and phil, a hoary three-o'clock-at-saturday pandemic institution that's reminded me how the friends i have adored for decades scratch their noses and cut their own hair and alleges that i used to be more than a way for an old pair of shoes to get to the east village and back every day. i then wore a judas priest baseball shirt to our local wine shop and met a man whose first concert was queen in caracas with his big brother in 1982 where he caught one of roger taylor's sticks after the show, the sonofabitch. mine was lollapalooza '94, i said, because i had no cool older siblings and no car.

we saw our friends sarah and judd for drinks and dinner for the first time since i have no idea, i have spent the last year and change waiting for them to escape from their sociopathic expat community in the dominican republic. they looked like different people! we probably looked like different people! we intentionally hugged for way too long and who cries in the bathroom!

my next-to-best-calibrated state fizzes with anxiety about whether i've caused harm or offense; my best, probably the one i can't control at all, emerges at a small hour like this one when i am confident that the people i love know that i love them.

*my vibe is the polar opposite of what moz meant, really, which is maybe how one deploys him now?


i set at least three alarms to remind me that i had to make a phone call at eight tonight. i was especially nervous about it because the first time i booked the phone call i hadn't realized that i had extant plans when it was supposed to take place, so i spent a couple of days playing email ping pong with various creative directors and friends-of-friends to find someone who could be the person to dial in that first time. this phone call, though, this evening, this was the one for me. it was an experimental theatre project (if i have written to you to encourage you to participate in said project, stop reading now and come back when you've had your call) via the public, and by the by, i recently learned that joe papp kicked up the public's shakespeare in the park with julius caesar at the outdoor venue across the street where i had one of my very last cigarettes at like dawn this past fall. (ex-smokers who tell you they don't miss smoking are dirty liars.)

so i called this number at exactly eight this evening and listened to a bit of hold music while i waited to be connected with another participant, and to join them in following prompts made by a voice-bot that would helm our interaction with one another. we would not be having a conversation, we were told. it would sound like a conversation and yet it would be something else, a thing in which we gradually received portraits of one another. when my fellow participant finally picked up we were told to decide which of us would be A and which would be B. i asked her—per her voice, i assumed she was a her—if she would like to be A, and she said yes.

the bot asked her when she was born; 1972, she said. the bot then asked me if i was alive then, but i didn't quite hear it (the bot explained at the beginning of the call that it might be difficult to hear sometimes but would not repeat itself), so she repeated the question. no, i wasn't. it asked her if she had any siblings, and she said yes, one. it asked her how many siblings she has now, and she said none.

it asked her if she had any particular talents; writing, she said. it asked me awhile later if i had one, and i said writing; she cheered a little in the background, one of the few times either of us broke from the specific responses the bot requested of us. it led us through a scenario involving a blue car's breakdown on a desert highway, then asked us if one of us would build a fire after night fell as we walked to find assistance. i'd build a fire, i said. it asked us to count stars, alternating with each other, and it asked her to "hum that song you love so much." "i can't sing at all," she said, "just imagine me humming 'sister christian.'" she hummed a little of "sister christian" for me anyway. it asked me to think of something i knew by heart and to share it, and so i said "let us go then, you and i, when the evening is spread out against the sky like a patient etherized upon a table." it asked her to describe someone who had taught her something important, and to describe what that person was doing and wearing now. she described her mother, it was clear, and it was also clear that her mother was no longer alive. what is she doing now? "smiling." what is she wearing? "probably something checkered." what is a thing someone might not notice about her? "her little lower teeth, crowded so sweetly in her mouth." later in the call we were both asked what we would remember about one another. "dusty," she said, referring to a boy i knew in elementary school that i had described as calm and kind. "her teeth crowding so sweetly together," i said, even though the real answer was when she said that she had no siblings. i was asked to describe where she would be if she were in the room with me, and i said she would be sitting on the edge of my bed. she was asked what i would be holding if she could see me; a candle, she said. i think that maybe she is in new jersey or at least grew up in new jersey, for she talked about her childhood schoohouse in trenton and how important trenton was to her. she has blue eyes and blonde hair, and her beloved husband's name is dean. she knows i have blue hair and green eyes and that my husband's name is joe; she knows that i was born in los angeles, but i don't know where she was born. we were asked to sit still and count our heartbeats out to one another, and mine was faster than hers and i wondered how she felt about that. i was asked to describe something fragile in my room and i told her and the bot all about my crystal badger. at the end of the call we were instructed to say goodbye to one another, and i thought maybe she didn't realize she was supposed to go first. actually she was just taking her time.


i attempted some radical-for-me decluttering when sleepless this morning and decided it was time to say goodbye to the watermelon-sized styrofoam skull that's been displayed prominently in the apartment for the last...three years? five years? joe has been very patient. so i had it under my arm in the elevator as i rode down to drop off our recycling and go for an evening walk today. a neighbor got on a few floors below me: "you're not getting rid of that, are you?" yeah, we've had a lovely run, but i think it's time for us to move on; i hope he finds a good home. she held out her hand: "he has." goddamn i love new york! she was en route to visit her son, in the building next to ours. "he can put it on his balcony." we had him on OUR balcony! naturally i was wearing my evolution tank as we chatted.


my friend lesley is a cherry-blossom junkie who haunts the brooklyn botanic garden each spring, and i met her out there early yesterday afternoon to stroll around the cotton-candy lawns and dodge people taking photos of their children and instagram spouses. she rode her bike out to east river park to walk with me a few months ago, and that was one of like four times i've seen a friend in person since last spring; no one was vaccinated then, so we strolled a responsible distance from one another and talked about how neither of us wanted to fuck around with writing a book. this time we could have played twister if we'd felt like it, and i'd imagined what it would be like to hug her—i haven't hugged anyone other than joe in so long, and i was pretty bad at it pre-pandemic—but i also knew it wouldn't come up if i didn't bring it up. she's not a hugger, though she would certainly have indulged me if i'd asked her (when i met my friend abbe's boyfriend at her birthday picnic i actually said "may i embrace you?" like a total creeper), but i...didn't. it was enough to take our sunglasses on and off and squint against the gusts of grit and blossoms kicking up across the grass and lend her a book about cremation. i wanted the normal things, not hugging for the sake of hugging.

i ran into my ancient neighbor jerry, a long-retired cop whose wife died early in the pandemic, when i was walking across the bridge to east river park a couple of days ago. he looked down at my arm: "how many TA-ttoos you got?" i told him i have eight, but most of them are on my back, and he lit up and gave me a massive high-five. then he apologized, said he'd gotten his two shots and had been swabbed with the thing, but it was fine, fine, i haven't spontaneously high-fived anyone since long before we started haven't-sincing.

after lesley and i parted i wandered around the brooklyn museum gift shop. took the train back up to the union square greenmarket, bought all the ramps the chefs aren't using. wandered downtown to my bookstore, currently a pop-up wedding boutique, and tried on a bunch of tiaras. walked home.


i competed in my first american crossword puzzle tournament this weekend! i signed up to participate in person last year, booked a weekend at the stamford marriott ("you kick butt in that tournament!" said my reservation gal) and called dibs on a seat at the welcome dinner, then was promptly informed that the tournament was pandemic-stymied and maybe moving to later in the spring, or beyond (have you made plans based on will shortz's analysis of a potential global pandemic? it's chewy). i felt pretty good about how i was doing as of early this saturday afternoon, as i had four clean puzzles and had only missed one square in the bloodbath that is puzzle five, but two of my first five scores weren't showing up. but hey! clean puzzles, decent speed, and i reported my score glitches and figured the correction would puff me up to the first quartile, based on my back-of-the-bookmark-i-found-on-the-floor math.

no, no. i got a couple emails from the tech team at the ACPT this morning explaining that i'd started my puzzles far later than i should have (35 minutes in one case), per the rules (which they hyperlinked)—though when i read those rules they just said that they "must be solved when they are released." well, sure? i asked in the global chat about how long contestants had to start each of the puzzles, and apparently it's 60 seconds (per something will shortz said in an introductory livestreamed thing yesterday that was not described as compulsory.) internets, i was in no danger of doing really well in this tournament, but i got a little shirty when i got that email today about my lack of alacrity. i know that my reading comprehension is execrable as a general proposition, so when i know that i've overcorrected you are also going to know that i've overcorrected.

last night was the mingling portion of the tournament, and i joined zoom chats for both a 19-year-old standup comic from canada who told crossword jokes and a powerpoint presentation from a man who's had 13 puzzles published in the new york times (when i logged into the room he said, "oh, lauren has joined, so i should start over!") and had extensive correspondence between himself and both will shortz and will shortz's assistant. most of the saturday night presenters seem to have actually been at the stamford marriott—the comic was in the basement and made cracks about will shortz's EDM leaking down through the ceiling, and the puzzle designer was clearly sitting at a table in a ballroom with big old headphones and other loud-talking presenters leaking into his scene from elsewhere in the room.

things you should know about this year's confluence, per my notes:

i am usually a very sloppy rule-reader, but i read them all for this, and i think that you’re kind of asking someone to nitpick with you if you tell them their scores were DQ’ed because of rules (that you then hyperlink) and those rules don’t support what you said. i even re-read them just now to see if there was a Will Shortz Voice of God clause that made anything he said instant canon, and there is not; the closest they have is a line about how their decisions are final.

also please note that there is a player in the global chat known as Won’t Shortz

there is no talent show this year. instead there is a pre-taped crossword esoterica presentation.

oh man there’s a musical component.

it’s a rapped retelling of theseus and the minotaur

holy shit. consensus in the global chat: that totally slapped

okay, filmed finals with color commentary coming up

whenever someone’s name is called they list their letters’ point count afterward, eg OPHIRA EISENBERG (15)

much joking about how anyone who got the pfizer vaccine doesn’t have to film themselves completing the puzzles.

drawing out the pregame banter because the actual final will be about 3 minutes long.

asking the presumptive (and very taciturn) winner if he’s being held against his will.

also much trash talk: “pencils are for golfers and children”


and seeing the way they typed i get why this is a tech person’s game - they try incorrect things based on probability vs putting in words they know for sure first, and they don’t go straight down the acrosses and then straight through the downs - they solve quadrants.

in my heart and on my scratch pad i was in the top quartile, reader.


the dirty dozen {twelve youtube comments about kate bush}

Doctor : you have 4 minutes to live
Me : play Wuthering Heights
Doctor : but it's 4:26
God : it's ok

friend: your crush is coming, quick act normal

03 Absolutely sad and strange underrated song. One of the favorites songs of 2pac.

04 If she was a ghost, she wouldn't have to ask to get back in, she'd simply go through the wall.

05 St Vincent said in a interview that Wuthering Heights is her karaoke song

06 They play this continuously at the supermarket I work at. The speakers are on a really weird volume and all you can hear is the high pitches part of the vocals and it took me forever to Shazam, glad I found it though

07 no algorithm brought you here..... you searched for it

It's just a song it can't hurt you
the song:

09 That first pointed synth goes right into my rib.

10 So 36 years later, and we all agree this is still a God-tier song, right?

11 Play this at my funeral, and I will not come back to haunt you.

12 Dancing in my kitchen with Samsung at 75 years old, stay young everybody


i read a bunch of reviews of the movie we watched this evening as well; this time it was the story of a pair of demonic pants, not to be confused with the icelandic demonic pants that will produce endless riches but consign you to persecution if you have the misfortune to be wearing them when you die. i think i appreciate what it had to say about fast fashion? i definitely appreciate what it had to say about the many ways in which premium denim can be lethal. i enjoy thinking about how nondescript objects might be lethal; when i am seated at a weird table at a wedding i inevitably ask everyone how they would kill a man if they had to use the objects with which we are all surrounded, which is probably how i end up at those tables.

a terrible conversation bloomed in one of my friend groups a couple of months ago after one of us posted a news item about an unfortunate person whose medical condition rendered them unconscious for most of the pandemic. would have been great, right? a dear friend said. just being unconscious through all of this? my dear's comment was throwaway, but she launched A Whole Thing about how each of us in that friend-aggregation has felt about the pandemic, and maybe about pain and tribulation in general. me, i have been having conversations with old friends that probably wouldn't have happened until one of us died. that doesn't make me glad that we have had the year we've had, but it's ours; i'm not giving it back and i'm not forgetting.


i read a bunch of reviews of the movie we just watched (another round, a maybe touching and very unexpected exploration of middle age in denmark and other things that concludes with a legitimately spectacular mads mikkelsen dance scene) and eventually got to one with a preface: the writer saw a screener of the film at home and i, the review reader, should think long and hard about whether or not seeing the film in the theater is right for me. what is right for me?

joe got his first and only COVID vaccine shot last weekend and i got my first the weekend before that,* so it's conceivable that we might be seeing movies in the theater before the end of april! i don't yet know how i feel about taking off my mask in mixed company yet; that's something i would want to do if we went to nitehawk, our forever local in williamsburg, but i might need to know that anyone who would bring me a cocktail or popcorn has little or no chance of suffering because they've interacted with me before i think about something like that. will we get to a point where businesses let us know if their workers are vaccinated? will we get to a point where i let those workers know that i'm vaccinated? i consider a scenario in which our apartment complex opens the exercise room back up for people who can demonstrate that they're unlikely to infect one another — some of us paying monthly dues again would be revenue for the building, and maybe it would be enough to justify the building staff going in to clean every once in a while? maybe we could agree to not care if they didn't clean and we could just work our challenges out on filthy recumbent bikes and the one rowing machine? — and then i think about the blood rage that descends on my neighbors when they differ on radio volume or how many ceiling-mounted televisions are tuned to fox news versus like matlock and i know that we won't return to normalcy in half-measures.

i was on a walk along the waterfront last week when a squirrel perked up on its haunches in the way that indicates it's one of the ones that's gotten used to snacks from people walking in the park. one shouldn't feed squirrels in the park or anywhere, what we tend to give them is much less nutritious than what they'd find on their own and they're perfectly capable of foraging, moreover we shouldn't teach them to approach humans for food, but i am a rotten woman and i had the tail end of a bag of walnut chunks in my pocket for just such an occasion. high on the prospect of interacting with a creature i didn't know, i dug into my bag, gave myself a thorough incidental coating of nut dust, and offered a cupped handful of food, six inches from the ground. the squirrel, a squirrel, ventured up and bit my middle finger without malice. "oh, buddy! no, not that." i dumped my nuts on the ground and he figured it out.

there is no record of anyone catching rabies from a squirrel in the united states, per my research; some speculate that they are so small that if a rabid animal bites them, the vast likelihood is that they'll die long before they're able to infect another creature. my finger bled a drop, but the puncture wasn't deep, because: squirrel. the whole incident was comforting, honestly; i haven't been to the wildlife hospital in more than a year, and steve's the only creature biting me these days. he's beyond walnuts.

*i still haven't figured out how to feel about this. my freakish blood pressure qualified me for vaccination here in new york a while ago, but i didn't feel comfortable signing up for an appointment because my condition was managed with meds, which meant i didn't really have a comorbidity at all, so. then a checkup revealed that my prescriptions weren't enough, my doctor advised me to go get a shot, and i did.


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.